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Prince  Toreus Rhann  and the Thuvian Rangers

Chapter 7: Shakorja




The Lion man bonds with his cat until they become as one. It is a relationship that is closer than brotherhood. There are many anecdotal stories of cats dying not long after their men have passed and vice versa. I cannot prove that these stories are true but neither can I prove that they are untrue.

But of one thing I am certain; the ancient bond between the Lionmen of Thuvia and their cats is a strong one. A bond that makes them formidable enemies even in this modern age of lasguns and body shields. I would not want to be on the opposing side to them.

Colonel Colin O’Brien, Interview for TransPriman News




Toreus Rhann  and the Thuvian Rangers

Chapter 7: Shakorja

Arnie dropped  Toreus Rhann off at a jump terminal—a large building where on could dial into a jump point if one had the code.

“Good luck, Your Grace,” said the cabby.

 Toreus Rhann nodded. “Good meeting you. Hope to see you again.”

“You will. We Vincenzos pop up in the damdest places.”

“So I see,”

The Prince crossed the pavement and entered the terminal by the wide front doors.

 Toreus Rhann had the pass code to a jump point that opened into a special cargo module in the freight yard spinward of the Fountain. The place where cargo modules were deposited by the drop shaft of the Magnetic Fountain and by the older, slower maglev elevator cars.

There was no one inside the terminal at this time in the evening and with the riot curfew looming.

Robots rushed back and forth about their duty—many of them package messengers using the jump points to send parcels to various destinations.

Jump terminals were limited in the range of jumps by law. After all thee years it was still feared that spies, saboteurs, terrorists and invading armies from other plates might use the jump point  to gain ingress to the realm.

. Arcadian industry made to best non-Mechan bots on the Sphere. The northern continent of Arcadia—Tennyson—was the bot capital of the Sphere. In Toreus’ opinion, the Arcadians were spoiled by their robots.

It looks as if the coast is clear warrior said the voice of the Guider.

 Toreus Rhann nodded curtly, even though he knew that the Guider could see him. The holographic spirit had access to most of the surveillance systems in this city and the terminal was wired for holographic visuals from the security surveillance scanners to the holographic Sphere map at the center of the building.

He moved down the rows of jump booths, each an opaque plastic tube with a plasma screen containment field.

They came in three sizes. There were the big heavy bulk cargo size. Cylinders the size of a house. There were the man sized for individual transport and there were the small carton sized tubes for parcel delivery. The bots moved to and fro from these parcel points with their armloads of cargo boxes.

 Toreus Rhann stepped into one of the personal transport tubers. Inside was a control panel with a touch pad keyboard. He took the jump card out of his utility belt waving it at the panel.

ACESS PERMITTED flashed on the screen.

Toreus’ fingers flashed over the keypad entering the twenty digit access number.

CODE ACCEPTED flashed on the screen. The machine hummed as the jump computer searched for the Casimir signature that matched the access code.

JUMP ENTANGLEMENT ATTAINED said the screen.

PORTAL OPEN

 Toreus Rhann stepped through and into the interior of a bulk cargo module, the kind that were strapped to the exterior of star freighters to carry bulk cargo like gases, water ice and grain.

That was why the Imperial Special Forces used them as mobile special ops command posts.

He looked down the length of the life system of the module. To either side were vehicles parked so as to balance to module when it was weighed by spaceport customs. Closest to him were four infantry power suits, the big walking vehicles that troopers could wear in almost any environment. They were armored and armed with various weapons.

Next were two four man Combat Hovercars, also armored.

Then there were the Spikes—the smart bikes—Toreus’ favorite vehicles. He always carried with him the AI module. The module was his personal steed program and he could fit it into any of the spikes. He would requisition one tonight and place his steed into its AI receptacle.

Beyond the spikes were several spacesuits of various adaptations and a rack of various weapons ranging from lasrifles and laspistols to various bullet guns and racket launches as well as two plasma rifles.

Beyond the parking area the cabin was outfitted like the life cabin of a spaceship. To one side there were equipment lockers and a pantry/galley.

To the other side was a sleeping area with upper and lower bunks and a refresher room—partitioned off for privacy, of course.

It was here that the robot challenged him.

A light red beam shot out from the head of the mechanical man, a meter tall olive drab military service mech the kind of warden bot that ran errands and polished things on starships and at military bases.

The beam .scanned over the Prince’s right green eye and then quickly stopped. The red beam suddenly disappeared as it had came-reseeding back into the electronic eye of the bot.  Toreus Rhann was sure that other scanners of various wavelengths were at play. The retinal scanner, these days, was more or less for show.

