The Bull and the Hyena, Part 11

It wasn’t the mightiest fleet that the Empire had ever mustered, not by a long shot, but General Hoshic hoped that it would be mighty enough for his purposes. Seven cruisers, 11 destroyers, and two battleships, in orbit around Medradi, all mobilized in the space of a few hours. It paled in comparison to what Hoshic suspected the Midigallans could muster, based on the scanty intelligence he had, but their fleet would be scattered throughout their so-called kingdom, trying to protect every province of significance that had joined their rebellion. Hoshic was going to concentrate all of his force on the most important province they possessed, and hopefully snuff out any momentum they had before they really got started. It seemed like a good plan. He hoped he was right.

His flagship was Decimator, the same cruiser that had been the Emperor’s flagship last year when they had overthrown the pretender Adlamor Finegal. Kryla Zomulin was still its captain, and she still looked too young and too cute to be a starship captain. But Hoshic had read her file and he trusted the judgment of Abaden Lors, the Grand Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, and both sources claimed she was the best officer serving under Extrator.

Hoshic stood near the back of the bridge, trying to stay out of Zomulin’s way. As Supreme Commander of the IAF, he had overall command of this operation, but Decimator was still Zomulin’s ship, and as a general, he didn’t know anything about commanding a starship anyway. Standing next to him was Admiral Lors, who was commanding the fleet for this operation. It said a lot about how important this mission was to the Emperor that he had sent his top two officers to personally command it.

“Well, General,” said Lors, “what do you think?” Hoshic frowned and thought for a moment.

“I’d say we have about even odds,” he replied, “If the Midigallan fleet is as scattered as we think it is, and their leadership is concentrated on Midigal, then this mission will be a rousing success.”

“And if neither of those things are true?” Lors asked.

“Then we’re in a lot of trouble,” Hoshic said with a scowl, “If the Midigallans concentrated their strength around their capital, we simply don’t have the numbers to match up. If the Emperor had given us a few more days to prepare, we could have mustered a much stronger fleet, but as it is…”

“Say no more,” Lors said, “I made that exact argument to His Majesty, but you know how stubborn he’s been lately. He wants this rebellion crushed, and he wants it done last week. Nothing short of total victory will satisfy him, and he wants it NOW.” Hoshic opened his mouth to respond, but at that moment Captain Zomulin came up to them.

“General, Admiral, the fleet is ready to drop into subspace,” she announced with a sharp salute. Admiral Lors nodded and returned her salute.

“Thank you, Captain,” he replied, “Order the fleet to stand ready for my signal.” Zomulin nodded, went back to her seat, and started barking orders to her crew.

“Well, General,” Lors said grimly, “this is it. Last chance to back out. What do you think? Should we overthrow Extrator IV and put an end to this madness? Or do we stay loyal, even though it will probably lead to our deaths, the destruction of this fleet, and the further dissolution of the Empire?” Hoshic was silent for a few moments, his face not betraying any of his thoughts. When he spoke, his voice was slow and deliberate, as if he was being very careful to say exactly what he meant and nothing else.

“Those thoughts have certainly occurred to me,” he said, “I don’t know what it will take to end this war and put the Empire back together again, but I know that the course that Extrator has embarked on is the not the correct one. And yet, should I throw away my loyalties and my oaths just because I think I can do a better job? How do I know I’m right? How do I know that the pressures of the Throne won’t just turn me into an even more capricious and brutal tyrant than Extrator?

“And besides,” he continued, “isn’t that how we got into this mess? People thinking they could do a better job of running the galaxy than those who were rightfully in charge? I don’t have any interest in perpetuating that cycle. At some point, somebody needs to stand firm.” Lors regarded him thoughtfully for a second, and then nodded.

“Good answer, my friend,” he said approvingly, “I agree with every bit of it. Extrator IV may not be the best Emperor we’ve ever had, but he’s the best one we’ve got. Let’s carry out his orders, even if they’re stupid and will get us killed.” He grinned sardonically, and then turned away from Hoshic and went to go give orders to Zomulin.

Hoshic stayed on the bridge as the fleet dropped into subspace, but once the jump had begun, he made his way to his quarters. He still needed to work out the final details of his plan. He would leave the Midigallan fleet to Admiral Lors, but once that fleet was taken care of, the 200,000 troops under his command would deploy to the planet’s surface, occupy the city of Grendemar, and take as hostages any members of the Merchants’ Council they could find. It was a simple plan, which was good, but it relied too heavily on factors outside of Hoshic’s control.

They did have a backup plan. If the forces stationed in the Midigal system were too powerful for Hoshic’s fleet to handle, the Imperial fleet would immediately drop back into subspace and make for Trifelimoor, one of the most important provinces that had joined Midigal. Losing Trifelimoor would not be as great of a blow politically, but it would be a bigger blow economically, and would cripple the fledgling kingdom’s chances of success.

But Hoshic would prefer to decapitate his foe, rather than cripple them. A wounded Kingdom of Midigal would still be a greater threat than if it were killed and reincorporated into the Empire. Hopefully Ventelin and the Merchants’ Council would be on Midigal, and hopefully it wouldn’t be too heavily defended. It never occurred to Hoshic how much wishful thinking he was employing, that he was expecting his foe, famous as a master strategist, to make novice mistakes that any second lieutenant fresh out of the Academy would never think to make.

To be continued…

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