Decimator dropped out of subspace on the outskirts of the Endragar system and began cruising at conventional speed toward Endragar itself so that it could take up an orbit around the planet. Admiral Kryla Zomulin stood impassively on Decimator‘s bridge, arms folded across her chest, gazing out at the viewscreen that showed the fleet of warships already gathered around Endragar. In theory, it looked like a formidable force, gathered under the banner of Emperor Extrator IV to defend his claim to the throne against the usurper Erelesk Votalin. In reality, more than half of those ships were planning to flee as soon as the battle started. Extrator had already lost this battle. He just didn’t realize it yet.
“Admiral, all decks, all systems, reporting green,” said Decimator‘s captain, a young man named Vodic Hauli. Zomulin couldn’t help but feel a little stab of jealousy every time she thought about Hauli. Not too long ago, Decimator had been her ship. Now she was just a passenger. A passenger who told the captain where to go and what to do, yes, but being in command of the captain of a ship was not nearly the same as being the captain herself.
“Very well, Captain Hauli,” Zomulin said curtly. “Send a message to Admiral Lors, informing him of our arrival.” She pursed her lips and stared resolutely at the viewscreen. She knew it wasn’t Hauli’s fault that she’d been promoted out of the captain’s chair, but she couldn’t help but take out her frustrations on him. She felt bad, too, about the fact that he seemed to sense her hostility, and was working extra hard to try and impress her. She felt bad, but not enough to change her attitude.
“Message coming in from Admiral Lors, sir,” said Hauli suddenly.
“Onscreen,” replied Zomulin. A second later the image of Endragar that had filled the viewscreen was replaced with Abaden Lors’s smiling face.
“Admiral Zomulin, it’s so good to see you, my dear,” he said cheerfully.
“Likewise, sir,” Zomulin said, her expression unchanged. “What is the situation here?”
“Everything is proceeding as planned,” Lors said. “The Emperor is due to arrive in three days with the rest of the fleet. Intelligence estimates that Erelesk Votalin’s attack will hit in about a week. He has been amassing forces at Allamanin for the past month, and every bit of information we’ve been able to gather leads us to believe that he is almost ready to strike.”
“If Votalin has been openly gathering his forces, why haven’t we struck first?” Zomulin asked, frowning. “It seems to me that we could have disrupted his plans weeks ago.”
“I have attempted to make that case to the Emperor,” Lors said, sighing heavily, “but it seems he is disinclined to listen to his military advisors these days.”
“I see,” Zomulin said, her frown deepening. “That does explain a lot.”
“It certainly does,” Lors replied. “In any case, I have some other matters I need to attend to. No doubt we will be in touch in the coming days.”
“Yes, sir,” Zomulin said, saluting. “Thank you for contacting me, sir.” Lors returned her salute, and then the connection was severed. “Captain Hauli, I will be in my quarters. Inform me as soon as the rest of the fleet arrives.” Hauli saluted, and Zomulin returned it and left the bridge.
I need a drink, she thought as she wound her way through Decimator‘s narrow corridors to the VIP quarters. Twice she caught herself making her way to the Captain’s quarters, and both times she sighed and backtracked to the correct path. She dutifully returned the salutes of the crew members that she passed, but her thoughts were focused elsewhere. There were no doubts in her mind about the course she’d chosen. She would have followed Abaden Lors to the death, but the more research she did and the more she learned about Extrator IV’s lack of military knowledge and excessive meddling in military matters he didn’t understand, the more she realized she probably would have defected of her own volition soon anyway.
It still bothered her, though. She had never cared about politics, but in a society where political power was concentrated in a hereditary monarchy, and the democratically elected government body had very little real power, she was hardly atypical. After all, the Old Empress, Emella II, had ruled for almost 40 years, and her grandfather and predecessor, Preclonus III, had ruled for almost 70. In the wake of such stability at the top, very few people in the Empire had ever really given much thought to who would be Emperor. Even in recent years, when senators and generals were jockeying for position in the race to see who would replace Emella II, most common people assumed that they could have had no real effect on the outcome.
Things were changing, though. Now that the Empire had splintered and multiple factions were vying for power, it was possible for normal people to care about who would be the Emperor, and maybe even to make a difference. Kryla Zomulin still thought of herself as a normal person (although being an Admiral in the Imperial Fleet gave her power that the average citizen on the streets of Selorin couldn’t have dreamed of), and it was just starting to dawn on her that her decision to transfer her loyalty from one Emperor to another could be key, or at least a key, in ending one man’s reign and beginning another’s. It was a little overwhelming, and a signal that maybe it was time to stop blindly following Abaden Lors like a little puppy and start thinking for herself.
She entered her quarters and started changing out of her uniform and into casual clothes. There was nothing for her task force to do now but wait, and she had a lot on her mind, so she was going to rest, and think. She was committed to her course. She’d given Admiral Lors her word, and besides, she really did believe that Valador Mifalis would be a good Emperor. But what happened next? That was the part she was still trying to figure out.
To be continued…