For the first time in history the Council took the most drastic action against the Forge. Small atmospheric patrol craft flew overhead, deploying missiles and bombs to ‘pacify’ the most rebellious areas. The rest of the Forge was warned, by way of the deadly demonstration. The rest of Oanerath received the raw, brutal video footage from the hacked satellites, courtesy of Zarthara and her computer skills. The very notion that such a move was possible, least of all against the denizens of the Forge, would send shockwaves through Chon’ith society.
Risharath sat in the corner of the café, studying the details of the massacre and trying not to tremble with a mixture of fear and fury. The dawn had broken and he cradled a hot drink in his left hand, wishing once again he had never met Seluban, Acklaran, or any of the others. With patience wearing thin, he waited, but every Enforcer patrol to stroll by the café shredded his nerves even more. It felt like a surreal eternity, sitting there, wondering if the next pair of eyes would notice the mark of the Forge on his neck, despite his collar. It was either that, or someone would recognise him from one of his missions. It was a stupid fear, but fear clung to his heart, refusing to relinquish its grip. That was why he nearly jumped from his seat when a hand clasped his shoulder.
“Relax Risharath, it is me.” Zarthara’s voice said over his shoulder. She slipped into his view and into the chair opposite him. “Have you been waiting long?”
“Over an hour. I began to fear the worst.”
“I had to exercise extra caution.” Zarthara replied curtly. “Things are escalating.”
“Yes, they are.” Risharath said hotly.
Zarthara tilted her head. “Is there a problem?”
“There are many. We are always one moment of bad luck away from being recognised. We have provoked the Council into unleashing draconian measures, and now mass murder, and all at the urging of a man who has disappeared completely. Why are we doing this Zarthara?” He asked, eyes pleading for an answer he could make sense of.
“Because we’ve been lied to Risharath, about so many things. The nature of who we are, Requeteran, the Makers and the Words, the war with the humans… All of it has been twisted to make us feel less about ourselves, unless we fit their niche. Do you want to live in a world of such dishonesty and elitism?”
“Of course not!” Risharath retorted. “But I never imagined a day when the Council would resort to this, to know it is my fault, at least in part…”
Zarthara leaned forward, eyes blazing. “It is not your fault. The blame for every death lies with the Council. They do not act to honour the Words or the Makers, they act to perpetuate their hold on ordinary Chon’ith. They’ve done this for centuries, but now, the people are waking up.”
Risharath fell silent, but he brooded, and he knew Zarthara could tell. She stared at him with those intense eyes, unyielding, until finally he voiced his concerns.
“Was this not meant to be bloodless?” He asked. “That was what Seluban promised.”
“He never promised that Risharath. He wanted that, desired that, but it was always a desperate hope. Why do you suddenly harbour so much doubt? I know you didn’t always see eye to eye with Seluban, or Acklaran for that matter, but in the months that have passed, I thought you had embraced our cause.”
Once more Risharath was quiet, as he considered his reply.
“In my heart…” He began, fear cracking his voice slightly. “I have always doubted everything. I doubt the Council, I doubt the very Words and the Makers, perhaps because of the Council. I doubt the methods we take to overthrow them will truly change our world for the better. I also doubt myself, for not having… Faith, faith in what we do, that it will matter.”
Zarthara reached over the table and grabbed Risharath’s hands, clasping them in her own. “You have propelled yourself beyond your comfort zone, at great personal risk. You are entitled to feel afraid, to have doubts. You would be less of a person if you did not.”
“What if I fail you?” He asked, trembling slightly. “I feel next to useless, doing little more than ferry messages, whilst you and the others take risks, I have no purpose…”
Part of Zarthara wanted to hit Risharath, and not for the first time. His habit of scouting for encouragement was wearing thin.
“Enough Risharath. You do this repeatedly, and I cannot keep on shoring up your confidence or your belief. Things are moving too quickly for me to be your crutch any longer.” She knew she sounded harsh, but she was fed up. “You have value to our cause Risharath, you know that, for we have told you, I have told you, enough times. Keeping in contact with each other, co-ordinating our work, is vital to our success, so stop putting yourself down, and stop expecting others, especially me, to pick you up.”
