The Battle for Ka’an by Roger W. Kramer

EXTRACT FOR
The Battle for Ka’an

(Roger W. Kramer)


PROLOGUE

The boy sat with his back to the house. The twin suns had heated the brick and helped take the chill out of the cool evening air. He watched as the wind played through the fields of wheat, and marveled at the amber and brown colors that seemed to shimmer before his eyes. The stalks were heavily laden with grain, and he groaned thinking about the weeks of harvesting ahead. His family’s homestead overlooked the best plains in the land, and in his lifetime, he had never been hungry. In the distance, the suns reflected off the Middle Sea, and in a few months, it would be too cold to go swimming.
As he sat against the house and listened to the rhythm of a chair rocking back and forth, he started to doze off, but a sound brought him quickly awake.
The man in the chair began to cough violently. The boy jumped to his feet and began to pat him on the back. “You okay, Granther?” he asked.
Clearing his throat, the old man whispered for some water. Sipping it from an earthen cup, the old man winked his thanks and sat back with a look of contentment. Granther looked out over the plains and enjoyed the feeling of the suns on his face. He knew he did not have much longer on this planet and he wanted to savor every sight, every sound, and yes, every taste.
He shivered with a chill at the thought and pulled the blanket tighter around him. “Can I get anything else for you, Granther?”
“No, son,” he said as he closed his eyes and began to rock again. The boy watched him for a few moments. Granther looked so small and frail, and the boy sat holding his own breath and watched the old man’s labored breathing, hoping it wouldn’t stop.
This side of the house was their favorite spot when their work was done.
They would sit and look out over the fields, the Middle Sea, and Granther would tell him stories. The boy smiled at the thought. “Granther…can you tell me the creation story? It’s my favorite!”
With his eyes closed, the old man smiled. “It’s my favorite, too.” He opened his eyes and the boy could see the sparkle in them. “Make me some Ka, Ja root tea, son. I need something to ease the pain in my throat,” he said and coughed so violently, it seemed to shake his whole frame.
The boy hurried to make the tea, and as he heated the water, he thought about what the villagers said about Granther. It was well known he was one of the original settlers brought from Earth by the Gentle One, so he was at least a hundred and ten years old and the last of the Firsters.
When he died, the last bond to Earth would be gone, and the link to the stories would also vanish. He felt a deep sadness at the thought of Granther passing into the Death World. Stirring in the root powder with a wooden spoon, he stopped. The spoon had been his mother’s favorite, having been carved by his father. Unfortunately, they had already begun their journey to the Death World.
His parents had been sent to Ka’an, the city of the Gods, as representatives of the Seven Ruling Families of the Plains to request help from the Senate against the Barbarians, who were attacking the villages along the border. The boy’s father had been one of the richest and most influential men on the Plains, and due to his generous nature, was well thought of by the HighBorn and common people alike.
While in Ka’an, a plague struck the city and killed his mother and father and over half the inhabitants. The bodies of his parents hadn’t even been returned to him, out of fear of spreading the sickness. No one knew why the tragedy had descended on the Republic, but the local seer woman had been seen screaming in the Public Square that the plague was a punishment from the Gods. A retribution for the Romans turning their backs on the Gods and forsaking the ancient rituals.
The boy wasn’t sure why it had happened, but he was left without his parents and in the care of his great-great-great-great-great-Granther… And many acres of crops. The neighbors would help with the harvest as usual, and in the tradition of his father, he would give away all he didn’t need.
The tea began to boil and he carried it slowly to the old man.
“Granther,” he whispered to wake him up. The old man reached out his hand to take the cup, but he was shaking so badly, the boy had to press it against his palms and help him guide it to his lips. After a few sips, the Ka, Ja tea seemed to help calm the tremors in the old man's frail body. He sat up straighter in the chair and adjusted the leather straps on his breastplate. The boy had never seen Granther without his armor, especially the breastplate. King Attu had given it to him after the First Barbarian War, and it was a badge of honor. Granther pulled back his shoulders and held his head high.
He cleared his throat and began, “This is the story that has been passed down from my father and from his father’s father. Our family lived in a land called Italae, many years ago. The Roman Empire stretched as far as the eye could see, and it would take many months to travel from one end to the next. In our family were the common soldiers and farmers, but also many HighBorn artisans and philosophers. When the Roman Empire began to crumble, due to the Law of the Twelve Tablets, our family fled with many other HighBorn into the wilderness.
They traveled deep into the heart of the unexplored country to start a new life.
“Our people lived a peaceful existence for many years, but about the time I was born, we were under constant attack by the Barbarians, and the land was in chaos. The Gods began to battle around us in the skies and the Barbarians were as numerous as the rats in our feed bins.”
“How old were you, Granther?” the boy asked.
“I was just a young boy then, oh not much older than you are when it all happened.”
“What happened?” the boy asked, his eyes going wide with excitement.
“Give me a minute,” Granther said and took a sip of his tea. “As a young boy, it was hard for me to understand why our village was always under attack.
My village was not overly rich; true, we made the finest tools and weapons in the region, but we were willing to trade.
“We had good farmland and plenty to eat in the winter and overall, we were a happy people. I would play in the fields with my friends…”
“What did you play, Granther?”
“I knew you would ask that,” the old man said with a laugh and began to cough again. He had to sip on the tea to catch his breath and wet his throat.
“Sticks would become swords, and we would battle the Barbarians and save our village single-handedly. It was on such a day that we heard a real battle in our village. We could hear the sound of metal hitting metal and the screams of men dying. I ran back to find the Barbarians on the attack, and our people heavily outnumbered.
“Yet we held our own; you see, we had some of the finest soldiers trained by the Royal Roman army. The farmers were also great fighters. When you use a tool all day and fight off wild boar and the like, you can fight a man with a sword or a spear. My friends and I were not sure if we should join the battle. What was I going to do with a stick? I thought about the sword that hung over our Sacred Shrine, but there was no way I could reach my home without going through the thick of the fight. So I stood my ground and watched as we slowly beat the savages back out of our village.
“One of my friends cried out, and I looked to where he was pointing. On the horizon, there was a wall of blue shimmering light moving swiftly toward us and engulfing everything in its path like a flash flood. The battle was forgotten, and we ran in terror. As I looked over my shoulder, the wall of blue rolled over us, and I was frozen in place. I could not breathe, yet it was not an uncomfortable feeling. I was moving, yet there was no sensation of doing so. The sky turned black, and I caught glimpses of balls of fire and rocks passing by at amazing speed.
“Then it was all gone, our village was still the same, the sky was the same color of blue, and the battle was re-joined in earnest. I looked at my friends, but they were still frozen. I even raised my arms to try and wake them up. As I followed their gaze, I was frozen too. In the sky, there were now two suns, where there had only been one.
“Where there had been vast plains, now there were mountains pushing up through the clouds. The battle stopped as the men sensed something was not right, and the savages fell back to regroup. I found my mother and father and we went to the town center to discuss what had happened. We could only stand in awe and look at the land around us. A man walked into the village and said…”
“’My name is Attuicus,’” the boy said loudly.
“Yes, yes,” Granther said with a smile. “’My name is Attuicus,’ and he instructed us to follow him. I heard someone say they thought he was dead. This just brought a smile to Attuicus’ face. He led us outside the village to the Barbarians and he raised his hand in the sign of peace. Climbing on top of a rock, he began to address the crowd.
“’My name is Attuicus, and I am here to help you,’ he said. ‘The fighting is to stop. You are to live in peace!’
“One of the Barbarians came forward through the crowd. ‘I am Chief Messa,’ he announced and looked with contempt upon our people. ‘Until these people leave our land, there will never be peace.’
“Attuicus climbed down off the rock and approached the Chief. ‘This land is for you both. Live in peace, my friend.’
“The Chief shook his head. ‘This is our land… You are to leave,’ he stated again.
“Attuicus smiled sadly. ’Again, I say both your people have been Chosen by the Gentle One for this land. Roman and savage alike, can and will live in peace.’
“Messa screamed in rage and pulled out his sword. How dare this man insult a warrior chief by calling him a savage! Attuicus made no attempt to move or dodge the man’s blade, and we gasped as it looked like he would be cut down.
The sword bounced harmlessly off him.
“’What sorcery is this…?’ Messa demanded.
“’You may leave now,’ Attuicus told him and turned his back as an insult to signify the chief had been dismissed. ‘Return when your mind is open to peace.’
Making a sign to ward off the evil of that place, Messa gathered up his men and women and departed.
“’You have been Chosen to make a new beginning on this planet. Use it wisely, my friends,’ Attuicus said to our people and he then walked out of the village and disappeared.
“The man, or creature, named Attuicus, would return from time to time when we needed help. The children began to call him King Attu, and the name stuck. Our people moved out over the plains, and our numbers have grown. The ground here is so fertile, you just have to breathe on it to make the crops grow, and now over time, all that is left of the village is the house you are living in today.
“The Gods built the city of Ka’an and allowed King Attu to rule from on high. Many of our people followed him and began to forsake the land that is our lifeblood. For me… Well I prefer to work the soil and feel the ground squish up between my toes. Ah, ha, ha,” he laughed as the boy shook his head in disgust.
The laugh turned into a deep cough, and the boy patted him on the back to help loosen up the phlegm in his lungs.
He spat out the obstruction and took another sip of tea. Finally, he looked at the boy. “So began the start of the New Roman Empire, and this is our creation story, my son.”
The boy laughed and clapped his hands. “Thank you, Granther.”
The old man smiled and then pulled the blanket closer around him as the suns slipped behind the clouds and he felt a sudden chill. They sat silently for a few moments and watched as the suns moved slowly across the sky. Granther began to rock back and forth in his chair and dozed off. He coughed softly in his sleep. The boy tucked the blanket closer around Granther’s frail frame. Tenderly, he rubbed the back of his hand across the old man’s cheek, and Granther awoke with a start, his eyes wide in fright.
“I’m sorry, Granther, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s okay, son,” he said.
Waiting for the old man to catch his breath, he finally asked, “Can you tell me about the battle of the Gods?”
“Trying to wear me out today, Toka?”
“No, Granther…I just never tire of hearing your stories.”
Granther thought for a moment and sipped on his tea. He cleared his throat and gathered his strength.
“The God battle came fast and furious,” he said in a loud voice. “I had spent the day in the fields and was resting in my chair when it happened.” The old man had moved to the edge of his seat and was waving his arms as he described the fight. “I guess I was not much older than you are…”
“That’s what you said during the creation story,” Toka said with a laugh.
“When you get to be my age, son, you forget some things, so give me a little leeway.” Toka began to laugh. With Granther’s stories, Toka had to give him a great deal of leeway. “All right,” Toka said and tried to sound exasperated.
“Anyway,” Granther said, “I was sitting here chewing on a weed and thinking about, oh, I guess girls and such. A ball of flame came out of the sky and hit the ground so hard, it knocked me right out of this chair. When I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my clothes, the flames had died away.
“Then I saw a man and a…a creature locked in battle. The creature was so hideous, that even today I have nightmares. Their fighting tore out trees by their roots and scattered boulders as big as this house.” His arm knocked over the tea and the cup shattered on the ground as the old man motioned with his arms.
“Look out in that field,” he pointed, “Why, there is where one of their heels dug out a hole.”
Toka looked at the dip in the field and snorted. “The last time you told this story, you said it was an elbow.”
Granther sighed. “When you tell your children the story, you can make it whatever you want…but until then…”
“I know, I know…it’s your story.”
“As the battle continued, the man seemed to weaken and shrink in size.
More men and women began to appear to do battle with the creature, but they were swept aside like leaves in the wind. Just when I thought the man was done for; another man appeared out of the suns and grabbed that creature by the scruff of his neck. The being howled in rage and almost broke my eardrums. The new man had a flowing robe that was so bright, it hurt my eyes to look at him. I heard him ask the victim of the attack if he was all right. The man shook his head no. ’Come, Jupiter,’ he commanded. ‘By the Gods!’ I swore and then covered my mouth. I had just seen a battle between two Gods. Few mortals ever see such a thing happen in their lives and live to tell anyone, so I fell to the ground in fear and peeked through my fingers to watch my final moments on this planet.
“Jupiter was standing with his breath coming out in jagged, short gasps, and he looked as if he was in pain. The other Gods began to arrive and helped the King of the Gods to stand. Jupiter pointed at the creature.
“’Keep that Abomination away from us!’ he said weakly.
“’I am the Gentle One. I am here to help you.’ The Gentle One looked at the creature and it disappeared from our sight.
“’Come, my children,’ the man in the flowing robe said, ‘You have been severely weakened by this attack.’ He touched Jupiter and the God seemed to recover some of his strength and his pain disappeared.
“’Thank you,’ Jupiter said, ‘we will come with you.’ Gathering them together, the Gentle One folded time and space and they disappeared. Since that day, the Gods have not been seen, or heard from…”
“Not even in Ka’an?” Toka asked.
Granther shook his head sadly. “No, not even in Ka’an, the city of the Gods.”
“Granther, you really saw the battle of the Gods?”
“Sure did, son, sure did.”
“I think that’s my favorite story,” the boy said with a look of satisfaction on his face.
Granther gave a soft chuckle and closed his eyes again. He began to rock back and forth in his chair and started to doze. Toka was going to let him sleep, but a question sprang to his lips.
“Do you think the monster will ever come back, Granther?”
But Granther did not seem to hear and continued to rock. Toka looked out over the plains and tried to visualize what the battle had looked like as it raged across their fields. Grabbing a stick, he ran off into the grass, fighting off Barbarians and slaying monster Gods.
Granther opened one eye and smiled as he remembered the games he had played as a child. Then at the thought of the boy’s question, the smile went away.
“If it ever does return, my son, I fear for our world,” he whispered. “If the Gods cannot destroy it…I fear for you most of all.”


