Our forlorn hero struggles with passions of the heart and contends with hidden enemies. My mind reeled. My father and Aeliana…engaged? Lucan eyed me
Our forlorn hero struggles with passions of the heart and contends with hidden enemies.
My mind reeled. My father and Aeliana…engaged?
Lucan eyed me across the table. “You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”
My face grew hot, but I had no reply. It felt like I was standing on the edge of a chasm, and she was on the other side.
He offered a sad smile. “You aren’t the first.”
“I wasn’t one of her suitors.” He shrugged. “But I was jealous of them. Yet, she only had eyes for Caliban…your father always had his admirers.” He bowed from his seat. “My condolences, Lord Faustus. He will be missed.”
I braced my elbows on the table and rubbed my face. “What was he like?”
Lucan leaned back and pursed his lips. “Where so many men were loud in their boasting, your father was quiet and thoughtful, but he spoke in deeds. He was, without pretense, magnanimous in all things and kind to all without distinction. I never knew him to begrudge anything, but neither was he timid, nor one to brook injustice. Duty guided him in all things, but the strength of his affections ran deep. Every man of substance sought him as a friend.”
He shook his head. “I apologize if I only speak in platitudes. I knew him from childhood, but we were not close.”
I had a hunch. “Aeliana?”
“Yes.” The silence grew between us.
I changed tack. “So I’m a bannerman, but what does that mean, exactly? What are my duties? Am I in charge of anything?”
“You really were thrown into this.” Lucan chuckled. “In ancient days, we were the standard-bearers of the emperors, warding his person, but also acting as messengers and envoys who spoke with his voice, or acted as his hand in matters requiring utmost discretion. In these latter times, we are something between bodyguards and staff officers, and outside the normal chain of command when on detached duty—the equivalent of flag rank—but never outranking the high command.”
The wail of a klaxon echoed throughout. Lucan shot to his feet. “Lord Faustus, with me!”
We bounded down corridors, followed by men in tan uniforms moving in the same direction. Lucan and I emerged into a large compartment that was a cross between a submarine command deck and a NASA mission control—the war room. Each station, occupied by a man with a headset, was crammed with instruments and displays. All of them faced a screen occupying the wall at the far end of the compartment. At the other end, behind the stations, was an elevated deck with a map table and observation chairs.
One of the men in tan approached Lucan, hand outstretched with a sheet of paper. “Lord Bannerman, we’re receiving a communique from Field Marshal Cyprianus. The authentication ciphers check out.”
Lucan took the page and scanned it. “So Clovis survived! I knew the old hound was too hard to kill.”
“Sir, he’s waiting for your reply.”
He waved a hand. “Of course, bring him up on screen.”
A red light lit up beside a camera mounted above the large wall display. On the display itself, through the haze of static, appeared a face that was haggard, unshaven, crisscrossed with old scars, and bore an eye patch. The drab background behind him looked like a tent. There was a long pause, which must’ve been from the signal delay—the space station was a quarter-million miles from the planet.
Marshal Cyprianus squinted with his good eye. “Lucan, is that you? Are they putting cubs in command of Vigil stations now?”
Lucan lifted an eyebrow. “It’s Lord Valerius, now…Clovis, and I’m a bannerman to the Empress.”
Clovis’s eye went wide. “Empress!? What in all the nine circles of hell happened to Childeric?”
“We believe that he was killed in the first wave. Remigius took command after that, but was killed when the Subterrestrials assaulted the Fortress Abassis. Luckily, Lord Faustus arrived and rescued the Empress. They’re now with us.”
Lucan shook his head. “It’s his son.”
Clovis looked bewildered. “What!?” He shook his head. “Nevermind. I’m with our forces in Quivira, on the Southern Peninsula, and the cave crawlers are massing forces to overwhelm our defensive lines.”
“I’m just amazed you’re still alive.” Lucan crossed his arms. “How did you survive?”
“Early warning and dumb luck. A reconnaissance overflight spotted some of their tunnels, and scouts got eyes on their mobile missile emplacements. We got the bombers up and took most of them out, but they still got Cibola. We may not survive much longer, though.”
“Alright, what do you need from us?”
Clovis’s smile was vulpine. “We’re using every last drop of power we have to burn through their jamming, but the signal bands for satellites are blocked and landlines are cut. I need a release of authorization for the remote silos.”
Lucan nodded. “And coordinate inputs from our side, of course. We can’t access most of our satellites either, so we’re basically blind in the Southern Hemisphere. If you can be our eyes, we’ll make it work.” He turned to me. “Lord Faustus, please wake the Empress. She’ll need to authorize this.” He signaled for one of the men in a tan uniform to follow me.
Outside the war room, I signaled for the man to lead, since I had no idea how to retrace my steps. We arrived at the security station just outside her quarters, only to find two guards posted there, lifeless and ventilated with bullet holes.
Without speaking, the soldier and I drew our weapons. He pressed something into the keypad by the door and, before I could say anything, swept into the room.
I followed but crashed into him as he stood stock-still in the middle of the cabin.
Another man in the same tan uniform had an arm around Aeliana’s throat and a gun pressed against her head.
Then there was ululation of another klaxon, the strobing of red emergency lights, and the door slammed shut behind us.
To be continued…