Captain Tristanidad Luciano stood a few feet away from the Colonel’s office, lost in thought. He knew he should say something to the Colonel. It was the right thing to do. In many ways, it would also cover his own ass. As the Captain of the Elite Forces of the Donovackia Corporation’s military, he could never have anyone say that he suspected something, but did nothing.
“Come in, Captain,” the Colonel declared, without even lifting his eyes from his desk. Captain Luciano walked into the office and crisply saluted.
“At ease, Captain, please sit down.”
“Thank you, sir. May I please close the door, sir?”
The Colonel agreed and bid the Captain to sit again. Colonel Jecamiah Agastya had expected to see the Captain this morning. The morning’s command briefing memo mentioned gearing up for the next planetary exploration mission. It had been over a decade since Donovackia Corporation had launched a mission, and the Captain would undoubtedly be excited, as he would be assembling and training part of the mission team. However, the troubled look on his face hinted that something else was on his mind.
“Sir, may I speak off the record and in confidence with you?” asked Captain Luciano.
“Captain, please, what troubles you?” replied the Colonel.
“Well, you know that I am an instructor at the Gorgano Martial Arts Academy when my time allows it.”
“Yes, I’ve seen your 11-year-old son compete. He’ll be kicking your butt within a few years,” noted the Colonel.
Both men laughed. It was probably true. The kid was good, but concern was apparent in the Captain’s eyes.
“Tristanidad, what is it you want to talk about?” inquired Colonel Agastya.
“I’m not sure exactly how to say this or even bring this up,” began the Captain. “One of the students and one of my son’s friends is Mungo Chaldea, the General’s son. Lately, he’s been having some serious trouble with some of the kids his age, at school. His mother recently approached me. She wouldn’t say much, other than there was some trouble at home. She asked me to just be a friend to the boy. She told me he needed a strong, stable, but compassionate, male influence in the boy’s life.”
“I can certainly see why she would turn to you,” affirmed Colonel Agastya. “You’re a good man and a fine role model. I’m sure you would be there for the boy regardless of whether or not Camdrin Chaldea had approached you about her son or not.”
“Well, sir, that’s part of the problem.” The Captain hesitated and then decided to continue, “I know there is some secret or secrets that this family is concealing. I don’t mean to pry into others’ business. It’s just . . . I pulled Mungo aside to just let him know that he had a friend if he needed it. Tears flowed from his eyes like a river. He doesn’t say much. He’s come over to play with my son, and a few times, he has crawled into my arms and just cried. Camdrin has become more and more evasive as I try to talk to her. I don’t know what to do. He’s a good kid, but something is going on.”
The Colonel released a deep breath. “Tristanidad, I know more than I can say. Please understand this. The boy obviously needs a friend, right now. I don’t believe that he is in any danger. He’s not being abused. Right now, he just needs someone he can trust. Please just let him spend as much time as possible with your family. It may be important right now for Mungo to have an emotionally safe place, with a family that functions and cares for one another as yours does. You’re a good man for stepping up, but please, don’t ask any more questions. The issue hopefully will be resolved for the Chaldea family soon.”
The Colonel maintained his look of calm and compassion as he talked to the Captain, but inside he could feel the frustration rising. How the hell did the General get to his station in life? That pompous, sexist, self-righteous, judgmental idiot should not be in command. The Colonel knew who the General really was, and what he was really like. He was rotten to the core. The Chaldea family absolutely loved the illusion of the perfect General and his ideal family. He portrayed the perfection well, but every bit of it was a façade hiding the truth. This wasn’t the first time that there was an issue, and he was afraid it wouldn’t be the last.
Colonel Jecamiah Agastya was fond of the young Captain. It really wasn’t a surprise that they were having this conversation. They were both military men. Both had been tracked young into command school and elevated at young ages. Colonel Agastya had recognized years ago that Captain Luciano was a man of depth. He was an outstanding officer, an excellent leader, and amazingly cool under pressure. However, unlike so many who were drawn to the military, he was also a man of deep and complex emotion. He hadn’t become cold and emotionally stunted, like so many others in the military. It was about fourteen years ago when they were both younger, and in more forward-combat roles, that he watched Luciano heading down a path that he had already tread. While the Colonel couldn’t roll back time and undo his own regret, he had kept Captain Luciano from heading down the same path.
Tristanidad Luciano had been madly in love. Kalila was a wonderful young woman, full of life and as madly in love with Tristanidad as he was in love with her. When Luciano was scheduled to be deployed on a dangerous mission, he made the decision to end their relationship. He simply couldn’t ask the woman that he loved to sit by and wait for a potential call about his death. Better that he set her free then than have her lose him later.
