Spiritum – Chapter Twenty-two

22.

Satrisella awoke that morning with the feeling that her life would be a lot more difficult by the time she lay down to sleep that night. She didn’t know how she did it. Every time she trusted her feelings (the ominous ones at least) she was correct, and this time was no exception. The video arrived at around midday and, within the hour, had wreaked havoc across the Confederacy. The public was up in arms, Freedom for All leading the outcry and throwing copious fuel onto the fire, and the governments of the Confederacy were feeling the heat, the demand for action against the Imperium far too great to ignore.

“They cower like the dogs they are rather than meet their deaths with dignity”, the narrator said over the screams and whistling of energy weapon fire.

Information was scarce at first, but the details soon began to emerge. It was recorded aboard The Sicrima, a freighter whose crew had pledged their allegiance to Freedom for All. They arrived in a village on the Iringroat-held Cedda in the early hours of a cold and misty morning, intent on delivering another load of people from the tyranny of the Imperium. Once the passengers were aboard, they wasted no time clearing the atmosphere but, where most missions were met with success, this time would be different. Before it could enter Warp Space, the Sicrima would run afoul of the increasingly vigilante Imperial Navy, under orders to put a stop to FFA’s missions in their space once and for all. Outnumbered and outgunned, the crew had no choice but to surrender, although, in the grand scheme of things, that seemed like the worst choice they could have made. The freighter was tractor-beamed into the hangar of one of the warships that had intercepted it, where the soldiers would have already been waiting to board. Once they did, they showed no mercy, moving from room to room and slaughtering anyone they found, passenger and crew, men, women, and children. Some fought back, but most only dropped to their knees and threw up their hands though it made no difference. The walls were painted with their blood either way.

“This is a message to Freedom for All and the spineless Confederacy that continues to protect them”, the cold narration continued over the sounds of slaughter. “The suffering you see here is of your own making. The blood of these people is on your hands. The Imperium will no longer tolerate the flouting of its authority and supremacy. If you do not cease your illegal and futile actions in our space, there will be grave consequences”. The narration ended and the video cut out, freezing on the blurred image of a blood-soaked wall before vanishing completely.

The council was silent, even its strongest and harshest members having no words for what they’d just witnessed. Satrisella couldn’t help but wonder about the extent of the cruelty of which sentient life was capable, how creatures capable of reason and compassion could also be capable of such savagery. She’d thought she’d been hardened against such things. Millions died every day across the Sea of Spirits for a variety of reasons, some unavoidable, some even beneficial. But she could never stomach the times when such loss of life served no good purpose and could easily be avoided.

“Are you going to let these animals get away with this”?! The words of Heama Irmit Cemma burned so hot they might as well have come from the mouth of a fire-breathing dragon.

Satrisella looked to the two revolutionaries, shaken but maintaining her grip on her emotions as always. “We warned you what would happen if you kept doing this”. She was sympathetic toward the people whose lives had been snuffed out but her sympathy didn’t extend to those she saw as truly responsible.

Cemma gave her a bewildered look, as if unable to fathom the idea of any of this being his fault. “This is what had to be done. We did what was necessary to protect the oppressed”.

“And in doing so, you got a lot of innocent people killed”, Kamrack said, seemingly far more disturbed than Satrisella. The Rylukans were always such an emotional people. “This could all have been prevented if you’d listened to us. The Imperium was never going to tolerate your activities for very long”.

Cemma shook his head. “This was not our fault. The Imperium did this. They killed those people. We were trying to help them”!

“They wouldn’t have been there in the first place if it wasn’t for you”, Tussek said after a sigh. “The Imperium might have pulled the trigger but it was your “help” that moved them into the firing line. And now Nero is out for our blood more than ever”.

“If it wasn’t for the Imperium, it would not have been necessary for us to do what we did. They are responsible for all of this and that is why you need to take action against them now. They can’t be allowed to get away with what they have done. What about the others they took? They crucified them for the whole galaxy to see and you did nothing. Are you going to let them get away with this as well? How much more blood must be spilt before you people do something”?

“We already told you, military action is out of the question”. Satrisella wasn’t sure how many more times he would have to be told before he got it into his dense skull.

Her answer only seemed to anger Cemma further. “How can you allow an atrocity like this to go unanswered”? He looked to Uhrun. “Kae Suhyur, are you going to stand by and let these monsters slaughter our own people? Our own women and children”?

