This street ended at a t-junction, facing a defunct corner store bearing a sign that read Convenience in large script.
Here the Princess stopped to speak, and her guide regarded her. “I know how this might sound, but – the Imperium is founded on cooperation and inclusion. It can’t even exist today without the collective skill sets of different planetary peoples. Cooperation is the force that propelled it to the present moment, even the spark of its inception. Relation is the mandate. That includes all known… all known…”
Soleil let out a sigh and dropped forward, empathetic pain wrenching her face where it could scarcely be seen. Her brow remained furrowed, gaze on her thoughts. “I know it sounds like I’m harping on an ideal, yet – any civilization is little else than an ideal. That I can name it means it exists, though it mightn’t have guided every action. I’m not the only one who knows where the backbone lays. But the power…” She looked up and faced Raev to show him her expression: the internal accumulation of assessment, graced with stunned acknowledgment of all the reality she’d faced. “…The power is acting against itself.” Her continuing readiness to act held her together, and her sword of logic sharpened as she continued applying it in cogitation.
He took this in with a frank and direct gaze before replying to the skyline. “How often does an established power structure depart from the ideals which created it? It happens, when those with power are afraid they might lose it. They can betray what empowered them, which may empower another.” Sturlusson lifted his hand to direct them to the right, where a wind whistled down a long, hard road.
This neighborhood had front gardens, running rampant with this planet’s successors to civilization. The wildlife population was nonplussed by their human guests. Doors, windows, and vehicles lay in unnatural positions, absent of citizenry. The breeze was fresh and light.
“So the Vedani…” Raev was massaging both his shoulders with his left hand as they walked, “they’d been trying to achieve contact for a couple generations, since before Celeste was Queen. Results ranged from discouraging to horrific – talk to them about it sometime. Many incidents of theft and murder convinced them they were being treated as harvestable. They were left with little choice but to create a channel before they were further aggressed. This allied action was a matter of defense to them, particularly after understanding the more recent experience of the Aureny.”
[Note: this lengthy chapter being released in many small pieces has turned an unprecedented corner, and so shall I by using numeral decimals.]
The trail was reasonably long by the reckoning of a child, easy switchbacks descending the face of the hill. The trees thinned against the edge of a cul de sac. The two stepped out into a semicircle of modest yet comfortable dwellings. “Like most of us with a miracle resistance, I lost my entire family.” He hung his head for half a beat and led them down the center of the street. “The Affliction created its own vengeance that way.”
“Once I was old enough, I dug it out. I gouged the secrets out of hiding, with unparalleled resources via my allies. The blood costs I incurred were… small in comparison. Yet, I bereaved myself again, through my own actions. I know very well what I’ve done.” Raev walked with floating steps as through the mists of time. Soleil glided with him, focused, letting the block roll slowly by. “Many agree the regime must fall. While you are almost convincing enough to make people believe there exists something redeemable.”
“Not all Hirylien survivors wanted to pursue vengeance. Pliskin for one, he was content to bring advances to market… in clever silence regarding the Vedani. The Pan-Galactic Imperium benefitted as they had before, scavenging under denial.”
Raev brought them along the path into the trees riding up toward a short crest. Branch tips curled in vibrant tender spirals. “They made a lot of claims to innocence, lies that we’ve proven. I already knew it because I watched the chain of discoveries here on Hirylien. I had a deep grasp of the social dynamics, with solid knowledge of all the changes taking place. It’s what I did with all my time in that year, with the unbiased absorption of a preteen with full linguistics. I observed when and where everything fell apart. I knew.”
They reached the crest at the end of the copse, which revealed a promontory overlook of the nearby neighborhood. Houses were aswim in greenery, collapsed rooflines and choked roadways blocked with immobile wreckage. A sagging bench was set near a trail that wound down the steep hillside, the local shortcut. Raev stood still in the clear space by the bench, facing the view. Soleil drew level.
“The Hirylien Affliction is an advanced mutation that came from a lab. They were confident they could contain it because they had a counter-agent ready when they released it – though they scrambled conspicuously along expectable timelines, which were too long to save most of our planet given the pace of the disease. Vedani are incredible information trackers, beyond our concepts of safeguards and destruction. They already possessed clarity into most of our systems at that time, and more so now.” Devoid of solicitous gestures, he walked over and started down the trail, making it clear this was not the end and that she should follow.
“Advance intelligence reached Queen Celeste and her Ascendants. You had probably just begun your own schooling. They already had awareness of the Vedani. They had a dark policy of shutout and information suppression. The rapidly evolving possibility of a politically independent-minded planet gaining the sudden edge of an outright alliance with what they’d treated as an exploitable danger caused them to react with violence. Maybe facing full fragmentation and with too many shameful secrets they wished to contain, they decided they could continue their control of the Pan-Galactic Imperium by creating one more.”
The Princess’ eyes were narrowed, gaze turned inward examining scenes in her memory as though on a tiny screen. They paced each other evenly. Lips pressed tightly together, at his pauses she met Sturlusson’s look sidelong to confirm that she was following keenly.
As they passed the end of the oblong school building, it appeared as on some holiday, but the big double doors that would have been at the end were missing. The other shore of this little lake – a reservoir – was easier to examine from here. There was an outlet that flowed for some way toward a ledge. This path would soon depart from the shore, into trees.
Raev continued. “They didn’t have time, or they didn’t act like they examined branches of reasonable strategy. They reached into their arsenal to come up with something efficacious and brutal. How often do the leaders of entrenched governments retain power by acting against the founding principles? Occasional accounting is performed.”