“These things are always so much more intense in person,” I said to myself as I wandered down the halls of the Crimson City. Glancing over the railing, I reminded myself how easy it would be for the gargantuan Trillodan behind me to toss me over the side if I gave him the slightest excuse.
While Zellig’s curiosity had gotten me onboard, it wouldn’t necessarily keep me alive.
I didn’t have to turn around to know the grey-skinned goliath was trying to bore a hole in the back of my head with that intense glare of his. Even though I had been subject to a number of scans to check for any kind of weapon or biological agent, he wasn’t entirely convinced that I wasn’t a threat to him and to his matron.
To the rest of the universe, she was an icon. To me, she was a person. He didn’t care much for my choice of perspective it seemed.
But before I could go visit her on Xalanni, I had to make good on a promise to Infinite. The only way to avoid her spiraling out of control was to ensure that her lover wouldn’t be incarcerated in the same conditions as the rest of the Adapted. Zellig had initially balked at this idea, but finally agreed to put Titan into a temperature sensitive prison cube. Should there be any fluctuation, it would eject the young man into the void of space.
Two days after capture, the Trillodan hadn’t reneged on his deal. Every morning I was allowed to come to the upper wing of the ship and see how he was feeling. It was Titan’s only chance to talk to anyone as Zellig had seen fit to keep him in solitary confinement.
“I think you can allow me to have a conversion with some semblance of privacy,” I told Zellig as I approached his wing.
I scoffed, “Come now, I know about your superior senses. If you wanted to, you could hear people halfway across this ship through the vibrations in the floor.”
Zellig scowled but didn’t comment. “You have twenty minutes until the Matron will be here.”
I stiffened in surprise. “Iilena isn’t one to venture off world. I assumed I would be going down to the surface to see her.”
“Not just for you,” Zellig said. “She wants to meet Titan and see the upstart who has threatened to shake the galactic order. We can’t house him securely on Xalanni without sedating him. Thanks to your little bargain and the Matron’s respect for you, we can’t move him to Vaneel’s laboratory. He’s too dangerous to be on the surface.”
“I suppose that is true. All the same, I would like a moment to speak to Titan alone.”
The massive Trillodan keyed in the code and let me pass over the threshold before a reinforced metal plate closed behind me, locking me inside. I couldn’t help but smile; Zellig had just locked me in with the most dangerous criminal in Trillodan history since Kardan. Maybe he hoped that a jaded Titan would try to kill me, saving him some headache by dealing with two issues at once.
“Skaberen,” a tired voice said.
“Titan,” I replied, stepping close to the glass. “How are you?”
“Shitty,” he muttered. The young man had been forced to do away with his normal look, instead being forced to wear a tight fitting blue shirt and pants. His normally tidy appearance was grimey and disordered, like he hadn’t slept all night. “I mean, I’m in prison. How else would I be doing?”
I frowned, “You can be honest with me. There is no reason to lie to me.”
Titan scowled, “Lie to the man who let us all live for years as unwitting experiments? That seems incredibly hypocritical for you to request honesty.”
“Yes, I suppose that is fair,” I replied, not surprised by his verbal attack. Something else was eating at Titan, and not just his predicament. “All the same, we are stuck together so we might as well try to mend the bridge.”
Titan did a circle of his cell and finally sat down on the small lump of blankets I had insisted they give him. “The strings, they’re gone still. I hate feeling so out of touch.”
“My power,” he replied, looking up at the corner of his cell. There was a camera present; an insistence from Zellig that he be observed at all hours of the day. I knew that he would also show everything to Vaneel in case he said anything helpful to his research. Titan paused and then finally did away with his caution. “My power, for me, is like pulling strings. It starts the reaction. The air is generally full of them but…when I do too much…”
“Overexposure. You aren’t physically harmed but instead limited.”
“You care to tell Vaneel why you think that might be?” Titan said with a chuckle, waving at the camera.
I offered a sad smile, “As the burns on your chest might remind you, your power is dangerous. Atomic fusion is a hell of an energy source, one that you flippantly use. Thanks to changes to your Adaptation, the excess energy doesn’t bleed over to our plane of existence.”
“The first time I used my gift, it was an explosion,” he recalled. “It burned away my brother, my home, and burned me.”
“You Adapted very young,” I recalled, “And you’ll forgive me for not knowing all the particulars. But your little atomic accident is what prompted us to look into your generation.”
“Good to know you hadn’t been spying on us before then.”
