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(STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets

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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Feb 21, 2018 12:41 am

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2186
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 17
But Breakwater had never been the sort to settle for partial credit. For him, glory shared was glory lost.
"Well, find out." With a snarl, Breakwater keyed off the uni-link. He stormed through the doorway, stopping short as he spotted Winterfall. "What are you doing here?"
Winterfall blinked in surprise. "You asked me here, My Lord," he said. "You wanted a report on Harwich's meeting with Countess Acton --"
"I meant, what are you doing at Angela's desk?"
"I was running a regulation search for a constituent," Winterfall said. It was true, just not the entire truth. "I saw you were busy, and since I assume Angela has already left for the day, I thought I might as well put the idle minutes to use." He nodded toward Breakwater's uni-link. "If I may, My Lord, it's already on record that Admiral Locatelli gave the order for Aries and Taurus to inflate their wedges."
"Are you trying to deflect me, Gavin?" Breakwater rumbled, his eyes narrowing. "Because I'm the one who taught you how to shift a conversation where you wanted it to go."
"I'm not trying anything, My Lord," Winterfall protested, fighting against the reflexive defensiveness. Sparking defensiveness in an opponent was another technique Breakwater had taught him. "I'm just a bit confused. Is someone saying now that Locatelli didn't give the order?"
For a long moment Breakwater continued to stare at him. Then, his lip twitched. "That's not the order I'm concerned about," he said. "I'm trying to find out who told MPARS Sphinx Command to retask one of our navigational satellites to spew nonsense radio signals out into the void."
"I thought it was a programming glitch."
"Sphinx Command assures me that the broadcast profile changes couldn't have happened by accident," Breakwater said. "No, someone had to have ordered it."
Winterfall nodded slowly. An interesting question, given that all major orders or policy decisions that concerned MPARS should at least be reported to Breakwater.
It was especially interesting given that the pool of possible suspects was almost vanishingly small. The only ones Winterfall could think of were Defense Minister Dapplelake, First Lord of the Admiralty Cazenestro, and System Commander Locatelli. He opened his mouth to point that out --
"Yes, there are only three possibilities," Breakwater growled. "And it wasn't any of them. Or if it was, the perpetrator certainly isn't admitting to it."
Perpetrator. Odd choice of words. "Well, some tech has to have done the actual reprogramming," Winterfall pointed out. "We should be able to find him or her and backtrack up the chain."
"One would think so, wouldn't one?" Breakwater said acidly. "Only so far that approach isn't working, either. Whoever that tech was also seems disinclined to claim his share of the glory."
"Glory?" Winterfall echoed, frowning. "There's glory involved?"
"Of course not," Breakwater bit out. "But someone obviously did it on purpose, and I assume that person had a reason for it. Only I can't get anyone tell me what the hell it was."
"Interesting," Winterfall murmured. In the three weeks since the Battle of Manticore he and Breakwater had run into several other instances of information silence. Usually it was just a matter of data that was backlogged or had been routed to the wrong person. But at least once it had appeared to be information that the Admiralty simply didn't want to share with its lesser MPARS cousin. "Do you want me to talk to my sources?"
"You mean your brother?" Breakwater snorted. "Don't hold your breath. As far as I can tell, he's become a pariah among the upper echelons. You saw how they brushed aside any recognition of his contributions during the battle. I don't know why Locatelli doesn't like him, but the tension there is quite visible. No, I doubt the Admiralty even listens to him anymore. They certainly aren't talking to him."
"You're probably right," Winterfall said, keeping his voice neutral.
Because he'd done some investigation of his own, and had come to a rather different conclusion. The Navy might not speak to Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long, but they certainly talked about him.
Not the whole Navy, certainly, and never on the record. But those who'd been his superiors over the past few years were quietly but solidly complimentary regarding his service.
In some places it went even farther. Despite the fact that Travis hadn't received any important commendations for his actions against Tamerlane, Casey's commander had made it clear -- and on the record -- that the credit for the cruiser's survival during her part of the battle rested largely with Travis.
Competent military officers didn't ignore talent when they saw it. Senior officers like Locatelli didn't engage in feuds with officers that much their junior. In the end, Winterfall had been forced to the only remaining conclusion.
Travis's accomplishments were being downplayed because the Admiralty didn't want any glory to reflect off him onto Winterfall. And, by extension, onto Breakwater.
It was petty, in Winterfall's opinion. More so even than Breakwater's Travis/Locatelli feud theory.
It was also infuriatingly counterproductive. The Navy and MPARS were on the same side, after all, with both forces dedicated to the defense of the Star Kingdom. They just had different views on how best to do that.
But it got worse. Even as the Navy proclaimed victory and Locatelli basked in the warmth of public acclaim, the Admiralty was finding itself faced with a terrible and inescapable fact.
Namely, that Breakwater was right.
The record spoke for itself. All three of the invading ships that had been destroyed -- two of them full-fledged battlecruisers -- had been taken out by a light cruiser, a destroyer, and an MPARS corvette. David and Goliath matchups, all of them; and in each case the smaller ship had won out. Locatelli's battlecruisers, for all their size and glory and prestige, had accomplished precisely nothing.
The Star Kingdom didn't need a few big warships, like Dapplelake and Cazenestro wanted. What it needed was a larger number of smaller ships, ready to swarm and overwhelm any war party that dared to breach the hyper limit.
Which was exactly what Breakwater had been suggesting for the past fourteen T-years.
And the Admiralty knew it. Reason enough for them to try to freeze Breakwater out of important information. Motive enough to try to hold back the inevitable tide of history that was turning in MPARS' favor.
But how reprogramming a random nav sat figured into the grand conspiracy Winterfall couldn't imagine.
"I'll look into it anyway," he told Breakwater. "About Harwich's meeting…?"
"Later," Breakwater said, turning back toward his office door. Already a million kilometers away, Winterfall could see. "You said you were doing a regulation search. Did you figure it out?"
"Yes, My Lord."
"Then screen your constituent," Breakwater said. "From your own office. Be back here in one hour."
"Yes, My Lord."
Winterfall didn't actually have to go all the way back to his office for this one. But Breakwater had ordered him there, and lately the Chancellor seemed extra touchy about having his instructions followed to the letter. And so, to his office he went.
And from the privacy of his desk, he screened his mother.
She didn't answer until the seventh ring. About average for her, in Winterfall's recent experience. Probably dealing with her dogs, as usual, but not in the midst of some crisis that kept her from answering at all. The connection opened -- "Hello, Gavin," Melisande Vellacott Long's voice came from Winterfall's uni-link. "I didn't expect you to screen at dinner time."
"Hello to you, too, Mother," Winterfall said. "Your dinner, or the dogs'?"
"The dogs', of course," she said, as if wondering why he even had to ask. "I never eat this early. Did you find that regulation I asked you for?"
"I did," he confirmed. "You were remembering it correctly."
"So I can run an in vitro breeding service here as well as my regular one? Wonderful. Where was it buried?"
"It wasn't exactly buried," Winterfall said. "It was part of a Landing land-use overview. And it didn't specifically mention dogs, pets, or in vitro, which is why your search couldn't find it."
"Well, good," Melisande said. "Now I can finally get that little bureaucrat off my back. Send me the link, will you?"
"Already done," Winterfall said. "By the way, I keep meaning to ask. Have you talked to Travis lately?"
"No. Why would I have?"
"I just thought you might," Winterfall said, floundering a little. The casualness of her dismissal -- "There was something of a scare this afternoon. I thought you might have seen the news and checked to see if Travis was all right."
"I don't watch the news this late in the day," Melisande said primly. "If there was a problem with Travis I'm sure you would have screened."
Winterfall frowned. "Mother…when exactly was the last time you and Travis talked?"
"I don't know," she said in the same disinterested tone. "I have to go -- Miggles is having trouble with his flews again."
"Wait," Winterfall said. "Three weeks ago -- after the battle -- didn't you even screen him then?"
"He didn't screen me," Melisande said. "Why should I screen him?"
"Because he could have died?"
"If he had, you'd have screened," Melisande said again. "And I really do have to go. Thank you for the link. We'll talk later." Without waiting for a reply, she keyed off.
Winterfall stared at his uni-link. If he had, you'd have screened? What in the hell kind of comment was that?
The comment of a woman who didn't really care about her younger son.
Slowly, Winterfall lowered his arm to his desk, an eerie feeling trickling through him. Years ago, during one of their infrequent get-togethers, Travis had tried to tell his older half-brother about the growing rift between him and their mother. At the time Winterfall had been too busy to give it much thought, and what little thought he did give it was quickly dismissed as the over-exaggerations of a frustrated teenager.
Clearly, the situation had gotten worse.
Maybe even pathologically worse. Briefly, he wondered if he should talk to her about getting some kind of therapy, or at least see if she would visit a counselor. Being aloof toward Travis was one thing; not caring whether he lived or died was an order of magnitude worse.
Winterfall winced. Not that he could claim any high ground. Time and again over the years he'd passed up a chance to meet with or even screen his brother. Three weeks ago, with the realization that the Star Kingdom was being invaded and that Travis was facing imminent death, he'd seen the terrible folly of his neglect, and had vowed not to let such opportunities ever slip away again.
Now, three weeks later, he had yet to carve out time to even have lunch together.
He swore under his breath. Well, that was going to change. That was going to change right now. He lifted the uni-link again --
It pinged before he could key it.
He clenched his teeth. Breakwater. "Yes, My Lord?"
"Did you see the King's latest announcement?" the Chancellor demanded.
"No, My Lord," Winterfall said, frowning as he keyed his computer. Palace announcements…there it was. "You mean the outdoor memorial service and requiem for the fallen next month?"
"Keep reading," Breakwater said stiffly. "The part about the Monarch's Thanks earlier that afternoon."
Winterfall skimmed the announcement. The senior officers from each of the ships that had taken part in the battle would embark from the Palace aboard the Royal Yacht Samantha and be taken to the Wintons' private retreat on Triton Island for a luncheon, returning to Landing in time for the memorial service. "Seems like a nice gesture," he said, wondering what Breakwater was seeing that he wasn't.
