The Darkest Heart, Part 13

Most of the speeches were the typical political gibberish, just a bunch of bland nonsense about how great the Republic was and how it was their destiny to dominate the galaxy and be the most prosperous civilization the universe had ever seen, and so on and so forth. Chieria listened with one ear open, if that. She’d heard plenty of political speeches before, even in Fangalin, and all politicians basically said the same things in public. It was what they said in private that mattered.

Chieria just barely managed to stifle a yawn as President Trilis finished his speech and Eregon Fadlamis came to the podium. Fadlamis was hardly a typical politician. After all, it took a lot of guts to found a breakaway republic, even in the midst of a civil war. Even so, Chieria wasn’t expecting Fadlamis’s speech to be anything other than a rote repetition of the glories of the Republic, like the ones that had preceded it. And for a few minutes, she was right. But then she heard her name, and suddenly she was paying careful attention.

“Chieria Peltoren is a true hero,” Fadlamis was saying. “A shining example of the type of virtues that we desire to promote in our great Republic. We need people like her if we are going to thrive, or even survive, and she has proven her worth as a citizen of the Republic. Therefore, it is my very great honor to announce that Chieria Peltoren is being promoted to Admiral of the Fleet, and given command of the entire Republican Navy.”

There was a stunned silence for a moment at this announcement, and then thunderous applause broke out. One by one, the politicians and dignitaries gathered in the room got to their feet, until everyone except for Chieria was standing and applauding. Chieria could feel her cheeks turning red, and she knew her eyes were as wide as dinner plates. The applause seemed to go on and on, and she gradually realized that the President was beckoning her up to the stage. She rose, mechanically, and seemed to float her way towards the stage and behind the podium.

For a moment, she just stood there, stunned, while she stared at all the men and women standing and clapping and cheering in front of her. She had never expected anything like this when she accepted the invitation to come to this state dinner. She had never expected anything like this at all! Her mind was completely frozen, a blank slate. But she knew she needed to saying something once the applause died down, so she racked her brains for something appropriate to say.

“Wow,” she finally said, as the applause faded and everyone began to sit back down. “I mean, that’s really all I can say.” There was a smattering of polite laughter at this feeble attempt at a joke. Or maybe they were all just sick of speeches, and were hoping she really wasn’t going to say anything more. “I honestly had no idea this was going to happen, so I have no prepared remarks to give. I hope you can all bear with me, and I also hope I don’t say anything terribly stupid.” This time the laughter was a little louder and more sincere.

“This really is a tremendous honor,” she continued. “For me to come here as a defector from Fangalin and be given this great responsibility, it’s…well, it’s overwhelming, really. All I can say is, thank you all for this opportunity, and I will do my very best to live up to the expectations you have for me.” She bowed to acknowledge the renewed round of applause that met this statement, and then she stepped away from the podium and returned to her seat. She thought maybe she hadn’t screwed up that impromptu little speech too badly, but she was honestly too stunned to think clearly at the moment anyway.

Admiral of the Fleet. The highest rank in the Republican Navy, aside from the President himself, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic’s military. She really was honored that they’d chosen her for this post, but she couldn’t help but think it was going to cause problems too. How many qualified officers had they passed over who had been part of the Republic from the very beginning? How many of them were going to be happy taking orders from a defector who’d only been a citizen of the Republic for a little less than two years? And did this mean she was no longer going to be in command of Heart of the Galaxy? That was a hard thought. Of course, Galaxy belonged to the Republican Navy now, and they could put whoever they wanted in command of the ship, but she couldn’t help but think of it as her ship. She’d been Galaxy‘s captain from the moment its basebeam had been laid in the massive shipyards orbiting Hechelen. If she had to give it up, it would be like losing a member of her family.

But, what was done, was done. She certainly wasn’t going to go to the President of the Republic and say, “Actually, thanks, but no thanks.” One didn’t turn down an honor as great as this, no matter how many difficulties came with it. She would take the job, and she would enjoy the job, and she would do it to the best of her ability.

She still felt like she was in a daze as she and her officers left the Presidential Palace and made their way to the shuttle that would take them back to Heart of the Galaxy. Captain Lomor was grinning like an idiot, and had already congratulated her at least a dozen times, but Chieria was still too overwhelmed to do anything more than say “thanks” and smile back. It wasn’t until she was back on board Galaxy and in her quarters that it really started to sink in. She was the Admiral of the Fleet, the leader of the entire Republican Navy. A slow grin crept across her face as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. This is going to be fun, she thought.

To be continued…

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