“These are the most impressive defense aircraft in our interstellar fleet,” says Commander Ugi, strolling down aisle of spacecraft more heavily armored than he is. Ugi is two heads shorter than Ekon, but Ugi’s muscles are more defined. His armor has been cut to his measurements to highlight their width. He has the swagger of a man proud to be commander of the Interstellar War Fleet. The are in one of the Fleet’s interstellar vehicle hangars.
The hangar’s walls disappear in the ocean of space speckled with hundreds of aircraft. Ekon taps the bottoms of defense vehicles as he passes them. They do not make a sound in their solidness. He looks for imperfections but finds not one. There is nothing he can complain about.
Commander Ugi proudly claims the spacecraft are explosion and weapon proof. “There are not many things that could take one of these babies out of the air, other than another warship,” Ugi says.
“Do all of the UJC member planets have access to warplanes like these?” asks Ekon.
“The UJC governs hundreds of worlds, but the only ones who have access to interstellar aircraft are the twelve speakers and Congoa.”
Ekon walks behind the man, nodding approval. The vehicles are armed with weapons capable of decimating the most formidable opponents. They are made of high-grade alloy metal fused with stealth technology, giving them the ability to disappear in midair. All that stands between Ekon and having absolute control over them is Ugi.
Commander Ugi stops near the steps of an aircraft. “This one is mine. Beautiful, isn’t it?” he says, patting the vehicle.
“It looks the same as the others,” says Ekon, licking his lips.
“Looks are not everything. Come.”
Steps drop from the side of Commander Ugi’s warship and they climb inside. For it to be such a large spacecraft, its interior is small. There is room for just one operator. The space is tight, forcing Ekon to edge around various levers and controls ranging every color from red to purple. The warnings and controls are labeled in three different languages. Ekon draws his hands and elbows closer to his body to avoid touching anything.
“Why are there the controls and levers written in so many languages?” Ekon asks.
“These aircraft were made long before the UJC established the Universal Language,” Commander Ugi says, taking his seat. He presses a white button and pulls the last lever on his left. A hissing sound follows.
“What did you do?”
“We’ve gone into stealth mode. Step outside and see,” the commander says, poking out his chest.
Ekon does as he is told and walks three feet from the aircraft. The warship is not exactly invisible. It is like a wave on the air Ekon would see when it is too hot outside and he is too thirsty. As he comes closer to the warplane, it is not fully visible until he is close enough to touch it. He climbs back inside.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Commander Ugi says. “Imagine this baby thirty thousand feet in the air dropping bombs and shooting lasers. The enemies would never know what hit them.”
“Are all the aircraft meant to be manned by one person?”
“This is the only one that carries just one person. The others carry a minimum of two. Half of the fleet is occupation vehicles with the ability to teleport people from the ground to the ship or vice versa.”
The two men climb out of the aircraft, after Commander Ugi shows off a few more of its features. Ekon asks if any of the enforcers have been trained in the use of these aircraft, and Ugi says no. They have no reason to be. Their focus is preventing uprising and disturbances on the planet. They keep local order. The Interstellar War Fleet addresses outside threats to Yabisi.
“My mother always spoke highly of you. How long have you served Yabisi’s military?” Ekon asks, strolling beside Commander Ugi.
The commander stops, stroking his long beard. “It has been over fifty years since I first donned the Fleet’s armor. I’ve been commander half that time.”
“Have you ever considered being an enforcer?”
“I used to be an enforcer a while back in another life. Enforcers help to protect Yabisi, but I wanted to do more.”
“Police enforcer an honorable job.”
“I agree, but the Fleet is more independent. My men answer to me. Keeping our independence from enforcers and the UJC is what has kept us fair and balanced and alive as a force.”
Ekon scratched his head. “I’m confused. Whose side are you on?”
“We are on Yabisi’s side. Every high speaker has come from the Noku bloodline. There have been many honorable high speakers from you family. There have also been tyrants who have abused the Fleet’s power,” says Commander Ugi.
“But you do serve and protect Yabisi?”
“Without a doubt. Not every call we get from a high speaker is just, and sometimes, we must decline. I am the deciding factor when determining if a call from a high speaker is worth answering.”
“That means we are on the same side. I appreciate your loyalty,” Ekon says, grinning and extending a hand.
Commander Ugi does not even glace at Ekon’s hand. “My loyalty is to Yabisi, and if yours is, then we are indeed on the same side.”
“Doesn’t sound like you have a lot of faith in me.”
“Your mother was an honorable woman. She may have been the best high speaker this world has ever seen. Or will see. I do not put my faith in men. They’ll let you down every time.”
“So, I shouldn’t put my faith in you?” Ekon says, his smile fading.
“My record precedes me, but no. Do not put your faith in me. Let me prove myself to you as I have every high speaker and vice versa. My integrity has never been questioned or compromised, nor will it ever be. I — ”
Commander Ugi chokes on own his blood, as the blade slices his throat. It is a perfect swipe, just above where his armored collar ends. He drops to his knees, looking up with accusatory eyes. As he reaches for Ekon’s legs, Ekon steps back and watches the commander’s life pour from him onto the red clay concrete floor.
Ekon shakes his head sadly. “We could have made an excellent team.”
