She was the only one who could reunite the Empire
and restore to its citizens the security that this brought.
Without any doubt she was, singularly, the most important
being alive. She and her cousin were the last of an
Imperial bloodline. But her cousin could not easily
supplant her. For Hial to sit on the Imperial throne,
she would need to be victorious in a bitter and bloody
war. Such a war was to be avoided if at all possible.
Therefore the primary task for Empress Morturina I,
and those who served her, was to ensure her survival
- at least until she had borne an heir to the Imperial
the millennium when mankind discovered the super light
drive, it slowly and ponderously began to swarm from
its solar system into the vastness of the cosmos. It
expected that, sometime, somewhere, it would meet other
sapient races. It went armed with the most destructive
weapons its primitive technology could then design.
Sooner or later there would be disputes over territories
and negotiations over trading rights. Whatever levels
of intelligence or advancement it encountered, mankind
did not intend to be the vanquished.
drive to discover, explore, conquer and exploit reached
new heights. In the centuries of Rapid Expansion towards
the galactic centre, each new decade brought further
advancements in ship drives and scouting techniques.
Vast colonising armadas relentlessly pressed onwards
from the last settled sector. The Earth soon lost its
significance as the home of mankind and the centre of
government; though most colonists, as a matter of pride,
could still trace their lineage back to the original
star voyagers. Mankind would not forget its homeworld
but its homeworld was no more than a backwater, out
in a remote and insignificant spiral arm.
Throughout the period
of Rapid Expansion the expectation of meeting sapient
aliens did not diminish. Mankind had already learned
that the Earth was not the only planet on which life
had evolved. Scores of such planets were discovered.
A few were even found that had species with emerging
intelligence. These planets were quarantined, though
there was no real rational behind this - possibly it
was mankind's unconscious desire to invest in the future.
But no planets were found that had any species that
could be described as being close to sapiency.
Still, it would only
be a matter of time. Every explorer and colonist was
drilled in Contact Procedure. On encountering alien
intelligence the following drill was to be carried out:
raise the alarm; assess the alien; attack if possible;
defend if necessary. Any extraterrestrial engaged should
be left with a sample of the might and the will of mankind.
This would be essential to, and the basis of, any future
this era weapon development was only surpassed by technology
in the terra-forming sciences. Whole planets could now
be made ready for human habitation within a decade.
Hundreds of thousands of planets were terra -formed.
Yet the human population continued to increase exponentially.
Planets became overcrowded, their resources exhausted,
and then the humans moved on. Terra-forming moved from
the realms of science into the world of art. Planets
could now be designed to whimsical specifications. At
its pinnacle the terra -forming art had master designers
who could, and did, remake whole solar systems. Enormous
energies were squandered to provide circular orbital,
non -seasonal, fixed weather planets. Serious scientist
could be made, could be unmade. Terra -deforming became
the principal weapon development area. Military strategists
argued that previous assumptions and procedures were
invalid and outdated - why engage an enemy in a long
and costly war? The latest star drives created the opportunity
to travel undetected. Provided the planetary mass was
compensated for, one could ‘materialise’ in orbit around
the enemy's homeworld and, in one swift strike, wipe
out the indigenous ecology and remake to suit.
During the sweep across
the Galactic centre, where older solar systems existed,
evidence of intelligent life forms was discovered. The
evidence showed that over millions of years there had
been a succession of great civilisations, the most recent
building on the ruins of its predecessor. The pitiful
remains of these civilisations were almost unintelligible
to the human mind. The thrust of scientific effort shifted
to alien archaeology. It was believed that immense knowledge
was hidden in the remains of these civilisations. If
only mankind could decipher it, who knows what might
be found? But gaining understanding of these alien intelligences
proved almost impossible. In order to gain understanding
of whatever artifact was being studied its use had to
be interpreted. This interpretation could only be made
using human frames of reference.
the simplest artifact, did not fit human references.
An object that looked like a bowl and was found in abundance,
in what was supposed had been densely populated areas,
ought to be considered to be a bowl - except that it
was porous and under electronic scanning was found to
be made of a high temperature super semiconductor. What
was its purpose? Even estimating the shape and size
of these aliens was difficult. The ruins were shown
to have been gigantic structures, but scale could only
be measured in human terms. Where these structures in
was beyond question was that these civilisations had
been powerful and far reaching. They had constructed
continental size structures, the purpose of which could
only be guessed at. Ruins were found mainly on planets
whose atmosphere had a high oxygen content. Was it safe
to assume that they were oxygen breathers? Should the
assumption be made that they did in fact breathe? The
remnants of these civilisations were only found near
the Galactic centre. How they had arisen, and why they
fell, could only be guessed at. There were no signs
of large scale destruction, only of general decay. Some
visionaries began to suspect that, for the moment, mankind
was the sole sapient heir to the Galaxy. Its riches
were theirs for the taking. Over the next century more
people came to the same conclusion. Mankind, with its
militaristic ethos, armed to the teeth, with nothing
to fight, turned on itself.
next three and a half centuries there followed what
historians now term the Generation Wars - thousands
of isolated and protracted battles raging between successive
waves of colonists. All across human occupied space
colonists defended their planets, or solar systems,
from others who had exhausted the natural resources
of their own planets and moved on to plunder more. The
population pressure had finally outstripped the rate
at which planets could be terra -formed. Weapons of
mass destruction were not, could not, be used. Habitable
planets were at a premium.
invaders were strong enough, from their space borne
bases, they would isolate a planet or solar system.
Then, systematically, they would wear down the defenders.
If they were a weaker force, they found toe holds on
moons and planetoids. From these they launched desperate
and often suicidal attacks against the targeted planet.
The planetary defenders had the advantage of global
resources and fixed bases. The invaders had numerical
superiority and the desperation brought on by limited
materials. These battles were of such ferocity and total
commitment that, whatever the outcome, there were few
survivors. And those who were fortunate enough to survive
were isolated and weak. To them was left the legacy
of rebuilding, but they were in no condition to do so.
and expansion throughout the Galaxy ceased.
times of The Rapid Expansion there was the loosely arranged
infrastructure necessary for interstellar travel. It
was not a government as such, it was more akin to an
accepted standard of behaviour. When the infrastructure
faltered, mankind was left in disarray. Thus, cooperation;
organisation; and common purpose was lost. Individual
pockets of humanity clung to islands in the cosmos,
cut off from and ignorant of their neighbours. With
only planetary resources and the lessons learned from
the times of Rapid Expansion mankind cherished their
new homes. Most planets had been terra -formed with
flora and fauna that offered no danger to man. Communities
that could loosely be described as 'civilisations' scraped
an existence on these planets. With no danger and ample
space and resources, humanity regressed. It was as if
mankind had burnt out all its ambitions and was happy
to simply exist. These were the lucky ones.
planets had been terra -formed with less expertise.
Without the constant and technologically heavy-handed
interference of man, these planets started to revert
to their original state. Here man fought a relentless
and losing battle. Sooner or later the fragile ecological
balance shifted to an environment hostile to man. Billions
perished. In time, even the knowledge
and skill required to build the super-light drive was
forgotten. Technology became part of most people's folk
lore, its true meaning and value was lost.
no more than three centuries the human population of
the Galaxy was reduced to a minute fraction of its former
self. In a few cases, death was at the hands of other
humans. In others, irresistible forces - too powerful
to control - brought about a slow and painful end. Mankind,
despite its pretensions, was set to become no more than
a mere sentence in the book of Galactic history. But
on one very special planet the need to explore and find
other alternatives became paramount. Mankind's drive
had been a terra -forming experiment. The first and
only attempt to terra -form a gas giant. The ‘artists’
wanted to demonstrate that it could be done. They produced
a planet with a huge diameter. In order to keep the
planet's gravity within the limits tolerable to humans,
and to stop excessive platetectonics, unusual steps
were taken. The terra -forming artists removed most
of the heavy elements from the planet's core.
was a stable planet, but one with rapidly diminishing
resources. The more enlightened inhabitants realised
this. It would only continue to support them if their
meagre civilisation could survive without the use of
metals. Their technology had retrogressed too far for
them to manufacture substitutes. A small group of learners
sought a solution to the problem. Methods of extracting
the extremely scarce metals from the land or the oceans
were explored. No practical solution was found. To get
the heavier elements that they so desperately needed
they had to turn to the heavens - space...
first ventured out into their solar system by much the
same means that man had first left Earth. Around them
were several other planets, and these were also gas
giants, which had enough heavy elements to last for
centuries. But the knowledge and technology necessary
to work under the tremendous gravitational pressure
in order to harness these elements was not at hand.
