Graveyard of Empires - Chapter 7

Kristi Grove adjusted the rigid fabric against her hip with a growl. Won’t this elevator move any faster? She picked at one of the blue straps digging into her skin, deciding that as soon as this wretched party was over she would burn it.
Graveyard of Empires - Chapter 7

Sector 1 - Axis

Captain Kristi Grove

Kristi Grove adjusted the rigid fabric against her hip with a growl. Won’t this elevator move any faster? She picked at one of the blue straps digging into her skin, deciding that as soon as this wretched party was over she would burn it.

Jamar, her assistant, had insisted she wear it, explaining that it could be seen as an insult to show up to the Nolantis household in military garb.

Quite frankly, she considered it more of an insult to her that she had to show up in a stupid dress. Misogynistic. Why must women be expected to wear dresses? Because they are the fairer sex, was Jamar’s response each time she asked.

Which pissed her off even more. ‘The fairer sex’ was a chauvinistic descriptor used to further subjugate women into complementary roles. Emphasize base instinct qualities of attraction and then associate them with worth.

Unfortunately, women could be just as much the problem as men. It was Georgette Nolantis, the wife of famous diplomat Timothy Nolantis, that Kristi was here to impress. Women were backbiting and manipulative where other women were concerned. Especially women like Kristi, who didn’t fit their worldview.

The darkest corners of hell were reserved for women who scorned the achievements of other women.

But that was neither here nor there. She was here to make a token appearance at Georgette Nolantis’ house party and nothing more. The Nolantis family had been good to her, especially with the most recent promotion. She had to maintain alliances.

At least, that was what Jamar said, and she usually deferred to him in matters of strategy. Personally, she would have had no problem burning bridges.

The invitation was for Commander—Captain, she self-edited—Kristi Grove, plus guest; she doubted that the Nolantis family meant she could bring her servant along, but the plus one was hers to decide. She didn’t care. Jamar Paskin might be shorter than most men. And fatter. And balder. But he was an invaluable asset. If she were a modest woman, she would admit that she wouldn’t have attained all she had without him.

Jamar stood next to her in the elevator wearing a charcoal tuxedo and white gloves. His receding hair was combed back, and he wore gold-rimmed glasses. His left hand rested on his ample stomach and the right was folded behind his back. His smile was an easy one, well practiced and inviting.

Her cheeks hurt just watching him smile.

“I’m surprised,” she mumbled just loud enough for him to hear. “You are normally dressed so extravagantly. To see you in something so…plain…it makes you seem almost human.”

“Sometimes the simplest attire speaks the loudest,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her. “My attire stands as a backdrop to make you all the lovelier,” he spoke loftily, like a noble. “Though I can only do so much. Be sure to smile. And arch your back. You have ample assets. Put them to good use.”

She scowled at him. “‘Assets’? I’m not here to find a husband, Jamar. I didn’t even intend to come until you talked me into it.”

“It would have been an offense not to,” Jamar reminded her. She snorted in response. They were passing the eighty-seventh floor. The top thirty levels were all penthouses, and the Nolantis family owned the entire ninety-fourth. “Rest your left hand on your hip as casually as possible.”

“Sometimes I wonder,” Kristi said, “why you don’t treat me with more respect. You are my servant. And yet you dare give me advice?”

“I am here to make sure you purport yourself with dignity. You hired me for a reason.”

“No, my family hired you,” Kristi replied.

“And with good reason,” Jamar repeated. “They are worried that you’ll snap without guidance. You’re like a walking time bomb.”

“Careful,” Kristi replied. “Bombs are dangerous for people who stand too close to them.”

“When you walk,” Jamar said, ignoring her, “be sure to sway your hips.”

Kristi sighed. “Why would I sway my hips?”

“Men like to watch swaying hips. It’s all about where you want attention to be. Some women want to draw it to their faces. Some their bosoms. And some try to draw eyes…lower. For you, I recommend lower.”

“You are saying I shouldn’t want people to look at my face?” she asked.

He shrugged. “On the contrary, your face is quite pleasing. Except your nose. It is too big. My point is, you exercise regularly, so your ass is marvelous.”

She rolled her eyes. “Any more suggestions?”

“If you truly want my assistance,” Jamar said, eyes twinkling, “then I would dilate your pupils, remove your brassier and rub ice on your nipples. Then I would teach you how to pout properly.”

