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- Hegemony - Chapter 2 -

Day 2

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Deciding the Fate of Others[]

Day 2
Caesar's Palace, Alphard
Marian Hegemony
November 23rd, 3162

The first night trying to sleep in the Caesar’s personal apartments at the Palace had been reasonably restful, thanks to the mild sedative and instructions to attendants that saw him undisturbed for nearly six hours. The furnishings and decorations favored by his parents had been removed before his arrival; in their places were new pieces or the more familiar and worn furniture of his own apartments, seeming to have made the journey to their new homes with even the books and study materials of his projects open and undisturbed. The arrangements were a little jarring given that entire rooms he had remembered playing in as a child with his brothers and sisters were now barren and unrecognizable except in his own memories.

Designed as a series of smaller cubicula along the walls of a large atrium connected to the rest of the Palace through a vestibule opposite the bedroom itself, the shining Alphard marble was complemented by collections of native plants and furnishing blending rich, dark woods and soft leather reclining chairs beside classical triclinium with colorful cushions under open rafters of the same dark wood and coffered ceilings providing bright lighting without glaring off the walls.

Bleary-eyed and uncomfortable, the lessons of a lifetime living in a militaristic family rendered him instantly awake for the day as the familiar alarm from his rooms urged him to start the day despite the desire to stay in his rooms and mourn the losses of the day before. Other, more natural urges brought him to his feet to robe himself over the loose shorts he preferred to sleep in and visit the small lavatory discreetly to one side of the room as a series of quiet chimes alerted him to the arrival of the Caesar’s household servants waiting to assist him despite the early hour to begin another stressful day of presenting the calm, confident image expected of the ruler of nearly a dozen worlds and millions of people.

“Good morning, Caesar.”

Exiting the bathroom he found a tall, older man with black hair going grey at the temples in the atrium, dressed head-to-toe in the grey tunic and leggings of the Palace staff with the simple scroll case of senior representatives of the Officium Caesaris. His eyes were immediately drawn to the left breast of his tunic where the small golden laurel wreath pin signifying his position directly serving the ruling family shone. The soft chimes rang again, and the two men turned to watch the Caesar’s personal servants enter the atrium. Lining up in a neat row behind the Scribe and offering a deep bow, Cyrus was nonplussed at how to deal with the latest interruption of his morning ritual.

“Good morning…” Acknowledging the group of men with a nod of greeting, the men straightened once again.

“Lucius Thorvalsson of the Officium Caesaris, Caesar. I will be your Scriba Caesaris, your primary aide until you either confirm the position or request another.”

“Lucius. Thank you.” Nodding acceptance, he turned slightly to watch the household staff, who had dispersed through the apartment and begun their assigned tasks.

“Caesar, for now the household will conform to your father’s previous orders and requests. I believe your valet has prepared suitable clothing to address the Senate in the dressing room,” he said, gesturing to the now open door to what Cyrus knew was an enormous walk-in closet. “And the rest of the staff is waiting to greet you at breakfast in the dining room. Will there be anything else I can assist you with?”

“Not yet, thank you, Lucius” Cyrus said. Stepping into the dressing room he moved toward the ornate privacy screen set along one side of the room, as a man he presumed to be his valet waited on the other side of the screen before stepping forward to examine the results.

“Your father preferred to shave himself, Sir.” the man explained. “An electric razor is in the lavatory beside your bedroom.”

“Thank you.” Eventually making his way to the cavernous dining room he found the household staff waiting in neat ranks with Lucius at their head beside the marble and polished wooden table and benches, bronze filigree decorating the places of the Caesar and his immediate family. Most of the tables and benches had been removed, he noted. Returning their bows of respect with a shallow bow of his own, he realized they were waiting for some further acknowledgement and cleared his throat.

“Good morning, and thank you for your services. I realize this has been a shock to all of us,” he said quietly. “but it has a familiarity to it as well. This is not the first time our nation and House has been dealt such a blow, and we can only move forward and deal with it as best we can.”

Running out of graceful-sounding platitudes, he was simply silent for a moment, gazing back at them.

“God willing, they will be avenged.” he said finally, his voice rough. “I look forward to meeting you sometime in the future, but for now, I ask that you continue to attend your responsibilities as if the rest of the family was absent. Dismissed.”

Acknowledging their bows with a shallow nod and watching them return through the double doors to the servant’s areas, he turned to seat himself at the head of the table. Lucius, who had moved to open one of the doors scattered along the wall connecting the rest of the Palace of the turned and announced, “Imperator David Blacklake and Director Flamen, Caesar.”

The Director’s chains clinked and rattled as he entered behind the Imperator, allowing him to come to attention and salute before murmuring, “Good morning, Caesar.” and moving aside as Cyrus acknowledged him. A few steps behind, Director Flamen, trailed by a Palace Guard in his ceremonial armor, stopped beside the table and bowed, trailed by a Palace Guard in his ceremonial armor behind him.

The two men entered the room, Imperator Blacklake quickly moving to the table to come to attention and salute before murmuring, “Good morning, Caesar.” As Cyrus acknowledged him with a nod, Director Flamen came up beside him, trailed by one of the Palace Guards, to offer a deep bow. At Cyrus’ jerky nod the Imperator pulled out a bench from under the table for the older man, far enough for him to sit facing the Caesar as the Guard moved back slightly to give the three men the illusion of privacy.

A serving cart came through the double doors to stop before Cyrus, who accepted his normal breakfast of toast and coffee. As the cart rattled its way back to the kitchen, the Imperator was the first of the men to speak. “How are you feeling, Cyrus?”

Cyrus shrugged, taking a sip from the hot mug. “Like someone died?” Looking up as the Imperator put a hand on his shoulder, he nodded and continued. “Dad always warned us the fate of the Hegemony could turn on a single catastrophe and we couldn’t prepare for it until it happened. I guess he was right.”

Staring down at the plate of toast for a few seconds, he looked up at his father’s military advisor and continued before eating his toast moodily. “I noted the leniency toward the technicians – has the cause been found?”

“A hidden flaw,” David said quietly. “The gearbox of your father’s VTOL was salvaged from an older airframe being retired, but passed the mechanical examination by MAI.”

The Cucurum was one of the rare success stories of the Hegemony’s military-industrial complex – a light vehicle that managed to provide a domestic alternative to foreign vehicles and made a healthy profit on domestic and export sales, especially to smugglers.

“Director Flamen?”

“We have complete access to the Marian Arms database, Caesar. Embedded serial numbers and markings match the X-ray images taken by inspectors looking for flaws before they were approved for salvage.”

Cyrus slumped on the bench a little more. “And Angelica?”

“Don… May not find anything. She passed every security check, was under constant observation by Section A or her family at all times….” the Director trailed off.

“We may never know,” he repeated. “The Ordo is hardly the only – or the best - intelligence agency in the Periphery, after all. MIM is known to be active in the Hegemony, and one of the things we don’t have is a dedicated counter-intelligence section. Any one of the major intelligence agencies would have the resources to tie us in knots, and a resurgent Free Worlds League would surely prioritize pacifying their border regions to neutralize raiding by the Legions.”

