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Dante

Dante's wacky spoon corner

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Aren't I just adorably off-the-wall crazy? Ahem. This is a thread that I'm going to use to post a few short works that I happen to like and want to share. They aren't continuous, but some of them stretch over more than one post. You'll be notified in this case.

Of course originally these were intended for the Short Stories thread. Too bad, because now I have to create a whole new topic for them. How untidy. Ah well. Incidentally, I would appreciate any comments or suggestions on how to improve. Just leave them in the comments thread, there's a good audience. Please keep in mind that these are copy/paste jobs from other files, and there may be some errors like incorrect paragraphing or indentation. I'd appreciate people pointing this out.

This first one some of you will be familiar with. It is titled 'Biscuit' and is being reposted following the demise of the last thread to hold it. Without further ado:...

Steven slumped down on the park bench. Or to put it more accurately, his legs gave out on him and he fell over backwards onto a conveniently placed park bench which, inconveniently, had

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Biscuit is one of my favourites, I admit. Partly because it was just long enough to occupy my attention, and I didn't get bored partway through as is my unfortunate habit. This next piece is in direct contrast to Biscuit. I won't elaborate on why I wrote it, suffice to say that I'm not so fond of it as I once was but still like it enough to want others to read it. It doesn't have a title, and probably never will.

Jagged lightning flashed overhead as Daniel made his way home, coat pulled tightly around his neck to protect it from the lashing rain. The wind howled as it tore through the alleys between the houses, tossing litter and leaves before it. The sky was dark and forbidding, the rolling thunderclouds blotting out the late afternoon sun that could no longer be glimpsed even on the far horizon. The well groomed trees in the suburban gardens swayed back and forth alarmingly, creaking as their taller cousins might under the force of the gale. Daniel leaning into the wind, gritted his teeth, and strode onwards. Of all the days to miss the bus

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Yeah, you see what I mean. Very different. The piece in this post was written for the Creative Writing society at university, and was therefore heavily edited in order to conserve time. I had to read it out loud you see. This is what I work like under pressure. It ain't so good. I called it 'Emerald,' because I couldn't think of a less clich

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Like the last one, this was written for the society at university. I think I did better this time, despite time constraints. Let me tell you, this did wonders for my reputation. The title is simply 'Class.'

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Ok, this is the first one to span more than one post. It's a short piece relating to one of the RP threads in the board. In order to make it clear which posts are part of this single work, I've grouped them in a randomly different colour.

"Gentlemen. And ladies." The speaker added, nodding to each of his fellows in turn. "Please be reassured that this room is completely secure from outside monitoring. My finest specialists, as well as those of Councilors Xee and Poorian, have declared the entire department free of comeyes, microphones, and all other monitoring devices. Two of my personal guard, both deafmutes, watch the outside passage. You may speak freely here. Please, take a drink." He indicated a small table in the centre of the room, on which a tray of spice-laced beverages had been placed. Above hung the customary poison snooper, an overlarge spider with metal legs stilled. Most of the room's occupants were aware that the snooper was not active however, and only two of them had taken a glass from the tray.

The room was small, but appeared much larger due to its false spaciousness. It was lit by several glowglobes, tuned to a light blue and partially hidden behind walls of translucent plas, diffusing the light so that the walls themselves appeared to glow. The plas itself was only a few molecules thick, and constructed so that oxygen was actively pumped into the room while carbon dioxide passed outward. This created the effect of the lightest of breezes, keeping the room fresh and cool as well as providing an illusion of space. It also dispensed with the need for ventilation shafts, a hazard to secrecy. The floor was also blue, but constructed from tiles of a dark ceramic substance. There were no decorations or personal touches. This was a room for business, and that of a serious nature. The whole impression was austere, but not uncomfortable. This was exemplified by the chairs in which the group were seated, which were cold black plas frames with blue slings of fabric suspended upon them. Relaxing but not restful. The only exit from the room, a plain armourplaz door with magnetic seals, squatted amongst the surroundings and appeared ugly in comparison. A sharp reminder that this was far from a place of repose.

The speaker took this moment, while some of the guests rearranged themselves on their chairs, to examine once more those judged fit to attend. Councilors Rella Xee and Cameron Trace, of course. As always they sat close together, co-conspirators with their own designs and goals. Those two had been instrumental in the gathering, and continued to work closely, despite acting a public facade of bitter rivalry.

Coucilor Xee was a short women with shining black hair, cut close to her ears to better frame her light eyes and pale face. She was the quieter of the two, rarely saying anything in Council. Her political motives were no secret however, and her quiet but deliberate actions behind the scenes had shifted more than one policy decision since her election. Her partner and probable lover was Cameron Trace, a tall and stocky man with thin blonde hair and a prominant nose. The speaker had often found himself almost hypnotised by that nose as it bobbed up and down in time with the fearsome articulation of the mouth, thin-lipped and rarely closed for long. The nose stuck out from Trace's visage, a prow on which he broke opposing arguments with forceful words and compelling 'evidence,' usually supplied by Xee. In Council he made a great show of arguing fiercely against Xee's every suggestion, while she in turn had planted all of the correct rumours in all of the right places, purportedly to discredit him but in actuality to distance her public image from that of Cameron Trace. Now they sat side by side, exchanging knowing looks with each other. A pair to watch, those two. They had everything to gain and everything to lose in this venture.

