To Break the Galaxy, Part 6

Both Felnen and Solum stared blankly at Votara after he’d made his pronouncement. There was no way for Votara to tell what either one of them was thinking. He wondered if he should back out now, tell them he was just kidding. It wasn’t too late. He hadn’t gone too far yet. He could still live out his days peacefully on Yebifar. But then Solum spoke.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said, “What in the world are you talking about?” Votara barely held in a sigh of relief. And then he saw Felnen continuing to stare at him, a small frown on his face, and decided it was too soon to be relieved.

“I am talking about laying the foundations for a movement that will sweep away this corrupt, old Empire, and replace it with something lasting and solid,” he said, “I am talking about establishing the last bastion of strength and justice in an Empire that is weak, soft, and rotten.”

“You’re talking about betrayal,” Felnen interrupted flatly. Votara looked at him, slightly surprised.

“Betrayal, Mek?” he said, “You of all people owe no loyalty to the Empire. Didn’t Imperial soldiers kill your parents?” Felnen flushed slightly and looked down.

“They did,” he said quietly, “But that wouldn’t have happened if the Nether hadn’t started the war in the first place. If my parents had been allowed to farm their land peacefully, instead of being dragged off to a One-forsaken colony by the Nether, they would never have ended up on a battlefield in the first place, and they would still be alive today!” As he spoke, his voice grew louder and stronger, and the last words ended up as an angry shout.

“So, you would invoke the name of the One,” Votara said sadly, “That old, useless god whose light is destined to be extinguished by the Great Darkness? You disappoint me, Mek.”

“If the Dark Presence is so great, then how come the Nether lost the war?” Felnen asked with a sneer.

“I’ve thought about this a great deal, and I believe I have come to a satisfactory answer,” Votara said pensively, “You see, the Presence allowed us to lose because our faith was insufficient. We doubted the power and justice of the Presence, and so the Presence punished us with the guns and warships of the Empire. We must purify ourselves, and restore our faith in the greatness of the Presence, and then we will be blessed with victory!” Felnen continued to look skeptical.

“Well, I’m interested,” Solum said suddenly, “I certainly have no love for the Empire, and the One has never done me any favors. Maybe I would be better off with the Dark Presence.”

“I’m glad to see one of you has some sense,” Votara said. Felnen snorted.

“You two are the ones without any sense,” Felnen scoffed, “Well, I’m not going to do anything to stop you. Go ahead and throw your lot in with the Dark Lord. I don’t care. Just know that the Empire will find out what you’re doing. I can guarantee that.”

“Is that a threat, Mek?” Votara asked quietly. Felnen shook his head.

“Not at all,” he said, “I may think that what you’re doing is foolish, but you are my friend, and I won’t betray you. All I’m saying is that the Empire is watching everything we’re doing, and somebody is going to figure out what you’re up to.”

“No, they won’t,” Votara said firmly, “I have the power and the blessings of the Presence on my side. I will be victorious.” Felnen just shook his head again. Before he could say anything, they heard a noise coming from up above them.

“Hey down there!” a voice yelled, “Is everyone alright?”

“We’re fine!” Votara called back, “Just a little shaken up, is all.”

“Okay,” the voice yelled down, “We’re gonna send down some float packs so you guys can get out of there!” Float packs were small devices that allowed a person to levitate. They generally weren’t standard gear for miners because there usually wasn’t much reason to levitate in a mine. But some were kept on hand for situations like this.

The arrival of the rescue crew put an end to talk of the Dark Presence. But Votara was fairly pleased about the way things had gone. He would have been more pleased if Felnen had been on board with him. But at least now he knew where Felnen stood. And he’d gained a new ally in Solum. Unless of course Solum was an Imperial agent. But that was a risk that he had to take.

A few hours later Votara and Felnen were back in their apartment. They had been given the rest of the day off in order to rest up from their accident. Immediately, Votara could tell that things were going to be awkward between them from now on. Normally, he and Felnen would chat about their day, or about the latest amusing animal video one of them had seen on the internet, or whatever. But now, things were different. Felnen hadn’t said a word to him since they had gotten out of the hole, and as soon as they reached the apartment, Felnen went straight into the bedroom and shut the door. After about an hour or so, Votara knocked on the door and called to Felnen, but he received no answer.

