Why, my dear Teryl, its like Christmas come early! William exclaimed, beaming at the old senator as he leaned over the front of his desk.
Vanhele just blinked, looking up from the morning paper and staring at the man without recognition for a moment. Thats right, he thought, its William Shard, my trusted advisor. Something didnt feel quite right about that, but he chose to ignore it in light of logic.
What are you on about, William? he asked, only to have a small stack of papers thrust in his face by the man, who seemed oddly even more cheerful than usual. And is that a new suit?
He tugged at the sleeves briefly, and grinned. You noticed, eh? Picked it up at this nice shop downtown, Ill have to show you it sometime but anyway, as I was saying, give those a look-over. He practically pushed them into the mans hands, then made them unnecessary as he excitedly told him what they had to say. Not only have our men just returned with the supercomputer, but Grey Terin has landed with all his instructed cargo, and wants to meet with you.
Vanhele sighed at that last bit of news, adjusting his spectacles as he read the report over. I suppose that is good news, then.
Why, Senator Vanhele, its wonderful news. Our plans can be set into motion now; Ive made all the necessary arrangements. All you have on your schedule today is to meet with the Wanderer. He cocked an eyebrow and leaned further down over the desk, until his face was at a level with the senators. Is there something youre not telling me, Teryl?
Well, that is you see, the senator shook his head. Its nothing. Youre right, it is wonderful news.
Williams eyes glittered strangely for a moment as he looked hard at the man. You can tell me, Teryl. Its William. We go way, way back, you trust me.
Vanhele looked for a moment like he might balk, but he shut his eyes instead, pulling off his glasses for a moment as he rubbed his forehead. The mans been after me to give him back his planeshifter for years, William, and Im afraid hes going to kill me when he finds out I destroyed it.
William nodded for a moment, as if digesting all of this, then shrugged. Is that all, chum? he chuckled as he reverted back to a fully upright position at Vanheles desk. Hell, have your mind at ease. Ive arranged for the two of you to meet in this nice little bar a few miles away. Now, you dont have to worry about anything being seen there, because the people are all in my pocket. And Ive set up a nice little ambush for your friend figured he was outliving his usefulness even before you let me in on this, you know? All you have to do is show up.
Something in the senators mind protested at this, but overall his relief was too palpable to care. He stood up and put a hand on Williams shoulder. You are a true friend, sir. He said, smiling.
The goateed man grinned back.
The Nightwind, Torlose.
If you dont have any idea of how to open it, then how were you expecting to get back out after you gave us our food?
Mox Garel was growing to dislike Darrell Shanning, hed decided. The group had been worrying with the door to their cell for nearly an hour now, and, seeing all their best efforts to open it failed, had decided to harass Mox again.
I dont know! I mean, um, its just a door, you know? I figured it would open the same way on both sides.
Zohar shook his head and turned away from the young man, and looked at the door as if contemplating banging his head on it a few times.
Maybe youve noticed, Garel, Kayla put in quietly, but most prisons dont work that way.
Its not my fault! he protested, backing himself as far away from the crazy people as possible. I wasnt given all the facts before I opened the door! Blame Grey, if youre going to blame anyone, hes the one who locked you in here.
Darrell looked for a moment like he might launch into another vicious attack on Moxs character, but the woman named Terra put a hand on his shoulder. This isnt helping us, Darrell. Look at him, he honestly doesnt know.
The grey-haired man looked for a moment like he might protest, but he decided to just sigh instead. Youre right. Sorry, Garel. This is just a bit taxing on the nerves.
Mox nodded several times, and took a few steps to Darrell. Hey, no hard feelings, man. I think we got off on the wrong foot, earlier. He stuck out his hand. Put er there.
Darrell looked down at the mans proffered hand for several moments, as though it were a snake of some sort, and made no move to shake it.
Er yeah. Mox said, pulling his hand back and stepping back again. Anyway, um anyone have any plans on getting out of here before Grey comes back? Im beginning to think hes never going to let me go, when it comes right down to it.
Again the stares. It was almost too much for him to bear. God, who raised you people? he said, finally. All the staring, and the silent treatment on top of that. Its just rude, honestly.
