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Finding Core Story Problems with a Content / Development Editor

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know”? It is very difficult to critique your own writing skill. My beta readers helped but the feedback they provided just touched the surface of what was wrong with my story. So I hired a professional content / development editor, one that looks at the overall story development. And let me tell you, Kristen Lamb’s feedback was phenomenal.

I knew my story wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t know why. I hoped it was good enough, but knew deep down that it wasn’t. When she discussed her findings with me, it was like a lightbulb came on and I was struck by lightning at the same time.

Lightning Bulb

The lightning strike was because nothing pains the heart more than hearing the story you’ve poured your soul into still needs more work. The lightbulb was because she also provided feedback that encouraged me to move forward. My writing is great. My story is on the right track. And the story problems can be fixed. Here is what she said:

Luke Skywalker Fights His Father

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Face a Hard Choice

You can’t just throw trouble at your character and always have him make easy choices to get out of trouble. You have to really push them to the edge in the final act. You have to force them to do something that goes against their nature. And you have to make the choice a sacrifice no matter which they choose. Think about how Luke in “Star Wars” is forced to kill his own father. His hard choice—sacrifice the galaxy to save his father or sacrifice his father to save the galaxy.

Labyrinth Ludo Sarah Sir Didymus

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Grow

Your character starts out one way at the beginning of the story and learns something so profound from his journey that he changes into someone else. I don’t mean literally, though it could be literal, like in “The Fly”. And I don’t mean their whole persona. I mean something about his or her character changes. Think about Sarah in “The Labyrinth”. She began with the romanticized view that she was a Cinderella-like person forced by a wicked stepmother to care for a spoiled sibling. Then she faced a real adventure and learned to appreciate her life and her brother.

Choose One Protagonist to Focus On

Although you can have multiple protagonists, only one will face the hard choice and truly transform and grow in the end. Consider “Star Wars” again. There are many great protagonists in the story. And they all have grown in their own way. Han Solo isn’t such a scoundrel after all. Neither is Lando. Leia and Han fall in love. But the primary protagonist is Luke. He’s the one who grew the most—from the whiny kid in the beginning to a Jedi master at the end. He’s also the only one who truly faced the heart of the Empire. And he’s the one who sacrificed the most when he made his choice.

You Have to Have One Strong Antagonist

When you just throw trouble after trouble at your character like I did, it’s more difficult for your character to face a hard choice at the end. And as you will see in the next heading, it’s more difficult for them to fight a final battle.

The Departed

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Face the Primary Antagonist in the End

I wanted to add “and Win” because I like my heroes to win. But they don’t have to win in order to make a powerful story. The movie, “The Departed” comes to mind. Although Billy Costigan killed Colin Sullivan in the end, Billy was also killed. Anyway, without one primary protagonist and one primary antagonist, you can’t have the hard choice with the big battle at the end. You simply have a journey from one place to another with no ultimate purpose to keep your reader interested.

What This Means for “StarFire Dragons”

To keep this post from getting too long, I will post my musings on this next Saturday.

Conclusion

As writers, we can either let critiques bring us down and keep us from writing, or we can accept them as learning experiences and work on improving our skill. Because the feedback I received from Kristen Lamb was so spot on and made so much sense (and wasn’t at all contradictory like it was with the beta readers), I’ve chosen the later route. I strongly encourage you all to get your own stories reviewed by a content / development editor. They’re well worth the money. You can’t become a great writer if you don’t learn what you don’t know.

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StarFire Dragons Chapter 5 Rewrite #3

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by Dawn Ross

StarFire Dragons

Book One of The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera Saga by Dawn Ross

Chapter 5

The gentle heat of the healing bed eased the tension in Jori’s body. His pains ebbed away slowly as his body mended. It was a relief, being healed. But at the same time, an invisible weight pressed down on him. This can’t be happening. It just can’t.

His senses were still focused on his brother. Terk’s life force was weak—so weak, it might just disappear altogether. The weight threatened to crush him.

He redirected his ability once again on those surrounding his brother. A sensation of concentration and persistence emanated from them. Their lack of malice hopefully meant they were truly trying to save Terk’s life.

Suddenly, their determination pulled away. Jori’s chest tightened. Are they just going to let him die?

His heart raced. He moved to get up, but couldn’t. The healing bed’s operations couldn’t be interrupted.

If he let his heart rate increase enough, a doctor might come and stop the machine. But he breathed heavily and steadily, trying to calm his racing thoughts instead.

The sensations from Terk hadn’t changed. Yet the doctors and medics felt reluctant and defeated. But why? If only he could actually read thoughts or pull out information and not just sense emotions.

He reflected on what their emotions could mean and a memory popped into his head. Master Jetser had been hurt so badly once that he was in a coma for three days. The doctor had said he was in critical condition, which meant there was nothing else to be done except wait. Perhaps it was the same situation here. It’s all up to you now, Terk. Come on, you can fight this.

Damn those koshinuke-tachi/cowards. This was the Grapnes’ fault. They were the reason his brother lay at the edge of death. And those damned bastards were the reason for the deaths of the other men on his ship.

An ache in his chest swelled. His men were all dead. No one had to tell him. The memory of Bok’s impaled body and Veda’s crushed skull flashed into his mind. It wasn’t just what he’d seen, though. He’d felt the voids of their missing life force. They died protecting him, protecting Terk mostly. But still. They were all gone. All of them. It was just him… and maybe Terk.

The pain in his chest spiked. His eyes watered. Without them, and without his brother, he was left to face the enemy alone. His heart fluttered, but he pushed his panic down. I’m a warrior, dammit. I won’t be afraid. He’d fight these Alliance weaklings if he had to. Even if they did outnumber him. Even if they were much stronger than him.

There was nothing to be done now, though, but wait. He shut out all his thoughts and let his body relax. After some time, a shallow beep indicated the healing bed was done.

The lid slowly opened. Medic Shera smiled down at him with her sparkling yellow eyes. He barely glanced at her and flicked his gaze at the Alliance officer standing behind her instead. It was the same man as on the planet, a commander by the insignia on his brownish-grey uniform.

The man stood alert, in a readiness similar to that of a soldier’s but perhaps a little more at ease. His hair was the color of the Vandoran sand dunes. He was tall and fairly well-built as compared to the other Alliance men he’d seen, but not as muscular as a Tredon warrior.

And the man had a smirk on his face. Jori clenched his jaw and scowled. Baka/Fool. The man thinks he’s triumphed over me?

He sat up quickly. The insult on his tongue died away as the room spun. He gripped the edge of the bed waiting for the whirling in his head to subside.

“You alright?” the man said.

His vision came back into focus. The man was standing right beside him now. Jori clenched his jaw. The man was close, close enough for him to send a strike straight up into his nose. He was strong enough to draw blood. But no. Hitting a man just because he was irritating was Terk’s way, not his.

The insult came back into his head, but so did a sense of the man’s emotions. The commander didn’t feel cocky. He felt concerned. Jori focused on the sensation. Not a hint of arrogance.

