Taking command of a space station on the outskirts of known space is a tough job!
Darkside Outpost Three
Mathew D’Avolon studied his reflection in the mirror he considered himself to be reasonably good-looking though not necessarily handsome, average height and build and a dashing figure in his black gold embroidered, earth league uniform. A Medal of Honour pinned next to his captain’s pips; awarded for his part during the Phyalain Wars. His brown well-groomed and short hair had a single streak of silver running through it. The streak had only started to appear after the Phyalain Wars. Blue eyes stared back at him from the mirror; eyes that had seen much death and destruction he hoped he would see no more like it in his lifetime. He turned brushed a speck of dust from his uniform and left his comfortable officers quarters for the last time. He knew as much as he wanted no more wars, or death he would not get his wish. His new assignment to Outpost Three in what was known as the Darkside quadrant, near the outskirts of known space a troubled part of the galaxy promised little peace for him from all he had heard.
“At least I’ve got no ties here on earth,” he mused aloud. With both parents dead and his sister Cathy on some science mission to one of the Dolphi systems, there was no one to see him off. “Not even a sweetheart to wave goodbye and shed a tear for me. Oh well, might as well get on with it.” He said ironically.
In an hour he would be on his way to a stopover at the Mars colony before the stop at the Gykaloo homeworld. The entire journey would take no more than six weeks using current jump gate technology. Plenty of time to reflect why he was asked for pacifically for this command
“He’s nearly a week overdue I was beginning to think the pirates had him,” lieutenant commander Anna Lopez said. As she turned from the comms panel to face commander Stevens her manner relaxed even though she spoke to a ranking officer. They had long dispensed with formalities, though; she still stood to attention as she addressed Stevens.
“His escort has picked him up then, when are they due to arrive?” Stevens asked his face almost imperceptible slackened as the strain of the past few days of not knowing drained from him
“Any time now Sir, they singled just a few minutes ago,” Anna replied, she clasped her hands behind her back hesitant to continue.
“What’s on your mind Anna, I hope you haven’t got a problem with your new Commander?” Stevens spoke quietly and ushered Anna to the side away from the command crew on duty.
“No sir, its not that... Well aren’t you just a bit put out by being replaced so soon and what about the Sharimda isn’t it just a bit odd of them asking for Captain D’Avolon especially as they don’t seem to like men much, being a nearly all female race and all?” Anna asked she absently brushed back a stray lock of auburn hair from her face.
“Meaning if they were going to argue with the brass back home about having me replaced why didn’t they argue for a woman Commander who would be more to their taste,” Stevens paused as Anna nodded and his face cracked into a wry smile.
“Who knows how the Sharimda think they’re women!” He raised a hand defensively as Anna’s face clouded and laughed. “Easy Anna just my little joke, as to if I mind being replaced to tell you the gods truth I’ll be glad to get away from this post it needs a younger man and I don’t envy him his job or you yours but still--”
“Jump gate activated sir, shuttle and escort coming through,” the duty officer interrupted briskly.
“Well we had better go meet your new Commander,” Stevens said still smiling; he left what he was about to say unfinished.
As they made their way down to the docking ring Anna could guess what the commander had left unsaid; in spite of what he had said to the contrary, he would probably miss Outpost Three once he got back to earth. They watched silently as the shuttle made its final approach Anna wondered if Captain D’Avolon would be, a by the book man or would he be flexible like her outgoing commander. “This place tends to break anyone to unbending,” Anna thought as she straightened her uniform and stood smartly to attention beside Commander Stevens.
Mat studied the station as the shuttle pilot handed over control to the docking computers. To look at there was nothing out of the ordinary about Outpost Three it was like all the other orbital stations earth had built a large grey cylinder with struts protruding out along its surface from which attached round tubes that circled the cylinder. It reminded Mat of a giant cotton wheel least that was the nearest comparison that came to mind. The outpost seemed wholly out of place against the backdrop of stars. The differences between Outpost Three and other stations was of course that this was by far the largest of its kind built in corporation with the Dolphi to a Gykaloo engineers design and everyone knew that the Gykaloo where the best engineers in the galaxy.
He could see small maintenance drones buzzing around the far side of the station continually checking the station's external equipment. In the far distance behind the station, the planet Regulas loomed half eclipsed by one of its two moons a breath-taking sight even from where he watched through the observation port of the shuttle. The Dolphi newly colonised Regulas as eighty-eight percent of the planet's surface was water. There were a small human and Gykaloo population also, mainly to see that the Dolphi get adequately established and to help with planetary security. The shuttle docked, and Mat gathered his hand luggage the rest of his luggage what little he had been sent a week ahead of his arrival and should be waiting for him in his new quarters straightening his uniform, he put on his best smile and prepared to disembark.
