Note: this is an Adult-themed, Science Fiction Space Opera intended for readers over the age of 17.
‘Rondal, do you have a moment, my precious boy?’
‘Why, Lili! For you, I have a whole minute!’
After the successful resolution of a few "internal" Vanir problems, Rondal Caldar continues to shepherd his ship and passengers towards a safe orbit over Vanaheim, until a routine refueling mission eventually leads to the loss of Lady Sai Tal's husband - Petrus Aloysius Zickgraf.
Faced with a growing number of threats from rogue Vanir warrens, the odds of successfully completing his mission keeps getting narrower to the point that Kantite Elder pro tem Lady Liling Song sends along a special trouble shooter to make sure Rondal Caldar stays on the proper path to completion.
Now all he has to do is survive long enough to make good on his promises.
Lord Rondal Caldar, the Commonwealth Emperor’s First Sword, had followed the clues and discovered a new alien species that, for their own protection, was monitoring and manipulating the stability of Humanity.
Working carefully in secret, and with the help of his Senior Staff, he’d completed the delicate task of approaching and communicating with humanity’s first true alien species – the Vanir.
After having successfully transported the new Vanir Ambassador and his assistant to a face-to-face meeting with the Emperor of the Commonwealth, he was now requested to convey both them and the new Kantite Ambassador on a return trip to meet with the Vanir Prime on the Vanir’s home planet of Vanaheim.
Along the way, new information had become available of an internal Vanir problem that threatened the promise of peace between Humanity and Vanir.
Through his traditional yet rather dubious methods, Rondal Caldar and his Senior Staff had successfully resolved the mystery surrounding the confusion of his new Vanir crewwoman, S’Ahi’Ma 42491 (a.k.a. “Sue”), along with several Vanir crew from Vanir Base 4. Now hosting the successfully recovered Vanir victims, Rondal Caldar pointed the Vanir towards a continuing danger within their own society in hopes they could root out the problem in its entirety.
Knowing the enormity of the task before them, Rondal Caldar decided to delay his original transit time in an attempt to let the Vanir assess the depth of the problem and perhaps bend themselves to accept help from the humans if ultimately needed.
Monday, February 4, 2005, The Wheel Turns
As they approached the cloud this morning, the Kraken was still at standard cruise, but Ronnie decided to stop.
Since their encounter with the Vanir Cruiser formerly commanded by S’Kala’Mak 32246 (a.k.a. “Sasha”), they’d shifted eight minutes to the Galactic “right” before turning course to head straight “down” for an additional twenty-four minutes for almost a month now. Sasha’s old command was now escorting them to Vanaheim so the Ambassadors from both civilizations might complete their journey in safety.
The Vanir had even provided star maps for the immediate area that Sasha vouchsafed as being relatively accurate – considering the Vanir had only mapped this area of their realm once, but never really explored it. Those records being so far out of date, the Kraken would remain dead in space while he ran his own survey to confirm a safe passage through the cloud – at least until they reached more well-traveled transit lanes. It might take a few extra days, but they were in no rush.
The new captain of the cruiser had no problems sharing what should have been secure tactical information, since he’d received both in-flight refueling from the humans and a load of relatively “fresh” frozen food in the bargain, but had also declined a personal visit to the Kraken – citing the current problem Sasha was facing with regards to the incident on Base 4. At least Sasha was able to recover the rest of his and S’Kala’Mak 41631’s (a.k.a. “Katie”) personal belongings, and it only cost them a couple of days transit time – something they now had plenty of.
February 12, Status Update
From a security monitor on the bridge, Petrus watched Ronnie put a group of guardsmen through their paces. Alongside him stood Captain Teldrus Avitus of Laisee’s “Royal Protective Detachment” – or rather, the leader of the Emperor’s Covert Operations Team, composed of several select operatives weeded down through competitive training and experience. Teldrus and the remaining twenty-five members of his team were among the very best of the best.
