Far aft on the jump ship Morana‘s hull, high above the enormous hangars, the hab decks where hundreds of thousands of crew lived, and the banks of titanic reactors which drove her jump engines, the ship’s command spire rose two stadia above her topside. At the very top was a meeting room, one hundred paces fore to aft. The only furniture was a table nearly as long, space for many scores of sentients. The bulkheads, thirty paces tall, were armor crystal, interrupted only occasionally by support pillars. When Morana was traveling, the swirling electric blue-white of jump space was all the light the meeting room required.
Today, though, her mighty engines were silent, and chandeliers served to light the room. Out the windows were only stars, and, at intervals, Leptis Parva, a blue-green paradise world on the Empire’s far border in the galactic northeast, in the hinterland between Ares’ Arm and Hermes’ Arm.
Out here, the Homeworld Throne held little sway, and the local Themarchos had his hands full between incursions by the D’van and the usual petty squabbles with his neighbors. In such circumstances did men like Konstantin Varouforos make their living.
Varouforos sat at the head of the table. Bobbing gently in the air currents to his right was a kraken—the alien, not the creature of myth. One of its translucent tentacles wrapped around the back of a chair, tethering it in place. The rest of them waved gently in the breeze from the ventilators. Underneath its bell, its gasbag pulsated as the creature trimmed itself for table height. A half-dozen flitters, small flying creatures, circled it. By telepathic link, they were the alien’s eyes. As they whirled around the kraken’s bell, they turned their heads to track Varouforos.
That was good, Varouforos thought. All the better for the creature to see the deep skepticism written across his furrowed brow. “I do not understand where I come in.”
The kraken had arrived some hours ago aboard a diplomatic shuttle transferring from the jump ship Aggressor. It introduced itself as Ippocampos—Varouforos had known more creative kraken in his time—and resolutely refused to leave until it was granted an audience. Varouforos relented, if only to keep the poor alien from wasting away in some waiting room deep in the ship.
Usually, these meetings saw some supplicant, poor in every sense of the word, coming before Varouforos to plead for his aid in some martial matter. Sometimes, even, he could help. There was nothing like an existential crisis to clear a petitioner’s head regarding what he could not live without and what he could afford to lose—or to spend. Not infrequently did the latter category hold something of value to Varouforos.