Sapphire's future depended on finding a retrievable
source of heavy elements. They looked to other Solar
lore stated that man had not originated on Sapphire,
but had crossed interstellar space to get there. What
was once known, could be rediscovered. The learners
sought a means of travelling interstellar distances.
Through their untiring efforts, and the deciphering
of many ancient texts, the super light drive was rediscovered.
the rediscovery of the super light drive the meagre
metal reserves of Sapphire were further depleted. Three
heavily armed super light cargo ships were built. Traders
were dispatched to nearby star systems to find raw materials.
They were to trade whatever Sapphire had that others
considered valuable. The Captains of the ships were
empowered to sign treaties and to make pledges on behalf
of the people of Sapphire. The one thing they could
not trade was the secret of the super light drive.
Traders returned, with their cargo holds full, they told
tales of the nearby inhabited systems. Planets where the
population had degenerated to savagery - there was no
need to sign treaties, these planets were theirs for the
taking. Measures were swiftly taken to send further expeditions.
Permanent bases were established and extensive mining
operations started. Within seven standard years Sapphire
ruled five inhabited planets in neighbouring systems.
The indigenous populations were kept technologically ignorant
and ‘recruited’ to providing manual labour. Sapphire's
immediate raw material needs were satisfied by these five
planets. But soon the growing demand of Sapphire's expanding
industries began to outstrip the rate at which these raw
materials could be imported. More star ships were built.
Traders explored further afield and discovered even more
inhabited planets. On some, the population was more civilised
but not as advanced as their own. On these planets they
found it harder to impose their will. Treaties were signed;
ambassadors exchanged; licences granted and promises made.
But with its monopoly of interstellar transit, Sapphire
knew it had the advantage. As soon as the opportunity
presented itself, these planets were put under direct
technological superiority was not enough to establish
and maintain this direct rule, force was used. The Sapphians
developed a formidable volunteer Armed Force which extended
Sapphire’s rule to twenty-seven planets. In time, the
framework for a system of government, taxation and defence
evolved which encompassed all twenty-seven planets. This
system gave individual planets autonomy to govern their
local affairs, but the centre of power and the secret
of the super-light drive remained with Sapphire - the
Galactic Union was born.
All super -light ships
continued to be built on Sapphire. Those who controlled
the super -light drive controlled the Union. For the next
three decades the Sapphians consolidated their hold on
the Union. As more inhabited star sectors were rediscovered,
they were welcomed into the Union. The influence that
the new sectors exerted in government was directly proportional
to the number of inhabited planets they contained. Over
the next century the Union continued to expand. Driven
by the knowledge of its permanent lack of resources, and
its temporary control of the super -light drive, Sapphire
sought other ways of tightening its grip on the Union.
It declared the Galactic Union a Galactic Empire, with
Sapphire providing the centralised government.
With the formation of
a Galactic Empire, the star sectors were organised into
Royal Households. A system of Imperial Government was
devised and laid down in The Imperial Charter. Only the
Empire could now legitimately have an Armed Force of considerable
size. The Royal Houses could maintain a reasonable force
for ‘policing duties’ but all others were to be handed
over to the Empire. Only the Empire could write statutes
and it was the final arbiter in any dispute. Most star
sectors readily agreed to this - it promised long term
stability and an end to interstellar conflicts. Sapphire
finally had the security it sought. In the next two centuries
peace, order and stability were maintained under the benevolent
but firm control of the Empire. The Imperial Navy became
the enforcement arm of government. It was a most potent
force. Mankind prospered throughout the Galaxy.
During the reign of
Xexy XIV, in the third century of the Empire, the Emperor
and his Imperial Fleet Commander had a series of policy
disagreements. In the end the Imperial Navy revolted and
attempted to lay siege to Sapphire. Other branches of
the Imperial Armed Forces remained loyal to the Emperor.
They, and a few Royal Houses, set about the defence of
the Emperor and Sapphire.
To make a stand against
the vastly superior Naval forces would have been foolhardy.
Instead, the defenders launched hit and run strikes against
key Naval installations and formations. They drew the
Navy into hot pursuits and ambushes - away from Sapphire.
These widely dispersed but coordinated mini battles threw
the Navy into disarray. The Navy was trained for set -piece
battles or civil suppression. Naval commanders argued
over the correct tactics to use and indiscipline broke
out amongst the enlisted ranks. The revolt began to lose
This dissension, more
than any single military action, brought the mutiny to
an end. Some Naval commanders, in a final act of revenge
and frustration, launched punitive strikes against the
leading Royal Households that had supported the Emperor.
These loyal Households were: the Purple Plume, the Tezu,
the Federal States and the Great Sowarn. They had all
committed, unconditionally, their men and resources to
the defence of their Emperor.
But it was the Tezu
who had borne the brunt of the fighting. It was they who
had inflicted the most damage on the mutinous Navy. In
their final retaliatory attack, the remnants of the Navy
massed around the distant Tezu starsystem. During the
onslaught the Navy penetrated the Tezu's defences and
attacked the planets. One planet was destroyed and others
suffered the grim result of the Navy's scorched earth
tactics. Hundreds of billions of Tezus died.
After this battle the
Navy was finally brought to heel. Most of its senior commanders
were executed. Once the Emperor was again secure, one
of his first acts was to reward the loyal Households that
had stood against the mutinous Navy with additional kingdoms
and domains. All except the Tezu accepted; instead they
returned to their star sector to salvage and rebuild from
the desolation that lay over their surviving planets.
Imperial assistance was offered but it was declined.
In time, the brave acts
and sacrifices made by the Tezus in the name of the Emperor
were forgotten. The Purple Plume, the Federal States and
the Great Sowarn Houses became the three most powerful
Royal Households in the Empire. Since the mutiny, most
of the spouses to subsequent Emperors or Empresses and
all Imperial Fleet
Commanders were selected from one of these Households.
It had been a millennium
since the last major crisis had befallen the Empire. However,
another difficulty was brewing and this one was potentially
far more damaging. The seeds of this maelstrom had been
sown two generations earlier. During pregnancy, Empress
Elaina XXI of the Fourteenth Dynasty was informed that
she carried twins. So stringent were the conventions regarding
the succession that Empresses and Imperial Consorts were
compelled by law to forego all available technological
aids for artificially developing a foetus. They had to
carry their children to full term. History had shown that
twins immensely complicated the succession. Perhaps it
was because of the recent death of her Prince Regent,
but instead of having one of the embryos surgically removed,
as advised, Elaina swore her retainers to secrecy and
continued with the pregnancy through to full term.
She gave birth to two
boys, identical twins. Whilst presenting the first born
to Court and Empire, she wove an intricate pattern of
lies and deception and suckled both infants. This conspiracy
was very necessary, if knowledge of the twins had leaked
to the Court, the second born would have been instantly
put to the sword. Imperial Law required it. Helped by
good -intentioned servants and close advisers, Elaina
was able to have the second born adopted at age one month.
As far as the Court and the Empire were concerned there
was only one child - heir to the throne, Prince Diam.
Elaina XXI abdicated
in favour of her son on his 43rd birthday and the Empire
celebrated. Emperor Diam reigned for four months and fifteen
days. He died with his Consort in a star ship warp -out.
This was one of those unfortunate but rare incidents that
sometimes affected super -light drives. At the time, foul
play was not suspected. The Empire mourned the loss of
their Emperor, his Consort, and the entire crew of the
destroyer. Diam's six -year -old daughter, the now orphaned
Princess Morturina, was proclaimed Empress. A doleful
Elaina retook the throne as Empress pro -tem.
