6521 words (26 minute read)

A Leap of Faith

Chapter 2. A Leap of Faith.

“Teodor! Where is Teodor?”

Teodor heard his name being called, but also recognized the voice. He knew what they wanted, so he muted his comms, and concentrated instead on the white railing that was the inner edge of the racetrack. The two-meter high Snow Goran of Sas Darona was larger, faster, and more powerful than its tiger-striped competitor. The tiger though had the lead, only if Teodor could find an opening and pass, he could win.

To his right, he saw an ancient tower of windswept rock that marked the far end of the course. He was racing along a self-assembling track; each of the units was moved by a cluster of droids on the underside. The all was controlled by a track computer that randomly generated new twists and turns, climbs and descents at each stage of the race. However, the race itself was being run in a narrow canyon, and Teodor had realized that this external geography did constrain the options so, at the end of the canyon, the track could only go one way.

His eyes lit up. He saw it. The small deviation that indicated the track was bending into a high, tight hairpin bend. Teodor goaded his Goran to the left. Together they leapt off the track and into emptiness. For a few instants, the boy and his racer were flying through the air, high above the canyon, with the wind in their faces, and the sun on their backs. Even as they took what looked like a suicidal leap into disaster, the track pieces assembled beneath them, and the great Snow Goran needed no further encouragement, stretching its leap to land smoothly and set off in a last sprint to the winning post.

Driven by adrenaline and exhilaration, the boy and his racer sprinted on, barely caring how the moving track pieces, so smooth and swift to date, now rocked and trembled as they clicked ahead of them mere instants before the Goran’s front paws. They passed the winning post, four clear lengths ahead of the rival.

With the reins loosely in his hand, Teodor leapt clear of his mount... He reached up to stroke the saliva-soaked beard in a thank you before passing the reins to a lithe stable girl. She smoothly brushed up against him while seemingly only wishing to take control of the racer. Teodor felt himself blushing and looked away beyond the fence. Sebastian was waiting. He switched on his comms.

“I’m sorry. I’m late.”

“You will be,” Sebastian warned him.

Running from the race course with Sebastian on his heels, Teodor paused at the door and set down his racing gloves and helmet on a low chair. Stripping off his sweat-stained silk shirt, Sebastian handed him a damp towel to wipe himself down and a dry towel to finish with. Teodor wiped his face, his underarms, his chest and belly, and reached for the second towel. Sebastian was cleaning his neck and back.

“Don’t fuss,” Teodor said tetchily, reaching for his white shirt with a gilded collar which hung alongside his red and gold jacket of office. Sebastian ignored him reaching up to pull a brush through his hair and then helped Teodor with his cufflinks and collar.

Teodor glanced once in the mirror, as he pulled on the red and gold jacket with its gold buttons, intricately embroidered neckline and hem. He was not just any boy; he was Teodor, the fourteen-year-old King of Freyne II.

I’m fat! He thought bleakly, when had that happened? Did he not train every day?

“You look fine.” Sebastian had seen him wincing at his reflection and as always, had come to the correct conclusion. “You could lose that weight if you followed your diet sheet.”

“Don’t start,” Teodor replied rudely and pushed through the door to the meeting. Sitting at the table were 3D holograms of his emergency plague counsel. His mother, the Regent, was standing behind her chair, there was Patrick McGuire the Prime Minister on Freyne II, as well as Commander Tilson for the Dome Elite and Commander Art who commanded on Sas Darona finally, there was Karl, the tall alien his mother had fallen in love with and ultimately married. Teodor’s father had been dead for over two years, so he did not really mind the marriage, which, in any case, was a good political alliance; but the people would not suffer an alien king, so at age thirteen, Teodor had assumed his responsibility. Now he had been king for almost six months, he had ultimate control of six planets, a number of gas mining platforms, asteroid and moon colonies, and all the transport between them. He was also the first in line to the throne of the Emperor of Freyne with the grand total of twelve planets spanning a compact area of space spanning fifteen light years, where a dense cluster of one hundred stars had a higher than average number of inhabitable planets, the all, some two hundred light years from Demos, the centre of Known Space.

“You’re late, Teo,” his mother said.

