Negotiations on shaky vines

Chapter 44- The tyrant’s web

by Exhausted_ambition

Tags: #dom:female #f/f #hypnosis #petplay #pov:bottom #scifi #anxiety #CW:dubious_consent #cw:violence #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:plant #drug_play #Human_Domestication_Guide #ownership_dynamics #sensation_play #sub:capitalism #sub:female #trans_egg #transgender_characters

CW: threats of violence.

It is time for Cleo to return to The Game, hope you enjoy the chapter!
After they got out of the hab and onto the street Cleo took out the datapad that she had been provided with by Trexal. Finally, she had access to the files and information of the compact, and she had also received a message.
 
[GreatBigCuddler]: hi, Cleo! The humans you requested to meet are all on their way by shuttle to the Agraria. They should be here in an hour, the meeting room AG-47 has been prepared, it is right next to your office. After your meeting, please come by my office, we have a few things to go over. 
 
Cleo put the datapad away, she felt a bit of relief. All of the people she had requested had come, she could guess their individual reasons, fear, curiosity, loyalty, hubris. This first meeting would be the cornerstone to establishing her authority and power over Centhia once more. Once the bureaucracy was once again under her control she could expand outwards. 
 
She knew their names, their pasts, their talents, their way of playing The Game. Only one of them would prove a problem and that person would also become the key to everything else. Her thoughts were interrupted by the fact they had reached the station, there were actually a few affini here. By all looks, it seemed like they were headed for the bureaucratic wing of the ship as well, delightful… 
 
The affini in the bureaucracy were too busy to be a nuisance but these ones were waiting for the tram. Seeing two humans preparing to go the same way aroused some strange but amused looks. As long as they didn’t get too close it would be fine, Nora did not seem to mind at all. Luckily they did not have any of the plants come any closer and embarked without issue. 
 
They got inside and Cleo immediately noticed that most of the seats were already taken. Nora walked up to one of the affini “hi could you help me up?” The affini smiled and lifted Nora up into one of the human-sized seats, giving her some pets that she welcomed. There was no way that she was going to do that, Cleo found the best piece of wall and leaned against it. 
 
She then opened the briefcase and began to read through the documents. The only thing positive that could be said of the information in the documents was the relatively low casualty numbers. Though Cleo knew they were going to increase exponentially unless she could stabilize the situation. The garrison forces apparently lacked appropriate weaponry to subdue the protesters, this had not only led to them being overrun in some cases but also extremely low morale. The easy solution would be to reintroduce previously used weaponry but that would not go over well with the affini, she needed another solu-
 
A vine obscured her vision as it began to pat her and ruffle her hair “hi little one, did you get separated from your owner?” Cleo looked up at the affini with fire in her eyes, she hated when people interrupted her work. 
 
She stared the affini down, it had begun to look uncertain “get. Your. Vine. Away. From. Me. I am not a floret and I do not wish to be disturbed.” The cold in her voice made the affini move back, almost a bit startled. Cleo looked around at the other affini, more than a few were looking at her in surprise “that goes for the rest of you as well. Do not interrupt me and don’t get close either.” she looked down at the document, now where was she….right, a solution for the garrison weapons. Several solutions went through her mind until she found a satisfying one that would work. 
 
She moved on to the next one and with each document the web of knowledge grew. The web was vast and complex, a billion points connected by countless strings, that again connected to hundreds of factors. She knew what would happen if a string was cut or pressured, how the web would move and ripple. Currently, the web was in chaos and disarray. All she needed to do was to create a few strings of her own and those would control the entire web like a puppet. 
 
The tram moved into the final station and Nora soon joined beside her, the affini were giving her a comfortable distance, good. Once they got off she knew exactly where to go. In the maze-like structure, distance was difficult to tell but they made it in a relatively short time. Just before she could go into her office and collect the necessary documents, Nora stopped in place “did you hear that?” Nora looked around, a bit confused but also cautious. 
 
Cleo looked around, there was nothing but them “obviously no, but I don’t see anything either. Just because you are my ‘bodyguard’ does not mean you have to get jumpy. The meeting will be soon, let's prepare.” Nora’s shoulders relaxed again, she seemed to do a last sweep of the area before nodding.
 
After getting her documents she walked over to the meeting room, inside there was human-sized furniture and chairs, finally. She sat down at the far end of the table before planning the last steps. The reaction to her new body was still uncertain, one thing was clear, however: the knowledge of her change had to be kept a secret, if not there was no telling what would happen. This might be her first match in far too long but if she did not win it, catastrophe would follow.
 
