Satrisella did everything she could to relax as she awaited word from the others. She sat back in her seat and sipped from a warm cup of Shamji though it did little for her nerves. Word had just come through that the Assembly was almost convened. In a few short minutes, they’d be walking into the waiting maws.
“How are you feeling, Shiniv Heruun”?
Satrisella felt a snap of anger with her young aide. “How do you think I’m feeling”? Aveeta recoiled slightly, not used to being spoken to with such sharpness. Satrisella rarely let her frustrations get the better of her in front of others. Her anger dissipated; she sighed. “I’m sorry, Aveeta. I have a lot on my mind at the moment”.
“Of course, Shiniv. My apologies”.
“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault”. Satrisella brought the cup to her lips only to find a few drops in the bottom. “Can somebody please get me some more Shamji”?
“Of course, Shiniv”. Kavess jumped to her feet and took the cup from Satrisella’s hand.
While she waited for her refreshment, Satrisella reflected on the reality she and her colleagues had found themselves in, as she’d done for the past few days. Much had transpired since their last meeting. The Assembly had approved their request for a hearing. They were quite insistent on it. But things took a turn for the worse when they learned of the council’s next move: to have the leaders of Freedom for All taken into custody without their knowledge or approval. Satrisella did all she could to explain the necessity of such a move; had Cemma and Sevanota learned there was even a thought of handing them over, they may well have gone into hiding, ruining the whole plan. The Assembly refused to see things from their point view, feeling (somewhat rightly) that their authority had been undermined. Then the media got hold of the story, spinning it as the Executive Council betraying their citizens to save their own skins, handing freedom fighters over to die at the hands of the Imperium. The public didn’t take kindly to the news. Freedom for All had many supporters throughout the Confederacy and the rest didn’t trust the Executive Council in general, the memory of the Collective still fresh in the minds of many. The whole thing was a mess. Satrisella didn’t want to think what would happen if the Assembly turned against the council. When all was said and done, she wondered if there would be anything left for the Imperium to destroy.
Kavess returned with a fresh cup of steaming Shamji. “Thank you, Kavess”. Shamji had always been Satrisella’s favourite. The blend of leaves within were said to have nerve calming side effects. She must have drank gallons of the stuff since her last meeting with the council alone, and an entire ocean’s worth in the past few weeks.
A shrill beep filled the chamber. Satrisella waited until both aides had exited and the door was closed before she hit the button on her arm rest. The white walls quickly gave way to the darkness of the V-space although it would bring none of the peace Satrisella was used to. She doubted it ever would again.
The V-space was empty aside from her, or almost empty. Chancellor Mahalan sat opposite, in a seat several times the size of hers. “Chancellor Heruun. It’s good to see you. If only it were under happier circumstances”.
“In this day and age, I doubt there could be any favourable circumstances that would see us sitting across from one another”.
Kamrack smirked. “I suppose not”. Satrisella sipped her Shamji. “How do you feel”?
“Just fine, Chancellor”. She returned the cup to the holder.
“Did you see the latest headlines? Who does the Executive Council represent? The Executive Council cowers before the Imperium”?
“No”. Satrisella had learned very early in her career to ignore the headlines in any way connected to herself. “Only fools believe the Confederacy could survive without us. The Assembly needs a driving force to focus its priorities. They’re all too busy worrying about their own needs to lead something as big and complex as the Confederacy”.
“I agree. Too bad most people don’t. They only see the same greedy and corrupt syndicate from the days of the Collective, only looking out for themselves while the rest of the galaxy suffered. Now they think the same of us”.
Satrisella took another sip. “That’s just a fact of life. People will never trust the ones who hold the power, regardless of how much they do for them”.
Kamrack looked like he was about to utter a response when another beep perforated the silence. Uhrun then materialized to Satrisella’s left, also in a seat much larger than hers.
“Chancellor Mahalan, Chancellor Heruun. What a mess this is”.
“How do you feel about today”?
