Thrall sat in a luxurious conference room, even more well-apportioned than the one back on Clarion he usually used. This one had lots of wasted space, especially to one used to the rigors and confinements of Naval life onboard spaceships.

The ceiling went far too high, and was decked in hand-carved relief images showing four solar systems. The walls were equally sumptuous, with rare wood, granite, marble, and liberal overlays of gold leaf.

In the middle, a 20,000 credit conference table dominated the room, surrounded by comfortably overstuffed black leather chairs.

Thrall sat at the head, looking at the holograms of the other two Tetrarchs, Billings and Chu. Their respective assistants sat beside them.

Thrall had no assistant, with Elven long gone and now with the additional absence of Raquel Kirkland. But he called the meeting without one, especially in light of their dire circumstances.

“I don’t need to inform you two of the situation we find ourselves in.”

Billings and Chu nodded. Billings was an overweight man approaching 60. He claimed ancestry from England, although the United Kingdom would be more accurate. His family hailed from somewhere in the far-flung British Empire of old, but Thrall never caught where, exactly. It was one of the Caribbean islands, he thought. Or, maybe it was in the Atlantic.

Chu was of Asian descent, by way of America. She was rail thin, but closer to 50 years old instead of 60. She never spoke much, but she often carried a shrewd and cunning look in her eyes.

Thrall continued. He said, “The Republic took the Juventas quadrant, wiping out most of Cooper’s remaining fleet. In light of this emergency, I am moving to consolidate power here on Epsilon.”

“And by consolidating power, what exactly do you mean?” Billings said.

Thrall glanced at the hologram, a slight glint in his green eyes.

He said, “As you both know, Epsilon has served at the center of the Tetrarchy, a nexus, if you will, for all four systems. Our ‘alphabet agencies’ are headquartered here, as is the Navy, our main universities and our training centers. It also serves as a central hub for manufacturing and administration across the League.

“Everything has worked well with Epsilon serving as the center of a four-spoke wheel of power these last hundred years or so. But now, with the loss of Juventas the whole geographical balance of power has become . . . problematic.”

He waved his hand and a holoscreen appeared in the middle of the table, showing up in all their respective conference rooms simultaneously.

“I am exerting a measure to gather all authority here, on Epsilon. You two will remain in charge of your respective quadrants, but all final decisions of importance will go through me.

“We need to consolidate power in order to better coordinate against the Republican threat. So far, the war has left most of us relatively untouched. With the loss of Juventas, that changes. Now we will have to adjust all aspects of civilian life, as well as military, in order to face this threat.

“The time is coming, and indeed has now come, when all subjects of the League will be expected to contribute their fair share to the war effort.”

The expressions on the other two Tetrarchs’ faces would have been comical in other circumstances. They gave Thrall looks of profound incredulity.

“So . . . you’re saying . . . you are in charge now? Of everything?” Billings said.

“That is correct. You and Tetrarch Chu will remain in place over your respective quadrants, but you will report to me now. I am moving to Epsilon, at least until this present crisis passes.”

The holographic avatars representing Billings and Chu exchanged a glance across the cosmos. This was a naked power grab. In other times, they would have resisted. If Lopez was here, she would be leading the charge.

As it was, both Tetrarchs knew the fleets in orbit around their own capital planets would be all too happy to flood their Administration Buildings with Marines and replace them with an Admiral at the drop of a hat. So, neither one said anything in disagreement.

Instead, Chu said, “It would appear you are in charge now, Tetrarch Thrall.”

That was a tacit agreement to his power move.

Thrall nodded, a trace of satisfaction flashing in his green eyes.

Billings took a deep breath. He could not be quite as outwardly acquiescent as Chu.

He said, “I hope we can discuss this further once the war is over.”

“Of course, Tetrarch Billings, of course. When we get to that point we will decide what to do.”

And perhaps I will have found your replacement by then, Thrall thought.

The meeting wrapped up shortly afterward and Thrall left the table, heading for the door. Outside in the hallway he met the most attractive young blonde woman he had ever seen.

She had gloriously long, wavy blonde hair stretching down below her waist. Ample breasts and a ridiculously thin waistline above shapely hips were all outlined provocatively yet without a hint of salaciousness in the business dress she wore.

Her face was very sharp and attractive. Some women had what used to be called “it,” a hard to define quality that marked extraordinarily seductive faces. She had “it,” Thrall thought, in spades.

Her eyebrows were dark blonde, one of the signs the luscious color quality of her hair was not fake. She even had blue eyes.

Thrall felt bedazzled. His eyes locked onto hers, and never left.

When she smiled at him, her face lit up and became even more attractive. She looked warm and inviting, and ever so interested in him.

“Tetrarch Thrall? I’m Kendra Lewis. StarCen says I am to be your assistant so long as you stay on Epsilon.”

He shook her hand, noticing the red painted nails.

Thrall thought back to something Edgar Munk had mentioned in one of their discussions about women. Munk was the closest thing Thrall had to a friend, and they discussed many things men liked to talk about.

Munk had a theory about painted nails. Women who were not in physically demanding jobs and who wanted to look attractive painted their nails. Women who wanted to look particularly attractive to men, painted their toenails.

Thrall glanced down and noted Kendra wore open black high heels. Her toenails peeked through. They were painted the same shade as her fingernails.

Munk also had a theory about why women wore high heels, but Thrall shoved that lustful thought out of his mind.

Out loud he said, “StarCen, confirm.”

“Ms. Kendra Lewis is an ideal candidate for serving as your assistant, Tetrarch Thrall.”

He glanced at the incredibly attractive young woman again. She looked stunning. Perhaps one in a million young women appeared this outstanding.

He said, “You are not Navy?”

“No, sir. I regret the Attaché Service is unable to provide you with someone at this time. However, I do have considerable experience in many related fields. Please try me out, sir. If I fail to meet your expectations, you can always request a replacement.”

He looked at her marvelous blue eyes and drank in her entire figure though his peripheral vision.

“I am sure you will do quite well, Ms. Lewis. Accompany me to my suite at the Epsilonian. We can get to know one another better there.”

“Of course, sir!”

The young woman flushed, and seemed excited.

That’s to be expected, Thrall thought. After all, I am the Lead Tetrarch.

Together they made their way to an open area so StarCen could port them away.


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