Catching the Sun, Part 21

Emperor Extrator IV’s flagship, Invincible, arrived in orbit around Endragar along with 15 more warships of various shapes and sizes. As far as Abaden Lors knew, the captains of those ships were still more or less loyal to Extrator. At least, Lors hadn’t attempted to get them to join his defection. He couldn’t quite imagine anyone being truly loyal to Extrator anymore, not with the mess he’d made of the Empire in the past two years. But, there were always those who refused to think for themselves, who would blindly follow the Throne, no matter how incompetent its occupant was.

“Admiral Lors, incoming message from Invincible!” said the communications officer.

“Onscreen,” Lors commanded. He expected to see the Emperor’s face appear, but he was unpleasantly surprised to see the face of Jefmin Lakatai, the Master of the ISS. “What do you want, Lakatai?” he growled. He knew he was being disrespectful, but he didn’t much care. The Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces was at least theoretically the equal of the Master of the Imperial Secret Service, even if Extrator hadn’t been treating them that way lately.

“Oh, now is that the way to greet an old friend who comes bearing gifts?” Lakatai said with an oily smile.

“You are not, nor have you ever been, my friend,” Lors said coldly. “And I wouldn’t take a gift from you even if it was a block of pure chritonium.”

“You wound me,” Lakatai said, his oily smile deepening. “What have I ever done to you?”

“Don’t get me started,” Lors said with a stony scowl.

“I should think you’d be at least a little bit more respectful,” Lakatai said. “After all, I do hold your fate in my hands. One word from me in the Emperor’s ear, and you’ll be stripped of your rank and privileges and thrown in prison for the rest of your miserable days. And if this battle goes poorly, I think I might just have to say that one word.”

“You are the least of my worries right now, Lakatai,” Lors said dismissively. “Now, what is this nonsense about gifts?”

“I thought you didn’t want any gifts from me,” Lakatai replied, his devilish grin showing all of his teeth. Lors just rolled his eyes in response. “I mean these 15 lovely ships, of course. You see, you should be grateful to me. This force might just mean the difference between glorious victory and crushing defeat!”

“Aren’t you just the hero?” Lors retorted, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“You’d better believe it, old man,” Lakatai said with an angry smirk, “and if you don’t, I might just have you thrown in prison for the fun of it.”

“I’d like to see you try,” said Lors with a challenging glare. Lakatai stared at him with a black look, and then suddenly his face disappeared and was replaced with an image of Endragar. Lors took a deep breath and sank down into his seat. He didn’t know what had come over him, antagonizing Lakatai like that. Even though he would soon be defecting to Valador Mifalis and getting away from Lakatai’s poisonous influence, he hadn’t made his escape yet. Jefmin Lakatai still had the power to ruin everything.

***

“Five minutes until drop, Captain,” announced the navigation officer onboard Ranger. Captain Vynay Nonmar, Ranger‘s CO, nodded to him and turned to Colonel Lodimeur.

“This is it, Colonel,” she said blandly.

“It certainly is, Captain,” he replied, equally blandly. It was difficult to speak freely with twenty heavily armed Imperial marines standing behind them. Even though all command functions had been rerouted to the forward observation deck, Lodimeur and Nonmar still had to pretend that the ship was being commanded from the bridge, which meant that their presence on the bridge was necessary for now. It wouldn’t do much good to move the command functions to a different location on the ship if the marines figured out where that was.

“Drop in 5…4…3…2…1…now!” said the navigation officer, and the ship shuddered slightly as it dropped into subspace. Lodimeur nodded in satisfaction as he checked out the system status. Everything looked good. He turned to Nonmar and nodded to her. She nodded back, and pressed a button on her command console.

“Captain Nonmar, would you join me in the mess hall for a cup of tea?” Lodimeur asked.

“Of course, Colonel,” she replied. “Lieutenant Vydall, you have the bridge.” Lodimeur and Nonmar moved toward the exit, but their path was barred by a hulking marine with a scar across his left cheek.

