Coup d’etat II

Auntie, 

Alexa de’Crux and I would like to request your presence for a small dinner party to take place this weekend at the Sakakibara Estate in the second district of Myyhera IV. 

Your loving niece, 

Naomi

Ashessa sighed heavily as she read the invitation from Naomi for the second time. Her body may have been frail, but her senses remained sharp as she probed the language repeatedly. It was most certainly a trap.

She had not achieved her age in the Sakakibara Family by sitting idly or allowing time to go to waste. She was the matriarch of a very powerful branch of the family after all–one that came close to rivaling that of Reginald’s in influence, one that had been poised to seize control multiple times in the last century, one that certainly had deserved recognition and respect. Especially as the main branch waned and floundered.

From the outside, Reginald’s marriage to Katerina Tzestu sent a message of confidence. But from within the family, there was a ripple of discontent. It was arrogant of him to choose a wife, and of all things, to choose a commoner. Ashessa had done much to quell the initial outrage, so much so, that Reginald had invited her to meet with Katerina during her presentation.

Ashessa knew that most of the family had expected to see a pregnant, if attractive, commoner. But Ashessa also knew that Reginald’s mother Elaina had instilled a sense of immense dread in the boy should he impregnate a woman out of wedlock. There had to another reason he wanted to marry her, she surmised. And to her surprise, the reason had been love.

To Katerina’s credit, the girl seemed more knowledgeable about the nobility than most of the untitled members of the Sakakibara family. She had found that particularly amusing about her. A capable partner to Reginald, even if his mother would never have approved. Regardless, in her absence, Reginald had allowed Ashessa to make the determination. A shrewd political move to shore up his claim to the Holding.

And one that Ashessa could never have refused. Her son and his wife were dead. Her granddaughter Rebecca was a hostage of Naomi Sakakibara, and various members of her branch of the family had thinned out. She needed to ensure its survival and that hope rested with Rebecca. By supporting Reginald, she hoped to influence Naomi enough to save Rebecca from the clutches of that despicable whore’s spawn. To think that her nephew would share his name with such a creature. Ridiculous.

Nonetheless, the benefits of siding with Reginald were tantamount to becoming Holder in her own right, even if only for a short time. His new wife had requested Ashessa to serve as an overseer to the Holding, with the power to oversee and countermand Naomi’s orders as Steward. It was a game Ashessa was familiar with and her approach relied on discretion, quietly reigning in Naomi’s more flamboyant commands–the loyalty of the family firmly on the side of her and Reginald.

Ashessa rose from her armchair, hoping that a walk would clear her head of all of her ramblings. Naomi was dangerous, especially as long as her kameiras kept rampaging through the Holding. As the true steward in all but name, Ashessa had a right to stop them with a military intervention, but the clandestine nature of Reginald’s DENT network made going public incredibly difficult. As long as Naomi kept going after internal family security, there was very little the Imperial military could do against the appointed steward of the Sakakibara family.

If there was something that Lady Katerina had overlooked, it had been the labyrinthine complexities of what it meant to navigate the nobility. At the very least, she had recognized Ashessa’s importance to Reginald’s claim. Ashessa was all too familiar with the weight of responsibility, though she carried herself with pride.

Ashessa raised a withered finger to her neocom. It was time to do battle with the beast and her corrupted kameira.

 

Coup d’etat I

Having a pet kameira had its advantages, Naomi thought to herself as she browsed through the ever-lengthening list of DENT operatives being picked off by her cabal. They had been exposed, of course, because of Alexa de’Crux’s kameiras, her teams identifying and compromising DENT safehouses. Alexa would spend her days investigating DENT’s locations, then spend her nights in Naomi’s bed, completely infatuated.

As for Doctor Nayot, he was playing his part perfectly. By masquerading as DENT’s commander–the elusive L–he was goading Alexa into bidding after bidding. His “confession” was also quite convincing, making Alexa believe the family was actively trying to eliminate Naomi, rather than integrate and reconcile, which was Katerina Sakakibara’s true wish. The real masterpiece had been the dangerous game Naomi had played poisoning herself to heighten Alexa’s emotional reactions–the poor girl had almost broken down at the sight of Naomi lying comatose. In other words, Alexa was wrapped around Naomi’s finger and Reginald’s Holding was slowly becoming hers.