Felnen’s attitude disturbed Votara. He had thought for sure that Felnen would jump at the chance to strike back at the Empire. If his parents had been killed by Imperial soldiers, he certainly wouldn’t have wanted to give his loyalty to the Empire. Of course, he didn’t want to give his loyalty to the Empire anyway, but that was beside the point. He needed to look into moving in with Solum instead. Solum’s apartment might not be bugged, for one. He still wasn’t sure whether his was or not, but he didn’t dare take a chance. In any case, he worried that Felnen would turn him in. The less Felnen knew about his plans, the better.

To be continued…

To Break the Galaxy, Part 5

It hadn’t taken Votara and Felnen long to find an apartment to share. It was a small place, one bedroom and one kitchen/dining room/living room. It wasn’t much, but it was cheap and it was close to the terminal where the shuttles went to and from the mines. Besides, as former soldiers, Votara and Felnen were used to living in rough circumstances.

Despite being roommates, Votara still wasn’t entirely sure where Felnen stood. He assumed that the apartment was bugged, so he didn’t dare talk about his plans there. He wanted to know more about how the Imperial authorities were watching him before he attempted to bring up his plans with Felnen again. The Empire might not be overly concerned about him at the moment, but they would airlock him in a heartbeat if they knew what he was planning.

The next step was to get a job. Votara had no idea how long it would take for him to carry out the first step of his plan, and 1500 credits wouldn’t last him very long. So he needed a way to make money in the meantime. Working in the mines didn’t seem like a very appealing option, but again, as a former soldier, he was used to hardship, and mining couldn’t possibly be more difficult than fighting in a war.

There were three different mining companies operating on Yebifar. Imperial Minerals Trust was the largest, and was owned by the Imperial government. Zonamisk Industries was the largest privately owned mining corporation in the galaxy, and had a stake in Yebifar almost as large as IMT. The third was Yebifar Minerals, and it was this company that Votara was most interested in working for. IMT and Zonamisk had strong ties to the Imperial core, and were likely to be crawling with Imperial agents. Yebifar Minerals was a locally owned company, and Votara suspected that there would be less Imperial infiltration there, and perhaps more independent-minded co-workers who might be sympathetic to his plans.

Getting a job with YM proved to be a simple affair. As they were so much smaller than their gargantuan competitors, YM couldn’t pay nearly as well, and they had trouble attracting new miners who came to Yebifar from off-world. Votara and Felnen were hired practically on the spot, despite their former Nether affiliation and their complete lack of mining experience.

As Votara had suspected, mining was a pretty unpleasant job, but no worse than being hunkered down in a bunker with enemy soldiers trying to kill you. The foreman of the crew that they were assigned to was fairly annoyed to get stuck with a couple of inexperienced workers, but Votara and Felnen had been good soldiers and were used to following orders, so they caught on quickly. They were somewhat shunned by their co-workers at first, on account of their former affiliation, but the Yebifarians didn’t have a great deal of affection for the Empire either, and Votara and Felnen were hard workers and affable companions, and so the other miners quickly got over their initial apprehensions.

Part of Votara felt like he could get used to this new life. Mining was hard work, but even YM paid fairly well, and it gave him something to do. He liked his co-workers, and he enjoyed living with Felnen. But as nice as this life was, it wasn’t enough for him. He knew he had a mission to carry out. He had sworn an oath, and he kept his promises. So he kept his head down and went to work every day, but he also kept his eyes and ears open for signs of Imperial surveillance.

He still wasn’t confident enough in his knowledge of who was watching and/or listening to tell Felnen more about his plan. And Felnen had given him no hints one way or another about whether he was sympathetic to what little Votara had told him in that pub on their first day on Yebifar. Votara didn’t dare say anything unless he was 100 percent sure that no Imperial spies were going to hear what he had to say. And then one day, he had his chance.

