The Ring of the Queen—Tsar


Stacie sat in the mess hall, eating a plate of eggs and hash that she'd made while she awaited the arrival of the others. She had become so desensitized that nothing short of a full on attack from Yuri's men even remotely concerned her anymore. She was used to his grandstand stunts that were supposed to make her fearful. She was used to his childish pranks that were little more than empty threats and unfulfilled promises. The idea that he was calling out the entire northern fleet for a spot inspection in order to trap her was of little concern to her. Yuri was losing steam. She was the one with the power at this point, and he was never going to accomplish what he set out to. Stacie knew that she had millions of allies at this point. She knew that her supporters would help her.

Tania and the others came into the mess hall in a group. They all looked understandably rattled and both Paul and Peter looked as though they had just climbed out of bed.

Peter sat down next to his wife. "Tania says that Yuri is coming to this ship. Is that true?"

"It very well may be," Stacie replied. "I'm not too concerned about it. The man couldn't find his own butt without help."

"Are you sure about that?" Paul asked. "He has the entire military at his disposal. He could find us."

Captain Yakov entered the room. "The team is completing their inspection," he told Stacie.

"Did they wish to meet with me before they leave?" Stacie asked him.

"You mean they're here?" Tania asked. "It was only an hour ago that he said they were coming."

"Well, they didn't waste any time. Didn't you hear the chopper when they landed?" Stacie asked.

"I thought I heard something, but I didn't know what it was," Tania replied. "Do they already know you're here?"

"Yes," Stacie said, cutting a slab of some kind of meat as she talked. "With Legacy around, it would be hard not to know that something is going on. I thought that I would save them some investigation time and introduce myself."

Peter's eyes grew wide. "My darling wife, I admire your courage, but are you sure you should have done that? They work for Yuri. They will report back to him."

"No they won't," Stacie argued. "He sent them all into a dangerous situation with no regard for their safety. They don't much care for him right now. They rather liked me. I told them I would make them breakfast."

Dr. Al rubbed his forehead and chuckled. "Do you mean to tell me that you won over some new recruits with breakfast?"

Stacie smiled at him. "It doesn't take much. The man treats everyone with disregard and they hate him. Me and my eggs can do wonders when he's the alternative."

The door to the mess hall opened and a group of five very manly men walked in. They were all in standard Russian military fatigues with bunny boots and parkas. They all looked as though they had been growing their beards for years and had been lifting weights since infancy. They were very intimidating individually and downright scary as a group. The floor of the mess hall shook when the men stepped on the floor as they walked over to the table where Stacie and the group were gathered.

"Our inspection is complete," the man in the front of the group said. "We did not find anything that would seem to be a problem."

Stacie smiled at the men. "Igor, what will I do with you? I bet that Yuri would see everything on this boat as a problem."

Igor smiled back. "I suppose that he would. However, my manual has very clear guidelines on what I am looking for as far as violations are concerned, and this ship has no violations according to my manual."

"I love a man who can follow orders and not become sidetracked from those orders," Stacie replied. "My elk isn't a violation?"

"No maam," Igor said. "We listed him as minor livestock."

Stacie didn't stick around to discuss the issue any further. She headed to the kitchen to make an enormous breakfast for the hungry haggard men who had flown in dangerous conditions across the arctic to make sure that she wasn't coming to Moscow to bug President Yuri Kostov.

Stacie was sickened by Yuri at the point where he would endanger so many people just for his own purpose. She was angered that he would go to such lengths with such disregard for the lives of others, just to trap her and remain in power. He was an insect, not a man, and he needed to be discarded. Over the years, Stacie had wondered on occasion if she was doing the right thing by battling him for control of the country. Every time he pulled a stunt like endangering people just to find out what she was doing, he made her more certain that she was doing what was actually best for the people. Ironically, every time this happened, the people involved assured her that they agreed that she was doing the right thing.

Meanwhile aboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov

Captain Gennady Gavrilov struggled against the wind as he approached the landing pad where the chopper was unloading. When he had received the communication saying that there would be a surprise spot inspection in the middle of December on the Barents Sea, he'd wondered what on Earth was going on. There had almost never been inspections during the frozen months. No one in their right mind would risk helicopter travel in the arctic in the winter for a simple inspection. Captain Gavrilov had been working these seas for 25 years, and this was the first time that he'd seen this.

