Spiritum – Chapter Twenty-seven


Through the ceiling of the transporter pod, the Treen Chancellor stared at the swirling waves of fiery orange, blood red, and sapphire blue mixing into one another and washing away the stresses of the day. It had been yet another spent in her floating seat at the head of the Traverta’s main sanctum, debating, or squabbling rather, with the Strama in their seats that didn’t float quite as high as hers. What was discussed there was important business but Satrisella couldn’t help but find it all petty compared to the threat looming over them. In the grand scheme of things, it all seemed so pointless. There was a time when their kind wasn’t so obsessed with such narrow-minded matters, when the big picture was the only thing her people concerned themselves with. That was gone now. Centuries of exposure to the other species and their primitive drives and desires had diluted the Treen. They were closer to humans now than even their own ancestors. Who knows what they could be now if the Chinchi hadn’t discovered them, and if they hadn’t joined that wretched failure of an empire?

The Traverta was the meeting place for the Treen parliament, the white mushroom-shaped rotunda around which everything else was built. Citera was like a flower, the Traverta the centre and the rest like the petals. It was a short ride home but one that provided no shortage of opportunities to marvel at the jewel of the Treen Sovereignty, and the Confederacy itself. A centre for inspiration and innovation like nothing else in the galaxy, a veritable sprawl of abstract halls and citadels whose architecture was inspired by the forms of flowing liquid with their curves and bends, white, silver, and gold surfaces shining blue, yellow, and pink. Satrisella saw it all as they weaved between the buildings, thousands of feet from the ground and still nowhere near the tops of the tallest skyscrapers.

She wasn’t alone; her assistants sat opposite in robes identical to her own. Kavess was the older of the two, age reflected by the dulling of her once snowy white skin that was now a mottled grey. That’s what happened to Treen when they got older. Aveeta’s skin still possessed its lustre. She’d been with Satrisella for just under a year, what with her predecessor’s expiration. They were silent, rarely speaking unless their Chancellor spoke first.

Satrisella’s gaze left the magnificence outside. “What a tiring day. I think I will be straight to sleep once we are home”.

“There was much said today, Shiniv Heruun”, Aveeta said, as upbeat and enthusiastic as her first day on the job. She’d have sounded different if she was the one dealing with the brunt of the Strama all day.

“But little of any consequence. Elsada’s reforms will do nothing and everyone else is dancing around the real issue. We all know what has to be done but nobody has the spine to say it. We need a full renegotiation of our deals with the Iringroat. We’re giving too much and they’re giving us far too little in return and everyone knows it. Of course, trying to get a fair deal from Uhrun is like trying to squeeze water from a rock, not to the mention the rest of his species. We might as well be dealing with the FPR. Out of the whole galaxy, you would have thought, in over a thousand years, we, of all, would have learned. Only a fool gets into bed with an Iringroat”.

Neither assistant had an answer and Satrisella had already grown weary of the conversation. She returned to her staring at the city lights. Were she alone, she might have rested her head in her hands. Her parliament was bickering about money and resources while the threat to their very survival loomed larger every day. What’s more, she’d hoped, by now, to have had some word from Chancellor Calsen, something to indicate the progress of her mission. But there’d been nothing. She could be dead for all they knew. Surely she would have messaged back upon entering Aq Quhn Ran Asten territory. The longer they went without news, the harder Satrisella found it to resist the notion that the Human Chancellor was dead, murdered by the Aq Quhn Ran Asten along with their prospect of an alliance. And for all their planning and secrecy, their only reward would likely be more problems for the Confederacy, from within and without.

True to her word, Satrisella immediately retired to her chamber but didn’t go to sleep straight away. She sent for three of her mates: Vartam, Artanar, and Eradus. The ride home only served to dull the day’s stresses but the pleasure provided by the three of them was more than enough to alleviate it, if only temporary. Satrisella’s neurons exploded like fireworks as they joined themselves to her, mind blazing as if a star was going into supernova inside her head, the explosions sending waves of energy rushing through her cells. They were her favourites; her mind and body melded best with theirs though there was no love or affection between them. Their kind had long evolved past such rudimentary feelings and drives. They were merely concubines, serving to provide much-needed relaxation and pleasure as and when it was required, a role all parties were more than happy to fulfil. Love and romance had no place in the lives of the Treen, especially those in such high positions. All love was good for was the clouding of judgement and dulling of intelligence. That’s why the Treen were so far ahead of the rest of the Confederacy, at least as far as they were concerned.

