He ordered one of his guards to summon General Ladok Pertin from the military wing of the imperial
palace forty minutes ago. Twilight had already fallen upon the city, so there should be no reason for the General to not be back in the palace from his assignment. No one, save his late wife, kept him waiting this long since he
He stopped to look out over Kress’s capital, Unyasa. The high-vaulted windows revealed a jeweled city stretching out to the horizon. Unyasa was power itself—the seat of the Empire held by his family for centuries. The imperial palace lay at the center of the capital with the city radiating out from the palace to the border. The light grew dim as he looked to the edges of the city where there were mostly residential neighborhoods. Closer to the palace were the businesses, and many were still open this time of night, littering the skyline with bursts of light.
A light breeze blew into the study. The Emperor’s thoughts went to strategy. Should he just come out and ask the General for what he wanted? Should he get him drunk? Order him? Act as a friend or the Emperor? A creak in the hallway interrupted him, and the Emperor looked to the door.
The guard knocked.
“Enter,” yelled the Emperor. Good, he was finally here.
The guard directed General Pertin inside and closed the door, taking his watch in the hallway. The General was one of the few people the Emperor allowed to visit him alone. And he didn’t want any witnesses to this conversation. He turned to the General and looked him up and down, unimpressed. General Pertin was several
inches taller than him and would be intimidating to anyone else in the military. It was part of the reason the Emperor promoted him over people with more experience. Before Ademos Unyasa took the throne, the Empire was rumored to be getting soft. He addressed that immediately upon taking the reign. Unfortunately, the General was not living up to expectations at the moment, wearing street clothes rather than his military uniform. Apparently unaffected by the Emperor’s gaze, General Pertin bowed as he was taught as a young solider so many years ago—arms straight down his sides, hands flat on his thighs, and a perfect forty-five degree angle tilt at the waist.
“Emperor, I apologize for the wait and for my informal attire. I was en route to a shuttle off the planet when I was summoned. I came as quickly as possible,” General Pertin explained steadily with his chest high, looking
straight out the windows.
“If you were going to make me wait forty minutes for your arrival, you should have taken another five minutes to change into your uniform, General.” The General opened his mouth to speak, but the Emperor interrupted him. He didn’t want to hear an explanation. “Sit.”
The Emperor motioned to a pair of armchairs angled towards the roaring fireplace in the corner. The General would normally sit in one of the wooden armchairs at the desk, but the Emperor was about to make a very important proposition and wanted General Pertin to be comfortable and relaxed.
“May I get you a drink?” the Emperor asked.
“I’ll pour you a brandy.”
“Emperor, please let me,” the General said as he stood, but the Emperor was already at the mahogany bar beside the fireplace pouring the two glasses.
“Here.” The Emperor handed the General a heavy, crystal glass. “Sit.”
The General bowed his head and sat again.“Thank you, Sire.”
“Ladok, we’ve known each other for years. Please speak freely.”
“Yes, Sire.” The General gave a curt nod. The Emperor shook his head. Getting Ladok to relax wasn’t going very well so far.
“The Generals’ meeting on Tingard isn’t until the day after tomorrow. Why were you leaving Kress tonight?”
“I was hoping to see my daughter on Naruta on my way to the meeting, Sire.”
The Emperor had always been impressed by the General’s confidence around him. General Pertin was a career military man—extremely loyal to the crown and the Emperor. He worked his way up from the infantry in the Advanced Military Academy to a four-star general. Knowing that what he was about to ask for was against
the Rules of War set by the Military Assembly, the Emperor carefully selected who to confide in and bestow this huge responsibility. General Pertin was not only trustworthy, but he also had what the Emperor needed—a daughter. Hoping that his daughter, Elora, was as loyal to the Empire as her father, the Emperor delicately breached the subject. He couldn’t afford to scare the General off.
“Ah. How is your daughter? Is she still working at Innovative Engineering Corporation?”