Mat woke to the persistent call of his commvid groaning he looked at his watch the time 06.00 hours standard. The start of his first full day at Outpost Three and already things seemed to be happening. “Computer on,” he said and got his pants on just in time to see Anna Lopez’s face on the screen.
“Sorry to get you up so early your first day Sir,” Anna said apologetically
“That’s okay. Lieutenant Commander, what’s the problem? Mat asked stifling a yawn.
“We’ve just received a signal not far from our local jump gate it matches identity codes for a Sharimda light cruiser,” replied Anna her eyes seemed to appraise as she watched him through the screen pulling his shirt on.
“You think the Sharimda representative is arriving early trying to catch us with our pants down literally perhaps?” Mat smiled, and he saw Anna’s face redden though she managed a cheeky smile. “She must have glimpsed me pulling my pants on not the best start but can’t be helped,” Mat mused reflectively.
“More than likely commander it would just be like them too..," Anna turned as someone interrupted her urgently. Mat appeared fully dressed as Anna turned back to the screen and he could see she was troubled by something.
“Sorry about that sir but we have an echo possibly three or four hard to tell for sure following the same course as the Sharimda cruiser close behind might be just a glitch, but somehow I doubt it,” Anna said, a worriedly.
“Launch fighters now send them to the jump gate I’m on my way up,” Mat commanded leaving no room for question.
“Aye sir,” Anna replied and turned sharply as Mat turned of his commvid. “Well, that’s two things I know about him already he has a good body, and he is decisive more so than Greg Stevens anyhow.” Anna mused as she gave the command to launch fighters. She watched the mark two delta fighters firing thrusters as they streaked away from the station towards the jump gate.
Mat took the turbo lift he didn’t generally like turbo lifts they tended to make him queasy this was no time for worry about that he was sure that space pirates were pursuing the Sharimda cruiser. There had already been a successful assassination of the Raeni delegate last year right on the station. The last thing he needed now was the Sharimda representative to be killed before she even got here. It wasn’t going to happen not while he was in command not if he could help it. Mat gritted his teeth and wished the lift would move faster. He arrived at the command centre just as the alert of jump gate activation flashed on the comm panel.
“Jump gate activated ship coming through,” Anna began. “Hold on two viper class pirate, no five viper ships pursuing. They are firing on the Sharimda cruiser, sir.” Anna said a slight rise in her tone the only indication of the tension in the command centre.
“Tell fighters to engage pirates, defend the Sharimda ship at all costs and try and get me a channel to one of the pirate ships.” Mat said watching the scene unfold through the viewport. The Sharimda cruiser fired back at the pirates; a deadly flash briefly illuminated the starfield then the pirate ship exploded in a ball of flame leaving only debris.
“I have audio contact with one of the pirate ships sir," Anna said urgently, Mat nodded.
This is commander Mathew D’Avolon, of Outpost Three, this quadrant is under my jurisdiction you are committing illegal and criminal acts of piracy break of your attack at once. I will ensure you have a fair trial and treated fairly if you surrender now.” Mat stated firmly. He turned to Anna seeing her shake her head. He watched the delta fighters engage the four remaining pirate ships.
“Something is coming through sir," Anna said.
"Patch it through the speaker system," he said.
“D’Avolon we have heard of you, we will not surrender..," an alien voice rasped through the speakers whatever else he was about to say was cut off by a loud scream as his ship exploded caught in a crossfire between the cruiser and the delta fighters.
“Signal from the Sharimda ship audio only sir,” Anna said she wondered why audio only as the Sharimda had visual communications on all their ships at least as far as she knew.
“Captain D’Avolon it is thoughtful of you to send your fighters to our aid, though unnecessary,” said the slightly accented voice.”
As if to punctuate the speaker’s words another burst of fire from the Sharimda cruiser hit a viper, which promptly exploded. A brief and increasingly desperate dogfight ensued in which the pirates were outgunned. Further attempts on Mat’s part to get them to surrender fell on death ears and the delta fighters destroyed the two remaining pirate ships. Mat studied the cruiser, as it made its final approach there was some minor damage to the hull nothing serious. Thankfully all of the delta-wing returned although two seemed to have some damage. Once he was sure that none of his pilots had any severe injuries, he returned his attention to the Sharimda ship. He had seen them during the Phyalain Wars of course but didn’t have much time to study them closely.
