“I was fascinated by the human species. They were so frail and yet so strong willed; so much like us and yet so very, very different. I knew in an instant that Kantor was right their home world was our home world. Let history defend my decision to prosecute the war. Someday my descendants will vindicate my actions.”
– Excerpt from: Nykostra – Child Empress, by Kree, The Imperial Library, Voton
Blud was on a rampage of revenge. He ran down the dark, empty corridors of the enemy starship, waving his sword and bellowing like a wounded sea creature. The other pirates tried to keep up with him, following a trail of decapitated heads. Blud burst into a small room filled with pipes and blue glowing machinery. There were several black uniformed crewmen attending the delicate instruments. He startled them with his battle cry and proceeded to slaughter them with powerful swings of his sword. The operators were not prepared for a fight and were easily dispatched.
Blud’s crazed eyes studied the machinery and slowly he realized that he was probably somewhere important. He drew deep breaths of stale air and tried to calm his racing pulse. This could be the engine room, or some other important place where he probably shouldn’t be killing the people who operated the equipment. Warning lights were flashing on the walls and the equipment was so foreign to him he could not begin to make any sense of it. He left the room and met up with some of his pirates in the corridor.
“Commander Trimble this is Blud, can you hear me?” he said into his communicator.
There was no answer. Either there was some kind interference or they were being jammed. He motioned forward with his sword and they continued in the direction he took for the head of the ship.
* * *
Eighty-eight ventured into the alien starship, taking a weapon from a fallen crewman. It operated surprisingly similar to human weapons. The weapon weighed more and had a crude sighting mechanism that the android could not use. It was not difficult to follow the trail of bodies to where the humans had been just minutes before.
Eighty-eight moved quickly and stealthily down the dark corridors. It came across a room where someone had recently beheaded two blue-skinned aliens. The equipment in the room was familiar to the android. It was a central computing room. Eighty-eight used the bodies of the dead crewmen to block the door shut and began examining the computers.
It accessed the data-net on Selene through nearby satellites and was given immediate access to Seventy-three’s database on the Votainion lexicon. Eighty-eight used the information to decipher the simple language of the Votainions and within minutes, it had cracked the ship’s internal security and was able to control any aspect of it at will.
* * *
Captain Varco stood in the main corridor of his ship, surrounded by armed security men. He had come to see the talking machine man for himself. The Votainion Engineers had always forbidden the development of robotics. The idea that computers could attain sentience was not unknown to them. In fact it was feared so much by the Engineers that the Soothsayers explicitly forbade them and considered them unholy. Machines existed to serve Votainions; they were tools, nothing more and nothing less. Because androids did not exist in his culture, they had always fascinated Varco.
He had heard the rumors that androids existed in this area of space, but he didn’t realize that their current opponents possessed them. He studied the dirty, mostly tan figure that was positioned behind the aliens, as if they were protecting it. Was it incapable of defending itself? How did it know my language and to what extent was it able to communicate? These questions and more bounced around inside Varco’s head as he prepared to speak.
“I am Captain Varco. Identify yourselves.”
The android said something to the aliens, presumably translating. Varco watched them for signs of who was in charge. He would instruct his guards to shoot that person first. A female stepped out in front and spoke in their flat toned voice. The android reiterated in a mechanical voice that sounded tone deaf.
“I am Commander Trimble of the SS Sokol, the ship that rammed into yours. We have you surrounded and are prepared to destroy this ship. Surrender or we will open fire.”
Varco laughed. He doubted that they would destroy themselves. He said as much to the android. It translated his words and the woman drew a grim smile. He had called her bluff.
“My leaders want to speak to your leaders. You have attacked us without provocation. We consider that an act of war,” the android repeated.
Varco stood perfectly still, watching the android and the woman who spoke. She was tall and lithe, but he was not impressed by her size or her weak features. These people were not as hearty of stock as the average Votainion Kastra. They would be easy to defeat in combat. A part of him yearned for war with them. But he knew that he would not be a part of such a war. He would probably not survive this day. They did have his ship outnumbered and they could easily pull out and blast it into a billion pieces. His only real chance was to give them what they wanted and get them off his ship. He was prepared to scuttle the ship at a moment’s notice, but that was a cowardly way to die. Tradition and his own fighting spirit demanded that they go down in flames rather than be taken prisoner.
“The Votainion Empire expands. Your culture will be subjugated.”
The enemy commander seemed indifferent to his statement. She spoke again, her eyes shadowed by the red lights from above. Her thin brow was weak and gave her face a smooth look that Varco found repulsive. The fact that she was female and commanded a warship, further devalued her in his eyes. Females never served as officers on warships. They were sexual objects, to be collected like valuable coins and protected from the leering eyes of other males.
