Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chapter 114 - THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING

The emperor’s private quarters were still keyed to my name, but it had been so long that I had nearly forgotten about it, so I was startled awake late one night to hear Connor’s voice raised in desperation. “Liam would never let such a thing happen. Send for the doctor right now.”

“Yes my lord, immediately,” said another voice.

“What happened, Connor?” I asked.

“Who’s that? Liam is that you? Where are you?” asked Connor.

“Yeah, it’s me. What happened?” I asked again.

“Someone managed to get a letter-bomb in here past the guards. Dad’s hurt real bad.”

I extended my magic across the light years and found the emperor lying, shaking in his son’s arms. It only took a little more energy and he was resting quietly. “Let the doctor clean him up. He’ll be all right now.”

“Thank you, Liam. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I can hear it in your voice.” I expanded my awareness and tried to figure out how this had happened and discovered that no alarm had been sounded. I sealed the emperor’s apartment and went to my mother.

“Mother, I have to go to the capital. I’ll be in touch.”

“All right dear, I’ll ready a ship.”

I was gone before she finished the sentence. It was foolish, but if I could do it once, I could do it again. I was never so glad for a carpet as my knees met it hard. I was shaking from cold, but I struggled to throw it off as I heard Connor’s voice again. “Liam, how did you get here?”

“Where’s your mother? Are your sisters still here in the apartment?” I asked.

“Yes, father insisted. He says that it’s easier for the guards to protect us if we’re not all scattered out.”

“Good, I need something to eat.” I crawled over to the emperor. He was beginning to come around. I wiped the blood away and helped him sit up. “Get your family together in an inner chamber of this apartment. Your security has been compromised.”

I leaned against the wall as Connor helped his father further into the apartment, then I closed my eyes and extended my magic through the familiar hallways. I found Brian’s flame in his quarters. It was very still, so someone had gotten to him too. “Brian, wake up.”

Connor came over to me and shook my shoulder. “Liam, are you all right?”

“Go back to your father. I’m fine. You’re my last line of defense. Go on.” I was very hungry just now and I really didn’t want him anywhere close to me.

I called out to Brian again and was relieved to feel him stir.

Someone tried to enter the apartment and found the door locked. After a few confused seconds, they started pounding on the door. I looked to see who it was. I didn’t recognize any of them, but that didn’t mean much. Since they never called out, I felt fairly certain they were up to no good, and my suspicions were mostly confirmed when one of them produced a hand-torch and began trying to cut the lock on the door. Still no one moved to sound an alarm.

“Brian, I need to know who these people are, wake up.”

I heard some coughing. “I’m awake, I’m awake,” he said in a muffled voice. He had something over his mouth. I watched him move slowly out into the hallway and lean against the wall.

“Brian, come on. The emperor’s under attack.”

That galvanized him. He pelted down the hall.

“Don’t even try to come here alone,” I warned.

“Obviously I’m not alone. When did you get here?”

“About ten minutes ago and I’m wiped.” I turned my attention back to the man with a torch. He wasn’t having any luck cutting through the door, but I put the torch out just the same.

“Come on. Get that door cut open. The shift will be changing soon and someone will sound the alarm,” said a man who stood looking over his shoulder. The man with the torch relit it and continued to try cutting through the lock.

That was all I needed. These men were out to get the emperor. I wrapped the leader in a rope that also gagged him and hung him from the ceiling, then I blocked their retreat. The man with the torch found himself hanging from his hands, which I imbedded in the ceiling not far from his boss.

That left three more men rattling around the room in a panic. I picked up one of them and pinned him against the door. “Start talking,” I said.

I allowed him to struggle without letting him slip. The others were crowded as far away from him as they could get. All I got out of him was meaningless blubber, which climbed to an equally meaningless squeal when I moved him higher up the door. I suppose I could sympathize with their terror, after all, I wasn’t in the same room with them.

I held him there while I raided the kitchen. I didn’t bother with formal fare; I simply consumed what I came across until I was full.

Brian showed up about fifteen minutes later with thirty some men from the barracks and started pounding on the outer door. “Liam, Liam, are you in there? Open the door.”

“Brian,” I spoke in his ear. “There are five men in there. Two of them are loose. I have the other three secured. As yet, none of them are talking, but I haven’t been asking too many questions.”

