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Excerpt for Rajani Chronicles II: Resistance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Rajani Chronicles II

Resistance

Brian S. Converse

Copyright 2018 by Brian S. Converse


This is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


ISBN: 978-0-9987964-8-2


Cover Art by

Lawrence Mann

www.lawrencemann.co/uk


For LAZDE

Always


Thank you to all who contributed in some way to the publication of this book,

including my excellent editor, Melissa.

I’m eternally grateful.


Thanks, mom.



Recap

James Dempsey was a Detroit Police Lieutenant until he inexplicably awoke aboard an alien spacecraft. He and four other humans, Yvette, Gianni, Rick, and Kieren, learned they had been kidnapped by a group of Rajani who were fleeing their home planet. Rajan had been invaded by intergalactic pirates known as the Krahn Hoard. The Rajani pleaded for assistance in ridding their world of the Krahn invaders, offering in return a gift beyond measure: objects that, when implanted into their hosts, gave them incredible powers.

In dire need of training in the use of these powers, the Rajani ship, the Tukuli, stopped at a space station in search of someone who could build a training area aboard the ship. The station offered its own dangers, though, in the form of the Alliance Society for Peace, the police force of the Galactic Alliance. Led on the station by Ries an na Van, the ASPs would immediately jail the Rajani if they were discovered.

Amidst the new experiences and dangers, James and Yvette allowed their attraction for each other to become a fierce romance. Loners by choice and chance, the two humans were surprised and happy to find someone while so far from home.

With a daring escape from the station and the ASPs, the Tukuli made its way toward Rajan, only to be shot down over the planet’s surface by the Krahn Hoard’s enormous mothership. The humans abandoned ship, separated into escape pods, while the Rajani crew stayed aboard in hopes of steering the ship away from the capital city of Melaanse.

Now they must hope they can find their friends on the surface of planet, as well as any type of Resistance from the Rajani population….


Prologue

Bhakat raced down the corridor, hoping for enough time to reach the bridge and persuade Rauphangelaa to run to an escape pod. Or carry him, if that’s what it took to get him off the dying Tukuli.

He came to the door and pushed the open button as the ship shuddered violently. It felt like one of the engines had either stopped or dropped off, and the floor began to tilt slightly as the door opened and he pulled himself through.

Rauph was sitting in Janan’s usual seat, pulling the steering yoke, and under incredible strain, from the looks of things. He didn’t turn when Bhakat screamed his name.

“Rauphangelaa, we need to get off the ship!”

“We can’t let it crash into the city!” Rauph yelled back, still fighting with the controls.

Bhakat carefully made his way to where his Master sat, walking clumsily across the tilted floor.

“Help me keep her up,” Rauph grunted.

Bhakat reached for the controls, working along with Rauph to pull it back. The viewscreen showed them moving lower over the city, and then the wide expanse of the ocean beyond. It was going to be close.

The two Rajani pulled as one, keeping the nose of the ship as straight as they could. Within seconds, the last building was past the viewscreen, and they had an uninterrupted view of the vast ocean.

“Strap into a chair,” Rauph shouted. “Let go!”

Reluctantly, Bhakat let go of the yoke and crawled toward the captain’s chair behind them. His arms felt like dead weight at his sides. He made it to the chair and climbed up into it, fastening the crash belts.

“Hold on!” was the last thing Bhakat heard before the jarring impact told him that they had hit something.

Chapter 1

Alliance Society for Peace Commander Ries an na Van, Chief Protector of Sector 7, Subsector 2, which included the Mandakan Solar System, could not have found himself in more trouble if he tried. Not only had his own ship, the Interceptor, been disabled by a fugitive Rajani starship named the Tukuli, but the Waverider, the ship he had dispatched to Sector 9, Subsector 3, otherwise known as the Rajani System, had also been disabled and set adrift in space by the same fugitive starship.

Now Commander Thydosh Complin of the Waverider was attempting to pass off his failure onto Ries, claiming Ries hadn’t properly informed him of the Tukuli’s weapons’ capabilities. In response, the Alliance Society for Peace Central Command had recalled the Interceptor and all of its crew to the seat of the Alliance and were planning a full investigation into the events that led up to the Waverider’s disablement.

This meant Ries would be under close scrutiny from his superiors. It was attention he couldn’t afford. He needed to generate a defense for his failure with the Rajani ship, or he could be looking at a loss of his command. He could possibly even face jail time, if the High Command discovered some of his less-than-legal activities aboard the Mandakan Space Port, where he was currently stationed. He oversaw all commerce on the port, both legal and illegal, and had allowed both, as long as he received his proper cut of the profits.

