This was written in response to Write Anything's Form and Genre Challenge , #20 Space Opera.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Hair hung over the prisoners eyes. His head bowed as a thin line of blood and drool languidly reached his lap. The cold muzzle of a laser gun pressed into his chin and forced it upward. The guard leered, flashing a mouth of silver teeth. A shiver of fabric moved behind the guard as a newcomer stepped into view.
“So this is the pretender.” Hands which had never seen battle or hard work placed themselves on hips swathed in expensive cloth.
The prisoner brought his eyes to meet the new interrogator. “I am Prince Fekhe, son of Emperor Seth, Nephew to the usurped Prince Regent Ricco. Brother to Prince Zane and to Queen Elspeth. ” He spat blood onto the metal floor. “Your wife. I am the rightful ruler, by virtue of birth; Not you, riding on the slipstream of murder and treachery. ”
“Prince Fekhe and Zane disappeared when they were chldren.” Emperor Rory coloured as his hands slowly gripped into a fist. “You are accused of treason, of raising an army against your Emperor and falsifying your identity. Your court case has been nothing short of a circus act.”
Fekhe smiled. “And here we are. Behind closed doors and away from the legal system you so dearly love. You have had nothing to prove I am not who I say I am. You can’t discredit me. You can’t ignore who I am.”
Growling,the guard brought the flat of his gun across Fekhe’s jaw. “Stand before your Emperor.”
Rory winced as blood gushed from Fekhe nose, but immediately controlled his reaction. Fekhe swayed but managed to continue to stand. The two mens eyes burnt into each other. Rory stepped closer hissing. “You don’t look like a prince to me. A monkey is fine clothes. Falsified fingerprints, altered DNA from one of the outlaw colonies with questionable scientific practices. You may look like him, but you are no prince.”
A polite cough interrupted his barrage. “The United Treaty is very clear about the treatment of all prisoners.”
Rory breathed in his retort and pushed the prisoner back into his seat. Turning with a thin smile he acknowledge the Cardinal and court recorders in the corner, his eyes flickering momentarily to the blank reflective wall behind them. “And you can all be assured this prisoner will be dealt within the appropriate manner.”
Fekhe wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Where was the United Treaty when my brother was murdered in this very building? Why was there never a public out cry or investigation?”
Glaring at Fekhe, Rory hissed again, “You would be best to stay silent.”
Fekhe laughed mirthlessly. “Or what? How can my situation possibly get any worse?” He stared at the dull reflective wall hiding officials from the court. “ By my Gods, I hope this investigation is being beamed live to every corner of the known universe. Let the people decide who is telling the truth, who has things to hide.”
Rory stormed out of the room realising that the longer he stayed, the more opportunity Fekhe had in gaining sympathy and groundswell sympathy for his case. He passed the glass window open onto the interrogation room, noting the stony silence of his mother as she stared straight into the room. Her body was stiff and unrelenting as he approached and laid his hands on her shoulders.
“You need to finish this Rory. Its become more than an inconvenience. Every day he lives as Prince Fekhe, your grip on the Empire loosens. I will not see war again. Not in my lifetime.”
His court members melted out of the room, leaving the two figures to stare into the brightly lit interrogation room. Rory drew himself high and breathed in, refusing to look at his mother. “There are times, mother, I think you have plotted your entire life just to be the mother of the Emperor. That everything you have done was for that purpose and not for me at all.”
“I serve the people, Rory. You would do well to do the same.”
Froth formed at Rory’s mouth as he pointed into the room. “He is not Prince Fehke. He has no right to the Empire.”
Constance stood and smoothed her gown. “I have little doubt who is acting as an Emperor aught right now.” She glid past him, her train whispering past his feet. A stab of horror rushed through him as he suddenly saw his mother in a new light. Scheming, manipulative; a the spider in a huge web encompassing the empire.
Straight to the skift waiting on the private dock. He slumped into the seat and glared at his advisor as he settled into the seat opposite. As the hatches hissed to a close, Rory squeezed the bridge of his nose and exhaled. “I thought that being the ruler meant I could do as I pleased. Treat people the way I felt they needed to be treated.” He glared at the silent advisor, “Conduct my justice system the way I felt it best suited.”
“I’m sorry, my Lord that’s not the case at all.”
Rory pounded the arms of his chair and gripped his chin as he fixed his stare out the window. His city lay beneath them as they sped over the highrises.
“I’ve more news which may not sit well.”
Rory snorted. “My day can’t get any worse.”
“I’m afraid it may, my Lord. The ambassador for Queen Aquaitannia of NewSpain has suddenly arrived with a horde of lawyers to discuss the marriage between your son and their Eissabella. You must know that they’ve been following the rumours of the pretender for some time and before you became Emperor, the Lanx family and theirs were closely linked.”