"Look closer," Breakwater growled. "The senior Naval officers are being invited. There's no mention of Aries and Taurus."
Winterfall gave the notice another look. The Chancellor was right: the two MPARS ships weren't specifically mentioned.
On the other hand, they weren't specifically excluded, either. Breakwater was probably reading more into the announcement than was actually there.
"I'm sure that's just an oversight, My Lord," Winterfall told him, choosing the most diplomatic approach to the problem. "If you'd like, I can call the Palace and have that clarified."
"You do that," Breakwater said. "And you make it clear that MPARS played a huge role in the battle and we will not be left out of the public consciousness. Whether Dapplelake likes it or not."
"Yes, My Lord."
"And when you're finished, come back here," the Chancellor continued. "I want to hear what Harwich and Acton had to say to each other."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Feb 22, 2018 11:14 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2186
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A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 18
CHAPTER EIGHT
With the flurry of activity that had surrounded the brief Barcan incursion, plus all the reports and datawork afterward, it was three more days before the Committee hearings resumed. During that time Travis nurtured a private hope that they might have forgotten all about him, and that the glaring spotlight would move on.
No such luck. On the second day of the resumed hearings, he was ordered to report for testimony.
To find that Breakwater had managed to up the ante even higher. Not only had Travis been called, but Commodore Heissman had also been summoned to share the hot seat alongside him.
They sat there for over half an hour, answering questions, making statements, and occasionally spotting and respectfully disagreeing with some of the Chancellor's unstated and more slanted assumptions about the battle and the people who had waged it. For Travis, it seemed to last longer than the battle itself.
And when the session was over, and they'd been dismissed, they finally learned what the Chancellor's true purpose had been in all of this.
"It seems clear, My Lords," Breakwater intoned as Travis and Heissman collected their tablets and other gear and headed for the door, "that the Naval Academy has proven itself woefully inadequate in carrying out its chartered duties. I think it's clear that, with a few exceptions, the officers commanding the Star Kingdom's ships relied almost exclusively on luck to see them through."
Travis paused, half turning back. They'd relied on luck?
"Let it go, Lieutenant," Heissman murmured from beside him.
"We need better than that," Breakwater continued. "It is therefore my intention to petition the government for a new training facility, one that will be used exclusively for MPARS personnel."
Travis's thoughts flashed back to his time at Casey-Rosewood and the Academy, and to the more recent horror stories he'd heard about how adding a trickle of MPARS personnel to the student body was already straining the Navy's resources to the limit. If Breakwater now raided those resources for a completely new facility --
"Because the last thing we can afford is the stale, by-the-book strategies and tactics we so recently witnessed," Breakwater concluded.
Travis had been fully prepared to keep his mouth shut, as Heissman had told him, and walk out of the room. But that one he couldn't let pass.
"Excuse me, My Lord," he spoke up. "That's not fair."
Every eye at the table turned to him. "Not fair?" Breakwater repeated, feigned puzzlement on his face. "Not fair? Tell me, Lieutenant, from your vast military knowledge and experience: how is that unfair?"
Travis clenched his teeth. Once again, he'd opened his mouth without thinking it through. He really needed to stop doing that.
But it was too late to back out now. "With all due respect, My Lord, the tactics of response are defined by the tactics of attack. Tamerlane chose the vectors and timing; the commanders of each Manticoran group assessed and responded with skill and efficiency."
"The Navy lost five ships," Breakwater pointed out. "Tamerlane lost three. Is this your idea of efficiency?"
"Two of those three ships were battlecruisers," Travis countered. "I believe that gives us the win."
"Let me make my point clearer," Breakwater said calmly. "The Navy lost five ships. MPARS didn't lose any. Furthermore, it was an MPARS corvette that took out one of the enemy ships."
"With the aid of a Navy destroyer," Travis said. "And in all cases the victories were due to the skill and ingenuity of the officers and crew."
"Indeed," Breakwater agreed. "But again, the ingenuity of junior officers and junior crewmembers." He lifted a hand and started ticking off fingers. "Petty Officer Charles Townsend. Senior Chief Fire Control Tech Lorelei Osterman -- all right; a senior, but a senior enlisted. Ensign Fenton Locatelli. And -- if I may be so bold -- Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long."
He favored Travis with a thin smile. "But thank you, Lieutenant, for making my case for me." The smile vanished. "And now, you and Commodore Heissman are dismissed."
* * *
Heissman was silent during the long walk down the corridor to the building exit. He didn't speak again, in fact, until they were in their aircar and heading back to their shuttle. Even then he confined his conversation to the current state of Casey's repairs and the details of upcoming work.
For his part, Travis didn't dare mention his stupidity in walking straight into Breakwater's trap. But such reminders were hardly necessary. Sooner or later, he knew, Heissman would have to bring up the fiasco, possibly as part of a formal discipline, possibly as a private, off-the-record dressing down. It was certainly no more than Travis deserved.
But it never happened. Heissman never mentioned the incident again.
Which wasn't to say that he was happy with how things had gone. Travis was pretty sure he wasn't. It also wasn't to say that he hadn't entered something scathing into Travis's record. Travis was almost positive he had.
There would be consequences for handing Breakwater more ammunition in his private war against the Navy. It was just a question of what those consequences would be, and when they would begin raining down.
* * *
"Unfortunately, Your Majesty," Dapplelake said heavily, "for once, the man is right."
"Really," King Edward said, long experience first in the Navy and then in Manticoran politics allowing him to keep his voice unemotional and unreadable. "This is almost a first for you."
"I know," Dapplelake said sourly. "But if I'm going to call him when he's wrong, I have to be fair when he's right. And Casey-Rosewood and the Academy simply cannot accommodate the kind of personnel MPARS is going to need in the near future. We're barely holding our own now."
"If we don't give Breakwater his own training center, we'll have to cut back on Navy personnel," Locatelli added from the seat beside him. "And this would be the absolute worst time to do that."
"Agreed," Edward said, peering down at his tablet and the figures the Defense Minister had just sent across.
The numbers were impressive. Edward had assumed that the sheer number of deaths resulting from the battle would have a dampening effect on enlistment. It had been just the opposite. Manticore was mourning, yes; but Manticore was also mad as hell. The Navy recruiters were overwhelmed, and the data shufflers were having to scramble to process all the applicants showing up at the centers.
It was immensely gratifying to see his subjects coming defiantly together against their unknown enemy. But the surge of emotion that was driving this wouldn't last. As the memories of that terrible day faded, people would start returning to their lives and their hopes and their pre-battle goals. This was the time to grab as many people as possible, and everyone at the table knew it.
So, surely, did Breakwater. MPARS enlistments weren't nearly at the Navy's level, but they were definitely on the rise. Now, while the warm and willing bodies were still excited at the prospect of defending the Star Kingdom, was no time to put obstacles and cooling-off time in front of them.
"If he gets his own academy, you'll need to supply him with some of the instructors," Edward reminded Dapplelake. "Possibly all of them. Can you afford to pull that many people?"
"No, but it's not quite as bad as it looks," Dapplelake said, tapping his tablet. Edward's own tablet flickered, and a new set of names appeared. "Our thought is to give him the smallest number of instructors we can get away with, and then fill in whatever else is needed with Navy officers whose ships are still undergoing repairs. Most of those officers and chiefs would be somewhat underemployed anyway, so we could probably spare them. That way Breakwater gets what he wants -- and what the Star Kingdom needs, I suppose -- without seriously damaging the Navy's own manpower buildup."
"It does seem the best of less-than-ideal options," Edward agreed, running his eyes down the list. He recognized a fair number of the names, and he mostly remembered them as competent. Some of them would squawk, of course, particularly some of the officers from the Peerage who had gone into the Navy for the prestige and what they'd thought would be easy jobs. One, in particular, he would bet money would use the term slumming in regards to a transfer to an MPARS training facility.
But at this point Edward didn't care about inconvenience or bruised egos. If Manticore needed a new training facility, it would get one.
And then, as he scrolled down the list, a message box suddenly appeared in the lower corner.
Princess on rooftop with glider. Advise.
Edward glared at the tablet. Again?
Why did his daughter always do this kind of thing when Cindy wasn't home to pin her ears back? She knew better than that -- or if she didn't, it wasn't because she hadn't been told often enough.
An instant later his brief flush of anger morphed into a quiet stab of guilt. With some teens, this would be a cry for help or attention. With Sophie, it was simply a matter that she wanted to do something fun and resented the new restrictions on her life.
As a father, Edward could understand that. Hell, he resented his new restrictions.
As for the timing, as a former Navy officer, he also knew exactly why she pulled these stunts when her mother wasn't at home. It was called tactics.
Still, this had to stop. Edward had talked about it until he was blue in the face. Clearly, he hadn't gotten through. Maybe it was time for someone else to give it a try.
Call her Aunt Elizabeth to deal with it, he typed back.
"Your Majesty?" Dapplelake asked.
"My apologies," Edward said, looking up again. "You were saying?"
"I was just listing the facilities we could spare from Casey-Rosewood," Dapplelake said, tapping another list to Edward's tablet. "We're thinking that we might be able to move some of the advanced tech classes to the Academy. It'll take some schedule juggling, but I think we can pull it off." He made a face. "Of course, the cadets probably won't appreciate having to share space with enlisted. But at this point, I really don't care."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:07 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2186
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 19
"Nor should anyone," Edward agreed. "Very well. Finalize your proposal, and we'll let the Cabinet and Naval Affairs Committee see it."
He tapped his tablet to bring up a new folder. "Next topic. At last report, we'd gathered a sizeable collection of debris from the destroyed battlecruisers. I want to hear the latest analysis results. We need to know who they were, and where they came from.
"And most importantly, what in the Star Kingdom is worth going to war over."
* * *
It had been a stressful day already, and Elizabeth had just settled down to a relaxing cup of tea when the message and order came down from the king.
The Tower, as it was simply called, had been one of King Michael's pet projects a decade ago. Designed to resemble a classic castle tower, Elizabeth had always thought it looked a bit out of place compared to the rest of the palace. But Michael had been king, so they'd humored him.
