Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

 

In a distant quadrant, a very beautiful, but extremely angry woman paced, much as an agitated earth cat would.  Her eyes were icy flames, fires of indignation and frustration.  She was the heir apparent for her father’s throne and she was still being treated like a child. “How dare you dispose of my servants without my knowledge, much less my permission?  Who do you think you are, Kane?” 

“I am your father’s most devoted servant and as such….” 

“Which also makes you my servant!  And you will do nothing behind my back!” Ardala stormed.  “Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Your Highness, but you must also remember that there have been four attempts on your life in the past several weeks.  The last one was much too close for comfort,” Kane argued.  

“Then get a better security system!” Ardala retorted.  “And do not forget that Tigerman foiled the first three attempts, Kane.  He proved his loyalty . . . proved it much better than that insipid Pantherman.  Just because the would-be assassins got past him this last time was only bad luck on his part." 

“It would have been bad luck on your part, Highness, if you had been killed,” Kane replied. 

“I had things very well in hand,” she said smugly, remembering the defensive move that Tigerman had taught her after the second attempt on her life.  Fleetingly, she wondered at this increased interest in her early demise.  She also wondered at the fact that for all that the assassins seemed able to get past the automated palace defenses, defenses that were supposed to be the best in the galaxy, these people seemed to have been rather clumsy when they got into her presence.  Shaking her head, Ardala knew she had to return to the present matter of the insubordination of Kane. 

“And it helped that I was alert and nearby to protect you, Princess,” Kane reminded her.  

“Yes, a day late and dollar short,” she murmured, using a phrase that Buck Rogers had said to her a while back.  

“What?” Kane asked, puzzled.  

“Something I learned from a friend, Kane,” she said tersely.  “Never mind.  I want to know where you have sent Tigerman.  Now!” 

“Your father took care of the actual arrangements,” Kane snapped, irritated that the princess was still bringing up that insufferable Buck Rogers, if not by name then by other reminders.   He was sure that was something the Directorate captain would have said.  

“After you complained to him.  Made him think that Tigerman was incompetent to protect me,” retorted Ardala. 

“I was reporting to your father as I have been ordered by him to do,” he said, wholeheartedly wishing an end to this conversation.  “Maybe you are not, but he is very grateful for my diligence.” 

“You would think you had arranged for these assassination attempts yourself, just to gain my father’s favor, Kane.”  Ardala didn’t know where that came from, but it had and the idea, while ridiculous, wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility.  Kane was very ambitious and had not hidden the fact that he wanted to marry her to further his status in the Draconian Empire.   But no, Kane didn’t have the backbone to do such a thing.  He was about as predictable as a Thorian slug worm, always heading toward water.  

Kane flinched as though struck, but composed himself quickly.  “How could you think such a thing, Princess?  I am your loyal….” 

“Don’t worry, Kane.  If I thought you had the temerity to do such a thing, I would have had you executed in a second.   Now leave me!” 

“Yes, Your Highness,” Kane said, his voice somewhat mocking even as he sounded contrite.  He bowed and backed away.  “But do remember, Princess Ardala, it was you who ordered Tigerman’s extermination that time a couple of years ago.” 

“Get out!” 

As the door slid shut behind him, Ardala paced the opulent confines of her bedroom suite.  And the android, which bore an irritatingly close resemblance to Kane, followed a discretionary six paces behind her.  Another one, also resembling the unctuous courtier, stood at the door.    Ardala stood at the view port of her lower continent vacation palace suite gazing at the brilliantly purple-hued sunset, thinking.  Just what was that look on Kane’s face when she had baited him?  For a second or two he had actually appeared fearful.  Why?  Could he have had something to do with these assassination attempts?  But why, she wondered?  It would not do him any good if she were dead.  And just what was Kane afraid of?  Other than losing a chance at the crown.  Wait a minute!  None of these attempts had been that deadly, they had all had their moments when something had seemed out of synchronization, almost clumsy and half-hearted.  Could this have been done to impress her father?  Why that heesuul, that slinking, sneaky heesuul.  Kane just wanted to impress Father so he could marry her.  And this ploy might just well succeed if I don’t do something quickly. 

Her anger increased, but she saw no solution, so she threw herself onto her bed, the android bodyguard standing a few paces away from the bed.  Glaring at the robotic creature, she snapped, “Go away!  You are dismissed.” 

“I cannot do that, mistress. We are ordered to protect your person.”  

“You don’t have to stand so closely.”

“It has been ordered.”  

“Who ordered it?” Ardala demanded. 

“The Royal Courtier, Kane, Your Highness,” the android said.  

“Do I not rank higher than Kane?” she hissed. 

“Our programming supercedes your rank, Your Highness,” came the answer. 

