Sol 2781 – Preview of First Chapter
Sol 2781 is set in the Portal Future, and is the sequel to the shorter Hera 2781. The full novella-length story will hopefully be published around the end of January 2021. You may want to read/reread Hera 2781 before reading this.
Sol 2781 is set eight years before the Earth Girl trilogy. It features Drago Tell Dramis as a newly qualified fighter pilot who still has a lot to learn about many things, especially his own relatives.
It was two days after I’d been injured during the comet blockade that saved the colony world Hera from destruction. I’d regained consciousness about an hour ago, and discovered I was sharing a room with Major Jaxon Tell Galad at the Military Headquarters Medical Centre on the planet Academy in Alpha sector. Jaxon was my fighter team leader, second cousin, and oldest friend. The two of us were planning how best to deal with the consequences of our actions at Hera, when the formidable figure of General Dragon Tell Dramis strode into the room.
All three of us were closely related members of the same Betan Military clan, so it would have been reasonable to assume this was an informal family visit. General Tell Dramis was the Iron Man of Sobek though, legendary throughout the Military for expecting impossibly high standards of behaviour, so neither Jaxon nor I were going to take any risks.
Jaxon jumped up from where he was sitting on the edge of his medical bed, and gave a left-handed salute since he had a bulky regrowth unit on his injured right arm. I couldn’t get up from my own medical bed, because both of my legs were encased in even bulkier regrowth units. I settled for adjusting the controls of my medical bed so I was sitting closer to upright, and then giving an especially snappy right-handed salute.
The General followed protocol by nodding an acknowledgement to Jaxon first as the higher-ranked officer. Jaxon had gone through a bad patch in his teenage years, which had earned him the General’s lingering displeasure. I’d expected the events at Hera to outweigh past offences, but the General still gazed at Jaxon with the warmth of an iceberg on the permanently frozen world of Winter in Gamma sector.
“Commander Jaxon Tell Galad, congratulations on being promoted for your heroic actions saving the Alphan colony world, Hera, from destruction.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Jaxon nervously, “but I’ve requested my promotion to be held pending. I’ve only been a fighter team leader for a couple of months, and need to gain more experience before taking on the duties of a Commander.”
General Tell Dramis shook his head. “Hera Command has overridden that request and has approved your promotion effective immediately.”
Jaxon’s expression changed from nervous to horrified. “But the comet blockade only ended two days ago. My promotion can’t have gone through channels yet.”
“You were given a field promotion to avoid the standard delays.” The General didn’t wait for Jaxon to reply, just turned to nod at me. “Major Drago Tell Dramis, congratulations on being promoted for your heroic actions saving the Alphan colony world, Hera, from destruction. I also need to congratulate you on your appointment as Commander Tell Galad’s deputy team leader.”
The General had spoken to me with grudging approval only a few weeks ago, when I finished my fighter pilot training with the highest training scores of any pilot in the last ten years. This time he didn’t just sound approving but shocked me with the first genuine smile I’d had from him in years.
“Thank you, sir,” I said, “but I’ve only been promoted from Lieutenant to Captain, and I intend to decline the deputy team leader appointment due to my total lack of experience.”
“You will gain experience while filling the deputy team leader position,” said the General, “and Hera Command has overridden your promotion from Lieutenant to Captain as effectively meaningless. Lieutenant is merely an interim rank to denote graduates of the Military Academy during their six-month active service acclimatization period. You would have been automatically promoted to Captain within a few months anyway, so Hera Command has given you an immediate field promotion to Major.”
I had personal reasons for wanting to avoid any rewards for my actions at Hera. It would have been bad enough being promoted to Captain, but now I was a Major. I was still trying to think of a comment that didn’t include the word nuke or any other swearing when the General continued speaking.
“I’m here as your relative rather than your superior officer though.”
I made the mental switch between Military and family conversations. “Yes, Father,” I said gloomily.
“We should be celebrating your achievements by speaking as proud members of the greatest Betan Military clan,” Father continued.
I winced. That comment meant we were about to abandon the common tongue spoken by all of humanity and attempt to have a conversation in the Betan dialect specific to the two hundred and three colony worlds in Beta sector. That was going to be extremely awkward. I’d spent too much of my life on Military bases outside Beta sector, interacting with non-Betans, to be confident of even the basic dialect terms for describing family relationships.
I was deeply thankful to hear a melodic voice speak from the doorway. “Remember our agreement, Dragon. I never speak Alphan dialect in front of you, and you never speak Betan dialect in front of me.”
