The Darkest Heart, Part 7

Kryla Zomulin frowned slightly as Decimator dropped out of subspace and moved into orbit around Medradi. She had been the captain of this cruiser for many years, and she knew it better than the back of her hand. A ship always shook slightly as it transitioned to or from subspace, but that shudder seemed more…pronounced, somehow. She looked over at her XO, Commander Hosken Venrel, but he didn’t seem to have noticed anything. Her frown deepened, and she made a decision.

“Engineering!” she barked.

“Yes, Admiral?” came the voice of Decimator’s chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Herezel Motain, over the ship’s intercom.

“I need you to run a level 2 diagnostic on the subspace interlink coils,” she said. “Make sure you check for elevated levels of infazain.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” responded Commander Motain briskly. Zomulin looked over at Venrel, who was staring at her with a bemused expression on his face.

“Interlink coils?” he asked. “What do you know that I don’t know?”

“Possibly nothing,” she said with a thoughtful frown, “but I know this ship better than anybody, and something didn’t feel right about that last drop. It could be that the interlink coils are out of phase.”

“If you can tell that just from the motion of the ship, I will be even more impressed with you than I am now,” Venrel said, his eyes widening slightly.

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Commander,” Zomulin said, rolling her eyes. “You’re still coming with me to meet with Lord Hemetal.” Venrel sighed theatrically and then grinned.

“At least the food oughta be good,” he said.

“Considering House Hemetal has more money than the rest of the Empire combined, yeah I think you’re right about that,” Zomulin said with a snort. “If Belfamor Hemetal can’t afford a good chef, then no one can.”

“Man, do you ever think about what it would be like to be a noble?” Venrel asked wistfully.

“Nah,” Zomulin replied dismissively. “Too much responsibility.”

“Says the most decorated starship captain in the Empire,” Venrel said, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah, but this is different,” Zomulin said. “If I was a noble, I’d spend all my time behind a desk, sending out orders to people hundreds of light years away. It’d be so hard to tell if those orders were actually carried out or not. On the bridge of a starship, everything’s so much more immediate. I give an order, and I know right away whether it’s been carried out or not. Nobles think they have so much power, but put me on the bridge of a starship anyday. This,” she said, slapping the arm of her chair, “is real power.”

“You said it, Admiral,” Venrel replied with a grin.

“Incoming message from Lord Hemetal,” interjected the communications officer.

“Put it onscreen,” replied Zomulin. A moment later, Belfamor Hemetal’s face appeared on the screen. “Lord Hemetal, good to see you again.”

“And you, Admiral Zomulin,” he replied. “Thank you for responding to my message on such short notice. I know that the commander of the 7th Fleet must be very busy.”

“Not too busy to make time for an old friend,” Zomulin said with a slight smile.

“Good to hear,” Hemetal said, returning her smile. “My staff is putting the finishing touches on the preparations for tonight. Everything should be ready by 1900 hours.”

“Excellent,” Zomulin said. “If it’s not too much trouble, I would like to have my XO and one of my aides attend me tonight.”

“Not at all,” Hemetal replied. “I would be pleased to entertain them as well.”

“Very good,” Zomulin said. “I will you see you at 1900 hours then.”

“Indeed,” Hemetal said, and then his face disappeared and was replaced by a view of the reddish-blue orb of Medradi.

“1900 hours,” Zomulin mused. “Well, that gives you at least four hours to freshen up. That oughta be almost enough time.”

“You wound me, my captain!” Venrel said, clutching his chest and putting an expression of mock pain. “I am the cleanest, most stylish man on this ship!”

“Sadly, you might be right about that,” Zomulin replied, lifting an eyebrow and frowning, although there was a twinkle in her eye that told Venrel she wasn’t being entirely serious. “Well, impressing a lord is a much different game than impressing a group of ensigns fresh out of the Academy. I expect you to approach this challenge with the same level of enthusiasm and mental fortitude as you have every other challenge you’ve faced under my command.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” Venrel said, standing up and saluting with a wink. “Right away, sir!” Giving Zomulin a rakish grin, he turned and strutted out of the bridge. Zomulin watched him leave with a rueful grin on her face, and then shook her head.

“That man is something else,” she said softly, but not so soft that the rest of the bridge crew couldn’t hear it.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?” asked the navigation officer, Lt. Commander Edgrain Sahrinae.

“I know what you’re going to say, Commander, so you might as well get it out,” Zomulin said wryly.

“You really should marry him, sir,” Sahrinae said with a grin, her green eyes twinkling.

“I should, shouldn’t I?” Zomulin mused, stroking her chin. “Ah well, who knows? It could happen. In any case, Commander Venrel isn’t the only one who needs four hours to get ready for a fancy dinner. Commander Sahrinae, you have the bridge.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” Sahrinae said, taking the command chair that Zomulin had just vacated.

“Oh, before I forget, tell Ensign Dradital to meet me in my quarters as soon as possible,” she said just before she reached the bridge’s exit.

“Right away, sir,” Sahrinae said with a nod.

A small, satisfied smile played around the corners of Kryla Zomulin’s mouth as she strode through the corridors on the way to her quarters. It was time for her niece to get a lesson on some of the subtler points of being a great captain. There was nothing better for getting what you wanted than having a friend with power, wealth and influence.

To be continued…

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