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…