“It’s Guy’s birthday today, mother. I told you and…”

“I don’t want to hear any more of your ill-advised extravagance.”

“But Guy is my adopted brother and...”

“Not today, Teo. We have twenty minutes comms window, and we don’t want to waste any more of our time. Now, the agenda...”

“Mother, I sent you a note about the marriage list - I wanted to talk to you about the five girls - who have been chosen.”

“No Teo, not today. You have until your sixteenth birthday to choose one of the five girls on the list. Then you will be married.”

“But ...”

“Teo, that is eighteen months from now. We have an agenda. . Have you got the schedule I sent for your trip?” Teodor nodded as the details appeared on screen. “ The Zaracans will provide a fast shuttle for you to get to Wicker Stent. There you will be joined by a 30 strong Dome Elite escort, the Emperor has finally agreed that you can transit to Demos in one of the Dome Elite cryogenic carriers either Morning Sunrise or Last Star. He was insisting you join him on his ship, but he relented, there are so many reports of scavengii pirates, it is deemed that you two travel separately. You will be in suspension for seventy-two days, and then you will have eight days to start a programme to regain your fitness, but only ten of your bodyguard will be woken early. The authorities on Demos, will assist with your security, and when you arrive you will be going before the United Races Committee to bear witness to the plague attacks on Freyne II, you should also expect to be questioned about your kidnapping. Have you been practising the prepared responses with Sebastian.” Teodor nodded once, but his mother was not looking, so instead Sebastian lent forward.

“Yes, my Regent, e have spent several hours reviewing and practicing, Teodor knows most of the responses off by heart.” Teodor said nothing, Sebastian was embellishing if not entirely lying. He had spent an hour looking over the prepared speeches, and had read some of them aloud, but Sebastian had done most of the play-acting reading out the questions and replies.

“Good, well done Teo. Remember when you get to Demos and even before on Wicker Stent the key messages are money, monazite and generators. We can last another six months, but we need more shipments of Monazite, and realistically if they are not en route within the next three months, well we may not be here to receive them. Remember Teodor in six months without more monazite we must start switching off the fire domes and your people will die.”

“I know mother,” Teodor said quietly. “ Did the Zaracan Council refuse to resupply us?”

“The Zaracan Council have refused to supply the Freyne,” Karl explained wearily, “they have just said the other monazite producing nations must play their part.”

Teodor nodded quietly, glancing up at Sebastian, whose face was a mask of bland indifference. Teodor hoped he looked equally calm. “And I thought Karl you were going to try and move the existing generators.”

“Is that the next item on the agenda?” Karl checked with Sayginn. She nodded.

“Yes, Teodor, . Karl led the attack to move a firewall generator. Karl, please, your report.”

Teodor sat down grimly, brushing aside Sebastian’s hand as he felt him fiddling with his hair. He watched and listened, then asked details of the mission. He sat dumbstruck at the final image of a huge, spiral-like whirlwind of plague insects. Mesmerized by this tight tower of death, he barely heard what his mother was saying. When he looked again, all of the holograms except his mother’s had disappeared. He frowned. Where had they gone? He concentrated on what his mother was saying.

“We need to talk about your press, Teodor. When you arrive at court, where you will need to convince donors to give money and monazite and they will have seen these headlines.”

Teodor blanched as his mother showed him the first news page:

Teodor Boy King - Fat Lil’ Choir Boy

“Guy and I were just fooling around.”

“I know, and I have told you that boy is a bad influence, but Teodor, you should know better. That headline has proved contagious. It has been reprinted and quoted in so many publications. My press advisors say over a billion people have seen it in the past few weeks.”

“Mother, I have already explained. I had no idea there was a camera.”

“Teodor, how could you be so stupid to think your rooms on Zarac were black areas?” Teodor paused. A black area was a room or a space that was protected from all external monitoring. This should guarantee him his privacy and protection against journalistic snooping, but since the video of him singing he was much less sure of protection Why had he ever thought his rooms in Valvanchi House would be safe?

“What? You think the Valvanchi leaked the film? To the press? Why?”

“Why? Because Karl has told me that there is no way a spy droid could have entered the Valvanchi house complex. This was not a snooper’s attack.”