What nobody had realized was that he was quietly building a home where he could retire after his unexpected abdication three years ago. A place that would be private and outside the palace proper but still on the grounds.
The fact that it was the tallest building on the grounds also made it the perfect launching spot for short hang gliding flights to other parts of the grounds.
Most of Elizabeth's walk and elevator ride was spent wondering whether she should resent her brother's high-handed move in ordering her to deal with her niece. Her reluctant conclusion, though, was that he was the King, and if anyone had a right to be imperious, it was him.
She found a very unhappy Sophie glowering in the middle of the rooftop, a counter-grav belt secured around her waist and shoulders, a partially assembled hang-glider at her feet, and a pair of equally unhappy guards at her sides. "Let me guess," Elizabeth said as she walked toward the trio. "These fine gentlemen refuse to let you jump off the roof?"
"I've been hang gliding since I was ten T-years old," Sophie said in a feminine version of the same lofty outrage Elizabeth could remember from the teen's father when they were growing up. "That's half my life and at least two hundred flights. I don't think that in the past month I've forgotten how this works."
Elizabeth sighed. The girl knew perfectly well what the difference was. She was just pushing the boundaries, looking for a way out of the velvet cage that had closed inexorably around her. "You're the heir to the Throne, Sophie," she said gently. "You can't participate in unnecessarily dangerous pastimes anymore."
"My grandfather does it," Sophie reminded her.
"Your grandfather abdicated three T-years ago. He's a private citizen and can do whatever he wants."
"He was racing jetboats when he was still king," Sophie countered, her tone starting to take on a belligerent edge.
"I know," Elizabeth said, an unpleasant shiver running through her. She would never understand the whole faster-higher-crazier fascination that afflicted her brother, father, and grandfather. For a long time she'd assumed it was a glitch in the Winton Y-chromosome; and then Sophie had popped up with it, too, which effectively scotched that theory. Nurture, not nature, presumably, and she could only thank God that she'd been immune to the influence. "What it boils down to is that a King can do what he wants, but a Crown Princess can't. It may not be fair, but it's how the universe works. I wish it was otherwise."
Sophie gave a deep sigh. "No, you don't," she muttered. "If you had your way, you'd ground every jetboat, hang-glider, and hunti -- " She broke off.
"And hunting skimmer?" Elizabeth finished gently for her.
"I'm sorry, Aunt Elizabeth," Sophie said. The anger and frustration had vanished, replaced by guilt and shame. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…" She trailed off.
"It's all right," Elizabeth said, forcing away the sudden knot in her stomach. "I don't need you to remind me that Carmichael's gone. My whole world reminds me of it every day of my life."
Sophie closed her eyes, a pair of tears trickling out. "What's the matter with our family, Aunt Elizabeth?" the girl said miserably. "My brother -- your husband -- so many of us. You look at our family tree -- so many of us."
"There's nothing wrong with the Wintons, sweetie," Elizabeth assured her. "Most of those deaths were from the plague, and they had plenty of company among the general populace. It's just the swing of the pendulum. Sometimes it's someone else's turn; sometimes it's ours."
"I suppose." Sophie looked down at the hang-glider, blinking the tears out of her eyes. "Either way, no hang-gliding."
"Not today," Elizabeth said. "But don't give up hope. Your father's only fifty-seven T-years old, and as far as I know he's in perfect health. He and your mother are more than capable of having another child."
Sophie's face took on a slightly scandalized look. "That's not where I was expecting this conversation to go."
"Well, buck up, kiddo -- that's what makes the world go round. But here's the thing. If they have another child, all you have to do is wait a few years, abdicate in his or her favor, and be hang-gliding that same afternoon."
"I could really do that?" Sophie asked, frowning.
"Your grandfather did it," Elizabeth reminded her. "You'd just be doing it a lot sooner."
"I suppose," Sophie said, frowning harder. "I don't know. Seems a little like cheating."
"Oh, it's a lot like cheating," Elizabeth confirmed. "But if you really don't want the job, that's your way out."
The frown cleared away, and Sophie smiled puckishly.
"And if I don't want my name and the family's honor in the sewer, I stick with it anyway? Is that where you're going with all this?"
Elizabeth shrugged.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sophie. Really. I'm just helping you figure out what's already in your heart and soul."
"Yeah." Sophie took a deep breath, let it out in a sigh. "Thanks, Aunt Elizabeth. If my parents do have another girl, I hope they name her after you."
"I thought you were going to take my name," Elizabeth reminded her. "How many Elizabeths do you want running around, anyway?"
"Personally, I don't think you can ever have too many."
"Well, thank you," Elizabeth said. "I still think your father would have a conniption if you tried it."
"Enough reason right there to do it. Maybe it would encourage him and Mom to get busy making a new heir." Sophie sighed again. "Fine. If a Crown Princess can't hang-glide, what can she do?"
"Well, I was just about to have a cup of tea."
Sophie rolled her eyes. "Terrific. Whatever. Let's go have tea."
"You'll love it," Elizabeth promised, taking the girl's hand and guiding her around the forlorn-looking hang-glider. "While we're at it, I can instruct you in all the finer nuances of tea party etiquette."
"Right. Don't push it."
* * *
Travis looked up from his orders, his heart sinking. "I don't understand, Sir."
"The orders seem pretty self-explanatory, Lieutenant," Heissman said, his face an unreadable mask. "Three months from now you're slated to be transferred to Admiralty Building to serve as Beginning Tactics instructor for the new MPARS officers' section."
Travis looked back down at his orders. So that was it. After everything that had happened -- after the Secour pirate attack and Tamerlane's invasion -- after watching friends and shipmates die horrible deaths -- he was to be summarily taken off Casey. And not just put on instruction duty, but to be teaching MPARS weenies.
All because he hadn't had the sense to keep his mouth shut when Chancellor Breakwater started dumping on those same friends and shipmates.
"Is there -- ?" He broke off. Of course there was no chance for appeal. BuPers giveth, and BuPers taketh away, the aphorism went; but BuPers never let junior officers argue their decisions. "Yes, Sir," he said instead, wondering if he should say something about how he would miss serving aboard Damocles. Probably not.
"Until then, of course, you'll still be one of my officers," Heissman reminded him, "and you'll be expected to carry out your duties with all due diligence and enthusiasm."
"Of course, Sir," Travis said.
"Good," Heissman said. "Then there's just one more thing, Lieutenant." He handed Travis a hard copy.
Frowning, Travis took it and started reading.
And felt his eyes widening.

"From Admiral (ret) Thomas P. Cazenestro, First Lord of the Admiralty, Royal Manticoran Navy, to Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long, Royal Manticoran Navy. Sir: you are hereby invited to proceed to the Royal Palace on the Sixteenth Day, Fourteenth Month, Year Seventy-Four After Landing at eleven o'clock to attend the Monarch's Thanks.
Travis looked up again, his eyes still wide. Heissman still had that unreadable expression, but there was now a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. "Cat got your tongue, Travis?" the captain asked mildly.
With an effort, Travis found his voice. "Sir -- I'm sorry, but I was under the impression that it was only the senior officers from each ship who were invited."
"They were," Heissman confirmed. "But as you see, our invitations included one for you." He raised his eyebrows. "Apparently, there are some people who want to meet you."
Travis opened his mouth. Closed it again. As had happened so often in the past, he had no idea what to say to that.
"Oh," he said instead.
"Just make sure you're at the Palace on time." Heissman lifted a finger. "And if you happen to run into Chancellor Breakwater, do us all a favor. Make an excuse, and walk away. Better yet, just walk away."
"Yes, Sir," Travis said with a sigh. "I will."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by ksandgren   » Wed Feb 28, 2018 11:34 pm

ksandgren
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 334
Joined: Tue Jun 14, 2011 6:54 pm
Location: Los Angeles, California

For some reason Drak did not post a snippet on this forum Tuesday Feb 27, but the expected snippet is posted on the Baen Bar in the Honorverse section. While I'm sure it will get fixed here eventually, if you crave that snippet just go to Baen's website.
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Mar 01, 2018 10:32 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2186
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Yes, I forgot to post this snippet. :(

A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 20
CHAPTER NINE
0600 Sunday
Embarkation for the Monarch's Thanks five hours away.
Sergeant Robert Herzog was sweating bullets. Big bullets.
Because the whole damn thing was ridiculous. Utterly.
It wasn't bad enough that the King, Crown Princess, former King, Prime Minister, and half the Cabinet were going on this little jaunt. Oh, no. Just the entire leadership of the Manticoran government, aboard a single ocean-going ship, within range of a well-placed missile or long-distance mortar attack from the shore. It was the same assassination choke point the King ended up in every time he and his family headed out to Triton Island, or even just for a cruise around Jason Bay.
And every single time Herzog and the rest of the King's Own security force walked on eggs until their monarch was safely back in the Palace.
But this time was worse. Far worse. For this trip, the King had effectively doubled the ante.
Because he'd also invited the Navy's top officers aboard. The self-same officers who'd risen to the challenge of Tamerlane's superior force, beaten him back, then chased him out of the system
Which meant that theoretical well-placed missile or mortar round would not only take out the Star Kingdom's top political leaders, but its best military ones, as well.
Didn't the King realize that?
Probably not. Herzog suspected that Edward had his father Michael's easy-going and slightly naïve attitude toward assassination, which boiled down to the assumption that he was so beloved by the Manticoran people that no one would ever want to harm him. And if by some miracle someone did want to, the men and women of the King's Own would protect him.
Under normal circumstances, Herzog would have mostly agreed with both parts of that assessment. Certainly the King's Own were the absolute finest the Star Kingdom had to offer.
But these circumstances weren't normal. The Star Kingdom had just beaten back an invasion…and Herzog's reading of military history indicated that invasions were often preceded by the infiltration of enemy agents. Agents whose job it would be to support the external attack with an internal one.
That was ominous enough. Even worse, the fact that they still didn't know where Tamerlane had come from meant there was no way to guess what sort of agents and weapons might be unleashed against them.
