The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)
Chapter 25 – Revised
(This is the rewrite of a chapter already written. Some things have changed, and hopefully have changed for the better. Please read on and let me know what you think in comments. If you’re reading this blog for the first time, you should check out the previous chapters of my science fiction story first. Scroll down or find what you need from the column on the right.)
J.D. left Bracht’s meeting with the security officers with a feeling that he’d just been strung through a singularity. The Rabnoshk warrior really had a way of lecturing. It seemed to have left everyone there with the same feeling. None of the departing security officers spoke as they hastily returned to their duties.
He, himself, had only been there as an observer. But the quake of the Rabnoshk warrior’s voice tremored down to the core of his bones. The shame, disappointment, and anger the warrior had expressed left even him feeling guilty.
It was a truly impressive experience. His respect for the man grew by the day. However boorishly Bracht had behaved towards the boy, the man was proving to be much more compelling. Not at all the one-dimensional brute I had first assumed.
“Hey, Jori,” he said to the boy as he entered the elder prince’s room in sick bay.
Jori looked up and made a slight nod.
“Is he any better?”
Jori shook his head.
He pulled up one of the chairs and sat down beside him. Jori didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk, so they sat in silence for some time.
The boy hardly moved as he sat hunched over his brother’s bed. This posture was very unlike his usual stiff and formal bearing. He couldn’t be sure if it was because the boy was becoming more relaxed with him around or if he was depressed. Maybe a little of both.
Jori sat up with a slight jerk. “What’s wrong with the security officers?” His head tilted in the direction where the officers stood on the other side of the privacy curtain.
Wrong? “Oh, you mean how they’re being a little more mindful?” He smiled. It struck him as funny that the boy could sense the difference Bracht’s speech had made in them.
“I was going to say tense, but I suppose mindful is a good description,” Jori replied. “So why are they more mindful?”
“Well, we found out about what happened in the gym the other day.”
Jori’s brow furrowed. “So?”
“So… Their behavior was way out of line. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
The boy shrugged. “Why would I? It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“Maybe. But you don’t have to handle alone, you know. It shouldn’t have happened. What they did was wrong. Very wrong.”
“Why? After everything my father’s done, they have a good reason to hate me.” The boy’s face looked truly perplexed.
“Every person should be judged for themselves. You can’t be blamed for your father’s actions.”
“Maybe that’s true for an ordinary person. But I’m a prince. My entire reputation is built upon my father’s.”
He has a point. A small one, an unpleasant one, but a valid one. “You’re still your own person, Jori. Maybe you’ll need your father’s authority, but you don’t have to be like him.”
“In some ways I do.”
Some ways, as in being the best fighter and the best strategist by practicing three hours a day for each? Yeah, I see why it’s necessary. Tredon was a very dangerous place. He put his hand on Jori’s shoulder. “Perhaps in some ways. But it still doesn’t give anyone the right to gang up on you like our officers did.”
“It was cowardly.”
“Yes, it most definitely was. Tell me if it happens again, alright? I don’t think they have a good reason to hate you at all.”
Jori raised one eyebrow, as though in skepticism.
“I mean it,” he said with a smile. “You know I do.”
Jori scowled. “Yes, but I don’t understand why. I’ve been nothing but a brat since I arrived.”
True enough, but… “I can understand, though. You’re under a lot of stress.”
“That is no excuse,” Jori said. “I am quite capable of controlling my emotions.”
That’s an understatement. He was only just beginning to see the boy show more than just anger. “So I’ve noticed. Rather unusual for one your age.”
“Master Jetser taught us the importance.”
“Master Jetser, huh?” So not his father. “What else does he teach?” he asked carefully. Jori usually got defensive when he asked questions. But the boy didn’t seem quite as defensive today.
“Most all of our fighting techniques, except strategy and aerial combat.”
“Hmm. He must be a good teacher. I’ve seen your techniques in the gymnasium. Pretty impressive.”
“Thanks,” Jori replied with a shrug. “I still have a long way to go.”
