One year prior to the launching of ICE…
“For progress,” intoned the priest. “And for the New Imperial Federation.”
Cale knelt before the priest. This priest practiced the way of the old gods of his homeworld, but was part of an order that had adopted practical explanations for how the universe had come into being, had accepted the Force as just one more evolutionary phenomenon, had granted that not all religions could be correct, and had gone for the multidenominational route. It was the closest to spirituality that Cale knew. “For progress. And for the New Imperial Federation,” he repeated.
“Rise you, Cale-Wan Calad, Moff of the Federation, Herald of His Imperial Majesty Kane Roscoe, Emissary of the Empire, and Representative of the values we hold dear. Rise you, and shoulder the burden.” Shoulder the burden, he thought as he stood. Indeed, he did feel the burden. It was as if five or ten extra kilograms had been added to him. He had just finished swearing his complete fealty to the cause, his allegiance to everything Imperial, and had given his oath to surrender his life to the momentous campaign ahead of them.
Shoulder the burden. Those were words that came from the gods of his land. The old gods, few of which actually still had names. Or, at least they had names up until a couple of thousand years ago; these days, the people of Stewjon had, like most creatures across the galaxy, come to find themselves a melting pot, especially within its port cities. So many cultures colliding like that had naturally augmented and challenged religions.
Cale thought he’d left the old gods behind when he left Stewjon, and for so many years he hadn’t prayed to them. But he recalled every morning he woke his mother saying to him softly, “Shoulder the burden.” And he had. Day after day, he’d gotten up to tend to the farm, its animals and appliances, and had gone into the trade towns to trade with travelers from all over.
This ceremony was private and personal, and was taking place aboard the ESD Nemesis. Somewhere aboard this vessel was HIM himself, Emperor Kane. Amid the turmoil stretching across the galaxy and the potentially brewing war between the two sides, the Emperor faced difficult times, and Cale understood if HIM was busy. The swearing in was necessary, if only for formality’s sake, and it must take place in the company of other Moffs. They were there, Moff Grueben and Moff Tonk, along with a couple of others he didn’t know.
“Gentlemen,” said the priest, “may I present Moff Cale-Wan Calad.”
A short round of necessary applause echoed through the small chamber.
Cale nodded curtly to his superiors. He glanced to his left, at one man in particular, a man who had seen a great deal of ups and downs in his time with the Empire. Gilad Pellaeon looked as grim yet as studious as ever, without any hint of humor whatsoever, yet duty to his nation and leaders kept his posture erect and he attitude professional.
When the ceremony had ended, there were a few perfunctory handshakes all around, and only one clap on the shoulder. Though the NIF was a different creature than the Old Empire, the senior officers seemed to still find concealing all affability a trait that should be well polished and put on display—a real status symbol.
So Cale reflected the behavior, and tried to smile in a way that was confident but not inviting controversy. The Vicereine, in his brief first meeting with her, had told him that this was something he must get used to if he was going to command a great deal of respect. It wasn’t enough that the men and women of ICE respect the office of Vicereine, they must also respect the voice that went forth to mete out the tasks she commanded be done. It meant he wouldn’t have many friends. It was another burden to bear, she’d told him when discussing how important it was that ICE maintain cohesion the farther away they got from the NIF and the known galaxy.
Yet another burden to bear, he thought, moving from the chamber set aside for minor ceremonies such as this one. Here, he was given the various codes and passwords that would give him access to highly classified information. The other Moffs gave him a brief talk on protocol, and how to conduct himself in emergencies, such as any time that Vicereine Aklee Roosh should be incapacitated or even die.
“You’ll be leaving this galaxy behind you, you know that don’t you?” asked Moff Grueben.
“I’m prepared for that, sir.”
After a time, the Moffs all attended a special luncheon, a rather informal meal where they sipped at wine in the private quarters of one of the Moffs and discussed the historical occasion that loomed only a year in their future. For a couple of years now, Cale had been functioning as a coordinator and liaison for the Vicereine—many aboard the ICE vessels already knew him by his name and face, although the title of Moff would be brand new now, and a year from now once the campaign was finally launched, they would all know that he spoke with the Vicereine’s voice in most matters.
