CHAPTER 11 – The BerWarian Queen
by Eliza Ayres
Note to Reader: This is an excerpt from my first book. Hope you enjoy it. It is 30 pages long so not really suitable for reading on a I Phone.
After Raphael’s brief conversation in the observation deck with the priestess, the Lady Vanderis, High Priestess of the Temple of BerAir, was persuaded by a smooth-tongued Commander Paulus to transfer her lodgings to the great mothership The Golden Falcon. The larger ship was built with special compartments designed to accommodate diplomats, council members, and guests on occasion. Now was such an occasion.
Lady Vanderis was determined to bring the young Raphael DeAires to the attention of her ruler, Queen Claudine Coupe Vanairus. So she continued to pester Commander Lantars until he ordered Commander Esturias ostensibly to attend a debriefing meeting on board the mothership, and to bring specifically: Operations Commander Cortes, Line Commander DeAires, Commander Tazo Gia, Commander Lantrill and Feline Warriors Ulrus and Racquer, Eagle Commander Kantor and a few others. The Eagle Tomás Monteras also insisted on attending as Raphael’s guard. He had the sense that there was potentially another shift coming into Raphael’s life as a result of this “debriefing” meeting.
Raphael had worked very hard to provide Commander Esturias with his interpretation of the findings of all six members of his Communications team. Each of the men had done a scan of the surface of BerWare and compared their data to the other scans. Since coming on board The Golden Bee, Raphael had endeavored to train the technicians up to his high standards, but having only worked a short time together as a team their skill levels weren’t up to his, so he performed his own deep scan. When he pulled out of it, he was able to correlate his readings with those of his team and refine them to a higher degree.
Combined with the findings from the scouts, the results were shocking. Many of the nomad camps had been attacked and decimated by enemy forces. People were missing, mostly children and women. There had already been an attack on the main village of BerAir, with a loss of five men from the Command and several natives injured. And worst of all, the scans indicated there was an enemy camp situated in the middle of the high rugged mountain range within the interior of the isle. Fortunately, at this time there were no other enemy ships in the vicinity of BerWare space, but that was no guarantee as the enemy also had ships that utilized hyperspace and could be on the isle in an instant.
It was a sober Raphael who brought his findings to Commander Esturias, along with his superior Communications Specialist Commander Arcturo Kadish. His immediate superior agreed with Raphael, due to the complexity and severity of their findings, that Raphael would be the best person to present the report to Commander Esturias. The Head Commander could then determine how best to report these findings to Commander Lantars and whether or not to correlate them to whatever his own teams had been able to produce.
Commander Esturias was informed via comm by Kadish that the long-awaited report had been prepared; immediately thereafter, Commander Kadish and his junior officer, DeAires were told to report to the Head Commander’s quarters to deliver the report.
As they sat down, Specialty Commander Kadish stated: “Sir, first, I want to apologize for any misunderstandings that have occurred between me and Line Commander DeAires, sir. I have observed this young man working very hard this past day on this report. He wasn’t satisfied solely with the findings of his own team, so he went in on his own deep scan and came out looking very pale. However, he controlled his reactions to what he had seen and continued working on correlating his findings with that of his team. The resulting report has been refined to a high level and now is prepared for your review, sir.”
Esturias studied the strong tanned features of the dark-haired Airian specialty commander for a few moments before replying: “I sense a shift in your feelings in regards to DeAires; are you willing to work together for the benefit of the whole rather than retaining any personal sense of animosity or dislike?”
Both of the officers nodded together. Kadish spoke first: “Young DeAires admitted to me, sir, that he wasn’t as accustomed to working within the chain of command since he had worked as an aide directly under Top Commander Lyonell on board The Golden Lion. He has indicated that he is now willing to be educated in the proper protocol while assigned to this ship and other Command vessels in the future.”
Esturias smiled briefly, replying: “Well, I’m glad to hear that the two of you have reached a new level of cooperation. Goddess knows we’re going to need every man present to function at a high level to overcome what has been put in front of us.”
Esturias noted that young DeAires was waiting on cues from his superior officer before speaking. He glanced over at Kadish with a question in his eyes, “Well, where is this report on BerWare?”
“Go ahead, DeAires”, ordered Kadish, “Sir, I’m not sure if I fully understand his methods, but the findings are startling – DeAires?”
Raphael proceeded to detail the findings of his department’s readings of the Isle of BerWare and the existence of an enemy stronghold there. Coupled with the reports from the scouting mission to BerAir, the report was quite daunting. At the end, Commander Esturias was looking rather startled at the mention of the enemy camp and asked: “Why hasn’t this information been picked up by our ship scanners?”
“I’m not sure, sir; all I know is that somehow the enemy has developed some shielding techniques that confuse the ship-board sensors, but not a deep psychic scan and my own remote viewing abilities. I can also decipher the change in frequencies to a higher degree than the ship and my fellow team members – whom I haven’t been able yet to train to the degree of sensitivity required for such a detailed overview – sir”
“Well, DeAires – I’m glad you’re on our side and not on the enemy’s! With this new information we can arrange a new attack on this base and eliminate much of the problem on the planet for the time being until the enemy brings in another surge into this area”, replied Esturias.
The commander paused for a moment and then lifted a paper from his cluttered desk: “And now, gentlemen, we’ve been summoned to a debriefing and planning meeting on board The Golden Falcon. DeAires, your presence was specifically requested by Commander Lantars, as well as Commanders Tazo, Kantor, Lantrill, Feline Warriors Ulrus and Racquer, Commander Cortes, and a few others involved in the incident on the surface of BerWare. Commander Kadish, you are to remain here and oversee the Line Communications Station while DeAires in gone. And DeAires, you should pack some extra clothes with you. Do you have any of your native Morovian gear on board?”
Raphael looked startled, replying: “Yes, sir – I have some of the clothes I wore at home on my last visit to Medina.”
“Thanks for the reminder, DeAires – I sometimes lose sight that you’re officially my foster brother, although you would be more of the age of a son should I have been mated already…” replied Esturias, thoughtfully. “I’m going on this little adventure, too; we’ll see what Commander Lantars has in store for us…”
“I’m going, too”, insisted Monteras, as he leaned against the bulkhead of Raphael’s sleeping compartment, watching as Raphael collected an extra uniform and some of his Medinian tribal gear into a pack, along with some personal items. “Officially, I’ll be your guard; unofficially, I’ll be present to keep you out of trouble, Rafe!”
“I’m not sure how Commander Esturias will view your request, but I’ll run it by him”, replied Raphael.
A deep baritone voice interrupted, “You don’t have to – I’ve already requested Monteras to be present as an escort for the party, especially if we go to the surface… as I have a strong hunch we will,” said Commander Kantor, studying his younger brother, “I’m not crazy about leaving you to the mercy of Commander Lantars or the BerWarians – in any case, my presence has been requested, too. There were some Eagles involved in the latest incident on the planet and there will more involved if we have plans to attack any enemy bases on the surface – and you’ve found something, haven’t you, little brother.”
“That’s currently highly classified information, Commander Kantor”, replied Raphael rather primly. “You’ll have to wait until my latest report is shared in the general planning meeting.”
“Glory be– my impulsive camel boy is becoming an expert in military protocol!” exclaimed Ezekiel.
“Well, being the brunt of several lectures from various levels of commanders does leave an impression”, replied Raphael. “I’ve managed to master my gifts and reactions to the energies; now, I need to master the complicated protocol of the Command!”
Kantor and Monteras laughed, but Raphael was deeply earnest in his assessment of his flimsy standing in the opinions of some of the senior officers, with the exception of Commander Esturias. Not for the first time he wished to be back either on The Golden Lion or at home in Medina with his new mate, Julia. He sighed deeply, knowing he would just have to make the best of whatever came. Hope would sustain him as it always had. He finished packing the last belt and a comb for his long hair into the pack, turning to his brother and friend, “Well, I’m glad I’ll have the two of you beside me this time…”
“What are you sensing, Rafe”, asked Ezekiel, with a serious note entering into his overall tone.
“A fulcrum of sorts, Ezekiel – I don’t quite “see” what direction it will take me in, yet.”
“Hmm – well, we better get our gear together, too! Monteras, Commander VaCoupe wants us ready to leave in two hours!” replied Ezekiel.
Monteras laughed in response to Ezekiel’s comment, saluted, and left to collect his already full pack.
A short time later, Raphael shivered a bit when the shuttle set down in the huge landing bay of The Golden Falcon. It was here he last encountered a dark lord, who, before he died, shouted, “You belong to me!”
Although he had largely recovered from the trauma he experienced as a prize captive of the dark human trafficking network that was set-up on Morova, he still dreaded coming into contact with that low-frequency energy… which was now in place upon the isle below their orbit, BerWare. And he had a sense that his skills and experience in dealing with those energies would be called upon…soon by Commander Lantars, Commander Esturias, and perhaps some of the leadership of BerWare.
