This is the third volume in the series of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Planet Trade Organization. It consists of accounts of what happened after Cooler left for Earth and never returned. Nitro, the brother of Cooler and Frieza, tried to rule as a galactic king during this time as the surviving members of his family, imperial governors, and military generals from the other regions of the former Planet Trade Organization desperately fought with one another to gain power and wealth. All chapters are written in the first-person perspective. Chapters 1 and 2 take place before the final chapter of the previous volume in this collection.
This volume's theme song is Identikit by Radiohead.
Planet Trade Organization Leaders: Start
This section will detail who is in charge of the Planet Trade Organization as of the start of this volume:
|Leader||Role||Number of Soldiers||Relation|
|Cooler||Ruling King of the PTO||Several trillion||First son of King Cold|
|Nitro||Prince of the PTO||Several trillion||Third son of King Cold|
|Kuriza||Prince of the PTO||Several billion||First son of Frieza|
|Arcterial||Ruling lord of the PTO||Several billion||Younger brother of King Cold|
|Icer||Ruling lord of the PTO||Several billion||Younger brother of King Cold|
|Glacial||Military General of the PTO||Several million||Son of Arcterial|
|Polaria||Military General of the PTO||Several thousand||Daughter of Icer|
|Hail||Military General of the PTO||Several thousand||Daughter of Icer|
|Avalan||Military General of the PTO||Several thousand||Son of Icer|
|Salza||Leader of Cooler's Armored Squadron||Several thousand||Cooler's second in command|
|Srief||Military General of the PTO||Several thousand||Nitro's second in command|
Please note: this section contains spoilers for this book. Light grey regions indicate unclaimed territory. Orange regions indicate officers in rebellion from the Planet Trade Organization. Yuki's pink region is a loyal sub-region of Kuriza's Empire.
Chapter I: An Evanescent Imperium
|Position:||Temporary Commander of Planet Cooler 068|
|Date of account:||December 15, 764 Age|
The snow was falling lightly that day. My soldiers stood in neat rows, lined up down the streets in battalions of three hundred apiece. There were more than sixteen thousand battalions – the full might of Planet Frieza 068. More than three hundred thousand of them had died since I’d come here – the price that had to be paid for rebellion. I had rooted the rebels out, crushed them, and executed their leaders in front of everyone. Now, those who remained were loyal to me and the Planet Trade Organization.
They presented themselves to me on the outskirts of the war-ravaged capital city. I’m sure many of them were shivering. I eyed them, scanning them with my scouter. Every living being on this planet was before me now. With the flick of my wrist, I could destroy them all. But I would not. Governor Lychin’s troops would be serve my father well. I knew that much. Now we simply waited for him to arrive, with ships enough to take us from this cursed place.
068 wasn’t too cold for me, just remote and ruined. I wanted to return to the living universe; I wanted to see my father again. This planet was a dead end, so to speak. The days and weeks of rooting out rebels had been tiresome, foreign work. I wasn’t used to raising my power level so, and fighting – killing – was something I had not done in a long time, either. Those who remained knew who I was. I was not their governor: I was Glacial, the nephew of King Cold. I was a member of the royal family – they knew this and feared me. I was all that was keeping them from killing each other.
Surveying the ranks, I focused in on a blue-skinned, horned alien who was giving me sour looks. She stood near the center of the army, in a detachment on the left side of the massive group. Flying over to her like a hailstorm, I landed, my feet spraying snow around. My dark crimson cape billowed in the frosted air.
“Soldier,” I said, “is there a problem?”
“No,” she said, eyeing me boldly.
“No, my lord,” I corrected her. Squeezing my fist as I raised her into the air, I brought the alien a few feet off the ground with my telekinetic powers. “That is no way to speak to a member of the royal family.”
The alien was thrashing violently as she hovered. The men and women around her did not so much as move. Their eyes remained trained on the city ahead; they did not want to join this rebel. Snow fell around us, like soft tears. The blue-skinned rebel was clawing at her neck, her arms flapping uselessly. I squeezed my fist and watched the skin around her throat explode. A waterfall of dark blood shot out of the gaping wound, flowing down the alien’s armor to land in the snow, where it puddled and smoked.
They respected me, but they did not love me. I was not their governor.
Turning swiftly, I flew back to my command center, a raised platform at the head of the army. There, Governor Madron, several lower-ranking officers, and my guards awaited me. I landed, brushing the snow from my shoulders, and faced the army again. “My fellow soldiers, good morning. I hope none of you are finding this day too cold…” They hummed with mixed energy in response. I nodded my head. “So now, let’s get down to business. You all were left under the command of Governor Lychin – the finest and largest army on any planet in our empire. But now here we are – I, Prince Glacial, lead you. It’s time this army was put to work. I tell you now, my fellow warriors, our empire is in a state of chaos. With the deaths of Frieza and King Cold, the legitimacy of the Planet Trade Organization is being questioned. But we won’t allow that, will we?!” I roared.
“No!!” they grunted back in a deep rumble, shaking the very ground.
“Governor Lychin will be joining my father once the ships arrive. You will return to taking orders from him, and he will take his orders from me. No further insubordination will be tolerated. I’m sure all of you have seen what happens to rebels.”
There were murmurs and barks of understanding. I exhaled deeply, puffing up fog in front of my face. “The ships will be here soon. Roll call will occur once they arrive; we will process each battalion individually. You are free to leave, but at the next sounding of the bells,” I said, motioning to the large automated loudspeakers hovering above the command platform (there were hundreds more like those in the city), “everyone is to return to this location and form up again as you are now. Anyone who does not heed the call will be executed as a traitor. Do I make myself clear, soldiers?!”
“Yes, my lord!” they screamed as one.
I turned swiftly to face the installation governor. “If that is all, let us return to the governor’s mansion to discuss…”
“My lord,” Madron said, bowing deeply, “I’m afraid something has happened.”
“What?!” A dread feeling bloomed in my chest. I knew this had been too good to be true. “Is it Cooler?”
“No, my lord, nothing of the sort. It appears, however, that Captain Torlini has returned with his security fleet, and he’s demanding to speak with you.”
“Captain Torlini distinguished himself in the war against the Nikkarins. He fought in the vanguard with your father during that last cataclysmic battle,” Madron was saying, as if bored. “He’s the commander of the security fleet that patrols around this area of the empire, though he’s not really meant to guard this outpost in particular.”
“Where has he been?” I asked sharply. “Knowing that space pirates destroyed 068’s fleet… he should have brought all he had here to guard our most important outpost in the region.”
“That is something you two will have to discuss,” the installation governor told me. “I’m sure he’ll join with your father’s–”
“He’ll burn,” I declared. “He should have been here sooner. He’s a rebel, I know it.”
“P-perhaps… my lord.” Madron’s voice sounded unconvinced. “Or perhaps, he’s just trying to right past wrongs…” The governor gave me a look, bowed, and exited the room.
Only my guards remained with me. I didn’t know what Torlini wanted, so I thought it would be best to meet with him first in private, in case he was already with my father, whom I knew would be moving against Cooler as soon as he regrouped with me. “Turn it on,” I commanded the guard nearest the video screen, and he obeyed.
“Prince Glacial. It is so good to see you alive.” The willowy, yellow frame of Torlini came into view. He wore dark grey and crimson robes, obscuring most of his body. But he looked thin and yellow and old.
“Captain Torlini,” I said gruffly. “We have been expecting you for a while now.”
“I got caught up in an… affair, let’s say.”
“I was hunting demons, with a survivor from Planet Frieza 116.”
I frowned. “I know nothing about what you are…”
“That’s fine, my prince.” Torlini’s words came with caustic flare, though they left little impact. He talked as if every breath was a burst of vapor, to be experienced for a moment before dissolving away. “You want my ships, don’t you?”
“I want that army you have trapped on that miserable ice world,” Torlini said. “If I am to invade Planet Ctaedi, I need more men, and your garrison will do.”
“You will not take my men,” I countered, feeling a flush rising in my cheeks. For the first time, I felt doubt creep into my body. What game was Torlini playing, trying to stand against a member of the royal family? “They will be given to my father, once he arrives, to augment his own army.”
“Is that so?” Torlini smiled. “I remember your father. I never thought he would turn traitorous like you.”
“I have paid for my sins,” I said bluntly. “I am with the Planet Trade Organization again. I’m loyal, and I am here to help our empire survive the coming storm. That’s all you need to know, captain.”
“Are you?” Torlini’s eyes flickered on the video screen, cool and golden. “Or are you going to give your father the men he needs to destroy Cooler?”
I did not let my fury show. “We are loyal members of the royal–”
“Enough. I know you’re a rebel,” Torlini spoke gravely. “You were sentenced to slave labor for the rest of your life for trying to assassinate King Cold. You shouldn’t be here, my prince.”
“How do you know that?!”
Torlini smiled for a moment. “I’m a trusted officer of Lord Cooler’s empire. You have taken over one of his outposts illegally, with the express goal of gifting your father soldiers who do not belong to him. Those are Lord Cooler’s soldiers, and he wants them back.”
“Governor Lychin rules this planet,” I reminded him. “And the governor has left me in control of his army while he’s away. I can do with them what I wish. I am a member of the royal family. I outrank you, captain.”
“You did,” he admitted. “Before you tried to poison your uncle. As for Lychin… that Faerin is gone, returned to his homeworld. There have been rumors about the Faereth… what they are doing… and if those rumors are to be believed, Lychin is just as much a rebel as you. He holds no power any more.”
“That’s not true! He’s not a rebel, and neither am I!” I knew very little of Lychin; I had never met him, never spoken to him. I didn’t know what this Faerin rebel plot was either, but I couldn’t back down now. “I order you to come to the surface to meet with me in person so we may discuss this matter further.”
“You want to take me prisoner, perhaps even execute me in front of the soldiers you somehow managed to bend to your will. Well, I won’t do it,” Torlini said. “A good commander never gives up the high ground.”
“My father’s coming,” I spoke. “He has hundreds of ships. Far more than you.”
Torlini nodded slowly. “Aye, he’ll destroy me, I’ve no doubt about that. Have you heard? Lord Arcterial defeated the rebel Zashisaro in open combat not but a few weeks ago. He’s a skilled battle commander – perhaps the best in the universe. I have no delusions about my own abilities, my prince, nor my fate.”
My prince. There were no words he could say that were further from the truth. “Surrender and live.”
“No.” His voice was tired and resolute. “Today is the day I die in service of my king. Cooler will know what happened here, and he will not forget your treachery, nor your father’s. Lord Arcterial may smash my fleet – I’ve no doubt he outnumbers me twenty to one, if not more. But he will never see you again. That much I can guarantee.”
“What are you saying?” I asked in horror.
“I’m telling you this, Prince Glacial: should your lord father come for you, I will destroy Planet Frieza 068, and all who are standing upon it at this very moment. I’ll kill every one of you, before Lord Arcterial can bring you into his rebellion. Otherwise, I’ll accept your surrender and the return of Lord Cooler’s army to his empire.”
“You’re a coward!” I seethed. “A bloody damn fool!”
Torlini nodded sadly. “Aye, but you can’t hope to stop me.”
“This is madness, my lord. Absolute madness!” Madron wheezed. “Please, we need to contact your father–”
“No,” I replied. “I’m going.”
“Maybe. Help me take off this damn cloak!”
We were in the inner sanctum of the governor’s mansion. All of my other advisors were sitting at the fine okanwood table, from which Governor Lychin had led many a meeting in the past. Guards lined the walls, as silent as stone gargoyles. I had told everyone what Torlini had said.
“Your father is not intending to march against Cooler,” Madron said quickly. “Torlini is the rebel.”
“I can breathe in space,” I mused. “I’m powerful enough to take out warships. I haven’t powered up that much in years, but…”
“There’re too many. It’s too dangerous. Glacial, think! We cannot afford to lose you, damn it!” Madron’s voice was coated in fire. “Not after all I’ve done!”
That was an interesting comment. I couldn’t be sure that Madron was lying, though. But there was something about him… something off. I wasn’t convinced he was loyal. He had acted too casually about the rebellions, and it seemed like before I got there, things had been going great – even with roughly 10% of the base in open rebellion.
“He will destroy the planet. Torlini will never let my father take the soldiers. So either we sit back and watch him bombard us unto oblivion, or we destroy his security fleet. How many ships does he have?”
“Twenty-one,” a thin-lipped, long-necked grey alien sitting at the other side of the table piped up. “Sixteen are of sufficient size for orbital bombardment.
“I can destroy them,” I said.
“Not that many. It’s too much, Glacial.”
I had had enough of these useless sycophants. They wanted me to sit back and watch myself die. I wasn’t going to follow them into such madness. I gave them all one last look and walked out of that room.
The afternoon air was crisp and dry; it was no longer snowing, but piles of melting water blanketed everything – the streets, buildings, and hovercars. I felt the familiar cold, and a shiver coated my body. To the grey sky I looked. Even from the ground, I could see the faint outlines of the largest of Torlini’s ships. They were waiting for me, up there… waiting for me to make a move. If Torlini knew so much about me already, it’s likely he knew what Switchie had done to me. If so… he wouldn’t believe that I had the strength, mentally or physically, to stand up to him. What he had said to me earlier was treason – there was no other way to put it. He was an alien in service to the royal family. I was a member of the royal family. He mocked me and threatened to kill me. For that, he had to die.
I screamed, conjuring up my aura. I would take the soldiers into space with me, if I had to. Thousands – maybe tens of thousands – would die. It was the only way. From behind, I heard footsteps, thick and slippery, echoing off the snow-ravaged streets.
It was Governor Madron.
He looked uncomfortable as he ran, as if that much exertion was beyond his normal capabilities. When he reached me, breathing hard and sweating like I once had while mining stars, the governor wheezed, “Wait, Glacial…!”
I ignored him, returning my gaze to the sky. That was when I saw the ship, small and round and brown-grey, descend from the heavens. “What is that?” I asked sharply. “Who’s coming?”
“I… I… I don’t know, m-my lord…” Madron gasped.
Narrowing my eyes, I stepped back and dissolved my aura, giving the ship room to land. It came flying down without any care, slamming into the snow violently. I raised my scouter, detecting half a dozen power levels inside. None were very high.
The air pressurized out into the cold world, and the ship’s ramp swung down, revealing a bright artificial world within. There he stood in the doorway – a robed, tentacle-faced beast. He nodded to me before stepping out, his hands outstretched like a prophet’s. Behind him, other squid-jaws followed, a dead procession of dark-robed aliens. None were as tall or as powerful as the first.
“Who goes there?”
“Please forgive me, Governor,” the head Quglith said, bowing. “My name is Minister Ctugyol of Planet Ctaedi, often referred to as Planet Frieza 121. Thank you for taking time to see me.”
I glanced at the heavily-breathing Madron, narrowing my eyes once again. Was he the one who gave the minister permission to land? Either way, he was too out-of-shape to say anything, so I looked back to the new aliens and said, “Welcome, Minister, but I’m afraid you are mistaken. I’m no governor. Lychin is away on official business. My name is–”
“We know who you are,” Ctugyol said, his voice sloshing like saltwater. His skin, which had been a milky white at first, was now a bright blue, speckled with shimmering orange – no doubt a reflection of my own appearance. I knew about the Quglith vaguely. Several of them had worked under me before… but I did not know what this one was doing here now. “Prince Glacial… it is an honor to meet you.”
Every Quglith bowed. A chill befell my body.
“How do you know that?!”
The alien grunted and sloshed his face tentacles. I glanced to Governor Madron again, but he did not return the gaze. Did he really expect me not to realize this was his doing?
“What do you want?” The wind blew my cape fiercely.
“We need help. Our homeworld is being attacked by a vicious officer from the empire. A rogue soldier, no doubt, but he is killing us by the millions.”
“He calls himself Captain Torlini.”
I laughed, it was so preposterous. “He’s the one in orbit right now… he’s blockading the planet.”
“And you would like to help me rid the galaxy of that treasonous filth?”
The Quglith nodded. “Please, he has orbitally bombarded our homeworld three times already. Our cities burn, our people suffer…”
“How will you support me?”
“W-we cannot offer ships or soldiers…”
“Then, what are you doing here?”
“Please.” Minister Ctugyol fell to his knees, staining his cloak with snow. “No one has listened… no one has helped. We suffer alone. In silence. Lord Cooler will not listen. I could not schedule a meeting with Salza until the March of next year. You have a large garrison of soldiers here. Stories of your skill and power have spread through the universe, Prince Glacial. You are our only hope… the last one who will listen to our plight… we need you, please.”
I nodded. “Follow me,” I said, motioning to the governor’s mansion behind us, which stood behind an intimidating fence of black metal. “Let’s discuss this inside.”
Madron looked at me queerly, but I ignored him as I trooped back through the snow to Lychin’s house. This was an opportunity, I knew. I wanted to destroy Torlini already. And doing so would aid the Quglith… a species my father would need for the impending war. The Quglith were the leading steel producers for the entire empire. They might not have many soldiers or ships now that Torlini had massacred them, but in the future…
“How did you get here?” I asked the Minister and his entourage as we walked back to the building. “Torlini is blockading the planet…”
“Our ships are small and few, but they are equipped with stealth-field generators. Good for quick movement, but not for power.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “the powerful ships are coming. I swear to you minister, that, if you trust me, by the end of this day, I will have Torlini’s head for you.”
The bells were ringing.
They were gathered as before, in rows too numerous to count, in that grey-wet cold. I stood in the third floor of Lychin’s mansion, on a little overlook with fancy pink marble balustrades. Nearly five million soldiers, every one of them outfitted in space suits. Soon, they would be following me into the void. Behind, the video screen buzzed and hummed. Only Madron, the Quglith, and my guards were in here with me. We were waiting for my father to arrive.
I thought of Cainus and the others as I stood on that overlook, watching the wind blow the snow about like dancing sand. It was all my fault. They were dead, I knew, every one of them. All because of me. The guilt was choking. I looked away. I would not be so weak as to lose these soldiers too. They had put their faith in a broken Arcosian, a weak man with more bark than bite. My fingers found the wound in my left forearm, brushing over the course, scarred skin. No rejuvenation tank could heal that wound.
I left the room for a moment, on the excuse of needing the bathroom. Once inside that smaller room, I came to the holo sink, which was a button on the wall, below a large mirror. Pressing the button, I released two small orbs into the air. They hummed mechanically and sprayed my body with air and water and foam in quick bursts, cleaning me off. I looked up to the mirror, studying my face in it. I was scarred and my shoulders were lumpy; I looked tired and small and young as a boy. Arcosians age slowly, aye, but I was so small and starved-looking in my fourth form. I looked sickly and exhausted.
Collecting my thoughts, I came to the realization that I would have to attack. Try as they might, my counselors – chiefly Madron – would not have their way. Many would die. That was how it had to be.
Back in the conference room, I noticed the video screen was on, flashing. “What’s going on here?”
“It’s Torlini! He’s jamming your signal, trying to control when you can see anyone else on the same frequency.”
At once, the screen flashed on, and the image of Lord Arcterial was crammed into the frame-of-view rather comfortably. His skin was a dark shade of purple – a sign of drinking or rage, I knew. I had a good guess as to what had made his face go like that. “Where is he, damn it?! Where’s my son?!”
“Father!” My voice was high and cold, all elegance and Arcosian dignity. The large lord’s face soften, though his eyes grew larger.
“G-glacial… is that you?”
The screen went fuzzy. “He’s playing us,” I whispered, my own face flushing with heat. “He’s trying to anger me. It’s worked.”
Madron pleaded, “No, my prince, no! You cannot go up there! Your army will be decimated… you will die!”
“It is not so easy to kill an Arcosian,” I told him. “And if I do not bleed, then by what right do I command these warriors?! They want to fight just as much as I do!”
“You will die,” the alien said quickly. “Y-you cannot hope to…”
I felt something slide against the back of my neck, and at once, my vision went blurry. I stumbled forward, grunting. Above, the screen returned. My father was peering eagerly at me, his only son. “Glacial!” he shouted uncertainly.
“Father… please… you have to kill Torlini. He’s a rebel. He wants to destroy the planet. Don’t let him!”
When I caught my breath, I noticed my skin was tingling. My head felt like it was full of blocks of katchin. I swerved and fell over, crashing into the table. Around me people were moving – running. My bodyguards were being savaged by the Quglith; the squid-jaws brandished retractable energy pikes from under their robes and speared every one of my guards.
They died screaming. I didn’t hear a word.
Madron had fled, leaving his blood to splatter across the expensive red wood door. I tried to stand, felt my muscles twitching, and collapsed again. Minister Ctugyol glided forward and reached out a slimy hand. I faltered and did not take it.
The ground shook violently. The glass from the windows shattered instantly, raining over us in dirty little chipped fragments. “No time!” I heard the minister gurgle. His skin color had changed to a deep ash red. He studied me carefully with those huge, rounded eyes of his.
Looking to my right, I saw a bolt of plasma sail across the snowdrifts before landing on the center of one of the outpost’s barracks. The building was lit in one second, and in the next, it exploded in a spire of white-yellow flames. More were coming. I could feel them landing all around us. My father had challenged Torlini. And the cowardly space rebel had kept his word.
People were running, screaming, dying. I heard none of it. I gulped and felt my throat constricting. I looked up helplessly at the minister and coughed. Reaching for his hand, I collapsed forward, my vision blurring as if I was in high motion, the planes of light refracting and bleeding rainbows into strobing ink. My numbness embraced my flesh; I fell into the sweltering dark willingly, as the world was melted around me.
There were two faces swimming before me – my father, and my sister. They studied me as I ran, cheering me on or muttering angrily to themselves. And the further I ran through the dark, the dimmer they grew, until both faded from thought and time, and I was home again… in the starkest, coldest place there was.
Chapter II: Blood and Duty
|Position:||King Cold's younger brother; Ruling Lord|
|Date of account:|| November 28, 764 Age (first scene)|
November 29, 764 Age (second scene)
December 15, 764 Age (third scene)
I never meant to find that bastard lizard before my son.
We had sent out scouts, to Zashisaro’s homeworld of E’an, to Planet Frieza 068, to Planet Frieza 043, and I kept a steady rotation patrolling the perimeters of my fleet, in case the damn traitor tried to take me by surprise. So far, there had been no signs of Zashisaro, nor my brother’s stolen fleet. Cold was dead; his ships now rightfully belonged to Cooler, though I hoped my brother’s son would leave me some of them as a reward for bringing him Zashisaro in chains.
The scouts to Planet Frieza 043 returned first, bringing with them news of the refueling outpost – no signs of Zashisaro. That was good. We would stop there for seventeen hours before setting out on our final destination: Planet Frieza 068.
My commanders were stoic officers, brooding as I was over this latest turn of events. My back still ached from Icer’s fury, and I knew sooner or later, it would come to blood between us, much as it would between Cooler and Nitro. Cooler, in all his arrogance, had threatened to kill Nitro on more than one occasion, yet he had never acted on that boast – he always seemed to talk recklessly and act cautiously. Was that for our own amusement? Did he not trust us with his true intentions? I cared little. My nephew might be the rightful ruler today, but he would not sit the throne for long. I had come too far. It was my time. By the end of this long campaign, the Planet Trade Organization would be mine, or I’d be dead. There was no middle ground.
Planet Frieza 043 was a gaseous world with orbiting refueling stations spinning circles about it like leal moons. The ships in my fleet were hundreds strong, bolstered by the meager reinforcements Cooler had given me. He knew I could defeat Zashisaro, so he had held back most of his fleet, for he correctly guessed that should battle be waged between Zashisaro and myself… Cooler’s own ships would lead the vanguard. He was not as stupid as his younger brother – I’d give him that.
As it was, I was hoping not for war… that is what the scouts were for. Admirals Ersi and Ravin stood at my side as we felt my flagship – the Absolute Zero – slide into dock. I stood at the great looking window, watching the stars melt like snow against the pitch black expanse. The lights of the dock blinked blue and white with obsessive fervency. I thought of Frost, my sweet daughter, and her queer lover. They would find no demons in Icer’s iron mines. I wondered if it had been a good idea to send them at all. I could have used her counsel right about now.
“I say we take only a small expedition to 68,” Ersi breathed. “You’ll get there faster, and–”
“No. Zashisaro could be waiting in ambush. He may know about Glacial. If he does…”
“That is a big if, sir.”
“It’s a risk I cannot take. What if Zashisaro is there? What if he has my son? My goal is to lose as few ships as possible. If we arrive at minimal strength only to find the full host of Zashisaro waiting for us and Glacial captured…”
“Aye,” the admiral nodded, shaking his grey-blue head and causing his milk-pink jowls to flap about, “that’s what every good commander wants of their own fleet. But perhaps speed is of the essence here. The faster we secure Planet Frieza 068, the less chance we have of Zashisaro taking your son captive.”
“We should go now,” urged Admiral Ravin. Her voice was thick with confidence, her hair long and and white and hanging in dreadlocks. “Strike before Zashisaro can prepare for us. There’s no chance he’s there waiting. It is time to move… time to gain the high ground. He will not expect such boldness. This is to our advantage.”
I kept no bodyguards, just the company of wise and seasoned battle commanders. Still, Ersi was getting on my nerves, and Ravin was doing her best to match him. I knew what was right; their strategies were foolish. It was a waste to continue this endless babbling debate. “Enough! Leave me.”
The two distinguished officers bowed and exited wordlessly. I knew I had made the old man mad – so be it. This was my fleet, my son, my decision. Ravin would be full of rage too, but her emotions mattered little. These two served me; it was not their place to assert themselves.
I left the Absolute Zero and found the captain’s holding quarters on board the largest of the floating outposts. It was an airy, spacious place, decorated with gilded ivy, walls of multi-colored flowers in vases, and relaxing hot spring pools. The air was sweet, the ambience cool. It did not soothe me, this place. I paced across the marble, my cape flapping behind me, my mind racing like a starving throng of space mosquitoes.
It took seventeen minutes. The bright blue screen on my royal wrist-comm lit up, and my heart pounded like a drum. I took a breath. “Go.”
“Lord Arcterial,” the pin-headed alien squeaked. “All’s clear here! There’s no sign of Zashisaro!”
“Have you done a complete sweep?”
“Yes sir! There aren’t any ships within three light years of the planet. It’s naked, without protection, as we expected!”
I sighed. “Good work, soldier. Let your superior officer know that I want you promoted at once for your excellent recon.”
“Oh… thank you sir! Thank you!”
I cut the communication. Zashisaro was not there. Planet Frieza 068 was unprotected. Was this too good to be true? Had that lizard not heard the rumors of Glacial’s survival? There was an emerald-tinged waterfall cascading down from the golden walls in front of me into the simmering pool at my feet. I was tempted to ease myself inside. I had sixteen hours, after all. My last group shouldn’t report in for hours, I knew. Their mission was the most secretive, the most dangerous. There was a good chance that they wouldn’t even survive it.
The miniature marble statues were of past governors of Planet Frieza 043 – men and women of a variety of species from Cooler’s and Frieza’s regions. They were all dead now, like my older brother. Eventually, Cold would get his statue too… in the corner of my throne room. That day was not yet upon us. My foot touched the water, and I shivered as I slid into the pool. Vapor rose from its surface. I left my clothes and armor behind, and went in naked, with only my mind.
I do not know how long I was in there. My wrist-comm, lying by the side of the pool, blinked and beeped, amidst sweat and steam, and I sighed as I eased myself partially out of the warm waters to answer it.
“Lord Arcterial?” came the fearful voice of another lackey.
“What is it, soldier?”
“Apologies for interrupting you, milord… but they’re here.”
“Yes sir!” The alien gulped and shivered audibly. “His fleet’s completely surrounded us!”
I was out of the pool like a space jackal hungry for blood. I had hoped Zashisaro would do this. He was dumber than I had thought. Toweling myself off, I ordered several of my soldiers, on my comm, to open up a channel between the lizard rebel and myself. That request did not take as long to fulfill as I had hoped.
I was alone in my holding area, wiping cool water from my dark skin. And there he was, on the screen on the far side of the room, hanging from the wall like a living painting. His snout was narrow, his teeth bared. His dull-colored scales shone with pale ferocity. I cared not for his attempts at intimidation – he was a rebel, and a poor one at that. Zashisaro did not scare me.
“Good to see you, old friend. Unfortunately, my dear Arcosian, it appears you are in a rather precarious situation.”
“Is that so?”
“Surrender now, and there will be no pain.”
I nearly laughed. “Your arrogance is second to none in this universe.”
Zashisaro shook his head. “I am not boasting, you old fool. I have your fleet surrounded. I could easily wipe your forces out if I wished. You were a fool to come here, Arcterial. I knew you would. Now I have you trapped.”
“You have outwitted me, aye,” I spat with sarcasm. “Congratulations. Now what do you want?”
“Your ships,” Zashisaro hissed over the screen. “All of them, including the Absolute Zero.”
The light on my wrist-comm blinked blue as ice. It was all I could do not to smile. It is done, Lord Arcterial, the message said in a digitized scrawl on my gauntlet’s screen. Zashisaro doesn’t suspect a thing. The lizard couldn’t see what I could. I wouldn’t allow such a thing. This game was over. I had already won.
I feigned hurt; it was easier than I thought. “Meet me… for terms. Please.” I swallowed, looking down. “We need to talk this through.”
“We will,” the traitor replied lustily, much to my surprise. “But know this, Arcterial: you are not your brother. This will not be pleasant. I will take much from you.”
“I did not expect anything less.”
The lizard’s face shifted; he seemed uncertain for a breath. I looked away, staring at the ugly marble statues of past governors, breathing hard. I hoped I looked angry. I was nervous; this was a massive gamble. If he didn’t take the bait…
“In six hours,” he said dryly, at last. My heart was thumping like explosions were detonating inside my rib cage. I swallowed, tried to look as defeated as possible, and nodded.
“I’ll be there.”
“No tricks,” Zashisaro seethed, “or your fleet burns.”
I cut the communications and smiled. “Wine!” I roared, my voice echoing through the chamber.
A servant came screaming out from around a corner, a platter of of ice wine in his hand, shining silver hovering above golden flesh. This was Euridian spice wine – a delicacy from the other side of the galaxy. I took a glass from the sweating servant, downed it, and took a second. Then, a third was in my hand, and a fourth. I don’t remember the taste of the fifth, nor the sixth. It was all fire, all lightness, all spice. I swore under my breath, and bade the servant away.
She was upon my wrist, as a slouching hologram, in a matter of moments. “Sire?”
“Hold the fleet back. There is to be no battle. I will meet with Zashisaro and take him there. Put the ships in a defensive formation – should any of Zashisaro’s rebels wish to join him in death, do not hesitate to help them along that path – but do not allow the fleet to attack otherwise. Do I make myself clear?”
“Very clear, sire.”
“If you fail to heed my words, it will be your life, Admiral.”
The comm cut out. I took a deep breath, and stepped out of that room, swearing under my breath again. Zashisaro had played a dangerous game. He could be trying to trap me as I was trying to trap him. There was no way to know. But I did know I was stronger than him. If it came down to it – I could defeat him in single combat. But no, it would not. I knew it would not.
I walked out of there, seeking the counsel of my admirals, knowing that no matter what they said, I had already determined what I would do. This battle was as good as over. Zashisaro’s rebellion was at its end, even if he didn’t know it yet.
Tzano smoke drifted up towards the blue-white lights dangling over our heads. Zashisaro had brought a dozen guards with him – his strongest, most loyal men. I had no one. The purple metal wrapped around us in flowery, cramped, curled steel. The recycled air was stifling. Zashisaro leaned back in his chair, puffing smoke and eyeing me like a stalking caecondi. I did my best to make him believe.
There was an energy shield between us, as I had expected. This shield was strong enough to withstand my power, though not for long – but if I tried to destroy it, Zashisaro would have enough time to escape. I took note of all of his guards, looking for familiar faces. Where was my spy? The one who would be risking his life to end this rebellion? I suddenly realized that I did not remember his face.
“80% of your fleet,” the lizard said finally, “and I’ll let you go, Arcterial. I’m feeling generous today. I could take it all, but… Well, I don’t want to humble an old friend too much.”
“Generous,” I mumbled. “How could I expect any less from my brother’s servant?”
“King Cold is dead.” Another puff. Above, the lights flickered. I bit my lip, feeling heat rising against my spine, under my armor. Why was it taking so long? I couldn’t stand this bastard. His arrogance was almost as bad as Icer’s. I felt sick. I wanted to punch a hole through his face.
“Things have changed.”
“They have indeed.”
The torturer’s eyes flashed yellow with indignation. “Stop agreeing with everything I say. It will not help you.”
“90%.” The alien looked away and coughed into his claw.
He had raised his price in his rage. That was good. It told me he didn’t have a plan – that he was unsure of himself. I eyed him with ire and then nodded. “Aye.”
“That includes the Absolute Zero. I’ll take that as my new flagship, I think.”
Like hell he would. “Very well.”
Zashisaro leaned forward. “What’s the matter, Lord Arcterial? Have you been tamed? Is my fleet intimidating you? Where’s your anger? Where’s your pride? You aren’t fighting me at all over these terms. Surely, you won’t give up so easily.”
This was a small room on a small orbital station. Perchance once this was over, I would burn it to oblivion, like a comet through an atmosphere. The hate in my gaze was real enough, and I let him see that. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“We shall,” Zashisaro coughed, “as soon as you send me my ships. I want them surrendered so my soldiers can take them over.”
“I understand what you want,” I said. “And you will get it. So long as you’re patient, lizard.”
“Careful now, Arcosian,” my opponent scoffed. “You are in no position to insult me.”
He coughed again. I called for more wine. My throat was dry, my mind clear. That was not how it was meant to be, not here, not now. One of Zashisaro’s guards stamped his feet uncomfortably. I made note of him. He was a big man, a muscled man, a warrior in shining silver armor with a cape and born horns sprouting from his sweaty, orange-skinned forehead.
“My apologies, Zashisaro.”
He knew there was something wrong then. Sitting up, coughing again, Zashisaro spat. “What game are you playing?”
I narrowed my eyes in feigned confusion. “What do you mean?”
“This…” he coughed again, bringing a grey-green claw to his teeth, “…this… this isn’t right! S-something’s…” he sputtered, wheezing again. His eyes widened in fear. “Th-the… Tza–” The thin stick of E’an incense fell from his claw onto the floor, where its purple smoke spiraled upwards, snaking vigorously towards the light.
His guards looked to him. I sipped my wine, savoring the spice, and grasped the servant by the arm. The young Sobren girl looked at me in astonishment. “I’m sorry.”
Picking the girl up by a shoulder, I stood and moved towards the energy field.
A small, weasel-faced alien in the back shot forward with haste, afterimaging up to the energy shield’s controls. They could only be deactivated if two people pressed the button on each side at the same time…
There were shouts, cries of panic, and several of Zashisaro’s chosen elite rushed my infiltrator. He bit his lip, landing not two feet in front of me. We exchanged a brief look; I could see the fear in his eyes. He knew what would happen to him if he did this. Without hesitation, the buttons were pressed simultaneously.
In the next moment, the tall, horned guard reached the spy and punched an energy sword through the alien’s back. A spike of yellow electricity shot out from inside his chest, poking upwards like a bent tooth. The spy coughed, spit blood onto the shield, and collapsed.
Energy was building in my hands. I had rarely ever been this angry before. My chest was pounding. I wanted to beat these fools into submission, to make them pay for daring to disobey me.
“H-help…!” Zashisaro called out meekly from behind, clawing at his throat. He was struggling to move; his scales had lightened in color, as if all the blood had been sucked out of his body. Most of his guards turned to face him in instinct, ignoring me – all save for the big man.
“They’ve deactivated the–” the alien tried to scream, but it was too late. The energy shield hummed loudly and sighed as it powered down, and now nothing stood between me and my foes.
I thrust the girl forward into Zashisaro’s field of view, glowing with lambent energy. She exploded in gore and light not but a second later, killing half of the standing soldiers. I got to my feet, coughing. Zashisaro had slumped back against his seat, paralyzed, a look of horror on that feral snout of his. Smiling, I strode up to the big man, the guard with the anxiety and muscles to show for it. A simple punch through his armor ended his life. He tried to resist – as they all do – but he didn’t realize who I was. Yes, my brother was dead, but I yet lived. I – King Arcterial, Lord of the Planet Trade Organization – still drew breath. And so long as I did, there would be no fracturing of our empire. There would be no such rebellions. Cold was gone, but there was at least one man left in this universe capable of succeeding him.
The others raised their fists. Some drew energy between their palms. I casually stared them down as I shot indigo finger beams into their hearts. They fell in unison, creating a grim chorus of sickening noise. Then, it was me and Zashisaro.
“This… is a p-p-parlay…!” the lizard squeaked, sitting in his chair, unable to move. His claws were gripping the armrests tightly, as if he were shooting through the air at light speed. Zashisaro coughed again violently, spitting up bubbling purple saliva. Unable to move, he let the spittle trail down his snout into his lap. He looked afflicted – sickly, even. What could have happened to the poor man? I nearly smiled. “Y-you… c-cannot attack…”
“I can’t?” I cracked my knuckles as I stood over him, a man against a boy. “Why can’t I?”
“The… rules of war…”
“You sad fool.” Turning from him, I spoke into my wrist-comm: “It’s done. Get in here.”
The far door opened immediately. Admirals Ersi and Ravin walked in, their pink capes billowing behind them. An assortment of other officers followed them. They beheld the grisly spectacle in silence. Blood had painted the walls. A dozen corpses were decaying before our eyes, in the dim artificial light. And our quarry – our prized foe – sat before us, unable to move.
“They poisoned his Tzano stick?” Ersi asked gruffly.
“It all went according to plan,” I replied. “Take this rebel from my sight.”
“Won’t you kill him, my lord?” Ravin asked. “To set an example for all other potential traitors in the fleet?”
I wanted to. I desperately, hopelessly wanted to. I sighed. It wasn’t my place. “No. Cooler wants him alive. He’ll deal with Zashisaro himself.”
The lizard’s eyes were large as pale moons, shimmering with terror. I had never seen him so. He was a child playing at war. He didn’t know who he was dealing with. As he stared at me, he tried to gurgle something – some plea or another – but all that leaked out of his mouth was more spittle and blood.
“As you wish, my lord.”
Four guards came forth and bound the rebel with energy bindings, reducing his power level to near zero. He wouldn’t be able to break out of those now. As the guards stood the warrior up, having to hold him (for he was completely paralyzed), I took something out of my pocket and handed it to the captain who was leading this brigade out. “Give this to Dr. Higgs,” I said, handing the fish-faced alien a small glimmering data chip. “He’ll know what to do with it.” I glanced to Zashisaro and then back again to my admirals.
The guards left without another world, their prized prisoner in tow.
“Open up a channel to my brother’s fleet.”
“At once, Lord Arcterial.”
I took a deep breath, grasping the end of my cape in one hand. This was the true gamble – this was the part of my strategy that I didn’t have full control over. Zashisaro had never been an issue. I had a million ways to deal with him. If my scouts hadn’t poisoned his Tzano, I would have taken him out myself. This was never an even fight – it couldn’t be. I had too much battle experience and power to be hampered by that overzealous lizard. But his soldiers… once they learned that Zashisaro had been captured… what would they do? I hoped they would not fight to the end. That would be foolish, and it would cost me ships I needed. I had to be convincing in this speech.
“You’re live, sir.”
“Shipmasters, soldiers, fellow members of the Planet Trade Organization… my name is Lord Arcterial. I am the brother of the late King Cold. Most of you will know me already, some of you may not… but let’s make one thing clear: every one of you has been misled. I do not know the exact lies Zashisaro told you about me, about my brother, about the rest of the empire… but they are all pitiful, slanderous lies. He was a vainglorious commander who saw his opening the moment his liege lord was killed on Earth. He is the rebel, not me, not my brother, not Cooler. And he has been appropriately punished for his actions.” I paused, letting that sink in. Taking a sip of my spiced wine, I continued, “I am offering immunity to every one of you to return to the Planet Trade Organization. There will be no punishments, no consequences for your actions so far. We want you back, and we want you now. Refuse to do so, and I’ll burn your ships out here in the void. Rejoin our empire, and live. Help me on a mission I need you for, and I will honor each and every one of you with medals and treasure and promotions. Scorn me, and you will face my full wrath, as Zashisaro already has. He is gone; you will never see him again. I promise you that. Abandon your loyalty to his failed rebellion, and come back… or, die. It is your choice, soldiers. But know this: I require an answer within the hour from every ship. Any ship that does not respond will be destroyed no matter what. Dare to attack me, and you will be destroyed as well. It is your choice. I am giving you the option to live or die… so choose wisely.”
The communication ended. I wiped my brow and stepped back through the door I had come in from.
“That was good, sir. They’ll be rejoining us for certain!” Commander Salan exclaimed.
“Quiet. We’ll wait and see. And then we’ll go get my son back. The scouts said there are no ships within three light years of Planet Frieza 068. We’ll have an open shot to the planet, especially now that Zashisaro has been defeated.”
“Aye,” Admiral Ersi agreed, his jowls quivering. “I for one cannot wait to see Prince Glacial again! It’s been so long!”
“How long has it been since you last saw your son in person, my lord?” Ravin’s voice was delicate as a summer wind.
“Twenty-three years.” My voice was harsher than I meant it to be. “Cold stole twenty-three years of my son’s life from me. I’ll never get that time back. But I’ll make up for it. Once we’re done here, once we have my son back, we’ll move on Cooler. We’ll take this empire, and proclaim me king… as it was always meant to be. This is my empire, just as it was my brother’s once. We swore a pact when we were young. We would rule – only us. And now my time has come.”
I thought back to that day in the snowy ice cave, the chill around us, our auras flaring up like giants against the rocky walls. Icer had never been like Cold and I. He had been weaker, younger, less certain. I was meant to rule. Cold had been a good ruler too, until he’d become a drunken lout. The same fate would not befall me. We swore a pact in that snow, in blood and ice. This was always how it was meant to be.
“Sir!” Commander Salan exclaimed. “Thirteen ships are moving towards us!”
“Have they hailed the fleet?”
“No sir. Their energy turrets are warming…”
I sighed, raising my head to the ceiling, closing my eyes. Through my eyelids I could sense the artificial light beaming down upon me, washing me in sterilized heat. “So be it,” I said. “They’ll burn with all the rest.”
The scouts had lied: there were twenty-one ships in orbit overhead the northern pole of Planet Frieza 068 when we arrived. Swearing, I stood from my captain’s chair and approached the great looking window. “Who is it?”
“We don’t know sir,” one of them replied uselessly.
“Hailing now, my lord.”
They pushed their buttons, huddling over their screens. Flashes of white and blue and red clouded my peripheral vision. The air was stale. The overhanging monitor blinked on. There standing before me was an old man – a thin man – wrapped up tightly in robes of grey and crimson. His skin was wrinkled, and at one time it had been yellow. But now he was the color of faded cream, like the hull of a starship that had been battered by a sand storm.
With vibrancy that did not match his appearance, Captain Torlini said, “Lord Arcterial! It is so good to see you again. My name is Captain Torlini. You may not remember me, but I fought with you on Saegar VI – the last battle against the Nikkarins. I was in the vanguard with you, my lord, as we pushed those miserable rodents back to oblivion.”
And yet, all these years, he’d never ascended from the rank of captain. “What are you doing here, Torlini?” There was a glass of spiced wine in my hand, and in the next breath, I downed it.
“Protecting our king’s interests – as you would expect of me, no doubt. It appears a rebel by the name of Glacial has taken over this outpost behind me and decided to take its soldiers as his own, even though they belong to Lord Cooler – or should I call him King Cooler now?”
It was all I could do to mask my rage. “Tell me what you mean, soldier.”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry for not being clear with you, my lord. The soldiers of Planet Frieza 068 belong to Cooler – that is an indisputable fact. But it appears we have a rebel on-planet who is trying to take command of these soldiers to help his cause of overthrowing the empire. I assume you are sympathetic to my mission, thus–”
“Shut up, you useless sack of meat.”
“Oh.” His eyes narrowed. “I see, my lord. My apologies. I didn’t dare believe Prince Glacial when he told me that you were a traitor like him. I fought with you on Saegar VI… I witnessed your loyalty firsthand, Lord Arcterial. I-I…”
I understood what game he was playing. “Shut your mouth. You dare talk to me like that? I am the brother of King Cold! I am a member of the royal family!”
“Aye, my lord,” Torlini replied sadly, “and now you’ve become a traitor, like your son.”
“Move the fleet into combat-ready formation,” I ordered Admiral Ersi.
Torlini nodded in resignation, lowering his head like a sycophantic animal. “A sensible move, I daresay. One that will surely bring you victory. But know this, Lord Arcterial: should you attack me, I will order my fleet to destroy Planet Frieza 068. We will accomplish our task long before you can stop us, as you well know.”
Like a fire, hate rolled through my body. But I didn’t let him see. It wouldn’t benefit me for Torlini to know how much I wanted him to suffer. “Your claims are baseless. You are in open rebellion, as was Zashisaro once. I think you know what happened to him, do you not?”
