The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)
Chapter 13 – Revised
(This is a revised chapter from the original version of part one of this science fiction story. It is very much the same except I’ve tried to write it in deep PoV. Even though this chapter is similar to one in the original, the revised novella has a lot of changes. So don’t read the unrevised version in order to skip ahead. Stay tuned every Saturday for another chapter.)
J.D. breathed in a heavy rhythm. A pleasant burning warmed his calves and thighs. Sweat trickled down his back.
The weight lifting area came back into view as he rounded the track. Eleven. One more lap to go.
The same people he’d passed earlier were still there. He shook his head at the sight of Bracht lifting a substantial amount of weights on the bench press. Thank goodness the machine had been fixed. Lt. Gresher had earned two broken ribs when the device failed to take over after he’d lost his grip. If it had malfunctioned while Bracht had been working out, the man would have been crushed for sure. And it would have taken dozens of people to life the barbell off of him. Exaggeration? Yes. But not by much.
He jogged towards the open padded area where Jori was still doing his tumbling exercises. In the time it took for him to jog three steps, Jori had done a roundoff and a series of flips. He would have whistled in awe if he hadn’t been trying to keep his breathing even. The boy might actually be good enough to be in the Prontaean Games. He was fast, agile, and, based on what he had seen him do on the balance beam earlier, he had a great sense of balance.
A crowd had gathered just as they had done yesterday. But after Calloway’s punishment, he was fairly certain no one else would give the boy any trouble, especially not with Hanna in charge today. He could always count on her to do every aspect of her job well.
He pumped his arms and increased his pace for the final lap. His legs burned but he pushed harder, taking ever deeper breaths. A few more yards. Breath. Breath. Almost there. His heartbeat throbbed in his ears.
Done! He sped by the weight machines and slowed back into a jog as he ran up to where Jori was doing one-handed somersaults. He found a spot between the spectators and sat down to catch his breath. His pulse slowed but still pounded.
The mat felt cool on the back of his legs as he stretched them out before him. As usual after a workout, he could touch knee to nose and barely feel the stretch. Still, the burning in his legs abated, not quite like ice, but just as soothing. He stretched his toes toward him and let out a long breath, almost like a sigh.
As he stretched, he watched Jori do more flips, cartwheels, and somersaults. The boy showed no signs of tiring. Oh, to be young again. Not that he was old. But he’d probably break his neck if he tried that stuff.
Jori walked over to him just as he finished stretching. The boy’s face was red with a sheen layer of sweat, but nothing about his posture indicated he was tired.
“That was very impressive, Jori.”
Jori nodded in reply. Whether as a way to say thanks or as an acknowledgement, he wasn’t sure.
Probably the latter. “You ready to go?”
Jori frowned. “It’s only been an hour. I have a couple more to go.”
“A couple more? Is it normal for you to exercise for so long?”
“Yes. Two to four hours a day. Sometimes more.”
“Really? That’s a lot. How much time do you spend studying?” As intelligent as the boy was, he had to be spending quite a bit of time with lessons, which meant very few hours left for playing.
“Four to six hours a day, which reminds me … I will need some reading material. I’m currently studying Pershornian Warfare, Fourth Generation, and Alkon’s theories on quantum mechanics.”
He almost missed a step. “That’s a really impressive reading list.” Although he specialized in strategic warfare, he hadn’t gotten into the complexities of Pershornian warfare until he’d entered the P.A. Institute.
Jori replied with a shrug.
“I can get you a digiview with access to the MDS. You are welcome to read anything you find on the MDS.”
The boy looked over the gymnasium, probably looking for something else to do. An uncomfortable silence fell between them. He could leave Jori with the security officers and work on some scheduling. As much as he hated scheduling, the idea actually seemed pleasant. But he did have another duty to attend to. Jori didn’t seem to have as much of an attitude today, so perhaps this was his chance.
“How about a game of wall ball?” He pointed toward one of the side rooms where two people playing could be seen through the plexiglass.
He led Jori over to the players. “Two, or sometimes more, people face the wall and hit the ball with a racquet up against it.” It was his favorite exercise. And although it might be a little intense for most children, he bet Jori could handle it.
The boy never seemed to tire. They played for far longer than he’d intended. And although legs were beginning to feel rubbery, he was actually having fun. Jori was pretty good. The boy lost most games, but this only seemed to make him try harder.
It was Jori’s turn to hit the ball. It bounced over to the other side of the court. The boy went for it in a dive and crashed to the floor, his elbow hitting first with a loud crack.
J.D. cringed and rushed over to Jori to make sure he was okay. The boy sat up and cradled his arm. He winced, but the look was fleeting.
Jori stood up. “It’s not bad.” His face was completely unreadable.
“Come on. Let me take a look.” He led him out of the room and they sat on the bench outside. The boy’s elbow was red, but the bone didn’t seem broken.
“I can keep playing.”
“We should go see a medic to make sure it’s not broken.”
“I don’t need a medic. It’s not broken. Just bruised.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to check. And at the very least, we can get you something for the pain.”
