Twelve gleaming starships glided silently through space, hanging in orbit around the Fangalin planet Moratorila, which had been chosen as the staging ground for Xendin Lodimeur’s offensive against the Empire. He had been there for two weeks, gathering supplies, organizing his forces, and getting to know the men and women who were serving under him. He had been made a General in the Grand and Invincible Army of Fangalin, but for the purposes of this mission, his troops would still be referring to him as Colonel. As he was trying to persuade Erelesk Votalin of his loyalty, it wouldn’t do for him to act as if he was putting on airs and promoting himself to General.
“Colonel, one of the members of the High Council has arrived and wishes to meet with you at your earliest convenience,” announced one of Lodimeur’s aides suddenly. They were standing on the bridge of Ranger, one of the two battleships under his command, and the one he had chosen as his flagship. It was one of the newest models of Imperial battleship, having come off the line only two years ago. Its Captain, an intense, middle-aged woman named Vynay Nonmar, had grown disillusioned with the incompetent leadership displayed by the Empire, and increasingly enamored with the teachings and example of Fangalin, so she and her senior officers had decided to defect. Those crewmembers who had not been aware of her plans were ordered to choose between Fangalin and death. Most chose Fangalin. A few picked death, but after the first of their number was executed, the rest realized their officers were serious and swore loyalty to Fangalin.
“Very well, Lieutenant,” Lodimeur replied. “Inform the Councilor that I will meet with him in the starboard conference room in fifteen minutes.” The lieutenant saluted sharply, and Lodimeur turned to Commander Omilai Alten, Ranger‘s XO. “Commander, you have the bridge.” Commander Alten saluted as well, and Lodimeur headed for the conference room.
He entered the conference room, and saw a man standing there. He was short and slender, although that was somewhat masked by his voluminous robes, and he had a narrow goatee, a shaved head, and a serious expression on his face. “General Lodimeur, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” he said in a deep voice. “I am Dren Calabane.”
“I have heard of you, sir,” Lodimeur said, bowing. “It is said that you are first in line to succeed the Supreme Commander once his illustrious reign comes to an end.” Calabane waved one hand dismissively, as if to say he was unconcerned with such matters, but the pleased smile on his face gave his true feelings away.
“I try to meet with as many high-level converts to our way as I can,” Calabane said. “Of course, I am a very busy man, and we get so many that I find it difficult to meet with all of them. But I was particularly interested in meeting you.”
“Why is that, sir?” Lodimeur said with a puzzled frown.
“So many of our converts come to us eager to embrace our cause and our mission, and anxious to do whatever they can to dismantle the Empire,” Calabane said, folding his arms across his chest. “But I sense a reluctance from you, as if you’re still torn between your old loyalty to the Empire and your new loyalty to the Dark Presence. It fascinates me, and…well, it worries me a little bit as well.” Turning, he walked over to the large windows nearby and gazed out on the green and blue expanse of Moratorila.
“I assure you, Councilor, I will do nothing to betray the cause of Fangalin,” Lodimeur said firmly.
“Perhaps,” replied Calabane, his back still turned to Lodimeur. “I have no doubt that you will do nothing to overtly betray us. But to see a duty that needs to be done, and fail to do it, that also is a form of betrayal. I fear that when push comes to shove, if you have an opportunity to destroy Jimalin Redlamin, you may fail to take it. Allowing Redlamin to escape the coming battle… Well, it would be difficult to prove that such an act was purposeful, but that would not diminish the damage it would do to our cause.”
Calabane turned back to Lodimeur and fixed him with an intense gaze. Lodimeur found himself at a loss for words. Calabane had struck him to the very core of his being. He wanted to serve his new masters faithfully, but could he serve them even to the point of striking down his best friend and mentor? He had his doubts, but he didn’t dare admit that to this man. If he wanted the opportunity to prove to Fangalin that he was a worthy servant, he needed to carry out this mission. And although he knew that Supreme Commander Fortulis trusted him, Fortulis trusted Dren Calabane much more. If Calabane told Fortulis that Lodimeur was wrong for this mission, there was little doubt that he’d be pulled and replaced.
“Councilor, I have no intention of doing anything that will bring harm to Fangalin,” Lodimeur said intently. “Nor do I have any intention of failing to do something that will benefit Fangalin. I know I cannot give you any assurance beyond my word, but you do have my word.”
“And that will have to be enough,” Calabane said. “I trust the Supreme Commander’s judgment. He trusts you, so I trust you. I just want you to know that I do not trust you implicitly. If anything goes wrong on this mission… Well, just know that I will be keeping an eye on you.”
“I understand that, Councilor, and I expect it,” Lodimeur said. “I, also, will be keeping a close eye on my subordinates. It is the nature of what we do.”
“Well said, General,” Calabane said with a small smile. “Excellent. I, for one, am glad we had this little chat. With your permission, I would like to stay on board until you are ready to deploy.”
“Of course, Councilor,” Lodimeur said with a small bow. “I would be honored to have you as my guest.”
To be continued…