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Gorebor Azesa waited patiently on the landing platform behind his palace, surrounded on all sides by his guards and adorned in his royal regalia. A chilly wind flowed around him, and the ominous storm clouds in the distance made him uneasy. Gorebor took little comfort in having his entourage of guards nearby, and a small bit of anxiety welled in him for a moment, but he quickly suppressed it.

"The High Councilor should be arriving momentarily, your highness." Esinir Zolatna, Gorebor's most trusted ally, whispered, looking down at a clock installed in the gauntlet on his right arm.

"Thank you, Esinir." Gorebor replied, turning around. "Guards! Enter formation!"

The Royal Guards immediately obeyed, forming a corridor of safety with their bodies behind the King of the Zagresi. He smiled, pleased at their devotion to him and the Cooperative.

Cloak and Dagger01

Gorebor welcomes High Councilor Marinus.

After a brief moment of reverie, Gorebor returned to face the platform. Suddenly, a powerful blast of heated air rushed past him, followed by a heavy thud. A long and unsettling moment of silence followed, before a creature of about 4'5" materialized in front of them, its head protected by a computerized helmet. Two vertically stacked eyes gazed up at the monarch, followed by a slight smile. Gorebor stared for a brief second, and a single thought crossed his mind. I thought he'd be taller. Nevertheless, Gorebor greeted the alien as he would any powerful dignitary.

"Greetings, High Councilor Marinus, it is an honor to welcome you here to Zagrenisi." Gorebor said, bowing his head. "The meeting room has been arranged inside the Royal Palace."

Marinus bowed his head in return, his upper eye turning to face the palace. "Thank you, your highness. Will you permit some of my guards to scan the room for listening devices? The information that we are about to discuss is very sensitive."

"Of course. Let us go inside."

As Gorebor turned to face the palace, several more Talva materialized, carrying a large and apparently weighty device. They followed Gorebor and Marinus inside, under the careful watch of the Zagresi Royal Guards. Esinir escorted them through the palace's corridors before they arrived at a room at the end of a hallway. Gorebor, Marinus, Esinir, and the Talven guards stopped once they reached the entrance, and waited for the Zagresi guards to open the heavy doors. As the doors opened, they revealed a terribly bleak room, which contrasted immensely with the other parts of the lavishly decorated palace.

Gorebor and Esinir stepped out of the doorway, letting the Talven guards enter first. The six Talva proceeded to place the scanning device on the grim black table that dominated the chamber. Marinus followed, interacting with what appeared to be a control panel, his lower eye staring intently at the screen. After a few moments, the device began to project a faint beam around the room, followed by the High Councilor's other eye. Satisfied, he turned back to Gorebor, as his guards removed the device from the room. Gorebor then entered the chamber, seating himself at the head of the elliptical table, which sat directly opposite the door. He pushed a series of buttons on the side of the table, changing the lighting of the chamber from a dim red to a bright yellow-white. He watched Marinus as he sat down at the other end of the table, and held back a smile as he saw the chair lift up a few feet to accommodate Marinus' height.

"Everyone!" Gorebor commanded, "Leave us to discuss."

Esinir bowed his head before ushering everyone, including himself, out of the chamber. Gorebor watched as Esinir carefully closed the doors, and after a moment of waiting, he turned back to face Marinus.

"High Councilor, it would be a lie if I denied any interest in your proposal, but this must have been obvious when I invited you here." The Zagresi King chose his words carefully. He knew he was taking a risk by revealing his interest, but he determined it was a risk worth taking if it would help him read Talva body language better.

Marinus did not appear to react, and activated the table's holoprojector, connecting it to some form of communications device. "I am grateful that you are willing to consider my offer. We both have much to gain from this." Gorebor watched Marinus carefully, noticing a slight decrease in his body temperature when he began to speak. Gorebor attributed it to relief, but he was not quite certain. The holoprojector now showed a rocky planet that Gorebor immediately recognized. Several starfighters came into view, apparently defending something just behind the position from which the image was being taken. "As I am sure you have realized, this is live footage of Iyescene." The High Councilor had turned back to Gorebor, tilting his head.