“I don’t need anything for the pain.” Jori frowned. “I would know if something was fractured or broken, so seeing a medic is a waste of time.”
He sighed. The boy certainly could be stubborn. “Okay.” He wiped his forehead. He sighed again, this time in hesitation. This was the perfect opportunity. “Speaking of broken bones, though, Dr. Jerom noticed both you and your brother have had quite a few.”
“Yes.” Jori shrugged.
He waited a few moments, but Jori didn’t offer anything more. “It’s unusual for someone your age, of any age actually, to have had so many bone reconstructions. How did they all happen?”
“Various things.” As usual, his face showed no emotion.
He gritted his teeth at the boy’s brevity. “Like what?”
“In exercises, games… I’ve been in a couple of vehicular crashes.”
“So all accidents?”
His gut began to churn. “Mostly? As in some were intentional?”
“That is correct.”
The uneasiness in his stomach doubled. Why would anyone intentionally harm a child in such a way? “From your father?” He didn’t really want to hear the answer, but he had to ask.
“From my father, others, and from my Jintal training.”
“Jintal training!” His gut felt like it was doing the tumbling exercises Jori had been doing earlier. Jintal was a harsh training method used to build up pain tolerance. “Aren’t you a little young to undergo Jintal training?”
“Yes, but my father found a way to persuade a Jintal master to teach us.” The boy’s nonchalant tone unnerved him.
“You know this is wrong, don’t you, Jori? What your father puts you through is abuse, torture even, and it’s morally wrong.”
“My father is not known for his morality, Commander,” Jori stated matter-of-factly.
His mouth fell open. A part of him wanted to comfort the boy, but Jori was so unemotional about the entire issue, he wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Aren’t you worried,” he finally said. “Worried that your father will kill you, or get you killed?”
“I don’t think about it. I wouldn’t be the first to die by my father’s hand, but there isn’t much I can do about it.”
The urge to vomit welled up. “If you could get away from it, go somewhere else, somewhere safe, would you go?”
The boy’s eyebrows went up. He met his eyes and glanced from one to the other as though searching.
“I mean it.” He put his hand on Jori’s shoulder.
The boy finally looked away. “Thank you, but no.”
He jerked back. It wasn’t just at the boy’s negative reply, but also because it was the first polite words the boy had ever said to him. “Why not?”
“Because of my mother.”
“You don’t want to leave her behind.” He gave Jori’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“Correct,” Jori replied. “And because I have responsibilities.”
He shook his head. “You are too young for so much responsibility.”
“Fulfilling my responsibilities keeps my alive, Commander.”
Now I know why he doesn’t show any emotion. He’s trying to numb his feelings. He rubbed the back of Jori’s shoulder. “Oh, Jori. I’m sorry. No one should have to live that way.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me.” The boy’s tone was still formal, but seemed softer somehow. “My life is not so dark and dismal as this conversation has led you to believe.”
“Tell me the good things, then.”
“My brother. My brother. My friends.”
“Those certainly sound like good things.” He took a deep breath in order to calm his gut. It had knotted up painfully during this disturbing conversation. “Tell me, if you spend most of your day exercising and studying, what do you do for fun?”
“Exercising and studying are fun.”
“I can see how that can be. But nothing just for the sake of having fun?”
“My brother and I did some fun things at the Melna space station.”
“Like what?” His stomach fluttered this time. The boy was actually opening up to him.
“We used a holo deck to visit some exotic planet-scapes. And we went to see a pair of laverjack beasts that the Hurvans were transporting.”
“Sounds very interesting.” He asked more about the planet-scapes and found that Jori enjoyed a number of nature activities, including hiking and rock climbing, things he greatly enjoyed himself. Jori still kept any emotion showing on his face, but it was exciting to see the way his eyes lit up when he talked about a survivalist excursion he had been on recently with his brother.
The conversation turned to the boy’s interest in animals. It wasn’t just the ferocious creatures like laverjack beasts he was interested in. He seemed to like animals and even began asking about the dogs he had seen with people during their tour of the ship’s botanical garden.
Their conversation went very well for a while longer. He still hadn’t managed to get a smile from the boy, but he felt he was really close.
Eventually, the conversation led to Jori’s interest in the sciences, and the perfect opportunity came for him to bring another issue up. “What about scientists? Did you speak to some scientists when you were at the Melna space station?”
Jori wrinkled his brow in bewilderment.
The question was slightly out of place. He knew it the moment he’d said it. How can I say this without sounding accusatory? “We found some communications on your ship about some scientists and we are wondering what it is about.”
Jori’s eyes darkened and his jaw clenched. “I see. You’re just being nice to me in order to trick me.”
“What? No.” He waved his hand in dismissal. “That’s not it at all.”
The boy narrowed his eyes. “Liar.”
“I mean yes, I do want information. But me being nice to you… it’s genuine.” It really was. They were having such a good conversation, pleasant even.
Jori stood up. “We’re done talking,” he said coldly, and walked away.
Darn it. We were connecting. He ran his hand down his face and to his chin. He had been making real headway with the boy. Now they were back to square one. Darn it. I should have waited a little longer.
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 March, 2016 by Dawn Ross
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