The swirling cloud of energized gasses roiled slowly, an ancient cauldron boiling with the eternal sluggishness born from its incomprehensible vastness. The core of the nebula blazed white hot where hundreds of stars clustered together, dragging at each other with titanic forces that had formed a balance. I held my breath as I gazed upon the eerie beauty of the star nursery and for a moment I forgot why I stood in the command center of the New Moons.
“Command shows ready, sir,” the executive officer spoke quietly at my elbow.
“Time for one last battle.”
I turned to the crew pit beside my command platform.
“Navigator, bring us into position. Communications, establish the Link with the enemy fleet,” I snapped out the orders with more energy than I really felt. Over my long years I had grown tired of battles, of countless young men and women laying down their lives for the most petty of reasons. Few battles are worth fighting. This one certainly could have–No–should have been avoided.
The world outside my flagship seemed to spin, though in truth, it was the ship turning on its axis. The nebula glided away and the distant lights of the rebel fleet swept in. The silent void between my vessel and the enemy sparkled with the tiny glittering shapes of their fighter screen. At the center of their formation hung two great warships. One was a gaudy thing with a hull of gold and crimson. The other was smaller, more sedate in its appearance, its hull scarred with evidence of many battles. Their might held the fleet together. Break that might and the rebels would crumble.
I lowered my combat monocular over my right eye and the world changed. The distant lights of the enemy fleet were suddenly overlaid with red targeting markers. With a twitch of my eye and a focused thought I selected the nearest vessel from the enemy’s flank. A tactical readout of the vessel filled my right eye. It was a toy compared to the New Moons. Our heavy weapons would crush the Messiah’s Light like foil. Most of the crew would die. It was inevitable and unfortunate but they had aligned themselves against God’s chosen emperor. There could be no mercy for them. Not today.
“Approach the main fleet from a zero vector. We’ll break to starboard at twenty kilometers and hit their line at the Messiah’s Light,” I ordered. “Target adjacent vessels once she’s gone.”
“They’ll envelop us, sir,” the executive officer whispered.
“But we’ll be at their heart, and that’s where I want to be. Navigator, all ahead full.”
I felt the deck shiver as the mighty warship accelelrated towards the enemy fleet. As my gunners took aim on the Messiah’s Light the live feed from the Link became active in our monoculars. The face of her commanding officer appeared in my vision. I could fear in his eyes. He was right to fear for I was coming for him. Poor fool. He would be dead in a moment. At least he would die as law and tradition dictated, looking into his foe’s eyes, into my eyes. When he was dead I would plunge towards the two great capitol ships at the heart of their formation and the real battle would begin.
I switched my focus to what I was seeing with my left eye. The observation port was beginning to fill with the spread of the enemy fleet.
“At the heart,” I repeated. “Where I’ve always been.”
Someone must have seen what was about to happen because a cry rang out from across the court and a rush of feet approached. I paid it no mind. Priests were a spineless group for the most part, worrisome and punctilious, but the assassin chanced a glance in their direction.
To his credit the warrior sidestepped, lightning quick and swept his sword out. He swung, a single exquisite stroke that hissed passed my jaw. But I had wanted him to evade my first blow. I wanted him to think he had an advantage. I pulled my strike short and reversed the motion, turning the thrust into a back-handed slash. I used the micron-thick silicate blade of my spear like a sword. It struck the assassin just above the right knee and without a sound took his leg neatly off. He fell in a shrieking heap, his life gushing out with the measured beat of a frantic heart.
I lowered my spear. It was done.
My knees turned to water.
It was only then that I felt the hot sheeting of blood coursing down the side of my neck. I reached for the source of the flood and found an almost imperceptibly thin cut just above my high collar. The assassin’s micron-blade had struck with surgical precision. My spear slipped from my fingers but I did not hear it fall. The world swam and I found myself kneeling, clutching at my wound and listening to the thick patter of my draining blood. Somehow that sound was louder than the screams of the maimed warrior and the shocked cries of the priests.
Blood pooled on the crystal floor under me slowly obscuring the view of Jerusalem, hundreds of kilometers below. The priests gathered around the dying assassin trying to silence his screams and impede his thrashing. Solomon had vanished. No one seemed to notice me. Perhaps they knew I was already dead.
The last of my strength failed and I fell forward onto the ground, my brow touching the floor as if I were praying. I turned my head away from the blood that began to gather around my face and a surreal sideways view of the Temple Court came into focus. Blood-spattered attendants scurried about, unable to do anything but hold the wounded warrior while a ring of priests looked on with grief and horror. What did they have to grieve over? The warrior went suddenly still and silent in the arms of a frantic attendant. It was the stillness of death. I had seen it hundreds of times. I knew it was coming over me.
He did not answer. Perhaps, He waited to speak until I had passed beyond the veil?