CHAPTER ONE

Captain Dav Vad heard the alarms sound and forced herself to relax as the Vitae Gel was sucked out of her lungs. The oxygen, mineral and protein gel had helped sustain her body in the stasis chamber for twenty years. The captain was nude, except for a small headset that connected her to a sleep program and the bridge computer. “Control…have we arrived yet?”
There was a slight pause. “We have arrived at the coordinates on file, Captain.”
“Very well then,” she answered. “Standard orbit. Prepare the colonists for disembarkation. I’ll be up in a moment to go over the figures.”
“Yes, sir,” the Control answered her.
I always tighten up on these long trips, she thought as she stretched.
Cupping her hand, Dav bent over and began to squeegee the gel from her skin.
Suddenly, she doubled over and began to vomit gel. “Aaach…I hate this stuff.”
She gasped and wiped it off her chin. “I always seem to swallow some of it.”
She admired herself in the mirror. There was something about her hair that didn’t seem right. It seemed to be unnaturally long for such a short trip.
When the crew had left Earth, they had shaved off all their hair. Even though their bodies didn’t age in stasis, their hair continued to grow.
I’ll have to check the computer for my protein mixture. It wouldn’t be good to arrive on Aqua looking like an outback beast woman, she giggled to herself.
Besides that, with all the hair, she could clog the filters.
As Dav looked in the mirror, she saw a woman with long black hair that fell in ringlets down her ramrod straight back, but there were also highlights of red throughout, due to her mixed heritage. She needed a shower and after a few minutes in the auto salon, she was bathed and had her hair cut. After slipping on a uniform, she admired herself in the mirror again and saw the ramrod straight back.
Ramrod straight back, she thought in shock. “I’m a civilian now,” she whispered as she tried to relax her back.
When she looked in the mirror, she could see her back was ramrod straight again. Too much of the military background coming back to haunt me.
Oh well, why fight it, she thought with a shrug of her shoulders.
Her arms and legs showed scars from the countless sword and knife fights she had been involved in that not even modern medicine could cover up. Not that she would ever want them removed. The scars were an honor of sorts. As her skills as an apprentice of the sword had progressed, the Master had put more scars on her to add to her collection, and to the Master’s surprise, she had even given him a few.
Opening the front of her shirt, she examined the scars along the right side of her navel. Still tender after all these years, she thought as she traced the scar with her finger. “This is the scar that cost me my military career,” she whispered.
It had been during the Fren-Cana Revolt on Luna Roush III. A group of terrorists had tried to take over a military day care center on her base. On her base. The nerve of those people. What an insult!
When Captain Vad heard the gunfire, all she could think about was the children. Charging in, she killed four of the terrorists with her parade sword. The fifth put a gun against her abdomen and fired. Instantly, she retaliated and cut him down. The pain from her wound washed over her and she dropped to the floor. A pool of blood had begun to form by her head.
“My goodness! Someone is bleeding a lot,” she said to a medic who had arrived on scene. By the look on the woman’s face, Dav began to realize the blood was hers. Reaching down to her side, all she could feel were her intestines spilling out onto the floor. She tried to hold them in, but the blood made them too slippery. As she began to go into shock, the room went dark and the medic slipped a mental block on her brain and put her into a coma.
Captain Dav was put into a Vitae Gel stasis tank, while the replacement body parts were cloned for her abdomen. Upon waking four years later and undergoing extensive surgery, she discovered a military court had given her the High Medal of Utmost Courage and a general medical discharge for “unacceptable risk to personnel under military care”. Mainly, it had been the children, even though they hadn’t been in the room. That she had risked her own life to save them hadn’t been taken into account.
The captain had been tried and convicted, while still in a coma, by a military court five hundred light years from Earth. The court had even tried her for dereliction of duty and abandoning her command while she was being rebuilt in the Vitae tank. In her mind, it was like putting soldiers on trial while they lay bleeding on the battlefield. She shook her head in disgust when the Military Command made her sign her discharge papers. With a heavy heart, she was put on a civilian shuttle to return to Earth. It was the longest flight of her life. How was she going to explain to her husband that she had lost status?
So what does a fired military captain do who can fly anything from a glider to a seventy-five trillion megaton space fighter? Maybe roll up in a ball, turn my face to the wall, and kiss life as I know it good bye. For her, that was not an option. Never had been and never would be. Lead, follow or destroy was her motto!
Upon arriving back at Earth, she discussed the situation with her contract husband and Dav told him about a promo she had seen for one of the new emigration planets on the shuttle. To her surprise, her husband, who complained about the cold Panamanian winters, jumped at the chance to get off planet. They looked over the brochures together and decided on a planet called Aqua.
It showed a lifestyle of perpetual Caribbean cruises as major advances in technology now allowed for vast floating cities, and they could envision themselves lying on the pseudo beaches all day and dancing in the night clubs until they dropped with exhaustion.
As the controlling interest in the marriage, Dav went to the Emigration Office and waited for her application to be reviewed before they could get permission to leave Earth. Because the waiting room was crowded with all types of rabble, she kept one hand on her gun and one eye on her wrist pad. She wasn’t used to mingling with people of this status. “Get used to it, “ she muttered to herself. The crowd tried to back away from the dogs that sat protectively at her side.
“Number twenty-seven?”
“That would be us, “ she whispered to the dogs and they set up a protective screen as she walked to the desk.
“Dav Vad?” a man asked from behind the blastproof screen.
“Yes.”
“Good afternoon, Miss,” he said with a bow. “You are respectfully requested to speak with the Commander of Emigration.” Frowning, she let herself and her dogs be led through a door behind the desk and up the stairs to the main offices.
They passed through seven heavily-armed checkpoints before stopping before a massive oak door. No one asked for her to check her weapon in at the desk. “Someone must really trust me…or are powerful enough to fear no one…” she whispered to Yang.
The door opened and a slight man stepped out. “My name is Commander Timmons,” he said as he welcomed her into his office. “Please come in.” He made room for the dogs and even opened an extra couch for them to sit on.
“Your dogs are beautiful,” he started out.
“Thank you,” she said, patting them on their heads.
“Panamanian German Shepherds?” he asked, frowning.
“That’s correct,” Dav said, surprised he knew of the breed.
“What are their names please?”
“Yin and Yang,” she said and they put out their paws.
Commander Timmons looked at her to see what the dogs wanted.
“They want to shake hands,” Dav said with a laugh.
“Oh my goodness,” Commander Timmons said as he walked around his desk and solemnly shook the paws of both dogs. “They are amazing,” he said as he took a seat.
“They’re standard military issue,” she said, trying to keep the dogs from getting a big head. Yang growled at her.
“Did he understand what you just said?”
“He can understand up to two thousand commands,” Dav said.
“I’ve read about them, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to meet such exquisite dogs.”
“Thank you,” Dav said and the dogs also barked their thanks.
Timmons jumped up and poured her some brandy and offered her a cigar.
After lighting hers, he sat back in his seat and looked out the window.
Dav could see the spaceport through the window behind him and felt a little homesick. Space had been her life for hundreds of years and here she was, now getting ready to take her last flight forever. Timmons seemed to be ill at ease and he rolled his cigar back and forth between his fingers. Clearing his throat, he finally looked at her.
