Briella Melforia stood on the observation deck of her personal cruiser, Infinity, watching Imperial ships as they transported prisoners up from the surface of the planet Nutralids. She was the type of woman that other people wished they could be. She was 64 years old, but looked 20 years younger. She had always been strikingly beautiful, and she had a mind to match. Not only that, but she was fantastically wealthy, and incredibly powerful as well. In fact, as the current occupant of the Imperial Throne, it would be easy to argue that she was the most powerful individual in the galaxy.
Empress Briella II. She couldn’t remember a time when that wasn’t her name. She had ascended to the throne at the age of 4 years old, in place of her father, who had been ousted by the Senate at the request of the Imperial Fleet. At the time, there was some worry that putting a child on the throne would cause problems, but 60 years later, she was generally considered one of the most successful rulers of the Empire ever.
Her father, Emperor Teringlifal III, had been removed from the throne because he was clearly insane. His father, Emperor Petrosin II, had been assassinated by a group of terrorists who called themselves the Black Legion. Teringlifal was only 19 when he became Emperor, and had thrown himself into a quest for revenge.
Unfortunately, he threw more and more of the Empire’s resources into this quest as well, and the more laws the Emperor passed and the more people he threw in person and had executed, the more popular the Black Legion became. Finally, he declared that the sole mission of the Imperial Fleet was to eradicate the Black Legion, and the High Command of the Imperial Fleet decided that he had snapped, and asked the Senate to remove him from the throne.
In some ways, the Fleet had been right. The first act of Briella’s regent had been to repeal all the laws passed against the Black Legion and release everyone from prison who had been jailed under those laws. As a result, the Black Legion collapsed almost overnight. Without the government telling people that the Black Legion was forbidden, it lost most of its allure, and people lost interest.
But in other ways, her father had been right. One of those who did not lose interest was Reglamis Ambolia. Ambolia was a true believer in the Black Legion’s goal of overthrowing the Empire, and when the Black Legion collapsed, he founded a new organization called the Nether. The Nether spent 45 years stealthily gathering influence and resources in every province in the Empire, and then struck. The result was a war that lasted 11 years and came surprisingly close to fulfilling the Nether’s mission.
But for all his cunning and patience, it turned out that Ambolia wasn’t all that good of a military commander, and the Empire had persevered. Now the war was over. The last remnants of the Nether had holed up on Nutralids, a colony that they had founded, and even those remnants had given up now.
Briella had a reputation for being hard as iron and unflappable as a rock, but even she had breathed a sigh of relief when the news of a surrender came. She had departed for Nutralids as soon as she heard the news. This war was likely to be the thing that her reign was most remembered for, and she needed to be there to oversee the final stage of it.
There were a number of people standing on the observation deck with her, generals and senators and advisors. Among them was her son and heir, Prince Mordathy Melforia. 36 years old, Prince Mordathy was tall, with long, curly brown hair that fell below his shoulders. The Prince took after his mother when it came to looks and brains, but he lacked her capacity for decisive action. Mordathy needed to examine every problem from every angle before he could make a decision, a trait that his mother worried would be detrimental in an Emperor. But, there was only so much she could control.
“So, Prince Mordathy,” she said without turning to look at him, “the war is over, and peace has returned to the Empire. If you were Emperor, how would you proceed at this point?” Prince Mordathy frowned in thought for a moment before he answered.
“Well, Your Majesty,” he said slowly, “I suppose you want to know what I would do about the survivors of the Army of the Dark.” He looked at his mother, and she nodded impatiently. “There are a few possibilities. One idea is to have them all executed, to reduce the risk of a rebirth of the Nether, but that might cause others who are on the fence to become more sympathetic to their cause. Instead, we could pardon them all and hope that they become productive members of Imperial society, but then we risk some of them reviving the Nether or some derivative of it. A middle ground possibility might be to hold trials, giving some who merely fought because they were told to a chance to rehabilitate themselves, while providing a legal excuse to imprison or execute those who are still true believers. But that would be expensive and time-consuming, and provide the true believers a stage to disseminate their beliefs.” He fell silent, and his mother turned to look at him over her shoulder.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” she said, giving him a flat look.
“I know, Your Majesty,” he responded, “I’m not sure I have an answer for you.” At this, she rounded on him.
“That’s not good enough, I’m afraid,” she said firmly, “You are going to be the Emperor someday, unless I outlive you, and you are going to have to make these kinds of decisions. I need to know that you will be able to.” Prince Mordathy’s eyes widened slightly in surprise, but his voice remained calm.
“Very well,” he said, “I would pardon them all. I think that this war has done enough damage to the Empire, and it’s time to start healing the wounds. I would let the prisoners go, but with the understanding that they will be monitored and that any attempt to revive the Nether or any similar organization will be squelched immediately.” The Empress studied her son without comment for a few moments, and then turned back to look out the window.
“An interesting plan, my son,” she murmured, “Very interesting indeed.” She was silent for a few more moments, while Mordathy continued to watch her calmly. “Perhaps you will make a good Emperor after all. That is exactly what I was thinking we should do.” Mordathy bowed his head in acceptance of her compliment.
“Time will tell, Your Majesty,” he said.
“That it will,” she responded, “That it will.”
To be continued…