A Moment of Unrest, Part 5

The Emperor looked around at all the people standing on the bridge of Summer Wind. The pre-battle speech. In some ways, this was the hardest part of his job, and in some ways it was the easiest. He poured his heart and soul into every battle he fought, and into every operation he planned and led, and it was easy for him to express that passion and transfer it to those around him. But it was also easy because he always won. He dreaded the inevitable day when he finally lost a battle. How would he be able to inspire his people once they realized that he wasn’t infallible?

“Patch me through to the whole fleet,” he ordered. After a second, the communications officer nodded to him, and he knew it was time.

“Men and women of the Imperial Fleet,” he thundered, “Once again we prepare to do battle with our mortal enemies! This is not the first time we’ve fought, and it will not be the last! It may be that this will prove to be the most important battle of the entire war. Or maybe history will remember this as a mere footnote to greater victories to come! Either way, that history is not written yet! Whether what we do here today is sung about for a thousand years, or forgotten tomorrow, doesn’t change the fact that we have a duty. A duty to fight for each other, and for all the people of the Empire! And we have a privilege! The privilege of defending the honor and the glory of the Empire against those who would tear it asunder! FOR THE EMPIRE!”

“FOR THE EMPIRE!” came the echo from everyone standing on the bridge and, over the comm link, from all the crew of all the ships in the fleet. For a few moments, Belatras closed his eyes and let the emotion of his people wash over him. Then, he looked at Admiral Lomeur.

“Commence the operation,” he ordered.

***

Captain Soromine stood on the bridge of Radiant, arms folded, with a smug smile on his face. It had been too easy to get his doddering old uncle off of the ship and onto the planet below. He didn’t even bother trying to meet with General Mortollin, of course. All he had to do was go down to the surface, stretch his legs and breathe some fresh air for a few hours, and then come back and say that the General had refused to meet with him. Perfectly plausible.

And now he was in command of the fleet. He finally had an opportunity to show off what he could do. He had no doubt that his uncle would be on the planet for several days, futilely arguing with Mortollin. His uncle was clearly too incompetent to deal with that buffoon. Soromine was confident that by the time his uncle returned, the fleet would be running so efficiently that High Command would have to take notice. Maybe they would even put him in permanent command of the fleet, relegating his uncle to a desk job on Hechelen, where he belonged.

The sound of an alarm jerked Soromine out of his daydreaming. “Report!” he barked.

“Sensors indicate that a fleet has just dropped out of subspace,” a lieutenant responded, “They are reading as Imperial ships.” Soromine could barely contain his glee at this news. The perfect opportunity to show off what he was capable of!

“How many?” he asked.

“Looks like just one Battlegroup,” the lieutenant responded. Soromine rubbed his hands together excitedly.

“Excellent,” he said, his eyes practically glowing, “We’ll crush them and be done in time for lunch. Order the Radiant, Sapphire, and Mountain Battlegroups to intercept and destroy. The Triumph Battlegroup will stay in orbit around Cortaris.” Captain Shrai Vesketar, commanding officer of Radiant and the third-highest ranking officer in the fleet, came over to Soromine.

“Sir,” she said urgently, “What if this is a trap? The Empire can’t possibly think they’ll be able to break the siege with one Battlegroup. Do we really need to commit three Battlegroups to attack one? We’re leaving the ground troops practically undefended.”

“Captain Vesketar, I am in command of this fleet, and my orders will be carried out,” Soromine replied dismissively.

“Sir, I just don’t think-,” Vesketar began, but Soromine cut her off.

“Carry out my orders, Captain, or I’ll have you arrested and replaced with someone who will.” Vesketar saluted and turned to give orders to her crew.

Soromine grinned broadly and continued rubbing his hands together. Today was turning out to be a very good day.

***

Admiral Fenjeelin sighed deeply and rubbed his temples with his fingertips. Dealing with General Mortollin was proving to be even more of a hassle than he expected. The man was simply insufferable, and firmly convinced that he was in sole command of this operation. He had harangued Fenjeelin for two hours about how much more important the ground forces were than the fleet, and he even had the audacity to claim that he’d never heard from Captain Soromine!