Once she was satisfied for the evening, Satrisella sent them back to their chambers and retired alone. She lay her head on the cold surface with the closing of the pod, ready to depart this universe for the realm of dreams, the world without stress and fear, where she could fly over the tallest mountains and gaze into the cores of collapsing stars. But sleep would not come easily, the thoughts and fears that plagued her throughout the day returning to afflict her for the rest of the night. Soon enough, she was staring at the ceiling of her sleep pod. Tonight, Satrisella weighed up the chances of Chancellor Calsen returning with the alliance that would save them from destruction. The odds didn’t look good. Why did she ever agree to such a ridiculous scheme?

It was as she was on the cusp of slipping into the slumber she craved that Satrisella heard the real world calling her back, no doubt intent on laying even more burdens upon her bruised back. She woke to find Hiva floating above her face and casting her blue and green light over the interior of the pod. The translucent mess of dancing shapes flashed as it relayed the news Satrisella had very much not wanted to hear. It crossed her mind to ignore the floating hologram and return to the realm of dreams but, alas, she didn’t stop being the leader of the “most powerful” sovereignty in the Confederacy because she was tired. She’d promised she would give herself entirely to the position and the responsibilities that accompanied it, and it was a promise she intended to keep.

The pod opened as she raised her head. With the raising of a spindly arm, the robe she wore to the Traverta was in her grip. Satrisella dragged herself next door where she was greeted by the view of the city through the wall at the far end, and the glass chamber at the centre. She stepped inside and the blue holo-console materialized before her. Her fingertips met the glowing interface and then the room was slipping away piece by piece. Soon everything was gone, and Satrisella felt like she was gone as well, along with all the stresses that followed her day in and day out. It was a sweet feeling though only temporary as the blue sprites faded into existence, shimmering in the darkness with their usual downcast expressions. Satrisella noticed a couple unusual faces among those in attendance. Beside the Human Vice-Chancellor stood General Mikan Stell, and beside him was an even older human whom Satrisella didn’t recognize. He was an old Haelqen with white shoulder-length hair and a long beard, wide and stocky with a fat wrinkled face and shrunken eyes. His jewel-encrusted robe suggested he was someone of importance though it also made him seem out of place among the other humans. Satrisella had never seen a member of Calsen’s cabinet dressed like that. Either way, she guessed he’d be at the centre of whatever they’d been called here to discuss on such short notice.

“Can we please get this over with as quickly as possible”? Somehow Uhrun managed to sound even more obnoxious than usual. “I have no desire to stay here longer than is necessary”. Evidently, Satrisella wasn’t the only one missing precious sleep.

General Stell stepped forward and cleared his throat. It was he who called the impromptu meeting. “Chancellors. Firstly, it would like to thank you all for meeting at such short notice and apologize for said lack of notice. I am sure that you are all very busy”.

Despite the apology, Uhrun seemed no less annoyed. “Whatever you have to say, General, I’m sure sure we’d all appreciate it if you said it quickly”.

The General nodded. “Chancellors. Might I Introduce Hovar Sevten, the Governor of Jindosta? He contacted our government with some troubling news and asked to speak personally with the Executive Council”.

No one was sure what to make of that. “I must say this is most unusual, as I am sure everyone else here will agree”, said Uhrun. “The Executive Council doesn’t usually allow interlopers into its midst without appropriate invitation. There are proper channels for this sort of thing. You would do well to remember that”.

Respectfully, Chancellors”. The General’s eyes remained fixed on Uhrun. He was done pretending to overlook his disdain, that much was clear. “You’re going to want to hear this”. Satrisella had heard of Jindosta though was far from familiar with it: A human-occupied world in the Neutral Expanse; that’s all she knew. The Governor’s presence would mark the first time a politician from the Free States had attended a meeting of the Executive Council. 

The General said no more but the Governor didn’t begin. The silence dragged. “Very well, Governor”, Satrisella said, invitingly. She, too, hoped to get out of here as quickly as possible. “Please tell us what you have to say”. Uhrun rolled his eyes.

The Governor almost tripped over his words. “Oh yes, of course, Chancellor. Thank you very much”. He stopped to clear his throat. “Myself and the leaders of several other free states have received some disturbing reports from military outposts across our worlds… sightings of soldiers from the Imperium as well as Imperial ships operating within the borders of the Neutral Expanse. As of now, there have been no instances of violence but several of my generals have reported tense standoffs between our soldiers and theirs”. That didn’t surprise Satrisella. It seemed like the next logical step in Nero’s growing campaign of aggression. An obvious attempt at provoking hostilities from the Confederacy.

