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"Here you go, sir," my personal servant and chief aide muttered as he placed a cup of after-dinner tea in front of me. I smiled as he then immediately vanished back into the kitchen. My friend Nestor didn't have to function as a cabin boy anymore; Javelin was a big enough ship and my current assignment dictated a large enough staff that there was no need for him to make beds and brew tea. "No, sir," he'd replied when I'd offered him a formal berth as a temporary-duty naval officer. "I wouldn't know how to function aboard a king's ship if I didn't have informal access to the galley and the other bunnies. What would they think of me, sir, if I wore a fancy uniform like yours?" To be fair, Nestor only acted as my valet these days when his other duties permitted; we'd had a nice long talk on the subject, and he well understood what I wanted and needed his priorities to be. Still… I had to smile as I watched him darting back and forth into the galley with the other cabin-bunnies. He seemed happiest doing such work, in a perverse sort of way, and I wondered sometimes if he wasn't the wise one after all.

"…going to be a wonderful time when we arrive at Hashimoto Prime, sir!" a new voice to my right was gushing. It was that of Captain Harlowe, in command of my troop transports. "We'll kick their traitorous asses, by god!" He raised his goblet of wine. "To a bloody reckoning, sir!"

"Yes," I muttered, meeting my old friend Heinrich's eyes across the table as I raised my teacup in acknowledgement. We went back a long, long way, and I was pleased indeed that he'd been available to lead my landing force. His eyes were cold and expressionless as his commanding officer made a complete fool of himself—Sir Thomas Harlowe was my weakest link and both Heinrich and I knew it without a word needing to be said. A troop transport squadron rated a full captain to command it, no matter how far we twisted the rules. So I'd been obliged to ask the Second Space Lord to promote a brand new one into the slot because that was the only way to for there to be anyone junior to me on the seniority list. In many ways Harlowe was a superior choice; he was of the bluest of blood and his mother was a Wilkes, which might prove useful in dealing with the breakaway House. He was also an officer of proven personal courage. Still… Try though I might, I just couldn't force myself to either like or approve of him. Sir Thomas was a blind hammerer of nails, capable of pound-pound-pounding away at a job until the cows came home without ever imagining that there might be another, better approach. If an attack failed, his solution would inevitably be to try again with more troops. If it failed again, he could be counted on to attack once more in exactly the same place with even more men and material, and so on and so forth until he either bulled his way through by main force or ran out of bodybags. It was crucial that a man in his position on a mission as delicate as ours—he was my second in command, after all—understand the need for a flexible approach. Indeed, I spent uncounted hours meeting with him one-on-one in an attempt to help him grasp the unpleasant truth that from our enemy's point of view we were arguably the usurpers. It all came to nothing, however; every attempt ended in baffled incomprehension. But one had to work with one had, not what one might wish for. He'd been the best of a miserable bunch of prospects, and that was that. All I could do was hope that Heinrich, who'd be in local command of any landing force, might at least in part find a way to help compensate for his shortcomings.

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