She looked up at Nora “During this meeting, I will have to act….like I used to. I think it might be best for you to guard outside…..I don’t want you to see me like that.” Nora smiled sadly, it was clear she did not enjoy this any more than her. 
 
Nora walked to the door “alright, I’ll knock and then let them in when they arrive. But after the meeting, I’ll make sure you are okay.” Cleo nodded and Nora exited the room, she did not have to wait long before the first match began. 
 
There was a knock on the door and then it opened. 5 people filed into the room, one scared propagandist, one nervous subordinate, one aged admiral, one apprehensive officer, and one bureaucrat filled with unearned confidence. As soon as they saw who sat at the other end of the table, they stopped. There was a tense silence, she broke it “sit down, you are already 2 minutes late. We have much to discuss and attend to.” A few of them took some apprehensive steps forward, and one of them strode forward chuckling menacingly. 
 
The 57-year-old bureaucrat’s voice was taunting “I thought we were going to have a meeting with the president of the republic, not some affini pet. This is ridiculous, is it a joke?” the man's voice turned cold “because I do not find it very funny, this has been a waste of my time.” He moved towards the door. 
 
Cleo knew that this was going to happen, she stood up from her chair “Everyone but permanent secretary Harold may leave the room. Immediately.” The man stopped and the others looked at where the chips would land. 
 
The man stepped forward “Why should I talk to you? I doubt you are the president, and if you are? Then that is just even more pathetic.” The man grinned in an attempt at intimidation “but seeing how far you have fallen will be an enjoyable affair. There is a new power on Centhia, me. Perhaps you will agree that I should lead the meeting after we have talked?” Cleo stared down the other humans who quickly left the room. The door closed and it was only her and her enemy.
 
The Man smirked “I thought you were dead or maybe a prisoner, but the alien’s puppet pet? I thought I could expect better from you. It is clear now that you were just lucky. As soon as you fell, you lost. The bureaucracy will never follow you, it's time for a new leader to take control.” It was clear that the hapless old man thought he was impressive. 
 
Cleo did not shift a muscle in her body, she moved a few of the paper on the desk with an absent hand “tell me Durkow, how much time have you spent with your family lately?” Durkow took a step back, a bit confused. Cleo looked up at him “you have 3 children and 1 grandchild, I don’t think you spend nearly as much time with them as you should.” The man understood what she was implying. 
 
His face went red with anger “are you threatening me?! If you think I will back down from a worthless, pathetic, little s-” Cleo scared right at him and the mad suddenly took a surprised step back. What a pathetic windbag of a creature, she almost felt pity for the man.
 
Her voice was cold and hard as ice “that was not a threat, it was a suggestion. This is a threat: if you, Durkow Harold, do not hand in a letter of resignation within 3 hours of your feet touching Centhia…Then my hounds will locate you, hunt you down, kill you, and your body will hang above the entrance to the central bureaucracy HQ by the time the sun touches its walls. You will be a reminder of what happens to those who do not obey. Now make your choice.” The anger and bluster of the old fashion bureaucrat were replaced with uncertainty. This was not how the man had expected this to go, but he would not back down yet, that Cleo already knew. 
 
Durkow tried to hide his fear “you’re bluffing! You don’t have any control over them, no one has communicated with you in weeks! You have no power, not anymore.” The man was doubting his own words, the fact that this worm had thought he had the prowess to take her place was insulting.
 
Cleo tapped her fingers across the table, showing complete confidence in her lie “I would recommend that you say goodbye to your family, and then find a place to make peace. I would not recommend trying to leave the planet, that means they will have to kill you sooner, my shadows are never late to their appointments.” She could see his chest heave slightly, the man was afraid now. 
 
But not enough, time to show a sign of her power. She slid a paper of names across the table “these are the people who will be hanging with you, tell them or not, it won’t make a difference. Don’t worry, I will find replacements for all of you.” The man picked up the paper with a trembling hand, his eyes widened as he read the names. 
 
His voice was hollow, scared and afraid “how? How did you….” Now it was Cleo’s time to smirk, the man took another step back.
 
