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Love and Honour

By Andrew Kearley
Page 3 of 8

Once back inside the palace, Relda had led Zeeona back to her own quarters. Zeeona looked around in puzzlement as her nurse gently pushed her through the door into the room. "What is going on?" she asked. "Where is the meeting of administrators?"

      "There is no meeting," said Relda. "Didn't you realize that? It was just an excuse to get you out of the garden. I thought you realised that."

      "But why?" Zeeona demanded.

      "So you did not have to speak to the stranger of course," Relda replied. "I could see it in his eyes. He has unsuitable designs upon you."

      "You're being ridiculous," said Zeeona. "I was only talking to him. He is the guest of my father."

      "And he has made an impression upon you. Do not forget, little one. I know you better than you know yourself."

      "And why should I not talk to him?" Zeeona asked. "He is the guest of my father. It is my duty to be polite to him."

      "Polite, perhaps," said Relda. "But not to encourage him. Remember it is my duty to protect you. I have sworn oaths, both to you and to your father. I must abide by those. Your father would not be pleased if he thought that you were becoming involved with the stranger."

      "Don't be silly. I hardly know him."

      "But you would like to know him better, wouldn't you?" said Relda.

      Zeeona looked away. She could not meet her nurse's gaze.

      Relda laughed softly, but it was a gentle laugh, a caring reassuring laugh. "Do not fret, little one. I know you. I've spent my life looking after you. Do you think that I haven't come to understand you during this time?"

      "What will you do?" asked Zeeona. "Will you tell my father?"

      "No," said Relda. "Not if it stops now. I only took you away so that your father would have no chance to become displeased. It is not my desire to make your father unhappy. If I told him, I would be certain to do that."

      "Thank you, Relda. You're right. I must not upset my father's plans."

      Zeeona moved towards her nurse, and embraced her. She felt Relda's arms hug her closely. Her nurse was the person she loved most. Throughout her life, Relda was the only person who had given her love. Zeeona had not known her mother. Her father held her in honour, for he was bound by the oath of parenthood that he had sworn over her crib; yet most of the time, Zukan was too busy about his own affairs to be bothered with her.

      But one thing her father was concerned about was her future. Relda was right. Zukan would not approve of any involvement with Tarrant. Her father had definite plans for her.

      

Avon walked into the room. Tarrant was sitting on the end of the uncomfortable bed, and looked up. "Did Zukan agree?" he asked.

      "Not yet," replied Avon. "He's being difficult. He doesn't believe that he needs the other planets."

      "He does have a strong position in the sector compared to them," Tarrant pointed out.

      "It's nothing compared to the Federation," said Avon. "Zukan must realize that. It's just his vanity that makes him think he's invincible."

      "You must feel right at home with him, then."

      Avon ignored the comment. "At least he's concerned about Pylene 50," he went on. "Enough to be interested in the antitoxin. He wants to show us his laboratories tomorrow. They seemed to be quite skilled at biochemical synthesis here."

      "Do you think he'll agree to produce the antitoxin?"

      "I don't know. We still need a large source of the necessary raw materials. Even if we can get that, and Zukan agrees to produce the antitoxin, we'll still have the problem of distribution."

      "The other worlds have the equipment to handle that," said Tarrant.

      "But that may be no good if only Zukan has the antitoxin. He could use it to hold the other warlords to ransom, and that sort of infighting will get the independent worlds nowhere. They need to be united, and to have the right leader. Zukan is someone they all respect, because they all fear him. He could inspire them to stand together against the Federation."

      "And if he doesn't agree?" asked Tarrant.

      "Well, we'll just have to ensure he does agree. There isn't anyone else who could lead the alliance as effectively as Zukan."

      "Perhaps we can bring other pressures to bear upon him," Tarrant suggested.

      "What do you mean?" asked Avon.

      "I was talking to his daughter today."

      "Yes, I thought you might have."

      "She might be more willing to listen," Tarrant went on. "Perhaps she could talk to Zukan and persuade him for us."

      "Stay away from her, Tarrant."

      "What do you mean?"

      "I don't want to antagonize Zukan. If he thinks you're making a pass at his daughter, he might send us away and call the whole thing off. They place a high value on family honour here."

      

Zeeona pushed open the door of her father's private quarters. She discovered that the shutters were closed, and the room partially shrouded in darkness. Shadows shimmered on the walls, thrown by the flickering light of candles that burned in the shrine. The air was heavy with incense.

      Zukan was kneeling before the shrine, his arms raised in prayer. Zeeona hovered uncertainly by the door. She did not want to disturb him. Prayer was a private and intimate affair.

      Zukan lowered his arms and looked around. Seeing Zeeona, he got to his feet. "My daughter," he said. "I did not know we were to speak today."

      Zeeona shook her head. Usually she had to make an appointment to see her own father. "I wanted to talk to you," she said.

      "About what?"

      "These new visitors," replied Zeeona. "Tell me about them."

      Zukan shrugged. "There is little to tell. They represent a group of outlaws."

      "Outlaws?" Zeeona repeated. "They do not seem it."