“Welcome back men!” greeted Commander Lantars, welcoming the crew members from The Golden Bee and other ships to the general meeting. When he spied the golden hair of Commander Kantor and his younger brother, Line Commander DeAires, he smiled with satisfaction, Esturias is overly protective of that young pup, DeAires… and who is that giant walking beside him? Looks like his brother…hmmm. He had been working on designing an excuse to get his hands on DeAires without acting like a tyrant and maybe that priestess’ insistence the young man be present for this meeting would be grounds for him to “borrow” the skills of the talented, strange young man… He would have to work very carefully; VaCoupe was, after all, the son of the High Lord of the Pleiades, Lord Demetrius VaCoupe. And if he remembered correctly, DeAires mentioned something about being the foster son of Lord VaCoupe, as well.
First on the agenda was a brief report given by the Sirian Commander Tazo Gia on what occurred on the planet surface, with the mortality statistics given in neutral black and white. Commander Gia also gave a quick rundown on the findings collected by the scout ships before they were attacked in BerAir. According to his report several nomadic tribes had been attacked by the negative Orion ships and some of their people kidnapped, especially women and children. Apparently the king and his high council of chieftains were extremely agitated by the attacks as their people had nothing by which they could defend themselves from sophisticated space-based invaders.
Next Commander Esturias presented the findings of his ship’s Communications Station research regarding the present state of the BerWare isle in regards to the situation involving the enemy presence. Commander Esturias was careful to steer any discussion away from DeAires. He had studied the report himself and was well versed enough to speak with some authority, even if he didn’t quite understand the methodology used in gaining the data.
Meanwhile, Raphael sat quietly, looking down at the table’s surface, while Esturias spoke. His brother, Commander Kantor was seated on his right; Tazo Gia was seated on his left. Other Eagles and Feline warriors had seated themselves to the outside of this core group, including Lantrill and Feline Warriors Ulrus and Racquer; Eagle Monteras and a few others, creating a protective barrier between DeAires and the other crews. Commander Esturias understood what was going on and didn’t insist this time that DeAires be seated next to him.
Then, Operations Commander Cortes of The Golden Bee spoke up about receiving word from Commander Esturias regarding an enemy squadron approaching the village of BerAir before the incident unfolded; the squadron had not yet shown on the ship’s scanners when the warning came in.
A roomful of military men started when a strong female voice interrupted, “Then where did the report originate from, is my question?”
Commander Esturias winced; it was the Priestess, Lady Arla Vanderis of BerAir, who interrupted Cortes’ report. With a quiet voice, Raphael spoke up, “From me, Lady Arla — In the midst of meditation, I felt the presence of the enemy frequency. Tuning in, I saw the squadron and knew its intent – an attack on our ships and BerAir.”
Cortes verified his findings, “It was just a few minutes later that our scans picked up the approaching squadron – but the early warning from DeAires was enough to alert the ships on the ground and get most of the ground troops under cover, including their commander, Tazo Gia.”
“Commander DeAires”, asked Lady Arla, pursuing her line of questioning even more fiercely, persisted: “Is it common for you or anyone on your ship to see such things before your ship’s scanners pick them up?”
“No, my Lady – I’m one of the few people who can do this”, replied Raphael, feeling more uncomfortable under the intensity of the priestess’ scrutiny and that of the rest of the officers present who were listening to the exchange.
Just then Top Commander Lantars decided to make his move and interrupted the exchange between Raphael and Lady Arla: “Then we have to commend Line Communications Commander DeAires for his alert response to a perceived threat, as well as the quick response of your fighter teams, Commander Cortes”, said Top Cmdr. Lantars. “And now, I wish to utilize the unusual skills and talents of Line Commander DeAires in planning a new attack on the enemy forces presently stationed on BerWare.”
Esturias glared at the smug Top Commander, but in the end both men were out-maneuvered by the determined priestess, Lady Arla. She spoke with a voice that carried from one corner of the large conference room to another: “As a representative of the High Council of BerWare, I object to planning any further operations on our isle without the express knowledge and approval of our King and Queen. I would like you to send a delegation from your fleet to meet with our High Council before you make further plans to land ships and men on our soil.”
She continued on relentlessly: “And I want young DeAires to be a part of the delegation, along with Commanders Tazo Gia, Kantor, and Lantrill, plus any representatives you choose to represent your ships, Commanders Lantars and VaCoupe.”
Not for the first time in his career within the Command did Raphael feel like melting into his seat. He could feel the collective wrath of the two competing head commanders clashing over his golden blonde head. He continued to stare at the table, ignoring everyone. Then he looked up at Esturias and indicated with hand signals that he had nothing to do with the insistence of the priestess for him to attend the delegation. Esturias nodded in acknowledgment and signed back: She’s been planning this since she first heard about your abilities. And I think her strong-willed Queen is behind this request.
Commander VaCoupe finally spoke up: “As much as I would hate to commit sending DeAires to the surface, I am willing to submit to the demands of your High Council. Are you willing to do so, Commander Lantars?”
Lantars sent VaCoupe an angry glance, quickly hidden, and faced the priestess, speaking gravely and formally: “I agree with Commander VaCoupe. We will send the men you have requested, if I would be allowed to accompany the delegation?”
“Actually, Commander Lantars”, replied Lady Arla with a grim, but polite smile that brooked no argument: “we would rather Commander VaCoupe represent the Fleet, as his Father is also the Head of the High Council of the Pleiades. Is that agreeable with you, Commander Lantars?”
Raphael got the impression that Commander Lantars was extremely disappointed as he wanted to claim his services on the return trip, but he was cleverly played by the priestess who was clearly experienced in handling powerful men. Lantars had to nod in agreement and reply, politely: “Certainly, my Lady; we will have Head Commander VaCoupe represent the senior commanders of the fleet at the reception for our dignitaries.”
“Excellent, gentlemen”, replied Lady Arla with another smile, as she glanced again towards the silent Raphael. “I will send a message to our King and High Council to expect your representatives tomorrow morning at the government building in the village of BerAir. Now, if you’re done, sir, I would like to attend to my evening prayers and meditation.”
“We’re not done, but thank you, Lady Arla, for your kind invitation. I hope we can clear up any misunderstandings that may have occurred due to the incident in BerAir the other day”, replied Lantars, implying that the blame lay with the men from The Golden Bee. Commander VaCoupe bristled slightly, but knew well enough that the priestess was in control of the situation and understood exactly what happened and why…so he endeavored not to display his emotional response to the dig from Lantars. Everything would get explained – as much as you can explain what DeAires did with his skills and abilities – to the king and High Council tomorrow.
The meeting continued on with some preliminary planning being done in regards to what troops to commit to the upcoming operation, the status of the ships (The Golden Falcon was still being repaired from the latest attack and now another ship was in need of some repair from the latest incident). However, the heart and fire of the meeting had dissipated and it soon fizzled out completely.
Commander Lantars announced that the men from The Golden Bee could overnight on the Falcon and then ship out on a shuttle the following morning, accompanied by the indefatigable Lady Arla. He had one of his aides direct the crew from The Golden Bee to their temporary quarters and disappeared into his cabin to sulk.
That evening, VaCoupe notified his remaining operational commander Jeffries to prepare an attack force that would take out the offending enemy base as soon as they got approval from the BerWare High Council. Ships and troops from at least five of the battle destroyers would be activated on his command. He wasn’t going to wait around until some High Council made up their minds about cleaning up their isle of the enemy influence. He didn’t care if Lantars objected to his plans; he was a man of action and would accept the consequences.
Commander Cortes would also be returning to The Golden Bee to oversee preparations to depart from BerWare space once the isle was cleaned up. They could always return later. And some of the Ashtarian engineers would be left behind to facilitate the remaining repairs on The Golden Falcon, plus at least five of the battleships would remain behind, also, to support the mothership and prevent her from being overwhelmed by further attacks. Lantars couldn’t possibly object to his plans and even if he did, once his own men (including DeAires) were on board, they would be departing. Head Commander VaCoupe wasn’t in the mood to comply with any further requests from Commander Lantars. He would take the rest of his fleet and find another one of the motherships and endeavor to bring back communications between the ships throughout Pleiadian space.
Morning found the delegation from the Command disembarking just outside the eastern walls of the township. There they were greeted by a tall dignified older man who met their party at the gate to the village. The man was dressed in a colorful robe with bold geometric patterns, characteristic of the BerWarian love of bright colors. Like all BerWarian males, he wore his straight blue-black hair to his waist. Although athletic in appearance, the man was clearly not a warrior or chieftain.