“I know you’re probably wondering why I asked to see you today.”
So it begins, she thought and answered, “The thought has crossed my mind.”
Putting the cigar into a holder, the commander clasped his hands on top of the desk. “I’ll come straight to the point. I’m looking for a captain to command an emigration freighter to a planet called Aqua.”
Her ears perked up as she shook her head no. “I have an abdominal injury and cannot handle the eighteen gees of acceleration,” she said.
“Um…yes I had heard about your injuries,” he said softly. “I understand the military sent you back here on a civilian shuttle due to your injury, but have you heard about the new Horstman Drive?”
“A little,” she answered wearily.
“With the new drive and the life bay stabilizers, you won’t be effected by the gees and therefore, I believe you won’t have to worry about your injury.”
“Interesting…but what does this have to do with me?”
Timmons began to laugh. “So now we get down to the negotiations. More brandy…no? Very well then,” he said. Taking a sip of his brandy, he leaned back in his chair and looked at her. “As you know, emigration is very expensive…”
She snorted. “How well I know…two tickets have just about…”
“Eaten up your life savings…” he finished for her. “And with your ah…discharge from the service, you don’t have a pension to fall back on.”
“You’ve researched my background quite well,” she said frostily. Yang’s ears stood up at the tone of her voice.
Timmons glanced at the dog and paused for a moment, as if afraid to offend her again. He decided to take a different tack.
“My company has a new ship that’s more efficient for emigrating.”
“What you mean is, it’ll make you more money!”
The commander coughed apologetically behind his handkerchief. “To put it bluntly, yes, that’s correct.”
Before she could say anything else, he held up his hand. “At the risk of offending you again, if I may add, I know you‘re spending everything you have to make this trip to Aqua. You’ll arrive at your new home with little to no credit.
Correct?”
Dav looked down at the floor. It was hard to admit to her drop in status.
“Yes, but…”
He interrupted her. “Did you see the entry fee for Aqua?”
“Entry fee…I thought it was included.”
“Ah then…you didn’t read the fine print in the contract?” he asked and looked at her in a fatherly way.
She shook her head no.
“As a professional courtesy from one captain to another, I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said and leaned across the desk and whispered in a conspiratorial tone to her, “If you cannot pay the entry fee, the government of Aqua will assign you the job of scraper. Your job will be to remove the parasites from under the floating cities. Those damnable parasites attack the underside of the cities, and almost capsized one of them before they were beaten back by the scrapers.
“You would be called a scraper!” He said the word scraper so that it sounded like s-crap-er. Her eyes went wide in disbelief. “From captain to scraper,” he intoned, “the lowest rung on the social ladder!” He paused to let the words sink in. He might as well have smacked her across the face. Status on Earth was everything. Yin growled.
Yang looked at Yin. “Should we tear him apart for insulting our pet?”
“Are you crazy? There are over a hundred weapons tracking us right now.
I’ll just leave the commander a little present for when he goes to sleep tonight.”
Yang grinned as he lifted a leg and peed on the man’s pillow.
“You’ve made your point, Captain Timmons,” she said with disgust in her voice. “What’s your offer?”
He smiled at the obvious insult of being called captain instead of commander, and realized he had drawn psychological blood.
He laid out his proposal quickly. “Your emigration and entry fee will be paid in full. You will arrive at Aqua with chits for food, water, housing, utilities, etc for fifty full years—Aquarian time, I may add. Also, you will be given enough goods, luxury items really, to trade on their open market at one hundred times the going Earth rate. You know how these pioneer planets love the finer items from Earth. You will live quite comfortably,” he said and sat back in his chair with a smug look on his face.
“You must really be making a lot of money,” she said as she looked past him out onto the spaceport.
Again, he coughed apologetically behind his handkerchief. “Let’s just say I’ll be able to retire early. I may even sign up for emigration to Aqua myself.”
She began to laugh and focused again on his face. “You can always trust a man who’s honest about his own self-interests. Hell, Timmons, you just threw your proposal out on the table.”
“Quite so,” he laughed, ill at ease. “But do we have a deal?”
Dav looked at him for a moment. To be a captain again…to go into space…and to have status…! She didn’t even have to think about it. “Where do I sign?”
Timmons looked at her in surprise. “Are you sure you don’t want any more details?”
“Sure I do…but if I’m hired, I expect to be addressed as captain,” she demanded.
“That is quite proper, you know,” Timmons said as he poured her some more brandy.
“Captain…” he said, putting emphasis on her new title, “we’ve been building a new type of ship over the last five years equipped with the New Horstman Drive. It can carry ten different and variable types of colonial necessities, with the power to stop and offload at ten planets along the way.”
Dav whistled. “Whew, usually a colony consists of twenty thousand personnel, but times ten, you will make some money.”
“If I may be so bold as to make a minor correction. Your ship will carry one hundred thousand personnel, times ten, plus all their personal effects and heavy equipment.”
“How big is this ship?” she asked as she did the mental calculations in her head. It had to be huge.
“You’ve been away from Earth for a while, haven’t you, Captain?” he said with a faint smile on his face. Walking over to his monitor, he called out, “Lunar view please.”
“Yes, sir,” the Control answered.
A view of the moon appeared on the screen and Timmons looked at his watch. “It will be a few more moments, Captain,” he said and offered her an ashtray for her cigar.
Tapping the ash into the tray, she took another puff and blew out the smoke as she sat back to watch the monitor. Yang laid his head in her lap as they waited and Dav played with his ear. He closed his eyes and looked like he was in heaven.
“Here she is!” Timmons said, his voice charged with emotion.
A black spot was moving across the face of the moon. “She’s gigantic,”
Dav whispered in awe.
“The New Beginnings is the largest ship ever built,” Commander Timmons said proudly, “and we have ten more in the process of being completed as we speak.”
“New Beginnings is a quaint name,” Dav said.
“I picked the name out myself,” he said, beaming.
“How long will it take to reach Aqua?”
“Approximately twenty years,” he said. She had to snap out of her daydream to listen to what he was saying. “You will make ten Control/computer assisted, pre-coordinated drops. Offload the colonists and supplies and end up on Aqua.”
“What about the ship?”
“Just instruct the Control to return to Earth and when it gets back, we’ll update and use her again for another colonial effort.”
“This sounds almost too good to be true.” She thought for a moment. “I thought the brochure said it would only take five years to get to Aqua.”
“Oh those are the pioneer vessels our sister company runs. I’m afraid we already have a captain for that ship,” Timmons said and shuffled some disks on top of his desk.
“When do I leave?”
“There’s a two week window of opportunity for departure, Captain. You could leave for your command tonight if you so desire.”
“Maybe,” she said, thinking. “I have some accounts I need to close out here on Earth before I leave.”
“Would you like to speak to your spouse first, Captain?”
Dav shook her head in the negative. “He’ll go along with what I order, I am the controlling interest in our franchise.”
“Very well then, Captain. I’ll send over the contract tonight.”
“No need,” she said, “I’ll sign now.”
A contract appeared on his desk and she pressed her thumb onto the paper. She felt the bite of the needle as it took a DNA sample and stored it in memory.
He spoke into his monitor. “I need a company shuttle for Captain Dav at the front gate,” he ordered. Shaking her hand, he said, “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Captain.”
“Thank you, Commander Timmons.”
She smiled to herself. As captain, she again had status.