The ship had an elegant and pleasing to the eye design with three elongated forward sweeping wing extensions that made it resemble a giant opening tulip or rose. The hull seemed to have an odd metallic bronze sheen. At a guess and most of the boffins back home agreed with him it would take at least thirty to crew one of those cruisers, but he reckoned it could hold four times that if need be. Mat wondered what technological wonders were hidden on that ship and hoped one day he would get to see the inside of one.
“Sharimda cruiser about to dock sir, at bay six shall I inform them you are on your way to meet them?” Anna said turning from the comms panel and raising a questioning eyebrow.
“No, You and Carl can meet them, commander, tell our new representatives I will meet them in the meeting hall at 09.00 standard time, and be there yourself, Carl should be there as chief security officer also doctor Winiski.” Mat answered and raised a hand to stay Anna’s protests. ”We all know how much the Sharimda dislike males of any species it’s better that you be the senior officer to greet them, Anna,” he added diplomatically.
“But sir, they pacifically asked for you they might take offence if you aren’t there to meet them,” Anna explained with a little concern
“I’m sure you’ll manage commander, tell them, I am detained, debriefing the fighter pilots if you like,” Mat replied. He turned to leave the command centre with a mischievous smile playing across his face.
Anna started to object and thought better of it. “Yes sir,” was all she said instead and muttered an oath under her breath?
“Relax Anna I’m sure the captain knows what he’s doing,” Carl Holskins said, soothingly as he stood at ease next to Anna. “At least I hope he does!” he added more sceptically and smiled at Anna’s crestfallen expression.
“His command here is going to be short-lived if the Sharimda takes offence,” Anna said as she began pacing. “Wait here they come,” she interrupted herself standing smartly to attention once again.
The inner airlock opened and two women stepped through both were striking to look at of medium height one slightly taller than the other. Both wore azure blue full-length dress costumes of satin and synthetic material only found on Sharimdara tied at the waist with a gold braided belt both dresses buttoned up to the neck. It was clear to Anna though that unbuttoned the neckline would be low cut as to be revealing. They wore sandals that were plain in comparison to their dress what was most striking about them, however, was their slightly green-hued skin and deep blue eyes topped with jet-black lustrous hair that flowed halfway down their backs. There was an air of exotic beauty and mystery about them Anna felt a distinct sense of power radiating from their posture that she at once both admired and felt uneasy.
“Welcome to Outpost Three, I am Lieutenant Commander Anna Lopez,” Anna began with a slight bow of the head. “And this is Carl Holskins chief security officer of the station.” Anna indicated towards Carl, who bowed they had agreed beforehand how they would conduct themselves, Carl had complained he wasn’t about to bow and scrape to anyone but in the end, had grudgingly accepted to a bow of the head. The smaller of the two women stood stiffly erect and seemed to be irritated by something the taller nodded as Anna introduced herself and Carl.
“We are pleased to meet you Lieutenant commander, Mr Holskins I am Katreen, and this is my aide Sianna,” Katreen said with an easy smile. Somewhat awkwardly as if unsure how to react she offered a hand in greeting shaking hands lightly with the slightest incline of her head.
Anna thought she could get to like her, but as she saw Katreen look around as if missing something and her smile turn to a frown, she began to doubt that possibility. “Here it comes I just knew the captain should have been here.” Anna thought, she caught a slightly worried expression on Carl’s face from the corner of her eye.
“I had thought that Captain D’Avolon would be here to greet us though,” Katreen said, giving Anna a penetrating stare.
“Yes, where is the Captain; his absence borders on the insulting?” Sianna asked coldly. Katreen turned and spoke sharply in Sharimdaran to Sianna the woman’s face blanched and she bowed her head meekly.
“You must forgive my aide; she lacks experience in diplomacy especially in dealing with other species. I’m sure the Captain has a good reason for not being here has he not?” Katreen said the latter in a tone that demanded an answer.
‘The captain sends his apologies and conveys he has to de-brief the fighter pilots. He will meet you in the meeting hall, at 09.00 standard time. In the meantime, we will be glad to show you to your rooms so you can freshen up after your journey.” Anna replied she was surprised how steady her voice remained and silently cursed D’Avolon for getting her into this she hoped he did know what he was doing.
“Ah, I understand a captain who cares for his people you see Sianna the Captain does not insult us he is unavoidably detained,” Katreen said in a conciliatory tone.
