A Sword of Ivy, Part 22

“This is Voldazek Mekoren,” said a pleasant but business-like voice from several hundred light years away. Hana was in a secure communications room onboard Heart of the Galaxy, calling a man whom her contacts in the Republic indicated could help them defect. “How can I help you?”

“Mr. Mekoren,” Hana replied, “you don’t know me personally, but you may have heard of me before. My name is Hana Lodimeur.”

“Ah, yes,” said Mekoren, still pleasant and business-like, but with a sudden undertone of wariness, “I have heard of you. What would someone like you want with the likes of me?”

“You are the Republic’s liaison with Fangalin, are you not?” Hana asked. Despite officially being at war with each other, the four states that divided up the known galaxy still needed to coexist to some extent, so each state had officials who were in charge of diplomatic relations with the other three states. In no case would any of the states admit that such officials existed, since none of the states officially recognized the existence of the other three, but the liaisons did exist. You just had to know where to look.

“That…may be one of my…unofficial roles,” Mekoren said carefully. “But, I ask you again, what would someone like you want with the likes of me?”

“Mr. Mekoren, I, and several of my associates, would like to formally request asylum with the Republic of Hadramoris,” Hana said, more calmly than she felt. There was a long pause on the other end of the connection.

“Yes, I can see why you might,” Mekoren replied eventually. “Well, the Republic would certainly welcome somebody with your skill set, and given recent upheavals within Fangalin, I doubt anyone would question your motives. There are at least a dozen outstanding warrants for your arrest, but I believe those can be taken care of. You said that several of your associates wish to defect with you?”

“Yes,” Hana said, “every member of my unit, Starfengt, is also requesting asylum.”

“I see,” Mekoren said slowly. “Well, I believe there may be outstanding warrants for their arrest as well, at least for some them. You will have to send me their names so I can make sure the matter is cleared up.”

“Of course,” Hana replied. “In addition, Captain Kyla Vertrane and her crew would also like to request asylum.”

“Vertrane…Vertrane,” Mekoren muttered. “That name sounds familiar.”

“It should,” Hana said, “Captain Vertrane is the owner of the freighter Fluttermask.”

“Ah ha,” Mekoren replied, his voice level, but still carrying a slight note of surprise. “That…might be a bit of a problem. You see, a prominent citizen of the Republic, a man by the name of Grolder Hanh, has claimed for years that Fluttermask was stolen from him by the woman who now flies it in service of Fangalin. He has been petitioning the Senate and the President for years to mount a raid to retrieve his property. He may not be…pleased, if Kyla Vertrane were granted asylum and allowed to keep his ship.”

“Captain Vertrane is the rightful owner of Fluttermask,” Hana replied firmly. “It was not stolen from Grolder Hanh. Hanh was paid in full for the vessel by Treben Holkas, who was acting as an agent for Fangalin. Regardless of how Grolder Hanh, as a loyal Republican patriot, might feel about accepting money from an enemy state, the fact remains that he willingly sold Fluttermask to Kyla Vertrane, and he received full payment.”

“I assume you have proof of this sale?” Mekoren asked.

“Of course,” replied Hana.

“Then there should not be an issue,” Mekoren said, sounding satisfied. “The President has been anxious to get Hanh off his back for some time. He will be pleased to have an excuse to say no to Hanh once and for all.”

“Excellent,” Hana said. “Oh yes, there are a few more people who wish to defect with me.”

“Of course,” Mekoren said smoothly.

“The 9th Brigade of the Fangalin Army, and the 3rd Fleet of the Fangalin Navy,” Hana said. There was a long pause after this.

“Um…please repeat what you just said,” Mekoren said slowly. Hana did so, with a smile on her face. “An entire brigade of troops?” Mekoren asked in a wondering voice, “and, did you say the 3rd Fleet?”

“I did,” Hana replied, her smile growing wider.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Mekoren said, “but doesn’t the 3rd Fleet include Heart of the Galaxy?”

“It does,” Hana said, feeling quite pleased with herself.

