Cao Tang sat upon a small wooden platform, his dark office illuminated by harsh white light of Venus through the heavily tinted window. Like most Eunuchs in the service of the Celestial Emperor, he was a large man given to indolence and comforts that were allowed to him given his privileged position. The voluminous robes did little to hide his great bulk, though the quality of the fabric and the elaborate sigils embroidered into the sleeves indicated that he was high in the Emperor’s favor.
Absolutely none of this was lost to the foreign man on the opposite end of the communications screen that was recessed into the opposite wall of the Bureaucrat’s office. The foreigner knew that Cao Tang was second only to the Celestial Minister of Trade and that the Eunuch’s favor was necessary to gain one of the coveted licenses to do trade in the famously isolationist realm of the Celestial Empire. The foreigner nodded his head respectfully and then asked, “Do we have a Deal?”
“Yes. I believe that the Empire will look very favorably upon your request” replied Cao Tang and he then ended the conversation with a curt nod as the connection was terminated. With the screen dark, the shadows of the office deepened but Cao Tang did not mind. He rather enjoyed the dark shadows of his expansive office and he found the muted illumination of Venus to be relaxing.
Cao Tang closed his eyes and began to think about the conversation he had just ended. The Emperor’s decision to open the Celestial Empire to the Solar System after three centuries of isolation spawned hordes of merchants hungry for new commercial markets as well as curious tourists who wanted to see the fabled Sky Cities of Venus. The Emperor had created an elaborate system of restrictive licenses and restrictions that served to minimize the taint of foreign influence upon the Celestial Empire. There were many that felt that after ravaging of the outer planets by the Rim War and the destruction of the Lunar Commonwealth at the hands of the Martians, there were fabulous riches to be had by the ambitious man.
The Eunuch fancied himself an ambitious man. The Martian CEO’s request to grant him licenses beyond the quota was against the Emperor’s will but the Solar System had changed greatly in the past several years and it was time for the Celestial Empire to change as well. Cao Tang mentally shrugged and told himself that it did not hurt that he was about to become a great deal richer as well.
There was an impression of movement behind Cao-Tang that caused him to turn his head slightly a split second before a sword erupted from the center of his chest, half an inch away from his heart. The Eunuch’s eyes flew open and he gasped explosively as he attempted to raise his hands to his chest but the searing pain caused his arms to fall limply to the side as Cao Tang’s ability to control his own body failed. His breathing heavy, he managed to gasp a single word, “…why?”
A small hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him backwards and there was a soft voice in his ear, one that the Eunuch thought he recognized, “The Emperor is not forgiving of those that would so casually risk the serenity of his realm over something as petty as money.” At the utterance of the word, ‘money’, the sword twisted in his chest and Cao Tang’s heart ruined itself on the edge of the blade. The Eunuch’s body violently spasm and then fell forward off the bloody sword.
Cao Tang’s body was half on the wooden platform and half on the floor, a spreading pool of crimson emanating outward across the floor from his sodden robes. The last thing that the Eunuch saw was the featureless white clouds of Venus through the viewport. Cao Tang never saw the man that killed him.