Archive for December, 2012
“Who are we meeting?” Arronanto asked. He licked his fingers, and found himself eyeing another of the snack packs Arjuna had brought back from the market.
“An important Liono official,” Arjuna repeated, grabbing up the salty snacks before her brother could make a lunge for it. “Trust me Arro, you will want to make a good impression.”
Arronanto flopped on a cushioned seat with a dramatic sigh. “I don’t really feel up to this.” Arjuna didn’t reply, she just gave him a look that told him he was going to comply if she had to drag him kicking and screaming. “Why is Denne bringing the official here anyway? Isn’t that a little risky?”
“Sometimes you have to take risks,” Arjuna replied.
Suddenly, she heard the motors for the ship’s ramp engage. Her heartbeat quickened. “They’ll be here any moment,” she said to Arronanto with a twinkle in her eye.
Sure enough, just a little while later, the doors to the Aluen’s lounge slid open and Dennethom stood in the doorway, guiding Drapaudi inside. She smiled gratefully at him, and then her eyes alighted on Arronanto, still draped across a chair.
He did a double take, almost sliding to the floor. Scrambling to his feet he hurried to greet her. “It’s you,” he said, unable to contain his emotions.
“It is I,” Drapaudi replied with a smile, allowing Arronanto to take her hand and press her fingers to his soft, furry cheek.
“We met up at the market,” Dennethom replied, uncomfortable.
When it was clear Arronanto would not willingly let go of Drapaudi’s hand, Arjuna stepped in front of him, and gave her a warm hug.
“It is good to see you,” Arjuna said.
“Please, sit down,” Dennethom gestured for Drapaudi to take a seat in one of the cushioned chairs, which she did.
The doors slid open once again, and Yasana stepped through. “You must be Drapaudi,” she said, taking a seat next to the young Arthemian. “I have heard so much about you.”
“It is an honour to finally meet you, Lady Yasana,” Drapaudi replied.
“Yasana, please. I am no lady any more,” though Yasana’s smile was touched with sadness, she warmly embraced Drapaudi.
“I understand we should be congratulating you,” Arronanto said, his voice stiff, his body erect, having recovered from the shock of seeing her.
“That is actually why I brought Drapaudi here today,” said Dennethom.
Dennethom dropped the iced fruit to the ground. Suddenly his mouth felt dry and his heart raced. He glanced over at his sister, but Arjuna had slipped away. Drapaudi stopped a few feet from him, frowning, but still staring hard at him. For a moment Dennethom feared she would turn away, but instead she went straight to the iced fruit stand and bought a cool treat. She was mere feet away from Dennethom.
Casually she stood next to him eating her fruit. Dennethom waited for her to speak, but for a while she didn’t. She seemed confused. It took a moment for Dennethom to notice her eyes glistened with tears.
“They said you were dead.” Her tone was accusatory.
“I know,” he replied, feeling guilty.
“I’ve been mourning you,” she said, and couldn’t help glancing at him.
“We had to pretend we died in the accident. There are those that want us dead.”
“I thought that might be the case,” she said, looking straight ahead as she ate. And Denenthom realised, she wasn’t angry at him, she just didn’t want to draw attention.
“I saw Arjuna with you,” she continued. “Does that mean your brother and mother survived also?”
“Yes. They are here too.” He so badly wanted to touch her.
“Who wants you dead?”
Dennethom sighed. “My cousin.”
“What will you do?”
“I am continuing to build contacts. When Katha is ready to step down, we will reveal ourselves.”
“Why are you here?” she asked, in confusion. “Shouldn’t you be in hiding? The Arthemians are close allies of the Boentu.”
“We needed supplies,” Dennethom replied, and then hesitated. He had to say it, even though it made him want to throw up. “Also I wanted to see you.”
She flinched. “I’m getting married soon.”
“I know,” Dennethom whispered.
“I don’t want to,” she replied, her voice sounded earnest. “My father is making me.”
Dennethom suddenly did something he rarely did, he became impulsive. “Come with us. You shouldn’t have to marry someone you don’t love.”
She smiled but her lips were tense. “Then who will I marry? You?”
Dennethom flinched. “I am sorry. I should have realised you couldn’t love a Boentu.”
“No,” Drapaudi replied, and she touched his hand ever so gently. Dennethom felt a thrill go through him. “I do love you.”
“Then what?” Denenthom asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“I also have feelings for your brother.”
