Sunlight bathed the occupants of the room in a warm buttery glow. The glass was designed specifically to make it appear as if sunbeams were drawn to each of the people sitting around the table giving anyone looking at them the impression of an ethereal glow. The impact was lost on those around the table but to anyone else in the room, the scene denoted an almost tangible presence of power and spirituality. One seat however seemed to almost radiate from the sunlight. This seat was held by the Rectoress: The one woman that held dominion over every life in the Galactic Union.
She wore a gown of white that while appeared to be simple had taken hours to tailor. The bodice clung tightly to her torso attached to what looked like a floor-length pencil skirt. The material was fitted so perfectly it appeared as if it were a second skin yet when she walked the fabric of her dress became more voluminous giving the impression the Rectoress floated instead of walked. The pure white fabric also held filaments of opalescent thread which reflected the light making the Rectoress appear to elicit a shimmering aura with every step or flick of her hand. The only jewelry she wore was an ornate necklace of gold in the filigree style of their language with the words faith, hope, and love stacked on top of each other to make it appear like an upside-down triangle.
A perfectly manicured nail, painted in an opalescent white, tapped the arm of the golden throne on which she sat. The woman was icily beautiful with jet black hair, piercing jade eyes, and a creamy flawless complexion. The face and body appeared ageless except for the small lines beginning to meander from the corners of her eyes. The weight and strain of her position in the Galactic Union caused the Rectoress’ lips to pull into a perpetual straight position where they were neither smiling nor frowning. Today, however, the red lips dipped at the corners matching the simmering fire raging in her eyes.
“And why am I just finding out about this now?” Her voice cut through the room like an icy breeze. No one dared speak or offer a reason. Senators and protectorates alike looked everywhere but at the woman on the throne staring back at all of them. On some level, she found it amusing. The pompous peacocks were always strutting about with their shrill voices and colorful rhetoric when blame was to be placed on someone else. When the fault was theirs, the men and women in the room cowered like small children in a thunderstorm.
The soft and slippery woosh of the pneumatic door opening drew her attention a half-second before the entering occupant spoke. “Because every person in this room has forgotten their duty to the Divine.” His steps and gait were strong and purposeful radiating an almost tangible ripple of power and control throughout the space. All eyes snapped to the man entering. All words hovering on the lips were choked back. Fear and foreboding rose up in the room like a mist causing most to suppress a shiver as he walked past them.
Adar Vyce was the Supreme Commanding General of the Galactic Union. His reputation was well earned in the Union. He had risen among the ranks in his career from a teenager in the regimental corps to becoming the last and final voice of the military. He was the visual opposite of the Rectoress. Vyce was clad in all black, with boots polished so immaculately they appeared like liquid onyx. Only his cape and a few small metal bars to denote his rank separated him in theory from his men; however, only the Rectoress’ face was more well known. The yellow eyes, pale-bluish skin, and snow-white hair framed a stony, craggy visage marred with scars that crisscrossed his face from battles long since fought and won. The most striking was a long gash that ran from his hairline to his left cheekbone diagonally. His presence sucked the noise in the room as if it were the vacuum of space. No one moved, praying the General’s attention would not fall upon them.
“Never stop your enemy from sliding off the path of enlightenment. It will only allow one to defeat them faster for their own stupidity for those that do not fight with the passion of the Divine will rot in the oblivion of hell.” Adar Vyce barked out the creed of the military and the motto before falling to one knee with his head bowed. The movement was sharp and crisply honed from years of practice. He held it just long enough to pay due homage to their leader before erecting himself. “Rectoress, I have assembled a small exploratory task force. Grant me the blessing to lead one hundred divisions of our most faithful to this Milky Way Galaxy to rescue the Elders and return the Prism.” Normally stoic and stern, Adar’s voice and gaze projected the fanaticism on which the Galactic Union was based. Vyce was a devout man, serving the Union with a passion few could match. This was different though. It was an unbridled excitement that only years of training could contain and one voice could quash.
“I don’t want to sour the victory parade,” Pellan Vell’s charismatic drawl cut through the silence like a saber, “but even a backwater galaxy like the Milky Way will have a few hiding places. Are you sure a million and a half loyal patriots will be enough? I think we should double it or triple it,” the voice replied with sarcastic enthusiasm. Moving from the back of the room to the front, his pace, demeanor, and dress was diametrically different than his nemesis Adar Vyce. Where Adar thundered into a room, Pellan strolled. Where Adar cast withering glances, Pellan tended to smile to place those around him at ease. Where Adar barked commands, Pellan relied on wit and sarcasm in verbal expression. Adar Vyce’s pure black uniform was contrasted by Pellan’s impeccably tailored black slacks and pristine white shirt.
