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The Starlight Fortress

Chapter two

Author: FionaR Total hits: 4614 User hits: 29 Date: 03-13-2014

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On the following Monday, Sterling was sitting in the reception area next to the queen’s office. The morning sunshine—it was real sunshine, not a simulation—gently fell on the carpet in front of him. Outside the window, the sky was strangely blue and bright. Strange, given the fact that behind the blue it was all dark night.

The door nearby opened and out came a man in a black suit. Sterling rose quickly from the couch as he recognized Sir William, the prime minister. William was serious at the moment, just as he always appeared in the media. But wasn’t that what people needed to see during wartime? His dense and stiff hair, his firm footsteps, the habitual frown and the never-bending posture—every detail he carried may have contributed to the stability of this country.

William paid no attention to Sterling. After a few steps, he turned around and walked back into the room. “Are you really sure you don’t want to consider Anthony, ma’am? Your father liked him a lot.”

He must be talking about Prince Anthony, Sterling reckoned. Sunphere and Rainprus were the two countries sharing this planet, and every now and then new evidence or conjectures would pop up in the media hinting at the expected royal wedding.

“I know, sir, but I can’t let him rule the two countries,” said a young woman, getting impatient. “He would get us all killed. Yesterday when he called, I told him about the attack. He didn’t consider it a big deal.”

“We are not hiring an officer, ma’am. I hate to remind you, but the approval rating of the royal family hasn’t gone up much.”

“I’ll work harder.”

“I wish your people would appreciate your effort, but I’m afraid what they want most is a tighter bond with our ally.” William paused for a moment and softened his tone. “If you really don’t like Anthony, another candidate I could think of is—”

“Emperor Pompey? That would be the easiest way to end this war. I’m sure we’ll still fight at home, though.”

Sterling tried not to laugh out aloud.

“Sorry, just joking, sir.” The queen lowered her voice. “I will consider your opinion seriously, at a later time. Right now there are many new things for me to learn. Whether people like me or not, I do what I’m supposed to do.”

* * *

After William left, the secretary came over and led Sterling into the queen’s office. Having seen Queen Geneva many times on the news, he was still unprepared for her youth. Strictly speaking, she didn’t have a round face, but the chubby cheeks made her face appear broader. Thick eyelashes surrounded her large brown eyes; he believed he could hear a flap every time she blinked. Neither her skirt suit nor the professional hair bun had succeeded in bringing an air of authority. She reminded him of a teenager dressed in her mother’s clothes, rather than a twenty-six-year-old woman.

“Before you start,” she smiled apologetically, “a job you never applied for, do you have questions?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to know why I was selected.” He had been satisfied with the answer Oakley gave him, an answer that could have suited an immature woman, until he heard her conversation with William a moment ago.

She opened a large book on her desk and turned to a pre-tagged page. “What made me choose you over the other candidates was your paper, On Development and Adjustment of Maneuver Strategies for the Ongoing War. I’m not qualified to judge your arguments, but they essentially agree with what my father told me: this war is a new game, one that differs from any war we had in the past. We lose because we always let our enemy set the rules. Some of my officers considered your experience insufficient.” She closed the book and looked back at him—those were certainly not a teenager’s eyes. “To me, experience is of little use if it fails to teach one the right attitude.”

The right attitude … Sterling thought of Silverman.

“The hard part is,” she continued, “war can’t be fought by a few people. It requires cooperation of many people from all kinds of backgrounds. Like building a bridge with several different materials, it’s an art to keep it from falling apart. Sometimes it can be … frustrating.”

Now she sounds like my mother. Sterling tried to maintain a straight face.

A light flashed on her desk and she turned on the intercom.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am. Admiral Wilson is wondering if he could see you.”

“You can let him in. Meanwhile, please show Commander Presley to his office, and get him started with the paperwork.”
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