The Battle for Ka’an by Roger W. Kramer

EXTRACT FOR
The Battle for Ka’an

(Roger W. Kramer)


PROLOGUE

The boy sat with his back to the house. The twin suns had heated the brick and helped take the chill out of the cool evening air. He watched as the wind played through the fields of wheat, and marveled at the amber and brown colors that seemed to shimmer before his eyes. The stalks were heavily laden with grain, and he groaned thinking about the weeks of harvesting ahead. His family’s homestead overlooked the best plains in the land, and in his lifetime, he had never been hungry. In the distance, the suns reflected off the Middle Sea, and in a few months, it would be too cold to go swimming.
As he sat against the house and listened to the rhythm of a chair rocking back and forth, he started to doze off, but a sound brought him quickly awake.
The man in the chair began to cough violently. The boy jumped to his feet and began to pat him on the back. “You okay, Granther?” he asked.
Clearing his throat, the old man whispered for some water. Sipping it from an earthen cup, the old man winked his thanks and sat back with a look of contentment. Granther looked out over the plains and enjoyed the feeling of the suns on his face. He knew he did not have much longer on this planet and he wanted to savor every sight, every sound, and yes, every taste.
He shivered with a chill at the thought and pulled the blanket tighter around him. “Can I get anything else for you, Granther?”
“No, son,” he said as he closed his eyes and began to rock again. The boy watched him for a few moments. Granther looked so small and frail, and the boy sat holding his own breath and watched the old man’s labored breathing, hoping it wouldn’t stop.
This side of the house was their favorite spot when their work was done.
They would sit and look out over the fields, the Middle Sea, and Granther would tell him stories. The boy smiled at the thought. “Granther…can you tell me the creation story? It’s my favorite!”
With his eyes closed, the old man smiled. “It’s my favorite, too.” He opened his eyes and the boy could see the sparkle in them. “Make me some Ka, Ja root tea, son. I need something to ease the pain in my throat,” he said and coughed so violently, it seemed to shake his whole frame.
The boy hurried to make the tea, and as he heated the water, he thought about what the villagers said about Granther. It was well known he was one of the original settlers brought from Earth by the Gentle One, so he was at least a hundred and ten years old and the last of the Firsters.
When he died, the last bond to Earth would be gone, and the link to the stories would also vanish. He felt a deep sadness at the thought of Granther passing into the Death World. Stirring in the root powder with a wooden spoon, he stopped. The spoon had been his mother’s favorite, having been carved by his father. Unfortunately, they had already begun their journey to the Death World.
His parents had been sent to Ka’an, the city of the Gods, as representatives of the Seven Ruling Families of the Plains to request help from the Senate against the Barbarians, who were attacking the villages along the border. The boy’s father had been one of the richest and most influential men on the Plains, and due to his generous nature, was well thought of by the HighBorn and common people alike.
While in Ka’an, a plague struck the city and killed his mother and father and over half the inhabitants. The bodies of his parents hadn’t even been returned to him, out of fear of spreading the sickness. No one knew why the tragedy had descended on the Republic, but the local seer woman had been seen screaming in the Public Square that the plague was a punishment from the Gods. A retribution for the Romans turning their backs on the Gods and forsaking the ancient rituals.
The boy wasn’t sure why it had happened, but he was left without his parents and in the care of his great-great-great-great-great-Granther… And many acres of crops. The neighbors would help with the harvest as usual, and in the tradition of his father, he would give away all he didn’t need.
The tea began to boil and he carried it slowly to the old man.
“Granther,” he whispered to wake him up. The old man reached out his hand to take the cup, but he was shaking so badly, the boy had to press it against his palms and help him guide it to his lips. After a few sips, the Ka, Ja tea seemed to help calm the tremors in the old man's frail body. He sat up straighter in the chair and adjusted the leather straps on his breastplate. The boy had never seen Granther without his armor, especially the breastplate. King Attu had given it to him after the First Barbarian War, and it was a badge of honor. Granther pulled back his shoulders and held his head high.
He cleared his throat and began, “This is the story that has been passed down from my father and from his father’s father. Our family lived in a land called Italae, many years ago. The Roman Empire stretched as far as the eye could see, and it would take many months to travel from one end to the next. In our family were the common soldiers and farmers, but also many HighBorn artisans and philosophers. When the Roman Empire began to crumble, due to the Law of the Twelve Tablets, our family fled with many other HighBorn into the wilderness.
They traveled deep into the heart of the unexplored country to start a new life.
“Our people lived a peaceful existence for many years, but about the time I was born, we were under constant attack by the Barbarians, and the land was in chaos. The Gods began to battle around us in the skies and the Barbarians were as numerous as the rats in our feed bins.”
“How old were you, Granther?” the boy asked.
“I was just a young boy then, oh not much older than you are when it all happened.”
“What happened?” the boy asked, his eyes going wide with excitement.
“Give me a minute,” Granther said and took a sip of his tea. “As a young boy, it was hard for me to understand why our village was always under attack.
My village was not overly rich; true, we made the finest tools and weapons in the region, but we were willing to trade.
“We had good farmland and plenty to eat in the winter and overall, we were a happy people. I would play in the fields with my friends…”
“What did you play, Granther?”
“I knew you would ask that,” the old man said with a laugh and began to cough again. He had to sip on the tea to catch his breath and wet his throat.
“Sticks would become swords, and we would battle the Barbarians and save our village single-handedly. It was on such a day that we heard a real battle in our village. We could hear the sound of metal hitting metal and the screams of men dying. I ran back to find the Barbarians on the attack, and our people heavily outnumbered.
“Yet we held our own; you see, we had some of the finest soldiers trained by the Royal Roman army. The farmers were also great fighters. When you use a tool all day and fight off wild boar and the like, you can fight a man with a sword or a spear. My friends and I were not sure if we should join the battle. What was I going to do with a stick? I thought about the sword that hung over our Sacred Shrine, but there was no way I could reach my home without going through the thick of the fight. So I stood my ground and watched as we slowly beat the savages back out of our village.
“One of my friends cried out, and I looked to where he was pointing. On the horizon, there was a wall of blue shimmering light moving swiftly toward us and engulfing everything in its path like a flash flood. The battle was forgotten, and we ran in terror. As I looked over my shoulder, the wall of blue rolled over us, and I was frozen in place. I could not breathe, yet it was not an uncomfortable feeling. I was moving, yet there was no sensation of doing so. The sky turned black, and I caught glimpses of balls of fire and rocks passing by at amazing speed.
“Then it was all gone, our village was still the same, the sky was the same color of blue, and the battle was re-joined in earnest. I looked at my friends, but they were still frozen. I even raised my arms to try and wake them up. As I followed their gaze, I was frozen too. In the sky, there were now two suns, where there had only been one.
“Where there had been vast plains, now there were mountains pushing up through the clouds. The battle stopped as the men sensed something was not right, and the savages fell back to regroup. I found my mother and father and we went to the town center to discuss what had happened. We could only stand in awe and look at the land around us. A man walked into the village and said…”
“’My name is Attuicus,’” the boy said loudly.
“Yes, yes,” Granther said with a smile. “’My name is Attuicus,’ and he instructed us to follow him. I heard someone say they thought he was dead. This just brought a smile to Attuicus’ face. He led us outside the village to the Barbarians and he raised his hand in the sign of peace. Climbing on top of a rock, he began to address the crowd.
“’My name is Attuicus, and I am here to help you,’ he said. ‘The fighting is to stop. You are to live in peace!’
“One of the Barbarians came forward through the crowd. ‘I am Chief Messa,’ he announced and looked with contempt upon our people. ‘Until these people leave our land, there will never be peace.’
“Attuicus climbed down off the rock and approached the Chief. ‘This land is for you both. Live in peace, my friend.’
“The Chief shook his head. ‘This is our land… You are to leave,’ he stated again.
“Attuicus smiled sadly. ’Again, I say both your people have been Chosen by the Gentle One for this land. Roman and savage alike, can and will live in peace.’
“Messa screamed in rage and pulled out his sword. How dare this man insult a warrior chief by calling him a savage! Attuicus made no attempt to move or dodge the man’s blade, and we gasped as it looked like he would be cut down.
The sword bounced harmlessly off him.
“’What sorcery is this…?’ Messa demanded.
“’You may leave now,’ Attuicus told him and turned his back as an insult to signify the chief had been dismissed. ‘Return when your mind is open to peace.’
Making a sign to ward off the evil of that place, Messa gathered up his men and women and departed.
“’You have been Chosen to make a new beginning on this planet. Use it wisely, my friends,’ Attuicus said to our people and he then walked out of the village and disappeared.
“The man, or creature, named Attuicus, would return from time to time when we needed help. The children began to call him King Attu, and the name stuck. Our people moved out over the plains, and our numbers have grown. The ground here is so fertile, you just have to breathe on it to make the crops grow, and now over time, all that is left of the village is the house you are living in today.
“The Gods built the city of Ka’an and allowed King Attu to rule from on high. Many of our people followed him and began to forsake the land that is our lifeblood. For me… Well I prefer to work the soil and feel the ground squish up between my toes. Ah, ha, ha,” he laughed as the boy shook his head in disgust.
The laugh turned into a deep cough, and the boy patted him on the back to help loosen up the phlegm in his lungs.
He spat out the obstruction and took another sip of tea. Finally, he looked at the boy. “So began the start of the New Roman Empire, and this is our creation story, my son.”
The boy laughed and clapped his hands. “Thank you, Granther.”
The old man smiled and then pulled the blanket closer around him as the suns slipped behind the clouds and he felt a sudden chill. They sat silently for a few moments and watched as the suns moved slowly across the sky. Granther began to rock back and forth in his chair and dozed off. He coughed softly in his sleep. The boy tucked the blanket closer around Granther’s frail frame. Tenderly, he rubbed the back of his hand across the old man’s cheek, and Granther awoke with a start, his eyes wide in fright.
“I’m sorry, Granther, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s okay, son,” he said.
Waiting for the old man to catch his breath, he finally asked, “Can you tell me about the battle of the Gods?”
“Trying to wear me out today, Toka?”
“No, Granther…I just never tire of hearing your stories.”
Granther thought for a moment and sipped on his tea. He cleared his throat and gathered his strength.
“The God battle came fast and furious,” he said in a loud voice. “I had spent the day in the fields and was resting in my chair when it happened.” The old man had moved to the edge of his seat and was waving his arms as he described the fight. “I guess I was not much older than you are…”
“That’s what you said during the creation story,” Toka said with a laugh.
“When you get to be my age, son, you forget some things, so give me a little leeway.” Toka began to laugh. With Granther’s stories, Toka had to give him a great deal of leeway. “All right,” Toka said and tried to sound exasperated.
“Anyway,” Granther said, “I was sitting here chewing on a weed and thinking about, oh, I guess girls and such. A ball of flame came out of the sky and hit the ground so hard, it knocked me right out of this chair. When I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my clothes, the flames had died away.
“Then I saw a man and a…a creature locked in battle. The creature was so hideous, that even today I have nightmares. Their fighting tore out trees by their roots and scattered boulders as big as this house.” His arm knocked over the tea and the cup shattered on the ground as the old man motioned with his arms.
“Look out in that field,” he pointed, “Why, there is where one of their heels dug out a hole.”
Toka looked at the dip in the field and snorted. “The last time you told this story, you said it was an elbow.”
Granther sighed. “When you tell your children the story, you can make it whatever you want…but until then…”
“I know, I know…it’s your story.”
“As the battle continued, the man seemed to weaken and shrink in size.
More men and women began to appear to do battle with the creature, but they were swept aside like leaves in the wind. Just when I thought the man was done for; another man appeared out of the suns and grabbed that creature by the scruff of his neck. The being howled in rage and almost broke my eardrums. The new man had a flowing robe that was so bright, it hurt my eyes to look at him. I heard him ask the victim of the attack if he was all right. The man shook his head no. ’Come, Jupiter,’ he commanded. ‘By the Gods!’ I swore and then covered my mouth. I had just seen a battle between two Gods. Few mortals ever see such a thing happen in their lives and live to tell anyone, so I fell to the ground in fear and peeked through my fingers to watch my final moments on this planet.
“Jupiter was standing with his breath coming out in jagged, short gasps, and he looked as if he was in pain. The other Gods began to arrive and helped the King of the Gods to stand. Jupiter pointed at the creature.
“’Keep that Abomination away from us!’ he said weakly.
“’I am the Gentle One. I am here to help you.’ The Gentle One looked at the creature and it disappeared from our sight.
“’Come, my children,’ the man in the flowing robe said, ‘You have been severely weakened by this attack.’ He touched Jupiter and the God seemed to recover some of his strength and his pain disappeared.
“’Thank you,’ Jupiter said, ‘we will come with you.’ Gathering them together, the Gentle One folded time and space and they disappeared. Since that day, the Gods have not been seen, or heard from…”
“Not even in Ka’an?” Toka asked.
Granther shook his head sadly. “No, not even in Ka’an, the city of the Gods.”
“Granther, you really saw the battle of the Gods?”
“Sure did, son, sure did.”
“I think that’s my favorite story,” the boy said with a look of satisfaction on his face.
Granther gave a soft chuckle and closed his eyes again. He began to rock back and forth in his chair and started to doze. Toka was going to let him sleep, but a question sprang to his lips.
“Do you think the monster will ever come back, Granther?”
But Granther did not seem to hear and continued to rock. Toka looked out over the plains and tried to visualize what the battle had looked like as it raged across their fields. Grabbing a stick, he ran off into the grass, fighting off Barbarians and slaying monster Gods.
Granther opened one eye and smiled as he remembered the games he had played as a child. Then at the thought of the boy’s question, the smile went away.
“If it ever does return, my son, I fear for our world,” he whispered. “If the Gods cannot destroy it…I fear for you most of all.”


