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Nom Anor suppressed a shiver at the sight of the Shamed One Onimi leering from the doorway. Something in him shrank at the ppearance of the lank creature with his misshapen head and knowing smile.
Onimi’s grin widened.
Nom Anor, distaste prickling, pushed past the Shamed One and entered. The rounded resinous walls of the chamber shone with a faint luminescence, and the air bore the metallic scent of blood. In the dim light Nom Anor made out the magnificently scarred and mutilated form of Supreme Overlord Shimrra, reclining on a dais of pulsing red hau polyps. Onimi, the Supreme One’s familiar, sank into the shadows at Shimrra’s feet. Nom Anor prostrated himself, all too aware of the scrutiny of Shimrra’s rainbow eyes.
The Supreme Overlord’s deep voice rolled out of the darkness. “You have news of the infidels?”
“I have, Supreme One.”
“Stand, Executor, and enlighten me.”
Nom Anor repressed a shiver of fear as he rose to his feet. This was Shimrra’s private audience chamber, not the great reception hall, and Nom Anor was absolutely alone here. He would much rather be able to hide behind his superior Yoog Skell and a whole deputation of intendants.
Never think to lie to the Supreme One, Yoog Skell had warned.
Nom Anor would not. He probably could not. Fortunately he was well prepared with the latest news of the infidels’ efforts against the Yuuzhan Vong.
“The enemy continue their series of raids against our territory. They dare not confront our might directly, and confine themselves to picking off isolated detachments or raiding our lines of communication. If a substantial fleet opposes them, they flee without fighting.”
The Supreme Overlord’s head, the sum of its features barely discernable as a face with all its scars and tattoos and slashings, loomed forward in the shadowy light. “Have your agents been able to inform you which of our conquests are being targeted?”
Nom Anor felt a cold hand run up his spine. He had seen what happened to some of those who disappointed the great Overlord Shimrra, and he knew his answer would be a disappointment.
“Unfortunately, Supreme One, it appears that the new administration is giving the local commanders a great deal of latitude. They’re choosing their own targets. Our agents on Mon Calamari have no way of knowing what objectives the individual commanders may select.”
There was a moment of silence. “The new head of state, this infidel Cal Omas, permits his subordinates such freedom?”
Nom Anor bowed. “So it appears, Supreme One.”
“Then he has no true concept of leadership. His rule will not trouble us much longer.”
Nom Anor, who thought otherwise, chose not to dispute this analysis. “The Supreme One is wise,” he said instead.
“You must redouble your efforts to infiltrate the military and provide us with their objectives.”
“I shall obey, Supreme One.”
“What news of the Peace Brigade?”
“The news is mixed.” The collaborationist Peace Brigade government had been established on Ylesia, and had grown sufficiently large and diverse to have divided into squabbling factions, all of which competed ferociously in groveling to the Yuuzhan Vong. None of this cringing actually aided the creation of the Peace Brigade army and fleet, which, when built up to strength and trained, were to act as auxiliaries to the Yuuzhan Vong.
“Perhaps it should be admitted that infidels so disposed as to join an organization called the ‘Peace Brigade’ may not be temperamentally inclined toward war,” Nom Anor said.
“They need a leader to exact obedience,” Shimrra concluded.
“That role was to be assigned to the infidel Viqi Shesh, Supreme One,” Nom Anor said.
“Another leader shall be assigned,” Shimrra said. His eyes shimmered from blue to green to yellow. “We should choose someone who has nothing to do with these factions. Someone from outside, who can impose discipline.”
Nom Anor agreed, but when he searched his mind for candidates, no names occurred to him. “We are having better luck with infidel mercenaries,” he said. “They have made no true submission and possess no loyalty, but they are convinced they have joined the winning side, and are content to obey so long as we pay them.”
“Contemptible creatures. No wonder a galaxy that spawned such as these was given by the gods to us.”
“Indeed, Supreme One.”
Shimrra shifted his huge form on his dais, and one of the polyps beneath him burst under the pressure, spraying the wall with its insides. An acid reek filled the room. The other polyps at once turned on the injured creature and began to divide and devour it.
Shimrra ignored the clacking and slurping. “Speak of our visitor from Corellia.”
Nom Anor bowed. “He is called Thrackan Sal-Solo.”
“Solo? He is related to the twin Jeedai?”
“The two branches of the family are estranged, Supreme One.”
A thoughtful rumble came from the dais. “A pity. If otherwise, we could hold him hostage and demand the twins in exchange.”
“That is indeed a pity, Lord.”
Shimrra waved one huge hand. “Continue, Executor.”
“Sal-Solo is the leader of a large political faction on Corellia, and has been elected governor-general of the Corellian sector. He says that, with our support, he can assure that the Corellian system—five planets—is detached from the infidel government. Once this is done, he can assure its neutrality, including the neutrality of the Centerpoint weapon that so devastated our force at Fondor. Then, as diktat, he will sign a treaty of friendship with us.”
Shimrra shifted thoughtfully on the pulsing bed. The dismembered polyp twitched and fluttered as its siblings consumed it.
“Is this infidel trustworthy, Executor?”
“Of course not, Supreme One.” Nom Anor made a deprecatory gesture. “But he may be useful. He gave us the location of the Jedi academy, and that information was correct, and led to our colonization of the Yavin system. Corellia is a major industrial center, where many weapons and enemy ships are built, and its neutrality is desirable.”
“What is our information on the Centerpoint weapon?”
“Sal-Solo did not come alone. He brought with him a supporter and companion, a human female called Darjeelai Swan. While I interviewed Sal-Solo, we took his companion and interrogated her. According to this person, the Centerpoint weapon is not functional, though efforts are being made by New Republic military forces to rehabilitate it.”
“So this Sal-Solo offers to trade us what he does not have.”
“True. And—also according to Darjeelai Swan—it was Sal-Solo himself who fired the Centerpoint weapon at our fleet at Fondor.”
Shimrra’s hands—giant black taloned things, each implanted from a different carnivore—made massive fists. “And this creature has the effrontery to bargain with me?”
“Indeed, Supreme One.”
Onimi piped up,
“Fetch him to our presence, Lord,
And bring us all into concord.
I wish it known and made a rule
That I am not the only fool.”
Shimrra’s vast frame heaved with what might have been laughter.
“Yes,” he said. “By all means. Let us meet the master of Corellia.”
Nom Anor bowed in response, then hesitated. “Shall I bring his guards, as well?”
Contempt rang in Shimrra’s answer. “I am capable of defending myself against anything this infidel should attempt.”
“As you desire, Supreme One.”