The new UJC embassy is complete fifty days after Ekon’s first UJC meeting. Ekon admires it from outside, not the least bit concerned with the lives lost during its making because of his unrelenting expectations. Now, the embassy looks less like a lair and more like a place where royalty would live.
Most of the materials are from other planets. Yabisi is known for its red clay structures, each brick molded by hand. The embassy is nearly all glass and steel, with very little red clay present in its sixteen stories. This is what the future Yabisi will resemble. Regardless of all its technological advances, the planet, excluding the capital, feels dated. This will change.
“Marvelous,” Ekon says, as if it is the only word he knows.
“My men got it done. It was hard, but we pushed through. When can we expect pay?” says the foreman, his scales stretched taut over thick muscles.
“Pay? Surely, there must be some sort of misunderstanding,” Ekon says, eyeing the foreman.
He glances over his paperwork. “We gave you a discount on labor, but we charged full-price for the materials.”
“Serving your capital and high speaker is good enough compensation, don’t you think?”
“With all due respect, merely serving won’t pay my bills or feed the children of my employees.”
“And neither will I,” Ekon says, turning his back and walking into the embassy.
Inside, the temperature is perfect, neither too cold nor too hot. The smell of fresh paint lingers like a bitter aftertaste but the lobby is beautiful. Chairs made of the softest material on this side of the galaxy surround a low stone table, while the receptionist’s desk overlooks the lobby so she can see everyone and everything.
Before he can consider the pictures of himself lining the walls, someone barges into the door behind him. It is Beebe, his lead police enforcer. The stout man is out of breath, as he waves a sheet of paper before him.
In his early thirties, Beebe is at least a decade older than Ekon. Beebe’s time as lead police enforcer has aged him beyond his years. Ekon can not imagine seeing him out of orange and black armor, the official enforcer dress code.
“What is it, Beebe?” Ekon says, snatching the paper from the man’s hand.
Ekon’s temples thud harder with every word he reads until he see red. In her capacity as record keeper, Stella requested a copy of Khalia’s autopsy only to be told by the doctor-mortician that Ekon had refused for his mother to have one.
“I need an official ruling on Khalia’s cause of death. Otherwise, the record will remain open, making you interim high speaker. If no autopsy is presented within the next two days, I will be forced to call a meeting and cast a motion to vote on a new high speaker,” Stella says, ending the letter.
Ekon reads the letter once more, and crumples it in his hands, his claws shredding it. Ekon directs Beebe to kill the next messenger to deliver any mail from Stella.
“Bring me the mortician. I think it’s time he and I have a talk,” says Ekon, grinning.
The mortician sits opposite Ekon, the two divided by a desk of fine, chiseled black marble. It is polished to a shine, mirroring the stillness of the two men, one large and muscular, the other small and withered as dried fruit. The Mortician compliments Ekon on the table and Ekon tells him it was too large to fit through the embassy’s door, so it was built in this very office, his office.
“I killed my mother,” Ekon says abruptly. “Well, poison killed my mother. I just gave her small doses of it over a long period of time to throw off any suspicion.”
The Mortician leaps to his feet, his white overcoat fluttering. “This can’t be. I must report this to the authorities immediately.”
“No one is the wiser, but this humanoid, Stella, you know Stella right? You two talked? She just won’t let it go. She’s a thorn in my side,” he continues, as though the mortician isn’t petrified while pulling at the door.
“Let me out of here,” says the mortician, door unmoving. Fear makes him look his age.
Ekon stands, looks out his window at the rest of the capital. It is a system of steel and glass towers spotted with the occasional reddish clay building. One day, this capital will be all glass and steel. It will be beautiful. His eyes land on his home. The only thing beautiful about it is the very last floor which is made of sparkling glass.
“I will have to murder Stella one day. That day is not possible as this moment, because time is of the essence,” Ekon says, facing the mortician. “In the mean time, you will declare my mother’s death an event of natural cause.”
“What makes you think I would do such a treacherous thing after what you’ve just told me? You going to kill me too? Go ahead.”
“There are things worst than death. I will not kill you. I will kill every member of your bloodline, however, and force you to watch. Then, I will flay every scale from your body, until you beg for death,” Ekon says, teeth bared.
The Mortician drops to his knees, claws interlocking, as if to beg. “Why are you doing this? Just let me go. I don’t want to be part of this.”
“Life is not about what we want. It is about the hand we’re dealt and how we play it.” He presses a button underneath his desk and the door slides open. The mortician bumps against Beebe, falls and scatters away.
Beebe laughs as he enters the room. “You’d think he’s seen a monster.”
“He has,” Ekon says, grinning. “We have to do something about Stella and Maoka. Those two will continue to make things hard.”
“I thought the monkey, what’s his name? Fateen? I thought he was going to let you use his assassins.”
“He is, but I don’t trust him. Not yet.”
“You don’t trust anyone. You’re being paranoid.”
Ekon’s shoulders sag, as he sits again. “Maybe so, but I can’t afford any leaks or mistakes.”
“I got it. Invite Stella here and kill her. Simple,” Beebe says.
“Not as simple as you. She’ll tell everyone in the UJC she’s meeting with me. She dies on this planet and all fingers will be pointed in my direction. I can’t have that type of heat.”
“I don’t understand why you must answer to the others in the UJC.”
“Because I’m high speaker.”
“Why be high speaker when you can be a king?” Beebe says.
“King,” Ekon says, tasting the word, rolling it around on his tongue.
Ekon embraces the word “king,” slowly realizing he has been searching for the title his entire life. He had stood by as Khalia was high speaker but bent to the will of the people of Yabisi and the UJC. She risked everything, but was considered nothing more than a high speaker. She never asserted herself.
Since the first and only interstellar war, there have been no king or queen of the galaxy. What is left of the former kingdom is the UJC and its mission is to protect and serve, not rule. Ekon taps his nails on his desk, deciding if the Milky Way needs a king. No one can serve that purpose better than he can.
“Before I establish myself as king, I must first get some of the UJC members on my side. In the meantime, I think it’s time to start building connections and stockpiling weapons,” Ekon says thoughtfully.
“I’ll get right on it,” Beebe says. “What about Stella? She’s really pretty. Give me the chance, and I will talk her into seeing things your way.”
Ekon just about chokes. “You think that humanoid is pretty?”
“I don’t,” Ekon says, dismissing him. “Another thing, I have some letters I need delivered to some important people. Find me a messenger I can trust. None of this can leak.”