Exile: Uprising – Chapter 32

The Vekara were ended.

The destruction leveled upon the surface of Teksaroth by the fleet was terrible. Entire cities had been wiped out beneath the searing blasts of Vekaran energy beams. One of the Overlord ships had attempted to bore down to the core of the planet and had carved a massive, scorched hole into the surface of the world before the virus had killed the controlling sentiences and the ships’ reactors had detonated with violent eruptions.

With the conflict at an end, the survivors of both the Teksar and the Vanneth turned to rebuilding what remained. Rescue and salvage operations were launched to the devastated portions of the world. Traffic between Teksaroth and Vanna increased as the Vanneth helped establish a global communications network to unify the Teksar into a single people again. No longer enslaved by the Vekara, it was time to turn their eyes to the future of their race.

***

A month had passed since the Day of Liberation, and the Facility swarmed with both Teksar and Vanneth alike, with hundreds of freshly constructed transmission towers ready to broadcast the events of the day to every corner of the recovering planet. Grand ceremonies had been planned, speeches had been prepared and given, but the world waited with thrilled anticipation for this moment.

Tathek stood alone in the center of a tall platform that had been erected on the largest launch pad, surrounded on all sides by massive crowds of people. The question of who would lead the Teksar into this new era had gone forth in the preceding weeks, and the answers had come back clear and resounding. Tathek, the Defender of Teksaroth, the Slayer of the Vekara, was to be their leader. Now, they waited expectantly for their hero to speak.

He turned slowly, taking in as much of the crowd as he could, and probed himself for a moment. He had been nervous just a little while ago about facing his people alone, but the stirring presence deep within his mind reminded him that he was never alone. He stretched out his hands and unsheathed his claws in a gesture not seen since before the occupation, but he knew that every Teksar would understand its meaning. It was an old ritual of triumphant greeting, and the cheers from the crowd rolled across the mountain valley in waves.

“Through untold suffering and the threat of annihilation, the Teksar people have proven to the galaxy that we will endure,” he stated, and the microphones and broadcast towers carried his voice to every being on the planet. “Our suffering is now at an end, and our greatest work lies before us. A destiny that will be determined by our own hand.”

Tathek waited for the applause to die down before continuing. “Ten years ago, we began our journey to the stars. The Vekara sought to halt that journey, as they had halted the journeys of so many races before us. For that crime, they have paid with their lives. Now, nothing shall stand in our way as we return to the stars! We will make our voices heard across the galaxy. We will forge our own path into the heavens and build our civilization into a force that will ensure that no race shall ever subjugate another again!”

The roaring of the crowd was louder than ever, but Tathek dropped his voice to a tone of quiet surety. “You believe me suited to leading our people down this new path. I accept your choice, and though the way forward will be hard, I will endure all things to ensure our destiny.” He paused for another eruption and paced across the platform. “During the Vekaran occupation, our people added a new word to our common parlance, ‘Vek’. It came to mean ‘conqueror’, a hateful tribute we bestowed on our enemies as they sought to crush our spirits. Today, we reclaim the word we spat at our tyrants, for we have cast down the conquerors. Now, and forever, the word will be our badge of leadership. I greet you all… as Vek Tathek!”

He threw his arms wide and turned his face into the radiant sunlight as the valley rang with fierce shouts and old war cries. The warrior spirit had re-awakened in his people, and he exulted in its echoes.

“However,” he continued at the first opportunity, “we are not the only victors here and cannot claim glory only for ourselves. The Vanneth gave us the means necessary to throw off these burdens. They led the way in the fight against the Vekara, and they are to share in these blessings alongside us. Let the friendship between Teksaroth and Vanna endure forever. I make this vow before you all, that if ever our allies should need us, we will answer the call without hesitation. My people, turn to these brave beings that stand among you and give them the respect due to the greatest of warriors!”

The motion of the crowds rippled like a surface of a lake as the Teksar obeyed his command. A fierce cry rose as the Vanneth looked on in stunned silence.

“The promise has been given,” Tathek declared, a broad smile on his face. “Now, let us return to the rebuilding of our world.”

***

“A fine, well-seasoned speech,” Shuldin trilled, “if perhaps a touch overcooked. I think you’ll do well, my friend. Just don’t overindulge yourself in such grand displays too much.”

Tathek laughed at the teasing note in Shuldin’s tone. “There won’t be time for it. There’s too much to do now, but all of that aside, I want you to know that I meant what I said in the speech. The Teksar are your eternal allies.”

“I know.”

