Surprisingly, getting out of the Imperial Palace proved even easier than getting in. Even though the Palace was swarming with soldiers now that it had been occupied by Valador’s troops, Starfengt’s access to the PTS made it easy for Hana and her team to follow a route that was unoccupied.
Once out of the Palace, however, things got a little trickier. There was no PTS for the city of Selorin, so Hana and her team had to use their eyes, ears, and the motion trackers on their wrists to avoid Imperial troops as they crept through the streets to the extraction point, where Kyla Vertrane and Fluttermask were waiting for them. Even so, this was what the members of Starfengt were trained for, and Hana and her assassins managed to get to the extraction point without incident.
“General Hemetal!” came a voice over Belfamor’s communicator suddenly. It had been so long since he’d heard anything over his communicator that he actually jumped at the sound of it, and then shook his head ruefully as he responded.
“Copy. Who is this?” he said.
“Lieutenant Songrenan,” said the voice. “You sent me down to the communication server to deal with the Fangalin jamming.”
“Obviously, you succeeded,” Belfamor said drily.
“Yes, sir,” Songrenan replied. “Not only that, but whoever installed the jammer was either not very good, or sloppy, because I was able to use it to figure out what frequency the assassins are broadcasting on, and jam them instead.”
“Excellent work, Lieutenant!” Belfamor said with a grin. “I bet they won’t like that very much, wherever they are.”
“Echo Two, report in,” Hana said as soon as she entered the hangar where Fluttermask was waiting. There was no response. “Echo Two, this is Echo One, do you copy?” Still no response. “Echo Four, are you there?” Again, there was silence. Hana looked at Xeliana. “I can’t raise Two or Four.”
“That’s not good,” replied Xeliana, looking concerned.
“No, it’s not,” Hana muttered, thinking. It was possible that Valador’s troops had found their jamming device, and reconfigured it to jam their frequency. Starfengt could get around that by switching to a different frequency, but Arcten and Vedregela would have no way of knowing which frequency she was using. Honestly, it had never occurred to any of them that the Empire would find their jammer and use it against them. Imperial technicians were usually so hopelessly incompetent that Fangalin operatives didn’t usually think about countermeasures. So Starfengt didn’t have a set backup frequency, an oversight that seemed horribly amateur now that Hana thought about it. And she couldn’t just broadcast on random frequencies and hope that Vedregela and Arcten caught it, because the Imperial Army would be able to hear it too, and they’d be able to triangulate Hana’s position.
“I guess all we can do now is wait,” Hana said grimly. Judging by the looks on Xeliana and the others’ faces, they didn’t like that idea any more than she did.
About 15 minutes later, Vedregela and her team came into the hangar, cautiously, with weapons drawn. On seeing Hana and the others waiting for her, she breathed a sigh of relief and holstered her rifle.
“When we lost communications, I didn’t know what to expect,” Vedregela said with a frown. “Do you know what happened?” Vedregela was a short woman with flaming red hair that was straight and came down to her shoulders. She was normally cheerful, but her round face was creased with concern at the moment.
“No idea,” Hana said, shaking her head. “Best we can figure, the Empire found our jammer and is using it against us.”
“Dammit,” Vedregela said with a snarl. “I should’ve gone back for it.”
“How could you have known that they’d be able to decipher it so easily?” Hana asked, shaking her head again. “We’re not used to the Empire being able to counter our electronic warfare tactics.”
“I know, but I still should have gone back for it,” Vedregela countered, still scowling. “There was a vulnerability on the device that I could have accounted for, but I didn’t, cause I was running behind, and I figured if an Imperial found it, they’d be too dumb to make use of it. I should have known better.”
Hana frowned at her for a moment, and then shook her head a third time. “No,” she said firmly. “We are not going to second guess ourselves. The mission is done, and it was successful. We just need to get out of here, and that’s not going to be accomplished by worrying about what we should have done differently.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Vedregela said with a resigned sigh. There was silence for a moment, and then Hana spoke again.
“Did you see Commander Sidel’s team at all?” she asked, somewhat hesitantly.
“Sorry, sir,” Vedregela said, shaking her head. “After we left the Palace and lost access to the PTS, I didn’t see Team Two at all. They were still in the Palace when we left. That’s all I know.”
“Very well, Lieutenant,” Hana said with a sigh, and went back to waiting silently.
Another fifteen minutes passed before Team Two arrived at the hangar. Hana’s heart skipped a beat as Master Chief Velencias Moratino and Chief Shalaminas Retico walked through the door, and then it sank into her stomach when no one followed them.
“Master Chief!” she barked. “Where is Commander Sidel?” But she knew the answer even before Velencias shook his head grimly.
“He didn’t make it, sir,” Velencias said, grief etched in every line of his face. “We were ambushed by a platoon of Imperial soldiers. He ordered us to retreat. I thought he was coming with us, but by the time I realized he was staying behind to cover us…it was already too late.”
Hana barely heard a word Velencias said. Arcten was dead. Her dearest friend, her closest companion, the rock she leaned on, the one who’d kept her sane in dark days as she brooded over her father’s death…gone. Her world seemed to shatter into tiny fragments, spiraling off into the darkness. For ten years, she’d thought she had nothing to live for but avenging her father’s death. Too late, she realized she’d been wrong. Arcten had been worth living for, but now he was gone. All because she’d been too focused on her lust for vengeance. In the end, despite all her best efforts, Neminatrix had won.
To be continued…