He didn’t know anything about the Rajani, outside of the usual stories every child in the Alliance was told while growing up. The Rajani were supposed to be hulking monsters; ruthless killing machines who showed no mercy, whether their victims were male, female, offspring, or eggs. Their bloodlust and despicable deeds were told to frighten children into behaving from one end of the Alliance to the other. His mother had been more practical in her tactics when it came to punishing misbehaving young ones. You behaved or you were eaten. It was simple, but a very effective deterrent.

Ries wanted to know more about the Rajani. He wanted to know the truth about them, and about how they could have disabled his ship without using any known weapons. This was why he found himself sitting at the large desk in his quarters aboard the Interceptor and logged into his ship’s central computer via his cranial implant. He’d been ordered to dock the Interceptor at the Gorplash Space Station, orbiting the planet Asnuria, seat of the Alliance Society for Peace Central Command. He and his crew were to be confined to the ship until his superiors finished their investigation and decided whether or not to levy any punishment.

Ries closed his eyes and cleared his mind, seeing the Galactic Alliance shield before his eyes. He opened his eyes once more, still seeing the shield in front of him, as if it were projected on the bare wall instead of only in his mind. His cranial implant was networked into the vision and hearing centers of his brain.

“Begin search,” he said in Talondarian Standard, though if he wanted, he could have thought the command. He was still a bit old-fashioned when it came to technology, and liked to feel as if he were having a quiet conversation with the central computer. It gave him a sense of autonomy, at least, instead of feeling like he was only a small hardware component in the central computer’s network.

“Command acknowledged,” the Interceptor’s central computer said, though there was actually no sound heard in the room. This query was private. “Awaiting search parameters,” the computer continued.

“Rajani species overview,” he said, after thinking about where to begin. Best to start at the beginning if he really wanted a thorough understanding of the subject.

Everything Ries did was thorough. After a brief instant, a scroll of files began to appear on the wall in front of him. When it stopped, he picked one that looked promising and told the computer to read it aloud.

“The Rajani species was discovered in the Talondarian Standard year 10563,” the computer began. “The Rajani were admitted to the Galactic Alliance in Talondarian Standard year 10574. In 10591, began interstellar offensive against Planet A472, a planet in Sector 9, Subsector 4. Completed offensive in 10592. In 10594, began offensive against Planet A463, a planet in—”

“Stop,” Ries said. He had a feeling that he’d be there all day if he let the computer list the complete history of Rajani aggression toward other planets. “Refine search. No need to list all of their conquests. Tell me about their civilization.”

“Rajan. See Planet A490.”

“Proceed,” Ries said, taking a drink of kolan, a beverage he had received as a gift from the King of Mandaka himself, for his service to the planet. It was one of the main exports of Mandaka, and in high demand around the Alliance. His personal stores were worth a considerable amount.

“Classified, Level 7K4. Access denied. Inquiry logged,” the computer responded.

Strange, Ries thought. Why would information about the planet Rajan be classified at the highest level of Alliance security? “Computer, tell me of Rajani history.”

“Rajan was discovered in the year—” the computer began.

“I told you to skip that part,” Ries said, beginning to get angry. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think the central computer was being deliberately obtuse. But for what purpose?

“Input parameters of search request,” the computer said.

“Tell me about the current Rajani society,” he said, trying to stay calm.

“Rajan. See Planet A2242,” the computer said.

“What?” Ries asked, confused. Why did the planet have two Alliance Designation Numbers? Was it even possible, or had some administrative underling input a wrong number?

“Rajan. See Planet A2242,” the computer responded again, thinking he hadn’t heard its initial response.

“Be quiet while I think for a moment,” he told the computer, irritably. He took a large mouthful of kolan and swallowed it, feeling a tingle pass up his antennae. Finally, it occurred to him. There were two Designation Numbers, because there were two different planets. It was the only answer that made sense. The Alliance was an enormous bureaucracy, and any administrative clerk had two or three other admin personnel checking their work. Something as important as an Alliance Designation Number wouldn’t stay incorrect for long.

“Computer, access files for Planet A2242. Specifically the history of the planet as it concerns the Rajani.”

“See Ruvedalin Initiative,” the computer answered.

“Proceed,” Ries said. He was starting to regret even taking an interest in the Rajani. They could all dry up and die as far as he was concerned. Sometimes he hated his own curious nature; it had gotten him in trouble many times.

“Classified to Level 7K4. Access denied. Inquiry logged. Warning, security violation detected. Authorities have been notified, per Directive 9WQ2.”

“Blast!” Ries yelled, pounding three of his fists on his desktop and shutting off his cranial link with his other hand. He stood up and paced for a minute, his antennae twitching in disgust and frustration.

The ship’s central computer spoke over his room’s communication system. “Security breach reported. Violation of Alliance Code T567. Commander Ries an na Van, you are hereby placed under house arrest and relieved of your duties until further notice. Please comply.”