“Has there been any direct communication between your government and the Imperium? Have they given any reason for their presence on your world”?

The old human hesitated, as if needing a moment to process her question. “There have been no official communications from the Imperium as of yet, Chancellor, though, as I stated, there have been several confrontations between our troops and theirs. In at least one such incident, the soldiers representing the Imperium claim they were searching for members of the group known as Freedom for All”. Satrisella was just waiting for their name to come up.

“Can you please describe this incident to us, Governor”? Kamrack asked

Another pause, then a laboured nod. “Of course, Chancellor”. The Governor produced a holo-pad from one of his pockets and started to read. “At approximately thirteen minutes passed the eleventh hour on the Day of Rains in Kyventh Province, a report was received by the local military installation of unusual-looking soldiers to the north-west. Believing them to be raiders or slavers, a squad was dispatched to intercept and eliminate them. However, when they arrived at the location, they found themselves confronted by a legion of Imperial soldiers and outnumbered. A standoff ensued, and the Captain of the squad informed the commander of the opposing force that they had no right to be in the Neutral Expanse, let alone on any world that proclaims itself a Free State. The Imperial commander refuted this, claiming the Imperium was well within its rights to hunt for terrorists wherever they suspected them of operating. He claimed they believed that members of Freedom for All were operating in the area and were under orders to capture them. The standoff lasted several minutes before the foreign invaders agreed to leave though subsequent sightings have been made in the same area”. The Governor looked up from his holo-pad. “In addition to this, there have been some tense incidents between ships to the Jindostan Navy and those of the Imperium. There have been numerous reported sightings of not only scouting parties but also carriers and battleships. They appeared to be scouting the positions of our fleets and orbital defence systems. We believe the soldiers sighted at Kyventh Province were scouting the local military bases, as well as in other provinces across the planet”.

“Let’s just get this over with, shall we”? The Vice-Chancellor cut in. “Tell them what you told us”.

The Governor stammered. “We think… we think the Imperium is preparing for a full-scale invasion of the Neutral Expanse. Based on the reports from our own scouting parties, it seems they are moving their capital ships into position to mount invasions of at least a dozen worlds with more likely to come”. He stopped to catch his breath. “Alone, we have no hope of defending ourselves, and together we won’t fare much better. So now I call on the Confederacy to make good on your agreement with the Neutral Free States and send troops and ships to help us defend our homes and people from the Imperium”. The request was met with silence. Despite the agreement between the Confederacy and the Free States, Satrisella wasn’t sure how good an idea it was to honour it. To do so would be playing into Nero’s hand. No doubt, this was his plan.

“As I am sure everyone here is aware”, said General Stell. “As outlined in the Treaty of Assemblage, the Confederacy is mandated to protect the Free States from any outside aggression, including from the Imperium”.

The council was still silent. Then Satrisella spoke. “While I am sure that everyone here appreciates the gravity of your situation, Governor, I’m afraid there is a great deal of discussion to be had before the Confederacy can even consider doing what you ask. And not just us; the Assembly would also have to be involved”. Personally, she was more than happy to leave the Free States to the Imperium. They weren’t much more than a better organized and less dangerous version of the FPR, always asking for aid and protection but giving little back. The only drawback to losing them was it would leave nothing to separate the Confederacy and the Imperium.

The Jindostan Governor looked as if he didn’t understand what he was being told. “What’s there to discuss? The Imperium is breaking the terms of the Treaty of the Assemblage by entering the Neutral Expanse. The Confederacy made a promise to protect the Free States from outside military incursions, including from the Imperium”.

“I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that, Governor”, Kamrack said. “At present, the relationship between the Confederacy and the Imperium is delicate to say the least. If we confront Nero at this time, it will all but certainly lead to war”.

“A war the Confederacy has little to no chance of winning”, Tussek added before the Governor could reply. “The combined weight of our forces is nowhere near sufficient for a prolonged conflict with the Imperium, even with those of the Free States”.

The Governor seemed flustered, obviously not liking what he was hearing. “You are mandated by the Treaty of Assemblage to protect the Free States in their time of need”.

“We are also mandated to protect our own people”, Uhrun said. “The people who actually live within our borders”.

The Governor seemed to take offence at that. “The Neutral Free States is composed of those who wished to live independent of the Imperium and Confederacy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Most of the Free States are happy to consider the Confederacy an ally, and we need your help”. 

