The room fell into a moment of silence before the hologram continued.
“My mother’s attempt to pass on the Spirit of Guardiana to me was almost twenty years ago – at least, at the time of this recording it was. I know that much will have happened between now and whenever you will see this, and I expect that you will use this knowledge well.” Talonka seemed to look away from the young men for a moment before she returned her gaze to Desslok.“And now, I must bid you good-bye, my son. I know that there are still many questions in your mind, but those questions cannot be answered by me. I pray that Adonai will send you your answers when you are ready to hear them. And I also pray that one day I may see you again... in Immanuel’s land...”
The admiral’s son glimpsed anew the grief that had come over his friend the day the Queen was killed. The first good-bye she had left her sons had been so... overwhelming for them. This second good-bye to her youngest child was obviously just as difficult for both mother and son, but it was also more... hopeful somehow – more of a temporary farewell than a good-bye. As Talonka’s words rang through him, Masterson’s heart filled and was lifted.
“Masterson Talan.” the queen looked at other young man, catapulting him back into the moment. “The one thing that I ask of you is that you continue to fulfill the promise you made to me the day I handed you that letter. I know that you would trade your own life for my son’s, but I pray that you never have to do so. You are like a third son to me, Masterson, and I would sooner wish my own death than yours. Be faithful and hold fast to your Faith. I suspect that you will need it in the days to come.” she said. “And now, I bid you farewell too for a time, Masterson. I know you will watch over my son and that the malakim shl Adonai will surround you.”
Talonka bowed her head. Then, with one final, long look at each young man, the apparition from their past vanished, leaving them both staring at the device in disbelief.
“That was the end?” Desslok asked, a strange mixture of shock and wonder in his voice.
“No, sir.” Masterson shook his head, still staring too, “I believe that was only the beginning.”
After Talonka vanished for the last time, Masterson left the prince to himself, giving him time to think about what to do next with the information he now had and, most importantly, what should be done about his brother Deun.
The admiral’s son returned to his own residence, finding his father home.
Masterson sat down beside the Admiral, breathing out a long sigh as he did so.
The expression caught Raymond’s attention and he put down the article he was reading. “Tired?” he asked his son.
“No...” Masterson replied, “just giving the prince some time to work out a few things.”
“That’s dangerous.” The Admiral said with a joking smile.
“True.” replied Masterson, “but he has to do this on his own, and if I know him, he’ll think until he comes up with the answer he’s looking for.”
“And what answer is that?” Raymond probed.
Masterson sighed again, “That I can’t tell you... I want to, but I promised a... friend... I wouldn’t. They were concerned for your safety.”
“Now you have me almost worried. My almost-sixteen year-old son knows something that I can’t be told because it’s too dangerous for me to know.”
“That would be a good summary.” Masterson looked into his father’s eyes.
“Does this have anything to do with those long hours you and the prince have been putting in?”
There was a moment of silence, then Raymond nodded. “One soldier to another then.” he extended his right hand.
Masterson hesitated for a moment, then smiled and nodded, grasping his father’s forearm as Raymond took hold of his son’s.
“Though you’re still the youngest member of Mossad I’ve ever met.” Raymond smiled as the gesture of trusting agreement ended.
“Well... that wasn’t my decision, if you’ll recall.” Masterson replied in his own defense.
“Yes, I believe Desslok made that particular call himself when you two were ten.”
“You do know that I’m officially on the payroll, right?” Masterson said.
“So that’s where all those extra funds have been coming from.” Raymond replied jokingly.
“I outrank you, remember. Teasing a superior officer is generally frowned upon.” Masterson said with a laugh.
“Don’t remind me.” The Admiral added a laugh of his own, then sobering a bit he said, “I knew it would only be a matter of time before something like this happened – something you couldn’t tell me about. But whatever it is – wherever it takes you, know that our prayers go with you.”
“Thank you...” Masterson gave the admiral a look of gratitude and received a hug from his comrade-in-arms father. Then something the Admiral had just said struck him. “What do you mean, ‘wherever it takes you’?”
“Just a sense.” Raymond gave his son a knowing look.
“Do you know something...?” Masterson asked.