“I bet when you grow into your strength, you’ll be quite adept.” He pat Jori on the shoulder again. It felt good to have the boy finally opening up to him.
“I have to be more than just adept. Terk and I have to be the best. Otherwise we will not be fit to lead.”
“Sounds like a lot of pressure,” he replied. And no fun. Boys his age should have at least a little fun. But Jori’s world was a lot different than his own. Climbing trees, playing ball, and swimming was probably frowned upon where he was from, unless it had some sort of combat applications. Sad.
“Despite what many may think, being a prince doesn’t mean living a life of privilege. It means I have a lot to live up to.”
“That’s rather Insightful.” I still can’t believe he’s only ten. “I’ve met a few nobles and dignitaries who think otherwise.”
“Then they’re fools.”
“Yeah, they were.” He shrugged. Much less mature, that’s for sure.
He looked down at the peaceful face of the other prince. How much are these two alike? Will this boy have Jori’s same level of maturity? Will he be as cooperative as his brother? Or will I have an angry warrior on my hands when he wakes up?
“Does this pressure to be the best ever pit you and your brother against one another?” he asked. Lt. Stein had said something about other Kavakian princes killing one another.
“It could, but it won’t” Jori’s tone sounded confident. “Sure, we compete. But we also try to complement one another’s abilities. We each have our strengths and weaknesses.”
He nodded thoughtfully. If Jori’s strength is combat and strategy, what’s his brother’s? Maybe the older prince wouldn’t be so bad. Then again, Jori didn’t seem to be very aggressive. Did this mean Terk was?
Only time will tell. For now, the elder prince looked peaceful. At first, he’d hoped this boy would live so as not to provoke a war with the Tredons. But now, he hoped he’d live for Jori’s sake. Perhaps other Kavakian princes had been rivals, but Jori’s love for his brother was evident. I only hope his brother cares for him as much in return.
“He sounds like a good brother.”
“He is.” Jori’s face fell, like a wave of sadness had come over him.
He squeezed Jori’s shoulder affectionately. Jori didn’t react, not like the day before when he cried in his arms. But he didn’t reject it either. Things were going really well between them.
They said nothing for a while. After the flood of information Jori had voluntarily shared with him, he didn’t want to push it.
After some time, Jori turned to him.
“I am confused about something,” the boy said.
“The captain doesn’t seem like a warrior, but everyone here does what he says. How does that work?”
Good question. When he was Jori’s age, he’d considered authority as just a given. It wasn’t until he’d taken a class on leadership at the P.A. institute that he really understood the complexity behind it. And poor Jori probably only knew one aspect of it. “There’s a lot more to leadership than just being able to force people to do what you want.”
“Like trust. A good leader doesn’t just order people around. He takes an interest in the people who serve him. He respects them. And he cares for their well-being. In return, his followers don’t just give him their obedience. They give him their loyalty because they trust he will look out for them.”
Jori nodded thoughtfully. “Are you loyal to Captain Arden?”
He took a moment to reply. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Why the hesitation?” Jori asked.
He smiled. The boy doesn’t miss a thing. “He hasn’t been my commanding officer for long. But the more I get to know him, the more I respect him.”
“You’ve had commanding officers you didn’t respect before?” The boy’s face twisted into a look of curiosity.
“Oh, most definitely.” Zimmer. A hard feeling formed in his gut.
“But you obeyed them anyway, yes?”
“Most of the time, but …”
Jori looked at him expectantly.
He’s not going to let it go. Well, it’s only fair, I suppose.
He stroked his chin. Where to begin? “We are expected to always obey our commanding officer. It is ingrained in us from the very first day we enter the institute. So that’s what I do, even when I don’t like the orders I am given. But,” he hesitated. He hadn’t really discussed the Kimpke incident with anyone other than his parents. Sure, it had recently come up between him and the captain, but they didn’t really discuss it. Not fully, anyway.