Soon after Diam's death,
vague references began to be heard about a Shadow Empire.
There was talk that Diam had an twin brother. The official
response was to ridicule this suggestion but it did little
to reduce the speculation. There then followed an official
‘categorical’ denial. But the rumours continued. Some
lesser Royal Houses were believed to have secretly pledged
their alliance to the Twin. Not only that, it was rumoured
that he was building an armada and that he had instigated
the assassination of Emperor Diam. This military force
was being recruited from various malcontented groups.
The Twin was also said to be organising a Shadow Coronation.
‘Reliable sources’ were said to have seen him in the flesh
and reported that there could be no doubting his fraternal
relationship to Diam. At Court, questions were asked of
Realising that her weakness
had jeopardized not only the blood line of a dynasty but
the very cohesion of the Empire, Elaina confirmed the
existence of Diam's twin brother. She then ordered the
hunting down and execution of her second son. Imperial
troops and Comet Marines were instructed to ‘shoot on
sight’. Some Royal Houses expressed the view that it was,
‘too little, too late’. The legality of such an order
was questioned by others. The Imperial Government was
thrown into disarray. In an effort to stem the tide of
outrage and dissension at Court Elaina summoned a conference
of Imperial heraldic experts. After only brief deliberations
the Heraldic experts proclaimed that the Twin had as legitimate
a claim to the throne as did Morturina. Elaina had already
abdicated. She could not hold the throne. If the Twin
were to have a coronation, be it shadow or otherwise,
he would become Emperor.
Upon this proclamation
the Imperial Fleet Commander ordered all Imperial formations
and personnel to adopt a ‘neutral’ position in the Twin
situation. Imperial troops and Comet Marines returned
to their bases. Using her personal security network and
calling favours owed, Elaina redoubled her efforts to
find the Twin. As news of a Shadow Coronation gathered
momentum, she planned her strategy. The Twin would need
a sizeable and credible audience to witness and report
on his crowning or it would have no meaning. No matter
how tight his security, information would get to her ears.
With the Imperial Forces neutral, he might feel more inclined
to come out into the open and when he did, she would be
Without the consent
or knowledge of the Imperial Court or government the covert
‘seek and destroy’ operation continued. Finally, after
over a year of getting no nearer to the Twin, Elaina's
intelligence sources reported that they had uncovered
the proposed time and place of his Shadow Coronation.
On some insignificant little world, in a remote corner
of the Empire, the Twin planned to become Emperor. He
was gathering witnesses and his renegade force. Skilfully,
and in total secrecy, Elaina marshalled her own forces.
At a given date/time/space
coordinate the entire Household Fleets of the Purple Plume
and the Federal States dropped out of super -light. Already
in attack formation, thousands of craft swept through
the defending picket ships and on towards the planet.
It was no more that thirty-eight seconds before the attacking
formation went back to super -light, but behind them they
left one planet, and its two satellite, airless; blackened;
lifeless rocks in space.
Most Royal Households
and government ministers were not even aware that there
was to be a Shadow Coronation, let alone the attack. Those
that did know were not inclined to talk about it. The
Twin situation was about to be quietly forgotten. But
the scandal of the attack was leaked by the surviving
fragments of the Shadow Empire. Again Elaina was forced
to admit to her unconstitutional actions. She did not
implicate either the Purple Plume or the Federal States,
but there were only a handful of Royal Households that
could muster fleets of that size - they were all under
The lesser Royal Houses
were quick to seize the opportunity presented to them.
In a full session of the Imperial Court they accused Elaina
and the greater Houses of using Imperial position and
power for personal ends. At the conclusion of a fiercely
contested debate Elaina was committed for trial, the charge
was High Treason. The verdict of the trial was already
a certainty - she was sentenced to be executed. Having
lived a long, fruitful and eventful life, she made no
plea in mitigation, nor did she ask for clemency.
Elaina should have died
knowing that her death was not wasted. Her efforts, be
they treasonable or not, had protected the Empire. But
on the day of her execution news broke of the reemergence
of the Shadow Empire. It was said that the Twin had a
young daughter, Hial. She had survived. She and her followers
would continue her father's fight for the throne. And
because of Elaina's actions Hial's quest was already beginning
to gather momentum. Elaina went to her death knowing that
the Empress she left behind was only a child. A child
who would soon have to guide the Empire through the greatest
challenge it had yet to face.
At age nine Morturina's
childhood abruptly ended. One moment she was playing with
the other children in the nursery/study, the next she
was being was escorted by a very serious looking official
and equally serious soldiers to the Chamber of Ministers.
En route she was informed by the official that this particular
suite of rooms was set aside for Regents to hold audiences
with their Ministers. She arrived in the large, and slightly
unsettling, officiously appointed room. Thirty or so old-looking
men and women, who she was told were the Ministers of
the Imperial Government, were present. She was led to
an ornate, oversized chair and asked to sit - this she
did. Then, puzzlingly, the Ministers bowed to her and
in unison uttered some sort of descant, which she didn’t
quite understand but inferred was an oath of allegiance.
She'd never been in that chamber before but was not too
overawed by the official surroundings. She felt comfortable
- comfortable despite being surrounded by these solemn
grey-haired strangers. She had always known, because for
as long as she could remember she’d been told, that one
day she would be an Empress. But until that moment she
hadn’t really stopped to consider what an Empress was
- or did.
Calmly and patiently
the senior Minister, the Prime Minister, explained the
function of the Chamber of Ministers; her role as Empress;
and the duties of her advisers. Throughout his explanation
Morturina felt that she wasn't expected, at this time,
to make any decisions - only to familiarise herself with
the workings of what was dutifully referred to as ‘the
government’. She also knew, without being told, that something
unusual was happening and that it was not a good thing.
All this Morturina accepted as calmly as it was stated.
Later, when all the
Ministers except the Prime Minister had left, two men
and two women were led in to bow before her. Until that
day no one had ever bowed to her, or treated her, or responded
her in anyway other than as friendly tutors or play leaders;
why were they bowing, what did it mean? She was informed
by the Prime Minister that they were her telepathic advisers.
Though she had never before seen any of these advisers,
she had a feeling that somehow she knew them. The two
women were introduced as Astra and Rebart and the men,
Prut and Womar. She could tell from their skin colouration
and physical appearance that all four came from different
parts of the Empire. To date she had only seen native
Sapphians in the flesh.
Sapphians were considered
the norm for human appearance; dark straight hair, darkly
tanned skinned; dark almond-shape eyes; oriental features;
and slim build. From her studies, she knew this to be
the result of the intermixing of the many pure races from
old Earth. She also knew that her appearance deviated
somewhat from the norm. Her hair was dark but loosely
curled; her skin was lighter in shading than most and
though her eyes were brown they were a hazel colour, not
the dark brown of her playmates. But most of all, she
was taller than all the other children of her age.
With childish indiscretion
she examined the telepaths with interest. Rebart and Womar
were both tall and slim. Rebart's hair was tightly curled
and black, whilst Womar's was similar to Morturina's.
Prut could have been a native Sapphian except he was heavy
set and round eyed. Of the four, Astra was the most unusual.
Her hair was blonde and she was short and stocky. Astra’s
legs and torso were huge, meaning that her home could
only have been a high G planet. And here, for the first
time in her life, Morturina was face to face with someone
with blue eyes. Eyes that were not just any blue but the
blue of the hologram she had seen of the deepest oceans.
Gawking she wondered whether having blue eyes made Astra
see the world around her differently.
Morturina had never
thought of herself as special in any way. Her transition
from child to Empress was businesslike - and to her, quite
natural. It was reasonable for her to assume that most
nine-year-old’s would have reacted as she did. She studied
and began understanding the voluminous information on
Imperial Geopolitics, as she had been advised she should.
Those around her, especially her nannies, did not act
as if they found her behaviour in any way unusual. She
was now Empress. It was all perfectly normal.