The night before he planned to let her go, he confided his plans with his superior officer, Jecamiah Agastya. Agastya had done the exact same thing, five years before that, and regretted every moment of it since. The woman he loved with every ounce of his being was gone, and he was afraid that he would never be able to fall in love again. Agastya convinced Luciano not to end the relationship. If they were truly in love, then they should be together. Their union produced three beautiful children and, in so many ways, had made Luciano a better man.
The Colonel’s secretary interrupted the men, reminding them that the General’s briefing was in five minutes. Both officers headed towards the Executive Command Briefing Room with anticipation, joining the other eighteen senior command officers for what was sure to be the announcement of the initial preparation orders for the next planetary exploration mission.
The room was arranged like a small auditorium. Three long, elegant tables sat, one terraced above the one before it. In the front of the room was a podium, where General Swinton Chaldea stood, waiting for the officers to assemble.
“Members of the Donovackia Corporation Military Command Staff, welcome on this excellent day,” began the General. “While we have significant, ongoing business to attend to, let me start with the news that all of you already know, as I issued it in this morning’s briefing memo. The Donovackia board of directors has initiated plans for the next planetary exploration mission. Ladies and gentlemen, we have two years to prepare for this mission.”
A rumble went through the officers, along with questioning looks and perplexed gestures. One of the officers expressed the sentiment in the room. “General, sir, two years? Every mission I have ever heard of takes at least three to five years of planning. The Donovackia Corporation doesn’t even have a spaceship under construction, and that takes a minimum of three years to build. Could you please clarify and provide details on how this can possibly proceed on a two-year timeline?”
“Excellent question and I am afraid I don’t have a clear answer for you,” replied General Chaldea. “I was briefed before this meeting by Chairman Donovackia, himself. He assured me that there will be a ship ready for us. I do not know how, but he ordered us to initiate planning and preparation.
“I do know this much. It will be a twelve-man, standard crew, with an estimated travel time of two to three years. The return vessel will also be a standard, unmanned craft, bringing back only artifacts and crew reports.
“For the twelve-man crew, the Corporation will be supplying six non-military crew members. There will be two global logistics and trade experts. Their job will be to analyze the planet’s capability to move goods around the planet. There will be two infrastructure and technology experts. They will focus on understanding the planet’s technology, and if the planet is close to ready for development, they will work with the other experts to identify a location that has sufficient electrical power for a portal and access to global trade routes. The final two will be experts on identifying and validating Transprophetics.
“Our military will supply six crew members. Obviously, we will provide the crew commander and vice-commander. Ultimately, the six men we provide will serve as security for the experts. Each soldier will be assigned to one of the experts.
“This is a standard mission. The ship will land covertly on the planet, and the return vessel hidden. The transport ship will be destroyed, and the crew will deploy across the planet to complete their various tasks and analyses. In six months, they will regroup at the hidden return vessel, complete their final analysis, load the return vessel with artifacts and reports, and send it home.
“As everyone in this room knows, once that ship leaves our solar system, they are on their own. There is no two-way communication capability once they break the light barrier. Their only hope for ever returning to Koranth occurs if we invade before they die.”
The meeting continued as all military meetings do, with roles, tasks, and responsibilities assigned and distributed. The Donovackia Military Command was excellent at doing its job, even if Colonel Agastya had significant reservations about the character and capability of the General. Those issues could be managed and dealt with if needed. The meeting was adjourned, with the Donovackia Military machine energized for this significant undertaking.
As he walked back into his palatial office, the General waved his hand, and the doorway disappeared, sealing the man in privacy. He walked to the bookshelf behind his desk. It was made of multiple woods, highly crafted and handsome. He’d commissioned the work himself and worked closely with the artisans as they crafted it. He ran both hands across specific places on two different shelves. Two other shelves shifted, and a secret compartment opened.
General Swinton Chaldea pulled out one of the four bottles from the opening and examined its contents. It looked like water. He opened the bottle, holding it to his nose and breathing deeply. It barely smelled at all. Did he love this, or did he hate this? He wondered why someone had ever thought to ferment the bulbous roots of the portano plant and drink it. He chuckled. It really didn’t matter. This was his secret friend. It helped him get through the day.
Of course, it had been a challenge last year when his wife had discovered his secret. As if it made any difference in the world that he had been drinking a little rodka each day. He could afford it. She didn’t need to know, and no one else needed to know either. It wasn’t a problem. She had forced him to take a personal two-week “vacation” to a so-called “spa.” He played the game, pretending that he had a problem and would work to never touch it again.
• • •
|Chapter 13||Chapter 15|