Catching the Sun, Part 22

Abaden Lors was pacing impatiently back and forth across the bridge of Dominator, his flagship, and the latest battleship to come out of the massive shipyards orbiting Medradi, the main base for the Imperial Armed Forces. His spies reported that Erelesk Votalin’s forces had dropped into subspace almost three hours ago, which meant that they would arrive in the Endragar system any minute. It was almost time for him to make his move, but now that it came down to it, he was reluctant to pull the trigger. It was hard to throw away two decades of friendship and loyalty. He had to keep reminding himself that he wasn’t throwing away anything. It was Redlamin who had betrayed him.

“Comms,” Lors said to Dominator‘s communications officer, “send a message to Alpha Force.” That was the codename for the ships that were defecting to Valador Mifalis. “Tell them to prepare for drop on my signal.” The communications officer nodded and sent the message. Lors stood in silence for a few minutes, and then the communications officer called out suddenly.

“Admiral!” he said, “Message coming in from Invincible!” Lors frowned, and a slight tickle of worry crept into the back of his head.

“Onscreen,” he ordered, carefully keeping any hint of uncertainty out of his voice.

“Lors!” bellowed Extrator IV as soon as his face appeared on the viewscreen. “What is the meaning of this!”

“What is the meaning of what, Your Majesty?” Lors asked. Best to play dumb for as long as he could.

“The order you just sent out!” Extrator screamed, his face turning red. “What is ‘Alpha Force’, and why have you ordered them to prepare for a drop?” Lors had never seen Extrator IV this unhinged before. No matter what the situation, no matter what the crisis, he had always kept his cool. The fact that he was so visibly agitated and angry strengthened Lors’s resolve. Extrator’s madness had gone beyond the point of no return.

“I’m sorry, Jim, I really am,” Lors said. Extrator’s face turned purple at Lors’s use of this familiar nickname, and he opened his mouth to speak, but Lors rode right over him. “I hereby formally pledge my allegiance to the true Emperor, His Majesty Valador I.” He stared resolutely at Extrator, whose face was changing color from purple to white.

“This…this is treason!” Extrator gasped, his eyes wide.

“No, Jim,” Lors said, shaking his head sadly. “I’m doing what’s best for the Empire. You are the true traitor here.”

“How dare you!” Extrator said through clenched teeth, seething with fury. “You would be nothing without me! You owe all that you are to my benevolence!”

“You’re wrong, Jim,” Lors said firmly. “I owe all that I am to the Empire. I serve the Empire. You? You are destroying it. And today, you will be judged.” As soon as he finished speaking, he motioned to the communications officer, who immediately severed the connection. “Time to drop?” he asked.

“Two minutes, sir,” replied the navigation officer.

“Sir!” called out the tactical officer. “Invincible is changing course and charging its main guns!”

“Activate shields!” ordered Lors. “Prepare evasive maneuvers!” He sat down and clenched the arms of his chair tightly. Invincible was an older ship, and no match for Dominator, but a lucky or well-placed shot could still ruin everything.

“Sir!” said the communications officer. “Two-thirds of Alpha Force report they are ready to drop.”

“Tell them to go ahead,” Lors ordered.

“Are you sure about that?” asked his XO, Captain Chalaya Motour. “That would leave the rest of us outnumbered by Extrator’s forces. And what if Votalin’s fleet gets here before we’re ready to drop? That would leave us stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

“I understand that, Captain,” Lors replied, “but Mifalis wants as many ships as he can get, and it’s better if they’re in the best condition possible. I want to live, but I want as many of the people under my command to live as well. If anyone can get out of here now, then they’d better.”

“Understood, sir,” she responded with a salute.

Invincible is opening fire!” yelled the tactical officer.

“All hands, brace for impact!” yelled Lors in response. He himself gripped the arms of his chair even more tightly, and a few seconds later, Dominator shuddered violently under the force of eight fully charged phased proton blasts.

“Damage report!” demanded Lors.

“Shields are at 73% and holding,” replied the damage control officer. “Hull is undamaged.”

“Time to drop?” Lors asked.

“Thirty seconds,” replied the navigation officer.

“Should we return fire, sir?” asked Motour. Lors grimaced and thought for a second. Even though he was abandoning his friend and leaving him to the mercy of a manipulative ISS Master and a psychopathic rival Emperor, the idea of actually firing on his ship seemed…wrong. And yet, in thirty seconds, Invincible could potentially do a lot of damage to Dominator, if he didn’t respond. Maybe even destroy it.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “Return fire.” The weapons officer nodded sharply, and a few seconds later Dominator shuddered mightily as all twelve of its forward phased proton arrays began unleashing their wrath. Lors closed his eyes tightly as the blasts impacted Invincible.

“Direct hit, sir,” announced the tactical officer. “Invincible‘s shields are down, and its engines are offline.”

“Very well,” Lors replied softly. “Are we ready to drop?”

“Yes, sir,” said the navigation officer.

“And the rest of Alpha Force?” asked Lors.

“All ships report ready to drop,” replied the communications officer.

“Then commence drop,” Lors said.

“Shouldn’t we finish off Invincible?” asked Motour.

“No,” said Lors fiercely. “I may be abandoning Jim, but I won’t kill him. We’ll leave Invincible for Votalin to take care of.”

“If you say so, sir,” she replied in a tone of voice that made it clear she didn’t understand what her commanding officer was thinking, and she certainly didn’t agree with it.

“Dropping in 5…4…3…2…1…now!” said the navigation officer, and there was the familiar and somewhat comforting sensation of plunging into subspace. Lors allowed himself a small sigh of relief. He was safe, and so were the men and women who had followed him. A minor victory, to be sure, but still a victory. At this point, Abaden Lors would take what he could get.

To be continued…

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