So it wasn’t a smirk after all. He could see it now. One side of the commander’s mouth was naturally turned up more than the other.

Medic Shera put her hand on Jori’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?”

He turned back to her. “Well.”

“Good.” She smiled, but he could sense her unease as she did a brief medical inspection. He ignored her again. She wasn’t his concern. This place was. They were helping to heal him, but they could have something else planned. He needed a way out for just in case.

He glanced subtly around the room and mapped out all of his surroundings, the way Master Jetser had taught him. Two armed guards stood just inside the divider that sectioned off the area he was in. He could sense two more on other side of the opening. He delved with his senses further. Two others who felt like guards were near the main exit.

Then there was the commander himself. At least five medical personnel were also nearby. In Tredon, doctors were also warriors. He doubted it was so here, especially since half of them were women, but it was best not to make assumptions. Besides, they were probably all stronger than him. Maybe not as fast, though. Maybe.

There was nothing nearby he could use as a weapon. Not even any medical tools. The security must have had them cleared away. Smart. It’s what he would have done. Well, except his prisoners would be in a cell. Or if they were injured he might let them be healed but they’d be strapped down. These Alliance people were a little more trusting, but perhaps not so foolish.

The medic handed him some clothes. He unfolded the jumpsuit. It was black in color and long sleeved like his uniform. But there the similarity ended. The material was not the same, nor was it the same style. It didn’t even have built-in armor to protect him. He frowned but said nothing. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice. At least it was black.

Despite feeling nervous, medic Shera met his eyes. “I bet you’re hungry. Would you like something to eat?”

The hollowness of his stomach became apparent. “Yes.”

She smiled. “Anything in particular? I believe our processor has some Tredon recipes.”

His mouth watered at the thought of an almost rare guniku steak seasoned with yakume. But his body needed replenishing. Instead of food, He gave her a list of nutritional requirements. For some people, food was a vice. He might not be physically strong yet, but he was mentally strong enough not to be weakened by temptation. “I do not care what form it comes in or how it tastes.”

Both the medic and the commander raised an eyebrow, but neither commented. Of course the Alliance was wrought with temptations. Why else would they keep so many women about?

“Very well.” She inclined her head.

As soon as she turned her back to leave, Jori stepped down off the healing bed and faced the commander. He chastised himself for automatically going into a militaristic at-ease stance. This was the same way he faced his instructors and his father as a sign of respect. He defiantly unclasped his hands.

“Hello.” When the commander smiled, the crookedness of his mouth was even more pronounced. “I’m J.D.” He held out his hand in greeting.

Jori glanced at his hand with a frown. A trick? No. Oddly, the commander felt genuine.

He considered not taking it. After all, this man was the enemy. But then he remembered Terk.

He tentatively put out his own hand and performed the customary hand shake of the Alliance. “Jori.” It was his informal name and the safest one to give. He wasn’t well-known. Terk, on the other hand—they couldn’t find out who he was. Or what he’d been up to. Whatever niceness these people were presenting wouldn’t last if they knew.

*****
J.D. widened his smile. Shaking hands had to be a good sign. “Nice to meet you, Jori.”

His smile faltered when the boy did not smile back. Jori’s eyes were naturally narrow, but not in a way that conveyed suspiciousness or slyness. They were hard and piercing. And they were fixed on him like a predator on the hunt, making his neck prickle.

The rounded look of youth was almost unnoticeable with the way Jori carried himself. His posture was rigid, but at the same time he looked ready to spring into action.  It wasn’t a nervous wariness, but an alert guardedness of a soldier.

A strained silence settled.

J.D. cleared his throat. “I know our people aren’t on the best terms, but you don’t need to be concerned. We’re going to help you.”

The boy’s nostrils flared and his jaw twitched. “And what of my brother? Are you helping him as well?”

Brother? He was only a little surprised. Even though the faces of both boys had been battered from the crash, there was a strong resemblance between them. “Yes. Our doctors are doing everything they can. He’s stable at the moment, but he’s in really bad shape. He’s in a status we call critical cond—.”

“I’m familiar with the term,” Jori said.

“So you understand it’s not as simple as putting him in a healing bed.”

The boy scowled. “I just said I understood.”

J.D. resisted the urge to clear his throat again. “Good,” he said, ignoring the boy’s attitude. “I promise we’ll do whatever we can to help him pull through, though.”

The boy’s frown disappeared. Without thinking, J.D. put his hand on his shoulder to assure him. The boy glanced at the hand with an unreadable expression and J.D. pulled it away awkwardly.

The severity of the boy’s demeanor returned quickly. “And what of me? I’m assuming I am to be held as your prisoner.”

“Actually, you will be staying with me.”

The boy’s brow furrowed, hooding his dark narrow eyes. “Are you to be my interrogator?”

J.D.’s stomach soured. Even ancient Earthen barbarians couldn’t match the brutality and horrors of what he’d heard about Tredon interrogators. “No! Goodness no. We will certainly ask you questions, but we do not torture people.” My God. What sort of world does this boy live in?

“You say you will do everything you can for my brother. Is this contingent upon my cooperation?”

J.D. raised his eyebrows. Big words for a boy. “No, of course not,” he replied as assuredly as he could. “We’d be grateful for your cooperation, though. And it would certainly help if we knew what was going on, what happened between you and the Grapnes. But we’re not going to hold you or your brother’s life over your head in order to get that information.”

“You swear it?”

“Yes, I swear it.” At least he had no intention of doing such a thing. Hopefully, Captain Arden wouldn’t either.

Jori bored into him with a studious stare. “Good.” His expression was stone-faced.

J.D. sighed inwardly. No boy should be this hard. He certainly had some rough terrain ahead of him with this one.

 

There will only be one more rewrite after this, so please give me as much feedback on this sci-fi novel as you can!

(This science fiction novella is protected by copyright) Copyright December, 2016 by Dawn Ross

This story is free to share so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.

So Confused – Best Way to Start a Story?

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2017 by Dawn Ross

I just finished tweaking my first sci-fi novel, StarFire Dragons. I tweaked the first chapter based on some good advice from someone I consider a professional writer. She said that rather than  just jump right into the action, I need to ground my character in a normal world first. So if you look at my original and my revised 3 versions, you can see the difference. My original started out with the communications officer reporting a distress signal. My recent final version, previously reviewed by said professional, starts out with J.D. sitting on the bridge and wondering what the heck he was doing here. In a way, it establishes ‘his’ problem as a character and I feel that it helps people get to know him a little as well as get a feel for the setting. Then at about the 7th paragraph, we get into the action with the distress signal.

I recently presented this same finalized first chapter to others and several are saying I should jump straight into the action in order to grab the reader’s attention. So which is it? Do I ground the reader first or do I jump straight into the action where no one knows the characters, or even cares? Both sides make valid points.

Getting a story reviewed and getting feedback is a great way for writers to grow. But sometimes these mixed messages can be quite confusing.

What do you think? When you begin reading a book, what do you like best about the beginning? Do you prefer a stage setting first or do you like to dive right into the action?

