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FINALIST — Submission by By Dennis J. Greene

Ancient Terrors
A Novella for Masters of Orion III

Preface

 "Those miserable thrice Antaran damned APES!" bellowed the squat Sakkra diplomat, Voss. He lunged across the conference table to smash the Tri-D controls into a sparkling mass of electronics and ceramic pieces, causing the volcanic stone table to shudder. The rage discolored his throat ridge scales to deep ochre from their customary sandy tan. His Eye-Scales blushed to the color of his throat ridges, a clear sign to all in view that he was enraged, giving his face the 'look of death' that warned that violence was near. "How did you come to have this information Lord Kedar?" he screed, his eye ridges narrowing dangerously, his entire posture that of one on the edge of doing violence, he head cocked slightly to one side like that of some predatory bird.

 The Evon sitting opposite the Sakkra was to all outside appearances calm and unruffled. Only the intensified glow from his eyes showed any signs of excitement. Ambassador Kedar spoke in a smooth, nearly hypnotic voice, "My dear Lord Voss, would you reveal the sources of how 'you' come by your intelligences?" Kedar reached past the mass of circuitry, a slight frown was gone from his face almost as soon as it appeared, his eyes spying the mess and took the tilkar flask in his hand and poured some of the crimson and gold liquid into a decanter by Voss's elbow.

 "Perhaps some soothing klinquir to help focus your anger where it belongs." Nodding his head slightly, encouragingly at the angry Sakkra who grabbed it in a massive fist and threw his head back and downed it in one gulp…a sharp high pitched trilling escaping from his beaked mouth as his breath escaped in a sudden rush. The coloring of his throat scales lighted almost immediately, but as his head came back and he leveled Kedar with a stare, the ochre in his eye scales were still deep.

 "What have you got in mind Kedar, you have some reason for showing me this, this atrocity!" Voss's tone rising to nearly a painful screech, his translator obviously struggling to put his sounds into coherent words. His head moved quickly as first one eye then the other cocked at Kedar, blinking.

 "Yes, Lord Voss, I do indeed." came the silky response. Kedar smiled slowly, the smile never reaching his pale and luminescent eyes.

 

 He walked into the room, and all at the table turned and quieted as they heard him. He was not a tall man, standing only 5'10", but he was in reasonably good condition, with black hair and broad shoulders, somewhere between his 40's and 50's, the hair at his temples just starting to silver and his face not unhandsome. He was dressed in a simple purple and gold uniform that spoke of the royal house with his chain of office dangling from his shoulders, bearing that of a fist embossed in titanium gold. His steps clearly audible in the now quiet chamber, they sounded decidedly military in cadence as he approached the table, the echo reverberating softly.

 The floor was of a polished stone, an engineered rose quartz or colored diamond in appearance, giving it an almost ice like quality. There was a single table in the room before a huge throne of what appeared to be made of an emerald all of one piece. It was often referred to as the "Green Throne", renown throughout all of Sol. Six individuals seated in chairs that were common by comparison, but constructed of rare woods and stone inlays, surrounded the table on all sides. The Throne was also set apart as it was raised onto a dais three deep half steps high. The walls were of a polished stone brought to a near mirror finish. It was a cold room, despite the three large cathedral windows that allowed sunlight to stream into the room in long ribbons of light. It could easily house a thousand souls, it was empty now but for the throne, table and it's occupants.

 The man stopped at the table just below the throne and gazed around the table. His violet eyes pausing at each face and lingered briefly, as if searching.

 The spell of silence was broken as the only woman at the table with strikingly pale gray eyes, a clear complexion and lips that had been tattooed a permanent shade of black, signifying her order as that of the diplomacy caste. She spoke. "Why so grim today Lord Arbiter?" She smiled encouragingly.

 "Ask him", the Arbiter rumbled, inclining his head in the direction of a small man seated next to her and on her left. She turned to the man expectantly who smiled back at her with a genuine smile of his own, his teeth showing.

 "Well my Lady Erena Lale," he purred. "One of my children sent a message from our mole in the Evon government, I believe you know of him Erena, Lord Kedar?" He was a skinny man, almost too skinny, making him appear much smaller than he was. His head appeared too large for his body, and it was completely shaved, with the tattoos of his caste deeply staining his bald pate with bizarre designs that seems to shift and move as he turned and looked at the Arbiter, the smile fading from his face like a man changing clothing.

