The long and winding Road
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any portion of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. I just like to bring some of these characters out to visit my playground and promise to put them back when we've finished our game. No money has been made as a result of this fan's creation.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: There is little canonical information regarding the past of Telemachus Rhade. If you find inconsistencies, and have a canonical source to which you can refer me, please do it so that I might refine this work and bring it a little closer into alignment with “Andromedaverse.”
REVIEWS/FEEDBACK: Yes, please!
Anastasia Theros wasn’t the only inhabitant of Terazed who was expressing an interest in seeing Rakel Ben-Tzion dead. The primary Ben-Tzion residence was exquisitely vandalized and in flames by the end of the day. Crudely constructed mannequins, bearing the likeness of the former First Triumvir, were found dismembered throughout the city. Graffiti and defaced likenesses adorned the walls in public places, calling for her death in a variety of colorful ways.
The following day, in a pre-emptive attempt to control what would certainly become chaos, the courtroom was closed to public admittance, although the trial continued to be publicly and openly broadcast. Armed escorts brought the witnesses one at a time so that they could provide their testimonies. When their services were no longer required, their escorts removed them to an undisclosed location for detainment and/or protection, as dictated by the judicial committee, until the conclusion of the trial.
Telemachus kept a grim distance from the dozen other witnesses sequestered in the small conference room two levels below the main courtroom. He watched them with a curious sense of amusement and growing concern for their mental well-being. An older woman, probably a member of the triumvirate administrative staff kept alternately cursing and weeping as she paced. A young man kept himself continually on the outer perimeter, nervously sucking on an inhaler every few minutes, complaining about the walls closing in.
He flipped his comm unit open and keyed his chief aide.
“Problems, sir?” Jetring asked quickly.
“Just checking in,” Telemachus replied.
Jetring nodded. “Dr. Theros is in her lab. I can see her from here. She said to tell you that she’s emphatically displeased that you’ve unceremoniously put her under house arrest, and that you are sleeping alone for the foreseeable future. She hopes you like the couch, because you picked it out, and that’s where you’ll be sleeping until further notice.”
Telemachus snorted in amusement despite himself, feeling a little of his apprehensions dissipate. “Remind the esteemed Dr. Theros that if she’s in her lab, she’s most certainly not under house arrest,” he said with a bemused expression. “Tell her to think of you as her bodyguard.”
“Sir? I tried that already. She said to tell you that you’d be better advised to assign a bodyguard to someone else, and that you’d know exactly what that meant.”
Telemachus sighed; he didn’t miss the threat passed vicariously through Jetring, and he wondered if the other man knew it was Rakel Ben-Tzion to whom Stasia referred. “You have your orders. She’s not to leave your sight, not even for the unexpected arrival of Drago Museveni.”
Jetring acknowledged and Telemachus terminated the communication. He leaned his head back against the wall and examined the ceiling tiles. It was going to be a very long day.
Arvin Beetie, chief defense attorney, smiled compassionately as two armed lancers escorted Rakel Ben-Tzion to the witness box. She was dressed in an understated blue dress that was tailored to give the appearance of common simplicity. Hesitantly, she took her seat and tucked her short hair behind her ears.
At a table to her left, she could see the Nietzschean prosecutor glaring at her. She looked back to Beetie, who had the same fixed smile as a moment ago.
After all parties had taken their seats, Judge Maya Caran looked sternly down from her bench to the witness.
“I am advised that you wish to be liberated from the services of your previously selected defense staff. Is this correct?”
Rakel nodded. “Yes, your honor, that is correct. I will plead my case of my own accord. If I am unable to cause the jury to see the wisdom of my actions, then none other can.”
Beetie’s mouth dropped open in shock. This had not been previously discussed and he had spoken with Rakel only thirty minutes earlier!
Caran slammed her gavel down. “So be it! Let the court records show that Rakel Ben-Tzion is releasing the defense staff from its obligation to provide counsel to her, and that she further elects to speak on her own behalf. The defense staff is dismissed.”
Beetie continued to look over his shoulder as he was escorted from the room. April Woteel’s feral grin sent a shudder through his spine as she waved at him before the doors sealed him out, changing his status in the proceedings to that of spectator in lieu of participant.
“I present your witness, prosecutor,” the judge said, gesturing toward the waiting woman.
Woteel flexed her bone blades for a moment, making a show of readjusting the elegant wrappings woven between them. Retracting the blades, she approached the witness stand with an impassive expression.
“The evidence presented against you is both compelling and overwhelming, Rakel Ben-Tzion. We can easily link you to the façade attack wherein it appeared that Magog were attacking our home world,” she began, clasping her hands before her as she paced the distance between the court reporter’s console and the witness stand. “We have confirmed that testimonies given earlier in the week are indeed true, and that you were directly involved. What rebuttal do you have to offer to the contrary?”
Rakel leaned back in the high-backed chair and crossed her legs, resting her hands on the padded armrests. With a placid smile, she cocked her head and glanced down at her accuser. “I offer no rebuttal,” she announced. “I am loyal to Terazed, to its continued prosperity, and future well-being. I did what was necessary for the safety of our home world.”
“Your safety measures are manifested in a curious manner.”
Rakel laughed lightly. “I don’t expect you to understand, my dear. Perhaps your engineering is flawed in some measure with regard to higher levels of comprehension?”
Woteel smiled coldly, refusing to take the bait.
“No matter,” Ben-Tzion continued. “I will enlighten you, and our world. Perhaps, then my actions will be better understood and appreciated.”
Woteel made a sweeping gesture. “Please, by all means, enlighten us.”
Rakel smiled down companionably at the prosecutor, much as one would patronize a small child with no hope of comprehending the logic of an adult. The expression on her face was just short of patronizing as she gazed upon the Nietzschean woman. “Love,” she said.
Woteel stopped her slow pacing in front of the witness box and eyed the other woman suspiciously, an incredulous semi-smirk crossing her face.
With a condescending purr of acknowledgement, Rakel nodded. “I suspected you wouldn’t understand, my dear. Let me be more obvious in my explanation. The catalyst for my actions was love. If I am to be put to death for what you have so ineptly classified as high treason, then let me go down in history as a martyr who died for her beliefs and for love.”
“A martyr? Love?” the prosecutor asked lightly, shaking her head.
Abruptly, the former first triumvir leaned forward, her well-manicured hands gripping the edge of the witness stand enclosure. “Yes, love! The kind of love a parent holds deep in her heart for her children, the kind of love that puts the child’s well-being above and beyond any other endeavor,” she declared earnestly.
“So, this court is to understand that you fabricated the appearance of a Magog attack on our planet, struck fear in the heart of countless souls, caused yourself to be reviled by the general populace…out of love?”
Satisfied, Rakel again leaned back, taking on an imperious air as she surveyed the disbelieving prosecutor. “You are quite correct. The governing parties of our homeworld have grown lax and complacent through centuries of peaceful hiding from the rest of the known worlds. That peace has engendered an incredible façade, an astronomically false sense of security and stability,” she gestured in sweeping circles.
With a satisfied nod, she continued. “It was my obligation as triumvir—a moral imperative—to sound the call for the military, the government, and the general populace to awaken and take heed. I don’t know that Admiral Telemachus Rhade has yet been called to the stand to present his testimony, but make note of the fact that even he will validate the fact that we were in no way prepared to adequately protect our planet—much less our system—against the might of a Magog attack. Also make note of that fact t hat assistance was requested from the Andromeda Ascendant.”
April Woteel smiled broadly. “Ah, yes, the Andromeda Ascendant. Let’s discuss the last remaining pre-Fall High Guard warship, shall we? You had a hand in bringing that auspicious event to fruition for Terazed, did you not? You must be quite proud of that accomplishment.”
“Actually, I consider it a crowning achievement in my triumvirate career. It is a moment that defined our world, our very reason for being set aside as the last refuge of the old Commonwealth.”
“I’m sure it was a defining moment for Lietenant Jamahl Hernandez-Rodriguez-Brown, also,” Woteel commented, consulting her flexi for a moment. “He was the courier pilot who initially made first contact with the Andromeda Ascendant…”
Rakel had the good graces to bow her head for a moment. “He was a member of the Guard. Every man and woman who serves pledges their lives to the fulfillment of their duties, knowing full well that their lives may be the price required to complete a mission.”
“That mission was a lie that cost an idealistic young man his life,” Woteel growled. “A senseless waste! His blood stains your hands as surely as if you had slit his throat with a blade.”
Rakel appeared bored and aloof. “It will be remembered as a token sacrifice, the last life generated on Terazed that was ever necessary to be lost due to Isolationist foolishness and the cowardice of countless generations. Very well, my lady prosecutor, lay his death at my feet amongst the other alleged crimes attached to my name.”
