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Chapter 37: War and Peace

“Imperator.”

“Mmph.”

“Imperator.”

“Mmmmmph.”

“You need to wake up. It’s urgent.”

“I’m awake,” said the muffled voice, one that was obscured by the giant pillow. “I have insomnia these days, you know. At least let me pretend to sleep.”

“Imperator, I cannot force you to do anything,” said Sporus. He was pretty far away from the bed—about two meters, but his voice was loud and clear. “But there’s people waiting to discuss about the collapse of Jurg-Updaagh.”

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Allysse slumped up out of bed again. She couldn’t remember the last time she got a good night’s sleep. Yeah, she definitely was going to take a vacation after all of this. Pass on duties to, dunno, Sporus or something. Only someone crazy and immortal like Mother could do this job twenty four hours a day, seven days in a week.

“Basilissa, that doesn’t count as getting out of bed,” Geoffrey beeped. Allysse was wrapped like a burrito in her covers, all of the fancy purple royal blankets in a messy bundle on the carpet.

“What time is it?” Allysse said, slowly pulling herself out, trying to bat away the maids who rushed forward to help but utterly failing.

“Oh-three-hundred,” Sporus said. “I will escort you to the Situation Room and explain the situation.

Allysse was still yawning and rubbing her eyes as the maids pulled a suitable gown over her. Like most of her outfits, it was quite modest. Allysse blinked quickly though.

“Strange color choice,” she said, twirling around and observing the dress. “It’s all red.”

“Yes, my Basilissa,” a maid said. “A fitting dress for this day. The rivers of Jurg-Updaagh runs red with Thembolan blood.”

Allysse gaped at her. “Jesus Christ that’s morbid.”

The maid just smiled. “It’s a happy day, Basilissa. My younger sisters had horrible masters who left them sore and bruised at the end of every day. I’m glad the end of the war is in sight. You are an Imperator worthy of your mother!”

Even if Allysse did feel like shit, that did give her a small smile. “Thank you.” After her signature braid was tied, she existed her room, glancing at the painting of Bella Palaiologos stabbing the Aztec with Joyeuse. Not for the first time she wondered what how Mother was feeling the day that the Empire might fall.

“Did you pick up Geoffrey?” Allysse asked Sporus as they walked down the quiet halls. Allysse actually preferred the night, actually. She would’ve loved to work in the quiet and dark of the Palace. That was one of the bright sides of having a computer science focus in her youth; her classmates also liked working at night. Alas, all of the elderly generals and admirals and Senators loved waking up at 5 AM so she was forced to sleep early. In the end it didn’t really matter since she was getting up at 3 o’clock anyways for situations like this. Mid-walk, her usual Imperial Guards joined her, their white clothing also making no sound in the night.

“Always,” Sporus said, revealing the computer in his palm. Once Allysse slipped Geoffrey into a hidden pocket (she made sure all of her clothes had a hidden pocket), Sporus rocked back and forth on his feet.

“What is it, Sporus?” Allysse said.

“Thank you, Basilissa,” Sporus said. “You’ve made my life much more fortunate. You see, before I was basically an indentured servant, nearly a slave. But when you picked me up from Bella Station, my life has been immeasurably better. You even protected me and the rest of the servants from the Thembolans when they enslaved the Imperium. I just wanted to say thank you. I never got the chance.”

“Holy shit Sporus, you’re not supposed to say that.”

Sporus cocked his head. “Excuse me, Imperator?”

Allysse sighed. “Geez, Sporus, don’t you know? People die after saying heartfelt messages like that. It happened to my husband’s best friend the other day, in fact. ”

Sporus let out a low chuckle. “Imperator, have you been reading too many of those books lately? We’re in Constantinople. Possibly the safest place from the Thembolans. I won’t be dying anytime soon, you take my word.”

“You better not,” Allysse said. “I need someone as reliable as you. If somebody offers you more money, I’ll double that offer.”

The eunuch smiled. “I would rather serve nobody else, even your Mother.”

The Empress smiled too, but it was wiped away when she stepped into the Situation Room, two of the Guards holding open the doors. It wasn’t loud and raucous, and now a lot more people were in it, including many Senators. Everybody stood up and saluted her.

“For the Senate and People of Rome!” they all shouted before sitting down. A pleasant surprise, she thought. It was actually the first time they saluted her without, say, Constantine ordering them to.

“Thank you,” Allysse said before sitting at the head of the long, polished wood table. “We now control both and all planets of the Thembolans. Have we found Emperor Thuunolg anywhere?”

“No, my Basilissa,” a general said. “He has not been found at his Imperial Palace nor anywhere on Thembolia.”

