The dream had been especially vivid that night. Its message of dire events haunted him as he paced his sleeping chambers in the pre-dawn darkness. Dayson resided himself to the fact that he was done sleeping for the night. With what little time he had left he didn’t want to waste too much of it sleeping anyway. There would be time enough for that when the disease concluded its work on him.
With slow painful steps he made his way to the window of his lavish room. Not wanting the public to see him in his weakened state, that room had become practically his entire world. The walls were covered with works of art mixed with photos that documented a long and celebrated life.
Pulling back the long, heavy curtain with a wrinkled hand, he stared out at the valley below. The forest remained dark as the clouded sky gained only a slight hint of light. Sheets of rain obscured his view. However the occasional flash of lightening lit the roofs of the distant homes that surrounded the estate.
It wasn’t completely real to him though. The sealed window blocked out any sound. The room’s chemically treated air suddenly became stale to him. Moving to the middle of the glass wall, Dayson located a door that led out to the large, partially covered patio. At the push of a button the curtains that covered the length of the wall were drawn back and hidden away. Another button gave a whoosh of air as the thick glass door slid open. In streamed the sweet smell of rain soaked air. Real air, not the filtered and enhanced concoction they had been pumping into his lungs. How good it felt to drink of it. The doctors would be incensed, but he was going outside. They could be damned for all he cared at that moment. After all, wasn’t he the Emperor? He still had some power. He hadn’t given it all away.
He aimed for a table and chair set in the middle of the patio, which were buffeted by the driving rain. He longed to be drenched as the wooden deck was. But, he would have to be content with a seat near the door and the cover of the awning. The accursed decease wasn’t going to completely relinquish its grip on him.
The rhythm of the rain filled his ears and a distant bolt of lightning illuminated the clouds while he enjoyed the storm. Then came the tumultuous crack followed by a low rumble. How he enjoyed it. It brought him back to when he was a boy. Before his life had become a constant struggle for power, and matters of state filled his days. For a time he would relish in those memories, those that he could bring up. Most were clouded and irretrievable. Mostly it was just the feelings that remained.
His enjoyment was short lived though; the other storm filled his head. Not this good storm of life, but the one of fire that haunted his dreams. All his life he had watched that storm gather on the distant horizon. It would reappear as a dream from time to time throughout his life, usually in the worst of times. In these, his final days, it dominated his nights. Rarely could he close his eyes and not see its fury. The storm of death and destruction that would eradicate everything he’d worked so hard to build, the nation that had risen from the ashes of a nuclear holocaust. The world he’d created was falling apart before his eyes, and he was powerless to stop it. Powerless to stop the storm or the messenger of death whom would precede it.
The gift had focused on the storm exclusively for far too long. The gift, which had given him the edge throughout his life, had begun to curse him. He wished he could shut it off, deactivate his heightened senses. He would gladly do it permanently if it would drive the storm of dread from his mind.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dayson caught sight of a man standing in the doorway.
“I’m not coming in,” he said defiantly.
“Then, I’ll come out,” the man conceded. He knew better than to argue with that particular tone.
The man fumbled a small computer plaque in his hands as he sat next to the Emperor. Well over a hundred and seventy himself, the man also moved at a lax pace. They sat together quietly watching the rain from wooden chairs set against the glass wall, with a small table between them.
“Is that for me?” Dayson asked after a time. He barely looked over.
“It can wait,” Cronin answered. Why spoil the moment? He had received it during the night, but held off on bringing it as he knew how badly the Emperor needed his rest. As the rain finally started to slow, he felt it was as good a time as any. He gently placed the plaque on the table.
Dayson was slow to pick it up. He glanced over at it a few times as he gave weight to the idea of just leaving it there, ignoring it and what bad news it brought. There was no doubt in his mind that the news was bad. The hesitation was uncharacteristic of him and bothered his assistant. Finally Dayson snatched it up with a sudden swoop. His pride would not let the other man see his hand quivering. His hand had been shaking for some time now, it had nothing to do with the news he read.
He read it three times before putting the plaque back down. Words were different, the actual circumstances were a surprise, but the content was exactly as he expected, the messenger had arrived.
