It has come to our attention that there was a printing error with several of the copies of Seph – The Reflection of divinity that have been sold. It appears that the Text from chapter 31 was copied over the text from chapter 32, and that chapter 32 is in fact missing. Sandpaper Press and I are going to do everything we can to fix this, and as such we will be releasing Chapter 32 so that anyone can view it and see what you may have missed. If you have one of these miss printed copies, and it is important to you that it is replaced. Please reach out to Sandpaper Press and we will see if this is a possibility. Again we apologize for this oversight. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Chapter 32 contains spoilers to the resolution of several key character arcs, as well as the conclusion of the mcguffin used to drive acts 2 and 3 of the story. Read beyond this point at your own discretion.
Seph: The Reflection of Divinity
The Captain’s quarters were dark, save for the light emitting from the holo-projector. The data card had contained the sequence necessary to read the holobook, and been sufficiently undamaged to be retrievable, something Gillian could assume was the result of divine intervention.
He flicked through the pages, there were hundreds of them. Individual notes and documents that on their own were next to meaningless. But compiled as they were, each hastily written note, or transfer record, painted a very disturbing image.
They hinted at a vast conspiracy to overthrow not only the Divine Council, but the whole of the Alliance. Resources allocated in a deliberate attempt at sabotaging key projects. Personnel changes to give a particularly advantaged individual status and prestige, or to take it away from another. The systematic removal and replacement of the elders by members of the Imperial family over the last five hundred years.
Gillian’s father had his hands in almost all of it, sitting in the shadows quietly manipulating everything around him to his advantage, right up until his death when he personally appointed Xious to replace him.
It wasn’t only his father though, it went back even further than that; his grandfather, and his great grandfather had been involved in the scheme. Every head of the family leading all the way up to Jeriell for the last seven generations has been subtly working to dismantle the Order.
Now Gillian was scanning through journal entries, his father had known he was dying for some time, and feared that Jeriell would not uphold the traditions. Gillian himself had not been groomed for the position of elder, his father thought he was weak, and would be unable to withstand the other members of the council.
He wasn’t wrong. Gillian had spent his entire life trying to please his father, never able to fully live up to his expectations, no matter how successful he was. Izarrius was a strict man who would expect nothing less than perfection from those around him, not even his own sons. As a result, Gillian had been taught to keep his head down and not ask too many questions. Even with an entire starship under his command, all he ever did was follow orders and adhere to protocols.
Still, it stung more than a little to find definitive evidence that his father had considered Xious, a Drak’or no less, a more worthy heir to his legacy than Gillian. If someone had told him that Izarrius had picked Xious, he would not have believed them. But here, in this database Jeriell had given up his life for, was a copy of the original document signed and sealed by his father, declaring that it was the irrefutable will of Vyanna, that Xious should take his place as director, and that he would be the voice of Vyanna to usher in the age of enlightenment.
Gillian let out a long hollow sigh. There was nothing here that directly implicated Izarrius in the plot to murder his progeny. Only to remove them from the council, and any claim they might lay on his seat. But it was not a stretch to assume that plot was laid out after the elder had passed away.
“What will you do?” The Captain’s voice was calm and steady like a lighthouse in a storm.
Gillian shook his head slowly. “What would you do?”
He was silent for a long moment, the text from the display reflecting in his eyes. “This is not a decision I can make for you.”
Gillian let out a sigh, exaggerated by throwing his arms out as he turned from the display, passing across the room. Of course that would be his answer. It’s not like any of the options the Captain may have considered were achievable for Gillian. After witnessing what had happened on Atlione, if The Captain had found himself in Gillian’s place, he would just kill everyone.
Even if Gillian could do that, it wouldn’t solve anything. All he would have accomplished is creating a power vacuum.
Gillian turned back to face The Captain. “If I could, I would reclaim my father’s seat on the council. If I could expose their hypocrisy to the Order, maybe we could have the council reseeded.”
The Captain remained silent.
Gillian let out a sigh, “But that would be impossible, wouldn’t it?”
“If everything here is true, Xious controls the council. By now they would have had more than enough time to purge anyone who was not sympathetic to their cause. This whole incident in the outer colonies could have accelerated their plans by several decades at least. Coalition worlds are already pledging themselves to the Empress. And if the Empire is already under her control, not only would I have to get rid of Xious, but I also need to pacify the entire Fingalin Empire.”
The Captain shifted. “Replace Cathrin.”
Gillian stared. “Replace Cathrin? It isn’t so easy to trade out the Empress. She is assigned by the council, trained for years to fill the roll. Even if Cathrin were to die suddenly, I am sure the council has someone else lined up.”
“As Vyanna’s voice, they would listen.”
“Xious would never relinquish the seat to me. I am a traitor now, he is a prophet and a savior. I am a monster who has thrown in with the Devil.”
“I will take care of Xious. Focus on finding your Empress.”
The door opened, flooding the room with light. The Captain removed the book from the projector and handed it to Gillian. “I suspect she is closer than you think.”
Gillian stepped through the lift shaft and onto the deserted bridge. It was odd to see it so vacant. For most of their journey up until now, the crew had worked on rotating shifts, so there were always at least three people manning the command center. Then again, nothing had been normal since they had been taken prisoner on board the Dressick.
Despite Gillian’s protests, Nevarian had managed to keep him hidden on Dramia. As it turns out, a planet is a big place and it is easy to get lost on one. So long as you are okay with never being able to leave that is.
