“The only known record of a Votainion having experienced the hallucinogenic properties of burning ocha was Lord Kantor. Considering how he reacted afterwards, most agree that was probably a fortunate turn of events.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
Kantor stepped off the wing of the rescue fighter and rubbed his left forearm. The alien woman had shot him with a projectile weapon of some sort. It left his arm bloodied and throbbing. He had wrapped it tightly on the ride back to the VCF Krestor. The rancid smell of burnt weed from the moon filled his nostrils and its fine sand stained his hands and uniform orange.
Commander Varco met him as he came through the tight passageway from the flight deck to the main corridor. Varco was taller than his Captain and wore a serious expression on his thin blue face. Deep set black eyes were shadowed under the red overhead lights.
“Welcome back, my Captain.”
Kantor nodded as he tried to ignore the lingering pain in his arm. He could not contain a toothy grin. Kantor clapped his commander’s shoulder, his gray eye shinning.
“I’ve found our next opponent Varco. They are resourceful and brave, everything we could hope for. And they look like us!” He cleared his nostrils in a sneeze but could not get the burning smell out of them.
The two senior officers walked down the narrow corridor. Other crewman pulled up with their backs to the slanted wall to make room for them.
“Should I order landfall, sir?”
Kantor shook his head and stopped at the entrance to his cabin. “This moon is a rock. Follow the starship traffic and inform me when you find more.”
Varco saluted with his right arm across his chest before heading for the bridge. Kantor entered his cabin and went straight for his meditation nook. It was small and spartan with only a cushion to sit on. He took off his weapon belt and his calf length boots before sitting cross-legged on the cushion. He extended his arms out to his side and closed his eyes.
His mind focused on a rhythmic meditation used to clear one’s thoughts. The pain in his arm slowly slipped from his awareness as he fell deep into a trance. With his mind at peace his subconscious slipped into a quiescent state.
* * *
Commander Varco entered the narrow bridge and took his seat beside the Captain’s chair. He still sensed the fresh, outdoors of the moon from Kantor’s uniform. It was tinged with a slightly acrid smell that reminded Varco of burning vegetation.
“Commander, multiple targets are leaving this system and converging in deep space,” the Scanning Officer said.
Varco stepped forward to the man’s post and looked over his shoulder at the instruments. The flight paths of dozens of starships clearly showed the established trade routes of this newly discovered civilization. There were three planetary systems nearby that accounted for most of the interstellar traffic. But there was a noticeable amount of activity off in deep space where scans did not pick up any habitable planets.
“Focus your scans in that area. Helm, take us closer to these coordinates, best speed.”
* * *
Kantor’s heartbeat raced as images rushed through him. Fierce battles, alien faces and unknown weapons of war flashed at him, overwhelming his senses. He was seeing into the future, of that he was certain. But never had his visions been this clear and this violent. Thousands if not millions of people killed in massive campaigns that seemed to last forever. It was glorious and he didn’t want it to end.
The intensity of the vision began to fade. Once this restful state had been smashed apart, it left him awake and brimming with energy. His wild eyes snapped open and looked around the silent cabin. He breathed heavily as if he had just come from a battle. Unfolding his legs he stood up and went to a porthole. The fiery orange moon below was moving away as the Krestor left the binary star system. He watched the glowing ball get smaller as he fought to regain his composure.
Many images had revealed themselves in his vision, but none more clear than the pale face of the woman who had shot him on that moon. Their fates were intertwined in ways he could not fathom. What he did know, was that her race would be locked with his in a violent struggle for control of the galaxy.
He had seen his Empress, Nykostra in the vision. Her throne strengthened by the coming war. Her power and influence elevated in the nine Kastra of the Empire. As her Chief Strategist, he was destined to lead the coming conflict. It is every Votainion’s dream to lead his Kastra in a great war to establish dominance. Warfare and the struggle for dominance was an important part of their history and beliefs. What Kantor had just witnessed was the greatest war ever imagined. Many worlds lain barren and entire races destroyed in the name of the Empire.
A buzzer alerted him to an incoming message from the Empress. Kantor faced the hologrid in his room and activated the message. The child ruler would not be a woman for several more years. Her elfin blue face wavered in front of Kantor, her nose high and her dark eyes narrow. She was already practiced at the art of appearing superior to all under her rule. Kantor thought she was a pretentious child who could use a good swat, but he wisely kept his thoughts to himself. Even though the hologram message was one-sided, he held his tongue.
“Chief Strategist, as you are aware, I have successfully fended off one attempt at my life since you embarked on your mission. I anticipate having to do so again, before your return. The attempts are not the only reason I must recall your armada to home space. There is growing discontent amongst the nine Kastra on Voton. My Soothsayers are warning me that another civil war is coming unless I can put down the unrest. For that, I need you and your ships as a show of strength and support.”
Kantor shook his head slowly as he listened. She couldn’t recall them, they were on the verge of the greatest conflict in Votainion history. He patiently waited for the message to end, already forming his argument for her to let his fleet continue on.
“I am therefore directing you to return your fleet to Empire Space and take up positions around the three core worlds. Stay in close contact during your return. I shall look forward to seeing my Chief Architect again and forming our plans for keeping the Kastra united.”
