The Forehead Strikes Back
The Forehead Strikes Back
(IC Secret except for communiques and news reports)
The bright ceiling lights beaming into His eyes. The raucous noise of 700 shouting, disagreeing politicians. Conservatives, Liberals, Greens, Progressives, Fascists, shouting. At Him. They knew they didn’t hold real power. But the interruptions, insults, speeches, and empty bandying of words continued regardless, from every political party. The Inimician Parliament had this year been particularly violent: condensing a year’s worth of political issues into a single month of plenary sessions at least caused that. Amateurs. He had felt superior for a month. Sitting in His high seat, He could see all, hear all, and receive all.
Emperor Artabanos had fond memories of this year’s parliament, the Sixth since the founding of the Empire, the third in His reign. There was something unmistakably enjoyable about watching seven hundred meaningless, useless politicians jeer and insult each other for thirty days. Before His Imperial Decree had dissolved the permanent form of Parliament in 2015, the House of Commons had been a dull affair. Some banter here and there, sure, but mainly nitpickery and traditionalism. No more. He had ended that. Now, Parliament met only in June, with sporadic meetings by another meaningless body, the National Senate, taking over some of its duties in emergencies.
No, real power was thought to reside in the National Imperial Council, where twenty top politicians met nearly every day to discuss the daily government of the State. But even here, the pawns were rigged and the game only ever had one outcome. It had taken Artabanos years and years to establish His position in Inimicus’s power structure. Various scandals and plots had been raised against Him. Covering these up had been tough. And sometimes, difficult for Him personally. Not only had He murdered His wife, the mother of His children, but he had also had to rid Himself of Richard, His new lover. He had it all – except real appreciation from those nearest to Him. He had nothing – except power.
After some very tightly-negotiated crisis resolutions, the delicate power balance in the Inimician families had been somewhat stabilised. The Strathclydes and Barringtons shared most offices of state, with the Cocx family claiming to adhere to democracy – the biggest lie ever told in Inimicus – and silently playing the fake underdog. But the system was democratic, surely? At least on the surface. In the last few years, Inimicus had seen more elections than any other European nation. Quantity, however, does not imply quality. Moreover, there was no reason for Inimicians to be dissatisfied. The nation was prosperous like never before. International relations were closer than they had been since the Empire’s founding in 2011. And, impressively, no intrigue had developed for almost six months. No plots, no hidden texts, no efforts to oust Him from office. It seemed like everything was coming together, at long last.
But the moment an aide knocked on His office door and announced Wilfred Cocx had come to see him, urgently, Emperor Artabanos knew something was up.
‘His forehead is bigger than his intellect.’
‘I agree, Artie. But that’s not going to stop him from recruiting more support.’
‘The public can think what they want. I don’t think I’ve ever cared less.’
‘It’s not the public we need to worry about.’
Artabanos was aware. For once, Wilfred hadn’t come to His office to bother Him with some tedious piece of legislation or protocol; rather, he had come to tell Him about former Emperor Hugh Doyle. Cocx’s own record, though, was far from clean. The former Prime Minister and former Union of European Conservatives Chairman seemed eerily gleeful, sitting across from His rightful liege. He had it all: a well-paid job, influence, power. Imperial Councillor and Speaker of the National Senate, not someone to ignore in the web of Inimician politics. But just as the office of Prime Minister had gone, and just as the UEC had vanished, so could Cocx’s current roles. And Emperor Artabanos had made that all too clear.
Still, what Cocx was suggesting did not seem too unrealistic. ‘When did this start?’, Artabanos asked.
‘Hugh’s been speaking to Senators since last month.’
‘We’ll have to act soon, then. How did you only find out about this now?’
‘Because he came to me this morning.’
