To the Victor, the Spoils, Chapter 6

Chapter 6:

The flight took longer than expected. Savoy had wanted to see the country, so the shuttle had flown lower and slower than normal. She’d never seen America before; all she knew of it was the satellite photos taken during the war, showing devastated cities and barren cropland. The reports she’d read said that soil reclamation was proceeding apace; every year more and more agriculture and industry returned. Not just to America, but to the rest of the world. The irradiated and poisoned hellscapes were being decontaminated and reclaimed. There had been the occasional exchange of nuclear weapons and other WMDs during the war, but by the time Alexandra had taken to the field, both sides had mostly ended their deployment of such weapons. Mostly. Ostensibly that was due to treaties and agreements, unspoken or not, that there be something left to fight over. After Johannesburg, the Coalition had lashed out one final time. Whether it was from desperation, defiance or simple spite Alexandra couldn’t have said.

Her people had inherited a ruined world and were remaking it in their image. That made her proud, more than she could have said. They had survived against everything dozens of nations had thrown at them. They had survived and were rising from the ashes. When she’d seen how much they’d already accomplished, she’d been truly moved. We will not rule ashes, she’d thought with fierce pride. She’d asked for more detail on the reclamation efforts.

Apparently, there were a great many sapiens volunteers eager for the chance to rebuild the world their foolish, futile war had poisoned. Alexandra wondered if there’d been any pretense of choice at all for those men and women, or they were the same type of ‘volunteers’ as the convicts and prisoners she’d been offered in Garamond. Ugly thoughts. She hated having them. She hated even more that they were becoming more frequent.

She was in a mood, made worse by the lackluster security briefing sitting in her lap. It took more pains to assure her that everything was fine in her new demesne than it did on actual threat analyses and intelligence gathering. If that were the case, she wouldn’t be out one driver and one factory. Going over the older counter-insurgency reports from Capricorn’s reign had done even less to improve her attitude. It was like looking at Mariposa’s administration of Austria. And hadn’t that gone ever so well? After too much time pissing herself off by reading the datafiles, Alexandra sagged back in her chair. She looked over at her lieutenant governor, Thomas Sewell, House Tetrarch. He was tall and thin with black hair and inquisitive brown eyes. He was also almost as young as she was. Lord Capricorn had chosen Sewell not for any administrative experience, but for his family connections and lack of spine.

To his credit, Thomas did appear to be an excellent interim governor and had kept the Minnesotan Territories running more or less smoothly after Lord Capricorn had been recalled to Garamond. Sewell’s largest issue appeared to be an inability to stand up for himself. He’d deferred too often to Lord Capricorn and, it appeared, to Savoy’s head of security in running the Territories.

Thomas didn’t notice Savoy’s attention and Alexandra looked away. He was still smarting from the discussion they’d had about the state of her new lands and his kowtowing to Mendula. He was a big boy; he’d either get over it and rise to the occasion, or he’d find himself a new lord or lady to serve. She looked back out the window at the slowly-recovering American Midwest and sighed. This was her life now. No longer a soldier, she had to be a leader, governing a province of people who were either indifferent to her, programmed to worship her, or wanted her dead.

What in the Hell am I doing?

~

Darren made it a point to learn something new every day. His goal was to learn something new about everyone he met, but he often fell short of that mark and satisfied himself with any new fact he could uncover, no matter how obscure or useless. Today, he’d learned that Verona didn’t fly well. In fact, until now, she’d never flown at all. She’d been born in Garamond, trained and educated in the schools there and then assigned to House Atlas and their theater. The familiar hadn’t thrown up, but she’d certainly been holding onto her armrests for dear life during takeoff.