When the night cycle of Bilbringi finally came, it found the newly christened Moff Cale-Wan Calad sitting alone in his room supplied by ISIS. He had been working closely with the organization over the last year to get every bit of advice he could from the upper echelons on how the following year’s preparations should develop.
He sat alone, sipping at more wine and looking out at the capital city of the NIF. On the table beside him stood Cale’s mother’s family portrait—she had been a painter, and had favored scenery of the countryside all around their farm, and painting her family from memory in context of those fields. At times, she had almost become impressionistic, painting the farm animals in humanoid stances, and sometimes appearing to hold a conversation.
Another painting of hers that hung on the wall was of landscapes she’d seen as a child, on other planets. She had been the daughter of a spacer, who finally left her on Stewjon for some reason she never said, where she eventually married Cale’s father. But her time about the galaxy had taken her to Alderaan, Velusia, and Kashyyyk. Her paintings of Wookiees had captivated Cale as a child.
It was funny, he’d always figured he had all the time in the galaxy to visit any of the worlds in the galaxy whenever he wanted. But soon—very, very soon—he would never have that chance again. He’d never visited Velusia, for instance, but had always wanted to. Now, he never would. There would be absolutely no time in the next year for him to go any sort of holiday. The preparations were too important, and he now filled a pivotal role.
Cale considered the emptiness of his room, the silence. He was okay with it. It was because he was alone and okay with it that he’d been such a prime candidate for Special Exploratory Missions, and to assist the Survey Corps. But am I okay with it? Am I really? Cale knew it was a little too late to be asking himself that question.
The night grew long, and eventually he found himself ready for bed. Still garbed in his ceremonial military dress, Cale had just started to undress when he heard a chime. Someone was at his door. He crossed the room to open it, nearly bumping into his 3PO droid, which was about to close itself down for the night.
Cale opened the door, and was stunned to find Gilad Pellaeon standing on the other side. “Admiral,” Cale said.
“Moff Calad,” he nodded respectfully. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“I was just about to wind down for the evening. Can I help you?”
“May I come in? What I have to say won’t take long.”
Cale stepped to one side. “Of course.” He waved Pellaeon inside, and the door slid shut behind him.
Cale said, “Can I offer you any refreshment?”
“No, thank you. I won’t be staying that long.”
Admiral Gilad Pellaeon stood there, hands behind his back, regarding the room Cale lived in as though he might perform a military white-glove inspection on it at any moment. If he had, he would’ve found it spotless. Cale made sure to keep a cleaning staff—yet another reason he’d been selected as head of SEM was his sometimes anal nature, he believed that there was a place for everything and everything should be in its place. His father had taught him that, and life in and out of ISIS and politics had ingrained it permanently.
Cale regarded the older man. He was nearly 70 years old now, and had seen a lot. Too much, probably, Cale thought. He had brown eyes that looked like they were constantly looking far off into the horizon, or squinting against the sun, trying to discern something in the distance. When finally those aged eyes landed on Cale, the admiral said, “You’re a painter?”
At first, he didn’t understand the question. Then, he glanced about the room, at the paintings his mother had left him. Cale shook his head. “No, sir. They were my mother’s.”
Pellaeon nodded. “Taking them with you, are you?”
“No, sir. They’re staying here. Along with everything else I own.”
“You’re taking nothing at all?”
“My wardrobe,” he said, shrugging. “As well as compilations of music and history that we’ll need to both keep our sanity and, of course, share with others should we encounter any civilizations.”
That seemed to meet with Pellaeon’s approval, and for a moment he went silent again. When finally he spoke, he cleared his throat first. “Moff Calad, do you know what you’re doing?”
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“What you’re doing—ICE, pushing away from the known galaxy, leaving all you’ve ever known behind—do you understand fully the ramifications of it?”
Cale attempted a smile. “With all due respect sir, why do you care?”
“I’ve been in exiled before, Calad. I know the feeling, as well as the pressures of fulfilling the duties of the position I filled.” Admiral Pellaeon licked his lips, and thought about his next words. “But I also know what it’s like to gladly perform that duty, knowing in your heart of hearts that this is absolutely necessary.”
Cale still wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything to that.
Pellaeon held the moment, and finally said, “I’ve spoken with the Vicereine. Roosh seems of good stock, and full prepared. I had this same talk with her.”