 "You turned Kedar?" gasped Erena, as he turned back to her and he nodded with glee. Reaching out she placed her hand lightly on his wrist, "How did you ever manage to do that Spymaster Dare?"

 "Why, by knowing his price of course, all one has to do is determine a beings price and they are yours…like yours for example," his voice dropping to a mere whisper, "would you like me to share what your price would be Erena?"

 She snatched back her hand as if scorched and the man sitting across from her leaned forward…to either listen harder or to learn the secret, it was unclear. The spymaster chuckled softly, hissing between his teeth in a chilling way.

 "How much to 'purchase' that information, Dare?" said the gentleman who has leaned in closer, obvious now to learn the secret. He was a blond haired man, in his mid to late thirties. He was dressed in fine clothing of the best cut and fitting. His nails were well manicured and his beard so well trimmed as to look as if it was part of the skin on his face. His dark brown eyes sparkled bright with interest.

 "Now, now Ser Darian, that would be telling and if you were to discover my price, I dare say an accident would befall you before you could put it to use." Dare the spymaster said with a completely straight face so it was impossible to see if he said it in jest or if he was in deadly earnest. He smiled suddenly as Darian too recoiled, doubt mirrored in his eyes.

 A big man growled who sat on Darian's right, "Enough of this Dare! Snipe on your own time and what has your mole, Lord Kedar of Evon sent you that has turned our Lord Arbiter so grim as to allow your incessant prattle!" He was a giant of a man, especially by comparison to the others at the table. Nearly as tall as the Arbiter standing next to him, while sitting down, he would stand over 7' tall if he had not been seated. He had broad and muscular shoulders and arms, with big beefy hands. His head to was shaved but for a small section at the top and back of his crown, where a long flowing black braid hung and came almost to his waste. Signifying him as part of the warrior caste. His eyes were green, and shown with an internal light that spoke of untapped energy just waiting for release.

 Dare seemed to shrink in on himself and he lowered his eyes to the table, placing both hands underneath, "My pardon Grand Admiral Marek, the Arbiter I believe has the data crystal, if he would play it I think it would answer most of our questions. But," He said as he looked up into the big man's face and flickered a look at the Arbiter. "I'm sure it would raise a great many more in their place." He continued to stare at the big man without blinking; surprisingly it was the big man that looked away first, a grimace on his face as he did so.

 "Well play the crystal Dietrich, lets see what has you more quiet and grim then usual today", the big man boomed as he looked nearly evenly into Dietrich Conroy's face, who stood next to him. Dietrich the Arbiter reached into his breast pocket and withdrew the small data crystal, it flashed in the sunlight as he pressed a button on the side of the table on his end and a receptacle appeared. He slid the crystal into the slot and pressed another button and a Tri-D imager that appeared in the center of the table displayed a scene.

 They all watched in sudden attention and growing shock, as they saw what looked to be Solarian ships attacking and destroying a small contingent of Sakkra picket ships, and then watched as they approached a planet of crimson and tan, upon reaching orbit, battle marine pods were seen to be launched by the hundreds down to the planet. Shortly afterwards the camera changed perceptive and a complete wing of fighters left the fleet in orbit and traveled down to the surface, the camera view going with them. They watched as flight after flight bombed and fired on villages and towns. They saw the marines in a brief flash, fighting the ground inhabitants, annihilating all that faced them. Along the right side and bottom of the image, data streams could be seen and appeared to be in Galactic common, the language of Sol.

 After a while the images stopped playing and the Tri-D was then full of the data of transmissions between the various military units as they reorganized and the transmission abruptly ended.

 Once again the room was completely silent as one by one all the individuals turned their gaze to the big Admiral. Dietrich turned slowly and mounted the stairs and slowly sat on the throne. Although his voice was quiet, all at the table could plainly hear him, if they had been in the farthest corner, they would have heard his voice. "Care to explain that Admiral? Those were our ships were they not?"

 "Damn it! I know what they looked like Dietrich." Marek growled as he shot to his feet, now looming over the table and nearly as tall as Dietrich seated on the Green Throne. "Those ships were NOT our ships, that was not one of our operations!"