His father shook his head, “No, but I am a parent and we tend to get wind of things before our children do. Wherever you go, may Adonai go with you.” Raymond stood, stepped in front of his seated son and spread his hands above Masterson’s head in the manner of the Birkat Kohanim performed in the Temple. “As a priest unto Adonai through the blood of His Son Yeshua HaMashiach, I ask this blessing for you.”
Raymond bowed his head, letting his eyes fall shut as he said the blessing,
“Y’vah-reh-k’khah Adonai v’yeesh-m’reh-khah
(The Lord bless you, and keep you.)
yah-ayr Adonai pah-nahv ay-leh-khah vee-khoo-neh-khah.
(The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.)
yee-sah Adonai pah-nahv ay-leh-khah v’yah-saym l’khah shalom!”
(The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace!)
The Admiral lowered his hands to his sides and looked down at his son who looked up to meet his gaze. Masterson had always known he could trust his father with anything. Today, he realized all the more how true that was, and even though he had been sworn to secrecy in the matter of Deun’s treachery, Masterson knew that if ever he needed help, Admiral Raymond Talan would gladly come to his aid.
The door chimed for attention.
“Well, that was faster than usual.” Masterson said, knowing exactly who it was. “I believe that’s for me.” the young man stood, walked past his father, and opened the door. Just as Masterson had thought, there stood the prince. Also as Masterson had anticipated, the first words from Desslok’s mouth were, “Talan, come.”
The admiral’s son nodded to the prince, then, casting a glance over his shoulder at his father, he left.
“There has to be some way to expose him.” Desslok said, frustrated.
“I am sure there is, Sir.” Masterson said. “There is also something else that I believe needs to be brought to your attention – something I hadn’t realized until we heard the Queen’s summary of the past twenty years.”
“Special forces agents have started to disappear...” replied Masterson. “They’re official status is ‘off-world posting,’ but every agent knows that nine times out of ten that means ‘missing in action.’”
Desslok looked at his friend searchingly, “Are you absolutely sure?”
“Entirely, Sir. I can get you names if you would like.”
“That won’t be necessary.” the prince shook his head, “This can’t be ignored, though I sincerely hope that these disappearances don’t mean that snake Aurelia has come back.” he hissed. “Who can we trust, Masterson? Who in this universe would you entrust your life to?” Desslok looked pointedly at him.
“My father and mother for one.” came the reply.
“We’ve already discussed why that isn’t an option.” the prince said, a bit annoyed.
Masterson paused for a moment, thinking back through his life, realizing that, aside from his parents, the prince, and Adonai, there truly wasn’t anyone he knew of that he could trust in that way, so he turned to the only other resource he had, the past.
“I would trust this Eliora.” Masterson offered after a moment of careful thought.
The prince looked at him strangely, “The servant my mother knew?”
Desslok thought about it, trying to come up with a reason to say no. Finding none he said, “Very well. If you can find her, we will take this information to her – but only to her.”
“She will be found, Sir.” Masterson promised.
Talan made good on his promise and the next day he brought Desslok the information they needed to find the former palace servant, Eliora.
The two managed to smuggle themselves out of the palace, dressed like the local populace with the added anonymity of hoods over their heads. They had no means of transportation other than their own feet, and they were glad that the house they sought was only a few miles away from the palace.
Once they reached the small home the two looked around for an entrance other than the front door. Too many people would notice two strange teenagers entering a house via the traditional means. Masterson, being the less conspicuous of the two, was assigned to figure out how to get in.
A quick, casual circuit of the house revealed one additional door and three windows. The prince made himself disappear into the ambient shadows that surrounded the house while Masterson knocked quietly on the back door he had discovered. No answer came, so he knocked again.
When the door still remained closed he walked around to one side of the house and rapped on a closed windows. The pane was oval-shaped and smooth, set back into the wall much like all of the other windows in the city.
Just when Masterson was about to walk back around the house to another window, a woman who looked to be in her late-forties – still young for a Gamilon, but a bit older than Queen Talonka would be if she was still living– approached the pane and stared out at him curiously. She opened the window, the glass pane sliding smoothly into the wall beside it, leaving a comfortable opening through which she could speak with the young man. Masterson unhooded his face so that she could see that he meant no ill-will towards her.