The King might not appreciate the risks, former Navy officer though he might be. He was used to being surrounded by other dedicated officers, protected by multiple centimeters of armored hull and a flinkin' big impenetrable impeller wedge. He might not really understand how vulnerable he was down here at the bottom of a gravity well.
But if the King didn't get it, Major Blackburn certainly did. He'd had his people swarming like crazed bees ever since the announcement had been made public. Everything within reasonable attack range of the Palace and the yacht had been checked and double-checked.
Which was all well and good. But in the end, it came down to the last few hours. Those last hours when someone could smuggle a sufficiently powerful weapon into range and wait out the remaining minutes until he could change history.
That wasn't going to happen today. Not on Sergeant Herzog's watch.
The wind was brisk and cool, and getting brisker as the sun warmed the air. But Herzog didn't mind. He liked rooftops, the higher the better. Slowly, he turned on his latest three-sixty, peering at each of the nearby rooftops through the spotting scope slaved to the computer controlling his tripod-mounted M5A1 hypersonic sniper rifle. There were other spotters scattered around Landing's highest buildings, but this was the one with the best view of the Palace and yacht. An attacker with even half a brain would set up somewhere around here.
Herzog would be ready for him. The M5A1's computer did a continual read on air pressure, humidity, windage, distance, and every other factor that might affect how and where a bullet flew through the air. At the first sign of trouble -- or even the first hint of a sniper nest in the making -- Herzog could put a targeting laser built into his scope on that trouble and squeeze the trigger, and the rifle would put a round within two centimeters at a distance of three kilometers.
He paused. Down on the Samantha's dock, among the people moving briskly about on their various errands…
He tapped his mic. "Nitro; Herzog," he said quietly. "I make a stranger ten meters on your ten."
"Blue shirt?" the reply came back instantly. "It's okay -- he's got an ID pin."
"Yes, I can see that," Herzog said tartly. "He's still a stranger."
"Hang on, let me check."
The earpiece went quiet. Herzog peered at the unidentified man another second, then went back to his scan. Planting a screaming security anomaly in the most visible place possible was a classic diversionary tactic, and he was determined not to fall for it.
He hadn't found anything more suspicious before Nitro came back on. "Herzog; Nitro. It's okay -- he's from one of the caterers."
"Caterers?" Herzog repeated, frowning. The Palace had a full kitchen staff of its own.
"Specifically, Sphinxian caterers," Nitro confirmed. "A few of the people coming on the cruise are Sphinxians, and the King wanted to get some authentic food for them. Don't worry -- our people supervised the cooking and ran the usual tests, and sent everything over under full seal."
"And the seals are intact?" Herzog persisted, focusing his scope back on the man far below. He sure didn't look like a caterer, though now that Herzog thought about it he probably hadn't seen an awful lot of caterers in his lifetime.
"Checked 'em myself," Nitro assured him. "Relax, will you? You hawks just do your job up there and let us gophers do ours down here, okay?"
Herzog nodded, feeling marginally better. Eagles and groundhogs would have meant Nitro was under duress or otherwise had some suspicions that he didn't want to broadcast. But any other animal names meant things were all right.
At least, they were down there. Up here…well, the jury was still out.
Lifting his scope focus from the dock, Herzog settled it briefly on the distant patch of green midway to the watery horizon. Landing City was important, certainly. That was where the Samantha would depart from and return to.
But even more critical was Triton Island itself. That was where everyone would be spending three or four hours today.
Granted, an island was a big target. But it was also a stationary one. And even an unskilled idiot could hit a target that wasn't moving, provided he had a big enough weapon.
There were some in the security team, Herzog reflected, who considered him paranoid at best and something of a nutcase at worst. But he didn't mind the name-calling. He might be a pain in the butt to work with -- a lot of team members said that, too -- but at least no one had to worry about him overlooking or casually dismissing a potential threat.
Herzog had his end of the danger zone locked down. He just hoped the other end was equally solid.
0700 Sunday
Embarkation for the Monarch's Thanks four hours away.
Arrival at Triton Island six hours away.
Growing up in the hills outside of Landing, Major B.A. Felton had always loved the woods. Here on Triton Island, he was starting to hate them.
It hadn't always been that way. Felton was old enough, and had been in the King's Own long enough, that he had fond memories of Crown Prince Richard and Princess Sophie hiking in these woods. Often the hikes degenerated into a game of hide and seek, usually with Richard attempting to lose his little sister. Most of the time it had been a game, but occasionally Richard had been exasperated enough with having a half-sized shadow that he'd tried to lose her for real.
Which hadn't bothered Sophie in the slightest. She'd doggedly pursued him each and every time, even when she became so exhausted by her efforts that her guards had to carry her back to the Lodge, the big stone building that had been the Wintons' get-out-of-town-and-clear-your-head retreat ever since the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
But now Richard was gone, it was Sophie who was heir to the Throne, and the Star Kingdom had been attacked.
And the woods were no longer a place for children to play and adults to stroll.
Woods could hide people. Woods could hide traps. Especially the dense woods on the western side of the island between the Lodge and the sea.
Still, the advantage of an island was that, once it had been locked down, it tended to stay that way. Mostly, anyway. While the official announcement of the Monarch's Thanks luncheon had been made a month ago, the far quieter revelation that it would be held on Triton had only happened in the past six days. Within three hours of that news the island had been sealed off, the handful of visitors who'd been enjoying the public park sections had been escorted back to their boats and sent home, and a millimeter-by-millimeter search begun. Two days later, Felton himself had declared it clear.
But there were always ways a clever person could slip something through even the cordon into a supposedly safe place. Hence, with six hours left before the Samantha's projected arrival, they were sweeping the island again.
"Major Felton?" PFC Patricia Gauzweiller's voice came over Felton's earpiece. "We may have something at the Lodge. It might be nothing, but it looks a little…odd."
"On my way," Felton said, heading off at a quick jog, his right hand resting on the grip of his sidearm. "Don't touch it."
"Roger that, Sir. Not really going to be a problem."
Felton was still frowning over that one when he reached the Lodge. Gauzweiller was standing at the southwest corner, peering up along the side of the building with her binoculars. "Where is it?" Felton asked.
"Up there," Gauzweiller said, pointing toward the roof. "At the top of the chimney. Looks like a bird's nest."
Felton focused his own binoculars on the spot. It did indeed have that nest look to it.
"Only it wasn't listed on the last report, so I thought someone should check it out," Gauzweiller continued. "You want me to take a look?"
"No, I'll do it," Felton said. Keying his counter-grav belt, he eased on his thruster and floated slowly up the side of the building, every sense alert for trouble. He reached the chimney without incident…
To discover that the mass of twigs and mud was indeed just a bird's nest.
Still, Gauzweiller was right. It should have been removed or at least noted during the earlier sweep of the island. Either someone on Felton's team had been sloppy, or Triton was home to a world-champion nest builder.
"Looks okay," he called down. Just the same, he eased his probe through the mass in a few spots, in case they had a very clever bomber on their hands. But there was nothing but nest.
"Any eggs?" Gauzweiller called back.
"Nope," Felton assured her as he carefully gathered it together for removal. If Sergeant Herzog had been assigned to the Triton detail, he mused, once this whole thing was over he would probably go over the records and find out who had let this slip through the earlier sweep. It would then have been a tossup as to whether the guilty party would suffer more from the gig or the lecture on how there was no room for sloppiness when the lives of the royal family were at stake.
A movement caught his eye, and he looked up at the blue water glistening in the early-morning sunlight. Between Triton and the distant spires of the city a couple of dozen small pleasure craft had already appeared. Some of the boaters were probably hoping for a glimpse of the King as the Samantha passed by, while others were simply out for a leisurely Sunday morning cruise or some casual fishing. Many of them, Felton suspected, were there for all three reasons.
They were going to be disappointed. Two of the Coast Guard's cutters had already appeared on the horizon, plowing through the waves toward the scattering of boats. Each craft would be hailed, each passenger checked against the Manticoran citizen lists, and everyone ordered clear of the corridor the Samantha would soon be taking to the island.
It was a task that by its very nature generated civilian disappointment and anger, and Felton didn't envy the cutter crews their duty. But it had to be done. With Triton Island locked down, the critical part was to keep anyone from approaching the yacht.
Still, the cutters had had lots of experience at that task. They were hardly going to screw up today.
0800 Sunday
Embarkation for the Monarch's Thanks three hours away.
Passage through this part of Jason Bay approximately four and a half hours away.
The maritime enthusiasts of the greater Landing area were not happy.
Lieutenant David Bozwell, commander of the CGC Jackstraw, couldn't really blame them. Triton Island was the royal family's retreat, and the Palace almost never announced their visits early enough for citizens to get out on the bay in time to watch Samantha plying the waters.
Bozwell wished the Palace had kept its corporate mouth shut this time, too. His best guess was that the King knew how confused and worried his subjects were and wanted to offer them the chance to line the route, possibly to cheer him on and show their support, possibly just to watch as he and the heroes of the Battle of Manticore passed by.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Mar 01, 2018 11:27 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2186
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 21
Still, it had raised the security issues an order of magnitude. None of the King's Own liked it. Sergeant Herzog had been especially loud on the subject, fuming over the stupidity inherent in telling potential assassins exactly where to find the entire flipping royal family, in one sinkable spot, for what amounted to a flipping publicity stunt.
What made it worse was that whatever PR advantages the king had hoped for were going to be largely negated by the security requirements. Most of the citizens who'd come out for the procession had gotten up at the crack of dawn in order to get here. A lot of them had rousted their children out of bed for the occasion, which in Bozwell's opinion was on a par with winning a space battle all by itself.
They weren't happy at being told to head back to Landing or get themselves a minimum of five kilometers away from the Samantha's route. Bozwell wasn't any happier at being the one who had to deliver those orders.
But at least the job was almost done. Only five more boats were still within the safety zone, and two of them were in the Argus's patrol area. Three more unpleasant confrontations for Bozwell and the Jackstraw, and they could move on to straight perimeter patrol.