“Aye, my lord. I am well-aware of the fate of that rebel. But unlike him, I am acting in terms of the well-being of Cooler’s empire – something which you clearly do not understand.”
“I want to speak to Glacial. Where is he? Where is my son?”
“Now now, Lord Arcterial. Don’t be rude. We are still having a conversation, like two civilized men.”
“You and I are done! I have nothing more to say to you.” I felt the heat rising in my cheeks. This time, I did not hold back. “Where is he, damn it?! Where’s my son?!”
The screen flickered, and I saw, for the briefest of moments, another figure. He was lean and tall and robed, anemic as an Arcosian winter. He looked older than I remembered, but he was still youthful and sharp-eyed, with a melancholic scowl upon his face that reminded me of his sister. His skin was light blue, his eyes wide and wet and orange. A shiver went through my heart.
“G-glacial… is that you?” Wh-what’s going on? Are you okay?”
I felt, once again, the heat rising in my blood. “The signal was lost, my lord,” Admiral Ersi replied quietly. “My apologies.”
“Damn it all! I’ll make Torlini pay for this!”
“Aye, my lord.”
“Torlini will suffer. I’ll tear off his limbs! I’ll shatter every bone in his body! I’ll make him rue the day he ever stood against me.” The blood was boiling in my veins. I ripped the cape from my armor and stepped forward. “Glacial!” For the briefest of moments, my son returned to me. “Glacial?!”
““Father… please… you have to… destroy the planet… Don’t let him…!” The static was thick, the picture unclear. Torlini was playing me like a fool. He would pay for this dearly. I sighed, thinking about how I would slowly remove his fingers and teeth individually once I captured him… this would not be over quickly. He was going to suffer long and hard for this – that much was certain. He would suffer like no other being in the universe ever had. By the time I was done with him, I knew, he would beg for death, plead for me to end it all. But I wouldn’t. No, not after this display. He would get exactly what he deserved.
For a brief moment, the ancient figure of the rogue officer reappeared dully on the screen. “I will make you hurt for this,” I declared boldly, “I will make you scream like no other being in the universe ever has!”
“You can try,” Torlini shrugged, yawning, “but your son will die.”
“Cut the feed.”
My soldiers obeyed.
We stood in silence for three seconds. I tore my armor off, ripping it in two before throwing it at the feet of Admiral Savin. “Open the window.”
“Do as I say, or die.” I was not in the mood for their useless words now. The time for talk was over. I knew what had to be done.
“At once, Lord Arcterial.”
The soldiers stepped back. Their computers beeped and hummed, burning blue and white. A few of them shook. The window suddenly burst open. Three soldiers went sailing out into the abyss before they knew what happened. “I’ll be back,” I told the others, though the sailing winds took my words before they could reach the ears of my followers.
Out into space I went. Roaring at the top of my lungs, I conjured up my full power, my ultimate power. I transformed as I flew, from my species’ second form to my fourth form – the apex of my capabilities. Torlini was a fool to test me so. I would defeat him – that was certain. I would make him scream for his insurrection; I would make him beg for death for this. The thought of that made power course through my veins. Rancor guided me as I flew. This would not end today, our strife. If he killed my son or not didn’t even matter in that moment. All I knew was that I was going to tear through Torlini’s fleet, capture him, and take him back to the Absolute Zero to be tortured for years to come. He didn’t know how he had provoked me. He didn’t realize it. He was a stupid man, and he would be treated as such.
They saw me coming; there was nothing else I could do except fly faster – as fast as I had ever flown. But it wasn’t enough. They knew what I was trying, and they were ready.
Torlini’s ships turned from my fleet, which had become as large as any in the universe after Zashisaro’s defeat, and focused their turrets on the planet below. I screamed. I threw plasma at them, energy shooting from my fingertips like caustic bellows. They would not kill my son. I wasn’t going to let them.
The explosions came without sound. Somehow, that made them seem less powerful. My heart was beating like a drum. First, a dozen of Torlini’s ships absorbed a ridiculous amount of light and then exploded outward in a fiery statement of shrapnel and whiteness… and then, their plasma bolts washed over the outpost. I felt it, every last bombardment. First they went towards the north pole, and then lower, coating the entire world in burning energy. Planet Frieza 068 was aglow with light – with a million screams – as it dissolved away into nothingness.
There weren’t any ships left after my third salvo. I had destroyed them all by that point, except for Torlini’s flagship. It was crippled, aye – unable to unleash any more of its wanton hate – but that mattered little. The planet had become a burning purple-red sore, like a festering wound, and though I called from my scouter, there was no response from below. I tried every channel – and was met by static each time.
Swallowing hard, I came to Torlini’s ruined ship. There was no time to think about Glacial. The world burned before me like melting glass. I burst through steel and armor plating as if it were nothing.
His crew was dead or dying; the command center was on fire, sparks fluttering down from the ceiling like snow; the lights had faltered. Torlini yet sat in his chair, a stream of green blood flowing from a cut in his hair like a single stream of tears. The gravity of this ship had stopped functioning, and now his blood was leaking upwards, like rising smoke. He reminded me of Zashisaro, clutching at his chair, as if it could give him any support.
“It’s… done…” he wheezed.
I slammed my fist into his face, breaking his jaw, shattering his teeth. With my left hand, I grabbed his lower jaw and pulled down until I had ripped the front part of it from his bones. His teeth were hard to extract from his gums, but with enough force…
He shrieked with pain. He coated me with his blood. From the shattered looking window, I could see tempest storms of black fire roaming across the surface of Planet Frieza 068. It was not enough.
I punched him so hard, all of his ribs shattered. The captain coughed up blood, spitting it into zero gravity. His soldiers around him were suffocating, as was he. This was too easy. I punched him again. Torlini was old. He was ready to die. He was delicate as paper. This wouldn’t do.
“You have made the biggest mistake of your life, old fool,” I told him. “The biggest mistake anyone has ever made. I will make you feel unimaginable pain for this. I will break you!”
Torlini whimpered, but smiled through his broken teeth. Blood cascaded down his chin, drifting up like bubbles into the gravity-free air. “I’ve… won… L-lord Cooler…”
“Will die like all the rest,” I said, punching him hard in the chest again.
This time, when he spit up blood, Captain Torlini did not respond.
“I’ll kill you for this, you bastard!” I roared, blasting apart the ship in my fury. The others were dead; they were as meaningless as the stars. I clutched the bleeding captain in my fist, his throat against my palm, wanting so desperately to squeeze the life out of him. When he stared at me, I could see that’s what he wanted too.
So that’s exactly what I did not give him.
An opalescent sphere surrounded us, trapping what little air was left of the doomed ship inside it. I held Torlini by the throat, looking down upon the planet. With one grunt, I created an energy explosion that vaporized the rest of the ship. My scouter showed no signs of life coming from below.
“Glacial! Glacial, are you there? Glacial?!” My voice came like a child’s. Torlini chuckled at his deviousness. I had had enough.
His tongue came out next. It was like pulling a rope from a well. He cried when I did that. Torlini was not as strong as I thought.
The scouter answered in static. The world below us burned and smoldered. Molten chunks of former space ships drifted past our bubble, carefree as asteroids in orbit. A rift in space had opened up above the northern pole, a pitch-black sore that pulsed and vibrated as if it were alive. I had never seen anything like that before. It looked like the storms that were raging below on the planet’s surface.
“What did you do?! What is this madness?!”
He did not respond.
The rift widened for a moment, and then collapsed upon itself; into darkness it returned, soundless and perfect, as if it had never been anything at all.
I had my quarry; the bleeding coward was whimpering and moaning in my fist. I smashed his face again until he no longer begged.
“Glacial! Answer me, damn it! Glacial… my son…!”
Fuzz in my ears told me all I needed to know. The stars were dark. The planet rumbled without sound beneath me, churning out an inferno hot enough to incinerate most beings. Spires of flame and ash leapt up from the surface, some shooting thousands of miles into the void before burning out.
I hadn’t even returned to the Absolute Zero when the world collapsed in on itself and vaporized. Then, I knew. There was no comfort, nothing anyone could do. Torlini had sacrificed his life to end my dream of reuniting with my son.
The army was gone. Glacial was gone. Here was my fleet, floating in space, waiting to be filled with able-bodied soldiers for the wars to come, ready to be led by a capable young man I had raised since birth for this very job. And now all of that was gone. Cooler would soon know. Icer would too.
My son was gone, just like that. He had been returned to me for but a moment… and now…
There will be no peace. There will be no mercy. I will kill every last one of them.
Chapter III: His Golden Grin
|Position:||Captain of the Guard for Admiral Bael|
|Date of account:|| August 7, 765 Age (first scene)|
August 21, 765 Age (second scene)
Asleep, he was like any other Faerin. A little taller than most, I suppose, but thin too. His chest rose and fell with each breath he took. The room was dim, perfumed with a clean, oceanic scent. I waited as long as I dared before waking him.
“Admiral… it’s time.”
He stirred to lucidity with unmatched professionalism. “Already?” There was weariness in his eyes. The noble man stifled a yawn as he sat up. “How long has it been?”
“Really? That long?”
I chuckle. “I’m not lying, sir.”
“Ah. Mahru… you don’t have to be so formal.” He yawned again. “What have you been doing all this time, anyways?”
“Oh? Let me hear one.”
I blushed. “B-bael… it’s not…”
I sighed. “Fine, be that way.” I ran my fingers through my hair in embarrassment, sighing loudly. “Rainy city/where the mist has returned/my voice is white./And across the skyscrapers…/Seivals dancing in the light’.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“What, why?” My face grew red.
“It’s not a good look, Mahru. If you’re here every night, protecting me as I sleep… people will start talking.”
“Let them talk.”
“I’m married. You know that.” His anger flared for but a moment; I could taste it upon my tongue. “This – no… such a thing cannot happen. I will not allow it.”
His words cut me deep. The dull white light was hurting my eyes. I looked away, towards the looking window, towards ancient starlight, which blinked mortally against the desolate cold. I felt no relief. “I’ll be your new wife. Forget her; you don’t even like her! Let’s kill the bitch and make things official.”
Bael laughed dryly. Standing, he donned his cloak and wiped his mouth. “Is there anything new to report?”
“Only Planet Cooler 257,” I said sullenly, my head sunk in shame. “They’re in open rebellion.”
“That is no surprise.”
“They have an active security fleet. Twenty-nine ships. I don’t think they’re going to give up without a fight.”
“Oh? Have you contacted them already?”
“Yes, sir.” I swallowed hard. “Their admiral told me they would fight to the last man, if that’s what it comes to. He swore he would never join you, my lord.”
He didn’t react, but that was not unusual. “Show me.”
We left the admiral’s private quarters, making our way to the bridge. His ship, the Splendor of the Gods, was a massive vessel – the prized jewel of the Faerin Fleet. We were all behind him, every member of our species. But I, most of all, could see Bael for who he was. I loved him. I wanted to be his wife, to bear his children, to stand at his side as he conquered the universe. The metal walls were a faded lavender, voluptuous and rigid. I shuddered in the wake of their coldness.
“Who is it this time?” he asked, striding into the bridge.
“Yes, my lord.”
“That is the last name I would have expected.”
“It’s true, sir!” the guard shouted uncertainly. “And it’s the only reason #257 is in rebellion!”
“I want to talk to them.”
“I can try to put you through, sir… but…”
“Do it.” His eyes were as gold. His lip protruded like a god’s. Bael was as confident a man as I had ever met. A rush of heat pumped through my heart.
“Working…” the guard moaned.
They were hunched over computer screens in the low light – indigos and blinking whites, strobing reds and greens, flashes of blue, and white noise. At the center of the room, Admiral Bael had taken his seat on a magnificent golden throne. He gripped the armrests made of translucent crystal Faerin skulls and leaned back.
“Who’s this, eh?” squeaked a voice from the video screen. The picture faded in, revealing an amber-toned alien with dark dreadlocks and a slouching frame. He wore purple-and-black armor and a periwinkle cape.
“Sobren,” Bael said coolly. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We ain’t followin’ no one no more, ‘specially not you, fairy! Go away! Come on, get outta here! Leave us alone!”
“I am not one for standoffs. Surrender your ships and there will be no conflict.”
“We’ll destroy you!” He was a haughty rebel, I’d give him that. “Shut your mouth before I blow you up, bitch!”
My lover showed great restraint. A tingling feeling spread across my cheeks. “My fleet greatly outnumbers yours, Sobren. You would be wise to accept my terms. You have no hope of beating me in combat.” Bael was ferocious; he wasn’t one to back down. That didn’t surprise me.
“Cut the feed.” Admiral Bael stood. “He has chosen their fate. I should destroy them myself. I have half a mind to do so.”
It was madness. If he thought he could don a spacesuit and charge them like a lone Arcosian general, the admiral was delusional. There was no other way to describe his intentions. This was insanity, pure and simple – the likes of which I thought Bael would never succumb to. None of his other officers so much as raised their heads to challenge his mad proclamation. They were worthless; sucking on air, they bowed their heads and spurned the artificial light.
“Don’t,” I said quickly. “There’s no need… we have more ships.”
“I have more ships,” Bael said coldly. “They’ll soon understand that.” I made a face. His eyes met mine; I shivered, though I did not look away. He stared me down like a cold winter storm. For a moment, I thought he was going to kill me. “Fine, we’ll play this safe.” He frowned, biting his tongue. “All ships, move forward. Smother the arrogant bastards.”
How easily he said those words. The fleet lurched forward, to the planet and the aliens waiting for us. There was no pause, no questioning; we moved as one. The admiral folded his arms and watched the screen. He would burn the opposing fleet, leaving no one alive. That was what he always did. Leave no survivors. Leave no one alive who could betray you in the future. He knew I knew.
It was a ruthless strategy, but the right one. Admiral Bael hadn’t ascended to his current position by accident. He was our leader because he was the strongest-willed amongst the Faereth. He didn’t care if he killed untold numbers of people. So long as our cause, our fleet, our people were not harmed… he couldn’t care less about the ambitions of lesser species.
“Circle them. Force them to charge this ship,” Bael commanded.
The flagship and its guards slowed to a crawl in their advance, while both wings moved forward with greater speed. At once, I felt a tingling sensation spread across my skin. This was the man I knew – the born-leader I knew. He was trapping these fools. They didn’t even know it. When their ships came screaming forward to challenge Bael’s flagship, that was when I knew he had outsmarted them.
“Fire.” His voice was deep, lusty, as bold as I had ever known it.
They obeyed. The ships on the perimeter circled our prey, closed in, and spit their plasma like discontented animals. The rebels burned. A few of them tried to maneuver around this trap, tried to escape, but they were unsuccessful. Every ship who opposed us was vaporized. A few of them had let loose their turrets randomly, in a last act of desperation, taking out a few ships in our vanguard, but it was no matter. By the time this was over, all twenty-one of the rebels’ ships were destroyed, and we had lost merely three vessels. Inconsequential. We reigned victorious.
“Burn the world.”
“S-sir… is that necessary?” a lackey gasped.
Bael gave the lesser Faerin a rueful gaze before decapitating him with a screaming energy blast. “Burn the world.”
“A-as you wish… my lord,” another lackey stammered. “We live to serve.”
And so Planet Cooler 257 was reduced to ash. I cannot say how many died that day, but it must have been at least a million. Their screams echoed out unto the void and were never heard again.
Afterwards, Bael retreated to his personal quarters, and this time, he didn’t mind that the captain of his guard accompanied him into his chambers. He took me on his bed, as passionate as I had ever seen him. Usually, he was a reserved man, a calm, collected, unemotional Faerin. Rarely did I see any hint of emotion coming from Admiral Bael. Yet, I could tell at that moment how pleased he was.
It wasn’t just about the planet. We had subdued numerous Planet Trade Organization outposts already. We were invincible. Bael thrust himself inside me. He was hot; kissing my neck, he pinned me against the bed. He had to cover my mouth.
When we were done, Bael wiped his face off with a hand towel. His breaths came shallow and fast. It hadn’t been more than four minutes.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said sternly. “This will set a poor example.”
He brought me here. “As you command, Admiral.”
“Sir…” I bowed my head.
“I should go to Icer,” Bael said suddenly. A chill fell down my spine. I looked up at him, wiping myself off.
“His daughter offered to broker an alliance, Mahru. But you already know this.”
That was the first I was hearing of that. “Does this mean you’re planning on supporting Icer to take the throne, sir?”
He nodded curtly. “Hail offered me a place by her father’s side. I think it would be prudent for us to join with powerful ally. It will do the Faerin Empire good.”
“As you wish, sir.” My eyes found the dangling light above Bael’s bed, which was white and swinging back and forth. I took a deep breath to steady myself. He kissed me, those molten eyes of his lowered. He tasted sweet upon my lips. “Shall I not go with you, my lord?”
“No. I have need of you elsewhere, Mahru.”
“Bael… I should be with you. I need to be with you. It is not–”
“Quiet, woman. Your place is where I tell you. You will go to Shyotai.”
I was taken aback. “Who is that?”
“An imperial captain who once worked under King Cold. Now he’s disgraced himself and become a space pirate. He has a large fleet… too large to ignore. I want him on our side. You will convince him to join us.”
“I have set up a meeting between you and him on the watery moon of Planet Frieza 112. You will go there at once and form an alliance with him.”
“Mahru…” Bael’s voice dropped, and for a moment, I saw him as he truly was – not a giant, but a man. His eyes grew sad, the lines on his forehead seemed to deepen, and in that artificial light, he looked as thin as a flower drooping under the first winter snow. “Please. I cannot be in two places at once. I need you there.”
My throat tingled. The ship swayed, and I nearly tripped. Grabbing a nearby table, I steadied myself. “I’ll do it, sir. I’ll get you that fleet.”
“Good,” he whispered hoarsely. “With Cooler gone, the Planet Trade Organization is close to fracturing into a thousand lesser empires. Most who remain are weak men, or arrogant men. We have an opportunity to bring glory back to the Faereth, to remind the universe that we were once a mighty race in the past. The opportunity is ours, Mahru. Arcterial remains, yes, as does Nitro, but beyond them… no one can stand in our way. We need ships, soldiers, and commanders to stamp out our foes. I’ll deal with Arcterial and Nitro. It’s your job to get me the ships I require. In the meantime, I have more pressing matters to attend to… such as the Galactic Bank.”
I wanted to say something; the stars shined like angry fires outside the looking window. Admiral Bael strode out of the room suddenly.
Being left there, in the near-darkness, all I could do was bend down and pick my clothes off the metal-tiled floor.
The observational station hovered over the frigid waters of the third moon of Planet Frieza 112 like a swarm of insects over a lake. I was here alone – terms decided upon by Shyotai and myself. We would meet without guards, without any pressure. We were going to be allies, after all. I didn’t want to frighten him. He recognized that and had agreed to the same terms.
A mass of blue-grey clouds were swirling in the distance, far below the station, near the water’s surface. It was raining here, the tinkling of droplets racing down the lifeless station unceasingly. The outpost was as bare as a skeleton, grey and black and rusted, and lightning was painting the sky.
“Captain… Mahru?” came a quivering voice. “Is that you?”
The warden was a frail old creature, bent over and thin as a tree branch. He was the color of dried mud, save for his armor, which glimmered silver in the starlight. His face was flat and vaguely oval-shaped, and his eyes were as stretched as moons in a starless sky. His face was wrinkled and pockmarked, and a wispy silver beard clung to his cheeks like it was glued on. I followed him inside.
The water fell from our armor like tears. The lights flickered erratically as we strode down metal-grate halls, as grey as autumn on Faeri. It was quiet, save for our feet, and the warden said not a word to me. When he brought me to a red door with the paint peeling away from its thick steel frame, the warden bade me step inside and did not follow.
The air was stale and recycled; I could taste the salt.
“Shyotai,” I responded uncertainly. There was no sign of him. Was he hiding in the shadows? Was he even here at all? I did not know. The room was poorly-lit, with hanging chains and an oil-like smell permeating through it. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
He lurched forth from the blackness, and I had to conceal my gasp with a cough. Twelve feet tall was he; his exoskeleton was milky white, his head elongated like a bent arm. His teeth were dark as night, his arms lanky and bony, and I counted at least eight of them. His claws were as sharp as knives, gleaming in the low light. His bony tail swayed back and forth, as if in irritation.
Captain Shyotai was breathing deeply. “You know… you’re not the first emissary I’ve met with here in this miserable place.”
“I was not aware,” I said quickly.
“Kuriza’s men were arrogant. They demanded my ships, my loyalty. I hope you are not as pushy as they were.”
“No. Kuriza has no right to the throne, and neither do we. We recognize that – as I’m sure you do, captain. The Planet Trade Organization is dead. We are not with them any more. We are the Faerin Empire. We ask for your support, not your obedience.”
“Is that so?” He studied me curiously. “You have heard about Cooler?”
“We know,” I assured him. “Inevitably, he has followed his father and brother down a fateful path.”
Shyotai coughed. “True.”
“Shyotai… we would appreciate an alliance. Admiral Bael is the brightest military mind in the universe. He understands your skill set, captain, and he wishes to join forces with your fleet for that reason.”
“Spare me the groveling,” the man grunted. “I am not one who can be bought.”
“But you understand opportunities better than most. That’s why you’re still alive and no other officers from King Cold’s army are. You must see than an alliance between us would greatly strengthen both of our fleets.”
He crossed four of his arms. “I see that you are desperate, that you need me more than I need you.”
I spat in disgust. “Lord Bael will not take kindly to such a slight. He commands a fleet of thousands. We do not need you as much as you need us, captain. Should you spurn our offer of alliance…” I let the words hang in the air like the dust drifting around us.
“Is that a threat?” His deep red eyes narrowed.
“Take it as you will, sir.” Boldly, I said, “But know this: should you refuse our offer today, Admiral Bael will not forget, and in time, he will pay you a visit himself.”
“Hahaha…!” the beast mused, coughing ferociously. “You are just like Kuriza’s puppet. Arrogant and unsubtle.” His pale flesh gleamed like he was sweating. I could see his bones beneath his sallow exoskeleton. Shyotai wore no armor, though his cape of midnight green, bordered with trimmed onyx, was fluttering in the stagnating air.
“Kuriza has no claim to the throne. Cooler’s twin babes are the heirs, no one else. The empire is dying, regardless. When this ship sinks, all who stay aboard will drown. I promise you that. You would be wise to pick your allies carefully, captain.”
“I have,” he replied, clicking his tongue. His teeth were bared, black as the oil-stained walls. “I know the value of Faereth, especially now.”
“Good. So what say you?” I held my breath.
The alien captain paced a bit, though his eyes never left mine. Finally, unfolding his arms, he laughed dryly and said, “I have an idea. Why don’t Bael and I–”
At once, Shyotai let out a breath of air. Clutching at his throat, he fell to his knees, squeaking like a child. His eyes were bulging out of his head, glazed-over and red, burning like warm coals in a fire. His arm were flailing; slobber leaked down his snout. The pale alien sucked in a breath of air – or tried to – and collapsed. I dared not move.
“Shyotai?” My voice was uncertain. I had no clue what had happened.
From behind me, a door opened, bringing with it a blinding white light. “What have you done?!?! On my installation, no less! Lord Cooler will have my head!” The warden was clutching his ears with pathetic sentimentalism, shaking like a leaf in the wind.
“I didn’t do this.”
“Liar!” he screeched, his eyes tearful and pale as moonlight. “You killed him! You spilled blood in this place! How could you, Mahru?!”
“I did no such thing.” Now rage came to me, cloaking me in its warmness. I would not suffer the stupidity of this animal.
“I’ll have your head… I’ll tell–”
“Shut your worthless mouth!” I grabbed him by the neck and picked him up. The warden writhed and struggled, but it was no use. I was the captain of Bael’s guard. This alien was nothing compared to me. “I didn’t kill him!”
Even now, bubbling spittle was streaming down Shyotai’s gaping maw onto the metal-grate floor. There was green liquid in it – blood, I assumed. Someone had done this to him, but I couldn’t guess who. Perhaps he had more enemies than he had let on.
“S-s-s-s-top!!” the warden pleaded.
“Take me to his ship.”
“I-I can’t!” the alien gasped. “I-I’m a n-n-n-neutral arbitrator!”
“You’ll be a dead one if you don’t do what I tell you. I will not ask you again, Warden.”
His eyes went wide for a second time. He was pleading with his gaze; I looked away. I couldn’t stand him. The chains above Shyotai were still swaying soundlessly in the near darkness. The inside of my throat itched. I thought of my love, of how his lips tasted against mine, and my anxiety melted away.
The alien fell to the ground with a soft thud. Wheezing, he clutched at his throat as Shyotai once had. I had half a mind to vaporize him right there. The installation shook, vibrating from the floor up my boots. My thoughts returned home, to the Academy, and I knew what I had to do.
“Take me to his ship.”
The warden didn’t complain this time. He knew if he did, it would be his life. The man trudged on, past the bleeding corpse, to the far side of the room. We moved through the door, down several derelict hallways, and finally returned outside to a landing pad where a large pod lay at rest. The rain had abated, and overhead, silver-winged birds were flying aimlessly in a moonlit sky. The stars blinked and shimmered like jewels. There was a stillness in the air. Somewhere up there, I knew, Shyotai’s men were awaiting his return.
“What is the size of his fleet?”
“I-I don’t know, my lady…”
I gave him a baleful look. The warden stuttered and looked down in fear. “I-I…”
“Tell me now.”
Far-off, an alien bird screamed. “Forty-three, my lady, of varying sizes and crews.”
Looking up, the warden asked, “A-are you leaving… my lady?”
“That’s the plan.”
“B-but why…? Lord Cooler will–”
“Cooler is dead,” I replied flatly. “I don’t know why you don’t know already, but I suppose it doesn’t matter.”
The warden gasped, stuttering in the rain, as I stood there on the bleak platform. I popped my knuckles and turned from him, walking up to the docked ship. There was much for me to do; much and more, I knew. I had a fleet to win for my lover. And I would get it for him, or I’d die trying. There were no other options.
I sat down in the pod, and pressed the buttons familiar to my fingers. Soon, the space pod was rising into the starry sky, and soon, I knew, I’d be reunited with the man who meant more to me than the rest of the universe. I’d burn it all down just to get back with him for one night. And maybe I would.
Once this was over, he’d leave his barren wife, and we wouldn’t have to hide our love any longer. I sighed, thinking about it. I would give Bael the heirs he so desired… but first, there was this little, bothersome fleet that had to be dealt with…
Chapter IV: Not Dead Yet
|Date of account:||October 3, 765 Age|
“He’s dead! Dead, ya hear me?! Dead!! Hehehehe, it’s unreal! Him of all people!”
The voice reverberated through my skull, a deflected ki blast never meant to explode. Crouching in my cell, my breaths came erratically. I was hungry – so hungry I was seeing stars. My fingers were trembling; my stomach had long since given up its protests. I would die here, I knew.
In the lightless prison, the walls shook. Space rats scurried past the bars, shrieking. I had half a mind to grab one and tear into its juicy flesh. I was too tired.
“Help… help… Please… I have money… I’ll pay you… whatever you want!! Please! I’ll–”
That was the Faerin. His life ended in a flash of light. I couldn’t muster the energy to recoil when the room lit up. His death cry pierced my mind, lingering like a broken image for a moment before fading with the light. Others were calling out too. A hole in the wall had opened – a red eye staring at us with sheer contempt. I wasn’t a traitor, I wanted to tell it. I had been falsely imprisoned by Salza. At least he was dead now.
Some were screaming. Fires were spreading. An Akihian prisoner was burning and flopping around in his cell in front of me. Through the hole in the wall, ki blasts were flying. Some found their way inside, errantly striking cells and prisoners within, while others traded air down the hallway outside. They were all wailing now – not just us. The universe would bleed for this.
“Give up, already! He’s dead! The Planet Trade Organization’s finished!” a voice boomed over the loudspeakers. My head swayed back and forth involuntarily. I waited for a flaming spire of ki to come at me. I would welcome its warmness, the relief it would bring my tired bones.
A soldier stumbled into the room clutching his chest. His armor had shattered where his fist was pressed against the wound. Purple blood trickled down his gloves, dripping to the floor. He was losing too much blood, I knew. He would be dead any moment now.
The Faerin’s carcass reeked in the flames. I felt the heat and crawled to the far side of my cell. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. I would not die like this. “You…” I cried hoarsely, my voice barely rising above the screams and flames. “Help me… please… get me out of here…”
The bloody soldier stood hunched over and gave me a look I will never forget. In his free hand, a white ball of ki materialized. Frowning, he threw it recklessly. He fell to his knees before it even reached me. The energy washed over me, and I felt for a moment numb as I flew through the air. My bones shook, my head was spinning, my fingers tingled. The cell’s metal bars melted, and I went skidding across the blood-soaked metal-grate floor before crashing against the outer hull of another cell.
The dirty alien clawed at me, begging with short breaths for me to free him. Gasping, I sat up, wiping away the dark liquid leaking from my nose. The soldier had collapsed in a pool of his own blood. This was not the end.
“Rise, my friends! Destroy the loyalists! Admiral Bael asks all of you to pledge loyalty to the Faerin Empire! He is a generous and wise man! Rise, and crush the Planet Trade Organization! Put them down! The doomed are falling back to the lower districts! Kill them there!”
I stumbled to the entrance where melted steel was dripping and burning holes in the floor. Through the wall, I found bodies – Faereth, mostly, but some of other species too. They were all dead, or dying. A few pleaded for mercy. Alas, that I could not give them what they wished. I was too weak.
A few men ran past me, armfuls of jewels and gold and treasure glittering in the dusty light. I’m sure they could have killed me. One soldier was kneeling over another, beating the collapsed alien mercilessly with the fleshy spikes of his fists. Sickening crunch followed sickening crunch. The kneeling man’s fingers dripped with violaceous liquid.
A fish-faced alien was leaning up against a doorway, clutching at multiple wounds along his neck and chest. “I’m a coward, I’m just a coward, heh! A coward, eh! I’m a bloody coward! Eh, I’m a coward! A coward! Just what I deserve, y’know? I’m a coward,” he muttered to himself.
I stumbled into the hall beyond, where a bronze statue of Lord Cooler stood. The head had been blown off, and much of the body was covered in scorch-wounds. The air trembled with burning iron. A few men went running by, bundles of jewels and gold in their arms. In a daze, I walked through the smoke, past the corpses, deeper into the ruins. Ipha would be destroyed by the end of this, I guessed. This moon had once been the seat of Cooler’s government. Now it was a cesspit – a mocking attempt at playing empire. So what if he was gone? They couldn’t hope to replace him. The only hope…
A lightning bolt of realization sizzled up my spine. I knew what I had to do. Most of the marble pillars were cracked or fallen. Small fires dotted the hall like festering wounds, as the smoke grew and the few remaining survivors wandered about aimlessly, clutching jewels or blood. It was hard to concentrate. I was hungry and tired and my old bones ached. Yet, I could remember where they were kept, or where they should be. If they were not there… well, I didn’t know what I would do. I had only one hope.
A couple of Faereth were gorging themselves upon red ice around the corner in the hallway, though when they saw me, they scant raised their heads. Laughing, they drank heavily from ancient-sealed bottles worth more than starships and exchanged stories. I was running now.
“Wipe them out! The loyalists are falling back! Swarm over them! Send them to their master! Rise, my brothers! Crush the loyalists! We’re not at his mercy any more! We’re free!! Destroy them!”
One of the drunk Faereth threw his bottle at the wall and whooped.
The smoke was thicker ahead, where shattered glass and cracked stone floors greeted me. The bodies were burnt, their red-green innards burst from cooked flesh to spill out onto the ruined ground. There was fighting ahead, where two groups of aliens clothed in the standard imperial armor traded ki blasts. I couldn’t tell them apart. The ones on the left side died quicker; it was soon over. The survivors moved on, leaving their wounded and dying behind. Their boots echoed on the marble until they were gone.
Cooler’s family crest decorated every wall this deep in the palace. There were two stone Arcosians guarding the next door, though I knew not who they were. The one on the left had lost his left arm. They held pikes and stern gazes. The door was unlocked. There weren’t any bodies this deep in the place.
The walls were dressed in space mahogany – deep brown, almost reddish in color. This was a serene place. Pictures, paintings, and golden patterning colored the walls. I noticed Cooler and his siblings. Every now and then, their father, King Cold, could be seen in some of the paintings. He was a rare sight, though most of those who had access to these rooms on a normal basis would know who he was. Now they were all gone. Except maybe Nitro. But Nitro was no ruler. No, the rule would pass from Cooler to his children. Anything else would be illegitimate. Nitro had no more of a claim to the throne than Kuriza or Bael. They were pretenders all. Haimaru and Raimie were heirs – the only heirs.
It nearly made me laugh. Sweat was pouring down my face. I probably wouldn’t make it. My energy was burning out like a star ready for supernova. At least there was no one around. I wondered how Salza would think of me now. From whatever hell he was wasting away in, could he see me? Could he understand what I was doing? Would he finally realize that I wasn’t a damn traitor? I might be the only loyal soldier left on this miserable moon.
The hallways were endless, the doors too numerous to count. I ran by muscle memory. I was too weary to think. My feet took me where I had to go. There was nothing else I could do. I was in no state to save the Planet Trade Organization. But I was the only one left. They were all dead – all of them – except me. I had to do this. Everything would collapse without me.
Panting, spitting, wheezing, I came to the nursery, which was as abandoned as any other room. There was no sign of fighting, no bodies, no smoke nor fire nor death hanging in the air. The Ocaran bassinets were empty; the lights were on.
Into the second room, I went, where the babies usually were let out into their play pens to spend the day in their nannies’ care. I found only one of the blue-blob monstrosities. She had taken a ki blast to the head and spilled her brains upon the carpet, bright blue with spots of white. Her skin was lukewarm to the touch.
I dared not call out. How I wish I had had a scouter. I should have picked one up from the corpses. But I wasn’t thinking back then. Silently, I crept onward, into the inner rooms of the nursery, careful to open the doors as quietly as possible.
An Arcosian aurora display was playing in the next room, painting the space mahogany ceiling, as hanging toys swung lightly with each distant explosion that rocked the entire palace. Other toys lay scattered on the floor – coloring books and Arcosian Snowsurfers and colorful, triangular blocks. They had been here recently.
A crash came from the room ahead. I looked up, held my breath, and moved. I was in there faster than light.
A blood-stained cutthroat was limping through the room, looking through the contents of dressers and cribs and destroying any mirrors he found with quick blue ki blasts. His right ear was missing, and crimson blood was oozing from the wound slowly, running down his neck, giving his exposed flesh a dark, glistened appearance. Humming and muttering to himself, the man was keeping himself busy by exploring the dressers when a baby cried out.
At once, the soldier perked up. His armor was worn and broken, its shoulder pads cracked and blown off. There were multiple bleeding wound across his body, and it looked like he was missing several teeth. Still, he held a pen-shaped object between two fingers that emanated smoke upwards into the fine wood ceiling. Nil, I knew. He was addicted.
“Oy, who’s there?” the man breathed.
I dared not move. I was not strong enough. I would just get myself killed.
Another cry was followed by a woman making hushing sounds. But it was no use.
In the next moment, an aqua-skinned, black-armored babe rose into the air, hovering in front of the man.
“You?!” the soldier laughed. “You’re Cooler’s son, aren’tcha? Y’know he’s dead, yeah? Your daddy’s dead. His empire’s crumbling. You’ll never be like him.”
I felt the heat come on so strong, I briefly lost my vision. I nearly fell to the carpet. I wanted to strangle that man. I wanted to make him suffer. But he wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t touch him as I was.
“Maru, get back here, noooo!” the blue-blob nanny screeched, springing up from the shadows suddenly. She reached for the hovering boy, but he drifted forward, just out of her reach.
“You’re a pretty one,” the soldier said ferociously, wiping blood from his neck. Then, he raised his arm and shot a ki blast at her.
The nanny’s head exploded, sending bright blue blood all over the room. Haimaru’s armor was splattered with it, and he began to cry, shaking like a floating flower, confused and brittle and too innocent for this world.
“You…” the soldier chuckled, stepping forward to put his arm on Haimaru’s teal-jeweled head, “you’re gonna make me a lotta money. Oh yeah, kid. Bael wants you. Wants you bad. He’ll pay big money for you. You know that, dontcha? The last surviving heir of Cooler… Heh. I think you’re gonna end up just like your father, kid.”
I grabbed a nearby vase, preparing to hit the man over the head. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t, we all died. Nothing else I could do. I crept forward. He didn’t see me.
“Come ‘ere, lad,” the soldier whispered, trying to coo the crying boy. He grabbed the hovering Haimaru and hugged him tight. “It’s alright, don’t worry. You won’t remember any of this.”
I was right behind him. From beyond the darkness, Raimie began to cry, wherever she lay. I could not let his children fall into this bastard’s hands. I raised the vase and prepared to swing it against the back of this bleeding fool’s neck.
“Y’know, Bael’s gonna pay me millions, gonna make me a–”
A blinding blue light shone in the room, so bright I had to look away. I could feel its heat. The vase slipped from my shaking fingers. My knees found the carpet. I heard the soldier gasp, then swear, then scream. And then, his blood was on me and the light faded.
Hovering in the air in front of me was Haimaru, the son of Cooler, as regal a king as I had ever seen. His finger was raised, pointed forward. Smoke drifted up from his fingernail as his sister wailed behind. He was his father’s son. He stood like Cooler. His eyes narrowed like Cooler’s did. His face scrunched up in a haughty frown just like his father’s. It was uncanny. He was just a babe.
“My lord,” I gasped, though I knew he could not understand me, “my name is Nectarian, former senior governor in your father’s empire. I have returned to the Planet Trade Organization.” The words caught in my throat. The baby boy stared me down. I knew not whether he would release another finger beam. “I pledge my life to you… and your sister… my lord. I will do whatever I can to protect you and to help you ascend the throne that is rightfully yours. On my word… on my honor, I will serve you, Lord Haimaru.”
The boy yawned and drifted back down to the shadows, towards his sister. I stood, breathing hard, wiped the blood from my face, and realized what I had to do.
Their hover-strollers were filled to the brim with blankets and toys and bottles of milk. Raimie was clutching a stuffed Wintaar (a semi-intelligent furry biped native to Arcose), and now it was Haimaru’s turn to cry. Cooler’s children were not old enough for this, I knew. They could not rule the empire yet… perhaps not for another twenty or thirty years. Why did he have to go Earth in the first place?!
I’m no damn rebel.
They would be coming for these two. Pirates… rivals… assassins… Everyone would want Cooler’s children, and most would want them dead. We had to get out of here. There was no other choice. The empire was collapsing. One day, Haimaru and Raimie would return and claim what was rightfully theirs. But that was not this day. This day, we would run.
I had picked up a scouter from a dead soldier and moved cautiously through the hallways and rooms, once wrought in splendor and arrogance, protecting the children as best I could. Ash and ruined mahogany greeted me. They had been picked clean. No wealth nor any beauty remained. Cooler’s empire was fallen into utter decay. Now that he was gone… the vultures were swooping in to pick the carcass clean. Disgusting.
With my scouter, I made sure I didn’t confront anyone. I was too weak. My pace was lethargic, and I nearly collapsed several times. My stomach punched me again and again, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten in days. That was no matter. I needed to get the prince and princess to safety.
The path to the pod bays was treacherous as it was long. It took me nigh an hour to approach the place, for I had to hide in the shadows, waiting for anyone my scouter told me was in the way to leave. When I finally arrived inside the bay, I opened the door with one of the nanny’s keys, locked it behind me, and prepared to put the two Arcosian babies into their pods.
I didn’t know where to send them.
Standing at the datapad, the children crying in my ear, I felt the palace shake. The force of it nearly sent me to the floor. This wasn’t right… such an attack… it came from close by. I spun around.
“Open the door, Nectarian,” came a female voice from beyond plated steel.
“Who’s there?” I replied, on guard.
“Open the door, prisoner.”
“I will not.”
“I’m Governor Abliune,” the woman snapped from behind the door. “On my authority, I order you to open up, or die.”
“I do not answer to you.”
“A traitor does not answer to anyone, it seems.” She was offended; I could tell. “Open the doors, or I’ll blow them away.”
“You want them, do you?!” I roared. My rage made me feel alive. For a moment, I wasn’t tired. “You want to kill his children. That’s it, isn’t it? You want to murder them!”
“Open the door, prisoner.”
Frantically, I turned to the datapad, pushing buttons like a madman. One pod door opened to my right. I took the crying children in my arms and placed them gently inside, side-by-side. The boy was sobbing, staring at me with wet, golden eyes. I shivered; I knew he knew. The girl was sucking her thumb. I closed the door and returned to the datapad. Scrolling through the farthest-away planets, I changed the search to non-outposts. They had to reach a planet that wasn’t in the database – one that wasn’t controlled by the Planet Trade Organization. After the latest developments, I couldn’t trust anyone in this empire.
My finger stopped on an un-tamed world, far from the furthest reaches of our empire. Planet Aelfon struck my eye. I had no time. They were banging on the door. My scouter told me they were warming up energy blasts. Governor Abliune was extraordinarily powerful. I could not stop her if she got through. I had to go.
I pressed the button. The pod disengaged from the Iphan docking bay, rising into the star-lit sky, where no doubt countless rebels and loyalists were fighting in the void above. I watched the pod shoot off towards the darkness. They would be safe on Aeflon. At least I hoped so.
Sighing, I turned to the door, cracking my knuckles. This would be my end. Abliune would never get Cooler’s children. She would never be able to murder them. I made sure that. But my own life…
The energy blast sent shock waves through the docking bay, causing me to hit my head against the datapad and fall over. Moaning in pain, I wiped the blood from my eyes. Ahead, the door was sparking and melting; the energy was coming through.
“Stay back!” I shouted. “I’ll kill them! I swear I will!”
“Then do it!” the governor bellowed.
“What do you want with them?!”
“Shut up, traitor!”
“No… you’re the traitors! You serve Bael! He’s a–”
“Bael’s in charge now! If you don’t bow to him, we’ll make you kneel!”
The molten steel was dripping like scarlet tears. There wasn’t much time now. I gathered myself, defiant, ready to die. And as I stood there, breathing hard, my throat full of bile, I realized it didn’t have to end this way. I didn’t have to die.
Swiftly, I moved back to the datapad and opened another pod door. There were at least a dozen still at dock. That wasn’t good. If I left… surely, the governor would send her best warriors after us. And where the children and I were going… that information was in the computer.
The nanny’s key was in my hand. The door was collapsing. I stabbed it in the datapad’s port. She was shouting at me – her highness. I bet she was a Faerin. She sounded like one – all pompous and arrogant and full of herself. Well, I had a surprise cooking for her. I pressed the buttons I needed to press and stepped back, hoping to catch sight of her for one moment, at least.
My belly rumbled. I coughed and nearly fell over. The datapad beeped, and a synthetic voice spoke: “Ten… nine… eight… seven… six…”
There was no time. “We are not dead yet!” I roared with all the energy I had left. Then, I collapsed inside my pod, pressed the takeoff button, and passed out.
It was a shame. I would have liked to see the hangar bay explode. I would have liked to see Governor Abliune burst into the room, thinking she had cornered me and the children, only to be met by a face full of fire. But it was not to be.
Chapter V: Rebirth
|Position:||Bodyguard of Kuriza|
|Date of account:|| October 29, 765 Age (first, second, and third scenes)|
November 2, 765 Age (fourth scene)
His court was filled with Arcosians of around his age and slightly older. Stoic guards in heavy, shining metal and blood red capes stood against the walls in solemn diligence. My lord was sitting politely on his golden throne, a crimson cloak with indigo silk borders draped around him like a blanket. His friends, wards, confidants, officers, and attendants took up most of the room. I was at my lord’s side. Not all of us were made of ice.
“Are you sure, Captain?” The king’s voice was soft, almost bored.
Captain Orlan exhaled deeply. “Bael’s fleet arrived at Ipha three days ago. They destroyed the moon before they left, leaving nothing behind. There are no signs of your cousins.”
The young lord was holding something in his hand. His fist squeezed it and released and squeezed again. Looking down, Kuriza spoke, “Do a sweep, Lingon. Make sure–”
“My lord…” I interrupted, “Ain’t no one left out there. We’re sure.”
“And there were no escape pod departures beforehand?”
“Dozens, perhaps… but that information is lost,” said Orlan.
“How do we know that uncle Cooler’s twins weren’t on one of those escape pods?”
Orlan folded his arms. “It’s highly unlikely, Lord Kuriza. Once news of Lord Cooler’s death spread, the outpost was overrun by the Faereth in a matter of hours.”
“Traitors.” I shivered hearing him say such a word in his young, high voice. “One day they’ll get what’s coming to them.” He looked up suddenly, curling his elbow on the golden armrest of his throne, squeezing his fist as fast as a heartbeat now. “Lingon, clear the room.” I bowed in acquiesce.“Wait… stop!” he chirped, as I ushered out the nearest group of advisors. “I want that one,” he said, pointing to a gnarled, grey-robed beast. “He stays.”
