Forty-three minutes later, Captain Winterborn blinked open her eyes, wiping away a few tears. She noticed that she was in the Medical Bay and sighed in deep relief, "Oh, thank the Gods. It was all just a dream."
The Chief Medical officer, Julia Springborn, walked up beside her. She stood at an impressive 6'4", with stone grey eyes, and her hair nearly done in a tight bun. "You have a mild concussion, Sir," she said brusquely, "And I wouldn't be thanking the Gods yet. I think they must not be too fond of you, Sir."
Winterborn's blood went cold, "Wait, so you mean....?"
"Yep, the red aliens are sitting just outside the Med-Bay. I thought we were going to have to call security to get them to leave when you all came in. Funny thing though, when I told them to leave as an order, they just gave up and waited outside." The Doctor certainly seemed amused by all this.
"I'm glad you think this is all so funny. They seem to think I'm some kind of Empress or something." The Captain leaned her head back into the pillow, sighing heavily, "I don't know what I'm going to do, Commander. I really don't."
The Doctor walked up beside her, giving her a handful of pills to swallow. "If you want my advice, Sir—go along with it. If I understand the situation, and I always do, you're in line for a big promotion. How many people can say they've taken over a galactic empire over the weekend?" she winked, "That has to look good on a service record."
Winterborn considered this for a moment, "Well, you have a point. I doubt Central Command will be handing out whippings for securing control of an entire spiral arm of the galaxy."
Getting slowly to her feet, she walked through the automatic doors. There, the delegation of aliens sat, uncomfortable in chairs which were not designed for their bodies. They leaned forward, trying to accommodate their fifth appendage. At the sight of Winterborn, they jumped to their feet and promptly prostrated themselves before her once again.
"Look, if I am this Prime, I can order you to do whatever I like right?" she asked wearily.
"Yes, Prime Winterborn," the lead alien replied.
"Okay, well, then please stand up. I'm uncomfortable with all this bowing and supplication."
The aliens promptly stood, their heads slightly lowered to her.
"Alright, that's better. What do I call you anyway?" she asked.
"Do you mean my species? Or do you mean my name personally?"
"Both, I suppose. I gather that you aren't called, 'The First' anymore," she said.
"We are the Second now, master. We are the first among your servants. Our species is called The Quin'tel. I am First Governor of Tra'brus, the planet in which we are in orbit. My name is Ren'Brus. This," he gestured to the Quin'tel on his right, "is Val'brus, my Minister of Governance. This," he pointed to his left, "is Bre'brus, my Minister of Strategy."
Winterborn looked at the three with consideration, "That would make you, what? The three most powerful leaders on your world?"
"Yes," said Ren'brus, "though more specifically, we govern a system of twenty habitable planets. Roughly two hundred billion citizens."
Winterborn stopped breathing for a moment, "How...how many planets are there in the Empire?"
The aliens conferred for a moment before Val'brus spoke, "At last reported count, just over two-thousand one-hundred established worlds. We also have around a thousand colonies being developed, but they do not meet member-world requirements."
Winterborn could hear her heart pounding in her chest, "Are the other member-worlds similarly populous to the ones you three govern?" she asked numbly.
Wheezing laugh erupted from the three aliens, "We apologize for our laughter, once again. No, the other planets are not similarly populated."
Winter born sighed in relief, "Oh, thank the Gods-" she was cut off as Val'brus continued, "Our planets are relatively new. Their populations are still growing. The average member-planet is home to over thirty billion citizens."
Once again, the Prime of the First Empire nearly found herself sprawled out on the floor. "This can't be good for my mental health. I just can't take much more of this."
The aliens seemed to communicate nervously through a series of rapid clicks, "Have we displeased you, Prime? We meant no offense."
Winterborn held her temples, massaging them rhythmically. "No...No, you've done nothing to displease me. I was just surprised at the sheer number of people I am now apparently responsible for."
The Quin'tel grouped closely together, clicking quietly—too low for the universal translator to pick up. Ren'Brus stepped forward, "Prime, we are afraid that we don't understand. Are your people not extensive and powerful? Do your own worlds not have similar populations?"
Winterborn pursed her lips, "I'm not at liberty to discuss the particulars of the Terran Dominion. Suffice to say, we are militarily sophisticated, and technologically advanced." She felt uncomfortable in revealing that the Terran Dominion barely scraped 198 billion citizens—a number which had seemed absurdly large to her before, now seemed absurdly low.
"We understand, Prime, we made it a point to avoid allowing our population figures to be known while we were the First. It is prudent to keep such information on a need-to-know basis."
She looked at Ren'brus, contemplative, "How many of your species are there, exactly?"
Ren'brus and the others wheezed with laughter, "We are a relatively low-population species, as we do not breed or maturate quickly. Our last census put the number at just under 425 billion citizens."
A low population species indeed thought the Captain. "How long has your species been capable of faster than light travel?"
"We have been an active force in the region for over two-thousand five-hundred years. We first developed space travel three-thousand five-hundred years ago. We are an old civilization, though I would guess from the level of technological sophistication in this ship, your species must have been active for a similar span of years. Am I correct?"
Winterborn looked at Ren'brus, pride shining in her eyes, "No, you would not be correct in this assumption. We have been space capable for around three hundred years." The alien's slanted eyes seemed to narrow further, "Furthermore, we became faster-than-light capable around one hundred fifty years ago."
The Quin'tel gathered together, once again conferring with one another in their clicking tongue, still too low for the translator to pick up. "I apologize for our impertinence, Prime. We mean no disrespect, but are you being truthful? In our experience, faster than light travel usually requires between five hundred and one thousand years if the species has no assistance," Ren'brus paused contemplative, "Was your species uplifted? Or technologically assisted? That could explain the speed of development."
Winterborn considered what she would say, she didn't want to give any more information than necessary. She considered the possibility that she'd already said too much as it was. The Captain decided that a small history lesson wouldn't be too risky.
"No, we weren't assisted technologically or uplifted in any way. Most of our technological progress came during a series of particularly bloody civil wars. Billions died in the conflict, our home world was on the brink of collapse due to the sheer magnitude of the ever escalating war. Eventually, the will to fight was sapped from our people—too many women were made widows, too many mothers never saw their children come home..." she straightened her uniform, noting that the Quin'tel were rapt, "At this point, the male population was near spent. Women made up over eighty percent of the human population. This being the case, we were able to seize political power all throughout the world. We soon proved to be the more capable leaders, and we had learned the lesson of peace and cooperation over fighting and conflict."
Ren'brus and the others stood silent, trembling slightly. "Your people fought each other with such violence that you endangered your world? It is incredible that your species made it to space at all..."
She wasn't sure, but Winterborn thought she might be hearing fear in the voice of the Quin'tel.
Lieutenant Fallborn entered the hallway, heading towards Captain Winterborn and the Quin'tel.
"Sir, we have an incoming message from someone identifying themselves as 'the former Prime'—they are seeking to meet with you to formally turn over power. Apparently, there is a ceremony which will be broadcast to all member species of the Prime Empire."
Winterborn stood straighter, unconsciously coming to attention, "Well, I suppose we've already come this far...very well, let the former Prime know that I will speak with her momentarily." She turned to look at the three Quin'tel, "You three, I'm going to need significantly more information about the Empire, its current political position, resources, technology, and anything else we can think to ask." She turned back to Fallborn, "Work on establishing communication with the Central Command, Lieutenant, we need to brief them on the situation."
"Yes, Sir," said Fallborn, snapping off a crisp salute.
"Would you three accompany me to speak with the former Prime?"
Ren'brus looked hesitant in his agreement, "If that is your will, Prime."