Captain Tony Miller smoothed down the front of his dress greens as he waited for the guard to check his id this was the third time he had been stopped despite the fact he was with a palace servant. He breathed a sigh of relief as he was motioned on. He hurried down the palace corridor his dress shoes making no noise on the carpeted floor. Taller than average with jet black hair Anthony Miller or Tony to his friends watched his guide carefully. The pretty blonde haired woman in the green and purple dress one of the palace servants would have held his interest but at the present his mind was on his sudden summons from the empress. Past midnight he had received the summons from another purple and green dressed servant. Still shaking the sleep from his eyes he was surprised to see a palace servant at his door with a message that the empress had called him to a meeting with her. The previous incumbent had done the same except those who were summoned were, executed, disappeared or in some cases returned changed or so the rumours suggested what he did know was that a number of prominent nobles were dead. He thought again it couldn't be his report on the disastrous attack on the T'Arni home world that had been months ago Admiral Wen Ju had brushed that under the carpet saying that he considered the matter closed. Several more scenarios flashed through his mind although he couldn't quite put the finger on a reason he was summoned, unless? He stopped suddenly surprising his guide she halted looking back at him an impatient expression on her face. "No?" He whispered to himself. "I was careful just a face in the background at those palace parties." Shaking his head he started again keeping pace with his guide.
They stopped outside an innocuous door the only indication that something was going on was the two guards in full combat armour their hands on their weapons. The servant politely rapped on the door and ushered Tony in. The room was sparsely decorated in the centre was a large round table with chairs all around it. On the side of the table furthest from the door were two empty chairs but flanking them were several high ranking admirals. Immediately he saluted his hand banging against his chest. One of the admirals was Admiral Wen Ju his mentor. The short Chinese man showed no facial expression but Tony was used to that. He noticed the admiral seated next to Wen Ju, Admiral Jones who led the attack on the palace or so the news said stopping an alien threat to the empire.
"Sit down Captain Miller." Another admiral said, he didn't know who she was but she had a borderlands accent the same as his first officer.
He sat feeling out of place.
"You will be taking over command of the Jakarta."
"Commodore Pulaski's ship?" He asked. He had heard some odd rumours about the former captain's death, one saying he was an alien in disguise. He had dismissed the rumours and concentrated on the facts. Commodore Pulaski was dead and whether any else was true was something that could be investigated later.
"Your crew from the General Waverly will replace most of the crew aboard the Jakarta."
Tony was perplexed normally Central Command handled crew and officer placement and why were there two empty seats.
"Oh course sir?" Tony replied hiding his confusion.
The sound of the door opening behind him had the admirals scrambling to their feet and saluting Tony decided to do like wise. He turned to see the empress and her mother Lady Camelia enter. The empress dressed in a knee length, pale green business suit the colour similar to an imperial uniform. Her mother wore a long purple and green dress tight at the hip and flaring out to a skirt that reached to the floor. They swept past him without a second look and took the two vacant chairs. With his hand still clenched to his chest he could see the empress' red rimmed eyes, she had been crying he guessed but when she spoke there was no note of upset in her voice.
"Please be seated." She gestured to the seats around the table. "I sorry I was late there was some business that needed to be attended to." Tony remained standing as the Admirals took their seats. "You to Captain Miller."
Tony wondered why she had said that. There was more going on here then he had first expected. There seemed to be a whole level of subtext he was failing to read. Again a number of scenarios flashed through his mind. He sat watching the empress and her mother carefully.
"Should he be here?" One of the admirals asked. Tony wasn't sure who he was.
"Captain Miller?" Lady Camelia replied. "Yes why not, he'll only hear the same things we will be releasing to the press."
The admiral bowed in the empress' direction. "My apologies your majesty."
Tony was intrigued he had a feeling that this was something that would involve him.
"Most of you already know the truth." The empress gestured to Admiral Jones and Wen Ju. "And some know the rumours. The truth is that the Usurper Augustus II was under the influence of a alien."
Tony took in a deep breath noting he wasn't only one.
The empress continued as if nothing had changed. "A race called the Rhosani the same one that enslaved the T'Arni. These Rhosani encouraged the Usurper to attack the Confederacy. I won't go into details here, it will be in the press release. I have put security forces on alert there may be those that are too stupid to believe the truth or those that will attack Confederacy holdings because they believe any alien is not human. I want to stamp out such prejudice, as quickly as possible we need the full co-operation of the Confederacy to help us deal with this."
"And they will?" An admiral asked.
"Of course. I have an ace in the hole." The empress looked at Tony. "Captain Miller will be part of the special force I'm assembling to deal with Rhosani threat."
Tony sat back certain that there was more not said in context than was being said and again he had the feeling it was to do with him.
"Will the Confed's take this as an excuse to rearm?" One Admiral asked an elderly woman with a scar across her face Tony thought she looked familiar.
"The Confederacy already know about the Rhosani, Admiral Leven."
Tony whistled under his breath Admiral Helki Leven was a legend but as far as he knew she had been retired a decade or more.
The empress continued speaking. "They sent one of their ships to investigate Rhosani activity in their space." She nodded to her mother. "The same ship was instrumental in our escapes from the Usurper's traps." She paused. "And the reason I am negotiating a treaty with them."
"They'll accept a treaty from us after we unconditionally attacked them without warning?" Helki spoke her tone full of doubt.
"The Confederacy Senate and their High Command have both agreed to the treaty."
Tony noted the sceptical looks from some of the admirals again he wondered why he was still here.
"The succession of hostilities will free up our forces to participate in the battle with the Commonwealth?" Tony surmised. He was rewarded with a nod from Admiral Wen Ju.
"Could we do the same there?" Another admiral enquired.
"The Orsini will see that as a weakness. We will only end the war if we prove we are stronger." The empress favoured Tony with a glance in his direction. "The Special Force's first order of business is to investigate the war with the Orsini. Details are too sketchy for us to determine if we were the start, or that they were taking a chance on thinking we had committed most of our forces in the attack on the Confederacy?"
Tony could agree with that attacking the Confederacy was a bad idea but attacking the Commonwealth was pure suicide.
"Oh Captain Miller." The empress sounded apologetic. "We seem to have neglected you. I must apologise, your ship awaits you need to get your crew settled and had time to familiarise yourself with you new ship."
That was a dismissal if ever he heard one. Tony stood and saluted. "God grant you victory your majesty." He turned on his heel and marched out the door.
A man leaned against the opposite wall. He was tall as tall as Tony with neatly brushed hair and an immaculately trimmed beard his suit was a utilitarian navy blue. He straightened on seeing Tony.
"Captain Miller may I walk with you to the exit?"
To Tony it sounded more like an order. "You may?" He couldn't keep the suspicion out of his voice.
"Thank you." The man replied with a nod to the guards outside the door.
They walked the man easily keeping pace with him. Tony was surprised at the hustle and bustle of servants even at this time of night.
"So what do you think of our empress?" The man asked suddenly.
The question was so sudden and innocent that Tony floundered for an appropriate answer so he plumbed for the truth. "A little young for all that responsibility."
"Too true but she will grow into it. Ah here's the exit." The man pulled an envelope from his jacket and a commercial transport ticket. "The empress asked me to give you this envelope. Do not open it now. It is keyed to your biometrics and will wipe once you read it. And the ticket is first class all the way to mars. "
"When am I supposed to open it?" Tony asked stuffing the envelope into his jacket and pocketing the ticket.
"You will receive a signal open it them. One other thing do not lose it." The man smiled. "Good luck captain."
Empress Constantina leaned back in her chair the title still felt new to her. "You think we over did that a tad too much?" She addressed her question to her mother seated next to her.
"He will follow orders." The older woman replied.
"I just worry that we're using one of our best officers as bait?"
""He's a soldier so he knows the risks." Admiral Wen Ju remarked. "Its too dangerous to give him the whole truth."
Constantina turned to Admiral Jones just looking at him reminded her of her friend dead to Rhosani treachery. "But will it be enough to draw the Rhosani in?"
"Long range sensors are picking up anomalous readings we're sure its them." He nodded to his fellow admirals. "And our fleet will trail behind him just out of his sensor range."
Constantina turned to her mother. "Will we have enough Telepaths?"
"We've got precious few and most are on guard at a most sensitive locations. We can't afford to lose earth to them again. The Confederacy are still mulling over your proposal."
"We gave them all the information we have what more do they want?" Constantina muttered
"You know as well as I was to what they want." Her mother replied.
"That's non negotiable she isn't a bargaining chip."
"Then we must pray our good captain will be enough."
The empress gestured to the admirals. "Thank for your time we'll meet again at a decent hour."
The two women relaxed as the admirals filed out.
"That wasn't so hard now was it?"
"I'll breath easier once the Rhosani are gone. Then we can get back to setting things right."
"Amen to that." Her mother breathed.
The door opened and the bearded man entered.
"Well?" Constantina asked him.
"He's suspicious but he will follow orders. We lead him on a merry chase he'll reach his ship but later than he suspects it will give us time to find any agents they left behind." He nodded to the empress' mother.
"See I told you not to worry about it." She told Constantina. "Any clue as to why he was hanging around the palace?"
The man laughed. "It was so simple to pick it out of his mind."
"Your cousin, he likes her." The man pursed his lips. "Sorry your majesty he doesn't see you in the same light. You are a figurehead to him the leader of the empire. But your cousin is something else, someone he can relate to a fellow soldier, a companion perhaps even a lover if she wasn't so frosty."
"I see." Constantina replied coldly.
"No I can see the possibilities. He might be the one to tie her to the empire. When he returns invite him to the palace. If this goes we planned then he will have a reward." Her mother said thoughtfully.
"And Sandra is that reward?" Constantina sounded angry.
"No a simple medal is. Then as our 'expert' he will have an excuse to linger around the palace."
"I could arrange to get them keep bumping into each other. My agents says he's the only one she's shown any interest in beyond her normal disdain for those others you've tried to foist on her." The man remarked with a grin.
"Perhaps it could work. It will keep her out of your hair. Wasn't she minutes from boarding a shuttle when your people found her?" Constantina said with a frown.
The man grimaced. "I've had words with them. We'll be more careful. Any way we have more important matters. I've put a tracker on him so we can monitor his progress. Everything we do hinges on this gamble. Pull it through and we can drive the Rhosani back into whatever hell they exited from." With that he was gone.
The two woman lingered for a few moments more before they to were gone and the room drifted into silence.