By Michael Ptak (Norsehound@comcast.net)
Homeworld = Relic Entertainment
There was no other way.
The precession had arrived. The collection of yellow and red vessels hung on the fringe of space, waiting. All aboard didn’t know what to expect when they arrived here, only that it may lead to salvation… or worse.
The blocky shapes maintained formation- the decree of Imperial tradition. They had to look menacing, take the higher ground of the conversation. They couldn’t allow these upstart nobodies from the eastern fringe have the benefit of them.
Yet, everyone knew it was a deception. The Imperials were on the decline, it was not their universe anymore. The best they could hope for was a joining, a union. At best, it was hitching a ride on the history makers. At worst, they had become leeches, clinging on to the bigger history makers and maybe even dragging them down. They had done it a hundred years before, and were doing it now here.
It was a far cry from the feudal ways of ancient days, where the clans and their leaders bickered and toiled- all lead by the acrobatic hands of the emperor. That all changed when the Wrath of Sajuuk put an end to the rightful imperial line.
None illustrated this tragedy better than perhaps the most disgraceful element of the precession. Its presence was merely for formality- the organizer of this little stunt decided it would be poetic to use some form to display the past glories of the empire. He, whoever he was, chose one of the last remaining vessels from the first homeworld war to accompany the formation. He chose the destroyer Sessazu.
Named for the narcotic Sessazu reed of Taiidani fable, the Sessazu had empowered the hero Ishanii-Kel the ability to slay the daemon Keletashii savaging the spans of time. Ironically, the same virtue seemed to apply to the Sessazu, granting the ship seemingly eternal life.
She was old and worn out. Dragged from her seemingly endless posting in the home guard fleet, she had undergone refit and modification of her hyperspace core to be able to jump with the rest of the newer ships. After this, it was likely she would be scrapped.
Then again the new ships weren’t much to speak of either. Though they boasted a technological prowess more or less on-par with the Hiigarans’, they were still fresh ideas: dead enders at worst, prototypes at best. If this meeting went forward, the analysists among the Taiidani generally agreed it was just simpler and easier to adopt other means of production… means belonging to their new allies.
In the end this fleet may very well be one of the last pure Taiidani fleets anywhere in the universe.
The Sessazu held station off the new destroyer Kuunash. The old destroyer was at the end of an echelon left formation of destroyers- the newer missile destroyer, new standard destroyer, and old destroyer. As they waited the captain of the Sessazu pondered the newer ship’s lines.
Sighing, Old Captain Jeduh Adaal stared with some disappointment. He was not looking forward to this meeting. As one of the old guard, Jeduh had voiced his opinion as best as he could in protest against this measure. But like all things in the imperium, the smallest voices were ignored.
Once, a long time ago he remembered, idealist tried to correct the Taiidan problems they were now facing. Calling themselves Republic, they became quickly imbued with the same problems all democracies had: red tape. In the end the Taiidan Republic, now only a mere shadow of itself, had shrank to a fraction of what it once was. At best, The Republic's senate were bureaucratic visionaries trapped in their idealism. At worst, they were puppets of the Hiigarans, bending before the new masters of the inner core with all the behavior of a master serving a dog- or a whore looking for work.
Desperation, the captain realized, had claimed both heirs of the name Taiidan. While the Republic struggled to exist on the old capital of Taiidan, the Imperials at least tried to seek some kind of identity fighting. The Taiidani way was never peaceful, even before the abomination Riesstiu took power in the resulting vacuum of Taiidani hierarchy. The ancient Hiigarans, in one move, had turned Taiidan from a hopeful nation bound in honorable tradition to a nation governed souly by one man's idea of how an empire should be run. Four thousand years later, the name Taiidan always had negative connotations.
“Hyperspace exit detect-“ Was as far as the sensor manager got. Shock stopped him further. Jeduh moved to the window of the bridge and stared out of it.
The green hyperspace window materialized far closer than anyone anticipated: almost right on top of the entire formation. With a humorous note Judeh imagined the cruiser commanders to be in a panic about this mess. At best the Imperial Admiral aboard his heavy Cruiser was furious over the other party’s choice of arrival. They had destroyed the Taiidani imagery of superiority not just by materializing higher than the Taiidani formation…
…but by bringing a ship that out-massed the Taiidani heavy cruiser by a margin of at least twice. Jeduh had heard stories about motherships, but never seeing one in person. He had heard even less about the Vaygr motherships, only this one wasn’t as blocky as he had been lead to believe.
They even brought escorts. Two carriers, one battlecruiser, five destroyers, a number of frigates… and now fighters and corvettes were emerging from all of the capital craft. Only within the past three years have the Taiidani been able to understand the concept of mounting hangers on their cruisers… the vaygr had this down, apparently, long before.
The huge split V glared at them all.
“Sir,” Jeduh’s comm. officer said, “We are being hailed by the flagship.”
Jeduh waited for the inevitable voice of their representative, but hearing none he looked at his comm. officer. The man was staring back at him.
“Is the channel receiving?”
“Sir, he’s hailing us.”
Jeduh reeled some in surprise, then took a moment to process that. “Well,” he said after it sank in, “Let me hear him.”
The voice Jeduh heard didn’t sound like the Vaygr warlord he had come to imagine. The words confirmed it, “This is the representative of the Sajuuk-ka. His Holy has declared he will be boarding your vessel for the proceedings. Prepare accordingly.”
