Maneuvers of War Chapter 1: Active Duty

Sheila whistled under her breath as she finally got leave before she had her next station. And it was a super-dreadnought, which was a large step up from her station with BuSHIPs (At least in her opinion.) The HMS Sphinx under Captain Merideth Georges was supposed to be a plum assignment. It was part of Home Fleet, but they trained rigorously in case of attack and it was the current flagship of Admiral Hamish Alexander, Earl White Haven.

She had been part of his battlecruiser division when he steam-rolled right over Masada and landed his marines and conquered the planet. That had been a harrowing few weeks until she was shipped back to Manticore. She had not quite complained, though she had very much wanted to once she had been back. Even the promotion to lieutenant senior grade had palled when she had found out that she was going to be transferred to BuSHIPs while they perfected the new, improved inertial compensators and hyperdrives. And she had been corralled into improving the FTL communication system.

So for the last fourteen months, her duty station had been HMSS Weyland in orbit of Manticore-B V, otherwise known as Gryphon. She had been there only slightly more than a year, but that had been more than long enough for her mind.

And just like today, she had made a few trips back to Manticore and the House of Lords on her 'leave of absences' at the Queen's insistence. Admiral Amber Blake had not been amused at that point, but could not really say no to the occasional leave that Queen Elizabeth requested.

She exited the shuttle first (she was actually the ranking officer for once) and started walking down the concourse tube to where she could rent a taxi, into the blinding sun of the early spring of Landing. Her trunk followed her like a dutiful dog and only required a tiny bit of extra muscle to load up. She gave the driver her apartment address and in half an hour was dropped off at the soaring tower apartment that she had been renting as her 'home' even though she had only lived in it for odd days here and there.

The apartment has actually fairly spacious for one person, especially one that had little personal effects. A few plaques from Saganami for setting a few records in sailing and powered flight and a copy her ennoblement papers on the wall in a tough protection on bare white wall and simple couches and a chair in front of a home holotank.

The dinner she had ordered on the way over arrived, the smell of 'authentic' Chinese to her sense humor quite funny as it was nothing of the sort. She hit a button on her message, starting them playing. She skimmed over her business correspondents. A message had been flagged by her A.I. as important.

"Sheila, this is Elizabeth. I do expect you to show up at the House of Lords on the 10th. There's an important vote on the military spending bill and your insights could sway some of the undecided Lords. I've sent the draft of the bill. Do be a dear and look over it. Ta ta," the queen said, then the recording ended.

"Why me?" Sheila complained to the air. With her chopsticks, she started to eat while plowing through her paperwork, her jacket over the back of her chair. Fiscal reports and investment decisions disappeared into her outfile. Her net worth was growing very fast again, as her super-human intellect played stocks better than most investment companies. Then she started to read the proposed bill so that she could be prepared for tomorrow.

The House of Lords was one of the shorter buildings in Landing, but this only made it one hundred stories tall, rather than the hundreds of the megastructures that they built now (and like the one that she had lived in). Only the individual Lords with their staff could disembark at the top level, everyone else had to park their aircars (or even groundcars) across one of the many grassy fields of Landing.

Sheila stepped out of her taxi. "Thanks, Morty. Have a nice day," she said to the driver after reading his name on his posted license. She would probably have to purchase her own car soon. She would even be able to legally drive it when she turned seventeen. One of the odd quirks of law is that she could pilot any spaceship under her military duties, but the civilian requirements were still just based on age.

The polished ceramacrete showed a bit of its age, but it was only a short walk down to the main elevators of the aircar park. Up ahead of her she saw a procession of marines surrounding a particular woman wearing a sword, her personal aides and her treecat, Aerial. Said treecat was actually trotting along at foot level, as unlike Honor Harrington, Queen Elizabeth was not the most physically imposing woman and was not able to carry her treecat on her shoulder.

Off to her left, she saw another noble and his entourage exiting his aircar she was passing, though limo would be more accurate. It was the 'honorable' Michael Janvier, Baron Highridge with his personal assistant and several bodyguards.

So the ripping sound of a flechette gun was incredibly surprising as it opened up on the queen and her guards. It was at a short range, actually within ten years yards it appeared. They must be just around around the corner from the angle of the rounds that shredded the humans in a spray of blood and gore.

The man was just finished his killer burst and fading back into a blurry shadow when a streak came around the car. The thundering and booming kick that hit his chest felt like he had been hit with a pulsar himself and skidded down the row to crash into a car. Sheila looked over at the mutilated bodies of the queen's guards and staff. The keening wail from Aerial as the wounded treecat tried to drag itself over to the prone... living body of the queen.

Sheila's legend thrummed through her blood she grabbed the moment in time as the queen lay dying of her blunt battering and mended all of her shattered bones and burst organs. She was still hurt, but she would live.

"You tried to kill my queen," Sheila stated as she moved towards the exo-armored figure that was trying to hide. Behind her she heard rapid response teams moving up. The royal marines would protect the Queen from now.

"Girl, she's dead," the assassin said. Why wasn't the invisibility working? He did not realize that he was nearly transparent and to mortal eyes was invisible. He raised up his flechette gun and fired only to see the girl in Lord's robes move faster than his eyes could track. "What the hell are you?" This must be one of those supernatural entanglements that the red-head had warned him of.

With that, he turned and ran for the landing balcony with a burst of his built-in enhanced muscles of his military grade power armor. His last leap and a gravitic shove sent him leaping into the air and to his waiting aircar. Its retracted roof made his landing in the back a snap as the vehicle shook. His driver was already accelerating when the girl leaped out after him.

"What the hell, man?" the local tough shouted. He had been hired for a getaway job, though he had no idea that his life only lasted as long as this trip would take.

"Just drive." The assassin was smiling as he saw that the girl would miss. It was an awfully long way down.

Sheila bent her willpower as her ichor sung in her body. From nowhere a wind caught her and launched her into the back of the aircar above its roaring thrusters.

"What the hell does it take to kill you?" the assassin screamed out in shock his pulsar pistol made snap noises at the flickering figure that was moving faster than humanly possible

"I want to know who hired you. And you will talk," Sheila snapped out even as her free hand reached into small cloud that appeared next to her.

The tattooed driver almost had a heart attack as he saw her pull out a crackling lightning bolt from the mist in his review monitor. That was when Sheila slammed the bolt of electricity into the main engine compartment, killing the high speed turbines with a squeal of shattered metal.

The aircar suddenly started to lose altitude, the punk at the wheel trying to find something soft to crash onto. There! A pond in a park, next to a copse of trees. That would be perfect for losing the heat, because this was way too much and too weird.

They silvery-gray aircar plowed into the water at 250 kilometers an hour with a massive splash of water and mud. The assassin had recovered his rifle and was quickly bounding into the trees. He turned just as he and the driver were past some bushes along the shore. "Hey, Mitch? No hard feelings, right?"