“Did you not hear what I just said? That sums up my feelings about the whole situation exactly. Those idiots and their precious Freedom for All”. She might not have liked him, but Satrisella understood Uhrun’s frustrations only too well.
They let Uhrun continue his ranting about the Assembly, the public, Freedom for All, the Imperium, the Neutral Expanse, and just about everything else. Satrisella finished her Shamji and immediately wished for another, hoping its calming properties would kick in soon. She was going to need all the help she could get if she was to spend the next few hours in the company of Uhrun. There came another beep and Chancellor Kel’jung appeared between Uhrun and Kamrack, fat little legs dangling over the edge of his seat. Aside from offering greetings, he had little to say though clearly he didn’t hold much optimism for what lay ahead. Satrisella would have been more worried if he did.
Hade was next to appear, standing to Kamrack’s right. Chelk didn’t sit. It too offered polite greetings but nothing else though, unlike the Volhollon Chancellor, Satrisella couldn’t tell how it felt about the situation, if anything at all. The Chelk were some of the strangest creatures in the whole galaxy, in more ways than just appearance. They didn’t seem to want or need anything, providing aid in many sectors but asking nothing in return, seemingly uninterested in anything except basic self-preservation.
Next came Tekk Dell Lodd, accompanied by several companions whom Satrisella suspected represented the true leadership of the Jukrillarian Sovereignty. He barely interacted with the others, giving only a look and a nod in their general direction. His companions whispered in his ears, most likely coaching the young chancellor on what he was expected to say and do once the hearing got underway though that would probably amount to nothing. He barely said anything when it was just him.
The humans were some of the last to appear. The tensions in the V-space grew noticeably thicker with their arrival. Uhrun was glaring at the Vice-Chancellor so hard it looked like he was trying to murder him with just his eyes. Something was going on between them. “Vice-Chancellor. I believe I told you there would be no renegotiation in regard to the terms of mining the asteroid fields between our territories. So imagine my surprise when, just as I was preparing to come here, I receive word from the commanders of my navy, informing me of human mining ships operating inside my borders”. Satrisella thought as much.
“What is he talking about”? General Stell asked his counterpart.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Get your ships out of my territory”.
“We have no ships in your territory, Chancellor, nor would we send any without permission from you and your government”. He looked to the Vice-Chancellor. “Right”? The Vice-Chancellor said nothing, beady eyes fixed on Uhrun. The General’s expression became one of horror as he realized the truth. “You have got to be kidding me”.
Uhrun smirked. “So you didn’t know. So much for Chancellor Calsen leaving the two of you in charge. You think I’m making it up? Ask the dwarf”.
“We need those resources”, insisted the Vice-Chancellor,
“And you went behind my back and the cabinet and parliament for them? Do you have any idea what will happen when this gets out”?
“Nothing will happen! Everything will be fine once they see we’re not getting the deal we deserve”.
Uhrun struck an unseen table with his fist. “No, they won’t be fine, you little worm! You think you can come into another species’ territory without permission and take whatever you want”?
“We’re only on the edge of your territory, where you have no operations. You don’t need that space and you know it”.
“I don’t give a damn if you’re only an inch into my territory. You have no right to be there. How would you like it if we started mining on your side without permission”?
“It wouldn’t come to that because my kind offer good deals to our allies”.
“The terms between my kind and yours are fair. You mine your side and we mine ours”.
“Not when our needs are greater than yours. You have more than enough resources to go around even if we take our fair share”.
Uhrun let out a long sigh, fists clenching. “I’m only going to warn you this one time. The Iringroat will not tolerate human encroachment on their territory, or the stealing of their resources. Recall your ships at once or we will take immediate action”.
“That sounds more like a threat than a warning”.
Uhrun shot forward so fast Satrisella thought he was about to dive across the V-space onto the Vice-Chancellor, were such a thing possible. “It’s not a threat, it’s a promise! Get your ships out of my territory or your species and mine are going to have a very big problem”!