Votara, Felnen, and one other man named Trel Solum were working in a deep part of one of the newest mines operated by YM. They were told that the floor of the shaft that they were in was unstable, so they were working with extra caution, but the floor caved in underneath them anyway. They fell nearly 100 feet, but the protective gear they were wearing cushioned their fall so that they survived with minimal injury. Their communication equipment was undamaged as well, so they were able to contact their foreman and tell him what happened. The foreman assured them that they would be rescued as soon as possible, but that it might be several hours before the necessary equipment could reach them. So they settled back to wait.

The presence of Solum was a bit of a problem, but Votara was fairly confident that Solum would be amenable to his ideas. Solum often talked loudly and at length about how rotten and corrupt the Empire was, and how he wished the leaders of Yebifar had the guts to secede. Unfortunately, Solum also had a lot to say about what fools the Nether had been. But Votara was hopeful that Solum’s anti-Imperial sentiments would overcome that.

Votara sat down on a large boulder, with Felnen and Solum sprawled out across from him. Votara looked at both of them for a long time, trying to work out exactly what he wanted to say. But before he could, Solum broke the silence.

“Hey, Wel,” he said with a smirk, “What are you staring at us like that for? Trying to figure out which of us you’re gonna eat first?” Votara started, and then took a deep breath.

“Actually,” he began, “I’m about to share an idea with the two of you. An idea that will change the course of the rest of our lives. An idea that will break the galaxy and reforge it into something purer and more worthy of our loyalty. Are you interested?”

To be continued…

To Break the Galaxy, Part 4

The shuttle touched down on the landing pad with a small thump, and Wellin Votara and the other former members of the Army of the Dark on board began unbuckling their harnesses and gathering their things. Not that that they had much to gather. The Empire had given each of them a couple of changes of clothing and a few other essentials, plus access to an account containing 1500 credits, enough money to live for about a month. They had been taken to the province of Yebifar, near the outskirts of the Empire. Votara figured they were being kept far away from the core worlds of the Empire on purpose. Harder for them to do serious damage on Yebifar than it would be on Cortaris or Grennel or Revlingal. It also was unlikely a coincidence that Yebifar was one of the few outer provinces to remain loyal to the Empire during the war.

As the officer in charge began giving them directions about where they needed to go and what they needed to do now that they’d reached their destination, Votara turned and looked at his seat mate. By a happy coincidence, or the blessings of the Presence, Votara had been paired up with Mektemar Felnen. He didn’t know for sure how Felnen would react to his plan, but he suspected it would be favorable. The Empire killed Felnen’s parents, after all.

Felnen was bent over, picking up his bag. Votara bent over as well, pretending to look for something, and whispered in Felnen’s ear.

“When we get off the shuttle, follow me,” he said, “I have a proposal for you.” Felnen turned and looked at him, but didn’t say a word. He straightened up and stared straight ahead.

Votara wasn’t sure if Felnen would follow, but he wouldn’t have expected him to say one or another on the shuttle. In any case, if Felnen wasn’t interested, Votara would just find someone else. There had to be other true believers out there.

The passengers shuffled off of the shuttle in a single file line, and headed to the spaceport terminal. They needed to register with the local Imperial Census office, ostensibly so that they could be recorded as Imperial citizens, but in reality it was obvious that the Empire was beginning a paper trail to keep track of them. Votara didn’t mind. It wouldn’t be too long before they would close his file.

A few hours later, Votara was sitting in a busy pub near the spaceport. He had never been to Yebifar before, and knew nothing about it, so he had been unable to give Felnen a specific meeting place. Felnen was behind him in the registration process, and Votara didn’t want to stand around and wait for him, so he had picked the first pub he saw after he left the spaceport, and he hoped that Felnen would realize where he had gone.

The pub was a working-class type of place. Despite its proximity to the spaceport, it definitely seemed like it was mostly locals who came there. Yebifar was primarily a mining planet. The Empire had an insatiable need for raw materials for building things, and Yebifar was one of the few planets in the galaxy that had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of the necessary minerals. It was always hard to find enough labor to work in the mines, so Votara figured it made sense that they were sent here. The Empire would have more miners, and the former Nether soldiers would have jobs.

