Chapter 6: A Hero for the People
The meeting hall is jam-packed with people. I arrived early enough to get a seat on one of the benches, but it’s completely overcrowded now. My shoulders press against the people to my right and left. In the aisles, others stand, and I know that a million more are watching remotely through the cameras at the back of the chamber.
Council meetings have been like this for weeks. Every day there are new rumors or developments about the escalating crisis.
First came word about the Rynan Empire invading Free Association space.
Then there was the Council’s response of assurance that a plan was in place: a suitable far-off world had been discovered by the Letarri Astroscience Lab, and a mission had been planned.
Khomasa. The Third Migration.
But Herek ren Balra doesn’t see that as the best option, and neither do I. And today they’ll hear our voices.
The Council's spokesman steps up to the podium, adjusts the microphone, and begins to speak.
“Earlier today the Council voted, and I am here to report that they have chosen the captain of the Laeril, the vanguard ship of the Khomasa.”
The murmuring of the crowd quiets at this, as though a collective breath is held. I wonder who they chose? I think, and I whisper my thought to my brethren beside me.
“It does not matter,” ren Balra hisses back. He sits to my right, his hands curled into fists. And for the moment, I am in agreement with him. It does not matter, in the end.
“I introduce to you... Captain Reyis ren Keterek,” the spokesman intones, and you could almost hear the collective “Who?” from the assemblage. Of the captains available, I suppose most had expected ren Hallidan or ren Akanar or some others-- renowned captains in their own rights. But who was ren Keterek?
“Reyis ren Keterek was born in 5467, in the city of Resca on Pelonnes to Tesec and Diona ren Keterek. At an early age, he showed the desire and aptitude for piloting, and in 5478, he became one of the youngest graduates of the flight program of the Resca Flight Academy...”
The spokesman continues with his introduction of the newly christened vanguard captain as I turn to face ren Balra. His eyes stare at the spokesperson, his hands gripping his knees as he watches. I wait patiently for him to make his move, feeling the tension running throughout the members beside me, as if the people around me were coiling to strike. Perhaps they are, I think. I can feel my heartbeat in my chest, hammering quickly. I know what is to come; I worry about the consequences. But our dissent cannot be silenced this time.
The spokesperson finishes the introduction and gestures to the middle-aged man seated in the chair beside the Council table. The crowd in the chamber begins to erupt in an applause, but I feel rather than see the members around me rising to their feet, and I do the same. The booming voice of ren Balra shouts over the crowd, and the applause dies down as I hear his words.
“Is this what we do now? Run from the Rynans yet again?” he steps forward from the bench, turning around to face the crowd. “First, they come to our home, Letarr, and we run like cowards. Not once, but twice abandoning our world. And now hundreds of years later, after finally settling on these worlds, we are forced to run once again. Can we not fight? Can we not defend what is ours, rather than this cowardly flight away from them?” His voice rises, angry, and I feel a surge of triumph through my body as he shouts, “I, for one, am sick of running. Sick of hiding away. We should fight and defend what is ours!”
At this point, the assemblage erupts into chaos and I can barely hear myself think. Harek ren Balra's shouts are lost in the cacophony of noise as hundreds take to their feet to cheer us or argue against our point. I raise my hand in a clenched fist, ready to fight.
The Council gathers at their table, speaking rapidly amongst themselves, and moments later, their spokesperson calls for quiet. It is several long, loud moments before order can even be restored to the chamber. Our brethren, the dissidents, remain standing in defiance of this path the Council has chosen for us, and our hands clap together slowly, as one, to show our solidarity to our cause.
“The Council has declared you all kharsi if you do not heed their word.” Non-Letarris. I look to ren Balra once, and his face shows what he thinks of that... the sheer defiance upon it shines like a lamp. We will not relent to the Council. When we have the majority, will they even have the power to make such a declaration?
ren Balra is insistent. “Think of all the people who died under Rynan rule. Will we not avenge them, and our world? The torture and the arrests. The death camps.” He raises his hand up. “How many of the ancestors of those who left in the Talmasa suffered under Rynan rule? Are we simply to run once again?”
And then ren Keterek stands. He approaches the podium, and speaks quietly to the spokesman. A nod to the captain and the spokesman takes his seat as ren Keterek squares up to the microphone.
“Herek ren Balra,” he begins, and I am at once taken by how confident he sounds, how calm. “The Council is about to turn you out. They will declare that you and your followers are kharsi. They feel your cause has no merit, that it would be foolish to remain behind.” He pauses here. “But I do not agree with them: you should not be cast out. And your position is honorable and understandable, and we should consider it.”
I feel myself draw in an unconscious breath of surprise. Was ren Keterek actually agreeing with our position?
“Thirty generations ago,” he continues, despite the shocked silence that seems to fill the chamber now, “A group of our ancestors stood up against the Rynan tyranny. The Anhad Duras were the resistance against the Collective after the First Migration had left. Their members were discovered by the Rynans and executed one by one. And for every one found, ten other Letarri would be executed alongside them. Ten innocents would be killed because the Rynans had a simple rule: if there was one of the Anhad Duras in their midst, there were more. While the resistance was active, thousands of Letarri died for them in those death camps you mentioned. The resistance accomplished nothing but misery and years of painful pacification programs for our people.” He glances at all of us standing, and I remember meeting his eyes and seeing the force of will behind the man.
“Will you also lead our people to misery for the sake of our home?” He shakes his head. “No, you will not. Even if you somehow beat the Rynans back against all odds, you will still remain on two worlds that are not your own. The people of Teratha and Pelonnes may tolerate our continued existence on these planets, but neither of these is our world.” He points upward to the holographic map, gesturing to the lonely star beyond the Great Reach, the blinking light of hope. “This world is our new home world... New Letarr. This is where we belong.”
For a long moment, there is silence. And then, one by one, the people around me take their seats. ren Keterek is right; if this had been our world, perhaps then it would have been worth fighting for. But it is not. It never really was. We are outsiders here, never truly accepted. I glance over to ren Balra, shaking my head slowly at him, and I take my seat. Like a knife, ren Keterek has sliced through the argument for staying, leaving only the prideful to remain standing.
ren Balra growls under his breath. He is prideful and he will not sit. He gestures to the thirty or so that remain standing, the tiny remnant of a potentially powerful faction against the Council, and they make their way through the crowd and out of the building. I bite my lip as I watch them walk by, wishing for them that they could see beyond the pride they have. But they do not. I look back at ren Keterek and I see the dismayed look upon his face as well, and I realize this is the man who will lead us to our home world.
So many remember that meeting only for the disturbance. But I remember it as the point at which ren Keterek went from being the captain of a vanguard ship, to the very captain of our fate.