Love and HonourBy Andrew Kearley
Page 2 of 8
Avon looked up at Zukan, seated on a huge throne, which was mounted on
a dais. The purpose was clearly to make Zukan tower over all who
addressed him - rather unsubtle in Avon's opinion. Zukan was called
President of Betafarl, but he was not elected in any way, save by the
warriors of the planet affirming their allegiance to him. He was
little more than a feudal warlord - adopting the title President
simply to change the way outsiders saw
"So," Avon continued, "the Federation is expanding rapidly. Soon, they will have reconquered all their territories from before the Intergalactic War. After that, there will be nothing to stop them taking the rest of the independent planets."
"Betafarl has never succumbed to Federation aggression in the past," said Zukan. "There is no reason why it should do so in the future."
"Except that the Federation now have the advantage of Pylene 50," Avon countered. "And as I have already told you, there is no resistance against it. They can drug your watercourses, or introduce it into the air."
"These are not honourable tactics," said Zukan. "But I fail to see what can be done to defend against them."
"What I propose," began Avon, "is an alliance between the major unaligned planets. Only by standing together can you be strong enough to face the Federation."
"Betafarl has no need of allies," Zukan snapped.
"Well now, perhaps you'll just wave a battle axe at the Federation and wait for them to go away?"
Zukan's eyes blazed. "You underestimate Betafarl. It is the other worlds that are incapable of standing on their own. They cannot. They are weak. This proposed alliance would amount to little more than Betafarl defending her own enemies."
"It's a matter of common sense," said Avon. "If Lovas and Tarl were to fall, you would find yourself surrounded by the Federation on all sides. At least with the alliance, you buy yourself some time."
"Time for what?" snarled Zukan. "You say yourself there is no defence against the drug. Even in an alliance, what can we do when the Federation uses such craven strategies?"
"You can protect yourself against the drug. I have the formula for the antitoxin. What I do not have is the ability to mass produce or distribute it. An alliance of the unaligned worlds could produce it. By sharing it, you could all make yourselves immune to the drug. It would give you a chance against the Federation."
"Even if this were true," said Zukan, "the other worlds would not agree to an alliance. I know their leaders. They have lived in my shadow for too long, they fear me. They call me pirate and raider, in order to try and belittle me. They cannot accept that I have defeated them so often. Now, do you expect them to swallow their pride and join with me. In their position, I would not do so."
"You underestimate them," Avon replied. "They have come to recognize the need for an alliance. They know that they cannot stand alone against the Federation. But together they might have a chance. In the past few weeks, I have visited Lovas and Tarl, Komm and Hiril. Their rulers have agreed to attend a summit conference."
"So, they may form an alliance," said Zukan dismissively. "But without me, that alliance will be nothing. They will know that. You know that, otherwise you would not be here."
Avon's tone became more forceful. "Together the five of you can make a stand against the Federation's expansion. If one of you remains independent, then not only will he suffer, all five will be crushed."
"No," said Zukan. "If I choose to remain apart, it is the others who will be crushed. Give me the antitoxin formula, and Betafarl shall be safe. And perhaps I might consider aiding the other worlds, if suitable terms can be arranged."
Tarrant found himself amid strange, exotic fronds and flowers. The scents of the many alien plants were overwhelming, especially when mixed into this heady unnatural brew. He found that he could not remain standing in Zukan's garden for long. He had to retreat to its edges, and admire the dense mass of foliage from outside.
Once he was clear of the plants, Tarrant took a couple of deep breaths to clear his head. The intertwining scents of a hundred different blooms still lingered, but not so much as to be oppressive.
He turned around, thinking to perhaps go back into the palace. He stopped short when he saw a couple of figures approaching. Tarrant was partly hidden by the shade of a tree, and they did not seem to have noticed him. The first figure was Zeeona, and just behind her walked an older woman. As Tarrant understood, Zeeona's mother was dead, so he presumed her companion to be a servant of some kind.
Still they appeared not to have seen him. Zeeona stopped beside one of the more exotic plants. She knelt down and started to examine it. Then she said something to the older woman, who handed her a black case. From this, Zeeona removed a couple of scientific instruments, with which she started to work on the plant.
Tarrant took a step forward, and politely cleared his throat. "Good afternoon," he said.
Zeeona looked around with a sudden start. She recognized him, and a smile crept across her face. Then she cast her eyes downwards once more, and got slowly to her feet, brushing some dust and soil from her hands. "Tarrant," she said. "I did not hear you approaching."
"I was standing back there," Tarrant explained, gesturing towards the tree whose shade he had just left. "I was admiring the gardens."
"Yes," said Zeeona. Her gaze met his once more. "There is a beauty to them, even in their disarranged state. I do my best to tend for them."
"Zukan's daughter looks after the gardening?" Tarrant asked incredulously.
Zeeona smiled again. "There is no one else who understands. Many of these plants are not native to Betafarl. They are here as a symbol of my father's supremacy. But the soil here is unsuitable for many of the species. The nutrients are not available in the appropriate quantities. My father's gardeners are well skilled with Betafarlian native species, but these others fall outside their domain. I am trying to educate them, but I have to learn myself." She held out her instruments to show him. "I am studying the plants, their requirements for nutrients, water and sunlight. It is a slow process. I also collect samples of the plant DNA for analysis and experimentation."
"You seem to know a lot about it," Tarrant said.
"I am a biogenetic engineer," said Zeeona.
Tarrant eyes widened in surprise.
Zeeona stifled a laugh. "It was my father's idea that I should be well educated. Not just in social graces and etiquette, but in academic subjects. It was I who choose biogenetics as a discipline. I have always been fascinated by living things." She gestured at the garden. "All this is just a hobby, so that I can keep my hand in. There is not much for me to do with my skills here."
"I suppose there isn't much call for biogenetic work in this society."
For a moment, Zeeona's face hardened. "Do you think that we are a primitive society?" she asked. "We may still retain our feudalist system of government, but we have embraced technology. Space travel has been a reality for four centuries. We have kept up with all advances in engineering, medicine and the sciences. Do not judge us by our trappings."
"I'm sorry," said Tarrant.
Zeeona's smile returned, and her eyes looked into his. "What I meant is that, being Zukan's daughter, I do not have the opportunity to put my skills into practise. My place is here, in the palace, acting as hostess for my father. Since my mother died, he has only me to attend to the social graces."
Tarrant smiled in return. "Believe me," he said, "you are most graceful."
Zeeona dropped her eyes once more, but the smile remained. A little colour came to her cheeks.
Before either could say anything more, the older woman spoke up. "Zeeona, you must meet with representatives of the town administrators."
Zeeona turned to her in surprise. "I do not recall any such meeting being scheduled," she said.
"It was arranged by your father," replied the older woman. "He advised me to remind you when it was time."
"Are you sure?"
"It is my duty to you to know these things. We must come away now."
Zeeona turned back to Tarrant with a helpless smile. "It seems I must leave you now," she said. "Relda has been my nurse since I was a baby. She is always there to keep me in line."
"Perhaps I shall see you later," Tarrant said.
"I hope so," replied Zeeona. "We have many visitors, but I don't normally get to speak with them for long. It is my father they come to see." She turned away, and started to follow Relda back towards the palace.
Tarrant watched them until they had disappeared inside the building. He hoped he had made a good impression upon Zeeona. Even if it led nowhere romantic, making her acquaintance might prove useful if Avon had difficulty persuading her father. She could become their advocate in Zukan's camp.
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