Cleo looked over the documents in front of her. They were all made of pristine paper with blue and green decorations. The words upon them were flowery but practical, and the beauty did have its own sentimental value. After a decade of work, far too many enemies defeated and humbled, and a seemingly endless struggle, this was the result. Cleo still needed a few signatures, six to be exact, and the treaty would be completed.
Cleo spun the chair around and surveyed the gray planet and surrounding void from the ‘widow’ in her office. It might only be a recording from somewhere outside the ship, but the view was still phenomenal.
The planet below was lit up by endless lights, like a candle in the dark. Even while in orbit she could see the situation on the surface from the documents and reports she had.
Her eyes traced the shuttles that moved towards the Agraria from the planet below, their cargo was prisoners of war. Soon they would be stored in life support pods until the affini could deal with them on a more permanent basis.
Her eyes landed on the strongest collection of lights, the center of her bureaucracy. It was no longer a tool for her to exert power, it was an extension of it. There was no longer any factionalism or squabbles, the bureaucracy did as ordered and did so with matchless efficiency. A machine of action, documents, and data, and it was hers to control.
The smog that had once covered the atmosphere of the planet was disappearing. The factories lay silent, they were no longer required. The Corporations that had once owned this sector had finally run dry of both capital and power, the economic system they had strived to persevere had breathed its last and was dying as she watched. For now, the sector belonged to her, and Cleo did not need any market to prove that fact.
The endless and countless streets of Centhia were finally silent. No protestors walked down them, no shouts of anger or confusion disturbed her peace. The garrison was completely loyal to her and had complete control over the planet. The affini had been moved to deal with the insurgents so for now, her word was law. The streets would come to life again soon, but not with violence or terror.
The sprawling cityscape reminded her that not all the enemies were removed quite yet. The families had been decapitated at their very roots, they were leaderless and scattered. Still, the cities were massive and the nests and hiding spots were many. It would take a good deal of time to have them removed, but they were no longer a threat. They could only run and hide, try to survive another day, The families were no longer players in the game.
The Terran rebels who had almost killed her, the true source of this catastrophe, were smashed. Their drifting fleet was proof of her victory. Terra would no longer hold any power in this sector, once again they had been humbled by her hand. Everyone knew who ruled here now, there could be no further misconceptions.
Her cold eyes shone like a beacon across the sector, every human soul knew to obey its gaze. Her power had never been greater, her control never been more total. But despite this The Game was still alive, it coiled around Centhia and her heart like an enormous eldritch creature. Cleo gazed upon one of the affini scout ships, dragging the Terran ships away from entering orbit and hitting the planet below…There was still one player she had yet to remove.
There was a knock on the door, and she turned the chair around. In walked the four people that comprised her cabinet. In their eyes, she could see reverence, excitement, satisfaction, and most importantly: loyalty. They lined up in front of her desk and waited for her words, her power over them immense. Cleo suspected that if she ordered one of them to stop breathing, they would collapse before they broke out of line.
She smiled and folded her hands “We have all accomplished much these past days. The planet is stable, the people are content and in order, and the colonies finally know peace. This crisis is over, and I have you and your efforts to thank for that, well done.” There were nods and proud smiles, the tension in the room grew, they knew that something was about to happen.
Cleo ordered the documents on her desk “Now is the time for action, and I have come to a conclusion.” The four people held their breath “Massive change will be coming to Centhia, and it will be coming soon. Not all of our previous allies might react positively, but I am sure that we will keep the situation controlled. I want all of you to sign this Treaty and show your support for what is about to happen, it might seem drastic but know it to be my will.” There was a brief hesitation in the room and then Percy stepped forward.
He looked down on the page and stopped, then he grabbed the pen and wrote his name. The tension in the room grew a bit. Alexandra came up after Percy and looked at the document carefully, she looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. Cleo stared back with full confidence, and Alexandra signed the document. Head officer Peron was next, he looked over it and for a moment he shuddered, then the pen moved over the page and his signature was written. Three down, three to go.
