“You never told me you were a prince!”
I swung around to K, smiling. “Well, it wasn’t relevant.”
The admiral laughed. “You always were humble.”
K stared at me, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging. “You… you…”
I laughed. It felt good to laugh. “I’m sorry if you feel betrayed K; I wasn’t trying to keep it secret, it just never came up.”
She furrowed her brow. “Yeah, that’s because people don’t go ‘hey, nice to meet you, are you royalty?’ I think you need to volunteer that kind of information. Besides, when you were talking about your family, you never mentioned it! Don’t pretend you weren’t trying to avoid the subject.”
I shrugged, suppressing some more laughter, and Fiona stepped closer to K.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “Talcorosax just doesn’t like thinking about it. He’d rather be a scientist or a hero than a political leader, so he pretends he isn’t one.” She grinned at me, and I shook my head.
“It’s not that…” I said, but the thing is, it sort of was.
“Well what is it then, huh?” K started chuckling and went to punch me on the arm, and instinctively I leaped backwards. Her swing missed.
The admiral stared at us, and we both started laughing.
“That was close,” I said.
“Sorry, I keep… I don’t know,” said K. “It just feels like the thing to do.”
The admiral extended her hand toward K. “A friend of Talcorosax is a friend of mine,” she said, “and since you’re apparently the only friend he has, this is a special occasion.”
“Hey-” I said, but K cut me off, shaking the admiral’s hand.
“My name’s K.”
The admiral winced in pain, and pulled her hand back. She stared at K with an intense expression. “You’ve got quite a firm grip. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised judging by the look of you.” She sized her up. “You look like quite the hardy one.”
I noticed a flash of empathy on K’s face, but she just nodded, and resumed a stern expression. “Yeah, I’m pretty hardy. Didn’t realize you could feel pain through that robot hand.”
“I can turn the pain off, if need be. Technology is amazing,” she said. “What’s your story, K? I’ve never seen anyone like you.”
K crossed her arms. “I’m a mercenary. Worked on Voren.”
“Yeah. Actually, with the Director dead, not sure how I’m gonna be paid for the past few weeks of work there. I’ll need to contact somebody about that I guess.”
The admiral nodded. “Yes, well as I said, feel free to use the ship’s computer for making calls.” She glanced at her holo-gauntlet. “I should go. Glad to see you, prince; and you, K.”
“Wait,” I said. “How are you and Reinhardt doing?”
She rolled her eyes. “You know how it is with him, Osax.”
“On again? Or-”
“Off. Definitely off.” She shook her head. “Anyway, I really must go.” She smiled at me.
K nodded, and I bowed a skyther farewell. “It’s a pleasure to see a familiar face,” I said.
The admiral left the room with her guards, leading a few of the people to the med-bay. I turned to K.
“I’m curious, what do you do with your pay, anyway?” I asked.
“Hm?” She chuckled. “Well you wouldn’t understand, you royal, rich piece of shit.”
“Wh- Hey!” I exclaimed. “That was uncalled for.”
K nodded, smiling. “Yeah, but it felt good.”
I shook my head.
“Hey, I was just joking around. Lighten up, you’re a good guy.”
I lifted my ears slightly, but squinted at her.
She sighed. “I’ve just been saving my credits, you know.”
“You know, getting a place somewhere nice, maybe. Getting my own ship. Going to the amusement parks on Gamralt, for like, months, or something. Or just getting away from everything.” She paused. “I guess you could probably just give me some of your family’s wealth and I wouldn’t have to work.”
“That’s… not exactly how it works,” I said. “My family is wealthy, but my mother has been very selective about funding for me. Mostly for my education.”
K scoffed. “Yeah, sure, but at least your mom has things to select. You’re full of it if you think you aren’t privileged.”
“I know I’m privileged,” I said. “Maybe that’s why I don’t like advertising my bloodline.”
“Because, it makes all my accomplishments look like they were handed to me.”
“Well, if I know anything about how money works, they kind of were, so…”
I shook my head. “Whatever.”
“Hey, it’s not a big deal,” said K. “Nothing wrong with appreciating what you got. Just don’t pretend that you made yourself rich.” She paused. “I mean, I didn’t make myself strong, or resilient. That’s supposedly my best trait. Gotta be okay with that somehow, while I’m still alive.”
I nodded. “I suppose so.”
I turned a corner while heading to the admiral’s room and Jonathan slammed into me.
“Oh, excuse me,” he said, brushing down his coat as I recovered my balance. He stood up straight, then looked me up and down. “Ah, it’s you.”
“Jonathan,” I said, and bowed my head. “Headed down to the lounge?” I crossed my arms. “Where have you been anyway?”
He smirked. “I was just exploring the ship. Quite fascinating; I used to serve on board a Titan-class cruiser like this one.”
