Wrath of Axia (The Arcadian Jihad)

Table of Contents

WRATH OF AXIA

By Eric Schneider

WRATH OF AXIA

Copyright © 2011 by Eric Schneider

Published by Swordworks Books

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
 
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Prologue
 

System Standard 2733.1347 Presidential Palace, Lyra City, Axis Nova.

The President-elect of the Nine Systems was satisfied. It was his first, and very lavish, public reception. The banqueting hall was bedecked with paintings that had been sourced from every part of the universe. He chuckled quietly to himself; it was such a useful word, ‘sourced’. It covered such a variety of meanings. Money was no object, taste and rarity the only arbiter of what was worthy to adorn the walls of the seat of government. Everything was of the very finest, the furnishings, the table settings, and even the livery of his servants. It was a vast room with space for two thousand, five hundred people. All of them were present, they glittered with jewels, precious fabrics and military decorations, and they were here for one reason only. To pay homage to him. He’d plotted this moment for so long. Yet if anyone discovered the truth it would all collapse and there may even be another war. But no, there wouldn’t be any war and they wouldn’t find out what he had done. He’d planned it too well. His appearance and speech patterns were identical to the real President Xerxes Tell; it was impossible for anyone to suspect that there was anything amiss. The abduction and substitution had been handled with incredible skill, so that it would never be uncovered. When this night was over he and his confederates would begin the process of consolidating power, taking those assets they had coveted for so long. Xerxes Tell had been a fool who had planned to hand the wealth and power of the universe to the people. How absurd to think that the masses were able to make decisions about property and power. Ridiculous, they’d had no choice but to act. The real Xerxes Tell wasn’t capable of ruling the Nine Systems, so they’d just removed him. It was so simple!

Why had he done it? For most it was just politics by another name. He was from the Planet Orphex, whose people were possessed of unusual powers, not all of them known outside the planet. His sponsors knew that they couldn’t gain power by normal means, and so they’d hatched this incredible plan long ago. A plan to substitute an impostor for the genuine President Xerxes Tell. Some would call it theft. For him, it would be the start of a dynasty. It was an incredible scheme, yet in the end it had been so simple in its execution. He watched contentedly while servants hurried to fill his guests’ glasses and clear the tables. His face darkened when he recognized the religious leader, the Axian devotee Fabian Bartok, First Deputy of the Nine Systems. He was an unpleasant looking man, very short and with a fleshy face that suggested a sedentary life spent behind a desk. He had a short, neat beard. Perhaps he’d cultivated it to draw attention away from his plump body, that of a career bureaucrat. But Bartok was a man to watch, someone who was capable of as much treachery as he. Perhaps even more. To his left was Sister Serena of Orphex, his Second Deputy. Arranged in front of him down the long table were the planetary representatives, those who would beg favors in return for their votes. They would henceforth be forever in his debt, all the generals, admirals, governors, industrialists and merchants. All were hanging on his every word, waiting to receive the crumbs that were his to award them. Or to confiscate. Bartok was signaling to him. He reminded himself again to be cautious. The man’s brother had been the Deputy President under the old, defeated government. Or dictatorship, as many had called it. Fabian Bartok had a good tutor. His brother, the deceased Axian leader, Merca Gluck, had been as slippery as any politician in the Systems, a shrewd political operator.

“A momentous occasion, President Tell. One that will go down in history.”

He nodded. What was the man after now?

“Indeed it is, Fabian Bartok. Let us hope that the Nine Systems will go forward from this day in peace and prosperity.”

“Of course.” He replied, with a certain irony. “The meal was magnificent, Sir. Your hospitality is to be commended.”

Of course, the meal was exactly as he’d ordered it to be. Anything less would be more than his miserable servants’ lives were worth. But there was an odd gleam in Bartok’s eyes, what was it? Why was he so interested in the meal? A pang of anxiety knifed through his stomach. Fabian Bartok was an Axian devotee, which made him a religious fanatic, and they commonly used poison to settle scores. He’d have to consider exactly what he meant, was there a threat? There was still time to get an antidote. But he wasn’t sure how to call for a servant, there was a gray mist that floated in front of his eyes. Why did he feel so tired? His legs and arms were numb. Help me, someone! I’ll give you anything, a planet, an entire system, anything. He managed to splutter a few words.

“Listen, it’s important, not President, I need…”

He knew he needed a doctor urgently, but he couldn’t utter a sound. He could dimly see that Bartok was watching him as if he was some kind of a specimen on a laboratory bench. He wanted to shout out loud, ‘whatever you want, you can have it! I’ll give it to you. I’m not who you think I am!’ But no sound came out. At most he could only gurgle, and he felt a dribble of phlegm run down his chin. They couldn’t do this to him, no! Not now, not after all he’d done, not when he was at the point of achieving total victory. He tried again, but still no sound came out. He felt the numbness spreading to his neck, to his brain, then it all went black and he slumped forward onto the table.

Fabian Bartok, the successor, smiled. Humanity was about to discover that the short-lived President of the Nine Systems was dead. They would all be wrong. He wasn’t aware that the real Xerxes Tell was held in chains on a prison planet light years away. He’d murdered the wrong man. It wasn’t his fault, for he’d acted in the best possible faith, oh yes. But it didn’t alter his mistake. Politics was a thrilling game, but mistakes could be fatal.

