I’ve been silent on all things TGfA the past few months (no secret there), but I thought it was time to break that silence. Rather than tell you what I’ve been up to, or what might be in store for Sigrid and Suko, I thought it might be fun to start posting some scenes from the rough draft.
This scene introduces a potential new character in Katayoun (Kat for short). Whether or not Kat survives the editing and rewriting process is anyone’s guess, but here she is!
NOTE: This excerpt is raw, rough and unedited, and certain to be filled with plenty of errors. Read at your own peril.
Embers of Alcyone (working title)
Chapter X: Katayoun
copyright 2016 & 2017 by Cary Caffrey
“Ah! Look who it is,” the girl named Miriam said. She was eighteen and the oldest of initiates, something she made certain none of the girls ever forgot. “We were just starting to wonder. We thought we’d have to start without you.”
Out of breath, flushed and sweating from having to run all the way from the training area by the beach, Katayoun Bahrami came skidding and sliding around the corner of the billet. Still dripping from her twenty kilometer swim, she left puddles along the bamboo flooring; puddles she needed to mop up before the night’s assignments were dispensed, else there would be hell to pay.
“Forget something?” another girl asked. The girl looked her up and down before tossing a crumpled garment at her.
Katayoun caught the small article of clothing in her left hand, letting it hang from the tip of her finger. It was her bathing suit; identical in every way to the suits most of the other girls wore on their marathon swims. Kat tossed it back. Inwardly, she rolled her eyes. She, of course, wasn’t wearing one, just the towel she wore wrapped around herself. She never wore the suit. There was no shame in that, of course. And, their headmistress never wore one either, so why should she?
Let them have their five minutes of fun. Five minutes, and it would all be over. Five more minutes of snickering and torture, and then she could shut them up for good.
Kat folded her arms, waiting for the onslaught.
“She thinks she’s Lady Novak,” one said.
“As if,” said another.
“Nobody likes a suck-up, Kat.”
“And don’t you get cold?” another girl asked. “The water’s freezing this time of night!”
“She looks cold,” a girl behind her said. “Kat, you’re turning blue.”
In fact, she was cold, standing there, fresh from the ocean, dipping wet with sea water, her hair plastered to her back—not that she’d ever admit this to any of them. But the cold water never seemed to stop their headmistress from swimming each and every day and night. Twenty kilometers. Rain or shine. If it didn’t stop her it wasn’t going to stop Kat either.
“I don’t get cold,” Kat lied.
“She might not feel the cold,” Miriam said, “but we do.”
Miriam was referring of course to their headmistress, the Lady Sigrid Novak. Upgraded by a decade of complete genetic restructuring, augmented by a dizzying array of bionic enhancements, women like her mistress would never feel cold from something as benign as the ocean waters of New Alcyone, or the wilting heat from the midday sun when Pegasi was at its zenith. But, of course, Kat had only just begun her treatments, and was years behind the other girls around her; something Miriam wasn’t about to let her forget.
Miriam was circling her now, studying her. Kat thought she looked quite pleased with herself too. “You’re not fully Activated yet, Kat. Not until you graduate. If you even graduate at all.”
Kat chewed firmly on the inside of her mouth—anything to keep herself from arguing back. How many years had she lived with these same girls in this billet? Four—five years? Long enough to have learned her lesson.
Ignoring the snickers and stares from the other girls, she pushed through the group surrounding her, moving to her bunk. She dressed quickly, pulling on the black one piece uniform that was standard dress for all the girls.
Well, not quite standard. If her uniform happened to sport two scarlet slashes across the arms and shoulders—the standard markings of the Kimuran mercenaries—well, that was just coincidence as well.
Let them have their laughs. It didn’t bother her. Not really. Kat had other things on her mind.
She pulled on her boots, not bothering to lace them up and headed out into the night.
In her haste to get away she hadn’t bothered to dry her hair and she shivered in the cool night air. The command and communication center wasn’t far off. Nothing was far from anything on their small island home, just up a sandy trail, not more than four hundred meters. The trail took her through the cluster of habitats; rows of small wooden structures propped up on stilts above the sandy ground, with peaked tiled roofs.
