The Hand of Atua
The blue-green grasses outside the window rippled in the breeze, the shades of color changing with the light of the sun. There were several moons in the sky. Some glittered like distant gems, others loomed like bloated orbs waiting to fall and crush the planet. The contrast had always bothered me, but now that the heavy hand of the Hatana's fleet approached, it seemed prophetic.
Everything I loved about Manawa could disappear in a week. This planet felt more like home than the palace on Rawiri. I escaped my duties as son to the ruler of the galactic empire by hiding on this scholarly planet.
I never should have stayed on Manawa so long. My continued presence brought it to my father, the Hatana's attention.
Turning from the window, I faced my only childhood friend. His shuttle had landed half an hour earlier. "Are you sure, Ev?"
Evander nodded. His blond hair flopped across his forehead. "We've been monitoring the fleet's communications, but one of our inside sources confirmed it this morning. They'll be here in eight days or less."
A vice cinched around my chest. There wasn't enough time to evacuate the entire planet, but we had to do what we could. "We need to get Ephor Adoser to sound the alarms."
"You do that while I get your glorywinger ready."
"Can I fill your ship with refugees? We need to save as many as possible." I knew Evander would do everything he could.
"We can fill the cargo holds with several hundred people. Where should I take them?" he asked.
I stepped to my desk and retrieved a datacom. After flicking through several screens, I turned back to Ev. "I've sent you contacts on several different planets. One of them will be willing to take the refugees in."
Ev nodded. "Amiran, the Hatana would have come here eventually. This isn't your fault."
"Maybe, but if I hadn't questioned his right to enslave Attalea and Cassia, he might have spared Manawa a bit longer." The acidic taste in my mouth turned my stomach. I should have known better, but I had been stupid enough to think I could reason with my own father. Now Manawa would pay. "Get your ship ready. We have to get the leaders off planet today."
"Yes, Your Highness." Evander clicked his heels and saluted. Ev was a couple years older than me, but he'd always been there for me during the lonely palace days. Until the Hatana sent him into the fleet at age sixteen. I was fourteen and felt his loss as strongly as when my father sent my mother away.
"Stop. Not here, not ever." The sight of him behaving like a fleet soldier turned my blood cold. We'd worked too hard to free him from the military's grasp by faking his death two years earlier. Now at age twenty, he should have been here with me, studying, living the life of a student. Not the life of a ghost, striving to earn the respect of a crew years older than him.
"I might call you Am, but that doesn't change who you are. You are Amiran, the Hatana Tama, heir to the throne that currently rules the known galaxy. Neither of us can forget that." He grabbed the duffel he'd dropped inside the door. His steady voice reminding me of his quiet strength and maturity beyond his years. Evander already had the respect of his crew. That's the only way he could do what he did every day.
Ev pointed at me. "You're the only hope the Coalition has against your father. I'll use the shuttle to ferry people up to the Krahvuus. You talk to the Ephor and then get to your ship. These people may have welcomed you as one of them but how long will that last once they know the fleet is on its way?"
A heaviness settled in my chest. "I don't know."
"I'd better see you in," Ev glanced at his COM, "two hours. If you're not there, I'm sending men to collect you."
I waved him toward the door. "Go."
As soon as he left, I called Imon Adoser, the Ephor, or elected leader, of Manawa. "The fleet is a week out. You need to sound the planet-wide evacuation."
"Atua in heaven, save us all." He hung up without another word, and I was grateful he trusted me that much.
When sources said the Hatana had turned his sights on Manawa, Adoser invited me to sit through hours of meetings with the council discussing plans. A lot of good it did us.
I punched the wall. Pain radiated up my arm, but the wall remained unchanged.
There was nothing on Manawa the Hatana wanted. No rare minerals he couldn't get elsewhere, no special technology. Just people he could enslave, and he already had two planets of slave workers. My sources thought he'd raze this planet, leaving it uninhabitable for centuries, just to punish me for running away. Manawa's military would be no match for the Hatana's war machine.
If only we had more time!
