The Solitude of Death, Part 10

Olaio and Joraz soon met up with two other members of their team, Sergeant Veren Lachai and Lieutenant Holia Zhumen. Lachai was a short yet powerfully built man with a black crew cut, short black mustache, and brown eyes. Zhumen was the only woman on their team. She was shorter than all the rest of them, except for Lachai, and she had short red hair and a scar across her cheek. She was as tough and mean as Olaio looked.

The four of them made their way up to the Emperor’s quarters. There was no talking once they’d greeted each other. All of them could feel the tension in the air. They were all veterans, both of the war and of various secret ops before the Emergence. Each of them had assassinated people before, but the stakes were higher here than ever before. Embamor II might have been only one of three claimants to the throne, but he was the only one of the three who actually held it.

As they approached the door leading to the Emperor’s quarters, they noticed that there were only two guards on duty. The two were Corporal Hesig Lotaia, and Sergeant Neimaur Oben. They were the other two members of their team. Lotaia was tall and skinny, although not as tall as Olaio, with medium-length brown hair that was perpetually messy. Oben was a little shorter than Joraz, with close-cropped black hair speckled with gray, and a fu manchu mustache. There was no other ISS personnel in sight.

“Lotaia, Oben,” Joraz said as they approached, “Where are the others?” Lotaia shook his head.

“We’re the only ones on duty, Joraz,” he said. Joraz frowned. Normally, there were supposed to be at least six guards in front of the Emperor’s quarters at all times.

“Who else was supposed to be on duty?” Zhumen asked.

“No one,” responded Oben. “Lotaia and I were the only ones on the schedule.” That only made Joraz frown deeper.

“I don’t like this, Joraz,” Olaio said quietly, “This doesn’t fit the plan. I recommend that we abort for now and try again another day.” Joraz shook his head.

“We can’t do that, Olaio,” he said, “We were given an immediate execute order. We have no choice but to carry out our mission right now.” Olaio crossed his arms with a grim look on his face, but he held his peace. Joraz was in command of this operation.

“How are we gonna do this, then?” Zhumen asked with a scowl. “We won’t have a scapegoat!”

“We’re going to go in quick, do the job, and get out before anybody knows what’s happened,” Joraz said. “Everybody have their tickets off-world?” Every member of the team nodded.

“I don’t like this at all,” Zhumen said, “Have any of you seen any other ISS officers today?” The men all frowned, and one by one they shook their heads. “Doesn’t that strike anybody else as odd?”

“Odd or not, we have our orders and we need to carry them out,” Lachai said, “Are you afraid to die for the Dark Presence?”

“Of course not!” yelled Zhumen, “I just don’t want to die needlessly!”

“Enough,” said Joraz, “Lachai is right. I don’t want to die tonight either, but we have our orders, and if we die while performing them, then that is the will of the Presence. Let’s go.” All the men nodded immediately, but Zhumen glared at Joraz for a few minutes, before she finally nodded as well. Joraz drew his sidearm and opened the door to the Emperor’s quarters.

***

Emperor Embamor II was pouring his fifth glass of whiskey when the door to his quarters opened suddenly and six of his bodyguards burst in with their guns drawn. So, he thought to himself, they have come for me at last. He put down the whiskey glass and turned toward the traitors with his hands in the air.

“You are here to kill me, are you not, Sergeant Joraz?” he said calmly.

“I am,” Joraz responded, “But you are slightly mistaken. I am actually Colonel Joraz.” Embamor nodded.

“Of course,” he said, “Well, do what you came to do.”

A few seconds later, as he lay in a pool of his own blood, his life flashed before his eyes. It wasn’t much of a life. He had no children, no one to pass on his legacy to. He didn’t even have much of a legacy. He had claimed to be the Emperor, but if his reign was remembered at all, it would be as a complete failure. And although he had spent his whole life building relationships and making connections to enrich himself, at the end all of that effort counted for nothing. In death, he was completely alone.

***

For a short moment, Joraz stared down at the body of the former Emperor, and then he shook himself, holstered his sidearm, and motioned to his team to move out. The corridor outside the Emperor’s quarters was empty, and so were the next few corridors they went through after that. They were headed for a poorly guarded and rarely watched side entrance. The shift change for the Emperor’s bodyguard wasn’t for three more hours, so hopefully they would be able to slip out unnoticed before anybody realized that the Emperor was dead.

They were almost to the exit when their hopes for a safe escape were dashed. They turned a corner, only to find 20 heavily armed members of the Legion of the Heart, each with an assault rifle trained in their direction. Standing in their midst was Adlamor Finegal, the Emperor’s chief advisor.

“So,” he said with a smirk, “you traitors thought you could kill the Emperor and get away with it, eh?” He shook his head in mock disappointment. “What a shame. Well, I won’t say that I’ll mourn the loss of our great and fearless leader, but I can’t allow you to leave the Palace alive. That would set a bad precedent, you see. I’m sure you understand.” He turned to the squad commander and clapped him on the shoulder. “Kill them.”

The last thing that Fernan Joraz saw was the blinding glare of twenty assault rifles going off at once.

To be continued…

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