Votara was beginning to wonder what it would be like to be an Imperial miner when Felnen walked into the pub. He looked around for a few seconds, made eye contact with Votara, and then went over to the bar and ordered a drink. Then he came over and sat down in the booth across from Votara.

“The war is over, Wellin,” he said in a flat voice. Votara blinked, surprised. Maybe he had misjudged Felnen. This might not be as easy as he thought.

“I am aware of that, Mek,” Votara responded, “And we lost. But is that really where we want to leave it? We were supposed to be fighting for a glorious future. We were breaking the chains of Imperial tyranny and ushering in a new golden age where the Dark Presence would reign supreme. What happened to that dream, Mek? Are we just going to let it die?”

“What else are supposed to do?” Felnen snapped, “Are the two of us going to overthrow the Empire? With what? The shirts on our backs and 3000 credits?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Private,” Votara growled. Felnen leaned forward angrily.

“I’m not a private anymore, Wellin,” he said fiercely, emphasizing Votara’s first name, “And you’re not a sergeant. We’re just regular guys now who need to face reality.”

“Oh?” Votara said, raising an eyebrow, “And just what is our reality?” Felnen leaned back and folded his arms across his chest.

“The reality is that the Nether is dead and the Empire won,” he said firmly, “Furthermore, if we deny that reality, they’re going to find us and take us out into the deepest reaches of space and airlock us. Do you really think you could get away with this? Do you really think they’re not watching and listening to us right now?” Votara opened his mouth to respond, and then stopped. Something dawned on him. Felnen wasn’t just exaggerating for effect. There really was an Imperial agent listening to their conversation. This was indeed going to be more difficult than Votara had thought.

“You’re right,” Votara said, “I was foolish to even consider challenging the might of the Empire. I might as well just get used to the fact that I’m going to be a miner now.” Felnen picked up his drink and raised in Votara’s direction.

“Good call,” Felnen said with a wink, “I’m glad you understand me. Now, let’s finish our drinks and go about finding a job and a place to live.” Votara nodded and sipped at his drink.

It was going to be hard to find a place safe from Imperial eyes and ears. And until he could find such a place, he wasn’t going to be entirely sure whether Felnen was on board with him or not. But Votara was in no rush. The victory of the Dark Presence was assured, whether Votara was its chosen instrument or not. All Votara had to do was play his part.

To be continued…

To Break the Galaxy, Part 3

Wellin Votara sat slumped in the corner of an Imperial holding cell, hands on his head, wondering if he would ever see the light of day again. Surrendering had seemed like a good idea when the alternative was certain death, but now Votara thought he was probably going to die anyway. He had no idea how long he had been in this cell. He thought maybe it had been about two days. He was alone. He had no idea where his squadmates had been taken. He had been thrown in a cell, and had not had any contact with any human being since. No food. No water. Excrement and urine were piled in a corner, as he had not even been provided with a pot to relieve himself in. He was convinced that they had forgotten about him.

He had slept fitfully on the cold metal floor of his cell, but now he was too hungry and thirsty to sleep. His throat was so parched that he wouldn’t have been able to talk even if he had somebody to talk to. His muscles were cramped from sitting in the same position for too long, but he didn’t have the energy to move at all. He was becoming more convinced all the time that he was going to die in this cell. Maybe someone would remember he was there when his corpse started to stink? Maybe not. In the end, it would have been better to die in that valley after all.

So engrossed was Votara in his thoughts that he didn’t even notice at first when the door opened. A young Imperial officer stepped in. She was of medium height, with short dark hair and intense blue eyes. She eyed Votara coldly without speaking, waiting for him to notice her presence, and then cleared her throat loudly when he didn’t. Votara slowly, agonizingly, raised his head, and blinked, as if he didn’t quite believe his eyes.

