Terrible Shadow, Part 10

For two days, Embamor Etralis stayed in his quarters, drinking and staring at the wreckage of the Senate Hall. He refused to allow anyone in to see him, and he also ignored the many messages he was receiving from other military officers throughout the Empire. He was monitoring the news, but none of it was good. A terrorist organization called Fangalin was claiming responsibility for the attack on the Hall, and it seemed that they had also seized several provinces and were launching attacks on others. The Imperial Fleet was fighting back, but the resistance was scattered and half-hearted. Most of the senior commanders had been in the Senate Hall, and so there was no one coordinating the Fleet’s response. To make matters worse, several units had defected to Fangalin, and others had been sabotaged by Fangalin infiltrators.

As far as General Etralis could tell, the Empire was rapidly crumbling. The burnt-out crater where the Senate Hall had stood was a prophecy of where the Empire as a whole was headed. It was a concept that the old General could barely wrap his mind around. Just a few days ago, the Empire had seemed mighty and everlasting, but now that facade had been blown away, and the real Empire was revealed to be corrupt and hollow.

General Etralis felt like he needed to do something about it, but he was scared to admit to himself what that thing might be. The Empire needed a leader, somebody to take firm command of a rapidly deteriorating situation, and Etralis was afraid that that leader might have to be him. Etralis had no interest in sacrificing himself for the good of the people. He had always lived for himself, first and foremost. But he also recognized that if the Empire fell, the good life that he’d built for himself would disappear as well. From what little Etralis knew about Fangalin, it was apparent that they were a much more disciplined and controlled organization than the Empire had been recently, and it seemed unlikely that he could apply his talent for making and exploiting connections in a galaxy ruled by them.

Over the past two days, then, despite the prodigious amounts of alcohol he’d consumed, his course was becoming increasingly clear to him. In order to save his luxuriously debauched life, he would need to save the Empire. And in order to save the Empire, he would have to become something he’d never been, and had never wanted to be: a level-headed and decisive leader. He would take over the throne, become the Emperor, deal with the Fangalin threat, and once that was done, he would retire to one of his many country estates and go back to pickling himself in whiskey.

Having come to a decision, he drained his glass and unsteadily rose to his feet. He went to his liquor cabinet and took out the last bottle that remained after the past two days. He took a long, deep pull from it, and then took it to the sink in his bathroom and dumped it out. If he was going to be the Emperor that he needed to be, he was going to have to stop drinking.

That done, he wobbled over to the door, which opened automatically at his approach. Two guards stood there, surprised looks on their faces, which they quickly erased as they saluted the General.

“Get me Lieutenant Aganar,” Etralis slurred. One of the guards nodded sharply and began speaking into his headset, and the General stumbled back into his room and slumped down in his recliner, worn out from even that little bit of effort. A few minutes later, Aganar entered the room and saluted sharply.

“At ease, Lieutenant,” Etralis slurred wearily. Aganar relaxed very slightly. “I want you to be very frank with me, Aganar. I know that I have never been the type of commander who invites criticism, but I want you to put all that aside right now. Tell me what you think of me, as a person and a general. Be as harsh as you feel you need to be.” Aganar frowned, suspecting some sort of trap. Embamor Etralis had always been one who reacted excessively to even the slightest criticism or correction. He had even been known to demote soldiers for pointing out obvious yet critical errors.

On the other hand, Aganar had seen a lot in the past two days. In the absence of leadership from the top, Aganar had taken command of the clean-up operations at the Senate Hall. The devastation he had witnessed had changed him, and now he wondered why he had ever feared this dried-up husk of a man. He decided to throw caution to the wind.

“Well, sir,” he said, “I think that you are a lazy drunk who puts his own wants above the needs of those he commands and above the needs of the Empire. I also believe that you are a spineless manipulator who pretends to be a tough guy but then cowers in his room drinking whiskey when trouble happens.” He closed his mouth suddenly, afraid that he may have gone too far. Etralis just looked at him, his face expressionless. Then a small smile appeared and he chuckled.

“I knew there was a reason I liked you, Ven,” he said, chuckling even more at the shocked look on Aganar’s face, “You hit the nail on the head. I am everything you said and more, and I make no apologies for who I am. I’ve never seen any reason to care about anybody but myself, and I see no reason to start now.” Aganar frowned and opened his mouth to reply to this, but Etralis cut him off. “Unfortunately for me, a crumbling Empire is not compatible with my chosen lifestyle. Therefore, I have made the decision to put my wants and needs aside, and lead the Empire against these terrorists until the threat is destroyed. Then I will retire to one of my estates and drink to my heart’s content. What do you think about that?”

“I think that’s…um…admirable, I guess. Sir. But I have my doubts that you can pull it off,” Aganar said.

“So do I, my boy,” Etralis said, “But I don’t really have any choice, do I?”

To be continued…

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