“All right, thanks Liam. Thanks for everything. Open the door.”

I did and watched as the two who could, willingly gave themselves into his hands. The one I held against the door had to be carried out of the room. The one hanging from his hands had fainted and had to be carried out too. Someone cut the leader loose and I allowed his bound body to hit the floor.

As soon as order had been restored, Brian knocked on the inner door. “Open up, Liam.”

I saw the emperor leaning on his son standing in the hallway leading to the inner apartment and moved to stand between them and the door I was opening. It was a good thing I did because someone behind Brian opened fire. Brian went down immediately and I took several bullets before my magic shielded me from the rain of led.

I pushed the emperor back out of sight and walked out through the door. I’ve heard the expression about ‘seeing red’ but I had always thought it was just a metaphor, until now. I did see red and as my magic expelled the rounds I had already taken, I walked out into the rain of bullets.

Friend or foe, I didn’t care; if they fired at me, they died, and believe me, there wasn’t much left after I was done with them. I regret to say that it was likely that more than half of them were friendly forces. I can’t say that I blame them. I’m sure they felt much like thoppers being attacked by a basilisk; the only difference was that they were brave enough to stand and fight rather than scatter.

Seven men were left standing by the time bullets stopped flying. The emperor stepped up behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder. “Stand down, Liam.”

The red film cleared from my vision and I swayed. I took a big breath and looked around at the carnage I had wrought, then I turned back to Brian. He had taken three bullets in the back and both of his lungs were compromised. He had his eyes open, but I’m not sure that he saw me. I rested my hand on his chest and wiped the damage away. He closed his eyes with a sigh and slept.

The med-techs arrived minutes later and swarmed over everyone in the room while I stood numbly in the center and watched.

I’m not sure when I shut down. I remember bodies being carried away and I know that the emperor and Brian were also taken away to the infirmary. Guards, emboldened by my stillness, moved around trying to make sense of the chaos. I think I remember Connor calling my name, but I don’t remember falling. Apparently, I hit the corner of the desk with my face and came close to putting my eye out; my face was laid open from my forehead to my cheekbone.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Chapter 113 - CAMBAY

When I felt recovered enough, I went with my mother back to Cambay. With the exception of the gold streak across the floor, all traces of my first visit had been wiped away, and to finish the job, I replaced that streak, and the rest of the floor, with a shiny black marble that my mother oohed and aahed over. I returned the gold to the treasury, which had been depleted what with the hunt for corruption, especially since such corruption didn’t feed it any more.

Of course, I got involved with the security here even more than I ever did while working for the emperor. There, all that had been asked of me was to protect the emperor from assassination no matter the form. Here, I poked around and made sure the men were doing all they could to ensure my family’s safety. They were good and they were loyal. According to the logs, very few assassination attempts had made it inside the palace doors and that record had improved over the years.

Mother tried to involve me in the government. After all, I was expected to be the next baron. I tried very hard, but it was like putting on a shirt of thorns; I was very uncomfortable with it. It was my duty though, and I hadn’t stood at the emperor’s shoulder and learned nothing.

I constructed a private office along much the same lines and began to lay in the infrastructure that made it all possible. It took a couple years, but eventually, I had spies and eyes in almost every place that concerned us, which included every bureaucratic office here on Cambay and other planets in our district, as well as every other great house in the empire. My magic was very handy in that. They wouldn’t be finding any mechanical bugs or cameras of mine.

I bought a small shuttle, and when my thorny shirt dug too deeply, I would go out into orbit and spend some magic where no one would notice. Most all that I did was turn off the life support and meditate. Cambay didn’t have a moon so I couldn’t construct a small chamber in its core to use, but this worked well enough. A rain dance can be very interesting in space at several hundred degrees below freezing.

Victoria didn’t have a shirt of thorns. Quite the contrary, she developed a crafty mind and a strong personality. All things considered, I wasn’t too surprised when the emperor offered a betrothal between her and his youngest son. I think it was his way of keeping his friends close, especially since he couldn’t convince me to come back to his side. I didn’t tell him that I still watched over him; but with everything else I was doing, it wasn’t a very close watch.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 112 - CATCHING UP


I was awakened by the sound of a gentle argument outside my room.

