Deep in the bowels of the main government building, a secured room housed secret meetings. Gone were the cameras and lights that would feed the proceedings out to the public. Signs that invited people off the street to view their representatives in action were also missing. The gallery of seats, which occupied half the circular room, held only invited guests and those who had passes of the highest levels, and most of them were rotated in and out as the subject matter changed. The open doors were locked and guarded.
Behind a long curved bench, sat three members of the ruling council; well away from each other. In the center was Council Torin, a member of the domestic council. Five days of fighting had resulted in him being chosen to chair the hearing as a compromise. Torin knew little of the matter before entering the room, and was alarmed by what he’d learned. Vailla was to his right and Kryton on the left. Each had members of their staff working at the desks behind them. Providing them with advice and information as the hearing progressed.
The first few days had been a parade of experts on ex-space, time travel theory, and stellar explorers who might have encountered the so-called “threat to the nation”. Few conclusions had been reached. People that had visited the alien ship had also been called to state whether or not they believed it to be an Aultrian ship. As much as he didn’t like the situation, it was Kryton who pushed to get beyond the skepticism and move ahead.
With the usual pomp and ceremony, the three leaders marched in for their eighth day of hearings. After the playing of the national anthem, the room filled with murmured speech as the councils settled in. Vailla was irked to see General Yanex sitting in the front row of the gallery, waiting to be heard. An inquiry of one of her assistants revealed that it was Kryton who had him brought there. A cold glare at that man went unnoticed.
Marshal Grindell and several of his staff were also present, as was the Emperor’s representative, Princess Marlanna. The Emperor had the right to attend any meeting that went on in the government he’d created.
From behind the towering table, Torin called the room to order, made a brief and seemingly unrelated speech, then called for the day’s agenda.
“Council,” Vailla called out, her voice amplified in perfect clarity throughout the room by a tiny microphone perched in front of her, “I request a change in the morning’s agenda. Professor Cindar is available to speak with us. She awaits outside at this time.”
Torin flipped through his notes to see whom she was talking about, while Kryton protested, “Council, I thought we had decided to move on in these proceedings. We’ve heard from plenty of experts who have offered little in the way of an explanation. What is the point of one more?”
“We have heard from plenty of your experts, Council,” Vailla shot back. “We discussed moving on. We did not make a decision on it. There was no vote to that effect.”
“What insight has the Professor brought that we have not already heard?” Torin asked without looking up from his notes.
“The people have gone to great expanse to bring Professor Cindar here. We can at least take the time to avail ourselves of her wisdom.”
“With all due respect to the good Professor,” Kryton’s voice sarcastically boomed through the room, “if you want expert testimony, there it is.”
He pointed at the stern gray haired vice-general seated in the front row, looking impatient. “Let’s get to him, hear what he has to say. There’s your expert testimony.”
“I thought we’d decided to establish the validity of General Yanex’s assertions by verifying the origin of his ship, before we addressed him directly,” said Vailla.
“Validity?” Yanex whispered to Lorran. “What do they mean, ‘validity’?”
Marshal Grindell leaned over. “It’s okay. They’re just playing their little game.”
A glance around the room revealed a pretentious little smile on Marlanna’s lips. It could not be going any better for her.
“I move that we table all other matters and move to Vice-General Yanex,” Kryton announced as he threw his hand into the air to mark his favorable vote.
“The agenda has been set Council,” Vailla protested. “If we keep changing it haphazardly, we will never make any progress.”
Kryton demanded, “A motion has been made, Council. The rules state that once a motion has been made, it must be voted on.”
Torin turned his back to the room to consult with some of his people. Once he turned back, he declared, “As the rules state, we shall vote on the motion at hand.”
“Council to the left?” he asked for Kryton’s vote. Kryton, still holding up his hand, shoved it even higher.
“Council to the right?” Vailla pointed her hand straight out in a descending vote.
Torin quickly raised and lowered his hand halfheartedly. “The center favors. The motion passes. We will address General Yanex.”
Vailla made no attempt to hide her frustration. “I request a brief recess to reorganize my notes for this change.”
The Councils and their staffs abruptly withdrew through doors not visible to the rest of the room. Leaving Yanex to wonder aloud, “What happened?”
“This is what it’s been for the last eight days,” Grindell said as he rose from his seat.
“Eight days?” Lieutenant Lorran was surprised. “They’ve wasted eight days, sir?”
“Eight days of bullshit like this and they’ll waste a lot more than that,” Yanex grumbled.
