tagSci-Fi & FantasyStarlight Gleaming Ch. 15

Starlight Gleaming Ch. 15

byTJSkywind©

Assassins, and then Sparanztlo, the Seventh Hell

by T.J.Skywind ©

Please note that this chapter contains some very dark elements, including sections of indirectly describing torture and non-consensual male on male anal rape.

While I am not personally a fan of BDSM, I am aware enough to know that those practitioners are generally ethical in their behavior to their partners; a dominant-top recognizes and respects the concept of a "safe" word, and understands that losing control is a serious, potentially life-threatening issue, one that may require intervention. (Thank you, writer Jerry Stahl and actress Melinda Clarke for Lady Heather from the TV series CSI. 'Pirates of the Reich' caused me a lot of clarifying introspection.)

Torture, on the other hand, is simply and purely evil. And underneath all the lies told to justify its use, those who practice torture do so to indulge their inhuman desire for unadulterated cruelty. The inclusion of such scenes are not for shock value but to convey the dangers of unregulated power; when torture is allowed, compassion is the first casualty, and restraint and justice quickly follow. Survival itself under such rule becomes a matter of luck or caprice.

There is also a section where a frank discussion of a character's past incest experiences takes place. It is clearly marked.

For those made uncomfortable by such literary images, feel free to skim or skip the offending section, or simply wait for the next chapter, which I hope will be exciting, engaging, and satisfying for those following this series of tales.

For those in the service, especially the US military, I am quite aware that when one says soldier, that means army. Those in the navy are sailors, not soldiers; a marine is a marine (and always a marine); those in the air force are airmen (even though they were once the army air force), and those in the coast guard are coasties.

In the Empire of Chimorro, all the military services are part of the Warrior social caste. Even an enlisted person who was born into the Free Farmer Caste socially outranks a Guild Caste whil"e on ac"tive duty. (Guild Caste is the highest common, or non-noble rank in the Empire. Remember, enlisted military service is the means for upward social mobility.) While the various Imperial services recognize the differences between their branches, even to fostering rivalry as to which is the best branch, the shared social caste means more than any differences between the various branches of service. If someone says that those of the different branches are 'all soldiers of the Empire', and while individually someone may feel their branch is better than the other services, the phrase is readily recognized as a reference to the more important shared social caste.

* * *

Thanks to my reader, gyfurune, who helps catch my mistakes. My debt to him continues to grow. Any errors that slip through are my own.

Summary

The humanoid reptilian draconians use personal cloaking technology that allows them to either become invisible or to disguise themselves as any human they wish to mimic. The cloaking also acts as a personal body shield, protecting them from most projectile weapons. The draconians are allies to the Aesir-Vedans, one of the three pre-eminent world powers. The other two are Atlantis and the Empire of Chimorro.

Captain Janetta Tlacotli, Ranji's lover, barely survived the attempt on her life by a draconian assassin, and managed to thwart the self-destruct mechanism, allowing the Empire to capture the technology. Attacking the Imperial research facility outright would provoke war with the Greys and their Atlantean allies, as well as other alien races.

Arjun Kandikan is getting too close to understanding how to create and manipulate energy fields. Even no longer working, the captured draconian technology will radically speed the process to the Empire creati"ng its o"wn defensive field technology.

To punish Arjun for leaving Veda and to sabotage the Empire's efforts, the draconians have initiated their plan to kill both father and son together."

"Ranji Kandikan, Senior Lieutenant in the Imperial Air Service, has left his family at High Guard "War" Base under the pretense of visiting his parents; his immediate goal is thwarting the assassination plot to kill his father, Arjun Kandikan. And regardless of how successful the rescue effort, afterward, Ranji must then leave for Sparantzlo, the training center for the feared Imperial Security to become an agent himself in order to protect his family—even if it puts him closer to the attention of Minister Supay, the head of Imperial Security and the most powerful man in the Empire after the Emperor, while hiding his allegiance to Itznacoco."

* * * * *

The hard jolt of the Condor's giant wheels making contact on the airfield woke me up. We'd arrived at Sentry War Base. As I stretched, scores of others did the same. It was several minutes before the huge, six-engined transport slowed to a halt. Then it turned and began to move slowly off the airfield and toward the terminal.

