His ships were finished – all of them in twelve days, and without even a hint of problems. Though it had taken slightly longer than he had first been quoted, the turnaround was still incredibly short. Vathion was quite proud; not only were his ships beautifully repaired, but they had been repainted from their original busted and dented white and red to black with Natan’s crest on one side of each fin in red. The Wilsaers, of course, had been upset that he had wanted so few colors. Vathion had also gotten the Wolfadon phaser arrays and the Tricannons he had wanted, as well as shielding and more guns, as he had discussed with his Fleet engineers.
Pretty much, everything that he had wanted, Vathion had gotten, and thought that he had paid a fairly cheap price for it. In the end, Vathion had used ten out of the eleven Rebel ships captured.
Now, he was back at Marak with all his ships just in time for the first episode of the Natan Fleet Show that would star him. Mirith had left the morning after she had come to see him, meaning that Hiba had somehow managed to get the entire episode filmed in just under two weeks. The man could move fast when he wanted.
Vathion stood proudly in front of the mirror, “I’m good,” he told his reflection, briefly admiring his violet hair, green eyes, violet Bondstone, and dazzling smile. “I’m awesome; better than Dad any day.”
“I agree, Stud Muffin! The episode is starting,” Kiti’s voice called, and he grinned then stepped out of the bathroom to flop onto his bed. He was dressed in a loose shirt and shorts. Sitting up briefly, he packed the pillows behind his back and settled in again. Immediately, a drink was delivered to the table beside his bed and following that, a bowl of snacks.
Comfortably settled, Vathion called, “Turn it on, Kiti. Let’s see how good a job Paire did.”
Regret niggled in the back of his mind as he settled in, ‘I wish Jathas was here to see this…’ His side, where Jathas normally would have curled was cold.
The first thirty minutes of the hour long episode was mostly recap of Vathion’s life with Paire’s Kai playing the part of Jathas. Hiba had apparently glossed over the fact that Jathas had silver eyes. Or Paire had not told him. Though it was interesting to view where he had grown up and the people that he had grown up with as a third party. His mother had agreed to have a character based after her in the show too. Mirith did a wonderful job of playing herself and keeping Paire in line, and most of everyone else in the school played themselves, reenacting a typical day at school; which was usually filled with “do you have your homework? Here’s your next assignment…”
Then had come the night after the play.
His mother had also agreed to let Hasabi’s people see the inside of their house briefly, for, while Vathion recognized it as a set, it was close enough to the real thing to be believable. Vathion – as played by Paire – strode across the room to the wallscreen for the phone and answered. Unsurprisingly, the actor that played Natan appeared on the other side, the screen splitting to show both ends of the conversation, which was a typical ploy Hiba used.
Jerking back ‘Natan’ called, “Heyla! Kiti! I said call Hasabi, not give me a mirror!”
Choking, Vathion quickly set his drink down. “How did Hiba get that line?”
Sourly, Paire replied, “It’s just a costume. Mom just sent you the play.”
“Did I sound like that?” Vathion asked, “When I talked to Dad, Kiti?”
A moment and Kiti replied, “A little sometimes, Stud Muffin, but you’re still hot, no matter what. And your legs look better in the uniform than that actor’s does.”
The actor playing Natan grinned charmingly and replied, “Yep, I got it. I bet you blew their socks off.”
Vathion shook his head and sighed at that.
Paire took a breath and lifted his chin in a stubborn jerk, “Yeah, Dad, they thought it was you on stage.” His tone made it obvious what he personally thought of that.
A silence fell briefly and Natan’s actor recovered, “Oh, come on, you’re not looking at it the right way! Just think of all the chicks you could hook up with!”
Paire folded his arms – and shifted his weight to his other hip, having not sat down at the screen to talk, “Did it ever occur to you that I’d like to make my own way instead of hanging off your coat tails for everything?” Natan’s actor looked like he had just been stabbed in the gut.
