I have added a new prologue for NEW ARRIVALS that adds 4,000 words to the story!
Tharsus – 335 NSE (New Space Era)
Simeon Kitts, junior adviser to King Osvald Harnett was out in the orchards overseeing the workers gathering the wagon-loads of fruits, nuts and other goods that would join the Tribute Parade to the Palace. The King would bless the bountiful harvest and order the gathered goods distributed to the poorest of his subjects.
It was an annual pageant, full of celebration and it was also the official opening to the Summer Market Bazaar season. There would be much to celebrate, not least Simeon's new status within his majesty's court. There was also the new Peace & Benevolence Treaty with the Nosrin Empire, ending years of trepidation with having a possibly hostile neighbor within travel distance.
Usually it took many years to travel to other inhabited solar systems, though time passed slowly for those aboard the ships. So space travel for trade or tourism was unheard for most worlds without very close neighbors. The Nosrin Empire was a close neighbor but it was expansionist and militant and it scared the people of Tharsus that it might invade.
Thanks to the King, this seems to have ended any thought of invasion from the Nosrin Empire, making the celebration even sweeter. Simeon inspected the fruits and goods for the parade as they sat in the hovering wagons. His estate would produce twelve hover-wagons full of goods this year, a great harvest was beginning. All in all, this was shaping up to be a great year.
Simeon was a brand new adviser within the court, he had only met the King privately twice but both times he found himself concerned that the old man was a bit “off”. He was always distracted and losing focus of the topic under discussion, although Simeon never dared share any of these concerns with others within the court.
“Father!” he heard and turned to find his daughter running into his arms. He picked her up and spun around but this wasn't as easy as it used to be.
“You are getting too big, Samantha” he told her, feigning injury “My back isn't getting any younger you know.”
“I know better than that” she said and then looked around “How many wagons?”
“Twelve! Our biggest parade yet! Have to put up a good show now that I am working for the King!” he told her. It was true, there were reputations on the line for everything within the court, palace intrigue was pretty petty these days, but it was still going on.
“Everyone at school is treating me different now” Samantha said, rolling her eyes “It's pretty annoying.”
Simeon hadn't thought about that. Even his daughter was affected by his new status. Although he was one of the lower ranking courtiers, the fact that he was there at all brought new respect. Yes, but it might also bring new jealousies and enmity from certain parties too.
“I'm just happy school is out for several days for the celebrations” she said before taking off “I'll be back later, father.”
Simeon shook his head and smiled. She wasn't very girly but that would change in time, she'll go from playing in the mud to wearing silkren gowns within a few years. Soon enough it would be time to stop playing sword fighting with the boys and start trying to tame a particular boy, that thought didn't make him happier though.
The hovering wagons of his estate joined those from other estates and farms, every family that could afford it tried to at least show up with one. It was something they could boast about for a long time. Soon enough all of these lines of goods joined up on the main thoroughfare in the capitol city leading up to the palace where the King and others would be on the reviewing stands.
Joyous people lined the streets to watch the spectacle. The harvest did indeed seem bountiful this year judging from the Tribute Parade. Hundreds of carts soon passed the reviewing stands where Simeon saw the King, Queen and top officials watching them pass. Someone he did not recognize was there too, at the King's right hand.
Normally the King's Own Agent would be standing there but instead there was a man in a sparkling green military uniform of the Nosrin Empire. He and the King seemed to be chatting amicably enough but it made Simeon wonder why this man was there and in that position when ceremonial tradition demanded different.
He also noted the white suited Prince toward the back of the reviewing stand with the royal blue cape, showing his appointed position as head of the King's Guard. Yes, Simeon could just barely glimpse the golden scabbard on his hip.
Finally the hundreds of wagons filled the Palace Courtyard, a grand site to behold. The King stood up to the front and raised his arms and a great cheer arose from the assembled crowd. The cheer went on for a little bit with Simeon doing his own share of it.
“Never in my thirty-five years as King have I seen such a bounty for the Tribute Parade!” he said and the applause and cheers arose again. “As is tradition, I order that these goods be taken into custody and be distributed amongst the poorest subjects in the kingdom!”
Yet another grand cheer.
“As you might have heard, a Peace & Benevolence Treaty has been established with our neighbors, the Nosrin Empire” he said “We no longer need live with the fear that we have grown accustomed to” he was interrupted again by the cheers “Today we have so many blessings to count that it will take all week” he elicited some chuckles. “Please everyone, enjoy the celebrations and don't forget that when night falls there will be fireworks!”