“Have no doubt that you will be held accountable for it,” Woteel affirmed. “But while we speak of the first contact made with the Andromeda Ascendant, let us speak also of the first encounter of a courier pilot with the warship.”
“We have discussed Lieutenant Jamahl already,” she said, straightening her back, frowning at the prosecutor.
Prosecutor April Woteel shook her head, flicked a piece of invisible lint from her skirt, and then looked up at her witness. “Think back, if you will indulge the court. Think back months and months when you first learned that a covert branch of the Guard had been sending out courier ships. For generations, these pilots have scoured the known worlds for hope of discovering the Andromeda Ascendant, for hope of guiding the ship and crew here to Terazed. Their missions have been conducted with the utmost secrecy, made known to the general populace only when Lieutenant Jamahl was at long last successful in his mission.”
The prosecutor stepped closer to the witness stand. “Commander Borean Davys,” she whispered.
Rakel Ben-Tzion’s beautiful olive skin turned slightly paler.
Satisfied with the reaction she had engineered, Woteel continued. “It was he, was it not, who actually first confirmed the whereabouts of the Andromeda Ascendant near Infinity Atoll, almost a year and a half ago? How did it come to pass that you were able to persuade him to keep his silence about that particular discovery, an event an entire planet had anticipated for over three hundred years?”
With no response from her witness, the prosecutor began to casually walk across the expanse of the courtroom. “Was it because he enjoyed the pleasure of sharing your bed when your husband was away that he was willing to become your instrument of betrayal? Was it perhaps because of your promise to include him in a profitable business venture that Commander Davys became your pawn in a dangerous game of sabotage and intrigue?”
Reluctantly, Ben-Tzion sighed. “Borean and I have known one another all our lives. There was a time, when we were much younger, that we considered marriage. That option passed by, but it is true that we have been occasional lovers when the situation suited us. Is that what you wish to hear, prosecutor, intimate bedroom secrets? Would you like to know which position is his favorite during sexual intercourse?”
Woteel laughed. “I’m sure the court wouldn’t be interested in anything so tediously mundane as the explicit details of your sexual pursuits. I was only trying to surmise the ultimate reason that Borean Davys became your conduit of information with the Kalderans.”
Rakel’s mouth opened, but no sound issued forth save for a garbled choking noise. Perspiration beaded her upper lip and her skin lost some of its exotic coloring.
Woteel crossed her arms in satisfaction and cocked her head. Smug triumph registered across her exquisitely beautiful features. “Oops, did we forget the little fact of the Kalderans, Former First Triumvir? We have irrefutable evidence and eye witness testimonies. Let me see if I have the facts straight, as they were explained to me.”
With a dramatic sweep of her long skirt, Woteel meandered closer to the judge’s bench. “Commander Davys discovered the long-lost warship near Infinity Atoll. Rather than report this news to the Guard, he told you about his find, knowing that somehow you could parlay that into some sort of profitable venture for the both of you.
“During his missions to ‘search’ for the
Andromeda, he was also your instrument of communication with a neutral negotiator,
carrying your instructions regarding what would most certainly become highly
profitable…once Terazed again became an easily locatable destination
amongst the known worlds. Your enterprise was profitable, but would be even
more so…if only you could persuade Terazed to come out of hiding.
The appearance of the Andromeda was necessary for that plan to come to fruition
as you destired.
“Was it in the plan that your Kalderan business partners would have free and easy access through our defense grid, ushered in with hospitality to wreak havoc on our world? Or, did you somehow incur their wrath through a crooked business deal, and they repaid your treachery with their own brand of it?”
To her credit, Rakel Ben-Tzion bowed her head in silence. An actress who had honed her skills in the political arena, it appeared that unshed tears welled in her dark eyes and she made a show of dabbing at them with the edge of a sleeve when she looked up again. “That was a miscalculation, a misfortune of events,” she murmured. “I make no pretense of attempting to hide the truth, although my involvement is not what you imagine it to be. It is true that I anticipated a day in the future when Terazed would again become a part of the known worlds, perhaps even the central world in the new Commonwealth. It was my plan to have solidified business partnerships and secure investments outside our current sphere of influence. Davys was my conduit toward establishing those relationships.”
For a moment, Rakel gazed at her prosecutor, her expression unreadable. “Davys also established investments and partnerships of his own. It was agreed that it was a point of mutual advantage to delay the inevitable announcement of his discovery of Captain Hunt and his warship, although he was able to keep track of their whereabouts. We entered into a complicated arrangement with a group of Kalderans and Nightsiders. The profits were astronomical—but something went terribly wrong...”
Woteel rested her chin in her hand and nodded. “Obviously something went wrong. You trusted Kalderans and Nightsiders.”
“The business deal went sour. The Nightsiders placed the blame on me and Davys, and the Kalderans bought their sordid tale of deceit and fraud. We all lost fortunes, the association was disbanded, and the Kalderans swore vengeance against us. By the time I realized what was inevitable, Davys had lost the scent on the trail of the Andromeda, and with it, any hope of salvation from impending doom.”
“You knew an attack was coming, and you kept your silence?” the prosecutor asked, her voice pitching oddly.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that they could breach the defense grid. Granted, over the last hundred years, we have had the odd attack on an orbiting station, and I assumed it would be no worse than that,” she offered in reasonable tones. “I still don’t know what went wrong, how they…how it…the attack…” For the first time, it seemed the woman was at a loss.
“Perhaps this might help. I offer Exhibit 58D,” Woteel announced, triggering a remote that displayed a holographic image of Commander Borean Davys.
The man was in his early forties, his face best described as boyishly handsome, a strange contrast to the early graying at his temples. Dark circles hung under his eyes. “This message was retrieved from the redundant storage arrays. It’s taken a considerable amount of time to restore the data, but we’ve had some of our best people working on it,” Woteel announced. “It’s quite…fascinating.”
There was a hiss of static, and Davys hastily glanced over his shoulder. “Rakel, my love, I hope you get this message. I’ve proposed a solution for our former business associates, a peace offering, if you will. They are coming—there’s no preventing that, but I’m hoping to try and put some focused control on the situation. I’ve made arrangements to temporarily drop the grid, let them in, sound the alert and then the Guard can obliterate them. All of our problems will be….”
The look on the man’s face was one of indescribable shock and pain. A plasma beam pierced his chest and he slid from view. A cackling laugh could be heard over Davys’ dying moans as the image broke into static.
Telemachus now understood how people confined to small spaces for great amounts of time could go insane. The constant shuffling of feet, whispered conversations, and restless movements of the other people in the small room was beginning to grate on his nerves in ways he hadn’t anticipated. It was difficult to keep his mind focused on anything except for Stasia and her potential reaction to the outcome of these trials.
Try as he might to not dwell on it, his thoughts were deeply centered and troubled on a single issue. Stasia had announced to him the circumstances under which she would assassinate the former First Triumvir. He had a sickening feeling that those circumstances were about to be met within the next few days, if not sooner. He’d assigned Jetring to remain with her at all times, and she was livid because of it.
He smiled despite the seriousness of the situation. Better that she should be furious with him today than in prison tomorrow. On the other hand, if Ben-Tzion did prove to be the instrument that allowed the Kalderans to lay waste to entire cities, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands, she deserved whatever punishment befell her. The bright lights of his life that had been his three children were forever extinguished by that attack. If Rakel had caused that monumental loss in his life, he might easily forget that he had pledged his life to the Home Guard, and the protection of every citizen of his homeworld.
He was pulled from his thoughts by the call to attention from the doorway. “…please, attention, everyone,” called a female voice.
He glanced up to see one of the judicial administrative clerks standing in the doorway, a flexi in her hand. “The high court thanks you for your time, but your services are no longer required. The trial has concluded, and you are free to leave.”
There were shouts and cheers, applause, and even a little weeping. Telemachus was deeply confused and made his way to the door.
“What’s happened?” he asked, taking the young woman by the arm and leading her into the corridor.
“The trial is over, admiral,” she repeated. “Rakel
Ben-Tzion confessed to all the charges against her. Formal sentencing will
take place tomorrow morning. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m needed
in the processing office.”
Telemachus stepped into the small courtyard at his home. Commander Jetring seemed comfortable enough, reclining in a chaise lounge as Stasia poured him a tall glass of some cold beverage. A small tray of pastries balanced precariously on one knee.
“Is that lemonade?” he ventured, smiling brightly
at her. Jetring struggled to rearrange the refreshments so he could stand
and offer a salute to his superior, but Telemachus waved off his attempt
at formality. “At ease, Jetring. Enjoy your danish and drink.”
Stasia glanced at him with aloof indifference, not returning the smile. “Admiral Rhade.”
