The whispers within towns, villages and cities across Oanerath continued to spread, an insidious infection in the veins of Chon’ith society. That was the perspective of Markaret, as she stormed down the stone spiral staircase, ruby red robes billowing behind her as she descended to the Enforcer Conclave. If pure, unfiltered rage could be something tangible, it would have existed in her at that moment. It seemed to drift into the very air around her as the guards opened the ornate, golden double doors to the Enforcer Conclave chamber.
“It has been a week since you have placed your resources to the task of crushing the Resistance.” She announced to the assembled Enforcers, who encircled a large round table. The table projected a map of Oanerath, with data marked up all across it. “Instead of weakening them, I hear they grow in stature. How do you explain your failure?”
One Enforcer, clad in glistening silver and bone armour, looked nervously at the others before clearing his throat. “Your Eminence, we have arrested several individuals who have been spreading their blasphemous message…”
“But you have not found the escapees from Coward’s Forge.” Markaret bluntly finished his sentence for him. “Tell me, what have you learned from your captives?”
There was another tiny hesitation, another tentative glance to his colleagues. “They… they have refused to talk. Even the threat of the Forge has not moved their tongues.”
Markaret’s eyes seemed to glow with anger. “You cannot prompt your pathetically small number of arrests into speech? What worth is the Enforce Conclave, if it cannot protect our society?”
“Please your Eminence, we are doing everything…”
“You are not doing enough!” Markaret’s temper burst from her. The Enforcers looked collectively frightened. Taking a moment to compose herself, Markaret knew fear, as powerful an ally as it could be, would be of no use here.
“My apologies.” She began, with false sweetness. “But you all appreciate the severity of our situation. Our very way of life is at risk, from people who do not value Requeteran, or the Words, or the Makers. Leadership through power and strength has held our people together since the beginning. If the Resistance is not completely purged, our people will unravel. We cannot afford that, especially now, in war time.”
“We understand your Eminence.” The nervous Enforcer replied. “We will redouble our efforts.”
“I am sure you will. Have you liaised with Supreme Chief Ike’reth yet?”
“He has been pursuing several leads, your Eminence.”
“Excellent. I shall be requesting daily updates, I look forward to good news.” Markaret said, her voice dripping with danger. Her robe sweeping behind, she withdrew from the chamber, leaving behind a sense of urgency.
Deep down, he’d known, before he’d put one foot down on the ground, that his actions were beyond stupid. He had concealed his face, and the Mark of the Forge on his arm was hidden beneath cloth, but Seluban knew to venture to the capital, especially for this reason, was one of the worst things he could do.
Yet that hadn’t stopped him. He walked, briskly, down the street, which in his months away, had not changed to any significant degree. The memories had come back, first as a trickle, then as a flood, irresistible and insistent. The gleaming white and grey structures lined the road, Chon’ith went about their daily routines, and not one of them suspected that Seluban, one of the most infamous martyrs in Chon’ith history, walked among them.
Morning sunlight poured down, highlighting healthy yellow grass and drawing the attention of several blue and orange flowers. It was a picturesque scene, that only tugged harder at Seluban’s heart as he walked toward the one place he knew he should never go to. It was as though his feet were disconnected from his mind, moving him to stand just to one side of the house he had once called home. From where he stood, he could see into the main front window, and within, he could see them.
His daughter, his son. They were playing some form of game, wearing smiles on their faces, his daughter waving her arms in an excited, animated fashion, whilst his son, the younger of the two, tried to copy her. Seluban felt a growing lump in his throat, a sense of deep pain in his heart, and he yearned desperately to move closer, but this time his mind overrode his feet. He lingered for a minute, hoping his mate would come into view, but also grateful she did not. Feeling the sting of tears in the corners of his eyes, Seluban departed, but not before he gave his family one final glance.
A few hours later, Seluban sat in the corner of a small deli, chewing absent-mindedly on a piece of bread. His mind was churning over the events of the past few weeks, as he quietly noted the chatter in the streets. From the rising hostility from the Council, it seemed Acklaran was doing a good job. Enforcers prowled the streets of cities across the planet, including the very capital, leading the charge against even the whispers of sedition, but Seluban knew from his observations and the occasional foray into the data net, that the Resistance was gaining momentum.
His fear was that it would not be enough. The wars with the humans and Cadj couldn’t be sustained forever; the humans, with their superior tactics and better technology, were comfortably winning every engagement, and the Cadj simply did not stop coming, even in the face of serious losses. Time was an enemy, one that would never yield. A major revolution was needed, yet Seluban could not see a path to generating one, especially not one that would be successful. Perhaps I should go off-world…
At that moment, an idea hatched in his brain. It was the most insane, blasphemous, deadly idea that he could possibly have conceived, but he could not shake it from his system, no matter how much he told himself it was pure folly. I definitely need to go off-world…
“So we estimate that these two systems here will have robust defences, even by Chon’ith standards.” Captain Egwu said to the assembled fleet commanders. CNSS Manticore had become a hive of feverish activity in the past few weeks, with previously strewn fleets returning to the war’s primary staging ground. The table in front of them displayed a map of key Confederation and Chon’ith worlds, and it was filled with fresh information gleaned from Teklerat’s flagship. “But with our understanding of Chon’ith tactics, we should be able to deploy our standard strategy and neutralise their military assets in short order. From there, we can destroy two of their largest shipyards and several major manufacturing plants. We’ll hurt their war machine and their economy badly.”
“Will it bring them to the table?” asked a tall woman, brushing a strand of red hair from her face.
“I doubt it.” replied Egwu. “I mean, it might, but given their past behaviour, and what we know of their religion, we have to assume peace will only be achieved via crippling them.”
A male captain, with dark, wavey hair spoke up. “That’s crazy.”
“To us, but their culture is built completely around rule through strength. It’s like they can’t even conceive of any other kind of power.”
“When do we move out?” the man asked.
“We need another week, maybe a week and a half, to make sure every ship is fully prepared. Then, we deal the Chon’ith a critical blow.”
Two days after Confederation commanders had been briefed, Markaret studied the latest reports on the insurgency and Acklaran continued to send coded messages to the other principle leaders of the growing Resistance. More and more Chon’ith were coming to see that raw strength alone wasn’t the only path to glory, and nor was it the only means to paying respects to Requeteran and the Makers. More importantly, from Acklaran’s perspective, many Chon’ith began to question whether the Council had been manipulating the people all this time, keeping them in check and themselves in power. Could it be that the Council simply served itself?
Seluban put his own plans into motion. The little transport docked in the port had been ‘requisitioned’, and before anyone was alert enough to prevent the theft, it had fired up its engines and launched itself into hyperspace.