The Adventures of Robert S. C. Cantabile

By Chuck Ball

LOREENA'S SEARCH

In Dreams

1

"Look, they're coming."

The ensemble of fleeing humanity halted and turned as one to view the distant scene. Pharos burned, but through the thick rising smoke they could see them, like black devils riding upon the winds of senseless destruction. Yes, they were coming for them now.

2

He took the little hand in his and gripped it firmly, lovingly. "Arte'," he yelled above the enveloping desperate screams, "take hold of Anna's hand, we've gotta make the White Cliffs."

While his father glanced back the young boy stared up at the imposing shield of whitened rock. Already he could see people streaming into entrances that would lead to safe subterranean passages; but what about his mother, where was she?

"Quickly, Robert, run." His father almost dragged him up the uneven rocky slope. To his young eyes it seemed as thought the whole mountainside was alive and crawling forward and upward. In their haste they passed those who had fallen. Some were bleeding, some were broken, and some just to exhausted to go on, but few stopped to tend their wounds or needs; even children, lost and crying in the tumult, were left to fend for themselves. Then he glanced up into the darkening blue sky and saw them.

"Dad, they're here," he shouted against the incessant human noise, "they're right above us."

"Get down," he heard his father yell. "Arte', get down they're upon us."

Some heeded his call but many, lost to their fear, continued onward until they fell to the earth, their bodies mutilated by laser-burn. Then, as the swarming vessels roared over them, they rose again and returned to their communal frantic charge. Up ahead they could see the crafts, with their distinctive golden double-edged sword insignia, strafing the cliff face then pulling up and vanishing, like phantoms, from sight.

"We're almost there, Robert." As his father spoke he could see Arte' and his sister, Anna, stepping over the strewn bodies to make the entrance. Then suddenly his father fell.

Thinking his father had slipped he said, "Get up, Dad, they're coming back." As he spoke he heard two of the Kalien vessels hurtle overhead. Even to his young innocent mind it was obvious, but his heart refused to accept it. "Dad, get up, we can still make it." Bravely he tried to pull him up but his efforts were futile; then suddenly Arte' arrived. "Help me, Arte'," he screamed through his tears, "Dad's fell."

He watched Arte's great black form crouch toward his fathers face, and as he joined him he looked down into his fathers soft emerald eyes and heard his weakened voice. "Get them safe... Art... Get the-" His taut body collapsed into the mountain dirt. Arte' put his fingers to the side of his life-friends neck. There was nothing.

Immediately Arte' took his hand but he clung to his fathers garments shouting, "No, don't leave him, he's not dead he's just fallen." He felt his fathers friends powerful arms around his small waist as his clutching hand was torn free. "No, Arte'," he screamed while flailing his arms and kicking out his legs, "don't leave him, Dad's not dead, Arte'. Please help him. Dad..."

As he was carried into the crowded entrance his final sight was of more approaching vessels, and his fathers crumpled lifeless body.

3

Sixteen years on and his desire for revenge still burned, it lodged in the dark rooms of his torn paining heart, like a cold poisoned splinter - protected only by a thin skin of bravado.

-

Vanished

1

The Armada broke off attack and thrusted away from the battered blazing star-cruiser. From the bridge of the Flagship Vesuvius it looked like a rogue solar flare; a beacon that illuminated the everlasting omnipresent night - if only transiently. It was also an impressive display of Ikensian/Dominion military might.

"Safe distance will be achieved in one standard minute, Highness."

Crown Prince David Iken Oronheim, stood watching the scene upon the large central monitor, his posture erect, his powerful shoulders proud, and his head tall.

He turned to his First Officer and held him with his cobalt blue eyes. They were the eyes of Kingship, of tacit authority; but most of all they were the eyes of a friend.

"Good work, Reman," he said with an easy smile. Then addressing the Bridge crew he said simply, and appreciatively, "Good work, all of you." They smiled back proudly, their loyalty evident in their eyes.

Returning his gaze to the massive stricken vessel he quietly said, "Reman, call in the fleet, then connect me to Admiral Petrusai."

As the First Officer relayed the message vessels of varying naval function aligned with The Vesuvius. Then the distinguished (some might authoritarian) visage of Admiral Petrusai filled the screen.

David saluted him, then with admiration (and a little pomp) said, "Admiral, on behalf of my Father, King Michael, The Lord High Admiral of The Ikensian Navy, I would like to thank you, and indeed through you, the High Command of our esteemed allay, Royal Dominia. For without any doubt, Admiral, our joint maneuvers have been an unlimited success."

The Admiral returned David's sincere veneration, matching him pomp for pomp, and then some, finally winding it up with a reference to Queen Isabella herself.