“Our leader wishes to speak directly to yours now,” the android repeated.
Varco had complete faith in his Krathall guards. He turned to leave. “Kill them.”
His Krathall raised their weapons. Devon fired through her party at the Votainions. The air crackled at Trimble’s ear and the first guard fell. Before she could even raise her own weapon, the air sizzled past Trimble’s other ear and the second guard fell to the deck at Varco’s feet.
“Cease fire!” Trimble shouted.
Varco turned back to them and stood relaxed. He stared at the alien woman with the large handgun and the sickly yellow hair.
Devon pushed past Thirty-seven and Commander Trimble to stand before the enemy Captain. It took all the courage she could muster not to drop him as easily as she had his guards. She kept her blaster in hand, its barrel still warm against her leg.
The other two members of their boarding party brushed past Devon at the urging of Trimble to grab Varco by the arms.
“Take us to your leader,” Trimble restated and Thirty-seven translated.
Varco gazed into the pale blue eyes of the woman whose skin was a sickly pinkish brown color. He respected her, despite her repulsive appearance. She had killed his Krathall quicker than any decent Votainion could have.
Devon took a step towards the black dressed man with the deathly blue skin. His eyes were dark pools of oil and his forehead brutish by virtue of being double the size of the average human brow line.
She holstered her blaster and pulled the man’s sword from his sheath. She held the blade up as if to strike the man down with it.
Trimble took a couple steps forward. “Lieutenant.”
Devon handed back the sword to Trimble without losing eye contact with the owner. Trimble accepted it and immediately brought it down and out of sight.
Thirty-seven received a clear attention signal over its wireless circuits.
::Proceed ahead five meters and turn left. The interstellar transmitter is in the first room on the right.:: It was Eighty-eight.
::How did you get aboard?::
::That is unimportant. This ship is coming apart, you must make the connection soon.::
Thirty-seven sent an acknowledgement signal and then tapped Trimble on her shoulder. She turned her head around and said, “What is it?”
“Please follow me to the transmitter room. We do not have much time until this ship comes apart.”
The android gently brushed aside Trimble and the others, to lead the way. Trimble was getting tired of having people push by her; she followed the metal man past the others. The Votainion sword was heavy and she really didn’t want to carry it. She slid it between her suit and the retro-pack and put both hands on her blaster rifle.
* * *
Trimble faced the Votainion Captain and stared into his black eyes. “You will contact your leader and inform her that you have been captured. You will then inform her that our President demands her attention. Any attempt at subterfuge will result in you and your crew’s death.”
After Thirty-seven translated her words, Varco sneered. “We are warriors. Death in battle is the highest honor.”
Trimble pushed her face closer to his. He was slightly smaller than her and she was looking down at him. She could tell he was intimidated by her height. “Cooperate or I will let you rot in prison for the rest of your natural life.”
After the quick translation Varco relented, lowering his eyes. Nothing could have been worse for a Votainion warrior than a traditional prison sentence. It was inglorious and humiliating. The indignity of a prison was beyond the pale for them.
Trimble backed away and let him activate the interstellar transmitter.
Varco knelt before the transmitter, his body criss-crossed with laser pointers for the holographic projectors. He had never spoken to the Empress before. She would be expecting Lord Kantor, not a mere warship Captain. He recalled the last time they had seen their Empress, having just killed the lead Soothsayer. She was bloodied and in shock and he wondered if she had succeeded in foiling yet another assassination attempt.
The transmitter screen glowed and the image of the Empress appeared. She was serene in her regal, silvery gown.
“Where is Lord Kantor, Captain Varco?” the Empress demanded, her childish face smooth and clean.
Trimble and Devon stared in fascination at the child Empress. They were expecting an adult matriarch. This was just a child, not even to puberty.
“My Empress, Lord Kantor has been killed on the alien’s home world. Their leader wishes to speak with you,” Varco said. He kept his eyes lowered and prayed she would not question him further.
The Empress looked around, her view of the room limited to a narrow area where Varco knelt. Sensing the narrow field of view, Trimble stepped forward and bowed at her waist. She had never met an Empress before, but she had enough political training to know when to show respect, even to one’s enemy.
“Empress, I am Commander Trimble, of the Federation Starforce. This ship and its crew are now the domain of the Federation. Our leader, President Gail Constantine wishes an audience with you.”
* * *
The Empress was shocked and confused by the presence of an alien on her warship. Her carefully made-up face remained stoic to mask her confusion. The alien’s voice sounded rhythmically interesting to her, though she had no idea what was being said until the second voice spoke in words she understood but were mechanical and immature in structure.