“Let him sleep, Victoria. He’s not well,” said my mom.

“But grandma, he said I was supposed to wake him this morning. He told me to; you heard him.”

“He needs to get up and start moving around,” said another voice further away, I think it was Oskan.

Mom must have resigned herself to being out voted because my daughter came bounding into the room. “Daddy, its morning; wake up, daddy.”

I pretended to remain sleeping and I watched her come closer with my magic.

She started to pull my blanket back in order to see my face better. “Daddy?”

I could hear the tremulous disappointment in her voice. I quickly snaked my arm out from under the blanket and scooped her giggling, wiggling form in beside me where I began to tickle her, which wrung helpless shrieks of laughter from her.

“What is this bug I’ve found in my bed? I think I’ll have to throw it out the door.” I got up and slung her under my arm heading for the door.

“Daddy, I’m not a bug.”

I walked past the smiling faces of the others in my living room toward the hallway that led outside.

“Daddy, it’s me,” she protested with giggles while she pulled at my arm.

I took a few more steps.

She began to wriggle a little harder. “Daddy, it’s me, Victoria.”

I stopped. “What?” I said as if I was surprised. “Well, what do you know? It’s not a bug after all. I could have sworn I had a bed bug. What did you do with the bug?” I turned her upside down and pretended to shake the bug out of her pockets.

She was shrieking and giggling again. “Daddy.” She was all breathless.

I turned her right side up again and held her out in front of me. “Are you sure you’re not a bug?”

“No, I’m not a bug.” She pushed her hair out of her face.

I swung her to my hip. “Well okay, if you say so.” I headed back into my living room.

“You look better,” said Connor.

Haines was standing there too and I stepped forward to shake his hand warmly. “I feel better. I guess you went and filed your report,” I said to Connor.

“Larak took me last night after you went to bed,” said Connor.

“And I had to come and see for myself,” said Haines. “It’s good to see you up and around again.”

After a breakfast that was made by Oskan at the direction of my mother, I dressed and went outside. “You’ll have to excuse me for a while. I feel the rain calling me.”

Only Connor seemed to take exception to it. “Hey, wait a minute. That’s no fair. I can’t compete against that.”

I just laughed and waved him to join me and the others followed to watch.

It was raining outside; the storm had rolled in during the early hours of the morning. Connor and I stood out in the gentle rain and crossed our swords like we used to do so long ago back on earth; it was only yesterday for me. The pause was only momentary. Connor was grinning like an idiot.

“Don’t let your excitement hinder your judgment,” I said, as I sized him up.

“No chance of that, old man,” he retorted.

“Old man, is it?” I stepped in and battered at his sword. I relished the exercise and was pleased to see that he was holding his own, though the smile was quickly replaced with a look of concentration.

As the rain dripped down through my hair, we sparred. He had learned a lot, but he had yet to develop his own style and act on his own instincts. The teachings of his instructors, myself included, were still strongly in his mind.

I didn’t press any advantages, nor did I let him have any, and I could tell that he was skilled enough to know this, but that didn’t stop him from trying.

Soaking wet, I couldn’t resist the urge any longer. When I said the rain was calling me, it was the truth. I needed a rain dance.

When Connor felt the first assault from the water, he cried out, “No fair,” but didn’t falter or back out of the fight. He shook the water out of his eyes and stepped up his attack.

Water soon began to pool around our feet and Connor slipped, but I didn’t let him fall. Finally, he relented and stepped out of my rain dance. I saluted him and continued on my own until I was pleasantly drained.

Larak was handing out towels when I stepped up to the group again. “You better do that up on the dark moon next time. When you reach your full strength, that’ll be the only way you’ll be able to tax yourself. We don’t need a tidal wave coming down out of these mountains.”

I laughed and patted him on his shoulder (which was over my head). “You’re probably right. Do you want to watch?” I made everyone dry.

“You couldn’t make me miss it,” he replied as he gathered up the towels.

I turned to Connor. “Sorry, Connor. I couldn’t resist it anymore.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “You had me beat anyway.”

We all went back inside where I made a large bowl of fruit. “Now, tell me. What all have I missed?”

