BOOK TWO: CHAPTER 23 – Judgment

CHAPTER 23 – Judgment


While the three senior officers were being scanned once more, six more Specialty commanders from the Golden Falcon were dragged into the room; the sentencing was reconvening.  The guests consisting of Lyonell, Lantrill, Sukio, and Leo Bakken temporarily left the room.  Raphael looked upon this new set of prisoners with interest, noting they were also implanted.  It would appear the original implanted individuals had managed to do a great deal of damage on board The Golden Falcon without being detected by Commander Strom.  Raphael frowned and closed his eyes to deepen his Sight and suddenly opened them again.  He felt the same quality of dark magic used to avoid detection by the ship scans that was used by the dark lords during the battle in which his brother Ezekiel and several friends had fallen.  He pulled out the crystal necklace he wore beneath his uniform and spoke telepathically to the great crystal: Can you dissolve the black magic?

The crystal replied: Yes; watch!

As Raphael observed, the implanted devices on each man were suddenly evident for all to see within the room, as a black mist rose from each man’s body. The visiting commanders gasped in astonishment while Lord VaCoupe turned to his son, “What did you just do, Raphael?”

“I could see these men were also implanted, but again the priestesses had been unable to detect the presence of the devices. So, I resolved to discover why. This crystal that I wear also came from the outpost. As it has no power to re-open the outpost, I decided to keep it,” explained Raphael. Seeing confusion in some faces, fear in others and impatience in his father’s, he continued: “I asked the Crystal if it could dissolve the black magic that was preventing the detection of the devices. And it did! Now we know why the implants were undetected within the other three officers. Excuse me, Father; I need to inform Lady Anna and the other ladies what I just discovered.”

“Just a moment, Raphael – you mean the Crystal dissolved the black magic?” asked an impatient Lord VaCoupe.

I just said that Father – believe me! When we work as a team with Crystals, our human abilities are expanded well beyond the ability for most men to understand. I’ve worked with crystals since I was a child and during many other lives,” replied Raphael patiently. “What’s more – there are four more Morovians in this lot: Eduardo Fuentes; Roberto Camacho; Tomás Betteros, and Ignatius Romero. They hoped to escape detection by forging the planet of their origin in the records. They were all born on Morova. I know this!”

Commander Contreras looked down at the roster in his hands and replied, “All of these men claim to be from Rusturo, a small agricultural planet in the same solar system as Morova. Looking at these individuals now that they are unmasked, I would have to agree with Lord Raphael’s findings. None of those men look like they have ever worked a field in their life. And the other two individuals standing here; Adam Paulus and Garry Horato – how about them – they don’t look like Morovians to me, my lord.”

“They’re not, Commander – Paulus is a cousin of Head Commander Paulus from The Golden Lion, a decent man. However, his cousin was unfortunate enough to be implanted by this nest of Morovians. And Horato is from Serana; look at those broad shoulders and sturdy build – what a waste! Apparently, he was also implanted by the Morovians,” replied Raphael.

Commander Vanderis looked bewildered and impressed. He asked, “How can you determine all of this just by looking at these men, my lord?”

This time, Lord VaCoupe spoke up: “Commander Vanderis – my son used to train line communication commanders and technicians. He designed the course, augmenting it with his own techniques to scan for anomalies. He can read the Akash of anyone and remember the frequencies of everyone he has ever encountered – much like a photographic memory. As you are all now witnessing, his skills are formidable,” replied Lord VaCoupe forcefully. “And now, Raphael – I give you permission to seek out Lady Anna and to assist the priestesses with their scans. It seems we should have utilized your services in that direction from the first; then we wouldn’t be still here sitting.”

Lord VaCoupe stood and first addressed the now frightened prisoners: “Sorry, men; your condition of being implanted gives me no alternative but to have you all executed. It doesn’t matter how you became implanted. My son, Lord Raphael, has determined you are and now we can all see it for ourselves.”

Then, he gave orders to the guards: “Captain, remove these prisoners and take them outside to be executed at once. There is no further reason to keep them alive.”

Lastly, Lord VaCoupe addressed Commander Strom: “It is obvious that this contagion has made significant inroads on your ship in particular, Commander Strom. Now that Lord Raphael has revealed how these men have managed to go undetected, we can assist in cleaning up your ship more quickly. Raphael could program the Mother Crystal of your ship to scan the entire vessel for anomalies once he teaches Her to see through and dissolve the black magic that has been hiding these implants from detection.”

“Meanwhile, Commander, you’re going to have quite a few staff to replace. We will do our utmost to rectify the situation. I would suggest you give me the records of any outstanding line commanders you have on board in the different departments. If you feel they deserve promotions, I’ll let you make them. It will depend, of course, on their education, experience, and skill levels… as well as their reliability and trustworthiness. Anyone… everyone on board your ship will have to first undergo a battery of tests and scans to determine their mental acuity, as well as their personality types. I do not want any egotistical brats with an unwarranted sense of entitlement given positions of power on any command vessels from here on in.”

The other commanders looked at each other, realizing that Lord VaCoupe was referring to his own disgraced son, Esturias. They wisely remained silent.

Once the prisoners were removed, some protesting their innocence and others appearing to be in a state of profound shock, Raphael left the room to find where Lady Anna and the other ladies were performing their scans. He found them a short way down the corridor. They were working with Lucian Del Campo and seemed to be frustrated with their results. Raphael knocked as he stood in the doorway to gain the attention of Lady Anna. She swung around at him and snapped, “We’re in the middle… oh, Raphael, it’s you! What do you want? For your information we still cannot detect an implant on this man. Do you have a suggestion?”

“My lady Mother, I do; I just discovered that I have an assistant of great value,” replied Raphael, somewhat mysteriously. He drew out the necklace from beneath his uniform and showed her the large crystal. 

Lady Anna observed the crystal lying on Raphael’s palm for a moment and then glanced up at her son, “It is very pretty, but how can that – oh, wait, she is speaking to me.” The former high priestess’ large light blue eyes seemed to expand with wonder, “Oh, how marvelous. Please demonstrate your ability… one of your abilities – pardon me – for our prisoner and us.”

Accordingly, Raphael held the large crystal (it was about the size of a chicken’s egg) on his palm in front of the former head commander. The crystal’s light wavered for a moment and then seemed to explode. The prisoner stepped back involuntarily as a puff of dark smoke rose from his body and dissipated. Raphael said, “Now, ladies; try once more to scan this prisoner.”

After a few seconds of scanning Del Campo, one of the priestesses spoke aloud: “Lady Anna – I can see it now; I can see the implant! Now, we can scan the other men more quickly and complete this ordeal.”

“Agreed, Lady Robyn; guard, you can escort the prisoner back to his cell, but only temporarily. I know Lord VaCoupe is eager to complete this process. Take him now,” ordered Lady Anna.

With the help of Raphael and the Lion King’s great crystal, the priestesses were able to complete their final scans quickly. Lady Arrina and Lady Anna then reported their results directly to Lord VaCoupe who was still sitting in the second conference room talking with the other commanders.

Lady Arrina spoke first: “My lord – your son, Lord Raphael, has come to our assistance and proven to our satisfaction that all three of the prisoners we rescanned today do have implants. With the assistance of the great crystal, he was able to dissolve the black magic that prevented the implants from being detected. I would venture to say this magic is recent device of the Enemy to enable its agents to infiltrate institutions and settings completely undetected. We will borrow Lord

Raphael so he and his crystal can teach our Mother Crystals now how to detect and dissolve this new black magic. This is the first time we have ever encountered such a thing. I am grateful for your son’s timely entrance; we were getting quite frustrated and tired after performing all these onerous scans.”