The one positive thing that Fenjeelin could say about Mortollin was that the man had picked an excellent place for his field headquarters. Mortollin had commandeered the mayor’s palace in the city of Hamanir, and it was every bit as luxurious as one would expect from the heart of the second-most important city in the second-most important province in the Trisitanian Empire. Mortollin had at least been gracious enough to set aside a large and beautiful suite of rooms for Fenjeelin’s use.

Fenjeelin was lounging in an especially plush recliner, trying to think of a way to get Mortollin to listen to reason, when one of his aides burst into the room.

“Sir,” he panted, “I have an urgent message from Captain Vesketar! The Imperial Fleet is trying to break the siege!”

“What!” Fenjeelin yelled and jumped up, “Why didn’t Captain Soromine send me a message?”

“I don’t know, sir,” the aide said, trying to catch his breath, “All Captain Vesketar said was that one Imperial Battlegroup has dropped out of subspace, and Captain Soromine has ordered three of our Battlegroups to intercept and destroy it.” Fenjeelin opened his mouth to respond, and then closed it slowly as he took in what his aide had said.

“What did you say?” Fenjeelin said carefully. The aide repeated what he had just said, and Fenjeelin swore softly.

“That stupid idiot,” he said, “It’s an obvious trap! The Empire would never try to break the siege with just one Battlegroup! Get me a shuttle! I need to get back up there before its too late!” But as the aide raced out of the room and Fenjeelin got ready to follow, he realized that it was already too late.

To be continued…

A Moment of Unrest, Part 4

Admiral Fenjeelin sat at his desk, staring blankly at a large pile of paperwork. He wasn’t really thinking about anything in particular. He was just kind of numb. Commanding a fleet of starships that had been besieging a planet for five years with no end in sight was actually quite boring. Every day was pretty much the same as the day before it, which would be the same as the next day. He sometimes found himself wishing that the Imperial Fleet would show up, just so he had something different to do. Or the Imperial forces on Cortaris could surrender. That would be good too.

The sound of the comm system beeping jolted him out of his numbness. He reached over and pressed the button to accept the call.

“Admiral Fenjeelin,” said the voice of an ensign, “Captain Soromine has returned from the surface and is requesting to see you, sir.”

“Send him in,” Fenjeelin said. A few seconds later, the door of his quarters opened and Captain Soromine stepped inside.

“Well, Captain,” Fenjeelin said, “How was your trip? Is the General in a better mood now?”

“I’m afraid not,” Soromine said, “In fact, he refused to meet with me at all, and sent me a message stating that unless I had brought three flights of Nightwings with me, then there was no point in me being there. He also said that if you keep refusing him reinforcements, then he’s going to report you to the High Council.”

Fenjeelin stared at his nephew with an unreadable expression on his face, and then said, “So I can safely say that you failed in your mission.” Captain Soromine stiffened slightly, but remained silent. Fenjeelin watched him for a few more moments, and then sighed heavily.

“I suppose that means I need to meet with him directly, then,” he said wearily, “I will leave immediately. You will be in command of the fleet until I return.” Soromine saluted and turned to leave.

“Captain,” Fenjeelin said suddenly as Soromine reached the door. Soromine turned to face his uncle.

“Don’t fail this time,” Fenjeelin said. Soromine quivered as if he had been struck, and then saluted smartly.

“Yes, sir,” he said, his voice dripping with contempt, “I will not fail you, sir.” With that, he left the room.

Fenjeelin glared after his nephew. He never should have made the idiot his XO. But it was too late to do anything about it. Now he had to leave the comfort of his beautiful ship and go down to the surface of this darkness-forsaken planet and meet with another idiot face-to-face. As he sat there, he thought to himself about what a disaster this trip was likely to be. Unfortunately, he had no idea just how right he was.

***

Admiral Forien Lomeur, Commander of the 18th Battlegroup of the Imperial Fleet, was preparing for the biggest test of her military career. She had seen plenty of action against Fangalin, but breaking the Fangalin siege of Cortaris was much more important and more risky than anything else she had done. The Imperial Fleet couldn’t muster enough ships or crew to match Fangalin’s numbers, so the success of this operation was going to depend on strategy, on courage, and on luck.