“So, you’re still alive,” she said with a small, nasty smile, “We were taking bets on whether or not you would be. I guess I lose.” Votara responded with a wordless groan. “Can’t talk, huh? I’m not surprised. Well, you’ll get some water soon enough. I’ve just received word that the Empress wants you and your companions to be released. We’re getting food and drink ready for you now, and you will be released in a few days.” Votara took a deep breath, and managed to croak out a single word.

“Why, you say?” The officer chuckled unpleasantly and shook her head. “Who knows? I would say that the Empress is just a kind-hearted soul, but that certainly doesn’t mesh with anything I’ve ever heard about her. My guess is she figures you and your pals have been beaten down so bad that you’re not gonna try anything ever again.” She chuckled a little more, and then her expression turned to stone. “Just be happy that the decision wasn’t up to me. My parents and my little brother died in the war. If it were my choice, you and your buddies would have been thrown out of the airlock as soon as you got on board.” With that, she left and the door slid shut behind her.

Votara still wasn’t sure whether or not he had hallucinated that exchange. After all, he had been promised food, water, and freedom, and yet he was still locked in a cell. Were the Imperials just trying to torture him further? Was this part of some sadistic game they were playing? He didn’t know.

Then the door opened again, and a young man entered carrying a tray of steaming hot food and a large pitcher of water. The man set the tray down in front of Votara, and then left again without a word, the door sliding shut behind him. Votara stared at the food, motionless, for a few moments. Then, suddenly, he lunged forward and began drinking as much water as he could, as fast as he could. Then, he started in the food, ravenously devouring every scrap that was put in front of him.

Afterwards, he realized that he probably should have taken it slower, but it was too late to do anything about that now. He lay down on the cold, hard floor, and tried to rationally analyze his situation. The officer clearly hadn’t been lying about the food and water. So did that mean she was telling the truth about the rest? Were the Imperials really just going to let him go? It was certainly more than he hoped for when he surrendered.

He knew that he was going to be watched. There was no way that the Empire was just going to let him and his companions go without keeping some kind of an eye on them. After all, they wouldn’t want a new organization to sprout up that followed in the Nether’s footsteps. And since founding such an organization was exactly his goal, things were going to be a little difficult.

Less difficult, though, than they would be in a Imperial jail cell. He would just have to find a way to throw off Imperial surveillance. It shouldn’t be too hard. Nobody would be expecting much of a lowly sergeant. It was the surviving officers that the Empire would really be watching. Votara wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the officers were going to be under virtual house arrest. But a sergeant, on the other hand… A sergeant might do something stupid, like try to blow up a government building. But no one would expect a sergeant to plant seeds that would some day bring down the Empire.

Votara shook his head slightly. Bring down the Empire? Sure, that was his ultimate goal, but he was getting ahead of himself. First, he needed to see if the Imperial officer was telling the truth. Then, he needed to make sure that the Empire found a reason to stop watching him. And then? Well, only the Presence knew what would happen next.

To Break the Galaxy, Part 2

Briella Melforia stood on the observation deck of her personal cruiser, Infinity, watching Imperial ships as they transported prisoners up from the surface of the planet Nutralids. She was the type of woman that other people wished they could be. She was 64 years old, but looked 20 years younger. She had always been strikingly beautiful, and she had a mind to match. Not only that, but she was fantastically wealthy, and incredibly powerful as well. In fact, as the current occupant of the Imperial Throne, it would be easy to argue that she was the most powerful individual in the galaxy.

Empress Briella II. She couldn’t remember a time when that wasn’t her name. She had ascended to the throne at the age of 4 years old, in place of her father, who had been ousted by the Senate at the request of the Imperial Fleet. At the time, there was some worry that putting a child on the throne would cause problems, but 60 years later, she was generally considered one of the most successful rulers of the Empire ever.

Her father, Emperor Teringlifal III, had been removed from the throne because he was clearly insane. His father, Emperor Petrosin II, had been assassinated by a group of terrorists who called themselves the Black Legion. Teringlifal was only 19 when he became Emperor, and had thrown himself into a quest for revenge.