Lord VaCoupe was relieved that Raphael’s new discovery brought a speedy end to the scans; Lady Anna and the other women looked exhausted. He replied, gently: “Thank you, ladies, for your magnificent work. I am glad Raphael was able to assist you. Now, please leave the room so we can complete the sentencing process; Commander Strabo, could you escort the ladies to a quiet room where they can rest and have some refreshments before we leave this afternoon? I’m not sure how much longer this will take.”

Commander Strabo nodded and left the room, gently escorting the priestesses to a room that had several pillow couches. He ordered one of his clerks to attend to the needs of the ladies and then returned quietly to the conference room. He was determined to witness the remainder of the sentencing process – especially when it came to that for the last prisoner, Esturias VaCoupe.

As Strabo took his seat, Lord VaCoupe ordered the guard captain to bring out the three commanders once again – the ones rescanned that afternoon.

As the prisoners were led into the room, they were struggling against the guards. Nevertheless, the tall solid guardsmen wrangled the prisoners into line, to stand before the commanders. This time, Commander Strom stood up and paused as he looked each man in the eyes and said: “I trusted each one of you and you have failed me, our lord, and our people. You each have been found to have an enemy implant inside your body. Therefore, we have no other alternative than to sentence all three of you to immediate execution. Guards remove these men from our sight and perform your duty. See that the bodies are removed and taken to a place where they can be cremated, and their ashes returned to their families if they have any.”

The guard captain saluted the commander and ordered his men to remove the prisoners.

Lord VaCoupe sighed; now it was time to face his own son perhaps for the last time. He ordered the guard commander to bring out Esturias VaCoupe.

Even Lord VaCoupe was shocked to witness the change in Esturias’ appearance. He looked gaunt, forlorn, and ashamed. Upon a sign from Lord VaCoupe, Commander Lo’Telle stood up and read from the roster: “Esturias VaCoupe, formerly top commander of the new mothership, The Golden Eagle. You have been charged with committing an act of treason against your father, Lord VaCoupe; treachery against your two brothers, Lord Raphael Kantor-VaCoupe and Master Roméo VaCoupe; deceit, lying, and attempting to claim the work of your brothers and their team for your own. You were tricked and played by several implanted individuals who, intrigued with you with the purpose to ostensibly take control of the Starship Project. However, these individuals were acting as covert agents of our Enemy and had every intention of kidnapping and possibly killing your kin and friends. You have disgraced your position as commander. You are hereby stripped of your title, rank, privileges, and position. You will not be allowed to ever reenlist in the Command during the remainder of this life. Considering your misdeeds, your father, Lord VaCoupe, has every right to pronounce a sentence of death upon you…”

Esturias stared down at the floor unable to meet anyone’s eyes. His slender shoulders were shaking with silent sobs. His poorly cut hair stuck out from his head incongruously like greasy quills. For a moment Raphael almost felt sorry for this unfortunate stranger. Then he remembered who he was… and managed his facial expression to show no emotions whatsoever. Esturias had fallen, no, toppled from the pedestal upon which a young line commander had long ago placed his new commanding officer. Esturias was no longer the brilliant battleship commander Raphael had known long ago. Now he was just another pathetic prisoner awaiting sentencing.

 After a long pause, Commander Lo’Telle continued reading: “We have been informed by Lord VaCoupe that you have been disowned and your name struck off the family records. Therefore, you can no longer claim to be a VaCoupe or indeed, the member of any family within the Pleiades. The Shekinah has requested clemency for the sake of your mother, but this does not mean you will escape punishment. In view of your deceit and treachery, you are now sentenced to be imprisoned within the lowest level of the Alyona Castle for a period of not less than sixteen years. Upon your release from prison, you will be exiled to Morova and there be placed into hard labor for the remainder of your natural life. The Mother may be merciful although it is the opinion of this court that you do not deserve mercy. May you seek forgiveness, come to true repentance and regret for having committed misdeeds against your father, your family, the Command, and the Pleiadian people!”

Then Lord VaCoupe roared out, “You are no longer Esturias – you will be known henceforth as No name. You can no longer carry your given or surname. Your names have been removed from the Family records henceforth. Captain – remove the prisoner and have him taken to Alyona tomorrow on a fast fighter. I no longer wish to look upon his face!”

The tall BerWarian guard captain signed two guards to remove the prisoner. Finally, the ordeal was done, although for the one formerly known as Esturias VaCoupe, it was only the beginning.

Before embarking to their new home, Raphael and Julia finished packing up their belongings at the old house rented to the Starship Project by Lord Mathdis. All their children were grown except for young Dante. The project was shut down; there were no reasons to linger save to say good-byes to all the friends Raphael and Julia had made in Jolf during the past thirty-five years. Raphael would especially miss the wit and wisdom of his good friend Lord Mathdis. The two men had come to deeply respect each other through the several decades when Raphael lived in Jolf. Raphael would also miss the sensible, hard-working Aiden Mathdis and his lovely mate, Brunella Kadish. At times, the Mathdis Family felt closer to Raphael than his adopted family, the VaCoupes. He cherished his friendship with them all, including the children who had grown up with his own.

There was another bittersweet parting for Raphael, as his grandson Tazo decided that, at last, it was time for him to return home permanently to Sirust so he might mate and begin a family of his own. He was sure that his Grandfather Lord Chananda would appreciate his presence and would be interested in learning about the latest developments in Raphael’s life. Tazo and Raphael would miss each other, but both knew that in time, they would be reunited, whether in this life or another. Tazo departed on a shuttle from Jolf that would take him to the Medinian University Ship, where he could eventually obtain transportation back to Sirust. These days, more and more Ashkerians were applying for training at the University Ship, so Ashkerian ships periodically stopped there. As Tazo waved one last time before boarding the shuttle, Raphael blinked back his tears. This was one parting that was difficult to endure as the two men were so in tune with each other, like the twins they once had been. As he turned away, Raphael brushed away his tears and walked back to the old Jolf house his people were in the process of vacating.

Since the summer season was waning, the two brothers, Raphael and Roméo decided to visit Medina once more before everyone went their separate ways. Adario Kadish and his mate, Bettina, would be moving to the University Ship for the time being so Adario could embark on his new assignment: to build a scanning device that could be installed into the existing ships and built into all new ones. Security was the new order of the day, especially after the near disaster of Esturias’ attempted coup. 

Lantrill, Sukio, and Leo Bakken packed their things and immediately transferred to The Golden Falcon since Commander Strom desperately required their assistance in sorting out the security issues on board the vessel.

 After the stress of all the massive changes, a very tired Raphael and Julia found their way to Medina. They were accompanied by Roméo and Astrig, Commander Monteras and Raphael’s compliment of Eagles: Paul Dominguez, Gareth Vanderis, Felipe Diaz, and Leo Vayin. It felt strange to not be accompanied by his Feline friends, Lantrill, Sukio, and Leo Bakken, but those men were now embarked on an important mission – to assist Commander Strom in restoring order to The Golden Falcon, the one ship most severely impacted by the attempted coup.

With the closure of the Starship Project, the two Crystal Masters Pelleur and Betteros also left Elexa. They were needed elsewhere. Master Pelleur did not want to be reminded of the treachery of the coup and the destruction of all their dreams for the Pleiadian people. The little Crystal Master hoped to see Lord Raphael in the future, but in those uncertain times there were no guarantees. He was aware that his sister, the Lady Chokama kept tabs on Raphael, if only from afar. She was profoundly interested in the soul evolution of this extraordinary untrained crystal master and shaman. Master Pelleur was sure his sister would have a hand in the future in determining the trajectory of Raphael’s next life after this one… If nothing else, Lady Chokama would see Raphael periodically when she attended council meetings in Alyona, especially now that he was to be an official member of Lord VaCoupe’s permanent staff.

