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“Do you have any other concerns, Governor?” Kalirit asked.

“There is also the troubling matter of the Creeper incident we had in one of our major ports last month. One of our docking facilities was reporting an unusually high incidence of absenteeism, and when the security forces were sent to investigate the delinquents, a raid on one of their homes uncovered a den of Creeper users. I’d heard scattered reports of an increase in the use of this drug, but to have it land on my shores is unacceptable. We cannot afford losses of efficiency at a time like this. The Shoaman Kai has cleaned up this particular den, but I’m assuming that Eitherorik has a handle on rooting out the smugglers and dealers.”

“Are we sure it was the same drug? I hear some Hatvan opiates have a similar effect.”

“Creeper is no joke, High Commissary, and this incident shouldn’t be attributed to mere laziness. Perhaps on Varakan you’ve become so comfortable that you can afford lapses in work ethic, but not so here in the Chiartries system.”

“I understand your concerns Governor, but we believe the issue has been blown out of proportion. As you’ve said, the reports are scattered and we have no reason to think that it’s as widespread as some would like to believe. Eitherorik has informed me that the Shoaman Kai had recently intercepted a small shipment of Creeper on Kheim. If this is the scale they’re working on, we needn’t concern ourselves too much.”

“It may be a small problem for you, but I don’t believe there’s any small problem that can’t get big.” He was right, Kalirit thought, but she imagined that he was not talking about himself at that moment.

“If I could remind you, Governor, that just last decade we had a brief Hydraflax epidemic, and it was handled swiftly. Our labourers work hard, and sometimes they seek release through avenues that are ill-advised. I sincerely hope that whatever instructions were handed down from your office to the local branch of the Shoaman Kai with respect to how to deal with this problem had taken that into account.”

The recording was about to enter into another head-scratching loop, but Kalirit spared Fainreshlin the pain of standing there mute. “We now have the intercepted shipment from Kheim, and I expect that this will lead us to the source of the problem in due course.”

“It is the least we expect.”

“And we always exceed expectations. Until next time, Governor.”

“Good luck, High Commissary.” The recording flickered out and Kalirit plucked the data pad out of its recess to toss it into the outgoing communication pile on her desk. Even Fainreshlin’s breathing seemed so loud that it made it difficult for Kalirit to hear her own thoughts, but now in the silence of her office she played through the conversation again.

She hadn’t expected the narcotic to arrive on Chiartries quite so soon. Up until a year ago, few had even heard of the ancient parasite eggs known as Creeper, as their supply was confined to reclusive death cults and the ultra-rich. But a synthesized version of the slightly luminescent amber spheres had now made it from its first recorded sighting on Vesh Mav all the way to Chiartries, almost a quarter-span of the Empire. Still, its alleged range seemed to be confined to the periphery of the Anthar Kai, and so even the very mention of it was unlikely to reach the core worlds for a while. It would sooner seep across their borders into the Mraboran Protectorate or even the Hatvan Empire. Kalirit thought it could be interesting to watch how they handled a full-blown epidemic, but having Creeper spread too quickly wouldn’t do anyone any favours. Curiously, despite this far-flung range, Eitherorik reported only one seized shipment, so either the Shoaman Kai hadn’t been doing its job well or, for whatever reason that was probably obvious to the younger generation, he was underreporting.

She leaned over her desk and ran her fingers along the engraved crown of broad leaves above an agitated ocean, the emblem of the Anthar Kai, the “the mother’s mouth”, built to feed and clothe a fledgling empire, now a gaping maw that threatened to swallow her whole, that had grown beyond the comprehension of all her predecessors, all those who were blinded to its power because they never could see the whole picture at once. Men like Fainreshlin relied on it, derived their entire being from it, but at the end of the day they merely suckled at its teat and weren’t able to offer anything in return or to properly leverage their position. For those like the Governor, status and a morsel of power was the pinnacle of their ambition.

She looked at her empty inbox. Every dispatch that required her immediate attention had been dealt with, but the one she was most impatient to receive was conspicuously absent. The in-person audience with the Presidium was turning into a sure thing, and Kalirit was not looking forward to losing her grasp on the certainty that came out of being stationary; where communications times could be calculated to the day and where there was no risk of crossing paths with a message sent from the very destination she was headed to.

She reflected ruefully how she had settled into sedentary work, a far cry from forty years prior when she restlessly hopped to each corner of the Anthar Kai holdings as she ignored the call of the stasis pods. Now she felt as though she’d grown into these walls and the prospect of separation sent arrows of discomfort from her forearms to her shoulders.

The Presidium was the only entity for whom such sacrifice was expected of her. The last glowing orb of power that still sat out of her reach. What her predecessors lacked was a vision of potential, and that any hierarchy, no matter its age, was malleable, and she could prove it. If it meant groveling at their feet a while longer, then so be it.

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A note from MichaelSilverV

So I've officially run out of buffer, which means I will turn to regular updates on Thursdays instead. In the meantime, I'll also be taking a break over the holidays, as the two next scheduled updates are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. So see you back here on January 7 with the first part of Chapter 4. Happy Holidays!


About the author

MichaelSilverV

Bio: I'm a husband, father of three, lawyer, writer, author of The Bloodlet Sun, and am currently working on my first contemporary fiction novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail.

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