The Office at 2 Palace Square

The desk in front of you is a rich, dark ebony. It has the classic look of something made by a master Tavari carpenter, with bold, clean, straight lines everywhere in the design. It is relatively unornamented, but it is so well polished it gleams in the sunshine pouring through the windows. Between the two windows, hanging on the wall right behind where the desk’s occupant would sit, is a massive circle made of dark stone - almost black - like the calendars found in the oldest Tavari shrines, etched with the Great Seal of Tavaris. Each letter is inlaid with sterling silver, and in the center is the Tavari four-pointed star inlaid with mother-of-pearl. As you wait, you idly tap your foot on plush violet carpet, the same shade as the silk curtains draped aside the windows.
There are several bookshelves in the room, made of ebony to match the desk, each one of them holding as many books as they could fit. From place to place around the room are various paintings, busts of historical figures, a few framed documents, and in one corner of the room, what appears to be some sort of volleyball trophy. There are photographs on the walls as well, but you don’t recognize anyone in them. They’re family photos, you realize - sentimental reminders of happy times, perhaps to help provide some peace and familiarity in the midst of chaos. Guideposts, beacons in the dark, like the star that guided the Tavari to Avnatra more than two thousand years ago.
Welcome to the office of the Tavari Prime Minister. Ms. Nevran Alandar will be with you shortly.


The purpose of this thread is to serve as a place where I can post vignettes or stories that are otherwise unconnected to any particular RP thread about how the Tavari Prime Minister of the day is responding to events occurring in Tavaris, or responding to foreign news reports. It is not meant to be a continuous narrative, just a periodic look into how the Tavari government is responding to various particular events.

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Office of the Prime Minister
2 Palace Square
Nuvrenon, Tavaris

May 12th, 2021

The Prime Minister’s head made a dull thud as it hit her desk. Without even bothering to lift it, she groaned for what felt like an entire minute, though it was probably less. “Jaak, you’re killing me,” she said aloud in the hopes that the speakerphone would pick her up.

“I apologize ma’am, I didn’t like the news either.” Jaak Moenarr Vahi, the Tavari ambassador to the International Forum Security Council, did sound genuinely empathetic, but of course he knew as well as she did that not liking news of international diplomacy very rarely actually meant anything.

“Ancestors on high,” said Žarís Nevran Alandar with a sigh as she finally lifted her head from her desk. “I need more bandwidth to deal with this. I don’t have time for a Packilvanian crisis.”

“They were nice enough to mention in their media that we voted yes,” Jaak offered as a pick-me-up.

The Prime Minister did not feel picked up. “It’s only a matter of time,” she said in a defeated tone of voice. “We can’t run on Great War fumes with Pax forever. We have been spending more than a decade trying to align ourselves with Norgsveldet, and our new friends in Tretrid are doing the same. If this is the company we keep, the Sultan isn’t going to be fond of us for long.”

“Are you suggesting…”

“Oh, heavens no,” said Žarís quickly. “No, we made the right choices with the UCA and with Tretrid. Not to mention we just joined the Tolinsk Accords. No, what I mean is that things are about to get very awkward and we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we are going to lose the good faith we have with Packilvania. I mean, did you see the business about the Packilvanian ship near Norgsveldet? They’re sending an entire carrier group. They clearly mean business here and I doubt this is going to fizzle.”

“Yes. Which is exactly why it’s such a shame that the Council denied them. It would have made reaching out to them easier. It would have been easier for all of us. I have to imagine there are a lot of Prime Ministers having conversations like ours right now.” Jaak sighed in resignation. Have you spoken with Tuvria? I saw him in the hallway just a few minutes ago, he seemed… haunted.”

“No,” sighed the Prime Minister. “He doesn’t take my calls, he says he needs to appear independent from the Tavari government as Secretary-General. Which is fair, but I do miss him. He was my mentor, after all.” Žarís let her eyes linger for a moment at a photo on the back wall of her and Šano on the day he appointed her Deputy Prime Minister. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“True enough, I suppose. I don’t envy his job,” Jaak admitted.

“And I don’t envy yours.” Žarís smirked. “What’s on the agenda for today, did you say?”

“The civil war in Helslandr,” he replied, “along with a few membership applications, most likely. And only the spirits know what else.”

“Helslandr.” The Prime Minister frowned. “That’s another NCEF venture, isn’t it?”

“I believe so, yes. I admit I’m not necessarily up to speed on Helslandr’s specific details.”

“Do you have access to the UCA intelligence reports we receive? I’ll make sure you get them in the future. In the meantime, my staff can email you what we have on Helslandr.” As she spoke, the Prime Minister motioned with her hand to get the attention of the staffer standing in her office. She liked to have one present whenever she was on the phone for moments exactly like this. The staffer nodded in understanding and briskly left the room to get the reports ready.

“Thank you, Prime Minister, I hadn’t been able to get them before. Session is about to begin, though, so I’ll probably need to read them in the meeting.” There was the sound of commotion behind Jaak, the Prime Minister could hear.

