A soft hum followed by a flash of light told Xiau Yi that his fleet had left subspace and entered the Aquarius system. He left his chambers and made his way to the bridge, his cape billowing in a most satisfying way behind him. His mood had drastically improved during the last days and it was quite obvious from the swagger in his step. He smiled widely as the bridge doors opened and every crew member on the bridge immediately stood at attention.
He gestured for them to continue with their work and sat down on his chair, crossing his legs in a comfortable lounging pose.
"Sire, we're picking up the IFF of our friendly fleet. They are already at the rendezvous point."
Xiau Yi nodded.
Good, that old geezer is at least obedient. Though I'm suprised that he managed to get here before my fleet did. I may have to consider taking harsher disciplinary measures when the supposed ‘Delest Finest’ are being outdone by frontline fleets.
"Prepare to jump! We're meeting up with them right now."
One brief subspace jump later, the DD 2nd Home Guard had arrived at the designated rendezvous point: an unremarkable point in the Aquarius nebula. It would have been slightly less unremarkable had the 3rd Frontier Fleet been there to greet them.
Instead there was a whole load of nothing, gas and…
Xiau Yi's smirk melted off his face "What is the meaning of this?! Where are they?"
"We... we don't know sire! We're detecting the proper IFF codes but... these appear to be decoys!"
Xiau Yi’s good mood was well and gone. He turned to face his Commodore who had been stoically standing next to his chair this whole time. "Go to battle stations! This has got to be a ploy, a plot! A conspiracy! That old fool is after my life!"
The Commodore had to suppress his urge to slump his shoulders and sigh.
"As you wish, Sire, but I do not deem it likely that Admiral Kalazonitov would commit himself to something that foolish."
"I will not take a gamble with my life just because you do not seem it likely!"
"Of course, Sire."
Shortly after, the fleet reported combat ready, all the shields raised, all the energy weapons charged and every missile tube loaded.
Admiral Kalazonitov leaned back in his chair, on the Bridge of Katyusha, steepled his fingers and sighed.
“Well, if he was planning to attack first, he would have done so by now,” he said, eyeing Tanya, who was standing next to him in her usual place. “I don’t mind telling you that it would have made things easier if he had.”
He shifted around in his chair for a bit, adjusting the ceremonial sword he had strapped to his side
“Messier – but easier. Now I’ll have to dig up the court lackey persona, which I absolutely despise. Oh well, needs must.”
He turned to the ship’s chief sensors’ officer, a grey-haired lieutenant.
“Lieutenant Pavlov, can you confirm that they have powered up their weapons?”
“Aye, sir!” came the answer. “All sensor platforms we seeded into the ECM warheads report live weaponry!”
Kalazonitov’s sigh was that of a disappointed schoolmaster. “So, Tanya – here’s what we have to deal with. A commanding officer, who finds himself in a position that he suspects might be a trap – and stays there. He powers up his weapons, telegraphing that he suspects trouble, but he doesn’t jump out and he doesn’t shoot down our platforms. For the Empress’ sake, he’s like a scared child, standing frozen in the middle of a dark room and turning around quickly in the hopes of not being surprised by the bogeyman! Meanwhile, if we were Hierarchy – or any enemy, for that matter - we’d be enjoying continuous sensory information on his formation and tactics, because he doesn’t shoot down our sensors!”
“Oh, damn it, rambling again. Sorry my dear.”
“Quite alright, sir.”
Kalazonitov keyed up the frequencies of his division commanders and watched as their faces blinked into existence over his chair’s holodisplay. “Ladies and Gentlemen, engage Blink and Dazzle at time 0120. Weapons are to be live, but locked, I repeat, locked. If any ship fires without being fired upon, I will have its commander’s head on a platter and I will engage decimation protocols for its gunnery crew. I’ve never had to do so before, Ladies and Gentlemen, do not make me do so now. Make sure that all navigation systems are synchronized and double check your jump plans. Empress be with you, Kalazonitov out.”
