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LOCATION: PERSEUS ARM OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY
YEAR: 4097 HIJRI – 565 UNITED ARMY CALENDAR
United Army Squad 3690, in order of seniority:
- Yasin “Cutter” Rahman – Captain. Combat strategy master.
- Weili Menco Zhang – Corporal. Xeno-geographer. Calm and cool in battle. Carries a lasgun and a tekpi (trident).
- Ammar Abuzaid – Master Sergeant. Botanist and combat trainer. Oldest member of the squad. Quran hafedh.
- Bilal Mustafa – Fleet Officer. Xenobiologist, married to Rowaida.
- Rowaida Ali – Fleet Officer. Ship’s pilot, mechanic and fabricator, married to Bilal.
- Samir “Smasher” Sufyan – Specialist. Drone tech. Carries an axe. Multiple awards for valor, but also repeated misconduct violations.
- Amina Quraishi – Specialist. Computer tech and AI diagnostics. Hijabi. Silat expert. Fearless.
- Ami Abdulghaffar – Private first class. Medic and psychotherapist, plus botanist.
- Hisham – Private. Grenadier, plus supplies & requisitions.
- Summer – Private. Riflecarrier and food services.
- Tarek Othman – Private. Riflecarrier and janitorial. 18 years old.
* * *
The Andach’ are as far from crabs as we are from marmots. You imagine a great, battling crab, wearing armor and carrying a sword, and you think you know this species. Fool! Here’s the truth: the Andach’ are more than you imagine in every respect. Their history is more ancient than you guess; their love for their children deeper, their faith purer, their minds sharper, their compassion sweeter. If they seem primitive to you, beyond your barrel-visioned xenophobia, it is because in the past they never focused their energies on weapons of war. Their interests lay in exploration, terraforming and art. Combat between Andach’ was mostly ritual and ceremonial. For three hundred years they have been playing catch-up on the interstellar battlefield.
– From Ten Years With the Andach’, by Tarek Othman
* * *
The Audacity of Princess Arkady
Princess Arkady waited in a private room just off the great hall that would soon host the Presidium of the Andach’ Imperium of the Circle of All Seas of the Outer Migration. An attendant stood beside her, spraying freezing salt water onto her legs and abdomen from a mister. As befitting a soon-to-be queen, she wore nothing but a reed fiber headdress, with gold threads woven in. It hung almost to the ground on both sides.
Arkady’s great body pulsed, not only with determination and anticipation, but with the hormonal energies coursing through her. Her eight legs felt strong, and her arms were swollen with power.
As soon as she’d heard of the abominable murder of Queen Tchakatchk and her poor princesses at the hand of the humans, she had triggered within herself the cascading process that would transform her into a queen. It was irreversible. If the Presidium did not elect her to the position of queen right now, tonight, her body would begin to rot, and she would be dead in a week.
There was no guarantee that they would choose her. To trigger a transformation without confirmation from the Presidium was unheard of. They might reject her just to punish her audacity.
On the other hand… Her body had already grown 40% larger. Her black carapace gleamed as if in sunlight, and her wattle was huge and beginning to engorge with eggs. All of this had been done secretly. No one knew but her personal attendants, sworn to secrecy at the cost of their lives.
Most Andach’ would want to bow simply at the sight of her. They wouldn’t be able to help themselves. It was instinctive.
There would be other princesses here tonight, representing the twelve seas of the lost homeworld of Andacharan. But Arkady did not think that any of them would be brave or brash enough to do what she had done.
“Spray faster,” she told her attendant. The cold water soothed Arkady and kept her from overheating with excitement. The girl switched hands, pressing the trigger rapid fire.
The Outer Migration
Hear and attend! In the name of the Creator, Lord of the twelve seas of Andacharan, Master of heavens, land and water, Almighty and Omniscient Weaver of the Orion, Persean and outer arms, Great God of all migrations… The three hundred and tenth meeting of the Andach’ Imperium of the Circle of All Seas of the Outer Migration is now in session.
Quivering, Arkady opened the door of the chamber herself, not waiting for her attendant, and scuttled along the wide, high-ceilinged hallway to the gathering chamber.
She entered on the upper level, befitting her position as a princess. Mounting a podium, with her attendant beside her, she surveyed the gathering. The vast, circular room lay at the heart of a tremendous generational ship, itself the center of an armada of ten thousand spacecraft, all headed for the outer arm of the Milky Way galaxy.
The Outer Migration, as it was known, represented one of five great migratory movements of Andach’, all moving away from the human-occupied regions of the Orion and Perseus arms. It was not a surrender, nor cowardice but a commitment to the survival of the Andach’ race.