In a wrongheaded attempt to be friendly, Darren had offered to let the young woman hold his hand. She’d accepted and seemed to have liked that he made the gesture. It turned out to be wrongheaded, since he’d forgotten just what being a familiar meant. They weren’t anywhere close to a Victor in their physical attributes, but in case of a sapiens uprising, the invictus had made their pets just a touch better, enough to slant the odds away from quantity and back towards quality. While still a far cry from a professional weight-lifter, Darren kept himself in good condition and exercised regularly. He’d never break any records, but he liked to think that he kept himself at above average fitness. Even then, Verona was at least as strong as him and as the aircraft rose higher, her white-knuckled grip went from tight to crushing. Once they reached cruising altitude, she eased up and despite his throbbing hand, Darren smiled at her. Verona gave him a shaky grin back, her normally dusky skin pallid.

The lower deck was packed, filled with various bits of cargo. Much of it was ostentatious gestures of friendship and camaraderie that many Houses had bestowed on Savoy and she’d presumably demonstrated appropriate gratitude for. Set apart from all of that was a dinged and battered case, easily large enough for someone to climb inside. It was heavily reinforced, like it was meant to survive being thrown out of the back of a plane. If Darren had to guess, he would have said it was about ninety years old. In fact, he would have also guessed that it was a drop canister from the Hegemony military and that it had in fact been tossed out of more than one aircraft. There was a message scribbled on one corner in a language Darren didn’t recognize.

It was the one thing that Savoy had actually watched be loaded onto the shuttle. Any other Vickie would have been looking over the ground crews’ shoulders as the priceless flotsam and jetsam were carried aboard, promising all manner of dire consequences should anything be in less than perfect condition at the end of the flight, but Savoy hadn’t said a word. She’d watched that crate, though. It was important to her and that meant it was important to Darren. Curiousity itched in the back of his brain, but he was careful not to pay too much attention to it. He looked over at the other passengers on the lower deck, a smattering of familiars and sapiens servants. They were gifts as much as anything else here and apparently of just as much interest to Lady Vipress. Several of the familiars had noticed him offering his hand to Verona and wore expressions of mild offense and somewhat-polite disdain, but had gone back to their own conversations in due course.

Likewise, he chatted with Verona. She’d found out he’d grown up in the area and was all too eager to pump him for information, particularly on the history and culture of the region and she quickly forgot about her fear of flying. About halfway through the flight, Verona received a call from several of the other familiars at the theater. They’d made a banner for her, which they’d proudly unfurled: ENJOY THE MIDWEST. “We miss you already!” Tanya had squealed, bouncing up and down and waving. “Call us when you get settled!” That had been Joshua. “Remember, she’s got a whole domain to run,” Kathy had advised teasingly. “Don’t tire her out.” After she’d ended the call, Verona had teared up a little. Darren gave her shoulder a squeeze. She’d asked what his friends had said about his leaving on such short notice.

“They understand,” he said. “This might be one of the best job opportunities I’ve had and they know that. We’ll keep in touch, though, Always do.”

Verona nodded. She seemed about to say something else when the door to the lower deck opened and a pretty brunette flight attendant came over to Verona and Darren’s seats. “Miss Sands,” the stewardess said. “Lady Vipress has asked if you would like to join her on the upper deck?”

Darren was surprised that he didn’t end up sprawled in the aisle in Verona’s haste to get out of her seat. No, she didn’t fly well… but she adapted pretty quickly.

~

Lady Vipress was tense. You didn’t need any special intuition to be able to pick that out, but Verona could tell that her new mistress’s ire wasn’t of the same type as she’d seen in the theater. Given the anxiety she could see in several of the other invictus in the upper cabin, she was guessing that Lady Vipress had not been pleased with whatever they had been discussing. She needed a distraction, then. The familiar did her best not to wobble as the shuttle hit a brief patch of turbulence, but she caught the amused twitch of Savoy’s lips and saw that she hadn’t been successful. Verona slid into the seat next to Alexandra, meeting her eyes. Many invictus didn’t like that; they felt it was disrespectful, but Verona knew that her new mistress was certainly not like the other invictus. “You asked for me?”

Savoy nodded. “Yes, thank you. You’ve been looking into the Territories?”

“Yes,” Verona replied with a touch of excitement. She was still far from an expert, but she’d enjoyed learning about her new home. “Ever since I was transferred from the theater. I’ve looked into local artists, theater, pre-War history. I haven’t been able to cover that much of it, but-”

Alexandra leaned towards the familiar, resting her chin on the back of one hand. “Tell me what you’ve learned,” she said.

