The mood on Fluttermask was somber as the members of Starfengt made their way back to Numoris. Three members of their team had fallen, their bodies left behind on Trisitania. And for what? The head of a man who’d just rendered himself irrelevant. For all the Supreme Commander’s worries about upsetting the balance of power in the Empire, what Starfengt had done on Trisitania was like throwing a pebble into an ocean during a raging storm. Kyla Vertrane had intercepted transmissions before they dropped into subspace indicating that Neminatrix had abdicated a few minutes before Hana eliminated him. Hana had lost three people, including her dearest friend, for no reason.
But there was a reason! she told herself insistently. My father needed to be avenged! I couldn’t let Neminatrix go unpunished! He had to die, and I had to be the one to kill him! But why? Now that Neminatrix was dead, Hana genuinely couldn’t comprehend why she had been so determined be the one to kill him. His death hadn’t brought her father back. Knowing that the man who was ultimately responsible for her father’s death was himself dead did nothing to ease the pain in her heart.
If Arcten was here, he’d say, “I told you so.” she thought. But Arcten wasn’t there, and that was the problem. This vendetta had lost her the most important person in her life, and gained her nothing. Her father was still dead, and now her best friend was dead, too. She wanted to scream. She wanted to rage and punch and kick and destroy everything she could get her hands on. She wanted to cry, to break down and sob until she had no tears left.
But she couldn’t. She was still Hana Lodimeur, a Captain in the Grand and Invincible Navy of Fangalin, the commanding officer of Starfengt. She needed to be strong still, for her troops. Glancing around the hold, at the still and somber figures of her soldiers, she imagined that their postures were full of resentment and disgust at her leadership, or lack thereof. How could they not hate her for what had happened on Trisitania? She hated herself. How could she have let herself get so carried away with her lust for revenge? For ten years, it had been all she’d cared about. Why? What had she thought she would gain from it?
All of a sudden, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She had to get out of the cargo hold, away from the incriminating stares and sullen postures of her crew. Standing up, she strode out of the cargo bay and down the corridor. Xeliana and Vedregela looked up as she left, but they didn’t say anything, and she didn’t notice. She walked quickly down the corridor, about half of the length of the ship, but then she slowed down abruptly, and stopped. Slumping against the bulkhead, she felt all of her grief bearing down on her, and she began sobbing uncontrollably.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Captain,” a voice said. Hana looked up, tears still streaming down her face, and saw Kyla standing there. “I didn’t know you were out here,” she said apologetically.
“Oh, um, Captain Vertrane,” Hana said, hastily trying to wipe her eyes. “I, um…I was…well,” she stammered.
“No need to say anything, Captain,” Kyla said, shaking her head. “I know what it’s like to lose somebody close to me.”
“Do you?” Hana asked, tears starting to leak out of her eyes again. “And do you know what it’s like to know that it was your fault?”
“Yes,” Kyla said quietly, and Hana stared at her. For a moment, Kyla just stared back, and then she sighed and looked away. “It was years ago, when I was first starting out as a smuggler. I went on a job with this guy, and I ended up falling in love with him. Afterward, he abandoned me, or so I thought. I was so mad that when somebody came looking for him, to kill him, I told them everything I knew. Soon after that, I connected with him again, and I discovered that he’d had to go into hiding for awhile so that he could get me a position in Fangalin and pay off my debt on Fluttermask.” She took a deep breath and rubbed her temples, and then, after glancing at Hana briefly, she looked down at the deck and continued.
“I didn’t really think much about what I’d done. The information I’d given to those hunting him was so scanty, I couldn’t imagine that it would do any harm. Especially when we had the might of Fangalin behind us. But I was wrong. I’d given them just enough information. I came home from a job one day to find him chained to our bed, with his guts ripped out and strewn all around our bedroom. I was horrified, but at first I didn’t blame myself. And then I found a note, addressed to me, from the leader of the group that had been searching for him, thanking me for the information I’d given them, which led them right to us.” There was a long silence for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” Hana finally said quietly. “I had no idea.” Kyla just shrugged.
“How could you?” Kyla said simply. “In any case, it took me a couple of years, but I tracked down the bitch who did it, and I made her suffer worse than Treben had.”
“And…did that help?” Hana asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer. Kyla was quiet for a moment, and then she raised her head and looked Hana right in the eyes.
“No,” she said softly. “It didn’t.” She held Hana’s gaze for a moment, and then she looked away again. “Treben was still dead, and I was still alone.”
“I wish you’d told me,” Hana said, her soft voice smoldering slightly.
“Would it have made a difference?” Kyla asked, still not looking at her. Hana was silent for a moment, thinking.
“No,” she finally had to admit. “It wouldn’t have.” And then they both fell silent, as Fluttermask hurtled on through the void.
To be continued…