Chapter 0 – Two Months Earlier
Nevvis surveyed the room of stony-faced council members. They surveyed him right back. He’d lost count of how long the council had been locked in battle, but they didn’t seem to be any closer to a solution than when they’d started. Here they were, thirteen of the most talented telepaths on a planet of telepaths, and they couldn’t communicate. Nevvis had to smile at the irony.
“You want to share your joke with the rest of us?” Lorelis asked. The long session had done nothing to dull his sharp wit and sharper tongue.
“No. I’ll keep that one to myself,” Nevvis said, hoping his comment jabbed his nemesis at least a tiny bit. If it did, Lorelis kept his reaction well shielded, both physically and psychically.
Nevvis ran is fingers through his hair and drew in a deep breath. “So, we are at an impasse?”
Lorelis shrugged, the motion seeming casual, relaxed even, but Nevvis knew that better. Nothing about Lorelis was ever casual. “If by impasse you mean that you will not get your majority vote to lead us into war against a species we don’t even know, then I suppose the answer is yes. We are at an impasse.”
“Dicci!” Nevvis swore. “How many times do I have to repeat it, Lorelis? I’m not bringing this war to us. It’s already here. From the moment the Shreet slipped through that time-flux and decided they liked our part of the galaxy better than theirs, the war has been on its way here. And, now that they know we have the brackeal they need to power their ships and that space station of theirs, it’s only a matter of time before they’re sitting on our porch waiting to be let in. When that time comes, we will not be able to stop them.
Erus shifted back in his chair and folded his hands over this stomach, assuming the same annoying pose he always did right before agreeing with everything Lorelis said. If Lorelis said he moon were made of glass, Erus would rub his belly and say, Oh yes. A very shiny glass. “We have shields,” he said. Again.
“Yes, Erus. We have shields. And yes, Lorelis, we have time, but not much. When the Shreet come, and they will come, we will have only our shields to keep them from taking over Drani as they have taken so many planets already. And when those shields fall, and they will fall, we have nothing.” Nevvis swiped his hands over the table. “No offensive weapons at all. Nothing.”
“Well,” Lorelis said, his pale blue eyes betraying his anger even if his slow speech and slumped posture didn’t. “We do have the Arleles.”
A spattering of tense chuckles rounded the table. “True,” Salakir said, offering Nevvis one of her encouraging smiles. “Let the Shreet try to take on the Arleles; they’ll be running back to their ships inside a week.”
Nevvis forced himself back to the calm detached persona he used to lead the Council. The Areleles were the species that shared the planet with them, and they could be deadly. Without the controls placed on them by the Dran, the Arleles were so violent, they would have destroyed themselves long ago. And since most of them were telekinetic, they could have done it with ease. Even though Erus probably had a point, Nevvis refused to let them get off track. “We need help from the Alliance. We can trade brakeal for protection. Simple. The only thing holding the Shreet back right now is the massive military force of the Alliance, and they aren’t winning by much. We will be helping ourselves and them. I don’t understand why this is still being discussed.”
“Speaking of Arleles, you need to deal with yours,” Lorelis said, using his sleeve to clean a spot off the glass in front of him.
“We weren’t speaking of Arleles, and Taymar isn’t my Arlele,” Nevvis said. “So, what is the harm in bring in the Alliance? I have yet to hear a good counter to that point.”
“Your Arlele is dangerous,” Lorelis said.
“All Arleles are dangerous. We aren’t talking about Arleles. Stay with me, Lorelis.”
“Yours is more dangerous than the rest. We can’t have telepathic telekinetic Arleles. They are bad enough when they have only one psychic ability. We can’t have it be known that it’s possible to have both. She should have never been permitted to live this long. She needs to be termed.”
“We are not here to talk about Taymar,” Nevvis said, letting the statement hang as he stared at Lorelis from across the table. “And we are not going to term her, although these tests the researchers are insisting on just might.” He kept his focus on Lorelis as he addressed the room as a whole. “We are here to talk about how to keep the Shreet from invading our home and enslaving our people. All of our people. Why are you all so reluctant to get help from the Alliance?”
Salakir spoke first, which wasn’t surprising. She was usually the mediator between him and Lorelis. “Because, Nevvis, once we form an agreement with the Alliance, we will never be able to undo that.”
“Exactly,” Lorelis said, glancing around the room. “Once word gets out that we’ve been getting naked with the Alliance, everyone’s going to want to join the party. We keep ourselves to ourselves for a reason. A good reason. The last thing we need is off-worlders having a say in our politics and trying to control our brakeal. This Council right here.” He swept the room with his hand. “The thirteen of us who make up the Sinku rule this planet from a place of anonymity to keep ourselves free of outside influences. To ensure that our decisions are made in the interest of our people, all of our people, not just the ones with money or power or titles. And we don’t want the Alliance, or anyone else, coming in here and changing that.”
A series of grunts and mumbles followed Lorelis’s statement as most of the other members voiced their agreement. Most, Nevvis noted, but not all. He had at least some of them reconsidering their position.
“We’ve been at this for some time,” Salakir said, stretching her shoulders. “Let’s table this discussion for the time being. Allow us to consider what has been said.”
“Agreed,” Nevvis said, standing. “Thank you for your time today. But, please consider our options. This threat is real.”
The absence of the normal banter and casual chat that usually followed Council meetings was palpable as one member after another hit their transtrem remote and flashed out of the room in a series of blue swirls. Everyone except Lorelis.
“I think we’ve had enough of each other for one day, Lorelis,” Nevvis said, grabbing the projections of maps and diagrams he had prepared for the meeting and swiping them back onto the viewer.
“I am Kital and you owe me this conversation.”
Nevvis threw the last diagram, one tracking the Shreet invasion across the quadrant, onto the viewer and swiped it off. “Yes, Lorelis. You are Kital. Second in command of the Sinku. And I am Kitalku. I am first. I owe you nothing, so say your piece before I finish securing the room, because I’ll be leaving.”
Lorelis’s lip twitched. The break in his mask was rare, but Nevvis couldn’t be sure if he had been about to smile or sneer. With Lorelis, it could go either way, and Nevvis’s telepathy was no use against Lorelis’s shielded mind.
“Well, Kitalku,” Lorelis said, placing his hands palm up in front of him and bowing in an exaggerated formal greeting. “I just want you to know that I agree with you. The threat of the Shreet is real. I just don’t agree with your solution. You seem to be stuck on just that one option. There are other options.”
“Like what? I didn’t hear any coming from you, or anyone else for that matter.”
“As you pointed out, I am only the Kital. The responsibility for solving this is ultimately yours. I’m just advising you.”
“Okay. Thank you for your superb advice, Kital. I will keep it at the forefront of my thoughts daily. I need to go.” Nevvis reached for his remote, but Lorelis grabbed his arm to stop him.
“Think on it hard, Nevvis, but also think on this: Taymar, too, is a very real threat. The longer she’s allowed to live, the more of a threat she becomes. It cannot become common knowledge that there are those among us with both psychic talents. It simply can’t. You need to handle that problem and you need to do it soon.”
Nevvis met Lorelis’s pale blue stare and stepped away to watch the swirling blue light yank his second from the room. He was going to take care of the problem – both problems – but Lorelis wasn’t going to like his solution. And that was just going to be too bad. They were out of time. The Shreet were coming and Taymar wasn’t going to survive many more of the so-called tests the researchers in the medcom were subjecting her to. No more talking. It was time for action.