Culmination, Part 33

Kryla stared at Decimator‘s viewscreen intently, watching the progress of the battle unfold. So far, Attack Pattern Volmin was working exactly as it was supposed to. The IDF was crumbling before Kryla’s furious assault. It had only been half an hour since the fleet dropped out of subspace, and the IDF was already breaking orbit and retreating beyond Trisitania’s farthest moon. Moving the bulk of the fleet into orbit around the planet and taking up a defensive perimeter around the dropships carrying the ground troops, Kryla ordered a detachment of ten ships to pursue the IDF and either finish them off or force them to drop into subspace. Kryla did not want those ships lurking in interplanetary space if reinforcements showed up.

“Speak of the Dark Lord,” Kryla whispered as an alarm blared and the viewscreen lit up with contacts. She leaned forward, her body almost quivering with anticipation as the sensor officer called out that 84 warships had just dropped out of subspace. “Now we get serious…”

***

“Report!” Tred barked as Magnificence shuddered back into normal space.

“The IDF has retreated beyond the outer moon,” announced her tactical officer. “Enemy forces number…103, sir.”

“Composition of the enemy fleet?” Tred asked.

“Looks like…mostly battleships and cruisers, with a few frigates and a smattering of destroyers,” the tactical officer replied.

“Dammit,” Tred growled in response. “We underestimated.” She paused for a moment, considering. She had 84 ships in her fleet, and the IDF had 15 ships left. That meant her forces’ numbers roughly matched those of the enemy fleet, but her fleet had relatively few battleships and cruisers, and instead was mostly comprised of destroyers. The result was that she was heavily outgunned, despite the numerical parity.

“Should we recall the task force?” asked her XO, contemplating the same numbers she was.

“It is tempting,” Tred mused. Recalling the task force would give her a large numerical advantage, and close the gap in regards to heavy ships. The task force had a vital assignment, but their success would be meaningless if Trisitania was lost. On the other hand, recalling the task force wouldn’t necessarily guarantee victory, and she didn’t want to start second-guessing herself. “No,” she finally said. “The task force will continue on its current mission. The 7th Fleet will defend Trisitania.”

***

“Clear!” yelled Hana as she rounded a corner. She and three other members of her team were in an office building on the opposite side of Citizen’s Plaza from the Imperial Palace. The streets of Selorin were surprisingly peaceful considering that the largest battle in 400 years was unfolding in orbit. Hana had not yet seen a single Imperial Army soldier, but most likely they were concentrated in the Palace itself and other important installations. It was too much to hope that Starfengt would be able to get all the way to their target without meeting any resistance.

Fortunately, the battle had one positive consequence for Hana and her team, which was that Selorin seemed as if it had been, for the most part, evacuated. Hana couldn’t imagine Neminatrix caring at all about the fate of civilians, but she thanked the Presence that he, or at least someone with authority in the city, did. Not having any civilians around would make it a lot more likely that Starfengt would make it into the Palace undetected.

She and her team rounded another corner, and Hana was confronted with a sight that filled her with powerful and conflicting emotions. They were in a large, open office space, and on the opposite side of the room was a huge window that afforded a spectacular view of the Imperial Palace and Citizen’s Plaza.

Citizen’s Plaza. She hadn’t seen it for almost fifteen years. Not since that fateful day when the Empire killed her old self in a storm of blood and artillery shells, and she was reborn as something new. No longer an idealist dedicated to reforming the Empire and bringing it back to its former glory, she was now a bringer of death, devoted to the Empire’s destruction. Because of the devastation she’d experienced back then, she had renounced her old loyalties and pledged allegiance to a new power.

That was all well and good. She had no regrets about the decision she’d made that day. Subsequent events had only strengthened her revulsion for the Empire. But what she hadn’t expected was to be reminded of all the good friends who had died at the hands of the Imperial Army that day. Veshryk Jilorin, Niven Umior and Shilmek Aladia had been three of her best friends while she was a student at Imperial University. Together they had planned to remove the pretender Adlamor Finegal from the Imperial Throne, and restore the Senate so that a true Emperor could be elected. But they had failed miserably, and all except for Hana had paid with their lives.

What would they think if they could see her now? Would they be proud of her? Would they be thrilled that she was finally going to get into the Palace and eliminate a false Emperor? Or would they be mortified that she had turned against the Empire and joined Fangalin? Vesh, in particular, had been so devoted to restoring the Empire, but then so had she, back then. Would he understand? Or would they be on opposite sides of the war if he had survived?

She shook her head and strode forward to the window. It didn’t matter. Her friends were dead, and so was the man responsible for their deaths. She had one last bit of business to take care of before all the ghosts of her past were expunged.

“Echo Two, we are in position,” she said over her communicator.

“Copy that, Echo One,” replied Arcten from his position on the opposite side of the Palace. “Awaiting your signal.” She nodded, even though Arcten wouldn’t be able to see it. It was time. Vengeance would be hers at last.

To be continued…

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