Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 10
“Prime Monitor Shagrath. I thank you for coming so promptly.”
He executed a perfect Six-and-One. “When your Imperial Majesty commands my appearance unexpectedly, I must presume it is urgent.”
Emperor Galata Nin Salrein returned his salute with a distracted air. “I believe it is.”
Shagrath watched without comment as the Emperor rose from the Throne of Seven and stretched. At his full height, Emperor Galata was more than six centimeters taller than Shagrath and, though his hair was silver and face lined, was in excellent shape for a man over two hundred years old. “Walk with me.”
The Prime Monitor followed without speaking; the Emperor clearly had something of import to discuss and wished to do so away from even his guards, as he led Shagrath to the concealed elevator which could whisk the Emperor to a shielded bunker kilometers below ground – below even those provided for the city’s residents in case the unthinkable happened and an alien force were to attack the homeworld – or to the very highest spire of the castle.
It was the second choice today, and the Emperor remained silent until they had exited the elevator and walked to the railing to gaze over the entirety of the capital, Salreinal, which in the (somewhat mangled) original Atlantaean would have meant something close to “City of Seven”. The city reflected its name, and from this height of three and a half kilometers the seven-pointed star that was its foundation was easily seen.
The Emperor took out a scanner and waved it carefully around the entire area, finally replacing it in his pocket as Shagrath observed with raised eyebrows. “That serious, Majesty?”
“A precaution,” the Emperor replied, and seated himself in the seat nearest the rail. “Please, Kerlamin, sit down.”
He did so, wondering which of several things might be on the Emperor’s mind. The Emperor was still – at the moment – the man he appeared to be. In truth, Shagrath had expected the finale of the current cycle to take place several more years down the line, when the next Emperor would be in place. The more recent events were accelerating the timeline, and it might be wise to… recruit the ruler soon.
“I have received a response from the Vmee Zschorza, in which they deny any involvement in Vhelekin or any other activities within our borders.”
“That is, of course, hardly a surprise.”
The Emperor nodded slowly. “Truly said. Yet, Kerlamin, their response bothers me. It bothers me a great deal indeed. Many are the communiqués I have exchanged with our stellar neighbors, in peace and in war. I have viewed many angry denials, grim acceptances, defiance in the face of our Navy, abject surrender, I have seen and heard them all many times. And they fall into patterns in my mind. You understand, do you not?”
Far better than you might believe, Shagrath thought. Patterns were the key to manipulation, but they were also its greatest enemy. Aloud, he said, “Of course, Majesty. The analysis of such things, of the patterns of word and action, are inevitably a key element of the work of the Monitors and Imperial Intelligence.”
The Emperor nodded with a quick, flashing smile that emphasized his deep black eyes and skin scarcely lighter. “Then you must guess my concern. The response of my honorable opponents, the rulers of Zchorada, the Vmee Zschorza, their response was not worded in the way I expected. A denial of truth is… more emphatic than a denial in truth. In their words I heard both shock and fear, as though they thought WE were the ones seeking them injury.”
“I understand, Majesty. Yet we now have numerous confessions as well as additional evidence.”
“And additional executions,” the Emperor said, with a glance down at the city that was filled with regret.
“You would not have us do otherwise?” He was careful with the tone. While it was extremely important to him that the executions continue, the part he was playing would not personally care, and the last thing he needed now was for the Emperor to become a wild card. He could not simply remove the Emperor, arranging an accident would take time, and the Five would be most suspicious of nearly any death or incapacitating event. Even with some of the Five already in his camp, so to speak, that would be a very undesirable event.
“No, no.” The Emperor’s voice was sad, but hard. “Those who are actually traitors to the Empire, who have chosen to turn their backs on us, to ally themselves with our enemies? Execution is the only reasonable punishment. Their actions have already resulted in many deaths of my people; I betray their trust in me if I allow their killers to live. As long,” the Emperor’s head came up and those sharp black eyes looked narrowly into Shagrath’s mirrored gaze, “as long as all the requirements are met. Interrogations must be conducted according to the Accords, recorded and reviewed each by the other – yours by Imperial Security, theirs by the Monitors. And of course a member of the Five may be present at any time they desire.”
“And they have been, Majesty. No torture, truth induction only, and – naturally – considerable psychological manipulation. With some clemency for those with truly useful information to impart, or those who truly did not understand the import of their actions.”
Naturally, Shagrath had made sure that the guilty believed what they confessed to. And those confessions had been designed very carefully. “It is possible,” he continued, “that the Vmee Zschorza‘s denial is completely honest, and yet the confessions are true. Unlike the Reborn Empire, the Zchorada still have considerable… factionalism present, despite the popular impression of their species as being more cooperative and collectivist than humanity and many of our associated species.”