 

StarFire Dragons Chapter 4 Rewrite #3

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2017 by Dawn Ross

StarFire Dragons

Book One of The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera Saga by Dawn Ross

Chapter 4

J.D. caught himself twiddling his thumbs and stopped. The silence of the conference room set his nerves on edge.

Captain Arden sat at the head of the rectangular table. His brows hooded his eyes as he scanned the reports on his deskview. Lt. Jenna Stein frowned as she browsed her digiview. Both Lt. Commander Bracht and Lt. Hanna Sharkey sat erect and looked at nothing in particular. Bracht held a sour look while Lt. Sharkey’s face was placid.

The captain looked up and sat back. His eyes locked with J.D.’s. J.D. braced himself for a torrent of disapproval for saving the lives of their enemies.

But the captain met the faces of each of the officers with the same stoic look. “It seems we have a potential security risk on our ship. Suggestions?”

J.D. let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. There was no hint of criticism in the man’s voice. Perhaps he was off the hook.

“He must be kept in the brig.” Lt. Commander Bracht’s deep voice reverberated through the small conference room.

J.D. winced at the chief of security’s direct and overly bold tone. It sounded as though he was making a demand, but neither Captain Arden nor Lt. Stein or Lt. Sharkey appeared to be bothered by it.

Lt. Hanna Sharkey tilted her head. “The brig? For a single child of no more than ten cycles, Sir?”

Thank you, Lt. Sharkey. She was an impressive security officer. And it wasn’t just because she was undaunted by Bracht’s overbearing attitude. She had a good head on her shoulders when it came to all things security related. Suggesting she be a part of the captain’s advisory team in this unusual security situation was a good call.

“He killed four Grapnes!” the Rabnoshk warrior said a little too harshly. Captain Arden’s eyebrow raised ever so slightly. “Single handedly,” Bracht said more calmly. “Besides, he’s a Tredon. Our enemy. He can’t be trusted.”

J.D. clenched his teeth at the man’s bullish attitude. Yes, the boy was a Tredon warrior. And yes, his phaser had been a kill-weapon. But his actions seemed to have been done out of desperation.

He opened his mouth to say as much but Captain Arden spoke first. “Enemies or not, we are not currently at war with the Tredons. Nor do we wish to be. This situation must be handled carefully. I won’t treat the child as a criminal without just cause.”

The tension in J.D.’s shoulders lightened slightly. The captain’s view was more than he’d hoped for.

Bracht’s nostrils flared. “Killing four men isn’t just cause?”

“It was self-defense,” J.D. snapped.

“We don’t know that,” Bracht shot back. “The Grapnes said the Tredons attacked them and stole their cargo.”

J.D.’s muscles twitched at Bracht’s singlemindedness. “There is no evidence of stolen cargo.” Bracht harrumphed. “Besides,” he continued, “I don’t think he should be held responsible for it if they did. He’s just a boy.”

Bracht’s bushy brows folded inward. “You saw what that so-called boy did with your own eyes. He’s dangerous.”

“But he didn’t shoot at us.” The rising heat in J.D.’s body manifested itself in his tone. Men like Bracht gave all military men a bad name. Whether he called himself a warrior, soldier, or security officer, his job should be to defend people, not treat everyone like an enemy and stomp on them with those gigantic boots of his.

One would think mankind should have evolved by now. But no. Men today were very much like the men of Earthen history. Some enlightened. Some innovative. Some ambitious. And some who still used force as their primary means to an end.

The Rabnoshk and the Tredons had a lot in common. Perhaps this was why Bracht was so against the boy.

“He threatened you,” the warrior insisted.

“He was just trying to determine if we were a threat.” The black look in the boy’s eyes popped back into his head. No child should have such a hard look.

Bracht’s lips curled into a sneer. “Obviously you were no threat at all since I heard you surrendered to him.”

J.D. bristled. “That is enough, Lieutenant Commander.” He eyed Bracht sternly. He wanted to say more, to defend his decision, but he had already given a full report of his actions. There was no reason to defend them against this man. He was from a generation of Protectors, not a generation of barbarians.

Bracht clamped his mouth shut. His frown deepened, but he didn’t argue further.

The captain glanced back and forth between the two of them. His demeanor gave no indication of what he thought of this outburst. J.D. resisted the urge to fidget. Captain Arden’s apparent indifference always made him feel like a fish in a bowl.

The captain set his elbows on the conference table and intertwined his fingers. “Lieutenant Stein?” he said, addressing Jenna, the ship’s chief anthropologist.

Lt. Stein squared up her shoulders. Her high cheekbones and thin arched eyebrows gave her a snobbish look. She certainly had pride in her job, but her mannerisms never came across as arrogant. “I would not underestimate these Tredon fighters at any age.” Her native language of the desert world Kochuru was rhythmic and flowing, but her accent in this universal language was harsh and halting. “There be no telling when this boy began training…or what sort of training he had.”

“So you’re recommending the brig as well?” Captain Arden said.

Lt. Stein’s black wavy hair swished as she shook her head. “I’m not sure that be called for, Sir. We all be officers here. No civilians for him to be a threat to. Besides, though the Tredons do be our enemies, we can never make peace if we treat even their children as criminals. I recommend a full armed security detail, no less.”

J.D. frowned. “Armed? If this boy has training, we risk him being able to disarm someone.”

Bracht grunted. “Which is why he should be in the brig.”

J.D,’s jaw tightened again. “That’s not what I meant. I say unarmed. And if he causes trouble, then we can restrain him. Whatever fighting skills he has, he’s not that strong yet.” And certainly your security team can handle a small child.

“And what of the other one?” Bracht asked of the older and probably much stronger Tredon boy.

He suppressed a sigh. “We’re not even sure he’ll live.”

The captain rest his chin on his steepled fingers. His face was unreadable. After a moment of silence, he lay his hands flat on the table. “I’m not going to put a child in the brig unless he gives us a reason. That is my final decision. We’ll worry about the other one if he makes it. I will, however, proscribe stun weapons only and a four-man detail of security on each of them at all times.”

J.D. almost slumped from the deflation of tension. The expected rebuke for bringing the enemy onto the ship never came. And that the captain seemed to side with him on this other issue was almost enough to set him completely at ease. Almost. If the boy turned out to be nothing but trouble, all the blame would lie with him.

“I have six in sickbay now, Sir,” Bracht replied. “Should I call two of them off?” Bracht’s tone sounded almost insubordinate—almost.

“No,” the captain replied. Only a small lift of his eyebrow indicated he heard the tone as well. But he didn’t acknowledge it in any other way. “Let’s keep the security on him until we have had a chance to speak to him. Commander,” he said to J.D., “I want you to go down and talk to him.”

J.D. nodded. “Yes, Sir.”

The captain turned to Bracht. “Lieutenant Commander, organize a security detail shift of six to stay on him for now and add security to engineering and other off-limit areas of the ship.”

