Serialization of "Isolde's Initiative: New Beginnings" -- Sixth Installment
Aurora, traveling at maximum speed for the past three days, had put the nightmare of Delta-Linus well behind with no sign of pursuit. Gosmaar was now less than two days away and everyone grew more at ease with each passing hour. The hostilities between Damon and Corey had cooled down, with each giving the other a wide berth and keeping verbal exchanges to minimum as they passed one another entering and leaving the command center. Sharing the duties of piloting at twelve-hour intervals kept them out of one another’s face, and everything stayed on an even keel. Alec served as a buffer when the two were changing over at the helm.
Damon, ten hours earlier, had settled into a recliner situated on the portside of the compartment where there was minimal lighting.
A partition shielded his resting area from the light emanating from the triage unit that Ida had set up prior to Aurora’s trip to Delta-Linus in the event a medical emergency arose during the rescue. The android’s efforts had not been in vain with the unexpected arrival of the two extra passengers. In this better lighted area, Cassia and Ida were busy with nursing duties.
Kneeling beside the pale, blue-eyed man, Cassia placed a cool, sterile compress to his bloody, bruised forehead. “Ida, it’s appalling,” Cassia said, “what the Deltans have done to this man.” She rinsed another cloth and gently dabbed around the man’s mouth, ears, and neck.
“I agree, Mistress,” Ida said, “This old one is so dehydrated…I don’t know if there’s any hope for him.” The android placed a wrapping around the old man’s brow.
“I wonder…” Cassia stood to her feet, “who…”
A strange moaning sound emanated from Damon’s corner of the room, and Cassia glanced around.
“You were saying, Mistress,” Ida asked.
Cassia turned back to the android. “Who could he…?”
“No…stop!” Damon shouted from his recliner.
Cassia walked across to the partition to check on Damon. The Deltan’s head jerked from side to side.
“Mistress,” Ida stepped up behind her. “I wouldn’t get too close.”
“He seems to be in pain,” Cassia said as she started to reach out to Damon.
“It’s a bad dream,” Ida pulled Cassia’s hand back. “It’s best to let this play out.”
“But…” Cassia started to say.
“Don’t make me do it…” Damon convulsed about in the recliner. “He’s a man, Malik…why did you make me…one more time, Nils, you’ll be sorry…”
It’s a nightmare, Cassia thought.
Damon’s breathing was heavy and labored, beads of perspiration dotted his forehead, and he was unconsciously grappling with someone. “Got to find his weakness…there it is…can’t hold out much longer…I’m sick of this place…”
With compassion, Cassia reached out to touch Damon’s shoulder before Ida could stop her. “Gyles?”
Damon grew still, his eyes opening wide, his right hand clenching into a fist and the muscles of his arms becoming taut. Ida saw the danger before Cassia and straightway, nudged Cassia aside, caught Damon’s fist in the middle of his swing and at the same time, she took hold of his left arm at the bicep. Damon fought her restraining grips.
“Captain Gyles…” Ida said in a soothing tone, “Captain Gyles, wake up.” Damon struggled a few more seconds, and then his eyes blinked a few times and his muscles relaxed. “Captain—”
“What’s going on?” Damon felt the tight grip on his left arm and his fist squeezed in the android’s hand.
“You were having a bad dream, sir.” Ida released him. “Are you all right?”
Damon’s hands went up to his face, wiping the sweat away from his eyes and heaving a sigh. “I’m fine…I didn’t hurt anyone, did I?”
Cassia passed her hand over the light control, bringing lights in the rest of the compartment to full luminescence. Damon blinked, turning his head side to side until his eyes adjusted. “We were afraid you were going to hurt yourself,” Cassia said.
Damon worked his right hand and flexed his left arm. “Are you sure I didn’t hit someone?” Damon asked.
“Well, you were taking a swing.” Cassia smiled.
“Well, yes, but Ida stopped you.” Cassia turned to her android. “Ida, get Captain Gyles a cup of javatea.”
“Certainly,” Ida replied, “and how would you like it, sir?”
“Hot, black, and strong,” Damon answered as he rose to his feet.
“Come with me,” Cassia said.
Cassia took his hand and led Damon to the center of the compartment where a small round table stood with four chairs around it. As they sat down, Ida placed on the table a serving tray with two steaming cups of liquid and a plate full of pastries and fruit.
Cassia picked up a cup and saucer and placed it in front of Damon. “Thank you, Ida,” she said, turning back to Damon. “Please, Captain…help yourself.”
“Thank you.” Damon picked up a round, powdery cake, broke it in half, and proceeded to dunk it into the javatea.
Cassia placed the other cup on the table in front of her, and then poured a creamy liquid from a small carafe into the cup. “I think this would be a good time for us to talk.” She picked up a spoon from the tray and began stirring the javatea.