I envied his ability to still care about such things as breaches of privacy and being under observation. Living so long, surviving what I had…such things seemed so trifling to me. It was another reminder of how out of place I was in the universe. It didn’t need people like me. If anything, it needed to be rid of me. After finally re-centering myself, I offered a possible explanation. “The Kelotan, the thing responsible for your power, is its own organism and has a demand for preservation. While it might be tied to you, it can affect powers too. My guess is that after your first use, the Kelotan made small adjustments to avoid you damaging yourself. I feel that if you wanted to utilize that more violent side of your gift, you likely could.”
He paused, frowning, “You said that the excess energy is dumped somewhere else? So, am I just making an irradiated wasteland?”
“Our hope with the Kelotan was to pull resources from otherwise uninhabited realities. While you have likely made a wasteland, you probably haven’t killed off any civilizations.”
That seemed to give him some peace of mind. “Do you think she can do it?”
“Dragoon. Do you think she can finish what I started?”
I offered a sad smile and a shrug. “I can’t think of many people more capable or resilient than that girl, but I’m not sure. She has a monumental task in front of her. The Matron and her champion aren’t going to go down easily, no matter what course of action she takes.”
Titan sighed, knowing that there wasn’t anything better I could give him. “Do you think your colleagues are going to come and help her?”
“I can’t speak for them but I doubt it. We stayed hidden for centuries by design. My choice to reveal us and remind the Trillodan we were alive went against the vast majority; it’s why I was the only one waiting for you. They deliberately didn’t tell me what their plans were or where they would go so it couldn’t be tortured out of me.”
“Tortured?” Titan said. “I thought they simply extracted information out of your brain. I doubt they would engineer such a thing to only work for humans.”
“Who do you think helped pioneer that technology?” I said, daring to offer a cheeky smile. I tapped my fingers against the side of my skull, “I had a small device implanted to trigger should anyone try to read my brain waves. No threat to anyone else,” I said, more for the eavesdropping Zellig than anyone else, “But I can’t run the risk of Vaneel or any other Trillodan scientist getting a readout of my brain.”
“What would it do?”
“Melt my brain,” I replied bluntly. “It would turn everything into a puddle of mush so they can’t extract any information. If you are all going to have a chance, I can’t have that information getting into their hands.”
There was a sharp knock on the door, Zellig’s indication to me that it was time to go. I frowned: the Matron must be early. She was always one for being ahead of the clock. As I turned to go, I was caught by Titan’s last question.
“Did I make everything worse?”
I stopped and pivoted back to face him. “What do you mean?”
He ran his hands through his hair. “I had everyone come marching against the Trillodan like we had a chance of beating them. I basically gift wrapped superpowers and handed them over the the Trillodan. Thanks to my little, naive crusade, I might have given them all they needed to repair the damage to their genetic code and provide them with even more longevity. There was going to be an expiration date on the Trillodan and I probably helped undo it.” He shook his head, “Being locked in a cell gives you nothing but time to think. So, I keep wondering: did I do the right thing?” He looked up at me, his eyes begging for some kind of confirmation that this wasn’t in vain, that his actions weren’t for naught.
I shuffled closer to the glass, wishing I could reassure the youth that everything would be okay. I wished that I could tell him that his insurrection was surely the right and noble thing to do. “There was an expression back on Earth, ‘All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ Truth be told, I loved many of the phrases that humanity turned, and it saddens me to know that those will die out and blend with the galactic homogeneity that has spawned from Trillodan and the Universal Common that they force upon other species.” I put a hand to the glass and looked Titan straight in the face, “Titan, you had the gall to do what my race could not. You stood up for yourself and for so many others. We decided to act, but we acted in duplicity. We gave you these powers and then remained passive observers. The Goln were too cowardly to truly be involved. If we had, things would be different. But you, you dared to dream. You dared to put your foot down. You dared to use the gift you had been given to fight back.”
My words of encouragement seemed to offer little inspiration. “I thought it was my destiny to do something great. I thought that I could really do it, you know? But…here I am. In a fucking cell. Inevitably, they are going to sedate me and start drawing samples from me.”
A sad smile found home back on my face. “Titan, they are still afraid of you. They can’t take that away from you. If you go to sleep, smile. Know they sedated you because you are a genuine threat to them.”
The corner of his lip dared to curl as Zellig hammered on the door again. “Looks like it’s time to go.”
Offering a supportive smile, I turned and scuttled back to the door. Zellig opened the door and bade me follow. Wordlessly, I tagged behind the giant Trillodan as he led me back to the elevator. He saluted a number of the officers but most didn’t say anything to the Matron’s champion as he wandered past.
