Catching the Sun, Part 12

Admiral Kryla Zomulin yawned widely as she dropped her bag on the floor of her apartment. It had been too long since she’d been home, but that was part of the job. Even more so now that she was an admiral.

An admiral. She still had a hard time believing that was her rank. After all, she was only 28 years old. In normal times, she would be by far the youngest admiral in the fleet, but these were far from normal times. One of her best friends was only 26, and had been promoted to admiral before her, and she also knew about a 25 year old man who was an admiral. The Fangalin attack on the Senate had done massive damage to the upper ranks of the IAF, as had the mass defections to Fangalin, Hadramoris and Midigal, and there still were too few new officers coming out of the Imperial Military Academy to make up for the shortfall.

She plopped down on her couch and closed her eyes. Six months since she’d been home. Too long. Fortunately her roommate was not in the military, and had done a good job of keeping the place clean while she was gone. There were advantages to living with a neat freak. She vowed to herself not to mess up the place too badly while she was here, but she knew from past experience that she’d probably break that vow.

“Wow, you’re actually here,” said a voice suddenly. She opened her eyes to see her roommate standing in the doorway. Chala Emilin had been her roommate for several years now, ever since she had graduated from IMA. Chala was tall and graceful, with long, dark hair and smooth, dark skin.

“I know, right?” Kryla said, closing her eyes again and taking a deep breath. “It almost doesn’t seem real. I’ve spent so much time on the bridge of a warship that to actually sit on my own couch in my own home…it’s almost too much comfort for me to handle.”

“I bet,” said Chala, settling down on the couch next to her. “How’ve you been?” Kryla opened her eyes and smiled, though there was a touch of sadness in her eyes.

“Oh, well, you know,” she said, “about as good as you can expect, fighting a losing war.”

“Is it really that bad?” Chala asked, a worried tone creeping into her voice.

“Yeah,” Kryla said with a sigh. “I can’t really talk about it, cause High Command doesn’t want the public to know how bad things are, but trust me, it’s bad.”

“Oh, Kryla,” Chala said sympathetically. “At least you’re home for a little while.”

“A month,” Kryla said with a sigh. “One month of R&R, and then I take command of a strike force headed for… Well, who knows where? Doesn’t matter, really. We’ll probably get clobbered no matter where we go. The Emperor is incompetent, and so are most of his followers. Heck, I include myself in that assessment. I have no business being an admiral. I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m doing.”

“Well, you’re alive,” said Chala optimistically. “You must be doing something right.”

“Pure dumb luck,” Kryla said, waving a hand dismissively. She opened her mouth to say more, but as she did, her tablet chimed, indicating she had an incoming call. She answered, and was somewhat surprised to see Admiral Abaden Lors’s head materialize in front of her.

“Admiral!” she exclaimed. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Admiral Zomulin, good evening,” Lors said pleasantly. “How is it being home?”

“Oh, it’s fine, Admiral,” Kryla replied, a little confused.

“Good, good,” Lors said. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Kryla, how much can I trust you?”

“Completely, sir!” Zomulin said, a little offended that he asked.

“Are you sure, Kryla?” Lors asked. “What if I asked you to commit treason?” Kryla opened her mouth to respond, paused, thought for a second, and then opened her mouth again.

“Admiral,” she said in a measured tone, “you have been my mentor since I first joined the Imperial Fleet. I have listened to your advice for my entire career, and you’ve never steered me wrong. I have no reason to believe that you would start now.”

“Very well then,” Lors said, a pleased look appearing on his face. “I’m going to send you some information on my plans. Please look it over and tell me what you think. Take your time. I don’t want you to rush into this. And Kryla…if you don’t agree to this plan, at least promise me one thing.”

“Anything, sir,” Kryla replied.

“Do not tell anyone about what I’ve shown you,” Lors said somberly.

“I promise, sir,” Kryla said.

“Very good, Kryla,” Lors said, his smile returning. “I knew I could count on you.” And with that, he ended the call. Kryla and Chala shared a confused look, and a few seconds later, a different chime sounded from Kryla’s tablet, letting her know that the information from Lors had arrived. She pulled it up, and after reading it over for a few minutes, she let out a gasp.

“What is it?” Chala asked, alarmed.