“Really,” Damon looked up with a mouthful of pastry. “About what?”
“First, I’d like to apologize…”
“You don’t owe me apology,” Damon said as he pointed to his right eye. “Except for this. By the way, how’s your hand?”
Cassia looked her hand front to back and flexed her fingers. “No problems,” she said. “What I’m trying to say is thank you for everything.”
Damon continued to put away one pastry after another, purposely avoiding her searching, hazel green eyes.
“Captain…Gyles?” she said.
“The name’s Damon,” he said venturing a look at her over the brim of his upturned cup.
“I want to assure you,” she said, “my brother Owen is a man of his word.”
“Yeah? And how do you feel about it?” he asked.
“I know now that if it weren’t for you, Corey would be dead, and I’d still be on Delta.”
“I didn’t ask what you knew,” Damon replied as he picked up a red orbus and rubbed it on his sleeve. “But, how you felt about…”
“All right,” she answered, “if I were Owen, I would have done the same without hesitation.”
“Thank you.” Damon took a satisfying bite. “Now I can rest easier.”
“Speaking of rest,” she said, “do you remember anything of your nightmare? Do you have these often?”
“Why?” Damon chewed a couple of times and made a premature swallow. “You interpret dreams?”
“No, just wondering,” she replied as she poured more javatea into Damon’s cup. “I see you like red orbus.”
“Love them. Beats grantepomas and scrub grubs,” he said.
“A staple of the Vrende on Uvalde-Minor,” he said, “Raw…fried, or baked, you know…survival food.”
“How long were you on Uvalde?” she inquired.
“Three months…three very long months,” he said, “That’s where I first saw you.” Damon took another sip of the javatea. Think I said too much.
Cassia sat back in her chair studying Damon. “Who are you?”
“Damon Gyles, milady.” Damon stood up giving her a quaint bow as if being introduced for the first time. “Mercenary, privateer, extortionist…whatever suits the occasion.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
“Okay…” He leaned toward her placing his hands on the back of her chair, looking deep into her eyes. “I can be whatever you like.”
“I mean…” She stared back. “There’s more to you than that. You were a soldier once, possibly an officer, and definitely a flyboy.”
Cassia’s engaging stare had put Damon on the defensive. Her keen powers of observation had turned the tables on him.
“How can you tell?”
“Oh, I can spot a military man a light-year off,” she answered.
“I see,” he said.
“Where do you call home, Damon Gyles?” she asked tauntingly.
“Anywhere I linger for more than a day,” he replied. “I suppose you make your living asking a lot of questions.”
“As a matter of fact, I do. I’m the Chief Interrogator for the Interstellar Council.”
“You must meet some interesting people, lady,” he said.
“My name is Cassia,” she said, “and, yes…I have.” Especially you.
“Very well…Cassia.” Cassia’s eyes had an interesting twinkle, and Damon couldn’t turn away—mesmerized—like a gleezenbob, with no will of its own, attracted to the bright glow of a karoleen lantern.
“What were you about to say, Damon?” she asked.
Damon came out of his daze. “I…uh…better go relieve Corey.”
“Perhaps, we can chat more later,” she said.
He looked back over his shoulder as he headed toward the command center. “Yeah,” he said, “later.”
Twenty-four hours later, Damon awoke fully rested—no nightmares this time around, only the sound of low voices and activity about him. When he rose up, a blanket fell from his lap and for a moment, he wondered where it came from. He recalled Cassia with one draped across her lap when he passed through the compartment on his way to his recliner. It didn’t take him long to realize who was responsible—Cassia. He picked it up, and as he turned to lay it in his chair, the others in the compartment caught his attention.
Ida was attending to the old man who had regained consciousness. She had succeeded in tidying the man’s physical appearance, and was raising a cup of liquid nourishment to his lips. When he could drink no more, she carefully lowered his head.
The younger man had regained some of his strength and sat at the table in an off-white shirt and brown trousers—no doubt, the courtesy of Corey, Damon thought. The last traces of his incarceration dissolved under the beam of an electronic shaver. The filthy, matted locks of hair were gone and his dark-blond hair, now much shorter, laid combed back into natural waves. The scruffy beard was finished off to an unbroken pencil-thin outline running from his sideburns, down to and around his jaws to his chin, joined a finely detailed moustache framing his mouth.
The man, his eyes now clear revealing their true azure-blue color, looked up as Damon joined him.
“We’ve not been properly introduced,” Damon said as he held out his hand. “I’m Damon Gyles.”
“Drew Tayven.” The young man took Damon’s hand and made a short wobbly stand. “Sorry.”
“No need to stand on my account,” Damon said as he took a chair beside him.
Tayven picked up the mirror and took in both sides of his profile. “You know, I was embarrassed to have that exquisite creature see me in such a haggard condition.”
“Who?” Damon said.
