The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)
Chapter 21 – Revised
(This is a new chapter in the revised version of my science fiction story. I added the first half of this chapter because I needed a transition and pacing scene. The second half was added because I decided I needed more tension and Calloway was the perfect way to provide it. Read on and let me know what you think.)
J.D. watched Jori’s eyes dart over the schemster board. The boy undoubtedly saw his trap and was trying to figure a way out. There wasn’t one. In four more moves and he’d have Jori’s general and the game would be over.
He smiled inwardly. It wasn’t just that he was going to win yet another game against this very talented opponent. The past two days with Jori had been rather peaceful. The boy still wasn’t opening up, but at least his temper had calmed. He was actually beginning to like the boy.
They’d played schemster at least three times a day. Jori lost each time, but losing didn’t seem to deter him. Even though he never saw the boy smile, he was sure he was enjoying the challenge.
Even now, even when losing was once again inevitable, he could see the energy in the boy’s eyes. It reminded J.D. of one of his strategic defense classes where he’d spent many hours in the virtual simulation environments. The way his hands shook before a challenge. Then the fast-paced exhilaration felt during the simulation. And how his mind would race long afterward as he replayed and analyzed the event in his head, wondering how he could do it better next time.
The boy finally moved one of his pieces. His face was blank, as usual, but he somehow looked confident and satisfied at the same time.
J.D. examined the board. “Huh,” he said approvingly. The move wasn’t going to help the boy win, but it would be a really close game. If Jori’s past strategies were any indication, he’d be taking a few of J.D.’s key pieces before the end.
If you can’t win, at least leave your enemy too weakened to cause more trouble, one of his instructors had said. This didn’t really apply in schemster where each game began anew, but it was a good rule nonetheless.
The game went quickly now. It actually took more moves than he’d thought, but he still won—just barely.
“You’re very good at this,” he said to the boy. “Who taught you to play?”
“Really?” Jori had mentioned his mother before, but somehow the concept of these Tredons having mothers didn’t seem to fit.
Of course they have mothers. Just because the Tredon culture viewed women as inferior didn’t mean they didn’t exist. Still, he knew nothing about their family life.
“Does your mother live on the ship?” he asked.
Jori’s answer was as brief as usual, so he prodded. “So she’s the empress, then?”
“Not exactly. That title hasn’t been used in over a century.”
“No?” he prodded again.
“She’s one of my father’s many concubines.”
“Oh, I see.” So he has a family life, but one that’s very different from most—certainly different from mine. “What’s your mother like?”
The boy’s lips pressed to a thin line.
“Don’t worry. I’m not trying to pry any secrets from you. I’m just curious, is all.”
At first, he didn’t think Jori was going to respond. “She’s kind,” he eventually said.
Jori still wasn’t offering much information, but he was determined not to let it bother him this time. Time. And if I open up, maybe he’ll open up. “My mom is kind, loving, giving, overprotective at times. Let’s see. She’s also wise. And she’s always willing to sacrifice her own needs for the needs of my brother and I. Not that we expect her to. She just does it, sometimes without us even knowing about it.”
Jori said nothing, but the blank look on his face didn’t seem as hard.
“Your mother is like this too?”
Good. I’m glad he has a positive influence in his life. “Yeah? I bet you love her a great deal.”
Jori looked him directly in the eyes but didn’t speak.
J.D. stretched out his hands, then relaxed them. Getting frustrated wouldn’t help anything, especially since the boy could sense it.
“You know,” he added, “I still love my mother, so it’s not childish or unmanly if you love your mom.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” the boy said flatly.
He suppressed a sigh. “True enough, I suppose. Well, I don’t think it is. I’m not ashamed to say I love my mom.
“You remember the honeyberry pie I had you try? The one you said was too sweet?”
Jori nodded. His placid face twitched, perhaps because of the abrupt change of topic.
“Well, back home, my mom makes a similar pie, but with a different variety of honeyberry, one that isn’t quite as sweet but practically melts in your mouth.” His mouth was beginning to water just thinking about it.
“Generally, she only makes the pie on special occasions,” he continued. “But I remember this one time when I was just a little older than you.
“One of my teachers had it in for me and he accused me of cheating on my final exam. I was almost kicked out of school because of it.
“I was angry at first. Then really depressed. Getting a degree from that school meant everything to me since it was a step toward my dream of getting into the P.A. Institute and becoming an Alliance officer.”