I learned that Carm had two sons and another on the way. Larak and Oskan had gone out and fought two wild fires. Fall dry weather was prone to that, though most of the time the fires are out in the wilderness somewhere. Connor told me proudly of how he had helped to keep them out of trouble.

The village had been rebuilt and the inn was bigger than ever. Tsan was buried where he had died and now a small garden marked the place. Larak confessed that his left side still felt wooden. His arm and leg were flexible enough, but he had no feeling in them. When he did anything with his hand, he did it more by sight than by touch.

I offered to try and fix it for him, but he waved me off. “Maybe some other time, I’m used to it,” he said.

This was the first time I had really sat down and talked with my mother. My last visit was more of a bump in my honeymoon and she hadn’t wanted to bother me with her troubles. They weren’t the kind of thing to put into a letter either. Apparently, the transition from her father’s rule hadn’t been at all smooth. It had taken years to weed out the corrupt bureaucrats (most of whom had been family) so she wasn’t too popular with the aristocracy. She was still uncovering trouble spots, but she figured she’d be finding things like that until the end of time.

She told me that Colin had reached Master Sergeant in the emperor’s space militia and was in charge of seeing to it that the men could handle themselves under weightless conditions. He had kept in touch with my mother over the years and so knew of my latest trouble.

Jonathan Preston had never been found though there were still wanted posters in every port in the empire. Mom figured that he must have had a face job and changed his name. Even so, he had to be keeping a very low profile. I figured he never really made it off the planet regardless of the fact that he had been seen running away. Maybe Marell had exacted a final revenge on him. Maybe he had run into one of the local predators.

Connor told me that he had a younger brother now who was five years old. They had wanted to name him after me, but they thought I might think it was too freaky so they named him Daniel after his grandfather on his mother’s side. He hadn’t been back to see him yet. I was glad to hear that the emperor and his wife had been able to patch things up and I thought Daniel was a fine name for a prince.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Chapter 111 - DREAMS

It was late afternoon when my daughter’s voice penetrated my fog and roused me from my long sleep. There was friendly banter over the feast after that, but despite the energy I drew from the orb and the food, I tired quickly and they let me go to my room to sleep after only being awake a few hours.

“You aren’t going back to sleep again, are you?” asked Victoria, who had scarcely been far enough away from me to be beyond touch.

“Yes, I am. I’m very tired. But if I don’t wake up in the morning when you think I should, then you just come in and wake me up.”

She climbed up into my lap and wrapped her small arms around my neck. “All right, daddy,” she said in my ear. She drew back and rubbed her cheek. “You need a shave.”

I had to laugh, and then I laughed again at her expression of awed surprise when I made six years of beard vanish right there in front of her. I stood, setting her down. “You want to tuck me in?”

She lit up with enthusiasm and led me off to my room and with all the drama of a nurse, she made sure the blankets were just so before she left.

I was tired enough to sleep like the dead, but that wasn’t to be. I dreamed of my Patricia. I felt her tender touch. I heard her soft voice. We made long and tender love, and then we made wild and furious love. She danced for me, and then she danced with my magic and I laughed and danced with her. Then she stopped me. Her hands framed my face and she was suddenly very serious. “I love you. I will always love you. I won’t miss you though. I will never have to miss you.”

The memory of my foolhardy trip here played itself out in macabre slow motion. I held her so tightly. I had to save her. I had to get her to safety – to help. Somewhere along my long journey, she came alive in my arms and opened up my chest as if she were opening a set of double doors and then she simply stepped inside closing the ‘doors’ behind her.

I sat up clutching my chest, reliving the ache there that was only in my mind. I hadn’t lost her, nor had I consumed her, and yet she was part of me and would be forever. I got up and went outside where I looked up at the sparkling stars. “I will miss you. I’ll miss holding you. I feel so lost without you.”

A warm rush ran up my spine, but the spell was broken when I heard Larak’s voice. “You’ll do all right. Everyone misses loved ones when they die, but life must go on and you have a daughter to think of now. You’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the cave entrance where he stood. “I’m all right. I’ll be fine.” I looked back up at the stars gauging the time of night. “I better get back to bed. My daughter will be coming to wake me up in a couple hours.”

