Command Decisions – Chapter Four

Kelsey walked around the speaker’s podium focusing on her implants. The trace vanished when she stepped more than five meters away. That probably meant whatever she was sensing was right under the dais. No more than ten meters down, probably less. Her implants didn’t have the range to interface with anything at longer distances. She needed a headset for that.

Elise looked at Kelsey curiously. “What are you seeing? Ah, feeling? Sensing?”

“Sensing is a good word. I’m not quite sure what it is. It’s not responding when I attempt to connect. It doesn’t feel like a switch. It’s not transmitting anything other than its own signature. How old is this building?”

“Older than the Kingdom. It was the Planetary Parliament Building back before the Fall. The representatives worked here and sent select members to Terra to serve in the Imperial Parliament on our behalf.”

“Then it could be something left over from back then. Implants like mine were restricted to the military, but I’d imagine that civilians had something similar. Perhaps that’s why the device won’t respond to me. I assume there’s a level below us. How do we get down there?”

One of the guards cleared his throat. “I took the liberty of summoning the foreman. He has the full plans to the building.”

A few minutes later, a portly man in dusty denim pants and a sweat stained work shirt came in. He carried rolls of paper and bowed low to his princess. “Highness. Joshua Powell, at your service. I have the plans you requested.”

Elise gave him a bright smile. “Thank you, Mister Powel. We appreciate your promptness. Have you looked at the level below us? Specifically the area under the speaker’s podium?”

The man nodded. “I’ve been over every meter of this building, checking for damage. There are several levels under this one, but nothing directly under this chamber. It’s one solid block. I assumed that was so no one had access to plant a bomb. There aren’t any maintenance panels or conduits.”

Kelsey took the plans from him and spread them out on the speaker’s podium. They showed an area somewhat larger than the parliament chamber as a significant blank space going down three levels.

She handed the plans back to the man. “It’s possible that whatever I’m sensing is only attached to the speaker’s podium. Or whatever was here back then. However, I can’t imagine how an isolated device could still have power after all that time. I think there’s something more significant down there. Does the original speaker’s podium still exist?”

Elise nodded. “Of course. It’s in the Royal Museum.”

“Then, unless you’d like to start cutting holes in things, it might be best to bring it back for a return performance. Perhaps it interfaces with whatever is underneath us.”

It took the workers an hour to disassemble the current speaker’s podium, so Elise and Kelsey broke for lunch. Or Kelsey did, anyway. Her new world had about six meals in it, when she timed them correctly.

Her appetite reminded her of an Old Empire vid she’d found in Courageous’ archives. A primitive 3D production with small people in a fantasy setting that ate all the time. Thankfully, she didn’t have hairy feet.

Kelsey had discovered a taste for entertainment vids from pre-spaceflight Terra. She had plenty of time to peruse Courageous’ library in the dead of night. The combination of requiring less sleep than before and high throughput via her implants meant she’d seen thousands of them. They had an exuberance that she enjoyed.

The two women made it back to the parliament chamber just before the workers were ready to begin putting the original podium in place. Kelsey examined the newly revealed floor carefully. There were power connections, which should’ve raised a question in someone’s mind when they removed it. Where did the lines go? A check would’ve shown they didn’t go elsewhere in the building.

She’d half expected to find a hatch, but there wasn’t one. The floor was one solid piece. How did people get into the area below? What purpose did the old podium serve?

It took half an hour to assemble the podium and install it. It looked very much like the one that had replaced it, but there were Old Empire electronics deep inside it. Unlike the device below, it responded to her mental touch.

Kelsey found an interface in the podium and connected to it. It needed no authorization and behaved as a terminal. An access point.

She’d been practicing under Reginald Bell’s instruction and had gotten the hang of this sort of thing. He’d been using his implants to do things like this for hundreds of years and it was second nature to him. She was almost able to do it without marveling. Almost.

The interface opened into a series of systems much like a library. Exactly like a library, really. One dedicated to politics and law making. She found she was looking through a listing of the laws of the Empire, both at the Imperial and planetary level.

