“Wait a minute,” said Kyla, incredulous, “After all that you’ve done to convince me to do this job, you’re going to give it up, just like that?”
“I’m sorry, Kyla,” Treben said, shaking his head sadly, “I don’t really expect you to understand, but I kind of hoped you would.”
“Let’s not forget,” interrupted Calaia, “you have no hope of killing Ventelin now, not that you ever really did. Even if I did let you walk out of this room, Ventelin isn’t here. He never was. And I have a suspicion that you’d have a hard time ever finding him.”
“I understand all that,” Kyla said, exasperated, “This has just been…very hard for me. That, and I was really looking forward to the money.”
“Oh, I’ll pay you,” Calaia said confidently, “Not as much as Shen was promising you, I’m sure, but plenty. You needn’t worry about being out on the street after this.”
“But what about what Verdek told us?” Kyla said, “About how we’d be killed if we didn’t carry out the mission?”
“Don’t worry about that,” Calaia said, “I have powerful friends, and I’m not just talking about Ventelin. I’ll make sure that no harm comes to you.” Kyla frowned and shrugged.
“Whatever,” she said resignedly, “I guess I don’t have a choice anyway.”
“No, you don’t,” Calaia said firmly.
“I’m sorry, Kyla,” Treben said, “I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I’m sorry I convinced you to come to Midigal without being clear about what we were doing. I’m sorry you’ve gotten caught up in my personal issues.” Kyla waved a hand dismissively.
“Don’t worry about it, Treb,” she said with a weary smile, “I kind of like the fact that you’re a real human who cares about more than money and getting laid.” Treben snorted and grinned.
“If we’re all done sorting out our feelings,” Calaia said pointedly, “it’s time to get down to business. You two are going to stay here until the Imperial invasion is over. Once that’s taken care of, Shen will undoubtedly come here to meet with Ventelin, and then you will take care of him. Simple plan, huh?”
“Wait,” Treben said, “why would Shen come here? Isn’t he, you know, expecting Ventelin to be dead?” Calaia grinned broadly.
“Of course, but Ventelin won’t be dead, and Shen won’t know why,” Calaia replied, “He will be lead to believe that you two just never showed up, so he has to pretend that nothing is amiss. And when he gets here, he won’t find Ventelin, he’ll find us!” She cackled with delight.
“And what about the Empire?” Kyla asked, “You make it sound like the invasion will be over in a few days. What if you’re wrong? What if the Empire wins?” Calaia smirked ruefully.
“Vor Shen has a lot of faults, and I obviously want him to die, but even I have to admit the man is a military genius. The Imperial Fleet has no idea what it’s getting into,” she said, and chuckled nastily, “Almost makes me wish Shen was on our side, but there’s no chance of that happening.”
“Your side?” asked Kyla, puzzled, “What do you mean? Aren’t you Midigalan?” Treben chortled at this.
“Calaia? Midigalan?” he said, “Hardly.” Calaia arched an eyebrow at him.
“Suffice it to say, Kyla,” she said while still looking at Treben, “I prefer that my true loyalties remain a secret for now.”
“Okay, Calaia,” Treben said, still chuckling, “I’ll play your little game for now. But I think I know who you’re really working for.”
Grendemar fell to the Empire without a fight. Two hundred thousand Imperial troops descended on the capital of the Kingdom of Midigal and seized every important political, military, and economic position within the city in a matter of a few hours, all without firing a single shot. General Hoshic was pleased at the lack of casualties, but he couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling that he was missing something important.
He had successfully seized every member of the Merchants’ Council, and had them under guard in the basement of the Council Hall. He himself had set up his command on the top floor of the Hall, in a spacious chamber that had obviously been King Ventelin’s throne room, if only briefly. Of Ventelin himself, there was no sign, nor had they been able to gain any information about the whereabouts of Vor Shen or the Midigalan fleet.
He couldn’t figure out what Shen’s game was. The Merchants’ Council was the most powerful political body in this sector of the galaxy. It officially ruled over just the province of Midigal, but the councilors were known to have significant influence over the ruling bodies of many nearby provinces, one of the reasons Midigal was the heart of this rebellion. Clearly Shen had allowed them, and perhaps even convinced them, to stay on Midigal to add extra bait to his trap, but in Hoshic’s mind, they were too important to be used so mundanely. He couldn’t conceive of any reason why it would be to Shen’s advantage that the Merchants’ Council was a hostage of the Empire, and that worried him. Just because he didn’t know the reason didn’t mean there wasn’t one.
“Contact!” yelled Halah Vortum in Decimator‘s CIC. Everyone’s head snapped up immediately to watch the dots representing Midigalan ships appear on the sensor screen. “I read thirty…no forty…forty-eight warships just dropped out of subspace and are on an intercept course!” Admiral Lors swore softly under his breath. The Midigalan fleet was more than twice as large as his.
“All ships!” he yelled immediately, “Assume defensive formation Paktar! Fire at will as soon as they’re in range! Do whatever you can to keep them from making orbit!” He watched intently, fingers tightly clutching the computer console in front of him. He was 57 years old. He had served in the Imperial Fleet since the day he turned 18. He’d served with distinction, commanding starships and fleets of every type and composition. And this was the first time he’d ever been involved in a real battle.
What a shame, he thought, to serve in the military for forty years and die in my first battle.
To be continued…