Admiral Iasko’s most cherished goal was to conquer some coastline—a bit of beach to call his own. He wasn’t particular: just a spit with a harbor, a dock, and a clear path to the ocean. There, he could keep the decommissioned Borei submarine those Chechens had assured him was on its way.
The trouble started with the ice baths. Aleksey, the youngest and the admiral’s cousin’s son, had only ever lasted forty-five seconds underwater.
“Not again, Uncle.”
For months, the admiral had been drilling the Royal Navy. His twenty men at arms practiced in the palace basement, executing maneuvers: dive, surface, silence, battle stations. The ship would need a crew of 107, but this core contingent could command. His chief, Drozd, stood alongside the pool.
“Get in,” commanded Drozd.
“We won’t be in water except to drown.”
“In!” Drozd yelled.
“Let’s just do the isolation drill. It’s more realistic.”
The men shifted. Aleksey wasn’t wrong. In the sub, they’d be underwater, not in it.
Drozd shouted again, this time rapping his rifle on the ground.
The boy did not flinch.
“A hundred push-ups,” said the admiral. “And then you run.” All of them dropped, including Aleksey. Drozd had never known how to pick his battles.
“He weakens the chain of command,” Drozd said. “If we’re ever in a real submarine, his back talk will get us all killed.”
The admiral couldn’t tell if his men had heard. He gripped his pistol, a Makarov that had served him well.
“Laps!” he shouted. The men took off. The fall of their boots on the cement floor echoed through the space.
While he knew that he could not be questioned so openly without repercussion, the admiral didn’t relish the prospect of bloodshed. The running of countries was no simple thing. With so many petty conflicts, a commander hardly had time to do what was right. All he had was loyalty and the brief flutter of control brought on by genuine fear and respect. The admiral had done much to become the leader he was and would willingly do worse, but none of that excited him anymore. Since the news of the submarine, he yearned only for the sea.
As the troops rounded the last corner, he drew his weapon.
“In,” he said. The boy stopped cold. The rest jogged on.
Aleksey climbed into the ice bath without protest, panic in his eyes. It calmed the admiral, who clicked his stopwatch. Fifteen seconds passed, then twenty.
“This navy will not stand insubordination!” Drozd yelled to the others as they ran. “An officer’s word is law!”
Fifteen seconds, thirty.
The men rounded back toward them. Thirty-five seconds, forty. When they got close, the admiral cocked his pistol and wondered if, beneath the water, the boy heard it click.
Forty-five seconds, fifty. Without taking his eyes from the watch, Admiral Iasko swung his arm to the right and loosed a bullet into Drozd’s head. He felt the familiar kick in his shoulder, but the rest of him was still. There was no pleasure in the moment, no rush of power. His chief crumpled. Aleksey sunk deeper into the icy water. The men picked up their pace, veering only slightly to avoid the fallen body, the spreading delta of brains and blood. He’d make Aleksey clean it up later. Fifty-five seconds, sixty.
He didn’t need a long beach, or a beautiful one, just enough to launch from. Any small spit would be sufficient. Or an island maybe. Yes, even an island would do.