[Note: I only wrote this scene very recently, so it might feel a bit raw. The scene takes place on Nayr’s qer’ish day, the day he passes into adulthood. He finds out that the man he’s called “father” all his life is not really his father at all.]
Nayr waved open the cabinet to the sparring weapons and thought, for a fleeting moment, if he’d be justified in using a sharpened qasfin today. He was seventeen years old today, his qer’ish day, and for every single day of those seventeen years the person he called Father had lied to him. And if Nayr was anything, he was honest, with himself and with others. He expected nothing less from those he loved.
Used to love.
He frowned and padded across the room, his soft-soled sparring boots gripping the glimmering wooden floor. Morning sun streamed through the window facing the bay and bounced off the floor, a king’s ransom worth of wood in this dry, rocky world.
He waved his hand to open the combat weapons cabinet, and asked himself if the world would notice if Nayr incapacitated Ahrik, the man he once called Father.
No liar deserves to rule the world.
Nayr examined the gleaming combat qasfina, the morning light catching their curved steel blades, laser sharpened to wicked tips. He lifted one off its rack and hefted its familiar weight, the leather-bound hilt creaking in his grip. So many years of training, and now today, his qer’ish day, he finally contemplated using one for real, against an enemy he never knew he had.
Someone must protect Mother, and the world, from Ahrik’s lies.
The door dissolved with a whoosh behind him, and he grabbed a cloth from the rack inside the cabinet.
His fath… Ahrik’s voice raked over his ears like teeth grinding ice, the word “son” a monument to Ahrik’s disloyalty. How had he commanded his ketel all these years while lying like that?
Ahrik pulled off his combat boots. “Sorry I’m late.”
Another lie. “No problem. I was just polishing the qasfina.”
Ahrik grunted as he slipped on his sparring shoes. “You know, the palace has servants to polish those.”
Nayr wondered what drove Ahrik to the lies. The power to rule a planet was surely an intoxicating drug, but was it worth selling one’s soul? Ahrik had to be stopped.
Nayr replaced the combat qasfin, and a twinge of doubt interrupted the action. Was now the right time? No, he decided. What would Mother think? No point incapacitating Ahrik if the Queen wouldn’t agree.
Nayr walked back across the room, nodding in acknowledgment of Ahrik’s comment about the servants. “A man dependent on others isn’t free. Isn’t that what you always say?”
Ahrik raised an eyebrow and stood to choose his weapon from the sparring cabinet. “What’s wrong, Son? Is it the talk you had with your mother?”
Nayr paused before reaching for his favorite sparring weapon, a qasfin with an oaken hilt and soft iron blade. The extra weight made him stronger, for when he’d need to wield a blade for real.
His thoughts wandered once again to the combat qasfina. He could have switched one out for a sparring blade. He and Ahrik sparred every week. Ahrik wouldn’t have noticed the switch until it was too late.
Will I regret my indecisiveness? He frowned. Ahrik would assume it was in response to his question.
“Don’t call me ‘Son’,” said Nayr, pulling on its sparring gloves.
Ahrik pulled on his own gloves, then looked away, as if in the throes of some inner turmoil. “So, she really told you.”
The old man was holding back. Nayr shook out his arms and legs, but narrowed his eyes at Ahrik. “What else are you keeping from me?”
“I… I ca…” Ahrik stood and pursed his lips, then bored his gaze into Nayr, yet another secret hidden behind his eyes. “Let’s spar.”
How long can the old man hide from the truth? Nayr’s wrist compiler chimed. He frowned. He’d forgotten to remove it. He looked down, though, and his head swam.
A message scrolled up the tiny screen, from Sheresh, his closest mentor and friend: Just arrested. Accused of crimes against the race. Order came from the palace.
Ahrik. Who else would have signed the order, but Sheresh’s oldest rival?
Nayr’s blood boiled. He sensed this day would come. Years ago, Sheresh had been Ahrik’s first supervisor. In private, Ahrik accused Sheresh of starting the War of the Emerald Moon seventeen years ago, before Nayr was born, but Nayr had spoken with Sheresh at length. Nayr was sure: this was another one of Ahrik’s lies. And now he’d trumped up charges against the wisest man Nayr knew, and his closest friend.
Nayr threw his wrist compiler into his bag, strapped on his arm guards, and picked up his sparring qasfin. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s begin.”