“It won’t do you any favours to try and emotionally blackmail me, Cemma”. The Iringroat Chancellor maintained his hardened exterior, figuratively and literally. “Like everyone here, I am saddened and appalled at what the Imperium has done but I agree with Chancellor Heruun. Those people were dead the moment they decided to get into bed with you. Their blood is on your hands”.

Cemma looked to the non-existent floor, infuriated he wasn’t getting his own way. “I told you this would get us nowhere”, Martas Sevanota whispered to his brooding accomplice.

“We won’t let them get away with this”, Cemma growled, all but ignoring his “friend”. Satrisella wasn’t sure why he bothered attending these meetings. Clearly, his companion cared for nobody’s opinion but his own.

“If you continue to interfere with the Imperium, more lives will be lost”, Hade said, expressionless as ever.

“And more lives will be lost if we do nothing”!

“This is ridiculous”. Despite what he’d just witnessed, the Iringroat Chancellor was as condescending as ever. “How exactly do you propose to make the Imperium pay for their crimes? At best, you and your little group are nothing more than an annoyance to them. Put an end to this idiotic mission of yours”.

Cemma sneered at the leader of his sovereignty. “Our little group has more resources and influence than you give us credit for, Kae Suhyur. Our missions in Imperial Space are just one of the tactics Freedom for All has at its disposal. Believe me when I say we have the power to be much more than just an annoyance for the Imperium”.

“Haema, please”, Sevanota whispered. “Maybe’s this has gone far enough”.

“Shut up, Martas”, Cemma snarled, words dripping with contempt.

“I just think that…”

“I said shut the fuck up”! The young Iringroat rounded on his colleague, raising a stone-covered hand as if to strike him. Sevanota cowered away, and an awkward silence fell upon the V-space. Satrisella knew she wasn’t the only one not used to such behaviour at a meeting of the Executive Council. Cemma then turned his attention back to the council, expression going from searing rage to one of shock and embarrassment, like he’d forgotten where he was.

“I… I apologize”, he said, much to Satrisella’s surprise. From what she’d seen so far, she would have thought the idea of apologizing for anything to be completely alien to him. “Let us return to the matter at hand”.

It was a few moments before the council spoke, still shocked at the conduct they’d just witnessed. Satrisella thought to reprimand Cemma for his behaviour but she was tired now, and wanted only to get the meeting over with. “Whatever you have in mind, Cemma, I strongly urge you to reconsider. If you escalate your campaign against the Imperium, we will no longer be able to protect you”.

He gave an arrogant smirk. “You would hand over your own citizens to suffer at the hands of the Imperium”? Clearly, he believed her veiled threat to be nothing more than a bluff. He didn’t know her at all.

Don’t test us, Cemma”, Kamrack warned. “We will not allow you to jeopardize the Confederacy”.

“And we won’t allow the Imperium to get away with their crimes. This isn’t over. But as much as I hate them, I must admit, they are right about one thing, you people truly are spineless”. With that, he and Sevanota vanished, the council once again left in nervous silence. Satrisella was fairly certain Cemma was exaggerating his group’s capabilities, but she couldn’t deny the influence they held in both the Confederacy and Imperium. They certainly possessed the power to make the situation a lot more precarious than it already was. Something had to be done.

“I don’t like this”, Bidhunn moaned, shaking his big head.

“You think anyone else here does”? Uhrun asked, seemingly more irritated than nervous. He looked to Vice-Chancellor Langton, standing where Chancellor Calsen usually would. “I notice you had nothing to say, little man”.

“I didn’t feel there was anything I could have said to remedy the situation, Chancellor Suhyur”, the Vice-Chancellor replied, arrogance plain to see. What he meant was he had little interest in it.

“Those who are successful on this council are those who have an opinion, though I suppose you’re not a member of this council, are you”?

The Vice-Chancellor’s smirk vanished. “In the absence of Chancellor Calsen, I am acting chancellor of the Human Sovereignty and I carry her full authority on this council”.

“Oh really? I was under the impression she had you on a leash. Where is he anyway? We were told he would be holding your hand at these meetings”.

The Vice-Chancellor frowned. “If you are referring to General Stell, you might do so in the proper manner. Suffice to say, he is indisposed at the current moment, and he will only be attending these meetings in an advisory capacity. He does not carry any of the authority of the chancellor”.

“That’s not what I heard”.

“Well then you heard wrong”.

“Is that the issue here”? Kamrack interjected, just as Satrisella was about to do the same. “We need to discuss how we’re going to deal with the situation at hand”.

“What can we do”? Tussek rumbled. “They still haven’t broken any laws in the Confederacy. And they have the support of the Assembly.

