Full Chapters: Chapter 1 - Irema-Dome ComplexChapter 2 - ARAIDIA-Shielded City of the Planet ShatazarChapter 3 - Train HomeChapter 4 - ARAIDIA Level Two Hangar Deck Chapter 5 - Yutva and Leptis
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Chapter 2 ARAIDIA-Shielded City of the Planet Shatazar
Betha-busa frowned as she looked at the jade chronometer on her wrist. One hour past noon. She had less than one hour to convince her ruler to stop negotiations with their slaves. She waited at the chamber doors, mentally preparing her speech.
Behind her, a guard yelled, "Stand down, slave!" Betha-busa turned around to see that -- again -- the emaciated barefoot woman, clothed in tattered brown shirt and pants, was struggling against the two strong guards.
"You can't take me!" the old woman yelled. Years of dirt and grime had been etched into her wrinkled face from vile and scummy dwelling conditions. Her skin was lackluster. While she squeezed a soldier's arm, the knuckles of her right hand blanched yellowish-white.
"Are you blind and deaf? I already have, slave." Betha-busa glared at the unkempt woman's blue eyes. Shatarians' eyes never glittered gold; they were flat, dull, like their skin. The woman's brown and gray hair remained fixed and motionless in her struggle against the guard's grip, frozen and rigid as if steel wires had sprouted from her hairline. Her writhing was fruitless. Araidians were five times stronger than any of the Shatarian subspecies.
Typically, royalty didn't deign to look into the eyes of slaves. Yet an undeniable force drew Betha to meet this woman's gaze -- the force of the slave's courage. Shaken, Betha-busa turned away, to face the doors and shut out the creature from her view.
"My Lady," said a guard. She bit on her lower lip and turned back. He had the woman in a chokehold, and had two fingers on her wrist, checking her pulse. "Her heart is weakening."
"She needs to be strengthened. You know what to do." Betha-busa pursed her lips, watching the guards.
The old Shatarian slumped down. One guard picked her up, and the other placed a black restraining yoke over her, covering her shoulders and torso, held on by a rubber strap under her breasts. Each guard unclasped a black control wand from his belt, and pointed it toward the yoke. Betha-busa breathed a sigh of relief, watching the slave woman's face relax; drugged with pleasure, the woman could stand. Time was on Betha's side again.
Finally, the huge platinum doors hissed open. Before Betha-busa had gone twelve steps into the room, she heard the doors slide shut behind the slave and her guards.
Immediately, her pupils contracted, compensating for the brilliant sunlight that poured in from a thirty-foot tall glass wall at the far end of the room.
The glossy anodized titanium walls to her left and right contained inner-structure transport units. On the walls were bronze diamond-shaped panels, spaced exactly four feet apart, which sensed a user's bio data. A hand wave would open the door to the little round air car, but today she had no expectation of needing one. Today, she hoped the Watchman would launch an attack on Irema. She had already begun powering up their ships.
The view through the heavy glass wall caught her attention. The two moons, Shael and Miropos, shone in the sunlight. The two satellites' ghostly white outlines and craters faded into the yellow-orange sky. Below, a network of clear tubes, latticing the sky, carried flying cars around the city. For a moment, she welcomed the distraction.
She shrugged her shoulders, dismissing her nervousness. She could not allow her confidence to waver. As Dignitary, her suggestions and opinions weighed heavily in decisions made within this chamber. She had brought the slave woman to prove the deceitfulness of the Shatarians. It was vital to convince the Watchman that the city must not enter into a contract with these people.
Betha's form-fitting gown cinched her waist as she strode toward the throne. The pace made her shoes pinch her toes. The click, click of her heels on the marble floor focused the Watchman's attention on her and increased her unease. She longed for the quiet asylum of a soldier's uniform -- functional, attractive, and silent.When I'm queen, I'll rule in neoprene-soled boots
, she thought, grinning inside.