Silence. Both chancellors glared at each other, scanning for any iota of weakness. If looks could kill, two sovereignties would be needing new leaders.
General Stell broke the silence. “I assure you, Chancellor Suhyur, those ships will be recalled immediately, and there will be no more encroachments upon your territory”.
Uhrun gave the General a sideways glance, no fonder of him than he was the Vice-Chancellor. “See that there aren’t”.
The tension remained like smog long after the conversation concluded. Satrisella had thought there was no way her day could get any worse but, of course, the universe always had something new up its sleeve. They couldn’t just leave that there. One sovereignty undermining the borders of another? Breaking already established agreements? At a time like this? Something had to be done, but not yet. There were more important issues to think about. That idiot of a Vice-Chancellor. How did he get to where he is? She could only pray Chancellor Calsen would return soon to rein him in, or perhaps something would have to be done about him as well.
The beep sounded again, and they were joined by the fur-covered mountain that was Chancellor Bidhunn. “Apologies for my lateness. Have I missed anything”?
If only you knew.
“We’ve just been having a good old chat”, Uhrun replied. “It’s a shame you couldn’t get here sooner. I’m sure you would have found it most stimulating”. He shot the Vice-Chancellor a sharp look.
Another beep zipped through the emptiness. This one was different, more like a high-pitched whine, like air escaping from a balloon. With it, Satrisella’s heart sunk even deeper. “Alright. Let’s get this over with”. The others appeared to be preparing themselves as she brought up her console.
Almost as soon as Satrisella’s fingers left the button, it seemed like they were no longer sitting within the empty expanse of the V-space, and rather the inside of a giant beehive, quite apt considering much of the Assembly were little more than mindless drones. The council’s seating area lay at the bottom of the virtual space; the Assembly sat above in balconies built into the curved wall whose swirling pattern made it look like you were staring into a spiral staircase. Satrisella couldn’t help but gaze up at the hundreds of faces staring back, some like her own and many more completely alien. She’d never feared speaking before a crowd (few Treen did), but sitting under the watchful eyes of the Assembly proved to be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of her life. Even when she wasn’t looking, she felt their gazes, like a thousand needles piercing her skin. The council was always under scrutiny and there was no shortage among the Assembly. A booming voice filled the atrium.
“Now that we are all here, I call this meeting of the Assembly to order”, announced Chief Speaker Tumur Yullu Adajutur. Like his Chancellor, the Iringroat Tumur spoke with the same superiority that had come to characterize his kind. “I am certain everyone is aware of why we are here today, but nevertheless; this meeting of the Assembly and Executive Council has been convened to discuss the ongoing situation between the Confederacy and the Imperium with particular regard for the group known as Freedom for All and the ongoing crisis in the Neutral Expanse. Today, the Assembly seeks answers from the Executive Council in regard to their handling of the situation. The chamber will welcome questions, comments and statements from our esteemed assemblymen and women but, first, I would ask that the council speaks to provide clarity on the situation”.
The atrium was as silent as the vacuum. Since she was the (unofficial) leader, Satrisella had the “privilege” of speaking first. “Firstly, on behalf of the members of the Executive Council, I, Chancellor Satrisella Heruun of the Treen Sovereignty, would like to thank the Chief Speaker and all members of the Assembly for meeting with us today. The Confederacy, regrettably, finds itself in a very difficult situation. As a direct result of the actions of the group calling itself Freedom for All, tensions between the Confederacy and the Imperium are at their highest in the history of both states. In response, the Imperium has initiated a full-scale invasion of the Neutral Expanse, which, as you all know, is under the protection of the Confederacy, as stated in the Treaty of Assembly, in addition to repeatedly threatening the Confederacy with invasion also. In a personal communication with the Executive Council, the Imperator Nero claimed that, once the Neutral Expanse is fully under Imperial Control, the Imperium will then begin its invasion of the Confederacy, unless he is delivered Haema Irmit Cemma and Martas Sevanota, the leaders of Freedom for All to face punishment for their activities in Imperial space”. A soft but overpowering din filled the atrium, the murmurings of a thousand voices holding their own conversations and forcing Satrisella to speak up to be heard. “After much discussion among ourselves, the Executive Council has come to the conclusion that, in the interest of the Confederacy and its citizens, the best course of action would be to grant the Imperator his wish and extradite the leaders of Freedom for All to the Imperium to face punishment”. The voices grew louder, and angrier. They were in for a hard battle.