And so he did. Lord Kuriza even bade his guards to leave. This was for something important, I knew, but what my little lord wanted with this beast, I couldn’t guess. I did not recognize the man.
“You’re Sapras, right? That’s your name, isn’t it?”
“That’s correct, my lord,” the wrinkly, brown-skinned alien muttered. He looked like a featherless bird, with a beak and a tall, lean frame. His eyes were swirling hurricanes. “I served your grandfather before his death, and then your uncle afterwards. To my knowledge, I am the last living officer of your grandfather’s army. We have even met before, I believe… in your uncle’s capitol on Ipha. Do you remember, my lord?”
The boy nodded with naïveté. “Why did you come here?” Kuriza wasn’t looking at him, instead admiring the fabric of his robes.
“I have information that might serve you, my lord. I know much about your grand uncles, and what they are planning on doing.”
“What are they planning on doing?” the boy asked, spiritless.
“Kill you, my lord.”
“What?!” That was my voice. I stepped forward to grab the man, but he had already sunk to his knees, his arms raised in mercy, his eyes wet and wide.
“I know things, my lord. Please, you must believe me. I wanted to go to Cooler’s children… but they’ve disappeared. You are the heir to the Planet Trade Organization now, Lord Kuriza. But Lord Arcterial won’t stand for that. He’s coming for you. He wants the throne for himself. He won’t let some kid – begging your pardon, sir – rule the empire he and his brothers built.”
“And what of Icer?” I asked, unsure what to do. Kuriza sat there, unperturbed. He didn’t want me to apprehend Sapras… at least not yet.
“Icer set up a trade network with the Aphotic Prince when the prince was still around, and I know he’s trying to forge an alliance with Admiral Bael. If those rumors are true…”
“He’ll want the Planet Trade Organization too,” Kuriza said firmly, looking up at them. “He won’t have my empire. Not if I have anything to say about it. I’m the son of Frieza, the strongest warrior in the universe! They will soon fear my name. We need to talk,” he told the alien, bluntly. “You will tell me everything you know about what my grand uncles are planning. Uncle Cooler told me about you. He said you know everything, Master Sapras. So teach me.”
“Y-yes… my lord.
“Follow me.” The boy hopped off his throne and made his way towards his personal chambers, which lay past a door behind the great golden seat. “Oh, and Lingon, stay here. Someone’ll need to run the ship while I’m away. I’ll need you to deal with Kracchus yourself.”
“I will, my lord,” I said, a fist over my chest. It was astonishing to see the boy acting so mature all of the sudden. He was a quiet boy, devoted more to art and beauty than to blood and war. Yet here he stood proudly, demonstrating shrewd foresight in his battle strategies. This was promising. I don’t remember his father ever thinking this far ahead.
I almost felt like going to a knee and proclaiming him my king. But I was a soldier, not a romantic.
I missed the rainy days I spent reading him stories. He fell asleep so easily back then. Sitting in a temporary command chair below his throne, I leaned back. I could hardly feel the ship moving at near-light speed. The guards were not with me, nor the advisors. I was not their master. Priceless paintings wrought by the greatest artists in the universe decorated the walls. Kuriza had always had a taste for the high arts, but me… I didn’t understand it at all. Most of them just looked like messy blotches of multi-colored paint that I could have drawn myself.
There were five major factions now, and we would have to assimilate or decimate the other four if we wanted to take back the Planet Trade Organization. I had no reason to doubt Master Sapras. He had loyally served King Cold and Lord Cooler. Ambition never surprises me. There was Lord Kuriza – King Kuriza, truly – Lord Arcterial, Lord Icer, Lord Nitro, and Admiral Bael. They were the big players here, and it looked like all of them would be our foes. Though, if Bael and Icer combined forces, I realized then, they’d be unstoppable. Likely, Sapras already told Kuriza about such a possibility. It was the grand uncles we were most concerned about. Even now, I guessed our forces outnumbered Nitro’s.
Sure, there were dozens of lesser officers with moderate fleets running about with their heads cut off, swearing they’d be the best king of all. All of those rebels would be easily subdued. The smart ones would join larger forces – us, I hoped. If this was how it was going to be, I wanted us to be as strong as possible before confronting Icer or Arcterial. To refuse the rightful ruler of the Planet Trade Organization guaranteed death. Soon, the universe would know that. It didn’t matter if it was some random captain or Kuriza’s own blood. They would all face the same fate if they stood against us.
The computer terminal in front of me flashed on, humming loudly. The screen revealed the sleek, muscled, grey-furred visage of Admiral Kracchus, Kuriza’s most trusted officer not on this ship. Two guards flanked him. He looked tired. Sound came through the scouter I wore on my left ear.
“Kracchus,” I breathed. “It’s good to see you.”
“Where’s Lord Kuriza?”
“Busy. He asked me to meet with you instead.”
“Right.” I could detect the annoyance in his voice. “Well, we’re here, and… it’s not pretty. Take a look.” He took the camera, panning around the oceans and distant floating cities that could be seen. Most had been ravaged by orbital bombardment. The cities were made of a white, sea-shell-like substance that cracked and blackened wherever plasma touched it. And each floating world had been absolutely smothered in plasma. Truly, the cities looked like ruins. “Captain Lyogan is commanding the ground forces. I’d estimate they’ve already wiped out fifty percent of the native population.”
“Have you contacted Lyogan?”
“I’ve tried, but I can’t get through. I’m going to have to capture her somehow.”
“Do it,” I commanded, feeling a flush of power rising in my wrinkled cheeks. “We need that world, and Lord Kuriza thinks it will be greatly beneficial to have the Quglith in his empire. Do whatever it takes, but spare as many of Lyogan’s soldiers as possible. We’ll need them for our army, too.”
“One other thing, Admiral,” I said, sitting up. “News has come from Earth…”
“I know. Cooler’s dead. Just like his brother. They went to the same place and met the same fate. Don’t tell me Kuriza wants to go there too.”
“No, of course not. I would never allow him to do such a thing. There’s something else. A few days ago, Admiral Bael attacked Ipha. There were no survivors.”
The furry alien’s eyes narrowed in shock. “D-does that mean…?”
“Yes. Kuriza is the king of the Planet Trade Organization now. His grand uncles, Nitro, and Lord Bael are our foes. There have been rumors that Bael and Icer will join forces. We cannot let that happen. If they do, their combined hordes will overrun us easily. Lord Kuriza gave you a third of his fleet to accomplish your mission, but now you must do more for him, I fear.”
“Anything,” he said loyally, falling to a knee.
“Gather as many ships and soldiers as you can. It will come to blood, one way or another. I plan for our side to have a larger fleet when it does.”
“Of course. Have the others pressed claims yet?”
“Arcterial and Nitro are moving to, no doubt, but no one has made a formal declaration since the deaths of Cooler’s twins.”
“I see. In that case, if Kuriza declares first… we’ll have the upper hand. He has legitimacy. He’s the rightful king,” Kracchus growled. “More will join us because of that. But I need to move fast.” He took a deep breath and nodded. “Very well. In that case, I’ve got a planet to liberate. I must go, Lingon.”
“Take care, Kracchus, and remember, limit the casualties as much as you can. We need bodies for this war.”
He nodded once and was gone in a flash. I sat back in order to contemplate what to do. I wasn’t the smartest man, nor the most qualified for this position. But Kuriza had chosen me – well, his father had made me the boy’s sworn guardian when he had been born. Truthfully, there was little I could guard Kuriza against now. He far outclassed me in nearly every possible way. His other advisors were smarter, more cunning, more ruthless. But I loved Kuriza more than they. I would never let anything happen to him.
I felt the Winter’s Dawn decelerate – a slight, mind-emptying feeling. We were here. Lord Kuriza’s scouter was turned off; that was odd. He had told me to inform him the moment we arrived. Standing, I gathered my cloak about me and marched off to Kuriza’s quarters.
It was a short walk to the young king’s quarters. Two guards met me at the door. I was their commander, so they did not stop me. Inside, the antechamber was packed with fountains and hanging flowering vines and statues of Frieza and Cooler and King Cold. In the corner, I saw the pale, thin-framed Kuriza leaning against another young Arcosian. Both of them were moaning weakly; their bodies were obscured by the regal lord’s fluttering cloak.
The boy looked up sharply, his face flushed. When he saw me, he gasped in embarrassment. “Lingon… I-I… y-you… what are you doing here?” he stammered.
“We’ve arrived, my lord. The fleet is just out of range.”
“Oh… very good.” He wiped his mouth and turned to face me, hunched over, his robes covering him like a sheet of ice. Behind him, the other young Arcosian stood meekly, his head bowed. The blood in his face still burning hot, Kuriza asked, “Did Kracchus succeed in his mission?”
“He will, my lord. He’s arrived on the planet and will be taking out the invading forces shortly. As well, he plans on gathering the lordless fleet commanders currently roaming the empire before returning to you.”
“Good, good…” the boy said, distractedly. “I’ll be out shortly, Lingon. You may leave now.”
I bowed awkwardly and took my exit.
Outside, two Arcosian girls were talking with the guards, pleading to be let in. “Aw, c’mon! He invited us!” one whined cutely.
“I need confirmation from Lord Kuriza himself,” one of the frog-faced guards croaked. “But he ain’t answerin’ his scouter…”
“Let them in,” I breathed, as I exited. “He wants them in there, trust me.”
And so the door opened again, and two giddy young girls streamed inside to their lord. I wondered if he had any ice wine in there. He’d be just like his father if he did. Frieza had been a notoriously hot-blooded dog in his youth. Yet, at the same time, I longed for the old days, the younger Kuriza who merely wanted me to read him stories and comfort him when he had nightmares about monsters and demons.
Returning to the bridge, I called forth everyone – men and women better than me for such a task. They would give Kuriza their counsel in how to take this planet, and he probably would listen. But if he didn’t… it was I who would step in, and only then. That was my only purpose at this stage of my life. I couldn’t stop the boy, but I was the only one he truly trusted. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the rest of his family was trying to kill him. I was all he had left.
That wasn’t going to happen. Not if Kracchus succeeded. Not if we captured this planet. We were moving too; we were gathering strength. King Kuriza would soon take his place as the leader of the largest empire in the universe, and there was nothing, I hoped, that Icer and Arcterial could do to stop him.
“Six scout fighters,” Lord Kuriza ordered from his throne. “Nothing else.”
“We’re leaving the rest of the fleet behind?” Commander Fusil asked. He was a cautious, amphibian-looking creature with spotted brown-and-red skin that was always perspiring.
“Yes,” the Arcosian replied simply. “We don’t want to look like we’re a threat.”
“As you wish, my lord. Moving forward.”
Kuriza’s flagship, the Winter’s Dawn, raced towards the planet ahead – Planet Frieza 317 – with six light starfighters in tow. This was not even a fraction of our fleet, and it should rouse the outpost commander’s curiosity at least, I suspected. The planet was a forested, oceanless place, wild and untamed, and only recently colonized. The outpost therein would be comprised of inexperienced commanders and soldiers, no doubt, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be useful for Kuriza’s empire.
“Sire, the long-range scouters are picking up dozens of readings coming from behind the moon!” rasped Captain Zitorin. “They’re closing in on us!”
From where we were, the moon of Planet Frieza 317 was half-eclipsing its burning red sun to the left.
“Ignore them,” the young lord commanded coolly, not paying attention. “Don’t change course.”
“B-but… my lord… there’s more than a hundred ships!”
“Quiet!” I barked. “Lord Kuriza knows what he’s doing. Don’t question his judgment!”
Zitorin nodded sheepishly and lowered his fearful eyes to his computer console.
“Connect me to whomever commands this outpost.”
“As you wish, my lord.” That was Captain Capontari. She had a thing for Kuriza, I knew, but she would never act on her urges for fear of having her entrails paraded through the streets of his capitol world. “I’ve hailed the command post… and they’ve answered!”
On the screen appeared an orange-skinned, furry creature with a grievously-scarred face. One of his eyes was missing, as was his nose, and one of his cheeks had been burnt and ripped open once, the tattered remnants sown back together, but not made whole again. He was old, as were his wounds, and he wore a dark eyepatch over his missing eye. He studied us carefully.
“Your king,” Kuriza snapped, sitting up. “Whom do you serve, governor?”
“I used to serve Cooler,” he said uncertainly, squinting at Kuriza. “But he died, and now I serve Lord Nitro.”
“Why?” the boy asked sharply.
“Because his men told me if I don’t, they’ll kill me.”
“I’m your rightful king.” The boy stood, though he looked no more intimidating than a bare tree. “This planet was my father’s before he died. It belongs to me.”
“K-kuriza?” The governor sounded unsure.
“So you do recognize me.”
“Sire, the enemy ships have reached our location!” Zitorin yelled in dismay.
The boy cocked his head. “You haven’t called off your ships yet?”
“It’s too late my lord,” the governor said gravely.
“Open the window,” Kuriza commanded.
Capontari did so at once, as everyone scrambled to hold onto something, so as to not get sucked out into the void. Sometimes I wished I could breathe in space like the Arcosians, but other times, I wondered what was the point? Who’d want to be able to live in such a cold desolation?
He was out there in an instant, as graceful as a star dancer, his cloak billowing behind him. We could still hear Kuriza on his scouter speaking to the installation’s governor. “Call them off, or this will end poorly for you, my lord!”
The ships fired upon us, destroying the six scouting vessels in an instant. Kuriza created a bubble of ki that surrounded Winter’s Dawn and blocked any plasma from hitting it, and then with the snap of his wrist, every foe’s spaceship powered down, ending their attack. Drifting like asteroids, they were unable to offer up any further resistance. I could see Kuriza’s eyes glowing crimson even from the looking window, and I knew what he had done.
“If you surrender now, this will be easier for you. You cannot stop me.”
“Lord Kuriza, please! I can’t! Nitro will–”
“Nitro is my uncle, but if he stands against me, he will die like all the rest. Do you wish to die with him, governor?”
We soon learned that this was Governor Rowane, the former installation commander of Planet Cooler 116. He had been the one in charge of that world when the Aphotic Prince had attacked it and abducted Lord Avalan, Lord Icer’s only son. Afterwards, he had been reassigned here.
“Can’t I kill him?” the boy said boyishly. “He joined Nitro. He’s a rebel.”
“He only did that to save his life,” Master Sapras observed. “Almost anyone would do the same in his position.”
“Kracchus wouldn’t! He would fight to the end!”
“And he would die, and be less useful to you now than a pile of dust. Trust me, my lord, I have seen these kinds of things happen many times before. You cannot go killing everyone, lest you have no one left to rule.”
“What should I do?”
“Provide him a larger garrison, have him swear fealty to you, and move onto the next planet.”
Kuriza looked to the rest of us for answers. Most agreed he should kill Rowane. Capontari offered to do it herself. Fusil wanted to blow up the planet, which was the most ridiculous counsel yet. Planet Frieza 317 was rich in natural resources, especially rare-metal ore deposits, and had a respectably-sized battalion of soldiers. It was too valuable to be destroyed.
Then, the boy lord turned his focus towards me. His beautiful green eyes flickered like raging fire. “What do you think, Lingon?”
My face grew hot. Everyone turned to me. I hadn’t expected to be asked this question. My mind went numb. I was just the boy’s sworn guardian. I wasn’t a strategist like them. I swallowed and decided to go with my gut. It was a risky choice, but I had to do it. “I…” Sapras shifted on his feet, folding his arms, “… I think Sapras has it right, Lord Kuriza. If you spare Rowane, the universe will know what you have done. They’ll know you’re a merciful ruler and they’ll flock to you. They’ll want to serve you, especially those who’ve already joined Icer and Arcterial and Nitro. They’ll know they can come back to the Planet Trade Organization. If you kill Rowane, they’ll have no choice but to stick with their rebel lords for fear of death.”
Kuriza slid off his throne. His Arcosian friends were around him, staring at him like he was radiating eternal light. He walked up to Capontari’s station and pressed a button. “Are you there, governor?”
“Yes, I’m here,” the old man replied through the computer’s speakers. The massive video screen was turned off.
“Okay then. I’m coming down to the planet. We need to talk.”
He cut off the comm, looked up at me, and motioned with his head for me to join him. I did so with great relief. No one else moved; no one else would be going to Planet Frieza 317 with their lord.
Our fleet was smaller now, though if we ever called Rowane to battle in the future, we would have more than we did before. That was a win in my mind. Several of us manned the bridge, moving the fleet towards the next planet Nitro had captured. Rowane had let us know that Nitro had been expanding his empire outwards ever since news of Cooler’s death had reached him. That meant he was currently attacking Frieza’s – Kuriza’s – region. We had to put a stop to that.
And so we were. Off to the nearest planet – Planet Frieza 316, coincidentally enough – the fleet moved in silence. Kuriza’s trusted officers worked the bridge. I held it in his stead. I wondered if he was in his room with the other Arcosians right now and decided to purge my mind of such thoughts.
“Lord Lingon, look!” Zitorin squealed suddenly. “More ships on the long-range scouters!”
“How many?” I asked lazily, not getting up.
That was a massive fleet, enough to get my attention. “What’re the ship sizes?”
“Moderate to large, with an estimated crew of over fifty thousand!”
“Stop the fleet here.”
“Sir?” Capontari sounded concerned. “Is it wise to delay?”
“We need those ships. Stop the fleet.”
“At once, sir,” Commander Fusil replied.
And so we came to a halt, far out of range of the incoming fleet. Where it was headed, I could not guess. But it would be ours if we had our way. Kuriza’s scouter was off again. I’d have to walk in on him again, it seemed.
“I’ll get Kuriza. Fusil, hold the bridge while I’m gone.”
“I will, sir.”
This time I knocked. There was no one in the antechamber, though the room reeked of perfumes and spices and wine. Inside, tucked away in a corner, Kuriza sat at a desk, a frail old alien standing next to him, almost as pale-skinned as the boy. Epikail was his name – the young lord’s educator, who taught Kuriza about all manner of things. With Sapras on board, Kuriza would be brought up as smart as any Arcosian before him. I was glad to see none of the boy’s Arcosian friends in the room with him.
“What is it, Lingon?”
“There is a fleet of forty-two ships approaching us, my lord. They’re likely space pirates, or they might be Nitro’s fleet. I thought you might want to come take a look.”
“Very well, Lingon.” The boy stood, donned his cloak, and led me out of there. His gait was urgent; I could tell Kuriza was crafting some plan in his mind as we returned to the bridge. “Clear the ship,” he ordered. “Everyone except Lingon and the guards.”
“My lord?” Fusil was confused.
“I’m going to capture that fleet. This is how I’m going to do it. Everyone, get off the ship! I’ll not ask again!” Everyone shuffled out swiftly. Soon they would take escape pods to other ships – not the most practical evacuation maneuver, but the best, given the time we had to work with. When the bridge was cleared, the boy turned to me and asked, “Lingon, can they see my fleet?”
“I don’t believe so, my lord. Our long-range scouters extend far beyond the range of most ships. Unless Nitro’s or Arcterial’s flagships are in that fleet, they’ll have no idea how many ships we have.”
“Good. Order the rest of the fleet back, and send Winter’s Dawn forward. I want them to find us alone.”
“As you wish, Lord Kuriza.”
And so it was done. His flagship, the Winter’s Dawn, moved into the path of the approaching fleet, while the rest of our fleet moved away, hiding behind a nearby gas giant. Kuriza had me power down the ship and gather my men on the bridge. There were three dozen of them. But I wasn’t scared. The boy was stronger than anyone, aside from his uncle and grand uncles. And the long-range scouters showed no power levels coming anywhere close to his full strength. We were safe.
Sitting in the low-powered bridge, where dark red lights shone, it was an anxious scene. The warriors stood and shifted in their armor. The boy sat on his throne, flexing his fists. Only one computer monitor remained active: the one showing the long-range scouters’ feed. I kept my eyes on it, watching the bright red dots approaching us. There were thousands of soldiers in the ships.
“They’re slowing,” I said a few minutes later. “They’ve spotted us.”
“Good. Get into positions, soldiers.”
Everyone hunkered behind chairs and monitors, or took cover behind walls and in doorways. These were my men – the best of the best. They would not lose here. We would not lose. We had trained too hard.
Lord Kuriza grunted as he lowered his power level to near zero – a little trick he had learned from his uncle. Being able to control his power level like that was a skill I knew I’d never be able to master. The lack of effort he showed in mastering high-level skills was breathtaking.
I felt one of the other ships dock against Winter’s Dawn, and soon, my scouter let me know that moderately-powerful beings were approaching us. They had scouters too. They knew just where to look. I swallowed, wiping my palms, and starting charging up my energy. Everyone else did too. No auras. No screaming. We did this silently and professionally. When I looked to the throne, I found that Kuriza had disappeared. I didn’t have time to see where he’d gone before the far door burst open with a sigh of dark fire and smoke.
Into the room soldiers rushed, adorned in the same armor as us. I noticed some familiar species, and some who were not so familiar. At the head of the pack was a ferocious-looking (yet beautiful) Faerin. She wore shoulder-less gold-and-purple armor and a long periwinkle cape.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” I roared.
“Shut up,” the woman snapped. “Whose ship is this?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied.
“This Arcosian saucer we’re standing in right now!” I could detect a biting impatience in her tone. “Is it Nitro’s? Or Icer’s?”
I shook my head. “You broke in here. I don’t have to tell you anything. Get out of here before I kill every last one of you.”
She burst out laughing. “Oh, that’s rich. Your measly force against my fifty thousand,” she chortled. “And all my ships against this one. It may be Arcosian-designed, but those are poor odds all the same.”
“We’ll take our chances.”
She nodded knowingly and stepped forward. “I wasn’t asking. You will tell me whose ship this is and why it broke down out here in the middle of nowhere.”
I raised my palm, revealing a tear-drop-shaped green energy blast. The woman didn’t want to fight; I could see how it pained her to deal with me. That was good. She was an arrogant little shit, thinking that it was beneath her to entertain such a ragged crew. I had met a dozen Faereth just like her. If only we could have given her the information she wanted.
“This is your last chance,” she responded, unafraid. “I’ll take you back to my ship and pull the info out of your brain with my bare hands if I must. You’re going to talk. It’s just a matter of how much pain I have to inflict upon you before you do.”
“Sounds like fun,” I yawned.
She flushed with rage. “Who’s ship is this, cretin?! Answer me!”
With a metallic whisper, Kuriza dropped from the ceiling, landing behind the woman. He kicked her feet out from under her, sending her to the ground without even turning around. Keeping his eyes trained on the soldiers behind her, he flared up his aura – a deep indigo-crimson color – and absorbed the energy blasts from her sycophants. We stood still.
“Lingon, the power please.”
The lights came back on, revealing each host to one another in perfect clarity. Kuriza stood there, a young boy, barely older than when he used to cry in my arms about nightmares he’d had. He was pale and thin and didn’t look menacing at all – except that he was Arcosian, and in his species final form. Everyone knew what that meant.
“Swear loyalty to me, or die. I’m the King of the Planet Trade Organization now. It’s your choice.”
The men exchanged looks. Suddenly, the Faerin sprung up and tried to attack Kuriza. I dove forward, pinning her to the ground again. She conjured her aura and tried to push me away, but I was at full power. I would not be undone by a woman.
Struggling, she screamed, “They’re my men! You can’t take them!”
“Is that so?” Kuriza asked the men. I saw they were trembling. They knew what he could do to them.
“W-we… served King Cold, milord, I swear!” one piped up. “Under Captain Shyotai! But he went rogue and forced us to go with him! And then he died, and this woman came and made us follow her or she’d kill us!”
“Liar!” she bellowed, trying to upend me. I was too strong. “You belong to me!”
The soldier glanced at her before returning his eyes to Kuriza. “P-please milord… we was only followin’ orders.”
“Good,” the boy said coolly. “Welcome back, my friends. My grandfather was a noble man. It must have been a privilege to serve under him.”
“I-it… was…!” the terrified soldier managed to speak.
The little lord smirked and came to the Faerin, squatting down next to her. “Hello,” he said innocently. He raised one finger, and a tiny red ball materialized over it. The ball did not grow in size. Kuriza didn’t want to blow up his flagship, after all.
She seethed and stared up at him, her face growing dark with hatred. Beads of sweat rolled down her cheeks like tears. “You better not…”
“Why not, eh?” I breathed, pressing her harder against the cold metal.
“Because…” she sneered, struggling as best she could, “I’m important.”
The energy’s fire glittered on the boy’s red-jeweled shoulders “Is that so?”
“Yeah…” she breathed hard.
“Who are you, then?” That was me.
“I’m Admiral Bael’s wife,” she roared, “and if you kill me, that’ll be the biggest mistake of your pathetic lives!”
The boy looked to me. I looked to him. A tingly feeling covered my body. We had just acquired a prisoner of immense value. Bael was one of our greatest threats. If we could somehow use this against him, to bring ruin to him, and Icer maybe, well…
“Sire, it ain’t nothin’ to keep her locked up.”
The boy agreed. Standing up, he dissolved his energy ball, turned back to the soldiers standing in the hallway, and flicked his wrist again. All of them dissolved away in the blink of an eye, except for the one who’d spoken to Kuriza.
“Return to your ship,” the boy spoke deliberately, “and tell everyone what you’ve seen here. I’ll make a broadcast to my new fleet soon. I’ll tell them the rest.”
The man nodded loyally, albeit fearfully, and ran back to his ship.
“Should I contact Bael, my lord?”
“No,” Kuriza said simply. “I have an uncle to deal with first.”
With that, the boy who was nothing like the boy I had once known, turned, marched over to his throne, and sat upon it once again. Never a more splendid sight had I ever seen. He commanded that throne like his father before him. Kuriza may yet be a boy, but he has the sensibilities of a man – a man whom all, especially the surviving members of his family – should fear.
Chapter VI: A Wise Emperor Does Not Forget
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Kuriza's empire|
|Date of account:|| October 29, 765 Age (first scene)|
November 4, 765 Age (second scene)
November 29, 765 Age (third scene)
December 2, 765 Age (fourth scene)
Ctaedi’s second sun was beginning to set. Its third was just beginning its morning rise. Smoke plumed over the azure ocean. The air was warm on my fur. My soldiers were few; they were trusted. I held back the main reserve. I wanted as few casualties as possible.
Kneeling, I cupped some sea water in my hand and splashed it over my face. I had a duty to Kuriza; I would not fail him now.
“Form up, men!” I barked, returning to them. They were fifty strong. They were all I needed. “A rebel force has attacked this planet. We are going to kill them. Those are brave men out there, just like you. Let’s show them what we’ve got!”
A collective grunt of pride and power echoed across the floating landing pad. We were in the air, salt on our lips. Lyogan would soon know our wrath. Her master had been routed by Arcterial. As much as we hated that man, he had done us a service here. Lyogan’s fleet was crushed. She was marooned. There was no way out.
Paranoia drove her. I was an admiral in King Kuriza’s empire. I would not fail him. Our power levels betrayed us, as I had expected. Like chem-trails through a powder blue sky, we flew to the dying city. Floating, white-stoned, barely inhabited, N’gatiq was where Lyogan and her lackeys would make their last stand.
They had no clue who we were.
Corpses decorated the streets. Squid-faced aliens bled out across the shining, burnt ruins as smoke rose ever higher. We did not descend. In the sky, I hovered before my men, our scouters beeping erratically. They were below us. Two thousand of them remained, roughly speaking. Some were attacking other cities, but this was the main force; we would stop them here for Lord Kuriza!
“Come out, bastards!” My voice rose above the warm sea winds. The city bobbed like a cork, bleeding into the ocean. “Show your faces!”
A wall of plasma was their answer. Shouting to my men, I diverted us around the assault, and soon we were flying amongst ruins and bodies, exchanging ki blasts with unknown foes. Shouting to my second in command, Commander Ackuran, we halted above the center of the city.
“Stay here! Hold them back! I’ll find her myself!” Spittle flew from my mouth. My heart was pounding.
“Is that wise, Admiral? Wouldn’t it be more prudent for us to attack as one?”
“No. We’ll lose too many men if we do that! Hold them here! I’ll be back!” Roaring, I flexed my muscles, drawing my aura around me, and teleported away.
There were more dead space-badgers than Quglith in the heart of N’gatiq. Lyogan and her force had been here almost a year, attacking the Quglith cities after being marooned by Torlini. No one was coming back for her and her army – even they knew that. So they couldn’t destroy the planet. The Quglith had put up a stout defense. Salza had sent a very small detachment here roughly eight months ago to help defend the planet. They had been utterly destroyed, but at least they had bought the Quglith some time. Now the Quglith army was broken, and few now stood against Lyogan and her terror-driven force. If we weren’t here, the planet would fall within a fortnight.
I was sprinting through the air, jumping and teleporting from one broken building to another. I was too fast for them – no one on this planet had a power level above 30,000. They would all die if they refused to bow to the one true king of the Planet Trade Organization. Roughly a third of Lyogan’s forces were in this city. The rest were scattered, like dead leaves in the wind. They were attacking other strongholds, being held back by Quglith defenders. Even so, there was little time. With Arcterial and Nitro moving against us, and Icer and Bael potentially forging an alliance, I had to get as many men and ships back to Lord Kuriza’s fleet as soon as possible. This could not wait. It would not. Lyogan would learn that soon enough.
Her skin was pale and opalescent, her ears pointed, her form slender and short. She stood amongst her men, shooting ki blasts skyward, hiding behind the cover of rubble. Fresh corpses were bleeding into the white sea-shell like rubble, which had blackened around the scorch-marks and blood stains. They didn’t see me. Good. I was almost compelled to destroy their scouters, but they’d need those scouters once they were with Lord Kuriza. Instead, I took a deep breath, conjured up all my energy, and flew like the winds towards my quarry.
A few of her soldiers caught sight of me as I raced through the smoking city, but their energy, golden and white, flew past me as I easily dodged anything they tried to hit me with. Two men jumped at me, trying to block my advance with their bodies. I quickly chopped them in the necks – not too hard – and kicked off a half-blown-out building before frontflipping over another three men shooting their blasters as they rushed me. Their ki blasts burst through my cape, tearing holes. I fired a white ball of energy into the ground, sending a geyser of debris into the air. Dazed, the soldiers could do nothing to stop my advance.
By the time Lyogan was spinning around to confront me, I had punched her in the chest, cracking her armor, knocking the wind out of her, and was shooting off towards the sky with her in tow. A few soldiers jumped up to follow me, but they were subdued by my own force’s suppressing fire. Three rebels fell from the sky, blackened as the buildings, and no others followed.
“Hold them here, Ackuran! I need to interrogate this one!” I shouted, returning to my men, holding up the coughing Lyogan.
He nodded loyally and said, “They will not escape, sir! On my honor, I won’t let them!”
I retreated to our landing pad, which was several miles offshore from N’gatiq. The white metal shone bright in the light of day. Sea birds screeched, one after the other, overhead. A few landed on walls or ships or light poles to watch us. It was just me and the butcher. She was wheezing still. A salty wind blew through the landing pad, and a few of our parked ships creaked in annoyance.
“I’ve been trying to contact you,” I growled. “Why didn’t you answer me?” She didn’t answer. Leaning over, her chest heaving, the captain spit on the ground. I kicked Lyogan in the stomach, causing her to collapse in a whimper. “Answer me, or die.”
“I-I… the demons…” she sputtered, “They massacred us… I know they came from th-this planet… Torlini brought me here… I’ve been searching for them…”
“There are no demons on this world, you moron!”
“Ye-yes there are…”
“If there were, don’t you think you would have found them by now? How long have you been assaulting this planet?”
“Almost… a y-year…” she admitted.
“That’s right. If there were demons here, they would have attacked you already. You’ve nearly killed all the Quglith. Don’t you think they’d unleash their secret weapon if they had one?”
“Torlini is dead. He confronted Lord Arcterial in space and a fight ensued. Your shipmaster did not make it out of that battle alive. You are stranded here without any friends and without any hope of rescue.”
She was silent for a few moments, catching her breath. “Kill me then,” Captain Lyogan said at last, her voice full of grief. “You’re right. You won.”
I pulled her to her feet, my claws on her throat. Her eyes were wide. “No,” I whispered, my voice barely audible above the sea winds. “You’re too valuable.” I let her go. “You were the Captain of the Guard on Planet Frieza 113.”
“Yeah… before the demons killed everyone. I failed to protect them. I ran away like a coward. I-I… I’m not…”
“The demons have reappeared elsewhere. They attacked Lord Icer’s son, and almost succeeded in killing him and his father. They ambushed Lady Frost, Lord Arcterial’s last remaining heir, and murdered her. And they’ve been raiding mining outposts all across the empire for the past year without pause. They have slaughtered millions. But they are not here. Ctaedi is yet untouched by those monsters.”
Dejectedly, she asked, “So you want me to help you hunt them down? Is that it?”
“Not yet. I want you and your men to return to the Planet Trade Organization. A lot has happened in the past year. Cooler and his children are dead. Lord Kuriza is now our king.”
“The son of the man you once served.”
“I know who he is,” she snapped.
“Join us, help us squash the rebellions Lord Arcterial, Lord Icer, Lord Nitro, and Admiral Bael are waging against the empire, and then we can turn our focus to these demons. The demons are powerful, but with the full might of Lord Kuriza’s empire behind us, we will crush them.”
“It’s a nice thought.” Her voice was distant. “But I’m not sure it will work.”
“You doubt our power?”
She shook her head. “I doubt that Kuriza can overcome Arcterial or Icer, or even Nitro. His relatives are more experienced than him. They’ll outwit him and defeat his army. One of them will rule the Planet Trade Organization before long.”
“That’s why we need intelligent officers to counsel him. Already, Master Sapras, King Cold’s historian, and a host of other officers from both his father’s and uncle’s empires are on his flagship, aiding and counseling the boy on all matters. We will not be defeated by Arcterial or Icer, I promise you that. But we need you and your soldiers, Lyogan. It would be a tremendous boost to have you on our side.”
“I could join you,” she said thoughtfully.
“Or you could die,” I said. “For all the innocent Quglith you’ve slaughtered, no one would grieve for you or your men. It’s your choice. The warriors I brought with me can easily outfight yours. And I can kill you if I want to.”
“So I don’t have a choice, is that it?”
“Everyone always has a choice,” I reminded her. “But given how seriously you took the threat of the demons, I think you’ll understand the importance of joining our empire. Kuriza is the rightful king of the Planet Trade Organization. If someone else is allowed to usurp him… there will be untold bloodshed. And Arcterial and Nitro don’t even believe in the demons.”
“What?! Are you serious?”
“I am. Only Icer has consistently acted like they’re a threat. He hasn’t declared himself a king, either. If you were to meet with him, maybe he would ally with us instead of Bael or one of the others. You could tell him everything you know. Lyogan…”
Her head had turned away from me, to the sea, to the smoking cities beyond. There were tears in her eyes. “I was so certain,” she said, clenching her fists. “After that minister came to our outpost…”
“Everyone has made mistakes,” I murmured in her ear. “The only thing you have to decide is if you are going to learn from those mistakes or let them consume you.” The wind whistled through my fur. “I need an answer, captain. Our foes are moving. We don’t have much time.”
Not turning back to me, she lowered her head and nodded once, curtly. A rush of adrenaline spread through my body. I nearly grinned. But that would be unseemly. I was an admiral in Lord Kuriza’s empire. I had to maintain my dignity. My claw found the back of her neck, and soon, I was massaging her tired shoulders, and she was crying in my arms. So strange this was. A mere hour ago, I had wanted to kill her. And had Lingon not contacted me, I would have. Yet now…
It was not just happiness I was feeling towards this young, foolish officer anymore.
We tracked him to Planet Frieza 187. The outpost had been abandoned for years. Squatters and space pirates had made the outpost their home in the interim. But Commander Boisenberry had eradicated all of them and had made the outpost the base of his operations before we arrived. His sixty ships orbited the planet, protecting it from invaders. Now he had his own kingdom, one planet strong, from which he could rule like any power-hungry Arcosian.
This man had been a part of Lord Cooler’s inner circle. He had been a high-ranking officer who had been both respected for his feats in battle and for his sharp tactical mind. Only Admiral Articho had outranked him in Cooler’s empire, of those who still lived. Articho was still out there somewhere; we would have to deal with him eventually, I knew. I tried hailing Boisenberry, and at first, he ignored me. But after the seventy-third message, the commander finally picked up.
“What?! What do you want?” he yelled.
“Hello Commander Boisenberry,” I said cordially. “My name is Admiral Kracchus.”
“Kracchus? You’re one of Frieza’s men, aren’t you?”
“I was. Now I serve his son, the rightful king of the Planet Trade Organization.”
“Is that so?”
“Relinquish your fleet and this planet, commander, and you will be allowed to rejoin the PTO. Resist, and I might not be so generous.”
Boisenberry chuckled. “My fleet is larger than yours, Kracchus,” he observed. “Why should I surrender to a weaker man?”
“You are not surrendering to me. I serve Lord Kuriza, sir. You wouldn’t want him to come here himself, now would you?”
“Is he there? I’ll speak to him if he is.”
“No. You’re talking to me, commander.” I let my voice drop to intimidate him.
“There doesn’t have to be bloodshed. You have no support out here. Nitro, Arcterial – hell, even the Faereth – will soon find you. You’ll have to fight them.”
“Maybe I’ll join one of them,” the other alien replied coyly. “If you have the smallest fleet of all, why would I join you?”
“Because Lord Kuriza is the rightful king. Just as we supported you when Cooler took over, you should return the favor.”
“That’s your argument?”
“Very well, commander,” I sighed. “You know my channel. Call me back when you’ve given up.”
“Hahaha, you arrogant bastard! You think you can destroy my fleet? I command Lord Cooler’s finest warriors. I’ll turn you groveling maggots into stardust!”
I cut the comm. Switching frequencies, I spoke, “Lyogan, it’s time.”
I waited ninety seconds, then had Ackuran move my fleet forward. From the other side of the planet came Lyogan and her band, along with half of my crew and half of our ships. By the time they were inside the range of Boisenberry’s long-range scouters, it was too late. His fleet was moving towards me, away from the planet, leaving the outpost naked. What few guards Boisenberry had down there wouldn’t last long.
Soldiers in space suits spilled out of the ships like a waterfall. Lyogan was leading them. The camera switched to her scouter feed, and I watched first-hand how she led the soldiers down the atmosphere, dodging the outpost’s turrets and its guards.
The world was a jungle, barely developed, sunk in primordial mist on this cold day. They reached the outpost in a matter of minutes. Even as Boisenberry’s fleet began turning around, we moved forward, my ships taking a few cautionary shots at the opposition. The commander’s fleet was forced to split in half. I had forty ships; Boisenberry had only sixty.
Boisenberry’s guards met Lyogan and the army in midair, just above the outpost. There were maybe a thousand of them. I had given her command of five thousand of my own men, not to mention her own two thousand. Energy blasts were exchanged. A salvo shot up from the fog like the first light of dawn; a larger mass of energy was released down upon the rebels, suffocating their spirit. Dozens of soldiers dropped from the air, burnt and dead, and then Lyogan and her force charged again.
The half of Boisenberry’s fleet that was returning to the planet was almost there. They had little time.
She punched an alien wearing a full body suit before blasting another one away. Two more came at Lyogan, and she performed a spinning kick, shattering their helmets and splattering blood on her scouter. She didn’t wipe it off. I felt a sense of vertigo watching her fight. Another man charged her; she vaporized him with a quick energy blast and landed in the middle of the outpost. Two more guards ran at her, and she dodged their wild punches, deftly sliding around them before hitting their backs with a rapid energy burst. Turning around, she dodged an incoming energy beam by frontflipping over her next foe. Landing behind him, she blew him away with an energy wave explosion. At the same time, a wall of the outpost’s main building was blown asunder.
My soldiers were landing around her. Boisenberry’s defenses were broken. Lyogan shot an arcing energy blast at the building’s generator, and as it exploded, all of the lights went off inside. The scouter’s feed turned green as it adjusted to night vision.
Breathing hard, Lyogan whispered, “What’s his power level again?”
“Twenty-seven thousand,” I said, double checking the officer database from my computer. “You’re good.”
“Right.” She was breathing hard as she snuck into the building. Guards ran past her, as if they couldn’t see her. It was dark, and I knew she could lower her power level, but still… it wasn’t pitch-black.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “How are you getting past them?”
“I’m a Tahmier, admiral. I thought you knew.”
“Oh.” Tahmiers were a species of aliens in Frieza’s region that could turn invisible in near-darkness. I had worked with one a few years ago on a mercenary operation. He’d gotten himself eaten by a space-badger, though. “Go quickly. The ships are almost there.”
“I know… I know…” The woman was trying to calm her breaths so the guards running past her wouldn’t notice. She ran past them, light on her feet, making sure not to touch any of them. They never saw her. She could have fought them, but that would have slowed her down too much. She needed to find Boisenberry now, before he got away. “Got a reading at that level,” she whispered, rounding another dim-lit corner. Alone, she stood up and moved to a door. “This is definitely him. No one else has a power level so high.”
Blasting open the door in a fiery blaze of light, the captain moved inside. In the near darkness stood a man with a flowing emerald cape and polished black-and-green armor. He had a look of horror upon his grey-blue face.
“Sir… they’ve stopped!” Commander Ackuran shouted out. I cut Lyogan’s feed and leaned back in my chair, switching my scouter’s frequency back to the one I had spoken to Boisenberry on before. “The fleets aren’t advancing anymore – neither towards us nor back to the outpost!”
“It’s over,” I yawned. “Lord Kuriza will be most pleased.”
It was good to see Lyogan’s loyalty in practice. I had had my doubts – that’s why five thousand of my own soldiers had accompanied her on this mission. But now she had proven herself, and I was sure she would be a valuable officer in Lord Kuriza’s empire. Perhaps I could even get her promoted for her courageous actions today.
My scouter was ringing. Someone was calling. I grinned and ran my claws through my fur. This was good. I let the scouter ring four times before picking up. Then, trying to mask my glee, I said, “Hello, Commander Boisenberry. What can I do for you?”
Jolean space pirates had ravaged the oil depots of Planet Frieza 130. We stopped by, gathering what supplies we could, and found only a few Joleans scavenging amongst the rubble. They did not survive long. Once we had refueled as many ships as possible, we set off again, Captain Lyogan and Commander Boisenberry with me on the bridge. I did not fear either of them; even their combined power levels were easily eclipsed by my own.
“We’ll meet with Lord Kuriza at once,” I was telling them. “Both of you will be vetted by Lingon and the others, I have no doubt, but it will not take long for acceptable positions to be given to you. The boy needs as much advice as he can get, from as many veteran officers as we can find. Each of you is of sufficient rank to offer him advice.”
Boisenberry folded his arms. “Whom has Articho joined?”
“No one, as far as I know.”
“He has the majority of Cooler’s fleet,” the man reminded me. “We should find him before returning to the emperor.”
I smirked. That man had not but a few hours ago wanted to kill me. Now he was acting as if he had served Kuriza all his life. I knew I had to be careful around him. “We’ll return first. I have been gone too long already. One of our king’s foes could be planning to attack soon. We need to be with him in case that happens.”
“I’m just saying,” Boisenberry shrugged. “Articho would make a big difference.”
“I heard he became a space pirate,” Commander Ackuran observed. “He could have reached the fringes of the empire by now for all we know. It will take weeks, if not months, to track him down.”
“No way! Articho isn’t a space pirate! Space pirates are the worst. He would never sink that low! I knew him myself! He would never become one of them!”
“What do you call what you were doing on 187, eh?” Lyogan’s voice was sharp. “Don’t tell me, you were just waiting for us to show up so we could escort you back to Lord Kuriza.”
“Funny girl,” he replied. “I was waiting for someone, aye. You know who? Right, didn’t think so. It was Nitro. Nitro contacted me. He told me his fleet admiral was coming to the outpost soon, and I was preparing to join him there.”
“He has the largest fleet, my lord,” Boisenberry said plainly. “And he’s the only one expanding right now. He has a defined territory, and he’s using his massive fleets, which have thus far been untouched in these recent PTO conflicts, to take over planets in Frieza’s and Cooler’s territories. I thought he was the best tyrant for me to ally myself with.”
“Nitro’s our biggest threat right now,” I admitted, “but that is only because of his position. If Arcterial or Icer had the same resources as Nitro, they’d be far more potent threats.”
“My lord… incoming message!”
“Who is it?” I barked.
“I don’t know, but it’s marked urgent,” said Ackuran.
“Open the feed.”
There before us stood a narrow-faced furry creature who looked as angry as a space-badger on space heroin. “Hello, Admiral Kracchus.”
“Sir, ships have appeared on the radar! Dozens of them! Hundreds!”
“Stay the fleet,” I replied calmly, raising my hand. At once, our ships shuddered to a stop. “Who are you?” I asked the man on the screen. “What do you want with us?”
“Hello Commander Boisenberry,” the furious rodent shouted. “So nice to see you’re well!”