In the solitude of my room, I let my tears soak into my pillow as I drifted off to sleep again.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chapter 110 MEETINGS

I turned the lead weight that was attached to the end of my neck to find the source of the voice I had heard. She was so small but the hair and the eyes were the same. “Patricia?”

“No daddy, mommy died, remember.”

It was a child I was looking at and she was using words I was having trouble putting a meaning to. My mind felt like it was mired in cold molasses. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on moving other parts of my body.

“I don’t think you should go back to sleep, daddy.”

Daddy. She was calling me daddy.

“Victoria, where are you? Are you in here?” Another voice that was vaguely familiar. Who was Victoria? I couldn’t think.

I reached up a hand and raked my fingers through my hair. The move was slow but successful. My hair was long – real long.

“Liam, you’re awake,” said the other voice.

I found the new face. The gold hair now had a generous amount of gray in it and there were more lines in the face than I remembered. “Mom?”

“Oh Liam,” she said and then she began to cry.

I had made my mother cry. “Don’t cry, mom,” I said. I tried to sit up, but my effort was feeble to say the least.

“Oskan, Larak, he’s awake,” she called out. They were there in an instant, but where was Durmas? Where was Tsan? The other young man with them was definitely not either of them.

Oskan and Larak helped me to sit up. “Draw, Liam,” said Oskan.

I looked at him blankly. I’m sure if I weren’t so foggy I would have refused, but I could only do what I had been told to do. I drew on them. I imbedded my hands into the sleeves of their shirts and fed. They reached up and touched the orb over our heads and it flared to a blinding glow.

Minutes later, I was sated and I let go. I looked up from where I had curled up between Larak and Oskan to see my mother holding the frightened child who looked at me with Patricia’s eyes over my mother’s arm.

Mom saw my confusion and regret. “Liam, this is your daughter. Her name is Victoria.”

My daughter. Years had passed. Memories caught up with me in a horrible rush. Durmas wasn’t here because he was dead; I had watched him go. Tsan was dead too, he’d been unboned in a horrible torture that had killed him. My Patricia; her eyes watched me from out of the tiny face in front of me; she was dead too. I remembered the blood. All my grief washed over me in a tidal wave. I was helpless in its undertow. I sobbed. My mother’s arms were around me and a tiny body was in my lap.

When I looked up again it was just the three of us. The wide curious eyes of my daughter helped me pull myself together as she reached up with a small perfumed hanky to dry my face.

I drew a ragged breath and let it out slowly. “My daughter, you say. I’ve missed a lot. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, daddy. I can tell you all about it. Grandma said I could help you catch up on what you missed.”

Her clear child’s voice, being so practical, almost brought tears to my eyes again, but I wouldn’t let that happen again; I didn’t want to frighten her any more. “It seems like I’m always catching up.” I hugged them both. I was so glad they were here. I’m not sure I could have faced this wake-up without them. “I’m hungry. Let’s go find something to eat.”

Victoria jumped down and pulled me to my feet though I leaned on my mother for support. “I’ll bet you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten anything in…forever.”

I had to laugh at her childish drama. It felt good to laugh. Somehow, the bubbly little girl tugging on my arm washed all of my sorrows away into their respective graves.

The meal was a feast. I felt a brief pang of loss at the thought of those who weren’t here, but I was distracted by the new face. He had grown into a fine young man. His eyes were clear, his back was straight and his shoulders were wide and strong. The smile behind his proffered hand was genuine and lit up his eyes as well.

“Conner? Is that really you? You’ve grown.”

“Master Larak and Master Oskan have made sure that my time here wasn’t idle.”

“You’ve been here all the time?” I asked. I was surprised that the emperor would allow such a thing.

He nodded. His handshake was strong and hinted at a confidence he hadn’t had before. “Father wanted frequent reports on you and he thought I would benefit from exposure to teachers who did such a fine job on you. I can’t wait to show you all I’ve learned here.”

I looked at the sword that hung at his hip and wondered if he had magic too. I couldn’t tell.

“I don’t think I’m up to crossing swords with you today,” I said.

“Good,” said Larak. “That’ll give us all time to lay our bets.”

I turned to look at him. He had a wide grin on his face. “The last time you bet on me you lost.”

“I know, but it was still fun.”