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- Hegemony - Chapter 4 -

Day 4
[]

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After a Restless Night[]


Day 4
Caesar's Palace, Alphard
Marian Hegemony
November 25th, 3162


Despite the sedatives, it had been something of a restless sleep. The warm presence of another body in his bed was something he was unused to, but he had found himself unwilling to push Mei out of bed the night before. She had accepted the invitation to stay the night, after all, and it would have been churlish of him to insist.

His internal alarm beat the clock on the nightstand once again, and he carefully got up and fixed the covers before turning off the alarm and began his morning routine. Mei eventually joined him, fully dressed and summoned by the smell of breakfast.

“What are you making?’ Mei asked, coming closer for a good morning kiss.

“Skillet with sausage and cheese,” he answered awkwardly as he opened the door to the small oven. “I cook everything, freeze it, then defrost and reheat it when I feel like it.”

Resetting a timer, he turned to offer he a cup and saucer and waved her toward the kitchen table. “Cheese will be melted right away. Can we talk?”

“I suppose we should,” Mei said as she walked to the table and began to pour herself a cup of tea. “Technically, last night was a breach of ethics. My professors would have been disappointed in me.”

“How do you feel about it?” Mei asked, pulling out a chair and sitting down.

Cyrus considered. “Relieved,” he said finally. “Reassured? I think I can see a way to be myself, rather than a paper cut-out of a Caesar.”

“I noticed you took the sedatives last night,” she noted. “Still trying to get up in the middle of the night?”

Cyrus turned to lean against the counter, a smirk on his face as he rolled his eyes. “Somebody was in my bed, trying to throw the blankets off and cuddle up to stay warm.”

The chiming timer interrupted her embarrassed laughter, and Cyrus turned off the oven to pull out the hot dishes.

“And.. Yes. I need to make sure I’m able to function without issue.” he said, putting the hot dish on the table in front of her and handing her a fork as she smiled up at him. “Double-meanings aside, some of these meetings are so boring just staying awake and not insult them by falling asleep is an effort.”

“And then..” He said as he brought his own breakfast to the table, “There are the meetings where being at your best, well-rested and clear-headed make it easier to avoid the kind of mistakes that.. Well. Are the result of personal issues. Anger, frustration..”

Watching the steam rising from the hot dish in front of him, he paused for a second. “As Caesar, my political life and responsibilities outweigh my personal wishes and any relationships I may have, since none of that has any bearing on an empire of millions of people and over a dozen worlds.” Looking up, he continued. “And as much as I’d prefer to just be ‘Cyrus and Mei”, I have a responsibility to ensure we can agree on the situation.”

Mei had already eaten most of her cheese but paused to listen as he tried to explain. Glancing up at her, he saw she was watching him intently.

“What?” He asked defensively.

“Your parents did a surprisingly good job raising you, considering how far you were from inheriting your father’s rank,” she said, leaving her fork in the dish to reach across the table and hold his hand as he took a bite.

“I have to wonder how many heirs in your position would be able to disassociate themselves this way.” She said, taking a sip of tea. “Like a lot of things, it’s a bad sign, too, if done to extremes. Be careful not to push people away too far.”

Cyrus nodded, reclaiming his hand to lift the edge of the mat and hold the bowl as he leaned over the table to shovel the hot food into his mouth.

“What’s the rush?”

“We’re going to be late,” he explained. “Lucius and the Office will cover for us and reschedule what they can, but ‘Cyrus and Mei’ are going to have to go to work soon. Ready to be ‘Caesar and Miss. Zhao’ again?”

Watching him bolt his food bemusedly, she nodded.

It only took a few seconds to finish the small portions, and Cyrus was putting the dirty dishes and cup in the sink as Mei came up beside him to pull him down to kiss her. Pulling her into a close embrace, they spent a moment locked together before parting reluctantly, Mei turning to leave as Cyrus pressed the kitchen’s unobtrusive call button and the familiar chimes rang again through the Apartments.

Lucius and his valet were through the door in an instant with a murmured greeting as they passed each other and Cyrus turned to follow the man into the wardrobe as she left but hesitated.

“Lucius,” he said quietly as the other man drew closer. “Send a message to The Motte to have her background check examined by our friend.”

