The Darkest Heart, Part 15

Chieria Peltoren’s transition from captain of Heart of the Galaxy to Admiral of the Fleet commanding the entire Republican Navy went more smoothly than she had expected. Instead of quarters on a massive starship, she now had a posh apartment near the center of Argenyle, the capital city of the Republic, and an office in the Nerestium, the headquarters of the Republic’s military. Oddly, her office in the Nerestium was actually smaller than her office on Heart of the Galaxy had been, but at least it had a spectacular view. And she didn’t intend on spending much time there either. She wasn’t going to be one of those leaders who commanded from behind a desk. She had a plan, and she intended to be on the bridge of Heart of the Galaxy when it was carried out.

Indeed, she wasn’t in her office today. Instead, she was in the President’s office, which was much larger and more luxurious than hers. She was there briefing him on the latest intelligence that the Navy had gathered about the Empire’s plans.

“The most credible threat that we can see is a plan to infiltrate our territory and attempt to steal Heart of the Galaxy,” Peltoren said, glancing at the tablet in her hand. “Admiral Kryla Zomulin was directed by the Emperor himself to lead a raid into our territory. Unfortunately, those are all of the details we have right now.”

“Seems like a pretty bold plan,” said a woman sitting on the opposite side of the President’s desk from Peltoren. “Even a desperate one.” The woman was tall, with short, black hair, brown eyes, and dark brown skin. Her gaze was intense, so intense it almost seemed hostile, but Peltoren knew her well enough to know that was her normal look, and it didn’t imply anything about her feelings. Her name was Voderik Lavatiel, and she was the highest ranking member of the Republican military, which made her Peltoren’s immediate superior.

“Wouldn’t you be desperate, if you were leading the Empire?” Peltoren asked. “It wasn’t that long ago that the Empire ruled the entire known galaxy. Now they’re reduced to a fraction of their former strength, and they see that one of their upstart rivals has a weapon that is more powerful than anything that’s ever been seen before in history. Wouldn’t you want to steal it too?”

“Of course I would,” Lavatiel replied, “but only if I thought I had a near-perfect chance of success.”

“Why is that?” Peltoren said, a slight edge to her voice. She wanted to snap at the woman, but she knew Lavatiel well enough to know that she wasn’t being difficult for the sake of it. Instead, this was just her method of making sure her subordinates had thought through their theories from every angle. She could agree with you 100%, and she would still act like your idea was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard until she was convinced that you believed it wholeheartedly. “If you were desperate, wouldn’t you do desperate things, even if there was a high probability of failure?”

“Perhaps,” Lavatiel replied calmly, “or perhaps I would be extra cautious, so that I didn’t throw away what little advantage I still had in a foolish scheme that would almost certainly fail.”

“And knowing what we know about Valador Mifalis’ personality, which do you think he would do, Admiral? Something bold and desperate, or something cautious and patient?” Peltoren asked.

“Considering the way Valador outlasted all of his rivals for the Imperial Throne, I would generally say he would prefer the cautious and patient route,” Lavatiel said with a slight smirk. “But on the other hand, considering his advanced age, and his lack of an heir, I think it does seem more likely that he would be willing to try a rather…reckless plan, in order to assure the Empire of a somewhat strengthened position on the event of his death.”

“So we’re agreed that this is a credible threat, then?” the President interjected. He respected Lavatiel a great deal, and he appreciated her methods of dealing with her subordinates, but he also got impatient with her constant contrariness from time to time, and so he had a tendency to jump in as soon as Lavatiel gave even the faintest hint that she agreed with something a subordinate had said.

“We are,” Lavatiel said, glancing at him with a hint of irritation that he had interfered, which Peltoren found amusing, considering that they were ostensibly there to brief the President on military threats.

“Excellent,” the President replied, a grin unexpectedly lighting up his face. “Delvisa and I have been thinking about what to do if someone came for Heart of the Galaxy, and I think we’ve got a pretty good plan worked up.” Peltoren and Lavatiel looked at each other, somewhat startled, and they both turned to look at the fourth person in the room, Delvisa Mandaila. A tall, thin man with a narrow face, longish gray hair, and small, circular glasses perched on the end of his nose, he was the President’s chief strategy advisor. His bland facial expression didn’t change as they looked at him, but Peltoren detected an air of smugness radiating from him regardless.

“Exactly why are we here, Mr. Mandaila, if you and the President already know what you’re going to do before you even hear our assessments?” Lavatiel said in a tight voice. There was no love lost between Lavatiel and Mandaila. Both of them felt as if the other encroached on their area of responsibility.

“The President expects me to plan for any number of contingencies,” Mandaila said in a calm, yet arrogant voice. “It just so happens that this particular contingency was one of them. You must admit that someone stealing Heart of the Galaxy is a fairly obvious plan.”

“Fine,” Lavatiel said, her voice still tight with anger. “So what is this plan you cooked up?”

“Simple,” Mandaila said, spreading his hands out wide. “The Empire believes that we only possess one operational Starfortress. They are mistaken.”

To be continued…

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