“So, Admiral Lors,” the Emperor asked in a conversational tone, “this is your entire plan for defending Endragar?” The Emperor and his SCIAF were in a planning room deep within the Imperial Palace. A massive, holographic galactic star chart was displayed over the main table in the room, on which a dozen tablets were strewn, seemingly haphazardly. It was an excessively large room for just the two of them, as it was designed to be used by the Emperor’s entire military operations staff, but more and more, Extrator IV was coming to utilize the trappings of his office to overwhelm and overawe those who dealt with him.
“Yes it is, Your Majesty,” Lors replied in a voice that was more calm than he felt. “Is there something the matter with it?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Extrator replied, his voice suddenly cold. “It’s too simple, for one. The rebels will be able to figure it out immediately.”
“Your Majesty, simple plans are generally best,” Lors said patiently, hoping he wasn’t coming across as patronizing. “The more complex the plan, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.” The plan called for a third of the fleet to orbit Endragar itself, and for the other two-thirds of the fleet to hide in the gravity well of a nearby gas planet. Votalin’s fleet would hopefully assume that the ships orbiting Endragar were the entirety of the defenses, engage them, and once they were fully committed, the rest of the fleet would move in and surround them.
“Nonsense,” Extrator scoffed. “If we bait them with a simple trap, they’ll take the bait, smash the trap, and leave us exposed. What we need to do is overwhelm them with a show of force. Bring all of our resources to bear, and surround the planet of Endragar with an impenetrable ring of steel. Move all available ships into orbit around Endragar, and when that fool Votalin shows up with his ragtag band of traitors, they’ll be so intimidated by our might, they’ll run like the dogs they are!” A fervent gleam appeared in the Emperor’s eyes as he spoke, and Lors unconsciously took a step back.
“Your Majesty, I’m not sure I understand,” Lors said warily. “You dismiss my plan because you believe it to be too simple, and yet you wish to replace it with an even simpler plan? Your Majesty, forgive me my contrary opinion, but I must respectfully submit that putting all of our forces into orbit around Endragar will only result in them being destroyed. The ‘ragtag band of traitors’, as you describe them, are quite well organized and equipped. I sincerely doubt that the largest show of force we can muster will impress them much.”
“I am the true Emperor!” Extrator roared suddenly. “Do you doubt my right to the Throne!?” The gleam in his eyes took on a distinctly hysterical light.
“Of course not, Your Majesty!” Lors said quickly, holding up his hands in front of his face as if to ward off a blow. “I was merely offering my best advice as the commander of your military forces! If you wish to go in a different direction, that is of course your right as sovereign lord and ruler of the Empire! But I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to speak my mind to you, my emperor.” Extrator glared at Lors with wild madness in his eyes for what seemed like several hours, but then suddenly he calmed down and turned away.
“I appreciate your advice, Admiral, but I been speaking with my other advisors, and it seems obvious that we need to go in a different direction here,” Extrator said pleasantly. “I will send you details of the battle plan tomorrow morning.” Lors stared at the Emperor, dumbfounded. Extrator’s mood swings were becoming more frightening and erratic, and now he was drawing up battle plans without even consulting his SCIAF? Things were definitely getting worse.
Extrator turned on his heel suddenly, and strode confidently out of the room, leaving Lors alone, and frightened. He needed to act, and soon. There was little doubt that the reign of Extrator IV was drawing to a close, and there was nothing Abaden Lors could do to stop it. So how best to proceed? He had no desire to die, and as much as he loved the Empire, he loved his life more. Besides, it wasn’t as if Extrator had any more right to the Throne than Erelesk Votalin or Valador Mifalis. Defecting to either of those men didn’t mean betraying the Empire. For all of Extrator’s protestations that he was the true Emperor, the only true Emperor was one elected by the Senate, and there was still no Senate, even after five years, to elect one.
Suddenly, Lors realized that he was seriously considering defecting to either Votalin or Mifalis. His cheeks reddened in shame, but even as they did so, he realized that there was truly no other option. Extrator was finished. His plan for the defense of Endragar was sure to be an even greater disaster than the battle at Midigal, and if Endragar fell, Trisitania would fall. And if Lors was still Extrator’s Supreme Commander when that happened, Votalin was sure to have his head.
The only question left was, who to back? Votalin certainly seemed to have the upper hand at the moment. He ruled more provinces than Mifalis and Extrator combined, and soon he would have control over Endragar and Trisitania, the political and economic capitals of the Empire. But he was also a sadistic psychopath.
Mifalis, on the other hand, was a patient and deliberate man. Lors knew him personally, but not particularly well. They were about the same age, and had been at the Academy together. Lors knew that, whatever faults and weaknesses Valador Mifalis possessed, reckless disregard of sound military strategy would not be one of them. That was good enough for Abaden Lors. He picked up his tablet and sent a message.
To be continued…