Vathion cringed and he set his snacks aside, stomach queasy. “And this was the last conversation I had with him…” He pulled his knees against his chest, “Just goes to show that you never know…”
Thankfully, Hasabi’s actor, a beautiful woman with long green hair and green eyes, drifted in from the kitchen, “Oh, Natan!” she said happily, and took over the conversation. Paire was booted off to the kitchen to needlessly watch dinner cook.
Finally, the end of the scene came, with Paire standing at the kitchen door, fiddling with a tassel “…I love you too, Dad,” Paire said shyly with a watery eyed look that had melted many hearts in school – that Vathion had blatantly stole from Paire. Jathas would have said that Vathion did it better.
Stretching out on the bed again, Vathion sighed, “At least I told him that one last time. I should call Mom. Kiti, remind me to call mom after the episode. And Gramma! Crap. I haven’t talked to them since before that battle!”
Kiti replied cheerfully, “Okay, Sugar Cake.”
The second half hour started with Vathion’s first appearance on Baelton. “Ha’Natan’s on vacation,” Paire told the reporters when he was asked lots of weird questions about where Natan went.
Twitching nervously, Vathion swallowed, “This doesn’t look good at all…” he nibbled his nails lightly, after that heartwarming scene, Vathion’s appearance as admiral and claiming Natan had gone on vacation looked really suspicious. “Unless everyone takes it for face-value that Natan really did ditch me again…”
Kiti reassured, “I think it looks like you’re annoyed that he ditched you again.” Even though he wasn’t quite convinced, Vathion appreciated her reassurance on a level.
Paire played it all rather sourly, even when he grinned and posed. The actors who played Zandre and Logos were impassive as ever. They actually looked kind of bored with the whole thing and followed Paire as he careened around Baelton being Spectacular, which was obviously not how Vathion had been at school.
Scrubbing his hair, Vathion whimpered, “Ancestors, I shouldn’t have signed that contract! I shouldn’t have! Damn you Hiba!” And now, it was officially known that he was sixteen. Thankfully he had not crossed any boundaries except the bars on Marak, though Hiba had made a point of showing that if he ordered anything it was water, which was quite true. Hopefully the public would not hang him for lying, or implying that he was older. He was going to have to do something about it though.
“Just tell them the truth, I guess,” he muttered, folding his arms.
Then, the firing spree Gatas had gone into was shown, followed by Paire ranting at Gatas. To Vathion, the rant looked memorized and obvious that someone had told Paire that he should be pissed. Still, it was not quite the dressing down Vathion had actually said, it was close enough to count and focused on Gatas exceeding his authority.
This was followed immediately by the discovery of the four ex-Natan Fleet employees dead on the docks, and once again, Vathion was sure Hiba had gotten the exact conversation from someone. On the screen, the Stationmaster of Baelton ranted at him, “I want this mess cleaned up!”
“It’s not my problem, as they’re no longer Fleet employees,” Paire said stiffly, fire blazing in his eyes, “However, I will pay for damages and to send their bodies back to their families.” The shot panned back slightly and Vathion felt the blood drain from him.
There… hidden partially behind a book was Natan’s urn.
Leaping off the bed, Vathion tripped on the blankets, tumbled to the floor, rolled to his feet again and continued staggering into the study. From the door, the urn was visible, the book set in front of it. He went to stand at the chair and turned to look. The urn was hidden behind the book. Looking over at the wallscreen, Vathion took a breath and tried to speak and failed. Clearing his throat, he finally called, “Kiti! Show me the view from that camera!” he pointed at the one that the wallscreen got.
The screen lit up – and there, partially visible was the funeral urn with its red and black seal.
“Oh Ancestors… oh my Ancestors!” Vathion collapsed to his knees. “ANCESTORS!”
Perhaps this was what the humans meant when they said ‘Shit hit the fan.’
Burying his face in his hands, Vathion sobbed, “Shit!”
Kiti’s voice called again, “Ha’Vathion, what’s wrong?”
