Authors: Sunshine Somerville
A Kota Short
Copyright © 2015 Sunshine Somerville
All rights reserved.
The Kota Series
In Loving Memory of
and for anyone else struggling to find the light.
Table of Contents
Paris, Crow’s Region, Mainland-Euro
– ALERT: Unauthorized Streaming Video Upload
The room is dark. A wall of windows allows faint city light to stretch into the room, but the light only reaches far enough to reveal a skyscraper’s vacant office space.
A spotlight turns on to reveal a man in his late twenties sitting in a chair. His head is lowered so that his coat’s hood shields his face from the camera. He sits comfortably, his hands in his lap.
In a chair across from him sits a stylish woman with neon green hair. This is Kaytrine Elique, known rebel hacker-turned-reporter. A Euro woman who speaks only an illegal language, she wears a headset translating device. She also holds a paper notepad presumably filled with questions. With a smirk, she turns her head and looks into the camera.
Her headset translates in her own accented voice as she says, “We know we don’t have much time before this transmission is tracked by the monitors. And I have no doubt the Dominion is very interested to know the location of my guest tonight. His name is Vale Olander. Or as most of us know him, Beathabane. The Forgotten Son. The Tyrant Twin. So, without wasting any more time, let’s hear what my guest has to say.” She turns to the man in the chair. “Sir, thank you for agreeing to this interview.”
The man now lifts his hood from his head and pushes it back to reveal his face.
Kaytrine sucks in breath at the sight of him, but she regains her composure immediately. “I’m sorry, but you look exactly-”
“I know,” Beathabane tells her with a smile. “You’re not the first to have that reaction.” He glances at the camera nervously, then to the side, where he probably has a man positioned for security.
“I’ll get right to it,” Kaytrine tells him as she examines her notes. “Everyone knows the work you’ve been doing this past decade since…” She makes a face. “Since you came to the Mainland. You’ve helped scores of refugees. Saved hundreds of lives. But this is the first time you’ve agreed to publically speak out. Why is that?”
“I thought it was about time to show my pretty face,” Beathabane jokes. Then he takes a deep breath and sits up in his chair. “Like you say, people know the work I’ve done with my team. They’ve heard rumors about me, both from the Dominion and the rebels. I want my supporters to see my face and know for certain that I’m still alive. And I want those who distrust me to know that I’m not my twin. I want everyone to know that I’ll never stop working to make this world a better place for all of us. That’s all I want. People have no need to fear me. And I hope my example will prompt others to join us in this fight for what is right and just.”
Kaytrine taps her notepad. “As the first reporter you’ve been willing to speak to, I have to ask – what about your sister?”
Beathabane flinches in his seat, and his jaw tightens.
Kaytrine glances at the camera. “Everyone is wondering, you know. Your brother brought her into the Dominion not long after you came to the Mainland. Since then, she’s been learning to fight for the very things you’re fighting against. I have to wonder if that makes you view her as an enemy. And if not, how can you live with the fact that your sister is in the Dominion’s care? I would think, sir, that you’d do everything in your power to rescue her. Or am I wrong?”
Beathabane pauses in thought. Then he looks back at Kaytrine calmly to answer.
Vale knew he wasn’t his father’s favorite son. Knew – not suspected. There were downsides to being a telepath.
“He’s just like his mother,”
was a thought that often went through his father’s mind when he wasn’t pleased with Vale. Considering Vale remembered little of his mother but knew his father quite well, Vale chose to see this comparison as a compliment.
Sharing a room with his twin brother while they were children had been his father’s idea of making a man out of him. Vale had always been more interested in literature and philosophy; Cruelthor was drawn to war strategy and business. Both boys had thrilled their tutors with a natural aptitude for historical application, and Vale had many happy memories of touring historical sites while they’d been children on the Mainland-Euro. But their father wanted them to follow in his rule, and so they’d moved to the Northern Continent to live in the Capitol House and focus their studies on Dominion government.
Now eighteen, Vale had his own quarters. His study room was purposefully free of distractions, though all his rooms in the Capitol House were simple and clean. He’d always preferred to read out of paper books rather than a terminal screen, and three books lay open atop his oak desk now. He was studying the history of the DRK, an ancient virus that had nearly eliminated the human race before the original Dominion leader discovered a treatment.
It’s sick, thought Vale as he looked at ancient pictures of quarantined and infected citizens. This is the Dominion practice I disagree with most. We should give the DRK treatment to everyone, worldwide, and wipe out this virus once and for all. The Dominion has enough power without needing to use the virus as a weapon against our enemies. And the infected factors that roam the unsettled regions are dangerous if not put down. We should protect our citizens.