What she did find unusual,
and questioned, was her relationship to her telepaths.
Morturina did not know what a telepath was, nor was she
given any explanation as to what they were supposed to
do. She was only told that they were duty bound to serve
her. But they were not like any of her other servants
(now she understood that she had servants - even the nannies
were servants, not just adult friends as she'd thought);
these all had specific tasks to perform. The telepaths
didn't appear to do anything, and they were only about
ten years older than her. At first Morturina thought of
them as tutors, but it soon became apparent that they
weren’t. If she asked any of them a question - any question
at all - instead of giving an answer, they gave several
possible answers. She would then have to decide which
of these answers she felt was most correct.
The telepaths were different
in other respects. Over a period of several months, she
gradually began to realise that she always knew where
they were and what they were doing. Morturina started
to experiment to see if there were other things that she
could discover about them, simply by thinking about it.
To her surprise, she discovered that they also always
knew her whereabouts and her activities. Moreover, they
knew that if she tried she could always find them, in
fact they were waiting for her to attempt this experiment.
The telepaths were waiting to see which one of them she
would form the closest ‘link’ with.
Shocked and dismayed
at this invasion of her privacy, she fled to her chamber
and locked herself in. The Prime Minister and the four
telepaths came to her and requested an audience. Morturina
knew that the Prime Minister was always terribly busy;
he would not ask to see her unless it was of importance.
Also, she knew that she was being childish and so she
allowed them in. The Prime Minister asked that she sit
next to him and this she did. Because she did not have
a point of reference, she did not realise that he was
being avuncular. All she recognised was that he was not
as grave as she seemed to remember him being. Amicably,
he explained that all Regents had telepaths. Their function
was to reveal to the Regent the thoughts of the individuals
with whom they dealt - they were a Monarch's closest advisers.
She could see the good
sense in that, but that did not diminish her disquiet
at the thought of someone always knowing what she was
doing or thinking. The male telepath, Prut, continued
the explanation. No one said that he was the one that
she had formed the closest ‘link’ with, but somehow she
knew it was so. He said that she would always be spatially
attuned to them and, until she was mature, they would
be spatially attuned to her - but after that she would
be telepathically independent of them. She was not telepathic.
However, they were developing her empathic senses.
Indirectly, the Prime
Minister pointed out that until she was mature,
her mind was susceptible to telepathic influences. That
was why the telepaths did not suggest, or tell, her anything
that was not totally factual. What he did not say, but
again she somehow knew, was that this was one of the reasons
why there were four telepaths - to keep in check each
other's influence on her. She enquired as to 'when' she
would be considered mature. Prut answered that it was
not physical or mental maturity that they spoke about
- it was para-mental. They couldn’t give a time scale.
When Morturina, by her own will, broke the telepathic
link then she would be mature. As they departed, the Prime
Minister patted her hand reassuringly.
After this incident,
she returned to the routine of continuing with her assigned
subjects of study. Added to the burgeoning programme was
empathic training. Most of this she did with Prut. From
the start it was easy to tune in to the thoughts of the
telepaths. In fact, she discovered that they could not
hide their thoughts from her. She, however, could not
interpret those thoughts unless they allowed it. It was
not as simple as overhearing a conversation - people did
not simply think in words.
She wondered if the
telepaths modified their thoughts in some way, to make
it more palatable to her. As sometimes happened, Prut
answered a question which she had asked of herself: All
four telepaths thought patterns were now similar to hers.
They were selected soon after her birth to superimpose
her thought pattern on their own. Prut then went on to
answer a further question, even before it had fully formed
in her mind: The ability to alter one's thought patterns,
at will, was what defined a telepath. A temporary realigning
with another person's thought patterns was how a telepath
empathised. With her, the bond they made was more permanent.
Finding out that this
had been happening since her birth explained why she felt
that she knew them when she first met them. It also meant
that what was happening to her now was supposed to happen
and had been planned well in advance. She'd never been
given any choice or voice in the matter - she was not,
and never had been, just another little girl. For the
first time Morturina began to understand the burden that
she was born to carry as Empress. Also, for the first
time, she became angry at what had been, and was being,
done to her without her permission. But what could she
do about it, she was only a child.
Over the following four
years she continued working closely with all her telepaths,
but primarily Prut. She learned to receive and then interpret
any series of thoughts or emotions that they sent her.
Not only could they tell her what another person was thinking,
they could allow her to ‘feel’ that thought. She did not
do this ‘feeling the thoughts of others’ often and never
out of choice. She found the mental activity of other
people disturbing and thoroughly unpleasant. It was like
being in a totally alien world - which of course, it was.
During one of the sessions
with Prut, he let slip that being Empress and having telepaths
was not the only way in which she differed from other
girls. There were also slight but significant differences
in her genetic make-up. This made her immune to most human
diseases and her metabolism could naturally resist all
but the most potent poisons. Morturina did not want to
know this - it frightened her. With callous insensitively,
which was unusual for Prut, he continued: her body could
also repair damaged tissue considerably faster than any
normal person's. What all this meant was that she could
expect to live an unusually long and active 190 years,
or more. She did not want to be different, she did not
want to hear any more!
Without any thought
or effort she broke the telepathic link.
in her room, she waited. Prut, or one of the other telepaths,
was bound to reestablish the telepathic link that she’d
accidentally broken but she did not want it reestablished.
Even with her still limited understanding of Imperial
Law, she knew that any manipulation of human genes was
illegal - punishable by death. Distressingly she remembered
a passage from one of the texts that had caught her attention
because, at the time, it seemed rather severe: All
issue of such manipulation are aberrations and are to
be exterminated. She waited in abject fear for their
thoughts to intrude on hers. Instead, there was a signal
that there was someone outside her chambers. It was the
Prime Minister. With him were all four telepaths. She
was not certain that she could stop them entering if they
really wanted to. Allowing them in, she then ran to stand
in a corner of the room.
The Prime Minister approached,
then bowed. “Majesty, I have been informed that the telepathic
link has been broken.”
She cowered further
in the corner. “I did not mean to do it!”
The Prime minister smiled
paternally. “Whether you meant it or not is of little
consequence, Majesty. The fact that you have broken the
link and can maintain this state shows that you have reached
As she considered this,
she realized that it was not the thought of ‘extermination’
that made her afraid. Though the idea of being considered
an aberration still concerned her; she was Empress; they
would not, could not, do that to her. It was silly of
her to think that they would. Her underlying fear was
caused by an unfamiliar feeling, a feeling that it took
her some time to put a name to - loneliness. She had never
before experienced it because never before had she had
her thoughts totally to herself. It was now obvious that
even before she knew of their existence, she’d always
shared her thoughts with the telepaths. Now she felt isolated.
Was this what it was like to be a normal human being?
It was frightening.
It was Prut who then
spoke. “You are probably experiencing a mild shock, Majesty.
It is best to try and remain calm.”
She was indeed shocked,
this was the first time a telepath had called her anything
but her name. Everyone else, even the Prime Minister,
treated her with respect and reverence but the telepaths
never did. They didn’t have to, they were her most intimate
friends, they knew her every thought. How could there
have been any formality between them? Suddenly she was
aware of the return of the telepathic link, but somehow
it had changed. There was a new distance in the telepaths'
attitude towards her. She could sense it. She wished that
this was not so. She wanted her friends back. Whereas
before ,Womar, Astra, Prut and Rebart were her only true
bosom friends - now they regarded her with something approaching
awe. At another time and in a different setting she would
have found this ridiculous.
She became aware of
an overpowering sense of relief. This caused her momentary
confusion, then she realized that Astra was conveying
the emotions of the Prime Minister. But he didn’t even
look as if he had been slightly bothered! Why should he
be feeling such relief? She considered the Prime Minister
to be the silver-haired but spritely embodiment of unruffled
calm. He was never hurried; never concerned; never agitated;
never puzzled - that was why he was Prime Minister. He
had all the answers. Whatever it was that was causing
him this anxiety must be something terrible.