“Kracchus, that’s Admiral Po,” Boisenberry said in a deflated tone.
“Yes,” Po grinned, “Thought you could get away from us, did ya? Lord Nitro will be most pleased to hear of your fates. Justice,” he murmured, licking his lips, “oh, it has never tasted so sweet!”
“The only one dying today is you,” I told him bluntly. “You and your master are traitors. You have sealed your own fates.”
“Have we? If you are so confident you can defeat me, then come and get me. I’m waiting, admiral.”
The feed became a blank, buzzing screen.
“How many ships does he have?” My crimson cape was billowing behind me.
“Two hundred thirty-four.” Ackuran shifted at his console. “We have one hundred forty ships, my lord.”
“The odds are not so bad,” I breathed.
“My lord…” Ackuran’s voice shook with fear.
“Prepare the charge, commander. We’ll smash through their arrogant lines and show them the power of Lord Kuriza’s empire.”
Several soldiers raised their fists in silent honor. The lights dimmed to a dull red. The fleet lurched forward.
“Admiral Kracchus… shouldn’t we think this through a little?” Lyogan’s eyes were wide with fear. I put a claw on her neck and massaged her again as I had before. She moaned lightly. Boisenberry stood close to the looking window, his stout warrior frame silhouetted by a million spectating lights. Lyogan’s fear did not subside. “We won’t make it, sir… we won’t survive this… you have to turn back!”
“I must remind Po that Nitro has no right to rule our empire. None of these planets are his, nor are any of us going to be intimidated by him. He has been allowed to ravage and capture scores of planets without consequence. No longer.”
“Sir, they’ve split into a pincer attack!” Ackuran yelled in dismay.
I stood. Suddenly, I felt fear. Looking out both side windows, I saw the dark ships closing in. “N-no…” Po was smarter than he seemed. That tactic was the only one that could wipe us out. Our charge would be for nothing.
“Admiral!” Lyogan’s voice was high and full of fear. The deep red lights were hurting my eyes. I paced back and forth.
“Which side is closing in first?” I asked of our pursuers.
“The left side, my lord.”
“Turn the fleet left. We’ll push through them and return to Kuriza,” I whispered. “Tell the other ships to move as quickly as possible and not to stop. We can’t beat Po. He doesn’t just have the numbers… he’s intelligent too. Clever beast! I feared he might be, but…” I had only ever seen one other admiral try this style of attack. This pincer formation was supremely suited towards corralling and utterly destroying a smaller force. We were lost if we didn’t do something fast.
“We’ll lose dozens of ships that way,” Boisenberry noted.
“But not all,” I replied fiercely. “If we stay here, surrounded by them, we’ll be butchered into oblivion.”
“Ackuran, do it!!”
Our ship lurched right. I grabbed a nearby computer console in order not to fall over. Gritting my teeth, all I could think about was how close we’d gotten… how close we’d been to returning home with 140 ships, tens of thousands of able-bodied warriors, and several new officers to command soldiers and counsel our young king. And now, that hope was fading faster than a dying star.
Silently, the plasma left the black ships, gaining speed as they approached us. We all fired back; my 140 ships were a match for one side of the pincer, but at the very least, we would be taking equal casualties here. And they would be many, either way.
A smaller spacecraft moved in front of mine, blocking a plasma burst from making contact with my flagship. It exploded in a soundless flash of vaporizing flames, before drifting away, lightless and charred. Other ships were exploding around us; a plasma burst washed across the side of my ship, causing us to fall over and the lights to fade.
“We won’t survive another hit!” Ackuran was screaming.
Three dozen of Po’s ships were aflame ahead of us, opening an exit for us. “Hold steady, Ackuran! Push everyone through the opening! Go, go, go!”
“The other side of the pincer is closing in on our rear, sir!”
“My lord… the ships are moving as fast as they can!”
“Fine, where’s my space suit?”
“Admiral?! What are you doing?!”
“Saving everyone I can.”
Boisenberry was beside himself. “That’s madness! What could you possibly do to save anyone out there?”
I wasn’t listening to them. Outside the looking glass, the desolate void exploded energy and death. It was time to do something about that. A guard brought me my space suit, and I zipped it over my head in a few seconds.
“Admiral Kracchus, please, don’t do this! You’ll die.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Then I’m going with you,” the captain declared. “Two’s always better than one, right?”
“There’s no time to argue with me, sir!” she said indignantly, walking over to the bridge’s closet to get her own space suit. Sighing, I shrugged. Looking to Boisenberry, I half-expected him to say something equally as stupid and loyal, but he kept his mouth shut.
“Open the looking window, commander.”
“As you command, sir.” Ackuran sounded tired. “It’s been a pleasure serving under you, Admiral Kracchus.” He bowed stiffly.
“If I don’t make it,” I told him, “give my regards to Kuriza. Lay all the blame at my feet. I should have expected this.”
The commander nodded cheerlessly. In the next breath, I was flying out into the void, Lyogan hot on my heels. Shivering, even with all my space padding, I turned around, and looked out over the fleet behind me. Many ships were aflame or half-vaporized. It was true – the other half of Po’s pincer was closing in on the back of our fleet, soon to swallow it up.
“That’s our target,” I told Lyogan.
“What, not the ones in front of us?” she said, gesturing to the remnants of Po’s left pincer.
I shook my head. “The gap is wide enough already. We’ll take some casualties, but no more than expected. We’ll really lose a lot of ships from this problem back here! Come on, follow me!”
And so we were off in a blur, dodging sailing plasma and exploding spacecraft. Pale, frozen bodies and shrapnel flew around us, but we never lost focus. The stars blurred into lines around me as I flew with all my power. Just as the other half of the pincer was reaching the back of our fleet, I arrived.
Huffing and puffing, I drew two energy beams in my hand – a blue one in my right, a green one in my left. Both boiled and danced like flames.
“Follow my lead!” And with that, I was off to the dark-approaching ships. We had the element of surprise, and our size would make us nimble, but even I knew this probably wouldn’t end well. The best case scenario was that we would stall the ships long enough for my fleet to escape. We’d be left behind, of course, but that had always been the plan.
Huge teardrops of plasma crossed the sky. As I flew, I shot my first few energy beams at those, exploding them in midair before they could reach the retreating ships. After a few dozen such occurrences, Po’s sycophants realized something was wrong and turned their attention to us. As small as we were, we could no longer be ignored. That is when Lyogan and I turned our energy to them. Ripping through dark metal, our light-colored plasma blew up ship after ship. They tried to fire back, but I was too fast. My power level was over 100,000. I would not be so easily defeated. Lyogan, on the other hand…
I drew all the attention to myself. Soaring over the fleet, I rained vicious hellfire down upon them. Some were sturdy enough to take a few good shots, but none of them could survive many. Even so, my energy was running out. I didn’t have enough to take all of the ships out. I looked back over my shoulder. The fleet had moved through the broken pincer, mostly intact, and was shooting off to the stars, to Lord Kuriza. Po would be a fool to pursue them, and he did not. Instead, every ship in the fleet now focused on Lyogan and me. I was panting hard. My fur was wet. I had taken out a dozen ships. It wasn’t enough.
After blasting through one more ship, I found Lyogan, and we huddled amongst the wreckage, trying to regain some energy and survive just a little bit longer.
“So, this is what you wanted, is it? You wanted to die out here with me?”
She smiled. “Sure as hell beats dying inside one of those metal death traps.”
“I’m going to try one last attack. It’s going to use up all of my remaining energy. I don’t think it’ll be enough, but it’ll take out a lot of Po’s ships – at least I hope it will.”
“Right, I’ll help you, sir!”
Jumping away from the rubble, I raised my right hand. “I learned this technique from Lord Kuriza himself. It’s the signature move of his family. Supernova!!!” I roared, and a red dot appeared over my pointed index finger. The burning ball of energy grew with every screaming grunt I unleashed – from the size of a head to that of a small space ship, to that of a building, larger, larger, larger until it was the size of a moon. Lyogan was screaming too, shooting blue-white energy beams into the side of the swelling sphere, making it grow even larger. My vision went blurry as I grit my teeth and put every last bit of energy I had into this attack. I had never strained myself like this before. My throat was burning. My head was swimming. My bones were on fire. It was all over.
Rising above the rubble, I hovered with the giant ball above my fingertips, breathing so hard I had to hunch forward so as to not pass out.
The ships were waiting for me like hungry animals, though they had not expected this attack. When I threw my Supernova, the ones in Po’s vanguard had not enough time or maneuverability to get out of the way. A brilliant flash of red light exploded across space. Plasma was racing towards me. It was so warm I could feel it through my space suit. I closed my eyes, accepting my fate. It was all over. I had done all I could do.
She pulled me down by my neck, jerking me hard. The plasma just barely missed us. Crashing into floating debris, we hugged one another, exhaustion overtaking us. I knew neither one of us could dodge again.
“H-ho-how many…?” I asked, for there was nothing else on my mind.
“A lot of them, admiral… but not all.”
“No, of course not…”
“A-are you ready?”
“Let’s make them work for it,” I muttered, pushing off from the debris, flying slowly away from the fleet like a wounded bird.
At once, a flash of light overtook my vision and I let out a scream – I thought this was it. Yet, what was now there in front of us was not angry, burning plasma, but a small, two-seat ship. And piloting it was none other than Commander Ackuran.
“Sorry sir, I couldn’t leave you behind.” He opened the cockpit and drifted out into space. He was wearing a spacesuit too.
“G-go… go with Ackuran…” I begged Lyogan.
“No, sir, you don’t understand,” Ackuran interrupted me. “You’re both leaving. I’m staying.”
“Wh-what? N-no!!” I sobbed. “No, not you!”
“Sir, we wouldn’t be able to get away safely if I left either one of you here. You’ve both spent all your energy. I have some energy left to spare. I can distract the fleet long enough for you to return to Lord Kuriza and the others. Please, there’s no time to argue. Which one of you will drive?”
“Me,” Lyogan breathed hard. “I’ll do it. I’ve flown this kind of ship before.”
“Alright, go then!”
“Ackuran!!” I shouted, my hand outstretched, as Lyogan pulled me into the hovering spacecraft.
“Goodbye, admiral. Please make sure Lord Kuriza wins the war,” he said sadly, smiling and turning away.
In the blink of an eye, he was shooting towards the fleet, a white aura wrapped around him. Their plasma was trained on him, shooting up and up and up as he flew over the fleet, trying to hold them off for as long as he could. But his power level was only 24,000. He didn’t have that much energy to spare.
She put me in the back seat and then we were off, flying at the limits of the tiny scout craft’s capabilities. If we would have gone any faster, the little ship would have torn itself to pieces. I kept my eyes on the fleet. The ships were too dark to see now, like black icebergs on Planet Frieza 01. But I could see the flashes of plasma, like angry lightning, shooting upwards unceasingly.
And then they stopped, and the void became dark again.
My eyes rose with my body to look upon the crimson-pale king, draped in his fine silks and attended to by young Arcosians and steadfast guards. Master Sapras stood to his left, Lingon to his right. In the dim light, perfume rank in the air, I couldn’t hide my shame.
“My lord…” I began, unable to find the words.
“Enough.” The boy king raised his hand. “What is the status of the fleet?”
“Ninety-seven ships, my lord.”
“And Uncle Nitro’s?”
“We destroyed at least a hundred of them. I cannot give precise numbers.”
He was more mature now than when I had last seen him. He held himself in a dignified way that reminded me of his father. “Excellent. Sapras, get the full report from Kracchus. I’ll be in my chambers if you need me.”
In a wisp of sweet perfume, flowing multi-colored silk drifting through the dark doorway, I was alone with Sapras. We wore our armor unabashed, and I couldn’t help but think that things had changed since I’d left.
“It’s unfortunate that you ran into Po’s host, admiral,” he said apologetically.
“We shattered his fleet. That’s all that matters, right?”
“Not exactly.” Sapras tittered and collected himself. “There are more foes than just Nitro.”
“But Nitro’s the strongest. He’s the one pushing forward.”
“He is. He has the largest fleet of us all, if the numbers are to be believed. But I think he is a star who will burn out quickly – this rapid expansion strategy of his… he cannot hope to hold the planets that he’s claiming – not if we, or Arcterial, or Icer have anything to say about it. He has taken us by surprise, but that surprise will not last long, admiral. Soon, he will be pushed back to his original territory, and the real battles will begin.”
“How many ships do they have? Do you know?”
“I have guesses,” the historian admitted. “I have sources – spies within every empire. They tell me what they know, but they don’t always know the truth.”
I folded my arms, my fur standing on end. “Out with it then.”
“Seven hundred sixty-three ships for Nitro. Four hundred eighty-nine ships for Bael. Four hundred twenty-seven ships for Arcterial. And for Icer…” Sapras paused, thinking about which words to choose, like he was choosing between the choicest of meats for dinner, “I don’t actually have a reliable sources for him, I’m afraid. My best guess would be that he has around three hundred or so ships in his fleet.”
“And what of us?”
“Well… with our recent additions… seventeen ships… That brings the total to five hundred thirty-one.”
“That’s not bad.”
“Not great, either. Lord Nitro should not have such an advantage over us,” Sapras said with worry. “Not only is he stronger than Lord Kuriza, but he commands more warriors…”
“Not so many as your sources would have you believe,” I noted. “We took out at least one hundred of his ships. His advanced fleets are reeling; they’re wounded. The time is ripe for a counterattack.”
“True, but know this admiral: should we wage large-scale war against Nitro, Arcterial (and perhaps the others) will swoop in behind us to wipe out whichever side wins. It’s a strategy I have seen play out far too often, with too much success for it not to be employed by at least one of our other foes.”
“Let them try,” I said in defiance. “You have spies; I have the ships. We can plan accordingly.”
“Oh, yes, admiral.” It looked like Master Sapras was stifling a smile. “That may work. By chance… do you know the tale of Captain Baurbocco?”
“Never heard of him.”
“I assumed as much.” Sapras walked over to the looking window. A forested planet lay within view – and beyond it, an army of stars. “He was a captain who worked for Lord Kuriza’s grandfather about seventy years ago.”
“He must have been a skilled warrior.”
“Oh no, no.” Sapras’ eyes lit up like latent amber flames. “He was dreadful, an absolute oaf! But he did do one thing right… One time, Captain Baurbocco got marooned on a planet not unlike this one below us,” he said, gesturing to the window. “And that drew the attention of Sar-kal the Slayer.”
“Never heard of him.”
“The history books have,” Sapras said dryly. “It was poetic justice, in a way, how Baurbocco and Sar-kal met their ends. I certainly cannot complain, as the historian who documented the events. Anyways, back to the story. Baurbocco let us know what was going on, and King Cold’ fleet arrived above the planet before Sar-kal could escape. The Slayer had been a particular thorn in Cold’s side for more than a decade.”
“So they trapped him?”
“I suppose. Baurbocco did not survive. Before any of us arrived, Sar-kal killed him. It would have been a much more melancholy tale had Baurbocco been an officer of higher rank, or a man with a better bloodline. As it were, King Cold replaced him easily with a young soldier named Shyotai.”
“I fail to see the point of this story,” I told him.
“You see, Kracchus, history has a way of repeating itself.” His eyes were glimmering like stars. “There is only so much a man can do before he repeats the mistakes of his forefathers.”
“Go on then.”
“I have a plan for how to defeat Nitro without rousing the prying eyes of Arcterial or Bael. It’s dangerous, and you may end up like Baurbocco. But it’s the only way, I think – the only way to assure Kuriza’s uncle does not win.”
“Alright, tell me.” I sighed, shaking my fur. “You already know that I’d die for him.”
“I do.” Sapras smiled, flashing his teeth suddenly. I stepped back, almost in revulsion. I had never seen the beast so elated. “It will take time, I fear, to set this trap. Months, perhaps – a year if we’re unlucky. But before we try my idea, you have to assure me that Kuriza’s empire will last that long anyways.”
“Of course it will,” I laughed loyally. “I’ll not let anyone near him! They cannot touch my lord!”
“Perhaps,” Sapras nodded, eyeing me queerly. “We do have five hundred ships.”
Chapter VII: The Bleeding Empire
|Position:||Member of the Arcosian Council|
|Date of account:|| November 1, 765 Age (first scene)|
November 2, 765 Age (second scene)
November 5, 765 Age (third and fourth scenes)
He sat on a throne of silver and sparkling jewels. Lord Arcterial wore our species’ second form well. An alien in smoky grey robes had been talking with the giant Arcosian, but when I was escorted into the throne room, he left. His skin was sickly white with pinkish bits on his ears and around his eyes, and on the crescent-shaped fleshy appendage growing from the back of his skull. His hair was pulled back; his beard was trimmed to a point. Every step he took reverberated with grace. He didn’t so much as glance in my direction as he passed by, though his perfume hung in the air long after he left, sweet and tinged with sharp alien spices.
“Senator Sanu,” the seated man said commandingly. “It’s good to have you here. I hope this trip wasn’t too taxing on you.”
I shook my head. “It was fine, Arcterial.”
Standing next to the man, a red light blinking from a metal box that had been surgically implanted in his throat, was the lizard traitor. The rumors were true. He hadn’t killed the beast; I suppose that should not have surprised me. Cooler had wanted Zashisaro for himself after what he had done on our homeworld. But then our king got himself killed on Earth. Still, I was uneasy. Why was Arcterial using such a treacherous creature as one of his advisors? There were others, of course, but none were as distinguished or intelligent as Zashisaro, I’d wager. They stood around or pretended to work on their computers. Meanwhile, the greatest threat to the Planet Trade Organization, at least at one time, was now allied with its self-proclaimed king. Not that the lizard had a choice – that device in his throat surely compelled him.
This place looked as miserable as I expected. Though his throne was regal, and so too was he, Arcterial’s servants looked dejected, tired, scared. He himself sported several new scars across his chin and chest. The grief was still plain upon his face, even though it had been months since his children had been lost.
“Have you brought an army with you?” He sat brooding upon his throne, but I was not intimidated. I was a senator of Planet Arcose. At the very least, I was his equal.
“No. I have not, sir. The senate has not voted to name you our king.”
He clenched a fist. “You voted no, or have not voted at all?”
“We have yet to vote, Arcterial. But I do not see you winning any vote we take.”
“No, that would go to Kuriza, wouldn’t it? My grand nephew. A boy deserves the allegiance of the Arcosian army, not a man?”
Remaining composed, I recited, “It is most likely we will vote to abstain from any further involvement in these wars.”
“Typical. Your lot have always been cowards!” Arcterial stood, his deep purple cape swinging behind him like a fluid pendulum. “Arcose is a planet under the Planet Trade Organization’s treaty! You owe your allegiance to the rightful king.”
“Have you declared yourself, Arcterial?” I was unsure; as of leaving my homeworld, he had made no formal announcement.
“Of course I have, you miserable fool! My grand nephew was going to – I learned from an inside source – so I declared first. I am the rightful ruler of the Planet Trade Organization, not him.”
He was fuming; his eyes were bloodshot. All of his men looked to me. I stood alone in this mad gale. “Forgive me, sir, but is it not true that the kingship passes from father to son? So would not King Cold’s line go through Cooler, and then Frieza, and then Nitro before coming to you?”
He waved me off. “What we need right now is a strong leader. Our empire will not survive if we let a boy take over. It is too critical a time!”
He conceded his right to rule in those words, as flagrantly as any politician. I nodded, knowingly. “Kuriza, Nitro, and Nitro’s daughter stand before you in the line of succession, Arcterial. That is a fact that most Planet Trade Organization councils, outposts, and armies will know and respect. They will be compelled to join Kuriza, even if he is just a boy. It is his right to rule.”
Arcterial wanted to kill me. I could see it in his eyes. “My grand nephew has a host of our kind on his ship. Where did he get them from?”
The accusation took me by surprise. His anger truly was blinding. “I-I… there are no sanctioned soldiers serving Kuriza, sir. He may have friends or some who chose to follow him on their own, but we have not given him any–”
“Quiet, you fool! I oughtta destroy your homeworld for daring to oppose me!”
It took me a moment to catch my breath. “A-arcterial… Arcose is your homeworld too. You would wipe out your own species over this?”
“Why not?” He looked insane. Spittle ran down his mouth. He paced in front of his throne; none of his soldiers dared look at him, but they were all watching. They were fearful for their own lives, I could tell. They didn’t care about me. In fact, they probably hated me for rousing such a fury in their master. I could see this outburst was not out of the ordinary. Probably not since…
“We are trying to act prudently here–”
“Arcose is in the Planet Trade Organization,” the man reminded me. “You owe your allegiance to me. It’s that simple. You go back to your damn senate and tell them they have one choice to make if they want to survive the year.”
“Is that a threat, Arcterial?”
“It is a statement of fact. I do not tolerate rebellions in my territories.”
“But, sir… we have already gone over this… Kuriza is the rightful ruler…”
“Silence!” The tyrant turned to his sycophant. “Zashisaro, bring me Torlini.”
“At once, masssster,” the slave hissed pleasantly.
We stood in tension-bound silence, Arcterial glaring at me. “We don’t want war, Arcterial,” I said boldly, trying to defend my planet. “We have suffered too much already. We need time to heal, time to recoup our losses.”
“Now is not that time,” he whispered coldly. “Not until my empire is secure.”
Zashisaro returned, a gold-dipped skull in hand. Its eyes were dark rubies; its teeth were polished silver. The skull was elongated, with uncomfortably large eye sockets and a protruding jaw. I did not recognize the species of this fallen alien. The lizard kneeled before his lord and presented the trophy like a cup of a wine. The Arcosian snatched it without so much as looking at it. His face had gone a dark purple in either fury or embarrassment. I would guess it was the former.
“Look, senator.” He raised the skull to my face.
“I see it. It’s beautiful.”
“It took him two months to die,” the man muttered so that only I could hear him. “Every day that pathetic worm lay in agony, pleading for death. I made sure he was in excruciating pain every single second he breathed, until his body could no longer handle it. I made sure he paid for his sins against me, Senator Sanu. I am a man of my word. I do not let those who wound me get away unscathed.”
“I would suggest you turn to your immediate foes then, sir,” I cautioned him. He would be an absolute imbecile if he attacked Arcose. He’d set everyone against him; I knew he knew that. His threat was as empty as Zashisaro’s loyalty. If that beast didn’t have that metal device in his throat controlling his movements… “Kuriza, Bael, Icer, Nitro. Those are the men you must kill if you want our support outright. If you simply take out Kuriza, and Nitro and his daughter… that would be enough for the other senators. You know as well as I do that they are the only threats to your power at this time, except for the Galactic Bank of course.”
“Icer has not declared himself king. I don’t know what game he’s playing,” Arcterial said, stepping back. “But he killed my daughter. He set up an ambush and then lied that space demons got her…”
“Sir, they did.” I was shocked at his blindness. “The only witness…”
“Bought and paid for by Icer. There are no space demons.”
“They have killed millions, Arcterial. Wiped out entire systems in Frieza’s and Cooler’s regions. They are a known threat, and as much as you may hate your brother, you cannot let that hate blind you into thinking a true threat does not exist. You hurt only yourself by doing so.”
“I will kill them all,” Arcterial promised. “And when Icer lies dying at my feet, he will admit that he made up these demons. He will admit that they never existed.”
“You don’t believe that.”
Arcterial grinned. I didn’t know what to take from that. “Kuriza, Nitro, and Yuki are my primary concerns at this time, you’re right about that. Icer may be more dangerous than any of them, but he can be dealt with last. First I must wipe out Kuriza, then I can turn to Nitro. His daughter will die with him, but if she escapes, it’s no matter. No one will support a monstrous half-breed such as herself.”
“You may be right.” It was a good point. There was some rationality still in this man’s brain; he was not yet lost. Maybe his emotion was understandable. He’d lost both of his children in the span of a few days. And all of that had happened less than a year ago. I wondered what I would do if I held as much power as him and had just lost all of my children.
“Once Kuriza is dead, I will threaten to destroy Faeri,” he declared. “They will surrender their fleets, and I will execute Bael openly, for all the universe to see. Everyone must know the price of rebellion,” he said, eyeing me. “There are many foes yet to deal with, and little time to unify this empire before the Galactic Bank or some other upstart alien coalition attacks us, to see if the Planet Trade Organization has finally become too weak to defend itself. I know what is going to happen, senator. I’m aware of the timetable and the stakes. That is why I need the reserve army on Arcose. I need to move quickly, to crush everyone before we all go down in flames. If you’d rather put your trust in a boy, or a recluse, or a monster… do so. But you will secure the fate of our species if you make such a mistake.”
I nodded curtly. “I’ll let the others know. I cannot promise that our vote will go in your favor, however.”
“It better not go in favor of Kuriza or Nitro,” the man said. He didn’t even mention Icer, but that was fine. There was no way we would pick Icer as our king. No one would. He was the odd man out. He was the only one I was certain would not survive this conflict.
Shortly, I was away, like that grey-robed alien before me. Returning to my ship, I made my way through empty hallways which were decorated in bleak indigo metal. I saw no one on my way back at first; this place was dead. Arcterial’s home base betrayed his current state. Even if he boasted and threatened me, I knew he lacked as large a fleet as the Faereth or Kuriza, or perhaps even Nitro at this time. He was still gathering forces, but he would struggle to match the other fleets soon. Of course, it helped that he was as powerful as he was. Should he find the Faerin Fleet, he could smash them himself. But he would have to transform into his final form to do so. And even that might only barely be enough.
Rounding another corner, approaching the landing pad that was outside the throne room, I ran into another Arcosian. I recognized him, for his father had been a former senator I had known well (who had lost his last election, it must be said). “Desolé?”
The younger man stopped, surprise coloring his face. “Senator Sanu?”
“It’s good to see you.” We exchanged a robust hug.
“What are you doing here, my lord?”
“I had a meeting with Arcterial.”
“Oh, he wants the army, right?”
“My lord… you didn’t give it to him, did you?” There was apprehension in his voice.
“I said we would vote on the matter.”
He shrugged. “If you give it to anyone except Kuriza…”
“I know. He’s the rightful ruler of the Planet Trade Organization.”
“I know.” A silence fell over us. “How are you doing?” I asked at last, a little awkwardly.
“I’m okay, sir,” he said, averting his eyes.
“Arcterial doesn’t believe you.
“Huh?” The genuine shock on his face took me aback.
“About the demons…”
“Oh, yeah, that… well, that doesn’t matter. The past is the past, I guess. Anyways, I’ve got to go, my lord. It was nice seeing you again. If you see my father, tell him I’m doing well. I’ve been busy, but I’ll return home to visit as soon as I can.”
I had not the heart to tell him his father was no longer a senator. “I will, Desolé.”
The young Arcosian scampered out of there, his head bowed, his feet moving as quickly as possible. I wondered what was going on. Why didn’t Desolé care that Arcterial didn’t believe in the demons? He had been so adamant in his report, which had been sent not only to Arcterial, but to Icer and Cooler and the rest of us. He had sent his tearful message to every outpost, to every planet, warning us all of the impending storm. But now…? What had come over him? He was acting suspicious. If only I had the time to investigate.
I sighed, rubbing my temples, as I passed through the next door, out to my landing pad, and wondered what I would say to the other senators waiting for me back home about this madman who had named himself king.
Altarin VI had the best Ijukun blood spices this side of the galaxy. I stopped by the floating asteroid market to pick up a few things on my way home, and decided, once I had put my groceries back in my ship, that since I had made good time, I could spend a few hours relaxing. That’s just what I needed.
A weather-beaten winesink dug into the grey-brown rocks further up the road, a short walk from Altarin’s marketplace. I couldn’t count the number of times I had lifted up the heavy metal latch and climbed down the stairs into the dim-lit, smoke-filled bar underground. This place was like my second home.
On the next door, the wood rotting from the hinges, there was a poster with a blue-skinned female space pirate on it that read: ‘Large Reward offered for any information on the self-proclaimed ‘Blue Queen’. Contact your local Planet Trade Organization officer with any leads, or for more information.’ The poster was ripped and its edges curled – long had it rested on this crumbling door. I knew nothing of the Blue Queen, whoever she was, but I was fairly certain that no one on this asteroid would give any leads to the PTO, even if they knew anything. She was still out there, doubtless, and we would never catch her.
I ordered the Altarin Firefly – a mix of local spices and space rum and chilled fire wine. It was the specialty of this bar, and I’d be damned if it wasn’t my favorite drink in the universe.
My cloak thrust over me, I took a seat in the back, finding an unoccupied table out of the light. There, I sipped sweet nectar and went over in my head how to approach the senate about Arcterial. I knew I had to be prudent. Any mistake could result in millions of deaths.
Next to me, a Sobren, a Frog-faced alien, and a black-furred Heoli took their seats. I could smell the alcohol on them even from where I sat. They were already drunk, and in each of their claws, fresh glasses swirled with dark liquid. I tried to ignore the three, but their voices rose above the general din of this disreputable place.
“He declared lass night,” the Sobren cackled, his long black braids of hair swinging back and forth after he leaned his head back to take a shot.
“Nitro ain’t gotta chance!” the oily-skinned, frog-like one croaked. His skin was black and orange, the colors spotted and fading into one another. On his neck and chin, the colors dulled almost to a green-grey color. “Not with Arcterial ‘n Kuriza already declared!”
“We g-gotta chhhhhoose ssssides soon!” the Sobren hiccuped. “Whaddya boys think?”
“Kuriza’s king! He’s the real one!” the froggy squeaked. “He’s the son of Frieza!!”
“Arcterial’s more experienced,” the Heoli muttered, his red-yellow eyes staring down at the table. He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I’d take him over the kid any day. Even if his fleet’s smaller, he’s smarter. He’ll outwit the boy and destroy him soon enough.”
“Yeh, b-but whaddabout Icer?!” The Sobren’s face was flushed pink. “He could make himself king too, everyone is!”
“Icer’s no king!” the froggy complained. “No king for me, no king at all!”
That made the Sobren laugh. “He’s biding hissss time, yeh? Lots of other armies out there.”
“I heard that Faerin Bael’s gonna smash ‘em all!”
“Fuck the Faereth,” growled the Heoli. “They don’t have a chance. Any one of royal Arcosians could destroy their fleet by themselves. It’s just a matter of time before Bael comes face-to-face with one of those monsters.”
“Thass right! I wanna join space pirates,” the Sobren said with petulence. “I’ve alwaysss wanted to be a space pirate, yaaargh! I could get a sssssweeeeet bandana hah, and baggy pants and a p-p-pirate shhhirt, and…”
“You’re too drunk, fool! If we join a band of space pirates, we’ll end up dead for sure. What do you think’s gonna happen to all the fleets and officers and planets that haven’t joined sides yet? When it’s over, the winner’s gonna wipe ‘em all out!”
“Heh, yeh! I dun wanna die!” The Sobren whooped, downed another shot, and flung the glass at the wall. “That’s it, less join Arcterial!!”
“Hey, but what about Admiral Articho?!”
“He’s got a fleet too.” The froggy sipped his dainty red-liquid drink from a wide-rimmed glass and sighed. “A big one, I heard! Most of Cooler’s ships!”
The Heoli’s eyes flashed up. “It’s a pity Cooler’s children are dead.”
“Whass Articho doing with ‘em?”
“No one knows for sure, but I say we join him! The rumor is he’s leaving the Planet Trade Organization with his fleet to set up a new empire far away! Getting out of the wars sounds good to me! I’d rather join a new empire than fight a bunch of wars for a dying one! The Planet Trade Organization’s finished! Let’s jump ship boys!”
“Now thass a plan!” slurred the Sobren. He took another drink.
I couldn’t help but snort with amusement. The sharp-faced froggy turned to me and scowled. “What’re you laughing at, stranger?”
I stood with my empty glass. I had had enough of these unsavory fellows. “It doesn’t matter who you join, you sad drunken fools,” I told them, “because soon enough, the Galactic Bank will descend upon us, and no one will escape their wrath.”
“Whoa, he’sssss an Arcosian!” The Sobren’s pointing finger trembled.
“Arcosian, stop!” the froggy man squealed. “Come back!”
I turned to them again against my better judgment. “What?”
“Who’s side are you on?” the froggy asked. The Heoli’s molten eyes never left me. The Sobren downed another drink.
I smirked, despite my position. “It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“Because as a senator of Planet Arcose, I am but one voice in seventy-seven. Together we choose who to support; it matters little what an individual wants.”
The frog-faced alien and the Sobren had their mouths wide open, staring at me in fear and wonder. It was not very often they met someone of my position. Nor could they guess at my power, but that was good. I didn’t want any confrontations here.
“You lie,” the Heoli sneered.
“The Galactic Bank. They aren’t coming for us. You lie.”
I shrugged, betraying a small smile. As I went to leave, the Sobren lunged at me, swearing under his breath. I felt him coming. Without turning around, I slapped him across the face with my tail, sending him back into the froggy alien’s chair. Both of them hit the ground hard, hollering and splitting wood. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the Sobren lying there dazed, a large wound opened across his face, below one eye and extending above the other. Blood was just beginning to seep out, in dark tears. The frog alien was stuck under his friend, and he had not the strength to escape from the bigger alien’s pin. Soon, the Sobren was snoring, though the frog continued to struggle to get free.
The Heoli did not move. Leaning back in his chair, his arms folded, his eyes pierced me like a blast of winter. Other patrons muttered annoyingly from stools and chairs all around. It was time to leave.
Sitting on a stool at the counter was a woman in thick baggy clothes. She wore a dark hood, from which tufts of white-blonde hair spilled out. Leaning forward, she sipped her drink – straight space whiskey. I admired her tenacity. Her blue-skinned fingers gave me pause – I thought back to the poster for a moment, then shook my head. She felt me staring and turned her face. I could see two pale blue stars beneath her hood, wrapped in darkness. Besides her eyes, I could see nothing else of her face. Shivering, I stepped away from the space pirate and found the bartender.
“One more for the road,” I sighed, setting my glass on the bar counter. The bartender took it and instantly filled up my glass. I gave him an extra tip for the broken chair and was on my way, back out into the cold, dark universe.
The sky was a churning inferno. Falling stars burst forth from the cloudscape every few seconds, burning out long before they reached the ground. The city was melting, countless pillars of smoke rising above the red glow of rampant fires. Ancient buildings collapsed; Arcosians fled, screaming. In the air, ships sprinted and let loose their cannons. The Arcosian army was up there with them, but they could not stay this sudden tide. Not quickly enough, it seemed. Ships and warriors soared like birds amongst the clouds, trading lives. Thousands died before my eyes – nay, millions. Arcose was in the midst of a deep thaw.
The great senate hall, the governing seat of my people, was half-collapsed. Buildings old as the dawn of our empire were rubble now. I watched a dozen different places, markers I had known all my life, fall forevermore. Where my children were, I could not guess. I stood on an overlook, my ship docked behind me. The wind was cool, but not so cold. A glittering, color-changing aurora snaked across the midnight blue sky. A thousand lives were swallowed in the next gust of wind.
I shuddered, hoping for my family. And yet…
“They’re comin’ in hot!” a woman said over my scouter. She was using the same frequency as me – a friendly, no doubt.
“Identify yourselves!” a man shouted in dismay. I recognized him as a lesser senator – a second or third term man whose name escaped me in that moment.
“We are the Planet Trade Organization!” a voice said in fervent vigor. “Stand aside and let us sweep clear the rebels!”
“Who’s there? Who is this?!”
The comm crackled and bled, and fire rained down from the heavens. I shivered. It was not an especially cold day on Arcose.
Arcterial’s voice hammered my skull with every building that fell. Arcosians took to the air, pushing the raiders back. From above, larger, imperial ships came down upon the assaulters, decimating them with energy and ki and overwhelming numbers. Together, these new ships and the Arcosian force was able to trap the raiders between them, and it was butchery to watch what happened to those who dared attack this planet
“NITRO! NITRO! NITRO!” they were screaming.
Pale as snow, they decimated all who stood in their way. Fiery tears leaked down the skyscape. The rout was complete. Suddenly, and utterly, the assaulting force was broken, with the first signs of dawn. Fire was exchanged in the air; the power levels I read grew and wilted like an ocean in bloom. It was not long before this assault was over.
It did not surprise me that this new force did not attack us. The remains of the Arcosian army hovered protectively above the city, smaller than before, dwarfed completely by the spacecrafts blocking out the moon.
“My family… tend to them! Go, now!” I shouted into my scouter, changing to my personal frequency. The servant who had been unloading my ship obeyed as loyally as she could. I cut the comm.
Everything had happened too quickly. I was numb with shock; I could hardly process what I had just seen and heard and felt. Before me, another building fell in on itself as fire spit into the sky. The wind picked up, and my cloak trembled against me. A twisted, blackened ship screamed into the snow below my overlook, shattering metal and rock. Smoke rose from the crater where nothing moved.
This was not what I wanted for our planet. Had Arcterial sent a force ahead of his fleet to attack before I could return with my message? Tears in my eyes, I took to the sky, flying to the only place I knew my voice could be heard. And yet, my thoughts turned to my family again. Were they okay? Had they escaped this onslaught? I had wanted to be with them, but my duties as senator made me neglect them. I hadn’t had time to keep them in my thoughts on the trip to Arcterial’s palace, and now…
They could be dead, I knew. I would not run from my grief like King Cold’s little brother. Roaring audibly, I turned in midair. The wind felt good on my face. My aura appeared in an instant, and I was flying the other way, towards the countryside, where smoking craters and burnt fields awaited me. My own home was blocked out by smoke rising from a field before it. I shot through the smoke, my ki exploding like fire around me.
Landing softly in the snow, I approached my home. It looked untouched. A few of the outer fields were damaged, but nothing seemed to be too out of the ordinary. A black-eyed bird sitting in my iciclean tree ruffled its feathers, sending a few puffs of snow onto my shoulders. The tree was bare, save for one baby pink flower that was sprouting on the lowest branch.
“How are they?” I clicked the scouter finally. Trepidation held my throat; I almost didn’t want to know.
“Your family is safe, Senator Sanu,” the breathless attendant replied a moment later. “Your wife brought your children to the countryside when the battle started! They are all okay.”
“Very well. I’ll be in in a moment.”
“M-my lord? Don’t you have to meet with the other senators?”
“They can wait a few minutes. I want to see my family.”
So I did. It was my own house. I stepped forward, unlocking the door softly. I hadn’t seem them in a few weeks. Work and travel had kept me away from what was most precious to me, but I would never allow that to happen again. Especially if Arcterial soon received the news that I knew he would. But there was nothing I could do about that.
Wiping the frozen tears from my cheeks, I entered my house.
The Chillrose Hall had stood proud for a thousand years. Exquisitely-crafted blue marble halls, as wide and empty as a winter tundra, dominated the building, as did white marble fountains with Caecondi ponds beneath. Colorless engravings lined the walls of legendary heroes and stories of my people. All of this had been done by stone masons of a bygone era, utilizing an amount of skill and passion impossible to mimic today.
Ash fell from the sky, and the smell of smoke was almost too much to bear. The roof was half-collapsed, the ancient craftsmanship lying in dusty heaps all over the floor. Half of the senate seats had been crushed under the fall. At least marble does not burn.
We who remained stood in a loose circle, weary and uncertain. Fifty-two senators had made it. At least sixteen of our peers were dead, with the rest either off-planet or missing. We would do. We had to act now. There was no waiting anymore. I watched another blue marble pillar crumble into a pile of dust ahead and shuddered. It brought tears to my eyes to see such beauty disappear.
“Lord Nitro has offered protection for all his people, my noble senators,” the armored alien said. “He asks only for Arcose to pledge loyalty to his Planet Trade Organization.”
“What’s your name, soldier?” an older senator asked.
“I’m Commander Tanarilo, senior officer in Admiral Po’s fleet. I have saved your planet from a serious foe,” he said, clicking his fingers.
“Bah, space pirates, more like it! They came out of nowhere! But our defenses would have stopped them without your help. Why do we need to serve Nitro because of that?”
Two more soldiers entered the hall, carrying a body. They dropped the corpse in the center of the circle and flanked their commander. “A Faerin,” Tanarilo noted coolly. “Bael sent a scouting force here to test the Arcosian defenses. He’ll soon engage in a total assault. You do not have the numbers to push back the entire Faerin Fleet, my lords. It would be wise of you to accept our help. Lord Nitro can be here in a few days. For now, Admiral Po’s fleet will provide security for Arcose, lest Bael attack before our king arrives.”
There was a stark silence. A few politicians exchanged dumbfounded looks; others stared at the corpse in shock or brooding thought. Two women to my right exchanged whispered words. Tanarilo folded his arms and stood as confidently as if he had just killed a king.
“By what right does Nitro claim to be our king?! Kuriza is still alive!”
Tanarilo shrugged. “He chose to be the new king of our empire, good sir. A kingship is a position for a strong man. Nitro is strong. He is the last son of the previous king; he has a large, well-regulated empire, and his fleets dwarf anyone else’s. He has begun taking back planets that the pretender Arcterial and the child Kuriza have sought to steal from him. Already, his empire contains a majority of planets in the Planet Trade Organization. You would be wise to join Lord Nitro, my good senators, for he is the future of our empire – the only future that will last.”
“He has no right to rule!” another senator spat in disgust. “I don’t care if he stole planets from Kuriza, that boy is the rightful king of our empire!”
“Kuriza will be dead in a fortnight,” Tanarilo sneered. “Choose now, or choose then. Lord Nitro is our king. He will crush any who oppose him, and it will not take long.”
The murmuring grew into more agitated talk. The senators were besides themselves. Not one of them supported Nitro, I knew. Our only decision was between Arcterial or Kuriza. Nitro was unpopular in the universe – it’s just a simple fact. He commanded little respect when compared to his brothers or father. He lacked charisma and was not seen by many as very intelligent. Yes, he had a better claim than Arcterial, but that didn’t mean he had more support. We had three options here, and following Nitro was not one of those options.
“Shall we take it to a vote then?” old Senator Tu’andar whispered. At once, everyone hushed and listened in on the wizened, yet wise man who had served in this hall longer than anyone else. “All in favor of joining Nitro’s empire, raise your hands.”
A few did, in fairness. Perhaps not everyone was against him, or perhaps they were just scared. But they were in the extreme minority.
“All in favor of joining Arcterial’s empire?” Seven or eight hands were raised. The mood remained muted. Ash drifted from the stone wound overhead. I dared not step forward.
“All in favor of joining Kuriza’s?” More hands were raised – more than a dozen. But they were not enough.
“And…” the elder statesman looked around, his face pale, his mouth gaping slightly, “all in favor of leaving the Planet Trade Organization altogether?”
Their hands shot up, all around me, in roars of triumph and fearlessness. I felt my own rise with them, unwillingly at first.
Tu’andar slouched forward in a heavy sigh. “Very well.” He faced Commander Tanarilo. “We reject Nitro’s claim to rule over us. We reject everyone in that cursed family. Just because we’re Arcosians doesn’t mean we owe your lord our loyalty. Now get off our planet.”
The orange-skinned, semi-furry man bit his finger and smiled widely. “I’ll be back,” he spoke softly, “with your king. You’ve made a big mistake, boys.”
“Maybe we have,” the old man said gravely. “But we’re done dying for you. The people have spoken.”
Their cheers made it hard to think. The three Planet Trade Organization representatives left angrily. I knew they wanted to kill us – they’d fail, of course – but also knew that Nitro could not match our bluff. He would never destroy his homeworld, nor would Arcterial, nor would Icer, nor would Kuriza. We had only Bael to worry about, and like as not, he wouldn’t even make it here. Not with everyone else hunting him. Not after news of what happened here got out. But what if they didn’t find him in time? He was on his way, wasn’t he?
Fear grabbed me. I thought of my family. I tried to raise a motion, but the senators were busy celebrating our newfound independence. We were mad, I thought then. We were stupid, idealistic creatures. We needed Kuriza, or Arcterial, or Nitro. It felt cold again to me, this world. I had never felt more lonely than in that moment. We would die – this decision had killed us.
The one thing I never expected, as we watched Tanarilo and his lackeys return to the fleet that would no longer protect us, was that it was the royal family who needed us more than we needed them. Perhaps that’s the only reason we did end up outliving all of them.
Chapter VIII: The Indigo Storm
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in the Faerin Empire|
|Date of account:||December 15, 765 Age|
The representative of the Galactic Bank wore grey robes to hide almost all of his skin. His pale throat, the ruby red gash below his chin, and his large sunken eyes told me all I needed to know. His lips were pursed back, his hair combed neatly. He was a powerful man.
“We are not with the Planet Trade Organization any longer,” I told him. “The Faerin Empire owes allegiance to no one.”
“Be that as it may, Admiral Bael, we remain concerned.” His name was Bacherano Muashil. “Even with the warring going on amongst the members of the Arcosian royal family, someone must reunite the empire, we are certain. Why should we believe that your forces will defeat any of theirs?”
“My fleet is the largest in the universe. The Faereth are the most well-trained, well-disciplined–”
“Be that as it may,” the alien said again, so emotionless, he seemed to me no less than a robot, “the members of the royal family are incredibly powerful. Any single one of them could decimate your fleet. How will you deal with that, admiral?”