That was it.
“Sir?” The comm. officer said.
Jeduh took off the cap and scratched at his head. He grunted before saying, “Inform the Toniisha-Kuh. I suppose I’ll have to get into dress uniform…”
Despite his unimpressed exterior, Jeduh was wondering why, of all the formation, Makaan chose an old destroyer to board.
His son Ceade was wondering the same thing.
A man of twenty, Ceade was an officer of the guns. His job was to coordinate the two formidable batteries topside in addition to the twin ion cannon mounts on the wings. His was mastery over the entire weapons selection of the destroyer.
Though his position removed him from the bridge to the fire control center, he was still aware of the warlord’s selection of negotiating ground. He too wondered why the warlord of all Vaygr would agree to meet here. He even said so.
“This ship couldn’t hope to stand toe-to-toe with any of those ships out there,” Ceade commented with annoyance, “What, in the name of Sajuuk, is he expecting?”
Gun controller one, director of turret one, just nodded in the confines of his metal seat. Ceade sighed with annoyance and said, “Well, what are we supposed to do now?”
“You’re not curious?” Gun controller two said, turning his head in his seat, “The Vaygr worship him. You’re not exited at all that someone treated like a god by an entire people is coming on board?”
Ceade shrugged, “The chances of that are next to nil, Tarbitan. Almost as nil as us as a people ever hoping to make history ever again.”
“Never say never,” Gun controller one said, prophetically.
Ceade sighed and pressed his back against his chair. He looked over at the graffiti grafted along the side of the bulkhead- much of it musings and calligraphy of Taiidani characters. A curse or two was also written there- faded though, written by gun commanders long ago.
this ship is older than I am.. than any of us are. It’s seen so much though… maybe that’s why father holds on to this. Ceade grunted. And he expects me to inherit this thing!
“Sir,” The last member of their cabin, the Target coordinator, offered, “I can give you a firing solution on every ship in the area…”
“No,” Ceade sighed, rubbing his head, “The last thing we need is to offend a force of ships that easily outruns, outflies, and outfights anything in our current arsenal.” He lifted his hands to the sky and his head with it to say, “Why we even thought we considered being worthwhile is beyond me.”
“Well, we’ll find out soon enough,” The target coordinator said, “There’s a soot-black Corvette approaching. Three guesses as to who it is.”
Vaygr Corvettes significantly out-sized Taiidan ones. Somehow over the span of a hundred years, the definition of scale had changed in the realm of interstellar craft. Fighters became corvettes, and corvettes became frigates. The ship pulling up alongside the Sessazu was called a Vaygr corvette, but one could have confused it for a small frigate of the old days.
Fortunate, since the Sessazu didn’t have any docking bays, anyway. On the opposite end of the destroyer, the smaller, white Diplomatic corvette had docked at another entry into the destroyer.
Even though the Taiidani brace and diplomats were aboard, the Vaygr had yet to emerge from their craft.
The old Captain waited with High Admiral Rishan Kenaan. High and mighty seeming as most model Imperial officers were, Captain Jeduh Adaal thought the admiral fit the stereotype of Taiidani imperialists quite perfectly.
“When is he coming out?” The admiral asked impatiently, “Negotiations are going to take time, and he wastes it by spending it in there? There were far better accommodations on any other ship in the fleet.”
Adaal didn’t say anything. He just waited, with the aides, at the front of the airlock.
Then it parted, making some of the uneasy jump. Pure white bled back from the doors as the hatch pulled back and rolled into the wall. Dark figures emerged from the blinding light, stepping forward.
For many present, this was the first Vaygr they had ever seen. They fit the profile too.
Many said that the Vaygr were a feral, barbaric people. This was apparently the case. Though uniformed, the marines stepping forward had crude firearms in their hands: pressed metal weapons that showed some kind of antiquity to them when compared to Hiigaran versions. More menacing than the gun, however, was the sword. The naked blade hung at the hip by a strap, implying that it was to be drawn in a moment’s notice. Unlike the old swords of the old Taiidani Clans, however, these blades looked more like outgrowths of machetes- tools used for hacking overgrowth.
Or seas of human beings, Adaal thought to himself.
The ruffians stopped and observed their Taiidani hosts with an unsure expression. It then hit Adaal that he wasn’t told weather or not the Vaygr knew how to speak Taiidani. Would they need an interpreter? A glance at the admiral showed the man processing the same thought. Hopefully the Vaygr brought one with them.
More Vaygr marines came out. Some of them in better condition, others worse, than the initial two. One of them had a pair of daggers in place of the sword, another with a long barbed whip. Obviously these people were without convention, yet they had enough about them to convince anyone that they belonged to a cohesive force.
Finally, a solitary figure emerged from the light. He stepped forward, before two aides came after him. He walked forward without hesitation, the blinding light bleeding away from his features as he approached.
Adaal recognized him instantly and understood why he had so easily become the messiah of this people- let alone unify them into one cohesive force. He oozed charisma- the intense stare in his eyes and the chiseled face which he had seemed to demand compliance from anyone under them. More so, he radiated competence… the warlord was intelligent… and intelligent to a degree that could get millions killed. Or millions saved. His posture also betrayed who he was, the tall and erect stand was not as impetuous as the one the Taiidani admiral was now displaying. His motions were graceful and purposeful, not quick and jerky as the Taiidani had been.