Another general stood up. It was General Lucius, in fact. “And no sign on Jurg-Updaagh. Well, his might’ve been vaporized by his own nukes. But his people have denied he has been killed.”

“Unfortunate. Sporus, what is the status of the Aztani navy?”

“We don’t know where they’re going. They are still in warp space, my Imperator,” Sporus said. Some of the generals looked confused a eunuch was answering the question. “Or rather, as they call it, hyper space. Apparently they have developed a different form of FTL that takes highways in space. This is not to be confused with the hyperspace in certain popular forms of media.”

“Thank you,” Allysse said. “Okay, now next steps. What are we going to do about the Aztani? Cornelius?”

The general stood up. “I propose we send our navy immediately into Aztani space. Siege their planets. We have proven that we can stand to the Aztani. Look at Qoclite Prime. They have beaten down the Aztani with sticks and stones! We personally can fight against their navy while we invade!”

“An idiotic plan,” an admiral said, standing up. Damn. Allysse knew it was too good to be true. She predicted in about five minutes the room would evolve into a shouting match. “We are tired of fighting. This war has been going on for years. Imagine being the one telling the people on Qoclite Prime to survive on their meager rations for a few more years.”

Then, a familiar face. Senator Marcus stood up on his metallic legs, the whole room hearing the gears whirring. Allysse’s blood shivered. True, Marcus had rebelled against her before: that was why she ordered the Imperial Guard to shoot his legs. She thought that would be the end of him. But now she was hearing about this new conspiracy, one that possibly predated even the War of Bella’s Blood. And that was scary.

“You underestimate the strength of Romans,” Senator Marcus said. His voice was quiet but it also paradoxically projected strength. “Not all of us are as weak as you, admiral. We will never give up, not until the xenoi are dead. But I do not agree with General Cornelius’s plan. I propose we crush the source of any nation’s pride: their fleet.”

“And how do you propose how to do that?” Allysse asked. She kept her voice steady, her face as stoic as always.

“A simple matter,” Senator Marcus said. “Just keep the Imperial navy close to a spaceport on one of our colonies or near even Terra herself. The added firepower would surely be enough to overpower the Tezekians.”

Allysse nodded. “A sensible decision. Does anybody else have any suggestions?”

There was a couple of dissenting voices, but none loud or discernable enough. After taking a few minutes to wait for an opposing argument, Allysse cleared her throat.

“Then that is the plan we’ll go with. Thank you, Senator Marcus.”

“Imperator, I suggest we park the navy near Holy Terra,” an admiral said. “Not only would it protect our capital, but it’ll be equal distance away from any spaceports the Aztani navy may choose to siege.”

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Nobody could debate the plan, though. A messenger burst into the room, his face flushed red. “My Basilissa!” he said, immediately bending a knee. “The Aztani fleet has just exited hyperspace! They’re going to attack the navy!”

The blood drained from Allysse’s face as all semblance of order dissolved. “How could they travel so quickly?” she said to no one in particular. “Are their FTL drives so much faster than ours?” Cursing her luck, she made a mental note to ask Albert Pitt about the possibility of swapping the warp engines out to hyperlane drives.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a presence. Allysse jerked out of her thoughts when she noticed Senator Marcus standing next to her.

“Greetings, Imperator,” he said. “I haven’t had the time to talk to you lately. It has been a while since we’ve last met in less than fortuitous circumstances.”

“Sorry. What is it?”

Marcus let out a small, short, bark at the terseness of Allysse’s reply. “Still irritated by that meeting? I’m sorry, Imperator, but I still stand by my beliefs. I respect your opinions, but we all have our own beliefs.”

Allysse chose not to comment. It was a useful social trick. Eventually, if you stayed silent long enough, people feel obligated to talk. She learned it from Mother, actually. Instead, she observed the raucous room, all of the bickering Senators and generals and admirals who squabbled like headless chickens.

“I love the Empire,” Marcus said, also looking at the arguing crowd. “But these people? Hardly the prime of our citizens. They’re old-fashioned. Weak. Cowardly. That’s why I respect you, Imperator, even if we do have different opinions. You’re strong. You’re unlike this common rabble.”

“You may find it interesting that I am no different from them,” Allysse said. She couldn’t help it. She had to comment.

There was a snort. “Shame,” Marcus said, sighing, but he didn’t say or do anything else.

Allysse wasn’t exactly sure how she’d calm down the room, but it turns out that it didn’t matter. The hologram in the center of the room hummed with life, and Allysse found herself staring at the dead, cold eyes of Emperor Thuunolg.

“It’s the Emperor!” a Senator shouted. A couple of other generals and admirals stood up, but Allysse cut them off.

