Thursday, September 4, 2014

NORBRA'S CHILDREN by Michelle Levigne

Commonwealth Universe: History: The Downfall: Khrystal Series: Norbra's Children

Before the Commonwealth, there was First Civ, and then the Downfall, an age of barbarism when the galaxy-spanning civilization shattered and colony worlds were abandoned to die or to survive by their own strength.

This is the story of Elin, a direct descendant of the first Khybor, with the future of her race resting on her shoulders. When the Set'ri wanted to declare them non-Humans and have them exterminated, and other factions in civilization wanted them declared a slave race, Elin led the way to a desert world called Norbra, where Khybors had a chance to live free and to raise their children in peace and safety.

But their enemies followed them...



Big Ugh-Ugly’s real name was Serren, and she greeted Elin with music piped into the main cabin and the mouthwatering aromas of fresh pastry just out of the oven in the ship’s galley. Elin laughed and trailed her fingertips over the lump in the wall that showed where Serren’s life-support tank was securely installed and shielded.

“Someone told me that all your habitation functions started malfunctioning during your last long-distance haul,” she scolded softly, and stepped down the spiraling stairs into the galley.

“You know how most of my equipment is voice-activated. Something happened to the program,” Serren responded, her synthetic voice a meshing of harp strings and woodwinds. “It needs to hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at regular intervals.”

“Ah. That explains quite a bit. I’ll make a note of it in my report. So, anything interesting happen on this last run?” Elin settled down with the fresh pastry and propped her feet up on the bench on the other side of the dining booth.

It only took ten minutes for Serren to bring up the tapes of the scientific team she had transported on her last assignment. The tapes showed most of the members of the team participating in suspicious activities, including unauthorized personnel coming on board and unauthorized cargo being hidden in compartments no one but spaceport crew should have been able to open. To keep them from getting into her outer layers of memory and security and wiping the records, Serren had forced malfunctions on her ship, to keep the scientists busy and make it more than believable that she couldn’t open the storage compartments where the contraband and stowaways were still hidden.

Elin thought of the stink from several days of imprisonment, no food or water or hygiene facilities, and didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry or scold Serren. Wrinkleship pilots had to defend themselves with whatever methods necessary, simply because the technicians and military personnel who were supposed to protect them were often those most guilty of abuse and neglect.

She opened the access channel in her tool wristband and linked all the information directly to her superior, the Wrinkleship liaison and legal advocate. By the time Elin finished her pastry and shared a few stories about mutual friends with Serren, Security had arrived, ready to open the formerly jammed shut compartments. Elin noted the communication log showed repeated attempts by the scientific team to get back onto the ship and get into those jammed compartments, and their insistence that they didn’t need help from the military or security personnel to do it.

Elin exchanged warm good-byes with Serren and sauntered back down to the security checkpoint while everyone else was busy inside the ship. The colonel – she still couldn’t remember his name – was alone.

“That didn’t take long,” he greeted her, and looked her over, head to toe. “I checked your duty shift and you’re off in two hours. I’ll meet you at Vinder’s in three. Wear something green and soft.”

“I don’t recall you asking if I wanted to spend time with you.” Elin wanted to add that she owned nothing either soft or green, and she certainly wouldn’t waste time prettying herself for him.

“Doesn’t matter what you want.” His pleasant smile turned into a smirk. He patted the security console. “With this, I can find out all sorts of things about you that you might not want people to know, and I can make changes to your record if I need to. Wouldn’t it just be smarter and more fun to play along? I thought you were a smart girl.”

“Elin.” Rorin stepped into the room. He tipped his head toward the door, indicating she should leave.

“Three hours,” the colonel called after her when she nodded to Rorin and stepped out.

“I don’t think so,” Rorin responded. His voice hadn’t changed one bit, but Elin’s sensitivity to vibrations and changing chemicals in the air told her that he hung poised on the verge of something nasty.

Two hours later, instead of heading to her home outside the city after her duty shift, Elin found herself standing in a judiciary’s office, verifying Colonel Rorin Pace’s assertion that he had been defending her from sexual harassment when he struck the Security colonel and knocked him unconscious. The man still hadn’t awakened. The security cameras had malfunctioned suspiciously, halting just before Elin was due to step into the security checkpoint and then resuming just moments after she left, and just in time for the vicious argument between the two men. The gap in the recording did more for verifying the colonel’s illicit demands than anything Elin or Rorin might have said.

“You realize, our public relations campaign has worked too well,” Elin said. “No one is afraid of body contact or exchange of fluids anymore.”

“It doesn’t help that Khybors are in such perfect health, thanks to Khrystal, they’re hard to resist.” He linked his arm through hers and led her off the walkway, into a middle-class market district, where Elin was sure they would find a quiet corner to sit and gorge on food bought at a dozen different vendor carts.

“I think it’s time for us to leave,” she said softly.

“But we just got – oh, that leave.” Rorin nodded.

They had grown up listening to her mother and grandmother talk about a future in which Khybors might need to strike out across the vastness of space, to find a place safe from both the destructive beliefs of the Set’ri, and the foolish prejudices and fears of ordinary Humans.

“It’s just about time for another idiot to get vocal and start pressuring for us to be declared either precious resources to be carefully controlled, or mental defectives to be sterilized and kept away from the innocent and vulnerable.” She grinned when Rorin hocked and spat, effective comment on that sentiment. “If so-called civilized folk are so afraid of us that they want to take away our minds and free will and the right to reproduce, then we should just leave. Take away all the services we perform for the settled universe. Let ordinary Humans suffer without all the things we provide and do for them. They can’t have their luxuries and easy living without giving us some respect.”

“Has to be done quietly,” he said, and gestured for her to step into a shaded alcove full of trees and a tiny, chuckling fountain. “If they realize their semi-slave class is about to run away, they really will lock us up this time.”

“Quietly and slowly,” Elin agreed.

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