Lord Kantor is dead and my warship has been captured, what choice do I have but to hear them out? Every fiber of her existence cried out for her to terminate the connection. But there was something about this species that was different from every other species the Empire had subjugated. They were so similar to her own people that she felt compelled to listen to them.
“Granted,” she finally said. She decided it was better to learn more about these people in the event that they will soon be at war with them.
Her Soothsayer whispered into her ear just out of sight, pleading with her to end the communication and warning her that she would be sending the Empire down a path that would lead to its decline. Nykostra silenced him with a curt wave of her hand.
The alien woman stepped away from Varco. A shimmering blue and white image of an older alien female formed in the air beside her defeated commander. Nykostra studied the woman’s pale blue face as the she spoke in her native tongue. How similar she looked to a Votainion matron. She could be my mother. These aliens are somehow related to us. Lord Kantor was right! He has found the home world!
“Empress, your warships have deliberately and viciously attacked our home world without provocation. Many thousands of our citizens have suffered and died needlessly. Such a provocation is a clear and present invitation to war with our Federation. If it is war that you seek, then so be it. But if this is by some chance a tragic mistake, then speak now or forever hold your peace.”
The image stopped speaking and waited patiently for a response. Nykostra listened carefully to the clumsy and mechanical translation. Again her Soothsayer intervened and tried to stop her from saying anything that would lead down the path to war. Nykostra waved her arm to silence the imprudent sage.
“The Votainion Empire extends from one end of this vast galaxy to the other. No species is exempt. You will surrender your military and prepare to be taken into the fold of this Empire. If you resist, your people will suffer unduly at the sword of my armies.”
The alien leader listened intently to the mechanical voice that translated. Empress Nykostra spoke again, to Commander Varco. She used the old tongue, reserved for special occasions or subterfuge.
“You will destroy your ship and die with glory for the Empire.”
Varco nodded his head curtly and did not look up at his Empress. The mechanical voice stopped abruptly. It could not translate the ancient dialect.
A third alien entered the field of view. It was a yellow haired female who wielded a Votainion falchion. She put the sword to Varco’s neck and forced him to his feet.
“What did she just say?” Devon demanded, her voice low and urgent.
Varco did not respond, even with Kantor’s blade held against his throat. He could see the Kastra markings on the silver blade and knew it had once belonged to Lord Kantor. He met her cold, blue eyes with his own dark eyes.
“Lieutenant, back off. You are jeopardizing the negotiations,” Trimble said.
“There are no negotiations here, ma’am.” Devon slowly withdrew the sword from Varco’s neck. It had left a nick on his throat and he rubbed it as she backed away.
“We are unable to translate the last words of Empress Nykostra,” Thirty-seven said. It was standing just off camera and could not be seen by the Empress.
“My Empress, these aliens are but puppets of their mechanicals. Unleash the fury of the Great Armadas and crush these infidels!” Varco said in the language he knew they could understand.
The door to the communications den slid open and a wild-eyed Captain Blud entered with his pirate marauders. Devon turned to look at the commotion and in so doing let her guard down just long enough for Varco to shove her to the deck.
Seeing Devon go down, Blud lunged towards Varco, blade rearing for a fatal blow to the defenseless Votainion. Devon scrambled to her feet in time to parry the blow in front of Varco’s face. The Votainion leader smiled, they were actually fighting each other now. This would be easier than he thought. He started issuing orders in the ancient tongue. “Engineering; commence destruction protocols, Helmsman; ramming speed to the nearest enemy warship.”
“Stand down Captain,” Devon gritted from clenched teeth.
Devon pushed Blud’s blade back with all her strength. He relented, withdrawing his blood stained blade. Devon immediately slammed the butt of her blade into Varco’s chin and turned to face him. Varco’s jaw was broken and bloodied as he backed away slowly.
“Silence,” Devon shouted to the bloodied Votainion Captain.
Trimble urged Blud back out of view of the transmitter. He noticed the image of the regal Empress for the first time. She was so young, even beautiful with her smooth blue skin and large, dark eyes. He was transfixed by her glowing image.
Trimble pulled Blud back away from Devon. After serving with her for the past few days he had enough trust not to take offense at her touch. Pirates often developed an aversion to incidental contact, having spent many long months in space aboard confined starships.
“What is going on over there?” President Constantine asked, her image wavering in the air to Devon’s left.
“We’re fine, mother. Please do continue,” Devon said. Her eyes fixated on Varco.
Trimble and Blud both looked at themselves. Mother? Neither could imagine that the tough-as-nails Devon Ardel was related to the newly elected President of the Federation.
Gail recognized her daughter’s image and voice at nearly the same time. She felt a lump in her throat knowing that Devon was aboard the enemy’s ship, right at that moment, the very moment when Gail was to plunge the Federation into war.
