Peter David - Star Trek - Q-In-Law
Kerin let out a slow breath, trying to calm the slamming of his heart against his chest. The stars hung suspended around him, the stars that had been part of his daily existence for as long as he could remember.
He'd heard that when one stood on the surface of a planet, the stars actually twinkled because of atmospheric distortions. He wouldn't know firsthand, having never--in his eighteen years--set foot on a planet.
At the moment, the thoughts of planets were as far off as the stars. His full concentration was on the great mother ship of the Graziunas that loomed in front of him. It was dark blue, oblong, with great spires jutting out at odd angles. Swarming about it, insectlike, were a variety of single- and double-pilot ships, patrolling in a leisurely formation against incursion by any enemies who might be in the area.
Kerin could clearly see the great landing bay at the far end of the mother ship, and even if he couldn't, the array of instrumentation in front of him could easily pinpoint it for him. He scanned it with practiced ease. He knew his high-powered, single-pilot shuttle inside and out. It was a gift from his father for his twelfth birthday, and for a moment he allowed himself the luxury of remembering the thrill of the first time he'd stepped inside the shuttle, run his fingers across the controls, and sat in the command seat--his command seat. All his.
Kerin glanced at his own reflection in the viewport before him. He was amazed how much he was beginning to look like his father. His hair was cut into the widow's peak that was customary for all members of the house of Nistral. He was sloe-eyed, his pupils dark, yet luminous. His skin was a dusky silvery hue that gave him an almost metallic sheen. He had a strong jaw that was set in a determined fashion.
Glancing across his weapons array he noted with satisfaction that everything was fully charged. All engine readings were normal. He'd checked and rechecked everything a hundred times before setting off from the Nistral mother ship. The nervousness he felt and his overcaution had gotten him some good-natured ribbing and derision from his friends. He didn't care, because the redundant checks that had consumed hours before now gave him the confidence to worry about nothing except his obstacles.
The first of the patrol ships of the Graziunas family had broken off and were approaching. Only two. More than enough for a routine check.
"Approaching craft," said a crisp voice, "state your business with Graziunas." His long, tapered finger paused over the comm controls for a moment before he flicked a switch.
"This is Kerin of the house of Nistral. I go where I wish. I do what I wish. And I take what I wish." There was a silence on the other end. A long, significant silence.
"If that is how it must be," the slow and measured response finally came, "then that is how it must be." Message sent. Message received. Everything understood at both ends.
Kerin let out another breath and tried to calm himself, tried to forget everything that was at stake. Just let the reflexes take over, the long, practiced movements that had been drilled into him for as far back as he could remember.
He took one more look at the battle array, belted himself in, and slammed into overdrive.
The sleek craft shot forward, dipping just under the two wing fighters that were coming towards him for the intercept. He dropped like a stone, then levelled off quickly and angled straight towards the great mother ship.
The fighters banked around and came after him.
Kerin had them both tracked, timing their pulse bolts, his fingers racing over the computer navigator for evasive maneuvers. Blasts exploded to his right and left, and his shuttle swayed gracefully, avoiding them with amazing precision. He allowed a small smile to play across his lips. "Catch me if you can," he muttered.
A shot clipped his right-hand stabilizer and he lurched wildly, scrambling to bring his bearings back on line. He muttered a low curse and went straight up in a sharp L pattern. The fighters stayed right after him.
"This is your final warning to retreat with honor," the admonition crackled over the comm.
"Noted," said Kerin briskly, and he slammed the thrusters into reverse.
The fighters shot right past him, leaping straight into his computer target sights. Kerin opened fire, the twin guns of his shuttle blasting. He clipped the wings of both of the fighters, sending them into a momentary spiral. It was all he needed to sail clear of them and dive down towards the mother ship.
More fighters were coming towards him, but Kerin's confidence was growing with each moment that brought him closer to the ship. He hurled his shuttle into a dazzling array of evasive maneuvers that seemed impossible for anything but the sleekest of fighter ships. Kerin had counted on the unassuming exterior of his shuttle to be his salvation, and thus far he had wagered correctly. He heard exclamations of surprise at the dexterity and capabilities of the little craft. Blasts exploded around him, but no one was able to pin him down.
He dove as his pursuers laid down a pattern fire after him. But he had studied every pattern that the Graziunas used and was prepared to dodge every one.
The landing bay lay directly ahead of him, and then suddenly he was hit. Obviously, he thought wryly, the Graziunas fighters had developed some new patterns.
He lurched wildly, trying to bring his shuttle back under control. Its wild flight now proved to be something of a salvation, as more shots that might have struck home now exploded harmlessly nearby him.
The shuttle hurtled into the docking bay, the walls of the bay flying past him in a dizzying blur. He was moving fast, too fast. He had brief glimpses of men who normally helped to manually guide ships in, and they were scattering madly to get out of his way. He tried desperately to bring his nose up, knowing that if it struck first, he'd flip over and crash, possibly--hell, probably--fatally. At the last possible second he edged it upward. The bottom of the shuttle sparked and squealed, and Kerin let out a brief shriek.
