Yanex returned with few answers for his anxious crew. It was obvious that dealings with the government were going to move painfully slow. As demonstrated by a message from Kryton that was waiting for him when he returned. It stated that they were holding meetings on how to format some kind of hearing. A meeting to talk about having a meeting, great.
The following day the recovery crew started coming aboard. Docking cargo transports at the HLT ports, they disembarked into the cargo passages behind the launch-bays. With the security teams shorthanded, Sands had been asked to help out with overseeing the arriving personnel. He, being more interested in his investigation, passed the job onto an all too eager Talya. She recruited Bogan and several others and established checkpoints at the docking ports. Each person coming aboard would be listed and scanned.
“Just because we’re at Aultra is no reason not to be cautious,” stated Marcone as he issued the instructions.
Colonel Seaver was commanding the recovery party. She had a top security clearance and experience in salvaging alien ships. Her crew was to collect information, samples of technology for study, and begin the assimilation process on the crew. A daunting task that seemed overwhelming for even a well-organized and efficient officer like her. Having worked with most of her crew on prior operations, she was displeased about some of the new members of her team, which had been thrown together in haste.
One in particular stood out. A giant of a man, he towered above the others. Even though he was much younger and had fewer scars on his sculpted face, there was no mistaking who it was. A sharp kick in the rump kept Bogan from blurting out that he was known.
The big man casually gave the name of Sergeant Beck as he checked in. His eyes shifted back and forth as he picked up on the subdued reaction to his presence. Bogan did a poor job at controlling his elation at meeting him. After a few more people passed, Talya called Lazell over to replace her as she went to inform the General.
Bogan was baffled at her reaction. “That’s General Horace,” he called the man by his true name and future rank. “He was a great hero in the war. What’s the problem?”
Lazell smiled at his ignorance. “He’s using a false identification.”
“How did Horace start his military career?”
“In the Special Forces, why?” Then it hit him. “We’re being boarded!”
“No shit,” she shushed him with. “We should start checking for weapons.”
“I know that. We have been,” he snapped to remind her of who held the higher rank.
The recovery team stacked their equipment on some nearby open topped vehicles for the trip further into the ship.
“They’re onto us,” the big man sneered as he banged a case on top of a stack.
“They’re onto you,” responded Seaver in an annoyed tone. Regardless of Horace and his boss’ games, she still had a job to do. If they were thrown off the ship as soon as they arrived, whatever the reason, she would end up with a share of the blame. All of her protests wouldn’t change that.
Horace stood for a moment thinking as others placed cases of measuring equipment and materials for categorizing items nearby.
“We’re compromised, what do you want to do?” she asked of the true mission commander.
Horace glance back to see the equipment being examined, as it was unloaded. The last few crates would have to remain on the transport, the crates that contained their weapons. “Proceed as planned. I’ll send a messenger down with the first off load.”
“That’s if we don’t go down with the first off load,” she quipped.
Picking up on her distress, Horace said, “I wouldn’t worry about that.”
“A huge incident that could cause me to fail my mission, you’re not worried about that? What are you worried about?”
Horace shrugged nonchalantly, “Being shot as a spy.”
Talya went straight to the COC. She did not inform her unit commander as protocol dictated. There was no time for that. Besides, why give him the credit. She was distressed to find only Colonel Marcone at the command station. She wanted to tell the General herself. It was time she started being recognized so she could advance her position when the crew broke up.
“What is it, Major?” asked Marcone when she approached, then just stood there scanning the room.
“Is the Commander here? I have something to tell him.”
“You can tell me.”
“It’s urgent, sir. I must speak with him directly.”
Sick of the lack of respect he’d been receiving, Marcone demanded, “Out with it, Major.”
Then she did something unthinkable. Spotting General Yanex stepping out of the communication center she turned her back on him. Talya hurried to reach Yanex before Marcone could catch up with her.
“Sir, Major Talya reporting,” she announced as she confronted him on the stairs down to the main floor.
“The Major requires a lesson in the chain of command, sir,” Marcone growled from behind her.
“The urgency of this requires immediate attention, Commander,” she defended herself with.
“What is it, Major?” Yanex said.
