Chapter 25: Wrath and the Syrenkan
“Emergence, five seconds from my mark.” Rachel Pym’s calm, melodic voice filled the small vessel. “Mark!...four…three…two…one…” The Compass Rose rocked and swayed as her warp bubble collapsed. Immediately, Pym and her Syrenkan co-pilot were greeted with a scene of total chaos.
“What the bloody hell?”
Ari frowned and looked from the control panel to the view screen and back. “These are all Imperial vessels?” The answer was self-evident but also entirely incredible to her. “They’ll start shooting at any moment. We have to open a communications link, now!”
Pym’s hands flew over the panel. “Try this, though it doesn’t sound like much listening is going on.”
An angry voice flooded the cock-pit. “This is insubordination Captain! You will return the Agamemnon to its orbit immediately or face the consequences!”
“That’s Caldwell,” said Pym with some confusion.
“Why?” came a second voice. “So you can board us with more thugs to murder our officers?”
“And that is Winslow,” said Ari.
The matter was beginning to fall into place, after a fashion, but the why part was just as confusing as before. Agamemnon was rapidly pulling away fromthe fleet anchorage. The massive dreadnought, Crown Imperial, was beginning to get underway. The carriers were silent, as though stunned into inactivity. The cruisers and lighter ships…
Lighter ships! Thought Ari, Where is the Kirov? Where is the Salamis?
The lighter ships were divided between those who moved as though to block Winslow’s vessel, those who seemed to be in her support and those who were as unmoving as the carriers.
It was time for Ariadne to take action. As it turned out, her choice was easy, but deceptively so.
“I don’t know Caldwell, but I do Matthew Winslow…” Ari bit her lip and looked at Pym. “I have to side with Winslow.”
“I have nothing good to say about Caldwell, if that’s any help.”
The Ambassador smiled. “It makes me feel a little better about my judgment. Now let’s see if the Emperor’s writ still runs here!”
The image and voice of Michael IV from his podorozhna was soon broadcast to every ship within range. Ari sighed and shook her head.
“What’s wrong?” Pym raised an eyebrow. “Everything seems to be well in hand now. All the ships are returning to position and standing down.”
“There are few who dare oppose an Imperial Podorozhna. And even fewer who dare to use one. I am fully responsible and must stand judgment for its use or misuse. Don’t worry though, you won’t bear any blame.”
“Blame? I’ve not put a thought to blame, or praise either for that matter, but I am aware of command responsibility.”
“Political responsibility is a bit more capricious and just as merciless.” Ari leaned back in the copilot’s seat. “Now I must find out if I’m still a wife and not a widow.”
A stricken voice came over the intercom. “Ari? Ari?”
“Here. What’s wrong, Jen?”
“I was just showing Mara her home world…It’s all wrong…Something bad has happened!” The voice burst into sobs.
Pym quickly put the rear-view on line. When the image solidified, both women sucked in their breaths.
Ari’s finger tips approached then covered her lips. “what can it be? What is it?”
“I think I know.” Growled Pym, “And whoever is responsible is deserving of his own private room in hell!” She gave Ari a look full of meaning then quickly turned away, embarrassed. Surely not him, surely. She thought.
I stood on the bridge of the Agamemnon, staring at the roiling, muddy surface of Rii, hands clasped behind my back to keep them from shaking with impotent rage.
“Caldwell is finished. Her ladyship will see to that!” Vennick waved an angry gesture at the view screen. I couldn’t help but smile. The mere mention of her was enough to ease my mood. “I just don’t understand…” My First office continued, then raised an eyebrow. “You’re smiling?”
“At this point I’m just happy to be alive.”
“I guess I can understand that. How are you doing?”
“I still can’t hear out of my right ear, but eternally grateful that the bullet was not aimed at me.” This forced me to relive those terrible moments. In super slow motion, one of the men who had been taking me to my doom, jerked and began to fall. I let my leg collapse beneath me. To stay alive, I knew I must reach the deck first. Another shot exploded. A man who was drawing a bead on either me or a person behind me spouted blood and crumpled.
While on my way down, I forcibly slammed my crutch into a third man’s solarplexis. Other shots rang out, I was borne the rest of the way down by the weight of at least two bodies. For a brief time, I must have been unconscious, for my next memory was seeing a hand coming down from the bright ceiling toward me, a friendly hand this time.
“I’m sorry sir, are you all right?”
“What?” My mind snapped back to the present. “Yes, just a bit of post-combat stress.”
“I shouldn’t wonder.”
“How is the guard who switched sides? He saved my life.”
“Looks, Captain, like he’ll make a full recovery and thanks to his actions and your word, he’ll have a life to return to.”
At that time, the main entrance to the bridge opened and Captain Winslow stepped in. “Captain on the bridge!” There, following him, was Ari.
Some things one simply does not do on the bridge of an Imperial capital ship. We did not break decorum, but we did stretch it a bit.
I stepped toward her, disregarding the pronounced limp caused by my temporary prosthesis. Ari seemed not to notice it at all. Her eyes kindled and, more carefully than I thought possible, she sprang from her chair and into my arms, holding on as though never to let go again. “I feared you were dead!” She whispered in my ear, fortunately the good one.
“I feared so as well, love, more than once I might add.” I smiled, trying to make light.
She took my face in both her hands and stared as though not quite daring to believe. “You’re here and I’m here and I love you.” Then, slowly and gently, she wrapped her tail about me. “Now more than ever.” I clasped her more tightly to me and she rested her head on my shoulder. After a long moment, Ari spoke again. “They told me about your leg.”
I shrugged. “It was just a leg. I’ll have another in nine months.”
“Nine months you say?” She looked at me again and smiled slyly, “Perfect!”
Confused, I raised an eyebrow. “Perfect?”
“Yes, perfect, absolutely perfect!”
“Yes?” The comms officer finally got Ari’s attention.
“I’m getting a communication for you,” he wrinkled his brow and looked up. “from the surface!”
“That’s impossible!” said Winslow. “Nothing could be alive down there.” Already regretting his outburst, he glanced at Jen who stood before the viewscreen holding Mara.
“Put me down Dri. I have to see this.” I set her in her hoverchair and followed her to the comm station. A small pilgrimage, including Jen, Justin, Pym as well as Winslow followed me.
“Put it on the speaker, Lieutenant.” Said Ari.
“It’s in code, milady, not a voice transmission.” He reached up and made the proper adjustments. There was a crackle loud and harsh enough to set one’s teeth on edge. “There’s also a lot of interference.”
“Can you get enough to translate?” asked Winslow.
“I believe so…Yes! There.” Out of the hiss and roar was a series of long and short blips. “It’s a rather old code. The translation is on the screen now.”
Ari impatiently scanned the display. “It’s Anak! The Sisters have survived!” She turned to Jen. “Many of the Rii have taken refuge in the waterpaths. There is hope!”
“We must help,” said Justin.
“The whole planet is stricken,” said Winslow. “We’ll need to summon aid from the whole prefecture.”
“Then I suggest we get on with it.” Ari then turned to me. “Dri, it looks like it’s my fate, and duty, to return to those tunnels, this time to help the Rii. May I ask you to join me?”
“Are you serious? Just try going without me.”
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