“Scan complete,” said a deep machine voice. “.Welcome to Mobile Special Operations Support Modulo Alpha 23139087”

‘’For  Thrull Khonn’s sake and Lord’s of Light,’’  Toreus Rhann   cursed’’ Why don’t you broadcast it to the other side of the Sphere. This is a secret mission.”’

‘’Thank you, Your Grace’’ the mech returned. ‘"I have been briefed in on the protocols of this operation, sire.”.’’

’Blasted robots’’  Toreus Rhann  muttered.

“There is no need for blasphemy, My Prince.”

“Indeed—a religious robot?”

“Negative--I have been schooled at the Sir Michael Millions School of Social Conventions and am able to respond to all socially acceptable responses. Angry references to gods—even, whether real or imaginary are never appropriate in social discourse.”

 Toreus Rhann was taken aback. ”there’s only one bot in the entire Sphere who would waste his time on a Mike Million course in bull shit.”

“No time wasted. Download required 0.32 milliseconds.”

“Arthur? “  Toreus Rhann asked.

“Yes, Your Grace. I am a copy of Arthur 009 Butler to the family of  Toreus Rhann I Rhann Emperor of Pangea and protector of Thuvia.”

“I should have recognized you, old man. The military issue body threw me off.”

“I have been further programmed with the Standard Drill of the Thuvian Military Academy and the Special Operati0ons School at Fort Luray. I am also a qualified Ranger assistant.”

“That’s good. How is my cat doing?”

“He is asleep and awaits you command, sire.”

“First things first. I need a shower and a meal for myself and a Saber cat/”

 Toreus Rhann went to the bathroom section and stripped out of the clothes, emptied the pockets and tossed the wear into the recycler.

. He took a shower, shaved and brushed his teeth. Though his father now sported a beard Rhann men tended to be clean shaven—as were the majority of Thuvian Rangers and Lion Men.  Toreus Rhann wore long sideburns but that was the extent of his facial hair.

Toweled dry he went to the sleeping area and dressed in an undersuit that Arthur had laid out for him. It was the self cleaning, water recycling kind that one could wear comfortably for days on a battlefield. But from experience the Lion Prince found it best to shower before donning one.

Then he went to the galley where the bot butler had ordered the nano-beverage maker to prepare him a glass and a bowl of tea.

 Toreus Rhann preferred tea to coffee—Jurassican/Hydropangean blend especially. He usually drank it in a tall glass, with butter, honey and light cream.  Arthur knew this since Toreus’ requirements were part of his cloned programming.

The bowl of tea would be heavy with cream because it was for his partner. Shakorja liked the cream more than he liked the tea.

 Toreus Rhann and Arthur went to the aft compartment of the module.

In there was a hibernation capsule. Just the standard spaceflight warmsleep hibernation cell like the ones used on commercial flights to transport livestock or passengers who did not adapt well to space travel.

“This is a warmsleep unit,” said Arthur. “Nano preservative gel. Much safer than the coldsleep units that used to be standard. No chance of frost damage and frost bite. Also no chance of sleep blindness and loss of hair.”

“Thank you, Arthur,”  Toreus Rhann said.

 Toreus Rhann checked the life signs monitor built into the lid of the hibernaculum. The monitor showed a slowed heart rate, pulse and sleep EEG. Slow but steady.

The Prince touched his hand to the biometrics panel and the machine recognized his DNA signature. A small port opened to reveal a revive button.  Toreus Rhann pushed the button and held it down until the panel said: REVIVAL PROCEEDING.

Inside the box machines began to drain the nanogel and pump oxygen inot the as dialysis machines began to circulate the blood and circulate revivification drugs ands repair nanites into it.

The heart rate, pulse, EEG and pulse began to increase.

It would take about ten minutes to revive the occupant of the cell.  Toreus Rhann went back to the galley and took the cup and bowl of tea out of the beverage maker and put them in the microwave oven to keep them hot.

***

 Toreus Rhann dressed in a nano-armor suit and selected several weapons. The suit had adaptive camouflage skin and full body cold plasma shields. It also had a built in exoskeleton strength augmentation system. It was comfortable to wear and yielded full range of motion.

He then took the ebony AI brain he had been carrying in his pocket and installed it in the Smart Bike.

It was a cylinder about ten centimeters long and three thick with a socket at one end that fit into the spike’s input board. Once it was seated in its place a telltale light lit and flashed on the bike control panel. The diagnostic sequence had begun. The spike would now function like a live stead, a loyal and trusty horse. This spike was a military model with both magnetic levitation and para-gravity drive units. It also had a sidecar for his cat.

While he was running the diagnostic a big silver-white saber cat with black spots over its amber eyes came out of the rear compartment and sat on its haunches, licking its left paw and raking it behinds it left ear.

