Treben Holkas and Kyla Vertrane landed their skimmer in a grassy field on the opposite side of the planet from Grendemar. There were three major continents on Midigal, and the one that Verdek had directed them to was the least densely populated of the three. According to the information they had received, their target, King Ventelin I, was holed up in a lavish country villa in order to keep him safe from the Imperial forces that were about to descend from the skies at any moment.
As soon as Treben and Kyla finished memorizing the information they’d received from Verdek, they had taken a shuttle to Komalas, the largest city on this continent, which was also the closest city to Ventelin’s refuge. They had checked into another rundown motel, and there they waited for the signal to proceed. They spent their time making sure they remembered all the information Verdek had given them and trying to keep themselves from getting too bored.
They were just watching news reports about how ground troops were embarking from the Imperial ships orbiting the planet, when a message arrived from Verdek informing them that it was time. The message appeared to be from an old friend of Treben’s, and the content of the message was utterly innocuous, but it matched up with what Verdek had told them to expect. Considering that “Verdek” was itself a codename, the fact that she used an entirely different codename for this message told them how paranoid she was about anyone finding out what they were doing.
Their landing spot was about two miles away from the villa, close enough that could just see it on the horizon. Somewhere in this field was the exit for an emergency escape route from the villa, designed to be used in case of attack. Verdek had given them its location, reasoning that since it was believed to be top secret, it would be the perfect way to enter the villa undetected.
To the naked eye, the entrance to the secret passage looked like a lone tree near the edge of the field, close to a nearby forest. But Verdek had told them where on the tree to press to open the door. They did so, and the tree disappeared, revealing an opening and steps leading underground.
Of course, not just anybody could have touched the tree in that spot and opened the passage. Verdek had also inputed their biorhythmic signatures into the database of people cleared to access the passage. Treben had his doubts about the wisdom of that approach. For one, there would now be a record of who had accessed the passage. Treben and Kyla’s biosignatures were entered into the database under false names, of course, but it still wouldn’t be that difficult to cross-reference those signatures with a galactic master list, and find out exactly who had entered the passage. Verdek assured them, however, that it was in their employer’s best interest to pin the blame for Ventelin’s death on the Empire instead of on mercenaries. Besides, Treben knew it would be the safest way into the villa, and he had no intention of dying on this mission.
The passage into the villa was so uneventful, it was almost boring. It was just a straight, grey-walled hallway. No twists, no turns, and no security. Treben found this a little suspicious, but he also could believe that Ventelin and/or his security team was so arrogant that they thought no one would ever be able to find the secret passage, and thus there was no need to secure it.
“Okay, this is it,” Treben whispered to Kyla as they reached the end of the passage. He drew his gun, and she did the same. There was a solid metal door there, and according to Verdek’s information, it opened directly into the master bedroom. With any luck, Ventelin would be alone in there, and they could kill him and get out before anyone noticed they were there.
Treben opened the door. There was a single person standing in the room. It was not Ventelin. It wasn’t even a man. It was a woman, a woman whom Treben knew very well. She was standing, facing the door with her arms crossed, as if she knew they were coming.
“Calaia,” whispered Treben in a stricken voice.
“Treben Holkas, I never expected to see you here,” Calaia Tromin asked with a knowing smirk that implied otherwise.
“You know this woman?” Kyla asked.
“Yes,” Treben said quietly, “Yes I do.” He approached Calaia slowly, not lowering his gun, although she hadn’t made any sort of threatening gesture. “Calaia, you know why I’m here.” Calaia’s smirk deepened.
“Oh, I do,” she replied, “But the question is, do you?”
“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” replied Treben.
“Yes you do,” Calaia said with a wink, “Did you ever stop to think about who hired you to kill King Ventelin? No, don’t answer that. I know you, and I know you have thought about it, and I know that you’ve tried to pretend that you haven’t. Well, pretend no more, my friend. You were hired by-”
“STOP!” screamed Treben, a wild look coming into his eyes, “I don’t want to know!” Calaia grinned wolfishly.
“Vor Shen,” she said with a malicious glint in her eyes. Treben screamed, a horrible, primal, desperate scream, and as he did so he fired off a blast from his pistol. Calaia didn’t even blink as it barely missed her head. Treben fell silent and dropped his gun, which clattered loudly to the ground. He bent over, panting as if he’d just finished running a long race. “Why did you do that?” he said between gasps, “I was content in my ignorance. I was happy to just take the money and live the rest of my life in ignorant bliss. Now you’ve ruined that. I can’t finish this job, knowing where the money is coming from.”
“You can’t finish this job anyway,” Calaia said with a sneer, “cause if you tried, you’d be dead before you left this room. But I have a new job for you.”
“Let me guess,” Treben said wearily, “Kill Vor Shen.”
“Of course!” Calaia said brightly, “You’re not the only person who wants Shen dead, you know.”
“No, I suppose I’m not,” Treben said darkly, and then he took a deep breath, “All right. You got me. Tell me what to do.”
To be continued…