The Bull and the Hyena, Part 16

“General Hoshic!” yelled a voice suddenly, jolting Izik Hoshic out of his thoughts. “There’s an urgent message from Admiral Lors!” Hoshic spun immediately and began striding toward the lieutenant who had just entered the room.

“Well,” he demanded, “what is it?”

“Sir!” the lieutenant said, saluting sharply, “The Midigalan fleet has arrived and begun engaging our ships!”

“Dammit,” Hoshic growled, “How many?”

“I’m not sure, sir,” the lieutenant replied, “Definitely more than we have. Maybe a lot more.”

“Great,” Hoshic said with a scowl, “Alert all units. Dig in and prepare for a counterattack.”

“Yes, sir!” the lieutenant saluted again and turned on his heel. Hoshic turned back to the window and his thoughts. He couldn’t help but feel like he’d missed something. Why would the Midigalans wait until his troops were entrenched in their capital city before they struck? Could it just be an oversight? A mistake? Hoshic had little hope that Lors would be able to hold off the Midigalan fleet for long, especially if the lieutenant was right and they had “a lot more” ships than the Empire. But even if Lors was forced to retreat, the Midigalans were in for a long and protracted ground war to get their capital back, which would give the Emperor time to send a larger, more powerful fleet.

Everything about this – the defenseless capital, the presence of the Merchants’ Council, the timing of the Midigalan fleet’s arrival – all seemed like foolish mistakes to Hoshic. And that made him worry, because Vor Shen was not known for making foolish mistakes.

***

“D-con, status report!” barked Captain Zomulin.

“Shields are at 30 percent, but they’re holding,” replied her damage control officer, as Decimator shuddered under the force of Midigalan guns.

“Come about to heading 7443.6,” Zomulin ordered. “Target the cruiser at 6429.3. Open fire on my mark.” There was a moment of tense silence, before she yelled, “Fire!” The mighty cruiser shuddered again, but this time it was a slightly different feeling, as the ship was emitting energy rather than absorbing it.

“Target destroyed!” announced her tactical officer.

“One down, thirty-seven more to go,” Zomulin said with a sigh. She was only in command of this one ship, not the entire fleet, but she had to be at least peripherally aware of how the battle as a whole was going, so she could coordinate attacks with the other ships in the fleet, and so far, this battle was going quite poorly. Not that it was a surprise, considering how outnumbered they were. Out of 48 ships in the Midigalan fleet, 11 had been destroyed, which would almost be impressive if the Imperial fleet hadn’t lost 13 ships out of 20.

“Two Midigalan cruisers approaching on bearing 2914.6,” announced her navigation officer.

“We can’t stand up against two cruisers at once, Captain,” said Zomulin’s XO, Commander Jalari Tokul. She was a tall, stately woman with long black hair and dark skin, older than Zomulin, but not by much.

“Agreed, Commander,” Zomulin said, “Helm, evasive maneuvers. Head for bearing 7271.9.” Then she swore loudly as the ship shuddered violently. “Report!” she bellowed.

“There’s a third Midigalan cruiser approaching!” yelled the navigation officer. “I’m sorry! I didn’t see it!”

“Shields are at 10 percent, Captain,” said the damage control officer. “Another hit like that, and we’ll be done for.”

“We have to retreat,” muttered Zomulin. “Contact Admiral Lors!” she yelled. “Apprise him of our situation. Let him know that I recommend immediate withdrawal.” Her communications officer nodded and sent the message.

***

In the CIC, Admiral Lors was sweating nervously, which was unusual for him. Normally, he was exceedingly cool under pressure. He’d once faced down an entire room full of angry admirals and senators after four soldiers died in a training exercise that he was in charge of. His composure hadn’t cracked in the slightest in that incident, but the stakes weren’t as high either. If he screwed up today, it would mean his death, and the death of hundreds of members of the Imperial Fleet.

“Admiral!” yelled his communication officer suddenly, “Message from the bridge! Captain Zomulin recommends immediate withdrawal!” Lors swore under his breath and stared at the information on the screens in front of him for a moment before answering. It was the obvious choice, and probably even the right choice. The Imperial Fleet had begun this battle vastly outnumbered, and they were even more outnumbered now. This battle had not gone well at all for the Empire, but if they retreated, Lors risked punishment and disgrace, perhaps even execution, at the hands of the Emperor. If he retreated, he might die, but if he stayed, his death was certain. And he had the surviving ships and their crews to think about. Could he sacrifice them to avoid the shame of execution? That was the deciding factor him.

“Order the fleet to drop into subspace,” he commanded, “Set course for Medradi. Send a message to General Hoshic. Tell him to hold on. We will be back for him.” The communications officer nodded and sent his messages. A few minutes later, the ship shuddered slightly as it made the shift from conventional space to subspace. Lors sighed heavily and wiped his brow. So that was what a battle was like. Interesting, but not an experience he would want to repeat anytime soon.

***

Hoshic frowned as he read the message from Admiral Lors. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was disappointing that the fleet couldn’t have held out longer. But there was never much of a chance that the Imperial fleet could have forced the Midigalans to retreat. There was just too many of them. Now it was time for the ground troops to earn their pay.

It wouldn’t be long, Hoshic suspected, before dropships started descending from space, full of Midigalan troops hellbent on taking their capital back. Hoshic’s troops were as prepared as they could be. They had surface-to-air guns and missile batteries installed all over the city, and they had fortifications set up all around the outskirts, to fight off enemy troops that landed outside. Hoshic had no illusions that they’d be able to hold this city indefinitely, but he was confident that they’d be able to hold it long enough for the Emperor to send reinforcements.

To be continued…

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