The tall BerWarian paused before Commander Esturias and bowed briefly, introducing himself: “Greetings, Commander VaCoupe. Welcome to BerWare. I am Llanello, an advisor for King Stephanus. I have been charged with leading your party to the government buildings where the king and queen await your arrival.”
Llanello bowed once more and with a dancer’s innate grace turned to lead the party into the village. As they passed the temple, the party was greeted by a procession of priestesses from the ancient landmark. Lady Arla joined her ladies and followed the party as they walked slowly along the wide brick streets. They passed by quaint and charming old abode homes and shops, through the growing heat to center of the village plaza where there were people waiting in anticipation of their arrival.
Llanello led the party to the foot of a short series of sandstone stairs in front of a sprawling single story building. There he stepped aside as the delegation from The Golden Bee came to halt at the base of the stairs. Llanello announced them and then bowed, climbing the stairs to stand behind the queen who was waiting there for their arrival. The king was not to be seen. Lady Arla left her priestesses, also, and joined Llanello to wait the queen’s pleasure.
All eyes focused on the queen, a tall lady dressed in white and gold, her knee-length white blonde hair dressed with tiny braids and woven through with beads and bells. Raphael thought her strong features and beautiful blue eyes lined with violet reminded him of Lord VaCoupe; perhaps a cousin related to Esturias but was surprised when his stern commander warmly greeted the lady as he climbed up the stairs, “Sister! Claudine – it has been a long time since I’ve seen you!”
So that’s why Esturias was chosen – and not Commander Lantars, thought Raphael with a smile. Another relative of sorts… since he was their father’s foster son. He watched with great interest as the two siblings greeted each other with affection.
Queen Claudine laughed in delight to see her older brother. She had been married young to the King of BerWare and had not visited Medina for many years. And with Esturias busy with his command responsibilities, the two siblings had not seen each other for an age. Still, there was business to attend to, and the Queen was all business, as well as extremely welcoming to the Command delegation.
After greeting Esturias, she insisted he introduce all of the men present. The queen stepped down the stairs and greeted each one without notably acknowledging Raphael above all the others. Raphael was relieved although he noted the queen giving him a quick once over – her eyes widened as she read his fire signs upon his brow. However, after a brief pause and polite greeting, the queen moved on to the next man in line.
Raphael was relieved. He didn’t enjoy being singled out as being special above others. He preferred to be considered as a team member with specialized skills who could assist others in their jobs. And he didn’t appreciate being fought over by two commanders. He was aware that Commander Lantars wanted to use his skills, but currently he was committed to serving one leader, the one to whom he was currently assigned and that was Commander VaCoupe.
When the introductions were over, the queen guided the party into the chambers of the High Council, while continuing a discussion with her brother. Guided by Llanello, the men of The Golden Bee filed into the building and found places to sit in the main council chamber. Meanwhile, Esturias and Queen Claudine shared a few minutes together near the entrance of the chamber. There Esturias informed the Queen Claudine that Raphael DeAires was their foster brother.
Queen Claudine was curious about Raphael. She had heard from Lady Arla how he had guided his grandson, the Sirian commander and his Feline Warrior companion, into the Temple from The Golden Bee; and then managed to communicate with the crystalline elementals in the heart of the tunnel to change what he foresaw the outcome of what appeared to be the impending death of his relative. She had heard of great shamans having such abilities, but this young man, barely grown in years, was, apparently, untrained by shaman or priest. As she had greeted him, she felt a great Light emanating from within his being, but with a humble outer personality intent in not drawing unnecessary attention to himself.
Queen Claudine turned to her brother and asked, “What is the history of this strange young man – he seems to be extremely self-contained for one so young.”
“His is strange tale, indeed – he was a prized captive of the Dark for a decade, from age four to fourteen – originally sold into slavery by what had been his father. Just before he was rescued by his brother’s men, he witnessed the murder of his priestess mother, Lady Katrina, and was raped by men who were participating in a dark ritual. He was rescued and placed by his brother, who is an Eagle Commander, into the hands of our Father, Lord Demetrius, as his foster father. Then, he was briefly educated and ended up serving under Lord Lyonell on his mothership at age nineteen, due to his extraordinary skills and gifts… which he probably brought into this incarnation in anticipation of their need. Two lifetimes ago, he was a head commander of the Sirian Fleet, thus his interesting relationship to Commander Tazo… who happens to be his grandson from his last Sirian incarnation.”
“A strange tale, indeed, brother – I hope we haven’t violated any promises of secrecy for the lad. I have a sense that there is a great deal of pain still hidden carefully behind that quiet demeanor.”
“Yes – I’ve witnessed it on occasions, although DeAires is quick to bring himself back into balance. It is his strength, which allowed him to endure years of abuse and misuse by the dark forces of the enemy who were actively engaged in using him and many other children as sex slaves for their soldiers, agents, and those they infected with Artificial intelligence viruses. That is what happened to his father, but that is another tale. Now, I see your husband, the King, signaling us to join up with him at the head of the room”, replied Esturias thoughtfully.
The great audience chamber was impressive. The tribal community of BerAir had ancient antecedents that disappeared into the mists of time. With the exception of this village clustered near the ancient Temple, most of the inhabitants of BerWare were nomadic people, highly talented artisans known throughout the multiverse for their many products including carvings, beaded textiles, beautiful sandals, and hand-woven rugs, jewelry, beads and bells. The walls of the hall were made of sandstone with colorful hand-made tiles set out periodically in geometric designs. High thick sandstone columns were also carved with subtle geometric designs. Raphael looked around with interest at how the architecture of each isle he had visited thus far reflected the spirit of its people. He could also sense that most of the actual building was underground, similar to the manner in which the Medinians constructed their buildings, primarily due to the intense heat of the local summers with temperatures ranging from100 – 120 degrees F.
The seating arrangement in the great hall was simple; benches were arranged on u-shaped tiers facing a raised platform where the reigning monarch and his mate were seated. The visitors from the Command were seated to one side of the platform opposite the council, which was made up primarily of chieftains as representatives of their tribes and some of the Priestesses from the local temple. The stoic and powerful-looking chieftains were dressed in colorful robes, seated upon the benches talking amongst themselves as the Queen took her place besides her mate, King Vanairus.
While the men waited, Raphael suddenly felt an oppressive rush of energy directed towards him and looked around the tiers to see if he could identify the source. It seemed to emanate from one of the chieftains sitting close to the edge of the platform nearest the king. Raphael noted the man, another tall, powerful-looking BerWarian warrior chieftain, with a great scar marking his face, possibly taken during a duel. For some unknown reason, the chieftain was glaring directly at Raphael, who then politely moved his attention to the king.
The king stood forth, holding up his arms to signal the crowd to hush. A naturally commanding figure, the king was a tall, massively built individual with a thickly muscled torso, and long thick straight blue-black mane cascading down his back. His colorful desert robes were ankle length, loosely worn over a short belted tunic which displayed his powerfully muscular bare legs. His leather sandals were intricately made and inlaid with tiny beads. The king’s thick wrists were loaded with beautiful thick heavily beaded bracelets and around his neck hung down several layers of necklaces made from variously sized beads and tiny bells. His arms showed tribal tattoos swirling up from the wrist to where they were hidden below the wide sleeves of his robes. Warrior plaits framed his distinctive powerful features, with his darkly tanned complexion, prominent slightly hooked nose, thick black brows, and brilliant deep blue eyes. He was, in short, a fine example of BerWarian masculinity and tribal elegance.
As the conversations ceased, the king began a dignified speech greeting the dignitaries from the Command. He explained to the BerWarian High Counsel, made up of tribal chieftains, the purpose of the meeting with the representatives from the Command. From what he understood the king explained the Command Fleet desired to cleanse the planet of all enemy influences, but as he addressed the gathering and the command staff alike, he made it clear he wanted a report given to explain some of the events which had occurred in BerAir the day before. In short, the king wanted proof there was an enemy presence on his isle and that the events of the prior day weren’t just a manifestation of outside interference from the Command itself.
An impatient chieftain stood abruptly as the king finished and said loudly: “It is true, my king, there are strangers who have invaded our lands. Some of our people are missing, camps destroyed. All of these on the edges of the mountains…”
Another man stood up, “Yes, my lord king, my own camp was hit by a raid in the night. We could not see the ships – but many of our people were killed or wounded. Who is doing this? We cannot defend ourselves if we do not know whom we are fighting, lord!”
Several other chieftains erupted into shouts, adding their voices to the pandemonium, until the king gave a vehement hand signal and shouted in a deep baritone: “Silence! Let the men from the Command help us understand what is going on here on our own isle. Has our world been violated by uninvited outlanders?”