“He…he wasn’t joking about treason,” Kryla replied, her voice tight. “He wants me to defect to General Mifalis with him.”

“Oh,” said Chala, her brow furrowed in thought. “Well, that’s not really treason, is it? I mean, it’s not like Jimalin Redlamin is really the Emperor, anyway. I’m no expert on Imperial law, but I know enough to know that the Emperor needs to be elected by the Senate.”

“Hmmm,” Kryla said, her own brow furrowing as she thought about this, “I suppose you’re right.”

“So, what are you going to do?” Chala asked after a few minutes of silence.

“Me?” said Kryla. “Oh, I’ll follow Abaden Lors wherever he goes. I wasn’t kidding about what I said to him. He never has steered me wrong, and whether or not Valador Mifalis will be a better Emperor than Jimalin Redlamin doesn’t really matter. Redlamin’s reign is going to end when Erelesk Votalin attacks Endragar, no doubt about it.”

“So…I guess this is goodbye, then,” Chala said with a frown.

“Yeah,” Kryla replied, her frown mirroring her friend’s. “I won’t be able to come back to Bliddle unless it goes over to Mifalis. Technically, this will be enemy territory for me.”

“I’ll miss you, Kryla,” said Chala sadly.

“I’ll miss you too, Chala,” said Kryla, and then she reached over and gave her friend a big hug. “Thank you for everything.”

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 11

“I suppose you’d like to know more about what your role will be as a servant of the Dark Presence,” said Zhemeen Fortulis, handing Xendin Lodimeur a glass of scotch and pouring one for himself. They were sitting in Fortulis’s private study, a much smaller and more cozy room than the Supreme Commander’s office.

“Yes, I had wondered about that, my lord,” Lodimeur replied. He took the glass of scotch, but he didn’t drink. It had been two weeks since he last consumed any alcohol, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to it now.

“Please, my friend, you needn’t be so formal,” Fortulis said, settling into an expensive but well-worn chair across from Lodimeur. “Call me Zhemeen.”

“May I speak freely?” Lodimeur said, frowning. Fortulis nodded. “It is my understanding that the Supreme Commander of Fangalin possesses absolute authority over every member of Fangalin. Is that correct?” Fortulis nodded again.

“Yes, according to the Fangalin Charter written by the first Supreme Commander, Wellin Votara,” Fortulis said. “That document is the lifeblood of our organization, and every child born in Fangalin territory, and every new member who joins as an adult, is required to memorize it and live by it in every facet of their lives.”

“I confess I have not had a chance to memorize it yet, my lord,” Lodimeur said, swirling his glass of scotch and gazing at it intently. “But I have read it, and that was one thing that stuck out to me. If the Supreme Commander exercises absolute authority over every aspect of the organization of Fangalin, such a person should be treated with the utmost authority and respect.” He raised his head and looked Fortulis directly in the eye. “Is that not so, my lord?” Fortulis met Lodimeur’s gaze, and stared at him without expression. Then a pleased smile crept across his face.

“I knew I was going to like you, Colonel,” he said, chuckling. “Very well, we’ll do things your way. Of course, if I wanted to abuse my authority, I could very easily have you imprisoned or even executed for defying my wishes.”

“That is, of course, your prerogative,” Lodimeur said, inclining his head slightly. “However, I must do what I believe is right, even if it costs me my life.” This time, Fortulis burst out laughing.

“Well said, Colonel!” he said. “I appreciate a man of integrity! Rest assured, I do whatever I can to prevent myself from abusing my authority. Absolute power is, frankly, a terrifying thing, and I have always attempted to maintain a healthy respect of it.”

“Very admirable, my lord,” Lodimeur said diplomatically. Fortulis chuckled at this.

“In any case, let’s get back to business,” he said, taking a sip of scotch. “My plan for you is to take advantage of the impending battle for Endragar between Jimalin Redlamin and Erelesk Votalin. This is a battle that Redlamin is almost certain to lose, but we want to make sure he loses it, and we don’t want to leave anything to chance. That’s part of your goal. However, we also don’t want Votalin to come out of this battle in a dominant position. Therefore, your overall goal in this mission is to destroy Redlamin’s forces completely and then cripple Votalin’s.”

“I see,” Lodimeur said, frowning. “And how am I to accomplish that, my lord?”