“What?!!” Ardala cried out in indignation.  

“Our programming….” 

“Never mind!”  Ardala calmed quickly.  She wasn’t a programmer, so there was nothing she could do.  Her eyes narrowed in thought. She had to be careful of what she did and said if what she was thinking might possibly be true.  “At least move farther away from the bed,” she insisted.  “I assume I can order that.” 

Nodding, the android moved back a few more feet, but that was all.  She lay on her bed, satin covered pillows surrounding her, luxurious, shimmering flis cloth hanging from a jewel encrusted canopy.  And she wondered why she was so upset about Tigerman’s removal as her personal bodyguard-- other than the idea that Kane had scored another point in his groveling one-upmanship game.   Kane was right, she had ordered the Rrilling’s destruction at one time, thought to herself to do it several other times, too.  In the past, she had thought Tigerman a pest, a hulking, silent, obtrusive bother.  But lately?    Lately, in light of her ignominious disgrace at the hands of Buck Rogers, along with the almost downfall of her father’s empire, Tigerman had stayed loyal.  Even when he had laid hands on her to save Buck, she had begun to understand and had blocked any attempts to do more than punitively punish the bodyguard.  He had stayed with her, even though he could have been forfeiting his life.  And there had been something in that loyalty that had broken through her anger.  So Tigerman had only been banished to hard labor for a space of some months and then had returned.  

There was no question as to his devotion and to his ability to sense her moods as well.  He seemed to share her dislike of Kane as well, especially of late.  Could that have been a reaction of his catlike instincts?  Kane seemed more intense, more impatient of late.  He had also seemed more—what? – sneaky?  More furtive. Was he simply trying harder to get into Father’s good graces or was there something more? 

That little trip through the vortex, her time with Selena, the War Witch, had taught Ardala a valuable, if not painful, lesson.  She was not all-powerful, she could not command and have all her wishes and whims granted.  She couldn’t have Buck Rogers for the asking, or the commanding. She couldn’t demand his love.  Some things came after working for them, including respect.  She remembered her parting from Buck the previous year.  She saw in his eyes that respect.  He didn’t love her, but he respected her and that meant a great deal to her now.  And Tigerman, for all his primitive brutishness would give his life for her.  

Ardala felt her anger kindling anew.  If she knew where Tigerman was, she would ask Buck to help her find and free her slave, but the terran was off gallivanting across the galaxy looking for human colonies or some such falderal with that insipid Wilma Deering.   Sitting up, Ardala felt a sense of renewed determination. She would have to find Tigerman herself.  Jumping up from her bed, she clapped her hands. “I want all of my attendants. Now!” she called out.  

Within five minutes, a dozen women and one man were standing in attentive anticipation in front of her.  One of the women bowed, “Your orders, Princess?” 

“I want to be made ready for a trip to the capital,” she declared. 

“When do you wish to leave, Your Highness?” 

“Now,” Ardala replied tersely.  

As if on cue the communicator chimed.  The blinking red light told Ardala that it was from her father.  With a smile of satisfaction, she walked over to the console and pressed the receive button.  A holographic image of her father, King Dracos, formed and grew on top of the console. The image began to speak even before the figure coalesced.  “Ardala, my youngest and most promising, there have been no more of those attempts on your life?” 

Ardala bowed slightly.  “No, Father.”  She hesitated, wondering whether to ask him about Tigerman now or later.  Later, she thought.  Better in person. 

“Wonderful, wonderful!”  He drew himself up and peered meaningfully at her.  “I want your presence at the palace tonight.  I have an important announcement to make.” 

“Announcement?” she repeated.  Surely there was nothing wrong with her father’s health.  “May I inquire as to why, Father?” 

Draco laughed.  “You may, but it’s a surprise and I won’t tell you until you are here tonight.  Now don’t disappoint me, Ardala.  I expect you and Counselor Kane an hour before sunset.” 

Before Ardala could say a thing, her father had disappeared from the console.  She frowned.  What kind of surprise could he have in mind, she wondered.  She sighed and mentally shrugged.  No use worrying about it now.  There were any number of reasons that Father would have for having a ‘surprise announcement,’ most of them quite devious. 

With the help of her attendants, she was dressed and ready within two hours, her hair coifed so that it hung in luxurious waves down her bare back.  Her jeweled two-piece gown glittered enough to pull people’s attention to her body, but not quite enough to overwhelm.  The beaded strings that made up her skirt rhythmically caressed her thighs as she walked toward her door.   Kane was just outside when the door opened and they walked together to the small private spaceport in silence, the androids several paces behind.  

As they entered the small space yacht, Kane finally spoke.  “When he called me, your father seemed very pleased about something.”  

