Chapter 665 Terms
The relevant information arrived, and a series of unstoppable events unfolded in the following days. Khan and Monica found themselves with work to do, forcing them to split once the weekend approached.
An interesting development prevented Khan from using his ship. Entering the Empire's territory had always required multiple security measures, but the specific destination increased their number. Surprisingly enough, Lord Exr had appointed Cegnore for the meeting.
Curious eyes full of respect unfolded in Khan's vision as soon as he reached the space stations occupied by Thilku. Those aliens had heard about his exploits, earning him boundless honor. Still, he ignored those reactions to focus on crossing the security measures.
The Thilku didn't show their respect only through silent reactions. When Khan reached the last part of the trip, the aliens led him to one of the Empire's circular ships. It seemed they had no intention of hiding their technology anymore.
Moreover, the Thilku didn't put Khan inside an isolated room. They allowed his presence at the main desk, granting him access to the screens and scanners inspecting their surroundings.
That level of security clearance showed Khan's new status inside the Empire. He still lacked the red cape, but that trip told him he was getting closer.
Another surprising scene soon distracted Khan from the proof of his results. As the ship crossed Cegnore's atmosphere, a tall building appeared on the screens, and Khan immediately noticed massive differences from his last time there.
Cegnore's air was dangerous due to the infection, so humankind and the Empire relied on buildings that isolated them from the outside world. However, the scanners now showed a vast terrace with soldiers and a large gazebo.
Seeing soldiers in the open was shocking, but the scanners had more surprises. As the ship grew closer, Khan spotted balconies and open spaces iconic of the Thilku's style. The building didn't care about Cegnore's air at all, and numbers inevitably popped into Khan's head.
'I left Cegnore only two months ago,' Khan thought. 'Did they decontaminate the entire planet already?'
Even with technology's incredible prowess, Khan couldn't believe that claim. Poisoning the planet's entire underground array of rivers couldn't take so little, and the same went for clearing any remnant of the infection.
The ship headed directly for the terrace, landing in the appointed empty spot before unlocking its doors. Cegnore's air filled the vehicle, but the soldiers didn't experience any fear. Khan didn't know whether they had ingested special tablets, but the complete lack of worry hinted at the general safety.
A Thilku escorted Khan out, and the areas under the gazebo became visible. Khan saw more soldiers, but only the figure sitting at a short table was worth his attention.
Lord Exr was there, proudly staring at Khan. A faint smile shone on his face, but Khan ignored it to glance at the horizon past the terrace. He still heard the call, but it was vague and aimless. It lacked its usual strength and intensity.
'Are the Nak's traces too distant?' Khan wondered. 'Or is this sensation coming from the remains in the symphony?'
Khan had to exclude the possibility of the infection still blowing through the air, but that didn't point him toward a specific answer. However, he could guess the Thilku had done a good job at clearing the area, and the process had probably stretched far past the current quadrant.
"I listened to your suggestion, Captain Khan," Lord Exr announced, pointing at the pillow on the other side of the table. "It's working."
Lord Exr's decision to use the human language confirmed Khan's status as a guest, but he found no reassurance in that. Mister Cirvags didn't tell him the reason behind that meeting, so he would have to fish it out from the Thilku.
"[My Lord]," Khan exclaimed, meeting Lord Exr's gaze while approaching the empty pillow. "The Empire's efficiency is commendable."
"This planet has been," Lord Exr said before sorting his thoughts to find the right words, "A pain for too long. Colonizing it will bolster morale."
Lord Exr didn't say it, but Khan understood that the Empire was sparing no resource to quicken Cegnore's occupation. The effort also made sense, considering its shortage of manpower. Dealing with the planet would free thousands of soldiers in a single move.
"It can still be dangerous," Khan pointed out, sitting on the pillow.
"A leader must show his face to his troops," Lord Exr stated. "They'll forget about him otherwise."
Lord Exr pushed a cup and a few bowls toward Khan's side of the table before gathering food for himself. The feast had been long since ready, and Khan didn't hesitate to dive into it.
"My instincts about you were right," Lord Exr promptly continued. "I knew we would eventually understand each other."
Khan didn't need to question Lord Exr. He knew he was talking about his suggestion to poison Cegnore's waters. That was a practice worthy of a Thilku but had come out straight from Khan's mouth.
"I loathe wasting lives," Khan declared, "And I did solve your problem."
