Arguably the most powerful person in the galaxy, Emperor Hengist Duval, is sick.
He has ruled the Empire now for 67 years since his coronation in 3233 following the death of his father, Hesketh Duval.
Emperor Hengist is only 118, born only a week before the death of his grandfather, Hender Saik Duval. Some say Hender’s spirit had already transferred to Hengist at that time.
The Duval Imperial line has been unbroken for almost a thousand years. There have been power struggles in the past, but the usurpers have been successfully dealt with behind closed doors.
This time is different.
Hengist has been not involved himself in politics for a long time, relying on his Chancellor, Senator Blaine and has taken a laissez faire attitude towards a handful of increasingly powerful and ambitious Senators whilst Harold, the current heir, quickly made a name for himself as a feckless playboy.
The warlike Senator Denton Patreus, last seen trying to destabilise the Eranin system during the conflict surrounding its 30th Anniversary of Independence from the Federation, continues his manipulative power-broking in the galaxy at large.
The preposterously rich Senator Zemina Torval is using her slaver corporation supporters and personal fleet of Majestic-class Interdictors to suppress revolts and to further her ambitions.
Commentators expect others to show their hand, too.
Much like in Imperial Rome on ancient Earth, Senators determine the tax rates of their supporters and both Patreus and Torval have become hugely popular back home as they have each used their huge wealth to lower taxation to zero.
There is a real prospect of the next Emperor not being a Duval. And the bitter fight for succession is about to spill out into the open.
Meanwhile, the Federation and Alliance of Independent Systems are watching with keen interest.