The Nosrin in the uniform applauded with everyone else. Simeon thought he looked more smug that elated at the news of peace. Could the Nosrin be trusted? Simeon hoped so, but they were a martial people and they came from a very different culture.
The King's Guard arrived, led by Prince Levier, for the important mission of directing the hovering wagons of goods to the King's Storehouse. The Prince was not impressed with this duty, he thought it was not dignified, something he only divulged to Simeon once in conversation. The Prince had shown trust in Simeon by sharing.
Once upon a time Tharsus had been divided into warring factions and about a century ago a war took place with high-technology that left tens of thousands of warriors on both sides dead. The fierce battle had been for the high ground on a wide expansive plain called Visna. The hill was the strategic location that both armies coveted.
Ten thousand robotics-enhanced armored soldiers on each side were sent to claim this high ground, with the firearms and lasers jammed, they wielded swords and spears. The battle took all day and all night and when the next day dawned the hill had been smashed flat, there was nothing but a blood red plains.
It had been an epic and horrifying battle for both sides, the sight they beheld of the dead and the destroyed hill, ended all lust for war. One side sued for peace and the other side crowned the victor but without any real fanfare, no-one had felt like throwing a party.
The present king, Osvald Harnett, was a direct descendant of the victor. One of his first acts upon being crowned was to visit the Plains of Visna and say a prayer for the dead and to ask any God who could hear him for forgiveness for what had taken place there. To this day, nearly a century after the battle, the ground of the plain is red, the soil there had changed composition since the battle.
Simeon Kitts was troubled by the presence of the Nosrin soldier, probably a General. He had sent messages to those closer to the King about who this man was and his real reasons for being there. Simeon sat at a table at an outdoor restaurant with a glass of wine, waiting for the fireworks to begin now that the sun was falling.
He hardly noticed when Samantha and her friend Katrina join his table but they were laughing about something. “What is so funny?” he asked them.
“The biggest bully in school, Carl Munger, he was at the martle juice kiosk” Katrina said, snickering to herself “We were behind him in line. I poked him in the back and he turned around like he was going to maul someone. He saw Samantha and calmed down quickly. I can't believe even that guy respects her new status.”
Samantha looked embarrassed “Well, I guess it could come in handy but this is all weird for me. It's not like we're royalty or anything.”
Just then the fireworks started above the palace. Simeon enjoyed them but he had a nagging feeling that something was wrong. He didn't know what, or why, he just felt it. His queries about the presence of the Nosrin brass were for naught. Evidently those in the know thought the information he wanted might be used for a bad purpose.
On Tharsus status can change in the blink of an eye in a game of “oneupmanship”. So it has become part of the culture on the planet to not needlessly share information that could be used against you. This is much more common within the King's court, becoming almost unknown in the private sector. Simeon would just have to broach the subject with the Prince, who trusted him.
Arriving at the palace the following day Simeon passed through the gates manned by guards in light power-armor suits. Now that peace was being declared these guys might not need to wear the armor to work much longer.
He dispatched a message directly to the prince from his desk one he got to the office, asking for a private meeting. Then he went to work reading the paperwork on the holographic display in front of him. The first was a secret directive from the King that the warships of the Nosrin Empire then in orbit around Tharsus be left alone and not even scanned.
Simeon found it unnerving to learn that there were multiple Nosrin warships in orbit and that the King had allowed this. Did a Nosrin General require such support for a visit and possibly dinner?
Prince Levier's response pinged and Simeon was cordially invited to lunch with the heir to the throne of Tharsus. Good. Nothing in either messages would give anyone spying on them any idea that he had reservations about this whole Nosrin peace deal. Something like that would not be good for his status.
Prince Levier was decked out in his exaggerated “sort-of” military uniform with a white cape that had a tall collar. He had never really taken his ceremonial position very seriously but he looked serious enough once Simeon Kitts entered. The Prince shooed the help out of the suite and locked the door behind them.
“I think I know why you're here” The Prince said “I've been concerned ever since the last week of the conference”
Simeon was surprised to hear that, how far back did this go? “What happened there?”
“My father, the King, suddenly began passing message pouches directly to the Nosrin representative and none of the staff or adviser know what was in those messages”, Levier explained “Father has been having issues recently, I think his mental faculties have been compromised.”
“Does that Nosrin military officer at the Tribute Parade have something to do with all this?” Simeon asked, standing up from the table. The prince nodded “I believe so. There is a reason he was standing in the position where his main adviser usually stood.”
Simeon sat again. The King had been having mental issues, according to his own son and dealing with the Nosrin Empire on his own. Those two things happening at the same time was truly troubling, what kind of side deal had been made?
