Elven sat behind Thrall in the middle of a room that seemed about three times larger than necessary.

In Stockton, the capital city of Clarion, the heart of government for a quarter of Star League clustered together in one location.

The Star League was comprised of 16 primary planets, the most powerful concentration of people and technology in the galaxy. Or, so League school children were taught. Citizens of the Planetary Republic did not consider Star League superior in many ways, other than her Navy. And even that had taken quite the hit from repeated successful attacks by the Republic.

Elven sighed, partly out of boredom and partly out of frustration. As the Tetrarch’s Naval attaché, she was expected to sit in on important meetings like this. That did not mean she had to like it, though.

Around the table sat six additional men and women, or rather holograms of themselves sat at the table. These were the other Tetrarchs along with their aides.

Absently, Elven sifted through her elementary school government facts. The 16 planets were controlled by four Tetrarchs, who comprised the ruling body of Star League, the Tetrarchy.

Along the wall, in Ancient Latin, words had been etched spelling out the Tetrarchy’s motto: Regnorum instar singulae et in regna contribuuntur. “Each is the equivalent of a kingdom, and also part of one.”

What students were not taught, Elven decided, was that the Tetrarchs fought amongst themselves. A lot.

Each one felt like they could do a better job if only they controlled the entire League.

Right now, Tetrarch Lopez vocally expressed her low opinion of Thrall’s abilities. The hologram perfectly representing Maria Lopez scowled across the table as she pointed an angry finger at him.

“I agreed to cede authority of the Navy to you, Tetrarch Thrall, because you assured me, all of us, that you could handle the Republic. That was three years ago. May I remind everyone at this table that we are still fighting the Republic in a war that is seemingly without end? How much longer is this expected to go on? How many more ships are we going to lose like the Expedient before enough is enough?”

Thrall’s green eyes frosted and he spread his hands wide.

In a much calmer voice than Lopez’s he said, “StarCen is always studying the enemy and learning from our mistakes as well as our victories. We hope to be highly successful in future battles thanks to our newest weapon, which worked quite well in the engagement in which Expedient went down. May I remind the Assembly that two enemy ships were taken in that engagement for the one we lost. We still hold an overall numerical edge on our opponent. With the latest tactics and weapons, we hope to increase our advantages, to the point of ultimate victory.”

“Oh, spare me your reassuring words, Thrall.”

Lopez stared angrily at him. Elven thought she could hear the proverbial pin drop in the silence that followed. She noticed Thrall’s nostrils flaring. Otherwise, he maintained his cold stare at the other Tetrarch’s hologram.

Lopez crossed her arms and sat back in the chair.

She said, “If we cannot bring this war to a speedy conclusion, I suggest we sue for terms of peace.”

Billings and Gao, the other two Tetrarchs present via hologram, turned to Thrall. They were good politicians, Elven thought. Neither betrayed any emotion in their faces, despite the stunning nature of the statement.

Thrall actually smiled at Lopez. A cold and calculating smile, but a smile nonetheless.

He said, “Tetrarch Lopez, since you are unable to continue governing in times of war, Admiral Cooper is with the Sixth Fleet in orbit around Juventas. I am certain he will be able to take over your responsibilities since you are no longer able to lead.”

This statement did elicit reactions. Lopez gasped. Gao’s jaw dropped while Billings’s eyes seemed to grow wide as old-fashioned silver dollars.

Lopez sputtered. She said, “How dare you?”

Thrall said, “How dare you, Tetrarch? You have treasonously brokered the idea of surrendering to our enemy, here with ample witnesses. I am offering you an easy way out. Concede now and Admiral Cooper will take over.”

Lopez’s face screwed up in anger. She said, “StarCen, end this connection!”

Her hologram and that of her aide’s winked out, leaving two chairs empty at the table.

All eyes turned toward Thrall. He sighed and a corner of his lips moved up.

“She’s probably hunkering down as we speak.”

He touched the implant under his right ear and said, “Admiral, instigate Operation Overthrow.”

Across the neural net, Cooper’s deep baritone voice sounded in Thrall’s ear.

“Yes, sir!”

Before the group had a chance to react further to these events, StarCen’s voice sounded above the table.

“Tetrarch Thrall, your home is currently under attack by unknown forces. All guard bots assigned to the house are destroyed. I will be sending in a relief force at once.”

Thrall stood, scooting his chair back. He turned and glared at Elven sitting behind him.

She gulped. What did I have to do with anything? she thought.

He turned and walked toward the door, giving the Assembly neither another look nor thought.

Elven followed, quickly jogging after him.


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