Standing up, I removed the ear protectors, stuffing them into the slot behind my seat. I collected my duffle bag and waited with the others to debark.

The rear ramp finally opened and we formed up into a queue to exit into the predawn summer morning, the air mixed with the smells of fuel, machines, and the ocean breeze coming from the north.

At the bottom of the ramp, three Air Security with tablets passed us through, scanning our ID cards, confirming and recording our arrival. I followed the others heading to the line of people waiting by the airport terminal. Some ran to meet loved ones. The rest of us headed into the brightly lit building for food, phones, or transportation elsewhere.

Just inside the doors, I was surprised to find Styen Topangiti and Lieutenant Bilan Monaycote waiting for me.

Delighted, I started laughing as I moved to them. "What are you two renegades doing out here at this time of morning? It's not even daylight yet."

"Waiting for my prodigal student to return home," Styen grinned. "How are you, Master Ranji?"

"Much better now," I told him. It was good to see them. I hadn't heard from either one of them since their departure from High Guard. Dropping my duffle, I gave Styen a solid hug with both arms, which he returned. Then I gave one to Bilan who also greeted me warmly. "I guess this means I don't have to rent a vehicle to get home?"

"No, sir," Bilan said, smiling at me. "We wouldn't dream of it."

Styen looked at me rakishly. "I don't know. Maybe we should make him walk. The exercise would be good for him."

Bilan gave him a conspiratorial look, his eyes merry. "Hmm. Maybe we should at that."

"It's two hundred and forty-two rads!" I exclaimed. "It would take me at least a day or two to cover that much ground."

"Ah, the sheltered life of the Imperial Air Service," Styen sighed, shaking his head dramatically. "Why, when I was in the Ground Service, we were up before dawn, and we had to walk fifteen rads just to get to the mess hall. All of it uphill, rain or shine, often with a full day-pack. After a hard day's training, it was fifteen rads, uphill, back to the barracks."

Bilan burst out laughing. "I think I was at that training center!"

Uphill both ways? I snorted in laughter.

Styen grabbed my duffle and we headed out through the terminal, then out to the parking lot. At the sedan, he tossed my bag into the back seat. I recognized it as the same one I'd ridden in during my last visit.

Styen went for the driver's side.

Pushing over my duffle, I got in the back seat behind Styen. "So how was the voyage?" I hadn't heard anything from either one of them about their journey aboard the freighter.

"A close call," Bilan answered, getting into the front passenger seat.

"Tell me what happened." I looked at Styen, then to Bilan. "I want to hear everything."

Styen powered up the ChoCac, and he began driving to the main gates.

After buckling in, Bilan partially turned to make talking easier. "Apparently the captain of the ship decided we were worth too much as slaves for him to pass up. As soon as he was a hundred rads from the port and outside the Navy's patrol radius, he turned east, bound for the slave blocks of Port Iago."

"Iago!" I exclaimed. "With a ship full of more than two thousand Chimorran citizens, and those mostly women and children. Probably to the slave farms of Iberia or the mines of K'mer. Greedy bastard! What did you do?"

Bilan nodded at my assessment. "They knew we were military. After all, we had the uniforms, didn't we? My squad and I were rounded up and under guard pretty fast. But then they started rounding up every man among the refugees, including servants and slaves. Then older boys. Putting them into separate holding areas. They also grabbed any woman who wasn't cowed, stowing them in another, separate cargo hold. Styen, though, managed to evade capture. Then he began taking them out. Once he reached us and freed us, it didn't take us long to seize control of the ship. I myself shot the captain in front of the crew. The third mate agreed to take us where we were supposed to go. We lost Rimanchu. A good man. Stippan and Taygatchu took serious hits, and will be out for weeks, if not longer. But at least now they are recovering at Paxilman. Only Styen, Barato, and myself escaped unscathed. We shared watch on the third mate until we reached port."

Paxilman was the Ground Service hospital at Sentry War Base, adjacent to the bustling port city of Tohingo.

"It was ugly, though, Ranji." Bilan shook his head. "Some of the sailors had pulled out some of the prettier women and were 'breaking them in.'"

