This had to be the shiniest battle cruiser Abbot Bydar had ever seen. It was true he’d never seen a battle cruiser before, but an air transport this gleaming, with no dents or stains marring any portion of its exterior, could only be brand new. This must be the first time it was deployed.
The Voratene colonel that held a blaster pointed at him was a different story, however.
The crusty commander was two-thirds the abbot’s height, which was typical in regard to Voratenes and humans. His width was nearly half his height, which was also a characteristic of the race. The brown uniform and armor that covered him were dull and scuffed. And the warty protuberances that covered his broad face were testament to years of maturity.
Humans tended to compare the Voratene appearance to toads, which Bydar always thought was a bit unfair. He liked toads. They were placid, and beneficial in the garden, although you did have to be careful when picking them up or they might pee all over you.
“Search him.” The colonel’s command was stated in his native language, but the translator Bydar wore on his wrist allowed them to communicate.
“Really, now.” The abbot raised his arms so they pointed out straight from his sides. Two of the thirty Voratene soldiers behind the colonel stepped forward to frisk him, their calloused hands rough through the ecru shirt and gray slacks that he wore.
“We are a religious community,” he continued as they patted him down. “That means nobody here will strike the first blow.”
He spoke of a form of belief that was, well, alien to the Voratene. But hopefully the commander understood the insinuation that if his troops assaulted anybody, the residents here would defend all that was precious.
“You cannot guarantee that.” The colonel’s eyes narrowed. Other races in the system had noted that when it came to attitude, Voratene and humanity could be rather similar. And unfortunately that comparison did seem fair.
“The inhabitants under my administration are obedient to the rule.” Bydar knew to keep his verbiage as material as possible for the colonel to best understand him. “And the visitors are only here to conduct commerce.”
There was no mistaking the commander’s toothy sneer. “So you admit to sheltering fugitives.”
His heart skipped a beat. Earlier today they learned the Voratene committed an act of genocide that staggered the imagination. When their interstellar ships abruptly entered other planetary systems and immediately dispatched cruisers into the atmosphere, terror struck many inhabitants. The peace they’d known ever since the confederation was founded had apparently died with the Bavphet.
And the Voratene must be looking for any Bavphet that happened to be on another planet during the annihilation.
“No weapons,” one of the friskers announced as they retreated to their colonel. Bydar had made it a point to not only meet them alone, which stole any excuse for them to neutralize any perceived threat, but also eschew carrying so much as a medallion on his person.
“Relinquish the fugitives, and we will refrain from demolishing this place.” The commander locked his gaze on Bydar.
His heart hammered now, but he managed to keep a calm tone. “There are only humans and Juriki on our grounds.”
“Juriki? Why would Juriki enter a human lair?”
“This is their planet.” Obvious answers caused his stomach to flutter….
“So I see.” That toothy sneer reestablished itself. “They allowed vermin like you to settle here in order to cloak their own conspiracies. We always knew the systems that agreed to harbor humanity were plotting conquests of their own.”
“That’s not true.” Another obvious response, but he couldn’t alter the trajectory of this conversation in an instant. The Voratene had made up their mind on what they would find here. And they made that determination because they’d devised conspiracies of conquest while building shiny, new battle cruisers under cover of their own cloaks.
“Hold him,” the colonel murmured, and the two friskers strode back to Bydar to clasp his arms and twist them behind his back.
He gulped a deep breath as the soldiers looped a universal cuff that adapted to different races around his wrists. “No one here has committed any crime.”
“You have not relinquished fugitives.” The commander glanced back at his troops. “Search the premises!”
They surged into the open gate of the rock wall that surrounded the abbey grounds. Except for the colorful, tropical native foliage that grew around them, the structures looked much like their predecessors in ancient photographs from Earth. And the Voratene squadron did remind him of historical footage of attacking hordes bursting into a village.
“Please, there are families in the community. Babies. Elderly. Everybody will cooperate if you only ask. We have nothing to hide. We will take you anywhere, show you anything—”
Shouting started with the Voratene, and then human and Juriki responded.