“By the One,” Mekoren breathed. “That…that’s quite impressive, Ms. Lodimeur.”

“Why, thank you,” Hana said lightly. “Does this mean you will accept our petition for asylum?”

“Well, it is, of course, not my decision to make,” Mekoren replied, sounding a little more like his normal self. “Such a high level defection will have to be approved by President Trilis himself, but I highly doubt he will turn you down.”

“I suspect your opinion does count for something, though, does it not?” Hana said, figuring it couldn’t hurt to butter Mekoren up a little.

“It may,” Mekoren replied, “but in any case I need to brief the President and his advisors. I suspect I will be contacting you shortly, Ms. Lodimeur.”

“Of course, Mr. Mekoren,” Hana replied. “Thank you for your assistance.” There was a click as Mekoren severed the connection, and Hana sat back with a grin on her face. That had indeed gone well. Mekoren had been duly impressed that she was managing to defect with Fangalin’s newest and most powerful warship. Of course, it had been a happy coincidence that Heart of the Galaxy’s captain was an old friend of Hana’s. But Hana would take whatever she could get.

Her smile faded as she thought about the import of what she’d done. Soon, she would no longer be a citizen of Fangalin. She had taken the first step to leave behind her old loyalties and begin serving a new country. It was hard not to feel melancholy about that, but it had to be done. Shaking her head with a slight sneer, she stood up and left the communications booth. There was no time to sit and feel sorry for herself. There was too much work to be done.

The End

A Sword of Ivy, Part 21

There were some murmurs of approval in the auditorium at this statement. Hana paused, and looked around the room. These men and women were like her. They believed in Fangalin. They believed in the promise of building a new and better society that Fangalin had presented. They may not have been condemned to execution for crimes they hadn’t committed, like she had, but they had been rejected just as thoroughly as she had. She just needed to make them see that.

“No matter what we do, we are traitors to Fangalin,” she said firmly. “If we rebel against Ven Ron, try to fight against him, overthrow him, assassinate him…we are traitors to Fangalin. The Fangalin Charter is our highest law. The Charter was given to our founder, Wellin Votara, as a gift from the Dark Presence itself. It is holy, sacred. It cannot be changed. Not even a Supreme Commander, with the full support of the Grand Council, can amend the Fangalin Charter. And according to this Charter, the very foundation of the state that we hold dear, Ven Ron is the rightful Supreme Commander.”

She paused for a moment, letting that statement hang in the air, and then she continued. “You may not like the idea of joining the Republic. You may think it is treason. But I am telling you, the only way to avoid treason now, is to go back to Numoris and swear loyalty to Ven Ron. Are you willing to do that?”

“Never!” yelled a voice from the back of the room.

“Then stand with me!” roared Hana, punching her fists into the air. “Come with me to the Republic of Hadramoris! Together, we will fight the evil that our beloved Fangalin has become! We will forge the Republic into what Fangalin should have been! We will build the nation that we want to live in!” Swept up in the emotion of her speech, all of the COs began cheering. Some of them got to their feet and started chanting Hana’s name. Gradually, more and more joined in, until all of them were chanting her name and cheering.

Hana just stood there, fists raised in the air, letting the emotion of the moment wash over her. The expression on her face was solemn, but triumphant. Ven Ron would pay for what he had done to her, for what he had done to all of them. A grave injustice had been done, but Hana would correct it.

***

A few hours later, Hana was sitting in her quarters, still exhilarated about her experience in the meeting with the Fleet COs, but she was also somewhat bewildered by it. She had truly expected that no one, or almost no one, would follow her to Hadramoris. Instead, she had gotten the entire 3rd Fleet to join her, and not reluctantly, but enthusiastically. It was somewhat hard for her to believe that she had been so persuasive.

A chime sounded, and she immediately said, “Come in!” The door slid open, and Xeliana walked in, beaming brightly.

“So!” she exclaimed, her eyes shining with delight. “Your terrible idea was a resounding success!”