There was one final obstacle in place before she could claim full control, a person that the family flocked to in times of crisis. Naomi’s great-aunt Ashessa Sakakibara. In recent years, Naomi had curbed Ashessa’s influence by becoming Rebecca Sakakibara’s guardian; as long as she was in her care, the rest of the family was too frightened to threaten Naomi’s growing power. And with her brother reeling psychologically from military campaigns in the Bleak Lands and Heimatar, her influence had grown substantially while his own eroded.

But the next step would be to remove Ashessa Sakakibara.

***

Naomi was reclining on the soft lawn of a hillock overlooking the lake at the estate, resting her head against Alexa’s legs while the latter tickled her fingers through her hair. There were some advantages to seduction, Naomi supposed, surprised that she was actually savoring the moment. She had been enjoying much, in perfect honesty, leading Alexa deeper into corruption with every night spent in her bed.

Her neocomm beeped.

She sighed, then looked over at the notification. A worthless tower that still belonged to Heart of Pyerite was under siege from Reginald’s new home: Death by Design. It was all she could do to stop a grin from forming on her face. Instead, she forced it into shock, “Oh God!”

“… What?” Alexa asked, their midday foray interrupted.

She showed Alexa the notification, putting on an act of complete helplessness, “He’s… he’s destroying… There’s nothing I can do.”

“The report says that the defenses are holding,” Alexa tried to comfort her, “Can we contact anyone?”

Naomi shook her head, “My brother’s pirate corporation is sieging an asset.”

Alexa growled, “We should inform Lady Lianne.”

Naomi started to become frantic–the natural response of someone who would have actually cared about the control tower, “What can anyone do? What am I supposed to do?”

“Love, losing your head will not help. Give me a moment.”

Naomi shook her head violently, “No one can challenge a capital fleet of that size… He’s destroying everything I want to build!”

How ironic.

“And my frigate is sadly under-equipped…” Alexa said uselessly, “We could do this politically.”

“Politically?”

“How much evidence do we have that DENT is operating under Kat’s orders?”

“Just the message.”

“We also have the doctor’s confession. I have several messages from ‘L,’ one of which directly names Ashessa as an interested party.”

Naomi wiped the tears from her eyes, “What would you suggest we do?”

“I suggest that we make this an extremely embarrassing war for them to wage.”

“Embarrassing?”

 Alexa nodded, “We dig up so much dirt on DENT that their actions against the nobility bite them in the rear. Turn the people against them.”

Naomi shook her head, “The people fear them.”

“Then we make the Council sit up and take notice.”

Naomi almost froze. She hadn’t expected Alexa would make such a drastic suggestion. A Theology Council investigation and trial would ruin everything she was trying to build. She couldn’t allow that. Only after becoming Holder could she even begin considering an Imperial review, and only after Reginald and Katerina had been disposed.

 “But… it’d expose us,” Naomi countered, banking on Alexa caring more about their relationship than anything else. She sat up, then clung to Alexa tightly, feigning weakness and vulnerability, “I… I don’t want that to happen, yet. They’ll slander us.”

“DENT wants to destroy us. They want us to be intimidated.”

Naomi swallowed, “I have another idea…”

“Yes, love?”

“We… can invite Ashessa to dinner,” Naomi began speaking her plan into motion–the assassination of a matriarch within the Sakakibara family, “Tell her that… that we know everything and that she’s implicated. And… if she doesn’t back down…”

“… Then, we go straight to the Council.”

Naomi suddenly felt upset at Alexa’s loyalty to the Empire. She hadn’t been able to shake that faith quite yet, even with DENT operatives supposedly kidnapping families and having them executed. to be truthful, that had been Naomi’s doing, but she needed Alexa’s kameiras. Without their combat prowess, DENT would swarm the estate with the remnants of their assault forces and try to eliminate Naomi once and for all. She had to solidify her claim before that could happen.

