The Darkest Heart, Part 14

“I hear you recently had an unpleasant encounter with my former OCIA,” Emperor Valador began, settling himself down behind his desk and peering at the person sitting across from over his steepled fingertips.

“You could call it that,” Kryla Zomulin replied dryly. “He admitted that he wants to succeed you as Emperor so that he can destroy General Fanas, and he practically raped my niece with his eyes, but aside from that, it was a delightful visit.”

“Oh yes, it sounds just magnificent,” the Emperor replied, a sardonic smile appearing on his face. “Sure am disappointed that I missed out on that little get-together.” The smile faded from his face and he sighed deeply. “When Belfamor Hemetal first approached me about shifting his support from Neminatrix to me, I never suspected how much of a headache he would be. I could almost wish that I had turned him down and let him go to Hadramoris or Midigal.”

“It’s difficult to imagine how you could be sitting here without House Hemetal’s financial support,” Kryla replied. They were sitting in the Emperor’s personal study, situated near the top of the Imperial Palace on Trisitania. Behind Valador were huge, arched windows that gave a spectacular view of the city of Selorin stretching for miles into the distance, twinkling and glimmering in the glow of the setting sun. Most of the damage caused by the Nexus bomb set off by Fangalin 20 years ago had been repaired, although here and there, scars still remained. The biggest physical reminder of what had happened that day was the construction going on at the site of the Senate Hall. After 20 years, the Senate had still not been reconvened, partially because they had no place to meet. The Senate had been completely ignored by the previous occupants of the Imperial Palace, so Valador had made it one of his priorities to rebuild the Senate Hall and reconvene the Senate. Unfortunately, progress had been slow so far.

“I agree, but has holding the capital been worth the cost?” Valador asked. “Despite the fact that there is only one Emperor for the first time since the Breaking, the Empire is in many ways weaker than it has been in the past 20 years. We still haven’t recovered from the raid that Neminatrix launched on Hibellia. How many good men and women would still be alive if I had prevented Belfamor from attacking Trisitania?”

“I bear as much responsibility for that as you do, Your Majesty, and scarcely a day passes that I don’t ask myself the same question,” Kryla responded grimly.

“We are quite a pair, aren’t we, Admiral?” Valador said, his sardonic smile reappearing. He took a sip of the brandy he had poured for himself and Kryla, and sighed contentedly. “In any case, I didn’t summon you here to discuss Lord Hemetal. I have a mission for you.”

“Must be a pretty important one, if you wanted to tell me about it in person,” Kryla said, raising one eyebrow.

“Is there any other kind, these days?” Valador said with a slight frown. “In a thousand years, the Empire has never faced such dark days. We are walking on the edge of a cliff, we haven’t eaten anything in days, and we have a 50 pound backpack on our back. One slip, and we’ll be doomed, and everything is conspiring to make us slip. We have to eliminate some of the threats that face us, or we will never be able to recover and retake our rightful place as the protectors of the galaxy.”

“So what are you proposing, Your Majesty?” asked Kryla. Instead of answering her question, Valador handed her a tablet.

“Are you familiar with this?” Valador asked.

“Of course,” Kryla replied, scanning the report quickly. “Heart of the Galaxy is the biggest thing to happen to naval technology in a hundred years, both figuratively and literally.”

“We are going to capture that ship,” Valador said fiercely.

“A bold move, Your Majesty,” Kryla replied, raising her eyebrow again.

“Some might say a desperate one, but we are, unfortunately, desperate,” Valador said, his tone growing even more fierce. “That ship is a game-changer. Any navy without a Starfortress is going to be hopelessly outmatched in the near future. We need our own, and we don’t have time to figure out how to build one on our own. We need to steal the only existing one, and reverse-engineer it.”

“Only existing one? I thought our intelligence reports indicated that the Hadramorans had just launched a second,” Kryla said.

Iron Dragonfly isn’t finished yet,” Valador said, shaking his head. “We’ll be better off stealing the one that is fully operational.”

“It’s going to be heavily guarded,” Kryla said doubtfully. “This isn’t going to be easy to pull off.”

“Did I say it would be?” Valador snapped, and then he grimaced. “I’m sorry, Admiral. It’s not your fault that the Empire is falling apart. You’ve done more than anybody to hold things together over the past twenty years.”

“I appreciate the praise, Your Majesty, and I don’t blame you for being frustrated,” Kryla said, her voice determined, “but none of that changes the fact that we need to have a solid plan in place before we attempt this, because it could be a disaster if it fails.”

“That’s why you’re here, Admiral,” Valador replied. “I’m putting you in command of this mission, from top to bottom.” Kryla stared at him for a moment, a flat look on her face, and then she leaned back in her chair and exhaled slowly.

“Oh boy,” she said in a nearly emotionless voice. “You do know how to make a girl happy, Your Majesty.”

“I know it’s a tough job, but you’re the best Admiral in the fleet,” Valador said, his voice turning grim. “If you can’t get it done, no one can.”

“Oh, I’ll get it done,” Kryla responded, the note of determination back in her voice. “But at what cost?”

“This is worth any cost, Admiral,” Valador said firmly. “We need that ship, or the Empire will not survive.”

To be continued…


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