Chapter Three: Phryne

I frowned and checked the time on my wrist device for the third time since the briefing was supposed to officially start. Twenty minutes passed and there was no sign of General Rouhr’s soldiers. 

Personally, I didn’t think we needed to wait for them. All meetings were carefully documented. The soldiers could catch themselves up whenever they deigned to make an appearance.

“Should we send a search unit?” Vidia reached over to General Rouhr, who sat beside her, and squeezed his forearm. Concern flooded her expression. I tried not to frown.

Vidia and General Rouhr made a great team. They worked well together politically, socially, and on every other level that mattered and quite a few that didn’t. However, I never approved of allowing emotions to show through in a professional setting. There was a job to do. Becoming consumed with fear or worry wasn’t going to help get that job done.

“Do you think something’s gone wrong?” I asked.

“None of the team I sent out is answering their comms.” General Rouhr’s frown remained prominently on his face. “Vidia’s right. Let’s send a small search drone to their last location.”

General Rouhr was about to send the order when a brilliant pale blue light appeared in the room.

“Oh, hell no,” I muttered.

Rift travel was a wonderful innovation that was slowly integrating itself into everyday operations. It was wildly convenient if not uncomfortable to utilize. 

However, it was meant to be impossible to walk through a rift into high-security areas like this one without going through the proper clearance procedures.

I knew the proper procedures hadn’t been performed in this case because I was the person who approved the damn requests. I locked eyes with Vidia who looked apologetic. 

Yes, she technically was my boss but she knew how I was about this sort of thing. Control was key, especially in a tumultuous time such as this.

I reached for the weapon strapped to my side in case it was indeed a threat coming through a rift into our base of operations. I was ready to pull it loose and fire right up until a dark bald head appeared in the blue light.

A K’ver stepped through the rift portal. His expression was gravely serious. I took my hand off my weapon. 

Naturally, it would’ve been a K’ver that circumvented the security protocols. I eyed the glowing lines of complex circuitry that lined his arms and the left side of his neck.

The light of the rift portal faded back into nothing and I was able to get a good look at the K’ver. His strong jaw was clenched. There was a somber expression in his solid obsidian eyes. 

Something strange flickered in my chest. 

My anger dimmed.

Something about this K’ver, though I couldn’t put my finger on it, caught my attention.

Maybe he reminded me of an old childhood friend from the orphanage. No, that wasn’t it. Something else.

I shook the thought away. Now wasn’t the time.

“Apologies for disregarding protocol,” the K’ver said to me. 

Clearly, he knew who I was meaning we must’ve met at one point or another. Perhaps this was what Vidia meant when she said I needed to work on my interpersonal relationships. 

“I expect you to tell me why you did so.” I lifted my chin and gave him a stern look. With the other aliens, the Valorni especially, it was important to physically demonstrate a lack of intimidation. Ordinarily, that wasn’t a problem for me but suddenly thinking of my time at the orphanage threw me off.

“Of course,” he nodded. “General Rouhr,” the K’ver turned away from me to address his general. “Our recon team was attacked at the old Vengeance landing site.”

Even now, General Rouhr’s face darkened with a shadow of sadness. Vidia gave his forearm another squeeze. I didn’t understand the love the general had for his vessel, but then again, I’d never been assigned on a ship. Regardless, the loss of the Vengeance deeply affected the General.

“What happened, Sk’lar?” General Rouhr inquired, the sadness gone as quickly as it appeared.

“Anti-alien fanatics,” the K’ver, Sk’lar, said with a dismissive shake of his head. “No injuries but considerable threats.”

“Do you think there’s any substance to those threats?” I asked.

“Potentially,” Sk’lar nodded. “This group was more organized than others we’ve dealt with in the past. I wouldn’t take anything they say too lightly.”

“I expect a full report detailing the exact words exchanged,” I said.

Sk’lar tapped a device strapped to his wrist that connected right into the circuits on his skin.

“Not a problem.”

“Good.” I nod curtly.

“I’d like that report sent to me as well,” General Rouhr asked. Sk’lar nodded.

At that moment, a Valorni came through the door out of breath and covered in a light sheen of sweat.

“I came as soon as I could,” he panted. I’d met this one before too but his name escaped me.

“Karzin, what took you so long?” The hint of a smirk appeared on Sk’lar’s mouth.

“I went through the proper channels,” Karzin grumbled.

“Which is appreciated,” I tossed in.

“Did you tell her about the anti-alien jackasses?” Karzin asked Sk’lar.

