Culmination, Part 24

“I’m going to kill you, Vertrane!” Hana hissed viciously, lunging at Kyla, but Arcten grabbed her before she could cover the distance.

“Hana!” he barked. “What is wrong with you!”

“This…this bitch has betrayed us!” Hana screamed, flailing uselessly as she tried to escape Arcten’s strong grasp. Kyla backed up a few steps, eyes widening in shock at her CO’s reaction to her news.

“Betrayed us? How?” Arcten yelled, his voice showing the strain of holding Hana in check. “By following the rules? By showing greater loyalty to the Supreme Commander and to Fangalin than to you?” Hana howled wordlessly, and managed to slam her knee into Arcten’s crotch. His only reaction was a slight grunt and a widening of his eyes, but it did distract him enough that Hana was able to slip out of his grasp. She flung herself on Kyla, a whirlwind of punches and kicks that Kyla was just barely able to block. After a few seconds of this, Arcten had recovered enough to intervene. He grabbed Hana by the shoulder, spun her around, and punched her hard, right in her shocked face, knocking her unconscious. Then he took a deep breath and sat down heavily on the floor next to her.

“Thanks,” Kyla said, putting one hand on her chest and breathing heavily.

“Don’t mention it,” Arcten said darkly. “Ever.” He glanced down at Hana’s prone body and shook his head. “She’s going to be so pissed at me when she comes to.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyla said, but she didn’t sound like she meant it.

“You don’t need to be,” Arcten said dismissively. “I did what I had to do.” He was silent for a moment, staring at the floor, and then he glanced up at Kyla. “You handled yourself well. Hana’s extremely skilled, but she wasn’t able to land a blow on you.”

“A smuggler needs to know how to protect herself,” Kyla said with a shrug. There was silence for a few more moments, and then Kyla spoke up again. “What do you think she’ll do when she comes to?” she asked.

“She’ll likely try to attack you again,” Arcten admitted. “I should probably put her in a holding cell until she calms down.” He glanced at Kyla again. “You should probably make yourself scarce for awhile.”

“Good advice,” Kyla grunted. She headed for the door, but then she turned and looked back at Arcten again. “Do you…do you think I did the right thing?”

Arcten gazed at her silently for several moments, his face expressionless, and then, slowly, he nodded. “Dropping a Nexus bomb on the Imperial Palace would have turned the entire galaxy against us. Hana should never have even considered stealing one.” He looked away from Kyla and back to Hana. “You did what I should have done. You’ve got bigger balls than I do, Vertrane.”

Kyla snorted, shook her head, and walked out of the shooting range.

***

Arcten’s prediction had been right on the money. About half an hour after he deposited Hana on a bed in a small holding cell several levels beneath the Amarise House, she woke up, and almost immediately began screaming obscenities and throwing herself at the door of the cell. After several minutes of this, Arcten, who was standing outside with his arms folded, shared a worried frown with Lt. Cmdr. Xeliana Merane, Starfengt‘s number three, who was a tall, striking woman with dark skin, short, curly dark hair, and piercing blue eyes.

“What are we going to do?” Xeliana whispered. Normally a lively, exuberant woman, she was currently quite subdued, her mouth pressed into a thin frown and her eyes crinkled with worry.

“We wait until she calms down, and then we talk to her,” Arcten replied in his calm, taciturn manner. Despite his demeanor, though, he was desperately concerned about Hana. He’d known her for ten years, ever since she founded Starfengt, and he had never seen her like this. He worried that the strain of the past few weeks had finally broken her.

For a quarter of an hour, Arcten and Xeliana watched the holding cell door, listening to Hana’s screams in silence. They were the only two members of Starfengt who knew what was going on. The rest of the unit was taking part in a training exercise at a military base a few miles away. Xeliana had been in charge of that exercise, but Arcten had called her back to the Amarise House to help deal with Hana. Arcten was hopeful that they’d be able to calm Hana down before the rest of the unit returned. It wouldn’t do for them to see their commanding officer in such a state. Arcten didn’t even want to see her in this state.

Finally, the sounds coming from inside the holding cell faded. Arcten and Xeliana glanced at each other, worry and hope mingling in their expressions. Then a voice called out from the cell. “Arcten? I know you’re out there,” Hana said, her voice hoarse from screaming.

“I’m here, Captain,” Arcten said cautiously.

“Can I come out now?” Hana asked, sounding pitiful. Arcten glanced at Xeliana again, and motioned silently to the side of the door. Xeliana nodded, and stood next to the door, so that she’d be behind Hana once she came out.

“As long as you promise not to attack me,” Arcten replied.

“I promise,” Hana said in a very small voice. Arcten nodded at Xeliana, and then pressed the button to release the door. It slid open, and Arcten tensed, expecting Hana to leap at him, but instead she just stumbled forward. She blinked unsteadily a few times, straightened up, and then shook her head. “You can stop hiding Xeliana. I know you’re there, and I’m not going to try anything anyway.”

“Sorry, sir,” Xeliana said, stepping forward and looking half-sheepish, half-defiant.

“I’m the one who should be apologizing,” Hana said ruefully. “I lost control, and I should have never let things get to this point. Vertrane was right. It was a mistake to appropriate that Nexus bomb.”

“I’m glad to hear it, sir,” Arcten said carefully. “Would you like me to start making plans for how to proceed if Valador’s forces fail to take the capital?” Hana gave him a strange look.

“Of course not,” she said stiffly. “We are proceeding with the mission as planned.”

To be continued…

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