Oh, fine, be that way. I can be the picture of angst too, watch me. He slunk off across the room and sat down in a corner, keeping his gaze on the floor. This lasted for all of a minute before he was up again. Oh come on! he protested.
The Dancing Dagger Bar & Grill, Newpark City, Torlose.
Grey Terin sat and ran a gloved finger around a glass of beer, trying to ignore the stares he figured were probably coming his way. Most people one saw running around town didnt dress like he did well, there were a few, but they were mostly madmen and he hated the attention.
He still wasnt sure why hed ordered the beer while he waited on the damnable senator to show up. Hed have to pull off his mask to drink it, and that wasnt about to happen, not where people could see him.
Still, he was in a decent mood, and decent was about as happy as he ever got. One of Vanheles advisors some uppity-sounding, overly cheerful fellow had given Grey the word that they were to meet in this place, that it was secure and whatnot, and that hed be getting his planeshifter back.
He looked around him; secluded though this booth was, it still afforded a decent view of the bars patrons few at this hour, it was early afternoon and even a decent look at the bright, cheery streets outside. The yokels, he reflected, were mostly alcoholics and stupid anyway, and the city was a little too cheery for his liking. Not to mention filthy, but that was the case with all cities. The first thing he was doing when he got his planeshifter back was going to the most outlying dimension he could stand, just so that he wouldnt have to look at anything even resembling the Planetary Union or the Sol Dominion for a few centuries.
He raised the glass in a mock toast to his surroundings, and considered for a few seconds. moving his mask to drink the stuff after all.
As it was, he didnt see Senator Vanhele shuffle in and sit down across from him at all.
Afternoon, Grey. The man said simply, quietly.
Grey started, then nodded at the man simply, his expression dour again beneath the mask. Lets skip the pleasantries, Vanhele. Ive brought you everything you wanted, now I want whats mine.
Yes, I would imagine so. How long has it been now? Near forty years, isnt that right? the old man adjusted his glasses as he looked the Wanderer over.
Forty-two, actually. All the more reason for you to hurry up.
Vanhele raised a hand as if to quiet the man. Do you remember the day we met, Grey? I saw you out at the lake, me little more than a child. You were practicing with that katana of yours, looking exactly like you do now. He grinned. I was quite in awe of you, as Im sure you were aware.
Grey rested his head against one hand, trying to keep calm. What is your point, senator?
Why, just that Im honestly going to miss you, Terin. He leaned over the table, and regarded the man seriously. Are you sure you want your planeshifter back?
Even more than I want to wring your neck. He said through gritted teeth.
The man leaned back in his chair, and looked up at the ceiling for a long moment. Shame. It was your choice, though. He made a strange gesture with one hand.
Grey started to stand up, beyond aggravated at this point, when a crack sounded from across the room. He just barely had time to turn before several more sounded, and a laser slammed into his chest, knocking him back into his chair as it passed fully through his body.
Truth be told, Grey, Vanhele said loudly as several more rifle shots met their mark, about your planeshifter? I dismantled that thing decades ago, even before you gave me the designs for the Mammon Machine. It was really the only way to hide it, you know? And now youve outlived your usefulness. Have a nice afterlife.
He stood up and started to walk out, turning his back on the fatally wounded Wanderer.
...Wait Grey said, his voice a bloody croak. Vanhele turned around, looking the man over. He was bleeding from multiple wounds; every one of the shots had met their mark, his chest and legs and arms pierced.
Yes, old friend?
Grey was out of his chair with a speed he shouldnt have been able to manage, and thrust Vanhele off the ground with a hand around his throat. You forgot he coughed, a thin stream of blood issuing from his mouth as the patrons of the bar, actually Union soldiers, trained their guns on him again. You forgot to let me kill you back, you son of a bitch.
Without another word, he squeezed, breaking the mans neck. He let go as shots began to ring out again, but didnt try to run. It was too late for that. Instead, staggering though he was as laser after laser met its mark, he reached down and drew his katana.
The last thing he heard before he finally fell was the crunch of it splitting Senator Teryl Vanheles head. It was sweeter than any music.
The Nightwind, Torlose.