She felt cruel, her voice growing increasingly savage as she spoke, but her role in the Resistance did not include nursing his emotons.Pulling her hands back, she stood.
“I need you to relay a message to Acklaran. Tell him we are done in this city, and we are moving on to our next location. Please…” Her voice softened. “Have faith that you serve the Resistance bravely.”
Hawk and Egwu were both waiting in the conference room when Seluban, flanked by a trio of Marines, returned there. He suppressed his personal revulsion at the sight of a woman in military attire once again, taking his seat.
“You wished to speak to me Admiral?” He asked neutrally.
“Yes, Captain Egwu and I have some additional questions before we commit to anything.” Hawk gestured to Egwu, who cleared her throat.
“We were discussing your proposal. Our main… not so much question, but area of concern is, what do you gain from this?” She asked.
“Me?” Seluban was confused. “I gain the liberation of my people from a cruel regime.”
“Is that all?” Replied Hawk, slightly sardonically.
“Yes.” Seluban’s voice became a little more dangerous.
“Forgive us Seluban…” Egwu spoke again. “But throughout human history, revolutionaries tend to act with some form of personal goal in mind. They’re seeking revenge, or personal power. We’ve also learned the hard way that regime change caused by external forces breeds more trouble than it’s worth.”
“I cannot take power for myself, least of all if I have ridden back to Oanerath with your fleet. I will never set foot on any Chon’ith world again.”
“So… how do you plan to set up a new government?” Egwu asked, confused.
“I will contact the Resistance, in particular the core members, who will form the basis of a new Council, a fair Council. This I must do from my transport, on Chon’ith frequencies. They need to be alerted to the arrival of your fleet.”
Hawk sat bolt-upright. “Wait, you want to tell your people we’re coming? Out of the question.”
“I wish to tell the Resistance, so they may prepare. They will not betray me.”
“We’ve already scrapped carefully laid plans whilst we consider your idea, an idea that carries great risk to our fleet, and I’m going to personally take a big risk to my career, and more importantly thousands of human lives, to support you, and now you’re suggesting something that makes this plan even more dangerous. Can you see that?” Hawk implored.
“Of course I can Admiral. If I were you, I would sense a trap. My people though, are not typically so cunning, for it is a trait deemed against our religion, or at least, against the extreme interpretation of it. However, the alternative is that the war continues, it cripples my people, and the Cadj come for us all. They have an insatiable need for new worlds, and if they absorb our technology, they will become far more dangerous, not only to your people, but to every other species. The only way to stop them is to end our war, in a way that doesn’t destroy our war machine, and let’s us devise ways to fight the Cadj as a partnership. The only way my people will work with yours as a partnership is if people from the Resistance end up in power when this is over, and the only way for that to happen is if I can contact them before you arrive, to properly prepare them.”
Hawk and Egwu exchanged stares, once again evading Chon’ith perception, frustratingly from Seluban’s perspective. He knew his logic was sound, but much rested on trust.
Hawk shook his head in thought. “So far, we have no proof the Cadj even exist. You’re dangling this threat over our heads, and all we have is your word, and I appreciate that you have a strong sense of honour, but again, you’re asking us to put a lot on the line here.”
“You have scout ships do you not?” Enquired Seluban. “I can give you co-ordinates to the Cadj front, even to Cadj space. You can see for yourself.”
Egwu looked in thought. “That could work Admiral. Our scouts are fast. It would push the timetable for assaulting Oanerath back, maybe by a couple of weeks, perhaps a little longer, depending on the scout’s journey time, but if it gives us proof these Cadj are real…”
“Hmm, okay, I’ll send a message to Command, and get a scout ship prepped. We’ll proceed on the basis that this mission is a go, but I’ll want to examine any message you plan to send to this Resistance.” Hawk said. Seluban grimaced, but nodded.
“Okay, we have some work to do.” Hawk continued. “Let’s get to it.”