Korviaaslax – Chapter Fifteen
No chapters have been omitted between 12 an 15. Larger chapters have been broken up into 2 extra chapters.
Chapter Fifteen – Zadarius
* * * *
“Pauline Gale has returned to these coordinates and requests pick-up.”
Kor read it a second time and passed it to Aloya Sapphir who lay physically spent beside her. The twenty five kilometer run in the gym was their way of building up muscle in preparation for the high gee drop at Earth. If they ever got to Earth.
They both moved out fast for clothing. They met the other husbands at Ra Zor’s entrance to the command bay, everyone short of breath. It was not a Klaxon notification and access was granted to the bridge. Ancillary posts vacated for the eight. Korviaaslax and Rikita Ro El took Command and Co-Command.
Shift reports absorbed, autonomics tamed, Kor sent ship wide, “Q-Com to crew. Repair for new coordinates.” She plugged in new trajectory and acceleration arcs. Rikita piped it over to Aqua Splendor and Cicatrix. She smiled as, one by one, all eight of her children signed in for all-sector surveillance. Rikita, smiling, tapped them alane.
It took them five cycles, four and half weeks, Earth Standard to lose sight on their rear scanners of Catarian space. Nothing had diverted or interceptd them, but what lay across an entire horizon above the outer ring of the farthest Hegemony from Earth blotted out the stars.
“What.” Rikita read it as five miles wide, ten deep, four high. It made no sense.
“JUu,” Kor sent her Co-Com and continued at quarter maximum thrust toward a trillion square kilometers of displaced space posing as where Pauline was located. In the cool confines of Ra Zor’s bridge, Kor began to sweat.
“Okay,” Riki relaxed. Unless there had been a coup d’etat in Cataria, the ship-city looming larger by the second before them had to be another JUu wonder. This is how JUu played with her favorite humans. “She does not do anything small for her Luna born friend.”
Kor chuckled, releasing tensions. “Not in my experience so far.” Yes, she thought. This is what JUumara would do for Pauli.
They exchanged smiles across their consoles and prepared to begin the slow down. “Kor to Trixy and Splendid One. Prepare to approach and maintain relative stop.”
She sent deceleration figures and rode in. Close is a relative term. Still slowing, preparing to reverse thrusters to stop, a treble grappling field dampened their engines and fins. Lancer tiers went next, then the lights fluctuated. Shields had evaporated and communication ship wide went dark. Whoever or whatever they were, they had them.
Fish on hooks was one thing, this was abduction, a clean snatch and grab. Kor was not amused.
“Lance canon inoperative. Now we do . . .” from Rikita who sat locked to a command console with no working parts, his voice muffled by his helmet. Nothing worked.
“We get down to the bay and hope they’re friendly,” Kor said and peeled out.
* * * *
They tromped down ramp to the deck of the mega-ship that was more like a small moon than a space farer. The set-down had been indelicate, but the three ships were unharmed, bleeding off the cold, dwarfed in the enormous bay.
Expecting weapons and a formal military reception, Kor’s party was received in a gigantic bay neatly supplied with four extensively long rows of war-class dispatch and destroy carriers that dwarfed an at-rest line of four humans standing in front of them.
The massive hulls of her ships sizzled and popped behind her in harmonics that told Kor all three of her ships had been brought inside with Ra Zor.
They stopped and as was ship to ship protocol, bowed greetings. He was tall and handsome, Chinese in origin, black hair waxed in black glistening fly wing layers. The Earth color uniform of aqua was decorated with a KOR Commander patch. Except for a few zips and pockets, she saw no weapons or other insignia on him. The cloak was deck length and matched the uniform.
The woman beside him was well put together even by Kor’s rigorous standards for beauty. Her eyes sparkled a rich redish brown, the hair to the shoulders was a curless unbound chestnut brown. Huge chest, narrow waist, and generous hips were supported by legginged lower limbs more muscular than Kor’s. The aqua blue was trim and stunning, the half-mast worn blue-green cloak was made more impressive by the array of unrecognizable weapons. Bodyguard, Kor figured. The bay was cold which explained why they wore cloaks.