“Dr. Theros,” he responded lightly. He bowed slightly, and the amusement was still evident on his handsome features.
“You are correct. It was lemonade, freshly squeezed, but I’m sorry to share with you that the last of it has just been served to the commander. He’s had a rather exhausting day, monitoring my every breath,” she explained, raising an eyebrow in a slightly challenging manner.
He fought the urge to laugh. Her ire was deliciously arousing.
“Then perhaps I should relieve him,” Telemachus announced. “Commander, you are dismissed—after you’ve finished your snacks, of course. Report here at my residence at 0800 tomorrow.”
Jetring shoved the rest of the pastry in his mouth and chugged back the lemonade. He scrambled to his feet. “Yes, sir,” he said quickly. With a brief bow for Stasia, he was gone in a few moments more.
“I do believe that’s the first man I’ve ever seen move so hastily in the opposite direction from you,” he chuckled. “Ordinarily, I have to be concerned with being run over by would-be admirers trying to capture your attention. Poor Jetring! I may have to recommend him for promotion in light of excellent performance under hazardous duty.”
She crossed her arms and sat on a bench. “You are so petty and mean, Telemachus Rhade!” she hissed. “You imagine yourself to be quite clever, don’t you? I hope you’re enjoying yourself immensely with this little charade of yours. This business of keeping me under constant surveillance is hideously embarrassing.”
“It’s for your own good,” he commented, moving closer to the bench. “I’d rather for you to be embarrassed than imprisoned for murdering the former first triumvir.”
She turned and glared at him. “Do you know that he has the nerve to escort me to the restroom?” she demanded.
He sighed and cautiously sat next to her. “It’ll be over very soon. Everything will be better soon. I promise.”
He felt the rigid tension intensify as he slid an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep,” she warned him.
“She confessed to everything,” he said after a moment. “She said that she accepted full responsibility for her actions, and was prepared to meet the consequences.”
“So, what happens now?”
He shrugged. “Never in our history have we had to deal with such events. In the days of the old Commonwealth, such treachery was rewarded by the death penalty. She’ll be formally sentenced tomorrow, but it’s merely a formality for publicity’s sake.”
“How will it be done?” she asked, her interest suddenly piqued. “Firing squad, shove her out an airlock in deep space, drop her in a den of starving hilderbearts, or douse her in a vat of acid?”
“Uh, none of those,” he countered. “Remind me to never come to you for disciplinary action suggestions,” he said lightly, trying to soften the mood. “Most likely, I would assume it would be some sort of lethal injection, or whatever method the Triumvirate decrees to be the most humane.”
“What she did deserves no treatment in the name of humanity!”
He nodded. “No, but justice will be served, Stasia, and that’s all we can ask.”
“Perhaps our children will then at last rest in peace when their murderer draws her last breath,” she whispered.
He took her hand and lightly kissed it.
“What will happen to her in the meantime?” she asked, resting her head on his shoulder.
“She’ll be confined at the detention center under maximum security. She won’t escape, if that’s your concern, not unless she can be magically transported from prison on wings made of wishes. She’ll answer with her life for her crimes, I’m sure of it.”
They sat there together for a long while, lost in their private thoughts, watching the fountain percolate until the sun began to dip toward the horizon.
“It’s getting late,” she said. “We should go in,” she suggested as she stood. She tugged on his hand, pulling him to his feet. “Would you care to share a bath?”
His eyes widened as a grin creased his face. “Are we conserving water?”
“Consider it the beginning of diplomatic peace negotiations, ‘Lemachus,” she smiled.
“Are you finished being angry with me?” he asked hopefully.
“Yes, plus you are ruining my nice sofa by drooling on it in your sleep.”
Telemachus hummed a jaunty little tune as he lit some of Stasia’s favorite candles in the bath area. Warm water was filling the large tub, and he’d dropped a small vial of some scented oil into the stream. A fragrant froth began to bubble across the churning surface of the water, and he felt completely pleased with his efforts.
He stepped backed and nodded in satisfaction. “Nicely done,” he muttered to himself. “The bath is ready!” he called out loudly, impatient for her to hurry in. “What are you doing?”
“Setting the comm system to auto-answer so we’re not disturbed,” she yelled back. “And setting some wine out to breathe. Be patient; I’ll be there in a minute.”
“I’ve slept on the couch for a week, my love. I know all about patience,” he explained to the bath as he shut off the flow of water filling the tub.
“Lights down to fifteen percent,” she announced, standing in the doorway.
As the lighting faded, the candles flickered and cast interesting shadows on the marble and tile surfaces. She reached up and pulled a comb from her hair, sending it spilling down her back in a luminescent tumble of golden curls. She wore a simple robe of white silk that whispered delicate promises to him as she moved closer. He felt his pulse quicken as she slid her arms around his neck to gently place her lips against his.
His hands moved for the belt tied at her waist, but she shook her head. “This is my negotiation, admiral. I have to make the first moves in the establishment of this peace accord.”
“I stand corrected in the rules of this campaign, my lady. My apologies.”
“You are forgiven,” she murmured, her hands moving swiftly to remove the formal dress uniform jacket. “Thus begins my proposal,” she announced, laying the jacket aside on the bench. She returned to dispense with the rest of the uniform and its encumbrance factors.
Moving in a slow, predatory circle around him, she scrutinized him with appreciation and a sly grin. “You may, at this time, make a counter proposal,” she offered.
He slid the robe away and let it pool at her feet. With a throaty chuckle, he asked, “Are you aware that the rest of your clothing is missing?”
“You are truly a master of observation,” she commented as strong arms slid around her.
Effortlessly, he lifted her and stepped into the tub. “Ooh, bubbles, candles, scented bath oils,” she purred as she rested with her back against his chest. “You’re well prepared, aren’t you?”
“I’m always prepared,” he reminded her, pulling her close for a kiss that was expectant and demanding.
Hours later, she raised herself up on an elbow to smile down at him. They’d made love for hours with an intensity that defied explanation. She trailed a finger down the length of the sweat-slick skin of his back. She leaned close and nibbled his ear.
“Telemachus,” she whispered, stroking his cheek. “I love you.” He continued to sleep.
She glanced over at his empty wine glass next to her half-empty one. She bit her lip. “You’re really going to be upset with me when that sedative wears off, my love,” she said with a sad smile. “You’ll probably tell me about it every day when you visit me in prison until my trial is over, if they discover that I killed her.”
Soundlessly, she slid from the bed and pulled on some clothing, continuing to watch him for any sign that he might awaken.
She leaned and kissed him once more. “I promised you that I was going to kill Rakel Ben-Tzion if she was involved in the death of our children, and the Theros line has a tradition of always keeping their word. I know you’ll be disappointed in me, but there’s no way that she deserves to slide off into death without knowing pain and terror—the kind of pain and terror she brought into the last moments of our children’s lives.”
Without a last look behind, she gently closed the door and headed out into the dark streets toward the detention center.
Stasia rolled the coarse linen Wayist robe into a ball and shoved it into the large purse slung over her shoulder. The sentry at the gates hadn’t given her a second glance as she’d approached. Requesting admittance to the visitors’ section, as was often the practice of monks who desired to share The Way with prisoners, she’d kept her head and face covered with the hood. She bowed dutifully and offered him a quick blessing as he allowed her inside.
Once inside, it wasn’t difficult to wander away from the area where inmates were allowed to visit with family or receive counseling. In the shadows, she hiked the micro-skirt up a little higher, baring even more skin than before. She pulled the low cut blouse down, exposing more cleavage. Fluffing her hair she took a deep breath and walked into the reception area.
There was a single clerk at the desk in the area that separated the public areas from the restricted zones. She cleared her throat to get his attention as she sashayed toward him with a big smile. His eyes grew a little wider and a pleased smile creased his face as he saw the young woman with lots of bare skin walking toward him.
She placed her hands on the desk and leaned over, allowing him a good view. She noted with satisfaction that he was Nietzschean. She was just entering the fertile phase of her cycle; few males were able to think at optimal levels once they caught the scent of a fertile female.
“May I help you?” he asked.
She smiled charmingly, detecting the scent of an aroused state beginning to emanate from him. She twisted on one foot and then the other. “I hope so. Do you know Admiral Telemachus Rhade?”
“Uh…yes, ma’am,” he replied after a moment, his eyes straying toward her exposed cleavage.
“Do you know who I am?”
“I’ve, ah, seen you with the admiral on a variety of occasions,” he nodded.
“He’s been cooped up for days with that nasty business regarding the triumvir. I’ve come to pay him a visit; he’s lonely,” she explained, moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue.
He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but no one is allowed into this area without a security pass. Do you have a pass?”