“Your pigment seems to have introduced quite the rift,” I said.
“You knew that long before meeting me,” he countered.
“I could help you fix that,” I offered.
Zellig turned and glared at me, “I don’t need your pity, Goln. Your technology has done enough to my species.”
A part of me wanted to comment on the fact that I knew about his dead spawn. The other side of me won out and kept my mouth shut. Angering someone who could rip through reinforced steel wasn’t a good recipe for keeping my head attached.
Zellig took me to the residential area of the ship and to a room that had been furnished with brightly colored cushions and a small table in the middle. Two glasses and a bottle of some bright blue liquid were waiting to be consumed. “Wait here. She will be along shortly.” He glared at me again, “It goes without saying, but try anything-”
I raised a hand to stop him, “Rest assured big man, the only threat I pose is to myself. I’m an old man and my damage has already been done.”
Zellig growled but turned around, leaving me in silence. Taking my spot on the far side of the table, I let my legs fold under me as I settled my abdomen down, waiting until my friend arrived to start drinking…whatever beverage this was.
“You always did like sampling new things,” I muttered aloud as I stared at the bottle, trying to discern which sundered culture she had taken it from. Even though I had spent hundreds of years watching Iilena and seeing her actions ripple through the cosmos, I hadn’t been able to see much of her behavior. There was no recording of the Trillodan government and she wasn’t one to hog the spotlight. “A millenia and change. I wonder what it’s done to you.” I glanced down at my own hands and my reflection in the glass of the bottle, taking stock of how old I really looked.
The door opened, interrupting my self-reflection.
For a moment, I forgot all about the fact that the Trillodan were galactic conquerors. I forgot about the atrocities of her and her predecessor.
For a moment, all I saw was my old friend.
“I had to see it to believe it,” she said, stepping forward with a smile. Her skin was still an immaculate shade of crimson though there were little streaks of white cutting through thanks to time and stress taking their toll. “Skaberen, come here,” she demanded, spreading her arms wide.
I grunted and propped myself up, scuttling across the room to embrace my friend. “Iilena, I never thought we’d be able to see each other again.”
As we released each other, she looked me up and down, snickering, “My gods, you look old!”
“And what are those?” I replied, pressing a bony finger against some stress lines. “All the telomere restoration that is available and you still age. You’ve been hard on yourself.”
She scoffed, gesturing to the table, “We’re too old to be standing around gawking. Instead we should do the refined thing and have a drink.”
I eyed the liquid again, “What is that exactly?”
“A Trillodan recreation of a taste of home,” she replied to me. “I had someone synthesize some Lathi for us.”
My breath caught in my throat as she poured the blue liquid into a glass and pushed it to me. Lathi was an old Goln drink that was traditionally used at ceremonies of bonding or other noteworthy celebrations. “I haven’t had Lathi in…”
“Me either,” Iilena replied, raising her glass. “I think we should remedy that.”
I nodded, lost for words as I pressed the sweet liquid to my lips. A wave of sweet followed by a light burn and small kick of euphoria. My lips curled into a smile as I greedily accepted a second glass and enjoyed another taste of home. “Whoever made this, they did a magnificent job.”
She looked into the blue liquid, letting out a long sigh, “I don’t suppose that we can just sit here and drink this stuff all night like this, can we?”
A sad smile replaced the euphoric grin, “I think we both know the answer to that question.”
The Immortal Matron drained the rest of the glass and looked me full in the face, “I had half wondered if the Adapted were your handiwork. Once Vaneel managed to narrow the cause to an organism that had taken up residence within the children, I was almost sure you had a hand in it. But, how? Where have you all been?”
“After Kardan’s attempted genocide, we hid. Using a rudimentary Void Door, we escaped and managed to smuggle a decent amount of equipment with us. Not enough to jump start our work, but enough to enter cryo and wait out his rampage. For the first cycle, we were asleep. When we woke up, you had killed Kardan yourself and taken his place as the matriarch of the Trillodan people and assumed the most notorious title in the universe: Immortal Matron.”
“Why didn’t you come back to us? I would have welcomed you with open arms, Skaberen. The Goln and Trillodan were allies. Kardan was a paranoid and deluded lunatic who let his own fear blind him. You and your colleagues would have been welcome to our table at any time.”