Petrus had not only been surprised but delighted to see his former trainee in a position of responsibility, and it didn’t hurt to have at least two squads worth of seasoned warriors assigned to the Kraken for the duration. Deciding “discretion” in this case was appropriate, he’d neglected to mention it to Ronnie, instead waiting to see if he’d figure it out on his own … if he ever would. After all, it’s not like a covert intrusion of this nature was expected.
The additional training for Laisee’s guardsmen seemed to be going well. That was the “official” excuse. In reality, Petrus had watched Ronnie struggle against a Vanir simulacrum that one day and it’d continued to nag at his subconscious. Laisee’s later report brought it back to the surface, so he’d decided to do something about it. He’d convinced Ronnie to work with Laisee’s Royal Protective Detachment, and for the last five weeks he’d been in the gym with them almost every day.
“We didn’t understand what you were talking about at first, Commander. The First Lord seemed well in possession of himself while he sparred with my men.”
Petrus watched intently as Ronnie easily held his ground while a third warrior joined the two currently pressing the offensive on him. It was only seconds later that a sword went flying and Ronnie’s immediate subtle shift opened a window for him to disarm a second attacker – leaving him facing the most junior guardsman alone.
“So he’s back to normal then?”
Teldrus looked at him in surprise.
“Commander … I don’t believe Lord Caldar was ever not normal – not for him. It wasn’t until we remembered watching Lady Tal sparring with one of the Vanir that we got a clue.”
Now it was Petrus’ turn to stare at him, as Sai never mentioned sparring with any Vanir.
“It’s the Vanir, Sir. They don’t move like we do,” he said while getting a continued look of confusion from Petrus. “We stumbled across it when Mister Ardan showed us the simulacrum of the Vanir fighter. It was like going up against a Drecks … for the very first time.”
It took a moment before the light dawned in Petrus’ eyes…
The Drecks were human – human-BIG – and they fought like humans. But Kantite warriors fighting them soon discovered that annoying little problem of not being able to feel their intentions. That was the edge the Kantite enjoyed over most every other human-variant in either the Hegemony or the Commonwealth – with the exception of the Drecks.
With the Drecks, you were either a quick study or dead meat…
“So the Vanir don’t… No… Lady Tal does not share the advantage we enjoy. I don’t suppose Commander Sasha would care to cross swords with any of us, do you?”
Teldrus looked a little embarrassed before explaining himself.
“Actually, Sir … the male Vanir do not use swords – or not so much. The First Lord said their women won’t let them.”
The implication hit Petrus squarely where he lived – yet another society where the women were more dangerous than the men. Now it was the Kee, the Drecks, and the Vanir. He let out a quiet sigh before putting a smile on his face to help cover up the taste of this particular turd.
“Good work, Teldrus! I will report Lord Caldar’s continuing improvement to Lady Laisee. Please … carry on,” he said in dismissal, before turning away to hide the roll of his eyes from the guard captain.
He paused to check their slow progress through the cloud with Torga before glancing at the ships timer. It was almost time for the department heads meeting, but it should take less than an hour today … hopefully. Then he would head back to his quarters. Sai should be done with her duties by then, and he was looking forward to spending some private time with her.
He really missed his daily ration of morning sex, but she’d been sharing “morning-sickness” duty with Lady Qiaolian ever since she’d learned of Manya’s condition. At least it wasn’t every morning.
Dining at the Commons
After morning practice had finally concluded, Ronnie stopped to freshen up in his quarters before heading to the commons for the mid-day meal, but he was actually looking for Sue.
Sai and Sally had both said she’d made huge strides in integrating her reality and controlling her behavior over the last five weeks, so he’d decided to put it to the test. Finding her seated and in the middle of a meal, he filled a tray and approached to stop just across from her at her table.
‘Hello, Sue. May I join you?’
He noted it failed to get the usual disgusted reaction from her as she merely looked at him calmly while taking a sip of her drink. It looked like she was considering it, before gesturing to the seat opposite her with her other arm, so he set his tray down and joined her.
‘Almost forty days in transit, Lord Caldar. I’d almost forgotten how pleasant it feels to travel at a more sedate pace. We Vanir never dreamed you humans could put up with your usual, frenzied rate of travel’
He smiled at her polite comment and observation.
