from the Prologue of “Star Princess: Encounter in the Dark” by Moses Solomon:
An imposing military lander rested on the tarmac before her, billows of black noxious fumes rapidly dissipating into the afternoon breeze. Two stories tall and elevated on massive landing gear, it sported deep dark gray plating, two rows of glistening laser cannons on either side of the hull, and an oversized dual tail fin. As the ceremonially-attired Alscrasian royal guard, in shiny black with rich scarlet trim, stood at attention in single file before the titanic warcraft, the ramp lowered. Two columns of soldiers, the dusty gray-clad elite guard of the Gearmlian Confederation, marched out with charge-pak rifles slung over their shoulders and traditional cuxioblades hanging from their belts.
Thericia was sufficiently impressed. Unlike her father and brother, she never had opportunity to travel off-planet, except to nearby neighboring worlds under Alscrasian rule. Stifling a frown at the thought that she was a “Star Princess” in name only, she glanced down the family line, first at her brother, who stood at attention, then at her mother. Under her brightly jeweled tiara, regal Queen Jarina held a firm—almost stiff—smile across her face. Tense. Her father looked a bit more relaxed, but not much more.
Though her father, the King of Alscras, was officially the Emperor, she understood that any real power he held at the Imperial level was the result of a hard-fought agreement by all the constituent dominions, especially the five core worlds, which included Alscras and the Gearmlian Confederation, the most-distant, most-talked-about member of the Empire. Peace in the young Empire had held steady for nearly fifty years with only an occasional minor incident on a remote asteroid or planetoid rattling the calm. And yet…the taut veins that jutted from Emperor Otias II’s neck told Thericia his true feelings of the Gearmlian dignitaries who descended the ramp.
The Imperial peace relied almost exclusively on the personal friendship between the King of Alscras and the Primus of the Confederation. It was something Thericia had overheard from her father only once, when he was confiding to her mother—and Thericia happened to be around the right corner at the right time. First, it had been her grandfather, King Otias I, and King Bhuthe of Breame. Now, it was her father and the Breamian successor, King Priot. As for the other major planets of the Confederation, including the military industrial planet of Gassil and the agricultural world of Kearo, support was razor thin.
The bright lights of the media blinded Thericia for a moment. It was a necessary irritant of being associated with the government. She had gotten used to it years ago, but it was still an annoyance that distracted her attention from the imposing monarch descending from the ship.
Gray-bearded King Priot wore a black and gold uniform of the old Gearmlian Corps over his square shoulders. An array of colorful medals decorated his chest and a gleaming silver cuxioblade hung from his hip. The Gearmlian Primus was taller and more muscular than Emperor Otias, a dominating figure who would make for a threatening personality but for a relaxed smile and a soft twinkle in his eyes.
Behind King Priot stood a young man who looked to be in his early twenties, wearing a deep scarlet and silver uniform of the Gearmlian Revolution, barely shorter than the King, with a square, clean-shaven jaw. A modest trio of medals lined his chest, and the brim of his hat lined neatly over his eyebrows. His steps were sharp and crisp, like those of an actual soldier.
Was that the King’s son? She had never seen him before, though she knew that a Prince did serve in the Gearmlian reserve in some unpublicized capacity. He didn’t have an official governmental position. As far as she knew, this summit was an arms limitation negotiation. What was this person doing here? Did he have an unannounced military role in the proceedings? Or was he sightseeing?
Following the entourage of visiting soldiers down the ramp was the olive-skinned, shock-white-haired deputy Primai, with her bright red Brozan robes flowing behind her, accompanied by the bald-headed leader of the Gearmlian military in dark glasses, General Faut.
King Priot and his contingent lined up at the base of the ramp, in front of their military escort. A buffer of about two dozen feet separated the visiting delegation from the Emperor and his party—the Queen, Franklen, Admiral Kosolf, Prince Otias, and Thericia—while the royal band played the anthems of Alscras and Gearml. Thericia found herself standing opposite the tall Prince. Of course.
When the music finished, the flashing lights began again as the visitors approached, flanked left and right by their guards.
After greeting the Emperor, the Queen, and Prince Otias, King Priot stepped over to face Thericia. She silently held her breath as the young Prince accompanied the King over and smiled at her. Without warning, her heart rapidly pounded with anticipation and her hands went ice cold.
She had never had this sort of reaction to anybody before, let alone a perfect stranger.
“Dear Princess,” the King said with a rich low tone and a warm, comforting smile, “I would like to introduce my son, Prince Jomin of Breame.”