Vale got up from his desk and went to his door. Out in the second-story hall, he was immediately struck by the splendor of the Capitol House, the seat of power for the ruling Dominion leader, his father, Thurston Olander. A sparkling chandelier hung over the open room beyond the hall’s railing. Portraits of past Dominion rulers lined the hall, but Vale chose to watch his steps over the plush red carpet. When he reached the stairs, Vale looked out a window to see the green lawns of the garden, and the perfect fall day called to him.
I need a break from studying, he thought. Final exams or no, I’m going out.
The base of the stairs met the open room under the chandelier, and Vale heard his father’s voice shouting from an office not far away. Vale always knew who his father was talking to depending on his tone. A modicum of respect meant he was talking to his Elite governors or commanders. Complete distain meant he was addressing one of the Capitol House servants. Pride meant he was talking to Cruelthor. Barely veiled annoyance and anger meant he was talking to Vale.
Now, the Lord High Commander was shouting at Commander Rilen, which was abnormal. “Rilen, I don’t care how many men you sent! If they didn’t find her, send more!”
A door slammed.
Vale darted across the open room to a side door. Here, he entered a mud room with very un-Dominion, untidy piles of yard tools. Vale found his smelly running shoes tucked in a corner behind a bag of birdseed, and he quickly put them on before reaching for the exterior door.
Outside, he paused on the step and took in a breath of crisp fall air. He descended the steps and started jogging up the path that would lead deeper into the gardens. The lawn was pristine. The fountains were clean, not a stray leaf floating on their surfaces. The pebbled footpath he followed crunched under his feet, and the rhythmic sound of his steps brought him some comfort and familiarity. The cold breeze blowing into his hair and against his warming body felt wonderful.
Rounding a bend of tall bushes, however, Vale slowed his pace when he saw his brother playing a ballgame with some friends. The boys were all classmates from the Dominion Youth program. All were strapping physical specimens. All bore personality traits common to multiple-generation loyalists – they were arrogant, spoiled, unkind by learned behavior and habit.
“Beathabane!” his brother called. Cruelthor stopped play and waved Vale onto the field.
The other boys didn’t argue, but when they looked at Vale he felt waves of
radiate from their minds in equal measure.
“Hey, Beathabane,” said a muscular, dark-skinned young man a little shorter than Vale and Cruelthor’s height.
“Hi, Troubogaust,” Vale answered politely. He never argued their use of his father’s nickname for him. There would be no point. But in his own mind, he still thought of himself as Vale – the name his mother had given him.
“Play with us,” said Cruelthor.
“Oh, come on,” said Cruelthor with an I-can-win-you-over grin. He kicked Vale the ball. “Clearly you’re done studying if you came out here to run. Join us.”
Vale rolled the ball with his foot, testing the air pressure. He smiled. “Okay. But only until the first goal.”
The other boys were satisfied with this and returned to their positions on the field. Cruelthor gave Vale a playful shoulder slap, which was harder than it would’ve been a few years earlier…
While Vale was secretly a telepath, his twin brother had a very different skill set. Their father had had them tested when they turned ten to see if they carried mutate-genes, but only Cruelthor’s tests were positive. For the next few years, the talk of the land had focused on guessing what Cruelthor’s mutate-genetic abilities might turn out to be. Then came puberty, and Cruelthor’s mutate-genes had kicked in, enhancing his strength tenfold. It had been a dangerous time to be his younger twin, and Vale had been careful not to piss him off. Vale, meanwhile, developed the ability to hear other people’s thoughts, speak in their minds, and sense their feelings. This had been a complete surprise and freaked Vale out at first, but he was glad he could hide his gift and avoid the attention Cruelthor’s strength received from the public.
Vale kicked the ball to his brother, and together they raced for the other end of the field. Vale was faster – at least he had that. Cruelthor cut left around a defender, passed the ball to a teammate, and Vale ran into position to score.
Suddenly, a loud shout cut through the game’s commotion. “What in the name of the Twenty-Five Regions do you boys think you’re doing?”
Everyone stopped running and looked over to see Commander Guown, the Youth program’s History instructor, on the edge of the field. The big man stood with his arms crossed. He didn’t look pleased.
The whole herd of boys jogged off the field and scrambled to stand at attention before the commander.
Guown stroked his sandy mustache and let out a huff. His Euro accent grew thick with his anger. “Three days until final exams, and you knuckleheads think it’s a good time to play football? If every single one of you doesn’t get your butts back to your desks in the next half hour, I’m going to report to your fathers if you do not absolutely ace my section exams!” He raised an eyebrow at Vale in particular.
“You can’t afford to give your father room for criticism, lad,”
he thought, knowing Vale could hear his thoughts through a mind link Vale had created a long time ago. There were few people Vale fully trusted, but Guown was one of them.
Vale nodded slightly at his teacher.
Guown took a step into Cruelthor’s face. “Especially you! I expect you to be a better leader by now. Set an example, heir. Hop to!”