The next morning Dennethom, dressed in his monk robes, left the Aluen to explore Liono. He returned midday, looking happy and carrying some local fruit from the market. When Arjuna asked why he had suddenly decided to throw caution to the wind, he said nothing, and left for his quarters. The same thing happened the following day. And the day after that. On the fourth day Arjuna followed her older brother.
Sure enough he went to a local bazaar. The market was the biggest one in the city and bustled with life, as well as intoxicating smells and loud voices. Dennethom occasionally browsed at stands, but he seemed to be moving in a very specific direction. Eventually, he stopped at a fountain where others sat too, resting and enjoying the sunshine.
Like two lasers, her brother’s eyes were pointed to a nearby fabric shop. Arjuna puzzled for a moment at what her brother stared at. Minutes went by, but nothing. She bought an iced fruit from a local merchant as she kept watch on her brother. Not until she spotted Dennethom’s change of expression, did she realise the person he waited for had arrived. She quickly scanned the crowd. The dark skinned, smiling face of Drapaudi could be seen as she wondered into a fabric merchant’s store.
Arjuna lost sight of her, but she knew that from her brother’s angle he was perfectly positioned to just sit and watch her. She finished her iced fruit, while Drapaudi stayed in the store and Dennethom continued to watch her. Arjuna sighed and bought another iced fruit. This time she walked over to her brother and handed it to him. For a moment he just stared at it in surprise.
“Try it, it’s actually quite delicious.”
“Were you following me?” he asked, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.
“You’re upset about someone following you?” Arjuna asked with raised eyebrows.
Dennethom sighed. He knew she was right. He had no business being upset with Arjuna when he had been following Drapaudi for days.
“Technically I didn’t follow her. I did follow her here the first day and when I found out she comes here most days, I decided to wait for her.”
“Was it worth it?” Arjuna asked.
Dennethom looked sheepish. “She didn’t come yesterday.”
Arjuna wanted to make a quip but she felt too bad for her brother. “You know she’s getting married.”
“I know. I still had to see her.”
“I didn’t realise you liked her so much.”
“I don’t think I did either until I saw the engagement announcement.” He stared hard at the iced fruit which began to melt, the juices soaking his fuzzy fingers. “I only wish I could tell her how I feel.”
“Here’s your chance,” Arjuna said, and nodded towards Drapaudi who now stared in shock at the two Boentu warriors.
The trip was uneventful. Passing out of the Boentu System and then into the Arthema System, the credentials Ninsun had created for the Aluen were superb. If anyone asked, they were on private business for the Steward of Veran.
Despite Dennethom’s original hesitation to visit the Arthema System, he found himself eager to arrive. He even proposed they visit Liono, a planet they felt somewhat familiar with, although Dennethom insisted they remain in disguise and attempt no contact with Rashdu Carva.
After a day of seeking out medical supplies for long-term space flight, Arronanto returned to the Aluen with a scowl on his face.
“What is it?” Dennethom asked. Being the most recognisable of the three, they decided it best he stay behind.
Arronanto surveyed his brother and said, “You’re not going to like this, Denne.”
Dennethom felt impatient. He wasn’t in the mood for playing games with his brother and sighed.
Arronanto went to a vid screen and tapped a few buttons before pulling up a local news announcement. But that wasn’t what caught Dennethom’s eye. Instead he spotted a picture of the beautiful dark-skinned Arthemian female. A female he recognised instantly. Drapaudi, daughter of Rashdu Carva. Next to her picture was that of a male Arthemian Dennethom didn’t know. The headline announced their engagement.
Dennethom read through it twice, frowning all the while. “The thing is,” Arronanto began, as he opened a bag of crispy salted leaves- a local cuisine, he forgot what they called it- “Up until we died, she wrote to me fairly often and she never once mentioned this, this, other person.”
“She wrote to you?” Dennethom asked, his eyebrows raised in surprise.
Arronanto shoved a handful of the leafy snack food into his mouth. “Once in a while, yes. But I swear I never heard about anyone, nevermind this skinny little Arthemian.”
“He’s the son of a First Minister,” Dennethom pointed out. “Hmm. It looks as though they haven’t set a date.”
“Thank the old gods,” Arronanto said with his usual dramatic flair. “I don’t think my heart could take it.”
Shoving another handful of salty goodness into his mouth, Arronanto got up, taking the bag with him. “I’ll be in my quarters,” he said with a sigh.