“I can’t imagine why,” Hana said, shaking her head with a grin. “I still think it’s a terrible idea, but I don’t have a better one.”

“It’s a fantastic idea, Hana,” Xeliana replied, shaking her head as well. “You were right. Fangalin rejected us, so why should we keep fighting for them?”

“I’m surprised at you,” Hana said with a slight frown. “I mean, it’s one thing for me to defect from one state to another. I’ve done it before. It’s practically old hat to me now. But you were born and raised in Fangalin. Can you really turn your back on them so easily?”

“It’s like you said, Hana,” Xeliana responded solemnly. “I’m not turning my back on Fangalin. Fangalin is turning its back on me. I may have been born and raised in Fangalin, but my parents came from the Empire. They believed that Fangalin was better than the Empire. They had certain morals that they felt the Empire wasn’t living up to, and they instilled those morals in me. And now I see that Fangalin isn’t living up to those morals either. The Fangalin Charter may be the highest law of Fangalin, but there is a higher law out there, and I have to live by that law. And that law says that murder is wrong, and I don’t care who is doing the murdering. If someone kills the man that they’ve sworn allegiance to, that person should be punished, not rewarded with the dead man’s position.”

“Well said, my friend,” Hana replied with a grin. “I must say, it seemed pretty obvious to me, but I don’t always have the best grasp of what will seem obvious to other people.”

“You don’t understand the effect you have on people, do you?” Xeliana asked, shaking her head in bemusement. “You don’t realize that I, and so many others, would follow you into the very bowels of Nerzaga if you asked.”

“But why?” Hana blurted. “Why? I’m just a regular person. I’m not anybody special. You keep trying to tell me I am, but I’m just not.”

“You are, though,” Xeliana replied earnestly, “and the fact that you don’t realize it is part of what makes you so wonderful. Somebody like Ven Ron thinks that he’s spectacular, and worth following, but you really are, and the fact that you don’t realize it is part of what makes you so special.”

“Well, then why are you so determined to convince me that I’m special?” Hana said with a frown. Xeliana opened her mouth to reply, and then shut it again, her frown mirroring Hana’s.

“You know, you’ve got a good point,” she said. “Never mind. You’re just a regular person after all. Nothing special about you.” She looked at Hana, a small smile playing at the edges of her mouth, and then they both burst out laughing.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 20

Hana didn’t want to waste any time now that the 3rd Fleet was assembled. She needed to present her plan to the commanding officers of every ship and army unit that had rallied to her, and see what the consensus was. Despite the encouraging words from Xeliana and Chieria, she was more than half convinced that not a single CO would go along with her plan. It was a terrible plan, but despite its awfulness, she still couldn’t think of an alternative. The 3rd Fleet was one of ten fleets in the Fangalin Navy. Even though it was the strongest single fleet, they couldn’t hope to overthrow Ven Ron without more fleets on their side.

Despite the lack of an alternative, Hana was having second thoughts about her plan, even before presenting it to the Fleet COs. She loved Fangalin. She had devoted her life to serving Fangalin, ever since the Empire had betrayed her and left her for dead. The plan she was about to propose would be tantamount to treason against Fangalin, and she wasn’t sure she could go through with it.

But then again, she had been devoted to the Empire once. She had dedicated her life to serving the Empire, and then the Empire had been revealed to be corrupt and dying. She had fought to change it, fought to reform it, but the Empire had fought back, and she had been left with the choice between death and serving Fangalin instead. She had gone to Fangalin without any hesitation.

And now she was in the same situation again. The state she served had turned against her, wanted her dead. And the reasons weren’t even as good this time. Fangalin had revealed itself to be more corrupt, more vile than the Empire had ever been. She had every reason in the world to turn against Fangalin, even more so than when she’d turned against the Empire. Why was the decision so much more difficult this time?