“Simple,” Fortulis said with a grin. “We’ll put you in command of a sizable fleet – 2 battleships, 4 cruisers, and 6 destroyers – that just defected to us from the Empire. You’ll go to Infanalis, and pledge your loyalty to Votalin. Then you’ll go to Endragar, help him defeat Redlamin, and when the battle’s over, you’ll turn your guns on him. Do as much damage as you can, and then get out of there before he can retaliate.”

“I…see,” Lodimeur said, his frown deepening. He was silent for a few moments, pondering this plan. “I bear no affection for Erelesk Votalin, but it disturbs me to think of pledging my loyalty to a man, and then turning on him suddenly and violently. Would it not be acceptable to hold my force in reserve nearby, and then drop in on him once the battle is over?”

“That is a possibility,” Fortulis said, stroking his beard. “I can bring that up with my advisors. But I think your moral concerns are unfounded. As a member of Fangalin, your loyalty is first to the Dark Presence, and then to me. And if I order you to feign loyalty to a so-called Emperor, then that is my responsibility, not yours.”

“I understand, my lord,” Lodimeur said with a slight bow.

“Very well, then,” Fortulis said, smiling broadly. He stood up, and lifted his glass up above his head. “I propose a toast!” Lodimeur stood up as well. “To our new partnership! May it be a fruitful one, and may we win victory after victory, and inflict defeat and destruction upon the Empire!” Lodimeur dutifully held his glass out, and let Fortulis clink his glass against it. Fortulis downed the rest of his drink, and Lodimeur took a small sip of his.

He wore a faint smile on his face, but inside, he was in turmoil. He had joined Fangalin, but he still wasn’t sure if it was the right decision. He had spent his entire life serving the Empire, and he still wasn’t convinced that Fangalin deserved his loyalty more than the Empire did. Nor could he quite get over his personal loyalty to Jimalin Redlamin. Despite what Komeela Shalavin had said, Redlamin had been good to him over the years. Lodimeur was still not entirely convinced that Redlamin didn’t care about his daughter. Maybe he really had been so busy running the Empire that he hadn’t had time to contact Lodimeur. It was possible. Besides, even if Redlamin really didn’t care about Hana, was that bad enough to face him in battle? To kill him? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to betray his new leaders, nor did he want to betray his old ones. But he couldn’t serve both of them.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 10

Xendin Lodimeur stretched his arms up over his head as he stepped out of his shuttle. The ride had been absurdly comfortable, with every amenity he would have ever thought of, plus some he wouldn’t have, but in the end, he had still spent a week in a star shuttle. It was good to finally get out and see the sun and smell fresh air, even if he had no idea where he was.

“Colonel Lodimeur, welcome to Numoris,” said a woman’s voice. He turned to see Komeela Shalavin approaching him. “I trust your trip was pleasant?”

“It was,” he growled, “but I would have appreciated knowing where I was going before I got here.”

“Security precautions, my dear Colonel,” Shalavin said with a pleasant smile. “Wouldn’t want the Empire to find out you were coming here.” Lodimeur let out a skeptical snort. “Snort all you want, Colonel, but I do have your best interests at heart, whether you believe it or not.”

Shalavin led Lodimeur across the landing pad and into the nearby terminal. Like the shuttle, the starport terminal was large, modern, and nearly brand-new. Everything he had seen of Fangalin so far had impressed him, which was somewhat surprising. He had imagined Fangalin to be a dirty band of rebels living in caves. In reality, they seemed much more wealthy and well organized than the Empire. It was a little disconcerting. Although he had agreed to help Fangalin, he was still less than 100 percent committed. He kept looking for reasons why the Empire was more worthy of his loyalty than Fangalin, but everything he saw pushed him in the opposite direction.

Shalavin and Lodimeur passed through the bustling terminal and entered another shuttle. This one was smaller, having been designed for transportation within a planet’s atmosphere, but it was still luxurious. He was anxious to know exactly where they were going, but he didn’t want to let his anxiety show, so he kept quiet. Besides, Shavalin wasn’t likely to tell him where they were going until she wanted him to know, anyway.