As he made his way out of the ward room, he ran into Arjuna. Noticing the bag of snack food and her brother’s expression, she shot a questioning glance at Dennethom, but he was too busy re-reading the engagement announcement.
After five full days on Regat, Dennethom was ready to leave. Real’c contacted him just once to let him know they were scrutinizing every ship that left the planet. Looking for signs of foul play became the official reason, but Dennethom knew that they were making sure none of the Chran family had managed to escape.
The news updated constantly on every new tidbit about the explosion, The picture Wydun and Lossepharr painted was there had been a problem with the main thrusters. Even though Wydun’s own people had worked on the thrusters and thought it was fixed, it fired too early, overheating and causing the ship to explode. Wydun had even found someone to take the blame. His chief engineer. He faced criminal charges. Dennethom wondered if the engineer was being paid off as well. Surely he was. Someone had to deliver the explosive device.
Eventually Dennethom gave the order to Jora to take off. There was no more searches of outgoing ships, and besides, their cover was solid enough. As they began to pull away from Regat’s orbit, Dennethom felt the heaviness in his heart only become greater. A frightening thought occurred to him. He had no idea where they would go from here. So he called a family meeting. Yasana declined, claiming she was unwell. But they all understood she mourned the loss of her old life. And so Arjuna and Arronanto gathered once more with their brother to make plans.
“We need to develop allies, or we have no hope of going home,” Arjuna said, flatly.
Dennethom nodded his head. “We have a few friends in the outer rim. Ninsun, for one. I also trust the stewards on Mandos, Indra and Veran. But of them all, only Ninsun knows we’re alive.” He hesitated. “I think we should keep it that way for now.”
“But how can we develop an army if they all believe we’re dead?” Arronanto asked. He wore an expression of incredulity.
Dennethom shook his head. “It’s too soon and far too dangerous. If we start telling the other stewards, word will get back to Lossepharr. Aside from the military bases on Mandos, we have no army.”
“So we need outside help,” Arjuna surmised.
“Yes,” Dennethom agreed.
“What about the Luzuviq? Zutival has always had a relationship with our family.”
“Maybe,” Dennethom muttered. “I trust Zutival, and he may be able to provide us with a few ships, but I don’t know that I trust the Luzuviq government.”
“You think they would make their own move against the Boentu system?”
“Between us and the Luzuviq, we’re the two biggest military forces in the galaxy. If they get a sniff that we’re somehow destabilized, they may want to make their own move.”
“So not the Luzuviq, then who? The Katai?” Arjuna asked. She looked sceptical. The katai were a powerful race, but they had their own problems and they didn’t exactly have the strongest ties with Boentu.
“What about the Arthema System?” Arronanto asked. He seemed hesitant.
Both his brother and sister looked at him questioningly.
“You already have a relationship with the Assembly. Besides, it might be a good way to get in touch with Mehar Renecke.”
Dennethom looked doubtful.
“We still trust the Mehar, don’t we?” Arronanto replied. He seemed disconcerted at the expressions on Arjuna and Dennethom’s faces.
“I just don’t want to do anything to risk our position. We can’t let Lossy get wind of this. He could have spies everywhere.”
Arjuna gently touched Dennethom’s shoulder. “It might not be a bad idea though. We could get better medical supplies for the ship. We can keep a low profile and try to see just how much sympathy there is to Lossepharr.”
Slowly, with reluctance, Dennethom agreed to his brother’s suggestion. They were going to Liono.
They were watching an address by Katha. He looked worn out and in shock. His clothing appeared ruffled as though hurriedly put together. His eyes were red and hollow as he numbly announced the death of his kin. Briefly he mentioned the investigation that would take place on Regat to discover what went wrong. Dennethom wasn’t worried though. He already had Jora and Xien rig the ship so that if an explosive device did go off, they wouldn’t be able to recover any body parts. Katha then began to talk about his nephews and niece. His voice sounded raw. He spoke in a halting way, as though afraid he would break down in front of the entire star system.
Having stayed up all night, an exhausted Yasana decided to go take a nap. Though Dennethom was also tired, he and his siblings chose to stay awake, re-watching the broadcasts, particularly the one of Katha’s announcement.
It was clear that, at least for the time being, no one suspected they lived. They might make if off Regat alive. So why didn’t he feel happier? He had saved his family’s life. Mostly he felt confused, unsure what his next move should be.
Though he didn’t say anything to Arronanto and Arjuna, he knew in his heart that Katha couldn’t have been behind the plot to kill them. He seemed too shaken. Not even Katha could keep his emotions so well hidden.
