Veil of Shadows – Chapter Three

Lord Admiral Sebastian Shrike looked up from his desk at his secretary’s knock. The young officer cleared his throat from the doorway for added emphasis. Shrike wasn’t sure why the man felt the need to interrupt him twice. He fixed a disapproving stare on his minion. “Yes?”

“Commander Rawlins is here to see you, Lord Admiral. He doesn’t have an appointment.” The man’s disapproval at the last bit of information was palpable.

Shrike’s irritation vanished as he pushed back from his desk. “Send him in and hold all my calls and visitors until we’re done. No interruptions. Absolutely none. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

Jacob Rawlins wasn’t much to look at, a short balding man in his mid-fifties, nondescript in every way. He was indistinguishable from the other mid-rank officers wandering the halls of Royal Fleet Command. That was a benefit to one of the best operatives in the Intelligence Division. It was particularly useful in the tasks Shrike routinely assigned him.

Once his secretary closed the door behind Rawlins, Shrike inclined his head. “Jacob. A pleasure as always.”

“Lord Admiral.” Rawlins made a circular gesture with his finger pointed toward the ceiling. His raised eyebrow made the motion a question.

Shrike shook his head. “While you get settled in, let me pour us a drink. You want your usual?”

Rawlins pulled a scanning device from his jacket pocket and began checking the office for bugs. “You know how much I appreciate the aged whisky you favor. No ice, please.” It took the man a minute to complete his scan and set the device in the middle of the desk blotter.

“Once again your people prove their value, Lord Admiral. No bugs. As long as the light stays green, no one is monitoring us. May I assume your summons has something to do with the Terrans?”

Shrike sat back down at his desk. “Indeed. Their intervention has put the coup into jeopardy.”

The intelligence officer leaned back in his chair and sipped his drink, nodding. “True, the conditions you’d hoped to foster after the invasion have failed to take shape, mostly due to the Terrans’ counterattack on the Pale Ones. Even though the military suffered losses on par with your estimates, the Royal Family’s public support is even stronger than it was before. Discouraging news, indeed.”

Shrike’s gaze narrowed. He pitched his voice low and added a deceptively genial tone. “Don’t be so distant, Jacob. Yes, the appearance of the Terran destroyer and its space-time drive totally bollixed our plans. The invasion should have left the Royal Fleet in tatters and the average citizen ripe for change. Obviously, that sentiment is now lacking.”

The intelligence officer smiled, though it didn’t reach his cold eyes. “That’s something of an understatement. The average citizen is now soundly behind the king. With the bloody nose the Terrans gave the Pale Ones, His Majesty has achieved a newfound respect in military matters. I’m quite interested in how you intend to reverse our fortunes.”

“Lord Captain Mertz has informed Commodore Sanders that he intends to return to the Old Empire derelict and make it spaceworthy once more.”

Rawlins blinked. “Is that a joke?”

“Apparently not. His engineer seems to believe they have some possibility of success. As much as it annoys me, their technical superiority gives his assessment weight.”

Rawlins sat in silent thought for a few moments. “That does change things, but I’m not sure how you intend to use it to our advantage.”

Shrike picked up his own glass and sipped the aged whisky. Its smooth fire spoke of many years in a barrel. “If we possessed such a vessel, the entire Royal Fleet would bow before us. And as Fleet goes, so goes the Kingdom. While I’ve had some success in putting men loyal to me in some commands, it’s less likely that the remainder will resist if we possessed such a ship.”

“That’s a bold plan, but I see a few flaws. Such as the fact that we can’t even get to the system containing the wreck until the first of the Fleet conversions takes place. If we could, we wouldn’t know the first thing about operating it. We have to have the Terrans’ assistance even to build space-time drives. Or as they refer to them, flip drives.” His face took on a look of distaste at the last bit of reality.

The lord admiral leaned back in his chair. The rich leather creaked softly as he shifted his weight. “The Terrans have agreed to take a number of Royal Fleet personnel with them for training purposes and to help man the ship. Lord Captain Mertz envisions that a large percentage of them will accompany his ship on the way back to their empire, I’ll wager. I should be able to get some of our people into the program.”

Rawlins smiled like a shark. “And you envision a coup much like we’d planned for the Royal Fleet? That could work.”

“Eventually. Most of the people I send won’t be part of our organization, so I doubt we could take the ship right away. That said, we could put a cadre of people in place to learn what they can and to form a plan to seize the ship. Can you assemble a team on short notice?”

“On how short a notice?”

“Four hours.”

“Difficult, but I’ll manage. Will we have an opportunity to send a larger group later?”

“I believe so, but we can’t count on it.”

The intelligence officer drained his glass and set it on the desk blotter. “Then I have my work cut out for me.”

The lord admiral smiled. “Meanwhile, I’ll start working on events here on Pentagar. Since the political situation is souring for us, I might as well stir up some trouble.”

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