Taezarr the corsair base commander looked upward when he heard the sonic boom generated by the landing craft. Taezarr continued to watch as the landing craft landed and taxied to the base terminal building.
Captain Goerzigh of the Kforuzeng ship Fredhue Reghz descended from the landing craft and spoke to Taezarr.
"All these years and this place is still a dump," he said.
"I am following orders from the Command Group," said Taezarr, "I don't like it any more than you do."
"There's a change in orders," said Goerzigh, "Our band is expanding and we to have this base fully operational."
"Most excellent," said Taezarr, "this wouldn't have anything to do with the special project?"
"In part," said Goerzigh, "by the way, that human engineer you have here, can work on an Imperial spine mount meson gun?"
Taezarr lifted an eyebrow.
"We scored one?"
"Possibly," said Goerzigh.
"I'll ask him," said Taezarr.
"So what about that Zhodani you're holding?"
"He's more than a bit shaky," said Taezarr, "the only thing he says that any of us can understand is, 'she's coming.'"
"A sexually obsessed Zhodani," said Goerzigh, "now there's something one doesn't see everyday."
The door of the psi-shielded room in the basement of Windhaven House slid open and Lisa and Cheryl stepped inside. Lisa sat on the bed and crossed her legs.
"You shouldn't be doing this," said Cheryl.
"You shouldn't be helping me," said Lisa.
Cheryl stuck out her tongue and went, "Putttth!" She then placed an injector on Lisa's left shoulder and pressed the button. Cheryl then stepped out and closed the door.
Lisa closed her eyes and waited for what seemed to be an eternity before she heard a certain familiar voice.
"Hello." Said Dennis.
Lisa opened her eyes. Standing against the opposite well was the image of Dennis Sterling as he appeared on the observation lounge deck of the Splendid.
"You shouldn't be doing this," he said, "you may end up not leaving this room."
"Do not tell me what I may or may not do," she replied.
"You should try to say something original," said Dennis, "you've said that to me in school, on board the Gaesh, and I fully expect that it will the very last thing you'll say to me before I go off and get killed."
Lisa stuck out her tongue at him.
"That's a start," he said, "so why did you summon me?"
"The future," she said, "I keep seeing us married and with a daughter."
"Its only a possibility," said Dennis, "it can only happen if both of you want it to."
"How do I avoid it?"
"Stay home," he said, "don't go to Capital, the path to that marriage runs through the Emperor's private office."
"Norris asked me to go," Lisa said, "do you have any idea what would happen if I didn't?"
"Yes," said Dennis, "Freddy the Twit loses the next war."
"The Zhos may even take Regina," Lisa said, "you know what they will do to me and my family."
"They will kill you and take your children," he said, "I've seen how far they will go to co-opt or eliminate potential enemies."
"Co-opt?" She said. "You?"
Dennis walked over to the door. The door opened and Dennis stepped through, Lisa followed him.
She now found herself on the upper deck of an aging Imperial escort vessel.
"Where are we?" Lisa asked Dennis.
"Aboard the Imperial Navy Ship Ageone near the binary companion of Extolay's primary," he said.
A cabin door opened and a man stepped out while zipping up his shipboard jumpsuit, he headed down the passage to the bridge. Dennis the tour guide and Lisa followed him onto the bridge.
Sitting in the pilot's seat and wearing an 11.4 mm pistol in a shoulder holster was a much younger Officer Candidate Dennis Sterling.
"Captain," said the younger Dennis, "we have a distress signal from a detached-duty scout courier, I've taken the liberty of having the chief warm up the ship's boat and I've asked Mr. Renfrew to warm up the laser turrets and prep a boarding party."
Lieutenant Commander Ken Nash, the Captain of the Ageone sat down in the right hand seat.
"You sound as though you don't expect Renfrew to follow that order," he said.
"Sir," said the younger Dennis, "I have the impression that Mr. Renfrew expects to advance through means other than the display of competence."
Lisa looked at the older Dennis.
"Renfrew was a brown nosing waste of mass and energy," said the older Dennis, "I actually clicked into my Baron Windhaven mode and chewed him a new one during the jump to this system."