“Excuse me, Colonel, Captain,” he said with an ugly stare, “shouldn’t you be staying on the bridge right now?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary, Sergeant,” Lodimeur replied. “We won’t arrive at Endragar for at least three hours. I think the Captain and I have time for a cup of tea.”

“Are you sure that drinking tea is all you two will be doing?” the marine growled.

“Listen to me, Sergeant,” Nonmar said, investing that word with all the scorn she could muster, “I am the Captain of this ship, and no one tells me where I can and can’t go on my own ship. You got that?” The marine just stared at her with an ugly scowl for several moments, and then he moved aside. Lodimeur and Nonmar stepped through the door and proceeded briskly down the corridor.

“I was afraid that would backfire for a second,” Nonmar confided with a relieved chuckle.

“Not me,” Lodimeur said somberly. “They’re still vaguely trying to give the illusion that they’re here for our protection. They’re not going to make their move until the battle with Redlamin is over.”

“I suppose not,” Nonmar replied, her expression hardening. “Is everything in place yet?”

“Should be,” Lodimeur said. “Once those marines realize that the bridge and CIC have been deactivated, it will be too late for them to do anything about it.”

“What about engineering?” Nonmar asked. “That’s the weak link in all of this.”

“All of the engine controls have been routed out as well,” Lodimeur said. “The only danger is if the marines down there decide they’d rather be martyrs instead of prisoners.”

“Let’s hope they choose the latter,” Nonmar said grimly. “I’m willing to give my life for the Presence, but I’d rather not do it today.”

“Agreed,” Lodimeur said, just as grim, and they walked down the corridor in silence.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 20

No matter what his faults, Xendin Lodimeur had to admit that Neminatrix IV at least looked like an Emperor. Although in his mid-40s, he was as fit and trim as a man half his age, with a full head of perfectly styled blond hair, and straight white teeth that gleamed every time he smiled, which he did often, if insincerely. He was resplendent in the gold and crimson robes of his office, and he walked with a distinct swagger. He was, if nothing else, a man who was fully confident of himself and his place in the world. But the glimpse of madness that Xendin has seen in his eyes was a reminder that his Imperial facade was nothing more than that.

“Your Majesty,” Xendin said with a deep, formal bow, “my officers and I humbly request the privilege of being allowed to join your mighty fleet in order that we may crush your enemies beneath your feet.”

“You grovel well, I’ll give you that,” Neminatrix said with a small smirk. “But Admiral Tred here tells me she has grave misgivings about the sincerity of your words. Apparently, you resist having your ships integrated into the existing unit structure of my fleet?”

“Resist is perhaps too strong a word, Your Majesty,” Xendin said smoothly. “From a military perspective, it seems unwise to split up a task force that is used to working together on the eve of a major battle. However, how Admiral Tred chooses to organize Your Majesty’s fleet is, of course, not up to me. My loyalty and the loyalty of my troops is not dependent on my ships and crews staying together. I was simply offering my advice on the best disposition of the fleet.”

“Interesting,” said Neminatrix, his smirk deepening. “You grovel, but you’re also not afraid to speak your mind. An intriguing mix of humility and arrogance.” He spent a few minutes walking in circles around Xendin and Jical, stroking his chin and inspecting them as if they were livestock he was considering purchasing. “I like you, Colonel. I think you’ll be a good asset in my fleet.” And with that, he turned and walked up the dais to his throne and sat down. “You are dismissed,” he said in a perfunctory tone.

“Uh, thank you, Your Majesty,” Xendin said with another bow, but Neminatrix was already talking to somebody else, as if he’d forgotten that Xendin and Jical were ever there. Lt. Niermor came over to escort them out.

“So does that mean we’re part of the fleet now?” Xendin muttered to himself as they walked back to the hovercar, but Lt. Niermor answered anyway.

“Of course, sir,” she said. “If the Emperor had not accepted you into his fleet, he would have had you executed as a traitor.”

