The Ice Cold Heart by KS Augistin


THE ICE COLD HEART


From the autobiography of Itan Refett Benaltep, from his youth in 2523 to his death in 2860


   Of all the Naplian emperors, Refett Benaltep was the most cursed. Brought up in a time of ethnic violence and forced into coregent-ship with a Ffawe rebel who would be praised above him, it seemed there was little Benaltep could do right. Married to the niece of his despised co-ruler, sidelined by the emerging Ffawe power bloc, Benaltep is a joke in his own empire, and he knows it.

   Yet beneath his bland grey skull is the brain of a ruler, and even if he can’t change the direction of his beloved empire single-handedly, at least he has seen more of its intrigues and dealings than others more favored than him. From the rise of Ronal Bonate to the sly scheming that led to the massacre of the Gypsy naplians; from his surprisingly hopeful wedding to the unpalatable decision that led to the attack on Terran-held Baedecker, Benaltep has participated in changes that will transform, strengthen and eventually destroy the Naplian Empire. This is his story.



The Archaeological Find


From: Anlekk Cof Lyub, Team Leader
To: Avian Pop Gang sponsors

Subject: Fantastic find on Hsril VI!

Hello to all our sponsors throughout known space!

Thanks to your generosity, I'm now able to schedule more regular updates, and I have a real surprise for you this 'cast...Monvall did a lot of research on the Naplians, and we now think we've found the winter palace for one of the emperors!

In the twenty-ninth century, according to standard timing, the Naplians were ruled by two emperors, Ronal Bonate and Refett Benaltep. We had marked out what we now know to be the palace site and systematically went through the buildings with our drones, level by level. And we found it! A safe, with pages and pages of text in it. Actual handwritten words, by the looks of it. Although the safe was damaged and the manuscript is incomplete, there still appears to be enough to form a picture of Naplian life away from the Prime system...Others may be chasing fantasies from a long-ago prophecy, but we are right here, right now, with real alien writing in our hands, and we need your help.

Let's make money together!

Cof Lyub




Benaltep Meets Bonate


Benaltep still felt dazed by recent events and the fact that he'd helped a fugitive escape from a naplian military base. “That sounds very mysterious.”

Firantain scanned the walls of his office, then seemed to come to a decision. “Follow me.”

He got to his feet and set off at a quick pace...

“You’re going to meet someone,” Firantain said, his voice terse. “But you should know he’s Ffawe.”

“Ffawe? Lanil, what’s going--”

“You want this situation fixed, don’t you?”

Benaltep looked at his friend. “If possible.”

“Then come with me. Don’t get upset with anything that’s said. Take it all, and you might have a chance at getting off the planet with your head and body still attached to each other.”

“Lanil--”

“I’m not joking, Refett.” Firantain stared at his friend to hammer the message home.

“Take. Everything. Understand?”

Benaltep arched his neck in acquiescence.

“Then come on.” Firantain took a deep breath, straightened his uniform and buzzed the building’s panel. Without waiting for further acknowledgment, he barged through the slowly opening door, dragging Benaltep behind him.




It was supposed to be an administrative building, they were built to a standard layout that Benaltep knew well, but the place felt barren. Empty. Not a soul moved.

“At the back,” Firantain said, his voice terse.

The words didn’t make any sense until it dawned on Benaltep that Firantain was indicating where his target was. At the back of the building. They walked past empty offices until they reached the largest one at the far end. A figure was hunched over the desk, looking at something on the station’s screen, but turned languidly at their approach.

It was a Ffawe. That was Benaltep’s first thought. What in the Universe was Lanil doing, associating with a Ffawe?

“I didn’t expect to see you so soon, Firantain.” The Ffawe’s voice was measured but full of confidence. His gaze flicked up and down Benaltep’s figure, assessing his worth.

“Ref, this is, er, an acquaintance of mine, Ronal Bonate. Bonate, this is my good friend, Refett Benaltep.”