Outrage and Adoration
On the upper level of the chamber, two hundred Andach’ stood upon podiums, almost all with attendants beside them, misting them down. These were princesses and lesser royalty, as well as a handful of military generals and top administrators.
In the shallow pool of the lower level stood eight hundred engineers, scientists, military officers, wealthy property owners, tacticians, linguists, xenobiologists and other important personages.
As the gathering beheld Arkady, shocked murmurs ran through the chamber like sea currents. No other princess had done what she had. The sound of angry pincers being rattled rose high, along with protests that Arkady’s action was an outrage and an abandonment of tradition. Competing with these, however, were teeth-clacking approvals, and expressions of awe.
A handful of upper chamber members from nearby podiums scuttled over to Arkady and bowed to her, bobbing their heads and clacking their teeth. They were southerners like herself, with black exoskeletons. One was General Orgoch, a lauded warrior with a lifetime of achievement. Another was the owner of seventy five ships. “Our queen,” they whispered. “We pledge to you.”
An Organic Struggle
Debates ebbed and flowed. Arkady observed silently, biding her time. This was the way of the Presidium. It was not a straightforward vote, but an organic struggle for the hearts and minds of the attendees – royalty and commoners alike.
Some, especially the smaller blue-carapaced swimmers of the central sea, called for the armada to accelerate and leave behind all conflict with the humans. This was not surprising. The centrists were lazy. Not fighters by nature.
Their call was drowned out by the mass of the red-carapaced northerners. At four hundred strong, they were the largest single group present, and were filled with outrage at the death of their queen. Some called for the armada to turn around and head into the heart of human territory. “Attack UA Alpha!” someone cried. Others took up the cry. “Death to UA Alpha!” Pincers rattled until the sound drowned out everything else.
The idea was madness. UA Alpha was the headquarters of the humans’ United Army. It was a large moon that orbited an agricultural planet on the outer edge of the Orion arm. It was a long distance away in the wrong direction, and was probably the most heavily fortified celestial body in the galaxy.
Tchakatchk II, daughter of the murdered queen, seized her opportunity. She called, “Pledge to me, and I will turn this armada to attack and destroy UA Alpha! Revenge for my mother and the princesses! I am the obvious choice!”
Arkady held her breath. This was a pivotal moment. If all twelve seas of the Presidium rallied behind Tchakatchk II, the girl would become queen, and Arkady would wither and die.
“Spray faster,” she whispered to her attendant, and the girl now switched to a pincer, clumsily depressing the trigger again and again.
Some of the northern contingent cheered and teeth-clacked their support for Tchakatchk II, but not all. The northern princess was not like her mother. Where Tchakatchk had been pragmatic, intelligent, and genuinely concerned for the survival of the Andach’, her daughter was a flighty and uneducated opportunist.
The partial expression of support was not enough. Tchakatchk II called out again, but the response was lukewarm.
A pink princess of a small eastern contingent called for support on a platform of balanced consensus. No one paid attention. Arkady noticed that more and more, the gathered members were looking to her. The time had come.
Lifting her head, Arkady boomed, “ENOUGH!” Her unaided voice filled the chamber. Only a true queen could do this, for a queen had a huge thorax, and lungs twice the size of anyone else’s.
All eyes turned. “We are at a critical juncture. Tchakatchk was a great queen. Only someone of vision can replace her. We need someone whose heart passion is not for herself or her sea, but for the Imperium of the Circle of All Seas of the Outer Migration. I am that one. In the name of the Creator, Lord of the twelve seas of Andacharan, I call for your pledge!’
Instantly, every black-carapaced southerner bowed. The sheer emotional weight of the moment pulled along many others, who bowed as well. Among the northerners, however, all stood rigid. One, a red-bodied general of the upper chamber, called out, “We require assurances. We must have revenge for the murder of Tchakatchk and the princesses.”
“Their murder was heinous. I will weigh all options.”
“We must have assurances,” the general insisted. “We must -”
“YOU MUST?” Arkady raised her voice to its maximum volume. “One does not impose conditions on a queen!”
The general flinched. “You’re not queen yet…” he said weakly.
“I am no idle princess on pillows!” Arkady bellowed. “Behold a trained fighter who battled beside male warriors in the Battle of Qenady IV! I slew humans with my own hand, and took a wound. I have studied combat tactics, human history and language, weapons design, and even space agriculture. The transformation that I have already begun proves my commitment. You know that it must be me.”
