Home > Impersonations_ A Story of the Praxis (Dread Empire's Fall)

Impersonations_ A Story of the Praxis (Dread Empire's Fall)
Author: Walter Jon Williams


 

Introduction


THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, Earth and its inhabitants were conquered by the alien Shaa. Along with other alien species within the Shaa imperium, humanity has been subjected to the unforgiving rule of the Praxis, the empire-wide law imposed by the conquerors. Intended to create an ideal, ordered society based on universal and rational principles, the Praxis is enforced by a reign of terror and blood.

Foremost in upholding the Praxis is the order of Peers, the ennobled descendants of the collaborators who helped the Shaa establish their rule. But now, with the last of the Shaa having passed from the scene, the Peers must actually try to run the empire.

The first crack in the Praxis occurred during the Naxid War, when the most senior of the conquered species tried to seize the empire and replace the Shaa with themselves. The Naxids were defeated, in part through the actions of Captain the Lady Sula, but now Sula finds the rewards for her service are exile, on a distant planet called Earth. . . .

 

 

THE WOMAN CALLED CAROLINE SULA looked up from her desk to see a mammoth ship poised in the floodlights of the ring. It hovered above the rotating ring like a skyscraper floating free of gravity, its landing lights glaring, nose studded with grapples, probes, and docking tubes all deployed to catch a berth as Earth’s antimatter ring rotated beneath it.

Sula’s heart gave a lurch at the unexpected sight, and then the ship vanished beneath the floor as the ring continued its rotation. She spun her chair to look behind her, and the big ship reappeared downspin from her office. Maneuvering jets flared against the ship’s matte-black flanks, and the ship floated with slow majesty to a gentle berth in the Fleet dockyards.

“What the hell is that?” she demanded.

Lieutenant-Captain Lord Koz Parku, who was in the middle of delivering a report on satellite maintenance, raised his gray, expressionless head. “Lady Sula?”

“That ship that just docked. What was it?”

Parku’s dark eyes focused over Sula’s shoulder at the ship lit by the dockyard’s floodlights, a tall irregular tower suddenly sprouting from the ring. “I don’t know, my lady.”

Sula rose from her desk and walked to the shelf where she kept her binoculars. She put them to her eyes and toggled the on switch.

“It looks like a Bombardment-class heavy cruiser,” she said. “But it’s got civilian markings. Though what’s it doing in the Fleet dockyard if it’s a civilian?”

“Shall I find out, my lady?”

“Yes.”

Sula frowned. There were no warships in the Sol system that she knew of—her command consisted entirely of transports, vehicles for satellite and ring maintenance, and a swank little cutter for her own personal use. Whatever was going on with the ship, it was irregular, and she was wary of irregularities within her command.

Parku raised an arm and busied himself with his sleeve display. Sula continued to study the ship—the cruiser. No one had told her there would be civilian ships in the Fleet dockyard, let alone civilian ships that seemed to have been built to military specifications. And Parku didn’t know the answers to her questions because he hadn’t been here any longer than she had.

“The ship is the Manado, my lady.” Parku moved to stand by her as she looked out the transparent wall. His Daimong voice was measured and melodious, though he brought with him the scent of his rotting flesh, not entirely concealed by baths and use of scent. Sula, sensitive to odors, repressed a twitch of her upper lip.

“It was laid down in the shipyards here during the war, as the new Bombardment of Utgu. But the war ended before completion, and a civilian company bought it, completed construction, and now operates it.”

“Operates it as what?” Sula asked.

Parku uttered a brief, chiming tone intended as a placeholder, where a human might insert a “Well . . .” or an “Umm.”

“‘General cargo,’” Parku said finally. “Apparently.” His timbre indicated a lack of satisfaction with the answer.

None of this, Sula reflected, made sense. The Fleet was being expanded, both to replace war losses and to build a much larger force less prone to subversion. Even if the war was over, Bombardment of Utgu should have been added to the active list.

Irregularities of this sort, Sula thought, generally meant corruption somewhere. Someone had given a ship to an ally in return for a token payment.

But, she reflected, it wasn’t her corruption; it wasn’t her fault or her responsibility. It may not even have been arranged here but in the capital of Zanshaa or somewhere else. It had all happened before she had arrived, three weeks before.

“So, what’s Manado doing in my dockyard?” Sula asked. “Why isn’t it in a civilian berth?”

Again that chiming tone while Parku flicked through his sleeve display. “The Manado Company contracted to rent a berth in the Fleet dockyard.” He looked up, his large eyes liquid in his expressionless face. “The contract expires in two months, my lady.”

“Do they resupply from the Fleet? Air, antihydrogen? Rations?”

Parku returned to his display. “Yes. But they pay for anything they take from us.”

“Generously, I hope.”

Parku’s timbre conveyed ambivalence. “Their payments would seem to be in line with our costs.”

Paranoia stoked Sula’s thoughts. “They don’t take on weapons, do they? Or antiproton ammunition?”

“No, my lady.”

Sula frowned at the ship and moved back behind her desk, where the scent of Parku’s decay couldn’t reach her.

“Find out what you can about the Manado Company,” she said. “When you have a moment.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And now—you were saying about satellite maintenance?”

Parku finished his report just as the ring rotated out of Earth’s shadow and into sunlight. The Fleet had generously given the station commander an office in a small tower overlooking the dockyards, and now blazing Sol etched every detail of the ring and the docked ships with brilliant fire. Parku raised a hand to shade his eyes. Sula raised the sun shield in the eastern quadrant of the office.

“Thank you, my lady,” Parku said.

“Is that all, then? You can return to your office.”

“My lady.” Parku braced to attention, his chin raised, his throat bared in order to expose himself to his superior’s lethal punishment. When the punishment did not arrive, he made a smart military turn and left the office.

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