Chapter Twenty Eight
My head hurt. Hurt? I can feel again? I opened my eyes. I was in the hospital section of the Mothership. I looked around the room. Arazis was sleeping in one of the chairs. I laid back in the bed. It really happened. I still didn't want to accept the reality of it, but I guess I had to now.
"You're awake." she said. I couldn't think of anything to say. She probably saved my life. But I don't know exactly what happened.
"I don't remember much of after the crash."
"I took you out of the mess myself. After that I brought you onboard a salvage corvette and . . ."
"Never mind it's not important. Then we docked with the Mothership and brought you here. You've been out for hours. Anyway, the fleet is going to stay here overnight and build up and organize for when we get to Hiigara."
"So he really is dead?"
She paused. "Yes. They are." I took a deep breath, and sat up.
"Is there even going to be a funeral ceremony?"
"A large one for everyone that died. It starts soon. To get it out of the way before we battle." she said.
"I guess it doesn't really matter, but what about my ship?"
"It's not going to be recovered. The cruiser itself isn't worth salvaging now because of the damage. We're just leaving it here. Someone will eventually find them. I saw the wreck. Half of the fighter was sheared off completely."
"Oh. No matter then. It was my fault. Either way . . . I think if I ever tried using those boosters again they would just bring back sad memories. And I don't need that in battle. I need to get out of here. The lights are giving me a headache." I took off the health monitors. She brought me a shirt and some pants. She turned around as I got dressed.
"The fleet is ready to jump, captain. By the time they get past the viruses we've placed on the station, the battle will already be over."
"Good. Initiate hyperdrive." he opened a communications window with the enemy carrier. "I'm sorry my friend, but I have other business to attend to. After the exiles take their home and crush the empire, someone is going to be needed to pick up the pieces and open negotiations with them. The empire's fate has been sealed. Now it's time to plan on what comes next for the Taiidan." he said and the blue door opened.
"What? But how!" was the last he heard before his fleet was in transit.
"Alright fleet, take some time off. It'll be at least a day and a half before we reach Hiigara." the bridge crew put their systems on standby and got up to stretch. Many of them hadn't moved in hours.
"Let's go eat." he suggested as they headed for the halls.
He sat at the table with a few of the others from the bridge crew. They were silent and didn't speak. He had a few guesses as to why, but if they didn't ask, he didn't feel the need to relive his past again.
"So, how excited are you all?" he said in a more cheery tone than he felt around him. They stopped eating.
"If by excited you mean terrified, then very."
"Good! That's the spirit! We're bringing down an interstellar empire you know, it won't be easy. But now that half the Elite Guard are trapped in an inhibitor field, it makes things about even."
"What about the ground assault?"
"Oh I've got that covered. It's in quite capable hands."
He was on a stage in a room in front of many rebels. There were the same number of them in this room as he had seen at the military meeting a week ago. He was to make a speech. He was the leader, after all. It was going to be the call to arms. They were invading the palace at nightfall.
"We're live in five seconds." he heard in his earpiece. He stood behind a podium with a paper that had a speech written down, but he had his own prepared.
The broadcast would be streamed live to the entire city. It would be enough. Not everyone needed to know what was about to come. They had spies on the emperor's flagship ready to hide information that could be harmful to their plan. A red light on the camera turned on to indicate it was recording.
"My name is Jarred Alaikiir. You may have heard rumours of me, surely there is one being spread about my affiliation with the rebellion. I am here to say that I am in fact a leader. Chosen by Elson himself. You may also have heard rumours spread by the imperials of my death. Their plans failed. They nearly killed hundreds to get me. Luckily the casualties were minimal.
I'm here to call you to action. Tonight is the time the empire falls. They fear us. We are many. We have spies within their high ranks that they don't even know about. They were foolish to try and conceal truth from its own people. As you are all aware, a desert planet called Kharak, home to over three hundred million people, had its atmosphere lit on fire and its surface turned to glass. There were no survivors. Well, nearly none.
The Exiles are within the Hiigaran solar system at this very moment. One of the inhibitor nodes has been taken offline. They are on their way here, and they are prepared for war. Supporters of the rebellion will be spared. All others, well, that's for them to decide. We have many warriors prepared to fight." the cameras turned to the soldiers for a few seconds before returning to him.
"Tonight, at nightfall, we march to the palace gates, and we tear ourselves inside. The royal house must be eliminated for us to be free. The palace can provide areal support for a whole army. Luckily for us, it is only guarded by a couple hundred soldiers. We have thousands. And something more important than numbers. We have a cause. A noble cause to free ourselves and to free our children. To free all future Taiidan from imperial rule. Those who wish to fight will be rewarded greatly. Those who die in combat will be honoured as heroes. Once the palace is ours, we will announce our victory to the entire empire! Stand together! Fight for what you know to be right!" there was a thunderous cheering from the rebels. The sound was music to his ears. They were prepared to die following him. He was prepared to die leading them. The cameras turned off.