"Huh?" the getaway driver said in confusion until he saw the rifle pointed at his chest. "Oh, shit-"

That was when Sheila reappeared as streak, running across the water. In between one moment and another, she crossed the intervening fifty meters across the water while barely leaving a ripple, her hand chopping down on the flechette rifle with enough force to break the weapon. She spun so her other elbow caught the driver in the stomach, causing him to collapse as it felt like he had been hit by a club.

The assassin was getting desperate as punishing hits kept knocking him back with cracks of thunder from each of her blows. That was when he noted that his armor was running out of power, leaving him almost helpless and hobbled by its weight.

Landing's finest showed up then, deploying from low flying SWAT airvans. "No one move!" barked out a sergeant. He and his fellows were just as heavily armed and armored as the assassins but in much greater numbers.

Inspector Pressman walked over to where the two prisoners were located. "Why hasn't someone stopped that hazard?" he asked, pointing at the open aircar with crackling electricity coming from its engine in the rear.

"Sorry about that, inspector," Sheila said from where she was writing a report. As casually as you could, she hopped up on the back end of the open-roofed aircar and grabbed the lightning bolt as simple as you please. With a pushing motion, she pressed it into a small mist cloud that appeared for just a moment.

The ten policemen and twenty marines from the Queen's own personal guard detail all gaped for just a second as Sheila hopped back down.

Pressman finally shook himself out of his daze. He must have been imagining that. "So you are willing to testify that this was the assassin?"

"Yes, sir. While I was not right there, I was close enough to get there just a moment after he gunned down the queen's guards and party. How is Aerial? She looked injured, even though the flechette gun didn't look like it had hit her." Sheila was in parade rest with her hands behind her back.

"At a treecat vet specialist. I guess some of the fragments from the security detail cut her up. The queen is a mass of bruises, but the doctors say she is lucid right now and will live. They have no idea how she survived," the police officer said in a worried tone.

"It must have been divine providence." Literally, Sheila thought to herself. Excaliber's sheath must have kept the flechette rounds from breaking her skin and probably lowered the damage dramatically, but she was still lucky that Sheila had been close enough to heal her. "I should probably pay my respects. The Lords has been closed?"

"Yes, they were afraid of more assassins. Somehow no one spotted a man in full battle armor. I know they are supposed to be stealthy, but they aren't that good and the House of Lords has top-notch sensors and security sweeps almost constantly," Pressman said.

There was more paperwork, though no one but Sheila knew she had taken the stone-carved amulet with a rune of Pertho for secrets from the assassin. Most likely it was what had allowed him to hide like he had. With a powerful Relic of the Hidden Moon, he had probably walked through all that fancy security like it had not existed.

Sheila sat attentively as she listened to one of the Peerage lambast the latest spending projection for the Navy and Army two days later. The old Baron of Low Delhi looked around as the liberal sat down. "Does anyone wish to speak for the appropriations?" he asked the council.

This was why the Queen had wanted her here, even if she herself was still recovering from her assassination attack. With a flick, she activated her signal caused old man Hemphill to frown.

"The House will hear from Baroness Lynx," he called out.

"Thank you, Speaker," she called out. She then launched into a calculated speech of only five minutes. Long enough to get their attention at this late point, but not too long to get the aggravated with the topic at hand. "Lords and Ladies, I have just personally came back from a stint with the Bureau of Ships of her Majesty's Navy and I have to tell you that this appropriation is barely enough, much less the cuts that are being proposed. In fact, at this late time as we fortify our borders, this really needs to increase almost thirty percent even as the Lords of Admiralty wrestle with increasing our efficiency another ten percent." Sheila held up her hand to forestall an angry retort. "My Lords and Ladies, Haven's order of battle is quite a bit larger than our own and mostly deployed out on our frontier. Unless any of you could think of anyone else out here that they need hundreds of starships to conquer instead of us?"

Sheila's legendary ichor was burning in her veins, inspiring the lords with her words.

"All that I ask for is a fleet that can defend our borders, Lords and Ladies. Stand behind our Navy and we will work miracles for you and keep our peace that is the birthright of all men and women." She bowed at that point, then sat down.

They actually increased the budget by ten percent, shocking analysts that had been following the meetings.

The Conservative Association though, and notably Baron High Ridge and Earl North Hollow, were beginning to see the power she was wielding on the floor as an independent. Like Lady Greenriver, the Baroness of Lynx was starting to make severe political waves based on just her reputation.

Steps might have to be taken care of.

Sheila stepped into the small bedroom past the royal marine guards. "Queen Elizabeth, you are looking much better." She bowed quite deeply.

The dark-skinned woman shook her head. "None of that, Sheila. Come in and sit down." Aerial sat on her lap, covered in her own pressure bandages.

The young scion moved over to sit in a chair next to the large bed. "Your majesty, I think this was an attack at myself through you. The assassin had a Norse glyph for secrets upon him and was actually invisible to human senses. Which includes modern sensors."

The treecat hissed in anger even as the royal narrowed her eyes in anger. "You have been an incredibly important person of my realm and one of my personally sworn nobles. Find this person, Manticoria, and bring them to justice."

"You have my word that justice will be done," the young demigoddess promised. "Though do keep that sword with you at all times, my queen. You are more wise than King Arthur, for you have learned the value of the sheath more than its blade."

"Oh yes. Indeed. My children love the old Arthurian stories and both agreed that he should have kept the sheath rather than the sword," Elizabeth said in good humor. The quick heal looked like it would fix all of her issues soon.

Sheila leaned forward in the plush seat. "Aerial looks a bit battered and isn't recovering as quickly."

"There's no quick heal for treecats and she lost a lot of blood. I'm just glad she's doing fine. In fact, as your own recovery is so far advanced, Elizabeth, perhaps I could offer to heal her up. What do you think of that?" she turned and asked the treecat directly.

Very carefully, Aerial nodded her head.

There was no visible sign, no gesture needed for her legend to awaken. Instantly most of the cuts disappeared under the bandages, looking weeks old instead of just days.

"That should do it, your highness," she said to the bleeking treecat as it leaped off the bed in happiness.

Marjorie Sylvester was quite upset as she sat in a very private club. "I thought you promised me the best money could buy?" she said across the small table to the fat man in the life support chair. The room's lighting was subdued and absorbed by the dark, polished paneling and dark green carpet.

Earl North Hollow glared at her for a long moment, even as his double-chin quivered. "He was the very best. I came through for you." And he had certainly not known what she had been hiring the hitman for. Luckily he had made sure that nothing could be traced back to him.

"And now you want your elixir?" the red-head aske in a cold tone. "The deal was that he would do the job."

"He did the job, just as you asked. It was not his fault that he ran into that unnatural girl and she captured him. Or that She unnaturally survived when her guards and staff did not." It would not have hurt the Earl's feelings if the Queen had died, of course. He just did not want to get caught. He might be dying and on his last leg, but he had no desire to be shot for treason. And to find out that she could somehow survive a flechette attack at short range was terrifying.

Their conversation stopped for a long minute or two as a server came in a refilled their drinks. She topped off their brandies and removed the ashtray.

"I'll send you the elixir once I've reached my ship," Marjorie finally said. "I don't want you to have any last minute change of plans."

