Sharoma Frontierverse Why Did The Groigan Dance? Chapter 5

Why Did The Groigan Dance?

Chapter 5

Audience with the Emperor


The Baron looked at the speaker from around a cup of Soloan Red. A fairly tall young officer, no more than twenty five years of age, returned the glare stare for stare with a look that was meant to convince Bush that he should be ecstatic that a member of the Navy was even deigning to speak to him. Bush snorted, taking in the three bars on the left sleeve of the boy's uniform (Another wide-eyed brat from Jameson, he smirked to himself), and took his time to finish the glass of the expensive brew before turning back to the young squire.

"I believe you meant to say 'Excuse me, Baron,' correct, Squire?" Not that he looked much like a Baron at the moment, sitting at a low-scale pub in a wrinkly one-piece synthefiber jumpsuit, but this was Achenar, the seat of the Emperor, and here one couldn't let these wet-eared recruits get too full of themselves.

"Yes, my lord Baron, of course." The boy managed to spit out, narrowing his eyes. This drunken farce of an officer was correcting him?

Bush saw the look, and laughed. The left side of the boy's lip curled in a slight sneer, and Bush grinned even wider.

"Well, what is it that you want, son?" The old man's insult made the squire's back get even straighter, if possible. Bush was enjoying this immensely. Maybe I should take that teaching job at Facece that the Navy offered.

"Yes, my lord Baron. I am to escort you to the Emperor right away, my lord Baron." The cadet's eyes gave Bush's clothes a slow look-over, and grew bright with amusement. "Right away, my lord Baron."

"About damn time. I've only been here for two days now," Bush said, watching the boy's jaw work soundlessly. No doubt the cadet had never heard someone refer to the Emperor so callously before. Bush felt the grin begin to creep back to his face, but then he remembered what he was going to see the Emperor for, and the urge to smile left. "Wait here while I go change."

"I'm sorry, my lord Baron, but I have explicit orders to escort you to the Emperor."

"Oh, very well then, you can stand outside my door then." Without giving the boy a chance to argue, he strode out the front door, leaving the boy to look around stupidly before following.

Neither noticed the dark haired man that tucked a small holovid into his pocket and got up to follow the two at a safe distance.

"No one tried to break in and steal my undies now, did they?" Bush asked the cadet when he emerged from his room fifteen minutes later. He had taken a shower and brushed his teeth, and now came to the cadet in his dress blues and looking every bit the Baron that he was supposed to be. He had even slicked his hair back in the current Facecian fashion.

The boy took in the clothes and the question with a blank face, "Are you ready to go, my lord Baron?"

Bush sighed. There was just no impressing the upstarts these days. "Lead away, cadet," he said, "Even I don't dare push the Emperor too far."

Giving the Baron a skeptical look, thinking that the Emperor would already be seething, the cadet motioned for the Baron to follow him. The soft clicks of the heels of their boots on the cold tile floors of the compound echoed down the halls behind them as they began to walk.

"You haven't yet told me your name, cadet," Bush informed the boy after five minutes of walking in dead silence.

he boy didn't even look the Baron's way. "Squire Ulysses Sinclair, my lord Baron."

"Sinclair, eh? Sounds like a name from the Sol area."

"Yes, sir," replied the cadet properly, leaving Bush unsure whether he meant yes the name is Solari, or yes it sounds like it is. Bush shook his head and tried again.

"Ulysses. I recognize that name as well. Are you a fan of ancient Earth literature, son?"

"No, my lord Baron. But I know the origin of my name, my mother is an avid scholar of barbaric earth mythology, sir."

"Really? Maybe you could arrange it for us to meet," Bush said with a smile towards Sinclair. Sinclair once again narrowed his eyes and pointed at a plain gray door in front of them.

"Here it is, my lord Baron. You must travel the rest of the way yourself." Satisfied that his job was over, the boy wheeled around and marched back down the corridor, not even waiting for a dismissal from the Baron. Bush shrugged, opened the door, and took the first steps towards his meeting with Emperor Duval.

The Emperor was not an easy man to reach, especially if you are meeting the man "unofficially"; when Bush met the Emperor away from prying eyes, the path to the secret location he used for the rendezvous was a long, winding trek. Bush started by entering the door and going down a long, wholly unremarkable service corridor, traveling for close to twenty minutes before coming to a small door that led to an exit to the outside of the perimeter of the city's defensive and atmospheric shielding. Here he walked a small dirt path deep into the surrounding forest until he came to a small clearing, and was greeted by a grim-faced military policeman in an unmarked black hovercraft, who -despite Bush's objections- had the Baron tie a piece of cloth around his head, effectively blinding him. The two then took a long ride into the deep woods, made longer from the repeated twists and turns the driver took in order to throw off any attempt of trying to remember the route on Bush's part. Bush let out a long sigh as he felt the craft touch down gently, glad the hellish journey was finally over, a full three hours after he had left Squire Sinclair by the plain door in the city.