Sitting next to Trace, Dmitri Hawthorn, representing many of Ix's independent merchants. Dmitri and his fellows bought trade items from their home planet at a fraction of the cost, and then sold these cut-price goods on to the rest of the Imperium. The 'official' Ixian transactions benefited from this in several ways, not least because these merchants presented a convenient middleman unbound by the statutes of Ix. They could sell to anyone. Not only this, but the merchants took care of transport themselves, thus saving the Ixian government many thousands of solaris. They also brought back technologies of interest, and on occasion had been employed in some industrial espionage. Dmitri himself was of medium height, and perhaps slightly larger than was healthy. He was approaching sixty, but dyed his hair in order to conceal the fact. Oddly, he had chosen to dye it green, matching the hue of his middle class clothing. Dmitri, while a powerful merchant and popular with his peers, was not well liked by the Ixian Council in general. He was the perfect representative of his comrades, elected by those who thought attendance posed too great a risk to themselves.

Sitting behind the merchant, the man who had introduced himself as 'Rommel.' An angular man with blue eyes and a blank expression. The CHOAM functionary. A large head balanced on a thin neck, pronounced jaw and nose, with a forehead that sloped backward into slicked-down hair of iron grey. Rommel had said very little, and the speaker did not expect him to. He was a hireling, a secretary sent to this meeting in order to observe and report back to his superiors. If anything went awry, they would claim that he was acting without their knowledge and disown him. Knowing that he is a pawn must gall such a self-important man. Beside Rommel, Hester Lilyth. A fearsome woman with a jagged purple scar running across her face, Hester was the foreman of Ix's groundcar manufacturing plant. Politically powerless, her influence was still undeniable. Her force of personality dominated her workers, and through them their families and friends. She was not a bad woman, merely forceful. She got results, and her factory was one of the most productive and efficient on the planet. This gave her some sway in circles that she would normally have been allowed to enter, and though she had not yet made use of this, she was here because it was an option. Though her scar - caused by an industrial accident five years ago - dominated her features, Hester's other characteristics would have been equally striking in different circumstances. Dark eyes and a tanned complexion, so unusual for Ix, gave her a mysterious allure that she completely ignored. As though to deliberately insult her company, she wore her brown working overalls. Seeing the speaker looking in her direction, Hester scowled, twisting her face into an even more disturbing shape.

"Not that I would presume to act above my station," she sneered, "but some of us are expected to work and would appreciate it if this puppet show would get in gear." Her face did not soften as she dismissed the speaker by turning away. Slightly put out - he had never been one of Hester's supporters when 'the Lilyth problem' came up in Council - the speaker cleared his throat to cover his annoyance.

"Ms Lilyth is correct, this meeting must be dealt with quickly." A worried man nodded his head in agreement. Anton Iasi, representative of House Iasi, sipped nervously at his drink. His watery blue eyes darted around the room, jumping at every movement. The speaker noticed for the first time that Hester was deliberately twitching in order to unnerve him. Her scowl had already been replaced by a sly smirk.

"Well then, in the interests of haste." The speaker said sharply, reminding his guests that he was a man of power and influence himself. His words had the desired effect, and twelve faces looked expectantly around at him, seated on a chair exactly like their own. "We have gathered here today," he continued, "because we are a group of like-minded individuals. Concerned individuals. Men and women who believe that Ix is under threat from within." 'How ironic those words.' He thought. "There is no need to sugarcoat the issue here. Ladies and Gentlemen, the problem is Relnev."

Even knowing this already, some of the guests still seemed surprised to hear the statement so open and blunt. Anton Iasi twisted his lapels between his thin fingers, while Senior Researcher Donnamay Druvich coughed heavily into her fist, impelling a pause in the speech. She glanced around apologetically, and indicated for the speaker to continue.

"The Chancellor has already done uncalculated damage to the reputation of Ix as a neutral party." The speaker continued as if there had been no interruption. "Not only that, but he has squandered funds on his ill-advised military jaunts; funds that would have been better spent in research projects, or even suboid welfare!" The speaker snorted, causing some around the room to titter quietly. Foreman Lilyth frowned, however, and whispered something to Hawthorn.

As the speaker continued to run through the introductory paragraph of his opening speech, he continued to watch his listeners carefully. All were paying attention, though Hester rarely deigned to turn her eyes toward him. Two figures though, were especially worrying. They sat near the back, watching him like hawks. Or vultures. He retained his calm exterior, but he could feel the sweat on his spine.

Alexis Morvain, Ixian Councilor, examined the thin face of the speaker as it tried not to send too many nervous glances in his direction. Though his expression affected boredom, Alexis was smirking on the inside. He enjoyed the Vice Chancellor's discomfort as he enjoyed watching all higher-ups squirm. The man had always possessed a slightly overinflated view of himself, and Alexis wondered whether now he had bitten off more than he could chew. It was clear that the real powers behind this meeting were Alexis' fellow members of the Ixian Council, Rella Xee and Cameron Trace. Peering over the head of the boring Rommel man, Alexis watched Xee and Trace as they appeared to pay rapt attention to the Vice Chancellor. He could see, however, that their hands were tapping out an arhythmic pattern, one after another, on the framework of their chairs. The quiet sound was drowned out in Vice Chancellor Vankal's oralisation, but Alexis doubted that he would know the code anyway. So, Xee and Cameron were swapping coded messages? A factoid to file away for later. Whatever. Alexis turned his attention back to Vankal.