The patchy, fat face showed North Hollow's anger quite clearly, but he nodded. "Then I'll take my leave." It was quite late and he needed to retire before he caused himself to have a stroke. His life-support chair lifted off the grounds and floated nearly silently out of the room. Bodyguards drifted to surround him as he headed to his limo.

Marjorie nursed her drink for another half an hour as she considered matters. Without Queen Elizabeth out of the way, her entire plan had fallen apart. With her patronage still intact, the plan to discredit Manticoria and dull her career would not happen. So she would have to continue her efforts to send the illegal Solarian technologies to Haven at this point. Standing up, she brushed her green velvet dress into pristine shape and headed to the door. The chill wind of Landing off the sea nearly cut through her thin coat, but compared to the Underworld's ice, it was nothing. The city lights drowned out the stars overhead.

"Freeze! This is the Police! Marjorie Sylvester, you are under arrest!" a plainsclothed officer shouted even as the two vans just up the street (both ways!) disgorged more officers in tactical vests and rifles. He was standing in front of the taxi she was flagging down.

Inspector Pressman had his gun out, his free hand reaching to turn her around and start to handcuff when her hand came down and crushed his gun and his hand to pulp.

"You would lay your hands upon the daughter of Lokison?" Marjorie snarled, even as she suddenly gained two feet of height. The free hand not crushing the inspector's hand reached out to pick up the taxi. With negligent-seeming strength she tossed it (and its screaming driver) into the mass of policemen there, crushing and killing three of the six men.

Pressman left hand suddenly had his holdout pulsar from his sleeve, firing it three times into her torso. His weapon totally discharged, he could only gape as he took in the small holes that were not nearly big enough. That should have blown holes the size of basketballs in her. The red-headed giantess still had a grip on his mangled right hand. She snapped him around and then pulled back his hand the other way, ripped the arm right out of its socket.

"Man down! Man down!" the leader of the other group of officers shouted.

With a snarl, the daughter of Lokison slammed a giant, yet somehow still petite, foot down on the ground. The high heel snapped off, but the transmitted shock flung the police into the air. She then put her hand to her healing abodomen. Modern weapons did too much damage, she complained to herself.

She crouched down and then with a booming woosh, leaped into the air. The spaceport where she had her backup escape vehicle lined up was only twenty-five kilometers away. That should only be three leaps.

It was time to leave this misbegotten, mangy planet.

On an entirely different planet, though not too far away, the object of Marjorie's ire was exiting an interplanetary pinnace at the Sphinx Planetary Space Port. Looking around the concourse, she spotted the woman she was here to meet. "Daria! Over here," she called out.

The fourteen-year old looking woman looked up from her pad where she was reading a very technical description of how to repair an energy junction of a starship. "Sheila!" she called out as she stood up.

They both had to dodge through the throng of the space port. Daria was fairly exuberant, giving her a big hug.

"I still can't believe you convinced me to go on one of your nature hikes on Sphinx," the ensign complained in her Landing accent.

"You could have said no, but I think you also mentioned you wanted to try something a little more challenging than surfing on Jason Bay." Sheila gave her a smile with dimple showing.

The two young woman chatted as they loaded up their camping equipment into the rental, which Sheila let Daria drive out of town to one of the nature preserves that hikers were allowed to backpack into.

Sheila checked them out with two of the stunners.

"Are they really necessary?" the engineer asked cautiously.

"I doubt we'll need it, but I actually have a rented pulsar... just in case. Some of the critters out here would be more than happy to see if we are two edibles with a two limb handicap. Hexapuma are about six hundred kilos of pure killing machine," the scion noted. "So how is it actually being an ensign? You are being assigned to Second Fleet, right?" The snug backpack was quite comfortable on her back. It was weighed down quite a bit more than it looked from the outside, as it was the heaviest-duty pack she could buy.

Daria nodded, her bob of dark brown bouncing. "The light cruiser Iris."

"Ah, the goddess that trained Hermes to replace her," Sheila noted absently as they set off up the trail from the parking lot.

The darker-haired officer blinked at that. "Really?"

"Oh, yes. You'd be amazed at the old myths. Of course, those were old even when I was on Earth. And that was almost two thousand years ago," she continued as they passed a family coming back down the hill. Up ahead of them were massive, snow-capped peaks laid out in all their massive glory.

"I keep forgetting that you are a girl out of time. This must be so very different than the far off past."

Sheila just rolled her eyes at that.

An hour later, they were letting Daria recover. This was very vigorous for the city-bred girl.

"How can you keep doing this?" she asked as she wiped her lips from her power-drink. "This is fairly taxing."

"I'm very athletic. I'm going to go to flab on ship again," the scion groused.

Daria just looked at the thin girl who was lacking an ounce of wasted flesh anywhere. Of course, she was also lacking in most wormanly curves. "I wish I had your flab."

That was when Sheila heard a mewling noise up a small bend. "Is that a treecat? The pitch was too high though," the demigoddess muttered to herself.

"Oh, that would be cool. I didn't think this was near a treecat range though. Are you sure? Let's go," Daria said at a million miles an hour even as she set off up the canyon.

"I don't think this is part of the trail, Daria." Sheila was actually having to trot to keep up with the slightly shorter girl. They were wending their way through massive pine trees and around a sharp slot between two boulders.

As soon as Sheila stepped through she could feel the difference. They were no longer in a fully mortal realm; they were now in a Terra Incognita. "Daria, don't get ahead of me." In a flicker, she was suddenly right next to her first roomie at Saganami.

"Look, there they are!" the mortal squealed. She was crouched down to look into a shallow cave where an adult treecat was curled around three mewling kittens.

"So a test-!" Sheila was starting to say when she looked off up the trail. "Daria, get in the cave."

"But the travel guide said not to intrude on treecats." Daria looked very confused.

"Do you want to get eaten by a hexapuma?" the Scion snapped out. Her pistol was up even as she frowned. The footsteps were not right. Too heavy and widely spaced.

"I can help- What the hell is that?" the dark-haired girl was suddenly backing up into the cave.

"That would be a nemean hexapuma." Sheila took a moment to aim and then fired. The stunner hit the creature on its shoulder, merely eliciting a snarl.

That was when the hexapuma stepped out from under a shadow. No mere mortal hexapuma, this was a ten meter long behemoth with eighteen centimeter, rock-rending, scimitar claws. Its fur was shadowy black and looked as if it were carved of jet-black volcanic rock. With a shrill snarl, it charged at her, with far too much speed and power than a creature larger than an elephant should have.

Sheila shot off the ground to bounce off two boulders and through the branches of a pine tree. The pine tree actually slowed the ebon hexapuma for a moment before the six-legged behemoth shredded its way through with its shrill battlecry.

"Dammit-dammit-dammit. And I bet they don't want me to hurt the poor thing," Sheila groused as she bounded along the rock face at full speed. So she was quite surprised when a molten boulder exploded where she had been standing, landing lightly over thirty feet away. "Fire giants."