“What?” he asked, incredulously. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Computer? Computer, acknowledge.” There was no answer. He sat at his desk and touched the button below his earhole that activated his cranial implant.

Lines of text appeared on the wall before him, in front of the Alliance Society for Peace crest. It was the same text as the proclamation just made by the Interceptor’s central computer. “Computer? Computer!” He gave up and turned off the implant in disgust, knowing he had been disconnected on purpose. He’d been wrong in his earlier assessment of his situation. He could be in more trouble.

#

Tumaani tuc Afraati was enjoying a late dinner with three of his mates when the Krahn attacked. His oldest offspring were no longer younglings, having left his estate and started families of their own. His youngest were now Pledged to other Elders’ Houses, as was the tradition, so only he and his mates and a few servants were now living on his large estate.

The sound of explosions and weapons being fired suddenly sounded throughout his house. Tumaani stood and looked out the window, seeing small ships firing at the buildings of his estate from the air. Many of the buildings were already burning, with thick, black smoke billowing up from their windows.

“Tumaani, what is it?” asked his third mate, Narven, wide-eyed. She was the youngest of his mates, and prone to excitability.

“I don’t know who they are,” Tumaani said. “Rulina,” he yelled at his second mate, as he saw a building explode just next to his house through one of the windows. “Get everyone downstairs to the basement. Quickly!” He ducked as another nearby explosion shook the house. “Zanth,” he yelled at a Sekani servant, “make sure all of the doors are locked, and then join them in the shelter.”

He headed down a short hallway to his estate’s computer system and quickly began implementing security protocols to the central computer located in downtown Melaanse. As Keeper of the Past, it was his duty to both keep his species’ history chronicled completely, and also to ensure any sensitive information didn’t fall into the possession of outsiders. Especially when those outsiders were currently attacking his planet.

He didn’t know at the time who was attacking, only that they weren’t from Rajan. Rajan had no weapons, so they must have come from off-planet. He had just locked down the last file when he saw a broad-sent message notification flashing on his computer screen. He pushed the button, opening the message, and saw it was from the Keeper of the Stones, Rauphangelaa. The message stated Rauphangelaa had escaped on his ship, the Tukuli, and would do what he could to bring back help.

He heard another explosion just outside his front door and saw black smoke billowing down the hallway toward him. His house was on fire. He needed to make sure everyone had escaped safely to the basement shelter. There was the sound of running feet, and dark, armored figures approached through the smoke. Tumaani turned to run away from the hissing monsters but was hit on the head and knocked unconscious by the force of the blow.

#

When Tumaani woke up, he found himself lying on the ground, covered by a blanket, and looking up at a torn and dirty canvas, some eight feet over him. He was in a tent. By the quality of the light, he could tell it was either late afternoon or early morning.

His head ached, and he thought he was going to be physically ill if he moved, so he lay there for a moment, until it occurred to him his head was cold. It was a sensation he had not felt in many years; not since the time he had become an Elder. He sat up slowly, reaching a tentative hand up to his head, afraid of what he’d find. It was bare. Shaved. His Ralik was gone. All that was left were a few wisps of hair missed by whatever had been used to shave his scalp. He leaned over, his eyes filling with tears.

He cried silently, afraid to make a sound, not wanting to alert his captors to the fact he was awake. The flap of his tent opened suddenly, and he backed away quickly, wiping away tears as he did so, unable to see more than a dark silhouette filling the doorway.

“Tumaani?” a voice asked softly. “Tumaani, it’s me.”

Tumaani sobbed in relief at the sound of his second mate’s voice. It was Rulina. She had made it out of his house alive. Soon she was in his embrace as they cried together. After a moment, she pulled back from him.

“Rulina, who has done this? Who attacked us? Where are the others?”

“The Krahn,” she answered, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her clothing. “The Krahn are responsible for this. I haven’t seen anyone else since they took us. Zanth and a few others escaped, but most of us were captured when we left the basement shelter.”

“Krahn?” he asked. “But why?”

“No one seems to know,” she responded. “The Krahn haven’t done anything except lock us up in the old prison.”

“We’re in the prison?” he asked, confused.

“The courtyard,” she said. “They ran out of cells for all of us. It’s horrible, Tumaani. They have so many of us packed in here, and there’s no food or water. No medicine for the sick and injured. Some have already died from their wounds. It’s been two days since the attacks began.”

“I must speak with the other Elders,” he said, beginning to stand.

“It’s not allowed,” she said, placing a restraining hand on his chest. “They’re keeping all of the Elders separated. They said any Elders who are caught talking to each other will be killed immediately.”

