The Prime Empire - Parts 27&28

Ren'brus lay on the medical table, surrounded by comforting vines and branches. He inspected the areas where the Ven Saish had nearly torn his arms from his body. He felt extreme relief at not having to go through the painful and inconvenient process of regrowing a limb.

The door to the recovery bay opened with a sound like wind rushing through a canopy; in stepped the captain of the ship.

Ren'brus waited for the captain to finish his prostration before greeting him. "Gul'bres," he acknowledged with a nod, "What has brought you here?"

Gul'bres looked up to meet his eyes, "The Prime has requested to have a discussion with you, Prefect. She requested to be made aware the moment you were recovered enough to speak. The caretaker has reported that the time has come."

Ren'brus bobbed his head in the Human fashion. "Fine. Help me to stand, I will speak with her as soon as she is ready."

Gul'bres stood, sweeping his arms in another, smaller bow. He walked up to the Prefect's side and held two of his arms, aiding him in standing. Ren'brus stood with the careful hesitance known best by those who have come to expect pain to accompany the slightest motion. He chittered in excitement at the lack of pain to greet him. Gul'bres bobbed his head. "I am glad you are feeling well, Prefect. Now, please follow me."

They walked through the underbrush. Ren'brus breathed deeply, luxuriating in the feeling of breathing the air of his home. Spending so much time on the Terran ship had been a trial; the air there was sterile, lifeless. He never understood the species who chose to breath dead air. As they walked through the main hall, he took the opportunity to feel the flora against his hands. All five arms bent to feel blades of the chakra plant. The blades felt like petting the thick, matted fur of a Horn'el'ing.

After too short a time, they approached the door leading to the communications center. Ren'brus placed a clawed hand on Gul'bres's top right shoulder. "I wish to absorb the sight of this for a moment longer, for I know that soon I will have to return to the Terran ship. Just wait a moment."

Gul'bres nodded in the Terran fashion. "I will let her know that you are nearly ready. May I remind the Prefect to not keep the future Prime waiting?"

"Consider me reminded," he gestured towards the room and turned to fully consume the sight before them. Light flitted down through the canopy, the sound of animals calling for mates, the breeze which circulated the warm, moist air—it was deeply refreshing. He wondered if he would be able to convince the Prime to allow for spaces like this on ships they would build in the future. He hoped she would agree.

He took one last deep breath of the living air, and reluctantly turned and walked into the communications room. On a small monitor there was the face of Captain Winterborn. She showed her teeth as he approached. He still had to keep himself from growling at the sight. In Terran culture, showing one's teeth was a sign of happiness and displayed that you were not a threat. In his culture, such a display—if unwarranted—would likely lead to a fight. He showed his teeth to her in return. She seemed gratified by the gesture.

"It's nice to see you Ren'brus," she greeted him.

"I am grateful that one such as I can please you, Prime," in spite of himself, he avoided bowing—another thing he had to get used to. Soon, prostration would dry up and die in the Empire. The practice had spread to their 438 species during the reign of the Quin'tel. That practice would lose favor shortly.

"I wanted you to hear this from my mouth, though I'm sure you've already been briefed—the Ven which attacked you was killed by my security forces. We took only one casualty," her voice caught with emotion, "Lieutenant Fallborn was the one who was injured."

Ren'brus let out a mourning rattle. "I am sorry. I know that you and she are close. I am glad that she will recover." He was filled with a deep sense of regret. The Ven had not been ordered to take the actions that it had. They had already sent a coded message to the Ven home world, Veraxia II. There had been no response.

A drop of water leaked from her eye. From his research, this was a known method by which Humans expressed emotion. Most species could secrete water from their eyes, but all species he knew used this to clear eyes of dust, dirt, or other foreign debris.

"Prime. Was this all you wished to speak of? I do not wish to be impertinent, but I am still recovering," he said.

"No," she wiped a tear away, "No, that is not all. I wanted to check in on how you were doing. I'll be needing a guide when we arrive at Quin'tel. We are nearly to the nexus, and soon I'll need someone to guide me through the political realm of Quin'tel."

He couldn't help but bow. "Prime, you do me greater honor than you can possibly imagine. There is a problem, however..."

She looked surprised, "And what exactly would that be?"

"Sin'tel is still the Prime in name. He has barred me from stepping foot on Quin'tel. He is convinced that I am a traitor and saboteur."

"Can't I override that order? I am going to be there to dethrone him, after all," she wore a wry smile.

"No. When you have been formally inducted into the role of Prime, you will of course have nearly-unlimited power. Until that time, Sin'tel could still have me killed the moment I stepped foot on Quin'tel."

Winterborn leaned back in her chair. Her face was a mask to him. While he was likely the foremost expert on Humanity in the system, that still meant he was a neophyte.

"Who would you suggest I take instead?" she asked.

He nodded, showing his teeth. "Gul'bres is a capable politician when he chooses to be. He is also of clan blood with Sin'tel. He would not risk moving against his own blood. He can be trusted."

She nodded and showed her teeth in return. "Very well, I'll take him on for the position. Still, I'd like to see you and the others before I go planet side. Any information on what I can do to better prepare for this is welcome," she looked concerned, "Until then, do try to get some rest. Winterborn, out."