After the see-through heads had acknowledged their orders and after the last of them had blinked off, Kalazonitov slumped back, his dress uniform’s cap grating against the back of his chair. His fingers drummed a quick nervous rhythm in the armrest, as he watched the digital timer counting down to the fleet’s jump time.
“What am I going to do with him, Tanya?” he asked softly.
“Teach him, sir.” Skivlana whispered. "If he'll let you."
The counter reached zero. The fleet jumped.
And entered realspace again in a single blinding flash, its formation impeccable. The 2nd Home Guard was suddenly faced by a wall of capital ships, some of them visibly wounded by the fight against the Hierarchy and yet taking up their place in the fleet order. As one, hundreds of thrusters fired and the ships decelerated, coming to a relative stop and turning, taking up places in what, in the DD navy, was called ‘The Empress’ Wall’.
It was a parade formation – meant to allow Admirals (or the Empress) to inspect their fleets – and it was done with such precision and care that only the obsessive – compulsive Captain Urumov could have organized it.
Xiau Yi nearly fell backwards into his chair when the whole of the 3rd fleet jumped in, right in front of him. His first reflex was to order his ships to open fire but before he could find the words, one of the bridge crew exclaimed "Sir, incoming transmission from the Katyusha!"
Xiau Yi paused and took a deep breath to try and found his composure again. "O-Open a channel."
The holoscreen flared to life, and the prince came face-to-face with Admiral Kalazonitov, in his dress uniform. The Admiral saluted crisply, his face expressionless.
“Greetings your Highness," he said. "3rd Dynasty Frontier Fleet, reporting as ordered."
Xiau Yi tried his best to look calm and 'majestic' but to any observant eye it was clear that he was a bit shaken.
"Rear Admiral Kalazonitov, what is the meaning of this?! Why have you set up this... this theater?"
Kalazonitov's calm expression did not change - with the exception of an eyebrow that rose an infinitesimal fraction of an inch.
"A theater, your Highness? I am not sure what you mean. If you are referring to the ECM missiles I sent along the obvious path of my fleet, they were a necessary precaution. TacNet held records of your forces engaging Nordera and stealth Zy units behind our lines - but no records of those forces actually being destroyed. According to the data available, there is at least one Zy carrier operating as a raider, with stealthed fighters available - how could I risk my fleet being attacked in transit? Or even falling for some sort of decoy at our rendezvous point? I sent the missiles ahead to draw any enemy fire and jumped in as soon as I had confirmation of your presence here."
The Admiral's head tilted slightly to the side.
"As to the formation my fleet is in, I thought it fitting, considering your Highness' rank. I thought you might want to inspect the 3rd before issuing your orders. By the way, would you prefer to do so via a secure channel, or would you like us to meet personally? My communications officer reports that he can set up a secure two-way connection in a few minutes. You are, of course, welcome on board Katyusha at any time. I would respectfully request, though, that you come to a decision as soon as possible - I need to have something to appease the Alliance CIC and the sooner I get my orders, the sooner I can brief them and have them stop flooding our government's and my own inbox with outraged demands for your head. You know how they can be."
Xiau Yi just stood there for a moment, overwhelmed. He was not gaping like a fish, but he felt quite close to it. This was not how he had imagined things would go. He was going to chew this old man out, and make sure that all the blame of the Zy behind the lines was firmly pinned on him. But Kalazonitov had fully taken the initiative here and made him look like a fool.
"Yes. The carrier," he finally stammered "I must speak to you face to face about this. Be on board my ship in one hour from now."
He had barely finished his sentence when he cut off communications. He dropped back into his chair with an audible sigh. He needed to gather his thoughts. He had completely underestimated his 'opponent'. Behind him, his Commodore looked at him with eyes full of pity.
"Sire, shall we end combat readiness?"
Xiau Yi jerked up from his chair and, as he rushed out of the bridge, said "Prepare the welcome hall for our guests. I'll be in my ready room. Inform me when they are here." The doors closed behind him before anyone could reply.
"I'll take that as a yes."
Elsewhere on the flagship, a young pilot went over several items on his desk.
"Sakura, Dimitri, Hyun... I'll make him pay, I swear." he whispered to himself as he started putting several grenades in his pockets.