Her eyes flickered over the mountainside. Trees, cliffs and the sun peaking behind the clouds. Her keen eyes noted several faults in the rock. That just might be possible. "I don't suppose I could get you two to consider not attacking me?"

"Marjorie Slydötter said that you might come to the Six Legs Paradise," the fifty foot tall giant made of fire and ash said in ancient Norse. "She has promised many rewards for the giant that kills you." They were both armored in rusted scale armor and scorched furs, axes and pistols in their belts.

His nearly identical friend just nodded as he pulled out a twenty foot blunderbuss. With the boom of a cannon, it sent a fiery shell at her to explode in lava and shrapnel.

First thing first, Sheila thought to herself. Pulling out her grandfather's lightning bolt, she sent lightning into the cloud. The cloud suddenly turned dark and ominous, expanding even as its shape gathered substance and form.

The two giants and one very upset hexapuma could only gape as the form continued to expand and then became a towering form of a gray-black treecat, lightning crackling in its eyes as it stood over them, thousands of feet tall.

If she was not busy fighting for her life, the sight of the nemean Hexapuma cowering at the image of something that so over-awed it would have been funny. With a desperate yowl, it turned and fled into the wilds of the Terra Icognita.

"One down," she muttered, even as the two fire giants shot exploding lava shots at the ephemeral image.

"Not real! Not even a good illusion," the larger giant said. "Kill the weak Greek!"

The other giant, who had not said a word, nodded and picked up a twenty ton boulder, sending it rocketing through the air at her. It plowed into the side of the mountain with the force of a Mangonel siege engine.

Carefully considering where Daria and the treecats were located, she scrambled along the cliff face, striking out with her lightning bolt and dodging lava-cannons. Up on a ledge, she sent them out a jeer, "Silly giants! You are too weak to hurt me."

Daria cowered behind a tree near the cave entrance. This was her academy friend? No wonder she thought that assassins were nothing important.

The giants roared in pure anger, flinging much larger boulders.

Sheila thought to herself, perfect! The whole cliff was coming apart and the fire giants were just realizing it. She dashed down the cliff face with a speed that small aircars could envy, the thousands of tons of boulders right on her heels.

She twisted past them, then rocketed up into the air as the very winds caught her. The second Muspel giant actually caught the first massive rock before it could crush him, using it to let the rest of the landslide push him down the hill but without letting it crush him.

The first giant though was crushed and pummeled for over a thousand feet as the landslide smashed boulder upon boulder upon him. With a groan, the previously silent giant let the massive boulder he had used to deflect most of the landslide fall away from him, only to look up at the floating demigoddess with the crackling lightning bolt in her hand.

"I would suggest fleeing, giant of fire." Her words were as hard as the rocks that had killed his friend.

With a snarl, he fled post haste, disappearing into the wilderness. The massive trees were at his shoulders for the most part, parting like wheat in a field.

Sheila swished off as the wind flung her the two miles over to the cave. "Daria? Are you all right?"

"If you mean physically not hurt, then yes. If you mean not freaked out, no!" the ensign shouted out. "What the fucking hell was that?"

"Muspel giants out of the ancient Nordic legends. It appears the Son of Loki wants me very, very dead," the Scion of Athena said as she landed on the ground. She dismissed her lightning bolt to the uncloud it stored itself in. The blonde girl looked at the treecat and its kits carefully. "So did I pass your test?"

The russet colored cat bleaked at her and nudged the kittens forward. Two of them mewled in protest. They did not look any older than six months to a T-Year.

The impression that Sheila suddenly received is that she was to bond/care/love one of the kittens. One of the kittens, of a slightly lighter color came up to her, looking at her carefully.

"I'm doing this a bit under protest. I don't need watching," she complained to the older treecat.

"So cute!" Daria exclaimed as she lowered herself do to look at the two twenty-five centimeter long kittens that chirped at her. "Whoa." The young ensign looked like she had been pole-axed as one of the kittens suddenly clambered into her hand.

"Well, I guess congratulations are in order, as you've officially been bonded with child of a treecat god. Or is it goddess?" she asked the male treecat. The mental image and impression of femininity was overwhelming. "Goddess it is." She reached down to pick up the slightly pale treecat kitten in front of her.

The flood of emotions, simple and straight forward was a bit of a shock. "Voracious Curiosity? Now isn't that an interesting name," she muttered. "Daria, we should probably get back to Sphinx. They are probably thinking we got washed away in a flash flood or something."

A querying chirp-bleek from the adult treecat brought her attention back to her massive cloud construct.

"Oh, sorry," she said as she formed the cloud back into its nimbus form, then gave it a little gesture to shoo it away.

"So, ah, how do I ask about how you can do that-"

"Daughter of Athena."

"Oh. Really? Not even slightly kidding are you? Wow. You know, that probably explains a whole lot," Daria started to say as she regained her poise. "So how did that work? I thought she was a virgin?"

"In Vitro Fertilization? Immaculate Conception? Crafted from clay and life breathed into us? She did not exactly tell me or my sisters." She gave a shrug to her old roomie.

"So you actually have a lot of family still alive, even after two thousand years. That's way cool."

Sheila was back aboard a shuttle, not even remotely the most high ranking officer on this trip to her ship. Up ahead, the massive and ponderous form of the most powerful ship in existence was swimming into view. HMS Sphinx, 1,410 meters and eight and a half megatons of pure death, distilled to its purist form that the Manticorian Navy could impose upon shipbuilding.

They docked and had a good seal as she packed away her data pad. "Come on, VC, time to see your new home."

The treecat kitten chirped as it looked up from its nap, uncurling its tail. Her expression seemed to convey a bit of her name-sake curiosity about the metal behemoth. Her cream-colored tail wagged happily though as she scrambled up onto Sheila's shoulder.

She followed a couple of lieutenant commanders out the door to the perfunctory side party. A oriental woman with the name of Watanabe on her uniform stood forward and saluted to her. "Lt. Lady Manticoria? I'm Lt. Commander Watanabe. If you could come this way, I'll get you settled and then introduced to the rest of the staff."

This was not unexpected, though Sheila had been surprised to discover that she was not being moved to the elusive tactical slot (or more likely an assistant, as super-dreadnoughts had a larger percentage of higher ranks aboard) but was being moved to Admiral White Haven's command staff.

"Certainly, commander. This is Voracious Curiosity, my new treecat companion," Sheila introduced.

The dark-haired woman frowned for just a second. "That was forwarded that you were just recently adopted. And a kitten at that. I understand that the Sphinxian Rangers were not too thrilled."

"That's a mild understatement, ma'am," the six-teen year old officer replied. "It took a little convincing from their own treecats, but they finally calmed down. Though they were very surprised at her age. I'm going to have to hand feed her some special liquid foods. Though she does seem to live up to her name."

VC bleeked at that, then curled back down on the shoulder.

The soft corridors, with most of the pipes and conduits in the ceiling and tough carpet on the floor were just like most Manticorian ships, though perhaps a bit more spacious. Sheila actually rated her own quarters. She slotted in her trunk and made sure the life support module was securely clamped to a wall. She would put her personal effects.