Unfortunately, he threw more and more of the Empire’s resources into this quest as well, and the more laws the Emperor passed and the more people he threw in person and had executed, the more popular the Black Legion became. Finally, he declared that the sole mission of the Imperial Fleet was to eradicate the Black Legion, and the High Command of the Imperial Fleet decided that he had snapped, and asked the Senate to remove him from the throne.

In some ways, the Fleet had been right. The first act of Briella’s regent had been to repeal all the laws passed against the Black Legion and release everyone from prison who had been jailed under those laws. As a result, the Black Legion collapsed almost overnight. Without the government telling people that the Black Legion was forbidden, it lost most of its allure, and people lost interest.

But in other ways, her father had been right. One of those who did not lose interest was Reglamis Ambolia. Ambolia was a true believer in the Black Legion’s goal of overthrowing the Empire, and when the Black Legion collapsed, he founded a new organization called the Nether. The Nether spent 45 years stealthily gathering influence and resources in every province in the Empire, and then struck. The result was a war that lasted 11 years and came surprisingly close to fulfilling the Nether’s mission.

But for all his cunning and patience, it turned out that Ambolia wasn’t all that good of a military commander, and the Empire had persevered. Now the war was over. The last remnants of the Nether had holed up on Nutralids, a colony that they had founded, and even those remnants had given up now.

Briella had a reputation for being hard as iron and unflappable as a rock, but even she had breathed a sigh of relief when the news of a surrender came. She had departed for Nutralids as soon as she heard the news. This war was likely to be the thing that her reign was most remembered for, and she needed to be there to oversee the final stage of it.

There were a number of people standing on the observation deck with her, generals and senators and advisors. Among them was her son and heir, Prince Mordathy Melforia. 36 years old, Prince Mordathy was tall, with long, curly brown hair that fell below his shoulders. The Prince took after his mother when it came to looks and brains, but he lacked her capacity for decisive action. Mordathy needed to examine every problem from every angle before he could make a decision, a trait that his mother worried would be detrimental in an Emperor. But, there was only so much she could control.

“So, Prince Mordathy,” she said without turning to look at him, “the war is over, and peace has returned to the Empire. If you were Emperor, how would you proceed at this point?” Prince Mordathy frowned in thought for a moment before he answered.

“Well, Your Majesty,” he said slowly, “I suppose you want to know what I would do about the survivors of the Army of the Dark.” He looked at his mother, and she nodded impatiently. “There are a few possibilities. One idea is to have them all executed, to reduce the risk of a rebirth of the Nether, but that might cause others who are on the fence to become more sympathetic to their cause. Instead, we could pardon them all and hope that they become productive members of Imperial society, but then we risk some of them reviving the Nether or some derivative of it. A middle ground possibility might be to hold trials, giving some who merely fought because they were told to a chance to rehabilitate themselves, while providing a legal excuse to imprison or execute those who are still true believers. But that would be expensive and time-consuming, and provide the true believers a stage to disseminate their beliefs.” He fell silent, and his mother turned to look at him over her shoulder.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” she said, giving him a flat look.

“I know, Your Majesty,” he responded, “I’m not sure I have an answer for you.” At this, she rounded on him.

“That’s not good enough, I’m afraid,” she said firmly, “You are going to be the Emperor someday, unless I outlive you, and you are going to have to make these kinds of decisions. I need to know that you will be able to.” Prince Mordathy’s eyes widened slightly in surprise, but his voice remained calm.

“Very well,” he said, “I would pardon them all. I think that this war has done enough damage to the Empire, and it’s time to start healing the wounds. I would let the prisoners go, but with the understanding that they will be monitored and that any attempt to revive the Nether or any similar organization will be squelched immediately.” The Empress studied her son without comment for a few moments, and then turned back to look out the window.

“An interesting plan, my son,” she murmured, “Very interesting indeed.” She was silent for a few more moments, while Mordathy continued to watch her calmly. “Perhaps you will make a good Emperor after all. That is exactly what I was thinking we should do.” Mordathy bowed his head in acceptance of her compliment.

“Time will tell, Your Majesty,” he said.

“That it will,” she responded, “That it will.”

To be continued…