“Bring him to me,” Dayson ordered.
“I spoke with Marshal Grindell as soon as I received this message. He expressed some concern about a potential threat from this unknown ship. He stated that he would propose sending an envoy out to meet with them instead. I am inclined to agree.”
“Then I will go to him.”
Dayson rose defiantly from his seat. His shaking knees dropped him right back down. He jerked his arm away from Cronin’s offer of help. The once great man felt so utterly helpless at that very moment.
“Perhaps you could send someone to represent you?”
A scowl dismissed that idea. The Messenger was there to speak to him, alone.
“I would be honored to go in your place. If there is no danger, I would arrange for them to come here. You would then speak to them face to face.”
Dayson wasn’t happy with that idea either. There were few other choices though. He had to see this man for himself and couldn’t risk his interests not being served. The military and politicians clearly had their own agendas and if they were to squabble over what was to be done it might spoil his one chance to understand the nightmare. He knew all too well how short his days were.
“Not you, old friend,” Dayson said softly. “I need you here, send Dyoney.”
“I’m sorry sir, we would be unable to reach the Princess. Her ship is traveling in ex-space on its way back from her visit to Tainus. It will be four days before her return. You would have to order the envoy mission to wait.”
Dayson hesitated giving that directive. He had retained some provisions in the government charter, which he had written, to give him authority to intercede in state affairs. He was reluctant to use them too many times. There had been protests about the Royal Clan retaining any power in the government, however he, being the sole architect of the new system of leadership, had left them little choice. They were compelled to accept his personal safeguards. His successor would have none of them when he was gone. All real power would die with him. Princess Dyoney was to be little more than a figure head.
No, he would not make them wait for Dyoney. He had a better idea. He would send someone else instead, the one who was closest to his heart. In no way did he regret his choice of Dyoney, she was clearly better suited to lead in the new era of diplomacy.
It would have been interested to see this other one live up to her full potential, the gift was strong in her. How strong he wasn’t sure. She had followed his advice in hiding it from others. She had hidden it from him. Dayson thought a moment of his choice of a successor. Clearly he had made the right choice. As amusing as it might have been to watch from the other side of life, he could not unleash her on the galaxy.
Dayson regretted the rift that had grown between them over his decision. He hoped that this chore for her would help set aside some of her bitterness over it. Although she had not outwardly protested his choice of Dyoney, he had found himself the recipient of the same coldness everyone else received from her. Maybe giving her some role to play might make her feel better about being relegated to the mediocrity of Aultra’s social circles and endless charity events that had been the damnation of the rest of the Royal Clan.
She arrived later that morning. Much to Cronin’s ire, she was hardly dressed for a visit to the Emperor. Cronin did not approve of her choice of clothing, or lack thereof. As much as style celebrated the human body, he did not approve of it in the Royal Clan. Object he did, but speak of it he did not. The Emperor would see her either way.
She entered his room and said with a cold stare, “You sent for me, Father?”
Three days had passed from the time of first contact between the Oronos and Attragone before the fleet was ready to leave their hiding spot behind Earth’s moon. There wasn’t any fear of detection from surface tracking stations; even the Attragone could fool them. However, any backyard astronomer with a powerful enough telescope could spot a ship as massive as the Oronos. This necessitated an arcing course that would keep the orbiting moon between them and the planet.
General Gilderith recalled his ships and people from the surface as the crew of the Oronos conducted some hurried repairs to their phase drive and took on fuel from a secret surface base. Unannounced to Gilderith, the first attempt to shift into ex-space, and impress the hell out of him, failed when a power conduit ruptured. The need for extended repairs was becoming even more glaring.
The Attragone and her escorts had to jump into ex-space in the conventional means. They would accelerate to the brink of light speed and then induce an energy field to break the dimensional barrier. The three ships took nearly a whole day of driving their engines to reach that point of acceleration. Oronos, on the other hand, simply disappeared after clearing the heavy concentration of light particles. She shifted over the barrier and accelerated away, once the drive system was working properly of course. This event was the subject of yet another coded transmission back to headquarters.