No sooner had they crouched into their stances than Nayr flew at Ahrik, all fury and motion. Ahrik dodged and parried, sparks glancing off his arm guard when Nayr’s blade struck. Ahrik grunted with the effort, and Nayr caught a satisfying sheen of worry on his face.
They usually started slow, but Nayr was in no mood to go easy. Let the old man have a heart attack, for all he cared. It would save Nayr the trouble.
Ahrik regrouped and swung his blade, but Nayr dodged and leaned back to cut Ahrik’s legs out from under him with a kick to the back of the knees. Ahrik sprang out of the way, but Nayr relished the look of surprise on his face.
Nayr couldn’t understand why Ahrik had done it. Why lie about being his father for all these years? Why invent charges against his friend? Was he lying to Mother in order to consolidate his rule?
Ahrik launched a counterattack, but Nayr, smaller, quicker, and more fit, used Ahrik’s momentum against him. Nayr tucked into Ahrik’s attack and slammed an arm guard into his ribs, then as Ahrik’s blade rushed towards Nayr’s head, he slid out of the way, spun, and brought his own blade onto the small of Ahrik’s back.
Ahrik cried out in pain and crumpled into a roll away from Nayr, expelling air in pain. Bosonic springs under the floor cushioned most, but not all, of the fall, their subatomic hum groaning under Ahrik’s weight. Ahrik crouched on all fours, like a tiger ready to spring, but Nayr leaped first. Ahrik tried to dodge, but Nayr’s knee connected with Ahrik’s gut, along with a satisfying squelch and rush of air leaving Ahrik’s body.
Ahrik slumped onto his back, the fight gone out of him. He lay, his breath heaving, eyes stern, and examined the ceiling. “I… deserved… that.”
Nayr scoffed and threw his practice qasfin to the ground, furious enough still to ignore the basics of blade safety. He just didn’t care. One day his life was just like he wanted it, and the next he faced a different future, fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt. “Who decides what we deserve or don’t deserve?” he asked. “At least you had a choice.”
Ahrik sat up. “Now wait a minute, S… Nayr.”
Nayr ripped off his arm guards and gloves. “Why?”
Ahrik’s shoulders sank towards the floor. “You sure you don’t want to go another round? Settle your mind a bit?”
Nayr tore off his sparring boots. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to…” Ahrik looked off, avoided Nayr’s piercing glare, then focused on the floor. “It wouldn’t have changed the fact that your military blood isn’t pure.”
“You’re not my father. By law, I shouldn’t have 100,000 clones to command.” Nayr slammed a fist into his bag. “My life is built on a lie.”
“Your keteli clones are yours forever, because of your tendril link with them. No one can change that.” He set his own blade down and stood. He sighed a look at Nayr. “You’re the Queen’s son, and she has no daughters. You’re next in line. What worries you?”
Nayr guffawed, then shook his head. “You don’t get it.” He took his wrist compiler out of his bag and slapped it on his wrist, reminded once again why he was so furious. “Just because you’re obsessed with power doesn’t mean I am too. I care about my sons and serving my mother, not about ruling this rock.”
Ahrik started peeling off his gloves. “Those two are probably one and the same, Nayr. We’d hoped by now you’d realize that.”
Nayr sealed his bag shut with a ferocious swipe, thumb and forefinger pressed like a vice as he ran them across the two sides of the biomesh seam. “Don’t bring Mother into this.” He drilled his glare into Ahrik and took a step forward, thought about finishing what he’d started. “Your lust for power blinds you. You can’t see the evil you’ve sown.”
Ahrik narrowed his eyes, but kept his demeanor calm, which Nayr trusted like a viper guarding a bird’s nest. Ahrik nodded in his direction. “I can help you, Nayr.”
Nayr shouldered his bag. “Help me what? Betray the Queen? Execute my mentor?”
“Ah,” said Ahrik. “So this is really about Sheresh.”
Nayr stepped to within an arm’s length of Ahrik, but Ahrik didn’t move a muscle. So arrogant. Nayr poked a finger into the older man’s chest. “Your lies are about to be exposed, Ahrik Jeber-li. Stay away from my friends and family.”
Nayr shouldered his bag and stormed out. As he did, he accessed his internal compiler, the one implanted in the base of his skull, the privilege of every ketel commander in the army. The internal compiler gave him the tendril link to communicate with, command, and control his clones, his sons.
But it also let him store vast amounts of information, accessible only to him and encrypted to his unique genetic code. He created a new file, named it “Revenge”, and put a single word in it: Ahrik.