Admiral Pak entered the committee chamber like she were riding a chariot pulled by fire-breathing Andalusian stallions. “Whose brainchild is this abomination?” She pointed at the holo of Monumenta hovering above the conference table, reflected in its glassy onyx finish.
The various officials and councilors bristled at her accent: Sol system. They’d all been there, of course. The accent was distinct, but difficult to acquire. She’d been born there. One Admiral Renhoutzer leapt to his feet—already answering her question—and bulged his widely set eyes. “What in the name of Neil-fucking-Armstrong gives you the right to—”
“Remove this man immediately. He no longer his the clearance to attend this session.” Four armed troops led Renhoutzer out as he fumed and sputtered with thoughtless anger. When the commotion gave way to silence, she told the remaining committee, “I’ve been dispatched from HQ to redirect this operation.”
“Now?” asked an official who looked like an elderly chipmunk—small and gray and all cheeks. His name plate said he was the Prime Minister of this cluster.
Pak walked around the large table until she stood directly across from him, looking through the holo to make eye contact. As if it wasn’t there at all. “Do you know what a sea turtle is, Prime Minister?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“A sea turtle. It’s an aquatic reptile on Earth.”
“I fail to see—”
“Yes! You’ve failed to see a great deal, but allow me to enlighten you. Now, they lay their eggs on the beach. When the eggs hatch, the baby turtles must fend for themselves in an environment for which they are ill-adapted. They must maneuver across the sand to reach the ocean, guided only by the reflection of moonlight on the water. Along the way, most will be eaten by seagulls—a medium-sized marine bird. The gulls are larger than the turtles, and faster, and more experienced. Only one in a thousand turtles makes it to the ocean.” She saw the rapt, fearful expressions around the table in her periphery, but she held the Prime Minister in her gaze. Cold.
“For those that reach the ocean, they must traverse the gauntlet of waiting tiger sharks—a species of five-meter razor-mouthed fish.” And then she waited for the Prime Minister to ask the inevitable question.
“And you’re telling us this…why?”
Directly into the trap. She bit back a smile, though it caused her no joy. These idiots had wasted precious time. “Because sea turtles have survived this way for 150-million years. And do you know how?” She drew out the silence until it reached maximum discomfort. “Because they lay more than one fucking egg! There is a war, and it is coming here. This Monumenta battle-station is nothing more than a way for rich politicians and strategic imbeciles to compare genitals. You will reappropriate all of your resources—and I do mean all—immediately, to be used to strip this system to dust building as many one-seater starfighters as physics will allow. Your first 10,000 pilots-in-training are already inbound.”
“Ten-thousand?” the Prime Minister protested. “We have no such capacity!”
She pounded the table, and the holo dissolved in a torrent of cubed pixels. “This is a numbers game, Prime Minister, and 10,000 is a very small number. We will need a billion pilots, and most of them are expected to die in the first wave. But some will not. Do you understand me? Do you all understand me?”
Now the Prime Minister stood. Always a fatal tell. “I will not abide. You, Admiral, are a monster.”
“No. I’m the mother sea turtle. And you are relieved, sir.”
Dozens of colorless faces avoided their own reflections in the dark shine of the table until the former-Prime Minister was gone.
“The rest of you, get to work.”