“I am powerful too.”
“I’m sure you are, admiral. Our records indicate that your power level is 3 million. Is that still the case?”
My cheeks flushed suddenly. How did they know that? “What of it?”
“Frieza’s power level was reported to be upwards of one hundred twenty million. The rest of his family is full of extraordinary fighters as well, and in the case of his father and older brother, they were even stronger than he was. With this information in mind, I am afraid we are not going to subsidize your empire in regards to collecting on the PTO’s debt defaults. We have found another, more powerful ally to help us instead.”
Incredulously, I asked, “Who?”
He smiled – a strange, almost haunting gesture. “She is a trusted client, and her power level far exceeds any of the Arcosians’. As soon as we have gathered our forces and worked everything out, she will move on the Planet Trade Organization. I suggest you and your Faereth stay put and don’t get involved. We will take what is rightfully ours, but we will spare your species if you do not attack us. We would hate to have another war on our hands.”
“This is not the end of our negotiations,” I assured him. “I will have more to say later.”
I turned off the video feed. I did not like getting played. Who was this woman the Galactic Bank trusted more than me? And was she really more powerful than even King Cold? Doubtful. Icer, Arcterial, Nitro, and Kuriza were the only powerful members of the royal family left. None of them were at anywhere near Cooler’s level. That much I knew already. Icer’s and Arcterial’s children were barely stronger than me.
This was not good. What the Bank’s representative had said was true – at least in regards to me being able to protect my fleet. I could not hope to stand against them in open combat. Perhaps with my full forces all targeting a single Arcosian at once… but even then, it was a fool’s hope to believe we could slay any of them. I had two options: take them out before it came to battle, via poison or treachery, or the like; or, I could ally myself with one of them and use him to fight off any other royal family member. Both options were unsavory in their own ways. Poison is a woman’s tool. Allying with any of those men did not suit me. I wanted our empire to flourish, to be free. We had been trapped under Cooler’s boot for too long. I wasn’t about to squander our best chance at freedom now that we had a clear path out of the darkness.
Icer had offered me an alliance – admittedly, we hadn’t talked much about the specifics, and I was unsure if I wanted to pursue it. Icer was a strange man whose motives were completely unclear to me. He was the only one of the four who hadn’t yet declared himself the rightful king of the Planet Trade Organization. By coincidence, he was also the man with the weakest claim. Kuriza was the king – that much was certain. But he was a stupid, petty child who had stolen my love. I would kill him for that; no alliance between he and I could ever exist. Nitro was powerful, and indeed, he was expanding at this very moment, taking planets from Frieza’s and Cooler’s regions at an alarming rate. From what I’d been hearing on the galactic chatter, his forces had been clashing with Kuriza’s for months now.
Arcterial was a wildcard. Though he currently lacked ships and soldiers, he was gathering men. Soon, he would have a fleet large enough to rival Kuriza’s, and someone would have to deal with him. It’s also more than likely that he’s the strongest of them all, and that means he won’t go down without doing some serious damage.
There were others – mercenary groups, former PTO planets that had modest fleets – but the problems still remained. No matter how large I swelled our fleet, no matter how large I grew the Faerin Empire through treaties and conquest, there was always that possibility that one of the four Arcosians would find me and wipe out everything I’d worked so hard to build. Especially with the Galactic Bank spurning me, I would need one of them on my side.
It had to be Icer. I would never work with Kuriza. Nitro was powerful, but he was not the smartest man, and I suspected he was weaker than his uncles. Arcterial and Icer were both strong – it would be impossible for someone of my caliber to compare their power levels – but Icer had more men, more cunning, and had already offered me an alliance. But his terms were harsh. The Faereth would not like them. Mayhaps, my people would turn on me if I acquiesced.
We set course for Planet Icer 02, the capital of the Shadow Lord’s empire. The Splendor of the Gods traveled with only a small host. I had left most of the fleet back at Faeri for security reasons – if anyone attempted to blow up the Faerin homeworld, they would pay dearly. My ship was amongst the largest in the universe, and it feared no space pirates or smaller fleets. Only an Arcosian lord could hurt me now, and I was traveling right to one of them.
I spent the time in my suit wrought of scryihl and infused katchin. This suit of armor was worth more than entire solar systems, entire fleets, yet it was mine. Amongst my possessions, it was one of my favorites, and it would protect me even from an Arcosian, so long as I was not captured. Scryihl is resistant to energy far beyond what even Arcterial is capable of producing.
The scientists injected glowing blue liquid into my veins as I sat in my armor on the operating table. Every day it was like this. They would work on me, infuse me with power, and my power level would grow. The pain was nigh unbearable. I sat there muffling screams as the burning liquid evaporated my veins and forged new, stronger connections with my organs. I preferred the days when the pain knocked me out. I could not take any painkillers, for to do so would pollute this state-of-the-art energy infusion technique. The Faereth were the most intelligent race in the universe, of that I had no doubt, and our technological capabilities far exceeded any other species’. However, even this was like science fiction to me, and I didn’t pretend to understand. I had been promised that doing these therapy sessions everyday would increase my power level – slowly and painfully, but surely – so there we are. By the scientists’ calculations, it would take years for me to even begin to approach one hundred twenty million. And that’s if I did this everyday. So be it. The pain was worth it. I didn’t want to be reliant on Icer forever.
My thoughts drifted to Mahru and her Nusa. She was so cute with her poetry, always hunched over, scribbling and refining her prose; and whenever I looked upon her words, I wondered how she had formed the imagery and beauty she had. Her skills and grace were utterly foreign to me. For hours this continued, and my thoughts turned only once to my wife and my three daughters. They were waiting for me back home, but I wouldn’t be home soon. Not with so much left to do.
Sitting an agony, my fists clenched, my armor holding my body together, a servant approached, wearing light blue silks and a thin, short cape. “My lord, it’s Kuriza.”
“He’s found us?” I gasped through grit teeth.
“No my lord, he’s on the line. He wishes to speak with you.”
I let out a hard sigh even as the pain burned through me. “A-alright… put him through.”
“B-but my lord…” the servant’s eyes grew large, “you’re… you’re still hooked up to the machine.”
“I am aware,” I replied irefully. “Put him through. Everyone who doesn’t need to be here, clear the room.”
The far wall screen hummed on as guards and scientists shuffled out. Only my personal doctor, a brown-skinned Makyan named Paprikan, remained by my side. The lights came on, and I could see into Kuriza’s flagship for the first time. Young Arcosians stood and gathered around the boy who sat his golden throne as haughtily as once his father had. Guards and officers were crowded around the young lord as well – I recognized Admiral Kracchus, Commander Fusil, Commander Boisenberry, and Captain Zitoran. Good officers all. Lingon, the boy king’s personal bodyguard since birth, stood next to him, as did Sapras, that slippery bastard who had once served King Cold. It looked to me like Kuriza had gathered himself a proud and experienced group of men to help him reclaim the PTO.
“Hello,” I said gruffly, trying to hide my pain. “My apologies, Kuriza. I did not expect your call… I am slightly indisposed at the moment.”
“Oh, what’s going on, admiral? Why are you wearing that fine suit of armor?”
“It is no matter. We have more important things to discuss.”
“We do,” Kuriza replied. He was speaking more like a man than a boy, surprising me. On guard I remained for the rest of our conversation.
“You have someone I want back.”
“The Faereth are a species in contract with the Planet Trade Organization,” the boy spoke carefully. “I do not deal with traitors.”
“We served your uncle,” I reminded him. “The Planet Trade Organization died with him.”
Kuriza smirked. “Admiral Bael, would you like me to destroy your homeworld?” I did not reply; a wave of pain erupted through my body as I gripped the armrests and tried not to scream. “The Faerin Fleet is mine. I am the emperor of the Planet Trade Organization, and your loyalty belongs to me. If you will not give it, there will be consequences.”
“How are you faring against your uncle, Lord Kuriza?” I asked, short of breath. The boy’s face turned to a frown for a fraction of a second before he regained composure. “Tell me, sir, why we should follow you when you can’t even suppress rebellions from within your own family.”
“My uncle will be dealt with shortly,” Kuriza promised, “as will my grand uncles.”
“Tell me child, what has Icer done to provoke your wrath? As far as I can tell, he has not declared himself a king.”
“Though you are correct, my lord,” Lingon interrupted, “Icer has not declared for Lord Kuriza either. He has remained disloyal to the Planet Trade Organization, and for that reason, he must pay.”
“One more thing, Admiral Bael,” Kuriza piped up. “Show him the prisoner.”
My heart pounded; my veins burned. The camera was lowered to a kneeling, rag-wearing Faerin, who wore dirt like makeup and blood like jewelry. Her hair was matted and oily, blond as a new sun, her skin pale and purple and her cheeks gaunt.
She looked up to the video screen with tears in her eyes.
“Lord Kuriza, I am surprised.” I leaned back in my chair, feigning detachment, but in reality, I was in so much pain, I could hardly see. “I would have expected your advisors to have taught you better.” He did not care. His arms were folded, his people were around him, fawning. “Do not provoke your enemies, my lord. That is the surest way of ensuring they’ll see you dead.”
I ended our communication. Arching my back, I let out a long groan that quickly turned into an unwilling scream.
“My lord, should I call the others?” Paprikan asked.
“Bring them back in, yes.”
“And, the meeting with Kuriza…”
“Not a word.”
“Understood, my lord.”
The others filed back in to resume my treatment, and we spoke not a word to one another about what had just happened. I knew what I had to do. Icer would save my homeworld; the alliance would cause the people to hate me, but they didn’t understand. They could not. This was the only way. I would ally myself with that man, no matter the cost.
At length, I asked one of the guards, “How many of the governors and regents have responded?”
“All of them, my lord.”
“Good. I will broker alliances with them before going to Icer.” Paprikan nodded obediently. “How much longer?” I asked my doctors.
“Three hours, sir, if it goes well,” Paprikan replied. “Five if we have complications.”
“Very well. Let me know when we’re there.” I closed my eyes and thought of my love, and felt only fire.
He was not for me. The Akkarna’haor roared as I pounded his flesh. Tall as a skyscraper, his skin scaled and spiked and grey-green, the beast had no purpose but to feed. I was his prey, but I was too fast. My power level was rising. Weary as I was, I made short work of the beast. It was no more than three energy beams that slayed him. My bones ached; my mind was spinning. It was no matter.
“Eight million, three hundred thousand, four hundred eighty-four.” Paprikan spoke precisely, without emotion. I despised him for that, but it didn’t matter.
“Higher… it must be higher,” I muttered. “It’s not good enough. Not by a long shot.”
Paprikan nodded. “The work must continue.”
“As you say,” I replied with impatience. “But my foes will not wait. I must be able to match them soon, else we are lost.”
“Yes, my lord. I must remind you that there are those who wish to speak with you. Will you grace them with your presence, or continue training?”
“Take me to them.”
The first was the regent of Planet Peregari, also known as Planet Cooler 362. He was a white-furred Heoli, tall and muscular, and his name was Ran Thembii. We talked for a short while, but it was clear to me that he wished to join our empire. I knew our empire desired the liquid oxygen that made up Peregari’s oceans, so I offered the man monetary incentives for access to his planet’s natural resources. In addition, to secure this trade, his people would join our empire. The Heolik are a proud warrior race and not to be trifled with, especially on their home turf. I was well aware of the stories of how long it took Cooler to conquer their world, and he had been much stronger than any of us.
Ran Thembii offered us thousands of warriors and dozens of ships, and I in turn promised him wealth unlike anything his people had known before. This would be a great boost for both of our species. Thanking the man, I ended the communication and prepared for my next clients.
Over the next two hours, I set up potential alliances with a variety of worlds and outposts, all totaling a few dozen ships and a few thousand soldiers. The worlds were small, the officers lacking notability, but it was important to consolidate as much as I could. The Faerin Empire would need as much power and reach as possible if we were to go up against the Planet Trade Organization.
The next man I spoke with on the communication screen was a pirate prince who called himself Medler. A lime-skinned Jolean, he sparkled and shined with jewelry and gold and silver and riches far beyond his station. His arrogance was amusing.
“You’re Bael, aren’t you?”
“I am. Hello Medler.”
“That’s Prince Medler to you.” The Jolean was scowling fiercely.
“Previously, you served as a captain in Cooler’s army. Is that not true?”
“What about it? He’s dead, man. It’s all over now.”
“Cooler is dead,” I admitted, “but life goes on. The Planet Trade Organization persists, though it is dying a slow death. Chaos reigns, and I know a space pirate like you finds that advantageous. But order will soon be restored. You have a chance to escape your fate before it is. If you remain a space pirate for much longer, you will die. It may not be me who kills you, nor even one of the Arcosians. But whoever comes out on top will wipe out the space pirates. It has always been so.”
Medler laughed. “As long as there’s space, there’s gonna be space pirates, man.”
“That’s correct. But there will no longer be vast space pirate kingdoms such as yours. You won’t be a prince any longer. Maybe you’ll survive. Maybe you’ll get by. But your future will be one of scraping by and praying we don’t catch you. How is that any way to live, Medler?”
“Do you really believe what you say?!” Medler’s jewelry was swinging back and forth, glaring through the screen. “Or are you just trying to win me over?”
“Both.” I would not lie to the pirate. “If you want to survive this war, you will join me. If you don’t, my fleet will smash your faux empire and we will be on with it. It is no matter to me. You are more useful to me alive than dead, but I will kill you if you disobey me.”
The Jolean laughed hoarsely. “Oh, you’re so convincing! You really have a way with words, man.”
“I am not negotiating with you,” I said firmly. “You are a space pirate. You have some ships and some powerful warriors, but your forces are nothing special. Any major army can destroy you, and any of us will at the first opportunity. I am offering you a single chance to escape your inevitable death. Join me, or die. I care not which.”
“Some day soon we’ll take a trip to Faeri after Kuriza’s smashed your fleet. And then we’ll plunder as we have never plundered before, and there won’t be any old fools like you left to stop us.” Medler grinned a shiny-toothed grin and cut the comm.
He would call back. They always do.
Next up was Representative Karukadu, an alien of a species I did not know who hailed from Planet Frieza 128. He wore elegant robes of cream and onyx, a tall hat that curved into a horn-like point at the tip where an emerald shone, and dark makeup surrounding his eyes. His fingers were bony, his frame thin. His skin was lavender, his beard midnight blue.
“Admiral Bael.” His voice was old and cautious.
“Representative Karukadu, it’s good to see you.”
“So you’re the one who’s trying to take over now, is that it?”
“I am a member of the Faerin Empire, yes. But I am no king. We are ruled by the Faerin Council.”
“Oh, I see, a bunch of Faereth are going to be in charge now. Tell me, how is that better than the Arcosians?”
I held my gaze. It is never right to let your opponent know what you are feeling. “There are dozens of planets and former officers who have joined us. Each planet will be given a seat on the council, as will all senior officers we have brought in. Everyone will have a voice.”
The alien’s eyebrow raised. “But the Faereth will have the loudest, it seems.”
“We have the largest fleet, representative. We are offering to use it to protect you and many others. That is a kindness that few other species would follow through with were they in our position.”
“Tell me, why should my planet join your empire, and not one of the Arcosians’? Are they not more powerful? Can they not provide my people with more security?”
“I do have an Arcosian,” I said suddenly. I was getting sick of this argument. It was time to reveal my plan. “Icer has allied with the Faerin Empire.”
“Icer?” The man was taken aback, clearly. “Frieza’s uncle?”
“The very same.”
“He’s ruling then,” Karukadu said shrewdly. “You are enslaved again to one of them.”
“The Faerin Empire is working with Lord Icer; we are not slaves like before. This is a mutually beneficial alliance.”
“I see.” His voice reeked of doubt.
“Who else would you join? You cannot stay on the sidelines, sir. One of the empires will take your planet, or blow it up if you resist.”
“Kuriza is the rightful king,” the man said defiantly. I was preparing to speak when he continued, “But he’s just a boy. Arcterial… he has no hope, I think. His fleet is small. Nitro is no leader.”
“The choice is clear, then.”
“I do not like Icer, either,” Karukadu admitted. “He’s a sneaky bastard. Slippery as an ice-cloaked Tahmier, hmph!”
“You must pick one. For your people’s sake, I suggest picking a winner. It will be us, or Kuriza. The others have no chance, you know this. Nitro’s expansion is doomed to fail. His fleets, which have pushed too far into enemy territory, will be isolated from his empire and destroyed. Arcterial has not the support he needs, and Icer is stronger than him.” That last bit was a lie, but Karukadu knew even less about Icer and Arcterial than I did. “Would you rather be led by a boy than a man, representative?”
The man stared me down, but he was not angry. What was he trying to read in my eyes? He would find nothing there. I knew how to bury my emotions deep inside. “I do not like the Faereth. Few of us do, in truth. You are playing a dangerous game, Bael. But danger is better than annihilation. Tell the Shadow Lord we are with him and we are with the Faerin Empire.”
“Excellent choice, representative. I will relay your decision to the council. Welcome to the Faerin Empire. You are now in our care.”
“Yes,” the old man sighed. “The taste is no less bitter in my mouth, admiral. Good day.”
My neck was sore. Fatigue was setting in. I shouldn’t have trained today. I had to meet Icer. I had to be at the top of my game. He was one of the few people in the universe who could hold his own against me. That is not arrogance – that is the truth. There are few others I considered my intellectual equals. Doctor Paprikan soon came to me and let me know that we had arrived at Planet Icer 02.
“How are you feeling, my lord?”
“Like my body was shattered and put back together with glue.”
“I have told you before, and I’ll say it again: if you are going to use this method to raise your power level, you should not train as well. Doing both will break your body apart before long. It’s too much stress.”
“It’s a risk I must take. I must get stronger,” I told the meek-looking Makyan. “There is no time; there is no other option. If these things had gone faster, I wouldn’t even need to be here. Icer would just be another foe. But now I need him, and I must enslave our species again just to save the Faereth. Everyone will hate me for this, but it’s the only way. They will never understand. Kuriza will destroy our homeworld if I don’t move now.”
“I understand, admiral,” the doctor said with care. “You are a good man, and everything you do, you do for the good of your people. But if you keep going on like this, you’ll kill yourself before you can save them.”
I stood, stretching my neck. Clicking a button on my wrist comm, I spoke: “Bring the prisoner Ntalou to docking bay 2.”
“Yes sir, at once sir!” the guard on the other end replied breathlessly.
“Always scheming, eh?” Paprikan smiled, his wrinkles multiplying before my eyes. “Heh, you never can take a moment to rest.”
“The universe waits for no one. If you want to win, you must be willing to put forth the effort.”
I left him there and made my way down to the docking bay alone, still in my scryihl armor. Soldiers saluted me as I passed them by. I was too tired to salute them back. Stumbling into the docking bay, I found the prisoner in the center of the huge room, where more than one hundred single-pilot ships lay at rest. Two guards flanked her.
She was gaunt for an Uttovelm, and ugly too. “Rise.”
Trembling, the dirt-covered woman obeyed. She was weak and starved, but not dead. Fire yet burned in her eyes. She was not so good at hiding her contempt for me. “M-my lord…” she whispered, her head bowed.
“I have had a change of heart. You are free to go. Unbind her.” The guards did so without protest. Her energy shackles died, and the metal rings that had been around her wrists fell to the floor with reverberating thuds. “Go home. I will provide you with a ship and a pilot.”
Her eyes were full of tears, but I saw the fire behind them. She had not forgotten, nor forgiven. “My lord? Wh-wh-what… what is this?”
“You are to return to your homeworld and tell your people of my mercy. In one week’s time, I expect Uoto to pledge loyalty to the Faerin Empire. All of its ships, all of its soldiers. If this response is not received, I will return to Uoto and finish what I started. My mercy only runs so deep, after all.” Her mouth was agape, her lips shaking uncontrollably. She could not talk. I nodded gracefully to her and turned. To one of the guards, I said, “Prepare my own ship. I’m going down to the planet.”
Off I went one way, and off the Uttovelm and her guard went the other. If things unfolded as I had planned, soon enough, the Faerin Empire would be larger than any other in the universe.
Planet Icer 02 was an island paradise – the last sort of place I would have expected the Shadow Lord to make his lair. I met him on the black sand beaches of an island that housed his main outpost. It was a surprise to see him waiting for me in person – usually Lord Icer sent his daughters in his place, or talked over the comm without video enabled. This was a rare appearance by the icy-eyed lord – he respected who I was.
The gravity here was ten times normal, I could tell at once, but in my scryihl armor, it made little difference. As tired as I was, this extra nagging on my body was nothing I could not withstand. He had no guards; I brought none as well. This was a meeting between two men, that is all.
“Hello, admiral,” Icer whispered. He offered me a glass of dark purple ice wine before taking one himself. “I was expecting you.”
“This is a beautiful world,” I said.
“It was the first planet I conquered myself,” Icer replied. “My older brother gifted me Planet Icer 01. But this was the first one I gave my name to… the first one I took with my own power and determination. It’s been the center of my operations ever since.”
“Your daughters are well?” I asked him.
“They are,” Icer replied without emotion. “And yours?”
“Getting bigger everyday. I barely recognize them.”
Icer smirked. “It’s like that, for a while.”
We watched the waves for a time. “Your brother has declared himself king,” I said at last.
Icer was playing coy. He wanted me to lead this conversation. So be it. “It surprises me that you have not thrown support behind Kuriza.”
“Frieza meant nothing to me,” Icer replied. “His spawn is not someone I’ll follow. I care little about inheritance laws. I will spend my life and my men on causes I deem important. No one sees the space demons as a problem. Not one of those three fools does, and neither do you.”
“They seem to only be attacking mining colonies in Frieza’s region and your own.”
“If you are like my brother, we may stop wasting breath.”
“I am not.”
“Nitro is moving. My brother is biding his time. He knows that either Nitro or Kuriza will destroy the other. Only then will he make his move.”
“And only then will you make yours?”
Icer stood motionless. “Arcterial is a blowhard, witless as he is headstrong. He will bleed the universe dry just to become king. For that alone, I will make him hurt. He will never be our king, not so long as I draw breath.”
“I see your strategy,” I said, guarded. I didn’t want to reveal my desperation now. Kuriza was preparing an assault on my homeworld. I needed Icer there to protect it. Icer didn’t know, or he didn’t care. “Why not declare yourself a king?”
“Titles only mean so much,” the Arcosian replied carelessly.
“You want to rule,” I stated. “Let’s not play games, Icer.”
“And you want my help. Or rather… need it. Don’t play games with me, admiral.”
I sipped and gazed out at the azure sky, cloudless as a newborn dawn. “I would like to–”
“Let me remind you of my conditions again, Admiral Bael. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, but I want to be clear. The Faerin Empire will dissolve and join my Planet Trade Organization. There will be a tributary system put in place, and all those who serve the Faereth will now serve me. No less than sixty percent of all revenue will go to me. All fleets and warriors will pledge allegiance to me. Planet Faeri will serve as the capital of my new empire. The Faereth will be given distinguished positions in my empire. But this will not be free for your species. You will serve me. In return, you will be protected from all of your enemies. The Faereth will receive yearly monetary bonuses for maintaining the empire. You, Admiral Bael, will become the leader of my fleets, being outranked only by myself and my children. Do you understand?”
“Those are harsh demands.” The waves lapped across the black sand shore. The wind was warm upon my cheeks.
“I do not need you so much as you need me.”
“Let the Faerin Empire persist. Allow us to be a subsidiary empire to your own, Lord Icer. Do not make us pay a tribute… we are giving up so much already.”
He sipped his ice wine and did not look at me. The Shadow Lord’s dark cloak fluttered in the wind. “The Faerin Empire will continue to exist. But that comes at a cost. Pay it, or don’t. I do not need your support.”
How many would call for my head? What else could I do? “Then we will.”
“Bow to me.”
It gave me no pleasure to kneel on that beach, my armor shining in the mid afternoon glow, Icer staring down upon me, his cape flapping about as if he were flying. “You would never betray me, Bael,” he said knowingly. “The fate of your planet rests upon your shoulders.”
There was a way in which he talked, in which he moved, in which he stared with those watery ice blue eyes of his that reminded me of Medler. But that was something I would never bring up to my new liege lord. On that windy, warm day, beneath a cloudless sky, I dirtied my knee and bowed my head, and saved my species from certain oblivion.
Quiet was space above Planet Icer 02. I had put up a front, and now I was ready for bed. That was when a call came in that I could not ignore.
“From Minister Harame,” the guard spoke apologetically. “He said it was urgent.”
“Put him through.” My body was on fire, decaying like a corpse in a river. “And leave me.”
They did. It was just me and the minister then, as the screen flickered on. Only… that wasn’t Harame standing before me, but General Sennoni, the gargantuan pile of flesh and gold that I so detested. “Admiral Bael, it’s good to see you’re well.”
“Get to the point,” I said with weariness. “This is Harame’s line, not yours. What have you done?”
“Harame is dead. The council is in chaos. Several members have been assassinated, and a few more are currently missing. You must return to Faeri at once.”
“I see.” It was an impulse to tell him about my meeting with Icer; I refrained from satisfying that impulse. “Who is in charge now?”
“I am.” Sennoni thrust up the first of his many chins and folded his arms. He was a fat man and approaching old age. “We will investigate these assassinations, but I must be frank with you, sir. There are rumors that these attacks were perpetrated by the Faerin Fleet…”
“Nonsense,” I told him. “If you believe that, you’re a fool. I will not engage in such stupidity. You know I had nothing to do with this, and should it be said that I did… should the media and yourself proclaim that I am at fault… there will be consequences.”
“Bael, you must–”
I cut the comm. “I am going to bed,” I told my guard over the wrist comm. “Do not accept any further calls. That is all.”
With that, I entered my room and slowly began to pull off my armor. As I did, I thought of what Sennoni had said and what he had implied. Had this coup been his plan? Harame was the last of the old guard, the last of a generation of politicians who showed reservation and prudence. Lychin was much like him. What was the purpose of Sennoni killing him, though? Sennoni was the uncle of Loquano, the rebel who had been executed by Lord Avalan so many years ago. That fact did not elude me. I was well aware of his anger.
I locked the door behind me and pressed a button on my gauntlet before removing it. At once, from a separate inner door to the right, two female Faereth entered. They bowed and pulled down their shirts. Their breasts made me hard. I was not strong today.
“Come here,” I called weakly as I took my place on the bed. The younger one, whose lavender face was like milk in the dim artificial light, jumped on the bed smiling – a forced smile, bought and paid for – and began rubbing my chest. My chest was bare, as was most of the rest of me. She pulled down my trousers and found me ready. Placing her hands upon my chest, the girl let me enter her. My head fell back and I sighed as she lowered herself onto me. All the while, all I thought of was Mahru’s Nusa ringing in my ears like an imperial drum, the cadence touching, but direct.
Chapter IX: Shadowplay
|Position:||King Cold's niece; Fleet Admiral in Icer's empire|
|Date of account:||January 17, 766 Age|
Daddy’s base was the tropical retreat of Planet Icer 02. I touched down on the island of Iharo, my prisoners in tow. Guards surrounded me. The air was warm, and the sweet smell of tropical flowers wafted by on a breeze. Marble statues of Daddy, Polaria, and myself greeted me as I entered the compound. Each one stood over lily fountains. It was odd to myself wrought in stone. We passed through without a word.
In the inner courtyard, I could hear shouting and grunting and cheering. A group of officers had formed a circle around two people fighting. A flash of yellow-green and grey, spiky armor told me all I needed to know. My sister slammed her opponent, a yellow-bearded green-skinned alien, to the ground to the screams and chest-pounding of her onlookers.
“What are you doing, Polaria?” I asked sharply.
“Just having a little fun,” my twin replied, wiping the sweat from her brow. Grinning mischievously, she said, “Why don’t you hop in the ring with me? I’m undefeated.”
I smiled politely, hiding my pain. “We wouldn’t want to break that streak, now would we?” Polaria shook her head, finding that rather amusing. All eyes were on me. I knew why most of them were staring. “Where is father?”
“Check the hanging gardens. He was there this morning.”
“Thanks. And in the future, Polaria, keep your shoulders up. Your form is getting lazy.”
Returning to my entourage, I caught several prisoners peeking out from between the rows of guards, hoping to catch a glance at what was going on. Angered by their presumptions, I shot one in the face with a finger beam. He was an egg-headed sallow-skinned fellow, and he meant nothing to me. We left his corpse where it lay. No other prisoner dared raise their head again.
We made our way past the next ivy-covered marble walls and I ordered the captain of my guard to take our prisoners inside the main building. I left all of them there, for what I wanted to discuss with Daddy was not fit for their ears.
In the distance, I could still hear shouting. It made everything altogether less beautiful. The hanging gardens were secluded and humid, with dark green ivy crawling over the low-standing walls and across the paved stone ground. Flowers bloomed and insects buzzed. Fountains cycled in near silence; alien birds with red and blue feathers sat on the walls eyeing me.
Where the gardens found the shore, I found my father. Ivy around him, he stood hunched over a massive table built of petrified wood. On it was painted a map of the universe, with every territory of our empire defined. Nitro’s empire was almost half of the table, taking up almost all of the western portion of the universe. Kuriza held much of the middle, north, and east – the former territories of his father and dead uncle. Arcterial and my father had smaller holdings. Everything else was black, either territory lost to space pirates or that which the Galactic Bank and other lesser empires like it held. From a simple geographical standpoint, it looked like we were screwed. But I would never doubt Daddy.
On the other side of the table, also standing, were two men. One was a merchant space-badger with gold jewelry hanging from his grey-yellow fur. He was an old man whom I had never met before. The other was a bird-faced, brown-skinned alien who wore standard armor and a white cape. He was an officer of some sort. They were discussing an illegal Nil trade I knew my father ran, and I let them finish their business before stepping forward.
He was not surprised to see me. As the other two left passed me, bowing and muttering hellos, I bit my lip. It was not easy to hold my tongue. Daddy’s dealings with these unsavory types was never something I liked. I’d brought it up in the past, but he was stubborn. He would never change. And I wasn’t in the mood for arguments right now.
“I heard you sealed an alliance with the Faereth,” I said, crossing my arms. “Is it true, Daddy?”
“How did you find out?!” he asked sharply.
“Polaria told me.”
Lord Icer relaxed slightly. “Our empire is now the largest, in terms of ships and soldiers. Nitro has more territory at the moment, but that won’t last long. Our plan is to wait for either Nitro or Kuriza to destroy the other. Arcterial will swoop in on the victor and attempt to crush their remaining army. That is when we move on Arcterial.”
“And what of the shadow demons? And the Galactic Bank? Do they not pose more immediate threats than Uncle Arcterial?”
“The Galactic Bank does not concern me. The demons on the other hand…” Lord Icer began to pace around the table. White seaform burst against dark island rocks ahead, where the sun was rising over crystal clear blue waters. “We cannot focus on them until the Planet Trade Organization is made whole again. I’ve tried to make them a priority, but no one will listen. If we go for them now, Arcterial will attack us. We will be pinned between two powerful foes, and our fleet will be shattered.”
“We could attack Uncle Arcterial first. As you said, father, we have the largest fleet in the universe currently. Why not put that fleet to good use? Uncle Arcterial’s still gathering forces. He’s not ready.”
“Then either or Nitro or Kuriza will take his place. Neither of them likes me. They do not hate me as much as Arcterial does, granted, but they will want me dead just the same. No, the empire must be made whole first. These civil wars must come to an end if we are to make progress against a more important foe. The demons have decimated our mining colonies in the inner empire, and that’s damage that won’t be recovered for decades. No one else gets it, those damn fools. They must pay for their ignorance.”
“Then what would you have me do, father? Is Admiral Bael to lead our fleets?”
He flashed a look of annoyance. “Bael is an advisor. He will help you mature into a competent tactical commander, which I have already helped you towards. You outrank him, Hail. Don’t be foolish. I would never give anyone else power over my family.”
A good feeling shot through my face. I had half-expected him to name Bael his new admiral – it was no secret that Bael was more skilled at leading a fleet than me. He had far more experience. It was not proper to revel in my victory, though. “Thank you, father. I will not fail you.” I fell to a knee and placed my fist over my chest.
“Get up, Hail,” he said annoyed. “We have more important things to deal with now. Here,” he said, pulling something from his dark cloak. Handing me a vial of aquamarine liquid, Daddy spoke, “The Tears of Ean. Be careful with that. Do not let the liquid touch your skin. A single drop is enough to kill a hundred people. You and your brother are to take this to a client. I have the coordinates pre-programmed into your ship.”
“Poison? Who is this for, Daddy?”
“Someone who needs it.”
I laughed incredulously. “You can’t even tell me what this is for, yet you want me to be your errand girl. Come on.”
“This is a very sensitive endeavor,” he whispered in reply, his voice barely audible above the crashing waves. “They may even be listening in on our conversation now. I cannot trust this mission to anyone but you. Do not disappoint me, and do not ask questions. I can tell you more later.”
“Why Avalan and not Polaria?” I complained. “I’d rather be dropped in a vat of oil than spend a space ride with him.”
“Polaria is needed elsewhere.”
He sighed heavily. “You ask a lot of questions, Hail.”
“If you’d be more open with me–”
“She’s going on a recon mission to find the shadow demons,” Lord Icer said at last. His pale blue eyes were on me, stern and unyielding. “If you complete your mission in a reasonable amount of time, you may need to help her. So get going.”
There was much left unsaid. I had been crippled for too long for this to bring me to tears, but I knew what he had implied. If I hadn’t let the Nikkarins wound me, I could be out there helping my sister deal with the greatest threat to the universe. Instead, I had to run errands with my little brother. Well, there was nothing about that I could do now.
“I’ll see you soon, Daddy. We will not fail you.”
“Don’t let Avalan know what you’re transporting. He may get ideas. This package must reach my client.”
“Or what?” I shook my head melancholically. “We’re all dead?”
It was sarcasm – I knew what I was doing wasn’t as important was what Polaria had been tasked with. Yet when my father didn’t reply, didn’t outright deny my words, and merely folded his arms to stare down at the map again, doubt crept into my mind. I was a proper lady. I wouldn’t stay any longer to question him further. I could tell Daddy was in an anxious mood about something, so I left him with his map, the waves, and the serenity of the hanging gardens, and I didn’t say a thing about what I thought.
I could smell blood. Avalan kept his room dark, and the filth of sweat and vomit and decaying flesh was no less unsavory than I expected. A man hung by two chains, deep cuts in his stomach openly bleeding. He was red-skinned, flat-faced, and his tail hung limply. He was whimpering, and when I entered, he looked up to me and begged a few hoarse grunts. It was not my place to acknowledge him.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!!” I heard my brother scream from the other side of the room. He whistled, and a dark blur came shooting out from under a messy couch. The beast was four-legged with just as many eyes. Its fur was matted grey, and a dark mane covered its neck. It wasn’t so large yet.
I turned away as the prisoner screamed.
“Who’s there?” Avalan asked uncertainly. “Is that you, Jurien?”
“It’s me,” I replied. “Father has a mission for us, and we must leave at once.”
“Hail?” He came around the corner and feigned surprise and disgust upon seeing me. “Oh no… not in the light! Not in the light! Your face, your face, it’s all burnt up!! Hahahaha!” His growths were darkening, like bruises, and his shoulders had become even more misshapen since last I’d seen him. He walked hunched forward and with a limp ever since we Daddy rescued him from the Aphotic Prince.
“Real funny, Avalan.”
“Thank you, Hail. You’re very kind.”
“Get ready to go. I’m not going to wait in this filthy hovel for very long. Father has important business for us.”
“What? Now?! Today?!” Avalan laughed incredulously.
My firm tone withered his smile. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“That’s right, Avalan. You don’t get to play around for the rest of the day. I know you like doing that, but some of us are busy trying to save the empire, and it’s about time you started pulling your weight!”
“Tsk tsk, sister. Oh, Hail, oh goodness. You have no idea, do you? Who do you think that guy was?” He gestured to the hanging corpse. I did not turn my head. “A spy sent by Uncle Arcterial to infiltrate our base.”
“If you aren’t lying, then he deserved what he got.”
Avalan’s eyes lit up. I knew he liked it when people enjoyed his savagery. For a moment, he was just my cute, helpless little brother. In the corner, his pet gnawed on the bones of a traitor. I was half-tempted to show him the poison, just to get him to follow me faster.
“I have more!” he said eagerly. “I can show you–”
“Not now, Avalan. We have work to do.”
“Oh yeah, right, right, right, of course. What are we doing?”
“Delivering a package.”
“What’s in the package?”
“Father won’t say.”
“And where are we going?”
“I already told you.”
“Quite right you are, sister. If you weren’t so burned, perhaps father would breed you himself. You have excellent genes.”
“We’re leaving now.” I turned and walked out.
“Hey, don’t you run from me, sister! I’m the savior of the empire! I’m the only male heir left!”
He had always liked to remind me of that fact. When we had been younger, he’d played Daddy (his conception of Daddy, of course) and tried to breed me himself. Back then I’d been powerful. Now, I had only my wits to stave off the lunatic, and I wasn’t so confident in those. I was an admiral-in-training, and I wasn’t doing too poorly, but I wasn’t doing so well either. That’s why Daddy brought in Bael. That’s why he was sending me on this mission. It was all a part of his plan to help me regain confidence. Well, so far, it wasn’t working.
The landing pad was rain-soaked. Tall, wide-leaf trees swayed violently. Lightning burst overhead. On the landing pad, we waited. I held the vial in my hand. It would be nothing to break the glass. Avalan was shivering, bundled up tight in a black cloak. Mine was salmon; my hood was blown back with a violent gust of wind. The seas made hideous din beneath our feet. Extending over black waters, a series of round landing pads snaked into the fog, where a research center lay further beyond. This was a planet owned by the Galactic Bank.
She approached, dark-cloaked and thin. My scouter betrayed no abnormal power level. A tuft of white hair spilled from her hood. Her blue skin was hidden in the shadows. Walking over to us alone, her cloak blew in the wind.
“I believe you have something for me.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the one you’re looking for,” she replied with a smirk.
“How do I know that?” My defiance came out of nowhere. I didn’t even know who I was giving the Tears of Ean to. Father had said they would meet us on the landing pad. That wasn’t enough for me.
“Nice tits,” Avalan shouted at her. “But your face could use some work!” He couldn’t even see her face, and her cloak was so heavy that her figure was barely discernable beneath it.
“Your brother has quite the mouth on him.”
“I bet yours is better!” Avalan roared in response. “Much more practice, haha! Yeah, you’ve gone through a lot of work with that one!”
I wiped the water from my face. “Don’t assume we’re related.”
“I’m not. Now are we just going to stand around in the rain passing time, or are you going to give me what’s mine?”
“Answer my question first.” I wanted to know what was going on. If Daddy wasn’t going to tell me, this woman would.
“She’s a real bitch, isn’t she?” Avalan giggled. “She has no idea who she’s talking to. Bow to me, bitch! I’m Avalan, the–”
In a flash of lightning, the woman was gone. She suddenly reappeared in front of Avalan and slapped him across the face, hitting him so hard, blood flew from his mouth and splattered across my face. My brother fell to the water-drenched metal grate floor and did not move. My heart was beating mad.
“The vial,” the woman said. “I will not ask again. I have places to be, Hail.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I’ve worked with your father for a long time. He’s a trusted associate. You should trust him too. He sent you here because he knows only you can be trusted.” I glanced down at Avalan, blood trickling from his open mouth. His eyes were not completely closed. I could see the white.
“I don’t know what we’re doing here,” I said at last. “My father is not with the Galactic Bank.”
“Not everyone is.” She looked down and chuckled softly. “These things take time, especially if you’re trying to be careful. And I am. That’s something your brother could use to learn.”
The woman smiled. I thought I felt something. “Now, the vial.” I threw it to her. Staring intently at the swirling aquamarine liquid within, the woman’s blue eyes lit up. “Your father has plans to deal with all of his enemies. Don’t think for one second that he hasn’t thought about everything, about every possibility, because he has. He’s already made his move against several of them.”
“He hasn’t told me about any of that.”
“Shame.” The woman clicked her tongue and pocketed the vial. “From what he told me, you’re the one he’s grooming to be his heir. We will meet again, Hail,” she said. “With luck, it won’t take me a year.”
With that, the woman turned, drew a blue aura of ki around her, and burst off towards the stormclouds raging overhead. I stood there, rain caressing my shoulders, and shivered. I was used to much colder than this. Why was I so weak?
He was groaning at my feet, spittle and blood leaking from his gaping mouth. A pitiable wretch he was, like some sea creature dragged onto land. His growths seemed to ooze blood in the rain. The lack of light didn’t help things. I knew what that woman wanted me to do. Was she my father’s lover? Was she trying to manipulate me? Surely. But to what end? I wasn’t about to follow along.
I picked up my brother between my arms, cradling the broken boy, and returned to the ship.
From the shadows they came. Nimbi and Kurai stood over me, their lean Arcosian bodies half-obscured in the darkness. “My lady,” said Nimbi, “it’s your brother. He’s not doing well.”
“How bad is it?”
“I fear there is a tear in his skull and if we do not get him treatment soon, he will die.”
“Where is the nearest medical outpost?”
“Planet Cooler 031, my lady.”
“That’s no good. That’s in Kuriza’s region. What about planets loyal to my father?”
“That would be…” Nimbi looked down at her holopad, flicking through it with one graceful finger, “Planet Cooler 012.”
“Take us there. Tell them to prepare a rejuvenation tank, or whatever he needs. And take us there at max speed, Nimbi. I don’t want Avalan dying.”
“Yes, Lady Frost.” She bowed and exited. Kurai went to leave with her, but I held her wrist back.
Nimbi gave us a knowing look, but marched out all the same. She had more important things to do. I sat back in my cabin bed, which was cramped, but comfortable. Father had installed custom mattresses and pillows just for his children. The gesture was touching.
“How is he?” I pulled Kurai down onto the bed. My handmaiden came willingly. She was meek and small and young.
“Your brother does not look well, my lady,” she said slowly. “There is a bruise on his cheek, and he is still bleeding from the hit.”
“You couldn’t stop the bleeding?”
“His wounds are deep, my lady.”
My fingers glided across her forehead and down her cheek. “Are you okay, dear?”
“It’s… it’s just…” The girl looked away. “He looks horrible, my lady.”
“N-no… not… I-I don’t mean like that!” she stammered, realizing what I was implying. “His face is all puffed up and purple and there’s blood everywhere. He has the look of a corpse.”
“He always has,” I whispered in her ear, letting my lips linger against her flesh.
I had not known Kurai long. She had been given to me by an Arcosian senator a year ago. But ever since, she had become my favorite. As I felt the ship pick up speed, I spun her onto the bed, her wrists in my hands, and felt my body sliding against her’s.
The time passed by quickly. It was what seemed like only a few minutes later when Nimbi knocked on my door.
“We’re here, my lady. Your brother is awake too, and he’s been asking for you. I do not know how lucid he is, but perhaps it would be wise to see him.”
“O-of course… I’ll be out in a moment. Return to the cockpit.” Even in my position, I felt a certain degree of shame. Rubbing my burnt cheek, I wondered how anyone could find me beautiful.
Leaving Kurai in the bed, I made my way down the ship to where they were keeping Avalan. It was good Daddy had allowed my handmaidens to accompany us (if not to the actual meeting with that strange woman), because I doubt I could have kept my brother alive by myself. He lay on a cushioned table, bandages around his head. Dried dark blood had stained all of them. His teeth were almost black with blood. Kurai had not lied – he looked dead already. Even at his best, Avalan was unkind on the eyes. Now, his cheek was bloated and his eyes were wide and raw. He was pale as a corpse.
“Hail… Hail… Hail…” he was calling weakly.
“I am here, brother.”
“Heheh,” he coughed, looking up and finding me. “I forgot. You’re the ugly one. That’s right. I want Polaria instead.”
With that, he passed out again. I bit my lip and moved to the cockpit. Nimbi piloted us through grey clouds, down to a massive city that stretched beyond the horizon in all directions. Skyscrapers rose towards us, made of black stone and blinking with blue and red and yellow lights. The city was alive. They were awaiting us.
Fog had descended upon the upper skyscrapers when we landed. It was raining lightly. I carried him myself. Faereth doctors stood ready on the landing pad, as did a big fat man with a tangled white, curly beard and shining armor. His cape hung around his shoulders like a king’s.
“This is him?” the fat man said gruffly as I placed my brother on the hover cart that would take him back inside.
“Yes. Avalan. The son of Lord Icer.”
“Ah, I see. Well, my lady, do not worry. We will give your brother the best care we can.” He bowed and kissed my hand. “You may wait inside with your people, if you wish. I cannot guess how long it’ll take. These eggheads, heh,” he grunted, motioning to the lab-coat wearing doctors who were running off with my brother, “you can never tell with them.”
“They will save him,” I said with confidence. “There is not a planet I would rather have him treated on.”