‘The Imperial Court and Government
have been waiting for several years for you to mature.
He is relieved that at last the moment has come.’ Prut sent a clear message.
‘He is about to explain, Majesty.’
The prime Minister beckoned
for her to come away from the wall and sit with him, so
she did. Taking her hand he smiled, then became businesslike.
“Majesty, until you were mature, we - the Imperial Government
- could not hand over to you the full mantle of the Empire.
In addition, the regrettable death of your grandmother,
Empress Elaina...”, ‘She was executed for treason.’ Prut interrupted. “...has
left the Empire functioning without a Regent pro -tem.”
She now understood enough
of the workings of the Imperial Government to appreciate
just how serious this state of limbo had been. At the
time, when she was perhaps four or five, the death of
her grandmother had been explained to her in terms of
it being peaceful and as the result of old age. A telepath
had never before interrupted whilst someone was speaking
to her and had never contradicted anything she had been
told. She began to see just how useful they were going
to be to her. She nodded her understanding and the Prime
“The Government consist
of civil servants such as me. Our administrative functions
are straightforward and have continued smoothly. However,
the Imperial Court is more volatile - it needs the presence
of a visible Monarch. In the absence of one, there have
been certain difficulties.”
She had known that there
had been problems at Court, but the little that she had
been told suggested that there were always problems at
Court. “Are you saying that I am now ready to sit in The
The Prime Minister looked
uncertain. “We believe that the time is now right for
you to do so.”
‘What he means Majesty, is that
he thinks that you are still emotionally immature. But
effective government cannot continue for much longer without
Of course she was emotionally immature, she was still
a child. “When will I be introduced to Court?”
The Prime Minister looked
pleased. “The representatives of most Royal Households
are always available. A sitting could be called as soon
as you wish, Majesty.”
“I wish one today.”
The Prime Minister appeared
mildly surprised. “There are a number of rather sensitive
matters that you need to be briefed on before calling
Court to attend you,” he said respectfully.
“I wish to be briefed.”
The Prime Minister,
her Prime Minister, began the long and detailed explanation
of the crisis within the Empire. He was direct and to
the point, it was the first time that she had seen him
being this brusque. Was he trying to frighten her? Prut
did not interject, which she took to mean that the Prime
Minister was telling the whole truth. Calmly she absorbed
all that the Prime Minister had to say, only interrupting
when there was a point that she did not understand. When
he finished, she came to the conclusion that there was
now even more reason for her to meet the Imperial Court
that day. This she told the Prime Minister and again he
seemed surprised, but not disappointed. Craving her indulgence,
he left to issue an Imperial Summons to the Imperial Court.
He promised that there would be a full sitting within
She knew that she should
rest and prepare for what would be a most important occasion.
The future of the Empire could rest on her giving confidence
and credibility to the throne. To her knowledge, she would
be the first to sit on it whilst still a minor...
‘Your genes have not been manipulated
in the sense of biological interference, Majesty. The
Imperial bloodline has been enhanced over many generations
by selective breeding,’ Rebart answered the
question that she was only partially aware was still troubling
That, she was fairly sure, was what was done with animals
used for sport. She’d heard the term, ‘Imperial bloodline’
many times but hadn’t given it this literal interpretation
- so, she’d been bred! She resisted the urge to cry. ‘Thank you, Rebart,’ she was not in the
habit of thanking her telepaths, but sensed that there
was something bothering him. It occurred to her that she
could order him to tell her, but she wasn't sure if he
would. And anyway, you don’t order your friends to do
things, do you? ‘Is
there something else?’ she inquired.
His uncertainty became
almost unbearable. ‘For public engagements you need to be escorted by your personal guard.’
As far as she was aware
there had never been any special attention paid to her
personal security. She did not have a ‘personal guard’.
So this announcement from Rebart was puzzling. Considering
it momentarily she concluded that, as Empress, she could
be a target - and therefore needed to be protected. But
she had been Empress for a number of years, why only now...?
She waited for Rebart to supply an answer. Belatedly she
realised that none of her telepaths were aware of her
She also realised that
if she was to be an effective Empress she could not depend
too heavily on them - she needed to be able to work things
out for herself. For as long as she could remember she
had lived in The Imperial Palace, she had never been outside
it. She knew that, that in itself was not usual. Sapphire
was the largest inhabited planet. The Imperial Court occupied
one entire continent. The Imperial Palace itself was at
the centre of The Imperial Court and it was larger than
the largest city anywhere in the Empire. She had only
seen a small part of the Palace but with its gigantic
pilaster domed buildings, botanical gardens and elegant
boulevards she had never felt confined.
She guessed that within
the Palace her safety was guaranteed. Today she would
leave it for the first time. Obviously, the government
did not feel that The Imperial Court was as secure as
the Palace. Now that she had thought it through it seemed
perfectly logical and obvious. Why had Rebart made such
an issue of it?
‘Is there more, Rebart?’
‘Well, Majesty...’ It was Prut who answered
and his unease was at an intense level. ‘Your personal guard are not the same as the troops
you see patrolling the Palace. They... they are more specialised.’
That was only to be
expected, there had to be more to it? ‘Yes, go on, Prut.’
‘There are many electronic devices
that constantly monitor any threat to you, Majesty. But,
to give you maximum protection, your personal guard have
the capability to confuse any would-be assassin.’
‘What do you mean by, “confuse”?’
‘An assassin would have difficulty
selecting you as the correct target.’ She sensed Prut
taking a mental deep breath. ‘Your personal guard - The
Amazon Guard - all look the same as you. They will dress
the same as you.’
She had never heard
of The Amazon Guard, nor had she ever seen anyone who
looked remotely like her. But still, she realised that
there were many things affecting her life that she knew
little about. The stratagem of confusion seemed a logical
one but surely anyone bold enough to attempt an assassination
would not be fooled by guards that looked like her. Obviously
it was only one of several strategies concerning her safety.
‘Do all Regents have such a specialist
‘They have a personal guard,
but picked from Imperial Special Forces. Not only do your
Amazon Guard look similar to you. They are identical to
you in every respect. They are your genetic clones.’
She could now understand
their anxiety in telling her this. Today had revealed
a series of amazing facts about her. ‘Why?’
‘You are an Empress in very unusual
times. Special arrangements had to be made for you. It
was decided to graft and then cultivate your clones,’ he replied almost apologetically.
‘A clone is an identical replica,
isn't it?’ She felt that she was going to cry.
‘Yes, to the last detail.’
From the little she
knew about these things, she guessed that cloning was
not gene manipulation. Genes were not altered, simply
duplicated, which did not break the letter of the law.
The government of the Empire was a series of wheels within
wheels. She was only now beginning to learn that. This
led her to make another educated guess; that the sprit
of the law was altogether a different matter. Within the
Empire, her Empire, individuality was celebrated - cloning
flew in the face of this. The government, her government,
hadn’t broken the law, just severely bent it. So, she’d
been bred - then cloned! Tears were again forming but
she tried to conceal them.
‘How do I know that I am the
Empress and not a clone?’
‘Your Amazon Guard are, by any
definition, your sisters. But they are hollow imitations.
They have neither the knowledge nor the skills that you
have acquired. They have only one function - to defend
you.’ Prut tried to soothe her.
She wasn’t convinced.
can I, how can anyone, be sure I’m me and they are them?’
‘We can tell the difference,
Majesty. However, for non-telepathic identification, each
clone has a unique mark tattooed inside their eyelids.’
‘Do they know about this identifier,
‘No, they do not, Majesty.’
This was appalling.
Again here were people being treated like animals. ‘Do I have any such identification
‘None that we are aware of, Majesty.’
At least that was something.
many of my clones are there?
‘There are 34. Twenty-eight make
up your permanent guard, the remainder are reserves.’
‘Prut, why was I not told about
‘There are many things about
the governing of the Empire that you could not been told
until you would fully understand them, Majesty.’
Surprisingly, she felt
that she accepted the situation. ‘Will there be other surprises like this, Prut?’
