Deal Breakers and Queen Makers
Chapter One: And you say that it's just another day
The blackness was pushed back by the faint starlight from distant systems and by the few functioning floodlights along the Imperial Star Destroyer's long structure. The massive ship was coasting at half cruising speed, making its way back to shipyards hidden two systems away from home base.
With a shudder, the shuttle's viewports slid the stars into lines. With a soft, almost unheard sigh, Admiral Mitth'ryl settled fully into the co-pilot's chair.
The pilot snuck one quick glance at the admiral. "She's not as bad as she looks, ma'am," he said diplomatically.
Mitth'ryl raised one slightly battered blue-black eyebrow. "Really, lieutenant? That gaping hole on our starboard side that takes out nearly eight decks isn't 'as bad as it looks'? Or perhaps you refer to the engines that are straining at half cruising speed, unable to go to hyperspace? You certainly aren't referring to the shield generators, which are spread over half a sector, baring ion storms and scavengers?"
"Nothing a few weeks in dock won't fix, Admiral," the pilot said, still civil. "And any mission you come home can be considered somewhat successful."
"I've never quite believed that axiom," she answered, voice abruptly tired. "Yet," she allowed, eyes closing for a moment, "I can't dispute it this time."
"You've arranged leave for the crew on-station while repairs are being made?" he asked after checking a few readings on his board.
"Those that aren't in traction," Mitth'ryl muttered, tracking data on her datapad. Her chief engineer's report was dismal.
"If I may say, Admiral, you should make leave for yourself as well. It has been a long four months," he suggested without emotion and with studied blankness in posture and expression.
She felt a surge of anger at his assumption. She doubted whether he would have mentioned it to the Grand Admiral, if she were him. A man was applauded for stamina; a woman told she was being stubborn. She refused to be coddled by anyone, least of all a jump-start pilot.
"Why, thank you, Healer," she softly hissed. "Shall I comm the Vagaari and ask for a rescheduling of their destruction? And shall I then request they pass along a cease fire to the pirate activity that has been cutting into our shipments along one of our few routes into the Core?"
They passed the rest of the hour-long flight in silence. Mitth'ryl tried to focus on the datapad in front of her, running through deployments and supply runs. Her lines were running thin as it was; another Destroyer out of commission, however long it took to repair the multitude of damage, was something she could ill afford. Her own injuries were still nagging her, wanting her to rest or at least slow down. That one dip in the tanks hadn't really been enough, but there had been too much to do, and men that needed that tank more than she did. She couldn't afford to languish in the med-bay while the ship was liable to fall apart around her. So long as she kept up with the pain suppressants and the anti-inflammatory pills, she should be –
With a start, she looked down at the 'pad's chrono. It was two hours past when she was supposed to have taken the last batch. No wonder her spine felt like a bantha was rolling on her. Taking the small pill box from her pocket, she dry-swallowed the pair, studiously ignoring the slight tremor in her hands.
They had kicked in enough for her not to wince at the landing, or to show how much getting up hurt. And to scale back her short temper enough to speak in civil tones to the quiet pilot.
"Tell me, Lieutenant, what is the first enemy of any command officer?" she asked as she stood.
"Admiral?" the pilot asked, eyes never leaving his board.
"Exhaustion, lieutenant. Although, I must admit that pride isn't far behind," she added ruefully. "Combined, they make a formidable enemy. Thank you for pointing them out. Carry on," she said, and made her way gingerly out onto the hanger deck.
Standing waiting for her, uniform pressed properly, every line laser straight, Admiral Voss Parck looked every inch like the holo-posters of any aging military leader. Countless holos had been made perfect by casting aging holo-stars that looked like Voss. Stern, yet kindly when at ease. Patient and shrewd, keeping up with everything young officers could throw at him.
Mitth'ryl only hoped she'd still be as quick when she finally reached her seventies.
His eyes were kind as they took stock of her. "Why is it, my dear," he asked with a faint frown, "that today you look like you're the one past retirement age, and not me?"
She raised a battered eyebrow. "If you kept up with your paperwork, you would have already read the briefing about that, Admiral. Your dispatch said that I was needed immediately on-base," she prompted.
"Yes. I had thought you have been fully healed, however. That battle was over a week ago now-"
She cut him off. "The tanks were needed for more critical cases than my own."
"Was that your decision or medical's?"
"What was so urgent that you needed me to return from my ship, and my duties, to this base, which is your duty?" she bit out, eyes narrowed. When she had finally taken command, they had agreed that Voss would remain the 'leader' of the Empire of the Hand, dealing with base matters and Bastion. Mitth'ryl, with all of Thrawn's memories and tactical abilities, would lead the Fleet. Rarely did they need to be on base with the other. Normally a secure comm-conference was all that was needed.
"Yes, well. Three days ago we received visitors from the Ascendancy," Voss began, ushering her into a briefing room off the main hanger bay. He pulled two chairs out, dropping several 'pads onto the table. As Mitth'ryl eased into the chair, Voss pretended not to see her wince. "They hailed us from orbit, asking permission to land a shuttle and talk with us."
"They knew both my name, which isn't surprising, and yours, which is." Voss tapped one 'pad. "I allowed them to come down, fully ready for an official greeting. You would have been proud," he added as an aside.
She sniffed. "You've yet to get a greetings ceremony correct, Voss."
"Well, I was prepared, when another transmission came through asking for a private meeting with no ceremonial attachments. They claimed it was an unofficial, unplanned stop-over and they merely wished to talk with the base commander."
Voss sniffed. "Quite. They want our help."
She raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Our help?"
Voss nodded. "They won't give me the details, but have mentioned it has to do with stabilizing the entire area, both inside and outside the Ascendancy borders."
"Indeed?" Intrigued, she leaned forward. "Who is making this unofficial call for help?"
Mitth'ryl smothered a laugh to save bruised ribs, shaking her head. The Fifth Family, with Chaf'orm'bintrano at its head, had petitioned time and again for her predecessor to be thrown out of the ranks of the CEDF. When those cries began to fall on deaf ears, he began to campaign for Thrawn's exile. No doubt he'd been more than pleased when Thrawn had been sent to trial. For the Fifth Family to be asking for unofficial aid now…
"Indeed?" she mused, shaking her head. "And where is the ambassador?"
"Upstairs in large briefing room."
She nodded, and slowly stood up. "Shall we see what the ambassador would like of us?"
AN: Just a few spelling changes, and nothing else. FYI, this is finished, and will be posted up in the next two weeks or so.