“Oh,” Damon said. “So…where’re you from?”
“Alpha-Bynaurus,” Drew answered, “my father is Governor Frashure. And you?”
“Who, me?” Damon said, “It doesn’t matter.”
“But, it does matter,” Drew said. “You saved my life.”
“Yeah. Well, lately that’s been my lot in life,” Damon said. “Didn’t realize there were so many people in trouble these days.”
“I would like to repay you,” Tayven said.
Drew’s obvious obsession about his looks got Damon to thinking about his own scruffiness. “I’ve already been paid for this trip,” Damon replied, rubbing his black beard and eying the trimmer in Tayven’s hand. “May I?”
“Of course!” Drew straightway handed him the device and slid the mirror in front of Damon. “Gyles…I’ve heard that name somewhere.”
Damon chose to ignore Drew’s candid remark. “So, how did you end up in Quillar’s prison?”
Damon applied the groomer to one side of his face just below one ear and slowly moved it over the cheekbone, down to the chin, and to the other side of his face. The three months’ growth vanished from his face in no time.
“I was on my way to Paldaar as my father’s envoy to the Interstellar Council when a Baldaninan Ranger attacked my ship. After they targeted our main engines, they dragged us into their docking bay with a tractor beam. We had no choice but to surrender,” Drew said. “Morgan ordered my ship scuttled and my entire crew spaced…I was then taken to Delta-Linus. Morgan kept me alive to insure that my father would keep Alpha-Bynaurus outside the Interstellar Council.”
Damon finished with his grooming, turned to the Alphan for an appraisal. “How do I look?” Damon offered his profile. “A little more presentable, maybe?”
With Damon now clean-shaven, Glydon gave him a look bordering on recognition. “You’ll pass. I can see I have my competition cut out for me,” Tayven said, “I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere.”
“It’s possible; I’ve been around,” Damon said. “Ever been to Uvalde-Minor…Kalanda…Paldaar…?”
Tayven shook his head. “You’ve been to Kalanda?”
“Have I. There’s no sweeter tasting water anywhere,” Damon said. “It’s the best vacation spot in the galaxy.”
Damon handed the trimmer back to Tayven and rose to his feet. “Thanks for the use. You’ll have to excuse me. Time for another piloting session from Isolde.”
“Maybe we can talk later,” Tayven said as Damon turned toward the command center.
“Looking forward to it,” the Deltan said over his shoulder.
The planet of Gosmaar, home of the Interstellar Academy and Aurora’s long-awaited destination lay ahead. To Corey, it was his second home—and now, for everyone on Aurora, a refuge.
Cassia stood between Corey and Alec, who sat in the command chairs. From the corner of her eye, she noted Damon’s entrance to the command center. Damon’s clean-shaven appearance caused her to do a double take as he stepped up beside her. There stood the most handsome, intriguing man she had ever met, with mesmerizing steel-blue eyes. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. Each time their eyes met, her heart fluttered like a bird preparing for flight. To where—she didn’t care. His closeness nearly astounded her and slight warmth crept up on her face. Who is this man? I'm blushing like an impressionable schoolgirl. What’s wrong with me? This can’t be happening.
“So what’s going on?” Damon whispered.
“We’re on approach to Gosmaar,” she whispered. “Corey’s in contact with them now.”
Alec turned in his chair. “Captain Gyles,” he ventured, “how are you? Did you rest well this time?”
“Quite well, Alec,” Damon answered, “thanks for asking.”
Corey, with his telecom headset on, looked around with a frown. “Affirmative, Gosmaar,” Corey said, “Our mission was more successful than expected. Notify Alpha-Bynaurus that Lord Tayven is with us. Have a med-tech team meet us. We have a critical case onboard…Affirmative, Control…expect our arrival in one hour twenty-two point four minutes. Isolde, out.”
“I’m here to relieve you, Commander,” Damon said.
“That won’t be necessary,” Corey said, “We’re on final approach to Gosmaar right now. I can manage till then.”
“Got any more surprises planned like last time, Commander?” Damon asked sarcastically, as he took the chair at the navi-com.
“You’ll be the first to know,” Corey retorted.
Oh, no…not again, Cassia thought.
Arriving on schedule, Corey engaged the braking thrusters, and Aurora hovered a few moments over the Interstellar Academy spaceport before her landing gear touched down. As the ground controller issued the proper hand signals, Aurora maneuvered through a gigantic portal into the academy’s docking bay and settled into a well-deserved rest.
Corey turned to Alec. “Run a system by system analysis to assess any damage we might have sustained from those Soarers.”
“Yes, sir,” Alec replied.
“We don’t want an accusation of handing over damaged merchandise now, do we?”
“Yes, sir,” Alec said, “I mean, no sir.”