Thirty feet away, four silhouettes, dwarfed by two moons, sunlit sky, and cityscape, turned their faces toward her. The two standing were the Watchman's attendants. The shorter seated figure was his Counselor. The fourth silhouette, at the sub-throne, was the Watchman, seated behind a table. His alabaster throne behind a table?
Why? He never used a table unless delivering or receiving important hologram messages that affected them or their city.
"Lights dim! Ten percent!" one of the Watchman's darkly clad attendants cried out, his voice echoing. Upon the Watchman's dismissal, the attendants bowed and left.
Eyetna, the Watchman of Araidia, motioned Betha-busa to come up, patting the empty chair between him and the Counselor. "Come, be seated," he said.
Gesturing to her guards not to follow, she climbed the three steps to the royal platform. She came toward the Watchman, her hips swaying subtly under her long ice-crystal gown. "You summoned me, Your Grace?"
Arrayed in a purple and gold robe and crowned in a gold circlet headpiece, her lord had draped himself across the alabaster sub-throne. Pleasuring him last night had had its benefits. She hoped the remembrance would flame his eyes with gold.
She stepped around the oval obsidian table, detailed in gold floral on its sides and legs. Gently, mindful of his long gold-plated nails, she placed her manicured hands in his and then sat down beside him in the smaller alabaster chair exclusive to her. He shifted to face her, which sent ripples through the black hair, seven feet long, that proclaimed his kingship.
"You have company, Lady Busa?" the Watchman asked.
"Not company, your Grace. I have leverage. This slave woman's words may convince you which direction we should take." She smiled, and tried not to clench her hands as she folded them in her lap. He must not must not! ignore the Shatarian issue.
The Watchman looked at her from under lowered eyelids. "I know how hungry you are for the good of our people, Lady Busa. And I have something to sate your appetite." He nodded toward the Counselor. "A treaty renewal. Our Counselor has a plan for the Shatarians to join in our campaign. I am sure you remember the campaign? So you can release this woman. I see no further need to keep these people captive."
Betha-busa maintained her composure. An arched eyebrow was the sole hint of her disappointment. "Shatarians joining our campaign?" She spoke softly, attempting to appear unshaken. "They're weak, barely even slave-worthy. This idea belongs to our Counselor, doesn't it?"
"Compose yourself. I have you here because you're a part of my Council, Lady Busa. This is a joint decision." Though the words were gentle, his full lips hardened.
She turned from the Watchman. Her sharp glare met the Counselor's eyes, and he looked away. This man had once been an exceptional warrior. Now, the Watchman had stripped Yal of his dignity and strength. The thought gave Betha-busa comfort; it meant he would be no threat to her. Yet, he stood looking at the Watchman as if he could change their predicament.Simpleton! You couldn't plan a spit fight. Not if your life depended on it.
The light-filled room seemed to mock the dark anger that seethed within her. She had been a fool to expect Eyetna to fulfill his promises. Their skyscraper palace set on a high hill, facing westward, allowed her to gaze at the landscape through the wall of glass. She pressed her hand against her chest. The Watchman's eyes hadn't brightened when she had entered the room.
Betha-busa recalled last night's promise.
"Ever thought of being queen?" he had asked her.
She always thought of being queen. She had killed, schemed and prepared herself for it. This time, she hoped she wouldn't miss the opportunity.
Now, she gazed at the network outside and observed the translucent curvature of the shield that surrounded her city. Without that protection, all of Araidia would die in moments from the Reedpod-poisoned air. Could these two men, leaders along with her, not see that Araidia needed to strengthen the shield, not endanger it?
Betha-busa contemplated the blue lake, the source of all their water. Enclosed by mountain, sand, and city, it looked serene as always, yet now it, too, was endangered by Reedpod contamination. Reedpods, a virulent allergen to their kind, grew outside the shield, in the outer mountains, valleys, and rivers. It had only been a few hundred years since that danger was first discovered, yet, the entire atmosphere was now polluted.
