A royal turnabout and a rise to power. (microstory contest entry)
Her elegant pearlescent robes were silhouetted against the most brilliant spectacle in the realm – the paired emerald suns of Paragon, flanked by a band of glistening starlight, the galaxy set on edge. “You’re late,” Empress Victoria Ortensia XIV quipped with her back to her imperial concubine as he silently entered her study.
“Apologies. Unavoidable delays, Highness,” Cadmus responded, head low, so as not look her in the eye. For five millennia, the punishment was death for such an offense, even for him – the gaze of the Empress of the Known Systems regarded as beyond the witness of lowly men.
“Unavoidable?” Victoria doubted, her eyes narrowing. She strolled coolly to him, her lofty gaze evaluating his every subtlety. He was calm, and seemed without deception, though she knew better. She could see past his imperial conditioning. A bite of the lip, a quick doubtful glance in her direction gave him away. “So, the plan is underway?”
“Success is certain, Empress,” he answered.
“And you were able to gain their trust?”
“Assuredly. The Baroness’s own consort apparently has an insatiable fondness for other men. He was easily swayed. Our move…”
“My move!” she corrected. “It’s time we brought this despicable insurgency to an end! The Systems will witness my resolve when Tellandor’s Baroness is dead, the traitor…Caressa slain by my hand, and the fire of a thousand Ortensian warships!"
She paced around him, gentling her tone. “Now, there is the matter of your infidelity to me," a hint of ire lightly breaching her otherwise regal calm. “What shall we do with you?”
“Highness?” he asked, suddenly nervous.
“Do you think me such a fool that your betrayal would escape me?” Suddenly, her irritation peaked. “I have my own spies in Tellandor’s Court!” She took him by the chin and stared squarely into his eyes. “They say you bedded with that treacherous whore!”
“A means to an end, Your Majesty!” he trembled. She released him and he cowered away.
“You did your Empire a service, though you betrayed me!” she scolded, when a chime from the corridor interrupted them. “Enter!”
The tall, paired doors parted and a hovering cart drifted in, draped in purple and guided by a single robotic attendant. “Ah, did you bring something for me, Cadmus?” Victoria wondered, running the cloth through her fingers. She smiled. It was the flag of Tellandor. “Ah, the spoils of victory, perhaps? Service to the Empire, indeed,” she approved. “The body of the Baroness?”
Victoria withdrew the cover and suddenly recoiled. Before her, a half-dozen heads stared lifelessly back – her spies from the High Court of Tellandor. The Empress turned sickeningly to her courtesan. “What is this? You said success was assured!”
“It is!” He declared, plunging his hidden blade in, a synthetic polymer, undetectable by the security scans.
The color faded immediately from Victoria’s face and she fell away, bleeding out on the floor.
Baroness Caressa Salazar, strolled confidently in, an elegant florid cape drifting behind her, followed closely by her own concubine. Behind them were a dozen Telladorian soldiers. “I’m sorry it had to come to this, Victoria…”
“Empress, to you, whore!” she spat up blood.
“Empress, then,” the Baroness mocked a bow with a guilty smirk. Then, with a firm grip, Caressa took ahold of the knife and twisted it deeper. Victoria writhed in pain. “Perhaps you’re not as clever as you thought.” She looked to Cadmus and smiled fondly. “And perhaps you should not take your men for granted. This one is a marvel of pleasure. Thoren and I have never experienced such ecstasy.”
Defeated and gripped in agony, the life of Empress Victoria Arcturis Ellurim Ortensia XIV faded away.
Caressa withdrew the blade, studying its simplistic design, dripping with blood. She handed it to her consort. “Thoren, perhaps you can do something with this, my love.”
“For the Empire,” he agreed, then thrust the blade into Cadmus. “The Empress of the Known Systems is dead. Long live the Empress.”
Dropped to his knees and oozing blood, Cadmus managed a single word, “Why?”
“Because there can be no traitors in my Empire,” Caressa answered plainly.
Consciousness fading, his dumbfounded gaze shifted to Thoren, before dropping over dead.
“The traitor betrayed,” she approved. “At least your loyalty to me is beyond reproach.”
Thoren immediately lowered his eyes. “Empress…”
“Please,” she interrupted, raising his chin to gaze into his eyes, before kissing him on the lips with deep affection. “Come now, my brother, let us restore civility to this dreadful Empire.”