Neral, Praetor of the Romulan Empire, stood rigidly and stared into Selonia's eyes.
"When will I see you again, my wife?"
"Soon, Husband," Selonia said adjusting the collar of her dress in a manner that caused his breath to quicken. She slowly stepped towards him and batted her eyes. "But I still have work here. Remember, our plan is not yet completed. We have removed our external enemies, but now we must consolidate our strength within the Empire itself."
"But is this the way?" he asked with great concern. "The Empire has long moved past the blood lust of our ancestors. The Senate will not share your obsession with reintroducing the old customs."
"Oh, Husband," Selonia said taking a final step towards him and running her right hand gently towards the point of his ear. "Lust is the most deeply held of Romulan virtues. It is what separates us from our cold, weak, impotent Vulcan cousins. It is what fuels our cunning, our drive to dominate and conquer. It is what causes our green blood to boil towards ultimate victory…" She leaned forward and let her lips brush against his. He gasped as he reached up to run his fingers through her long, blonde hair. Just as he reached forward to pull her into his grasp, she stepped away, leaving him gasping for more.
"Remember that passion, Husband. Use it to attract the Senators and their wives we discussed to Dacen next week. Leave it to me, and I will remind them what it means to be Romulan as well."
Neral's face parsed as he realized how his young wife was manipulating him, but he had come this far. He wouldn't dare turn back now.
"And what then, Wife? I will be known as the Praetor who sent the Empire into its worst war in history."
"Oh no, My Love," Selonia said with her trademark grin. "You will be remembered as Neral Augustus, the greatest Romulan to ever live. I have already proven that I can break the most defiant of those who would stand against us. Tigranian is but a preview of what is yet to come.
With the Senators and their Legions united behind you, we will sail to Qo'noS and slaughter the Noble Houses. The common, Klingon dogs will greet us as liberators and then we will rule the Beta Quadrant. Then, with our new Klingon auxiliaries acting as shock troops, our squadrons will crush the Federation. Cardassia will fall by default, then the Breen will bow down. Finally, our legionnaires will strip the latinum from the Ferengi Tower of Commerce and lay it in tribute at your feet. Even the Borg will fear you! The stars will become 'Galaxy Nostrum."
Imagine it, Husband: your visage, carved in marble fifty meters high, gazing out over San Francisco Bay. For eternity, it will remind the humans, Vulcans, and their rabble that they forever kneel in the direction of Romulus."
"You certainly have an imagination, Wife," Neral said with unease as he still attempted to get his baser instincts under control.
"I prefer to call it 'vision' My Love," Selonia said feigning bashfulness as she curled one of her golden locks around her finger. "And I promise, as our enemies' blood spills into the icy vacuum of space, I will stand beside you the entire time."
She could see his discomfort and walked back to his embrace. She allowed him to wrap his arms around her.
"We will become gods as we seize the heavens together…" she whispered in his ear before planting a kiss on his lips. Then, she pulled away again.
"But the first step is convincing our guests to come here for a demonstration of what a domesticated alien truly looks like."
"Yes, Wife," Neral said finally acquiescing to Selonia's wishes.
"Good!" Selonia said with another one of her childish smiles. "Now, if things continue to proceed as planned, I will return to Romulus within the month, and we will finish where we left off…"
"My love to you, Wife."
"And mine to you, Husband. Cease Transmission."
The holographic projection of Neral disappeared and Selonia shivered with revulsion. Even though Neral's touch was only a simulation of photons and forcefields, it still caused her skin to crawl. The creature had lusted after her since she was a child, and her own family encouraged it to get closer to the Praetor's chamber.
She simultaneously pushed the bile down in her throat while also suppressing the memories of her father, Senator Vreenak, leading her by the hand into the sunroom of her clan's country villa. Neral would wait for her there with spiced wine and fruit while his actual wife and child remained in Ki Baratan. When she cried to her mother, the woman who birthed her merely referred to it as, "the curse of beauty," and brushed it aside. Selonia shed no tears when she died. As to her father, if the Dominion hadn't murdered Vreenak, she might have done it herself when she was old enough.
Once the galaxy was hers, she greatly anticipated the elderly Neral's untimely death. With the Senate wrapped around her fingers, it should be no issue for her to be named Praetor in his place.
Selonia pushed open the doors and walked out into the courtyard of the Seranius' villa.
"Vrixia! Seranius!" she called with excitement. Her friend rushed forward with her husband right behind her.
"Is it set?" Vrixia asked grabbing Selonia's hands in hers.
"It is," Selonia replied with a grin. "Your home will host the most exclusive gathering in the Empire: twenty of the most influential Senators, their consorts, and their entourages. Your name will be spoken across all the Romulan stars with reverence."
"We have so much to prepare!" Vrixia said flushing green with excitement. "Everything must be perfect, Seranius."
"Worry not about a thing, my friends," Selonia said. "Order delicacies from across the stars. Buy the best slaves for dancing and entertainment from every market you can find. Ensure only the best gold, silver, latinum, and china is presented and bill everything to the Praetor's accounts. This is my gift to you all."