Her reverie lasted only seconds, before it was broken by a shaking voice.
these people are our most valuable resource," the Counselor said, with quivering lips. "They can help us. We must live in peace with them, work alongside them, and include them in our society. Please understand, they are immune to the very plant that poisons us. Our weapons, ships, and transportation are unable to survive long enough outside the shield to fortify our city. These people can be the very link to our survival. Lady Busa, I implore you. Our shield deteriorates even as we speak."
From the expression on the Watchman's lean face, he seemed to be enjoying this. His thin black eyebrows rose while he slicked down his long mustache with wet fingers. Was this Eyetna, the same man who had conspired with Betha-busa to kill his own father? How could he now join with this ineffective man with a brimble proposal?
She examined the Counselor's face. He was a dark Araidian, and his brown skin shimmered gold. Her own fairer skin glimmered with silver. By an effort of will, Betha kept her fingers from tracing the side of her mouth. No one, she told herself -- no one! -- noticed the age lines.
The Watchman's forehead and the corners of his eyes showed wisps of lines, too. Babies, they needed more babies, a special commodity supplied for the elite, like the three of them. Without babies, they would die, whether the shield collapsed or not.
And the Shatarians had always supplied the babies. But even an animal wouldn't willingly give up its newborn. The new treaty would be suicide for Araidia.
The Counselor interlaced his fingers, separated them, and continued, "Wait!" He breathed faster, shook a finger toward her. "We can conscript Shatarians into our army and employ others to maintain the shuttle. Utilize
" He stood up and paced, snapping his fingers before the throne. "We can utilize other methods of DNA reconstruction. Your Grace, I have scientists working on this right now."
Betha rolled her eyes and protested. "Have you lost your mind? And which Shatarian would agree? Much less volunteer? We are the enemy; we raided their homes and enslaved their people! What leverage do we have to control this subspecies if we welcome them into our society?"
Betha-busa smoothed out the tinier folds in her gown. She felt confined and heated. She glided toward the glass wall adjacent to their seats and placed a hand against the cool glass. Her guards still stood below the stairs with the slave woman.
"We cannot afford to try to make them allies. If we do, they will rebel," she said. "We need a surprise attack. Squeeze them into control. If we offer this new treaty, they may gain military intelligence and completely overcome us." She heard the Counselor inhale, and turned sharply to face him. "Never underestimate your enemy," she said.
"Your Grace," she said to the Watchman, "this is why I've brought this slave woman as evidence. Please let me question her -- here, in front of you."
Ten long nails tapped against the table, golden plates covering each nail. The ruler slid his palm up against a small metallic stand, probably some holo-image projector, and tapped a forefinger against a small button in the middle of the stand.
"I've promised to talk with the mother of these Reedpod-loving people in a few minutes," he said. "One click of this button will connect us to our little Shatarian village, Irema." He tapped again, playing with the stand, scraping his nails against the metal, making a shrilling sound. It made her skin crawl. "Betha, do you know our very own Counselor's scientists received this mechanism from the village. It's actually able to connect to another communication device in that village outside the shield."
A glint of light danced off her ruler's headpiece. Beautiful as the crown was, the decision to join with the subspecies was just as ludicrous. How could she convince him otherwise if this device could actually work outside their shield? Irema was overrun with Reedpods. The Reedpods drained life and energy from them and their machines. It would be insane--
The Watchman cleared his throat and brought her focus back to him.
"It does work," he said. His eyes glittered in the darkened room. "We've had trial runs with the leader of that village for some time. It seems their technology survives out there. You, above all people, know how desperately we need that knowledge. And I don't like failure," he said. "So convince me."
How could she convince him? It didn't matter. She was armed and ready to present all that her ruler needed.
She forced a smile and commanded the guards to bring the slave woman closer. The old woman -- dirty brown hair, graying at the temples, wrinkled face and hands -- trembled beneath the yoke's weight.