The Director shook his head. “We may never know.”

Cyrus was silent for a few seconds, feeling tears well up before slamming a fist on the table, using the pain to focus on maintaining the public dignity his position required before grating out in a hoarse voice, “If I can punish no one else, then her family is forfeit as well.”

Glaring at each of the two men in turn, he continued. “Arrest her parents and extended family, at once. Confiscate their homes, assets, and bring them to the Palace for interrogation. If nothing else can be proven, I want her loved ones to pay the price for her crimes.”

The two men nodded, and Cyrus had begun to rise when the Imperator reached out to grasp his shoulder. The two men’s eyes met, and David asked him in a quiet voice, “Have you talked to anyone about all this?”

“No.” Taking a deep breath, Cyrus exhaled slowly before answering. “The twins are angry – but it stops there. They want blood spilled, but don’t have a clue whose, or why. I haven’t had time to reach out to the rest of the family, either.”

“Your parents wouldn’t want you to carry all this around with you,” David said in the same tone. “The military and Ordo have councilors available that you can speak with.”

“I don’t need a councilor.” Cyrus muttered.

“You don’t need to frighten the entire Patrician class by arresting an entire noble House and executing it for treason, either.” the Director interjected softly from the other side of the table. “It’s understandable, but you can’t just lash out, either. There’s an ‘after’ you need to plan for as well and living happily and well while making the Hegemony feared and respected again would be the best revenge.”

The three men sat quietly for a few seconds, before the soft chimes alerted them to someone intruding on the dining room’s privacy, and Cyrus realized it was probably Lucius shepherding him to his next appointment.

“Alright. Leave her family alone for now, but don’t let them disappear.” Cyrus said tiredly. It was important to show there was no benefit to treason, but it was unlikely they could flee before the axe fell. “And speak with Lucius to arrange time for me to meet one of these councilors. I can’t afford mistakes at this point until my hold on the government is secure.”

The short flight to the Senate was both a relief and a bother, Cyrus mused, as personal concerns were overshadowed by political ones. Having left the Caesar’s apartments to negotiate the corridors of the Palace to meet Senate President Felix Gaius Rothman and Gerald Davidson, his father’s primary Senatorial ally and members of the Consilium Securitatis, in the antechamber to the secured helipads of the Palace he found himself the target of political posturing and deals focusing on the ‘needs’ of his new status by the two men. Unable to do more than try to remain composed and smile at his presumptive allies, he tried to ignore the frequent glances Lucius had for the watch on his wrist.

“Thank you for the suggestions, gentlemen. I feel sure, however, the integrity of my claims will be ratified by the Senate-”, because setting fire to the building with you in it would be a terrible start to my reign, “-and the civil upheaval resulting from the failure of the Senate to uphold them would be.. Unwise.” He concluded. Forestalling another verbal sally with a gesture, he turned to listen as the helicopters sent to convey him to the capital of Novo Roma finally came into view with the carbon scoring of recent use around the housings of the machine guns and rocket launchers on the sleek aircraft.

Aides and staff began to exit the room to board as the noise subsided and the spinning rotors began to slow, and Cyrus turned to Lucius asking, “What took them so long, and why do these aircraft look like they’ve been in a fight?”

“The technicians and flight crews of I Legio refused to certify them as ready for use by the Palace without confirming their weapons were completely functional, Caesar.” Lucius explained. “Or to fly unarmed. The crews had to re-load the pods on a crash basis.”

Cyrus nodded his approval and turned back to the Senatorial party as the ground crews cleared them to board, entering last and taking the middle of the three seats behind the pilots. Familiar with the harness from his military training and political outings with his family, he strapped in quickly and donned the headset racked behind his seat before returning the thumbs-up from the ground crew checking restraints.

As the doors shut and the rotors began turning, the Senators began arguing over the intercom system and the voice of the flight crew blocked out their concerns for the moment.

“Caesar, Miles Pak. Are you receiving?” Reaching up and turning the channel knob on the side of the earpiece to converse with the flight crew, he ignored the men beside him for the moment.

“Miles, Caesar, loud and clear.”

“Welcome aboard, sir. We’re instructed to convey you to the Senatorial complex, Nova Roma, and ETA is roughly 35 minutes.”

“Thank you,” he said formally. “I understand you were late arranging for reloads?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Make up the time if you can. I’m told Senators get cranky if you keep them from sneaking off and visiting their mistresses. Out here.”

“Roger, Sir.”

“…Senate is concerned with keeping our control of the Senate intact after next year’s Plebian elections…”

Cyrus leaned back, waiting for the pilot to take off, and let himself be drawn into the discussion. While he was aware of most of the political concerns behind the scenes the minutia involved in navigating the Senator’s personal and political concerns was far more complex. Despite its appearance (And function, he admitted to himself.) as a mere ‘rubber stamp’ to approve the decisions of the Caesar, the Senate had its finger on the pulse of the Hegemony’s upper class – an important consideration, considering the disposable income and wealth of most Patrician families and the assassination of most of his immediate family.

Fortunately, the sudden increase in cabin noise and the tentative rise off the landing pad gave enough warning for the experienced fliers to brace themselves for the violent jinks to throw off ground fire that may have been aimed at the aircraft and the almost vertical tilt as the massive acceleration pinned the passengers to their seats and the first escorts sped past them to assume their positions ahead of the transports. The escorts to the rear would be searching for targets trying to pop up and take advantage of the transport’s low speed and altitude, Cyrus knew. Years of experience in garrison and guerilla warfare on conquered worlds had taught the Legions something, at least.

The conversation quickly turned to the prospects of political support from the public after his speech to the Senate as the flight of transports proceeded from waypoint to waypoint, Battlemechs of I Legio keeping the flight under observation at points along the way. As conversation trailed off and the outskirts of Nova Roma came into view, the aircrew contacted him again.

“Caesar, Miles Pak. Clearance to Senate Pad 1 confirmed, ETA 3 minutes.”

Switching channels once again he responded with a formal acknowledgement saying, “Roger, Miles. Caesar, out.”

As he switched back to the cabin circuit airspeed began to fall and the aircraft’s flight path became erratic, minor changes in speed, altitude and flight path as they prepared to land. The landing, when it came, was notable more for the falling sensation as landing gear absorbed their momentum rather than the jarring impact from his military training.

Now, to survive another day. Not the most optimistic goal, but he didn’t anticipate much he could do to personally influence the outcome.

Wrangling the Twins to their Role[]

One of the many small, comfortably furnished conference rooms had been set aside for his use while visiting the Senatorial complex. The polished native woods, black leather and greenery setting off the austere grey-and-white marble of the room. As the door opened, he reflected that although soldiers of I Legio had secured the building there was no-one to protect him from his family. Which was too bad, because Horena had built up quite a head of steam by the time he had been able to take his leave of his political advisors and was escorted to meet them. The grey uniforms of the Imperial War College mimicked those of serving members of the Legions, and the two looked virtually identical to each other as they sprang to their feet and froze at attention as he came through the door.


