Kenichi Miyashiro cursed as his commander unit exploded in a burst of nuclear fire. His viewscreen mocked him as it paused on the crater left behind. He had lost again to the ship AI in a game of Total Commander. As one of the few people in the galaxy who still played this simulation of land, sea, and air battles, he found the balance of resource management and tactical maneuvering compelling. It also sharpened a mind too immersed in space warfare.
He scrolled through the game map, trying to determine where he made his error. Ah, there it was. The ship AI had snuck nuclear submarines past his water defenses and initiated a tactical strike against his commander. No wonder the nuke seemed to come out of nowhere. Kenichi sighed. He depended too much on the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers and not on the lighter, faster frigates for his fleet. That caused him to lose the sea battle and allow the submarines to get in range. The statistics screen showed him and the AI dead even on all other categories. That little maneuver got him in the end.
An incoming call interrupted his assessment. He turned off the game and switched the screen to video. The wizened face of Zhang appeared in front of him. The man’s black and gold suit appeared ruffled. They bowed to each other.
“Playing games again?” the older man asked.
“How could you tell?” Kenichi answered.
“You have that same focused look you use when you’re in actual battle. Seeing as we recently finished one, I could only surmise the alternative. Was it that ancient strategy game again?”
Kenichi took a sip from a nearby cup of cinnamon tea. The warm liquid flowed through his throat. He studied Zhang’s features. His political advisor and mentor looked at him with a tense forehead and clenched jaws. Perhaps negotiations were not going so well. “I was heavily discouraged from entering the station and I needed to do something with the downtime. The rebel fleet has been reintegrated, by the way.”
Zhang chuckled without humor. “A good sign. One of us is doing his job. As for keeping you off the station, the Republic’s paranoia rivals our own. Seems that having only one representative is more to their liking.”
“Just as well. I checked the station’s crew manifest and found that pilot there.”
“Ah, does that still bother you? We agreed to put all that behind us.”
Kenichi’s nostrils flared. “I am well aware that diplomacy requires pragmatism. But justice requires him to answer for his actions.”
“You do know that he was exiled here? Don’t ignore the small victories.”
Kenichi shook his head. “It’s not enough. I do not understand why the Republicans would shield such a criminal. A mass murderer, no less. Their reaction makes no sense.”
“They protect their citizens. Even the badly behaving ones. Let it go.” Zhang relaxed his face and changed the subject. He gave a mischievous grin. “Speaking of reactions, I am sure they will have quite an unpleasant one when they realize I released Batu from our custody. Of course, we won’t be broadcasting that fact publically.”
“Should we really be that brazen? Especially after all that death and destruction?”
“He played his part. The gamble failed. No point in punishing him.”
Kenichi rubbed his beard. “I was more thinking of his safety. We cannot guarantee his survival if we can’t keep an eye on him after he leaves and returns to our space.”
“No worry in that matter. He is quite capable of taking care of himself.”
“They’ll find out eventually.”
The old man tapped his thumb and index finger against each other. “That is the way of things. The public outrage, from both their citizens and ours, will be an annoyance. It will require me to travel much more, which, considering my age, is not a task I relish.”
He allowed himself a small smile. “And here I thought you were a tireless, immortal spirit.”
“It’s not my fault people my age don’t know how to take care of themselves. If they just realized that there was more to life than food, drugs, and sex—“
Kenichi interrupted him before he went further. “What’s next on the agenda?”
Zhang sighed. “’What’s next on the agenda?’ You young ones are all the same. Rushing from one thing to another. You should join your Republican peers. You would make great bedfellows. If only you could stop and relish the moment.”
“I’m still waiting.”
“Fine, fine.” Zhang waved his hand. “I left a package for you. It should be delivered to your quarters within the hour. Be sure to open it.”
“I will remember.”
“One more thing. I’ll need you to prep the fleet. I’m sensing that outside forces are in motion.”
The admiral raised an eyebrow. “You’re sensing something?”
“I can’t tell you the details, not even over a secure line. But I can say this. There’s something odd going on with our Republican counterparts. There is… an idiosyncrasy between our friends on the other side. I suspect that something large will soon happen.”
Kenichi thought a moment. “I would need to jump the civilians out. After that, I imagine it will be quite an experience to point weapons at people we just befriended. People who heavily outnumber us.”
“I do not ask you to fight. Just to be prepared.”
The screen then blanked out for a moment, and then reappeared. He saw Zhang’s mouth moving, but no sound came out. The screen went dead. He queried the computer and the ship AI told him that it had lost the connection. He brought up the tactical holo and noticed the icon for Carnarvon Station flashing. Something had happened there.
Kenichi stared at the blank screen. He tapped his fingers against the side of his legs. Finally, he went to his desk and used the intercom to contact the bridge. A young man with a jet-black headset and microphone appeared on his viewscreen.
“Sir?” he asked.
“Get me in contact with the team embedded within the station. Tight beam. Coded communications only.” The man nodded and the screen turned off. I am already prepared, Kenichi thought.