Dornea, Naval Command HQ
Following the Battle of Dac, Dragon-Coalition War
“Her Highness requires an update.”
Karls Ta'ront, commander of the Dornean Navy, grunted in discomfort. “They're still leaving. The Dragons still won.”
“That's that, then. Nothing to be done about it.”
The smug bastard. “Not now, no.”
“Not ever, General.” The other man rushed toward Karls, forcing him to turn his attention away from the tactical map and toward the potential threat. But there was no threat. Of course Jeeb D'kast posed no threat. “It was a losing war, and they lost it. We could have lost it with them, but we didn't. We survived. We endured.
General Ta'ront shook his head, turning away from the coward. “It's only a matter of time, Minister.”
“We repelled the Empire,” he said, again with that smug ignorance of a man who had never seen war. “We will repel the Dragons as well.”
“We had allies against the Empire. Now there's no one left to stand with us against the Dragons.” Ta'ront thumped the representation of Dac on the readout.
“All the more reason we shouldn't be antagonizing them now!” The minister closed his hands around the edge of the table, nodding to himself as he pretended to take in the information on display. “The Coalition will be on its way, the Dragons will claim Mon Calamari, and independent worlds like ours will be left to their own devices. It's really a rather favorable outcome, all things considered.”
He was the worst kind of a coward: one who pretended to be a fool so he wouldn't have to face the truth of his own nature.
It was too late now, though. Dac could not be saved. The Coalition would withdraw and wither further, no one brave enough to stand with them against the Dragons. It was too late now; there were no moves left to make.
“Tell the President that I'm returning the fleet to normal defense posture. I'll not exercise my discretionary authority in this regard, per her request.”
Minster D'kast smiled deviously. “She'll be most pleased.”
“You'll make sure of it,” General Ta'ront muttered as the other man walked away.
* * *
Saari Ha System, 26 ABY
Bimmisaari, Tower of Law
Refugee Service Special Meeting, Exodus of the East
There were quite a few big names crammed into the little office. President Shan wasn't here, what with his ongoing defiance of Regrad's Exodus plan, but he'd sent a delegation stacked with his heaviest-hitting representatives to make sure everyone knew he wasn't playing around. The delegation from Kegan, the main focus of this meeting, was rather small, but given their people's history and political proclivities, that wasn't unexpected. Bimmisaari Elder Taima Tolen was alone, curious since Ambassador Rosh had some experience in these sorts of things and was usually quite skilled at worming his way into any dealings that even tangentially related to his duties. On available space alone, his absence was looking to be a good thing.
And then there was Ambassador Erek Joron sequestered off in the corner, eyeing everyone with a healthy helping of distrust. Officially, the Eastern Parliament was backing Regrad's Exodus plan, and this meeting was shaping up to be a major hindrance to that effort. It was Erek's job, as unpopular as it may be, to see what he could do about derailing them.
“Well, if that's everyone?” Elder Tolen eyed Erek, as if expecting he was about to call in a squad of provincial troopers to round them all up.
“By all means,” Erek said, gesturing to the Elder's guests. “Don't let me stop you.”
“Ahh, in that case,” she returned her attention to the Refugee Service delegation, “as representative of the Law Elders of Bimmisaari, I do hereby call this meeting to order. Now, I think you have something for me to sign?”
The vaguely squid-looking fellow at the head of the Refugee Service team shuffled forward and produced a datapad. “Of course. Here it is.”
“Wait, what?” Erek was out of his corner, pushing past a pair of Kegan delegates to get a look at the pad. “What's going on here?”
Elder Tolen had just finished her signature, and gave the pad a quick shake in Erek's direction.
The fancy new commlink/datapad/mini-projector in his pocket buzzed, and he fished it out with a growing sense of unease.
“God, I love this new Salvation network!” Elder Tolen professed as she offered her datapad to the head of the Kegan delegation.
Erek fumbled with his gadget for a second, selecting the new file and flipping on the tiny projector to display its contents. The wall of shimmering text that sprang up in front of him only exacerbated his concerns. “In accordance with Coalition House Bill 227-39A, and with recognition of the powers vested in the Coalition Refugee and Relief Service . . .” He was muttering quietly to himself, trying to figure out why the formatting was so official-looking.
“There you have it, Elder Tolen,” the Kegan delegate said, handing the pad back to one of the Refugee Service people. “All done?”
“What?” Erek dropped his hands, the hologram deactivating as he pocketed his gadget. “What the hell is going on here!”
“The Refugee Service is expanding its housing operations to volunteering Coalition worlds,” the Refugee delegate said.
“The people of Kegan will host a population of short- and mid-term refugees totaling up to seventy-five percent of Fwillsving's total refugee population, beginning immediately,” the Kegan official said.
“And we're funding it,” Elder Tolen announced, standing up as she fixed her attention on Ambassador Joron. “The Exodus will not happen. High Commissioner Shan will not evacuate the Refugee and Relief Service from Fwillsving; the Kegan Planetary Defense Force will not comply with the Prime Minister's retreat order; the Law Elders of Bimmisaari will not recognize any federal or regional sanctions placed on Coalition member governments for failure to comply with the Exodus. We aren't going anywhere, and there's work to be done.”
“This is insane! Elder Tolen, my own homeworld, Teth -”
“Oh, don't pretend that Teth is anything like the rest of the worlds declared in the Exodus!” Tolen was mad, pounding her fists against her desk, quite an unusual display for a pathologically peaceful Bimm. “Teth was never going to be evacuated, and you know it! Sure, the Eastern Parliament may have pulled out for a while, hells, they may have even stayed gone if they found a cozy enough new home, but Teth was never going to be abandoned to the Dragons. Setting aside the logistical nightmare of moving the Dac refugees again, the industrial infrastructure of Teth is far too valuable, and its defenses are far too substantial and integrated, to ever even consider pulling out for real.”
She paused for a moment, her brow furrowed as she stared at the ambassador. “What, you think that because we don't approve of your wars, that we can't recognize the simplest, most obvious strategic facts? No, no; nobody's going anywhere, and there's work to be done.”
Exasperated, he tried again. “And what about Kubindi, and Tammar?”
“They don't want to leave their homes any more than the rest of us; they'll end up on our side of this, and sooner than you think.”
“Elder Tolen, I can't -”
“I don't expect you to stand with us, Ambassador, so run along and tell your masters how this will be.”
She was pointing at the door. The look she gave him told him it wasn't a suggestion. As he shuffled out of the room, still unsure exactly what had happened, his general unease began to crystallize into something else. He began to realize, more certain with each step away from the office, that the entire meeting had been arranged specifically so he would attend, specifically so that he would find himself stunned and disoriented, so that he could be shooed away in disgrace before the very parties in that room, so that this moment, this very moment, would happen.
Elder Tolen wasn't defying the Exodus; she was mocking it.
And Erek Joron had just been made her messenger boy.