When he spoke the charisma translated well into his voice. It was soft, yet masculine. It must have carried the same effect Sjet had with her people.
“Admiral Rishan Kenaan I presume.” He said with a-matter-of-fact tone, “I am Makaan.”
“Yes,” The Taiidani admiral said and extended his hand, “Welcome to the destroyer Sessazu.”
Makaan didn’t look down at the hand, but simply said, “I do not observe the conventions of the core, Admiral. I hope you can understand this.” Makaan turned his gaze to the others, “Who among you is the captain of this vessel?”
This stunned Jeduh inwardly. Even before Adaal spoke, Makaan seemed to have recognized him. “I am, sir.” The old captain said.
Makaan faced the man. “Please accept my thanks for allowing the use of this vessel. As I have come to understand it, your people wish to ally themselves to my own.”
Jeduh chafed under Makaan’s stare, but managed, “Sir… I am no diplomat…”
“But you are a captain,” Said Makaan without turning to the assembled party, “And see many things the leaders and bureaucrats of nations are blind to. I put more faith the leaders of men, rather than the aloof leaders of nations.” Makaan finally broke his gaze on the captain and looked at the assembled party. “Do you have a formal place you wish to conduct this meeting?”
“Yes,” The admiral said, almost stammering, “Uh…this way, if you will.”
“I pray you allow my guards to accompany me,” Makaan said as the Vaygr mongrels fell in line, menacing weapons and all, “My people appear to have this fanatical devotion to my wealth fare. I cannot say I wish to disagree with their desires.”
“Uh…no…you’re people are fine…” The Admiral said.
Jeduh rolled his eyes to the ceiling as they started for the officer’s mess. Makaan, if anyone were to notice, made a small smirk from the corners of his mouth.
“Hey look, there he is.” Gunner one said.
Ceade raised his head to look at one of the primary feeds. The room was cramped, with Ceade at the top and the two gunners just below him. The furthest down was the target coordinator, slipped nearly into his own cocoon of sensors and networks. The screen Ceade now observed was positioned somewhere between the two gunners, right over the T.C.’s head.
It was a feed from the videos, showing Makaan.
“Wow,” Said gunner two, “He’s bald? Imagine a bald messiah.”
“S’jet’s bald.” The coordinator observed from his seat, “Must be a messianic thing to shave your head before doing something…. messianic.”
Ceade sighed angrily, softly, in his chair. So what, they had a prophet of the Vaygr on board. What did they expect? He’d turn the Sessazu’s core into a farjumper and tell them to leave the universe? Then again, there wasn’t much anybody knew about Makaan before today. Now, they knew he was bald and a leader that made even Taiidani admirals, notorious for their stubbornness, fall off their high horses. No wonder the Vaygr worshiped him.
The camera flipped- probably through sensors- to watch Makaan continue down the hallway for the officer’s mess. He was motioned inside by the Admiral, who was clearly still shaken by Makaan’s entry. Obviously the admiral had hoped Makaan would be a little more attentive of the shinier parts of the Brass, instead of a mere old captain.
The officer’s mess was, even for an old ship, appropriately dressed. Old wooden paneling, a large table, and real wooden chairs with leather padding graced the room and granted it a homely atmosphere. Makaan took a pause in the room to examine his surroundings, preventing any of the Taiidani party from seating out of respect. Such was the way of core world formalities.
Makaan approached one of the chairs and rubbed his hands on the head of the backing. Smirking, he said with a tone of curios interest, “Wooden… you cannot imagine how such a thing is rare and precious on a Vaygr ship. Natural things such as this are scarce among the eastern reaches.” He turned his head to look over at the Sessazu’s captain, “One may kill among the crusades for such possessions like this.”
Jeduh crossed to one of the chairs, saying, “They have been refurbished many times… but always a part of the Sessazu’s compliment. The officer’s mess is one of the finer parts of the ship.”
“On a warship, many parts can be considered state of the art, no matter the time they were constructed.” Makaan said as he continued rubbed the backing of the chair. “May I be seated?”
“Of course,” Jeduh said. Makaan seated himself in the wooden chair, permitting the other Taiidani to sit as well. The Ambassadors took their seats opposite of Makaan at the great table, the admiralty on the warlord’s right, while Jeduh remained on Makaan’s left with the Vaygr representatives.
Ceade sighed and switched off the feed. Gunner one looked over his shoulder to ask, “you’re not curious?”
“I don’t care.” Shrugged the son of the captain.
“I do,” Replied gunner two and reactivated the comm. Ceade sighed and reached over to pull a clipboard from the wall to his right. Despite computerized systems, many of the older Taiidani ships still replied on good-old-fashioned paper and pencil. Di-yu, Ceade realized as he grasped the clipboard, there were some ships in the imperium so old they still had the stiffer, spaceworthier, papyrus.
Ceade decided not to trace the history of interstellar writing mediums of the Taiidan people and instead looked over the ammunition track record. He started his bookkeeping several hours early, before he usually went off-shift. There had been some talk about shutting down the ship’s ammunition factory for maintenance... or permanently. After all, the last shot the Sessazu fired was nearly fifty years ago, stopping pirates. She would have been called a museum piece had that role already been taken by several other destroyers of the Sessazu’s ilk- both in the Imperium and in Hiigaran space.