The thin face belied a figure with a substantial paunch, which he had a habit of patting when sitting in council. It was currently covered in robes of silver, resembling nothing more than metal beaten so thin as to become fabric. He did not wear his personal insignia of office, Alexis noticed. Significant? The Vice Chancellor had never seemed a vain man. His thinning hair was always slightly unkempt due to a habit of running his fingers through it during pauses in debate. He wore none of the adornments that some of his predecessors had favoured, and did not dye his hair away from the natural dark blonde. It was this hair that was even now drifting across the Vice Chancellor's nose, causing his to huff amusingly.

"I didn't expect to see you here." A hoarse voice said quietly, drawing Alexis' attention away. He looked to his right, where Ysabel Demavend leaned back in her chair, smiling enigmatically. Her eyes were fixed on Vankal. Alexis took a moment to scan her expression for hidden meaning, before turning back to face the Vice Chancellor.

"I might say the same to you, M'Lady." Alexis replied equally quietly. "As I understood it, House Demavend was a discreet supporter of the Chancellor's actions."

'Such caution!' Ysabel noted. "He has been good for our economy." She said aloud. "But my granddaughter worries for our House's long-term survival if we are associated with such a power as a militarily active Ix. Her concerns apparantly reached some interested ears, and we were approached with overtures and promises." She grunted a laugh. "Political words and so much hot air. I am here to observe, much like our CHOAM friend." At the mention, Alexis' eyes drifted over to land on the back of Rommel's head. The man had hardly said a word since he arrived, and was giving no sign of his feelings on this presentation. Most likely he had none, a soulless shell like that. All numbers and no brain.

"And what observations have you made thusfar, M'Lady Demavend?" Alexis asked, looking back to Vice Chancellor Vankal.

"Someone has been tricked, and I believe I know-" Ysabel stopped short. When Alexis glanced over, her expression was blank. He shrugged, and turned back.

Ysabel Demavend, he thought. A woman of some eighty four Standard Years, former Matron of House Demavend, one of Ix's newer allies. Abdicated thirty years ago in favour of her daughter, who did likewise soon afterward in favour of her own daughter, the now-Matron Issabon Demavend. Ysabel's eyes were green, but they showed a definate tinge of blue due to her heavy melange consumption. It was this, Alexis suspected, that allowed the woman to retain the appearence of a woman in her late fifties. Her face was mostly smooth, and her fingers were not gnarled in the slightest. Her hair, lustrous and white, flowed down her back in a way that most poets would give their left eye for the opportunity to describe.

She thought that she knew something, and she believed that someone had been tricked. Alexis idely pondered her words, whether they might be of value in the near future. He was only half listening as Anton Iasi stood to give his view.

"It is our view that House Iasi was all but blackmailed into this 'alliance' with Ix." Anton said in his quavering voice, looking around at those conspirators that he could see. Behind him, he knew, sat one of the Ixian Councilors in black and that Demavend woman, but he didn't want to look at them. He realised that he had twisted his lapels almost into a knot, and clasped his hands firmly behind his back. Alexis noted how sweaty they were, and debated whether to try to make the man even more nervous.

"It is well known that following the Harkonnen occupation of Arrakis, our economy suffered inordinately." Anton continued, clearing his throat nervously. "We entered a business agreement with Ix in order to preserve our planet and people. This agreement was negotiated some time ago, and remains binding. Too binding!" For the first time a modicum of strength entered the Iasi's voice, and his hands clenched tighter. "Chancellor Relnev used this agreement to force my house into pledging our support to his personal vendetta, ignoring our protests."

'Garbage.' Alexis thought to himself. He knew every nuance of the Iasi/Ix contract with an author's intimacy. He had written it, after all.

"We did not sign up to this war!" Anton fumed, his skin turning an interesting shade of fuchsia. "We should have been allowed the opportunity to opt out, but were given no option. The Chancellor insisted, he compelled us to 'offer' our support. House Iasi wants no more part in this!"

'In other words, 'We're in too deep and we want out before something goes wrong.' Alexis translated. He surpressed a sigh. House Iasi had pledged its support to Chancellor Relnev in order to stay in Ix's good books, but now that they had an opportunity to escape...

"Oh shut up." He snapped irritably, cutting Anton off in mid-rant. The minor noble froze on the spot, before turning around with an expression of frustrated anger on his face. He resembled nothing more than a petulent child, Ysabel thought. All eyes were now on Alexis and Anton.

"Your ranting is becoming tiresome, My Lord." Alexis said firmly, not rising from his chair. "The fortunes of House Iasi may be intrinsically connected to the economy of Ix, but you were always able to opt out of any non-trade agreement. Your father the Marquis created this mess when he believed himself a slave of Ix, creating a situation that was never there to begin with. Nevertheless, your complaints have some merit. You feel pressurised and lorded over, and believe that a change in the ruling of Ix will result in favourable conditions for your family to attain House Major status, which is why you first forged an alliance in the first place. Your complaints have been heard; now do sit down, you're becoming hysterical."

The room was silent for a long moment following the Councilor's statement. Aton Iasi wheezed slightly. The near-silence was broken by a proud voice.