“Really?” I asked, and my ears lifted in interest. “What ship?”
“Several years ago, I served aboard the Asteria. When I was in my early twenties, I was a TAU marine.”
“That explains your skill with a weapon,” I said. “I assumed you just practised at a shooting range.”
He pointed to his robotic eye. “You don’t get scars like this at a shooting range; not unless something goes horribly wrong, at any rate.” He chuckled, and shook his head. “No, I’ve seen my fair share of combat. Mostly with valicorr.”
I nodded. “And that explains why you knew about the shadow scouts.”
“Yes.” The aperture of his cybernetic eye narrowed. “In fact, it was one such thing that took out my eye in the first place.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment.
Unexpectedly, Joëlle passed us in the hall, heading toward the admiral’s room as well.
“Jonathan,” she said, nodding to him. He nodded back.
“Hey Joëlle,” I said. She didn’t even look at me as she turned the corner.
“Ah, that’s her name,” he said. “Joëlle.” He ran his fingers through his hair, and exhaled. “I couldn’t remember it.”
My ears drooped, and I tightened my fists. “Yes,” I said, watching where she had gone, “she’s quite a friendly person.”
Jonathan nodded in agreement though he clearly wasn’t listening. “You know, and I’m quite sorry, but what was your name again?”
“Talcorosax,” I said, and added, “but, if it’s easier, you can call me Osax.”
“Right! I’m sorry, I really am terrible with names.” He laughed. “Us scientists tend not to be the most sociable of people.”
I squinted slightly. I guess I could see what he was saying, but I quite liked interacting with others. Though, I suppose it may have stemmed from a scientific curiosity about human and skyther behaviour; similar to the curiosities that led me to become a biologist in the first place. So, I nodded in agreement.
He continued, “You know, I do think I’ve heard that name before. Isn’t there a famous skyther named Talcorosax?”
“Well…” I began, and he stepped back, staring at me with a slight smile.
“You can’t be… prince Talcorosax, are you?”
I nodded and my ears lifted. “Yes, I am. It seems everyone is finding out today.”
He chuckled. “Well, had I known I rammed into a prince a few moments ago, I would have responded with much more pleading and apologizing, and perhaps a bit of grovelling.”
I shook my head, and sighed. “That’s- That’s not necessary.”
“Good,” he said. “Well, I won’t keep you any longer, Prince Osax.” He bowed, and I responded with the skyther farewell.
Jonathan seemed like a kind fellow. I hoped I’d be able to get to know him better some day, but I had business with my friend, Admiral O’Kane. I hadn’t seen her in many years, and there was a chance she could help me out.
I entered her room. It was fairly small, with a window pointing to the front of the ship. From here, you could see most of the entire hull of the ship, and the stars gave it a mystical vibe which offset the practical military aesthetic. The admiral was standing on the other side of her desk which was placed in the middle of the room, gazing out the window. Joëlle stood facing her, standing at the desk.
“You don’t understand, Admiral!” Joëlle leaned over the table. “The mothership is a threat to any and all TAU colonies. It’s even a threat to Earth! It has to be stopped!”
Admiral O’Kane’s voice was cold and unflinching. “I’m not disagreeing with you, RT. But I will not follow the ship.”
“We don’t know where they’re headed next, but there’s still time to follow their trail. If you wait too long, the slipspace emissions will dissipate too much; you won’t be able to track them!”
The admiral turned her head, looking back. “I am not planning to track them. Not while Kronos is full of civilians. If the ship is as strong as you say it is, do you even think we’d be able to make a dent in it?”
“At least give me a team! I- I can’t work on my own!”
The admiral spun around. “I’m sorry that your team was killed, but I will not just assign members of my crew to your suicide mission! If you want to track them, that’s your imperative, RT. You have your own ship. But Kronos is headed for Olympus, and unless I get word from the Fleet Admiral, I’m not changing course.”
I cleared my throat, and they both turned to me. Joëlle’s face was full of anger and disbelief.
“Talcorosax, welcome,” said the admiral.
“Admiral Fiona, I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said.
She raised up her hand. “You aren’t interrupting.”
“Yes, he is.” said Joëlle.
My ears shot back. I had hoped we could be friends, her and I. She was so kind to me when we first met. But I let her down. I tried to keep my composure, but I thought about the attack, the man in the elevator shaft, and the tower exploding, and I trembled.
Fiona looked concerned, and took a few steps toward me. “What’s wrong, friend?” Joëlle looked between us, and pursed her lips.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I said, “I’m fine.” I stood up straighter and lifted my ears to a neutral position. “I came here seeking information. I thought, being an admiral, perhaps you knew some details about the base on Voren. Such as, what might have attracted the valicorr to it in particular, or why it was stationed in such a remote location.”
Joëlle tapped her fingers on her leg. “I’d like to know too,” she said, “since I’m planning to hunt them down.”
