Chapter 20

Lord General Geron stood patiently waiting as Admiral Pearson walked through the portal and onto the receiving pad aboard Kraken. Scott had hoped that the General’s expression might give him some clue as to whether or not he would be executed here and now or be sent to the high-gravity planet for failed leaders, where their skeletons simply collapsed over time. Perhaps Geron would merely settle for jettisoning him into space.

But to his surprise, Geron merely escorted him to his spacious quarters and ordered drinks poured for each of them.

“General Geron, I regret to inform you of our failure to…” Scott began, but trailed off as Geron raised his hand for silence. Geron then smiled, accepted his drink from the steward, and eased himself into a comfortable chair. He invited Scott to do the same with a wave of his hand.

When Scott was seated, Geron cocked his head to one side. “Admiral Pearson, I’ve read your report, and I commend you on a well-fought campaign. It is a terrible shame that Admiral Hood was lost and that the Draul base remains intact.”

Scott remained very still in his chair, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“But tell me, Admiral, how did it feel to command such firepower against an opponent?”

“Sir?”

“Come now, Admiral, are you not are that same legendary figure from our past who turned the tide of the Valdi invasion in your own century? It must have been exhilarating to wield the power of our Star Caster against such an overwhelming opponent as the Draul! Didn’t you feel it?”

Scott stared back with a confused look. “Sir, we hit that base with everything we had. We could have destroyed it, had their reserve fleet not been hidden on the far side of the rift. We lost most of our fleet and didn’t destroy the base. I have failed.”

Geron smiled again and studied his drink with mild interest. “It doesn’t matter. We will lose to the Draul eventually. They continue to out-produce us in terms of hulls and technology. Even with my vast holdings and resources, they will eventually consume us, as they should.”

Geron tossed back his drink, and his steward refilled it.

“The only thing in the universe that truly lasts is glory. You and I have both tasted it--true glory. For you, it was the slow and steady defeat of the Orions, turning the tide of the Valdi invasion, and defeating your rival, Lord Mihialovich. For me, it was the defeat of General Salabast, the development of the Star Caster weapon, discovering the first rift, and ordering the first raids against the Draul. But our glory is not complete, Admiral. For you and I, there must always be more.”

Scott struggled to follow the general’s logic. “But what about the loss of lives and ships? We need a plan to regroup and defend against a Draul resurgence.”

As if to answer his question, Geron set down his drink and tapped his neck with his fingers. The steward hesitated and looked from Geron to Scott and back before walking to a small cabinet. From it, he prepared an injection and administered it to the General.

“Methaline, Admiral. More potent than any flame water, but it only reduces the painful effects of my aggressive disease. The finest doctors from hundreds of worlds have treated me, but they don’t even have a name for it.” Geron seemed to relax visibly as the drug took effect. “The disease is rapidly consuming me—I don’t expect to live to see next year. As for legacy, I have no descendants to pass my dominion to, nor do I wish for them. For me, only the ultimate glory remains to serve as my legacy.”

“What glory is that, General?” Scott ventured cautiously.

Geron folded his hands in his lap and stared at the ceiling. “At first, I had trouble reconciling your past campaign against the mighty Valdi armada of your time with observable local events. But when you and I first met, I commissioned a more thorough study. I have since discovered that the system where we discovered your cloaked Orion ship, in fact, is the home of the Valdi nation. But where are they? Is it possible that the same stinging fighter craft that thwarted our original survey missions belonged to that very armada that burned a chasm through the once mighty Terran Empire centuries ago? The more we tried to resolve the two entities, the more I came to believe they are, indeed, one and the same.

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