Stories Hub / Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Three Square Meals Ch. 099

Three Square Meals Ch. 099

by Tefler 02/13/18

The view out of the Citadel's upper-storey windows was incredible, the sky over Terra lit up in beautiful shades of crimson and orange as the Sun began to set. The warm evening light cast dramatic shadows over the endless field of fortifications which ringed the base, the defensive emplacements a flurry of activity even at this late hour. Towering mechs and massive hover-tanks were being manoeuvred into position, while marching around them were squads of troopers who'd been deployed to the various bunkers lining the walls and trenches.

Admiral Jayanti Mishra barely gave the dramatic scene a glance as she strode purposefully along the corridor. Her mind was abuzz with all the rumours she'd been hearing, her state of anxiety increasing over the afternoon as one Admiral after another had discreetly contacted her to try and find out what was going on. One of the rumours was actually news to her and had left her stunned, which was why she heading to the Fleet Admiral's office to find out if it was true.

Opening the door without bothering to knock, she marched inside and glanced at the attractive olive-skinned brunette sitting behind the desk. "Is he in?" she asked curtly.

Rear Admiral Carmela Moreno frowned at Mishra's sharp question. "I don't appreciate the tone, Jayanti. If you tell me what this is concerning, I might be able to schedule an appointment."

Mishra bristled at the other woman's haughty attitude. "I don't have time for your bullshit today, Carmela. Is Vincent in his office or not?"

"How dare you speak to me like that!" the Latina snapped indignantly. "I'm a Rear Admiral and due the respect my rank entails!"

Mishra's eyes narrowed and she stalked over to the desk, pointing her finger at the other woman. "Everyone knows how you earned your 'promotions', Carmela. Trust me, I'm giving you far more respect than you deserve!"

Carmela flinched like the older woman had slapped her, but she managed to quickly get herself under control. Half-rising from her chair in anger, she glanced at the door to the Fleet Admiral's inner sanctum. "Vincent won't stand for this! Mark my words!"

"Right, so he is in then," Mishra said triumphantly, whirling around and striding to the door.

Ignoring Carmela's shrieks of protest, Mishra barged her way into Vincent's office. He was sitting behind his massive desk, an overly ornate piece of furniture that was designed to awe his underlings, the surface polished to a mirror-like sheen. Buckingham didn't look her way when she entered the room, as he was in the middle of a holo-call to an attractive middle-aged blonde, who was currently scowling at him in irritation.

Buckingham leaned forward and said earnestly, "Please stop hanging up on me, Natalie, this is really important. I want you and Annabelle to head to Maryland starport. I've arranged a shuttle and-"

"You lost the right to ask me to do anything after cheating on me with that slut, Vincent!" the woman snapped, cutting the Fleet Admiral off mid-sentence.

Buckingham winced at her comment. "But you need to leave Terra for your own saf-"

"You've got a lot of nerve calling me over and over like this," the blonde snorted, her eyes blazing with anger. "I told you before, I'm sick and tired of listening to your goddamn lies! Goodbye, Vincent, don't call again."

Buckingham's temper flared and he yelled, "I'm just trying to protect you and our daughter! Just fucking listen for once, you stubborn bitch!"

"Stubborn bitch?! Go fuck yourself!" the woman screamed in fury.

Before he could say another word, she cut off the comm channel, leaving him staring at a blank screen. That was when he noticed that Admiral Mishra had entered the room and he slumped back in his chair. "I thought she'd stop being a pain in my ass after the divorce," he muttered with a grimace. "It's been four years and she's still being a total bitch."

"We need to talk," Mishra said with a frown, walking across the room to his desk.

Buckingham nodded and sat up straighter. "Alright, Jayanti, what's bothering you?"

"The rumour mill is getting out of control," she replied, pacing across his office. "I've had nearly a dozen Admirals interrogating me for information; they all want to know about the loss of comms with the Dragon March and the withdrawal of forces from the borders... Everyone's talking about it and we can't keep a lid on this much longer! You need to tell the Admiralty something!"

The Fleet Admiral steepled his fingers and said confidently, "Don't worry about that, I'll address High Command tomorrow."

"That's the eve of the battle, Vincent!" Mishra protested. "You can't just announce that there's a Kintark invasion when they're right on our doorstep, High Command will have a fit! You'll be lucky if you don't get arrested for dereliction of duty!"

Buckingham's eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "That's why we need to wait until the last moment! No one will be foolish enough to threaten the command structure right before a battle. When we achieve a glorious victory, all my decisions will be validated!"

