The Dark Empire, Page 1-6 by Wolfenshire ()
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The Dark Empire, Page 1-6
Another voice broke her concentration, it was Raen. She sighed.
“Whatca doing? Asked Raen.
Jasai pointed in the general direction of the other big red comfy chair. There was a matching VR helmet sitting on it. Raen picked the helmet up and sat down. He put the helmet on and was instantly standing at an archeological dig site on the side of a hill. Jasai was on her knees brushing dirt away from what looked like a fossilized dinosaur.
Raen knelt next to her. “This is interesting, what is it?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Jasai. “I could skip ahead, but I’d get a failing grade if I did that.”
Raen brushed at bit of the dirt. “Ah, I see, this is an educational VR program.”
An ominous bell sounded and voice announced, “First warning, unauthorized assistance.”
Jasai glanced up at Raen and he pulled his hand back. “Oops, sorry.”
“Is everyone settling in?” asked Jasai.
“Yeah, I hope you don’t mind, I put all that courtroom furniture away,” said Raen.
Jasai put her small brush down. “Save and pause program.”
The computer voice responded. “Natural History instruction module 1 paused at chapter 12, lab exercise 3. You have 24 hours to complete this lesson or you will be required to restart the exercise.”
Jasai stretched and sat back on her heels. “How did you put the furniture away?”
“There’s a control panel in there, it took a few tries but all the furniture folded up into the floor.”
“I didn’t know it could do that,” replied Jasai.
“I saw Zil at the train controls, I guess he knows what he’s doing?” asked Raen.
Jasai laughed. “Oh, no, I have the train on autopilot and all the controls locked. He just thinks he’s driving the train, I wouldn’t actually let him drive the train. I caught him standing in front of the train once trying to bribe it with a dead fish to backup so he could get his ball out that went under the train.”
“I see. So, why are we taking the scenic route?” asked Raen.
Jasai brushed the dirt off her hands and stood. “It’s the navigation software package doing it. The software has a safety protocol that won’t let you gate hop more than twice in a row for health reasons.”
Raen laughed and scratched his head. “Okay, so turn off the AI.”
“The AI is off, this safety feature is built into the firmware and can’t be removed. The Creators learned a long time ago that instant travel between destinations screws with you after a few years, so they passed a law that you have to experience the passage of time between destinations. It forces you to do all the things that keep your mind and body healthy, like sleeping, eating, watching cartoons, reading a book, brushing your teeth, stuff like that.”
Raen shook his head. “Yeah, but we instant travel all the time with the Crystal Bridges.”
“That’s short distance, we’re talking about gate hops across hundreds of galaxies in the blink of an eye. That kind of thing causes a lot of anxiety and health risks. In the early days of gate travel – that’s what the Creators invented to start replacing World Bridges – they had people dying from all kinds of mental and physical health problems. They discovered you have to have experience the passage of time to stay healthy when going those kind of distances.”
Raen raised a brow and nodded. “I get it. Your mind is subconsciously acclimating itself slowly during travel.”
Jasai smiled. She liked Raen, he was smart and understood when she explained advanced concepts the others would just stare at her stupidly. “Yep, could you just imagine our hatchlings and cubs being woken in the middle of the night during an attack, then in a few minutes being somewhere new and strange, and never being able to go back? They would all suffer serious anxiety and behavioral problems.”
“Any idea how long before we get wherever we’re going?” asked Raen.
“It says we need four days travel time.”
“Okay then, four days it is,” said Raen.
“Not exactly, there’s a minor problem,” said Jasai.
Raen sighed. “Of course there is.”
Jasai lifted her helmet and checked that nobody was listening, then put her helmet back on. “When the navigation module was built, it had been a very long time since the Sherata were living on the Creators world. The Sherata weren’t even remembered by anyone but a few historic scholars, so the software doesn’t realize the cubs are people. It thinks they’re our pets, so the train is going to stop every six hours to let us walk our pets and let them do their business.”
Raen shook his head and rubbed at his temples, this would go over like a lead balloon. “Let’s just tell everyone the train is stopping to let us stretch our legs.”
“Good idea,” said Jasai.
Raen and Jasai lifted their helmets, and Jasai should have known better. One of the cubs had seen her lift her helmet and look around, the cub knew something juicy was about to be said and had run over the moment Jasai’s helmet was back on. The cub was sitting between the two big chairs with a big grin on his face.