 "Quite right", said a quiet voice not heard from yet. All eyes turned towards a well-groomed man with close-cropped hair and who had closed set of intelligent eyes, they were a blue so striking as to be nearly electrical. He was dressed in a business suit of the most recent style.

 The Arbiter gazed at the man quietly and then said, "They aren't our ships Minister Phaon?"

 "No sire, that recording is an obvious forgery." The minister of science said very quietly. Oh it was cleverly done, perhaps even masterfully done. To the unenlightened indistinguishable from a true recording, but to me, it is clearly a fake nonetheless. Wouldn't you agree Lord Constable?" Phaon said as he gazed across the table at the man seated to Erena's left.

 The man seated next to Erena seemed out of place there, his clothing was of a lesser style and poorly maintained. He appeared to not bother with his strawberry blond hair and his freckled face looked to be mildly annoyed to have been brought into the conversation. He nodded, his small brown eyes seeming to squint, "Yes it appeared to be a fake to me as well, sharp eyes Phaon, perhaps your talents are wasted in the ministry of science. That or you have a criminal mind…aye?" He smiled and showed yellowed and rotten teeth.

 "Oh stop that Grave, you always suspect everyone of being a criminal of one kind or another." She smiled winsomely at him and then purred, "I wonder, perhaps you're the criminal here, isn't it like them to point out everyone around them as criminal to hide their own guilt?"

 "You've caught me my lady, guilty as charged. Shall I arrest myself now or later?" He grinned evilly at her. He then turned back to the Arbiter and deflected any comment she might make and said, "I agree with the Scientist Sire, though to be absolutely sure, we should have the crystal examined, decoded, and run through an analyzer, it will then be seen for the forgery it is. We could then determine who made the forgery. Either my department or," He nodded to the Minister of Science, "the Ministry of Science could do it rather easily."

 Marek sat back down in his chair slowly, his aborted outrage turned to confusion. "Who would fake an attack by Solarian ships, and why?"

 "Why indeed," said the spymaster, "but we already know who made it and why."

 "We do?" Said several of the members at the table, as well as the Arbiter. Each of them asked questions faster then could be answered and Dare just sat back and folded his arms, waiting for the turmoil to settle down.

 "Explain," Rumbled Dietrich out voicing the others by only raising his voice slightly, clearly not happy at not know ALL the facts before seeing the crystal and displaying it at the meeting, "and have a care Spymaster, I mislike being told only part of the information in your briefings to me."

 "My apologies great Arbiter," Dare said with a humble tone, "a Master Spy sometimes has little in the ways of diversion and enjoys little enough of his craft among his peers." He paused and watched as the Lord Constable began to play with one of the pinky rings on his left hand, who in turn looked thoughtfully at the spymaster, then the spymaster continued. "The creator of that recording is none other then Lord Kedar himself."

 There was an expectant pause in the room as all present looked at the spymaster.

 "Blast it Dale, out with it!", thundered Marek, grinding his teeth and clenching his massive fists. "Why did the lead diplomat for the Evon do such a thing?"

 "I would have thought it obvious to such as you Grand Admiral Marek Antek, you are after all a master strategist are you not?" Quipped Dale.

 "What planet was attacked?" asked Dietrich in a quiet voice.

 "Kurhah 12." Said Marek. "A small colony for the Sakkra, population less then 100k, mostly farmers and agriculturists." Marek pulled on his lip. "Hmmmm…", he rumbled, "The Evon have no love for the Sakkra after the loss of their research efforts blocked in the senate lead by the Sakkra if I remember rightly." He glanced at Erena who nodded in agreement.

 "That's correct Admiral" said Erena, "the Sakkra claimed that the Evon were to use that technology to gain military superiority over the Sakkra and use that technology to force concessions from them."

 "By causing the Sakkra who are easily riled, to waste some of their forces against someone else," Marek said softly, "notably us it would seem," then louder, "they weaken the Sakkra, and us. They gain their military superiority anyway and may still force concessions from the Sakkra and gain their gratitude for 'revealing' us, while diverting the Sakkra against us as well. I see no reason for the Evon to choose us as their scapegoat though, a matter of convenience perhaps?"

 "Close and partly correct Admiral Marek" the spymaster said quietly.


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