Despite being born with the genes of nobility, Kaylenn has dedicated her life to battle. Nothing is more sacred to a Kralite, and when war breaks out she is eager to prove herself as a worthy commander and warrior. Fleets and planets fall before her strength, but when she has no choice but to place her faith in Saaryth, a loathed Kaltaarist captain, or face glorious death herself, she chooses to live. Born to the tribe, Saaryth embodies the unity and self-sacrifice that is the birthright of all Kaltaarists. After years of seeing her people spat upon by their Kralite leaders, Saaryth shows Kaylenn the potential of the many working together in perfect harmony to accomplish a single goal. But the fiery passion of Kaylenn awakens longings within her that she didn’t even know she was capable of having. She doesn’t want to share her. Their union provokes the ire of the governments and corporations controlling the galaxy, but is the only hope to save Kaylenn's homeworld.
The Nexus is always watching... their peoples are the next to be judged.
Saaryth handled the controls as the space shuttle cleared the orbiting station and descended toward Keltrys IV. After clearing her flight plan with station control and the flight center on the planet surface, she swung the shuttle skillfully around the ring-shaped superstructure of the gigantic military space wheel.
There, visible on the station’s planetside space dock was the Kalthaar. Battered and charred about the edges, but still the pride of the fleet, Kaylenn thought with a smile. As Saaryth did a close fly-by of the docked ship, Kaylenn looked through the viewport and saw the flitting white specs of the space crews moving about with their thruster packs as they worked on the Kalthaar’s damaged sections.
“I’m told the Kalthaar should be battle ready in about four standard days, Fleet Captain.” Saaryth's voice held no inflection or emotion.
“Yes, so I’ve heard. How do you feel about getting back into the fight, Saaryth?” The planet surface, bright green and blue, rose toward them in the viewport.
Saaryth’s eyes never left the controls. “I do not relish the thought of losing any more of my sisters, Fleet Captain,” she said calmly. “But, as our priestesses teach: If some must be lost on the hunt for the tribe to go on, that is the wisdom of Kaltaari.”
There was a note of sadness hidden under her stoicism. And, just a hint of anger. “You must resent my kind for putting you and your sisters in this position, Saaryth.”
She sighed, glancing up at the planet’s curve now filling the viewport. “Yes. I suppose I do.” Her jaw was a bit clenched. Kaylenn hoped letting Saaryth vent her anger in this neutral setting would help gain her trust. But now, it was Kaylenn’s turn to open up. “It’s a stupid war, I know. The Confederation and our former trading partner, the Vedran Alliance, wasting lives and funds over contested solar systems whose resources don’t begin to justify the cost.”
“The Galaxy, like the daughter of Kral, belongs to the strong,” Saaryth said, reciting the Confederation war slogan, as she raised the shuttle’s heat shields and prepped the ship for atmospheric entry.
“More accurately, the next Council term belongs to those ministers who have a successful military campaign to their credit.”
“You must be resentful as well, if you believe that,” Saaryth said as she switched the ship from nuclear space drive to air-cooled rocket propulsion. The ship trembled and the energy barrier beyond the viewport glowed white hot as the ship dove into the atmosphere.
Kaylenn was at once refreshed and a bit taken aback by Saaryth’s honesty. “I suppose, to some extent. The rules of politics and of war are the same as the Hunt of Kral: only one victor allowed. There’s no way around that. At least in Kralite society. But a good warrior understands the value of allies. The Council does not.” Saaryth remained silent, as though waiting for Kaylenn to say more. She's not going to make this easy. To be more direct meant putting her life in Saaryth’s hands. Well, she had once already, she reminded herself.
“You’ve been honest with me, Saaryth, so I’ll be honest with you. My government has asked me to suppress the role your people played in this battle, and I’ve refused.” Saaryth looked up suddenly, unable to hide her surprise. “That puts me in a very dangerous position. I don’t believe my own crew or officers would assassinate me, even under Fleet Command orders, but I suspect some might be slow to defend me the next time I’m ordered into the line of enemy fire. I have to be certain the same is not true of you and your people.”
Saaryth sighed, dropping the mask of composure and suddenly looking very irritated. “Fleet Captain, may I ask what you sought to accomplish by taking such a foolish risk?”
Kaylenn was completely unprepared for that. “I...I want my people to recognize what your people have to offer us. Saaryth, before this mission, I didn’t believe a Kaltaarist could be a real soldier. I was typical of my people, but I realize now how wrong we’ve been. We’ve allowed a valuable resource to go to waste because of a stupid cultural prejudice. A stigma. If my superiors could just look beyond their stodgy-”
“You are a fool,” Saaryth said coldly, looking directly at Kaylenn with stern eyes.
Kaylenn was stunned, but quickly recovered. “You overestimate your value to me, Lieutenant Commander,” she barked, her anger surfacing. “Perhaps I could secure my position with my superiors by arranging a convenient accident for you.”
“I’ll gladly help you to arrange that accident, if it will secure the future of my people,” Saaryth snapped back, setting the ship on auto-pilot.
Bright pink and violet cloudscapes raced past the viewport, framing Saaryth’s angry, beautiful face. “What are you talking about?” Kaylenn demanded.
