Korviaaslax – Chapter Seventeen

 

Chapter Seventeen – Citadel Speak

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      He sat looking like the statue of The Thinker that Kor had seen in one of Pauline’s art books. For three hours she had tried to walk among his stars but he seemed map blind and stationary.

      “Day three approaches and I miss my ship,” she said missing more than hardware.

      The room was a soothing steel blue accented with yellows and golds. Nothing on the Citadel was small. She imagined clouds forming along the ceiling support beams. Two hundred could fit in here comfortably. The kids would love it.

      Emperor Zadarius raised his wrist tranceiver to his lips and whispered orders. “Now, your crew and family can see us and listen to our discussion. I did not have sufficient crew on the way out here. I do now. Your fleet is short officers. You do not need Engine Techs, you want for drivers and navigators. I can spare as many as you like.”

      He had been courteous and attentive, cordial and kind. And generous. She wanted for nothing and was only slightly apprehensive. Cicatrix could fit inside the quarters he had provided her with room enough left over for half of Aqua Spendor. The cuisine had been an epicurian’s dream inside a wish list inside the most desired items on any trans-galaxtic menu. Ra Zor’s galley masters had been free in providing a list of her favorite dishes, some of which Zadarian prepared personally for her excellently well. Sonata would be envious.

      “One hundred will do nicely, mostly drivers, but all ranks and skill levels will help to bring my small fleet up to some of Citadel’s standards. I do not have space for the two hundred we negotiated before,” she said and saw him nod smiling.

      He was comfortably small framed, muscular, and owned fly-away medium length hair of midnight black. His barber was insane and Kor kept thinking of crow wings when she looked at his shiny pointed end locks. How did you make it do that? No, can’t ask.

      “You barter for that which is already yours. One hundred to start. Send word if you need more,” he was being patronizing again, his least liked characteristic. “You are concerned that your hydroponics will not provide for so many. Our techs will make improvements there to meet all needs. Be assured.”

      “Release,” she said.

      “Tomorrow. Your ships officers are probably ready to attack Citadel to get you back,” he said with more than supposition to go on. Tsua’s pleas to not kill any of Kor’s crew had been convincing. And unnecessary. He needed Kor’s cooperation and good opinion if he was to succeed in his mission to protect the Hegemonies and their populations.

      He refilled her glass and she waved away a topping off of the large decanter sized glass she had only sipped at lightly.

      “Another game before you leave. I thought I had you destroyed last turn-over in Sleds,” his smile reminded her of Shiro and Sonata. The Emperor’s eyes were narrower and arched up into an exquisitely sculpted trim front-teasing hairline. Unlike her Co-Commander and Pilot-Com husbands, his skin was flawless, what she had seen of it.  He liked kimono long sleeves over floor long body hugging robes or uniforms. His mouth was divinely set, his chin borrowed from some ancient god. He moved like one of Pauline’s cats. Cen R2887 had a rodent problem and was glad to get them, Kor thought how best to be rid of pests. As big as the Citadel was, it felt crowded.

      “I suspected you would hide behind an asteroid to pounce on my rear fins,” she said. He had given her a masterful hunt and scrimmage, and he wove an attack wave with finesse that exceeded Kah and Crusher’s records for secondary kills. When he took out her corsair back-up fleet and lower quadrant reserves, she got serious. Strike and fade was an old strategy not used in a long time, but small guerilla groups of ships halved, then quartered the numbers of his twenty thousand ship fleet. She introduced him to little known loner renegade spacer tactics. It had been a fine game of Sleds.

      “I should have suspected the odd and sudden course change once I acquired. I shot and you went vertical and high to confuse and avoid my targeting field. My canon took out one of my own ships. I’ll remember that maneuver.”

      “Snag and Singe, we call it. Gets the pursuing ship a bit roasted. Good way to shake off multiple assaults.”

      “You have earned your Master’s status, Crusher,” he smiled off the chagrin of having been beaten by a human colonist from Luna. Forward deployment of stacked advance sleds would prevent her from attempting that maneuver again. “Hak Sapphir is Kah of Donner’s Lands.”

      “Affirmative,” she went cold. If those two started gaming, they would be stuck out here for months. “My fleet can leave Citadel tomorrow then. Your plan,” she requested.