She pouted prettily. “I had one this morning,” she said ruefully. “It had pretty colors on it, and my picture in the corner. Admiral Rhade and I were…otherwise occupied…and it fell down the elevator shaft when the doors opened.”
“Elevator?” he asked hoarsely. “I…could call for Admiral Rhade to come to the desk for you,” he offered.
She moved, sliding her finger across the desktop as she walked around the corner, chewing on her bottom lip. “No, don’t call for him. This is a surprise visit. Isn’t there some way that you could just let me go through those doors? It’s not as if I’m a complete stranger here.”
He rolled his chair away from the desk. He swallowed hard as she leaned closer. “Sorry, there are rules…and it’s not safe to wander around without an escort.”
She trailed a finger down his arm. “Ooh, you’re strong,” she commented appreciatively, stepping closer to run her hands over his shoulders. This put her standing directly between his legs with her cleavage at eye level. “I bet I’d be safe if I was with you,” she cooed, taking his hands and placing them firmly on her hips.
She felt his hands tremble as she held them in place and she swayed with a slight suggestive movement. Her face lit with a sudden realization. “You could take me, couldn’t you?” she asked. “You could be my personal escort!”
“I..I’m…don’t…know,” he stammered.
She leaned forward, resting her cheek against his. “If you do this favor for me, lancer, I’ll do ANY favor you want later,” she whispered.
She felt his hands slide from her hips to her breasts and she knew her mission was the same as accomplished. She moaned for effect. “Umm, that feels so good. I bet you know how to make a girl feel really good…and you can show me when I get back.”
She tugged on his hand, pulling him from his chair, sliding her arm through his. He took her to the elevator and withdrew a security keycard from his pocket. The doors opened and they stepped inside. He keyed a code and the level for maximum security and the elevator began its descent.
With a sly smile, Stasia pressed the button that brought the moving compartment to a halt.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
She pressed herself against him, unbuckled his weapons belt and let it fall to the floor. “You won’t need these,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck.
He smiled as she allowed his hands to wander for a moment. He started to unsnap his pants and she stopped him. “Let me do that,” she laughed, pulling at them until they were near his knees. “Oh, I’ve got an idea. Here, you sit down,” she ordered with a giggle.
He did so and sat there with an expectant grin. She smiled down at him. “Get ready to see stars,” she purred. “Close your eyes.”
He obediently closed his eyes and she slammed her knee into his forehead. His head bounced off the steel wall of the elevator and he slumped over onto the floor.
Stasia frowned at him as she picked up his weapons belt. “I told you that you’d be seeing stars,” she told him with a smirk.
She stepped out of the elevator on sublevel six, tossing his weapons belt far into the corridor. Checking to make sure that there was a maximum amount of exposed skin available, she headed out.
Rounding a corner, she nearly tripped over the crossed legs of Telemachus Rhade as he lounged casually on the deck. For the first time in her life, she was speechless. He looked so smug and self-satisfied that she just wanted to pinch his head off. How dare he be here!?
He looked up from the copy of Will to Power that he’d been reading and nodded and he glanced at the time on his watch. “Impressive,” he smiled, bringing himself to his feet. “Three minutes ten seconds to get from the desk to maximum security. Maybe I should have encouraged you to pursue a career with Argosy Special Ops; you’ve obviously got some talent that I’ve failed to acknowledge,” he commented.
Glancing around the corner, he could see a boot sticking out of the open elevator doors. “I hope you didn’t actually kill Grissom because I need to formally reprimand him for allowing anyone to break the perimeter.”
“What are you doing here? You are supposed to be asleep!” she sputtered, crossing her arms over her exposed cleavage.
He had the audacity to grin at her and roll his eyes. “Oh, my sweet little Shadow! Did you really believe that I didn’t anticipate that you’d try something like this? I was injected last week with a special configuration of nanobots designed to combat synthetic contaminants in my system.”
He reached out and touched her cheek. “I told you; I’m always prepared.” She jerked away angrily from his touch.
“She’s not even here, is she?” she demanded.
“I believe the official term is ‘undisclosed location.’”
“I can’t believe you lied to me, ’Lemachus!”
“I can’t believe you drugged me!” he retorted with a laugh. “So far as strike and counter-strike, I’d say we’re even.”
The livid outrage bled out of her cheeks and she looked at him sadly. “I wanted to see her dead,” she whispered.
He sighed. “So you shall. I’ve received word that her sentence is the death penalty. I’ve been further instructed to provide the means to that end.”
“How…will it be done?”
“You will decide the manner of her execution, my love,
and it will become the order that I issue.”
Suddenly weary, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. “Let me design the serum that she will have injected into her system,” she whispered.
He held her close, resting his cheek in her hair. “Consider it done.”
Moments later, two lancers skidded to halt in front of their admiral.
“Grissom’s down, sir,” the commander breathlessly announced. “We’ve got an intruder!”
The lieutenant eyed Stasia and her copious show of flesh with obvious interest. Telemachus glared at him and removed his jacket to wrap around her, depriving her audience of the splendid view that had moments before been on public display.
“Stand down, lancer,” he admonished, waving off their concern as he wrapped a possessive arm around her shoulders. “Your intruder was part of an impromptu security drill and Grissom failed miserably. Get him on his feet and to the brig for violating basic security protocol.”
With hasty salutes, the two were off to fulfill their orders.
Telemachus guided Stasia toward another elevator. “Time to go home,” he told her.
“Are you going to arrest me?” she asked him ruefully.
He chuckled and keyed a code into the control panel. “Arrest
you?” he asked. “Hell, no! I’m going to take notes on
covert infiltration methods from you!”
The following day, the courtroom was sparsely populated. Nevertheless, it seemed as though the hot and collective breath of Terazed’s entire population was dampening the dark skin of her neck beneath the heavy judicial robes. As Judge Maya Caran announced the sentence, former First Triumvir Rakel Ben-Tzion’s large brown eyes widened in stricken surprise.
“The death sentence?” she repeated incredulously, running both hands through her short, dark hair. “I’ve brought to light the flawed seriousness of our planetary philosophy to remain in isolation, forced the political echelon to acknowledge our need for the backing of a strong military force directed by a central united government…and rather than be praised for my efforts, I’m being put to death? This is a moral outrage! I demand an appeal.”
Judge Caran stared down at the woman and smiled graciously. “That is out of the question. The decision of the triumvirate council and the jury is irrevocable. That fact notwithstanding, there is no higher court to which you may make application for an appeal. The sentence stands: twelve hours hence, you, Rakel Ben-Tzion will be put to death by lethal injection for crimes against your homeworld. I suggest you spend that time making peace with whatever Creator you believe may claim you.”
With that final mandate, the images faded to the conference room containing a team of sharply dressed political commentators who immediately began dissecting the various aspects and implications of the trial. Telemachus raised the remote control and silenced the vid unit.
Wordlessly, he dug Stasia’s long fingernails out of his arm where she had buried them in silent outrage during Ben-Tzion’s protest. “The only morally outrageous element I see is that the woman still breathes,” she had hissed venomously.
He nodded. “That will be remedied soon enough, my love,” he reminded her, kissing her hand.
That thought seemed to calm her ire as he had intended it to do. Lost momentarily in her thoughts, she didn’t notice him quickly wipe the smudges of blood onto his pants leg as he stood.
The comm unit bleeped for attention and Telemachus sighed. Just once, he’d like to have a quiet evening at home. He crossed the room and accepted the signal.
Jetring’s refined features filled the viewscreen. “The package from Dr. Theros’ lab has been delivered,” he reported.
“Good. And the other package?” he asked, taking a quick look over his shoulder at Stasia who had absently picked up a flexi to review.
“In solitary confinement, as ordered.”
“Very good.” He terminated the connection and gave himself over to his own thoughts. This ordeal had been very trying for both of them, opening wounds in their souls that had slowly begun to heal over time.
“So, she’s all locked up, is she?” Stasia asked casually, trading the flexi in her hand for another.
“You never miss much, do you?”
“I never miss anything,” she corrected. “I’d have thought you would have learned that by now, dear ‘Lemachus.”
“One would certainly have thought so,” he smiled ruefully as he sat beside her on the sofa.
The realization that Rakel Ben-Tzion was less than twelve hours away from her execution had seemingly revitalized Stasia. Her sexual demands had been challenging to meet and were a welcome surprise after a period of platonic bedsharing. Their lovemaking had been vigorous and extremely creative. Exhausted now from hours of being her willing slave, he wanted to follow her into the peaceful sleep that she had discovered.
Instead, the hateful bedside comm unit bleated for attention. Telemachus groaned with the effort required to sit up and reach for the activation controls.