The man smiled warmly. “My name’s General Sennoni. Welcome to Faeri,” he put out his hand. “I wish we could have met under better circumstances, but life is unpredictable.”
“Hopefully not in this case,” I replied, taking the man’s fat hand in mine. I could feel the sweat. “My brother must be saved.”
“Aye, he will.”
I took only Nimbi with me to the hospital. We waited for a few hours as the doctors worked on Avalan. I was told early on that a simple rejuvenation tank would not save him. They would have to put him through surgery. Pacing, I knew what I had to do, but I could not bring myself to make the call.
“He must be told, my lady,” Nimbi said softly. “If you do not tell him, and…”
“I know.” I bit my lip. Had that alien been lying? Did she really know my father and his intentions? Why was I to be his heir, and not Polaria? “He will be so angry with me. I cannot bear it.”
“He has no reason to be angry at you, Lady Frost. You had no way of controlling the situation.”
“I should never have let him set foot off the ship. I knew how he would act. I could have prevented this.”
“You could not guessed at the client’s strength, my lady.”
I did not reply. Sighing, I walked down the hall, clicking a button on my scouter. Nimbi sat back down in her chair. I could see the concern in her eyes. Walking around a corner and finding a place where there weren’t any Faereth doctors or hospital employees, I called my father.
He picked up immediately. We only used this channel for emergencies anyways. “What happened?”
“The run was a success, father. I gave her the package,” I said in a muted tone.
“That is good to hear. Why are you calling me?”
“She hit him.”
“Yes. He made a crude remark, and she slapped him. He’s in critical condition, father. I brought him to Faeri, and he’s in surgery right now.”
Silence followed for at least a minute. Heat was in my eyes. I had to bite my lip, had to work my jaw, but still the tears were going to come. I could stave them off for only so long. “Hail, you naive fool!” I held my breath. “How did you let this happen?~”
“He is my son! Damnit, Hail, I trusted you.”
“I’m sorry, father.”
The bitterness in his voice was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. “I am indisposed at the moment, dealing with your sister. Update me if anything changes with Avalan. Do not contact me otherwise. Do you understand?”
He cut the communication. I walked back to Nimbi wishing I had been slapped instead of my brother. Then maybe Daddy wouldn’t be so angry.
She saw my eyes and patted me on the shoulder, mumbling comforts, but I didn’t hear them. Sometimes I wondered why I even went on. I could no longer fight. I had been maimed. My skin was burnt and scarred, and I would forever be ugly. I regretted not breaking that vial in my palm.
Down the far hall, I could see General Sennoni and a younger Faerin also wearing a cape and full armor talking heatedly. Why was the general even here? Was it for security purposes? I suppose now that his people were subservient to my family, he owed us proper respect. Even so, I doubt that these accommodations – a few waiting chairs in a hallways – were what he would have prepared for a senior member of the Faerin Council.
It was not more than a few minutes later that the Faerin who had been talking to Sennoni walked down the hall and approached me. “Lady Frost, is it?” he asked, falling to a knee. I nodded apathetically. “My name is Lychin. I am former governor from Lord Frieza’s territory. Admiral Bael made me an admiral in the Faerin Fleet. I serve your father now.”
“Thank you for your service,” I said despondently.
“I fear things are happening that you do not understand. Recently, there has been a coup in the Great Council of Faeri. Several members were assassinated. They tried to kill me too, but I was able to stave off my attackers.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“The group that is in power now does not love your brother. He once killed a family member of Sennoni, and–”
I looked up sharply. “Oh! Oh, no. They’re going to kill him, aren’t they?”
“My lady, I can take you to him.”
“Let’s go!” I shot up, forgetting my grief. All I felt now was adrenaline. I had to save my brother. It was instinct, not logic. There was no reason for me to want to save him. He was a vile, stupid boy. But he was family, and sometimes, that’s all that matters. “Nimbi, prepare the ship. I want to be able to leave immediately!”
Nimbi nodded and ran off. We made our way down the other hall.
“Where’s Sennoni?” I asked sharply. “I’ll kill himself.”
“My lady, you can’t! Your father would lose the Faerin Fleet if you do that, and besides, we have no actual proof that he’s trying to murder your brother! But I’ve just spoken to him, and from what I gathered from what he told me… it seems more likely than not.”
I didn’t want to disappoint my father again today, so I said, “Alright, fine. We’ll play it safe for now. But if he’s already dead, I will not be leaving the planet without justice.”
“As you say, my lady.”
It was not far to the surgery room. I burst into the outer room, leaving Admiral Lychin behind. There, I saw men all dressed up and working on my brother’s cheek with metal tools. They wore facemasks. Banging my fist on the glass door, I shouted to them, “He better not die, Faereth! He better not! If you do anything to him, I’ll blow up this planet. If he does not survive… the lives of everyone you love, of every single Faereth, will be forfeited. Remember that.”
They all looked up at me in astonishment. “L-lady Frost…? What is the meaning of this?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. If he dies, every one of you is dead. Weigh the choices. If he doesn’t wake up exactly as he was before, I will make sure all of you feel the pain my brother has already endured.”
They exchanged looks. Since they were wearing face masks, I couldn’t tell what they were feeling. Were they abandoning Sennoni’s plan? Were they going ahead with it anyways, assuring their species’ fate? I couldn’t just take Avalan. That much I realized when I burst into the room. He would die on the journey to another planet. His only hope was these Faereth, and I had no idea how loyal they were. I brought Lychin in.
“Where is Sennoni? I want to talk to him.”
“He left, my lady. It’s like as not that he’s on the other side of the planet by now.”
“Doing what, exactly?”
“Parliamentary business,” the Faerin shrugged. “That is not out of the ordinary. I don’t think he’s running from you.”
“I told them I would destroy the planet and wipe out every Faerin in the universe if they killed Avalan.”
“That’s a bold threat, especially considering they should be loyal to you.”
“You’re the one who told me they’re planning something! What am I supposed to do? Look, they’re cutting into him! I can’t just take him. He’ll die on the way home!”
Lychin nodded. “Yes… you’re right. I hope for all of our sakes they don’t follow Sennoni’s orders.”
“There will be blood for this,” I promised him. “Whether my brother lives or dies, the Faereth will suffer for their treachery. They must learn they cannot even think to go against my family.”
“What are you planning?” Lychin asked. I could sense the horror in his voice.
“Nothing,” I replied, biting my lip. Avalan’s blood was running freely ahead of us as the surgeons patched up his wound and closed the tear in his skull. Their deft hands moved with precision and care. They were saving him, even I could tell that. They would not let him die. He would not die. “My father will see to your species’ justice.”
Chapter X: An Empire of Ash
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Nitro's empire|
|Date of account:|| March 17, 766 Age (first, second, and third scenes)|
April 9, 766 Age (fourth scene)
Cracking my neck, I slowed my breathing and motioned him towards me. Commander Tanarilo was like a missile as he came for me. His power level was rising, but it was not yet so high as mine. I parried his incoming kick, sliding around him. The officer swung wildly to stop my next advance, but he wasn’t quick enough. I ducked under his fist and kneed him in the stomach, cracking his armor. Furious, Tanarilo jumped back and blasted me with ki.
A few of the blasts singed my fur. Most didn’t hurt at all. He was weaker than I thought.
I jumped into the air and came crashing down upon my foe. He saw me at the last moment. Letting out a shout of surprise, he tried to create a quick beam of energy to hit me with, but I was too fast. I buried him underneath my boot. The metal floor indented into the ground, and Tanarilo coughed blood upon my toes.
“Are you done?”
“Not even close.”
A brilliant flash of light blinded me. I felt myself being propelled up from the ground, and blinking madly, I tried to find him, but my vision wasn’t coming back so fast. His punch hit me in the back of the head and I was falling. Spinning, I couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was down. I shot ki blasts randomly, but none hit. He was on me again, punching and kicking and beating me savagely. His punches were harder now, far above what I expected of Tanarilo. His power level was 41,000 – nothing compared to mine. I was over 125,000. Yet, when he hit me, it felt like it was he who was at 125,000 and me who was at 41,000. It didn’t make sense, what was going on.
I hit the ground hard, and by now, my vision was coming back to me. Blinking rapidly, I sat up and saw the commander standing across the hall, charging up a huge white-blue ki blast in one hand. He was frowning at me, aiming. I could feel its heat from here.
Breathing hard, I knelt on one knee, trying to regain my breath. My scouter was beeping wildly, telling me that his attack was exceeding 70,000. That couldn’t be. He wasn’t that strong. My scouter must have been malfunctioning. Staring into his eyes, I did not back down. I was this man’s superior, and he knew it. After a few tense moments of standstill, he dissipated his blast, and I got to my feet.
“I thought you were trying to kill me there for a second,” I called out to him in a gruff tone as I limped over to him.
“We were only sparring,” he countered. “You can’t get stronger if you aren’t pushed to your absolute limit, right, sir?”
Toweling off, we made our way to the changing room. “We should have razed the city at least,” Tanarilo complained, walking into a changing area separated from me by a flimsy semi-translucent plastic wall.
“Lord Nitro would have been displeased. It’s his homeworld, after all.”
“They refused to bow to him.”
“They’ll come around. When the boy Kuriza is dead, they will have no choice. That is all that prevents them at this moment.”
“The senators should be hanged for treason. Nitro is their true king.”
“There are lot of kings now,” I reminded him. “All of them have a claim to the throne. You cannot blame the Arcosians for their uncertainty.”
“They voted to leave the Planet Trade Organization altogether. They’re traitors.”
“Perhaps… but once Kuriza is dead, we can revisit that issue. They are no threat to us currently.”
“If they are allowed to get away with their rebellion, what’s to stop others from following suit?”
“Ease your concern, Commander. There is nothing to fear. I have been told Lord Nitro will deal with the situation himself as soon as he can.”
Exasperated, my officer rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that’s always the answer, ain’t it? Soon as he can. He’ll get around to it. Oh he will, will he? I’ve seen this before. Lord Nitro ain’t half as swift as a pregnant space-badger trying to steal a seat in your pod, trust me on that one. Personal experience, with all due respect, sir.”
He came out of his stall, dressed in clean armor. Giving me a strange look, Tanarilo walked off. When I was dressed, I retired to my personal quarters and pulled up my video screen. I knew what I had to do, but it didn’t make me less nervous. Water was dripping from fountains around my stony enclosure. Behind one stone wall, my monster lay sleeping. He liked this place much more than the old room. I had been given a larger ship for my successes. It made hunting more fun, at least.
“My lady,” I murmured, kneeling to the video screen. “I hope I am not disturbing you.”
“What is it now, Po?”
“I have a request, my lady.”
Lady Yuki was peach-skinned and tall. Her face was humanoid, her head covered in hair. She was an Arcosian hybrid, not looking that much like her father. More of her mother, whoever she had been, was present in Yuki’s face. She had an unsettling appearance. “Go on, then.”
“I would like for Lord Nitro to join the fleet.” She gave me an annoyed look. “We cannot press any further ahead without him. If we meet Kuriza, or Icer, or Arcterial in combat… they will destroy my entire fleet. There is nothing else I can do, my lady.”
“Father is busy assaulting the Mrovians.” She was scowling. “He will be tied up for the foreseeable future.”
“Then…” I began, breathlessly. My heart was fluttering. She scared me. “What about you, my lady? I admit I do not know if you are a warrior, but if your power level is comparable to your father’s, we’d desperately need you.”
A smirk formed on her face. “I’ll see what I can do, Admiral. Let me call you back.”
“Of course, my lady.”
The comm was cut. I leaned back in my chair, running my claws through my fur. That went better than expected. What Tanarilo had drained of me, Lady Yuki had restored. I pressed some buttons on my command console, releasing small metal probes from the ceiling. There were five of them. The tiny things buzzed about like puffs of air, moving in random patterns far above the ground. Each one had a camera installed on its face, a black, shining eye that saw everything.
Another button raised a wall. Behind it was a wall of energy, dull yellow and fuzzy. The prisoner was huddled in a corner, his energy bindings burning into his orange-scaled skin. The energy powered down, and then it was just me and him in the stony expanse. Water flowed down the ancient yellow-brown pillars into moats dug in the stony ground. Fountains made pleasant music.
“Get up,” I told him.
Captain Jujure’s torn cheek flapped back and forth as he did. Glaring at me, the man held more anger than fear in his broken body. That was about to change. “What’s going on?”
“You’re free to go,” I told him. “Find your way out of here if you can. I will not stop you.”
“You won’t?” His thick voice was all doubt.
I shrugged. He wished he was strong enough to attack me. My claws flexed. I could only wish.
“You served Kuriza well. Get back to him if you can.” With that, I walked back to the console, pressing another series of buttons before turning the computer off. The computer folded up and sunk into the ground, a black metal cover guarding the hole. As another wall was rising up, I made my exit behind a door that looked merely like another part of the stony wall. But a clever pull of a loose stone gave me my exit. Locking the door behind me, I raised a ki shield around my personal quarters to prevent the captain or my monster from truly escaping.
Perhaps it was wrong to give Jujure hope. I didn’t care. He served a false king. He deserved to die.
Planet Frieza 247 floated before us. “It’s a refueling depot now,” Tanarilo assured me. “It’s their furthest outpost – where Kuriza will launch his attack on Lord Nitro’s empire from. I’m sure of it.”
“It’s not an especially bold guess,” I told him. “Either way, we’re taking it. If we have to destroy it or not does not matter to me. This world matters less to us than it does to them.” If that were actually true, my plan would be suicide.
The empire was growing at an alarming rate. The border between Cooler’s, Frieza’s, and Lord Nitro’s empires was long behind us now. We had taken much of Frieza’s and Cooler’s worlds. To the eastern empire, Icer had made a deal with the Faereth. He was waging war with Kuriza for much of Cooler’s region, although I had heard reports that there were as many planets in rebellion as those following Icer, so you never know.
On the galactic map, Nitro’s empire overwhelmed all others, even Kuriza’s. His empire took up the south of the universe and his borders now extended farther north than ever before. The east was likely Icer’s, though Arcterial and Kuriza held strong holdings in that territory.
The western region was almost entirely Kuriza’s. His father’s former empire was never in question, in terms of loyalty. They were always going to follow Kuriza. Both Icer and Arcterial did have holdings in the west as well. Arcterial had a few good swarms of planets in both the eastern and western portions of the empire, but his troops were scattered, mostly. He wasn’t a threat to us yet. Kuriza was our immediate threat. Once he was dealt with, the remaining planets would rally behind the one true king of the Planet Trade Organization and crush Arcterial (if he yet lived), and finally Icer and the rogue Faereth.
The center of the empire was a forming rift of dead, lifeless worlds. We didn’t know why. We didn’t have good intel on why the empire was losing many of its core worlds. Those worlds were mostly mining planets, and all three of Lord Nitro’s foes had significant holdings in that region, so it surprised me that none of them appeared to be investigating whatever was going on down there.
The far north was the expanding region, where space pirates and unclaimed worlds awaited the eagerest of planet trade operatives. The Galactic Bank was located somewhere up there took. They would be our final foe after reunifying the empire. But worrying about them was a long ways off.
For now, we had this one planet.
“What did she say?” Commander Tanarilo was pacing around me nervously.
“You don’t see any of my other subordinates prying, do you?” I did not try to hide my distaste of how he was acting. I didn’t even know how he knew that I had spoken to Lady Yuki.
“With all due respect sir, I think we deserve to know. It affects all of us.”
If he wasn’t so useful and powerful, I’d have already ripped out his throat. “She hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”
“So that’s it? We’ll assault it as we are?”
“Very well. Do I have the van?”
“No. I’m leading today.”
He was crestfallen, but he hid it well. “Okay, sir. I’ll stay back and–”
I stood from my seat. “No. You’re coming with me.”
“Admiral Po, is that wise?” He did look a little afraid, but not that much. “Sending the two highest-ranking officers to the field of battle is risky. If we die–”
“If we die, then it is already lost. Come, join me. Or don’t, and be branded a coward for the rest of your life.”
It was not hard to guess what his choice would be.
We had waited three days. Kuriza’s had had those three days to prepare his defenses. He had arrived personally two days ago with his flagship, Winter’s Dawn, but somehow, I didn’t think his army would be waiting for us on that planet. But that was part of the plan. There was a risk involved in this move. If things went absolutely cataclysmically wrong, Tanarilo and I would die. The chances of that happening were almost zero. And if things went right, Kuriza would be dead before the day was done. The risk was worth it to me.
I turned my attention to the next pressing matter. “Move the ships close enough to unload their crews in the upper atmosphere. Then pull back and take up a defensive position. Do you understand, Captain?”
A yellow-and-black imp-like alien with huge ears bowed excessively. “I won’t let you down, Admiral! We’ll crush them!”
“That’s the spirit,” I yawned.
In the few minutes I had until the ships arrived at the planet, I returned to my new room, a maze of stone and water and blood. But my monster was a good monster, and he always licked up after himself. He hardly ever made a mess, save for the bones he left behind, like grave markers. From my remote viewing station, I worked the cameras, made sure every angle was positioned properly, and then released three more prisoners from their cages. The monster was let loose one minute later. He moved like a plague, like a burning comet. He was a blurred black cloud, and he tore those traitors to pieces. Two had been loyal to Kuriza; one had served Icer. It gave me comfort to see them appreciated for the meat they truly were.
In high spirits, I cleared my mind and opened my flask. It held four-decades-old Dalon’s Curse, the choicest space rum in the universe. Space pirates and imperial governors alike enjoyed this rarest of drinks, and I had heard that the royal family even used to drink this brand during family get-togethers, but I could neither confirm nor deny that. Its taste was fire in a way, and ice too. Subtle spices and biting sweetness gave it an elegant, universal appeal. Culled from the moon-fields of Dalon IV, the major ingredient in Dalon’s Curse (the Jikaru sugar crystal) was harvested only a single night each year. The total yearly harvest would be enough to satiate about half of my fleet for one night.
This was a rare moment. I did not usually drink – especially not before combat. But this was different. If everything went to plan today, Nitro would be focusing on his uncles by the time he finished the Mrovian Empire off. Not Kuriza. No. We were going to kill him today. This would be my finest hour. Lord Nitro would
I felt alive; energy coursed through me. My body was abuzz with impatience and desire. I wanted to rip a man’s head off. There would be time enough for that. An officer contacted me by scouter to tell me that we had arrived. I finished the flask. It tasted like stardust and flames, and I was ready.
I didn’t want to risk too many soldiers, but I also didn’t want to make my intent obvious to the defenders. So I took about half as many men as I would if one of Kuriza’s fleets wasn’t on the other side of the planet. We knew they were there; they knew we knew that. They were waiting, baiting us. They wanted us to invade the planet. But why? I thought I knew why. It had been like this for three days. Now was my chance to spring the trap and achieve ultimate glory.
The world was foggy and covered in a tropical jungle – at least where we landed. The outpost was not far away.
“What are we doing here?” Tanarilo complained. He was beginning to grind away at my patience. I hadn’t told him my plan, yet I was not regretting that decision. I didn’t completely trust Tanarilo. It was better this way. “If they turned their blasters on the planet,” he gestured to the sky (I did not look up), “we’d be toast! They could kill us right now if they wanted to!”
“How do you know that, sir?”
“Because they desire the ultimate prize, and I am willing to punish their greed.”
“What are you…?”
The wind was rushing through my fur. I reprimanded him over the scouter. “Keep up.”
My soldiers silently obeyed.
We soared through the jungle, dodging vines and branches and exotic, bright-furred animals. Our goal was simple. We were roughly seven hundred strong. The fight wasn’t meant to last very long. Still, I had hoped to bring more men, but in case the worst did happen, I wanted some semblance of a fleet to remain… and have a chance to retreat back to Emperor Nitro’s territory. If that did happen though, perhaps it would not make a difference.
There were very few power level readings on the planet. They had evacuated it after we had entered the star system, it appeared. All that remained was the skeleton crew required to keep the outpost in maintenance. These were low-level soldiers, smart, but not very powerful. In a way I pitied them. They had been sent down here to die. Both sides knew that. Hell, the workers themselves might’ve known. They were brave men.
Brave men die like all the rest.
There was barely any smoke rising from the outpost when it was over. We silenced Kuriza’s thralls with nimble finger beams. They didn’t put up much of a fight. There had been eighteen of them. The minimum active worker number was twenty-four, posted on a sign above the door we broke through to reach them. Had they already given up on the planet? Now I was becoming nervous. Were these soldiers just bait, not actually meant to keep the outpost up and running?
My claw found my scouter. I didn’t have time to run out of the outpost, out of earshot of my men. I had to know now. “I need you here,” I whispered into the device. “I’m not certain this isn’t a trap.”
There was a pause. I heard someone take a few deep breaths. “I’m ready. One minute and I’ll be there.”
“Who was that, sir?” one of the soldiers asked. I blew the upper part of his head off with a purple fist of ki.
Tanarilo kept his eyes on me, but he didn’t say a word.
“Everyone, take defensive positions. Do not power down. Do you understand me?”
“Yes sir!” they roared in unison.
The nearest terminal’s monitor was blood-splattered. But the next-closest one was so far away. It’d be at least a few seconds’ walk. Blood stains were fine with me. I flicked the terminal on and addressed the fleet. “Hello, followers of Kuriza. The boy emperor is really quite something, isn’t he? Well, I’ll not keep you too long. All I want to tell you is this: Nitro is the emperor now, and this planet is his. Every planet, every soldier, every ship, every scouter belongs to him. Kneel or embrace death. There is no alternative.”
I cut the comm, yawning again. I was feeling good, very good. A little tired, maybe, but that wasn’t important. Dalon’s Curse had made me savage and I liked the new me a lot.
The monitor rang – an incoming transmission from Kuriza’s flagship, Winter’s Dawn. I let it ring a few times before answering. It’s a tactic I learned out here in the badlands of space.
“Greetings. My name is Admiral Po. How can I be of assistance to you on this fine day?”
“You’re on the planet, Po?”
I recognized the voice. “I am. And it’s good to hear your voice, Commander Boisenberry. I’ve missed you.”
“Very funny, rodent. Listen to me good now. We got our soldiers off that rock as soon as our long-range scouters picked up your fleet. I don’t know why you took three days to attack, but you allowed us to rally our soldiers and fleets and congregate here. We have the planet surrounded. We outnumber your fleet by an embarrassing margin. You will give up, or you will perish.”
“I will not give up,” I replied, my teeth bared. I couldn’t see if they had video enabled – I didn’t. I hoped they did. I wanted to put on a bit of a show for them. “How about this: if you do not surrender within ninety seconds, I will destroy your fleet and murder your king, and take back the Planet Trade Organization for its rightful ruler.”
“Where is Nitro? Is he there?” Boisenberry was pleased with himself. “Why’s he hiding from us? What’s he got to fear in a boy?”
“Lord Nitro rules a massive empire,” I reminded them. “He has many matters to attend to, and he cannot be in two places at once. Regrettably, a prior engagement has prevented him from being here.”
“How did you know?” Boisenberry asked suddenly. “How did you know that we were preparing our fleet here?”
“It’s your furthest outpost,” I grinned, eyeing Tanarilo, who looked utterly bewildered at what was happening. “We were coming to clean it up anyways.”
“Pity. Now this place will be your grave. As I already stated, Lord Kuriza’s fleet has the planet surrounded. And we don’t actually need this planet anymore. You destroyed the outpost. We’ll have to take another one back and make that our new staging area.”
“You will not do that,” I told him in a commanding voice. The soldiers looked left. A door creaked open. A few gasped. I didn’t waver my gaze. I had to sell this. I had to buy a few more seconds. “Your young Lord Kuriza is a venerable child. He’s not very strong, the poor lad, but he tried hard.”
“How dare you insult Lord Kuriza like that?!”
Heat was building in my chest. She sat down next to me. I made sure she remained out of view for now.
“By the will of Lord Nitro, I do.” I was feeling a little drunk now. They were looking at me strangely. I didn’t care at all. “Kuriza is a pretender to the throne, a rock-headed child who knows less about intergalactic politics than the Brench know about space dingos. The thing I detest most is that he is a coward. Kuriza is there. I know he is. He can hear me. Well listen good, kid: I name you Kuriza Cravenheart for not coming down to face me yourself.”
I suppose it was a bit odd to insult his courage out of nowhere like that. But I was drunk, and they were angry, and emotion glosses over logic every time. I flicked the switch that broadcasted my previous message to Kuriza’s fleet. Once again, his soldiers could hear me.
“My cousin always was a coward,” Yuki said arrogantly, leaning in. She made sure to get her face in front of the monitor, in case Kuriza was watching the video feed of our side of this conversation. “I’m not surprised he won’t face me. Who would follow a king who’s too scared to fight a pathetic girl? I know I wouldn’t.”
I cut the communication and stood. “Thank you for coming, Lady Yuki.”
She stood with me. The glee and rambunctious attitude she had shown to her cousin was now gone. Coldly, she stared about at my gang. “Clear the room immediately.” We all went to leave when she stopped me. “Admiral, stay. You and I need to talk.”
Tanarilo’s eyes were narrowed as he passed me by, but he didn’t say a word. When they were gone, Yuki let out a sigh.
“My lady, what is it?”
“You were right. He will come. I know Kuriza. What we just did to his pride has never been done before. There is no one on his ship who can quench his fury. It’s a smart play.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
“I’m not done,” she continued sharply. “I’m staying. If we kill Kuriza or not, the fleet is now mine. You will command it as you always have, but you will answer to me. Do you understand, Admiral?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
“Father and I discussed this. You were right about this too. The fleet needs protection from my family and perhaps the Galactic Bank. This campaign will not be over until at least one of my relatives is dead. I have made that choice. You will support me, or I will replace you with someone who will. There will be no insubordination. I know you are disappointed that I’m taking command of your fleet. I know you like your sleek new ship. I know you like being in control, Po. But the reunification cannot wait. We must bring the Planet Trade Organization back together. The fractured pieces of our empire are suffering, bleeding, burning to dust, and Father will not have that. This is his kingdom. This is his right. He will accept it. If you support me, you will be rewarded with riches beyond your imagination once this is all over.”
“Considering an early grave’s my only other option, I’m pretty comfortable in saying I’m your man, Lady Yuki.” I knelt, placing my arm across my chest solemnly. She helped me rise.
“A wise choice, Admiral. There is one other thing I need to tell you before we do this.”
“Yes, my lady?”
“If you tell anyone – a single soul in the universe – what I’m about to tell you, I will kill you. And it will not be a quick and painless death, I assure you, Admiral. Have you heard what Arcterial did to Torlini?” I nodded sheepishly. “Then you haven’t even begun to imagine what I will do to you if you let this slip.”
“I u-understand, my lady.” The room was spinning a little. I was finding this rather humorous.
Her arms were folded. “I am stronger than my father. I am stronger than Frieza. I have measured my power level. I’ve checked it more times than I can remember. I am the superior warrior.” Adamantly, her voice rose hoarsely above a whisper. “I am stronger than any of them. That’s why I am out here. I’m going to kill my cousin. Then I’m going to kill both of my traitorous grand uncles and all of their spawn. I’ll kill them all myself if I have to. They mean nothing to me anymore. No one should scare us anymore – not as they are. I can destroy them, and I will. That is why I plan to move swiftly and without mercy. Keep this in mind as we continue our campaign past today, Admiral.”
“I-I will, Lady Yuki.”
She cracked her neck. “Follow me, Po. I’d like you to watch as I end my uncle’s bloodline.”
The falling star bled with a crimson furor.
“Get your men out of here,” she spoke. “Why did you even bring so many here?”
“I wanted to Kuriza to think I was invading the planet so he’d come alone.”
She had nothing to say to that. It was raining lightly. From the jungle, which was creeping towards the edge of the outpost, a dire howl rang. Some beast squeaked, and another sang, and something surely birdlike let out a long wail. The star grew larger; his soldiers flew away in the opposite direction, up towards the sludge-colored skies.
Kuriza landed with a hard thud across the open grounds from his cousin. They were standing just outside the main outpost building, where I had taunted his fleet. The path had turned sodden and mushy, and the air itself reeked with humidity. I crouched behind one of the pillars holding up the building. Didn’t want him seeing me. He’d want to kill me, and there’s not much Yuki could’ve done to stop him if he tried.
I was here by orders only.
“Cousin,” he sneered back. His dainty little cape fluttered with the breeze. He was wearing gold, crimson, and white armor as well, form-fitted to his body and without the shoulder pauldrons. The Arcosian boy was in his species’ fourth form. I assumed Yuki was as well. It can be hard to tell with hybrids.
There was no crown upon his head. He wore his regal black-red cape well. His armor was polished to perfection. But Kuriza was a boy – I could see it in his face. Yuki acted older. I didn’t know if she actually was. She was more than twice his height. He was a runt; she was the alpha male about to stamp out a laughable attempt at usurpation.
“I am the King of the Planet Trade Organization,” Kuriza told Yuki. The boy had a look on his face that reminded me of the first time I drank fire rum. “Kneel before me.”
“It is funny that you claim to be our emperor,” Yuki retorted. “Your father was no king.”
“Neither was yours.”
“I’m not claiming the throne. My father is. He’s the only surviving heir of the last King of the Planet Trade Organization. That makes him the rightful king.”
Kuriza grit his teeth. His aura flared bright red around his regal, slender frame. The rain picked up a bit. Water droplets bounced off the boy’s armor with dull ding-ping sounds.
“Genetics don’t lie, I’m afraid.”
Kuriza was a pale boy. It made the red patches on his body (particularly the one on his head) more noticeable. “After my grandfather was killed on Earth, Uncle Cooler became the new emperor. After he died, I became the heir, since his twin babies were murdered by the Faereth. The throne goes through Uncle Cooler’s bloodline, then my father’s, then your father’s. Uncle Cooler’s bloodline is extinguished. And I’m the only one left from my father’s line. That makes me the king. You will kneel, or you will pay the traitor’s price.”
“The only traitor here is you. There was never a formal proceeding to have Cooler named the new king. He took the title, but Father and others protested, and there was never an official ruling on that issue before he died. Because of that, my father is the one true king.”
The boy shook his head and let out a long, frustrated sigh. He disappeared, and she disappeared, and there were explosions in the sky. They were too fast for me. Every punch seemed to shatter windows and shake the ground. The air howled and spun. The sky lit up and ki blasts rained down everywhere. I ducked for cover as the pillar I had been hiding behind was incinerated. I couldn’t tell who was winning, whose attack was whose… this was mental. I had to leave.
I took to the air when I found them. They were panting, hovering apart from one another over a mass of sickly clouds. Kuriza tore his cape from his shoulders and threw it aside.
“I’ve had about enough of you!” He fired a pink death beam.
It missed. All she had to do was lean her head to the right a bit. She fired one blast at him. He teleported left. She threw another. He teleported farther to the left. She threw a third one and he teleported up to her face and did a spinning bicycle kick of such elegance and daring that it took my breath away. Yuki went flying into the mud.
“I was hiding my power level from you!” he shouted at her. “I was only pretending to be as strong as I was before. But I’m not. I’ve been training,” he said like an innocent schoolboy.
Swiftly, Kuriza lowered into a new form and flexed his muscles. His aura enveloped him, and my scouter shattered. The numbers were going off the charts. Yuki’s scouter, which was pink and now covered in mud, shattered too. The boy powered up for a few moments until his muscles became more obvious and his spirit meaner. He hovered in the air, electric sparks dancing around his body. He looked utterly insane, like he wanted to rip out Yuki’s throat with his bare teeth. His eyes seemed to burn like hot coals.
“What are you-” began Yuki, but the boy dashed down to her with sudden speed, that she had not time enough to dodge, let alone finish her sentence before he smashed her into a building. The explosion that followed leveled much of the outpost, and when the dust cleared, Yuki was fighting the boy in hand-to-hand combat, and she was clearly losing. He was dodging her attacks rather effortlessly and slapping her with his tail at his leisure. When she tried to kick his face, he leapt aside, punched her deep in the gut, enough to send her flying away, and teleported in front of her oncoming body with his back to her, hitting her with the back of his fist.
It was all so casual and elegant and tasteful that I knew he far outclassed her.
We had to leave if we wanted to survive. Once it had been Kuriza’s fleet’s time to run. Now it was ours. But they had run from me. They had run all the way back to their baby king. Who could I run back to? If Kuriza was stronger than Yuki, who claimed to be stronger than her father, who could stop him? Maybe together they could. That was our only hope. But if the boy killed Yuki before we could get away…
They exchanged fists. The shock wave that followed decimated the remaining buildings. They kicked and screamed and bled. They were moving fast again in the sky, like warriors of light, only stopping every few seconds to clash for an ear-splitting invisible explosion overhead.
If I could just find an opening, maybe I could work some magic. “Tanarilo, move the fleet to the edge of the solar system!” I barked over the scouter. “We’ll be there shortly.”
“At once, Admiral,” the man replied dryly.
Kuriza wasn’t wearing his scouter anymore once the two slowed down. They were fighting fiercely still, but they were slow enough now that I could see them. Yuki was bleeding and battered. The boy looked to be mostly untouched, though there was a line of dark purple blood leaking from the corner of his mouth.
Lady Yuki spun about in the frigid, cloudy air and slapped at Kuriza with her tail. He blocked with both arms in an ‘X’ position. Kuriza flew left, bouncing out of the way of an oncoming punch. Throwing his left fist forward, he connected with Yuki’s nose, and I could see the blood spraying from where I was.
I had to put a stop to this. Closing in, I readied one of my ki blasts that I hadn’t used in a long, long time.
He punched her; she slouched forward, her guard broken; he kicked her up the nose; she screamed and nearly fell. Flying back a bit, she shot some ki blasts at Kuriza, but the boy who radiated light didn’t even need to bat them aside for them to be deflected from his body. He air-lunged at her, catching her in the abdomen and causing her to spit up blood. Yuki slapped the boy across the face and got in a few good punches before he subdued her again, beating on her mercilessly.
His armor was yet to be cracked. It looked as polished and undamaged as a king’s ceremonial set.
“Hey, Kuriza, look at me!” Clutched in his hand was a blood-red energy beam, which he had been aiming at the battered half-Arcosian. When he was slow to react, I shouted again, “I’m talking to you, Cravenheart!”
“Imbecile!” the child whined, shooting his attack in my direction. His aim was nonexistent, his hope wild, and the beam was easy to dodge. Yuki was clutching her wounds and gasping. I hoped she was not too damaged.
“I’m not done yet. Here’s a little present for you, m’lord!”
The ki ball was pink, tiny enough to be missed, fast as my monster. It took Kuriza in the face, exploding just under his nose. I cursed myself silently for not having better aim.
He screamed and dropped from the sky. I rushed to Lady Yuki. “My lady, we have to go. There’s not much time. He’ll kill us both if we don’t leave now.”
“You got enough air for the ride?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about that.”
I was lucky to be wearing a spacesuit. Not knowing if Kuriza would leave a garrison on the planet forced me to leave our ships in the upper atmosphere, so we wore spacesuits upon entry. That was about to come in really handy. The woman grabbed my wrist, took a few breaths, grunted, raised her power to maximum, and then we were soaring – through clouds and past clouds, and I could feel their wetness and lonesome coldness through my suit.
I hadn’t managed to hit Kuriza’s eye. If I had, there would’ve been nothing to worry about. We might’ve been able to stay and kill him. But now, there was no chance. The blast damaged his eyesight temporarily, even though it didn’t hit him properly. He would be noticing an almost all-encompassing blur of blackish-pink covering over his eyesight right about now, but that would fade after a few minutes. That’s all the time we had to escape.
My body was wrapped around hers. Ki ensnared us both. I could feel her heartbeat, erratic and gaining speed. We had left the planet and were cruising through space. My suit was designed to suppress the bitter cold of the vacuum, but it could only do so much. I shivered up against her.
“Easy, Po. Don’t go dying on me now.”
I wasn’t about to, and neither was she.
The black was calling, and behind us, no bleeding star was following.
I loved my ship. It had its very own sauna, buried in a hidden room inside my chambers. Few knew about it. Tanarilo was one of them, alas.
We sat and soaked and I tried to re-raise my core temperature from the space trip with Lady Yuki.
“She’s in charge now, is she?”
“Why didn’t you tell me that she was coming, sir? I thought you were leading us to our deaths.”
“I didn’t want to risk anyone overhearing. The trap I was trying to pull was too risky.” That, and I wanted to test their loyalty. I still wasn’t sure about Tanarilo, though the others had convinced me of their loyalty. There was just something off about my commander, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“With all due respect sir, that’s not okay.”
I leaned back and closed my eyes, reveling in the suffocating heat. “Take it up with my superior.”
He didn’t respond for a while. And when he did, I had almost fallen asleep. I was glad that he had woken me from my dozing. I didn’t want to fall asleep alone in a room with that guy. Nothing would unsettle me more. “What do we do now, sir? If she can’t beat Kuriza, do we turn back?”
His eyes bulged. “Seriously?!”
“We are going to help Lord Nitro crush the Mrovians. Once those pesky fools are dealt with, Lord Nitro and Lady Yuki will combine their powers to eradicate the little pest.”
“I see,” he said gloomily. “Things’d be a lot different if she’d been stronger than Kuriza.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, closing my eyes again. “If he were dead, perhaps the Planet Trade Organization might yet survive.”
Chapter XI: Solar Scars
|Position:||Captain in Kuriza's empire|
|Date of account:|| May 27, 766 Age (first scene)|
June 6, 766 Age (second and third scenes)
I was stationed on the orbital communications platform above Planet Frieza 053 when Boisenberry sent me that message.
The Nikkarin War had left me permanently handicapped – wounds to my face, eyes, and shoulder prevented me from ever fighting on the front lines again. I had a desk job, a quiet life, and not too many worries. I was a station officer. My job wasn’t that hard. I monitored the long-range orbital scouters on the eastern front. I made sure nothing got past us. No fleet could invade Lord Kuriza’s empire without us knowing about it.
As of yet, Arcterial and Icer were holding back, watching, not participating. Maybe they’d destroy each other before they could turn their attention towards us. I hoped as much. A war against one or both of them would most certainly mean I’d be back on the front lines, and I wouldn’t last long out there – not as I was. The thought was terror in my throat, enough to make me want to run.
Another resonance was detected – the fifth this week. This one was larger – albeit farther away – than the last. I called up Captain Orlan at once. “What is it, soldier?” His voice was dry and lethargic.
“Sir, there’s been another one.”
“No, not quite, sir. It’s deeper inside Arcterial’s territory this time, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact location.”
“I see. Monitor any further readings, but say nothing to anyone else about this.”
“Yes sir.” I swallowed. “Pardon me, sir… but just between you and me, wha–”
“I have other matters to attend to, Feijon. Don’t contact me again unless it’s urgent.”
The window found my gaze, and beyond, stars hung in the deep like buzzing, anxious eyes. Those resonances weren’t power readings. They were detonations, or maybe deep-galactic activity of some sort we didn’t understand. Every now and then the long-range scouters would catch a super spike. The readings were always off the charts – far above what the machines could read without overloading – so the long-range scouters would shut themselves down immediately upon detection. We had records of the spikes, but not how high they were. All I knew was that there were some powerful people out there – probably Arcterial and Icer, but some of the readings came from further out, beyond their territories. Those weren’t my concern either. Orlan had his hands full with the war against Nitro. He and the others couldn’t be bothered to look at what I’d found.
The heat signatures accompanying the resonances indicated explosions. He promised he was looking into it.
I didn’t even bring up the other thing. We were losing all communications with the inner mining outposts. Those had mostly belonged to Icer and Arcterial, though Frieza and Cooler had both had planets in the mining regions as well. Most of them had gone dark with reports of hungry black demons and roaming shadows descending upon the worlds suddenly and completely and wiping out anything that lived.
I didn’t entirely believe it. But the worlds were being attacked by something. Perhaps it was due to malfunctioning comm equipment. Or maybe space pirates. Either way, the collective power signatures of entire outposts were going dark, and that could only mean one thing.
There was one planet however that I knew the fate of – Planet Cooler 019. Doctor Boson had created a mutant strain of blue Saibamen that had killed him and had taken over the outpost on the planet. Cooler had sent a kill team to take out the remaining Saibamen, but they had been slaughtered by the beasts. After the third team was murdered, Cooler ordered the planet destroyed.
Someone had been meant to destroy it, but in the years since that order had been proclaimed, no one had done it. I had known the whole time, continuing to monitor the planet with Sensor #4 until it was finally destroyed.
It turned out, judging from the energy readings of the planet’s explosion, that the blast had originated on the surface – perhaps an accident, or perhaps not. Regardless, whoever destroyed the world died with it, and as far as I could tell, there were no longer any reports about blue Saibamen on the galactic chatter.
“Hey Feijy, whaddya say we take off early and have a taste of this Il N’ghic Aulmer I won in a space poker tourney, hey? I’ve heard one shot of it’s worth a month’s salary!” That was Gerki. He was the only other man here. Well, him and the space-badgers hiding in the walls. Gerki was a wide, grey-skinned man with flabby skin and a lumpy gait. His eyes were three sunken craters on his bulbous face. “C’mon, man. I can hear ‘em gnawin’ away in there. It’s driving me crazy! They’re crawlin’ in the walls!”
“Space-badgers scaring you again, Gerki?”
His teeth shone like wet black stones. “They’re chewin’ on power cables. Just last week I spent five hours changing parts on Sensor #2. There was space-badger shit everywhere. I know it was ‘em. They’re here. They’re waitin’ until we let our guard down, then they’ll pounce.”
“Why, so they can take over our boring jobs?”
“Heh. I didn’t say they were smart. They’re vermin.”
“Where did you get that Aulmer from?”
Gerki slouched, his weight shifting dramatically. Grinning, he massaged several of his chins and said, “I know a guy who knows a guy. Got me in on this real good table, yeah? It was in the back room, behind closed doors. Super high rollers, y’know?”
“I got it at the Singularity, man. You shoulda been there, it was a crazy time.”
“Isn’t that the one that’s outside of imperial space?”
“It’s run by space pirates, I thought.”
“Yeah, yeah. They’re the ones I played, heh. The uh… Mycho-Lian Clan, I think. Them or the Mharo-Mharo Guild. I always get those two confused. Heh. They gotta lotta money, but not enough brains. I’m too quick for ‘em, ya see?!” He quick-drew his hand and fired a tiny ki blast at a buzzing hilploru-looking insect. “Smoked ‘em clean, heh. This was my big prize.” He held up the bottle of crimson-sparkling liquid in triumph. The bottle was spotless, elegantly-carved, and coated in small, multicolored jewels around the label and tip. The cork and bottle-cap were painted with white gold. Printed on the bottom was the year – Age 517. It was more than two hundred and fifty years old.
“This is worth a fortune,” I told him. “We shouldn’t drink it. We should sell it, and get out of this dump.” I could see the empire imploding in on itself, the threats lurking in the shadows, the cutthroat demigods lording over each region ready to pounce on one another and force oblivion. I didn’t want to die for Orlan. I didn’t want die for any of those bastards. Gerki was alright, I supposed. If I could convince him to sell this bottle, well, maybe we could get out of here before the hammer dropped.
“And go where?” he asked. His eyes were narrowed, bright, but focused and not willing to back down. “To the space pirates? To Nitro? Really? Where’re we going, Feijon?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t want to be stuck here my whole life doing nothing. I want to be free. I want to be out there. And I’m not getting any younger, man.”
“You’re lucky you’re being taken care of. You go out on your own, everyone’ll wanna kill ya. You won’t make it far, even if this bottle sold for a solar system.”
“You think it would fetch that much?” It was half-jest, half-hope.
“Yeah, probably not. But it might be able to fetch a small planet now that I think about it. When I was leaving the Singularity, there was this guy shaped like a space pear, blur-skin and bald head, followin’ me, yeah?”
“Yeah.” I glanced down and noticed my screen was blinking blue in the upper right-hand corner, indicating an incoming message from command – Orlan, most likely. “Keep going.”
“And he flew over to me cause he also had these little insect wings. He was all, ‘You-a sellin’-a me that bottle, eh yeah?’. Heh. I told him probably not, but he wouldn’t stop badgering me, yeah? But then he was all, ‘Here’s-a the deal, yeah? I’m-a sellin’-a you my asteroid farm-a, and-a you-a gonna a givin me that bottle, yeah?’ I couldn’t believe him. I told him no, but I seriously considered it!”
“Why?” My eyes were on the screen again, and I opened the message. It read of an unknown power source stemming from an asteroid field…
“…and he’s not budgin’, right? So I give him the ol’–”
“Gerki.” I stood, walking over to his monitor. “Did you actually fix the Sensor #2?”
“I just got a message from command. They’re telling me there’s an unknown power source coming from a nearby asteroid field. Apparently some miners stumbled upon something buried deep beneath the rocks.”
“That’s… strange.” Gerki set his bottle down on his console, far from the edge. “Why haven’t we picked it up yet?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m asking you. Command wants to know what our readings suggest the nature of this energy source may be. If we don’t have readings…”
“Why wouldn’t we have readings, Feijy?” Gerki’s chins wobbled back and forth. He was so willfully oblivious.
