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It was the only thing Her Imperial Majesty, Sato I, required of the oikeniwa surrounding Kyoto Palace. The tranquility offered by the meticulously maintained arrangement of ponds and gardens allowed her a brief respite from the demands of ruling the Terran Empire. The residence of Japan's imperial family between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, the palace had served as a tourist attraction since the end of the second world war. Hoshi had visited the grounds many times, having spent much of her childhood in Kyoto. Upon her return to Earth six months ago, the palace had naturally become her chosen home. It amused her that the city of her birth was now the center of the universe.
Hoshi watched the sun rise above the horizon, illuminating the lake beyond her veranda. She observed this simple morning ritual whenever possible, enjoying the few moments of solitude before turning her attentions to the issues of the day. It was one of the few indulgences she granted herself, but it also was her favorite, since she could enjoy it without interruption.
Most of the time, at least.
"Your Majesty," a voice, deep and masculine, said from behind her. So lost in thought was Hoshi that she had failed to hear the approach of the man, an oversight that might prove fatal anywhere else but here. In this place, however, she was perfectly safe.
Turning in her seat, Hoshi looked up to see Solomon Carpenter, her personal bodyguard, standing several paces away near the entrance to her bedchamber. In keeping with her directives, the bodyguard was dressed in dark trousers with the cuffs tucked into polished boots that came up to his knees, and a vest that left bare his muscled chest and arms. Around his waist he wore a wide leather belt, strapped to which was a dagger in its sheath as well as one of the phaser weapons taken from Defiant's armory.
Just one of the many treasures to be found aboard that wondrous vessel.
"What is it?" she asked, already knowing the answer. Given the schedule for today, there was only one reason Carpenter would come to her at this time of the morning.
"I apologize for the intrusion, Your Majesty," the guard replied, "the general has arrived."
"Show him in." Hoshi rose from her seat, pulling the folds of her blue silk kimono tighter around her trim form. While she knew this meeting was necessary, it was one she had been anticipating with more than a bit of dread. After all, the next few minutes might well decide the future of the Terran Empire.
The Empress smoothed the wrinkles from her robe, realizing as she heard the sound of approaching footsteps that the motion made her appear nervous or tentative or worst of all weak. Momentarily irritated with herself for the lapse, Hoshi clasped her hands behind her back, drawing herself to her full height as Carpenter reappeared from inside the villa, followed closely by three Andorians.
All of the new arrivals were dressed in identical black leather uniforms, with varying numbers of small silver rectangles affixed to either side of their collars. Two of the Andorians, obviously subordinates, each carried a rectangular box perhaps one meter in length. The leader of the group would have been easy to identify even if Hoshi did not know him; his status was evident by the numerous medals pinned to his uniform. His left eye was a pale, dead orb, and he was missing his right antenna. Other, smaller scars adorned his face, the most visible signs of a long and distinguished military career.
"General Shran," Hoshi said, offering a polite nod.
Thy'lek Shran bowed at the waist, his hands locked at his sides. "Your Majesty," he said. "I bring you greetings on behalf of the people of Andoria." As he straightened his posture, Shran indicated his two escorts and the containers they carried. "I also wish to present to you gifts which are but a taste of the spoils collected from our recent occupation of the planet Beta III." Shaking his head, the general released a sigh. "It is almost criminally inappropriate to call it a conquest, given their utter lack of resistance. They are little more than sheep."
Hoshi waved in the direction of the general's party, dismissing them and their gifts. As the other guard removed the Andorians, she turned to Shran. "General, walk with me."
The Empress and the general made their way toward the narrow wooden bridge leading from the palace out into the gardens, with Carpenter following but maintaining a discreet distance to afford them some privacy. Hoshi walked slowly, her arms folded across her chest, saying nothing as they crossed the footbridge and entered the inner perimeter of the oikeniwa.
"Leadership suits you, Your Majesty," Shran said after a moment. "You have weathered the obstacles facing you with great poise and dexterity."
It was a shameless compliment, even by the general's standards. Shran was being uncharacteristically deferential this morning, and with good reason, Hoshi knew.
"The ease with which you acquired the loyalty of Starfleet and the late Emperor's followers was simply "
Maybe I should have him killed and spare myself any more of this.
"General," Hoshi said. "Shut up."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. "I need your counsel," Hoshi finally said as they walked together along the narrow path winding through the garden. "This war is deadlocked we're making no progress. Starfleet is still recovering from the losses we suffered at Tau Ceti. So far, we've been lucky the rebels seem to be reluctant to launch a major offensive against Earth."
"I imagine you have the Defiant to thank for that," Shran replied.
It was true that the rebels a loosely organized coalition of Vulcans, Andorians, Orions, Tellarites, and several other species conquered by the Empire over the years had aborted their planned attack on Earth, thanks to the timely arrival of the starship from the future and, incredibly enough, a parallel reality.
The sudden appearance of Defiant in orbit above Earth had been enough to send the rebels scurrying for cover, bolstering the flagging morale of imperial forces. Hoshi knew the effect was only temporary the rebels would eventually redouble their efforts and launch an all-out offensive. The Empress needed something more than a tactical advantage.
She needed a victory that everyone believed to be inevitable.
To that end, Hoshi had taken steps to ensure that knowledge of Defiant's true origin in a parallel reality remained suppressed. As far as her subjects were concerned, Defiant was from the future of this universe a future in which the Empire had not only defeated the rebellion, but thrived well into the next century. In the months since her ascension to the throne, she had used the imperial media to disseminate these revelations of "future history," allegedly garnered from the vessel's historical database.
