Courier Scout Cruiser, Victoria Class
Vessel Commissioned: HMS Takara
Course: En route to Outer Solar System
Commander: Shogun Miranda
Crew: 18 officers, and several dozen refugees
You are in command now. Leaning back in the captain’s chair you feel the embroidery of the royal seal on the backrest. Both polished, pearly boots sit flatly on the floor, your starched moonstone uniform creased and ironed from cuff to collar. The sash running between the curves of your bust reaches down to the sheathed ivory-encased katana at your side. Silver stars dot the black display of the view screen ahead.
Request the ensign’s report.
He is young, younger than you, probably in the first year of his service. Undoubtedly a talented pilot, his voice nonetheless shakily responds to your authoritative tone. A blue icon registering a Venusian battle-cruiser highlights on the view screen. You ask the ensign whether or not the Venusians have detected our presence.
I, I do not think so he responds.
You either know or you do not ensign, you demand calmly. By now you can observe the ring of sweat along the officer’s precise hairline. He presses his consol for further data.
They’re moving off, towards a debris field of Martian Junks. We remain undetected, he finishes with as confident a voice as he can muster.
You cordially compliment your helmsman and order your navigator to maintain course towards the Jovian moons of the outer system. Maximum capacity to the engines. You depart from the bridge.
In the tube lift a thick necked, tan-skinned soldier meets you. His broad shoulders bear the bulges of full body armor beneath his argent shell jacket, an immaculate ebony toned samurai blade sheathed beside his black belt. Four tiny metals for courage and bravery hang from his left pectoral.
Master Maori, you acknowledge.
My Lady, the clean-shaven, experienced master-at-arms bows.
Alone with the soldier in the lift, you cannot help but smile. You’ve known Master Maori for nearly all twenty-something years of your life. He was a young soldier in the service when he was first assigned to your House, serving as your personal guardian as had his father and grandfather done before him for your mother and grandmother in their times. One of the elite Bushido Guards, each hand knighted by the Holy Mother herself to defend the royal families of Europa, the white frozen moon of the mother world of them all, Jupiter Prime. Bushido Guards are the only people permitted, other than the aristocracy themselves, to carry a katana at their sides. You glance over, unable to hide your grin as you look at your longtime protector and friend. Maori’s aging, but well-toned cheek muscles remain taut and impassive, his eyes staring dutifully at the blank bulkhead.
Not still sore about the ceremony, are you Maori?
It is not my place to say, he responds without a glance.
The low hum of the lift whispers in your ears as you move between decks.
There’ll be time for pomp and circumstance when we return home, you add.
However, Maori begins after another silence.
You sigh. However is a word Maori only ever uses when lecturing his pupils.
It is not every day that you are elevated to the post for which you have been raised all your life, to be inducted as one of the twelve Shoguns of Europa by the Holy Mother, Maori continues. Instead of being with the High Queen on your new day, you have chosen to expose yourself to danger in open space on the brink of a war that does not concern our people.
The Takara is my own ship now, not my late mother’s. I’ll take her where I please, you add a bit more hotly than you had intended.
Maori nodded. However…
I do not wish to hear it now, Maori.
As you wish, My Lady, he replies as courteously as ever.
I agree that this conflict amongst the Reds, the Greens, and the Blues does not concern us, you say almost apologetically. But I fear we may not remain neutral in their disputes forever. Europa is not as far from the comings and goings of the inner solar system as it was in my grandmother’s day. When I next see the Holy Mother I shall report to her firsthand what we have learned of the defeat of the Martian Reds. And I shall present her with the few survivors I have gleaned from the wreckage.
Survivors? Maori’s voice betraying a hint of emotion for the first time.
Refugees, mostly civilians. Their vessels are being hunted down like dogs by the Venusian Fleet as they try to escape to the outer worlds. I will bring these specimens before the High Mother so that she can best decide for herself what to make of this war in the inner solar system.
We have maintained a somewhat polite isolation from the heathen of the inner worlds for centuries, Maori said to no one in particular.
You almost smile again, remembering Maori’s view of all other peoples born off-world as barbarians.
There is bad blood between our peoples from the ancient days.
I don’t need a history lesson of the Great Upheaval, you reply with a raised hand.