Tumaani paused and then stood up. “I have to see.” He helped her to stand as well, and, together, they walked out of the tent and into the sunlight. What he saw made his stomach lurch, leaving him sure he would vomit or begin to cry again, though he wasn’t sure which. He stopped just outside his tent to look around. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of Rajani filling the courtyard of the prison.

Some had small tents similar to what he had woken up in, or shelters improvised from pieces of clothing, but most either stood or sat in large groups. He could also see some were bandaged, and some looked like they had succumbed to their wounds and had been left where they’d died. He couldn’t remember ever seeing so many Rajani gathered in one place before. If what Rulina said was true, there were many more locked in cells within the interior of the prison. He could also see some of the males were shaved bald, as he was. They must be fellow Priests, he thought.

The Krahn had attempted to take away all symbols of leadership, like his Ralik, the large braid of hair that symbolized a Priest of the Kha. All Elders were Priests, though not all Priests became Elders. The Elder Council was very selective when it came to membership. Tumaani saw Krahn warriors patrolling the high walls of the prison, their weapons pointed down at the mass numbers of Rajani below. He had heard of the Krahn, but had never seen a picture of them. They were an ugly species, all teeth, claws, and scales. He could see some wore slipshod, ill-fitting armor that looked pieced together. Others wore thick clothing under bandoliers of ammunition. They were dressed for the cooler spring Rajani weather.

He looked over at Rulina, who had a worried look on her face. “It will be fine,” he finally said, placing his hands on her shoulders. “We’ll get through this, somehow, I promise.” He hoped with all of his heart his words were true.

#

It had been three days since Ries had been arrested aboard the Interceptor and confined to his quarters. He’d been given meals four times a day, as was his custom, but had heard no news, and he was out of kolan. He didn’t know which one irritated him the most. His lieutenant refused to speak to him, and the officers who brought his food had looked terrified at the prospect of telling him anything. They must have been given a briefing by someone high up in command for them to be so afraid to answer even the most simple of questions.

Finally, his door chime sounded, and he waited expectantly for whomever it was to open the door. When the door opened, he saw that it was an Asnurian. He was wearing the rank of First Admiral, the second highest rank achievable in the Alliance Society for Peace. Ries stood and saluted smartly with his top left arm, dreading what was to come and suspecting it wouldn’t be good. He’d spent hours thinking about what would happen to him. He was well aware the Alliance Society for Peace was not a forgiving organization. Although the Alliance didn’t have a death penalty for crimes, the ASPs did, and had the authority to carry out punishment without Alliance review.

The Asnurian returned the salute and sat down in a chair across from Ries’s desk. “As you were,” he said in Talondarian Standard after a moment. Reis was afraid to show any signs of disgust at the Asnurian’s odor, which was foul, due to a religious belief held by the Asnurians that forbade bathing. Now was not the time for putting on airs of hygienic superiority.

“I assume you know why I’m here?” the Asnurian asked without preamble, his blackened teeth sitting like diseased tree stumps inside his mouth, forcing Ries to look away as he spoke. The worse off the Asnurians were physically, the more highly regarded they were in their society.

“Sir, we had no warning the Rajani ship was armed,” Ries said. “Our complete scan of their ship picked up no signs of weapons. Even when I warned Commander Complin of the danger the ship posed, he failed to take the appropriate security measures when he confronted the ship—”

“I’ve read the reports,” the Asnurian said, interrupting him. “Both his and yours. That is not why I’m here.” He let this fact sink in before continuing. “I’m here because of your attempts to gain access to classified Alliance files.”

“I swear, I didn’t know they were classified until my ship’s computer told me,” Ries said. “I was only attempting to research the Rajani to discern their capabilities in disabling a ship, as they did mine and the Waverider. Especially when the two ships were disabled in entirely different manners. I assure you—”

“I don’t want your assurances, Commander,” the Asnurian said. “I want to know why one of my subordinates was sticking his antennae where they don’t belong.”

“I told you,” Ries said, almost gagging from the smell emanating from the Asnurian. “I was only attempting to investigate—”

“Enough,” the Asnurian said, standing up and beginning to pace in front of the desk. “Now, normally, you would have simply disappeared on your way to your court martial, saving us all time and money. It would have been a simple solution, and one I would have preferred.”

Reis felt his hearts sink at the admiral’s words. He had hoped there would at least be a trial, where he could plead his case and throw himself on the mercy of the ASP court. Now it didn’t look like it would ever happen.

The admiral sighed before continuing on. “But, my nephew Shinto tells me he owes you his life. So, effective immediately, you are transferred to Asnuria Central Command. All holdings on Mandaka are hereby forfeit. You are demoted to Administrative Specialist. You report tomorrow to Commander Jando Kan. Is this understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Ries said, stunned by the turn of events. He would live, but his houses, his bank accounts—all would be gone. It had taken him years to amass what the Asnurian had taken away in mere seconds, but Ries had always been a survivor. As long as he still lived, he could always earn or steal more.