Kristi stared at him in shock for a second and then narrowed her eyes. “I don’t pout.”

Jamar held up his hands in conciliation. “Hence, we’ll have to be satisfied with a few minor corrections. Arch your back, sway your hips, and please, please, please don’t speak unless you absolutely have to.”

Kristi bit back her retort and turned to face the door of the elevator.


“Yes, ma’am?” he asked.

“Remind me to kill you when this is over.”

The elevator buzzed and slid open. Kristi walked smoothly into the crimson hallway, hearing a drawn-out sigh from behind her.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jamar said.




“You’re stiff as a board,” Jamar mumbled, sipping a martini. “Try to relax.”

“I’ll relax once we leave.”

“Ten more minutes.”

“Five,” Kristi said.

“Ten,” Jamar reiterated, “or after the first party leaves. We cannot be seen exiting first. That would not do at all.”

Kristi sighed. They were standing against the back wall. The main room where the party was being held was enormous, which was quite impressive. On Axis, space was at a premium, and this location must cost a few million credits each month.

A chandelier hung in the center with candles.

Kristi hated it here amidst the fancily dressed people. Milling. Milling. Even the word was annoying. Shake a few hands. Allow men with no skills and creepy smiles to kiss her knuckles. It was disgusting.

“That group,” Abdullah said with a discreet nod, “is making its way toward us.”

“What?” Kristi replied. She glanced toward the group. “They aren’t even moving.”

“They’ll be coming here next to speak with you,” Jamar said.

She squinted at them. “How can you tell?”

“Don’t squint,” Jamar said, still staring straight ahead. He sipped his drink. “Their body language screams it.”

“Do I know any of them?”

“You’ve met one previously. Kathryn Quinlan in the red dress. You met her three years ago at her father’s factory. Ask her if she approves of the gift you sent her father last month and inquire after his recent hospitalization.”

“What did I send him?”

“An old model hunting rifle, modified and engraved. The family collects them. Jacob Wellington, with the red bowtie, is her guest. He works for her company and is from a merchant family. Let her introduce him but don’t shake his hand.”

“Why not?”

“His family is too low.”

“The other woman?”

“Rachel Gates. She is the guest of Consular Peter Gavriel.”

Kristi narrowed her eyes. She knew of the Consular but had never met the man personally. He was a soulless calculating murderer and smuggler. “That’s Peter, in the tuxedo?”

“We aren’t here to fight,” Jamar chided.

“He’s a scourge on the Republic. A cancerous cell spreading corruption.”

“He’s also rich and has lots of friends,” Jamar said. “That scourge could destroy you in an afternoon.”

“When I’m Captain, he will have no power over me.”

“And until then, he can destroy you. Play nice.”

Kristi stared daggers at Jamar and then blew out a breath, willing her anger to go with it. She forced a smile onto her face.

“Stop smiling,” Jamar said. “It makes you look constipated.”

She sighed.

The group was moving toward them, talking amongst themselves. Jacob Wellington was a handsome man with wavy hair and a thin face. Kathryn was a frumpy woman in a saggy dress.

Rachael Gates was supermodel pretty, standing a full three inches above Kristi with blond hair and green eyes. Her expensive silver dress dropped to her ankles, but it included a cut all the way to her thigh on the right side. It was modest while still showing plenty of skin.

Peter Gavriel was a thin black man with perfectly white teeth and silver-rimmed glasses. His lips were curled in a half-smile, and he wore a charcoal-gray suit.           

Jamar drifted away, too low born to be introduced, leaving her alone with the approaching group. She waited until they had come up to her and then turned first toward the frumpy little woman. “Kathryn, dear,” she said with as much honey as she could muster. “How are you?”

“I am flourishing,” the frumpy woman said, delighted. “I didn’t know if you would recognize me.”

“Of course,” Kristi admonished. “Your family has been of great assistance to me and I consider you a close personal friend. How is your father? Did he like the gift I sent him?”

“He loved it,” Kathryn said.

“Has his health improved? I nearly died when I heard he was in the hospital!”

“Quite a bit. He had a bout of pneumonia some weeks back but recovered from it quite well. Thank you for your concern.”

“It’s nothing. I’m happy to hear it.”