I turned to smile at a stunningly lovely woman, who had jet-black hair trailing past the shoulders of her shimmering silver dress. That wasn’t one of Mother’s extravagantly dramatic concert costumes but one of the dresses she wore for interviews. She’d probably come straight to the Medical Centre after doing a live link appearance for one of the newzie channels.
“Thank you for visiting us, Mother,” I said.
Jaxon’s brain was obviously stuck in the transition between Language and Betan dialect, because he smiled at my mother and said a word by word translation of the appropriate Betan dialect greeting. “Felicity and good health, paternal cousin-aunt by duo marriage, Madrigal.”
Mother laughed. “As my agent constantly says, people should never address me as anything other than the single word, Madrigal.”
She swept up to my bed, studied my face for a moment, and then kissed my cheek. “My children are the sole exception to that rule. Drago, I’ve just been speaking to your lead doctor. She tells me that she hasn’t discussed your treatment plan with you yet. Would you like me to get her to talk to you now, or should I just give you a summary myself?”
I’d been injured a few times over the years, and always hated hearing doctors give clinical descriptions of what was wrong with my body. “I’d prefer you to summarize it for me, Mother.”
“I’ve already messaged Jaxon’s parents in Kappa sector to reassure them that his arm injury is perfectly straightforward,” said Mother. “Your leg injuries are severe enough that you’d normally have been put into a full body regrowth tank. Unfortunately, all the major Military Medical Centres in Alpha sector were overloaded with fighter pilot casualties after Hera.”
I remembered how our fighter team had arrived at Hera, and seen a massive wave of damaged fighters heading for the Hera orbital portal. “A lot of pilots would have been injured flying through the comet debris field.”
“Yes, and some of those injuries were extremely severe.” Mother spoke with the calmness of someone who’d been coping with my father’s injuries for two and a half decades. “Those with injuries to code red critical body organs had to take priority for the limited number of full body regrowth tanks available. Most officers with straightforward impact injuries to limbs were portalled over to civilian hospitals for treatment. You and Jaxon needed to be treated by specialist doctors here at the Military Headquarters Medical Centre though, because you had minor energy flash injuries from your fighter self-destructing.”
She paused. “Dr Mandanna says that your legs are progressing well in the small regrowth units, but a full body regrowth tank has just become available. Would you like to be transferred into that for the last three days of healing?”
I’d visited my father on a couple of occasions when he was floating unconscious in a full body regrowth tank, and found the experience deeply unnerving. I’d absolutely no desire to go into a tank myself. “I’d rather continue with these small regrowth units.”
“Are you sure?” asked Mother. “You’re obviously in considerable pain.”
I shook my head. “I haven’t been in any pain at all since I ejected from my fighter and the piece of comet debris hit my legs. I passed out as Jaxon was rescuing me, was kept sedated until an hour or two ago, and whatever pain medication I’ve been given is still working perfectly.”
“There’s a difference between not being in pain and having your pain blocked by medication,” said Mother. “I can see that difference in your strained expression. If you change your mind at any point, then you just need to tell your doctors.”
She paused. “I decided not to bring your sisters on this visit. I feel they’re too young to understand how and why you and Jaxon were injured.”
I nodded my agreement. I’d been born when my father was a mere Colonel, and my mother was just beginning her career as a composer. I had the impression they’d planned to have at least one more child back then, but my father salvaged a disastrous situation on the world that was later named Sobek, my mother composed the famous Thetis March, and their lives and plans changed forever. When I reached the age of ten years old without having any younger siblings, I’d assumed I’d remain an only child for the rest of my life. When I was seventeen, my head filled with my plans to attend the Military Academy, I’d been shocked to learn that I would soon become an older brother.
“I still think that visiting Drago and the other injured officers would have been an excellent learning opportunity for Dracia and Persephone,” said Father.
The massive age difference between myself and my sisters meant that I often felt more like their uncle than their older brother. I was confident of one thing though. Whether I was brother or uncle, I would do everything possible to protect Dracia and Persephone from the unreasonable expectations of the Iron Man of Sobek.
“Mother is right,” I said firmly. “Dracia is only three years old, and Persephone barely two. That’s far too young for them to be dragged around a Medical Centre packed with injured Military officers.”
Father spoke in the grandiose manner he used whenever he was lecturing me about my faults. “Your sisters are Military Honour Children, born to carry the names and honour of my parents, Draco and Persephone, down through the generations.”