“Good,” the Asnurian said. “Then you’d better hope I’ve buried you deep enough that Galactic Intelligence doesn’t dig you back up. I don’t think I need to tell you what would happen then.”

“Thank you, sir,” Ries said, standing and saluting. He definitely did not want a visit from GI. He really would disappear then, as he knew very well.

The Asnurian returned the salute. “As far as I’m concerned, my family’s life debt is repaid. I wish you luck.” He turned and left quickly, leaving Ries standing behind his desk in silence.

#

Tumaani had been in the Krahn prison camp for five days when the announcement was made over the prison’s intercom system. There would be a briefing by the Krahn soon. The Krahn had steadily been adding captured Rajani to the prison’s population, and the courtyard was now very crowded. He’d been pleased to find four of his five mates had survived. The missing one, his fourth, had not yet been found amidst the sprawling population of the prison, but he hoped she would be discovered safe soon. He’d also met up with the two sons of the Elder named Delataan, and learned the Keeper of the Promise had been killed on the first night of the attack. Maska and Torile were still only younglings, though they were old enough to Pledge to a House if they chose.

“What do you think it will be about?” Maska asked. “Will they let us go?”

“Of course they won’t let us go,” Torile said. “Don’t be dense.”

“We won’t have long to wait,” Tumaani said, seeing a handful of Krahn warriors enter the courtyard, carrying a square piece of wood about two standard feet tall and six feet on each side. They placed it against the wall of the prison and then surrounded it, pointing their weapons toward the crowd of Rajani. Another Krahn, this one dressed somewhat more elaborately than the other warriors, entered the courtyard and climbed aboard the piece of wood. He held a large translating device in his hands and placed it on the makeshift stage before addressing the crowd.

“For security purposes, we must separate all Rajani males over the age of twenty Talondarian Standard years from the rest of the populace,” the Krahn announced to the gathered crowd of captives, his voice translated to Talondarian Standard by the device in front of him. “We’ve run out of space to safely house all of you, so we must send some of you to another holding facility to ensure overcrowding does not result in a breakout of sickness amongst your members.

“You can understand our concern, yes?” the Krahn continued. “All Rajani males over the age of twenty Talondarian Standard years, please stay in the middle of the courtyard. All other Rajani, please exit the security enclosure in an orderly manner. You are to be processed by our attendants. I can assure you, you will be reunited when our time here is finished.”

Some of the Rajani females and young ones were starting to exit out of the enclosure already, herded along by armed Krahn guards. A few of the females were holding their mates, weeping and hysterical. One of the male Rajani turned and struck the Krahn guard who was attempting to separate him from his mate. Another guard stepped in and hit the Rajani in the head with the butt of his gun. The Rajani dropped to the ground, blood streaming down his face from a cut on his forehead. Another Rajani male, this one with a bandage already covering one of his eyes, attempted to wrestle away the Krahn’s weapon. He was surrounded by a group of Krahn guards and beaten down to the ground with their weapons and fists. The first Rajani male screamed as his mate and offspring were ushered out, crying and calling his name. This caught Tumaani’s ear. He knew who the Rajani was, another Elder named Welemaan.

The Krahn who had been speaking to the crowd clicked off the machine in front of him and spoke to one of the armed Krahn, who was standing near the dais. “Give the males enough food to keep them calm. We don’t want them too unhappy.”

“The females and young?” the guard asked.

“Take them to the field we prepared,” the Krahn replied. “Get it done quickly and quietly.”

“Yes, sir,” the guard replied with a salute. He turned to carry out his orders.

#

Dreben had been in charge of the farm for almost thirty years. He’d been hired when he was still a young Rajani; unsure about what he wanted to do with his life. Because the Rajani were mostly self-sufficient, there were numerous endeavors available for someone who had already decided he didn’t want to be a Priest of the Kha. Which also meant he would never be chosen for the Elder Council, he knew. However, because life on Rajan was rather simple and plain, there weren’t many endeavors Dreben found interesting. There were manufacturing jobs making everything from clothing, to furniture, to the simple ground transport vehicles used by most Rajani. There were medical fields and dentistry. There was maintenance, where he could repair city infrastructure, such as roads, parks, bridges, or buildings.

There were no new buildings being built, though. The architecture was from thousands of years before, when the Rajani had built fantastic spires and tall buildings that touched the sky; but most of those buildings had been modified to fit the modern needs of the Rajani; dwelling areas, prayer centers for the Priests and their Pledges, manufacturing facilities, and medical suites were now the norm, with very little upkeep needed. There were food industries; merdin hunting off the coast of Melaanse, farms used to raise pulko, an animal grown for its meat, and farms and orchards providing the plants used as food for the Rajani, Sekani, and Jirina. There were also the turvien farms producing a small, hard fruit fermented to create the drink known as fernta.