“Order”! The Chief Speaker boomed. “I ask for order! A member of the Assembly wishes to speak. Assemblyman Poliku has the chamber”.
The commotion died down, replaced with the voice of Rylukan Assemblyman Yawata Poliku. “And are we simply to ignore the Executive Council’s flagrant disregard for the authority of the Assembly? As I am sure my colleagues will agree, this is an issue in which the approval of the Assembly is required before any action can be taken. There has been no prior discussion between the Executive Council and us on this issue and yet already we hear reports of the arrest of Cemma and Sevanota”.
The Assemblyman’s words sparked another uproar, forcing Satrisella to raise her voice again. “It was in the best interest of the Confederacy to have Cemma and Sevanota taken into custody before this meeting took place. If they discovered there was any consideration in handing them over to the Imperium, they very likely would have gone into hiding, making the situation exponentially more difficult”.
“Order please. Assemblyman Qol has the chamber”.
“Nevertheless, you went behind the back of his body and acted without our approval”, said the Jukrillarian Chom Qol. “The Executive Council may be the head of the Confederate government but it is still accountable to the Assembly. You should have consulted with us before any action was taken, regardless of the situation. You do not have the authority to make these kinds of decisions without approval. I’m sure I speak for us all when I say that my confidence in the Executive Council has been severely shaken”. The cheers from his colleagues suggested he was correct.
Kamrack hit the button in front of him. The Chief Speaker announced his name. “The council understands the Assembly’s frustration. But you must understand there is a perfectly good reason for why we did what we did. At this very moment, the fate of the Confederacy is at stake, as well as the trillions of lives in the Neutral Expanse. The longer we spend arguing about this issue, the more people die and the risk of war with the Imperium increases. We came here today to seek approval in handing over Cemma and Sevanota. That is the most important issue right now”.
The shouting persisted, until the Chief Speaker boomed once more. “Order! Assemblywoman Seeavastraum has the chamber”.
“Surely the Executive Council is not short-sighted enough to believe handing over Cemma and Sevanota will bring an end to the Imperium’s aggression. Appeasement has never been a viable option for dealing with aggressive outside forces. If we try to appease the Imperator now, he will only demand more from us in future. That has always been the way in these situations. There is no instance in the history of this galaxy of appeasement being an effective solution. Even after he gets what he wants, the Imperator will continue to use the threat of war to demand more from us”.
“Assemblyman Hansa”. Another Iringroat no doubt thinking he was the sole voice of reason.
“I second the opinion of Assemblywoman Seevastraum. Handing over Cemma and Sevanota is not an automatic solution to the Confederacy’s problem and will likely only make the situation worse. Freedom for All holds significant support within both the Assembly and the Confederacy. Handing over their leaders, or any citizen for that matter, will undoubtedly result in widespread unrest and possibly inspire more drastic attacks against the Imperium, which will only fuel the situation further. I feel there is only one true solution to this problem. It is time for the Confederacy to stand up to the Imperium”. He was met with acclaim from the Assembly. This was not going well.
Satrisella hit her button. “Chancellor Heruun”.
“All members of this council agree that bowing to Nero’s demands is not an ideal solution. But he has repeatedly threatened war if his demands are not met and we believe he is prepared to make good on his threats if he doesn’t get what he wants”. Some quiet chatter followed.
