Culmination, Part 32

“Status report!” barked Admiral Kryla Zomulin as soon as Decimator dropped out of subspace. “What’s out there?”

“Looks like 24 contacts, sir,” responded the sensor officer. “Two battleships, three cruisers, nine frigates, and ten destroyers.”

“Attack pattern Volmin,” Kryla ordered. “Obliterate them.”

“Yes, sir!” replied the tactical officer.

“CIC, confirm attack pattern Volmin,” Kryla said to her XO, stationed in Decimator‘s Command Information Center. Normally, the officer in command of the fleet would be in the flagship’s CIC, and the officer commanding the flagship would be a separate person stationed on the bridge, but Kryla tended to be quite unorthodox. It went along with being one of the youngest admirals in the Imperial Fleet.

“Attack pattern Volmin, confirmed,” replied Kryla’s XO. “All ships, begin charging forward weapons arrays.” Kryla nodded in satisfaction. Volmin was an aggressive combat scheme, designed for exactly this situation, when one fleet vastly outnumbered an opposing fleet, and needed to destroy it quickly, before reinforcements arrived. Very few countermeasures had been devised against it, as military strategists didn’t overly want to think about trying to fight back against overwhelming odds. The only flaw with Volmin is that it had never actually been tested in combat, as such lopsided battles were extremely rare. But Kryla was feeling lucky today.

***

An insistent beeping noise woke Neminatrix out of pleasant dreams. At first, he was inclined to ignore it. He had been up late last night, celebrating with his daughter. It was amazing how reconnecting with her had cleared the fog that seemed to have settled over his brain ever since his wife’s death. Trinia’s death had hit him harder than he would have ever imagined. After all, he had married her solely because of her connections to the Imperial family and its wealth. House Votalin was an ancient and prestigious house, but its money had been bled dry by Neminatrix’s wastrel father. When Neminatrix had suddenly become Head of House after his father was stabbed in drunken barroom brawl, his first order of business was to find a wealthy, connected spouse to restore his family’s fortunes. He hadn’t expected to fall in love with her.

But fall in love with her he had, and her death had broken him in ways he hadn’t even realized until recently. He had nearly destroyed his daughter in some twisted scheme to blame her for something that couldn’t possibly have been her fault. Not only that, but his reign as Emperor had only exacerbated the wounds caused by the Fangalin rebellion and accompanying civil war. He had spent so much time brooding over his past and playing cat-and-mouse with his ISS Master that he’d had very little time left for governing and overseeing the war. So much pain and destruction had been caused by him. But now, he felt like he was beginning to finally find redemption and was working toward healing the damage he’d caused. Which was why he was ignoring the aide calling him, because deep down inside, he suspected that the news he’d hear would tell him that it was already too late for him to turn his life and his reign around.

“Yes, what is it?” he finally growled, sitting up in his bed.

“Your Majesty, thank the One you’re finally awake!” the aide yelled frantically. “We are under attack!”

“What do you mean?” Neminatrix replied, sitting up straighter.

“I mean that a fleet has just dropped out of subspace, and is engaging the IDF picket in orbit!” the aide practically screeched.

“I’m on my way,” Neminatrix said, jumping out of bed and pulling on a robe. He strode out of his quarters and down the halls of the Imperial Palace, full of purpose, his bodyguards falling in around him as he moved. He’d been waiting for this moment for weeks. His spies had been hearing rumors that Belfamor Hemetal was up to something, but they hadn’t been able to figure out exactly what. The most common story was that he was planning a diversionary strike on Trisitania to provide cover for an invasion of Endragar. Neminatrix didn’t believe that for a second, but he’d played along with it, because it was clearly what his enemies wanted him to believe.

“Report!” Neminatrix barked as he strode into the Imperial Palace’s command center.

“The picket is crumbling fast,” announced the commander of the Imperial Defense Force, the unit of the Imperial Fleet that defended the capital. His name was Admiral Veleken Termaina, and he was a short, gray-haired man with a wispy beard and a fierce demeanor. “Whoever’s in command up there is good. They clearly don’t believe that we think this is a diversionary attack. They’re trying to crush the picket fast, before we can bring reinforcements in.”

“How much of a chance do they have?” Neminatrix asked.

“Current projections indicate that the picket will be destroyed in an hour,” Termaina replied, and then a wolfish grin spread across his face. “The 7th Fleet will be dropping out of subspace in twenty minutes.”

“Excellent,” Neminatrix said, his grin mirroring Termaina’s.

***

Admiral Zhiala Tred, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces under Emperor Neminatrix IV, had taken direct command of the 7th Fleet for the defense of the capital, and she had a bad feeling about it. The Emperor and his advisors were confident that they could repel anything that Valador Mifalis threw at them, but Admiral Tred wasn’t so sure. Over the past ten years, the forces loyal to Neminatrix had grown weaker, and those following Valador were stronger. But Neminatrix’s forces were still quite strong, thus making it a bold gamble to strike directly for the capital. Tred knew Valador well enough to know that he wouldn’t have committed to such an operation unless he was confident that he would win.

“Ten minutes until Trisitania, Admiral!” called out the navigation officer. She nodded in response and went back to drumming the arms of her chair with her fingers and thinking. She was in the CIC of her flagship, the battleship Magnificence. It was brand-new, the first of its class, and the best that the Empire had to offer, along with the rest of the ships in the 7th Fleet. Tred wished she felt like it would be enough to turn the tide.

To be continued…

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