The Bull and the Hyena, Part 13

“Five minutes until Midigal, Captain,” said Kryla Zomulin’s navigation officer. She nodded and turned to Admiral Lors, who was standing on the platform behind her.

“All ships are reporting ready for action, sir,” she said to the Admiral. He nodded to her, and turned and made his way off the bridge to his post in the Command Information Center. The bridge was where the systems for controlling a particular ship were centralized, but the bridge of every ship in the fleet was linked to the CIC onboard Decimator, where Lors and his staff could view everything that each individual ship was seeing and doing, and send orders to the individual ships, or to the fleet as a whole.

“We’re ready to go here, Admiral,” said Lors’ chief aide, Commander Hevin Jalai.

“Good,” said Lors briskly. “We’re about to drop out of subspace, and I want all ships ready to go hot immediately.”

“Every ship is good to go, sir,” Jalai said confidently, “We’ll crush anything the Midigalans send against us.”

“I certainly hope so, Commander,” Lors said with a wry grin, “Otherwise, why did we even bother coming all the way out here?” Jalai frowned at this comment, which made Lors sigh inwardly. Jalai was a competent officer, but he had two major flaws. One, he was too confident in his ability to prevail in any situation. And two, he had no sense of humor.

“10 seconds until drop,” announced his tactical officer, Lieutenant Halah Vortum. Lors stared impassively at the screens displaying all of the important information he would need to direct the tactics of the battle, until he felt the telltale shudder of Decimator dropping back into normal space.

“Report!” he barked immediately. He was answered by Lt. Vortum.

“Initial scans show…no military vessels in orbit, Admiral,” she said, sounding confused. “Just five civilian ships.” Lors frowned at this.

“No military vessels?” he said, “That can’t be right. Run a secondary scan. The Midigalans wouldn’t leave their capital undefended. Would they?”

“Of course not, Admiral!” came Commander Jalai’s too-confident voice, “The cowards must just be hiding somewhere. Too afraid to face the might of the Imperial Fleet!” Jalai’s words caused a few of the crew in the CIC to cheer, but Lors just continued to frown. Something wasn’t right. He didn’t know Vor Shen well, but he was aware of Shen’s reputation. General Shen was many things, but a coward wasn’t one of them.

“What’s the situation, Admiral?” said General Hoshic as he entered the CIC.

“Unusual,” replied Lors, “As far as we can tell so far, the Midigalan fleet has left Midigal undefended.”

“Interesting ploy,” mused Hoshic, “A trap?”

“I can’t imagine what else it could be,” Lors responded, “A dangerous one, though. If we took the bait and commenced bombardment of the surface, we could do a lot of damage to their capital before they could stop us.”

“Admiral,” said Vortum, “secondary scans confirm the initial results. There are no military vessels in this system aside from ours.”

“Puzzling,” said Hoshic, scratching his beard as he mulled this information.

“There is more, sir,” continued Vortum, “Our initial scans of the planet’s surface indicate that there are no ground units currently mobilized. Midigal is, to all appearances, completely undefended.”

“It’s got to be a trap,” said Hoshic immediately.

“But what sort of trap?” replied Lors, “We need to figure out what it is, so we can decide whether to spring it or retreat. Besides, we can’t exactly go back to the Emperor and say, ‘Well, Your Majesty, they left their capital undefended, but we were afraid of a trap, so we just came home.’ We would be executed for sure.”

“Agreed,” Hoshic said decisively. “Order all ships to begin intensive scans. Send out probes and scout ships to investigate every nook and cranny of this system. Maybe the Midigalans found a place to hide their forces where our sensors can’t penetrate. And keep the fleet on high alert for now. We can’t discount the possibility that their fleet jumped from a nearby location on a signal from the planet as soon as we got here.” Lors saluted, and Hoshic turned and left.

“Admiral,” Commander Jalai said as soon as Hoshic was gone, “I don’t see any reason to wait. If the Midigalans have left their capital undefended, then we should seize it immediately! We can get our troops down to the planet and have them set up defensive positions! By the time the Midigalans show up, we’ll be so entrenched there’s no way they’ll be able to dislodge us!”

“It’s a bold plan, for sure, Commander,” replied Lors, “But without more information, boldness is difficult to distinguish from recklessness. What if the Midigalan fleet drops out of subspace as we’re deploying our ground forces? What if the Midigalan army is somehow concealed from our scans on the surface? There are just too many possible risk factors for us to proceed without more information.” Jalai scowled, and Lors could tell that he wasn’t convinced, but it didn’t matter. For all his faults, he was a soldier, and a good one, and he would follow orders.

***

After two days in orbit around Midigal, there had been no change in the situation. There was still no sign of the Midigalan fleet, and no indication of any military units on the surface. Admiral Lors had left the CIC only to sleep and go to the bathroom, and the tense monotony was starting to wear on him.

“Anything?” he asked as General Hoshic entered the CIC. Hoshic shook his head.

“I’ve contacted the ISS, Fleet Intelligence, and Army Intelligence, and as far as I can tell, no one in the Empire has any idea where any Midigalan ships are. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they may as well have left the galaxy entirely.”

“So what do we do?”

“We spring the trap. I’m confident that given enough time, we could figure where Shen is hiding his ships. But we don’t have time. The Emperor has contacted me at least once an hour, demanding to know why we haven’t moved yet. I fear his patience is growing dangerously thin. I’m ordering the ground troops to deploy immediately. And may the One have mercy on our souls.”

To be continued…

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