“But… we demand…”
“YOU DEMAND NOTHING! The throne is not held for ransom. I call for your loyalty. I will remember who supported me at this moment.”
The red-shelled general finally bowed, and other northerners followed, until the entire northern contingent bobbed up and down in teeth-clacking submission, along with the rest of the Presidium.
A shudder ran through Arkady. The transformation was complete. Her body excreted a new pheromone, a powerful scent that even she could smell. It was a dominance odor that bound all those present to her.
Time to toss the northerners a bone. “Attacking UA Alpha is a logical impossibility,” Arkady said. “On the other hand, the murder of a queen cannot go unpunished.” She turned to General Orgoch, who had come to stand beside her. “Who was responsible for Tchakatchk’s death?”
“The humans in that battle were almost defeated,” Orgoch replied, “until a lieutenant named Yasin Rahman led them in a maneuver to ram the queenship. They penetrated the hull, and though greatly outnumbered, commenced a vicious attack on our people. They mined the ship with explosives, slaughtered innocents in the water room, burned our people with fire” – Orgoch shuddered – “and culminated with the murder of the queen and the princesses, and the mindless destruction of two thousand four hundred civilians, as well as four thousand warriors. It was a despicable war crime, and the greatest loss we have experienced in thirty years.”
Arkady’s own personal advisor, a lesser ranked officer who had taught her much over the years, broke in. “It should be said that there is some evidence that this Yasin Rahman did not personally murder the queen. It was a man of his who acted alone. Rahman may even have tried to stop it.”
Arkady waved a pincer. “A leader is responsible for his men.” She raised her voice again so all could hear. “We will send an assassin to kill the human lieutenant responsible for the death of the queen and princesses.”
Best of the Best
“A single assassin?” Orgoch inquired. “By reports, Rahman is an unparalleled fighter, not to mention the troops at his command.”
“Not just any assassin. We will send the best of the best. Someone who can infiltrate unseen, who walks in dreams and kills without warning. Someone faster, stronger and smarter than a human. A desperate, ice-blooded killer with nothing to lose.”
Orgoch nodded slowly. “A felis somni.”
“Yes.” Arkady clacked her teeth, showing resolution. “Send word to our recruiter on Felicidad. “Find the most skilled, vicious and bloodthirsty dreamcat, and hire him to kill Lieutenant Yasin Rahman. Tell him I want physical proof. I want Rahman’s frozen head, and the rest of his bones in a garbage bag, as he deserves.”
She called out to the gathering. “Death to Yasin Rahman!”
They chanted, stirring the water into waves: “DEATH TO YASIN RAHMAN!”
When Rahman was dead, Arkady would place his head on a pike in this chamber. Then she would lead the armada toward the outer arm, leaving this sector of the galaxy behind, along with its brutality and horror. Forget the Orion and Persean arms, with the lunatic bipeds that inhabited them. The Andach’ would make new lives amid virgin stars, and would begin a new history, until even the meaning of the word “human” would be forgotten.
* * *
Tessi One Clan
Rise felis somni!
Rise One Clan,
of forest and river fan.
city dweller and nomad.
Rise proud caster of dreams.
Never cower, never cease,
never die, seek no release
but by the hand of God.
– From Prayers, Chants and Hymns of Felicidad, by Tarek Othman
* * *
Tessi Thundercloud, twenty one years old, whose true and secret name was Tessi One Clan, strolled into the combat training room with her head up, shoulders back, and tail held high and alert. Her father had told her a thousand times that no matter how you felt inside, no matter how desperate and frustrated, you must always walk like you owned the world.
She eyed the three spectators on the observation deck above. Their presence was an excellent sign. It might even be the miracle she had been praying for.
One was the owner of the facility, Rolden. He was a tall, lean tom with gray fur, wearing bulletproof skintech pants and a red skintech windbreaker. His high ears held thick tufts of fur, his yellow eyes were like twin suns, and his tail was sleek. In all, a handsome felis. He’d made advances toward Tessi, which she had rejected, for – like the majority of Felicidad’s population – he was a blasted gods-server. She didn’t know specifically which god or gods he venerated, but what was the difference? Sun and stars, angel and demon, lightning or rain – all were false.
When the time came, Tessi would marry a fellow One Clanner. That was set in stone. Who, she did not know. Someone courageous, and as hard as granite, yet someone who nurtured the molten core of love that was every felis’s birthright. For though the felis were a violent race, Tessi believed that the violence covered a deeper and more vital nature – one rooted in love and faith.