Khan's new stance amused Lord Exr. The Thilku still recalled how startled he was when he blew up the sea station. Now, Lord Exr felt he was sitting before a completely different man, someone he liked more than before.
"My troops have given you a name," Lord Exr changed the topic. "They call you [Blue shaman] now."
"I've had worse names," Khan replied.
"I'm sure you did," Lord Exr uttered, grabbing his drink. "Though, you are correct. You solved my problem."
Khan gulped down a mouthful of worms before sipping his drink. He didn't expect Lord Exr to hand him a cape, but his brain lacked other hypotheses. He didn't know what to expect other than that.
"You earned a debt of pride with the Empire," Lord Exr continued. "Repaying it is mandatory."
"You leaked classified information to the Global Army," Khan reminded.
"Did that help?" Lord Exr wondered. "Human politics value achievements, especially when connected to the Empire."
"It did help," Khan admitted. "A red cape would help more."
"The Empire doesn't hand them easily," Lord Exr commented, smiling. "You shouldn't mention them so casually either."
"But I am," Khan declared. "So?"
Lord Exr's smile vanished as he put down the cup. He wasn't blinded by his pride like his underlings, especially toward someone who had earned his impudence. Still, gifts weren't the Empire's style. Everyone had work to do, even political allies.
"The Empire doesn't need additional connections," Lord Exr stated. "However, the [Blue shaman] is a valuable asset, and Captain Khan has useful connections."
Khan remained silent. That initial part hinted at more missions, which he didn't mind. He had actually never expected Lord Exr to give in so easily.
"How much of a leader are you?" Lord Exr suddenly asked.
"I'm no leader," Khan instinctively said.
"Of course you are," Lord Exr uttered. "You are a Captain, and you did give orders to my troops. Ambassador Abores couldn't have done that."
Khan managed to read between the lines. Comparing him to Ambassador Abores revealed the true nature of the question. Lord Exr didn't want a simple exceptional soldier or a useful shaman. He needed a figure who could be both while also having an influence on the Global Army.
"[My Lord]," Khan called. "I thought you had to do the favor, not the other way around."
"I am," Lord Exr confirmed. "No one gets so close to the Empire so quickly. Your current leeway is what you earned, with an addition of personal favoritism."
Khan knew he was rising far faster than the average political figure. Yet, due to his efforts, the Empire had gained a planet and new trade routes. Requesting for influence over the Global Army crossed an invisible line.
That thought didn't come from loyalty toward humankind. Khan had simply acknowledged his value now. He would pay any price Lord Exr asked, but the rewards had to be appropriate and clear.
"Ambassador Abores won't do," Lord Exr explained himself. "My Lord agrees with me. You are to take his place."
"What place?" Khan questioned. Mister Cirvags had long since agreed to keep him separated from Ambassador Abores. Khan had no idea what his current tasks involved.
"Every place," Lord Exr responded. "The tasks within the Empire and those within the Global Army."
Lord Exr probably didn't know the inner workings of the embassy, but Khan could translate that request into the human environment. He would have to take over Ambassador Abores' office to fulfill that role and have enough resources to complete eventual jobs.
Khan wasn't delusional. He immediately accepted that he wasn't ready for that position. The Harbor had taught him much, but his special classes only involved the job as a scout, and his senses made up for his lack of experience there.
Instead, accepting the offer would turn Khan into a factual Ambassador without the title. Theoretically, that was an excellent opportunity for multiple reasons. Khan had wanted something similar to happen. However, that approach would earn him a big headache.
It was one thing for Khan to get promotions based purely on merit. It was different to bring others down to elevate himself. Surpassing his peers through sheer training and resolve would earn envy, but costing someone's position would lead to enmity.
"Can you do it, Captain Khan?" Lord Exr pressed on before Khan's silence.
Khan had already accepted inside his mind, but the issue deserved more thought. He knew he couldn't reach a compromise since the Empire had limited spots for Ambassadors. Someone had to go to make room for Khan.
Still, Ambassador Abores had friends in high places, and his title spoke for himself. He was a political enemy Khan would prefer to avoid, but the lack of alternatives showed a single viable path.
"I will do it," Khan confirmed, "But it will be on my terms."
"What are your terms?" Lord Exr asked.
"I choose when this replacement takes place," Khan declared. "Also, I want benefits worthy of an Ambassador, including a clear sight on the capes."
The second part of the request was relevant for multiple reasons, but Khan mainly cared about the first. Making political enemies was inevitable, but he might stave off some annoying repercussions if he could secure his position during and after the marriage.