Chapter One
 

Fabian Bartok watched the President collapse. It was only with an effort that he prevented himself from laughing aloud. The cook had done well; a pity he would have to be killed to cover his tracks.

“Help, call a doctor, the President is ill!”

The dining room erupted into confusion and shouting. In a few short minutes, two doctors ran forward, followed by a medical team. They applied their standard therapies, electric shocks, even the radical but dangerous Electro-Molecular Stimulation technology, in an effort to revive him, but it was useless. The older of the two doctors stood up with a grave face.

“Gentlemen, I’m afraid the President is dead.”

Of course he’s dead, you fool. He was given enough poison to take down a platoon of soldiers, Fabian Bartok thought, smiling inwardly. But he composed his face into an expression of grave sorrow.

“This is disastrous. It is a terrible catastrophe for all of humanity. We must arrange for an immediate state funeral. See to it.”

“Sir, we will need to conduct an autopsy first. There are legal procedures that...”

“Doctor, I said immediate!”

“But Sir, the law...”

“I am the law!” he snapped.

The doctor looked into his blazing eyes and saw the ruthless determination. He swallowed. “Yes, of course, Sir. I will make the arrangements.”

“One more thing, Doctor.”

“Sir?”

“Henceforth, you will address me as President.”

The doctor’s eyes widened, as he understood the implications of the death he had just attended. ‘The King is dead. Long live the King!’

“Of course, President Bartok.”

Fabian Bartok allowed himself a small smile. Now that the fool Xerxes Tell was dead he could begin to create the wealth and power that was rightfully his, the power that should have come to him through the previous Axian government. But the fools had moved too quickly and his brother had paid the ultimate price when Xerxes Tell’s rebels defeated the armies of Axian believers. Except that now they would use stealth and guile instead of overwhelming force. After the last war, the Second War of the Systems, the victors had set up an alliance called Tricon. The government was to be composed of comprised of supporters of the Republic, followers of Axia and representatives of the Orphexian mind readers. It was an idea flawed from the start. But it was an incredible opportunity for him, as it meant there were so many people to blame when things didn’t meet people’s expectations. Which they certainly would not. He laughed. How could they be so stupid as to think that any politician would keep his promises? Bartok called for his military commander, Admiral Rad Bose, and drew him into a corner to speak to him in private.

“Have you organized the ‘accident’ to Sister Serena’s ship, Admiral? I don’t want to deal with that damned Orphexian. She worries me, because I never know when she’s looking into my mind.”

The man nodded. “All done, Sir. She will return to Orphex after the reception. As soon as her ship jumps into hyperspace, the bomb will be activated. Her ship will disintegrate into thousands of fragments. No one will ever know, and she will just vanish for ever.”

“Good, keep me informed.”

The Admiral went away. He was a reliable and loyal man; the best he had. Rad Bose was to become his new Commander in Chief. The man had never failed him and always showed loyalty, as he had to Merca Gluck, the religious fanatic who briefly led the government of the Nine Systems before the war. When Bose was given an order he never let pity or mercy stand in the way of what needed to be done. Bartok hadn’t got to the highest position in the universe by making mistakes about the qualities of his subordinates, and he needed men he knew he could trust. With Xerxes Tell dead and Sister Serena, the wily and dangerous Orphexian, about to meet with a fatal accident, all power would soon be in his hands. He would then set about creating the universe the way it should be. Of course, he would restore the ascendancy of the prophet Axia. People needed religion, after all. Hadn’t one of the ancients called religion the ‘opiate of the people’? Yes, he would let them have their opiate, but it would be the voice of the Prophet as was spoken through him. Fabian Bartok, the sole living representative of Axia. He laughed again. They thought they’d defeated the Axians, but they were wrong. They’d only delayed the inevitable. They were about to experience the Wrath of Axia, to feel the iron first of Fabian Bartok. All for the administration of a little poison.

System Standard 2734.1624 Bose Corporation Prison Plantation, Planet
Hesperia

He hardly believed it. Five years he’d been imprisoned, five long years of drug induced nightmares and hallucinations, of harsh punishments and overwork. He ran through the harsh thorns of the plantation, tearing his clothes and skin, but he ignored the pain. The drugs were wearing off, so he was starting to remember things. They’d kidnapped him, kept him hooded and bound for month after month until he was transferred to the plantation to be worked to death. That was when the nightmare became truly unending. The drugged hallucinations, the mind-numbing, soul-killing work on the plantations and the terror of not knowing if he’d lost his mind. He looked up as a ship lifted off from Tulum spaceport, many miles away, leaving a long vapor trail to mark its passage. At least it meant he knew where he was. Hesperia, the ancient planet, some said it was one of the oldest populated planets in the universe, the first civilization. He saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was one of the seekers, semi-autonomous flying drones that were monitored by the guards in the plantation security center. He’d seen them flying overhead while he was working in the fields of burlash, they were always watching. Now they were hunting him. He ducked into a thick growth of the plants, ignoring the pain. He was leaving a blood trail; he knew they’d send the robotic sniffers after him shortly, as soon as they had some idea of the direction in which he was running. But he’d have to worry about that later. They’d assume he was making for Tulum, to find a way to get off the planet. Instead, he was heading in the opposite direction, to Peria. There were people there who might hide him, if he could convince them of who he was. He heard a crashing in the foliage in front of him. A guard was very near. He gripped the steel lever he’d used to break open his cage. Now he carried it as a weapon.

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