“His aid in defence of our ship was unnecessary perhaps his presence here is also superfluous,’” replied Sianna, it was said as a compromise between the two but was meant more in the spirit of the word. Katreen bristled turning fiercely on her aide speaking so all nearby could hear and a few passers-by stopped to look in their direction.
“Daughter that is enough, if you continue on this intractable path with your disrespectful, and ill-mannered behaviour I will have you sent back to Sharimdara in disgrace. I will not have an aide that cannot see beyond her prejudices." A brief pause as her words sung in, "I thought better of you than that.” Katreen rebuked in an icy tone every word seemed to hit home like a whiplash to judge by Siianna’s reaction. The woman seemed to visibly cringe and draw further within herself her head bowed disconsolately she looked far from the haughty woman who spoke only moments ago.
“You will apologise now to the commander and Mr Holskins for your ill grace,” Katreen stated firmly.
“I... I don’t think that is necessary Katreen....” Anna began stunned by Katreen’s outburst she felt sorry for Sianna.
“No, No Katreen is right I most humbly apologise to you both, please forgive me,” Sianna interrupted quickly, seeing the expectant look from Katreen.
“Well, in that case, we accept your apology I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding,” Anna gave Holskins a meaningful look as she spoke.
“Ah yes, it’s forgotten shall we continue,” Holskins added a little gruffly and gestured towards the lift.
Anna sighed these people were intense and complex she wondered if she would ever understand them. She glanced at Katreen as she listened to Holskins giving her the guided tour of the station. Her face calm again, and she smiled at Carl who smiled back his usual gruffness seemed to melt, under that beguiling smile. She would have to warn the captain about that.
“Damn, why I didn’t think of it before its so obvious that’s why he didn’t come himself he took a risk sending us to feel them out I bet he’ll be wanting to speak with Carl and myself before he meets them, the crafty son of a gun.” Anna thought. His first full day had hardly started, and already he was beginning to impress her.
Mat stood talking to ambassador Orphus; the Dolphi remained placid as ever as Mat explained what had transpired when the Sharimda had docked but Gylan the Gykaloo ambassador reacted nervously as he stood beside them.
“Don’t you think we should go in now we should not keep the Sharimda waiting no it would not do not do at all.” Gylan put in waving his arms about agitatedly even his two short lower arms seemed to quiver inside his maroon cloak.
Orphus smiled down at Gylan serenely the adapted gills on the side of his neck opening and shutting as he spoke in his deep resonate voice. “Patience Gylan I’m sure the captain knows what he is doing,” Orphus began he turned still smiling to face Mat. “You do know what you’re doing don’t you captain if not we may be in for exciting times ahead I suspect we will be in for exciting times either way though so I doubt it will make much difference,” Orphus concluded laughing lightly.
Mat smiled he liked Orphus from the first moment they had spoken. His comm bracelet buzzed that was the signal from Anna that Katreen and her aide had arrived. He would give them a minute then enter with Orphus and Gylan.
“Gentlemen I assure you I know what I’m doing,” Mat smiled hoping he did, he had to show the Sharimda that he was in charge of this station and nobody else. Everything he had learnt while travelling here indicated the Sharimda liked to run things their way. The fact they had asked for, him especially to take command and had ridden roughshod over the senior staff of the earth league to get him proved that. He didn’t believe it was just because he had helped save one of their ships during the Phyalain Wars there was more going on here than anyone knew and the Sharimda were somehow at the centre of things. What Anna and Carl told him off what had gone off in the docking foyer indicated the Sharimda were not as one mind as they tried to appear to be. Well, he had waited long enough time to meet with the mysterious Katreen and her aide.
“Well, gentlemen shall we,” Mat gestured to the door they had waited in an empty room not far from the meeting hall only a few metres away. Mat led the way as they entered he let his eyes sweep the room taking all in at a glance. Anna stood to attention business-like as usual Carl stood talking to David Winiski and Katreen while her aide stood to one side still smarting from the criticism Katreen had given her earlier he guessed.
He couldn’t help stare at Katreen though both the Sharimda had an exotic beauty about them Katreen seemed more so, taller darker with only the faintest tint of green to her porcelain-like skin all of which just added to enhance her allure. There was something about her both worldly and yet at the same time innocence. In spite of that, she seemed self-assured all poise and elegance, a complicated race indeed Anna had been right, and he would need to be wary of her. Sianna might fume and rage as if she wanted to take every male on the station down a peg or two, but Katreen was the one with real power. Sianna was the one who seemed to want to take control though or was it all just some ploy by the two of them.