“But,” he continued, “when I was ordered to fire upon a vessel that I knew had innocent people on it, I refused. I was the tactical officer on board another ship under the command of a rear admiral. The ship in question was harboring a dangerous criminal, Jokko Kimpke. The rear admiral had been pursuing this man relentlessly for months. And when he finally caught up to him, he refused to be deterred by the other vessel’s refusal to give Kimpke up. We tried many techniques to get the ship to surrender Kimpke, but nothing worked. The rear admiral was so angry that he finally ordered me to open fire. Not only did I disobey, but I also temporarily disabled the torpedoes. Kimpke got away.”
Jori, who had always seemed so careful about masking his emotions, looked obviously riveted now with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. “What did they do to you as punishment?” the boy asked. “You can only guess what my father would have done if someone had disobeyed him like that.”
“Oh, I can imagine,” he replied. “My punishment was harsh, but nothing like that. I was put in the brig. The rear admiral charged me with willful insubordination. I was nearly convicted of the crime. But luckily the court determined that the rear admiral’s order was unlawful and I was acquitted.”
“So the court ranks above the rear admiral?” he asked, his tone a pitched higher.
“Only when it comes to judging crimes,” he replied. “The court system is a way of applying checks and balances so the authorities overstep their directive.”
“We don’t have anything like that.” The boy shook his head in seeming dismay.
“This means when you and your brother come to be in charge, you’ll have to be mindful of the fact that just because you can do whatever you want, doesn’t mean you should.”
Jori nodded in agreement, but didn’t offer anything more. He didn’t want to instigate an argument about the injustice of the Tredon government, so he left it at that.
He couldn’t imagine anyone having power over his father like that. The closest thing his father had to keep him from doing whatever he wanted was with the way some lords, especially Lord Falcorn, presented a subtle threat of rebellion if he crossed a line.
Lords had rebelled before, and paid for it with their lives and the lives of their families, but Lord Falcorn was too powerful. His father couldn’t afford for the man to oppose him.
Not yet, anyway. Things could change when he and Terk got home and gave him the information about the scientists.
A wave of guilt washed over him. It wasn’t just because Lord Falcorn was his uncle. He looked over at J.D. The man smiled warmly and he could feel the genuine empathy emanating from him. His father despised men like this. Emotion is weakness. Sentiment is weakness, he always said. He’d kill J.D. without mercy if the opportunity arose. And if his father got what he wanted from those scientists, the opportunity just might come.
Why should I care? I’m a Tredon prince and I have obligations. He’s my enemy. My sentiment for him is a weakness. But when it came to suppressing his emotions, he wasn’t as adept as his brother. Terk never cried about anything—not ever.
At least Jori never cried when his father punished him. He’d been taught to endure physical pain. But crying from sadness was harder to suppress. That moment when Terk almost died, he sensed J.D.’s compassion and his own emotions broke into a flood. He should’ve been ashamed for allowing it to happen. He’d been taught better.
But he wasn’t ashamed. A warmth radiated from J.D.’s hand on his shoulder. He was safe here with this man. And he was no longer alone.
An uneasy feeling suddenly welled up and a pricking sensation crept up his arms and spine. Someone was intent on something in a very dangerous way. Whoever it was felt the same way a blackbeast felt as it hunted.
Since he couldn’t see through the privacy curtain, he opened his senses. The person wasn’t someone he had sensed before, at least he didn’t think so. Everyone had a different scent of sorts about them, but it wasn’t always easy for him to tell the difference unless he’d been around the person a few times before.
A sense of satisfaction arose from the person. They were looking his way now. He didn’t know how he knew this, but the crawling feeling in his stomach made him feel like eyes were boring into him—like he was their prey.
He held his breath. His body stiffened in anticipation.
But the person didn’t come. Their sense of satisfaction, now satisfied, diminished. Then whoever it was left. He followed them with his mind, but soon lost track as the now subdued emotions mingled in with the others crewmembers.
“What’s wrong?” J.D. asked a little too late.
He let the tension in his shoulders go. They were gone. “Nothing.” Or at least I hope it was nothing.
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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