Culmination, Part 6

Shala Votalin was sitting in her study, going over some routine paperwork when the security alarm sounded. At first, she ignored it. Her father had tried to kidnap her at least a hundred times in the past decade, so it didn’t surprise her in the least that he was making yet another attempt. So she tucked the alarm into the back of her mind and kept on working.

It wasn’t until she heard the sound of booted feet running down the hall that she began to realize that this wasn’t a normal kidnapping attempt. She was just getting up to see what was going on when the door to her study burst open and half a dozen of her bodyguards rushed in.

“We need to get to the safe room, now!” yelled their leader, grabbing her by the arm and rushing her out the room. She was a little startled by this turn of events, but she didn’t protest at all. She’d always thought this day might come, and she meekly allowed herself to be pulled along, trusting in the bodyguards to know what they were doing.

Before she could fully wrap her mind around what was going on, they had made their way down into the basement of the manor, into the heavily fortified safe room buried deep underground. The walls and door of the room were about three feet thick, and so strongly reinforced that any explosives strong enough to breach them would almost certainly kill anyone inside, and destroy the entire manor, at that. As Neminatrix’s desire was for Shala to be captured alive, there was no way his soldiers would even attempt to get in that way. Once inside the safe room, they would be safe long enough for reinforcements to arrive and fight off Neminatrix’s troops.

“So, what happened Captain?” asked Shala once the safe room doors were tightly shut.

“I’m not sure, my lady,” said the captain with a frown. “The proximity alarm went off, and then suddenly all the systems shut down. We tried to fight them off with our handguns, but without the defensive systems online, we were outnumbered and outgunned. The six of us here are all that’s left.”

“Oh no,” Shala breathed, putting a hand to her mouth in shock. There had been thirty soldiers assigned to her bodyguard, and she’d known them all personally. “How could this happen?”

“I don’t know, my lady,” the captain said grimly. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that they were able to override the defense system’s computer.”

“But…but that’s impossible, isn’t it?” Shala asked, perplexed and worried.

“I would have thought so,” the captain replied. “No encryption algorithm is completely bulletproof, but most of the computer experts in the Empire have sworn allegiance to Valador. It’s highly unlikely that Neminatrix has the resources to break our encryption. Unfortunately, if his soldiers have access to our defense system, it’s because someone gave them the password.”

“But who would do such a thing?” Shala asked, her worry and confusion deepening.

“I have no idea, my lady,” the captain said, grimmer than ever. “The only ones who know the password are you, your husband, myself, and Lieutenant Valdenar, and Valdenar was killed outside, so if it was him, he has the worst luck I’ve ever heard of.”

Shala frowned thoughtfully for a moment. What the captain had said was not entirely true. Shala had also given the password to Vendamil, just in case. Could he have been so angry about not going to Imperial University that he’d given her up to her father? Frowning bitterly, she shook her head and then, drawing herself up to her full height, she addressed the soldiers with her best command voice. “Captain, if Neminatrix’s soldiers have access to this manor’s defense systems, that means they will be able to open this door, correct?”

“That’s right, my lady,” the captain said with a worried frown, “but-” Shala cut him off before he could say more.

“Then I order you and your men to stand down,” she said firmly. “I will not allow you to die needlessly for my sake.”

“I cannot do that, my lady!” the captain exclaimed, aghast. “It is my duty to protect you at all cost, even if it requires me to sacrifice my life!”

“Nonsense!” Shala scoffed. “If there was a chance that your death could save me from Neminatrix, then maybe I’d allow you to die, but I will not have you throw your lives away needlessly! Put down your guns and surrender as soon as that door opens, or I will open it myself and turn myself over to my father’s troops.”

The captain stared at her for a moment, clearly torn between two conflicting directives, but then he nodded sharply, laid his handgun down on the floor, and motioned to the other soldiers to do the same. Satisfied, Shala gave them all a winning smile, and then faced the door defiantly and waited for the end.

She didn’t have long to wait. Only a few minutes passed before the faint sound of booted feet and muffled yelling could be heard through the safe room door, and a few seconds later, a voice came over the intercom. “Shala Votalin!” it said, “There are over a hundred soldiers surrounding this safe room, and we have the password to open this door. Order your men to stand down, or they will all be killed.”

“It’s okay!” she yelled back. “I’ve already given the order. Go ahead and open the door, and I will surrender peacefully!” For a few seconds, nothing happened, and Shala began to hope that her father’s soldiers were bluffing, but then the door opened, and over a dozen heavily armed soldiers rushed in, shoved her bodyguards to the ground, and bound their hands behind their backs. Shala stood stoically as the leader of her father’s troops came into the room, and she was somewhat surprised to see Jefmin Lakatai, her father’s ISS Master.

“I’m surprised to see a coward like you here, Lakatai,” Shala said scornfully.

“Why wouldn’t I be here?” Lakatai replied, a smug look on his well-fed face. “I have complete access to your manor’s defense systems. I was never in any danger.”

“And how did you get that access?” Shala demanded.

“That is for me to know and you to wonder about,” Lakatai said with a nasty grin. “Now, let’s get out of here.” He turned and addressed one of his soldiers. “Kill the prisoners,” he said brusquely.

“What? No!” screamed Shala in horror, but her voice was drowned out by the roar of gunfire as her bodyguards were executed.

To be continued…

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