Seeing Lucius nod and turn to arrange matters, he turned and followed the valet to the wardrobe. He had never been ‘poked and prodded’ by the press before, but he was sure he wasn’t going to like it. Turned out in the formal robes it seemed he was doomed to live in for the rest of his life, he patiently followed the guide arranged by Lucius to one of the smaller cubicula where a film crew awaited him. Once on the set, a makeup artist quickly prepared him for the interview and he found himself sitting in a comfortable chair under the bright lights as people talked and worked in the background to prepare the small auditorium for the occasion.

“Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Caesar,” the host, Adrian Jackson said gravely. “There’s been a great deal of speculation around the circumstances of your parent’s death, and what policies the Hegemony might pursue under your leadership.”

“Understandable,” Cyrus replied, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the surrounding activity. “I preferred to avoid the spotlight before now.”

“The Office informs me you have no special requests to avoid any particular topics this morning?”

Cyrus shook his head. He had checked the list of questions they had submitted to the Office and was prepared to catch the ‘softball’ questions they had proposed. Given the reputations several of the figures in front of him enjoyed, he had decided to ignore the risks even if he had to slap one of them down on-camera to deter the next overly eager reporter from using such an opportunity to make their reputation. Of course, if he had to, he could pause the interview long enough to recover.

“With your permission, I thought we would start with the circumstances surrounding your ascension to the Dais.”

Cyrus nodded his approval and leaned back, trying to get comfortable as last-minute makeup and checks were completed.

“Good evening. I’m your host, Adrian Jackson, and tonight we bring you a special broadcast to interview Caesar Cyrus (Name) O’Reilly.”

“Caesar, thank you for speaking to us tonight..”


A Heated Discussion[]


Cyrus was still seething with emotions as he began the trek to the secured entrance to The Motte with Lucius. Felix had been right; Jackson had managed to manipulate the situation to his advantage. One thing was clear; he needed a few minutes alone to regain his balance.

“Just a moment, Lucius,” Cyrus said quietly, waving one of the escorts from behind him to clear a convenient bathroom down the corridor. Finished, he stepped past the man to turn the water on and listen for a moment before reaching down and using his hands to spread the cool water on his face and neck.

I didn’t think about how hot the bright lights were, he thought ruefully. Something else to plan for. I wonder.. Perhaps I need an aide with a ‘snivel kit’? I’d kill for a pain reliever and sports drink right now.

Feeling slightly better after a few minutes, he came out and resumed his steady pace. Fortunately, security at The Motte gave him only a cursory going-over, perhaps aware of how difficult it would have been for a double to have penetrated Palace Security undetected and swap places with him. The delay had allowed Horace to beat him to the elevator, despite undergoing the full gamut of procedures, and so he was forced to cool his heels for the few minutes it took for the elevator to return.

Emerging into the bunker, he accepted the salute of the waiting Principes Flynn and despite small talk over weather on the surface was led to the waiting conference room without further delay to find Donald and Horace seated waiting for him.

“Consider it done, both of you,” Cyrus said as he entered the room and waved them back into their chairs before landing heavily in the curule chair at the head of the table and reached for the pitcher of water placed evenly between the three of them. “I don’t plan on insisting on formality in private, especially from my closest advisors.”

“Especially if one of them is dead?” Snapped Horace. “Why, exactly, is he one of your ‘closest advisors’?”

“Because I have suspicions,” Cyrus said evenly, filling one of the small glasses at the table and taking a sip. “And Director Effeil has the motivation to find the treasonous elements behind recent events. Or do you really think this was a plot by outsiders?”

“Speaking of evidence,” Donald interjected, opening a folder on the table in front of him and offering Cyrus a piece of paper.

“Miss Meilin Neal-Zhao has an interesting background,” he began as Cyrus began a cursory examination of the document. “The Motte’s systems contained an override, re-directing queries to an earlier security check rather than the most recent.”

“Director Flamen, I assume,” Cyrus said softly. I might have known it was too good to be true. “Or was it David?”

“Both, I think, sir,” said Effeil, pulling out another document. “She was suspected of abusing her authority as a counselor to pull military personnel from active duty for a variety of reasons that didn’t always stand up to consultations with other psychiatrists. A fair number of her patients were also proscribed medications that mandated transfers or being relieved from their commands.”

“So, David would probably have been made aware of it,” Cyrus said.

“That’s his signature at the bottom, advising the Director to investigate the situation, sir.” Effeil said. “Who suggested her in particular?”