Doyle was moving faster than Artabanos had thought him capable of. Hugh Doyle, former Emperor and Imperial Councillor, had openly rebelled against Him before. Unsuccessfully, of course. Or was it truly unsuccessful? After all, Hugh’s antics had ended him up on the National Imperial Council, and had given him almost a third of the country to govern more or less directly. ‘The Triumviral agreement’, Artabanos said.
‘I gave him too much.’
‘You did. I told you.’
Over a year ago, Doyle had allied with legless former EU councillor Nicholas Benfield and two other Imperial Councillors to oust Artabanos from office. They had failed – obviously. But the Emperor had had to make tough concessions, concessions which had only been partly resolved. A few months after the signing of the Triumviral Constitution, which divided Inimicus between Artababanos, Benfield, and Doyle, part of the treaty had already been violated. Doyle and the Emperor had ousted Benfield, and Artabanos had installed a puppet, Cocx’s brother James, in the third Triumviral position. But Doyle, oh Doyle. He was bugging the Emperor. Artabanos looked out of the window and saw His country. His country, no longer Doyle’s. And it should never revert to being Doyle’s. One of the clouds He saw had a faint likeness to Doyle’s face. And, just like this whiff of cloud, Doyle would vanish soon enough. It was just a question of how many raindrops he could cast down on the country before he did.
‘I want every politician in Terra Quaestoris and the Generality questioned and, if necessary, replaced.’
‘That would violate the Triumviral Constitution.’
‘Would it? I do hope so.’
“And so, ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is my duty, nay, my obligation, to call upon His Imperial Majesty to liberate the Inimician people, its prosperity and its honour, and cease His unlawful investigations into my Triumviral territory. If these anti-constitutional processes are not immediately stopped, the inhabitants of the territory allocated to the Second Triumvir will see no other option but to declare our secession from this corrupt Empire.
Over the last few months, I have investigated His Imperial Majesty’s gross misconduct over the last few years, starting even before His reign. Although I cannot reveal all my findings, I can assure you I will be preparing further research and hereby also announce that I will propose a full Parliamentary Inquiry by the National Imperial Council into the 2013 Imperial Elections and possible cases of fraud associated with them. If the NIC does not allow for this Inquiry to take place, I will see to it that my Triumviral subordinates will do whatever they can to bring the truth to light.
Artabanos smiled. Doyle was eloquent enough. Eloquent, and foolish. The summer morning light was still shining through the Emperor’s office window. Soon, the sun would disappear behind a statue on the north wing, as it always did in summer, providing the Emperor’s quarters the coolness they deserve. ‘He’s taken the bait, Wilfred’, the Emperor said, looking at his TV screen. ‘Jeanine!’ – the Imperial Herald emerged from the office door – ‘Organise a statement. 2pm.’
‘What will you do?’, Wilfred Cocx asked, as usual not seeing the obvious.
‘Secession is just about the grossest violation of the Triumviral Constitution you could think of. Threatening to declare independence may be the largest mistake Hugh’s made over the last two months. No, it’s the inquiry we need to worry about. The NIC has the mandate to employ Imperial Wardens – that must in no way be allowed to happen.’
‘Let me deal with the Council, Artie. I’m good at whipping votes. You’re good at the grandeur, the theatre of politics.’
‘It’s not a play, Wilfred. It’s what will determine whether I live or die. And whether you do. Go and ensure the NIC is with us – don’t trust anyone. I’ll make sure the Second Authority is crippled.’
So it begins again, Artabanos thought when Cocx had left His office, And again, it’s Doyle who sparked the flame. Oh, sure, Benfield was the face of the last rebellion, but it was Doyle pulling the strings. Jealous, spiteful git. He would destroy this country to be Emperor of a wasteland, and he will, given his way. But he’s dangerous enough. The key players of 2013 will need silencing, and Cocx can only do so much. The birds will sing their song no more, and the hunter must trip into his own trap. Taking down a deer or two with it, sure; but the wolf won’t be caught. Hunting season has started.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Artabanos of Inimicus.’