~

Capricorn City was, by pre-War standards, not a terribly large place. Its population was less than a tenth of Minneapolis… had anyone still lived in its crumbling wreckage. Many major population centers were dead and had been for decades. Only places that the Hegemony had prioritized in rebuilding like Garamond gave some semblance of human civilization returning to Earth. Five billion people died. Some starved as crops were poisoned and stores ran out. Others fell to disease; many through the filth of war but others from the Hegemony’s bioweapons. Riots, civil wars, radiation sickness – the ways that humanity had used to tear itself apart were both many and varied. After Johannesburg, when the Coalition’s last, desperate chance for victory had failed, the killing had truly begun in earnest. No… not killing. It had been too sterile, too clinical for that. Culling. The eradication of defiant populations and anyone who could pose a threat to the Hegemony and their damned High Human Culture. And that bitch upstairs was the one who had made it all possible.

Why couldn’t she have just died? It wasn’t an angry thought. If he’d seen Savoy revelling in this new world, it would be easier to find that hatred. Instead, it was almost despondent.

None of the operative’s inner turmoil showed on his face and he kept staring out the window as the shuttle made its final descent. Instead, Darren let an almost wry assessment of the city worm into his thoughts. What kind of pompous asshole to you have to be to name a city after yourself? But then, he knew the answer to that question.

The shuttle suddenly shivered, making a harder turn than Darren had expected and the craft dropped altitude. For an instant, he thought it was evasive maneuvers, that they might be taking fire but the shuttle was just changing course. It was heading away from the Vipress mansion, towards a large, open square near the center of the city. Darren frowned, trying to understand why they were changing course. He didn’t have the same visual acuity as an invictus and it took him several moments to see it.

Oh.

~

Verona’s research of the Territories was, as promised, only a skim of the general trends, but she had studied enough to talk about the Scandinavian influences in the region’s folk stories, songs and artistry, talking about several pre-War trends in art and culture before moving on to the Métis influences in the Canadian regions. If nothing else, she was passionate about her interests. Alexandra was listening quietly, occasionally glancing out the window. The shuttle was coming down, making a lazy winding arc over Capricorn City to show off the glamour of her new capital. They’d already passed over her mansion and its grounds. It was almost a third as large as the city, with small forests, sculpted landscapes and orchards speckling its acreage, but it was something in the city itself that caught Alexandra’s eye. She’d initially dismissed what she’d seen as just an illusion, her mind reading something into the city’s design that wasn’t actually there. As they got lower and curled back across the same area, she saw that she hadn’t been wrong at all.

Alexandra lifted an arm that she hadn’t noticed putting around Verona’s shoulder. “Sewell,” she gestured to her lieutenant governor.

Thomas unbuckled his seatbelt and stood in the aisle, leaning over Verona. “Yes, my lady?”

“What is that?” she demanded, pointing at the structure she’d seen.

“That, uh, that is Capricorn Center Square,” Sewell replied. “It was originally used for public gatherings but Lord Capricorn he, uh…”

“He built a gallows.”

“Yes, my lady. Lord Capricorn felt it was important to have public examples of justice. Director Mendula believed in the practice as well. Those responsible for the recent terrorism were executed there.”

Alexandra hissed a breath out through her teeth. Isabella would be proud. “Put us down there,” she ordered.

“We are expected at the estate,” Sewell protested, but one sharp look from Savoy sent him scurrying to the cockpit to relay the new orders.

~

Capricorn Center Square was easily large enough to accommodate the shuttle and its thrusters blew across the flagstones, adding to the morning breeze. Despite the early hour, there were still a few people about. Dog-walkers and shop-owners, each doing their best not to look towards the platform sitting in the center of the square and the three bodies hanging there. The shuttle had barely settled on the ground before the door opened and Savoy exited, Sewell and a small gaggle of administrators following her. Verona followed, hurrying to keep pace with her mistress’s strides.