The final of the grand permanent secretaries was Admiral Stuklov, the old man looked over the document and then straightened his back. The old eyes looked at her without fear “do you think this will be the best for the republic? Is this truly what you want?” Cleo met the man’s eyes and nodded, a moment later the signature was signed.
Cleo was satisfied “A lot of work will have to be done for this change to be successful. I have sent a good deal of specifications to each of your departments. Make sure that they are carried out to the letter and in secret until it is time. Once again, great work. Centhia owes you her thanks.” Stuklov smiled, the officer saluted, Percy looked excited, and Alexandra looked hopeful.
When they looked at her they saw the President, her old form. That would also be all they remembered when they left the ship. It was a necessary illusion to maintain, for her plans to work for certain. She gave them one final command “you are all dismissed.” They all walked out the door and left her alone.
Cleo stood up and put the documents in her briefcase, she still had two more signatures to collect. She made her way out the door and was met with an inquisitive Nora “any problems during the meeting?”
Cleo smiled “not at all, Do I look ready?” Nora inspected her up and down.
The red-haired bodyguard nodded “yeah, long hair definitely suits you better. You look very cute.” Cleo and Nora shared a short chuckle.
Then Cleo straightened up “then it is time we made history, once again.” With a confident gait, she made her way toward the meeting room.
The walk to the meeting room was short, just 5 minutes. This gave her a bit of time to think. Was she really going to do this? Part of her wanted to resist this action with all its might, but it was not powerful enough to stop her. This was a necessary move to make sure that she obtained total victory.
The white corridors of the affini bureaucracy were orderly and wide, decorated with plenty of plant life and artwork made by both sophonts and affini. It did not intend to look grand or powerful, just efficient, and caring. There was symbolism in this to be sure, but at least it was for once a symbolism she could agree with.
She finally came to the door, Nora took up position next to it and gave her an encouraging smile. Cleo took a deep breath and then opened the door. The chatter of the emergency council stopped in its tracks as they saw her.
Cleo walked in, then moved towards her chair on the far end of the table without a word. She got up into the chair and for a moment observed the affini around the table, they were nervous. On the other end of the table, Trexal looked like they had finally gotten some rest.
The captain broke the silence “how did the meeting go? Are the negotiations ready to begin?” There was hope in their voice.
Cleo looked at the other affini and then directly at Trexal “there will be no negotiations.” Her words rippled through the air and the affini recoiled at them.
Confusion began to set in, and Trexal lost their smile “I don’t understand, you said that there would be negotiations for the Centhian republic’s entry into the compact….” concern and fear began to lace their words.
Cleo shook her head slowly “I lied, there will be no negotiations. And from this day on the treaty of recognition and friendship between our two nations is annulled.” For a moment she savored the reaction of the affini, the power she felt was almost intoxicating, and that was why she had to do this.
Cleo pulled out the documents “instead I have formed a new treaty that integrates the republic into the Terran protectorate and brings it in line with the human domestication treaty. There are some minor points on autonomy from Terra, but not from compact oversight.” The tension that had built up was deflated slowly like an uncertain balloon.
The affini were perhaps even more confused now, Cleo handed the documents over and a long vine grabbed them. Trexal looked over the treaty, the other affini waited in tense silence. Trexal looked up “I don’t think I understand, but I will not refuse this offer.” The other affini seemed to breathe out in relief, a few of the vines and flowers that had wilted during the tension sprang back to life. Trexal wrote their signature, only one left to go.
The treaty was handed back to her, she stared down the affini “I have two demands, if they are not met, this treaty will not be signed.” The tension rose back up again, Cleo knew she held all of their attention.
No-one stopped her so she spoke “the first demand is that all records you have of me before I came on this ship are to be stricken from the record. I have a replacement for the removed parts in my office, there shall also be no mentions of my previous position of power.” A few vine or bark made eyebrows were raised, but no one dared speak.
Cleo took a brief pause before continuing “I then want you to make a new profile for Hendrik Hansen, fill the records up with my previous life and what you told the people I did here. In my office I have left further instructions on how to treat this profile, they are to be carried out precisely.” Finally, one of the affini spoke.
