Rising up beyond the borders of Hellsreach was more peaceful than I’d imagined it would be. The Verulia Industries flyer ascended with a gentle but constant acceleration the whole way into orbit but what really seemed to calm things down was the way Kallak’s condition improved as we passed beyond the edges of the breathable atmosphere.
“He’s retaining anima!” Chief Jallo called out as the stars came out around us and the sky faded to a vast and sheltering black. We were in one of the least hospitable climates possible, but the Garjarack family breathed a collective sigh of relief and even Illya seemed to relax.
“He will be ok?” Eirda asked.
“He’s improving. He had a lot taken out of him though. He’s going to need plenty of rest and time to recover.” Jallo said.
“Can we take him home now?” Eirda asked. “He’ll rest better there.”
“No, Illya was right. He can’t go back, not until he’s fully recovered,” Jallo said. “He’s so weak he probably wouldn’t survive another incident like that.”
“He shouldn’t go back at all,” Illya said. Stern Garjarack faces turned in her direction and she added, “At least not until the planet settles down. If another quake happens near him, he’ll suffer the same effects as he did this time. He’d be safer on another world.”
Eirda drew in a breath to speak but Gan managed to cut in before she had a chance.
“As it turns out, that’s not only an option, but one I think you’ll be happy to embrace.”
“Why would leave our home?” Nenya asked, sliding closer to her mother.
“To live in a better one,” Gan said. “My company is going to be buying all of the land on Hellsreach and providing you with a home on Titanus.”
He made a mistake there but he was in full sales pitch mode, so I opted to let him go. I wanted to see how he tried to sell his idea and how the people here reacted to it.
“Titanus is a freshly opened colony world. Verulia Industries, the company that I work for, is establishing several development centers there. You’ll be able to live and work with the people that you’ve known or strike out to settle new territory as it is opened up! No more strife, no more warfare, just safe, comfortable living on a virgin planet. It’s the fresh start that everyone here needs.”
Gan gave his speech with the fluidity of a practiced salesman. It always puzzled me that someone would choose to sound like that. I suppose it was persuasive to some people but for me it always raised giant warning flags. I could see a similar wariness settling over Cadrus and Eirda, as well as the other elder Garjarack. Even Nenya didn’t seem to be taken in by Gan’s spiel. Part of that was probably because the delivery was too slick but a larger issue came down to the speaker.
Gan thought of himself as separate from the humans of Hellsreach. Like me, he looked different from the human races that were common on Exxion, but in the eyes of the Garjarack’s one human was (to some extent) the same as any other. I’d saved their lives a few times and even with that I was pretty sure Eirda’s trust only extended as far as she could see me.
“All of the people of Hellsreach will be moving to Titanus?” Cadrus asked.
“All of the ones who choose to take our generous offer!” Gan said.
“Gar and Humans both?” Eirda asked.
“Yes,” Gan said. “But don’t worry, the cities we’re setting up will be on separate continents and will be overseen by Verulia security. There will be no war on Titanus.”
“And we can go there as long as we sell you our home?” Nenya asked. Some forms of body language are easier to read that others. Suspicion, anger, and distrust all push the speaker towards a more combative stance. That doesn’t always tell you much though. In Eirda’s case, watching her stance didn’t help because she always looked ready to rip someone’s head off. Nenya was more open than her mother however so when she crouched and coiled in on herself it got my attention. She wasn’t going to tear into Gan but she wasn’t happy with him either.
“You’ll find that the home’s we’re offering on Titanus will exceed the value of the homes you have here,” Gan said. “We’ve made sure to stock them with all the amenities that galactic society can offer too, customized to meet your needs. I believe the Garjarack homes come with sectional living areas to make them easy to expand for extended families, for example.”
“And if we don’t own anything here? What will we get then?” Eirda asked.
Gan let a moment of confusion sweep across his face. He glanced at me, and then back at the Eirda and then over at Kallak before understanding bloomed.
I fought back the urge to laugh at his expense. He’d assumed that the Eirda’s family were among the wealthy and important Gar who chose to live on Hellsreach. The one’s who’d built businesses here to either profit from the war, or profit from the resources in the areas that were safetly under their military’s control. It wasn’t a terrible assumption to make either. After all they had one of the three Crystal Guardians on the planet looking after them and for some reason merited express service to save the life of their child.
Gan did a remarkable job at hiding his disappointed when he put things together and saw that it had been compassion not greed that had motivated me to act on their behalf.
“If you aren’t a property owner, then there is still room for you on Titanus!” Gan said, rallying as best he could. “The New Colony Settlers Program which the Crystal Empire has instituted covers all residents of Hellsreach as part of the contract. There will be Verulia supplied housing both within the cities and in the outlying agricultural areas.”
“What kind of housing?” Nenya asked.
“Brand new, freshly constructed apartments and homesteads. The homesteads are at a premium, so we’ll be using a lottery system to determine which families they are allocated to first,” Gan said.
Gan’s sales pitch was refined enough that he was able to go on for a while longer, singing the praises of Titanus and the new opportunities there. As he blathered on, I watched not only the Garjaracks but Illya as well.
She was easier to read. She forced her face into a mask of disinterest, but I could see she was hanging on every word Gan said and thinking what his message meant for the people above Salmon Falls.
