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NOMADS 4

Foreign worlds

Chapter 5

 

Serwan Brooks retired to his quarters at the rear of the bridge, undid the top buttons of his uniform and sat down on his bed. The room was tailored to the human occupant. The light was bright, the colors friendly and designed for optimal comfort. Quite different from the oppressive atmosphere inside the wooden ship, which exuded the charm of a musty tree cave. Gloomy, dark and always somehow damp, like a stalactite grotto, he thought back to the speech with which he had just tried to intimidate the new bodyguards. It had been his first speech of this kind and he had taken the individual parts from the words of his predecessors, whose adjutant he was. Like many Serwans, Brooks had been with the Akkato for a long time. Since the beginning of the invasion, in fact, when the first human ships had caused collateral damage in the Keymon-Akkato conflict. The first Serwan came from Olympus. A colonial ship on its way to Mars, hit by a stray volley from the cannons of an Akkato cruiser as two fleets battled for the Red Planet. The Akkatos had rescued the survivors out of curiosity rather than kindness. Since the passengers of the Olympus were members of the so-called high society, the Akkato commander, who was partly responsible for the disaster, thought it would be useful to use them for his own purposes. Furthermore, Ulan Mestray, the ruler of the Horseheads, was interested in and enthusiastic about humans for reasons unknown. Brooks took off his boots, lay down on the bed and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. He still remembered exactly how he sucked the last liters of stale air into his lungs, enclosed in his spacesuit. How his vision blurred and a troop of Akkato came towards him in the foggy corridor. In the vacuum, he couldn’t hear the pounding of their boots, but he could hear the vibrations going through the floor as the horses‘ heads approached. In the end, the thousand or so survivors found themselves on the Skitra. The flagship of the Akkato prince Ulan Mestray, who divided the former passengers of Olympus into groups and sent them to his sons. Until two years ago, Brooks had served in the palace on Otrakan and in Ulan Mestray’s fleet. The chief servan there had been Yuri Berinsky, whose assistant he had been until Brooks was placed under Zurak Mestray. Here he had to deal with Serwan Viktor Meres, whose successor he was to take over and who was considered stubborn and difficult. Qualities that did not win him many friends, but for which Brooks has since forgiven him. There were many reasons that could embitter a man and darken his soul. Looking back, Brooks was now much kinder to the old man, now dead and buried under the great tree in the palace garden on Otrakan. He hadn’t known him long. Only three months before he died. Brooks was afraid of becoming bitter, given the many secrets he had shared and had to share with the Akkatos. He wondered how much the burden of that knowledge would weigh him down and cripple him. The galaxy was not a peaceful place and all Mestray cared about was the possibility of finding new methods and soldiers for warfare. At that moment, a chime sounded at the door, announcing a visitor.
„Come in!“ Brooks ordered and the door slid aside. Solkov and Braunstein entered the room. They stopped at the door while Brooks stood up and sat down on the chair in front of the holoconsole.

„What’s your impression?“ he asked the two young men. Braunstein was the first to answer.

„They are very relaxed. And no one has asked any questions.“

„What were they supposed to ask?“

„Where are the soldiers to replace them?“

„Then what do you say, Braunstein?“

The young man hesitated for a moment. „That they’ve been transferred. They’re serving on another ship now.“

„Which ship?“

„We don’t know,“ he replied, licking his lips.

He’s excited, Brooks realized. He senses a lie and tries to muster the willingness to accept it as truth.

„Only I know where they are now,“ he said. „And no one will dare ask me about it.“

Solkov’s gaze wandered restlessly around the room. „Are the rumors true?“

Brooks fixed Solkov with a long, penetrating gaze. The two aides had previously been Viktor Mere’s assistants. Brooks had to rely on guesses as to what the old man had confided in them, if he deigned to speak to them at all.

„What did Serwan Meres tell you?“ Brooks asked abruptly.

„He was very secretive,“ Braunstein replied.

„An excellent quality for a Serwan.“

„But he often had nightmares,“ added Solkov. „He would call us and sometimes he would still be talking and not quite wake up from his dreams. He would sit on the edge of the bed and hold his hands to his temples.“

„What did he say?“ Brooks continued and the two assistants looked at each other before Solkov continued.

„Mostly it was just stammering. Hard to understand. But every now and then he said something about mutilations and that they still exist. They are still there! They’re still there!“ Solkov was visibly shaken by the memories. „At least I think I understood that.“

Brooks waved it off. „An old, confused man. He was old on board the Olympus. He shouldn’t have been on board.“

„So the rumors aren’t true?“ Braunstein pursued the matter further.

„What rumors?“

„Of the guardsmen and the Gothreks.“

Brooks shook his head. „That’s why we have no contact with the soldiers. We don’t want nonsense to spread among them. Please hold back with your conspiracy stories. Let them think you’re conceited and arrogant. It’s better than the Akkatos finding out.“ that you are undermining the soldiers‘ fighting strength with your stories. Now get out of here.“

The two young men bowed and left the Serwan’s quarters. Brooks lay back down on the bed and tried to forget the conversation. He didn’t succeed, of course. He had also encountered Meres half asleep and fantasizing a few times and had understood far more of his stuttering than Solkov and Braunstein. He no longer doubted that Mere’s nightmares were no mere figments of his imagination. But it was better to feign indifference. He knew several of the guardsmen he had accompanied over the past two years and was now in the dark about their fate. He doubted that they had been sent to the Oponi worlds to live peaceful and quiet lives in accordance with their glorious deeds, and the faces of two people he had met a good eight years ago mingled with his thoughts. They were in the service of Gorak, Zurak Mestray’s younger brother. And now they were here. There had to be a reason why they had returned to the service of House Mestray in such a particular roundabout way. He couldn’t remember their names, and they had certainly forgotten him. But Brooks was good at remembering faces. He never forgot a face. Never.

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