While the watchers watched or updated their book keeping, the Taiidani and Vaygr sat together in the officer’s mess around the large table. Galleymen brought some refreshments, no doubt an idea concocted by the Taiidani admiralty, to make things a little more comfortable. Makaan didn’t have any but he remained seated in his chair with his hands on the table.
“Warlord Makaan,” The ambassador said, silently praying to himself that he said the correct title, “On behalf of the Taiidan Empire, we-“
“Spare me the conversation of formalities,” Makaan replied with a hand raised. He lowered it to the table, “Such openings are rather tiresome for me. I prefer frank statements. What can your people offer to mine that I see of value?”
The Taiidan diplomats exchanged glances with one another. The admiral silently sighed at their incompetence.
Before they could stammer out a reply, Makaan said, “I am well read, Admiral, and I know the state of your people. Yours is but a shell of once was… or what should not have been. The Imperium of Taiidan was routed and destroyed after the Hiigarans reclaimed their world from an exile your precious emperor engineered for them… despite sending a fleet to eliminate the planet in a convenient matter when they violated the four-thousand year old treaty they most assuredly would have forgotten. This alone gives me motivation to treat your people with the same disdain as I treat them. The Vaygr do not lie, and do not orchestrate grand operas of treaties and documents making rules that make only sense to the diplomats.”
The Taiidani delegation tried to absorb all this. Makaan had just single-handedly turned their entire ballgame around without even trying. They were on a completely different field now.
Makaan then turned again to the captain, saying, “Now you understand why I feel more at ease conversing with captains than governors. Their own bureaucracy and rules has them tied up in their own fallibility. It is, in some senses, entertaining to watch. Others, it is an embarrassment.”
Makaan didn’t need to stare at the admiral to make the man bow his shame and turn his face to a different shade. The man was two steps away from excusing himself from the table.
Makaan returned his attention to the diplomats. “I do recall some good things about the Taiidan. They were a powerful people with an iron grip. When they disposed of the ancient, malcontent Hiigarans in ancient times, they were seen as champions by some, even heroes: the avengers. They were righting what was certainly a wrong. With your emperor and his entire lineage dead, along with many of your clan leaders, in the sudden assault on your homeworld, the Taiidan of old rose up and took the opportunity for vengeance by the throat when it was given to them. They were swift- no bureaucracy, no rules.
“The only thing staying the massacre of an entire race was the collective outcry of the organized people of the cores. Appealing to humanity, the Hiigarans were spared, but exiled. This was your first mistake. From then onward, your people have been making a series of catastrophic failures that I would say make me ashamed to even look upon you. Your emperor is perhaps the capital manifestation of failure for your race. In the beginning, so all biologies say, he was an admiral of the rim, efficient…ruthless… a tyrant of the clans of your people.
“Then he was afflicted by power, and became a glutton. Reshaping a magnificent civilization into a child’s plaything, he proceeded to play God… all the while obeying what rules he chose to abide by from your Galactic council. In the end, he paid for it. A colony ship, carrying a handful of survivors plus the six hundred thousand-some passengers in cold sleep, came from the rim and defeated your emperor, and your empire, with only the help of a group of ships no bigger than the formation you present to me here.”
Silence fell across the table.
“Have I spoken too much?” Makaan asked as the silence passed on for five seconds, “Perhaps I am out of turn. Please,” He offered a hand, palm up, “Prose to me your proposition. I am eager to hear it.”
If Makaan had just turned the game on the Taiidani delegation, he had just now, in the past five minutes, beaten the Taiidani at whatever hope they had at an intelligent conversation. What’s worse, he did it by insulting the core values of the imperium, from the image of near-invincibility the Taiidani leaders had to their near-reverence of the godlike emperor now dead a hundred fifteen years passed. It made the Taiidani wonder what they could possibly do to salvage the situation with a result that would please their superiors back home.
For the crew watching in the destroyer’s gunnery station, there was laughter and awe at the finesse that Makaan had performed in attacking the mentalities of their superiors.
“Man oh man,” Gunner one said, looking over at gunner two, “Do we have this on recording?”
Gunner two shrugged, “If we did, how fast do you think the brass would confiscate it?”
Ceade had been listening and lowered his bookkeeping to comprehend what the warlord had said. He knew the history of the Taiidani people, but never with a perspective against the imperium. It was refreshing at worst, and thought-provoking at best.
“Perhaps,” Makaan said after the moment of silence, “We should adjourn for a time while you comprise a formal proposition you wish to tell me about. In the meantime, Captain,” Makaan turned to Adaal, “Perhaps I may be indulged in a tour of your vessel.”
Adaal blinked in surprise, and then backed in his seat, “Y-yes… of course…”
Makaan stood with Adaal, and nodded his head to the Taiidani delegation. “If you will excuse me, gentlemen. I shall return to you at my own convenience… or when you have decided on what it is you want to say to me. Captain, lead on.”
“Uhmm….right…” Nodded Adaal, “This way, please.”
The Taiidan assembly could only sit and watch as the Vaygr, lead by Makaan, abandoned the negotiation table to follow the ancient destroyer’s captain from the room. When the last of the Vaygr officers left, only the Taiidani diplomats and admiral remained.