She would marry someone who preserved and protected that nature, in spite of the evil that rose from the cities of this world like toxic foam. Someone who worshiped the One God, and whose thoughts and actions were predicated on this belief. Someone who would understand her and love her inside and out.
Beside Roland stood a short and portly ginger molly in a sharply pressed hemp fiber suit, with a pair of round spectacles on her nose. She might not look like much, but she bore prominent scars on her face and arms. Anyone with so many scars was either a terrible fighter, or a combat veteran. And if she were a terrible fighter, she would not be alive, so that left the other option.
Also, Tessi suspected that the spectacles were not what they appeared, and she would not be surprised if the molly carried hidden weapons. She was, Tessi knew, a recruiter for Galactic Security, a mercenary outfit that operated mostly within the Marachanda theater, where two genetically related races were battling for control of their solar system.
The third observer was an Andach’. The race that was fighting a centuries long war against the humans, and that humans derisively called “crabs.” He was a huge male with a gleaming black exoskeleton, black eyes and a full suit of blue armor. His armor displayed etchings that indicated he was a high ranking officer of some kind. He carried no energy beam weapons, only a sword and shield that hung from his abdomen. Tessi liked that. True combat in the ancient way. A test of skill and heart, not merely one’s ability to aim and depress a trigger.
Roland had a microphone attached to his lapel, and as he spoke his voice filled the room: “Stop gawking, Thundercloud. Get to it. What danger setting do you want?”
Only One Weapon
Tessi bit her bottom lip as she removed her gear and placed it in a locker by the door. Automatic needlegun, mini bolo gun, sonic rifle, three throwing knives, a spiked collar, her blue skintech unitard, boots, tactical gloves and goggles.
Within the training chamber, nothing was allowed but a single impact weapon or blade, and no weapons-proof clothing. She kept a telescoping baton. For clothing she wore shorts and a hemp fiber shirt, nothing more.
She normally fought on danger setting five, and just last month had upped it to six. That had been hard. She’d taken a laser burn to her shoulder and near the end of the session had been struck in the stomach hard enough to make her retch. It had been embarrassing.
But today there were observers. If she impressed them it could mean a job, which she desperately needed.
Of her two identical sisters, one had been blinded during a robbery by a dazzler deliberately set too high, and the other was enrolled in an expensive holographic engineering program, hoping to build a career and get off this mad world. Her bio father was dead, and her mother was brain damaged, a random victim of an inter-clan bomb attack. Tessi had seven other brothers and sisters, all with similar stories. She was one of only two siblings bringing money into the family. They relied on her and needed her. Without her work, her family would not eat.
And times were hard. Six months ago, Tessi successfully carried out a challenging assassination of a local gang leader, making it look like a heart attack. The client was pleased. Shortly afterward, however, she attempted an off-world kidnapping of a Tellian engineer, and failed. The intelligence briefing had not included the fact that the man had two felis bodyguards. She barely escaped with her life.
She knew these actions were not consistent with the beliefs of One Clan, but she rationized it. The gang leader had been an evil tom, responsible for much suffering. And the Tellian was a pagan off-worlder. Anyway, it was the only way. It was her only marketable skill, the only tool she had to save her family.
After that, the work dried up. At home, they were down to eating other people’s garbage. Her sister had had to pause her engineering education, and her mother was having seizures, for lack of medication.
Tessi kept on training. The guilt gnawed at her. She worked twelve hours a day laying brick, digging ditches for fiber optics, and sometimes conducting forced evictions for landlords. Instead of spending the money on her starving family, she came here to the combat training center and spent it on sessions, hoping to get noticed, because this was the only way. It was the only escape from poverty for her family, the only possible route to a better future.
Danger Level Nine
Now here they were. Rolden, a rep from Galactic Security, and an Andach’ officer, of all things. This was a once in a lifetime chance. She had to put on the best show of her young existence, right here, right now.
“Setting?” Roland repeated. “Are you ready or not?”
Tessi slammed the locker shut, and looked up. “Level nine.” She strolled to the center of the chamber, snapped the baton open and took up a fighting stance.
There was a long pause. “Level nine,” Roland said slowly, “Is a lethal setting, plus two times acceleration. That means the bot will attack two times faster than you can physically move. It won’t hold back. It will kill you.”
She clenched her jaw, gripped the baton, and unsheathed her claws. “Let’s quit jawing and start clawing.”
Roland shrugged. “It’s your cremation.” He touched a switch on a console on the wall behind him. “Attack will commence in three seconds.”
Three… two… one.
* * *
Next: All That is In the Heavens, Part 7: Autodoc
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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.
Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.
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