Finally safe behind bodyguards and doors he could simply be the older brother once again, comforting his family after the death of their parents and the first fleeting moments were spent in hugs and shared tears as he could lower his guard for a few minutes. Those moments were fleeting, however, as Helena began to take the initiative and struggle to pull away.

“I’m sorry, guys, there’s so much I want to tell you, but-”

Relinquishing his hold on his siblings, he began to dry his eyes and step back, only to have Helena step forward to jab a finger into his chest.

“Well, you can start by explaining why you made my younger brother the Heir instead of me, Cy,” Helena burst out. “It’s not fair, Cy, it’s my turn!”

Standing beside them, Cyrus held up his hands in self-defense as Horace tried to calm her down. “Nobody here is arguing about that, Helena, calm down!”

Cyrus took another step backwards in shock, but his sister continued to press forward trying to hammer his chest angrily.

“No! He’s lying to us!”

About what!” Cyrus demanded. “That you’re not the Heir? You can’t be the Heir!”

“It’s not fair, Cy! These fat, misogynistic old men you’re cuddling up to are using their control of the government to stop people like me from contributing! The Hegemony is one of a handful of Periphery nations treating women like second-class citizens and people are getting tired of it! What is it going to take to make you see it from our point of view?”

“Enough!” Cyrus barked, slashing an open hand across the space between them and holding up his hand in emphasis.

Seeing the twins had been driven off-balance by the order, he forced himself to take a deep breath before asking calmly, “Who chooses the Caesar’s successor, Helen? Who!”

“No one,” Horace supplied. “The position is the right of the oldest proven male descendent of the Caesar.”

“Primogeniture,” replied Cyrus evenly. “The Hegemony – and most of the human race – embraced the concept at some point. It wasn’t until the rights of women were recognized by the Western cultures of Old Earth that it was even politically possible for them to vote and hold high office, and it wasn’t universally accepted for a long time even after education allowed a majority of the world to accept that the sexes were equal. Which brings us to why we’re here today.”

“In order to maintain their own authority, the Senate has no choice but to approve my claim,” Cyrus explained, bringing the tone of his voice back to something reasonable and turned to drop into one of the comfortable leather chairs scattered around the room. “We can’t switch horses at the beginning of the race, no matter how much we might want to. The winner is already chosen at this point.”

Glaring at the twins, he waved at the chairs opposite him. “Sit. Its going to be a long day. ‘Rest when you can; the enemy will give you none.’”

Unwillingly, the two sat across from him on one of the modern couches as Horace leaned back and closed his eyes while Helen remained leaning forward, poised on the edge of the chair, clearly not finished the argument.

“If you’ve been paying attention, you know we all have parts to play here.” Cyrus said calmly. “We can talk and debate after the Senate confirms me. For what it’s worth, I have no compunction about women serving in the Senate or as Caesar. The social disruption it leaves in its wake will trail off eventually, but the time to plan for these things is during my reign, not before.”

“Now,” he said wearily. “Before I fill you in on the investigation, do you understand your roles today?”

Seeing the twins’ nods, he nodded in agreement.

“Good. Because before I can tell you about it, we need to discuss the Canopian Ambassador…”

Meeting the Canopian Ambassodor[]

The Hegemony Senate chamber was smaller than he remembered. Senators from the recently conquered worlds had swollen their numbers during his father’s reign, although the strength of the MHAF had faltered in the effort. His father’s efforts to regain those worlds taken from them in the counterattack had repeatedly floundered in the face of determined resistance until the Hegemony had abandoned several of their conquests and consolidated their forces to strike their opponents – mercenaries and Canopians, primarily – in successive raids to hide Infantry and Armored forces positioned to attack their rear areas before launching a final assault on the defenders.

The effort had forced the Hegemony onto the defensive as the Legions recovered, although the captured mercenaries had been as willing to serve their captors as their former employers. The mercenaries were a welcome addition to the garrisons of those worlds but consumed a disproportionate amount of resources to retain their services including close observation by the Ordo Vigilis, which after securing the support of the Senate made the strengthening the Hegemony military the next most vital task ahead of him.

Speeches made and votes cast, the Senators had hailed him as the rightful Caesar of the Marian Hegemony and approved the choice of his brother as Heir, preserving the chain of succession. Cyrus and his siblings now waited as the Senators left their places to attendants who efficiently removed the Curule chairs and lecterns to clear the room before the doors were opened once again and the coffins bearing his parents and siblings were placed in their positions to rest in state with the pomp and dignity expected of House O’Reilly, escorted by the silent Palace Guards in their ceremonial armor. An honor guard from I Legio assumed their positions under the watchful eyes of the Imperator and the new Caesar, allowing the Guards to withdraw as he prepared to formally pay his respects to the deceased before receiving the diplomatic representatives of the nearby Periphery nations at the ceremony and reopening the Senate chambers to allow the Senate and citizens of Nova Roma to view the deceased.

As the doors closed once again and the lights dimmed, aquilifers bearing the banners of House O’Reilly and the Hegemony began a slow march to the center of the Cubicula where they would rest for the next week. As the representative of House O’Reilly and chief military advisor of the fallen Caesar, Imperator Blacklake mounted the O’Reilly’s standard first, allowing the aquilifer of I Legio to mount the Hegemony’s standard in the place of honor across and in front of it before the two men retreating a step and saluting them in unison before turning and marching from whence they came.

As the master of ceremonies gave him his cue, Cyrus began a slow, dignified walk to the center of the Cubicula with his brother and sister a pace behind him, burdened by the personal mementos they had chosen and flowers to place before the caskets of their family. As the three of them came to a halt a few steps short of the two standards, Cyrus offered a salute and held it a few seconds before advancing once again to kneel and place the wreath of native flowers at the center of the crossed spears.

Taking the funeral tokens from his left arm where they had been hidden behind the flowers, he placed the toy gladius and pistol – suitably worn and scarred by childhood adventures – to one side, and one of his favorite gifts, a child’s history text on the other side before resuming his place as Horace and Helena advanced together to place their own tributes to either side before retreating to their places behind him.

Turning to face the two as they completed their roles in the ceremony, the two of them saluted Cyrus and the memorial behind him before turning and marching from the Cubicula. Coming from behind the caskets, a pair of household servants wearing the golden pins of the O’Reilly household took up positions between him and the memorial to accept the funeral gifts of Ambassadors from outside the Hegemony. The doors to the entrance hall swung open, and Cyrus turned to watch a signifier hoisting the banner of the Magistracy of Canopus march into the hall escorting their Ambassador and an aide in military uniform with a long rectangular case in one hand into the Cubicula.