David bowed his head ceremoniously. Then, looking up, announced in a clear voice, "Admiral Petrusai, I give to you the honour of-"

2

"But, John, how can his ship have just vanished? You know as I do it's impossible, things don't just disappear. Whether it's this glass," she reached down and snatched an engraved crystal glass from its polished silver salver, spilling a little of the fine Dominion wine in her haste. Holding it up to him she continued, "or whether a starship, there's no difference. Neither can just vanish." She fixed him with her pale blue eyes, they were astonishing, even more so in this moment of rare anger.

She had a sudden urge to throw the glass against the sumptuously decorated wall, instead she resisted the impulse and set it back upon the salver. She bowed her head and looking at nothing, said, "I'm sorry, John, I am taking out my frustration - my pain, upon you, and I am wrong for that." She turned and looked at him , and in sadness asked, "What am I going to do, John..? I want him back - wherever he is, I want my husband back." Tears ran down her pale skin.

Prince John came to her and held her in his arms. "I'll tell you what you're going to do, Loreena. You are going to be strong - like an Oronheim." He smiled at her, gently, his eyes identical to her husbands. "And I, as soon as I leave you, am going to search for him."

"But where, John? You don't even know where to start."

"Yes I do." His fingers were moistened by her tears as he gently lifted her delicate chin. "I'll start at the incident point and from there work out." He held her with a gentle unwavering gaze, and continued, "Listen to me, Loreena, I will search for him, and I will not cease until I have found evidence of his fate." His eyes flashed with potency as he finished, "I will find him, Loreena, for you, for me, and for Ikensis." He embraced her again, then turned and left the room.

3

She sat alone, staring at her reflection in the large mirror. She was only twenty-two, yet right now she felt old, and so very tired. It had been three days since her husbands disappearance and it showed in the shade around her eyes; but she could not sleep, she had tried but her mind refused to embrace it. There was no room for slumber nor time, there was place only for fear, increasing solicitude and... and action. Taking a handkerchief she wiped away the trace of her tears and, figuratively, her indecision.

She looked again at her image only this time her features were subtly changed. Gone were the watery eyes replaced instead by a resolute, yet still stunning gaze. Gone also was the gentleness implied by her full lips, that once so easily formed into a smile. They now pressed together thin and determined. She arose from the chair her posture fixed and her mind set. And with a final glance at the mirror she turned and exited the room.

-

Pirates

1

The Cassandra appeared instantly within the sector of conflict. Having powered down from supra-light she sat there, motionless, a little below the encircled freight ship; as though nature herself had suddenly brought forth a new creation, perfected, and gleaming like a great diamond - and how could pirates resist diamonds?

"Told you it'd work, Arte'," he said, while chewing his almost ubiquitous gum and putting his steaming mug of Sarabian tea upon the top of the console.

"Aye, you're right again, Rob', you're right again," Scholl replied easily, before returning to the arduous task of slurping his tea.

Cantabile looked at his friends huge black frame and said, "All right, Arte', just remember, don't overact - and put your tea down, at least try an' look like you're scared." He shook his head while trying hard to remove the grin from his face.

Six of the fifteen encircling pirate craft (called wasps because of their small size yet powerful weaponry) had swooped down from the freighter and positioned themselves across the Cassandra's bow, then one of them moved slowly forward.

"Here come the boss man," sang out Scholl while trying on a mask of fear.

"Yeah, showtime," muttered Cantabile out of the corner of his mouth; now clearly able to see the pirate leaders face. "Let's have us some fun."

2

"Well... What have we here?" The pirate leaders mordant voice sounded in The Cassandra's cockpit. "One young and one old, and not even a 'field for protection." He made a mocking sound then continued in the same tone, "Well now, haven't we got problems." A cacophony of sycophantic laughter came cackling over the intercom.

"Don't forget our Epsi-Lion," growled out Scholl.

"What?" Rasped back the pirate leader, his young face looking as bemused as his voice sounded.

"You forgot to mention Sierra, she's an ow-"

Cantabile's foot snaked out and kicked Scholl's shin; then adopting an award winning visage of absolute fear, he stammered, "W-we were just answering a distress call, we - we had no idea we'd run into pir... eh, I mean, a problem."

"Well," came back the leaders snaky voice, "I guess that's what you get for playing the good guys, eh, lad's?" More cackle over the intercom.

Sierra looked up momentarily, then, as if unimpressed by the wealth of thespian talent on display, she went on with the much more important task of destroying her huge meaty bone.