The colonel smirked. “If you are as ill prepared as you appear, you deserve to be wiped out. It’s no wonder all these other races are so inferior. They have a foolish regard for the insufficient.”
A couple of blaster reports echoed from behind the wall. Bydar gritted his teeth as a swift but fervent prayer flashed through his mind.
He had been such a fool. He had been arrogant enough to believe that if he behaved correctly with the Voratene, if he said the right things, they would pass through here without incident. Instead, he had been too careless about trying to pick up this vile toad … and there was no telling how many others would pay for his mistake.
More blaster firing mixed in with the shouts. Bydar tried to step closer to the gate, but barely got any forward momentum before he was hurtled backwards by the two soldiers. Not quite as spry in his middle forties, he slammed to the ground on his right buttock and completed the crash on his shoulder.
Much of his right side throbbed as he tried to scramble to his feet. One of the guards struck him in the other shoulder just before he succeeded. Bydar tumbled again, but this time managed to land in a kneeling position.
“It seems to me nobody is as cooperative as you claimed.” The colonel leered.
“These people are no threat to you! Please—”
The receiver attached to the commander’s helmet crackled on. “The humans are retreating. Shall we pursue?”
He seemed to ponder the inquiry for a couple of seconds before responding. “No. We have more important targets.”
The relief that washed through Bydar almost soothed his aching joints. Good, the residents remembered that if the community was ever attacked, the first thing they should do is run. If they were captured or killed immediately, they would never be able to fight….
The blaster fire slowed. Some soldiers began trickling out, and Bydar’s heart thumped again as five Juriki were dragged out one by one. Even though they were nearly twice as tall as the Voratene, with slender limbs sporting various shades of green, they were also cuffed and shoved around by the stout soldiers.
At least they were alive, and the blast fire ceased….
Two more Juriki were carried out and dumped on the ground in front of their comrades. His relief evaporated.
“No!” Bydar began scrambling to his feet again.
The first frisker lunged forward and thrust the butt of his blaster into the abbot’s right cheek. The blow sent him tumbling back to the hard ground.
He wasn’t sure if the light that flashed over his sight was from impact with the blaster or the ground, but as he tried to catch his breath and regain his bearings, he managed to notice somebody stepped to his side.
The colonel leaned into his vision as it returned. “Who are those Juriki to you?”
“They are – were – living beings.” He rolled to his side, but didn’t yet feel capable of lifting himself from the ground.
“Juriki scum were the first to align with the Bavphet when they began their invasion of other systems. They share more with the intruders than with you.”
Determined not to face this commander while lying on the ground, Bydar forced himself back into a kneeling position. The Bavphet never invaded anybody. All the systems had joined the confederation by choice – even the Voratene, although it was apparent now they had ulterior motives.
“All life is precious.” Perhaps it was because his head was swimming that his voice cracked.
“Spoken like a true coward.” The colonel pointed his blaster only decimeters from Bydar’s forehead. “So let us hear you beg for your life.”
Indignant heat surged through him as he locked his gaze on the Voratene’s face. This being had swooped in, proclaiming terror and death, and reviled all that was truth. There was no way Bydar was going to give this fiend the satisfaction of seeing him so much as flinch.
This was not the way he wanted to go, and it wasn’t just by murder. If he truly valued all life, then he should pity this wayward being that believed wealth and power were the values to strive for. This was the Voratene way of attempting to fill a hole they’d created. Bydar focused his gaze on the colonel’s eyes, and tried, tried not to hate him.
The peace that descended upon him was as startling in its swiftness as it was in its thoroughness. Although it seemed selfish in a way, he was grateful for it. This was the way he would prefer to go.
The commander must have been waiting for him to break. What was surely only seconds seemed to stretch into minutes. It made sense that at the very end of his life he would have a taste of eternity….
A frown furrowed those warty brows. With a shrug that Bydar wasn’t certain he’d seen, the colonel lowered his blaster and turned toward a soldier that had approached.
“We’ve searched the premises, Sir. None of the quarry is present. Do you want to pursue the humans now?”