Jori leaned forward. The boy actually looked interested. “But you didn’t kicked out after all, I take it.”
“No. And I have my mom to thank for it.”
Jori cocked his head, ever so slightly.
“See, I was so depressed, I was near ready to give up. I was actually considering not protesting the accusation since it was just my word against the teacher’s.
“But then my mom made that pie. We had a long talk while it baked. We talked about many things, not just the teacher and the accusation. When the pie was ready, my spirits were beginning to lift.
“I ate a piece of that delicious hot pie with a scoop of ice cream melting over the top of it and forgot everything else.” His stomach felt suddenly hollow.
He swallowed down the saliva building in his mouth before continuing. “By the time I was done, I was more than ready to face the school board. The confidence my mom had somehow given me helped me blow the accusation apart. Not only was the teacher discredited, but all my past projects and previous tests through him were reanalyzed. I ended up with the highest marks in the class.”
Jori’s brow furrowed. “All because of pie?”
J.D. chuckled. “All because of my mom. It wasn’t the pie. It was that she took the time to make it just for me. It was the way she talked with me, listened to me, and the way she took the tangle of the mess I was in and weaved it into a cohesive pattern.” His heart swelled as he spoke. “It was the way she built up my confidence without using false praise. She always did have a way of making me believe in myself.”
“She sounds very nice.” Jori still had a flat look on his face, but, if he wasn’t mistaken, there was a warmth in his tone.
“Best mother in the galaxy,” he replied with a smile.
“So your father didn’t consider her as an influence of weakness?”
He frowned. I bet this is how his father views women. “No. Not at all. Moms do tend to be overprotective and are more about getting in touch with their feelings than dads are. But it’s a complimentary balance. I don’t suppose you see much husband-wife relationships in Tredon?”
“It’s more common amongst the lower classes, but I don’t think it’s the same as it is here.”
“That’s a shame.” The boy could use a different perspective. “You know, women are just as intelligent and capab—“
Jori put up his hand. “I don’t want a lecture on the topic. I’ve read many scientific documents in support of your argument already, and I can’t refute it other than to say, what is known and what is practiced can be two very different things.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure you’re only ten cycles old?”
Jori frowned. “Of course.”
He smiled. Maybe the boy didn’t understand it was a rhetorical question, but his conceptual understanding was impressive for one his age. From what he understood, Tredons viewed women as inferior and treated them as such. If this was true, Jori didn’t seem to agree.
Even though the boy didn’t share much about his mother, there was something about the subtle expressions he made as J.D. talked. And it was something good.
“Well,” he said as he began putting the schemster pieces back in its box, “What do you say we forget the mental exercises for the day and get some physical exercise?”
The two of them put the game pieces away. When the last was done, Jori stood. “Wall ball?” he said.
J.D. smiled broadly. “Wall ball.”
The commander raised his fists in the air. “Yes!”
The man’s exultation blew like a gust of wind into Jori’s senses. It was almost enough to make him smile, but he dared not let the commander see such a thing. Emotion is weakness.
J.D. had sweat pouring down his face. The front of his shirt along with the pits of his arms were stained. The man’s face was red and he was practically panting.
Jori’s shirt was wet as well, though not as much and more evenly distributed. His heart beat quickly and his breathing was deep, but neither were straining. J.D. might be tired but his own body was just getting warmed up.
Despite having lost another game of wall ball, the challenge had been exhilarating. J.D.’s height and reach may have given the man an advantage, but Jori liked it when the odds were against him. If a challenge was too easy, it wasn’t worth taking.
It helped that he was also able to sense J.D.’s enjoyment of the game. The combination of their emotions was enough to make him momentarily forget his worries for his brother and the swell of hostility from his surrounding enemies.
J.D. wasn’t like anyone he had ever met. The man’s kindness should be a weakness, but he had a hard time seeing J.D. as weak. The commander might not be a warrior. But there was just something about him.
He should hate this man. And J.D. should hate him. But unlike the four guards standing just outside the court, there was no hint of any negative emotions in the commander at all. Not only was J.D. different than a Tredon warrior, he was different from the others on this ship as well. It was puzzling, but also a relief. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he liked the man, though.
The commander wore a huge grin. Jori pressed his lips together to keep from smiling at J.D.’s cheerful, and almost annoyingly infectious, mood.