“This may take a while.” Grindell turned for the exit. “Join me for some refreshments?”
“They just opened, do you think it will be that long?” Yanex asked.
Grindell just nodded as they ascended the gallery toward the double doors leading out into an arch lined hallway.
“What of Darcane? Have you launched a counterstrike there yet?” Having kept tabs on all inter-system communications, Yanex knew the answer before he asked. He actually hoped to gain some insight as to why not.
“They haven’t given me clearance to deploy any additional units or ships. I can’t even get Vailla on the phone since this carnival started. I have been able to get a re-supply convoy in. With that, and the loss of those ships at Arkonus, we’ve been holding our own.”
“They still hold that base?” Yanex asked as he prepared a cup of coffee for himself from a table near the door with drinks and pastry.
“Yes, they’ve fallen back to hold that position and have been running raids against shipping. Neither side has the strength for a major attack right now. Whoever can get enough ships in there is going to have the advantage. And we just don’t have any to spare right now.”
“I know of a ship that can take out that base, sir,” Yanex said.
“And how I’d love to use her, General,” Grindell patted him on the shoulder. “But that’s up to them.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Lorran meekly inquired. “But can you not bring a matter of such urgency directly to the General Assembly?”
“I could indeed my dear. If they were not all tied up with this fight over Writ 625. The Darcane contingent is refusing to act on any other measures until that is brought to a vote.”
“Why don’t they vote on it then?” she asked.
“Because it will pass,” grumbled Yanex.
The formal hearing didn’t resume until after lunch. The Councils spent the rest of the morning arguing in the backroom. The lack of information General Yanex had given them was a major topic. Particularly his refusal to turn over of his historical files. They viewed this as a lack of faith in them, which was true.
Lorran hurried to load a program into the room’s holographic projector as the Councils reentered the chamber. Once set, she joined Yanex at a table in the center of the room. Situated between the gallery and the head bench, it was the lowest part of the chamber, scrutinized by all. Lights that shined down from the ceiling intensified as Yanex stepped out in front of the table to begin his remarks.
“Distinguished Councils, I stand here before you after a long and perilous voyage.”
“I’m sorry,” Torin interrupted as he once again searched his notes, an assistant at his side, “did you want to make an opening statement, General?”
“Yes, yes I do.”
“Did we allot for this?” inquired Vailla.
“Why don’t we just hear what the man has to say,” exclaimed Kryton.
“By all means,” Torin agreed. “Do proceed, General.”
“Thank you,” Yanex said, although he didn’t feel grateful. He was becoming irritated.
Disconcerted by the interruption to the speech he’d been rehearsing, he glanced at his notes on a small plaque. In light of the room’s mood, he decided to cut right to his point.
“Although I cannot account for the accident that has caused my crew and I to be here this day, there is a great opportunity to be made of it.
“I come to you from a time of great despair. The human race is in its final days. An unceasing evil had descended on us and driven us to the brink of destruction. My mission is to prevent those events from unfolding as they had in my past, your future.
“Too that end, I have made available to this Council, and military personnel, all compiled information on this threat, in addition to data on the Ittala Class Carrier.
“It is imperative that you act immediately on this matter, to prepare our nation, and people, for the coming struggle. All of humanity, as well as this entire sector, depend on our quick and decisive action.”
Yanex returned to stand in front of the table as the lighting returned to normal.
Vailla asked, “Are you turning your ship over to us, General?”
Yanex was bewildered by the question. “Ah, no, not at this time.”
“General,” Torin inquired, “you stated that you couldn’t account for the event that supposedly sent you back in time, however you earlier stated that it was an experimental device that caused it.”
“A faulty prototype weapon contributed to the event in our estimation. However, most of our data files were damaged in the accident. We have very little information on the time displacement.”
“Yes, of course,” continued Torin, “but can you provide this Council with any insight as to the events leading up to the accident?”
“The prototype in particular, General,” added Kryton.
“No, I can’t.”
“You can’t,” Torin prompted, “or you won’t?”
All three of them were clearly not happy with that. The microphones cut off with a snap, and they gathered around Torin with several of their aids for a conference. Feeling awkward as he stood under the hot lights being ignored, Yanex returned to his seat. He waited there impatiently, becoming more and more disturbed at how the whole situation had been going. Even before he’d heard about secret meetings being started without him, he was dreading the prospect of it. The doubt and skepticism he’d been greeted with was weighing on him. The only people who had whole hardly welcomed him clearly had ulterior motives.
After some raised voices and arm waving, the gathering dispersed and Torin addressed him once more, his tone a bit more confrontational.