"Lights---25 percent," he muttered while Stasia pulled a pillow over her head with a displeased grunt as the lights came up. With a wry smile, he tossed a sheet over her nude form before he activated the link.
He was rather surprised to see the stricken and dismayed expression on Jetring's face. Either the chromatic display on the comm unit was going out, or the man's face had completely divorced itself of any color. "Sorry to wake you, sir."
“Wasn’t asleep yet.” Telemachus noted that it was still hours before daybreak. "What is it?"
"She's gone, sir."
Telemachus ran his hands through his hair. "Gone? Who's gone, Jetring?"
"Rakel Ben-Tzion, admiral," Jetring said slowly. "She is gone," he repeated, emphasizing each syllable.
"Oh, Great Divine! How can she be gone, Jetring?” he demanded in annoyance, the sudden pitch in volume causing his bedmate to mumble in sleepy protest. “She's in confinement, constant video surveillance, and has two guards in the cell with her. There's no way she could escape short of a full-scale planetary assault team storming the detention center."
Jetring looked away uncomfortably. "I know, sir. I'm sending the surveillance video for your review."
Jetring's image shrank to a small square in the upper left of the view screen, the majority of the space momentarily filled with fast-forwarded video static. Telemachus noted that from the timestamp on the recording, the events took place fifteen minutes prior. After a moment, the images stabilized.
“What is it, Himmycuss?” Stasia whispered with a yawn, the pillow still covering her head. He smiled at the endearing term of affection that had followed him enigmatically from childhood into the more intimate arenas of their adulthood.
“Nothing,” he lied in a soft whisper, reaching over to rub her back. “Jetring’s got a problem. Go back to sleep, Shadow.”
He watched the video.
He felt his blood run cold.
This wasn’t real!
“Dammit!” he yelled, slamming his fist into the wall. “Jetring, replay that!”
Stasia sat bolt upright, pulling the sheet around herself. “Telemachus Rhade, you scared me senseless! What ever is the matter with you?” she demanded.
He leaned in with his knees on his elbows, his attention solely fixed on the small view screen. He was peripherally aware of Stasia sliding up behind him to rest her chin on his bare shoulder for a better look. He simultaneously wanted her keen skills of observation while he wanted her not to watch this. He shook his head. “Just watch this.”
She frowned at his tone of voice that sounded remarkably like
he believed he was issuing an order to her. The tiny image of Jetring nodded
to her in acknowledgement. A moment later, the video recording played again.
What appeared to be a Wayist monk's cell had been converted into a three-walled, military-style detention unit. The spartan room contained no freestanding furniture; a small bench was built into the wall on one side and a sleeping bunk on the opposite. A shimmering containment field separated the room from the open corridor where two armed lancers paced in and out of the line of sight of the surveillance camera. Inside the cell, two armed lancers kept watch over Rakel Ben-Tzion, who appeared either be asleep while sitting up, or involved in deep meditation. She gave no apparent notice to the two men who were assigned to sit vigil with her during her final hours.
Two seconds into the recording, a strange, swirling distortion was apparent in the center of the screen. It was something that could easily have been attributed to instability in the transmission signal, except for what immediately followed. As if the scene before them was some artistic rendering on canvas, there was a shimmering flash of light and a rip within that canvas appeared as a ribbon of darkness.
A fourth figure suddenly was in the room, cloaked with a large hood obscuring the view to what might be underneath. Rakel’s eyes opened and a bright smile crossed her face. The cloaked figure reached forth a human-looking hand that she happily accepted as she stood. The lancers inside the cell brought their sidearms to bear as they leapt to their feet. The intruder waved a casual dismissal toward them. Where lancers had once stood, piles of ash remained.
The lancers in the corridor were hastening to drop the containment
field as their comrades somehow ceased to exist. With a half bow toward
them, the enigmatic visitor waved an arm. In the blink of an eye, the cell
was empty, save for the remains of the two unfortunate lancers.
The video feed stopped just seconds after the other two lancers rushed into the empty cell.
“That…is impossible,” Telemachus whispered, as dumbfounded now as he had been the first time he’d watched it.
“Not impossible,” Stasia countered, her mind reeling. “Just overwhelmingly unlikely.”
“We’ve searched the immediate grounds, and satellite surveillance isn’t picking up a signal from the homing device implanted when she was taken into custody,” Jetring added, his image again filling the screen. “It seems quite probable that she’s…not on Terazed, or in the system, sir.”
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Rhade out." With a frustrated growl, he slammed his fist onto the comm unit, terminating the signal.
With a sigh, he rolled leaned back over, reaching out a hand toward Stasia. He found only a warm indentation in the bedding where she had knelt behind him.
"Hurry up!" she snapped from the closet, throwing a uniform at him. She glared over the top of a knee as she crouched to lace her boot. "You should put every last one of those worthless fools at that facility in formation for a firing line—except for those two poor boys that were just incinerated!" she spat. "You can bet I wouldn't have let that wretch escape if I'd been on guard duty!"
“You saw—I’m not sure what we just saw,”
he protested, hastily pulling on clothing.
"And don't even try and say something stupid along the lines of that you're going without me," she warned.
"I wouldn’t dare dream such a thing," he announced, raising his hands quickly in defense.
"Well, if this isn't the epitome of irony," Stasia said sourly, fifteen minutes later. “Take the most reprehensible creature ever to walk the face of Terazed and sequester her in a temple of compassion? Charming.”
Telemachus smirked as he landed outside a newly constructed Wayist Learning Center located on the largest of a small group of islands west of the primary continent. "You were never here, by the way, or you may become the property of some Argosy section whose been clamoring for your particular brand of genius,” he said lightly. “If anyone asks, you are my personal aide, got it?”
She saluted sharply and nodded. Jetring met them at the heavy double-doors near the front entrance. He was still very pale. Perspiration beaded his brow and his hand shook slightly as he saluted.
“What’s the situation?”
“The men are disturbed and shaken.”
Telemachus nodded. He was still rattled and he’d only seen a recording of the event. If a prisoner in his keep had vanished into thin air before his very eyes, he wasn’t certain he’d be at 100% either.
Jetring led them inside the cavernous sanctuary and quickly below ground to the catacombs where the monks typically held their living quarters. Stasia kept her eyes straight ahead, fixing her gaze on the back of Telemachus’ uniform jacket, pointedly thinking of anything other than the last time she had been inside a Wayist center. She’d held her tiny daughter in her arms, knowing her precious angel was on the edge of death from which she could not be saved. Christiana’s wide blue eyes closed for the last time as her mother’s tears fell onto the bloodied pink dress and…
“Stasia!” Telemachus said again, snapping his fingers sharply in front of her face.
To his satisfaction, she blinked quickly and nodded, her eyes meeting his in a level gaze. He knew where she’d gone and damn it all if he was going to let her stay!
They rounded a corner. A dozen or more lancers snapped to attention as Admiral Telemachus Rhade was announced by Commander Jetring.
Telemachus walked past each man on his way to the abandoned cell. The embodiment of her childhood nickname, Stasia was his shadow, precisely one brisk step behind him. At the entry way to the cell, he gave the control panel to the containment field a cursory exam before stepping inside.
Stasia’s eyes narrowed as she crouched before one of the two piles of ash. From a pocket insider her jacket, she withdrew a small packet and unfolded it on her knee. “Admiral Rhade, you should put these on, if you’re going to touch anything in here,” she cautioned quickly, tossing him a pair of medical exam gloves before donning a pair herself. “We don’t know what kind of contaminants there might be,” she added.
He nodded and slipped the gloves on while she pulled a small collection vial and spatula from a fold in the packet. “Prepared for a forensics investigation, doctor?” he asked quietly.
“I told you before, admiral, I’m always prepared….and I don’t miss anything,” she reminded him, scooping some ash into the vial. Capping it tightly, she scribbled something on a label, affixing it to the vial before sliding it into her pocket. She followed suit with a sample from the second pile.
He stood in the center of the room and crossed his arms. This was the spot where the cloaked figure had materialized and had subsequently vanished—with Rakel Ben-Tzion. He glanced at the ceiling and the floor; there was nothing blatantly evident to be seen. Stasia pulled a palm-sized scanner from another pocket and began to take readings.
“Well?” he asked, monitoring her observation.
She shook her head, keying some entries into the comp on her slim wrist gauntlet. “I’ll have to analyze this more thoroughly, but for lack of a better explanation, a pair of microscopic SlipStream events took place where you are standing.”
“Impossible,” he said for the second time in thirty minutes.
She fixed a solemn gaze on him. “Not impossible—just overwhelmingly unlikely.”
