Culmination, Part 36

“New target off the starboard bow!” yelled the tactical officer on Decimator’s bridge. “It’s a battleship!”

“Adjust heading 9924.1!” ordered Kryla in response. “Fire phased pulse charges on my mark.” She waited just a few seconds, and then yelled, “Fire!” There was a few moments while the sensor officer waited for data to come in.

“Direct hit!” she yelled suddenly. “Enemy battleship is venting plasma into space from their port fuel lines!”

“That’s one more ship out of the battle, then,” Kryla said, permitting herself a small smile. That was the best kind of kill, at least in this situation. The enemy battleship was too badly damaged to continue to be a factor in the current battle, but not so badly damaged that it couldn’t be easily repaired once the battle was over. Hopefully, once she won this battle, she would be able to incorporate that battleship into her fleet.

She looked down at the latest report from the CIC. Things were looking well, overall. The two fleets were fighting a battle of attrition, their numbers depleting slowly, but the enemy fleet was disappearing less slowly than Kryla’s. Of course, Kryla was under no illusion that she’d be able to force the enemy to retreat. This battle was do-or-die for them. If Trisitania fell, the Emperor that they served would have no hope of holding on to the Throne. There was no place for them to retreat to now.

***

In the CIC on Magnificence, the mood was considerably grimmer. Admiral Tred was looking at the same numbers that Kryla was, and coming to much the same conclusion. The 7th Fleet was losing a battle that they couldn’t afford to lose. She tapped her fingers on the console in front of her, deep in thought.

“Captain Solmain!” she barked suddenly. Her XO, Captain Venegar Solmain, looked over at her.

“Yes, Admiral?” he replied.

“What is the current status of the task force?” she asked, thinking fast.

“Assuming they have not had any problems, they should be dropping out of subspace and engaging their target any minute now,” Solmain answered with a slight, puzzled frown.

“I see,” she said softly, drumming her fingers even faster. “Send them a message,” she announced suddenly, her mind made up.

“Sir?” Solmain said, his puzzled look deepening. “It’s too late to recall them if they’ve already engaged their target. And if we send them a message, we risk exposing them and ruining the element of surprise.”

“I understand,” Tred replied, “but their mission doesn’t matter if Trisitania falls. Besides, I have no intention of recalling them. They are to carry out their assigned task. But I want them to set a course for Trisitania as soon as they are done.”

“Yes, sir,” Solmain said with a sharp nod. “It will be done.”

***

“We’re approaching the Palace now, General,” announced the pilot of the landing craft.

“Good to hear, Lt.,” replied Belfamor. “How is the LZ?”

“Pretty hot, sir,” the pilot admitted. “The Palace’s defenses are all fully operational. Recommend we abort and find some other place to land.” Belfamor thought about this for a moment, and then nodded.

“Agreed, Lt.,” he said. He bent down and looked over the holographic map of Selorin that was displayed in the cockpit. “How about here?” he said, pointing to a park about a mile from the Palace. “It’s not too far away, and it looks relatively undefended.”

“Looks good to me, sir,” the pilot said.

“Good,” Belfamor replied, nodding sharply. “Signal the 3rd Battalion to land there. The rest of the ground forces will proceed as planned.”

***

Neminatrix scowled as he looked over the dozens of holographic displays in the command center of the Imperial Palace. The battle was not going well. Despite everything, the plans that he, Admiral Tred, and Admiral Termaina had put in place were not working. The rebel fleet was larger and more powerful than Neminatrix’s fleet, and while Zhiala Tred was a decent commander, she was clearly outmatched by whoever was in charge of the rebels.

Ever since he’d woken up, a disquieting feeling had been nagging at him, scratching at the back of his head. A feeling that today was the last day of his reign. He’d been trying to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away.

“Perhaps, I should embrace it,” he muttered to himself.

“What was that, Your Majesty?” asked Termaina.

“Oh, nothing, Admiral,” Neminatrix replied, waving a hand dismissively. He hadn’t meant to speak out loud, but it was such a powerful thought, he couldn’t help but give voice to it. Embrace death. Maybe that was the key. After all, if he was going to go down, he might as well go down fighting.

***

“I need visual confirmation of those drones,” Hana whispered determinedly, glancing at one of the members of her team, a young woman named Kella Morvalis.

“Yes, sir,” Morvalis replied, nodding sharply. She was the youngest and least experienced member of Starfengt, and therefore the most expendable. Not that Hana expected much of a threat. Imperial drone technology had always been laughable compared to Fangalin’s. As clever as it was of Neminatrix to station drones in these tunnels, making it seem to the Fangalin operatives scanning the tunnels that there were no guards, Hana didn’t expect to have much trouble getting past them.

Which was why it was a total shock when Kella Morvalis stuck her head around the corner of the corridor and it immediately exploded.

“Take cover!” Hana bellowed to the two surviving members of her team, and immediately took her own advice. A roar of automatic gunfire soon filled the tunnel, as a pair of drones swooped around the corner and attempted to obliterate everything in their path. The fourth member of the team, another young lieutenant named Hanagor Columin, was a split second too slow, and three arminium rounds ripped through his torso armor as if it were made of butter. Just like that, Hana and Lt. Lotarien were the only members of the team left alive.

“Switch to EMP rounds!” Hana yelled to Lotarien with a snarl. Suddenly the feeling of confident triumph that had filled Hana since they’d arrived at Trisitania was gone, replaced with hollow shock and cold rage. Hana didn’t need any more reasons to kill Neminatrix IV, but she had just gained two more anyway.

To be continued…

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