It was one of the ones most opposed to her helping “you want us to forge documents?” It spoke like that was beyond consideration.
Cleo smiled condescendingly “yes, all good bureaucrats are good at forging documents, and despite your flaws you are still good bureaucrats.” The affini seemed a bit offended.
Cleo cleared her throat “now for my second demand. I want my wardship under Mertha Verina, second bloom, to be reinstated. When it is over the committee can make its decision, but until then I will be her ward.” This demand was far more selfish but just as important.
One of the affini spoke up, they seemed a bit confused “that is not really how it works, the com-“ It looked like she would have to provide a bit of leverage.
Cleo took up the treaty and held it between her hands, then she tore it slightly from each end. The ripping of paper as a slight fissure was made in its top center silenced the affini. Her voice was calm “I do not care, you will make an exception in this case. Trexal, do you accept my demands? Or do I need to tear this treaty apart?” The answer was obvious, the cost of her demands was nothing compared to the prize of accepting them.
Trexal eyed her with curiosity “I accept them, but I still want an explanation.” Cleo smiled, and put her pen to the paper, with one flowing motion the last signature was written.
She had written that signature over a million times, this would be the last time the ink from her pen would form those letters.
She looked up at Trexal “The explanation is simple, I am retiring. Centhia is your mess to deal with now, but I had to make sure it would be left in good order before I quit. It’s your job to take care of this sector now, hope you have a better time than I did.” She got down from the chair, leaving the briefcase behind.
She took one last look at the befuddled captain and emergency council “I have asked the bureaucracy to prepare for sector-wide domestication and help solve the most pressing problems. If you need any more help…ask someone else. Good luck!” and with that she walked out the door and it closed behind her.
Cleo closed her eyes and took a deep breath, a weight from her shoulders was slowly falling away. Finally, it was over, the last player of The Game had been removed from the board. Without any players to do its bidding the eldritch monster was finally dead. She could not win The Game, but she had ended it.
She had survived it as well, something she never really believed that she would. But she had not survived without a lot of scars and wounds, both mentally and physically. The former would need a lot of time and work to heal, the later was probably easier to remove.
Nora interrupted her thoughts “did it go well?” Cleo opened her eyes, the world seemed a bit warmer already.
She smiled “they caved to all demands, I made no compromise.” Nora smiled with joy, and they embraced as only two survivors could.
After a long time, Cleo pulled away and looked directly into Nora’s eyes “thank you, I would never have survived this without you. you have been the best friend and bodyguard anyone could ever ask for. And I think that while there is still work to do, issues I still have to solve, I am finally safe.” A few tears began to form in Nora’s eyes.
Cleo noticed how tired she was, these last days had taken a lot out of her. Both her body and mind felt like they weighed a million tons. She smiled a bit apologetically “we will have the vacation we promised each other soon, but I think I need to take a tiny advance. For your last act as my bodyguard, I would like you to deliver this to Vonzin.” Cleo handed Nora a small slip of paper, Nora read it and raised an amused eyebrow.
It was clear that Nora suppressed the urge to tease her “of course I can do that. But first I would like to escort you home. Mertha would be furious if another affini snatched you away on the way.” Cleo allowed the teasing to pass without comment.
Then they made their ways towards the rail station and towards home. Cleo felt that each step was, despite her exhaustion, a bit easier to make.
Trexal walked into the calm and empty office that Cleo had used. They smiled a bit to themselves, it seemed like the human had outsmarted and out-negotiated the compact one last time. Though they could not help but think that it was for the best. Her demands might be a bit on the gray area but not necessarily wrong.
On the desk there were four stacks of documents that Cleo had left behind, presumably for them.
The first stack was filled with suggestions for implementing domestication in the sector in the most efficient way. What remaining factions would try to evade or fight against it, special precautions that would have to be made, how to implement compact norms in the least painful way, and so on.
The second was a long list of reforms that Cleo seemingly had wanted to do on Centhia in the future, but never had time for. More friendly architecture, less oppressive streets, more access to culture and nature for regular citizens, and so many more suggestions.
