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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 27

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Chapter Twenty-Seven

Strategy 

Castle Cor, New Oxford, Albion, Realm World

Kelvin stepped out of the walk-in shower. Behind him, Josaphene McOwen, an upstairs maid smiled. She turned off the taps, water dripped from her body as she watched him. Kelvin grabbed a thick blue towel and handed it to her. He grabbed another for himself and began drying off.

“Sarah is a lucky woman,” Josaphene said, her smile one of statisfaction.

Kelvin felt heat in his face as he sat, drying his legs. He turned away from the older woman, but he could still feel the heat of her body. Smell her womanly scent. She stepped out of the shower stall and reached out a hand. She turned his head upwards. Her lips were warm on his, her kiss light. As she pulled away he looked down, seeing the two red marks on her arm. They were still leaking blood, thinned from the water on her skin. Kelvin pushed his fingers against the puffed punctures and looked up into her dark eyes.

Josaphene smiled, but he could feel a sense of loss from her.

“Are you okay?”

Josaphene put her face against his, whispering into his ear, “Yes.”

She took his fingers from her arm and stepped away from him. “You need to head back to Lord De La Roche’s workshop. Who knows what Mr. Hunter has done.”

“Last night he had completely stripped the LQ 9. That ship is a dream to fly. Then he put her back together. When I left this morning he had her apart again and was redesigning parts. Upgrading.” Kelvin quickly got dressed in the spare clothes he had brought. “Do you know where Dani is?”

“No, Kelvin. Perhaps you will see her at breakfast?”

Kelvin wrapped up his dirty clothes and put them in his bag. He took out the medical scanner that Dani had asked him to bring by. He slipped it back in the bag, but on top. She said it was an emergency, but that he could not tell anyone … maybe Jo would know.

Kelvin stopped at the doors to the brightly lit private dining room, his bag at his side. Johanna and Abigail were eating. They motioned him in and another setting was added.

“Just a quick bite!” Johanna insisted.

“I think he already did,” Abby said, giggling.

“Um, yes. A Lady of the House has Honored me.” Kelvin jerked away from Abby’s hand that had found his knee under the table. He could smell her sudden interest.

“Abby!” Johanna snapped. “I am sorry, Kelvin. We were warned that the innoculation could have some, temporary, side effects. But they are no excuse for not acting like a lady.”

Abby blushed, growing quiet. She looked down at her plate.

“Do either of you know where Dani is? I have tried comming her, but she is not answering. I keep getting her voice mail.”

“No.” Johanna looked at Abby. “Abs?”

“No. But Mother and Father are at an emergency meeting of the Lords. Sounds very exciting. They have been there all night. Maybe Dani is with them?”

“Perhaps.” Johanna nodded. “Comms would be off. Probably another emergency budgetary meeting. Avalon will not be meeting its obligations again this year and there are security concerns.” Johanna poured herself some orange juice and topped up Abs’ glass.

“So what have you and Alex been doing in father’s lab?” Abby leaned in closer. “Do you think Alex is cute?”

“Abigail Rosa!” Johanna almost dropped her glass. “What has come over you!”

Abby lowered her reddening eyes. With a cry she fled the table, her chair crashing to the floor as she vanished through the doorway.

Johanna’s mouth nearly dropped open. Ms. Freemont entered, righted the chair and left the room.

“I must apologize for my sister’s behavour. Trust me, she does not normally act like that.”

“May I ask a personal question?”

“Sure, Kelvin.” Johanna shook her head at her departed sister’s actions. Turning back to Kelvin, Johanna spoke quietly. “Really, you know Abs, she is sweet. I do not know what is up with her.”

“Johanna, she is sixteen.”

“Almost seventeen.”

“Exactly.” Kelvin reached out and placed his hand on Johanna’s. “Remember what it was like? Then. You know.”

“What?” Johanna pulled her hand from Kelvin’s. “No! She is too young! She is just a kid!”

“Average age is sixteen, Jo.” Kelvin shrugged. “I hated that whole year. The dreams, the feelings, the urges. I thought I was going mental.” Kelvin shook his head slowly as he picked up his glass of orange juice. “Sometimes I still think I am.”

Johanna was looking down at her plate. She took a deep breath. “I just … she is my little sister, my baby sister.” She reached out and gripped Kelvin’s wrist, flooding him with her feelings of helplessness, love and thanks. “Yes, I still remember. It was awful.”