“That Nosrin military officer is Admiral Jad'a'Kor”, The Prince said calling up a holo-image of the man
that hovered above the remnants of the light lunch. “He is the leading military figure for the Nosrin and commands the Imperial Lead Fleet of sixty warships. Twelve of which are in orbit of Tharsus, the rest waiting close to the edge of the system.”
Simeon felt light-headed and grabbed the edge of the table. “The King might be senile and we have a possibly hostile military force on our doorsteps?”
The Prince nodded. “I don't know what to do about this. I might be wrong and don't think I should really try anything without more information.”
The Prince was being patient, possibly too patient. Simeon thought about the protocols for the Royal family and replied “You must demand to know what is going on here, if he refuses to tell you, then yu have every right to try and take his position.”
The Prince leaned back in his chair, looking stunned. “I know. I don't want to depose my father though, there must be a way to avoid such a thing.”
As head of the King's Guard the Prince had the command of one of the local barracks and 1,000 soldiers as well as several ships. These ships were more along the lines of transports than the mighty warships of the Nosrin Empire.
“You need to ask!” Simeon said “Don't challenge his rule until after you gather your own supporters within the court. Ask him today, tell me his answer tonight. Tomorrow we will probably be very busy.”
The Good King Osvald Harnett was very popular among all the people of Tharsus, the idea that he would ever turn on his own kingdom was impossible. As Simeon strode through the park behind the palace for some fresh air he thought about the situation. If Tharsus was worth invading the Nosrin would have done that nearly a century ago when the world was recovering from the war.
So what kind of game were they playing?
The sky was starting to dim before he realized he was still sitting on a park bench. He had been lost in thought and if the Prince didn't have good news, the time to act was now. Simeon Kitts pulled a small device from his pocket. The Personal Active Link, PAL, had a holographic display that hovered over the flat black square. He sent a message to the Prince.
Immediately he received a response telling him to return to the fountain in the Center Square. Simeon put it back into his pocket and hurried to meet the prince. When he arrived at the large fountain where concrete representations of two soldiers in hand to hand combat were surrounded by jets of water and lights streaking into the sky, he found the prince and four soldiers in their powered armor.
“Prince Levier” he said as he walked up to them “What happened?”
The prince pulled him closer to the fountain where the noise would fool most listening devices and told him “We were right. The King, I mean my father, has lost it. I can't believe what he told me today, it makes me so angry!”
Simeon would become frantic at this rate “Spill it! Just tell me the situation.”
The prince breathed deeply to calm himself down “He has agreed to make Tharsus part of the Nosrin Empire.”
“What! Why would he do that? What did they offer him in return?” Simeon asked, aghast
The prince pulled him closer to make his voice heard better “My father told me that the Empire is the future. He agreed only if he was named the emperor. It wouldn't be so bad if my father hadn't lost his mind, maybe he could have lessened the evils of the Nosrin Empire, but he supports it and its evil history” The prince looked devastated, his eyes were rimmed red “My father has lost his mind and is totally fooled.”
“Prince. You must take the throne and resist this move by the Nosrin Empire, they must be using your father” Simeon said. The prince nodded, he thought that too.
“We may not have time to resist” the prince said “That Nosrin fleet on the edge of the system is on its way, and it is an invasion force!”
Simeon was shocked. He backed up and sat at the foot of the fountain. He barely noticed another man in uniform arrive and start an animated conversation with the prince. Suddenly he recognized the Vice Admiral of the Tharsus Defense Fleet, Colm Donnelly, the green and black flag on his shoulder.
He stood and approached the other two men. “We need to gather as many people as we can and prepare to evacuate them in case the worst comes.”
“I'm busy trying to organize a defense of the planet” Vice Admiral Donnelly responded “If you are going to try and evacuate your families and friends, you might want to start doing that now”
“I'm going to try and set up a defense of the capitol city and palace” Prince Levier said to Simeon after the military officer left “But if the worst comes, I'll leave with you”
It was a busy night. Simeon Kitts woke up the foremen on the estate and told them to begin packing up supplies and preparing their families to leave. Then he dispatched trusted people to warn and give the information to people within the court that he trusted, hoping they would not tip off the King's side that this was happening.
By morning the area of the city around the palace looked like a military encampment with hover-tanks and anti-aerial laser weapons set up and troops in power-armor robot-enhanced suits on patrol. Meanwhile Simeon was busy shuttling people to the tertiary space port south of the city, normally closed to traffic, it was going to be busy today.
There were about fifteen transport ships of various shapes and sizes parked there, including the cruiser normally reserved for the King. They had seen little use for close to a century but they were all well-maintained.