I’d never dared to say this aloud to my father, but the vague memories I had of my grandfather, combined with the stories I’d heard about him, made me feel the whole idea of having an Honour Child to carry his name was a bit strange. In fact, I was faintly surprised that the Military had agreed to it, but I supposed that nobody felt like arguing the point with my father.
“Military Honour Children are never too young to begin learning about their responsibilities and the sacrifices they’ll be expected to make in their own Military careers,” Father continued.
Jaxon reacted to the Honour Children comments by grimacing, dragging one of the sheets from his medical bed, and winding it around himself, Betan toga style, to cover his hospital gown.
“One of my fighter team members, Captain Ramon, is in a room down the corridor,” he said. “I shall leave you to talk in peace while I check on his recovery.”
I gave Jaxon a sympathetic look as he walked out of the door. I knew exactly why he found references to Honour Children painful. Jaxon’s grandmother, my great-aunt Colonel Jarra Tell Morrath, was killed in action in 2769. Jaxon’s parents had planned to have an Honour Child for her, but everything had ended in disaster.
When the baby was due to be born, Jaxon’s father was on a Planet First assignment as an emergency replacement commanding officer, but Jaxon and his sister, Gemelle, were at a Military base in Kappa sector with their mother. They’d all been joyfully looking forward to the arrival of the new baby, when there was a freak accident. Jaxon’s mother was injured, and the baby Jarra died minutes after being born.
I was at the Tell clan hall on Zeus with my parents when the head of our clan council announced the shocking news of Jarra’s birth and death. That was back in August 2771, when I was a little over eleven and a half, Gemelle was twelve, and Jaxon was thirteen and a half. We were all below the crucial age of fourteen, so not involved in the formal exchanges of messages of condolence. Jaxon wasn’t just my second cousin though, but my closest friend, so I naturally sent personal messages of sympathy to him and Gemelle.
I got the briefest possible response from Gemelle, and nothing at all from Jaxon. They both stayed in Kappa sector with their parents to hold Jarra’s funeral, and didn’t come back to Zeus for the brief memorial service at the clan hall. In fact, I didn’t see Jaxon or Gemelle again until the following Year End holiday. They were understandably subdued during the first celebrations, but Jaxon took part in the main Year End party with an odd, feverish determination, only to suddenly walk out as midnight approached.
I’d made the mistake of chasing after him, saying some well-intentioned words about needing to move on from the past, and trying to drag him back to the party to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. I’d been shocked when Jaxon pushed me away and yelled at me in a savage voice.
“How can I celebrate a future that doesn’t include my baby sister?”
That was the moment when I realized it wasn’t just baby Jarra who had died on that Military base in Kappa sector. The carefree Jaxon who’d been my friend didn’t exist any longer. Instead, there was a withdrawn, sullen boy who suffered from occasional wild spells of anger and depression. I’d done my best to keep our old friendship going, but for the next few years my father had been assigned to the Military Headquarters in Alpha sector, while Jaxon was living with his family on a succession of different bases in Kappa sector. Whenever we were both at the clan hall, Jaxon seemed to be actively avoiding me, and he rarely replied to my messages.
Jaxon finally returned to a semblance of his old self only weeks before he officially signed up for the Military and went to start his training at the Military Academy. I’d hoped that we’d be regularly meeting up after that, since the Military Headquarters and the Military Academy were both on the planet Academy, but Jaxon only sent me a handful of messages that were mostly stilted explanations of how busy he was.
Two years later, I moved from attending Military school to attending the Military Academy myself, and ended up in the same class as Gemelle. About six months before graduation, I fell in love with her, and deliberately destroyed her relationship with her boyfriend in an unspeakably selfish attempt to make her have a relationship with me instead.
After graduation, I moved on to my specialized fighter pilot training oppressed by guilt. The situation between Jaxon and me went into a weird reversal, where I was the one avoiding his calls, and Jaxon’s discovery of my past behaviour had soured my arrival on his team as a new recruit.
Now Hera had given me the chance to redeem myself for my past behaviour, and Gemelle had sent me a message of forgiveness. She’d added a few warnings about never making advances to her again, but by the Betan rules of Fidelis I could carry on with my life free from the burden of my past behaviour. I hoped that Jaxon and I would finally resume our old friendship, and …
Mother’s calm voice pulled me back to the present. “Dracia and Persephone may be Military Honour Children, but that doesn’t mean they’ll choose to join the Military themselves.”
