The Darkest Heart, Part 17

“I’m glad you feel that way, sir,” Peltoren replied. “I’ve done my best to live up to the expectations that go along with my new position.”

“Indeed,” Lavatiel agreed. “That said, I do have some concerns about the command that the President has entrusted you with.”

“Oh?” Peltoren said, raising one eyebrow. “What sort of concerns? Sir?”

“I’m familiar with your file, obviously, and I know how intimately involved you were with the Starfortress project under Fangalin. Understandably, you have a very close attachment to Heart of the Galaxy. I’m concerned that using Galaxy as bait to lure the Imperial Fleet into our trap will be…difficult for you.”

“I don’t…quite understand what you mean, sir,” Peltoren replied, her brow furrowed. Lavatiel paused for a moment, thinking.

“It’s difficult to explain,” she said finally. “Let me tell you a story, and we’ll see if that sheds any light on what I’m trying to say. My first command was a destroyer called The Messenger. That was a good ship. I was still serving with the Imperial Fleet back then. This was before the war started. My fleet commander was a good friend of Eregon Fadlamis, and he was also my mentor, so when the Republic was formed, my crew and I joined up. I was in command of that vessel for five years. Those were five good years. But then, during a battle with the Empire, we were forced to abandon ship, and The Messenger was destroyed. I was devastated by that loss. I was offered a new command after the battle, but I turned it down. It took me a year to get over losing my ship.”

“I’m…sorry to hear that, sir,” Peltoren said, “but I don’t quite understand what this has to do with me and Heart of the Galaxy.” Lavatiel stared flatly at Peltoren for a moment, and then she sighed heavily.

“I guess I just want to make sure that you will put the wellbeing of the Republic ahead of the wellbeing of your vessel,” she said. “I know how easy it is to get attached to a ship, Chieria. I can imagine how much you love Heart of the Galaxy. So I need to know, if you are faced with a choice between sacrificing your ship, or sacrificing the Republic, which will you choose?”

Peltoren stared at her for a moment, her face blank. Then she spoke, in a quiet but fierce voice. “I love that ship. I love it more than any human I have ever met. But I know my role, and I know who I serve. If I am ever faced with a choice between Galaxy and the Republic, there is no doubt in my heart that I will chose the Republic.” Both women stared at each other for a long time, no expression on either face, and then finally Lavatiel leaned back, and grinned broadly.

“I couldn’t have come up with a better answer myself,” she said, relieved. “You will do well, Chieria. It won’t be long, I bet, before you’re sitting in this chair.”

“Thank you, sir,” Peltoren replied, her face still expressionless. Truth be told, she was seething inside. For someone to even think such a thing of her! Yes, she loved Heart of the Galaxy. That ship was her baby. But it was still just a ship. Obviously, people were more important than ships. If Galaxy was destroyed, she would be sad, but infinitely less so than if she managed to save the ship at the cost of any members of its crew. How much more so would the fate of the Republic mean to her, as opposed to her ship! True, she’d only been a citizen of the Republic for a brief time, but she wasn’t a mercenary. She already loved and believed in the Republic far more than she’d ever loved Fangalin. Maybe it was because she had been born into Fangalin, but she had chosen the Republic. Whatever the reason, she served the Republic now, and that wasn’t going to change for any reason, especially not for the sake of a hunk of metal!

“I didn’t mean to question your loyalty,” Lavatiel said with a slight frown. Peltoren blinked in reply. Well, she thought she’d kept her face expressionless. “I know you’ve transferred your loyalty to the Republic wholeheartedly. I’ve read your file. I know what happened in Fangalin. Truth be told, I’m surprised more people didn’t defect with you. I mean, I know you brought an entire fleet and an army with you, but frankly, I don’t see how anyone could have stayed after what happened. Who would be foolish enough to write a constitution for a country that basically encouraged murdering its ruler?”

“It is quite baffling,” Peltoren said quietly. “I certainly have no interest in returning to such a regime.”

“And I believe that,” Lavatiel said, nodding. “I know what you’ve been through, and what you turned your back on, and that’s why I trust you. I don’t want you to think that I don’t trust you. I just want to make sure that your head is in the right place for this mission.”

“I do appreciate that, sir,” Peltoren replied, feeling slightly mollified. “I would do the same thing for anyone under my command.”

“I know you would, Admiral,” Lavatiel said with a satisfied look. “You are a good commander.” She paused for a moment, and looked at Peltoren thoughtfully. “I’m going to talk to the President about me being on Iron Dragonfly. There’s no reason you need me looking over your shoulder. If you’re going to be in command of this mission, you should be in command of this mission. You don’t need me scrutinizing your every move.”

“That’s really not necessary, sir,” Peltoren said with a slight frown. “I don’t mind.”

“Don’t worry about it, Chieria,” Lavatiel said, shaking her head. “I’ll take care of it. You go and get to work on that operational writeup now. Just let me take care of the rest.”

To be continued…

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