The Admiral enjoyed long walks along the battlements of the Imperial Palace. Situated high on a cliff overlooking the old seaport, it offered a clear view of the water below without the industrial haze that lingered over Newtown, walled off by a spur of the bluffs. But this was no sightseeing walk.

“I only mentioned it to you as a curiosity, Sir,” the Admiral’s trailing adjutant whined. “A face-to-face meeting could be dangerous, or embarrassing…”

He was cut off by a stern look from the Admiral, who continued through the Elevated Gardens and the Imperial Fountain to the guard post. Imperial Marines saluted him at every turn; the Emperor had a deep and oft-irrational love of the sea and his pet navy, so every point was patrolled by naval infantry instead of the Praetorians the old emperor had used.

A young Marine was trussed up in the guardhouse, watched by two armed peers. The Admiral had expected the young man to be dirtying his trousers, but he was instead collected if excited.

“Tell me, son,” the Admiral said. “What is it you saw?”

“Claim you saw,” his adjutant added; the Admiral cuffed him with a glove.

“I saw…the Imperial Fountain, sir. A lady climbed out of it as it it were a dozen feet deep when there’s nothing but scullery maids in the Elevated Gardens. Her eyes were the bay on a good summer morning, and she wore a dress that was a neap tide.”

“Probably a soused noblewoman from last night’s ball,” said the Admiral’s adjutant. “Wearing a sea-blue dress that reminded this dolt of the sea.”

“No…no, I didn’t say that,” the marine protested. “Her eyes, her dress…they weren’t like the sea, they were the sea. It was like seeing a goddess. She gave me a message for you, Admiral.”

“The man’s clearly delusional and possibly insane,” said the adjutant. “He’ll be flogged and released to a mental asylum before he can waste anyone else’s time with his blasphemy.”

The admiral nodded. “Yes, I think a flogging is called for.” He turned to one of the escorting Imperial Marines. “Have my adjutant flogged for his insolence.”

Once the man had been dragged, protesting, away, the Admiral knelt down by the young marine. “What was the message?”

“She said…that the ships of the Empire were driving the seas toward a great and catastrophic loss,” the young man said. “She said that the great song of the oceans would be soured by war if we did not alter from our present course.”

The Admiral was silent for a moment. “I have always said that war is a great and terrible symphony,” he said at length. “I was at Jushima and the Carlist Sea, and I know the roar and glow, the merciless beauty, of a hard-fought contest of shrapnel and steel. Tell me, son: do you know how I, son of a burgher, came to be an admiral?”

The marine shook his head.

“It was love, for a long-distant and half-remembered woman who sang to me the great song of the oceans, using the words you’ve just now spoken to me. Release him, and let us go speak to the Emperor together.”

Regrettably, such a message finds few willing ears no matter its bearer. On the advice of his adjutant, who was a cousin to the Imperial family, the Admiral was forcibly retired. His warnings about the size of the Imperial Fleet went unheeded, and the young marine who had borne them disappeared. When the enemies of the Empire, unnerved by the size of its fleet and its army, descended upon it in a mechanized war, many perished.

It is said that toward the end of the conflict, the old Admiral wandered the Elevated Gardens as revolutionaries battered down the palace doors below, speaking in a low voice to the distant and imperishable sea.

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