Feeling the weight of the king’s angry gaze upon him, Commander Esturias stood up to address the Council. First, bowing to the king, he began: “My lord king, thank you for inviting us here to speak to you and your high council; however, regretfully, I cannot address what I have come to share with this entire gathering.”
Commander Esturias paused at the sound of loud murmuring in the tiers. The chieftains were agitated, upset, and angry at what they deemed a violation of their world. They wanted proof. They wanted revenge on whoever was responsible for violating their lands and people.
Signing for quiet, Esturias continued, speaking slowly and clearly in his rough BerWarian: “Understandably, you and your people are upset by this new enemy, one who does not come from our star federation, but one who is from the lower Orions. They are evil and have no compunction in bringing death and destruction to whomsoever gets in their way. They wish to conquer our star federation. I can frame it in no softer terms. And from our initial reports, it is clear this enemy from space has gained a foothold on your lands.”
This announcement only stirred up the chieftains more; they began to speak among themselves, pointing at the men from the Command. Raphael began to feel uneasy and looked again at the man who sat near the king. The man had a gloating look on his face. Raphael suddenly understood it was he who was channeling some kind of dark energy into the council and towards the king, to stir up the emotions of the tribesmen.
The king spoke up: “What can you share with us today, Commander? We are waiting for your explanation of these happenings – why our people have been targeted and by whom.”
Raphael whispered urgently to the Commander who glanced at him briefly as he sent Esturias a quick hand signal indicating: “Danger!”
Seemingly ignoring the signal, Esturias continued: “Your lord king, I regret we cannot share any detailed plans or information in a general meeting, especially due to the present situation where there exists an enemy presence on this isle.”
Uproar ensued among the disappointed, shocked, and upset chieftains, some standing and shouting, and waving their fists at the commander who coolly ignored the mayhem. For his part, Raphael was glad he wasn’t standing in the commander’s place.
The commander waited until the king had reasserted control over the gathering, shouting: “Quiet! Listen to what the commander has to say…”
Esturias briefly bowed his head to the king and then turned to the chieftains: “I would prefer, my lord king, that my men and I address yourself, as well as a small select group of your advisors and chieftains, in a smaller more secure room than this present setting. I will not discuss any of our plans or findings until then.”
The chieftains stirred uneasily, some offended by the outlander’s demands, but they turned to see what their king would decide. The chieftains knew that their own nomadic lifestyle made them vulnerable to attacks from the air and this was a new enemy they could not fight with their traditional weapons or highly stylized fighting methods. This enemy came in the night and stole women and little children, burnt precious shelters, and scattered valuable camels and goods. For the first time in their known history, these brave warriors felt uncertain about the future of their world and people – it was an extremely unsettling sensation to encounter in those who had been brought up since childhood to pride their physical strength and their age-old traditions, their freedom to roam the untracked desert at will.
The king stood again, “What say you, my people? Shall I speak to the commander and his men?”
There were shouts of “No!” but they were drowned out by “Yes!” The king nodded at the consensus and turned back to Esturias, who was waiting patiently for a reply to his request. The king said: “My people have spoken. I will speak to you and your men tomorrow at mid-day. I will choose a small group of my closest advisors and select chieftains. We will meet in another room within this building. And now this gathering is over! Llanello, see these visitors are guided to their quarters for their stay.”
Raphael observed these proceedings with great interest. He noted his head commander’s disappointment when the king made it clear any private meeting would take place the next day. While the commander would have rather complete the mission, he was required to acquiesce gracefully to the king’s demands in order to keep diplomacy alive. Esturias bowed to the king and said: “As you desire, my lord. My men will meet with you tomorrow.”
With acknowledgement of his decision from the commander, momentarily satisfied the king stood up and with the rest of the chieftains, the queen, and their attendants, left the council chamber.
The priestess, Lady Arla, lingered long enough to get a message to Esturias. She said: “Commander VaCoupe, the Queen and I will also attend tomorrow’s private meeting with the king. The Queen is curious to learn more about your young Commander DeAires, for she is sure the king will insist on hearing about his reports and how he obtains the information. Meanwhile, commander, do keep a guard on your guest house. I sensed something amiss today in the room among the chieftains. And I noticed DeAires was aware of something, as well.”
“Thank you, Lady Arla”, replied the Commander, suddenly feeling tired, “I look forward to seeing Claudine tomorrow and you – I’m not sure about the king, however.”
“Ah, he is upset as his world has been suddenly invaded by unknown enemies and there are also some problems with a few of his close relatives”, said Lady Arla. His cousin is one of the chieftains whose lands have been affected by the enemy bombardments and he, himself, went missing for a few days in the backcountry only to emerge safe and well a few days ago. The king was very upset as his cousin is one of his closest kin and a childhood friend.”
“Thank you, Lady Arla – I will advise my men to keep watch tonight and every night as long as we are here”, replied Commander Esturias. “Now I really must go – Master Llanello is staring at us –.”
It was a thoughtful Commander who followed Master Llanello out to the porch and rejoined his men who were waiting there. Upon reaching the bottom of the outside stairs, Master Llanello signaled for some of the local guards to escort the visitors to a nearby residence which would serve as guest quarters during their stay.
Until a decision whether or not the Command would be allowed to take out the alleged enemy presence could be reached by the High Council of BerWare, Esturias really did not have any options short of creating a diplomatic incident involving the king and his own sister, the queen. He would have to be patient and wait at least until the next day to see what results could be accomplished during the private audience with the king and his advisors.
The house that served as temporary lodging for the visitors was solidly built, out of a combination of abode and native sandstone. There was a high abode wall around a small entrance garden and a massive front door. The sprawling building was constructed in a square with an inner garden courtyard, with a bathing pool and fountains to cool the atmosphere. A large canvas was stretched across one corner of the courtyard to protect the inhabitants as they were working or dining outside. Apparently the house was currently unoccupied although well-kept, set aside for visiting dignitaries such as themselves. Benches and tables were spotted around the garden and there was a free-standing fireplace/oven for baking the local flatbreads, which was also used for warmth on cooler nights.
The house was one-story above ground, with at least two stories below the surface. The main floor was used for family gatherings, eating, and cooking, while the first story below ground was for sleeping. The lowest floor was for storage. The three-foot walls of the ground level were constructed of abode; the lower floors were carved out of the native sandstone. The walls of all rooms were plain and white-washed, without ornament.
As the day waned and the desert air began to cool, the men were served by a group of local women who brought them an evening meal, placing the food on one of the tables in the lovely garden courtyard of the house. The women set down their trays, curtsied briefly to Commander Esturias and left, walking gracefully through the house.
As the men gathered to eat, a fountain sprayed water into the air, cooling the atmosphere. There was the scent of flowers and herbs present which reminded Raphael of the VaCoupe Compound in Medina. The food was simple fare, but ample.
Out of a sense of precaution, Esturias had the men, except for DeAires; take turns keeping watch on their quarters in the sprawling abode house. The night was quiet except for the chirp of crickets in the garden and the sound of water. For once, a grateful Raphael didn’t have any sense of danger, so he went down to the lower story and slept, while the other men took turns standing watch for a couple of hours and then took their own rest.
The next morning dawned hot, the intense sun of BerWare shimmering off the white-washed abode walls of the village as the Command party was, again, escorted back to the Council building. A few curious natives lingered in the village plaza as the tall BerWarian warriors took position on the steps outside the building, seemingly impervious to the heat and glare. The command party stepped within the cooler rooms of the building and was met by the king’s advisor, who guided them into a smaller nearby chamber where a smaller group of chieftains were already seated on stone benches covered with colorful pillows for comfort. There was another smaller platform where two large chairs were placed for the king and queen. Benches were placed opposite to the chieftains for Commander Esturias’ party. When the men were seated, the king and queen made their appearance, followed by Lady Arla, some of her priestesses, and Master Llanello.
Esturias made sure that Tazo Gia, Kantor, Lantrill, and DeAires were included in the private audience with the King, Queen, and their councilors. Each of the men wore their Command uniforms with the tribal robes (if any) of their home isle. Raphael wore Medinian robes over his uniform, while Tazo wore loose Sirian robes over his. All of the officers with long hair wore tight braids. Commander Gia’s shoulder length hair white-blonde hair hung loose as always.
Commanders Kantor and Lantrill wore their long formal cloaks, but each of them was also wearing tribal jewelry. Lantrill, of course, also sported his tribal tattoos, as well as beads woven into his thick reddish mane.
As the Head Commander Esturias purposefully wore an outfit to stand out; wearing traditional Medinian robes over his Command uniform. His long black hair was carefully braided into one long tail. He wore a brightly hued violet sash around his waist, the VaCoupe color. He also wore a checkered chafiye (head scarf) around his shoulders, which added color to his outfit.