“You are now the new Interstellar War Fleet commander,” Ekon says, finishing his third glass of poison dart frog blood. His speech has slurred, but he manages to sit upright.
Beebe leaps from the chair, eyes wide. He looks out the window, as though considering jumping from Ekon’s embassy office to the ground below. Absentmindedly, Ekon guesses Beebe has a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. Though, being a vegetable unable to feed himself is not much of a life.
“What are you talking about. Commander Ugi is already commander of the War Fleet,” Beebe says, composing himself.
“I thought you’d be happy getting such a promotion. A person like you could live twice and not be glanced at for a promotion.”
“I don’t want it. I would have liked it better if you told me Stella had agreed to go on a date with me. I’m fine as an enforcer.”
“It’s too late. Our friend Commander Ugi had an accident. You don’t have a choice.”
“He broke a bone or something?” Beebe says, confused.
“Sort of. I slit his throat,” Ekon says, grinning. He watches Beebe’s reaction with delight.
The panic in Beebe’s eyes is nearly palpable. He spreads his hands, spins and squints his eyes. “You did what? Those Fleet guys are loyal to him. They love him. If they find out what you did, we’re all dead.”
“They won’t, because no one is going to tell them. They will either follow your orders or be charged and convicted of treason at which point they will be hanged by the neck until dead.”
“How you going to explain Commander Ugi’s death to them?”
“We’ll pick up a thug from the Low District of Grot and frame him,” Ekon says, pouring another glass of dart blood. “We have more pressing matters though.”
“What could be more pressing than the murder of a War Fleet commander?”
“A journal my dear sister and her bot escaped with yesterday. It may contain things that could sway the other UJC to vote against Experiment G-Three. Also, it may contain my mother’s belief that I was somehow poisoned her.”
“This gets worse by the minute,” Beebe says, rubbing his temples, as if to relieve pain. “Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday? I could have caught her.”
“I sent my other Tau Bot after them. I need you here in the capital. Spread word to the rest of the police enforcers throughout Yabisi to be on the look out for Bahati and Imani Bot.”
“Done. But if I’m going to be commander of the Fleet, who is going to be chief enforcer?” asks Beebe, adjusting his orange and black armor.
“You will be both.”
Beebe purses his lips, as though he had been expecting such bad news. “This is a lot to take on. You sure we’re not in over our heads?”
“There is no river, swamp or ocean too deep for me to master. I have no opponents. Within the year, the UJC will be defunct, and I will be king of the Milky Way.”
Ekon tips his chair backward and faces the capital, relaxing as the last of the aged blood courses through his veins. The buildings appear to tilt and wave at him. Then, they kneel without knees. He has had too much blood, but the thought of giants made of red clay and steel kneeling before him is not so bad.
The people below crowd the sidewalks, going about their business. They hail taxi pods or climb onto airbuses. Simpletons. They are slaves who know nothing of power. The thought of being anything more than a slave to the economy never crosses their minds. Their weakness sickens Ekon.
Khalia babied these people. She worked her entire life as much a slave to the UJC as the people are to him. He knows she never wanted him to be high speaker. Her skin was as hard as any reptilian’s, but her heart was soft. Ekon’s is not. Dozens of time, she had tried to drill sympathy and empathy into him by telling him stories of whole worlds being annihilated. These stories had done nothing but harden him against such weakness.
Reptilians are not supposed to kill other reptilians, especially family members. Poison had killed his Khalia, albeit poison by his hand. Tau Bot or police enforcers would kill his sister. Ekon had extended her an offer to join him, but she had turned it down. Now, she is out there with secrets that could threaten his reign. It had taken great force to compel the mortician to complete the false autopsy report about Khalia’s “natural” death, and Ekon does not have plans to allow Bahati to unravel him. Once he gets from her what he wants, she will be flayed and slain the way the mortician had.
“What is that smell? Do you smell that?” Ekon says, turning from the window. It is the same sickly odor of death and flowers that lurks in his office at home, his mother’s former bedroom.
“I don’t smell anything,” Beebe says, sniffing the air.
Ekon sniffs underneath his desk and crawls around the office on all fours, smelling every corner and surface. The death odor is nowhere in particular. It is spread evenly throughout the entire space. It was not here a week ago. The stench followed him here.
“This office smells like something died,” Ekon says, sniffing Beebe’s neck and underarms. “You smell bad, but not like death.”
“Thanks. I guess.”
Ekon presses a button on his desk. “I want my office detailed first thing tomorrow morning,” he says when the receptionist answers.
“I don’t smell anything. Maybe it’s your imagination,” Beebe offers when the receptionist hangs up.
“There is an odor. I know what I smell. I’m not crazy.”
“Try laying off the dart blood. You’ve had three pints today. That stuff messes with the brain. Could drive you mad.”
“If anything is going to drive me mad, I want it to be frog blood.”
Ekon nods. “It is,” he says, grinning. “I talked to that fat roach Cimicidae.”
“I don’t think he’s a roach. He’s in the same family, but they’re like distant cousins maybe,” Beebe says, unsure.
“Whatever he is. He agreed to meet with me. I didn’t tell him what the meeting was about with interstellar phone taps being an issue and all. Yet he asked no questions. He’s a greedy slime ball.”
“How can we use him?”
“I’m going to use him and his fleet. The more firepower I have, the more control.”