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.