“And why should we give it? What have you people ever done for us”? For a moment, Satrisella thought it was Uhrun’s voice she heard, only to realize the words had come from the Vice-Chancellor. It was a surprise to find something they actually agreed upon.

The General looked to his colleague. “They may not live within our borders, but they are still our brothers. How can we turn our backs on them at a time like this”?

“They are not my brothers, General. They decided that when they turned their backs on us. We need to focus on protecting ourselves”.

“Don’t you see what this is? This isn’t just about the Free States. Nero wants to see how far he can push us before we push back. If we don’t stand up to him, it’ll just give him more confidence. He’ll invade the expanse and then he’ll come for us”.

“So you would have us weaken our defences by sending troops and ships off to protect a bunch of freeloaders? Forgive me for not being filled with confidence by that strategy”.

“It’s a better strategy than just letting Nero have whatever he wants. And it would be better to meet them out there rather than on our doorstep”.

“They’d wipe the floor with us no matter where we meet them. It might not be a good strategy, but giving Nero what he wants has kept us alive so far, which means it’s the best we’ve got. And besides, it’s my decision, General. The Chancellor left me in charge in her stead”.

“She left us both in charge, Vice-Chancellor”, the General growled as his patience approached its limit. “And it is not our decision alone. You still have to go through parliament, and this isn’t the time or the place to discuss it”.

“The parliament will do as they are told”. The Vice-Chancellor glared up at his counterpart.

“Don’t be so sure about that”.

“I hate to interrupt this thoroughly riveting exchange”, Uhrun cut in to Satrisella’s relief. “But this is a matter that concerns all of us. There are worlds belonging to most of the species represented here in the Expanse. The actions of the Imperium threaten all of them”. It wasn’t like Uhrun to be concerned about anything that didn’t directly affect his own sovereignty. More likely, he was merely taking advantage of an opportunity to put down the humans.

The Vice-Chancellor shot him a glare, no doubt still feeling the sting of their previous confrontation. “And I suppose that means you’re going to do the exact opposite of what is in the interest of humanity”.

“This isn’t about what benefits humanity”, Kamrack said. “This is about what benefits everyone. This is a matter that concerns the Confederacy, not just you. And besides, what is to be done about it is not up to any of us. Only the Assembly can decide whether or not the Confederacy takes military action against the Imperium”.

The Vice-Chancellor snorted. “And you lot would never go behind the back of the Assembly. I suppose you let them know about the other dealings you’ve got going on behind the scenes. Chancellor Calsen’s little excursion, for instance”?

“That’s different”. Even Kamrack seemed to be reaching his limit with the little imp. “There are some matters the Assembly is best left in the dark about. This is not one of them. And you would do well not go throwing around the private affairs of this council in front of those not privy of such information”.

The Vice-Chancellor was about to give a heated answer when the Governor cleared his throat. “So where exactly does the Confederacy stand in regard to support from the Free States”? Satrisella had almost forgotten he was there.

“It is unclear at this point”. Satrisella was careful to avoid anything that could be remotely construed as a promise. “Yes, the Confederacy made a commitment to protect the Neutral Expanse in the face of military threats though to do so, in this case, incurs massive risk to our people and us. As Chancellor Mahalan stated, we alone cannot authorize military action. All we can do at this stage is take a vote on whether to present an argument to the Assembly in favour of action, at which point they will vote on whether or not to approve it. If they do, then you will have the Confederacy’s support. If not, then I’m afraid you are on your own”.

The Governor didn’t seem to like the sound of that. “And when will you be taking this vote? I’m sure you understand there is little time to wait”.

“I think we’ve heard enough, and we do understand, Governor. So, in the interest of time, I call this issue to a vote now”. Satrisella was always the one to call the vote.

“Thank the stars”! Uhrun exclaimed. “Let’s get this over with”.

“The Executive Councill will now vote on the decision to take action against the Imperium’s incursions in the Neutral Expanse. Those in favour cast your votes now”.

The General cast his vote, followed by nobody. The Governor’s eyes jumped from one chancellor to the next, desperation growing ever more apparent. There was silence from the rest of the council, the result Satrisella both expected and hoped for.

“From this, I take it the Confederacy will not support us”? The Governor made no effort to hide his disappointment.

“Those people need our help, Chancellors”, The General said.

“And we need to help ourselves”, Uhrun said back. “Sending away forces for this will only weaken our defences from other threats. We can’t send forces to defend people whom we owe nothing and leave ourselves defenceless”.

“How can we expect others to come to our aid when we won’t provide it ourselves”?

“Our minds are made up, General. Live with it”.

