by Floyd Looney
The fang-shaped black craft moved silently through space toward the moons of Rarvis, the third world in this solar system. The lone occupant of the vessel expected to be challenged at any time by the defense forces of Rarvis, but he had gotten a lot closer than he thought possible before being noticed.
Assuming they hadn't noticed was the flaw, of course. The Sartorian wasn't going to make the mistake of thinking Rarvis would be that easy a target. In fact he would assume they had been tracking him the entire time since dropping out of transit-space.
The phrase 'moons of Rarvis', while technically accurate, was a misnomer. There was one large moon hanging about but there were dozens of small ones keeping position with the big one while orbiting Rarvis. The Sartorian's passive sensors noted that there were indeed sensors embedded on most of these smaller rocks.
Now there was no doubt they were monitoring him. The defense systems on the large moon had not activated because they may have identified him already. That would be a bit disconcerting, unless they were not alarmed because it was just the lone ship. The Sartorian assumed they would never make that kind of mistake; just because you only detect one does not mean it is alone.
Old habits die hard and the Sartorian grinned. He wasn't here as a scout for the Great Fleet of Sarto, he was a civilian now, he was the Envoy.
“Sarto Vessel, Envoy Malok. We have been expecting you, please set in the follow coordinates and follow the traffic control beam to the appointed landing site.” The communication burst had bluntly said.
As his ship passed the small moon he was finally contacted by the Rarvis security forces. The first communication told him they knew exactly who and what he was. How they had come by this information was a mystery. How his appointment as Envoy had reached them before his arrival was unnerving. Not just spies, but very fast and competent spies at that.
The Sartorians and Rarvisians were new allies. Although the relationship between the worlds was still quite rocky and tentative, it seemed to Malok that the Rarvisians might actually be worthy. Sure, he would look for any weakness that might be exploited, for those are the pitfalls of diplomacy. He would try to make peace and trade while looking for any way that Sartorians could come and take over.
The Rarvisians would no doubt be doing the same with Sarto because this was the expected path of diplomacy among all the known worlds. An Envoy was a diplomat, a spy and a possible enemy all in one. No world allow foreign worlds to have permanent diplomats and would never in a million cycles declare even a tokan of land to be foreign sovereign territory.
The ship followed the beam in. Malok found his ship moving over the expansive capitol city of Rarvis, mostly white and gray buildings of various size. He had learned nothing about their military abilities but they had shown off their intelligence gathering abilities. That arrogance seemed to be very contrary to the regular nature of Rarvisians. It could be some kind of warning that Sarto shouldn't take them lightly.
The landing site was a spaceport within the city. Possibly the city had grown and expanded around it over a long time. His vessel was moved to a parking location far from any other ship, of which only a few were in evidence.
Surface vehicles were parked nearby and he could see black-suited soldiers patrolling the area for possible saboteurs, rebels or dragoons from his own ship. The security forces seemed competent but sparse enough not be threatening. He could see a black turreted vessel in the distance.
A trio of white-robed people near a large-ish ground vessel walked halfway to his ship and stopped, as per protocol. He set the ship to explode if boarded and then left to greet the dignitaries who would accompany him to meet the leaders of Rarvis.
“Envoy Malok, I am Torin, the Grandee of the High Assembly. These are Minister of Stellar Semian and the Personal Secretary of the Arch himself, Garja.”
The three Rarvisians were of the light-green variation and their scales were flush with their bodies and looked seamless. Almost an entirely different look from the average Rarvisian who were obvious reptilians. Maybe the idea that better looking people were more likely to get ahead was true even here.
The vehicle was comfortable enough but he couldn't see much of the city since it flew over the buildings and streets below. Soon it was setting down at a grand palace, the well-appointed and manicured grounds surrounded by high walls with towers.
Did the Rarvisian leaders fear their own people? That would be the sort of information that Sarto's Ministry of Intelligence would like to know. Malok wanted to be able to walk the streets, see the people and their conditions. Find out how if the government here was oppressive and by how much. Obviously every strong world needed to be a bit oppressive, but there was a point where this became a negative fr everyone.
He was greeted by other functionaries, exchanged pleasantries, at the palace and then followed them inside to meet the Arch himself. None of them would bring up the fact that they all knew who he was and that he had been appointed as Envoy. He wondered how much they knew about him. If they had send the information by trans-space probe at the time he was appointed, they might have had little time to do much research on his past.
If he could figure out where the holes in their knowledge of him, Malok might be able to use it to his advantage. This could be interesting.
The Personal Secretary of the Arch himself bowed to them and said he would inform his majesty that the Envoy had arrived. This was all protocol, the Arch had probably known since the second the vessel had landed at the palace.
The Rarvisians were putting up a front, that much was obvious to Malok. The more they continued this charade the more suspicious he would become. Malok rubbed his nose to hide a grin, it probably wasn't possible to get more cynical than what was needed to be an Envoy.
Besides the grim-faced soldier at the door, all the Rarvisians present were well-aged with the lighter shade of green and smooth features most desired on their world. He wondered how many of them were undergoing operations to keep their desirable features from fading.
Torin, who headed the High Assembly looked confident and in charge. This wasn't the Grand Assembly, this was not his turf. His casual manners, from what Malok knew of their kind, was pretty rude. Leaning back on the red couch and drinking a mix of vegetable juice and bugs while everyone was supposed to wait for the Arch to enter.