Bracht seemed somewhat mollified by the captain’s acknowledgement that the boy could be a security risk. “Yes, Sir.”

Lt. Sharkey’s brow furrowed. “If the boy isn’t going to be in a cell, where is he going to stay?”

The captain looked at J.D. “Commander?”

He was about to suggest an officer, but something about the look the captain was giving him told him he was asking something else. “Me?”

The captain’s stoic features didn’t change. “He’s of a warrior class, which means he’s used to a ranking hierarchy. I need someone of high rank and with martial skills to instill authority. Besides, I hear you’re good with children.”

“That’s no mere child,” Bracht muttered.

J.D.’s mouth fell open and he snapped it shut again. His martial ability was decent enough, but his specialty was in strategic warfare not hand-to-hand combat.

This was another test… or perhaps a punishment for bringing the boys onto the ship in the first place. But then again, he couldn’t argue with the captain’s logic. Although he wanted to give the boy the benefit of the doubt regarding security, now that he was faced with being directly responsible for him he wondered if he’d taken the wrong stance.

What have I gotten myself into?

 

There will only be one more rewrite after this, so please give me as much feedback on this sci-fi novel as you can!

(This science fiction novella is protected by copyright) Copyright December, 2016 by Dawn Ross

This story is free to share so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.

StarFire Dragons Chapter 3 Rewrite #3

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by Dawn Ross

StarFire Dragons

Book One of The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera Saga by Dawn Ross

Chapter 3

Jori’s head swam. The view of the planet distorted into the interior of the Alliance ship. His skin tingled at the sensation of his molecules being reintegrated. The process wasn’t painful, or even dangerous. But the thought of every fiber of his existence being taken apart and put back together made his stomach writhe. How was it possible for a machine to reconstruct the soul?

The prickling of his skin quickly dissipated and his vision sharpened. He stood on a transport platform, face level with a half-dozen strangers.

Several of them rushed forth. His heart skipped a beat as a skinny man with red hair shoved something at his chest. He slapped it away reflexively and swung his hand back around in a fist. His forward momentum was immediately halted by a strong hand grabbing him by the crook of his arm.

“Whoa, young man,” one of the guards beside him said.

Another hand from another guard clutched his shoulder in an iron grip. A hot flush of adrenaline shot through Jori’s body. He wrenched against the clenching hands. It didn’t work. The men hardened their grip.

His heart jumped into a rapid pulse. “No! You promised! Let me go!”

They tricked him. No one was going to help him. He was their prisoner. He struggled harder but to no avail. If only he weren’t so small. And if only he wasn’t injured.

“Get that gurney over here!” a female off to the side said above the din.

He snapped his attention in her direction. His heart leapt to his throat as both she and the grey-haired doctor from the planet leaned over the unconscious body with something metallic in their hands.

“Don’t hurt him!” He jerked his body and a blast of pain shot through his arm. A flash of searing white erupted in his head followed by a wave of blackness. His legs fell beneath him, but the guards’ hands held him up.

His broken arm burned like molten steel and felt just as heavy. He growled angrily through the pain and quickly regained his feet. The guards spoke but their words didn’t register. He had to protect his brother.

The agony emanating from his arm was excruciating. He paused and breathed in deeply to regain his bearings. The pain abated to a small degree, enough to clear his head.

The guards eased their grip. Fools. With a slight twist and a quick movement, he slipped out and rushed forward.

“Don’t hurt him!” He skidded to the doctor’s side. A quick chop to the man’s forearm sent the device his hand tumbling down.

A pair of stout arms coiled around him like the cords of an iron bola weapon. The pressure on his broken arm blazed in an agony of fire. He squeezed his eyes shut and yowled. His yell turned into a roar as he desperately increased his struggle.

The guard’s crushing embrace held firm. His heart went wild.

“Yo, kid? Kid! Hold up. It’s alright!”

Jori opened his eyes. Another guard knelt down before him. “Listen, kid. It’s just a med-scanner.”

Jori paused. He breathed heavily as the prickling of adrenaline sped through him.

“It’s alright, kid. We’re trying to help you.”

He swallowed hard. Pain racked his body and his racing heart ached in his chest, but he sensed the truth of the man’s words. Stop panicking and think.

The skinny red-haired man hesitated forward. The guard indicated the device in his hand. “See. It’s just a scanner. And this guy here is a medic. He only wants to help you.”

Jori took a closer look at the device. It was the same as what the doctor and that woman held. The medic held it upright so that he could see its face. It was a little different than what they used back home, but it was definitely a med-scanner.

“Help me?” his tone challenged. He glanced back and forth between the guard and the medic. He focused his sensing ability and let their emotions seep in. The medic’s wariness and worry felt like an intruder upon his own emotions, but he held onto it and analyzed it. The man’s feelings were real. And so was the touch of irritation and concern coming from the guard who spoke.

“Yes. Help you.”

The sincerity emanating from the guard cooled him somewhat. He sucked in some breaths and allowed his sensing ability to absorb the other emotions around him.

Carefulness and focus were the primary emotions of the doctor and others in blue who picked up his brother and placed him on a wheeled bed. Urgency filled them as they rushed his brother away.

Jori’s body tensed and his breath quickened again. “Where are they taking him?”

The guard holding him squeezed tighter. Panic welled up again.

The guard in front of him put up his hand. “It’s okay. They’re taking him to the medical bay where they can give him more help.”

There was reassurance in the guard’s voice, as well as in his emotions. Jori took in a controlled breath and let it out as slowly as he could. His body quivered as he took in more air and his skin tingled as he let it out again. He slowly relaxed and glanced around the room at the strangers before him.

Other people wearing the same light blue uniform as the red-haired man stayed back. Their postures, although tense, were not poised to attack. Some held scanners. Others carried medical supplies.

The only ones with weapons were the guards in the brownish-grey uniforms. The sensations from the three guards around him were as vigilant as any warrior. Two others stood amongst the medics. None of them had their weapons out. Some were at the ready with their hands on the phaser holstered at their sides, but the only sensation of hostility came from the one who held him.

Jori’s heart still throbbed, but the pressing need to fight was leaving him. He breathed slower now and forced himself to relax.

“Let him go,” the guard in front of him said to the guard holding him.

“Are you crazy? He just attacked the doctor.”

“I think he understands now.”

The guard holding him harrumphed. “He’s a Tredon. All he understands is violence. Look at how he tried to attack the medic. And let’s not forget how he killed four people on that planet.”

Jori’s face flushed and a sour taste filled his mouth. It was all in defense. He’d certainly like to bloody the nose of the man holding him right now. But if they really were helping, it would be smarter to cooperate. At least for now, until he had his full strength back.

He let his face go blank. Never let your enemy know what you’re thinking, Master Jetser’s words echoed in his head. Emotion was weakness.

The tactic gained him nothing. A sense of agreement came from the guard in front of him. The man stood and called for another gurney. “We can strap him down.”

Heat washed over his face again. “I’ll not be tied down!”

The guard shook his head. “Look, kid. We’ve got to get you to the medical bay. And we’re not going to carry you.”

