Read Queen of the Pirates Online

Authors: Blaze Ward

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Exploration, #Hard Science Fiction, #Space Fleet, #Space Opera, #Military, #Artificial intelligence, #Galactic Empire, #starship, #Pirates, #Space Exploration

Queen of the Pirates (2 page)

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
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Jessica came back to herself. “Hmm?”

Father smiled down at her. “I asked,” he said in that warm baritone, “what was next for the Hero of
Iger
and of the
Cahllepp Frontier
?”

She shook her head ruefully. Anyone else calling her that would have gotten the sharp edge of her tongue, but this was her father, and the warm home of her childhood, especially with her flighty and emotionally–distant mother, always at her crafting projects.

“I’m not sure,” she said hollowly. “
Auberon
will be ready for duty in another few weeks. Wherever the First Lord wants us to go. The war hasn’t ended, just because I kicked the
Fribourg Empire
in the shins.”

He held up his glass in a toast. “You’ll do fine, Jess.”

They sipped companionably for a bit.

“So,” Father said, gesturing to the giggles and whispers from the back room, “what’s all that about?”

Jessica turned to Marcelle with an arch smile. “That,” she said primly, “is a question for your
other
daughter.”

Marcelle had the grace to blush. “Moirrey has always reminded me of Indira,” she said simply. “Moirrey makes her own clothing, and she quilts. I have no doubts that, if the materials were available from the hydroponics bay, she would make her own essential oils from things she grew, and can and pickle and jelly just like Mother does.”

“And she asked for this as a reward?” He smiled and shook his head, gesturing to the whole house and the evening.

“I might,” Marcelle continued, smiling, “have talked a bit much. Maybe. I know exactly two people who own their own spinning wheels. It was natural that they should meet. Don’t you agree?”

Jessica snorted.
Peas in a pod
was a better description. She was just glad she’d finally been able to become friends with her mother.

The relationship would never compare to what she had with Father, but it was nice to be able to take that back into space with her, back to the endless war.

LADAUX

Chapter I

Date of the Republic August 16, 393 Fleet HQ, Ladaux System

Jessica stood perfectly still as Marcelle Travere, her personal steward, brushed away imaginary dust specks from the shoulders and back of Jessica’s first–class uniform, the forest green of the
Republic of Aquitaine
Navy with three white stripes for a command centurion encircling Jessica’s right upper arm and
Auberon’s
crest as a patch on her left shoulder.

Because she was not in her formal dress uniform, she had nothing else to identify her to someone passing in the hallway: no name plate; none of the tags on her right breast to indicate schools, certifications, and service history; nor medal ribbons and citations on her left breast. Besides, the man she was going to meet would have said that the patch on her left shoulder was message enough.

RAN Auberon
. A
Republic of Aquitaine
Navy Strike Carrier, recently known for a daring series of raids on the
Fribourg Empire
that had made the vessel and her commander famous, or infamous, depending on which circles one chose to associate with.

She preferred the Fighting Lords over the Noble Lords. The man on the other side of the door had been one of the best of the Fighting Lords before he retired from command duty to serve as First Lord of the Fleet itself. Her mentor. Her guardian angel. Nils Kasum.

Marcelle turned and rapped solidly on the door, nodding to herself as she did.

Room 2304,
Ladaux
Headquarters Station. The personal office of the First Lord.

The dragon’s lair.

It slid silently into the wall.

“Come,” a man’s voice said. It was a rich, deep tone, warm with a smile.

Marcelle entered first, as always. She stepped immediately to her right and then back against the wall, prepared for any eventuality.

Neither woman expected that Marcelle would be there long. She rarely had been in the past.

Jessica followed her into the room, coming to a stop before the desk. The scene she found was not something she was expecting. She came to rigid attention and waited.

The man behind the desk gazed at them silently. First Lord Nils Kasum, the military chief of the service. A prominent member of one of the Fifty Families who provided much of the elite of the Republic. A son, grandson, and brother of Senators of the Republic.

