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…