As the Command officers settled into their pillows, Raphael could sense the tribal leaders present relaxing somewhat. It was clear from their carefully chosen dress, that each of the officers had some kind of tribal background or awareness – Raphael calling upon his lifetime as a camel boy as he did not have tribal blood during this one.
Again, the king made a short speech welcoming the commanders to the conference and then signed for Commander Esturias to take over. All speech was in private mode telepathy inside the smaller, more secure setting.
The first topic of discussion was the initial battle which had brought Command Fleet to the rescue of The Golden Falcon. Commander Esturias detailed how they had come upon the mothership under a full-scale attack by an enemy fleet and had subsequently defeated them handily. As the commander described the swift and decisive attack structure, Raphael noted the desert warriors present nodding with interest; it was apparent that they were quickly developing a respect for the warrior who was standing in front of them.
Then, Commander Gia described the most recent incident and his misadventures in the Temple and the tunnel beneath the structure. While the penetration of the Temple was initially frowned upon, especially by the priestesses, it was apparent the Command men were not attempting to commit any sacrilege by their presence there. Tazo described how he had been aided by his telepathic and psychic connection with his relative, Line Commander DeAires, both in locating the tunnel and his escape from certain death when it appeared, he and his companion, Captain Ulrus, were cornered by enemy troops coming in behind them into the tunnel. The attention of the chieftains, King and Queen, and the priestesses then all turned upon the introspective presence of Raphael, who seemed to be staring vacantly into space.
“Line Commander DeAires, let’s not have any display of false modesty here”, said the Queen, with a smile. “We have been informed of your unusual talents and gifts by our High Priestess Lady Vanderis. These are gifts from the Goddess and should be highly honored. We would be delighted to be able to utilize your services here on our isle, but fully understand your commitment to the Command, upon the direction of my brother, Commander Esturias and by the order of my Father, Lord Demetrius VaCoupe.”
Suddenly aware the room’s attention had shifted to him, Raphael replied politely: “Pardon me, my Lady Queen — My particular gifts never shut down – I was in the process of scanning the vicinity for the presence of any low-frequency beings. It is something I am accustomed to do no matter the setting.”
He paused before continuing, as he turned to the king: “My lord, I regret to inform you that one of the men in this room has been over-taken by the same artificial intelligence that took my blood father…”
Then, he stood up and dramatically pointed to a man who was sitting close to the king. It was the same chieftain with a scarred face who had been staring at Raphael the prior day. The man reacted standing up and raising a fist towards Raphael as he protested loudly his innocence. The commanders Kantor and Lantrill did not wait on a command from Esturias, but immediately erupted into action in response to Raphael’s warning. Leaping across the room, Kantor and Lantrill seized the scar-faced chieftain in question who tried to evade them. The man struggled vigorously in their hold, shouting epitaphs against the commanders and the Queen. Kantor and Lantrill dragged him out into the middle of the room and forced the chieftain to his knees in front of the King and Queen. For her part, the Queen casually extended a finger towards the man, rendering him temporarily silent even as he still struggled in the grip of the commanders.
For his part the King stood up, looking stunned. The accused man was a cousin of his and a close boyhood friend. He felt his entire life crumbling around him as he stared into the wild crazed eyes of a man who had been close to his heart. He ordered the Queen to release her hold and let the man speak in his defense and then addressed the chieftain directly: “Salazar, my brother, stand up! What has happened to you? Is what this man accuses you of true? Have you some strange affliction?”
“It’s not true, my king! They are liars, especially the young officer. I am still your brother”, protested Salazar addressing the king while his eyes searched out his accuser. He screamed, “He is the evil one who is plotting against you, my king and brother!”
Salazar pointed at Raphael who backed away while shielding himself internally as he sensed a wall of dark cold hatred pouring through the man towards him. The man’s eyes turned black and without pupils. The queen and Lady Arla gasped as they felt the presence of evil emanating from Salazar and saw the change in the man’s eyes. He screamed at Raphael: “You are a liar and a worthless slave of your commander!”
Some of the chieftains shifted uneasily on the benches. They were clearly disturbed by what they were witnessing as Salazar had been a prominent chieftain from a territory at the edge of the rugged interior mountains. It was known he had recently disappeared for days and then as suddenly reappeared, looking unhurt. He had refused to explain his disappearance and had become moody in the days that followed.
For an outlander to openly accuse Salazar of some fault or wrong was a direct challenge to their nomadic way of life and the integral structure of their tribal system. Yet, they were also sensitive to energies being in tune with the life of their isle and sensed something was wrong with the chieftain who was standing defiantly screaming and yelling at his off-world accuser from the middle of the room.
Salazar continued his denial by bringing into question Raphael’s assumption of his guilt: “What proof do you have, outlander? What is this “artificial intelligence” you speak of – we have never heard of such a thing. Why do you attack me, a proven friend of the King? You are a liar! You are no better than a mean slave!”
Confused by Salazar’s vehemence, several of the chieftains present and the king looked from Raphael to Salazar, their eyes demanding further proof and an explanation of his accusation. Clearly they were disturbed and didn’t know who to believe or trust. Raphael felt their confusion, as well as a wall of anger, denial, and disbelief coming from the king who was the closest kin to the accused man.
The king was now staring at his cousin, feeling the strange energy, but in complete denial that his brother, his life-long friend could stand in front of him accused. He glanced angrily at the golden blonde stranger, glaring at him: “How can you accuse Salazar, my cousin, who has stood beside me since I was a child? What is this strange thing you accuse him of – I see no change in the man I have known. I agree with Salazar; prove it!”
Raphael sighed and turned to address the queen directly: “Perhaps, my Lady Queen, it would be wise to have your own High Priestess test this man for the presence of artificial devices for I am but a stranger here and unknown to your people.”
The Queen nodded and turned to her mate, the king for his permission: “My lord is it permissible to let the Lady Arla test your cousin?”
The king was still glaring at Raphael, but he heard the queen’s question. Still he hesitated as he didn’t believe anything was wrong with his cousin. Instead the king felt a deep uneasiness begin to eat away at him internally. After a few moments of indecision, he nodded reluctantly at the queen’s request.
The queen signed her priestess to come forward to scan the man who remained securely held down by Kantor and Lantrill. Lady Arla walked slowly around him, frowning as she scanned his etheric body… what was remaining of it. “Young DeAires is correct – this man has been corrupted by foreign devices. He is unclean and must be removed from your Presence at once!”
“No!” The king shouted even as one of the other chieftains momentarily left the room and summoned warriors to take the man into custody until it could be determined what to do with him. Kantor and Lantrill turned over custody of Salazar to the warriors who continued to hold the accused man’s arms tightly as he stood in the center of the room. “Stop! I do not believe this!”
Raphael could feel the king’s emotions surging as his infected cousin directed the rage of the dark lord controlling him through his body towards his cousin: “Why do you know about this thing within my cousin? Where do you get your knowledge, young man?”
Raphael braced himself energetically under the astral attack and calmly replied: “My lord king, gentlemen and ladies, I had the misfortune as a young child to be kidnapped. It was by the orders of my own father.”
Raphael felt the gasps and disbelief from his audience, but the king was still seething with anger and denial. He continued in his soft tenor: “I was stunned to find out that my own father would sell me into slavery. It was years before I understood his body had been taken over by a similar device that has been placed in this poor man. It empties the consciousness of the individual and allows a dark lord or entity to take command of the body and use it for its own evil purposes. I can only guess why your cousin, Salazar, is here today, my lord, but everything we have said here is being recorded by the enemy who is present on your isle.”
“I don’t believe you, stranger…outlander!” barked the king.
“Well, my lord… the man who had been my father tried to kill me. And there is a man here who witnessed his attempted murder of his own son”, replied Raphael gesturing towards Lantrill, who was now standing close behind him, alert to the disturbed emotional state of the king.
Lantrill spoke up, “It is true, my lord king. I was the one who shot the man who was about to kill a boy who was tied up and helpless. I did not know it was the boy’s father until the man was dead. He was about to kill the boy with a knife while raping him mercilessly. Commander DeAires was the boy who was nearly killed.”
Raphael closed his eyes as he felt all eyes upon him, his own painful past once again exposed in front of complete strangers. He took some deep breaths trying to steady his body under the onslaught of the emotional attack, as he felt Lantrill reach out to support his body. He felt a bit faint and was glad to have his friends near, even in the oppressive atmosphere of the chamber.
The king was still unconvinced of the guilt of his friend and cousin. “What becomes of him now; what becomes of my cousin? Can this foreign thing be removed?”
Raphael reopened his eyes and replied, “Regretfully, no, my lord king. Your cousin will have to be killed. If he is allowed to live, he will infect more of your people and a great darkness will take over your lands. His body has been compromised by the virus; he is a danger to you and your people. I am sorry to tell you this.”