“Kiti! Hiba SAW it! Hiba saw the urn! He put it in the show!” Vathion sprang to his feet, panic forcing him out into the main room where he paced around, pulling at his hair and hyperventilating around his shrieks of terror, “What am I going to do? What can I do? It’s OFFICIAL now! Ancestors!” A wall dispenser opened, and Vathion turned towards it, just in time to get the jet of fire suppressant foam right in his face.
Standing there, sputtering, Vathion blinked, breathed, and blinked more. Kiti’s image – fully clothed – appeared on the screen beside the dispenser, holding a fire hose, “Are you going to calm down now or do I have to spray you again, Ha’Vathion?” she asked firmly, her other hand on her hip. “What you’re going to do is get to work,” she told him, “You have things you have to do. You don’t have time for panic attacks. Shall I read off your to-do list? First: call your mother and grandparents, second: finish AI program for the fighters, third…”
Lifting his hands, Vathion shouted, “Okay! Stop. Alright. I’m done. I’m alright now.” He took another breath, he collected his thoughts. First, he really did need to call his mother. Remembering to breathe before panic took over again, Vathion headed back into the office, trying to remember how many calls he had made from this room with that stupid thing visible. Turning, he pointed at the urn, “This is all your fault! If you hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Stupid jerk!”
Pulling out the chair, Vathion flopped into it, still dripping bits of white foam as he stared at the offending book that had not quite covered what he had wanted to hide. The title was “How to Catch a Spy,” a silly mystery novel…
Leaping to his feet again, Vathion slapped his fist into his palm, “That’s it!” he grinned, “Play it off like I’d meant to let it leak! Like Dad really had faked his death and all the rumors I sent out weren’t to cover his real death, but to send it out that he was dead. Kiti – did Hiba have that same book covering the urn in the show?”
Kiti’s voice issued over the speakers, “Yes, Ha’Vathion.”
Instead of touching it, Vathion left the setup exactly how it was. “Alright, perfect, then it looks like a message now… But how to keep people from really thinking he’s dead…?”
Sitting again, he pulled his chair out into the center of the room and began spinning in it. “How… how… I’ve got to go answer questions from the media – fess up to lying about my age and possibly lying about other things, which they’re not going to be happy about, but who gives a flip about them…”
“Ha’Vathion, there’s a call from Marak. They’ve got the last Rebel ship you brought in still on hold. What do you want done with it?” Kiti asked.
“Put it in storage,” he ordered absently, “Bloody – don’t have any money left to do anything… Unless I talk to Mom. Got to call Mom. Kiti, call Mom.”
He turned his chair and pulled it up to the desk as the screen flashed and clicked a few times. Finally, Hasabi answered. Her hair was braided beautifully and she was wearing a very lovely crimson dress. “Wow… Mom, you look beautiful,” he admired.
Blushing, she smiled, “Thanks, I was about to attend a memorial dinner with the emperor – a private thing. You’ve got…” she gestured with a hand near her hair, then shook her head. Her lips pulled downwards, “Honey, the urn was…”
Vathion glanced aside and wiped at the foam stuck in his hair, “I know, I didn’t realize, but I’ll handle it. I’ve partially figured out how. Anyway… I know… um… Can I have a loan?”
Hasabi stared at him for a long moment, then laughed again, “Actually, I was just thinking about that earlier today. I don’t need that much money and I don’t know what to do with it. I was going to ask if you’d take care of things for me. I’m sure your father wouldn’t mind…”
Nodding, Vathion smiled, “Thanks. It’ll be for the Fleet.”
Carefully typing on the keyboard, Hasabi sent a file, and Vathion opened it in the corner of his screen, finding her financial information listed there. “Okay, I trust you. I love you…”
“I love you too Mom,” looking at her face, Vathion sat silently for a moment, studying it, “I love you,” he repeated, “No matter what else I’ve ever said to the contrary, Mom, I love you.”
Blinking away tears, Hasabi shook her head, “What’s this sudden emotion about?”
Looking down, he sighed, “Just… recalling the last conversation I had with Dad. I said some pretty mean things to him… but in the end I did manage to say that I loved him.”
“Hon,” Hasabi whispered, lifting a hand to touch the screen, “He never gave a thought to whatever else you said.” Kissing her fingers, she pressed them to the screen and Vathion did the same, “I love you.”
