“The Chair recognizes Captain Hana Lodimeur,” announced the Chairman of the Grand Council, Ven Ron. Councilor Ron was a large man, towering over all the other councilors and wider than most of them as well, although unlike the rest of them, his bulk was all muscle. He had deep brown hair that was cut short like a soldier, and piercing hazel eyes, and a bearing that said he believed that whatever he did, he would do it better than anyone else. Hana had never liked him, as he was one of the most arrogant men she had ever met, but even she had to admit that he was competent enough to justify his arrogance.
“Thank you, Honored Councilor,” Hana said, approaching the podium with a bow. “I humbly come before this most esteemed body tonight to beg a favor.”
“A favor, eh?” sneered Allabide Foss. Foss was young for a councilor, about the same age as Hana, and he had disliked her ever since she’d rejected his advances by slapping him. Few women in Fangalin could get away with so boldly rejecting a member of the Grand Council, but fortunately Hana’s patron was the Supreme Commander himself. “Didn’t we already do you a favor by letting you waste time and money with that haunted house of yours?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Foss,” retorted Jremok Valin, an older man who was one of Hana’s staunchest allies on the Council. He had voted in favor of her raid on the Imperial Palace every time she’d approached the Council. Not that it was up to the Council to decide, of course, but a vote in favor would certainly get the Supreme Commander’s attention. “Starfengt is the best thing that’s happened to Fangalin since the Emergence. You know as well as anyone that the war has gotten bogged down these past few years. Without Starfengt around to thin the ranks of our enemies’ leaders, we wouldn’t have even been able to win the few victories that we have!” Foss sneered at Valin in response, but kept his mouth shut.
“Please continue, Captain,” said Ron, giving her an arrogant wink. Hana just barely managed to refrain from rolling her eyes.
“As you know, Honored Councilors, I have approached this body several times in an attempt to convince its esteemed members that assassinating Neminatrix IV would be favorable to the war effort. I have no doubts that Starfengt would easily be able to penetrate the lax security in the Imperial Palace and eliminate Neminatrix with a minimum of resources and casualties. However, it has been brought to my attention that the death of Neminatrix IV may not necessarily be what is best for our glorious war effort.” She paused for a moment to take a sip of water.
“Therefore,” she continued, “I ask instead that this esteemed and honorable body grant me the life of Neminatrix as a reward for my meager contribution toward the war effort. You all know that Neminatrix is responsible for the death of my father, who served Fangalin faithfully and honorably. And how many other crimes can be laid at the feet of that despicable monster who claims to be Emperor of the Galaxy? Thus I ask you, Honorable Councilors, please give me permission to move my troops against the Imperial Palace and lance this festering boil that so besmirches our honor and our glory.” She fell silent, and watched the faces of the men in front of her. She couldn’t tell if her speech had had any effect yet, but really, there was only one man whose reaction mattered, and he was the one she watched most intently.
Dren Calabane, Supreme Commander of Fangalin, sat behind Ven Ron on a raised platform overlooking the Council chamber. In his mid-60s, his goatee was silver now, rather than black, but other than that, his appearance had not changed much in the past ten years. He still possessed the quiet intensity that had carried him through the ranks of Fangalin to the very top of the hierarchy. He had not spoken a word throughout this entire meeting, which was his normal procedure, as he preferred to let the Council debate matters without being influenced by what they thought he wanted. But he watched everything that happened like a hawk.
The councilors were silent for a moment, digesting what she had said, and then Ven Ron spoke up. “Well said as always, Captain Lodimeur,” he said. “I, for one, am persuaded by your argument. Where would we be without Starfengt, as Councilor Valin already stated? Surely your loyal service over the past decade deserves this small favor. I say we put it to a vote. Do I have a second?”
“Seconded,” said Valin, raising his hand.
“All in favor?” asked Ron, looking around expectantly. Hana barely suppressed a grimace as a little over a third of the Council’s hands went up. But maybe most of the rest would simply abstain from voting. “All opposed?” said Ron, and more than half of the Council’s hands went up. This time Hana did grimace. What would it take to convince them? Hana didn’t know, but there was still hope.
“Let the record book show that Captain Lodimeur’s petition to lead a team to assassinate Neminatrix IV was rejected by the Grand Council on this date,” Ron intoned, his arrogant smirk unfazed by the fact that a petition he’d supported had just been defeated. “Next order of business?”
“A moment, Councilors,” said a soft voice that cut through all other noise in the Council Chamber. Dren Calabane’s voice. Every eye in the chamber turned to him in amazement. “You all know that I hesitate to contradict the Council’s opinion in public, but in this case I believe you have made a grievous error. As both Councilor Ron and Councilor Valin have made clear, Hana Lodimeur’s service to Fangalin and to the Dark Presence has been unparalleled. To deny her this small request is a grave insult to a loyal and valued servant of the Presence. Therefore, I hereby grant Captain Lodimeur’s petition. You may use whatever means are at your disposal to locate and execute the criminal Neminatrix.” And then he fell silent, leaving the Councilors, especially those who had voted against Hana’s request, stunned.
To be continued…