It was a profoundly transformed Raphael who landed his magnificent little ship at the Medina spaceport. Ironically, he was still officially in the Command although still under the direct command of his father, Lord VaCoupe. And he was soon to return to Alyona Castle, a place that held some memories of former challenging times for him. As a member of Lord VaCoupe’s personal staff, he would be obligated to attend official gatherings, councils, and events. Raphael understood his father’s intentions were to keep him close; there was bound to be system-wide fallout from the fleet, especially from commanders whose ships had lost their entire inventory of golden ships. However, Raphael had more than proved his value to his father during the latest crisis. His courage under pressure, ability to think clearly, to anticipate the moves of his enemies, and to prepare for emergencies had all been clearly demonstrated. Lord VaCoupe was now determined to utilize his adopted son’s abilities to their full extent for events now pressed in upon the Pleiadian people. Had it not been for the quick thinking and actions taken by Raphael, Lord VaCoupe could have been captured or dead by now. 

Upon landing, Raphael informed his companions of his intentions to visit the Shemont, specifically the Shekinah. He had many things to share with the Lady, especially his latest discovery about the black magic being used to disguise implants. He kissed Julia’s forehead and sent her on the way in a viscar along with his last remaining brother, Roméo and Lady Astrig. With just two of his Eagles, Gareth, and Felipe, accompanying him, Raphael made his way to the vicinity of the Shemont and petitioned to see the Shekinah. He waited patiently in the meditation garden until a priestess came out and stood before him. It was the red-haired Lady Rita.

My lord; the Lady Amethyst will see you in her study now,” Lady Rita quietly announced, yet Raphael could sense she wanted to say more…

He smiled, “You are Lady Rita? I understand you were friends with my son Jychondria when you were children. He will be coming to Medina soon for a family visit. Perhaps you will be able to see him briefly. Now, let us attend the Lady; we mustn’t keep her waiting!”

Raphael was amused to see a sweet blush bloom on Lady Rita’s pale cheeks. While a Medinian by birth, due to her hair coloring, her complexion was lighter than most, with a slight dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks, lost now in the blush. He sent her calming energies as they walked slowly through the gallery. She was extremely sensitive to energies as the young woman sent him a grateful smile. Lady Rita knocked on the door leading to the study of Lady Amethyst. The door was opened by Lady Arrina who greeted Raphael.

Ah, greetings Lord Raphael; thank you for your kind assistance the other day – if you weren’t serving your Father, you would make a wonderful Priest,” she said.

Raphael gave the priestess a wry smile and replied, “So I have been told, Lady Arrina, on numerous occasions, but that isn’t my life purpose now. I will be serving Lord VaCoupe as a personal Aide on Alyona from now on… or until things in my life change once more.”

“I’m sure your father will benefit greatly from your counsel and insights, Lord Raphael. Now here, I must leave you at the inner door; Lady Amethyst wishes to speak to you alone,” said Lady Arrina. “Your Eagles can wait out in the meditation garden.”

Raphael knocked and entered as he heard Lady Amethyst’s voice within. He was startled to see the Lady was not alone; his friend Master Li Tzulo was sitting across from the Lady. The two soulmates looked up at Raphael as he entered, “Master Li! What are you doing here?”

“I came to lend my strength to my Lady during this time of great change for our people,” replied Master Li soberly. Together, we sent healing and strengthening energies to you during the occasion of the trial of your eldest brother, Esturias. Now, we are here to warn you of more incoming incursions of the enemy who is greatly disturbed by your detection of the coup attempt and the black magic being used to veil the implanted devices within their enemy agents. Specifically, you will be sought out as a primary target for their revenge. Always go places with a full complement of guards and do not trust anyone who is not a long-term friend. Your father is also potentially a target, but we see he now keeps his BerWarian guards close to his person. We find it interesting that you the son must at times teach your father wisdom. You are far more advanced in your soul development than our Lord, but we won’t tell him that… He loves you well and has finally come to realize more fully what a gift he received when he took in a fatherless child long ago. Now that he has lost yet another son to the Darkness that encroaches upon our worlds, he will come to rely even more heavily upon you.”

Raphael nodded and said: “I am aware of these things, dear Master Li, and Lady Amethyst. Ever since I entered this world as a child, I’ve been a target of the Dark. From now on, I will be serving my father from Alyona as a personal Aide for him, giving counsel, reading frequencies, scanning persons who visit him, attending meetings and councils… as well as eventually training my nephew Francis VaCoupe to replace our lord when he passes or retires. Personally, I feel that Father has aged quite a bit overnight since this latest series of events. It was painful to observe his grief and anger directed at Esturias… who was extremely abject and repentant of his misdeeds – but Father couldn’t see it. Perhaps in time he will relent somewhat. Esturias has been disowned and will serve time in prison for several years. My former brother has lost everything in his bid to wrestle away the Starship Project from my team and myself. Esturias never understood that I was not competing against him for Father’s regard. Perhaps he will eventually gain wisdom and learn some peace from his trials. He did appear quite broken in spirit when last I saw him.”

“Lady Arrina informed us of the sentence passed upon Esturias; harsh indeed, but his father was ready to have him killed outright for committing treason. The clemency of a longer life sentence will give your brother the opportunity to work through his fears or not. It is ever his choice if he will make progress. Since he has chosen the path of suffering to learn his soul lessons, we will merely watch him from afar and evaluate how and if he progresses,” said Lady Amethyst. “Now, you have come here to share something with us?”

“Yes, my Lady – it is the crystal necklace I found in the outpost of my ancient people,” replied Raphael as he pulled out the jewel. It was a large highly polished oval crystal of great clarity, strung on cunningly interwoven strands of the golden aluminum. He placed the crystal upon the Lady’s outstretched palm. 

She closed her eyes and murmured, “This crystal originally came with your people from another Universe. We see your father, Lord Lyonille, left it hidden within the outpost to discover in a time of need, much like the technology stored there. Lady Arrina witnessed how you already put the jewel to great purpose in detecting the presence of the concealed devices within those compromised commanders. This great jewel has determined to work with you in the future. While most of our people are not yet ready to work with the Crystal Kingdom, you are… At present, there are only other two people in the Pleiades who could even wear it, the Lady Chokama and your sister, Claudine. Both are currently aligned with the Elemental Kingdoms. We encourage you to keep the jewel on your person whenever you are serving your father as there will be many enemies pressing in upon your lands. You will learn further ways to utilize the jewel as each of you becomes accustomed to the other. You can speak to the Mother Crystal of this Planet what has been found regarding the black magic being used by the enemy. She will convey your latest information to the Mother Crystals of the motherships. Thank you for your willingness to try new things to overcome the devices of our Enemy.”

Master Li bent over the jewel to examine it, “Beautiful, simple, elegant, and clean – like the White Ray you represent here in our worlds today, Lord Raphael. There is immense power within the jewel like there is within you. Both are tools for the Divine and a pleasure to be around for those who can manage to navigate your strong energies, my dear friend. Keep it close. While the crystal is a tool, it will prove useful in coming months and years.”

“What do you intend to do now that your project has been closed down, my lord?” queried Lady Amethyst as she studied Raphael. She smiled; for despite all the trials he had undergone within the past few days, he had emerged stronger and more confident than ever. He had handled himself with great courage, devotion, and determination while dealing with several demanding situations.

