Turmalis and Endara rejoined the others and seated themselves at the conference table. Aldaris finished speaking privately with Turinas and approached them as Turinas briefly left the room, returning with a female Zealot unfamiliar to Turmalis or Endara.
"Executor Endara, this is my protégé... Verana. Perhaps you would like a tour of the city?" Aldaris asked.
"I would be honored to be your guide, Executor," Verana said.
Endara looked at Turmalis knowingly.
"I will be fine," Turmalis said. "I shall see you when you return."
She rose from her seat and joined the younger female as Turinas escorted them from the room. Aldaris turned to Turmalis and Jepok. "If you will excuse me, I must attend to other matters," he said. "I am certain the two of you have much to discuss. I shall return as soon as I can."
There was an empty, uncomfortable silence in the room as the two remaining Judicators struggled for something to say to each other.
It was Jepok who finally spoke. "You want to know why," he said.
"What?" Turmalis sputtered.
"You want to know why I have allied myself with Aldaris," Jepok stated.
"Are my thoughts that transparent? Or do you simply have some dark secret you have been harboring and wish to tell me?" Turmalis replied snidely.
"My dark secrets are none of your concern. Just as yours are none of mine," Jepok said gruffly. "Do you wish to know or not?"
Turmalis motioned an exaggerated and sarcastic signal of surrender with his hands. "Very well then. Enlighten me."
Jepok rose from the table, briefly startling Turmalis at seeing his full gargantuan height. The giant Judicator seemed taller than he last remembered. Jepok leaned against the table with his hands and Turmalis wondered if the table would snap in two from the pressure. "Not here. The walls have eyes... and ears."
As they walked the corridors of the building, Turmalis took in as much as he could in the hopes of gaining some vital clue to the situation that would give him an edge. He watched the Zealots in the corridors, unwavering in their apparent mission to seem like statues. Unflinching, they watched him, but none turned their heads as he and Jepok moved through the halls. He wondered what they were thinking... if perhaps they might have a clue that would enlighten him.
"They will not speak with you," Jepok said.
"So. You can read minds now."
Jepok laughed lightly. "No, my friend, I am just putting myself in your place and attempting to think as I believe you would."
"You are doing quite well thus far," Turmalis replied. They turned a corridor and entered an indoor garden.
Turmalis saw all manner of brightly colored flowers and plants, but they did not interest him. His patience was wearing thin and he tired of playing the game of words that politicians before him had honed to a razor's edge. Perhaps someday he would master the craft, but that was the future — and the present was far more perplexing than that which might never be.
"I am to assume we are away from whoever you believe is watching us, and I demand an explanation of what is going on here. Now," he said.
Jepok raised a ridged brow and eyed him with surprise. "I see that your journey to the Outer Regions has not made you any more polite than you were as a youth. Perhaps fifty cycles in the dark void has dulled your mind and you have forgotten the teachings that garnered you the advisory position in the Auriga fleet."
Turmalis pointed a stern finger at him, the anger growing within him. "I do not have the patience or the time to play these games with you, Aldaris or anyone else. I have been gone for five decades. I left the splendor that is Aiur to gather data and extend the knowledge of the Conclave. In return for my obedience and dedication I come home to discover Aldaris has risen in status — to the point that he has inexplicably convinced you to join him in his quest to take away the freedom of our citizens and gain favor with the Empire."
He paused for a moment, his anger surfacing with each passing heartbeat until it was swelling to the boiling point. "Furthermore, I am secretly spirited planetside to attend a meeting for which no one deigns to inform me of the purpose, when I and Executor Endara should be receiving a traditional ceremony of honor and then be allowed time away from our duties so that we may enjoy the warmth and light of our homeworld once again. Do not presume to tell me that I am being impolite!"
Jepok's face changed then... the transformation was almost imperceptible, and yet astonishing. His jovial features and bright eyes were replaced by dark crevices of anguish and hollow, sunken eyes brimming with sadness. Turmalis' gut feeling came again and he felt as if something were eating him from the inside out. It was then that he realized he was being bombarded with empathic waves flooding from the giant Judicator. It was almost unbearable.
"Stop! I cannot stand it!" Turmalis shouted as he held his pounding skull in a useless attempt to shut out the psionic waves. The waves ceased and he opened his clenched eyes.
Jepok sat down upon a slate seat, visibly weakened. "I apologize for my being part of this but as you can see I have no choice. I cannot explain further, other than to tell you I have knowingly done things that I should not have, and I am paying the price. I let others use me as a puppet to further their political agendas and foolish hatreds. I have... I have made difficult decisions that you could not comprehend, and I do not care to share them with you. I live with this pain every waking moment. I have done what I have done in order to obtain peace with myself."
The throbbing in Turmalis' head had vanished. "And what is my role in all of this?"
Jepok stood again, not quite so tall perhaps as before. "That remains to be seen. I have my suspicions but it is Aldaris that will reveal your fate."
Turmalis waved his hand toward the garden's exit. "Then let us not keep our gracious host waiting, hmm?"
The Antioch Chronicles™ © 1998, Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. All rights reserved. The Antioch Chronicles™ trademark and associated logos are the exclusive property of Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. Characters and distinctive likenesses thereof, character names, item names, place names, named events, artwork and all other related material not disclosed herein are protected under the laws of the United States of America and other countries. Any reproduction, retransmission, or unauthorized use herein is prohibited without express written permission.
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