“And how do you know these threats are not merely a bluff? The Imperium had been threatening us with war for decades and, aside from some minor conflicts, this has never come to pass. I think my colleagues will agree with me when I say it is far more likely that the Imperator is using the threat of war to bully the Confederacy into accepting his demands and will continue to do so unless he is shown that we will not be bullied. Going back to Assemblyman Hansa’s previous statement, I too believe it is high time the Confederacy made it clear to the Imperium and its leader it will not be pushed around any longer. We must take action against these brutes”! In an instant, the atrium was in uproar again.
Uhrun hit his button. “While I personally sympathize with your position, Assemblyman, you must understand that the Imperator has already proven he is more than willing to take military action if his demands are not met, as evidenced by his invasion of the Neutral Expanse. While his threats against the Confederacy may well be a bluff, it would be prudent not to make such a huge gamble with the safety of our citizens. We may well find our course of action backfiring and blowing up in our faces”. Satrisella couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard Uhrun sound so diplomatic, if ever.
“Assemblyman Kalawa”. A dark-skinned human, most likely Ralenta.
“And as stated by Assemblywoman Seevastraum, if we give Nero what he wants now, it will only embolden him to demand more in future. The only thing the Imperium and its leader understand is strength. We need to show now we are willing and able to stand our ground, even if that means going to war”. The cheers grew louder.
Satrisella pressed her button. “You may be right, Assemblyman, but you must understand the Imperium possesses a significant military advantage over the Confederacy”.
“Assemblywoman Raston”. Haelqen.
“While that may be true, Chancellor Heruun, it does not mean war with the Imperium is inevitable should we refuse to bow to its demands. It is an often overlooked fact that war between our two sides would be disastrous for all involved, not just the Confederacy, a fact the Imperator is certain to be aware of. I think it highly unlikely that even the leader of the Imperium would be arrogant enough to place his entire society in jeopardy over hurt pride”.
Then you do not know the Imperator.
“I would now like to ask General Stell, as one of the finest military minds of the Confederacy today, do you believe it likely Nero will declare war if his demands are not met”?
The General hesitated. Satrisella suspected he was not used to speaking before such a large and judgmental crowd. “The galaxy has known its fair share of dictators and tyrants and, while no two are ever completely alike, they do share some common traits. They are usually prideful and ill-tempered and don’t take kindly to attacks on their pride, real or imagined. The Imperator Nero possesses these traits and, if the Confederacy does not bow to his demands, he will undoubtedly see it as an attack. As such, I think it extremely likely that, if Nero is not given Cemma and Sevanota, he will follow through with his threats”.
Tussek pressed his button. “It is also worth noting that war will be the likely response to our refusal to comply regardless of whether or not the Imperator desires it. As Assemblyman Kalawa said, the only thing the Imperium understands is strength. If we don’t give the Imperator what he wants and he does nothing it will be seen as weakness and a man in his position cannot afford to appear weak. He will be left with no choice but to do something and, since he has already invaded the Neutral Expanse, the next step would be an attack on the Confederacy”.
“Then my next question for General Stell is, were the Imperium to declare war, what would be the chances of the Confederacy emerging victorious”?
The General hesitated again, longer this time. He knew what he wanted to say, and that his views were shared by no one else on the council. Satrisella could only hope he’d make the right choice. “As Chancellor Heruun has already said, the Imperium possesses a significant military advantage over the Confederacy. Their armies and fleets are larger, their weapons are deadlier, and their technology is more advanced… however, these factors alone do not guarantee victory. As I have discussed with my colleagues, there are numerous weaknesses within the Imperial military that can be exploited. It would be a hard and costly fight, but I do believe, if care is taken to strategize effectively, the Confederacy stands a chance of emerging victorious from a war with the Imperium”.
“Assemblyman Gortte”. Jukrillarian.
“I would also like to hear what the Volhollon Chancellor has to say, as another of the finest military minds the Confederacy has to offer”.