Well, my Lady – as I said before, I will be accompanying Lord VaCoupe and Lady Anna to Alyona during the next High Council. Lady Julia and I will be living permanently in Alyona at the Castle – ironically where Esturias will be imprisoned for the duration of his long prison sentence. I doubt if we will ever see him again; Father has disowned Esturias and even removed his right to carry his name. It would seem dishonorable to go against my father’s wishes. I will be an Aide, much like the role the Head Commanders take on board our ships, although I am now a 2nd Level Commander,” explained Raphael. He suddenly laughed, “More ironic – you must know that I was an aide to Lord Lyonell, my first role as a young cadet in the Command. Now, I am once again an Aide to my superior officer, who happens to be my Father. It would appear our lives go in spirals. I must have advanced somewhat for now I am experienced enough to handle the role of assisting my father through the remainder of his time as Lord and Commander. Currently, I have no idea what my nephew will require of me, if anything, but I will make myself available… or perhaps move to BerWare to serve Claudine as an advisor.”

Master Li smiled at his younger friend, who, again, had proven to be more emotionally mature than his benighted elder brother. Perhaps the two would meet again in the future and rectify all their outstanding issues. “It would appear, Lord Raphael, that you are mentally prepared for whatever presents itself in the days ahead. We will need more men and women who are adaptable to the changing times our people face ahead. We are glad to have met you in this life, my friend. I came to say good-bye to my Lady for I will be retiring soon from teaching and returning home to Vey. I was fortunate in my timing so I could also say good-bye, for now, to you, Raphael. I have treasured the opportunity to meet and get to know you in this life. I know we will meet again, dear one.”

Raphael felt a sudden pocket of grief upwelling as tears began to flow down his cheeks. He sniffed and wiped his face, “Sorry, Lady Amethyst, Master Li – I’ll be sincere, I will miss you, my dear friend. You have assisted me greatly through many trials and changes in this life. I can never thank you enough for your compassion, wisdom, and insights. Thanks to your guidance, I have moved through many difficulties and won through. Now I am a man, fully secure in my being and can face what lies ahead. I will be forever grateful to have known you, dear soul mate. Yes, we will meet, again…”

Master Li took Raphael’s hand in his two smaller ones, “Raphael – it has, indeed, been an adventure. You have grown so much from the time I first met you as an awkward teenager. I have treasured every moment we have shared. Meanwhile, Lady Amethyst is here in Medina… And I may be acting as a representative from Vey at the High Council, at least periodically now that my schedule will be lighter. So, I may see you at Alyona Castle in the future. I will make a point to visit you and Lady Julia when I do visit.”

“Oh, that’s good to know – now I can let you go, dear friend,” replied Raphael. He released his hand and stood, bowing to the Master. Lady Amethyst extended her hand which Raphael kissed lightly. He said: “Thank you, both, for your counsel and guidance. Lady Amethyst, I will visit you from time to time when I am in Medina.”

“We look forward to your visits, Lord Raphael,” replied the Lady graciously. “Carry my greetings to your father. I know his heart is sorely grieved now with the loss of yet another son. If he cares to speak to me for guidance or comfort, let Lord Demetrius know that we are here to serve.”

Raphael gave one final bow and left the room.

Master Li sat there regarding the door for a few minutes and then turned to his Twin: “My dear Lady; that young man never ceases to amaze me. One would hardly guess that he was very nearly kidnapped the other day or that his brother threatened to wrestle away the project upon which he had worked so hard for decades. Raphael can move through traumatic experiences like none other I know. I sincerely doubt his eldest brother currently commands such poise. Esturias will suffer greatly, but he has chosen a hard path. I look forward to seeing how Raphael adapts to, yet another phase of his life and he is still so young…”

Raphael and his two Eagles walked slowly through the village of Medina. The people openly greeted him but did not approach. Raphael had not been a resident of Medina for decades but still there a few shopkeepers and other townspeople who recognized his unusual coloring and blue-green eyes as being one of the sons of their lord.

The day was hot, extremely hot for Raphael, but he was wearing his Command uniform as were the Eagles, with Medinian robes over them and a light hood over his white blonde hair to shield him from the intense desert sun. He sighed; he had lived too long on the more temperate coast of Maubene. Still, Lord VaCoupe didn’t plan to be in Medina for more than a couple of weeks. The time of the Howling was soon approaching. Any travel was nigh on impossible during the ten days to three weeks of solar flares which caused electrical and windstorms on Medina. Then after came the cooling rains of winter, but by then Lord Demetrius and his party would be heading to Alyona. Raphael didn’t expect to return to the planet of Medina for a long time. He knew he had to recover emotionally from the latest crises even if it didn’t appear outwardly that anything was amiss; he was still extremely sensitive and to have been threatened by a close family member so openly was a bit unnerving. For once, he might be able to enjoy the beauties of Alyona and the great parks and lakes he had never once visited.

Lord Raimundo was waiting to greet Raphael and his companions at the gate. The two men hugged. His uncle said: “Thank you for taking care of my brother, Raphael. Demetrius looks very tired after the encounters with all those implanted officers and then having to sentence his own son. Demetrius may never fully recover emotionally from this latest shock. I hear you have been re-assigned to act as an Aide for your father so you and Lady Anna can look out for his well-being.”

It’s good to see you, Uncle – I see the old house hasn’t changed much – that isn’t a criticism. Yes, I was honored to assist my adopted father through yet another crisis. Oh, it’s hot; I still prefer the cooler climate in Jolf but doubt I will spend much time there anymore after this latest adventure,” replied Raphael. “The outpost has been closed and sealed until it is time to reopen it – which won’t be for several thousand years. At least for now I still have access to my ship, The Golden Cat. I may have to send her back to her hangar in the outpost, but not yet. With my being assigned to Alyona once again, the Cat can be stored at the spaceport for the time being.”

Let us go inside, Raphael – hello, Gareth and Felipe, welcome back,” said Raimundo graciously. “The other Eagles and Commander Monteras, have already made themselves comfortable in their rooms, as has your Julia, Roméo, and Astrig. Lady Anna and Lord VaCoupe are resting in their rooms. There are some refreshments waiting for you in the family room.”

“Thank you, Uncle,” replied Raphael and then checked the skies as he felt a whip of wind against his cheek. “It feels like the Howling approaches, Uncle. Are there any other members of the family who are arriving here?”

“Your three sons, Jychondria, Ezekiel, and Dante, are expected today or tomorrow. Remilla, Arianna, and Sabina will not be attending the family gathering as each are involved in their work as priestesses. Claudine and King Stephanus will also be arriving, sometime today. They haven’t been here for quite a while,” replied Raimundo, who then looked across the garden. Raphael knew he was reflecting on who would not be present, Esturias. “Lorenna, of course, will not be attending; she has quite a bit of grieving to do right now. Fortunately, Serena also lives in Milan and can console her mother. However, the twins, Francis, and Adarius, will be arriving sometime tomorrow. I don’t think you have seen the boys for a while since you have been so engrossed in your project until – well, you’ll find them very polite, quite different from their father – something that brings some comfort and a modicum of hope to my brother for the future of this family.”

“Yes, in recent days the family’s future has been quite altered by certain events, Uncle – I was there for everything; it was all very sad and disturbing,” replied Raphael. “We will speak of these things later in more detail if you wish, but right now a fine cup of Flora’s tea and a nice bit of fruit pudding sounds quite inviting!”