Cyrus had to think for a moment before replying softly. “David,” he said as he leaned his elbows onto the table and covered his face with his hands.

Horace took the break in conversation to clear his throat.

“Cyrus.. Turns out Dad was smarter than you thought,” he said roughly. “Or Martin thought. He left a personal message undelivered in Hegemon’s Comm system.”

Cyrus looked up at his brother in surprise. “How..?”

Horace shook his head, waving at Effeil. “I think we’re better off leaving that as family business given the situation, don’t you think?”

“He wanted Hegemon’s new owner to know about a diary of sorts, exclusive to the Caesar and his Heir. Its apparently kept here, in The Motte,” he said. “The rest of it was personal.”

“It must be kept in the High-Security storage area,” Cyrus noted. “Along with the Alexandria Core.”

“A-Alexandria Core?” Horace said excitedly. “We have a Core? Why is it here!”

“Cassius was apparently concerned the Word of Blake would realize they failed to completely destroy it after the Neutron bombing,” Cyrus explained. “It was hidden until the end of the Jihad and found to be damaged by the radiation despite all the precautions, so it was kept in storage.”

“Then we have another problem,” Effeil said cautiously. “Why was it put back into storage by the Delatura Militaria last year?”

“Last year? What was Military Intelligence doing with it?” asked Horace.

“I don’t know,” said Effeil. “I can’t find any communications or reports in the system. It makes me think he’s diddling the records using the computer over-rides in The Motte to hide something.”

“Damn it!” Cyrus stood up and began to pace back and forth across the head of the table before scooping up his glass and throwing it against the wall, expecting it to shatter. He was surprised to see it bounce off, rolling under the table.

“Shatterproof,” Donald explained. “Too much risk as a potential weapon.”

Cyrus continued pacing. I swore not to act like a monster, Cyrus thought grimly. There are worse things than death, though.

The room was too small to get any satisfaction from pacing, and Cyrus returned to his seat in frustration, reaching with a leg under the table to fish it out. “I don’t imagine it’s the first time something’s been thrown around down here.”

The three men sat in silence as Cyrus turned it over in his hands for a few seconds before slamming it back on the table and refilling it with water.

“We’re going to run late, soon,” he announced as he leaned back into the chair. “This was to be a short meeting to bring Horace up to date and get an update. I wasn’t planning to have to deal with a conspiracy before lunch and order executions for dinner.”

He looked back at Effeil. “What else is in that folder?”

Donald slid it across the table. “Background checks for Angelica Marcotte, Director Flamen and his staff, as well as the Imperator and the military high command. There are more than a few …questionable... choices here,” he explained. “Political considerations, some shady financials and other concerning behavior.”

Cyrus slid it back across the table. “Put them on hold, for now.”

“Right now, we need to put everything on the table, and limit the damage these two can do,” he said coldly. “I want precautions in place to prevent them from getting away. I want their supporters identified and watched. Speaking of,” he said, looking to Effeil. “What happened to the tech crew that certified my father’s VTOL?”

“Under guard at one of I Legio’s permanent facilities outside Nova Roma,” Donald said.

“Contact them discretely,” Cyrus continued in the same tone. “Warn them they could be in danger from their accomplices. If one of them doesn’t turn within a day, poison one or all of them with something painful – but not lethal – and convince them to turn on each other.”

Cyrus looked Donald in the eyes, adding, “I want this made public and dragged through the courts, Donald. Make sure its deniable.”

Donald nodded.

Feeling his anger subside, Cyrus took a moment to gulp down the contents of his glass, then took a deep breath and sighed.

“We need to understand each other and coordinate,” he said in a more normal tone of voice. “I’m not going to risk them getting away with this, but I could reasonably be Caesar for another fifty- or sixty years. We’re going to start preparing for that now, because I’m not going to spend all that time sitting on the Dias and in meetings to see the status quo handed down to my kids. No offence, Horrie.”

“None taken. I wouldn’t touch the job with a stick,” Horace replied.

“So, lets start at the beginning,” Cyrus said, refilling his glass as well as the two empty ones on the table. “It all started with that stupid cat..”


Discussion about Change and Promotion[]


The elevator wasn’t a tight fit for the three men, but Horace seemed unable to restrain himself any longer as Effeil stood off to one side uncertainly.

“Cyrus, are you out of your mind?”

