Here’s snippet three of The Temple of Light. The Temple of Light will be available on January 14th.
If you missed the first and second snippets you should read those first. Snippet three focuses on what Reese and the mysterious Minder are up to…
Trident Forward Operational Base
July 7, 2409
Captain Reese Leone snapped to attention in front of his boss’s desk. “My Lord, reporting as ordered.”
Lord Marius Octavious Giovanni, rightful Baron Giovanni, and eldest son of the Emperor Romulus I and his rightful heir, gave Reese a nod. When he spoke his voice carried both authority and weight. Marius Giovanni had every bit of the presence that his son, Lucius Giovanni had. And he’s far more loyal to his people, Reese thought bitterly. “Reese, I hear that you have almost completed our preparations?” Marius Giovanni asked.
“Yes, my Lord,” Reese nodded. “I’ve acquired almost all of the items we’ll need. There’s a few of the more… unique items that my people have located but not yet acquired. I haven’t wanted to draw that level of attention until we begin our final preparations.”
“Understood,” Marius nodded. He rose from behind his desk and came around. As always, it somewhat surprised Reese at how short the man was, he barely came to Reese’s shoulder. Granted, Reese was a hundred and ninety centimeters. Marius projected so much presence that he seemed bigger, somehow. “How has the other project come along… the one involving my daughter and grandson?”
Reese looked down. “I’ve set things up, my Lord.” Alannis Giovanni, Reese’s former wife and the mother of his child, was also Marius’s daughter. The entire situation gave Reese a bit of a headache. Marius Giovanni had lived in exile since Alannis was three weeks old, when he’d led a failed coup attempt to seize the Nova Roma Imperial Throne from his half-brother, Emperor Romulus II. His son, Lucius Giovanni, had assumed the title of Baron and everyone had, until recently, believed that Marius had been executed for treason. When the Chxor had seized Nova Roma, Emperor Romulus III had been executed, along with the crown prince, leaving the young Prince Octavian to assume the throne as Emperor Romulus IV. Yet Marius’s son, Baron Lucius Giovanni had built alliances and founded the United Colonies, which had then liberated dozens of captured human worlds… including Nova Roma.
Reese didn’t know the details of how his brother-in-law had managed it, but his triumphant return had resulted in the people hailing him as their new Emperor. He’d managed to pull off the “if I am called upon for the duty, then I will do it” appearance well enough, but Reese knew better than to believe that for a heartbeat. Lucius must have arranged it all, just as he had manipulated Reese’s wife into joining the military to portray their family’s “noble service.”
Lucius had destroyed Reese’s marriage in the process and Reese wasn’t about to forget it.
However, Marius Giovanni was the rightful heir to the Nova Roma Empire. Whatever else had happened in the time since didn’t change that. And while Lucius had a vast wealth of resources to include the fabled Dreyfus Fleet… Marius Giovanni had quite a few resources of his own. Reese didn’t expect Lucius to step down –not for his estranged father– but he did expect Marius Giovanni to come out on top of this little matter of Imperial succession.
Reese realized that he’d been quiet too long and he spoke up, “The teams are in place, I’ve set up multiple layers of cut-outs. They don’t know exactly who they’re working for or anything beyond their part of the plan. I’ve also kept the information secure from your man on the ground, since you don’t want to compromise his position.”
That last had been more than difficult. Reese had been shocked to learn that General William Proscia worked for Lord Marius Giovanni. The Marine General had served under Lucius for decades… but he’d begun his career as a junior officer under Marius Giovanni. Apparently the same total loyalty that Lucius seemed to generate held true for his father as well.
In any case, General Proscia not only ran the Faraday Military Academy, but he also bore chief responsibility for the Imperial Regiment, the bodyguard unit for Lucius and his close family.
“Good,” Marius said. His dark eyes bored into Reese. “Do you feel a high level of confidence towards their success?”
Reese felt sweat bead his forehead as he met his superior’s eyes. Failure was one area where Reese had seen that Marius was very different from his son. Admiral Lucretta Mannetti had been Marius Giovanni’s chief agent until only a few years earlier. After Lucius had defeated her not just once, but twice, Marius had given the order for her death. He’d managed to arrange for her to die while she was under guard in a prison on Faraday, in a place where she should have been untouchable.
Not only that, but Marius had arranged the death in such a fashion as it looked like an accident… and as far as Reese could tell, no one questioned the story. Failure brought drastic consequences.
“I’m not, my Lord,” Reese said. “The security situation being what it is…” he thought about the new Imperial House that had been constructed on Faraday, designed with all manner of electronic and physical defenses. Reese shook his head, “I wouldn’t give them even odds of success.” The situation was almost as bad when Lucius’s family was on Nova Roma, but there at least the urban sprawl had encircled the Imperial Palace, which gave his people more freedom to move around.
“Even with your… connection?” Marius asked.
Reese swallowed nervously, “My Lord, I don’t feel confident enough to exploit it fully, not without exposing that source.”
“You aren’t allowing your personal feelings to sway you in this?” Marius asked with an intent voice.
“No, my Lord,” Reese swallowed. “And I will assure you, I want this to succeed every bit as much as you do. I just don’t feel this gives us the best opportunity of success. Given what happened to the last person that tried to kidnap a member of Lucius’s family…”
He shouldn’t have said that, he realized.
Marius glared at him, “The imposter behind that bungled attempt deserved what he received.” The Centauri Confederation Ambassador, who had claimed to be Marius Giovanni, had actually succeeded in kidnapping Lucius’s daughter. Parties unknown had returned her… and the charred remains of the impostor had been delivered to the Centauri Confederation with a stern warning not to try such a thing ever again.
“Still, my Lord,” Reese hedged, “I think that even the attempt will be likely to draw more attention to our other activities when we draw near the critical juncture.”
