The Shadow Puppeteer
Graldica could seldom be seen as beautiful, with its eerie green skies and its far reaching rusty cityscape. Yet still, if Behraan could be said at all to have had a gem, this city was it.
At the heart of this aging city was a dull yet heavily fortified stronghold, which served both as the center of the Dominion's government and military both--a clear message as to how things were run. The building itself was brutal in its sharp, straight-lined architecture, generally in the shape of a pyramid with uniform, rectangular layers built all the way to the top. This simplistic, ancient-seeming structure was in fact heavily laced with communications systems, sensor arrays, protective shielding both physical and energy-based, and an excessive number of turret placements both in and out of the stronghold, hiding underneath the false stone.
It was rumored by the Behraanese citizens that atop the pyramid was an ancient yet powerful plasmar beam cannon which could reach any point in the city, quelling any kind of riots or even the most peaceful of protests.
The Behraanese military was all too happy to let that rumour perpetuate. But of course, they knew that the Imperator's throne room sat within a smaller complex atop this pyramid, overlooking the rest of the city from above.
Yet all too strangely, despite the fact that this upper complex was just as well protected as the rest of the pyramid, the throne room itself was the only room to be completely unsecured. Unguarded. Poorly lit.
Few had ever been so lucky--or unlucky--to enter the throne room. Fewer still had even made out the faintest details of the Imperator's person, save for a silhouette.
General Vicken Alvoa was one such man, though whether he was so lucky or unlucky was rather uncertain to him at that time, especially knowing he would be the bearer of bad news.
The room itself was largely of a jade-colored marble, polished hexagonal tiles which spanned wall to wall. It was perhaps ten meters across in any direction and five meters high--not terribly large for a throne room. Only the light from the green skies which seeped through the tinted glass walls would offer any form of illumination within.
There, in the center of the room, was the shadowy figure. His throne, little more than a raised marble pedestal barely wide enough to sit upon, seemed to be the only feature of the room. It could not have been comfortable, Vicken surmised, but he knew that the Imperator was above such mortal needs.
Still, it was strange that this man would be seated lower than those whom had his audience.
"Must you bask in the darkness as you do, Imperator?" Vicken asked, rather boldly. Clearly, this was not his first dealing with him. They had some level of rapport.
"To take comfort in the things that others fear, has always been my calling," the Imperator's voice was low, smooth yet somehow also jagged. It felt as though his voice was overlaid with another, more sinister force--one which whispered into Vicken's mind.
"As is your will, of course," Vicken nodded, "If you sought only to converse of philosophy, I do--"
"Oh," the Imperator's silhouette tilted his head, cracking his neck, "please, do not let me keep you from your tedious task of filling out forms and pushing keypads. Certainly, that duty would surpass my summoning you."
"Nothing of the sort, Master," Vicken was quick to submit, "what is the nature of my summoning?"
One could almost tell he had a wicked smirk on his face. "You tell me."
"Yes--the Skyreign, of course," Vicken sighed, "Miya Alvoa informs me there was an unknown element which compromised her mission."
"Now, do you wish you heeded my warning?" the Imperator cracked his knuckles, "do you not suppose a better experienced assassin would have done a better job of doing away with them?"
"Well," Vick loosened his blazer around his neck, as if it subtly began to strangle him, "it appears her capture was a blessing in disguise. She escaped, of course, and deployed the amnesiac to assist in distancing herself from the crew. She reported in from Nywan."
"And," Vick made the closest thing to eye contact with the figure, "she has confirmed that the Skyreign crew has found our old friend."
"Janeth," the Imperator almost savoured the word, "indeed. A blessing in disguise, you say. What interests me, of course, is that despite being betrayed, Commander Vinfield would still seek her out."
"She is nothing, if not unorthodox," Vick added, "but she is cunning, and resourceful. She would have believed that going to the nearest city and attempting to find her would serve to give her crew--and at least herself--better standards of living, than eking it out in the deserts of Suragaa."
"Cunning." the Imperator mocked, "Resourceful. Vicken, you know nothing of your target. Her shot to kill ratio--what is it?"
"One to one."
"Number of kills confirmed?"
"Three hundred and twelve--thirteen, actually."
"The T'pauzi wiped out her platoon and threw her off a scraper. How was she when we found her?"
"Do you chock that up to simply being Aeonian?"
"Of course," Vicken nodded, "precisely why we set this up in the first place. All Aeonians are to be put down, by your word, Imperator. They have proven to be dangerous--a compromise to the Behraanese Dest--"
"You miss my point," the Imperator's voice rose but a fraction of a decibel, "Aeonians are not immune to being thrown off buildings--nor being lobotomized by psychic attacks. Even other T'pauzi are not immune."
"Are you saying she was immune?"
"I am saying, they spared her. When was the last time anyone, who has killed that many of one kind, had been spared by those same people, given the chance?"
"Why would they ever want to do that?"
The Imperator paused before speaking, "because she is like them. She has...potential. More so than any target we have encountered--perhaps even rivaling the prowess of some key members of the Galactic Council.
"The T'pauzi would have recognized this and, rather than destroy her along with her brethren, decided to only incapacitate her and her gift, in the hopes that some day, she would turn against us."
"Their intuitions ultimately did not serve them, as history has recorded," Vick replied, "their race is all but extinct now; their remainder slaves; their culture broken forever. They belong to us now."
"Do not mistake military weakness," the Imperator could be heard cracking his neck, "for lack of intelligence or intuition. War was not their way, yet their craftsmanship rivaled our own. Do not believe, for a second, that those in power did not see their demise coming. That they did not plan for a future that would leave them behind. They knew she was more than lucky. A one-to-one shot to kill ratio, Vick. There is an innate power within this--Vinfield--which guided her bullets, more than skill ever could. There is an innate ability within her which guided her own decisions for three years on a planet with no outside help, thus keeping her platoon and herself alive, against all odds. She knows not yet, perhaps, but a day will come--soon--where she will learn of this power. She will seek to master it, and why wouldn't she? I would."
"I believe I understand the point you are coming to, Imperator."
"Hers is a power we cannot allow to mature. She is a threat to this Dominion. She must be put down."
"I will have Miya try again--"
"No," he sighed, bringing himself slowly to stand, "I will convene with Miya. The Hand has been tasked to enter high orbit over Suragaa Three. You will board and captain the Maker One, taking her and her fleet to meet the Hand there. See to it that when Vinfield makes herself vulnerable, you will be ready."
"To--kill her, Imperator?"
"In a way that I would be pleased with. Make of that what you will."
"I shall see to it," Vick bowed shortly, turning his back to leave the room.
"And Vick," the voice seemed to almost lacerate his inner mind as he spoke, "see to it that this failure is your last. I need not tell you how sought after your position is."
"Your patience is ever appreciated," Vick said from the side of his mouth as he left, knowing full well the Imperator was not implying simply losing his job.