"That was incredible. It was even better than the script!" the director said. "We've been seen on over ten million homes. We must now get ready."
He followed the man to a room with a dozen of the "generals" of their army. They had a holographic model of the palace on a table with mission plans.
"We know what we need to do." one of them said. They had already planned for this. They spent the entire night refining the plan. They each led a battalion of a thousand trained soldiers, and they were certain more would come to their aid. Three of the groups were to stand at the entrances and keep guard as six others charged to the main entrances stretched out sparsely so that grenades and bombs will only affect a few as opposed to the whole battalion. The defence at the gates would double as sniper teams taking out enemies in the windows. There would also be two cannons on each entrance to shoot down enemy ships and blast a hole through the palace walls to form an entrance. Two of the other groups would be medical teams and damage control once the battle has subsided. The last group, only of a hundred, was under Jarred's control. They would be the stealth force. They had tunnels under the palace. Once the guards were occupied they would have an ion cannon standing by to melt a hole up into the basement where they would one by one eliminate the royal house and other guards that stand in their way. They also had three squads of seven interceptors to assist in areal support.
"Are you all ready for this?" one of them asked as if it mattered. "Good. Let's move out then." he said. The others left. Elson took the holographic plans with him. He would be needing them.
"Are you sure you want to come along on this?" he asked.
"I'm an elite member of the imperial stealth force. You're gonna want my advice." she said.
"You know this makes you a rebel now." he said.
"I know. And I'm glad I am. My sister, as it turns out, was suspected of treason because she wouldn't kill an equal ranked officer on a frigate. So they were both killed. I found out thirteen days before we spoke in the swamp. I'm on your side."
"I have no doubt in that. You did help us after all."
"Oh? How so?"
"Well, how does a member of an elite spy team end up getting captured by a group of relatively untrained rebels?"
"You think that highly of me, do you? Well you're right in any case. I let myself get caught. I heard them in the apartment complex, but at that point I didn't care. After we met, I was having serious trust issues with everyone. Thanks for that, by the way."
"Let's save the talking for when we have time." he said. They both met up with the hundred people. They walked through the tunnel that was on a much higher level, about ten meters below the palace. They would wait for nightfall. All of them, and the defence teams, had infrared contact lenses. It would help them see. The cannon would melt the rock above them to a molten state, and then they would be elevated inside by a crane after the lava poured down into a ditch that was dug. They were ready. The clock ticked, and the sun got lower and lower on the horizon. It was still a few hours from sunset. They hoped it would be enough time.
On the surface, the thousands of people would walk around town, or simply wait underground until it was time. The snipers would set up on the roofs or high floors of any nearby skyscrapers. The rebels were organized, far more organized than the fractured imperial navy.
I stood there with my friends for what felt like hours. The ceremony was incredibly impersonal, and was more of a mass ceremony. They mentioned the names of the deceased, and had certain prayers for certain people. I did the Sobanii ritual with my uncle, but it was rushed compared to my father's. And he had a lot less fans. I didn't want to cry, but I gave in eventually. No one cared anyway.
It was over, and most people left. The Paktus had come for a little bit also. They kept in touch with my uncle during the voyage. I learned that he had been in the south on Kharak, so they knew each other well. He occasionally helped on the farm for a decent meal. He chose to live a life of minimalism. Which I found odd as he envied everything my dad had.
"He already knows what we want to say." Karu said. Them being both crew for corvettes, they must spend a lot of time together. They usually tried to stick together in the line of duty, so he must be feeling responsible in one way or another for this. No one blamed him, and no one should. But I could see it in his eyes.
"Come on. We should get going." Isel said. Arazis left too. The tree of them walked away slowly.
John had come aboard for this too. He nodded at me and then left quietly. Saiin followed him out. I assumed they had the same shuttle.
Eric was more concerned with coordinating the final assault. He left early with everyone else to the hangar deck. He decided to take control for now as I was not exactly in the ideal mental state for battle.
Jay had no family. I was the closest thing to a family he had. No, my uncle was. And now they're both gone, as well as Bradley. We only talked a few times on this journey. There wasn't much to say. I didn't really get a chance to know him all that well.
I walked out of the ceremony room last. But I headed for the garden of tombstones. That cemetery place that just kept filling up.
I went and found his. Just a regular rectangle like all the others. Nothing special about it. I was alone. "Damn it, Jay. I hate that I have to lose you too." I said as I started to cry again. "Don't worry though. I'll get us to Hiigara. I promise you. I promise all of you!" I yelled. All I got back was an echo. The lights were dimmed to nearly off. Most of the lights came from the small blue ones on the top of the gravestones. It gave it a spooky feel to the place.
