The vast shadow moved across fields the pale gold of springtime, sliding along the top of the plateau and pouring into the valley to trigger the automatic streetlights of Sylverton. Robersen Krimlek’s flagship, Destiny’s Fulcrum, was making a low pass to remind the citizens of Commonwealth planet Bellemond that the Protective fleet was there, and that it cared for their safety in the face of the threat from the Alliance. Generally, the fleet was only visible at night, uncountable extra specks of light traversing the more familiar constellations, but now one of them showed its true nature, a polished sphere a thousand meters across, fuzzy in places with weapon emplacements.
At the top of the valley, Ambrosia Lonetree grounded her tractor, crushing some of her crop. Not only were the warships repulsor fields setting up interference patterns that made the tractor’s own lifters wobble, it was doing something uncomfortable to her inner ear. With the lift generators off, she could hear the dogs of Sylverton howling at passing behemoth. She felt like joining them, perhaps as much as she had once felt like joining the Commonwealth Protection Force.
When she was younger, Ambrosia had looked into the night sky, seeking her path. The revelation of her adoption had been handled poorly, and she had resented her parents and the fact that she had spent her life on such a backwater planet as Bellemond at a time when the news that came in with every trading ship was filled with such excitement. Not just excitement, but the doings of a role model. Krimlek had not become a big name in the Commonwealth until she had almost made her peace with the family she had, for a while, stopped thinking of as hers, but when he had… oh, the longing he kindled.
Roberson Krimlek was an orphan, just like her, his birth-parents just as mysterious. He had spent his childhood on a similarly unregarded world, fishing rather than farming, until the war started. Bellemond had remained at the far side of everything, but not Morben. There, Krimlek had seen his adopted family killed, had stolen an Alliance ship, and in short order made a name for himself as a warrior of immense skill as well as a gifted orator and an inventor of new and cunning devices which made life better for the people of the Commonwealth and more difficult for the forces of the Alliance.
A romantic enough figure, certainly enough to get the younger Ambrosia, anxious for some kind of change in her own life, to toy with the idea of running away to join the CPF. All the more because Krimlek was about her age, for all his accomplishments. There was even a slight resemblance between them, if the holos were to be believed; the same skin tone, the same preference for close-cropped hair, the same raptor’s stare when attending closely.
But she had never forced an opportunity, and by the time one offered itself up, she had made peace with her parents, seen their love for her as what it was, rather than a deception, and turned her own considerable intellect to the maintenance and improvement of the farm’s equipment. She also let her hair grow out, just enough that people stopped commenting on the resemblance.
Now, with Krimlek not only in the same system but more or less in sight, Ambrosia felt some of the old stirring to chase adventure, to lend her hand to the Commonwealth’s fight. But that desire was tempered by a decade of experience. In the past few years, when Krimlek was completing his meteoric rise from vengeance-driven freebooter to Grand Marshal Protector, she had become disenchanted in the truest sense of the word. Perhaps it was a result of having been an early adopter of the hero-worship which was now so widespread, but whatever the cause, she was privately unconvinced that he was some kind of chosen one, picked by Fate itself to deliver the Commonwealth in its hour of darkness.
Ambrosia still took an interest in Krimlek’s doings, but in the past couple of years she was as likely to find fault as inspiration. She read the in-depth reports of the fleet actions rather than the popular synopses, picturing the jockeying of squadrons for momentary advantage and the flash of the big twenty centimeter de Broglie cannons when the capital ships closed to suicidal ranges even as she dealt with directing the harvestbots or reprogramming of pesticide swarms. Krimlek’s instinct was still good… most of the time… but sometimes it was a lucky random event which brought him victory.
Also, shockingly often of late, it seemed “strategic victory” was a description of withdrawing from an engagement while some shreds of his force remained intact. She tried, with only intermittent success, to convince herself that her own understanding of the war was limited, and that it might well be an overall advantage to leave a heavy Alliance presence in a system which the CPF had a week earlier declared they would defend without fail. She had no success at all in ignoring that she knew where he had made his mistakes, try as she might to discount these thoughts as pure vanity. She shook her head to dismiss the whole line of thought, which kept leading back to the question of why the fleet was at Bellemond at all.
The ship had drifted far enough that the far end of the field was in sunlight again. Ambrosia watched the artificial terminator sweep toward her, getting a better sense of the dreadnaught’s speed than from looking directly at it. Loafing along, hardly above two hundred kilometers an hour. If she dared to trust the tractor to hold a steady altitude, she could have easily kept up with it. She indulged the fantasy for a moment.
“What is that?” asks the Grand Marshal, watching the trace on the holotank.
“Just some local kid on a tractor, sir.”
“‘Just’ nothing. Look how she handles that thing. We need her at the controls of a destroyer. Send a lighter down to offer her a commission.”
She smiled, and as if the smile were a causation, Destiny’s Fulcrum suddenly dwindled. Ambrosia realized it was lifting at emergency speed just as the thud of its departure threw her from the tractor. As she picked herself up, she saw the first flash up above, not as bright as the sun but bright enough to pierce the dome of the sky.
She got up onto the tractor and hurried back to the house.
A year and more had gone. Ambrosia paused the tractor, near the rim of the valley, not quite the place where she had watched the start of the battle. That place was under a vast wedge of spacecraft hull, on which the letters CRUM were visible.
The crops were waist-high and golden. They should have been chin-deep and dark orange by now. The Alliance had been working at clearing the wreckage from orbit, but there was so much of it that it had dimmed the summer. She hoped next year would be better.
She looked at the wreckage once more. That sort of new landmark, ignoring the hopefully one-off stunting of the crops, was the most dramatic change to have come with Bellemond’s transition from Commonwealth to Alliance. It seemed the Alliance were not quite as all-controlling as they had been painted, were in fact less involved in daily life than the Commonwealth had been, and so traders were now coming in from both polities. To Ambrosia’s mind was an improvement; at very least, news came from more sources than previously.
She had replayed that battle in her mind, once it was over, once she had enough accounts of it to form a clear picture. Krimlek had been a damn fool, stuffing himself down a gravity well out of pure ego when he knew an opposing fleet was on its way. She saw that as clear as crystal. She was also beginning, with the expansion of information, to see some simplicities at work in the leadership of both the Commonwealth and the Alliance.
She could almost, even now, see the necessary steps of a path Krimlek had wandered from, one leading to taking both governments into her own hands.
“Ambrosia Lonetree, Imperatrix Regina,” she shouted, laughing at her own foolishness. The shrunken fruiting bodies of the crop, her loyal courtiers, bowed low as a breeze passed over them, and she laughed again.
She lifted the tractor after she cleared the mirth from her eye. It was fun to dream. Perhaps she would write the plan down next winter, when there was plenty of free time, just for fun. And until she was ready to conquer the galaxy, there were people who wanted to eat and therefore crops to tend.