“I’ll let you go. Thank you for the update.” Žarís hung up the phone, not one to wait for the other end of the line to say their goodbyes. Not in this job. She didn’t have the time. “Nama? Thoughts?”

The Minister of Defense walked into the room, a tall woman with a severe expression and silvery-white hair done up in a perm. She had not changed her hairstyle since the 90s at least. Her curls, like her lips and her attitude, were as tight as possible. “On Packilvania? Or Helslandr?”

“I’ll talk with the UCA people about Helslandr. Pax is the shark in the fish pond I’m worried about right now.”

“You’re absolutely right on Pax,” said the Minister of Defense. “I expect in the next few years we’ll see things chill even further than they have already. We’ve certainly been cordial and polite with them for a long time, but it’s clear we’re moving away from them. Morstaybishlia, too, the closer we get to Norgsveldet. We should plan on that, too.”

“And yet, at the same time, Tretrid is very close to them,” said Žarís.

“Well I never said this sort of thing was simple. We’re warming up to Durakia as well, but they’re also on relatively decent terms with Arkalarius, with whom we certainly are not. But I’m your Defense Minister, not ExtAff. In terms of national security, my honest opinion on Pax is that we ought to reduce the staff in their embassy.”

“Oh, Nama, you cannot be serious.” Žarís furrowed her brows. “That’s a blatant escalation. That’s the opposite of what we need.”

“With all due respect ma’am, I think that you - that the entire Tavari government - need to take matters of intelligence more seriously. We need to take the lesson of Ni-Rao to heart. We had no idea that was coming. We had no idea of a massive underground movement of Communists who infiltrated their entire military apparatus. That had to have taken years of planning.” The Minister of Defense spoke bluntly, as was her specialty. It was exactly why Žarís hired her.

That said, Nama Oren Kantoreš was also the country’s most infamous war-hawk. Žarís disagreed with her quite often, but even so, it was important - and helpful - to have her perspective. No one knew how to steer the country’s defense apparatus like her.

“I know we got caught with our pants down in Ni-Rao. I know we did. Making better intelligence decisions is important, but it doesn’t justify a diplomatic slap to the face to what is almost certainly the angriest country on Urth at the moment. I mean, spirits above, they just had the door of diplomacy slammed in their face. An escalation now would risk, well… creating the very monster we seek to avoid.”

“I’ll get you a set of proposals to look through. We can rearrange shipping routes and naval transport routes, at the very least. Keep an eye on the sorts of people from Packilvania entering the country, send larger military delegations to joint training exercises, those sorts of things. And I will send you a proposal on trimming embassy staff, because I think we need to do it now. If we aren’t being proactive, we’re being reactive.”

“Very well,” said Žarís. “Say, speaking of Ni-Rao, what are the chances they’d get involved in that? Are they gonna want to throw their power around in places where there are felines?”

“That’s a question for ExtAff, ma’am,” said the Minister of Defense. “I can tell you we haven’t seen any Packilvanians in Ni-Rao yet, and as far as I know the two countries have had essentially no contact ever.” She paused. “I’ll look into it.”

“Thank you, Nama,” said Žarís. “I look forward to the reports. Oh, and Nama?”

“Yes, ma’am?” She had already turned to leave, but she stopped and turned around.

“Speaking of intelligence… send me some proposals on what our embassy people in Pax can do.”

The Minister of Defense grinned. It was an odd sight, to be sure. “They’ll be on your desk tomorrow morning. Good day, Prime Minister.” She bowed and left, leaving Žarís alone in her office.

She relished the few seconds of quiet while she had it, because it wasn’t likely to stick around.

“Otto Mistov is on line two,” said the intercom.

Žarís smirked. Back to work.

Naval Air Station TN-9011
Taidalar Township, Nuvo Province

7 October 2021
5:04 AM East Tavaris Time (UTC -8:00)

The world was silent.

Žarís Nevran Alandar stood on the tarmac of a military airstrip on the southern tip of King’s Island. She visited airstrips like these all the time—Tavari facilities and foreign ones, too—and usually didn’t think very much about them at all. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Tavari Armed Forces, and the head of government of a nuclear power, it was quite likely that she would never see the inside of a civilian airport for the rest of her life. The asphalt under her feet, the harsh halogen floodlights, the distant low, squat buildings of drab concrete and steel, all of those could have been any one of the hundreds of military air bases she had visited in the world just like this one, except for one thing.

The metallic groan of an aircraft opening its cargo hold shattered the silence of the dark early morning, followed by the harsh grating of a ramp extending down to the ground. Žarís did not jump. This sound, too, could have happened anywhere. But, for one reason or another, that particular sound happened here at NAS TN-9011 more than anywhere else in Tavaris. Lately, because it happened to be the closest Tavari military facility to Ni-Rao.

This would be the fourth time in a month that the Prime Minister of Tavaris had come to greet the bodies of soldiers she had sent to their deaths.

