Menace of the Ro Kan Empire: VII, It is Resolved, Chapter 36


Menace of the Ro Kan Empire: VII, It is Resolved, Chapter 36

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ISS Verity, Vector 1.95e, Ak Kan IV, Q-4

Commander Zhovak slipped through the door of the briefing room and immediately took his seat at the front end. The officers’ meeting was already underway, and Vice Admiral Lord Alwin of Varma was addressing the entire fleet of ISS security vessels from HC. More than thirty minutes had passed since the assault on the vessels had ended, and there was still no word or indication of whether the security forces were in the clear. With the arrival of another Ro Kannan vessel outside the NZ, the security forces faced the probability that the Ro Kannan had deployed reinforcements.

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The ISS Verity was still in operational mode, though it had incurred some damages. The ISS Severyll, however, had suffered a complete systems failure. No communications were coming in or out of the vessel. The Verity‘s sensors had also failed to detect any activity from the damaged ship. The extent of damages, injuries, or deaths were unknown. If there were no activity readings coming from the vessel, then it was safe to assume that the ship’s generators supplying back-up energy to all its systems, including oxygen and gravity drives, were damaged as well. The chief engineer speculated that, given its size and population, the ship had at most forty-eight hours before its oxygen levels were depleted.

“And that’s a conservative estimate,” she added grimly.

The four remaining vessels had several shuttles at the ready to rescue the crew of the Severyll, but the vessels were still on high alert. There was no indication that the shuttles wouldn’t be fired on by the armada, which, at that hour, was still shielded by its cloaking technology.

The chief engineer’s crew was still patching up damages to the ion drives caused by a minor fire in the systems overlay. She speculated it would take at least another twenty-eight hours before they repaired the damages. The hyper-speed drives weren’t damaged during the assault, but with their ion drives down, the engineer couldn’t risk sending the ship into hyperdrive until they re-ran a diagnostic on all systems.

Commander Zhovak breathed heavily through his mouth and leaned back in his chair. He watched Captain Kitano stare distantly toward the viewer screen on which the vice admiral now appeared. He had not spoken to her since the assault, but he had seen the look on her face, ever so briefly, after she left the bridge to his command and returned to her office. There was fear, but, deeper than that, there was something else––guilt perhaps. The captain had come close to firing on the mining base on Ak Kan IV. It was a risky move, yet it had to be made in the line of fire. But even Zhovak could not have made such a decision and not have it weigh heavily on his head.

Captain Kitano locked eyes with him. Neither said anything. Neither had to.

The primary concern for all the upper rank officers was making sure that the crew of the Severyll were out of harm’s way. Captain Kitano suggested they contact the armada again and negotiate a truce that will allow them to rescue the crew, but that sparked a heated discussion among her own officers about whether the Ro Kannan could be trusted to maintain that truce. “Isn’t it obvious by now?” one of her officers declared. IPPA was willing to hand Ak Kan IV back into their territories and they took the planet anyway. There were others in agreement, but many also pointed out that they had no choice. Time was running out for the crew of the Severyll.

Captain Kitano leaned back in her chair and allowed her officers to quarrel. The captain created a space where her officers could argue freely and openly without censure. As she had once told Commander Zhovak, it allowed her to see past her own limitations and view things from different perspectives. It was a good system, the commander thought, but the captain usually maintained a strict hand on these debates as well. The argument grew more heated as it went on.

One of the officers pounded his fist on the table and shouted, “Now just whose side are you on, Lieutenant?”

“Enough,” Commander Zhovak growled, and the briefing room fell silent.

Captain Kitano still leaned against her chair, staring absently into space, deep in thought. After a few moments, she leaned forward and at last addressed her superior. “Vice Admiral?”

“Well, there are certainly a lot of opinions to take into consideration. You said the crew of the Severyll has forty-eight hours before their oxygens supplies run out? Very well, contact the armada. See if you can’t arrange something. If not, then HC has issued an order to continue fighting.”

Captain Kitano furrowed her brow. “HC has issued that order?” The vice admiral nodded solemnly. Kitano shot a look at Commander Zhovak. “Then we’ll have reinforcements?”