Marius Giovanni cocked his head, his face stern. Yet he gave a single nod, “Alright, I’ll grant you that point. The last thing we need is someone getting in the way of some of those preparations… though involvement at the right time might be to our overall benefit.”
“My Lord?” Reese asked.
“It’s easy to forget that some of our opponents,” Marius had never once referred to his son as an enemy, just as an opponent, a point that Reese hadn’t missed, “are at odds. Putting them against one another isn’t always something we need to take the time to arrange, sometimes they’ll do that on their own.” His eyes went narrow, “Any further news about our special ‘friends’?”
Reese shivered a bit as he considered those particular enemies. Up until the battle in Ghornath space, Marius’s organization had only had a theory about them even existing. Yet the rumors that had come out had already had profound ripples across human space. Former rivals in any number of systems now had reason to reexamine old grudges. Even the Shadow Lords had apparently been surprised by the revelation of a hidden force within human space.
But not Marius, Reese thought, whoever these people are, my boss at least suspected their existence and has included them in his plans.
“No additional news, yet, my Lord,” Reese said. “But I’ve confirmed that the destruction of Admiral Mannetti’s facility at Iota Persei was their work, based off of examination of the wreckage.” Admiral Mannetti’s research into Reese’s current field of study had come to an abrupt halt when parties unknown had destroyed her facility in the Iota Persei system, killing most of her scientists and engineers. She’d assumed it was the work of Shadow Lord Imperious, based upon the timing… but Reese had examined some of the wreckage and confirmed that the energy weapons damage was most likely a result of high energy gamma or x-rays. Since that seemed to be the primary weapon system of this mysterious faction, it seemed evident that they’d been behind the setback.
And so it only stands to reason that they’ll try to do the same against us again, Reese thought.
“Well, then,” Marius Giovanni said, “in that case, I want you to remind all of our involved allies of the importance of secrecy, especially as we draw closer to success. Go ahead and begin our final round of acquisitions… and I trust you are willing to do what’s necessary to achieve that?”
Reese swallowed as he contemplated the risk, not just to their project, but to himself in particular. “Yes, my Lord, I’m willing to do it.” Self-sacrifice wasn’t something he normally valued, but with the stakes they faced, and for his wife and son, he considered the risk acceptable.
“Excellent,” Marius said. “I’ve said before that you’ve impressed me as my son-in-law, but you continue to show that my daughter has excellent taste… even if she may be a little confused at the moment in her priorities.”
Reese knew the comment was meant to be a compliment, but that didn’t take the sting out of it, either. Alannis had rejected him at their last meeting, too focused on her own perspective to see the big picture. Everything I’ve done, he thought, I’ve done for her… for us.
“That will be all, Reese,” Marius straightened and walked back around his desk. Reese turned away, headed for the door, his mind already going to the preparations he had to make.
“Oh, and Reese?” Marius Giovanni’s words caught him in the doorway, and Reese turned attentively. “Go ahead and initiate your secondary operation. I’ll accept the risk of failure for the opportunity it presents: bring my daughter and her son to me.”
July 7, 2409
The being that called itself Minder had worked at his task for decades. He took pleasure in his schemes and manipulations. The human race, the greatest threat his kind had ever faced, were a persistent foe. They had come back from defeat after defeat, and Minder and his predecessors had still managed to keep them contained and focused inwards.
It had taken carefully-tailored plagues, massacres, assassinations, and even the occasional destruction of entire star systems. Minder had personally killed thousands and his efforts had killed humans in the hundreds of millions. As detached as he was from it all, even he felt a little sick considering the number of intelligent beings he had snuffed out of existence.
And yet they continue to be a threat, he pondered. More and more it feels as if I’m merely fighting a holding action. Despite the darkness of the thought, he let no trace of it touch his face. It wasn’t merely emotional control. It was an element of instinct… for while he wore a handsome face and looked as indistinguishably human as anyone, facial expression was not an element of his genetic ancestry. Well, he thought wryly, except by a sort of adoption.
He summoned his daughter with a thought and his door opened. She stepped inside, a smile on her face. She looked as human as Minder did, but while he was handsome, she possessed a stunning level of beauty. Even as disconnected as he was from human emotions such as physical attraction, he could still appreciate her appearance, just as he could enjoy human artistic expression. She was every bit as breath-taking as one of the classical human sculptures… and just as human as a sculpted piece of marble. Of course, only a few years ago she had been entirely human. In fact, his decision to convert her to one of his kind had been a reluctant one, yet between his outward duties and his secret efforts, he had needed someone with enough authority among the humans to act in his interests. “You called, Father?”
Even here in the offices that they absolutely controlled, they sustained the appearance. After the many years of his kind’s efforts, it would not do to slip up, to let their guard down and so spoil things. Besides, he left a small number of listening and observation devices in place in his offices, to better manipulate his human underlings. More than once he had used such devices to lure humans into false expectations, including at least one assassination attempt where humans had expected their leader to be merely human. He felt real pleasure as he remembered their shock and horror at how easily he had defeated them. “Any progress on that matter I asked you to look into?” The interest in the Enemy’s artifacts, he projected his thoughts, has it continued?
“Unfortunately not,” She replied aloud. My sources have confirmed that there has been an increased interest in their acquisition, she replied in his mind, they continue to investigate and Sidewinder has intervened as necessary.
“I understand,” Minder said. “Please keep me informed of any changes in the situation as they occur.” Sidewinder is to be used only when we are left with no other options, he told her, the humans have begun to suspect our existence and if they start to examine things too closely, too many of our projects will fail. He formed an easy smile as if the matter he’d mentioned was of little import, even while he shifted the topic to one that any potential observers would find of more interest, “Now, I was looking at the financial sector reports…”