“May I ask why you are getting hand-prints all over my clean windows?” she asked in a friendly tone.
“I... was wondering if I could ask you something.” Masterson replied.
“Why didn’t you come to the front door like everyone else then?”
“Well... I don’t think that would be a good idea...”
Just then the prince appeared around the corner and, seeing Masterson engaged in conversation stepped up beside him
“Why exactly would that be?” the woman asked.
“Because of me,” the prince suddenly interrupted.
The woman looked at Desslok in puzzlement until the young prince carefully pulled back the hood he still wore just enough for her to view his distinctive hair.
“You – you’re – ” the woman didn’t finish her sentence, “Come to the back quickly. You mustn’t be seen out there.”
Desslok and Masterson went quickly to the back door which was swiftly opened to them. As soon as they were inside, the door was closed and locked behind them.
“Come this way.” the woman beckoned them to follow her as she opened a section of floor and descended into the depths of the house.
With a shared look of caution, both young men followed, the floor sliding silently shut behind them.
To their surprise it was not pitch dark below the floor. The area was dimly lit, and there was nothing of any significance down in the recesses below the structure, not even old furniture.
The young men stopped at the bottom of the steps they had used to descend, but the woman kept on walking. She might have left them behind if she hadn’t happened to glance over her shoulder.
She took a small orb of light of her pocket and with a wave of her hand, the gesture-sensitive light source glowed to life. “Come. This way.” she said, motioning for them to follow her.
The woman led them farther and farther on, entering what looked like a tunnel. Eventually they stopped in what looked like the substructure of another building about the same size as the one they had left.
Their guide stepped into the middle of the empty space, indicating that they should come closer to her.
When they were withing four feet of the woman she asked, “How did you find me?”
The young men looked at each other furtively, but in the end they decided that sometimes risks were necessary.
“Through Mossad.” Masterson answered.
The woman looked at him strangely. “How did someone your age get access to that information?”
Masterson shrugged and smiled at her, beginning to sense something on a level the prince could not, “Then you are Eliora.”
“Yes, I am.” the woman confirmed, looking a bit less concerned now that they were away from her own home and hidden down here beneath an anonymous location, away from prying eyes. “The son of Talonka I would know anywhere.” she said, looking at Desslok, “But you, I do not know.” she turned her gaze to Masterson.
“My name is Masterson.” he supplied.
Eliora nodded, not seeming to find any significance in the offered name, but accepting it as truth. Then she turned back to Desslok and said, “Now the question is, which son are you? The elder or the younger?” she looked to be thinking. “May I see your hands?” she asked.
Something in Masterson’s head clicked into place. This woman, along with his parents, had been part of the group that fought off the zealot raid. If Mossad had been spread throughout the palace and Queen Talonka had been the one to confront Aurelia Guardiana, that only left three possible candidates to stand as a last defense between the royal heirs and the incursion force.
The prince gave Eliora a curious look, but held out both gloved and ungloved hand for her to see.
“May I?” she asked, pointing to the glove.
“Very well.” he relented and saved her the trouble of pulling it off.
Upon seeing the mark on the prince’s hand Eliora said, “You are the younger then, Desslok I believe is your name.”
The prince nodded slowly, not yet having made the connection that Masterson had. Shaking off the strange feeling that came over him all of a sudden, Desslok dove into the reason they had come, “I know about how you and my mother met and about the day Aurelia tired to force a shêd on her.”
The prince was rewarded by a look of surprise from Eliora.
He continued, “I don’t hold to your Faith, but Talan and I have found you trustworthy.”
Eliora’s eyes suddenly brightened and she turned her face towards Masterson, “You are Raymond and Naomi Talan’s son?!”
“I am.” he replied. “And you’re the one they chose to guard the final battleground the day the Guardiana forces first tried to take the princes.”
The ghost of memory passed through the woman’s face. “Your parents,” she nodded to Masterson, “ and yours as well, Sir,” she nodded to Desslok, “decided that it would be best to have only one of us guarding their children instead of three. It drew too much attention, they said. And they were right. The zealots went after the Talans instead of me. Two, they reasoned, would surely be the logical number to protect the heirs in the event of catastrophe.” she smirked at the rest of the memory. “Their logic turned out to be... insufficient.”