The chief economic and military rival of the Hegemony, the Magistracy’s representative was dressed in what would be a scandalous assault on the standards and traditions of the Hegemony with the low-cut gown in the traditional emerald green of the Magistracy, setting off her Asian features and long, silky hair in a long braid down her back. Taking the opportunity to flaunt her looks before the Caesar and the rest of the Hegemony, she came to a stop and curtsied beside the Signifier before advancing alone to greet him.

“Caesar,” she addressed him with a wide smile. “A funeral gift commemorating the loss of your father from the Magistrix, her government and the people of her realm. As promised.”

The silence in the Cubicula was suddenly broken as the doors of the main entrance to the hall were opened, flooding the room with the noise of the crowd. Nominally subdued as they awaited their chance to view the bodies of the Caesar and his family lying in state, the column of Infantry in dress uniforms marched with parade-ground precision through the doors two abreast beside the Imperator. Seeing the Ambassador’s faint expression of concern, Cyrus felt a burst of pride at the appearance and the effect of the uniform on outsiders.

Gleaming silver triangles decorating the large pauldron with silver trim on the left shoulders of the Contubernium showed them to be Legionaires and Mechwarriors, led by a Centurion with silver trim surround the repeating silver triangle on a black field motif.

As one of the household servants approached the aide, the Centurion’s shouted commands in latin caused the formation to shift and became two ranks as they came closer to the Canopian party before stamping to a halt and the formation rippled as they dressed ranks. Accepting the case, the servant brought it to Cyrus, who opened the latches – suddenly loud in the silence – to find the Signum of Quinta Cohort, IV Legio, lost to the Magistracy Cavaliers on their home world of Thraxa.

Examining it and finding nothing amiss, he took it in both hands before resting it on the spike in its base beside him.

“Thank you, Madame Ambassador.” he said gravely.

The curtsy was more impressive this time, affording him a view past the dress to her rounded breasts and gleaming skin almost to the flat midriff below them. The twinkle in her eyes and knowing glance as she confirmed his interest was worth the familiarity, but the savage denouncements of his mother for the Ambassador’s semi-private affairs among the Patricians of Nova Roma was a stern reminder of the Magistracy’s attempts to spread their influence among the rich and powerful of the Hegemony.

Spread something, anyway, he reminded himself. Down, boy.

Watching her step back and turn to saunter away, he enjoyed the view for a few seconds as long, tanned legs flashed through slits cut into the gown and the braid swung back and forth above her shifting hips. He expected her to check her audience as she left but watched her reach the exit on the far side of the chamber before meeting her eyes once again.

With the Ambassador and her party out the way, he advanced to stand a few steps in front of the Centurion to plant the signum with both hands on the shaft before reciting the latin commands he had practiced. The Centurion stepped forwards and Cyrus presented the Signum to him with the words, “Capiat et teneat honorem quartae cohortis.”

Grasping it in turn with both hands, the Centurion responded, “Etiam, Caesar.”

Cyrus stepped back a pace himself as the new Signifier for the Quarta Cohort of IV Legio rejoined the ranks and led them to follow the Ambassador from the chamber.

Returning to his place to greet the next Ambassador, he wondered if the Hegemony had come out ahead in the exchange. The Capellan sensibilities of House Liao-Centrella had made his father leery of extended contact closer than laser range. With nothing better to do, he replayed the experience of meeting the Canopian Ambassador in his mind, before reminding himself to ignore the gambit next time. Despite the closeness of the encounter, he found he couldn’t remember the faces of the aide and Signifier that had accompanied her, and he doubted it had been an accident.

Plans and Concerns of a dead Caesar[]

He was on time for the next meeting due more to the conscientious efforts of the Officium Caesaris and the escorting detachment of I Legio than any effort of his own – understandable since select members of the Consilium Securitatis included such lofty personages as the Imperator, Director Flamen, members of House O’Reilly and major CEOs and investors from across Alphard.

Fortunately, Horace had been waiting at the VTOL landing pads at the rear of the building and between them he was able to move at a rapid pace through the Academy while observing the work still being done to prepare to reoccupy their former campus. The massive economic undertaking of fully recovering from the Jihad’s assault on Nova Roma continued to overshadow the prospect of renewed economic development and threatened to derail it again, as the military situation became more perilous with the damage to the Legions from the two-front war his father had tried to fight. The low-yield nuclear warheads that emitted the bursts of neutrons to such effect had been ‘salted’ with material to ensure the lesson of betrayal by Julius would last for generations, as the Hegemony lost most of their most successful and brilliant minds, the factories and educated workers that had set them on the path to greatness and the federal and military infrastructure to take advantage of the confusion gripping the Periphery during the Jihad and its conclusion all at once.

Today’s recovery of IV Legio’s missing Signum was a good first step to reopening diplomatic – and economic – channels strained for the last decade of his father’s reign, but the continued support of the military was vital to ensure future operations and policies would be embraced by the rank and file. As the Academy’s primary briefing room finally came into view he began to slow his pace before entering the cramped cubicula and accepting the Imperator’s salute from beside the head of the table as ranking representative of the military before moving to stand at the opposite end of the table.

As with most federal buildings, CBI had a definite architectural bent to embracing the same polished marble and furnishings of the ancient romans in public, but the actual workrooms and lecture halls would not have been out of place at any military academy across the Periphery. Intended to support military operations, the room’s electronics were similar to those provided to the Legions, although the added security and more capable computer system Would provide a welcome level of increased detail. Despite never having been introduced to the facilities, he found it comfortingly similar to the classrooms and training areas of the Academy, drab greys and off-whites similar to the Academy uniform with the harsh blue-and-black contrast of instructors and staff broken up with the spots of color provided by civilian contractors and equipment.

Here, the harsh lighting had been dimmed and the preponderance of military uniforms brought a sense of foreboding, the harsh black and blue of the military dominating the room. The clink of Director Flamen’s chains where he sat next to the curule chair and the empty chairs for the Heir and Imperator drew the eye, but the stiff attention of the military officers at the table and salute from Imperator Blacklake at the far end of the table forced them to refocus on the room as a whole.

“Caesar,” said Blacklake calmly.

Recognizing he needed to assert his authority over the group, he acknowledged the Imperator’s salute and gestured him for him to return to the speaker’s lectern at the far end of the table, leaving his seat at the table empty before similarly motioning Horace to take his own beside the Director. Bereft of a Dais, nonetheless a Curule had been placed at the head of the table. Waiting to claim his seat, he began examining the remaining members of the (Military Guidance Committee), noting the wealth and status of the Patricians present.

Taking the seat at the head of the table, he began examining the documents in front of him. Prefaced with an atlas, the map displayed the current deployment of the MHAF with an easy-to-read color code. The overview was… Alarming.

I knew my father was concerned, but – what the HELL was he thinking?

Seeking time to adjust to the startling conditions of the Legions, he looked to his right to exchange glances with Horace – was it his imagination, or did the younger man suddenly look pale in his grey uniform? The remaining pages were breakdowns of individual units, their condition and the best assessments the Ordo had been able to make of the opposition they were engaged with.