He heard the door open. "Get out," a gruff voice instructed. Bush was all too glad to comply, and the driver untied the blindfold from around his head. It took a few moments for Bush's eyes, used to the darkness of the blindfold now, to readjust to the faint red dusk of the fading sun, but when they did, the Baron gasped at the pure beauty and genius of the hidden lair of the grand Emperor Duval.

Bush now realized why no one had ever managed to discover the location of the place, despite numerous tries by various radical groups and the odd Federal assassin. It was not really a building at all, but instead a miniature palace built under and into the trunks of the Great Trees of the forest. Ornate doors were carved into the huge trees, and small permaglass stainglass windows showing the history of the Duval line were also in place. Bush had little time to marvel at the beauty of the scene, however, because as soon as the driver had parked the hovercraft under a large camouflaged canopy he walked over and gave the Baron a light push in the back. "Get moving," the man growled. "The Emperor waits for no one." Bush nodded stupidly, still amazed at the setting, and began stumbling to the large doors that the driver pointed him towards, massive oaken ones with the profile of a roaring lion carved carefully into them.

Inside, the Emperor himself upon a gargantuan throne of solid gold, his crown sitting casually in his lap. The driver poked Bush in the back of the knees, and Bush grudgingly knelt before his lord, head lowered and left hand extended slightly, palm upwards, in the manner of an ancient Earth nation, who's name was already long forgotten. "My lord Emperor," he said, "I am afraid I have come bearing horrible news, news that could rip our fragile peace with the Federation apart." He kept his head down as he said this.

"Hmmm... most disheartening, Baron." The deep voice of the Emperor came floating down from the top of the throne, and Bush had to admit that he hadn't felt this elated in a long while. The Emperor was talking to him! "Do look up at me, young man, it is not polite to conduct a conversation with one's head." Bush looked up, and his heart skipped a beat when he saw the Emperor staring at him. "Now what is so important that you must meet me out here?"

Bush actually managed not to stutter while relating the events of the day a week ago, telling the Emperor first of Jaquai's message and then the attack in hyperspace by the mysterious Thargoid. He even held out a copy of Jaqaui's message and the ship's records of the hyperspace battle. He bowed his head respectfully as the Emperor sent a servant to go fetch a portable holoscreen.

"Baron Bush, you realize what this could mean if this turns out to be true, do you not?"

Bush brought his head back up and stared the Emperor straight in the eye, enraged that the man had the gall to accuse him of lying. "My lord, I have faithfully served the Empire for over thirty years, as did Master Killian, and I assure you..."

The Emperor waved his hand, cutting Bush off. "You misinterpret my meaning, Baron, I only meant to suggest the needless bloodshed the Federation will cause if they intend to use this weapon against us, and if they have the Thargoids on their side...!

"Baron, I trust you mentioned this to nobody?" Bush shook his head. "Good. We shall have to investigate this matter before we take any....ah, ill-advised actions in this case. Do not think we take this too frivolously, Baron, for we -Ah! Here comes the splendid Eileene with the holoscreen now!" Emperor Duval had to bend down from the golden chair to get the object from the servant, and promptly inserted the Jaquai datacard.

Emperor Duval watched the recording in a troubled silence, and his frown got deeper and deeper with each sentence. At the mention of the Fed base on Enayess, he raised his finger an inch and another servant ran off, where to Bush could not tell. The Baron had no trouble reading the expressions on the face of the younger Emperor, and he himself felt a slight twinge of fear in his breast as the Emperor's face shifted from fear, to thoughtfulness, to perplexed.

When Jaquai's speech was over, the Emperor turned his attention back to Bush. "Did you know this Jaquai fellow well, Baron?" Bush nodded. "Hmmm.... let me have that other recording you brought." Bush handed it up and Duval slid it into the holoscreen.

This recording he watched with a deadly intent look. "Hmmm... how did you know to evade the ship's opening shots in that manner?"

"I was around during the attack on Cemiess, my lord Emperor. I also witnessed the Fourth Fleet's destruction, sir." This last came out in a choked whisper, surprising Bush and causing the Emperor to nod at him thoughtfully before turning back to the holoscreen.

The Emperor watched the rest thoughtfully, then turned to Bush once more. "Did anything about the way that Thargoid behaved strike you as peculiar, Baron?" he asked, holding his chin in his hand in contemplation.

"Yes, my lord. Most Thargoids do not fall for the old airbrake trick, not so fast at least."

"I see. Is that all...?"

Bush shook his head. "No, sir. The second message that was sent to me, that was odd as well. Never before had I seen a Thargoid send a message other than their pre-attack warnings, much less a seemingly 'vengeful' one as this."

The Emperor took this in stoically, looking to the distance in deep thought. He only became focused again when the servant came back into the room, tailed by three officers, all Princes judging by the insignias on their sleeves. Bush shivered, suddenly feeling very small in this room of Naval giants.

The Emperor took one final look at Bush . "You may leave now, Baron. I would appreciate it if you would stay somewhere I could find you if need be in the city." With that, he turned to the Princes and left Bush to follow the driver outside.

Continue the story with Chapter 6