Chapter 1: The Fountain
Toreus II Rhann came from a long line of fighters. His father was Toreus the Great or Toreus I, who united Pangea into the Pangean Empire and brought peace and prosperity to its kingdoms. Kingdoms that had not known such since the Trongoroth Infestation. Owing to this lineage it comes as no surprise that he became involved in the events of the Arcadian Civil war that led to so many changes all across the Great Sphere. It was not merely, as so many historians have cited, because the Taylors were cousins of his mother. Nor was it merely because he was a meddling adventurer. No Toreus the Junior was an activist Prince and as such he could no more not become involved that could he stop breathing. These events were his destiny, a part of him like his mighty arms and his ever present Capronean saber cat, Shakorja.
The Book of Rhann: A Review of History in the Era Between the Great Wars.
Toreus Rhann was born in the Year of the Guild Treaty 5710 of Toreus I Rhann and his consort Empress Cassandra Rhann. At the age of ten he entered the ranks of the Lionmen of Thuvia and was bound to the Silver Lion Shakorja. He was always a large boy for his age and was said to be unaware of his own strength. But far from being a dolt he had a keen mind and an almost supernatural gift for strategy and tactics.
The Thuvian Chronicles.
It is quiet in space. Bores will tell you that. It’s one of those fun facts from the Net that everyone knows and no one cares about.
But it is never quiet inside a spaceship. The slightest noise reverberates inside the hull and even the air conditioning makes a racket. Space engineers have been trying to deal with this problem since the times of ancient Atlantis and Tauran—with little success.
Prince Toreus Rhann sat in his couch on the SunLiner and closed his eyes—meditating. He listened to the sounds of his fellow passengers aboard this shuttle bound for the Sunward Space Fountain of Arcadia plate. The steward bots serving meals and drinks. Elegant Tennysian models from Arcadia. Small and chrome plated. Luxury, art and servitude all in one unit.
He cast his hearing about and concentrated on bits of banal conversation. Someone was talking about how many kilometers of travel he’d done about the Great Sphere. The braggart felt that he must have circumnavigated the Sphere at least twice.
A woman was discussing her dream man. He sounded like right prancer to Toreus.
The chap behind Toreus was scratching busily on a data plate with a dull stylus. Business type, thought the Prince. Kind of man who did a lot of traveling each year ands little sight seeing. He’d probably die at his desk or in an Apollo’s coffee shop at some crowded terminal. Toreus himself wore the disguise of such, but that was a much as they had in common. He was a businessman, of sorts, but not the business of mere profit.
He glanced out the window and saw that the area around the Fountain Station was filled with squid like machines. The mysterious Lookers that popped up everywhere on Terra Prime where something was happening. Yes, that meant that things were happening in and around Arcadia and the Lookers were interested.
You’re being observed, warrior, said the Guider in his mind’s voice. Toreus smiled and opened his eyes.
Ahead of him a child looked over the back seat. A big child of Jovian stock traveling with his big mother. Toreus smiled at him and the boy smiled back.
Children are dangerous when you are operating in enemy territory, said the Guider. A child will notice things that adults will not—and loudly point them out.
It’d just a child,” Toreus said to the voice. Of course the Guider was usually right. And Toreus was not convinced that the proto-mask that covered his face and changed his features would stand up to the keen eyesight of a Jovian toddler.
The child continued to look at him--expectantly. Toreus liked Joves. They were excellent fighters. He liked children—they were, after all, the future. But he did not relish being stared at by anyone. The Guider’s wisdom had a way of destroying his comfortable delusion.
The covert Prince looked away and out the port by his couch. looked at the upturning horizon of the plates below, which dwindled into a brown, green, blue murk as they curved up toward the horizon to join the conjoining plates of the Sphere.
The Sphere. A great artificial world built by the Cosmic Engineers of Sidairia. Fabricated out of disassembled worlds, nebulae and asteroid belts. The place where they all lived—Terra Prime.
The pilot had slowed the ship to a parking orbit off the Fountain Station. From here they’d be able to tune the short range jump connection to these on the Fountain Station and the passengers would be able to walk from the Sunliner to the terminal. From there you could either catch an elevator pod or take a jump connection down through the dome of Arcadia to the surface of the plate.
The first officer, wearing her ornate white Sunlines uniform came down the aisle and stationed herself at the jump connection hatch. She was of Privateer stock, he was sure. Nice legs, very muscular. Privateer women tended to build up their lower body so as to not be crippled when they walked in high g environments. She was also tall, another giveaway of her spacer heritage.
She stood beside the jump port and cautioned the passengers to remain in their seats. Then she punched codes into the control panel and the jump hatch of the liner shook hands with one of those on the station. Then she adjusted the deck gravs so that the low grav of the Sunliner life system matched the higher grav of the Fountain Station. Toreus felt his stomach drop as gravity increased.
Starting at the back the passengers began to disembark one at a time. Finally it was Toreus turn. He took his carry on luggage in his hand and stepped into the jump connection. Stepped out the other side into the station.
The station was clean and neat and crowded with passengers. A lot of people looked like off plates that were leaving due to the unrest in the Arcadian government. The King—old Radu Wallace—had arrested the popular Duke Nathaniel Taylor. Not only that, he had suspended the parliament and declared martial law. Unless you were a mercenary or a freedom fighter this was a good time to leave Arcadia.
And yet you rush right into it, Warrior, said the Guider.
Toreus looked about the station, ignoring the Guider voice. There were lines at the jump connections leading down to Arcadia. Mostly tough looking men and hard women. Civil wars tended to attract mercenaries from all across the Sphere. Some of these wore expensive suits of Jurassican silk with much gold jewelry. These would be the inevitable arms merchants and intelligence brokers—security specialists. These would be the oiliest snakes of all.