The third revolved around the implementation and content of Cleo’s new official past. The documents detailed that she had been a shadow secretary to the president, and she had arrived on the Agraria when delivering the invitation for the first round of negotiations. As the President's secret aid and secretary, she held a lot of knowledge that might be necessary to be accessed in the future. Information on the functioning of the shadow division, location of hidden infrastructure, storage location for the remaining encoded documents and more. A last note made sure to emphasize that she was not to be contacted on a whim, only when it was necessary.
The last stack had a letter and a remote on top of it, with a flick of a vine they opened the envelope, pulled out the letter, and began to read.
Hi Trexal, this last pile of documents is the last work you will receive from me, but also the most important. Within you will find how I want the profile of Hendrik Hansen, the president, to be treated. But I know that you, as I, are probably very tired, the most important part is the proclamation that Centali has helped me create. It should be transmitted 3 days after the Innax arrives and at 20:00 planetary time, the same time as the treaty is made official. I would recommend watching it before reading further.
Trexal looked at the remote, it had only one button, and they pressed it. The screen that displayed the endless void of space was replaced by a green and blue flag waving in the wind, triumphant music played in the background.
Then it changed and showed Cleo sitting behind a large wooden desk. But it was not Cleo, rather it was her pre-transition self. The young president did not look good, their skin was pale, eyes bloodshot, hands trembling. The music stopped and the President began to speak.
Their voice was weak but determined “Dear citizens of my beloved republic. I speak to you now because we have once again left an era of crisis. For as we moved towards an era of glory and possibility, there were still those that fought for the past and all the horror that it brought. With your support and dedication, these people have been stopped from inflicting their vile vision upon the republic.” There was a brief pause as the president breathed, it sounded painful.
The president continued “I knew that you, my people would not fail me or our republic…but sadly my body has. These last years where I have had the honor of serving have taken a toll on my body, a toll it now has no way to pay.” There was a chough, and a bit of blood could be seen on the arm they coughed into.
The president's eyes were filled with tenderness, care, and guilt that Trexal had not seen in any of the other broadcasts. Those were Cleo’s eyes “I am sorry that I was not strong enough for many of you. My apology cannot bring anyone back but know that I mourn every person I failed with my entire being. I wish that I could do more, but I have no more left to give.” There were a few tears in the president’s eyes.
Their voice became more solid “I cannot see another tragedy like this befall our republic, too many have died already. But I know that I do not have the strength to do it myself, I have therefore asked our affini allies to make sure it never happens again. Centhia and this sector deserves peace, and that is the last thing I will manage to provide it.” There was more rugged breathing.
Their voice became weak once more “I will soon travel towards the core world of the affini, but even affini medicine has its limits. I do not know my future, but a part of me is certain that I will not return to Centhia, at least not this century. So, this will be my final proclamation.” There was a dramatic pause.
The eyes of the president light up with a bit of fire “Centhia is strong, and its people are strong. No other place will you find more dedicated, hardworking, and ambitious people. For too long that ambition has been used for ill ends. I hope that in the future we will not use that glorious spark of humanity against each other, but rather for each other. That we seek to build a brighter future for our fellow citizens, not steal their future away.” Each word was spoken with intense passion and emotion.
The president smiled proudly and sadly at the same time “Centhia may be strong, but she and her people have suffered for far too long. All of us have sacrificed, struggled, and lost far too much, Centhia needs to be allowed to rest. Forgive yourselves, forgive each other, and work to create a better future for all. That is the last thing I will ask of you, my people, as your president. Good night my beloved citizens, and may the coming dawn be a happy and prosperous one.” Then the video cut of, and the screen went black.
After taking a few moments to collect themselves Trexal read the rest of the letter.
13 days after this proclamation is made, report that Hendrik Hansen died of multiple organ failure. Make sure that this is a truth that people will come to accept, this is my last demand.
Let them forget me and the fear I have inflicted upon them – Cleopatra Hansen
Trexal folded the letter back into the envelope. They would make sure that the fear that had long gripped the planet would soon disappear and in time be forgotten. Trexal doubted however that they would have the power to make the humans in the sector forget their president.