Once in ex-space the ships traveled at the same rate. Even in the future the human race hadn’t been able to increase its speed in the alternate dimension. There were a number of theories on how it could be done, but the war had stifled research on most subjects.
For the older ships there were also no sensors in ex-space, no way to communicate with a base or even each other. The more advanced design of the Oronos had overcome both of those problems. Yanex could not only see the ships trailing behind him, he could track ships and objects in standard space. He had the same capabilities when not in ex-space. This was an advantage that Yanex had always utilized to its full potential.
With the difference in drive systems, Oronos entered the Arkonus system fourteen hours ahead of the Attragone. By the time the Attragone dropped out on the outskirts of the system, Oronos was already approaching its hiding spot in an asteroid field that ringed one of the system’s gas giants. Once again the ship’s advanced systems were able to mask it from ground based and orbital sensors. The military outpost, located on the third planet, didn’t know the huge ship was there. Its MAC 32s (Medium Attack Craft) flew their patrols oblivious to the Oronos’ presence. That is, until Yanex announced himself in his usual diplomatic fashion.
“Four-hundred LI from asteroids, sir (Just over four-million miles),” reported Major Ratoe. “Initiating final deceleration for approach.”
“They still don’t seem to detect us,” said Marcone.
“Good,” said Yanex as he stepped down from his chair. He strolled out into the middle of the floor and paced slowly back and forth. He continued to hold off on his main scanners, they would divulge his position. Despite being in supposedly friendly territory, he had an interest in seeing just how long he could go undetected in order to test his capabilities against the technology of the time.
Aultra was one of the more advanced races of the era, second to the Delphians and another distant race that hadn’t been formerly contacted. Even the mighty Gorrick Dynasty lagged behind them. For the most part everyone in the sector was at about the same level. Use of technology as barter and widespread espionage saw to that.
Lorran called the General over with a report from her section. “Tri-S has a scattering field. They think it might be some kind of sensor sweep, but they don’t have access to the tactical data to check it.”
Marcone approached and explained in a hushed voice, “That’s part of the historical files we secured, sir.”
Yanex thought a moment. As much as he wanted to control the history data in his computers, he was tying the hands of his officers by denying them valuable information.
He turned to Marcone and ordered, “Release all ship and relative data, as well as tactical information. Make it available to Colonel Carnell and Major Hellor, only.”
With the blinders removed Tri-S was able to do their job properly.
“It’s definitely a scanning field,” stated Lorran. “We’re homing in on the source.”
“Who’s?” Marcone asked.
“It’s Delphian, sir.”
“Go to first alert,” Yanex ordered in his usual even tone. “Stand by launch.”
The alert chimed three times in three repetitions. Colonel Sands and his squadron members raced to the launch-bay.
“I don’t recall there being any Delphian incursions in this system,” said Marcone.
“None that we knew about,” stated Yanex.
“We have all of the Delphian history files as well as our own, we could check.”
“No,” Yanex said bluntly. He didn’t want his people to get use to using those files. The more they were accessed, the more leakage there could potentially be. They would have to rely on what he’d already given them.
“Commander,” announced Lorran, “we have a powered object located on the far side of the asteroid field. Bearing 7.263 by 3.985, relative.”
“Delphian unmanned reconnaissance probe, type fourteen.”
“Commander,” called out Lorran. “It’s brought its sensors on line and is concentrating them in our direction.”
Marcone took the open seat next to the young lieutenant. “Looks like it’s seen us. It’s starting to transmit a high frequency signal.”
Hellor turned to face the General. “Those things were all over the place in this war. The Delphians knew our every move.”
“Destroy it,” Yanex ordered without hesitation.
“That will divulge our position,” Marcone said over his shoulder.
“Our position is already compromised.”
“Arming number five battery,” announced Hellor. He took manual control of the gun as it rose from its protective bunker on top of the starboard wing tip. Being the only active weapon, the gun’s power bank charged quickly as the Major swung it around to face the target. His computer screen changed to a target symbol as he aligned the gun.