“Chancellor Vell,” Adar shot daggers from his eyes with a voice dripping in disdain. “Lurking in the shadows again I see. Afraid of the light?” A thin sneer formed on the General’s mouth. One day he was going to put a projectile in Pellan’s head and hasten the man’s journey to enlightenment. His hand dropped to the weapon holstered at his hip. Battle-born reflexes meant Pellan Vell would be dead before he knew it yet now was not the time or the place to kill the Chancellor.
“No, I just don’t need to be in the spotlight like others. Nice work on Halston. Real professional job there Adar,” Pellan clapped his hands several times with lackluster vigor and a sardonic grin. “Remind me again what was our intention?” Scratching his temple as if confused and clueless, Vell continued to talk. “Were we supposed to indoctrinate Halston or use it as a training exercise in global butchery and carnage?” Only the Chancellor would antagonize the most deadly man in the Union, yet the casual way Pellan stood and spoke showed he did not care about the General’s feelings.
Moving across the room, Adar locked eyes with Vell inches from the man’s face. He fought the desire to pull the dagger from his waist and plunge it into the man’s neck allowing the Chancellor’s blood to coat the white marble floor and pool at the feet of those in the room. “You should mind your words,” Adar taunted him, “Why do you delve into such blasphemous thoughts?”
Pellan was not intimidated by the General. Men that followed a doctrine without question as Adar Vyce did were blinded by their own fanaticism. “Why do you think a twelve-year-old child knows the whereabouts of one of the most powerful weapons ever conceived? No one in recorded history has ever found the prism and even if it did exist, its power is shrouded in mythos and legend, and yet you cling to the idea that our people are alive and haven’t perished in a fools expedition.”
“Adar…Pellan,” the Rectoress’ voice silenced the violent maelstrom brewing between two of her most trusted advisors. “Squabbling about this will not further anyone’s quest in finding the prism or our missionary Elders. Our mission, our oath has always been to serve the Divine and those that lead us on the path towards Enlightenment.” She chose her words carefully as she spoke the people in the room. While everyone in the room had pledged oaths and promises to the path of enlightenment, oaths and promises were as fragile as the first sheen of winter ice on a pond. They only were stable as long as no one tested their strength. Moving to her throne on the dais, the Rectoress flicked her wrist indicating all were to be dismissed. The room cleared as if a raging fire erupted with the senators and protectorates scurrying out like rats.
Rectoress of the Galactic Union
The two men understood the gesture was not meant for them. Vyce stood motionless with his shoulders back and spine straight making those move around him as they exited the room. A deep scowl etched his face making the scar that ran down it even more pronounced. His yellow eyes stared forward locked on an invisible target. Pellan strolled effortlessly through the crowd, weaving his way among the people to a point across the room. Even though the Chancellor was walking among the people leaving, they were careful not to obstruct his unknown path. Pellan Vell might be more affable than his counterpart, however, no one in the room ever mistook his light banter and easy smile for friendship. It was well known that his false platitudes could be just as fatal Vyce’s knife to the chest if he disagreed with you.
Pellan moved to the large window peering down at the marble street edged by bubbling fountains, idyllic gardens, and jeweled statues nestled among the glass-clad building that reflected sunlight at the right angle into prismatic rainbows. Kublai Tais, the capital city of the Galactic Union, was stunningly beautiful. There was no denying that fact by even the most ardent detractors. Today however his mind was not lost in daydreaming at the breathtaking sites below. It was mired in concern and anger over the missing Elders. While Pellan was the antithesis of Adar in personality and political beliefs, he was just as deadly. As the Chancellor, Pellan had access and more than a moderate amount of personal control over the Rectoress. Ever her faithful steward, he used the affection however between them for his own personal agenda.
The Rectoress waited until the last courtier slinked out of the space before letting her shoulders sag, slumping back in the chair. Looking at the two men, she waved a hand dismissively. “Okay, now that the audience is gone you both can kill each other if you like. I will bless your corpses at the funeral and then replace both of you with people that care more about the Union than petty fighting.” Her eyes slowly moved between the two men gauging if her chastisement was enough to make them put aside their differences and work on a common goal. As expected, Adar Vyce bristled at the rebuff squaring his shoulders and refusing to look at the Chancellor. Pellan Vell let out a disgusted snort, shaking his head as he continued to stare out of the window. Neither man spoke knowing each of them had played a part in the disappearance of the Beacon of Hope.
Silence hung like a noose around both of the men’s necks. The Rectoress let her gaze drift between the General and the Chancellor waiting to see who would break first. She did not play political games with either of these two men. Pretending she understood the how and why of the situation was pointless. Given some time cooler heads would prevail and one of them would start talking.