I stood there for a few more minutes. There was nothing I could say that he didn't already know. He knew me better than I did, after all. What could I tell him now. He was a good person. He enjoyed laughing. He made light of any situation with humour. He didn't make anyone angry unless it was a prank like in the past, and I was the one behind all of the stuff that usually got us in trouble anyway. He didn't see any reason to hate. He hated circumstance, but so do we all. He tried to make the best of the situation. He sees every end as a new beginning like you can only believe. We all say these things, but he actually acted upon it. After the genocide, he saw it as a new unity for the clans. They would once again be one people. And sure enough, he was right.
I met him early in training. We were both outcasts. For different reasons, of course, but outcasts just the same. He had no family. He was an orphan who lived off of the military, as he had to serve his entire life there in return for the services they provided him. I was seen as a cheat to the system. My father was a world famous pilot. Most common people saw me as a semi-celebrity of sorts. The other pilots didn't. Not the good ones anyway. And in a way, they're right. I got it all handed to me in the beginning. But that didn't mean I didn't get where I am today because of my father. I worked my ass off to prove myself. My sole goal in life was to become a better pilot than my father. And now, I'm a rank nine. He was the only rank ten to ever exist.
No one ever spoke to Jay. He was a lonely person. He didn't mind that. He told me later on that he believed if no one wanted to know him, they didn't need to. We became friends after the first week I enrolled in training. We helped each other. He taught me the basics that I had missed, being a late joiner and all, and he got a family. He came to my house for holidays, and stayed there a lot of the weekends too. Years went by, I advanced further in the ranks than him, but we still stayed in touch all the time.
Then, a few years ago, I became a rank seven from the stunt on the island. He then dropped the fighter pilot training and became a corvette pilot instead. Not a very significant job, and not one worth much mention either. He was transferred to the Scaffold two years ago, and only visited a few times a year, once for my birthday, once for his, and once for the new year. They were pretty evenly spaced out.
He chose to go on the voyage with the Mothership as it was a chance to meet his uncle, who was on the Khar-Selim. But it was destroyed. His second reason was that it would be a new start. He could live a new life, meet new people, and possibly start over. He wanted to reach Hiigara so that for once, he could live the life he wanted, not the one of a military hound. It wasn't too much to ask. And now his fate is to have died getting us to the front gate.
This is the person I knew as Ja-Siid Nabaal. Not many people knew him, but the ones who did were the luckiest ones alive. And as long as I'm still alive, he'll never be forgotten.
"He was pure." she said. I turned and saw her. "It's what we call it when some priests free themselves from the regular burdens of society. He had no hate in him. Why must so much good be suddenly silenced?" she asked rhetorically.
"Perhaps a sacrifice to Sajuuk, so that we gather the strength necessary to have victory." I said. I took a deep breath, and put a smile on my face. If he was still here, he'd want that. I could almost hear his ghost's voice saying "Ah cheer up buddy, at least I don't need to eat anymore, and look! Flying!" I laughed a bit to that.
I walked to the large monument-like stone sticking out among the rest. The brown Soban crest was still there, stained on the steel plate for eternity. "Well, it's time to fight back. I've got the heart of a warrior now. I think I'd do pretty well against yourself in a fight, even. Maybe I'd even win." I said to my dead father.
"So this is where he lies." she said.
"It's all in the past now. I've come to terms with his death. He was at peace with his maker the moment I moved out of his mansion. After Jay, I think he was the only other person you'd call "pure". He's taught me everything I need to know. There's nothing more he can tell me. I used to think I needed his strength. Not anymore. You hear that old man, no need to worry about me anymore. I can handle it now." it was a bit much to take in, but now, after this, I felt like I could. I had no more fear.
We talked for a while longer, about family and friends, the stuff that usually comes up when in a graveyard, so most notably there were deaths in the conversation. After that, we left.
We got to my room, where I said goodnight. I got to my bed exhausted. I thought she left until I turned and saw her facing the hall in my doorway. "Mark, I . . . uh . . . never mind." she said. She was walking out the door when I stopped her.
"Wait. Just say it. There's nothing to hide between us anymore. You know that."
"It's just that . . . well, I'm scared. I still don't know if I'll survive the night. We're so close. So much can go wrong. I'm not a warrior like you, Mark. I'm just a girl who's got issues with her family, and is only in the military as a punishment. You said I had skills, but that doesn't mean my emotions can handle it all the time. I nearly went insane in Kadesh fighting you. I've still got mental instabilities. I get nightmares so they tell me. The point is I guess . . . I don't want to sleep alone anymore." somehow, this didn't really come as a shock to me.
That night, we fell asleep in each others' arms.