Mandy Elven pushed herself to maintain pace alongside Julius Thrall, one of the most powerful men in the galaxy, as they ran along the beach near Thrall Manor on Clarion.

Thrall demanded his naval attaché work out with him. Indeed, Thrall demanded she spend most of her waking hours with him. Thrall might demand something more at some point, she thought, and she wondered how she would respond were that situation to occur.

At first, when volunteering for the League Attaché Department, thoughts of spending all her time with one of the League’s Tetrarchs were the farthest from her mind. A more typical role for an attaché involved networking with ambassadors and foreign dignitaries at embassies on other planets.

But the Admiral in charge of the program brought her into his office shortly after she completed training, and explained that Tetrarch Thrall had privately requested she become his personal naval attaché.

When she found out her predecessor in the role, a former Lieutenant by the name of Emily Diaz, had moved on from working with Thrall to the XO position on the Nautilus, she warmed up to the idea.

Her enthusiasm withered on the vine over the past several months, though. She found herself serving as a personal assistant more than anything else. More like a servant, really. One who stayed very close to the Tetrarch, to be sure, yet kept firmly in place playing a painfully subordinate role.

That had taken the young officer some getting used to. She was the one who gave orders. Naturally she could take them, as well. But she far preferred giving rather than receiving, when it came to orders. Most of her time since the Academy had been spent whipping ensigns into shape rather than fetching the Tetrarch’s coffee each morning, scanning reports and giving him summaries. And working out with him. And sharing meals with him. And serving as a springboard for his thoughts and ideas. And transmitting some of those thoughts, often in a filtered and heavily censored way, back to Navy brass. And sharing a glass of wine with him each evening before he retired for the night. And meeting him again in the morning for his two-kilometer jog on the beach.

The jogging she could handle. She did not mind it at all. And truth to tell, the secluded scenery of the Thrall estate looked strikingly beautiful, and was no doubt one of the nicest places on Clarion.

They were very isolated. The nearest neighbors were 18 kilometers away. Security remained tight, to the extent that the house itself had anti-teleportation measures installed. No one could port directly inside, or near the house without permission.

And while Elven missed the daily urban delights of Comstock, Clarion’s largest city and her hometown, she could appreciate the back-to-nature isolation of Thrall Manor and its surrounding countryside.

And the beach. Kilometers and kilometers of pure white sand and clear green water, with nary a soul in sight.

But right now she had to keep pace with Thrall, who ran at a steady clip one kilometer from the house and one kilometer back each morning.

They were followed by ten armed Marine bots, which Thrall considered overkill. But someone in the brass thought by supplying him with additional guard bots they could convince him to approve their pet project.

Elven never found out who the Admiral was that green-lighted the extra robots for the Tetrarch, nor if he or she ever got the approval they wanted. That had occurred under Diaz’s tenure.

Elven knew Diaz, or at least she knew of her. The Naval officer corps was a relatively small pond, after all. What surprised Elven her first time in Thrall’s office was to see the holo portrait of his family when the girls were younger and his wife was still alive. Thrall also kept a portrait of his wife when she was much younger, presumably when they first met.

His dead wife’s name was Andi, and she was a thin and attractive blonde in the holo with the girls. But in that earlier one, she was a brunette.

Andi, and this conclusion Elven was sure of, had changed her hair color for him.

Diaz, she knew, was a natural blonde. So was she. In Elven’s mind, she put two and two together and decided the Tetrarch had a type. He evidently preferred blondes.

His two girls had dark hair, and neither seemed inclined to change. Indeed, she thought, that might be an assertion of independence from their father. She smiled and decided Jillian might just dye her hair jet black when she returned home. That girl definitely had a rebellious streak, just like her sister.

Elven’s thoughts returned to the present as she ran alongside Thrall, their feet leaving prints in the sand. Behind them the Marine bots tirelessly traipsed after, maintaining a diligent watch despite no one nearby other than the local equivalent of seagulls. These white birds dipped in and out of the surf. A couple or more seemed to follow them every morning, perhaps hoping for food.

Thrall headed straight toward the side entrance leading to the mansion’s gym, jogging past more robot guards watching the exterior. He finally stopped running as the door swished open. Inside, he grabbed a towel and headed for the weights. Elven dutifully followed, and moved into position to spot him as he lifted a weight bar off the bench supports.

She would be expected to perform reps, too. The Tetrarch, despite his age, maintained a diligent workout regimen, and he wanted her to stay in shape as well. She did not mind, though. She was in better condition now than she had been since the Academy.

The proximity to the Tetrarch had proven beneficial in other ways, too. She discovered she had been promoted a week after becoming Thrall’s attaché. Privately, she suspected she must have passed his approval. Otherwise, he no doubt would have had her transferred out and called for some other blonde to replace her. Now, she was Lieutenant Commander Elven.

If she could keep him happy several more months, maybe she could request an XO position like Diaz received. Then Thrall would see to it she would get promoted to Commander. And then Captain. Her ultimate goal was to be Captain of her own ship.

But for now, to get there, she had to spot weights for the most powerful man in this part of the galaxy.

Well, we do what we have to, she thought as Thrall huffed through his eighth repetition.

StarCen’s voice came from the gym’s ceiling.

“Tetrarch Thrall, the Polaris is approaching Clarion. She will be here within the hour.”

Thrall grunted and lifted the weights higher. Standing behind him, Elven picked up the bar and helped put it back on the supports.

He sat up and toweled off his face.

He said, “Good. Have my daughter ported directly here when they reach orbit.”

A note from jaxonreed

Book III is called Condor Rising. Chapters now available on Patreon.

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