Before Lisa could respond sarcastically the younger Dennis turned his head as though he were trying to listen to a faint noise.
"Captain," he said, "I think we've just been scanned."
"How?" Said Captain as he looked over the sensor readouts on his side.
"Psionically," said the younger Dennis. He suddenly punched the ship's alarm as the captain picked up a phone and pressed the transmit key.
"This is the Captain, General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands prepare to suppress boarders, all hands prepare to suppress boarders, this is no drill."
A display showing the internal layout of the ship lit up as eight Zhodani commandoes psionically teleported aboard the Ageone.
"It got ugly at this point, let's skip ahead a bit," said the older Dennis as he pressed the button to open the door from the bridge to the upper deck passage.
The door slid open to reveal two dead Zhodani commandoes in full armor, the faceplate of each helmet was marked by an 11.4 millimeter hole.
"Your work?" Said Lisa.
"At that range," he replied, "how could I miss?"
From down the passageway Lisa could hear the firing of an 11.4 millimeter pistol followed by the younger Dennis yelling, "and one to grow on!" This was followed by the firing of another round from his pistol.
Lisa looked at the older Dennis.
"Let's skip a bit further ahead," said the older Dennis.
The local sun rose over a faux-rustic cabin on the far side of Regina. Within the cabin Sir Louis Roberts stirred himself to consciousness. He rolled over in bed to find that Jane, his tall, dark haired, and well constructed mistress was getting dressed for the day ahead.
"Don't go," he said.
"Louie, I have a life, If I'm seen not living that life I would have to answer questions that I'd rather not have to answer," Jane replied, "and there's a rumor about that Naval Intelligence still has a Section Six."
"They do," he said.
Louis would have chewed himself out for that particular indiscretion if his mistress hadn't immediately given him a whopper of a kiss before leaving.
"Bye," she said.
Jane flew her speeder to the nearest large city, landed at the second commercial level of the Moore Arcology, and walked into a megacorporate franchise coffee shop. When she saw the proprietor of the establishment she transmitted a thought to him.
"TERMITE THREE is ready to defect to us."
The Imperial advisor and operative known as Pentecost stepped into the Emperor Strephon's private office, to any casual observer she would appear to be about forty years old with dark brown hair, she was far older and her actual age was known to less than a handful of people, including the Emperor.
"Close the door," said the Emperor.
Pentecost closed the door and took the liberty of grabbing a Havacola from the office fridge before taking a seat in front of the Emperor's desk.
"Do you recall," said the Emperor, "how your Uncle Dennis described Grand Admiral Santanocheev?"
"That he was," said Pentecost, "quote, unfit to command a deflated rescue ball in a decaying orbit, close quote."
"Given the pile of complaints and reports that I've read about him," said the Emperor, "that would appear to be a reasonable summary of the man and his staff."
"If the Zhos hit while he's still in command we may lose the coreward half of the Regina Subsector and the remnant of the Jewell Subsector." Said Pentecost. "Who did you have in mind as a replacement?"
"The Duke of Regina," the Emperor said. He picked up an antique fountain pen from its holder and then opened a folder on his desk signed the document within.
"Uncle Dennie has a warrant," said Pentecost, "he could relive Santanocheev and place Norris in command."
"Had a warrant," said the Emperor, "he returned it to us before taking off for the Marches."
Pentecost appeared confused.
"He was afraid that he would abuse it." Said Emperor Strephon. "In any case it would be better if the order came directly from this office."
Strephon closed the folder.
"Given the risk of a war with the Zhodani we can't use the usual courier systems," said the Emperor, "there should be a suitable jump-five or six cruiser in presently orbit under the command of someone with an equal or higher rank in the peerage than Santanocheev, find it for me. And do it quietly."
"You're no fun anymore," said Pentecost.
Dennis the tour guide and Lisa stepped into the fire direction center of the Ageone.
A small crowd of officer candidates and petty officers surrounded the younger Dennis as he was working the controls of the starboard laser turret. A older male voice with an Reginan accent emanated from the speakers in the room.
"Son," said the voice, "I'm sorry that I couldn't bring you with me, I really am."
Lisa could sense a state of cold rage in the younger Dennis as he trained the laser's sights on the scoutship.