‘Thank you, be seated’, the Emperor began. Jeanine had done her work well: within four hours, the entire press cabinet had turned up to the Imperial Palace press room to hear an empty statement. ‘I will be summary. I’m sure you all have more important matters to attend to.’ Brevity means power. Conciseness means strength. Open more questions than you answer.
‘You have all heard the daring words spoken by my fellow Triumvir, former Emperor Hugh Doyle. The Emperor’s Counsel, which, as you know, is made up of the nation’s finest legal experts, has assured me that what Mr Doyle is proposing is not just a breach of the Triumviral Agreement he signed, but also a direct violation of the Constitution of the Empire.’ Was it true? It didn’t really matter. The Triumviral agreement had been written with admirable unclarity, just as Artabanos wanted.
‘Therefore, I declare by Imperial Decree the following.’ I can’t quite tell him to fuck off, but this is the closest I can get.
‘ARTABANOS, of the Centurians, Legatians, Quaestorians, Imperatorians, Rosarians, and Praestorians Divine Emperor and Supreme Lord; Ruler of all Inimicians, Supreme Autocrat; Defender of the Inimician Faith; Duke of the District of Telum; Commander of the Inimician Armed Forces; Grand Cross in the Imperial Order of Inimicus. We hereby decree the following.
‘It has come to Our benevolent attention that Our loyal subject, Mr Hugh Doyle, has breached the agreement We concluded with him on the nineteenth day of the fifth month, in the second year of Our reign;
‘It has further come to Our benevolent attention that the actions proposed by Mr Doyle would constitute a direct violation of Our Constitution, and therewith endanger the integrity of Our Empire and the welfare of Our people.
‘We therefore resolve and decide that Mr Doyle must answer before the Imperial Crown Court within the fortnight, on charges of corrupt intent and treason.
‘We moreover resolve and decide that, should Mr Doyle fail to attend Our Court, or persist in his attempts to undermine Our democracy, his rights under Our laws are to be revoked, and his citizenship of Our Empire terminated. He shall be declared an enemy of the Realm, and Our Wardens shall then proceed to apprehend him and bring him to justice.
‘Furthermore, We resolve and decide that a full inquiry is to take place in Our National Council, concerning Our election on the twenty-third day of the fifth month, in the first year of Our Reign, and repeated election on the fourth day of the tenth month, in the first year of Our reign, to this Most Sacred Office of Emperor.
‘As decreed. As resolved. As decided.’
And that, ladies and gentlemen, reporters, journalists, lords, ladies, legislators, commonfolk, and other unworthy species, is how we mow away the grass in front of someone’s feet.
‘All I can say is that when push comes to shove, I simply won’t be able to support you, Artie.’
When push comes to shove? What was Barrington expecting? Was he in on something Artabanos was unaware of? Questions, questions. Artabanos loathed this: He was expecting to be the one putting questions to others; He did not want to be dazed by unanswered matters Himself. Marquis Maximillian de Barrington, someone Artabanos had found extremely useful at times, extremely bothersome at others, had been sat in the Emperor’s office for the last 90 minutes. Grimacing. Laughing. Powerful. De Barrington knew it was not Artabanos who held the key to power at this stage; the Emperor merely controlled various keys, unlocking various complicated doors which could be blocked by other doors requiring new keys. But this is how Artabanos had envisaged His hold on power to be. It had to be too complex for an outsider to disentangle. However, it now seemed it wasn’t outsiders He had to fear. No, treason was rife in the ranks He created, with people He elevated, who had Him to thank for their entire lives.
‘Remember your place, Barrington’, Artabanos replied. It’s time for some old-fashioned I’m-the-Emperor diplomacy. ‘You either support me on the Council, or I swear you won’t see another dawn. I made you, Marquis. I made you, your brothers, your entire dynasty. And just as I made you, I can crush you, I can smite your ruins down in Lacertian fields. Just like the Spellers.’