“Probably more than ever now”, Uhrun added. “Not to mention the public. They’re practically untouchable now”.

“So we just stand by and let them drag us into a war with the Imperium”? Kamrack asked, the pressure burrowing under his light blue skin. “And are we going to let the Imperium get away with what they’ve done”?

“There’s nothing we can do about it, short of all-out war, which, as we all know, is out of the question”. Uhrun didn’t seem shaken in the slightest despite it being his own people who’d suffered most as a result of this tragedy.

“You won’t defend your own people”?

“They may be my people, Chancellor, but they are not my citizens. It’s just another day and another atrocity to add to the list. What can I do”?

“We will issue a statement condemning this tragedy”, Satisella said. The least they could do was make their outrage at the Imperium clear, for what little it was worth.

“And what about Freedom for All”? Tussek asked.

Satrisella was sick of hearing those three words. “We will bide our time. Cemma is an idiot but I doubt his promise to retaliate against the Imperium is anything more than a bluff. He knows any retaliation will be at the risk of worsening the relationship between us and the Imperium and, as such, risks losing him the support of the Assembly, and if he does nothing the situation gets no worse and over time his group will decline in popularity. No matter what he does, it will work to our advantage. Either he throws his support away all at once or it fizzles out slowly, but, whatever happens, the Assembly will come to see things our way sooner or later. And then we’ll put an end to this once and for all”.

“And what exactly do you mean by that, Chancellor Heruun”? Judging by his tone, it seemed Kamrack already knew the answer to his question.

“I think you know what I mean, Chancellor. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made for the greater good”. He didn’t approve; Satrisella could see as much. He might even think her a monster for suggesting such a thing. The others bowed their heads in agreement. It wasn’t a great strategy, but she was confident in their chances. It was only a matter of time before FFA became more trouble than they were worth, and then they would wash their hands of them for good.

It seemed no one else had anything to add, as indicated by the silence. “Is there anything else anyone would like to say”? It had been a trying day, as she expected when she awoke that morning. Satrisella was very much looking forward to seeing it end but she still had to ask. The others exchanged looks but no one spoke. “Very well. I call this meeting of the Executive Council to a…”

“Actually, there is something that I would like to discuss”, the Vice-Chancellor interrupted, much to her annoyance. Whatever he had to say, it was no doubt going to cause more trouble.

“And what might that be, Vice-Chancellor”?

“The issue I have is with Chancellor Suhyur”. It was definitely going to cause trouble.

Uhrun smirked. “And what is your issue with me, little one”?

The Vice-Chancellor gave a sarcastic chuckle before clearing his throat. “The Human Sovereignty wishes to renegotiate the terms regarding the mining of resources, Spiritum in particular but also natural gases and precious metals, in the asteroid fields that run along the border between our territories. Our government is in agreement that the Human Sovereignty is not receiving its fair share of the resources from the fields and wish to come to a new arrangement with the Iringroat”.

“No”, Uhrun replied. “Our species have already come to satisfactory terms on that issue”.

The Vice-Chancellor nodded, smirking. “The government of my sovereignty, under the leadership of Chancellor Salketta I believe, were a little hasty in giving into your claim to the fields so easily. I think there’s still a great deal of negotiation to be had on the subject”.

At first, Uhrun had seemed amused with the Vice-Chancellor’s issue, but now that amusement was fading, fast. “I don’t think so. The majority of those asteroid fields lie within Iringroat territory. That means our claim is stronger than yours”.

“Do you have any idea how many resources there are in those fields”? Langton asked, condescension rivalling even that of the Iringroat Chancellor. “How much fuel, metal and Spiritum? More than you and I could possibly imagine”.

“And you’re free to mine the resources on your side of the field and my kind will mine on our side”.

“The amount of natural resources on our side is nowhere near sufficient to sustain the Human Sovereignty’s burgeoning industrial sector, or any of our sectors for that matter, which forces us to rely on costly imports from the other sovereignties, yours included. But the amount of resources on your side, on the other hand, is more than your kind will ever need. By our calculations, it would take tens of thousands of years to mine even a small fraction of the materials there”. The conniving little man didn’t fool Satrisella for a moment. His interests weren’t in asteroid fields or resources, and his issue was little more than a brazen attempt at chasing his own ambitions. She’d seldom dealt with the Vice-Chancellor of the Human Sovereignty directly, but she was well aware of his nature: ambitious and power-hungry but also reckless and heavy-handed.

She decided to intervene before the argument spiralled out of control. “This issue is not of grave importance at the current moment, Vice-Chancellor”.

