Just a taste of what’s coming…
System Command, Commodore Rani Singh thought, with a flicker of genuine amusement.
It had been intended as a punishment. Admiral Bainbridge had not appreciated it when she’d turned down his advances and had promoted her sideways, straight into System Command, Trafalgar Naval Base. Everyone knew that System Command was staffed by those in disfavour with their superiors – it involved less paperwork than court martial and dishonourable discharges – and those assigned to Imperial Navy bases lacked even the opportunity for graft that their counterparts assigned to civilian systems enjoyed. Her career had come to a screeching halt.
Or so the old goat had thought.
Rani’s family had meddled with their genes for centuries, pushing the limits of genetic engineering as far as they would go without crossing into direct technological enhancement. At forty-two, she looked nineteen – and beautiful. Long dark hair framed a dusky face, with dark eyes that seemed both alluring and forbidding. The white uniform, tailored to hint rather than reveal, drew the male eye. Men had always stared at her, only to discover that Rani rarely shared her favours with anyone, even those who could help her career in exchange. But then, she’d always considered herself to possess some integrity. She had no intention of selling herself merely to gain rank, not when it would have destroyed her career in the long run.
It still galled her, four years after her assignment to Trafalgar, that it had taken her so long to understand the opportunity the Admiral had placed in front of her. She’d spent two months in a funk before resolving to do the best she could with what she had … and then it had hit her. System Command controlled everything, from personnel assignments to orbital docking stations for 15th Fleet; there was hardly anything in the system that didn’t require approval from her subordinates. A person with ruthless ambition and a complete lack of scruples – and loyalty to the Empire – could go far. She could even make herself a warlord in her own right.
She settled back in her chair and studied the orbital display. Bainbridge and his cronies couldn’t see the truth, but she could; the signs of decay and impending disaster were all around them. Rumour had warned her that the Empire might abandon Trafalgar long before she had received the formal notification, spurring her to make preparations for that day. The Grand Senate thought that she would shut the base down and then follow Bainbridge back into the Empire. Rani had other plans.
15th Fleet wasn’t as mighty as it had once been – seven battleships, nineteen cruisers and thirty destroyers – but it represented the largest force in the sector, enough to wreck several worlds. If, of course, it was used properly. Bainbridge just didn’t have the imagination to see the possibilities – and besides, he had links to the Grand Senate. Rani had none … and knew that the Grand Senate would be unable to respond to her plans before it was too late. If some of the rumours were to be believed, Earth itself was on the verge of catastrophe.
She keyed her personal console, sending a message to her allies. Putting the force together had been easy, so easy that she’d been convinced that Bainbridge was setting her up …. until she’d realised that even Imperial Security had too much else to keep them distracted. Now, her loyalists were on their way to the battleships, where they would take control, allowing her to secure the naval base without fighting. She already held the four orbital defence stations in her thrall.
Smiling, she listened to the first set of messages from her assault forces. Thankfully, the Grand Senate had ordered the Marines – who would normally have had a platoon or two on the battleships – to head towards the Core Worlds, instead of leaving them in place. Without the Marines, it was almost pathetically easy to overall the crews and take over the ships. It helped that she’d arranged shore leave for most of the crewmen before launching her operation.
“Admiral Bainbridge has been shot attempting to escape,” Colonel Higgs said. He was one of her closest allies, someone who had good reason to resent Bainbridge and his fellow aristocrats. She’d given him specific instructions to make sure that Bainbridge didn’t survive the coup. “And the ships are ours.”
“Excellent,” Rani told him. “Proceed with part two.”
Her smile grew wider as she contemplated the possibilities. If Bainbridge and his ilk wouldn’t allow her to rise in their Empire, she’d damn well build one of her own. And her Empire would be far stronger than theirs …
After all, who was going to stop her?