The lift doors open.
Stepping out into the hold the burr of the ship’s fusion engines resounds slightly heavier down here than it did up on the bridge. Several standard guards, armed with pulse rifles, stand beside the exits. A pair of medics from your sickbay attend various figures of the several dozen or so Martians lounging in exhausted heaps across the empty steel hold floors. Some bear scorch marks from gunshots that have marred their clothes. Others appear decked in worn garments and torn rags. A few whimpering children cluster among the men and women, most of whom are asleep by now.
You pause over a wounded Martian between two of your medics, your shadow lengthening across the unconscious man’s uniform.
This is one of the few militants we’ve secured, Shogun, one of the medics reports. He was the last one we picked up before jumping the engines. He was already passed out in a stolen Venusian single-seater, his air just about run out. Lucky we found him.
A Martian uniform in a Venusian craft? Maori begins. I’ll post a guard on him until he awakens. This man may be a spy, possibly a plant.
You shake your head, waving his protestations aside. Commenting on Maori’s constant paranoia you move on, instructing the medics to inform you when this Red pilot comes to. They finish reporting that they only found three other Red soldiers in the past few days, none with a complete set of limbs.
Not as you remembered her, but as she was in pictures and videos made before you were born. A beautiful woman. A woman you hardly knew. Like most noblewomen she hired out hands to raise you, teach you, train you. You learned to eat, to walk, to add, to read, to do martial arts, to compose music, to fly starships, to pray in the holy temples as instructed by other people. You could write your characters exquisitely with a horsehair brush, serve tea with courtly propriety, sever a foe’s neck with or without a blade, jump space cruisers successfully through asteroid belts and planetary rings, and even consistently score in the top percentiles on all of your calculus examinations. But you did not know your mother’s favorite color.
Or what flowers she liked. Of all the languages she spoke, which was her favorite. How well she had known her own mother. Did she love the man that was your father?
But now she had died.
You shake yourself free of the too sudden image staring back at you in the mirror. The deep brown eyes. Stepping into the shower you let the warm water rush down over you, prickling your flesh with goose bumps, dampening your hair as you let down your raven hued plaits. You stand in the thickening steam breathing in the hot breath of the porcelain showerhead.
So uncouth, these Martians you think to yourself. Reds tend to be nearly as tall as your people, unlike the short stubby inhabitants of Terra and Venus. This one might actually be a hair taller than yourself. The thought makes you frown. Even his hair is somewhat russet, undoubtedly plagued by the red spice of the Martian plains that seemed to beset the flesh and attire of all who dwelt there. His coat seems almost tiger striped with chalky clay and tear marks, his fingernails blackened or browned. At his side an empty holster. Maori had insisted it be taken away. He stands there now beside you, scoffing at the primitive Martian revolver in hand. It’s truly a wonder the Reds lasted as long as they did, he remarks to himself.
Huh? The Martian murmurs from the bed.
You squint a moment at his delirious face, the sedatives beginning to wear off. A golden-crimson swath of stubble covers his cheeks, giving the patient a rakish look like a pirate or Viking of old you think to yourself strangely. The man continues to murmur to himself a while. Impatiently, Maori bangs on the cot with a firm hand. The soldier on the table blinks open his eyes and props himself up on one elbow.
Remaining silent, you wait while Maori begins the interrogation. The Red wont give him his name. Claims he got lost sightseeing. He thinks this is a joke, Maori fumes to one of the other aides. The stern faced Bushido Guard lowers his visage until his own eyes rest a mere hair’s breath away from the Martian’s. Maori fingers the hilt of his leather wrapped katana.
Once I remove this blade it cannot be sheathed again until it has drawn blood, he coolly growls before the Red.
Then I suggest you start shaving.
Maori squints one eye testily. You are surprised to see him actually beginning to lift the pommel of his sword, a hint of faultless steel shining beneath his robes. Your hand stays him from drawing further.
This man is our patient, Maori, you cordially remind him, not taking your eyes off the bedraggled Martian in the sickbed. Your loyal guardsman humbly begs your pardon, reluctantly releasing his grip on the handle of his weapon.
Could I have my gun back? the Red asks.
Give it to him, you reply.
Without flinching, Maori’s quick eyes search your face. You remain firm.
