Thursday, 28 July 2016

4. Aethian

A tall athletic man wearing a dark grey and red Master's dress uniform stood staring through the room length window overlooking the landing platforms.
Aethian Jentha-Korbandin was tired and frustrated. His long dark hair was tied in a strap cloth for practicality and he wore two single handed ceremonial poniard blades sheathed in his belt. His boots were gleaming like mirrors, his hands were held together behind his back and his chest pushed out. He stood still and stern faced.
His grey tunic chest remained modestly plain and devoid of any rank, insignia or medals. He had nothing to prove these days. Nothing.
The silver octagons with green trim embroidered on his red cuffs denoted his membership of “Stellaris Militia Intelligencia.”
This was not a man to be underestimated. - A Spymaster of the highest Order.
He kept thinking that this was surely no place for him. Wasted again on some bureaucratic fools errand. This was nothing new but it was becoming a stale and disenchanting scenario.
He was tired of being posted and then redrafted elsewhere in the galaxy as soon as he had settled into an assignment. He was frustrated with teaching battle strategy and blade craft to Acolytes who were better suited to sciences or ethics. Most of all, he was weary of having to live up to his father's name. As soon as anyone heard his name, “Korbandin”, they invariably gawped at him in awe. Sycophants!
More annoying was the fact that these days he found it increasingly difficult to blend in and be inconspicuous. His very name was conspicuous.
Irrespective of all of this, Aethian had never doubted his abilities. His father had indeed been the Provost Paladin Commander at the time at which he had been born, and he had been raised in the traditional military fashion with no expense, education or opportunity spared. He had progressed quickly, so much so that he had entered the Temple Of The Knife, by selection, at only eleven years of age, a full five years younger than was customary.
At the time of his ascension to the Templi Militia, there was not a single Knight, Master, instructor or Acolyte who could best him with a blade. Nobody had since he was thirteen years old, and that man still wore a scar across his chin as a cost for his victory.
In the many years since then Aethian had moved quickly through the ranks and travelled to most parts of the galaxy. He was a veteran of thirty eight campaigns. He had been a missionary, a soldier, a field agent and a Knight's guard counsellor.
He had returned to the temple as a Master instructor in his seventy fourth year, but after continued pressure from the Order of the Ark Protectorate, he was seconded once again to field work, finally settling as a stellar intelligence specialist alongside his father.
Everybody knew he was wasted there. He was the best fighter alive and his military knowledge was exceeded only by his father, the great An'ewat Jentha-korbandin – hero of the Taurid campaign.

Aethian now had new orders in a new sector.
This position promised to be different. A teaching and close protection assignment which according to his initial briefing statement had the tightest security provisions he had ever seen.
He had arrived at the project headquarters, located on a barren moon in an unremarkable solar system, three days previously. His quarters were comfortable enough but Aethian found it increasingly difficult to suffer the boredom which cut at him with alarming frequency as the hours passed. He waited and waited for news of a briefing, or indeed any kind of message from the command chain, but nothing came.
Something very sensitive was going on here, something new, something that even his most highly ranked and trusted contemporaries had not been briefed about.
The staff population of this installation couldn't number more than 400 men and women, none below the rank of Initiate Master. The facility was big enough for three times that amount and the central ring of the keep was compartmentalised to allow secure access to only twenty seven people. Aethian had the clearance but had yet to be shown inside.
He was impatient now. The facts had alluded him for long enough. His rank and distinguished career surely commanded more respect than this?

On his third day on the lunar base the morning had begun as usual with a two hour workout followed by a meal of shem bread, vegetables and Chindah. He was tired of the view from his window.
Aethian returned to his desk where he sat reading his daily reports and personal messages.
The door chime of his work room sounded. Aethian pounced immediately to his feet and faced the door with his right hand resting on the pommel of his left hand dagger – a hard habit to break.
“Please come in.” he said.
The metal door fell smoothly into the floor of it's frame revealing a battle specification Gobot in the hallway. Aethian was sure that this was the same Gobot that had been assigned to him on his arrival. It seemed to him to be overkill to post any military Gobots in this Keep in the first place. A pointless measure considering the numbers of Angels that were stationed here, but a good soldier didn't ask questions. If the opportunity arose to make a point of it, he would do so, until then he was more interested in making mental notes of his surroundings and collecting data from which he could make informed decisions or recognise hidden dangers. Once a spy – always a spy.
“Good morning sir, I have orders for you.” The Gobot spoke with a soft artificial male voice.
“Good, not before time!” said Aethian activating the door closing mechanism behind the Gobot.
“You may deliver them to me now.”
The mechanoid strode briskly across the room and pivoted sharply to face Aethian. The smooth featureless metal face of the Gobot split vertically and peeled back smoothly as the shoulders powered backwards and downwards into their housing to reveal a rising holoframe.
The face of Enik the Ancient manifested itself centrally where the smooth cover mask had previously been.
“Good morning Commander Korbandin” Enik said. “You are summoned to a mission briefing in one hours time at the Lunar Keep observation deck. This Gobot will escort you there.”
The message bleeped, Enik vanished and the featureless metal visors closed instantaneously around the Gobot's head once more before the metallic male voice spoke again.
“Do you confirm your attendance Commander?”
“Of course I do!” he barked. “Whatever the aim of this mission is, it's already taking too long!”