Thericia smiled and held out her hand to shake with Prince Jomin. Gearmlians were customarily business-like in their greetings, or so Thericia thought. To her surprise, Jomin lifted her hand and gave it a gentle kiss on the backside. “A pleasure to meet you, Your Highness.”
“And it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Alscras,” Thericia responded without missing a beat. “I hope your first visit will be an enjoyable one.”
Jomin stepped aside, giving Thericia a moment to calm her adrenaline. King Priot brought the deputy Primai forward.
“May I introduce my deputy, Lady Ludzenia of Broza.”
The deputy Primai chilled Thericia to the bone. Her muscles tensed. Somehow, the smile, with blood-red lips narrowed and pitch-black eyes squinting, just felt untrustworthy. Thericia’s mother mentioned to her—more than once—of Ludzenia, a humorless, mysterious figure who often stayed in the shadows.
It was just a feeling, the Queen had said, one woman’s intuition of another.
Lady Ludzenia’s appearance, though, unsettled Thericia. She had seen the deputy Primai on the Imperial widecasts on a few occasions, and in person once before, leading a trade delegation to Alscras. But Ludzenia had never sported such an extreme appearance. Her usual gray-green short wave hairstyle had been replaced with the ghost-white static frizz, and her customary dark business suit with the blinding, fiery red robe. It was difficult for Thericia to unlock her eyes from Ludzenia’s.
“Such a lovely young lady,” the woman whispered more than spoke. “You were so much smaller, before.” She gave her head a slight tilt. “Welcome back to your world?”
Thericia swallowed hard and took a deep breath to relax her fist before they shook hands. “Yes. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Lady Ludzenia.”
from chapter 2 of “Etolis” by Moses Solomon:
The Oscanon ministers opened the doors leading inside and held them as everyone walked past. Zakk waited with Brandanno, until everyone had entered, before heading in.
Inside, Dr. Orelion stood at the monitoring station, a multi-com in his hands and deep in discussion with two other doctors, while the two technicians manning the station provided them with data readings. Zakk thought he overheard the words, “brain activity,” but he couldn’t be sure. As they approached, Dr. Orelion looked over and ended his conversation.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” he said to Madam Tuanou and Monseigneur Oravaille, slipping the multi-com into one of the technician’s hands, “There’ve been no changes, so if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to Sergeant Scorague.”
Everyone proceeded past the monitoring station, a series of operating rooms – some occupied, many not – a large wall monitor displaying vital signs, and down one of the rear hallways. The last door at the end of the hallway was marked with a solid red light and the words “Restricted Access” in bold, black lettering.
Madam Tuanou, Monseigneur Oravaille, and each of their ministers mumbled the words, “Mercy and Love, the Almighty and Most Holy,” before entering the room. Zakk noticed that Ruma and Bronk also followed suit. As Corinna and Lilie quietly walked in, Zakk glanced to Brandanno, unsure of what the phrase meant. Brandanno motioned with his head for Zakk to proceed in. After he stepped into the now-crowded room, he heard Brandanno also say, “Mercy and Love, the Almighty and Most Holy,” before entering.
The room was barely large enough to all of the visitors, with a myriad of overhead monitors, medicine dispensers, and life support equipment descending from the ceiling to drape all about and over Creighton. The sight of his team leader left Zakk with a disoriented, empty feeling. Creighton never seemed vulnerable, before, always guiding Zakk through the routines and excitement of the day’s duties with a steady, dependable presence. Zakk realized he was breathing short, shallow, excited breaths and he tried to calm himself as he stared at Creighton, lying underneath the blankets, tentacle-like tubes protruding from his arms and torso, a transparent mask covering his nose and mouth, a lighted headpiece banded across his forehead, and his normally-blue eyes shut. The respirator moved at a slow, steady rate, as did the artificial heart pump with a quiet beep.
