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Authors: Mike Smith

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The Last Praetorian

BOOK: The Last Praetorian
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The
Last Praetorian

Book One of The Redemption Trilogy

 

By
Mike Smith

 

December 2012 Edition

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Mike
Smith

 

All rights reserved. 
Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this
publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by
any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior
written permission of the author.

 

All rights
reserved.

 

The characters and
events portrayed in this book are fictitious.  Any similarity to persons,
living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Cover image copyright
©
2012
AiTuDou

 

For Mum and Dad

Thanks for picking me
up and dusting me off whenever I was down.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Epilogue

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

An extract from “Pax Imperia”

First published 2762, Marcus Aurelius II 

 

The Imperium, more commonly referred to as “The Empire”, was
founded circa 542 (New Confederation calendar) / 2312AD (Old Earth calendar). 
Arguably the most powerful and enduring geo-political structure since the Roman
Empire’s repressive form of government, almost two thousand years earlier.  It
is undisputed that it was the largest Empire in history, at its greatest extent
spanning almost 175 star systems, with a size in excess of 35 light years (in
comparison the Roman Empire only extended 4 million square kilometres, there is
no historical evidence that it extended beyond a single star system).     

The Imperium was formed by necessity soon after the
discovery of Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel early in the 23
rd
Century.  With massive over-population problems on Earth and the Sol system,
FTL was offered as a way to escape the overcrowding and presented huge
opportunities.  These were confirmed with the early discovery of many hundreds
of habitable worlds within a dozen light years of the Sol system; hence the
second exodus of mankind had commenced.  The first wave was led by the massive
system-wide conglomerates that had formed on Earth and led to the initial
colonisation of the Sol system.  With access to the large colony ships and FTL
engines they led the first wave of settlers, intent on profit; these were realised
beyond their wildest dreams!

With abundant natural resources and no need for expensive
environmental habitats or terraforming, these early corporations could
under-cut all.  As the cost of FTL travel fell the next waves were the
religious and persecuted political groups.  By pooling funds they could afford
the massive costs charged by the conglomerates – which now found a lucrative
secondary source of income for the now mothballed FTL colony ships.  Within a
decade humanity had spread to a dozen star systems, within a century over a
hundred different star systems had become colonised. However, then came the
Great Schism.

With the most easily colonisable systems already established
and huge profits at stake, conflict quickly spread.  Initially this was fought
between the conglomerates over newly discovered systems but soon spread to
recently established colonies where the conglomerates fought over who had
ownership.  With no legal framework that could be agreed beyond the Sol system,
it became a free for all.  With the side having the most ships often winning
the disputes.  It was during the peak of these conflicts that the separatist
movement first appeared. 

Abundant in natural raw materials the early colonies had
become rich, but this wealth was being shipped back to the Sol system to line
the coffers of the conglomerates.  Incensed that others were becoming rich off
the back of the early colonists, and long since having become self-sufficient
they declared their independence and rebelled.  War spread across colonised
space like wildfire, leaving no colony untouched. 

It is impossible to measure the loss of life, but historians
estimate that it was in the hundreds of millions; interstellar trade all but
collapsed.  It was in the forge of war that the coalition of worlds, precursor
to the Imperium was founded. 

An enigmatic leader of one of the earliest colonies Edward
Aurelius proposed a mutual defence pact with a number of the nearest smaller
colonies.  This was based on the idea of mutual defence; if one member were
attacked all would come to the defence.  After a few initial victories, the
idea was an unqualified success.  For the first time peace spread between the
founding colonies and they were able to rebuild their shattered industries and
economies.  Initially these colonies ran separate patrols of their systems;
soon these were being combined to form joint patrols.  Finally the fleets of
the various systems were combined into one overall organisation, the forerunner
of the modern-day Imperial Navy. 

The other colonies still plagued by attacks and with almost
all trade halted, requested entry to this newly formed coalition.  However, the
early founding colonies had used their rebuilt industries and economies to
become rich and powerful.  They were distrustful of the other colonies, viewing
them with suspicion.  Lead by the powerful Edward Aurelius the cost of entry to
the coalition was set high; tribute was demanded in terms of ships, people,
resources and raw materials, in return they offered security and stability. 
Staring into the abyss of destruction most colonies accepted the onerous terms
of entry.  The initial founding colonies of the coalition became the core
worlds, the latter entrants the rim worlds.  Over time the coalition evolved
into the Imperium – where the threat of expulsion and withdrawal of protection
from the fleet was enough to keep all but the most fool-hardly colonies
inline.  Eventually Edward Aurelius passed into the history books, with his
power base secured.  Within the Imperium succession was passed onto his eldest
son James. 

For 500 years the Empire ensured the peace, via the threat
of expulsion and withdrawal of the protection from the Imperial Navy.  As generations
passed the Aurelius family tightened their hold on power until they become
synonymous with the Empire.  With the backing of the Imperial Navy and his
elite Praetorian Guards, the Emperor’s grip over the Imperium was… absolute.

