Things are getting worse for our heroine, Solis DeLacey. Captured by the natives of the planet Urwald she has been handed over to an army of Kruath, a subject race of the Orion Hegemony.
What were Kruath doing in the expansion zone? They had killed the Kyann and probably destroyed the Kr’tk’tk. Had they managed to track down and wipe out the rest of the Guiranam?
The Kruath commander loomed over her, his twin mouths twisted in an evil sneer. “Sssso this is the troublesome one…” he said. He turned to one of his subordinates. “Bring the traitor,” he hissed.
There was movement at the back and several armored Kruath moved aside to reveal Carstairs and Hathan. They aproached the Kruath commander. Solis noted that they were not bound and seemed unharmed.
“Is this the one?” the Kruath Commander asked Carstairs, this time in Koh.
Carstairs gave Solis a look that was very unfriendly. “Yes,” he said without inflection. “That’s her.”
Solis stared at Carstairs open mouthed and completely confused. What was going on?
At this point the old Urwaldian stepped forward. “We have a not-men with us now,” he said in Koh, gesturing to Solis. “She will send you home. You listen to her words. She will bring terrible powers down on you!”
“Will she?” the Kruath commander said in a mocking tone. The Kruath soldiers laughed.
“Do not laugh!” the old Urwaldian commanded. “She is a not-men! Very powerful!”
The Kruath commander shouldered his weapon. “Perhaps, if the Terran woman is so all-powerful, she will save you before I do this.” He fired.
“NO!” Solis shouted, but it was too late. The weapon discharged a lethal blast directly to the old Urwaldian’s chest. The force of the blast shot the old native backwards, his ribcage disintegrating in a fiery shower that spattered onto the grass.
The Urwaldians who had been grouped behind their elder stared in uncomprehending shock for a moment, then they turned and ran. A few of the Kruath soldiers began firing at the retreating natives, the hot blasts from their weapons disintegrating a few unlucky stragglers and setting fire to the long grass
“Hold your fire,” the commander ordered, lazily. A few more shots fired and two more Urwaldians were disintegrated. “I said hold your fire!” he turned back to Solis. “So it seems that you’re not as all-powerful as the natives seemed to think you are. What did you tell them?”
Solis shook her head, still reeling from the shock of the sudden violence. “I didn’t… I didn’t tell them anything…”
The Kruath sneered at her with his twin mouths, then gestured to Carstairs and Hathan. “This one’s yours. Do with her what you will.”
Carstairs nodded to a Kruath soldier who grabbed her by her upper arm. As she was being led away she heard the commander laugh. “You won’t find it so easy to convince these two that you have magical powers. You’re welcome to try, though.”
The Kruath soldier kept a tight grip on her upper arm. The combat suit had servo mechanisms in the joints that gave the wearer added strength. Solis found herself fighting tears that wanted to fall from her eyes in response to the pain. She would not give them the satisfaction, though she felt sick inside. That was the second person who had died because of her.
They made their way down the line of soldiers to the rear of the column where the Kruath had set up a rudimentary camp. The camp was quiet, but Solis felt and undercurrent of tension. Kruath soldiers lounged outside temporary shelters, nervously fingering weapons. She saw one who was continuously checking and re-checking his weapon’s status. A nervous habit or a drill? Solis did not know. The Kruath stopped what they were doing and they glared at her as she was led amongst them. Their twin mouths sneered their contempt for her because she was a Terran.
Her guardian hauled her roughly to a space in the center of the camp where a wooden post was driven into the ground. Attached to the post was a set of plasteel binders. The Kruath grabbed the manacles and made them fast around each wrist. Solis winced when he clicked them closed. They were tight but not quite tight enough to cut off the circulation to her hands. Once she was secure he walked away, leaving her alone.
She sat down, her back against the post. The binder cords had enough play to allow her to sit like that with little trouble, but there was little else she could do without coming to the limit of their range. She slumped and closed her eyes. She felt hot tears welling behind her eyes, but she was damned if she would let them fall in front of the Kruath. She was determined to show them no weakness.
What were Kruath doing in Commonwealth space? That was the question she mulled over as she sat, staring at the ground. Their mere presence here was tantamount to a declaration of war, never mind the wonton murder of Commonwealth citizens and innocent races.
Solis supposed that was why the Guiranam were a threat. They were witnesses to the Kruath presence. That was why they had yo destroy the Kr’tk’tk. That was the reason, for that matter, that she could not be allowed to live. If anyone from the Commonwealth were to find out about the Kruath presence then the galaxy would be at war.
Even if the Kruath were acting on their own and not on behalf of their Taarkaan masters (which Solis considered extremely unlikely) the Commonwealth would still be dragged into a conflict. But why? Why risk an all-out war? What were they doing here? Was Urwald merely a staging area? Perhaps it was a foothold into Commonwealth territory in advance of an invasion. It was not an unlikely scenario, but Solis thought that there msut be something more to it all, but she could not quite see it. What would make the Kruath think that an invasion of Commonwealth controlled space would be successful?
“Hey there, Giraffe,” Said a voice. Solis looked up to see Carstair’s lackey, Hathan, looking down at her with a smile that made Solis sick to look at. “You’re in quite the pickle, girly.”
Solis said nothing. She dropped her eyes and kept them fixed on the ground directly in front of her feet.
“You know, I could help you,” he said, unmindful of her sullen attitude. “I could get you special treatment… if you’re nice to me.”
“Let me go,” she said through clenched teeth.
Hathan laughed. “Oh, no. I can’t do that. But I can make it pleasant for you. All you have to do is be nice to me. You can do that, can’t you?”
Solis suggested he perform an anatomical impossibility on himself.
Hathan grimaced. “Hmph. No need to be a bitch about it. You might change your mind.”
Solis shook her head. “Why are you doing this?” she asked. “You and Carstairs. I don’t get it. The Kruath commander called him the Traitor. Why?”
Hathan scowled. “Is that what they’re calling him?” he shook his head. “They don’t understand. He’s not a traitor. He’s a patriot. He sees the way things are going in the Commonwealth and he wants to change them.”
“By allying himself with the Hegemony?”
“He sees the strength the Commonwealth needs in the member races of the Hegemony. That’s the model he wants for the Commonwealth.”
Solis made a face. “The Taarkan rule the Hegemony races with fear. They are all subjugated to their will and live and die at their command.”
“Exactly! Now imagine that situation in the Commonwealth, but instead of the Taarkaan, it would be us — Terrans — Humans — in charge!”
“Humans subjugating the other Commonwealth races? Is that what Carstairs wants?”
Hathan nodded. “As it should be. But his name’s not really Carstairs. It’s Callin.”
Solis looked up at Hathan in shocked disbelief. “Callin?”
“Hathan!” Carstais — Callin — called from a few steps away. He had come up to them while they were talking. “You talk too much. Come with me.”