AMIDIEN STEPPED OUT OF HIS QUARTERS INTO A HALL FULL OF TERALLIANS. They seemed to sense that it could be a short visit and were in a hurry to get their work done and down to Tetra to spend time with their families. Amidien turned and almost ran into Admiral Riliq. Amidien pulled his hands behind his back, staring into Riliq’s acidic glare.
“How could you fail a mission that was so simple?” Riliq asked.
“I didn’t fail my mission.”
“You were to stop all Merchant Raitor ships that came into that solar system!”
“I did, save Prosperous. I heard my Father has ordered the ship brought to Tetra, but it managed to escape even you. It would have been such a loss if your ship had been the one captured by Merchant Raitor.”
“Watch what you say, Amidien, or even your Father won’t be able to—”
“Riliq,” Lixu said.
Riliq turned. Emperor Lixu walked toward him, oblivious to the Terallians who dropped to their knees and lowered their foreheads to the floor. Riliq dropped his chin, careful not to meet Lixu’s eyes. Amidien held Lixu’s gaze, hiding all his emotions behind an expressionless face.
“How many ships were destroyed, Captain?” Lixu asked Amidien.
“Fourteen in two months? Does that sound like a failed mission, Riliq?”
“If you do not feel so, Emperor, I do not either.”
“I thought not.” Lixu’s eyes drifted back to Amidien. “But I would like to know where your family has disappeared to, Amidien.”
“They had planned a vacation before I departed.”
“That isn’t what the communiqué we found at your house hinted to,” Riliq hissed, lifting his eyes back to Amidien’s.
“As I recall, the last communiqué I sent said to take the vacation we’d been planning. Unless you found another communiqué that I never sent to my wife while you were intruding in my domicile, I don’t know what else you could be speaking of, Admiral.”
Riliq growled, “You lie. Where are—”
“Riliq, clear the hall. I need to speak in private with my son.”
Riliq looked from father to son, as if confused by the order.
Lixu slowly looked at him and he turned away, ordering the crew, “Soldiers, rise and depart. The Emperor wishes privacy.”
In a burst of motion, the crew obeyed and in seconds only Lixu and Amidien stood in the hall.
“Merchant Raitor is an infestation that must be stopped, Amidien.”
“If you say so, Father.” Amidien didn’t even attempt to force sincerity in his reply.
“You don’t believe me?”
“What do you believe, Father?”
“You are the most disrespectful child!”
“So murder me like you did Arinaught, or Dase.”
“They were not murdered. They died in accidents.”
“If you say so, Father.”
“Where is your family, Amidien?”
Amidien moved close to Lixu, holding his gaze. “Safe.”
“Safe from who?”
“Anyone that might try to use them against me.”
“My half sister and brother died by accident, in their sleep. Why should I feel my family isn’t safe while you breathe? Why should sentencing Rouchel to death for speaking in your court cause me worry about harm coming to her?
“I reversed my decision. I couldn’t let anyone think a woman was superior in my court.”
“And I suppose suggesting to our doctor that Pada be drown at birth was a joke?”
Amidien smirked. “What lies you tell yourself to easy your conscience, Father.”
Lixu’s eyes narrowed. “If you become a problem, nothing will protect your family.”
“And with threats like that, Father, you wonder why I would want them safe? Safe from you.” Amidien looked down the hall. “Safe from Riliq, and whatever plan it is you two have devised that has us attacking Merchant Raitor ships.” Amidien looked back at Lixu. “But I am under oath to obey your commands, so I will follow through my missions without question.”
“Then I’m commanding that you bring your family back to Tetra. Immediately.”
Amidien smiled. “How would that be in the Fleet’s best interest? Or the governments?”
“Your mother was asking who I’d chosen as my successor again,” Lixu said.
Amidien nodded. “She wants it for herself, you know.”
“And you don’t?” Lixu turned.
Amidien looked back at Lixu, a sly look coming to his eyes. “I want to be in the safe place with my family, playing with my children. You know, Zeemid is really suited for your office, not me. He disrespects life, a valued quality in a Terallian Emperor.”
Lixu’s eyes blazed with anger. “You insolent child!”
“Good night, Father.” Amidien walked away.
“Amidien,” Lixu called, “Amidien, I did not excuse you!”
Amidien turned the corner, finding Riliq standing against the wall.
“The Emperor needs your advisement, sir,” Amidien told him as he passed.
“AMIDIEN!” Lixu screamed.
Amidien didn’t stop or look back. Riliq watched Amidien leave and then walked back to Lixu. He was pacing the width of the hall, hissing and snorting curses at Amidien.
“I could have him executed, sir,” Riliq offered.
Lixu’s burning gaze turned on Riliq. “Do not tell me how to deal with my son, Admiral. I will deal with him as I see fit.”
“My apologies, Emperor.”
“Find his family, Riliq. I want them back on Tetra. If I don’t have them, I have no control over him.”
“Yes, Emperor. I will have him dispatched to a remote post, Emperor.”
Lixu stopped in his tracks. “No. Assign him and his crew to my private vessel.” Lixu walked back to Riliq. “He is a valuable intelligence asset and I will find a way to get as much from him as I can.”
Lixu stormed off, his robes billowing out and around him.
Riliq watched him leave. He turned to the captain’s quarters and opened a panel above the biometric pad. He entered in a key code and the door opened. Riliq walked into the cramped quarters and sat down at the computer.
“Computer, access all of Amidien’s personal records. Any records sent to his home or anyone other than Fleet Command or Fleet ships. Scan for the last 120 cycles.”
The search will take twenty minutes, Admiral Riliq, the ship’s Oadagan reported.
“I’ll wait.” Riliq sat down in the desk chair.