‘By my reckoning, Jeff Speller is still on the Council.’
‘I made Speller a promise, as you well know. He didn’t get his hands dirty for nothing.’
‘Think of my constituents, Artie. Your approval ratings are lowest in my part of the Empire.’
This crossed a line. A big, clear, fat line. Artabanos looked at de Barrington’s face, which still boasted the same smug composure it had had for nearly three years, ever since the Marquis had stepped from the shadows, into real politics. ‘Since when, Barrington, since when have you ever given more than a rat’s arse about any constituent of yours? The only party you care about is your family’s, the only Council seat you care about is your own. You don’t give a shit about institutions of government, stability, or rule of law. All you care about is chaos. Now you and I have both thrived in chaos. I intend to create larger chaos than this country has seen in recent years. Let’s go through it together. Let’s face revolts, treachery, violence, and useless legislatures together. You need me, Barrington. And I need you.’
Silence. His plea had started out completely differently to how it had ended. Intentionally? Partially, perhaps. Seconds of contemplation from Barrington told Artababanos it had worked, though.
‘All right, Artie. All right.’
‘This Court is now in session. The case before the Imperial Crown Court is the alleged corrupt intent and treason of Mr Hugh--’ The Court doors swung open, creating the dramatic wind-whirling sound Artabanos had most liked about the Court building. Calmly, He walked past the bar and to the dais, where His unoccupied Throne was waiting for Him. The Chief Justices rose, scared looks on their faces. ‘Your Imperial Majesty’, Chief Justice Scoffylde objected, ‘This is most unusual.’
‘This is not usual. This is history. As Emperor, I have the Constitutional mandate to chair my Crown Court. Please, Justice Scoffylde, continue.’
The Court robes Artabanos had been forced to dress up in were more uncomfortable than any formal attire in His wardrobe. The Emperorship came with its own peculiar selection of dresses, breeches, trousers, shirts, ties, and other regalia that, if disregarded, would create a non-traditionalist public image. And, if anything, the Inimician public were inherently traditionalist. He looked into the Courtroom and saw some familiar faces. Faces He had seen almost every day since He appointed them to positions of power. His deputy, Vicarius Baroness Isabella Evans, looking more important than she was; all three Strathclydes, well aware Artabanos was planning to intervene in today’s court session; the two Cocx brothers, with facial expressions perfectly indicative of how powerful they thought they were; and Doyle himself, sat behind the bar, a neutral expression on his face. Artabanos had thought the next threat to His power would have originated somewhere in the families that dominated Inimician politics, but He hadn’t expected Doyle to make another move. He had surprised Him. And that scared Him.
The Court proceedings themselves were fairly tedious and boring. Artabanos had only come here to set an image. There would be no conviction. Only one or two days of trial. The public simply needed to see the Emperor was still on the right side of the Constitution. Even though He wasn’t, but that didn’t matter.
‘Very well’, Scoffylde concluded as the defence had finished. The trial had gone on for roughly nine hours. ‘That concludes statements from the prosecution and the defence. Unless His Imperial Majesty, or His prosecution service, have anything to say in response to the defence, the Court will adjourn until tomorrow to hear final statements.’
‘With your permission, Justice Scoffylde’, Artabanos started, ‘I would simply say that I find the actions and dealings of this most noble Court today an extremely admirable example of how justice is served in Inimicus. Although Mr Doyle and I fundamentally differ in opinion, the fact that learned and educated justices can decide who of us two is on the right side of the Constitution is something to be praised and celebrated, and whatever the outcome of this trial, I shall be sure to follow its judgement, as I hope Mr Doyle will, as well. Thank you all very much.’
‘Every provincial member. Nearly eighty senators. An increasing number of Nobles. Two Imperial Executive Officers, five Common Executive Officers. Three Emperor’s Commissioners and three Provincial Colleges. And, your Vicarius.’
‘What about judges?’
‘All four Chief Justices, several Law Lords at lower levels.’
