Chapter 1: Stranded



The double doors were suddenly thrown open with a bang, followed by the cool clicking of heels on the floor. The lone man seated at the oval table looked up expectantly at the woman whose voice burst over the room.

“You had better know what you’re doing, Councillor,” the woman spat as she lowered into a chair. Even after all these years working alongside her, he only knew her by the planet she represented: Ellegy. Councillors didn’t have the luxury of names nor identity, even amongst one another.

All she had to him was her cold voice and her sharp pointed features which, in this moment, were dark with anger.  “Bringing us all together like this?” she went on. “Now? It’s dangerous. It’s irresponsible. We’re practically begging an assassin to come here and wipe us out.”

The man’s lip twitched in irritation, but his voice was calm. “The Council has met before,” he reminded.

“Well, yes,” she admitted, exasperated. “But that was important. Building infrastructure on Vescent was important.”

“As is this,” he informed her simply.

“Is it?” she bit out, her eyes flashing. “I flew all the way to Satieri because I respect you, Councillor. But I must be honest. This rogue Verdant — this Soliveré — that you claim is such a threat? He seems to be entirely your problem. And yours alone.”

Before he could respond, the doors were thrown open a second time. They both looked up as the Councillors from Vescent and Ascendia crossed toward the table.

“He is our problem,” came the gruff voice of the Vescentian. The middle-aged man moved with a dragging limp, but he was fit and sturdy, with a thick neck and glaring beady eyes.

“He is the problem of the entire Society,” he growled as he kicked his seat aside, and then dropped into it. “And Ellegy — “ He glared at the Ellegian. “ — is a fool to believe otherwise.”

The Ellegian Councillor looked unperturbed. She raised an eyebrow coolly. “Is that so?”

“Enough bickering,” spat the other arrival as she lowered into her seat. “We need to retrieve the Verdant CID from Soliveré. I thought we were all in agreement on that. We retrieve the CID, and we nominate a new Verdant.”

“Must we?” asked the Ellegian. “It’s been four years since our last Verdant and we’ve survived just fine. We’ve adapted. The position is too powerful, it’s always been volatile. If anything, Soliveré’s served as proof of that.”

The Vescentian snorted. “If Soliveré is proof of anything, it’s that we need to be more careful in our vetting process. Whose idea was to nominate him — “

“Aela Nie’riti was the finest candidate available in vetting Soliveré,” the Satieran Councillor argued. “Her performance levels were at the top of her department and she was able to get the clearest picture of his temperament by being ideal for assimilating into–”

Assimilating?” the Vescentian repeated incredulously. “She married the damn guy. That’s a little more than assimilating.

“Ms. Nie’riti did what she thought–”

“But the point of vetting is to be entirely unbiased — “

“Regardless,” the Ellegian woman interrupted at once. “Regardless. I believe we could be better off without a Verdant. The Verdant is a weak link in our system. The Verdant knows too much and can act too independently. The lack of one has left us more secure.”

“The lack of one is the very reason our current Verdant was able to escape.” All three sets of eyes turned to the Satieran, who had called this meeting to begin with. “Without a Verdant, we are crippled in emergencies. Without someone with the right knowledge able to reveal themselves, able to speak for us, we cannot react. That’s why Soliveré was able to escape.”

Silence descended in the room. Finally, the Ellegian Councillor made a small clicking noise with her tongue. “I thought Soliveré escaped because your prized pet let him go…”

At once, a ripple went over the room. “Councillor,” said the Satieran evenly. “We all agreed on Desophyles’ assignment to the task.”

“Only because he was our only option at the time,” she snapped back. “And clearly, a terrible option at that.”

“The Councillor is right, though,” said the Vescentian man. “Putting him on the hunt was a decision we all agreed upon.”

“Perhaps. But I do not remember agreeing that he should be told such vital secrets and given access to such levels of information.” The Ellegian raised her brows indicatively towards the Satieran Councillor. “And now he, with all of his knowledge and Soliveré, with our most extensive database, are on the loose together.”

The Satieran Councillor frowned. “All the more reason we need to pursue the Dionysian.”

“And how exactly are we going to do that this time?” the Ellegian Councillor demanded.

“We send someone after it.”

The Councillor from Ascendia drummed her fingertips on the table. “Is that not what we did last time?”

“It is. But this time, we will be more selective in our choice of hunter.” The Satieran Councillor nodded towards another door across the room.

The Council fell quiet. Finally, the Ellegian woman asked, incredulous, “And you’ve already made that choice?” Without waiting for an answer, she went on, “This is ridiculous. We’re missing half the Council. We can’t make a decision like this without them. When are they arriving?”

“They’re not,” he said simply, a bitter smirk twisting his lip. “They agree, Councillor. They think this only Satieri’s problem. And I suppose they don’t respect me as much as you.”

“Regardless, we are forced to address this threat without them,” he went on. “So I present to you, my choice for the new Verdant-elect.” As the door across the way slowly swung open, a small smile came to his face. “Perhaps you will know of her?”

All eyes in the room moved towards the woman who stalked in obediently. A visor covered her eyes and ears, blocking the Council’s faces and warbling their voices. But even with her face safely covered, her slick blonde hair, the slim, but firm jawline and of course, the thick black librera tattooed onto her neck were instantly recognizable. After an expectant silence, she moved her lips and introduced herself.

“Ophelia Varisian, Internal Affairs Prime, Satieri,” she stated, standing at attention and bowing her head.

The Satieran Councillor glanced at his counterparts and for once, even the Ellegian looked impressed. “Fitting,” she mumbled under her breath.

“Isn’t it just?” he replied with a satisfied smirk. To Ophelia, he said, “Ms. Varisian, what is your mission and how will you proceed?”

On cue, she recited with absolutely certainty, “My mission is to eliminate the rogue Verdant, Fiearius Soliveré, high traitor Desophyles Cordova, and the entire crew of the unregistered vessel known as the Dionysian–”

“Wait.” The Ascendian held up her hand, frowning. “The whole crew? I thought we intended to keep the other Soliveré alive.”

“For what purpose?” Satieri wondered gently. “To continue his work on the Nautilus? Now that we have the Caelum Lex, the project’s already nearing completion. Even if we did enlist the engineer’s assistance, what makes you think he won’t just repeat what he did before? He’s clearly corrupted. He must be eliminated.”

“Well, what of Adler?” grumbled the Vescentian, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his neck. “The woman? She’s one of mine. I know her father.” He smirked darkly. “So jurisdiction of her punishment should fall to Vesc — ”

“Punishment?” asked the Ascendian. “I thought of her as only a bystander.”

“Bystander?” The Vescentian barked a laugh. “She’s steps away from becoming wanted as a terrorist, she — ”

“Councillors,” the Satieran interrupted, silencing them. “We have been too lenient. We have slipped up over and over and over again and we are paying dearly. There will be no more mistakes. We will finish this. Once and for all.” His eyes passed over the room. “And we will leave no loose ends. None.” He nodded to Ophelia, who stood like a statue. “Ms. Varisian. Please continue. How will you proceed?”

“Yes, please,” snapped the Ellegian. “We’d all like to hear this.”

With perfect obedience, her tone ice-cold, Ophelia stated, “I will locate the Dionysian. I will identify its crew. I will not hesitate. I will eliminate them all.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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