‘We can suffer longer jumps when necessary, but it’s nice to travel at a more measured rate … if only to allow proper surveys along the way. Sasha tells me there are a few star systems near where we’d penetrated the cloud. Unfortunately, he has no other information about them’
She continued to eat daintily while considering what she’d observed about him before.
‘Will you be taking time out of our schedule to survey those systems for planets?’
He tilted his head in thought before sipping from his own cup – full of water this time.
The last tank measurement was sixty-percent of capacity.
‘We’re down forty-percent of fuel capacity. It wouldn’t hurt to wander on by and see if there’s any free water sloshing about. Would you care to go on a survey team?’
The question startled her. In fact, his whole demeanor was surprising to her. She’d avoided him astutely for the last several weeks, since collapsing at his feet in the commons.
Now … now he was asking if she’d like to go on a survey? She wondered if he meant – with him?
‘I… I would like that, Lord Caldar. S’Mok’Sak 40432 tells me he helped you survey a few stars while in your care’ she stated wryly, and got him to smile in return.
‘I’m afraid I didn’t find out until later that he’d been awake for those surveys’
‘Lord Caldar, you jumped whole seconds … MINUTES, even. How did you manage to survive it?’ she asked, truly curious about human stamina.
‘Well, as S’Mok’Sak 40432 can tell you, it helps to have an empty stomach. For really LONG jumps, what helps us best is provided by our Healers’
‘Healers? Like Sai and Sally?’
‘Like Sai. Sally is not built to produce the liquid protein we can use for long jumps. A very useful byproduct of the Cletus females. Not only does their milk feed their children, but it’s used to provide palliative relief for pain and nausea. How do you like it?’ he asked, after glancing down at her cup.
Eyes wide open, she stared into her cup; the thin, bluish-white liquid suddenly taking on the aspect of a singularly vile poison. Her mind flashed back to incidences she’d observed of Sai and Kiki together, or Sai and Déjà, where the Kee would suckle at the human’s breasts. She suddenly realized they were consuming human milk – right from the source.
Ronnie watched as her rational mind fought the reactionary elements and easily won; after her shock, disgust, anger, and finally curiosity, played out their roles and came to a calm and rational decision within a very short amount of time, before she sipped a little more.
‘It is good. Can you tell who it is from?’ she asked, then handed him the cup. He took a sip and swirled it around a bit before swallowing, then took another sip and swallowed again.
‘Tastes like Dorcas, I think. Although I’m surprised Nathan and Rose left any behind for ships stores. We’re always grateful when Healers are onboard, because … well, you never know’ he said, following it with a shrug.
‘Dorcas is Drecks. You said only Cletus females produce milk like this’
‘Ahhh … sometimes... Depending on how a Healer is trained, it’s possible they can provide substantially similar benefits to their milk. I was one of Dorcas’ first trainers. I didn’t know that would happen at the time’ he admitted, but glanced aside somewhat uncomfortably.
She sat still and stared at him for a full minute. Finally…
‘Lord Caldar … is there nothing you cannot do?’
He blinked before turning back and looking up at her.
‘Well … I can’t sing very well – not at ALL, according to some sources’ he offered lightly, before becoming somewhat somber. ‘I can’t keep people from fearing or hating one another. I can’t force anyone to be more concerned about their society as a whole, rather than their own petty desires’ he shared wistfully, now glancing away from her in human embarrassment.
‘I can’t feed everyone, and I can’t make everyone feel safe. I can’t be sure if this trip will bring peace or war between humans and Vanir. I’m not one of the Gods, Sue. I kill quite easily, but I can’t bring people back from the dead…’
He paused before looking up into her eyes again.
‘At least… not all the time’
She looked at him a few moments more, but finally nodded.
‘No … but you do what you can. I think I would like to join one of your survey teams. It may prove to be interesting’ she sent before taking another sip of Dorcas’ milk.
‘They usually are’ he agreed before digging into his food.