"Hold together, baby," he prayed.
The shuttle slid crazily, vibrating Kerin to the point where he thought his teeth were going to shake loose. Reflexively he closed his eyes as he sped towards the wall at the far end, bracing himself for the impact. He knew he was going to hit, and the only question was how much impact there was going to be when he did.
The shuttle half-turned once more and the rear end slammed into the wall. Kerin was forced back against his seat, gasping, as the world spun around him. He took an unsteady breath, his head still ringing from the ear-splitting howling of metal on metal.
From his vantage point, he could see men of the Graziunas running towards him, shouting and pointing. He unbuckled quickly and ran to the door.
It was jammed. He slammed the release button a second time, but still nothing happened.
With a curse, he yanked out his blaster and opened fire. He hated having to inflict damage on his own ship, but there was no other choice. Within seconds he had blasted a hole large enough to squeeze through, and that he did immediately.
He leaped out of the ship and pivoted, simultaneously powering down his weapon. He ran around the side of his shuttle, and at that moment a guard came at him, swinging his weapon up with a blood-freezing yell. It didn't freeze Kerin, however, who--with an outward calm that he didn't feel inwardly--fired off a quick shot.
It struck his attacker full in the chest and hurled him backwards, knocking the breath out of the man. He lay there, gasping, and Kerin leaped over him and out the nearest exit door. It hissed shut behind him as several blasts from behind ricocheted off it. Kerin wondered in passing if their blasters were set to a lower setting as well.
The corridors of the ship were large and elaborate swirls of blue and orange, sweeping and graceful. It was a stark contrast to the sharp black and silver that were the colors of the Nistral. Kerin looked right and left, trying to remember which way to go. He had memorized the schematics of the ship so carefully, so thoroughly, that he'd been confident he would be able to find his way. Now he wasn't so sure. He felt his blood pounding against his head and then heard another pounding--that of feet directly behind him.
He was fairly certain he was supposed to make his first right, and that's what he did. With the first decision made, the subsequent ones came faster and easier, his confidence growing with every passing moment.
A right up here, then another right, then a left and.
He skidded to a halt, wincing against the light.
He stood in the open doorway of the grand chamber of Graziunas.
Graziunas was the name of the house, and Graziunas was also the name of he who was head of the house. It was an inherited title.
The man who was at present known as Graziunas was massive, barrel-chested, with a shock of red hair swept back and over his gleaming blue face. He had a long moustache that hung down as well, almost down to his collarbone.
His court was crowded with retainers and other family members. Everyone was on their feet.
Everyone was watching Kerin.
Next to Graziunas was his daughter, Sehra. Certainly word that Kerin was coming had reached her, and she was standing there, looking almost as nervous as Kerin must have felt. She was slim where her father was stocky, but in her eyes there was something of the same firmness of spirit that her father possessed.
She was watching Kerin, taking in his every move hungrily.
Graziunas stepped down from his dais and walked towards Kerin with firm, steady steps.
Kerin made no move, standing in a combat-ready position. No one was making the slightest noise.
The only sound at all was the steady whisper of Graziunas' boots on the polished floor.
He wore a tunic and leggings that were blue, trimmed with orange, as was the long cape that swirled about him with every step.
He walked to within a few paces of Kerin and then stopped, his arms folded.
"Yes?" His voice was deep and commanding, and yet there was a tinge of amusement to it.
Kerin's mouth moved, and nothing came out.
It did not get easier under the steady gaze of Graziunas. His eyes seemed to widen, and Kerin felt himself wilting under the unyielding gaze.
Kerin looked frantically to Sehra. She was mouthing something. Words.
"... as a supplicant..." he said, coming in on the middle of the sentence.
"What?" Graziunas looked as if he were trying not to laugh, and the implied condescension angered Kerin so that he promptly forgot again what he was supposed to say.
He closed his eyes a moment, took a breath to cleanse his thoughts, and then opened his eyes again. "I come to thee," he said, praying that his voice wouldn't crack, "as a supplicant.
and as one who demands." "Demands what?" said Graziunas.
"Demands the hand of thy daughter in marriage." He saw her with alarm give a quick shake of her head, and then he realized his error. Mild, to be sure, but everything had to be just so. "Demands the hand of thy most honorable daughter in marriage," he quickly amended.
"And if I do not grant it?" asked Graziunas quietly.
Kerin steeled himself. "Then I shall fight thee for her. With every breath in my body, with every spark in my soul, I shall fight thee. For she shall be mine, and I hers, until all the stars burn away." Graziunas swung a quick right that Kerin quickly dodged. There was a gasp from the people of the court.
Kerin came in quickly and drove as hard a punch as he could directly at Graziunas' face.
Graziunas caught the boy's fist effortlessly.
Kerin grunted, trying to draw back, then drive forward. Neither move did him any good.
Graziunas had a grip like steel, and he closed it that much tighter on the boy's hand. He waited for Kerin to cry out, smiling mirthlessly.