Fiction by Tim Bancroft
The Batu saga all started with the Claiming of Shamasai, but what caused Batu to be on such a wilderness planet in the first place? In part II of the unseen prologue, we continue with Batu being summoned to see his uncle, Vard Ordaichen Delhren. Part 1 can be found in The Lost Prince.
Aboard the Vard of Delhren, Batu was directed to his uncle’s lesser audience chamber. When he entered, the Vard Ordaichen Delhren was seated on his raised throne, examining a complex holo of intertwining lines and annotated points: a trading map. The holo disappeared as Batu approached the dais and the vard turned his full attention to his nephew.
“Uncle Ordaichen,” said Batu, bowing deep and deferentially. It’s all in the bow, he thought.
“Today, I am your Vard,” snapped his uncle. “What have you done, Batu Delhren?”
Batu put on an expression of injured innocence. “Nothing I am aware of to arouse your ire, my lord.”
“Don’t try and act innocent with me,” said the Vard. He steepled his fingers, rested his chin on his fingertips. “You requisitioned Algoryn ship components, fuel.”
He discovered that, quickly! “The Spyker’s Corporation may well have done so, my Vard, and merely went to their regular supplier.”
The vard snorted. “A twisting of the rules! The Algoryn consul will be incensed.”
“But will be unable to actively harm House Delhren, Uncle. I mean, my Vard. And records will show my corporation acted without—”
“Without your knowledge,” said the vard with a look of distaste. “I’ll give you that, Batu: you are careful in covering your tracks.” He tapped his fingers against his lips. “It doesn’t stop the fact that you are a disgrace to your domas. In fact, not only to our clan, Tsulmar, but to the whole of the House Delhren.” He drummed his fingers on the arms of his throne. “A dilettante, they say. An effete. ”
What have I done now? thought Batu. Stand up for yourself. “Uncle, I govern an independent corporation which has made a range of profitable investments. They do quite well.” Batu rested a foot on the bottom step of the dais, removed it quickly when the Vard glared at his foot. “Not universe-shattering, I grant you, but profitable, nonetheless. How can you criticise such behaviour?”
“Profitable investments?” growled the vard. “You mean the string of taverns, gambling dens and holovid dives you run and own? You are a Prince, an heir to this throne – and probably the most likely heir, at that – yet you deal with the basest temptations of humanity!”
“They are high-class casinos, clubs and entertainment establishments, uncle. The wine is the best in the sector. Wine from real plants, such as my parents’ neograpes, is quite the rage – as my mother predicted. I am set to make a substantial profit.” Batu stroked his moustache. “Besides, you are well aware that I am unlikely to gain a voting majority from the seniors across all the domas.”
“And whose fault is that?” snapped the vard. “You have wasted your life on that planet, neglected your vardo!”
Where does this anger come from? Batu stepped back. Perhaps contrition might be better. “I am sorry if my money-making and research upsets you, uncle. However, they are activities and research for which I have passion and in which I have experience. I am good at it, and the vineyards are something established by my parents – your sister and brother-in law.”
The vard grimaced at the mention of his sister. “Abikay would not have wanted to see you wasting your life in such fashion.”
Batu flared at the mention of his mother’s name. “I carry on her work, uncle.”
“You neglect what is needed for the continuation of your house and clan. You neglect your duty.”
“I am not interested in my ‘duty’ to House Delhren.”
“You are my only heir!”
“And whose fault was that?”
One look at the vard’s face and Batu realised he had overstepped the mark. The vard stood and advanced towards Batu, his nostrils flaring in anger. “I lost my son and my sister!”
Batu stepped back, slowly. “And I lost my parents.” He swallowed. “And I was left adrift for six weeks in a lifeboat. Alone, at six years old. And all because of Ordake’s arrogance!” The vard closed his eyes at the mention of his son’s name. Damn contrition. Batu stepped forward until he was face-to-face with the older man. “Do you really appreciate how terrifying that was for a six year old? Alone with a malfunctioning stasis pod in a half-wrecked lifeboat? Watching my parents’ ship torn apart by the Vorl? Ordake commanded my father to take his ship into Vorl space. He overrode your orders. He lost my father’s ship. Ordake – your son – killed my parents.” Batu was now shouting. “Three hundred died just to save me!”