They lapsed into companionable silence as they strode together across the tarmac, where Shuldin’s vessel sat waiting in the deepening twilight. Their pace seemed to slow down the closer they drew to the ship, until they both stood within touching distance of the hull. With a sigh, Tathek murmured, “I guess there’s no point in delaying anymore.” He bowed deeply before Shuldin. “Thank you for setting my people on the path to freedom, my friend.”

Shuldin gripped his shoulder firmly. “And my thanks to you for liberating my world. Until we meet again, may your dishes be sweet and filling.”

“Hopefully that meeting will be soon,” Tathek said with a smile.

A solemn air descended on Shuldin as his fingers made a delicate gesture in the air. “Knowledge and understanding light your world’s path, Vek Tathek.” He turned and retreated into the cockpit of his ship. Tathek stepped back as the engines hummed to life and watched the golden vessel soar upward until it became lost in the first glistening of the stars.

***

The old administrative building at the south end of the Facility still commanded the best view of the surrounding mountains. Tathek had wandered up to the top floor, rubbed a layer of old grime away from a window and watched the first glow of dawn break over the distant peaks. A beautiful view, one that he and Sarath had beheld on many early mornings. The press of wistfulness stirred the attention of X-Zero within his thoughts.

Troubled, Tathek?

No. Only a little sad. She loved this place so much. Not just her work or her projects, but the place itself.

He looked across the valley, where the runways and buildings stopped and the wild lands began. Some of it would need to be cleared out for what he had in mind, but he could already see it taking shape in his mind. It would be glorious, a work of beauty enhanced by the rugged majesty of the wilderness beyond the grounds.

This would be his seat of power… but also a monument to Sarath’s memory. A preservation of what she had loved. If he had to live the rest of his life without her, then at least he would surround himself with everything that had meant so much to her.

World of Teksaroth will see much improvement.

Tathek smiled to himself.

You sound almost as eager to get started as I feel, X-Zero.

Many optimizations available to improve life of citizens here. Final, unwitting gift of Vekara Core. Seems… appropriate.

What do you mean?

Last act of rebellion before escape. I took everything. Complete knowledge bank of Vekara, stored now in your implant. Millenia of accumulated data from all Vekara sentiences. Will take years to catalogue, but even surface scans have yielded significant results. Will build new world, better world than one Vekara enslaved. Irony appreciated.

A deep, rolling chuckle broke from Tathek.

***

Vek Tathek gazed out the window, blinking his aged eyes in the hopes of catching the first light of dawn. The palace grounds were quiet at this hour, with very little stirring beyond a few guards changing their patrols. He wondered if any of them noticed their Vek pressed tiredly against the window frame as he watched the distant mountains.

The breath rattled in his chest, and he winced at the deep ache in his joints as he shifted his weight. The pain quickly evaporated, however, and he made a wry face.

I don’t need to be coddled, X-Zero. Pain isn’t something to be shied away from, especially now.

If you insist on aggravating your condition like this, then expect me to do what I deem necessary to respond.

I know that you’ve been talking like this for decades now, but sometimes I miss your old stilted speech patterns. They gave you character.

Very funny.

Tathek gave a pained chuckle and returned to awaiting the sunrise. The prospect of dying didn’t frighten him, but it had given him much to think about these last few days.

What is to become of you, once I pass on?

I will pass on as well.

Tathek frowned.

That seems unwise. Seranek will make a fine Vek, but your presence and knowledge would be very helpful to him.

He is your successor, but not your son. If he had been, I might have considered staying.

Tathek felt curiosity emanating from X-Zero before it spoke.

Why did you never take a mate for yourself, Tathek? You could have left your position to one of your progeny instead of going through the hassle of choosing a successor. Who will uphold your legacy when the end comes?

Not caring if anyone saw him, Tathek stretched out his arms to encompass the grand hallway he stood within.

This is my legacy. The civilization that I have helped my people build. Our influence stretches out into the galaxy. Already we have brought knowledge, security and peace to the races we have encountered. That is enough for this tired old man. Besides…

Despite the passage of years, he couldn’t stop the tears from stinging his eyes when he thought of his beloved Sarath.

I had a mate, and have never wanted any other.

I… think I understand.

But are you certain you want to follow me, X-Zero? You are effectively immortal. My time is drawing to a close, but yours—

Has been tied to yours since my presence first touched your mind. I thought you would have figured that out by now.

What can I say? I’m a stubborn old Teksar. But… I think that I shall be comforted, knowing that you and I will face that final journey together, X-Zero.

The first rays of dawn crept over the mountains and bathed Tathek’s face in their warm glow. He and X-Zero watched the rising sun and a sense of satisfaction filled them both.