There was no mistaking the third officer. Xes Esmari of United Earth Ship, Vereign. He wore a sedate face and looked directly at Kor.
Iska and her sire, Farot, were bodyguards for Kor and Tsua, the fleet’s Psychiatric Master. Tsua was smiling. Kor wondered why.
“Greetings,” Xes opened the introductions. “I hope you took good care of Vereign. I want her back.”
“Sure. There is more,” Kor countered.
“May I present Zadarius, Emperor of the Nine Earth Hegemonies and Commander of K.O.R. Ship Citadel.”
“Okay. Yeah.” Kor was not in the mood for jokes.
“The pleasure is mine to greet you,” Zadarius opened. “Your dossier is impressive, Empress Korviaaslax Sapphir. You, of course know Pauline Gale,” Zadarius indicated the slender female who Kor had found very striking and well-armed. She was absolutely trusted to be carrying almost as many blades and zip pistols as Xes Esmari.
The smile was captivatingly familiar. Incredulity warred with possibilities and lost.
“Greetings,” Kor said coldly. “Whoever you are.”
“And Pauline is coming,” Rikita said, equally unprepared for games. He wanted his woman back. Pauline had told him, I will return. I promise.
“I assure you, I am Pauli, Kor. Hi Riki.” The eyelashes fell and rose long and slow. The voice was hers but the rest of her was corporeally absent.
“Yes. She is Pauline Gale,” Xes interrupted and did not collect Kor’s attention as anticipated.
Kor scanned for Catarians to find out what was expected of her. Here was Xes, a rogue pilot-captain she had kicked off her ship after confiscating his mostly dilapidated command and a ship load of contraband, telling her that Pauline was inside this neat package, presented cold and unannounced.
“Pauli.” Kor wanted an explanation.
“I am Pauline Gale, be assured. I had the surgery, Kor. I got rid of the fat, and got a full body sculpting. A new face. A pretty one. For me and for Riki. My health was at risk and my lifespan would have been shortened otherwise. I will live decades longer and better now.”
“My Pauline weighs a bit more than you, lass. She arrives soon.” Rikita was not convinced.
“I’m me!” she insisted. “I had the cellular regeneration surgery and upgraded everything. I look different is all. When Citadel launched, I grabbed a ride to Thrask. Emperor Zadarius is on the up, Kor. JUu sent him to protect us.”
On the up, Kor ingested the phrase. It was a Pauline phrase.
The universe was fond of playing tricks. Kor thought it through. If JUu was giving gifts, this would be icing to a very strange cake. The voice was Pauline’s.
“Explain,” she looked to black irised Zararius to put the universe back into a whole.
He tilted his head and smiled as he spoke, “JUu collected me from Earth half a century ago. I was trained as a ship builder and supervised the construction of Citadel, Empress Korviaaslax Sapphir. It looks like an over sized asteroid base, but it is a time leaper, six hundred guns, full trans-leap capability to enter all twelve planes and twenty nine thousand four hundred Hegemonies of the Catarian Empire. Xes brought Pauline to us for revision therapy and we complied. Take her. We can talk more later.”
“That’s it. You haven’t produced Pauline yet,” Rikita was livid. “Where is she? Get her! Now!”
Xes nodded negation, “No questions, please!” he demanded adamantly.
Zadarius was moving away, insulted.
“Forgiveness, Zadarius, Emperor of the Nine Hegemonies,” Kor sent softly with humility to the Earth male about to leave them. If he was Catarian oriented, questions were a preamble to war.
He turned briefly, “Well sent and humbly received. Another time.”
Stymied, they watched him until he was ant sized in the distance with no portal any of them could see ahead of him. No guards joined and surrounded him. They were left with Pauline and Xes. Kor gazed upward to find the ceiling. There was no ceiling. Judging by the size of the bay launch portals, a fleet of those fighters could amass inside and launch in formation against anything. JUu. You are preparing for war.