The admiral stared at the diplomats angrily, and stood when the Vaygr were out of earshot. “Imbeciles!” He hissed, “You let him walk all over you and you said nothing!?
“Uh, sir,” One of the diplomats said, “You weren’t so impressive yourself. I’m surprised you didn’t say anything when he spoke insults about Our Emperor.”
For the second time that evening, the admiral had nothing to say. He covered for himself by growling, “Go to you cabin and contact the capital with a priority message. Inform them of the situation and request advisement.”
The diplomats just stared at him.
“Well get to it!”
“Are you sure you want command to know what just happened sir? I mean… you are the admiral in charge of this operation….”
The ramifications of what could possibly become of the admiral if he returned home with failure suddenly hit Kenaan.
“Never mind,” The admiral grumbled as his stare went to the table. He raised it again to glare at the diplomats, saying, “Well… you’re the diplomatic party here. Figure something out!”
“This,” Jeduh said, “is our engine room. Please forgive the cramped confines… but things aren’t as spacious as they are on the newer ships.”
The captain had shed his jacket at the pressure door to the engine room to start the tour of the destroyer’s massive engine complex along the U-shaped walkway. Makaan was immediately behind him, as well as his retinue. Though the engineers grumbled at first, when they saw Makaan himself, many of them could not believe their eyes.
Adaal stepped through the cramped grated walkway with Makaan and his guards behind him. The diplomats of the vaygr elected to meet them at the other end of the entry into engineering.
Smirking, Makaan said as he followed the captain, “Not at all, Captain. Ships like this have a sort of charm to them… it makes one appreciate the skill and abilities of the crew that makes them run. It commands respect when they run with deadly efficiency.”
Adaal couldn’t help but smile at this- either from the irony of the fact that this ship hadn’t seen combat in decades… or when it did, its record was nearly legendary. They pressed forward, coming to the main drive shaft for the three huge engines bells.
Pointing, Jeduh said, “This is the fusion reactor that powers the rockets. As you may know, there are three massive turbines that generate thrust for the exhaust bells. It’s our primary means of forward propulsion.”
Makaan, hands on hips, nodded, “It is also the primary means of power for your operations on this ship, as well as the two forward ion cannon mounts, correct?”
“The reactor, yes,” Jeduh said, pulling up his cap to scratch at his hair before replacing it and pointing, “The primary coolant lines are there. Since this is an older reactor, most of the liquid is pumped to the exterior vent grills on the side of the ship to ventilate waste heat from the reactor.”
“How often is the coolant changed?” Makaan asked.
Jeduh shrugged, “It’s recommended every five years, but the Sessazu’s longest run was twelve years on the same dose.”
Makaan’s eyebrows lifted. “There was never a drop in performance?”
“No, not really.” Jeduh replied, “Although you’ll have to ask our chief engineer about that… I don’t know how, but he’s always kept the reactor running well enough for us to move, shoot, and fight.”
“I see.” Makaan nodded in understanding, “Remarkable. Our own craft as you may know, do not have ion weaponry aboard and thus our reactor does not need to be as…capable,” He waved a hand in a circle, before returning it to his hip and looking at the massive engine before him. “The Taiidan have retained the art of ion weaponry at the expense of an engine such as this. Still... I am impressed.”
“I’m pleased,” Jeduh nodded, and turned, “This way please… our next stop is the ammunition factory… and then fire control.”
“Could we bypass the ammunition factory to see fire control?” Makaan asked, “I am eager to see how the Taiidan operate their weaponry.”
“If you wish, my lord,” Replied Jeduh
“Uh, Ceade,” Gunner one said, “He’s headed up here.”
Ceade raised his head from his bookkeeping. “What?”
“Next stop is fire control.” Gunner two said, “Makaan decided to skip the fire factory.”
Ceade made a Taiidani curse in the air and examined the cabin. Immediately he identified a number of things that may just offend the captain. They weren’t presentation material… and there was no telling how Makaan would view the sloppy surroundings of fire control.
“We need to clear this up, now,” Ceade said as he pointed at the graffiti on the bulkheads written by crewmembers over the ages. “Jessel, Tarbitan, get presentation ready- now.”
“What about me?” asked the voice from fire coordination.
“You just stay put and look competent.” Ceade answered, “Your out of sight mostly as it is. Feel-“
Ceade was interrupted when the door behind him opened. He looked over the shoulder of his thin crash couch to observe his father coming through the door. Behind him was the most powerful figure on the eastern fringe of the galaxy.
The warlord Makaan.
“This is the fire control room,” Said Jeduh as he motioned around in the small backspace of the cabin. “Things are a little cramped in here, but somehow the operators manage.”
“Indeed,” Makaan said, approaching Ceade’s chair, “Remarkable when one considers how much firepower this ship possesses. All that to command in this small room.”
Makaan stepped up to Ceade’s chair, crouching on the metal as he ducked beneath the structure of the room. From beyond the small entry space, it was a cramped fit. Ceade was nearly face-to-face with the bald messiah of the Vaygr.
Then Makaan turned his face to look at Ceade.
“You are the master gunner, correct?”
Makaan turned to ask the captain, “Is there a way to contact my vessel?”