She nodded gently and closed her eyes. The hologram terminated with a flash. Kantor activated the ship’s intercom. “Commander Varco get me a secure beam to Voton, I need to speak to the Empress immediately.”
“Sir, we will have to come out of tunnel to redirect the power grid.”
Kantor switched off the intercom. The warship began to decelerate and drop out of tunnel speed. He could feel the stardrive tubes rumbling from several decks away as he put on his boots and headed to the communications den.
* * *
Kantor stood before the image processor in the darkened communications den. An operator sat below him, adjusting the signal strength. The same tunneling capability that the giant warship used to move through large chunks of empty space could be reconfigured to open two-way communications back to Voton. The connection was usually unstable and only lasted a few minutes. The process used all the ship’s power and could easily overwhelm circuits and render the ship dead in space, but it was the only way to maintain close contact with the homeland.
The receiving projector activated and the face of Empress Nykostra appeared before him, floating angelically in space. Her makeup was gone, her cheeks dark blue with emotion. Her demeanor sullen and defeated.
“Empress, I must respectfully insist that you allow this armada to stay on our mission. We have discovered a new race of aliens who inhabit large areas of space just like our own Empire. They are worthy opponents and will provide great resources for the Empire.”
“I need your ships here, Chief Strategist The Kastra are growing restless and war could break out at any time. If you don’t return at once, I will replace you.”
Kantor could see the fear and anxiety in her normally tough demeanor. She was a different person from the confident child that had sent the message he had just watched.
“My Empress, I’m sending you data about the aliens we have encountered. Use it to convince the other Kastra leaders that now is not the time for bitter in-fighting. We need to marshal our forces and send them here to engage this new enemy. If we don’t go on the offensive here and now, they will grow stronger and eventually attack us.
“I’ve had a vision, my Empress. The gods have allowed me to glimpse our future. I saw your rule extending to dozens of new worlds and our armies defeating these aliens in glorious battle. It is the very thing your Soothsayers claimed that we would find. I believe this is our destiny.”
The Empress stared blankly into the lens of the recorder. Kantor could tell she was listening to her Soothsayers. He could picture them just out of camera range, hovering like gray scavengers. Whispering their desires into her ears, influencing the future of the Empire in ways no other Votainion could imagine. She slowly nodded and turned to one side as if to stare down one of the more persistent muses. She flinched and brought up her hands to defend herself. Kantor wanted to push through the connection and protect his empress.
One of the Soothsayers hovered into view in front of the Empress. Its black cowl pulled back to reveal smooth, gray-blue skin. Red eyes flashed directly at Kantor. He felt a powerful, uneasy feeling grip him physically.
“Stay the course. Do not return,” the Soothsayer said. Its mouth never moved but the demonic sounding words reverberated from his head.
Kantor froze, staring helplessly into the eyes of the senior Soothsayer. He felt the icy grip of the psychic link loosen as the connection began to close. The Soothsayer pulled the cowl back over its head and retracted from view. The Empress faded into darkness, frightened and helpless against the power of the gray clerics.
The connection terminated and Kantor found himself out of breath and ill at ease. The Empress wanted him to return but the Soothsayer overruled her. He had never seen a Soothsayer overrule the sitting Empress before, no matter how young and naïve or old and decrepit they were. Power always flowed from the sitting ruler to the specialists. That was the Votainion way. He should honor her wishes and let the Soothsayers be damned.
But he could not return. He had glimpsed what he felt was the future and it would not unfold as he had seen unless he engaged now. The Soothsayers would not allow her to be harmed by a coup. Her bloodline was sacrosanct. He slapped the intercom on the wall.
“Commander Varco, proceed on your prior course. Meet me in the war room.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
* * *
Kantor and Varco stood over a projector table in the cramped war room. Starship traffic lanes were displayed that formed a triangle between three habitable worlds. Still more lanes of traffic extended deeper into space and out of their scanning range. All the starships that were moving between the worlds in this area of space were displayed. It was more activity than either man had ever seen.
“They have a vast trade empire. It will be difficult to conquer them,” Varco said.
“A worthy opponent is not weak. Intelligence reports indicate they have no galactic fleet. Each of these worlds has limited defenses. There must be a military base in this region somewhere. There are too many unprotected assets, here and there all over this part of space.” Kantor waved his arm at the map.
Varco pointed to a dark region of space and tapped the screen. A planetary system map appeared and drilled down to a stretch of space between the fourth and fifth planets. “My Lord, we’ve tracked several freighters from the orange moon to this region of space. But no movement from there to any of the other star systems.”
Kantor lifted a heavy, black eyebrow. Something mysterious was going on and they were close to it. Possibly in striking distance. “Shipments in but not out. They could be supplying a base.”
Varco folded his arms. “Or it could be pirates.”
Kantor cracked a sly grin. “Battle stations, commander.”
If you have read the short stories that took place on Ocherva, you are familiar with the ocha weed. Devon had an ocha dream of the future and it’s what guides her to eventually join the military in her pursuit of the Votainions.
I’ve had great fun world building Ocherva and the planet becomes quite significant to the entire Star Saga.