The answer came to her, as she sat in the VIP quarters onboard Heart of the Galaxy, waiting for the Fleet COs to be assembled. When she had left the Empire, she had been a child. Legally she had been an adult, but emotionally, she had still been a child. She had grown up in Fangalin. She had devoted her adult life to serving Fangalin. She had killed for Fangalin, many times, something she had never done while living in the Empire. She had given so much more of herself to Fangalin than she ever had to the Empire. Fangalin was her life, and it had cast her out.

She didn’t want to abandon Fangalin, but she didn’t have a choice. Fangalin had abandoned her. She had joined Fangalin believing that it was everything she had wanted the Empire to be, but in the end, an organization was no better than the people who were part of it, and people were the same no matter where you went in the galaxy. Twice now, she had devoted herself to a state, and that state had cast her out. So she would move on. Maybe the third time was the charm.

Having worked through these thoughts, she came to the meeting with the Fleet COs feeling remarkably calm. She had made her decision. She didn’t expect anyone to follow her, but she would accept anyone who was willing. And if they tried to stop her, well, she would listen. Maybe somebody else could see a solution that she couldn’t.

The meeting was held in a large auditorium. The Fleet COs sat in several rows of seats in the middle of the room, and Hana sat on a raised platform at the front of the room with Admiral Peltoren, Colonel Latrafai, Xeliana, and General Moreven Zelexas, a woman about the same age as Admiral Peltoren, who was the commanding officer of the 9th Brigade. Admiral Peltoren spoke first, introducing Hana to those who didn’t know her, and reminding the COs why they were there. Then it was Hana’s turn.

“I’m going to be blunt with you,” she said as she came to the podium. “We are in a difficult spot. As grateful as I am that you saved me from Ven Ron’s insane ambition, and have joined me in opposition to him, we don’t have much of a chance of overthrowing him. We are one fleet against a vast armada. Therefore, I’m going to propose we do something that most of you aren’t going to like.” She paused, and mentally gathered herself before she spoke again. “I think we should defect to the Republic of Hadramoris.”

There was a moment of shock that rippled through the room like silent thunder, and then pandemonium broke out. All of the Fleet COs started talking at once, and none of them seemed happy about Hana’s idea. Hana was at peace, though. She had dropped her bombshell, and now all that remained was to assess the damage.

“Silence!” bellowed Chieria, cutting through the angry chattering of the Fleet COs. Hers was a voice used to giving commands on a noisy starship bridge, and, astounded as the Fleet COs were, they were still soldiers, used to listening when a superior officer spoke.

Hana looked around at all the COs as their muttering subsided. She knew exactly how they felt. The inside of her brain had sounded just like the inside of this auditorium as she had debated the pros and cons of defecting. But it was the only option. She reminded herself of that, as she waited for the noise to die down, and silence to fall over the room.

“I know this goes against everything we believe in,” Hana said quietly to the silent COs. “I know that we are soldiers of Fangalin. I know it shocks you to the core to hear me, the so-called Hero of Fangalin, suggest defecting to an enemy. But Fangalin has rejected us. Ven Ron is the rightful Supreme Commander according the highest law of Fangalin. And I cannot accept that. Even if Ven Ron extended an amnesty to me, I would not take it. I will not serve Ven Ron.”

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 19

Everything on Heart of the Galaxy seemed enormous. The hangar bay where Fluttermask docked was easily the largest hangar bay Hana had ever seen, not just on a starship, but anywhere. As she passed through halls that looked less like corridors on a starship and more like hallways in the Great Hall of Fangalin, the lieutenant escorting her kept pointing out various areas of the Starfortress, all of which were much larger than the equivalent areas on any other starship Hana had ever seen. The engine room in particular had been most impressive. Just one of Galaxy’s four engine cores was larger than Fluttermask. But nothing she saw in her brief tour prepared her for the bridge.

Most starship bridges were fairly compact, with room for about 20 people at most. Fortunately the average warship only needed a bridge crew of about 10. Heart of the Galaxy was so massive and complex that it required a 100 person bridge crew. Knowing this, Hana expected the bridge to seem extremely crowded. But instead, it hardly seemed like there was anyone on the bridge at all. In fact, Galaxy’s bridge was so vast and spacious it could have easily fit 1000 people, with room to spare.

