Queen of Swords
Summary: Context is for emperors.
Characters: Mirror Burnham, Mirror Lorca, Mirror Georgiou
Codes: Mirror Burnham/Mirror Lorca, Mirror Georgiou/Mirror Lorca
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Discovery universe(s) and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: My take on what really went down in the Mirror Universe. Written just after episode 1x12 Vaulting Ambition aired, so could become non-canon shortly. I just couldn't live with Evil Georgiou's description of Lorca as 'grooming' Michael.
A woman like me has a sword
for a tongue, night in the heart
and room in the body for only
the mysterious –
- Segovia Amil, Queen of Swords
In the bedtime stories my mother used to tell me, the Empire was always proud and mighty. As I grew, I came to understand that this, like many things she told me, was a fallacy – a fiction designed and propagated to keep its subjects in a state of cowed complacency.
For the Empire carries the weight of its terrible history like a bloated, useless old man, and my mother is a fool.
Like all well-bred human children, I was afforded the best opportunities – education, wealth, privilege – and like all children of the Empire I learned early to seize them. I became proficient in many forms of combat, educated in politics and practised in deceit. The latter skill has always served me best.
As the favoured child I was somewhat protected from the humdrum assassination attempts other well-born offspring must contend with, but I wasn’t immune. What saved me more times than I can count was my ability to predict the rise of treachery and quash it, and its agents, before they could destroy me. It galls me to this day that the betrayal closest to me was the one I failed to detect until it was almost too late.
He was clever. He played the long game, easing his way into her confidence, her trust, her bed. By the time I began to understand, he had already driven a wedge between my mother and me. I’d earned my place in the Imperial Starfleet ranks – earned it with blood and wit and sheer hard work – but she gave him the better ship, the sharper crew, the more glorious missions.
I, her beloved adopted daughter, was relegated to the position of upstart child, and it got worse over time. The situation became untenable.
I presented her with incontrovertible proof of his treachery – it was easy; there were so many women – but my mother laughed at me and asked: what did she care for sexual fidelity? This from the woman who often killed people for reasons so flimsy even I would have found it difficult to justify them. I knew then that he’d become her blind spot and her weakness. I would have to find her a betrayal she couldn’t dismiss.
The only way I knew to disarm my rival was by turning myself into the kind of bait he was unable to resist. The answer was obvious.
My mother had convinced herself that I saw him as some kind of father figure, as though his being her lover automatically put him out of my reach. As I said, my mother is a fool.
Getting his attention was easy; I barely had to do more than show up in his quarters on the Buran and take off my clothes. Within a week he’d ditched the cadet he was bedding on the side. Within a month, I had engineered a careless communique or two, and our supposedly secret affair was brought to the attention of the Emperor.
I never found out who broke the news to my mother. It didn’t matter – except that I was honour-bound to kill them, of course, even though I’d planned it all along – but the end result was more than I could have hoped for. She was beyond furious. She murdered countless people that day – a number of her personal guard, dozens of slaves, an entire colony of Vulcans. If Lorca had been close at hand, she’d likely have murdered him too. Maybe she’d even have killed me.
In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. It seemed my mother could turn a blind eye to Lorca sleeping with anyone he liked, even her daughter. I stepped up my game.
I planted people on his crew and befriended the security chief he was fond of. I kept my ears open and my lips sealed. I learned that the captain of the Buran was known to consort with the lower-class species of the Empire. I learned that he was prone to disappearing for hours, sometimes days on end, and that communiques of dubious origin were continually coming in on secure channels for his eyes only.
I heard from one of my spies that Gabriel Lorca was secretly involved with the Rebellion. And I knew I had my ticket back into my mother’s graces.
But I needed proof, and it took far longer to get Gabriel to trust me than it did to seduce him. Growing up in the Empire, you learn to guard your secrets as closely as your life, so in order to get to Gabriel’s secrets I had to at least give the appearance of giving up my own. Each evening we spent together, over dinner or lying in his bed, I opened up to him. It was small things at first – confessions about the Vulcan girl I’d befriended as a child, my girlish pining for my dead parents – silly, sentimental things. He was surprisingly tender with me about them. At first it made me hate him more.