 

Chapter One

 

Five Years Previously

The “Imperial Star” – Flagship of the Imperial Navy,
Epsilon Indi System

 

The sporadic flash of light from the ships’ navigation
lights were the only indication of the passage of the massive Imperial
taskforce, as it glided effortlessly through space.  Occasionally a ray of
light from a distant star would briefly illuminate a section of hull, bristling
with gun batteries or flight decks.  The flotilla of ships was a huge force to
be reckoned with, one that few enemies would confront directly.

Being late at night ship time, the corridors of the
Imperial
Star,
flagship of the Imperial Navy were mostly deserted as Jonathan Radec
made his way purposefully towards his destination.  At almost six feet in
height, with dark hair and grey eyes, at twenty-five he was the youngest
Commander in the fleet, dressed in the white uniform of the Imperial Navy, with
the crossed-swords insignia of his squadron, the 58
th
, the Emperor’s
elite Praetorian Guard.  Resting at his hip was his ceremonial sword worn by
all Praetorians to reflect their sworn duty to defend the Emperor. 

With the combined role of personal bodyguards for the
Emperor and his immediate family as well as his aide-de-camp within the
Imperial Navy, the Praetorians represented the full authority of the Emperor
and the combined might of the far-flung star-systems that made up the human
Imperium.  Answerable only to the Emperor and permitted access anywhere, their
insignia represented the full power and authority of the Empire.

It was therefore with some considerable surprise that Jon
noticed the doors to the Emperor’s personal chambers barred to his approach.

“State your business here,” insisted one of the two imposing
guards that were guarding the door, weapons crossed.  Towering over the
Commander, they must have been over six and a half feet in height and Jon guessed
they weighed almost 250 pounds each.  They both stared down at him
dismissively, much as one might observe a bothersome insect.

Not in the slightest bit intimidated, Jon paused for a
second or so to draw the guard’s full attention to himself.  The guard who had
demanded his purpose flinched on meeting his gaze.  Jon’s eyes had darkened to
an ice-cold grey that conveyed the peril they placed themselves in by blocking
his path.

“Jonathan Radec, Commander of the 58
th
squadron,
the Praetorian Guards.  My business with the Emperor is my own, as is the
decision to let you live, if you
ever
bar my entrance again.”  Jon
insisted with a chilling tone, a fanatical fire burning in his eyes.  To
emphasise the point he wrapped his hand around the hilt of the weapon resting
at his waist.

The name did not register with the guards for a moment,
until the officer’s title and squadron slowly percolated through their thought
processes.  
The Praetorian Commander!  
The two guards quickly stumbled
back a few steps to clear his path.

The Commander’s reputation preceded him. Especially his
often-capricious nature!  Rumours abound the fleet suggested that he had
summarily executed the last officer who had refused a direct order – along with
two others that had subsequently intervened.  The Commander was a man that
nobody crossed twice - few rarely lived past the first encounter!    

Giving both guards a long stare for a few heartbeats longer
Jon strode forward, the doors silently sliding open to permit his entry.

Once past the guards and the doors having slid shut, Jon
allowed a frown of concern to touch his expression.  For the past few weeks a
sense of unease had crept up on him; much like the encounter that had just
taken place.  Unfamiliar faces, unexpected confrontations and a general sense
of distrust and resentment aboard the ship.  Over time Jon had come to
recognise fewer and less friendly faces and trying to maintain a constant level
of alertness was beginning to take its toll.  Jon had often found himself
considering taking his concerns to the Commodore.  Commodore Harkov was
in-charge of the task force that the
Imperial Star
was currently
attached to and had final sway in all fleet wide decisions. 

Jon had quickly discounted this for several reasons; after
all what was he going to express as his concerns – that he felt uneasy about
the atmosphere on the ship?  He would be laughed off the Commodore’s bridge! 
It did not help matters that Jon and the Commodore had…history.  Several months
earlier during an ambush by separatist rebels, Jon had refused the order to
withdraw given by then Admiral Harkov.  Jon’s decision had saved their task force
from complete annihilation and had resulted in Harkov’s demotion; the decision
had resulted in bad blood between them.  Instead, Jon made a mental note to
bring up his concerns with his master.

The Emperor’s spacious apartments were luxuriously
decorated.  Not for the first time, Jon felt uncomfortable crossing the
threshold from the spartanly decorated interior of the
Imperial Star.
 
The thick carpet now underfoot, and rich tapestries and paintings hanging from
the walls made him feel as if he had stepped into another world.  The normally
bright apartments were currently dimly lit, not surprising due to the lateness
of the hour.  Not finding anybody in the reception ante-chamber that made-up
the main entrance, Jon proceeded through the apartments towards the main
observation lounge.  The Emperor usually used this larger space for
entertaining guests and Jon often found him there.

Upon entering the larger room, Jon’s gaze was drawn to the
large observation window that consisted of one full-length width of the room. 
The Emperor liked to use this room for meetings as the starscape reminded the
guests of the size and power of the Empire…and the Emperor.  Having little
interest in staring out of windows, Jon cast his gaze intently around and
finally spotted the Emperor in the far corner, observing the rest of the task
force from the window.  Unsure if the Emperor had noticed his appearance, Jon
fell to one knee ensuring to keep a close grip on the hilt of his sword so as
not to impale himself. 

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