“How you feeling, pal?”  Toreus Rhann asked the cat.

How do you think I feel, thought radioed the cat. Like I have been on ice in a box for several days.

“Only three,” said Toreus. “And you were in warmsleep—no ice.”

How kind of you. Next time you go into warmsleep and I will ride in a nice comfortable space liner.

 Toreus Rhann laughed. “They’d make you ride in a cage in the hold. And they’d still insist you be asleep.”

Humans have no sense of fair play. That is a clean case of species discrimination.

“Have a cup of tea with me, old chum and we’ll discuss this later. Arthur, serve the tea and dinner please.”

“Yes. Your Grace,” said the robot moving to the microwave oven.

Is that Art? Asked the tiger.

A copy of him. Replied Toreus.

The machine took the glass and the bowl out of the microwave and placed them on the table. Shakorja perched on a stool near the bowl and lapped up some of the hot fluid. The cat considered himself an equal to all intelligent mammals and refused to eat on the floor.

Very good, he transmitted looking at his friend with his big, amber eyes. Tell the robot that I am in his gratitude.

I am thought radio enabled, transmitted the robot butler.

Robots! Scoffed Shakorja.

He’s on our side, pal,  Toreus Rhann transmitted back.

So, how was your trip? Asked the cat.

Uneventful, save for one close call at the Fountain terminal.

RAMP?

 Toreus Rhann shook his head downing some of the tea. Kai’Vhan mercenaries. The place is lousy with them.

Then this will not be an uneventful trip, transmitted the cat baring his long white ivory canine teeth. The last time we encountered Vhan the body count was impressive.

Indeed, Vhan troopers were wired to the command node of a Centurion and unable to make decisions without him. That node was in turn wired to a Commander who was in turn wired to a command and control node. It was  a great way to keep troops in line in the rear areas but not very efficient under combat conditions. People tended to die while awaiting instructions from above.

 Toreus Rhann placed the glass on the table. The incident had been a raid into the Elysian plate with their Privateer friend Carter Tauran and his Dalkhon partner Goliath. A bloody affair. Local pirates had hired Vhan to protect their operation. It had not gone well for them. The Vhan had been easily routed and their Zatakhon handlers killed and then the pirates themselves had not faired well. They now resided in an Elysian prison.

We are going to try and keep the body count down. This is a rescue mission not a punitive raid. No killing unless we have to.

Shakorja lapped some more tea. We usually have to when dealing with the pinheads.

 Toreus Rhann frowned. That was what everyone in the merk community called the Kai’Vhan—the pinheads. Because of the pin that was inserted into their cranium to control all the bionic systems in their bodies and keep them under the control of their Centurions and Commanders.

They were brave and foolish cyborg soldiers with little regard for their own personal safety. This meant that they died badly and in great numbers.

“Well, mate,”  Toreus Rhann said aloud. “If we have to kill them then we have to. But I never want to kill people just for the hell of it. That’s not our style. That’s their style.”

Agreed, thought Shakorja and nodded his head, one of many human gestures the genetically augmented big cat had picked up.

The saber cat was not completely a creature of natural evolution. What was these days?

Ages ago genetic engineers had mixed human DNA into those of wild saber toothed cats and had produced Shakorja’s breed. They were as smart as people and with the inclusion of hyper-mentation augments—such as the thought radio-- they were effective partners for the famed lion men of Thuvia.

Skakorja and  Toreus Rhann had been together for most of their lives now. The Prince couldn’t imagine a world without him.

***

They ate a meal of cultured beef, peas and yogurt. Toreus’ portion was well cooked and Shakorja’s were eaten raw. The meal had been prepackaged in the cupboard of the cargo module Mission Support Site by Arthur, who knew the duo’s diet card very well.

There was enough food in the module for seven days even though  Toreus Rhann and Shakorja would be leaving this MSS after the meal. But the module was well stocked just in case the Prince and his cat had to use it as an escape route from Arcadia. The module would be sent up to a cargo ship in three standard days and sent on to its next assignment.

Another reason,  Toreus Rhann thought as he finished dressing, to admire the layers and complexities of Kothar Khonn’s service.

He remembered something the big man had said to  Toreus Rhann and Kothar junior long ago when they were both boys.

Wearing a belt and suspenders might seem a bit over cautious, pilgrim. But you’re sure that your pants will not fall down and you have two improvised weapons in an alley fight.

The lesson was clear. Belts weren’t just to keep your pants up. Anything could be a weapon or a survival tool under the right circumstances. It was a lesson that  Toreus Rhann had never forgotten.

The nano-armor suit fit snuggly and bulged only where there was padding. At rest it was olive drab in color but it was capable of adapting to a wide range of camouflage and environments. The skin had variable refractive indexes. One could blend in just about anywhere, making you invisible as long as you didn’t move too much.

