Hana nearly let out a sigh of relief as she and Lt. Lotarien approached a massive door that led into the Imperial Palace. The two of them had encountered half a dozen more pairs of drones, but fortunately, now that they knew what to look for, they were not difficult to take care of. The disconcerting thing, other than the fact that they’d killed two of her people, was that they appeared to be of Fangalin design. It was possible that Neminatrix’s forces had simply reverse-engineered captured or destroyed Fangalin drones, but it wasn’t likely, as Fangalin’s drones were designed to disintegrate completely if they were disabled. No, the most likely conclusion was that Neminatrix had a spy inside Fangalin.
Which, of course, wasn’t terribly shocking. After all, Fangalin had been able to penetrate the Empire virtually at will. It wasn’t incomprehensible that the Empire would be able to return the favor at some point. But it did mean that a quick conclusion to the war was becoming more and more unlikely. After all, if the Empire was learning from its mistakes, and adopting Fangalin’s tactics, it would become more dangerous and more difficult to destroy.
All the more reason to finish this mission quickly and do whatever we can to keep hammering away at them, Hana thought to herself. She trained her assault rifle back down the way they’d come, keeping alert for any threats that might be following them, while Lotarien attempted to hack into the control mechanism of the door and unlock it. Hacking wasn’t his strong suit, but the hacker assigned to Hana’s team was dead now, and Lotarien was a better hacker than Hana, so he got the job. Everybody in Starfengt had a specific skill that they were expert in, but they also were fairly well-versed in all the skills necessary for an assassin, so that they could fill in as needed, in situations like this one.
“Got it,” Lotarien announced suddenly in a low voice, and a second later the door slid open. Hana whipped around and moved forward, taking point as the two of them advanced into the Imperial Palace. The halls of the Palace were quiet and empty, which might have seemed odd, except that Hana had deliberately picked an entry into the Palace that was largely unused these days. Between defections to Fangalin, Midigal, Hadramoris, and rival Emperors, and the general malaise of the Imperial citizens ruled by Neminatrix IV, there were many fewer people working and living in the Imperial Palace than it was designed for. Which certainly made sneaking into it a lot easier.
“Corridor up ahead is occupied,” Lotarien whispered as they proceeded.
“What about the one on the left?” Hana replied.
“Looks clear,” he said. They swept into that corridor like a silent whirlwind, aiming their assault rifles in seemingly every direction at once as they searched for threats that their motion trackers might have missed.
“Echo Two, this is Echo One. Respond,” Hana said suddenly.
“Echo Two here,” Arcten said.
“We have entered the Palace, Two,” Hana said. “What’s your status?”
“Still in the tunnels, One,” Arcten replied. “We should be in the Palace in ten minutes.”
“Good enough, Two,” Hana said with a nod. “Echo Three, come in.”
“Three here, One,” said Xeliana Merane.
“What’s your status, Three?” Hana asked.
“In the Palace, on Level 17, Residential Wing,” Xeliana replied.
“Excellent news, Three,” Hana said, satisfied. “Echo Four, report.”
“Just entering the tunnels, One,” said the voice of the number four member of Starfengt, Lieutenant Vedregela Holomein. “We got held up by some Imperial soldiers who lacked the proper respect for our timetable.”
“Any casualties?” Hana asked with a frown.
“Negative, One,” Vedregela replied, her calm voice containing a note of triumph.
“Excellent news, Four,” Hana said. “Keep moving.”
Everything was almost in place now. The moment that Hana had been waiting over ten years for was so close she could almost taste it. The cost had already been high, but it would be worth it. She hoped.
The 3rd Battalion’s advance to the Palace was surprisingly uneventful. Belfamor, true to his guise as “just another soldier”, was manning the turret on a BR77 “Aldralack” Armored Personnel Carrier. The Adralack was a monstrous beast of a machine, more heavily armored than just about any vehicle in the Imperial Army, and that included the Empire’s tanks. Unusually for this day and age, the Adralack had wheels that touched the ground, as opposed to a hover engine. Because of its absurdly heavy armor, the Nexus drive that would have been needed to power a hover engine on the Adralack would have been so large that there wouldn’t have been any room left for soldiers to ride in it. The archaic design of the Adralack limited its usefulness, but in an urban combat environment, with lots of flat surfaces, it was the perfect APC.
“Picking up some targets ahead, General,” said the driver of the Adralack over the APC’s comm system. Belfamor could hear the bemusement in the sergeant’s voice over the fact that his gunner was a four-star General, and he didn’t blame the man a bit. It was a thoroughly bemusing situation.
“I see them, Sergeant,” Belfamor replied. “Lighting ‘em up.” And with that, Belfamor pressed a button on his control console, and the Adralack’s main gun began belching fire and death. It was satisfying to just be a grunt in this battle. It was something that he’d never really done before. As a lord’s son, he’d always been on the fast track to command. Even though he was still technically in command of this battle, he had subordinates who were handling the details, allowing him to pretend that, for once in his life, he was just a regular soldier. Once again, he wondered about the wisdom of his actions, but he couldn’t do anything about it now. He was right in the thick of things. It wasn’t as if he could just jump out of the Adralack and call a timeout. It was time to buckle up and put an end to the man who had tortured his wife and decimated his family. This day was the culmination of everything he had lived through up until this point.
To be continued…