“So, General,” Senator Hesha Vorlan began, “To what do I owe the honor of this meeting?” The Senator was in her mid-fifties, and handsome rather than beautiful. She had straight black hair that fell to just above her shoulders, and a bold, almost hawk-like nose. She was well known as a patron of the arts, and her dinner parties attracted some of the most beautiful and intelligent people in the Empire.
On the other hand, General Embamor Etralis, to whom her question was directed, was crude and boorish, and exactly the sort of person whom Senator Vorlan did her best to avoid. Unfortunately, politics was a dirty business, and some of the most powerful people in the Empire were the very type who would never get an invitation to one of her dinner parties without that power.
“Well, Senator,” the General began with what Vorlan imagined was supposed to be an ingratiating smile, but really made him look as if he was ill, “I was hoping to have a discussion with you about the security arrangements for the upcoming coronation ceremony. After all, the Legion of the Heart will be responsible for those arrangements, and I would like to be able to begin planning now.”
“Of course, General,” she said with what she hoped was a more natural looking smile, “But what do you expect me to have to do with the coronation?” Etralis looked slightly surprised.
“Are you not making a bid for the throne, Senator?” he said.
“I am,” she responded, “But you and I both know that Senator Drahzen has all but locked up the Senate’s vote. I’m not afraid to admit that my chances of ascending to the throne are all but nonexistent.” General Etralis took another sip of wine and leaned back in his chair.
“Ah, my dear,” he said, “Nothing is set in stone until the Senate actually votes. Senator Shayban Drahzen may have a stranglehold on his fellows’ hearts and minds at the moment. But who knows what the coming days might bring? You may find that you have allies where you least expect them. For example, the Commander of the Legion of the Heart is not without some…considerable…influence.”
Hesha Vorlan frowned at this. She couldn’t quite believe, looking at this bloated wreck of a man, that there was any truth to what he said. And yet, she and the general were sitting in a back room at Mevran’s, the flagship restaurant of Horgan Mevran, the most accomplished and famous chef in the entire galaxy. It was a place that even Senator Hesha Vorlan of Revlingal, for all her status and power, would be unlikely to get a table in on her own. And yet this…crude pig had been able to, not only get a table, but secure access to one of the vaunted back rooms! Clearly he wasn’t exaggerating his status.
“Are you saying, General, that you are interested in helping me ascend to the throne?” Vorlan asked. Etralis leaned forward slightly.
“I am saying, Senator, that I am willing to exert whatever humble influence I may possess to aid you in your bid,” Etralis said smoothly, “But I would require certain assurances from you, in return.”
“Of course,” she responded, “Name your terms.”
“First, I would require your assurance that you would retain me as Commander of the Heart upon your ascension,” he said, and she nodded in response. “Second, I would also require an additional wing within the Imperial Palace for my personal quarters.” She nodded again, inwardly rolling her eyes at the insatiable greed of this swine. “And third, I would need to be given the power to appoint the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces… and the Master of the ISS.” He sat back with a bland expression on his face, waiting to see the Senator’s reaction to this request.
Vorlan was stunned. This… this ape was asking to be given the very keys to the Empire! Supreme Commander of the IAF and Master of the ISS were the two most powerful positions in the Empire, aside from the throne itself. With the power to fill those two positions, General Etralis would essentially become the ruler of the Empire by proxy.
“Do you… Do you have any idea what you’re asking?” she whispered, appalled. The expression on the General’s face didn’t change.
“Of course, my dear,” he said in a voice as bland as his expression. She stared at him, unable to comprehend what was going on.
“How could you possibly think that I would agree to these conditions!” she exclaimed.
“Because without my help you will not attain the throne,” he said, his voice firming slightly, “And you will not get my help without agreeing to these conditions.” The Senator shook her head, trying to figure out how to salvage this situation.
“I have no problems with your first two conditions,” she said, “But the third condition is unacceptable. I cannot agree to it.” Etralis smiled smugly.
“Don’t be ridiculous, dear,” he said, “Senator Drahzen has already assured me both of those things if he is elected. If that’s all you’re going to give me, then I have no incentive to back you over Shayban. Especially since, even with my help, your election is by no means assured. And if I back you and Senator Drahzen still wins the election, I will have made a powerful enemy. You can see where I would want to make sure that taking such a risk would be worth my while.” Vorlan frowned and thought this over. Unfortunately, he made some very good points.
“Let me get this straight,” she said, “You want me to promise that you can be the power behind the throne, but you can’t even promise me that I’ll win the election if I give you what you want?” Etralis shrugged and spread his hands wide.
“Shayban has a great deal of support in the Senate,” he said, “I will do what I can, but I can’t promise anything. Besides, if you lose, my help won’t cost you anything. And you have no chance of winning without it.” Vorlan glared at him, but she had to admit that he was right. She wanted the throne more than she’d ever wanted anything in her life. Senator Vorlan might be unable to get a table at Mevran’s, but Empress Hesha would be able to order Horgan Mevran himself to be her personal chef. Furthermore, this was her only chance to secure the throne. Shayban Drahzen was relatively young, in good health, and had several children. If he became Emperor, there was almost no chance that the throne would be available again in her lifetime.
“Fine,” she said begrudgingly, “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
To be continued…