CHAPTER ONE

Captain Dav Vad heard the alarms sound and forced herself to relax as the Vitae Gel was sucked out of her lungs. The oxygen, mineral and protein gel had helped sustain her body in the stasis chamber for twenty years. The captain was nude, except for a small headset that connected her to a sleep program and the bridge computer. “Control…have we arrived yet?”
There was a slight pause. “We have arrived at the coordinates on file, Captain.”
“Very well then,” she answered. “Standard orbit. Prepare the colonists for disembarkation. I’ll be up in a moment to go over the figures.”
“Yes, sir,” the Control answered her.
I always tighten up on these long trips, she thought as she stretched.
Cupping her hand, Dav bent over and began to squeegee the gel from her skin.
Suddenly, she doubled over and began to vomit gel. “Aaach…I hate this stuff.”
She gasped and wiped it off her chin. “I always seem to swallow some of it.”
She admired herself in the mirror. There was something about her hair that didn’t seem right. It seemed to be unnaturally long for such a short trip.
When the crew had left Earth, they had shaved off all their hair. Even though their bodies didn’t age in stasis, their hair continued to grow.
I’ll have to check the computer for my protein mixture. It wouldn’t be good to arrive on Aqua looking like an outback beast woman, she giggled to herself.
Besides that, with all the hair, she could clog the filters.
As Dav looked in the mirror, she saw a woman with long black hair that fell in ringlets down her ramrod straight back, but there were also highlights of red throughout, due to her mixed heritage. She needed a shower and after a few minutes in the auto salon, she was bathed and had her hair cut. After slipping on a uniform, she admired herself in the mirror again and saw the ramrod straight back.
Ramrod straight back, she thought in shock. “I’m a civilian now,” she whispered as she tried to relax her back.
When she looked in the mirror, she could see her back was ramrod straight again. Too much of the military background coming back to haunt me.
Oh well, why fight it, she thought with a shrug of her shoulders.
Her arms and legs showed scars from the countless sword and knife fights she had been involved in that not even modern medicine could cover up. Not that she would ever want them removed. The scars were an honor of sorts. As her skills as an apprentice of the sword had progressed, the Master had put more scars on her to add to her collection, and to the Master’s surprise, she had even given him a few.
Opening the front of her shirt, she examined the scars along the right side of her navel. Still tender after all these years, she thought as she traced the scar with her finger. “This is the scar that cost me my military career,” she whispered.
It had been during the Fren-Cana Revolt on Luna Roush III. A group of terrorists had tried to take over a military day care center on her base. On her base. The nerve of those people. What an insult!
When Captain Vad heard the gunfire, all she could think about was the children. Charging in, she killed four of the terrorists with her parade sword. The fifth put a gun against her abdomen and fired. Instantly, she retaliated and cut him down. The pain from her wound washed over her and she dropped to the floor. A pool of blood had begun to form by her head.
“My goodness! Someone is bleeding a lot,” she said to a medic who had arrived on scene. By the look on the woman’s face, Dav began to realize the blood was hers. Reaching down to her side, all she could feel were her intestines spilling out onto the floor. She tried to hold them in, but the blood made them too slippery. As she began to go into shock, the room went dark and the medic slipped a mental block on her brain and put her into a coma.
Captain Dav was put into a Vitae Gel stasis tank, while the replacement body parts were cloned for her abdomen. Upon waking four years later and undergoing extensive surgery, she discovered a military court had given her the High Medal of Utmost Courage and a general medical discharge for “unacceptable risk to personnel under military care”. Mainly, it had been the children, even though they hadn’t been in the room. That she had risked her own life to save them hadn’t been taken into account.
The captain had been tried and convicted, while still in a coma, by a military court five hundred light years from Earth. The court had even tried her for dereliction of duty and abandoning her command while she was being rebuilt in the Vitae tank. In her mind, it was like putting soldiers on trial while they lay bleeding on the battlefield. She shook her head in disgust when the Military Command made her sign her discharge papers. With a heavy heart, she was put on a civilian shuttle to return to Earth. It was the longest flight of her life. How was she going to explain to her husband that she had lost status?
So what does a fired military captain do who can fly anything from a glider to a seventy-five trillion megaton space fighter? Maybe roll up in a ball, turn my face to the wall, and kiss life as I know it good bye. For her, that was not an option. Never had been and never would be. Lead, follow or destroy was her motto!
Upon arriving back at Earth, she discussed the situation with her contract husband and Dav told him about a promo she had seen for one of the new emigration planets on the shuttle. To her surprise, her husband, who complained about the cold Panamanian winters, jumped at the chance to get off planet. They looked over the brochures together and decided on a planet called Aqua.
It showed a lifestyle of perpetual Caribbean cruises as major advances in technology now allowed for vast floating cities, and they could envision themselves lying on the pseudo beaches all day and dancing in the night clubs until they dropped with exhaustion.
As the controlling interest in the marriage, Dav went to the Emigration Office and waited for her application to be reviewed before they could get permission to leave Earth. Because the waiting room was crowded with all types of rabble, she kept one hand on her gun and one eye on her wrist pad. She wasn’t used to mingling with people of this status. “Get used to it, “ she muttered to herself. The crowd tried to back away from the dogs that sat protectively at her side.
“Number twenty-seven?”
“That would be us, “ she whispered to the dogs and they set up a protective screen as she walked to the desk.
“Dav Vad?” a man asked from behind the blastproof screen.
“Yes.”
“Good afternoon, Miss,” he said with a bow. “You are respectfully requested to speak with the Commander of Emigration.” Frowning, she let herself and her dogs be led through a door behind the desk and up the stairs to the main offices.
They passed through seven heavily-armed checkpoints before stopping before a massive oak door. No one asked for her to check her weapon in at the desk. “Someone must really trust me…or are powerful enough to fear no one…” she whispered to Yang.
The door opened and a slight man stepped out. “My name is Commander Timmons,” he said as he welcomed her into his office. “Please come in.” He made room for the dogs and even opened an extra couch for them to sit on.
“Your dogs are beautiful,” he started out.
“Thank you,” she said, patting them on their heads.
“Panamanian German Shepherds?” he asked, frowning.
“That’s correct,” Dav said, surprised he knew of the breed.
“What are their names please?”
“Yin and Yang,” she said and they put out their paws.
Commander Timmons looked at her to see what the dogs wanted.
“They want to shake hands,” Dav said with a laugh.
“Oh my goodness,” Commander Timmons said as he walked around his desk and solemnly shook the paws of both dogs. “They are amazing,” he said as he took a seat.
“They’re standard military issue,” she said, trying to keep the dogs from getting a big head. Yang growled at her.
“Did he understand what you just said?”
“He can understand up to two thousand commands,” Dav said.
“I’ve read about them, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to meet such exquisite dogs.”
“Thank you,” Dav said and the dogs also barked their thanks.
Timmons jumped up and poured her some brandy and offered her a cigar.
After lighting hers, he sat back in his seat and looked out the window.
Dav could see the spaceport through the window behind him and felt a little homesick. Space had been her life for hundreds of years and here she was, now getting ready to take her last flight forever. Timmons seemed to be ill at ease and he rolled his cigar back and forth between his fingers. Clearing his throat, he finally looked at her.
