THE PLANET AGORAX, THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO... Chief Vecra Zaxary's steps echoed through the cavernous space that adjoined the Leader's throne room, walking between the tapered ceramacrete pillars that seemed to stretch on for kilometers in all directions. The chamber, Vecra knew, was meant to intimidate newcomers to the ziggurat; those coming to see the Leader in person had to traverse the space, and Vecra suspected that as they did, they were scrutinized by all manner of sensory equipment. The Leader would know more about his visitors by the time they reached the throne room than any physician or lover likely did. He would be learning about Vecra, at that very moment. Vecra tried not to think about it. At last, the Chief of the First Urban Pacification Legion reached a set of truly titanic doors, polished kiirium that more resembled a vault than the entrance to a leader's throne room. There was a hum, and Vecra stiffened as beams of yellow light played over him from four different directions. After several passes, they cut out, and the huge doors opened outward, completely silent on their hinges despite their size and weight. Collecting himself, Vecra took a deep breath and let it out, before entering the throne room. The chamber was almost as vast as the one he had passed through before, and decorated in a similar manner. The main differences were that the ceiling was much higher, and that, at the far end, Vecra could see a huge, stepped pyramidal structure, at the summit of which was a huge throne that all but dwarfed what looked like an armored figure sitting in it. Immediately, Vecra dropped to one knee, fist clenched over his hear and gaze averted to the nearly mirror-polished floor. "Hail! Leader Agorander! Whose Will the Stars Obey!" Just visible in the distance, the seated figure inclined his head, and a voice boomed out seemingly from everywhere at once. "Rise, Chief Vecra Zaxary. Come forward." The legionnaire did as he was instructed, rising to his feet and walking to the foot of the pyramid. Guarding the long flight of steps that rose to the summit were a pair of gold-plated Automatic Conquerors, Mark IIs like the ones Vecra had "commanded" out in the city streets. They stood to either side of the steps, but their cranial turrets swiveled to fix glowing photoreceptors on Vecra as he approached, and if he had attempted to climb the steps, Vecra was certain the robots would have gutted him like livestock before he made the first footfall, let alone the first landing. "I obey, Leader!" Vecra could not see clearly from where he was, but it seemed to him that the corner of seated figure's mouth quirked up in a small smile. "Indeed." Vecra did not dare remove his gaze from the figure at the pyramid's summit, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see small groups of people scattered throughout the throne room, all wearing the costumes of office. Vecra even recognized some of them; generals, admirals, high-ranking civil servants. One female Cathar Vecra recognized was Haflin Jentz, the chief administrator of a private off-world shipping corporation, a dying breed in the much-contracted and increasingly nationalized empire. "It is good that you have come." The enthroned figure continued. [color=FF6340]"In these disloyal times, it is good to see one who still counts himself among the forces of law and order. Now, you may take your place with the others, and we may begin."[/color] There was much about the situation that made Vecra uncomfortable, but the Leaders final words made the back of his neck prickle. Nevertheless, his arm shot out in the customary salute. "I obey, Leader!" Hesitating only a moment, Vecra turned and walked to the nearest of the small groups, which happened to be the one that contained Haflin. Taking his place among them, he stared up at the throne. As he watched, there was a buzz, and from the ceiling, hundreds of huge cathode displays descended, initially tuned to static. As they came to a stop a few meters above the floor, the static was replaced by a video image, one that a message in the corner of the screen proclaimed was live. And Vecra's blood ran cold, as he witnessed a scene he had presided over only a short time before, an overhead view of thousands of rioting citizens, slowly making their way toward an army of impassive military robots. "Witness." Intoned the Leader. "The consequences for rejecting the order I provide."