Admiral Lomeur had taken part in some important battles. She had been in command of the cruiser Faithful when the Imperial Fleet took the Fangalin commercial center of Namala. She had been the XO of the destroyer Tidal Wave during the Empire’s greatest victory thus far, the capture of the Fangalin capital of Numoris. In fact, her very first mission was as a new ensign on board the cruiser Intensity during Operation Hammer, the first in a long line of successes orchestrated by Emperor Belatras.

All those successes would be for nothing if Fangalin took Cortaris. Despite everything the Emperor and the Fleet had accomplished, Fangalin still possessed a great deal of military and economic power, and even at this point, all could still be lost.

Despite all the battles she had fought in, one battle she missed was the breaking of the siege of Trisitania. That had happened two years ago. She was already in command of the 18th Battlegroup back then, but the 18th was defending the province of Pellarus. The fear at the time was that if Trisitania fell, Pellarus would be attacked next, and High Command felt that the 18th was more useful where it was than as part of the force that broke the siege.

Which was all well and good. Admiral Lomeur didn’t fear battles, but she didn’t enjoy them either. She would have been content to sit out this battle as well, but it wasn’t up to her. This time, High Command believed that freeing Cortaris was more important than any other objective, so all available units were being called in to take part in this operation.

In any case, she wasn’t in command of the entire operation. That honor/responsibility went to the Emperor himself. As if to underscore the importance of this operation, the Emperor was taking personal command of the fleet. In fact, the Emperor would be commanding from Lomeur’s flagship, Summer Wind. He was due to arrive any minute.

Just then, the door to the bridge opened, and the Emperor and his retinue entered. It had been a couple of years since Lomeur had last seen Emperor Belatras, and the Emperor looked more haggard than she remembered. But, she supposed that was to be expected. This Fangalin offensive of the last few years risked undoing all the gains that the Emperor had made during his long reign. That had to be incredibly stressful for a man who already had plenty of stress as it was.

“Welcome to Summer Wind, sire,” Lomeur said, bowing. She had a deep voice for a woman, but it was surprisingly melodious nonetheless. “I deeply appreciate the honor you have bestowed on me and my crew by establishing your command here.” The Emperor nodded slightly in acknowledgement of Lomeur’s bow and words.

“Thank you, Admiral,” he responded, “Hopefully this operation will be over quickly and I can get out of your hair.” He smiled slightly, a gesture that was returned by Lomeur.

“As you command, your majesty,” she said, bowing once more.

To be continued…

A Moment of Unrest, Part 3

Belatras slowly stood up and looked at himself in the mirror. He was a tall man, and skinny. Some would even say scraggly, but not in his presence. He had long, stringy white hair, and long white mustaches that hung past his chin. His eyes were piercingly blue, and there were few who could stand up to his gaze. His stare alone more than made up for his feeble physical appearance.

After a short while, he emerged from the bathroom and made his way through his bedroom and into the sitting room where he had been planning strategy with his generals before this most recent attack. He was somewhat surprised to find that the room was still full of generals.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, “I appreciate your waiting for my return, but I am unsure why you felt it was necessary. I thought I made myself quite clear.” One of the generals, a short, fat, greasy man by the name of Xamor Croladen, stood up.

“Forgive me, sire,” he began, “but some of us are still puzzled by your thinking. I understand that liberating the capital was the number one priority, but now that that’s done, surely we must focus on Medradi. The Imperial Fleet is paralyzed so long as the enemy has our primary military base in a chokehold.” The Emperor didn’t look at him while he was talking, but as soon as he was, Belatras fixed his cold gaze on him, and the odious little man seemed to shrink in on himself.

Oh, how Belatras hated generals! The fools just refused to see what was so obvious. Yes, Medradi was important, and there was no question that once Cortaris was safe, all of his attention would be focused there. But if Fangalin managed to crush Cortaris while the Empire was focused on Medradi, it wouldn’t matter how many ships and guns the Fleet had. There would be no money to pay for fuel and bullets for those ships and guns, not to mention soldiers to fly those ships and shoot those guns.

“There is no more discussion to be had about this matter, General Croladen,” Belatras said, his words ice, “I have told you what I require, and I expect my orders to be carried out. Dismissed.” Croladen acted like he wanted to say more, but one look from the Emperor, and the little man practically ran for the door.