Bonate’s uniform was one of the Imperial Fleet, and the insignia indicated he was of captain’s rank. He looked younger than either of the Onwey officers, yet outranked them both. That was unheard of for one of the Naplian minorities. Benaltep stiffened in silent outrage.

“Acquaintance, Lanil? I thought we had moved beyond that point. But thank you for honoring me by introducing me to a good friend of yours. I’m now doubly surprised because I didn’t think you had any friends. None at all.”

Benaltep didn’t know who this upstart was, didn’t care that he was a superior officer. He took a step forward, hands clenched before Firantain pulled him back.

“Ref!” Then, in a quieter voice: “Leave it.”

“But Lan--”

Firantain squeezed his arm. “I said, leave it.” He turned to Bonate. “I’d like to thank you again for helping me out of my recent...difficulty.”

Bonate’s expression brightened. “You’re in another one, aren’t you? So soon?”

“No, not me.” The words were dragged from Firantain’s throat. “My friend here.”

Bonate was silent. “What did you say your name was again?”

“It’s--”

“I wasn’t asking you, Firantain!” Bonate’s voice was a whiplash. “Doesn’t your friend have a voice?”

“It’s Refett Benaltep,” Benaltep said. He didn’t care if there was challenge in his tone. Who did this Ffawe think he was?

Bonate stared at him. “I was about to go off-duty. Still might.” He walked around the oval desk, twisting his station’s screen as he did so, and leaned against a padded stool. “Refett Benaltep. Can’t say I’ve heard of the name, and I know most of the families around Naplia Prime. But I presume you’re an aristocrat since you wear that uniform.”

Benaltep remained stubbornly mute, but all it seemed to do was amuse Bonate, who chuckled as he referred to his station. “I see now. Minor aristocracy. Northern Naplian. Resque V.”

Bonate kept going, reeling off the facts of Benaltep’s life as if commenting on the weather. Benaltep wanted to pound the Ffawe into the floor, but Firantain’s light touch, still on his arm, restrained him.

“What did you do, Benaltep of Resque V, to warrant a trip to my sphere of operations?”

Benaltep glanced at his friend, who gave him a speaking look. “I...let a prisoner escape.”

“Really? Tell me it wasn’t one of those Hand of Duvalt lunatics?” And laughed at the silence that ensued. “I don’t believe it. You are assigned here for temporary duty and, within a matter of weeks, you manage to spoil Admiral Lenot’s operation so badly that he’ll need to commit ritual suicide to escape the shame. Not that that’s such a bad idea.”

“That’s why I came to you,” Firantain said. “I know you, and the Admiral don’t like each other. This might be a perfect time to get rid of him, using the cultist’s escape as an excuse.”

“Don’t presume you know what I want, interrogator.” Bonate’s voice was cold. “As much as I loathe him, the Admiral is useful to me
for the time being.” He settled back on his perch. “Which begs the question, how useful will you be, Refett Benaltep?”

About the Author



   KS "Kaz" Augustin considers herself a citizen of the world. She has several University degrees, ranging from Computer Science to international politics, is an avid reader of military history and tactics, and writes in several genres, from space opera to romance to fantasy. The one thing that remains the same through all of this is the amount of research she brings to each world, peopled by rich and varied characters. She has visited, lived and/or worked on four continents and hopes to make it all seven in the future.


K. S. Augustin


   Kaz is Chief Editor of SCI-FI ROMANCE QUARTERLY magazine, a free online quarterly journal devoted to SF Romance, and she and her husband run the micro-press, CHALLIS TOWER (and before that, Sandal Press). The Augustin family consists of two human offspring, a brace of eccentric cats and a miniature Bull Terrier with a bark bigger than her entire body. Kaz is a Linux geek. For fun, she reads, cooks, is learning Latin, and dotes on her twin-cab diesel truck.

Next...Terran Stealthships

END TRANSMISSION

Artwork by Mike Fong and Dmitry Borodin



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