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?”
“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.”