“This way,” Xes announced, pointing to the open bay hatch of Ra Zor that was dwarfed on an elongated launch pad “Pauline’s gear is substantially larger than when she left. It can be brought aboard Ra Zor.”
Kor marched between the female and a frothing Rikita. “You attempt to put anything on my ship without my consent and I’ll blow it and any transporter crew into sub-atomics!”
“As you wish,” Xes said. If you had any energy. He peeled off course to the ship and followed the self-professed Emperor into an endless plane of nothingness.
* * * *
They sat in the belly of the beast coded Citadel for ten days without power. Pauline had given them an excellent explanation for her decision to drop the weight. “I had three different kinds of cancer. Gone now. Nothing hurts when I walk. I run ten kilometers a day, lift weights, and practice swords.”
Kor thoroughly probed and identified residual gestures and tics. Memory could have been transferred, but with assurances that JUu sent Zadarius, there was no way open to argue against authenticity. She was Pauline.
“You could have been stolen,” Rikita was not convinced. “JUu’s Cats could have sipped you, copied your memories, and dropped them inside this you. They have that kind of science.”
“But that is not what happened,” Pauline was distressed. She had expected there to be resistance, but nothing like this.
Rikita dropped his head, missing his wife. It had been a year. An excruciatingly lonely year.
“Look at it this way. I wanted this to be a gift to you. It was my idea. If this had been an attempt to plant a spy on Kor and Ra Zor, JUu could have simply done it with a word. Kor would have accepted any crew sent by JUu. So would I. My memories are my own,” she paused, breathed deeply. “It may not be condoms and v-gel, but I bought you a gift.”
Frowning was not a good look on Rikita. “You what!”
“All of old Earth’s music library. You love music and so does Kor,” Pauline said. “You gave us music once.”
Kor figured it had to be Pauline. The I don’t care if you like it or not tone at the end was the clencher. Nobody corrected a crew member gone wrong like Pauli. “She is Pauli. If JUu sent her we have no choice but to take her as Co-Com and friend.”
Kor rose and met Pauline with a long hug and kiss to both cheeks and one to her forehead. Pauline giggled and Kor knew it was her friend. This ritual, practices usually after a long absence always ended in Pauli chuckling.
Extensive testing and interrogations had been embarrassing and long, but finally Rikita and Kor’s husbands granted her permission to see the children. Tsua had insisted that she recognized Pauline at first meeting, but, as ordered, conducted the psychological screening and personality profile.
“This is Earth Mother, Auntie Pauline Gale,” Kor told them, adding as much surety to the statement as she could manage. “She has returned with her appearance altered. If any of you have any doubts, lose them!” Kor told her gathered children. “It’s her!”
Reactions ranged from suspicious to overjoyed. Quin, Letta, and Shiro Sanya ran to Pauline who scooped them up into her arms and wept joy at their acceptance of her. Rikita looked on, thawing to the possibility of her truths. Kor had an inner sense for determining truth and separating falsehood from real-time existence. Pauline just didn’t look right. They would all adjust. Rikita included.
Shiro, now nine years old, used her hands to push the tears from Pauline’s face. “I know it’s you, Auntie Pauline. Why would JUumara, who loves you as much as any of us, try to trick my DNA mother and her mates and me? You came back like you said.”
The reunion lasted through a cold salad lunch. Three hours later, Catarian Standard, Citadel hailed. Kor was in Pauline’s quarters listening, using batteries for energy, to an ancient group called The Contours, when the call came in.
“Go Xes on Citadel,” Kor acknowledged aware that Ra Zor was coming back to life, the message piped down to her from an energy restored bridge.
The lights flickered and steadied. Cheering could be heard in the outer corridors. Everyone was glad that torches were no longer necessary to get around inside Ra Zor. There would be a hot meal after ten days of cold rations. Kor thought, To keep us from attempting to escape or threaten to mount a raid with active canon unless you release us.