They took off from the terminal and quickly the skyline of the city of Crez came into view. Once again, Lodimeur found himself impressed against his will. Crez had only been founded about forty years ago, but it had quickly grown into a city that rivaled Selorin itself. Its skyline was modern and vibrant, with several towers stretching into the sky, each one seeming to try and outdo the last.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Shalavin asked, a small smile creeping across her face. Lodimeur realized that his mouth was hanging open, and he quickly shut it tight. “This is the power of Fangalin in action. While senators and generals were plotting and squabbling over who would succeed the Old Empress, Commander Fortulis and his followers were building a city that is the envy of the best the Empire has to offer. And laying the foundations for the structure that would replace that Empire.”

“You must realize how difficult this is for me,” Lodimeur said, rubbing his eyes in a gesture of weariness and frustration. “I have dedicated my life to the Empire. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that a group of rebels built something that is closer to what I wanted the Empire to be than the Empire itself has ever been.”

“You’re beginning to understand, aren’t you, Colonel?” Shalavin said, in a tone that was a strange mixture of arrogance and sympathy. “The Empire is corrupt, weak. It never embodied the ideals of order and justice that you hold so dear. But here on Numoris, you will find what you seek.”

“I will never find what I seek, Komeela,” Lodimeur said heavily. There was a moment of silence, and Shalavin gazed at Lodimeur with an expression of sympathy tinged with sadness. But he wasn’t looking at her, so he didn’t see it.

“We’re here,” she said briskly a few minutes later. The shuttle had touched down on a landing pad outside an austere yet majestic structure. “This is the Grand Hall of Fangalin, the heart of our power.” For the third time that day, Lodimeur found himself impressed against his will. The Grand Hall was a large and imposing structure, not nearly so much as the Imperial Palace on Trisitania, but almost more impressive for its restraint.

They entered the main entrance of the Grand Hall, crossed the foyer, which was just as grand and remarkable as the outside, and entered an elevator. A few seconds later, they emerged into a broad hallway, which they followed into a large waiting area. There was a receptionist sitting at a massive desk at the end of the room opposite from the door, and above his head the Fangalin logo was displayed proudly.

“Please inform the Commander that Komeela Shalavin is here,” Shalavin said to the receptionist, who nodded and spoke into the headset he wore. A few minutes later, a door behind him opened and he gestured for Shalavin and Lodimeur to enter.

The office which they entered was as majestic as anything else Lodimeur had seen on Numoris. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows opened onto a spectacular view of the skyline of Crez, and directly in front of them was a desk so large it was almost absurd. Sitting at the desk was a round little bald man, whose small stature only emphasized the hugeness of everything else in the room. He bounded up as soon as he saw Shalavin and Lodimeur and rushed toward them, a broad grin on his face.

“Welcome back, Captain Shalavin!” he said cheerfully. “I’m glad to see your mission was a success. This must be Colonel Lodimeur!”

“Yes, indeed, my lord,” Shalavin said with a salute. “Colonel Lodimeur, allow me to introduce Supreme Commander Zhemeen Fortulis.”

“A pleasure to meet you, my, er, lord,” Lodimeur said, bowing awkwardly. Fortulis chuckled and slapped Lodimeur on the back.

“Come now,” he said with a grin, “we can dispense with all these formalities. I have big plans for you, Colonel. I can only hope you are as excited about them as I am!”

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 9

Kyla Vertrane sat in the corner of a loud, seedy bar, booted feet up on the table, picking at her fingernails with a large, curved knife. She was still on Endragar, in the city of Allavaisca, and she was supposed to meet someone here. This person was someone she was a little terrified of, so she was doing everything she could to hide her fear, and hopefully make them a little afraid of her. It was one of the most important lessons she’d learned from her short time with Treben Holkas; never let people see that you were afraid of them, especially when you were. It was advice that had served her well in the past year.

She hadn’t been waiting long when three people entered the bar and started walking toward her table. Two of them were clearly bodyguards; massive hulks of men with long, greasy hair and studded leather jackets. They weren’t visibly armed, but Kyla wasn’t sure they needed to be. Just their presence would have made most people think twice about attacking them. But Kyla wouldn’t have bet a single trinar against the possibility that they were packing serious firepower under those ridiculous jackets.

They didn’t matter, though. The one who mattered was a middle-aged woman, handsome rather than beautiful, with shoulder-length dark hair, dark eyes, and a stern expression on her face. Just like the last time Kyla had seen her in a seedy bar, she looked completely out of place, but it wasn’t so much that she didn’t belong in the bar. It was more that the bar didn’t belong around her.