"All my friends... gone just like that... I'll kill that bastard... I will murder him." He holstered his sidearm and checked his watch. "In just sixty minutes..."
“No, Dmitri, you may not escort me,” Kalazonitov snapped, as he strode down the corridor, his cane tap-tap-tapping along with his single boot and prosthetic leg. “I need you and two of your best pilots to fly escort for the shuttle – not to babysit me on board my superior officer’s flagship.”
“Superior officer? Hell, sir, we both know that…”
Kalazonitov froze in his tracks and spun around, his cane whipping up and landing lightly on Grishenko’s solar plexus, like a fencing blade.
“Be careful what you say, Captain,” he admonished. “No matter what else he is, he is still my commanding officer and a member of the ruling dynasty of our Motherland. I do not ask that you respect him, but I do ask that you respect his rank and refrain from any comments that might be misunderstood as treacherous – or as lesé majesté.”
“Yes, sir,” Grishenko stepped back, looking sheepish. “But I still don’t like you going over with just Tanya with you.”
Kalazonitov snorted. “You’ve never studied Tanya’s file, have you, Captain?” he asked, making for the hangar door at the end of the corridor.
“Can’t say I have, sir,” Grishenko admitted, moving to keep up. “I only check the public files of my commanding officers – and the men under my command, obviously. Anything else seems...really indiscreet.”
“Commendable,” Kalazonitov said, gently. “But still – had you done so, you would have known that our dear Lieutenant Commander Skivlana is an active Spetsnaz GRU agent, openly posted to the 3rd fleet as an observer and as an intelligence officer. Believe me, the fact that she has three years of anti-dissident field action on her record and that she can drive her fist through a man’s gut and out the other end does not detract from her skills as an aide.”
“боже мой! What…I never new!”
“That is the point, Captain.” Kalazonitov was smiling. “It’s no secret – while I do not doubt that the GRU has posted other agents to the fleet as well – agents I do not know about - , Tanya was assigned to me at my own request – and at her own, as well. I knew her father, you see, and I also knew that she is someone I could rely on. So I pulled a few strings. And here she is, one of the best bodyguards I could ask for, right when I need one. Truly, the Empress works in mysterious ways.”
“Yes, sir. She does.”
The blast doors whooshed open, and Kalazonitov stepped through, snapping a quick salute to the honor guard that framed the way to the shuttle. He negotiated the craft’s hatch with the practiced movements of a veteran spacer, although his prosthetic leg, his cane and his ceremonial sword did give him some trouble.
“I expect you on my wing, Dmitri,” he called through the closing hatch. “Show us some nice flying!”
“Will do, sir!” the Flight Commander called back, saluting smartly.
The hatch closed with a hiss and a clunk of securing bolts. Kalazonitov dropped into a chair next to Lieutenant Commander Skivlana, who returned his glance coolly.
“I feel it necessary to inform you, sir, that I consider this to be a very bad move,” she said. “I hope you understand that we are putting ourselves completely at the mercy of this man.”
“I doubt that he will try anything,” Kalazonitov replied, leaning back and snapping his security harness on, as the shuttle shuddered and silently glided out of the hangar, riding a soft burst of its thrusters. “If he has any brains, he is probably thinking about what I meant by everybody wanting his head – and once he finds out, I hope that he will realize that doing something stupid to us will not help him in the least. But, then again, that might be giving him too much credit – and that is why I am bringing you along.”
“Yes, sir. But that is what I mean – I am good at what I do, but we’d need a full Spetsnaz GRU strike team to get you out of there, if things go south! I want you to understand that I am making no guarantees. In fact…”
“Enough, Tanya,” Kalazonitov said calmly. He was actually astonished. That had sounded almost like nervous rambling. “I understand. I am still glad you’re coming with me, though. Thank you for agreeing to accompany me.”
“It’s my job, sir.”
“Hm.” Kalazonitov sounded disappointed. “And here I thought you were going along with a friend.”
The air onboard the 2nd Home Guard flagship Chongmingdao was cool and clear, quite unlike the slightly stifling, infinitely recycled atmosphere of Katyusha. Tanya was the first to disembark from the shuttle, aiding Kalazonitov in turn. The Admiral smoothed down his dress uniform, adjusted his grip on his walking cane and only then returned the salute of the tired-looking Commodore who waited for him at the end of the line of guards.
“Permission to come aboard, sir?” he asked.
“Granted. Welcome aboard, Admiral,” came the answer. “I am Commodore Hitachi. I have been asked to show you to his Highness, as soon as you arrived. If you would follow me?”
“Lead on, Commodore,” Kalazonitov said, falling into an exaggeratedly labored stride next to the other officer, Tanya following behind him like a shadow. “I am looking forward to meeting his Highness. Looking forward to it indeed.”
The walk was a short one, but Kalazonitov had the time to look around surreptitiously. He saw shining brass and buckles, perfectly pressed uniforms and statue-like guards. What he didn’t see was any indication that the Chongmingdao was a warship and not a fancy hotel.
Before long the group was standing before a pair of excessively large and decorated doors. The doors were but a prelude to the even more excessively large and decorated hall behind them. In the center of the room was an excessively large and decorated table, half of it filled with various foods and drinks. Far, far away, almost hidden behind the mountains of fruit and wine bottles, at the end of the table, Xiau Yi was seated.
"Welcome Admiral! Thank you for coming the long way from the front line at my summons. Please, take a seat."
"Thank you, your Highness," Kalazonitov said, with a click of his heels and a small bow, before settling in one of the chairs. Tanya stayed on her feet, moving behind him in a relaxed parade rest. "May I present my aide, Lieutenant Commander Tanya Skivlana? She handles most of the administrative protocols and helps my XO keep the 3rd into something resembling an organized fleet. Please do not hesitate to speak in front of her - her security clearance is the same as mine."
In fact, it is considerably higher than mine, but there's no reason why you should know that yet, pipsqueak, the Admiral thought wryly.
The Admiral balanced his cane at the side of his chair and leaned forward, putting his hands on the table.
"That said, I am at your disposal, your Highness. In what emergency can the 3rd Frontier Fleet assist you?"
Xiau Yi gave a slight nod toward Tanya, thinking to himself that he should make an effort to get her transferred to his command after this, before he turned to Kalazonitov. He had been sitting in this chair, pondering on how he was going to do this. But every scenario he ran through his head came up short. That is why he had finally decided to use his old true and tried method. Power abuse.
"Admiral." he paused for dramatic effect "I'm going to be blunt with you." He again paused for a moment.
"For the sake of my honor I'm going to have you take the blame for the damage suffered to my fleet." he raised his hand in a 'wait, I'm not done talking yet' gesture and continued with a smug smile on his face "Now the first thought that is probably going through your mind is 'that's not fair!' and I would have to agree with you. But, you see, life isn't fair. I could end your career with a single call. I could overrule any and all protests you could possibly muster."
Aaaah he loved this part. Why would he need to scheme and manipulate anyway? This is how it should be! He was a member of the most powerful family known to Terran space. His will was absolute!
"So please be a nice old man and cooperate willingly."
He was fast approaching the last corridor leading to the grand hall. Normally pilots like him weren't even allowed to walk in these corridors without special permission. He was determined, he wasn't going to turn back now... He wasn't going to let the death of his friends be unavenged.
"Ah." Kalazonitov nodded, leaning back. "I see. Well, I'm not particularly surprised. Since you've been this direct with me, your Highness, I will return the favor."
He steepled his fingers and focused on them, seemingly in deep thought. "While I have no doubt that during peacetime you would most definitely succeed in your endeavors, your Highness, I regret to inform you that this is war and, as such, the conditions are subtly but definitely different. For instance, at this point, it has certainly become obvious to all persons in positions of authority - including the senior military chiefs and, in all probability, the Empress - that you are an inexperienced commander, prone to making bad mistakes. Digging out the actual facts of what happened was easy for my intelligence people in Draco - doing so will be much easier for the analysts back home. You placing the official blame on anybody else will not change that - they will still know. You could save face with the public and everybody of importance could act as if they are fooled - nobody who matters will be, however. I believe that, given the option to choose between a proven commander of a veteran fleet and an irresponsible youngster that tries to shift the blame, they'd back the former. I'd probably get a slap in the back of the hand and sent back to actually win some battles - while you'd be called back quietly to be assigned some position of minimal responsibility.”
“How…how DARE y…”
"If you were an important member of the Dynasty,” Kalazonitov continued, as if Xiau Yi had said nothing, “you might still get away with it, even in wartime. You are not, however. If you were, you'd be back home, lobbying and jockeying for a better position in the court games. Instead, you are here, placed in command of a Home Guard fleet. You have been given a shiny toy, your Highness, and shown to a side room to play, while the grownups do the important talking.
"Again, you might have managed to pull this off. Military command is a classic way for a low-ranking member of the Dynasty to gain glory and renown. However you screwed up - which is not as bad as you think, given your inexperience - and then you panicked and dug your own grave. You tried to shift the blame, which is understandable, but you did so as an absolute ruler would. You called me back. You called my fleet back, to personally slap me in the face. Big mistake.
"You see, your Highness, for the duration of this war, we are part of an Alliance. You are not an absolute ruler; one might argue that not even the Empress is, any more. Everything the joint fleets of the Alliance do is supposed to go through the Joint Command HQ - and the actions of each fleet reflect upon their nation. When you called me back from Draco, you essentially ordered me to leave a gaping hole in our front and to abandon our allies, leaving them essentially unsupported. You can be sure I reported exactly why I left and exactly whose orders I was following, both to our own HQ and to the Joint Command as well. Your Highness, for the last days, every Allied government is bombarding the Ministry of War with demands for your head. With a single order, you made an enemy out of every human and Cyrvan commander this side of Old Earth - and you made our fleets look like forces that would happily leave our allies hanging.
"So, please, go ahead. Make that phone call. Whom will you call? The War Minister? Some of the Crown Princes? The Empress herself? What do you think they'll say? Do you honestly think they'll pick an incompetent, irresponsible and pretty much expendable brat who thoroughly embarrassed the Motherland over one of the only two remaining veteran commanders and the first Admiral of the Alliance to defeat a Hertak fleet?"
Kalazonitov smiled thinly. "Go ahead, your Highness. Your move."
Behind Kalazonitov, Tanya's wristwatch beeped discreetly. The Lieutenant Commander glanced at the display and blanched.
Active plasma explosives in the area? They're after the Admiral!
She placed a hand on the back of Kalazonitov's chair, ready to drive him to the floor if necessary and, with the other, she thumbed a small contact on her dataslate. There was a barely audible click and part of the dataslate slipped out, dropping a single-shot mini fleshette pistol into her palm. She glanced anxiously toward the door, listening attentively for any hint of might be going on at the other side.
Two royal guards stood guard in front of the grand doors. Both were excellently trained in all sorts of martial arts and were excellent marksmen with every possible gun you can imagine.
However, no amount of training can save you from a plasma grenade with one second left on its timer being thrown at you from around the corner. One could argue that the heavy ceremonial armors that CRF knights wear would help but this was not a CRF ship.
A quick flash and explosion later both guards were incapacitated. Dead, actually. Turned into a thin dust cloud and two blackened silhouettes on the wall.
While the big doors were heavily shielded from sounds to prevent eavesdropping, no soundproofing can cancel out the noise of a plasma explosion. And nothing but a forcefield can shield something from a graviton grenade.
A graviton grenade followed the plasma one.
With an odd whirling sound, the doors briefly crumpled up into an implosion before exploding outwards with a massive burst of energy.
Xiau Yi jumped up from his chair and slammed his fists on the table, knocking over his wine glass in the progress
"My move you say?! Irresponsible brat!?! ADMIRAL, YOU ARE WAY OUT OF LI-"
He was cut short by the two doors flying into the room, followed by a cloud of dust and smoke. He was not given much time to grasp the situation as a single beam of light pierced through the smoke and burned a hole the size of a lemon in his upper chest.
