Summer Wind and the rest of the ships in the Imperial Fleet glided silently through the dust and debris left behind by the Fangalin fleet. Belatras stood on the observation deck, gazing thoughtfully at what had once been a mighty armada. He still wasn’t sure whether their commander had been brave, reckless, or just plain stupid, but it didn’t really matter anymore.
After the two Starfortresses exploded, Belatras had been sure that the rest of the Fangalin fleet would drop into subspace and escape. That’s certainly what he would have done. No point in throwing your life and the lives of your people away when there is no chance of victory. But, some people felt that there was honor in fighting until the bitter end. Either that or their commander was stupid.
In a way, it was good that they hadn’t fled. Three entire Battlegroups, and part of a fourth, were gone now, and Fangalin would feel that loss, for sure. But it had cost him too. Five destroyers, three cruisers, and a battleship had succumbed before the fight was over. Nine ships total, along with their crews, and they would all still be alive if the Fangalin commander had been less honorable and/or stupid.
But there was no point in fixating on the dead. They were gone, and no amount of second-guessing would bring them back. It was better to focus on the positive. And there was a great deal of positive. 39 Imperial ships survived the battle. 56 Fangalin ships did not. And the general commanding the Fangalin ground troops had surrendered, thus sparing the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides. All in all, things probably couldn’t have gone much better.
The failure of those two Nexus drives troubled him, though. It was an article of faith that Nexus drives were nearly infallible and perfectly safe. What if that wasn’t true? What if galactic civilization had just been unbelievably lucky over the past thousand years? An investigation would have to be carried out. Maybe it was just a colossal coincidence. Maybe. But it would be better to be sure.
On a small, grassy hill in a sunlit clearing a few miles outside Parnaval, the capital city of the Imperial province of Cortaris, two cloaked and hooded figures looked up at the sky and admired their handiwork. One of the figures was a woman, young-looking and strikingly beautiful, with intense brown eyes that were so dark they were almost black. Her companion was a man, his lined face grim and hard, with long silver hair flowing out from under his hood. They had been standing there for some time without speaking, just watching the battle between Fangalin and the Empire. Well, not just watching. They had participated as well. The man was the first to break the silence.
“You do realize, Meshara, that what we have done breaks nearly every precept of our order,” he said in a deep voice. The woman, Meshara, smiled slightly.
“You say that every time, Colaven,” she responded.
“I say it every time, because every time I am unsure that you are aware of the gravity of what we are doing,” he said with a frown, “If the others catch wind of this, we will be punished severely. We cannot allow our existence to become known to outsiders.” The smile left Meshara’s face and she sighed.
“I understand that,” she said, “But I also understand that preserving the Empire is more important than preserving the secret of our existence. Besides, no one will trace what happened here back to us.” Colaven’s eyes widened slightly as he looked at her.
“How can you be so sure?” he asked, incredulous, “Nexus drives do not rupture easily. Surely the fact we ruptured these two will look highly suspicious.” Meshara sighed again and ignored his stare.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, “Even if anybody figures out that something unusual happened, they’ll never be able to figure out exactly what happened.”
“Are you so sure?” he said, “The people of the Empire still tell stories about you. The great hero of the First War, Meshara the Wild. What do you think would happen if somebody linked these events to those stories?”
“Why would they?” she said with a grin, “Those stories are just legends, now. Nobody really believes that the First War actually happened. It was thousands of years ago. Besides, if you were really so concerned about what I’m doing, you would be turning me in.”
“And implicate myself in your crimes?” he said drily, “No thanks. And in any case, I believe that what you are doing is right. I agree with you that the Empire must be preserved. I just don’t want to to get caught by members of our order who have… different priorities.” Meshara shook her head ruefully.
“The fools,” she said contemptuously, “What does it matter if we’re discovered if the Empire crumbles in the process?”
“Well, I suppose they would say that the Empire is doing just fine without us,” Colaven responded.
“But it’s not, of course,” Meshara said, “The Empire would have been swallowed up by Fangalin hundreds of years ago if we hadn’t intervened.”
“I know that,” Colaven said, “and you know that. But they don’t know that. And it needs to stay that way.” Meshara sighed once again.
“Fine,” she said, “No more rupturing Nexus drives. The sad part is, I’m not entirely sure it was necessary. The Fangalin commander really didn’t seem to have any idea what he was doing.”
“And you wonder why I worry about your recklessness,” Colaven said. Meshara flashed a mischievous grin.
“Oh, Colaven,” she laughed, “That is exactly your problem. You worry too much. You need to just trust me. I’ve got this all figured out.” Colaven smiled warmly.
“Of course I trust you,” he said, “Would I be here if I didn’t trust you?” Meshara laughed again, and then the two of them were gone, leaving behind nothing but the sound of the wind rustling through the trees.