He slowly removes the revolver from behind his back, gradually placing it on the table so as not to have to risk physically touching the patient. The Red’s agate eyes remain fixed on Maori as he retrieves his handgun. Peering down at the chambers, he spins them around with a familiar flourish.
It’s empty, the Martian remarks somewhat taken aback.
You simply smile, Maori’s dutiful face remaining inert beside you.
What happened to you?
For the first time the air of cockiness seems to evaporate from the Martian’s shoulders.
You don’t know? Isn’t it broadcast on every radio wave by now?
But you were there you reply.
He shakes his head. This is Europan technology, he remarks looking around at the blinking medical stations, the blue feeding tubes, the green plasma ducts, and white polished surfaces. What does a white queen from the frosty moons of Jove care for the sufferings of the Martian confederacies?
You will keep a civil tongue before the Shogun, Maori cut in. His tense body stood eerily still. The Red stopped, seeming to sense the hidden ferocity within the swordsman’s outwardly complacent poise. You wait a moment before speaking yourself.
We rescued you and a few other survivors along the asteroid belt. We’re bound for Europa.
I cannot pay for my passage he smirked.
I’d like to give you and some of your companions an audience with the Holy Mother you explain. To give her your own account of what has happened. After that you are free to do as you wish.
And just what would I wish to do on Europa?
There are other Red settlements in the outer system of which I’m sure you’re not totally unaware. We could offer you and your fellow refugees transport to Ganymede.
Just because they’re Reds don’t make them Martians.
Your patience begins to wear thin and your voice shows it.
I’m not unfamiliar with your people’s…independent lifestyles. If you find any of the Reds in the Jovian system inhospitable I’m sure you could book passage to the moons of Saturn. Titan is crawling with them now I hear. You are a prolific if primitive lot.
His brows began to narrow, his lips parting with some quibbling remark.
We’re done here you conclude before the Martian can speak. You do not spare the man another look. Nonetheless, you still feel his eyes upon your back.
You march through the sickbay, examining some of the other unconscious patients. The three other Red militia, two men and one woman, all still bear multiple scars from their escapes. The surgeons have already grafted mechanical arms and legs to replace the missing limbs of these soldiers. The drugs will keep them under until the skin growth process is complete, giving their newly metallic appendages the same appearance as their former calves, shoulders, and forearms. Better than what they would have received from their own people you think to yourself. Probably be wearing peg legs by now if the Takara hadn’t picked them up.
How wretched these Reds seemed at times. Scattered, restless, spread throughout the inner and out solar system. If Mars hadn’t fallen to the Terrans and Venusians it would have collapsed under its own internal strife and chaos. Their shanty settlements, and substandard bubble domes pockmarked the airless moons of Jupiter and Saturn just the same. All they seemed to know how to do was have babies and squabble with each other over hardscrabble rocks with barely enough gravity to hold them down. Other than Titan, Europa had the only partially breathable atmosphere in the entire outer solar system you think to yourself. For the first time since the Takara left port you feel the pangs of homesickness.
None so numerous as the tens of billions of inhabitants throughout the inner solar system. Barely a hundred million souls spread across the icy cavernous crevasses, rolling taiga woodlands, and snowy mountain chains. You can almost feel the warm sting of midmorning frost fogging your breath as you inspect the igloo dog kennels on your ancestral estate.
An alarm chimes curtly overhead.
You turn round, still in sickbay, as Maori runs to an intercom and begins conferring with the bridge crew several decks above.
Report, you demand, the receiver still clutched in Maori’s hand.
Venusian vessel bearing down on our position.
A battle-cruiser? Why did we not detect it earlier?
It’s not a battle-cruiser Maori replies. It’s not showing up on any of our scopes.
That’s impossible you begin. The only thing that wouldn’t show up on our detector systems is…
Suddenly you trail off; a sinking feeling rising in your stomach as Maori meets your gaze with a cold, clear-eyed expression you haven’t seen on his face since the day your mother died. Your palms begin to sweat.
Inexplicably, your eye wanders over to where the conscious Red solider is still sitting across his cot in sickbay and you blurt out that it can’t be.
It is, Maori grimly confirmed, his hand instinctively on his sword. A Maelstrom.