Teodor fell silent, uneasy as he sat in the conference room looking at the photos on the wall. The four Valvanchi brothers: Nikato, Syemon, Mica and Karl, leaders of the Valvanchi house, diplomats and power brokers of the Zaracan Diplomatic Union. Because of Nell, Syemon’s daughter, Teodor and his companions had been offered sanctuary from the Freyne plague on Zarac 1. As hosts, they had refused Teodor nothing. In turn, the King liked to think he knew them well, but did he? What did he know really?

“Look, Teodor we’re running out of time…,” his mother was saying. “Promise me you’ll discuss this with Sebastian, he’ll help you. You need to be ready for when you get to court..” Her image vibrated and shook, the connection between their planets was failing. “I love you, Teodor, look after yourself.”

Teodor sat dejected and depressed as her image faded then disappeared. He missed his mother. He missed his home, his friends and his gorans. Everything he loved was so far away. He closed his eyes as he tried to imagine the vast expanse of time and space from here to his home, he knew that if he could he would fly through the vast emptiness, he would dive spin and swirl to the emptiness, then like comet arch through the atmosphere of Freyne and fly fast and furious until he found himself back in his mother arms again. To sit one more time with her arm around him of the goran run by the fireside talking with his mother, and reaching to kiss her satin-soft cheeks. He sighed, and pushed the daydream aside. He opened his eyes, and on the table before him, he saw the last message his mother had left.

Teodor was sat immobile at the head to the table when Sebastian stepped back into the room fifteen minutes later. Teodor had spread the photographs of the five girls across the table, and he was moving them around like cards in a game, pairing them then rearranging them. These were the five girls he had on his list. The girls he was supposed to marry.

“Quick recap?” Sebastian asked lightly.

Teodor shook his head, “No, it’s OK. They have set the date, “He pushed the photos of the five girls into an untidy stack, “There was really nothing to discuss.” He started to tidy his other papers: “ I am to be married on the Saturday two days after my sixteenth birthday, there is nothing to be said, all I have to do is choose.”

“One of these five.”

“Yes, but we need to discuss this first…”

Teodor reached forward and touched the image, and the image flickered into movement and sound:

“In the light and shadows of the Dome,

I learned my trade,

I learned my trade.

In the light and shadows of the Dome,

I learned to love,

I learned to love.”

He saw himself, King Teodor of Freyne stood at the window and appeared to be singing to an audience within. The window was open a crack and you could hear his clear voice as he sang the famous hymn of Dome Elite and also as his voice broke on the high E of the last line.

The video cut out. Teodor was stared at a screen and trying to ignore the headline:

TEODOR, FAT LITTLE CHOIR BOY OR ZARACAN CAPTIVE?

He sighed and without turning he said: “Where did they get this footage from Sebastian?”

“Well, it was last week,” Sebastian said with a hesitation. Teodor nodded. He remembered it well. He and Guy had been messing about. Teodor was saying how his voice had dropped. He had been his rooms.

“So embarrassing. My voice is changing.” Teodor remembered complaining.

“No, it isn’t.” Guy had replied with a grin.

“Yes, it is. I’m growing up.”

“Ok, can you sing In The Light And Shadows Of The Dome?” Guy teased.

“Of course, I can,” Teodor said crossly.

“Ok, if you can sing that then your voice hasn’t broken,” Guy said laughing as he caught Teodor out.

“No, I’ll prove it,” Teodor said and started to sing.

“In the light and shadows of the Dome.”

On cue three bars into the song, his voice broke.

“There!” he said, “I told you my voice had broken.” But Guy was just laughing and laughing as he imitated him squeaking and singing. Teodor went to strike him using the side of his hand as a blunt bare blade and they fought hand to hand for a few moments before Teodor wrestled Guy to the ground and put a hand to his neck.

“Do you yield?” Guy laughed and nodded and Teodor pulled him to his feet, hugging him briefly before they went onto other things.

“Oh yes, I remember,” Teodor said uncertainly, “But this film was taken from outside. The resolution is not great, we can’t get this taken down?”

“No, it’s too late for that,” Sebastian said flatly, rewinding the film and letting it run once more. Teodor winced as he did.