Both Desslok and Masterson looked at Eliora in amazement.
“Servants are not all boring.” she smiled. Then, returning to the needs of the present, she said, “I will do everything I can to help you.”
Desslok and Masterson were back into the palace before darkness fell. They had told Eliora everything they knew about what Deun was up to and she had promised that she would let them know if she uncovered anything new or found something that they had missed. She would also bear the responsibility of making known Deun’s treachery in the event of their demise.
In Eliora they had found a trustworthy heart and the spirit of a true comrade-in-arms.
Several days passed without much of anything happening and no news from Eliora. But, just when the prince was tempted to think that things had begun to calm down for a while, he was proven dreadfully wrong.
It was very late – even the night guards looked like they were about to fall asleep tonight, which was strange indeed since they usually stood watch tirelessly until they were relieved. Desslok would know, he’d talked with them often enough in the years past during his own nights of sleeplessness. He dismissed their behavior as coincidence, but noted a peculiar twisting sense of dread beginning to build in his gut.
The prince walked silently along the hall that led to the suite he called his home. The door opened just as it usually did, with a slight whooshing sound and quiet click when it closed and locked behind him. He didn’t bother to turn on any lights – what was the use in it? There were stars enough to see by and even though the moon was biding its time on the other side of Iscandar during this portion of the month, the room was still easily navigable in the low light.
He started to walk out of the main room and into the bedroom, but something on a table in the far corner glinted in the starlight, catching his ever-wary eye.
Quickly the prince whisked over to the other side of the room. Almost as soon as he was within a few feet of the strange, shining object a hologram of the insignia of the Gamilon-Iscandari Alliance appeared. At first Desslok thought that maybe somehow he had misplaced Talonka’s message capsule, but a quick check of his pocket proved that theory wrong.
A moment later the last face in the world he expected to see appeared before him.
“I am a fool, my son...” the voice of Leader Deun emanated from the device, making the prince’s eyes grow wide with astonishment and then narrow in suspicion. “If only I had listened to you when I had the chance... but I did not, and now all of Gamilon must pay the price for my arrogance.”
The strange feeling of dread Desslok had had before began to settle more heavily upon him.
“Your brother Deun... is the traitor you said he was.” the words were obviously difficult for his father to speak, “I cannot explain in this message how I know this, but I have left you ample proof of his misdeeds on this capsule.” the leader fell into a fit of coughing.
Something was very wrong.
“I am ashamed to say that when I confronted him with his treasonous acts, he convinced me yet again that he was innocent – that the zealots had framed him, made it look like he was the one who instigated contact with them...”
Desslok hissed at the thought of his brother’s blatant lies.
“But that’s exactly what he did do,” Leader Deun continued, “and I have no doubt you already know –” his father started coughing again, but this time the fit lasted much longer than the first, so long in fact that the recording skipped about a minute on the time index and started up again with the Leader clearing his throat. “Do not underestimate him as I did.”
Desslok noticed the pallor in his father’s face now.
“Somehow, and I do not know exactly how, he has managed to poison me. Thankfully the physician I was able to enlist knows what your brother gave me, but ingesting it is almost always fatal. As I record this for you, I am boarding a ship which will bear me either to my cure or to my demise. There is a planet far away from here where a cure is rumored to have been found. I don’t know if I’ll get there in time, or even if the rumors are true, but...” the Leader paused a moment, a look of utter surrender falling over his face as he seemed to look straight into Desslok’s eyes, “as a result of your brother’s treachery, you are now my heir.” There was silence again for an intense moment. “I said once that I had only one child. At the time, I referred to... your brother... I declare now that you, not Deun, are my only successor.”
The silence was almost tangible as Desslok continued to stare unbelievingly into the specter before him.
His father coughed again, sounding as though half of his insides were coming up with each sickening hack.
“I give you my blessing... my son. I’m only sorry it took me so long to see your value... I hope that someday you can find it in your heart to forgive me for everything I’ve done to you...” The image faded, leaving in its place deathly silent darkness and a dumbstruck prince.