In a few hours, the Tavari public would be informed that on Wednesday afternoon, 36 Tavari soldiers had lost their lives in a surprise roadside attack in North Ni-Rao, more than a hundred kilometers from the front line. It was the largest Tavari loss of life in a single military encounter in 17 years. 34 of them had been married. 26 of them had been parents. Two of them had been veterans of the Arkian Civil War, both of them decorated with the King Utor Medal—the second-highest honor in the Royal Tavari Armed Forces. One of them, a postmortem medical examination had determined, had been in the early stages of pregnancy, likely unknown even to the soldier. The unborn child was the 37th casualty, the first Tavari civilian to die in a war since 1916.

Žarís Nevran Alandar stood silent and unmoving as 37 fallen heroes were taken off the plane in 36 flag-draped caskets. Under the harsh lighting of the airstrip, the flags could be seen in their true glory, in full color. But one of the coffins was different. 35 of them were draped in the black-and-white “Auspicious Banner,” designed by King Utor himself and chosen as the flag of the Kingdom of Tavaris on the very first day of its existence. One casket—12th in line by Žarís’ count, indistinct from the others save for its colors—was draped in powder blue. At the head of the casket, a thick white stripe and a bright golden disc. This flag had been flown for much longer than the Tavari black and white, centuries longer, but had never before been given the honor of being laid atop the casket of a hero.

For the first time in history, a fallen daughter of Native Rodoka would return home for the very last time under her own flag. She and, as Žarís alone among the people on the tarmac knew, her unborn child. Each of the fallen soldiers was important. Each of the fallen soldiers was loved. But it was the powder blue casket that kept the Prime Minister’s attention.

When Žarís had instituted the new flag policy, some in the top brass had disliked the change. It marked the Native Rodokans as different, they said. They stood out, and the flag implied that they weren’t Tavari at all, but something else. But she disagreed. As she stood there and looked at the caskets in the line, with one Rodokan flag surrounded by so many Tavari, she knew then that now—for the first time—the Native Rodokans weren’t different. The woman in the 12th casket was just as Tavari as all the others. She, and her people, had their own symbol, but that did not cast her apart. It illustrated that the Kingdom of Tavaris stood for something greater. A single golden Rodokan sun surrounded by 140 Tavari stars, all of them forming parts of the same sky.

Each of the caskets was carried by two sailors of the Royal Tavari Navy, each of them in their dress whites. As the very last of the caskets was carried down the ramp and onto the casket, two lines of soldiers in purple walked up in perfect lock-step to stand on either side of each sailor. These were Royal Tavari Marshals, and they would be responsible for taking each of the caskets home. The deep violet of their jackets was a badge of honor from the King, marking Marshals alone above all others in the military as legally authorized to enforce Tavari law on the soil of the home islands. Marshals were police officers, coast guard personnel, immigration staff, and today, honor guardswomen and men.

Žarís Nevran Alandar was one of only three civilians permitted to view the ceremony. Years of sectarian and religious controversy—protests, riots, even murders—over differences in veneration of the dead among the two native religions of Avnatra had made it so the Armed Forces could no longer permit even members of the families to stand vigil. For this reason, Žarís tried her damndest to make certain she was on the tarmac every single time a fallen Tavari was brought home. In her day job, she represented the Tavari public in the government. At NAS TN-9011, she had a far more sacred task: to stand in for the families and greet these dead daughters and sons.

In 72 distinct but perfectly synchronized movements, the white-clad sailors handed off their caskets to the violet-jacketed Marshals and then, moving to the side of the line and turning to face the caskets, stood at attention and executed a salute. The two guards flanking the Prime Minister saluted as well; Žarís did not. The salute was for the soldiers to say goodbye to their own. Instead, she clasped a flat hand on her chest and bowed.

There were no trumpets nor drums to break the silence. Music was for celebrating, and this was not a celebration. No music ever played upon the return of a fallen Tavari soldier, and it hadn’t for 717 years and counting. No one even spoke. An Akronist priestess and a Tavat Avati shrinemaster stood on the tarmac as well, just in front of the plane’s cargo doors, but they performed their rites silently, and without even moving their hands. Instead, every living person on the landing strip that morning simply stood and watched the caskets as the Marshals carried them slowly and carefully into the terminal building.

Only two words were ever spoken at this ceremony, and they were only ever spoken once the last casket was out of sight. It was the job of the Commander-in-Chief to say them, and they were the first two words of the Tavari national anthem. Just a simple, quiet wish, given from the mouth of the Tavari people to the sky of flagged caskets and the sky above them all.

“Monarelkanar voi.”

March onward.

Official Residence of the Tavari Prime Minister
300 Zaram Avenue
Nuvrenon, Tavaris

25 August 2022
3:24 AM East Tavari Time (UTC -8:00)


Residence of the Prime Minister
300 Zaram Ave
Nuvrenon, Tavaris

29 December 2022
1:11 AM Tavari Mainland Time (UTC -8:00)

All it took was one light touch on the shoulder to rouse the Tavari Prime Minister from her slumber.

“Visual contact with Banian aircraft in Good Harbor,” whispered the aide into Žarís’ ear.

“Clear to engage,” the Prime Minister said into her pillow.

