‘Fraid Not, Chief

The Most August Etty Biggs-Wharton, Chair of the Imperial Defense Commission, sat in her office and eyed the guardsman in front of her with disfavor. He stood at an unprofessional slouch.

“Well?” she demanded of the guardsman. “Have you secured the inner doors?”

It was true that the guards were greatly outnumbered by the crowd outside the Capitol, and — this didn’t improve her mood, because she knew that it was partially her fault — that they had been unprepared for the size and unruliness of the protest, but imperial guards were highly trained and their ranks had finally been purged of dissidents. They should have been able to disperse the importunate rabble. Instead, the outer doors had been breached and now the Great Unwashed…”citizens,” they called themselves…were cavorting in the marble halls at the heart of the Imperium, demanding a hearing they didn’t deserve.

The Imperial Assembly had vacated their chambers and were now slowly filing through a narrow tunnel that led to a safer part of the capitol precinct. The citizens had their hollow triumph, but she could still win the day…if only they were delayed a few more minutes.

“Well?” She tapped her foot impatiently. “Are they secured, or not?”

“Afraid not, Chief,” the guardsman replied.

Fear instantly soured her stomach, but she refused to let it take over. Anger rose to take its place, and a thunderous look clouded her face. Afraid not, Chief?! This was monumental disrespect! She peered over her bifocals at his nametag, suddenly interested in who he was. Ross, was it?

“Guardsman Ross, I require your escort,” she said coldly. His career was going to end the second she got out of this building.

Just then the door banged open, and suddenly her office was filled with non-uniformed men and women. One of the men planted a flag on her desk — a coiled serpent, the hated symbol of the insurrection. And then a woman planted another flag — the same design as the imperial standard, but with a double circle of stars instead of the crowded imperial constellation.

And Guardsman Ross, no longer slouching and unprofessional, now stood straight and proud, saluting those flags.

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