"Herr Chief of Staff," Annerose abruptly greeted the unexpected face that appeared on the screen. Anticipating her brother or Sieg, she had taken the call from the fortress herself, and immediately felt ill at ease when she realized how few occasions would yield a trans-galactic call from this particular man.

Here, in her brother's mansion on Odin, she had waited on him before, bringing him tea as he patiently sat waiting for her brother. He was always very polite to her, if very distant and terse, and she was a bit ashamed that she did not quite feel the same warm regard for him that she did for the rest of the men of her brother's admiralty. Now, more than ever, he elicited something of a cold regard from her.

Bowing at the waist, Paul von Oberstein quietly replied in kind. Where others might have shirked in grief or unease from such an encounter as what was about to take place, he had felt no such inhibitions when he made the call to Reinhard von Lohengramm's sister half a universe away. The Chief of Staff knew it was his duty to advise—nudge, if need be—his commander towards the correct course of action, and he knew that in this situation there was only one way to accomplish that.

"Milady, forgive me for the sudden intrusion. But, on the behalf of High Admiral Reinhard von Lohengramm, I regret to inform you that I bear grievous news."

In the very small moment between those words and his next, Annerose watched the red flicker in the man's artificial irises with her breath held.

"Admiral Siegfried Kircheis has been killed."

She said nothing, continuing to look into his eyes with a lifetime of grief behind her.

"The assassin, who had intended to take Prince Lohengramm's life, was prevented from doing so only by Admiral Kircheis' heroic intervention."

Yet after all, it was this, more than anything, that wounded her in a way she could not describe.

"His murderer, the assassin in question, was a subordinate of the rebel Prince Braunschweig's camp, and was regrettably allowed to take his own life during the ensuing struggle. Currently, we are undergoing a full-scale uprooting of the potential instigators of this assassination attempt."

She did not ask where Reinhard was, nor why it was not his visage she was seeing over the commlink. She knew he would still be by his friend's side. Yet…

Oberstein continued without response from the countess. "Please take care to stay in your home, milady, and follow the directions of the estate's security—the situation on Odin may soon become dangerous." He blinked. "If there is nothing else I can do to serve you—"

"Where is Reinhard now?"

"His Excellency is in the audience hall, where the incident took place," he responded without skipping a beat.

Of course, Annerose realized he would have an answer to this question at the ready. Lifting her chin a fraction, she asked another.

"Herr Chief of Staff, if I may ask: for what reason have you called me with this news? Although I counted Admiral Kircheis a friend as close to me as my own brother—" the very words an elegy, the countess' eyes narrowing and her throat tightening, "—he and I had no formal relation to each other."

A longer moment passed than the last, but not much longer. No sign of emotion was reflected in Oberstein's calm features, but if the technology had allowed, a glimmer of admiration might have shown in his eyes.

"I am my lord's chief adviser," he began simply, "and I believed that in contacting milady I would be able to most directly expedite my lord's resuming his duties."

His blunt presumption was not shocking; nor did Annerose find fault in his motivation."There is no time for grief in such a situation as this, is there," she stated quietly.

"No, milady. You do, however, have the sincerest condolences of myself and the rest of the Lohengramm admiralty."

(Lohengramm. How foreign that name suddenly sounded to the countess.)

With another click of his heels and a bow, Oberstein terminated the call.

Annerose remained seated, staring at her darkened reflection in the blank screen. She was awaiting another call, this time from the brother for whom the man she had loved had sacrificed his life.

Without a second thought, Chief of Staff Paul von Oberstein turned and left the communications room, his footsteps sharply checking off another item from his mental list in the haunting silence of the fortress Geiersburg as he headed for the audience hall, in which his lord still sat waiting in the darkness, waiting for his friend to speak.

written 2/6/2010 at 4am and edited several times since

love the oberstein. more oberstein coming soon