Without knowing the situation in the Imperial Palace, Emperor Extrator decided that it would be best to land his troops at Venemas Station, a military base on the outskirts of Selorin. He was standing on an observation deck overlooking the vast area where his dropships were landing and his troops were disembarking. The operation was proceeding smoothly, no mean feat considering there were a hundred thousand soldiers involved.
His tablet beeped suddenly, notifying him that he had a new message. He pulled the tablet out of a pocket in his robes, and began reading. What he saw made his ever-present frown even deeper.
Your Majesty, we regret to inform you that we have uncovered a plot against your rule. The Legion of the Heart has decided to renege on their agreement with you, and is planning to install a pretender of their own choosing on the Imperial Throne. They have locked down the Palace and plan to keep it sealed until they are ready to reveal their duplicity. Their hope is that their pretender will be popular enough that they will be able to muster support from the people and the Fleet to overthrow you. We urge you to move against the Palace quickly and destroy the Legion before they are able to bring their nefarious plans to completion. We know that you are the true Emperor and the Chosen of the One, and we eagerly anticipate your deliverance.
Master of the Imperial Secret Service
“What is it, Your Majesty?” asked General Hoshic, who had been standing nearby, watching over the troops with the Emperor.
“Look at this, Hoshic,” the Emperor said grimly. He handed his tablet over to Hoshic, who scowled as he read the message.
“I don’t like it,” he said, and spat. “The ISS has had it in for the Legion ever since the Legion was formed. They consider the Palace their turf, and they’ve never forgiven the Senate for entrusting the security of the Palace to a separate organization. This smells like a convenient way for the ISS to get rid of the Legion once and for all.”
“If that’s so, then why is the Palace locked down?” the Emperor asked. “Why are we unable to communicate with anyone in the Palace?”
“How did this message get out?” Hoshic countered. “If the Legion was really trying to betray you, and they didn’t have the ISS on their side, wouldn’t they have made sure that they locked down the ISS communication network too? For that matter, wouldn’t they have sent you some sort of message to allay your suspicions?”
“Bah,” said the Emperor with contempt, “The ISS is made up of loyal servants of the Empire. I cannot believe that they would fabricate a plot like this.”
“And the soldiers of the Legion are not servants of the Empire?” Hoshic growled. “I’m not necessarily saying that this message is a trick, Your Majesty. I’m just saying that we don’t know all the facts, and we shouldn’t act without further investigation.”
“Nonsense,” the Emperor said with a dismissive hand gesture, “I believe that this message is legitimate. We need to move quickly, before the Legion can get further entrenched. Order the men to be ready to deploy. In two hours, we’re taking the Palace back.” With that, Extrator turned his back to Hoshic, leaving Hoshic standing there, feeling confused and angry. But he and Extrator had been friends for many years, and he had pledged his loyalty to Extrator, so he had no choice but to carry out his Emperor’s orders.
Shana Vodic had never felt panic before now. She’d been afraid before, she’d experienced anxiety, but those feelings had been caused by more or less minor things. But her life was in danger now, and that terrified her. Even though she had spent her entire professional life in the military, she’d never really considered death. A military career during a long period of peace was actually a pretty comfortable position. Even since the destruction of the Senate, she’d thought of the war as an abstract thing. Somehow, she’d never really expected to have to fight.
But it was a fight that she was faced with now, and a fight that she could not possibly win. The Palace was designed to be easily defended by a few people, but without access to the Palace’s control systems, much of that advantage was gone. And the two thousand soldiers of the Legion of the Heart would be vastly outnumbered by the troops that Extrator was bringing with him.
“Okay, I’m open to any and all suggestions,” she said, addressing the officers who had been hastily assembled in a conference room in the Legion barracks. She was desperately trying to keep her feelings of panic hidden, because she recognized that if her troops knew that their commander was terrified, all hope of putting together an effective resistance would be gone.
“We need to get into the ISS offices,” said one captain, “If we can break in there, we can expose them as the true traitors, and contact the Emperor to explain that we were set up.”
“That’s impossible,” said a colonel, “We have the advantage of numbers over the ISS, but their offices are too hardened for us to get into. By the time the battle was over, the Emperor would be here, and there wouldn’t be enough of us left to matter anyway. What we should do instead is find a way out of the Palace before the Emperor gets here.”
“And then what?” said a major, “Run and hide in the city while the Emperor’s troops hunt us down? If we flee, it will just confirm in the Emperor’s mind that we’re guilty. I say we surrender instead. Then we can explain that the ISS set us up.”
“Nonsense!” said another colonel, “If we surrender, the Emperor will just have us all executed. I served on Bliddle a few years ago. I know Jimalin Redlamin. He’s ruthless and unforgiving. Our only hope is to fight. Yeah, if we fight, we’ll probably die. But if we choose any other option, we will certainly die.”
There was silence in the conference room after this statement, as one by one, everyone present realized its truth.
To be continued…