The thought of being carried made Jori’s face grow hotter. “I will walk,” he said through clenched teeth.

The guard hesitated. Then he pulled something from the small pouch at his side. “Cuff him.”

A pair of manacles was passed to the guard at his back. His pulse quickened. He sucked in a breath, held it, and then slowly let it out again. It was humiliating being a prisoner on an Alliance ship, not to mention how much more defenseless it made him. But what choice did he have?

He didn’t resist as the guard clamped the cold metal around his wrist—not that the man gave him any opportunity. The blackness threatened again as his other hand was twisted behind him. He winced at the pain but suppressed the urge to cry out. Master Jetser would’ve been proud.

The red-haired medic stepped forward with his scanner. “May I?”

Jori nodded his consent.

The man briefly waved the device over his body. “No internal injuries. You’re darned lucky. But we still need to get you to the medical bay. Are you sure you want to walk?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said in a hard tone. It was bad enough being surrounded by the enemy. He wasn’t about to lay vulnerable for them too. He moved to step down off the plat form. The guards’ hands held him by the shoulders but they let him go forward.

The medic’s brow furrowed. “You really should get on the gurney.”

Jori ignored him and followed the other medics down the corridor. He focused his ability ahead to see if he could feel anything from his brother. Generally, he could find Terk anywhere within a few miles. But not this time.

When his senses finally located him, his life force was weak and almost empty. Jori’s throat went dry and a coldness swept over him. His brother was alive. But there was nothing else, no other sensations at all. This was bad. Very bad.

He clenched his jaw and held his breath in an attempt to keep the rising despair at bay. He couldn’t cry here. Not in front of all these people. Not in front of his enemies. You can’t die, Terk. You just can’t.

They turned the corner into the medical bay. Jori froze. He was struck by a smell so clean that it burned his sinuses. The bright lights stung his eyes. He blinked rapidly and his eyes adjusted to see an orderliness to the place that would have put a Zraben munitions store to shame.

In chaotic contrast, a swarm of blue and white-garbed people scurried around the body of his brother like a pack of hungry blackbeasts on a deer. Their charged voices rang out not unlike the anxious yips of the dogs. Jori’s heart hammered as a swell urgency threatened to overwhelm him. The urgency was partly his own but mostly belonged to the medical personnel.

He tilted his head in puzzlement. Perhaps the things he’d heard regarding the Prontaean Alliance were true. His father would have called their compassion for all humankind as a weakness. At the moment, he didn’t care. His brother had a chance to live. He took a deep breath and let some of his tension go.

One of the men wearing white approached and knelt down before him. His green eyes seemed warm somehow, as warm as the brown of his skin.

The guard gripped his shoulder again. “Careful, Doctor,” he said. “He nearly rammed his fist into the nose of the last person who came up to him.”

“I can hardly blame him,” the doctor replied. His voice was deep but smooth. “It looks like he’s been to hell and back, and now he’s surrounded by a dozen people he doesn’t know. Isn’t that right, young man?”

Jori made slight nod. He hoped he kept his surprise of the man’s insight from showing on his face.

“Let’s get you to one of our healing beds so I can take a look at you.” The doctor put his hand on Jori’s other shoulder. Unlike the guards, though, his grip was gentle. And there was a genuine kindness emanating from him. “We’re going to do everything we can to help you.”

“And my brother.” He felt a sudden pang in his gut. It could be a mistake letting them know the other boy was his brother. But it was too late. And they’d probably figure it out anyway. Other than Terk being three years older than him, they looked very much alike. So long as they don’t find out the rest of it. They’d let him and his brother die if they knew.

The doctor nodded. “And your brother. I promise.”

The man spoke truthfully. Jori kept his posture rigid and alert, but let his anxiousness abate. He surveyed his surroundings as he followed the doctor through the medical bay. The room was vast, but seemed to get smaller as they made their way down to the sectioned off areas. Lots of places to hide—if the need arose. And multiple exits, exits that didn’t have anyone guarding them.

He could use this opportunity to get away, but that would be stupid. Let them heal him. If they tried to hurt him later, at least he would be in peak condition.

The doctor motioned for him to enter a small curtained area. The room was stark. The walls and partitions were white, as was the floor and cabinet doors. The cabinets themselves were of surgical steal and so was the casing of the healing bed. The machine gleamed with sterility. With the lid closed, it looked similar to a giant bullet from an old-fashioned gun.

Jori almost gaped at the female medic standing the bed. Her long dark hair weaved with purple strands hung in a braid over her shoulder. Her body was tall and narrow like a chokuto sword and her golden eyes were rimmed with a rainbow of painted color.

The Prontaean Alliance was truly a patchwork of various human cultures. The worlds of Tredon had their own diversity, but nothing like this. No two people here had the same shade of skin or hair and each had a different accent. Most had what was considered a traditional ‘human’ look, but some were more exotic–like the medic and her golden-hawk eyes.

The woman’s elongated fingers pressed a white button on the bed and the bed hissed open. The inside practically glowed with the electrical currents flowing through the translucent gel-like cushion.

Jori had used one of these technologically advanced healing beds before. All one had to do was lie on it and the gel conformed to the body as the body sunk in. The gel was too thick to enter the orifices, but malleable enough to surround all the body parts. The specialized electrical currents running through the gel triggered the body’s own immune system to work and heal faster while replenishing its nutrients at the same time. Jori could already heal quickly, but this bed would mend him much faster. Hopefully, these Alliance doctors would use it to heal his brother as well.

The doctor motioned Jori to sit on the healing bed. “What’s your name?”

Jori said nothing but sat. He eyed the one guard who followed him in and kept his senses focused on the other two standing outside the partition. They may be helping, but it didn’t mean he had to trust them. Maybe they had other motives. Maybe the Grapnes told them about Terk. Maybe they planned to do whatever it was the Grapnes were going to do.

“I’m Doctor Gregson and this is Medic Shera.”

He still didn’t reply.

Medic Shera handed the doctor an oxygen mask. “Well, young man,” the doctor said, “I’m going to need to set your arm. This will make it so you won’t feel a thing.”

The doctor brought the mask to his face. He jerked back. “No.” The security officer moved forward, but the doctor made a slight wave of his hand. Jori felt the officer’s suspicion but the doctor didn’t seem concerned.

“It’s just so you won’t feel the pain when we set your arm.”

“No anesthesia. No drugs.” Being injured and at their mercy was difficult enough. It’d be worse if he was drug-addled too.

“Are you sure?”

Jori locked eyes with the man. “Do it.”

The doctor hesitated. He glanced at the nurse and back, then at the guard.

The guard shrugged and stepped forward with a key to remove the cuffs. “If you want that arm fixed, I suggest you not harm my friends.”

If it had been the guard who had restrained him, Jori probably would have jammed his elbow into the man’s neck as soon as he was released. But it wasn’t. He looked the guard steadily in the eyes. “I’ll cooperate.”