“I- ma’am?” The aide’s hand hovered unsurely over the Prime Minister’s shoulder and he hesitated, unsure if he had heard her correctly.

The Prime Minister clicked her tongue and turned her head. “Clear to engage ,” Žarís said again, quite clearly and quite sharply.

“They haven’t opened fire, ma’am,” the aide said in a reassuring voice, as if to make something clear to the Prime Minister that she hadn’t known.

“I’m aware , but the Federation of Bana does not get to breach our airspace. Not because they’re upset someone killed their Premier, because it sure as narasq wasn’t us and they sure as narasq know it.” Žarís was sitting up now and had turned on the light at her bedside so she could properly stare daggers into the eyes of the soldier standing-

Or, wait, no, this one was wearing a regular suit, which meant he was a civilian attache. A closer look at the badge hung around his neck indicated he was not with the Ministry of Defense or even External Affairs but Internal Affairs. The Royal Tavari Marshalls—the branch of the armed forces who since their formation had always handled matters of domestic intelligence as well as all domestic law enforcement—were in the process of being demilitarized and transitioned to Internal Affairs after the absolute failure of the intelligence community to predict or assuage anything about the rampant sectarianism that had nearly, and in some ways successfully, torn the country apart. So it was now the responsibility of some poor civil servant, not a soldier, to wake her up when some threat required her attention.

And so it was suddenly clear to Žarís why what should have been a routine, brief wake up for verbal confirmation—something that occurred multiple times a week most of the time, and multiple times a night in March and April—was going so poorly. This sap had no clue what he was doing.

“There were warning shots fired when they crossed the border, correct? And they were pursued to the Good Harbor defense sector? Can you confirm?” Žarís tried to soften her voice but there was only so much she could do when there were foreign military jets in her airspace.

“Er, I… I don’t…” The man looked down at a folder he was clutching in his hands, to no avail. “I don’t know, ma’am,” he finally said to his shoes.

“You’re useless to me, get out !” Žarís pinched the bridge of her nose with one hand while pointing with the other. She spoke loud enough so that the night aide in the office down the hall would hear her and know to get someone competent in the room.

As it so happened, Endra Tivriš Žovradai, former Prime Minister, former Minister of External Affairs, and newly minted Minister of Defense, was at that exact moment striding quickly into the room he himself had slept in for seven years. He arrived just in time to have the Internal Affairs attache—a man, it so happened, exactly his height and with rather large tusks—stride quickly into him in the opposite direction. There was a terrible sound as the two men smacked their heads into one another and immediately, almost comically, collapsed to the ground in opposite directions, unconscious.

“I cannot fucking believe this is happening,” said Žarís, dumbfounded, as her legs practically autonomously carried her out of bed and over to the two men. Thankfully, they were already stirring by the time Žarís knelt down next to them, and Linai had already dashed out of bed to get the medical attendant. “Endra,” she said, cradling his head. “Endra, please, this is important, were warning shots fired at the Banian jets when they crossed the boundary?”

“Yes,” said Endra earnestly but clearly woozily. “Yes, yes, warning shots fired.”

“Are you okay ?” She turned to the other man. “Are you …? I’m sorry, I don’t know your name, are you alright?” The medical attendant had already arrived, along with a cluster of other people, and she pushed the Prime Minister aside brandishing a pen light in one hand and a pair of ice packs in the other.

One of the others who had entered wore a bright white military uniform and her voice was urgent to the point of being frantic. “Ma’am, I’ve still got this damned banana in the sky in Good Harbor, and it looks like at least one more approaching the boundary line. I have got to get an answer.” It was the Naval Chief of Staff, and Žarís could not have been happier to see her.

“Shoot them down, General. Clear. Go. Now .”

“Understood.” The General punched a single button on her satellite phone and sent the order. Hundreds of kilometers away, jets took off from the deck of the Royal Tavari Navy aircraft carrier Blade of Storm and executed an operation that almost every single naval aviator in Tavari history hoped to someday have the chance to do: they shot those Banians out of the sky, every single one that they saw.

The pilots would be greeted triumphantly as heroes when they returned to the deck of the Blade of Storm . Not a single one of them yet knew of the strange, slapstick circumstances that had occurred just before receiving their orders. Not a single one of them knew that the Royal Tavari Air Force had, in fact, failed to fire warning shots. Not a single one of them yet knew that one of the two jets shot down had not, in fact, crossed the Tavari-Banian border. All they knew was that they would be part of history—and of that, they were absolutely correct.

Office of the Prime Minister
2 Palace Square
Nuvrenon, Tavaris

23 January 2024
8:08 PM Tavari Mainland Time (UTC -8:00)

The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tavaris sat slumped over her desk, unmoving, staring at the entire world reflected, warped and distorted, on the surface of her wedding ring. It sat on the desk, a gleaming strip of gold atop handsome, elegant teak, but the sight evoked no beauty in the heart of Žarís Nevran Alandar. Only sadness and shame. The only light in the room came through the door that she hadn’t even bothered to close behind her and the lights of the city, distant through the window behind her. There was little to look at in the reflection, or really, anywhere else in the dark office, but she wasn’t really looking at it anyway. She had come to her office not to work but to steal a moment of time to wallow.