The vice admiral sniffed again. “Unfortunately, no, Captain. Not until we hear word from High Council. They went into an emergency session to determine what to do next.”

“And when will we hear from them?”

“That I can’t say, Captain. But we ought to learn shortly––”

“Vice Admiral, forgive me for stating this, but our vessels are at a severe disadvantage. We’ve been badly damaged and we have no idea of the total number of deaths and injuries we’ve incurred. We are in no position to continue fighting an armada that we can’t even see on our sensors. Respectfully, sir, you’re turning this into a suicide mission.”

Commander Zhovak stared at the captain. She had been shouting at a superior officer, but he wasn’t entirely sure she was aware of it.

“Captain, might I remind you that you were the one who chose the diplomatic route.” The Captain’s expression changed by several degrees. “Oh, I don’t mean to make it sound as if this is your doing. The way I see it, we have never had any choice in the matter. The Ro Kannan were set to do what they intended to do all along, regardless of how we responded. Contact the armada. Arrange a truce, if possible. If not, then be on the ready to engage again. I will contact all vessels when I receive word from HC.”

The signal dropped and the viewer screen went black.

Captain Kitano bolted from her chair. “Idiot,” she shouted.

The officers froze.

She paced the carpet. After a few moments of awkward silence, Commander Zhovak dismissed the officers and told them to return to their duties.

The officers stood up from the table in unison and began filing out of the briefing room, casting awkward glances at one another and their captain.

Once alone, Commander Zhovak stood. “Captain,” he began.

“Is he even aware of the fact that we are sitting ducks out here?”

“Sitting ducks, sir?” he said, befuddled.

“We have no defenses, no reinforcements until the High Council makes up its mind, and we may be confronted with a weaponry we know nothing about that can completely disable an entire interstellar starship. Not only that, they’re holding our officers captive, which they can hold over our heads. And they expect us to be a defense line on the NZ. That’s what sitting ducks means, Commander.”

“Captain, are you all right?”

“Don’t I look all right?” she snapped.

“If I speak the truth, then, no, you don’t.”

The captain rubbed her forehead. She looked tired, drained, miserable. He asked how long it had been since she’d had any rest.

“I don’t need rest. I need to get back to the bridge and try to contact the Ro Kannan. God help us, Zhovak, if they don’t respond.”

“I agree, Captain, but you are tired and on edge. You are in no condition right now to negotiate––”

“Don’t tell me what I’m in the condition to do, Commander.  I am the captain of this ship. In sickness or health, in peace or war––I am the captain.”

Commander Zhovak blinked. It was never in doubt that she was the commander. In that moment when she came close to issuing the order to fire on the Viktob Mining Base, he never doubted it for a moment. He respected her willingness to shoulder the tough choices. He nodded slowly, then said: “Aye, Captain.”

The captain inhaled, then adjusted the top of her uniform with a tug of the hem. Then, with a nod, she told him to come with her to the bridge. “We have a white flag to wave.”

Commander Zhovak nodded, and started to follow, but stopped when he noticed the captain had not moved. She stood in the threshold, her back to him. “We came very close, Zhovak,” she murmured. “Far too close.”

He held his breath for a second. “I know.”

She nodded, then turned to face him. “I know you know. That’s why I trust your judgment. I pride myself in having sound judgment, but––”

“Captain, if I may be permitted to state: I think, it is fair to say, that war makes villains of us all.”

The Captain contemplated his statement, then said, “That is very wise, Commander.”

He nodded silently.

“Very, very wise,” she said to herself, then turned and walked out of the briefing room.

Viktob Mining Base, Ak Kan IV, Q-4

“Your Supremacy, the commandant supreme of the Kaspari division is on the line,” the communications director announced.

Commandant Vaxta was in his office, sitting at his circular desk, rhythmically drumming his talon against its countertop. He glared into middle-distance, his mind churning like a whirlpool, spinning around and around in one direction: the plans were not going well.

It was not in his chain of command to determine the whys and hows of the operation he had been ordered to carry out. It was not in his chain of command to determine its wisdom or soundness. His one and only responsibility was to follow orders to the letter of their command and ensure the success of the mission. He had succeeded in his objectives. He secured the Viktob Mining Base and, in doing so, the entire planet for the Empire. He had performed his duties admirably. Now he felt all that work, that pure and unadulterated work, melting away like ice under the glare of a new sun.