Mat made his introductions welcoming them he had learnt a few words of Sharimdaran of welcome, which he stumbled through hoping he got them right. Katreen smiled her eyes never seemed to leave him appraising him. He tried to ignore those eyes turning he introduced Orphus and Gylan not unsurprising Katreen had already met both of them before both gave a bow of deep respect to Katreen and only a slightly less one to Sianna, that puzzled him.
“May I ask how you are to be called that is, do we call you ambassador or do you have some other title,” Mat asked Katreen after the speeches.
Katreen frowned and Sianna opened her mouth to speak but shut it quickly again as Katreen gave her a withering look. Consternation fleetingly crossed her face so quickly that if Mat hadn’t turned expecting her to speak, he would have missed it.
“We do not have a governmental system as such Captain the wisdom of the Matriarch rules us though we have an inner circle of advisors known as the chosen which I am one,” Katreen explained. It was clear this was no revelation to the other aliens, but all the humans in the room looked surprised.
“You may call me Katreen of The Circle, or I’m sure you would much prefer as I would to call me Katreen much more comfortable for everyone than reciting long, tedious titles don’t you agree?” Katreen asked, in conclusion, smiling sweetly.
“Ah yes... That would be fine Katreen,” Mat said with a slight bow of the head. Mat was sure she had given something away there or implied something more; the title she had given him didn’t seem overly long to him. Mat laughed to himself musing that he was becoming paranoid, but maybe that was to be expected with Sharimdaran’s they were generally so closed off from everyone so mysterious with their own hidden agenda it would make anyone feel a little paranoid around them.
“Captain,” Katreen began drawing Mat to one side from the general hubbub of conversation around them. Her smile faded, and her expression solicitous.
“Yes, Katreen how may I be of help?” Mat replied tactfully raising an eyebrow; he put on a blank expression. Katreen’s eyes almost seemed to twinkle mischievously as if she could see through him and amused by something.
“How very tactful of you captain, yet maybe you were not so diplomatic earlier,” Katreen paused then her smile did return as Mat merely stood his ground not taking the bait. “Captain D’Avolon you are a devious man, but I think we will get along fine,” Katreen said inclining her head towards him.
“Thank you. I think,” Mat replied he was surprised by the bow of the head and even more so when she laughed lightly. Then she drew him further aside, and Mat began to get anxious not liking being pulled aside in such a manner; he became wary of her making sure he kept a respectful distance. From the corner of his eye, he could see Sianna watching them, and her expression grim.
Captain, you have heard of the Darcor have you not?” Katreen asked suddenly with a serious expression.
“Why yes, I have seen one or two of their ships, but I have never met one face to face as yet. I’m told they resemble the dragons of earth mythology.” Mat said taking Katreen’s change of tack more or less in his stride.
“Yes, I’ve been told that also but not knowing what your dragons of mythology look like I can not say. You will, however, have the opportunity to judge for yourself captain as they are sending a representative here also,” Katreen explained and stared intently at Mat to try and gauge his reaction.
Mat was not entirely surprised he knew there would be representatives of at least three possibly more other worlds coming before he left earth. Katreen had not finished as yet, so he waited calmly knowing he had a surprise up his sleeve for her to come.
“Their representative will need special arrangements within his rooms regarding the environment for his quarters. I believe your Earth Central will contact you later about this giving you the necessary details,” Katreen said her manner seemed almost diffident. She clasped her hands in front and seemed hesitant to continue. Mat had been expecting Earth Central would contact him shortly as to how things were going here, what did surprise him was that the Sharimda also knew. It smacked of a deeper co-operation between Earth and Sharimdara than he thought possible as yet. He almost scowled at being kept in the dark but managed to stop himself before Katreen could see as she spoke again.
“I must warn you, Captain, the Darcor...,” she paused looking around anxiously until her eyes fell on Sianna and seeing her engaged in conversation with Anna continued. ‘There are those of my people who want to see this endeavour fail they were against our helping you end the Phyalain Wars and against co-operation with you now to that end this faction has pushed for a Darcor representative here,” Katreen concluded she waited for Mat’s reaction
“How does having a Darcor representative here help their cause?” Mat asked the obvious question, frowning and wishing he were back home on Earth this was getting all too complicated for him.