Captain Gavrilov saluted the group of men and led them inside where they could begin their inspection. He waved to the pilot as he treacherously lifted off from the ship. The wind and cold nearly threw the men across the machine bay where they entered from the deck. There was nothing quite like the arctic during winter. The weather was unpredictable, the winds were higher than normal, and it was damn cold.

"Good morning, Gentleman," Captain Gavrilov said. "What the hell is going on here?"

President Kostov pulled the ski mask from his face. Captain Gavrilov was shocked. He'd been angry that the President would endanger hundreds of lives pulling a stunt like ordering all of the spot inspections under treacherous conditions, but he'd had no inkling that the President himself would come out for the event.

"Pardon me, sir," Captain Gavrilov said. "I am sorry to be so disrespectful."

Yuri shook ice from his parka as he pulled thermal gloves from his hands. "I understand that these inspections are somewhat unexpected and a bit risky, but I assure you, captain, that they are necessary. I believe that one of the ships has some illegal passengers on board."

Captain Gavrilov knew exactly what the President meant. He'd heard the rumors that the tsarina was on the move and that she was indeed traveling on one of the icebreakers. He realized that the President was terribly intimidated by her the minute that Yuri had mentioned illegal passengers. Gennady had maintained his distance from the whole issue of tsar vs. president. He'd felt for years that it was in his best interest to have no opinion on the subject. He liked his job, even though he was gone from home for months at a time, and he didn't want to jeopardize it for any reason. Was he a fan of the President? No. Would he tell if he knew that the group that Yuri was looking for was on the Yamal which he'd seen in port a few days before? No. He wanted no involvement in the situation and that was final. His sole mission in life was to do what he was told, stay out of politics, and make it to his pensioning years.

"Well, feel free to inspect my entire ship," Captain Gavrilov said. "You won't find anything or anyone illegal on my boat."

"Is there somewhere that we can get a cup of tea while we wait for the inspection to be completed?" Yuri asked.

"Right this way," Gennady replied.

Aboard the Yamal moments later

Tania stood and stared at the ceiling in the mess hall. "I hear a chopper now," she said. "I bet its Yuri. What are we going to do now?"

Igor tossed his napkin onto his now empty plate where an omelet with three kinds of meat and onions used to lay. "I believe that is our ride."

"So soon? It seems as though you just arrived," Stacie said, grinning like a cat that had eaten a canary. "Are you sure that the pilot will have nothing to say after all of this? Are you sure that he's in favor of my making my way across the arctic under Yuri Kostov's nose?"

Igor was putting on his parka and gloves for the ride home to Naryn Mar. He turned and smiled at Stacie. "I grew up with Sasha. He will never tell. He hates the current administration. He will be very happy to help you outsmart Yuri Kostov."

Stacie heard the noise from the chopper's rotors stop. She walked with the group of men to the mechanic's bay where they could exit the ship. She didn't know what would happen there. She didn't know if the pilot was conserving energy, or if he intended to enter the boat and find her standing right in front of him.

The small door at the edge of the bay opened and in walked a figure buried in winter wear. He could only be the pilot of the helicopter that had landed on the deck. Stacie had a moment of insecurity as she watched the man unbundle himself in front of her. She was afraid that he would immediately contact the President whom she knew was in the area. When he got done taking off his gloves, he smiled at her and she realized that there was nothing to be concerned about.

"It is an honor to meet you, your highness," the pilot said. He bowed with great respect.

"You must be Sasha. Igor has told me many good things about you in the short time that he's been here," Stacie said. "I am sorry for all of the inconvenience. Yuri Kostov should never have put all of you in such danger simply to search for me and my friends. I apologize."

"It is not that dangerous today," Sasha assured her. "The President got lucky with the weather today. Not that I believe he would have called off the inspections if the weather had been bad. He does not strike me as a man who would care about the safety of others. So when are you going to take over?"

Stacie was taken aback for a moment. She stopped and thought carefully before finally replying to Sasha. She wondered what would make him shoe immediate hatred in his tone for a man that he'd never met. Then it occurred to her that he had met Yuri. Only someone who had met Yuri personally could hate him.

Stacie smiled at Sasha. "I apologize for not taking over sooner. So, what boat did you drop him on, and how long do you suppose we can leave him there?"