In the lower deck, Darren saw the procession and unbuckled his own belt. “Where are you going?” one of the familiars demanded. Simon, if Hawke remembered correctly.

“Outside.”

“No one said we could leave,” Simon protested.

Hawke grinned a little. “No one said we couldn’t, either.”

The other familiars shared looks. A few gave in to their curiousity and followed Darren, while a handful of others remained where they were. Darren ignored them, focusing instead on what was happening outside.

Savoy was already on the platform; as he got closer, Darren could make out more details on the dead. Two men and a woman. One of the men was dressed in a chauffeur’s outfit and Darren felt his stomach clench at the realization of just how Lady Vipress’s last driver had left her service. He’d been told that the Coalition in the Territories was increasingly active, but he hadn’t heard anything about this. That wasn’t surprising, though. Communication between individual cells within the city was spotty at best; networking across an entire country or continent was just begging to have everyone involved scooped up by HSS.

Darren’s jaw clenched as he stared at the bodies, once again reminded what sapiens life was worth to the Victors. Nothing, except to make an example. He let his gaze drift back to Savoy. She was examining each of the executed, her fingers touching the nooses around their necks. He saw her frown, an expression of… disapproval? Disgust? Disappointment? drifting across her face, but it was gone just as quickly as it had arrived. The bodies hadn’t been there for too long; maybe one or two days. Hawke approached the gallows carefully. The other familiars were hanging back, but he found Verona at the bottom of the stairs. She was quiet.

Sewell was on the platform as well, trying and failing to get Savoy to return to the shuttle. She silenced him with a gesture. “Their families,” she said flatly. “Get them out here.”

Years of practice made it easy for Darren to keep his face impassive as Sewell relayed the order. Security teams would be dispatched to those houses, pulling the men and women there out for whatever little show that the ‘Hero of Johannesburg’ wanted to put on. Counter-insurgency operations, he reminded himself. The king is dead. Long live the queen. Then, Savoy continued. “And tell Mendula that I want him here, too.”

Sewell passed along that order as well. After a moment, he raised his head. “The security director begs your forgiveness but he is otherwise engaged at the moment. He will, of course, be present for your briefing this afternoon.”

Savoy said nothing for several seconds. When she did speak, it was as an officer dealing with yet another recalcitrant subordinate. “Unless something in my territory is about to explode and Director Mendula is single-handedly preventing that from happening, tell him that I want to see him here right fucking now.” Her lieutenant governor’s eyes widened and he spoke into his comm with rather more urgency than before.

“He’ll be here shortly, my lady.”

“Good.” Alexandra said nothing else, standing on the edge of the platform, hands behind her back in a parade rest stance. The sun was creeping ever higher, making her golden hair shine. Except for the scars, she could have been an image taken from a recruiting poster. It was easy to forget just how young she was, but here in the early morning light, Darren could see a girl who should have been worrying about college exams and wondering who to go with to the next party, not a weapon who’d taken her first life before she’d been out of childhood. For an instant, he felt a touch of sympathy, but the sight of the three dead bodies behind Savoy quickly quashed it. This was the world she’d brought into being. He was here because she hadn’t had the common decency to die when she should have. Neither the Hegemony nor any of its self-appointed masters had any right to exist.

Several minutes passed, the party of invictus and sapiens whispering to one another, but no one was bold enough to interrupt their lady from her thoughts, whatever they might be. A small crowd was gathering as passersby and onlookers wondered what demonstration their new liege had planned. More people were drifting in as word circulated through the city. Finally, the first of the executed’s families arrived, angry and fearful. Darren had no doubt that the HSS agents that had come to collect them had gleefully informed them that Lady Vipress had personally insisted on their presence. They were probably afraid of becoming the next bodies on the end of a creaking rope. The family members were jostled towards the edge of the forming crowd. Savoy looked over each of them, but made no other acknowledgement of their arrival. A mother was holding onto her son. A father was trying to be stoic for his daughter. They were terrified.