“I have reason to believe we are being infiltrated by surface commandos.” She handed him her computer plaque. “This man is among the people that have come aboard.”
Yanex glanced at the image of Horace then passed it to Marcone. “Are they armed?”
“No sir, they haven’t brought any weapons with them.”
“They might try to get them here,” stated Marcone.
“Secure our stock pile and notify Sergeant Blane,” Yanex ordered as he turned back for the communication center.
Talya was suddenly alone with the colonel she’d just slighted. She gave no further explanation for her action, or an apology.
“Empty all of the secondary armoires into the main one,” Marcone ordered sternly. “Then double the guard.”
Thinking that her indiscretion was going to be brushed over by her fine work, Talya stated, “Security is spread thin, they don’t have the manpower.”
“That’s okay,” Marcone shoved the plaque at her, “you’ll be guarding it.”
Once more Yanex’s failings at diplomacy stood evident. He was more interested in showing that he was someone not to be trifled with, rather than avoiding crushing some very delicate toes.
“There are elite combat troops boarding my ship, Marshal.”
“Really?” Grindell tried to sound surprised as his eyes shifted to people out of view of the monitor. “There must be some mistake, I told Zilldac to organize a recovery team.”
“Well there are commandos among your so called recovery team.” Yanex left out the fact that at least one of them was using a false identification.
“Get me Zilldac,” Grindell ordered someone off screen. “It’s probably the fact that we were caught off guard by this whole situation, General. Zilldac might have just grabbed anyone who had a high enough security clearance. That’s probably it, but I’ll speak to him.”
Grindell wasn’t even taking a breath to allow questions as he tried to worm out of the fact that he’d been caught. “But rest assured General, this is just some mix up. There’s no attempt at malice here.”
“I’m sure there’s not.”
“If it’s a problem for you, I’ll remove those personnel that you find threatening. However I’d hate to delay the operation. We don’t want any setbacks here, do we?”
Yanex gave a long deliberate pause. He had a firm grasp on the man, and he would give him a firm squeeze to show who was in charge. Let him sweat a moment so his mind could run the possibilities of the Oronos taking up with some new nationality. Carmella was nice that time of the cycle.
“Those personnel are not a threat to this ship, Marshal. They can remain as labors.”
“Good,” a false smile spread across Grindell’s face. “I’d hate for a little misunderstanding to damage the trust we’ve built up.”
Yanex ended the communication with, “I await my session with the Council, Marshal.”
Grindell didn’t ask about the data on the ship. He was in no position to make any demands at the moment.
Yanex had no idea of just how big a blow he’d struck. Having been exposed was personally damaging to Grindell. If word of it were to reach the Military Council it would be devastating for him, especially if Counsel Vailla found out about it. She would use it as a dagger and carve holes in his reputation. If the power were hers, she’d have had him removed long ago. Why someone who obviously held the military in such disfavor was in charge of the Military Council was beyond him.
Sometimes what isn’t said is more damaging than what is. By seemingly letting the matter drop, Yanex did indeed allow the unspoken to work on Grindell’s imagination. Yanex was a threat, a far greater threat than Grindell had perceived. His knowledge of the future, its lies and betrayals, was by far more devastating than the mightiest of the Oronos’ guns. It was a razor sharp sword that the politically inept warrior swung with complete abandon. Totally unaware of just how much damage he was doing.
Within two days an exclusive and secluded resort was ready to welcome the crew of the Oronos.
Yanex delivered a data crystal containing detailed layouts of the massive warshipthe day the first of his none essential personnel reached the resort. Everything was in the data crystal he snapped onto the Marshal’s desk. Deck plans, weapon systems, defense systems, life support systems, everything done to the very metallurgical compounds that made up the hull, all in one tiny priceless crystal.
It was understandable that the General should insist on some of his people for security, and who better than two Tyramma, his squadron commander and one of his officers (Sands and Aurora). Also, some negotiating assistance was in order after last time. A young red haired Lieutenant Lorran assumed a previous role as personal aid, and the ship’s Commander of Sensor Operations, Colonel Tollyn, also came along to help translate the data. All were dressed in the old time uniforms so not to draw attention to themselves.