Sheila turned to the lieutenant commander. "Shall we?"

"We shall indeed." Sora Watanabe led her down several corridors, up a lift ten levels and into a flag bridge and its adjoining offices and conference room, which is where she led them. They were actually in the middle of a meeting. "Admiral Lord White Haven? Your Staff Lieutenant is here."

"Please, sit down. We are just going over the latest sims. It appears that one of our divisions needs some remedial work," the admiral said in a light tone. His steel-gray hair fit his mid-thirties look.

"Reporting for duty, sir," Sheila said as she saluted sharply. On her shoulder, she could feel VC mimicking her actions with her true-hand and a bleek of laughter.

"Cute little girl, isn't she?" White Haven said with a wry grin.

"Why, sir, I'm not that sort of girl," the scion replied with a totally straight face. "Though my treecat companion certainly is."

"Droll, Manticoria. Very droll. Please, sit down. I'm going to be leaning on you until your promotion comes through. So I should have you in rank for at least six months. Do try to not make the list before twenty though, young lady. You will give us all airs of inadequacy." Alexander White Haven smile and then gestured over to the full captain senior grade at his side. "Captain Ermine Clarice, my right-hand, keeper and chief of staff."

"I thought Chief Steward Limerias was your keeper, admiral?" Captain Clarice responded with an arched brow. She was even more pale than Sheila, with almost white-blonde hair and startling green eyes.

"That's only in my minimal free time onboard, Ermine." Alexander gestured to his other side. "Captain Senior Grade Merideth Georges, my flag captain of course."

Merideth Georges nodded coolly to Sheila, her long gray hair in a tight ponytail under her white beret.

The admiral finally gestured across the table to the last two people. "Commander Johnathon Charterweight, my Operations Officer and Lieutenant Chloe Northman my Intelligence Officer. I assume that Lt. Commander Watanabe introduced herself."

Charterweight was a sturdy, bald fellow that lived up to his name. Chloe Northman was a younger looking woman with shocking red hair and blue eyes that could have served her well at a modeling agency.

"Yes, sir," Sora Watanabe said.

"And of course, Lt. Lady Manticoria is the youngest member of our crew. Of course, she is a decorated officer who is not to be underestimated," White Haven said with a touch of humor.

"It's a pleasure to serve, sir." Sheila sat down the side from the admiral as his steward made sure to fit a glass of water before the newest arrivals at odds and belying her eighteen years old look, as she was actually probably closer to thirty.

"Now, as I was saying, our second division is lacking a little something in coordination. They are a new arrival, but we need to get them sorted into my wall as quickly as possible. So we will be running sims for the next day, then heading to Manticore-B for some target practice. Captain Clarice, make sure they are updated on our nonstandard tactical plans," the admiral said. "We'll have a conference after the sims live, then-"

Sheila settled in to absorb everything she could. This is what she craved to master, the ability to effectively command a fleet or division.

"Lt. Northman, I'm actually a little worried about the intelligence download we just received yesterday," Sheila said almost three months later in an early morning meeting. On her shoulder, VC was currently napping quietly after having been fed from a baby bottle.

The petite redhead narrowed her eyes. "Oh? Do you have some insight that ONI failed to notice?" She was a bit territorial about her duties as Intelligence Officer.

"Perhaps or they may not be including that so they can trip up any spies. I can't say I'm an expert, but I think that some patterns might have been missed in the noise." Sheila actually had a very large data graph set up to defend her thoughts.

"Go ahead, Sheila," Admiral White Haven said. They were all fairly informal when just among them, so Sheila's formal response was a bit unusual. Though as the junior officer, she tended to be more formal to her superiors.

"From my cross-referencing, it appears that the Peeps have a severe penetration into our operational schedules and patrols. In 80 % of the cases where individual ships or divisions had followed the same patrol pattern for over three months, they were jumped with overwhelming fire power with almost pin-perfect accuracy."

"That's a serious accusation, Lt. Manticoria," Lt. SG Chloe Northman replied blandly. "Do you have anything to back it up?"

"I do believe so, ma'am. Let me bring up the reports. As you can see," as she manipulated the conference room holotank, "the only ships we did not lose that were on extended patrols of a certain pattern was actually the one that HMS Bellepheron took out by pure chance. That's actually the report that made me realize that the enemy had much better intelligence than they should have had. Right on the edge of the hyperlimit and four battlecruisers to take out one heavy cruiser? They are stacking the deck heavily. And, I believe, they will be able to see any dispersal of our forces in many of our deployments."

Hamish's face had gone tight at what she was saying. In the short months that Sheila had been on his staff, she had almost never been wrong when she was in possession of the correct data. And this looked very solid. "Chloe, is this possible?"

"It certainly looks that way, without tearing into the report. Which I'm sure is very indepth, admiral." Chloe's face was very pale now as she studied the report on her terminal. "I just can't figure out how they could manage it."

"Either they are much better at ballistic scouting missions than we think they are or they have much more stealthy drones than we thought. I think we could do it with our latest generation stealth drones, but this is a quantum leap forward in their capabilities. But Occam's Razor states that if you have ruled out everything else, what is left has to be possible," Sheila noted carefully. "I would think they have better drones than we thought. We would have caught one of their destroyers stealthing in that far."

"Chloe, I want you and Sheila to tear into that report. If it looks at all feasible, I want to you forward it to Second Space Lord Admiral Givens immediately. This has absolute top priority," he told them.

They both nodded and turned to start taking the report apart.

Admiral of the Red Sir Thomas Caprelli was in his office after having just commed Prime Minister Summervale when there was a strident buzz at the door. "Enter," he called out. He quirked an eyebrow at his fellow Space Lord Patricia Givens and his second in command. "You look like you are on a warpath, Patricia."

"Not a warpath on anything other than my stupidity. I can't believe a Staff Lieutenant had to figure this out. We've been suckered and our deployments are being watched." The brown-haired woman looked beyond frazzled.

"How does that affect our planned ambush out in Yeltsin?" he snapped out, then visibly took a hold of his temper.

"Probably not much, actually. If there's two places we are pretty sure they can't pull this trick, it's here and in Yeltsin. Too much traffic and fleet presence. The problem is that major forward bases like Grendelsbane, Talbot and Hancock are probably being sucked into dispersal to be jumped by superior forces. We need to warn them all as soon as possible. I would like to activate Chocolate Wisp and Ebon River immediately."

"You want to send out the high-band hyperspace couriers through the secondary junctions? Those are two of our biggest secrets in one shot." He stopped and considered it a long moment. "No, you are positive. Do it. I'll see what I can do to get our deployment moved forward as quickly as possible."

"Orders to Grendlebane?" Sheila asked Sora Watanabe carefully. "That doesn't seem like a very cautious move." And only six hours after they sent her report to ONI.

"I think there's a trick somewhere. But that's what we been told," the oriental officer said as they walked to the flag bridge.

Admiral White Haven was looking across the plot as his fleet in all but name was moving to the hyperlimit. Sphinx was cruising in the middle of the formation of seven other super-dreadnoughts, six battlecruisers, ten light and heavy cruisers and fourteen destroyers. "Captain Georges, what is our time-estimate to the hyperlimit and then translation?"