“Silence!” she yelled, raising her voice in the first time in many years. Emperor Thuunolg seemed to grin in that weird, creepy smile that beans did. Allysse finally found out the other day it actually wasn’t a natural Thembolan expression, but something they adopted to scare humans.

“So now you’ve done it,” Emperor Thuunolg said in long, labored breaths. He (well, at least his translator) spoke more slowly than from what Allysse remembered. His skin color took longer to change, and that was reflected in a translated wheezing cough.

“Done what?”

“Descend into the depths of evil that I won’t even touch.”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t act so innocent. Has all the years of ruling broke your morality? Has your ambition for power touched your head?”

“How dare you accuse me?” Allysse said. She could feel the room stir, but in her mind she had blocked everybody else. It was just her and Thuunolg. Even Senator Marcus was gone. “You’ve enslaved the entire Empire!”

“Your dear beloved Mother, your Immortal Imperator, had slaves,” Thuunolg said. “How is anything I’ve done different?”

“The practice was stopped.”

“Only because your Empire ran out of slaves from conquests,” he said. “And don’t you act so innocent. You’ve also enslaved the Jhoolians, and I’ve been hearing reports about a blue human-like species aboard your ships. You hypocrite. I do not care that you enslave. But to pretend you are more righteous than me makes you a despicable hypocrite. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but to be a hypocrite is to be among the lowest rungs of our society.”

Allysse could feel a throbbing in her head. Anger? She generally considered herself to be a pretty calm person, especially considering all of the devious and stupid Senators and advisors she met every day. That was mostly just exasperation. Even against Constantine she felt pity. But rage? This was the angriest she ever felt in her life.

“That is different,” Allysse hissed. “It was an act of desperation. We had to enslave them to fight against you.”

“And you think ours wasn’t?” Thuunolg spat out. “We would have never drawn a peace with the Tezekians if we didn’t enslave you Romans. Would you rather have died by their hands?”

“Give us liberty or give us death. It would have been better dying than living under your horrible mistreatment any longer.”

Emperor Thuunolg transformed into a black. A pure black. His rotting, decaying flesh was so dark that none of his wrinkles or features was visible. It was as if he was just a shadow in the hologram.

“Funny you say that, First Citizen,” Thuunolg said. “My people prefer our fair and just slave treatment than dying to our own nuclear weapons. Have you ever walked by a corpse wasted away by radiation? Have you personally seen the destruction you’ve caused? No, you’ve just personally stayed in your nice and perfect and safe capital, haven’t you? Do you know where I am? I have been traveling and meeting with my people. The people you’ve killed and maimed.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” Allysse said. “Are you saying that you’re sympathetic, a champion of his people? You’ve never even visited Earth. You’ve never seen any of the filthy conditions my people went through every day under your reign. Fair and just? How can slave treatment be fair and just? Do you even know how many arms and legs you Thembolans hacked off?”

“Four,” Emperor Thuunolg said. “Exactly four, and the soldier, the commanding officer in Rome, was rogue anyways. So in reality, zero.”

“Four!?” Allysse said. “Just four!? You liar, there’s—”

“I knew it would backfire on us,” Thuunolg said. His cruel smile now seemed to be laced with regret. “Our standard practice of slavery involves first instilling fear into our subjects, to show that we are invulnerable. But aside from that incident in Rome—apologies to your brother—we have not truly harmed a soul. An injured slave does no work, after all.”

“Lies,” Allysse said. “All lies. Have you forgotten about the first slave?”

Emperor Thunnolg laughed. The translator was good enough to translate it, making his new odors into a HA HA HA. “Ah yes, the untrue machinations of the person sitting right next to you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Ask the man yourself. We thought we could take advantage of that. It provided a convenient excuse for you to fear us. But we’ve never harmed Samuel Marcus.”

Allysse spun around to Marcus, who didn’t react. He had the same, slightly bemused expression. “Is it true?” she demanded.

“Yes, it is,” he said. He almost looked quite bored. “The footage was faked. The Thembolans have never touched the boy.”

Allysse clutched her head. “Oh, so what you’re saying is that the boy wasn’t your son. I thought it was strange. I thought I met the real father when the War of Bella’s Blood was going on and—”

“No. That man was his adopted father,” Marcus said bluntly. “I hate the boy. He’s a bastard, but I have to admit Sam Marcus has my blood. I’m the one that dismembered him. The Thembolans never touched him, and I faked the footage.”

Allysse’s knees couldn’t support her anymore. She collapsed into a chair, her eyes trembling. “What? What are you saying? Are you saying this war is a farce? No, that’s not true. Thuunolg, you first declared that we be slaves or there will be war. We haven’t done anything.”

“That declaration was a preemptive strike,” Emperor Thuunolg said. He seemed to be amused at the conversation. “We knew resentment among your peoples was building up against us. War was inevitable. We only bought it sooner, at the time when you were weakest—right after your Civil War.”

Allysse couldn’t handle it anymore. The room was rife with intense talks, shouts, and arguments. But they all seemed washed away, like she was at the ocean and her advisors were miles away. She looked up at Marcus, tears threatening to form in her eyes. “Why?”

“As Thuunolg said, war was inevitable,” Marcus said. “We never had good relations from the very beginning. I only sped the process up. I made it so that the war will be of one of self-defense. To raise the morale of the people. It is far easier to convince the population of fighting a defensive instead of an offensive war.”

“And it is better for peace instead of war!” Allysse shouted. “There never should have been a war in the first place! Do you know how many people died? Romans, Thembolans, Jhoolians, Aztani, and Tezekian? All of this could have been avoided!”

Marcus shook his head. He actually seemed sad. “No. It couldn’t have been. I am disappointed at you, Allysse Palaiologos. You are strong but also weak. You are nothing like your Mother.”

“And you are a power-hungry maniac! Imperial Guards! Arrest this traitor, this heretic, this disgrace to the Empire! He is no Roman. He wished for all of us to die!”

Under the gaze of the painting of Bella Palaiologos above them, the Immortal Imperator looked as the Imperial Guards marched to the Senator, tying his hands behind his back with some handcuffs. Marcus didn’t resist, but shook his head.

“First Citizen, I am more of a Roman than you are,” Senator Marcus said, using that same term the beans called her. He was forced to floor by the guards, a hand on the back of his neck. “Do you know why we call your Mother the Glorious? The greatest Imperator of all time? It wasn’t because she liked peace. If she only sought for peace, the Empire would still have the same borders as it did in 769. It would have only consisted of just Greece and Anatolia, and perhaps it would have withered away to obscurity in the 15th century. But she had the ambition, the vision, and the greatness to conquer the world. Do you think she cared about all the deaths she caused? She knew about all the peasants that would die, and she didn’t care. Peasants aren’t immortalized. Allysse Palaiologos, you won’t live up to even a fraction of her name.”

“Fine. I don’t care. But I will not have that blood on my hands.”

Marcus shook his head again. “Do you know without your secret fleet, we still would have won the battle against the remnants of the Thembolan navy? I’ve had people, brave Romans, who had rigged the Thembolan ships to explode on their 55th day of combat.”

Emperor Thuunolg looked shocked and interested. “When did this happen?”

“I’m not talking to you, you filthy overgrown ugly beast,” the Senator said. “Allysse, I was surprised you had a secret navy that all but ensured our victory. But it was unnecessary. As long as our Roman ships didn’t retreat, as long as the Thembolan fleet didn’t undergo repairs, we would have won.”

“There was no way you can guarantee that,” Allysse whispered. “Our navy was getting ripped to shreds before the reserves came in. It would have never survived to day 55.”

“Yes. They would have. As long as S’bu didn’t retreat. He’s a stubborn man so I didn’t expect him to. As you see, I helped the Romans. I am on your side. But you are not on mine.”

There was some silence as the Imperial Guard escorted Marcus out of the room. The generals were astonished, and even Thuunolg was in quiet contemplation.

“Farewell, Imperator,” Marcus said as the door shut with a click.

“You have very smart underlings, First Citizen,” Emperor Thuunolg said.

“Shut up.”

“You aren’t a good person. You may think you are, but everybody thinks they are. Your actions define your true self, and by your actions, you are a horrible person. You have ordered nuclear bombs on innocent civilians. You have started a war because of your incompetence at sniffing out treason. You will be remembered for this.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Another smirk. “The true reason why I’m here is because you did it. You won. The Galactic Thembolan Empire recognizes the independence of the Imperium Romanum. Now you don’t have to fight the Aztani fleet.”

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“I could have very well extended the war longer,” Thuunolg said. “But that would lead to the decimation of both the Roman and Aztani navies. We can’t have that. The Tezekians would then kill us all. But they might still purge us anyways after your war. Congratulations, First Citizen. You have secured both your independence and your doom.”

And with that the hologram shut off.

Admirals and Generals got up, each murmuring some small congratulations to the girl who still sat frozen in her seat. Some of them didn’t even do that and just bustled to leave, confused at the turn of events. Sporus stayed by her side, but she waved him away.

And in the darkness, under the watching eyes of Bella Palaiologos the Glorious, the girl cried.

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