“Your superiors are already well aware of what our pilots can do. That’s why we’re here.” Her eyes shifted a bit, as she hesitated. Then she locked eyes with Kaylenn and continued. “Our planning committees have discreetly negotiated with your ministers. We’ve agreed to help them with their war, and in return they have agreed to divert badly needed resources to some of our worlds which have been left to near starvation since this war began. The only condition is that we do not accept credit for any victory we participate in.”
Kaylenn understood. “But you agree to accept the blame for any defeat.”
“Of course. We care nothing about that, only about feeding our clusters and helping our people survive this war. And now you interfere with this reckless act of defiance and ask me to put my own people at risk to protect you! Why have you done this to us? What do you hope to gain?” Her eyes flared with anger.
Kaylenn almost smiled. At least now she knew where she stood. “Saaryth, listen to me,” she said quietly. “My leaders are shortsighted fools, and the trouble with you Kaltaarists is you have too much faith in sapien love. Don’t turn away from me! Listen. The Vedrans have learned the value of training Kaltaarists as soldiers. It’s only a matter of time now before they and every sapien empire begins doing the same. Things are going to change for your people, whether you want them to or not. Whether they change for better or worse depends on you and others like you.”
Saaryth looked at her with a hesitant curiosity. “What do you mean?”
“Play the game by the Council’s rules, and your people will become scapegoats for every disaster Helkos suffers in this war. The few crumbs the politicians toss your way won’t help you against the backlash that will follow when this war is over. You think your planets fare poorly now? Just wait. When the next war comes, it will be harder for the Confederation to use your kind as fighters again. But our next enemy won’t have that problem, you see?”
Saaryth looked shocked. Almost like a child.
“Our politicians aren’t like your planners. They think only of themselves, not of the problems their successors will inherit.”
Saaryth glanced about nervously. “How then does your defiance help us?”
“If enough captains like me and enough squadron commanders like you stand together, they can’t keep the truth bottled up. We can build a legend together, Saaryth—you and I!” She felt hot blood racing as she laid a hand on Saaryth’s arm. The dark-eyed feme looked a bit frightened, almost as though confronted with a maniac. Kaylenn calmed herself, withdrew her hand and reined in her ambition. “What I mean is that we can help turn public opinion in your people’s favor. In Kralite society, military success is the first step toward political power. Imagine your councils having a say in how the Confederation is run!”
For an instant Saaryth’s eyes sparkled, then an instant later, darkened with fear. Then they turned away and the cold, defensive calm returned. “No. We want no part of your politics.”
“Isolation is a luxury you can no longer afford! You’ve learned to kill. Now learn to reap the benefits of the kill. As you do on your hunt. As we do on ours.”
Saaryth dropped her head back against the headrest of her flight seat. She closed her eyes, the cloud-veiled red sunlight streaming through the viewport painted her face in a wash of blood. “When I was a young girl in my village, our priestess would scold my classmates and me for hoarding food, or not dividing the workload evenly, or fighting over the attentions of a friend. ‘The moment you let jealousy or selfishness or greed into your heart, you become like Tryl, the Mother of Evil who stabbed her own sister in the back and sold her soul to the demon Kral so she alone could claim the daughter who brought all suffering into the world.’ I never really took any of that seriously. Until now.”
“You’ve come this far,” Kaylenn said, feeling genuine sympathy for Saaryth’s pain. She had never felt sympathy for weakness before, and feeling it now frightened her a little. She had never imagined that kind of struggle could take place inside so capable a warrior as Saaryth. “You know you can’t turn back. You and I need each other.”
Saaryth raised her head and glared at her. “And, that’s why we’re here together?”
“It’s not the only reason,” Kaylenn said, hiding nothing as she gently ran a hand across Saaryth’s face. The other feme’s features softened. “Unless you’re blind, you saw that the moment we met.” Saaryth took her hand in both of hers and kissed it. She stroked Kaylenn’s hand softly against her own cheek and looked into her eyes. “I’ve been honest with you about what I want.”
“Power I would eagerly use to help those I love. Tell me what you want.”
“A better life for my people.”
“And, for yourself?”
Sunlight broke through the clouds and washed in a warm orange glow over Saaryth’s face. “That, you already know.” She smiled, and Kaylenn felt a great warmth passing through her as their fingers interlocked.
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Thomas Olbert lives in Cambridge, MA, home of Harvard, M.I.T., liberals and wackos. When not writing science fiction and horror or working, Tom volunteers for candidates and causes he cares about, like the environment and civil rights. Tom’s father Stan Olbert was a fighter in the Polish resistance during WWII and later a professor of physics at M.I.T. Tom’s mother, Norma Olbert has self-published Stan Olbert’s life story: “The Boy from Lwow”, now available in paperback. Tom’s sister Elizabeth Olbert is an accomplished artist and now a teacher of art at the University of Maine.
Olbert's fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies, including “In the Bloodstream” by Eden Royce, “Torched” from Nocturnal Press and “Something Wicked Vol. II” from EKhaya.
Tom has a dark, cosmically-themed science fiction/psycho drama novel entitled “Black Goddess” now available at Mocha Memoirs Press in addition to two dark sci-fi shorts “Hellshift” and “Along Came a Spider” also available from Mocha Memoirs Press. Another of his books is a vampire novelette entitled “Desert Flower,” a tragic tale of love, war and eternal darkness set in the midst of the Afghanistan war, available now from Eternal Press.
Learn more about Thomas
Olbert on his blog Other Dimensions.