My heart gave a final weak flutter and like a thin tendril of smoke seized by the wind, all I was, all I might have been, slipped silently from the universe.
I am ashamed to say I dozed, but the clink of approaching footsteps lifted my chin from my breast. Two men crossed the Court. My emperor would not forgive me for taking his traitorous son’s life. There was no need to send two with a message of forgiveness. Two meant a messenger and an assassin.
The footsteps stopped near me.
It was the emperor’s youngest son, Solomon. The boy was perhaps sixteen and, from what I understood, not much of a fighter. He excelled at politics, the games of court. The messenger. I wished to turn, to find out who the other was, but I kept my eyes closed.
“Solomon,” I replied.
“My father was wounded in the battle with Absalom’s fleet.” The boy’s voice was smooth. I didn’t like it. “He died, but not before making me emperor.”
“And asking you to order my death?” I added, still not turning. “I suppose I should be thankful David did not command it himself.”
The boy was quiet and I knew I was right. I would not go quietly. I stood as smoothly as my protesting knees allowed and cradled my spear in the crook of my arm. I looked at my accuser. Solomon stood before me, resplendent in gold and purple, his hair long and manicured like a palace woman’s. He carried a decorative sword. The messenger. Nothing more.
Behind him was the assassin.
He was not much older than the new emperor. His short bristle of dark hair and his face were streaked with red paint that ran in lines down to his chin and gave him a fearsome look. His tunic was red, over which he wore slick, black composite armor. He carried a long, micron-sword that he casually rested his hand upon. He looked more flashy than skilled.
And fast, I thought wearily. He’ll try to get me to move at his pace.
“You killed Absalom against my father’s orders,” Solomon said.
“I killed a traitor. Because of that, you are now emperor instead of him.”
Solomon glared, unable to deny the truth of my words.
I glanced at the assassin. “He’s to stop me from leaving?”
The warrior nodded. I noticed his eyes never left me. There was more to him than just flash.
“And if he doesn’t?”
Solomon pursed his glossed lips. “The galaxy is a vast place, Master Joab. Should you overcome my champion, I certainly could not stop you from leaving and I would not expect to see you ever again.”
So that was how it would be. A token gesture, a single attempt to satisfy the promise made to his father. Beyond that I was free. I looked again to the assassin.
“Ready to die?”
He shook his head and he smiled mirthlessly. I dropped into a combat stance, my heart suddenly beating hard, when a moment before, it had been quiet. I had years of experience killing great warriors. I had the blessing of God. I would win. Still, I felt cold fear speed through me. A hum rose from my spear as I increased the structural field reinforcing the blade.
To be continued…
Based in part upon events described in 1 Kings 2:29-34
I had just killed a man. A traitor. A usurper of my emperor’s throne. But I knew I would receive no reward. Instead, I would receive only trouble, for the traitor had been my emperor’s son. I fled the scene and traveled mindlessly, hopping from system to system, until the Temple appeared outside my view port. It flashed in the distant starlight, a beacon to my weary soul. I docked and stepped from my starship onto the glass deck. Far below, I could see the planet Jerusalem which the Temple orbited. Its citizens had no idea who ruled them at that moment. They would not have to wait long. No doubt, news of Absalom’s death and David’s victory would arrive soon. I entered the Temple Court. The attendant, an apple-cheeked boy in white robes, nodded to me.
“Your weapon is not permitted in the Holy Place,” the boy said, indicating the long micron-bladed spear I carried. “Would you like to leave it here?”
I gazed across the vast, amber Temple Court towards the altars and the Holy Place where God resided. The temple was quiet at that hour. The priests had likely retired for the day. With no one to bless their offerings, most of the supplicants had abandoned the place. I hesitated a moment. At the altars I could linger indefinitely, in orbit around the emperor’s world, but forever out of his reach.
If only the emperor had killed Absalom the first time he tried to usurp the throne. But David loved his traitor son and ordered his life preserved even when Absalom made this second grab for power and captured Jerusalem. I shook my head. Absalom wouldn’t have stopped. He had needed to die. If David could understand that, he might forgive me.
“I shall remain in the Court,” I said. I brushed past the boy and made my way to one of the prayer niches, the soles of my boots ringing out with a musical chink-chink-chink on the glass floor. I sank to my knees, letting my spear support my weight as I made the transition. My old tendons and bones protested with various cracks and aches as I settled upon the crystal deck. I wished I had brought my prayer mat. I set aside my spear and touched my forehead to the floor.
“Oh God of my ancestors…” the prayer came easily to my lips.
When I had finished my prayer, I settled into a more meditative position. I let my eyes close and focused upon my God. He had guided me all my life, led me every step. Now was no different. He had guided my shot at Absalom’s fleeing fighter. It could have missed, but instead, his vessel had been vaporized with a single shot. It had been God’s will just as my fate would be.
To be continued…
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