She stood up from the chair and leaned her palms across the table, her voice condescending and menacing “did you really think that I did not know about your cabal of traitors? I have known since your first meeting 3 years ago. The old bureaucracy is dead, by my hands, and it is not coming back. You only have one purpose left to me and it will require no effort on your part to accomplish it. Now leave this room and return to Centhia.” The fire of ambition in the man’s eyes was gutted, fear consumed them, and his body trembled. This had almost been too easy. 
 
He tried to remain calm “I…I…I will serve you…” the man sounded defeated, his dreams of power crushed. It was not enough for her, not until there was nothing left. 
 
She waved her hand dismissively “you lost that opportunity the second you walked into this room and did not sit down. Leave and make your peace, even if you do it yourself we will still find the pieces.” The legs of the middle-aged man failed, and he fell to his knees. 
 
He was begging now “please, I can be useful! I am competent, I can help you find those that are not loyal.” Cleo sneered, he was still trying to keep his position. This was getting tiring, time to crush the last bit of resistance that was left. 
 
She looked down at him, malice and power filled her words “do you think I need your competence? Do you think the four out there are here to lend me their wisdom? If I had enough hands and mouths I could rule this sector on my own! I do not need your or anyone else’s competence, what I need are loyal laborers that carry out my will.” Each word rocked the man and made him tremble. 
 
Cleo continued the assault “The pathetic dredges of the old bureaucracy like you have been a thorn in my side for long enough. I will rip you out, root and stem, and burn the rest. I offered you surrender, and you refused that when you had the chance. I have no need for faulty drones like you, you will serve your last purpose and be forgotten. Now leave!” She watched with a tingle of satisfaction as the fear turned to terror and the last of the man's will broke underneath her words. 
 
The man who had entered the room believing he was to be the next ruler of her bureaucracy sounded defeated. “I…I will resign, whatever you need….I will do it.” Cleo smiled on the inside, it had gone just as she had hoped. She had kept Durkow around for just this reason, despite his arrogance and plotting. So that the rest would know that she held power and that no one, not even the most powerful among them even stood a chance. 
 
Cleo pretended to mull it over, Durkow had tears streaming down his face “hmmm….I guess I can accept that, my units have more important things to do. You will hand in your resignation publicly in full view of all, and so will the people on that list.” The man stood shakingly up, there was not a single thought of resistance in his body. 
 
Durkow’s voice still trembled “thank you, president. What will I give as the reason?” With these resignations the pawns would fall back in line, this match was a complete victory. 
 
Cleo smiled with satisfaction “I think you already know that.” The man nodded, his whole body was shaking.
 
Cleo was surprised the man could still speak “to spend more time with my family, I understand.” 
 
Cleo sat down again “go tell the first affini that you find that you are feeling tired and need to travel on the first shuttle home. I expect to hear of you and your conspirators’ resignation before the day is over, or you know what will happen. Also, one last thing, who did you speak with today?” 
 
The man shook “the president of the Centhian Republic, it was an honor.” Cleo gave a nod and the man suddenly gained energy as he shambled out of the office.
 
There was still a lot to do, the meeting was far from over. The whole bureaucracy needed to be restructured to fit this crisis, restructured around her once more. One pawn had been too great a point of failure, she needed four to make this work.
 
Cleo smiled, this had gone well. Then the guilt crept forward, and her smile disappeared. No wonder people feared her, even with empty threats she had reduced a person's will to rubble. She felt afraid, had she enjoyed this? Durkow was not a good person but still…..There was no time for this. She had a job to do. 
 
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Alexandra was nervous, she did not fully understand why she had been asked to come here. When the affini had asked her to come to the Agraria on the request of the president, with the codes to show the requests authenticity no less, how could she have said no? She had suspected that there would be plenty of other people here but instead, the shuttle had only had 6…no wait, only 5 humans aboard.
 
She knew the others: Grand Admiral Stuklov was revered and respected even beyond the sector's borders for his long years of service. Head officer Peron was the head of New Habsburgs garrison forces and was known for her loyalty to the president. Percy Normanov was a high-ranking bureaucratic officer, sometimes called complacent but always regarded as efficient. Then there was Durkow Harold that was currently talking with the woman who claimed she was the president, the seasoned bureaucrat was probably one of the most powerful men in the sector. She had served on the committee of public truth for some time and received some rewards for her work, but she could not compare to these giants. 
 
Alexandra’s mind turned to the woman, was that really the president? It was hard to believe but something about it made sense. She had never considered the president a man, not that she considered them a woman either. they were simply too alien, enigmatic, and different for gender to hold any meaning.  
 