It was understandable that they should want to walk amidst their old home after an uneventful meeting with Marshal Grindell. Who would stop five officers from walking out of the building and disappearing into the crowded pre-dusk city. A hardy meal and some of the local entertainment would always be on the agenda for crews that had been away for any great length of time. That was until the intelligence officers lost track of three of the party. The commanding officer and female lieutenant spent most of the evening at a restaurant and bar, while the others somehow vanished into the shadows.
Being outside was somewhat disorientating for the officers of the Oronos. The ground didn’t vibrate and there was no ceiling above. The night sky was almost a blessing, as the sun would have been blinding to them. To suddenly be in the open air after being confined for so long was a shock to the body.
Aurora found the city deafening as she tried to gather her faculties and keep her emotions under check. As surreal as it all was, they were there to do a job. The shock of ideally passing Horace in a passageway had been bad enough. Suddenly she was walking in a city she’d last seen in flames.
She tried to stay focused on that and not lose herself in the surroundings. While the others delighted in environment, she hardly spoke. Subconsciously she regarded the open and welcoming city as she would any other foreign or even hostile environment. Her hand never strayed very far from her weapon.
Military personnel were nothing unusual in the city, especially with a war on. If one had bothered to look close enough at the casual threesome, they might have noticed that they had different weapons and smaller communicators; other than that nothing about them stood out. There was no concern about them walking into a public office building. No locked doors or inquisitive security guards hindered them as they went up to the sixty-fifth floor, just a locked utility room door halfway down a bland looking hall.
A hand held scanner revealed a simple magnetic lock and no alarm devices on the door. Sands had brought a tool for just such an occasion. A small wand that could generate magnetic fields. It counteracted the one holding the door shut. Interesting that picking locks should be an optional course at the Academy. Actually it was called Insurgent Techniques.
An unlocked cabinet on the wall near the door housed the communication interface wiring. Cables, which fed from a pipe coming out of the floor either continued up to the next floor or fathered out on tight nit terminal blocks that sent lines out to that floor’s customers. Each point on the block was numbered and it didn’t take Tollyn long to find what he was looking for. An extra set of thin optical lines led off the number he was looking for and ran with some others into the ceiling.
As Aurora stood watch in the hall, Sands boosted Tollyn up through a ceiling tile to find a small metal box at the end of the wire. It had no markings of any kind and a thick wire, which ran out onto the ceiling and ended with a rounded tip.
“What’s up there?” asked Sands as he held the man’s foot in his clenched hands.
“Transmitter of some kind. There’s no name or anything on it, but it has an antenna. I’m going to try to remove it.”
Hearing the elevator doors open around the corner, Aurora went to investigate. She stopped just before the corner and waited for two men to walk into her. They stopped suddenly when they saw the uniformed officer. Both wore civilian clothing and one carried a small toolbox. She smiled broadly as her hand hung near her weapon. She clearly had the drop on them.
Eyes shifted back and forth, then one man excused himself and they stepped past her as if nothing happened. They walked past the partly open utility room door without even looking in. They were caught off guard and heavily out gunned. Picking up their conversation where it had left off, they continued down the hall and rounded the next corner.
“We’ve been pegged,” said Aurora as she rushed past the door. She peeked around the corner, where the two men had turned, and found an empty corridor.
“I’m almost there,” Tollyn responded as he waved Sands’ lock magnet around the box in hopes of deactivating any booby traps. He was unsuccessful. Once he cut the leads and lifted the box, it instantly heated up. The sides burned red as he dropped it to the floor. Tollyn cursed as he jumped down.
“Can we take it?” asked Sands. “Should we have it analyzed?”
Tollyn kicked it over and felt the heat through his boot. “It’s too hot. The inside will be goo by now. Let’s get out of here before reinforcements show up.”
They didn’t see the two men again as they hurried out of the building. There was no sign of pursuit either. Just to be safe, they took a roundabout route back to the General. Stopping at a few places along the way to try to spot a tail. Of course a few drinks would have to be consumed so they didn’t standout. Somehow they happened to find themselves in those types of establishments.
At a small bar frequented by military officers, Sands, Aurora, and Tollyn rendezvoused with General Yanex. Yanex was given a brief account of their failure as someone watched from the shadows. The person had hoped to get Yanex alone but when the group stood to leave, he had no other choice but to approach them.