“So one of the rival Nests may have begun this without the dominant Nest and the Vmee being aware of it.” The Emperor considered that for a few moments. “That is an unfortunate possibility, as it limits our reasonable responses. The last thing any of us truly want is a war. We have been at a state of near-war with the Zchorada for enough of the century and a half I have been Emperor.
“At the same time, this is the second provocation of this sort we have seen in recent years, the first being the attack on Tangia Station. One apparently rogue faction attack I might believe; I am less inclined to believe it a second time.”
“You aren’t considering –”
“Declaring war?” The Emperor shook his head. “Not quite yet. But I must do something. The latest security directives pain me, Kerlamin. It pains me even more to see that they come from young Lukhas. Borell, now, he has been hardened, but Lukhas…”
“I know, Majesty.” The fondness of the Emperor for the Mel’Tasne family had been evident for many years – unsurprising, Shagrath had to admit, for the three children and many of their close relatives had always been brightly burning in the public eye when the others of the Five were often secretive and private. “I’m afraid I rather expected such a reaction.”
“Hm. And their loss is mine – and the Empire’s. Demons take this curse of psionic powers! Why the other species can wield them and we cannot we still do not understand… but worse is how unpredictable it is. Sasham Varan, one of the few not of the Families who has stood before me more than once, whose name I knew, Kerlamin, whose face echoed the very inspiration of our people, cut down and made a monster in the very year he became one of those who would guide our future!”
The Emperor gave vent to a curse he would never permit himself in public. “And now we are close to imprisoning one of our oldest allied species because some of them are being used as pawns and, sometimes, traitors – and psionics, again, at the heart of the danger.” The Emperor stood and looked out over his city. “I will support you and White Controller Mel’Tasne in any actions you deem necessary, though at this time I will withhold any declaration of war. But I wish you to redouble research on psionics and defenses against them. If we cannot use them, we must find a way to protect ourselves against them, to restrain them – and perhaps to cure them in humanity. I will have Lukhas outline the directive and distribute it across the Empire.”
“Understood, Majesty.” He waited a moment, and the Emperor made a gesture of dismissal.
“You may go, Kerlamin. I wish to be alone for a while.”
“As you will. Seven Standing, Majesty.”
“Standing and Unfallen, Prime Monitor.”
In the elevator, he allowed himself a very broad grin. It was almost precisely what he wanted. It wasn’t quite time for a war yet. He needed the rest of the galaxy stirred up a bit, so that when war came it would be the sort of war to bring down every participant, shatter their interconnections, turn ally against ally and in the end dissolve even the Reborn Empire into civil war, bringing Shagrath one step closer to returning home. Perhaps in a few thousand more years I can be sure enough. One more cycle, maybe two.
It would not, of course, be wise to return without being very, very sure.
He took his leave of the Imperial Castle, walking as though deep in thought.
The shrieking chorus began the instant he left the mindshields. Lost is Thovia! Another of Us is perished!
For a moment he couldn’t believe what he was hearing; he paused momentarily in his walk, then forced himself to continue, locked the pensive expression on his face as a mask. What do you mean, lost? Who has dared attack you?
A cascade of images, the last seen and sent by the Captain of the Thovian outpost, a rumbling roar and the movement of trees, the screaming crash and tilting of the world, a smell of earth and stone filling the nostrils…
An avalanche. An avalanche! Do the very mountains conspire against me?
He ignored the voices complaining about the loss of another of their limited number. Enough. I understand you have no more to spare at this time. I will send a vessel there. Less subtle a trap than I would have preferred, but if Varan is there we shall take him.
You believe the landslide was deliberate?
He could not quite restrain a grim chuckle. Say rather that I do not discount the possibility.
He looked back at the tower; with his vision, vastly better than anything human, he could still make out the Emperor standing at the rail, gazing out over the capital of Oro and the Empire, and he considered again the timeline. Assuming these conditions… and if we act exactly so… yes.
He smiled, and if any of those passing could have really looked at that smile they would have shrank back and sought refuge or weapons. It is time to begin to advance our timetable, my friends. I will play my hunches; there are several vessels in that area which I can arrange to act. It is time to create your Nexus, and it is time to begin to expand your ranks.
The voices were eager, disbelieving. Truly? We can assemble in your system and begin?
Here at Oro, yes. Only to build the beginnings of your Nexus. But that should be enough. He looked up again. And you shall begin by assuring us that the Emperor will always support our policies.