The voices of the Royal Arc Synod grew louder by the minute as the discussions heated up. The majority of the Fauna Parliament objected violently to the human intervention in their environment and the construction of cement blocks with barbed wire to restrict everyone’s movements in every possible manner.
The Liberal Feathered faction was ready to fly away from the negotiations because the so-called new quarters were not high enough for them to fly around with full speed. The Democratic Feline Party was livid as well because there was absolutely no provision for even a track where any of them could run like were accustomed to doing so. The Cheetahgargh and Leopardhaussen Tribal leaders expressed concern about future generations degenerating into the lowly house cats because they would no longer be able to practice their high-speed athletics. For once, even the right-winged White Shark Supremacy conceded and agreed with the majority, speaking on behalf of all the Open Seas Aquatic residents. Glass containers that were glorified fishbowls were unacceptable even to the humble Koi who normally did not object to anything.
As the delegates filed out one by one, each pondering the future of their kind, Empress Federosa stood on wobbly legs, feeling as though her world had just imploded. She knew her decision to negotiate with the humans on the future of the Arc had been a risky one, but she went ahead and did so despite the objections of her council. The increasing encroachment of human habitat in the forests and fields was endangering the entire Arc and something had to be done to protect them. She had been promised large open reservations and protected areas where the the Fauna could roam freely and choose their own places like they were currently doing. It would just be a bit tighter than the unrestricted grounds but at least security and stability would be guaranteed. Instead, when the human negotiators returned to the table and presented the plans, they brought blueprints for zoos! Now she had to pay the price with dignity and grace, or whatever remained of it. Exile.
There were days when General Cavallo hated his job as head of the Imperial Guards. Standing still and at attention at all times was not his ideal of the perfect military duty. He yearned for the days he was on battlefield fulfilling his royal duty defending the arc. Promotion, he soon found out, had its disadvantages as well. When Empress Federosa sent for him that fateful day, he thought it would be to map out another glorious war that required strategic thinking and meticulous planning. There had been no indications whatsoever that he would end up babysitting a stubborn female who had a penchant for disregarding protocol as well as diplomacy. He had to admit though, that where she lacked in tactfulness, she excelled in courage and grace, and her ability to stand there so dignified amidst the reproachful looks of the entire Synod was admirable. The General knew, however, that he would not be escorting her back to the Royal Palace today…
The Exodus Tunnel was the ultimate walk of shame. The entire Arc Council had lined up at the entrance to ensure the disgraced ruler was departing on time and for good. The Imperial High Court has passed the highest sentence possible, and that was exile to the Fourth Dimension. In addition to perpetual exile, this also meant she would not be allowed any form of communication with The Arc anymore. The few brave souls who would be assigned to visit her every five years would bring her news and supplies, but other than that, this was the last time she would ever set foot in this dimension and on the Arc. It was General Cavallo’s responsibility to escort her all the way through the Tunnel and he was not sure himself what to do once he arrived at the departure gate. The Empress was only the second ruler in 2000 years to ever be exiled to the Fourth Dimension, so the guidelines were a bit outdated. He could hear the drumming of his own heart in anticipation of what lay ahead. Glancing briefly to his left, he marveled at her serenity. He would have tried to bolt free a long time ago.
The General’s curiosity was satisfied upon reaching the end of the tunnel. He had only heard stories of this legendary Starman Staircase. Very few could confirm the actual existence thereof, claiming that it had been part of a fairy tale passed on from generation to generation. Now he knew why nobody had seen it. The only reason anyone walked into the Exodus Tunnel was because they were being sent to the gallows or exile, so given those circumstances, nobody ever returned to tell the tales. There was perhaps one other who was aware of the secrets of the empire, since he was only one assigned to opening the portals.
Standing at the foot of the Launch Pad, both The General and The Empress looked up in awe, struck by the size and architecture alike. This was nothing like either of them had ever seen before. Still dazed by the surroundings, they were both startled to hear the familiar but firm voice of Admiral Schnabelpouch as he looked down from the command center and issued the final instructions. She was to step into the basket elevator, lock the gate behind her, and not look back.
Empress Federosa turned to face General Cavallo, looked him straight in the eyes, and said softly “It has been an honor to have been in your company all these years. I know what you sacrificed to be in my service and I know I am not the easiest one to be around, but your valor and honor are precisely why I chose you. Thank you. Be well and live a glorious life.” With that, she stepped into the elevator, flexing her long neck to fit in properly, and closed her eyes as the sound of the electronic lock activated the controls and all her fears.