There was a second shot and this time Rensa was looking in the right direction to see plaster falling from the ceiling. She couldn’t see anything lower than that because her escorts were now between her and whoever was firing, their side arms drawn and their bodies poised for action. Then Yannic pushed her behind him so that he and her escorts were between the two women and the source of the gunfire. Tyrren looked startled, horrified and worried. Rensa had gone pale.
“Stand aside!” The voice from the back was female and the order was punctuated with another shot to the ceiling.
She came striding though the audience-made corridor, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore boots, trousers, a shirt and a vest, all in dark colours, and she carried one of the short-barrelled firearms favoured by the insurgents. “This is not what we fought the revolution for,” she declared loudly, stopping in the middle of the pantu rug. “We didn’t overthrow our oppressors to have an Imperial wedding and begin the cycle all over again. This is not what we were working for. This is not what Trode intended.” She was Rensa’s age, an even-skinned beauty burning with an ideological fire. It gave her actions conviction and the same conviction fuelled the movements of her three companions who’d fanned across the back of the room, weapons pointed at the ground but ready. She turned her back on the audience and pointed her free hand dramatically at Yannic, ignoring the escorts with their weapons aimed at her. “You betrayed us.”
“That’s a matter of opinion, Sevrin,” Tuluc was behind her, his own previously hidden sidearm pointed at the interloper’s head. “I did wonder if you might be on Trode’s clean-up squad. Now, let us disarm you.”
From the back of the room there was a shout, “Clear!”
“You didn’t evade security, Sevrin,” Tuluc continued, “You walked into a trap.” She glanced in his direction and saw both his weapon and that her companions had been disarmed and restrained.
The sag in her confidence was a visible thing and she held her weapon out in one hand, allowing it to be taken from her. “Trode would never have countenanced this Imperial persistence,” she protested as the audience calmed themselves and began to resettle.
“I thought that subject might come up,” said Yannic grimly, stepping out to one side of Rensa’s escorts, “so I organized something for those of you who weren’t there.” He gestured and one of his secretaries, seated amongst the audience against the wall to Yannic’s right, pulled a cord and the wall-covering curtain pulled back in two halves from its centre to reveal that the wall was a television screen. “Let’s settle any doubts about Trode’s intentions and my promotion right now.” He pulled a controller out of his trousers’ pocket and pressed a button.
The screen turned on. It acknowledged input and then an image came up. It showed an artificially lit, hexagonal-shaped room with one entrance from an view point high on a wall or just under a ceiling. There was an instrument and control plinth dais in the middle of the room with its primary workstation facing the three large screens that covered the upper half of the walls opposite the door. The lower half of the five walls that weren’t the doorway were lined with computer workstations. A pair of feet plus a hand with its forearm were visible where they lay over the threshold, the attached bodies out of sight in the room beyond the doorway.
The feet and the hand were dragged out of the picture by someone unseen and then Trode walked into the room, basking in his triumph. The trademark long coat and boots, the touch of triumphant strut to his walk, everything about him projected his belief in the victory he had wrought. “So, this is the Central Unit of the Command Data System,” his rich voice flowed from the speakers, retaining all its rousing power in recording. “This is the source of Imperial power.” He strode forward and stepped up on to the central dais, taking up position at the primary workstation and standing before its control plinth with his feet apart and head back, looking at the large screen on the wall before him.
“Did he know he was being filmed,” Tyrren whispered in Rensa’s ear, “or did he strike the pose out of habit because he had an audience?” On the screen the back of the control room had filled with insurgents. Rensa recognised Yannic, Bannoc and a number of others. It struck her as interesting that Tuluc wasn’t in the crowd.
On the screen, having had his dramatically posed pause, Trode was speaking again, “Central Unit, I understand that you take verbal commands.”
“This unit is equipped for verbal interaction with sentients who have compatible language capability.” The voice came from the speakers but there was no way of telling from the image on the screen where the voice had come from.
“The Emperor and his family of lackeys are dead.” Trode was confident.
“Sensors indicate that there is no longer a current senior active administrator.”
“Senior active administrator?” Trode was visibly confused but focused.
“The individual has the social designator of ‘Emperor’.”
