About an hour after the Grand Council meeting ended, Hana found herself sitting in the Supreme Commander’s spacious office, trying to understand why she was on the receiving end of a disappointed frown. Apparently, Dren Calabane was upset with her for asking the Council to let her kill Neminatrix IV, and she wasn’t quite sure why. He hadn’t said anything yet, but he was regarding her with a look that she knew from several years’ association meant he wasn’t happy. She glared back at him defiantly, which she knew wasn’t terribly wise, but she couldn’t even pretend to feel chastised if she didn’t know what she was in trouble for.
“Hana, do you have any idea why I asked you to come speak to me?” asked Dren in a voice that said he was well aware that she didn’t.
“You know the answer to that, Commander,” Hana said in a level voice.
“I suspect I do,” Dren said with a sigh, “but I’d hoped I was wrong.” He stood up and began pacing back and forth. “When I was a Councilor, I used to get frustrated with the way Zhemeen Fortulis did things. I used to imagine that if and when I became Supreme Commander, I would be bolder, more aggressive. I used to think that the war was over as soon as the Emergence took place, and all we needed to do was push forward and sweep the galaxy clean of the dying ruins of the Empire. I couldn’t understand why Fortulis was so passive in his approach when the war was already won.” He stopped pacing and turned to look Hana in the eye.
“Now that I am the Supreme Commander, I know differently,” he continued. “The Empire is bleeding, but its wound is not terminal. We could still lose this war. Despite our hundreds of years of careful planning, we could still go the way of our predecessors in the Nether, a noble dream that faded like mist. The more we do to keep the Empire fractured and focused on its own internal problems, the more likely we fulfill our destiny of bringing the entire galaxy under the dominion of the Dark Presence. But if we allow our pride to blind our vision, if we allow petty personal problems to get in the way of our greater goal, the Dark Presence will not hesitate to cast us aside and find worthier champions.” He sat down and fixed her with his intense gaze. “Does any of this make sense to you?”
“You think I’m being selfish for wanting to kill Neminatrix,” Hana said flatly.
“I wouldn’t put it quite so bluntly, but yes,” Dren replied, lacing his fingers together on the desk in front of him.
“Then why did you overrule the Council?” Hana asked, exasperated. “You hate doing that! If you agreed with their vote, why didn’t you just let it stand?”
“Because Ron and Valin are right,” Dren said. “Your service to Fangalin does deserve a reward, and it’s disrespectful to everything you’ve done that your request for the life of Neminatrix has been denied so many times.”
“Then what is this all about!” cried Hana, throwing her hands up in frustration.
“I want you to reconsider,” Dren said calmly. “You deserve to be the one who kills Neminatrix, and Presence knows the man deserves to die, but I don’t think you fully appreciate how fragile our situation is. Neminatrix and Valador have been fighting for over a decade now, and this long civil war has greatly weakened both sides. It is apparent to myself and my analysts that Valador will ultimately come out on top, but left to their own devices, it may be five or six more years before that happens. Meanwhile, we are building up our forces and preparing for a massive push to crush the Empire once and for all. However, it will be five years before we are ready. By then, Valador’s forces will be so depleted by civil war that it will be very difficult for them to resist us. However, if you kill Neminatrix now and Valador becomes sole ruler of the Empire, he will have five years to reconsolidate and prepare for our assault, and we will have a much longer and more difficult war ahead of us. He may even be able to strike us before we are ready to fight back.”
Silence fell as Hana glared at Dren, who looked calmly back at her. “You want me to choose between my duty to my family and my duty to the Dark Presence,” she growled.
“There shouldn’t be any choice, Captain,” Dren said sternly, dropping his benign father posture and turning the full force of the Supreme Commander of Fangalin on her. “Duty to the Dark Presence trumps all. If I have to remind you of that, then maybe the time has come to relieve you of your command.” Hana turned white as a sheet at this, and recoiled as if struck.
“How dare you question my loyalty!” she hissed. “Haven’t I proven myself a thousand times over in the past ten years?” Hana and Dren glared at each other for a moment, and then the stern Supreme Commander disappeared and the benign father resurfaced.
“Of course you have,” he sighed. “I shouldn’t have put it that way. You will not be accused of disloyalty if you persist in your plans to kill Neminatrix. After all, I have already given you permission to do so. But if you decline to accept my gift, you will still have the honor of having been granted your request, and I assure you, in five years, when our forces are ready, you will be in the vanguard when the time comes to take Trisitania. For the sake of the greater good, I would ask you to do this.”
“I,” Hana began firmly, and then she paused and sighed. “I will consider your request, Commander.”
“That is all I ask, Hana,” Dren said with a wistful smile.
To be continued…