Before Rory could explode further, the Skift came to a halt and its doors opened slowly. Attendants bowed offering hot towels and cool refreshments.
The advisor indicated with a sweeping arm. “I’ve arranged for the ambassador and his entourage to await your pleasure in the Northern Gardens.”
Grasping a towel and patting his face, Rory grunted, “We will go directly. No use in avoiding the inevitable.”
Rory painted a thin smile cross his face as the doors opened into the gardens. Music stopped and all of the palace attendants bowed as the Emperor strode in. He sat in the largest lounger and gestured for the guests to take their seats.”Antonio Pergissi. Welcome again to Botania. Forgive me for not greeting you when you arrived. I was otherwise occupied.”
Antonio bowed low. “Emperor. Thank you for receiving us so early. To be blunt, we are not interested in your petty family squabbles. As I’ve come to discuss the agreements of the marriage between our royal families. My Queen has some concerns as these new developments you are exploring may deter this indefinitely.”
Rory bit into an apple and chewed deliberately. “ Don’t tell me that Queen Aquiatainnia is entertaining the thought that this pretender is legitimate? Please assure her that we take our justice system very seriously and are ensuring that there can be no mistake when the final decision is made on his claims.”
“Prince Fekhe is very convincing. It brings many questions up.”
“The prisoner is a clear fraud. Don’t refer him with any royal title. We don’t even know what his real name is.”
“It would be more palatable, for everyone, if the disappearances of Prince Fekhe and Prince Zane were solved.”
Rory slammed his arms on the chair. “Damn it. That happened before my reign even began. The Gods only know what happened to those two boys when their uncle took them into protective custody. I was in exile for the Gods sake.”
Pergissi cocked an eyebrow smiling, “And Prince Regent Ricco proclaimed himself ruler, the boys disappeared without a royal burial or any investigation. Seems odd, even for this planet; wouldn't you agree?” Rory crunched loudly into his apple glowering at the ambassador as he held court with the tale everyone had heard. “The Prince Regent Ricco is then defeated by your armies and you are advised to marry the boys sister Elspeth to forge your royal claim. So neat. Tidy.”
“Your point Ambassador?”
“Only that Queen Aquiatainnia is concerned about stability. Our colonies and empires work on a suspicious level of trust at best. She needs to be reassured that there will be no surprises. She is thinking of her people. War is such an expensive and mindless waste of resources. Especially if it is merely family squabbles.”
Rory flicked the apple core behind him and drained a glass of wine. “ I couldn't agree more Ambassador. Reassure your queen that this matter will be brought to an end quickly and we can discuss more enjoyable topics shortly.” He waved him away and ordered more wine, indicating clearly that the audience was at an end.
After Ambassador Pergissi had overseen his personal belongings settled into his quarters, he wandered amongst the halls and found himself in a large room, comfortably furnished with sofas and a roaring fireplace. The Advisor beckoned him over and handed him a warmed cup of the planets liqueur. “You’ve come at an inopportune time I am afraid. Our court is not at its best. I can assure you that it will be resolved within days. ”
Pergissisi took a sip. “ No need for such gentleness. We all have our spys everywhere.”
Pouring himself a drink, the advisor smiled nervously at the ambassador. “Then you know in next few days the pretender will be discredited and executed. No-one is concerned.”
“If the Emperor is not concerned, then why is he personally overseeing the interrogation? Why does the Queen sit outside every day?”
The advisor looked toward the door and sat beside Pergissi.” Its true your spies are the best in the empire then. Fekhe knows things. Family specific events only someone who had been there would know. He knows of private moments, jokes and nicknames. The Queen has been brought to tears with those memories.”
“Trickery, surely. He may been trained by someone.”
The advisor took a long sip and stared into the fire. “You cannot buy memories. Not the shared experiences of siblings.”
“Our Eissabella will marry the next in line to the throne; be it this Prince Fekhe or Rorys lad.Its up to me to decide where our allegiance aught to lay.”
The advisor hook his head. “Who ever he is, this Fehke’s existence threatens the fragile peace we hold. Emperor Rory is not well loved. A resurgence of loyalty to a dead lineage is not what we can control.”
Pergissi nodded. “The outer colonies flocked to his charismatic charm, to his fine clothes and promises of equality. It will be most intriguing what will unfold. Regardless of the outcome sir, our roles will remain unchanged. The ruler - whoever they are, needs advisors and ambassadors.”
The men drained their glasses, nodded to one another and made their way to their bedchambers.
The lights in Fekhe’s cell had not been dimmed for the evening when the door slid open. He turned his head to appraise his visitor, surprised to see Constance stride in, leaving her guards on the outside.