They exited the court. As they sat on a nearby bench, the hairs on Jori’s arms and up the back of his neck prickled like a hundred-thousand tiny needles all stabbing him at once. He reflexively focused his senses on the four guards where the swell of hateful emotions originated. He met the eyes of one of them. The man grimaced and then looked away, but his animosity didn’t abate.
“Something’s changed, hasn’t it?” he asked J.D.
The commander’s confusion briefly poked through the hateful wall. “What do you mean?”
“The guards. They know, don’t they?” J.D.’s confusion turned guilty, answering Jori’s question. “I thought the captain said it was between us.”
“Well, yes,” J.D. replied. The commander’s feeling of dread was almost enough to overwhelm the ugly emotions of the guards. “But after discussing it more, he decided to at least inform the full lieutenants.”
His body tensed and he clenched his fists as he analyzed the four guards. They were each exhibiting about the same amount of hatred, yet the patches on their shoulders indicated only two of them were full lieutenants. Since his senses also told him J.D. was being truthful, the full lieutenants had either shared the information or it was just a coincidence. Either way, their level of their emotion pressed around him.
“You okay?” J.D. asked.
“Yes.” He kept his eyes on the guards. None of them were looking at him now, but their emotions were the same.
Jori met the commander’s eyes. He didn’t have to look at someone in order to sense what they were feeling, but looking at J.D. automatically made him refocused his ability. He still felt the animosity of his guards, but J.D.’s genuine concern helped push some of it aside.
“Yes, I’m sure,” he replied, surprised that he really was okay. He should have felt betrayed. He should have been angry. But whatever ill feelings he was having right now were not felt towards J.D.
J.D. clapped him on the back. “Well, I’m done here for the day. Are you gonna stay?”
He glanced at the guards and a pang of fear stabbed him. He took a breath and forced it aside. The guards don’t scare me. “A little while longer,” he said evenly.
J.D. seemed blithely unaware of Jori’s apprehension. “See you at o-four-hundred for dinner?”
Jori made a sharp nod in reply.
He watched J.D. retreat and followed him with his senses. With each step the man took, his light-hearted emotions went with him like a slowly dimming light.
When J.D. was gone, beyond his sensing reach, the weight of the surrounding animosity struck him once more. Each of his four guards were glaring at him now like ill-tempered blackbeasts.
His heart began to pound. He clenched his jaw, determined not to let these people intimidate him, and went to an empty mat to do some warm-up martial exercises.
They followed and kept their distance as usual. But he could overhear some of their whispers.
The words stung, but he forced himself to concentrate on the moves. Front-snap kick. Jab. Jab. Upper-cut.
“—grow up to be a psychop—“
Focus dammit. Block. Dodge. Roundhouse kick.
“—see how he’d like it if we cut—“
His cheeks burned. He was no baka. He knew what his people were capable of. He’d seen plenty of horrors, most of which he’d watched his father commit. Some of which he had done himself. They think they’re any better? They’re nothing a bunch of cowards.
Block. Strike. Block. “Kee-ya!” Take-down.
The four guards snickered. The heat on his cheeks spread over his entire face. His chest heaved and his heart pounded, but not from the exertion. Temeera! Bastards!
They were intentionally trying to antagonizing him. Control. Master Jetser’s words echoed in his head. He relaxed his clenched fists and unclenched his jaw. Then closed his eyes and focused inwardly, letting his deep breaths calm him and relax his tightened muscles.
The flush of heat returned to a normal level, as did the beating of his heart. Without giving any of them the satisfaction of a dirty look, he pointedly ignored them as he went over to another part of the gym.
A small group was gathered around the holo-man program, indicating it was in use. Oddly, the group burst into laughter. Jori made his way to an open spot to see what was going on.
His cheeks burned anew. Calloway was fighting a holo-man that looked like a Tredon warrior. His four guards caught up to him and joined the laughter.
Jori’s bottom lip began to tremble. Don’t you dare cry, you baka. Don’t you dare fucking cry. His whole body burned now. His throat hurt from trying to hold back the swell of emotion.
Calloway noticed him standing there. A huge grin spread across the man’s face, along with a surge of gloating satisfaction.
A fiery sensation spread over Jori’s body, burning away the hurt and shame. He clenched his fists and jaw and stood as motionless as a blackbeast waiting to pounce.
“What?” Calloway said. “You got nothin’ to say?”
His heart throbbed so loudly in his ears that Calloway’s voice was muffled. It took him a moment to register what the man had said.