“Do you think Alex would be in any danger?”

“What? From Abby? No. Of course not.” Johanna put down her glass.

They sat in silence. Kelvin tried to avoid looking at Johanna. He remembered those days. He swallowed his orange juice in two gulps, it sat uneasily in his stomach. Johanna stood before he could.

“Just in case, I will accompany you to the garage.”

Grabbing a piece of toast, Kelvin nodded.

On the way out Johanna asked for another message to be sent for Madeline to contact her. Where was Dani? Where was Madeline? Could someone, anyone, please just answer their comms!

 

* * *

White Hart Inn & Ale House, Hallows (just south of New Oxford), 

Albion, Realm Worlds

 

Jason took a deep breath. The breeze through the window brought the tang of mud, sheep, and pork pies from those eating their lunch on the tables set out on the lawn. Every now and again, while he had packed, Jason could smell a horse and hear its feet on the cobblestone road. He liked earthside smells. Now he stood staring out of the window. The creak from the hall had him moving silently across the room.

The faint sound came again. Jason stood, projectile weapon pointed at the spot on the wall where who ever was in the hallway beyond was standing. Focusing, he could see a human shaped heat signature through the layers of plaster that made up the wall. The knock was light.

“J, it’s Diego.” The words were no more than a whisper. Jason knew the voice. Stepping away from the door, he slid the projectile weapon into his pants pocket.

“Come.”

The door opened. Diego Ling entered the room. In many ways Diego Ling was Jason’s opposite. The man had dark eyes, black hair, pale skin that never seemed to tan. He stood barely a centimeter shorter than Jason.

“Mate,” Diego said. Jason hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his friend’s Francian accent. Diego nodded to him as he swung the door closed and locked it. Though they looked the same age, Diego was only in his mid thirties. The much younger man stepped forward. They did the hand shake, brief, fast, showing the world secretly that they were Independents. Then Diego opened his arms and Jason returned his friend’s hug.

“I heard some disturbing news, Ami.”

Jason felt a grimace pull at his lips. “Oh?”

“Cracker says you’ve enlisted? I told her to stop drinking bu-col. She said you go up tomorrow. Told her she’s gots stop smoking the Purple, should switch to the Green. So, you gon-ya be the verse’s oldest Yeoman?” Diego crossed his arms, eyebrows raised.

Jason picked up one of the smaller bags and tossed it to Diego, his friend’s accent always worsened the more emotional he got. Jason smiled and said, “Sometimes you get the joker. Sum-n-time you be the joker. Thirty. Your wood to whit. No ob.”

“No ob?” Diego opened the bag. True enough there was thirty thousand in denominations of one hundred sovereign notes. Diego stared dumbfounded at his friend.

Jason had wondered how Diego would take being given money. That made you obligated, even when the giver said, no ob. “About the job?”

Diego took a deep breath. He walked around the bed and looked out the window. Jason sat against the dresser, the breeze moving his hair. He could smell a woman on Diego, someone vaguely familiar.

“Well mate, bad chance. Very bad. Nothing to pick up. The guy died bad and not alone.”

“What?” Jason stood, one hand going to the back of his head, one to his hip. “That doesn’t make sense. He was just some medical guy. A blood test.”

“You signing up make any sense, Ami?”

“Weiss hasn’t contacted anyone?”

“Ohh. Now, there a dog with a bone. He is hunting hungry. Slipped his hounds.”

“Parley?” Jason tilted his head, what the hell is going on?

“He’s looking for someone. Don’t know who they are, but they didn’t meet up with him. Who ever they be, mate, they are a running.” Diego sat on the bed, one hand resting on the money. He bounced a bit, testing the bed’s firmness. “He put people on every port. Called the Big Birds.”

“Could you check up on someone for me?”

“Sure.” Diego smiled.

Jason could smell Diego’s healthy masculine scent. The dull ache had started in his bones that very morning. He was tempted, he hadn’t drank in days. “The De La Roches. Could you find out if they’re alright. In particular, their daughter, Johanna.”

At the mention of the family name, Diego’s scent turned sharp.

“Oui, Ami. For you. But only a fool would go near a Czar’s family.”

“We both know the verse is filled with fools, Diego.” Jason took his two bags off the bed and kneeled. He looked up at Diego. They had saved each other’s lives too many times to count, but it had been almost a year since they’d seen each other.