He met with the Reserve Corps leader, one Captain Ranagar, who seemed like a hostile person but at least he was on their side.
“I am appalled by the actions of the King” he had said “I knew he would lose his marbles sooner or later, it is definitely the time for a new king. Do we even know where we are going?”
“Father!” Samantha said running up from somewhere “The supplies are almost done loading. We still have some families on the way to join us, the families of some people from my school”
“They better hurry.” Simeon said and his daughter gave him a hug before running off to make sure the loading was going well.
The Captain had asked where they would be going. Simeon just knew that things looked bad. The invasion fleet would be arriving any time, the horizon was brightening. He received a message on his PAL from the prince telling him that the King would be making an announcement very soon. Most likely welcoming the invasion fleet.
The only other thing the message said was that defending Tharsus looked pretty hopeless from his vantage. Simeon nodded to himself. The fight might be brief but it had to be done.
The people they had warned to leave were starting to fill up the ships that had been prepared for the evacuation. His PAL received another message, this one from Vice Admiral Donnelly, the Nosrin warships in orbit had begun their attack against the Tharsus defense vessels and military space stations.
“A complete disaster.” the Vice Admiral had said.
Laser fire from near the palace lit up the sky, explosions exposed an enormous number of enemy drop-ships descending from space. Simeon sent a message to everyone involved “It's time to leave, now! Right now!”
Almost as quickly as he turned there were explosions on the ground and then he heard the whoosh of a nearly invisible craft fly overhead. Enemy fighters were covering for the troops in the drop-ships, the fuel tank only miles away went up in a giant fireball. The evacuation ships sitting on the tarmac were lit up like day-light for the enemy to see.
“Lift off, Now! Activate the defense grid!” he gave orders. The tertiary space ports own defense network came to life, this would help their ships begin their ascent with some protection. He lifted up his PAL “Levier, where are you?”
“Falling back! We're out-numbered a thousand to one! The palace has been captured!” the Prince reported breathlessly. Simeon could hear the emotional anguish in his voice.
The voice of King Osvald Harnett broke through on every channel and broadcast by loudcasters in the city. “People of Tharsus, this is your King. A new glorious day for the Kingdom has arisen. Today we no longer celebrate peace with the Nosrin Empire, but also brotherhood. Beginning today, Tharsus is a part of the Nosrin Empire. Do not depair, I have been asked to become the Emperor of all the Nosrin worlds and I will keep my title as your King.”
“Do not resist the Nosrin forces that are arriving, they are here to help better integrate this world into the empire. Do not resent or hate our new brothers, welcome them with open arms. We of Tharsus are a peaceful and kind people, let us spread that throughout the empire that we are joining...”
All of this was interspersed with explosions.
Simeon ran for the royal cruiser, its lights were on and the engines were warming up. All it really needed was the presence of Prince Levier. Once he arrived at the largest ship in the port he waited at the main entrance in the front.
He could see laser towers tracking and occasionally firing at Nosrin vessels but his attention was soon drawn to the sound of smaller arms and smaller explosions. Soon more than twenty men in powered-armor suits that jumped more than ten meters in the sky could be seen coming. One of those was the prince, Simeon Kitts had no doubt.
Soon enough hostile robotic enemy forces were showing up, they were exchanging fire and launching guided incendiary grenades at each other. They wasted no time climbing aboard the ship when they reached it and the royal cruiser was lifting off, firing its heavier lasers at the Nosrin armored soldiers below.
As soon as the large hatch closed and he passed the veeks it carried Simeon suddenly needed to be reassured that his daughter was safe. He used his PAL, video and audio contact was being jammed by one side or the other. Then he realized that there was effectively only one side down there. The Nosrin had the mind-addled King on their side, it was all a done-deal.
He sent her a text asking where she was.
“I was able to find room on a scout ship, most of my friends are on the same ship too” she sent back followed by “I think the Captain is Ranagar or something.”
Once in space the enemy ships tracked the escaping transports but the forces of Vice Admiral Donnelly intercepted them. Even though his ships were far fewer and less advanced than the mighty Nosrin fleet, they kept them busy long enough for the transports to get far enough to go into deep drive.
Once they entered Deep Drive, Simeon Kitts let out a deep breath in relief. It would take months to reach where they were headed, but decades would pass out there outside of Deep-Drive-Space. He went up toward the command deck of the cruiser and found the Prince huddled with the Captain of the cruiser and others.
“Where are we going, anyway?” Simeon asked.
A holographic projection told him the answer. “A recently settled world, a very small colony-fewer than our fleet is carrying, called Montoya.”