William overlooked the small holding cage one last time, nodding appreciatively. Adamantine. I must admit, Im impressed with this mans ship. However, its not the best method to employ when trying to keep a lavoid subdued. He turned and glanced at the soldiers hed brought with him. Get this back to the lab, on the double. Employ the restraints weve been developing if you value your lives.
He grinned as the men, looking a bit harrowed, fitted the cage with small anti-grav units and floated it out of the room.
Very good, very good, Mr. Shard. He muttered, looking around for a moment. Ill have to take this ship for myself. With a few modifications it could be truly superb. He shook his head and started moving down through the ships holding bay again. Thoughts for later, William, youve a friend to pick up.
It didnt take him long to come across the ships second holding cell, and the man could tell with a glance it had adamantine embedded in the walls as well. Even that, however, didnt completely block out the noise of argument indecipherable though it was on the other side.
Bemused, the former Inquisitor pushed down on the doors slim handle and pushed it open. He was met with a rather chaotic scene, several men and women shouting at each other about how it was the other ones fault they were in this position, and so on. He more or less tuned it out, though he subconsciously took note of all being said for future reference. It wasnt the most important thing. What was important was that a piece of his plan had not worked out properly.
Cynewulf was nowhere to be seen.
Gentlemen! he broke in, any emotion he felt unreadable in his voice. Perhaps I can help you solve this dispute?
The group tensed, rapidly going silent as all eyes turned to him.
I uh one man, black-haired and in the uniform of a Dominion Border Pilot, started to stumble over a greeting, only to be interrupted by another.
Who the hell are you? The man was scarcely into his twenties,
but he carried himself with the pride and gravity of a much older figure.
His hair was a steely grey and tied back in a ponytail, and though he was
unarmed, he still looked deadly.
William beamed at him. The names William Shard, my good man. As for who I am, well, thats a bit harder to answer, now isnt it? I am, however, someone who is a bit acquainted with the Seeker Cynewulf, and I
Weve heard of you. The man shot back, his eyes narrowing. And Cynewulf is dead. He didnt make it through the fight with Grendel.
William frowned. It was an almost imperceptible expression, and it vanished behind another smile almost immediately, but he knew the grey-haired man had caught it. A shame. He was a good friend of mine as I would suppose you are aware, if youve heard of me. You know our plans here, then?
Darrells eyes were almost slits at this point, and he seemed to be holding himself back as he quietly responded, We know you chose to let the people of Zion die.
The façade dropped, and William sighed, his shoulders slumping slightly as though underneath a heavy weight. I take it youre one of the Zionites, then. You have every right to be upset with me, with Cynewulf. However, he straightened, giving Darrell a piercing look, can you truly say you do not understand our motives? The lavoids kill billions upon billions, and unless we can do something to change the galaxy, we cannot stop this, even if we save this planet or that planet. We had to sacrifice Zion if this was going to work. It wont be in vain, I swear to you.
Darrells gaze did not so soften, really, but some of the rage left it. I understand better than you know. After a moments thought, he stuck out one hand, and William shook it gratefully. My name is Darrell Shanning. My friends and I went with Cynewulf to kill the lavoid.
Shard nodded. I suspect we both have much to tell one another. Come with me, and well talk. I need your help now more than Cynewulf did, and I suspect youll all find my proposal tempting.
What of Grey Terin? the man returned, hesitating.
What of him? William grinned again. He wont be working with us, if thats what you mean. I had a few of our men take care of him. I trust you werent fond of him, were you?
Darrell shook his head, and fell into step alongside the goateed man. On the contrary. I wish youd given me a shot at him, but well, lets just say you have my attention.
Newpark Spaceport, Torlose.
You sure this is what you want to do, Meryl?
It had been nearly a week since the group had arrived on Torlose and met with William Shard. Most of that time had been spent in planning, as Darrell and the strange former Inquisitor made plans to speak before the Planetary Union Senate, studying a bound Grendel in what spare time they had.
As such, the young man hadnt had the time to see Meryl off at the loval spaceport today and most of the others had been drawn into similar business which left Terra and Kayla alone with the task.
The tall woman smiled and shook her head. Ive never been more certain of anything, Terra. I saw this business with Grendel through for Cynewulf, and now well, safe to say Im not needed here.