As news spread on every subspace channel, a renewed optimism swept across the imperial territories. Skeptics need look no further than Defiant itself definitive proof of the Empire's eventual triumph. Word eventually filtered back through operatives in the field that the rebels, too, were believing the story. Some had already abandoned their cause; many more were considering their options.
She had broken their spirit; now she would crush them.
"The rebels are using the pause to rebuild their forces," Hoshi said after a moment. "When they strike, we may not be able to drive them off, even with Defiant."
Shran nodded. "Of course, you have considered a counteroffensive?"
"I can't order an attack if I don't know where they're hiding. We've been searching for their fleet for months." Hoshi could send Defiant and its advanced sensor array to hunt for the rebel fleet, but the moment the starship left orbit, Earth would be open to attack, something she was not prepared to risk at least, not yet.
"The rebels will not hide forever," Shran said. "Earth is too tempting a target, even with Defiant as its protector." He bowed slightly. "How may the Andorian Guard be of service?"
Stopping her leisurely stroll through the oikeniwa, Hoshi turned to face the general. "You could stop supporting the rebels."
Shran's shocked expression was almost comical to behold. "Your Majesty, I..."
Hoshi's eyes narrowed as she glared at Shran. "Elements of the Guard have been providing aid and supplies to resistance cells for months. The rebels would never have been able to acquire seven decommissioned vessels from one of your most well-protected surplus depots without assistance. Those ships and the tactical assistance you personally provided may have made the difference in our defeat at Tau Ceti."
Shran said nothing for several seconds, during which Hoshi heard nothing save the sounds of rippling water and the call of some exotic bird she could not see. Regarding the general, she noted that his expression was no longer that of denial. Instead, Hoshi saw guilt and even a hint of fear in his one good eye. Stepping closer, she folded her arms across her chest. "Save us both the embarrassment of denying any of this, General." She noticed Carpenter moving up behind Shran, his hand drifting to the handle of the phaser on his belt. A subtle shake of her head halted him in his tracks, but the bodyguard maintained his alert stance behind the Andorian.
To his credit, Shran said, "I will not deny it, Your Majesty, but you must understand that I was acting in defense of my own people. The former Emperor saw Andoria as nothing more than a subject world to be pressed to the ground under his boot. He considered us no better than Orions or Tellarites, despite the fact that we helped build this Empire. Even the Vulcans did not show our level of devotion!"
"Is that your rationale for treason?"
Shran remained silent, and Hoshi caught him glancing over his shoulder to where Carpenter stood at the ready. The general's body language spoke volumes, as he no doubt considered his chances of overcoming her loyal protector.
"Relax, General," Hoshi said, amused by his evident anxiety. "I wouldn't think of ruining our stroll with an execution. You're more valuable to me alive." She stabbed a slender finger at his chest. "But don't think me a fool; your betrayal is not something I'll forget."
"I beg forgiveness, Your Majesty," Shran said meekly. "I will do whatever is necessary to make amends."
"Good." Hoshi resumed walking, and the general followed. "If I'm to win this war, I need resources I don't currently have. Starfleet isn't ready, which means I must look elsewhere. Pledge the allegiance of the Guard to me. Take command of Starfleet and hunt down the rebels. Help me, and I will reward all of your people."
Obviously unprepared for the opportunity being laid at his feet, Shran appeared genuinely humbled. "Your Majesty, this is most unexpected. I must confess some confusion. Why would you present such a generous offer after my betrayal?"
"Because history must unfold as it was written as it will be written."
She watched as Shran considered her words carefully, his eyes finally widening in realization. "The historical database from Defiant. It foretold your act of mercy...."
"Much more than that," Hoshi replied as she moved closer to him, her voice barely more than a whisper. "In addition to my lengthy and compassionate reign, there was the rather surprising and intriguing revelation that you and I will marry."
It required physical effort to maintain her composure as Hoshi watched the color drain from Shran's face. "Marry?" he repeated.
She nodded. "And I will bear you a son."
It was all a lie, of course. Hoshi had no more idea what the future held for Shran than she did for herself. Even the fate of the Andorian in the other universe had not been listed in Defiant's memory banks, owing to his withdrawal from public life after the end of his military career.
Hoshi pressed her case: "Once we are joined, your people will enjoy rights and privileges so far known only to Terrans. A new order will emerge. Andoria will stand beside Earth as a partner an equal."
Shran looked away for several seconds, and Hoshi watched as he considered everything he had heard. He would be a poor tactician if he was not evaluating all possible angles to the proposition she had made.
While she admitted to finding him strangely attractive personally, in reality Shran was a means to an end. A military strategist of unmatched ability, he would not stand by and wait for the inevitable attack as A. G. Robinson seemed prepared to do. Shran would take the fight to the rebels. His influence over the Andorian insurgents would prove invaluable. When they learned of their new status, they would desert in massive numbers, leaving the other rebels no option but surrender.
Returning his gaze to hers, Shran regarded her with a neutral expression. "I honestly do not know what to say, Your Majesty."
Hoshi was unable to resist the smile teasing the corners of her mouth. "It's very simple, Shran. You can become my consort and the supreme commander of Starfleet, or be executed for treason."
A nervous laugh brought a glint even to his lifeless eye. "Your negotiation skills are unrivaled, Empress." Then, with her trusted bodyguard standing as sole witness, the general stooped to one knee and held out his right hand.
"The people of Andoria would be humbly pleased beyond measure if you joined me in the bond of matrimony."
Hoshi smiled as she felt his hand tighten around hers, seeing both uncertainty and determination in his remaining eye. What the general did here now was for the sake of the Andorian people. His loyalty to the Empire might be suspect, but his fidelity to his home planet was inviolable. It was one of Shran's greatest strengths.
That devotion would also be his downfall.
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