“You really want to be the world’s youngest Yeoman? I can get you out. It would be like the old days.” Jason could feel a hint of love and respect from his friend, feel it in his mind, but when he tried to reach out, to feel more, there was, as always, nothing.

Diego slipped off his shirt, tossing it onto the foot of the bed. He removed his comm from his right wrist.

“We would be always in the shadows, running. That’s not living.” Jason tossed his own shirt on the chair. Diego offered him his arm and Jason gripped it gently. “Who knows, maybe I’ll like the Navy.”

Diego started to laugh then sighed as Jason’s mouth closed on inside of his arm, just shy of his wrist. He leaned forward and rested his cheek on Jason’s shoulder, closing his eyes as he put an arm around his friend, holding him close.

* * *

New Oxford, High Council Chambers, Albion, Realm Worlds

 

“I am uncomfortable with sending Ships of the Line. We will be fools if we leave ourselves undefended.” Roger Ramsey of House Williams stood. “We can not build a future if we can not defend the present. The Armada’s departure will be noticed. To strip our home fleets to the bare minimum is foolishness.”

“We can not be guaranteed that we will find the Omarus in Vega.” Brendan Ector raised his hands in an imploring manner. “Without the means to be definite, clear and precise in our request, how can we even hope to get the Omarus’ attention? We know that both the Hepren and Oh-Lee-ee are actively engaging the Omarus. We know that both have claimed victories and losses along the edge of the Orion arm, that they as of two years ago were engaged in those areas marked.” Everyone looked up at the three dimensional floating star chart of the milky way. “We need to send enough ships that success is a real possibility. I request that we send as many as we can or we don’t send any. In good conscience, we can not just throw lives away. Do not fool yourselves, there will be losses just getting to the locations.”

The room exploded in conversation. George turned to Claudette, he needed to speak with her, but her mind was closed. She shushed him again, her attention on their personal comm that had the image of Lord Morgan, from across the room. He had been agreeing with Claudette about not sending everything, they had also been discussing Mr. Malwas, the training vessels and the Merchant Fleet. The rest of the three dimensional displays were showing the other council chambers on each of the Realm Worlds. All in a similar states of near chaos.

Banging of the Heralds on Troth stopped the talking. The Speaker on Troth took the floor, her photonic image appeared in the centre of the room. Brendan Ector sat.

Mckenna Argante of House Argante raised her hands. “I want to make the facts clear, to those of you who have only been half listening.”

Claudette rolled her eyes. “I wish Mckenna could just get to the end of it.”

George squeezed his wife’s hand.

“First, of the seventy one slaves rescued in the last fifty years from the Omarus, only forty three individuals, with eighteen descendents, are still alive. Thanks to our agents we now know that all have their unique archaic genetic makeup and not one can be contaminated. All of the samples we have obtained show they are compatible to the ninety-fifth percentile or higher.”

The room shuffled, voices rose, Mckenna held her hands up until people quieted down. “We do not know how long the war of the Hepren and Oh-Lee-ee against the Omarus will last. And, if I may be so bold, the Omarus often vanish for a thousand years or more. Do we really have the time to waste? Are not our home fleets strong? Where is the spirit of Alexander? Of Dagmar? Of Nicholas and Carson?”

She paused before continuing, “You are charged with an Emergency Vote. Will there be an Action or will we wait?”

The volume rose as people began debating both verbally and telepathically. Around them the sound of hands hitting desks increased. Finally the High Speaker held up her Sword, silence filled one hundred and eighty-seven councils. The High Speaker stood as the two High Heralds stepped forward, each carrying a staff. They pounded the floor in unison three times.

The Council of Nine entered. George had to remind himself that they weren’t actually here. Somewhere, in the Realm, they were in a ship, floating in space as part of the Great Armada, ready to go to any point of the Realm at a moment’s notice. Ready to go to war at a moment’s notice.

George felt Claudette gasp. He looked to his right. The Prime Ministers were also entering. The Stewards were now standing to be counted. The Heralds again pounded the floor three times. The sound seemed to echo as Heralds on eighty-seven worlds pounded their floors as well.

One of the Nine stepped forward. She raised her hands and spoke.

“We are charged to defend the Realm from all enemies, foreign and domestic. We are charged with preserving Humanity. We are charged with preserving History. We are charged with defending the lives of every person of the Realm presently and to guard their potential future.