Monseigneur Oravaille reached into his assistant’s bag and brought out a series of small, colorful figurines, which Zakk recognized as representations of the universal pantheon of Euranian deities, known as the Pan’kouldah. First and foremost was a muscular, green-skinned warrior holding an amulet aloft in his right hand, Lord Oscanos, the savior of the human race. After this was a demure female with long, golden locks in a flowing, crimson robe and a white bonnet that covered the top of her head and trailed down her back, Mother Gheriah, from whose womb the human race sprang forth. The Gherian ministers cleared a small tray to the side of Creighton’s bed, which Oravaille used to set the two figurines down upon. He then brought out a set of three unisex figures, attached together at the base, each with a woman’s breasts, a man’s beard, and multiple pairs of eyes and arms: Cruy, the guardian of the past; Themah, the guardian of the future; and C’qoeis, the guardian of the multiverse portal. After arranging the figurines with Lord Oscanos in the middle, Mother Gheriah on the right, and the Three Guardians on the left, Oravaille took out a round, blue, bowl-shaped candle, representing the Fire of Chaos and Creation. He placed it in front of the Pan’kouldah, bowed, and after whispering, “Mercy and Love, the Almighty and Most Holy,” lit the flame, sending a thin wisp of white smoke, aromatic with a hint of sweet flowers, into the air. Madam Tuanou and all of the ministers recited in unison, “Mercy and Love, the Almighty and Most Holy.”
Oravaille lifted up his arms and said, “Let us pray.”
Tuanou also lifted up her arms, saying, “We pray to the Almighty Pan’kouldah, the source of all life.”
Oravaille and the male ministers, regardless of their temple, began chanting. “Say sou ka-na fearoh, Oscanos,…”
Zakk noticed Brandanno also recited the old proto-Memonan language that fell out of common usage about six thousand years ago.
“…Duoth ko-noth, fearoh say sou ka-na, Gheriah…” Tuanou and all of the female ministers of the temples picked up the chant with a musical melody. As with Brandanno, Ruma followed the women in the recitation.
Zakk glanced at Corinna and Lilie, who remained quiet and still. He could barely remember the translated meaning of the prayer, having abandoned the temple early in his teen years. It was a prayer for salvation, one which the original context, circumstances, and identity of the supplicant were long since lost. He did remember that this particular hymn invoked the memories of Adelph and the early settlers of the planet Nathalia, the world to which Lord Oscanos replanted the human race, after rescuing them from the mutual destruction wrought by the cosmic conflict between Oscanos and his eternal enemy, Lhuzomi. It was largely a mythical story, predating the documented histories of the Imperial core worlds. Theories abounded about the actual existence of Nathalia, several schools of thought pointing at several different dead worlds located in the center of the Conjuction Halo, the spatial phenomenon that linked the five core planets of Memona, Paebih, Oscanos, Hoscanis, and Jahop-Thune in a web of fluctuating, though traversable, wormholes.
Zakk thought it ironic that a civilization as advanced as the human race still retained as strong of a religious element as it did. Long range advanced probes, housing multiple sets of generational explorers, had been launched over a century and a half ago, with scheduled settlement of planets named Sestia and Onglus, in the outlying region of Upper Eurnaia, and Llinh-Poh-Cuma, in Lower Eurania, in another century. This would be the crowning glory of the Central Empire, a two-fold expansion to populate the far reaches of the Euranian star cluster and fulfill the human potential.
But, as he watched the prayer continue around the prone, unconscious Creighton, Zakk could only feel utter helplessness, and he realized the true limitations of human achievement. As Adelph had once prayed to the Pan’kouldah for the salvation of the human race, and an unknown person had also prayed to the Pan’kouldah for an unknown need, the ministers of the temples now similarly prayed to the same Pan’kouldah for Creighton’s divine rescue.
from chapter 10 of “The Ruler of the Galaxy” by Moses Solomon:
“‘For bravery above and beyond the call of duty,'” Otho read the commendation, drawing everyone’s attention.
Captain Choff walked over to Otho, Morgan and Lon right behind. “Near the planet Cidon, many, many years ago,” Choff explained, “You won’t read any accounts about it, though. It happened far out, beyond the Outer Territories. Our task force was ambushed by a swarm of Kilaanian pirates. The ships scattered, and when my torpedo craft’s engine was hit, we were left behind.”
Morgan saw the Captain’s eyes darken, the voice slowing and turning grim.
“We eventually reached Cidon. But, being an isolationist world, they refused our request for help, and when a straggler Kilaanian ship appeared and attacked,…” He paused for an instant. “…I had no choice but to evacuate the crew to the planet before they destroyed the ship.
“Of course, we were not welcome, and our situation quickly deteriorated into a fight for survival. We managed to escape in a Cidonian craft and journeyed for a month, alone. But, we ran out of ammunition and lost twenty men. Not one received a proper burial.”
Morgan noticed that Choff seemed to be staring off into the distance. The Captain’s eyes barely blinked.
“The cuxioblade is the greatest weapon ever created. I must have killed at least a dozen Killanians and another dozen Cidonians by myself. I was soaked from head to foot in two different colors of blood. Worst thing I ever did in my entire life. And when we finally reached the Outer Territories, and civilization, they gave me this medal.”