I eyed my empty glass, debating pouring myself a third. “How could we be sure? You’ll forgive us if Kardan’s actions hadn’t introduced a fair amount of paranoia among our remaining few. We had a race to preserve, a population to try and rebuild, and technology to try and reclaim.”
“But on a remote planet,” she said, “Why not try to contact me? You and I had known each other for nearly two cycles. I would have moved the heavens for you and your people!”
I felt my throat constrict because there was no duplicity in her words. My old friend was still just that: my friend. She would have done so much to help me and my people, she would have likely saved us several centuries of toil in the desert trying to rebuild a semblance of a society.
“I could not condone what you have done,” I finally admitted. “We could not agree with the direction you took your reign after Kardan.”
I was expecting some kind of violent outburst, some kind of enraged retort, but Iilena had much thicker skin than that. “You have been watching what we have done around the universe. Our gating of sentient life.”
“It is impossible not to notice.”
Iilena sighed, “From an outside perspective, I understand how damning that must look.”
“With all due respect, Iilena, it’s not just about how it looks. You have forever clipped the wings of hundreds of species. Even if you have only eradicated sixty-seven different species, that doesn’t stop the ripple. Your introduction of Universal Common, your rendezvous with growing civilizations, it paralyzes them. Look at Tso’got,” I insisted. “They are in a state of stagnation out of fear. And so many others are suffering that same plight.”
“And it is still a better option than the alternative,” she replied, a bit of sorrow creeping into her voice. “I don’t take joy knowing how many suffer, but I know that allowing another maniac to get to the position Kardan held would mean ruin for so many more. Imagine if a directionless hand wielded my authority. How many would be indiscriminately turned to dust?”
I stopped and poured us both a third glass, not wanting things to escalate. Even if she had turned to the logic of a despot, Iilena Lamak was still my friend. There was no need for a reunion to be nasty.
“We both helped each other overcome so many hurdles,” I recalled, witfully. “You aided in our ability to manufacture while we helped introduce medicine and therapies. Your technology coupled with our biological savvy allowed us to conquer any number of filters.”
“We were the first few species to not blast ourselves to death,” she said, proud. “We overcame foreign illness as well. Not an easy hurdle to withstand as we discovered.”
I laughed as I silently recalled working in hospitals as thousands of Goln began to suffer from Trillodan infections. Exposure to foreign bacteria and viruses had been…harrowing. “But, Iilena, you have become a filter. An even greater filter than the ones we faced.”
She frowned, “I’m not an indiscriminate murdering machine, Skaberen.”
“You do tend to flatten anyone who might threaten you. You annihilate civilizations that are beginning to breach the topic of faster than light travel.”
“I thought you would have noticed my pattern more than that. It isn’t just those who are breaching faster than light travel. I’m enacting protocol on anyone who is pushing that boundary and who is still too warlike. Look at humanity,” she insisted, “They were warmongers. They exploited each other. They had taken themselves as slaves throughout history. All that seemed to change as they aged was they made things more duplicitous. The only thing that kept them around was stubborn resilience. They weren’t a collective society. They weren’t a unified group like we were. Those in leadership worked only for self-interest. Altruism was a dead concept to anyone with real power in their society.”
“How many civilizations would they have exploited for their own gain? How many developing societies would have been enslaved and had their history steered because of humanities greed? How many lives would be senselessly lost for their amusement?”
“We’ll never know, will we,” I replied.
There was a tense pause in the conversation and I worried that Iilena was going to call for her brute to come and dispose of me. To my relief, she poured us a fourth round and changed the direction of the conversation. “Why children?”
“Accident,” I said with a chuckle. “The original idea was to tinker with the parents and see the effects. The children inherited more than we had bargained for. If we had been smarter and intervened we could have drastically changed the trajectory of this whole debacle.”
“I can’t imagine they took that news well.”
“Oh, they did not. I was a bit worried that Parasite or Beleth would have killed me.”
“Speaking of,” she said, “I hear from Zellig that they have changed leadership a touch. Titan was leading their little crusade, but now it’s being headed by the machinist.”
“Dragoon,” I supplied.
“Yes. What was your impression of her?”
I eyed my friend warily, “Are you fishing? Is the great Immortal Matron trying to hedge her bets?”
She scoffed, “I’m just a woman asking her friend for input. I had Zellig’s report on her but I wanted your voice on the matter. Even though we may be…opposed,” she finally said.
“Dragoon is dangerous in a different way,” I confessed. “Titan may himself be destructive but it has made him overconfident. It’s why Zellig could catch him. Dragoon is more grounded and well aware of where she stands. She aims to out think and out plan opponents. I think of all people to stack against your champion, she is going to be most formidable.”