She looked at the bodyguard, she recognized the red hair and her eyes. She looked different without the armor, helmet, guns, and visor but there was an even more startling change. There was a collar around the woman’s neck, it was colorful and vibrant. Alexandra had seen the affini propaganda, she knew it was the mark of a floret, but the bodyguard’s obvious strength was still intimidating. 
 
The talk in the meeting room had taken a bit of time now, for a moment she wondered if Durkow had attacked the woman. Then the door opened and Durkow shambled out, his face filled with snot and tears. The eyes of the man were filled with a terror that she had seen before, the others in the corridor were surprised but silent. Durkow did not even seem to notice they were there and stumbled past them, towards the nearest affini. 
 
A voice broke all their focus on the remains of Durkow “We have already lost precious time, come in and let us begin the meeting in earnest.” Alexandra knew instantly that the woman was indeed the president, only they could have such an effect. They all hurried inside, the bodyguard remained outside and looked slightly worried. 
 
As soon as she got into the room her assumption was proven right, the eyes of the woman were unmistakable. Fuck…she felt fear creep up her back, her body acted almost without her command as she sat down in one of the four chairs. 
 
The president looked over each of them in turn, their voice was calm but cold “I am severely disappointed. I have spent the last years turning Centhia into a power to rival Terra itself, then you manage to let it crumble over the course of a month. The bureaucracy is in shambles, the garrison dissolving, the fleet useless, and people marching in my streets. This gross incompetence of governance is something that I will not allow to continue. Is that understood?” There were rapid nods and straight backs from her and all the others. 
 
Only the admiral did not seem intimidated, rather he smiled “It is an honor to serve you again Hansen. Despite your….change, I can see that the fire to prove the might of Centhia is unmatched.” The president merely gave a brief nod. 
 
The president seemed pleased “good, and I can assure you it burns brighter than ever. Now, I can tell you my plans. I am overhauling the entire structure of the administration, all parts of governance will now fall under the power of the bureaucracy. To undergo this massive change, you have been called here. Each one of you will lead the four new branches of Centhia.” Alexandra felt overwhelmed, a complete restructuring of governance for the entire sector?
 
The president’s iron eyes turned on Percy “The corps are gone and now we will encapsulate their purpose. You will be the permanent secretary for the department of resource allocation. Most of the duties that the old bureaucracy held will be yours. Production, housing, health, documentation, public amenities, and infrastructure. All of it will be under your watch, here is a list of sub-departments and recommendations for their head secretaries. you have shown dedication and efficacy to prove you worthy of this role, don’t make me regret it.” Percy looked at the list he was handed, the young man’s eyes were filled with pride and dedication.
 
Percy looked up at the president “yes, madam president. I will do all that I can, thank you for this opportunity.” 
 
The president nodded and turned their gaze at Peron “the garrison has fallen apart, and public order is non-existent. In document storage T3-45 you will find the plans for a decentralized restructuring of the garrison system. All garrison platoons will now answer to the new department of planetary security, which will itself answer to me. You will lead this new department, your first task will be to rebuild the garrison forces and then push back against the riots, the families, and other threats. Do your duty, and you shall be rewarded.” Peron gave a rigid salute.
 
The officer’s face betrays only stoicism and reverence “yes ma’am!” Alexandra shivered again, the power of the president was so manifest in the room that she swore she could reach out and touch it.
 
The president looked at the admiral “Terran rebels are harassing our convoys, bombarding, and raiding both core and outlying colonies. You have served the republic before it was born, no one knows the sector as you do. You will be the grand admiral of the department of sector security, I know you will not disappoint. The affini have sent two ships to reinforce our position, they should arrive at any moment, and they will need support. Cooperate with the affini, bring the fleet online and destroy the enemies of the republic.” The Admiral smiled warmly, his eyes suddenly seemed a bit younger. 
 
Admiral Stuklov stroked a hand through his beard “it will be my pleasure, Hansen.” Alexandra almost wanted to bolt out of the room, she was next. What did the president want with her? No matter what she wanted to do her body did not move. 
 
The president’s eyes turned to her, and then they smiled? “First let me say that I am happy you survived the attempt on your life, your broadcasts have been a nice comfort as I recovered.” What? That had to be a sick joke, or a threat of some kind…why did she feel pride? 
 