A somber silence filled the air. Morgan glanced at the commendation, while the Captain stepped away.
Choff took a deep breath and relaxed. “Like I said, it was a long time ago.” He forced a chuckle. “I did manage to steal a set of Cidonian dinnerware from the vicar’s residence.” He indicated Smyra’s setting. “Well, gentlemen, with that tall tale, shall we dine?”
Morgan awoke from the haunting story. Somehow, shifting to dinner conversation felt a little odd. But, he followed the others to the table.
from chapter 7 of “The Ruler of the Galaxy” by Moses Solomon:
Morgan stepped before the soldiers, bowed, and said, “Thu-senwu.”
The fighters raised their EE-sticks to their heads and bowed at attention.
Morgan cleared his throat. “Protecting His Royal Highness, the Emperor, is not just a security assignment. It is a call to forfeit one’s life for sovereign and homeland. This is what the Zahrin discipline was originally created for. It is more than just one of the many styles of martial arts that flourished in the days of the Etolian kings.
“Master Zahrin was the personal bodyguard of Vik’kung’auo, the legendary king of Memona, and the first successfully-elected governor of the early Etolian republic. He delved into the deepest centers of the human being to create a perfect bodyguard to the King.
“To achieve this, you must be constant in your focus, and your physical movements must remain as natural outflows of the internal fire within. Keep this in mind, as you conduct your exercises. A single individual can be the most powerful weapon – and the most impenetrable protection – ever created.”
He stepped back. “We’ll start with simple warm-up drills. Pair up and assume the basic combat position.”
The six soldiers separated into three face-off pairs and held their EE-sticks in a balanced position, ready to step forward or backward, with one hand high for blocking, and the other low for thrusting.
“Maruga,” signalled three of the combatants.
“Maruga,” replied their opponents.
Morgan noticed some sloppiness in some of the stances – EE-sticks held too high, feet set too far apart, back not straight or at enough of an angle – but decided that, as there was value in learning from one’s mistakes, to proceed with the first drill. “Ready…attack!”
While the soldiers sparred, Morgan and Otho stepped around, examining offensive and defensive form, soundness of technique, crispness of moves, and – the element that made blade-combat effective – innovation. One of the fighters swung his leg and kicked his partner in the arm, knocking the woman’s defensive stick-blade out of position, and followed through with what would be a fatal thrust to the abdomen. Disgusted, the defeated soldier stepped back.
“Your footwork needs to be quicker. Focus on your energy transfer from mind to body. Try again,” Morgan said. “Ready…attack.”
Another soldier’s EE-stick went flying into the corner. Morgan paused to watch what he would do with his remaining stick. The opponent immediately attacked, lunging with full force.
Not a good move, Morgan thought.
The defender with one EE-stick side-stepped the attack and threw two hard blows in succession with his free hand, first to his opponent’s gut, then to the head.
“Okay, okay,” Morgan stepped in, “Not too real, now.”
The stunned attacker turned away and drew a sharp breath.
“Always maintain body control; keep focus and self-discipline. Try again. Ready…attack.”
Otho kept an eye on the two remaining combatants, who sparred with textbook moves, and no surprises. One thrust, the other blocked; one swiped, the other side-stepped; one counter-slashed, the other hopped back, then charged forward, again. Morgan joined Otho.
“Test of stamina,” Otho whispered to him.
One of the two dove headfirst into her opponent, took out his legs, and sent him crashing backward to the ground. With lightning speed, the first fighter rose up and held her EE-stick to her downed opponent’s neck.
“Well done,” Morgan nodded. “Everybody up. Blades down, take a breather.” He waited a moment, watching the six infantrymen lower their weapons and recover.
“Thu-senwu,” Morgan addressed the infantrymen, “I saw a lot of sloppiness, and lack of focus and discipline. This is not a sport, or some sort of athletic competition, like boundball. It is a state of mind, a state of inner soul. Let’s strip this down a little and try again. Two deep breaths, everyone. Clear your wacth.”
He held the moment, then blurted, “Unarmed combat, attack!”
from chapter 6 of “The Ruler of the Galaxy” by Moses Solomon:
The Ocelot was a welcome sight. The launch descended to the brightly-lit surface of Canellis asteroid, landing alongside the cruiser. Once down, a short gangway tube extended out from the ship, and Morgan stepped through, onto the main deck of the Ocelot, emerging near the command superstructure in front of the line of turret-batteries. Nearby, off-duty men and women milled about the deck, socializing in small groups, while maintenance workers and their many-limbed robot mechanics tested the oversized space cannons, one turret at a time.