Cleo hugged Nora goodbye and headed into the elevator, soon she was in front of the door to her home. Home…it was not home because it was where she lived, but rather who she lived here with. When she entered the first thing she noticed was the mouthwatering smell of Mertha’s cooking. Mertha herself was reading some old Terran book, and as soon as Cleo took the first step inside Mertha lowered the book and stood up. Cleo and Mertha walked toward each other, and Cleo allowed herself to be lifted up and into her affini’s arms.
Mertha smiled “how did it go?” a few vines began to pet and groom through her hair.
Cleo smiled, finally certain that the weight had fully disappeared “it's over, all went exactly to plan.” The biorhythm of her affini was as relaxing as it was happy and warm.
Mertha got a bit of a mischievous look “did you make sure to drag it out?” Cleo chuckled a bit.
Apparently Mertha still held a bit of a grudge “oh yes, Trexal and the other’s looked terrified. I also pretended that I would rip up the treaty. You should have seen their reaction.” Mertha smothered her a bit with head pats.
Her affini carried her over to the table “good, they deserved that. I’m lucky to have such a clever and witty ward. Good girl.” Cleo embraced the rush of warmth and happiness that spread through her mind. She was indeed a good girl, she made Mertha happy, and that in turn made her happy.
Mertha began to feed her the soup that she had made, it was a bit spicy and different, it tasted amazing as always. Mertha was always expanding her food-making repertoire, probably in an attempt to find what food made her the happiest and made her make the cutest faces.
The fact that she allowed Mertha to feed her was mostly for the affini’s benefit. Mertha was acting quite possessive these days and would probably continue to do so until she was certain that no more danger would befall her. Being fed was not the end of the world and indulging Mertha’s overprotective instincts would certainly lessen them faster.
After she was full Mertha took out a large bowl of ice cream. Cleo looked at it with a bit of hesitation, but Mertha simply put it down in front of her “as the person responsible for what you have done, I am also responsible for rewarding you for good work. In my opinion, and that is the one that matters, you have done perfectly. So be a good ward and eat it all.” Cleo sighed and allowed Mertha to begin feeding her and after the first mouthful she gratefully accepted more, it was not her fault food was so good.
Once she was done with the ice cream Mertha carried her over to the couch and they cuddled for a while. Being so close to Mertha, hearing her biorhythm, accepting her affection and love…it was more fulfilling than a perfectly filled out document could ever be, and that was no mean feat. Mertha used a few thorny vines to groom out all the tangles in her hair. It had become quite messy these last few days and at this point it was very long.
Mertha talked gently while they lay there “how does it feel?” Cleo did not need to ask what ‘it’ was referring to.
She thought about it “I think it will take some time to fully accept, but it feels good. Some dark part of me wants The Game to continue but I am glad that it is over. Perhaps most of all I am glad I could leave it in the way I did…thank you for that.” Cleo gripped around a few of the vines a bit tighter and squeezed them.
Mertha leaned a bit down and kissed her on the forehead “no need to thank me, I am happy that you found closure and that is thanks enough. You know I would do anything for you.” Cleo’s heart melted a bit at the words of her warden.
She then remembered “well….I have something I wanted to ask you. I am feeling very tired after all that has happened and decided that I need a tiny vacation. Vonzin will probably be coming over soon….I think you might need to take extra care of me for the next few days. Is that okay?” It took a few seconds for Mertha to understand, but when she did her smile widened greatly.
The vines around her tightened, Mertha sounded amused. “That sounds like a lovely idea, I will take very good care of you.” There was pride and joy in her affini’s words.
With that matter settled Cleo allowed herself to simply rest in Mertha’s vines. She knew that despite her having retired, there was still a lot of work to do. Becoming a well-adjusted, healthy, and happy person would take more effort and it would probably not be totally painless.
Still, Cleo was sure that it would work out. With Mertha at her side to help, there would be nothing she could not do. There were still more steps to take, but at least now the road would be far easier. By the end of this she was sure to be independent. That was the last thought she managed before drifting off into blissful sleep