Struggling to breathe, I fled the apartment in search of Professor Canto Talrano. He'd been the opposite of my father, teaching me about things that had never been a part of the Hatana's tyranny. When Talrano spoke, it was to encourage free thought and debate. When my father spoke it was to drill home some military strategy for bringing the weak under control. One man believed there was strength in the diversity of thought, while the other strove to destroy any and all opposition.
Talrano was the reason I'd remained on Manawa. He and his family filled the void created when my mother left the palace and my father turned cold like his general.
I found Talrano in his office. "Professor?"
"Am, come in. They've activated the sirens again. Do you think it's necessary?" He sounded calm, a testament to how quickly things had escalated. We'd only learned about a possible attack two months ago and sent the first load of children and women away a month later. Everyone thought we had time to prepare. We'd been wrong. Talrano continued speaking before I answered. "If it gets worse, I'll send Sora and Eleena away. Atua willing, that day won't be soon."
The color drained from his face, and the book slipped from his hands. It landed on the floor with a thunk. "How long do we have?"
"The fleet will arrive in a week. I'm sorry I didn't know sooner." Shame burned up my neck. "There won't be time to get more ships to help with the evacuation. It's now or never. Evander can get you and your family away today."
Talrano sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands. "I can't leave."
"You have to."
"No. Sora's on the other side of the planet. She left yesterday for a symposium." His transparent anguish weighed me down further.
Sora, Talrano's wife, always welcomed me into her home with a smile. She spoke with a soft voice and cooked better than the palace chefs. Many nights I'd sat with the two of them and their daughter enjoying discussions on literature over dinner. Eleena was twelve, but her parents included her in the conversation as if she were one of the university students. They'd become my family. I couldn't leave any of them behind.
"There has to be a way. We can send for Sora, or Evander can take you to her." I swallowed my desperation.
Talrano looked into my eyes. "It'll take too long. Get Eleena to safety. I'll get Sora. We'll rendezvous with Evander as soon as we can."
I could tell he didn't believe the words even as he said them. By the afternoon, every available ship would be filled and fleeing the planet in an effort to put as much distance between them and the coming fleet.
Ephor Adoser had a plan, and it couldn't wait for one man and his wife.
Every private space vessel had assignments to take government officials, scientists, artists, anyone that could help preserve the Manawan culture. In addition, every freighter on the planet was currently offloading cargo to make room for people and food. They would scatter around the globe and take as many as they could hold to safety. Even so, only a fraction of the planet's population would escape before the fleet arrived.
"Professor," my voice faltered. I had failed him. I had failed all of Manawa.
Talrano walked around his desk. He rested his hand on my shoulder. "In the coming years, you must remember this wasn't your fault. Don't forget the pain, but don't accept the guilt either. Because of you, many of our people will be saved."
Despite his words, my guilt remained. "It's not enough."
"Then do more. Stop your father." He grabbed a satchel. "I'll send Eleena to the spaceport."
He hurried through the door, and I followed him down the hallway. "Professor, Evander will get her off Manawa. Come with her. You can continue your work."
Talrano paused. "I won't leave without my wife."
My stomach churned. "We need you to teach others, help them see there are ways to fight the Hatana."
"My son, there are many who can do that. You can do it." He shook his head then pivoted to resume his journey. "I only have one wife. We made a promise to each other."
My feet were rooted to the floor. I couldn't let him stay. We'd lose one of the greatest teachers I'd ever known. And he just called me son. My own father hadn't used such a term of endearment since I was five and my mother still lived in the palace.
Talrano spoke over his shoulder before entering the lift. “Save Eleena for me."
“You'll make your daughter an orphan. Let me come with you." I ran to catch up.
"No." Talrano stood with his hand against the lift door. "Where's Evander's shuttle?"
"East side, near the tree line."
"Sora's brother, Beck, lives close by. Eleena won't be alone."
"I'll watch for them, but after I get her on the shuttle, I'm coming for you. We can use my ship to get Sora and meet up with Evander."
"Fine, but make sure Eleena leaves first. I'll wait for you at my home."