By the time Gan finished speaking, Kallak was beginning to regain consciousness. Chief Jallo let the family speak with him for a few minutes and then shooed them all away so that Kallak could sleep and regain his strength naturally.
That, in turn, led to the discussion of Kallak’s immediate need to be away from Hellsreach until he recovered. I offered to find a berth for him on the Imperial Station but Gan countered that with an offer to put the whole family up on the first of the Garjarack colonist transport ships. He claimed it was to give them a chance to evaluate the amenities that Verulia Industries had to offer, but I saw at least two other plans in motion there as well.
First, it was an action designed to appeal to me. I’d made the family important and Gan was showing that he was willing to treat them as such to get on my good side. Second though, the family themselves were a valuable resource. Verulia Industries probably didn’t have any Garjarack employees whom they could use as spokesmen for their plan. Even if they did, those Gar would be on an outer circle of association with the Gar on Hellsreach. In a society as conscious of degrees of relationship as the Gars were, having someone on an inside circle who would speak favorably of you was invaluable.
In the end Gan was able to convince Eirda that his offer gave them the best chance of seeing Kallak restored safely, and that was all it took to decide things for the family. I wasn’t sure he’d be earning their endorsement any time soon, but he had a foundation to start working from at least.
We logged an amended flight plan with the Imperial Station and I brought Fari and Darius up to speed on how things were going while we accelerated to the high orbit that the Verulia Industries colony ship was parked in.
“I’m going to do a bit of digging on Verulia,” Fari said after I filled her in on what had happened. “Everbright’s only message so far has been about the property exchange but there has to be a lot more going on there.”
“You’re wondering about the businesses and the publicly owned spaces?” I asked.
“That and a lot of other things. Hellsreach is a mess but its a complicated mess,” Fari said. “You can’t just pluck everyone up and drop them into a new planet and expect it to all work out.”
“Agreed. I’m nervous about how he keeps referencing things like Verulia Industries security providing law enforcement for the new colonies,” I said.
“Right, that leads to the bigger question of who’s going to be in charge. Is Verulia going to dissolve the Hellsreach Common Council? Who’s going to own the utilities and the infrastructure on Titanus? Where will supplies come from for the first few years while the colonies are establishing themselves? What contingencies are there for Verulia going out of business?”
“All good questions,” I said. “Which makes me realize something.”
“That you’re glad I’ve got your back on this?” Fari asked.
“Always.” I said. “But something more than that too.”
“That’s it’s kind of weird that Raychelle and Opal are dumping this on you rather than taking care of it themselves?” Fari guessed.
“No, I think that’s a sign of trust,” I said. “They’ll get to review the findings and recommendations of the Imperial Overseer before the final contracts are signed and certified.”
“What are you thinking then?”
“That I shouldn’t be the one in the Overseer role.”
“Why? Who else could do as good a job with it?” Fari asked.
“You,” I told her.
It’s rare that I get to surprise Fari. She’s smart enough that she sees all my best tricks coming and can turn them back on me before I get a chance to spring them. The one area where she has a blind spot though is herself and how amazing she is.
“But, I’m not a Crystal Guardian.” she said.
“Yeah, that’s something we should have taken care of a while ago,” I said.
“No one would accept me as a Guardian!” she protested.
“I do,” I said. “You’ve been as much a Guardian as I have, for as long as I have.”
“Yeah, but you’re my friend.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “I’ll let the facts speak for me. Without you I couldn’t have defeated the Karr Khan. You were the one who saved Hellsreach. All I did was act as an annoying distraction. Today, I managed to help one family and one small town. You and Opal saved thousands or millions of people by defusing the second mega-quake.”
“All of that is stuff I did with other people though,” Fari said.
“Which is why I think we need to recognize you for the person you are,” I said. “Let’s face it, you’re much better suited to oversee a complex project than I am. I know its kind of a scary prospect, and I’m not suggesting I’d toss this at you and flee to another star system. I just believe that this is something you can do. Probably better than anyone else here.”
“It seems like a huge step,” Fari said.
“It is,” I said. “And I don’t want to push it on you if you don’t feel ready for it, or if you’re not interested in becoming a Crystal Guardian at all. I think you’d make an amazing one, but there’s literally an entire galaxy out there with different choices to chose from.”
“Wow, I should probably think about that for a bit,” she said.
“That’s never a bad idea,” I said. “I can stay on as Overseer until you decide, however long that takes, if I can count on your support in the interim that is.”
“Always,” she said.
I felt the ship drift into contact with its destination as Gan’s voice came over the communication system.
“We’ve arrived at the Garjarack Colony ship. Prepare to disembark.”
On a private channel, Gan sent an additional message to me.
“I’m glad to see you’ve begun the inspection process already!” he said telepathically.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“There’s an Imperial shuttle docked with the transport ship,” he said, “They have an inspection request logged into our spell web. Technically you’re a little early. We haven’t finished certifying the ship for travel worthiness, but I’m sure that won’t be a problem. We keep our ships in excellent condition at all times.”
I could hear both the sales pitch and the prepared excuse for any shortcomings that the inspection found in his words. There was only one little problem.
I hadn’t ordered any inspection of the Colony ship and those weren’t official Imperial inspectors who were waiting on board for us.