The Solitude of Death, Part 7

There was a pause as Dren Calabane absorbed this statement. “Grave danger?” he said, confused and angry, “What are you talking about?” The voice on the other end of the connection chuckled.

“You’ve been wondering about what your Supreme Commander is up to, haven’t you?” Xelmin said. Calabane frowned and bit his lip.

“Yes, that’s true,” he said, “But how do you know that?”

“I know more than you can possibly imagine, Argamyle,” Xelmin responded, “Haven’t I proved that to you in the past? And I’ll tell you something else I know. Fortulis thinks you are a traitor.” There was a pause as Calabane tried to process this.

“How can that be?” he asked in shock. Xelmin chuckled again.

“Fortulis thinks you are an Imperial sympathizer, and his proof is that you insist on opposing the assassination of the Emperor.” Calabane sat in silence, stunned by this revelation.

“How can that be?” he repeated in a whisper, “It’s true that Fortulis and I have never had a positive relationship, but to doubt my loyalty? If I was really an Imperial sympathizer, I would be calling for Embamor II’s head louder than anyone! The man is an imbecile, leading the Empire to ruin!” Calabane frowned and narrowed his eyes in anger. “Wait a minute. Who are you? How do you know all this?” Once again, Xelmin chuckled, causing Calabane to grind his teeth in frustration.

“I told you, I know more than you can imagine,” Xelmin said smugly, “I’ve long known that ‘Argamyle’ is the codename of Dren Calabane.” Calabane was shocked. Xelmin knew who he was! How could that be possible? He thought about denying it, but he knew immediately that was a waste of time. Clearly Xelmin wasn’t exaggerating when he bragged about how much he knew. Calabane decided that the best course of action was to go along with this, and see if he could use the information that Xelmin was going to give him.

“Okay then,” Calabane said, “So you know who I am. Wonderful. The question is, can I trust you? How do I know that you’re telling me the truth?” Calabane closed his eyes and clenched his fists as Xelmin, predictably, chuckled at this question.

“You can’t,” Xelmin said, “And I don’t expect you to. I’m simply giving you information, and it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. And here’s some more. You say that if you really were an Imperial sympathizer, you would be calling for Embamor II’s head. Don’t be so sure. Embamor Etralis is more crafty than you think.” A skeptical look appeared on Calabane’s face.

“Crafty?” he said, “That drunken idiot? The only thing crafty about him is the beer he pours into his gut.”

“Is that so?” asked Xelmin, “What if I told you that the Emperor is planning to deal a deathblow to Fangalin?”

“I would tell you that you’re insane,” Calabane replied. “The Empire’s resistance to our assault has been tepid at best.”

“All of that has just been a smokescreen,” Xelmin said. “The Grand Council and the War Council are meeting in a joint session in a few weeks, aren’t they?” Calabane frowned. Every year, both Councils met together to plan strategy for the coming year. Every Councilor and every General was required to attend, as was the Supreme Commander. If Embamor II knew when and where the joint session was going to take place, and he was going to plant a bomb… Such a blow would be devastating for Fangalin. It might end the war before it really began.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Calabane said.

“If you think I’m saying that the Emperor plans to give you a taste of your own medicine, then yes,” Xelmin said. “But it goes farther than that. Etralis knew about your plot to bomb the Senate.” It took a moment for that statement to sink into Calabane’s head, but when it did, his eyes widened.

“That can’t be true,” he breathed.

“It can, and it is,” Xelmin responded. “There was no way that the Senate was going to raise General Etralis to the throne. This was his only way to advance so far. And now that you’ve helped him achieve his goal, he’s going to return the favor.”

“Presence preserve us,” Calabane whispered.

“You see what you need to do, don’t you?” Xelmin said, “The man you thought was a buffoon is really a master of deceit, and opposing his death means your Commander sees you as a traitor. If you want to keep your head and save your order, Embamor II needs to die. You have no other option.” Abruptly, the connection was severed, leaving Calabane feeling highly disoriented.

He laced his fingers together, leaned forward, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. How could he know whether this information was true or not? On the other hand, did he dare risk ignoring it? His life, and the fate of Fangalin itself, was at stake. What was the reign of Embamor II worth, balanced against that?

***

Adlamor Finegal sat back in his chair with a satisfied smirk on his face. It was so easy to get people to do what you wanted when you knew everything about them. Finegal had complete files on every member of Fangalin’s leadership, and it was simple for him to make the connection between Councilor Calabane and Vorzhak Larachai, a high-ranking ISS official who was also known as Xelmin. Larachai really had been executed 20 years ago, as Calabane believed, and Embamor II was every bit the imbecile that Calabane thought he was. What Finegal had told Calabane about Fortulis and the Emperor was a lie, but it was a lie mixed with enough truth to be persuasive. If Calabane was as smart as Finegal believed him to be, he would persuade the Fangalin Supreme Commander to go ahead with the assassination attempt. And Finegal would make sure that it succeeded.

To be continued…

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