“When we opened our arms to the survivors of Nova Terra Seven, to the New Atlantis Colonists, and to the Barsoom Seven survivors, we did not understand the danger that they brought with them. That they were infected with purpose but due to no fault of their own. Those individuals are now our People. The enemy that was brought unwittingly into our midst, has grown, has spread. We are now imperiled. We must decide if we will go quietly into the night or if we deserve to continue. The Nine vote for splitting the Armada into three, adding ships of the Line and embarking immediately.”

She lowered her hands and the Nine appeared to step back.

Not a sound could be heard. George found himself holding his breath. All one hundred and eighty-seven Prime Ministers stepped forward. A part of him wondered if the Avalon Prime Minister should be included.

“We vote unanimously for an Action and give over Leadership to the Council of Nine.”

They appeared to step back. The Stewards stepped forward. George shifted. The Stewards and their power had always been something that Claudette was uncomfortable with. But the Stewards’ position had been as such since the first days. No one person could run a House, nor should they, that led to Kingship and disaster.

The Stewards appeared tiny, after all they represented three hundred and tewnty-five thousand houses. George had made Claudette stay in New Oxford with him all night and day. Best, he felt, as had his mother, that when there was a vote, that the Lord and Lady not be in the Castle. Let the Servants make their own choices, as long as no one was coerced. A tiny man stepped forward.

“The Servants’ will is to Serve. The Vote is in for Action, we pass our power to the Nine, that they may Act in our Name.”

George felt his heart racing. He had argued against sending such a large fleet, yet Brendan, the one usually careful, was for it. George shook his head.

For all intents and purposes the Vote was done. Once both the Stewards and the Prime Ministers gave their Power to the Nine, something so rarely done … George rubbed his face. It was a simple case of two out of three, of being out voted.

Next to him Claudette was a mass of closed off tension. Every Lord and Lady would have to agree, not a single negative vote for the Vote to be deferred to the public for a referendum. The odds of that happening were long …

But the High Speaker called for the Lords to Cast their Vote. She was nothing, if not one for ceremony and tradition. Each Lord and Lady placed a white or black ceramic ball into the urn being carried and guarded by the five armed officers called the Dragon’s Voice. The urns were dumped and counted by the Pages. Their hands moving Vampire quick, or not, depending on who they were, as they sorted and scanned. The triple count took longer than the voting.

A consensus. Action. Immediate Action.

Claudette turned to him. “That is it then, husband. The ships begin leaving within ten days. Within fourteen nights, our skies will be more empty than they have been in the last seven thousand years.”

George shivered. Within two weeks, ninety percent of the Ships of the Realm would leave, heading through hostile enemy territory to seek out Omarus ships. Should they find them, they would somehow open a dialogue with the psychicly powerful, ancient space squids. The point of which was to trade for what the Omarus thought of as maintenance units and for what? What could the ancient creatures value?

The gong meant the Sitting of the House of Dark Lords was done. George got to his feet and followed Claudette out. Many had stopped to chat, or to share their thoughts and feelings mentally. Others, like him, were closed off, needing to be alone.

As far any anyone knew, the Omarus had not spoken with a Human outside of their slaves in more than ten thousand years. And the Omarus tended to take what they wanted, or trade underhandedly. Tipping the power in worlds or entire systems then vanishing. How many thousands of wars had they started? According to the Heprun, it amused them.

George looked up at the three dimensional star chart now displayed overhead. His feet stopped moving. Their border with the Lakosh was yellow with pinpricks of red. The Lakosh were again on the offensive with the Polks, Benhu and Tobo. The TickTick, a nasty insectoid race was still spreading, it had come up against what he thought of as the Lakosh’s western border. George couldn’t help but think that the two deserved each other. The poor Thisska were being openly attacked thorughout the Vega sector and there was ever more violent activity within the Corporate systems.

Claudette squeezed his hand. She walked, guiding him out the doors. “George, don’t worry. All will be fine.”

The family is not safe.

Claudette stopped, grabbing his shoulders. Her green eyes staring up into George’s face. “What?”

“With all the meetings and reading last night and this morning. I tried but there was so much to do. Forgive me, I could not reach you. Your father is here. He is … concerned. The family is not safe.”

George opened his mind and Claudette relived the meeting. She glanced at her wrist comm. “Its half past ten.”

She tapped something on her comm. George followed her to the car.

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