The cuffs came loose. His broken arm flopped down with a twinge but he managed not to let the others see how the igniting pain affected him.

The doctor put his hand on the shoulder of his good arm. “Alright now. Sit back.”

Jori leaned against the open hood of the healing bed. The doctor got on one side and the medic on the other. Both put their weight against him to hold him down. He didn’t need to be held down, but he didn’t voice a complaint.

“Ready?”

He nodded.

The doctor pressed down on his arm. Pain radiated sharply. He gritted his teeth and grunted, but he didn’t dare cry out. His head swam and nausea swirled in his gut as the sharpness dulled. He breathed heavily, but in a controlled way that helped him deal with the pain.

“Are you sure you don’t want any anesthesia?”

“Just hurry up, dammit!” Their kindness grated his nerves.

With a sudden snap, the doctor jerked his arm bone into place. The pain was blinding, white and hot. The room spun now. His vision darkened as blackness closed in. He growled to keep from going unconscious, but not loudly enough for it to count as crying.

The doctor stepped back. Jori inhaled and exhaled deeply as the man did a quick scan.

Dr. Gregson’s eyebrows went up and his lips turned down. “You were very brave.”

Jori scowled. Brave? What did bravery have to do with it? The people of the Alliance obviously knew nothing of bravery.

The pain in his arm slowly subsided into a heavy throb. The doctor and medic helped him undress, and then guided him down onto the healing bed. The warm gel enveloped him as he slowly sunk in. He closed his eyes and let the warmth relax him. A small oxygen mask was placed over his nose and mouth, allowing him to breath. Then the lid closed, leaving him immersed in a sea of soft white light.

The bed hummed to life. Rather than sleep, Jori concentrated his senses on what was going on in another part of the sick bay. The tension of the numerous doctors and medics were the strongest emotions. He focused his ability and found the weak life force of his brother again. A lump formed in his throat and he swallowed it down. He couldn’t lose his brother. They had to save him. They just had to.

*****

J.D. sifted through the last remnant of charred debris in the cargo hold. Protein bundles, just as the manifest said. I don’t get it. The Grapnes claimed the Tredons stole their cargo but everything this ship held was accounted for in the manifest.

Captain Arden said he’d been trying to get more information from them, but the Grapnes wouldn’t or couldn’t say what this mysterious stolen cargo was supposed to be. This race wasn’t known for their honesty but they had to be after something.

His crew had checked other parts of the ship as well. Nothing of apparent value was found. Not a darned thing.

He took in a deep breath through his nose and gagged. Although his breathing apparatus filtered out the smoke, it didn’t filter out the smell. His nose stung with the odor of the burnt cargo.

He stood and stepped from the Serpent’s gored innards to its charred head. The cockpit didn’t look as damaged, but it smelled worse. The bodies had been removed, but the smell of cooked flesh lingered.

Footsteps sounded behind him. “Sir,” Lt. Sharkey said. “We’ve confirmed. There are nine bodies, not including the four Grapnes. They’re all Tredons, all male, all adults.”

He pressed his lips together and frowned. No slaves. And if one had been a Grapne prisoner, it might have explained the elusive cargo the Grapnes were claiming. He didn’t really want to find any innocent victims on this ship, but it sure would have explained this mystery. And he would have something to report to the captain. So far, he had nothing. The man was going to think he wasn’t doing his job.

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” He entered the information on his digiview and transmitted it to the captain.

He stared blankly at his surroundings, holding the digiview under his arm with one hand and cupping his bare chin in the other. The bareness of his face sent a heavy wave over him. Different face, different life.

He’d been so young when he entered the Prontaean Alliance Institute that the beard was the only way people took him seriously. But he was older now, thirty-five. The exuberance of youth had left him and it was time to look his age.

He’d accomplished much of what his younger-self had wanted to accomplish. First commanding officer of a star ship was a great achievement. His father was proud. But the Kimpke incident changed him. It changed him for the worst. It rattled his confidence and turned him into an unremarkable man who tripped over every step.

Another wave of acrid smoke spiked him out of his thoughts. He shook his head and focused on the task at hand. “Have you been able to access anything here yet?” he asked the officer working under one of the consoles. Perhaps the Tredons had information the Grapnes wanted.

“Not yet, Sir. Things here are pretty damaged. I might be able to get some data from the cad deck but I have to take this apart to reach it.”

“Do it.” Something more was going on here. The mystery of it compelled him onward. This sort of excitement was one of the reasons he’d joined the Prontaean Alliance Fleet to begin with. But Captain Arden made him nervous. Just how far would the man go to get answers from the two Tredon boys? His stomach soured at the thought. I can’t be a part of another injustice.

 

There will only be one more rewrite after this, so please give me as much feedback on this sci-fi novel as you can!

(This science fiction novella is protected by copyright) Copyright December, 2016 by Dawn Ross

This story is free to share so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.

Beta Reader Feedback for Novel StarFire Dragons

Posted in Reviews, Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , on October 15, 2016 by Dawn Ross

I’ve submitted my sci-fi novel, StarFire Dragons, to several beta readers and their feedback has been exceedingly helpful. Beta readers are readers who look for loopholes, point out spots that are confusing, comment on whether the pace is too slow or too fast, suggest ideas for plot movement or character improvement, and so on. Beta readers do not edit for grammar, punctuation, or spelling (unless they want to).

In many cases, several people pointed out the same issues. This was helpful because it showed me something really needed to be fixed. In other cases, only one person pointed out a certain issue. This was also helpful because sometimes it was just something that other readers missed. Here are the most common issues people found in my science fiction story.

Action or No Action

Chapter 1 starts out with action. Some of my readers loved this while others did not. The ones who loved it said it really hooked them to get into the action. The ones who didn’t pointed out that a story should start with scene and character introductions. In other words, start the first chapter in the protagonist’s normal world. I can see how this would be important, but I am at a loss as to how to hook the reader with a normal situation. Also, I decided to rewrite the first chapter and present it to new beta readers and was told it was too boring.

Obviously, this is a case where I’ve received conflicting information. I can either decide to just please one set of readers or I can see if I can try to find a way to please both. The way to please both would be to show J.D.’s normal world, but in an exciting way that hooks the reader. Thoughts?

Too Many Characters at Once

This is another one where I received conflicting information. Some beta readers said I introduced too many characters at once while other beta readers wanted more information on each of the characters as they are introduced. A suggestion to fix this problem would be to only vaguely introduce the characters in chapter 1, then add to their characteristics as the story progresses. Thoughts?

Details

Some of my beta readers said I gave too much detail while others said I gave too little. I think this is more of a reader preference than it is an issue. The readers who said I gave too much said a close-third point of view doesn’t justify lots of detail. They also said that today’s readers can easily fill in the blanks. The readers who said I gave too little felt the characters were too faceless. They said they couldn’t feel the scene as well because it was never described.

While I myself prefer to fill in the blanks, many people prefer more detail. So my choice is between not giving enough detail to readers who like detail or giving too much detail to readers who don’t like detail. I choose to give more detail. And perhaps to avoid giving too much detail, I should try to be brief but very descriptive about the detail. I should try to convey emotions with the detail. And I should try to convey the detail using other senses besides sight.

