53 – Deep Black

Taretes, embarrassed at his failure to deliver the ecksivar sample and at his disfigured face, had clothed himself in a black cloak and mask as he walked through the lavish halls of the Corporate Alliance’s administrative headquarters, the Offices of the Executive Consortium, on the planet of Central deep in Alliance space. His personal bodyguards had been replaced by professional Alliance soldiers.

     The Alliance Military is a mishmash of units all provided by the myriad of sovereign subsidiaries beneath the hegemonic Consortium. Some of the sovereign corporations, like the Gedesse Union, Ven-Verandin, and Notandis contract other, non-sovereign companies to provide trained mercenaries. Others, like the Mirvanda Corporation, the Jeska Group, and Tarsaan Manufacturing build and field cheap robotic armies while a few like Ferralon Incorporated, the Rayzac Conglomerate, Omnimax, and Olara Corporation pride themselves on the expensive clone elites they breed for battle: the universal CE-9 “Jynnore” line of elite Zelnaran monotemplate clones. And then there are those like Dorf and Sarok Enterprises that stoop to slave conscription, but those slaves are never seen in the halls of the Consortium. Taretes found himself flanked by the expensive Jynnore clones in their dark green Ralvex armor that looked like a knockoff of the Federation’s Accellus. The group passed similar guards that could have been confused for stasis models for how still they were. Of course, they may have very well been—guards in stasis, saving money by being frozen, ready to be released at a moment’s notice to do their jobs.

     The Jynnores led the distraught elsheem emperor through a set of large doors. The doors slowly retracted, and on the other side was a room in the shape of a large dome with skylights above through which the orange evening sky shined down upon the giant circular table occupying the middle of that giant room. The room, which Tarates assumed was the main chamber of the Alliance’s Executive Council, was surrounded by stepped stands that made the chamber resemble a small stadium. There, standing beside the furthest chair across the room, was the chief executor, or chancellor, of the whole of the Corporate Alliance: an unassuming, handsome Zelnaran man dressed in a lavish suit that demanded respect but whispered elegance.

     The elites stopped, and the Zelnaran shouted in his smooth voice, “Taretes! Emperor Taretes! Pleasure to have you in these chambers.”

     “Chancellor Redolain,” Taretes replied in Miri, bowing, “I wish I were meeting you under better circumstances.”

     “I prefer Supreme Executor if you don’t mind,” Redolain said. “Ladies, you are free to go.” The soldiers turned around and headed toward the exit. “Come with me,” he beckoned to the elshe, and he turned toward the back of the room. When Taretes caught up with him, he said, “Let’s talk in my suite.”

     “Lord Thrassus told me I would meet him here.”

     “Don’t worry, Taretes. You’ll meet him.”

     The supreme executor led the taller elshe to another set of doors and down another corridor with stasis guards. Down at the end was his private suite that resembled a palace given its copious space and luxurious décor. Water flowed into golden baths, and the water’s disturbed surface reflected toward the high ceiling beyond the balcony of his bedroom. Naked Zelnaran women bathed in the warm water and greeted him when he returned.

     “I admire this place,” Taretes said as he dropped his hood and removed his mask to take in the decadent display of wealth and power.

     “You should see the moon I own,” Redolain laughed. “This pales in comparison.”

     “I imagine it does.”

     “So, are you ready to meet Thrassus?”

     “I am. What about those women?”

     “They are of no consequence,” Redolain said. With a thought, everything within the room but himself and Taretes was locked into lumionic stasis. The bathers stood motionless in the paused water.

     “I guess they don’t know who you really are, then,” Taretes suggested.

     “Smart elshe,” Redolain replied. “I am Thrassus.”

     “You’re not as intimidating in person.”

     “I call it charm,” Thrassus told him. “So,” Thrassus continued, taking a seat at the large table overlooking the pool, “what happened to that black omnium?”

     “The so-called ecksivar?” Taretes asked, also taking a seat across from his master.

     “The very same.”

     “The Federation tracked us down.”

     “And?”

     “There was nothing we could do. I am terribly sorry.”

     “There are many things you don’t know about me, Taretes,” Thrassus told him. “One of them is that I always, always get what I want. You think you failed? Nonsense. I got exactly what I wanted.”

     “But what about the ecksivar?”

     “You touched it, did you not?”

     “I did, but that was months ago.”

     “Nanoparticles are still attached to your skin. And that’s all I need.”

     Taretes lifted his hand and looked intently at it—first his palm and then his dorsum. The elshe started to laugh, and he couldn’t help himself.

     “I’ve been through shield-scrubbers!” Taretes said through his laughter, contagious enough to infect Thrassus who began to laugh with him.

     “I know! Sounds ridiculous, right?” Thrassus laughed a little longer, and then the two of them quieted. “The second thing you didn’t know about me,” Thrassus explained, “is that black omnium and I form a kind of… unholy-duality.” He paused to let that fact sink into Taretes’ mind for a moment. “I can see every instance of black omnium in this galaxy, and your hands are coated in it, so you did your job, and you did it well. You brought that… ecksivar to me. But, there is one more thing I need you to do.”

     “Anything, my lord.”

     “I would like to borrow your mass.”

     Taretes sat there for a moment. “What?”

     “Your mass, Taretes. I need it.” Taretes looked at his palm again, and he noticed tiny black dots in his skin.

     “What is this?” Taretes asked, but Thrassus stared intently at Taretes hand, enjoying channeling his latent power into the nanoparticles of that black crystal. Taretes shot up and knocked over the chair behind him. Screaming, he tried to peel the chunks of hard crystal off of his hand, but it spread everywhere it touched, and the sensation burned like the fire of Gehenna.

     The pain struck him down, and the elshe clenched his arm, writhing as the black crystal consumed his arms and crept across his shoulders. Eventually, his head and torso were succumbing to the wicked variety of omnium. With his lungs and face crystallized, Taretes passed away while the rest of his body was devoured before Thrassus.

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