“Why is this so – don’t you have modern medicines and technology to free my cousin?”
“No, not yet, my lord king”, replied Esturias, standing up. “We’ve had to kill other men like this before, ones we have captured on enemy ships. There is no way to remove the devices short of killing them. The devices have wires that grow and wrap around the spinal column and take over the nervous system and the heart.”
The king looked defeated for the moment, ordering his men: “Take him, my cousin, to a store room and lock him in. We will consider his fate tomorrow.”
As the man was dragged out, still yelling, the Queen sat observing Raphael who was looking rather pale after the confrontation. She studied him as he took a deep breath, feeling he was endeavoring to return to center. She smiled and then stated: “Thank you for looking out for the security of all in attendance here and the people of Salazar who might have been affected had he remained at large among us.”
“It is my sorrow, my Lady; this doom is come upon a man who is kin to your king. I have ever regretted the loss of my own father these many years hence. Yet, I cannot standby and allow your people to be further infected by these foreign devices”, replied Raphael, with a bow. As he stood up, again, he noticed the king was still staring at him with a frown on his face.
The Queen then turned to her brother and inquired: “How does the presence of this alien technology within Salazar affect our security here and, on our isle, Commander VaCoupe? Young DeAires told us that everything said in this room was being overheard by the enemy forces…”
Esturias spoke up – this incident with the king’s cousin was a distraction, tragic as it was – and he wanted to get on with the prime objective of this visit: “Your Graces; it is possible – what DeAires said. At any rate, we need to proceed with our plans to destroy the enemy camp that is located within the mountains – which was found by DeAires and his Line Communications team. You can see that your isle has upon it an infection that could destroy your people if allowed to spread.”
“We understand your desire to put these plans into action, Commander Esturias. And we are not entirely convinced there is an “infection” on this isle as you call it”, replied the King, “However, we must allow our Council to make the final decision before we allow the Command to take this action on our lands.”
Frustrated, Esturias nevertheless managed to curb his tongue and managed to reply: “Thank you, my Lord King… can we know how long this process might entail?”
“Give us one more day –“, replied the king, “When the news of the arrest of my own cousin Salazar, who has been infected by the enemy’s “virus” passes around the encampments, our people, and our warriors will be eager to learn more so they can assist you in your fight to dislodge and destroy the enemy’s presence here. We do not want any more of our people changed by this strange off-world technology.”
Esturias had to be content with the decision of the King; he bowed in response. As the commander’s party was escorted from the chambers, Raphael could feel the king’s brooding presence behind him, staring at his back as he left the room. He knew the king was still not convinced there was anything wrong with his cousin. The king did not trust the “outlanders”, their technology, or Raphael’s gifts. And he was trying to grapple with the fact that his cousin, Salazar, must die, all because of the word of a stranger to his isle. Raphael was sure he had not made a friend in the king that day.
Back at the guest house, Esturias set another watch, with each man taking guard duty for a couple of hours, all except for Raphael who was required to rest after his ordeal. Raphael didn’t let down his guard, either. Even as he sat outside in the pleasant courtyard, he sensed the town feeling like a place under siege or about to be attacked once more. He knew the dark lord who controlled the king’s cousin was enraged at his discovery and might be planning revenge by attacking the command party and/or the village. Raphael felt on edge, occasionally extending his senses out to survey the surrounding desert lands beyond the boundaries of the village. Tazo joined him as they sat in the growing shade of the evening. Lantrill and Racquer remained on guard.
“Grandfather – can you feel anything out there?”, asked Tazo; he was also feeling on edge.
Raphael nodded: “The dark lord that controlled the chieftain we uncloaked is angry; he wants to strike the village this night – and he has the ships to do it.”
Silently, Raphael connected with Esturias who was sitting inside the house: Commander – I don’t think you can wait on the BerWarians to come to a decision. There is a dark lord in charge of the enemy camp and he intends to attack tonight. He wants revenge for the discovery of his agent. I can feel it.
The reply was short and crisp: Understood, DeAires; I’ll inform Jeffries to get our ships in the air immediately, some for some air cover over the village and the others to directly attack the enemy camp.”
“Grandfather – I think we better find our way into the lower floors of this residence if the village is about to be bombarded –“cautioned Tazo.
“Just a minute, grandson”, replied Raphael, “I must warn the Queen and Lady Arla first – to get the people below where they will be safe.”
Raphael went within quickly – he had had an adequate read on both women’s frequencies to tune into them on a private telepathic mode: Queen Claudine – Lady Arla – get your people to safety immediately! The village is about to get bombarded by enemy ships tonight!”
Lady Arla responded immediately: Thank you, Commander DeAires – we will ring the Temple bells immediately in warning!
A few moments later the ancient bells atop the Temple rang out in warning. Raphael heard cries of dismay as warriors guided the startled villagers to safety within their homes, most of which had several levels below ground level and were solidly built out of native sandstone. Then Raphael, Tazo and the other men abandoned the garden and took refuge within the lower level of the solid abode guest house. Raphael found a large heap of pillows located in a corner and settled in to monitor the situation outside as the other men settled down in various watchful attitudes, some guarding the solid wood door, while a restless Esturias paced the floor.
After a few more minutes Raphael felt the presence of Command ships nearby, cloaked, waiting in preparation for the approach of the enemy vessels. As he remote viewed the situation he reported what he was seeing: Commander – our ships are above, just a few clicks outside the perimeter of the village. Now I see the approach of enemy fighters – like the ones who strafed our camps when I was a camel boy – smaller attack ships, highly maneuverable. I’m reaching out to warn our commanders of their presence, size, and speed.
Raphael nodded as the commanders acknowledged his transmission, indicating they had already picked up the ships as blips on their monitors. As the enemy ships approached within target range, he sent the message: Uncloak and attack!
Then, realizing what he had done, he shrugged and grinned sheepishly at Esturias who was glaring at him. Sorry, Commander – it was like I was Delos, again.
Don’t. Do. That. Ever. Again! Snapped Esturias telepathically as Raphael winced under the psychic barrage of his anger.
The solid house shook as the sonic impact of weaponry hit the outer walls. The commanders reported directly to Esturias this time… they had caught the whiplash of his anger, as well: Enemy ships destroyed, Commander. Shall we join the others in the attack on the camp?
Esturias replied: Leave two behind to keep watch on the village. There are several thousand people here to protect.
Acknowledged, sir, replied the wing leader. Three of the ships peeled off to join their comrades in the attack on the enemy camp.
Raphael allowed himself to fall into deep meditation, shutting out awareness of his restless commander, trusting the rest of the company to protect his body as he continued to observe the attack: The three silver ships flew rapidly across the dark skies above BerWare and came upon a firefight above the camp and one on the surface, as ground troops attacked the camp. The fighter ships uncloaked and added their firepower to the Command ships already present. Meanwhile, Feline warriors led by one of the Captains under Lantrill surrounded the camp, seeking out the location of the dark lord. In his scan, Raphael located him quickly… the darkest frequency present, jagged and vicious – and guided the awareness of the hypersensitive Feline warriors to their prey. They quickly overpowered him and took him out – there was no waste of energy in attempting to save such a person who had given his soul light over long ago to the Dark. Then, the remaining enemy warriors in the camp seemed to lose their direction, although some still fought to preserve what remained of their lives. The Feline warriors drove the remaining enemy fighters into the middle of the camp, forcing them to surrender their arms and submit to the Command. Then they carefully tied or shackled up the prisoners to be dealt with by the BerWarian High Council. The air fight continued, with the acrobatic ships diving around each other through the dark BerWarian skies. A thin curved moon began to rise above the horizon as the fight finally ended when one of the enemy ships blew up into a million pieces as the Command vessel’s barrage struck its engines setting up a chain reaction.
A triumphant signal was sent to Commander Esturias: Operation complete, sir! Situation under control; shall we transport the prisoners to BerAir for trial?
A relieved Esturias replied: Affirmative, commander. Bring your birds to BerAir.
Then the commander sent word to his sister the Queen: Claudine – it’s over. Your planet is secure. We will do another survey to make sure tomorrow, but the battle is over for now! Prisoners are being transported to BerAir to be dealt with by your High Council and the King!
An ecstatic Esturias reached down and pulled Raphael to his feet. As Raphael came out of his deep meditative state he blinked at the excited commander who was shouting in his face: “We won – we don’t have to wait for the Council to decide – the battle is over!”
Raphael stared at the commander for a moment and then slowly crumbled to the floor. Tazo explained as he went to drag his grandfather onto a pile of pillows again so he could sleep off his exhaustion caused by the deep scan: “Just reaction to being out of body so long, Commander – he’ll be fine in the morning.”
