[Moon of Vonilla, Space Station]
Klak briskly made his way to the elevator doors. He quietly reviewed some briefings on a transparent tablet, the resplendent colors of holograms dancing across his face. He waved his hand above the tablet, dismissing the holograms, then flipped a switch, turning it off.
Klak was flanked by a small entourage of about four people. Two of them wore the signature red beret and black suits of the Presidential Guards. One was a woman known as Amelias Volkov, and the other was a man known as Lorenzo "Lance" Lopez. The other two men were Ambassador Felix Vaish and Special Presidential Advisor Jefferson Bethlehem, respectively.
"Shall we?" Klak asked, cheerily.
The elevator doors whooshed open. Klak adjusted his jacket and tie
then walked in, with the others following. Klak turned to face the windows as the elevator slowly lurched upward. He saw a clear view of the vast, black expanse of space that enveloped the Moon of Vonilla.
Various diplomats from both Malchior and the Free Systems Alliance recommended to Klak that his meeting with a delegation from the Amun Collective take place on the Moon of Vonilla, a neutral space. It was the best place that either side could negotiate without having to look over their shoulders.
"Permission to speak freely, Mr. President?" Jefferson asked.
"That never stopped you before, Jefferson." Klak chuckled. "What is it?"
"All due respect...Just exactly how
many devils are you going to make deals with?" Jefferson objected.
"And there it is," Klak grinned.
"Ascheron, Veras, the Sefer clones, and now the Amun Collective? Are you going to resurrect Allman and Uteriach for good measure?" Jefferson said.
"Who said Uteriach was dead?" Klak retorted.
"You know what I mean, sir," Jefferson grunted.
"Better the devils we know, Jefferson. These are trying times. Malchior and the Free Systems Alliance need as much help as they can get. The Amun Collective can help us with a lot of resources that we need to strengthen the galaxy against Sefer's New Order. Plus, it helps to have an ally with experience fighting Takemikazuchi ships. The Collective's fleet wasn't on our side back in the War, but they gave us all a run for our money for a while before they were decimated."
Jefferson shook his head and sighed.
"All this is why Krieger resigned, you know." Jefferson argued.
"Kreiger always hated my guts," Klak noted. "He was just looking for an excuse. Besides, you know he wants to be Secretary-General."
"Next week's elections, that's right." Jefferson sighed again. "I think you should back Krieger when this is over."
"I'll take anyone, even Krieger, over Gaius Malcovus," Klak said, referring to one of his rivals in the Alliance. He sighed as he gazed out into the stars, seemingly in a trance.
"Mr. President," Ambassador Vaish asked, breaking the silence. "We are here."
Klak noticed that he was now staring at nothing. The elevator doors whooshed open.
He emerged from the elevator, followed by his entourage. They entered a large room with caramel walls and furniture of various kinds neatly arranged around various conference tables. At the center was a table with a dainty Aloussian man wearing glasses; a mediator sent by the Free Systems Alliance, no doubt. The Aloussian extended one of his lime green arms to acknowledge Klak, then nodded and smiled.
On the other side of the room was a pair of majestic mahogany doors. A group of bizarre beings with human bodies and animalistic heads began to emerge from this door, marching towards Klak in unison. First came two men with dog heads carrying large banners that displayed ankhs, suns, and other hieroglyphic images. The banner bearers marched side by side, then split apart, each one sauntering to a different corner of the room. Then came a group of humanoid women of various races, strumming lyres and singing lullabies in an ancient tongue. After the musicians came a squadron of soldiers clad in linen kilts and plasteel Ancient-Egyptianesque armor; some seemed to have the heads of bears, whereas others had the heads of jackals. All the soldiers carried khopeshes with blades that vibrated with pure energy and had rifles hung across their back by slings. The soldiers too began to split apart, assembling on either side of the room. Finally, the Pharaoh entered, his litter carried by four drones. The drones kneeled and the Pharaoh emerged, his arms crossed, his green hands grasping at his crook and flail. He was adorned in shining snow-white armor. A crimson Pschent sat on top of his verdant and noble humanoid head. The Pharaoh--named Osiris I--towered over most of the group.