Katreen took a deep breath seeming resigned to something before continuing, “The Darcor are mostly religious zealots ruled by the dark monk priesthood. Perhaps you know some of this already?” Katreen asked pausing
“I have heard they treat their planet as some form of deity. There are some people like that on earth who believe the earth is a living organism, but that is all,” Mat replied he was beginning to see what Katreen was driving at and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
‘Yes that is it, but there is more they are sensitive to their beliefs and can be easily offended plus they are a bit how you say ah... hot-headed. When I agreed to come here, I was told by some in the circle quiet emphatically not to interfere or to advise you in any way concerning any of the other races.” Katreen concluded emphasising other races.
Mat shook his head taking a deep breath he thought through all she had said trying to make sure he had all the pieces right.
“Those in your circle that advised you so are those that oppose you and the Matriarch presumably. Having pushed for a Darcor representative here hoping we would offend them in some way thus endangering what we hope to achieve here. I take it. Also, you don’t entirely trust your aide in this matter as yet,” Mat concluded hoping he hadn’t missed anything.
“You don’t know the half of it captain if you offended the Darcor they would surely see it as reason enough to take retribution even go to war if things went badly,” Katreen explained.
Mat rolled his eyes what had he ended up in the middle of, he knew this would be a delicate and tough assignment, but it seemed to go a lot deeper than even he thought possible.
“That bad,” he paused considering he felt a little guilty about the bombshell he had waiting for her and decided to tell her now rather than later. “You must be risking much telling me all this especially as your aide is likely to figure out that you have confided so much to me eventually,” he paused. “I must tell you therefore that I’ve asked for a representative of the Phyala to be sent to the station also and they have agreed,” Mat said watching for Katreen’s reaction carefully. He knew that the Sharimda and the Phyala had been enemies in the past that was one of the reasons the Sharimda had come in on the human’s side during the Phyalain Wars.
Katreen merely frowned considering then smiled, “It is not all bad for both of us Captain I managed through my own personal contacts to influence whom the Darcor send. Though I must caution, he is highly placed in the priesthood a High priest of the Dark Order never the less a friend who is a little more tolerant than most and sympathetic to our hopes for this outpost of yours,” Katreen said she indicated that they should return giving Mat a few more details before they re-joined the others.
Mat sat in his quarters mulling through the day’s events when his commvid flashed someone was waiting to contact him. ‘Computer on,’ Mat said, and Anna appeared on the screen.
“Sir you have a coded transmission from Earth Central,” Anna said.
“Put it through commander,” Mat replied and sat up as General Sanders appeared on the screen. “General,” Mat said.
“Mat I trust you are settling in ok by now the Sharimdaran’s should be with you and explained about the Darcor?” The general asked his manner brisk
“Yes Sir,” Mat answered filling the general in on events since his arrival, but he decided to keep what Katreen had told him to himself partly because he was told in confidence and because he had a feeling that he needed to at least for now.
“I don’t need to tell you Mat, that Katreen, is to be given full ambassador status in spite of what she might say,” the general paused momentarily before beginning again in a more serious tone. “Captain you are in command there you have a free hand up to a point but I urge you to take into serious consideration any advice coming from Katreen in person is that understood?” The general asked in conclusion.
Mat took a deep breath before answering, “Yes Sir I understand.”
“Good we are sending the necessary data for making an environmental chamber for the Darcor representative at the end of this transmission so stand by and good luck Mat,” The general finished. The screen blanked, and Anna informed him of the incoming data transmission, which he ordered to be passed on to maintenance and environmental control before relaxing once again on his comfy sofa.
What the general said spoke volumes, take seriously any advice coming from Katreen indeed. “We shall see, we shall see!’ Mat mused aloud.
The next week Mat saw very little of the Sharimdaran’s which he was grateful for in the meantime a new Raeni Wingmeister as they liked to call themselves had arrived as usual Mat sent Anna and Carl to meet him first. Chi-Bek as he called himself had little to say and generally kept to himself.
As he stood looking over the upper walkway railing, Mat considered what was worrying him the most right now the imminent arrival of the Darcor High priest. A special chamber fitted to the Darcor’s rooms, and a mixture of sulphur gases could be fed into the chamber when required. The Darcor could breathe the same air as humans for a period but needed to occasionally spend some time in an atmosphere more conducive to their own without which they would gradually asphyxiate. So getting the right mix of gases was crucial.
The Darcor Katreen had told him in one of those brief moments when she seemed to arrive at the same place and time, were telepathic they had few telepaths, but the ones that were telepathic were strong indeed Dal’ Tor was one such. Mat presumed she meant this as a warning to be careful around him even though she considered him a friend. Off course Mat took more seriously what she had omitted to say but knew he would know also was that the Sharimdaran’s had many telepaths some which must be at least as strong as the Darcor.