Unfortunately, this next encounter was likely to be one of the more aggravating ones. The Happily Ever was a big boat, a sailing cabin cruiser of the kind favored by people who weren't necessarily rich but wanted everyone to think they were. In Bozwell's experience, most of that sort liked to project that same elitist attitude toward everyone around them, including authority figures.
This one was certainly playing the nouveau riche role to the hilt. As the Jackstraw approached, Bozwell could see a half dozen figures lounging in deck chairs on the fantail. Right at the stern, nestled against the low railing, were a cooler full of ice and colorful drink cans and a squat grill loaded with freshly-caught fish. The wind shifted momentarily, bringing Bozwell a whiff of the smoke from the grill: Graeling sea trout, he tentatively identified it, with way too much spice sauce for that kind of fish.
All six boaters were watching the Jackstraw now as it cut through the water toward them. One of the men, Bozwell noted, had a particularly apprehensive expression. That must be the owner, listed in the records as a Mr. Basil Moore, wondering if his precious boat was about to be rammed.
Luckily for him, the Jackstraw's helmsman knew his business. At the last second the cutter's engines shifted into reverse, bringing the vessel to a smooth halt. A final twitch of the wheel, and the cutter ended up angled a meter off the Happily Ever's stern. If Moore wasn't impressed, Bozwell thought, he really ought to be.
"Ahoy!" he called as he stepped out of the wheelhouse onto the Jackstraw's deck. "Sorry to bother you, but --"
"What the hell are you doing?" Moore cut him off angrily. Not impressed, apparently. "You trying to run us down?"
"Not at all, sir," Bozwell said, keeping his tone the respectful politeness required by the CG manual. "We're clearing out this sea lane in preparation for the Samantha's crossing later this morning. I'm afraid I have to ask you to move away."
Most of the people Bozwell had talked to this morning had reacted with surprise, disappointment, or annoyance. Moore reacted like a rich kid with a new toy. "Like hell you are," he bit out. "This is Jason Bay. It belongs to everyone on Manticore. The King wants to go for a cruise? Fine -- he can have one boat's width of space, just like everyone else."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, sir," Bozwell said. The rest of Moore's party, he noted peripherally, were starting to look uncomfortable. One of the women, sitting directly behind her host, quietly and discreetly moved to a chair farther out of any potential lines of fire. Apparently, Moore had something of a temper. "And under normal circumstances, you would indeed have claim to freedom of the seas. But not today."
"Really?" Moore scoffed. "What makes today so special? Because a bunch of pampered politicians and stuffed uniforms want to burn a few extra tanks of hydrogen just so they can have lunch sixty kilometers from the great unwashed public?"
"No, sir," Bozwell said, really regretting that the manual's rules of conduct were so specific. "Today is special because there are extra safety considerations."
"Oh, safety is the issue, now?" Moore demanded. "Fine. Let me tell you about safety." He waved a hand in a wide, sweeping arc. "We've been watching you. There was a nice, compact group of boats out here, and you've spent the last hour or so scattering them to the four winds. Now, what happens if one of them has a problem? What if one of them starts to sink? Will you or your buddy be able to get there in time? Or are you just going to hope and pray that they have enough counter-grav belts for everyone and don't get dumped into the water before they can activate them?"
"We appreciate the risks involved whenever someone takes a watercraft out onto the high seas," Bozwell said. He could feel a subtle vibration in the deck beneath his feet: the measured pace of heavy footsteps coming his way from the wheelhouse. "But we can only do what we can with the limited resources we have."
"So what you're saying is --?"
"Beg pardon, Lieutenant," a deep voice interrupted.
And out of the corner of his eye Bozwell saw Sergeant Brian VanHoose step from the wheelhouse.
Only out of the corner, because most of his attention was focused on Moore.
He wasn't disappointed. The majority of Sphinxians were by nature and necessity big people, but even on that scale VanHoose was a big Sphinxian. As he hove into view Moore's eyes went wide, and he started to take a reflexive step back before he caught himself. His eyes flicked up and down VanHoose's bulk, finally settling on the deadpan face and half-lidded eyes that fooled people into thinking there wasn't a lot going on behind them.
Which was always a mistake. VanHoose might look like a genial giant idiot, but he had a knowledge of regs and orders that was second to none.
"Yes, Sergeant?" Bozwell said blandly. "You have a thought?"
"It seems to me, Sir, that the gentlemen and his companions have been drinking," VanHoose said, just as blandly. "Reg gamma-four-oh-six, subsection three, paragraph four, says that if a boater is impaired the Coast Guard is required to take possession of his or her vessel and bring it safely into port."
"I do believe you're right, Sergeant," Bozwell said, frowning in thought. "Well, I'm sure that won't be a problem. I can handle the rest of the security sweep on my own while you bring the Happily Ever back to Landing."
Moore finally found his voice. "Wait a second," he said, a hint of nervousness starting to crack his arrogance. "No one's impaired here."
"I don't know," Bozwell said, eyeing the cooler. "I see a lot of beer in there. Sergeant, do the regs specify how much alcohol is required for impairment?"
"We could break out the breath analyzer," VanHoose said. "But you know it's been on the fritz lately."
"Besides, alcohol affects people in so many different ways," Bozwell pointed out. "If I let you take command of this vessel, will you promise to be more careful than the last time?"
"Hey, that fireball wasn't my fault," VanHoose protested. "The tank regulator was cracked. If I hadn't bumped the dock it would have just gone kablooie somewhere else."
"Bumped?" Bozwell echoed. "Is that what you call it? Bumped?" He lifted his hands. "Never mind -- we don't have time for this. Sergeant Brian VanHoose, as per Regulation whatever it was, I authorize you to --"
"Okay, okay," Moore said quickly. "We'll go."
"In good time, right?" Bozwell said.
"As fast as we can," Moore promised, his face looking like an angry sea.
"Good," Bozwell said. "Sergeant, take us to the next vessel, please. Good day, Mr. Moore."
A minute later the Jackstraw had left the Happily Ever's side and was speeding through the low waves toward the next boat in line.
Speeding just a tad too quickly, perhaps.
"You realize," Bozwell said, peering aft through the wheelhouse door at the Happily Ever rapidly receding in the distance, "that you dumped their entire fantail when you took off."
"No big loss," VanHoose said, waving a hand in dismissal. "That was about the cheapest cooler on the market -- I've got one myself; they're only a couple of dollars. And they've already had enough beer."
Bozwell took another look behind him at Moore, frantically digging into the water off the stern of his yacht. VanHoose was right -- the cooler had been a cheap foam job, and a man at Moore's level of snobbery really needed to upgrade. "And the grill?"
"Too much sauce on the trout," VanHoose declared. "I did everyone a favor."
"Ah," Bozwell said. Somehow, he doubted Moore would see it that way.
0900 Sunday
Embarkation for the Monarch's Thanks two hours away.
Passage into the Triton Island approach four hours away.
"Bravo-six clear," a muffled voice came in Sergeant Sara Felton's earpiece. "Moving on to Bravo-seven."
"Copy," Sara said. Back in the old days, the odd thought struck her, her voice had sounded exceedingly strange to her as it bounced back from a diving helmet's faceplate. Now, after ten years of service, she didn't even notice.
Which was just as well, because right now she needed every gram of brainpower focused on the job at hand. At last report, Triton Island and Landing were secure, and the sea lane between the two was rapidly becoming so.
Time for the area beneath the surface to be likewise.
"Sara?" the voice of Sara's cousin, B.A., came in her ear. "How's it going?"
"We're getting there," Sara said. Out in the world, of course, they had to be Major Felton and Sergeant Felton to each other, which was a never-ending source of private amusement among their fellow teammates. On a private com like this, they could be more informal. "The approach line has been checked and cleared, and we're about three-quarters done with the rest of the seabed. How about you?"
"We found a bird's nest in one of the chimneys," B.A. said. "Aside from that, we're good."
Sara grunted into her helmet. "Good thing Herzog's not there. Someone would be in for a coal-raking."
"Agreed. Maybe I'll mention it to him next week. It can be entertaining when he spins up."
"As long as you're not the one he's spinning up on," Sara said. "Tell me again why they couldn't just have lunch at the Palace?"
"It's politics," B.A. said. "The King needs to get out and show that he's not afraid of anything. And, by extension, that no one else should be afraid of anything, either."
Sara wrinkled her nose. But he was probably right. Grand gestures were part of high office, and King was as high as anyone could get. "I just hope everyone appreciates it."
"The ones who matter do," B.A. assured her. "The rest probably never even notice us."
"Part of our job."
"Yep," B.A. agreed. "Listen, do me a favor, will you? One of the approach sensors seems to be winking a little. When you finish your current sector, will you go take a look? It's probably nothing, but I'd feel better if you checked it out personally."
Sara smiled as she tapped for a readout. "No problem, Cuz. Number 44?"
"That's the one," B.A. confirmed.
Ten minutes later, Sara was at the problem sensor.
"Well, for starters it's leaning sideways," she reported as she hovered beside the slender two-meter-tall rod-and-bulb device sticking up from the sea floor. "About forty degrees off vertical. I don't see any damage to the bulb or signs of tampering, though. Probably just got pushed over by crawlers digging into a grub nest."
"Probably," B.A. agreed, sounding a bit doubtful. "We'll swap it out anyway. I'm sending Keating down with a new one -- she's suiting up now. Wait there until she arrives and help her install and network it."
"Right," Sara said, shifting her light to the next sensor in the lane. "Let me know when she's in the water. I'm going to give the next couple in line a quick look."
Sara hadn't found any other problems in the sensor line by the time PFC Bridget Keating arrived. Together they swapped out the sensor, networked the replacement with the others, and ran a quick diagnostic. Once B.A. confirmed the system was back to full green, Keating headed back to shore and Sara returned to her check of the Triton Island shallows.
B.A. was right, Sara knew as she resumed her part of the search. If all went well, most of the people who would soon be boarding the Samantha would never be aware of the work that had gone into keeping them safe.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 04, 2018 11:59 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2186
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 22
CHAPTER TEN
Back when he was a high-school sophomore, Travis had once accidentally been assigned to a senior-level class. It had taken the office three days to get it all sorted out and transfer him back to the proper class.
