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Deirdre wasn't sure if she or Zakharov disconnected first, but hoped she'd beat him to it. Too angry to care about the details, she turned to her nervously hovering gaggle of aides. If any of them made a stupid comment, she would have their head. Better to ask for something she actually wanted before they said something. A bit of alcohol would surely help put that insufferable egomaniac out of her mind. "I need some wine after this."

She didn't want to have to think about Zakharov until she had him truly at her mercy. With her empaths and brood-trainers this could only be a matter of time. And then...

Deirdre chuckled. "Nothing personal, but I'll derive great pleasure from having you executed." That was a brilliant comment, although she said so herself. No wonder Zakharov completely lost the place at that, raving about the invincibility of his pathetic forces. Then again, he was a dangerous madman anyway.

An aide finally handed her a glass of red wine. It was probably as good a vintage as any, they wouldn't dare give her anything but the best. But just drinking it didn't seem right. After that discussion, she needed a cathartic release. She turned the glass in her hand. Santiago might have crushed it, but Deirdre didn't have the strength for that. Besides, while she had become used to having blood on her hands, that was only in the figurative sense. She also didn't want it to be her own.

Deirdre hurled the glass onto the floor instead. It shattered, although not as dramatically as she'd have liked. The red wine spread out satisfactorily though, a dark puddle on the polished wood. While it reminded her of blood, she knew this was more due to her associations and rage than any real likeness. It felt good, at least for a moment.

Then she regretted it. It was a waste of good wine and a serviceable glass. Still, it was strangely exhilarating to be able to act like that, without anyone daring to tell her that it was, among other things, deeply immature. She didn't let these feelings slip into her voice. "Clean this up and pour me another."

Her whims were immediately obeyed. She sat down while an aide started sweeping up the shards. Hopefully he'd remember to put them in the right recycling category. Otherwise she might order him recycled. A bit draconian perhaps, but after that attempt at diplomacy it was only natural to be in a bad mood.

Taking a sip of the new wine, she mentally went over the discussion with Zakharov again, despite her earlier plans not to think about him. He was an egotist of the highest order, a man who considered destruction no more than an academic matter. Even the University suffered under his unethical leadership. Those who survived being liberated would thank her eventually.

She'd certainly enjoy seeing Zakharov having to account for his crimes. In fact, she'd built a punishment sphere specifically for him. Her spies had told her that the sentiment was mutual, but he'd never get to use his. Her military was unbeatable.

Deirdre emptied her glass and dismissed the aides that hadn't already taken the hint. Actually, she had one constructed for each of the faction leaders. Some of them were currently her allies, but alliances shifted, and there could only be one victor in the end. As great as their differences were, this was one thing they all agreed on. All of them had built accordingly.

And compared to most of them, Zakharov wasn't really that bad. He was a renowned scientist, just like she was. In her youth, she had admired him, although that was before she actually met him. The University was not nearly respectful enough when dealing with Planet, but they were far from the worst.

If they had just accepted her terms and surrendered, she wouldn't have to do this, not yet anyway. There were more important targets for the Gaians' wrath. The University could have waited.

The wine bottle was left standing on a nearby table. It would be fine to get drunk for a bit, she'd just take some blockers and recover in minutes if necessary. While refilling her glass, she realised that her statement had simply been the truth. It was almost nothing personal, it was just that their roles put them in inevitable conflict. What she would actually enjoy would be the removal of a danger to her faction, a step towards her ascension as the ruler of Planet. Perhaps she would spare Zakharov when he was captured.

That thought surprised her. It was a strange relic from before the time she became the leader of Gaia's Stepdaughters, back when she could afford to be idealistic, before all the others had shown their true colours. She sighed. Perhaps she missed that Deirdre.

But in those days she had been powerless. She had campaigned tirelessly, peacefully, in the hope that humanity could reconsider, could back away from the edge of disaster, saving both Earth and themselves, but to no avail. They were just too stupid and greedy.

Planet was not Earth though. It was more than capable of defending itself from humanity's grasping hands. Her destiny was to guide it, to help it find its balance, both with her faction and with itself. With her army of mind worms, everything was possible.

Yes, perhaps she would even be able to afford to spare Zakharov when the time came. If his faction was truly subjugated and demoralised, if she made sure that the University was no more than a footnote in history, she probably could. She'd show him the punishment sphere first though, and then...

It really depended on how amusingly he could grovel.

 

 

THE END