The raw MS of “Imperium’s Shadow”* is complete. Here’s the first of the two-part conclusion. Toward my ‘trying something different for each book,’ breaking this story into three has allowed to write three novellas which are held together by their familial relations. Didn’t really see that when I began this writing exercise but in hindsight rather clever of me.
* I have conclusively decided that working title will NOT be on the cover. It implies a darkness which simply does not exist in the story. I’m open to suggestions for those who’ve been following along all these months. Faustina’s Packhorses? Empire’s Children? Empress’ Agents?
I really don’t know right now.
“As ugly as this building is,” Robert observed, shading his eyes while he looked southeast from the parking lot, “I’m surprised mother didn’t order it knocked down.”
“It’s a church, moron,” Edward replied. “Even she has scruples. Come on.”
The horse-drawn Southern Gentleman Trolley was parked in a lot just off St. Williams Catholic Church. Unlike last time, months ago, when they were at the defunct country club five miles east of town, this was only a bit over five hundred yards from the old city center. Their older brother walked out of the main door of the church.
“Good confession, Les?” Ed asked.
“This will be the first time I face our mother in a state of grace in, oh, six years? So, yes,” he replied.
“Guess our location means dinner again, after?” Robert asked his more knowledgeable siblings.
“The Empress indicated such, but…” Laszlo agreed.
“But her thought was deliberately mirthful,” Les continued after a moment. “As usual, I’m afraid she is up to something, brothers.”
“She can do her stunts whenever,” Robert shrugged, stepping toward the trolley. “I’m getting a smoke and a drink while I wait.”
Accepting half of that idea, his older brothers followed. The owner and their host, Shadoe Dark, had a humidor full of his best recommendations. While the three young men made their decision, Dark opened and placed a bottle of sipping whiskey on the table next to where Robert was, opposite the other two. A glass and beaker of spring water were also there. Their decision made, their host excused himself.
“Not to sound rebellious,” Robert began after lighting his cigar and pouring two ounces of water over one of whiskey, “but who’d like to go first? It will be easier to stand up to her if we know each other’s stories.”
He saw the look between his older brothers.
“Yes, yes: I’m sure you two super-humans have already exchanged notes. Try dumbing it down for us lowly humans, please,” he said in mock exasperation.
“We, dear little brother, are only aware of what is in our official reports to the Empress,” Ed began. “I’ll sum that up for you in my case: Ryland Rupert shall be Admiral Princess Ryland of the imperium and Superintendent of the Ocean-going Naval Academy in Mobile, to be built to her specifications.”
“She thinks it more important to look south than east? Interesting.” Robert noted.
“Yes,” Edward nodded. “Additionally, the Texans are having growing pains, if you will, over the amount of land their republic is trying to control. I casually mentioned that any modern nation must have a demi or Machine near the top. When they demurred, I sweetened the pot by noting access to reactionless motors is on the table.”
Robert whistled around his glass.
“Mother went for that?” he asked.
“Negotiations are open and things are very much in flux, Rob, but yes. Access to the solar system and beyond… in exchange for loyalty to the imperium,” Ed continued with a blast of gray smoke to the ceiling. “And there’s one more thing, not in the official report.”
“I am going to marry Livia Rupert. I shall either be viceroy or king of Texas,” Edward said simply.
“Congratulations, big brother,” Robert said with a smile, standing with his arms open, sincerely happy for him. “It will be a busy season for weddings! What with cousin Roland, too!”
Robert was absurdly pleased with himself to have caught the two demi-humans by surprise.
“I pray you can explain that hidden fact, Rob?” Les grumbled but smiled at the same time.
“Have y’all read the classified section of my report?” Robert asked, reseating himself and pouring more alcohol.
“Ah, no,” Laszlo admitted. “We could have but our intrusion would have been noted. Our mother’s friend, Alex, is very clever when it comes to Walls.”
Robert quickly told of their hitchhiker, the bar, their cousin, and Roland’s relationship with Skylar. And exactly what the Empress thought of it all. At the end, he was still happy to have left those two speechless.
“Marry… marrying a human is well within the realm of possibility,” Edward began softly. “I am. But Livia is Lily’s granddaughter and Lily is aunt to the Empress. But… a complete nobody. And with a questionable genome. If I wasn’t scared to, I’d congratulate mother on keeping her fights with Roland and his parents a secret. They must have been, well, are, titanic, and we’ve heard nothing.”
Ed drew a few puffs from his cigar.
“Any other surprises, Robert?” he asked.
“No. The important bit, besides the new marquis, of course, is the politics and army of Canada. I stated frankly to mother that moving our imperium north, having nuked St. Louis, and Russian pressure might spook Ottawa or Trudeau into rash actions,” Rob concluded, pouring a little more whiskey. “And, between us, while I did get laid a few times, I didn’t wife-up like you, Ed!”
The transition to what had been their eldest brother’s explicit mission killed the conversation. Robert knew he had to own that.
“Your report on Mars was enlightening, big brother,” he said around his cigar. “But I think that ship, Lionheart, is going to be an absolute game-changer for all of the Polar Alliance. It means viable bases on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, as well as probes to nearby stars with data back in years, not decades.”
“I am pleased, brother, you twigged to that,” Laszlo said, easing back in his chair. “The Russians have their attention fixed on Mars, but much of the talk between our mother and Reina has been about the new motor. Just before our summons here I got a message from Ildi that she’d been playing with some of Empress Togame’s great-grandkids and one had asked about Lionheart so obviously as to have been coached.”
“We, the imperium, have one year, maybe two, to push out further and faster than any other nation on Earth,” Les said, rolling his head back and seemingly looking through the top of the trolley into the heavens.
His brothers said nothing, knowing that only demis and Machines could stop the wars which would inevitably follow such a rush, such a repeat of the 19th Century lunge for colonies and land.
“It was funny, though,” Laszlo lowered his head and eyes, discovering his smoke had gone out. He relit it. “That the Empire and Japan vetoed Kira’s title of ‘viceroy,’ speaking of you, Ed. Our empress would have joined them but I think is playing politics again.”
“Trying to make it look she might be in the Russian’s corner, both to cow the Canadians and take the sting out of, um, Minerva?” Robert was curious, but briefly forgetting the refugee’s name.
“My guess, certainly,” Les agreed, now puffing away again before taking a great breath.
“With Kira returning to Mars, I want you both to know: Nikita and I are no longer a thing. Our trip ripped a few scales from my eyes as to what I, well, he and I, thought we could get away with. And we were wrong.” A sigh and breath. “Our duty is as heavy as a mountain. I intend to petition our Empress for scouting and colonization assignments: I am a demi with more experience with Lionheart than anyone. It’s a natural choice.”
“And it keeps you off-planet and alone,” Edward noted softly. “That’s no way to heal, Les. Oh!”
That exclamation made Rob sit up, but neither of his demi-human brothers would enlighten him. Assholes.
Knowing their mother was due soon, Robert reluctantly corked his bottle. With only a quarter of their cigars left, they all three turned toward the sound of boots on the steps and the opening of the trolley’s door. They were at attention with their hands high to greet their mother. To welcome their empress. She kissed them one by one before waving them down as she sat next to Robert again. From her jacket pocket, she produced a half-smoked cigarillo she had been enjoying on her way there.
“My boys!” she smiled, loving them and using them. “Do y’all have your stories straight?”