Your Move, Drago
A Portal Future Short Story featuring Commander Drago Tell Dramis.
In the Portal Future, humanity uses interstellar portals to travel between twelve hundred colony worlds scattered across six sectors of space.
Your Move, Drago is set on the planet Academy in Alpha sector at the beginning of December 2789, and takes place after the events covered in the Earth Girl trilogy. The story should be spoiler free for new readers, while offering a glimpse of things to come for those who have already read the trilogy.
“Are you counting each individual hair on my head?” I asked.
The two grim-faced Military Security officers ignored me. They’d been waving scanners at my head for the last three minutes, but now they seemed to develop an intense interest in my feet.
I gazed at the ceiling of the corridor, down at the floor, and then frowned at the imposing door in front of me. I hadn’t been given any explanation of why I’d been ordered to come here, but I had an ominous feeling that it was something to do with another promotion. I was still adjusting to being a Commander, and had absolutely no wish to be promoted to full Colonel.
“He’s clean of weapons and surveillance equipment,” announced the female officer.
“He appears to be the real Commander Drago Tell Dramis.” The male officer seemed depressed about this.
“Does that mean I can go inside now?” I asked.
They exchanged glances, as if each hoping the other would find a reason to say no. The male officer gave a sorrowful sigh, and the female officer a resigned shrug.
“Of course, Commander,” they said in unison, gesturing at the door.
I straightened my dress uniform before placing my hand on the door plate. The door slid aside, I advanced into an entrance hall, and groaned as I saw another Military Security officer waiting for me.
“I’ve already been scanned for weapons, hidden explosives, and a disrespectful attitude,” I said.
“And you are about to be scanned again, Commander,” said the officer. “I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“What’s worrying me is that I was ordered to be here at 13:40 hours. All these scans have made me ten minutes late.”
“Relax, Commander. Your orders allowed for the delay going through security screening.”
I endured another round of scans before the officer spoke into the Military lookup on his left forearm. “Commander Drago Tell Dramis is here to see you, sir.”
“Send him in,” a voice replied.
There were three doors in this hallway, and they all looked identical. “Which door is it?” I asked.
The officer pointed behind me. I turned around, and blinked as I saw a fourth, previously invisible, door had appeared in the wall and was standing wide open. I supposed that the hidden door was an extra security measure designed to confuse intruders. Either that or Military Security officers had an evil sense of humour.
I walked through the open doorway, stopped, and blinked for the second time. My mental image of the private apartment of the commander-in-chief of the Military forces of humanity hadn’t included trees in pots, luxuriant lengths of flower-bedecked creepers climbing the walls, or a pool full of tiny, brightly coloured fish.
There was a laugh from somewhere to my left. “The garden always takes people by surprise.”
I looked around for the speaker, and saw the white-uniformed figure of General Marshal Renton Mai was standing by a section of plain grey wall. I walked over to join him and saluted.
The General Marshal didn’t return my salute, just smiled. “There’s no need to salute, Drago. We’re being informal here, and …”
He was interrupted by a musical chime, groaned, and turned to speak to the wall. “Room command window.”
A large window appeared in front of us, showing a view of a room where Military officers sat at desks lining the walls. I realized the Central Command Centre was just on the other side of what had to be a window made of one-way glass. The General Marshal’s attention didn’t seem to be on the window itself, but on the list of sector names on the wall next to it. These glowed reassuring green or amber, except for one that was flashing an urgent red.
The General Marshal pointed his finger at the list, and a bank of text appeared to scroll up the window. I’d barely had time to read the first sentence before the General Marshal grunted, waved his right hand, and both the text and the window vanished again.
“Yesterday was Founders Day on the planet Hestia,” he said. “The two political factions are forced to put on an act of peaceful cooperation during the celebrations, because public opinion would come down heavily against anyone who was disrespectful during the roll call of the Military who died to make the planet safe for colonization. There’s always an outbreak of violent demonstrations the next day though.”
He shrugged. “General Mendez will flag the situation again if it escalates, or to be more realistic, when it escalates. In the meantime, let’s sit down and continue our conversation.”
The General Marshal led the way across to where two chairs and a chess table were positioned next to the fish pool. The chairs were standard, cushform seats, but the battered chess table awakened old memories.
The General Marshal and I sat down. The familiar hand-carved chess pieces were placed ready for a new game, and two small glasses of blue liquid were standing at the side of the table. The General Marshal picked one up and hesitated.
“I assumed you’d still enjoy drinking Demeter glowberry juice, Drago, but perhaps you’d prefer something else.”
I hadn’t drunk Demeter glowberry juice for eight years. It wasn’t a popular drink anywhere other than on the planet Demeter itself, because it took time to adjust to the strong taste that somehow changed from sour to sweet as you sipped it.
“I’d enjoy a glass of Demeter glowberry juice, sir.”
The General Marshal handed me the glass. “I told you that we were being informal here, Drago. You should be calling me Renton.”
I took a sip from my glass, and grimaced at the bitter taste. “With respect, sir, I’m not entirely comfortable calling you by your first name.”
He seemed amused. “You didn’t have a problem with it when we played chess in 2781.”
I pulled a face. “You were only a General back then, sir. My father is a General, and so are several other members of my clan, so I’m reasonably relaxed around them. Calling the commander-in-chief of the Military forces of humanity by his first name is a slightly different matter.”
“I see your point.” The General Marshal’s voice took on a reminiscent note. “I remember the first time I entered this room. I was a newly promoted Colonel, so awed to be in the presence of General Marshal Cara Wade that I didn’t notice her fish pool until I put my foot in it.”
