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The quarters of an Imperial Fifth Dragon were imagined by some of the lesser scales to be a dramatic and intimidating place, but First Scale Yalaa knew better. His ascension through the ranks and his expected promotion to Ninth Dragon gave him a clearer outlook on the makeup of the hierarchy he had served his entire career. So far, the only black mark on his record was the loss of the destroyer Sekak in his one and only engagement with a Skywatch capital ship. Now, his informants had given him reliable intel on how that mark might soon be erased or at the very least dulled to insignificance.

A battlecruiser captain’s quarters could always be found near the center of the ship. It was only a coincidence that Sarn shipwrights had learned the principle of redundant defense at about the same time Doctor Orville Reed was putting the finishing touches on his breakthrough “radial manpower” theory and installing it in a new line of Skywatch battle frigates. It was fortunate too, because if anyone had the opportunity to compare the two designs, they might have suspected the doctor was shuttling military secrets to one of the Core Alliance’s most formidable enemies.

Yalaa had to traverse a considerable number of decks to reach the Krelex executive level. While humans preferred their captain’s quarters to be near the bridge, the Sarn retained a vestigial and largely subconscious bias towards deeper places and more concealed lairs. Their long history of cave-dwelling was more of an influence on their organizational instincts than some of their leaders were willing to believe. All that said, Fifth Dragon Vadac made his home aboard ship far below deck one, and that necessitated less of a stroll and more of an expedition for a first scale unfamiliar with the layout of an Imperial battlecruiser.

Every step of the way, the first scale could sense contempt from the other members of Vadac’s crew. Sarn warships were considered almost sacred by their officers and crews. The zeal they had for serving under the flag of a superior warlord was quite literally burned into their blood. Outsiders, even those from respected and accomplished commands, were viewed with suspicion at best and outright hostility at worst. Only Yalaa’s rank gave him the clout to go where he would. A lesser officer would likely be challenged and possibly killed if they showed weakness.

Like his superiors, First Scale Yalaa had his allies and his detractors. The hazards facing all imperial officers were as familiar as they were troubling. The ancient practice of simply killing a superior officer to assume his command was still tolerated by some among the First Dragons, despite the fact the emperor had made token attempts to discourage the practice. Among hard-liners, the calculus for measuring a warrior’s worthiness was fairly simple. Dying at the hands of a subordinate was rather conclusive proof a particular warrior didn’t have what it took to lead others in battle.

Yalaa had survived the setback over Bayone Three by hacking a would-be assassin to death in the dining room of his squadron commander. It had been clear for days he was being targeted by those who interpreted his defeat as weakness. He was prepared for the attack, which rather neatly demonstrated his suitability to retain command of the destroyer Gliss. His commander was pleased enough to restore Yalaa’s eligibility for the rank of Ninth Dragon, provided he could find a way to demonstrate his failure at Bayone wasn’t final. And now, according to Yalaa’s informants, it wasn’t.


The relatively young destroyer commander strode as confidently as possible into Vadac’s quarters. The accommodations aboard the Krelex were as impressive as the ship itself, and Vadac looked particularly striking in his ceremonial battle tunic and fanged necklace.

“First scale, please sit and enjoy the ceret wine. I am told we have unmasked a worthy adversary this day.”

“Most honorable, Fifth Dragon. We have well and truly defeated the humans and their hidden plans. It was only a matter of time before our enemy blundered, and now their failure is but one system from my finest ships.”

“Who is this nemesis I am hearing stories about?” Vadac asked, taking a bite out of one of the exquisitely cooked tubers his personal staff had prepared for tonight’s dinner. The captain of the Krelex made a habit of conducting statecraft and subordinate intrigue just before his more important guests were shown in for the night’s meal. Yalaa knew there was a clock ticking beyond which he would not be heard regardless of how important he thought his message was.

“Her name is Rebecca Islington. She is captain of an escort frigate called ‘Minstrel.’ She impersonated the captain of the battleship ‘Argent’ in our encounter at Bayone. It was an effective ruse. We very nearly captured the vessel. I simply didn’t have enough firepower to complete the mission.”

“That sounds like the kind of excuse a human would make, first scale,” Vadac said coolly.

Recognizing his opportunity was slipping away, Yalaa moved straight to the point. “According to our forward operatives, she is aboard the listening station, and cut off from her fleet.”

“What is your plan, first scale?” Vadac asked, testing the lower-ranking officer to see if his instincts were sound.

“Capture of a Skywatch commanding officer would be a great prize,” Yalaa replied, resisting the urge to speak further. One of the ugly scars just under Yalaa’s left eye was earned for “babbling.” Yalaa no longer babbled. He stared at the Fifth Dragon, yellow eyes flickering with the light of revenge.

“What would you ask of me?”

“Leave to assemble a new squadron with a Silencor cruiser.”

“You are a destroyer commander, first scale, and just barely at that.”

“Opportunities like this are rare, fifth dragon. We must be certain of success, and we must strike while the humans regroup.”

Vadac didn’t look impressed, but he had to admit the first scale was at the very least right about capture of a human starship captain. He looked at the inferior officer with skepticism before taking a sip of his celet. “Very well. You will stake your life on this mission, first scale. You will return with your squadron intact or you will be impaled upon the Silencor’s hull. Do I make myself clear?”

“You do, fifth dragon,” Yalaa snarled. “There will be no failure this time.”

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