Sitting at the far end of the conference table with two engineers and a quantum physicist, all officers assigned to Argosy Special Operations, Stasia wanted to scream out of sheer frustration. Less than five hours ago, she had been unceremoniously drafted into membership in the scientific advisory council spearheaded by Boise Highmark. She was dubious of Spec Ops in general, and was less than elated to be affiliated with that shadowy division of the Home Guard. She was even less pleased with the poorly veiled interest being displayed in her by Galina Carthy and Jared Yates, the engineers with whom she would now be forced to work. Even though they were both human, they obviously hadn't been near an attractive female in eons, and the heady scents of their combined aroused states was nearly overpowering to her. Dr. Highmark, a refined elderly Nietzschean male, frowned his displeasure at his colleagues and graciously traded seats with Stasia. From the far end of the table, Telemachus inclined his head toward the older man to acknowledge his subtle act of grace.
For a moment, she smiled, remembering his reaction to the claim Spec Ops had placed on her. Telemachus had immediately and loudly objected to her impromptu conscription, but was overruled by other members of the senior staff, his father included. As a respected member of the scientific community, Stasia's observations regarding the incident would be valuable during the investigation. As a civilian citizen, her presence was unacceptable, but necessary. Thus, she had been sworn to complete secrecy regarding anything she had seen or would come to knowledge of in the future, and plunged headfirst into the mindless tedium that they referred to as "post-situation debriefing."
Once or twice, she had managed to catch Telemachus' eye. He'd
nodded back gravely each time, then returned his attention to whoever had
the floor for the moment. The stone mask of his face only served to multiply
the apprehension she’d felt when coerced into swearing oaths of fealty
toward the greater good served by the Argosy Special Operations division.
There was some vague mention of rank and status duly assigned to her by
virtue of her induction, but it was lost on her. Miserably, she realized
that she’d been dragged into the heart of the very organization that
had so vigorously tried to recruit her immediately following graduation.
Both she and Telemachus had agreed upon the idea of it being infinitely
the wrong choice for her, and now it had swallowed her whole like some nightmarish
There was a total of twelve seated around the table and she couldn't help but whimsically feel as though they had become a rogue version of the Chamber of Arbiters, the interplanetary judiciary committee of the old Commonwealth. Whenever a conflict arose between worlds and could not be settled amicably, the Chamber of Arbiters would be called upon to act as mediators to make decisions in the best interests of the people. Allegedly, that was the purpose of this meeting--to make decisions in the best interests of the people of Terazed.
Only a few of the faces were new to her. Many of these same people had wandered through the corridors of her childhood home when they came to meet in conference with her father concerning some diplomatic matter. Others she had come to know in more recent years by way of officers’ social gatherings.
It was Swiftly Approaching Dawn, the elegant Than counselor, who most easily held Stasia’s attention. Being a Than, because she had no complex facial language to betray her thoughts, her words often seemed to be few but explosive in their decisiveness. Only the rhythmic tapping of her fingertips against one another betrayed the fact of her discomfort over the topics of discussion.
Julian Omar was a Brevet Major whose meteoric rise through the ranks of the Home Guard was a distant echo of the record set by Telemachus. Although not a Nietzschean, his reasoning ability was admirable, and Telemachus had often commented on the man’s uncanny ability to see through the heart of the most confusing situations. Stasia cared little about his tactical abilities, but found that he was exceedingly pleasing to the eye, and found herself admiring his refined features more than once. He was seated across the broad conference table from her, and she found that he was a pleasant visual distraction in the midst of this unpleasant insanity.
"I'm dying of abject boredom! I have work to do in my lab. Get me out of here!" she sent to Telemachus telepathically. Unfortunately, neither she nor he were telepaths, so no matter how hard she squinted as she sent the message to him, the thought bounced in vain around inside her mind.
She glanced at a clock on the wall. Oh, for the love of the Divine, an entire hour had passed since Carthy Galina had taken the floor and began to postulate elaborate engineering-based theories regarding the incident at the detention center!
If any sense of justice remained in the universe, that man would not continue to babble incoherently. She decided that if he said the words "impossible," "incomprehensible," or "unprecedented" even once more, she would be morally compelled to jump across the table and the speaker's podium to shove at least one set of bone blades --or possible both-- into his throat to silence him. Whether or not she received a standing ovation for her actions would be dependent upon the degree of relative frustration the other attendees were beginning to feel.
Galina suddenly cast a startled glance her way. She smiled politely and inclined her head toward him, casually running a finger over a set of blades in much the same manner other women inspect a new manicure. He quickly concluded his remarks and took his seat, continuing to nervously key an eye on her.
Dr. Boise Highmark cleared his throat as Galina took his seat. "To recap, and refocus our discussion," he began, tossing a dry look toward the other man. "Barring the absence of magic, which appears to be the conclusion that Dr. Galina would have us make, we are forced to acknowledge that the rather grandiose escape of Rakel Ben-Tzion can only be attributed to technological advances far beyond our own. The ten radical isotopes, which were detected in the holding cell immediately following the event, were only identified just before The Long Night began. The realization that someone has devised a way to channel that power is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening."
Stasia wanted to applaud. The man's words were the first intelligible thing she'd been privileged to hear for hours. His associates were equally as passionate in their exuberance regarding what they felt was a scientific discover beyond measure.
"This could open new forms of intra and interstellar travel, far superior to modern SlipStream!" Jerad Yates enthused with a broad grin, failing to see the danger in the situation.
"New travel methods is a valid consideration," Telemachus conceded, leading gently into what Stasia knew would be a suede-lecture to guide the younger man back to the topic at hand. "We can't lose sight that the use of new technology has become problematic to the safety of the people. In this instance, it was used only to transport a criminal from the hands of the justice system. What if the next use is to deploy a collection of nova bombs in the capital?"
"No one knows how to make nova bombs, not any longer," Galina protested.
Stasia had grown weary of the exposition and fixed him with a withering stare. He might have been a gifted engineer with a string of achievements attached to his name, but he had wormed his way through her last available nerve. "We can't be sure of that," she snapped. "We didn't know it was possible to incinerate people with a wave of their hand or that mysterious visitors could materialize and dematerialize on a whim, either."
Telemachus nodded. "The point is this: someone out there knows how, and we cannot naively assume that this knowledge will not be used in the form of a weapon against us. It's imperative that we also understand the use of this new technology and formulate a defense against it."
There was a general murmur of agreement.
Swiftly Approaching Dawn steepled her fingers in contemplation. "Indeed, these events provide several issues that require resolution. The general public expects an execution of the former First Triumvir. It is going to be difficult to provide proof of that last measure of justice when the criminal is absent from us."
"Actually, that's the least of our worries," offered Landola Caritas, a public relations liaison between the Guard and the news media. It often fell to her to "smooth" the edges of military events so that they became more palatable to the public at large. "The general public isn't expecting anything as barbaric as a televised execution. We make the announcement that it's over, and provide cremated remains to the immediate family, if they choose to accept them."
"What if they want a DNA analysis?" queried Sprater Davisrau, her more conservative partner.
Stasia rolled her eyes. "Unless there isn't an adequate and complete crematory process involved, there would be no viable DNA left to analyze and identify. If it should become necessary, my labs can provide adequate genetic evidence to properly identify the remains as belonging to Rakel Ben-Tzion."
Swiftly Approaching Dawn clicked her approval with a nod. "I find the solution acceptable. Issue resolved."
That night, in bed, Telemachus stared at the ceiling. Although it was dark in the bedroom, his Nietzschean eyesight provided him with an excellent ability to observe even tiny details. He examined the texture of each tile, absently noting the variations in color and topography.
"Are you asleep?" he asked quietly. Stasia hadn't moved in the last thirty minutes after she'd rolled away from him, but he'd never been able to tell from her breathing if she'd actually gone to sleep.
"Yes," she replied reluctantly. "You should be asleep, too."
With a sigh, she rolled back over and rose up on an elbow. "What are you brooding about?"
"I'm not brooding."
"I've known you my entire life," she reminded him. "If anyone would know when you are brooding, it would be me.”
He smiled and reached over a hand to run his fingers through her hair. "I think it's time," he said solemnly.
"Time for what?" she asked, immediately concerned with the grave tone in his voice.
"This hiding of Terazed away from the rest of the universe," he said gently. "It has outlived its usefulness, and will eventually become our downfall. This radical isotopic nightmare is the pivotal element."
After long minutes passed, she chuffed her disapproval. "Now you sound like Dylan Hunt, preaching the almighty Magog threat, a Worldship looming on the horizon, destined to destroy our world and millions others. Just because something has gone bump in the night, it doesn't mean that we should scatter like frightened children."
"Perhaps Dylan Hunt has seen and experienced things that we can only imagine. There is wisdom in his warning, although I'm not convinced now is the moment that we should boldly step forward and join into a decisive and immutable alliance with an infant Restored Commonwealth."