      “Sitting off Earth to study the efficacy of your laws and administration personnel. My entire crew is under orders to learn everything about the administration and cultures of the Nine Hegemonies. Holidays, languages, customs first, then subtleties like habits and preferences inside regions, families, and individuals. Citadel has much to learn. I have already initiated group seminars on the crew members of your fleet. Very interesting individuals. The children are wonderful. Plan.”

      His strategy seemed sound and workable. Trusting him to execute was the difficulty.

      “Earth and Luna. I have not been home in some time.” Kor almost laughed at her own joke. Forever seemed a shorter timeframe.

      A mental light clicked on and he leaned closer. “If you would like a lift to Earth, we can cut your travel time by more than half. Your Hegemonian crew would enjoy exploring Citadel and my crew would be pleased to host them. You can remain aboard for as long as you wish.”

      He knew exactly how much time would be shaved off the jump to Earth Hegemony to the mega second. He was waiting. She let him wait.

      Citadel not The Citadel. You do not know how little ego and posturing or no power lauding lives in the absence of one word. The Citadel is more adversary than ally.

       Kor picked up her glass of what he coded Ennisfre Tea. Six different liquors and real wood cured distillates composed the drink with ice, nothing else to dilute the percentages. Kiel and Sonata would like this, she mused lethargically, totally relaxed, and vulnerable. Alcohol was not to be imbibed before discussions with as serious an impact on the future of her crew as this one. She coughed passages clear. The room had already lost cohesion.

      “I considered that option. Citadel as Earth base for the Nine Hegs, but I need to be out there,” she informed him adamantly. “No substitute for presence.”

      With his glass in both hands, he sank back into plush gold cushions and she was distracted by the long tassels hanging from the fabric’s corners. The pattern in burnt sienna swirls that looked like peacock tails was oddly masculine. He was looking at her. She would have to get the ingredients of Ennisfre before she left. If he consented to her leaving.

      “You have excellent public relations teams. Those are asp pits and flesh traps mostly in the outer reaches beyond the three Hegs you’ve tamed. The other six will not be so easily brought into alignment with your idea of civilization, Korvia.”

      His ability to be candid was getting to her. What Pauline called getting on her last nerve.

      “Call me Kor. One raid is usually enough to teach them not to touch anything mine. Policing a blockade loses lots of sleep for officers, but with the new crew, it will be easier. If they are trainable.”

      His left brow rose and the usual smile that accompanied the gesture vanished. “Malleable as clay. I have never had to repeat an order twice.”

      “It will be better if they are loyal.”

      The treble entendre was intentional and he blinked and flashed a target hit center smile. “Hands off the family and crew, hands off your fleet, hands off your worlds.”

      “I don’t play well with others,” she said too loudly, slurring her words slightly.

      He grinned. “You are going to have to learn how to share your toys, Empress. Your ships, your original crew are yours. The Hegs we share. Three to five years, Galactic Standard, is what it will take Citadel to learn your method of rule. Inside ten, you and I will learn how to rule together. I don’t have a governance strategy but analytics name your law and enforcement techniques humane and effective.”

      “Thank you,” Kor began growing suspicions like mushrooms on rotted wood after a rainstorm. “Three to five years. Ten to rule with me. If it must be, it must. I’ll be grounded by then.”

      He brightened and his entire body grew animated. “Land bases. I always wanted a chateau, a farm, and beach front property.”

      He was being flip or he was being honest about his intention to construct havens for himself next to envious down-siders. Feudal systems were simple but seldom survived. Kor wanted a wake patch.

      “Metaphors for an ops base or bases on every municipal doorstep.” She could already feel his eyes on everything she built or developed. JUu sent me this for a reason.

      “I will demonstrate my ability to observe for ten years and not interfere. Unless you are endangered. Take care of my beautiful one, JUu told me several times. I have the documents ready for your signature.”

      She threw back a slug of the elixir and let her eyes water. They cleared on a hand-held note pad. The screen glowed with the heading, Divorce Agreement.

      “I did not think you wanted this,” she said, tabled the goblet and read the two-page document. She signed it with the magnetized stylus and gave it back to him. “You surprised me. Not easy s’prising me.”

      He tossed it on the serving table next to her glass, a fait accompli; a matter no longer of importance to him.