Up until now, the uneasy truce held, but Corey seemed intent to provoke Damon one more time and expected Damon to take offense. Cassia watched Damon silently rise from the navi-com station, and to her relief, he walked out without a word.
Corey turned in his chair ready for Damon’s rebuttal, instead, he found Cassia. “Where’s our friend?” Corey asked in sarcasm.
“Why do you persist on provoking him?” she asked.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re right, I don’t. Corey, he…”
“He’s hiding something, Cass,” he said, “Things just don’t add up.”
“He gave logical answers about Uvalde and the information he got from those Deltans,” Corey said, “But, Cass…Delta-Linus was entirely different. He knew too many things…like where sentry posts were…when their watch was due to change…then, when we got to that gate, he was surprised to find the hinges welded solid. He said they weren’t before.”
“What are you thinking now?” she asked.
“Cass, Gyles may be a spy.”
“A spy? Corey, that’s ridiculous! He killed Quillar’s assassins to save you.”
“Cass, that’s the oldest trick in the book. For all we know, they were really nomads duped into playing out an attempted assassination. Only those poor devils didn’t know they’d be double-crossed.”
Cassia shook her head. “That makes no sense at all, Corey. A Deltan officer told me that you and Owen were dead. It was not a ruse…they meant to kill you.”
Corey’s hand slammed down on the console in anger. “Damn! First, Owen, now, you,” he rasped, “but, I won’t be taken in!”
In the passenger compartment, Damon and Drew stood in the opened hatchway with a med-tech close by.
“Be seeing you,” Damon said as he and Drew exchanged a farewell handshake.
“Again soon, I hope.” The Alphan smiled.
“You never can tell.”
“Fair skies, Damon,” Drew said over his shoulder as the med-tech assisted him out of Aurora.
Damon smiled and gave a casual salute as the Alphan left with the assistance of a med-tech. Drew had no sooner stepped out, when Owen climbed aboard with a look of great expectation on his face.
“Where is she?” he asked.
“She’s forward with Corey,” Damon said, “I kept my end of the bargain.”
“Yes, of course.” Without hesitation, Owen took a small, flat, six-sided crystalline disk from the pocket of his lab coat and placed it in Damon’s outstretched hand. “She’s a good ship. She’ll serve you well.”
“Owen!” Cassia exclaimed.
Owen reeled about at the sound of Cassia’s voice, and all three Isoldes met in the middle of the compartment in a happy reunion. Damon put the disk in his shirt pocket, and leaned back against the open hatchway with his arms folded. All the while, his eyes never left Cassia, and she kept glancing in his direction.
Without a word, Owen took his sister’s arm and led her past Damon on their way out. Cassia stepped off Aurora and into the docking bay where a sea of Interstellar Cadets and Paldaarean citizens erupted with exuberant cheers and applause.
Hearing the ovation, Damon stepped into the open door of the ship and watched as the Isoldes, engulfed by the crowd made their way across the hangar. Even while the massive crowd swept her along, Cassia kept looking back over her shoulder toward Aurora until she and her brothers were completely out of sight.
Damon turned around, coming face to face with Alec. “How soon can I raise ship, Alec?” he asked.
“I would say, no less than three days, sir,” Alec answered. “We sustained severe damage on the portside deflector and it appears life support backup was badly fused. The entire system will need rewiring, and the long-range sending unit for the telecom.”
“Three days, eh?”
“I suppose there’s nothing I can do about that.”
Damon gave the android a friendly slap on the back. “That’s what I like about you, Alec,” he said, “you’re always right to the point.”
“Yes, sir,” Alec replied.
“Take all the time you need,” Damon said. “I have no pressing engagements at the moment.”
What is "Isolde's Initiative" about? -- From the author
At many events that I have attended, the first question asked is: What is "Isolde's Initiative" about? The basic premise is the following:
The "Initiative" is one man's response to a galaxy gone mad four hundred years after space travel and communication technologies have enabled first contact capabilities. In discovering and reaching out to a neighboring world, a harmless peace-loving people expose themselves to worlds whose greedy leaders see the galaxy ripe for the taking. One such world is Delta-Linus. Well-ahead in utilizing these capabilities, they have built up stellar navies intending to subjugate weak, who for some reason did not foresee future events.
As invasions and atrocities mount, Eidell Isolde sets out to organize the Interstellar Council, a community of planets and star systems, hoping by sheer numbers would deter the aggression of Delta-Linus and any other worlds like it.
The purpose of the "initiative" is meant to foster peace throughout the galaxy until Morgan, the tyrannical ruler of Baldaninus, forms an alliance with Delta-Linus' egotistical militaryleader, Quillar. When two prominent member-world of the Interstellar Council and a military academy become the targets of sneak attacks, and Lord Eidell disappears while on a diplomatic mission, the rest of the Isolde family realize that the "initiative" for peace came with a price--a galactic war.