Xendin Lodimeur sat in a small cafe near the heart of downtown Vortronis, sipping his coffee and waiting for the mystery woman who had called him to show up. Part of him desperately hoped she wouldn’t appear, and part of him desperately hoped she would. He wanted to return to his crumbling mansion and continue to drink himself to death, so that he wouldn’t have to face a reality where the person he most respected had murdered his daughter. But at the same time, he wondered if maybe life still held some purpose for him. Maybe this call would be the start of a new chapter for him.
A woman walked in the cafe, looked around for a moment, and then started walking toward his table. For a split second, he thought it was his daughter. She was the right height, and something about her face reminded him of Hana. But everything else was wrong. Hana had had brown hair, for example, and she’d always kept it cut short, whereas this woman had long, flowing, red hair. Her appearance was also immaculate and perfectly stylish, where Hana had never paid much attention to the way she looked. She was too deeply focused on what she thought were more important things.
“Greetings, Colonel,” she said as she slid onto the chair opposite him. “I’m Komeela Shalavin. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
“Yes, yes,” he replied impatiently. “Spare me the small talk. I have things I’d much rather be doing than sitting here in this crappy cafe.”
“Oh yes,” Shalavin said with a knowing smile. “I know all about how you’ve been spending your time. Are you sure that’s the life you want to be living? Isn’t this better, being out among light and people and fresh air?”
“You don’t know anything, my dear,” Lodimeur said with a derisive snort. “I’m sure you’ve read my file and think you’ve learned everything you need to know about my ‘tragic history’.” He leaned forward intently and jabbed a pudgy finger right in her face. “Let me tell you something right now. You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know what I’ve been through, you don’t know what it’s done to me, and you don’t know what it’s like. You. Know. Nothing.”
“Of course, Colonel,” Shalavin said, her smile deepening. “Whatever you want. Now, let’s get down to business.” She laid a tablet on the table and slid it over to him. He scowled at her for a few moments, and then, without looking at the tablet, reached over and picked it up. He looked down at it and started reading, and as he did, his eyes widened.
“This…this is treason!” he exclaimed, fear and anger warring in his voice. “How dare you ask me to do such a thing!”
“Is it treason?” Shalavin asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically. “Tell me. What has the Empire done for you?”
“Everything!” Lodimeur exclaimed in a scandalized tone. “I owe all that I am to the Empire!”
“So, you owe the fact that you are a lonely, fat, depressed drunk to the Empire?” Shalavin said with a smirk. “Gee, you’re right. You do owe them your undying loyalty.”
“Enough!” he yelled, slamming his fist on the table. A shocked silence descended on the cafe as all the patrons turned to stare at him. His face reddened, and he went on in a much quieter voice. “Enough. I told you already, you don’t know anything.”
“No, you don’t know anything, Colonel Lodimeur,” Shalavin said firmly. “You still love and respect Jimalin Redlamin, even though he killed your daughter. And now that he’s the Emperor, you think that you need to transfer the love and loyalty that you hold for him to the Empire that he ostensibly rules. Am I right?” He scowled at her silently, and she smiled slightly. “I’ll take that for agreement. Tell me, Colonel. How many times have you spoken to the Emperor since the death of your daughter?” Lodimeur continued to scowl for a few seconds, and then he blinked and looked confused.
“Well…I…I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I…I guess I haven’t spoken to him at all.”
“I see,” Shalavin said flatly. “No apology. No explanation. Not even a simple chat to see how you’re doing.”
“I…well…you see, the Emperor’s a very busy man, and, um…” He trailed off, and slowly something began to dawn on him. There was a reason he’d stopped taking calls, and it wasn’t just that he hadn’t felt like talking to anyone. In the first days and weeks since he’d learned of Hana’s death, he’d jumped up and grabbed his tablet at the slightest noise, hoping and praying that Redlamin was contacting him. He didn’t know what he expected Redlamin to say. Anything would have been fine, really.
He had convinced himself that Redlamin didn’t mean to kill Hana, that it was all a terrible accident, and that Redlamin felt remorse over what he’d done. But now he realized that was a lie. Redlamin didn’t care about Hana, and he didn’t care about Xendin. The fact that he hadn’t made the slightest effort to contact Xendin, even though he must have learned that Hana was in that crowd, was proof that, in the end, Xendin Lodimeur meant nothing to him. Deep down inside, Xendin had known this all along. He just hadn’t been willing to confront it until now.
“You evil woman,” he said in a low, savage voice, glaring at Shalavin with tears in his eyes. But Shalavin just shook her head calmly.
“I am not the evil one here, Colonel,” she said. “The Empire…they are the ones who are evil. You say that the Empire gave you everything? I disagree. I say that the Empire took everything away from you. And what loyalty do you owe to those who would destroy what you love most?” A single tear fell from Lodimeur’s eye and splashed on the table in front of him. Then he looked up and spoke softly.
“Very well,” he said. “I accept your proposal.”
To be continued…