“But it’s a pack of lies. Sebastian, it says: ’Teodor, Boy King of Freyne, held captive in a high-security Valvanchi military school is regularly forced to perform for his captors and is restrained with his three companions in four cell-like rooms.’ Whereas we have a large apartment, which only really serves as a bedroom and study. We spend most of the day in class or training and we eat with the family. I have never been forced to perform and I was not forced to perform then. I was singing with Guy as a joke.”

“I know that and you know that, but the people believe what they read.”

“Can’t we just ignore this?”

“Teo, You need to rebut this.”

“What channel was it?”

“The Freyne Daily News.”

“That’s the gossip channel. For goodness sake, Sebastian, if I respond to all their tittle-tattle, I would spend all my day talking to the press.”

“Tittle tattle, Teo, the Daily News has ten million readers. Then this story was syndicated across the empire. Almost a billion people will see this.”

“They will see it and they will know it is wrong.” Teodor felt sure this was true. “I am not and have never been a choir boy. I am not and have never been fat.”

“You should rebut this kind of press.” Sebastian repeated. “You need to be credible. Credible before the United Races committee, credible when you go cap in hand asking for more monazite.”

Teodor shook his head.: “Yes, but if you reply, they know they have won, and it will fan the flames. There will be more stories more headlines. . It’s all lies anyway. I will talk to the gutter press,” Teodor told Sebastian indignantly. Listen I had a high profile in the press before I came here and I know how to keep these vultures on your side.”

“Oh yes, I forgot, when you were a model on Old Mill Lane. I agree. I could learn a lot from someone who... “ Teodor paused as he thought of the right words, then said, “Wears clothes for money!”

“And sometimes I wore no clothes for money,” Sebastian hissed in frustration.

“I don’t have to listen to this,” Teodor replied angrily

“Get Lost Teo!” Sebastian was shouting now. “ If you do not see the power of these channels, you do not deserve to be king.”

“I don’t have to listen to this.” Teodor said standing up. “If we were at home, I would fire you on the spot. Don’t you ever tell me to get lost again, ever.”

Sebastian looked a little deflated, but he came back viciously:

“Oh why should I bother You already are lost, lost to your people, lost to the press. you are a total lost cause.”

***

That’s not good,” Guy looked up a moment to see Sebastian stalk away.

“I’ll go talk to him,” Des said, “But before I go… These are for you…”

Des tossed three letters across to Guy. Guy opened one, a bright red envelope, to discover a photograph of a pretty girl wearing a soaking wet T-shirt and nothing else though she was pulling the shirt down to cover herself. Leanne was written in bold red calligraphy across the bottom: Happy Birthday Big Boy

Guy was a little embarrassed, but he hid it by laughing a little too loudly. He quickly opened the two other cards, there was one pretty card with flowers and hearts, he opened it impatiently and smiled at the childish scrawl Missing You Sarah, he opened the last envelope and the photo of a naked girl fell out. Guy gasped.

“I don’t know her…” He told Des

“Look likes she wants to get to know you,” Des said laughing, then seeing Guy was looking for something. “What is it?”

“Oh, nothing..” Guy said vaguely, then seeing Des looking intrigued. He said simply. “Marline.”

“Ah!” replied Des, then added. “But in all honesty, I did remind Leanne, and she must have told these others, I don’t really talk to Marline.”

Guy shrugged, “That’s Ok. “ He waved the picture of the naked girl in Des’ face. “You have girls like this.” Des laughed, but Guy continued intrigued. “Why do all the girls love you so much, Des?” Guy asked opening the other two envelopes and hastily turning over a photo of another completely naked girl.

“Well,” Des took a sip of tea and said wickedly, “There’s an obvious reason of course.” Guy opened his mouth to protest but could not think what to say. “But mainly those girls work incredibly hard and sometimes things don’t go so well for them, so on those days they know they can come and see me and I’ll kick my mates out of the flat. I’ll make them a nice hot bath, I’ll wash their hair. I’ll wrap them in a towel and a blanket and give them hot chocolate and toast. Then I’ll just sit and I’ll hold them until they feel better again.”

“They let you wash their hair when they’re in the bath?” asked Guy.