It would be along wait for a jump. Toreus spotted an Apollo’s coffee shop. He’d get a cup of coffee whole he waited.
Toreus ordered an Akaiachino, a coffee drink favored in the Akaia highlands of Cretacea, and took a seat where he could watch the procession of hard cases through the jump gates. He saw a few faces that he recognized but was sure that with his proto-mask they would not recognize him.
A group of man-like creatures, wearing light body armor, entered the lounge. they were followed by three beings in a large black coats and wide brimmed hats. The trio’s faces were obscured by breath mask. Zatakhons—a mercenary species from another universe and another planet. They always traveled in threes and no doubt the armored bozos that they followed were their Kai’Vhan cyborg mercenary clients.
The Kai’Vhan Centurion walked at the head of his troops chanting a cadence in broken Priman. “von, to, tree, for, ve are the Kai’Vhan infantry
”Idiots, thought the Prince.
Indeed warrior, said the Guider. So the Wallaces were hiring Kai’Vhan. They must really be desperate for personnel. That meant that the other mercs were heading down to work for the Resistance. No self respecting merc will work with Vhans.
Of course just because the Vhan were idiots did not necessarily render them harmless. Even on editor with a gun is dangerous. An army of them…
But it said much about Radu Wallace. He was not able to mobilize the citizenry of Arcadia to his side, so he hired off world shooters.
It was still depressing. In the end Radu would most likely lose, but million of people would die first. That was why he had to get in here and secure the Taylor family. Get them to safety. Because Nathaniel Taylor was the only man who could end this civil war and build Arcadia back into the Jewel of the Sphere it had been before the Wallaces rose to power.
Toreus turned away toward the holographic window that looked out over the Arcadian plate below.
Looked so peaceful from up here. Not like a land on the brink of civil war. The Fountain ran down through the dome that covered the plate, protected it from harsh radiation and regulated the day nigh cycle. The fountain itself was a part of the plate, a masterpiece of Sidairian technology more than ten thousand years old. It carried cargo via magnetic levitators at its centers and passengers via its jump connections. There were also elevator cars that ran along the sides. Luxury accommodations—like the Sunliners.
The plate had as much surface area as one of the Earths and was managed by the plate dwellers and by Mechan engineers. If the environment had been left to the devices of the Wallaces everyone here would have died long ago. The Wallaces were brutal bullies and not good managers.
The Taylors, on the other hand, were great statesmen and mangers. They cared about the people and were willing to hear the people’s will. That was why Toreus was here to rescue the family of Duke Nathaniel. And, if possible, rescue the Duke himself.
It was a mission close to Toreus heart. For Toreus Rhann considered himself a champion of justice and Duke Nathaniel Taylor was a cousin of the Rhanns—three times removed.
So it was family business from two angles—at least.
Nathaniel had stood up to Radu and been accused of Treason. They had placed him under arrest in the Grand Tower of Arcadopolis. Then the ass had suspended all the higher laws of the realm in the pretense of protecting the populace and the state. That was an old story. More genocide had been done in history to protect people from terrorists and to ensure national security than had been done to actually protect the people.
And that gave the King his excuse to go after the family of the Duke. But Baroness Lois had escaped with the ducal heirs, Nathan and Leonidus. Had gone into hiding. They were hiding out somewhere in the city. With a friend of the family. A priest of the High Church.
It would be Toreus first mission to find them and get them outside of Arcadia and to safety.
Seven days ago Toreus volunteered his services for this mission to Imperial Marshal Kothar Khonn, his father’s boyhood friend and chief military agent. Kothar’s son and namesake were running the operation.
Both Khonns were reticent about using the Crown Prince of Thuvia in this dangerous operation. But they knew better than to try and talk anyone with the name of Toreus Rhann out of participation in an errand of justice and mercy. Toreus was like his father—an activist and fighter. There was no way they cold keep him out.
So, failing that, they prepared him to be safe.
Of course Toreus would have liked nothing better than to bust into the Tower of Arcadian City and rescue Nathaniel. Lead of Force of Thuvian Rangers in there and leave dead Wallace guards strewn all over the place. But that was not to be. Politics stood in the way. The Chancellor—the head of the government under his father’s empire, opposed all Pangean military involvement in Arcadia.
So his job would be to secure the two ducal heirs and the Duchess. Make sure that the King had nothing to hold over Nathaniel’s head.
Toreus was about to step into the battle field alone.
He downed his coffee and went to the lavatory, entering a private booth.
Time to check his armament.
He removed his coat and checked the CPS generators in their forearm units. He cold not wear a full Cold plasma Shield generator so, instead he settled for the arm guard units that required more skill to utilize effectively. Toreus was a master with these. He had been suing them since he was a child in the Thuvian Highlands.
Using Guider command he activated the shields and fell into a firing stance, arms in front of his face as he crouched. Fluid movements to put the shimmering plasma shields between him and an oncoming enemy.
Satisfied, he cut the shields and reached around behind him to the short fighting knife that he always carried, he drew the weapon and held it in his right hand, hefting it, feeling the balance. This was a new knife—fashioned of materials that would not show up on customs scanners. He felt comfortable with it. Good blade—excellent balance.
He resheifed the knife and drew the small pistol. It was a backup weapon—to be used only if all else failed. If, in the unlikely event, that his back was against the wall.
He reholstered the gun and put the jacket back on. Picked up his carry on bag and left the lavatory.
He joined the line before the jump connection. Stepped into the portal of the Quantum Entanglement Tunnel and stepped out of the other end on the ground. Stepped right into a riot.