Culmination, Part 21

Admiral Kryla Zomulin sighed as she tossed a tablet on her desk, and then gazed around at her surroundings. She was sitting in her quarters onboard Decimator, the flagship of the fleet that Lord Hemetal was amassing to invade Trisitania. Decimator had been Kryla’s first command, and she’d always regretted being promoted out of the Captain’s chair. So one of her requests when she’d agreed to join Lord Hemetal’s potentially treasonous crusade had been that she would be reinstated as captain of Decimator, in addition to being in command of the fleet. Lord Hemetal had been happy to oblige. Decimator was no longer the newest ship in the fleet, but it was still one of the fastest and most powerful ships in the Empire. Kryla had served on many ships over the past 13 years, but Decimator would always hold a special place in her heart.

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the report she’d been sighing about. 15 more ships had been added to her fleet. That brought the total to 100, and also meant that she had more than 100,000 ground troops. That was more than half the total strength of the Imperial Fleet. Kryla knew that Trisitania would be a tough nut to crack, but Lord Hemetal was taking a huge risk by stripping the Empire’s defenses so bare. It wouldn’t be all that helpful for the Emperor to control the capital if Fangalin or Midigal seized a big chunk of territory in the meantime. But, that was Lord Hemetal’s problem, not hers. The important thing for her was that she’d gotten her ship back, and if this mission was her last, then at least she would die where she belonged.

She frowned down at the tablet, and then she shook her head, stood up and strode out of her quarters. It was time to run battle drills again. Not that her presence was required for battle drills, but she liked to keep up with what her XO was doing. Her XO was good, but she was still pretty green, and Kryla wanted to make sure that she was there to correct any mistakes. Of course, after 15 years of war, nobody could rise to the rank of Commander and still be truly green. But her XO had either been really lucky or really clever, and had managed to avoid most of the battles that she should have taken part in over the course of her 10 year career.

“Admiral on the bridge!” announced an ensign as Kryla stepped through the door and past the officers sitting in the tactical section.

“At ease, everyone,” Kryla said firmly as people began to stiffen and stand up in response to her presence. “No need to get up, Commander Farlen,” she said, holding out a hand to forestall her XO, who was just rising up out of the Captain’s chair so that she could sit down. “I’m only here as an observer.” Farlen nodded uncertainly and slowly lowered herself back into the chair.

“Helm, change course to heading 4732.9,” Farlen ordered, studiously ignoring Kryla’s presence. Kryla, on the other hand, studied Commander Farlen carefully. Alaia Farlen, graduated 3rd in her class from the Imperial Military Academy in 2159, six years after the war started. Served under Emperor Neminatrix for three years, and then was part of a sizable fleet that defected to Emperor Valador seven years ago. Since then, she had served with distinction but had so far failed to exhibit the exceptionality expected of those who graduated from IMA with high honors. Somehow, she had managed to avoid most of the major battles that Valador’s forces had taken part in, with the exception of one.

Two years ago, Valador’s forces had struck at Phumelenin, a province held by Fangalin, far beyond Valador’s borders. The objective had not been to seize the planet, but rather to destroy a munitions plant located there. Unfortunately, Valador’s intelligence about the forces stationed at Phumelenin had been faulty, and there were nearly three times more ships in orbit than had been expected. The commander of the mission, Captain Lodech Nermaia, had made the decision to go ahead with the operation, but was killed almost immediately after the battle began. Several other officers fell soon after, and then-Lt. Commander Alaia Farlen had been the highest ranking officer on the lead ship, an Imperial cruiser called Majestic Falcon. She had taken command of Majestic Falcon, and the operation, and she managed to destroy the munitions plant and escape with a minimum of casualties. It had been a brilliant display of cunning and courage, and it had led Kryla to request Alaia as her XO, hoping that it hadn’t been just a one-time thing.

“Target coming into range, sir,” announced the tactical officer.

“Open fire,” Alaia ordered. There was a moment of silence as the computer simulation calculated the effects of Decimator‘s actions.

“No good, sir,” said the tactical officer. “We missed them.”

“Target is dropping into subspace!” announced the sensor officer next.

“Damn it!” snarled Alaia, pounding her fist on the arm of the Captain’s chair.

“Careful, Commander,” Kryla said quietly, standing just to Alaia’s left. “That’s my chair you’re abusing.”

“Y-yes, Admiral,” Alaia said nervously, her fury evaporating immediately. “S-sorry, Admiral.” Kryla watched her thoughtfully for a moment.

“Come with me for a moment, Commander,” she said calmly.

“Y-yes, sir,” Alaia replied, practically leaping out of the Captain’s chair.

“Commander Verallen, you’re in charge,” Kryla announced as she and Alaia left the bridge. They walked a short way down the corridor, and came to Kryla’s office. Once they entered, Kryla sat down behind her desk and gestured for Alaia to sit across from her.

“Talk to me, Commander,” Kryla said. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“I don’t understand what you mean, sir,” Alaia replied, avoiding Kryla’s eyes.

“Yes, you do,” Kryla said firmly. “You’re making foolish mistakes, losing your temper, and you seem to think that I’m a venomous calrach who’s going to crush your neck if you make one false move.” Alaia eyed Kryla for a moment, and then she let out a deep sigh.

“Everyone expects me to be a genius, to repeat what I did at Phumelenin,” she replied wearily, “but it’s just not going to happen.”

“Why?” Kryla asked quietly.

“Because Phumelenin was an accident,” Alaia said defiantly, meeting Kryla’s eyes now. “It never should have happened.”

To be continued…

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