"Another self-inflated, inappropriate scurrility from our resident black sheep." Cameron Trace sneered, his voice loaded with derision. He faced Alexis directly, his nose stabbing forward as he spoke. "Your unseemly behaviour is not appreciated in Council, Morvain, and it will not be tolerated here."

"Indeed. Thank you, Councilor Trace." the Vice Chancellor said stiffly. "Councilor Morvain, please keep your manners." He glared at Alexis, who shrugged.

"I was merely pointing out that Lord Anton is somewhat confused." He said amiably, deliberately needling the minor noble. "The contract that his father signed eight years ago in no way forces House Iasi into military action, nor indeed to provide political support for Ix. Theirs is purely a business agreement. One that becomes substantially more profitable in times of war, I might add."

"That is enough, Councillor." The Vice Chancellor snapped. "M'Lord Iasi, do you have anything to add?"

"I- ah. Weh." Anton stumbled over his words for a moment. His hands unclasped and began to twist his clothing again. "I, no. No." He remained standing for a while, his hands curling around his rapidly degenerating jacket like pale spiders, until the silence reminded him and he sat down heavily.

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"I should say that there is more to add indeed!" Trace stood up, his nose daring the Vice Chancellor to put him down. "There may be no legal obligation, but it is clear to me that Chancellor Relnev put undue pressure on House Iasi, on all of our allies, in order to wage his crusade against Ekaterina Moritani." Several people around the room nodded assent. "Ix has a reputation to maintain, and an economy to support. How can we be expected to retain the level of custom and service that we do if it becomes known that we pressurise our allies into actions that they find distasteful?"

"Even if the actuality is different, the rumours alone could be harmful enough." Hester Lilyth agreed, though her words indicated tacit support of Alexis as well. Trace frowned at this unexpected sign of approval, but rallied on.

"Not only do we have the consideration of political consequences," he spoke, "but economic as well! How many customers will leave us after this, how many will mock the age-old neutrality of Ix?"

"There is no neutrality in this universe, my friend; when all pretences are stripped away, one looks out for himself and his own." Alexis said with a small grin. Trace glared furiously at him.

"We have a responsibility to remain neutral." He seethed, recognising one of Chancellor Relnev's more famous quotations. "W-"

"Ahem." Trace was interrupted by the Vice Chancellor, who glared over at him. "Much as I am enjoying this parade," he said witheringly, "I see fit to remind each of you that this is not a debate about Chancellor Relnev's mistakes. That has already been decided. What we are here to discuss now is what to do about it."

"Well the obvious thing is assassination." Trace retorted, clearly unhappy at the abrupt end to his lecture. He paused, clearly expecting some reaction. None was forthcoming, but the tension in the room grew immediately thicker. Ysabel Demavend ran a finger around her collar, and Anton Iasi whimpered quietly. Finding no voices of outrage, Trace continued cautiously.

"If Relnev were to die, the Council would be able to elect a more suitable replacement." He spoke slowly now, judging the effect of every word. "He would be unable to remain a political figurehead, and would be no more trouble if-"

"Incorrect." A new voice rose in dissent. Eyes followed Trace's gaze to Councilor Canna Poorian as he stood. An extremely old man, Poorian required the aid of a cane to move himself. He persistantly rejected all more modern forms of support, claiming that they weakened his body. His head only barely covered by the faintest wisps of hair, Poorian's Tleilaxu-metal eyes met Trace's without hesitation. The man was old, but by no means feeble. Like the other Councilors, apart from Morvain, Poorian wore the stain-repellent light blue robes of his position.

"Have you become as blind as I was, Councilor Trace?" Poorian asked irritably. "Haven't you noticed how Relnev behaves in Council? The man has been one of Ix's greatest assests for years, he has many allies. Not everybody likes him, but you cannot deny that the benefits that he has brought to Ix have been many and great. Not that this excuses his recent, unconscionable actions regarding Athalon IV. But he has made a lot of people rich and a lot of people happy, and though they may not have any personal attachment to him, they will safeguard what they see as an investment." Vice Chancellor Vankal blinked as his mind rearranged Poorian's jumping sentances.

"Those faceless supporters will clamp themselves onto the nearest ally once Relnev is dead." Trace asserted.

"Not all of them." Poorian maintained, leaning forward on his cane. "Let us take but a single example, his assistant Eemins. A thoroughly capable man in his own right, he could have been promoted to Council membership some time ago, I am sure. But he chose instead to remain with Relnev upon return from Arrakis. I am quite convinced that, should Relnev die, Eemins would be unrelenting in his pursuit of the guilty parties. With Eemins as a figurehead, many other Ixians would rally to his cause."

"So we kill Eemins as well." Trace countered. "As you said, he remains in Relnev's retinue. It would be a matter of extreme ease to have them both poisoned. A faulty snooper, some chaumurky, easy."

"They would not succumb to such an obvious plot, and it would leave evidence to implicate us." Dmitri Hawthorn added in his deep baritone. "Perhaps, though I realise some of you might find this inadvisable, we might consider the services of the Bene Tleilax?"

"Pfaugh!" Hester spat in disgust. The Phlegm seeped quickly into the floor, leaving a bone-dry tile behind.