“What do I get if I don’t tell?” asked the tiger cub.
“You don’t get anything, it’s just the right thing to do,” Jasai said before Raen could stop her.
The tiger shot off for the back of the train at a dead run. Raen sighed and shook his head. “Jasai, you’re seriously the smartest person I know, with books and tech, but you got a lot to learn about people.”
Within two minutes every cub on the train was barking like dogs and scratching at the doors to be let out to go. Moeth stormed into the car with a frown. “Does anyone know what this is all about?” Raen explained the whole thing to Moeth. She pressed her lips together and shook her head. “You guys made this mess, you fix it. I’m going to take a nap.”
There was no fixing it. The cubs were bored and this had just become the game of the day. Raen tried to tell them to stop scratching at the doors, and in response they all lowered their ears and whined as if just hit on the nose with a newspaper. Rieka, Gaevin’s wolf partner, added to the mayhem by planting herself in the middle of the floor and declaring that if the tigers get to be wolves, she gets to be a tiger and proceeded to roar. Rieka didn’t really understand the difference between a dog and wolf, being that she had never seen a dog. The cubs surrounded her and barked enthusiastically while she continued to roar.
The game never really died, but became a catch phrase for years to come. Anytime a cub was asked to do something, they would often respond with a ‘Woof’ and run around in circles – and even the hatchlings picked up on the ‘Woof’ catchphrase and used it at every opportunity.
The train came to its first stop and the doors opened. The hatchlings and cubs poured out the doors to run around in the snow, all of them barking loudly. Koael stood with the others next to tracks and watched them playing in the snow.
“You don’t suppose we can just leave them here?” asked Koael. “All the barking is upsetting my bird.”
Moeth gave Koael a withering stare before turning to Raen. “You and Gaevin take to wing, I want aerial over-watch whenever the young ones are off the train. We don’t know what might be out here. Boae, you station yourself at the front of the train during stops, Sern and Saeber, you take the rear. Koael, you and your bird take the other side of the train, she can take to wing also and give us more eyes on the ground.
“Okay, but I can’t change to my bird form to help her if she gets in trouble,” said Koael. “Those Nano-bots are looking for me, they think I’m an escaped dinosaur.”
Moeth turned to Jasai. “The train has repair drones, every time we stop I want those drones doing maintenance on the train. I want this thing to stay in perfect condition, and get on that computer of yours and contact Aestar. You tell him I want those Nano-bots to leave Koael alone.”
“Okay, but what if he says no?” asked Jasai. “I mean, we are trying to run away from him.”
“You tell him if he wants our cooperation it will be on our terms and to get the Nano-bots off Koael’s back or we’re done with him.” A snowball arced towards Moeth and she stepped to the side, letting the snowball hit Koael instead. She turned to hatchlings playing in the snow and put her hands on her hips. “Who threw that snowball?” Fresh barking erupted from the playing hatchlings and cubs.
Raen put a hand on Moeth’s arm and squeezed gently. “Kind of harsh,” said Raen.
“We lost everything, an entire year’s worth of work,” said Moeth, “and we only have a week of food on hand, this is very serious.”
Twenty minutes later an automated voice announced the train would depart in ten minutes. Very wet and cold hatchlings and cubs climbed aboard the train and fought for position around the fireplace. Moeth took charge and sorted the mess out until socks, shirts and pants hung drying over every available piece of furniture. Jasai stubbornly tried to keep her big comfy chair but finally surrendered and went forward to the sleeping car.
The front sleeping car was decided to be used for the adults, the main car, which Jasai just fled, was for the adolescents, and the last car for the hatchlings and cubs – it was keeping the peace. She retreated to her room, which was now Raen and Moeth’s room, and sat at her computer. Jasai was keeping the computer in here, she didn’t want Robert trying to figure out how to play video games on it.
She wrote out her first message to Aestar.
‘Master Aestar, we need the Nano-bots to stop chasing Koael.’
A message returned almost immediately.
‘Jasai, I took care of that shortly after I realized his alternate form was a dinosaur. They haven’t been chasing him since the first day he received his new night tattoo. What is your intent now?’
Jasai typed out the reply and sent it.
‘Sern, Koael, and I plan to return to our studies if you permit, but the others do not want you messing around in their personal lives.’