“Prime Minister?” A quiet, almost meek voice, and the barest hint of a knuckle rapped on the open door snapped Žarís out of her introspection. For a moment she was annoyed—who was still here at this hour?—but it was no mere intern who stood in her door frame. It was the Emperor of the Tavari.

“Emp-” The Prime Minister frantically made to stand up, but Otan held his hand up and she stopped. “I… didn’t know you were still here. I hope they didn’t tell you to wait for-”

“I came to check on you,” he said in that same soft voice. It felt strange to hear it from a man more than a decade her junior—it was hard to imagine the Emperor as anything other than a teenager. But that had been years ago, and Žarís ought to have been the last person to fall victim to that lingering Tavari prejudice against the young. The Emperor was a grown man, and he certainly showed it today. The rocket launch the entire country had been looking forward to for months had ended in tragedy that afternoon, an explosion mere seconds after liftoff, with the entire world watching live on television. The Emperor had had to give the speech that no head of state ever wanted—that Tavari astronauts had died a terrible death. He had done it with aplomb, of course. Žarís is glad that she had not been the one to do it. She wasn’t sure she would have been able to muster up any hope.

“I… Thank you, Emperor Otan. I’m… fine. Your speech today was incredible. Exactly what the country needs.” She paused. “I wish I could say the same of me.”

The Emperor arched an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. After just the barest of pauses, he stepped over the threshold into the room and walked up to the Prime Minister. “Does… does the Monarch typically…?” He gestured at the room around him, and it occurred to Žarís that the Emperor had hunched his shoulders and was ducking his head, as though he feared he was somewhere he shouldn’t have been.

“Oh, hm,” she said, lifting her head up with intrigue. It occurred to her that she didn’t actually know how often a King of the Tavari had ever stepped foot in this room. Usually the Prime Ministers went to the King, not the other way around. “I… you know, sir, yes, you may actually be the first monarch to ever step foot in this room. But I’ll allow it.” She paused and looked up for a moment at the man standing above her. “Should I… get you a chair?” She again made to stand up, and again the Emperor motioned for her to sit.

“Contrary to popular belief, I am capable of getting my own chair,” he said, offering a hint of a smile. He pulled a rolling chair away from the nearby meeting table and sat across the desk from the Prime Minister. “How are you doing?”

“Do you remember last year… when Sir Endra died?” The Prime Minister resumed staring at her wedding ring. The hand holding it, on which the ring ought to have been, had just the barest hint of an untanned, lighter green strip on the ring finger. She did normally wear it—the media would ask nosy questions if she didn’t—but it wasn’t the same anymore.

A look of confusion flashed over the Emperor’s face, but he dutifully answered the question. “How could I forget?”

“In the media reports, they said that the pneumatic tube incident involved a wedding ring that had come off the hand of ‘an employee in the Office of the Prime Minister,’” Žarís explained in a miserable voice.

The confusion on Emperor Otan’s face faded, replaced by somber recognition. “…Oh. I’m so sorry, Žarís. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine.”

“I’ve lost a lot of weight since the wedding, you see. Y’know, because I’ve felt so good and energized since the Accords.” She laughed, but it was a bitter, cruel sound that seemed almost to echo, sharply and coldly, in the dark office. “Spirits. You know how I feel? Sick. I’m just… I feel so low, so sickened. People keep dying, Emperor. People keep dying because of stupid, preventable mistakes. People keep dying because our government, our economy, our society has failed, over and over again, to properly adjust to this quote-un-quote ‘new age’ of ‘new technology’ that’s all twenty, thirty years old at this point”

The Emperor cocked his head just slightly. “Do we know what caused the explosion?”

“We all heard what she said, clear as day on live television. ‘The screens just rebooted and everything’s in Norgsveltian.’ It was a computer error. The entire spirits-damned rocket shutdown and rebooted in the middle of liftoff. It rebooted in stock configuration, which was of course in Norgsveltian because it was produced by Norgsveldet. There aren’t any Tavari companies making software like this. Not a single one. That rocket had software made by Norgsveltians, Morstaybishlians, Vistari… and the hardware wasn’t Tavari either. The Alkari built those semiconductor chips, because spirits know we don’t have any damn clue how to. There isn’t a single person in this country, apparently, who knows how to build an operating system for a rocket. So we had to go buy a bunch of off-the-shelf stuff that was never designed to work together, string it together with COBOL and FORTRAN, and, and… Emperor, do you know how software gets loaded into TASER spacecraft? TASER spacecraft in the Year of the Common Era Two Thousand and Twenty Four?” Žarís suddenly stood up, leaned forward with white knuckles grabbing the edge of her desk, and bared her tusks in rage as she said “On floppy disks!