Raimundo observed that his adopted nephew appeared to be doing well after being immersed in a dangerous crisis. Concerning his sensitivities, Raimundo wondered if his nephew would soon experience one of his periodic illnesses as a result. Raphael looked at him and smiled, “I’m feeling remarkably well, Uncle, if a bit tired. I did faint after the initial encounter with all those implanted individuals but not until Father, the team, and I were out of danger and the enemy agents were being taken in hand by the command guards,” Raphael said. “Lantrill had to fly the Cat back to Jolf!”

 “Where are Lantrill and Sukio?” queried his uncle. The two Felines and Raphael had seldom been apart, companions and co-workers for decades now. “And for that matter, where is Commander Tazo, your grandson?”

Well, both Felines have been immediately re-assigned to The Golden Falcon, Strom’s mothership. His ship was the one most affected by the attempted coup, so we thought as Felines and warriors the two of them could assist in cleaning up the ship of any further implanted persons. Young Lyonell will also be reassigned to The Falcon. Strom is beside himself to have all his old friends with him once again,” replied Raphael.

Then he sighed deeply, “Seeing that the golden ships are no more, my grandson Tazo decided to return home to Sirust for now. Perhaps we will see each other in the future, especially if Tazo can become an envoy to the Pleiades. Even my now former personal assistant, Specialty Line Commander Leo Bakken, has been reassigned to The Golden Falcon, so nearly half of my former team has already departed from Medina.” He paused once more and then commented, “There will be no more going back, Uncle, to what was a dream of ours for nearly 35 years.”

 “It was a sad day for our people and for our family when Esturias contacted your father…” stated Raimundo. 

Raphael just nodded and said, “Even with this uniform, I’m getting uncomfortable; can we go inside now?”

“Oh, forgive me, Raphael – I am just so shocked at the turn of events in the last couple of days,” replied Raimundo.

I’m not – I’ve been anticipating something like this to happen for months. Still, it is difficult to walk through the actual event,” said Raphael soberly. “Now, where’s that cup of tea you promised me?”

The two men had been standing on the open portico before the huge entrance door, when there was the sound of the gate opening and a loud shout, “Father; I’m here!”

Raphael swung around to see his tall golden-haired blue-eyed son approaching. It was Ezekiel. For a moment Raphael thought it was his former brother striding up through the garden until he felt his second son’s massive arms take him up into a bear hug. Ezekiel now towered over his father, standing a good six inches taller. Then, as Ezekiel let him go to hug his great uncle, Raphael heard another voice, “I’m here, too! We got orders directly from Grandfather Demetrius to report here to Medina. What’s going on, Father?”

It was Jychondria, the first son of Raphael, the one of the white blonde hair and bright blue eyes lined with violet. He also towered above Raphael. His proud father hugged him closely; it had been a long time since he had seen his beloved sons. And behind them came yet another voice, “Don’t leave me out of this love fest!”

Dante Vrey Kantor-VaCoupe, the last child of Julia and Raphael strolled up and kissed his father and great uncle. Fifteen years old and attending Arconia, Dante was still growing. In contrast to his blonde father and brothers, the boy had thick shoulder-length dark wavy hair and deep violet-blue eyes. Dante explained, “My advisor informed me this morning that he had received a summons directly from Grandfather instructing the school to allow me to be returned here to Medina, so I took the first shuttle available. I was surprised to see my brothers on it, too. Why aren’t you in Jolf, Father? Like Connie asked; what’s going on?”

Raphael looked at his sons, with tears sparking in his eyes. He wiped them away and replied, “Family business, boys; come inside and I’ll explain things further. Come, Uncle – the cup of tea?”

A good portion of the Kantor-VaCoupe clan strode through the huge house, entering the vast family rooms, where Lady Julia was sitting with some of the other members of the family. When Julia saw her three beautiful sons approaching, she started crying and reached out her arms to embrace them. Jychondria knelt in front of her and kissed her hand, “Mother, you look as beautiful as ever!” The other two boys kissed their mother on her forehead in a gesture of affection as she hugged them around the neck or waist. Julia’s personal assistant and confidant Frida handed Julia a hankie to wipe her tears. An overcome and extremely proud mother surveyed her progeny. Raphael and Julia had produced a fine family of healthy, good-looking, intelligent, well-behaved, industrious children… now young men. She sighed, “My boys; it has been a trying week for your father and grandfather. After dinner, we will be holding a family gathering. More family members will be arriving tomorrow. Your Aunt Claudine and Uncle Stephanus will be arriving soon, too. And the twins, Francis, and Adarius, will also be here. Uncle Adario and Lady Bettina will not be here; Adario just received an important and timely assignment at the University Ship. Your aunt Astrig and uncle Roméo are resting in their rooms, as are Grandfather Demetrius and Grandmother Anna.”

Then young, precocious Dante asked the question everyone in the know were dreading, “Will Uncle Esturias and Aunt Lorenna be able to come?”

Raphael sighed and replied in a firm voice: “I’ll answer that question directly – boys, your uncle Esturias has just been sentenced and convicted for treason, stripped of his rank, privileges and position, disowned by Father, stripped of his family name and sent to prison on Alyona.”

Everyone in the room save the Eagles present looked stunned. Jychondria was the first to recuperate and ventured a question to his unusually stern-looking father: “Which is why the twins have suddenly been summoned home to their foster father, Grandfather?”

Raphael nodded and then replied: “Yes, your grandfather needs a new heir to take up the lordship after him. One of the twins will have to begin training for that role now that Esturias is no longer part of the Family. By the way, do not mention your uncle’s name in front of your grandfather. Lord Demetrius is deeply grieved by this betrayal. I will attempt to explain things further after dinner. Right now, I need some rest, too; it has been a stressful series of days for all who were recently in Elexa.”

Raphael took his mate by her hand and drew Julia to her feet, “My sons, we are so proud of you and what you have accomplished! Now, your mother and I are going to our rooms. We’ll see you all at dinner.” With that dignified statement, Raphael escorted his lady from the room, leaving stunned family members behind them.

Do you know what happened, Uncle Raimundo,” asked Dante, not content to wait until later to learn what was going on.

Raimundo was a little hesitant to say anything, but replied, “Your now former uncle tried to seize control of the Starship Project, which is now shut down. It was an attempted coup. Esturias unknowingly brought a whole cadre of compromised implanted commanders into the same room as our Lord and Head Commander – an act that can only be called outright treason. Ignorance about the condition of his co-conspirators was not an excuse. According to your grandfather, your father openly accused Esturias of bringing the enemy agents to the meeting and endangering the lives of his father, Raphael, and their entire team, including your other two uncles, Roméo and Adario Kadish. Your grandfather is grieving for the son he once hoped would inherit the lordship after him; now, he must start over with a little-known youngster of a traitor father. Now, boys, get settled in your rooms. We will let your father tell us more if he wishes. This is both command and family business, so do not gossip or speak to others about these things outside the family. We must pull together in this hour of need.”

The young men looked at each other and then bowed to their uncle and left the room. They would have to talk and speculate further in private. The sons of Raphael shared a large four room suite down the hall from the Eagles. Ezekiel, being an Eagle himself, thought to bring a couple of his father’s faithful guards into their rooms for a private discussion. He found Gareth and Felipe and asked them if they could elaborate on what little had been shared. The loyal Eagles declined. Their duty to Lord Raphael came first even if they had also half-raised the boys. Ezekiel returned thoughtfully to the boy’s room: “Gareth and Felipe won’t utter a word. This must be serious. There is something more going on than just a coup attempt… what was Esturias thinking anyway?”