“Good evening, General Yanex,” said the handsome man in a fine civilian suit.
“Good evening,” said Yanex as he stopped, facing the man.
Aurora sprang in-between the two men, her hand dangled near her weapon. Sands stepped off to the side. His eyes swept the room for others. Tollyn pulled Lorran out of the line of fire. She was lost as to what was happening, but caught on when Tollyn said, “How does he know the Commander?”
“And you are?” Yanex stepped by Aurora toward stranger.
“I am not important, but there is a friend of yours who wishes to talk.”
“I’m not the sociable type and have few friends,” said Yanex.
The man glanced about cautiously. This was not the kind of spectacle he wanted. “Ah, but you do, General. Very important friends who can’t be kept waiting.”
“Take us to your friend then.”
“This is to be a private meeting.”
Yanex the tactician took over. It was an easy bluff to call. He doubted that this stooge wanted to go back empty handed. “Then there will be no meeting.”
Yanex headed out the door followed closely by his officers, who constantly checked back on the lone man. Outside they could act more directly. When the man rushed up behind them, he was hustled off into an alley at gunpoint. Lorran stood out on the street and watched for unwanted company while the man was thrown face first against a cold damp wall. His temple received an imprint of the barrel of Sands’ gun as Aurora indelicately searched him. After a quick examination, the smaller weapon that was wrenched from his own waistband replaced the larger military gun.
“Civilian made,” Aurora said before handing the gun to Sands. “No serial number. Used by covert op’s a lot.”
“Now who did you say you worked for?” Yanex calmly asked.
“I didn’t,” the man defiantly declared.
Motivation was clearly in order and a nod to Aurora brought it. She grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around to face her. With a slowly spreading smile she drove her knee into his groin.
As he rolled on the ground, she bent down to ask, “No?
“Okay.” Aurora stepped on his neck so that his throat was wedged in the arch of her six inch heel boot. Slowly, she applied her weight.
Yanex knelt beside him and looked over the situation a moment. The victim was starting to turn blue as he thrashed about gasping for air.
“Well now, you seem to have found yourself in an interesting and almost provocative position.
“I remember the look on the last guy’s face she killed this way. It was almost, how would you say, euphoric. Wouldn’t you say so, Captain?”
She ground her foot further while he grabbed at her leg.
“Take your filthy hands off me,” she calmly warned.
“I’ve been nothing but jerked around since I got here,” Yanex said. “You think I’m going to let a worm like you push me?”
When he nodded, Yanex motioned for her to let up a bit. Aurora kept her boot firmly in place, but allowed him catch his breath.
“All right,” he said between chokes and coughs, “I’ll take you to them.”
“You’ll take us to who?” asked Tollyn.
“I can’t say. You’ll know when we get there. You know who it is.”
While Sands and Tollyn gathered him off the ground, Yanex asked Aurora, “Have you actually killed someone like that?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know, sir.”
Indeed Yanex did know who it was. His idea was confirmed when then entered the Royal Pyramid through the same hidden entrance, which he had passed through previously. To many protests, he proceeded alone from there. The others went to catch one of the then regular cargo runs back to the Oronos while the man led Yanex up to a private residence in the building. Darkened hallways and no questions asked checkpoints brought him to a large elegant suite. To his surprise, the room lacked all of the grandiosity he would have expected. It was well decorated and particle, but it somehow lacked feeling. It was an oversized bedroom, which had the ambiance of an office despite the low colored lights and comfortable furniture.
“You wanted to see me, Your Highness?”
Princess Marlanna lounged on a large couch facing a picture window that overlooked a spectacular view of the city. She was scarcely dressed.
“Come Yanex,” she said without turning, “sit with me, enjoy the night sky.”
With a hardened expression, Yanex walked over and sat rigidly on the opposite end of the couch. A sight that Marlanna chuckled at.
“Come now Yanex, I’m not going to bite you. I may scratch you a bit though.”
Giving only the outward appearance of settling down, he leaned back and sank into the soft cushions.
“Ever think you would see this again?” she said as she slid closer to him.