“I agree with Chancellor Suhyur”, Tussek added. “To do this would only weaken our own position and destroy whatever relationship with the Imperium we have left. I apologize to the Governor but, even if we agreed, our support would do little to slow the Imperium’s advance. The reality is that we need to protect ourselves, which we can only do if our forces are here”.

“So you would have us sit back and do nothing”? asked the General. “You think that will stop Nero from coming for us all”?

“If we do nothing it will only embolden Nero to escalate his campaign against us”. Kamrack shook his head. “But if we confront him like this, we all but guarantee a war that will, in all likelihood, destroy us. The welfare of our own people must come before the welfare of outsiders, regardless of whether or not they are allies. As long as we are not at war with the Imperium, we still have the chance to negotiate, but once we take that final step, there will be no going back, no possibility of mending our relationship. It pains me greatly, but for these reasons, I must vote against”.

The General seemed to grow desperate, looking about the V-space before fixing on Satrisella. “Chancellor Heruun. Surely you can see that we can’t stand by and let the Imperium get away with this”. He was grasping at straws now.

“This is indeed a very worrying development, and I believe there should be no question as to Nero’s true intention. A full-scale invasion of the Neutral Expanse seems all but certain. When this happens, the Confederacy is bound by the Treaty of Assemblage to support the Free States in defending themselves. It would be extremely damaging for the Confederacy not to uphold this promise. However, I’m sure everyone here is aware that this is exactly what Nero wants, for it is not truly the expanse he is interested in, but war with us. He seeks to legitimize his future conflict by forcing us into attacking first, at which point he will unleash his full wrath and the Confederacy will fall. But as long as we remain at peace with the Imperium, we have time, time that can be used to prepare and forge new alliances. Eventually, Nero will lose his patience and put his plans into action regardless of who fires the first shot, and, when he does, we will be prepared to face him. But until that time we cannot afford to provoke him. And that is why I regret to say that I cannot support military action against the Imperium for the foreseeable future. My apologies, Governor”.

All eyes fell upon Governor Sevten, staring at the darkness around his feet. She wasn’t a fan of the Free States by any means but Satrisella understood his disappointment. No doubt, the situation was growing desperate where he was. But the truth was, and is, that they simply had to look out for themselves first.

The Governor raised his head. “I was a boy in the last years of the Collective. My parents were farmers, like theirs before them. We lived on some little backwater world, Kirival it was called. I doubt any of you have heard of it. As you’ll all know, the Collective was a mess by that point: war, poverty, strife, corruption. Everything was falling apart. But somehow, my family struggled through it and made a living, along with the families from the farms near our own. It was a difficult life, but a good and honest one. As long as the weather held and the animals were happy, there was nothing to worry about… until we started hearing stories from some of the other settlements, reports of raider and slaver attacks. The details of those stories were things no child should know about”. He paused. Uhrun was shaking his head. “At first, my parents and the other farmers in our community tried to put it out of their heads and focus on the work. But it got to the point where every other day brought a new story that seemed even more horrific than the one before it. They told me and my siblings that everything would be fine, but we all knew the truth as they did. It was only a matter of time before they came for us. So, my father and the other farmers got together and contacted the Governor of Kirival; I don’t recall his name. They asked for protection from the raiders and promised to pay, no matter the cost. Kirival didn’t have any soldiers; we were just a little farming world, after all. So instead, the governor contacted the Executive Council and asked that they send troops to protect the farms. It was weeks before we heard back, over which time more stories reached us, about settlements that weren’t all that far from our own. We did eventually hear back from the council. They apologized and gave their regrets, just like all of you. They said they wanted to help but they simply didn’t have the resources to spare. There were more important matters that needed to be attended to. They needed to look out for themselves”. The Governor went quiet again, grief filling his eyes. “They came for us a few weeks later. I remember looking up to see the ships coming down from the clouds and then running upstairs and hiding under my bed like our parents told us to. No one else managed to hide in time. They raped my mother and sisters and forced my father and brothers to watch before they killed them all. After all these years, I can still hear them at night, laughing, and my mother and sisters screaming, and my father and brothers begging for mercy. One by one, they went quiet, but I could still hear them laughing. They butchered our animals and burned our barns and silos and then set fire to the house with me still inside hiding under my bed. I jumped out the window and broke my leg but managed to drag myself to the long grass where I hid until they had gone. One of the surviving farmers found me and got me to safety. Instead of a farmer like my father before me, I became a politician, because I wanted to make sure it would never happen to anyone ever again”.