"What do you propose?"
"I think it's time to shore up our defenses here, and begin to make contact with other worlds. We need to seriously evaluate the technological advances of those worlds and take the necessary steps to acquire the knowledge we currently lack. It would be advantageous to open friendly negotiations with the planets that have signed Hunt's charter, gather a feel for what benefits might be gained in an association with those worlds."
She growled lightly and threw herself back onto her side, facing away from him.
Surprised, he raised up, reaching out a hand to her shoulder. "Shadow? What's wrong?"
"She wins after all," she said through clenched teeth.
He bowed his head in the darkness. "She doesn't win if we can make all this turn to our advantage in the long run. There may be a bright side to this situation."
"If you say so," she said bitterly. "But in the long run, she's still alive, and I fail to see bright side of that situation. On the other hand, it only means that she's out there--somewhere--and so I still have an opportunity to kill her on my
Many surprising events came to bear as a result of the successful reconnaissance mission made by the Day of Peaceful Discovery. The most disturbing indirect result, at least in the estimation of Anastasia Theros, was the renewed contact with the Andromeda Ascendant and the subsequent revelation that the body of Gaheris Rhade was in storage aboard. Whatever his stated reasons were, Stasia suspected a darker hidden agenda behind Dylan Hunt’s offer to release the body to the Rhade family.
Telemachus had been almost drunk with anticipation as he prepared to leave with the Terazed Association to reclaim the body. He was so enchanted with the idea of laying his ancestor to rest in the family tomb that he only casually considered Stasia’s concerns.
“Darling, there’s something amiss with this sudden gesture from Dylan Hunt,” she protested, watching him scrutinize his appearance in the mirror.
“Your suspicions are duly noted,” he commented, brushing away a fleck of lint from his sleeve.
“You are barely listening to me,” she fumed, further speculation cut off by the bleep of the comm unit on his wrist guard. “Dylan Hunt knew he had Gaheris’ body in storage on his ship when he visited Terazed. Why didn’t he think to mention it then?”
With a quick smile, he embraced her warmly and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, running his hand through her hair. “You’ll see that everything will be fine.”
Twenty-four hours later, the casket holding the body of Gaheris
Rhade was seated atop a marble pedestal in the center of small auditorium
at the Rhade family mausoleum. Following a private memorial ceremony, his
body would be laid to rest in a place of honor with his descendants. Stasia
peered through the plexi-glass, her mind awhirl, resting her fingertips
against the cold transparent material. If everything was fine, she needed
to readjust her definition of the word.
“He looks very peaceful, does he not?” the Matriarch asked, stepping from the shadows.
Guiltily, Stasia pulled her hand back. “Matriarch,” she acknowledged, bowing her head.
Marina smiled. “It’s hard to see him lying there, lifeless, isn’t it? I’m sure your heart sees our Telemachus while your mind knows that it’s Gaheris, am I right?”
The other nodded. “He’s a little older than ‘Lemachus, and the uniform is quaint,” she said with a smile. She leaned closer, inspecting a small cut that had bled just shortly before the body had been put into cryogenic storage. “To the casual observer, in a few years, ‘Lemachus could be mistaken for a complete clone.”
“Ah, but of all people, you aren’t the casual observer, child. Your observations are made as a trained geneticist. Beyond that, you see through the eyes of love.”
Stasia said nothing for a moment, pressing a hand again against the enclosure. “All my life, I’ve been aware of this incredible legacy he carries—the genetic reincarnation resting in his DNA. I play with combinations day in and day out—but this just takes my breath away,” she whispered. “I had no idea viewing this body would be so incredibly painful.”
“We Nietzscheans, the living gods, the warrior poets that Drago Museveni envisioned us to be, carrying civilization to the cosmos…when it comes down to it, we’re still tied to the mortal coil like any simple, unmodified creature. We die as surely as a thousand other less remarkable species, and yet the death is an equilibrium of certain permanence.”
“Indeed, this is true, Anastasia,” the older woman muttered.
“To see him in eternal repose, Gaheris Rhade, legendary ancestor of the Rhade line, so like my beloved…it’s painful to me to realize that one day, my ‘Lemachus, too, will be gone.”
“I realize that you’ve suffered momentous losses already in your young life, Anastasia.” Marina slipped a hand around Stasia’s shoulders and nodded. “It is the way of things, unless some brilliant mind like yours finds the secret to holding death at arm’s length.”
“His timing remains impeccable,” Stasia commented sourly after a moment.
“I’m not altogether certain that Gaheris was the master of the timing regarding his death,” the Matriarch replied, confusion furrowing her brow.
“Not him. I mean that damned Dylan Hunt, Matriarch,” Stasia swore. “I’m sure it rests heavily in his mind the considerable influence ‘Lemachus holds over those who still believe in the justification for our isolation. It was quite convenient for him to suddenly remember that he still possessed Gaheris’ remains on that almighty warship. What better way to curry the favor of the entire Rhade family, in the event that it was beneficial to his cause? And at just the time when the vote to join the New Commonwealth again is to be presented to the Voice of the People?”
Marina smiled. “You don’t like that man, do you, child?”
“There’s nothing to like, and I don’t trust him,” Stasia clarified. “He acts too much like a traditional Nietzschean, and there’s something completely unnatural in that regard. In fact, he reminds me very much of the Drago-Kasov and their ilk.”
“Perhaps it’s the influence of the Kodiak, Anasazi,” Marina offered, resting her hand on Gaheris’ casket.
“Perhaps lessons regarding core Nietzschean nature, well-learned from Gaheris?” Telemachus queried from the doorway.
Both women turned with a smile at the sound of his voice. Marina reached out her hand to him and he gently wrapped it with both of his, gently kissing it. He slid an arm around Stasia’s waist and kissed the top of her head.
“Still expounding on your case against the evil Dylan Hunt?” he teased.
“Mock me if you find it amusing,” Stasia said levelly. “You are letting your guard down with regard to this man. Mark my words, Telemachus Rhade, no good will come of it. Dylan Hunt is dangerous in more ways that I could count.”
Telemachus laughed. “Dylan Hunt is dangerous?” he repeated. “How so?”
“He’s dangerous because he’s still not what people believe him to be,” she said crossly.
The Matriarch arched a finely groomed eyebrow, suppressing a smile with a slight nod.
Telemachus stopped laughing. His grandmother seemed to agree. It always disturbed him when the Matriarch was of the same mind as Stasia when she was being ridiculous.
“And what is it that he’s not, this thing that people believe him to be?” he asked circumspectly.
“He’s not a god, ‘Lemachus,” she said, exasperated that he didn’t see what was obvious. “He’s a man, just a man, and nothing more. He’s a man with failings, weaknesses, and hopeless dreams. He’ll fall hard one day, and he’ll take a lot of good people with him. I don’t want you to be one of them.”
“I’m engineered to perfection; it’ll never happen,” he promised.
Despite his reassurance, Stasia felt no sense of confidence in his words. She leaned closer against him, holding him a little tighter. “I keep telling you: don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
Stasia reluctantly cast her vote for Terazed to establish itself as a member of the New Restored Commonwealth. Even though she and Telemachus had discussed the virtues of such a move, and he was also voting in favor of membership, she felt overwhelmed with a strange sense of guilt and sadness. Was her vote of agreement in reality a vote that Rakel Ben-Tzion would have rejoiced to see come to reality? Was it a betrayal to the lost lives of her beloved children and dear friend?
Once the move was made to join into the fledgling collective,
Terazed could never again rest safely in anonymity. She pressed her thumb
against the biometric voting recorder and closed her eyes. A heartbeat later,
her vote was recorded and added to the count of millions of other adult
Less than a week after Terazed became the most recently included member world, her sadness and guilt was replaced by outrage and anger. Quite unexpectedly, she had received a cryptic communication from her father, requesting that she return to her childhood home to see him immediately on a matter of utmost importance. She quickly became concerned by the urgency in his voice, and the fact that he would not speak of the matter over traditional communications methods. Sending a hasty message to Telemachus, who was in yet another unscheduled high-level security meeting, she hurried to her parents’ home.
Once there, the news Nikolaus Theros shared with her was unfathomable.
“Say that again,” she demanded. “I surely misunderstood what you said.”
With an unreadable expression, her father studied the elaborate patterns in the wood grain of his conference room table. “There is going to be a massive restructuring of political and military organizational schemes,” he repeated, still letting it sink in. “Terazed isn’t going to be a simple member world in the Commonwealth; it’s going to become the heart of the Commonwealth. Our Home Guard and High Guard will be absorbed into the larger ranks existing within the Commonwealth.”