“I know you’re probably wondering why I asked to see you today.”
So it begins, she thought and answered, “The thought has crossed my mind.”
Putting the cigar into a holder, the commander clasped his hands on top of the desk. “I’ll come straight to the point. I’m looking for a captain to command an emigration freighter to a planet called Aqua.”
Her ears perked up as she shook her head no. “I have an abdominal injury and cannot handle the eighteen gees of acceleration,” she said.
“Um…yes I had heard about your injuries,” he said softly. “I understand the military sent you back here on a civilian shuttle due to your injury, but have you heard about the new Horstman Drive?”
“A little,” she answered wearily.
“With the new drive and the life bay stabilizers, you won’t be effected by the gees and therefore, I believe you won’t have to worry about your injury.”
“Interesting…but what does this have to do with me?”
Timmons began to laugh. “So now we get down to the negotiations. More brandy…no? Very well then,” he said. Taking a sip of his brandy, he leaned back in his chair and looked at her. “As you know, emigration is very expensive…”
She snorted. “How well I know…two tickets have just about…”
“Eaten up your life savings…” he finished for her. “And with your ah…discharge from the service, you don’t have a pension to fall back on.”
“You’ve researched my background quite well,” she said frostily. Yang’s ears stood up at the tone of her voice.
Timmons glanced at the dog and paused for a moment, as if afraid to offend her again. He decided to take a different tack.
“My company has a new ship that’s more efficient for emigrating.”
“What you mean is, it’ll make you more money!”
The commander coughed apologetically behind his handkerchief. “To put it bluntly, yes, that’s correct.”
Before she could say anything else, he held up his hand. “At the risk of offending you again, if I may add, I know you‘re spending everything you have to make this trip to Aqua. You’ll arrive at your new home with little to no credit.
Correct?”
Dav looked down at the floor. It was hard to admit to her drop in status.
“Yes, but…”
He interrupted her. “Did you see the entry fee for Aqua?”
“Entry fee…I thought it was included.”
“Ah then…you didn’t read the fine print in the contract?” he asked and looked at her in a fatherly way.
She shook her head no.
“As a professional courtesy from one captain to another, I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said and leaned across the desk and whispered in a conspiratorial tone to her, “If you cannot pay the entry fee, the government of Aqua will assign you the job of scraper. Your job will be to remove the parasites from under the floating cities. Those damnable parasites attack the underside of the cities, and almost capsized one of them before they were beaten back by the scrapers.
“You would be called a scraper!” He said the word scraper so that it sounded like s-crap-er. Her eyes went wide in disbelief. “From captain to scraper,” he intoned, “the lowest rung on the social ladder!” He paused to let the words sink in. He might as well have smacked her across the face. Status on Earth was everything. Yin growled.
Yang looked at Yin. “Should we tear him apart for insulting our pet?”
“Are you crazy? There are over a hundred weapons tracking us right now.
I’ll just leave the commander a little present for when he goes to sleep tonight.”
Yang grinned as he lifted a leg and peed on the man’s pillow.
“You’ve made your point, Captain Timmons,” she said with disgust in her voice. “What’s your offer?”
He smiled at the obvious insult of being called captain instead of commander, and realized he had drawn psychological blood.
He laid out his proposal quickly. “Your emigration and entry fee will be paid in full. You will arrive at Aqua with chits for food, water, housing, utilities, etc for fifty full years—Aquarian time, I may add. Also, you will be given enough goods, luxury items really, to trade on their open market at one hundred times the going Earth rate. You know how these pioneer planets love the finer items from Earth. You will live quite comfortably,” he said and sat back in his chair with a smug look on his face.
“You must really be making a lot of money,” she said as she looked past him out onto the spaceport.
Again, he coughed apologetically behind his handkerchief. “Let’s just say I’ll be able to retire early. I may even sign up for emigration to Aqua myself.”
She began to laugh and focused again on his face. “You can always trust a man who’s honest about his own self-interests. Hell, Timmons, you just threw your proposal out on the table.”
“Quite so,” he laughed, ill at ease. “But do we have a deal?”
Dav looked at him for a moment. To be a captain again…to go into space…and to have status…! She didn’t even have to think about it. “Where do I sign?”
Timmons looked at her in surprise. “Are you sure you don’t want any more details?”
“Sure I do…but if I’m hired, I expect to be addressed as captain,” she demanded.
“That is quite proper, you know,” Timmons said as he poured her some more brandy.
“Captain…” he said, putting emphasis on her new title, “we’ve been building a new type of ship over the last five years equipped with the New Horstman Drive. It can carry ten different and variable types of colonial necessities, with the power to stop and offload at ten planets along the way.”
Dav whistled. “Whew, usually a colony consists of twenty thousand personnel, but times ten, you will make some money.”
“If I may be so bold as to make a minor correction. Your ship will carry one hundred thousand personnel, times ten, plus all their personal effects and heavy equipment.”
“How big is this ship?” she asked as she did the mental calculations in her head. It had to be huge.
“You’ve been away from Earth for a while, haven’t you, Captain?” he said with a faint smile on his face. Walking over to his monitor, he called out, “Lunar view please.”
“Yes, sir,” the Control answered.
A view of the moon appeared on the screen and Timmons looked at his watch. “It will be a few more moments, Captain,” he said and offered her an ashtray for her cigar.
Tapping the ash into the tray, she took another puff and blew out the smoke as she sat back to watch the monitor. Yang laid his head in her lap as they waited and Dav played with his ear. He closed his eyes and looked like he was in heaven.
“Here she is!” Timmons said, his voice charged with emotion.
A black spot was moving across the face of the moon. “She’s gigantic,”
Dav whispered in awe.
“The New Beginnings is the largest ship ever built,” Commander Timmons said proudly, “and we have ten more in the process of being completed as we speak.”
“New Beginnings is a quaint name,” Dav said.
“I picked the name out myself,” he said, beaming.
“How long will it take to reach Aqua?”
“Approximately twenty years,” he said. She had to snap out of her daydream to listen to what he was saying. “You will make ten Control/computer assisted, pre-coordinated drops. Offload the colonists and supplies and end up on Aqua.”
“What about the ship?”
“Just instruct the Control to return to Earth and when it gets back, we’ll update and use her again for another colonial effort.”
“This sounds almost too good to be true.” She thought for a moment. “I thought the brochure said it would only take five years to get to Aqua.”
“Oh those are the pioneer vessels our sister company runs. I’m afraid we already have a captain for that ship,” Timmons said and shuffled some disks on top of his desk.
“When do I leave?”
“There’s a two week window of opportunity for departure, Captain. You could leave for your command tonight if you so desire.”
“Maybe,” she said, thinking. “I have some accounts I need to close out here on Earth before I leave.”
“Would you like to speak to your spouse first, Captain?”
Dav shook her head in the negative. “He’ll go along with what I order, I am the controlling interest in our franchise.”
“Very well then, Captain. I’ll send over the contract tonight.”
“No need,” she said, “I’ll sign now.”
A contract appeared on his desk and she pressed her thumb onto the paper. She felt the bite of the needle as it took a DNA sample and stored it in memory.
He spoke into his monitor. “I need a company shuttle for Captain Dav at the front gate,” he ordered. Shaking her hand, he said, “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Captain.”
“Thank you, Commander Timmons.”
She smiled to herself. As captain, she again had status.