Terrible Antagonist

A few beta readers did not like Mik Calloway’s character. They said he was too cliché for a bad guy. I agree. I’m not very good at writing bad guys. I’ve decided to fix it by making him a little more personable. Although we still hate him, it will help us understand him better if I provide a better explanation as to why he hates Tredons so much. Any other ideas?

The Connection Scene

Many of my readers felt that the scene where Jori cried in J.D.’s arms really hit the spot. But one beta reader said it felt forced. The situation forced Jori to warm up to him rather than it happening organically. I kinda see the point. I tried to make it show organically when Jori was upset that J.D. called him a brat. This, to me, showed that Jori actually cared about what J.D. thought of him. So, I think I can expand on this a little more so that when the connection scene does come, it doesn’t come across as too fake.

Sentence Structures

I tend to write very formally. And as such, my sentences tend to be about the same size and the same structure. This was noticed by a few of my beta readers who are aware that sentence lengths should vary because it helps with the story pacing. Short and choppy sentences can indicate a fast paced scene while longer sentences can help provide the pacing for slower scenes.

Better Character Dialogue

Many of my beta readers pointed out that all my characters talk the same. This is not at all realistic, especially in a futuristic world where the races and cultures are even more diverse. I tried adding a different way of speaking for Lt. Jenna Stein, but it turned out to be more confusing for people. So I need to think of a way to make my characters speak differently without trying to write out annoying accents since today’s readers don’t like reading accents.

There are a few ways I can vary the way a character speaks without writing annoying accents: different sentence structures, different sentence lengths, different words, odd speech habits, swear words (which I succeeded at with Terk), jargon, characters who repeat themselves, characters who over- or under-explain, and probably many more I haven’t thought of.

I plan on keeping Stein’s use of the word “be” the same even though some of my beta readers were thrown by it. I think they were thrown because Stein was the only one who talked differently. If I make other characters talk differently, it may not be as noticeable. I plan on having Lt. Chandly use more jargon. Lt. Commander Bracht seems like a guy who would speak shorter sentences. The captain as well, but he always speaks much more formally than Bracht. Some other character may use the word “um” a lot. I’m still deciding on others.

Weak Main Character

A few of my beta readers felt J.D. was too weak of a character. One beta reader specifically said that Jori seems to be a much better developed character than any of the others and it would really make the story better if J.D. and perhaps even Captain Arden were just as compelling. I agree. I keep trying to make J.D. more interesting, but for some reason I am having a hard time. Suggestions?

Too Trekke

Almost every single one of my readers thought this story had the feel of Star Trek. This was intended because I thought it would make it easier for readers to relate to the setting. But it turns out that many of my readers was annoyed by this, especially since some characters, like Bracht, were too similar. They wanted to see a different world with different people. While I don’t want to deviate too much from the world I’ve created, I do understand the need to be a little different. Thoughts?

Tags

One person said I used the word “said” too much and should use other more creative tags. Unfortunately, though, I’ve heard that using a bunch creative tags is a weak and novice way of writing. A better way to fix the problem of too many people saying this and that is to use action before or after a sentence in order to tell the reader who is speaking. For example: The captain raised his eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Another example: J.D. scratched his chin. “No. Probably not.”

Chapter End

One beta reader felt the story should end at chapter 30 because it left the reader hanging and inspired them to read the next book. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when a book leaves me hanging. I tried to inspire the reader to read the next book in the series at the very end, chapter 33, but I’m not sure I did a good enough job. I need to work on the ending so that it concludes the first book but still inspires readers to read the second book.

Conclusion

While I may not be fixing every point or taking every bit of advice given, everything my beta readers shared with me was helpful. The best thing about the feedback I received from every single one of my beta readers is that they really liked the story. This gives me a lot of hope and inspires me to perfect it as much as possible. Thank you, everyone for any tips and feedback you’ve provided. ❤

 

The Kavakian Empire – Part Two Emperor Ch9c

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 2, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by Dawn Ross

The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera by Dawn Ross

Part Two – The Emperor

Chapter 9c

Note from the author: This chapter is a little longer than I intended. I think there is too much inner contemplation from Terk and not enough action or tension. What do you think? Please feel free to provide some feedback. I believe this sci-fi story is a great one, but as an amateur writer I need all the help I can get in making sure it is written that way.

Terk sat in his father’s chair on the bridge. His father was not there, which meant Terk was in charge. He wan’t completely in charge, though. General Trevine would take command if he felt Terk couldn’t handle it. Trevine, or tree trunk as many called him, generally left Terk alone, but only because most tasks on the bridge were routine. If there was an emergency, Trevine would take over and completely ignore any of Terk’s suggestions.

This day was as mundane as usual. Terk could sense Trevine’s boredom. The man often was. Trevine was a warrior and like to be constantly active. He was intelligent enough to work the bridge, but he had learned by experience rather than through an education like Terk’s. Terk had tried to argue for more hands-on experience with both Trevine and his father. They agreed, but neither were willing to let go of their authority. Trevine was much like is father in stubbornness and arrogance. It irritated Terk to no end, but there was little he could do about it other than complain. And complaining wasn’t something his father tolerated.

Terk was looking over the engine stats to make sure everything was operating within parameters. Dekel did well enough, but he sometimes forgot to keep an eye on the ___________ sensor. It was difficult to tell whether it was too high or too low because a high number didn’t always mean it was high. The measurement had to be compared mathematically with three other components, which also tended to fluctuate. Biskol was supposed to devise a program to make it easier to tell whether the ____________ reading was normal, but although programming ships was his specialty, he really wasn’t all that good at it. Tredons were not known for making intellectual pursuits a priority. Only lords tended to opt for a formal education and usually had to travel abroad, or in Terk’s case have teachers brought in from abroad, to get it.

Terk was considered highly intelligent, but Jori was the true genius. He absorbed everything he was taught, including aspects of warfare. And he studied even more subjects on his own. If Jori could find the time, he could probably write a program for gauging the _____________. But their father kept them both rather busy. And the more Jori learned, the busier he became because the ship desperately needed the expertise.

His brother was better than him at most things, but Terk wasn’t jealous. There was a time when he was, but Jori was too likeable. And he didn’t have an ounce of ambition in him, other than his desire to learn and learn some more. Kavakian siblings had been known to kill one another off in order to become heir. Terk had seen a couple of his elder brothers do it. And his father had gotten his status in this way.

Although there was once a half-brother Terk considered killing, he would never harm Jori. When Terk became emperor, Jori would be by his side. Terk would handle the leadership and martial aspects of his job while Jori would handle the administrative and technological aspects. Dividing duties in this way would certainly make things much easier. Terk’s father juggled all the duties, except the technological because there wasn’t much of a technological aspect. His father was doing administrative work now, which was why Terk had command of the bridge.