Tanya reacted immediately. Kalazonitov was on the ground the moment the doors started to buckle. A good thing too, since a big chunk of those doors would have had a meeting with the old admiral's face otherwise.
Kalazonitov did not see the princeling die, because his face was pasted onto the floor, one of Tanya's knees pressing down on the small of his back. He did hear the blaster shot, though, and he could very well imagine what that meant.
Tanya had turned toward the door the moment Kalazonitov was down and had taken up a kneeling firing position over his body and behind the upended chair. She did not see the princeling die either, because she never took her eyes off the cloud of smoke that covered the entrance to the room.
She did see the shot that killed him, however. The same dust cloud that obscured the shooter made the blaster beam stand out like a firework. She calmly tracked the beam back to its source and her fleshette gun barked once, a single low cough that sent a hyperelocity rod toward the assassin before Xiau Yi's body had time to hit the floor.
The shot found its mark. The unseen assailant was hit squarely in the forehead. He staggered for a moment before slumping down. Xiau Yi still stood there dumbfounded for a moment, before he fell backwards into his chair, dead.
Only a few moments later did Commodore Hitachi storm to the scene with several guards in tow. He quickly assessed the situation, barked out a few orders to the guards before turning to the Admiral.
"Sir, are you alright?"
Kalazonitov stood a bit shakily, looking mournfully at his cane, which had been cleanly cut in half by a piece of flying debris.
"Hello, Commodore. Yes, I'm fine. The prince looks ... not fine, though."
One of the guards had, by then, reached the body of Xiau Yi and he wasted no time checking for lifesigns. Nobody with that big of a hole in him could still be alive. He looked back at the Commodore and Admiral and shook his head.
"Great," Kalazonitov sighed. "Just what the Motherland needed right now. An assassination of a Delest and a leaderless fleet, one system away from the front lines. Could this have been a political assassination? Does anybody know the assassin?"
"I think I do, sir," a sergeant volunteered, with a nervous glance to the Commodore. At a nod from the officer he continued. "He was a Delta wing pilot. The only survivor. I think he was ill during the attack of the Zy and couldn't fly. The whole wing was shot down."
"That simplifies matters, sir," Tanya volunteered. "Revenge assassination. He probably suffered survivor's guilt and blamed it all on the prince."
"Makes sense," Kalazonitov agreed. "However, this would mean that, on this ship, an unsupported man that gets a bit cranky can walk in with two specops-issue grenades and take out the fleet commander on a whim. Tanya, please have a talk with the security chief, if you don't mind."
"Oh, yes, sir. Absolutely."
"Right. Tanya, you will also need to find every GRU agent on board this ship. Get them here - I don't give a flying трахаться about their cover identities. Have them witness this; let them examine the room and the bodies, take testimonies. Tell them I am at their disposal, if they need to question me. Set them loose on the ship. I want absolutely no ambivalence about what happened here. Then, write a report - clear cut and concise and send it back to the Ministry. They need to know what happened.
He scowled and turned to the Commodore.
"Commodore Hitachi, I am not in the line of command of this fleet, but I am the senior ranking officer present in-system. I need to know what your contingencies are, at this point. From what I see, there are two options:
"Firstly, you can choose to assume command of the 2nd Home Guard yourself, as Prince Xiau Yi's XO. In a way, that would make things easier for me, because my hands are already full. If you do so, you will be required to take full responsibility for your fleet's actions, both here and back home. I must also tell you that, during that time you will only be an acting Admiral - your promotion will have to be ratified by the Ministry. Until that happens, I will still be considered senior to you and, as a commander of a fleet, I will have the authority to give you and your force orders. Be advised that my first order will be for you to take your fleet to Vega and, when there, to assist the Alliance forces in dealing with the incoming Zy forces. The 3rd Frontier Fleet will follow you there, of course.