      "They are fugitives from the justice of the Federation. They have some notion of forming the unaligned worlds together into an alliance. Can you imagine that? Betafarl joined in friendship with Lovas and Tarl? I have never heard anything more ridiculous."

      "Why would they make such a suggestion?" asked Zeeona. "They must know what a proud race we are. Surely they would realize that we could not join with our enemies."

      "They believe that unity is essential to combating the Federation," explained Zukan.

      "We have stood against the Federation for a long time."

      "Yes. Their territorial ambitions might once have threatened us, but since the Intergalactic War, they do not have the military capability to invade this sector."

      "It seems odd that these people would come all this way if they thought the cause was futile," said Zeeona. "I do not think they are fools. The one called Avon seems intelligent and devious. The one called Tarrant is brave and heroic, but he is not naive."

      "Avon brought tales of some new drug the Federation are using. It saps the will of any who might try to resist them. It is not an honourable path to conquest."

      "The Federation is far from honourable," said Zeeona.

      "Yes," agreed Zukan. "That is to their disadvantage. But if Avon is correct about this drug, it may give them a power over us which we cannot fight."

      Zeeona shook her head in wonder. "It would be a cruel and terrible thing to remove from Betafarlians their will to fight. The conquest of the planet would be bad enough, but at least if our spirits were intact we would still be Betafarlians. We would have something to fight for. If the desire to fight is gone, we would have nothing. It would be the end of us."

      "Yes," said Zukan. "I have asked the warrior gods for guidance. I need wisdom to make a decision in this matter."

      "Even if an alliance was to be formed, what good would it do against the evil of the Federation?"

      "Avon claims there is an antitoxin that gives immunity from the drug. He has the formula to make it. The other worlds could distribute it to their colonies and dependants. But they do not have the raw materials, nor the means to make it."

      Zeeona thought for a moment. "It would perhaps be possible to synthesize it. Given the formula, we could use some kind of neutron bombardment to convert a similar material."

      "I have already considered it," said Zukan. "I spoke to my chief scientists. They think it might be possible. The neutron technology we already have might be able to perform this task. I am going to show Avon the laboratory tomorrow. It may be suitable for his purposes."

      Zeeona felt that this would be a more suitable use to which to put the equipment. At the moment, the laboratory was experimenting with the creation of airborne radioactive viruses. Zeeona was unhappy about such research. She hated its potential for death and destruction. And as a weapon, it was dishonourable. Her father might desire to keep up with such technology, but to employ it in combat was to betray the oaths of the warrior.

      However, using the equipment to defeat a dishonourable aggressor was another matter. Please gods, she thought, let my father be convinced to work with the strangers. She asked, "Will you agree then to form the alliance?"

      "I do not know," Zukan replied. "I shall wait for inspiration from the gods." He moved away from the shrine, and threw open the shutters, flooding the room with light. "I believe I am in a strong position," he added. "No alliance could succeed without me. Avon and his band of rebels do not have the power to inspire a movement against the Federation."

      "Tell me about this band."

      "I know little. They have a small base hidden on an uncharted planet, and they have some advanced technology at their disposal. But they are few in number. They have no battle fleets, and no major weaponry. They carry out small scale terrorist attacks - mere pinpricks against the Federation. Once they had a leader, a man called Blake. He possibly might have led an alliance. His name became almost a legend. But he is dead now. Avon knows that I am the only available alternative. Only I am respected and feared enough to unite the worlds of this sector."

      "Then you must do it, father. Surely the Federation cannot be allowed to perpetrate their evil upon us. Even Lovas and Tarl should be spared that. They are your adversaries - they may be weak, and easily defeated, but you are bound to them by the honour of combat. You should not let them fall to a dishonourable enemy."

      Zukan paused to consider this. He knew that his daughter was right. By fighting him, his enemies had honoured him. There existed no oaths between them, he was not bound by religious and cultural ties, as he was to all his Betafarlian subjects. And yet, he honoured his adversaries for the fight they had given him. How could he call himself a warrior if he sat back and watched as a dishonourable force destroyed them?

      He shook his head briefly to clear it of such thoughts. His first duty was to Betafarl. He could protect his people from the Federation, and from Pylene 50. They could not fight against it. Avon's proposed alliance was ill considered. Why should he join with weaklings and be forced to protect them as well? There was a much simpler way to protect Betafarl. He had made up his mind a long time ago. It was the only honourable course.

      Zukan turned back to Zeeona. "You know that I have long been concerned about my standing in this part of the galaxy. Long before this alliance was suggested, I had plans to alter the status of Betafarl. I do not want to be seen as a pirate forever. But Lovas and Tarl will never see me any other way. I must therefore forge links with other sectors, places where Betafarl is not feared, but recognized as a major power. I will call upon you to play your part in that."

      Zeeona sighed. "Yes, father. I am ready."

      "The planet Lardall in Sector 10 is not part of the Federation. It is the major power in that area. I have been corresponding with its President. He may seek closer ties with us. In that case, I shall need a marriage to cement the union."

      "I understand, father," answered Zeeona. "I will do your bidding."

      


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