"Raping them, you mean," I corrected quietly.

He nodded. "Those six, I ordered tossed over the side. The last two wouldn't go until we shot them. So we did. Then we tossed them. The ship was down to one-third crew by the time we were done, but we made it to Tohingo without further problems."

Then I saw Bilan close his eyes briefly, then swallow.

"What else?" I prompted.

Bilan looked at my former tutor, his face full of emotion. "Styen saved my Rana and my boys. The first mate had broken into our cabin. He hit Powan, who tried to defend his mother. He's only six years old! Hurt him bad. Even Mika was knocked about. But before that piece of filth actually... raped her... Styen arrived and killed him. Then he rendered first aid to my boys."

Bilan, his face and voice full of emotion, turned his gaze to our driver. "I owe Styen more than I can ever repay. I am forever in your debt, too, for sending him along. But I would rather have that debt than the alternative. Thank you, sir."

I held up my hand, pointing at the scar on my palm. "We are Warrior brothers, Bilan. I know you are trying to be respectful of my rank, but save it for formal occasions. I am your brother and you are mine. I will protect your family with all that I have, just as I know you would defend mine. Please call me Ranji."

"Ranji." Bilan nodded, smiling. "I'm still not sure why you offered to be my brother, but I seem to be in your debt. Again. You saved my Rana, and then sent your man, Styen, to keep watch over us. I am grateful, believe me. Yet I would like to understand why you go to such efforts on our behalf. Will you tell me why?"

I remembered the man who loyally stood by Melannee and myself on the beach, risking his life for her. The intensity of his love for his sons. His willingness to act honorably under desperate conditions. And that his own memories of all these things were buried, hidden by the memory alteration technology of Imperial Security, in an effort to protect him and his family from Supay's rage.

"I do it, Bilan, because I know the measure of your heart," I answered. "You are a brave Warrior, loyal and true to those you love. While I am distressed that you and the others were in danger, and that you lost a good man, I am pleased more than I can tell you that Styen was so helpful." After a short pause, I added, "Besides, Rana is a sweetheart and a gem, so if she likes you, you rotten scoundrel, your mangy hide must be worth something."

Styen burst out laughing and I joined him. Bilan blinked, and then he laughed with us. "Too true," he admitted. "She is a gem and a sweetheart, indeed. I was blessed the day she became my wife."

I blinked at that. He might never learn the irony of that sentiment.

Asking more about his boys, Bilan told me of some of their explorations of my parent's estate gushing with praise of the welcome he and his family had received.

Knowing Sentry War Base and the city quite well, Styen took the Valley Expressway, bypassing downtown Tohingo itself. In a short time, we were heading southeast through Caibo Valley, making our way toward the Shtomar Mountains and home. So close to the equator, at five hours after midnight, the eastern sky was already beginning to show the light of pre-dawn.

I yawned.

"There's more, Ranji," Bilan said. "We took the money from the captain's safe. It's a fortune. There's a hundred thousand Imperial credits in bank notes. What should we do with it?"

Stretching, I took a deep breath. "Pay for your two men at Paxilman to get nano-treatment. Set aside twenty thousand for yourself, Bilan. Give a ten-thousand share to each your men, including one for Styen. And don't argue with me about it, Styen. As long as I live, you will have a home with us. But fortunes change, and I want you to have something of your own set aside."

Styen just glanced at me in the mirror, saying nothing.

"Pass Rimanchu's portion on to his next of kin," I continued. "Give it to them with the provision they see to his proper burial - if that hasn't already been done. Make sure your men know they are not to go wild on spending, nor admit to how the money came to them. We don't know if some of that money belongs to others. Drive home the idea that we don't want to attract undue attention. That should leave around twenty thousand credits. Give it to my mother. Tell her to use the funds to help offset taking care of the refugees or however she deems best."

"It is a good plan, my brother," Bilan replied. "I thank you for your generosity."

"How else are you going to decently take care of your wife and sons on a Lieutenant's pay? Get the boys learning tablets and some nice clothes for Rana. Maybe buy some stocks toward retirement."

I felt good. To my mind, the money helped offset the madness that cost Bilan and his men their former lives.