‘Do you have the same telepathic
link with the clones’ She knew it was childish jealousy that forced her to
ask the question but she couldn’t help it.
‘Their brain patterns are similar
but their minds are empty compared to yours. Which Imperial
gown will you wear, Majesty?’
This was to be her first
journey outside The Imperial Palace. Of course, she knew
that one day this would happen but had never considered
that it would be an adventure. The Palace, and all it
contained, had more than enough to occupy her curiosity
and energy. Wearing the most formal gown she could find,
she was accompanied by Prut as she made her way to The
Great Hall to meet her Amazon Guard. She was recognised
by the people they passed, of course. As she approached
people they stopped, politely bowed from the waist, and
then went on about their business. Wearing the gown made
her feel more grownup and it also seemed to give her an
air of authority.
Because it was several
kilometres from her domicile, none of her many explorative
forays had ever taken her as far as The Great Hall. It
was the sole entrance to The Imperial Palace and reputed
to be the largest enclosed space in the Empire. She was
so looking forward to seeing it and strolling along the
enclosure. After all, it was her Great Hall because
it was her Imperial Palace. Only in passing did
she wonder how she would react to meeting her doubles,
she intended to better comported than Prut expected.
When they reached The
Great Hall, despite her expectations, its enormous size
still shook her. It was certainly a sight to behold; at
least a kilometre high, several kilometres wide and she
couldn’t even begin to guess at its length. Standing there,
taking it in, she looked on at all the government officials
who scurried about, either on foot or in various forms
of transportation. The Great Hall was aptly named, but
it suddenly seemed too big, too bold and too brash. Why
all this waste of space?
‘It is a killing ground, Majesty.
This is the only point where a large force could enter
the Palace. Should such an attack be launched it gives
the defenders a clear field of fire. Those recesses, over
there to the left, are artillery emplacements. Some of
the floor tiles are, in fact, blast mines, and I'm sure
that there’s more weaponry that I know nothing about.’
She reacted to Prut's
answer with a start. She thought to her self, ‘I really
must learn to control and separate out the thoughts that
are mine and those I that want to share with the telepaths.’
She couldn’t help wondering, was nothing about her, or
the Palace, what it first seemed? ‘Why have a killing ground? Who would dare to attack The Imperial Palace?’
dates from the times when the first Palace was built;
it was a precautionary measure. It was necessary then
and, tactically at least, it still is now. The defences
of the Palace are such that it could never be partially
invaded, only totally destroyed.’
‘Oh!’ She thought that there
was something desperate about such a defence strategy.
distance of about 300 metres she saw a group of girls
marching in perfect formation as they appeared along one
of the many avenues that led from The Great Hall. They
wore identical dresses to hers. As they approached, she
could see that they were all ‘almost’ identical to her.
But even from a distance she could also see that there
were differences. Their posture and movement, for a start,
were those of soldiers - she never walked like that! They
marched up to her and Prut, then halted. She the had the
surreal experience of watching 28 mirror images of herself
bow to her. Although Prut had tried to prepare her for
this, she could only stand and stare. It was almost like
being in a room full of mirrors.
her Amazon Guard, then took up position around
her. Nothing was said but Prut moved aside and as one
procession they moved off, heading for the entrance to
The Imperial Court. She realised that she wasn’t in the
centre of the group, neither was she at the periphery.
The guards lost their military gait. Now they all strolled
with the same casual assuredness as she did. How could
they managed that?! This was an outrage! Nothing to do
with them having the same genes - it had taken months
and months of clandestine practice for her to perfect
the appearance of regal aplomb. This was so unfair!
She wanted to stare
closely at one of them, or perhaps start a conversation.
Surely they weren’t all called Morturina? So what were
their names and how could they...?
‘Majesty, your survival may depend
on you not differentiating yourself from your guards.
Please react in the same manner as they do.’ Prut's calm and reassuring thought came to her.
‘This is unbearable! I cannot
go on! Prut, I want to speak with them. I must! They are
‘I know you find this difficult,
but they are not you. They are only facsimiles of you,
Majesty. They were only created for one purpose, and that
is to protect you.’
She tried, but could
not bring herself to accept that harsh abstract notion.
‘I must stop, Prut,’ she pleaded.
‘Majesty, we sympathise with
your distress, but we ask that you continue to The Imperial
She felt rising panic
but began to sense, for the first time, that her disquiet
was causing her telepaths not only discomfort but something
akin to actual pain. Without being told she realised that
this was a control mechanism. The bond they shared with
her was more than merely mental, they were hard-wired
into her distress. Why hadn't she realised that before?
She forced herself to be calm.
Prut continued, ‘Should there be any attempt
to harm you, if necessary, your guards will sacrifice
themselves for you. You must leave them to do just that.
Your task is to survive.’
‘Oh, Prut, I could never do that!
I just couldn't stand by and watch myself die. I don't
want to be Empress!’
‘Majesty, you have no choice.
You are Empress.’
She began to feel regret
and sorrow but as soon as those emotions surfaced they
were forcibly quelled by some inner calm. It was almost
as if some entity had mentally slapped her in the face.
Objectively she began to consider her situation. Her Empire
was all of human occupied space - virtually the entire
galaxy. She had thousands of billions of subjects. In
these uncertain times, all their futures depended to a
greater or lesser extent on her. Several unusual measures
had been taken in order to aid her in the monumental task
of repairing the cohesion of the Empire. Her Amazon Guard
were only a minor part of these measures.
She was the only one
who could reunite the Empire and restore to its citizens
the security that this brought. Without any doubt she
was, singularly, the most important being alive. She and
her cousin were the last of an Imperial bloodline. But
her cousin could not easily supplant her. For Hial to
sit on the Imperial throne, she would need to be victorious
in a bitter and bloody war. Such a war was to be avoided
if at all possible. Therefore the primary task for Morturina,
and those who served her, was to ensure her survival -
at least until she had borne an heir to the Imperial throne.
These were her thoughts,
but they startled her. They were cool, calculating and
distant, as if they originated in a remote part of her
consciousness. She knew that to be an effective Empress
she would have to think like this. But still, she felt
that she had lost something. Was it her childhood, or
was it her innocence?
Feeling more assured
she drifted with the procession as it continued along
The Great Hall. As they neared another side-opening that
lead to another vast chamber, she noticed that they were
being flanked by a battalion of heavily armed Comet Marines.
This was no ceremonial escort. With their javelins at
the ready, they were sweeping ahead and to the side of
her group. She had not seen from where they had emerged.
They were suddenly there. Where had they come from?
She started to turn to see if they were behind as well...
‘Do not look around, Majesty.’ A stern command from
‘All right, Prut,’ she answered irritably.
She was only going to look. ‘Why do they carry only javelins?’
‘Energy and projectile weapons
are only allowed in certain parts of The Imperial Palace
or The Imperial Court, Majesty.’
‘Oh.’ She hadn't known that
but now that she thought about it, it seemed logical.
It also explained why she had seen many troopers but never
a laser rifle although she knew they existed... ‘Prut!
How can they - my clones - tell me apart from themselves?’
‘They have studied your every
mannerism in order to imitate them, majesty. But they
cannot be totally you, so to speak. Each one is constantly
aware of exactly where you are in relation to them. They
have set procedures to follow in the event of an attack.’ Prut answered reassuringly.
She considered this
and thought that she saw several possible shortcomings.
But she understood enough to accept that The Amazon Guard
was only one part of her protection.
‘We are approaching The Central
Palace of The Imperial Court. The representatives of all
the Royal Households are in attendance. You will enter
from the rear of the hall and move directly towards your
throne. Once you are there, you will be surrounded by
force fields. You may then move from cover and sit on
She understood what
he meant by ‘move from cover’ - separate herself from
her clones. Try as she might, she could not bring herself
to accept that they were no more than cover for her. Suddenly
a picture of The Central Palace flashed into her head.