Possibly this Torin fellow was the real power or part of it on this world. Then again, maybe he had always been a slob. The Minister of Stellar, named Semian, seemed like an oaf. His only real job was appointing and receiving Envoys and overseeing the bureaucracy of their filings and reports. The blank stare of that one would indicate that he was someone else's puppet.
Rarvis could be exactly what they pretended but Malok was doubting that more by the moment. Finally the large double door on the far side of the room opened and two soldiers walked in and took places on either side. The Arch's Private Secretary entered and addressed the room.
“The Arch of Rarvis himself.”
Malok noted that Torin was the last to stand, and he stood up slowly. He still held the drink near his chest. The man was being totally disrespectful for the occasion.
The Arch entered. Malok flinched but caught himself. This Rarvisian was emaciated, his head hung down in front of him as if the cape of office were far heavier than it looked. The others applauded his entrance, except for Torin, and Malok joined them.
“This is the Envoy from Sarto, your highness.” The Private Secretary said, indicating Malok. The old Rarvisians head nodded and his glassy eyes darted around the room as he held out a hand. Malok took his hand and bowed.
“I am called Malok. I have been appointed as the Envoy to your world, your highness.” He said as flowery as he could, noting that Talon had a derisive sneer on his face. No matter how many species he met, that derisive sneer always seemed to be the same as if it was the one constant in the universe.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” The Arch said in a whispery voice. “Let us sit down.”
Malok and the Arch sat on couches on opposite sides of a table but close together. The others sat around their leader, Torin sat on the arm on a chair on the far end.
“You must have come to finalize the agreement between our two worlds.” The Private Secretary said and when Malok nodded his assent, it was whispered into the ear of the Arch. Torin was looking on with the look of a Ren about to feast on a fat field mog. That alone made Malok want to tear up the treaty and go home.
“This treaty obligates both worlds to support one another in cases of attack by the Raxis.” Malok said, “They being the strongest and most malevolent species in the section. The treaty also opens up trade in certain agreed-upon goods and industries between our worlds. Who isn't always seeking new markets?”
“We must include the Minister of Protection and the Minister of the Mercantile in this meeting.” The Arch said and then had a coughing fit. The Private secretary patted his back and then wiped the elderly Arch's mouth with a cloth napkin. None of the others seemed shocked by the convulsion but rather looked to see Malok's reaction. He kept his face impassionate.
“I don't think that is necessary, your highness. The treaty has already been negotiated to the satisfaction of all involved. All that remains is your imprimatur. It's all ceremony and formality.” Torin broke in to add to the conversation, “Just sign it.”
The blue carpet was well worn. The decorations on the walls were in no particular order but their locations made Malok uncomfortable. The fact that he was not allowed to see the city before coming to the palace had been a minor thing, but now he was truly curious as to what was being hidden.
The frail Arch was an obvious figurehead who seemed almost clueless as to what was going on. This Torin person was the one running the show from the safety of his own office.
“Yes, your highness, it only needs to be signed.” Malok said, but then stood up. All eyes were on the Envoy as he crossed the room and removed a big painting from the wall. Nobody voiced an objection. Envoys had a lot of leeway. There were burn marks and projectile holes. He nodded and put the painting back.
“Would it be accurate to suggest that your economy is in shambles? The masses rebellious? That your defense forces that tracked me easily, might not have taken off to meet me as easily? That while your spies seem confident, the world I have been presented with is all a front?” Malok asked, the face of the Personal Secretary, Garja, looked away. The Grandee of the High Assembly glared at him with an iron face.
The Arch and the Minister of Stellar barely seemed to notice that questions had been asked. The other officials mingling in the background just watched.
“True enough.” Torin said.
“I suspected as much.” Malok said, turning towards the Grandee. “I want you to tell me the truth. I see too much front and little else. If you expect Sarto to come to your economic and military aid, we'll have to know how bad it is.”
“Our poor planet is an easy target for Raxis, should they decide to strike. Rarvis would become part of their empire without a doubt.” Torin answered. “It is in the interest of your world to keep that from happening.”
“My world would expect concessions if we are to feed you and park ships here.” Malok informed them, “There is a price for everything.”
Torin put the drink on a table and crossed his arms. “What price?”
“Sarto would allow you to retain your own government, although the figurehead would need replaced with the real local power.” Malok said looking into Torin's eyes. “We would need access to natural resources if we are expected to feed you and provide technical assistance to your farms. We would need to be able to train your soldiers before we would trust them with our advanced weapons. We'll let you keep down the rebellions on your own.”
“Still better than what the Raxis would do to us.” Garja said loud enough to be heard.
“Of course, the Raxis are monsters with starships. We Sartorians deal in reality, and the facts are that we must be able to put up a viable threat or the Raxis will strike. The stronger Sarto is and the more allies we have the more peaceful it is.” he told them. Then he smiled. “This is to the benefit of every one.”
Soon enough he was riding a ground vehicle through the dark streets of the decrepit city towards the executive spaceport. He was mentally formulating his report along the way. One of his most urgent things was to find and execute those spying for Rarvis. They were far too effective to be allowed to delve any deeper.
Too deep and it would cause problems. It would not for these subjugated worlds to learn that Raxis was also their puppet. It was working far too well to be allowed to crumble now.
New Arrivals, scifi adventure, 203 pages, $2.99 (or read free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription)