The Darkest Heart, Part 16

“Wait a minute,” Lavatiel interjected, her eyes smoldering. “What are you saying?”

“Exactly what it sounds like,” Mandaila replied, growing ever more smug. “Iron Dragonfly is fully operational.”

“And how is it that I was unaware of this?” Lavatiel snarled through clenched teeth. Peltoren admired the woman’s restraint. She was about ready to throttle Mandaila herself. How could she do her job as Admiral of the Fleet if she didn’t even know the operational status of the vessels under her command!

“Before you murder one of my most trusted advisors,” the President interjected in a dry voice, “I would like you both to know that the decision to keep Iron Dragonfly‘s status a secret from you was my decision.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Lavatiel said, whipping her head back toward the President and turning her fiery gaze on him, causing him to recoil slightly, “that was one of the most boneheaded decisions you’ve ever made.” Peltoren stared at her, half shocked that she would say something like that to the President of the Republic, and half pleased and wishing she had said the same thing.

“You’re out of line, Admiral,” Mandaila said softly, coming over behind the President’s desk to stand behind his left shoulder.

“That won’t be necessary, Delvisa,” the President said, waving a hand vaguely in Mandaila’s direction, but fixing his gaze on Lavatiel. “It’s not your job to tell me how you feel about my decisions,” he said in a quiet, dangerous voice. “You give me the information I need to make good decisions, and let me handle actually making the decisions. Do I make myself clear, Admiral?”

There was a long pause, and then finally Lavatiel nodded her head and said, “Perfectly, sir.”

“Excellent,” the President replied, his smile reappearing. “Now, I probably should have told you before, but Delvisa and I decided that it would be best if as few people knew the truth as possible. With the number of people working on Iron Dragonfly, there’s already more people who know the ship’s operational status than I’m really comfortable with. In any case, now you know.”

“So basically, we’re going to lure the Empire into thinking that Heart of the Galaxy is defenseless, and then once they’ve committed their forces, we drop in reinforcements with Iron Dragonfly at the head?” Peltoren asked.

“Precisely,” the President said, his grin growing wider. “The Imperial Fleet won’t have any idea what hit them.”

“I must admit, sir, it’s a pretty brilliant plan,” Peltoren said. Lavatiel gave her a quick scowl, and then turned to the President.

“It is a good plan,” she said begrudgingly. “It just would have been nice to be part of formulating it.”

“I am sorry, Admiral,” the President replied, his grin fading, “but you understand how important security is on a matter like this. The more people know about a secret like this, the more likely it is the secret will get out.”

“Yes, sir, I understand that,” Lavatiel responded. Her eyes were still molten lava, but her tone made it seem as if she was at least slightly mollified.

“Good,” the President said, satisfied. “Admiral Peltoren, since you are the most familiar with Heart of the Galaxy and its capabilities, you will be in command of this mission.”

“Thank you, sir,” Peltoren replied, nodding her head in acknowledgment. The President nodded back, his familiar grin back in place.

“Admiral Lavatiel,” he said, “I want you on the bridge of Iron Dragonfly.”

“Oh?” Lavatiel said, raising one eyebrow. “Does that mean I will be under the command of Admiral Peltoren?”

“Of course not,” the President replied, sounding slightly exasperated. “Admiral Peltoren will be in command of the Heart of the Galaxy battlegroup, and the overall mission. You will be there as an observer, with authority to step in as you see fit, being that you will be the ranking officer on station.”

“I see,” Lavatiel said flatly. The President returned her look with one that was just as flat, and then he turned back to Peltoren.

“Admiral,” he said, “I want you to send me a full operational writeup of this mission in three days.”

“Of course, sir,” Peltoren replied crisply.

“Very well,” the President said. “You two are dismissed.” Both women stood up, saluted, and then headed out the door. As they made their way through the corridors of the Presidential Palace, they were silent, but once they were down on the first floor, Lavatiel suddenly spoke up.

“Are you headed back to the Nerestium?” she asked.

“Yes, sir,” Peltoren replied. “I want to get started on this operational writeup as soon as possible.”

“Of course you do,” Lavatiel said. “Come see me in my office first. I have something I need to talk to you about.”

“I…yes, sir,” Peltoren said, slightly hesitant. “Of course.”

So, about half an hour later, Peltoren found herself sitting across from Lavatiel at her desk. Lavatiel’s office was significantly larger than Peltoren’s, and had an even better view. It was sparsely decorated, with just a few trophies from various military victories that Lavatiel had won over the course of her career.

“Chieria,” Lavatiel began, “we haven’t known each other very long, but I feel like we have a pretty good rapport already.”

“I’m glad to hear that, sir,” Peltoren replied, after a short pause. Lavatiel smiled briefly, and then her normal intense look came back.

“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled when the President promoted you to Admiral of the Fleet,” she said. “It seemed to me that he was just doing it as a favor for you bringing Heart of the Galaxy over to us. There were a lot of candidates for that position that have been part of the Republic from the beginning, who I felt deserved it more.”

“To be fair, sir,” Peltoren interjected, “I never asked for this position. I would have just as soon stayed on Heart of the Galaxy.”

“I understand that,” Lavatiel replied, “and that’s why I changed my mind about you. You’re a good commander, and well-deserving of the promotion you received.”

To be continued…

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