Over the suit he fitted the combat webbing that had pouches for weapons and gear as well as the bio-med unit that was able to repair and patch combat damage.  Toreus Rhann healed fast—part of his augmentation—but he was not indestructible.

He also fitted Tesla gauntlets with smart material claws onto his forearms and gloves, and made sure the matter reservoirs for the cold plasma generators were filled.

The gauntlets were armored and soft, made of a material that hardened on impact if you used them to hit someone. Built into them were nano claws that could adapt on command to a wide variety of weapon blades as well as tools. The gloves were also wired with a pulse generator that could put out high electrical energy pulses or plasma balls to stun or kill an opponent. The pulse generators were referred to by the name of an Earth scientist who had invented similar devices—Tesla.

The Prince felt very skilled and comfortable with these weapon systems. Like most Thuvian Lionmen he was an expert in hand to hand and melee weapons combat. The advent of Atlantean plasma shields had made people who fought with fists, feet and cutting edges the elite of Priman warriors.

You had to get real close to use a gun effectively when someone wore a shield. Or else used rounds shielded in superconductors material that was closely regulated for weapon use by most plate’s law.

And if you got that close to a shield fighter you were dead.

Finally  Toreus Rhann slipped his Guider Gem into its place in the head band and fitted it over his head. In combat the headband would morph into a full helmet as the suit itself would morph into a full protective armor. More of the miracle that was smart material.

 Toreus Rhann went through a series of exercises to acclimatize him to the suit and then activated the full armor and repeated the exercises at that level. The suit was very flexible---much like a second skin. You could run, jump and crouch in it.

Finally he ordered the suit back to its rest level and helped Skakorja into his combat vest. The saber cat flexed his muscles and stretched acclimatizing himself to the harness in which he carried the tools and items developed for his use, including a cat sized personal plasma shield.

When he was finished  Toreus Rhann took a large metal equipment case off a shelf at the rear of the compartment.

The bird? Asked Shakorja.

We need eyes in the sky, said Toreus. Birds made Shakorja nervous. An ancient part of his feline mind made him want to chase them,

 Toreus Rhann lay the case on a workbench and opened it.

Inside, in foam packing was an avianoid robot—a lifelike model of a hunting hawk like the ones the Rhann family kept at home at Castle Thuvia.

This one was called Ulysseas—named for an ancestor of Toreus’-- and it had abilities that no biological hawk ever had. And that was why the warrior prince had had it shipped here along with Shakorja.

Guider, he thought transmitted to the gem. Please send the activation signal to Ulysseas.

Working, said the Guider Gem. Signal is sent.

Ulysseas’ bright eyes opened and the robot bird scrambled out of the foam outline and to its feet, flexing its neck and spreading its wings.

“Good to see you, pal,”  Toreus Rhann said, stroking the bot’s head. The bird hopped up on his shoulder and a pad formed for it in his nano-armor as the prince ran through a diagnostic of the robot bird’s system.

He was able to use his optic implant to see through the hawk’s keen eyes. Ulysseas was the best flying spy system that one could own. If seen the enemy would see what they thought to be a harmless bird of prey but in reality he would be Toreus’ eyes in the sky. A spy that blended in with the background. Many cities on the Sphere had falcons and hawks as part of their pest control systems. They were a necessary part of the eco-system and most plates had strict punishments for killing or abusing them.

 Toreus Rhann went back to his spike and keyed the ignition sequence. The motors hummed to life.

How are we for time? He asked the Guider.

We are two hours from the meeting time, said the voice of the Gem.

“Time to go, old chum,”  Toreus Rhann called to Shakorja.

The big cat got up and loped to the sidecar of the spike.

 Toreus Rhann  eased up on the maglev throttle and the spike lifted off the deck plates and hovered.

Ready for action, boss, said Ulysseas.

That’s about all he ever says, complained the lion.

But it is the truth,  Toreus Rhann  smiled.

Shakorja boxed with his closed claws like a human prize fighter. He only used his claws for climbing and killing. But his closed paw punch was often just as lethal. Ready for action, My Prince,

Shakorja hardly ever called him that. The Saber Cat looked upon himself as a prince too. Leave it to a cat to think like that. It is said that dogs have masters but a cat has a court of honor..

We’re on our way, thought radioed Skakorja.

Yes we are,  Toreus Rhann  replied.

He punched the numbers of a cargo jump point into the point control on the spike’s dash and eased the machine forward toward the jump point at the end of the module. Arthur moved away beyond the range of the vehicle's repellant field.

As  Toreus Rhann and Shakorja disappeared down the quantum entanglement hole the robot waved good-bye.

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