“Mom. I’m going to come see you again,” he told her, “Before my birthday. I will. I won’t do what Dad did. I’ll come see you.” Before she died.
She just smiled. “I’ve got to go. You stay good. And quit lying to the reporters.” She disconnected.
Vathion clutched his chest and curled over his hands, “Maaaa!” he howled, “You break my heart!” Getting to his feet again, realizing that he was still soaking wet, he sighed and staked back into the bedroom to get some dry clothes. “Second on to-do list was what?”
“Call your grandparents, and finish the AI for the fighters,” Kiti supplied as minibots brought out a fresh uniform.
Pulling his new pants on, he left the old on the floor, “Right, I’ll do that when I finish my other things. I’ve got to test drive my fighter to finish coding the AI. I guess that’ll let the reporters stew long enough, too.” Pulling off his wet shirt, he dropped that to the floor and paused, frowning, “I’m going to have to talk to I’Savon before I pilot that thing…” to get implants so he could pilot, the AI he was coding would require grade-four implants, which worked their way deeper into a Gilon’s mind and gave the user a better link to the systems. Grade-fours were usually used to connect to mechanical suits for dangerous jobs, and now for Vathion’s fleet. He already knew the basis of piloting from Battle Fleet – the first two levels of the game had been played as a pilot, first level was as a recruit learning the commands and wing formations, second level was commanding a wing. Not that he had ever needed that skill.
His eyes narrowed as he stared at the wall as he thought further on what grade-four implants did and frowned, “Savon…” he muttered as something nibbled at the back of his mind. Taking a breath, Vathion asked, “Kiti. How is it that I can talk to you in my head?”
“You have Grade-four implants. You received them when you were twelve.”
Planting his hands on his hips, he blew a breath, “Well. That means I don’t have to use the implants I bought for myself. So now I’ve got an extra set… What can else you do with Grade-fours, Kiti? Other than talk to me in my head?”
Kiti promptly replied, “In case of full loss of consciousness, I can take control of your body and move it from a danger zone. Ha’Natan’s revival before the crate fell prevented me from protecting him.” She sounded truly upset for a moment.
Eyes widening, Vathion grinned, “And what about a body that has no higher brain functions and never did?”
“…I suppose I could control it,” she admitted, albeit hesitantly.
Slapping his hands together, Vathion rubbed them. “And there’s my solution. How to catch a spy indeed! Give me some civilian clothes,” Picking the requested clothes off the floor, along with his belt, Vathion first secured the belt and slid his baton into its loop. Running his fingers through his hair, Vathion bundled the clothes into a wad and asked, “Where’s I’Savon?”
A mere second of pause and Kiti replied, “In her office in sickbay, tending the clone of Ha’Natan.”
Grinning, Vathion turned and strode out of his quarters and down the hall to the lift. Gatas was still secured in his rooms and would be till Vathion decided otherwise, though people were allowed to visit him. The only one who had taken advantage of that so far was Erekdra, but who was Vathion to say anything?
The doors opened and Vathion strode straight across the hall to the sickbay doors and found the place empty, which was good, because he did not want witnesses. The first room of Sickbay was full of small alcoves with beds loaded with sensors along the sides. On the other side of the room was a door that led into a short hall with small rooms for patients that had to have surgery and those who had to be isolated. At the far back was Savon’s office. He headed straight towards her door. Pressing the buzzer, he waited a moment before reaching for the button again.
He did not quite complete the motion before the door opened and the sexy silver-haired, maroon-eyed doctor, I’Savon, stood there, holding the frame. She gave a toss of her head to flip her silver hair out of her face. “Ha’Vathion, what a surprise…” She smiled, but it did not look inviting.
Putting a hand on her wrist, he pushed gently and loomed over her. Instinctively, she backed up, and the door closed behind him. “Don’t give me that innocent tone,” he told her, “I know what you’re hiding in here, and that’s why I’m here.” She paled. Turning away, he dropped the clothes on her desk, “How far along is it?” he asked, noting that the smell of his father was being drawn from the room.