Jeduh blinked in confusion, then said, “Uh yes…. Here…” He motioned to the thick yellow internal comm. pod mounted at the back of the room. He pulled the yellow phone off the hook and hit the buttons for the bridge. Makaan waited as the captain re-routed the transmission to Makaan’s vessel, then handed the phone to the warlord. The Vaygr issued some orders in his language, before returning the phone to it’s hook.
“These are casual internal communications systems,” Jeduh said, “Newer ships don’t need the receivers or operate wirelessly with them.”
“Yes, I’ve seen them before.” Makaan said as he turned and walked for Ceade’s seat again, “I find it silly. It makes one appear as if he’s addressing the air.”
Makaan planted a foot beside Ceade’s chair and leaned under the metal framework above him to bring his face on eye-level with Ceade. “Gunner,” He said, “I have instructed my vessel to produce target craft. I want you to show me how you would go about destroying them.”
Ceade looked over the chair at his father. The man at the back nodded. Turning back to his crew, Ceade said, “Okay…um… Sound battlestations.”
The gunners immediately activated their stations. Behind them, the captain took the phone off the hook again and hit two buttons. “Attention, attention,” he called, “We are about to conduct a live-fire exercise drill. I repeat, this is a drill. All hands to general quarters.”
The alarm bells rung and personnel rushing past the door could be heard. Across the ship, battlestations were being manned. No doubt the other ships in formation had heard the broadcast and were starting to wonder what the occasion was. In space ahead of the precession, the massive flagship’s bays disgorged a few ships.
“Sir, I have new contacts-“ The target officer announced from his position surrounded by screens, “Count identifies three frigate vessels, twelve corvettes…three probes. Signs show targets are….fake. No internal structure discernible.”
Makaan said to Ceade’s side as the warlord studied the readouts, “They are but simple shells with drives. Destroy them at your leisure.”
“Aye sir,” Ceade replied, bowing his head as he started, “Gunnery crews stand by to fire.” He turned his head, “Ion capacitors now at 60%.”
“Target solution plotted,” Came from below.
“Main batteries,” Ceade ordered, “Commence fire!”
After years of disuse, the Sessazu’s guns thundered once again silently in space. Twin shells from both turrets darted out for the first frigate- slamming them amidships and ripping holes where they passed.
Though space had no sound, the distant thunder and rumble was heard in Fire control. Both gunners chorused off-synch with one another, “Salvo away, reloading!”
Ceade was master of the Ion cannons, and heard both ion crews report ready. “Ion cannon charge 100%. Commencing fire.”
Bright blue beams of ion light emerged from the wide, round gun ports on the wings of the ancient ship. Like the gun turrets they too had been silent for too long. Now they hit the side of the first shell frigate, melting away the thin armor before striking the one working component on the vessel: the engine.
The frigate vanished in a flash of light. Particles radiated out from the center of the explosion and faded within seconds.
“Now,” Makaan said, pointing, “Engage the targets simultaneously. All of them must be destroyed.”
Ceade, assuming he was taking orders from the Vaygr warlord, nodded and said, “Gun crews, discriminate targets. Gun one, target two’s engine. Gun two, Target three's engine. Ion crews prepare for wide dispersal.”
“Aye!” Replied the off-synch responses.
“Target solutions plotted accordingly.” Informed the target officer.
“Engaging targets.” Ceade said, “Gun crews, fire at your discretion.”
The turrets opened fire at different targets. Gun two’s double barrels let fly a pair of salvos that passed through the engine housing of the second frigate- belching only fire instead of outright destruction. Gun one thundered and removed the empty bridge stack.
“Correct fire gun one,” Ceade said, “Ion crews, unfix mounts.”
“Mounts unfixed.” Jabbered over the radio in the cabin. Ceade selected independent targets, and the lenses shifted in their housings. Blue beams erupted, slicing through the stationary corvettes with ease. Yellow blossoms bloomed in rapid succession from where the beams passed.
The last frigate started to move.
“Target three is moving.” The target coordinator said, “Correcting solution.”
“A little challenge,” Makaan said, “To see how well your gunners perform.”
The lower of the turrets ground in its housing as it tracked the evasive frigate. They fired, half a second apart, and sent the duel shells into the side of what pretended to be an assault frigate. One hole formed just under the bridge, the other one into the coolant cells. The frigate started to spiral.
The second gun fired and removed target two from existence. The frigate exploded, sending the shell of the nose careening off into space, likely never to be seen again.
The ions fired again. One lance erased the last of the corvettes as it wove through the stationary formation. The other one skewered the last frigate through the engine housing- detonating the ship much in the same way it’s predecessor had vanished. The empty nose cartwheeled, swiftly, away from the fireball.
Makaan leaned back some to watch the gunners handle the remaining corvettes and probes, but already satisfaction was in his eyes.
The gunners scrutinized the probes, one turret apiece, while the ions cleaned up the last of the corvettes. The gunners missed only once in their remaining salvo, finishing off the probes with some difficulty.
When the last one was blown to splinters by the passage of an obsolete Taiidani anti-capital shell, Makaan nodded in approval. “Very good,” he said, “At least I can put some faith in the fire control teams of outdated Taiidan craft.”
Ceade paused a second as he considered his question. “Sir,” he said, turning in his seat, “If I may ask a question.”