Conversely Dennethom had little doubt of his cousin’s involvement. When Katha made it known that the title of future leader would now have to go to his eldest son, Lossepharr’s face was carefully blank. He didn’t look elated. But he didn’t seem visibly upset by the loss of so much family.
“I’m going to kill him,” Arjuna murmured, studying Lossepharr’s face as though he were a ballistic orbital bot.
“No,” Dennethom replied. “He will die once he is tried for his crimes.”
Dennethom toured the ship with Jora, conducting a quick inspection, but the tour was unnecessary. Everything on-board the Aluen had been stowed. Supplies were stocked. The craft was ready to go. Jora and Xien had done a superb job.
He itched to take off right away, but they decided against it. In fact, they planned to spend two more days on Regat, albeit on-board the ship. For one thing, they needed to remote pilot the Boentu Atten which can only be accomplished while still in Regat’s orbit. For another, Dennethom thought they would be safer staying on Regat.
If Wydun suspected anything, he would check the logs of all ships that departed in the last few hours, or those about to leave. Ninsun’s cover would probably hold up to scrutiny, but Dennethom didn’t want to take that chance. Wydun would never believe they remained on Regat. Eventually security would have to lessen. It was a busy space-port, after all. But for now they stayed put.
Ultimately, Dennethom also wanted to make sure the Boentu Atten exploded. He needed to know Lossepharr really planned to kill him. There was still a part of him that simply could not fathom attempting to murder your own kin.
Eventually the time came for Jora to remote fly the Boentu Atten. They watched as he piloted the craft away from Wydun’s private landing strip and pulled up into the atmosphere, getting ready to break away from Regat’s orbit. And then they lost contact with the ship.
Arjuna and Arronanto sat upfront with Dennethom watching the proceedings. They all knew what this meant. Something had taken out the ship. Both Jora and Xien looked spooked. They obeyed Dennethom’s orders without question. When Dennethom told them about an attempt on his life, they took him seriously. It was their duty. But nobody had assassinated a Boentu leader in over a hundred cycles.
Arronanto fiddled with the Comms unit trying to pick up a news broadcast. It was chaotic. But message after message began broadcasting the same dire news: The Boentu Atten had exploded killing the future leader of Boentu and his family.
Despite being the middle of the night, the space port was bustling. The crowds were perfect for the four members of the Chran family, allowing them to easily blend in. They easily made their way to the craft Dennethom purchased through Ninsun, a brand new state of the art ship manufactured by the Lo’Kar Corporation.
The ship was built right there on Regat. The engines were as quiet and advanced as they came. The ship’s stealth capabilities made it the perfect craft for any high-ranking Boentu warrior. Up until this insanity occurred, Dennethom had considered a proposal to introduce this very craft to the Boentu home fleet. However, it was an expensive ship, not at all cost effective. But for a wealthy Boentu trying to sneak off a planet unseen, it was just right.
The craft, which Arronanto had dubbed the Aluen, was already warmed up, the engines purring by the time they arrived at the docking bay. Jora, the Boentu Atten’s pilot came down the ramp to greet the family. He was unable to hide his sheer relief as he helped Yasana up the ramp and assisted Arronanto and Arjuna with their overnight bags. What little belongings they had been able to take with them had already been loaded on the Aluen.
Dennethom turned to Real’c. “Real’c, what is your wife’s name?”
Dennethom smiled and repeated the name to himself. “Please thank Shalya for me. You both took such great risks in helping us. I cannot tell you how grateful I am,” Dennethom said, taking Realc’s hand in both of his. “Ninsun will have a payment waiting for-”
Real’c waved a hand. “I do not wish for payment, my liege. My wife and I are helping you because we believe you are the rightful leader of the Boentu people. And if a plot truly exists, then as a citizen I must help you. It is my duty.”
Dennethom was appreciative of his words and he bowed to Real’c. “Thank you. There are some that don’t recognise my claim as future leader. It means a lot to me that you do.”
Real’c’s expression darkened. “If I can find any proof at all that Wydun was behind this plot to kill you, I will make very sure the evidence gets into the right hands.”
Dennethom bowed once more. “I appreciate that.” He hesitated. “Real’c, you have already done so much for my family and yet there is one more thing I must ask of you.”
“You are the future leader of the Boentu, it would be an honour to aid you,” Realc responded, his expression grave.