Emperor Otan flinched. “I… I’m sure… I mean, sometimes the older technology is more secure… It might not even be unusual for-”

“We don’t use floppy disks because they’re more secure! We use floppy disks because the Tavari government never finished converting to bloody CD-ROM! Emperor, other countries can fit two terabytes onto one SD card but here we are loading mission critical, life-saving software on a set of two dozen floppy disks and praying nothing goes wrong.” The Prime Minister harrumphed bitterly, crossing her arms and staring out the window, before continuing much more quietly. “And don’t even get me started on the elderly man I murdered with a pneumatic tube that could have been an email. Obsolescence, Emperor. Obsolescence is killing our people, and it will continue to. We have to do something. I have to do something.”

The room was silent. The Prime Minister continued to stare out the window, her knuckles no less white in fists clenched at her sides. “It’s my fault,” she eventually said.

“Prime Minister, you cannot individually take responsibility for the result of decades of compounded policy failures committed by several governments and the private sector,” said Otan.

Žarís whirled around. “Someone has to!”

Otan kept his face even and his voice earnest. “You cannot. No one can.”

The Prime Minister harrumphed again, even more bitterly. It was a sound of disgust, raw and trembling with emotion. “I’ve had this book in my desk for almost ten spirits-damned years,” she said. Her angry hands yanked open a drawer and produced a well-worn paperback whose title Otan immediately recognized as having been a Nuvrenon News bestseller that had had everyone abuzz for months on end: Analog Tavaris: How Gerontocracy and Monopolization Have Killed Tavari Innovation in the Most Innovative Time in History. “Do you remember the digital TV transition? We knew damn well back then that the situation was already untenable. It sure hasn’t gotten any better.”

The transition from analog television signals—the exact same kind of radio waves that had been used to transmit television since the 1930s—to the ones-and-zeros of high definition digital television had been a massive boondoggle. Delayed three times due to both government and industry failing to be ready in time, it had been feared that the then relatively robust television ecosystem of the country would fall apart. A major part of the delay had been caused by the public’s dependence on and insistence in keeping the well-deprecated “teletext” feature that had been advocated by the Tavari government back in the 70s, when technology hadn’t been something everyone was afraid of. By the 2010s the rest of the world was perfectly happy getting their weather and sports information by Goggling it on their PrimPhones, but Tavaris demanded to be able to do it by pressing a button on their TV remote. Otan remembered there being much guffawing with his bunkmates on whatever ship he had been on at the time about old people and their fear of cell phones.

“Tavaris wasn’t always this way. Back in the 70s, Tavari television was cutting edge. And there were computers by then, too! We had plenty of computers in the 70s! But then the Internet happened and everyone in Tavaris lost their minds because of that damn… that stupid, spirits-damned cable.” The Prime Minister held the book aloft for good measure. “That damn Trans-Cerenerian Cable.”

The Trans-Cerenerian Cable, Otan remembered well from his history classes, had been an even bigger boondoggle. In fact, it was the ultimate boondoggle, the ur-boondoggle, the one every single Tavari student still learned about. For most people, the Trans-Cerenerian Cable was what killed the Tavari Empire. Built from 1858 until 1863—in several sections on a not particularly efficient route, since Tavari waters did not actually cover a straight shot north from Avnatra to mainland Novaris—the absolutely preposterous amounts of copper, rubber, and hemp fibre needed to build the cable consumed basically the country’s entire output of those products for years, not to mention the eye-popping sums of money the government shoveled into it instead of, say, the military, or building telegraph lines in Elatana, or just about anything else. Most of the funds “spent” on “the cable” weren’t even for the cable at all—they were barely disguised kickbacks for the handful of major Tavari business owners that the Liberals had slipped into the procurement contracts so they could count on their support in the next election. Ultimately, the Trans-Cerenerian Cable bankrupted the Tavari government, hamstrung its military, tarnished the government’s fiscal and ethical reputation among its own citizens and the world, and was named as one of the central defining factors in the country’s poor performance in the Gondwana Straits War. Failing to learn its lesson, the Tavari government continued to pour money into the cable after the war once telephones began to replace the telegraph, and the Royal Tavari Navy was still sporting the top-of-the-line guns from 1870 when it was practically demolished wholesale by the Asendavians and Banians in 1908.

But that had been well more than a century ago, and Otan hadn’t ever actually read Analog Tavaris. “What does the Trans-Cerenerian Cable have to do with…?”

“Because in the 1980s and 90s, when the rest of the world began to interconnect their mainframes and build what became the Urth-Wide Utility, every single lousy spirits-damned politician in this country, left, right, and center, looked at it, freaked the narasq out, and said ‘Oh, this means upgrading the cable? They’ll never let us spend money on the cable! We’ll ruin the country again!’ So we didn’t do it. Do you know who did? Ffffff-bloody Metradan. We had to give them 50/50 ownership of the cable. They own half the thing, all the way out to Metrati Anar. Still today. And they don’t want to give it up, either. It’s been a huge sticking point in the- well, I’m getting distracted. My point is, embittered nationalists yearning for centuries-old imperial glory days spent decades telling everyone how that cable had been a useless waste of resources that killed our glorious Empire—it isn’t even true, by the way, the cable didn’t cost that much, and it itself was plainly just a symptom of the underlying corruption that did kill the Empire and is still with us today—and so, when the time came that we really needed it, that we really could have become leaders, we shirked away in fear of change. We rejected upgrading our communications technology, which meant we rejected upgrading our computers, which meant we rejected upgrading our banking system, our manufacturing sector, our universities… everything! Now we’re playing catch-up, and we’re paying for it. Dearly. But what really gets me, what really gets me, is how none of this is new. Like I said, Emperor, I’ve had this book in my desk for a decade. I’ve campaigned on ‘building a Digital Tavaris.’ Are we building a Digital Tavaris, Emperor? I mean, spirits above, you know what operating system our aircraft carriers run on. Do you feel proud of our progress?”