"Seventy-five minutes, my lord," the captain said from her own bridge. "From there we will should be able to make good time to Grendlesbane."

"Very good," Admiral White Have said as he continued to study the plot as if the mysteries of the universe lay within.

Right on the tick, the fleet translated up into the beta layer of hyperspace in the direction of Grendlesbane. His staff was going over the information on deployments out to Grendelsbane when he spoke up. "Captain Georges, please open your sealed orders and transmit them to the fleet." The older admiral looked very intent.

Merideth Georges looked slightly confused, but did as ordered. "Are these orders accurate, Admiral White Haven?" Officers on her bridge were showing as much curiosity as Sheila was feeling on the flag bridge.

"They are. Act with dispatch."

"Aye aye, sir. Course change. Astrogator, plot us a course to Yeltsin's Star at best military speed," the captain of the HMS Sphinx called out. "Transmit the orders to change course to the fleet."

"On the chip, ma'am."

Sheila and Chloe shared a look, as if to say 'interesting'.

"As I'm sure you all heard, we are not headed to Grendelsbane, but to Yeltsin's Star. Admiral Caparelli is determined to throw a spanner in the Peep's invasion plan," the gray haired admiral said, showing a bit of his eighty-plus years.

"Disinformation then, I take it?" Chloes said with eagerness. This was the bread and butter of the ONI officer.

"Exactly. Information that we have been sent way out yonder should be headed to the nearest Haven base so that they will try to attack our weakened area, where we are actually reinforcing it. We're hoping that they'll attack Yeltsin against our superior numbers. A decisive blow right at the beginning could turn the tide of the whole war."

"So we should be drawing up plans for an ambush at Yeltsin?" Sheila asked as she pet the treecat on her shoulder who was looking on with sharp eyes. She would have to see if she could incorporate her ideas about quickly degrading the peeps by thinning their escorts. They added a hefty counter-weight to missiles.

Grayson's orbitals had changed quite a bit. Currently they were in the process of finishing up their very first battlecruisers Courvosier and Yanakov, much to Admiral White Haven's surprise. Their forts were upgraded and they were building the second batch of destroyers and cruisers from the new technologies that they had learned from Manticore.

"Nasty, heavy bites they have," Sheila muttered as she noted the fewer, but larger weapons. She started to go over the inherent tactical changes that would entail. She was actually liking the concept.

The flag bridge conference room was quiet at this point as everyone watched the fleet that was taking shape. It was quite a powerful force by any degree. Ninety-six super-dreadnoughts and dreadnoughts, plus their escorts of seventy-five battlecruisers and one-hundred and fifty light and heavy cruisers. And that did not even include the destroyers, tenders and auxiliary craft.

At this point, Admiral White Haven, Admiral Sebastion D'Orville and Admiral Wesley Matthews were getting set to beat the disparate commands into a force that was probably every bit as powerful as the Manticorian Home Fleet. Sheila almost felt intimidated, but she was her Admiral's staff lieutenant so was included.

Admiral of the Green Hamish Alexander, Thirteenth Earl of White Haven turned off the tactical plot. "And that's our forces, ladies and gentlemen. We can expect tactical surprise for at least the beginning entrance into battle. What I have laid out is that we use our FTL sensor net to move silently in under converging courses while having a fake force drawing them into a head on confrontation. It's going to require quite a few drones, but they should believe our forces are down to a mere forty-eight of the wall, not the ninety-six that we actually have.

Sheila jotted a note that the actual drones being used were all uniform in their settings. At least ten percent, in her mind, should be pretending to be dreadnoughts while a further twenty-percent percent should be older classes of super-dreadnoughts.

Vice Admiral Morristown happened to see that. "Good point, lieutenant. Smart deception is going to be key. I'm worried about this peeling their escort defense. Is that really going to make a significant difference?"

Hamish leaned forward. "Oh, yes. We've gamed this situation extensively. For a longer engagement, it weakens the wall of the battle by almost fifteen percent very quickly. It leaves them quite naked to focused overwhelming defeat in detail." An innovation that Sheila had thought of, he noted. He would have to remember to mention her in dispatches back home.

"You have a time-dilated exampled?" Admiral Sebastion D'Orville asked his old friend.

"Certainly. This is a hypothetical engagement where we have the two Walls of Battle on converging courses." Hamish showed them the friendly forces that almost perfectly matched what they had available. "This is the key exchange."

The interlacing fire into the aggressor fleet was a careful mayhem, punching holes in their defense force. Most of the admirals noted quickly that the Manticorian ships seemed to take a disproportionate hit, but that was almost fully taken care of by the third volley of missiles. By the six volley out, the Peeps were starting to bleed off damage much more quickly.

"Well, I'm not going to argue with that. If that works even half as well in real life, I'll be quite happy," Sebastion said with grim humor.

Everyone was in their skinsuits on the flag bridge, twenty days later. The forces that were headed in from the hyperlimit were actually a bit heavier than expected. All in all, it had all the earmarks of a slugging match. It was too bad for the People's Republic that Admiral White Haven had no intention of any sort of a fair fight.

"They'll be hitting minefield Beta-Sigma, admiral," Captain JG Ermine Clarice his Chief of Staff called out.

The minefields were laid out in several globes in a roughly donut pattern in the direction of the least-time transit from the hyperlimit. While the inexperienced fleet commander would come straight in, the smarter planner would come in at an angle that did not add a great deal of time to force them to come into range. But even experience could be planned for... as the admiral had done so.

"Admiral Travers is 'jumping' the gun just as planned," called out Chloe Northman.

Sheila studied the plot carefully as the panicked seeming tight-packed fleet headed out, only showing a slight mishandling. Most of those ships were nothing but fleet colliers, light cruisers and destroyers though. The hundred odd drones, on the other hand should be quite convincing that they were a credible, though outnumbered, force.

There was little subtlety as both forces accelerated towards each other at roughly four hundred gravities. Admiral Panell's force was still shaking itself into formation, but they had twenty-five minutes before anyone could even think to threaten his forces. He was up to about .52c and about to hit the ten light minute mark.

Sheila eyed the converging courses. The Peep commander had no idea, but he was coming in almost the exact course and speed that they needed. "They should be detecting the minefield right about now, admiral," Sheila called out in her soprano-classical voice. "Five minutes until they burn through our stealth."

Hamish nodded. "They are still ignoring our warnings?" he asked casually.

"Not a peep out of these Peeps, sir," a rating said in rare wit.

That got a chuckle out of everyone even as Admiral Parnell's fleet side-swiped the mine-field. They took a fair greater toll of the lighter combatants out than expected, even as his wall of battle was hardly scratched. That had him wondering even as he studied his repeater.

"Something doesn't look right. That fleet should not be trying to attack us head on," the head of the People's Navy muttered to himself.

"Contact! Many contacts!" a sensor rating shouted from his board. "This can't be right."