“Well, before I got the order to take the next shuttle to Medina, I heard rumors about some of the golden ships escaping and disappearing. These events may coincide,” postulated Dante. “What say you, Connie?”

Connie… Jychondria, threw a boot at his youngest brother, “I would say you need a bath, brother! Let’s visit that delicious bathing pool of Grandfather’s! Father will explain things when he is ready; he has always spoken the truth to us. I don’t think he’ll stop now given the evident seriousness of the situation.”

The idea of a bath in the huge pool was enough to silence the questions for the time being. The young men spent the rest of the time before dinner enjoying each other’s company, laughing, and swapping tales of their experiences in the Command and school since leaving home. They were a tight-knit set of siblings, brought up by two kind, loving, and sensitive parents.

When Raphael and Julia emerged from their private time – a nap – they found Claudine and Stephanus had arrived at the house and were in the process of greeting the rest of the extended family. Raphael was accompanied by two of his Eagles, Paul, and Leo Vayin, who stationed themselves quietly in opposite corners of the room. Just minutes later, Lord Demetrius and Lady Anna arrived, followed by the two BerWarian guards, who stationed themselves in the remaining empty corners of the room. The great lord was overcome with joy when he realized the sons of Raphael and Julia were present. The young men crowded around their grandfather, giving him hugs and kissing Lady Anna on the cheek or forehead. Raphael knew his adopted father was wishing one of the fine young men was his heir instead of the sons of Esturias. It was not to be. The tradition for succession of an heir had to be adhered to which meant the next in line was the eldest son of the eldest son which meant Francis VaCoupe would be the next heir. Barring Francis, then his twin Adarius would succeed. Even the son of Roméo had more precedence than the sons of Raphael and Julia. However, Raphael was glad his boys would be free to pursue their careers without carrying the extra weight of responsibility for an entire star federation. 

The young men were a little shy around the commanding presence of their aunt, Claudine of BerWare. They had not met her frequently as the Berwarian couple seldom traveled to Medina anymore unless it was to see Lord Demetrius and Lady Anna at the family home. Claudine admired the tall, athletic young men and had the sons of Raphael line up so she could look them over. Jychondria was by far the tallest, with Ezekiel a fraction of an inch shorter; Dante was the shortest of the boys, being as tall as his father, but all were strikingly handsome, carrying the open features of Raphael with some refinements from their mother, Lady Julia. Claudine sighed and commented: “Raphael, did none of your children inherit your extraordinary eye color? Seriously, you and your mate have produced a fine set of young men. Are you all working in the Command? Is that young giant Jychondria? I remember you as a baby crawling on the floor!”

Jychondria grinned at his aunt and replied: “Yes, dear Aunt, Ezekiel and I are stationed on Command vessels, while Dante should be soon graduating to the University Ship. We confess to being surprised to receive a summons from Grandfather, Lord Demetrius, to report here at the Family home in Medina. We haven’t been here for an awfully long time…”

Claudine glanced over at Raphael. Her adopted brother appeared to schooling his face to present a neutral appearance which she thought odd. Claudine knew there had been some tension existing between her father and Raphael stemming from the difficulties Raphael had faced with two of his adopted siblings, Esturias and the long deceased Reynar. Being a mother herself, Claudine intuited that Raphael had wanted to keep his own children free of the curse of bad luck that seemed to haunt some members of the VaCoupe Family. So, he and Julia brought the boys and their sisters up themselves, without sending the children out to be fostered once they had reached the age to go to school. Raphael had been a careful, thoughtful father, giving each of his five children what time he could spare out of a busy production and research schedule in Elexa. Raphael encouraged his children to discover for themselves what interests they wished to pursue. The eldest son chose engineering as he wanted to work alongside his father and uncles on the Starship Project, which he did for a couple of decades, along with his foster brother, Prince Lyonell. Ezekiel became an Eagle, following his own star, seeking adventure, and finding it among his fellow Eagles and warriors on the Command ships to which he was stationed. In his studies, Dante was pursuing navigation as a primary focus, although he also took classes in engineering and astrophysics. As a child, he was intrigued by the beautiful star maps found inside the outpost and wanted to travel to some of those far distant stars. He was, perhaps, the most brilliant of the children and shy… at times.

Claudine finally remarked: “What a group of fine young men! You must be immensely proud of your sons, Julia…”

Julia knew her sister in law was aware of some underlying tensions that had existed between Raphael and his foster father. However, she was brought up in an aristocratic family and knew how to play these games. Julia simply said, “Yes, Claudine, Raphael and I are proud of all our children.”

When Roméo and Astrig finally made their appearance, Demetrius called the family to order, announcing dinner, and so all conversations ceased for the time being as the various members sought out a seating place on the long dinner table. Ezekiel sat next to his father who was seated next Julia, while Jychondria sat next to Julia, effectively sandwiching in their parents between them. Again, Claudine silently observed the quiet maneuvering of the Kantor-VaCoupe family. She also noted the absence of Esturias and his mate, Lorenna. She thought: Most curious; something has happened, something profoundly serious and no one wants to talk about it around Father. This does not appear to be a normal family gathering…

Claudine also noted the absence of many of Raphael’s team members, especially those huge Felines, Lantrill and Sukio. His Ashkerian grandson, Commander Tazo, was nowhere to be seen. Even Raphael’s foster son, Lyonell, was missing. And Julia’s brother, Adario Kadish, who in the past had been a regular attendee at family gatherings, was nowhere to be seen. Her own son, Patrick, was on assignment in the Command and had not been specifically invited to this family meeting. Lady Robbina, her eldest child, was at home on BerWare. From this observation, she deduced that something had happened to the Starship Project. She tried to catch Raphael’s attention, but he was studiously avoiding making eye contact. So, she decided to strike boldly into the silence: “What is going on – is it having something to do with the Starship Project and where is my brother, Esturias?”

Lord VaCoupe sternly replied, “I no longer have a son named Esturias. Do not speak his name in my presence. As for the rest, we, Raphael, and I will explain further after dinner is over.”

Claudine had to be content to wait, so she quietly ate the remainder of her meal. Conversation was sparse among the occupants of the room. Even the servants were silent, simply leaving the trays upon the table and then quickly exiting the room. It was uncanny, she thought. She could have scanned her brother but refrained as Raphael appeared to be under a tremendous amount of emotional strain now.

Finally, the agonizing meal was over. Lord Demetrius stood up and announced, “Now, I will tell you my part in what occurred this past week in Elexa. Then Raphael will give his version. If Roméo wishes to speak, please do, but I will go first as it was primarily my fault.”