“I will need to keep abreast of news in the Boentu System, particularly here on Regat. Especially if Wydun suspects anything.” Dennethom reached into his pocket and brought out a small handheld comms unit. “I’ve pre-programmed this link so you can contact me directly.” He opened the device. “This is how you can encrypt or decrypt messages.” He showed Real’c twice more before handing the device over to him. “If you hear anything- if my cousin Lossepharr arrives and has suspicions, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
Real’c took the communications link, studying the device for a moment, practising the encryption and decryption function before placing it in his pocket. “It has been an honour,” he said, bowing to Dennethom.
Dennethom placed his right arm on the horticulturalist’s left shoulder and bowed his head once more. Real’c couldn’t hide his surprise. The gesture was reserved for those that warriors considered their equal. Without another word, Dennethom hurried up the ramp to join his family.
Real’c and the Chran family carried on in silence, staying close to the shadows. Only once did they have to duck out of the way when a guard walked by with a large metal carrier, presumably to capture the rogue badens. When the guard was out of sight they continued on.
Dennethom found himself wondering whether Wydun slept right now, knowing in the morning he would be woken with the news of their deaths. Would he be able to sleep? Or was he too anxious to sleep? Had he stayed up, hoping all went well and Lossepharr sticks to their agreement? Not that it mattered. The important thing right now is that they leave Regat alive.
Eventually they found themselves out in the night air. Real’c had left a ground vehicle parked outside the Steward’s house. The four members of the Chran family crammed into the back of the vehicle. Real’c instructed them to hide beneath a pile of plastic sheets.
“What about the gate guards?” Arjuna asked as she struggled for room in the cramped vehicle.
“We’re leaving. They won’t bother checking the vehicle.” Real’c wandered around for a moment, arranging the sheets here and there so the family was completely concealed, then he got in the driver’s seat and drove away.
Dennethom felt the vehicle stop, but the engine remained on. A strange voice could be heard.
“Leaving already? You just arrived.”
“I brought the wrong fertilizer. This stuff will kill all of the flowers. Lady La’Nar will not be happy.”
The guard chuckled. “We don’t want that. They say she spends a small fortune on these Arthemian imports.”
“Oh they’re expensive all right,” replied Real’c. “And difficult to grow. But they are pretty.”
Dennethom heard the guard chuckle again, and the vehicle began to move once more.
The next time the vehicle stopped, the engine shut off and Real’c helped them out. As he exited the vehicle, Dennethom saw tools scattered across the back.
“You’re a gardener,” he exclaimed.
“Horticulturist, yes,” Real’c affirmed. “Because of Lady La’Nar’s love of off-system plants, which need special care, I have access to the Steward’s residence day and night.”
Dennethom was stunned. When Ninsun had suggested Real’c, he never imagined it would be up to a simple gardener and his wife to save the line of Chran.
Glancing at the camera Real’c leaned over and whispered, “Do not worry, T’salu. I have someone in charge of the security cameras.”
“Who?” Dennethom demanded. He wasn’t sure which part he hated most. The idea of a tampered camera getting back to Wydun or that Realc had brought someone else in on their plan without his consent.
“It is all right, my liege,” Real’c assured him. “My wife works in security. She will have access to the recordings. We’re confident we can change the times on the recordings so it will look as though you left later.”
Dennethom breathed a sigh of relief, but Arjuna was still suspicious. “If your wife works in the security office, why couldn’t she take this shift? It would make our escape much easier.”
Real’c beckoned for them to continue on their way. They were running short on time. “She’s not in charge of the schedule,” he explained in low whispers. “She can only request a shift change if she has a valid reason and there must be advance notice. We have children in school during the day, it would look unusual if she suddenly switched to the night shift.”
“We don’t want to endanger your fmaily. It is better she doesn’t make any unusual changes to her schedule,” Yasana replied, gently patting Real’c on the shoulder.
Real’c bowed his head once to Yasana, touched that the mother of the future leader of Boentu would treat him so kindly.
“When the Boentu Atten explodes,” he continues, “there will be chaos at the security office. They’ll have all off-duty personnel come in to work. Steward Wydun may be expecting this explosion, but it is doubtful he has brought many others in on the plan. While everyone in security is running around like conogs with their heads cut off, my wife can slip in and make the changes. We’ve even fabricated footage of you going to the landing strip, so it won’t be an issue either. If the steward is looking for signs of your escape, he won’t find any in those recordings.”