As Hana walked onto the bridge, she realized her mouth was hanging open, and she snapped it shut, just as a woman stood up from a chair in the center of the bridge. The chair was placed on a raised platform, so that whoever sat in it could see everything that was going on in the vast space. The woman was the captain of Heart of the Galaxy, Admiral Chieria Peltoren. Peltoren was a tall woman in her mid-50s, with short black hair that was just starting to turn gray, brown eyes, and chiseled features. She seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Colonel Latrafai, but Hana knew that her steely exterior hid a warm and compassionate heart. Come to think of it, so did Colonel Latrafai’s.

“Hana, it’s good to see you again,” Chieria said with a smile as she descended the command platform and came over to shake Hana’s hand.

“And you, Chieria,” Hana said warmly. “It’s been…three years, now?”

“Four, I believe,” Chieria replied, her smile fading. “I was so sorry to hear about Arcten. I should have contacted you.”

“No, I should have contacted you,” Hana said, shaking her head firmly. “You knew him longer than I did.”

“Maybe so, but you were closer to him than I could ever have hoped to be,” Chieria replied, sadness etching her features. “I’m sure you could have used a sympathetic ear, and I kept meaning to contact you, but every time I tried, something came up, or I had some reason why I couldn’t, and so on, and so forth, and so here we are.”

“Here we are,” Hana said, smiling. “All is forgiven, Chieria. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be one head shorter right now. Your intervention on Numoris was worth a thousand calls.” Chieria smiled back at her, and then turned and went up the steps to the command chair. Sitting down, she beckoned Hana to come up and sit next to her, which Hana did.

“As good as it is to see you, we have a lot of work to do,” Chieria said, her voice taking on a brisk, business-like tone. “Heart of the Galaxy is the best ship in the fleet, but we’re still only one ship. Even with the rest of the 9th Fleet, we don’t have the firepower to go up against the entire Fangalin Navy. We should still have the element of surprise. I don’t think that Ron suspects I’ve joined you, but it won’t take him long to figure it out. However, even the element of surprise and a Starfortress can only go so far.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that,” Hana said with a frown. “I have an idea, but I’d rather tell all the COs with us at once. I’m…not sure anyone’s going to approve.”

“Well, even a bad idea is better than anything I’ve got,” Chieria said with a slight smile. “I didn’t really think too hard about what we were going to do after we rescued you. I just knew it would be a terrible crime to let Ven Ron get away with murdering you.”

“What a mess this is,” Hana muttered. “If only Calabane would have let me investigate his assistant. But he was too stubborn stupid to think that Velenoth might be working for Ron.”

“Dren Calabane was a good man, and a good Supreme Commander,” Chieria said somberly, “but even the best man has his blind spots.”

“Yeah, well, that was a pretty big one,” Hana said with a frown. “I shouldn’t talk bad about the dead, but if I could have unmasked Velenoth…things would look pretty different right about now.”

“And what if Calabane had given you the green light to investigate Velenoth and he still managed to murder the Supreme Commander before you could unmask him?” Chieria asked. “And what if you had convinced Calabane to arrest Velenoth without evidence and it turned out he was innocent? There’s no point in wondering about what might have been, Hana. We have no way of knowing what might have been.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Hana said with a sigh. “It’s just so…frustrating! I’ve given my life to Fangalin, and to see it all torn down by that…that…pervert!” She slammed her fist into the armrest of her chair.

“We all feel the same way, Hana,” Chieria replied quietly. “That’s why we’re here.”

“I know,” Hana said, calming down immediately. “Thanks for letting me vent.”

“It’s the least I could do,” Chieria replied with a small smile. She paused for a moment, hesitating, and then she said, “I know how much Arcten meant to you. I know I can never replace him, but…if there’s anything I can do, ever…just let me know.”

“Thank you, Chieria,” Hana said, closing her eyes. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

To be continued…