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Chancellor Elsa Cole’s hologram stood before Severs, showing her petite strawberry blonde frame in remarkable clarity despite the distance.

This marked the Admiral’s first direct report to the Chancellor since the conclusion of the battle. He remained in the Admiral’s Quarters on the Thomas Paine. She stood in her office back on Diego.

He wrapped up the oral report and came to his closing comments.

“We now have control of Juventas, Chancellor. The question is, of course, can we keep it? PLAIR indicates StarCen will work very hard at taking it back out of our column. Since Juventas is a capital planet, PLAIR is claiming the other major systems in this quadrant as well, although we have no Naval presence in those three systems as of yet.”

“That will have to change, of course. If nothing else, we will cut those worlds off from the quantum communications matrix. Obviously, you don’t want your neighbors serving as spies and relaying information back to the League.

“We have two more Condors coming off the line as we speak, Admiral, and they will be joining you within a fortnight. With five Condors, you should be able to hold the quadrant, even against their new solar torpedoes.”

Severs nodded. Cole looked at his hologram, in her office back in Harrington House on Diego.

She said, “You are not responsible for the deception that lost most of that squadron, Admiral. It was over in a second, far too fast for any human to react. I regret the loss of life, but this is war, after all.”

He nodded again and said, “It is war, and the other side fights dirty.”

“That was the only way Thrall could inflict some casualties on us. And he took the opportunity.”

She did not say it, but the unspoken thought hung in the air. PLAIR might have suggested a similar tactic were their roles reversed. Severs frowned. He dismissed the topic from his mind and moved on.

He said, “Speaking of war, Chancellor, I took the liberty of waiving the curse word penalty during combat. I’m going to keep it waived during the occupation as well.”

Cole blinked in surprise and she raised her eyebrows.

She said, “That provision was passed by Parliament.”

“I understand. Politics and all. But I could not in good conscience dock my sailors and Marines for cursing while they are putting their lives in jeopardy for the sake of the Republic. I’ll be happy to address Parliament in person regarding this issue, once I return.”

Cole smiled at him. She said, “You’re a bold man, Fred. That’s one of the reasons I made you my Fleet Admiral. I’ll cover for you now when they find out. So long as you keep winning, they won’t have any grounds to recall you, and you’ll pretty much have free reign to do what you want so long as you don’t start torturing prisoners or executing children. Just don’t become a petty tyrant, and don’t let power go to your head.

“But if things turn south, they will look for anything and everything to pin on you. Including this.”

“I’m willing to take my chances. With all due respect, Madam Chancellor, it’s a stupid rule. We should not be monitoring speech and trying to shape it, especially in the armed forces. Especially in combat. When life or death is on the line, no one should care what a Marine or sailor says. Particularly those in Parliament.”

Elsa Cole smiled warmly at him as he finished speaking.

She said, “After this is over, Fred, you should consider a life in politics. Our party could use more men like you, people who are willing to take a stand over their principles. All too often politicians are wishy-washy, changing their tunes with the direction of the wind. I imagine you will hold your stances no matter what.”

Privately, Severs felt honored at the compliment. A seed was planted, but it was one he did not have the time or inclination to examine right now.

“One thing at a time, Madam Chancellor. First, let’s win this war.”

-+-

Biff and Julia stayed home, watching the holoscreen in their flat. Image after image of destruction flashed by. They stayed on the couch, watching in amazement at the devastation and the massive shift in power.

The newsbots were nowhere to be seen, with the elimination of StarCen. Ordinarily, these artificial men and women served the old role of news channel anchors. But with no AI, there were no virtual talking heads to inform the public.

Eventually a real human found his way onto the airwaves. He was breathless, and stammered a lot, but he informed the audience that the Republic had attacked and was now in control of Juventas. The League Navy was gone, and all ground forces had either been eliminated or had surrendered.

Like millions of others on Juventas, Biff and Julia watched as the Republic quickly moved to solidify their control of the planet. Marines occupied ports and centers of power. In areas where cameras were unavailable, the lone human on the air was left to breathlessly speculate.

Right now a camera panned over the top of downtown Yorkton, where a giant hole remained filled with rubble from the Administration Building.

“I am getting reports that large amounts of cargo are being ported down to certain locations in Yorkton. It would be this reporter’s opinion that they are installing AI cores to replace StarCen. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll be saying, ‘Hey, PLAIR!’ instead of, ‘Hey, StarCen!’”

Biff cooked them lunch while the holo stayed on. Julia moved over to the table and joined him when it was ready.

She said, “Goulash! My favorite.”

He smiled and said, “Good thing we had groceries delivered yesterday. I bet there’s shortages for a while. I wonder how good PLAIR is at managing planets and their resources?”

She shrugged as she sat down and spooned some food in her mouth.

After she ate some more, she looked at him with a twinkle in her eye.

She said, “Managing resources is easy. It’s people who are the hard part.”

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