Lord Demetrius began to stride restlessly back and forth beside the table. He went into detail relating how Esturias had contacted him, indicating he would want to finally join the family endeavor at the Starship Project. As his story near completion, he openly confessed how he was deceived by his own son and finally told by Esturias of his true intentions – to completely take over and to temporarily shut down the project. He finished his story with the phrase, “… and then Raphael walked in and stood there in the doorway scanning the room as he does automatically everywhere he goes. He seemed stunned at the number of attendees; several commanders were sitting there waiting for his arrival. The room was packed. There was a short pause and then Raphael demanded to know what was going on. Esturias immediately went on the attack announcing that he was taking over the project. Raphael lashed out at his brother – he can explain it better – let it suffice, he made his opinions quite apparent. And then he openly accused Esturias of bringing compromised individuals into a meeting with his own father and Raphael’s team. Esturias was astonished, realizing at the last minute that he had been manipulated, while Raphael didn’t hesitate, boldly announcing his resignation from the Command since his services were no longer needed; said he was leaving Medina and stalked out, closely followed by the rest of his team. Then pandemonium broke out in that room… Raphael, please continue… may I have some tea? I’m sorry, my family… so sorry…” Raphael remained seated but pitched his baritone voice, so it reached the corners of the large room. “You all know that I am a Seer – with my gifts I can see into both the future and the past. Like my sister Claudine, I am also subject to receiving visions at times and so it was that I knew well in advance the intentions of my elder brother

and was somewhat prepared for what occurred that day in Elexa, but not for the individuals my brother was foolish enough to bring with him. Apparently, Esturias thought to convince me that some unnamed ‘committee’ within the Command had suddenly assigned him to be their spokesman and to announce to my team that our project was being shut down. It was a stupid move from the man who had once been a brilliant battleship commander. I may never completely understand his motivations, but apparently Esturias feared that I was vying with him to become Father’s heir – the farthest thing from my mind. I was more than content to work on delivering the golden ships and their sentient technology to the Command. Although it was becoming increasingly apparent there existed a growing resistance to the technology within certain elements of the fleet, I know Father hoped that my elder brother would assist us in our negotiations with the higher decision-making echelons of the command structure, only he didn’t…”

“As Father stated, when I left the room, some of the implanted individuals attempted to follow me, perhaps to seize my person and that of my other team members… but before I left, I had my cousin, Commander Monteras notify the Commander of the Base guard units stationed at headquarters to come out as enemies were present in the building. So, my exit was protected, whereupon I ordered Father’s two loyal BerWarian guards to extricate him safely from the room. Commander Strabo, being a large man was able to wade through the melee that followed and made his way into the corridor. Then I ordered the guard commander to have everyone else, including my brother, taken into immediate custody, and placed into the brig. Since I was well known in Elexa, having worked there for decades, the guard commander did not hesitate. Claudine, he was the cousin to one of the guards you sent to Father – but followed my orders precisely and efficiently. He and his men soon had the sixteen angry men under custody and removed from the area. It was then when I was attempting to explain something that I fainted, probably from the stress of being in close quarters to implanted individuals – something that had not happened since I was kidnapped to Morova decades ago. When I woke up, we were nearly at Jolf, Lantrill having taken over the business of flying The Golden Cat. We had taken Father with us as he was still in shock after the confrontation and outright betrayal of our brother. That night, we strategized on what to do next…”

The gruff Stephanus spoke up first, “Masterfully played, Lord Raphael; much like your previous incarnation as Lord Delos, you outsmarted your opponent and outflanked him before he had a chance to capture you… well, except for your last battle.”

“Quite – Stephanus; yes, I understood Esturias was going to prove treacherous, but I was surprised by the presence of an entire cabal of implanted individuals. It would have been disturbing enough to have my eldest brother simply elbow his way into the project and think he could just take over everything after never putting an ounce of effort into it for the past thirty-five years. However, it was something altogether different to bring enemy agents, compromised men, into a meeting with the Lord and Head Commander of the Pleiadian Fleet. Unfortunately, that was an act of sheer stupidity, a demonstration of just how much Esturias had allowed his ego and paranoia to dominate his decision-making process recently. It was also an act of not only treachery, but treason against his superior officer and the head of the Family. I had no other option but to ensure the men involved, including my former brother, were immediately taken into custody to be subjected to formal court martial proceedings. It was, indeed, a grim situation.”

Dante was proud to hear of his father’s quick and decisive thinking. He knew well just how sensitive his father was as he had witnessed on numerous occasions when Raphael would be struck by a vision and then respond to it as if the vision was another form of communication from unseen forces. His father never questioned the veracity of the information shared within those visions, so Dante imagined it must have been extremely painful to repeatedly witness that his own brother, Esturias, held intentions to seize control of the family endeavor away from its rightful leader, Raphael. Yet, when confronted not just by his treacherous brother but also by several enemy agents, his father had acted in a very masterful way, taking command of the situation, and bringing it under control in an efficient manner thanks to the quick action of his cousin, Monteras, and the equally timely response of the command guard force. He ventured a question: “So, Father, what happened next? Normally when it is thought a person is implanted, they must undergo a series of scans…?”

Lady Anna answered her grandson’s question. “A pertinent observation, Dante; yes, I volunteered to lead a small group of priestesses in the scanning operation. Lady Arrina, one of the senior priestesses from the Shemont also attended, as did Lady Robyn and Rachel, two of the healing priestesses from Jolf whom I trained as girls. We were guided to scan each of the prisoners and found initially that a small number of them were implanted, apparently by their Morovian parents when they were quite young. I do not know how or why their condition had escaped the notice of senior commanders, but it did and so these men were able to implant several more members of the crew with their insidious devices. However, we did not realize that the newer devices had another component that allowed them, also, to escape notice – that of black magic. It was Raphael who discovered it and demonstrated that once the magic was removed, the implants then became obvious. We had to perform some of the scans more than once, an exhausting endeavor, until Raphael produced his unexpected idea. It was a brilliant solution.”

Lord VaCoupe nodded, “Yes, a brilliant solution. My adopted son never ceases to amaze me. However, the results demonstrated clearly to the presiding commanders that every single individual in the room except for Esturias was implanted and acting as an enemy agent – a situation he wasn’t aware of until Raphael accused him openly. So, it was evident that my eldest son was now completely disconnected from his intuition and common sense. Ignorance of the true intentions of his co-conspirators did not excuse his decision to deceive me and bring those creatures into my presence – an overt act of treason. In summary, my eldest son was sentenced to long imprisonment and eventual exile to Morova where he will be compelled to perform the humblest of the tasks. He will have years to reflect upon the choices he made and the lessons he did not master. We can only hope he learns from this path he has chosen for himself, but for me, I have cast him into outer darkness; he is no longer a member of this family, nor does he carry its name into prison with him. He is no name and is no longer my son and heir. Hopefully, one of his twin sons will prove more reliable and balanced an individual than his unfortunate and headstrong sire.”

The family members present at the table during this long explanation remained silent for a long while, slowly drinking the fruit juices and eating some of the desserts set out by the kitchen staff. Then Jychondria spoke up: “What are the twins going to think when they find out about their father? Are you going to tell them everything, Grandfather?”

“We need to, Connie – there will be no more secrets in this family,” replied Demetrius. “I confess to being partially at fault for not reining in my eldest son more severely. I thought being disciplined and trained in the Command would be enough, but it wasn’t, not in his case. I think many of his problems stemmed from the aftermath of his mother’s death soon after the birth of Reynar, another unfortunate member of the family. I’m not sure why this family has been so plagued by misfortune and tragedy, but it has been. I should have sought counseling for all my children to see if they were not repressing their emotions and thus crippling their abilities to use the inner guidance known as intuition. My eldest son had apparently completely shut down as an emotional being – as Roméo has expressed it so succinctly – and allowed himself to be plagued by fears and jealousies especially directed towards the one man whom he deemed to have an unfair advantage over him due to his obvious gifts… your own father, Raphael.”

Lady Anna next spoke, “As a former high priestess, I am an experienced counselor and will act as such for the sons of Esturias and Lorenna. Also, since their mother, Lorenna, Demetrius, me, along with Raimundo had the primary responsibility of raising the twins, I would venture to say they have turned out remarkably well. Their sire rarely saw the children except during short leave as he was actively pursuing a career on board The Golden Dolphin. Francis once remarked how distant his father seemed; that he much preferred living in Medina to being home on Maia. Raphael was wise to keep his children close and to keep watch over their efforts, while allowing them the freedom to pursue their own personal goals. You have turned out well because of your parent’s love.”