‘Give me names.’
‘Defence Officer Jacob Churchill, Foreign Officer Sarah Gladwell, Tribunes Sir William Philips, Karen Smith, Glennis Mayfair, Quaestor Francis Laros, Aedile Sir Elbert White. Quaestorian Duke Sven Kockelmann, Legatian Duke Peter Paul, Centurian Duke Anne Colbourn, and their Colleges.’
Somehow this had all got out of hand. An incredible number of important officers in the Inimician apparatus of state had, over the past few weeks, switched from supporting Artabanos to calling for His stepping down, or at least amending the Constitution to strip Him of some powers. There were too many to sack. Too many to relocate. Too many to replace. ‘It doesn’t look like I have an awful lot of choice then, does it, Max?’
‘I’m afraid to say, it doesn’t.’
‘How did it come to this?’
‘You let Doyle go. He’s won over some Councillors, and the virus spread almost exponentially from there. You could’ve smothered the flame when it was still a spark.’
‘Oh, don’t turn this on me, Max. What could I have done? Convict him? He’s still got popular support, the martyrdom myth would spread even more than it did when we rid this world of the toxic man that was Emperor William.’
‘What will you do?’
‘I can only do one thing. Tell Jeanine to gather the press at 2. You go and stop this virus from spreading, work with Wilfred.’
It was a gamble, but one he could take. Hugh, Hugh, Hugh. I should’ve thought of a better reason to force you to abdicate. The past is catching up with me; I need to cover my tracks more effectively. ‘Jeanine! Get me Trevor.’ I need to move quickly if I want to come out on top.
Trevor, a tall, highly intelligent man, in his forties but looking 20, was Artabanos’s favourite shadowy figure. ‘Trevor, welcome’, Artabanos said to him, gesturing to a seat, ‘Let’s get to the point: I need you to start the familiar election process. I'm planning for September 25th, just before the State Opening. Can you get it done?'
‘As always. Parliamentary, Council, Senatorial?’
‘That... will require extra means.’
‘Take everything you need, just make sure you get it done – neither of us can afford to lose this one if we want to stay protected.’
‘I’ll get it done.’
‘Thank you, Trevor. See your people have everything they need.’
Jeanine had once again done her work well, as Artabanos saw when He walked into the briefing room.
‘It is in Our benevolent opinion that an election for the Office of Emperor be held on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, in the third year of our reign.
‘Statutes for the process of these elections are set out in Our Decrees.
‘As decreed. As resolved. As decided.’
The press was silent. Just the way He liked it. Just after His speech, Hugh was on the phone – the first time Artabanos had spoken with Him since this all started off. He didn’t look forward to speaking with him, He admitted. ‘Hugh, how are you?’, Artabanos started off. The entire call was small talk, but the Emperor knew, felt, that He had played the game well. Hugh knew he couldn’t win a general election. But then again, could Artabanos Himself? Perhaps, playing by the rules was overrated after all. Trevor understood this all too well.
‘You actually think you can win?’
‘The people will see who their rightful Emperor is.’
‘The People’s Movement candidate probably has a bigger shot than you, Hugh. I know you want a place in the spotlight – you’ve had it, you’ve got your little plot of land; are you never satisfied?’ This wasn’t one of Artabanos’s most prominent tactics: He didn’t need to employ them with Hugh. He knew Doyle was too clever to fall for His tricks.
‘I won’t be satisfied until I sit behind that desk of yours once again.’
‘You know you won’t.’
‘That’s right, I know I won’t. Not by electoral means, anyway.’
‘What, you want to play the intrigue game? You know who’d win that, too.’ He’s even more arrogant than I thought. This could work to my advantage.