Tussek was a lot quicker to answer. “While what General Stell says is true, I, with all due respect, fear he has not fully appreciated the sheer size of the Imperial military. While it is true numbers are not the sole deciding factor in the outcome of a battle, the armies and navies of the Imperium dwarf the combined forces of the Confederacy. We may be able to hold our ground temporarily, but it will be only a matter of time before we are overwhelmed. Not to mention the fact most of our forces are trained and equipped for defending their worlds from pirate and slaver attacks. The Imperium on the other hand possess far more sophisticated technologies and tactics, in addition to stronger weapons and ships and far greater numbers. Fighting a war against it is another matter entirely”.
“Assemblyman Kaloa”. Iringroat.
“So we have one who says we can win against the Imperium and another who says we can’t. What is the Assembly to do with that? How can we do our job when our so-called leaders cannot even find consensus among themselves”?
Uhrun leapt to his feet. “This is ridiculous! We all know what needs to be done”.
“Will the Iringroat Chancellor please not speak until he has been announced”?!
“No, I will not wait! Especially not in the face of such absurdity! As I was saying before I was interrupted; everyone here knows what we have to do. Freedom for All has caused nothing but problems for the Confederacy since its formation and they’re only going to keep causing problems if we don’t wash our hands of them. Will Nero back down if we give him Cemma and Sevanota? Likely not, but it may buy us some time to find another solution to our problem. Of course, we all know why this will never happen. We all know Freedom for All has its claws sunk into the Assembly. They’ve got you all wrapped around their little finger”.
“Order! Order please”! The Chief Speaker bellowed as the meeting descended into anarchy, hundreds of voices arguing, words lost in the stormy sea of noise. It was going about as well as Satrisella expected: no progress, just endless bickering between fools without a decent grasp of the situation. Order was eventually restored but the arguing continued. To Satrisella’s surprise, more than a few agreed with the council, only to be shot down by those who didn’t want to bow to Nero. Other suggestions were put forward, mostly involving handing over just about everything except what Nero wanted, including resources, worlds, and even whole swathes of territory. That went over as well as expected. The debate became heated again, the Chief Speaker forced to shout even louder to restore calm.
“Assemblyman Yorjug”. Khuykrallic. Satrisella didn’t expect him to bring anything of value.
“I move that we send a clear message to the Imperium and its leader that the Confederacy will not be bullied with threats of violence. That we show Nero we will not hand over our own people to be killed in such brutal and barbaric ways, and if he wants to start a war over it, he is welcome to for we shall be waiting. Each of the warriors of my Dredg is worth a thousand imperial soldiers, as are those of my kinsmen”.
The applause grew louder, waves crashing like a tsunami. Satrisella caught Kamrack’s eye. He shot her look to say do you believe this? She did. The meeting was playing out precisely as she’d envisioned. Freedom for All’s grip on the Assembly was too strong, their influence too deeply infused.
“Assemblywoman Curro”. A female Iringroat; a rare sight in the Assembly and in politics in general.
“I second the motion of Assemblyman Yorjug. For too long, the Confederacy has bowed to the unreasonable demands of the Imperium. I say no more! We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by these brutes any longer”.
“Assemblyman Ser’lomm”. Volhollon.
“I support the motions of my fellow Assemblymen and women. But if we are to stand in defiance of the Imperium, we must be ready for the possibility that its leader will declare war. To this end, the planet Tustomorl stands ready to commit its forces to fighting the Imperium in the event of war”. More cheers. Satrisella felt the urge to let her head fall into her hands.
“Assemblywoman Ullames”. Treen.
“As does the planet Besdera”.
“Assemblyman Ert-Sen”. Human. Psrann
“The forces of the Ert-Sen Family will pledge their support in the event of war with the Imperium”.
“Assemblyman Decus”. Human.
“Assemblyman Zon”. Jukrillarian.
“Assemblywoman Trisken”. Treen.
One after another, the slew of Assembly members committing their forces to fighting the Imperium if (or rather when) its leader declared war went on and on, and, by the time things had calmed down, the majority had pledged their support.