"Your second option is for you to formally request the amalgamation of our two fleets. If you do that, the 2nd HG will cease to exist as a unit and will be absorbed into the 3rd FF. It has not happened often, but there are precedents and nobody will criticize you for it. If you do that, the responsibility for the actions of the joint force will rest with me and me alone. You can expect, however, to be assigned the command of a major task force of your choosing and you will find me a reasonable commanding officer in regards to my people taking the initiative. On that subject, if you choose to relinquish the command of the 2nd HG, I will immediately expect a comprehensive list of each vessel's and commanding officer's performance under Xiau Yi. I will also accept recommendations for the forming of a detachment that will be ordered to seek out and destroy all Zy units on our rear. Let me be frank, Commodore: I expect you to point fingers and I want every sneak, every sycophant to be on that detachment. If you keep command of the 2nd, you can do as you will, but I am only taking people I can trust to fight like demons through the Starlance - not boot lickers. I realize that those will probably be almost half of your fleet - I can live with that.
"So, Commodore, what's it gonna be? Will you hitch your wagon to mine, or take command of this circus? Or maybe you have another suggestion? Either way, you need to decide quickly. The Zy will not wait and we have much work to do.”
"Hmmm," The Commodore rubbed his chin in thought. "Sir, may I suggest that you discuss this with the Empress herself instead? She needs to be informed of what happened here as soon as possible and I do not think I am qualified to make a decision of this scale. We have a direct emergency line with the royal palace on this ship. I can set you up with a direct line of communications within five minutes."
Hitachi was better than his word - it was actually four minutes before the emergency line was up and Kalazonitov was before a holoscreen, bowing deeply before the image of the Empress and praying to God his leg wouldn't give out on him.
"Speak, Admiral," the Empress said curtly, her voice cold as ice.
Deep bow for the Empress aspect. Three seconds pause. Deep bow for the Goddess aspect. Leg creaks. Bugger
"Your Imperial Majesty, I have the sad duty to inform you of the violent death of his Imperial Highness, prince Xiau Yi, at the hands of a madman, not ten minutes ago. I was present during the assassination and only narrowly escaped death myself, thanks to the actions of one of Your Imperial Majesty's GRU agents. The same agent executed the assassin, but not before he had the chance to shoot his Imperial Highness, the prince. I wish to address to Your Imperial Majesty my heartfelt condolences for this sad loss."
"Hoo? Little Xiau died did he?" A sly smile appeared on Emperess Yu Ki Kohakuren's face. "What a shame."
If there was any sadness to be had, she showed nothing of it.
"But what a convenient timing! Wouldn't you agree, Admiral? It's almost as if someone planned this." Her almost fox-like eyes met Kalazonitov’s with a twinkle that might have been a bit of noise in the hologram. "You see, there has been a constant stream of foreign requests that we commit more forces to fight this alien invader and, with the recent destruction of one of our front line fleets, it may seem like we are weak... or plotting something behind their backs."
She chuckled briefly, as if this last thought might not be all that far from the truth.
"Admiral, I must admit to having a liking for your type. You hate the politics and bureaucracy that inevitably come with your position because they get in the way of your job. You'll curse them when only a few can hear you, yet you do not shy away from them. Instead you know exactly how to deal with them. You are a rough-around-the-edges, crippled man yet there is strength, wisdom and experience in you."
She paused for a moment and it might have been hesitation instead of a dramatic pause.
"Ivan Dimitrievic Kalazonitov, I hereby decree that you take command of the 2nd Home Guard along with your own fleet. And since the rank of Rear Admiral is unworthy for someone with such a large force under his command, I bestow on you the rank of Fleet Admiral, effective immediately.”
She smiled, then, a short but brilliant smile, something that one might see in the face of a mischievous girl.
“I may have given you several new political enemies with this as well and I'm sure this will lead to many more entertaining moments for me to enjoy. Don’t disappoint me, Fleet Admiral Kalazonitov."
And with that said, she cut the communications - not even giving the Admiral the chance to protest or utter his thanks.
In all truth – he didn’t know which of the two he would have done, anyway.
OOC: Well, here we are. A week's worth of RP messages, condensed into a mammoth post. Enjoy.
And yes, I just got double promoted and got a cool fleet that I intend to ram down the throats of the Zy. Can you say '50+ Base Capital Damage'?