The screen went black. Ren'brus leaned back into the chair, rubbing his face with his fifth arm. "I hope this has all been worth it. I really do."

He stood on unstable legs, walking amongst the flora of his world, taking comfort in the familiarity.

Part 28

Winterborn gazed down at Rosa, whose med-bay room she had spent the night in again. She rubbed the crust from her eyes, lamenting her lack of sleep over the past couple of days. She had ordered a small cot brought into the room, as she had been getting a serious back ache from the nights spent in the uncomfortable chairs.

She reached out a hand, stroking Rosa's comatose face. "We all miss you. We really do." With a lingering glance, she walked out of the med bay, heading for her room. Upon her arrival, she noticed Lieutenant Kali standing outside the door.

"Lieutenant, I didn't expect to see you here so early."

"Sir," she replied, "I saw you were typically getting an earlier start these past two days. I wanted to make myself available to you."

Winterborn laughed. "I appreciate the initiative. You can wait here a moment, I need to shower and get dressed."

Winterborn hurried through her shower and dressing; today was an important day. Today, she would finally see the nexus which would carry them to another star system. She had always been interested in wormhole theory, considering it was a fantastic way to facilitate large-scale civilian travel. This nexus could be an example to the rest of the Terran Dominion.

She could hardly imagine the benefits such a network of wormholes could yield. She considered that the Prime Empire itself probably wouldn't be able to exist without something of this nature. Historically, the ability of an empire to exert control over large territories were dependent on their ability to move both goods and forces quickly and efficiently. While jump drives gave the ability to move fleets almost instantly, they would be prohibitively expensive to equip on every ship.

She finished dressing, walking back into the hall. She nodded to Lieutenant Kali and began walking towards the conference room. Kali followed, staying silent as Winterborn went over the reports from the previous night. She stopped cold while reading a security report—the document detailed another breakthrough in the Ven data-storage device.

Just as Kali turned to ask what was wrong, Winterborn quickened her pace. Calling for an early meeting in the conference room. "We will discuss it when the others have been assembled. Order food and drink for the officers attending."

Kali nodded, increasing her pace to match Winterborn's.

They walked down the ceramic-tiled hallway, reaching the conference room expediently. Winterborn palmed open the door and sat down at her chair at the head of the long table. She gestured to the seat to her right, motioning for Kali to take her place.

They waited in a tense silence; Winterborn bit her lower lip, thinking about the content of the report. If what the interpretation said was true, then the arrival to Quin'tel truly would be eventful.

One by one, the other officers stepped in. Ava was the last, it was obvious she had been awoken by the summons. She walked to the head of the table, looking at her captain expectantly.

"Everyone," Winterborn addressed her crew as she stood, "Ava has made a breakthrough with the Ven storage device. She has the floor." She retook her seat, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

Ava coughed, made nervous by the intense stares of her fellow officers. "Well, last night we had a success in accessing the device. The AI we had tasked with breaking the encryption made some kind of leap in logic. We really don't understand how it was able to break the code. It was a rotating-"

"Please just tell us what exactly the data storage device holds. I'm sure your people verified that the device was in fact opened, right?" Val asked in anticipation.

"Well, the device appears to have held the orders for the Ven. We were able to contact the Quin'tel and receive a cipher for the Ven language. The documents we found paint a fairly damning picture of the previous Prime—Sin'tel."

"...Why would the previous Prime bring us here? It doesn't make sense. I'm a couple days from having his job. He seems extremely hesitant to give it up," interjected Winterborn.

"The document says that their primary goal was to flush out Ren'brus and his faction of discontents. Sin'tel apparently paid the Ven to make contact with Ren'brus, offering to bring them a new species to guide them for a small price. Ren'brus and his compatriots would then be implicated in attempting to overthrow the Empire and be killed. In the deal, Humanity would be brought under the Empire's dominion. If we hadn't discovered the Ven, we very likely would have been enslaved when we arrived for you to be crowned. Without the reports detailed in this data storage device, he won't have the data he needs to claim that they discovered us first," reported Ava.

Winterborn nodded her head, thoughtful. "So, why did the Ven try to kill Ren'brus, Bre'brus, and Val'brus? What did they expect to happen?"

"Sir, it appears that Sin'tel had communication with the Ven after he contacted you. We believe he had gained all the information he needed on Ren'brus's faction and wanted to clear as many of them as possible. In the data storage device there are also reports of other Ven being used as assassins to kill other prominent members of their faction."

"What about the Icarus? What part did having them attack us play? Wait...were they using that as a distraction to carry out an attack on the Quin'tel?" asked Winterborn.

"Yes, Sir. It appears that the Ven are meticulous record keepers. They were interrupted by the, and I quote, 'surprising deftness in defeating the Icarus'. Sir, it just about explains everything. I think we will have to be extremely careful of Sin'tel. If he went this far, we could be facing an entrenched and determined enemy on Quin'tel," Ava warned.

Winterborn stood slowly, an expression present which her crew had never seen on her usually affable face. Wrath. Pure and unadulterated wrath.

She spoke through tight lips, each word thundering with harsh intent. "Verify everything you can. If this is the bastard responsible for nearly killing one of my crewmen, I will see them burn." She walked out of the room in a fury.

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