The president turned a bit more serious “not then, you are very capable, and I know the perfect position for you. You will be head of the department of information. Communication, education, propaganda, surveillance, and culture will be your department's main responsibilities.” This could not be real. Her, the head of a department? 
 
The president did not seem to notice her surprise “we need to establish a narrative to gain control. I know that you have worked well with the affini, no one will be better suited to convince people about the necessity of the alliance. You will also find propaganda plans for public order in document storage PL-11. Once this crisis has abated we can return to cultivating Centhian culture and education.” That sounded nice…She had always wanted to replace the corp auto-generated bullshit with genuine human expression. This opportunity was greater than she could pass up….
 
Alexandra suddenly felt excited by the possibilities “I will do my best!” The president smiled contently, hold on….why was she no longer as afraid?  
 
The president tapped the paper in front of them “let us go over the agenda, I want to know everything. All your concerns, problems, and suggestions. Let’s begin with the garrison situation….” The meeting continued and Alexandra fell a bit back in her thoughts. The president seemed different, not very, but different, nonetheless. They looked less tired, more alive, and more motivated. Alexandra realized that while the opportunity to do what she had always wanted subdued most of her fear, the president might be even more dangerous than ever before. 
 
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Three and a half-hour later and the meeting concluded, it had been very productive. Her assessment of her chosen pawns had proved correct. Cleo had felt a bit unsure if she still had it in her after so long away from the game, but even the apprehensive and distrustful Alexandra had been swayed by her words and vision. 
 
Already she felt more in control of the situation below, now she had people that worked and reported directly to her. These bidaily meetings would work wonders for identifying the problems and solutions to the countless problems that made up this crisis. Once the last one had left she allowed herself to breathe out, this had been more taxing than she had first realized. She looked over the minutes of the meeting and compiled a list to take up with Trexal. 
 
Nora walked in “hi Cleo, are you okay?” She was…wasn’t she? She had just pulled off a massive victory. With the removal of Durkow and the support of the 4 grand permanent secretaries, she had made a massive step forward. But this was just what she had always done: grabbing and consolidating power. The ease at which she had slipped back into the role of tyrant was frightening. She could already feel the want for more power. If she had that then she could help more people, or was that just a convenient lie to justify her actions?
 
She collected the documents from the table “doing this is both harder and easier than I expected. I am fine, but I’m glad I got you to watch out for me.” She gave Nora a smile that Nora returned with her own. She may be alone in The Game, but not in the struggle. 
 
They made their way to the captain’s office, it was also not too far away, doubtful to be a coincidence. They wanted close tabs on her and an opportunity to take her out should they need it. Currently, she had no precautions against that….and that was good. Her suspicion might disagree, but she needed to be kept an eye on. 
 
Cleo knocked on the door to the captain’s office, it opened immediately. Trexal was sitting behind their desk and looking over reports “come in, I think we both have much to share with each other.” There were two human-sized chairs, one to the side against the wall that Nora quickly took, and one in front of the desk. Cleo sat down and began to ready the documents, something had happened on Centhia, something bad. 
 
Trexal put down their datapad “you were right, during tonight there was a large simultaneous attack across the planet on where we have been keeping the ex-mercenaries. We were far more prepared than we would have been and managed to deflect most of the escape attempts and attacks. Despite this, around 30 000 got out and are currently loose on the planet. Most of them were from the same unit, ‘the phoenix brotherhood’.” 30 000 out of a 1.8 million was not a lot. Still, the phoenix brotherhood was highly skilled and at this point probably heavily armed. 
 
There was little they could do at the moment “for now I suggest that we set up an affini task force, probably with some of their previous caretakers. If they appear we will have a way to stop them, except for that I think rebuilding the garrison is the top priority.” The captain tapped something down on their datapad.
 
Trexal sounded tired but also a bit excited “how did the first meeting go? Based on what I have heard your plan to get one of them to resign worked.” Cleo felt a tinge of satisfaction and guilt mixed together.
 
She pushed the emotions down “it went better than I had estimated, I believe the bureaucracy will soon be operational once more. I have plenty to go over with you, a lot of plans that will need your approval.” Trexal nodded for her to continue.
 
Cleo took up one document and pointed to some statistics “based on the reports the current weaponry for the garrison is not adequate. It might work well for one-on-one conflict but against masses of people it does not suffice. Not only does this limit the garrison’s effectiveness in the field but also has made morale plummet. We need to reintroduce crowd control weapons.” The captain raised a vine for her to stop. 
 