“I see,” he replied calmly, but his eyes widened in shock as he looked over at Jical, whose expression mirrored his own.

The ride back to the starport was short and silent. Xendin had plenty to discuss with Jical, but he didn’t want to do it in front of Lt. Niermor. Niermor, for her part, sat with her hands folded in her lap and stared straight ahead, a strangely vacant look on her face. Xendin, thinking about Neminatrix’s reputation, found himself wondering what might have happened to a pretty young woman like her at the hands of someone like that. He suppressed a shudder, and found himself realizing that he suddenly had absolutely no qualms about betraying Neminatrix.

Once Xendin and Jical were back on the shuttle and had exited Allamanin’s atmosphere, Xendin allowed himself a small sigh of relief, but he still had no intention of speaking freely yet. They hadn’t been on the surface for long, but long enough that someone could have surreptitiously installed a listening device on the shuttle. Things were going well so far, but one slip of the tongue could still ruin everything.

Once the shuttle landed safely in Ranger‘s shuttle bay, Xendin and Jical exited to find Hana and Commander Omilai Alten, Ranger‘s XO, waiting for them in the corridor. Commander Alten was almost as tall as Captain Sorali, but much skinnier. He had shoulder-length blond hair, a thin beard that followed his jawline and blue eyes that were normally twinkling with mirth, as if he saw something funny in most every situation that other people had missed. Those eyes were dead serious now, however, and so were Hana’s.

“What is it?” Xendin asked them as he approached.

“Trouble, sir,” replied Omilai. “While you were in transit, we received a message from Neminatrix’s Central Command. They have informed us that each of our ships will be receiving a company of marines, to be stationed on the bridge, CIC, and engine room of all 12 ships.”

“Interesting,” Xendin said musingly. “I thought Neminatrix accepted our help too easily. The man is insane, but he’s not stupid.”

“What are we going to do?” asked Hana, a slight note of worry in her voice.

“This is a problem, but a manageable one,” Xendin said with a frown. “The Supreme Commander and I suspected that something like this might happen. We came up with a contingency plan.”

“Why was I not informed?” Hana demanded to know.

“Because you are not in command of this mission,” Xendin said coolly. “I am. And I determined that there was no reason for you to know this plan unless it became necessary.” Hana took a deep breath and visibly took hold of herself.

“Okay,” she said in exasperation, “so what is the plan then?”

“All essential command functions are to be routed to the forward observation deck on each ship,” Xendin replied. “If Neminatrix’s marines attempt to seize control, they will quickly discover that the bridge and CIC are useless. Once we have turned on Neminatrix’s fleet and dropped into subspace, they will find themselves trapped and outnumbered. They will be forced to surrender or die.”

“It’s a risky plan,” said Omilai somberly.

“So it is,” Xendin agreed, “but there was never a chance of pulling off this mission without risk.”

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 19

The shuttle ride down to the surface of Allamanin was uneventful, but that didn’t do anything to calm Xendin Lodimeur’s nerves. He had grave misgivings about meeting with Erelesk Votalin face to face, but he needed to do whatever he could to make this mission succeed; for Hana’s sake, of course, but also for his own. Strangely, the fact that Hana had survived the attack on the Imperial Palace courtyard crystalized his feelings toward Jimalin Redlamin. Before, he was willing to believe that the entire incident had been some sort of huge misunderstanding, but after hearing Hana’s account, it was obvious that Redlamin did whatever he could to make sure that no one left that courtyard alive. That his best friend and patron could order an act of such brutality sickened him, but that event made it painfully obvious what needed to be done. The reign of Extrator IV was an abomination that needed to end.

Xendin looked over at his XO, Captain Jical Sorali. He’d only met Jical a few weeks ago, but he’d already grown to trust him and respect his judgment. Jical was a large man with dark skin, deep brown eyes, and a shaved head, who towered over most other people. He was surprisingly soft-spoken and delicate in his movements and mannerisms though, as if he was afraid of crushing everything in his path. The combination of his size, appearance, and silent demeanor made him seem quite intimidating if you didn’t know him, and Xendin was hoping to use this to his advantage with Votalin.

