Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Three
Watching the battle over Pandora was…strangely unsettling.
In retrospect, Raymond could see the places where he’d gone wrong. He’d deployed his dark fleet too soon to Pandora, given them too much leeway. They’d expended valuable resources on a fool’s errand and he hadn’t thought to tell them no. They should have saved their energy ammunition for the incoming Federation force, not spent so much of it against Pandora’s shield. Not that he’d expected the shield to be as resilient as it was—the technology had developed further than he’d been aware, and that too was unacceptable. His staff was meant to keep him up to date on everything that could conceivably change his strategy, and that they’d missed a key piece of data like this was a black mark against them, and by proxy, himself. He’d exact an appropriate punishment once he was in a more comfortable situation, but for now all he could do was watch and silently seethe as Pandora City rested unscathed within its protective cocoon.
His choice in commanders could have been more nuanced as well. Raymond strongly believed in owning up to his own missteps, so that they wouldn’t be repeated. In this case, Carver Orwell had been a better match by the data than in actual practice. Raymond had underestimated his bloodlust, and the lengths he went to to indulge it. Strafing runs on the coast? Useless wastes of time and energy. And where Orwell was brilliant in command of a small group of vessels, it was clear he had little in the way of a grand strategy when it came to putting them all to use simultaneously. They’d outnumbered the Federation fleet of callow youths nearly two to one, and Miles Caractacus had still managed to hold them at bay and, in some instances, put them at a serious disadvantage. Even the deliberate incompetence of some of Raymond’s hand-picked Federation leadership hadn’t prevented the man from pulling off a near-rout of the dark fleet before his own ship was destroyed, and his second-in-command was still fighting, and worse, winning. Whether Caractacus had died or not was largely immaterial—that he’d managed to be so effective before doing so was intolerable.
The dark fleet wasn’t going to accomplish its primary objective, Raymond could see that. He commed his personal aide. “Begin the dissolution protocol with regards to our long-distance project.”
“Total dissolution, sir?”
“Total,” he affirmed. But there was no need to finish things too early…the remnants could still do some damage before they were rendered harmless. “Set timer to four standard hours.” That should give them enough time to take out a few more Federation ships first.
So, there was one problem resolved. Not the biggest problem, though. Raymond had spent a lot of his political capital sending the Federation ships off to the Fringe to do battle, and to have them be triumphant was even more expensive to his closest allies than failure would have been. It was so irritating, having to balance them all. Raymond vividly remembered the puzzle his father had given him as a child, the little cups spread out on all sides, each one trembling, just waiting to tip over and send the entire thing into disarray. Too many cups. He’d made it too big, too unwieldy. To bring it back into balance, he had to remove more players. Make it simpler, make it stronger. No one took the long view as well as Raymond did—if they could, they would be the ones ruling the known human-inhabited universe, not him. He could do this. Consolidate, cleanse, and move on. He could come back from this. He would. Which meant his next step had to be getting rid of Garrett Helms.
It was a move that was past due. He’d kept Garrett around far longer than he should have, partially because the man was obnoxiously well-protected—the difficulty Raymond had had in accessing his family members was proof of that—but also because he was, well, interesting. He was one of the very few genuinely interesting people in Raymond’s life, which made him oddly precious, for all that he was the enemy. Raymond could count on one hand the number of people that had ever fascinated him: his father Foster, so bright and complex and, in the end, so fatally unreliable. His sister Berengaria, but in a more pitiful way, as one would admire the tenacity of a microbe that clung to life in the vacuum of space despite inevitable death pressing ever closer. Kyle, who was so close to being the son Raymond should have had, and so infuriatingly far from it at the same time. And Garrett, who was beautiful on the outside but just as sick and twisted on the inside as anyone else, and far more fascinating because of it.
It probably said something that all of the people Raymond admired were also people he had either killed or wanted dead, but that was his own little burden to bear. He commed his assistant again. “It’s time to initiate the three-volley salute."
“Understood, sir.” The was a pause, and then his aide said, “It won’t be easy. He’s in a secure location.”
“Use whatever resources are required, but I want it done and scrubbed clean within the next twelve hours.”
“Scrubbed completely clean?”
“That is what I said.” Raymond restrained a sigh of irritation. “Is there something you want to tell me?” Say it’s not possible and I’ll find someone who will make it possible, and you’ll be scrubbed clean too.
“No, sir.” His aide’s voice was cool and reserved. Good. “I’ll see to it personally.”
“Good.” He closed the link and propped his head on his hand. It would be better for him to be off-planet when things happened. It had been far too long since he’d visited the surrounding planets anyway, and with the senate effectively on break while the military action was underway, there was no one to object. He’d take his personal ship to Hydrus, see firsthand the beautiful new chemical compounds their biggest industry was known for.
It was decided, then. Raymond got to his feet and started to pack.
Honestly, Garrett had been expecting the incursion for days. He looked at the notification on the edge of his implant screen and snorted. “Finally.”
“Finally what?” Jonah asked.
“Alexander’s finally cracked. He’s sending out his kill squads.”
“Why are you smiling about this?” Jonah’s voice was tense. “’Cause I’m thinkin’ anything called a ‘kill squad’ should be taken a little more seriously.”
“I take them very seriously,” Garrett assured his husband. His non-existent husband—fuck. “I put countermeasures in place over two years ago, when we first moved back so Cody could go to the Academy. I’ve been refining them ever since. I know every person Alexander is sending after me, and if he’s somehow added someone new, well, I’ve got eyes everywhere. Nobody’s going to get close enough to get a shot at me. But a lot of them will die horribly, so, y’know, object lesson.”
“That’s…really awful, darlin’. You understand that, right?”
“I really don’t care.” There was no time to care about assassins, other than making sure they didn’t achieve their goal. He sent a ping out to Berengaria, waiting for her to get back to him. The odds were good that if Raymond Alexander was finally moving on Garrett—admitting defeat, in a way—that he was moving on her too, as someone who’d helped Garrett out. Her message system admitted him. “Hey, it’s time to take evasive action, your brother’s finally broken. Be safe.”
“What’s she supposed to do with a message as oblique as that?” Jonah sounded confused. Garrett wasn’t surprised. Even in his own head, he couldn’t bring his husband to be as conniving as he himself was.
“She’ll get it,” he promised. “She’ll understand.”
A thousand miles above the surface of Olympus, Berengaria Alexander wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. It wasn’t a completely sane smile either. “At last."