The Governor finished. Satrisella could almost make out the tears in his eyes. “A compelling story, Governor”. Uhrun made no attempt to hide his disinterest. “But what exactly is it supposed to tell us”?

The Governor fixed Uhrun with a look sharp as a knife. “That things clearly haven’t changed in the galaxy. That the people at the top are still content to look out for themselves while the people at the bottom suffer. To stand around and talk while people die. To hide away from the threats looming over us all. No, things have not changed. Not one bit”.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Governor”, Satrisella said.

A bitter smirk appeared within his beard. “Oh I’m sure you are. So I suppose expecting you to honour your commitments is a lost cause”?

“Not necessarily. The council would be remiss not to inform you that there are other avenues for you to explore in regard to support from the Confederacy. You can take the matter to the Assembly yourself and let them decide, though, of course, we will make our own case to them as well”.

He nodded. “Then I suppose this won’t be the last you’ll be seeing of me. I hope you’ll all be able to sleep soundly once the stories start coming across your desks”. He hit a button on an unseen interface and disappeared.

“Well that took a depressing turn”, Uhrun said. Clearly, the points of the Governor’s story hadn’t penetrated his stony skin. “If that’s everything, I should like to go and get some sleep”.

“How can you go back to sleep after turning him away like that”? General Stell demanded. “After everything he told us”?

“It’s done, General. He knows he can go to the Assembly. Not that they’ll tell him anything different. What were you thinking bringing him here”?

“He asked for help. I suppose that’s a difficult thing to come by around here, as well as unbroken promises”.

“What would you have us do? Start a war we know we can’t win for people who don’t want anything to do with us”?

“They are still our allies”.

“Allies? Is that what you would call them? Allies help each other, General. Exactly what help has the people you call allies provided to deserve to be regarded as such”? The General didn’t answer. Before long, it was clear he didn’t have one. Uhrun smirked. “I thought so”.

Satrisella caught a flash of anger in the General’s eyes. “The Treaty of Assemblage mandates us to help them”.

“I don’t remember reading anywhere we were to risk destroying ourselves in the process. I swear, you humans, always letting your emotions get in the way of common sense”. Satrisella couldn’t help but agree, though stayed quiet.

The rage burning within the General was so clear now it was a wonder he didn’t burst into flames. “Perhaps it’s not that we allow our emotions to cloud our senses. Maybe’s we just care about our own blood more than you care about yours”.

“I never said I didn’t care about my own blood, only that I don’t allow my feeling to get in the way of common sense”.

The General was about to utter a response when Satrisella cut him off, not intent on being subjected to another argument between the humans and Uhrun. “I think we’ve heard quite enough. The issue is settled, for now. So far, there has been no violence from the Imperium in the Neutral Expanse, and while invasion is almost certain, we don’t have enough to justify mounting a counterattack and throwing away our last hopes of negotiating with Nero. As I already said, the Governor can still go to the Assembly with his request but, for now, I think the best course of action is to monitor the situation. Let us remember that we are still waiting to hear back from Chancellor Calsen. If she returns to us with an alliance with the Aq Quhn Ran Asten then we may look at helping the Free States, which leads me to the final matter before I close this meeting. What of Chancellor Calsen’s mission? Has there been any word from her”?

The Vice-Chancellor opened his mouth but the General beat him to it. “None as of yet, Chancellor Heruun. We lost contact with the U.S.N Rimor shortly after it entered what we believe to be Aq Quhn Ran Asten territory. Unless some other hazard has befallen her, it would be safe to assume the Chancellor has made contact with the Aq Quhn Ran Asten, although whether she still lives along with the people accompanying her is unknown”.

Satrisella had hoped to hear different but wasn’t surprised. “Very well. Thank you, General. Please keep us informed of any further developments. Let us hope that Chancellor Calsen and the rest of your people return safely. I now call this meeting to an end”.

Satrisella hit the button before anything else could be said. She’d intended to return to her pod as soon as the meeting was over but, now, all she could do was go to the transparent wall and stare into the night. She doubted she’d get any sleep anyway, not after everything she’d just heard. The Governor was right, the General too. Nero was about to invade the Expanse, and then he was coming for them. War was coming, whether they met him in the Expanse or not. Truly, the Confederacy was trapped between a rock and a hard place. Their only hope was Chancellor Calsen, and she could well be dead for all they knew. Blue rain lashed the thick glass. It always seemed to rain when there was bad news. Satrisella managed to drag herself back to her pod and lay her head down, though, could only stare at the lid. It was all falling apart.

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