“The leader of the regime is the senior active administrator?” Trode’s question was reasonably shrewd, Rensa conceded that. “I’m the leader of the new regime. I am the new senior administrator.”
“Access denied. Privilege request denied. Voice print identifies Subbuc, registered resident of Farmhome, chosen use name ‘Trode’. No logon id held for subject individual.”
“A senior active administrator needs to be appointed for the business of government to continue,” said Trode carefully. “I am the new regime’s appointee.”
A red beam of light hit Trode from directly above him, covering him in a red grid for a few seconds, then it went off. “Detailed scan demonstrates you are not qualified for the position of senior active administrator. Access denied. Privileges denied. Warning: a third access denial within the three hour period will activate system security functions.”
Someone in the image crowd, it was Kolloc who’d organised the Mountjoy commemoration Rensa realised, suggested, “Trode, perhaps we should-“
“Thank you,” Trode turned in Kolloc’s direction, “but I’ve got this.” He turned back to the screens on the other side of the room from him and said, “I need to set up a central system account. What do I need to do?”
“All central system account activity is frozen when there is no senior active administrator.”
“Then appoint one.” Trode was leaning forward, hands braced on the control plinth.
“Sensors indicate all identified candidates have ceased.”
“I present myself as the candidate for the position.” The live audience watching the image murmured a little, there was something about the man on the screen…
Tyrren whispered in Rensa’s ear, “He’s about to lose it, isn’t he?” Rensa was still pale, her hands tightly clenched together in front of her. “Oh honey, come here.” Tyrren put an arm around the younger woman and hugged her.
“You have been scanned and identified as unqualified for the position. Access denied. Privileges denied. Punitive security protocols have been activated.” The Central Unit’s tone had not varied.
“Punitive security protocols,” Trode muttered in the image. “How bad can that be?” He raised his voice, “Listen to me, you damnable computer, I am Emperor by right of conquest. Give me control.”
There were two bursts of simultaneous semi-automatic gunfire so sudden that Trode’s body had stopped jerking and fallen to the floor before those seeing this for the first time realised that two machine guns had dropped from embrasures in the ceiling.
The audience’s stunned silence was a mirror of the reaction of the crowd in the image.
Months ago, being replayed now in larger-than-life-detail, Kolloc gathered his courage and stepped into the line of fire but stopped short of Trode’s body. “What are the qualifications for being appointed senior active administrator?” His voice shook a little.
“Possession of Administrator Persis’ Y-chromosome in the candidate’s personal genome.” The computer generated voice had no tonal variation.
“So, is he a qualified candidate?” In the recorded image Kolloc was pointing at the unimportant-looking but white-gold skinned and agouti-haired Yannic.
The red beam from above Trode’s body cast its red grid over Yannic. “Yes. The indicated individual is a qualified candidate.” The computer generated voice paused. “Account registration and or upgrade protocols may commence.”
In the image Yannic was being pushed forward by his fellows, protesting. Meanwhile, Kolloc asked, “What happens if there is no new active senior administrator?”
“All central system accounts will remain locked. This unit will act to advance the Colonial Development Plan by all means necessary, without human moderation.” The toneless voice now sounded calm and implacable.
“What does that mean?” That was Yannic, out the front of the onlookers now.
“The armed insurrection currently underway in the main administration building will be suppressed by security drones. Logical changes to population distribution and labour usage will be implemented to maximise output. Central manipulation of water, food and power supplies will be used to ensure population compliance.”
“How does there being an active senior administrator change that?” Yannic was looking reluctant but determined.
“Security drones cannot be activated unless there is a direct attack on the Central Unit.” The crowd in the image looked at each other. “Logical actions can be overridden by the senior active administrator’s decision.”
“All right,” Yannic gave ground. “If there’s no-one else, I’ll do the job.”
The screen on the wall went blank.
“That’s why I became Emperor,” Yannic in the here-and-now spoke firmly to Sevrin and the cameras. “I would like the accusations to stop, thank you.” He turned to Rensa and extended his hand. “We came here today to get married and I, for one, would like to get on with it. Are you ready, my dear?”
Rensa nodded and stepped towards him so she could take his hand.