Apart from the Sharimda and Darcor only the Gykaloo and humans had as far as he knew had any telepathic skills. There was another race, which he had heard of who might be telepathic and he was surprised Katreen had not mentioned them yet. He made a mental note to ask her about this other race next time he had a chance to speak to her in private.
Mat’s wrist communicator buzzed, ‘Yes,’ he said pressing the answer button.
“Ship coming through the jump gate sir identity codes match that of the Darcor,” Anna said she paused then added you want me and Carl to be there when he docks?” She asked already anticipating his reply.
“Is that wise,” came a familiar voice from behind Mat he told Anna to hold and turned to see Katreen looking at him quizzically.
“Maybe not but if he is somewhat flexible like you say, then he won't take offence if otherwise, I think I can come up with a reasonable face safer for all concerned. I will have just you, and I meet him shortly after.” Mat concluded he raised an eyebrow waiting to see if she objected or had anything to add. For the first time, he noted Sianna stood behind Katreen and wondered if he had said too much.
Katreen half smiled before answering, “you will be the death of us all captain D’Avolon but have it your way. Come daughter we will wait on the good captain’s pleasure,” Katreen said turning she left with Sianna in tow.
So she had been aware of Sianna stood behind her did that mean she now trusted her, Mat laughed he wasn’t sure he believed either of them to complex by far he mused. He took the slower lift down to level six and headed to the meeting hall.
The Darcor Dal’ Tor was everything Anna had described him to be, and more he was not overly tall but bulky his black smock like habit covered most of his bulk the hood pulled over his head served only to make the scaly countenance within seem menacing. If his purpose had been not to alarm people by hiding his features thus the opposite seemed the case as it made people curious and looked closer only to gaze into those red and gold eyes. He had a thick set wide jaw, and when he showed his teeth, they seemed strong enough to bite through flesh and bone alike his long, broad nose exuded an occasional faint wisp of sulphuric fumes. He spoke in a deep, resonant voice, and almost every sentence seemed punctuated with a heavy breathless wheeze; apart from that, he appeared to Mat to be an amiable fellow!
Katreen watched captain D’Avolon leave with Dal’ Tor the meeting had gone well though she sensed Dal’ Tor had seen through the captain’s ploy and that could have spelt disaster even with such a Darcor as Dal’ Tor. She was sure the captain was aware of the risks, but still, he had to have things his way. He was a stubborn man Katreen mused and like most humans seemed to revel in taking risks. It was that unpredictable quality that made the humans so dangerous and in part why she was here.
“Come daughter the Matriarch will be waiting to hear from us,” Katreen said turning towards the lift. Sianna nodded and fell in beside Katreen.
“Forgive me Katreen, but I still do not understand the Captain’s reasoning in taking such risks,” Sianna paused considering as they entered the lift, “I know his reason for not greeting us at first was to reassert his authority. To show he is in command of this outpost and no one else; but as you have pointed out, we are the only real threat to his authority, due partly to our influence with his earth government.” Sianna concluded as Katreen commanded the computer to take them to the fourth level.
“So, you wonder why to continue to risk upsetting the other races after putting us in our place,” Katreen said with a sardonic smile.
“Well I would not have put it that way but yes,” Sianna replied. As the lift stopped they exited walking down the corridor they passed several people going about their business Katreen said no more until they entered the privacy of their rooms. She turned to Sianna beckoning her to be seated before speaking again.
“You have only part of the reason why he risked offending us and continues with the other races,” Katreen began seating herself opposite Sianna. Sianna raised a questioning eyebrow her expression puzzled her inexperience with other races and in particular the humans clearly showing. Katreen felt drawn to the younger woman now that she had smoothed out some of her rough edges. Her initial judgement in choosing Sianna had been right though she still did not trust her entirely yet.
“The Captain wanted to put us in our place, yes, but he wanted some prior knowledge on how to conduct himself. So he sends his aides to feel us out as the humans would say then after the commander meets with us she reports to him telling him everything she has learned giving him an advantage,” Katreen concluded with a wry smile as she saw the look of consternation on Siianna's face. A while later Katreen sat drinking tea she had taken to the beverage from Earth since her arrival at the station she found it quite stimulating. The commvid flashed an incoming transmission on the screen.
“Receive,” Katreen said.
“How are things progressing daughter?” The Matriarch asked cutting straight to the point her tone slightly agitated.