EXTRACT FOR
The Battle for Ka’an

(Roger W. Kramer)


PROLOGUE

The boy sat with his back to the house. The twin suns had heated the brick and helped take the chill out of the cool evening air. He watched as the wind played through the fields of wheat, and marveled at the amber and brown colors that seemed to shimmer before his eyes. The stalks were heavily laden with grain, and he groaned thinking about the weeks of harvesting ahead. His family’s homestead overlooked the best plains in the land, and in his lifetime, he had never been hungry. In the distance, the suns reflected off the Middle Sea, and in a few months, it would be too cold to go swimming.
As he sat against the house and listened to the rhythm of a chair rocking back and forth, he started to doze off, but a sound brought him quickly awake.
The man in the chair began to cough violently. The boy jumped to his feet and began to pat him on the back. “You okay, Granther?” he asked.
Clearing his throat, the old man whispered for some water. Sipping it from an earthen cup, the old man winked his thanks and sat back with a look of contentment. Granther looked out over the plains and enjoyed the feeling of the suns on his face. He knew he did not have much longer on this planet and he wanted to savor every sight, every sound, and yes, every taste.
He shivered with a chill at the thought and pulled the blanket tighter around him. “Can I get anything else for you, Granther?”
“No, son,” he said as he closed his eyes and began to rock again. The boy watched him for a few moments. Granther looked so small and frail, and the boy sat holding his own breath and watched the old man’s labored breathing, hoping it wouldn’t stop.
This side of the house was their favorite spot when their work was done.
They would sit and look out over the fields, the Middle Sea, and Granther would tell him stories. The boy smiled at the thought. “Granther…can you tell me the creation story? It’s my favorite!”
With his eyes closed, the old man smiled. “It’s my favorite, too.” He opened his eyes and the boy could see the sparkle in them. “Make me some Ka, Ja root tea, son. I need something to ease the pain in my throat,” he said and coughed so violently, it seemed to shake his whole frame.
The boy hurried to make the tea, and as he heated the water, he thought about what the villagers said about Granther. It was well known he was one of the original settlers brought from Earth by the Gentle One, so he was at least a hundred and ten years old and the last of the Firsters.
When he died, the last bond to Earth would be gone, and the link to the stories would also vanish. He felt a deep sadness at the thought of Granther passing into the Death World. Stirring in the root powder with a wooden spoon, he stopped. The spoon had been his mother’s favorite, having been carved by his father. Unfortunately, they had already begun their journey to the Death World.
His parents had been sent to Ka’an, the city of the Gods, as representatives of the Seven Ruling Families of the Plains to request help from the Senate against the Barbarians, who were attacking the villages along the border. The boy’s father had been one of the richest and most influential men on the Plains, and due to his generous nature, was well thought of by the HighBorn and common people alike.
While in Ka’an, a plague struck the city and killed his mother and father and over half the inhabitants. The bodies of his parents hadn’t even been returned to him, out of fear of spreading the sickness. No one knew why the tragedy had descended on the Republic, but the local seer woman had been seen screaming in the Public Square that the plague was a punishment from the Gods. A retribution for the Romans turning their backs on the Gods and forsaking the ancient rituals.
The boy wasn’t sure why it had happened, but he was left without his parents and in the care of his great-great-great-great-great-Granther… And many acres of crops. The neighbors would help with the harvest as usual, and in the tradition of his father, he would give away all he didn’t need.
The tea began to boil and he carried it slowly to the old man.
“Granther,” he whispered to wake him up. The old man reached out his hand to take the cup, but he was shaking so badly, the boy had to press it against his palms and help him guide it to his lips. After a few sips, the Ka, Ja tea seemed to help calm the tremors in the old man's frail body. He sat up straighter in the chair and adjusted the leather straps on his breastplate. The boy had never seen Granther without his armor, especially the breastplate. King Attu had given it to him after the First Barbarian War, and it was a badge of honor. Granther pulled back his shoulders and held his head high.
He cleared his throat and began, “This is the story that has been passed down from my father and from his father’s father. Our family lived in a land called Italae, many years ago. The Roman Empire stretched as far as the eye could see, and it would take many months to travel from one end to the next. In our family were the common soldiers and farmers, but also many HighBorn artisans and philosophers. When the Roman Empire began to crumble, due to the Law of the Twelve Tablets, our family fled with many other HighBorn into the wilderness.
They traveled deep into the heart of the unexplored country to start a new life.
“Our people lived a peaceful existence for many years, but about the time I was born, we were under constant attack by the Barbarians, and the land was in chaos. The Gods began to battle around us in the skies and the Barbarians were as numerous as the rats in our feed bins.”
“How old were you, Granther?” the boy asked.
“I was just a young boy then, oh not much older than you are when it all happened.”
“What happened?” the boy asked, his eyes going wide with excitement.
“Give me a minute,” Granther said and took a sip of his tea. “As a young boy, it was hard for me to understand why our village was always under attack.
My village was not overly rich; true, we made the finest tools and weapons in the region, but we were willing to trade.
“We had good farmland and plenty to eat in the winter and overall, we were a happy people. I would play in the fields with my friends…”
“What did you play, Granther?”
“I knew you would ask that,” the old man said with a laugh and began to cough again. He had to sip on the tea to catch his breath and wet his throat.
“Sticks would become swords, and we would battle the Barbarians and save our village single-handedly. It was on such a day that we heard a real battle in our village. We could hear the sound of metal hitting metal and the screams of men dying. I ran back to find the Barbarians on the attack, and our people heavily outnumbered.
“Yet we held our own; you see, we had some of the finest soldiers trained by the Royal Roman army. The farmers were also great fighters. When you use a tool all day and fight off wild boar and the like, you can fight a man with a sword or a spear. My friends and I were not sure if we should join the battle. What was I going to do with a stick? I thought about the sword that hung over our Sacred Shrine, but there was no way I could reach my home without going through the thick of the fight. So I stood my ground and watched as we slowly beat the savages back out of our village.
“One of my friends cried out, and I looked to where he was pointing. On the horizon, there was a wall of blue shimmering light moving swiftly toward us and engulfing everything in its path like a flash flood. The battle was forgotten, and we ran in terror. As I looked over my shoulder, the wall of blue rolled over us, and I was frozen in place. I could not breathe, yet it was not an uncomfortable feeling. I was moving, yet there was no sensation of doing so. The sky turned black, and I caught glimpses of balls of fire and rocks passing by at amazing speed.
“Then it was all gone, our village was still the same, the sky was the same color of blue, and the battle was re-joined in earnest. I looked at my friends, but they were still frozen. I even raised my arms to try and wake them up. As I followed their gaze, I was frozen too. In the sky, there were now two suns, where there had only been one.
“Where there had been vast plains, now there were mountains pushing up through the clouds. The battle stopped as the men sensed something was not right, and the savages fell back to regroup. I found my mother and father and we went to the town center to discuss what had happened. We could only stand in awe and look at the land around us. A man walked into the village and said…”
“’My name is Attuicus,’” the boy said loudly.
“Yes, yes,” Granther said with a smile. “’My name is Attuicus,’ and he instructed us to follow him. I heard someone say they thought he was dead. This just brought a smile to Attuicus’ face. He led us outside the village to the Barbarians and he raised his hand in the sign of peace. Climbing on top of a rock, he began to address the crowd.
“’My name is Attuicus, and I am here to help you,’ he said. ‘The fighting is to stop. You are to live in peace!’
“One of the Barbarians came forward through the crowd. ‘I am Chief Messa,’ he announced and looked with contempt upon our people. ‘Until these people leave our land, there will never be peace.’
“Attuicus climbed down off the rock and approached the Chief. ‘This land is for you both. Live in peace, my friend.’
“The Chief shook his head. ‘This is our land… You are to leave,’ he stated again.
“Attuicus smiled sadly. ’Again, I say both your people have been Chosen by the Gentle One for this land. Roman and savage alike, can and will live in peace.’
“Messa screamed in rage and pulled out his sword. How dare this man insult a warrior chief by calling him a savage! Attuicus made no attempt to move or dodge the man’s blade, and we gasped as it looked like he would be cut down.
The sword bounced harmlessly off him.
“’What sorcery is this…?’ Messa demanded.
“’You may leave now,’ Attuicus told him and turned his back as an insult to signify the chief had been dismissed. ‘Return when your mind is open to peace.’
Making a sign to ward off the evil of that place, Messa gathered up his men and women and departed.
“’You have been Chosen to make a new beginning on this planet. Use it wisely, my friends,’ Attuicus said to our people and he then walked out of the village and disappeared.
“The man, or creature, named Attuicus, would return from time to time when we needed help. The children began to call him King Attu, and the name stuck. Our people moved out over the plains, and our numbers have grown. The ground here is so fertile, you just have to breathe on it to make the crops grow, and now over time, all that is left of the village is the house you are living in today.
“The Gods built the city of Ka’an and allowed King Attu to rule from on high. Many of our people followed him and began to forsake the land that is our lifeblood. For me… Well I prefer to work the soil and feel the ground squish up between my toes. Ah, ha, ha,” he laughed as the boy shook his head in disgust.
The laugh turned into a deep cough, and the boy patted him on the back to help loosen up the phlegm in his lungs.
He spat out the obstruction and took another sip of tea. Finally, he looked at the boy. “So began the start of the New Roman Empire, and this is our creation story, my son.”
The boy laughed and clapped his hands. “Thank you, Granther.”
The old man smiled and then pulled the blanket closer around him as the suns slipped behind the clouds and he felt a sudden chill. They sat silently for a few moments and watched as the suns moved slowly across the sky. Granther began to rock back and forth in his chair and dozed off. He coughed softly in his sleep. The boy tucked the blanket closer around Granther’s frail frame. Tenderly, he rubbed the back of his hand across the old man’s cheek, and Granther awoke with a start, his eyes wide in fright.
“I’m sorry, Granther, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s okay, son,” he said.
Waiting for the old man to catch his breath, he finally asked, “Can you tell me about the battle of the Gods?”
“Trying to wear me out today, Toka?”
“No, Granther…I just never tire of hearing your stories.”
Granther thought for a moment and sipped on his tea. He cleared his throat and gathered his strength.
“The God battle came fast and furious,” he said in a loud voice. “I had spent the day in the fields and was resting in my chair when it happened.” The old man had moved to the edge of his seat and was waving his arms as he described the fight. “I guess I was not much older than you are…”
“That’s what you said during the creation story,” Toka said with a laugh.
“When you get to be my age, son, you forget some things, so give me a little leeway.” Toka began to laugh. With Granther’s stories, Toka had to give him a great deal of leeway. “All right,” Toka said and tried to sound exasperated.
“Anyway,” Granther said, “I was sitting here chewing on a weed and thinking about, oh, I guess girls and such. A ball of flame came out of the sky and hit the ground so hard, it knocked me right out of this chair. When I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my clothes, the flames had died away.
“Then I saw a man and a…a creature locked in battle. The creature was so hideous, that even today I have nightmares. Their fighting tore out trees by their roots and scattered boulders as big as this house.” His arm knocked over the tea and the cup shattered on the ground as the old man motioned with his arms.
“Look out in that field,” he pointed, “Why, there is where one of their heels dug out a hole.”
Toka looked at the dip in the field and snorted. “The last time you told this story, you said it was an elbow.”
Granther sighed. “When you tell your children the story, you can make it whatever you want…but until then…”
“I know, I know…it’s your story.”
“As the battle continued, the man seemed to weaken and shrink in size.
More men and women began to appear to do battle with the creature, but they were swept aside like leaves in the wind. Just when I thought the man was done for; another man appeared out of the suns and grabbed that creature by the scruff of his neck. The being howled in rage and almost broke my eardrums. The new man had a flowing robe that was so bright, it hurt my eyes to look at him. I heard him ask the victim of the attack if he was all right. The man shook his head no. ’Come, Jupiter,’ he commanded. ‘By the Gods!’ I swore and then covered my mouth. I had just seen a battle between two Gods. Few mortals ever see such a thing happen in their lives and live to tell anyone, so I fell to the ground in fear and peeked through my fingers to watch my final moments on this planet.
“Jupiter was standing with his breath coming out in jagged, short gasps, and he looked as if he was in pain. The other Gods began to arrive and helped the King of the Gods to stand. Jupiter pointed at the creature.
“’Keep that Abomination away from us!’ he said weakly.
“’I am the Gentle One. I am here to help you.’ The Gentle One looked at the creature and it disappeared from our sight.
“’Come, my children,’ the man in the flowing robe said, ‘You have been severely weakened by this attack.’ He touched Jupiter and the God seemed to recover some of his strength and his pain disappeared.
“’Thank you,’ Jupiter said, ‘we will come with you.’ Gathering them together, the Gentle One folded time and space and they disappeared. Since that day, the Gods have not been seen, or heard from…”
“Not even in Ka’an?” Toka asked.
Granther shook his head sadly. “No, not even in Ka’an, the city of the Gods.”
“Granther, you really saw the battle of the Gods?”
“Sure did, son, sure did.”
“I think that’s my favorite story,” the boy said with a look of satisfaction on his face.
Granther gave a soft chuckle and closed his eyes again. He began to rock back and forth in his chair and started to doze. Toka was going to let him sleep, but a question sprang to his lips.
“Do you think the monster will ever come back, Granther?”
But Granther did not seem to hear and continued to rock. Toka looked out over the plains and tried to visualize what the battle had looked like as it raged across their fields. Grabbing a stick, he ran off into the grass, fighting off Barbarians and slaying monster Gods.
Granther opened one eye and smiled as he remembered the games he had played as a child. Then at the thought of the boy’s question, the smile went away.
“If it ever does return, my son, I fear for our world,” he whispered. “If the Gods cannot destroy it…I fear for you most of all.”