Intelligence, Military, Lack thereof. The Observationis Externum was considered notably lacking in the whispered conversations with advisors during exercises from his time at the Academy. What were the odds of that here? The remainder of the briefing documents were no more optimistic. Losses in equipment and manpower were mounting steadily in the face of determined resistance, pirate attacks – Raids, I suppose – against interior worlds of the Hegemony were happening in areas once considered inviolate, and the growing prevalence of Primitive Battlemechs among the Legions was leaving them at a technological disadvantage exploited by their adversaries.

I have to do something about this – quickly, he thought grimly, throwing the documents a foot or more down the table, the fluttering pages coming to a stop and drawing all eyes back to him as he turned to lock eyes with the Imperator at the lectern at the far end of the table.

“Imperator Blacklake,” he said quietly. “Perhaps you could explain these -reports- more thoroughly. How did we get in this situation?”

“Yes, Caesar.”

Seeming to gather his thoughts a moment, he began. “Caesar – in 3148, your father ordered the Legions to begin operations designed to take advantage of weaknesses identified through raids and Intelligence assessments of planets in the former Free Worlds League. Data unearthed by the Ordo Vigilis,” he said, glancing at the Director before continuing. “Convinced him to open a second front.”

“Director?” Cyrus prodded.

“Caesar,” Director Flamen acknowledged. “The reports are awaiting a review, given their inaccuracies. Copies are available for you to review in secure storage at the Palace.”

Nodding woodenly, he returned his gaze to the Imperator.

“And opening the THIRD front, Imperator – was that also a direct command?”

“No, Caesar. Distraction raids against the Magistracy were more successful than planned for, and your father ordered them to be held if possible.”

Yes, Cyrus thought. That would be just like his father. Overconfident and opportunistic to the core.

Pushing against the arms of the curule chair and leaning back, he considered the unclassified reports he had been allowed to read at the time for a few moments.

“A false retreat,” he guessed aloud, sitting upright once again. “Diplomacy between the Duchy and Canopians. A lightly defended target, supplied for a guerrilla campaign, tying up a portion of the Legions to allow them to mass overwhelming force in a limited campaign elsewhere.”

A snort escaped him before adding, “We did much the same back, seeding our lost worlds with supporting units to attack from the rear as the Legions attacked to recapture worlds in the Illyrican District.”

“Precisely, Sir.”

“I see. Thank you, Imperator.” Considering his father’s military advisor for a few more seconds, he sat silently for a few seconds, then nodded at the report thrown onto the table.

“We have not recovered from these losses,” he said flatly. Looking around the table, he continued. “The last major military operation I was aware of was the effort to reclaim Illyria itself. Where has the military production of nearly a decade gone, and why have the Legions not been made whole once again?”

“Caesar,” the Imperator responded stiffly. “That question is more complex than just questioning production numbers. I can think of five, off the top of my head, and each of these council members was summoned by your father to address them.”

“Then, please educate us, Imperator,” Cyrus responded evenly, indicating his brother with a nod. “Neither of us was in the immediate chain of succession, and what may have been obvious to my brother was probably never a topic of conversation over dinner.”

“Yes, sir.” Stepping back to slide panels along the wall behind him apart, he took an erasable marker and began writing on the whiteboard beneath. Skeptical at first, Cyrus could feel his face tighten as the implications he had glossed over became apparent.

Production, Losses, Technical capabilities, Economic costs, Mission/Role.
“The mathematics of nations,” the Imperator announced in a dejected tone, pointing to the board. “Once upon a time, your father and I sat through a meeting much like this one. Serving officers have little to do with taxation, government purchasing, educational policies, or politics. By the look on your face, I presume you understand the concept of the ‘Gordian knot’ and the implication of these concepts?”

Cyrus gave a choppy nod, looking to Horace beside him in time to see his own nod of affirmation.

The Imperator turned back to the board, saying, “Production numbers of modern Battlemechs remain low – most of our neighbors would prefer to limit those, seeking to retain parity with their own militaries and keeping us from expanding the economic and industrial base to increase it through deniable means – ‘pirate’ raids and supporting open rebellion by conquered populations. Supplementing these with Primitive units is possible but cause their own concerns.”

The Imperator resignedly shook his head as he addressed the room. “And the second-order consequences have their own impact. Much like constant losses in equipment and troops to low-level conflicts prevent us from raising larger formations, complex repairs to existing units draws down inventory that might have gone to manufacture new units, and logistical needs tie up shipping and manpower keeping those units on the front line. Again, with their own consequences.”

“And the economy,” Horace interjected. “Government revenue rising and falling – events like the bombing of Nova Roma, and the recovery attempts…”

Becoming more animated, the Imperator began waving his arms in front of him in a complex pattern. “…Preclude military build-ups, can cause increased demands or civilian shipping inflating costs, money invested in education reduces subsidies and expenditures elsewhere…”

Turning back to the board, the Imperator waved a hand at the board and indicated the final line. “And Mission or Role.”

“The Legions have been an offensive tool for most of the Hegemony’s existence. And since its creation, the most effective tool has been the Battlemech. They lead every military operation; nothing else is as durable, flexible, or efficient, but even ‘Mechs aren’t always the answer.”

“You trained as a Battle Armor trooper specializing in Ravagers, didn’t you, Caesar?”

Cyrus nodded.

“I did,” he admitted. “And I see your point. Assault Battle Armor isn’t suitable for every role.”

Cyrus traded a glance with his brother. Military production supported military policy. Units equipped and trained for counter-insurgency with non-lethal weapons and tactics were useless against pirate raids in Battlemechs, for instance.

“This becomes a political matter very quickly,” the Imperator concluded. “I wish you luck with it.”

Plans for the evening[]

Cyrus and Horace were able to quickly absorb the rest of the background quickly once the Security Council finished explaining how badly the Hegemony was straining to complete production runs of everything the military needed and measures to keep the political situation from becoming worse. The meeting seemed to drag on for hours, and although the situation demanded attention there was little he could do immediately.

Cyrus would have denied it if he could, but history was rife with examples of economic warfare more vicious than anything fought by the military, and if the Hegemony wasn’t defeated yet, the path before them demanded changes in military and economic philosophy from the highest levels of government. Himself, basically.

“This sucks.”

Cyrus exchanged a sardonic glance with his younger brother. “What? Not looking forward to long, boring meetings on economic theory and the implications? Not interested in ruling the Hegemony?”

“No!” Horace exclaimed, scowling at the empty halls of the Academy as he escorted Cyrus and his entourage back to the secured VTOL pads at the rear of the school. Cyrus felt a tinge of amusement.

“I’ll remember that when you ask to be seated opposite the Canopian Ambassador, Horrie.”

Horace turned the scowl on his bother as they continued down the halls of the Academy. Cyrus was in no real hurry; the next major event was the formal dinner at the Palace to celebrate the beginning of his reign. Other than approving the speech Lucius and the Office had written to his specifications, there was a little time he could spare to help his brother adjust.

“She reminds me of an over-ripe fruit.”