Jical noticed Xendin studying him and said, “Is there something wrong, sir?”

“No, no, Captain,” Xendin said. “I’m just thinking about something.” Jical nodded and looked away, and then Xendin said, “Actually, Captain, I have a question for you.” Jical looked back at him expectantly. “How do you feel about death?”

“Death, sir?” Jical asked quizzically. “I suppose I feel about it much the same way that anyone else does. I don’t want to die, but I understand that I’m going to die someday. Can’t really do anything about it.”

“So, if you knew that you were going to die today, you’d be okay with that?” Xendin asked.

“Um, do you know something I don’t, sir?” Jical asked, his eyes widening slightly in alarm.

“No, no,” Xendin said with a slight chuckle. “It’s just… Well, this is a dangerous mission. There is a significant possibility that we won’t be making it back to Ranger. I told Hana that I was ready to give my life to defeat the Empire, but I’m not sure there was more to those words than a desire to avoid being shamed in my daughter’s eyes. If this is the end of the line for me…I don’t know how I’ll handle it.”

“Who does, sir?” Jical said with a shrug. “I like to think that I’ll go out in a blaze of glory, bravely standing my ground against my enemies until the bitter end. But I don’t know how it’ll really go. Maybe I’ll throw my rifle down and run away like a child. I hope not, but I won’t know how that moment will play out until I actually live it. Same goes for you, sir.”

“I guess,” Xendin said resignedly. “Doesn’t seem very comforting, does it?”

“No, sir,” Jical replied stoically. “But it’s all we’ve got.” Xendin grunted in reply, and the two of them sat in silence for a few minutes. “Is it true that Komeela is really your daughter, sir?” Jical asked suddenly.

“Yeah,” Xendin said with a small smile.

“Pretty wild story,” Jical said, shaking his head. “I heard about what happened on Trisitania when Redlamin seized the Throne. How despicable. That incident was one of the main reasons I decided to join Captain Nonmar when she defected to Fangalin. I realized I could no longer serve an Empire that would treat its own citizens so brutally.”

“Yeah,” Xendin said again, his smile changing into a frown. “I guess I should have done the same thing at the time, especially since I believed Hana had been killed that day. But Redlamin and I were friends once. I guess I just managed to convince myself that the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed.”

“You don’t need to explain yourself to me, sir,” Jical said. “We’ve all done boneheaded things for reasons that seemed good at the time. The important thing is that you made the right choice in the end.”

“I suppose so,” Xendin said thoughtfully.

“Colonel,” called the shuttle’s pilot suddenly, “we’re just about ready to land.”

“Very good, Sergeant,” Xendin replied. A few minutes later, the shuttle shuddered slightly as it made contact with the landing pad, and Xendin and Jical stood up and exited the shuttle as its hatch opened. They were met on the landing pad by a young woman with short, red hair, wearing an Imperial military uniform.

“Greetings, Colonel Lodimeur,” she said pleasantly. “I am Lieutenant Hasha Niermor. I will be your escort to the Emperor.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Xendin replied, nodding slightly. “Please, lead the way.” They followed her to a waiting hovercar, and immediately took off across Cailoss City.

“The Emperor is currently staying in the Governor’s Mansion here in Cailoss City,” Lt. Niermor said as they travelled. “You will be meeting with him in the main reception hall, along with Governor Trey Vongin and Admiral Zhiala Tred.”