“No,” said Cyrus calmly. “I’m simply fed up with the way things are, and I’m going to change them. Possibly for good, but if I can live the rest of my life and retire before it all falls apart, I’ll call it a win.”

Horace’s raised voice echoed in the enclosed space. “But this is the Periphery we’re talking about!”

“It’s not Johann’s Periphery!” Cyrus snapped back. “It’s not Cassius’! The circumstances have changed, and we shouldn’t have to rely on personal loyalty to the Caesar to keep me alive.”

“Tell me; have you ever read the principles the Hegemony was founded on?” Cyrus asked rhetorically. “You haven’t, have you?”

Clearly not expecting the question, Horace paused to regroup. “Ancient Rome..?”

“Gaius Marius was nobody’s idea of a liberal. He helped found the Roman empire, an aggressive state where soldiers were loyal to their commanders, not a Republic. Three thousand years later, we should emulate that? How’s that working for you? Because I’d rather have my parents back than live under the same system that saw them killed.”

Cyrus stared at Horace, daring him to disagree before continuing.

“If I’m stuck doing this for the rest of my life, I’m going to do something I can be proud of. We’re going to focus on defending the Hegemony and rebuild the military to something that makes Alaric hesitate before forcing us to join his new Star League as a non-voting member. I’d rather join Nikol Marik’s Free World’s League than let that happen, and we’re never going to be accepted until we manumit the Slaves.”

Horace slammed an open hand into the door of the elevator but said nothing for almost a minute as the elevator continued on.

“You’re going to get yourself killed, Cy,” he muttered.

Cyrus sighed. “Were you at the same meeting I was? What don’t you agree with?”

“None of it,” Horace said stubbornly. “But… It’s too much, too soon.”

“We might not have a lot of time,” Cyrus pointed out as the elevator began to slow. “And I’m not going to play fair.”

“Right.”

“Right,” Cyrus echoed as the doors opened and waved his brother and Director Effeil out of the elevator ahead of him. “Now get out here and do your damn jobs, eh? We’ll talk again tonight.”

Spotting Lucius standing unobtrusively to the side, he waved him over.

“Lucius, we need to move quickly. I want Palace Security to escort Director Effeil to Director Flamen’s office to arrest him for treason and attempted murder, immediately.”

Lucius somehow managed to restrain himself from any overt reaction, but Cyrus counted the blank look and half-second of hesitation before shaking open the scroll case to take notes as a victory. Waiting for the man to finish, he continued.

“Announce the promotion of Cadet Horace O’Reilly to Imperator of the Legiones Marianes.” He turned to Horace. “Take command of I Legio. Locate and detain Imperator Blacklake for treason and have him brought to the Palace for interrogation as soon as possible. If anyone resists, order them arrested and detained.”

“I’m still just a Cadet.” Horace muttered.

“You’re the Heir,” Cyrus snapped. “Cassius was sixteen. Be calm. Forceful. Do your duty, and remind them of theirs.”

He turned back to Lucius, waiting until the man looked up from his notes.

“Order the Praesidii Praetoris to detain Meilin Neal-Zhao under suspicion of being a foreign spy.” he said bleakly. Somehow, he didn’t feel like smiling in triumph as Lucius dropped his stylus in shock.

“Get going,” Cyrus said, turning back to the two men. “Lucius and I will be for a few more minutes, then I’m going for lunch. We’ll meet again tonight at dinner.”

Exchanging an embrace with Horace, he nodded at Effeil’s sketchy bow and traded a firm handshake with him before he turned to follow Horace out of the room. As Lucius picked up his stylus and looked up from his scroll case again, he continued. “I think I’d like to have a few professors from the Universitas Alphard listen to the presentation this afternoon, Lucius. Confidentially, of course.”

“Sir?”

“Contact the Economics department and request they listen in and submit a report,” Cyrus explained tiredly. “And push back the meeting with the finance minister by an hour. Contact CBI and inform them my sister will be representing me.”

Marching back to his apartments, he took shameless advantage of the Staff and ordered Lucius to reschedule the rest of the afternoon, falling asleep across one of the leather couches in the Atrium rather than force himself to confront the situation by trying to sleep in the bed he had shared last night with Mei. At last, the chimes announcing one of the staff arriving with a hot meal sounded and he dragged himself to the kitchen table to eat.

