My first Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire story was “Purr Mission,” which I completed late in 2011. It started from a monologue about hating uncontrolled reentry, and something about the character JUST FELT feline, and so Herc Tom was born. It was a standalone story, and had given no thought to making it into a series. The first market I sent it to was the Writers of the Future contest, where it won me my first honorable mention. Something about Herc insisted (like a cat rubbing up against me) that his story needed to continue, and it has now for EIGHT editions…
Here’s the blurb:
Lord Phylo and his Canine Armada have been vanquished, but for how long? What damage does former Empress Isabella intend to inflict on the Ramses Empire? And will Champion of the Empire Herc Tom be able to prevent this “Imperial Imperilment”?
“Imperial Imperilment” is a speculative fiction novelette, and is the eighth of the “Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire” stories, following “Purr Mission”, “Nipped in the Butt”, “Cat and Mouse”, “Baastards’ Revenge”, “Imperial Purrogative”, “Cats Out of the Bag”, and “Reining Cats and Dogs.”
And here’s this week’s excerpt:
Isabella’s cell was isolated from the rest, and it had its own guard room. There was a soundproof door separating the two, which the guards never opened without wearing sound-blocking headsets. Isabella could not be allowed the opportunity to let anyone else in on Octavio’s paternal origin, lest she imperil the Imperial succession and start a civil war.
The guard on duty donned his headphones, passed me through the door, and shut it behind me. I bounced down the flight of stairs that terminated in an ancient prison gate.
Despite the iron-bars of her door, Isabella’s cell almost didn’t look like one; instead, it resembled more her bedroom in the mock Imperial Palace she had been exiled to on Lamia – the exile from which her slobberer allies had rescued her. The stone walls were adorned with rugs and tapestries and all manner of imperial puffery. Well, I suppose even a treacherous, deposed monarch is due a little luxury. Truth be told, Octavio had insisted that his mother be given all the trappings that an Empress would expect – at least what would fit in her cell.
She was on her back in a silk nightgown, splayed among her pillows as she held the latest issue of Fabulous Felines overhead and flipped through the pages. She didn’t even look up when I was buzzed into her cell.
“It says here that the public at large is wondering when their beloved Empress will finally have her day in court,” Isabella purred. “Oh, that would be rich, now, wouldn’t it? Imagine all the things that I could say, Jock. Of course, then they would have my head for disloyalty to poor Max. And possibly yours, too.”
This was true enough. Sure, she might be able to blame the slobberers for Maxamillian’s death and be believed by some, but proclaiming Octavio’s illegitimacy would also expose her dalliance with Admiral Jock Planck and open her to punishment for treason. As long as she was within our control, she was unlikely to endanger herself so. Of course, if she was brought to trial as an accessory to Emperor Maxamillian’s murder, she might be deprived of that pretty head of hers, anyway, and then what would she have to lose? Contrary to myth, one life is all we really get.
“The Admiral will not be visiting you today,” I said.
That made her look up.
“Oh,” she said.
Females often have difficulty finding their tongues in my presence. It is a curse that I endure as I can. Isabella has never been the star-struck type.
“Such a disappointment. Is the Admiral ill?” she asked.
“One might say of you,” I said.
“There was a time when he could not get enough of me,” Isabella sighed, and then she arched her back in a long, languorous stretch. “What about you, Champion?”
“What about me?” I asked.
“Why did they send you in his place? Why not my son?” she asked.
“His Imperial Majesty has no time for you,” I said dismissively.
“Come now. Octavio is not my only son,” she said; almost snarled, in fact. The former Empress could be very… catty.
“Furdinand has also expressed no desire to see you,” I said.
This was true enough. After Isabella had attempted to put Octavio’s younger brother on the throne in her slobberer-enabled coup, Furdinand had shown himself as nothing but loyal to Octavio, and was publicly disdainful of the former Empress and her plots. Of course, if he or anyone else had requested a visitation with her former Imperial Majesty, they would have been denied access, but Isabella did not know this. It seemed more useful to have her believe that everyone had abandoned her, especially since there were still some elements of society who had bought her act when she appeared with the slobberer fleet at her back and wept for “her dear, dead Maxamillian,” and many of whom still clung to the foolish fantasy that she was innocent.
“Does it seem proper to you that sons should treat their mother as such?” she simpered.
“Such a mother? I believe you have answered your own question,” I said.
“Well, at least I still have you. This could still be… entertaining,” she purred.
She sat on the edge of the bed. Then she slid her tongue along her fangs.
Despite being well past her prime, Isabella could still turn on her feminine charms when it suited her; these and a devious mind had been what had put her on the throne in the first place. If one did not keep that mind in mind, it would be easy enough to fall for those charms. It was fortunate that I did not have that difficulty. She had tried to kill me enough times to make me immune to her wiles.
“We’ll have none of that,” I sputtered firmly.
