The Darkest Heart, Part 23

On the bridge of Decimator, Kryla Zomulin’s face looked as if it was carved in stone. She was about to lose her ship. She knew that. There was no saving Decimator now. But she would make these Hadramoran bastards pay in blood for it.

“Admiral, all non-essential personnel have evacuated the ship,” announced the sensor officer.

“Very good,” Zomulin said in a voice like the coldest ice. “Everyone else, get to your escape pods now.” There was a flurry of activity as the senior officers stood up and hurried to the exits. Zomulin grabbed Sahrinae’s arm as she passed. “You locked in that course, right?”

“Of course, Admiral,” Sahrinae replied.

“Excellent,” Zomulin said with a grin that was nearly a snarl. “We’ll see how a Starfortress can stand up to a cruiser smashing into it.” Sahrinae’s answering grin was nearly as savage. The two of them moved toward the bridge’s exit, when suddenly it opened, and Zomulin was shocked to see the Emperor standing there.

“Your Majesty!” she exclaimed. “Why aren’t you in an escape pod?”

“Do you really think I would run away so easily?” Valador asked wryly. “I see you haven’t left yet either.”

“Of course I haven’t!” Kryla yelled in exasperation. “I’m the captain of this vessel! It’s my responsibility to make sure everybody evacuates safely! You, on the other hand, your only responsibility is keeping yourself alive so that a civil war doesn’t start on top of this debacle of a battle!”

“Yes, this has been a debacle, hasn’t it?” Valador said sadly. “I apologize, Kryla. This operation was my idea, so I take full responsibility for the dog’s dinner that has resulted.” Kryla just stared at him for a moment, eyes wide in shock that he felt that now was the best time to have this discussion.

“With all due respect, Your Majesty, now is really not the best time to have this discussion!” Kryla said, a manic edge entering her voice. “We need to go, NOW!” As if to emphasize her point, the ship lurched heavily, knocking them all to the floor. Kryla scrambled to her feet, grabbed the Emperor, and hoisted him to his feet as well. Then she got on one side of him, put his arm over her shoulders, while Sahrinae did the same on his other side.

“I never expected when this day started that I would be carried off by two beautiful women,” he said with a sly wink.

“I swear, Your Majesty, if you say one more word, I’m going to knock you unconscious and drag you to the escape pod,” Kryla growled, all semblance of propriety gone. Valador just chuckled at this, while Sahrinae looked half scandalized that Kryla would speak to the Emperor that way, and half ready to clobber him herself.

Between the two of them, the women were able to help the elderly Emperor down the corridor to the last escape pod on the bridge deck. Kryla opened up the hatch leading to the pod, and was just about to help the Emperor enter it, when Decimator gave another massive heave, lifting the three of them up off the floor, and then slamming them back down. Kryla’s head rang for a few moments as she lay on the floor, trying to recover. She slowly started to get up, and winced at a stabbing pain in her side. It felt like several of her ribs were broken. She looked around her, and saw Sahrinae already on her feet. Then her eyes fell on the Emperor, and the vilest curse word she could think of erupted from her mouth.

The Emperor was obviously dead. His head was hanging from his body at an unnatural angle, his neck clearly broken, and his eyes were glazed over in a look of shock.

“That stubborn…idiot!” Kryla said fiercely. “I knew this would happen!”

“What do we do, sir?” Sahrinae whispered.

“We get the hell out of here!” Kryla yelled. Then, she added, “And we take him with us.”

“Aye-aye, sir,” Sahrinae replied, and the two of them managed to get the Emperor’s body into the escape pod. As soon as the hatch was sealed, Kryla launched the pod, and then all that was left for her to do was sit back and watch the last moments of her beloved cruiser.

***

On the bridge of Iron Dragonfly, Admiral Voderik Lavatiel could not have been more pleased at the course of the battle. The Imperial Fleet had taken the bait, and they had been crushed between her hammer and Admiral Peltoren’s anvil. Her losses had been minimal, and the Empire’s losses had been devastating. And Admiral Peltoren had informed her that the Imperial boarding party had been captured without her marines firing a shot. It was always so satisfying when a battle plan went perfectly.

“Admiral, there’s a cruiser at bearing 9921.4, headed straight for us,” the tactical officer announced suddenly.

“Evasive maneuvers!” Lavatiel barked. “All guns, direct fire on that cruiser!” There was a subtle sense of motion as the gigantic ship started to swerve out of the path of the oncoming cruiser, but as Lavatiel watched the positions of the ships on the main screen, she could already tell that there was no way to avoid the collision. “All hands, brace for impact!” she yelled.

Iron Dragonfly was the largest ship ever built, but Decimator was big for a cruiser, so the resulting explosion when the one slammed into the other was immense. The bridge crew were thrown out of their seats from the force of the impact, and dozens of alarms began blaring as reports of damage came in from all over the ship.

“Report!” Lavatiel bellowed as she hauled herself to her feet.

“Hull breaches on decks 13 through 35!” yelled the damage control officer. “Life support is offline! Engines are offline! Shields are down! Weapons are offline! Main power is offline!” Lavatiel swore under her breath viciously.

“Casualties?” she asked.

“More than a thousand,” the damage control officer replied. “I can’t give you a better estimate than that right now. Reports are still coming in.”

Lavatiel just shook her head in disbelief. So much for everything going according to plan.

To be continued…

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