"You are truly the most righteous of Romulan sisters," Vrixia said nearly jumping up and down.
"Oh," Selonia said beginning to walk around the courtyard. She examined the large fountain with a flat, marble stage raised in its center. "This is to help us both. We will remind the leadership of Romulus what they could have again. We will have slave girls dancing in the fountains here," she said pointing into the water. "Then, after the main meal is served, we will showcase your gladiators' talents on this stage. Pick a pair of your best to fight to the death for our guests' entertainment."
"It will be done, all of it!" Seranius said obediently.
"Of course it will," Selonia said turning towards the veranda overlooking the training pit.
"Then, as a culmination to the evening, we will present our greatest prize. We will show them all even the most obstinate of opponents will eventually bow to Romulan superiority. He will be ready, will he not?"
She walked out towards the veranda with Seranius and Vrixia in tow.
"Yes, My Lady," Seranius said keeping pace. "The reports I have received indicate that he is finally starting to mesh with the training program. He works quite hard and is getting along well with the other gladiators."
"Excellent," Selonia said gazing down on the gladiators training in the pit beneath. Her eyes found Tigranian. "I look forward to showing him off."
On the sands below, Tigranian could feel Selonia's eyes gazing down on him. He suppressed the rage and disgust he felt and continued to focus on helping Rellas and Tulan work on a spear versus sword sparring match.
"Good Tulan," Tigranian said leaning forward again to examine the boy's technique. "Remember his reach is longer, so you must stay firmly planted. Parry his thrusts and wait for an opening to close."
Onorok was cooperating with the captain's tutelage today, providing guidance to Rellas. He actually felt that he and Tigranian were starting to become quite a pair, each serving the ludus in their own way.
"Yes! Keep the spear moving! He will try to get underneath you, so you must anticipate his motion. Watch his shoulders. They will betray his next attack."
"Careful, Onorok," Tigranian said with a grin. "If you keep coaching Rellas that way, you might actually be able to create a student who can defeat someone I teach."
"You can fight, Human, but your skill in the arena will never match your arrogance."
"Some call it arrogance, I call it confidence!" Tigranian suddenly shouted at Tulan. "Now, boy! Strike!"
Tulan dipped down and grabbed the shaft of Rellas' weapon, pulling it from his grasp. The boy placed his blade at his opponent's throat, ending the match.
"Haha! Excellent, young one," Tigranian said grabbing Tulan around his shoulders and tussling his hair.
"Gladiators! Attention!" the voice of a guard echoed through the pit. Seranius entered, flanked by two Romulan enforcers. Training stopped as everyone gazed upon the master of the ludus, out of place among them in his pompous, expensive robes.
"Onorok," Seranius said beckoning his instructor forward.
"Yes Master," he replied bowing his head.
"The house will play host to a great feast in the coming days. Our patron demands a match to appease her guests and she will have it."
"Yes Master," Onorok said obediently. "I will begin evaluating the gladiators for our best…"
"No, Onorok," Seranius said raising his hand. "This match is a blood match, guaranteed to end in death. We cannot spare our best destined for the arena. These two you were coaching will do quite nicely."
Rellas and Tulan exchanged glances as they realized one would be executed at the hand of other for the satisfaction of the Romulans.
"Master!" Tigranian said feigning submission to gain Seranius' attention. "I volunteer!" If someone was going to die, it might as well be him and not his new companions.
"No, Human," Seranius said. "Your owner has special plans for you. These two are merely the evening's entertainment." Rellas planted his spear into the sand as the color drained from his face. Tulan looked equally disturbed.
As Seranius turned to leave, Onorok took a step in his direction.
"Master…" the instructor said. "Do we think it wise to sacrifice fighting stock in an exhibition match? Surely your guests would be happy with a spirited bout that ends with life?"
Seranius turned and puffed his chest out.
"Remember your place, Onorok!" he said angrily. "If this match goes well, we will gain enough money and prestige to buy a hundred gladiators that will put these two to shame. Our Lady demands death and she will have it!
Question me again, and I will remind you that you a merely a slave in this house as well by taking the place of one of these two."
Seranius haughtily turned and exited the pit with this guards. When the Romulan turned his back, Tigranian took a step towards him, but the hand of Tulan on his wrist stayed him.
"No, Son of Tigranian, you must live to bring hope to others. Our fate is sealed," he whispered.
A defeated and dejected Onorok took a deep breath before placing a supportive hand on Rellas' shoulder. In the decades he had served this ludus, Seranius had never addressed him in such a way. Tigranian walked over and stared into the instructor's face.
"Now, do you see? They are not worth your loyalty," Tigranian said angrily.
"The pointed-ears care nothing of our loyalty to them, Terran. They only want obedience. Remember that."
Tigranian looked around the pit at the other gladiators, now staring at him.
"How could I forget?" he said balling his fists at his sides.