Yanex couldn’t help being struck by her physical beauty. She was muscular and toned. Her eyes had that wanting look about them as she stared into him. It had been so long for him. He could barely remember the last time he held a woman in lust, let alone love. He had at one time loved four wives and a dozen children. So content was he in his home, that he had shared two of those wives with other men. But, that was a long time ago, and the eyes he was looking into were filled with a different kind of lust, lust for power. There was only deceit and deception behind those dark, milky eyes.
“Is this a personal matter you wanted to discuss?” Yanex asked.
“You, ah,” he stumbled, “want to...”
She smiled broadly. “I think we’re both a little beyond that, don’t you, General?”
“Yes.” He suddenly felt foolish.
“You are right in one aspect though, I do have a proposition for you.”
“And what might that be?”
“I think you already know, if you’re half as perceptive as I think you are.”
Yanex was taken aback by her frankness. He hadn’t expected her to just come out with it. “You’re the one who stole my history files, aren’t you?”
“I would prefer to call it, ‘gathering resources’,” Marlanna said as she picked up a glass from the table in front of them.
“Your resource gathering got a man killed, and put some of my people at risk.”
“A necessity, Yanex. Such an opportunity could not be ignored. Besides, that man was already dead, you know that.” She was quite nonchalant about the whole thing.
“He’s dead because you ordered him dead.”
“Sacrifices must be made sometimes. I’m sure you are more than aquatinted with that hard fact. He was a soldier, how is this a crime?”
Yanex was hard pressed to dispute that. How many people had he ordered to die? The spy was as much a soldier as the Tyramma.
“Soldiers don’t generally kill themselves.”
“Some are more dedicated to the cause than others. I assure you, Zollin was a more than willing participant in a higher goal.”
“You’re goal,” Yanex said bitterly.
“The nation’s goal. Aultra is meant for greatness, not the destruction that you lived through.”
“Really? I see it more as you serving your own interests, not the nation’s.”
“My interests will benefit the nation as well. I mean to make this a great nation.”
“By turning it into a dictatorship? Through murder and intimidation? How would this be a great nation?”
“As we agreed,” she smiled, “sometimes sacrifices must be made to serve the greater whole. Come now Yanex, you know as well as I that Aultra needs a strong leader in these times to come, a strong, decisive, single leader. We both know that. You’ve met my beloved sister. Do you think she is it?”
Yanex saw her point; however he did not want that leader to be her. He was greatly troubled by the casual way she discussed “sacrificing” people. Yes it was a necessary evil, but it was not one to be taken so lightly. One with such an attitude would surely lose sight of the greater good in the quest for their own self-motives. Rather than outright rejecting her, Yanex saw a benefit in keeping her guessing as to his decision. He might be able to use her at some point if he could play her right.
“You’re taking quite a risk aren’t you? What makes you think you can trust me?”
“Oh I don’t, but I think it unlikely that you will act against me. That would bring you and your ship into the forefront, for all to see. And besides, this conversation didn’t take place. You would be hard pressed to find evidence if you wanted to move against me legally. And, I’m far too powerful to challenge in any other venue. After all, as I see it, we are both on the same side. We share the same enemies. It is only logical that we should join forces.”
Yanex sat motionless. The coldness in her tone shook him. Then she did something completely unexpected. She pulled a folder from a draw under the table and gave it to him for inspection. Yanex only had to thumb through the first few pages to know what it was, survey reports and preliminary construction designs for the Cara Donna Facility, the base that built the Oronos and her sister ships. She was waving a reward in front of his nose. An incentive that no one else had even thought of.
“Construction could begin tomorrow. That is if it were my decision to make.”
Yanex was suddenly not so sure. His mind reeled with the possibilities. However, there was one notion that kept coming up.
“I’m sure you would, Your Highness.” He dropped the folder on the table and stood to leave. “What I’m concerned about is the decisions that will follow that one. Who else would you turn that fleet on?”
“Anyone who would threaten us,” she said coldly. “Do not pretend not to know the true nature of the game, General.”
Yanex walked to the door without responding. She was not about to let him go without one more jab. “In your history, this is the government that’s in place when the war starts. What did they do about it?”
Yanex didn’t answer. He knew what they did. They sat around and argued, like they were then.