      She was faced. The drink was strong and she was in no condition to make decisions. In spite of the impairment, her status had been altered. For the benefit of her crew and husbands she had separated her life from the Emperor’s. How his absence unfolded was to be seen. “We are no longer obliged to live together.”

      He was unsure how to proceed and depended on her lead. There would never be a time when he could claim to be her equal at much of anything, especially ruling Hegemonies or fighting in real war battles. Organizing a domestic life was close to last on his priority roster.

      “No. We will live apart. JUu was very clear about genetics. If you ever require issue from me, my seed will always be readily available. I have DNA stored at Thrask Central and can have as many of your children as I wish, but I would not procreate without your approval.”

      “Bribery. In exchange,” she slowly let his meaning untangle.

      He bristled, “No, woman! Not bribery. I am a time walker. JUu wishes to keep the strain pure and advanced. You are aware that she is breeding us.”

      “What I am aware of will never be your property.” The hiccough was uncomfortably avoided.

      “Time tells. A Catarian aphorism. Time tells. You negotiate the way you play Sleds. Hard. Trust nothing, avoid everything that might get you cornered or killed,” Zadarius shook off the bad land. “I meant no disrespect, Empress Korviaaslax. Forgiveness.”

      It was elegant, it was transparent as a thin glass tank full of poisonous quastian vipers, and she was forced to comply. “Freely given, humbly received, Emperor Zadarius.”

      They fell into a lengthy silence that was necessary for reorganizing thought matrices and items to discuss.

      He broke the time-out, said, “You have given your husbands your last name and taken them into your Line House. I wish for a first calling.”

      “Pardon,” she was forced to regroup; recall the line of advance ships, retrace ground she thought barren or captured. She had no ammo clips left. He caught her off guard and weaponless.

      “I was named by my time-mentor and Catarians have no flare for earth nomenclatures,” he eased to the edge of the sofa, set down his glass, and let his hands rise and fall to both knees with a slap. “Especially for their mostly tank bred.”

      That explained a lot. Why he was courteous without substance, powerful with no understanding of how to use his advantages. There was actually no real interaction with humans in daily living or inside war scenarios under his sash. Holographic war games were a teaching tool and inadequate to explain or exemplify human behaviors. It dawned a sudden why he wore and displayed no guns. He was not a warrior like her commander husbands or herself and Pauline. She had assumed he was like them.

       “Name me, please.”

      “How about Joe or Teddy,” she was flip and drunk. “Kidding. Real strong is what you need. Malachi or something Earth Chinese like Shin Tsu or Chan Ling Dao.”

      “Emperor Chan Ling Dao. Spell it for me.”

      She did and he repeated it. “Chan Ling Dao. Meaning.”

      “No clue, but my kids can research it for you on Ra Zor.”

      If he was truthful about them listening, then they would be scrambling to access an ancient Chinese Lexicon of Names.

      He looked impressed and she wavered to stay sitting up straight. “More.”

      He smiled small, as if happy. “No more. Suggestion.”

      “Go Emperor Chan Ling Dao,” she wanted to hear his suggestion.

      “Distribute your husbands and children across the Hegs, Empress Kor. Let my uniformed soldiers obey and protect them. Aboard one or two ships is easier for me, but they deserve their own lives. Eventually, they will request leave of your fleet.”

      So, you have given thought to empire control. You want to dilute my strengths by separating us. “Not a bad idea, if you do not interfere with their choices. Ship life is mostly boredom and it is true that some humans crave the unpredictability of walking the land. All of us are trained to embrace adventure and conditioned to leave a place better than we found it. Your suggestion has merit.”

      He let her think it to conclusion.

      “You are right. I will have to let them go eventually. I dream of accompanying Pauline at Boston Sector on Earth and sharing a jump to Luna for a vacation. I’ve never had a vacation.”

      “You have temporalist who can train your issue on Citadel during the leap to Earth. Of course, only if you wish this.”

      He was acknowledging her co-ownership of Citadel’s resources. I now have temporalists. Finally, it had come; the hour for hearing his items in the negotiation. If JUu had not forbidden it, she would have suspected him of sifting and sipping her for her desires.

     The room began to disassemble and spin.

 

 

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