“This cannot be real... It simply cannot be...” he breathed, then he said sharply, “Mintra’el!”
“What may I do for you, Sir?” the A.I. replied.
“Is Nesher still docked?” if his father’s ship was still here, he would be too and this insane hoax would be uncovered.
“No, Sir. The Nesher departed from Gamilon two hours ago.”
“Who was aboard?”
“The passenger manifest has been restricted.”
“Who is authorized to open it?” the prince asked, frustrated.
“Only one member of Mossad is authorized to view the information. His identification number is 71612.”
“But that’s –” Desslok was cut off by the entrance of another person.
“Yes, it’s mine, Sir.” said Masterson. “This is no trick, I assure you. I was with Leader Deun when he made the recording you just watched. Every word of it is true.” the young man looked at the newly appointed crown prince. “He left to pursue his one chance for life, but you know the law. No man is to touch the anointed one of Adonai with the intent to kill him.”
The strange look on Masterson’s face triggered an alarm in Desslok’s mind. “Why have you come, Talan?”
“You are now the anointed of Adonai, Sire – the rightful ruler of Gamilon. And not an hour after your father’s departure, your brother declared to his loyal followers his intent to seek your life. As the one charged to protect you and as your friend, I’ve come to take you into hiding.”
“No, Talan.” Desslok said, “I am not leaving this palace. I’ll fight every last man in his cursed army and their hellish forces!”
Desslok’s fiery spirit ignited, but Masterson wisely subdued the flames a bit, “If you do not leave now, you will be dead before the sun rises and your homeworld will be plunged into the darkness your brother intends to impose upon it. Your people will live in fear and hopelessness; the Alliance with Iscandar will be dissolved and everything your predecessors fought to protect and build will beco –”
“Very well...” the prince relented, interrupting Masterson with an upraised hand. “But when the time comes, I will meet my brother face-to-face, and we will finish this.”
Masterson’s face remained expressionless.
“When do we leave?” the prince asked, regretting the question instantly.
“As soon as I dye your hair.”
“As soon as you what?” came the icy response.
“Your hair, it has to change color, it’s too conspicuous.”
“I’ll wear a hood.” the prince retorted with a look defiance.
“While you sleep in ninety degree weather?” came the response.
Desslok glared at Masterson and a brief staring match began.
“There’s no time to argue about this. The dye isn’t permanent, you can remove it later.” Masterson moved to carry out the task.
With a look of disgust, the prince allowed Masterson to transform his hair from a striking orange-blonde to an unremarkable medium brown. The difference was so stark that when the prince saw his reflection again after the color change was done he grimaced.
“And I would recommend taking out the matching glove for the one you’re wearing.”
The prince rolled his eyes at Masterson but obeyed.
“Are you finished redecorating?” Desslok asked in irritation.
“Put this on.” Talan handed the prince a long brown cloak that would further conceal him.
“Anything else?” the prince said, disgruntled.
“No, Sire.” Masterson said.
“Since you seem to have this all previously orchestrated, how do we leave without being picked up by my brother’s minions?”
“The same way we get anywhere we’re not supposed to be, Sir.” Talan said, pointing upwards to the unobtrusive vent near the ceiling.
“Talan, you’re infuriating.” the prince said, brushing past his friend,
“You’re welcome, Sir.” Masterson let a smile slip through his military calm.
Desslok quickly swept through the suite, picking up a number of useful things and shoving them into a bag Masterson had just handed him. Then he addressed his A.I. “Download your program onto the blank memory crystal in my pocket, Mintra’el.”
“Download complete.” the generic computer voice had replaced Mintra’el’s.
Desslok walked towards the far wall of the room, coming to stand beneath the vent, staring up at their way of escape. He looked back at Masterson, his signature narrow-eyed smirk on his face. “I believe we were leaving.”
With that final word, the two young men managed to slip through the vent and cover their few tracks mere moments before Deun’s forces burst through the door into a dark, empty room.
While the traitor’s troops scoured the palace for him, Desslok and Masterson were swiftly navigating the palace airways, bypassing the perimeter alarms, scaling the outside wall and sprinting through the open countryside, leaving everything they’d ever known behind them.