Cyrus could only grin. The Canopian reputation for loose and undisciplined behavior went back decades, but association with the Liao dynasty had abated it somewhat. Still, the honey trap was considered a uniquely Canopian gambit. One that still worked, he admitted.

“Any plans for tonight?”

“Not really. ‘Mill and swill’ while looking imperious.” Cyrus reconsidered as the pair walked. “Thinking. Lots of thinking. The Senate vote legitimizes my reign, the military seems to be falling in line… Now that the strategic situation is a little clearer, it’s going to take time to come up with a solution

“I thought historians knew everything already.”

Cyrus frowned. “If so, I haven’t found that text in the familia bibliotheca yet.”

Coming to a halt as the doors to the landing pads came into view with Lucius and a young lady with Asian features and formal clothing awaiting him, he turned to Horace.

“Delegation comes naturally, though. Put on your new hat as Heir and order the staff to present the problem to the Senior class, demand their assistance to come up with a way to counter or eliminate these losses.”

Horace brightened. “Right. I outrank them! This could be fun.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts. You’ll be pulling double-duty as my Heir and still be expected to excel in all your classes. Remember how hard it was for Rex?”

“Crap.”, Horace responded

“Yeah. Fun all around.”

Exchanging a close embrace with his brother and continuing to the secure landing field, Cyrus exchanged an inquiring glance with Lucius as he approached the doors, noting the white linen of the young woman’s formal robes were trimmed with blue, showing her affiliation to the military. The leather carry-all slung from a shoulder seemed to bulge, and as he drew closer she had to reach up and steady it as she gave him a deep bow.

“Caesar. The Imperator sends his respects and wishes to introduce Miss Meilin Neal-Zhao, a grief and trauma councilor working for the MHAF.”

Cyrus acknowledged her with a nod saying, “Miss Neal-Zhao.”

“Caesar. Just ‘Zhao’, please.”

Cyrus took the opportunity to examine the young lady. Black eyes and hair, neatly arranged in a bun with a bright smile.

“I see. Will she be accompanying us, Lucius?”

“To the Palace, Caesar. Should you wish to make arrangements for future sessions we can easily accommodate her at the Palace.”

“Very well, to the Palace then.” Cyrus confirmed, leading the party to the awaiting helicopter.

“How do I look, Lucius?”

“Young, well-dressed and powerful, sir.”

‘Most Eligible Pirate Lord, 3162.’ Cyrus rolled his eyes, not turning from the mirror. A bachelor at twenty-six, the household staff had explained years ago the discrete means of conveying his romantic intentions should he desire privacy with a young woman.

The predicable march of attractive young daughters accompanying their parents had begun sometime after addressing the Senate and looked to intensify as families tried to ingratiate themselves with the new Caesar should he desire to seek political allies among the Patricians of the Hegemony. Nodding in dismissal to the valet whose name he hadn’t been able to remember yet, he turned away from the mirror to study the man who had become his Scriba Caesaris.

Poker-faced, the older man remained motionless beside one of the leather chairs scattered around the apartment.

“My father advised me to trust the representatives of the Office, Lucius. How much can I trust you?”

“That is the question, isn’t it, Caesar?” The older man looked back calmly. “The Household failed your mother and her children, leaving aside the accident suffered by your father and brother. I can’t imagine anyone would be eager to risk that.”

“The Household staff was cleared by the Ordo, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Caesar.”

“And your position necessitated an even more intensive check, wouldn’t it?”

“Very much so, Caesar.”

Cyrus turned back to the mirror to admire himself in the formal robes once again.

I know I didn’t do it. I’d bet my life that Horena couldn’t have done it, but they could have been the goal – a pair of easily manipulated pawns. But, he thought as he turned back to Lucius, I have to start somewhere.

“Very well, Lucius. I need your help.”

As Lucius began opening his document case to take notes, Cyrus began pacing in front of the mirror.

“I want Legatus Peter Cluff, third Cohort of IV Legio summoned to the Palace – he and I went to the Collegium together – I want to ask him to serve as my Imperator. Arrange for Director Effeil to visit me privately after midnight, tonight – If you can’t arrange things discretely, I’ll come to him.”

Seeing Lucius writing furiously, he paused before concluding, “And I want to visit my father’s Battlemech tomorrow morning. No, tonight immediately after the dinner. Ensure the tech crew are standing by to assist me.”

Looking up, Lucius commented, “There should be no problem carrying out your requests, Caesar.”

Cyrus nodded sharply. Time for Dinner.

Meeting the Sea Fox deligation[]

The Palace is alive tonight, Cyrus thought, watching the crowds of people come through the formal entrance of the Palace, ascending the winding staircases on either side of the room to reach the formal dining room as a select few were ushered into the receiving line for the nobility of the Hegemony.

Sitting in the curule chair on a Dais to one side, flanked by members of the Palace Guard with Lucius standing prominently nearby, he took a few moments welcoming the Patricians and special guests before greeting the next. Helena, at the top of the opposite staircase, would be occupied greeting the less well-known or wealthy among the guests tonight. Since avus Cassius’ reign, the rulers of the Hegemony had sought to prevent the kind of opportunities that led to the disastrous bombing of Nova Roma, and although the Palace was equipped for these kinds of state occasions the inner workings of the Palace shut down and were monitored off-site until security forces cleared the grounds and staff were allowed to return the next day.

Beyond the opportunity to engage select members of the Senate and Patrician classes in conversation without the backdrop of Senate politics, the occasion was vital to earn public support for his reign by dropping hints and idle chatter in the ears of society gossips and minor celebrities who could be trusted to seek attention by claiming a closer association to the new Caesar than might be expected. Descending from the Dais to greet many of the Capita Familiarum and guests including their most influential clients, he found the politics behind the scenes becoming tiresome as Lucius moved to intercept him on the way back to the Dais.

Moving to face away from the crowd he murmured, “Ambassador Leland-Chau has been passed by security, Caesar. She is escorted by the Merchant Caste representative of Clan Sea Fox, tonight.”

Facing away from the crowd, Cyrus felt a scowl cross his face. Although the Factor was largely frustrated by the lack of interest in Clan technology and trade agreements to benefit his rise within the Caste, that he should crawl into bed with the Canopian Ambassador – an apt metaphor, and probably true, he thought – would complicate his relationship with the Clan representative.

“Thank you, Lucius. Re-arrange the seating plan at my table to accommodate them, please.”

Hopefully they would put the Clansman above her in regard to seating., he thought moodily. She’ll probably insist on being on top to flaunt herself after the dinner.

His hopes fell as the two were escorted past the receiving line by security, their escorts including Signifiers provided by I Legio hoisting the banners of the Magistracy of Canopus and Clan Sea Fox. Distaste for the genetic engineering of the Elemental genome after the events of the Jihad aside, Factor Benjamin was ignored by most of the influential members of the receiving line in favor of his escort for the night, who wore a rich brocade of Laio green over white silk, cupping and accentuating her physical attributes with a short train the former Warrior had to struggle not to step on.