“Because Sensor #2 is broken. It is the one trained on that region of deep space.”
Doubt flickered in his wet eyes. “A-are you sure?”
“Yeah. What do we do?”
“Alright, listen. Tell ‘em we’re gettin’ inconclusive readings. You gotta go down there yourself to check it out.”
“Me? Why me? You’re the one who didn’t fix Sensor #2!”
“I most certainly did! Must’ve been the space-badgers again! Let’s go check the wiring.”
My fingers found the bridge of my nose. “No.”
“Aw, c’mon man. If you do it, you can have a shot of Aulmer.”
I nearly laughed. “Yeah right.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Anyways, best get goin’, man. Come back soon!”
“Are you serious right now? Do you have any idea how much paperwork I’m going to have to–”
“Later, man. Come back soon.” He began to whistle.
I looked down at the monitor. It flickered with pale, artificial light, calling to me like a demon from the depths of my dreams. This one was coming from Commander Boisenberry. This was just a big inconvenience is all. I didn’t suspect at the time that my journey would lead me into immense danger. Gerki was just pulling one over on a friend (and he had the seniority to make it official if he needed to). He could not have known. I could not have known.
Very well, Commander, I wrote in my response, I will be there shortly. Let Captain Ajira know I’m coming.
Most of it was colorless as steam, but there was a hint of indigo in several strands of rising vapor. One of the mining teams was on break, lounging inside the tiny outpost. Most were sipping alcoholic beverages, probably imported from Atjoh. A few puffed Nil in a corner.
My table was facing a wide looking window, providing a stark view of the desolate craters and expanding, rocky plains. All of it was bathed in the light of rising vapor. It wasn’t water – I knew that much. It was heat, perhaps, or raw energy. The other team was mining at this very moment, trying to reach the source of the steam. The asteroid was meant to supply the empire only with metal – iron, or nickel – not this.
I sipped my herbal juice blend, and gazed off at the black.
Something flashed on the video screen behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed how it drew their attention. In hushed gasps, they watched the lights flicker blue and white and vanish. And when they did, several of the miners raised their drinks, perhaps in a toast. They looked mighty cheerful to me.
But this was not what I focused on. I needed to get out of here. The universe was at war, rival members of a family I didn’t care about jostling and fighting one another, killing billions, destroying everything in their wakes. I was done. I wanted to be done. This little trip was only to humor Gerki. Then me and him would get out of this mess by using that bottle of Aulmer as our ticket to freedom
I wondered what would happen if I left – if I just got up, calmly walked to my pod, and shot into the sky. Would Gerki find out before I could get back? My eyes betrayed my desire, but no one would be able to tell. I wanted out. I hated all of them, Gerki especially. He liked to rub space butter on his eyebrows and sing space karaoke. I craved a life of leisure and pleasure and doing I wanted to do. I wanted my own planet, my own slaves, my own wives, and nobody I didn’t want would be allowed there. That would be nice.
“Lord Kuriza recaptured Planet Frieza 219 just a few moments ago,” a plain-faced alien was saying. “He’s pushin’ that bitch all the way back to her daddy, ha!”
“Careful,” his companion, a stony-faced fish-man, growled. “Though they are traitors, they are still Lord Kuriza’s family.”
The other one wasn’t listening. He downed a second drink and roared, his six pairs of gills flaring with pink-and-blue splendor. “That’s it, ain’t it? That decided who wins and who loses. He fought her, and he won. Fair and square. Kuriza’s the emperor now. Gotta be, right?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Yeah, maybe, but, things’re lookin’ up, right?”
The rising vapor was growing by the minute. It was almost like a pillar of flame-smoke, but that couldn’t be. Whatever was radiating that power, it registered on the scouters – upwards of thirty-five thousand. A few spikes had even overloaded some of the older models. This asteroid could harbor the mother lode of energy reserves, the likes of which had never been seen before… or…
“C’mon, push ‘em, push ‘em, push ‘em back!” a miner was shouting. Others were too. The video screen was on again. A high-ranking officer with a flat, dark blue face and whitening hair grumbled about Lord Kuriza’s exploits and how Yuki’s advance fleet was finally being pushed back behind the boundaries of her father’s old territory.
I didn’t care. I didn’t care who won or lost. I didn’t care if this was to be remembered as the greatest moment in history. I was numb and ready to go.
The light was brightening in the sky. The energy fluttered upwards like a reverse waterfall, draping the sky with pale indigo droplets. The stars blinked and held steady.
I was up. “Hey man, you ready to pound that stone?”
Lieutenant Si Gul, the long-faced, sharp-nosed, blue-eyed, lavender-skinned slimeball, was eyeing me. That was all to say that I hated him. He was the worst person on this rock, and not even Gerki had forewarned me that he would be here. I hadn’t seen him since the academy. I couldn’t believe he was alive, let alone still a Lieutenant. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
He gave me a harsh look. “Nice seein’ ya here. So, do you get down in the dirt with the rest of them and mine all our ore, Gully?”
“Quiet, you… y-you… you hideous monster! I’ll not be mocked by a grotesque meatbag such as yourself! I’ll kill you myself. I’ll do it, you bastard! I’ll do it!” He hissed and lurched and blue energy pooled beneath his palms like sinking stars.
I ground my teeth. His retort was expected, albeit harsh. But I suppose Si Gul had always had a flair for the dramatic. It wouldn’t be so hard to move now, to make a run for it. No one would know what I was doing. They wouldn’t be able to stop me anyways. I outranked everyone on this outpost anyways. “Shut up. I’ve had about enough of you.”
“That’s all you have to say to me, is it, coward?” Si Gul was more than a little surprised.
The light had brightened, illuminating the entire sky around us. They froze with me, for a different reason. Every scouter whined as a spike was picked up on the short-range sensors. They murmured like rustling leaves for half a breath before every device exploded.
“That’s just fucking great.”
“Comms up?!” someone shouted over the rising smoke. Every room was becoming impossible to breath in. People were coughing and rolling and putting on their suits to run outside.
“Ah, shit! Comms’re down! We’re marooned!”
“No, we are not!” I shouted angrily, stepping forward, clearing the smoke from my body in one swipe. “We all have space pods, and if we have to leave, we will. But–”
“What’s that thing in the ground, eh?!” one soldier squeaked.
Others murmured in agreement.
“What if it’s a big scary space monster?!” some snake-looking dude on space cocaine rasped.
“Oh yeah, how’dya know?!”
“I’ve been sent here to investigate,” I told them. “Some of you already know that, but for those of you who don’t, I’m Captain Feijon from Deep Rig 7. I’m just going to do a quick scan, and–”
“Didn’t your equipment fry in that last surge along with everything else?”
I glanced at my bag. Even now, smoke was rising from the small opening at the top. “Fine,” I sighed. “Why don’t you guys just take me out there and show me what’s going on?”
It was nothing. Surges like that happen all the time. We’ve never once had a class-one warrior be the culprit behind these phantom power surges. Not once. There aren’t any. Kuriza is the strongest being in the universe, bar none. His family aren’t far behind, but they are not his equal. There was nothing to fear, I knew. I knew it. Gerki was probably sipping his Aulmer back home. Or maybe he was hunting the phantom space-badgers in the walls.
It gave me pause in the deep of my throat. Whatever was in the heart of this space rock was either immensely powerful, or immensely valuable.
It was cold, even in the suits. This asteroid had a bare atmosphere, tolerable for only a few minutes by even the stoutest of warriors. Its gravity was almost nil. This was more like a small moon than an asteroid. Smoke seeped up from the outpost, though it was now at least possible to remain inside.
The light was leaking up through cracks – deep fissures in the rock. A few soldiers had apparently shot finger beams down at whatever was down there, hoping to find it faster. But after the steam had started to rise, and had vaporized one soldier on contact and burned away another man’s arm, Ajira had asked command for advice.
She was horrid to look upon, like a tar-dripping demon with the hate of a thousand suns gripping her body. Her eyes were ocular inventions of one of Lord Frieza’s old minions, Gichamu. That’s all I knew. She never told anyone how she lost them, nor would she. I was told later that once, a man had stared too long into her eyes and she had speared him through the throat with her fist. We didn’t stare, but her pupils were a sort of white-pink color, glaring and bright as miniature stars, and the intensity was enough to make me want to pull off my air tank and wait for the nothingness to choke me away.
It was different being out here on the frontier – liberating, in a way. I could taste the freedom I so desired. But this thing in the ground scared me, and I wasn’t going to leave without knowing what it was. I could feel the heat of the rising vapor. It felt like energy, like a furnace. Whatever it was, its power was undeniable. Our scouters and sensors and comms were dead. We had nothing. We had two options.
“I will return to base to retrieve my partner’s sensors. Then I’ll be back.”
“How long will that take?” Ajira asked. Her arms were folded, and she wasn’t looking at me, instead staring at the rising energy, so torrid and robust, it shook the air. I had never seen anything like this before.
“Not long enough,” someone responded. They sounded like a child.
Everyone’s heads turned at once. There, beyond a rocky ridge to the left of the bleeding energy sore, stood a boy indeed. His hair was messy, spiky, and black as pitch. His brown-furred tail swung anxiously in the low gravity. He wore a set of onyx-and-emerald armor with a black jumpsuit. No helmet. No air tank. His armor was of the Planet Trade Organization – Cooler’s single shoulder pauldron model.
“How did you get here, Saiyan?!” Ajira hissed, flying forward to face this sudden new threat.
“I sensed a huge power level and wanted to check it out,” the boy said nonchalantly. “By the way, do any of you guys know where Earth is?”
“How are you alive?” Her question was more pointed now. Her voice dripped with acidity. “Frieza wiped out all the monkeys long ago.”
The grin was instantaneous upon his face. “Looks like he missed a couple.” The boy made an obscene gesture at the installation captain.
“Insolent savage!” Ajira rose into the air, directing her miners behind her. “Form up, soldiers! We’re not letting the monkey get away!”
“No you aren’t,” the boy replied sarcastically, clapping politely. “Buuuuut, you do know that I came here to fight the big power level, right? I’m not here to fight you guys.”
“Who’s that?” The Saiyan nodded to the rising vapor. “Wh-what…? Who’s down there?” she asked the boy. Her low growl was peppered with suspicion.
“I dunno, but I wanna find out! Now, if you don’t mind, you guys are kinda in the way.”
“Kill him!” one miner grunted, thrusting his blaster into the boy’s face and firing wildly. Others joined in. Most could not create energy. I wondered why Ajira had been stuck with such a lot of losers.
All the energy coalesced around where the boy was standing, forming a dust cloud that flashed with the light of three dozen different ki blasts. I wasn’t fooled. No boy would be stupid enough to go out like that, especially one with a mouth like his. And so it happened like I expected. As Ajira was preparing a fistful of pink ki, the boy materialized out of thin air in front of her.
A sudden explosion out of nowhere vaporized all of her miners. The ground shook, and I was on it, rolling around like the pathetic cripple I was. One of my knees had shattered when the explosion had impacted the ground. I groaned and held my knee where the wound was seeping blood into my jumpsuit.
The boy kicked the ki from Ajira’s fist, punched her in the gut, sending her flying down towards me, and landed on a sharp spire of rock poking upwards from the asteroid’s skin.
Pebbles and rocks drifted upwards in spiraling trails. They only went so far before disappearing in the black. “Y-you… dirty little monkey!” Ajira’s mechanical eyes were as bright as twin suns, radiating hate and energy at the boy. I had only known her for a few minutes, but she seemed a little unhinged for a commanding officer.
This asteroid was the size of a small moon, covered in glistening purple ice and dull brown-grey rocky hills and mountains. It had a certain desolate beauty to it that I might have appreciated had not the events of this day transpired.
“I’m ready whenever you are, Miss Shark Lady Person.” The wild Saiyan flexed his muscles and fell into a fighting pose. “Just power up when you wanna fight for real.”
“Hmph.” She pressed a button on her scouter, measuring the kid’s power level. “Let’s see how tough you really are, monkey.”
“Go ahead, check.” He looked entirely unconcerned, entirely unaware of what he was up against. Ajira was a class-four warrior. She was stronger than me – stronger than most. Surely a kid could not best her.
The scouter croaked feebly; symbols and numbers flashed before Ajira’s left ocular implant. “1057. Impressive for a monkey, but not for a warrior like me!”
The boy grunted sarcastically and said, “How about now?”
“2451…” Her arms were folded, and she looked supremely confident. “How did you do that?”
“How about now, shark-face?” he asked again in a cheeky tone.
“Wh-what did you…?” In a choked breath of pain, I realized what was coming. I had to get out of here. Struggling to my feet, I cradled my bleeding knee as I ran. Now there was no choice. I had to go. I had to make my choice or die. “What’s going on?!” I heard her yell suddenly. “5865… 1370… 17,856… 2?!” She groaned, not in horror, but in irritation. “Stupid scouter…! They gave me a defective model!”
The wind blew against the rocks. She would never learn. It was too late for people like her.
I made it. The pods were hooked up to fuel lines, so I’d need to disengage one with the computer, but that was easy. They lay at rest just outside the outpost, within shouting distance of the rising steam. The steam was growing with intensity and brightness, and now there was no doubt it was indigo and not white. The color was as rich as a royal robe.
“Are you sure about that, Miss Shark Lady?” The boy’s head was tilted in curiosity. His tail flopped around like crazy, almost as if he had no control over it.
“I’m sure of it. There’s no way you’re stronger than me, kid. This worthless device is broken.” She frowned magnificently and crushed it in her left palm.
Faster than I could blink, he punched her. He punched her across the nose, which now bent to the left and gushed blood. Ajira screamed. Her eyes sparked and exploded in wet poofs, ravaging the alien’s eye sockets. Falling back and shrieking, she tried to kick the boy, but he didn’t feel the blow. He grabbed her by the neck and threw her into the mist.
The surging vapor transformed Ajira into a pink-purple flash of light and then into chunks of floating meat and then just empty light again. She was dead. But the boy didn’t see, or maybe he did and just wanted to put on a show. He followed that attack up with a pale blue energy beam that exploded against the ground the steam was poking up from.
The whole asteroid shook violently, bringing me to my knees. Gasping and wincing, I panted. Something small and indigo went shooting like a meteor past the boy, up from the crater that lay smoking and yet steaming behind him. It vanished into the sky like a space-badger leaping for a leg of spoiled meat.
Me and him were all that was left. Smoke rose from the outpost and the crater, and the asteroid shook and would not hold for much longer. We had to go. The Saiyan knew that already – he was gone from the sky, disappeared into the darkness. I was in my pod, praying he wasn’t coming for me. If I wanted to survive, I had to get out of this place as fast as I could.
I punched the commands into my ship’s datapad, and it shot upwards, away from the asteroid. There was no sign of another ship. “Greetings once again, Captain Feijon. Where would you like to be taken?” the pleasant artificial navigational AI chirped.
The rig caught my eye. I thought of Gerki and remembered the taste of firewine. The edge of the territory was just a hair beyond the rig. “What lies beyond Deep Rig 7?”
“Unexplored space, Captain.”
“That sounds nice,” I murmured, leaning back in my chair. I was weary and my leg hurt. I pulled a stim pack from a drawer and stuck it in my leg. At once, I was overcome with exhaustion and the pain was gone, and I no longer wanted to return to Gerki. I didn’t need that bottle of Aulmer. I couldn’t go back. I wouldn’t. That was his problem to deal with. He won it fair and square. “Take me somewhere out there. And don’t call me captain anymore. I want to be someone else now, someone less than before.”
“Route starting: estimated time of travel: five days, three hours, twenty-two minutes, seven-point-seven seconds.”
In that moment, I was ready. I closed my eyes and imagined all the stars streaking by my accelerating pod, and never once did I open them to check.
Chapter XII: A Thousand Suns
|Position:||Scientist-in-training in Arcterial's empire|
|Date of account:|| July 28, 766 Age (first scene)|
August 1, 766 Age (second scene)
August 2, 766 Age (third and fourth scenes)
The outpost held only a skeleton crew, and most of them were bots. My assistant’s name was Eilus. He was a well-mannered scaly fellow, and he kept me on point. We had landed on Rig Installation 319, not more than a few minutes before. No one had come out to greet us. It was a bleak world, abloom with grey-streaked skies and greyer falling snow, and it was damn cold.
“Well, let’s get on with it then,” Eilus whined. “No use sticking around this frozen dump for longer than we need to.”
He was on edge, his eyes shifting, his stance stiff. The station commander had contacted me not fifteen minutes prior. If this was all an elaborate trap, there was nothing we could do about it now.
That did not surprise me. Rig Installation 319 was one of the mining worlds furthest away from the core planets the demons had targeted. It should be safe for now. There were light years of mining installations between us and the dark zone – where the demons had first appeared.
No one knew who they were, what they wanted, if they could be communicated with, reasoned with, or if they were mindless slaves of slaughter. Despite Icer’s belief to the contrary, Lord Arcterial was concerned with the demon lighteaters (as they were sometimes called), though he had chosen to keep that a secret for now. It was part of my lord’s plan to outwit his brother, he had boldly declared to me during a late night drunken ramble, though we had scant spoken of the demons since. I had my research; he had a fledgling empire to manage. I would not be returned to him until this war was over.
Lady Frost was gone. What I could love of her remained firmly guarded in the darkest depths of my mind. I wanted vengeance. I wanted justice. I would not rest until they burned.
“Remember, we are here on official business. Behave yourself.”
He was taller than me, broader of shoulder, and stronger too. I had complained to Lord Arcterial about my bodyguard being stronger than me, but he had refused to find me a new one. It can be hard to swallow one’s pride – it’s easier when you don’t have a choice. And so came Eilus – unwillingly at first – and I noticed his armor was already half-frozen. Snow clung to my scalp.
Inside, we were greeted by Officer Ke and his retinue of near-sentient scrap metal. A squat, black-eyed rodent with crooked teeth and a red scouter, Ke was an absolute mystery to us. We didn’t know where his loyalties lay. In the last six months alone, the outpost had been traded back and forth by a dozen different hosts: space pirates; Icer’s men; Kuriza’s soldiers; and even, for a little more than a week, one of Lord Arcterial’s elite teams. Ke, the current custodian, had identified himself as an imperial captain, but we knew neither how long he’d been here, nor how he’d gotten here.
We didn’t want to know beforehand anyways. He was weak, and he was alone. We were taking what we came for one way or the other.
“Greetings,” he puttered, belching a smoke-ring. “What can I do you two for?”
“We are here for Bahib, Scourge of Buwan.” Eilus had stepped forward to address the officer.
“Ah, the old mining mech.” Captain Ke puffed and leaned back in his chair. The bitter smell unmistakable. Another one addicted to Nil. How sad. “Tell me, soldiers, whom do you serve?”
My eyes found Eilus’. “Lord Arcterial is the rightful king of the Planet Trade Organization.”
“Is he now?”
“Enough,” I blurted out. “We don’t care whose side you’re on. There’s two of us and only one of you. Step aside, Captain. We’re taking the mining vehicle.”
Ke breathed in smoke again, moaning in detached euphoria. “Only my workers use Bahib. They need it for the mining. You can’t take it. Go away, shoo, you miserable vermin! You’re fighting for a doomed cause.”
The rodent had time to cough before Eilus ended it. The energy had formed so quickly, it hadn’t had time to grow hot enough to vaporize Ke. What remained of his carcass spilled over the computer console behind his chair. My bodyguard shrugged. I didn’t look. The captain was already a shadow fading from memory, and I did not fight to keep him.
“You should have left him alive. He could have told us where he keeps the thing.”
“With all due respect sir, it’s no big deal. All I have to do is find the natives with my scouter. They’re the only other ones on this planet. Living ones, I mean.” He eyed Ke’s floating, wheezing chunks of scrap metal and grimaced.
My face grew hot and I looked away. He wasn’t wrong. This planet’s natives had toiled under countless authoritarian regimes, had endured hundreds of years of slavery and hard-labor. They had kept their heads down, never revolted. But they were playing with a toy worth more than all their lives combined. Oh, if only they knew.
A spreading gust of snow swept us to the mining site, and it was a grim place. Bodies frozen amongst the growing whiteness were left where they had fallen. I could only spot two or three of them whom the snow had not yet covered over all the way. Those who remained were too scattered to count. Most were holed up in huts carved into the side of the mountain. I could meet their eyes, bright and yellow, wary as starved space wolves. The few who were braving the elements were bundled up, moving quickly. Even in heavy layers of clothes, I could tell how gaunt they were.
They must have been on break, or maybe Ke freed them. Who the hell knows? All I know is that the last shipment from this planet, one month ago, was the same as all the others, so maybe they were just on a break. It was rather cold out.
We could have stopped to admire the desolation. Blackish clouds gained upon the horizon, and it was time to leave. The mining vehicle – a mech, of sorts – had been named in honor of a fearless native miner, long lost to the annals of time. It was the last remaining mining vehicle of its classification in the imperial database. It was, therefore, the only operable tunneling exoskeleton in the entire universe that had a scryihl-coated blade attachment.
Coated in a thin layer of frost, I shook the right arm free. The metal was thin and blue and peeled back easily. This was all the natives had to pride themselves on – the faint memory of a man long dead. I wished Bahib no ill will, but I needed the scryihl.
Vengeance burns like time, fades with time, and once it has run its terrible course, there will be nothing left, not even ashes. Lighteaters, Icer, Kuriza, Nitro. They were all the same to me, and to my lord.
“He’s issued the challenge.”
“Yeah? Well, has Icer responded, or what?”
“I don’t think so.”
We were sipping chilled wine in a shady asteroid bar known as Elyrie’s Slit on the edge of imperial space. Officers don’t usually go out this far into one of the unexplored regions, especially not on official business, but what we were testing could not risk being seen by any of the other armies. They couldn’t know.
“Is Lord Arcterial really stronger?”
The blush came unwanted. “Far stronger. He would easily kill Icer in a fight to the death. I saw them fight before, in the ruins of the royal palace on Arcose. Lord Arcterial…” I gulped. My thoughts felt suddenly like they were being blown through a wind tunnel. “…he was a dazzling fighter, Eilus. His form was impeccable. It was like fine art, watching him work against his opponent.”
My guard’s eyes were bright. They usually turned a deep yellow color when he got drunk, but they were only the color of cream as of yet. “Icer won’t accept the challenge. He has nothing to gain by doing so.”
“Oh, this will hurt Icer. If he refuses, his pride is gone. Everyone will know him for a coward.”
“His fleet is larger than ours. He lords over more planets, more soldiers…” Eilus’ blue-bleak cheeks were like wind-withered glaciers in the heart of winter. “He’d be a fool to give all that up; and he wouldn’t have gotten this far if he was one.”
“Quiet,” I whispered. In that moment, the noise of the other patrons came back to me. A man with glowing green eyes that shone from under a dark jacket and hood that covered the rest of his body was staring at me. He was staring right at me, I thought. I fingered a shard of scryihl between my palms underneath the table nervously. “There’s someone watching us. We should get moving.”
Eilus sat facing the other way. “How sure are you?” He sounded tired, unconcerned.
“Not very. But he was looking at me strangely.”
“Space pirates can be like that sometimes, Lord Desolé. You better get used to it. Most won’t bite, I promise. There’s nothing to fear.”
“And if they do?”
“I’ve got ‘em, don’t you worry. I signed up to be your bodyguard, sir. I knew the risks. I’ll die for you if I have to.”
I nodded sheepishly. The hooded man had turned his gaze to someone else. I was still apprehensive. The look he’d given me had not been one of kindness.
“Kuriza fought Nitro’s daughter, apparently,” Eilus mused, fishing through his drink with a single finger in search of ice cubes. “Lady Yuki. The hybrid.”
“I have never met her, nor her father,” I admitted, “though I’ve heard that they have only rarely left their territory in the past twenty years, even back when the royal family used to host parties and celebrations.”
“Heh. I don’t blame Nitro. His daughter’s a freak of nature. She shouldn’t exist. If I was him, I wouldn’t want to be seen out in public with her either.”
I ignored that remark. “If Kuriza won, isn’t he pushing Nitro’s territory back?”
“Aye, he’s retaking the planets Yuki and her fleets stole from him at this very moment.”
“We don’t have much time,” I spoke up suddenly. “War will be upon us all soon. Kuriza and Nitro will fight before long… and then we must attack, taking over both regions, if we hope to stand against Icer.”
“Is that what Lord Arcterial told you?” he asked me coldly. His mood shift was so sudden, I was taken aback.
“He is wary of Icer more than the others. Nitro is a dolt, I’ve heard, and Kuriza’s just a boy. The real battle for the throne is between our lord and his brother. That is why Icer may decide to attack us. We must be ready. My research… it must be done in time… we cannot afford…” Suddenly, my mind was racing, and it was getting harder to breathe.
“Slow down,” Eilus said calmly. His elfin physique was like a shattering of ice, sharp and deadly and so very cold. It gave me immense comfort. “What research are you talking about?”
He was relatively new. Lord Arcterial had only recently green-lit my project. And yet, time was nearly out. As soon as Kuriza moved, Icer would move, and we had to too, lest we be left behind. “It would take too long to explain. You are here to protect me as I continue my research. That is all.”
“Well, how are you continuing it?”
Irked at his prodding, I held up the sliver of scryihl. “This is what I have been looking for – and I need as much of it as I can find.”
I slid it across the table for him to have a look. “Why?”
I was going to tell him, but at that moment, the hooded alien stood up and strode over to nearby booth, where a pin-headed three-eyed marauder sat with two blue-skinned, bare-breasted alien girls, slim and slippery as space snakes. All three of them were guffawing at the pirate’s saucy joke. The hooded alien did not slow down as he approached the booth. He raised one black glove, created a green energy ball in front of it, and tore it through the three-eyed alien’s face with one flick of the wrist. There were screams and there was smoke, and everybody was running, and running, and the air stank of ammonia, and we were gone.
The Farthest Light was a Planet Trade Organization outpost that lay beyond the furthest stretches of the northern quadrant of the universe. It was an ancient outpost, conquered by King Cold himself hundreds of years ago. Today, it was an abandoned ruin. To the north, much of the territory was wild and pirate-infested. The outpost had been manned for years, but too many times had our station operatives been wiped out by wayward raiders, and as expansion into closer, softer zones became more pragmatic in the eyes of Cold’s children, the Planet Trade Organization grew in other directions, and the Farthest Light was forgotten.
Countless space pirate crews had laired here, and that had reduced the outpost to a near-ruin. One lonely tower was all that remained, though it stood tall and proud amongst the moss-covered wreckage surrounding it, its once-indigo metal frame now a dull, dappled sun-whipped lavender. This would be our testing site.
Snow was falling lightly into Eilus’ hair. “This is the place?”
“Looks like space pirates have been here.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me. But there aren’t any here now. Just a few feral space-badgers, but they are of little concern.”
“How do you know that, Lord Desolé?” Eilus asked gruffly.
“The last pirates who called this place home are now dead.”
Yes, there had been a previous bodyguard. No, Eilus would never know.
“Long-range scouters picked up the discrepancies. When I got the readings from the planet, I knew what had happened, and I came here at once.”
We reached the single standing sentinel. Once inside, we found that the lights still worked, at least, even if everything was covered in layers of trash, dust, and dried blood.
“You still haven’t told me why.”
“Right,” I remembered, wiping the melting snow from my face. The blood, the light, the screaming – everything was still fresh in my mind. The horrid ugliness of it all made me want to vomit. That damn bounty hunter had ruined the whole night. Why couldn’t he have waited to kill that three-eyed bastard until after we left? “Scryihl is, as I’m sure you know, Eilus, an exceedingly rare material.”
“Yeah. It is.”
“I have spent the past six months or so collecting as much scryihl as I can find. It’s been tough going. I haven’t found nearly as much as I had hoped. I’ve scoured every outpost’s inventory, even the ones in rebellion against Lord Arcterial. I have taken all that I could find. That last stop – with the Bahib exoskeleton – was the last bit of scryihl unaccounted for in the whole empire. And even so, I have only fifty pounds of it, or thereabouts.”
I looked at him strangely. “That’s not very much. We need so much more.”
“Because I found that scryihl explodes,” I told him, “at very high temperatures. The explosions are massive and all-consuming. Releasing the latent energy solidified in the scryihl pieces vaporizes anything that energy contacts, even the space demons.”
Eilus gave me a look. “The demons?” He almost asked me. I wouldn’t have told him even if he had. “I thought they weren’t real… made-up monsters, or something like that! Lord Arcterial doesn’t believe in them, I–”
“That’s where you’re wrong. He believes in them more than anyone,” I sighed, not looking at my guard. “He just wants to keep Icer guessing as long as possible. He wants to destroy the demons more than anything. Believe me. They took his daughter… my love…”
I let it trail off into awkward silence, feigning as much emotion as I could. The snowstorm beat against the blue looking windows and made everything appear grey or black or artificial.
Something black and low scurried left in my peripheral vision. Eilus saw it too. He shot forward, faster than I expected, and blew the naked space-badger to meaty bits in one blast.
“Don’t mind them,” I told him. “They don’t have long to live.”
“Vermin,” he spat. “I shall not work with vermin around! It will not do!”
“Eilus!” He froze, even as his rage was building. “We have a greater priority to focus on right now.”
I brought my crate from the ship, its hover-boosters gliding it through the air so I wouldn’t have to carry the wretched thing. It was remarkably heavy. Opening it, I showed Eilus my scryihl collection – most of it was stacked in little pieces or chunks, like rocks and shattered stones, but a few were shaped in more ornamental patterns. He gaped at what I had showed him.
“This is worth a fortune, Desolé,” he muttered. “We should use this to hire mercenary armies to destroy Icer.”
“No.” Simply, with a bit of grace, I held one piece between two fingers, spying Eilus’ fractured reflection through the deep purple hue. “An empire built upon false loyalty will not last long. King Cold inspired fear in his soldiers. He did not pay them. Neither will his brother.”
“Lord Arcterial needs to be reasonable,” he snapped back. “We don’t have a chance of winning this war if we don’t find more soldiers fast! You know how bad it is! You know how overwhelmingly we’re outnumbered!”
His words disgusted me, and suddenly, there was no beauty in anything he said or did. His aura had faded like melting snow. My guard had dishonored Lord Arcterial, and I could not let that stand. My anxious hate simmered inside me, and he never knew. I never let him know me.
“Besides, how do you even superheat the scryihl?” The way he was eyeing me gave me discomfort.
“In the heart of a hypergiant star,” I said in a hurried breath. It had been my secret – my big secret. No one else in the universe had known. I had been the one to figure it out. And now he knew – the second in the universe – he who dared question Lord Arcterial’s strategy.
“A-are you sure?”
“It is the most efficient way to generate a massive hypernova explosion,” I explained. “With this much scryihl, I cannot destroy Icer’s region. But if I lure him to battle near a hypergiant star – him and his whole navy – perhaps they can be exterminated. That is my plan now.”
“That is madness, my lord,” he dared. “Have you even tested scryihl on a hypergiant yet?”
“No, but my research shows that it’s possible. I have checked the data one hundred times. The temperature… the mass… the force of the hypernova… it is all within expected ranges for such a thing.” My opinion was suddenly and very drastically souring of this man. Now I looked upon him like he looked upon the space-badgers. He lacked intelligence. He was all impulse, no thought. I knew I ought to leave him on this world.
“I don’t like this idea. It’s too risky.”
“You are here for one reason, Eilus,” I told him. “You are strong enough to fuse these pieces of scryihl together. Please do so.”
“But sir, please… can’t we discuss this a little further?”
“No. I am your superior officer, Eilus, and you would be wise to remember that.” I was shocked at how he had turned, how he tried to manipulate me – now so brazenly and without shame.
“Why did we come all the way out here just for that?”
I would not tell him the true reason. Not anymore. Eilus could not be trusted – that much I knew. My mind was spinning again; I had to come up with a reasonable explanation in seconds. “Doing this will create massive energy readings that the others would be able to track if their territories were closer. I want everyone to remain completely in the dark about this, so that it cannot have a chance to fail. It cannot fail, do you understand, Eilus? It simply cannot. The fate of the empire rests on my plan working. I will not risk anyone finding out anything about my plan. If they have even minor inklings as to what we are doing, that puts our cause in jeopardy. I will not have that!”
He nodded dutifully, a bit taken aback by my energy, which he no doubt thought was much less than what I showed in that moment. Eilus got to work at once. He was stronger than me, so leaving him here would be an issue. The only way I could get away without him knowing or catching me would be to get him drunk. Once he fused all the scryihl together, that would be easy. That would be my chance.
I reached into the large container, now empty, and pulled open a secret compartment on one of the walls. Out from it slid a slim black-glass bottle. Inside was Euratoran Uu’goc, a foul-tasting, bitter alcohol of a breed I knew nothing else about. It was expensive, for all its heavy and unrefined flavoring, and it could get one drunk faster than any other drink in known in the universe.
I had bought the Uu’goc for Frost a year ago to celebrate our anniversary. Chuckling sardonically to myself, I poured two glasses and hid the bottle away. He would think this was a flavor of Mir Alm because of its bitterness, and, having never tried such an expensive, yet hardy delicacy, Eilus would be none the wiser as to what it actually was.
I found a chair and sat, watching him work. I had been quite fond of him on our trip to retrieve Bahib’s scryihl. But now, I felt nothing towards my bodyguard – nothing but icy, stinging detachment.
I picked up a booklet, discarded on the desk perhaps by a space pirate who had tried to use it to learn to read. Dusting it off, I flipped it over and unbent its cover, which was a dull grey with forgettable crimson-and-brown patterning behind the grand title: Sorathii’s Vortex. I had read this book back in the academy, and it tickled me to be holding it my hands once again out here in the ruins of a forgotten world hanging from the edge of the universe. I had never believed a word written in it.
Flicking through the pages, I came upon the passage where Sorathii described (quite famously, I might add) the capabilities of his vortex technique. And, after closing my mind to the outside world, I focused inward, deeper and deeper to the depths of my unformed consciousness, and just there, I felt it. Like a jerk of the neck, it was awakened in me. Three months of near starvation had made me weak, but in my euphoria, I tried anyways. A puff of smoke signaled the first attempt, a spiraling, floating cobweb the second. But the third was larger, and formless, and white as light, and it melted the very air before me. I did not know it at the time, but that was in fact the moment I discovered what I could really do. It was not a discovery in the sense that my intellect was opened to me as a flower blooms; rather, at that moment, I felt as if I were pulling on my favorite coat to escape the cold. The first man I used the vortex on dug out his own eyes with his dirty fingernails as he screamed his vocal cords to bloody shreds; the second did something to himself so horrible, I will never be able to forget it for the rest of my life. And after the third also killed himself, shrieking wildly, his mouth foaming… only then did I grasp the true extent of my enlightened powers.
A happy dream, Dr. Boson used to call it. The old man had never believed a word Sorathii said. He had ranted to me about Sorathii’s defection from the Planet Trade Organization in Age 407, and how the man had gone mad in his solitude thereafter. His book, Sorathii’s Vortex, was released three months before he died in Age 429. Critics had deemed it offensive, absurd, incoherent, undecipherable, and full of imaginative fancies. Nothing written in this book was thought to be academically sound, worthy of being understood. And yet here it was in the abandoned outpost, a copy of a copy of a dead man’s idea, more than three hundred years later. It was tiring, remembering. I set the book down and drank from my ink-tainted glass.
Mal Vexus was the only hypergiant with a surface temperature of more than 200,000K near the universal core. It was, in fact, the only hypergiant star in the region. The star that hovered soundlessly before me was not named. We were beyond imperial space. I had left him in the spire. He had fallen asleep after drinking his glass. If this worked, he wouldn’t feel a thing. That much was certain. It made me sad.
This was no Mal Vexus, and I was not going to use all the scryihl. Just the little shard, no bigger than a finger. I felt it snake through my palms as I hovered in the desolation of space, just above the star. Its heat was tremendous, even for an ordinary, yellow-burning one like this little guy. Its surface temperature was much lower than the hypergiant’s, and the explosion would suffer in magnitude because of that (as it would because I was using only a little piece of scryihl, not fifty pounds). This star’s demise would barely register as a blip on the long-range scouters. That was for the best.
I was a little drunk – a little too drunk. My head hurt. I thought of Lord Arcterial, of returning to him with the news that I had destroyed all of our enemies. I shuddered and felt warm.
The stars were spinning with milky tails before me. I let it go.
It probably wasn’t enough scryihl, but it was all I could find. It would have to do. Kuriza, Icer, Nitro, Bael, and the rest would never suspect it. A hypernova so close by is impossible to predict and impossible to escape. They would all die. Every one of them.
My mind drifted; the ship was spinning, rattling. I felt so alone out there. I didn’t even have any space rats to keep me company. Light was everywhere, always watching, always blinking.
Most worlds had not been rendered uninhabitable, merely lifeless. The thought reminded me of a lecture Dr. Boson had given back at the AoS where he had explained his research into calculating the probability of a universe existing without any life whatsoever, despite that universe being fully inhabitable. It was not a question of if there could be life – rather, if there was life. The number had been small, almost incalculably low. But it wasn’t nil. It was something. It was real.
I swayed and collapsed back in my chair. There had been a time when I had believed Sorathii. I had been so disappointed when I had learned what a fraud he actually was. An insanity-inducing vortex is an impossibility. It cannot exist – not in this universe. Dr. Boson had run all the tests. He had tried everything. It was mathematically unprovable. It was indefensible.
All I had to do was lure them to Mal Vexus. Then I’d be the greatest hero this universe has ever known.
“Oh, you’re quite gracious, Lord Arcterial, quite gracious. Oh, oh, oh, oh my…” Drunkenly, I tittered to myself, losing time and feeling the longer I went on. I would be seeing him soon. I smiled and vomited on the floor.
Chapter XIII: The Faithful Servant
|Position:||Advisor in Nitro's empire|
|Date of account:|| September 5, 766 Age (first scene)|
September 12, 766 Age (second scene)
September 15, 766 Age (third scene)
The palace was much quieter without Lord Nitro or his daughter around. The halls remained unwalked; the hanging gardens lay serene and undisturbed. Only a guard of twenty-four men had been left for me. The rest had gone to Mrov or to the ends of the empire to fight Kuriza and the others.
It was a surprise then when a guard of General Srief’s species approached me solemnly, a message in one hand. He wore ash-grey robes, and his cape was the color of lightless space. I was eating breakfast at the time, having just woken up not even twenty minutes before. Wiping my mouth, I took the sheet of paper and raised an eyebrow.
I was about to chide him, for it didn’t make sense to relay me a written message instead of simply telling me what it said, when I was drawn in by the terse black-and-white message on the mostly blank sheet of paper. Lord Nitro is dead, his army routed. Mrov remains.
It was as if I had been dipped in liquid helium. I clutched the message tight, my fingertips having gone white, trying to squeeze the truth from those tiny words. I looked up at the guard, unable to hide my terror. “D-do you know what this message states?” I whispered at last, finding a shadow of a voice within me.
“No, sir. I was informed the information was confidential.”
“Good.” I could not show my face to him any longer. “Leave me, you and the other. I need some privacy.”
“As you wish, sir.”
The guard had a look on his face that reminded me of water spilling over polished stones. But I knew behind that glazed-over wall that was his face, thoughts and perceptions lurked below. He had seen me, naked in emotion, and he knew, somehow. I knew he knew. I watched as the alien approached his companion, exchanged a few words, and led him out of the room.
I was alone at last. I don’t remember letting go of the message. It fell to the imported Velarion rug, and I did not reach to pick it up. Its words were seared into my brain. I would never forget.
I never doubted the veracity of the message. I had been the one to order a scouting party to Mrov after we lost communication with Lord Nitro’s army three days ago. That in itself was not unusual — what was was the fact that communications were never re-established. It had not been until last night that the faintest of doubts had finally crept into my heart. I had tried to banish the disloyal fancies from my consciousness; I told myself that I believed he was alive, that he had surely destroyed the Mrovian Empire. But my deepest fears were confirmed; that they had not been irrational scared me more than anything. The guard didn’t know. I had to exert caution.
There were tears in my eyes; I didn’t hold them back. I was too weak, too tired, too old. I stared down at my half-eaten bowl of Demon’s Eye and sorrac jelly. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I wiped my mouth again and hopped off the chair. At the door, I requested the guard bring me my scouter, and he did.
Its glass panel shone the deepest shade of purple. I blinked away the ruinous sight of myself in the reflection. “Lady Yuki, are you there?” I spoke at last, gulping down my grief in the process.
“Hello, Kirka,” she replied a few moments later. “Is something the matter?”
“Oh? What is it?” Her girlish voice crackled as the connection grew momentarily worse. “Kirka, hello? Are you there?”
“I am.” I had to compose myself. I had to remain the dutiful servant. I had been trained for this moment. Lord Nitro had trusted me. I would not betray that trust. “My lady, I have unfortunate news. Because this hurts me greatly to talk about… I will simply give you the facts; please forgive me, my lady. I shall not bury the facts from you, my dear. Your father was killed on Mrov, likely by that monkey Cuber, who was living there. That is all we know.”
Silence and white noise mingled and became one. “Are you sure?” Her voice was suddenly deeper, more restrained.
“I would not call you if I was not.” Again, she said nothing. I let the silence keep for a while. “My lady… you must return home at once.”
“I’m fighting to hold the empire!” she hissed a moment later. “I’m barely holding on out here, Kirka! You should be sending me more soldiers, not begging me to give in to cowardice!”
“The empire is lost, my dear.”
“It is not!” Her defiance made me smile, in spite of everything. “My empire will not fall! I won’t let it!”
“My lady…” I cleared my throat. “Your father put a great deal of faith in me. He gave me immense control over his empire, and trusted my counsel. But more important than all that, he put me in charge of those who watched over you, who cared for you, who nurtured you as you grew up in the very palace I’m standing in today. I promised him I would never let you fall into harm’s way, that I would do everything I could to keep you safe. I have only ever acted out of love for you and your father, my lady. Please… come home. You know who awaits you out there in the dark of space. Kuriza, Icer, and Arcterial all want you dead. They will have their wish now that your father is gone, unless…”
“Unless you make peace with your family, my lady. You have to — you must, or you will die. I cannot protect you from them,” I told her, hiding my bitter tears. “If you want to live, you will do as I say.”
I could see her in my mind’s eye grinding her teeth, looking away, trying to remain lady-like, trying to subdue her emotions. She had done an admirable job so far. “I will be home soon,” she finally said. “And Kirka?”
“Yes, my dear?”
“Thank you for all that you have done to help me.” There was the emotion. I knew it couldn’t hide forever. “You’re right. You give good counsel, my lord; I need to listen to you more. But it’s not easy, you know…? We were so close…”
“I know. There will be more opportunities in the future, my dear. But for now, we must regroup and hold steady. The foolhardy never gain vengeance. Our time will come… after the war is over. Until then, Yuki, you simply must survive at all costs.”
“Oh, I will,” she muttered into her scouter. “I haven’t gone anywhere, Kirka.”
Sitting down again at the table, on the other end, I collected my thoughts. I had to think fast, act fast. News would spread like lightning. Po would be our most senior officer — he would be in charge. I quickly brought up the list of officers in the empire on my scouter and cycled through it, writing down names of people I wished to promote or demote. I would be in an elevated position under Lady Yuki. I had to make sure our empire, though temporarily dormant, would remain in the best of hands.
There was one man in particular I despised — Captain Nyrion. He was also of Srief’s species, but he was not like the guards. He was a man of vanity and splendor — a man of recklessness and boldness. If he remained in a high position, he would poison Lady Yuki’s ears and corrupt her mind. I would not allow that to happen. I wrote down names — most of them for demotion — and produced the list for my guard. He took it, reading it over.
“Relay this information to the rest of the empire. The following changes are effective immediately. In addition, Lady Yuki is our new empress.”
His eyes were wide and unbelieving. Perhaps he had not known. What then had he seen in me? “M-my lord… what’s going on?”
“Lord Nitro was killed on Mrov. His daughter now reigns. There will be changes, and to accomplish these changes, I have given you that list of promotions and demotions of high-ranking officers in our army. Relay this information to all officers at once.”
He turned and left, not saying another word, not showing a hint of despair. I admired that.
Rain pummeled the landing pad while an impatient wind beat our capes back and forth. All of us were in our finest attire; the weather was nothing to us. She descended from the ramp without a word. Her eyes were drops of magenta, and they met us for only a glance before walking past. Po was not with her, nor Commander Tanarilo. No one said a word.
Inside, she met alone with every officer in attendance, before at last calling my name. Lady Yuki was in her fourth form, in her father’s inner quarters, pacing before a desk in the dim light. I shut the door behind me.
“You should have told me what you were planning,” she seethed. She was already boiling with passion — I could tell by the color in her cheeks, red as life. “Half of them want you dead for this, do you know that?”
“Do they?” I could not have cared less.
“Next time, consult me before you do something so drastic, Kirka.”
