Matron Astalla walked through the new Faire Gardens between the inner and outer walls of the de Orturu estate, Sahnassa at her side. “Thank you for meeting me here. I’ve been stuck behind my desk and in offices far too much as of late.”
“My pleasure, Matron. It’s a very lovely sol, and these new gardens are so picturesque! Also, after all the feasting,” she chuckled, “I … need to get out an exercise a little!”
Astalla looked at her, a little surprised. “Oh, you had someone to spend it with? I was told by your sister that you … weren’t a part of their celebrations.” Seeing the questioning look in the young Nephti’s eyes, the matron answered, “Triana, dear. Those were her words, specifically.”
“Well, that was a wonderfully diplomatic and legally formal way to put it,” Sahnassa grumbled. “No, I wasn’t part of their festivities, I’ll admit. I’ll also admit, freely, that … it hurts that I’m not invited. I know why there’s the distance, there, of course – it’s not a mystery.”
“My coaching of your elder sister intimated that there should have been some recognition of you – a card, flowers, something. Regretfully, her disapproval of you seems very firm.”
“My third parent. What about Hylea? She didn’t reach out, either.”
“I was given to understand that there had been something of a fierce argument between your parents on the subject of … well, you. It seems like your father discovered your mother’s reconciliation with you, and such precipitated the unfortunate celebratory squabble. It pretty well put a chill on the sum total of the sols of feasting for them all. So, you at least have the … satisfaction, if such can be taken from another’s misery with a clean conscience, that they had a fairly unpleasant few sols off.”
“Wasn’t so bad for me, actually. I spent it with a dear friend – listening to her, learning from her.”
“Really?” Astalla asked. “What did you — ah!”
“Matron!” Sahni gasped, but then she, too, was pushed hard off her hind paws. However, unlike her matron, Sahnassa rolled to one side, her paw instantly lighting on her stunner thanks to some of Vanarra’s training the last evening they were together. Looking up, she saw a masked Nephti holding a knife.
“All of your money and jewels and – aheeeeeeeee!!” Astalla watched in surprise as with one fluid motion, Sahni brought her stunner out and fired straight at their assailant, landing a perfect hit. As the stun bolts forced him into uncontrolled paroxysms, his muscles completely overcome, he screamed as best he could through clenched jaws and a bloody tongue that he’d bitten hard into. Falling over, he never got the chance to move again before Sahnassa’s stunner jabbed into his backside, nailing him with the powerful sedative mixture.
Pulling the needle out and dropping the cartridge, she replaced it with another from her small purse as she scanned all around. After a moment, she shrugged. “Looks like he was the only one. Matron, are you okay?”
“I … I am, Sahnassa. My dear, that was very well done! What … are you doing, now?”
“Something else I learned over the last few sols,” Sahni explained as she quick-tied the Nephti’s wrists behind his back. “Carrying just a few extras can come in really useful. There, I don’t think he’s getting out of that.”
“Well,” Astalla grunted, getting up. “Let’s make sure of it.” Pulling out her PawLink, she pressed a series of keys, and it started pulsing low and urgently. “House security alarm, triggered to my location. We’ll have as many guards as you could want in a few passes. I wonder who this is?”
Sahnassa knelt down beside the Nephti she had downed and turned him onto his back. Gently, she slipped her fingers under the mask, loosened, and removed it. Astalla’s growl was something she didn’t miss. “Matron?”
“Astalar – he was on the quick trail to disavowal for stealing from his parents. He’s gotten massively in debt, and we were contemplating getting him some help, but with this!? No, that’s it! As a family, we’re done with him.”
Sahnassa moved around to the other side of him and looked at his features, wiping the blood from his mouth with his own mask. “He’s … just a cub, really,” she noted, thinking back to Mauft’s observation earlier in the sol. “He made a mistake, a horrible one, but … I can’t help but see the little cub inside.”
“He assaulted us, Sahnassa, threatened us. There’s no way around that fact,” Astalla challenged her as distant voices shouting for the matron started to be heard.
“Yes, I know, but he’s now ruined everything for himself, and why did he feel so desperate as to do this? I can’t help but have some pity on him. You said he’s in debt? Why so?”
“School loans; his parents weren’t—“ Astalla stopped when she looked down at Sahnassa who staring up at her, her eyes incredibly sad. “It wasn’t the same as with you! He partied his time away and by the time he finally did bother to get serious about his schooling, matters were far too gone. He lost his scholarship.”
“This could have been me, Matron. There were times when I was looking for work that I was nearly this desperate. In the end, just look at this. He’s thin; really thin. Also, this knife is kinda sad,” Sahni argued, holding up the small utility knife with her claw tips. “Not much longer than my claws, honestly.”
“But it was a knife, and he could have harmed me or harmed you.”
“But he didn’t. I stopped him; just a female with a stunner, recently trained, and he was helpless. I don’t think he could have killed us if he tried. Please, let that count for something.”