No, he sneered, politics never mattered to him, though he should have liked a nice appointment within the House of Parliament in the mountains of Ghrent. A very nice and comfortable appointment. But politics, at large, was never his real concern. He trusted that the senators of the House of Ghrent knew what they were doing. Had he been wrong all along? Had he misplaced his trust after all this time?

“Your Supremacy––”

“Patch them through,” he grunted, then pushed back in his chair.

The commandant supreme of the Kaspari division appeared before him in a holographic rendition. He was exactly as Vaxta assumed he would be: Officious, feeble, womanish. He wasn’t even dressed in his battle armor, but the official uniform of the Kaspari fleet, plaited with all its ribbons and bows.

The superior officer greeted Vaxta, then explained the situation to him. He was now in command of the Ghrentian division by order of the Imperial Court. He had already ordered the division to stand down until further orders. No fires were to be shot at the enemy unless directly ordered by Her Supremacy, the Empress Supreme herself. Vaxta smirked. He was not surprised that the order would come directly from the empress since she and her late father had rewritten the state constitution to usurp powers over the General Armada to the Imperial Throne. He drew in his breath and listened impatiently as the Commandant Superior droned on.

When he finished with explanations, the superior officer posed Commandant Vaxta with a question that Vaxta found deeply disturbing: Who issued the order to send the Ghrentian division to Ak Kan IV? He was fishing for names to blame. The Imperial Court would likely try and execute traitors to the court. The commandant cleared his throat roughly and shook his head.

“I do not know, Your Supremacy.”

“You do not know who issued the order for your division to land on a Class-40 planet, Commandant?”

He gritted his teeth. There was something unctuous about the Kaspari that set his nerves on edge. “It is not my place to question orders, Your Supremacy.”

A look of suspicion ignited in the commandant supreme’s eyes. He asked about Lexéryon. “Was he responsible for the order?”

Curious, Vaxta thought. Did they honestly think the person responsible was a member of the General Armada?

“I cannot say, Your Supremacy,” he replied. “The chain of command can be…convoluted at times…as I’m sure you’re well aware––”

He raised his hand to silence him. The dismissive look on his face enraged Vaxta.

The commandant supreme ordered him to prepare his forces to leave Ak Kan IV. The Imperial Court was still in negotiations with IPPA to return the planet to Ro Kannan territories and Vaxta and his men had compromised the Imperial Throne’s position. “You’ve really made a mess of things,” he said in the same snotty, dismissive tone.

Vaxta bristled. “Your Supremacy, my men have prepared the base to become an outpost to our military forces should––” he grimaced––”the Imperial Court succeed in winning back––”
“Should?” the commandant supreme interrupted with a mocking grin. “Your faith in the Imperial Court is well taken, Commandant. But Her Supremacy has already succeeded in returning Ak Kan IV back to the Empire. It is your actions which have failed Her efforts. Now she will have to repair the damage you and Commandant Supreme Lexéryon created.”

Vaxta lowered his eyes lest the commandant supreme noticed the pure contempt he held for him. “Yes, Your Supremacy. But the base––”

“Never mind that. Leave things as they are. Your work in bringing it back to operation, considering everything else, will be duly noted.”

“Yes, Your Supremacy.”

The Trynab was being prepared to meet the arrival of the Ghrentian division. The commandant supreme expected their return within the next seventy-two hours. Vaxta begrudgingly accepted the orders but asked what they were to do with the IPSF spies in their custody. The commandant supreme sniffed.

“Transfer them to the Trynab. They may prove useful in the end.”

The two officers ended their communication and the line dropped.

Vaxta leaned back in his chair and thought very hard about the future now unfurling before him. The Empress Supreme may have been a female, but she was surrounded by a council as ruthless as any Ghrentian. They would advise her to maintain her power by eliminating her enemies. Vaxta would be first on the list for extermination.

He exhaled deeply, then stood up and walked to the other side of his desk. He was not an overly ambitious man, but he had a keen sense of self-preservation. If he had to debase himself and earn the good favor of the Imperial Court, then so be it.

But how?

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