Katreen could make out the Palace Square in the background through a sunlit window to the left of the view screen. A sudden longing for home came over her, and she repressed the feeling ruthlessly before answering.
‘Everything goes well, and Sianna is turning out to be a worthy aide in our endeavours here Matriarch much as we expected,’ Katreen answered inclining her head. She waited for the Matriarch to speak again. There was a slight time lapse in the transmission enough for Katreen to think about what was troubling the Matriarch for in spite of her calmness Katreen detected an undercurrent of unease in her posture and the directness of the question.
‘I trust the humans are unaware of your actual status or your real purpose for being there? They must not find out yet, you understand don’t you Katreen?” The Matriarch said raised her voice slightly.
Now Katreen was sure something was amiss, but there was not much she could do about what was troubling the Matriarch right now. If she thought the matter warranted her return home, she would have said besides they both had agreed that things here on Outpost Three of which the most importance.
“I assure you Matriarch they know nothing of my true nature or status only the Dolphi ambassador knows and he is honour bound to silence on the matter. The Gykaloo suspect something, but I can handle them.” Katreen said becoming a little pensive she wondered if she should mention the arrival of the Phyalain the Matriarch obviously noticed her change in mood as she spoke again.
“What else have you to tell me, daughter, you might as well tell me now as later and don’t worry about things here there has been some minor descent regarding our plans, but the matter is in hand,” the Matriarch said. Her voice calm showed no hint of her early anxiety.
So that was it, Katreen knew they did not have the full support in the circle, but they had enough sensible voices to put a stop to any nonsense. Still, the matter was worrying she may at some stage have to return home for a short while at least to help waylay any fears within the circle.
“The Phyalain representative arrived yesterday, and I believe D’Avolon has been quite impressed by him,” Katreen conceded. The corner of her mouth turned up slightly the only visible sign of her distaste towards the Phyalain ambassador.
‘You must discourage D’Avolon from forming any meaningful relationship between their respective races. The Phyalains are not to be trusted,” the Matriarch paused, and Katreen could guess what she was about to say next. “We have worked hard to get him there it would be a shame if anything happened to him because of some plot or other by the Phyalains,” she took a breath. “Mark my word daughter, I would order him removed myself if he becomes overly involved with the Phyalains. We would have to find someone to replace him, and it may set our plans awry for a while. Move carefully, daughter, my thoughts go with you and may the prophetess look kindly on your works,” The Matriarch concluded. Katreen nodded returning the ritual farewell.
Sitting down Katreen wondered if they could find another like D’Avolon in spite of what the Matriarch said. Humans seemed so diversified so independent one from the other it may be possible, but another like Captain D’Avolon would be tough to find. A knock sounded on the door, and Katreen put aside such thoughts.
“Enter,” she called. The door opened, and Sianna glided in bowing as she stood before her.
“You sent for me Katreen?” Sianna queried standing hands clasped in front waiting patiently for Katreen to speak.
‘Yes, Sianna I have an errand for you,” Katreen began.
Ishacas strolled along the second tier promenade casually looking at the shops and people as they went about their business. He got more than a few stares and more than one or two unfriendly looks from the humans. The Phyalain Wars as the humans had called them had turned most humans against his kind, and in no small part, his people reciprocated the same. Ishacas did not share his race’s sentiment, though he had fought against the humans during the wars. A decorated hero by his people he bared no animosity towards them in fact to a certain extent he admired them as worthy opponents. They were he believed in spite of all they said about being progenitors of peace a warrior race much like his own.
Ishacas noted the security guards wondering about the station they were unobtrusive and easily missed unless you had an eye for detail. He passed the Raeni ambassador heading towards what the humans called a bar where all manner of drinks and gambling tables catered for the like mind. From what he heard the Raeni liked to gamble. Ishacas considered going and speaking to him but thought better of it for now. His people had conquered the Raeni once, and he was sure the assassination of the previous Raeni delegate had been instigated by his people something he didn’t wholly approve. That brought him back to why he was here he wasn’t sure why. He knew he was becoming an embarrassment on the homeworld a former war hero which the masses looked up to was not what the present government wanted under foot right now especially when they were making overtures towards the humans. Why here though when they could have shipped him off to some forgotten colony. He shook his head lightly grounding his teeth he hadn’t realised that he had reverted to a high pitched clacking in his native insectoid tongue. Immediately space cleared around him and several humans a Sharimda and a Gykaloo looked at him warily. The humans looked ready to fight while the Sharimda looked at him sternly. The Gykaloo looked nervous, but they always looked that way; immediately two security guards appeared.