I’m not sure when that began to change.
One night I told him, haltingly, about the Kelpien slave I’d given a name when I was fifteen, and how when my mother found out, she forced me to execute him and help the chef prepare him for serving at that night’s banquet. I let a few tears slip out, let my voice quaver and shake. Truth be told, it had been a formative experience – I had been horrified – but it’d had the desired effect of hardening me. As I recounted the story for my lover, though, I realised my distress wasn’t completely feigned.
Maybe he sensed that, and that’s why he put his arms around me and held me until I stopped crying, and then made a confession of his own: that the Emperor’s wanton cruelty was one of the reasons he had joined the Rebellion, and that he wanted me to join, too, so that when the rebel forces struck I wouldn’t be caught in the crossfire. He said we could overthrow her together.
And rule together, I assumed he meant. But as he kept talking, it became clear that he didn’t want to rule. He just wanted to be free.
It took all my control not to slit his throat on the spot, but I knew that the more information I gleaned, the more proof I’d have to take to my mother. And what medals might she award me for bringing down the Rebellion?
Instead of killing him, I widened my eyes and listened as he told me their plans.
Two days later I sent my mother a secure message warning her of Lorca’s intended coup. She wanted to have him tortured immediately, but I convinced her that I could bring her the heads of every footsoldier in the Rebellion if she’d just give me time. And so began my life as a spy, a life for which I was singularly well-suited.
Though, somehow, it didn’t feel the way I’d expected it to. With each story Gabriel told, each plan he laid out, I found myself growing more and more sympathetic to the creatures I had always been taught were my enemies. Tales of poverty and suffering and mistreatment for no crime other than that of being Andorian or Tellarite kept me lying awake at night. I began to stall and downplay the information I fed to my mother.
It didn’t take her long to catch on. As a test of my loyalty, or my commitment – she was constantly testing me – she ordered me to take the Shenzhou and put down a Klingon uprising at Gamma Hydra.
The notion filled me with unexpected dread, and a desire to unburden my misgivings to my lover. When I’d finished blurting out the orders that were causing my breath to squeeze in my chest and looked up into Gabriel’s eyes, silently pleading for him to rationalise my reaction, he gave me that shockingly tender look, cupped my face in his hands, and told me that he’d known all along that I had a good heart.
Immediately, I returned to my ship, set course for the Gamma Hydra system and ordered the attack that earned me a new title: Butcher of the Binary Stars.
My mother was pleased. Gabriel, when I saw him next, wrapped me up in his arms and whispered in my ear, over and over again, how sorry he was. And I – after two days of vomiting up what little I was able to eat and two sleepless nights – I finally realised that Gabriel had been right all along.
The Emperor must be overthrown.
And yet, I couldn’t countenance the Rebellion’s plan to simply kill her and leave a vacuum into which any ambitious challenger could vault. For the first time in my life I did not know what to do.
As I dithered, as the Shenzhou and the Buran travelled side by side, Gabriel commed my ship to tell me the coup was in motion. I knew the plan; I knew he intended to deal the killing blow himself. I knew he would probably never get close enough to succeed, and would die in the attempt. And I didn’t want him to die.
I commed my mother and warned her that the revolution was coming. I told her I intended to stop it. Then I deserted the Shenzhou, launched a shuttle and lured the Buran into a plasma drift near the Romulan border.
Sitting in that shuttle with my finger poised over the torpedo launcher was the longest moment of my life. A universe of possibilities tumbled through my mind as I ignored the increasingly urgent hails from the Buran.
I could beam over to the ship, set the self-destruct on the shuttle to fake my own death, go on the run with my lover, an outlaw and a rebel.
I could cripple the Buran, allow some of Lorca’s faithful to escape and fight another day, return to my mother with a tale of a devastated Rebellion, likely to be murdered in my sleep when the real coup came.
Or I could fire my entire payload, destroy the ship and all crew in it, and probably perish in the resulting blow-back.
In the end, I am both fortune and the rebel’s whore, and my destiny has always been written. I am Michael Burnham, chosen heir to the Terran throne, and I will become Emperor.
First, though, I must survive.