Astalla walked over and looked the cub’s face; somehow, the desperation of his situation had etched itself onto the unconscious features of the fallen male. “He will still have to stand trial for misdemeanor assault. We’ll … forget about the tiny knife, I suppose. He’s going to owe you, sincerely, for this. It will be his very last chance, Sahnassa. None at all, after this, will be granted him. Here, guards! Here we are!”
Four security guards stormed in and, upon seeing the male on the ground, they looked at the matron in confusion. “I’m sorry, Matron, but what happened?”
“He … assaulted us, poorly – incompetently. He pushed us down, but an instant later, Sahnassa stunned him.”
The main guard looked that bound Nephti’s wrists and said, “You were … rather prepared.”
It was almost an accusation, but she answered, “I just finished a very thorough self defense course. I was told to keep ties with me.”
“Just as well. What do you want done with him, Matron?”
“Book him with our house guard for assault on a Matron, but … go easy with him. If he is the least bit apologetic or regretful, we’ll keep him as one of us. Hopefully, he realizes the magnitude of his mistake and the value of this second chance he’s being given.”
“I hope that, too,” Sahnassa added as the guards pulled the bound male up off the ground.
“I’ll join you in a few moments,” she told the guard. As she walked to Sahnassa, the matron offered softly, “Thank you, dear kit. I am in your debt. Your quick thinking may have saved us, and who knows, it may save him, as well. Where did you train in self defense?”
“With my friend,” Sahni told her. “She learned from someone who, in the end, probably used violence far too much; it became a way of life for him, we think. It … cost him his life. Maybe, you can get through to Astalar, and turn him away from the same kind of path.”
“One can hope. I’ll have to assign a defender; someone in family legal will have to represent him. Oh, I know,” Astalla offered with a bit of a wicked twinkle in her eye, “how about Triana? After all, she’s coming off a very relaxing period of time off; she should be quite able to take care of his defense.”
“Defending and trying to help someone who might even have been me, at one time in my life,” Sahni chuckled ruefully. “That would be a very noble goal for her.”
“Yes, and … perhaps if she lives through his story, as his defender, she might soften to yours, just a little.”
“I hope so. Thank you.”
Astalla nodded and added, “If you’ll follow me, we need to give statements. Again, thank you for your quick action. A commendation is not out of the question for this.”
“The honor belongs to my family, Matron,” she said as the older Nephti nodded and started walking down the trail. Just before following her, Sahni whispered, “Thank you, Vanarra, and thank you, Sarlankar de Vassar, wherever you are.”
First, I have to say that the artwork by Kat Miller is amazing for this! Sahni looks dangerous, and for her, that’s saying something!
Now, a few notes on this. Those with a penchant for detail will have doubtless wondered where and how Vanarra gathered her driving skills and her fighting skills (also how she knows Kylie). This series is intended to answer that, introducing us to a younger, more vulnerable Vanarra who – for a time – lapses into a strong dependence on someone she shouldn’t have.
I’m also going to tell you how I got the idea for this story. On one of the popular “on-demand video services” we subscribe to, the old TV show Airwolf was available, and so as a once fan of the show (and someone who likes to play the soundtrack), I watched the pilot. I have to say that I was a little stunned by it. Sarlankar is modeled on Stringfellow Hawke, and if you watch the pilot, “Arch Angel”/Michael comes to Stringfellow’s wilderness home to try and convince him to take a mission. He brings with him some 1980’s arm candy in the form of a female associate. During the night, the female makes a non-too-subtle attempt to seduce Stringfellow, and he flat out calls her a “whore” to her face – DUDE, right on 1980’s network TV!?!?!
Well, that struck me a bit, and that kind of started the idea of Sarlankar. So, take that dark, stoic nature of Stringfellow and place it into a character with a much darker profession, someone who has just a sliver of light left in their soul, and there you go. In the hotel where he saw Van take down her three adversaries, he could have been resting up after a particularly difficult job that involved a lot of fighting. For grins, he flicks out his PawLink and starts recording a potential rapemating, but it’s her fighting that initially attracts him to her. Realizing that she’s going to die in jail, he reluctantly intervenes, but then decides to take her on as a little side project between jobs. We can imagine that Sarlankar always studied his targets, and those same skills just click in when he decides to start digging into Van’s past. In the end, he doesn’t find someone who is a target; he finds someone who has a soul good enough to almost save him from destruction … almost.
If you’re wondering about Sarl’s final state, Van said it – he’s dead. He’s not merely dead; he’s really most sincerely dead, and he would not be someone that the Allarrae would ever go back and pluck up for the colony; sorry about that. He was someone lost in darkness who finally died that way, his final moments with Vanarra his very last chance that he could avoid his doom. Here’s hoping those we know and love can do better.
As this finishes up, I have to tell you that this is going to be the last bonus story for awhile as I am about to turn my attentions to the third and final book in the Beyond series, now that books 1 and 2 are complete in manuscript form. Thank you so much for reading! If you have questions about this or anything else, please reach out to me on the Facebook page for “The Thurian Saga!”