Xendin Lodimeur stretched his arms up over his head as he stepped out of his shuttle. The ride had been absurdly comfortable, with every amenity he would have ever thought of, plus some he wouldn’t have, but in the end, he had still spent a week in a star shuttle. It was good to finally get out and see the sun and smell fresh air, even if he had no idea where he was.
“Colonel Lodimeur, welcome to Numoris,” said a woman’s voice. He turned to see Komeela Shalavin approaching him. “I trust your trip was pleasant?”
“It was,” he growled, “but I would have appreciated knowing where I was going before I got here.”
“Security precautions, my dear Colonel,” Shalavin said with a pleasant smile. “Wouldn’t want the Empire to find out you were coming here.” Lodimeur let out a skeptical snort. “Snort all you want, Colonel, but I do have your best interests at heart, whether you believe it or not.”
Shalavin led Lodimeur across the landing pad and into the nearby terminal. Like the shuttle, the starport terminal was large, modern, and nearly brand-new. Everything he had seen of Fangalin so far had impressed him, which was somewhat surprising. He had imagined Fangalin to be a dirty band of rebels living in caves. In reality, they seemed much more wealthy and well organized than the Empire. It was a little disconcerting. Although he had agreed to help Fangalin, he was still less than 100 percent committed. He kept looking for reasons why the Empire was more worthy of his loyalty than Fangalin, but everything he saw pushed him in the opposite direction.
Shalavin and Lodimeur passed through the bustling terminal and entered another shuttle. This one was smaller, having been designed for transportation within a planet’s atmosphere, but it was still luxurious. He was anxious to know exactly where they were going, but he didn’t want to let his anxiety show, so he kept quiet. Besides, Shavalin wasn’t likely to tell him where they were going until she wanted him to know, anyway.
They took off from the terminal and quickly the skyline of the city of Crez came into view. Once again, Lodimeur found himself impressed against his will. Crez had only been founded about forty years ago, but it had quickly grown into a city that rivaled Selorin itself. Its skyline was modern and vibrant, with several towers stretching into the sky, each one seeming to try and outdo the last.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Shalavin asked, a small smile creeping across her face. Lodimeur realized that his mouth was hanging open, and he quickly shut it tight. “This is the power of Fangalin in action. While senators and generals were plotting and squabbling over who would succeed the Old Empress, Commander Fortulis and his followers were building a city that is the envy of the best the Empire has to offer. And laying the foundations for the structure that would replace that Empire.”
“You must realize how difficult this is for me,” Lodimeur said, rubbing his eyes in a gesture of weariness and frustration. “I have dedicated my life to the Empire. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that a group of rebels built something that is closer to what I wanted the Empire to be than the Empire itself has ever been.”
“You’re beginning to understand, aren’t you, Colonel?” Shalavin said, in a tone that was a strange mixture of arrogance and sympathy. “The Empire is corrupt, weak. It never embodied the ideals of order and justice that you hold so dear. But here on Numoris, you will find what you seek.”
“I will never find what I seek, Komeela,” Lodimeur said heavily. There was a moment of silence, and Shalavin gazed at Lodimeur with an expression of sympathy tinged with sadness. But he wasn’t looking at her, so he didn’t see it.
“We’re here,” she said briskly a few minutes later. The shuttle had touched down on a landing pad outside an austere yet majestic structure. “This is the Grand Hall of Fangalin, the heart of our power.” For the third time that day, Lodimeur found himself impressed against his will. The Grand Hall was a large and imposing structure, not nearly so much as the Imperial Palace on Trisitania, but almost more impressive for its restraint.
They entered the main entrance of the Grand Hall, crossed the foyer, which was just as grand and remarkable as the outside, and entered an elevator. A few seconds later, they emerged into a broad hallway, which they followed into a large waiting area. There was a receptionist sitting at a massive desk at the end of the room opposite from the door, and above his head the Fangalin logo was displayed proudly.
“Please inform the Commander that Komeela Shalavin is here,” Shalavin said to the receptionist, who nodded and spoke into the headset he wore. A few minutes later, a door behind him opened and he gestured for Shalavin and Lodimeur to enter.
The office which they entered was as majestic as anything else Lodimeur had seen on Numoris. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows opened onto a spectacular view of the skyline of Crez, and directly in front of them was a desk so large it was almost absurd. Sitting at the desk was a round little bald man, whose small stature only emphasized the hugeness of everything else in the room. He bounded up as soon as he saw Shalavin and Lodimeur and rushed toward them, a broad grin on his face.
“Welcome back, Captain Shalavin!” he said cheerfully. “I’m glad to see your mission was a success. This must be Colonel Lodimeur!”
“Yes, indeed, my lord,” Shalavin said with a salute. “Colonel Lodimeur, allow me to introduce Supreme Commander Zhemeen Fortulis.”
“A pleasure to meet you, my, er, lord,” Lodimeur said, bowing awkwardly. Fortulis chuckled and slapped Lodimeur on the back.
“Come now,” he said with a grin, “we can dispense with all these formalities. I have big plans for you, Colonel. I can only hope you are as excited about them as I am!”
To be continued…