“And this gentleman is Jacob Wellington, my guest for the evening,” Kathryn said. He started to extend his hand. Kristi nodded politely at him but turned her attention to the Consular. Jacob got the message and dropped his arm.

“And how do you do this fine evening?” she asked, working to keep anger from her voice.

“I am most excellent,” the Consular replied, smiling at her. He reached out toward her and Kristi forced herself to offer her hand. She hated him. She hated everything about him, and the thought of touching him sickened her. But to refuse would be discourteous, which would be tantamount to suicide among these people.

He took her fingers in his hand and knelt down, brushing his lips across her skin. Shivers of displeasure danced up her spine, but she imagined that instead of him kissing her knuckles, she was punching him in the face. The thought brought a smile to her lips.

“Congratulations on your promotion,” Kathryn said as the exchange was completed. “We were all delighted to hear you would be taking over Denigen’s Fist. It was always one of my father’s favorite vessels. Did you ever have the chance to serve on it?”

“Ten years ago,” Kristi said, “before I was promoted to Commander. This is something of a homecoming for me.”

“I am sure you will purport yourself with the highest of honor,” Peter Gavriel said.

“Thank you,” Kristi replied curtly, aware that she was scowling. She doubted that looks could kill, but was determined to try.

Kathryn, oblivious, smiled at both of them. “Well it was wonderful seeing you, Ms. Grove, and I wish you all the best in your new position. Jacob, come along.”

Jacob flashed his brightest fake smile at her and moved to follow Kathryn. All that was missing was a leash.

“I hope you enjoy your term on Denigen’s Fist,” Consular Peter said once the others were out of earshot. “Short as it is likely to be.”

Kristi bit back her first retort. Then her second. And third. She tried to think of a Jamar-approved statement, and settled for, “Thank you.”

“I’ll be watching, waiting for you to fail.”

She forced herself to take a deep breath.

“And when your world finally comes apart at the seams, I will be there to pick up the pieces.”

“Is that so? Because I’ll be coming for you to wipe out your very exis—”

“Commander, I believe Sir Nolantis was looking for you,” Jamar said smoothly, slipping up beside Kristi and deliberately bumping into her. He turned to look at Peter Gavriel. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Am I interrupting something?”

The Consular smiled. “No, our discussion has been concluded. I believe we understand each other quite well.”

Kristi started to open her mouth. Jamar shot her a warning look and she closed it again. “It was nice speaking to you,” she said. Peter grinned and turned to leave, his eye candy following.

“Two days,” Jamar said in exasperation. “You need to survive two more days without convincing someone to kill you. And here you are making threats.”

“He won’t do anything to jeopardize my position. I have too much support.”

“He doesn’t need any support to hire a killer.”

“I’m not worried about an assassin murdering me.”

Jamar frowned. “And why not?”

“Because your job is to keep me safe,” she said. “And if you fail, I’ll be sure to kill you.”

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Good plan.”

“I thought so. Can I leave yet? I’ve had enough ostentation for a lifetime.”

“A few more moments. The Portman family will be leaving first. We can follow in their wake without offering offense.”

“You seem quite convinced.”

“I am,” Jamar replied.

“How do you know they are going to leave?”

“The same way I always know at parties like these,” Jamar said, picking his drink off a nearby table. He took the olive out and bit into it, savoring the flavor. “I slipped a fast-acting laxative in Mrs. Portman’s drink.”

“You did what?”

“Only enough to make her uncomfortable. Unless I misguessed the dose. It was a horse laxative, and she looks to be about seventy kilos. It should be having the desired effect in—”

He was interrupted by the sound of glasses crashing to the floor. Everyone looked over to see a middle-aged woman with graying hair holding the hem of her dress and pushing her way through the crowd. A worried look was plastered on her face.

She was pursued by her husband, making excuses.

They disappeared into the hallway. Everyone watched the door in stunned silence.

Kristi fought back a chuckle. She couldn’t successfully hide her grin.

“I think that is our cue,” Jamar murmured, finishing his drink.

Kristi made her way over to the Nolantis family and thanked them profusely for the invitation. Then she headed into the hallway toward the elevators. She pressed the button and waited for her servant to catch up.

“Jamar,” she said.


“Have I ever told you that you are a horrible person?”

“Every day.”

“Good,” she said. “That’s good.”

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