I am a prisoner though no one will admit it. Brother Takigen, who is no more a monk than I am, assures me that I will have greater liberty once we are through the wormhole. The Khan is taking no chances. Absurd, considering how dull and boring Earth looks from this vantage. Even if I could escape this locked room, commandeer the vessel, and turn back to Earth, I wouldn’t do it. It is the future that holds me captivated. Why rule one khanate when I could own galaxies?
The detested closeness of this room has made me lonely, and I am plagued with thoughts of Zuhal. I wonder if she misses me.
When Brother Takigen brought me my meal. I asked him if there are women aboard.
“Such thoughts are not befitting of a monk,” he told me, with a poorly hidden smile.
“You misunderstand me,” I said. “It’s a joke my brother might arrange: send me off to populate a planet with no women aboard.”
“I hope,” said Brother Takigen, all signs of amusement gone, “that the Khan would not jeopardize our future for your sake.”
I have been in an ill humor ever since.
My conversation with Brother Takigen has made me wonder what my position is on this mission. I assumed I’d hold a leadership role at an appropriate juncture. But what are the men to think of their former prisoner giving orders? For the first time in my life, I question my value. Even as a prisoner in the Khan’s palace I had leverage. But here? As soon as we cross through the wormhole my title, training, and royal blood lose meaning. By then, the poorest ranking crew member will have earned his place. My standing, by comparison, has no foundation. Even on Earth I fell short of the mark. For if I’d had qualities to commend me, wouldn’t my Khan Father and his ruling council have chosen me to succeed him rather than my brother?
“You are in poor spirits of late,” observed Brother Takigen on one of his daily visits.
“If I am, it’s because I’ve recognized the depths of my ignorance, and by extension, incompetence.”
Brother Takigen said nothing, and I realized he was waiting for me to say more, but I had no wish to unburden my heart further. “What brought you on this mission?” I asked.
He took a moment to answer, long enough for me to realize it was none of my business. Then he said, “My home is in the Kaukasus Mountains. I have a wife and seven sons. The oldest married and moved away, the second went to war and returned maimed, and the youngest has a rare illness that my people cannot cure. My other three sons and I kept the family fed by hunting, but we could not make enough to pay for the foreign treatments to cure my youngest.
“Then I learned that the Khan was building a new palace on the western spur of the mountain, and that riches awaited any man who worked on it. My three sons spent two years toiling there, and always the foreman promised them their full pay at the end of the year. But he never paid what he owed them. Then my youngest fell more ill, his sickness strengthened. Without treatment he'd die within nine months. My sons entreated the foreman daily for weeks. He always promised to have their pay by the morrow, but he defaulted again and again. At last, desperate and enraged, they struck and killed him.
“They were sentenced to death for the crime. But the khan had heard of my strength and bravery, and of the need that drove my sons to kill the foreman. The Khan promised to lighten their sentence to five years hard labor and pay to cure my youngest son if I joined this mission. I agreed. What is exile if it meant saving the lives of my family?”
“And did he do what he said?” I asked.
Brother Takigen turned away from me, but not before I saw his expression contort in anguish. I wished I’d held my tongue. “Do you believe otherwise?” he asked.
“He is an honorable man,” I said, surprised at the sudden thickness in my voice, “else my heart would beat no more.”
Brother Takigen nodded, then left the room.
His story did not cheer me. It brought me a new, unwelcome revelation: I have not done a single, selfless act in my life.
Go to Universe Prince Part 3
"Stars" Photo by x1klima CC BY-ND 2.0