“You think she has a chance against Zellig?”
“If anyone does, it’s her. She understands the strengths of her people and she’ll utilize them better than Titan could have. Even though they unified under him, she is going to take better charge.” I dared to smile, “Is the Immortal Matron afraid someone may come and seize her throne?”
“No,” she replied with a devilish smile, “I was wondering whether or not I should take the risk of having Zellig fight them again or just enact Protocol 37 the next time they surface.”
“If they surface, they will be on Marn,” I said, aghast. “Those people are nowhere near faster than light travel, and they aren’t warlike savages. You’d be condemning an innocent species to extinction because of this war.”
Iilena’s face hardened, “If she is as big a threat as you believe, there is too much to lose for me and my empire. I believe that what I am doing, what the Trillodan are doing, is too important. One civilization is a tragedy, but I will let the blood stain my hands if it ensures that we can preserve so many others.”
“You are killing billions due to an unknown,” I insisted, wishing she would listen to reason. “You don’t know if there is going to be another Kardan or if there can be more pragmatic leaders like you! For all you know, you may have killed the species who could have helped undo the damage done with the Legacy-Ender.”
“And you might have created a woman who will annihilate an entire planet,” she replied. “I think you created more destructive potential with Infinite than I have with the four Crimson Cities that are at my disposal. If you want to talk about wanton acts of destruction, should we discuss the horrifying possibilities that child represents?”
“Infinite is…unique,” I confessed.
“She is capable of mimicking a Void Door. While it may not be to quite the same extreme, I know that she has more power she can tap into. If the information we have of her is correct, her power grows exponentially as she builds upon it. If that gift of a Void Door took eleven, that leaves two more gifts to acquire. What happens if she loses control on Marn? What happens if she loses control here? Would every civilian dying be a necessary sacrifice to see me stopped?”
“But she hasn’t done any of those things yet,” I noted. “And if anything, your champion made it more likely that she will lose control. Command’s mental influencing helped keep her stable. Thanks to Zellig’s crony, that safety net is gone. And with Titan captured, she has limited emotional support to keep her stable.”
“He isn’t one to believe in incremental victories,” she conceded. “Zellig believes that if he removed Command it would hinder the Adapted. Now, either Infinite loses control and exterminates the problem or she remains dormant.”
My skin crawled with how easily she could talk through this bloody logic. “Iilena,” I finally said, “I think we are asking ourselves the fundamentally wrong questions.”
She tilted her head, confused.
“We’re ancient. We have outlived entire civilizations. We are one-person dynasties. In a way, I think it’s fitting that the Adapted ended up being children; we need to allow room for a new generation.”
“I’m old but not decrepit,” she replied. “I have plenty more to give to the universe.”
“We have been pulling the strings far longer than we ever thought possible,” I pushed. “Don’t you think it is time we stepped away from the table and let someone else play?”
The Immortal Matron pursed her lips in thought. “You might argue that a fundamental component of life is struggle. We struggle to obtain resources. We struggle to survive against enemies and predators. In a way, isn’t it the most natural thing that the Trillodan exist this long? We have struggled to get where we are. We have overcome so many filters and hardships that other species falter to.”
“Most predators can’t reduce a planet to an inhospitable wasteland.”
“And many in my position would take slaves. Many would colonize and conquer indiscriminately. Even with all our technology, it is an infinite universe. There are likely countless star systems that have life developing; I’m sure we are bound to meet our match eventually. Why should I relinquish my position before then? I struggled to get where I am. The Trillodan struggled and rebelled against all the obstacles and hardships thrust onto us.”
I sighed, “I’m never going to convince you to walk away from this, am I?”
Iilena offered a coy smile, “No, old friend, you and I both know that I’m far too headstrong for that.”
A fifth round of the Lathi was poured in silence. After a sip, I opted to steer the conversation a different path.
“Yes. Why him? I understand that he’s an incredibly capable and devoted zealot, but he seems bloodthirsty for you. Even though you aren’t above getting dirty, he strikes me as someone who would cause more problems for you than you want to answer for.”
She studied the contents of her glass while formulating an answer. “In truth, you’re not wrong. Zellig is bloodthirsty. He has a flair for the dramatic and a love of combat that is unsettling at times. But, he’s good enough to leverage those sorts of quirks into tremendous strengths.”
“Oh?” I pondered what of his actions I had seen so far. “Is he making good use of neural acceleration?”
