“What a mess,” growled Xendin Lodimeur in disgust as he picked his way through the corpses littering the engine room. They had just overridden the lockout keeping the engine containment doors sealed, and were entering the room for the first time since the XR38 drones had finished off the Imperial marines. They certainly were effective little machines. It amazed Xendin how Fangalin had not only managed to achieve organizational superiority over the Empire, but also technological superiority.
“How’s the engine, Commander?” he said, addressing Draina Telorr, who had rushed in to check on the Nexus drive as soon as the doors opened.
“Looks okay so far, General,” she replied, inspecting every inch of the engine carefully. “Outer containment seal has been completely removed, but the inner seal is still intact. Looks like they were about to start in on it when the drones arrived.”
“So we were just in time,” Xendin muttered grimly.
“That we were, sir,” Telorr replied, still not taking her eyes off the engine.
Master Sergeant Ladiv Umian cracked his eyes open slightly, but he couldn’t make anything out. He was staring at what appeared to be pure, white light. For a moment he thought he was dead, and the light was the One, welcoming him to Ashalala. Then he realized he was just looking at the overhead lights in Ranger‘s engine room.
So, the drone hadn’t killed him. At first, judging by the way he felt, it seemed like it had barely even wounded him, but when he tried to stand, he realized how wrong he was. The drone’s plasma rifle had severed his spinal cord just above his waist, leaving his legs completely paralyzed.
That was it then. If the Fangalin traitors hadn’t found him yet, they would soon, and there was no way he was going to get away from them, not without his legs. He reached down and pulled his sidearm out of its holster on his right hip. He wasn’t going to let them take him and send him back to the Emperor. No, Ladiv Umian was going to go out on his own terms.
He lifted the pistol up to his right temple and prepared to pull the trigger, but then he froze. Somehow he hadn’t noticed at first, but there were people in the engine room with him. The engineers had gotten the containment doors open and were starting to fix the damage he had caused. Miraculously, they hadn’t noticed that he was still alive yet. A grin spread across his face, a desperate, wolfish grin. This wasn’t over yet.
“Is everything under control down here?” asked Hana Lodimeur as she entered the engine room.
“Yes, sir,” Commander Telorr said to her. Although Hana was technically a civilian, as the Supreme Commander’s personal representative, her authority theoretically outstripped that of her father, even though he was officially in command of the mission. Xendin just shook his head. Fangalin’s command structure was going to take some getting used to. As was the idea of taking commands from his daughter.
“So we’re not going to be crushed into a fine pulp between subspace and real space?” Hana said with a grin. “That is good to hear!”
“Indeed it is, sir,” Telorr said without cracking a smile.
“Hana, the situation is completely under control,” Xendin said firmly. “Why don’t you go back to your quarters and leave this to me?”
“General, how many times do I have to tell you that I do not take orders from you?” Hana replied, exasperated. “I really want to give the Supreme Commander a good report about you, but you’re making it somewhat difficult!”
“Hana, I just have your best interests in mind,” Xendin said in a low voice.
“And I have your best interests in mind too!” she replied loudly. “You’re always going to have a representative of the Supreme Commander on your missions, and it’s not always going to be your daughter! If you can’t figure out how to deal appropriately with me, what are you going to do when it’s somebody who has it in for you!”
Umian was confused by the conversation between the fat, old general and the pretty young woman in civilian clothes, but somehow it seemed as if the civilian was really the one in charge aboard Ranger. At first he’d planned to kill the general, but the girl was gradually becoming a more interesting target. Representative of the Supreme Commander, eh? Sounded important. And maybe if he was quick enough he could take out them both. He aimed his pistol carefully, pulled the trigger, and…
“Look out!” yelled a marine behind Xendin suddenly. He whipped around, and saw that one of the Imperial marines was still alive, and was aiming a gun directly at Hana’s head. There was no time to think. He roughly shoved her out of the way just as the Imperial pulled the trigger, and the next thing he knew, he was flat on his back with an intense pain in his chest.
“Daddy!” screamed Hana, her voice just barely audible over the roar of assault rifles devastating the crippled Imperial. She knelt down next to her father, staring at his wound with wide, frightened eyes. “Somebody get a medic!” she roared frantically.
“Don’t…bother,” Xendin gasped. “It’s too…late.”
“No, Daddy,” she sobbed. “You can’t die! I need you!”
“You don’t need me, Hana,” Xendin said, struggling to smile. “You are a beautiful, strong, intelligent woman. You’ve already proven that you are destined for greatness. Just…just don’t…forget me.”
“I won’t, Daddy! I promise!” She rested her face on his and wept, and then she sat up abruptly and screamed, “Where the hell is that damned medic!”
“Hana,” Xendin rasped. “I…I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy,” she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks. He squeezed her hand tight and smiled at her, and then his hand went limp and his head fell back.
“NO!” shrieked Hana, a howl of agony and rage. She laid her head down on him and wept loudly, oblivious to anything else going on around her.
To be continued…