‘You know, last time I had Rita Fortuyn launch Article XXV procedures against you, just as a distraction. We could repeat that, without the distractive element.’ Article XXV of the Inimician Constitution gave the National Imperial Council the initiative to depose the Emperor by various majorities and approvals by the National Executive. However, a motion of no confidence had to be passed twice in one year before taking full effect. Whipping Councillor’s is Wilfred’s specialty, not yours, Hugh, Artabanos thought, but He did feel an unmistakable sense of insecurity.
‘So if I don’t step down, you’ll force me down, is that it? You still wouldn’t get this lovely desk.’
‘All I need is a simple majority – without your votes – in the Council, to make me Regent. I’ll kill two birds with one stone.’
He’s cleverer than I thought. But not clever enough. ‘You have great ambitions, Hugh.’
‘They made me Emperor once.’
‘I made you Emperor once. Naivity was never one of your traits, Hugh. Best not develop it now.’
‘We’ll see, Artie. We’ll see. You might want to take in this lovely office, you may lose it after September.’ ‘I’ll see you when I read My speech from My Throne on the 30th, Hugh. All the best.'
"Is is true?"
"Fuck me, Artie - pardon my French", Noble Speaker Lord Frits Steiner exclaimed, slamming the latest front-page issue of Nuntius Inimici down on Artabanos's desk. "For one, I can't believe I've been left out of all this, and two... well... what the hell?"
Artabanos could understand why Steiner was upset. After all, the aging, rather right-wing noble had been a key asset during Artabanos's years of power-grabbing. But it was precisely because of his age, and because of his doubtful political alliances, that he could not have been let in on the entire process. The Emperor looked around His office, the office He had worked so hard to end up in; every minute, every second He had spent inside its walls had been pure bliss. Yet now, due to one inquisitive journalist, His entire constitution was in jeopardy. Well over five years of tough labour, in danger because of one upstart greenhorn who thought she owned the place. But, He had to admit, she did. She had perfectly described everything Artabanos had been up to over the past half decade.
Steiner was in Artabanos's office to control the Nobles. The 150-strong House of Nobles served as an advisory, Emperor-appointed body, and was therefore packed with people Artabanos looked favourably upon. However, over the years some had become sceptical, and a hostile House of Nobles would only add to the inflammatory situation that had sprouted from Sophie Brierley's news article over the past few days. "So", Steiner continued, "You want me to knowingly lie to my own House?"
"I expect you to do your duty. The duty you owe to your rightful Emperor."
"You mean Emperor William." After receiving one of Artabanos's death stares, Steiner continued: "This is the last time I'll save your bald head", and got up. Before leaving, however, he turned to Artabanos hesitantly, and asked: "Where is William?"
"In an underground camp. Near Orbis Terrarum. But he won't be for long. The only thing that kept me from disposing of him was my own affection for him. That, and information. Information which I now have." Artabanos stared into his nearly empty glass of whisky. He had taken up drinking again, He was well aware. He'd stop after His re-election.
"What about all the others? Sergent, Benfield, Fortuyn?"
"Also there. But I'm cleaning up." Lord Steiner shook his head slightly and left.
Besides Artabanos and Hugh Doyle, every main political party had declared a candidate for the Imperial By-Election. However, all media attention was aimed at the current incumbent and His main challenger, and polling showed that the other candidates didn't stand a chance. Not that polling really mattered, Artabanos would engineer the results anyway. Or would He? For this time around, it seemed like what He needed most was a legitimate, true victory. A victory none of his political opponents would or could deny Him. A crushing blow to anyone who questioned His authority, the end of the line for all His critics and all the professional moaners in the Imperial Palace and the Diet. Perhaps trying to win this thing legitimately wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. But how could He even try with reporters like Brierley?
A TV debate was coming up in a few days, where Doyle would try to push this article into Artabanos's skull as violently as he could. He would have to get his closest advisors to test debating tactics, to spin His every word, to ensure He would not be left toothless. This would prove challenging, but a legitimate victory would be worth it. Artabanos reached for His phone, hesitated, then proceeded to call off Trevor's services.