Des smiled and nodded. “Sometimes it’s the other way round. I get in the bath and they wash my hair.”

“You just hold them like a hug?” Guy said.

“Not too much like, just a little hug.” Guy looked at Des with a question. “Ok, maybe, but the main thing is to let her decide. If she wants you, it’s always better.” Des stood up and stretched. “Anyhow enjoy yourself, Guy. It’s your day!”

Guy Erma had been living in Valvanchi House on Zarac 1 for six months now and he still could not get used to the thoughtless abundance of their lives, the vast rooms they lived in, the ever-present tech from serving droids to comms, the personalised tuition programmes for him, Teodor, Sebastian and Des, the detailed attention to facilitating and improving every part of their lives. But nothing had prepared him for the out and out extravagance of his fourteenth birthday party.

“Everyone of us must have a gift which is a wish come true,” Nell has said, and Teodor had agreed.

He suspected Nell Valvanchi and Teodor were overcompensating, neither of them was set to have a birthday for months, plus they had both been appalled to discover that except for one year when Lloulou had brought him a Domeside pie supper in the Bistro Jewel, he had never celebrated his birthday. Guy knew other children who had parties, new clothes and special food, but never him. He had said he wanted a motorbike ride as a treat but had never expected the giant random generating track. He and Teodor had spent an exhilarating morning chasing each other at high speeds until the transport had arrived.

Guy had smiled when he had seen the Gorans arriving though Teodor had protested weakly that it was normal for him to train ahead of returning to court and, in any case, the main point of the track was the small fast bike races. Not that you could jump your bike in the same way a goran could leap, but then Teodor was a different boy, dashing, daring, seemingly heedless of his own safety when he rode or jumped his beloved giant racing cats.

The racing would have been enough, but no Nell had ordered a food garden which was the latest craze in the Zaracan Democratic Union. An ornate elaborate garden of towering flowers tall climbing bushes, trees, rivers and ponds, but no pathways, no chairs no tables. They had been given artificial wings and the challenge was to fly through the garden looking for golden globes. When you found one and, to be honest, they were not too difficult to find, you popped it open to discover a treat or a trick, a small sweet or savoury food, a tiny performing toy or an explosion of sneezing powder or dust like paint. The flying wings could also be used as swimming fins, and they had been given water repellent shorts and tops, so one moment hey would be flying through the air before diving down into the crystal clear waters to explore corals and caves, even a small ship wreck.

Yet all faded into insignificance if Sebastian and Teodor had quarrelled again. Did it mean? And if Sebastian was fired, as was now inevitable after the leaked tape, what of himself? Where would he go? Did he still have a place in the Dome Elite?

“What’s up Guy? Are you not enjoying the party?”

Nell Valvanchi had hovered into view wearing artificial wings. She was diving towards a chocolate fountain, spearing it with a marshmallow stick. She was wearing a dress made of balls of pink fur, and a crown of pink fur to match. Plus, her hair was sparkling pink, silver, and gold. Her artificial wings were also pink, and she looked like a sugar fairy from an old fairy tale. She was, in fact, the closest thing to a princess.

She grinned down at them as she tried to fly and eat a marshmallow, dripping with chocolate, at the same time. She looked ridiculous, and Guy felt a bit embarrassed for her and self-conscious that he, too, was wearing a set of black wings, and, not long before, he had been swooping and flying amid of trees decked with sweetmeats, and chocolates, and drinks. The wings could also be used as fins, underwater, and their clothes were water-repellent, so, earlier that afternoon, they had spent time diving, and flying, in and out of fountains and pools, trees, and fields, laughing as they went, discovering snacks and small toys hidden amongst the trees and bushes.

“Why are you not flying? Have you tried the pink powder puffs from over there?”

Guy smiled, and said smoothly, “Sounds wonderful, Princess.”

“Then c’mon!” She flew off, and Guy watched her go, thinking how ridiculous the artificial wings looked. When he turned back, Teodor was standing glumly at his side. He, too, watched as Nell flew to the pink-frosted chocolates hanging from a singing gilded tree. Three of the young cousins, bored with eating, now were throwing the dainty fruits at each other, and hiding, in some ridiculous food fight. There were camera droids following them and broadcasting the shots on screens all around.