“Zellig’s brain hasn’t been enhanced with Vaneel’s work,” Iilena replied with a proud grin. “My ‘champion’ is just that clever on his own merit. Zellig uses his love for a violent display to play mind games with his opponent. Even though the Adapted have him outgunned in many ways, he knows how to leverage his position and bait people in. What I do politically, he does in a field of combat.”
“His alteration into the warmachine he’s become seems to have caused quite the stir.”
Iilena frowned, “How are you so up to date with Trillodan affairs?”
I dared to offer a cheeky grin. “You spend so many resources monitoring other planets, but your security is really nothing too special. No one dares tamper with your probes because they don’t know if they are tamper-proof. We simply patched in some software to gain access to all your surveillance.”
She actually let out a laugh. “You’re right. I would never think of anyone trying to hack into our data. I assume you put some kind of failsafe on the program in case we tried to go looking?”
“Not me personally,” I corrected. “I was never too savvy with that end of things. One of my colleagues did. And yes, knowing how thorough she was, I assume there will be failsafes present.”
“Naturally. As for Zellig,” she continued, “He has caused a tremendous amount of stir. Technically speaking, what Vaneel did with him was considered illegal. I opted to put my neck out and defend the commander because I believe that his heart was in the right place. That being said, I also believe that Zellig was willing to do anything after the death of his child. His transformation was possibly an attempt at suicide. His last way to be helpful to the Trilodan empire and simultaneously cease his torment.”
I winced, feeling a sad empathy wash over me. My daughter had died during Kardann’s madness. It was one of the few things the Trillodan juggernaut and I had in common. “You want someone suicidal to be running your armies?”
She scoffed, “Of course not. But what I want is someone who understands the true weight of loss. I want someone who knows the depths of dedication and devotion to a cause. I wanted someone who understood how meaningful sacrifice was. I chose Zellig because he had seen the bottom, he had seen how bleak and meaningless existence can be, and he rose from the ground with a fire in his chest that no one else can shine a candle to.”
“Having seen him in action, I can’t help but agree with your assessment,” I confessed.
“What about your champion?” she shot back.
I scoffed, “I have no champion.”
“You wouldn’t have called Titan your champion? You don’t call Dragoon your champion now?”
I shook my head, “Heavens, no.”
“Because they do not answer to me. If anything, I am an enemy of my creations. I am a reminder that they have spent their lives with limited, if any, control. I am just one more element they never had a say in. Even though they weren’t born on Earth, all of them feel some residual pain of never knowing a planet that was truly their home. I think I am only a reminder of how miserable Protocol 37 has made life for them.”
There was the slightest glimmer of guilt from Iilena but it faded as she took another drink. “Fair enough.”
“What are you going to do with me? You can only keep me locked up so long before people on Xalanni start hearing that you have a Goln in custody. It will create quite the stir for all who remember my kind.”
Iilena frowned, “I think that largely depends on you. We will have to scan and see if you still harbor serious resentments and are likely to act-”
I shook my head, “Not a good idea,” I insisted, tapping a finger to my skull. “The chip in here will liquidate everything in my skull if you try to scan me.”
“Without a scan, I can’t trust you to not make any kind of heinous biological weapon,” she said with a disappointed sigh. “I am going to go out on a limb and say that you were the head of the Kelotan’s creation?”
“You were the primary creator for the organism that is threatening Trillodan society for the first time in nearly nine cycles. You understand why I can’t exactly trust you on your word alone. We’re both old and we’ve had enough time learning to lie convincingly. My hands are tied on this one, Skaberen.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” I chuckled. “I don’t suppose you would be willing to let me talk shop with Vaneel?”
She shook her head, “Besides, he’s busy.”
“You have ramped up production and testing?”
“The Eternal Council is behind our research into Adaptations. We are going to see if we can further your excellent work. It already has promising results with Tol.”
I winced, “I hardly call the results you induced with Tol promising. You turned him into a sentient slime.”
“That still has his mind. It salvaged him from death’s door and has made him nearly indestructible.”
“So, especially since you’re the creator of this organism, I will have to keep you away from it. If anyone would know how to sabotage our research, it would be you. For now, Skaberen, I’m sorry but you’ll have to stay in a cube.”
“Can we at least spring for house arrest and give me some amenities?” I looked around the lush living space, “How about leaving me locked in here? For old times sake?”
Iilena Lamak smiled and emptied the last few swigs of Lathi into our glasses, raising it in a toast.
“I’m sure I can figure something out. For old times sake.”