“Yes, sir!” Cruelthor saluted and turned to his friends. “You heard the commander!”
The boys took off in different directions across the gardens, each heading for their quarters. Vale jogged with his brother, matching him stride for stride.
“I’m going to gut that old man when we take over.” Cruelthor laughed.
Vale smiled, hoping his brother was kidding.
An hour later, Vale slipped out of his room and walked down the hall to his brother’s beautiful oak door. Knocking, Vale heard his brother think him inside.
He walked in to find Cruelthor not at his desk but sitting on his sofa. His feet rested on his coffee table. His hands worked a controller to the game console operating the holo-screen that covered the far wall. A live-action battle scene lit up this wall, and Cruelthor was running his avatar through a minefield while shooting bloodied, fungus-covered factor monsters infected with the DRK virus.
Vale shivered, never comfortable seeing factors even in holographic form.
“What’s up?” asked Cruelthor. He pointed to the other controller on the table. “Jump in.”
Vale sat on the sofa beside his twin and took the controller, activated his avatar, and started shooting the factors running toward them. “You finish studying?”
“Nope. Taking a break.”
“I figured.” Vale shot a factor about to bite into Cruelthor’s avatar.
“Thanks.” Cruelthor moved his whole body to help the controller do his bidding as his avatar ran around a corner. “You really think exams are going to be that hard?”
“Well, they’re our Youth finals, so yeah. For everyone else, the exams just mean getting assigned executive or operative status, so I guess I can see why Troubogaust doesn’t care. But you and I’ll be officially prepared to govern the Dominion after this. We’ll have to know our stuff to prove we’re not just coddled brats.”
Cruelthor scoffed. “We’re not coddled.”
You are, thought Vale. You don’t bother to study. You mouth off all the time. But no one yells at you. It’s not because they’re afraid of your strength either. They’re afraid of Dad. …Everyone’s afraid of Dad, lately.
Vale hit pause on his game. This was the real reason he’d come to see his brother. They were close – maybe not as close as twins were supposed to be, but they were close. If Vale was having concerns about their father, he was sure Cruelthor was too.
“Have you seen Dad today?” asked Vale. “He’s been really punchy.”
Cruelthor frowned but didn’t pause his game. “Yeah, he yelled at the cook this morning and called her Vedanleé. Accused her of trying to poison him. Weird.”
“Exactly. He’s been really weird the past few days. I heard some of the commanders talking. They think Dad is cursed. By…”
Cruelthor laughed. “Vedanleé? They really believe Mom cursed him?”
Vale nodded, slightly embarrassed. “You don’t think it’s possible? I mean, we studied our genealogy when we lived on the Mainland-Euro. All that with the Kota camp in the north… Those people were supposedly witches, Cruelthor. I once heard an Elite governor thinking that maybe Dad’s own grandmother cursed him a long time ago. We know Dad snapped and killed all of them once we were born, so maybe…”
Now Cruelthor paused the game and looked at him with mockery. “You and your head voodoo. Dad is cracking up, I’ll admit, but blaming it on magic is a little nuts.”
Vale looked down at the controller in his hands. “You’re not a little curious about Mom?”
“We haven’t seen her since we picked our noses, so who cares?”
“When I heard the commanders talking, they said something about Mom showing up a few days ago.”
“What? Why weren’t we told?”
“I don’t know. The commanders seemed really freaked out. Angry.” He looked at his brother. “They said she took a squadron of drone soldiers with her when she left. Why would Dad let her do that? And it was around then that Dad started acting so crazy. Maybe she really was here and…cursed him.”
Cruelthor thought a minute and made a face. “Or, maybe
poisoned him, not the cook. There’s always a reasonable explanation.”
Someone knocked on the door.
Cruelthor, annoyed, rolled his eyes and called, “Come in!”
A servant opened the door and bowed. “Sir, your father requests your presence for a private dinner.”
Cruelthor shut down the game and rose from the couch. “Alright, fine. I’m hungry anyway. Better not be duck again.”
Vale also stood.
“Uh,” the servant stammered. “Just Cruelthor. The Lord High Commander requested only Cruelthor for dinner.”
Not surprised, Vale turned to his brother and shrugged. “Guess I’ll finish studying.”
The next morning, one of Vale’s mind links woke him early. A feeling of
radiated into Vale’s mind, strong enough to make him open his eyes.
It was Commander Guown’s mind-voice he heard.
“You need to get to your father, lad. Quickly. He’s dying. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll be right there.”
He quickly went to his closet and dressed in clothes his father approved of. Then he hurried out his door.
Down on the main floor, servants stood in groups, whispering. A few commanders near his father’s wing of the Capitol House watched Vale as he trotted over.
“I thought Cruelthor already… Oh, that’s the other one.”
“The Lord High Commander was asking for trouble, dealing with that woman.”