Objects at such a great distance were commonly the recipients of large volleys of fire spread in a pattern that would try to predict their evasive maneuvers, but not this time. Hellor was firing at a stationary object. One that would not be able to detect the approaching bolt of energy, and therefore wouldn’t try to avoid it.
“Pulse away,” Hellor announced as he hit a key on his console, firing the powerful gun.
“Steady and on target,” Lorran confirmed as she watched the round advance on its objective.
Yanex stepped forward to look down on the propulsion section. “Initiate an evasive maneuver, Major. Break any visual lock that thing might have on us.”
The huge ship rolled off to a new heading, then angled its self so that the less visible side profile was facing that doomed Delphian spy probe.
“Impact in three,” Lorran announced, “two.”
There was a distant flash as the probe met its end. The main screen was focused in on the odd shaped instrument when it was suddenly shattered into dust. The explosion was more than sufficient for the job, and such a powerful blast gained the attention of everybody else in the system.
“Target destroyed,” Hellor confidently stated.
“Resume our original course,” Yanex ordered, then strolled back toward his console.
“Commander,” said Lorran, “there are a number of scans being concentrated toward us.”
“Have any locked on to us?” Marcone asked as he leaned over to look at her screen.
That annoyed the woman, but she didn’t want another confrontation.
“Not yet. We can mask ourselves from their systems, but they do have enhanced visual systems at this point.”
Over the intercom an officer in the rear of the center called, “Commander, this is Major Carlisle, Flight Liaison. A patrol of three MAC-32s has altered its course and is heading in this direction.”
“Are they torpedo armed?” Yanex asked as he diverted himself to speak with the man directly.
“No sir,” Carlisle looked up, “this type wasn’t outfitted for torpedoes, but there may be strikers stationed at the base.”
“There is a full strike squadron of S-5s assigned to this system, Commander,” Hellor chimed in over his earphone. The tactical records he had just been given revealed a lot about the star system’s defensive capabilities, or lack thereof. In addition to the S-5 and MAC-32 squadrons, there were also two regular interceptor squadrons of I-37s. I-37s were the standard carrier fighters of the day, predecessors to Oronos’ SF-75s. Comparable to what other nations were flying, they lacked range. Being based on a planet cut their distance even further. Unlike the larger MAC-32s which were specifically designed to be land based.
With the nation desperately fighting to hold onto Darcane many units had been pulled for fleet reinforcements. Most of the smaller systems, like this one, were left short on resources. They were in fact vulnerable to attack and would have a difficult time standing up to any large fleet. In her prime, the Oronos would have no problem dominating the entire system.
“We are being hailed, sir,” said Lieutenant Nather.
“Put it on the main screen,” Yanex ordered. He moved back into his favorite spot as a face formed on the overhead monitor.
“Unidentified vessel, state your intentions,” demanded a rather concerned looking general by the name of Layix. He was the defensive base commander.
“This is the Alliance Carrier Oronos,” Yanex boldly replied. “Our intentions are peaceful. You should have been informed of our arrival.”
“We were, but you’re ahead of schedule and without your escort,” the officer glanced down at something out of view. “What is the meaning of firing weapons in this system? What is your target?”
“A Delphian intelligence probe, General. There are two more hidden in this system,” Yanex read from his own data.
“What! How? There can’t be. We sweep on a regular basis.”
“They’re throughout the entire nation. We can provide you with their scanner frequencies so you can locate them, if you wish.”
The man hesitated a moment. He was suddenly humbled by his lack of efficiency. Not his fault you see, Delphia even had ten probes in the Aultrian system. Nothing moved without the enemy knowing about it. The blockade of Darcane was proof of that. Somehow every supply convoy had been intercepted. That would soon change, Yanex would see to it.
“Transfer all data on these probes to Namic Base,” Yanex ordered. “Also, inform them on how to eradicate the probes.”
“Is that a wise idea,” Marcone questioned in private. “You’re giving them future information.”
“We’re here to change the future, are we not?”
“Yes, sir. This will certainly do that. Aultra might win this war now.”
Yanex let a sinister smile part his lips, “Oh, don’t worry my old friend. We’ll win this war all right.”