Admiral Fenjeelin thought he had been angry when he first heard about Captain Soromine’s plans, but by the time his shuttle got into orbit, he was positively seething. Just as he suspected, two more Imperial Battlegroups had dropped out of subspace as soon as Soromine took the bait. Now one Battlegroup had fled, and Fenjeelin didn’t blame its commander for her decision. She had been placed in a terrible situation.
Now the Imperial Fleet was disgorging thousands of dropships to the planet’s surface in order to reinforce the ground troops that had been fighting the Grand and Invincible Army of Fangalin for the past five years. Even if the Imperial Fleet could be fought off at this point, the siege of Cortaris just got a lot more difficult.
“Admiral,” said the shuttle’s pilot, “We are approaching the fleet, but it’s nearly encircled by Imperial forces. What do you want me to do, sir?”
“Make your way through, Sergeant,” Fenjeelin responded, “Whatever it takes. I will not abandon my fleet.”
Admiral Lomeur stood on the bridge of Summer Wind and watched the displays without any expression on her face. So far everything had gone according to plan. Her hit-and-run tactics had managed to keep all but one of the ships in the 18th Battlegroup intact, and she had just received word that the 17th and the 3rd had forced the one Fangalin Battlegroup orbiting Cortaris to retreat and had launched their dropships. Now all that was left was to crush the rest of the Fangalin forces, or at least make them retreat.
She turned and looked at the Emperor. He was standing with his arms folded, his face just as expressionless as hers, with one difference: his eyes glowed with a violent light. Nobody was more passionate about destroying Fangalin than Belatras. In a way, it was almost disturbing. She was just glad that she was on his side.
“The 17th and the 3rd report that they are in position, your majesty,” Lomeur said.
“Excellent,” Belatras responded. His voice was quiet, but it almost seemed to quiver with emotion. “Commence Phase 3.” Lomeur gave the orders to her crew, and then returned to watching the displays.
“You’ve done well, Admiral,” the Emperor said in that same soft-but-powerful voice, “Your tactics have kept us alive. Now you need to go in for the kill.” Lomeur nodded, her face as expressionless as before, but now the light in her eyes mirrored that of her Emperor.
Captain Soromine took a deep breath as he tried to ignore the sweat pouring down his face. Things were not turning out at all like he expected. He had lost an entire Battlegroup, and now his remaining forces were encircled. He realized now that he’d made at least two fatal errors, and he was highly uncertain of his ability to salvage the situation. He was, in fact, starting to panic.
“Status update!” he barked.
“We’ve lost five destroyers and a cruiser,” responded Commander Borodeim. “And we’ve only managed to kill two destroyers.” He gestured to a display showing the position of the forces on both sides. “Three cruisers and seven destroyers are heading for this position. If they reach it, we will be completely encircled, and our only way to retreat will be to drop into subspace.” Which meant abandoning the siege. Soromine took another deep breath.
“Have Mountain cut them off,” he ordered, “If we get encircled, then we’re finished.” Borodeim nodded and gave the order. Just then, Radiant lurched violently and an alarm began blaring.
“Report!” screamed Soromine.
“Mountain and Sapphire are gone, sir!” yelled an ensign. Soromine’s jaw dropped.
“Gone!” he exclaimed, “What do you mean, ‘gone’?”
“I mean they no longer exist, sir!” the ensign responded, “There was an explosion inside both ships. I think their Nexus drives ruptured!”
“HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE!” Soromine bellowed. Mountain and Sapphire were both Starfortresses, the core of a Battlegroup. With them gone, Radiant was the only Starfortress left under Soromine’s command.
Soromine stood still, staring at the shocked faces of all the officers and crew on the bridge of Radiant. He knew his face looked just as shocked as theirs. In one fell swoop, Fangalin’s chances of victory in this battle had gone from slim to nonexistent.
On the bridge of Summer Wind, the general reaction was just as stunned as on board Radiant. Belatras had never seen anything like it. Nexus drives were incredibly stable. Ruptures only happened once every hundred years or so. And now two had happened at virtually the same time. All Belatras could think was that he was fated to win this battle.
“Your majesty, we have the Fangalin fleet encircled,” Admiral Lomeur said, a hint of bewilderment in her voice.
“Very good, Admiral,” Belatras responded. He was a little surprised to hear that his voice was steady. “Now finish them off.” Fate had given them this opportunity, but it was up to them to take advantage of it.
Admiral Fenjeelin’s pilot had managed to evade the Imperial forces surrounding the Fangalin fleet, but the sight of Mountain and Sapphire spontaneously exploding had almost completely unnerved him. For that matter, Fenjeelin himself felt like he was having a hard time holding on to his sanity. How could such a thing happen?
Whatever the cause, the battle was over. There was no way Fangalin could fight off the Empire now, short two Starfortresses. He hoped for the sake of his fleet that Soromine had the sense to escape into subspace, even though that would almost certainly mean his own death or capture, as his shuttle lacked a Nexus drive. Unfortunately, Soromine hadn’t shown any indication of possessing any sense yet, and Fenjeelin didn’t expect him to start now.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a scream from his pilot, and he just had time to register the alarm signaling an approaching missile before the shuttle erupted into flames. There was a horrible, all-encompassing roar of sound, and then nothing but dust and silence.
To be continued…