“Don’t bother to stand. I am only here for a moment.” She withdrew a tablet from her coat and waved her hand over the dark glass display. “Your wife and sons have been welcomed into the city.” An image of a room within the palace focused, showing a security display of his family unpacking and exploring the space. “They are unharmed and will remain so as long as you listen carefully to what I have to say.”
Fekhe gripped his knees, forcing them to be still. “I’m listening.”
Constance regarded him for long moments. “You’ve done well for yourself. Gathering the sympathy of colonies who feel they have been left in the cold. Gaining the hand of the Princess of Scoshia was a masterful touch. You must have put on quite a show.”
“What is it that you want?”
Fehke stared at her, unable to comprehend the word.
She flicked her hand over the screen again. Images of riots and angry crowds in streets flickered past. ” These are scenes my spies have sent me over the last day. The outer colonies want answers. They want a ruler and justice system they can rely on. You have been a thorn in our side for months, unsettling the delicate balance this empire has with peace. If it is found you are Prince Fehke, we will have civil war. Entire cities will be risk. Our empire will not only fight itself, but allow the outer worlds to invade. We must remain strong, united.”
“I am Prince Fekhe. You can’t deny that. Deny me my right to rule.”
“You will be executed regardless. If you die as a royal, your family will be hunted down. Your sons will never know a nights sleep. They will live in constant fear.”
“And if I die as a commoner?”
“If you admit your pretence, your family will live within this palace as guests. After all, they are royalty in their own right. You have my word.”
She turned on her heel and left, the door sealing shut as he began to weep.
Later that evening, a hiss woke Fekhe as he lay uncomfortably on the cold stretcher in his cell. He watched as the figures huddled in the doorway; their whispers too feint for him to make out the conversation. The bulkier figure stepped away, leaving the door open as the slighter one fidgeted before rushing in.
The dim night lights within his cell allowed him to see Queen Elspeth only as she knelt beside him. He stared into her clear blue eyes as she tentatively reached her hand out and brushed back his fringe. “I knew it was you the moment I saw you.” A tear trickled down her cheek. “There’s not much time. I only wish I had more to talk to you.”
Fekhe grasped her hand and pushed himself up. “What are you doing here?”
Her top lip quivered, “I can get you out, smuggle you away. My husband will kill you.” She put her hand on his chest. “ I’ve lost you once. I couldn’t bear the thought that I can save you only to allow -”
“Where would I run to? What would I do? I am who I am and I must believe that justice will prevail.”
Tears ran freely down her face. “Damn it Fekh, Why are you always so stubborn? You were as a boy and now - Take the chance to escape. Please. For me.”
“What about my wife, my sons? I can’t run and protect them. I am the rightful ruler; by blood. But our Empire needs peace.”
“You don’t think the Emperor knows that? That the colonies are on the verge of uprisal, just waiting for the excuse to follow you?”
Fehke gently took her hand and kissed it. “My tender hearted sister. Peace has its price. Its bigger than just one individual. We will always know who I am and was. But for peace to have a chance. I need to be the deceiver.”
Elspeth laid her head on his chest and sobbed. Her shoulders heaved as she drew gasps of air. Fekhe laid his cheek on her head and rubbed her back.
He was woken roughly the next morning and not allowed to wash or change clothes. Guards pushed him through the series of passageways until they reached a large open space. Giant screens captured the beading of sweat on his forehead and the anguished look knitting his brow as he stood in front of the panel of judges. His eyes found Elspeth, whose face was puffy from crying. She had her arm around his wife who looked confused and panicked.
Fekhe looked directly at the Emperor. “I committed treason against my ruler by taking on the identity of a royal and raising sympathy for my false cause. I was born a commoner, the son of a ships mechanic. I pray to my Gods for their mercy as I expect none from this court.”
Rory leapt to his feet and punched the air with his fists. “Traitor, by the powers of this court I sentence you to immediate execution.”
Elspeth withdrew from the balcony and collapsed against her lady in waiting. Huge heaving sobs racked her body.
Fekh turned and allowed the guards to push him toward the platform. His body was numb as they placed his hands on the large orbs. He closed his eyes as he whispered prayers to his Gods. It would be over shortly. The pain of his life would end. he felt the platform raise and halt, knowing that the scene would be beamed across the Empire. A bolt of energy pulsed through his body. He jolted as his muscles contracted and expanded rapidly. Fekh found he was unable to move. The magnetic field surrounded his body and held it in place.
A slight head movement from the Emperor signalled the final step with the execution. A huge bolt of pure energy pulsed into the magnetic field, incinerating the body held within it. The blue magnetic field evaporated as the last flake of blackened ash fell to the floor.
This was written in response to Write Anything's Form and Genre Challenge , #20 Space Opera.
Words - 2886
This was also submitted to Friday Flash ( though technically its a wee bit long for a flash.. it kind of just kept growing)