The Emperor checked briefly over his shoulder to ensure there was no one standing outside the open office door before daring to verbally express an opinion. “No,” he said simply. “I’m not proud that our rockets run on Norgsveltian software. I’m not proud that Tavaris leads the world in cheque transactions and faxes per capita. I’m not proud that Tavaris has zero manufacturers of semiconductors but that the government spends millions of našdat a year propping up what might be the continent’s last remaining floppy disk factory…”

“We use them for the nukes,” the Prime Minister whispered through clenched teeth. “The nuclear program that began in Two Thousand and Eleven!” Even the ordinarily stoic soldier carrying that ominous suitcase that was never out of the Commander-in-Chief’s sight blinked, taken aback.

“… But, as astounding and unsettling as that is, Prime Minister, my original point stands. You cannot and should not bear all of this on your own shoulders. I’m sure Sir Shano Tuvria and Sir Aniríl Dravana Niktat read that book too. Putting all of that on your own shoulders, or even just the deaths today, doesn’t solve any problems, it’s just going to make you less capable. And, Žarís… Sir Endra wasn’t your fault, either. I remember reading that article. The emergency stop didn’t work. You weren’t personally-”

“It is my fault! My fault! He never should have been in that room at all!” Angry tears welled in the eyes of the Prime Minister and began to streak down her face. “He was seventy-eight years old! I… I… Humans don’t even work that long! Seventy-eight! I should never had appointed him, and I sure as hell shouldn’t have re-appointed him after the Accords! But I wanted continuity! I wanted the same-old thing I felt safe with, I wanted no change, I wanted exactly the same thing as all those other people who kicked the technological can down the road. The same impulse that made us afraid to stop faxing, I fell for hook line and sinker, and I killed a man! And now two astronauts are dead. These are public servants! These are heroes! Dead! Because of me!”

“Well, then stop screaming at me and go fix it, murderer.”

It was as though the Emperor had drop kicked the Prime Minister in the chest. She physically staggered back, dumbfounded and slack-jawed. In an instant the tears stopped, simply because the Prime Minister couldn’t process what she had heard. The Emperor took advantage of the silence to continue.

“Fix it or resign, you terrible, unorcish murderer.” His voice was level and his face deadpan.

“I… I…”

“You what? Well? It’s your fault, you just said. So go fix it. If you’re gonna plant your flag on this hill, if you’re going to personally take every fault of Tavari society on your own shoulders, then put on your big-girl pantsuit, stop whining at the figurehead state lawn ornament and go fix it.” For a moment, the Emperor held his gaze, wide-eyed and piercing, on the red, streaming eyes of the Prime Minister. But only for a moment. After a silence, both of their faces fell at the same time. “I’m sure you get my point,” said Otan quietly.

“I… I know that it isn’t… I mean, I know, but…”

“It was caused by more than one person. Generations of Tavari failing is what got us here, not one Diet Delegate. It will take more than one person to fix it. Claiming that you are the one, that you are the sole reason… well, that’s just hubris of a different kind, isn’t it? You, as Prime Minister, are certainly responsible for leading the government, but you can’t be responsible for every administrative failure, every lapse in judgment. And trying to just makes you incapable of doing what you actually need to be doing. I… I’m sure you know this. I’m sure you’re just… sad. It- it’s a normal thing. You have a right to be sad sometimes, just like everyone else. But, well, I mean, for one, Sir Endra said yes when you asked him, didn’t he?”

“Well, yes…”

“What has his family said to you about what happened?”

“They’ve been nothing but gracious and kind…”

“What did the families of the astronauts say to you?”

“That they were touched and honoured that I called, but-”

“All of these people, they signed up for these jobs by themselves, didn’t they? They didn’t get drafted. They had a choice. Sir Endra wasn’t the only orc north of 70 in the Diet, not even close. Lawyers, professors, all kinds of orcs who work cushy senior desk jobs that don’t actually require any work except ‘supervising’ stay in their jobs until they keel over. And while that’s not great, that sure as narasq isn’t just your fault, is it? And don’t even get me started on the astronauts. I mean, even when they were just in the regular Air Force they knew they were strapping into death traps every time they got into a regular plane, let alone a rocket. A rocket. Prime Minister, frankly, we send people to space by putting them in missiles that explode harder and faster than anything else ever designed by sapient life. This… this happens! I mean, this particular instance may turn out to have been preventable. But death in the space program as a whole, that’s just… it’s part of the cost.”

