More on the Usurper

Complete with scribble done while thinking about this.



      The rooms assigned to Logistics in the sector station were immense. He’d thought them wasteful when he’d first begun living in them—an inevitable opinion, given how much of his life he’d spent on space-going vessels with their narrow, capsule-like quarters. He found he missed them from time to time, but he would no longer give up the window in his main room. It stretched from floor to ceiling some four stories above him, a dominating view properly suggestive of the sector’s power and wealth. That he knew how much it cost to maintain and build such palatial quarters no longer swayed him on their advisability.
      Everyone changes with enough motivation, he thought. That was the law of the Empire.
      Command was fond of bombast. Logistics found it difficult to blame him for cultivating the facade. Aggression was expected of all Chatcaavan males, so to differentiate oneself among a group of males selected specifically to make war on others required extraordinary measures. And it was hard to argue with success: Command was currently charged with the control of a fourth of the empire’s military.
      Rising in Logistics required cunning, both with numbers and with people. Logistics-East had distinguished himself by dealing his rivals a more straightforward death than was typical in the field… that was how he had survived, by surprising people who’d been expecting clandestine threats. It was also how he and Command had become friends in the hunt: because Logistics fought most of his opponents on the dueling ground, rather than poisoning them. He was slight and quick and inevitably underestimated. It made winning easy.
      So he was good at dispatching rival Chatcaava with talons and teeth… and Command was good at doing so in underhanded ways. He knew Logistics knew this, and had advanced his offer anyway. No doubt part of the reason was his desire not to be the one slain when the court tested its newest Emperor.
      But the other part was that he was right. Logistics had long thought the Empire needed a harder policy on the matter of the Alliance, and he wanted, very much, to put that right. Who better to do the job than him? He understood… well. Logistics. And what was an empire but a matter of logistics? All politics involved the claiming and negotiation of resource rights. All power involved the accumulation of resources, and the moving of them into the proper channels at the proper times.
      The Chatcaavan watched the tumble of minor asteroids through eyes pale enough to seem colorless, shifted his wings and braced himself with a single foot against the window. The question, of course, was whether it was possible to usurp the thorn throne. The empire’s armed forces were separated into two distinct entities: one fielded by, armed and financed by the rulers of each world, and the navy, the fleet maintained by the Emperor. The navy’s purpose was to force those single world rulers to pay fealty to the Emperor; that it could also be used against aliens was a technicality of their charter, rarely exercised.
      The personal fleets were based out of small stations and docks in their home systems. The navy, however, was supplied by enormous stations built in each sector from money taxed—grudgingly—from the Empire’s member worlds. They were inevitably sited in or near asteroid belts for the proximity to useful materials. Logistics was in one now: the eastern sector’s station. Since these stations were built with taxed funds, their size was dictated by the population and industrialization of the sector… and that constrained the size of the sector fleet. This worked because areas of higher population needed a larger naval fleet anyway to control the rapacious ambitions of the world lords.
      But it also meant that Command’s fleet was twice again as large as the smallest sector’s.
      No, he thought taking the throneworld and its throne would be easy. The threat involved leaving Sector East’s lords without the navy’s oversight. Ordinarily, the individual rulers would be thrilled to see the navy locked in an internecine conflict; they’d use the opportunity to conquer one another and build their own miniature empires. But it was possible—just possible—that the promise of a war against the Alliance would excite them into throwing their weight into the coup. Particularly if he permitted them to fight alongside the navy, both in the initial conflict and in the war with the freaks. The spoils of such a war would be difficult to resist.
      Keeping the empire from devolving into dozens of squabbling kingdoms would be a challenge, particularly once they started giving out the Alliance’s worlds as prizes. But it would be an interesting challenge. Very little challenged Logistics anymore. Managing the competing appetites of a few hundred Chatcaavan males would suit nicely.
      Logistics hopped off the platform and soared down to the floor. There were several sets of rooms off this main one, for sleeping, for keeping slaves, for a harem. He needed none of them. Most Chatcaava of his power and position had households, but he preferred to travel without encumbrances. He kept no slaves, no females, no servants. He had very few possessions and no heirs. And he made his bed in a corner of the main chamber, where he could see the door. As he stepped into it, he reflected that he certainly would never have spent himself in the arms of a wingless freak, as rumor had it the Emperor had with the Alliance Ambassador. Nor would he waste his time flitting about with females or slaves.
      It was clear to him that he would be a far better Emperor than the male who was serving that title now. And if that was true, wasn’t it his duty to take the throne?
      Logistics curled up on his pillows and rested his chin on one of them. He stared out the window, counting rocks in lieu of worlds, and narrowed his too-pale eyes. Time, he thought, to start planning.

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