Amos Parnell's blood ran cold as light-dots of impeller wedges suddenly filled his board in tentative warnings as the enemy fleet went to full emergency power. That was a wall of battle that was at least equal to his own. "Has CiC verified? Heading change, full power starboard thirty degrees," he called out.

The abrupt and unexpected course change was not well executed, as the fleet split up even as missiles were fired at the Peep fleet in targeted fury. The line of the wall was going to slam into him. There was absolutely no way that he could avoid the energy exchange at this range.

His staff was methodically figuring out the vectors and it was looking back as his fleet tried to shalom through course changes to avoid letting them shoot up his fleet's aft-aspect.

"We're going to be in energy range for sixty-two seconds no matter what, Russ," Amos told his Chief of Staff.

"We're going to get chewed up, admiral," Commodore Russell Perot noted. They were already starting to take significant damage. He had thought the Manties had screwed up, but there was a madness in their method, as their defenses were now quite a bit weaker as the battlecruisers and cruisers could not add to the anti-missile defense. "Our screen is very hammered. Someone set this up-"

"This has to be White Haven. Which means we're pretty much screwed, commodore." Amos grimaced as he snapped more orders. They'd have to come about just right. "All hands, brace for energy range combat." Damn it, he could not roll to escape back across the limit without letting them massacre them with missile fire. He'd have to hope they could smash enough of them in energy range.

The two wall opened fire the moment they reached a range to penetrate sidewalls. The ragged maneuvering of the Peep fleet meant that several of their superdreadnoughts were hit heavy enough to cripple them outright.

That was when when three divisions of Manticorian superdreadnoughts all fired on his ship with missiles. The DuQuesne-class superdreadnought PNS Bonaparte went into critical shutdown just thirty seconds later, then exploded as Fusion Plant number six erupted with the fury of a miniature nova.

"Confirmation of the destruction of what I believe is the current command SD, sir," Sheila called out. The battle had been going on for almost sixty minutes from the point of ambush, the range was now starting to open ever so slightly. This was the third Peep change of command, as she guided them to take out the new commander. No one was sure how she was able to target them, but her acute senses and preternatural intelligence allowed her to determine the commander's ship by the reaction of the fleet.

Admiral White Haven nodded, even as the HMS Sphinx shuddered under the return attack. Damage displays were showing their horrific losses, though they were nothing compared to the losses that were happening to the Havenites. "How many more cripples have surrendered?"

"Another four have struck their wedge," came the quick reply.

For every four that he was forcing to surrender though, three of his own SDs were having to break off the fight.

"Time to point Zebulon is five minutes," Commander Johnathon Charterweight called out.

"Switch to Plan Gamma-three. Let's try to cripple some more with focused damage," Hamish called out. "Pick a division and have three of our own hit them hard."

In the next five minutes, another ten PN super-dreadnoughts were forced to surrender before the ragged remainder of fifteen ships of the wall and their forty escorts managed to break across the hyperlimit. With a sparkle of translation, they disappeared into hyperspace.

Now it was time to count the butcher's bill, Hamish Alexander thought sadly to himself.

The Manticorian's loss was trivial. Only five of their super-dreadnoughts were not salvageable. For that and the massive, but non-critical damage, they captured over twenty of the Haven's finest.

Admiral Wesley Matthews nodded at the conference table, his hand nearly knocking over his glass of water onto his datapads. "So we can assume control of twelve of the capital ships. Its far more than we ever expected."

"Two of them are a bit marginal, but if you can put them back into shape, bully for you," Hamish said. "And that still leaves us nine of them. They'll have to be fixed at our own shipyards, but-"

"They will still increase your order of battle and make up for the losses here. And it's not like we have the capacity to repair all of them. Any other news from the other fronts?" Wesley asked.

"It appears that our warning about the Peep's spying on our deployment was almost too late for Hancock, but they managed to put up a decent defense. Rear Admiral Danislav and Rear Admiral Sarnow managed to get lucky with the timing. And Admiral Parks returned just in time himself. He pounced on Seaford Nine in quick succession. So it appears we are holding our own. As soon as repairs are done, I'm going to be heading towards Barnett soon. I'll be transferring my flag to an undamaged ship," Hamish explained carefully.

Admiral Matthews nodded. "Protector Mayhew wishes to extend an invitation to your senior officers to a celebration ball before you depart for Clairmont."

"Of course. There is a great deal to celebrate." Hamish had to smile at that.

The Graysons had out done themselves, the admiral thought to himself. The ancient fortress of the Protector was bedecked in festive colors. The Steadholders looked a bit uncomfortable with all of the female officers, even if Hamish had only released about a third of his officers to attend the party.

The several admirals (most of them being Manticorian from the large fleet) were sitting at tables near the Protectors own table. Hamish was sitting right next to the Protector, as befitted his status as the conquering hero. He actually had most of his staff, though his Flag Captain was aboard her ship desperately trying to get its repairs done fast enough so that White Haven did not have to move his flag to a less damaged ship.

Sheila was currently mingling among the Grayson men and women on the dance floor, as dancing was for the 'younger' people at this hour. So she was on the floor under the watchful eyes of Steadholder armsmen as daughters and wives danced.

One of the mid-twenties officers of the Grayson navy was actually dancing with her. "I can't believe how effective Prolong really is. That alone is going to change Grayson greatly."

She smiled at him as she twirled through a complex spin of the dance that was one-half square dancing and one-half ball dancing. "I am quite young for my rank," Sheila admitted. Her treecat was easily swaying on her shoulder of claw-proof material.

"Your treecat is pretty young too, correct?" Lt. Cromwell asked as he studied the small creature.

"Oh, yes. She's just a kitten, really. I've been weaning her onto solid foods with the bribery of celery."

The bleek of laughter from the treecat showed what she really thought.

It was as she was dancing that she noted the three guests moving through the crowd. They were wearing the uniform of Manticorian Nary officers, yet she did not recognized them at all. Among the thousands of officers in the fleet, that was not totally impossible. Yet she thought she had been aware of the names of every officer that had been invited to the party as part of her duties as Admiral White Haven's staff lieutenant. It was only after a moment that she realized something quite profound.

That each of the casually moving towards the head table and that each was armed with cut-down pulsars. She saw their muscles start to tense and suddenly moved. A black and gold streak across the room, she barely reached the table as the assassins raised their weapons as one, in a perfectly timed and choreographed move. Palace Security was responding to the movement they could not quite understand, reaching for their weapons against the wrong target.

And Sheila picked up the four thousand pound table and used it to block the crack-crack of pulsars that sought out Protector Mayhew and the visiting admiral's lives. Plates and goblets were flying through the air even as the assassins realized they had somehow missed on their suicidal attempt at the leaders that had saved this world.

Two of the plates were plucked from the air as if they were standing still, suddenly whizzing through the air as half-pound kinetic stikes that smashed into two of the assassins faces as they were turning to secondary targets. The last assassin was just grabbing a older Grayson woman in a very fancy tabbard when his hand exploded as a snarling treecat kitten shredded it and the gun he was holding. Two Navy officers (one for each navy) then managed to grab the last assassin and slammed him down to the ground as the smashing of plates and goblets crashed to the ground

"Nobody move!" yelled out the head of the Palace Security from where he was leaned over the top of the turned over great table, his own pulsar pistol at the ready.

