The Darkest Heart, Part 11

Emelien Fanas tossed the tablet he’d been looking at onto his desk with a sigh and looked up at the man waiting expectantly in front of him. “We’re going to have to do something about this, you know,” he said wearily.

“The Imperial Fleet stands ready to go wherever the Emperor commands, sir,” the man replied crisply. His name was Admiral Vargen Inkalaow, and he was the Commanding Admiral of the Imperial Fleet. He was very tall, and very skinny, with wispy white hair, no facial hair, and a weak chin. He looked like someone who was more at home behind a desk than on the bridge of a starship, but he’d proven his mettle in battle more times than Fanas could count.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Fanas said with a grimace, “because whatever is coming might the biggest test the Fleet has faced since the war began.” He glanced down at the tablet laying on his desk, and his grimace deepened. Starfortresses. Not just one of them, but two. Somehow, the Republic of Hadramoris had not only been able to steal Fangalin’s new flagship, but in just two years, they’d been able to copy it. If Fanas had been able to evaluate the concept of a Starfortress objectively, he might have been excited at the prospect of such a powerful new weapon. But not when two of them were in the hands of his enemies, and he didn’t have any.

Fanas opened his mouth to say more, but closed it with a frown when his communicator beeped. Pressing a button, he heard his aide in the outer office say, “General, I’ve got an urgent message coming in from Admiral Zomulin.”

“Tell her to hold for a moment, Major,” Fanas replied. “I’m in a meeting with Admiral Inkalaow at the moment.”

“Yes, sir,” the major replied.

“Keep me posted on the situation, Admiral,” Fanas said as soon as the communicator shut off. “We’re going to have to do something about those Starfortresses sooner or later.”

“As soon as we know more, you’ll be the first to know, sir,” Inkalaow said with a salute. Fanas dismissed Inkalaow with a nod, and as soon as he was gone, he pressed his communicator again.

“Okay, Major,” he said, “Put Admiral Zomulin through.” There was a short pause, and then a holographic image of Kryla Zomulin’s head appeared in the space above Fanas’s desk. “Admiral Zomulin! What can I do for you?” His voice was cool but polite. He had no beef with Kryla Zomulin in particular, but he knew that she was allied with Lord Hemetal, who had an irrational hatred of him and had tried many times over the past few years to dislodge him from his position as SCIAF.

“Well, General, it’s hard to know exactly where to begin,” Kryla began, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant. “It has to do with a mutual friend of ours. Lord Hemetal.”

“And why, exactly, do you think I would have any interest in discussing Lord Hemetal, Admiral?” Fanas replied, his tone growing cooler.

“It’s no secret, General, that there is no love lost between the two of you,” Kryla said with a wry look. “And you know as well that I have traditionally been an ally of Lord Hemetal’s.”

“Yes, yes,” Fanas said impatiently. “What is your point, Admiral?”

“First of all, I need to ask you something, sir,” Kryla replied. Fanas waved a hand and rolled his eyes, indicating that Kryla was to proceed. “Am I correct in believing that the animosity Lord Hemetal holds for you is largely unreciprocated?”

“More or less,” Fanas replied drily. “I can’t stand the man, but only because he’s spent years trying to undermine me and using his vast wealth to go behind my back and get the Emperor to back his pet projects. Other than that, he’s a great guy!”

“Sarcasm aside, sir, would you say that if you knew of a way to convince him not to hate you, you’d take it?” Kryla asked.

“Of course!” Fanas said, throwing his hands up in the air. “But I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, Admiral. I’ve been trying to convince Lord Hemetal that I’m not out to get him for more than a decade, and the man just can’t seem to get it through his thick skull.”

“Well, I may have some ideas about that, sir,” Kryla replied.

“Oh? And what does my feud with Lord Hemetal have to do with you?” Fanas asked suspiciously.

“Everything,” Kryla said. “I just had a meeting with him at his manor on the Rock, and he revealed to me that he intends to try and secure the Imperial Throne once the Emperor is dead, and as far as I could tell, his main motivation is that he wants to use that power to destroy you.”

“Oh, the One have mercy,” Fanas said with a scowl. “That idiot on the Throne? The sad thing is, he probably has enough money to pull it off.”

“While I wouldn’t put it quite that way, I think we can both agree that Belfamor Hemetal on the Imperial Throne in his current state is something neither one of us want.”

“That’s the understatement of the century, Admiral,” Fanas said drily.

“Indeed,” Kryla replied, her tone just as dry. “So you can see that our interests are aligned.”

“I can see why I don’t want Lord Hemetal to become Emperor,” Fanas shot back. “I still fail to see what your stake in this is.”

“Lord Hemetal is dangerously unbalanced at the moment,” Kryla said calmly. “He is obsessed with his hatred of you, and it’s destroying him. If he ascended to the Throne in this state of mind, he could easily destroy the Empire as well. And I certainly don’t want that, General Fanas.”

“No, I imagine you wouldn’t,” Fanas said grimly. “Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about, Admiral, but I’m not ready to give you a decision yet.”

“Of course, sir,” Kryla said. “Just remember, the Emperor won’t live forever. The longer you take to decide, the closer we get to disaster.”

To be continued…


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