“None of what?” she purred.
“I am just here to ask some questions,” I said, and then barreled ahead. “Where did Lord Phylo and his fleet go?”
“Home, I would imagine. You did an exceptional job of scaring them off,” Isabella said.
Actually, that was mostly Reggie and Major Grisolm, but there was no point in quibbling; I had played my part as well.
“And where is home?” I pressed.
“Oh, somewhere over that way,” she said, arching her back and raising her paws toward the ceiling.
She did make an intriguing… get a grip, Hercules.
“Did Phylo not speak of it?” I asked.
“I don’t believe that he ever quite trusted me. I don’t know why,” she said, pondering this with a claw at the corner of her mouth. “It must have been one of those inter-species things.”
“How did you contact him?”
“Oh, he contacted me. Well, actually, it was the Squaller’s commander, Captain Chean. A pity he’s dead – I liked him,” she sighed. “But then I’ve always had a thing for the military.”
“You know, things could be nicer for you if you were more forthcoming,” I said.
“You mean I scratch your back and you’ll scratch mine?” she said as she stretched and then rolled over on her belly.
“That is one way to put it,” I said.
One uncomfortably awkward way.
With nothing new to go on, I left Isabella to her solitary confinement and began the trek from the Ministry’s depths to my office. I should have asked Reggie what questions to ask her; not knowing where to begin in the way of science, I had not pursued it much. Perhaps letting the young Vicompte have a supervised go at her might not be such a bad idea. As long as Isabella hadn’t been tried yet, I didn’t believe she would endanger her meager chances of survival.
I activated my comm link as I opened the door to my office and said, “Security.”
“Yes, Colonel. Connecting,” said the menu bot.
I crossed to my desk and sat before I noticed him standing in a corner, watching me, his black trench coat almost blending into the shadows as well as my stealth suit could. The cloak and dagger drama of officers of the Imperial Investigation Agency would be hard to take seriously if they weren’t the I.I.A. There’s little to find comical about an organization with a reputation for making cats disappear; no one wants to wind up in a bag in the river.
I knew this one. Chief Inspector Barnes had put my pride through some discomfort during Isabella and Phylo’s brief reign of terror. A crackle in my comm meant I would need to deal with him later.
“Security – Lieutenant Mial here. Is something wrong?” a voice whined.
“Mial? Is this Lieutenant Mial from the Q-R station?” I asked.
“I am not allowed to divulge that information,” Mial said.
“Lieutenant, this is Colonel Hercules Tom, and you had darn well better begin divulging,” I ordered.
Chief Inspector Barnes pulled a notepad from his breast pocket and began taking notes. Well, that was just fine – no way I was going to let this paper-pushing functionary intimidate me. I am a Champion of the Empire, after all.
“Oh…yes, sir. I was formerly stationed at transition point Q-R, under your command, sir,” Mial whined.
The one thing I would always remember about Lieutenant Mial – the constant whining.
“So why are you no longer there?” I asked.
“My commander did not feel I had the right temperament for manning a transit station. I tend to get a little anxious at times,” Mial said.
“And so, they moved you to Security?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. It seems to suit me better, sir,” Mial said.
It all sounded like standard military intelligence to me, if you could call it that. Well, it was no fur off my tail – not as though I had a real security issue to deal with.
“Very well, then. I need you to authorize Vicompte R. Pelage of Special Projects access to the cell on Level Z,” I said.
“Vicompte? But sir, I thought that he was Earl now,” Mial said.
“Yes, you are right, the old Vicompte is Earl, but his son is now Vicompte,” I said.
“Of course. And Special Projects, also,” Mial said.
I suppose I should have caught the implications of that ‘also’ at the time, but I was distracted by Chief Inspector Barnes, who was still diligently scratching away in his notebook.
“Yes, now get to it, Lieutenant,” I said.
“Right away, sir!” Mial said as I cut the connection.
I supposed that both the Admiral and Octavio would question my decision to allow Reggie to speak with Isabella, but I had little chance of drawing anything useful from that treacherous molly. And I knew that if Reggie were to discover something about the slobberers, the Admiral would be particularly grateful to me for not having to deal with her any longer. I was certain that Isabella’s own self-interest would keep her from revealing anything damaging to the cub.
“So, Inspector. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?” I asked.
I thought that Barnes would jump out of his fur. How it was that he thought I wasn’t aware of him lurking in my office, I can’t imagine. Perhaps I should have greeted him sooner.
“Chief Inspector,” Barnes said as he collected himself.
“And Colonel to you, unless you’d rather call me Champion,” I said. I can play the title game with the best of them.
“That won’t be necessary,” Barnes said. “Why is no one allowed to see the Empress?”
“The former Empress is a duplicitous grimalkin, and a threat to the peace and security of the Empire,” I said.
“Of course, which is why she should be turned over to the ministrations of the Agency, rather than be allowed to consult with some witless minor noble,” Barnes said.