"As my colleague implies, it would be unwise in the extreme to employ the Tleilaxu in this venture." Donnamay Druvich nodded, though she clearly found the notion of agreeing with Hester unpleasant. A small blonde woman whose major claim to fame was the development of the magnetic shield, Donnamay was obviously uncomfortable in this situation. She coughed periodically, a nervous reaction that betrayed her fear of discovery. She continued, cutting off Trace as he was about to speak. "Not only would the prospect of working with the Tleilaxu be politically damaging, but it would give them a decided hold over the new administration." She explained. "Their ability to blackmail and control us would be unacceptable. And furthermore, I feel certain that the Bene Gesserit would look into the matter. I hear that they have... an interest in the Chancellor. Truthsayers would see through us completely, and we would be undone. If not in service to the witches as well as the Tleilaxu." She added with a shudder. Her co-conspirators nodded quietly to themselves. No outside interference could be permited.

"But if the Bene Gesserit investigate, they may still be able to discern that we would be responsible for Relnev's death." The Vice Chancellor directed this statement at the room. "As Researcher Druvich pointed out, Truthsayers would immediately see through our plan."

"It is apparant then that Relnev cannot die." Councillor Xee said in her faint voice, almost a whisper. Alexis and Ysabel, as well as Canna Poorian and Anton Iasi, leaned forward in order to hear her. "His death would be problematic, and if the Bene Gesserit involve themselves, disastrous. Therefore Relnev must stay alive, but be removed. I propose we descredit him in order to gain the necessary Council majority to vote him out of office."

"Won't work." Poorian grumbled, levering himself back into his chair. "Even if we managed it, and it would be a difficult thing to do, I can all but guarantee that Relnev would be granted a position similar to his last one as Ambassador. That blonde boy, the new one, he was very... eager to support Relnev." The old man sniffed distastefully.

"Acting Chancellor Naviel." Vankal muttered, unable to keep an edge of bitterness from entering his voice. Inside his head, Alexis crowed. The Vice Chancellor continued. "Yes, that young man has shown staunch support for Relnev. Does anyone know why?" He looked around the room. Nobody answered. The representative from House Costino, a minor cousin called Fabian, whispered something to Canna Poorian, who nodded slowly.

"Would that really matter though?" Hawthorn asked. "Once the man is out of the seat of power, he can no longer command the forces of Ix. Problem solved."

"What of his supporters in the Council?" Druvich asked carefully. "I- I mean, even if we manage to replace Relnev, how can we be certain that the Council will not continue along the path that he has laid out?"

"We will not allow it!" Trace stated.

"The whole question will be moot if he gets himself killed on Athalon." Alexis remarked quietly. Ysabel smirked briefly, but nobody else appeared to have heard.

"If Relnev could be forced into utter disgrace, so much so that nobody could hope to employ him in public office, would you then be more likely to assert control?" Another new voice. Fabian Costino speaking from next to Councilor Poorian. The young man looked expectantly about him. "Well?"

"Of course we would." Cameron Trace shrugged. "If Relnev were completely discredited and compelled to leave office, his allies would be seriously weakened. Probably enough for our faction to seize control of the Council and elect a Chancellor who could be depended upon."

"But depended upon to do what?" Ysabel muttered to herself.

"Might I suggest, then, that you employ the Tleilaxu not to kill Relnev, but to discredit him?" Fabian Costino continued. "Plant evidence in the right places, create holorecordings of edifying events... And most importantly: face dancers." He paused for a moment to give his words greater impact. "Face dancers, so I am told, can simulate anyone. So, employ one to simulate the Chancellor, and several others for... detail. Imagine the damage that could be done if it could be proven that Chancellor Relnev tortures people for his personal amusement. That he has bedded five women in a single night, one of whom Ekaterina Moritani. That there are no lows of sexual depravity, no foul acts against his fellow men and women that he will not commit in his chambers. Claim that he recorded it for his own amusement, it does not matter. If he remains alive, the witches are unlikely to come snooping."

"That kind of political assassination would work, if only Relnev were not such a popular man." Councilor Trace grimaced. "Not only would his allies in the Council support him, we can be quite certain that the leader of House Trebeis, if he survives against Moritani, will support Relnev."

"The Councilors will not support a man in disgrace, especially if you bribe the right people to authenticate the holorecordings." Fabian pressed. "And the exiled, technically renegade leader of a house in a shambolic state of disrepair? Who cares about his word?"

"The Emperor." Vice Chancellor Vankal replied stonily. "We have all seen the treaty that he signed with House Trebeis. It doesn't directly state that political aid is mandetory, but if Trebeis calls for help then we cannot take the risk of the Emperor intervening. Not only would imperial interest be a disaster, the man has close ties to the Bene Gesserit."

"Well then it's hopeless!" Fabian threw up his hands in disgust. "We can't kill him, we can't outvote him, we can't discredit him, we can't blackmail him. If you're all going to be such pessemists then we might as well just give up and let him have his war!"

"But what then?" Councilor Trace snapped back. "Another war, against Harkonnen this time?" Moritani and Harkonnen used to be among our most valuable customers! Now the Baron has witheld his patronage in favour of Richese, and Relnev himself blacklisted the entire House Moritani, including the Emperor! We have lost Imperial custom!"

"To be fair, Hundro Moritani was not the Emperor when Relnev's embargo came into force." Dmitri Hawthorn said.

