“Admiral, the rebel fleet has pulled back and tightened their orbit around the planet,” announced the sensor officer in Magnificence’s CIC.
“Good,” Admiral Tred replied. “Order the fleet to stand down from battle stations, but stay on alert. As soon as the task force arrives, we need to go back to battle stations and go on the offensive. In the meantime, have the engineering crews on every ship repair as much damage as they can.” The communications staff in the CIC nodded and began sending messages to the rest of the fleet.
“Admiral, are you sure this is a good idea?” asked her XO in a quiet voice.
“I’m not, but I don’t see that we have any other choice,” Tred replied grimly. “We’re falling apart here, Captain. The rebel commander is better than anyone I’ve ever gone up against, and I can’t seem to do anything to counter her. If we keep going as we’ve been, we’re going to get destroyed. If we pull back and wait for the task force to arrive, at least we’ll be back on equal footing.”
“And in the meantime, the rebels land more troops on the planet’s surface,” her XO said bitterly.
“Which we’ll be able to do something about if we fight off the rebel fleet!” Tred snapped. “But if we keep pushing the rebels and we get destroyed, they’ll be able to land all of their troops with impunity! This is a choice between a slim chance and no chance, Captain.”
“Understood, sir,” the Captain muttered sullenly. “But I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I, Captain,” Tred replied softly. “Neither do I.”
Hana and Lotarien continued to creep swiftly through the halls of the Imperial Palace, making their way to the rendezvous point. So far, there still hadn’t been any sign of the battle between the rival Emperors, but that was unlikely to last. Valador’s forces had to be on their way to the Palace at that very moment. With any luck, Starfengt would be able to penetrate to the heart of the Palace and eliminate their target before they arrived. With even more luck, they’d be able to get out before Valador’s forces arrived as well. But that was much less likely.
“Targets at 10 o’clock!” yelled the sergeant over the Adralack’s comms.
“Got ‘em!” Belfamor yelled back, swiveling the Adralack’s gun to the left and opening fire. Several of Neminatrix’s soldiers died as bullets ripped through their position, but then the Adralack hit a bump, jostling the gun and causing Belfamor’s aim to go astray just enough to miss the last few targets. “Stay on target, Sergeant!” he barked, annoyed.
“Yes, sir!” the sergeant replied. “Sorry, sir!” Belfamor sighed, momentarily frustrated with himself. It wasn’t the sergeant’s fault that the road was pitted and cratered with combat damage. But there was no time to dwell on this thought. The Adralack swung around a corner and a whole platoon of Neminatrix’s soldiers appeared in Belfamor’s vision. Without a moment’s hesitation, Belfamor opened fire on them. They tried to fight back, but their assault rifles were no match for an Adralack’s armor.
“Rocket!” somebody suddenly screamed. Belfamor’s eyes widened, and he scanned the battlefield rapidly, looking for an enemy soldier with a rocket launcher. Almost immediately, he found his target, and swung the gun around to open fire, but he was too late. The enemy soldier pulled the trigger, a rocket came screaming toward the Adralack, there was an overwhelming blast of sound and light, and then darkness.
There was an almost feral gleam in Kryla Zomulin’s eyes as she gazed at the enemy ships highlighted on the display in Decimator’s CIC. They were just sitting there! What were they doing? She had imagined that they wanted her to chase them, but it had been half an hour since they’d withdrawn, and they hadn’t budged, even as Kryla’s fleet had disgorged tens of thousands more soldiers onto Trisitania’s surface. What were they waiting for? Were they clinging desperately to their trap, even though it had obviously failed? Or had Kryla guessed wrong, and they wanted her to ignore them? But what purpose would that serve?
“Admiral, we’re getting a message from Hibellia!” yelled out the communications officer suddenly.
“What?” Kryla replied with a puzzled frown. “Why now? We’re in the middle of a battle here!”
“Yes, Admiral, but I think you’re going to want to hear it anyway,” the communications officer said grimly. Kryla turned toward him slowly, hearing the note of doom in his voice.
“Tell me,” she said firmly.
“Hibellia has been raided,” the communications officer said softly. “By Neminatrix’s forces.” There was a long pause while Kryla digested this information.
“Casualties?” she asked quietly.
“Millions,” the communications officer whispered. There was another, longer pause, and then a look of cold fury appeared on her face.
“Send a message to the fleet,” she snarled. There was a moment, and the comm officer nodded. “All ships, prepare to re-engage the enemy. Enemy reinforcements are expected to arrive shortly. We are going to smash as many enemy ships as we can before they arrive.”
“Admiral!” called out the sensor officer in the CIC on Magnificence. “The rebel forces are breaking orbit and headed our way!”
“Dammit,” Tred muttered. “They must have received a message from Hibellia. How did they get anything through our signal jammers?”
“I don’t know, sir,” responded the communications officer. “I still haven’t received any messages from the task force.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Tred said, dismissing disturbing thoughts from her mind. “All ships, prepare to re-engage the enemy! We need to hold out until the task force arrives, and then we can turn the tide. Let’s do this! For the Empire!”
“For the Empire!” came the chorus of responses from around the CIC. Tred was glad for their enthusiasm, but personally she didn’t think there was any hope left for the 7th Fleet. The fact that the rebels on Hibellia had managed to get a message to their fleet, but the task force hadn’t sent any kind of update to her did not bode well. Tred didn’t want to say this out loud, but she didn’t think there was much chance that the task force was coming.
To be continued…