Dreben had found he couldn’t stomach working on a merdin vessel, the pulko were disgusting to raise, and the turvien farms hired almost exclusively Sekani and Jirina workers. It seemed Rajani did not possess the needed craftsmanship to brew the drink correctly, or so it was rumored. He finally found something he enjoyed when he was hired as a farmhand at one of the largest farms on Rajan. He’d slowly but steadily risen in the ranks until he’d been placed in charge of the large orchard next to the farm. A few years later, his boss and owner of the farm and orchard, Nebraani, had promoted him to Chief Farmhand, when the old one had died unexpectedly.

Dreben had been in charge of the farm and orchard’s operations ever since. He’d been saddened when Nebraani had died, but he’d known the boss’s son, Tavien, since he was still a youngling, and when Tavien had taken over for his father after becoming a Priest of the Kha, Dreben had been proud to stay on as Chief Farmhand. Tavien, by that time, had changed his name, as was the custom when becoming a Priest of the Kha. When Tavien, who now went by the name of Rauphangelaa, had journeyed out to visit the farm and give him orders for the coming planting season, Dreben had started preparing, as usual. But then, shortly after Rauphangelaa and his Pledge, Bhakat, left, word came that Melaanse was under attack. All communications had ceased from the city.

Dreben had sent a couple of his farmhands into the city to see what had happened, but they never returned. Dreben was afraid to send anyone else for fear of the same result. Meanwhile, he had farmhands coming to him daily, asking if he’d heard anything, to which he had to truthfully answer ‘no.’ Dreben knew his duty. He knew how important the food he grew was to the occupants of the city. Until he heard otherwise, he would follow Rauphangelaa’s orders and plant what he’d been told to plant. At least it kept everyone too busy to think about what may very well be happening in the city. He only hoped Rauphangelaa would come back soon, or at least send word.

Chapter 2

Administrative Specialist Ries an na Van, Chief Protector of Paperwork, and any other mundane task his superior officers wanted to give him, was in a foul mood, even by his standards. He’d reported for duty, as ordered, and had been shuffling duties such as payment reimbursements and payroll inquiries ever since. He supposed his punishment could have been worse; he could’ve ended up facedown at the bottom of a garbage chute or ejected into deep space. It was still difficult to adjust to a new life on a new planet, especially when the planet’s population was so disgustingly dirty. At least there weren’t many Asnurians working in the headquarters building itself.

It was all the fault of that blasted Rajani starship, the Tukuli. They were probably responsible for the riot on the Mandakan Space Port as well, he thought glumly. No, too much of a coincidence. He knew for a fact the riot had been caused by a rogue Xerbian, a large creature with a nasty disposition, who had attacked his officers without provocation in the middle of the port’s congested main concourse. It happened sometimes; the ASPs were not the most popular organization in the Alliance.

Besides blaming the Rajani for all of his present woes, he was also curious about what he had almost discovered about the two Rajani planets. His security clearance aboard the Interceptor had been high enough for him to see there were two planets, but not nearly high enough to know why. The average citizen of the Alliance wouldn’t have been able to access the fact there were two planets associated with the Rajani.

What did it mean? He felt like the answer was just out of his reach. It was becoming an obsession. He found himself thinking of the Rajani the moment he woke up, as if he’d been dreaming about them just before waking. It was driving him to distraction. He’d received two warnings already at work for critical pay errors he committed. If he received a third, he would be demoted to custodial detail.

He needed to find the truth about the Rajani. But how? He’d spent a few days more thinking about it, his antennae twitching ceaselessly as one of his brains pondered the mystery of discovering how to get past the highest level of ASP security, without getting caught, while the other was tasked with the mundane details of his present occupation.

Just then, Commander Kan walked by his cramped workspace, shooting a cold glare at Ries from both sets of his eyes. Ries finally thought of a solution to solve two of his problems at once.

#

Tumaani had just settled down for the night in his tent when the flap opened, revealing a shadowy figure blocking out the light of the moon.

“Tumaani?” a gruff male voice whispered.

“Who is it? Who’s there?” Tumaani asked, sitting up.

“It’s Welemaan,” the figure said. “Did I catch you before you fell asleep, old one?”

Tumaani ignored the verbal jab. He wasn’t much older than Welemaan. But he was much more practical, and the younger Elders liked to kid him about being so much older in mind, if not in body. It angered him sometimes. He was the same age as Rauphangelaa, but he’d never heard them giving his friend a hard time about being old. He’d found in his weeks in the prison camp, though, he was one of the oldest Elders in the prison. Although he didn’t know for sure, because many of them had been locked up in the prison cells with little or no way to communicate with those in the courtyard.