The classwork itself hadn't been too bad. What had made those three days so rough was the sense of being horribly out of place. He was two years behind everyone else, without any social contacts or context, and had no idea how he was supposed to interact with anyone.
He hadn't thought about the stress of that time in years. Not until he found himself aboard the Royal Yacht Samantha with the exact same stress.
And for exactly the same reason. Travis was a lieutenant. Everyone else aboard in uniform was lieutenant commander or higher, their tunics dripping with medals and ribbons and fancy braid and dress swords everywhere.
Once again, he was a sophomore among seniors.
"You okay?" Lisa murmured from beside him.
Travis took a deep breath, shaking off the feeling. High school was a long ways behind him, after all. And here, at least, he had Lisa to provide moral support. "Just a little overwhelmed, Ma'am," he said. "Still not sure what I'm doing here."
"You're obeying orders, right?"
"Well, yes," Travis conceded. "But I'm still wondering -- "
"Lieutenant Long?" a voice called from behind him.
Travis turned, some of the fresh spike in his tension bleeding off at the sight of a familiar face. It was Captain Allegra Metzger, who'd been his XO on Guardian during the Secour Incident. "Yes, Ma'am," he said, giving her his best salute.
"I'd heard you were going to be aboard," Metzger said, returning the salute and giving Travis an unexpectedly warm smile. "Congratulations on your excellent work aboard Casey. That was a wonderfully inspired idea."
"Thank you, Ma'am," Travis said. "I was just lucky I came up with it in time."
"Careful, Lieutenant," Metzger warned, her smile taking any bite out of the words. "Your captain doesn't like his officers using that word."
Unbidden, and probably improper -- Metzger was a superior officer, after all -- an answering smile touched Travis's lips. "You mean lucky, Ma'am?"
"That's the word." Metzger shifted her eyes to Lisa. "Commander Donnelly," she greeted the younger woman. "You're looking well."
"Thank you, Ma'am," Lisa said.
"And ditto what I said about Lieutenant Long's maneuver," Metzger continued. "Your coordination with the MPARS corvettes was equally inspired, and obviously just as successful."
"Thank you, Ma'am," Lisa said again. "Though if we're keeping score, I have to point out that Mr. Long's battlecruiser trumps our little destroyer."
"Point," Metzger agreed. "Too bad no one paints kill silhouettes on their ships the way stingships do. Maybe we should adopt that custom. Have either of you met the King yet?"
Travis blinked, the sudden change of subject catching him completely off-guard.
"Ah…no, Ma'am. Uh -- " He looked helplessly at Lisa.
"No, we haven't, Ma'am," Lisa said more calmly.
"Then it's time you did," Metzger said. "Come on -- I'll introduce you."
She headed off, weaving her way through the small knots of conversation that had formed all along the Samantha's deck. Travis watched her go, a sudden panic freezing his brain. She was going to introduce him to the King?
He started as Lisa slipped a reassuring hand around his upper arm. "Come on, Travis," she murmured. "You lived through a space battle. You can live through this."
The King was in another small gathering of people, their faces all earnest and thoughtful. Travis recognized one of the women: Princess Elizabeth, the King's half-sister. The other three, two men and a woman, were dressed in civilian clothing, and Travis had the nagging feeling that he should know all of them by sight, too.
But it was too late to back off and try to gather more intel. Metzger had already passed the pair of bodyguards at this end of the group, and the King had already broken off his conversation and had smoothed out some of his seriousness as he looked with interest at the newcomers, and Travis would just have to go through with it and do the best he could.
The brief etiquette text he'd read had warned that a guest should always allow the King to speak first. Fortunately, that hurdle was quickly and easily crossed. "Captain Metzger," the King said, smiling and nodding in greeting as Metzger approached. "Good to see you again." He nodded to Lisa and Travis. "Would you care to introduce your colleagues?"
"I would be honored, Your Majesty," Metzger said, giving him a brief bow. Straightening up again, she half turned and gestured to Travis and Lisa. "May I present Lieutenant Commander Lisa Donnelly, currently of His Majesty's Ship Damocles; and Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long, currently of His Majesty's Ship Casey. Commander, Lieutenant: His Majesty, King Edward."
"Commander Donnelly," the King said, inclining his head to her. "And Lieutenant Long," he continued, shifting his attention to Travis.
And it seemed to Travis that there was a sudden new interest glistening in the King's eyes and face.
"I've read about your actions and the actions of your ships during the Battle of Manticore," the King continued. "The Star Kingdom is in your debt."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Lisa said, bowing to him the way Metzger had.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Travis said, following her cue.
"Allow me to introduce some of Manticore's other defenders," the King said, gesturing to his conversational companions. "This is Davis Harper, Duke Burgundy, the Star Kingdom's Prime Minister. Beside him is James Mantegna, Earl Dapplelake, the Minister of Defense. And the lady is Clara Sumner, Countess Calvingdell."
Travis suppressed a wince. Who was also the former Minister of Defense, having been tossed out four T-years ago when Edward ascended the Throne and reinstated Dapplelake in that post.
And here she was now, talking with her replacement and the man who had kicked her out of her job.
Travis wasn't good at reading people's emotions, especially when those people were on their best behavior. But he had no doubt there was some serious tension going on beneath the surface.
"Pleased to meet you," Burgundy said as the other two murmured agreement. Apparently, the protocol was for him to speak for all three of them.
"Pleased to meet you, Your Grace; My Lord; My Lady," Metzger responded, nodding to each in turn. "And if I may be so bold, may I express our gratitude for the work that all of you have done in giving the Navy the people and tools necessary to defend the Star Kingdom."
"Thank you, Captain," Burgundy said gravely. "In retrospect, I'm only sorry we didn't push harder."
"But I think it's safe to say that the Cabinet's priorities are going to reflect that new focus in the very near future," Dapplelake added.
Travis winced to himself. Now what? Was he supposed to say something? What was he supposed to say? What kind of small talk did you make with the King? Thank you for inviting us aboard, Your Highness? I think you're doing a good job? I like your tie?
The King's eyes shifted to something behind Travis. "If you'll all excuse me," he said, starting toward the gap between Metzger and Travis, "I have a small matter to attend to."
"Of course, Your Majesty," Dapplelake said, again apparently speaking for the group. Travis quickly stepped aside, the King and two more of his bodyguards swept past, the King sending a final smile in Travis's direction as he left.
"Again, congratulations," Burgundy said, craning his neck as he looked at someone further along the deck. "If you'll excuse me, there's someone else I need to speak to."
"Of course, Your Grace." Metzger gestured to Travis and Lisa, and the three of them turned and headed in the other direction.
And with that, it was suddenly over.
Beside Travis, Lisa seemed to wilt a little. "Well," she said.
"Well what?" Metzger asked, sounding amused.
"Just well, Ma'am," Lisa said. "I've -- first time I've ever met royalty."
"Well, I suggest you get used to it, Commander," Metzger said. Travis threw her a sideways look, but the amusement he thought he'd heard earlier was gone. "You're a rising star, and nowadays that suggests you'll eventually find yourself up to your collar in politics."
"Wonderful," Lisa muttered.
"Fortunately, that's still a ways in your future," Metzger soothed. "Right now, Cazenestro and Locatelli have that role sewed up. But they won't be around forever; and when they go, it'll be up to officers like you." She shifted her gaze to Travis. "And you, too, Lieutenant," she added.
"I hope not, Ma'am," Travis said. "If Commander Donnelly isn't up to it, I'm certainly not."
"You will be," Metzger assured him. She raised her eyes to the horizon, where only the tallest buildings of Landing were still visible in the distance. "But as I said, that's the future. For now, I believe they're setting up an appetizer bar at the stern. Let's show the politicians and MPARS officers how to do a proper reconnaissance in force."
* * *
Sophie was standing half-concealed in one of the cabin hatchway alcoves, partially shielded from the brisk sea wind, when Edward reached her.
To find that his half-seen glimpse a moment ago had been correct. The Crown Princess wasn't alone.
Apparently, she'd brought a date.
Edward clenched his teeth. Of all places, and of all times.
And of all people.
Sophie smiled at him as he approached. Her smile slipped, just a bit, as she saw the look on his face, but she had it back in place by the time he reached the happy couple. "Hello, Father," she greeted him, ducking her head in respect. "There's someone I'd like you to meet." She took the arm of the young man at her side, easing him just a bit closer to her. His face, Edward noted, wasn't nearly as calm and controlled as Sophie's. "This is Peter Young, eldest son of Hadrian Young, Earl North Hollow."
"Your Majesty," Young gulped, bending deeply at the waist as if hoping a sufficiently deep bow would render him invisible.
Edward could only wish that was true.
"Yes, I know," he said, nodding curtly to the boy. "A word, Sophie. If you'll excuse us, Mr. Young?"
"Of course, Your Majesty," Young said. He bowed again, then eased gingerly past Edward and hurried away down the deck at a quick, stiff-backed walk.
Edward looked back at his daughter. Her eyes were apprehensive, but her jaw was set firmly. Silently, he motioned to the cabin door behind her. Her lip twitched, but she obediently reached behind her back, found the knob, and opened the door. A moment later, they were alone in the cabin, the door once again closed against possible interruption.
"Let me guess," she said with a sigh. "I should have asked your permission to bring a date along."
So she thought of it as a date, too. Wonderful.
"But I did clear it with Colonel Jackson," she went on. "And North Hollow has been doing good work with the Survivor's Fund that Aunt Elizabeth set up -- "
"Sophie," Edward said, holding up his hands, palms toward her. "This isn't about Peter Young, or even Sophie Winton. It's about Crown Princess Sophie."
Sophie frowned. "Excuse me?"
"In case you've forgotten," Edward said, "let me remind you that the Constitution stipulates that the monarch must marry a commoner."
Her eyes widened with surprise and a hint of outrage. "Dad, I'm not planning to marry him," she protested. "It's one casual date."
"And every marriage on Manticore started with one casual date," he countered. "What happens if one of these casual dates turns into something more? Are you ready for the heartbreak of having to say good-bye to him?"
