Author : Clifford Hebner
They met at the Imperial Academy, her slight and boyish, the youngest woman ever admitted, and he old, with the face and toothy grin of an ape. They were outcast, too young or old to be useful to anyone, but by the time she accepted her first commission, serving as ensign on a tiny scout ship, their legend had already started to grow. When she was promoted to the Captaincy, and given her own battleship, it was his ancient Admiralâ€™s hands that pressed the pin to her breast and drew the ceremonial drops of blood, said to seal sailor to Emperor forever.
History, in its wisdom, called the rebellion inevitable, the Emperorâ€™s arrogance and madness driving fully a third of his armies from him in desperate revolt. The rebels, outmanned and outgunned, were hounded across space, until, at a worthless piece of rock called Martinâ€™s Folly, the ape-faced former Admiral marshaled what forces were left to stand and die. The Imperial fleet came on and the first thousand ships flamed and died in the embrace of minefields and artillery orbiting The Folly; but she, who had been both student and lover, held her third back, and when they fell from hyperspace and in among the rebel ships it was with the whispered voice of Death.
In the end the Admiral, his ship crippled and burning, ordered all power to the engines and forward shields, seeking to lance the flagship, and it was without the thought of tears that she maneuvered around and sent him to a death in fire and a grave in the void they both loved so deeply.
She gathered up what ships were left to her, after the old ape had ambushed them so mercilessly, and limped on home with her men singing celebration and feast-day songs. She sailed through an infinity of stars and into the heartworld of a grateful empire, and then through an ocean of courtiers to the Emperorâ€™s audience chamber. He, in his lust, and his madness, came down from his throne, where no man could kill him, and sought her embrace; and she, with her loverâ€™s ugly face first in her mind, drove seven inches of the finest Imperial steel into his blackened heart, stilling it on the spot.
She left the Emperor on the floor, dead and discarded, and with him all the names and honorifics she had ever been given. She walked back to her ship, and the armies followed her once more, back out into the infinite ocean, always seeking new conquest. From that day forward she was called only Victory, and her name was battle-hymn and funeral-hymn on the lips of her men, who loved her- but she, who had killed both her lover and her God-King? Haunted by the memory of an ape-faced old Admiral, she loved nothing at all.