Terk’s musings were interrupted with a beep from the vidcomm. The corner of the bridge window indicated it was Captain General Brevak of the Basilisk.

Terk pressed the answer button on his chair and stood up. Although he could have remained sitting, Terk felt that addressing a high-ranking official in such a way made him look lazy and arrogant. Standing was a mark of Terk’s authority as well as a sign of respect towards the man’s status.

“Brevak, I trust your ship has been repaired and all is well,” he said when the captain general’s face popped up on the screen.

“Yes, my Lord,” Brevak replied.

Brevak was rather young for a captain general, mid-forties, but he was quite capable. He was probably one of the best warrior-leaders of his father’s fleet, at least according to Terk and Jori. He came from a family long dedicated to the Kavakian Empire. But unlike many of the lords who tended to get lazy and leave the work of fighting to lesser-born men, Brevak’s family maintained a strong warrior heritage. They learned their skills both at home and abroad and in many different forms. Brevak was the master of all the basic weapon types and several forms of master arts, was greatly skilled in space combat, and did very well in strategic planning.

His skills were not what Terk and Jori admired most about him, though. Nor was it his unwavering loyalty to the Kavaks. Brevak was an exceptional leader and his men loved him. Terk and Jori had tried to determine what it was about Brevak that made it so, but weren’t around Brevak enough to find out. All Terk knew was that while his father’s men grumbled and complained but did as they were told, Brevak’s men seemed to celebrate their leader.

Terk had tried to get father to send him to the Basilisk so he could tutor under Brevak. But although his father trusted Brevak’s skills and loyalty, Terk sensed a wariness in him.

“However,” Brevak continued, “we engaged with a couple of Alliance ships just before crossing the border and suffered additional damage.”

“Repairable?”

“Yes, my Lord. Within the hour.”

“Injuries to your crew?”

“No one this time.”

“And what of the Alliance ships?” Terk asked.

“I’m sure they sustained more damage, but I doubt it was significant. They didn’t follow us over, although I think they could have. I will need backup, Sir, if you want me to go back over to destroy them.”

“Backup is a few day cycles away yet. Repair your ship and monitor the borders to make sure they don’t sneak in.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Terk disconnected the communication and the window went back to its view of space. He sat back down in his chair but was careful not to make it look like it was with relief. There had been a time when he would have relished the idea of going to war with the Alliance. But after nearly dying and being rescued by them a few periods back, he had a difficult time seeing them as his enemies.

While Terk didn’t like the idea of Jori endangering himself in order to save them, he did hope they wouldn’t have to die. He especially hoped he wouldn’t have to be the one to kill them. Terk didn’t enjoy killing the way some of his father’s men seemed to. But he had no trouble with killing when it was necessary, although he suspected killing J.T. would bother him. Not to mention that Jori would never forgive me.

Jori came onto the bridge before Terk could contemplate the problem of the Alliance crew further. His brother was apprehensive, though lately that was nothing unusual.

“What are you doing here?” Terk asked.

“Father summoned us.”

“What about?”

“I don’t know,” Jori replied.

Terk felt a spike in brother’s his nervousness. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he replied as he and Jori made their way to their father’s ready room.

When they entered, their father was focused on his work screen. Terk sensed he was deep in thought and didn’t seem to be in a foul mood.

Good, Terk thought. He still knows nothing.

Terk’s hopes were dashed, though, when his father looked up at him with his piercing dark eyes. Terk felt a mental stab when his father’s anger spiked.

“Jako came to me with a disturbing complaint,” father said.

Shit, Terk thought, blood draining from his face. He had meant to speak to Jako as soon as his shift was over. Now it was too late.

“He says the Alliance crew members don’t know what they’re doing,” he continued.

“Some are more knowledgeable than others,” Jori replied with a calm Terk knew he didn’t feel. Their nervousness had intensified, though neither let it show on their face. Their father couldn’t sense emotions like they could so their ability to hide how they felt was a strong advantage.

The man must have suspected something, though, because his jaw clenched and his nostrils flared. “He seems to think they’re faking it.”

Shit! Terk tried to think of an excuse but his brother beat him to it.

“If they are lying, we’d sense it.”

“How can you be sure? You barely know what you’re doing.”

“I know more than Jako,” Jori said, trying not to sound defensive.

“Terk?” his father said. “Have you sensed any deception in them?”

“No …” His voice cracked. “No, Sir.”

His father glared at them each in turn. Terk suppressed the urge to swallow and held his breath as his father scrutinized them. Both brothers stood stiff in an at-ease stance in hopes of reflecting calm and confidence.

“Just to be sure,” he finally said, “get Derianna … now.”

Shit, shit, shit! Terk thought but kept his face straight. Both brother’s acknowledged their father’s command while keeping their composure, although both were a hundred times more tense than they had been just a moment before.

Derianna was their mother and her ability to sense emotions and lies was much more precise than Terk and Jori’s. Plus she had another skill, one that kept her close while the other concubines tended to get passed on to the men when their father got bored with them.

“Shit!” Terk said out loud once he and his brother were clear of their father’s ready room. If father finds out about our ruse, he’ll be beyond pissed. Terk wanted to be angry at his little brother, and at the Alliance, for getting him into this mess. But the truth was, he was worried. And not worried for himself, worried for Jori.

Their father only had two surviving sons and an assassination attempt that corrupted his DNA kept him from being able to procreate more. But having two sons meant one was expendable.

Terk had been sensing his father’s increased impatience and annoyance with Jori. Although Jori was better than Terk at just about everything, he was very stubborn about certain things. The one annoying father the most was that Jori refused to torture or murder anyone. Oh, he would kill if he had to, but never murder. To make matters worse, rather than simply refuse to do what father told him, Jori often argued with him about it. Although Jori’s reasoning seemed logical, it only served to infuriate their father. Terk was afraid that one of these days his father would lose his temper and take Jori’s punishments too far. It wouldn’t be the first time their father had killed one of their brothers.

Terk pushed these dire thoughts out of his mind. He and Jori would get through this and they would get through it together.

“Warn them quickly,” he said to his brother in their secret language. “I’ll talk to mother.”

Before they could get far, Jori stopped short and held the comm button by his ear. Terk sensed a sharp panic from him. “Yes, Sir,” Jori said.

“What is it?” he asked.

Jori’s face was pale. “Father just called me back. I can’t warn them.”

“Did he say what he wanted?”

“No.”

Shit. Terk tried to think of something but nothing came to mind. When father called for them, there was no delaying. “I’m sorry, Little Brother, but this might be the end of it.”

“Maybe Mother…”

“Maybe. Or maybe we’ll get caught, dammit.” Terk glowered, daring his brother to protest.

Jori didn’t say a word, but the look on his face and the emotions emanating from him said it all.

“Dammit!” Terk said. He turned away in a huff and headed towards the harem. Anyone looking at him would have thought he was in a furious mood, but inside his gut churned with worry.

 

So what do you think of this chapter? Constructive criticism is welcome.

(This sci-fi saga is protected by copyright) Copyright September, 2015 by Dawn Ross

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