He was a tall man, skinny, with a fire in his eyes clearly visible from where she stood and hair that had gone fully gray, finally.

For just a moment, Jessica’s eyes darted to the right, mostly to confirm the identity of the man seated on the sofa against the side wall.

She had met that man once, briefly, when
Auberon
docked after her famous raid on the
Fribourg Empire
. Senator Tadej Horvat had spoken with her at that time, mostly platitudes and bromides, as one would expect from the Premier of the Republic Senate in a public place.

This room was not public.

What would he want with her?

“Marcelle,” the First Lord continued with a smile, “we’ll be at this a while. I’ve also taken the liberty of inviting your charge to dine with us this evening. I promise to have her back aboard ship before local morning. You should enjoy a night off.”

Jessica grinned. She couldn’t be positive without looking back, but Marcelle was probably blushing. As rowdy as she might be in a dock–side bar, she was an absolute kitten around the power players of the Republic. It had taken Jessica years to get over that herself. She was never going to make her steward, her assistant, her
dog–robber
, change. It wasn’t worth trying.

“First Lord,” she heard Marcelle mutter.

The door closed a moment later, leaving the three of them alone.

Three?

“Jessica,” First Lord Kasum began, gesturing to a chair, “sit. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. You might as well be comfortable doing it.”

Jessica took the chair on the left, leaving an empty one between her and the Premier. She noticed a coffee service for three already laid out, so this was not a spur of the moment thing. She adjusted her plans accordingly.

She watched the Premier of the Republic Senate lean forward and turn on the charm.

He was very, very good at it.
What had she done to rate this level of attention? How scared should she be?

“Command Centurion Keller,” he began, in a voice pitched to fill the room like cool water, a soothing radio voice, or something intended to calm wild horses.

Wild horses? Okay, maybe she was just a bit keyed up.
Jessica took an extra deep breath and held it.

“I wanted a chance to meet you in a private setting,” he continued. “To take your measure, if you will, before the news I am going to share with you is generally known to the public.”

“Sir,” she replied simply. Now was a very good time to keep her cards close to her chest.

“Jessica,” the First Lord said with a placating smile, “before you get serious and tactical on us, Tadej is on your side. I personally watched him threaten several senators, in public, warning them that you were under his protection, when they wanted to get stupid over the affairs at
2218 Svati Prime
. He’s one of the good guys.”

She nodded to both men, relaxing a bit. “Thank you. Both of you.”

“Jessica,” Kasum continued, “this is likely to be another one of
those
conversations, so for now, please call me Nils. The Premier will occasionally answer to Tadej.”

She watched the Premier nod back at her.
Were they really expecting her to call the Premier of the Senate by his given name? Her?

“Nils,” she said, tasting the word for a moment. It felt odd to be on such informal terms with the man who had been her teacher at the Academy and mentor since. It would be far more so to address a total stranger such. “Tadej.”

“Thank you, Jessica,” Tadej said quietly. He rose and poured coffee into all three mugs and served them, before returning to the sofa. He sipped slowly, just as she did, watching her over the rim carefully. To Nils Kasum, they were probably a mirrored tableaux.

“Jessica,” Tadej continued, “you are here as a victim of your own success. And I––we,” he said, nodding to the First Lord, “wanted to make sure you understood this was a reward, and not a punishment.”

Uh huh.

Jessica already had serious doubts about that.

“As a result of your activities on both sides of the
Cahllepp Frontier
over the last year, the
Fribourg Empire
has been forced to redeploy a significant amount of their own fleet elements defensively. At least two full battle squadrons, as we count such thing, broken down into patrol elements and in constant motion.”

“Aye, sir,” Jessica said. “Tadej. As intended. Economic warfare at a time when our military options were constrained by circumstances.”

She saw both men smile the same way at the same time. They might have been brothers in that, but for the difference in their looks. The Premier was as broad–shouldered and bulky as the First Lord was a tall, skinny pencil. The Premier’s sandy–blond hair was longer than Fleet preferred, while Nils’s was regulation length and beginning to turn completely white. Only one of those heads of hair was its natural color.