It seemed that each world of the Old Empire was able to make laws at the local level, so long as they did not exceed the boundaries set at the Imperial level. Murder was murder everywhere, yet in some localities, there were exceptions for dueling. Including on Pentagar, at least back then. Elise had mentioned something about those actors almost getting into a duel, so perhaps the tradition still lived on here.

There was also an interface for tallying votes cast by members. It was almost completely offline. Only the receptor here on the speaker’s podium still functioned. The other members of parliament must’ve cast their votes at their own desks, which were long gone.

There was also a projection system built into the ceiling. There were dozens of separate units mounted among the lights. A few were offline, probably due to damage from the explosion, but the system declared itself functional. She wondered what the people that maintained the lights thought they were.

The system had a record of things it had played. Kelsey scanned down the listing and came to one of the last. A message marked high priority and routed to members of the Imperial Parliament and all Fleet vessels. She instructed the system to play it just to see if it would.

An image of the bridge of a ship appeared hovering in the air just above them. The center seat sat higher than those around it and it had a wraparound console.

The man staring down at them was instantly recognizable to her. Emperor Marcus the Fifteenth. The last emperor of the old Terran Empire. Father to Lucien. Her great grand something father.

Or at least he would’ve been if she’d really been of the blood. True, no one but Doctor Stone and she knew that her mother had had an affair, but it still counted. Oh, and her mother might know, too, or at least suspect.

Emperor Marcus was a handsome man, with an almost spooky resemblance to Kelsey’s father. The two could’ve been brothers. Marcus looked like her father had when she was a girl. No grey colored his hair and he seemed to be a vital young man in the prime of his life.

She noted that she was receiving the transmission on her implants and switched to that feed. This version was significantly clearer and much more personal. It was like when she wore her commando armor. The outside world vanished as her implants overwrote her senses.

“People of the Empire,” Marcus said. “I bring you devastating news. Terra has fallen.”

The sadness and horror in his expression was just as clear as if she’d been standing directly in front of him. Kelsey glanced around and found she could see more of the ship than what was in the purely visual transmission. It focused on the emperor to the exclusion of all else. Her view encompassed the other consoles spread out around the circular compartment, manned by men and women in Fleet uniforms. Those long dead people watched the emperor speak with tears openly flowing down their faces.

There was also a tall—very tall—dark haired woman in commando armor standing beside the lift. She seemed to be about half a meter taller than Kelsey was, so two meters. Huge for a woman.

The raven-haired woman’s eyes were dry, her expression grim and determined. Her most unusual feature was a tattoo on her forehead. It started between her eyebrows and covered her forehead in a pattern that was reminiscent of eyes with a horned helmet above them. It looked sinister. Hints of smaller tattoos on her cheekbones peeked out from under her long hair.

Kelsey had never heard of anyone tattooing their faces like that, though with modern medical techniques it was possible to do so and remove it at any time. No one else on the bridge had tattoos.

An older man in a Fleet admiral’s uniform stood beside the woman, dwarfed by her height. Frankly, he seemed too old to be still serving, but who was Kelsey to judge? He looked every day as old as Reginald Bell. Come to think of it, Bell might be able to identify these people for the historical record.

She grasped all that in the pause after the emperor had spoken. He nodded gravely. “Indeed, the core worlds of the Empire have all fallen. Even now, rebel forces push us back on every axis, yet hope is not lost.

“We’ve gathered what remains of Fleet together to force them back. We will retake every world. We will crush them under our heels. The rebels have gravely wounded our beloved Empire, but she will survive. We will win this war.”

How wrong he’d been.

“I’ve sent my son, Lucien, to a place far away. He has everything he needs to return in due time if we fail. The Empire will live.”

He leaned forward and gave the camera a stern look. “I command you to continue the fight. Protect the people of the Empire. If you lose contact with the rest of the Empire, take your orders from your Imperial Representatives, nobles, and above all those appointed by the Throne. We will not surrender. The Imperial edict codifying my orders is attached to this transmission and will remain in force until we win this war and I or my successor rescinds it.”