“Yes,” he answered, realizing he had been lost in thought and hadn’t actually answered Welemaan’s question. “What is it? Is something wrong?”

“Other than just about everything? No,” Welemaan answered.

Tumaani knew how he felt. He hadn’t recognized him at the time, but it was Welemaan who had assaulted the Krahn guard attempting to take his mate and younglings away. He had found the other Elders looked much different bald. He probably did as well, he supposed.

“Then what is it?” Tumaani asked. “If they catch us speaking together—”

“Oh, there will be more than us speaking together tonight,” Welemaan said. “Volaan and I are planning to break out of this place, if we can. We’re inviting others to join us.”

“Which, I assume, is why you’re here,” Tumaani said. He’d thought about risking everything to go after his mates as well, but had come to the conclusion it wasn’t worth the peril. It wouldn’t do any of them any good if he was killed trying to escape from a heavily guarded prison. He knew Volaan had been the Rajani trying to help Welemaan when his family was taken away. From what Tumaani had heard, Volaan had lost his mate in the Krahn attack, as well as one of his eyes. “Welemaan, your actions go against the Kha. An escape attempt will only lead to violence. Please reconsider your actions.”

“They took my mate and my younglings,” Welemaan said, a bitter note creeping into his voice. “Don’t you dare tell me I can’t go after them. They took your mates too. I would think you’d care for them enough to try to rescue them. Maybe I was wrong.”

“Please,” Tumaani said. “Don’t do this. There has to be another way.”

“There isn’t,” Welemaan said tersely. “I apologize for disturbing your rest, old one. Good night, Tumaani.”

“Wait—” Tumaani said, but Welemaan was already gone. It was a long time before Tumaani could fall asleep. It was not much longer after, he was awoken by the sound of weapons firing. He knelt and prayed for the remainder of the night, though he was unsure what outcome he was praying for.

#

Ries had taken an immediate dislike to his new boss, Commander Jando Kan. The feeling seemed to be mutual, if Kan’s attitude toward him was any indication. So the decision to implement his plan to steal the officer’s identification chip wasn’t difficult for Ries to make. Each computer used by the Alliance Society for Peace had a scanner that read the identification chip implanted in a user’s body. For security purposes, not even the user knew where it was implanted, so Ries knew it would take some time to find Kan’s. He needed seclusion if his plan was going to work.

He started slowly, by getting to know some of the officers in the ASP patrol division stationed on the planet over a few days’ time, as well as taking long drives outside the city in his free time. He finally settled on a likely candidate. The Tamurian named Koss was like most of his species, friendly, easygoing, and all too eager to please. When Ries asked him if he could borrow his ID chip scanner, he was able to give the simple reason of wanting to know the locations of the chips in all of his family members in case of an emergency. Of course, Ries didn’t have a family, but the Tamurian didn’t ask any other questions, and Ries didn’t divulge any other information.

The chip scanner was a handheld device about the size of Ries’s hand. There was a strap on it used by those officers not equipped to hold onto the device tightly due to a lack of fingers or tentacles. Once again, Ries was happy he’d been born with opposable thumbs on his four hands.

“Just don’t let anyone know I let you borrow it,” Koss said, running a hand through his head feathers. “I’d be in a lot of trouble.” Access to the scanners was strictly controlled by the ASPs, and only a few officers were authorized to use them, due to the risk of misuse. It was exactly the kind of misuse that Ries was planning.

“Don’t worry,” Ries told him, using his best smile. “It’ll be our secret.” If he got away with his plan, Ries knew, the Tamurian would have to disappear as well. Not a great loss, he thought, looking at Koss’s large, simple eyes.

The next stage of his plan would need to happen more quickly. Besides the fact the Tamurian expected his scanner back the next day, Ries also knew Kan was going on a planned vacation for two weeks after the day’s shift was completed. He wouldn’t be missed for at least that amount of time. It was the perfect opportunity.

Kan, an Ontigan, was home alone when Ries rang his door chime. The Ontigan were a species that had no word for ‘marriage’ or even ‘mate.’ The males of the species were expected only to donate their sperm to the local fertility clinic. They never saw who received it, nor knew of any subsequent offspring resulting from implantation in a female.

Love in the modern galaxy, Ries thought. He didn’t have to worry about any of the Ontigan’s family hanging around, at least. But he needed to go somewhere a little less public for what he planned to do. No use taking chances a friend or coworker would stop by to wish Kan well on his trip. When Kan answered the door, Ries immediately shot him with a stun gun, dropping his unconscious body to the hallway floor. Ries looked around and saw no one lurking in the darkness of the night. He hoisted the Ontigan up and walked him to a waiting transport, speaking loudly about Kan having too much to drink before leaving on his trip.

