The Sword and the Spear No. 3

Morana tore through jump space at tremendous speeds, running for two days, then dropping to normal space for thirty hours while her reactors charged her jump capacitors. Two weeks of this brought him to the edge of the star system known to the Empire as Abila. The fourth world, Abila Lysaniou, was the Confederation’s capital. Morana shuddered as her sublight engines roared to life, and set her course there.

A day before their arrival in orbit, Varouforos summoned his senior cruiser captain. They met in his palace: a sprawling mansion deep within Morana‘s nearly-boundless hull, nestled in the center of a network of canals running through acres upon acres of gardens. An army of bondservants kept them in permanent autumn blaze, removing bare foliage to parks elsewhere in the ship’s cavernous interior and replacing it with flora whose leaves were on the cusp of turning.

Varouforos waited in an office on the third floor, facing the windows behind his desk. The artificial sun turned the canals to rivers of silver amidst the golden trees. A servant opened the door to admit a small Eastern woman.

“Karaviarch Long,” Varouforos said, turning in his chair. “Please, sit.”

Long Limei dipped her head and did so. “Navarch.”

“Is your squadron ready for space?”

Long nodded. “We can sail at your command.”

“I will also leave you with Fury, Audacity, and Opportunity. The other frigates will join Morana and Perun at the negotiations.”

“Do you expect trouble?” Long asked.

Varouforos shrugged expansively. “I don’t know what I expect. Whatever it is, it is better if you have maneuvering room.” He put his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his fist. “Sail soon,” he advised. “Stand off from orbit by a few hours’ burn. If we have need of you, I would prefer our enemies don’t see you in company with us.”

Long arched an eyebrow. “Our notional enemies.”

“Somehow,” Varouforos said, half-smiling, “I doubt our clients expect things to go quite as smoothly as they let on.”

“Secrets, trickery, and perfidy, then?”

“Another day on the job.” Varouforos sat back in his chair. “If we have need of you, I will signal, or Mr. Gray will. If your instincts tell you to join us, of course, heed them.”

“Yes, Navarch,” Long said. She stood, inclined her head, and left him.

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