“Thank you for the information, Lieutenant,” Xendin said graciously. A few minutes later, the hovercar landed, and all three of them got out. The official residence of the Governor of Allamanin was a stately building, if a bit old fashioned. Built from reddish stone, with thin white pillars lining the front, it was too magnificent to be a private residence, but it was surprisingly modest for an Imperial government building. Xendin and Jical followed Lt. Niermor through the elaborate front doors, across a grand entryway with wide, sweeping staircases on either side, through another set of magnificent doors, and into a large reception hall. A sort of throne had been set up at the far end of the hall, and the man sitting in it could only be the one who called himself Emperor Neminatrix IV.

“Your Majesty, may I present Colonel Xendin Lodimeur, and his second-in-command, Captain Jical Sorali?” Lt. Niermor said, bowing. Xendin and Jical followed suit.

“Welcome, Colonel Lodimeur,” he said in a booming, cheerful voice. He stood up with a broad smile on his face, and made his way down the steps toward Xendin and Jical. “I’ve heard so much about you. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” Xendin straightened up from his bow, surprised that the man he’d heard was an inhuman monster could have such a cheerful and welcoming demeanor. But as Neminatrix drew closer, Xendin could see that his smile did not reach his eyes. Those eyes were full of almost unfathomable insanity and rage. Suppressing a shudder, he set about trying to figure out how to lie to a madman with absolute power.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 18

“Colonel,” said Ranger‘s communications officer as Xendin and Hana Lodimeur walked back onto the bridge, “we’re receiving a call from Admiral Zhiala Tred.”

“Excellent,” said Xendin briskly. “Onscreen.” A second later, a woman’s face appeared on the main viewscreen. She was in her mid-to-late fifties, with short dark hair that was speckled with gray, and a no-nonsense air about her. “Admiral Tred, sir, thank you for responding to my request so quickly.”

“Of course, Colonel,” she replied. “It is my understanding that you wish to pledge loyalty to His Majesty Emperor Neminatrix IV, and add the ships under your command to our forces.”

“Yes, Admiral,” Xendin said with a nod.

“I do believe that can be arranged,” she said. “However, we will have to integrate your ships into our existing unit structure.”

“With all due respect, Admiral,” Xendin said deferentially, “I think that would be unwise. My forces have been a team for some time now. To split them up and stick them in units they are unfamiliar with could cause a serious decrease in their efficiency.”

“I see,” Zhiala said flatly. “Are you sure that you don’t just want to keep them loyal to you, rather than to the Emperor?”

“I assure you, Admiral,” Xendin replied, “we are all fully loyal to the Empire, and we wholeheartedly recognize Neminatrix IV as the true Emperor.” Zhiala was silent for a moment, her lips pursed thoughtfully.

“I don’t like this, Colonel,” she said bluntly, “but I also don’t like turning fresh troops away. I will speak to the Emperor on your behalf. But be forewarned. The Emperor is utterly merciless when it comes to traitors, and it doesn’t take much to convince him that someone is a traitor.”

“I understand, sir,” Xendin said with a salute.

“I wonder,” Zhiala replied with a frown, and then the image of her face on the screen was replaced with an image of Allamanin. Xendin took a deep breath and wiped his forehead with his left hand. He was surprised to discover that it was bone dry.

“You handled that well,” Hana said reassuringly. Xendin gave her a wry look.

“Isn’t it supposed to be my job to reassure you?” he asked.

“Children grow up,” she said with a shrug. “You took care of me for my whole life. Now it’s my turn to do the same for you.”

Xendin opened his mouth to reply, but suddenly his communications officer called out, “Colonel, I’ve just received a message from the Emperor. He would like to meet with you in person on the surface of Allamanin.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Xendin replied.

“It could be a trap,” Hana said grimly.

“It could be,” Xendin agreed, “but I’m not sure what he would gain by trapping me. I can’t imagine he would think that keeping me captive would insure the loyalty of my troops.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Hana said skeptically. “He doesn’t realize that we are part of Fangalin. He just thinks you’ve somehow amassed a private fleet. If that were true, your forces might actually be willing to trade loyalty to Neminatrix for your safety.”

