The Solitude of Death, Part 6

All three of Numoris’s moons were full as Dren Calabane stood on the roof of his mansion, gazing up at the sky. Calabane was something of an astronomy buff, and Triple Full, as the locals had dubbed this phenomenon, was something that hadn’t happened yet in the less than 40 years since Numoris was first settled. It was a pretty spectacular sight, and Calabane was glad he was able to see it.

In another sense, though, he wished he’d had to miss it. The Grand Council was supposed to have met tonight, but the Supreme Commander had informed the Council an hour before the start of the meeting that he would be unable to attend. This was certainly his prerogative as Supreme Commander, but it did technically violate the Charter, which stated that the Supreme Commander had to be present at meetings of the Grand Council. No Supreme Commander had ever broken this rule. In order to save face, Calabane, who was President of the Council, decided to cancel the meeting, and thus avoid setting a precedent.

Commander Fortulis’s behavior was becoming more irritating and erratic. This incident was just the latest in a series of disturbing incidents. He had been meeting privately with certain councilors, the ones who were most resistant to Calabane’s influence. He was also disappearing for days at a time, leaving the Grand Council and the War Council to administer the Fangalin empire without his input or guidance.

Calabane wasn’t sure what to make of all this. Fortulis was an old man. Perhaps he was becoming senile. He was by no means the oldest Commander ever, and senility and even dementia had afflicted previous Commanders. Or maybe he was just starting to crack under the pressure of conducting an open war with the Empire. After all, he was dealing with issues that no other Supreme Commander had ever had to deal with before. Fangalin was hundreds of years old, but in the aftermath of the Emergence, it was beginning to radically transform itself.

Or perhaps something more sinister was going on. Calabane and Fortulis had never gotten along particularly well. Calabane’s father, Orfan, had also been on the Council, and had been a strong supporter and a good friend of the previous Supreme Commander, Harbin Adamine. Orfan Calabane had been Commander Adamine’s chosen successor, but the Council had elected Zhemeen Fortulis instead. Orfan had spent the remainder of his life trying to undermine Fortulis’s command.

Dren Calabane had not inherited his father’s prejudice against Zhemeen Fortulis, but Fortulis acted as if he had. The last thing Zhemeen Fortulis wanted was Orfan Calabane’s son as a councilor, and despite Dren’s efforts to prove that he was not the same man as his father, Fortulis had done everything he could to marginalize and neutralize him.

Still though, if Fortulis was actively conspiring in private with other councilors against him, that would be something new. Fortulis had always been open about his hostility towards the son of his nemesis. And he had never been so petty as to reject Calabane’s ideas just because they came from Calabane. Something strange was going on, and Calabane didn’t know what it was. He just knew that he didn’t like it.

He turned his head slightly at the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs behind him. He was somewhat surprised at the sight of his wife, but not really. He knew she wanted to talk to him about what was going on with the Council and the Commander. But she was deathly afraid of heights, and generally avoided the roof at all costs. That was part of the reason he went up there.

“Shalor,” he said, grimly but with a hint of warmth, “I wasn’t expecting you to come up here.” She gave him a grin that was equal parts sickly and mischievous.

“I know,” she replied, “I’m well aware that you’re up here to avoid me. Although I must admit that Triple Full is quite stunning.” He smiled slightly at her, and then returned to staring at the sky. “Dren,” she continued, “I have a good reason for coming up here. You just received a message from Xelmin.” She involuntarily took a step back as he whipped around to stare at her, his eyes suddenly aflame.

“Xelmin!?” he hissed, “You had better not be lying to me, woman.”

“Lying?” she said, shocked and hurt, “When have I ever lied to you, Dren? Besides, why would I lie about this?” Dren clenched his fists tightly and glared at her, and then swept past her.

As he stormed through the mansion to his study, he was flooded with memories. As a younger man, he had worked for the Grand and Invincible Army’s intelligence service, Meskin. He’d had a network of agents scattered throughout the Empire, and it had been his responsibility to gather reports from them and turn that information into policy recommendations. His most highly placed and productive agent had been codenamed Xelmin.

He entered his study, punched the authorization code that would let Xelmin know that he was talking to the right person into the console on his desk, and received Xelmin’s authorization code in return. He was a little surprised that he still remembered it, and even more surprised that it was correct. He hadn’t had any contact with Xelmin in over twenty years, because Xelmin had been compromised and executed twenty years ago.

“This is Argamyle,” Calabane said, using his codename from his days in Meskin, “What is your message?” There was a long pause, and then a familiar voice responded.

“Argamyle,” the voice said, “It has been too long.”

“More like not long enough,” Calabane snapped, “How can this be? You were executed twenty years ago for treason!” The voice chuckled grimly.

“Oh, Argamyle,” the voice said, “There is much that you never knew. But now is not the time. I have urgent information for you. You, and all of Fangalin, are in grave danger.”

To be continued…

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