Control. He forced himself to speak. “Yes.” He managed to keep his voice even. “I suggest you try a mock-fight with a Munchani. This way if you win, it’ll be more realistic.”
Calloway’s brows drew down and his face darkened. A Munchani was a race of people who were much smaller than average and had virtually no fighting ability.
Jori broke eye-contact and glanced at the control console. “What do you have this set at anyway? Level 5?” He harrumphed. “Figures.”
He’d beaten level five when he was just six years old. Granted, the holo-man was programmed to match his relative strength and height, but the skill level was the same.
A surge of fury emanated from the pompous jackass. Darkened emotions closed in from all around as the guards and onlookers stepped in closer.
His heart rate quickened. He was surrounded and outnumbered by people who obviously wanted to harm him. For whatever reason, though, they held back. Perhaps they were waiting for him to make the first move. But he was no baka.
He was no coward either. He glared challengingly at each man and woman. Outwardly, he wore the raging mask Master Jetser had taught him. Inwardly, he resisted the the instinct to run away. You can dodge and avoid, but never run, Master Jetser said.
They didn’t scare him anyway. Not really. He’d faced far, far worse.
“Someone needs to teach you a lesson, boy,” Calloway said.
“Really?” he said with sarcasm. “You think you’re capable of teaching me?” He huffed derisively.
Calloway stepped forward. “I know I am.”
Jori stood his ground and bore his eyes into the man. “If you’d like to try and express your dominance, go right ahead.”
He clenched his fists, but it wouldn’t be a fist he’d first strike with if Calloway made a move. It would be a quick kick to the groin. Then he’d use his fist in an upward thrust to the man’s chin as he doubled over.
It wouldn’t end there, though. The guards and the other onlookers inched closer. He kept his eyes on Calloway, but took in a broader view for potential weaknesses and openings from the others surrounding him. I could take them all if I wasn’t so damned small!
“I promise, the only way you’ll succeed is if all of you join in at once,” he continued. “Even then, no one will be walking away.” His voice hitched, but he hoped it still sounded intimidating.
Calloway harrumphed. “Why don’t you show us what you’ve got?”
“I’m not stupid,” he blurted.
Calloway crossed his arms. “That’s right. You know better than to start trouble.”
Jori narrowed his eyes. “I don’t start trouble. I finish it.” His heart fluttered rapidly. His body was heavy and stiff, but poised to strike at a moment’s notice.
Someone else made a derisive noise. “Your people start trouble all the time.”
Jori jerked his head and glared at the man who spoke. “I’m not the one starting it this time, though, am I?”
Once Calloway was down, he’d roll away from the man and come up beside the brute who’d just spoken, and then swipe the man’s skinny little legs out from under him. The man would fall quickly and he’d elbow him in the throat as hard as he could. Then he’d roll to his feet and swing his arm into the gut of the next person who got close to him.
Calloway stepped forward again. Jori snapped his head back to him. His body bristled in anticipation.
The raging storm of malice surrounding him was suddenly cut through by another emotion. “You all have got to be kidding me,” a woman’s voice said. “You can’t seriously be thinking about ganging up on this boy.”
“He’s the spawn of a demon,” Calloway said.
“I don’t care. This is stupid,” she said as she pushed her way through the crowd to Jori’s side.
Jori’s mouth fell open and he quickly shut it. He glanced around with uncertainty. A part of him wanted to be offended at her interference, but another part of him was relieved.
“You don’t know who he is,” one of his guards said.
“I know very well who he is,” the woman snapped. Her face was red. She looked angry, but Jori sensed she was also astounded and disgusted. “I also know that you’re no better than his father if you’re all standing here with the intent of hurting a child.” She made a big gesture with her arm. “All of you, every single one of you, ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
To his surprise, the crowd stepped back. He could still feel their anger, but he also felt shame in a few of them.
The group slowly disbursed. One by one, they turned away, leaving him standing there with the woman acting as a personal guard.
Soon, everyone except his four guards and Calloway had gone.
“Saved by a woman,” Calloway said with an ugly twist of his mouth.
“Yes, you were,” he managed to reply.
Calloway’s hate seethed, but said nothing more. The man gave both he and the woman a snide look and turned away.
Jori slowed his breath. His skin began to tingle as the adrenaline slowly wore off. It was over… For now.
I’d love to hear some constructive criticism. Please leave a comment below. Praise would be most welcome as well.
(This sci-fi saga is protected by copyright) Copyright May, 2016 by Dawn Ross
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