Culmination, Part 43

“Echo One, this is Echo Two,” Arcten’s voice came over Hana’s earpiece suddenly. “We are in position.”

“Copy that, Echo Two,” Hana replied. “Now we’re just waiting on Team Four.”

***

“Something’s jamming our communications, Your…um, sir,” an exasperated communications tech said to Neminatrix, clearly unsure what to call him now that he’d announced his abdication. “I’m sending out a message on all frequencies about your surrender, but I’m not sure anyone’s receiving it.”

“Keep trying, Major,” Neminatrix replied. “We need to get that message out ASAP. Every second this battle goes on, more lives are thrown away needlessly, on both sides.”

***

Belfamor’s expression was somewhere between a snarl and a grin as he strode through the front doors of the Imperial Palace. This was a moment he’d been anticipating for well over a decade, a moment that was the culmination of everything that had happened to him since the fateful day when his father had married Shala Votalin. Today was the day he would make everything right. Today was the day when he would finally put an end to the bastard who had torn his family apart. All of his doubts and fears were behind him now. It was time to put an end to this dark chapter of his life, and move on to happier times.

***

“Echo One, this is Echo Four,” said Vedregela. “We are in position.”

“Copy, Echo Four,” Hana said calmly. Then she paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, “Echo One to Echo Team… Begin.”

***

Another massive explosion rocked the command center, this one much closer, causing tables, chairs, and people to fall to the ground. A split second later, the lights went out and all the computers and displays in the center went dead.

“What’s going on!” Neminatrix roared, scrambling to his feet.

“Power’s out!” a technician yelled back. “That explosion must have taken out the main generator!”

“Switch to backups!” yelled Termaina.

“Can’t do that, sir!” replied another technician. “Backups are down, too!” There was a moment of shocked silence as Termaina and Neminatrix looked at each other.

“The infiltration team,” Termaina said softly.

“We can’t stay here-,” Neminatrix began, but before he could finish his thought, the doors at either end of the command center blew open, and five soldiers rushed in, guns blazing. Neminatrix immediately threw himself at Shala and pushed her to the floor, desperately trying to shield her from the attack with his body. There was a few seconds of furious gunfire in every direction, and then hands grabbed Neminatrix and Shala firmly and pulled them to their feet.

“We’ve gotta get out of here, sir,” said one of Neminatrix’s guards. A dozen of them flanked Neminatrix and Shala on all sides and rushed them out of a nearby door.

“What’s the problem, Sergeant?” Neminatrix asked as they sped through the corridors. “There’s only five of them!”

“True, sir,” the sergeant replied, his eyes scanning in every direction at once, looking for threats, “but those five were no ordinary soldiers. In the time from when they breached the command center to when we left, they killed twenty of your guards.”

“By the One…,” Neminatrix breathed.

“Exactly, sir,” the sergeant said grimly. “I don’t know how we’re going to keep you safe, but I’m not ready to give up yet.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Neminatrix replied gratefully. He was silent for a moment, and then he said, “What about Admiral Termaina?” The sergeant shook his head resignedly. “Dammit,” Neminatrix snarled. There was another pause, and then he asked, “So where are we going?”

“We need to get you out of the Palace, sir,” the sergeant replied. “All communications in the Palace are being jammed, probably by the same people who just barged into the command center. If you’re going to surrender to Valador, we need to get you to a place where you can let them know. And hopefully, once these assassins realize that you’re no longer the Emperor, they won’t be so determined to kill you.” Neminatrix frowned at that, thinking that there were probably a large number of people in the galaxy who would want to kill him regardless of whether he was the Emperor or not.

***

Hana quickly surveyed the remains of the Imperial Palace command center. It was already clear that Neminatrix had eluded them. “Dammit!” she growled. “How did we not know there was a third door out of the command center?”

“It must have been added recently,” Xeliana replied, shaking her head. “It doesn’t show up on any of the schematics we have of the Palace.”

“Well that’s just great,” Hana fumed. “Arcten! We need the power back on, now!” A few seconds later, there was a deep hum and the lights and computer screens flickered back on. “Cailor!” she barked. “I need access to the Palace’s systems! We need to get into their personnel tracking system and find out where Neminatrix is!”

“On it, sir,” Lt. Berain Cailor replied. The hacking specialist for Team Three, he was short and thickly muscled, with a shaved head and a thin, black mustache. He didn’t look like a hacker, but then, hacking was only one of his many talents, just like every member of Starfengt.

“He’s moving through a corridor on level 6, Section D41,” Cailor said after a few minutes. “Looks like he’s headed toward the Throne Room.”

“Then that’s where we’ll trap him,” Hana said decisively. “Echo Two and Four, I am sending a link to the Palace’s personnel tracker. Converge on the Throne Room. We are going to ambush our target there.”

“Understood,” came the response from Arcten and Vedregela. Hana motioned sharply to the members of Team One and Team Three, and they streamed out of the command center, assault rifles at the ready for anything.

Hana’s face was expressionless as she followed them, but inside her emotions were churning. They’d come so close, and then they’d lost him. How could they have let him slip away so quickly? This wasn’t over yet, but even once they’d found Neminatrix again, they still needed to get out of the Palace, and Valador’s troops had arrived now. They were going to have to be quick and quiet to have any chance of survival.

To be continued…

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