"So what, I should never have any friends with titles?" Sophie bit out. "Friends sometimes turn into husbands, too, you know."
"Which is why you have to guard your friendships, too," Edward said gently. "I'm sorry, Sophie. I really am. I never meant for this to happen to you. But this is the reality, and you're going to have to accept it."
Sophie looked away. "It's not fair, you know," she said in a low voice. "None of it."
"Once you're Queen you can try to get the Constitution changed," he said. "But I'll warn you, it'll be an uphill battle."
"Yeah."
For a moment the cabin was silent. Then, Sophie took a deep breath. "Well, at least you're not going to make him swim home," she said with a touch of the old Sophie sense of humor. "That was how you looked when I first saw you." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "You aren't, are you?"
"Of course not," he assured her. "But that does bring up another point. Everyone aboard is all right and will understand. But there will be people at the dock when we return who may not. There will probably also be some watching who revel in spreading rumors and innuendo. I'd rather not pump hydrogen into their bonfires, if you know what I mean."
"So you do want him to swim home."
"No, but it wouldn't hurt to put him in one of the aft cabins when we get close to Landing," Edward said. "I'll instruct Major Fergueson to let him out once the rest of us have disembarked and are on our way to the memorial service."
"Right," Sophie said. "Like having Peter skulk around under the radar isn't going to raise some eyebrows."
"Only if the eyes beneath those eyebrows actually see him. If we do this right, they won't."
"I suppose." Sophie sighed again. "Okay, I'll tell him."
"Thank you." Edward started to turn back toward the door, then turned back. "Oh, and he will be in the cabin alone."
"Dad!" Sophie said, sounding thoroughly scandalized. "I said it was just casual."
Beneath his feet, Edward felt the slight change in vibration as the Samantha's engines slowed. Right on schedule. "Right," he said. "I forgot."
"Well, don't." Sophie wrinkled her nose. "Aunt Elizabeth said there were costs to being Crown Princess. This was one she didn't mention."
"I know," Edward said. "And again, I'm sorry." He lifted a finger. "But there are some advantages to being the Monarch," he said. "Namely, getting to do things that everyone else tells you you're not supposed to."
"Right," Sophie said, frowning slightly. "Like what, drinking red wine with fish?"
"Like this." He crooked the raised finger back toward the door in invitation. "Come on. I'll show you."
* * *
Travis had spotted the boats approaching rapidly from astern shortly after they cleared the horizon. He'd pointed them out to Lisa, and they'd had a short discussion on whether or not they should alert anyone. But then Lisa noticed that the King's Own at Samantha's stern were also watching the approaching watercraft and were showing no signs of alarm. A few minutes later, as the approaching vehicles resolved themselves into a pair of sleek hydroplane racing boats, Samantha's engines changed pitch, and the yacht began slowing to a stop. Again, the guards showed no concern, and Travis put it behind him.
Until he spotted Princess Elizabeth standing by the rail staring at the approaching boats.
And the King's sister did not look happy.
"Over there," Lisa murmured, pointing at an empty section of railing as some of the other guests began wandering curiously sternward. "Come on."
"What?" Travis asked, hurrying to catch up as she headed off. "Why?"
"I want to see what's going on," Lisa said over her shoulder. "Snap it up -- the King and Princess Sophie are on the way."
They were in Lisa's chosen place by the portside rail -- downwind from Elizabeth, Travis noted, where the presumed upcoming royal conversation would carry well -- when King Edward and Crown Princess Sophie reached Princess Elizabeth.
Apparently, the warning Travis had read about letting the King speak first didn't apply to family.
"You aren't serious," Elizabeth said in a low voice.
"I'm very serious," Edward assured her. "And really, you're worrying about nothing."
A couple of people in civilian clothing, apparently realizing they were in the eavesdropping zone, moved politely away from the rail. Lisa, behind Travis, nudged him to move a little closer.
"The sea is smooth, the wind is perfect," the King continued.
"And at three hundred kilometers an hour it doesn't take much of a wave to -- "
"And this is the last time."
Elizabeth broke off.
"What do you mean, the last time?"
"Just what I said: the last time," the King repeated. Travis could only see half his face, the other half blocked by his sister's head, but he looked very serious. "At least, for a long while. Sophie understands that in her new role as Crown Princess she has to give up this kind of activity. I thought that as a gift to her she and I could have one last outing before putting the hydroplanes away. And the hang gliders, and the eddy-spinners, and all the rest of the excitement in her life."
"Now you're just trying to make me look bad," Elizabeth said. "So you're not going to be doing your usual racing thing?"
"No racing," Edward assured her. "Just a father and daughter getting out on the water to feel the wind in our faces. Actually, I'm thinking we'll just go on ahead and make sure everything's ready for the luncheon."
"You won't be doing any crazy stunts?"
"Well, I won't," Edward said. "Sophie, are you planning any crazy stunts?"
"No, Your Majesty," Sophie said solemnly.
"The King's Own has cleared the whole area?"
"Out to five kilometers."
"The boats have been thoroughly checked out?"
"Two times each, by two different techs."
"And you'll keep it under two hundred kph?"
The King and Crown Princess looked at each other. "If it'll make you feel better, yes," the King agreed.
Elizabeth's shoulders heaved in a silent sigh. "And I can't stop you anyway, can I?"
"Please, Aunt Elizabeth," Sophie said. "Can you just be happy that I'm getting one last ride before I have to be all upright and proper?"
"And boring?" the King murmured.
Elizabeth shook her head. "You two are hopeless," she said. "Fine. But if I have to watch this, Sophie, don't expect me to come watch your next hang gliding, too."
"Fair enough," Sophie said. "Thank you."
"Now that that's settled," the King said, "it's time to get suited up. Your gear's in Cabin Three, Sophie. Last one in their boat is -- "
"Edward?" Elizabeth interrupted, her voice ominous. "You said no races."
The King frowned briefly, then smiled and inclined his head. "I did, didn't I," he agreed. "Fine. Sophie, last one in their boat is last one in their boat. Good enough?"
"You know, even a King isn't supposed to mock his younger sister," Elizabeth said. "But fine. Go suit up, Sophie. Just promise me that when you get to Triton you make sure your father doesn't eat all the crab cakes."
"I will," Sophie promised. She gave her aunt a quick hug, then hurried forward along the deck.
"You be careful," Elizabeth said, almost too quietly for Travis to hear. "And keep her careful, too."
"I will," the King said, taking her hand. "And I promise: it will be the last time. At least until she's Queen and can drive you crazy with these things without my help."
"Yes, that makes me feel so much better."
The King gave her a final smile, then headed off after his daughter.
Lisa tapped Travis's arm, and together they drifted away from the rail.
"What do you think of that?" she asked.
Travis shook his head. "I don't like it."
"It is a little risky," Lisa conceded. "There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you're traveling that fast."
"I'm sure they know what they're doing," Travis said. "I just don't think it fits the proper mood of the day. This is supposed to be an afternoon of gratitude, with an evening of solemn remembrance following it. Doesn't seem right for the King to head off on a hydroplane jaunt as if this was just another afternoon's outing."
"Maybe," Lisa said, a bit doubtfully. "But then, he is King. He kind of gets to do whatever he wants."
"I suppose. But as King, shouldn't he also do what's good and proper?"
"I suppose." Lisa pondered a moment. "Tell you what. When you get to be King, you can make out a list of good and proper things for future kings to follow."
Travis frowned sideways at her. Was she mocking him?
Probably. But that was all right. Somehow, jibes from her didn't hurt. "Great idea," he said. "I'll start campaigning for the job tomorrow."
"Sounds good," Lisa said. "For now, let's just campaign for a few of those little nut clusters on the appetizer table."
Travis craned his neck. Those clusters did look good. "Is that an order, Commander?"
"Absolutely, Lieutenant." She nodded toward the table. "I'm going in. Cover me."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: (STICKY) A Call To Vengeance - Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 06, 2018 11:28 pm

DrakBibliophile
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Location: East Central Illinois

This book is available now so this is the last snippet.
A Call To Vengeance - Snippet 23
CHAPTER ELEVEN
As Edward had expected, not everyone approved of his decision.
No one said anything, of course. He was the King, and unless a decision impacted national security or national finances no one else could claim a vote in the matter. But it was evident in their expressions which ones were neutral, which ones were mostly positive, and which ones were flat-out against it.
Edward's wife Cynthia was studiously neutral on the whole thing. Like Elizabeth, she didn't personally care for that kind of sport, but long experience had taught her that it was a necessary stress release for both her husband and her daughter. She'd also learned over the years that both of them knew what they were doing, and that objections didn't get her anywhere anyway.
Which was a lesson the rest of them would do well to learn, too. Edward was the King, he wanted to do this for his daughter, and they were therefore going to do it. Period.
Still, as the two hydroplanes pulled away from Samantha's side he couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness. If this was Sophie's last outing for the next twenty or thirty T-years, it needed to be Edward's last, as well. A King's responsibility was to lead by example, especially within his own family.
The one upside of the whole thing was at least Elizabeth wouldn't be giving him That Look anymore whenever he wanted to do anything even remotely dangerous. It was a look she'd figured out when she was eight, and she'd only improved on it since then.
And of course, since her husband's tragic and violent death four T-years ago, her fears for her brother's safety had come with an extra edge of guilt and grief attached. Edward would be just as happy to never see That Look, in that context, ever again.
"So how does this work again if we're not racing?" Sophie's voice came through his earpiece. "I forget."
"We just ride elegantly and genteelly across Jason Bay," Edward said, settling himself snugly in his cockpit seat and peering through the bars of his safety cage. Fifty meters in front of him he could see Sophie strapped into her own seat, her red wetsuit/life vest combo brightly visible through the cage bars.
"Genteelly means fast, right?"
"Up to two hundred kph, yes," Edward said. "We promised Aunt Elizabeth, remember?"
"I suppose," Sophie said, a bit of grump in her voice.
"And no donuts, bouncers, or bootleg turns, either," Edward admonished.
"Yes, yes, I know." Sophie huffed out a sigh. "She can really suck the fun out of everything, can't she?"