“As the dully appointed successor to the President of this Federation, I hereby extend to the Empire of Voton, a formal declaration of war. From this moment in time onward, all Votainion personnel, assets and agents thereof are enemies of this Federation. Any future encounters with Empire ships or personnel may result in deadly combat.” Gail paused for a moment to let her own words register in her mind. When she spoke again it was the last time before the connection was terminated. “May God have mercy on us all.”
Devon saw the image of her mother wink off out of the corner of her eye. There was no reply from the Votainion Empress. She wondered if the connection was dropped on purpose. After the android finished repeating her mother’s words in Votainion the room fell silent.
“Thirty-seven, what happened to the connection?” Devon asked.
“The signal was terminated at the source.”
Devon waited for someone to say something. The silence was wearing on her nerves and the damned sword was getting heavy in her hands. She turned to look at Trimble for an answer. Trimble shrugged and looked over at the image of the Empress.
Empress Nykostra’s face was frozen in a stoic pose. Devon wondered if the transmitter had locked up and was no longer showing a live image. Then she noticed the child Empress blink. Her thickly painted eyelids fell closed and then darted back up again as if she had awakened from a trance.
“I, Empress Nykostra of the Votainion Empire, ruler of the known galaxy, hereby command you to bow before your new overlord. Your lives are now mine, your pitiful worlds are now members of the Empire and are subjects of mine. You will now surrender your arms to Commander Varco.”
After Thirty-seven translated her words, silence penetrated the dark room again. None of the humans could believe what they had just heard. They looked at each other in bewilderment.
“To hell with that!” Devon finally said. She tightened her grip on the sword and put it to Varco’s neck, motioning for him to speak. “Tell your little bitch leader we don’t take orders from her. Tell her you’re all prisoners of the Federation and we are now at war.”
Trimble was mortified at Devon’s crude remarks. But she was the President’s daughter and they were now at war. To hell with protocol at this point. Devon only gave voice to what everyone in the room was thinking.
Before the android had finished translating the connection to Voton was terminated. Devon grabbed the lapel of Varco’s uniform and pulled him down to his knees. She was not going to kill him. He was more valuable as a prisoner than he was dead. She had learned that the hard way when she had killed Kantor on the mountain top. There would be no more killing on this day.
“Captain, let’s round up the rest of the crew and get off this bucket,” Trimble said.
Blud stuck his sword into his sash belt and pulled out his blaster to check its charge. He figured they would not go without a fight.
“What about him?” he asked.
Trimble stood over him. She looked at Devon who kept her sword out and pointing at the back of the Votainion’s head.
“We need him to convince his crew to surrender. Android, tell him that.”
Thirty-seven nodded and moved closer to stand beside Devon. When it finished speaking, there was not an immediate reply from the blue-skinned Captain. He stayed on his hands and knees and didn’t look up at them. It was as if he fully expected them to kill him.
“I have scanned the known data on this species and have concluded that they will not surrender peacefully. They will fight to the last man,” Thirty-seven said.
Devon handed her sword to Trimble and reached down to hoist Varco to his feet. She pushed him hard against the nearest wall and stuck her nose into his face. His jaw was dripping red blood and his eyes were beads of black ice. There was no love lost between them.
“Tell him if he doesn’t comply, I’ll beat the hell out of him and broadcast it to his crew.”
Trimble started to object and then stopped herself. The android looked to her for permission and she nodded her consent. There really weren’t any established rules of conduct for prisoners in a war with an alien species. Torture was not something that the Federation military condoned but there were no stated rules to prevent them from roughing up an alien prisoner. There were no rules for alien prisoners at all. That could change in the future, but for right now, she didn’t care what the hell Devon did.
When Thirty-seven completed his translation, Varco spat in Devon’s face.
She flinched. It caught her off guard. She wiped her face with one hand and took a deep breath. As much as she wanted to just lay into this bastard with all her strength, she resisted the notion. “No. We’re not going to harm him, he wants us to kill him. I can see it in his eyes.” She pushed off of him and stood back. “I’m bringing him back with us.”
Trimble nodded. “Agreed. Captain Blud, take this ship, spare no quarter.”
Blud nodded, his dark face lit by his own smile. That was something he could handle. He took his two pirate mates with him and they headed out. Devon pushed Varco out of the communications room and down the corridor leading back to the Sokol. Trimble took the remaining Federation crewmen and went off to help Blud take control of the ship.
Now you see how Devon redeems herself a bit after having killed Kantor. Not killing Varco shows her gaining control of her emotions. But as you will see in The Rising, things do come back to haunt her. This is the start of the Great War. Newly elected President Constantine’s first official act is to declare war.