“In the last month, four systems have fallen to Emperor Dyson,” said Harold Zamona. His massive body loomed over the table, an unsettling sight for Patrician Conipri. His people generally looked down on humans, their insectile faces on average a head higher. Harold was gigantic, however. The passive folding of his hands did little to disguise how easily he could crush various body parts, their chitinous exoskeleton not doing much to ease the mental picture. Conipri’s wings buzzed uneasily.
“Three of the systems so conquered fell due to our military force,” said Zamona. “This was due to our superior weaponry, not our superior numbers. The fourth fell peacefully, graciously accepting Dyson’s rule. Our hope is that your system will be the second to join Dyson’s Empire voluntarily.”
“The generosity of the offer is noted,” the Patrician said, quietly. “But I will need to confer with my council before making other decisions. Our way of life is vital. And… you do know that I cannot speak for the entirety of the system.”
“We are making similar negotiations with the leaders of each of the twelve significant countries on your world,” said Zamona. “By tomorrow we should begin speaking to the countries on the other naturally populated planet and the settled colonies terraforming the third world. When we conquer this system… and we will… our hope is that enough of the nations on your world will have sided with us to prevent our invasion from being… violent.”
Zamona tapped the controls on his wrist-guard computer and felt the cybernetic dampening gloves that contained his hands shift to a lower power setting. Strength returned to his arms as the inhibitors lost their charge, just enough to allow him to grip the side of the table and twist the metal. It bent horribly, a twisted wave of warped steel interrupting the otherwise smooth edge of the tabletop, gouges on the surface indicating where his hands had been resting. It was a clichéd show of force in human culture, but the peaceful Patrician Conipri winced visibly at the sight of it mere feet from where he sat.
“My Emperor awaits your decision eagerly,” said Zamona. “I don’t know what the other nations will decide… but I assume that there will be safety in numbers. We have prepared a suite of rooms for you while you make your decision.”
“We must return to our people to confer,” said the Patrician, still staring at the warped metal. “The council must deliberate… it cannot rest entirely with me.”
“The communication systems in the room will allow you to contact them,” said Zamona. “You will tell them what I have told you. And they will tell you their decision. And then you will be able to tell us, personally, if war with your people will begin.”
“I will not be allowed to return?” asked the Patrician.
“That depends on your answer, I suppose,” said Zamona, smiling.
He didn’t know anything about the Patrician’s biology or native customs. He had only been aware of the species’ existence for a fortnight. But the silence that followed was nearly universal, the intergalactic sign for the realization that you couldn’t win even though you had hoped for something better. After a moment, Conipri’s voice thrummed to life.
“The communication systems in my chamber will suffice. Thank you for your… generosity.”
Zamona smiled as the Patrician left before turning the power in his dampening gauntlets off. He felt the strength course back into his limbs and shoulders as calming music began to play. As necessary as the inhibitors were to keep him from accidentally demolishing everything around him, he always felt relief when the constant strength-sapping technology faded.
“Have the next table brought in,” he said. “And do inform the workers that they’ll be carting away this one as well, they seemed a bit surprised last time.”
The computer chirped its understanding as information began cascading across the numerous screens in the meeting room. He read the one nearest the window and groaned; less than an hour until the next negotiation. The gauntlets were seeing a lot of use this day.
“You could always keep them off for a session,” chimed a voice from the communication terminal. Zamona dutifully turned from the window and approached, seeing the now-familiar sight of a human on a throne, wearing the most extravagant and trendy styles that could be attained through acts of blatant piracy and guerilla warfare.
“The gauntlets protect those around me, my emperor,” said Zamona. “I am a danger to those around me when they remain inactive. A careless gesture or simple trip could end the life of the next ambassador if my strength is not sapped by the gauntlets. You know this.”
“After the trouble I went to to redesign them for you so that they could be removed or lowered in intensity, I expected to see you take them off occasionally,” said Emperor Dyson, mindlessly tapping a control panel on the arm of the throne. “And the laws that bound you to those shackles mean little enough. Within a month the sector where that law was decreed will be within my domain. And even if opposition could be mustered against me, I believe the courts would care more about what would doubtlessly be called treason and war crimes on your part for joining me.”
“Be that as it may, I feel more comfortable if they remain active,” said Zamona. “I believe that Patrician Conipri will accept your rule without question. The call to his people will doubtlessly be an explanation rather than a deliberation.”
“How deftly you dodge the subject at hand,” said Dyson. “But I’m glad to hear it. His nation is small but respected. Acceptance there may sway those who are still mulling it over. And Operation Eclipse?”
“Concluded,” said Zamona. “All personnel home, all materiel back in storage, no questions asked.”
“See to it that it stays that way.”
“I’ll keep an eye on the situation,” said Zamona. “But I do think that we could have treated our compatriot better.”
“Oh, dear me, is the mighty Iceberg starting to warm up on us?”
“The mighty Iceberg hasn’t been on the job for a long time,” said Zamona. “Harold Zamona, however, wants to keep you from burning bridges right at the start of your empire.”
“Noted,” said the emperor with a wave of his hand. “Continue to prepare for your next session. That will be all.”
The screen went dark for a moment before being replaced with the placeholder logo that Dyson had selected for the empire. Zamona stared at it for a moment before returning to his seat and closing his eyes. He hadn’t heard the music in the chamber during the conversation with the emperor, but it was all he needed to hear now.