Makaan hadn’t been expecting this, so surprise was in his features as he turned. “Yes, gunner?”
“Sir, if I may be frank, why did you come to this ship?”
Heads in the fire control room turned.
Makaan faced the gunner now, as Ceade’s head was craned around the static chair. The instruments about them still hummed with combat readiness.
“That is the wisest question I have heard from Taiidan lips this entire evening. If your captain will allow you to stand down, I must ask you to walk with me, and I shall tell you.”
Ceade strained his head and eyes to see his father. “Stand down,” The captain said as he motioned to the phone.
Ceade faced forward saying, “All crews, drill complete. Stand down.”
The stand-down alarm rang through the ship’s halls- the short three-burst whistle. The gunners powered down their stations, but didn’t relax.
Ceade started to unbuckle himself from his chair. Finishing, he pulled himself from the seat and climbed out the way Makaan had entered. When he entered the normal-height compartment, he found himself being stared down on by Makaan.
“This way,” The captain said, motioning to the open door.
They toured the ammunition factory. Taking up a small third of the ship’s interior mass, this facility was responsible for production of the antiquated anti-ship shells used by the main guns. They had been rendered obsolete decades ago with the invention of hull-penetration rounds… but as they had demonstrated today, their potency was still present.
Makaan didn’t say anything to Ceade as they moved through the rest of the ship, touring the bunks, the galley, the bridge, and then descending to see the ion cannon mounts and the small crew stations at the port-side cannon. Their tour was coming to an end in the observation lounge now, and Ceade was wondering if Makaan had forgotten Ceade existed.
“This concludes the tour,” Captain Adaal said, “Unless there are other areas you wish to see?”
“No, thank you.” Makaan replied as he looked around the commons, nodding slowly, “This will do nicely. Captain, if you will excuse us for a moment… I would like to have a word with your master gunner.”
Jeduh’s gaze flicked to his son out of curiosity, but he said nothing when his eyes returned to Makaan. He nodded once, and said, “If you need me, my lord, I will be present in the adjacent office.”
“Thank you.” Makaan said, then spoke some words to his Vaygr guard and officials. They parted, heading into opposite ends of the cabin and through two of the four doors leading from the room. The other went deeper into the ship, and the fourth was the floor hatch they had emerged from after touring the lower levels. When the Vaygr departed, Makaan and Ceade were alone with the doors closed in the observation deck.
Makaan considered the seats here and sat in the low-rising deck chair. Upright in it, he said, “I had thought these things only existed as a myth… ‘deck chairs’ are they called?”
Ceade took another one opposite of Makaan, saying, “Souvenirs, from when the Sessazu was still an imperial-at-large ship. We stopped over on the planet Eden… then-captain Halfanan Adaal decided to take some reminders back to the ship to replace the drab metal chairs that were once here.”
“This ship runs in your family,” Makaan observed, now leaning back in the chair with his fingers pressed together. Nodding, he said, “Captain Adaal is your father.”
“Not hard to tell, sir.” Ceade said.
Makaan waved a hand, “You may dispense with the formalities. I am here to talk with you casually.” His hands returned together as he said, “Your gunnery crews performed admirably. You should be commended for training them.”
“Sir,” Ceade said, “We’ve been trapped so long together on this antique that it came naturally.”
“I see.” Makaan replied, “You have no respect for this vessel, then?”
Ceade blinked in confusion at the question, then said, “Should…I…sir?”
“Would you rather prefer assignment on one of the newer craft, out there?” Makaan waved a hand in the general direction of the rest of the Taiidani fleet, “Or even an assignment in the military at all?” His hands returned together again, “Why is it you are aboard this ship?”
“My father, sir.” Ceade replied, avoiding the warlord’s gaze to stare out at the cloudy appearance of the Galactic core, light years away, “He’s the only family I have left. My mother died years ago… a pirate attack on the outpost we were living…” His eyes widened some as he sighed, “Or so they tell me.”
“The Hiigarans attacked your outpost.” Makaan said as a statement, but obviously meaning a question.
Ceade shook his head and then shrugged as he said, “I have no way of knowing. It was when I was really young. I lost all my friends then… I have no memory of who the attackers were. Just that I lost my mother and friends by coming on board this ship. My father saved me, and all he could, before he was ordered by the imperium to withdraw.”
Makaan continued to listen as Ceade turned his head to face the warlord while saying, “I understand the reasoning behind it. No fighter cover, a sudden ambush, the need to preserve what military assets we have left. The civilians… just got in the way. We couldn’t save everybody.”
“Yet you survived.” Makaan replied.
Ceade shrugged, then said, “That’s because I was close to the docks. I wanted to see the ships.”
“A penchant for starships, then?”
“Warships in general, yes. Big ships.”
“So you have no problem with being the master gunner of the ship.”
“Not really, no.” Replied Ceade, “I just find it a little hard to believe that my father thinks I’m going to inherit command. That’s how it’s always been though, even before the Kushans kicked us off Hiigara.”
Makaan stewed over this for a moment before pointing a finger, “Out of curiosity, was this ship imperial or renegade in the last days of the homeworld war?”
“Imperial sir.” Ceade said as he shifted in his seat to sit up, “I’m told this ship was even at Hiigara when the galactic council arrived. We surrendered to the mothership directly.”