She saw a huge semicircular arena. Around its circumference
were concentric rows of seats. At its centre in a slightly
sunken area were two thrones. The thrones appeared to
be no more than oversized chairs. They were not fancifully
decorated; their positioning conveyed their status - all
seating looked down on the them. They were the very focus
of The Central Palace; separated by a gap of about 200
metres from the nearest row of seats. It was difficult
to judge the scale but she guessed that The Central Palace
was only slightly smaller than The Great Hall. It looked
capable of seating several hundred thousand persons.
The scene shifted to
show the route they would take from the passage along
which they were travelling, to the throne. Prut had projected
all this into her head, and she was still somewhat surprised.
This was the first time the telepaths had done something
like this. Then she realised that Prut had projected more
than just a visual image. Now she not only knew that this
was The Central Palace, and the exact route to it, but
on which of the thrones she should sit. Why were her telepaths...
no, not the telepaths, the government, choosing today
of all days to reveal so many new aspects of her existence?
An answer didn’t readily
suggest itself to her so she concentrated on processing
the information projected directly into her mind. She
appreciated the significance of the seating. The representatives
of the most powerful Households would sit in the rows
closest to the throne. A Household's standing was signified
by the distance it sat from the throne. She did not think
that this was altogether a fair way of allocating the
seating. The greater Households ‘always’ got the best
seats. Maybe this was something she could change? How
could those at the back even see the throne clearly?
‘There are vision and sound amplifiers
in all seats, Majesty. Everyone in attendance will have
an unrestricted view of you. And, of course, you of them.’
She really must learn
to keep her thoughts to herself. ‘Thank you, Prut. What ceremonies will be performed and
what part will I play?’
‘There will be no ceremonies
as such, Majesty. You will not have to speak or do anything.
This will be the first opportunity for the Royal Households
to meet you in person. Your presence in The Central Palace
is significant in itself.’
‘I do not understand, Prut.’
‘As you know, in theory, all
Royal Households are bound to the Imperial throne. Their
very existence is supposed to testify to their allegiance
to it. You are Empress. Your place is to sit on the Imperial
throne. Only civil officials need to swear allegiance.’
‘And in practice, Prut?’ She
felt that there was much more to be said.
‘In normal times, practice and
theory are as one. But without a Regent pro -tem, causing
you, a minor, to sit on the throne, there is some distance
between the two.’
‘You mean some of the Royal Houses
are aligned with Hial?’
‘The Imperial Government believes
‘And by sitting on the throne
today I will be reaffirming the unity of the Empire? It
is purely symbolic but necessary?’
‘Yes, Majesty. That is the purpose
of today's summons. In the future you will give Imperial
Commands summoning the attendance of a fully constituted
She sensed that Prut
was very pleased with her answer. She could tell, without
looking, that he was smiling. They were now approaching
the Monarch's Entrance; an arch that was small in comparison
to the corridor. There appeared to be jewelled inlays
all around the arch’s border and shining holograms of
past Emperors and Empresses along the walls leading to
it. All this had been omitted from Prut's mental picture.
Was this deliberate? The arch and its surrounding, she
thought, were some of the most beautiful things that she
had ever seen. However, halting the procession to admire
the arch, she knew, would be out of the question. In sharp
contrast, the actual door leading into The Central Palace
appeared to be a single slab of tarnished metal which
slowly sank into the floor as they neared it.
Why such a plain door?
Carefully shielding her thoughts from her telepaths and
remembering not to make any assumptions, she pondered
the question. She could not think of a reason why such
a door would be allowed to mar what would otherwise be
an exquisite work of art. As her guards changed formation
to double file she realised the purpose. The doorway was
barely wide enough to admit two abreast.
It was a choke point. A small group of soldiers
on either side could defend their position against a much
larger attacking force. Presumably the door itself was
made from some hardened material to aid in such a defence.
Momentarily pleased with her deductions she took her place
in the formation, then the absurdity of the situation
struck home. Who would launch an attack against The Imperial
Palace from The Central Palace, or vice versa? Surely
either event was unthinkable? She opened her thoughts
to Prut and whilst she passed through the Monarch's Entrance
‘I am pleased that you noticed
the Monarch's Entrance. The Central Place is the administrative
centre of Imperial Government.
All government ministers' departments and offices
are here. The Monarch's Entrance is a mixture of symbolism
and function, Majesty. Collectively, the Imperial Court
can deny the Monarch access to The Central Palace. In
effect the Monarch would cease to rule. This is laid down
in the Imperial Charter. It protects the Empire against
a despot. The Monarch is also assured protection against
one or a number of Royal Households trying to seize the
She could now understand
the balance that this struck. As Empress, her power was
almost limitless. But a united Imperial Court could impose
limits. Therefore, she needed to maintain a cohesive but
not totally united Imperial Court. Was this what was termed
With her escorts she
travelled along a short passage before entering The Central
Palace. Her Amazon Guard started fanning out. She noticed
that neither Prut nor the escort of Marines had entered
‘Members of Royal Households
are the only military personnel allowed into The Central
Palace, Majesty.’ He added an after thought:
is not common knowledge that Monarchs have telepathic
advisers. There is a special room set aside for me.’
Her party stepped onto
the relatively narrow aisle which led directly to the
two thrones and she saw The Central Palace in all its
grandeur for the first time. The farthest rows of seats
were but shadows on the horizon. There was a riot of colours
made by thousands of draped Household and heraldic banners.
The sky-coloured ceiling was so high, that for all she
knew, she might have been standing in an amphitheatre.
She immediately felt small and intimidated by the sheer
size of the arena. She now considered The Central Palace
to be just that, an arena. Perhaps if she kept things
in perspective, she would be less overawed. The Imperial
Court was the size of a continent. At
the centre of The Imperial Court was The Imperial
Palace, the size of a city. In the centre of her
city-sized Imperial Palace was The Central Palace...
‘You should now move directly
to your throne, Majesty.’
Hesitantly, she started
to cover the 50 metres or so to her throne. Her Amazon
Guard followed in extended line, and this only added to
her sense of isolation. She saw that there was a thin
scattering of Courtiers, with only a small fraction of
the seats occupied. This was a sitting of the Households'
permanent Court representatives. This eased some of the
anxiety that she felt, knowing there would be no high
As she went to stand
in front of the throne on the left, she noticed that a
few of the Courtiers were still seated. When a Monarch
entered a room, all the occupants immediately stood, bowed
from the waist and remained so until the Monarch sat or
instructed otherwise. No one in The Central Palace should
have been sitting. This was a sign of gross disrespect.
Was it because of her age? She paused, slowly looked around
the entire Central Palace, then sat.
Those that were standing
also sat. An amplified baritone voice boomed across the
chamber. ‘Today we greet her most regal majesty, Morturina
the First, our divine Empress. As her most noble countenance
is presented before us, we of the Imperial Court salute
Not only was she surprised
at this greeting, she couldn’t determine the source of
the voice. Although it was loud, it was not deafeningly
so, nor was there any echo...
‘That was the official welcome
to The Imperial Court. It is not necessary nor expected
that you respond. You may give a nod of acceptance and
then depart,’ Prut informed her.
She was keen to get
away but felt that she should at this stage do something
to redress the lack of respect shown to her. There was
one particular Courtier, sitting almost directly in front
of her and about fifty rows back, who was especially irksome.
Not only had he failed to stand when she entered, he had
looked on with obvious disinterest during the welcoming
announcement. From his seating position she assumed that
he was the representative of a medium to large sized Household.
She wanted to take him
to task but knew that it would be uncouth to shout. She
continued to stare indecisively at him. Suddenly a quarter
sized, one -way hologram of him appeared a metre in front
of her. It took her a moment to realise that it was just
that - a hologram. Most of her study devices produced
one -way holograms of course. But they operated manually
or on verbal commands. Was this Prut's doing? She thought
not. By experimenting she discovered that a quarter sized
hologram was produced of any distant object that she focussed
on. She could not begin to guess the sophistication of
the control mechanism, but it was very effective.
‘The Central Palace has a network
of empathic devices, Majesty. Although primitive when
compared to our telepathic link, they can detect and respond
to simple thought impulses such as the wish to see a distant
object more clearly.’