Ries piled the Ontigan into the enclosed back of the transport, not bothering to sort out limbs and other appendages as he did so. He wasn’t worried about Kan being sore if he woke up. Ries returned to Kan’s apartment and grabbed the two already-packed clothing cases from where they were sitting near the front door. He turned off all of the dwelling unit’s lights and closed the front door on the way out. He pulled off his gloves and threw them into the passenger seat as he climbed into his transport, making a mental note to get rid of them later.

He drove out of the city limits to an industrial complex he’d discovered and found the empty storage facility he had scouted out earlier. He walked the Ontigan into the structure and dumped him on the hard stone floor, then returned to the transport for a large box of equipment. He looked around to make sure no one else was about, and then placed the box on the floor next to the unconscious form of his boss.

He returned to the door and set the security code. No one else would be able to open the door without the code. He hadn’t seen anyone around the industrial complex for days, so he was pretty sure it was abandoned, but one of the reasons he’d climbed the ranks of the ASPs was his attention to detail and thoroughness, especially when it came to illegal activities.

He began his preparations, laying out his equipment next to the still-unconscious Ontigan. He picked up a pair of neutralizers and placed them on Kan’s head. He didn’t want a fight if Kan were to wake up unexpectedly. He didn’t know enough about Ontigan physiology to guess at how long he’d stay stunned from a single shot from the stun gun.

As he was passing the scanner over the Ontigan’s body, starting from the feet, Kan began to stir. Ries made it to his lower thorax before Kan opened his eyes, blearily, and looked at him. Kan tried to jump up, but screamed in pain as the neutralizers kicked in.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Ries told him when the screaming had stopped. “I’ve heard it’s quite painful trying to move when you’ve been neutralized.”

Ries continued scanning, reaching the Ontigan’s chest and working up and down each tentacle and around the large breathing holes. He was glad he had thought to wear protective gloves, as small pores on the Ontigan’s tentacles secreted poisonous mucus at his slightest touch. Ontigans had used the mucus for mating as well as protection from predators somewhere in their past, but at the moment, it was just a gooey distraction in Ries’s search. He reached the Ontigan’s short neck, concerned he hadn’t yet found the identification chip.

“Don’t worry, I’m almost finished,” he said. He scanned over Kan’s head. Nothing. Nonplussed, he began scanning at the Ontigan’s feet again, this time going slower and making sure he scanned every part of the Ontigan’s body. The chip was small, so he may have missed it the first time. He came to Kan’s head once again and scanned it. Again, nothing.

“Blast,” he said quietly. There could be only one explanation; the chip was in Kan’s head, and the neutralizers were somehow interfering with the scanner. Ries sat back on his haunches and thought for a moment. If he took off the neutralizers, he’d probably have a fight on his hands. He could go back to his transport and get his stun gun, but it would only increase his chances of being seen. There was only one thing he could do.

“Sorry, I lied,” he told Kan as he reached for his saw. “There was something to be worried about after all.” He smiled, relishing the look on his boss’s face as he began to cut.

#

Tumaani sat and waited for the two brothers, Torile and Maska, to return with the meager food rations given to the Rajani by their captors. By his calculations, it was Araa’s day, a day meant for celebrating the life and teachings of Ruvedalin. There were no celebrations, only another day as a prisoner of the Krahn. The brothers soon returned, and Torile handed a small bowl to Tumaani. It was partially filled with a simple broth with a few hard vegetables in it. Yet it was food, and Tumaani ate it quickly, even going so far as to lick the bowl clean. There was no such thing as immodesty when it came to survival.

Tumaani had taken to visiting with the brothers lately. He couldn’t speak to the other Elders, especially after the recent escape of Welemaan and the other Rajani. Four Rajani had been killed in the escape attempt, but Welemaan, Volaan, and maybe six more had managed to overpower a few of the Krahn guards and escape, killing two of them in the process. Retribution had been swift. The Krahn had come to the prison with a list of Elders, and had tortured all of them while asking questions about the escape. Tumaani still found it difficult to stand. He had not given up any names, and they still had not been caught.

“It’s a pleasant night,” Torile said, looking up at the sky. “It doesn’t look like it will rain.”

“You said that last night,” Maska said, irritably. “And we were nearly flooded.”

Tumaani was still looking up at the sparse clouds when something caught his attention. A star seemed to be streaking across the darkening sky. After a short time Tumaani could see it wasn’t a star, but a ship moving across the atmosphere above them.

“What is it?” Torile asked, standing up.

“It’s a ship,” Tumaani answered.


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