The Darkest Heart, Part 12

Chieria Peltoren didn’t easily get nervous. She’d commanded fleets of battleships in numerous life-or-death battles, in situations where it seemed like her forces were on the brink of disaster, only to rally and claim victory over her enemies. She’d rebelled against an usurping commander and taken his best fleet, his best army, and his best special forces unit with her. She could do things like that without breaking a sweat. But attending a formal state dinner in the Presidential Palace on Hadramoris? She was surprised that her hands weren’t sweaty and shaking, she was so nervous.

She was walking down a hallway in the Presidential Palace, all decked out in her best dress uniform, flanked by her senior officers from Heart of the Galaxy, wishing she was leading a suicide mission into the heart of Imperial territory instead. She knew why she was in this situation, but she didn’t have to like it. President Trilis was in the middle of a reelection campaign, and the successful test of a second Starfortress was a huge victory, not just militarily but also politically. Hadramoris was a young nation, only about twenty years old, and launching its own Starfortress was proof that the Republic had the technological and logistical chops to stick around for the long haul. That would go over well with the Republic’s voters, who, considering the history of previous republics that had tried to carve territory out of the Empire, had to be wondering if the Republic of Hadramoris would still be around in twenty more years.

And that was why Admiral Chieria Peltoren was there, because the Republic wouldn’t have any Starfortresses at all if it wasn’t for her. Her defection had also been a massive political victory for Badadum Trilis, not that he’d had anything to do with it. But people had a tendency to lay the blame or credit for anything that happened at the feet of their leaders. So Admiral Peltoren got to be paraded in front of them like a trophy.

But that wasn’t even what was bothering her. Peltoren understood the need for politics, and she appreciated the Republic’s system of directly electing all of its leaders, not just some of them, like in the Empire, or none of them, like in Fangalin. No, what really bothered her was the probability of her messing something up. But, there was nothing she could do about it now. She just needed to bite the bullet and do the best job she could.

She took a deep breath, glanced at the officers flanking her, and then pushed open the door leading into the Grand Ballroom of the Presidential Palace. As she entered, the doorman announced her, and she was temporarily blinded by the glare of a hundred cameras flashing in her face. Plastering a smile on her face that she didn’t remotely feel, she waved to the cameras, and made her way across the ballroom to where President Trilis was standing.

The broad smile on the President’s face grew even broader as he shook her hand and welcomed her to the party. Next, he introduced her to Eregon Fadlamis. Fadlamis had been the first President of the Republic, and although he was no longer President, he still maintained a great deal of power as one of Trilis’s chief advisors. He was in his early 60s, tall and thin, with a shock of white hair combed straight back, a thin, narrow, clean-shaven face, and steely hazel eyes. He had the smooth cheeks of someone who rarely smiled, which made him an interesting contrast with his successor, who was rarely seen without a smile on his face.

“It’s an honor to finally meet you, Admiral,” Fadlamis said in a deep, booming voice that seemed at odds with the slender body it came from. “The President has told me so much about your exploits.”

“The honor is all mine, sir,” Peltoren said truthfully. “It’s not every day that one gets to meet a living legend.”

“The President didn’t tell me you were a flatterer,” Fadlamis said, a tiny smile quirking his lips.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to offend. I…I just…,” Peltoren stammered, but Fadlamis cut her off.

“No worries,” he said, holding up a hand. “I just meant that it’s a little too soon to be declaring me a legend. Time will tell how many of my accomplishments stand the test of time.”

“Of…of course, sir. I’m sorry, sir,” Peltoren began babbling, and then she clamped her mouth shut tightly before she said anything else stupid.

“And this,” Trilis continued, “is the Chancellor of the Senate, Moreda Futalin.” Futalin was a short, compact man, with black hair that was parted in the middle and came straight down to his chin, a short goatee, and brown eyes. He gave Peltoren a slight nod and a quick handshake, and then ignored her, which suited her just fine after she had just finished making a fool of herself in front of the founder of the Republic.

She was quickly introduced to a few more important dignitaries, and then she was thankfully allowed to retreat to her table. She refused to look at her XO, Captain Emain Lomor, as she sat. She suspected her face was beet red, but she was attempting to retain as much of her dignity as she could muster.

A few more guests entered the ballroom and were introduced to the President and his associates, and then it was time to eat. The one bright spot of these dreaded occasions was that the food was always excellent. Of course, it was hard to fully enjoy a feast when you were worried about slopping food all over your dress uniform, but Peltoren did the best she could. Once the food was done, then it was time for speeches, which weren’t so bad, as long as she was allowed to just listen and not expected to contribute. She could inspire troops with the best of them as long as she was on the bridge of a starship, but put her behind a podium in front of a bunch of politicians, and she became a blabbering idiot.

To be continued…

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