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Last Flight of the Admiral Stalkforth 20

“And I suppose you want me to lead the charge?” The Admiral said.

His face flushed red and he brought his palms down hard on the oval platform. “Of course that’s what I want! I want you to scream into battle aboard the Jade Javelin! Break the will of the Alliance of Free Worlds and send them back screaming to their primitive hovels. Generate enough glory so sate the bards for a thousand years!”

Lüs stopped and took a deep breath. When the color had left his face, he said, “It’s your doing after all, you sealed Andredony’s fate the moment you vanquished the Ulstrums at the Battle of Fletchers.”

“That is correct. But this isn‘t my war.”

“Stop playing the fool. You knew you couldn’t hide from your responsibilities on that barbaric slag-pit called Lumina forever. I let you exist in peace like everyone else for all those years, but it’s time to take up the banner of war again.” His upper lip curled in a hateful smile. “There’s been more depravity and profligacy in the last twenty years than in the last five millennia. The suicide rate has gone up one hundred thousand percent since the war ended. Brain-death, data-corruption, random acts of death and violence, it’s happening everywhere in the Empire. We needed, and got, a good war to sort things out. Deny it all you want Noel, but I know you’re desperate to slit some throats.”

The Admiral grimaced. “I knew you would manipulate events to achieve another war, and I want no part of it, I cannot abide a galaxy where war is the only remedy to a wasteful, aimless existence. That part of me died long ago, perhaps even before I went into exile.”

“Oho! A little bit of the old Admiral's fire returns. It’s true, I've nudged things here and there to accelerate the inevitable result, but would you honestly rather suffer through another century of this misery?”

“I’d rather we broke from this absurd cycle and ceased to establish order out of chaos.”

Lüs roared with laughter. “That’s all you learned in a decade and a half of meditating in a giant flower? Tell me, how does something as complex as a natural eco-system atrophy human reasoning so profoundly? Lord Grefa was wrong about the citizens of Lumina. They are not wild and savage, quite the opposite in fact, they are domesticated.”

The Admiral said nothing.

The Patriarch went on, “You say we can’t bring order out of chaos, and that’s all well and good, but you’re missing one key piece of the puzzle. Existence is chaos. To control it, we must impose a countermeasure of equal or greater chaos. When you’ve got a hallucinating, fuming war-horse in your stable, you don’t lightly pet his mane and feed him sugar. No, you saddle him up and ride him into battle! An equilibrium of galactic war and material excess never fails to keep the galaxy in check. You used to understand that Noel, and I believe deep in the recesses of your skull, you still do.”

The Admiral remained silent.

“Well, aren’t you going to say something?”

“On Lumina,” he began slowly, “the tree canopy is so thick that no sunlight can get through to the surface. But creatures known as Lantern Hawks, or Opthala-Birds, remove thousands of branches from the solid canopy to build their massive nests high atop the trees. The freed sunlight allows the undergrowth to flourish, feeding animal and human alike. In return, the largest of these plants, the Lampflower, provides a nighttime radiance that is the Lantern Hawk’s sole nourishment. This is the cycle that preserves nearly all life on my planet. By studying this for a decade, my mind has also been riddled with shining punctures. My reasoning has not been clipped, rather it exists in equilibrium with nature.”

“What in space’s curse are you trying to say Noel?”

“Simply that order can be transposed over any irrational system, even a technological one.”

The Patriarch stared at him for a long time, searching his eyes, and the Admiral realized it was the longest period of time the other man had gone without looking at one of the living portraits. When Lüs finally spoke, his voice broke the silence like an axe through a block of wood.

“And how do you suppose we do that?”

“To start with, give the Alliance exactly what they want.”

Lüs relaxed, sat down and smiled wearily. “This is a cagey game you’re running Noel. I’m reasonably sure your amnesia totally vanished after the null-space jump—the interspatial horrors in that profane realm have the oddest effect on mental eccentricities—which means your selective memories have been orchestrated up to this point. But to what end? Since it seems you’ll continue riding the see-saw of sagacity and incompetence until the world ends, I’m going to have to make a demand. Either lead us to war or watch Lumina be destroyed.”

The Admiral leaped up and made to strike Lüs. The other man did not flinch. The Admiral stopped before delivering the blow and sat back down. “The fleet still follows my orders,” he said. “They would never commit such an atrocity—”

Lüs silenced him with a wave of the hand. “That’s why I’m relieving you of your Admiralty. Lord Grefa will be re-instated to the navy and put in command of the Jade Javelin and your fleet. Thanks to his first order, a deep-core mining crew is already on its way to strip Lumina.”

“They’ll never make it through the Gas-Giant Triad.”

Lüs grinned and winked slyly. “With Lord Grefa at the helm they just might.”

“What did you buy him off with?”

“A free pass out of the nobility, and a promise to ‘de-program’ Lumina’s bizarre hold over your mind. His words, not mine.”

“Grefa…” said the Admiral. Then, “You need me so dearly that you would destroy an entire world?” He leaned forward and fixed Lüs with a hard gaze. “Even if Lord Grefa makes it to Lumina and back, he’ll never triumph in the coming battle. Andredony will still fall.”

“Perhaps. But I've a good deal more faith in him than you right now. The greatest military mind in five millennia content to stare at birds and flowers. What a galaxy! It’s embarrassing quite frankly. Personally I'll be overjoyed when your loathsome planet and all its inhabitants are blast-mined into toxic dust.”

“You space-forsaken bastard.”

“Oh really now Noel. That’s not fair at all. If you want to keep living a sylvan existence in that sparkling wood, that’s fine, but you can’t get something for nothing.”

The Admiral gazed at the panorama of living portraits. They seemed to be part of one, fluid, meta-landscape. Water pouring into rock, rock climbing out of thin-air. Sand and glass built on foundations of iron.

“Watch Admiral.”

Lüs tapped one of the circular etchings on the platform and all the feeds changed. Every single electronic canvas was replaced with images from Lumina. One by one they shimmered into view, each fitting together and creating a single vast scene. The Admiral found himself looking out over the endless canopy of trees. High up, thousands of Lantern Hawks winged about the swirling red globe of the Eye of the Giant. He watched the beauty his home and wrestled with the choice before him.

At last, he turned to the Patriarch and said, “I will lead the Jade Javelin for the glory of Andredony, but only if Lord Grefa is my First Officer.”

Lüs nodded briefly. “It is done. Lumina will be spared.”

The Admiral rose from the chair and turned to leave, but Lüs stopped him.

“I am not your enemy Noel, the barbarians of the outer-rim are. Exploited or not, the Alliance is a scourge inhuman to beckon another fall of mankind.”

The Admiral left in silence.

Behind his oval desk, Lüs sat and rested his hands on the smooth metal surface. He depressed one of the circular etchings and every screen went black.