It was quickly sorted out then as palace security swarmed through the crowd. The two that Sheila had hit with impromptu discus were dying, as she had thrown them very hard and shattered the china into their heads. The last one was dragged off in a tourniquet to be interrogated by the head of planetary security.

Sheila was breathing quickly as the adrenaline burned off in her blood. Voracious Curiosity was back in her hands, demanding to be petted which had an amazingly calm affect.

"Young lady, that was amazing what you did. Grayson owes you a very great debt," the Protector of Grayson said as he shook her hand. Behind him servers and security were trying to right the massive table she had used as an impromptu shield, finding it much heavier than they expected. One of the security officers was putting his hand up to the crater that the three pulsar rounds had made in its granite surface.

"Ah... thank you, Protector Mayhew. I just realized I did not know who they were. And considering I went through all the invitations personally, it was quite odd. That's when I looked a little harder and realized they had concealed weapons up their sleeves," she admitted as she continued petting VC.

"How did you flip that table over? I wasn't aware that Manticore allowed for cybernetics of that type in their officers," Benjamin asked as he sat down in a chair that was brought over.

"I'm not cyber at all, actually." Sheila walked over and slipped her fingers under the heavy table through the thick carpet and with a grunt lifted it back up by herself. "I would call myself divinely gifted."

Reverend Julius Hanks raised an eyebrow at that. "That is an amazing assertion. What an amazing faith in your god." The old priest was already sitting, even as Sheila saw Admiral White Haven and Admiral D'Orville narrow their eyes.

"I do not mean to cause an incident or insult your faith, but that is not how I meant that. I am Dodekatheon. My special abilities are passed down to me from my mother."

Reverend Hanks thought over her words carefully. "You are Dodekatheon? You are claiming to be of... no one of the Greek Gods?"

"You are well learned, Father. That is actually correct. My mother is Pallas Athena." Sheila gave him a stunning smile, showing her dimples but not putting any force of her Legend behind it.

Benjamin started to laugh, only to cut himself off as he realized that no one else was laughing. "That's a very... large declaration," he finally said as he slowly looked among the leaders present. "Admiral White Haven, you don't seem terribly surprised though." Behind him, the rest of the party goers were still watching the ongoing conversation in confusion.

Hamish shared a look with his long time friend Sebastion, then finally spoke. "It is not exactly a secret, but her majesty's government is aware of Lt. Manticoria's supernatural abilities." He suddenly grinned. "Normal people do not make lieutenant before they turn seventeen."

"Admiral!" Sheila said in a pained voice at his tweak of her sensibilities.

"That's okay, I'm pretty sure you are up for yet another promotion. I'm not exactly sure how the House of Lords is going to react to our recommendation for bumping you up to lieutenant commander," Admiral D'Orville said with a discerning eye.

"The daughter of a Greek goddess. That is... quite heretical," Reverend Hanks said slowly as he stared at something that his faith told him should not exist. Gratitude warred with anger at her heresy.

"That is basically the biggest reason I don't trumpet my status, Father. I do not mean to impinge upon your own faith, nor even want to suggest that yours is not true. I am just part of a different religion." She had to suppress a grin at what his discovery of what VC actually was would actually do to his faith.

"It does tend to paint a large target upon you, doesn't it? How many assassination attempts have you survived?" Hamish asked with a small grin.

"It's only eight," she protested.

"Luckily she's so good at her job that we don't dare let her get away," D'Orville noted with his own smile.

Hanks nodded slowly as Benjamin Mayhew was considering and making plans. The Star of Grayson would probably be appropriate. After all, that's what he gave the last Manticorian officer that saved his life.

"You must have some amazing stories," the 1st Elder of the Church of Humanity Unchained asked in a strange tone.

"Well, my last trip to Sphinx was a bit more exciting than I planned. Two fire jotuns caused me some problems until I dropped a cliff face on them," she admitted. "But I did get my companion on that trip, so not all bad at all."

Hamish suddenly looked at VC closely, only to see the treecat wink at him. Suddenly, he was very unsure of that particular treecat.

The queen's throne room was quite crowded today, as reporters and nobles jostled each other on the blue on blue carpet. The queen was monitoring the crowd on a HD screen in her private office. "My, there are quite a few of them, aren't there?" she asked of her prime minister.

Allen Summervale, the Duke of Cromarty, smiled ruefully where he was sitting in a comfortable leather chair that had conformed to his form. "That is true indeed, my queen."

"And that was quite a spectacular fight in the Protector's Ball Room. Luckily, only the attackers were injured. I'm impressed that her treecat was able to hurt an assassin even as a kitten. Is there something I should know, Arial?" she asked her treecat directly.

It looked like he wanted to reply but eventually rolled onto his back to signal he had given up.

"Now that is almost ominous. I guess I had better ask Sheila about that, too." The queen's eyes were hard as she considered the matter. "Well, it's time to face the music then."

The queen entered her throne room as the sound of the trumpets faded. Sitting herself down, she called out, "Please, all rise."

She listened to her major domo go through the list of business on this day. She quickly answered standing questions from the House of Lords. Finally it came to the Open Questions.

"Your Majesty, do you have any comments about the assassination attempt on Protector Mayhew of Grayson?" the leading HD reporter of Manticore, Brian Furely, called out.

"I find it quite deplorable and inhumane that anyone would use assassination to further their political goals," she replied quite clearly. There were a lot of hard faces among her subjects, as she herself had someone attempt to kill her just a few months ago.

"And the story that Lt. Sheila Manticoria stated that she was the daughter of the goddess Pallas Athena?" Furely kept on doggedly.

"Ah, that. Yes, that is what she has stated," the queen replied, hiding her grin.

Sensing the proverbial blood in the water, he continued (much past the allotted one question!) with, "And do you believe her?"

"Oh, yes. After all, seeing her holding a lightning bolt is quite convincing."

That stunned the entire room for a minute as they all shared confused and startled looks.

Gloria Hendel for the Landing Times raised her hand. "You've seen this with your own eyes?"

"Yes, that is what I said. It was in regards to one of the many assassination attempts on her life. I called her to council and asked her how the impossibilities could have been recorded. As she stated then, she does not necessarily hide what she is, but she does not feel the need to flaunt it either. If you ask her, she will tell you."

"So you believe in the supernatural?" another reporter called out as the hubbub grew louder.

"Three goddess showing up in my office was very convincing," she replied adroitly.

"Has this changed your faith?" Gloria shouted back.

"Decorum, Mrs. Hendel, though I will answer. It has made me pray more, for this is a wondrous universe." The queen looked quite pleased with her response.


The fighting below on the streets was becoming more intense, as Proles swarmed over the InSec troops despite their heavier armor and weapons. But it was not nearly one-sided. Cordelia Ransom's eyes, normally a flat blue color were much darker right now as she drank in the heady power of violent revolution.