“This is horrible,” Teodor said, Guy thought he looked a little pale as he stared up at the screen. Guy had a lightening thought, what if these images were being shown elsewhere, not just here at the party. Before he had time to say anything, he saw Teodor refuse the blue wings a serving drone offered, he turned and walked back to the house. Guy looked to where Teodor had looked. The three young cousins were fighting with the pink puffs Nell had recommended; when used like ammunition, they exploded into globes of white goo that stuck to clothes, and hands, and faces. Guy knew he should be angry to see such waste, but with so much food on offer, such ridiculous abundance, he just felt empty. He took off his black-and-gold wings and sprinted after Teodor.

“Teodor, wait.” Teodor paused when he heard Guy’s voice, he wanted him to catch him, but then Guy said: “There’s someone I want you to meet, they have a gift for you.”

Teodor turned cautiously, as Guy led him to a corner of a party field, where around a small circular table a group of Lemurets sat eating and chatting. Teodor hesitated, as Guy galloped over and spoke with enthusiastic sign language, for the Lemuret were mute. The Lemuret were metre-tall mammals who, when they were amongst the Zaracan, they walked tall on their back legs. At other times, they swiftly moved on all fours and seemingly defied gravity using with equal ease the floor, walls or ceilings. With thick manes around their heads and neck, their most frequent colouring was russet and cream, but they could be any colour from whitest white to chocolate black. Highly intelligent and cultured, they were often called Spider Lemur because of the large arachnids they carried hidden within their clothes, they were a ‘protected species’, a servant species some would call them. Teodor picked a golden globe from a nearby plant and opened it to give himself time to think. When the Lemuret had been discovered, they had been a prosperous conglomeration spread over a dozen planets in the years after discovery, they faced repeated raid from bandits and pirates. Unable to defend themselves they had lost control of several of their planets, before two high-born Lemuret had found their way to the Zaracan Democratic Union and entered as servants in the household of a prosperous well-known family. With their swift agile service and mute unquestioning obedience, Lemurets had suddenly come fashionable and in demand. In just a few years first one hundred thousand then several million Lemurets relocated to the ZDU and with servitude came protection. A small unit of the Zaracan space fleet posted on their outer border. Overnight the raids had stopped, the remaining Lemuret worlds had been saved, their civilisation preserved.

Teodor was eating the sweetened fruit from within the golden globe. He had not been alive when the Freyne Empire had first been contacted, but he knew his grandfather and father and, of course, Emperor Frederon had faced the same wave of pillage and piracy from powerful aliens. Their response had been diplomacy, his father, in particular, had been superb in charming the protection and interest of the Zaracans and others, while Emperor Frederon had mobilised the Barons to pour vast quantities of their wealth in space technologies. The Imperial Guard had been the first elite space unit, only later came the Dome Elite. What if the Dome Elite had proven inadequate to the task of protecting Freyne II. What then? Would he as King of the Freyne be looking for options to serve and be protected by the Zaracan Democratic Union?

It’s not come to that yet? He told himself, and with a smile moved forward to where Guy was showing him two identical cube-shaped parcels, He bowed his head in greeting and sat down on the low stool Guy pushed towards him. In moments he was pulling the paper off his present caught up in Guy’s excitement, inside was an intricately woven cage, and inside.

“Symbiant spiders…” Teodor said with a gasp.

“What?” Guy asked peering inside.

“They are said to be lucky,” Teodor had found the catch and was opening the cage, “they are said to protect you.” He gently lifted his spider, it was fat and covered in a deep lush gold and cream fur and placed inside the neck of his shirt. Guy was staring, as Teodor unbuttoned his top button and with one finger he pushed the spider onto his jugular. Without hesitation, the spider leant forward and bite deep. Teodor gasped, then said: “Like that!”

“Thank you!” Teodor said turning to the Lemurets and smiling, they were chirping and grinning long tooth grins by reply, one reached up and tapped the spider at Teodor’s neck until it retreated and when to hide within the recesses of his clothes.

“They are saying the spider will sleep now…” Guy said uncertainly.