“The Emperor sends greetings. He wishes to invite you and your family to dinner aboard Citadel,” Xes offered.
Pauline smiled and nodded affirmative.
“Okay. Time.” Kor quelled the habit of asking questions.
“Eight bells this evening, if it please you,” he said.
There would be a long conversation with that one once she saw him again. “Affirmative Citadel. We’ll come out then.”
She swallowed with a lump that they were captives inside a monstrous ship-city; powerless to refuse, and Catarian legal-bound to comply. Before Xes showed up, life in the out-reaches was fun.
* * * *
“I have made a decision,” Zadarius told Kor. His broad chest and well-honed musculature was a testament that he was no soft Commander. He was an inch taller than her five two. His eyes were not black, she discovered looking deeper into them, but a dark earth brown. Above his narrow eyes slender brows looked painted on. He was eye candy and Kor found it hard to stop looking. He wore a tight-fitting uniform, intended to impress her and her husbands with his fit status. Again, he wore no weapons.
The great network of corridors stretched out in groups of three in the intersection they approached.
“I want to show you something we discovered a few hours ago,” Zadarius said in a neutral tone so as not to alarm his guests.
Kor was not interested in the Emperor’s discoveries. She wanted her ships released. She wanted to see Pauline’s medical records again and the retreating view of this enormous ship.
They took the center corridor. The walk took two minutes. The walls all blue-green and featureless were concave shaped and the ceils overheads were not extremely high like Ra Zors or the Citadel’s open spaces of the bridge and dining halls.
The wines that had been served at dinner, Pauline thought, were excellent and a few more crew she knew had arrived to serve them a nine course meal. Kor kept looking at her doubtfully and Rikita kept at least one person between them wherever they went. He had been quiet at dinner, polite but distant. He had not been pleased to sit next to her at table.
There were rows and rows that rose high and more rows that spread across a broad concourse six levels below the balcony where they stood. Cryro slips side by side stretched to far bulkheads. There had to be thousands of them here. The extraordinarily huge space was dizzying.
“Twenty-two thousand seven hundred and forty crew who JUu put on board and left for us to discover. We have only explored one ninth of the ship, Empress Sapphir. I wanted you to be with me when we thawed them.”
He gave a nod to a centrally hanging operation’s booth that extended from the ceiling containing three uniformed figures. Kor examined the berths; each plugged into the wall support feeder lines at the foot. There were no open windows to view the crew inside the vats. Within three minutes of the Emperor’s order, cracks occurred simultaneously in the tubes and atmosphere steam vacated as fresh air replaced sustenance gases.
The hiss reached them on the balcony and the husbands and children scanned the area around Kor to insure her safety before aligning the balcony on both sides of her to see the spectacle below. Kor’s ships had nothing like these cryro-booths.
Naked humans began to throw limbs over the side of their opened edged cots, arms trembling to support them as they sat up. Already, legs were testing for strength. No one had hair, no one had the ability to speak yet.
“Can we go down and greet them,” Aloya asked.
“Sterilization fields are at action for another ten minutes. We can talk to them then,” Zadarius said loud enough for all of the Empress’s family to hear.
* * * *
She was pale of skin, thin by normal crew standards, with huge brilliant crystalline blue eyes. Wiry muscle wrapped about tan fully functional arms and legs. Ra Zor had nothing like the miraculous freezers aboard Citadel and Kor wondered if the tech would transfer.
“I am United KOR Admiral, Sabyn Farr of Citadel. Please direct me to Over-Emperor Zadarius,” her inordinately heavy voice was steady and respectful. The emblem on her tube was that of a spacer Admiral.
“Welcome aboard, Admiral Farr,” Zadarius said. “I am Emperor and this is Empress Korviaaslax Sapphir and her family.”
It still puzzled Kor that there were no guards protecting the Emperor and Xes had not accompanied them.
Around them unclothed crew sought robes and the showers. They moved methodically and patiently in tight spaces. Lines were forming at the wardrobes.