“Of course they’ll choose to join the Military,” said Father impatiently. “They are descendants of humanity’s greatest ever hero, Tellon Blaze!”
I hastily rejoined the conversation. “Yes, but Tellon Blaze stated in our clan’s founding charter that no clan member should be pressured into joining the Military. Anyone choosing a civilian career has to be given every possible support and encouragement.”
It was impossible for my father to argue against the decrees of Tellon Blaze, so he just made a grumbling sound.
“I haven’t inherited any of Mother’s musical ability,” I continued, “so I actively chose to have a Military career. Dracia and Persephone may turn out to be the total opposite of me though.”
“Yes,” said Mother. “I will make any sacrifices necessary to help my children follow the path of their heart.”
The Iron Man of Sobek was oblivious to the pressures he put on his subordinates and his son, but fully aware that he was staggeringly lucky to be married to one of the most gifted and beautiful women in humanity. I was amused to see him visibly quail at the implied threat in Mother’s words and hastily surrender.
“Dracia and Persephone will naturally decide their own futures.” Father hastily changed the subject. “Drago, I’ll be leaving for Kappa sector tomorrow. I need to review some problems on one of the worlds that entered Colony Ten stage last year.”
I grimaced. However thoroughly the Planet First teams worked to make new worlds safe, there were always a few unexpected problems during the first years of the trial colonization period. The fact that Father was going to review this world’s situation meant it was in especially serious trouble. No world that had entered Colony Ten had officially reverted to Planet First stage since the days of Tellon Blaze and the chimera of Thetis. The Military sometimes used a compromise option of sending in a massive Planet First presence to “assist” with colonization though.
“I’m due to write the planetary anthem for Percival in Epsilon sector over the next month,” said Mother. “I was going to take the girls there tomorrow, and spend some time experiencing Percival’s ecology and its people’s lifestyle, but I think I should stay here in Alpha sector until you’re fully recovered, Drago.”
I knew the population of Percival would have been waiting at least five years for humanity’s greatest living composer to visit their world and put its essence into music, so I urgently shook my head. “There’s no need to change your plans, Mother. You can call me every day when you’re on Percival.”
Mother considered that for a moment. “Yes, and I’ll return at once if you have any problems.”
“We’ll both be returning to Alpha sector for the Hera medal ceremony anyway,” added Father. “That will obviously be held on Hera itself. Everyone involved in the comet blockade will be presented with special commemorative medals, and then the climax of the ceremony will be a vid sequence about the heroic actions of you and Jaxon. That will be followed by both of you being presented with the insignia of your new ranks and the Thetis medal!”
Father looked at me with delighted pride. For one deluded moment, I thought he was responding like any normal parent in this situation, but his next words showed he was still the same man who’d criticized me all through my childhood.
“Your first mission after completing your fighter pilot training, and you saved a colony world from destruction, earned a promotion to Major, and won the second-highest honour in the Military. You should be getting the Artemis rather the Thetis medal of course.”
That was typical of my father. Whatever I did, he always demanded more. Jaxon and I had saved an entire world from destruction, and Father had only thrown me a single sentence of praise before complaining that I should have won the Artemis rather than the Thetis. Now that Mother was here to protect me, I could risk telling him some bad news. Gemelle had already rewarded me for what I did at Hera by forgiving my past actions. I felt that I shouldn’t be rewarded for it with promotions and medals as well, so I intended to tell everyone that what happened at Hera hadn’t been heroism on my part but incompetence.
“I intend to refuse the Thetis medal, Father. I’ll be trying to refuse my promotion as well. I don’t deserve any rewards because my fighter collided with the comet core by total accident.”
Father took a second to absorb what I’d just said, then shouted my name in fury, and advanced on my bed while making a series of blood-curdling threats. I couldn’t run or defend myself with my legs in regrowth units, so there was a second where I was in even greater danger of death than I’d been at Hera, but then Mother stepped forward to protect me.
An instant later, a Military doctor ran into the room, and stared in shock at where the terrifying Iron Man of Sobek was looming aggressively over the famous composer, Madrigal.
“I heard someone call for assistance,” said the doctor. “Is something wrong?”
“My husband is trying to murder our son,” said Mother, “but you mustn’t worry about that. It happens all the time.”
Sol 2781 © 2020 Janet Edwards. All rights reserved.
Cover Design by The Cover Collection © Janet Edwards 2020