With Lucius running around behind the scenes with some additional last-minute instructions, Effeil taking command of the Ordo Vigilis and Horace busy with I Legio he had some time left to scrape himself together before Helena arrived to represent him at the meeting this afternoon. Or so he thought before he discovered it was Lucius himself presenting him a sandwich and soup.

“What is it now?” He asked resignedly.

“Your sister refused to represent you at the presentation by the Finance Minister, Caesar.”

Of course not, he thought moodily. “I see,” he said mildly. “Has she been thrown into a Cucurum and told to grow up yet?”

“Yes, Caesar. I’m told she insisted on contacting the Imperator, who indeed ordered her to comply immediately. Your brother informs me the call was acrimonious, and he ordered the Headmaster of the Collegium to remove her from classes until she, and I quote, ‘grew up.’”

Forcing himself to eat methodically, he asked, “Are the arrangements with the Ministry of Communications made?”

“Yes, Caesar.”

“Good enough. I’m unavailable until dinner, let my sister know she’s invited. Otherwise, if she wants to talk to me she’ll have to wait until tonight or tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, Caesar.”

“Thank you, Lucius. See you this evening.”


Problems with a Sister and some Ambassadors[]


His valet and the Staff were on time but found Cyrus waiting patiently in the Atrium reading the glossy briefing book provided by the officials from the Ministry of Finance.

I can’t understand anything in this book, he thought uneasily. I need an expert; someone I can trust. And then, someone I can trust to vouch for him.

“Lucius, I need you to schedule meetings with the finance minister. When can I expect the report from the Economics Department?”

“A draft copy is available already, Caesar. The Dean made sure to tell me the basic premises are correct but inquired if you were looking for a second opinion. Her husband is the finance minister, after all.”

Cyrus looked at him sharply. “Damn.” Closing the book and standing, he made his way to the wardroom as he considered his options.

“I can’t agree with the Hegemony’s economic policy controlled by a husband-and-wife duo, no matter how talented they are,” he said finally as the valet ensured he was presentable. “For now, ensure the Minister attends the next meeting of the Consilium Securitatis.”

Lucius nodded, taking out the stylus and making a small note in his scroll case.

“Where’s Helena? I had expected her to be knocking the door down.”

“I’m not sure, Caesar. Should I call the Praesidii Praetoris and have her located?”

Cyrus weighed the option for a moment before nodding assent as he turned to leave, only to find Donald and Horace in the hallway waiting for him dressed in their own finery.

“Gentlemen.” He said, accepting the men’s bow and salute with a nod.

“Feeling a little better, Cy?” Horace asked.

Cyrus ran a hand over his head, then pulled it away. At this rate, I’m going to go bald. Or pull it out.

“Yeah,” he said quietly as the three of them stood in the center of the hallway. “Maybe this will be settled now that the bad apples have been found.”

“It might be too early to relax much,” Effeil pointed out. “Factor Benjamin is escorting the Ambassador again.”

Crap. Cyrus groaned. “Crap. All we need is for the Canopians to get any sort of influence with the Skate Khanate.”

Their circle widened as Lucius walked out of the Atrium, saying, “Your sister has been located, Caesar. She’s entertaining the Canopian Ambassador and Factor Benjamin in the banquet room.”

Seeing his advisors turn to him for his reaction, Cyrus drew a blank for a moment. “I think there’s a problem,” he said finally, looking to Effeil. “How much contact have those two had?”

“I’ll find out.” Effeil volunteered.

“Get her out of my hair,” Cyrus said to his brother as he began walking towards the banquet room. “I don’t know what’s going on, and I might be paranoid, but Helena’s radical feminism is starting to raise my hackles. Is she being led on?”

“Maybe,” Horace admitted. “Given the source… I’ll send her back to the Collegium.”

Cyrus sighed. He was willing to allow Helena a place in the government to bolster the political arguments that would allow women to contribute more in government, but if he couldn’t rely on her not to embarrass him it would make it harder to argue in favor.

“We’re going to have to talk to her. If she can act like a grownup, I’d appreciate her help,” he said finally as the banquet room came into view down the hallway. “But if she’s going to make things harder..”

“It’s another year and a half until she graduates,” Horace said quietly. “Or another three or four to marry her to some Patrician from the wilderness. I suppose we could send her to the barbaricum as your representative, since you want to expand into the deeper Periphery.”

“I wouldn’t trust her to represent me at a buffet.” Cyrus muttered back.