She kneeled and humbly presented her credentials, “First Admiral Sabyn Farr. Certified Commander One by Catarian Command at Thrask Consortium five hundred years ago. The Citadel is yours. I serve.”
Kor wondered at the Emperor’s absence of engagement with the Admiral. He seemed tongue bound.
“She was with me at the drawing boards for Citadel,” a voice came behind the cluster of guests. Kor did not turn to identify Xes, she knew his voice. The woman at abeyance posture before them, Kor found offensive.
“Rise, Admiral,” Zadarius ordered. “We are glad to see you and your crew. The Citadel is woefully under populated and needs you. Empress.”
“Five hundred years ago, JUu took you from Earth and trained you to come here to serve us.” She made it a statement.
“Affirmative, Empress Sapphir. We time leaped. All of my crew are temporal-leap certified and experienced in traversing the temporalities. We serve.”
The small female side glanced the Admiral. “None of this probably makes much sense to you, Kor. Zadarius, you have crew. Let us go.”
Always the practical one, Kor thought. You are exactly like her.
“Granted. Your ships will be released at your command. But stay and explore the Citadel first,” the Emperor invited them all. “I admit, I am overwhelmed by all of this and welcome your opinions on how to use this behemoth to serve humanity.”
Kor studied the Emperor pensively. “I don’t know you.”
He had stated he wanted to serve humans. Kor was intrigued but not disposed to accept his word as reliable.
“If I wanted to destroy you, I have guns that could have taken out all three of your ships and entire crew with a command. I need your help with all this. Via ship link and linked by personal tranceiver is what I petition. I know Citadel’s capabilities and how to pilot and steer it, but I’d be content to park it far off earth populated Hegemonies and observe your management of human descended from out here. I have much to learn as all of this is new and a bit overwhelming. Exciting, but greater than me, my empress-wife.”
“As your wife and Empress, you do not intend to keep me aboard Citadel.” Kor tested his design to let them go.
“Documents have been prepared that release you from wife status. You must remain Empress. JUu can only kill me once, but I do not wish to relinquish all ties to you. We rule together. I will not interfere for ten years. If you need me, I will come at your request. If anyone attempts to harm you, I will defend. Count on that.”
Kor weighed possibilities, found the proposal within the realm of the enforceable and potentially over-command structure worthy. He seemed like Rikita when she first met him. Sincere. He meant what he said but would he adhere to his pledges.
“Agreed. My crew will explore Citadel on remote or by drone. Pauline take command. Riki, Co-Com. I will remain here a few days. Farot Sapphir and Arik Sanz will accompany me as my guards.”
The Ninja and the black belt weapon’s Master. No one protested.
“Dismissed!” Kor ordered and with military discipline even the smaller children moved out behind their na-sires and the recently returned auntie Pauline Gale.
“They are well trained,” Zadarius complimented Kor. “Thank you for staying. I will miss Commander Gale as will my crew. Where to begin.”
He was leaving it up to her to organize their calendar.
“Stores. My ships need everything. You must have a large supply of old earth furniture. I want to look at it along with any hydroponics offerings. The cabbage rolls and spinach pie served at dinner would be nice occasionally. Then a tour of the weapons supplies and the independent lancer dispatcher fleet.”
“I thought you would want to sit at the bridge controls. Stores, armaments, and hydroponics, affirm. A test flight perhaps.”
Kor knew people. She understood motives and what they desired instinctively. He was as lost aboard Citadel as she had been aboard Ra Zor the first time. She understood his need to feed off her confidence. He desperately wanted friends and companions. He was trapped inside the loneliness of command.
“It will take a lifetime to learn how to run Citadel. I like Ra Zor, it’s big enough. I could use a few of your ice-crew. We are short commanders and lose sleep to keep three ships staffed.”
“Two,” she wanted a contingent knowledgeable enough to instruct her crew on the Citadel’s capabilities.
They shook hands and Kor turned about to watch her family grow small in the long corridor. Not all of them were eyes front.