Chapter Two: Karzin

“Pardon me, leader Karzin. You have guests.”

I turned to see Pem, one of the Urai, standing behind me at the command center doors of the Aurora, his arms clasped behind his back.

“What do you mean, that I have guests? Who?” This was not something I wanted, nor had the patience for.

Pem, with a passive look of indifference, touched his speech pad with his left hand. “They are members of your strike team. They have come to speak with you.”

With a nod, he turned and fairly floated out of the command center. Despite living with them, I was still bewildered by the way they moved, so smoothly, effortlessly, and fluidly.

With a string of curses that had become part of my regular vocabulary, I left the command center and headed to meet the team. I crossed over the open-air bridge back into the middle section of the ship and passed by a mirror.

I stopped. My long hair was gone, I had chopped most of it off months ago. Now, it was a disheveled clump that reminded me of a bird’s nest. My once clean-shaven face was filled with three days of stubble, and even my purple shoulder bands seemed to be losing their luster. I stormed away from the mirror, if the men couldn’t deal with how I looked, then it didn’t matter to me.

They were waiting for me in what had become the common area when anyone returned to the Aurora.

Iq’her, with his bright green circuitry shining along his bald scalp down along his arms, sat in one of the chairs, playing with his knife.

Sylor, the one that would be my second, my cousin, at least in species, leaned against a wall, his green skin matching the large plant he was studying.

Then, the brothers. Rokul and his silent brashness, Takar and his attempt to show himself as a sophisticated, well-educated man, both standing in the center of the room, watching the hall which I entered from. Their matching reddish-orange skin shone in the light, their scalps still shaved everywhere but in the middle, where they both insisted on spiking it from front to back.

“What is it? I’m busy,” I said as I entered the common area and leaned on a table. Unless this was a mission, I had no interest in what they had to say.

“Ah, the ‘I’m busy’ claim that you have been so apt to use these months,” Takar scoffed.

I looked at him for a single moment, then turned my attention to Sylor. “Why are you here? Is there something that needs to be done?”

The look he gave me showed concern, and anger. “We need to talk, about you.”

Of course. “What is there to talk about? I’m doing my job while the four of you are off doing whatever it is that humans do.”

Sylor left his position by the plant and approached me. His left hand, forever mangled in a long-ago attack by the Xathi, twitched slightly. “That’s the problem. You look at us as though we have forgotten who and what we are.”

“Haven’t you?” I was loud and didn’t care. They, and the others, had forgotten where we come from, and what happened to us, to our peoples, to our families. “Haven’t you forgotten what’s happened and is still happening? But, instead of looking for a way to get off the planet and return home, you’ve decided to ‘settle’ here and forget everything.”

“We haven’t forgotten. Nothing can make us forget,” Takar started.

I wasn’t going to let him lie to me. “Don’t give me that!” I yelled. “Don’t you dare tell me that you haven’t forgotten. You, your brother, the rest of the entire crew have given up!” A bit of spittle flew from my mouth as I spoke, so I wiped my mouth.

I could see the anger growing in Takar.

“You dare accuse us of forgetting and giving up? We,” he pointed between his brother and himself, “lost family to the Xathi, as well. And,” he said, his voice calming and growing quiet, “unlike you, we know that our family is dead. We watched them die before our eyes. The idea that there are still Xathi anywhere in the universe boils my blood and angers me, but I have also come to learn that, at the moment, there is nothing that can be done by our hands. My brother and I have not forgotten, we have merely moved on, for now.”

I looked between them all. Rokul nodded, Iq’her looked more interested in his knife, and Sylor crossed his arms as he looked at me. “What you’re trying to say to me, is that you’re…what…waiting for the right moment to find a way back home?”

Rokul shook his head and took a seat. Sylor simply stared at me, and Takar walked away, leaving the room.

It was Iq’her, in his oddly formal tones, that answered my question. “What they are trying to say, sir, is that we are trying to make the best of the situation that is at hand. You, of all people, sir, should understand that there are times when you must step back in order to better fortify a position or to better assess a situation.”

“Oh, so this is a strategic thing? Is that it?” I knew they were trying to move me, to…how did the humans say it…con me. They were saying what they thought needed to be said in order to sway me.

With a movement quicker than I could follow, Iq’her put his knife away and shot to his feet. He was in front of me, in my face, rage in his eyes. “I have followed you, I have listened to you, I have respected you like no other person in my life. It was you that saved me from my own darkness, and you speak to me in this way. You are no longer the man, no longer the leader, that I knew. You are a fool.”

I shoved him away from me as hard as I could. “I’m the fool? Me?! I’m the only one that’s still looking for a way home! I’m the only one that still cares!”

 That might have been over the line. The pain in Iq’her’s eyes was mirrored on Rokul’s face. Sylor stared at the ceiling, his shoulders sagging. I didn’t care. “I’m the only one…”

“Still trying?” Sylor finished for me. “You were about to say that, correct? You’re the one that has given up.” He walked towards me, put his hand on Iq’her’s shoulder and gently pulled him away.

When Iq’her went back to his seat, Sylor took his place in front of me. “You’ve locked yourself away here, for weeks, months on end. You refuse to leave, you refuse to acknowledge that, at least for now, Ankou is our home, and refuse to accept the fact that when we left our homes, the Xathi were unstoppable.”

“There is a chance that our homes have been destroyed and nothing is left of them,” Takar said as he came back into the room. “The Xathi were…relentless and savage in their attacks. I know that there was nothing left of our own world when they were finished.”

I knew that Takar and Rokul were from one of the secondary systems in Skotan space. Few of those planets had survived the initial Xathi attack.

Sylor, with a short nod, turned back to me. “Their attack upon Valorn was devastating. We were already losing, badly. There is a chance that the fight there has already been lost.”

I had had enough. I was finished with them.

“Then you have forgotten how strong our people really are. True Valorni do not give up the battle, and I refuse to forget our people, our families, or what our responsibility is. If you have nothing else for me except useless comments about my actions or my behavior, then I suggest you leave, now,” I growled.

“No. We’re here to fix whatever this is and get the real Karzin back,” Rokul said from his chair. “We need you back, sir.”

I shook my head, waved them off, and left the common area. “You know how to leave,” I called back behind me. I returned to the command center and finished working on the defective computer core. I needed to get it back into space, back to the satellite it had come from, and back to work on finding a signal.

While I worked, I watched them leave through one of the outer surveillance cameras. They opened a rift and walked through, the rift closing behind them.

It was about time they left, they had wasted enough of my time.

If they couldn’t understand what I was doing, I wanted nothing to do with them. I needed to put my concentration into this.

“Leader Karzin?” It was Pem,again. I turned to look at him. “Might I ask you a question?”

“Fine. What is it?”

He walked closer to me, his left hand on his speech-box. “Your men seem to be…very passionate about your current state of affairs.”

“What of it?”

“I was curious as to why you and your men have such a differing set of opinions. Do you not believe in your cause upon this world?”

“Our cause, as you put it, is over. The Xathi have been destroyed here and the humans are safe. It’s time we return home, to our home. That is my cause now.”

“And if there is no way to return to your home?” he asked.

I never answered him.

Because it simply wasn’t an option.I couldn’t let it be.

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