The room was dark and cold, the occasional beep or chirp interrupting the silence. The empty view field stared back at him like an ominous omen, like the quiet calm before a raging storm.
In reality, the emptiness was a facade. The Captain monitored every system through his neural link. The entire crew was on standby, and once James had woken up, The Captain put him on the neural link as well.
Whatever had happened to him back on the planet did not appear to be serious. Nevarian had given him an injection of some sort, and he had been awake again in minutes. The doctor’s explanation contradicted itself at every turn. Apparently he had almost killed himself, but since he didn’t he should be fully recovered after a good meal and a good night’s rest.
Returning to the shaft, Gillian allowed himself to drift down to the lower deck. Gliding along the zero gravity corridor, he stumbled on the landing platform of the mess hall. The crew, excluding The Captain and the doctor, sat huddled around a table.
“Mind if I intrude?”
Fetu laughed, then stood and offered his chair. “You stopped being an intruder a long time ago, you’re one of us now.”
Gillian nodded in a shallow bow, sitting in the offered chair.
Fetu grabbed another from a nearby table, and turned it around to sit backwards on the seat.
Travis glanced at Gillian, ears twitching. “Did you find anything interesting in that glass?”
Gillian let out a sigh. “Proof that my family betrayed our religion long before I was born.”
Everyone sat in silence for a moment, not quite making eye contact. A sort of vague heaviness in the air, a physical manifestation of the uneasiness they were all experiencing,
Fetu was the first one to break the spell. “So, now what?”
James shrugged. “The Captain said our next move was up to Gillian. It all came down to what was on the glass and how he decided to handle it.”
Fetu slapped Gillian on the shoulder. “Okay boss man, now that you know, where do you want to go?”
A light smile broke at the corner of his lip. He hadn’t realized it before, but these people had become his friends. Comrades in arms against a whole universe out to get them. Maybe that was a little dramatic, but it did seem that way. Everything he had ever known or believed had been stripped from him. All he had left were a few fragmented ideals and shattered ambitions.
He let out a long sigh. “I don’t know. I don’t feel like it matters anymore. No matter where we go, we can’t hide from Xious forever. And even if I did run off to some far away colony and disappear, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing I had gotten you so tangled up in my family’s problems.”
Chloe sat down the steaming mug she had been sipping from, pressing it between her hands. “What do you think Vyanna would want you to do?”
All eyes turned to stare at the small girl, whose face began to redden as she sank into her chair. The air had become so still it was as if a pocket of pure vacuum had opened.
“What, did I say something weird?” She asked.
Meghnah shook her head. “Since when did you start advocating for Vyanna?”
“Well.. I.. uh,” she was staring down into her mug, the tips of her ears turning bright red. Her embarrassment was so palpable Gillian could almost feel her heart fluttering.
Meghnah raised an eyebrow.
Chloe shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Well… I mean, that’s his religion, right? It is not any different from me asking you what Vhast teaches.”
Meghnah shook her head, “No, it’s different. Vhast is a philosophy, not a god. It doesn’t have a will or opinions. You could have asked, ‘what do you believe is the right thing to do?’ Or ‘what do the Descendants teach you should do?’ But you asked specifically, ‘What would Vyanna want you to do?’ As if you believed their god might want him to do something contrary to the religion who invented her.”
She fidgeted with her mug. “I only thought that maybe… Okay, while we were on the Dressick I was curious, so I did some research. It has a huge library. The Descendants aren’t all bad. I mean the teachings make a lot of sense. And after everything else we have seen, is it so far-fetched to believe their version of the story of origin? Their doctrine isn’t about control or power or subjugation. It’s about peace, about tolerance for other people and their viewpoints. It’s about knowledge and learning, that there is a lesson to be learned from everything around you, if you can open your mind to the universe and let go of hate and bigotry and bias. That each individual is as important as the whole, and there is more worth in a single person than in a thousand stars.”
Fetu laughed. “I don’t believe it, you have gone and converted on us!”
Chloe took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “No, it’s not that. I just think that if you look deeper than what you see on the surface, there may be more there than you are giving them credit for.”
Gillian sat back in his chair, watching the lines on Chloe’s face, her soft cheeks framed by her long platinum hair. Her slightly pointed ears and deep blue eyes, evidence of her fingalin ancestry.
He imagined her in a white dress draped in a lavender cloak. Her calm demeanor, the bravery she had demonstrated over the last few months. He thought of the way she had interacted with the fingalin soldiers on Atlione. Her knowledge of the subtleties of political maneuverings. And in his mind, he compared her with the image of every other empress he could recall.
Decades of schooling had failed to produce girls even half as qualified, Gillian could not recall a more suitable candidate who had ever been proposed for taking on the role.
He rose from his seat, “If you will excuse me, there is something I must attend to.”
Chloe looked up at him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t offend you, did I?”’
He shook his head, “Not at all Chloe, on the contrary, you have inspired me. There is much I wish to discuss with you. But first, I must inform The Captain of my decision.”
James raised an eyebrow. “And what might that be?”
Gillian let a smile break on his lips. “We are going to Vinge.”
He found The Captain meditating in the sanctuary on the ship’s upper deck. The deep earthy incense infused the air with its sweet aroma.
The Captain looked up as he entered, tendrils of white smoke shifting around him casting shadows in the flickering candle light.
“Have you made your decision?”
Gillian nodded. “I am going to reclaim my father’s seat on the council.”
The Captain grinned.
©Sandpaper Press June 2021