The tube link deposited Aethian and his Gobot outside the observation deck with ten minutes to spare.
The Gobot marched to the left hand side of the blank plasteel double doors and powered up it’s built in bolt guns in a heavy guarding stance.
“What exactly are you guarding me from?” Enquired Aethian with a frown. But the Gobot was not given the chance to reply as the double doors burst open with a mechanised slide and Enik walked out from the observation lounge.
“I apologise for the military presence Commander.” said Enik. The details of this briefing are of a sensitive nature.”
The two men walked inside where Enik bade Aethian to the table. The double doors closed and locked behind them with a soft click, leaving the Gobot in guard position in the hall.

“A pleasure to see you again my Lord.” said Aethian as he bowed deeply from the waist.
“Thank you for coming so quickly Aethian, - are you happy and well?” Enik asked as he squeezed him on the shoulders with his long white fingers.
“I am sir” said Aethian with a smile.
“I was sad to hear of the passing of your dear mother, she was a gentle spirit and we shall miss her.” said Enik.
Aethian nodded tight lipped. “We all will my Lord.” he replied.
“And your father? I have not seen him since he took his office.”
Aethian drew himself to attention and stared at the wall “My father and I have not spoken for some time sir, but he is well I believe.”
“Good” replied Enik. “Please be seated.”
Aethian took a seat at the long conference table as Enik pushed a control in the wall which caused the room length window to darken considerably.

“I imagine that my presence here means things are not going to plan my Lord?” asked Aethian.
“Well my son, let us say that there is a cause for concern.” Enik took a seat opposite Aethian before continuing. “The native population down on the surface have recently been treated with a natural water table flush of Elish at the behest of the mothers.”
“A reasonable precaution.” said Aethian. “Has the dose proven to be successful?”
Enik reached into his breast pocket and took a wafer of Shem Bread out which he proceeded to chew and swallow. He rubbed his oversized pale bald cranium and sat up straight before replying.
“It has my son, the Apes are docile and eager to serve. It appears that their savage, intertribal battle urges are gone too, at least as far as the Gobots can see.” Enik paused for breath. “As for your presence here Commander, I would like you to see something which was discovered just outside the native village, south of the Ziggurat. You must understand that this information is only for the initiated.”
Enik reached under the table and drew out a thin metal box which he pushed across the tabletop to Aethian.  
“I would like to have your opinion on the contents of this sample case.” said Enik as he observed Aethian with his enormous black eyes.
“Of course.” Aethian slid his fingers across the surface of the metal box until they reached the clip and unclasped it’s sealed lid.
As Aethian lifted off the cover, the contents of the box became immediately clear to him.
A small pile of  grey and white ash with a distinctive incense odour filled the box. On the top of the ash sat a small charred hexagonal chip.
“Gods below!” cried Aethian wide eyed and disgusted, “Levyethin scum!” He dropped the lid onto the tabletop where it landed with a loud clatter and pushed the box away.
“Indeed.” said Enik solemnly, “I have had the entire Ed’n basin searched three times over and nothing else has been found. Nothing.”
“And what of the circumstances of this discovery?” Asked Aethian.
Enik leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands.
“Two weeks ago, one of the Ape leaders, an elder named Habber, chased a creature out of the village with his five sons. It appears that the creature had been ensnared in a covert animal trap set by the villagers earlier that day. It was covered in it’s own blood and therefore easy to see and track. The creature killed all but one of Habber’s sons with what he described as a Crystal Sword. Finally, the Reptile was subdued by spears and arrows from the other villagers - before it burst into flames. The villagers were understandably shocked and terrified by this ordeal and Habber immediately summoned the lead Watcherbot from the Ziggurat. A full investigation has been made regarding the creature - this, it would seem is all that remains of it.”
“And we are sure that nothing else has been recovered?” Asked Aethian sternly.
“Quite sure Commander, there are several fragments of Obsidian in the bottom of the ash sample, presumably all that remains of the Levyethin dagger. Nothing else.”
“Then I request that you assign me a small team of my choosing, along with a company of Gobots and Angels to support us.” said Aethian as he stood up to attention once more.
“Very well Commander, keep your selection to members of Stellaris Militia Intelligencia - Masters only please - and I wish to be kept informed of everything that you do.” Replied Enik.
“As for the Bots and Angels, Quartermaster Tarapel is here at the Keep. He has been fully briefed and will furnish you with the appropriate equipment.”
“Thank you sir.” said Aethian as he turned and made for the door. “There are still at least two of those Bitches down there - and I mean to kill them!”
Enik nodded as Aethian made his way out.
‘This will get worse before it gets better.’ Enik thought to himself.
He reached for the multipad on his left wrist and pushed the top right button.
“Lemin, this is Enik.” he said, “Be advised that Commander Korbandin is now fully briefed and will soon be reporting for his equipment. Give him absolutely everything he asks for please - and ensure that he is up to date with the features of your new Angels.”
“As you wish Enik.” Replied the Quartermaster. “Everything is ready and waiting for his arrival.”

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