The Bull and the Hyena, Part 22

Inside the CIC onboard Destiny, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Vor Shen and his crew were positively buzzing in the wake of a successful mission. Shen made a mental note to offer a promotion to the young lieutenant who suggested linking the main guns of every ship in the fleet together for one massive blast. It was a technique that wouldn’t have much practical value in most battles, as it utterly devastated the planet’s surface and left most of the ships drained of energy and defenseless, but in this case it did the job that Shen needed done.

He was pleased that everyone seemed to be so happy about a job well done. He was a little worried that destroying a large city full of civilians would adversely affect morale, but he had safeguarded against that by making sure that none of the crew members in this fleet were actually from Midigal. So many people in this sector of the galaxy were somewhat resentful of the prestige and power of Midigal and its capital city, so it was a fairly simple matter to put together a crew packed with people who were pleased to see Grendemar eradicated.

Yes, indeed, things were going quite well. Now all he needed to do was head back to the royal villa and report to the king. That would be an interesting encounter, but Shen was confident that it, too, would be positive. For him.

***

The bedraggled remnants of the Imperial task force assigned to Midigal dropped out of subspace near Medradi two days after it fled from the superior numbers of the Midigalan fleet. Admiral Lors was sitting in his quarters, still attempting to figure out how to word his report on the battle in such a way as to avoid the Emperor’s wrath. He had two goals with this report. The first was to convince the Emperor to send a much larger fleet in order to rescue Hoshic’s army and get revenge on the Midigalans. The second was to keep his head.

He sighed and rubbed his temples as he received the notification informing him that Decimator had reentered normal space. He felt like he was back in the Academy, taking a particularly difficult exam, and he’d just run out of time halfway through. The report he’d drafted was not at all what he wanted it to be, but he had to submit something now that he was back, and what he’d written at least explained the facts of the battle. He sighed deeply and prepared to transmit it.

He was interrupted by another notification, this time telling him of an urgent message. A sharp stab of fear struck him in the gut. The Emperor. It had to be. That Extrator was not even waiting to receive his report meant nothing good for his career, or his continued existence. Taking a moment to breathe deep and compose himself, he pressed a button on his desk to answer the call. Sure enough, the image of Extrator IV’s head appeared in the space above his desk.

“Your Majesty,” Lors said in what he hoped was a sufficiently humble tone of voice. “I bring bad news from Midigal, I’m afraid.”

“The news is even worse than you know,” the Emperor replied, his voice and expression equal parts furious and sorrowful. “Events have outpaced your return to Medradi. General Hoshic is dead, and his forces have been annihilated.”

“No,” Lors said in a voice barely above a whisper. “How can this be?”

“It seems that Vor Shen is even more ruthless than we ever imagined,” Extrator said with barely controlled fury. “He ordered his fleet to bomb Grendemar into oblivion in order to wipe out our troops. He killed his own people in order to destroy ours.”

“And Hoshic’s forces had no defense against an orbital bombardment,” Lors said, in a voice that mixed horror and awe. “They were completely defenseless.”

“Utterly,” Extrator said. “We don’t know the full extent of the devastation. We’ve been unable to make contact with any units on Midigal, so we have to assume that all personnel have been lost. The only reason we have any inkling that this occurred is because General Shen contacted us and told us what he’d done.”

“Oh,” Lors said, nonplussed. “Well, if that’s the case, how do we know he told us the truth? Maybe it was a bluff to keep us from sending reinforcements.” But Extrator began shaking his head even before Lors finished speaking.

“No, we sent a scout ship to Midigal as soon as we received the news,” Extrator said. “They weren’t able to get much information before the Midigalans forced them to retreat, but they did confirm that there is a smoking crater where Grendemar used to be.”

“Unbelievable,” Lors whispered, and then cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, as the highest ranking surviving military officer in the Empire, I take full responsibility for this debacle, and I accept whatever punishment you deem fit.”

“No, Admiral,” Extrator said firmly. “The punishment for this failure could only be death, and the Empire needs you too badly for me to execute such a judgment. Besides, in all honesty, the responsibility for this disaster rightfully belongs to me. I ordered this operation, in defiance of the advice of both you and General Hoshic. Unfortunately, the Empire also needs my service too badly for me to have myself executed. Thus, in order that justice be done and the Empire not robbed of talented leaders, I have determined that General Izik Hoshic bears the responsibility for the failure of the Imperial Fleet to retake Midigal. As he is already dead, I need not order any executions for justice to be satisfied.”

“My lord is wise,” Lors said, bowing his head, but Extrator snorted in disdain.

“Your lord is practical,” he said with a sneer, “or at least more practical than I was a week ago. I let my desire for a quick end to this war get in the way of sound judgment, and my best friend paid the price for that failure. The One knows that I deserve to be executed, or at least removed from the Throne, for my foolishness, but I still believe that I am the best man for this job, and so I will continue to do it until the One decrees otherwise. May the will of the One be done.”

To be continued…

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