“Hey, what the heck is going on, Treben?” Kyla asked as Treben stormed out of the bar. He was walking so fast that she could barely keep up with him. “Who is Vor Shen? Why are you so upset?” He ignored her and continued to barrel along down the street. She raced to catch up, and grabbed him by the arm. “Hey!” she yelled. He turned and glared at her.
“This has nothing to do with you,” he said coldly, “You better mind your own business.” She glared right back at him.
“How can you say that?” she said, “You obviously have some sort of history with this Shen guy. If he’s in the Council Hall, and we need to get into the Council Hall to do our job, then obviously the fact that he’s there affects me, because I’m part of this job!” They glared silently at each other for a few minutes, and then finally Treben’s face softened and he sighed heavily.
“Fine,” he said in a tired voice, “You’re right. It does affect you. You do have a right to know.” He sighed again, and then turned back to the bar they’d just left. “We might as well go sit down. It’s a long story.” They went back into the bar and sat down in a booth. Garvin started to come over to them, but Treben waved him away. Garvin nodded, a look of sympathy on his face.
“The first thing you need to understand is that my reputation as a womanizing rogue is, or at least was, a smokescreen,” Treben said, leaning forward and lacing his fingers together under his chin. “Once upon a time, I had a family. A wife and a son to be exact.”
“You?” Kyla exclaimed, incredulous, “You were married? You had a kid? Wait… what do you mean, ‘once upon a time’?” Treben sighed heavily and suddenly looked about twenty years older.
“They’re both dead now,” he said in a sorrowful voice, “Murdered by the ISS, on the orders of General Vor Shen.”
“Oh, Treben…,” Kyla said in a voice that was equal parts horrified and sympathetic.
“My son…Joras…he was such a sweet little boy. He’d be…wow, he’d 12 years old now. How time flies.” He fell silent for a few moments, staring off into space. Kyla gazed at him, marveling that she had never suspected that this side of Treben Holkas existed.
“What happened?” she asked quietly after a few minutes. He focused on her, and took a deep breath.
“I told you that I was once the biggest smuggler in this sector. Well, you don’t get to that sort of position without making some enemies. That’s why I cultivated the reputation I have. I knew that Harasai and Joras would have been targets for my enemies if anyone knew they existed. I thought I’d hidden them well. I thought they were safe. But I was wrong.” He sniffed loudly and rubbed his eyes, as if he was trying to hold back tears.
“Five years ago, I got a tip that the ISS was about to raid my warehouse. I’d been playing cat and mouse with the ISS for my whole career, so I didn’t think too much of it. The ISS had never taken smuggling terribly seriously. Every couple of years they’d launch a token raid, partially to make people think they were doing something, but mostly just to fill their coffers. I’d get the most valuable stuff out early, but I’d leave most of it behind. It was basically a bribe. But this time was different. A new submaster had taken over in this sector a guy by the name of Torkan Volmula. He was serious about stamping out smuggling for some reason, so he decided to bring in the military. The IAF placed Shen in charge of the operation. Somehow, and I’ve never figured out how, Shen found out about Harasai and Joras.” He took another deep breath and covered his face with hands for a few moments, trying to gather the strength to continue his story.
“I told Harasai that I was going to the colonies for a few weeks. Neither one of us thought anything of it. Like I said, these raids happened periodically. It never occurred to me to take Harasai and Joras with me. Even if it had, I was convinced that they were hidden, so they would have been in more danger with me than they were on Midigal. So I left. The next day, the ISS raided my house. They were looking for me, but since I wasn’t there, they took Harasai and Joras instead.” He took another deep, shuddering breath, and blinked repeatedly, trying to keep tears out of his eyes.
“I don’t know exactly what happened to them, but I do know they were both beaten severely. The ISS was trying to figure out where I’d gone, but they didn’t know, so they were executed.” At this, the tears that he had desperately been trying to hold back began to flood out. He lowered his head to the table, and began sobbing. Kyla awkwardly reached out and patted him on the shoulder.
“I’m…sorry, Treben,” she said, feeling horribly inadequate. After a few minutes, he took a deep breath and sat back up. His sobs had stopped, but there were still tears running down his cheeks.
“It’s alright,” he said, wiping his face with his hands, “It’s over and done with now. I don’t know why they were executed. I don’t know if it was intended to send me a message, or if the ISS was just pissed that they didn’t get any useful information out of them. But I do know that the orders for their executions were signed by Vor Shen.” He looked Kyla directly in the eyes, and what she saw there terrified her. The sorrow that he’d displayed previously had now been replaced with pure fury.
“I know that killing Shen won’t bring them back,” he said in a quiet, intense voice, “but I don’t care. I will kill him. I will make him suffer. No matter the cost.”
To be continued…