Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Summary

Doctor Truman Barnet became a captain in the Merchant Raitor Union to spend his days traveling space. But he and his mistfit crew land themselves in the middle of a war, with a killer aboard.

Genre:
Scifi / Drama
Author:
A. Rhea King
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
32
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

13 April 2660

UNDER THE LIGHTS OF THE CONGRESSIONAL ROOM, TERALLIAN EMPEROR Lixu’s yellow and dark green striped skin glistened with an almost glowing sheen. His lizard eyes focused on a holographic screen at the center of the room, and the video playing on it. An external camera on a Terallian freighter ship saw a dozen Merchant Raitor Patrol Vipers rushing through the blackness of space toward it.

The view changed to show a Dilcarq trade ship. As Vipers moved to surround the ships, his head drifted to the left to follow the Vipers. Dreadlocks of skin fell across his face. Colored tattoos decorated most of the dreadlocks, along with several piercings which tinkled like wind chimes on each subtle movement. Not that he would ever notice such a refreshing sound the only artistic skill Terallians possessed. His scaly, bony fingers curled around the arms of his chair. Long, yellowed fingernails pushed into the scratches he and his predecessors had dug into the ancient wood.

The view cut again to show a Merchant Raitor Patrol cruiser coming to a halt. He leaned back, jerking the edge of his green and yellow robe over his triple jointed knee. Sewn onto the shoulder of his robe was the rank insignia of an admiral and flowing down the robe were various symbols of the ancient Terallian language to identify his family house.

The video cut out and it left his blood boiling. Intense anger coursed through him, making the veins down his neck pop up and the green stripes across his body darken. Anger flared his nostrils, lifted his lips into a sneer to show his small, serrated, sharp teeth.

He looked down the oblong table below the holograph screen. Lixu sat at the head of the table. To his left were twelve advisors of industry, commerce, religion, and various other areas of government; to his right, were twelve military advisors. Across from of him was his family advisor and liaison for his wives and children. Lixu didn’t trust any of them. He didn’t trust his eight wives, twelve children, or numerous grandchildren. Once, a hundred and eight years ago, his father and he were waiting for a banquet and his father told him distrust was a strong ally for all emperors. He told Lixu to trust no one, not even his family. He looked Lixu in the eye, and told him that his own blood was perhaps his worst enemy. The next day, Lixu killed his father and usurped the throne, proving his father right.

“What happened?” Lixu snarled, his teeth gnashing each syllable.

“We were selling weapons to the Dilcarq, as you ordered, Emperor,” came a slithering reply from Admiral Riliq.

Admiral Riliq sat on Lixu’s right and was always the most vocal of his advisors. He was the youngest Terallian to hold the rank of Admiral, but Lixu also admired how he had earned it. Any time a superior officer dared to question his advice, Riliq challenged them. That meant a hand-to-hand combat to near-death – however, the rules didn’t prohibit actually killing one’s opponent, and Riliq never left his opponents alive. He had the cunning, deceit, and brutality Lixu wished he could see in any one of his own sons.

Riliq continued, “Without provocation the Merchant Raitor Patrol arrived, took the weapons into possession, arrested both crews, and impounded our vessels. The Dilcarq have refused further trade with us because of this incident.”

Along his long snout, Lixu’s lips twitched.

“They interfered with a trade again?” Lixu asked, although it wasn’t really a question. He knew the answer. This happened far too frequently. How many millions of cubits had been lost because of these raids that the Merchant Raitor board deemed ‘illegal’ or ‘monopolizing trade markets’?

With a voice dripping of disdain, Riliq answered, “Yes, Emperor Lixu.”

Parak, a general advisor halfway down the table on his right, cleared his throat. “With respect, Emperor, it is in our peace agreement with Merchant Raitor that we aren’t to sell weapons without obtaining the appropriate permits and informing the Merchant Raitor board. We failed to follow procedure… Again… Emperor.”

Lixu’s angry eyes lifted to the Terallian, who immediately looked away and sat back to hide behind the others.

“Should we really have to get permits to trade outside of the Merchant Raitor Union, even for weapons?” Riliq growled at Parak. “We don’t have to have permits to trade staples with the Dilcarq, why weapons?”

Parak didn’t reply, seeming to sense he’d already put himself in danger.

Lixu, for a brief moment, was indecisive. He knew why that regulation was in place. He had read all of the regulations and protocols before agreeing to sign the peace treaty. The Merchant Raitor board didn’t want unauthorized weapons used against other Merchant Raitor nations. His indecision vanished when he remembered the billions of cubits that had been lost when the weapons were seized and the trade compromised.

“General advisors, you are dismissed.”

They didn’t move at first. They looked at each other as if they didn’t understand the order.

“GET OUT!” Lixu screamed.

They quickly obeyed, falling over themselves to leave.

After they were gone, Lixu asked, “Riliq, didn’t Advisor Parak just have a male child?”

“Yes.”

“Order it killed and be sure he understands that if he speaks out again, all his children will be executed.”

Riliq tapped a button and a holographic keyboard and monitor appeared before him. He quickly sent the order.

“The Merchant Raitor was interfering with our trade and economy long before we tried to be at peace with them,” Lixu continued, “and for eight years I’ve listened to my people voice they too are tired of the meddling.” Lixu looked at each face of his military advisors as he ordered, “Buy or steal three ships from every nation, hide them, and equip them all with a cloaking matrix. The Tetra Empire is about to rise again.”

The room vibrated with gnashing teeth, fists pounding on the table, and roars of approval.


Like aged Gaxean Barutiaa mead, trust knows how to kill or make a soul true.

—Basparah proverb


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