Folding her arms on her chest, she leaned against the wall beside the door, “It’s about nine weeks since creation – physically twenty or so…”
Vathion nodded, “Good enough. Implant it with the last of the grade-four implants I bought,” he turned to face her, “The emperor knows, but no one else that Dad or you haven’t told yourselves. Daharn said I could do with it what I wanted, and I want to make it look like my father is alive, so…”
I’Savon lifted her head and stared at him, “But – it’s got no mind! The plan was to squish it! Not Natan!” she dropped her hands to her sides as she strode over, “You can’t use it as anything other than a door prop, a messy one at that!”
Snorting, Vathion put his hands on his hips, “Oh, but I can use it. Implant it and I’ll show you.”
She stared at him for a long moment, then turned heading over to a cupboard on the right wall beyond her desk. Vathion took note of the holoscreen she had on her desk. It was an older version. Shaking his head, he pointed at it, “Did Dad buy that for you?” Savon looked back with a scowl and nodded once, “What a piece of crap. I bet the picture is cloudy by now. It wasn’t even the best fifteen years ago when it was made. I’ll get you something newer.”
Frowning at him, she finally found the case she’d been looking for in her cupboard and turned to put her hands on her hips, “If you’re trying to bribe me, Ha’Vathion…”
“No,” he interrupted, “I’m not. I want my doctor to be able to read her notes. It’s a case of self-interest. Now,” he gestured at the left side of the room to the curtained off area that housed the growth tanks. There were two tubes there, used only for serious emergencies.
Stalking over to the curtain, I’Savon pushed it aside. The nude body of the previous admiral hung by his armpits on a stand within the otherwise empty tank; he was wet, probably from a recent bath. Opening the case door, Savon stepped in to place the tube on the back of the clone’s neck and jammed the button on the end. There was a hiss as the nano-implants were injected.
“Kiti,” Vathion called, “did it take?”
Kiti’s voice issued over the com, “Yes, Ha’Vathion. Processes reordered to allow Emergency Code One to operate.” The body of the clone lifted its head, blinked, unhooked itself from the stand and stepped out of the tube. “Warning, I can only run this program for three minutes.”
“That’s hardly long enough to do anything,” I’Savon stated, arms dropping to her sides, looking on in curiosity.
Lifting a finger, Vathion smirked, “However if I had a ship’s computer with no other functions to handle…”
Savon’s eyes widened. “But no AI program written can imitate a real person. No one would believe this is Natan, even if it smells like him. Speaking of which, are you feeling alright?”
Waving a hand, Vathion dismissed her concern, “I’ve been sleeping in his bed since I got here. I’ve gotten used to the smell. Kiti, get it dressed and go ahead and sit it down somewhere. As for the AI, no one’s ever tried programming one like that, but if anyone can do it, I can. I know my father,” he turned towards her and shifted his shoulders slightly with a slow calculating smile that was just like the one Natan had usually worn when he was up to something, “and I know how to act like him convincingly. No one would know the difference.” He advanced on her in a cocky stalk, another move that was practically patented by Natan, smirking at the blush that crossed her cheeks. “It’s all in the body language,” he pulled his finger up her arm lightly, then stepped back, dropping the act. His stomach was knotted and sour, this time with a hint of pain.
Meanwhile, the clone had taken a seat on the floor next to the wall, the eyes dull and breathing regular. It was not alive and never had been. In a flash of anger and disgust, he kicked one of its feet and would have done more if Savon had not pulled him away, “Hey!” she shouted at him, “Stop damaging my property.”
“Mine,” he snapped at her, “My property.” Taking a breath, he turned away, “Stupid jerk, I hate him.” Heading towards the door again, he paused before exiting, “I’ll have it tell you when I need it to go. For now, keep it hidden. When it’s time, it’ll give you the instructions.” He stepped out and strode down the hall, leaving Savon standing there.
Folding her arms under her breasts, she sighed softly, “Liar. You don’t hate him…”