“As you wish, my lady. I was only operating on your own behalf for your convenience. I do think I know many of the officers better than you do, though, with all due respect.”
“And better than my father?”
“A-ah… no.” I saw where she was taking this, the clever girl. “Better for our new circumstances, I think.”
She was distracted, I suppose. “Very well. I will trust you for now. But if your promoted officers do not perform adequately, the blame will fall on your shoulders, Kirka.”
“I believe in them.”
“Take a walk with me, Ocaran.”
I knew the hanging gardens so well I could walk the curling, dusty path with my eyes closed, guided only by my sense of smell. The decadent flame-like blossoms that greeted us at the entrance were called filiki. They came from Planet Thekar and had a scent as clean as the sea.
When Lady Yuki had been a girl, we had walked these gardens hundreds of times. Sometimes, she recited poetry; other times, I treated her to long glosses on Arcosian history. But today, the mood in the air was foul, and there was no hiding it. We were both raw, even though more than a week had passed since our last conversation over the scouter.
To walk amongst the hanging gardens had always given me comfort, made me happy. Today, we stood amongst deaf plants, pretty as paintings for all their worth.
“Po deserted,” she said flatly. “He took half the fleet with him. Happened a day after I told him about Father. I was sleeping when they left. He knew my schedule. He knew when to do it.”
“D-did you… did you go after him?”
“Of course not. Kuriza’s forces were hunting us, don’t you remember, you old fool? If I had looked back, I would have been lost.”
“That is a devastating blow, my lady.”
“I’m aware.” She didn’t look at me. Her color had not faded. “Add one more to my list of infinite grievances. The list only grows longer every day, especially these past few days. But I’m not surprised. I was a fool to think the universe was a just place!”
We came to a turn in the path where a waterfall extended over the trail and slid into a deep green-blue pool. Proud, wet Arcosian lotuses bloomed over the surface of the pond, dozens of lustrous crowns bobbing in the cool water. My hands found the worn wooden rail I had so often paused by and braced against for rest on walks such as this one.
“How did it happen?” I asked her suddenly, breaking the stillness. “Was he truly stronger than you?”
“He would have killed me were it not for Po.”
“A-and you’re certain he defected, my lady?”
“His fleet was spotted outside of imperial space three days ago. He’s fled to the unexplored region where the Nikkarins came from and made himself a space pirate king, no doubt.”
“He will get what’s coming to him,” I assured her. “He will be dead before long. You needn’t worry about that one, dear.” The vividness of the nearby blue-white hanging flowers only enhanced my certainty.
She gave me a worrisome look. We made our way to the end of the gardens, coming out of the exit on the other side of the palace. It was almost midday by then. “I need to train,” she told me. “They’re coming — Kuriza and his bloody sycophants. They want my empire. They want me to kneel.”
“You will,” I instructed her, “or this has all been for naught.”
In my own chambers, I met with a fellow Ocaran named Viddler. He was a nervous man, with wet eyes and anxious, floppy ears. His skin was dark green with brown spots. My own was lilac. I was twice his age.
“Lord Kirka!” Viddler took a bow. “It is good to see you, sir.”
“You do know why I’ve called you here?”
It did not make me feel good to do this. But it had to be done. Lady Yuki had told me all I needed to know. The warning signs were there. I handed Viddler the slip of paper.
Perusing it, he mumbled, “Five of ‘em? And these power levels are accurate, yeah? Not guesses?”
“Everything listed there for you is accurate. You will be paid only after I am able to confirm their deaths.”
Not looking at me, he spit. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. I’ll get ‘em all for ya. This one right here, though, heh,” he grimaced, poking the list, “this Captain Nyrion guy… he’s gonna take a while.”
“I can wait.”
“I’m good for it, yeah? You can count on me. I’ll get these bastards for ya, milord.”
The reward would be his very own planet. It was a backwater planet, in truth, a boggy, overcast land riddled with toxic, sulfuric geysers and vile, tumorous predators. But he wanted it, and I could give it to him, and so here we were. He would poison every one of them, probably in their drinks. The kind Viddler used was an untraceable liquid that had no taste and had no antidote. Once it was in the bloodstream of any living being, they were going to die. Some called it the kiss of death, but I knew it as Demon’s Drop — a snazzy name, but one that also seemed (to me, at least) to be trying a little too hard.
I know it seems as if my strategy was inimical to my lady’s empire, especially in this fragile hour. I think of it more as a purging — before an empire can heal, its wounds must be cleaned and bandaged up. My foes were the empire’s foes, and for that reason, they had to go. Only those who had raised objection to my maneuvering were dying. Some who were demoted said nothing at all, and I knew them to be loyal. But others held onto their pride, and that was all I needed to know.
Viddler set a sack down on the table, grunting as he lifted the heavy thing up. “Demon’s Eye, fresh from Zygmok Bog. I got ya ten pounds of it. And that stuff on the side’s Zuk-zuki spice blended by the mire-witch, Vzi-Vzi. It’s reckoned to be the tastiest blend in all the world! Try some, eh?”
“Thank you, Viddler. I’ll have some later.”
He saluted me and bowed, and I smiled and waved, and he was gone. I didn’t ask him if he had any change — I had allocated him a moderate allowance to retrieve me some food from home. Whatever was left over, no doubt he pocketed himself. So long as he kept bringing me my favoritest food of all, I cared little.
He was quite right, too — the Zuk-zuki spice was the finest I had ever tasted. It brought me to tears as I thought of my homeland, of a foggy, boggy world I would never be returning to. I was getting old. I didn’t have much else I was good for, except for providing instructive counsel to Lady Yuki and helping her to become an able-bodied empress. She had to be kept safe — that fact alone compelled me to stay.
But the thoughts made me think of my more recent past too, of Lord Nitro and his brothers, all dead now. Two days passed, and I found myself standing in the great hall, near the entrance, when my lady entered alone. She saw me, came to me, and noticed what I had been standing in front of.
“We will have to update that,” she said, though I reflected later that there had been no agitation in her voice. She had been remarkably calm. “I’ll get one of the mapmakers to draw up a new one at once.”
“They can wait,” I told her, as I stared up at the map of the Planet Trade Organization, currently split into four colors comprising four factions. “I fear we won’t know the true extent of the damage until after negotiations have concluded.”
Over half of the empire shone with a bright green color — the color of Lord Nitro’s territory. Kuriza’s crimson red was fractured; Icer’s pale blue dappled a few spots across the empire, even with the Faereth Empire collected with it, but did not impress; Arcterial’s region comprised of two white clusters of systems. Combined, the three of them could not dare to challenge what she and Po and her father had accomplished. They had created the largest empire of all.
“When each of King Cold’s sons died, they left behind a legacy and an empire,” I told her, my voice tremulous in the morning air. “Your father, though the youngest son, and the one who started out with the smallest empire, left this life the most powerful emperor of them all. There are great things in your future, my lady. I know this because you are very much like Lord Nitro. His passion lives on in you — I can see it in your eyes, heh! — and it will lead you to accomplish all that you desire.”
She smiled at me, sadly at first, then truly. My eyes were blurring over. Yuki stood radiantly in her queenhood, like a god posed before a kneeling beggar. I was not worthy to be in her presence.
She patted me on a indigo-cloaked shoulder and walked off to sit at the head of the raised dais of the feasting hall. I lingered a little longer, observing the map coolly. Only when my belly pains became too sharp to bear did I walk back to my table, passing a hanging tapestry depicting Lord Nitro’s heroics in the war against the Nikkarins on the way. It was one memory against another, I realized — neither hero nor villain now remained. Only his daughter persisted, and I was sure, even in that moment, that she would outlive the rest of her family.
Pink buds drifted to the sky from the bare branches the rain had lashed them from. I was by the window, fogging it merely with my presence. In one hand, I held a cup of Mirocian spiced wine. The door on the other side of the spacious, near-empty waiting room burst open, releasing a wave of light, almost unbearably bright.
Lady Yuki had thrown a towel over her shoulder. Her hard-set scowl wept sweat. Guards stuck to the walls like paintings, unmoving and without use. They were something nice to look at for our visitors, nothing else.
He was here. At once, the pit of my stomach burned, and I knew I had to manage this. My body moved on its own; my brain operated on its own. I was merely a spectator watching myself work through my social interactions.
The son of Frieza entered with a cavalcade of guards and advisors. Breathlessly swept-up, he appeared for but a single crimson second, and then he was gone, carried into the meeting room by the inertia of his spectators. Lady Yuki was gone too. I sighed, looking down at my drink. It was still half-full. I was too sober for this.
Inside the meeting room, Kuriza stood behind one side of a broad, dark wood table. My lady had not taken her seat either. The boy had a young Arcosian girl on his arm, and he lavishly kissed her on the cheek before sending her away through a door behind him where the rest of his herd awaited. That is, save for two of them — a scrupulous-looking, aged alien with dark brown, wrinkled skin and watery eyes, and a tall, grey-furred warrior clad in shoulder-less, form-fitted, blood-black armor, a deep red cloak, fangs that extended past his jawline, and eyes of burnt gold.
Being a frail old imp, that second one gave me a chill. He was Admiral Kracchus. The other was Lingon, Kuriza’s bodyguard from birth. Yuki had only me. There were other officers here — others who had come at my calling and at hers once news of Lord Nitro’s fate had spread. And yet, out of all of us, she chose only me.
“I don’t want to be here long,” the boy said almost as soon as his darling had shut the door behind her. “Let’s not make this bloodier than it needs to be, cousin.” He flashed her a look. I gasped at the naked antagonism. I was unable to protect her. She didn’t look away; she didn’t flinch or blush or cower.
“Tell me exactly what you want, Kuriza.” Her beauty bloomed when she was angry. In the stormlight, my lady’s neck shone pale; her skin was pulled tight.
Imperial and frosty was the emperor’s tone; I had never heard someone so sure of himself before. “You will relinquish control over every planet you stole from my father’s and uncle’s empires.”
“Done.” No hesitation. I liked that. But how Kuriza referred to Cooler disturbed me — with that comment, the implications of how he viewed Lord Nitro became utterly clear.
Wailing against the windows, the wind distracted us into silence for a few moments.
“Ninety-five percent,” Lingon muttered after a few minutes. “Our choice.”
“Ten percent. My choice.” Lady Yuki sneered at them like a cornered nidrazi scourge.
“Is this a joke, cousin?” The boy scowled. “Kneel or die.”
The portrait of Lord Nitro that hung behind Kuriza was perhaps in poor taste. I should have had it moved somewhere else before the meeting. I swayed back and forth in place, taking another gulp, for I had nothing else to do. Lady Yuki was a lone light against the boy, standing unwavering, but unable to overcome the darkness around her. This was a fight we could not win. I could see it now clearly in my mind.
“My lord,” I spoke up suddenly, surprising even myself, “p-please… if you act with haste, you may be forced to subdue hundreds of planets that will never kneel either. But if you forge peace…”
“We get it,” Admiral Kracchus interjected. He refused to look at me. “Do you have anything useful to add? No? Alright, then.”
He was smirking, walking over to her. His teeth were spotless. With his psychic powers, Kuriza pulled a chair from the table and stood on it, lording over Lady Yuki now. “Kneel, cousin.”
She did, bowing her head. My mouth was agape. I didn’t know what to do — I hadn’t expected them to so ruthless. I wasn’t trained for this. She was biting her lip so hard I knew there would be blood. Her cheekbones were high and flushed; the windows throbbed weakly as rain battered against them. The storm had grown, and the trees were lost in the mist.
“Give me fifty percent of your father’s region.”
Yuki’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Deal.”
“Now give me another twenty percent.”
“Wh-what?” She looked to me, not to him, helpless as a girl. I had to act — I had to — but there wasn’t anything I could do or say. We had agreed that fifty percent was reasonable — anything above that would be unnecessary torture. Kuriza had beaten her in a sure test of strength; he had the right to torture us if he wanted to, as loathe as I was to admit it. We were just trying to hold onto a scrap of dignity. Even so, I had counseled her not to barter with him should he try something like this. In that moment, she was unable to compose herself; I found myself rushing forward to my lady’s aid. “Kuriza…?”
“Are you going to obey me, cousin, or are you going to rebel?” He spoke like an innocent boy without a care in the world. “I know you’re clever. You knew when to run. I’m being very generous to you now,” he told her with pointed ferocity. “I needn’t leave you anything, needn’t allow you to retain any of your father’s treasonous empire. But I have been taught…” The boy’s eyes shifted once to Lingon, then to Kracchus, then a second time back to his bodyguard. He swallowed. “I have been taught that a good emperor is merciful to his enemies. You will retain twenty percent of your father’s empire. It will be managed by you as it always has been, with one small caveat: I am your emperor. You are no empress, my sweet cousin. But you are family, and I don’t have much of that left anymore.” He looked away. My body was trembling. I was numb. I knew I had to act, had to move, but what could I say? I’d just get myself killed. She couldn’t protect me. “Yuki, your empire is part of my empire. And if you’re good, and if you don’t do anything stupid, I will put your name back on the loyal side of the family tree. Do you know,” he suddenly asked in an eager way, “that that would make you my heir? Just temporarily, I think,” Kuriza grinned. “But it is a queer thought, no?”
We were stunned to silence. She was looking to me for something, for anything, but I had nothing. I was empty. It was over. The cold had won. The room was spinning. I almost laughed. Why would I laugh? Burping quietly to myself, my throat burned with the taste of bitter, fiery spice.
He had played us so well, it was embarrassing.
“Quiet,” Kuriza shouted. He interrupted her just to interrupt her. There had been no logic to it. He was merely showing us who was the boss. I had recognized the power move at once, but I’m not sure if my lady did. “Because you dared question me before, I’ll also have you know that my previous offer comes with a penalty. Another five percent of your father’s empire is now mine. Do you understand?” He was a tiny man, not a child. His eyes were polished crystals, saturated with keen, young light. His lips were pressed thinly together in a sardonic way.
“I do,” she said without protest.
“My lord,” I slurred, bowing extravagantly, “you are a most generous and wissse rrrruler.”
His glance was cruel. Breaths came shallow and fast, and I realized what horrible shape I was in. I had always meant to get in shape. “You will need better advisors, cousin,” the boy emperor complained. “I will send you capable men so you won’t have to listen to this useless flesh-sack anymore.”
“As you wish, my lord,” Yuki said dispassionately.
The Arcosian atop his chair was full of boyish glee. “He’s senile. He’s no use to us anymore.” Kuriza raised both hands, a flash of energy suddenly growing between them.
“N-no… wait! Kuriza, stop this madness!” Her fear was laid bare. The wind gave me comfort as it shook against the building. The heat was overwhelming, but I was not afraid. I was useless — he was right. I had had nothing to add in this meeting. Lady Yuki had lost eighty-five percent of her father’s empire. I had failed to prevent any of this. It was all my fault.
“My lord!” Kracchus called crisply. “Let him live.”
The boy nearly gaped at the admiral. “Kracchus, why? Why?!” He was floating in midair, his arms thrust forward in a pose, but his energy had dissipated to darkness.
“He’s more useful than he appears.” Kracchus’ fur was spiky and long, and he had the look of a wild predator, not a sophisticated biped. “He ran her father’s empire too. If you get rid of him, there will be far more problems with this region. He’s unspectacular, and that’s why he’s perfect for this place.”
The boy squinted at me and shook his hands as if to dry them. “Fine. Lingon, the map.”
“Aye, sir.” The older alien stepped forward and unfurled a map across the table. The map was of the empire, and it took up most of the table. Kuriza remained hovering, looking down upon his kingdom as if it was really there below him. “The changes have been applied,” Lingon said dryly. “Eighty-five percent. The planets we’re taking have changed color to align with Lord Kuriza’s territory, see? Everything should be clear, but do you have any questions, Lady Yuki?”
“Will you be staying for lunch?” She was not reading the map, but staring out the looking window as if to burn her eyes through the grey-drenched skies.
“I have an empire to manage. No, not today. Another time, perhaps. After my grand uncles are dealt with.”
“Y-yes, my lord, of course. I await that day.”
I will never forget how he looked at her when he landed again. He had to cock his head a bit to look up at Lady Yuki. He squinted his brilliant green eyes and turned away. Lingon approached, muttering words to me about the alliance and the planets they were taking and how many soldiers Lady Yuki would need to field for the wars against Icer and Arcterial. I retained almost none of what he said.
Stiffly, we exited, and they were gone not long after.
“I knew it would be bad… to face him…” Her voice broke, and she buried her head in her hands.
We were alone again in the waiting room. This time she had ordered the guards away.
“You still have an empire, my lady, and we have security, for the moment. Kuriza will protect us.”
“I have to let him use my soldiers to fight his wars. How can I grow my empire when he takes from me what I need most?”
“With patience,” I murmured, approaching her, my glass held steady in my hand. “And with shrewdness. We will expand,” I promised her. “We will come back. The emperor is just a boy, my lady, and he has more pressing concerns than us. He said it so himself. He cannot watch your every move. He cannot and will not know for certain if you are loyal. It is easy to act like a lady in the court, amongst the hanging gardens, my dear. But that is not when we test who the true ladies are.”
She nodded and sighed and asked me what I was drinking. When I told her, she raised her eyebrows and walked out of the room.
My gaze found the window. I was not yet ready to. I was not yet ready to brave the storm. Walking back to the meeting room, I approached the hanging picture of Lord Nitro, splendidly indigo. His tone was severe, his gaze resolute. How could a miserable monkey destroyed him? It sickened me.
A week or so ago Lord Nitro commanded the greatest empire in the universe. He was on the precipice of winning the Planet Trade Organization’s massive civil war. But in the last battle of his campaign against the Mrovians (the story of the war we waged against the Mrovians is told elsewhere in extensive detail; I will not rehash it here), he was slain, my noble hero. And now the empire was lost. There was no way to get it back; it wouldn’t be coming back. Kuriza was too powerful. Unless Lady Yuki did something like that Saiyan did to Lord Nitro, I don’t know how we had any chance of enacting our revenge.
My fault lay in the fact that I was not stronger. I was a weak man, a witless man, and I could not stand equal to Kuriza’s own. Even they saw it. Kracchus spared me out of pity. Lady Yuki wasn’t like me, though. She was beautiful and deadly and angry and arrogant and desperate and, I suppose, also half a Saiyan.
I made my way back to the waiting area, where, after a crashing, violent gust of wind, I caught a glimpse of the bare branches of the nearest tree from the window, bloom-less amidst the storm. They rose up like starving arms. It was winter, I realized at that moment. It was not a realization, a tickling in my brain, that I had not known before, but one that I had suddenly come to know again. It was winter, yes. It was. Winter follows autumn which follows summer which follows spring which follows winter which follows autumn which follows summer which follows spring.
Chapter XIV: Scream
|Position:||Commander in Nitro's empire|
|Date of account:|| September 10, 766 Age (first scene)|
September 29, 766 Age (second scene)
October 31, 766 Age (third scene)
It was a mad thing, leaving her.
The first place we went, we weren’t welcome. I wasn’t surprised. Kuriza’s region stretched farther and farther every day. His father’s old empire was the foundation of the boy’s new one. Even now, he was chasing Lady Yuki back to her home. He would find her and he would kill her. We had decided that. Po had.
Now we were fleeing to the edge of space, to the frontier, beyond the furthest reaches of Kuriza’s territory. Then we would be free.
Large swaths of the Planet Trade Organization were now in ruin. Entire systems had been shattered by war and been abandoned and left for the space pirates. More and more defected every day. I had seen it myself, especially after the battle over Arcose. We were tired of fighting the royal family’s feud for them. We were done. More and more realized it every day. Frieza’s son lorded over a wounded, bloody empire. We passed through the dead zone, war-ravaged and bleak, and did not see another ship for a week.
“They saw us,” Po grumbled under his breath. From the captain’s chair, he rose and ordered the fleet to slow. “We have to go down. Eh, we need to refuel anyways. Let’s go.”
“Admiral, we are deep in enemy territory. If we attack–”
His furry brown snout curled in revulsion. “I’m in command, Tanarilo. Did you forget? How dare you question me!”
We were suddenly inches from one another, puffing up our chests, staring into one another other’s eyes. He wanted to kill me. I never wanted to kill him. The other officers manning the ship did not look up from their controls.
Heat clouded my thoughts. “My apologies.”
“Get out of here! Lead the vanguard down to crush whoever’s on that planet. Do not fail me, Commander.”
“As you wish, Admiral Po.” My bow was stiff and I did not look him in the eyes.
Swiftly, I donned my shiniest set of silver and black armor, leaving the cape behind. Locking my gauntlets into place, I felt my heart pounding, pounding against my chest. A flush of blood came through my skull, briefly blinding me. I knew what I had to do then. I knew it at that moment.
It was like when I had decided to kill Thrash. As soon as the thought was in me, it was me, and I would act.
We took out the relay station on the moon first. If that hadn’t been there, maybe we wouldn’t have stopped. But they had seen us; they had known. We had to kill them. Po could be blinded by anger sometimes. I didn’t agree with this at all. We were in tremendous danger, deep in enemy territory like this. Yes, Kuriza was far away, chasing Lady Yuki to her doom, but he had trillions of soldiers. Fleets patrolled his region, and he had armies in reserve, in case either Icer or Arcterial decided to attack. All this we had learned from our own recon. Po knew it too. Why then we were stopping? We could use the fuel, aye, but we didn’t need it. We could hit a station outside of imperial space just as well. He wanted to destroy this place for the hell of it.
My lungs burned in the iciness of the upper atmosphere. Three hundred men flanked me. We soared down and down, the wind in our hair, like dragons spilling from a cracked moon. It was not long before angry bolts of molten energy came racing up to greet us from the swarming fog. We dodged and weaved, and some didn’t make it. Those who could not keep up burned to dust in the wind.
Landing hard in the mud, rain bouncing off my armor, I made out of the faint outline of a lavender-metal building, silhouetted vaguely by the mists. My scouter beeped with light. Someone flashed onto the screen – a woman, alien and orange-skinned and tall, with dry green eyes and a scar on her cheek. Her look tore through me with white-hot fury.
“Who are you?! What are you doing here?!”
“Taking what we want,” I told her. “Surrender and we might spare you.”
“Hah!” Her smugness was a bit unnerving. The soldiers hit the mud behind me, in thuds of varying intensity. Most of them were breathing hard. The outpost’s defenses had stopped attacking. There was no sign of anyone, though I was picking up readings coming from the outpost. “Do you know where you are, pirate?!”
“Pirate?! I’m no damn pirate!” I shouted at her as if she were real. A soldier behind me shot a ki blast at one of the buildings ahead, vaporizing a lanky defense turret. As the ki blast passed through the air, causing the falling rain to sizzle and vaporize as it cut through the torrent, the light past across the vision of my scouter, and the station commander’s face was for a moment illuminated. As the light passed by, life shone in her eyes. “I destroyed the pirates who dared attack Arcose. I led the assault against that Jolean merchant prince Sirkac Shadowrider not three weeks ago. And now you call me a pirate? How dare you, beast.”
“Then what are you?” She was fierce of spirit.
“A free man. You’d be surprised, but there aren’t that many of my kind anymore.” Looking over my shoulder, I gave a nod, and we charged. The rain had stirred up a freshness in the air; the scouter whistled and whined as dozens and dozens of moderately high power readings approached. Such things gave me no pause. I was far stronger than them. I put in the effort.
The first fool came for me shouting uncertainly. I dropped to a knee, kicked his feet out from under him, and buried my fist in his chest. He spilled his life’s blood in the mud. My men reached the edge of the city, where Kuriza’s defenders awaited. Ki flashed through the fog. Men screamed. The smell of burnt hair grew thicker and fouler with every passing second. Not even the rain could wash it away. A building went up in flames. The ground trembled.
Two men were charging me, wearing the same kind of armor as me. I didn’t know how they could know I was a rebel, or how I could know they weren’t my men. Instinctively, I blasted them away with a purple energy beam – one in each hand.
Some were rolling about on the ground. One man, his flame-orange hair sopping wet, pinned another. Blood ran down the orange-haired man’s face. He punched the pinned furry alien on the nose, raised his head to the sky, closed his eyes, and laughed. Looking down again, he raised his hands over the pinned alien and created a yellow ki ball between them. Lightning reached overhead as he burned away his foe’s skull.
Spilling into the streets, the war-crying aliens exchanged energy volleys. Windows shattered, Walls crumbled, splintered, turned to dust, and yet, amidst all of this, neither side held a clear advantage. Indeed, it was difficult to even tell whose side anyone was on. Some aliens gave me funny looks or were of species I knew had not served in Lord Nitro’s region. They were easy to blast away. One tusk-faced portly, grey-skinned beast blew apart one of my men with a combined two-handed energy blast. I kicked him across the face, shattering his teeth. I could have ended it quickly. But he killed one of my men. He deserved to suffer. Kicking him across the neck, I dropped the alien face-first into the mud, where he slid, leaving a blood-streak in the wet dirt. His neck was broken. He would bleed out, unable to move, as his comrades fell around him. A fitting end, I thought.
Catching my breath, I noticed an orange aura in the sky, approaching from further back in the city. The station commander was finally showing. I wondered what had taken her so long. Her men must have been demoralized. I grinned and blew a man’s heart out. He didn’t even scream. His gasp had been soundless; he was dead before he wilted to the ground.
I met her in the air, rain beating against my cheeks. I had to blink away the stinging in my eyes. It was so cold. I hated this. I couldn’t stand it. I had left to get away from places like this. I wanted to go somewhere warm and peaceful. I wanted to buy my own reef and slowly drink myself to death while watching the sun set every day. That’s how any self-respecting man wants to go out. On my homeworld, to serve is to be vulnerable, to be naked. I served a man and his daughter and their favorite rodent. I had been compelled. The strain had beaten me down, worn my patience to the bone. The thought had come to me suddenly and without pause, in the heat of battle, and I found myself unable to focus upon my foe.
When she hit me, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. My cheek was numb from the cold. Explosions rattled the city from below. Wiping rainwater from my mouth, I dodged her next attack, shooting up over her left shoulder. Before she could react, I had already sent a trailing red finger beam to slice through her neck. It hit her in the lower back as she tried to dodge.
“You’re runaways, aren’t you?” Her eyes radiated pity, not disgust. “Whom did you serve?”
“I serve no one.” My attack bloomed like a flower, growing outwards with bold white light. She batted it aside as if it were a child’s trifle. “Never again.”
“This world belongs to the rightful emperor of the universe,” she spat back at me. “I will defend Lord Kuriza’s empire with my life.”
“That’s the spirit!”
We were dodging and punching and weaving through the rain as our men bled around us. Buildings collapsed; some took to the air and were shot down. My fist found her fist. The air exploded, ringing through my ears. I caught my breath. The rain bathed me in its tender coolness.
Her intensity was something to behold. I had never faced a foe whose energy flowed so unfiltered, raw as passion.
I kicked her across the chest, sending her flying through a window, into a building, creating a huge crater in the impact. Debris floated through the air. The gash was swarmed by fresh rain. The woman staggered to her feet, clutching at her collarbone. The armor covering it had cracked. She was out of breath.
I lunged at her wildly, punching her knee so hard I felt it give way. The woman screamed, flinging herself away from me, through the other wall of the building, back out into the rain. With little effort, I pursued.
She blocked the first few punches, even hitting me hard a few times herself (one clever jab gave me a black eye), but it was a forgone conclusion by that point. My stamina overwhelmed hers, as did my power level. As I powered up more before her eyes, her scouter exploded, and her eyes could no longer hide their fear. I had been a high-ranking officer in Lord Nitro’s army. I had trained and been trained and grown strong. Space pirates never reached anywhere close to my level. I told her I wasn’t one of them. She should have listened.
The soldiers fought on, loyally and brutally. One man grabbed another and tackled him through a window. Two more beat each other bloody as they flew through the streets. I teleported behind my foe and kicked her down into another building. This one she hit on the second floor. Having collided with the wall at an angle, her limp body slid against it and fell out of the crater it had fallen into, dropping to the ground. She did not get up. I smirked and landed in front of the crumpled, bleeding body of the idiot who had dared to stand against me. Like Thrash, she would be dealt with swiftly. I raised my left hand, a blue-white ball of energy forming in front of my palm, growing in size with every passing moment.
As I was charging up my final attack, my scouter wrung again. With my free hand, I accepted the incoming transmission. It was from Po. He was talking quickly, breathlessly, as I had never heard him speak before, “Tanarilo, retreat! Get back here! There’s another fleet attacking us! There’s a lot of ships. We’re leaving. Get up here, now or we’re leaving you behind! Hurry!”
I was just about to reply when I felt something warm on my fingers. Then a pulse of pain came, and it was horrible and twisted and brought me to my knees screaming. The orange-skinned woman was sitting up, her hands smoking. My own hand was wrecked, my fingers split apart. My blood had splattered on her face. She fired a second shot, taking me in the side of the head, destroying the scouter.
A sense of wooziness overtook me. My head was spinning, my hand was throbbing and bleeding and burning, and the cold was back, and there was nothing so comfortless as the cold. Gritting my teeth, I sat up; my grunt grew into a growl, which grew into a scream. I was on my feet again, standing over the broken, exhausted figure of the station commander. She had expended all of her energy on those last cursed blasts. I felt a trickle of blood running down the side of my head. My ears were ringing. She had hurt me. I needed immediate medical attention. I had to go. If I wanted to win, I had to go.
We all had to. But with my scouter destroyed, that complicated matters. My injuries were overtaking me, forcing me again to my knees, and I wanted nothing more than to lay down and get some rest. I wished I had the energy to end her. As it was, I rose into the air, created a small flare attack to get everyone’s attention, and shouted at my men (however many of them remained) to retreat with me. I don’t know how many of them heard me. I don’t know how many of them were left by that point. Hundreds had died. Dozens yet fought in the streets.
A chill wind blew. I turned my head to the sky, masked by fog, and flew. My ruined hand bled the whole way up.
He recommended me Jol Ilin whiskey. I bought a glass of Arcosian chillrose wine instead. The orbital platform drifted solemnly above Planet Bilaho in a slow spiral. The planet’s atmosphere swirled with cyaneous clouds too thick to penetrate with light. The bar was almost completely empty. Everything was made of light; the windows reflected the stars, the dancers shook their bodies in glowing plastic outfits, and the walls and floors were covered in light-reflective purplish tiles that made the air sparkle and shine.
I downed the glass without saying a word. My hand throbbed in its cast. Grimacing, I hoped getting drunk would dull the pain. He talked the whole time. “Bastard’s down there. Got his fleet hiding under the clouds. We’re going in and taking back what’s ours!”
Po’s bloodlust was understandable, but my patience was running thin. After our failed attempt to assault Planet Frieza 057, half of the fleet had been lost. A fleet had been hidden on the other side of the planet, refueling on the far moon. When they got wind of our approach, they came at once, taking Po from behind. Many ships were lost. More fled. Those who made it out alive had ended up here, outside of imperial space. Planet Bihalo was the lair of the famous pirate prince Medler. He had a monstrous reputation of pillaging and raping and killing and it was no wonder that the defected defectors sought him out like a space-badger would spoiled meat.
“I’ll kill him. I’ll blow his fucking brains out!” I had never seen Po like this. He wasn’t even really ranting to me. We were sitting at the same table, drinking our drinks, watching the dancers. He needed to let it out, I guess. I loathed him for his discourtesy. “Taking my men… the arrogance. He needs to be humbled. I’ll fight him one on one, eh, Tanarilo? You know how strong I am. There’s no way that Jolean slimeball can defeat me! No way in hell!”
I nodded in distantly-aware agreement. A couple entered the space bar, ordered drinks clumsily, and sat down next to us. Admiral Po barely seemed to notice them.
“And once we’ve got them back, we’re going back to that fucking planet… 57. We will destroy it – all of it. The planet, the fleet, the moons, every miserable bastard who’d ever served in that outpost…”
“Let it go, sir,” I spoke up suddenly. My cup was dry. My mouth was dry. Another was on the way. My mouth had worked out those words on its own. I wasn’t even drunk yet. The pain gnawed at me, goaded me forward.
“What?!” He glared at me, a predator thirsting to pounce. There was no pity in his eyes, no remorse. He hated me. I saw it in his eyes. “How dare you question me, Tanarilo! I should have you demoted, you worthless insubordinate!” He got so unlike himself when he was angry. “This is about honor, you coward! Don’t you have any?”
I downed my second glass. Po did another three shots of whiskey in that time. He ranted between gulps, and the other patrons learned to stop staring. In between my fingers, the key to Admiral Po’s room was warm against my skin. I held it tight. A small bit of doubt had lingered with me even to this bar. But now, seeing my admiral, the drunken raging lunatic that he was, I felt no great sympathy. The dancers were Zar-degar from Cooler’s region. Their breasts bounced with the beat, holding my attention. Their nipples were the same color as their eyes.
Admiral Po stood up suddenly, almost falling over as he did. “Goddamn Medler! That’s enough, let’s go! We need to get some sleep, Tanarilo! Tanarilo?!”
“Escort me back to my chambers.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
He never slurred his speech when he got drunk. He got more audacious, more manic, more hateful. But he never lost his firm countenance. I was glad I didn’t need to help him walk. Even with only three glasses of chillrose wine in me, an icy drunkenness had descended over my body, giving everything a pleasant and brighter feel to it. I was grinning as I led Po away, even as he fumed and muttered of Medler.
A drunken tribe of space-badgers were losing their life savings playing the card game sniraak against two well-dressed, sunglass-wielding purple-skinned aliens with translucent jelly-like hair. Those ones were professionals. The space-badgers, foul and near-feral, had no hope. Two Quglith ministers stood in a corner of the bar whispering to one another. One held a frayed black book with a queer white arc-shaped symbol on it that looked almost like a tear in the cover. When the captain and I approached, they ceased their conversation and stared at us until we left.
Never stay in an orbital motel. That’s what Po always believed, and tonight was no different. He was a remarkably sober drunk. We returned to the ship, out of armor, two drunk officers of a fallen empire. This was the life. At least my hand wasn’t hurting anymore. My heart was beating; my chest felt good. I held the key tight in my palm.
The colors were almost rainbows, but there wasn’t enough green or yellow. Everything in the room pulsed to a beat, purple and low and fading to pink before falling to purple again. “Goddamn space pirate. I had a chance to rout his fleet three months ago, but I let him get away… and…”
The door out of the bar opened and in strode a massive creature whose skin color – a glossy pinkish-purple – fit right in with the rest of the room. He was furless with pointed, white teeth, and long, pulled-back ears. His armor was blue and black and white, and he eyed us hungrily.
“Lightweights,” the alien said coolly. “Leaving already? Hah!”
“We’ve got important business–” I began in a professional tone when Admiral Po interrupted me.
“Get out of my way, beast. How dare you talk to me!”
The tall alien found that amusing. “You’re not going to make it long out here if you talk to every stranger you meet like that.”
“I fear no man,” Po exclaimed proudly. His arrogance was appalling.
“I know!” The alien with the long ears chuckled lightly. “I didn’t expect you would.” Still snickering to himself, the giant alien lumbered off to find himself a drink. We were out the door, moving down white-painted tube-like hallways that gave me a sense of claustrophobia. It was all so white and artificial and the same. Soon it was the admiral leading us, the drunken fool. He knew which tunnel led to the ship, and I followed him, mystified and distressed in my own drunkenness.
When we reached the air-locked door to the ship, I unlocked it, and he stepped in first. A soldier was on patrol inside, and he let us in the next door, following us in behind. Then, I led the admiral down the long hallway to his chambers. It was a silent walk. We met no one else along the way. The lights were dimmed. Po was breathing hard, sucking in air as if to hoard it. It was good no one else was around. My heart was racing; my palms were sweating bad. I could feel my pulse pecking my broken hand. This was it. This was the moment.
He stopped before the door quite abruptly. He was drunk, after all. Po scratched his chin and turned to me. “Damn Medler. I’ll see that bastard dead if it’s the last thing I do,” he swore. “Get some rest, Tanarilo, you look terrible. I’ll need you tomorrow.”
“Aye, sir. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I bowed and shook his hand quickly.
Po gave me a mild look of disgust, wiped his hand on his pants, and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. The muscle relaxant had pierced the palm of his hand, and he hadn’t noticed. It would already be taking effect. I locked the door with the stolen key I had bought from another crewmember (who was no longer with us, rest his soul).
It hadn’t been this door that had been the fun one to unlock, I supposed, as I stood there alone in the barely-lit hallway. The silver of the key reflected up at me my own broken image. The door to his pet monster – that had been more fun to open. And by now, Po would barely be able to walk, barely be able to resist. He wouldn’t be able to power up, wouldn’t be able to defend himself. He would feel it all. He would be awake until the end. But he wouldn’t be able to scream.
I pulled the tiny injector I had glued to my palm off and incinerated it with a flick of the wrist.
Po left me fifty ships. I didn’t make it to Atjoh with half that number. Not even close. We met a crew in space headed by a man who called himself Shyotai. The war had been swift and savage, and I had killed that three eyed little shrimp easily. We lost five ships. That was nothing compared to the next crew we met.
The captain of that monstrous fleet’s name was Slagg. He commanded a ship that was surely from the Planet Trade Organization – and possibly owned by a member of the royal family, it was that impressive. His pirate fleet had numbered in the thousands. We barely got out of there with ten ships. Most of the bastards defected. I should have burned them all after Po. That’s how useful they had proven to me.
We were six ships a week ago. Hemorrhaging crews like this brought upon total fleet depression. Everywhere we stopped, it seemed a ship or two slipped off. I had met with another crew on Nephkari VI who had told me of work transporting Nil shipments on Planet Atjoh. They had even given me the contact information of a possible employer. Our fleet was now too small to defend itself from other roving pirate crews. We couldn’t maraud. This was the only way to make a living. And we had to make a living. We were free men. We were vulnerable.
Four ships made it to the Jolean homeworld. Only I went to the surface. My employer resided in the floating city of Nyaho. I had heard that the Jolean floating cities were one of the eight wonders of Cooler’s Empire, but I was not prepared to experience their breathtaking beauty in person. The cities were built of shining black stone with curved, frilled roofs. Flower-bloomed vines grew up the stone, some stretching over the streets from one building to another, and on them sat bright-feathered Jaju birds and primate-like, blue-furred Myani. Lights hovered in the streets, bobbing blue then yellow then purple. Hover vehicles split the air as they raced down the stone roads. Joleans were everywhere – green-black slender aliens walking the streets in outfits of every size and color imaginable. Few wore Planet Trade Organization armor. Their robes were peach and pale rose and dappled green-and-yellow, and they radiated with light, all of them. I thought of Medler and his lightless world and felt only pity for those who had fled to him.
Spicemaster Gerin waited for me in a restaurant called Omelo’s Pit, a sleek, modern establishment without half the crowd of the the orbital space bar over Bihalo. He had ordered a sorligh fruit for me – a gold-and-black-skinned, spiky fruit that had to be cut open before being served. Its sweet, soft-textured flesh melted easily in my mouth.
Gerin was a ruin of a Jolean. His fourth chin was barely visible squeezed between his third and fifth chins. All the perfume he wore didn’t mask the smell of sweat in the air. His eyes were yellow, and his hair was almost completely gone. His robes were purple with a brown and red patterning along the sleeves. He wore a gold chain around his neck with a hanging red stone that seemed to drink in the light of the world. I simply wore the same armor I always did. He took me for a warrior at once.
“Planet Trade Organization, eh?”
I had heard of what Yuki had done, surrendering to Kuriza to save her life. That had been a pitifully fitting end. “Not anymore.”
“Just as well,” he smiled greedily, his fat fingers tapping his knuckles impatiently. “So you’re lookin’ for work, eh?”
“I have ships,” I told him. “We can leave tonight if that’s what you need.” I didn’t want to sound too desperate. Freedom had a barren severity to it that no one ever talked about. We couldn’t go back to the Planet Trade Organization, even though that’s exactly where we were. We were wanderers now, deserters without a home to return to. Everywhere we went, people would try to kill us. We would walk as ghosts amongst the ruins of our past for all eternity.
“Tomorrow.” Gerin’s voice was firm. “Your crew will dock their ships and stay at my mansion. I have room for everyone. All of your men must be vetted and inspected, and if they all prove to be genuine, they will be allowed to participate.”
“What about me?” I asked.
The portly merchant took a reckless bite out of the side of his own sorligh. “You… Commander Tanarilo, I already looked you up. I know all about you. I know what you did to your admiral.” I thought only of the monster that I had disposed of the morning after. “And I know what befell your fleet. You are a capable officer, Mr. Tanarilo. I trust your instincts. You will organize and manage my trade routes from now on, do you understand me?”
His voice had dropped so low that only I could hear it. It was hot, even this high up in the atmosphere. Sweat was on the back of my neck. “I understand, sir. I’m your man. You can count on me.” The words flowed freely, bitterly, leaving me empty of emotion after being expelled from my body.
The man cackled. His teeth were yellow below masks of white that had not covered everything. “We’ll go now.” He made a gesture over the screen built into the table we were sitting at, paying for the meal. When we stood up, the hovering chairs turned off and stuck to the bottom of the table. He led me outside, to the brightness overflowing from the doorway.
“My daughter is making dinner,” Gerin explained. “We should get back soon. I must find you the maps to Ctaedi and Dalon IV.”
“I know where Ctaedi is,” I said carelessly, picking at my near-healed hand wound.
“You know the planet, not the dropzone,” the fat man grunted as he waddled down the road, drawing a fissure in the crowds that had to split in the forward wake of his gargantuan path. “Where you will be picking up the Nil is something only I know.”
“Picking up?” I was confused, I thought Gerin distributed the Nil.
“The Quglith make it themselves,” he told me, not looking at me. “They are the Nil providers. They always have been. Didn’t you know?” I shook my head. “Bah, well anyways, you’ll need that map, and the map to Dalon IV. Dalon’s where you drop the stuff off for galactic distribution.”
“Why doesn’t the client on Dalon IV pick up the Nil themselves? Are we just middlemen?”
“No. I work for him, same as you.”
The sky was impossibly blue. Birds flittered tinkling music interspersing the monotony of hover vehicles roaring against time. “You’ll meet him, I’m told. He wants to see you.”
We were in a packed flock of Joleans, every one of them going off somewhere else from us. For this brief moment, we were all together, boxed in by necessity, detached from reality. “Who is he?”
“Ya don’t know, truly?” I shook my head again. A hover bike went speeding down the road, nearly hitting a pedestrian who had feverishly been crossing the middle of a road. I looked up and found the pink blooms of Atjohnian tersani flowers and I was comforted once again. “He’s the Aphotic Prince, Tanarilo. Don’t you forget that.”
“The Aphotic Prince?” I could scarce hide the incredulity from my voice. “Admiral Articho destroyed him and his ilk months ago.”
Spicemaster Gerin laughed and laughed, and his belly wobbled, and his chins jiggled. It was as if he had never found something so funny in his entire life, as if he had never known humor and now he was being bathed in it. I didn’t see what was so funny. The Aphotic Prince was dead. This was long-known. His empire had been irrefutably shattered. His space pirates were gone. In the region of space they had once inhabited, there weren’t any space pirates anymore. There weren’t any planets there anymore, either. But Gerin found it funny, and when I asked him again, he merely smiled at me with that same greedy gaze and patted his belly.
I should have known, then. I suppose killing Po had made me as daring as a Heoli blade juggler. I should have questioned Gerin a bit more. I should have been more cautious. As it turned out, this path I was walking down with the fat intergalactic merchant was one that would damn not just me, but millions and millions of innocent people. But that is a tale for another day.
Chapter XV: Immortals
|Position:||King Cold's niece; Fleet Admiral in Icer's empire|
|Date of account:||October 22, 766 Age|
Chapter XVI: The Birth of a Tyrant
|Position:||Lord of Arcterial's empire|
|Date of account:||November 5, 766 Age|
Chapter XVII: Starvation
|Position:||Bouncer for the Galactic Bank|
|Date of account:||November 12, 766 Age|
Chapter XVIII: Skies of Mithlon
|Position:||Senior Admiral in the Faerin Empire|
|Date of account:||November 27, 766 Age|
Chapter XIX: One Thousand Treasons
|Position:||Bouncer for the Galactic Bank|
|Date of account:||December 2, 766 Age|
Chapter XX: Last Dawn
|Position:||Lord of Arcterial's empire|
|Date of account:||February 5, 767 Age|
Chapter XXI: Starfire
|Position:||King Cold's niece; Supreme General in Icer's empire|
|Date of account:||February 5, 767 Age|
Chapter XXII: Lighteater
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in the Faerin Empire|
|Date of account:||February 17, 767 Age|
Chapter XXIII: Nil
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Kuriza's empire|
|Date of account:||March 4, 766 Age|
Chapter XXIV: A Prince Does Not Forget His Name
|Position:||Lord of Icer's empire|
|Date of account:||March 7, 767 Age|
Chapter XXV: Locus of Nihility
|Date of account:||May 20, 767 Age|
Planet Trade Organization Leaders: End
This section will detail who is in charge of the Planet Trade Organization as of the end of this volume: