Making a beginning at this. After much thought, there is no way, none, that Empress Faustina’s children could have anything like a “private life.” The imperium has been a going concern for a generation now and is back on its technological feet. While not as “panopticon” as the Machines can be, a demi such as Fussy, for political reasons as we saw with her nephew, Roland, would monitor her children very closely. That means that Les’, er, inclinations would be known to her, too. But, just as we read two posts ago, between Hill and Hardt, you can still keep an open secret as a secret, if it benefits all concerned. I discover that here, in the opening of part three of “Imperium’s Shadow.”
For those following along, this starts off just hours after Faustina and her three boys were aboard the Gentlemans Cigar Trolley, on the fringe of Shelbyville, Tennessee Province. As is how I write, events start to move fast. Fast enough that I need to be older about the lay of the land of St. Petersburg, Russia, ’cause that’s where we’re headed next.
Early the next morning, Laszlo scowled behind the wheel of his retooled, pre-Change automobile. A Corvette with an internal combustion engine. The car itself was not too unusual in the imperium as there were many collectors. But to see one on the road, with gasoline hard to find and priced out of reach of most? He knew it was a little ostentatious, but I am her first son, after all.
Passing through the tiny burg of Tullahoma, Laszlo turned his black-painted toy with red stripes east toward the Arnold Development Complex. Once a engineering and testing center for the US Air Force, it was abandoned in the early months of the Change, when finding food was everyone’s top priority as civilization fell apart. With the establishing of the imperium, Empress Faustina reopened it as one of the R&D centers for the reactionless motors. A revolution propulsion system dreamt of in America, partially developed by the Chinese, and brought to production by the Japanese. Sharing that design to the Russian Empire was key in the creation of the Polar Alliance.
And that odd copy of mother’s, Helena, he thought, avoiding the roughest patches of the old road, stole those plans for us. Without that tech, even with people like us, we would just be a curiosity and minor player on the world stage. Now, we are changing worlds.
He frowned again. That was a subject at last night’s dinner.
Later that day, after the cigars, the four of them sat at one of the old, rough tables, one of only three on the back deck of Pope’s Restaurant, overlooking the spillway on the little Duck River. It had briefly closed during the Breakup, but reopened only a few years later, closer to the river to draw water, such was the tenaciousness of the owners. He had wondered, and suspected Edward did as well, why the youngest of the three brothers there, Robert, was at their mother’s right, opposite her other two boys. None of the locals or staff saw fit to wonder about the several small drones in the air or the uniformed legionaries hanging about the area. Surely some of them must have recognized the Empress, but Southern politeness prevented a scene.
Just making family chit chat while eating – which was still a politically charged conversation – once the plates were cleared away, Faustina’s eyes gave a tiny flash before pulling out her dessert: another cigar from Shadoe Dark. She smiled when her boys did the same. None of them were much for sweets.
“Now, then,” she began after clipping and igniting hers, “you’ve had some hours to think about your assignments. I’d like to hear your initial plans.”
An order but not an order.
“I,” Robert spoke up first, to get ahead of the two demi-humans, “suggest high command draw up an order for a team to traverse central Kentucky to sound the locals. And have me on that team.”
“I’m sure someone will pass that order on!” his mother leaned right to rest her head against his for just a moment. With more smoke exhaled up, she asked, “and next?”
“I am not entirely sure what you want with me regarding Reina,” Edward said, “but I think a reconciliation with my aunt is certainly possible. In fact, that you sent me shows your sincerity: rather than some polished diplomat, Aunt Ryland will be confronted with the one who briefly killed her.”
“You worry about my cousin. I’ll deal with the Russian Prime Minister.” She paused and all three young men felt the change about them. “And, speaking of Russia, you and Emperor Alexei’s son, Nikita, still good friends, Les?”
Having spilled his whiskey once back on the Gentleman’s Cigar Trolley earlier that day, Robert put his glass right back down.
“Yes, Mother, we are.” Laszlo stared right across the table, keeping his eyes pale blue eyes still to hers dancing turquoise. “Do you not think it politic for one crown prince to have a back channel to another, between two empires?”
At “back channel,” Robert saw his older brother Edward make a pleading motion for the young human to change the subject.
“Indeed,” the youngest interjected. “It is a shame none of us get on personally with any of the Japanese Imperial Family. Relations are polite but never personal.”
“That,” the empress pivoted to focus on Robert completely, “is very perceptive of you and sounds like something your father would have said when he was still in politics. I think little Ildi is about to become an exchange student.”
None of them sighed. The thirteen-year-old girl from Faustina’s second Prince Consort was as much a chess piece as the rest of them. Being a demi, she was probably getting her marching orders at that moment.
“You raise,” their mother returned her attention to the eldest with a curl of her lip at that word, “an interesting point about our two empires. Nikita has and older and younger sister. Why not one of those for you?”
Lacking demi-human perception, Robert could only guess at his brother’s self-control.
“That is a very interesting idea, mother.” Les paused to draw on his cigar. “But won’t Reina torpedo it?”
“For a human? I have no doubt.” She leaned back in her chair and the tension seemed to dissipate. Slightly. “But my demi First Son? She would think she is entrapping me in her plans when the opposite is true.”
“Take one of my ships and go say ‘hi,’ Les.” The Empress’s grin turned predatory. “One of my new ones: the tee four. Do something nice like take your friend and his sisters to Mars. That’s only three days away right now. Oh! Reina is yelling ‘no!’ at me right now, but she cannot legally override their imperial family.”
Another long drag and a huge gray cloud up to the sky.
“I’m sure by the time y’all are back, you’ll have decided who you want to be with, smart lad that you are, Les!” She abruptly stood; they a moment later. “I’m off to do empress things! This was fun! We’ll get together again when everyone has successfully accomplished their tasks. Bye-eee!”
She kissed them in turn, from eldest to youngest. It was obvious she loved them as a mother. Just as obvious she used them as an empress. Faustina was gone a moment later.
Robert tossed back the last ounce of his whiskey and waved at the waitress hovering inside the door for another.
“Two of us have this easy,” Edward said, sitting back down and relighting his cigar. He turned a little right to his older brother. “You, Les, are in danger of having your eyes burned out.”
Laszlo’s pale blue looked down just a little to Edward’s dark brown. They had once been scarlet, reflecting his status as a demi, until he had behaved so recklessly toward his aunt. The lost of his bioluminescence was just an outward warning. Their mother had inflicted great harm onto her own child to punish his stupidity.
“We all know my inclinations, Ed. I think, even Mother,” Les began, slowly. “I get what she wants with the Russian princesses and me. If that doesn’t work out, maybe a Jap? I think so long as I produce at least one heir she’s willing to ‘look the other way.’”
“Can you?” Robert asked, after giving a smile to the older woman who brought him another large drink.
“As our mother so politely put it,” Les said with a sour look, “I did ‘bang’ Elena a number of times.”
“Probably doggie style,” Edward teased him. “She was a little tomboyish!”
“Fuck you, brother,” Les said, standing to go.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Edward couldn’t resist.
Two steps away from their table, Robert wondered if there was going to be a physical fight. God only knew how many times they had scuffled growing up. After a pause, Laszlo walked away.
I had video-called Nikita later that night, he thought, turning left onto the military base. A quick check of his ID had the guards sweating and reaching to the sky in salutes. Nikky told me Mother had already contacted him and his father, the Tsar. Both about our little sightseeing trip and the resistance expected from their PM. As this was a chance to metaphorically jab their Machine mistress in the eye, Alexei told his son and daughters to pack light but fast.
Laszlo parked his car, getting a few looks from the locals at such a beast. He paused before getting out.
A T4, she said. There were only two production models, preceded by several prototypes. Most of the little ship was a fission reactor to dump power into the EM drive for prolonged thrust. In this case, a constant one gee. Whether human or demi, prolonged hi gee was found to be as unhealthy as freefall.
With a corner of his mind, he took in local signal and saw orders already issued for him to take command of the ship once the ground crew gave their okay… probably late tonight… he noted that the ship had been issued a name…
“God damn you, Mother!” Les shouted to the inside of his car.
He “saw” through a camera in the hanger a tech painting “ISN Richard Coeur de Lion” onto the sleek, long dark gray hullmetal cylindrical form.