Finally, Security Director of Minnesotan Territories Emanuel Mendula arrived, his spotless town car pulling up next to the gallows. Even for an invictus, he was tall, with slicked-back black hair just starting to grey and chiselled good looks with a mouth that seemed even more predisposed to smirking than Trevor Halkein’s. Compared to the bedraggled families, he had clearly taken the time to style and primp himself. Clearly, ‘right fucking now’ had some wiggle room in it that Darren had been unaware of it. He ascended the steps up to the platform, ignoring the gathered sapiens and familiars and only barely acknowledging Sewell’s presence.

He sketched a half-bow when he approached Savoy. “Security Director Mendula, reporting as requested.”

Savoy’s nostrils flared slightly at the word requested, but she let it pass, although she didn’t turn to acknowledge the other invictus. “Is this them? The relatives of those you executed?”

Mendula looked over each group in turn, his expression that of a man being asked to contemplate horse manure. “Yes, that appears to be all of the traitors’ families.”

“Good.” There was a flicker of movement and Savoy had drawn a knife. Darren’s eyes widened a fraction. He hadn’t even known she’d been armed. Savoy flipped the weapon, casually catching it by the blade. She held the hilt towards Mendula. “Cut them down.”

The security director stared at her for a moment, convinced he had heard incorrectly. “What?”

Savoy finally deigned to look at him. “Cut them down.” Her expression hardened. “This is the second time I’ve had to repeat an order to you. There won’t be a third.”

Mendula looked from Savoy, to the hanging bodies, to the knife and back again, incredulity and disgust warring on his face. For a moment, it seemed as if he would refuse, but he took the blade and moved to the first body, the woman. He cut the rope with a single slice and her body thumped onto the wooden platform. There was a whimper from someone in the crowd, but Savoy’s slow intake of breath was louder. She turned to fix her head of security with an expression Darren would have bet good money would be a prelude to violence in any other circumstance. He seemed to wilt and he was much more careful with the other bodies, gently lowering them to the platform, though his revulsion was obvious. Savoy took the knife back, looking at each of the families. “Bury your dead,” she said, the first and only words she’d directed at them. She turned, putting a hand on Mendula’s chest. “We’re going to talk about this later,” she promised, and her eyes were cold.

~

As the shuttle was being cleared out and its cargo of artefacts and people were transferred to the Vipress mansion, Darren picked out his quarters in the servants’ wing. It was actually nicer than his apartment back in Garamond. There were a cluster of butlers, maids, valets, assistants and aides here as well, both familiar and sapiens. Most were leftovers from Capricorn. Others had been dispatched at the behest of the Hegemony Council in founding House Vipress. He’d make it a point to introduce himself to each of the staff over the next couple days. It never hurt to be friendly. You got further with a kind word and a sympathetic ear than sullen, brooding hostility. Most of the sapiens he’d met so far seemed nice enough, but the familiars were more standoffish than he’d anticipated. Since Lady Vipress’s former sapiens chauffeur had been caught assisting in the destruction of an aeronautics facility, the attitude wasn’t all that surprising.

Verona wasn’t here. There was a room set aside for her, but word travelled fast. Her status as the Lady’s current preferred companion was by now well-known among the staff and until the Lady chose a new favourite, it was expected that Verona would be spending most of her nights in the master bedroom. With any other Vickie, Darren would have made the same bet. With Savoy, he couldn’t have said. He didn’t even know if she had a sex drive.

It wasn’t Savoy’s nocturnal activities that were generating the most buzz, though. Her actions at the square were already the source of much debate. Some appeared to think it was a conciliatory gesture, one that would be wasted on sapiens vandals and criminals. Darren was prepared to agree that it was possible; the Black Fridays had been ruthless, but they’d never indulged in brutality for the sake of it. Still, they’d carried out their actions with a textbook definition of ‘extreme prejudice’, doing whatever was necessary for victory. Whether or not Savoy was feeling magnanimous right now didn’t mean anything to Darren. She could turn as easily as her namesake. She was invictus. He was sapiens. Everything followed from that.