Naomi responded quietly with a shake of her head, “No… we kill her.”

Alexa took a deep breath, then looked over the water. Naomi could see the fear and worry etched onto her face, emotions she thought kameira were incapable. But then, they said that kameira were also incapable of feeling love. She almost chuckled to herself. This was far from love. This was seduction.

Naomi continued, seeing that Alexa was too busy thinking to respond, “Without her, DENT falls apart and then Regi and Kat won’t have anyone supporting them anymore. They’d have to accede, to accept us.”

“Cut off the head,” Alexa muttered, “And the body dies.”

Naomi suppressed a grin forming across her face, instead nodding silently.

“Naomi,” Alexa turned to her with a serious expression, “It’s very im,portant that you understand what you are asking me to do. You are asking me–potentially–to assassinate a member of the Amarrian nobility. If we are not very certain that she is guilty, and have evidence to back our assertions… I will most likely be court-martialed, and suicided.”

Naomi tried to reassure the kameira, “If they ever found out. I’d never let them find out, Alexa. It’d be our secret. Forever.”

She added for good measure, “But think of the lives we’ll have saved–those innocent families torn apart by DENT brutality.”

Alexa looked back over the lake.

Naomi shed a controlled tear, “I don’t want… anymore children to suffer.”

“I need to consult with my superior. If this… goes south, I want it to be on the record that we were working in the best interests of the Empire. That, at least, will spare us from the more serious consequences of our actions.”

Naomi could feel her plan begin to unravel, “the fewer that know, Alexa… the better.” She added, harkening back to an older conversation, “You said yourself, traitors should die.”

“Yes, but I’d much rather it not be us that are branded traitors.”

“We’re not traitors. The evidence is overwhelming. We’ll prepare a file,” Naomi started, trying to find any alternative to exposing the situation to a wider circle, “If anyone asks questions, Alexa… anyone other than… my brother or his wife… we’ll be prepared.”

Alexa nodded.

“If Lady Aspenstar is dragged into this…”

“No, it won’t be her. I just… love, I want a paper trail. I want something that stands up against whatever evidence DENT throws against us.”

“We’ll have it… Who would you want to notify?”

“The Praefectus of my corporation. One step below Lady Aspenstar. I will speak with him in confidence, and make sure that our… necks are covered? Is that the correct term?”

Naomi ignored the lesser query, “Is he trustworthy?”

Alexa nodded, “He has guided me on previous occasions. I trust him.”

“Tell him only the very smallest amount of information,” Naomi pressed herself against Alexa, “We should protect those we care about as much as we can.”

Alexa nodded, then pulled out her datapad.

Naomi sighed, “I… will bear the sin, Alexa.”

Alexa took Naomi’s hand, “We… will bear it.”

“You make me feel so safe,” Naomi smiled.

“And I will always do everything I can to keep you safe.”

Naomi smiled, “Shall I send the invitation?”

Alexa looked at her datapad, “One moment…”

Naomi nodded quietly, letting the wind sweep over the hillock as Alexa examined her messages. She wondered if there was an afterlife for relationships, and if so, where would her time spent with Alexa go? She buried the thought as a useless, idle curiosity.

Naomi kissed Alexa’s chin, “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, it’s fine. My Praefectus suggested a combination of approaches: that we deliver our evidence to the MIO, and launch our plan afterward. That way, the enemy’s political and financial support will be cut off–they attempted to murder a minor noble, after all, which could cause them to be declared heretics.”

Naomi found it strange being referred to as a noblewoman, but she shook her head in response, “No… I… The MIO would know about us.”

Alexa sighed, “I don’t know what to do. Make the call, Naomi. I have never sunk a mission, and I do not intend this to be my first.”

Victory.

Naomi smiled, “I’ll inform Ashessa that we want to ask her to dinner, here.”

And so the trap was set.