“What talk, sir?” He still didn’t know where this was going.
“The Empire has only returned and survived because had notions to expand,” he said. “The Republic is stationary, sedentary, and thus it will stagnate. It did so before, and a Sith exploited it. The NIF is progressing well these days, but it may not have what it takes to take the NR fully to task. The NIF may seek peace, and if that happens…”
“Stagnation,” Cale said.
The admiral nodded. “I’ve had the honor of serving under some of the most dedicated sentient beings in the history of the galaxy, Moff Calad. I know that without a shadow of doubt. There’s no question. But what will it all have been for if we allow it stagnate, again and again, the galaxy folding in on itself continuously, never truly expanding until the stars blink out one by one over the next billion years?”
Cale didn’t know what to say to that—he wasn’t even sure if there was anything to say to that.
“Expansion,” Pellaeon continued, pacing over to the far wall to take a closer look at his mother’s paintings. “It’s the only answer. Others knew it. Our present Emperor seems to know it. ICE seems to be a suitable answer to the riddle of stagnation.” He looked over Cale, “But not if the people who go on this momentous voyage are not prepared. They may stagnate themselves, become sedentary. If that happens, then we all may as well have never dreamt this dream. Do you agree?”
Cale nodded. “I believe I see your point, Admiral. You don’t have to worry about—”
He waved his hand. “No need to make any promises to me,” he said, walking over towards him. “Moff Calad, this is likely the last conversation we’ll ever have. I have duties elsewhere, and they will keep me busy for the next year. Suffice it to say, this will be one of the few honest conversations you’re going to have on this subject before you leave—out there, beyond the aid of the Federation, you are going to be alone, far away from any hope of help. Nothing will save you or the Vicereine or any of you on ICE from anything,” he said. “Not even yourselves. None of the other admirals or moffs will really care to tell you this—it’s not in our nature to be candid—but something you need to understand is that you carry more than just the hope of we in the Federation…you carry the hope of every sentient being who breathes oxygen or methane in this galaxy. I don’t know what you will see out there, but…keep that in your heart. Always. Fealty, yes. Duty, certainly. All those things you swore in your oath today. But above all…hope. Take hope with you, Moff Calad.”
Cale nodded again. “Yes, sir. I understand.”
“It’s an awesome burden to carry, but one you need to be prepared carry.”
A moment of silence passed. “Thank you for the advice, Admiral.”
Then, all at once, the admiral reached out his hand. Cale took it, and the two men shook briefly, but it was a hearty handshake. Pellaeon checked his chrono, and said, “It’s late. You were off to bed before I interrupted you. You’ve had a long day, so I’ll let you retire.” He turned and walked towards the door, and it opened before him. At the door, though, he stopped. On the wall beside the door, there was another painting from Cale’s mother, one that detailed the backyard of their farmhouse.
Pellaeon turned and looked at him. “You can tell a lot about a person by the art of their people, and the artwork they hold dear,” he said. “And I suppose you can also tell a lot about the artwork they choose to leave behind. It says something, don’t you think?”
Cale nodded. “I suppose it does, sir.”
Pellaeon nodded, and gave him a wan smile. “See you on the other side, Moff Calad.”
With that, the admiral finally took his leave. In the solitude of his room, Cale-Wan Calad was once more returned to his silence. He grasped at the possible meanings of the admiral’s last words, and wondered if the admiral had actually had a point in saying them.
Calad undressed. He looked at himself in the mirror, checked his reflection, his belly, and saw that a bit of flab had collected in a pouch around his midsection. Time to hit the gym again, he thought just as he was going over to the light switch. Just before he did, though, Cale chanced a look at the painting on the wall beside the door. For a moment, he was looking out his back door again on Stewjon, looking out into the backyard where the spring winds blew through the grass, causing them to hiss gently to one another.
He looked at the memory crystallized by his mother from that moment in time, and for a moment, for just a moment, he was there. But Calad knew that carrying that with him was…well, it would be a burden. One burden he couldn’t shoulder. If he was going to persevere out there in the depths of space, separated from any kind of real planet to call home, then he was going to need to sever himself from a few things.
Calad turned out the light, cast himself into Bilbringi’s darkness, and went into the waiting arms of his dreams.
Go beyond the Outer Rim and visit faraway exotic places.
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