He laughed. “I thought I’d die of embarrassment, but General Marshal Cara Wade very kindly pretended she hadn’t noticed either the splash or the fact my uniform was dripping water during the rest of our meeting.”
I dutifully smiled.
The General Marshal picked up his own glass and drank from it. “But we need to focus on the point of this meeting and discuss my plans for your next promotion.”
I tensed. “I assume you’re referring to a promotion at some distant future time, sir. I’ve only just been promoted to Commander.”
The General Marshal shook his head sadly. “I’m well aware of your aversion to being promoted, Drago. I’ll never forget our first conversation. As the General heading your chain of command, I’d received the recommendation for your promotion, duly approved it, and was somewhat surprised when you called me to demand I demote you again.”
I winced at the memory of what had been one of the top ten most humiliating conversations in my life, almost rivalling my first, catastrophic proposal of marriage. Fortunately, I didn’t need to reply because the General Marshal was still speaking.
“You spent the rest of that year fighting promotion. Once I was promoted myself, I wasn’t personally involved any longer, but I occasionally checked on your career progression and pitied your current commanding officer. I congratulate you on what has to be a record number of promotions, commendations, reprimands, and demotions for anyone in the Military.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said uncomfortably.
“It’s been amusing to watch your efforts to avoid the inevitable, but I’m afraid I can’t indulge you any longer. You recently told General Torrek that you’d rather be locked in a prison cell with a Zeus sewer rat than be promoted. Are you quite sure about that?”
I gave the General Marshal a wary look. In theory, the commander-in-chief of the Military shouldn’t be able to have me locked in a prison cell with a Zeus sewer rat, but I’d no wish to put that to the test. Zeus sewer rats stank almost as badly as a Cassandrian skunk.
“I feel that I need to gain more experience in my current role as Commander before being promoted to Colonel,” I said cautiously. “I’m also concerned that my talents are more suited to combat-oriented roles.”
“I agree that you’d benefit from more experience, Drago, but sadly I can’t wait around for you to get it,” said the General Marshal. “I need to make a decision on this promotion before Year Day, and that’s less than a month away.”
He looked thoughtfully down into his glass. “There’s no need to worry about your talents being more suited to combat-oriented roles though. I’m perfectly confident that promoting you to Colonel wouldn’t stop you getting into trouble. I’m reliably informed that you can’t even go out to buy ice cream without starting a large-scale Military insurrection on the capital planet of Beta sector.”
I opened my mouth to speak and then closed it again. People had been making ice cream jokes about me for months. Most of them couldn’t know the true facts behind the rumours, because every politician and Military officer on Zeus had been sworn to secrecy, but the General Marshal had the whole of Military Security to collect information for him.
The General Marshal laughed. “Don’t look so worried, Drago. The information I have on that incident is incomplete, unofficial, and anonymous, but enough to convince me that the escalation of events wasn’t entirely your fault. I’ve enough knowledge of Betan history and its clan-based society to understand why the Tell clan would react strongly to the August clan kidnapping you.”
He shrugged. “Personally, I feel that sending eighty fighter aircraft to hover menacingly over the August clan hall might have been an unnecessarily large-scale response, but doubtless your father knew what he was doing.”
“You seem to have been misinformed, sir,” I said desperately. “Possibly someone misinterpreted the ceremonial flyover to honour the birthday of Lucius Augustus Gordianus, head of the August clan.”
The General Marshal smiled. “When someone steps down from the role of General Marshal, the custom is that they should never publicly offer advice to the person succeeding them or comment on their decisions. The first piece of advice that General Marshal Emeritus Cara Wade gave me privately was that it was dangerous to meddle in the internal arguments of Beta sector. However fierce the interclan rivalries, Beta sector will swiftly unite against outside interference.”
“General Marshal Emeritus Cara Wade has great political wisdom.”
“She does,” said the General Marshal, “and therefore I am happy to accept your ceremonial flyover explanation of those events on Zeus.”
He paused. “As I was saying, I am confident that promoting you to Colonel wouldn’t stop you getting into trouble, but that’s largely irrelevant since I have an entirely different role in mind for you.”
The General Marshal was still holding his glass in his right hand. He put his left hand into his pocket, and then reached forward to drop some silver insignia on one of the centre squares of the chess board. I stared at them, first confused, and then horrified.
“You can’t be serious, sir,” I said.
General Marshal Renton Mai leaned back in his chair. “I’m perfectly serious, Drago. Consider my situation. Every Year Day, the General Marshal makes the State of Humanity speech. My speech on Year Day 2790 will be such a significant moment in history that everyone listening will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
He sighed. “I plan to limit that speech to the bare facts of the current situation because people will be too shocked to absorb anything further. Later though, I’ll be asked a lot of questions, and you must realize why I’ll need someone wearing these insignia when I answer them.”
“I appreciate your situation, sir,” I said urgently, “but there must be dozens of other officers you could choose.”
The General Marshal grimaced. “In fact, my options are extremely limited. I need someone who has played a public role in past events, so I only have two realistic candidates, and you are by far the better qualified.”
“Yes, sir, but still …”
“I only have two possible candidates,” General Marshal Renton Mai repeated. “If you refuse to step forward, then I’ll have to place the burden on the shoulders of someone who has none of your training and experience but has proved their willingness to make any sacrifice necessary in the service of humanity.”
He moved the white queen and the black king to stand on either side of the insignia. “Your move, Drago.”
© 2018 Janet Edwards. All rights reserved.
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