Emperor Marcus rose to his feet. “Take this message to heart, my people. The rebellion will be undone. Have faith in me and those of my blood. Have faith in Fleet. Have faith in the key. Have faith in yourselves.” He saluted the screen with a closed fist on his chest and the image faded.

The transmission released her implants, allowing her to see those around her. The message had left them all thunderstruck.

Elise turned to Kelsey, her eyes wide in wonder. “Was that Emperor Marcus? It was, wasn’t it? Ah, what a message of hope for his people in such a dark time.”

“A message that was doomed. He failed and everyone died. Or worse.”

The crown princess nodded, but she didn’t seem deterred. “I’m not sure that matters. The people needed every glimmer of hope to keep fighting. He told them what they needed to hear. Obviously, they fought back well enough for humanity to survive. That counts for something. And Lucien survived. The Imperial line is unbroken.”

Kelsey sighed. That again. The line broke with her and her brother. The emperor’s blood would carry on in Jared’s line. And perhaps the line of Pentagaran kings, if their relationship prospered.

“I hope we can set up a camera and you can play that again,” Elise said. “Do you have any idea what this key is? Or what is under our feet?”

“Not a clue. I’ve never heard of a key. Perhaps it’s the code to undo the virus in a compromised person. The rebels vaporized the task force protecting Lucien. It could’ve been lost in that battle. We’ll probably never know what it was for sure.”

Elise stared up at the ceiling. “The image seemed to be focused on me. When I walked around the room a little, the image moved with me. That’s quite amazing. I hope we can duplicate the technology.”

Other than library access, the dais failed to respond to Kelsey. It had to be connecting with the device below, but it wasn’t granting her any insights.

“I’m not getting anywhere. We know there isn’t direct access from up here, so there must be some other way to get into that area. Let’s examine every inch of this place.”

Elise nodded her agreement. “We should start with the speaker’s chamber. If there was any secret access, it would be there.”

Kelsey followed Elise into the sumptuous chambers reserved for the speaker. It obviously served as an office as well, because it rode the line between luxurious and functional. This was the kind of room where powerful men and women made secret deals.

The artwork here was very similar to what she’d seem in the halls outside. Statues and paintings, mostly. Including, ironically, one of Emperor Marcus.

Feeling nothing out of the ordinary, Kelsey wandered the room, her senses attuned to anything her implants could detect. Nothing.

Actually, there was too much nothing. She felt an area behind the office that didn’t register at all. Just like the shielded chamber she’d discovered on the asteroid in the Erorsi system, it was a blank spot in her senses.

“There’s something back here.” Kelsey glanced at Elise. “Do you know what’s back there?”

“I’m not sure.” Elise walked over to the only door in that wall, opened it, and peered inside. “It’s a storage room.”

One without a lot of space, it turned out. Some pack rat had stuffed it full of furnishings and boxes. Dust covered everything in a fine gray sheen and it smelled musty. There was barely enough room for Kelsey to push in after Elise. One of the Royal Guards seemed to consider pushing inside with them, but probably decided that would be getting a little too personal.

“It’s a storage room now,” Kelsey said, “but at some point in the past it was probably something else. It’s shielded.”

She probed the area with her implants. Perhaps now that she was inside, she could sense something else.

And, in fact, she could. The area of wall directly beside the door had a switch, just like the kind that secured her quarters on Courageous. That probably meant this shielded room used to be for secure storage. A mental push of the switch likely controlled the shielding field.

She trigged the switch.

An unseen hatch slid out of the wall and locked the guards outside. The piles of furniture shifted as the floor lurched and the entire room began sinking lower.

Kelsey kept the sofa beside them from falling on Elise and grinned. They were in a hidden lift dropping into a previously unexplored section of the Pentagaran Parliament Building. The only negative she could see was that Talbot was going to be pissed he’d slept through the adventure.

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