Mishra considered the size and power of the Kintark armada reported by the survivors of the Iota Leonis massacre, and looked at him dubiously. "You're taking a massive risk. What about the fleet prepar-"

"It's all in hand," he said dismissively, cutting her off. "I've had every ship in range recalled to Olympus to undergo last-minute maintenance and resupply. Three quadrant fleets have already taken up defensive positions in the Sol system and all the rest will be arriving in good time before the battle."

"All of them? To the Sol System?" Mishra asked, her eyebrows climbing. "But I thought you were leaving two fleets in Alpha Centauri to defend Olympus Shipyard?"

"I'm changing our plans... The Kintark will be going after Terra, so we have to protect it with everything we've got. Just imagine the public outrage if the Kintark start an orbital bombardment of the Terran Federation capital! The media would be all over it and High Command would lose our last shred of credibility!" Buckingham shook his head. "No, we have to protect the homeworld at all costs."

Mishra glanced at the holo-pictures of a young man and woman on Buckingham's desk. She carefully composed her expression and said gently, "Listen, I know your son's safe with Morgan's fleet, and you want to-"

Buckingham saw her eyes flicker over to the picture of his son and daughter and he quickly interrupted her, "She's got nothing to do with this! I'm making a sound strategic decision, for the good of High Command and the Terran Federation. This is not up for discussion!"

Gritting her teeth, Mishra met his fevered gaze. "Alright then, let's talk about something else... What happened to Lynette? I've been hearing all sorts of disturbing rumours..."

A gloating smile lit up Buckingham's face and he relaxed in his chair, interlacing his fingers behind his head. "Ah yes, poor ill-fated Admiral Devereux... She was shot attempting to resist arrest for treason."

Mishra fell back a step, the shock evident on her face. "Shot?! But she had lots of allies... they'll be out for blood!"

Buckingham sneered derisively. "She upset half of them trying to wheedle her way into my confidences. Fortunately, I suspected what she was up to from the start, so all she ended up doing was alienating most of her support base. No... Admiral Devereux won't be anyone's martyr."

"What about the Lion though?" Mishra asked, a flicker of fear crossing her features. "He was her champion. When he finds out what happened to Devereux, he might come after you!"

"Just let him try it. If he does raise a hand against T-Fed troops, we've got the bastard. His reputation will be in tatters," Buckingham replied, with a chuckle of contempt. His face suddenly twisted in anger, a disturbing gleam in his eyes as he gloated, "I'll show him what happens when you cross Terran Federation High Command! If he'd shared all his tech with us, then we could have been allies, but no... he had to keep it all for himself. All his acts of 'heroism'... they were just a trick to lure us into a false sense of security! He was just waiting to work with his alien allies to bring us down all along! Well I saw through his schemes... his and Devereux's! They just wanted to oust me from my position, but I was too smart for them, for all of them! Just wait, I'll teach anyone who crosses me..."

Mishra listened to Buckingham's ranting in shocked silence. With appalling clarity, she realised he'd finally snapped. Her mind whirred as she tried to work out what had triggered this paranoid madness to take hold... They'd all been under such a huge amount of stress recently, having to deal with such unusual circumstances, so it was a struggle to pinpoint the exact moment when Buckingham had taken a break with sanity.

Perhaps it had started with the stress of the failed Kintark invasion, which had led to the ignominious Battle of Regulus. What should have been a glorious capstone on Buckingham's career as Fleet Admiral had ended in a desperate fight for survival, until John Blake rescued the Terran forces from destruction. Then there was the shocking unmasking of the traitors Norwood and Lynton, both of whom Buckingham had known and trusted for years... Mishra could easily see that being a huge contributor to his paranoia.

Finally, there was the revelation that a highly advanced, vastly powerful, hostile alien species was attempting to bring down the Terran Federation. That news had scared Mishra out of her mind and she'd had trouble sleeping for weeks after the Lion told them about the threat his fellow Progenitor posed. She dreaded to think how Buckingham had taken it, but along with everything else, that terrifying announcement might have been the biggest contributing factor that tipped him over the edge.

That was a truly terrifying thought. Buckingham was losing his mind and the Terran Federation was about to embark on the biggest battle of its bloody war-torn history. What made it even worse was there wasn't anything Mishra could do about it, not this close to the battle. As much as she loathed to admit it, Buckingham had been right; deposing the Fleet Admiral one day before the battle would be an absolute disaster. There'd be a gaping hole in the command structure where Buckingham had been and the competing Admirals would start their vicious jockeying for position as his replacement. If she called an emergency session of High Command to expose him, she'd also be putting herself at risk of retribution, just as Devereux had to her unfortunate demise.

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