“Perhaps,” Xendin said, stroking his chin, “but it’s much more likely that the fleet would cut and run in that situation. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I’m going down to the surface regardless.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” she asked, a concerned look on her face.

“Maybe not,” Xendin replied, “but you have convinced me that the Empire must be defeated at any cost. That includes the cost of my life.” He looked at her, and discovered that she was smiling broadly, but there were tears glistening in her eyes.

“I’m proud of you,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling back at her.

Raising her voice, she called to the communications officer. “Lieutenant, when does the Emperor want to meet with us?”

“Wait a minute!” Xendin broke in, alarmed. “You are not coming with me!”

“What do you mean?” Hana said, surprise flashing across her face. “Of course I am! I am the Supreme Commander’s personal representative! It is my job to observe every facet of this mission!”

“That may be so,” he said sternly. “but you are also my daughter, and I am not going to risk you falling into the hands of a murderous psychopath.” He ignored the gasps and stares of the bridge crew, and eyed her seriously.

“I appreciate your concern, Colonel, but you do not have the authority to order me around,” she said, her severity mirroring his own. “I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“Hana,” he said quietly, his voice still stern, but with a hint of pleading. She stared him down, and he continued speaking, the plea in his voice growing stronger with every word. “I thought I had lost you forever, and now you’ve come back to me. Please don’t force me to risk losing you again. Not yet. I couldn’t bear it if I lost you now, so soon after getting you back.”

“Colonel, I will not allow personal feelings to get in the way of my job,” Hana said firmly. “Unless you can think of a mission critical reason why I should stay on the ship, I will be accompanying you to the surface.”

“Fine then,” Xendin said. “What purpose will you serve in my retinue that Neminatrix would accept?”

“I…,” she started assuredly, and then she stopped with a thoughtful frown. “That’s…actually a good point.”

“Indeed,” he replied. “Surely Neminatrix would not understand or approve of my bringing a civilian advisor, and introducing you as my daughter is out of the question. Your death provides perfect motivation for me to turn against Jimalin Redlamin. Undoubtedly, Neminatrix is aware of my relationship with Redlamin.”

“I could put on a military uniform,” Hana suggested hesitantly, but Xendin started shaking his head before she even finished speaking.

“You are too young to be a senior officer, even in this day and age, and bringing along a junior aide might be perceived as putting on airs. I am, after all, supposed to be just a Colonel.”

“I see,” she said, a disappointed look on her face. “Very well, Colonel. Have it your way. But I expect a full report on your return.”

“You shall have it,” he said, with no hint of the satisfaction he felt at winning the argument.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 17

“My…daughter?” whispered Xendin Lodimeur, shocked. But then he shook his head
angrily. “No,” he growled, “that’s impossible. My daughter has been dead for two years.”

“Your daughter is not dead,” replied the woman Xendin had known as Komeela Shalavin. “She is standing right in front of you. I am Hana Lodimeur! Why would I lie to you?”

“To confuse me!” Xendin exclaimed angrily. “To appeal to my sentiments and manipulate me into doing what you want!”

“Clearly, if that was my plan, it’s working splendidly,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Look, I’ll prove it to you.” She lifted up her shirt slightly, exposing a small, crescent-shaped birthmark on the left side of her torso. “See? You recognize this birthmark, don’t you?” Xendin shook his head.

“That could be faked,” he said stubbornly. She sighed and pulled her shirt back down.

“Okay, fine,” she said, slightly irritated. “I’ll tell you some things that only you and I would know.” She thought for a second, then said, “Remember when I was five years old, and I fell out of a tree and broke my arm?”

“That proves nothing,” Xendin said with a scowl. “You could have gotten that information from Hana’s medical records.”

“True, but would those medical records tell how you rushed out of an important conference call to comfort me until the ambulance arrived?” she asked. “Would they have said anything about how you held my hand while the doctor set my arm, and how you bought me a purple teddy bear on the way home, and I named it Sparkles and carried it around with me everywhere I went for years?”

