The hangar floor, decorated as it was, had barely a dozen people waiting. Banners of the Amarr Empire slowly swayed in a wind that seemed omnipresent and cold.
The small crowd was a mix of station crewmembers, carefully vetted, and Royal Guard staff devoted to Empress Jamyl I and loyal to the death. Their conversation was kept to a minimum. They did not dislike one another, but the circumstances felt so solemn and vaguely unpleasant that most of them suspected they would be going their separate ways after the whole damn business was over, trying to wash away the memories through an infinite pour. A ship was soon to arrive, bearing the corpulent symbol of everything evil and spiteful in the world they knew.
In the Gallente Federation, down on Gallente Prime, on an open arena specifically adapted for this very occasion, a ship hovered into view. The crowd, numbering in the millions, was already reaching boiling point, having been pumped up by political speeches interspersed with popular entertainment. Here and there, massive towers holding building-size vidscreens broadcast every possible glimpse of the ship as it made a slow approach to the landing strip. The crowd reacted, and its screams were so loud they fed back through the speakers, creating an infinite loop of raucous hatred.
When the Empress stepped out of her temporary quarters and onto the main area of the landing bay, the quiet murmur of uncomfortable conversation dropped to an utter silence.
With the high ceiling, the banners, and the near-infinite echo of hushed voices, the place felt like a cathedral. The massive polyglas windows showed the cold space outside.
The crowd roared when President Foiritan took the stage. He waved to his people and smiled. It was not a wide smile, as one might exhibit when winning a game, but a smile carefully tempered with sadness, a smile that said its bearer had suffered through loss but come out a victor, and acknowledged the same in everyone the smile was aimed at.
The ship docked. It was a small vessel fitted for protection, although the armor and shielding were more for show than anything else. Its cargo had been transported from the dark end of space in all manner of ways, but in this area, under the aegis of the Empress, nobody would interfere.
There was only one passenger. He was the greatest traitor to the Amarr Empire since its inception. He had been brought here to die.
The ship doors opened and Anvent Eturrer was led out, blinking at the light and the noise. He was a former Federation Navy Grand Admiral, having been fired by President Foiritan for what appeared at the time to be gross incompetence during the Caldari State invasion. It had later proven to be treason, and had placed Eturrer at the top of the Most Wanted list of enemies of the Federation.
Eturrer's guards hung on to him, leading him to a separate podium stationed far enough from Foiritan and the presidential crew that they wouldn't be associated with him. The entire path they took was covered with unbreakable glass on all sides, lest Eturrer's death be brought to him before its allotted time. The guards were strong and clearly supported Eturrer, who appeared a little confused and stumbling. He had not been visibly harmed, but the vidscreens that zoomed in on his face, to the raw screaming of the attendant crowds, showed a faraway look.
Chamberlain Karsoth was led out of the ship and unceremoniously dropped onto the hangar floor. He lay there, wheezing and coughing, in front of the Empress and her retinue. His massive bulk was such that he could not even stand on his own.
Keeping her gaze firmly on the doomed man, the Empress spoke.
"Help him up."
When her guards hesitated she moved her head a slight touch. Her gaze rested on Karsoth, but there was the implication that it might be transferred onto someone else.
The guards jumped into action and heaved Karsoth's bulk upright. He winced when they touched him. His silk robes, tattered and soiled, rode up the limbs of his manifold body, displaying the cut and bruised skin below. The girth of his distended center was such that three men had to push at it, while a taller woman braced herself against his sternum, right where his heart would be. Karsoth's flesh was as pale as her flesh, but mottled with enflamed marks the rivaled the red color of her hair.
President Foiritan spoke to the attendant millions, and to the trillions watching through the live broadcast. His words were lost on most of the listeners, who heard what they expected to hear and filled in the gaps with a plenitude of rage. The gist of his speech was that the Gallente Federation had got their man, as the President had promised. There were difficult times ahead, ones where every man and woman in the Federation would have to make concessions to freedom in order to secure the safety of the entire nation. But for now, in this place, they had the proof of those sacrifices.
The crowd responded to the intonations in his voice. It seemed to undulate towards him, like a wave of hatred crashing on the surf. There was a large security area between the President and his people, walled off with unbreakable glass and monitored both by humans and hi-tech security hardware, and it only served to fire the crowd's emotions to roaring heights.
Even the torture had been done for purification and spirituality, and it had been done in quiet. The people of Amarr had the good sense to be embarrassed about what had happened under Karsoth's rule and just wanted to send the man on his way to judgment.
Everything was noise and light. There had been no obvious torture as such, but they'd made damn sure the prisoner didn't sleep or make himself comfortable on his journey. The Gallente people deserved a show.
The Empress stood in silence, looking at Karsoth. Eventually she asked, "You've made your peace with your God?"
He nodded quietly. A tiny bubble of snot inflated and deflated from one of his nostrils. The crew had retreated to the side, rubbing their tired arms and legs. The woman who'd held Karsoth up had been given leave to wash her hands.
In the middle of his speech, President Foiritan listed the accusations leveled against Eturrer and the outcome of their evaluation. He turned directly to the prisoner, who stared into the dead air, and spoke of the failure of Tripwire, the giving of information to the enemy, and the loss of Caldari Prime and countless lives in the process. The president added that thankfully the Federation had established a new order to ensure that the rest of the poison in Gallente soil would be rooted out without mercy.
