Vemnor Halais was a timid, nervous man who went to great lengths to avoid taking risks. He was the sort of man who ate steak well done because he was terrified of ingesting harmful bacteria and kept his tablet in a special case because he was afraid of harmful radiation. And he was currently sneaking into the barracks of the most elite military unit in the Empire to save a man he didn’t even like.
Not for the first time, he wondered if he’d lost his mind. When he sent the message to Emperor Preclonus about Jimalin Redlamin’s fleet heading for Trisitania, he knew things were dire, but he hadn’t realized just how dire. As he was sitting in the Palace’s command center, trying to find out more information about Redlamin’s fleet, he noticed that the Legion of the Heart had arrested the Emperor and was preparing to hand the Palace over to Redlamin. Halais was something of a computer genius, and he had spent his entire professional life working in the IT department of the Palace, so it had been fairly simple for him to lock down the command center and instruct the automatic defenses ringing it to take out anyone who even attempted to enter. Then he had rerouted all the Palace’s computer systems to his personal tablet, so that only he could access them.
That had bought him some time, but he knew the Legion would be able to override his control of the Palace eventually. He needed to get out before that happened. His first order of business was to lockdown the Palace so that nobody (except for him) would be able to leave. He then shut down the Palace’s communications network. The Legion of the Heart was made up of the best troops in the Empire, but their numbers were inadequate to cover the entire Palace complex. Halais didn’t want them to be able bolster their numbers from the outside.
He knew that if the Legion caught him, he was a dead man. They’d already arrested the Emperor, and it was clear from what had happened and the communications he’d been monitoring that the Legion had thrown its support behind Redlamin. Halais knew Redlamin’s reputation, and he had no doubt that Redlamin would execute Preclonus, and as Preclonus’s chief aide, there was little doubt that he would be executed as well. And he very much wanted to live.
Getting out of the Palace would have been simple, considering the precautions he’d taken. His tablet was tied into the Palace’s security grid, so he could see the positions of every single person in the complex. That made it fairly easy to maneuver through the halls without being spotted. The Legion had given up their attempts to break into the command center after several of them had been killed by defensive turrets. That allowed Halais to slip out unseen, leaving the turrets set to kill anyone who tried to approach the command center. This kept the Legion from going in and wresting control of the Palace from him.
But despite having a clear path to get out of the Palace, he hadn’t left. Instead, he was risking his neck to save the Emperor. He really didn’t know why. There certainly was no benefit to such an endeavor. Any influence or power that Adlamor Finegal may once have had was almost certainly dissipated by his short and disastrous reign. If he escaped the Palace, he was going to be a fugitive, and Halais would become even more of a target for having helped Finegal.
Nor did Halais have any personal affection for Finegal. Finegal had always been a rather harsh and demanding boss, and, if he was thinking objectively, Halais would have been glad to part ways with him forever. But he couldn’t just walk away. He didn’t know if it was loyalty or what, but the thought of just leaving Finegal to die made him feel physically sick.
So here he was, in the barracks of the Legion of the Heart, trying to slip through unseen and make his way to the area where Finegal was being held. His heart was pounding like a jackhammer, and he could feel sweat dripping down the collar of his robes. He did not want to be there, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave. He made his way down an empty hall, and made his way to a shadowed alcove to take a look at his tablet and see if there was anyone in the area.
“Halt!” a stern female voice yelled before he made it there. He jumped in shock and, without even thinking, took off running down the hall. He heard the sounds of booted feet following him, but he was too terrified to look back. He just ran as fast as he possibly could, as far as he possibly could, and it was only after he’d run for several minutes and his flabby body collapsed from exhaustion that he realized something that chilled him to the bone.
He’d dropped his tablet.
Panic seized his chest like a vise. The tablet was heavily encrypted, so it was unlikely that anybody who found it would be able to access it, but that didn’t really matter. Without it, he was blind, deaf, and completely defenseless. He wouldn’t even be able to get back into the command center. All he could do was lay on the floor where he’d fell, gasping for breath like a fish out of water.
A few minutes later, a group of four soldiers rounded the corner and spotted him, and that was too much for him to handle. He struggled to rise, but as he did, his heart gave out. Intense pain struck his chest, and he collapsed to the ground again. He lay on the ground, his body twitching, struggling to even take breaths, as four pairs of booted feet approached him. He slowly reached out a hand towards the closest soldier, but before he could do anything else, he took one last breath, and died.
To be continued…