Ekon is not at the embassy when Tau and the enforcer land there with Imani and Bahati. He is meeting with Cimicidae and Rattus on Ebeulo and has no clue the two girls have finally been caught. The three men sit at a round table in Cimicidae’s glass officer, all as flustered as the next.
“So, neither of you knew Stella was going to make a move against Fateen?” Ekon says angrily.
Rattus wiggles his mouth, emphasizing his overbite. “Had I known, I would have tried talking her out of it.”
“She knows Fateen sent Uma after her. We’d all be facing charges if the assassin had known the depth of what we’re doing. We should just pull out now,” says Cimicidae.
Ekon scowls at the pink man. “There’s no pulling out. We’re moving ahead with my plans. We are going to make Experiment G-Three official and make me king,” Ekon says, licking his lips with his split tongue. His anger is just about uncontrollable.
“Even if we do that, we will have a problem with the apes on Congoa. Every official on that planet thought Fateen was going to have a seat on the UJC. They’re not happy about him being kidnapped by Stella and her humanoid goons.”
Ekon shrugs. “Maybe the apes are pissed. I’ll try and free him once I’m king of the Milky Way.”
“It’ll be too late by then,” Cimicidae says.
“There has to be something I can do. I can pull rank and force Stella to let Fateen go. The UJC didn’t give her permission to invade Congoa.”
Rattus has been quietly listening and stroking his whiskers. He speaks for the first time. “That won’t work. She believes he made an attempt on her life. Besides, I can get him back,” says Rattus, stroking his whiskers.
“How?” asks Ekon.
“The details are not important. Leave it all to me.”
“This has already gotten way too complicated. We’ve hit walls at every turn,” Cimicidae says, snapping his pincers together nervously. His fat face jiggles with every word.
“The only way out of this now is death, Cimicidae. We’ve come this far, and I won’t let you ruin this for me,” Ekon says, showing his fang teeth.
“We are at a point where we can’t turn back,” Rattus says, his voice measured. “We are talking about taking over a galaxy. No one said this would be easy.”
Ekon looks at Rattus, looks beyond the yellow, bucked teeth and beady black eyes. He can sense the rodent’s wisdom. Ekon even has his own doubts now, but Rattus has only hardened with the adversity. Ekon realizes he has underestimated the stamina of this man. He must keep the rodent close because he will be Ekon’s greatest ally. Or worst enemy if things go sideways.
As Rattus continues to talk, Ekon leans back in his chair and listens to the rodent. Really listens. It has been some time since Ekon has had the self-control and humility to seriously consider another person’s viewpoint. He likes what Rattus is saying.
“We are just a couple weeks away from the vote. Are you sure your allies on the Consortium will vote our way?” Rattus asks.
“They most certainly will,” says Cimicidae, nodding vigorously.
“Then, we have nothing to worry about, except Fateen and Uma.”
“Fateen is an ape, but he has honor and loyalty. He won’t flip on us,” Ekon vouches, tapping his long nails on the table.
“It’s a waiting game now,” Rattus says. He looks directly at Ekon. “What happened in the High District yesterday?”
“I made a few land adjustments.”
“Yabisi is the heart of the UJC. Everything you do there is news on other worlds. You should slow down.”
“I do as I please on Yabisi. I felt it was time to start construction on my newfound kingdom,” Ekon says. He picks his teeth nonchalantly.
“I’m sure your kingdom will be extravagant,” Rattus says, wiggling his nose. “For the sake of our plans, maybe consider toning down your actions somewhat.”
Ekon bristles at the remark but nothing more. Had this been anyone else speaking to him this way, he would have snapped his neck. Rattus’s words have a certain undeniable logic to them. Ekon had not known word of what happened in the High District had traveled so quickly. He is being watched closer than he had assumed. Taking this into consideration, he nods.
“In addition to Earth, I have been considering other worlds we can invade,” Cimicidae says. “There are hundreds of world within a few light years of Yabisi rich in rare natural resources.”
Ekon licks his lips. “We can always go in and take what we want.”
“That probably is not the best idea. When you first take your throne as king, you will have all sorts of business to sort out with different worlds, especially the ones with seats on the Consortium,” Rattus says.
“Then, I’ll do that and invade the worlds recommended by Cimicidae.”
“I believe that is the best course of action,” Cimicidae says, jowls jiggling.
“It’s not. It could be disastrous. It’s moving too quickly too soon,” Rattus says.