The C&C was atop a small rise. She entered, finding herself in the small darkened room. She was glad to be here, glad to be away from the snickering of her billet-mates. Gladder still they let her come, watch and observe. Mercenaries and technicians sat in silence at their consoles, intent on their duties. It was their task to monitor the surrounding space, keeping in touch with the handful of ships charged with patrolling in orbit above New Alcyone, always watchful, always vigilant.
There had been a time when their small colony had been safe, its location hidden from the rest of the federation. But all that had changed years ago. Everything had changed after Procyon, and not for the better. Now, one ever knew what might emerge from the warp relay, that spindly halo-like construct parked in orbit some 35,000 kilometers overhead. It was their gateway to the galaxy. But for others, it was also the way in.
Mostly, the only thing to emerge in their space were the transport ships, vessels friendly to the Kimuran mercenary group, vessels laden with life-sustaining supplies.
Kat took her familiar place, standing to the back of the command center on the small raised platform. She didn’t have any official duties here. Mostly, she just wanted to get away from the other girls, but she was also fascinated by the Kimuran soldiers. They were so professional, so dedicated to their matriarch.
At least, this group was.
Kat had heard the stories. There had been a time—before she’d ever been brought here—where five times the number of mercenaries had lived here. Back then, their ranks had numbered in the tens of thousands, with fleets of ships parked in orbit. But that was before Procyon. That was before the Night Witch.
Kat shivered. Four thousand Kimuran marines lost. All of them killed by…
No. Kat refused to believe that. Her mistress hadn’t killed those women and men. She couldn’t have. It wasn’t possible. It was the Independents. But of course, not all of the Kimurans agreed.
Procyon had torn everything in half, ripped their alliances apart. Now, fewer than two full companies of mercenaries remained here, and New Alcyone’s once grand fleet of more than one hundred frontline ships was reduced to a mere seventeen. Most of those weren’t much more than converted freighters and scout-chasers. But their crews, the women and men who’d stayed behind to serve Lady Hitomi Kimura, their loyalty to her, to their home, it was absolute.
And so was Kat’s. Oh, Kat knew what they called her. Her mistress might be the Night Witch, but she had saved Kat from…
Kat shuddered, quickly pushing the memory aside. That was the past. She was here now. She was free. And she would serve her till the day she died.
Red lights flashed on the forward monitor, and Kat looked up. Relay traffic. Incoming. Somewhere above her, high up in orbit, a ship had emerged from warp space, right here in their system.
Kat had to stop herself from rushing to the monitor. That wasn’t her place. The duty officer knew what she was doing. Kat observed her practiced grace as her fingers brushed the smooth surface of her console, tapping various switches, scanning the streams of incoming data. Her demeanor never wavered, still the calm, cool professional.
“Is it a ship? Are we being invaded?” Kat blurted, unable to bite her tongue any longer. She cringed as she heard her voice crack at the question—like some bloody cadet, jumping out of her boots at hearing her first alarm.
The duty officer, swiveled around in her chair, turning to face her. Kat saw the grin on her face—and the small data module she held in her outstretched hand.
“It’s only a courier, kid. Message coming through the relay.”
Inwardly, Kat cursed. Invasion? Phhtt. It was just a bloody courier, the small drone ships used for carrying message traffic through the system of warp relays, and Kat had reacted as if the Visigoths were charging over the hillside.
The officer must have seen the look on her face, the embarrassment at her outburst. The officer leaned forward, placing the data module into her hand. Then, she added with a wink. “But…it is marked urgent. Gor her eyes only. Perhaps you might deliver this to your mistress. Personally.”
Kat closed her fingers slowly over the small module. Whatever message the drone had brought with it, she now held that message in her hand. And she was to deliver it to…
“You—you want me to take this to—to her? To Lady Novak?”
The duty officer’s grin widened to a smile. “To Lady Hitomi actually.”
Kat blanched at hearing the name. “To—to Lady Hitomi? Me?”
The officer nodded. “Mm-hmm. Unless you prefer I send for her personal—”
Kat snatched the module from her outstretched hand. “No! No, I’ll take it. I’ll take it right now.” Yet for some reason Kat’s feet refused to cooperate. To see Lady Hitomi, their matriarch, in person…
The duty officer gave her a gentle nudge toward the door. “I wouldn’t keep her waiting. Not if I were you.”