She tried to look at
objects in the most distant parts of The Central Palace.
After a few moments, a quarter sized representation was
produced before her. She also noticed that when she looked
at a person, additional information; their name, title
and Household was also shown in large letters next to
the holographic figure.
Again she focussed on
the offensive representative and his hologram reappeared.
Baron Arvrin Holton, Chasit Household, the letters
read. She wanted to say something but...
‘Remember that your voice will
be amplified, Majesty.’
She looked away from
the baron and stared off into the distance. “Baron Holton.”
From the corner of her eye she saw the man sit bolt upright.
“When you are Emperor, you may remain seated during the
entrance of an Empress. Until such a time, relocate yourself
to the two hundred and twentieth row.”
She looked at someone
in about the two hundredth row. A hologram of an old and
rather overweight woman appeared. She had stood! The
Dowager Alison Remitto, Bugle Household. “Dowager
Remitto, please take his place.”
As Morturina stood,
all present shot to their feet. Without waiting to see
either the Baron’s or the Dowager's reaction, she turned
and left The Central Palace without a backward glance.
Once she was through the Monarch's Entrance she realised
that something strange had happened to her whilst she
sat on that throne. Again it was as if another part of
her, a cold and distant part, had surfaced. It was incensed
at the Baron and all those who had not stood on her entrance.
Now the Chasit Household was stripped of all its domains
and territories. These were now the property of the Bugle
Household. The Court representatives had been given a
demonstration - the demonstration! A lesson had been learned.
Their reaction on her exit was proof of that. Shortly,
news of her actions would be with the heads of all Royal
Households. It was their reaction to what she’d done that
would matter. This was politics.
She knew that she didn't
really mind if they stood or not, yet she had just stripped
a Household of its accumulated wealth because of it. She
also knew that she was Empress.
She was again surrounded
by her Amazon Guard as they made their way back to The
Great Hall. The Comet Marines were back in their flanking
formation. She ambled along deep in thought. There were
two things that greatly concerned her: firstly, she was
now appalled at what she had done to the Chasits Household.
The more she thought about it, the less justifiable it
seemed. At the time it had appeared to be judicious and
necessary, but the more distance she put between herself
and The Central Palace the less palatable it was for her
to accept. She began to suspect that when sitting on that
throne she was not totally in control of her actions.
Linked to this suspicion was her second worry; all her
telepaths had been rather reticent during the audience
and she had been left to flounder. Her actions may have
been a grave error, but neither Prut nor the others had
offered any advice. Did they have anything to do with
the feeling she had of being ‘controlled’? She desperately
needed to have the answer. How could she truly govern
if she was no more than a mouthpiece?
‘Prut, what is your assessment
of my first encounter with the Imperial Court?’
‘Majesty, I believe that you
have shown the Empire that it now has an Empress.’
He had given a fairly
direct answer. Still, she wasn't sure if that was all
there was to it. ‘Don't you think I overreacted?’
‘Overreacted Majesty? Only the
Prime Minister's officers can give you a full analysis
of the political implications. But in my opinion, your
reaction was exemplary - you made an example of only one
Household. This shows you to be firm but not intolerant.
You could have demanded considerable contributions to
the Imperial coffers from all Households that had not
shown the proper respect. I think your warning will be
heeded. I presume that this was what you wanted?’
Didn't he know what
she wanted? ‘How
would the Prime Minister's officers know what happened?’
‘The Government and the Military
may only enter The Central Palace during an Imperial Command.
But they do monitor the proceedings in order to carry
out any policy decisions.’ Prut seemed surprised
that this was not known to her.
‘Do you believe that my actions
were tempered but politic?’
‘Why did you not offer greater
assistance, Prut? Don't you know when I need your help?’
Prut gave the equivalent
of a mental shudder. ‘Majesty, when you are with your Imperial Court, you
are governing. In those situations we, your telepaths,
cannot interfere. We can only give assistance if it is
requested. In addition, we always know your general state
of mind but cannot know what you are thinking unless you
allow us to.’
He had interpreted her question as a criticism. Not only
was he apologetic, he was also anxious.
‘Can you lie to me, Prut?’
She sensed not just
Prut's but all four telepaths’ fear. Prut took a relatively
long time to answer. She guessed that he had communicated
with the other three. ‘We might have information that
we would not share with you, Majesty. But we cannot tell
you falsehoods. You would know immediately if we did.’
She was satisfied with
his answer and wanted to alleviate their growing fear
of her. ‘I have sound reasons for asking
these questions. The actions of the Empress in The Central
Palace, I don’t believe to be entirely my actions. There
was something... affecting me.’
‘You are learning to make decisions
that have far reaching consequences, Majesty. Questioning
what you have decided is surely part of this learning
process. There will always be uncertainties.’
She knew that there
was something else that Prut, to use his own words, wasn't
sharing with her. But she decided not to press him on
it just at that moment, her telepaths were still unsettled.
As they entered The Great Hall the Prime Minister and
a few officials were milling around waiting to greet them.
She didn't need Prut to tell her that the Prime Minister
was confused; unable to tell her apart from her guards.
She drifted out of the
formation and approached the Prime Minister's group. Her
guards continued on, back in their marching formation,
presumably making their way back to their quarters. Watching
them go, she wondered now that they had met her, what
they thought about her; their purpose for being. The Prime
Minister and his officials bowed when she stopped in front
of them, but they appeared uncertain. It was not until
Prut came to stand beside her that they seemed sure that
she was the real Morturina. Here was another role for
her telepaths - they could identify her.
“Majesty, your audience
with the Imperial Court appears to have gone well.” The
Prime Minister addressed her in his usual tone, the one
used when talking to a favourite niece.
She was Empress, she
would not be spoken to like a child. “Prime Minister,
what is your assessment of the Court's reaction?”
The Prime Minister straightened
slightly at her abruptness. “Hail’s cause has been considerably
weakened. To have simply punished the Chasit could have
been interpreted as too harsh. But the promotion of the
Bugle, a lowly Household... Well, that was a masterly
stroke, if I may say so, Majesty.” His tone was that of
a Minister addressing their Monarch.
She accepted the apology
and compliment with a slight nod. “When will you have
an analysis of the reaction of the Heads of Households?”
He seemed to focus inwardly.
“A full analysis will take two to three days to compile.
But our preliminary guesstimations suggest that the larger
Households will now give you their full support, as will
the lesser Households. As usual, the medium sized Households
will show varying degrees of dissent.”
That was in line with
her own summary of events. The medium sized Households
were large enough to exert some influence, but too small
to really affect policy. They tended to have one thing
in common - ambition. “And your suggestion for our future
strategy, Prime Minister?” Now that he was being respectful
to her, she would reciprocate.
He sank deeper in thought.
“It is considered that an Imperial Command, the summoning
of the full Imperial Court, should be your next step.
This is customary and also expected of a new regent. It
would also give you an opportunity to deal directly with
the Heads of Households.”
‘He is expressing the collective
view of the Imperial Government. His personal opinion
differs.’ Prut interjected.
The Prime Minister knew
about the telepaths. He knew that Prut could reveal his
thoughts to her. There were many ways to manipulate someone.
She appeared to consider the Prime Minister’s statement.
‘Prut, is he consciously thinking of our telepathic bond?’
She focussed her attention
on her Prime Minister. “I see. Is there a counter argument
to this, Prime Minister?”
At first he appeared
reluctant to answer, then pulled himself up to his full
height. “There is, Majesty. Firstly, you are not a new
regent. You have been regent-in-fact, if not in practice,
since the unfortunate death of your father. Secondly,
a strong ruler should govern through systems that are
already in place. Their dictates should become acts, or
take effect, without any overt effort on their part. Nor
should they appear to patronize any particular groups
She wanted to test his
resolve. “Do you subscribe to this latter view?” she asked
“Yes, Majesty,” he answered
‘He does, Majesty.’
“I tend to agree with
you Prime Minister. There will be no Imperial Command.”