Esturias stared at his unconscious junior officer and shrugged, “Someone find him a blanket and watch over him. If it wasn’t for DeAires, this village could have been burning right now…”
Morning found some of the inhabitants of the village carrying bits of the destroyed fighter into the town center; metal was hard to find on the desert isle. Any materials scavenged by the natives would be put to good use, but Esturias ordered a couple of the men to go out and see if they could retrieve the flight records of the vessel before they were destroyed.
Raphael finally woke from his deep slumber, ravenous. Fortunately, their hosts had provided the Command guests with some simple rations, including loaves of bread, a kind of soft cheese, fruit, and vegetable bars, with hot herbal tea to wash it down. Lantrill, Racquer and Tazo were already eating their fill and pushed a plate in Raphael’s direction as he stumbled over to the makeshift table, a wooden plank placed over two decorated stools. After a couple of bites, he felt better, and began to look around. Esturias was nowhere to be seen.
Tazo noticed his grandfather looking around and explained the commander’s absence: “Commander VaCoupe was summoned early to meet with the Queen and King. He was going to take you with him, but we couldn’t wake you.”
Raphael nodded at that information and still noticed someone absent: “Where’s my brother…Commander Kantor?”
Tazo sighed: “He’s gone out to survey the wreckage outside the village. Commander VaCoupe wants to collect any data and information on the make of the vessel before the villagers pick it apart for material. Apparently, metal alloys are scarce in these parts.”
Tazo continued: “The rest of the men are posted on guard outside in the garden and in front of this house. Commander Esturias wasn’t too sure what kind of reception we would get after going around the Council and attacking the enemy camp without their express permission.”
“Ah… that may have diplomatic repercussions if and when the BerWarian representatives complain to Lord VaCoupe at the next session of the Pleiadian High Council – something about high-handed maneuvers done by the Command and all that”, sighed Lantrill, “Never mind we saved their arses in responding so quickly to the threat perceived by your scans, Rafe.”
“I guess we’ll find out soon enough”, replied Raphael as a squad of BerWarian warriors noisily pushed their way into the room, against the protests of the Command guards outside.
The lead warrior, a strapping young man about nine feet tall, stepped forward, “We are ordered to bring one Line Commander DeAires into the presence of our King and High Council! Which one of you men is he?”
As Raphael stood up, his cousin Monteras burst into the room yelling, “If you take him – I’m coming along!”
“It’s all right, Tomás”, replied Raphael, “They’re here to see that I’m safe. There could be other renegades at large in this nomadic society.”
The young BerWarian warrior nodded his face serious. Raphael felt his unease with the events of the previous evening. The young line commander knew quite well the feeling of having one’s world turned topsy turvy overnight. “It’s all right, captain – I’ll come along quietly”, he said.
In private telepathic mode to Tomás, he suggested that Commander Kantor try to get some more recruits for the Eagles while they were still in the vicinity of BerWare as he admired the powerful physiques of the young warrior and his comrades, whose native dress left little to the imagination with their short sleeveless tunics, belted close to powerful muscular torsos, displaying equally muscular legs and arms. Tomás quipped back: The local girls might never forgive us for taking these warriors away on our ship!
As Raphael was escorted across the plaza, he spied command troops bringing in a string of enemy prisoners under guard to be turned over to the king and his warriors. The enemy soldiers looked hot and exhausted, unaccustomed as they were to the intense heat of the desert isle. As Raphael scanned them briefly, he noted that all of the men were infected with the alien technology. They also appeared to be from outside the Pleiadian federation. Raphael didn’t recognize their frequency other than it was lower than most Pleiadians.
Then the warrior, who was escorting Raphael, jerked his arm bringing his attention back to his own plight.
This time Line Commander DeAires was brought to stand directly before the King and Queen; the entire Council was present as well, except for the imprisoned Salazar. The chieftain’s former seat was conspicuously vacant, close to where the king was seated. From time to time, the king stared at the vacant seat, his darkly tanned face filled with a complex mix of emotions.
Commander Esturias was standing to one side of the King below the dais, his face carefully neutral. He gave a discreet hand signal to Raphael indicating the King was upset. Raphael could feel the more pragmatic Queen accepted the necessity of the actions taken by the Command forces the night before.
With his dark blue gaze fixed upon Raphael, the king finally spoke, in a strident tone: “Line Commander DeAires – we are given to understand it was you who determined the enemy was about to attack our village last night for the second time. How did you come by such knowledge? You are a junior officer and have no authority to order attacks, if I understand your position within the Command structure correctly.”
Raphael bowed to the King and then to the Queen, acknowledging her presence as well. Standing behind the Queen, the High Priestess smiled discreetly at the subtle message conveyed by the young officer, much to the annoyance of an already irritated sovereign. Raphael stated his case with a quiet even voice, forcing all in attendance to listen carefully to his slowly and carefully delivered message: “Your Grace, I did not order the attack; I merely advised my Head Commander that enemy ships were heading towards BerAir. He responded by ordering simultaneous attacks on the incoming ships, as well as the enemy camp situated in the mountains. Commander Esturias did so to make sure that you would still have a village standing this morning and not be overtaken by enemy ground troops.”
Esturias started to step forward to defend his actions when the King abruptly cut him off with an irritated wave of his beringed hand: “Head Commander VaCoupe, we will address you after we finish interrogating this young officer of yours!”
“How can you see ships coming when you do not have access to monitors and equipment, DeAires?” demanded the King.
“My lord King, I am a seer – I can see into the past, present, and the future”, replied Raphael carefully. He continued: “I saw and felt the ships were coming, this time with the intent to inflict great damage – in response to the exposure of an agent of the Dark here within the village yesterday.”
“Do you mean my cousin Salazar whom you accused as being infected with the strange virus of the Dark… the man taken into custody yesterday during the audience?” inquired the King. “How do you know of such things, young DeAires? You do not look to be that old or experienced.”
This time the Queen spoke up, interrupting her mate’s interrogation of the young officer: “My brother, Commander VaCoupe, confessed that the young man was at one time a captive of the dark forces. He was rescued when he was but fourteen. For one as sensitive as he appears, the memory of the frequency of the dark would remain with him for the rest of his life if I read him correctly. And Commander DeAires told us much the same thing yesterday when you questioned his exposure of Salazar as being a victim of some sort of alien technology. Is this not so, Commander DeAires?”
“You are correct in your assessment of my abilities and experience, my Lady Queen – the frequency signature of the Dark, especially of its agents and the dark lords themselves – is etched permanently upon my consciousness. It causes me great unease to encounter it when performing my scans, but I do so to assist the Command and did so last night to protect the people of your village”, replied Raphael, bowing again to the Queen.
“Then we must honor you for your service on behalf of our people and our isle, Line Cmdr. DeAires”, replied the Queen, effectively overruling her mate the King. Raphael could sense an underlying tension between the two rulers, but kept his features neutral, as he bowed to both of them. The Queen stood up and addressed the High Council members present: “What say you, people of BerWare – shall we honor this man and his fellow officers for their bravery facing and dealing with our mutual enemy?”
The chieftains acted as if they were just waiting for an excuse to stand up, as they rose up and began cheering, releasing some of their pent up tension and anxiety. The King, seeing that his mate had effectively derailed his effort to further interrogate the young officer, slumped back in his chair, although he was careful to mask his irritation at being upstaged.
The Queen ignored him and gracefully descended the stairs of the dais and came forward to warmly thank Raphael and her brother, Esturias, who moved quickly to the side of his junior officer. “Thank you, gentlemen, for your quick and decisive actions of last night… even though we would have preferred if you had waited until the Council had been able to reach a decision on whether or not to support your efforts on our behalf. We realize that in these unusual times, it is better to act swiftly than to wait too late – especially when it involves many lives.”
“This operation in clearing the isle is not quite finished, my Lady Queen”, replied Raphael. “There is a strong possibility that other men and possibly women have been infected with the enemy’s virus. As part of the information we discovered in our initial scans and reports from our scout ships, we noted that several nomadic camps have been attacked and even destroyed. Your people have been suffering. Someone within the capital needs to organize an effort to check on these people and to assist the survivors. You can request assistance from Commander Lantars of The Golden Falcon to provide transportation for some parties unless you wish to retain and use the nomadic modes of transport. We can provide you with a mapping of the areas affected and your warriors, accompanied by healing priestesses or medics, can go and determine what needs to be done – even to encouraging some of the nomadic bands to settle down on a more permanent basis near the existing oases.”
The Queen was studying the young man as he spoke, realizing that he wasn’t thinking about himself, but of the people, her people. DeAires seemed genuinely concerned about the welfare of the whole of her isle, something that touched her inner core. She began to understand just how important it was for DeAires to be a part of the Command during this difficult time, although she would have loved to retain his services as an advisor for her own isle and people… the people to whom she made a commitment when she mated their King. The Queen was also aware that her brother, Esturias was very concerned that he would lose DeAires; there was already a bond between her sibling and this orphaned, but highly talented and gifted young person. She was thankful that her father had the insight and wisdom to make him a member of their family, even as a foster son.