She narrowed her eyes and sat next to him. She took his hand and turned his head so she could see what might be brewing in those dark eyes. She smiled sadly and nodded, understanding at last. “I see,” she said quietly. “So, we hold the remainder of the Commonwealth ideals intact for three centuries and the thanks we get is for them to treat us like unwashed natives on a primitive world. It’s not a democracy they want; it’s a thinly-veiled dictatorship—and we eagerly voted for it!”
He put his other hand over hers and she groaned. “Oh,
sweet Divine, Father! There can’t be more unwelcome news!” she
protested. With a sarcastic smile, she laughed. “Wait, don’t
tell me—let me guess. Since you said both divisions of our Guard are
being absorbed, all of our officers are being decommissioned or somehow
otherwise similarly disrespected. This is insane! Next you’re going
to tell me that ‘Lemachus is being bumped down from Admiral to Ensign!”
The slow half-smile he gave her suddenly made her nauseous. “I’ll have to check with your mother to see if it’s possible that without my knowledge you were engineered for heightened psi-factors,” he teased solemnly. “Actually, I believe the rank that he’s agreed to accept is Lieutenant Commander of the High Guard in the New Restored Commonwealth.”
She felt pale and very small. “You can’t be serious,” she stammered. “They can’t do this!”
“They can, and they have, Anastasia,” he explained in level tones. “There will be other changes equally as monumental.”
“But it’s not right!” she exploded. Angrily, she bolted to her feet. With a knowing smile, he tugged on her hand until she was sitting again, reducing her to the small annoyed daughter he’d so often dealt with in the past.
“I believe that the days where the concerns for doing the right and honorable thing have gone to the wayside, my daughter. Sadly, despite my misgivings for the path I now see us taking, it was necessary. I would provide the same advise for those to whom I provide counsel. Above all, survival is key, and we will survive—albeit in a new incarnation.”
Her eyes narrowed. “There’s more that you’re not telling me. You could have told all of this to me without me having to come half-way across Terazed to hear it.”
He patted her back. “I have given Terazed all I have to offer her, and I believe it’s time for a new generation to stand at the helm and forge ahead. That doesn’t mean I’m useless or obsolete, and I think it’s time I sought out some new challenges. I’ve been offered a very lucrative position in the private sector on Halcyon with a division of the Free Trade Alliance.”
“Halcyon?” she repeated miserably, thinking that he might as well have said Diphda V, a world set on self-destruction by the end of the next century. While it was true that Halcyon was poised prettily on the brink of explosive industrial and economic growth, it held none of Terazed’s carefully cultivated beauty and splendor.
“Your mother—and several of my other wives—agree with me that it’s a good move for the family,” he continued. “It would be an increase in status and position, considering the current turn of events, and we need to do everything possible to solidify and increase your value to a prospective husband.”
She felt her spine stiffen and she fought against the tumult of confusion that washed over her. “Prospective husband? Father, what are you talking about?” she demanded, exploding to her feet. “You know I want Telemachus! I’ve even laid my claim on him before the Matriarch! For Drago’s sake, Father, I’ve been living in the man’s household for years now. He is my husband already, in all the ways that matter.”
Nikolaus sighed and bowed his head. “Things have changed, Anastasia. Your mother and I agree that Telemachus is no longer an acceptable match for our only daughter. We will not place our blessing on such a union. Your mother has already left to speak of the matter to the Matriarch and release Telemachus from your claim. I’m sure you’ll find many desirable males on Halcyon who will be tripping all over themselves as they try to capture your attention—“
“All the desirable males on Halcyon can leap into a fire lake on Pyria!” she screamed, hot tears threatening to break free at any moment. “Terazed is my home and is where my children with Telemachus will be raised!”
Nikolaus reached for her hand, but she jerked it away to wipe at the tears that ran down her face. “Don’t touch me!” she hissed. “Do what you want for the love of status and wealth and the approval of your wives! I won’t go to Halcyon and you can’t make me!”
His face grew red and he stood, crossing his arms. “You will do as I say, young lady! I am your father, and I have spoken! You need to say goodbye to Telemachus and have your personal effects delivered to the family home by the end of the week.”
Telemachus felt his heart thud to a halt in his chest. It had been a bad day; now it seemed it would grow worse. Standing outside their bedroom, he could see Stasia carefully packing several ornate gowns. Several garment containers were strewn across the floor in various stages of being filled.
She didn’t look up when he entered the room and continued packing.
“Shadow, what are you doing?” he asked quietly, dreading the answer.
She turned, her makeup still streaked from her earlier crying.
She moved to wrap her arms around him and bury her face in his shoulder.
“My father is relocating the family to Halcyon,” she said, briefly
sharing with him the details of her heated conversation with her father.
He pulled her away at arm’s length, panic beginning to stir in the back of his brain. “I don’t want you to release your claim on me,” he lamented. “The military restructuring isn’t that drastic in nature, and I can reach my old rank again in a very short time!” he protested.
She nodded. “Salinda, my father’s youngest wife, always admired these gowns,” she said absently, returning to her task.
He grabbed her arm. “Stasia, listen to me!”
“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing, ‘Lemachus,” she sighed, shrugging free of his grasp, reaching for another gown.
“We’re little fish in an ocean that just grew a thousand-fold overnight. We’ve got to learn to swim with the established school in order to thrive and survive,” he implored. ”It’s a new set of challenges, new opportunities for growth and improvement. I’m looking forward to the idea of being afforded more piloting time. Beyond that, when I work myself back up to admiral, it will mean more in the larger scale of things.”
She nodded in agreement, closing the garment container. Unexpectedly, she laughed. “Oh, ‘Lemachus, only you could look at something hideously as unfair as this as see it as a way to achieve some goal you desire! It’s just not fair!”
He chuckled. “Fair has nothing to do with it, my love. It’s perfectly logical and I can accept it—if you can.”
She sat on the bed and patted the space next to her. She took his hand as he sat. “You’re right about accepting those new challenges that come our way. I have no doubt that you will be admiral again some day, but it matters little to me if you became an ensign tomorrow,” she said, straightening his collar. “It’s the man, not the uniform, that I love.”
He kissed her hand.
“My father is going to be very angry, and you need to be prepared for it,” she cautioned him. “He knows my mind and heart are set, but he still believes that he has some authority over my life. He’s going to be hurt when he realizes that there are other entities that hold more sway and power over my future than he.”
“Such as myself?” he asked.
“Among other things,” she said with a half-smile, sliding a flexi across the bed toward him.
He picked it up and shook his head with a puzzled expression. “You’ve accepted an invitation to join the elite membership of Collectors?”
She nodded. “They bought out my contract from IGA before they even extended the offer, and managed to have me released from my obligations to the Argosy advisory council,” she explained with a laugh. “This was a wonderful surprise after my argument with Father. There’s no way he can force me to do anything I don’t want to do now.”
He eyed her oddly and shrugged. “I suppose it’s all right…”
“But what?” she asked, her smile dropping. “You’re not happy with the idea.”
He sighed and shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he assured her. “So many changes in such a short amount of time. This issue with your father concerns me, even though we have the backing of the Matriarch. It’s important to me that we have your family’s blessing on our formalized union.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she insisted. “Accept my claim and let’s be done with this silly tradition of formalized unions. It’s an equally honorable tradition for a Nietzschean female to choose her male and for him to accept privately. No muss, no fuss, all done. We could have done that a thousand times over by now! I’ve shared your bed longer than some of my father’s wives have!”
He gently took both of her hands. “It’s very important to me to continue the traditions that have been handed down to us. Times, traditions, and cultures will be changing in a violent torrent in the days to come; it’s the duty of our generation to hold tight to our heritage and see that it continues.”
She inhaled deeply, ready to protest, but he laid a gentle finger on her lips. “Hear me out,” he admonished. “By the old standards, I’ve fallen from grace because I’ve accepted this change in rank. By those standards, your father is right; I am an unacceptable mate for you. If I accept your claim now, your value and status plummets with mine. I won’t have that happen—“
“I’m not going to listen to this!” she protested, and he planted his hand over her mouth.
“Please, my love, let me finish,” he pleaded. “Allow me to spare you from that dishonor. Grant me time to redeem my fallen status before I happily accept your claim and formalize our union with a traditional celebration. It may ease the tension between you and your father if we wait. Above all else, family is the most important issue of life, and I won’t be the wedge driven between you and yours.”
“As you wish. Although you’d better formally accept that claim before I change my mind and choose some other male,” she pouted. “I’d like to see you get good and angry about something one day. You’re always so methodical and logical about these things,” she muttered.
He grinned and pulled her back at arm’s length. “Is that why you love me?”
She rested her hands on his shoulders and lost herself in his gaze. “Well, there is that,” she admitted. “And your excellent table manners.”
...to be continued