Trexal sighed “we can’t allow you to use that noxious gas again, the same goes for ‘non-lethal’ guns and regular batons. There are simply too many cases where this has led to death and great amounts of injury.” Cleo had foreseen this response and had a plan prepared. 
 
She took out another document, it was an affini info-document about class-Z and its uses “you use class-Z in a gaseous form against the Terran rebels. Why not use it for crowd control? If you can add class-Z  to the containers that would usually have dispersion gas, then we would have a safe but highly effective tool for the garrison.” Trexal’s interest was piqued, and they took both of the documents in their vines.
 
Just before the captain could answer, the door opened without warning. Mertha strode in without a word, the gears in Cleo’s mind sputtered and slowed down “what are you doing here?” She was busy with work, this was not the time.  
 
Mertha smiled down at her warmly. “I’m here to bring you your lunch…” a vine placed a glass container filled with French toast on the table, “and some snacks.” Another vine delivered a small bag of cookies next to the container, that must have been what Mertha had made in the oven this morning.
 
Mertha began to pet her quite ruthlessly “I hope you didn’t think I would allow you to eat compiled food. Are you doing well?” Cleo felt confused, her state of mind had changed faster than she managed to follow. She was supposed to work, not get pets and affection. 
 
Best to just answer “more or less…” she felt a blush begin to develop on her face, this was embarrassing.
 
Mertha smiled even wider “that is good to hear, make sure to eat it all before you come home.” Her affini’s voice suddenly turned cold and stern as she looked at Trexal “and you…is she doing well?” The captain seemed to shrink a bit in their seat.
 
They had probably hoped to avoid being noticed “she has done some remarkable work so far.” Their voice was quiet and a bit stuttering. 
 
Mertha smiled again and intensified the pets “good, then she won’t have to do this much longer. I need to leave now but I’ll see you at home in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Also, you look absolutely adorable in that suit, goodbye!” Mertha gave Nora a head pat on the way out and then the tempest of threatening affection disappeared out the room. 
 
Both Cleo and Trexal let out a breath of relief, Nora chuckled a bit “you two should have seen your reactions.” Cleo was glad that she didn’t and very glad that the only human who had seen it was Nora. It was time to get back to work, the gears began to speed up once more.
 
Cleo opened the container and took out a French toast that she began eating, fuck it was good. After she swallowed and got her focus back she looked at the captain, who was still a bit ruffled “let get back to it, my plan for the garrison was…..” 
 
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2 hours, 4 pieces of French toast, and 6 cookies later and the meeting with the captain was over. They looked very happy “great work, Cleo. I’m impressed…just make sure to not push yourself, okay?”
 
Cleo collected the papers she needed. “I don’t think Nora here would allow me to do that, I will see you tomorrow for the meeting with your generals.” The captain sorted the documents she had given them, it was clear that they were excited to get the plans enacted. 
 
Nora stood up and stretched “don’t worry, I will keep her from doing anything stupid.” Not the most tactful response, not that Nora had never cared much for tact. 
 
Cleo and Nora were on their way back to the rail station when she suddenly remembered “I’m sorry Nora, I forgot some documents back at the office. Just wait here, it won’t be more than 10 minutes.” Nora rolled her eyes and leaned against one of the walls. 
 
Cleo made sure to walk as fast as she had the energy to do, she did not want to be late for Mertha’s deadline. She entered her office and walked over to the desk, she quickly found the documents that she had forgotten. Something moved nearby and she looked up, there was nothing there…strange. She looked around one more time and saw what had probably caught her attention. 
 
The wall behind her desk was a window that showed Centhia and the void around it. She knew it was only a screen depicting what one of the Agraria’s sensors was picking up, but it still filled her with nostalgia. In the void there had suddenly appeared an affini spaceship, it looked magnificent. It was nowhere near the scale of what the Agraria must be, but still, it was large. She looked in fascination at the vessel, at least they could begin to chase away the Terran rebels now.
 
Suddenly she felt the cold iron of a gun being pressed to her neck “do, not, move, or, make, sound.” The voice was modulated to be unrecognizable, the words stiff and mechanical. Her mind raced, how had someone gained access to the ship? Even here she was not safe from assassins, the abyss began to open under her. 
 
