Ranger and the other 11 ships in Xendin Lodimeur’s task force dropped out of subspace outside the Allamanin system, close enough for Erelesk Votalin’s fleet to detect them, but far enough away that they wouldn’t immediately assume an attack. The plan was for Lodimeur to contact Votalin’s fleet, ask to speak to Votalin, petition Votalin for permission to join the assault on Endragar, and then…see what happened.
“Lieutenant Dranfar,” Lodimeur said, addressing the communications officer on Ranger’s bridge, “open a channel and request permission to speak with the commanding officer of the Allamanin fleet.”
“Aye, sir,” replied Lt. Dranfar, and a few seconds later he said, “Channel is open, Colonel. We are receiving a reply from Captain Hoskell Varnum, CO of the battleship Dawnstar.”
“Onscreen,” ordered Lodimeur, and a second later a man’s face appeared on the main viewscreen. The man was in his late thirties, with shoulder length black hair, a large nose, and a scowl that appeared to be permanently affixed to his face. “Captain Varnum,” Lodimeur began, “I am Colonel Xendin Lodimeur, Imperial Army. I have come with this humble fleet of ships to pledge loyalty to his Majesty, Emperor Neminatrix IV, and to aid him in his upcoming victory against the usurper, Jimalin Redlamin.”
“I see,” replied Captain Varnum slowly, his scowl deepening. “And am I supposed to believe you? How do I know that you’re not just trying to infiltrate His Majesty’s forces and destroy us from within?”
“With all due respect, Captain, I do not believe that is your decision to make,” Lodimeur said calmly. “You may try to force us to leave, and if you turn your guns on us, we will retreat, but I would hate to be in your shoes when the Emperor discovers that you turned away twelve heavily armed warships fully crewed with highly trained men and women.” Varnum’s scowl deepened even further, and he glared at Lodimeur, but remained silent. “Who is in command of this fleet, Captain?” asked Lodimeur sharply when Varnum still didn’t respond.
“Admiral Zhiala Tred,” Varnum said curtly. “She is currently consulting with the Emperor in the Governor’s Mansion in Cailoss City.”
“Very well,” said Lodimeur. “If you have nothing else to say, Captain, then I will contact Admiral Tred.”
“You do that, Colonel,” Varnum replied coldly. “But remember that I’ll be keeping an eye on you. If the Emperor gives you permission to join us, then you’d better not try anything, cause if you do, we will destroy you.”
“Understood, Captain,” said Lodimeur solemnly, and made a gesture to Lt. Dranfar to end the connection.
“Seems like a pleasant fellow,” said a voice behind him. Lodimeur turned to see Komeela Shalavin walking onto the bridge.
“Komeela,” Lodimeur said in a flat voice. “I do not think that civilians should be on the bridge during combat operations.”
“Colonel Lodimeur,” she said, flashing a broad smile at him, “I am not just any civilian. I am here as the Supreme Commander’s personal representative. That gives me authority to be wherever I want to be on this ship.”
“I see,” said Lodimeur, his voice even flatter than before. “And does that give you authority to supersede my orders if you believe them to be contrary to the Supreme Commander’s wishes?”
“Of course not,” Shalavin replied. “You are in command of this mission. Of course, I will be reporting back to the Supreme Commander at the conclusion of the mission and evaluating your performance, but as long as the mission is ongoing, you have complete freedom of action.” Lodimeur grunted and turned back to the viewscreen. He stood there in silence, with Shalavin watching him, and then suddenly he turned back to her and spoke.
“May I speak to you in private?” he asked, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Of course, Colonel,” she said with a slightly confused smile. They made their way into a small conference room situated near the bridge. Once there, she turned to him and said, “All right, Colonel. What’s on your mind?”
“I have wondered for weeks now whether I should confide in you or not,” he said, his arms clasped behind his back. “Common sense would indicate not, as you are the Supreme Commander’s personal representative, and it is unlikely that anything I say to you will not eventually make its way back to him.” He strode toward the observation port and stood there in silence for a few moments, looking out over the reddish-bluish sphere that was Allamanin, and the massive war fleet that surrounded it. “But for some reason, I feel that I can trust you.”
“Colonel Lodimeur,” Komeela said, somewhat worriedly, “I like you and respect you, but my duty is to the Supreme Commander. If you are about to say something that you believe the Supreme Commander should not hear, I would ask you to reconsider.”
“No,” he said sharply, turning back to her. “I need to say this. I can live with the consequences, no matter what they are, but I cannot live with staying silent.” He took a deep breath, and then continued. “Komeela, I have serious concerns about this mission. I do not believe it is right to pledge loyalty to a man and then stab him in the back, no matter how reprehensible that man may be.”
“I see,” she said slowly. “So, what does that mean? Do you forswear your loyalty to Fangalin then? Will you stab Zhemeen Fortulis and the Dark Presence in the back instead, in order to protect an abusive child molester?”
“Of course not!” Xendin said quickly. “I bear no affection for Erelesk Votalin! He is vile and filthy, and deserves to be destroyed! But I also do not believe that two wrongs make a right. We should withdraw for now, and strike Votalin’s fleet after the battle at Endragar. We may not do as much damage, and we may incur higher casualties, but at least we will be able to claim the moral high ground!”
Komeela was silent for a moment, looking down at her feet, and when she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. “You are wrong, but before I tell you why you’re wrong, I need to tell you something important.” She looked up, and Xendin was shocked to see that there were unshed tears glistening in her eyes. “I am not Komeela Shalavin. I am Hana Lodimeur. I am your daughter.”
To be continued…