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"Admiral Holman? Captains Fenway and Connor are here to see you."

Admiral Rachel Holman, Volitanian Central Intelligence, leaned back in her chair and smiled. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Send them in."

Lieutenant Geltin nodded and slipped through the door. A moment later, two people in captain's uniforms entered.

Admiral Holman sized them up. Captain Maris Fenway was a career soldier. Graduated from the Imperial Naval Academy on Hullis IV, reached the rank of Commander at the age of 25, and promoted to Captain three years later after serving with distinction in the Second Encounter. She was a competent captain and perfect for the job Holman had in mind. Tayn Connor was similar, though with an important distinction; he was from Intelligence, not the Navy. He was well-versed in intelligence doctrines and had even helped write a couple, as he'd been one of the first to have to deal with the Earth Empire, the first real enemy the Volitanian Empire had ever had to face, and was still facing... and as a captain in Special Operations Command, he also knew a thing or two about commanding a starship. His knowledge was more stealth- and recon-oriented, true, but he wasn't totally ignorant about combat situations, either.

"You're probably wondering why I've called you two here," Holman said, deciding that stating the obvious might relax the nervous captains... slightly. "You may have guessed part of it, but allow me to put your speculations to rest. You are here for nothing less than to command an operation that will result in total Volitanian victory in the war against the Earth Empire."

Fenway and Connor's reactions could best be described as utterly shocked. Apparently, not only was the idea that they were considered good enough to lead such an operation totally foreign to them, but even if they thought they had been that competent the idea that one of the Admirals in charge of Central Intelligence would out and say something like that appeared to have taken them completely by surprise. Holman resisted the urge to smirk, as it would probably convince them she'd been joking; when, in point of fact, she was deadly serious.

"I assume you are both aware of the current situation with the Earth Empire?"

"Begging your pardon, ma'am," Connor's reply was several seconds later than expected, probably due to his having to shake himself out of a state of shock, "but... which part of the situation?"

"The part where we have no clear goal in mind for victory."

Connor mouthed an "Ah," and sank back into his chair.

Holman sighed. "To be perfectly frank, the Emperor himself has admitted that the only goal we have in this conflict is to not get totally wiped out. When fighting a war, such a vague goal is unacceptable. We cannot win merely by setting our goal to 'survival'."

"It's worked pretty well for us so far," said Fenway, with a shrug. "And life in general, for that matter."

Holman glared menacingly. She wasn't in the mood for a philosophical discussion, so she ignored Fenway's second statement entirely. "It's kept us alive, so far, but it hasn't brought us any closer to ending this conflict, which we must inevitably do. If things continue the way they have been, we'll be completely wiped out in less than a decade. We need to accomplish a clear goal that will end this conflict once and for all."

Connor raised an eyebrow. "And we're supposed to come up with this... 'clear goal'?"

Holman shook her head. "We've already come up with one. You two are going to accomplish it."

"What is this goal, then?" said Fenway.

"You two," said Holman, with a widening grin, "are going to single-handedly and utterly annihilate the Earth Empire as we know it."

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