Continued from 1. The Director.
Kolteo had much to think about in the sky-car on the way to the spaceport. Romik and Frens sat in front while Traffic Control automatically guided the sky-car through the crowded skies of Siben.
Kolteo looked out on the never-ending skyline. The city stretched far beyond the horizon, wrapping around the entire world of Siben, the capital world of the Galactic Empire, thronging with its trillions of citizens. Above, beyond the pale sky, millions of worlds hosted quadrillions of citizens.
All lived in fear of the Empire and the power it projected across the spiral arms of the galaxy. Even with the mad Emperor long gone these ten years, his dead hand kept them locked on a course toward fear and madness.
Kolteo thought about his own hollow words: “The Empire of today is our charge, and it must be preserved.” No matter how many statisticians they killed, the galaxy’s inhabitants would smother beneath the dead weight of Mad Emperor Moldrion.
And now came Julin Terch, son of the late Grand Admiral, brother of Sarisharle, Kolteo’s wife. Returned now from ten years of self-exile. What had he found in those long years out on the Periphery? Had he discovered the secret of his father’s fate? Had he discovered Kolteo’s secret that guarded the Empire against sudden doom and civil war?
Kolteo could arrest him on sight. No one would question him, except Sari, if she found out.
Or, he could pressure Julin, then give him room to make a mistake. That’s what he would do.
“There’s the port, sir,” said Romik.
They descended toward a colossal ring-shaped building that surrounded an expansive field. Tiny flecks of ships ascended and descended on repulsor fields.
“You know which terminal he’s in?”
“Yes, sir. Marrem’s on the line with me.”
“Good. Patch me in. Let’s go welcome my dear brother-in-law home.”
From the sky-car perch they descended by stair into the concourse, an enormous room that ran for miles and miles around the circumference of the port. Tireless eyes watched each terminal, noting the coming and going of each man among the multitudes. No man known to the Empire (and who was not known?) could arrive at the spaceport and not be accounted for.
Julin would know this, of course. He was not here by accident or carelessness.
Flanked by Romik and Frens in their black armor, advised by Marrem and his hidden watchers, Director Kolteo Ais strode across the floor of the concourse toward the terminal where Julin would emerge. The crowds parted before the trio. The black armor of the Enforcers was feared and respected across the galaxy. Few watched them closely, content only to not be the object of Kolteo’s baleful glare.
Another man emerged into the concourse from the terminal, a man tall and stately, a full head taller than most around him, walking at an easy, self-assured pace. He too was escorted by rough men: four ne’er-do-wells, thuggish in aspect, squat and muscular, all too ready to do violence. All five wore sidearms, swords, and shield generators at their sides in brazen defiance of the law.
Kolteo saw them and recognized his brother-in-law, Julin Terch, in the lead and hated him.
“Romik, Frens, eyes open,” he said. “We’re here to talk and give the surveillance teams time to latch on, that’s it. If there’s going to be trouble, we let them throw the first punch.”
“Yes, sir,” said Romik. “I recognize one of those thugs. He’s one of Pracclen’s men. They don’t punch; they sting.”
Dallebasel Pracclen, Siben’s foremost gangster. Kolteo raised his eyebrows at this new piece of intelligence. This would be more interesting than he had thought.
Julin saw Kolteo now. A lop-sided grin spread across the younger man’s face. The two wedges of men approached each other and halted at a respectful distance a few paces apart, hands resting on belts. The crowds flowed around them, purposefully oblivious.
Julin spoke first: “Kolteo! A long-expected pleasure, at last.”
“Julin. It’s been a long time.”
“How is Sari?”
“She’s fine. Just fine.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
The conversation lagged a beat. Then Kolteo spoke. “What brings you back? I’m not sure that you’re welcome on Siben any longer.”
Julin grinned. “That hurts, Kolteo. That does. But welcome or not, I’m here as a guest on the personal invitation of Mr. Pracclen, whom I think you know.” Contempt oozed off of Julin’s cheerful words.
Pracclen’s involvement worried Kolteo. The gangster was rarely so blatant in showing strength. Kolteo doubted that these four thugs were the mafioso’s only assets here in the concourse.
“I didn’t know that you and Pracclen were so close,” he said.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Kolteo.”
“Yes, I’m aware. What brings you here, Julin?”
“You’re in business now? Congratulations. What sort of business?”
“None of yours.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” said Kolteo. He spread his arms out. “All of Siben and the Empire is my business these days. It interests me that you would be gone without a word these ten years, and suddenly here you are.” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that. Why are you here, Julin?”
Julin’s grin faded. “To speak with Mr. Pracclen on private business. That’s all you need to know.”
“I’ll speak with Pracclen myself,” said Kolteo. “You may be assured of that. Meanwhile, you stay away from Sari. I don’t want her involved in all this.”
“You involved her when you married her.”
“I don’t want her hurt, and neither do you.”
Julin didn’t answer.
Kolteo stared long at Julin. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t arrest you right now.”
Julin grinned again. “You wouldn’t like what happened next.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh yes.” His mouth pressed into a grim line, then he said, “Yes. If I disappear, you will be destroyed. Utterly.”
“I get the impression that you intend to destroy me anyway.”
Julin didn’t contradict him. “But while I live, you have a chance to foil my plans.”
Kolteo didn’t answer.
Julin looked around. “Are we done here, or did you care to start something?”
“I’ll give you one opportunity. Just one. You can turn around now and leave Siben. Go live your own life. Let this go. There can be peace between us.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Kolteo nodded. “Yes, but I had to give you that opportunity.”
Julin said nothing.
“Stay away from Sari.”
Julin lifted his chin. “I’ll do what I want.”
“I’ll be watching you.” Kolteo turned on his heel and melted into the crowd with Romik and Frens.
Julin stood there a moment longer, watching Kolteo’s back. The corner of his lip twitched, and the grin spread again across half his mouth. Then he looked at his escorts. “See? That didn’t take long. Now, let’s get my bag, and you can take me to your boss.”
Continued in: 3. Kolteo at Home
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