Belatras watched as the rest of the generals slowly shuffled out of the room without any expression on his face. As soon as the last one left, his oldest son approached him. 38 years old, Prince Valin Maclanar had always had a strained relationship with his father. Part of it was simply that, as Emperor, it had been difficult for Belatras to find time to be a father. But part of it was simply that Belatras didn’t like his oldest son. Prince Valin and his father were almost complete opposites. Prince Valin was handsome and physically powerful. He was also cheerful, irreverent, and utterly disinterested in ruling the Empire. He was much more interested in writing flowery poetry and pursuing women. It made Belatras cringe to think that Valin would become Emperor someday.

“I don’t suppose you have anything relevant to say,” Belatras said to his son.

“If I did, would you even listen to me?” Valin responded with a grin. Belatras sighed heavily.

“What is it that you want?” he asked, settling down into his favorite chair.

“I just wanted to know how you’re doing,” Valin replied, a serious look replacing the grin on his face. Belatras raised an eyebrow at him.

“Since when have you even pretended to be concerned about my welfare?” Belatras asked, slightly amused. This time it was Valin’s turn to sigh.

“This may be difficult for you to believe, but you are my father, and I do care about you,” he said. This elicited a loud snort from Belatras.

“Sorry if I hadn’t noticed, what with you wasting all your time scribbling and chasing skirts,” he scoffed. A pained expression appeared on Valin’s face, and he turned to go.

“I’m sorry I even said anything,” he said, as he shuffled toward the door, “Just forget about it.”

“Sit down,” Belatras said sternly. Valin turned and looked at him, surprised. “I know what this is about, so let’s sort some things out.” Valin sat down, and was immediately pinned in place by his father’s infamous stare.

“I know that you have no desire to be Emperor,” Belatras grated, “I know that your dearest dream is that I’ll name your brother or sister my heir in your place, and you can live out the rest of your days in drunken revelry. Well that dream dies today. You WILL be the Emperor when I’m gone. That is your role as my eldest child, and you WILL accept it. Do I make myself clear?” Valin sat, seemingly paralyzed by his father’s eyes and his words. Then, slowly, he nodded once.

“Good,” Belatras said, satisfied, “You are dismissed.” Valin stood up and walked to the door, but when he reached it, he turned back.

“You’re wrong, you know,” he said, “Not about me being your heir, but about my concern for your welfare. You’ve been a rotten father to me, but you are still my father, and I wouldn’t want you to die even if I wasn’t your heir.” And with that, he left.

As soon as Belatras was alone, it was as if a mask fell from his face. He was no longer the harsh and terrible ruler of a great Empire, but instead he was a sad and broken old man. He knew that he had been a failure as a father, but to have his son tell him that to his face was…hard to hear. The weight of his years and the heaviness of his responsibility seemed to be crushing him. His shoulders slumped, he lowered his face into his hands and he exhaled deeply. Someday, he would be able to rest from his labors. But until that day, all he could do was carry out the duty that his destiny had given him. Same as his son.

To be continued…

A Moment of Unrest, Part 2

Belatras Maclanar, also known as Emperor Belatras I, was in one of his usual positions, that is, hunched over a toilet, puking his guts out. He didn’t know why he was sick so much, and he didn’t really care. He had been extremely sickly ever since he was a child, and he had long since stopped trying to figure out why. He was now 65 years old, and he didn’t expect to live much longer. Although, that had also been true ever since he was a child.

Regardless, he had a mission, and that mission was to obliterate Fangalin, and put an end to the 400 year war that had almost destroyed the Empire. There were some, actually many, who believed that Belatras Maclanar had been born for the sole purpose of bringing peace to the galaxy, that it was his destiny. Belatras himself wasn’t so sure about that, but if it brought hope to his people, then he was happy to let them think it.

The circumstances of his birth were unusual enough to befit a child of destiny. His grandfather, Emperor Neminatrix VI, had been the first Emperor to come up with a real plan to go on the offensive against Fangalin, but he had been murdered by Fangalin assassins before he could carry it out. Fortunately, his son, who succeeded him as Emperor Embamor III, knew the plan, and had even helped create it, and thus was able to begin carrying it out.