"Sure can," Edward said. "It'll serve her right if you decide not to take her name when you become Queen."
"What?" Sophie gasped indignantly. "She told you that?"
"It might have come up in casual conversation," Edward said, smiling. "Or it could have come from one of your bodyguards."
"They wouldn't dare."
"No, probably not," Edward conceded. "But take that as a handy tip for the future: if you're in public, everything you say could eventually become public knowledge. You'll want to remember that."
"Oh, I'll remember it, all right," Sophie growled. "And if I do take her name, I'm going to spell it wrong. So there."
"Yes, that'll certainly fix her," Edward agreed. The row of diagnostics on his display turned green -- "Okay, my self-check is done. Yours?"
"Not quite -- there it goes. All green, and the tanks are full. Ready to be genteel?"
"Ready," Edward said. "And remember: under two hundred."
With a roar and a surge of foam from their underwater jets, they took off.
It was, indeed, a glorious day for a ride. Edward began with a wide circle around Samantha, keeping a close eye on Sophie's style and precision as she matched his maneuvers. It had been awhile since they'd taken the hydroplanes out, and it was easy to get rusty on something that demanded this much skill and concentration.
But Sophie was keeping up with him just fine, and her turns and bounce adjustments showed no signs of hesitation or over-correcting. And keeping their speed well below the jetboats' full three-hundred-kph capability would help a lot, too.
"So are we just going to rock the yacht and see if we can dump the appetizer table?" Sophie asked as they finished their third circle.
"Just making sure we had our sea legs back," Edward assured her. "You got Triton locked on your nav display?"
"Yep," Sophie confirmed. "I make it eighty-seven klicks straight ahead. Half an hour if we dawdle."
"Or if we head straight there," Edward said. "Remember, we've got a five-klick lane to play with."
"I like how you think," Sophie said. "So once we're out of Aunt Elizabeth's sight…?"
"We still don't do donuts," Edward said firmly. "And go easy on the turns. Aunt Elizabeth might not be watching, but the King's Own has three stingships overhead. And she will be able to pull the recordings afterward."
"Right," Sophie said. "So what are we waiting for?"
"Nothing I know of," Edward said. "Go for it."
And with a vibrating bounce as her hydroplane kicked off the waves, Sophie did exactly that.
Edward smiled as he fell into position five hundred meters behind her and a hundred to the side. For all her grousing about Aunt Elizabeth's restrictions, Sophie was keeping her speed well under the agreed-upon limit, running between one-seventy and one-ninety. Her turns were conservative, too, less like her favored hard-point zigzags and more the kind of amiable S-turns a less experienced hydroplaner would prefer.
But with all that, she was still clearly determined to get the most out of this last adventure. She was running back and forth between the edges of their lane, making only slow progress toward the island, getting as much water time as possible without actually turning back toward Samantha.
Which she could certainly do, of course. They had the time, and as Sophie had already noted their hydrogen tanks were full. In fact, once they finally reached Triton, Edward had every intention of running them a few rings around the island before they finally came in to dock.
Samantha was just out of sight over the horizon behind them, and the tallest of Triton's trees were just peeking over the water ahead of them, when Sophie's hydroplane did a sudden small yaw to starboard. The glitch barely had time to register in Edward's brain when the boat made another, even larger yaw back straight and then to portside --
And before Edward could even gasp his daughter's boat overcorrected, flipped over sideways, and roll-bounced violently across the water.
No! The word screamed through Edward's mind. Dimly, he was aware that voices were shouting through his earpiece -- the King's Own in the aircars, arrowing down toward the boat still bouncing its tortured way to a stop.
But they would never make it in time. Even as Edward kicked his own speed to full power and chased after her he could see the torn section of hull near the fuel tanks. If the tanks had ruptured, and if hydrogen was accumulating inside the hull…
Sophie's hydroplane had finally come to an upside-down halt, the torn hull bobbing forlornly amid the low waves, by the time Edward reached it. A hard bootleg turn and a few seconds of full power from his jets, and he was floating beside her.
The boat was a wreck.
Sophie was nowhere to be seen.
"She's still in there," he snapped into his mic as he popped off his restraints and slammed open the side of his cage. The voices were shouting in his ear again, ordering him to stay where he was, but they were too far out and he was five meters from his daughter and damn his own stupidity and pride in letting them do this in the first place. He slapped at the side of his helmet, sealing the neckpiece and starting the emergency oxygen flow, and dived over the side.
The sudden slap of cold water was a shock to his skin and heart and limbs. He barely noticed. A few quick strokes took him alongside the hydroplane, and a surface-dive took him beneath the waves and under the edge of her hull.
In the faint light from the still-glowing monitors and status board he could see Sophie. She was upside down in her cage, still strapped into her harness, not moving. Her neckpiece had deployed properly, and he could see from the indicators that her oxygen tank had gone active and was feeding air to her.
But that emergency equipment had now become a two-edged sword. The bubbling of hydrogen from the ruptured fuel tanks had been joined by a trickle of bubbles from Sophie's own oxygen supply. If the mixture reached any of the hydroplane engine's hot surfaces, the whole thing could go up in a massive fireball.
Someone in the aircars must have spotted the bubbling, too. The voices were shouting in Edward's ear again, ordering him to get out.
But he was here, and they weren't, and he might have only seconds to get Sophie out. He swam to the cockpit, pried open the cage, and unfastened her restraints.
He was maneuvering her out of her seat when the hydroplane exploded.
* * *
The only warning that something was wrong was when Samantha's engines abruptly surged to power, sending the passengers bouncing into each other, the rails, and the deck furniture.
Travis's first thought was that the King's Own aircars and high-cover stingships overhead had detected some incoming threat that the yacht was running from. A look upward seemed to confirm that: the handful of guard vehicles had broken formation and were racing ahead toward the island at full speed. Clearly, something deadly serious was happening.
And then, through the low roar of the wind and the hiss of Samantha's prow slicing through the water, he heard the distant crack of an explosion.
"We're not going back," Lisa murmured, gripping his arm with one hand and the rail where they'd been thrown with the other. "They're heading forward, and we're heading forward."
Travis felt his stomach tighten. She was right. And if the aircars were running toward the source of the danger -- and Samantha wasn't running the opposite direction --
"Come on," he said, grabbing her hand.
Together they hurried forward, weaving their way through other civilians and Navy personnel who had come to the same conclusion. They were still twenty meters back from the bow when Travis caught the glint of metal as a couple of aircars converged over the water.
In the direction the King and Crown Princess had gone.
Someone gasped. Someone else cursed. Then all was silence. More aircars converged on the scene, and stingships dropped from the sky like hunting ospreys, as the Samantha continued speeding forward,
But it was too late. Deep within Travis was the cold, bitter certainty that it was too late.
"Travis?" a voice murmured, jolting in the taut silence.
He turned to look. Lisa was standing beside him, her body pressed close to his side, her hand gripping his. Her eyes glistened with tears as she gazed out at the sea ahead.
Her face blurred, and Travis realized that his eyes had gone moist, as well.
And then, somewhere ahead, someone started crying.
* * *
Elizabeth had been on the bridge, clearing up a small snafu with the chefs at the Lodge, when the report of the catastrophe came in. Five seconds later, she had ordered the Samantha to full speed and called for the King's Own to bring Cynthia immediately to the bridge.
The King's wife had just arrived, her face flushed with fear and horror when the aircars began their desperate convergence ahead.
"Oh, God," Cynthia murmured, her eyes transfixed on the horizon as Elizabeth hurried to her side. "Oh, God. Elizabeth -- please, God."
It's all right, were the first soothing words that sprang to Elizabeth's mind. "I'm here, Cynthia," she said instead.
Because it wasn't all right. There was no way in heaven or hell that it was all right.
And they both knew it.
They stood there together, clinging silently to each other, as the reports came in.
One of the hydroplanes, totally destroyed.
The other hydroplane, superficial blast damage only.
For a few minutes Elizabeth dared to hope. Cynthia's pleadings to God began to take on a tentative hint of gratitude.
But there was to be no hope that day. Five minutes later, the final, horrible news arrived.
Crown Princess Sophie. Dead.
King Edward. Dead.
Beside Elizabeth, Cynthia turned into her sister-in-law's arms and collapsed in complete and unrestrained sobbing.
Elizabeth held the other woman close, her own heart shattering within her. A hundred memories flashed across her eyes: memories of her brother and niece, of laughter and anger and love and tears. Memories that would now forever be darkened.
And as Cynthia's tears flowed in bitter grief, Elizabeth wondered why she herself wasn't crying.
Hadn't she loved her brother and niece? Of course she did. Didn't she love Cynthia enough to share in the other woman's anguish? Of course she did.
A whiff of moving air touched her cheek. Colonel Petrov Jackson, head of the King's Own, was standing beside the two of them, his face carved from granite. "Yes, Colonel?" Elizabeth asked. Her voice, too, seemed to be under the same inexplicably superhuman restraint as her tear ducts.
"Major Felton has been alerted, Your Highness," he said quietly. "The Lodge is being prepared, unless you would prefer we return to Landing."
Elizabeth swallowed hard. Why was this her decision?
Because apparently it was.
"We'll continue to Triton," she told him. "It's closer and…more private. You'll see to…you understand? Whatever arrangements are necessary?"
"I understand, Your Highness," Jackson said. "Is there anything I can do for you?" His eyes flicked to Cynthia. "For either of you?"
Elizabeth reached up to stroke Cynthia's hair. "No, thank you," she said. "Maybe later."
"Yes, Your Highness." Something unreadable flickered across Jackson's face. "Your Majesty," he corrected with a slight bow. Turning, he headed toward the com board.
Leaving his final words whispering through Elizabeth's mind.
Your Majesty.
And that, she realized suddenly was why she wasn't crying.
Edward's wife could mourn her late husband. Sophie's mother could mourn her late daughter. The Star Kingdom could mourn them both.
But not Elizabeth. Not yet. Not as deeply as she wanted.
Because a Queen's life was not her own.
There was no longer an Elizabeth Winton-De Quieroz. There was only Queen Elizabeth the Second.
And she had never felt more alone in her life.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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