~

Mendula and his second in command, Vincent Redmane, entered Savoy’s office. She was standing behind her desk and her cold emerald gaze moved from Redman to Emanuel. “I’ll start simple,” she said without any attempt at niceties. “Mao or Guevara?”

The director looked over at his subordinate, confused. Alexandra smiled, but it was not a kind gesture. “Perhaps that was unfair,” she said. “I shouldn’t expect a high-ranking member of HSS responsible for the security of a territory encompassing hundreds of thousands of square miles and nearly a million people to know of the two men who wrote the books on developing an insurgency.”

Mendula flushed a deep red and opened his mouth to retort, but Alexandra didn’t give him the chance. “Mao Tse Tsung was a communist revolutionary,” she began. “He believed that revolutionaries must be like ‘fish in water’ to survive. The people of the nation were the water, concealing and assisting insurgents. In order to get this support, Mao believed that fighters must go out among the populace, informing and educating them of the revolutionary struggle. Only when they had enough support from the population would an armed conflict begin. Che Guevara had the opposite opinion. He believed that revolutionaries must start the conflict, performing public strikes at symbols of the regime’s power to inspire the populace and turn them to their cause.

“So tell me, Director Mendula – am I looking at an insurgency that is enjoying widespread support from the one million seven hundred thousand sapiens in my territory, or is this an attempt to stir up that kind of revolution?” She pushed the datapad containing his security briefing across the table. “This doesn’t tell me anything. It’s full of assurances and promises and passing the buck and tells me not one fucking thing about the extent of terrorism you and that idiot Capricorn let fester here.”

“I appreciate your input, My Lady,” Mendula bit out. He’d been holding the Territories together for Capricorn and now he had to play up to this gun-toting jarhead. Hero of Johannesburg or not, she was a relic. “But the sapiens need a firm hand. If we don’t make an example out of these traitors and seditionists, there’ll be chaos in the streets.”

“After we pacified Austria, Isabella Mariposa – one of the Primogenitors – took stewardship of several provinces there,” Savoy said as if Mendula hadn’t spoken at all. “This was late in the war and the doctor’s mind was not what it once was. She was paranoid, seeing Coalition plots and threats everywhere. No one was above suspicion. Not her fellow sapiens, her forerunners – not even her fellow Primogenitors. The only people she trusted without question were us, her ‘children’. Her territories had always had a bit of discontent, but nothing major. That was enough for Mariposa and as the Austrians continued to resist, Mariposa pushed back, believing that she needed to make examples. That the population had to learn. That they needed a… ‘firm hand’. There were public executions, disappearances of critics of our regime, incarceration of the families of dissidents. Those calling for nonviolent resistance to the Hegemony and even those working with the regime were targeted.

“Oddly, every time Mariposa bore down on the population, they pushed back. There was more disobedience and more violent protests. Then there were riots. Then there were bombings. In turn, the doctor escalated her campaign against the population. Her lessons became more and more bloody. It got to the point that my unit had to be re-deployed back to Austria to take out multiple insurgent bases. When we’d left, there was nothing resembling a cohesive rebellion but we came back to a country in the throes of a civil war.

“By the time we restored order, Austria was worthless to the Hegemony. Reading your assurances gave me the strangest feeling that I was looking at Mariposa’s own notes before she drove an obedient, if bitterly unhappy populace into a country of soldiers fighting against us.”

“If you will examine the full record-” Mendula began hotly, but Savoy cut him off again.

“I have,” she continued remorselessly. “It disgusts me. Your counter-intelligence operations are ham-handed. Your ‘elite counter-terrorism’ force are little better than thugs with shiny guns. Your entire operational stance is based on reaction and then carrying out reprisals against individuals who may not even be associated with Coalition terrorists. I also believe that your service has been compromised.”

“That’s not possible.”

“No? Looking at the local HSS, I could spot at least three vulnerabilities and I had only a few days to go over the information. Your opponents have had years to study your designs and counter them.”