Kane looked a bit smug, but still somewhat puzzled.  Ardala was not about to reveal any hints that she had no idea what her father was planning.  “Father always looks smug when he makes an announcement,” she replied evenly.  Somehow, though, Ardala felt she would not like the outcome of that announcement.  Father had been very adamant that she marry, and he had not been pleased with her refusals of late.  

As she relaxed in the smallish but sumptuous cabin, she glanced at Kane.  He still looked slightly pleased about something and Ardala began to wonder if possibly this might have something to do with her suspicions.  He looked toward her, nodded and she smiled quickly and then looked toward a servant. “A drink,” she ordered.  And thus the trip went, with her pointedly ignoring Kane, who occasionally tried to engage her in conversation.  When they arrived at the royal palace, her father’s guards met them, a phalanx of hulking Draconians selected for their physical builds and military prowess.  Tall, formidable and inscrutable, their body armor gleaming coldly, their demeanor serious.  The guards fell in, ahead, behind and to each side of them, all the way to the banquet hall.  The sound of their body armor seemed to fall in cadence with the soft clicking of her beaded skirt.  

“Ah, my youngest and most beautiful daughter,” Draco boomed from his place at the head table, slightly elevated from the rest.  “You are safely arrived.” 

She walked up to him, past her slightly frowning sisters and their fawning husbands.  It gave her a momentary thrill of pleasure when her father praised her in front of them.  That he did so even after the events of the past two years made her pleasure even more enjoyable.  Taking his hand, she touched it to her forehead in the formal royal greeting.  “My thanks, Father,” she responded demurely.  

“Relax, Ardala.  You, too, Kane.”

Ardala sat near his right hand where a servant indicated.  Kane sat further down on the head table.

“Enjoy yourselves,” Draco said, his dark face creased in a smile.  He was obviously following his own advice, as indicated by his plate. 

A servant set a sumptuously heaped plate in front of her while another poured wine into a golden, jewel encrusted goblet.  Ardala only nibbled at the food and sipped the wine.  Dancers cavorted in front of them, muscles glistening with the light sheen of perfumed oil.  The jewel encrusted walls winked and flashed from the pseudo torchlights.  At any other time such splendor and gaiety would have impressed and pleased her, but right now Ardala was anxious about her father’s announcement.  

Finally when many of the guests were sated with food and drink, the king clapped his hands together.  The dancers and musicians prostrated themselves and then dashed out of the room.  Draco stood up.  “Ardala, my youngest and most beautiful,” he began.   

Ardala found the repeated use of the same honorific in the same session a bit of an ominous sign and she sat up attentively.  Her sisters looked a bit sour but tried to show a noncommittal countenance.  

“Too long have you deprived me of grandchildren worthy of my heritage.”  There were looks of curiosity.  “And in light of the horrific attacks on your person and the devoted and dedicated service of my most noble counselor, Kane, I have decided to name Kane as your royal consort with an official wedding to be held in three months.” 

Ardala sat in stunned silence. While not totally surprised, she was nevertheless shocked.  Kane was smiling broadly, several of her sisters, who knew of her antipathy toward the terran turned Draconian counselor, smirked openly.   She had always been afraid that her father would force her into a marriage against her wishes, to someone she detested, but this?  That was the reason she had so actively tried to, first court, then force Buck Rogers to marry her.  At least Buck had been attractive, had not been ambitious enough to threaten the throne and was fun to be with, in his own quirky way, but now?  Her father had openly called her bluff, figuring that she would not defy him in such a setting.   Anger began to override the shock; a fiery hot, righteous anger that threatened to overwhelm her.  She rose to her feet and took a deep breath.  Even if this meant disfavor, she would not accept this marriage.  Not to Kane.  She felt the heat of unshed tears, the trembling of her chin and she took another breath to control herself.  Drawing herself up to her full height, she gazed directly into her father’s eyes and said, “Most illustrious and august Father.  I refuse the offer of Kane as my consort and my husband.” 

Now it was Draco’s turn to look stunned.  Finally—“What?!!” he cried out.  “You refuse my most gracious offer?  Knowing that this is the only way to inherit my throne?  Kane has saved your life, protected you from assassination.  He professes his love for you.” 

“Love?” she snorted.  “I think it is love for the throne of Draconia.  But regardless, I will not wed this boot licking, conniving burrow wog!”  It was getting harder and harder to maintain control, but with a great deal of effort, Ardala reined in her emotions.  “I thank you for your concern for my welfare and safety, but if it is a choice between marrying Kane to ascend to the throne and not to ascend to the throne, I will give up the throne.”  And with that Ardala turned and left the room, followed by the dutiful androids.

 

 

Chapter Twelve
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