“I… you caught me in a moment of weakness, Your Esteemed Majesty.” The Prime Minister was staring at her feet.

“You’re entitled to them, from time to time. We all are. But, you know ma’am, I think the country would be better served if you went home to wallow over a glass of wine with your wife rather than here, alone, in this dark office. I mean…” He stopped to inspect the dark violet curtains and teak and ebony woodwork. “It isn’t exactly very bright in here regardless. Have you considered… perhaps some boxwood? Even a nice, light mahogany?”

The Prime Minister looked up at the Emperor and laughed. For the first time that night, a smile crossed her face. “I’ll take it under advisement,” she said. “But, Emperor… did you really come all this way to tell me to go home? You can’t see my office from the Palace. I know this for a fact because the government explicitly designed Government Center One that way when it was built. And even if you could, my office light wasn’t on. How did you know I was here?”

“You haven’t put the lid on.”

Žarís blinked. “Putting the lid on” was parlance for officially closing the day’s business, when the Prime Minister’s “working day” was over. She never actually stopped working, of course, but putting the lid on meant no more meetings and no more press conferences. It was mainly something only the media ever really cared about, since anyone senior in the government could call the Prime Minister any time regardless. How would the Emperor know when the lid was on?

“Every day, usually sometime between six and seven, you tell your chief of staff that you’ve put the lid on and you’re going to the residence. Then, a chauffeur in an always beautiful, always gleaming amethyst state car—a 2012 Monata Eredan, if I recall correctly—drives you out of the carpark under Government Center Two and down Avenue Melora, which, wouldn’t you know it, happens to go right behind the north wing of the Royal Palace. There, it so happens, I keep a Royal Marshall posted at a window every day from 5pm until you go home, so she can tell me when you’ve put the lid on and I can put my comfy trousers on and plant my arse on the sofa.”

Žarís found herself smirking. “Your father told you that you should never stop working before I do, didn’t he?”

The Emperor smirked too, but his grin was far more devious. “Oh no, Prime Minister. He stopped working whenever he pleased. I am the one who makes sure you go home before I do. I came here this evening because I’m tired and want to watch Monday Night Grand Ultimate Takedown. Which, I will note, I have recorded on DVR. And really, Prime Minister, if we have DVR, are we really so desperately backward?” Otan placed his hands on the Prime Minister’s shoulders. “All of this is to say that even though, yes, we really do have a lot we need to change, and a lot we need to work on, any Tavari government would have that, and you can’t change or work on anything if you’re busy sitting in your office feeling sorry for yourself. In this constitutional monarchy of ours, I don’t actually have any meaningful check or balance against you except exactly what I’m doing right now: I’m leveraging my right to be in any room I want, to speak to my Prime Minister at whatever time I want, about whatever I want. I’m leveraging my right to do what, sometimes, too few people in the government have the courage to do, which is to tell you to get out of your own head and go home, Žarís. You know, your chief of staff and the other five or six staffers I passed in the hallway who also don’t stop working until you do are all also very sad and also want to get to work fixing our national technological obsolescence problem. Beginning first thing tomorrow.

The smirk melted off the Prime Minister’s face and, for just a brief moment, she resumed staring at her feet.

But not for long.

“Of course,” said Žarís, snapping her head back up. “Emandra!” She called out to her Chief of Staff—as loudly as she could, but judging by the speed at which she appeared in the door frame, she apparently hadn’t needed to. “I’m putting the lid on. Let’s go home.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Emandra, with the barest hint of a smile on her face. “Your Esteemed Majesty,” she said, clasping a hand to her chest and bowing.

The Emperor smiled back at her and made to leave, turning his back to the Prime Minister and walking out of the room. Just as he crossed the threshold, he turned back to give one last look at the Prime Minister standing, still tear-streaked, in her dark office. “Oh, and Prime Minister?”

Žarís took a few steps closer to the light of the hallway. “Yes, sir?”

“Now, of course, I don’t vote and have never had a single political opinion ever in my life even once, but the Liberals were the ones who told TASER to buy off-the-shelf Norgsveltian stuff instead of paying for the government to build custom. The Liberals were the ones who refused to upgrade the cable unless Metradan paid for it. The Liberals were the ones who built the cable at all. And the Liberals destroyed the Tavari colonial empire. Which, frankly, at least to some extent, deserved it. Don’t sit in this office and mope about what a bunch of decrepit oligarchs did to the country. Raise the capital gains tax a hair or two, have the government buy a few more cloud servers and, like… legalize mobile payment apps. The Kingdom will endure. Go to bed. Goodbye.”

Otan IV did not wait for a response and simply walked out of the room, clearly determined to get to his sofa as quickly as possible. The Prime Minister and her Chief of Staff stood there, unmoving, for just a few beats.

“… How legal would it be for him to run for Delegate for Line Nuvo?” Emandra asked.

“Absolutely not.” The Prime Minister raised her brows and stared into Emandra’s face for a moment before smiling. Sliding her wedding ring back onto her finger and closing her office door behind her, she said softly “He’s doing a great job exactly where he is.”