CHAPTER ONE

Captain Dav Vad heard the alarms sound and forced herself to relax as the Vitae Gel was sucked out of her lungs. The oxygen, mineral and protein gel had helped sustain her body in the stasis chamber for twenty years. The captain was nude, except for a small headset that connected her to a sleep program and the bridge computer. “Control…have we arrived yet?”
There was a slight pause. “We have arrived at the coordinates on file, Captain.”
“Very well then,” she answered. “Standard orbit. Prepare the colonists for disembarkation. I’ll be up in a moment to go over the figures.”
“Yes, sir,” the Control answered her.
I always tighten up on these long trips, she thought as she stretched.
Cupping her hand, Dav bent over and began to squeegee the gel from her skin.
Suddenly, she doubled over and began to vomit gel. “Aaach…I hate this stuff.”
She gasped and wiped it off her chin. “I always seem to swallow some of it.”
She admired herself in the mirror. There was something about her hair that didn’t seem right. It seemed to be unnaturally long for such a short trip.
When the crew had left Earth, they had shaved off all their hair. Even though their bodies didn’t age in stasis, their hair continued to grow.
I’ll have to check the computer for my protein mixture. It wouldn’t be good to arrive on Aqua looking like an outback beast woman, she giggled to herself.
Besides that, with all the hair, she could clog the filters.
As Dav looked in the mirror, she saw a woman with long black hair that fell in ringlets down her ramrod straight back, but there were also highlights of red throughout, due to her mixed heritage. She needed a shower and after a few minutes in the auto salon, she was bathed and had her hair cut. After slipping on a uniform, she admired herself in the mirror again and saw the ramrod straight back.
Ramrod straight back, she thought in shock. “I’m a civilian now,” she whispered as she tried to relax her back.
When she looked in the mirror, she could see her back was ramrod straight again. Too much of the military background coming back to haunt me.
Oh well, why fight it, she thought with a shrug of her shoulders.
Her arms and legs showed scars from the countless sword and knife fights she had been involved in that not even modern medicine could cover up. Not that she would ever want them removed. The scars were an honor of sorts. As her skills as an apprentice of the sword had progressed, the Master had put more scars on her to add to her collection, and to the Master’s surprise, she had even given him a few.
Opening the front of her shirt, she examined the scars along the right side of her navel. Still tender after all these years, she thought as she traced the scar with her finger. “This is the scar that cost me my military career,” she whispered.
It had been during the Fren-Cana Revolt on Luna Roush III. A group of terrorists had tried to take over a military day care center on her base. On her base. The nerve of those people. What an insult!
When Captain Vad heard the gunfire, all she could think about was the children. Charging in, she killed four of the terrorists with her parade sword. The fifth put a gun against her abdomen and fired. Instantly, she retaliated and cut him down. The pain from her wound washed over her and she dropped to the floor. A pool of blood had begun to form by her head.
“My goodness! Someone is bleeding a lot,” she said to a medic who had arrived on scene. By the look on the woman’s face, Dav began to realize the blood was hers. Reaching down to her side, all she could feel were her intestines spilling out onto the floor. She tried to hold them in, but the blood made them too slippery. As she began to go into shock, the room went dark and the medic slipped a mental block on her brain and put her into a coma.
Captain Dav was put into a Vitae Gel stasis tank, while the replacement body parts were cloned for her abdomen. Upon waking four years later and undergoing extensive surgery, she discovered a military court had given her the High Medal of Utmost Courage and a general medical discharge for “unacceptable risk to personnel under military care”. Mainly, it had been the children, even though they hadn’t been in the room. That she had risked her own life to save them hadn’t been taken into account.
The captain had been tried and convicted, while still in a coma, by a military court five hundred light years from Earth. The court had even tried her for dereliction of duty and abandoning her command while she was being rebuilt in the Vitae tank. In her mind, it was like putting soldiers on trial while they lay bleeding on the battlefield. She shook her head in disgust when the Military Command made her sign her discharge papers. With a heavy heart, she was put on a civilian shuttle to return to Earth. It was the longest flight of her life. How was she going to explain to her husband that she had lost status?
So what does a fired military captain do who can fly anything from a glider to a seventy-five trillion megaton space fighter? Maybe roll up in a ball, turn my face to the wall, and kiss life as I know it good bye. For her, that was not an option. Never had been and never would be. Lead, follow or destroy was her motto!
Upon arriving back at Earth, she discussed the situation with her contract husband and Dav told him about a promo she had seen for one of the new emigration planets on the shuttle. To her surprise, her husband, who complained about the cold Panamanian winters, jumped at the chance to get off planet. They looked over the brochures together and decided on a planet called Aqua.
It showed a lifestyle of perpetual Caribbean cruises as major advances in technology now allowed for vast floating cities, and they could envision themselves lying on the pseudo beaches all day and dancing in the night clubs until they dropped with exhaustion.
As the controlling interest in the marriage, Dav went to the Emigration Office and waited for her application to be reviewed before they could get permission to leave Earth. Because the waiting room was crowded with all types of rabble, she kept one hand on her gun and one eye on her wrist pad. She wasn’t used to mingling with people of this status. “Get used to it, “ she muttered to herself. The crowd tried to back away from the dogs that sat protectively at her side.
“Number twenty-seven?”
“That would be us, “ she whispered to the dogs and they set up a protective screen as she walked to the desk.
“Dav Vad?” a man asked from behind the blastproof screen.
“Yes.”
“Good afternoon, Miss,” he said with a bow. “You are respectfully requested to speak with the Commander of Emigration.” Frowning, she let herself and her dogs be led through a door behind the desk and up the stairs to the main offices.
They passed through seven heavily-armed checkpoints before stopping before a massive oak door. No one asked for her to check her weapon in at the desk. “Someone must really trust me…or are powerful enough to fear no one…” she whispered to Yang.
The door opened and a slight man stepped out. “My name is Commander Timmons,” he said as he welcomed her into his office. “Please come in.” He made room for the dogs and even opened an extra couch for them to sit on.
“Your dogs are beautiful,” he started out.
“Thank you,” she said, patting them on their heads.
“Panamanian German Shepherds?” he asked, frowning.
“That’s correct,” Dav said, surprised he knew of the breed.
“What are their names please?”
“Yin and Yang,” she said and they put out their paws.
Commander Timmons looked at her to see what the dogs wanted.
“They want to shake hands,” Dav said with a laugh.
“Oh my goodness,” Commander Timmons said as he walked around his desk and solemnly shook the paws of both dogs. “They are amazing,” he said as he took a seat.
“They’re standard military issue,” she said, trying to keep the dogs from getting a big head. Yang growled at her.
“Did he understand what you just said?”
“He can understand up to two thousand commands,” Dav said.
“I’ve read about them, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to meet such exquisite dogs.”
“Thank you,” Dav said and the dogs also barked their thanks.
Timmons jumped up and poured her some brandy and offered her a cigar.
After lighting hers, he sat back in his seat and looked out the window.
Dav could see the spaceport through the window behind him and felt a little homesick. Space had been her life for hundreds of years and here she was, now getting ready to take her last flight forever. Timmons seemed to be ill at ease and he rolled his cigar back and forth between his fingers. Clearing his throat, he finally looked at her.
“I know you’re probably wondering why I asked to see you today.”
So it begins, she thought and answered, “The thought has crossed my mind.”
Putting the cigar into a holder, the commander clasped his hands on top of the desk. “I’ll come straight to the point. I’m looking for a captain to command an emigration freighter to a planet called Aqua.”
Her ears perked up as she shook her head no. “I have an abdominal injury and cannot handle the eighteen gees of acceleration,” she said.
“Um…yes I had heard about your injuries,” he said softly. “I understand the military sent you back here on a civilian shuttle due to your injury, but have you heard about the new Horstman Drive?”
“A little,” she answered wearily.
“With the new drive and the life bay stabilizers, you won’t be effected by the gees and therefore, I believe you won’t have to worry about your injury.”
“Interesting…but what does this have to do with me?”
Timmons began to laugh. “So now we get down to the negotiations. More brandy…no? Very well then,” he said. Taking a sip of his brandy, he leaned back in his chair and looked at her. “As you know, emigration is very expensive…”
She snorted. “How well I know…two tickets have just about…”
“Eaten up your life savings…” he finished for her. “And with your ah…discharge from the service, you don’t have a pension to fall back on.”
“You’ve researched my background quite well,” she said frostily. Yang’s ears stood up at the tone of her voice.
Timmons glanced at the dog and paused for a moment, as if afraid to offend her again. He decided to take a different tack.
“My company has a new ship that’s more efficient for emigrating.”
“What you mean is, it’ll make you more money!”
The commander coughed apologetically behind his handkerchief. “To put it bluntly, yes, that’s correct.”
Before she could say anything else, he held up his hand. “At the risk of offending you again, if I may add, I know you‘re spending everything you have to make this trip to Aqua. You’ll arrive at your new home with little to no credit.
Correct?”
Dav looked down at the floor. It was hard to admit to her drop in status.
“Yes, but…”
He interrupted her. “Did you see the entry fee for Aqua?”
“Entry fee…I thought it was included.”
“Ah then…you didn’t read the fine print in the contract?” he asked and looked at her in a fatherly way.
She shook her head no.
“As a professional courtesy from one captain to another, I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said and leaned across the desk and whispered in a conspiratorial tone to her, “If you cannot pay the entry fee, the government of Aqua will assign you the job of scraper. Your job will be to remove the parasites from under the floating cities. Those damnable parasites attack the underside of the cities, and almost capsized one of them before they were beaten back by the scrapers.
“You would be called a scraper!” He said the word scraper so that it sounded like s-crap-er. Her eyes went wide in disbelief. “From captain to scraper,” he intoned, “the lowest rung on the social ladder!” He paused to let the words sink in. He might as well have smacked her across the face. Status on Earth was everything. Yin growled.
Yang looked at Yin. “Should we tear him apart for insulting our pet?”
“Are you crazy? There are over a hundred weapons tracking us right now.
I’ll just leave the commander a little present for when he goes to sleep tonight.”
Yang grinned as he lifted a leg and peed on the man’s pillow.
“You’ve made your point, Captain Timmons,” she said with disgust in her voice. “What’s your offer?”
He smiled at the obvious insult of being called captain instead of commander, and realized he had drawn psychological blood.
He laid out his proposal quickly. “Your emigration and entry fee will be paid in full. You will arrive at Aqua with chits for food, water, housing, utilities, etc for fifty full years—Aquarian time, I may add. Also, you will be given enough goods, luxury items really, to trade on their open market at one hundred times the going Earth rate. You know how these pioneer planets love the finer items from Earth. You will live quite comfortably,” he said and sat back in his chair with a smug look on his face.
“You must really be making a lot of money,” she said as she looked past him out onto the spaceport.
Again, he coughed apologetically behind his handkerchief. “Let’s just say I’ll be able to retire early. I may even sign up for emigration to Aqua myself.”
She began to laugh and focused again on his face. “You can always trust a man who’s honest about his own self-interests. Hell, Timmons, you just threw your proposal out on the table.”
“Quite so,” he laughed, ill at ease. “But do we have a deal?”
Dav looked at him for a moment. To be a captain again…to go into space…and to have status…! She didn’t even have to think about it. “Where do I sign?”
Timmons looked at her in surprise. “Are you sure you don’t want any more details?”
“Sure I do…but if I’m hired, I expect to be addressed as captain,” she demanded.
“That is quite proper, you know,” Timmons said as he poured her some more brandy.
“Captain…” he said, putting emphasis on her new title, “we’ve been building a new type of ship over the last five years equipped with the New Horstman Drive. It can carry ten different and variable types of colonial necessities, with the power to stop and offload at ten planets along the way.”
Dav whistled. “Whew, usually a colony consists of twenty thousand personnel, but times ten, you will make some money.”
“If I may be so bold as to make a minor correction. Your ship will carry one hundred thousand personnel, times ten, plus all their personal effects and heavy equipment.”
“How big is this ship?” she asked as she did the mental calculations in her head. It had to be huge.
“You’ve been away from Earth for a while, haven’t you, Captain?” he said with a faint smile on his face. Walking over to his monitor, he called out, “Lunar view please.”
“Yes, sir,” the Control answered.
A view of the moon appeared on the screen and Timmons looked at his watch. “It will be a few more moments, Captain,” he said and offered her an ashtray for her cigar.
Tapping the ash into the tray, she took another puff and blew out the smoke as she sat back to watch the monitor. Yang laid his head in her lap as they waited and Dav played with his ear. He closed his eyes and looked like he was in heaven.
“Here she is!” Timmons said, his voice charged with emotion.
A black spot was moving across the face of the moon. “She’s gigantic,”
Dav whispered in awe.
“The New Beginnings is the largest ship ever built,” Commander Timmons said proudly, “and we have ten more in the process of being completed as we speak.”
“New Beginnings is a quaint name,” Dav said.
“I picked the name out myself,” he said, beaming.
“How long will it take to reach Aqua?”
“Approximately twenty years,” he said. She had to snap out of her daydream to listen to what he was saying. “You will make ten Control/computer assisted, pre-coordinated drops. Offload the colonists and supplies and end up on Aqua.”
“What about the ship?”
“Just instruct the Control to return to Earth and when it gets back, we’ll update and use her again for another colonial effort.”
“This sounds almost too good to be true.” She thought for a moment. “I thought the brochure said it would only take five years to get to Aqua.”
“Oh those are the pioneer vessels our sister company runs. I’m afraid we already have a captain for that ship,” Timmons said and shuffled some disks on top of his desk.
“When do I leave?”
“There’s a two week window of opportunity for departure, Captain. You could leave for your command tonight if you so desire.”
“Maybe,” she said, thinking. “I have some accounts I need to close out here on Earth before I leave.”
“Would you like to speak to your spouse first, Captain?”
Dav shook her head in the negative. “He’ll go along with what I order, I am the controlling interest in our franchise.”
“Very well then, Captain. I’ll send over the contract tonight.”
“No need,” she said, “I’ll sign now.”
A contract appeared on his desk and she pressed her thumb onto the paper. She felt the bite of the needle as it took a DNA sample and stored it in memory.
He spoke into his monitor. “I need a company shuttle for Captain Dav at the front gate,” he ordered. Shaking her hand, he said, “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Captain.”
“Thank you, Commander Timmons.”
She smiled to herself. As captain, she again had status.