Discussions with Ambassadors and talk of new direction[]


The expert staff ensured the evening went smoothly, although Helena’s behavior raised red flags among the more politically inclined. Her sudden habit on expanding on the Ambassador’s comments was especially annoying, Cyrus found, as several comments were clearly rationalizations on why Canopian political theories should be embraced by the Hegemony.

If Horace turns any redder, he thought bemusedly, he could stop traffic in Nova Roma. I get the feeling Helena is going to have a hard time getting back in his good graces.

The seating arrangement favored him, keeping Horace and Helena to his right, with the Senate President and the Lothian Ambassador forming a silent bulwark to the Canopian and Clan representatives, leaving Effeil to occupy the Elemental on his left. The request for a private meeting seemed to be a capitulation to the merchant sensibilities of the former Warrior, who had urged his neighbor to discuss it several times only to be rebuffed. Cyrus didn’t mind; it had kept the attention off of him long enough to enjoy the superb meal, and he wasn’t in the mood to talk, anyway.

Still, the interview was scheduled to air unannounced in a few minutes, and if he was going to present his claims to the wider Periphery, it would be best to do so with the grudging respect of the Lothario League to bolster them. Waiting for the right moment had brought them to lingering over wine, and although the digestion of a number of Hegemony extremists was at risk, he hoped it would put one of the many mistakes of his family to rest.

“Ambassador Harkness....I wonder if we might speak honestly for a moment.” Cyrus said quietly. The older man’s eyes darted to regard him from the wind- and sunburned face of a former trapper and fur trader. Dressed in somber formal wear Cyrus knew was popular in the resurrected Free Worlds League, he had remained silent for most of a night, clearly resigned to an evening of representing his nation in the formal pictures taken before the gathering.

“Of course, Caesar,” he said, suddenly cautious sounding. Understandable, Cyrus thought.

“I would like to see closer ties to the League, Ambassador. Despite Sean’s war, your time in the Hegemony saw a great deal of benefit for your people.” Cyrus said quietly as he leaned back to study the man, aware of the growing intensity at the table. Diplomacy? Without a gun? His eyes flitted to the other representatives at the table, Benjamin seemingly unaware of the serious nature of the exchange.

“Going forward, I intend to reverse some of the.. Misguided attempts to take us in the direction of Empire. I intend to embrace the Republic aspect of Ancient Roman civilization, rather than the militaristic Caesars intent on conquering our neighbors,” Cyrus said clearly, leaning forward in his chair. “In particular, I would like to ask you to represent us to the Niopsians, who I believe we owe reparations of some sort.”

Helena could only gawk, jaw open, as he repudiated nearly two centuries of political thought. Beside her, Lady Fiona had better manners, although she seemed as shocked as her new admirer. And in public!

“Forgive me, Caesar,” he interjected in a low voice. “But it seems to me this is something we should discuss privately.”

“In the company of our advisors,” Cyrus said, locking eyes with Effeil before sweeping across the half of the table he controlled and returning Horace’s firm nod of agreement with one of his own, looking back to the Ambassador. “And in the proper forum, as neighbors... And, I hope, friends.”

The Ambassador leaned back against his chair, staring back at him as the servers busied themselves refilling glasses across the table, and Cyrus stood as Horace began beating on his glass with a piece of silverware.

“I propose a toast, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, raising his glass high. “To the Grand Mistress of the Lothian League and House Logan! Ave!”


Helena's Disagreements aired


“Are you insane!” Helena screeched at him, fists shaking in rage between them. “What are you doing?!”

“Leading,” Cyrus said quietly, surrounded by his advisors, watching her from his seat in the Atrium. Finished with being seen in public for the night, he was lazing in a worn sweater and leggings from his university days.

“Off a cliff? Why would you do this?!”

“Because we can’t win, Hel,” Horace snapped. “We’ve burned every bridge we’ve ever come across, and we need their help to dig our way out.”

“Your brother is right,” asserted Felix, cutting off her next outburst. “Both of them. Which you would know if you were willing to cooperate, instead of relying on arrogance and ignorance to see you past logic and reasoned consideration.”

“The assassination was brought about by domestic issues,” Donald interjected. “And those issues need to be resolved before we can move forward.”

Helena pointed a finger at him, accusing him, “You were supposed to have been shot for your mistakes!”

“And the real murders will take my place!” Effeil yelled back. The force of his outburst was enough to rock her back long enough for Cyrus to interject.

