- Author: William Forstchen
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( Wing Commander - 3 )William R. Forstchen
The Kilrathi Empire is caught in a bind. Because of the success of the Confederation of Earth's raids behind enemy lines, the Empire might very well be on the ropes before its new fleet can be ready. At a Kilrathi council of war, a simple solution is agreed upon — sue for peace, then launch a surprise offensive.
William R. ForstchenFleet Action
"According to the final calculations projected on your holo screens, I think it is evident that over the next eighty days we run the risk of a serious reversal that could set our war effort back by years."
A rumble of stunned and angry growls shook the room. Baron Jukaga settled back in his chair and waited for the storm to settle.
"This is preposterous, an insult," Talmak of the Sutaghi clan snapped, looking around the room as if seeking to find someone to blame and thus sacrifice. "How did we ever get to this state? Our fleets are the finest, our warriors filled with the zeal of skabak, the will to die for the glory of Kilrah. By the blood of Sivar, we even outnumber the low born scum in nearly every class of ship. How did this happen!" and as he finished he slammed his fist down on his holo projector, shattering it, as if by so doing the grim figures would simply die.
Baron Jukaga of the Ki'ra clan silently turned in his chair and looked to the end of the table where the Emperor, and his grandson and heir Prince Thrakhath, sat.
"Perhaps our Emperor can enlighten us," Jukaga said silkily, lowering his head just enough to show obeisance, but doing it slowly, thus subtly revealing a disdain and defiance. The Emperor, of course, was not visible to those in the room. Sitting upon his high throne he was hidden from direct view by a silklike screen emblazoned with the three crossed red swords of the Imperial line. Sitting at the foot of the dias was Prince Thrakhath, who shifted slightly under Jukaga's gaze, a soft yet audible growl echoing from his throat as a signal of his readiness to accept challenge, and also in reaction to the insult of directly placing a question to the Emperor.
Baron Jukaga struggled to conceal a flashing of teeth, a revealing of his true hatred for this Emperor whom he believed to be of lesser blood and who had attempted to place the blame for the disaster at Vukar Tag on his shoulders.
He had endured over a year in exile because of that disaster. It was only due to the latest reversals that the other clans had finally pressed for his release and use of his known talents as one who better than most understood the strangeness of human behavior.
The Emperor sensed the challenge and the trap. He stirred uneasily, framing his thoughts. If he answered the question directly, it would be a lowering of himself before the leaders of the eight clans of Kilrah; if he deferred the question to his grandson, the Prince, it would appear as if he were shifting responsibility — and ultimate blame.
"You go too far, Baron," a voice rumbled from the corner of the room, breaking the impasse.
Baron Jukaga looked over at the speaker, Buktag'ka, first born of the clan of Sihkag. The Sihkag were, of the eight ruling families, considered to be of the lowest blood and as such could usually be counted on to curry favor with the Emperor in a bid to elevate their status whenever possible.
"Your insult to the Emperor is evident," Buktag'ka snarled, coming to his feet and leaning over the table to stare at Jukaga. "It is not the place of the Imperial blood to answer questions. We requested your release from exile for the skills you have in understanding humans and as master of spies, not for the surliness of your tongue, the haughtiness of all of your blood line, nor for the plots you are known for."
Jukaga looked around the table, gauging the response which ranged from nodded lowering of heads in agreement, to rippling of manes in defiance. It was time to change approach.
"I stand rebuked before the Imperial blood and intended no insult," he said, bowing low to the shaded throne. Prince Thrakhath, who sat at the foot of the throne, and was not hidden from view like his grandfather, nodded curtly in reply.
"Let us not ask the hows of it," the Emperor's voice whispered from behind the screen, "there is blame enough for all. Rather let us talk of what now is, and what is to be done."
Knowing he could not press the point, Baron Jukaga lowered his head in reply.
You low born old bastard, Jukaga thought coldly. Everyone here knows that this reversal is your fault and that of your fool grandson. Yet if victory should come it will be you who will sweep the honors around your feet. And even as he thought a concept that was beyond the range of most Kilrathi, rage and intense hatred towards a sworn overlord, he still assumed the posture of obeisance and then slowly rose up to speak again.
"Buktag'ka is right," Jukaga said, "and I accept the rebuke."
He looked around the room, gauging the responses and felt it was best to simply push on with the facts and figures that needed to be presented.
"We do outnumber the human confederation in total number of carriers, fighters of all classes, and heavy cruisers. However, as you can see by the charts projected, we will see no new replacement of carriers of standard design for the next three of eighty days. In the meantime it is projected by my intelligence staff that the humans will have four of their new fleet carriers coming into operations, thus enabling them to form an entire new task force and reach a rough parity with our own carrier forces for the first time in this war.
"This is due to the loss of the construction