He glanced back toward Bydar. “The humans are a waste of resources. Advance to the next target.”
What just happened? The abbot stared at the reassembling troops as his two guards removed the cuffs from him. Even the surviving Juriki were released, and then ignored as much as he was as the Voratene marched back to their battle cruiser.
Three of the Juriki gave attention to their fallen comrades, but two approached Bydar with long strides.
“Can you get up?” one asked.
He didn’t need the translator anymore. His whole life had been on this planet, so he spoke several of the local dialects.
His whole life … had been spared.
“I think so.” They helped steady him as he shuffled to his feet. “Thank you.”
The rumble of engines preceded the cruiser moving away, gliding through the air to inflict terror and death somewhere else. Their corner of the universe had been plunged into darkness, and this was how their lives would be lived for the unforeseeable future.
The colonel must have wanted to see him cringe … or maybe blast the rage right off his face. It was possible that having been denied that satisfaction, the commander decided to find it elsewhere….
Or he could return and try again….
Bydar watched the cruiser fly away. It probably wouldn’t take long for its coat to dull and its surface become soiled. Such was the way of material treasures.
A certainty settled upon him. Even if it wasn’t until long after that brand new battle cruiser rotted away, the Voratene rule could not endure forever. The spirit of freedom was as ancient as life itself, a gift from eternity, despite those who wanted to seize it from others. Eventually it triumphed … every time.
Bydar kneeled again.
This is my contribution this month to #BlogBattle, and this time the prompt word is Precious. Yes, I mean Precious is the word, not that the word itself is precious….
And with a word that precious, be sure to check out the other entries!
9 thoughts on “Neither Moth nor Rust”
[…] “Neither Moth nor Rust” by A. E. Branson […]
That was a nice visit to another world, and a cool way to express faith in the face of violence and cruelty. My favorite entry from this month’s Blog Battles so far.
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Thank you! Seemed like a good time to get counter cultural….
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Wonderful, A.E.! I’m always in awe of how seemlessly you weave in worldbuilding around the action. We learn so much about these planets, species, their relationships, but it never slows down the story whatsoever. Flawlessly done! I also love how you wield fantasy/scifi as a tool to explore our own humanity. The stories are always so alien… yet so relatable. Lastly, the “warty” decriptions were gross and wonderful! Excellent way to portray character in a few words. Great as ever!
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Thank you! World building is half the fun, although it seems twice as easy (that word is used very relatively here) as writing action. I suppose the Voratene are one of those species you just gotta love, warts and all. 🙂
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I like this, AE, and I’ll second Joshua’s comment about the world building. Although for me the best bit was the trial of character. Your protag stayed true to his beliefs–and it was tough. I wrote a similar story (clad in very different garments) when I wrote my anti-bullying tale “Night Owl.” On the surface the two tales aren’t much alike, but I guess it’s true that there are only so many plots in the world, at least in the general sense. : )
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Thank you, and character building (in more ways than one) is probably the other half of the fun. I remember your Night Owl story, and you draw an interesting parallel. We do have a basic number of conflicts to work with, but man, can we manipulate the details!
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Sci-fi is not a genre I feel comfortable with. When I sense the likes of it, my brain seems to freeze up because it does not know what it’s supposed to imagine. However, your descriptions are a great help to push me forward without just walking away.
Have you ever thought of creating a page on your blog with a ‘dictionary’ of sorts that one could check out while reading your stories in case they were not up to date on your world-building?
Also, I think it would be great if you added a note at the beginning that it’s standalone, or if it will be continued, or if it had a prequel, etc.
Just my 2 cents.
Aside from the helpful descriptions, what I like most was the ending about faith and freedom.
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Thank you! It can be a fine line leaving something to the reader’s imagination and not providing enough information. I’m glad there is enough description to help! Your suggestions are interesting – I have considered (eventually) categorizing my Short Story page, lumping the related stories together (and put the standalones in one pile). Now that I’m back to winging it every month, I myself never know which story line (if any) I’ll reach into. 🙂 The ‘dictionary’ idea is intriguing … I’ll have to let that one simmer for a while….
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