Colonel Thaddeus Rogers had never been so close to Kyeva before. He used to assume it was impossible for a human settlement to prosper that close, where the star rays were nearly unbearable; but there he was, proven wrong.
When he had heard about the Falkovs, he had scheduled the voyage without a second to lose, not even realizing how far away his ambition was taking him. As far away as to the inner edge of the habitable zone. An endless sea of synchronously working deep-well extractors pointed the way from the heliport in the city of Rodos to their breathtaking residence.
As his rented vehicle dropped him off at the main entrance and went off to park at one side, Rogers had the impression that the golden sand was expanding around him. Standing there, alone, in the middle of an unknown, scorching desert, with the imposing building blocking his view of the sky and of Kyeva, the doubts about his chances of success railed their way into his head. He took off his peaked hat. Probably a good idea to show respect as he entered their domain, he thought. Matter-of-factly, he’d been in Falkov domain long before he got to that mansion, just as soon as his ship had entered the atmosphere of Gemba.
The Falkov estate was big, and that was probably its defining attribute. The entire structure looked like it had been designed to impose. Thick walls, rotundas and high towers to each of the four corners, and tall diamond windows from top to bottom. Only white stone bricks had been used on the façade, giving the majestic manor an exquisite color contrast to the burned sand in every direction of it. The main entrance was accessible via a small terrace with staircases to either side, in front of which a large pole had been added to display a flag at the very top. A flag with the emblem of the Human Intergalactic Fleet. The flag that was given to every positive minor, as a distinction of honor, upon being registered in the Precursory Program.
A droid opened the door for him, after he finally set his mind to climbing up the steps, ringing and looking at the surveillance camera. Upon being offered a drink, he accepted a glass of water, as the droid lead him to the receiving room. It was just what he expected to see at the other side of the white façade: carpeted floors, expensive air conditioners, dim lights, and elegant ornamentation. He conducted himself with care around the room, afraid of bumping onto the wooden tables and crystal panels that hid diamond statues in the shape of exotic animals, as well as scale models of state-of-the-art extractors. Each of the pieces exhibited in the room looked like it could be worth his entire goods and chattels.
“Colonel Rogers…” A woman came in from the same door through which the droid had left. She was probably in her mid-thirties, as far as he could tell, although she was dressed with a sobriety proper of an older age. Her golden hair was fixed back in an elaborate bun, and she was wearing a black, long dress, with long satin gloves and particularly opulent jewelry at the neck and ears.
“Saskia Falkov.” As Rogers reached in to shake her hand, she introduced herself concisely, and then carried on.
“I hope you didn’t run into any trouble, making your way…?”
“I’d say you are… rather easy to find, Ms. Falkov.”
“I must apologize on behalf of my husband. Something has come up, and he was forced to get down to the mines at a moment’s notice. Please, sit.”
“I understand. I’m sure we’ll have the chance to meet in the future.” Rogers sat down, feeling driven to cut through the formalities as efficiently as possible, as he finished his glass of water. “So… where is your son, Ms. Falkov?”
“Kayle is at school, of course. You surely won’t find it surprising that they have decided to extend the duration of his daily training. Currently, he’s being flown directly to our heliport every day, to avoid any attention. He’ll be home soon.”
Rogers nodded, his eyes looking at nothing. It didn’t seem surprising, that they’d do something like that. Just inconvenient. Ms. Falkov gently tightened her lips, and diverted her eyes across the room, aimless.
“Colonel, I must admit that I purposely asked you to be here before Kayle got home. I’m sure you understand that, as a worried mother, I want to make sure nothing but the best is offered to my son. And I couldn’t be sure of that until I met you in person.”
“That makes perfect sense…” Rogers had a very varied catalogue of praising or reassuring words that he could have put to use on Ms. Falkov, but he had the impression that a full mouth would not convince or impress the richest woman on the planet. He opted to let her continue to have the word.
“Now, I have no doubt your skills are outstanding.” She looked down to the glass table between their chairs, and gently pressed her index finger on it, as the screen of a dock lit up on the glass, showing the documents of her recent research. “One of the shortest and most fruitful training spans in the history of the Academy, a very steady start of your career at the Bureau of Intelligence… but also, a relatively early retirement from the forces, which strangely seems to coincide with the dissolution of the sector you were leading.” Her heavy eyes parted from the dock screen, and looked at him.
“And you want to know why the sector was decommissioned.” He smiled to himself. It was obvious that the topic would come up, one way or another, if she had done as much research as it seemed. It was a big, offsetting stain on his seemingly impeccable record. “The short answer is that the interests of the Fleet changed, and my sector was deemed expendable.”
“And what’s the long answer?”