“We’ll sort it out. First, we need to do what’s on our immediate agenda,” Ekon says.
Cimicidae lays out a map of Earth, and they go over the particulars of the planet, including its defenses. The planet is relatively weak, but its people have access to some highly volatile weapons, according to Cimicidae. Earthlings have not unlocked the full potential of their weapons. Still, they are deadly. The men decide the best attack is simultaneous assaults on each of its continents, with heavier blows being landed against the more powerful ones.
As the meeting concludes, they are all convinced their plans to invade Earth will be a success. The trickiest part of the occupation will be not killing the humans. They are destructive people, willing to murder themselves to stop an enemy. Earthlings are no good to the men dead. Lifeless slaves have no value. Rattus and Cimicidae preach restraint, but Ekon knows the only way to have those arrogant humans bow to his will is overwhelming force.
“I won’t lie to you, Tau. I hate humans. I hate humanoids. They think they’re so smart,” Ekon says, cracking open a bottle of dart frog blood. He has just gotten back to Yabisi from the day’s earlier meeting with Rattus and Cimicidae.
“Your hate for them is understandable,” Tau Bot says respectfully.
Ekon smiles, looking at Beebe who is seated beside Tau on the other side of Ekon’s embassy desk. “You hear that, Beebe. Tau Bot says ‘them’ as if he isn’t one. As though he is our equal, my equal.”
“I did not mean it that way. I do apologize,” says Tau Bot stiffly, chin never dipping.
“No need to apologize. You’re not my equal or even Beebe’s, but you are not as worthless as other humans,” Ekon says. He pulls a piece of decaying meat from his teeth and flicks it across the room.
Ekon has been back on Yabisi for just under three hours. The moon is at its highest point in the sky, beaming as he had when he’d heard about Bahati’s capture. He now considers going to the prison where she is below the embassy but decides against it. He would rather let her stew, let her confidence wane. She will be easily broken then.
“Tell me again how you caught my two-timing sister,” Ekon says.
As Tau repeats the events, Ekon drills him on the details of the fight, relishing in parts where blood was shed. When Tau mentions how the enforcer wailed from the broken arm Bahati gave him, Ekon doubles over in laughter, tears flooding the corners of his eyes. He wishes he could have been there to see the fight himself.
“You didn’t give up. It has been over two months, and I thought you would never get Bahati and her human, but you did,” Ekon says, praising him, then looking at Beebe. “Where were you?”
“Handling official War Fleet and enforcer business. I can’t be out here chasing your sister,” Beebe says indignantly.
“I sometimes forget how busy you are. I’m sure you spend your time well.”
Ekon regularly checks in on Beebe, but their direct communication has become less frequent recently. Several times, Beebe has been late returning calls. This does not sit well with Ekon, though he understands Beebe’s position. He is in command of the Fleet and enforcers, two separate forces with separate missions. With the two organizations on the way to being consolidated, there have been issues of loyalty, especially concerning the Fleet. Ekon knows the Fleet soldiers have had a hard time adjusting.
“How’s it going trying to merge the Interstellar War Fleet with the Police Enforcers Department?” Ekon asks.
“Not well. Two different groups of people with completely different training and views. It’s a headache. You know Velga, right?” Beebe says, moving and adjusting his orange and black armor.
“She was Commander Ugi’s second in command.”
“She is a self-righteous one. I’m going to have trouble out of her.”
“I’m sure you can work it out, or do I have to?” says Ekon, a threatening note in his voice.
“Don’t worry about it. Forget I even brought it up,” Beebe says, relenting.
“Tau Bot, thank you for your loyalty. You will be rewarded appropriately,” Ekon says, letting silence do the rest. Tau thanks him and leaves.
“Tau Bot lucked up. Had it not been for my enforcers and my connections in the High District, he never would have caught Bahati and Imani Bot,” Beebe says, folding his arms over his chest.
“Is that jealously I hear?” says Ekon.
“What you’re hearing is called facts.”
Ekon slides a cup of dart blood across the desk and keeps one for himself. He closes his eyes and inhales the super sweet scent of the liquid. It is the loveliest thing he has ever smelled. He takes a small sip, enough to wet his palate and nothing more, running his split tongue across his lips.
“I believe there is a leak within my small circle,” Ekon says finally.
Ekon is angry and disappointed. He has offered everyone around him nothing but the chance to be great. Maybe he has been too soft, and this has led to people underestimating him. It is time to change that.