Klak reached out his arm to shake the Pharaoh’s hand, but Osiris sneered.
"Perhaps we should engage in a more formal exchange of traditional greetings," the Aloussian mediator offered. "The translators will arrive soon."
"No need," Osiris said, in perfect English[?]. "I have traveled across the realms of Sah and Sopdet to arrive here. The gods of the Amun Collective do not wish that their time be wasted. You have an audience with their Pharaoh. Now speak."
"Certainly, your majesty," Klak consented. Everyone sat down, and Klak continued. "It is truly a pleasure to meet face to face. A conference between the leaders of both of our peoples is a momentous occasion."
"That remains to be seen," Osiris interjected.
"We believe you'll find the terms of our alliance," Klak continued, unabated. "to be reasonable. Shangri-La is no doubt a threat to all of us. Mutual defense aid and open trade channels will lead to prosperity and security. Both our worlds can stand strong against the tide of the New Order and ensure freedom for all systems."
"Freedom?" Osiris spat out, half chuckling. "There is no freedom. There is no tide. There is no New Order. There are only those who are part of the Amun Collective and those who are not."
"I don't think this is a productiv-" the Aoloussian tried to say but was cut off by Osiris.
"But I, Pharaoh of the Amun Collective, find some of your terms to be reasonable. It is because of this that you have been graced by my presence." Osiris continued.
"An excellent start," Ambassador Vaish articulated.
"Oh no, Malchiorian. Do not believe the gods of the Amun Collective accept your offer," Osiris refuted. "I only said we found some
of your terms to be reasonable. We are happy with the trade provisions, but military aid? Do not make us laugh. Why would we help you? You certainly cannot help us. We are gods, President Vell. We will obliterate all who stand in our way. All I need to do is say the word, and thousands of ships will rain the fires of Duat upon my enemies. So no, you are not an ally, Malchiorian. You are simply a suzerain who trades with us, a suzerain because we allow you to live."
"You came across the galaxy to tell me this, Pharaoh?" Klak fumed. "Vain, deluded, and with a lot of time on your hands!"
"Mr. President!" Ambassador Vaish scolded.
"Perhaps we got off to the wrong start," the mediator nervously added.
"Mind your tongue, human." Osiris spat.
"I suggest you take another look at our terms," Klak chimed, angrily standing up from his chair. "We'll meet again in the morning. Good day to you all."
Klak and his entourage left the room as the dumbfounded mediator stared at them. Pharaoh Osiris glared, then grinned.
Meanwhile, back at the elevator, Klak sighed yet again.
"What was that?" Jefferson asked.
"A mistake. Maybe we'll do better tomorrow."
Ambassador Vaish facepalmed and said nothing. The group arrived at their inn a few floors down and made their way to their suite.
Suddenly, Amelias Volkov reached for her holopad. A holographic figure emerged from it, popping up in front of her. She spoke to the figure and nodded.
"Mr. President," he said, "We have an important transmission."
Klak nodded. They walked into the Presidential Suite. Lance Lopez flipped a switch. Suddenly, an energy bubble covered both Klak, Jefferson, and Volkov. The bubble was meant to block any spy drones or listening devices from hearing the contents of their conversation.
"Play it," Klak ordered. Volkov pressed a button on her holopad, and a video of Reed Palermo appeared.
Reed was in the cockpit of his ship, gritting his teeth.
"This is Reed Palermo, sending this transmission to Malchiorian intelligence and President Klak Vell. I just met with Long Shortman, Shortman KIA. We're under attack!"
An explosion could be heard in the distance. The image jerked around. Reed looked to the side.
"Oh fuck...I'm hit...fuck! Mr. President, Klak! Shortman wanted to warn you! Sefer is building something on Bendu! Something dangerous, something even the Shangri-La fleet had to protect! They’re trying to cover it up! They killed Halen, and now the-“
Blazes of fire suddenly filled the cockpit as Ross screamed. The transmission ended.