The next message took a little longer to arrive. Aestar had obviously considered his response carefully, but not carefully enough. He didn’t really understand the Darai – they might share similar DNA, but the Darai culture was vastly different than his own.
‘Jasai, I look forward to having you return to your studies, but I cannot agree to your terms of non-interference. There is much to be done to prepare you for the future.’
Jasai didn’t hesitate in her reply and sent it a few moments later.
‘I’m sorry to hear that, I did like my lessons, so did Sern, and I’m sure Koael would have too. Take care and thank you for everything.’
Aestar’s reply was just as swift.
‘Jasai, teenage temper tantrums are beneath you. I am sending a Trader with supplies for you. He will be at your next stop. Consider your demands for me carefully. I will entertain reasonable requests.’
Jasai shut down the computer and left the room to find Moeth – Moeth wasn’t going to be happy. Aestar wasn’t backing down on interfering in their personal lives. She found Moeth drying a cub off with a towel.
“Well?” asked Moeth.
“He already gave the command to make the bots stop chasing Koael.”
Moeth looked up at Jasai but the girl wouldn’t hold her gaze. “I see, he wants us to return without any concessions?”
“He said he’ll entertain reasonable requests.” Jasai tensed and waited for Moeth to explode, but she surprisingly didn’t.
“I’ll pen a letter and send it to him by Post Rider,” said Moeth. “Don’t send any further messages for now. I’ll let you know.”
The next six hours went quietly. The hatchlings and cubs, as well as everyone else was tired and slept most of that time. Jasai’s comfy chair was taken by Koael and his raven. Koael was asleep so she just let him sleep and went up the engine car. Zil was curled up in a corner against the engine housing, it was warm there and she left him alone. She sat in the pilot’s chair and watched outside. They were much lower in the mountains now and only occasional patches of snow could be seen. She watched entire herds of deer running out of the path of the train, and had an idea.
She went to her room and found Raen and Moeth asleep in her bed. She reached to shake Raen awake, but his eyes flew open and his hand went to his dagger before she could touch him.
“What is it, Jasai?” he asked.
“We’re going to be at the next stop in an hour,” said Jasai. “There’s going to be a Trader there with supplies, and that’s good, but I think we should send Tarabeth and Maseth out to hunt. I’ve been watching herds of deer everywhere for the last couple of hours.”
“Maseth, what do you think?” asked Raen.
Maseth stood up from the other side of the bed. She hadn’t know he was sleeping in here. “We’ll have thirty minutes, I think we can bring back six or seven, maybe more if there are that many deer out there.”
“We can do a dozen, he’s being modest,” said Tarabeth’s voice.
Jasai looked around the edge of the bed and saw Tarabeth lying next to her brother. “I think the more the better, I’ve never been where we’re going, so I don’t know what’s going to be available to hunt.”
“We have three more days,” said Moeth. “If we put an order in with the Trader for salt, we can hunt at each stop and salt pack at least a month’s worth of meat. Good thinking Jasai.”
“It’s pretty cold outside,” said Raen. “If we turn off the heat to the last car and open all the windows, that will give us a refrigeration car to keep the meat preserved while we pack it. The cubs and hatchlings can sleep in the dining car.”
Maseth leaped across the bed to the door. “I have an idea how to make this work even better. I’ll start getting everyone ready.” Maseth disappeared around the door.
Raen sat up and stretched. “He’s been stepping up a lot lately.”
Tarabeth rose to her feet and yawned. “With Father missing, Maseth is the Alpha now.”
Moeth sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. “Don’t worry, we aren’t abandoning Batheba. Once I know the cubs are safe, I’m returning to find him. I promise you, that forest will run red with the blood of my enemy for what they have done.”
Jasai was actually a Jackdaw, not a Raven, and while not squeamish, it was uncomfortable and scary when Moeth got in one of her moods. Jasai quietly backed out of the room, and even Tarabeth silently padded out with her. As she was pulling the door shut she heard Raen say, ‘you are so sexy when you talk like that, come here my dark hearted death goddess.’
Jasai shuddered and pulled the door shut.
Image Comments (15)
With all those youngsters in a confined space, that place must be chaos. A road trip with our grandchildren gets to me after a half hour. I can't imagine days on end with all those rambunctious little bodies. This story continues to capture my attention and ring true to the personal interactions.