Styen just glanced at me again. I had spent a lot of time under his tutelage, learning martial arts and equally important intangibles like honor and duty. Then he gave an approving nod before turning his attention back to the road.

Styen's approval meant a lot. I loved him like an uncle. Not only had he imparted to me some of his considerable combat skills, but his sense of duty and honor as well. Those were debts that could never be repaid but through love and devotion.

I yawned again.

Bilan noticed it. "Grab some shut eye, Ranji. We'll be back to your parent's estate in about two hours."

"All right. But first I want to know, how is that you two were there to pick me up?"

"I got a call from a Senior Sergeant Itznacoco - from Tikún of all places! I've never been there, but he said he knew you and that you were inbound with an ETA of zero-four-thirty this morning. He seemed to know all about Rana and my boys, too, asking how they were adjusting. He told me to bring Styen along. How does he know of us?"

"Probably from my personnel jacket. You are officially listed as my blood brother, Bilan." I shook my head. "Fascinating. Do either of you know why I've come here, today?"

Both men shook their heads.

"I'm apparently a secondary target, but there's a plot by the Aesir-Veda to kill Father. It's partly in revenge for leaving the Kingdom of Veda, but more because he's getting close to some important breakthroughs."

I could see I had their attention. "Father's work on energy fields is vital to the Empire. We've been exchanging secured emails since my posting to High Guard, and he's been catching me up on some of the research. In a year, maybe less, we hope to have a working shield capable of deflecting energy weapons. And that's just the beginning. Apparently the Aesir-Vedans are worried - or at least their draconian allies are. There have been eight draconians killed in the last two months that I'm aware of - all at High Guard or in nearby Capisco. Two of them died yesterday, in another attempt on me. Janetta Tlacotli, the love of my life, managed to survive the attempt to kill her, and in the process, she even prevented the auto-destruct of the draconian. Imperial Security has recovered its personal shield and camouflage technology intact."

"Holy gods, Ranji," Bilan muttered. "That's huge."

Styen voiced his agreement.

I continued. "There have been recent military advances by both Atlantis and Aesir-Veda, aided no doubt by their respective alien allies. Their engines and aircraft designs are suddenly advancing by leaps and bounds. Once they get shields and energy weapons, it will be a dark day for the Empire. Our military won't stand a chance! Mastering this captured tech, and what my father is working on, will help keep us on par with our rivals. And, it will bring us closer to the day we can challenge the Greys and draconians themselves."

"Challenging the aliens? Are you serious?" Bilan asked. "To what end?"

"The possibilities are endless, Bilan!" I answered. "Instead of taking days to travel to the moon, it will be but a matter of hours. Colonies on the other planets become possible. Soon, visits to other star systems, and even more human colonies. And that's for starters."

"Human-built starships? We're decades from that. Maybe centuries even."

"Only because the aliens are interfering. Part of that interference is this plot to kill Father. Imperial Security - by way of the Atlantean Huginn but without their knowledge or cooperation, of course - told me to expect a message about the circumstances of my birth. That expected message arrived late yesterday evening. Supposedly it was from Calia, but the sender obviously did not know she was at High Guard. I knew immediately it was a fake. But the message was designed to draw me here, and so here I am. And it also means there is at least one Aesir-Vedan agent in my parent's household, in position to kill Father. At least one."

"Are you sure about this, Master Ranji?" Styen asked. "What about Imperial Security? I thought they thoroughly check out everyone who visits or comes to work there. And if they knew about the threat, why didn't they increase the family's security?"

"I'm sure they do check everyone out. I'm just guessing, but probably to avoid letting the enemy know their plot had been uncovered. And yes, I trust the source of this information."

It was the first thing Melannee had warned me about when she and I first met. Perhaps it had been discovered by Melannee herself. Knowing her, I would not be in the least bit surprised.

"I am counting on both of you to help prevent my father's death," I told them.

"Whatever you need," Styen replied.

"A chance to fight at your side? I'm your man!" Bilan confirmed eagerly. "Do you know anything about how they plan to do it?"

"Only the trigger word. Which means the assassin or assassins might not even be aware they have been programmed to kill. Deep hypno-conditioning would be a way for someone to bypass Imperial Security scrutiny, even one using truth drugs."

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