“Say thank you,” Teodor said to Guy. “Please thank you for my gift”

“You must do the same,” Teodor said to Guy. Guy looked in trepidation at the large black spider sat across the palms of both his hands. “Unless you want them to think you are chicken?”

Guy placed his own spider inside his shirt and wrinkled his nose as he felt the bite. “They are saying they would like to ask you a favour…”

“Do I have any choice?” Teodor asked mildly amused by Guy’s discomfort, had he squirmed like that. It was only a small spider bite.

“They want you to meet their King”.

Later much later, after Nell was seeing the last of the guests back to their home, Teodor and Guy had retreated to their spacious four-room apartment in Valvanchi House. They ad been living there for six months now, in a suite of rooms which they had established as two bedrooms, a salon and an office.

“Somewhere to sleep, somewhere to laugh, and somewhere to study!”

Teodor had shed his party clothes and pulled on his pyjamas, he was ready for bed, but he was standing alongside a small control panel, intently focused. Before him was a large, illuminated map table, and a battle was underway.

Guy had paused in the doorway and relaxed a fraction. As silent as he could, he crept forward to stand in the shadows just beyond the illuminated battlefield. It was a complex war game, with forces display deployed in space, on the surface, and underwater of a medium-size planet entered into combat. As Guy watched there was a sequence of fast, large explosions, followed by a very large spaceship exploding and careering down onto the surface.

“Teo, have you just made the Cantor forces beat the Zaracan space fleet ship? You know that, in real life, they were slaughtered, when they refused to surrender, don’t you?”

“Yes, but they could have won. They would have sustained heavy casualties. 38,000.” Teodor pointed at the number on the display board, “but, yes, they could have won.”

“Seriously?”

“Last week, I played it, and there were only 21,000 dead.”

“May I have a copy of your play?”

Teodor shrugged, and deliberately pressed a single button. “Oh, sorry; I deleted it.”

“Teodor!” Guy complained.

“You know where we are. It’s not polite to save battle plans that show how your hosts could be defeated. Anyhow, let’s play day war, Sas Darona style. You can be the Dome Elite; I’ll take the tribes.”

“Oh no,” murmured Guy, but he knew he could not refuse, even if was destined to lose. “Oh OK.” At least, he got to play as the Dome Elite.

. Teodor walked over to the battlefield simulator where a battle was laid out. It was a large circle display where the battlefield and competing armies were displayed as 3D holograms. Teodor had been playing against Guy Erma and they had pitted the Dome Elite against a well known Sas Darona tribe the Brel. As always, Teodor let Guy control the Dome Elite, which should give him a substantial advantage against the tribe.

“Let’s fight,” Teodor said simply. Teodor and Guy took turn deploying and fighting their troops, and after a few plays Guy seemed to be holding their own, but Teodor’s attacks were as devious as they were relentless, and seemingly had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the tribes’ capabilities. As the last of the Dome Elite were captured, Guy let out a sigh of exasperation.

“You’ve been practicing,” and as an afterthought, “When do you find time to practice?”

“Not really. I downloaded the tribal files to my personal communicator, and I’ve been learning them whenever I have a few moments.”

“Great victory, Teo.”

“Well, it’s important, and ...” Teodor hesitated, “and I’m good at it.”

Teodor sighed as he switched off the battle screen.

“We have to go back, Guy,” Teodor said simply. “I have been called before the United Races Council to give evidence about the plague on Freyne.”

“I know, you’ve been stalling them for three months - it could not go on forever.”

“Things are going to change, Guy,” Teodor said. “When we get back to court…”

“I’m not afraid of change,” Guy said firmly.

“Aren’t you?” Teodor asked softly.

“Of course, not, we’ll be together.”

“Well…” Teodor sighed as Guy fell silent. “I think I have persuaded my mother that you can stay. I have told her you must be kept safe. Well that both of us, are safer together, as friends, as…” he hesitated, “as brothers.” He almost said something then concluded: “Whatever happens.”

“Teodor, what is it? You know I want to stay with you.”

Teodor said nothing, but Guy could sense something was wrong. He stood up straight, as he pulled out his blades then knelt to lay them at Teodor’s feet:

“By my life or by my death, I will serve you, always.”

Next Chapter: New Chapter