The admiral glanced out the window, and then slowly paced in the room. “Well,” she began, “after receiving word about the attack last night, I thought I’d do some research on the station. And you’re right, Prince, I was able to access some of the classified information.” She paused, looking at us. “Since you’re my friend, and the Prince of Astraloth for that matter, and you’re a member of Round Table, I feel it’s okay for me to divulge this information to you both.”
Joëlle turned to me. “...Wait, you’re Prince Talcorosax? I thought you just happened to have the same name as him.”
I would have said something, but I was eager to finally hear about the station from Fiona, and I didn’t know what to say since Joëlle was acting so cold to me. I didn’t want to hurt our chance at friendship by saying the wrong thing.
“Yes, he’s Prince Talcorosax,” said Fiona. She sighed. “Now, there’s no way to put this that makes it sound good. The base on Voren, among other functions, was a secret research lab... developing a weapon of mass destruction.”
My heart skipped a beat. So that’s why the valicorr had attacked.
“A weapon?!” exclaimed Joëlle. “What for?”
Fiona shook her head. “Unknown. What I do know is, they called it the ‘Shade Beam’.”
“The Shade Beam…” I said. The valicorr must have come for the plans, or prototypes, of this weapon; and whatever it was, that was bad news. “I don’t understand. Why did they have so many biologists and scout vehicles there if the real purpose was to design weaponry?”
“Well, the base served many purposes, according to TAU records. The Shade Beam happened to be classified, and for good reason.”
“How many of the people working there knew about this?” asked Joëlle.
“I don’t know, the records didn’t go into detail about that. Apparently, the Shade Beam is a kind of disintegration weapon.”
My eyes widened. “Disintegration?”
She nodded solemnly. “Yes. Apparently, they had developed a working prototype for a handheld cannon that could completely vaporize a target. The drawback was, the weapon requires a rare element, diffusionite, to turn into fuel for the weapon.”
Joëlle spoke up. “Admiral, this doesn’t sound like much news. A handgun that can kill isn’t anything new, even if the method is more thorough. But you called it a weapon of mass destruction...”
Admiral O’Kane tapped a few buttons on her desk, and a holographic blueprint appeared. It looked like a blueprint for a massive cannon. “Well, they made a prototype that was for infantry. But they were designing the technology for a much, much larger scale.”
“How did you get access to the blueprints?” I asked.
“If you look closely, you’ll see these aren’t real technical schematics. It’s only a concept, meant to illustrate what the Shade Beam might become when finished.” She closed the hologram. “The real blueprints, the real designs, must have been kept safe on Voren where the weapon was being developed.”
“And what might it become?” asked Joëlle. “What kind of mass destruction are we talking about?”
The admiral turned to face the window, and remained silent for a few moments. “The Shade Beam, once completed, would have the ability to generate a field around an entire planet, and disintegrate it completely. It would only have to fire once, and the planet, and everything within the field, would be destroyed.”
Silence hung in the air. The stars twinkled outside. My fists clenched, and I stepped forward.
“What were they thinking?! Who needs a weapon like this? Since when did the TAU need to destroy planets?”
Joëlle and Fiona looked at me.
“I can’t believe this!” I yelled. “Did Astraloth even know about this? Did a single skyther know?!”
Fiona frowned. “I don’t know, Talcorosax. I’m baffled too.”
“And now,” I said, fuming, “the valicorr probably have the plans, and the prototype.” I shook my head, and tried to concentrate on my breathing. The valicorr, who in all the time we’d known about them never once displayed a friendly, let alone neutral disposition toward us, had the keys to a weapon that could potentially destroy billions of people in the blink of an eye.
Joëlle turned to Fiona. “How- How can you refuse to go after them, even knowing they probably stole the plans to the Shade Beam? How come you won’t provide a team for me at the very least?!”
Joëlle and I jumped back. “I will not put my crew at unnecessary risk!” She yelled. “I’ll speak with the Fleet Admiral, once Kronos is safe at Olympus. But I will not assume I know the best course of action in this very unique and precarious situation! I am not willing to risk throwing all of our lives away, metaphorically speaking, attacking a fortress with a dagger.”
“But this is Kronos!” said Joëlle. “It’s a Titan-class battlecruiser! The TAU doesn’t have ships that are stronger than this!”
“Well, from what you’ve told me, one ship won’t be enough.”
“Fine,” I said. “I understand your reasoning, Fiona. Thank you for filling us in.”
“Of course.” She had a stern expression on her face. “Now, I need to get this journey underway. You’re both dismissed.”
I could see Joëlle ball her fists, before storming out. I bowed to Fiona, but she was clearly in a bad mood. She waved curtly, and turned to face the window. I decided to leave my old friend be, and left the room, chasing after Joëlle. I needed to talk to her.