“She should never have been on Mischwald or Halston but especially Halston. She wasn’t ready,” Pellan said. His voice echoed in the large hollow space sounding almost spectral in its sad and mournful quality. He kept his eyes focused on the cityscape refraining from looking at those to which he was addressing. Keeping his eyes on what he was protecting was the only thing preventing Pellan Vell from calling for a vote of no-confidence against Supreme Commanding General Adar Vyce. He had the votes and support to make it happen but the consequences would be severe. As much as Pellan hated the man, it took a special man to command a military. That man needed to have no soul and ice water running through his veins to commit the acts necessary to keep the Galactic Union safe.
“According to who…you,” Vyce’s voice boomed through the space like he was commanding troops and not in a personal discussion with another person. His comment snapped Vell around in an about-face so sharp and crisp, it would have impressed anyone drill instructor. Vyce watched as Pellan moved from his space and towards him with strong, purposeful steps. “You are the Chancellor. You are not her father nor her keeper. You forget your place.” Vyce did not step back as Pellan moved to inches from his face.
“No my place is to protect the citizens of the Galactic Union. Every citizen,” Pellan snapped never breaking his gaze from Adar’s eyes. “That includes her. She was not ready. She did not know how to handle the situation which forced us to react. That is not on her but you. You,” he stabbed a finger at Vyce’s chest, “put her in a situation that cost us Halston. Do you realize the economic value that planet had? Their technology in mining and ore retrieval was decades above what we currently had and now that is lost.”
“It was a learning experience and one she needed. One cannot grow without trials and this is not on me. She had to find her place in the Quad,” Vyce felt his temper rising to a critical point and his hand drifting down to the blade on his belt. One flick of his wrist and he could silence the charismatic Chancellor once and for all. “All Quads need a devout follower of the faith, a military strategist, a diplomat, and one that balances the three parts.”
“Do not,” Pellan thundered, “lecture me about the importance of Jessa within that Quad. Her potential was wasted on a zealot, warmonger, and narcissist. She was not ready to balance their equation and was like Cerulan Ale to a drunkard. They are and have always been drunk for power and motivated by their own selfish greed. They are cruel and if you can’t see that from the events on Halston maybe you need to get your supplements checked.” Pellan hadn’t raised his voice to let volume intimidate the man before him but the message clearly had an effect. Thick muscles began to flex out on Vyce’s neck showing how tense and taunt his body was becoming.
Halston had been an unmitigated disaster and it was all in part due to Jessa’s inexperience in dealing with diplomacy and the resistance of the native population. While some planets came willingly, others needed nudging to begin their journey on the path. Adar had hoped the experience would bring out Jessa’s natural ability to convince people to do what she wanted however when it all went sideways, the Elders had stood back and watched the situation escalate until the only acceptable solution was a planetary cleansing. “If she was not coddled by you every time she fell and scraped her knee or had a nightmare, Jessa would have been ready. I have always believed in her. Your actions and words show you do not and want to stifle her growth and potential.”
Kyla Novar had long since allowed the two men’s bickering to become white noise in the background as she stared out the window overlooking the capital city. The Rectoress did not care one way or another about the destruction of a single world. She had billions of worlds in the five galaxies under the control of the Galactic Union. A thousand worlds one way or another meant nothing but Halston had been special. Letting her eyes relax slightly blurred her vision so that the glass in the window worked like a mirror. Behind her Vell and Vyce were still squabbling like children. The Rectoress should have silenced them but it allowed her to think about her own part in the current situation.
Pellan had not yet found out the Rectoress had sent Jessa and her Quad to Halston for a purpose other than world indoctrination. If and when he did discover the truth, she could quench the fury of the Chancellor if she held the information of the whereabouts of Bria or the location of the Prism; however, she had neither at the moment. It was a mystery as to why the Quad had not returned home regardless of whether they failed the mission she gave to them. Until she knew the why, it was better to remove Adar and Pellan from the problem. “While I do not feel the Quad has fallen under the influence of the Undevout, we can not take any chances.” The Rectoress turned around slowly, looking at both men. “Adar take a fleet and find the Quad. Do not spare any resources until you find them. Pellan, go with Adar and ascertain what influence the Elders have had on the population of the backwater corner of the galaxy they sought refuge in. If this Milky Way Galaxy can be indoctrinated, do so. If you find the Elders are no longer loyal to the cause, then Cleanse them along with the galaxy that harbored them. The survival of sentient life depends on it .”
Her speech had silenced both men but only Adar responded to it. “The command has been spoken. We will obey. For the glory of God and the Union,” he barked out in a crisp tone before bowing in homage to her.
Pellan’s reaction was far less ceremonial. Instead of rote pledges, he walked out of the room before the Supreme Commanding General finished his bow. Chancellor Pellan Vell had his own agenda and plans to enact before their departure.
Pellan Vell (Chancellor of the Galactic Union) and Adar Vyce (Supreme Commanding General of the Galactic Union Military)
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