"But he is now and it has not been lifted!" Trace shot back. "Every minute we are losing custom! And what if the Emperor refuses to utilise our services if or when this wretched embargo is ever lifted? What if the Golden Lion Throne turns to Richese for its technologies, a slap in the face to Relnev!"

"Perhaps that's just what you need." Fabian Costino shrugged. "That kind of loss would certainly reflect badly upon Relnev, maybe enough for him to be voted out of office."

"We can't depend upon it though." Rella Xee whispered. "The treaty between Houses Moritani and Trebeis clearly states that House Trebeis will sponsor any and all overtures of trade made by House Moritani to the Ixian Council. The Emperor insisted on that clause, I suspect; he will not turn his custom to Richese."

The room remained in silence for a minute, each of the conspirators pondering their few options.

"Relnev is... a popular man." Anton Iasi said at last.

"No, not as such." Ysabel Demavend shook her head. "Just well connected."

"Is there nothing we can do?" Cameron Trace fumed, frustration evident in his voice. He had clearly hoped that this meeting would develop differently.

"I say we kill him, and damn the consequences." Rella Xee whispered fervently. "What can happen to us? Nothing that we will not survive."

"Perhaps you are looking at the problem from the wrong direction." Alexis interrupted. "The problem is not Relnev per se, but Relnev's actions. His attack on Athalon IV. Perhaps if the Chancellor could be persuaded not to pursue such an aggressive foreign policy..."

"It is too late for that." Canna Poorian muttered. "We are committed and doomed."

*

Acting Chancellor Navial stood outside the door to the Council's Privacy room. Four guards waited nearby, weapons at the ready. Just in case. Naviel sighed, and stood up straight.

"I think that's about all we're going to get out of them." He rolled his eyes. "Honestly, can't these people even come up with a good conspiracy to keep me occupied?"

"I'd be more worried why our mole didn't activate the listening device, sir." One of the guards said in clipped tones.

"Oh, I expect we'll find out soon enough." Navial smiled. "But I think we've let this play out as much as it is going to." He pressed his hand to a blue rectangle at the left of the door, which immediately swung inwards.

"Ladies and Gentlemen." Navial stepped into the room, followed by the guards who took up positions near the door. "Please do not attempt to escape, I don't need to tell you how very impossible it is." He crossed to where Vice Chancellor Vankal stood, an expression of shock rapidly disappearing across the Ixian's face. "Gelroos Vankal, Vice Chancellor of Ix, you are hereby under arrest for conspiracy. You ha-"

"Conspiracy? Conspiracy to what?" Vankal snorted, convincingly covering up his earlier surprise. "This is a business meeting, Acting Chancellor Naviel, one at which your attendance is not required."

"You have the right to remain silent and all that jazz." Navial continued. He turned to face the rest of the room. "All representatives from Houses will be asked to return to their respective embassies prior to deportation hearings. All members of the Ixian Council are also under arrest, such and such so forth blah blah blah. Everyone else please remain in this room, you will be dealt with shortly."

"I say again, Naviel-" Vankal started.

"Shut up!" Navial snapped, but the Vice Chancellor was not deterred.

"You have no evidence that anything untoward was happening in this room! I demand that you explain yourself!" Vankal fumed.

"Your every word was heard and recorded, Gelroos, now please be quiet." Naviel sighed. He was a little depressed at the people that had arrived today. Granted not all of them were committed traitors, and he seriously doubted that they would all lose their positions. Ysabal Demavend was still smiling quietly, though not as brashly as was Fabian Costino. Alexis Morvain seemed almost gleeful. But such respected persons as Hester Lilyth or Donnamay Druvich...

"Impossible." Vankal retorted. "This is the privacy room, it was built especially to give the Council some rest from being constantly monitored." He pointed dramatically at the modified black snooper in the centre of the ceiling. "That device blocks all frequencies within ten feet of this room!"

"Indeed it does." Naviel nodded as his men began to handcuff Rella Xee, who did not protest.

"Then you have no evidence!" Vankal snapped.

"Gelroos, Gelroos..." The Acting Chancellor shook his head, an edge of laughter in his voice. He held up a plain drinking glass and pressed it against his ear. "Have you forgotten that the Ix are always prepared?"

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Another short piece, this one for different characters. I just felt like writing, so I kept going. This post and its two predecessors were incidentally written in notepad, so the spelling may be a bit off. Meh. I've had problems pasting from Word before. Shame I won't be posting any of the longer works up here. For various reasons. Le sigh.

"You're such a prig, Hundro." The voice said pointedly. Hundro Moritani set his face in an expressionless mask, and lowered the book from in front of his eyes. Ekaterina stood in front of him, wearing the slightly unstable expression that she had adopted when she was four. Both eyes narrowed and glaring, but something in them that spoke of attention being elsewhere as well. Chin thrust out, mouth downturned. She frowned at him when he did not answer, merely sitting still and looking back at her without expression.

"Well?" She snapped. "Say something! What are you going to do, sit there?" Hundro did not reply. Ekaterina twitched noticably, her jaw sliding to one side momentarily before she regained control. In a manner of speaking. She howled with rage, tearing the antique tome from Hundro's unresisting hands and hurling it across the room, trailing ancient paper pages. Hundro watched as his study sailed through the air to impact heavily with the opposite wall, falling to a heap on the floor. His gaze slid back to his sister. No longer holding the book, his hands clasped themselves loosely on his lap. They began to flex ever so slightly in one of the many exercises that Mother Edutiss had taught him. Ekaterina sneered.