“Spy drones confirmed Ross Palermo was killed in action,” Volkov breathed. Nadle and the rest of the intelligence agencies want to meet with you.”
Klak clenched his fists. Whatever the New Order was building was worth killing a Malchiorian.
“Mr. President,” Ambassador Vaish said, hoping that Klak could hear him from outside the energy bubble. “I’ve just received word that the Amun Collective delegation was leaving.”
“Brilliant,” Klak whispered sarcastically. “Just brilliant.”
--[Malchior, Undisclosed Location]
Hercules Splendor puffed on a cigarette as he gazed at the sunset. He exhaled, smoke churning out of his nostrils as his mind wandered.
An agent walked up to Hercules with a solemn look on his face. The agent placed his hand in his jet-black hair and ruffled it, gritting his teeth. Hercules nodded without looking at the agent to acknowledge him. He quietly inhaled on his cigarette.
“Herc,” the agent said, solemnly. “A report came in…I wanted to tell you because I know you two were close…Ross Palermo…was shot down on a mission. He’s been killed.”
Hercules’s mouth seemed to slowly drop open. He exhaled as his eyes widened in confusion. He looked at the agent incredulously.
“What?” Hercules gasped, betraying his raspy voice.
“Nadle wants you in the debriefing in 20 minutes,” the agent said. “But if you need a moment, I understand…”
The agent nodded awkwardly, then stepped away.Killed
. The words echoed around in Hercules’s mind. He placed both of his hands on his head and stared at the ground, eyes widened. Killed. Ross Palermo is gone.
--[Cruise Ship Durin, Sea of St. Cardozo, planet Jumano]
Lalli Cain sat on a chair near the window of his room on the cruise ship. He sipped a cup of Gilclack’s Blend coffee as he surveyed the news transmissions from his holopad.
“What kind of a name is ‘Gaius Malcovus?’” He thought aloud.
Regina Faral emerged from their room wearing lavish silk pajamas. Although she usually preferred to spend the spoils of her quarry on weapons and armor, she was not above occasionally splurging on the little things in life.
“I thought we were on vacation, Lalli,” she smiled. “You shouldn’t be looking for job opportunities in the news.”
“Always good to keep an eye on things,” he replied. “Besides, we’re not on vacation.”
“I know, I know,” Regina conceded, sighing. “But we can enjoy this thing while we’re here.”
“Fair enough,” Lalli said, sipping another cup. “I could get used to this, really. Maybe after retirement if we make it out of this life alive.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, look at you.” Regina laughed. “A handful of grey hairs start showing up and you start talking about retirement. You’re not old enough to be thinking like that. You think Ashton Carney’s worried about retirement?”
Lalli chuckled, his (mostly) light brown hair visible under the sunlight that crept through the window.
“Ashton is slightly younger than I am, but don’t ever tell him that.” Lalli chuckled. “But I’m just thinking out loud. Retirement is not soon, obviously, but someday.”
“Speaking of Ashton, I haven’t heard from him in a while. When was the last time he tried to kill you?” Regina inquired.
“Three weeks ago,” Lalli shook his head. “And we were supposed to be on the same side for that job.”
“What? Is he sick or something? Far too long of a wait for him.” Regina said.
“Yeah, no idea. Anyways, how close are we to landing?” Lalli said.
“The schedule says we should be on the island in about an hour. We’ll be stationed there for most of the day. Should give us enough time to take care of things.”
“Good,” Lalli replied. I should probably get ready. This won’t be an easy one.”
“All the more reason to enjoy the downtime,” Regina noted.
--[Battlefield on Vongola]
Dreis suddenly noticed a sniper’s bullet slam onto one of the walls of the ruined building he was in. Only one sniper this side of the galaxy would ever fire a warning shot like that to someone she knew.
Cassandra Cromwell, agent of the Vongolan People’s Republic, smiled from afar in her sniper nest somewhere in a ruined building several meters away. She aimed again.
“Good to see you, Dreis Bright,” she whispered to herself.