“Personally, I don’t think it will make much difference to Francis or Adarius what has happened to their father. He is gone as if he died unexpectedly. They will, of course, must deal with some speculation from members of the Command upon the motivations of their sire to commit such an act. However, since the boys have hardly seen the man for the past thirty-five years, they can plead that they are innocent of all knowledge of the situation and their father’s state of mind. Their sire had displayed earlier difficulties with dealing with emotions and situations, especially as it related to Raphael and the fall-out related to having your father arrested and removed to Alyona decades ago. Perhaps being in the highly stressful environment of the Command was not the best place for our son, but it was his desire to serve, if only to prove himself as worthy of his father’s love so that he might inherit the lordship. His needless insecurities, as well as his boundless ambitions to control and dominate other men, tripped up our son in the end and that allowed the dark agents to easily hook into his mental body, appealing to his fears and directing his unfounded anger towards his innocent brother, Raphael. We’ll never know the true extent of his mental confusion. Our eldest son now faces a grim remainder of his life, long years in which he might seek redemption if by some manner he eventually gains in wisdom and humility. We’ll probably never know now,” said Lady Anna, finishing her commentary.

Commander Monteras who had been quietly listening to the commentary stepped forward and made a comment, “My lord and lady, when your former son is eventually released to Morova, I can activate a discrete surveillance of his activities there. Members of our covert network, who are all native Morovians, can monitor your former son’s behavior and give you and your family periodic reports on any progress noted. Would that serve to ease your mind and heart, my lady?”

Lady Anna grasped the hand of her mate who had settled down next to her, and replied: “Eminently; Commander Monteras, thank you for approaching this dilemma in a discrete manner. It would assist me to keep distant eyes upon our former son, for despite his actions; we still love and care about him.”

“Lady Beatrice should also be advised when our brother is transferred to Morova. Perhaps she can offer counseling services for him in a manner that wouldn’t draw unnecessary attention to him, as he is bound to be very withdrawn and ashamed of his diminished state,” suggested Raphael. 

Well, that is many years into the future, but a thoughtful suggestion, Raphael,” replied Lord Demetrius. “I must say that my adopted son and his children demonstrate more compassion than my other two ever did – barring you, Roméo, my brilliant scholarly son; being around Raphael has clearly benefitted you as well.”

Roméo grinned, “I enjoyed living in Jolf and working with the team; it was a tight-knit little community for a long time. I have some regrets that it is over now, but I guess Astrig, and I are ready to return to the bright lights of sophisticated Milan. It will be a definite contrast to living in Jolf for the last 35 years. Raphael was much easier to have a good relationship with than either of my brothers; we both had different interests, and different training. Raphael is more intuitive in his approach, which was useful to me to observe. Some of my own intuitive gifts began to blossom the longer I was around the outpost and exposed to the sentient crystalline technology. I am changed for the better having worked with Raphael’s team. He placed a high value on everyone’s contribution; that was much appreciated. I can now return to Maia with a broader perspective on life.”

Claudine and Stephanus had been quietly listening to the dialogue. Stephanus was, of course, interested in how Raphael had once again utilized his gifts in a tricky situation where timing counted. He was suitably impressed with his brother-in-law’s ability to adapt and react quickly to an unexpected situation. Although not a warrior by training, at least in this life, Raphael demonstrated excellent reflexes and the ability to think clearly while under pressure. Stephanus wasn’t certain how he would react himself if confronted by a room full of compromised men. It took great courage to act and thoughtfulness for Raphael to make sure that his father and his friends were also safe. Now that Stephanus had more perspective on Raphael, he felt more comfortable around him and wasn’t put off by the man’s gifts anymore. They had proved useful in planning how to react in case a situation occurred and allowed Raphael to adapt to the need of the hour, for instance, in how he handled ridding the compromised individuals of the black magic that was preventing the detection of their implants even from experienced, highly trained priestesses like the formidable Lady Arrina. Stephanus really wanted to question Raphael more closely about the entire episode but given the rawness of wounds felt it was not the time. Claudine could feel her warrior mate was more comfortable around Raphael now, something that boded well for the future. She had approved for Raphael to take refuge on BerWare had Lord VaCoupe also proved untrustworthy. She was relieved Raphael wasn’t compelled to flee for his life. Now, he could assist his adopted

father to navigate the reefs and shoals of the incursions from the enemy fleets. Claudine sensed there was a massing of enemy fleets now just outside Pleiadian space, something she wished to warn her father about… but now with Raphael about, he would also be able to sense the danger and forewarn his father. She sighed; she would have loved to obtain Raphael’s services, but at present he was needed to perform on a wider scope.

What needed to be said had been said. The family gathering began to break up as the relatives and friends made their way to their rooms for the night. Raphael wanted a bit of air before retiring so he sent Julia to bed and took Tomás, Felipe, and Paul out on the porch with him. Raphael sighed, “You know, I miss having Lantrill and Sukio around, my brothers beneath the skin. However, I understand they are performing a great service for poor Myka Strom – who must still be feeling rather overcome by the loss of crew due to this coup attempt. What I don’t understand is how those commanders contacted Esturias in the first place – they were on an entirely different ship. Now, I suppose we’ll never know unless I do an extensive scan into the Akashic Records – something I rather not do right now. Just keep a watch out, Eagles – in case I begin to exhibit signs of being overly stressed. I do admit I am very tired by the stress of these past few days and dealing with the realization that I will never accomplish my mission in this life. Still, I’m not going to dwell upon the failure of others over which I had no control; nor would I wish to because unlike my brother I have developed confidence in my own inner guidance and in my gifts. It is the responsibility of others to do the same. I cannot force my views and opinions on their free will lest it interfere with their own soul development.”

“My lord, I’m not gifted like you or a great philosopher, but it seems that you have mastered quite a bit during your own trials. I know I am honored to serve you; we all are. We intend to follow you to Alyona, although you might augment our numbers with more men now that Lantrill and Sukio are gone. You should have at least six to eight Eagles so you can always have two with you. Many people visit Alyona; we want to keep you safe so you can continue to serve your people until you want to retire, my lord,” said Paul.

Thank you, Paul; your suggestion is duly noted,” replied Raphael. “I’ll need another personal assistant, too. Hopefully, I can find one available in Alyona. I got too used to having the services of Leo Bakken to do without one now. Perhaps Francis Polaño can assist me in finding someone appropriate…”

“My lord, my senses aren’t quite as acute as Lantrill’s but even I can feel a build-up of electricity in the air. The humidity levels have also risen. I hope the twins arrive safely before the storms break tomorrow,” warned Felipe. 

They should be okay if they are on the morning shuttle; if not, their arrival may be delayed quite a while,” replied Raphael. “Nothing like getting stuck in Elexa at the scene where your father was just sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor…”

“Oh…” murmured Paul visualizing that scenario. Personally, he never wanted to return to Elexa, although he knew they would pass through there periodically while traveling to and fro Alyona – if Lord VaCoupe wanted to have Raphael accompany him home that is – it wasn’t a given right now. Well, Alyona wasn’t too bad – it was certainly better than Morova right now. 

Well, gentlemen, thank you for giving me this moment of peace in your company,” said Raphael. “It’s getting late. I’m tired and I’m sure my mate is already asleep, so we will say goodnight!” With that Raphael re-entered the grand old house and made his way through the vast public rooms, through the family rooms, down the stone staircase, and into the corridor leading to the residential suites and rooms. He was followed by his Eagles who stationed themselves outside his door. He nodded, bid them good night, entered the suite, and closed the door. The day was done…

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