Cantabile looked at Scholl through the corner of his eye, and how he stopped himself from bursting into laughter only his upper lip knew. 'Good grief,' he thought, 'that's not fear, that's constipation.' Composing himself he said, "P-please mister, we've obviously made a big mistake, we'll just be on our way, and - and we'll say nothing of this, you have my-"

"Enough babble," commanded the supreme pirate. "Shut up and listen." His cynical smirk broadened as he went on, "I could not care less what you say of me, for out here in the void it is my word that is law." With an imperial gaze he ordered, "Prepare to be boarded."

Cantabile wanted to continue with the charade, but the laughter he had imprisoned in the pit of his stomach was threatening to burst its bonds, and one more glance at Scholl's abysmal acting would surely set it free. "Sir," he said, straining to keep the mirth from his voice, "will you permit us a gesture of thanks in praise of your forbearance?"

"Go ahead," granted the leader, amused at their subservience.

With one accord the two grown men put their palms together, prayer like, and brought them slowly up and laid them respectfully against their lips; then suddenly, their solemnity disappeared like the last rays of a setting sun as complete childishness took over.

They put their hands against their ears and twisted them while at the same time thrusting out their tongue like an ancient Maori. And then, very disrespectfully, they taunted the pirate leader with a variety of other crazed disfigured faces (as well as exotic animal-like noises) offering him as a finale their upended second finger. Scholl wafted his giant hand toward the cockpit window as though the pirate leader were no more than an annoying gnat, then retook to slurping his Sarabian tea; while Cantabile's stomach ached as his laughter finally achieved its freedom.

To put it mildly, the pirate leader was not amused.

3

The stunned leader was momentarily lost for words, then as humiliation took hold he responded with a profusion of obscenities too startling to repeat. He realized that he had lost face in front of his men, and he knew only too well the dangers involved in that. Seeking to bolster his own shaken confidence, and confirm to his men that his leadership was still valid, he threatened coldly, "No one, but no one, ever makes a fool out of me."

"Now, now," said Scholl, while igniting an ostentatious cigar. "I do hope you're not gonna do anything silly - you know you're worth good money to us." Cantabile's laughter found fresh reserves; and he was sure he could see steam coming from the leaders fuming face.

For a moment the pirate leader just sat there hardly believing what was happening, then, like a hurricane about to hit the coast his voice cracked with raw fury. "Your foolishness has just cost you your lives." And with one simple uncontrolled push of a button his lasers leapt at his tormentors. His cronies sought to follow his lead but they never got the chance.

In the division of a nanosecond Rachel activated her forcefield, and the invisible electromagnetic wall easily absorbed his raging beams. A look of astonishment flashed across his face before Rachel's swift reply erased all his conscious emotions.

From a central position slightly above and below The Cassandra's hull blazed her multi-canon. The wasps forcefields that had proved so effective against the freighters light weaponry were totally negated by the powerful device. The five other wasps were each hit by a piercingly thin white beam. It did not destroy the craft - for traders that would have been profligate - instead it fazed each pilot while simultaneously siphoning off their atomic fuel, transferring and storing it into Cassandra's atomic reservoir, where in time it would be dissected into quarks and leptons. The dimension of sub-atomics, Cassandra's very lifeblood; the only ship outside the closed civilization of Al Habria that was so powered.

The remaining nine wasps broke formation and swarmed down to assist their paralyzed comrades. A burst of laser fire struck Cassandra's 'field, it gave off a soft glow as it absorbed their concerted battery. Then suddenly the multi-canon lanced out eight more beams, they streaked through the darkness like burning arrows, each one perfectly finding its target. Some wasps had swooped below Cassandra, but their fate was no different.

Only one wasp remained untouched and it hovered uncertainly as though the pilot was awaiting capture. Then suddenly it swung away and vanished into the void.

4

"Atomic siphoning completed," said Rachel, in a perfect synthesis of his late wife's voice. "Wasps have power for life support only - I have engaged laser net."

The two traders cheered and threw up their hands like young boys at a soccer match. Cantabile's unshaven face beamed with their catch as he shouted, "We'll drag 'em to Rahn and cash 'em in - wow was that some show!" He popped in another stick of gum, and continued, "Just think, Arte', we'd get a good price for just one of these guys," he looked at Scholl his teeth gleaming as he finished, "and we've got fourteen."

Scholl, blissfully polluting the cockpit atmosphere leaned forward and with his huge hands he patted the console, grinning as he said, "Well done, Rache' me old girl, you've done us proud again." He inhaled deeply and relaxed into his perfectly molded syn-chair; as he spoke again puffs of smoke billowed out of his mouth, "Y'know, Rob, I get the feeling that we're gonna be making easy of it for some time to come." He tapped his cigar in an ostentatious display of wealth; and as the ash fell lazily to the floor the two children lapsed again into another hefty bout of mirth.

"Hey, guys," said Rachel, interrupting their avaricious dreams. "Do you vaguely remember us answering a distress call? Well, if you're interested, the captain of the freight ship, Corsair, is hailing us."