"There's no place for you in the Imperium," the voice said, "your brother and I have positions of responsibility in the Consulate, you won't have to hide your true self."
The younger Dennis locked the turret onto the target and pressed the red button to fire.
The first shot punched into the living quarters, the second shot penetrated one of the fuel tanks, the final shot pierced the engine room and disrupted the containment on the starboard fusion reactor.
In a flash of white hot plasma, the scout ship exploded.
Lisa turned to the older Dennis.
"You killed your own father," she said more as a statement than a question.
"Yes," said the older Dennis, "you should grab onto something now."
"Why?" Said Lisa.
The sound of thunder and tearing metal suddenly rang throughout the ship, lights and control panels went dark as circuit breakers opened, and anyone not seated stumbled and fell about the compartment as the ship shook under the impact.
"A heavy particle beam from the Zhodani destroyer that was acting as the mothership on this operation," said the older Dennis, "every compartment between here and the bridge has just been vented to space."
The older Dennis led Lisa through a hatch and back into the basement of Windhaven House.
"Do you have any regrets?" Lisa asked Dennis.
"No," he said, "none at all."
Captain Eneri Richmond, Marquis Sharim, kicked back in the chair in his day cabin aboard the Imperial Navy Ship Rolve Hemmerding and sipped navy coffee from his personal mug. It was the first break he had taken since receiving orders to prepare for a deep space mission. No mention in the orders as to what the mission was, the orders were simply to cast off from Naval Station Capital and wait for further orders.
Captain Richmond assumed that the mission orders would be carried by hand to his ship, a Gionetti class light cruiser, by some admiral. Richmond posted an ensign at both the port and starboard docking port.
Richmond took another sip as the intercom buzzed, he picked up the phone and spoke.
"Ensign Truitt, portside docking port, sir," said the female voice on the line. "I have a cutter requesting permission to dock sir."
"So what's the problem?" Richmond said before taking another sip from his mug.
"She's showing the ID-code NAVY ONE, sir."
Captain Richmond explosively spat out his coffee over his desk.
"Permission to dock granted," he said, "I'll be right down."
Ignoring the mess he made Captain Richmond ran down to the portside docking port and arrived just in time to see the Emperor, with a large envelope under his left arm, salute Ensign Truitt and request permission to come aboard.
"Um, permission granted, um, sir," she said.
"Don't worry Ensign," said the Emperor, "the first time is always the worst."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Captain Richmond exchanged salutes with the Emperor.
"Welcome aboard Your Majesty," he said, "we weren't expecting you, sir."
"I'm sorry Captain," said the Emperor, "this will be one of those conversations that you'll have to refrain from discussing."
"Aye aye, sir."
The Emissary seemed to float motionlessly in fifth-level jumpspace, in the place of two of her four fuel shuttles she carried the shorter legged starships Chauchat and Aramanx Jack.
Dana Wolfsburg sat back in the pilot's seat of the Chauchat and began to wonder if she should resign her position with Famille Spofulam. Crossing the Great Rift with drop tanks, even through the Islands subsectors, was scary enough. But having to fly the Chauchat inverted at Mach 1.2 at treetop level while the boss got to bounce about on the ground in powered armor could very well be the last straw for her.
The assistant engineer then reported on the intercom that the temporary passageway that connected the Chauchat with the Emissary had been disconnected.
"Lovely," said Dana.
Aboard the Aramanx Jack, Dennis, Daevagh, and the ground troop contingent of the ship's company made the final checks on their armor and personal weapons for the ground assault on the corsair base. Dennis checked himself out in a convenient mirror.
"Come on baby," he said to himself with the suit's radio on mute, "take a chance with us."
On the bridge of the Emissary Captain Sergei Oberlindes mentally counted down the minutes and seconds as each of the ship's departments reported their readiness for action. Apart from the voice of an eight year old girl doing her impression of a system traffic controller reporting on the status of the spine mount particle accelerator, the systems check had proceeded normally.
As usual, Sergei would at every five minute interval, count down the number of minute before normal space reentry. He now picked up the mike for the final countdown.
Sergei's voice rang throughout the ship as he counted down the seconds to normal space reentry.