General Izik Hoshic was at his new desk in the Imperial Palace, reviewing casualty figures from the recent battle with the Legion of the Heart. His office, the office of the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces, was spacious and luxurious, but he barely noticed it. He was absorbed by a deep and near-crippling grief as he went over the names of the deceased. It was taking him a great deal of time. There had only been about two thousand soldiers in the Legion, but they had occupied a heavily fortified position and were well trained. Of the fifty thousand soldiers that Emperor Extrator IV had taken to the Imperial Palace, approximately ten thousand of them were dead.
Hoshic tried to comfort himself with the knowledge that he had warned the Emperor that attacking the Palace was a bad idea, but it was a hollow comfort. He should have done more. Of course, all he really could have done was refuse to follow the Emperor’s orders. In that case, the Emperor would have had him executed and replaced, and the battle would have still gone ahead. But at least Hoshic would have gone to his grave knowing that none of the blood was on his hands.
He didn’t know what to do now. He had drafted a resignation letter, and was ready to submit it to the Emperor, but something held him back. He thought maybe that resigning was the coward’s way out, that he would be shirking his responsibilities to his soldiers if he did that. Maybe the best way for him to atone for his sins was to remain as Supreme Commander, and promise to henceforth put the welfare of his men ahead of his own safety and wellbeing.
As Emperor Extrator IV settled himself down into the Imperial Throne for the first time, his expression didn’t change, but a deep sense of satisfaction, of rightness, filled him. This was where he belonged. This was where he had spent his entire life preparing to be. He gazed about the Grand Hall of the Imperial Palace and smiled slightly. All was as it should be.
The Grand Hall was, as befit the very heart of the galaxy, a glorious and magnificent space. It was shaped like a long rectangle, with high ceilings, huge windows, and was lined by ornately carved columns. It was so long, in fact, that a teleporter was installed by the entrance to bring those who had an audience with the Emperor directly to him, as it was too great a distance to be reasonably traveled on foot. The teleporter itself was an engineering marvel. It was the only one of its kind in the galaxy, as it was extravagantly expensive to install and maintain. But nothing was too extravagant for the Imperial Palace.
The spaces between the columns were normally filled by members of the Legion of the Heart in full dress uniform, but as the Legion had just recently been destroyed, those spaces were instead taken up by members of Extrator’s army in combat uniforms. Extrator had yet to decide if he was going to rebuild the Legion or not.
There were two people in particular whom the Emperor wanted to meet with this morning. The first of these came through the teleporter in chains, accompanied by two burly guards who had him by his upper arms. It was Adlamor Finegal, failed claimant to the Imperial Throne. He was bruised and battered, and his scraggly, unwashed hair fell over his downcast face. He was thrown roughly onto his knees in front of the Emperor.
“Adlamor Finegal,” the Emperor said gravely, “You are charged with high treason for unjustly impersonating the Emperor. How do you plead?”
“Guilty,” rasped Finegal, his voice suffering from disuse, “I am guilty of the charges against me. Please have mercy on me, Your Majesty.”
“Your plea is accepted,” the Emperor replied, “I hereby pronounce judgment on you. For your crimes, you are sentenced to be executed immediately.”
“What!” screamed Finegal, lifting his head to stare directly at the Emperor, his eyes full of terror and panic. “I was told that if I plead guilty, you would be merciful! This can’t be happening!”
“Indeed, I am merciful,” intoned the Emperor, “Your death will be quick and painless, and this very day you will have the opportunity to confess your crimes directly before the throne of the One. What greater mercy could there be?” With that, the Emperor gestured for the guards to take him away, and they grabbed him by the arms and dragged him, still screaming, through the teleporter.
The second person emerged through the teleporter soon after. This was Jefmin Lakatai, Master of the Imperial Secret Service. Lakatai was just under six feet tall, and overweight without being obese. His black hair was slicked straight back, and he had a little mustache, but was otherwise clean-shaven. He carried himself with a swagger and an arrogance that made the Emperor instantly dislike him.
“Your Majesty,” Lakatai began with a little bow, “it warms my heart to see that you have arrived safely. I’m so pleased that you received my message and were able to take care of the traitors with so little trouble.”
“I’m not sure that I would call the deaths of ten thousand soldiers a ‘little trouble’, but it is true that we were able to take care of the problem,” the Emperor said drily, “I am pleased to see that you are so willing to pledge your loyalty to me. It would be problematic if, on top of all my other duties, I had to find a new Master as well.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Lakatai said oily, “You will find that there is no one in the Empire more loyal than myself.” If Lakatai caught the implied threat in the Emperor’s words, he didn’t show it.
Extrator was already starting to wonder if he had made a mistake trusting Lakatai. There had been no indication of a plot against him in any of the Legion’s records, so either they hid it very well, or Lakatai had lied to eliminate a rival organization. Extrator was beginning to wonder if the battle for the Palace had been a horrible, bloody mistake. It was a terrible thought, and the Emperor hoped it wasn’t true, but either way, he would have to keep a close eye on Jefmin Lakatai.
To be continued…