The General hesitated and shifted in his seat before answering. “She is well and still working at Innovative. She was recently appointed as the lead biomaterialist, developing imitation blood vessels for limb reconstruction."
“Wonderful,” the Emperor said as his lips twisted up into an unnatural smile. She would be perfect for what he had in mind. “How does she like Naruta? It’s my favorite planet in the star system for a holiday, but I don’t think I
could ever leave Kress.”
“That would be highly unusual. I don’t believe any emperor has lived outside Unyasa.”
“Ladok, I was making small talk, not suggesting that I move the capital to another planet. Why don’t you take a drink?” The General still hadn’t calmed his nerves and took his words literally, not figuratively. The reply annoyed the Emperor.
Forgetting the small talk, the Emperor set down his brandy, closed his eyes, and soaked up the warmth from the fire. He thought of the best way to broach the subject and decided to go with the direct route since easing into it didn’t seem to be working on the General. He would never let his guard down. The Emperor sat straight up and faced the General.
“I summoned you here to discuss Elora.”
The General choked on his brandy and swallowed quickly. “Sire?”
“I have a special project that I wish to enlist your daughter for. I believe her skills and fresh set of eyes are exactly what we need.”
The General took another sip of the brandy—probably buying time before he answered. “I am sure she’d be honored to serve the Empire, Sire. What is the project?”
“It’s to ensure the Empire’s security in the star system.” Starting with a portion of the truth was probably the best move. The General crossed his legs and looked like he was about to say something but didn’t. The Emperor continued.“I’ve looked at your daughter’s records. Top marks in every class she’s ever taken—even for the few years she was enrolled in the Military Academy. She went to the best university in the star system and received degrees in chemistry and engineering before receiving her doctorate in materials science. With your assurances of her loyalty to me and her discretion, I believe she can do the Empire a great service.”
“Of course Elora is loyal the Empire, Sire. She will do whatever is asked of her,” the General quickly responded, sitting up straighter.
“Good.” The Emperor relaxed and took a sip of his brandy. Breaching the subject was the hardest part.
“She’s only been out of school for a few years and has mostly been working on developing near-perfect artificial limbs,”the General said. “I don’t believe the military has its own development project in this area, but she would be very excited to start it.”
The Emperor knew Ladok was trying to coax information out of him. He gazed into the fire, debating on how much information he wanted to share. Elora would need certain details to perform her duties effectively, but
was now the time to tell? He took another sip of the brandy and faced the General. Another small portion of the truth should be enough.
“Actually, she won’t be working on artificial limbs, but that is something we could explore after the work on this project is completed.” Maybe offering her something in return would help compel her to serve. “We need her chemistry and engineering background to develop a new type of weapon. The scientists that the military currently employs have been unable to effectively develop the type of weapon we need. I believe Elora is just the person to inspire a breakthrough. The recommendations in her file say she has a creative mind, which will hopefully get the project moving in the right direction.”
The General coughed a little, seemingly to hold back a laugh.
“What’s so funny about my proposal, General?” The Emperor didn’t like being laughed at and knew that referring to him as “General” would bring back Ladok’s professional manner.
The General’s face returned to its serious demeanor. “Sire, I didn’t mean to offend. But if you’ve read Elora’s file, I’m sure you know the reason why she left the Military Academy.”
“Because she was too smart to spend her life working under people in the military when she could be making significantly more money in the private sector.”
“Well, she is extremely intelligent and she does make more money in the private sector, but she left the Academy because she has problems following the chain of command. I always told her she was a born leader, but she doesn’t have the patience to advance through the ranks of the military. She works best in civilian life.”
“I’m not asking her to enlist in the military, Ladok.” The Emperor didn’t like where this conversation was heading. Ladok was trying to convince him to change his mind about recruiting Elora.
“Of course not, Sire. But she also left the Academy because she wasn’t fond of the weapons training. She is a skilled shooter, but beyond that, I’m not sure what type of weapons knowledge she has. She could barely bring herself to shoot at targets.”