“Well, well, well,” Kyla said with an insolent smirk as she approached. “You just have a knack for turning up in pits like this, don’t you, Verdek?” One of the guards growled menacingly, and the other one cracked his knuckles loudly, but Verdek just smiled a cold smile and sat down.

“You’ve grown up, I see,” she said calmly. “No longer the frightened child hiding behind the coattails of the great Treben Holkas, you’ve struck out on your own and become a respected smuggler in your own right. Well,” she stopped, and smirked knowingly, “maybe ‘respected’ is too strong a word, given your line of work.”

“Oh, I don’t do it for the respect,” Kyla said with a grin. “I do it for the money.”

“Of course you do,” Verdek said, her demeanor suddenly ice cold. “And is that why you murdered Vor Shen? For the money?”

“I killed Vor Shen,” Kyla began, her grin deepening wolfishly, “because it was his life or mine.”

“I see,” Verdek said. “So you do admit killing him. How bold of you.”

“No point in denying it,” Kyla said with a shrug, “You wouldn’t have believed me if I had, right?” Verdek’s eyes narrowed slightly, but she didn’t respond. “That’s what I thought.”

“I do believe I told you that if you abandoned the mission I gave you, you’d be marked for death, didn’t I?” Verdek asked.

“You did, but I preferred to take my chances with potential death down the line rather than accept certain death there in Haasadis Ventelin’s villa.” Kyla crossed her arms and grinned defiantly, as if daring Verdek to strike her down right then and there.

“You seem to think that I can’t kill you here and get away with it,” Verdek said, arching an eyebrow.

“You can’t,” Kyla replied bluntly. “Half the people in this bar are members of my crew. Make a move on me, and you’ll be dead before you can blink.” She glared at Verdek, all traces of a smile gone from her face. Verdek stared back at her without expression for a few moments, and then a cold smile appeared on your face.

“I thought as much,” she said, a slight trace of approval in her voice. “You have grown up. Well, it is fortunate that I don’t desire your death at this very moment. I’m here for information, not vengeance.”

“You want to know where Treben Holkas is.”

“Very astute of you,” Verdek said with a nod. “Yes, I suspected once I learned about Holkas’s wife and child that he would choose to take revenge against General Shen rather than carry out his assignment. I had hoped the lure of vast riches would be enough to sway him, but alas, I was wrong.”

“Wait,” Kyla said, taking her boots off the table and leaning forward intently, “if you thought Holkas was going to kill Shen, why didn’t you stop him?”

“I have my reasons,” Verdek said with a small, mysterious smile. “Suffice it to say that my loyalty is to Midigal, not to any one man.”

“That makes even less sense,” Kyla said, shaking her head in confusion. “You hired us to kill the king of Midigal!”

“Enough!” Verdek said sharply. “I am not here for you to interrogate my motives. Do you know the whereabouts of Treben Holkas, or not?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t,” Kyla said with a sigh. “We parted ways as soon as we left Midigal, and he was supposed to contact me two weeks later. I haven’t heard from him since.”

“And where did he say he was going?” Verdek asked.

“Minisca,” Kyla said. “He’s long gone from there, though. I went there about a month later, and couldn’t find a trace of him.”

“Minisca, huh?” Verdek said with a small frown. “Well, it’s a start.” She stood up and brushed herself off, a small sneer appearing on her face. “I thank you for your cooperation, Kyla Vertrane.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” Kyla said coldly. “Let’s just say that there’s no love lost between Treben Holkas and I.” Verdek flashed a knowing smile and nodded farewell, and then turned on her heel and left the bar, her two thuggish bodyguards following close behind. As soon as she left, another large thug approached Kyla’s table and sat down.

“Whattaya wanna do, Cap’n?” he growled. “Should we let her go?”

“For now,” Kyla said, folding her arms thoughtfully and placing her feet back on the table. “We may need to do something about her eventually, but that can wait.” She turned to the thug and eyed him appraisingly. “Did you find out anything yet?” In response, he grinned and pulled a tablet out of his shirt pocket. She took it, scanned its contents, and a few minutes later, she too was grinning widely.

To be continued…