“Thank you for bringing up these points,” replied the Queen, “Now I begin to see what our High Council could work on as a project for the good of our people. The Command has been generous with their commitment of their warriors, resources, and equipment. Now, we need to organize on what best will heal our people within the parameters of retaining our unique tribal community upon this blessed isle – and who is best to do this task but ourselves.”
“I agree with what the Queen has stated”, said the High Priestess Lady Arla, stepping from behind the Queen’s chair. “I would suggest that Line Commander DeAires provide us with a mapping of the areas affected by attacks and some input on what type of individuals may be affected and how to identify if the enemy’s “virus” is spreading into the population. And then we need to care for those who have been wounded or lost family or the means to make a living. Some people will have to be resettled or have new chieftains assigned, chosen on the basis of our traditional tests involving the dancing contests. We do not need to further detain these officers from performing their jobs for there are other isles who also need their assistance. Let us work together here amongst ourselves. If we need assistance from outside, we can notify the Command for further assistance.”
“Thank you, my Lady Queen and Lady Arla, for your suggestions and perspectives. I do agree it is time for our Command forces to leave BerAir and return to our respective ships. There are several motherships that we have been unable to contact for some time. DeAires can provide the data that you have specifically requested by downloading the data via comm to your own library here in BerAir”, replied Commander Esturias. Raphael could feel the commander was restless and eager to get his fleet underway now that the primary objectives had been accomplished on BerWare for the present time. The commander continued, “Sire, King Stephanus, would you give us leave to gather our people and depart from here?”
Raphael could sense a certain inner conflict within the man seated on the throne of BerWare. The young commander recognized the king was still in a state of shock due to the realization his cousin and best friend would have to die. And it was an outlander, Raphael, who had passed irrevocable judgment upon his kin, by insisting the device of the enemy could not be removed without killing. According to the same outlander, this device made his beloved cousin an enemy of the people, an agent of the strange new enemy, without the ability to fight back or free himself as a warrior should. It was inconceivable such a thing would happen to one of his closest kin or, indeed, to any of his people.
Raphael spoke up, once more: “My lord king, our men are bringing into the village now, enemy fighters who were captured in last night’s fight at the enemy camp. All of these men are infected with the same hardware that your cousin has within his body. It is my belief; they are the ones who did this violation to your cousin. Shall you punish them, also, my lord? Again, I am sorry this fate has befallen your kinsman.”
Raphael knew it was understandable the king was still wrestling with his personal demons as anger, grief and denial gripped his consciousness. Raphael just hoped he wouldn’t project that anger towards him personally as the king worked through the first stages of intense grief at the loss of his cousin. And while he was no coward, Raphael wasn’t a trained warrior; the command party was clearly outnumbered by warlike nomads. Like the commander, he wanted to return to The Golden Bee and the relative safety of space.
Raphael was also aware that the Queen and the High Priestess were the persons who truly looked out for the welfare of their people. As all in attendance focused their attention on King Stephanus, it could be seen that he was staring at the floor frowning, engrossed in his own thoughts. The king looked around and realized the commanders were requesting his leave to depart. Impatiently, he flapped his hand at Commander Esturias, “Yes – yes… you have leave to depart. Just leave us the means to see that what the Queen and High Priestess have requested can be done for the people.”
Just as Esturias sidled up Raphael, intending to steer him out of the chamber, the king shouted once more: “Wait – what is to be done with Salazar, with my cousin?”
Esturias looked rather uneasy, but firmly replied: “He and the captured enemy soldiers will have to be shot, my lord. There is no other way. If they live, they will be able to spread the infection.”
The king looked stricken with grief as the commander’s words, a sentence of death for his cousin, sank into his consciousness. He looked up at the commander who was waiting for his permission to leave and snarled: “Go, Commander Esturias, and take your strange officer with you!”
“Thank you, Sire”, replied Esturias – growling in a low voice to DeAires, “Now let’s get out of here before we’re locked up by that King and they want to keep you so he can interrogate you further. My sister and her priestess have their own designs on you; wanting to keep you for a counselor or priest! Move, DeAires, let’s get out of here!”
Raphael bowed to the King and Queen and sent a warm glance to Lady Arla, who had stage-managed most of the past couple of days. BerWare was blessed to have two such remarkable women looking out for the welfare of their people. He almost regretted having to leave, but knew he wasn’t safe on BerWare with the king still in an unsettled mood.
Esturias politely bowed and then turned, striding quickly out of the audience chamber. He paused a moment at the front porch and breathed in the air, gently scented with the smell of herbs and desert. He said, addressing Raphael who had followed him out of the audience hall: “Now, let’s get our men together and get back to The Golden Bee. And we’re going directly to the Bee, not to The Golden Falcon. We’re going to be leaving BerWare space as soon as you get the report data to Lady Arla.”
“Yes, sir”, replied Raphael. “I’ll go gather up the Eagles, Lantrill, and Tazo. They’re still at the guest house. Will you be at the ships, sir?”
“No – I’m keeping you close, young man – I don’t want anyone kidnapping you right now with so many of these chieftains aware of your particular gifts – when there might be some renegades still loose on this planet”, replied Esturias. “Come on – let’s get going!”
“What’s the status, sir?” inquired Ezekiel when Esturias and Raphael returned to the guest house.
“Pack your things – we’re getting out of here!” ordered Esturias.
Tazo was walking out to the entrance, carrying his pack: “We’re ready to go, sir… and were just waiting for your orders.”
“Great!” replied Esturias, as he and Raphael were handed their packs by Lantrill and Racquer. “Let’s get back to the shuttle. DeAires, you can send your data from the shuttle or wait until we’re on board The Golden Bee.”
“Just a minute, sir – the King is going to try and stop us with his private guard while the Queen isn’t around”, cautioned Raphael. “Perhaps you had better order an escort from one of the ships… say, some of Lantrill’s Feline Warriors, to put off the King’s men so we can make a peaceful exit.”
Esturias nodded, “Good idea.”
He hit his comm link and got one of the communication techs on: “Have your skipper send an escort of ten Feline warriors to escort us from the village. We’re having some difficulty making a peaceful exit here.”
“Yes, sir – right on it!” replied the tech.
It took a few minutes, but the warriors soon were seen jogging around a corner, coming into a halt on the sandy walkway in front of the guest house. In front was a grinning Ulrus, “Ready, go, sir?”
“Yes, Captain Ulrus”, replied Esturias, “Let’s go…!”
The small company made its way cautiously out to the village center, passing by the great Temple and walking slowly down the wide brick-paved street towards the waiting shuttle. After handing over the enemy combatants to local warriors, the small patrol also joined the command party while they attempted to reach their ships.
Curious native BerWarians gathered at the edge of the street watching them. A few of the chieftains who had been attendance at the Great Council were in the crowd. The Feline warriors walked in front and to the rear of the party, glancing around at the crowd, appearing fully ready to take on any interference to their progress.
Then, at the end of the village square, Esturias saw a line of armed BerWarian warriors lined up blocking the street with the King standing in their midst, looking angry and defiant.
That this sight, Esturias heaved a great sigh, halting in mid-stride and contacted the ships, again, “Okay – this is VaCoupe – we’re going to have to do a little fly-over of four of the ships to convince these natives to release us. Have the shuttle ready and hot to go!”
“Yes, sir; I’ll convey those orders to our captains right away, sir!” crackled the answer.
Momentarily the ships fired up and cruised slowly over the village, with their gun ports open. A startled King looked up and realized the message: No one holds Command personnel as hostages. Enraged at being thwarted again, he nevertheless ordered his men to stand down and open a passageway for the Command personnel to pass through. Esturias jauntily saluted the King as he walked past: “We’ll be back in a few months, your Grace – to make sure that the programs needed for your people are implemented.”
Minutes later, all men on board, the shuttle safely took off, destination The Golden Bee.
We’ll stop here. The men of the Golden Bee safely returned to their ship, which was soon underway out of BerWare space. Cmdr. Esturias sent a coded message to his sister, the Queen: Watch the king; he doesn’t look in the mood to forgive DeAires any time soon!
Commander Lantars was disappointed when he was informed The Golden Bee and her fleet were departing, except for a few ships reassigned to accompany The Golden Falcon until she was, again, at full strength. And some of the Ashtarian engineers had transferred permanently to The Golden Falcon so they could overlook the repairs on the mothership and any other vessel damaged by the recent battles.
Thus, ends Raphael’s first encounter with Queen Claudine Coupe Vanairus, which was not destined to be their last.