“It is to me and my people. A significant portion of those asteroid fields lies within Human territory. That means both we and the Iringroat have an equal claim to it”. He looked to Uhrun again. “The Human Sovereignty wants to establish mining operations on your side of the border”.

“Absolutely not”! the Iringroat Chancellor snapped, making a motion that looked like he were slamming his fist upon the surface of an unseen desk. “We already have extensive operations throughout our parts of the field. Allowing you to mine there would only interfere with them. This is completely out of the question”.

“And there’s many parsec’s worth of space where you have nothing. There will be no disruption to your operations if you let us mine there”.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have plans for establishing further operations in the future, plans that will be disrupted if you’re there mining resources you have no claim to”.

Satrisella stepped in again. “The terms of mining the asteroid fields between your territories has already been settled”, she pointed out, her patience hanging by a thread. “So there is nothing to discuss here, and besides, a matter such as this goes beyond the two of you. This requires the involvement of both your individual parliaments”.

“Of course you’d side with him. All of you with your prejudices and biases. Like always, Humanity only stands to lose whenever we deal with you sharks, just like the Collective”.

“You’re not going to make any friends throwing accusations like that around here”. Kamrack didn’t sound impressed in the slightest. “If you are under the impression that there is any bias toward or against any one species represented on this council then you are very much mistaken”.

“And this is not dealing”, Satrisella added. “You’re demanding something you and your species have no claim to. You are being completely unreasonable”.

“Humanity should have the right to mine those fields. We need those resources”.

“You already receive more than enough raw materials from trading with us and the other sovereignties anyway”, Uhrun said. “Do you think I was born yesterday? This has nothing to do with your industries or your people. This is greed, pure and simple. You’re not fooling anyone, little man”.

The Vice-Chancellor let out an obnoxious snort. “A slab-face calling someone from another species greedy? That’s rich. The old human saying of the pot and the kettle comes to mind. You ever hear that one, Suhyur”.

“That is enough”, Satrisella interrupted before Uhrun could offer a response. “This council has better things to do than listen to petty squabbling and name-calling. The terms agreed between your two species stand. The humans will keep their operations to their side of the field and the Iringroat will keep theirs on their side. That is the end of it”.

The Vice-Chancellor glared at her but didn’t answer. He turned back to Uhrun. “I want those resources”.

Uhrun’s eyes narrowed to slits. “We’ll you’re not getting them. Now get over it”.

“Humanity is committed to getting a fair deal. We’ll take it all the way to the Assembly if we have to”.

That seemed to amuse Uhrun. “Oh you’ll call us sharks but you’re ready to deal with the Assembly? You’re in for a very rude awakening, Dwarf man”.

“If you won’t share your claim with us, there will be consequences”.

Uhrun smirked. “Is that a threat”?

The Vice-Chancellor didn’t smile back. “It’s a promise. We will mine those fields”. He appeared to push a button, then faded away, leaving the Executive Council in yet another silence. No one seemed to know what to make of what just happened.

Satrisella waited a couple moments before she spoke. “And now that that has been dealt with, is there anything else anyone would like to discuss”? She prayed no one would speak up. Thankfully, no one did. “Very well. I call this meeting to a close”.

Satrisella hit the button as fast as she could, and was standing inside the glass chamber once more. She went to the transparent wall and stared at the city outside. The view seemed to match her day perfectly, the watercolour sky hidden beneath a covering of clouds back as smog, thunder crashing like the beating of a planet-sized drum with jagged fingers of red lightning reaching across the horizon and rain so thick she could barely make out the skyscraper just across from her own. Satrisella pressed her fingers to the glass and followed the paths of blue-tinged droplets. While glad she was no longer in the presence of Uhrun or that insufferable human, she was no less unnerved by his final “promise”. She wasn’t sure who was the more dangerous, both power-hungry and hot-headed and neither willing to back down. The Vice-Chancellor couldn’t allow himself to look weak in front of Uhrun and the council now that he’d tossed his hat into the ring, and the Iringroat wouldn’t tolerate humans mining in their territory, especially with their history. Curse this burdensome galaxy! Just as things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse, an idiot had to come along and throw a spanner in the works. The Chancellor of the Human Sovereignty hadn’t been gone five minutes, and already her replacement was causing chaos. Satrisella hoped and prayed the Vice-Chancellor would let go of the issue. Otherwise, instead of the Imperium, the Confederacy could well be about to enter into a war with itself. At least she was right about one thing: by the time she lay down to sleep that night, her life had gotten a lot more difficult.

Any feedback/sharing/following would be much appreciated. Thank you.

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