Beebe drinks from his cup and bares his teeth as the sweetness fades to a burn. “Why do you believe something like that?” he asks.
“Someone tipped Stella off about Uma, the assassin who was sent to kill her. Stella knew the time and date her murder was to happen.”
“Maybe Stella’s lying about how much she knew. Uma’s vehicle could have been spotted on radars as it entered Stella’s planet.”
“Had her military detected the vehicle, they would have shot it down without thinking twice.”
“They would have treated the interstellar pod as hostile. You’re right,” Beebe says, nodding. He sips some more dart blood.
Ekon says nothing for a long time. The poison blood has calmed him, giving him the clarity he needs to think. He turns over his next words in his head, weighing the damage they may do. The words would become the poison fruit, or they would die before ripening into action. He does not know which will happen first. Still, he gambles.
“There is something I need to tell you. No one else other than Cimicidae knows,” Ekon says, picking his teeth.
“You trust Cimicidae, that trash? I wouldn’t share secrets with him.”
“What’s done is done. I have decided I will set Stella’s whole capital on fire. Then, we’re going to do an air assault. Well, Cimicidae’s fleet will handle most of it.”
Ekon watches as Beebe’s mouth tighten. He appears uncomfortable but assures Ekon he will keep this under wraps. As commander of the Fleet and chief of enforcers, Beebe holds the power to defend Yabisi against any attacks levied by Stella as retaliation. He knows he must be ready to act at any time.
Stella has been pricking Ekon in the wrong places since the day he took Khalia’s seat. It is time she answers for her actions. She would have made a great ally, but her self-righteousness will be her undoing. Ekon would love nothing more than to strip her soft humanoid flesh from her body piece by piece. That would teach her to follow orders.
Maoka is a different beast, just as self-righteous as Stella but not as rebellious. Once Stella is out the picture, Maoka will fold like tinfoil. She is a follower, but her leader is about to get what she deserves. Ekon is about to get what he deserves.
“The people in Grot are giving the enforcers there a lot of trouble,” Beebe says, breaking Ekon’s thought process.
“How so? When I left, they were broken. I showed them mercy.”
“They don’t feel like it’s mercy. They feel like you tore down homes and businesses, that you have no respect for them.”
Ekon shrugs. “Maybe it’s because I don’t. Did you send out notices to the Low District?”
“My enforcers have. They have informed the whole district and warned every family and business owner they have to move immediately,” Beebe says.
“So, why aren’t they moving?”
“They’re taking a stand. The people are going about life as if they don’t know they have to go.”
Ekon sips more dart blood and takes in the information. He has no reservations about trampling people in their homes while smashing them to death with deconstruction machines. It would bring him joy. Seeing them on the ground scattering like roaches while he is about to murder them would exhilarate him. He knows he should not do this. It would bring the wrong attention.
“Lock them up if they don’t comply,” Ekon says, feeling his head becoming lighter from the dart blood.
“That’s not as easy as you think. You’re talking about millions of people in the Low District alone. If the High District gets involved, it’ll be even worse.”
“There is nothing you can do?”
“Not really. All I can do is warn them. We can make a few arrests to set an example. That’ll probably put fear in the rest,” Beebe says.
“What if it doesn’t? What if they decide to fight back,” Ekon asks, licking the sweet liquid off his lips.
“I don’t know. Retreat?”
“We have laws on Yabisi. I am high speaker. Disobeying a direct order from me is treason and punishable by death. You have the whole Fleet at your disposal. In the event the Low District rebels, you drop as many bombs as you can.”
Beebe’s head jerks back. “You want us to flatten half of a city on our own planet?”
“I want you to stop the flame of insubordination and treason before it becomes a wildfire. If you have to level half a city to do so, do it.”
The office has gone cold. Ekon does not know why his hands are balled into fists or why he has suddenly become angry. He looks at Beebe, his second in command, and sees fear and doubt. Beebe is unfit to do what needs to be done. Ekon may have to replace him. Time will reveal if he is right.
When Beebe leaves, Ekon unwinds. The rage within him has been steadily building, and though he can keep it at bay, it feels like he will explode if he keeps it inside too long. The world is against him. His closest ally, Beeb, is either a coward or a fool. Stella is standing in the way of Ekon’s greatness. He is not disheartened by his opposition. He is emboldened.
Drinking the last of the poison blood in his cup, he contemplates having another cup as the green and black bottle stares him in the face. People change. Poison dart frog blood does not. It has been and will continue to be his only and most loyal friend.