Gorebor then looked closer at the planet, noticing detail upon detail. He saw the sprawling savannas and far-flung Fenggeha settlements of the planet's eastern hemisphere dominate the view. As the planet rotated, the planet's oceans moved into his sight, and the Grand City, the glorious capital of the Stellar Union itself, shined with the lights of thousands of city blocks as it transitioned from day to night. Gorebor's eyes widened, awestruck. He then looked back at Marinus, noticing his further drop in body temperature. He could very well be relieved, Gorebor thought, or he could be relaxing as he learns my body language. That thought crept out from deep within Gorebor's sub-conscious, and he did not ignore it. Now I must be more cautious.

The High Councilor straightened a little. "You are probably aware that the Talven Empire has offered its supercomputers to a few trustworthy nations throughout the Gigaquadrant. In fact, two standard years ago, the Stellar Union approached us, asking to use these computers for their mining operations, and later their navy. My peers on the Imperial Council were initially dismissive of this request, fearing that the Union planned to use our own technology against us. Thankfully for you and I now, Councilor Rufina Celsus boldly suggested that we plant overrides in the supercomputers, to control them remotely."

"I see now why you wanted to keep this meeting so secret," Gorebor said, his face remaining static. "And of course, this brings us to the eternal question of diplomacy: what would be my half of the bargain? Any sensible leader would not be so open with their information without an ulterior motive of sorts."

Cloak and Dagger02

Marinus shares his information.

The image of Iyescene disappeared, replaced by political maps of Andromeda, Bunsen, and the Milky Way. "As much as I would like to avoid it, Xonexi may soon fall to war. The Xonexi Board of Six is steadily growing in power and unity. It may take decades, or even centuries, but it is inevitable that they will fall to corruption, like countless other hyperpowers before them. A number of empires are beginning to see this threat, but the members of the Board itself are too powerful for us to confront with ease, most notably the Pan-Andromedan Ecumene, Tybusenia, and France. We need more allies to deal with these superpowers." The holoprojector rapidly zoomed in on the Milky Way, soon projecting a map of the Aruna Sector. Marinus leaned over the table, waving one hand over the Stellar Union. "In this case, we both have a lot to gain. Should war break out, the Talven Empire will send a fleet to attack the Stellar Union, drawing most of its forces to defend significant worlds. We merely need a few ships to transmit the override codes, and their fleet will be ours." He smiled. "Leaving their worlds virtually defenseless to your own navy. All that I request is for you to turn your newly acquired infrastructure to aiding our forces against the Board of Six."

The final pieces of the puzzle finally clicked together inside Gorebor's head. The secrecy all makes sense now! he thought, Why did the Talven Empire request the exact approach vectors for landing? Why use the listening device detector? Why the need for so many cloaking devices? Why the request to keep this meeting off the records? Because they wanted to make sure that absolutely none of this information would leak to the Stellar Union! Gorebor laughed internally, both scolding himself for his naïveté and relishing in the thought that he could hold the fate of the entire galactic cluster in his hands. After the euphoria disappeared, Gorebor spent no time committing himself to the cause.

"I would happily let my fleets be used to further your efforts, as long as I am allowed to recall them if they are needed in the war against the Union. My shipyards will also be open to the allied fleets," Gorebor paused, thinking carefully. "However, I do have one condition not yet addressed. I want schematics of hyperdrives and hyperspatial missiles. The reason is purely strategic: the Stellar Union is ill-equipped to defend itself from this technology."

Marinus straightened again. "Of course. I'll dispatch an unmarked freighter as soon as I return to Iubar."

"Then it is settled." Gorebor stood up, bowing. "May your efforts be successful, High Councilor."

"And yours, your highness."

With that, the doors of the chamber opened, and both Zagresi and Talven guards entered. The Zagresi guards formed a perimeter around the room, while the Talva surrounded the High Councilor. Without a word, Marinus stood up, offering a small bow to the Zagresi King. Gorebor followed suit with another small bow. As the Talva left the chamber, Gorebor watched as Esinir escorted them back to the landing platform. When they finally disappeared from his view, he turned to his guards and signaled for them to leave. They obeyed without question, and once the doors had been shut Gorebor relaxed, plotting his strategy for the coming war.

TriviaEdit

Further ReadingEdit

Treebeard's Fiction
Everything falls.
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Science Fiction
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The only thing you can truly count on is for your enemies to attack.
Enlightenment will be seized by the many.
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Fantasy
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Scientia potentia est.
We rise again.
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Stories of Aruna
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