“Correct,” Tadej continued, “and as a result, we will need to station
RAN
squadrons to counter them. This will require several Fleet Lords as well. Nils tells me that you have been operating unofficially as your own Fleet Lord on the frontier up until now, and we have your amazing success to judge that by.”

“Sir.” She took another sip of coffee and let the man speak. It felt like a prepared speech. The least she could do is let him get to the end of it with minimal interruptions.

“Given the circumstances and remoteness of the posting, Jessica,” Nils said with a suddenly–wicked smile on his face, “I plan to recall your old commander, Bogdan Loncar, to active duty, and send him out there with the Fleet Carrier
RAN Archon
.”

Jessica resisted spitting on the nice carpet at the man’s name. It would look unprofessional, regardless of how accurately it portrayed her opinion of the fool who had been in command at
Third Iger
.

Something must have appeared on her face. Both men smiled.

“Since you are still too junior to promote to Fleet Lord, just yet,” Tadej continued, his smile warming, “and would be junior to Loncar in any case, I have asked Nils to detach your squadron from the sector forces and put them to work for me, on a special assignment.”

Just yet? Fleet Lord? Her? A Fleet Lord? I must have misheard him. He hadn’t really meant that. Had he?

“I see,” she said. This was where politics tangled up the purity of command. It was not her specialty, although she had spent a great deal of time studying how the two interacted.

Jessica silently gritted her teeth. Duty was duty. “What can I do to help, gentlemen?”

Nils smiled at her like a cat. “I’m sending you pirate hunting, Jessica.”

Chapter II

Date of the Republic August 16, 393 Fleet HQ, Ladaux System

It was a part of the Officer’s Bar at Fleet Headquarters that Jessica had never been in before, tucked back into a corner and away from the normal bars, lounges, and salons, around a corner and down a long hallway, through a door protected by a concierge. The playgrounds of the Fifty Families, the elite, the rulers of the Republic.

Someplace a blue–collar girl didn’t attend. Unless invited. Being First Lord of the Fleet, or Premier of the Republic Senate, obviously meant entirely different things here than they did down on the surface.

Interestingly, the hallways and doors had been designed by a naval architect. They had the exact same dimensions as a warship. The walls were metal, painted with the same muted gray/cream color the fleet used. The floor had no carpet. Everything was intended to remind one of being on a fleet warship.

To make them feel at home.

Jessica smiled at the realization. She felt at home.

It was hard to see around the two men she accompanied, both taller than her, neither stopping to ask questions, not even to open doors along the way. At each key point, there was a guard, or an aide, or a concierge, opening those doors as these men approached.

That was what this was. Power. But not the power of good birth, although that probably helped. No, this was the power of respect by one’s peers. Of having been elevated to the highest rungs of society on will and achievement, not merely wealth.

Where she wanted to be.

The last door deposited them in a very small lounge. Three booths and a larger table, plus a bar with four empty chairs. It had been done in very old wood, darkly stained and weathered by time. Every shelf was filled with nautical knick–knacks, but not space–based. This was maritime, when the word meant sailing on a water–filled ocean on the surface of a planet.

Jessica saw things dedicated to fishing, and sailing, and old boats. Strange tropical islands. There were photos, and junk, and memorabilia. The one that almost made her laugh out loud was a silly little tin–press sign that read
Kip’s Maritime Museum and Cultural Center
in red letters on a white background. It was the sort of thing one of her uncles might have hung on a barn wall.

The room was currently empty of guests. Only a quiet woman tending bar and a young man with blond hair in fleet uniform were here. That one had the look of a well–prepared Steward about him.

“Good evening, Premier, First Lord, Command Centurion Keller,” the young man said as he directed them to the booth in the farthest back corner, through a little archway that separated two of the booths from the rest of the tiny space.

“My name is Joshua,” he continued. “Normally, I would be taking care of the entire room, but the Marquette Room has been reserved for you privately this evening, so Anna and I are at your disposal.”

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
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