The Bull and the Hyena, Part 8

Seven months ago, everything changed. At least, that’s how Emperor Extrator IV liked to view things. In his mind, he had ascended to the Imperial Throne and single-handedly brought order and justice back to the galaxy, obliterating the pagan terrorists of Fangalin and reuniting the shattered remnants of the Empire. That’s what he wanted to believe.

But as much as he had convinced himself that he was the chosen of the One, even he had to admit that the reality was much removed from what he had envisioned seven months ago. Fangalin continued to grow and advance. There were still three other men who had the audacity to challenge Extrator’s rightful claim to the Throne. And the Republic of Hadramoris continued to pretend that they were a separate nation, apart from the holy and sacred Empire. It was enough to make a pious man’s blood boil.

And on top of everything, new reports were coming in about a new faction forming in the Retigulous Sector. Several Imperial cruisers had gone missing over a year ago. Two units were involved, one commanded by Haasadis Ventelin and another commanded by Vor Shen. They had continued to send in reports about their status and their disposition, but no one had been able to confirm whether those reports were accurate or not. And it was becoming increasingly apparent that they were not.

That was frustrating enough on its own, but now Extrator’s agents were getting information about what those two rogue generals were actually up to. It seemed that they were planning to break a significant chunk of the Empire off and set up a kingdom centered around the province of Midigal. Midigal and the rest of the Retigulous Sector weren’t terribly important, but they weren’t completely insignificant either. Aside from that, it offended Extrator to the very core of his being to think of any province seceding from the Empire, especially while he sat on the Throne.

He was sitting at his desk in his living quarters in the Imperial Palace, reading reports and trying to figure out what to do with the mess that his predecessors had made. His quarters were magnificently luxurious, as befit the living quarters of the most powerful man in the galaxy, but Extrator scarcely noticed it. Truth be told, it offended him. His intention was to sell off most of the decorations and treasures in the Palace and donate the money to charity, but he had much more pressing matters to deal with before he got to that.

Extrator’s work was interrupted suddenly by an insistent beep from his tablet. He found a message from one of his aides, urgently requesting that he view a live news broadcast coming from Midigal. With a scowl at the interruption, and a feeling of foreboding, he pulled up the broadcast. What he saw only deepened his scowl.

His worst fears for the Retigulous Sector were coming true. Haasadis Ventelin was standing at a podium emblazoned with an unfamiliar royal seal, the Merchants’ Council of Midigal arrayed behind him, announcing that Midigal and 27 other provinces were seceding from the Empire and forming the Kingdom of Midigal, with Ventelin himself as king. Extrator sat and watched the entire broadcast, seething with righteous fury, and as soon as it was over, he slammed down the tablet and called the Master of the ISS.
Jefmin Lakatai came into the Emperor’s quarters a few minutes later. He sauntered in with his usual arrogance, and Extrator felt the familiar feeling of dislike and disgust that he felt whenever Lakatai was in his presence. Unfortunately, Extrator’s personal dislike of a man wasn’t enough to disqualify him from a position, and Lakatai was an excellent Master. Or he had been, anyway.

“Your Majesty,” Lakatai said as he came in, his voice suitably subservient, but mixed with a nearly imperceptible hint of smugness, “what can I do for you at this late hour?”

“You can explain the meaning of this,” Extrator said, hurling a tablet at him, which he caught with a grunt against his ample gut. He saw the broadcast from Midigal, and his oily smile slowly turned into a scowl.

“Where did you get this?” Lakatai demanded without looking up, and when he didn’t get a response, he went pale, realizing that his lack of respect was a terrible mistake. He looked up, and when he saw that the Emperor was radiating fury, he knew he was right.

“I do have other sources of information, Lakatai,” Extrator said with quiet intensity. “Better sources of information, it would seem. Do you care to try and explain yourself? Or shall I order your execution now?” Every last shred of color drained from Lakatai’s face at this.

“Y-your M-majesty,” Lakatai groveled, getting on his knees before the Emperor, “please forgive my failure. I had received some reports indicating that these events were imminent, but I did not believe them credible at the time, so I declined to pass them on to you. I plead with you to give me another chance, my Sovereign.” Extrator scowled down at him for a few minutes, making him sweat.

“Rise, my servant,” Extrator said coldly, “I give you back your life and your position…for now. Know that I will not tolerate another failure of this magnitude, however. I believe that this was more than just mere incompetence. I suspect that you were attempting to hide this plot from me on purpose. Fortunately for you, I have no evidence of this, and I will not execute you based on suspicion alone. And truth be told, you are still the best man for this job. But if you had thoughts of treason, I strongly suggest you put them aside. I will not tolerate treasonous thoughts or actions. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Lakatai said obsequiously, “You have made yourself perfectly clear.”

“Very well,” Extrator said, turning away to look out the window at skyline of Selorin. “Find me all the information you can about this so-called kingdom. And tell General Hoshic to see me. We have a rebellion to crush.”

Lakatai bowed and departed. Extrator didn’t see him go. He was already deep in prayer. He was the instrument of deliverance, a tool in the hands of the One. He knew the end was near, that he would be the one to heal a bruised and battered Empire. He just wished the One wasn’t taking so long to carry out his will.

To be continued…

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