“Five minutes until we reach the Palace, Your Majesty,” said the pilot of the command shuttle. His words were directed to Emperor Extrator, who was standing behind him with General Hoshic. Extrator nodded, a look of grim satisfaction on his face. There would be much death today, and although Extrator took no pleasure in death in and of itself, he did take pleasure in doing what he believed to be the will of the One, and he believed the deaths that took place today would be the will of the One. Those who followed him would have the privilege of dying in the service of the One, and those who opposed him, well, their deaths would satisfy the justice of the One.
“Your Majesty, please reconsider this madness,” said General Hoshic, an uncharacteristic note of desperation in his voice. “It is not wise to launch a full-scale assault on the most defensible complex in the galaxy without more information, especially when we don’t even know if those who hold it are our enemies!”
“I have made my decision, Hoshic,” Extrator said coldly, “It is not your responsibility to try and change my mind. Your only duty now is to carry out the will of your Emperor. If you feel that you cannot do that, I will replace you with someone who can.”
“You are my sovereign,” Hoshic replied, “I will do whatever you command me to do. I only wish that, in this instance at least, your command was something else, something more…sensible.”
“Enough,” Extrator said in a quiet voice that was laced with malice, “You are skirting dangerously close to treason. If I wanted your opinion, I would ask for it. Since I did not, your duty is to keep silent and obey. Is that understood?” Hoshic nodded with a sour expression on his face. “Good. You are dismissed.” Hoshic turned and walked out of the cockpit, leaving Extrator to watch through the viewscreen as the Palace loomed larger.
Veshryk Jilorin had never imagined that it would be possible to feel tense and bored at the same time, but that was the only way to describe how he felt as he stood in the courtyard outside the Imperial Palace. All around him, his people milled around, still trying to find some way into the Palace. The crowds were much thinner than they had been at the start. Jilorin estimated that maybe twenty thousand people remained in the courtyard, still a substantial number, but a small fraction of the one hundred thousand or more who had been camped out in Citizen’s Plaza during the weeks prior. The longer he and his people roamed the courtyard, futilely looking for a way into the Palace, the more people thought better of this endeavor and drifted off.
“This definitely isn’t happening the way I expected,” said Shilmek Aladia, who was standing next to him.
“That’s an understatement,” Jilorin replied, “What do you think is going on in there? Did something happen? Are they all dead? Are they hoping that we just get bored and wander off? I just don’t get it!”
“I don’t have any idea,” said Aladia, “I don’t really care anyway. Maybe that’s the right idea. Maybe we should just ‘wander off’. How many hours have we been here? If there’s a way into the Palace, don’t you think someone would have found it by now? I think we’re in way over our heads, Vesh.”
“We can’t just give up,” Jilorin said with determination, “We’ve come this far. There’s no such thing as an impregnable building. There must be a way in, and we will find it.” Aladia frowned and opened her mouth to speak, but then she closed it again with a puzzled look on her face. Jilorin looked at her inquisitively, but a few seconds later he heard it too. It was the sound of thousands of dropships approaching the Palace.
“Oh, no,” Jilorin whispered in horror, a sentiment that was mirrored by the stricken look on Aladia’s face, “We’re too late.”
When General Vodic’s tablet beeped to inform her of an incoming message, she knew what it would say before she looked at it, but she looked at it anyway. The message was only two words, but those two words somehow managed to convey immense levels of fear and panic. They’re coming!!, it said, and it had been sent by one of the scouts that Vodic had placed on the upper levels of the Palace. No more information was needed. It wasn’t as if there was much strategy that could be utilized in such a one-sided battle.
The Legion was holed up in their barracks. It was not the most easily fortified location in the Palace, but the two areas that were more secure (the ISS office and the command center) were unavailable, and in any case, the barracks was more familiar to the members of the Legion anyway. The Legion had very few advantages in the coming battle, but one advantage they did have was that the Palace arsenal was extremely well stocked. The barracks had two entrances, and three heavy machine guns had been placed to cover each entrance, with enough ammo for each to last several hours. Each soldier had an assault rifle and a pistol, and as much ammo as they could carry. They also had a dozen grenades apiece, although those wouldn’t be much use in the narrow confines of the barracks.
The fear that Shana Vodic had felt earlier was mostly gone now, replaced with a grim numbness. She had made her peace with death. Although dying in battle was something that she, strangely, had never considered before, it was a fitting death. Certainly better than dying alone in a bed of old age. This way, she was going to go out in her prime, in a blaze of glory, surrounded by her comrades. It was not what she wanted, but it was what she was getting, and she would accept it.
To be continued…