The voice spoke again “how did you obtain subject Hendrik Hansen’s sonic emitter?” sonic emitter? What was the person talking about?…..hold on….there was no way. One of her fake teeth actually contained a small emitter that released an extremely weak frequency. It was too faint and insignificant to anyone to pick up on or hear…unless your hearing enchantments were specifically tailored to catch the sound. Only 1000 people could do that.
 
Cleo spoke with no hesitation “JU-alpha-43-KR-standby.” The gun was immediately removed from her neck. She turned around, how was it even possible? In front of her stood the familiar presence of a shadow division unit. Its masked face and visors showed no signs of life, the suit was still glimmering with light as the auto-camouflage turned off. 
 
The unit spoke “recognition code for subject: handler, received and affirmed. Unit Z-39 reporting for duty. Objective beta of operation Demorang is fulfilled. Preparing to receive new orders from handler.” Cleo felt the gears spin at a rapid pace, what a terrific opportunity, but should she grab it? 
 
First, she needed more information “report on access to current affini vessel.” They were stealthy but this was an incredible achievement even for the shadow division. 
 
The unit began its report “accessed vessel by infiltrating transport containing human subjects, few affini subjects to guard vessel. Current structure more saturated by hostiles, affini subjects distracted and not attentive. Followed sonic transmission and found workstation of handler, waited for handler to arrive. Handler, changed, needed to affirm identity.” Cleo smiled, if there was any time her units could have reached her it was now, a few more and less overworked affini, and even their impressive skill would be negated. 
 
What was she to do? The logical answer was to use them, deploy the shadow division on Centhia and use them to restore order and power. The captain would never agree to that, but it would work, and people's lives would be saved. Even if she was caught, the effect of deploying them would be extremely beneficial. 
 
There was another concern, was she getting too much power? She knew herself at least slightly, the more she got the harder it would be to let go when the time was right. If she took this chance the affini might not be able to remove her in time….but it was a risk that needed to be taken.
 
Cleo looked up at the unit “prepare to receive new orders. Operation codename: Telam. Formation: hydra, equal split. Alpha squadron objective: use remaining tactics to bring defective garrison subjects back to duty. No violence or disappearances but remind them of 54.” They had tried to rebel once before to terrible effect. The garrison would obey her as they remember the consequences of last dereliction of duty.
 
Now for gaining a hold on the masses “Beta squadron objective: build a network of collaborators amongst political dissidents and the families power structure. No activation of collaborators until new orders are given, resources of classification-c can be used.” When the time was right the collaborators would secure her victory.
 
Now for the most dangerous of her enemies “Gamma squadron objective: survey all liquidators and mercenaries. Information is to be leaked through umbra-channels to both affini authorities and the garrison. Investigate links in the enemies command structure and find their base of operations and assets.” The affini and garrison would not realize how they suddenly had far more detailed reports on enemy activity, and once the hidden enemies were found they could be smashed. 
 
Was she really going to use these people for her own benefit once again? It was necessary,  and the units would not complain, they knew no other life. That would change when this was all over, if she managed to let go of the power they gave her that is.
 
The unit was still waiting for the orders to stop “from now on cover-broadcast 9 is to be used to transmit information to handler. Further orders to division will be given through the umbra-channels of the bureaucracy. Current unit is to leave the affini vessel and report to division. Orders concluded.” The unit snapped to attention and the auto camouflage turned back on.
 
It spoke one last word “affirmative.” Then it became almost invisible and exited the door. The gears spun at even greater efficiency, now she had the strings and the scissors she needed. Soon the whole web would twist and change to her design and will. The use of the shadow division was something no one else needed to know, they would not understand. Cleo looked around the office, it was quiet and empty. 
 
Nora was probably impatient, Cleo moved as fast as she could back to where they had split up. 
 
Nora looked like she had almost dozed off, her hair was ruffled so some affini had probably helped her pass the time. Once she heard her she shook awake “finally, that was at least 15 minutes. Let’s get home before Mertha decides to ground you.” Nora did not seem to notice anything wrong, good. 
 
Cleo felt a bit out of breath and a tightness in her chest “sorry, got distracted watching one of the affini ships that just entered the system. I am rather tired, let’s go back before you need to carry me. At least this has been a very productive 6 hours.” Her mind still wanted to work but her body could not wait to get home and relax. For today Cleo would listen to her body, she just hoped she would make the same decision in the coming days.  

The tyrant has returned to her web, will she be trapped in it once again?

See you in “Chapter 45x- The leash of fear”
Hope you have a wonderful day! remember to eat, drink, sleep and take your meds!

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