“As it seems much of the Assembly has made their opinions on the matter clear…” said the Chief Speaker. “I believe the time has come to take a preliminary vote on whether the Confederacy will meet the demands of the Imperator Nero”. It was only a preliminary vote, merely meant to show where the Assembly stood on an issue and not legally binding though Satrisella couldn’t see things changing by the time the actual vote took place.
The atrium was quiet as everyone including the Executive Council hit the bright yellow buttons on their consoles to cast their votes. The time soon came for Tumur to announce the result. “The result of the preliminary vote from the Assembly on whether to hand over Haema Irmit Cemma and Martas Sevanota over to the Imperium is as follows… six hundred and sixteen in favour… nine hundred and thirty-two against”.
That was a surprise. Apparently, the Assembly wasn’t as short-sighted as Satrisella thought, not that it was enough to save them. The decision to defy the Imperator wasn’t set in stone. There was plenty discussion to be had before a final decision was made though that likely wouldn’t matter. Nero gave them three days to give him what he wanted and that time was almost up. Soon, the Assembly would likely get the war they seemed bent on. Even with the time limit, Satrisella doubted it would make a difference. Much of the Confederate government was made up of fools, misguided by dew-eyed idealism and valiant promises of a better galaxy.
“At the end of this of preliminary vote, the Assembly votes not to hand Haema Irmit Cemma and Martas Sevanota over to the Imperium”. Idiots, every one of them. “As usual, I remind everyone in attendance today that this is a preliminary vote and therefore non-binding. A final vote will be taken at a later date after there has been more discussions on the issue. Before I call this meeting to a close, I will offer one final opportunity to speak”.
Satrisella wasn’t sure why she hit her button. Maybe she was truly naive enough to think she could change their minds, or maybe she just felt someone should say something.
“Firstly, I would like to thank the Chief Speaker and everyone for meeting with us today. As always, this council may be the head of the government of the Confederacy but we recognize the Assembly’s authority and importance. However, The Executive Council must respectfully disagree with the decision made today and I feel I must stress the gravity of what the Assembly has pledged to do. Nero’s threats of war are not a bluff. For years, he has sought an excuse to declare war on the Confederacy and the only reason he hasn’t made good on his threats is because he lacked the catalyst necessary to exasperate the already existing tensions, making everything he plans to do justifiable to his people. Freedom for All is that catalyst and they have given him the excuse he has searched so long for. The real bluff is his claim of only wanting Cemma and Sevanota. It was never about them. The only reason he even bothered to demand we hand them over is because he knew we wouldn’t and then he would have his excuse to invade. When that happens it will bring about a catastrophe unlike anything we have ever seen. Our armies and fleets may be able to hold off against Nero’s temporarily, but, as Chancellor Kel’jung stated, it will be only a matter of time before they are overwhelmed, if not through tactical and technological advantages then through sheer force of numbers, and, when the forces of the Imperium finally do break through, they will destroy everything we have worked so hard to build. But if we hand over Cemma and Sevanota, it may, as Chancellor Suhyur said, buy us time to find another solution to the problem”. She thought to come clean about Chancellor Calsen’s mission but reconsidered. Better to keep that a secret until she’d returned, if she did. “While we respect the decision of the Assembly, I promise this council will do everything in its power to prevent a war that will cost trillions of lives. Thank you”.
The Assembly had nothing to say in return. Most probably weren’t even listening. “Thank you very much for those words, Chancellor Heruun. If there is nothing else to add, I will call this meeting of the Assembly to a close”.
The Chief Speaker had barely finished before Satrisella was pressing the button to exit the meeting. Never in all her life had seen such a calamity. In an instant, they went from sitting inside a giant beehive to nothing, the V-space returned to its usual self.
“Well, I can’t wait for them to write about this in my biographies”! Uhrun exclaimed. “What a joke”!
“So we’re going to war with the Imperium”, moaned the Dredglegg Bidhunn
“No thanks to you, you useless lump”! The Vice-Chancellor snapped.
“You’re one to talk, little man. I don’t recall hearing you offer any suggestions back there”.