“Ladok, are you trying to tell me that your daughter is not right for the job?”
“Of course not, Sire,” he quickly answered.“I just want to ensure that you are aware of any limitations she may have in this area.”
The Emperor nodded and turned to the fire once more. How much more information could he give without drawing suspicion about the project? He knew Ladok was loyal to him, but he had spent his entire life following the rules. Ladok didn’t understand the real struggles of ruling a star system. Sometimes, the rules didn’t keep the Empire safe.
“I am aware of her limitations. I’m also aware that your family has been serving the Empire loyally for almost as long as the Unyasas have ruled the star system. I need people I can trust working on this project, and right now, the project is at a standstill. It’s imperative that it gets off the ground soon, and Elora is the best solution I can think of.”
The General took a sip of his brandy and seemed be to thinking things over. Appealing to his sense of loyalty to the Empire was definitely an effective tactic.
“Sire, may I ask what the project is? I was at the last Military Assembly conference and am unaware of any weapons development project.”
It was the question he was dreading.
“The Military Assembly does not know of the project.”
He just gave the General enough information to get himself ousted. The Emperor ruled the Empire, except when it came to the military. Years ago, Empress Heline Unyasa, the first woman to rule the Empire, developed the Military Assembly to oversee the military. Before this, the Emperors were warmongers—conquering almost every planet in the star system. The Military Assembly now had to give its approval to go to war. It also oversaw the development of weapons and the everyday duties of the military. Although it was not generally known, it was not unprecedented for the Emperor to order the development of weapons without the Military Assembly’s approval. The past few Emperors had even trained special forces to deploy secret missions. However, if going strictly by the letter of the law, the Emperors had been breaking it. Emperor Ademos Unyasa’s father attempted to dissolve the Military Assembly, but the first public revolt in decades quickly quashed that idea. Now, the only way for the Emperor to conduct his military agenda was in secret.
The Emperor stared at the General, trying to get a glimpse into what he was thinking, but he was difficult to read. His face didn’t give away any of his thoughts. The silence stretched on.
“I see, Sire.” He hesitated. “I am honored you considered me worthy of this information. What are you asking of me? That I ask Elora to come here to work on a secret military project?”
Trusting that Ladok was not going to run to the Military Assembly with this information immediately, the Emperor answered, “That’s exactly what I’d like you to do. Obviously, the less Elora knows about the project, the
“Understood. May I speak freely?”
The Emperor nodded and leaned over to add another log to the slowly dying fire.
“I am concerned about involving my daughter in a project that is not approved by the Military Assembly. You have a daughter, so surely you understand that I would never want to do anything to put her in harm’s way or cause her problems.”
“Ladok, I am asking this as a personal favor. I will endeavor to keep her as safe as possible. I’ll look out for her like she’s my own daughter,” the Emperor reassured him. He was so close to sealing the deal, he could feel it.
“Well then, I must warn you that it will be difficult to convince her to leave her job on Naruta. She enjoys it very much, and like I said, she’s not keen on weaponry.”
The Emperor stood and the General followed suit. “I am confident that you raised a daughter loyal to the Empire who will gladly serve when asked. I’m sure you’ll have no problem persuading her. She needs to be in the capital no later than four days from now.”
The General understood the cue. He nodded, bowed, and headed towards the door.
“Ladok,” the Emperor said, stopping him.“If you are unsuccessful in recruiting Elora, that wouldn’t be good for you, and I have mechanisms to make Elora do my bidding without her cooperation. I hope that will not be
The General swallowed, but held the Emperor’s stare. “I hope that as well, Sire.”
Once the Emperor could no longer hear the sound of the hallway floorboards creaking under the General’s heavy gait, he said, “Number One.”
One of the mahogany bookcases swung away from the wall, and a man dressed in black appeared—his favorite assassin.
“Follow General Ladok Pertin. If he attempts to contact anyone from the Military Assembly or warn his daughter of the questionable legality of this project, kill him.”
Number One nodded and left.