The transparent canopy of the deck afforded an expansive view of the shipyard, and the assortment of military and merchant ships tied up among the robot cranes and lifts of the docks. A line of small, sleek escort destroyers sat alongside the old frigate, Epoch. Next to them was a formation of auxiliary supply ships, lined up like neat rows of little boxes. Beyond, standing out from the midst of a crowd of support ships, the Ancora’s lights were turning on. Soon, the worklights shining on the Ocelot’s sister-ship would be darkened and disassembled. Hovering in the sky, the beacon lights of the Space Fortress blinked.
The Ocelot had served as Morgan’s home for the last two years, as they travelled along the Imperial boundary, occasionally calling on border worlds. He watched a myriad of robot gofers scuttle about the ship’s turret-batteries, assisting crew members with their work. Several test units scurried about the transmitter arrays, embedded in the bow and stern. Automated workabees scaled the three large quantadrive pods, carrying personnel and equipment down to the two lower engines, and up to the third. Though it was the third of the nine Ancora-class cruisers, built immediately after the Ancora and the Haaxx, it was the first retro-fitted with an experimental third engine, the topside pod. About a year earlier, the Ocelot became the first cruiser to carry neutrino torpedoes. Now, they would be test-firing the new bosonic torpedoes, the most powerful ship-based weaponry to date.
from chapter 2 of “The Ruler of the Galaxy” by Moses Solomon:
“When the underground accelerators power up,” Saltos explained, “a chronon stream stretches between the two discs. I can focus a beam out into space, where it bursts open contact points between this universe and that of the distant past.” He switched off the viewer, and the glowing projectors faded. “Since my first successful test, I have been working on controlling the strength and duration of the contact points. They are very weak and unstable, and the discharge is violent in nature.”
Saltos brushed his fingers over a relay of levers, tripping them. “Watch as I engage the time projector and receiver.” The power lines pulsed at a rapid rate into the machine and the low hum rose. A faint, high-pitched whistle sounded from above. Images of static bolts shot across the viewer, and the speaker crackled to life. Saltos turned down the room lights as a blur of light took form on the viewer.
“Behold the beauty of the fountain of eternal passage.”
A twisted, rainbow-like beam projected from the near disc and stretched across the chasm to the far disc. Short, jagged energy bolts of all different colors shot out in random directions from the beam and scattered over the atmosphere. Soft explosions sounded above the dome. The energy bolts coalesced into a shimmering field of light that climbed through the atmosphere, narrowing into a tight beam projected into the stratosphere.
From where they hid, Morgan and Rayna could see most of the blurry images on the monitor at an angle. The scene reminded Morgan of some of the major metropolises of the empire, though it didn’t match any of the core worlds, specifically.
“Now, let us test this,” Saltos said. He stood up and opened a small light-lined drawer at the base of the energy tubes.
He removed a ring with five large, red crystals from the vessel, and put it aside. He then took the green star medallion crystal, gave it one last examination, and inserted it into the vessel. Once connected, the interior of the compartment illuminated. Saltos closed the drawer, pushed it back into its housing, and sat back down.
The activity of the giant machine increased noticeably. The energy tubes intensified their glow. Morgan felt Rayna’s hand on his arm, and he nodded toward her, recalling the memories of the giant tubular construct and the flaming geysers that they encountered in the tunnels.
The images on the viewer sharpened. The energy beams that flew skyward on the viewer appeared to shoot out from a sea of raised arms. On the speaker, a loud roar erupted, drowning out all other sounds for a moment. A moment later, a whale-like silhouette entered into the picture, high above the city. Tiny swarms of blue light descended from the underside of the bulbous shadow and zipped down to the city streets. Explosions burst wherever the blue lights impacted the ground. Arches cracked, towers fell. Blood splattered throughout the scene as bodies burst and collapsed in the street. Dark clouds rolled through the skies, obscuring the stars of the night. Morgan recognized what the images were depicting – the stories of the mythical war among the Euranian Ancestors.
“We have some success,” Saltos said, changing the display to show columns of numbers. “Contact points emerging.” He changed the display, again, and a second list of numbers scrolled down. He frowned. “Most are unstable and closing, already.” He shook his head, studied the numbers, then pointed to several. “Yes, we have multiple perpetual points.”