Betha-busa came down the stairs and stood before the slave. "Speak, old woman, and tell us about your prophecy."
"Why should I tell you now? You already know." The woman lifted her chin and tightened her lips to a thin line.
"We know where your family is."
abomination to our God's creation! Though your armies captured and enslaved us -- though you stole our Watchman's title
our proud title of priesthood and kingship -- though you rule with a tyranny we can't escape -- you, freak of nature, won't prevail!"
The slave's words stung Betha-busa. One nod of her head and the old hag would die shamefully, in filth and pain. But no. Her ruler needed to hear these damaging words.
The Dignitary waved a finger, the guards pointed their wands at the yoke, and the old woman screamed in agony.
"And you believe someone can hear you? Your faith says that you'll be rescued, but how can you be saved when we're cloaked and shielded from neighboring star systems? Dementia must have set in! Listen very closely, old woman. We're hidden by a defense weaponry system. You can't even leave this world. So why the animosity? Accept your fate. Live in peace with us. And our king and ruler, the Watchman of Araidia, will have a treaty prepared. What do you say to that, slave?"
The orange lights on the yoke's buttons grew brighter, warning of incipient heart failure. The slave was near death. One more use of the yoke would probably kill her. If only the old woman could live long enough! A few more minutes of life was all she needed.
"Accept our Watchman as your God," Betha-busa said, circling the slave, "and we will accommodate you, treat with you, and let you live. You can side with us." The slave's breathing slowed. "The Watchman is who you need. Denounce this God of yours and receive our Watchman into your heart and you can go free. You must be free. You must live."
Betha-busa reached out to the slave's forearm and caressed it as if to comfort. The unkempt, dull pinkish skinned woman shrunk back and finally spoke, with foul breath. She spoke as if her own words would save her.
"There is a prophecy that the One with the eyes of fire will set us free. He will ride on a great white steed and destroy all those who oppose him. But first, one will rise within your city, he will be strong and at your side with a shadow. And your subject and shadow will become your scourge and bite you."
The old hag lunged forward with glaring teeth on the word "bite." Betha-busa jumped back.
"I'm free," the old slave cried out. "Free, you freak of nature. Either you side with our God or die. We
Betha-busa nodded, the guards pointed their wands, and the yoke's buttons blinked and flared red. A familiar stench rose from the slave woman, flesh burning from the final electrical current, only five milliamperes. The lights ceased. Weighted by the yoke, the corpse crashed to the marble floor.
Silence, intimidating as the screams of the slave, overtook them -- not a word, not a sigh, not a yell -- only silence.
Her temples stung from the stress and she swiped back a stray hair. "Will they serve us without question?" Betha-busa asked the Watchman. He shook his head in reply as the light glinted from his headpiece.
She glided back up the stairs to the royal platform.
"Will they willingly give their babies to us for DNA reconstruction?" Betha-busa spoke softly for effect. "Would this renewed treaty allow full surrender of an unfit, stubborn, and foolishly self-righteous people?"
The Watchman stared past her, tapping his bottom lip with his forefinger's nail. He paused for a few moments, looking at his chronometer on the table and then replied, "A convincing display. And from what the slave said, we need to squash her prophecy. We have a minute before it's two hours past noon. Anything else before I decide to press this button?"
A smile curled up at the end of her lips. "Then what is the wisest method of control to assure victory?" Confidence swelled in her bosom. Though the Watchman taunted her with his finger close to pressing the communication button, she had no doubt of his unbending support.
It seemed like forever while she held her breath. Ten seconds passed and Eyetna, the Watchman of Araidia, stood up, impressive in his royal purple robe, lined in golden discs. "Counselor, take Lady Busa's advice and gather my generals. Upon our agreement, two over one, I've made my decision. We attack today."
The Watchman walked gracefully down the steps, past the two guards and dead slave, toward the door. At the door, he turned briefly. "Quick," he said, in a low and menacing voice, "Quick and without mercy."Attack! Without mercy