Catching the Sun, Part 23

“Five minutes to Endragar, Captain,” announced Ranger‘s navigation officer.

“Thank you, Commander,” replied Captain Nonmar. She turned and looked at Colonel Lodimeur, who was standing off to the side of the bridge. “Any last minute remarks, Colonel?” she asked.

“Everyone on this ship, and in this fleet, has their orders,” Lodimeur said, stepping forward to address the bridge crew. “You all know what to do. Remember who we are, and why we are here, and we’ll all make it home alive.” He looked around the bridge, and saw that the Fangalin operatives were all nodding their heads and giving him looks of approval, while the Imperial marines were all regarding him with sneers or looks of amused mockery. Well, he would see who got the last laugh there.

Ranger shuddered slightly as it dropped out of subspace. “Status report!” barked Nonmar immediately.

“All ships are reporting green across the board!” replied the tactical officer. “Scans indicate the presence of 17 Imperial warships in orbit around Endragar!”

“That’s it?” asked Lodimeur, a note of wonder in his voice.

“Verify that number, Commander!” Nonmar ordered.

“Verified, sir!” replied the tactical officer after a few seconds.

“By the One,” Lodimeur breathed. “I knew Redlamin was in bad shape, but I never realized it was this bad.” He took a deep breath, and then said firmly, “Hail them!”

“Yes, sir!” replied the communications officer. Nonmar gave him a flat look, but she didn’t say anything. She had known that he was going to do this, but she disapproved. Even though Votalin’s fleet outnumbered Redlamin’s nearly 4-to-1, Nonmar believed that giving away any kind of tactical advantage was a bad idea. But Lodimeur was her CO, and besides, he’d gotten special permission from Votalin to do this.

“This is Colonel Xendin Lodimeur of the Imperial Armed Forces, contacting the Imperial Fleet units in orbit around Endragar,” Lodimeur said in a commanding voice. “Who is in command of this fleet?” There was silence for a few moments, and then Jimalin Redlamin’s face appeared on the screen. Lodimeur’s breath caught in his throat. He thought he’d been ready for this moment, but now that he was here, it was harder than he expected. Redlamin looked older than he remembered, much older than could be accounted for by the few years that had passed since they last met. There was also a wild, fervent gleam in Redlamin’s eyes that Lodimeur didn’t remember. Redlamin had always been passionate about his faith, but Lodimeur suspected that he had crossed the line to full-fledged fanaticism.

“I am in command here,” he began angrily, but he cut off and his eyes widened in shock when it dawned on him who he was addressing. “Xendin Lodimeur?” he breathed.

“Yes, Jim,” Lodimeur said somberly, “it’s me.”

“How could you?” Redlamin whispered. “HOW COULD YOU BETRAY ME TOO!?” he screamed suddenly, his widened eyes growing even more demented and spittle flying from his mouth.

“I could ask you the same question, Jim,” Lodimeur said grimly. “Why didn’t you contact me after you took the Imperial Palace?”

“What!” Redlamin exclaimed. “What are you blathering about?”

“Hana, Jim,” Lodimeur said more calmly than he felt. “My daughter. She was in the courtyard of the Imperial Palace the day you murdered the civilians gathered there. And you never bothered to contact me at all, not even to see how I was doing, or to offer even the slightest bit of sympathy.”

“Nonsense,” Redlamin said, waving a hand dismissively. “Those people in the courtyard were impeding the future glory of the Empire. They needed to be destroyed.”

“My daughter, Jim?” Lodimeur asked, the fury he felt starting to seep into his voice. “My daughter needed to be destroyed?”

“What is one girl’s life weighed against the safety and security of the Empire?” Redlamin sneered contemptuously. “Aren’t you just full of yourself, to think that your grief is more important than preserving the Empire.” Lodimeur stood silent for a few moments, smoldering with silent rage. When he did speak, his voice was like a pot of boiling water with a tight fitting lid, in the moment before the pressure built up too much and blew the lid off.

“Perhaps I could see the merit of your argument, if your actions had done anything to help the Empire,” he said, “but all you have done in your reign is fracture the Empire further. You have done nothing but throw lives away for two years, and for that, your reign ends here.” He gestured sharply to the communications officer, who immediately severed the connection.

“Receiving a signal from the flagship, sir!” said the communications officer suddenly. “We are to commence the attack!”

“All hands, prepare for battle!” roared Lodimeur. “Show no mercy!”

***

On the bridge of the Imperial battleship Invincible, Emperor Extrator IV, aka Jimalin Redlamin, sat dumbfounded. How could things have gone so horribly wrong? Wasn’t he the chosen of the One, the hero who would save the Empire and restore it to its former glory? Could he have been wrong? Why would the One let him go down this path, if it wasn’t His will?

“Your Majesty, the pretender’s forces are preparing to attack!” yelled Invincible‘s captain.

“Get us out here!” roared Extrator. “We can’t possibly fight off this attack! We’ll regroup at Trisitania!”

“Yes, Your Majesty!” said the captain with a salute. Extrator gripped the sides of his chair tightly and watched Votalin’s ships getting closer and closer on the viewscreen. Invincible‘s engineers had repaired the damage to the engines from Lors’s treacherous attack, but it still took a few minutes for the engines to spool up for a drop. Plenty of time for Votalin to attack and destroy them.

“Your Majesty!” yelled the Captain suddenly. “The engines aren’t responding!”

“What!” bellowed Extrator. “Well, get them working!”

“We can’t, Your Majesty!” the captain yelled back, somewhat hysterically. “Engine controls have been locked out, and we can’t override!” Extrator stared at him in mute horror, and then the communications officer called out.

“Communications are down too!” she yelled. “We can’t even contact the other ships and have them cover us!”

“Weapon systems have been disabled too!” piped up the weapons officer immediately.

“WHAT IS GOING ON!” Extrator roared in fear and rage.

“Captain!” yelled the security officer suddenly. “Unauthorized launch from shuttle bay 5!”

“Really!” exclaimed the captain in exasperation. “Who is on it?”

“Sensors indicate that Jefmin Lakatai is onboard!” replied the security officer.

“The ISS Master?” asked the captain, baffled. “What is he doing?” But Extrator knew. Lakatai had persuaded Extrator to give him Invincible‘s main access code. And he was willing to bet that Lakatai had changed the code since. It was done. Everyone that Extrator had trusted the most had now betrayed him. He lowered his head into his hands and wept, as Votalin’s fleet closed in.

To be continued…

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