“What was the point? We all knew how this was gonna go. Nothing but a great big fucking waste of time”.
“At least we were trying”! Uhrun sounded like he was at his wits end with the dwarf. “Why don’t you try giving a damn about something other than your own ambitions”?!
The Vice-Chancellor scoffed. “Butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth I see, Chancellor Suhyur”.
“I realize I have a certain reputation within this council, but make no mistake, I care for the Confederacy, which is more than can be said for you”.
Satrisella had had all she could take. “We don’t have time for his arguing”! All eyes fell on her. It wasn’t often she raised her voice. “We must decide what is to be done about this”.
“What can we do”? Kamrack asked. “The Assembly aren’t going to give up Cemma and Sevanota and then Nero’s going to declare war. Unless Chancellor Calsen returns with an alliance within the next day, we’re doomed”.
“No we’re not, not yet. We need to stop this war before it starts. I’ll be damned if I let these fools lead us to slaughter”.
“And just how do you propose we do that”? Satrisella couldn’t blame Uhrun for being sceptical. She wasn’t sure herself.
“Forget the Assembly. We already have Cemma and Sevanota in custody. Let’s just hand them over”.
There was silence, every member of the council stunned by Satrisella’s suggestion. “We can’t do that”, Kamrack said in disbelief.
“We have to”.
“It goes against everything the Confederacy stands for. The purpose of the Assembly is to prevent the Executive Council from acting with impunity. We don’t believe in leaders going around doing whatever these please. That was how it was in the Collective. We can’t go against a vote made by the Assembly”.
“A preliminary vote, and have you forgotten how we went behind their backs already? Our job is to do what is best for the Confederacy and this is what is best. We have to do this”.
Kamrack shook his head. “The Assembly will be livid. And not just them, the public and the media as well. The outcry will be colossal”
“I am aware of that, Chancellor, but we’ve come this far. What’s a little further? If it works, it may give Chancellor Calsen time to return to us or to find another solution, and if not… well I doubt it will matter in the end. Who here agrees with me”?
Silence. Nobody spoke and no hands rose. The council only looked to one another, everyone waiting for someone else to make the first move. Satrisella feared the worst, but then the Dredglegg Bidhunn raised his hand. “I agree”. Uhrun was next, followed by Tussek, then Tekk and the humans. Kamrack was the only one left. He didn’t look happy in the slightest but, after a deep and difficult sigh, raised his hand.
“We have to move quickly. It won’t be long before the Assembly forces us to release Cemma and Sevanota. We will reach out to Nero and arrange a meeting at the Assemblage Station. “We’ll give him what he wants and then agree terms of peace”.
“What about the Neutral Expanse”? General Stell asked.
“If Nero can be convinced to withdraw his forces then we will try but that is not priority. We need to think of ourselves right now”.
The others nodded their agreement. “You know what Nero will have done to them”, Tussek said solemnly. “Are you prepared to have that on your conscience”?
“It’s our job to make difficult decisions. We warned them countless times what would happen and they didn’t listen. They brought this on themselves. I know nobody likes this but sometimes difficult decisions have to be made for the greater good”. The council was quiet but Satrisella could see they agreed. They knew it was the only way out.
“Well if that’s everything, I do not wish to remain here any longer”, Uhrun said. “I suppose our next meeting will be aboard the Assemblage Station”. He shot the Vice-Chancellor an icy stare. “And you, dwarf man. Remember what I said”. The Vice-Chancellor only smirked as Uhrun faded from existence.
“I too would like to go now”, Kamrack said. “This day has given me much to ponder. May you all find good fortunes”.
One by one, the images faded until it was only Satrisella sitting in the middle of the void. She couldn’t move. What had she done? This was huge, bigger than anything else that had come before. The last few minutes seemed like a dream. How did it get to this? It was insane, and, when it was it all said and done, nothing would be the same again. But they had to, or soon there would be nothing left. Never in her life had she wished so much for the void to swallow her, and to never return.