Unfortunately, Embamor III was hot-tempered and generally unlikable. He was especially contemptuous of the Senate, and his manner gained him many enemies, including a powerful Senator named Trifelis Calafax. So when the Imperial Fleet lost a key province to Fangalin, Calafax seized the opportunity and convinced the rest of the Senate remove him from the throne. Embamor refused to go quietly, and the result was civil war between the Emperor and the Senate.

Embamor soon fell victim to assassins working for the Senate, but his sister, Belatras’ mother, declared herself Empress Trillinia IV. Trillinia was a much milder, more accommodating person than her brother, but by this point the Senate, particularly Trifelis Calafax, was determined to rule the Empire without an Emperor. Unfortunately for Calafax, he made a massive blunder when he left the capital, Trisitania, undefended so he could focus all of his attention on Fangalin.

This had two consequences. One, it allowed Trillinia to seize Trisitania and wipe out most of the Senators who opposed her, and two, it cost Calafax the support of a very powerful Senator, Velchora Maclanar, who had argued against leaving Trisitania undefended. Subsequently, he realized he was on the losing side, and decided to switch his allegiance to the Empress. With Trisitania in her possession and Senator Maclanar on her side, most units of the Imperial Fleet swore allegiance to the Empress, and the civil war was effectively over, although a few units loyal to Calafax fought on for some time.

But Velchora Maclanar was not only a political supporter of Empress Trillinia. He also became her husband. And the child they had together, Belatras, was hailed as a symbol of the unity between Senate, Emperor and people. Small wonder that great things were expected of him.

And he had done his best to deliver. His parents were murdered by Fangalin assassins when he was 23 years old. They had tried to kill him as well, but he was able to escape. Since that day, he had sworn to spend his entire life making Fangalin suffer. A goal that matched up nicely with what his people wanted: peace. Because the only path to peace was to destroy Fangalin and reunite the Empire.

So he turned his mind to the task at hand, the Fangalin sieges of Cortaris and Medradi. These two planets couldn’t possibly have been more different. Cortaris was a temperate paradise, Medradi was an arid desert. Cortaris was the financial heart of the Empire, Medradi was the military heart. Cortaris was heavily populated with civilians, Medradi’s population was almost exclusively military. But they did have one thing in common: they were both crucial to the survival of the Empire. If either one of them fell, the Empire was finished.

Of the two, Cortaris was probably more important. Belatras’ generals didn’t understand this, but that was why they didn’t make the big decisions. Belatras understood the importance of commerce, of trade, of money. That understanding was why he had had such great success in the war. He struck at Fangalin’s economic might, not its military might. Without money, the Grand and Invincible Army of Fangalin would wither and die of its own accord.

The leaders of Fangalin didn’t understand this either. They had heavily fortified their military bases and left their commercial centers exposed. Belatras had been all too happy to take those centers off their hands. But Fangalin had a new Supreme Commander now, one Moregon Grechal. Grechal had clearly studied the tactics that Belatras used, and was trying to use them against the Empire. Of the two fleets besieging the Empire, the one attacking Cortaris was far larger. Belatras hoped that he still had enough smarts and will to counter this threat.

After all, smarts and will were all he had ever had. His body had been weak and sickly ever since he was a baby. His parents had told him that they initially didn’t think he would even survive his first month of life. His memories of childhood were almost exclusively of doctor visits and hospital stays. No doctor had ever been able to figure out what was wrong with him, and on his 25th birthday, two years after he became Emperor, he decided that it wasn’t worth finding out, that he had to devote the rest of his life to serving the Empire. He didn’t expect that service to last very long, but 40 years later, he was miraculously still alive.

All these thoughts went through his head as he was hunched over the toilet, vomiting up seemingly everything he’d ever ate. In reality, the spell only lasted a few minutes, just like every time, but his life seemed to flash before his eyes, just like every time. As he stood up and wiped his face with a towel, he wondered when he would be free of his suffering. He anxiously awaited death, but he wasn’t interested in hastening its arrival. He had too much work to do, and while he knew that he probably wouldn’t be able to finish all of it, he needed to accomplish as much as he could before the end.

To be continued…