Having returned to the Dais, he advanced to the edge where he exchanged a formal bow with the representatives, Lady Chau holding the attention of the majority of the guests behind her and setting off a wave of muttered criticism and jealousy. Cyrus tried not to avert his eyes from the pair, noting the Factor’s appraising glance while watching as one of the household servants collected her train to offer the Ambassador.

“Lady Chau, Factor Daniel. Thank you for coming.”

The massive Elemental gave a curt nod. “The honor is mine, Caesar. I look forward to negotiating with you, should you require our services.”

Cyrus smiled back, emphasizing, “Unlikely, Factor. Besides being newly ascended to the Dais, I have other responsibilities.”

“I understand you were a Battlearmor trooper. Perhaps we will discuss our experiences.”

Off-balance from the unexpected comment, he let it pass and turning to the Ambassador, he continued. “And my compliments, Lady Chau. I look forward to continuing our discussion tonight.”

Nodding in dismissal, he returned to his chair, awaiting the next guest.

Finally, Lucius informed him the most important guests were accounted for, and he gratefully left the Dais to withdraw to a secured area to refresh himself before opening the banquet. Well-practiced and experienced at their duties, Lucius soon informed him the Staff was prepared to begin. Taking his place as Lucius left to put the evening into motion he tried to settle the sudden burst of anxiety as he was hailed as Caesar among his subjects for the first time since his confirmation that morning. Squaring his shoulders and settling a non-committal but pleasant expression on his face, he walked forward onto the Dais and delivered his speech to polite applause before ordering the banquet to begin and took his place at the head table. Cyrus had been willing to risk offending the rest of the guests to surround himself with trusted supporters, so tonight Helena sat on right to represent the immediate family and the Imperator took his normal place to his left. Senate President Felix Rothman and his wife Diana were a counterweight of sorts to the Sea Fox Merchant Factor Benjamin, and CEO of ATC Gerald Davidson, his wife Evelyn, and Ambassador Leland-Chau were squeezed together in the remaining space.

You are a rock, Cyrus reminded himself. Nothing to see here. Get through the dinner, and I can try to get some rest.

Returning the quiet greetings and small talk from around the table before enjoying the gustatio, an egg-and-spiced meat concoction that was a particular favorite from his childhood, he and his allies managed to steer the conversation to domestic policies that would benefit no one. To his delight, the Office had managed to place the Ambassador on the other side of the massive Elemental, nearly completely concealing her from view.

I guess Lucius doesn’t like her either, he thought.

The Factor took the opportunity as the plates were being cleared and the prima mensa still being prepared to address his own concerns.

“I have been told you were a Battlearmor trooper of some merit, Caesar.”

Finishing the sweet wine as the Factor spoke, he put the glass to the side and nodded. “Yes, I graduated at the head of my class at the Collegium Bellorum Imperium. I served out my five-year enlistment in I Legio here on Alphard.”

“You never saw combat?”

“No,” he admitted. “I had hopes of an academic career.”

“Which gives me hope.” interjected the Ambassador, leaning over the table in an attempt to look at him past her escort. “Since you might have a better understanding how the Marian predilection to wander into other nation’s territory and commit provocations leads to difficulties.”

Cyrus said nothing - could say nothing, in fact – but nodded as he conceded the point. During the founding of the Hegemony, raids had been a matter of securing materials in short supply in the Periphery. That they were held by their larger, more prosperous neighbors made them the natural targets, safer to offend than the neighboring Free World’s League. The Circinus Federation, home to the Black Warriors, had done much the same for most of their existence, but the Hegemony had -barely – managed the transition to domestic manufacturing and the economic growth that accompanied it.

“Tell me Ambassador, what did you think of your appetizer?” Asked Felix Gaius Rothman, President of the Senate, as the table looked on. “It’s a specialty of the Caesar’s Household. I dare say we’ll see it fairly often in the future.”

“It seemed… Off,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ve had better, at any rate.”

“So, you chose not to see combat?” Asked the Factor as he eclipsed the Ambassador, turning on his bench to face him. “That seems… Shortsighted of you.”

*******. Cyrus kept a straight face as the server placed his meal on the table, not wanting to encourage that line of questioning.

“My siblings represented the family among the Legions and would have inherited the position, Factor. Given my position in the succession I decided to look elsewhere.” He said evenly, looking at the man. “We seem to have found a personal topic I would prefer not to discuss, Factor. Can we find a different topic?”

“We could discuss military and economic support if you prefer – given the performance of your military in the last conflict,” the Elemental turned slightly to indicate the smiling Ambassador beside him, looking back at Cyrus. “It may be wise of you to seek out our assistance now, before the situation worsens and the Empire confronts the Periphery in turn.”

“That’s very kind of you, Factor,” interjected Gerald Davidson. “I presume your attempt to open new markets for the Clan would come at a significant discount?”

“Perhaps,” he admitted carefully.

“I’m surprised you would consider that, with Alaric Ward’s efforts to reestablish the Star League,” commented his wife, turning to face her husband. “It’s hard to imagine he would approve of someone so…”

“Indiscriminate?” Gerald suggested, facing his wife.

“Indeed,” she agreed amicably, smiling back at the Factor and his escort.

Cyrus was taking the opportunity to enjoy his meal of domestically farmed Terran meat and potatoes as the couple put the two in their place, but took the opportunity to intervene as silence fell once again.

“I’m sure our guests would prefer not to discuss their own personal matters,” he reminded them. “Gaius, although the appetizer is one of my favorites, I’m sure the Staff will be careful to provide a variety.”

“Have you tried your beef, Gerald? I can’t remember the last time it was presented with this sauce..”

Auntie Evelyn deserves a ‘thank you’ and some flowers, he decided. I hope Uncle Gerald doesn’t mind being dragged in more often as a representative of the (Internal Security Council?). With friends like these its OK to have enemies.

Visiting the Late Caeser's 'Mech[]

The ‘Mechbays under the Palace were a familiar destination, as avus Cassius had prepared to maintain a limited number of them within the Palace grounds for security reasons. The majority of I Legio’s facilities were scattered over the planet with an emphasis on Nova Roma and the surrounding continent but were deliberately kept separate from the Palace after the Jihad. He was more familiar with the Battlearmor ‘morgues’ scattered through the lower levels and the hidden tunnels leading to exfiltration and ambush points, both as a trooper and because of the emergency escape routes the family had occasionally trained to use.

The mobile warfare embraced by generations of Legionaries operating as raiders eschewed fortifications and permanent garrisons as much as possible, while events in the Jihad had reinforced the notion that an invader without scruples would seek to destroy them if only for the strategic and economic losses they would inflict. Cyrus could remember being heartbroken that someone might seek to burn down the Palace and take away his toys, but as he grew up he feared losing the dozens of history texts he had collected and the personal projects he worked on more.