“Sit down, Helena. You would have known what was going on if we felt we could trust you.” He said quietly. “So, here are your options; Cooperate, support the reforms that are coming, and help me make the Hegemony safer. Work with me, and we’ll use your example to try and advance the legal reforms you say you want.”

He pointed past her to the door. “Or get out. I’m risking everything to make this work, and I’m not going to tolerate you sticking an oar in and giving people the idea I’m willing to tolerate your defiance,” he said grimly. “And when I say, ‘get out’, I mean, exile. I can’t risk someone using you to stir up rebellion,” he finished quietly, getting up to walk to the kitchen and press the call button.

The quiet chimes announced Lucius’ entrance.

“Have my sister escorted to her rooms,” Cyrus instructed as the two men met at the edges of the small circle of advisors and he returned to his seat. “Post a guard outside her door and keep her confined until dinner tomorrow night.” Frozen in disbelief as he ordered her arrested, Helena began to offer a stream of apologies and promises as a Guard arrived to take her by the elbow and escort her to her rooms.

Alone again as Lucius closed the door behind them, Cyrus took up the television’s remote to switch it on and watch the reaction to his first interview with his advisors as a thought occurred to him.

“Donald? Ensure she’s monitored closely. I want to know if she tries to talk with someone.”


Do you know the rarest type of ruler?[]


“It’s almost midnight,” complained Horace as the elevator doors closed. “Did we have to do this now?”

“Yes,” Cyrus said resignedly. “One thing you can be sure of, until things settle down, we’re playing catch-up. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for everything Lucius could cram onto my schedule. If we don’t keep up...”

“Besides, I wanted to see this diary,” Cyrus said finally. “To hold the same book Cassius held, the history behind it... I’m a historian, after all.”

“Is that where you got all those snappy lines from the interview? ‘None of us have been shot in the back running away?’”

“Why not?”

“And being the ‘good Emperor’? You think you can do that?”

Cyrus sighed, turning to face him. “Do you know the rarest type of ruler? It’s the one that rolls up his sleeves and does what he has to for the good of the people he rules, not the one that starts a war. It’s the reformer that fixes problems, the educator that creates the conditions for economic and industrial development – and the fool who takes advantage of it and wastes it on useless military actions, trying to take and steal what people would have shared, willingly, to be part of it.”

He looked back at the featureless door of the elevator, waiting for it to open. “I’m perfectly aware of the risk, to the Hegemony and myself. But I have to do something.”

Horace grunted. “Even sleeping in my old rooms, it’s still going to be another couple hours before I can finally go to sleep.”

“Pity Effeil, then. If ‘Section E’ is going to earn its place, it’s going to need to produce results. He’s putting more effort into finding foreign agents and the dross among our own citizens than he ever did as Director of the Securitatis Internum.”

“It’s a little frightening,” Horace said quietly.

“He’s not doing it himself,” Cyrus pointed out. “And he’s not doing anything more than investigating and informing law enforcement or Section A of his findings.”

“It’s not just that,” Horace said irritably. “What’s wrong with how we’ve been doing? Why shake everything up at once?”

Cyrus was silent for a moment before answering. “All I can do is take it a day at a time, but I’m not leaving these problems behind me to fester. And the plan is to put Senatorial committees in charge of things to help prevent the kinds of blowback you’re talking about – have you ever seen a committee in a hurry to do anything other than what benefits them in some way? Besides, it’s going to take the Communications Ministry months to get couriers to the Concordat and the Duchy and back with a response, let alone our own representatives to find people we can trust with the qualifications we want to audit Dad’s economic policies to help us. How’s that doing everything at once?”

The sudden feeling of the elevator beginning to decelerate silenced the two men for a moment.

“At least we know why David got involved in all this,” Cyrus said. “I still don’t know why Paul got involved, but if Dad really was going to replace David with Rex as Imperator it would have left him with nothing.”

“Something else he might have removed from the system?”

“Maybe,” Cyrus said as the elevator came to a stop. “Whatever it was, I’ll bet David knows. The three of them were in each other’s pockets for a long time. I’m not above offering to let him off in exchange for information to satisfy my curiosity.”

“You’ll really let him get away with it?”

“No,” Cyrus said quietly as the doors began to open. “But it’ll be all the sweeter when I let him walk into a courtroom believing it and the judge sends him to the Wall.”


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