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…