Mendula smiled patronizingly. “I assure My Lady that it just isn’t possible. I understand your background may incline you to see certain things, but the HSS is inviolate. I also… appreciate that you may want to win the hearts and minds of the locals, but allow someone with benefit of experience to enlighten you on how things are done in this century.”

“Please,” Alexandra said far too calmly, but Mendula seemed not to notice. “Enlighten me.”

“You cannot reason with sapiens,” the older man informed Savoy. “You cannot appeal to their better natures, no more than you can appeal to the better nature of any other animal. They have no capacity for anything beyond their next day. The wisest of them look only a handful of years in the future.” He gestured out the window. “I can assure My Lady that those sapiens in the square are not thinking of her with kind thoughts. They will continue to act up until even they can understand that resistance is pointless. They must learn and pretending otherwise will only lead to more bloodshed. It is regrettable,” he sounded as if he believed it. “But necessary.”

His smirk widened, the man’s expression a perfect study in condescension, a teacher explaining something to a willfully obtuse student. “I have heard about your actions in Garamond. However useful you felt the sapiens of your time were, whatever you thought of their ‘courage’, they were always only a means to an end for us. You were a member of the Black Fridays; you understand this. It’s not necessary to pretend otherwise. Sapiens are incapable of learning from the carrot and they only understand the stick. Give me the latitude I need and I promise that they shall be broken to your will.”

Alexandra put her hands behind her back. It was the only way that she could keep Mendula and Redman from seeing how badly they were shaking. Her nostrils flared and she fought down the urge to scream at Emanuel. We were supposed to be better than this! “I thought I might be able to salvage something from you,” Alexandra said after a moment. “I was wrong. Director Emanuel Mendula, you are relieved of duty, effective immediately.” When the older man did not move, gaping at her in incredulity, Alexandra added: “You are dismissed.”

Her tone was what shocked him into action. Dismissed? Like a common servant? He purpled with rage, about to let loose a withering condemnation of this… this child’s sneering dismissal of his work, until he saw the look in her eyes and suddenly all those old stories of the primagens came back. He clicked his jaw shut and spun on his heel, slamming the doors to her office on his way out.

“Director Redmane,” Alexandra said, drawing Vincent’s attention back to her. “I expect three things from you.” She ticked off points on her fingers. “First, you will provide a comprehensive threat breakdown and behavioural pattern analysis of the Minnesotan insurgency, including an assessment of the vulnerabilities within the Hegemony’s services in this region. Secondly, you will draw up plans for useful counter-intelligence operations, defensive, offensive and protective. Thirdly and finally, you will overhaul the training and operational status of the local ECT. I expect to see them meet the standards of War-era counter-insurgency teams. Will there be an issue with any of these orders?”

“No,” Redmane assured her. “No, My Lady.”

“Good,” Alexandra nodded. “I’ll let you attend to the former director’s termination, but I expect to hear from you shortly.”

Vincent nodded, almost bobbing his head off. “I won’t disappoint you, My Lady.”

“I hope not,” Savoy replied, finally taking a seat at her desk. “I sincerely do.”

~

The rest of the day’s meetings went much smoother than that as Alexandra was brought up to speed on her new demesne. Pre-War, the territory had been known primarily for agriculture, but with impressive high-tech and aeromotive industries. Little had changed; reclamation and production in agriculture lands was ongoing, the Territories were home to several airfields capable of launching and recovering space planes and low-orbit shuttles and there was a burgeoning industrial sector focused around the production and servicing of those craft. The Minnesotan Territories were a microcosm of the rest of America. Wounded, but enduring. Alexandra liked that.

She stood on her bedroom’s balcony, looking over the lights of Capicorn City. Over A hundred thousand people there and she didn’t know how many of them wanted her dead. She liked that less. Capricorn’s mismanagement of the region had led to his recall and the Hegemony Parliament had decided a primagen would be the perfect candidate to bring the region to heel. She still wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a reward, or they were just putting her somewhere out of the way, watching to see if she failed. Failures were easier to ignore than war heroes.

We were supposed to be better, she thought again. I will be. She continued watching the city for several moments. One hundred thousand souls.

I wonder how many I’m going to kill.

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