The stately manor on the hill outside Vortronis had once been the grandest structure in the city, but it had fallen into disrepair in recent years. The owner of the manor, Imperial Army Colonel Xendin Lodimeur, (Ret.), had likewise fallen into disrepair over the years. His life had once been just about perfect. He’d had a fulfilling and profitable military career, a well-connected and beautiful wife, and a brilliant and devoted daughter. Now all of it was gone. His career was over, his wife had left him, and his daughter was dead. The first two he could have dealt with. His career had been long and fulfilling, but also exhausting, and he had welcomed retirement. As for his wife, old age had robbed her of her beauty, and her connections weren’t as important now that his career was over.
But his daughter…her death had driven him to despair. He had always been close to Hana. She had been the light of his life, the twinkle in his eye, and she had reciprocated his adoration. He had been so proud of her when she was admitted to Imperial University. That moment had been the culmination of everything he’d worked for and dreamed of his entire life. But about a year after she started at IU, the war had broken out, and she had gotten embroiled in politics. She’d spent three years ignoring her studies and organizing protests against the rule of Embamor II. How she’d managed to avoid getting kicked out and/or arrested by the ISS was beyond him, but it almost made him even prouder of her. And then, came the short and unlamented reign of Preclonus IV.
Hana had been one of the ringleaders of a massive protest against Preclonus, and when that protest was crushed, Hana was crushed along with it. The worst part of it all was that the man who had ordered Hana’s death was none other than Jimalin Redlamin, Xendin Lodimeur’s best friend and most important patron.
That was the main reason why Hana’s death had sent him into a self-destructing spiral of drinking and depression. If Hana had died in an accident, Xendin would have been crushed, but he would have accepted it as fate and moved on. The fact that a man Xendin still loved and respected was responsible for her death was impossible for him to process.
Of course, it wasn’t as if Redlamin had specifically singled out Hana. Redlamin probably hadn’t even known that Hana was in that crowd of protestors. But knowing that his protege’s daughter was in the crowd wouldn’t have stopped him from firing into it. That’s how Redlamin’s mind worked; if he believed something was right, he did it, regardless of who got hurt.
Xendin took a swig of bourbon and stared vacantly at a crack in the wall. He had done nothing to maintain his mansion since he had received the news of Hana’s death. He’d fired his staff and refused to so much as empty out his trash. He simply used the fortune he’d amassed over his military career to buy more booze and then he drank it. Occasionally, he ate. Sometimes, he slept. Mostly, he drank. He’d gained over a hundred pounds in the last two years. He had no idea why he was still alive.
A ringing sound interrupted his vacant self-pity. It was his tablet, letting him know that a call was coming in. He ignored it. He hadn’t taken a call in over 18 months. Nobody had anything important to say. After a few moments, the ringing ended, and Xendin took another swig of bourbon. And then the ringing started again.
Xendin turned his head to look at his tablet. The identification number of the person calling was unfamiliar. He wondered if it was the same person as before, or just a coincidence. He shrugged and took another swig of bourbon. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. The ringing stopped and Xendin continued to stare at the wall.
And then the ringing started again. Slowly, almost disbelieving, Xendin turned his head back to his tablet. Sure enough, it was the same ID number as before. He stared at it, as if unable to comprehend what he was seeing. Since Hana’s death, nobody had made so much effort to contact him. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would make so much effort now. He was almost tempted to answer this call. Almost. Instead, he turned away, back to his bourbon and the crack in his wall.
And then the ringing started again. His head snapped back to glare at his tablet irritably. Once again, the same ID number was listed. Who could possibly want to talk to him this badly? He had a sneaking suspicion that they would keep calling again and again until he answered.
Fine, he thought angrily, I’ll answer it. Maybe then I can convince them to leave me alone. He grabbed his tablet and jabbed the answer button with his finger. The call connected and Xendin was annoyed to discover that it was audio-only.
“Hello!” he barked in his best angry colonel voice. “Who is this?”
“Hello, Colonel Lodimeur,” said a young woman’s voice, and Xendin’s heart skipped a beat. For a second, he thought it was his Hana, but then she continued speaking. “My name is Komeela Shalavin, and I have a business proposition for you.”
“Business proposition?” he growled. “Are you insane? I already have more money than I can possibly spend! I certainly don’t need any more!”
“This proposition is not about money, Colonel,” replied Shalavin. “It’s about revenge.”
“I’m not terribly interested in that either, my dear,” Xendin said drily.
“Aren’t you?” Shalavin asked. “What else do you have to live for? You’re just drowning yourself in booze and self-pity. Why not put your talents to work for a good cause, and get some satisfaction in the meantime?” Xendin was silent for a few moments, thinking. “You don’t have to decide right now,” Shalavin continued. “How about we meet in person, and I can give you some more details?” Xendin thought for a few moments, and then he answered.
“Fine,” he said. “We’ll meet. Like you said, I don’t have anything else to do anyway.”
To be continued…