“You…you could have found that information somewhere,” he said uncertainly.

“What about when I was eleven, and a group of boys was bullying me at school, and you came to the school and cornered them in the bathroom and told them you’d have them shipped off to a military prison camp if they didn’t leave me alone?” she said insistently.

“I…was kind of surprised that worked, to be honest,” Xendin said, a small smile creeping across his face. But then he scowled again and shook his head. “I’m still not convinced.”

“Then what about when I was seventeen, and I told you I was going to withdraw my application from Imperial University and go to IMA instead? You told me I was too smart to waste my talents on a military career, and you convinced me to go ahead and go to IU.” She paused for a moment, and then continued, “You know I never told anyone else I was even considering going to IMA.”

Xendin was silent for a moment, his expression completely blank. Then he said in a very quiet voice, “It is you, isn’t it?” She nodded, and a single tear rolled down his cheek. “Oh, Hana,” he whispered.

“I’ve missed you, Daddy,” she whispered back, and immediately they wrapped their arms around each other tightly.

“How is this possible?” he asked in a hoarse voice. “They told me nobody survived. Nobody escaped from the Palace courtyard.”

“They lied to you, Daddy,” Hana said quietly, resting her head against his chest. “I was near a small gate when Redlamin’s troops showed up. A few of us managed to slip through before they started shooting. They had ground troops searching the streets for us, but a couple of Fangalin operatives found me and kept me hidden until everything calmed down.” She shook her head. “I still don’t know what happened to the others who escaped with me. I can only imagine that Redlamin’s troops found them.”

“So then you joined Fangalin,” he said, still holding her tightly.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I resisted at first. I mean, the whole reason I was in Citizen’s Plaza in the first place was to restore the Empire. Overthrowing the Empire was not my goal. But after awhile, they persuaded me.”

“How?” Xendin asked, but he had already guessed the answer.

“You know, Daddy,” Hana said with a smile. “If the Empire is so weak and so morally bankrupt that petty, power hungry men can fight over the Throne and kill their own citizens in the process, then isn’t it time that the Empire cease to exist? When a government starts killing its own people, then that government has lost its purpose, and needs to be overthrown. That’s what Fangalin taught me. I used to believe that the Empire could be saved. I thought there was still hope that it could be restored to its former glory. But Citizen’s Plaza showed me I was wrong. The Empire is a cancer that must be annihilated, no matter what.”

“No matter what…,” Xendin breathed. Hana looked deep into his eyes.

“Do you see now, Daddy?” she asked. “Why you need to do this mission? Why we must do whatever it takes to oppose anyone who would sit on the Imperial Throne, even if it means stabbing someone in the back?”

“I…I think I do,” he said slowly. “It makes perfect sense now.” He held her close to him again, and she snuggled in tightly. “Except for one thing,” he said suddenly.

“What’s that, Daddy?” she asked, pulling back and looking him in the eye again.

“Why the deception?” he asked with a frown. “Why not tell me who you were right from the beginning?”

“The Supreme Commander wanted you to join Fangalin because you believed it was the right path,” she said with a sigh. “He wanted you to be part of Fangalin because you believed in our cause, not because you were so grateful that I was alive that you’d do anything for us. He ordered me to keep my true identity a secret until this mission was over. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he wouldn’t budge, and the Supreme Commander’s word is law.”

“So what happens now, then?” Xendin said, his brow furrowed worriedly. “You told me who you were during the mission. Won’t you get in trouble?”

“Perhaps,” she said with a frown. “But hopefully I’ll be able to convince the Supreme Commander that it was the best course of action. He’s not an absolutist. He doesn’t necessarily mind if you disobey his orders, as long as you have a really good reason for doing so.”

“I see,” he said uncertainly. “Well!” he continued after a moment, “I certainly feel much better! Let’s go see if we can contact Admiral Tred!”

“Let’s do that, Daddy,” Hana said with a smile, and together they left the conference room and went back to the bridge.

To be continued…