The Bull and the Hyena, Part 18

“Status report, Lieutenant,” said Vor Shen calmly.

“The operation is proceeding as planned, General,” replied the young lieutenant monitoring the devastation on the surface. “We are experiencing no resistance from the Imperial Army.”

“Excellent,” Shen replied. “Keep me posted.” He was in the CIC onboard Destiny, keeping an eye on the progress of the “battle”. As Shen had anticipated, the Imperial forces had not expected him to bomb his own capital city, and thus they were defenseless. It was exactly the sort of limited thinking that had convinced Shen that the Empire was a dying entity. Destroying Grendemar had so many benefits for Shen, and very little downside. For one, it eliminated the Merchants’ Council, which removed a major competitor for political power within the kingdom.

There was another reason though. Grendemar was a city with a great deal of history, and that history was linked to the Empire. If Grendemar had remained the capital of the Kingdom of Midigal, everything that kingdom did would be colored by its Imperial past. Better to burn it down and start fresh, with a brand new capital, one unencumbered by links to an aging behemoth.

Vor Shen had been smiling so much throughout this battle that his face hurt, but he couldn’t help himself. Even though his plan to kill Ventelin had failed, he had proved that he was not to be trifled with. The success of this battle plan meant that he held all the cards. Let Calaia Tromin demand that he open up his personal files! The woman had no power now. If Ventelin insisted on continuing to treat Shen like dirt, Shen would simply remind him who destroyed the Imperial forces, and suggest that maybe Fangalin, or Hadramoris, would appreciate the services of a proven military leader. It was so perfect. He was even starting to think that maybe it was for the best that Ventelin still lived. Ruling through a pliant puppet would be more entertaining than ruling outright.

***

Izik Hoshic had seen horrible things in his lifetime, but nothing compared to the destruction of Grendemar. The devastation was appalling. Not only were his troops getting slaughtered, but so were millions of innocent civilians. Perhaps it was a little hypocritical of Hoshic to be concerned about civilians, considering many of them would have been killed in a battle between the Empire and Midigal anyway, but it reminded Hoshic too much of the massacre in the courtyard of the Imperial Palace. He had hoped he would never have to witness anything like that again, and yet, here he was.

And there was nothing he could do about it. He had no weapons that could attack an orbiting starship from the surface of a planet. Such weapons were rare and expensive, and no one involved in planning this operation ever imagined that they would be necessary. So, unable to fight back, Hoshic and his troops were doing everything they could to evacuate the city. It wasn’t going to be enough.

The reports he was getting were fragmentary, at best, but he estimated that he’d already lost a third of his forces, and his evacuation plans were just getting underway. The bombing was too heavy and coming too quickly for him to have any hope that more than a handful of his troops would actually get out of the city. And then what? They had no way of getting off the planet. They’d have to go into hiding in the countryside and hope they could elude the Midigalan army.

The other complication was that they were trying to evacuate civilians from the city as well, which was difficult, since they were, well, an invading enemy army. Not only that, but distrust of the Empire had long been a problem in the outer worlds. The farther one got from Trisitania, the more likely it was that people saw the Empire as an enemy, and Midigal was in a weird in-between state where it wasn’t quite an outer world, but it wasn’t really considered a core world either. The result was that people were following the Imperial Army’s orders to evacuate Grendemar, but they were doing it slowly and begrudgingly.

Maybe Hoshic should have just let the people of Grendemar be, let them die at the hands of their own leaders, but he just couldn’t stand by again and watch people be slaughtered. He did that when the Emperor seized the Imperial Palace, and he did it again when his troops destroyed the Legion of the Heart in the ISS offices. He had feared the wrath of the Emperor in those situations, but the Emperor was a long way away now, and it was unlikely that he would survive long enough to learn what the Emperor thought of his actions. If he was going to die on Midigal, he was going to do so on his own terms.

***

Private Mekin Ascora barely even flinched as a skyscraper about a half mile away disappeared in a nightmarish cloud of smoke and fire. He had joined up with the Imperial Army about a month ago, in a naively optimistic mix of patriotism and a desire for adventure. The reality of war was much more terrible than he’d ever imagined, but he hadn’t had a chance to reflect on it yet. The first bomb that fell from the sky had obliterated half of his regiment, and he’d been driven by adrenaline ever since.

“Come on!” he yelled to the small group of civilians following him. “We need to keep moving! The next bomb could land right on us!” He and his platoon had been cut off from the chain of command, but the last order he’d received had been to round up as many civilians as possible and get out of the city. He intended to carry out that order to the best of his ability. He’d already gotten more than he bargained for when he joined the army, and he didn’t expect to survive this day, but he couldn’t dwell on any of that. He was a soldier, and he was going to do his duty until the bitter end.

To be continued…

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