"Those finger-games won't be any use to you." She made a grab for his wrist, missing as Hundro casually moved it out of the way. She tried again, and once more her brother eluded her. Snarling, she swiped one hand at his face, which he quickly ducked. She aimed a punch at his face, which he blocked with the back of one hand, using Ekaterina's own momentum to pull her forward and kick her in the stomach, sending her sprawling backwards onto the floor with a grunt.

Hundro stood up and smooth down his black uniform, a miniture version of his father's. Stepping around the groaning Ekaterina, he crossed the room to the remains of his book, picking up pages on the way. When Ekaterina sat up he was already sliding them back into place, their order meticulous.

"You should pay more attention to Mother Edutiss' lessons, Ekaterina." Hundro stated blankly, without apology. "She knows a great deal, and that knowledge just defeated you." Ekaterina growled something incomprehensible in return. Hundro did not reply, but continued picking up the pages of his book. After a few minutes, Ekaterina got to her feet and rounded on him.

Hundro did not look up. "We are to stand in Citamateo today, Ekaterina, in full view of the public. I intentionally did not cause a visible injury to you previously, but I cannot guarantee that I will be able to do so again should you attack me a second time."

"Prig." Ekaterina growled, holding her stomach. At fourteen SY, Hundro was five years her senior and an unbearable pain in her neck. It wasn't so much that he was boring - though that was a factor - or even that he pretended that he knew everything - but come to think of it... - no, what galled her most was that she was so much better than him. He was the heir apparant to the Moritani throne, and he didn't seem to care!

Ekaterina sat down on the floor, pouting. Everything about her brothers annoyed her, absolutely everything. Hundro had no appreciation for their father at all, prefering to spend long hours in the library or training rooms with Mother Edutiss than in the dungeons with the Viscount Irios. Aleksandr, despite having reached the age of four not long ago, still childishly refused to give up his nursery maid and spent most of his time with their mother, Viscountess Grizelda. Gardening! Ekaterina could feel the tight sneer as it crept across her face. Gardening! What possible use was gardening to a noble? Hundro had recovered all of his pages, and was making his way back to his chair. Ekaterina, whose chair was next to Hundro's, remained obstinately on the floor in defiance of Mother Edutiss' orders.

"I should be the oldest." She muttered. Then, when Hundro did not react, she shouted. "I should be the oldest!"

"Shush." Hundro muttered as he opened the book in search of his marker. Ekaterina felt hot rage well up inside her. She swung around with a yell.

"I'd be a better Viscount than you!" She pointed furiously at her condescending sibling, who blinked slowly. "I listen to father! I do everything he asks! I know what to do, you don't! You just sit there and you read things and you don't say anything and you're all 'I'm Hundro and I know everything in the universe and I'm the smartest kid ever! Blah blah blah!' You're a rotten stuck up pig!" She stamped her foot. "You're a pig and I hate you! I hate you I hate you I hate you!" Tears streaming down her face, she collapsed onto the floor. She thumped it a few times for good measure, allowing her straight black hair to fall over her face.

Hundro had watched this performance with barely disguised disgust. To let emotions take control, and in such a puerile display! He felt one of his lips begin to curl upward, and immediately stopped it. He returned to his book, tempted to block out his sister's choking sobs but realising that he might miss something important if he did so. "Marx, no..." He flipped back a few pages. "Ma, ma... Mach. Machiavelli." He continued to read.

Ekaterina lay on the floor, her sobs gradually subsiding.

"You'll wrinkle your dress." Hundro pointed out calmly.

"I don't care!" She shouted back. Hundro did not even shrug. He continued to read, his eyes silently flicking from page to page. Ekaterina looked up slowly.

She watched her brother through the strands of black hair that had fallen across her face. His attention was completely on his lessons; he had already dismissed her from his thoughts. She felt a deep, hot feeling welling up in her chest. How dare he? How could he?! She lurched to her feet, swaying unsteadily as she channeled her fury into aspects more important than coordination. Hundro glanced up for a fraction of a second before returning his attention to his pages.

And suddenly, all strength left Ekaterina's legs. Not even uttering a cry of surprise, she folded at the knees and collapsed sideways onto the floor. As she impacted with the black floorboards, she felt her body begin to convulse violently. A pained moan escaped her lips as her legs began to twitch, seemingly of their own accord. Her arms followed suit, and she burbled in pain as her back arched without warning, bringing her arms forward painfully across her chest before slamming them back down into the floor. She cried again even as her jaw started to work its way over to the left of her face, distorting her sobs.

Hundro looked up with annoyance at the door through which Mother Edutiss had exited. Couldn't anyone hear her? He looked down at his younger sister, gulping and quivering on the floor. She seemed to be having a fit. He looked once more at the door.

With a surpressed sigh, Hundro carefully placed his bookmark in place, marking the page in memory as an extra precaution. Placing the book down next to his chair, he stood up and began to walk over to his sister.

Even as I lie here dying he does not hurry, he does not worry! Ekaterina watched through bulging eyes as her brother approached. Not the fainted tic, not the slightest break in that stone face!