“You’re picking up the local lingo nicely, Karzin,” General Rouhr interjected. “Yes, we’ve been briefed on the situation.”

“What are we going to do about it?” Karzin demanded.

“We should focus on preventative measures,” Skit jumped in. “Completely suppressing them will only cause a stronger uprising.”

I lifted a brow. Solid logic. Not bad, kid.

“Declaw them instead of exterminate them,” Vidia said thoughtfully.

“They’ll likely start acting out more as soon as election campaigns are underway,” I said. “Vidia, you’re the favorite among much of the population but anti-alien groups aren’t going to want you in a position of power.”

Vidia, the former mayor of Fraga, ran Nyhiem while our world rebuilt itself after the Xathi attack. During the crisis and its aftermath, Vidia slowly found herself at the helm of leadership. 

At the end of the Xathi war, the council invited her to carry on mayoral duties during the rebuilding period. She did so faithfully, rebuilding the city until it was ready for elections. 

Now that things had quieted down, other prominent people from the Pre-Xathi government wanted to go back to an electoral system.

Personally, I wished they’d leave it alone. Vidia had done a remarkable job keeping the planet on its feet after the Xathi invasion. She’s clearly the best for the job which is why I wasn’t worried about her ability to prove it in an election.

However, I was worried about her safety especially with all these anti-alien capsules popping up everywhere. I’d feel better if I had a headcount.

“I want you two in the streets,” I said to Tona and Skit. “I want you in civilian clothes. Talk to anyone and everyone about the anti-alien bullshit. Keep a recording device and your GPS on at all times. I give you creative freedom but we need an idea of how prominent these groups are within the city.”

“Yes ma’am,” Skit nodded.

“Where are we with the food inventory?” General Rouhr asked.

Tona grabbed a datapad and pulled up a report.

“Our numbers are steadily improving,” he informed us.

“There sounds like there’s a ‘but’ at the end of that.” Vidia smiled sadly.

“The Xathi destroyed so much. Valuable, fertile lands were destroyed and will take time to replenish. The land we can use is in good shape and the output is in the top percentile but we won’t be off rations by the end of the year like we hoped.”

“Anything we can do to boost crop output?” General Rouhr asked.

“Not without using harmful agents.”

“Can’t do that,” General Rouhr frowned. “The Puppet Master would be most displeased with us.”

“Could we ask its permission?”

“If someone walked up to you and asked if they could pour acid on your arm, would you agree to it?” Vidia prompted.

“Point taken.”

“What about the construction of new settlements?” General Rouhr moved on.

“The eco-construction is going very well,” Tona reported. “That Puppet Master thing is an architectural genius.”

“The fruits of the alliance are already showing,” General Rouhr grinned.

“We could use that for the election,” I spoke up. “Vidia played an active role in forming our liaison with the Puppet Master and there’s a clear link to a positive output.”

“What matters is that the work gets done, not that I keep my power,” Vidia said kindly.

“Having you in power is what’s allowing the work to get done,” I corrected. “It’s in the best interest of everyone that you officially take the reins of the Capital and keep our progress as a planet flourishing.”

“If you weren’t so damn brilliant with the security team, I’d have you writing my speeches,” Vidia joked.

“I don’t think I have the interpersonal skills for that.” Vidia was one of the few people I openly joked with. I had a skill for keeping my professional life and work like separated but I considered Vidia a friend.

“Fair enough,” Vidia chuckled. “Besides, I’d rather have you there to keep me alive.”

“Which is something we should discuss in further detail.” I steered the conversation back to the issues at hand. “I’m confident Skit and Tona will find evidence of anti-alien factions growing bolder within the city as well as within the settlements. I want to impose extra security measures here so we’re prepared.”

“What do you suggest?” Vidia asked.

“One of the trends I’ve noticed is that no matter how rowdy an anti-alien faction member is, they’re hesitant to directly engage in combat. Correct?” I looked to Sk’lar for confirmation. He nodded.

“The anti-alien radicals understand that they are physically outmatched against General Rouhr’s forces. We should allocate a defense team specifically for Vidia during the election period,” I suggested.

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” General Rouhr agreed. “Sk’lar, what do you have your team working on lately?”

Sk’lar hesitated which I found surprising. He didn’t look like the type to hesitate. 

“Routine patrols focusing on the old Vengeance site and the Aurora, sir,” Sk’lar replied.

“I’m going to reassign your strike team. You’ll be working with Phryne to ensure Vidia’s safety at all times.”

“Yes, sir.”

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