Chapter 4

We had discovered a ship full of Human usurpers hiding behind one of the moons of a dusty red world they called Mars. Generations of survivors cowering on a derelict colony ship since the Great Machine failed them. Siviks, Rakis, and I led the raiding party that boarded their vessel. The Humans were malnourished and pitiful, yet they still tried to fight us.

The battle was short and brutal. I watched Rakis rip a usurper's arms out of the sockets and throw them to the floor. He was so strong back then. We all were. Our growing Ether shares were intoxicating, as was the bloodlust of unrestricted violence. Rakis was massive, even then. Stronger than all of us. One of the Human champions—if they could be called such—challenged Rakis. The rest of us stood by as he tore the Human's limbs off, one by one, and then crushed what was left of the champion's head between his hands. The other Humans threw down their arms and begged for the lives of those who did not fight. Noble, but foolish.

I corralled the survivors into an airlock and sealed them inside. Rakis and Siviks disagreed with me on how we should handle them. Rakis suggested that they would be more valuable in servitude, rather than be given to the cold dark. "Imagine it," he asked of me, "usurpers wearing the sigil of our House, doing our bidding for us."

Siviks seemed amused by this notion. "Usurpers serving us," he said with delight. "We could steal back the Great Machine's favor by taking from them their identity."

Rakis reached for the airlock controls, and I struck his hand away. He looked at me with confusion, and attempted again, disrespecting my leadership in front of the others. I knew I had to do something.

Without hesitation, I evacuated the airlock into space, killing our captives. The brothers, angered, fought back. I held honor to my aspirations. Strength above all. I butchered half the Dregs loyal to Rakis and Siviks, then turned my blades on the brothers. In spite of their struggle, they ended the battle at my feet, half their followers dead and the others huddled in fear. My mother was fluent in the language of violence, but I was eloquent.

I marooned Rakis and Siviks on an asteroid for their final punishment, along with their surviving crew and left them with a knife and my mother's lesson: "When your crew questions your leadership, you make examples of them."

I returned to our Ketch, towing the derelict colony ship. When I told my mother what had become of Rakis and Siviks, I expected her to approve; but instead, I saw something haunted in her eyes. I thought she was ashamed of me, of what I had done, but I was only following her example. I was victorious, and yet in victory, I felt emptier than in any failure.

It was not until much later that I realized the truth. My mother was not ashamed of me.

She was ashamed of herself.