Hundro knelt down next to Ekaterina, studying her carefully. He leaned over her body in order to prevent the flailing of her arms.

Fast, so fast that Hundro in his compromised position had no way to react in time, Ekaterina's hand snapped upward to land against her brother's chest. He froze immediately, a grunt of pain escaping between pale lips.

Both figures were immobile for several long seconds, stretching out in a silence broken only by Ekaterina's rasping breaths. She grinned triumphantly, all trace of hysteria vanished. Hundro remained poised above her, mouth open, eyes seeing only the wall ahead. The fragile tableaux remained for what seemed like an eternity before Hundro began to slip forwards and Ekaterina shoved him to one side. He landed on his back with a choked gasp, his face already turning blue. Ekaterina took her time standing up, holding the bloody needleknife over her brother's face.

"Paralysis poison." She hissed, true venom in each word. "A real Moritani wouldn't have fallen for that trick, fool!" She grimaced, once again angry rather than smug.

"A real Moritani never did." A voice behind her intoned. Ekaterina whipped around, automatically bringing the knife up in front of her.

"Don't be foolish, girl." Mother Edutiss said in that barking voice she reserved for admonition. She stood in front of Ekaterina, towering over the girl. She wore the same black robes as she always did, and carried baby Ranith in her arms. Hiding behind her legs, though no longer holding her robes after the last sharp instruction, Aleksandr peeked out at his older siblings. His brown eyes were wide with curiosity, and most likely fear. Ekaterina snarled at him, and he ducked behind the robes.

"Enough!" Mother Edutiss snapped, using the thing she called Voice. Ekaterina froze in place, her body obeying without consulting her mind. Inner fury boiled once more. Mother Edutiss ignored her now, but walked over to Hundro and looked down at him.

"An impressive display, young man." She said without kindness. "But you do not fool me. Get up, I have to carry your sister for now. You can walk to the next room, there is a medical team standing by." She rearranged the baby as Hundro slowly stood up, casting a respectful yet annoyed look at his nanny-teacher as he did so. He walked slowly past Mother Edutiss, holding his hand over the narrow wound where Ekaterina had stabbed him. Aleksandr looked fixedly at him as he left the room, but Hundro ignored the younger boy.

*

"In retrospect, I was partly to blame." The Emperor Hundro Moritani sighed unhappily to himself, sitting behind a desk in his personal office. It was late, extremely late. Late enough to be early in fact, as the morning calls of the first birds began to echo through the Imperial Palace.

"Not just for that incident," the Emperor continued, "For everything. During much of our childhood I was cold and distant to her, even more than our mother was. And not just to her, I rejected every suggestion of friendliness from Aleksandr, as well as all of Ranith's fledgeling plots and schemes." He glanced over to his 'listener,' who was sleeping softly in a corner of the room. At the sight of him Hundro smiled, and turned back to face the closed door to the office.

"I was as icy as she was furious, I suppose." He mused, in a quieter voice now he remembered that Valen was asleep. "What happened after that? Well, I was patched up and Ekaterina forced to endure another Bene Gesserit punishment. We both missed the introduction of Ranith to Grumman, but we were present at the Naming ceremony a few days later. Perfectly behaved, model children." He laughed half-heartedly. "That was a phrase that visiting nobles often used  to describe me. 'The model of a boy,' they would say. Edutiss, Reverend Mother Edutiss that is, told me once that what they really meant was 'a fine heir,' and that I should take it as great praise." He shrugged to himself. "So I did. Because I was told to. Ah, and they probably wanted that. My tutors, my father especially." Saying the word out loud made Hundro stop short. He considered his previous thoughts carefully, replaying them as he leaned forward to rest his chin on his fingers, propped up on sharp elbows.

"No word from Athalon." He muttered, parroting the phrase that his secretaries had been handing to him all day. Nothing since Atilian Trebeis' truncated message. He pictured the planet as he had last seen it in reports, verdant and green with a wide black belt of scorched terrain around the equator. Somewhere on or near that crippled planet, two of his siblings were opposing each other in battle.

"They must survive." He said, part to reassure himself. But Hundro Moritani was not a man to put his trust in flimsy self-appreciation. He had given his blessing to the attacking force after all, buying the throne with the life of his sister. But no, Hundro planned to eat his cake and have it, as the ancient phrase went. He had made a promise. Now it was up to others to fulfill it for him.

"Just a test..." He found his mind wandering back to that incident in Citamateo. "My father having deliberately 'misplaced' one of his implements from the dungeon, testing Ekaterina to see if she would take it and what she would do with it. Testing me to see how I would prepare for something I had no forewarning of, and how I would react if my life was threatened." He paused, remembering his teachers' words. "They were satisfied with both of us, I recall. The needle wasn't really poisoned, of course." He added, as though speaking to another. "But Ekaterina believed that it was. That's the kind of person that Aleks is up against..." He blinked suddenly. No, not Aleks. Relnev and Atilian. Two forces with similar goals, differing only in one detail.

"Partly to blame..." The Emperor found his thoughts wavering in an unacceptable manner. He sat up straight, mentally reprimanding himself. He picked up a sheaf of paper, rearranging it in front of him as be began to write. Carefully, he began to compose a letter to his mother.

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Comments thread, boy. I don't just say things like that to inflate my own sense of control over you lesser beings.

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