"Calm down, Rache'," said Cantabile, while throwing a wry glance at his merry companion, "you didn't think we'd forgotten them, did you?"

"Why of course not, Robert, whatever gave you that idea?"

"She's got a sharp tongue as that one," Scholl remarked, smiling through the smog.

"Show me a woman who ain't," Cantabile answered. Before she could reply he continued, "Okay, Rache', take us up and open channels, audio and visual."

"Hey, y'know you did well there, Rob, you managed to get the last word in."

"Very well I would say, Arte'."

"The journeys not over yet, guys."

Cassandra slowly rose until she had moored alongside the ironically named Corsair. The wasps were nested together a short distance astern. The electromagnetic beams had arced across space, traversing distant star formations until each crippled vessel was delivered into the laser net. Cassandra had cast out into a fathom-less ocean and hauled in a full catch. It had been a prosperous day.

5

"Good Sirs. My name is Thesius Forhar, Captain of the Royal Dominion freight ship, Corsair."

He had a friendly face, made warm by a ruddy complexion, his kindness and gratitude shone brightly from his deep-set blue eyes, while a little side hair flanked a bald head. He reminded Cantabile - as he looked at him upon the central monitor - of a grandfather figure.

The Captain paused, obviously taking in the combined images that Rachel was transmitting to his ship. "Good Sirs, on behalf of my crew, and of course of myself, I offer you our sincere and heartfelt thanks for your timely intervention. We are in your debt."

"Well in our book, Captain," came back Cantabile, "if you pick up a distress call you answer it." He smiled and gestured toward his companion. "Captain, this is Artemes Scholl, and I am Robert Cantabile, Captain of the trading ship, Cassandra; and we are to have been of service to you."

"Of service," said the Captain, the admiration clear in his voice, "you were much more than that; and that ship of yours - well - I've never seen anything like her, she was unbelievable - out of this galaxy."

"Yeah, you're right, Captain," said Cantabile with a smile broader than a long forgotten Cheshire cat. "She's a fine ship."

"She is indeed, Mr. Cantabile." They could see the question upon the Captains face before he asked it. "Mr. Cantabile, why did you let the wasp go, surely it would have been better to capture them all?"

"Well, Captain, we wanted one of them to go back to its Mothership and let them know that there's someone 'round here that can kick their butts; d'ya follow me, Captain?"

"Perfectly, Sir, perfectly." He nodded his agreement, then said, "Mr. Cantabile, is there anything we can give you in return?"

"No thanks. We've got reward enough with this little bunch." He stabbed his thumb astern. "We're gonna cash them in on Rahn... and speaking of Rahn, I noticed that you've taken damage, if you want we can escort you there for repairs."

"Yeah, and they do some great food at The Rahni', Captain," Scholl put in.

The Captain returned them a longing smile then said, "Good Sirs, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to share a journey and meal with souls such as you. Unfortunately we are constricted by a tight schedule that is now all the more pressing. Our destination is the planet Sahara, and with luck, I think we'll make it. I hope you will not take offense at our seeming ingratitude?"

"None whatsoever," Cantabile replied. "We know all too well the importance of schedules; but Captain, a word of warning, be careful of the Saharan women, they're what you might say - easy with it, and some of them can offer you some pretty exotic diseases, believe me."

The Captain laughed together with the voices of some of his crew, then said, "I shall heed your warning, Mr. Cantabile, but as for my crew, well, they're a disorderly mob at the best of times." A serious tone reentered his voice. "Once again we thank you both from our very hearts." A cacophony of gratitude resounded within the cockpit; then the Captain finished, "Mr. Cantabile, Mr. Scholl. I hope that one day I will share that meal with you, until then... Fare you well."

"Good-bye, Captain," Cantabile smiled back. "And may the solar winds forever fill your sails."

6

Cassandra sailed away from the freighter then in an instant had left it far behind. It did not take long to catch up with the carrier section - Neptune - that, during their rescue mission Rachel had programmed to continue on toward Rahn. The two vessels married and became again the Cassandra-Neptune. Cassandra slotted smugly into the central section of the carriers molded underbelly, with Neptune enveloping her like a great protective shroud, only the nose and cockpit protruded. And with their extra merchandise in tow they continued on their course.

Scholl, slurping on yet another mug of steaming hot Sarabian tea, glanced at the reverse monitor and saw the pirate leader slumped peacefully in his chair. "Hey, Rob, y'know you look more like a pirate than him."

"Yeah, I thought that too," he mused.

"Hey, Rob', y'know somethin'?"

"What?"

"I aren't half hungry."

"Hey, Arte'?"

"What?"

"What's new?"

-