Culmination, Part 28

Fear and loathing waged war in Shala’s heart as Jefmin Lakatai reached for her. She tried to pull away, but he grabbed her shoulders tightly and wouldn’t let her move. She struggled for all she was worth, but it was no use. He was just too strong for her. He bent down and kissed her roughly on the mouth. She struggled mightily to escape his grasp, but there was simply nothing he could do. Panic began to well up inside her. Wasn’t it bad enough that she’d spent most of her life being raped by her father? Was she going to have to suffer through being raped by this pig, as well?

Suddenly, the door to Lakatai’s office slid open. Lakatai growled and let go of Shala brusquely. “I gave strict orders not to be disturbed!” he yelled sourly. “What is going-,” but as he looked up, Shala saw all the color drain from his face, and she quickly turned around to see who it was.

Her father.

“This can’t be!” Lakatai whispered, his eyes bulging out of his head.

“Oh, but it can,” Neminatrix replied in a cold, hard voice. He stepped into the room, and Shala could see that he was carrying a long, slightly curved sword in his right hand

“Who betrayed me?” Lakatai hissed, fear and anger warring for supremacy in his voice.

“Betrayed you?” Neminatrix bellowed, astounded. “You are talking about my soldiers! They were never loyal to you!” Then he threw back his head and laughed, a harsh, grating laugh with no mirth in it whatsoever. “You thought you had me fooled. You thought you were taking advantage of my weakness. But you were blinded by your ambition. All along, I’m the one who’s been fooling you! I made you think that you were slowly grasping control of the IAF away from me, but in reality, this whole time I’ve been feeding you the rope that you just hung yourself with.” As he spoke, he advanced menacingly on Lakatai, sword held extended to his side.

“Your Majesty,” Lakatai began, and he dropped to his knees as he spoke. It was clear the gravity of his situation had hit him, if a few minutes too late. “I beg your forgiveness. Please, I meant her no harm. I just brought her down here for a friendly chat. I didn’t even touch her!” Shala’s eyes widened at this blatant lie, and she opened her mouth to speak, but her father beat her to it.

“Liar,” Neminatrix hissed, spitting on Lakatai’s face. “How stupid do you think I am? I can see the mark of your hand on her face. You were kissing her when I walked in the door!” He advanced closer, until he was looming menacingly over Lakatai’s trembling body. He was silent for a moment, glaring down at Lakatai with a look of pure disgust and furious rage. In this brief lull, Shala glanced over at the door of Lakatai’s office, and saw that the corridor beyond was filled with soldiers, dressed in full battle armor, clutching assault rifles, and watching the proceedings in the ISS Master’s office with great interest. With a shiver, Shala hoped they really were as loyal to her father as he thought they were.

“You were a useful tool, Lakatai,” Neminatrix said, his voice dripping with contempt and hatred. “Without you, I would have had a much harder time ousting my predecessors. But a tool is all you ever were. And when a tool has outlived its usefulness, then it can only be destroyed.”

“No! Wait!” Lakatai screamed desperately as Neminatrix raised the sword over his head, but before he could say anything else, Neminatrix swiftly brought the sword down and severed Lakatai’s head from his body. The head rolled toward Shala as blood spurted out of Lakatai’s neck, and Shala gave it a look of satisfied loathing before she kicked it away.

“Good riddance,” she spat, and then a broad smile split her face. “You showed up just in the nick of time,” she said to her father. Her father looked at her, and a matching smile appeared on his face.

“Did you really think I would ever let anything bad happen to you?” he said cheerfully, but there was an undercurrent of pain in his voice. Shala’s smile faded slightly, and she held her arms out for a hug. Neminatrix’s smile grew warmer, and he handed his sword to a nearby soldier before he wrapped his arms around her.

“I love you, Trinia,” he said quietly.

“I love you, too,” she replied, and then, before she could stop herself, she added, “Father.”

She could feel his body freeze against hers, and then he slowly pulled away from her with a very strange look on his face. “What did you say?” he asked quietly. Shala froze for a moment, horror filling her soul. Did she really want to go through with this? He’d just protected her, maybe even saved her life. He’d proved that he cared about her, but then he didn’t even know who she really was. In his mind, he’d just saved his wife from being raped, not his daughter. What if she convinced him that she wasn’t Trinia, only for him to go back to beating and raping her? Could she live with that? Was it worth the risk?

“I said, I love you, Father,” she said softly, deciding that it was, indeed, worth the risk. If her father was going to love her, he needed to love her as a father, not as a husband, for his own good as much as hers.

“Why are you calling me that?” Neminatrix asked with a worried chuckle. “I’m your husband, not your father. I know I haven’t been a very good husband, but that’s still a pretty bizarre joke.”

“It’s not a joke, Father,” Shala said, shaking her head slightly. “I am not Trinia. I’m Shala. Your daughter.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Neminatrix said with a tremulous smile. “Shala is dead. She died in a hovercar accident when she was eight years old.”

To be continued…

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