“Remarkable.” Makaan said, letting the word slide from his lips as he considered the ship in an entirely new light, “And to think of my reasons for selecting this vessel. I have not forgotten your question.” Makaan turned his intense stare to Ceade, making the boy hesitate under the gaze.
Makaan tilted his head a degree, “You asked me why I chose this vessel for the site of the conference. Considering the wider selection and the width of quality I was presented, why this… the poorest, oldest, and most feeble of the entire formation? True, I was impressed by your fleet and all it had to present, but I had a special reason for coming to this ship.”
He turned his chair to face Ceade. Reclining in it, he said, “There are stories among the Vaygr about people in the core. Long ago, there were people closer to the core of a ferocious nature. Like us, they moved in Clans… lived in clans. They were a warrior people, and any of us who ventured close to the core half expected to find them. They inspired legends among the Vaygr, impressing upon us the notion that the core was just like us- fierce and unrelenting… and yet, bound by tradition and family. They were called Taii-yahr, which has come to mean in the old dialect ‘The like-ones’. Of the stories that survive, they tell of the heroes of the Taii-yahr, figures as heroic and impressive as I seem now to my people and yours.
“When I first heard of the Taiidan I remembered these legends, and did research on my own. I discovered with surprise that indeed, the Taiidan had been the way we remembered them- only when it was long ago, before the Hiigarans obliterated the memory of what your people were with their terrible weapon. They were once clans, dominating the stars, with factions as diverse and as expressive as the crusades are... all unified by one man: the emperor. It was this figure that inspired me to consider doing the same for our own people: uniting them under a common purpose. I would not have that purpose until I discovered the second core.
“Nevertheless, I also came to learn what became of the imperial lineage, and the history of your people. I granted an audience with your leaders, hoping to find for myself the visage and memory of the people I had heard about as a child through mythology. I knew I could not find this spirit among the new ships. I came here, seeking that spirit. I believe I have found it.”
“Sir?” Ceade asked.
Makaan leaned forward, folding his hands before him as he said, “Your father is a modest man… a man of tradition. I look around this ship and see what things he has permitted to exist, despite the possibility of discarding it. This ship itself is just one thing, but there are others. Your vessel’s reactor, the ammunition your guns fire, the graffiti in your assignment, these ‘deck chairs’-“ Makaan moved the chair to make his statement, before leaning back in it. “All these things persist not because of convenience, or lack of effort, but because they are what were. They preserve a history that is half-forgotten among your people… the spirit of nobility…honor. The clans. The way of the warrior. The latter things your people may have mostly lost, but perhaps through our memories, the Vaygr, we can teach you what you have forgotten. And your people will find greatness again.”
“Okay,” The Admiral said, now standing with the diplomats. His jacket hanging on the chair he had taken earlier this morning. Addressing the diplomats he said, “We shall appeal to Makaan by pointing out how large the economy is. We do have the economy summary report, right?”
“As of four months ago yes, sir,” The diplomat said as he raised it to his eyes, “But sir, it doesn’t include the latest tariffs imposed on us by the galactic council…”
“That isn’t important,” The admiral replied, “What is, is that we have to make him impressed. That’s our only trump card. Without it, we’re-“ Footsteps interrupted him as he and the diplomats looked up.
Makaan had returned with his retinue. With him were the captain of the ship and his son. “I beg your pardon,” Makaan said, “Was I interrupting something?”
“No! No… no your Excellency,” The admiral replied, “We were just concluding-“
“I have already agreed to allow this alliance between your people and mine.” Makaan said, “Through negotiations conducted by your military. My servants will be contacting yours within a matter of weeks to discuss the particulars, but I believe the union of our people and yours will be a mutually beneficial one.”
Again, the Taiidani delegation was silent.
“Now, if there is no further business, I would like to return to my vessel. I have seen all that I came looking for. Captain, if you and your master gunner will accompany me back to my transport...?”
“Of…course…my lord,” Jeduh nodded. Ceade just held a gaze with Makaan until the warlord turned and walked for the door. Ceade, still confused, followed.
“There is a saying,” Makaan said as they walked for the door, “That originates somewhere within the cores… or perhaps from some obscure source across time. ‘Parting is such, sweet, sorrow.’ I have to again thank you for the privilege of allowing me to tour your magnificent vessel.”
“It’s no problem…my lord.” Jeduh said and gave a small bow.
Makaan turned to Ceade, and rested a hand on the Taiidan’s shoulder. “Gunner, this will be the last time you see me again, so remember these parting words: The measure of a people is not taken in power, weapons, or in strength, but of the measure of one’s culture. Without a tradition, without a heritage, a people become like sand in the wind: blown away and forgotten within the wink of an eye.’ I will remember you, gunner, for proving to me why the Taiidani are worth saving.”
With this, Makaan turned and started down the hallway to his corvette. The retinue of aides and bodyguards followed until all were aboard the corvette. Both doors closed and moments later the black corvette was off on its way to the flagship.
Jeduh moved with his son back to the bridge, where they witnessed Makaan’s great flagship ease its hyperspace window open with the rest of the fleet.
“Ceade,” Jeduh asked, “What did you say to Makaan?”
Ceade just stared out at the flagship, shaking his head slowly as the Vaygr legend-of-legends vanished into history.
Needed a break from CoK. Makaan asked me to.