“PADA!” THE BABY TERALLIAN ON THE SCREEN CRIED AND THEN GIGGLED.
The dreadlocks of flesh that older Terallians had were just nubs on her head and her skin was yellow with faint green stripes. She smiled and her yellow tinted baby teeth sparkled. Her mother, Rouchel, held the wriggling child close, talking softly to her.
Captain Amidien Lixu smiled, watching his wife and daughter. Rouchel wasn’t as quiet and reserved as most Terallians believed she was. It was all an act to keep her from being arrested or executed. Their joining had enraged his parents for many reasons. As a hatchling his parents had promised him to a countess which was now nullified since Terallians married for life, Rouchel was a common Terallian without an ounce of royalty in her bloodlines, courtships were supposed to take twenty years but the two married after five, and Amidien didn’t ask either of his parents approval for the marriage. Amidien had been sent to a prison labor camp for the marriage, but when Rouchel announced she was carrying their first child, Lixu released him and instead indentured Amidien to the Terallian Battle Fleet for 100 years – likely in hopes a battle would kill off. In three weeks that indentured servitude would be over and Amidien already had plans for his newfound freedom.
“How are my two favorite Terallians?” Amidien asked.
“PADA!” the baby cried, grabbing at the screen.
Her parents laughed. Amidien watched Rouchel’s smile. It was like the sun appearing over a mountain top, bright and alive. It made him long to go home, send the children to his sire’s house, and spend the day doing anything Rouchel wished – which was usually spending the day lazing in Traqis park and talking about the past and Earth.
“Her name seems to be the only word she understands,” Rouchel told him, hugging her daughter.
“She’s getting big. Pretty soon she’ll be talking all the time and you’ll wish she didn’t know the other words.”
Rouchel laughed, dipping her head. Amidien touched the screen over her dreadlocks. They were soft as a newborn offspring and he loved to feel them on his chest when he held her at night.
“I love you, Rouchel.”
She looked up at him, seeing his hand on the screen. She put her hand against the screen under his.
“I miss you, Amidien.”
“I’m coming home soon. In another three months.”
“I’ll count the days, my love.”
He didn’t understand why Rouchel used human phrases so much. Not that he really cared. Amidien looked down at his daughter, his first daughter after eight sons. His heart broke as he watched the chubby, happy baby. Unlike his sons, in twelve years little Pada would be expected to join with a Terallian that was three times her age and probably had five other wives. He wouldn’t love Pada or care about her wants or desires. Amidien had thought about that for several months now and came to a final decision.
“And when I return, I’m going to put in my leave and I’m going to take that offer to be a Merchant Raitor captain.”
“But we’d have to move to Earth.” Rouchel’s eyes narrowed slightly.
Amidien smiled, telling her everything she needed to know in it. But still he told her, “I promised we’d move there before you died, remember?”
Rouchel laughed, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. Pada looked up at her, laughing with her. Rouchel looked down at Pada, her hand drifting to the young Terallian’s cheek. She looked back up.
“Besides, I think I’ve had enough of being accused of earning my rank because I’m one of Emperor Lixu’s sons.”
Amidien was sure that the channel was being monitored, but the comment wasn’t worthy of punishment. It was considered honorable for a son to claim his position was of his own doing and not that of his father’s making.
Amidien moved his hand down, one finger lying over Pada’s head. Rouchel nodded. She understood the real reason behind the decision. He and Rouchel were concerned about their daughter’s future on Tetra or the Terallian colonies, a fear that Rouchel frequently whispered and cried about when they were alone at night.
“Then it’s settled?” Amidien asked.
Rouchel nodded. Amidien looked at the intercom when it beeped. His hand left the screen to tap the panel.
“Admiral Riliq is requesting to speak to you, sir. He is on a secure frequency.”
Amidien looked back at Rouchel and Pada. He hated to disconnect. An hour a week wasn’t enough for him, but he also couldn’t ignore Admiral Riliq.
“I’ll see you when you get home, Amidien,” Rouchel told him, “I love you.”
“I love you too, Rouchel.”
Amidien tapped the keyboard and the scarred, snarling face of Admiral Riliq replaced his lovely wife’s.
“Sir,” Amidien said.
“I love you? You risk saying something so weak minded on a monitored channel? I always knew you were too weak for the Battle Fleet, Amidien. If I’d had my way, I would have discharged you years ago.”
Admiral Riliq never gave Amidien a break, and he was sure it had a lot to do with Amidien not respecting his father.
Amidien bit his tongue from the acidic, snarling comeback that it wanted to spit at Riliq.
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” Amidien snapped.
“I’m transmitting your new mission. And you won’t be home in three months, so you may want to inform that rahetel and cancel your plans of joining Merchant Raitor.”
‘My wife isn’t a traitor,’ Amidien thought, ‘She is strong minded, something your twenty wives couldn’t fathom.’
“No, sir. The mission, sir?”
“You are to go to Karek. You will meet with another Terallian raider, a Paskian war craft, and an Avinion defender. Then you will all go to the Eslin system. Once you get there, cloak and await further instructions.”
“Permission to request further information, sir.”
“Why are we aiding the Paskian and Avinions with cloaked ships?”
“We aren’t. The ships have Terallian crews.”
Amidien was confused.
“How soon after we arrive should our raiders cloak?”
“All ships have Terallian cloaking matrixes installed. You will all cloak.”
“How soon after shall I expect further commands, sir?”
“Not long. Will that be all?”
‘No!’ Amidien’s silent voice snapped. “What’s going on!? Why do alien ships have our cloaking matrixes? Why do these ships have Terallian crews? I want to know why this whole thing feels very wrong and why I can’t go home to my wife. I was promised this would be my last tour!’
Amidien nodded once and Riliq was gone. He tapped the companel.
“Helm, make course adjustments to Karek.”
“The prison planet, sir?” his helmsman asked.
“Yes. Top speed.”
Amidien leaned forward and began typing a letter to Rouchel. She was going to be so disappointed, but better that, than him never coming home. Never coming home? This wasn’t a war he was headed into; he was just escorting ships to a dead solar system.
Amidien looked up, struck with that thought. A dead solar system?
The Eslin system consisted of a sun and three gas planets. No race lived there or claimed it. Why were they going to the Eslin system? His instincts told him that there was something insidious about to happen, something that may get him killed.
Amidien erased the start of the letter and began a new one. Rouchel and he had developed a secret code and he had to tell her to get off Tetra and to the safety of their friends on Earth. Instincts told him that if she stayed, she and the children were in danger.
Merchant Raitor Union Recruit Training
Protocols Class, Division II
Racism is common throughout the galaxy, but while serving with the Merchant Raitor Union, discrimination against another crewmember for their race, creed, religion, lineage, or orientation will not be tolerated and should be reported immediately. Anonymous reports are accepted at all spaceports, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed aboard a ship.