Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Chapter 8

AMIDIEN WAS ALONE IN THE JOINT ROOM – THE MAIN MEETING ROOM OF HIS ship – staring numbly at the holo-pad in his hand. He thought the orders were wrong when they’d first been delivered to him. He ordered his communications officer to decode the orders four times and ordered diagnostics ran on the communications array five times. The array was working and the message was decoded properly.

Amidien tapped the communications pin on his shoulder. “Computer, join the meeting points from the nearby fleet ships.”

The computer beeped and responded, Meeting points have been linked, Captain.

“Captains and commanding officers, report to the joint room immediately.”

Amidien read the orders again, trying to wrap his mind around them. He didn’t notice that his seven commanding officers appeared as holographs around the meeting room table. Five, then ten, then fifteen minutes.

“Captain Amidien?” one finally said.

Amidien looked at the speaker, Major Erchan. He was five years younger than Amidien and he wasn’t the Fleet’s best engineer, but he’d been Amidien’s best friend since he’d joined the Battle Fleet. Amidien went out of his way to keep Erchan safe by requesting him as his chief engineer on every ship he captained.

Amidien looked back at the holo-pad. “I have received our mission orders.” Amidien looked up, hiding how anxious he felt. “By order of Emperor Lixu…” Amidien hesitated. What if he never gave this order? What if he pretended it had never been received? But he knew the answer to that. The logs would show it had been received and if Rouchel and his children hadn’t made it off Tetra yet, he’d put their lives in danger.

“The following are the mission objectives and procedures. We are to anchor a short-range distress beacon between the second and third planet. When a Merchant Raitor vessel approaches to assist, I will order either the Halitar or Traus to attack. The attack is to last at least fifteen minutes so that the responding ship’s visual sensors can clearly make out the ship attacking them. When the fifteen-minute mark is indicated, they are to be destroyed. Prior to the ship’s destruction, the ship’s captain and First Executive Officer are to be transported onto the attacking ship. The Terallians that have undergone alteration surgery will carry out torture, obtaining all the information they can about Merchant Raitor and Merchant Raitor Patrol. This is to be recorded. The captain and First Executive Officer are not to be killed by torture, but near death is permitted. Once they have reached this point, you are ordered to record their dismemberment. All recordings are to be held until further instructions are transmitted.”

Amidien stared at the holo-pad. He couldn’t look up. Over the years he’d helped and befriended many Merchant Raitor officers of all ranks. He was a ‘god father’ to a human captain’s child – although he wasn’t exactly sure what a ‘god father’ did. This order would mean that he’d have to watch some of those friends die and that made his stomach turn.

He was grateful he wasn’t in command of the ships that would attack them. He wouldn’t be able to order a ship to fire on any of the ships that his friends were aboard.

All reluctance aside, Amidien didn’t even understand why his father would issue this order. When Merchant Raitor found out about these attacks – and Amidien was certain they would – the board would ban the Terallian’s from the Merchant Raitor Union. All trade with Merchant Raitor nations would stop. Was it his father’s paranoia or one of his terrible advisors behind this?

“It’s about time we did something about them,” a captain said.

Amidien didn’t reply.

“Don’t you think, Amidien?”

Amidien looked at the holographic faces. “I’ll transmit copies to all ships and forward all other mission orders as they come in.”

Amidien walked toward the door.

“What’s your opinion on this mission, Amidien?” he heard a different captain ask.

He stopped at the door, hand poised over the door controls.

“My father has issued an order. We will obey.”

Amidien left the room, letting the other Terallians say what they dared. He had hardly left the room when he heard footsteps run up. Erchan held Amidien’s gaze for a moment, and then looked at the floor.

“Sometimes I don’t understand the Universe,” Erchan said.

Amidien smiled. They had developed their own code. It allowed them limited conversations about illegal topics. Universe meant his father, the wretch who had ordered this mission.

“Me neither,” Amidien said.

“I’d ask it questions, demand it explain itself, but it won’t. It just surrounds us and makes us keep to ourselves.”

Amidien nodded.

“It should take four hours to prepare the beacon,” Erchan continued. “I know I’m not required at a post for at least that. Are you?”

“No. What did you have in mind?”

“I feel like getting… What’s the word I always hear that human friend of yours say?” Erchan thought for a moment and then grinned. The grin always made him look like a young hatchling and was usually a precursor to the two of them getting in a lot of trouble. “Oh yes. Shit faced.”

Amidien laughed. Erchan had accompanied him on most of his visits to Earth and easily picked up human slang from all their languages.

“I can’t get that intoxicated, but I will have a couple drinks with you.”

Erchan smiled, but Amidien saw it didn’t touch his eyes. He was using it as a ploy to hide from the eyes and ears around them how he really felt about the mission. He didn’t want to be there any more than Amidien. He didn’t want to hurt any of his Merchant Raitor friends either, but he was a rare Terallian, like Amidien. He loved every one of his five wives and adored all of his offspring. So the two of them would go through with the mission, give each other strength, and feel distressed in their stomachs every time a Merchant Raitor ship was destroyed.

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