He nodded to Mentas Blaque, who stood at the back of the podium, dressed in the now-familiar black costume of his newly formed Internal Security institution. They were informally known as the Black Eagles and Foiritan called them by that moniker in his speech, thus securing their name in history, for better or worse.
Returning to the subject of treason, Foiritan directed his words back to Eturrer. He said that the Federation had held a trial in Eturrer's absence, and added with an evil grin that he'd proven a hard man to get a hold of.
The crowd roared. They loved him for this.
There was, Foiritan said to Eturrer over the microphone and the vidscreens and the booming noise over millions of people, such overwhelming evidence of his guilt that he had not been needed to testify in his defense.
"You may speak when I am done," he added, "Much good it will do you. That is your right. In the Federation, everyone has a voice. Even the people whose lives you destroyed."
Mentas Blaque, whose Black Eagles had many other prisoners, nodded in agreement and said nothing.
The Empress said to Karsoth, "You allied with the Blood Raiders. You ruled through lies and terror. When the Minmatar came, your failures nearly cost us the Empire. Whatever commerce you brought to this kingdom, it was blackened money, tarred by the ties with the underworld that you brought upon the highest office in the land. You corrupted the innocent, betrayed those loyal to us, and turned this kingdom into an orgy of corruption and hedonism."
He took a deep breath and asked, "And for this I deserve death?"
The flags swayed gently in the cold wind.
"No," she said. "But what you deserve is beyond what this Empire can be bothered to do with you."
At the end of his speech, Foiritan turned to Eturrer again and asked whether he had anything to say.
Eturrer was handed a microphone. He took it and stood quite still. The booing from the crowd rose to a crescendo, threatening to drown him out.
He looked at Foiritan. For a moment the two men shared a look of strange understanding. The camera, seeing first the glint in Eturrer's eyes and then the uncomfortable expression on Foiritan's face, swiftly focused its eyeless gaze on the crowds.
Eturrer then looked at Blaque, and stared at him for entirely too long.
The crowd was losing its mind in angry anticipation.
Eturrer grinned at them, this entire world he had helped bring to ruin, and let the microphone drop to the ground.
Karsoth took a deep breath. "You disgust me," he said. "You rule over a kingdom of weaklings, all of whom are so lost in their piety over the next world that they've forgotten how to live properly in this one. All they do is look to their Almighty God to put things right, and just when I think that some of them might be coming around, you come crawling back like some worm out of Hell to make them all believe again." He stopped, swallowed. You disgust me," he repeated.
She walked up to him and raised her hand. He flinched.
She gently stroked her cheek and said, "You fear me."
Some small twinkle of an impulse to sneer alit in his mind and was extinguished just as soon. For she smiled at him, and in that smile was a terror such as he had never known in his life. The flesh on his body trembled. Although she was much smaller than he, she appeared to tower over him.
"Do you hate me?" he asked almost pleadingly.
"I do, at some level," she said. "But true hatred is a powerful emotion, and you are too pitiable for it."
It was time for the execution.
Souro Foiritan, president of the Gallente Federation, turned to his people and said, "It is time for us to decide. I will bear any burden for you that I can, but I can not be allowed to do this on my own. This is us, here and now. Some of you will have studied the evidence in this traitor's trial, but even if you have not, you can see the verdict."
The vidscreens switched to Eturrer and projected a large, red "GUILTY" beneath his face.
"We must all pull together now, and make the call. For our future, and for the continued freedom that we enjoy in this Federation, we have been willing to sacrifice much. Now we must make the ultimate sacrifice. We must show the world what it means when evil attempts to shake the foundations of our civilization."
Gigantic sound receptors slid down from the vidscreens. The screens themselves altered their picture: It still showed Eturrer, but now added a graphic overlay that pictured an audio level, trembling at the bottom rungs.
"The traitor's body has been injected with a chemical that will respond to sound waves of a certain frequency. We are going to monitor the voices of the people here tonight, filter them, and pipe them over the traitor. If they are loud enough, the chemical mixture will be activated. Your voices will be heard.
Even though the receptors had not activated yet, they trembled with the roar of the masses.
"One last thing, people of the Federation. We took great care in preparing this chemical and inserting it into the traitor. It will disrupt, alight, or otherwise distort a number of cell clusters in his body. Cells are small, and a few disruptions would not do much. But we paid heed to history. The chemical was made to infect one cluster for each of the individual whose lives this traitor led to loss.
"This is your call, my fellow citizens. This is your moment."
The receptors activated. The crowd's voices crashed on it like a tsunami.
On the vidscreens, Eturrer's body dismantled itself in an orgy of immolation. His skin bubbled, reddened, smoked and burst; his hair self-alit, and his bones bulged and rippled as tumors and other malignant growths forced themselves through the soft flesh of his organs and tore their way to freedom. Eturrer's mouth opened to let Eturrer's voice through, but his screams were lost in the crowd.
"You may speak your case, if you wish," the Empress said.
Karsoth breathed deeply but said nothing. He looked at her with those damaged eyes, and whatever was in them spoke of a conviction long since passed beyond words.
The Empress nodded, acknowledging his answer. She raised her hand and indicated a nearby passageway. "Walk through there to meet your end."
The nameless woman who'd pushed against his heart now walked in front of the old Chamberlain, her nimble, ghostly form leading the way to his death. He waddled in her wake, the guards holding him up.
The Empress stood there for a long time after, looking through the massive windows in the ceiling.
Outside, a star shone bright in the distance.