Kayla crossed her arms. Not like most of us are strictly needed anymore. Like you said, weve finished Grendel, in a way, and Darrell has the Union at his back on this Shards plan. But its certainly a more exciting place to be than Karonne.
Thats the problem. Meryl returned. Ive had my fill of lavoids. Im going to stop by Karonne to tell my people what happened, and then Im gone. Back to Yrrs II, maybe, I dont know.
Youll be missed, Meryl. Thanks for everything youve done. Terra took a step forward, then wavered, as if unsure whether to hug the woman or shake her hand.
Meryl smiled and pulled her forward, giving her a quick hug. Thank you, Terra. You too, Kayla. I wont forget any of you.
She drew back and pulled a slim bag over one shoulder. Well Id best get on. Shard provided me with a hyperspace-capable ship, but its still a bit of a trip across the Dominion.
Kayla grinned as the woman started to walk off through the crowded port. Hey, youd better keep in touch, Meryl!
The former Seeker just waved back, still smiling.
Planetary Union Headquarters, Torlose.
There were literally thousands of senators crowded into the domed room, each in a seat elevated far above the central podium on which Darrell Shanning and William Shard stood. Beside them stood the High Speaker, Genghis Varr, who had assured them quietly that though the room looked intimidating, most of the votes were in fact controlled by a few key, senators.
Darrell wasnt sure if the knowledge made him feel better or worse about this plan.
William was looking confident though Darrell had decided that the man always looked confident in a sharply pressed black-and-white suit. He grinned at Darrell whod been outfitted in similar garb at the mans insistence earlier in the day and made an almost indistinct motion as if to ask Darrell what he thought of the chambers.
The young man looked about him briefly, and shrugged as though nonchalant. Shards grin only widened at this, and he nodded pleasantly.
Genghis Varr glanced at them briefly, not noticing the exchange. We are about to begin, if you are prepared.
Lead the way, High Speaker. William said, running a hand through his hair.
Welcome, brothers and friends, Varr began, his voice amplified by a clever wiring system that made his voice clear to every man in the room without seeming overly loud, to our second session on the matter of Senator Teryl Vanheles weapons program. He bowed his head momentarily. As some of you are surely aware, Vanhele met his end last week at the hands of one of our own agents. The agent in question has been apprehended and executed, however, and the program he began has been left in exceedingly capable hands. That said, if you would please turn your attention to pro tempor Senator William Shard, representing Zion and Roade Labs, and along with him Vanheles lead scientist on this project, Darrell Shanning.
William cleared his throat. Gentlemen, it is my honor to bring this before you, though I wish it had not been through circumstances so dark. However, we have made several breakthroughs at Roade Labs, and would like to bring a new proposal before you now.
I headed the task force that brought the lavoid Grendel into our possession just last week, Darrell said, his voice sounding more confident than the young man would have believed possible, and though we are still early in our study of the monster, we have made several breakthroughs. For one, we now have a working prototype of the lavoid energy-powered vessel the late Senator Vanhele brought before you, and believe that with the proper resources we can move those into mass production before the end of the month.
Moreover, weve uncovered something no less than incredible: a functional supercomputer harvested from the wreckage of a Lavoid Exterminatorum Adeptus vessel. I am sure you are all aware of the ramifications of such a discovery.
William nodded. With the proper resources, we can take advantage of the knowledge we have been granted to build an army that the Sol Dominion will have no hope against. As Im sure many of you remember, it was in fact the LEAs strikes against the Sol Dominion that allowed the Planetary Union to break away in the first place, over 1500 years ago.
He took a step forward on the dais, his eyes twinkling briefly. Suddenly everything else seemed to shift out of focus for the men in the room, and William seemed much closer to each of them. However, we need your full support in this matter. As pro tempor Senator, I move that the Roade Labs organization be expanded and granted autonomy from the government of the Planetary Union, so that we can move forward with the war effort in the most efficient manner possible. Moreover, I move that this new organization, the Chaos Syndicate, be headed by my associate Darrell Shanning, with myself as a Senator serving in an advisory position.
We can win this war, gentlemen, and assure that the Dominion will never threaten our lands or anyone elses ever again.
The information is before you. Darrell said. I trust you all to make the right decision. Let us stand together, and stand tall. We will shake the very heavens with our power.
There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. Louis Lamour.