His father had told the tales of Cassius’ boyhood, passed down by his father. Cyrus was hoping those stories had inclined his father to imitate them, storing some clue to unravel his death and the murder of his family among the independent computer systems behind the armored shell, insulated from anything that might try to destroy it. Technicians working on the Caesar’s personal Battlemech worked in teams, much as they did with his personal vehicles, documenting the work done and ensuring sabotage was impossible. Intimately familiar with his father’s ‘Mech, if there was anything amiss, they would be the ones to find it.

Despite taking the Battlearmor path in the Academy, he had met the technicians on a regular basis several times a year since he had been old enough to take for a ride in the family’s Sunder OmniMech. If his father had been unsure of the situation and chosen to leave a message for Rex where no one else would find it, it was here. Walking into the high-security bay containing his Father’s ‘Mech, he saw the teams spring into motion from where they had been waiting.

“Stand easy! It’s too late at night for this,” he called out.

Freezing in place, the men and women remained at rigid attention regardless. Coming to a halt in front of them and acknowledging the Miles Gregarious’ salute, he stepped forward to exchange a handshake with their leader.


“Cyrus, Martin.” In his late fifties, Martin had been the one to amuse the eager boy waiting to watch his father come and go from the hanger while his older brother got to go out for his weekly run-through of the training course I Legio maintained nearby the Palace. The old man had gotten slower, fatter and now completely bald, but the man’s smile remained as open and cheerful as he remembered.

“You’re a head of state, now,” Martin protested.

“I’m sure the other House Lords have their close supporters call them by name.” Ambling forward, Cyrus walked into the center of the group before announcing,

“I’m sorry to keep you up. But I need to know if there was some message my father left for Rex before he died, and since I’m an Infantry trooper, not a Mechwarrior Cadet, I need your help.”

Looking back and forth to address the group, he added, “I’m looking for something out of place. Anything unusual.”

“Communications buffer is under lockdown,” announced one. “But it would be anyway.”

“That was an instruction to look closer, not an inquiry about what was normal, Jackson!” Martin snapped.

“I’m not sure if there is anything, Martin. I just think you should look,” Cyrus said quietly. “It’s something I can’t check for myself.”

“We get it, Caesar. Peace of mind is never overrated.” Martin said. “We’ll go over her and let you know.”

As the techs began turning to pick up tools and equipment, Martin lingered to watch them go before turning away slightly to exchange words with Cyrus.

“How are you doing, sir?” He asked quietly.

Cyrus took a moment to consider the question. “Coping, I guess.”

“Need to talk to someone.”

Cyrus grimaced. “Got a councilor already. David’s idea. She works for the military. Shock and trauma specialist.”

“Good.” Martin fell silent for a moment, considering. “Is she pretty?”


Any further discussion was interrupted by the loud whistle behind them. Turning to find one of the techs waving from the cockpit, the two men began walking to the gantry to take the lift up.

As expected, Director Effeil was working late. Also as expected, so were Director Flamen and Imperator Blacklake. Unable to penetrate the security surrounding the three men, the Office determined to simply wait until Prefect Diaz’s Second-in-command could be notified the Caesar had requested his presence to a secret meeting in his personal apartments. Lucius was present to open the door with aplomb; turning to bid the Caesar good night with an admonishment not to stay up too late, it was plain he considered the task a trivial matter for one in his position.

Cyrus acknowledged his concerns and let him go, feeling some minor amusement himself. He looked forward to surprising the man someday, somehow, but had no idea yet how to accomplish it. A good foundation for a working relationship, he hoped.

Turning his attention to the clinking chains as the Director saluted, he stood and acknowledged it, waving at the chair opposite him. Waiting until the Director was able to shuffle over and relax into it, he sat himself and reached for the carafe of ice water to pour generous glasses for the both of them.

“So. How goes the investigation?” Cyrus asked politely. Clearly exhausted, the Director made no effort to reach for the glass.

“Nowhere,” the other man said quietly, looking at nothing. “It goes nowhere, Caesar. If there is a lead in this investigation, the Securitatis Internum has failed to find it. I failed.”

Silence fell between the two men as Cyrus considered him. The restraints had clearly begun to wear at the skin of his wrists. Cyrus could only wonder at the difficulty he had walking in them.

He sat there a moment, unsure what to say. Effeil said nothing, clearly angry but unwilling to shoot himself in the foot – an unfortunate turn of phrase, he admitted – by showing it to the one man who held his fate in his hands.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you had anything to do with this, Director Effeil.” He assayed. “It’s a sign of some deeper concern, but something neither of us had any idea existed.”

“Caesar, we followed every procedure. Every method the Ordo has puzzled out to determine the loyalty of our citizens, our government officials, our spy agency – and we have nothing.” The Director leaned forward, placing the glass on the edge of the table, and looked Cyrus in the eye.

“Why am I here, Caesar?” he asked.

Cyrus put the glass on the table as well.

“Because I want answers, Director Effeil. And I think you would agree that we will find nothing – nothing at all, no matter how long you search – and I think that is deliberate.”

Seeing the surprise on his face, Cyrus continued. “Ambushes are the most effective way of eliminating your opponent, Director – may I call you Donald? Thank you.”

Raising the glass to his lips and sipping, he leaned back once again and continued.

“If I was to try and kill the rest of my family,” he began. “I wouldn’t try it here and now, with suspicions raised and everyone alert for treachery. I’d withdraw, infiltrate, prepare… And I would never take part in the attempt myself.”

Silence returned before Effeil murmured, “‘If you come at the king, you best not miss.’”

“Excuse me?”

“Machiavelli’s book, ‘The Prince.’ Required reading for the officers of the Ordo Vigilis, sir.”


The Director looked up. “Cyrus. I’m not here for a briefing into the investigation, am I?”

Cyrus shook his head. “Not anymore. Tell me, Donald, how would you like a job…?”

Donald blinked in disbelief. “A… Job? Doing what?”

Cyrus leaned forward. “Has it occurred to you we are just waiting, Donald? I feel like looking over my shoulder, every moment, wondering when the axe will fall and the rest of this plot bursts out of the shadows.”

Cyrus allowed the anger to show on his face, his words becoming colder, more precise. “My brother and sister are committed to continue their studies at the Collegium for another year and a half. Their jobs, right now, are bait. But I can’t address the situation myself, Donald.”

Cyrus leaned back in the chair, again. “I need your help.”

Donald seemed frozen with indecision. “I… I can’t.”

“I’m the absolute ruler of a Periphery realm considered barely better than bandits by my neighbors, Donald. Why would you say that, sitting in chains in the middle of my apartment, waiting to be executed for your failures?”

Cyrus leaned forward again, glaring. “I intend to have your full support, Donald. Because if you refuse my offer – I’m still going to order you gagged and beaten, but, if necessary, I’ll order you taken to The Wall and executed before looking to find someone else to carry out my plan.”

Donald’s face paled as he began to understand the situation. “In that case… I accept, Caesar. And… Thank you, sir.”

“Cheer up, Donald,” he said. “We’re going to get even.”

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