The vard studied Batu for a moment, took a deep breath and turned away. He sat back in his thrown but his face was still grim. “That may be true,” he began, but choked. He tried again. “I did not realise it weighed so heavily on you.” He was quiet a moment and his expression slowly softened. “I cannot change the past, Batu. You should receive help for that survivor’s guilt.”
“It keeps me going,” growled Batu. “I continue my parents’ work. And I do it well.”
“You can be as good as you want at anything you choose. You choose not to.” The vard let out a deep breath. “Batu, nephew mine, you could have done so much more. You were the most gifted of all the youngsters. Even” —his voice caught— “compared to Ordake.” He rubbed his forehead. “I should have enforced my orders.”
I’ve gone too far, thought Batu. He blames himself. “You are not to blame for the Vorl expansion in the Determinate, uncle.” He swallowed. “No-one could have foresaw the devastation at Letchann.”
“No, my son should have seen it. Ordake ignored a direct order from me. I told him to leave that second age orbital alone.”
Is this true? “I heard my mother argue with him.”
“She was right. But she felt she owed it to me to support her husband.” The vard looked weary. “Batu, Ordake blocked their formal protest to me.” He stared Batu in the face. “He was foolish.” He sighed. “There, I’ve said it.” He searched Batu’s face for a response.
Batu remained quiet, confused and scared by the vard’s admission. Why admit this now? I knew Ordake had messed up. They remained in silence for a few moments, each trying to read the other’s emotions. Finally, the vard ran a hand over his face and leaned forward again. “Batu, we must leave the past where it is. We – you – have no option but to accept and face the reality of what is happening now.”
“To be frank, Batu, you are regarded as something of a joke in the Home Fleet. You are seen as an empty dilettante, a Prince in name only.” Batu bridled but the vard held up a hand to stop him speaking. “Face reality, nephew. You’ve been hiding on the planet for too long. There are few in Clan Tsulmar who have your credentials and breeding, yet security chief Jarain Tridethe has declared it a waste of effort to keep you under anything more than light surveillance. Your petty activities have made you a laughing stock and, now, Clan Tridethe is spreading discontent amongst the other clans: Jarain wishes to use your lack of reputation and activity against me.” The vard looked at Batu steadily. “We, that is Clan Tsulmar, may well have been the leading domas in the Vardos Delhren for over 800 years, but I fear it is coming to an end, that I will be the last of our clan.
“And all because of you.”
Batu was speechless. “Because of me? I do not want the title—”
“It’s not up to what you want!” the vard flared. “Batu, I have allowed you to wallow in self-pity for too long – far too long. You cannot do so any more and it’s time you faced the truth. If a tsulmari heir fails to retain the title of Vard, then our whole clan will collapse. With such a demotion, the other doma will destroy us merely by making sure they retain their current influence and status: Clan Tsulmar will cease to exist.” He paused to allow the impact of his words to sink home. “Batu, you have no option but to make a name for yourself in the vardos, set yourself up as a successor or a power broker. I don’t care how you do it: claim a new planet for us, open up a radically advantageous trade route, broker a lucrative trade deal with the Vorl… It doesn’t matter as long as you achieve something dramatic that benefits the house and brings the Tsulmar name back to the fore.” The vard took a deep breath. “Without such fame then, when I die, the clan dies with me… and you’ll be exiled. Or worse.”
“And you’re saying it will be my fault? What you ask is—”
“I ask only what is necessary, so do not argue with me, Prince Batu tsulmari delhreni.” The vard’s voice turned cold as he used the formal nomenclature. “Remember who you are. This is not a request, but an order from your vard. Fail and I will disown you.” Batu opened his mouth to protest but the vard raised a hand. “Make peace with your ghosts and do something to bring fame to our name.”
The doors to the audience chamber hissed open. Batu suppressed his anger and bowed stiffly. “Thank you for the audience, uncle.” As he strode towards the open doors he imagined he felt the vard’s stare boring into his back.
Save the clan? Make a name for myself? How? Then the interviews that morning came to mind and he smiled. Maybe that Ma’req engineer will come in use, after all.
The rest of the saga of Batu and Baray can be found in the Batu and Baray storyline index.