From his crouch, Morgan pointed out the rainbow to Rayna, its skyward beam achieving a tighter focus. A light green tint shaded the edge of the rainbow. The beam developed a whirling, twisting movement, and the bolts that shot out from the beam turned to predominantly blinding pink and a light shade of gray.
“That’s it,” Morgan whispered to Rayna.
They had found the particle beam that had shot them down. It was some sort of gargantuan time-transcending machine, at the controls of a Luzomi worshipper.
“We have success,” Saltos said, “It is nearly complete.” He disengaged the power, and the rainbow dissipated. The picture froze. The echoes of the ancient destruction faded in volume, and the ghost-like images on the viewer dissolved. “You should begin preparations for the sacrifice, now. The time is upon us to welcome Lord Luzomi into our midst.”
Saltos rose from the chair and departed down the stairs back to the parlor, leaving Morgan and Rayna to contemplate what they had witnessed, and what to do next…
…From within the depths of the Great Nebula, whirling pink and gray radiances erupted, the fragile lattice of time ripped open by the pulsating burst of a zero-mass chronon beam. As the pulses hammered away at the areas of distortion, the explosion of light grew intense. The beam ended, and the pinwheel colors faded and dissipated, leaving tiny, dark regions filled with no light, no mass, and no time.
from chapter 7 of “The Ruler of the Galaxy” by Moses Solomon:
Admiral Zerah stepped onto the boxy, low-lit bridge of the transport hauler, Q’toz. Converted and stripped from a fifty-year-old Gearmlian frigate, the dependable cargo carrier had served the towering, but paunch, Zerah as the flagship of his forty-ship convoy with a singular distinction that filled him with pride.
“The Admiral is on the bridge,” Executive officer Isaalt announced.
Zerah smiled to himself every time he heard the title. He wasn’t a real, commissioned admiral. That was a title he gave himself, three years ago, after leading a circumnavigation of the Central Empire, successfully delivering black market goods – hallucinogens, weapons, poached furs, and stolen gemstones – to twenty different planets.
Old space-dog Captain Bemone and his men promptly saluted, obedient as docile pets. The haughty Zerah raised his hand to his hat and crisply returned the salutes.
“What is it, Captain?”
Bemone and Isaalt stepped forward. In his customary scratchy bass voice, Bemone said, “Admiral, we’re picking up reflections from within the clouds.”
Zerah glanced at the pastel-rainbow colors that filled the small main monitor. Patches of plasma gas passed over and through one another, some sections wispy enough for the distant stars to shine through, other parts more dense. Sometimes, colors combined, yellows and reds to make oranges; reds and blues into violets. Other times, the colors separated to reveal momentary glimpses of black, star-filled space.
The convoy of decommissioned warships and old creaky transports skimmed the boundary of the Great Nebula, the expansive remnant of the cataclysmic explosion of the Euranian home star that tore the ancient Etolian empire from its foundations. Within the last two decades, the construction of long-range ships capable of navigating the fluctuating perimeter of the nebula finally bridged the centuries-long separation to Lower Eurania.
But, few took that route, mostly smugglers and pirates. What traffic existed journeyed at the risk of encountering the shadowy slave traders of Lower Eurania.
“The echoes don’t match any of the natural pulsars,” Captain Bemone said, “Nor do they resemble any of the known traffickers’ beacons.”
Mr. Isaalt spoke up. “Sir, I recommend we energize the weapons.”
Captain Bemone shook his head. “No, the surge would give away our position, perhaps needlessly.”
Admiral Zerah finally spoke. It was time to inform his Captain of what only he knew. “Captain, those reflections are camouflaged signals coming from Yeros, an unregistered salvage facility, and our destination.” He paused, his attention diverted by a small blip on the tactical display over the navigator’s station. “Somebody’s approaching from the rear.”
Isaalt replied, “That would be the Kuste, sir.”
“Yes.” Bemone’s eyes narrowed. “They’ve returned.”
Admiral Zerah paused. He knew Bemone didn’t care for Captain Odone. He didn’t like Odone, either. A recent attachment to their convoy, Odone felt like a lone wolf waiting for an opportunity to present itself – someone who couldn’t be counted on, the bane of endeavors such as theirs. He had hoped the slow-poke Kuste wouldn’t be able to catch up with the rest of the convoy, after picking up the cache of weapons from the penal planetoid.
Zerah grumbled. Apparently, that had been too much to hope for. He turned his attention back to the monitor, and the pulsing echoes. Maybe there might be a slave ship idling at the salvage yard, someone he could sell the Kuste to – with Captain Odone and all hands aboard.