“It is difficult to take your concern seriously, when the Agency was so easily fooled by her lies,” I said.
Not only had they bought the whole ball of yarn – they had even aided Isabella’s attempts to hold power.
“That was an unfortunate mistake, one which only proves how truly dangerous she is,” Barnes pressed. “If she could bamboozle experienced interrogators once -”
“Then she could do it again. No point in taking unnecessary chances. We and the Emperor will decide who needs to see her former majesty,” I said with a self-satisfied (and perfectly justified) grin.
Barnes gave me a peeved glance as he jotted something additional in his notebook.
“You know, the new regime’s quarantine of the former Empress makes one wonder what you might be afraid she would say,” he said.
I hadn’t expected him to go there – why would he? Could it be that the secret of Octavio’s parentage wasn’t so secret?
“Nonsense. We’re just trying to reduce the number of people she can influence,” I said.
“Of course you are, but it does make one wonder,” he said meaningfully as he snapped his notebook closed, returned it to his trench coat, and headed for the door. “You should really reconsider enlisting our aid. I’m certain we could glean more from her majesty than that puffed-up nitwit and a cadre of her former scientists.”
He stood by the door and looked at me meaningfully, but he left when it was obvious that I didn’t have a reply. I really didn’t, which was an unusual situation for me. I puzzled through what he had just said about a nitwit and a cadre of scientists. I had only requested access for Reggie, after all.
I activated my commlink. “Get me Security.”
“Yes, Colonel. Connecting,” said the menu bot.
“Security here. Identify yourself, please,” Mial said.
“Mial, have you taken care of what I asked?”
“I cannot give out information until you identify yourself,” Mial said.
“Mial-” I growled.
“Yes, Colonel, they all have access now,” he whined.
“They all have access? What do you mean by-”
“Oh! I have an emergency call!” Mial yowled.
“No, wait!” I said, but the connection was already dropped. “Get me security!” I bellowed.
“Yes, Colonel. Connec-”
A female voice purred across my comm. “Hello, Tiger!”
There are problems with giving AI personalities. They can become… too personal.
“Not now, Shadow, I’m busy,” I said irritably.
“Well!” she huffed.
Even artificial females can be so touchy. Why did I have to put up with this along with everything else in my bowl? But I turned on the charm, regardless.
“I’m sorry, Shadow. What is it?” I asked solicitously.
“I’ve dropped Marpha at the hospital. I just thought you might want to know,” she said.
“Wait – is she-?”
“Why else would she be there?” Shadow snickered.
Reginaldus Memorial Hospital was only a couple of blocks from the Hall of State, and this wasn’t the sort of thing I could miss unless the Empire and I were literally in a war. My mates wouldn’t understand, especially with me being practically next door. And I had no desire to have Marpha’s crankiness extend beyond the little ball of fur’s birth.
“I’m on my way!” I said.
It wasn’t that bad of an interruption, really. Another cub in the pride, to add to Kat’s seven, Baathsheba’s eight, and Marpha’s other two. Was Herc Tom getting too old? No, of course not.
As if Hercules Tom didn’t think enough of himself already… “Imperial Imperilment” is a speculative fiction novella, and is available AT A SPECIALLY DISCOUNTED, RELEASE WEEKEND PRICE at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
I am participating in Smashwords’ site-wide Authors Give Back promotion, which is being held to show support for people around the world suffering through isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. All of my collections (including my Detective Jimmy Delaney and Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire series – SINCE THIS IS THE RELEASE WEEKEND FOR THE 8th HERC TOM STORY, WHAT A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO READ UP ON HERC TOM 1-7 IN CATS OF WAR I & II) AND Swordsmaster are on sale for 30%-off. The link to my eBooks on Smashwords is here:
The promotion lasts from now through April 20th. There’s a coupon on the page for each eligible eBook – ENJOY!
Swordsmaster – my first novel – is ready for your reading pleasure, so give it a read, won’t you?
Fate is neither something to run away from, nor something to run towards.
The first bright-eye to be seen on the mountain in living memory, Sandrik didn’t want anyone to think of him as they did the ominous Aurae of legend, so he had worked hard to keep his special abilities hidden. But there was more to Sandrik than even he knew. Now that it was time for him to enter the ancient ruins of Taernfeld and be declared a man, what other changes might he be forced into?
Swordsmaster is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
Smashwords (at 30%-off during the Smashwords Authors Give Back promotion): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/954501
William Mangieri’s writing, including Cats of War II (a collection of his Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire series), can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
• Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/NoTimeToThink
• His Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008O8CBDY
• Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/william-mangieri?store=book&keyword=william+mangieri
To CONNECT WITH HIM (and LIKE and FOLLOW – you know you should…), go to
• His site on WordPress: https://williammangieri.wordpress.com
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• Or on twitter: @WilliaMangieri