“General, I must say, this Council is rather concerned by the lack of information you have provided us.”
“Lack of information?” Yanex rose to his feet. He was always more comfortable on the move. “How do you see that I have given you a lack of information? I’ve given you a complete layout of my ship, in addition to what I’ve already told you about the Krix.”
“Layout of the ship?” Torin began searching his disorganized notes, aids rushed to his side.
“Yes, General,” Vailla picked up, “but you seem to have edited that information. You have provided us what you think we need, and not been completely open. You have taken it upon yourself to decide what we shall have. Is this the role of a vice-general?”
Yanex’s cool broke. He prepared to launch into a tirade on what he’d been through and his role as leader of the Alliance.
“We don’t have any layout of that ship,” Torin called accusingly.
“I directly gave a data crystal to Marshal Grindell, ten days ago.”
Grindell jumped to his feet ready to blame somebody else, anybody else, pleased that it was his favorite person to blame, only he didn’t get the chance.
Vailla was less aggressive when she admitted, “I have those plans, Council.”
“Why don’t I have them?”
“My people are still analyzing the information. They have not yet concluded their studies.”
“You’ve had that information for ten days and you haven’t acted on it yet?” declared Yanex. “You should be building ships!”
“At ease, General,” Grindell warned.
“You didn’t see fit to inform me that you had this data?” Torin was angered at the fact that he’d just been made to look foolish.
“We haven’t authenticated the data yet,” explained Vailla. “I did not want to approach the Council with false or misleading information.”
“False or misleading!” fired Yanex.
“This hearing stands at recess,” Torin ordered.
The hearing opened again the next morning. Yanex was recalled in the afternoon.
“We have decided to put aside the other matters and move on to these Krix.” Torin looked haggard after a night of arguing. The government infighting had spread as word of closed meetings leaked out to the media. The threat of exposure had prompted him to move into an area that all had agreed must stay concealed. The only glimpse they had been given of what was promised to be a dark future, the war.
Torin’s staff had better prepared him for this portion of the hearing. They read the provided information and laid it out for him in small notes.
“Now General, you stated that these are all of the files you have on these Krix, as you call them.”
“Yes Council, that is everything.” Yanex remained seated this time. It helped him to stay grounded, in control. Strolling about he was far too comfortable.
“You understand that it is my intention to seek the truth, General, not spark another confutation.”
“I understand,” Yanex agreed. He was pleased to finally get to the point of his mission. Surely there would be no disagreement here. The enemy was plain.
“Good, then you will understand when I point out that there seems to be some deficiencies in your report here.” Deficiencies that his staff had noted for him.
“Deficiencies? There are no deficiencies, Council. My report is complete on this matter.”
“Oh it is most detailed in most areas.” Torin held up the note plaque. “Maps, ship designs and specifications, studies on behavior patterns, but other than some theories, there is little on the Krix people themselves. How do you account for this, General?”
Yanex drew a heavy sigh. Here was something that he would have trouble believing himself. “We had never actually encountered the Krix people, not that we knew of. We only saw the death and destruction of their war machines.”
“You mean to say that in nearly sixty cycles of war you never saw the face of your enemy?” Kryton uttered in astonishment.
“You never tried to make contact with them?” asked Vailla.
“There were attempts made, the only response we received was a brutal attack.”
Having a significant passage called to his attention, Torin inquired, “You outline several campaigns against their home worlds, surely you must have encountered a civilian population?”
“None that we were able to discern. There were some life-form readings, but they were nothing like us. As best we could theorize they are far less physically developed than us. That’s why they are so dependent on their machines. Whatever they are is unimportant. Their hatred and determination to exterminate anything in their path speaks to their true nature. The Krix are evil, nothing more than pure evil.”
The room filled with an uneasy murmur, one that Torin was quick to silence.
“General,” said Vailla, “you do not give clear reason for the outbreak of the war, just that it started within the Gorrick Dynasty. Can you provide any further insight into this?”
“There were conflicting reports as to the initial cause of the conflict between the Krix and Dynasty. Our officials at the time didn’t take much interest in it, it didn’t involve us. But, I can definitely say that the attack against Aultra was unprovoked.”
“Unprovoked?” queried Vailla. “During the war with the Dynasty, we supposedly supplied the Dynasty with fuel and supplies. Do you think that this action might have drawn the attack against us?”
Yanex explained, “We didn’t start supplying the Gorrick until after the loss of Tyrainea and Nueveia. At that point, they were able to fight a successful defensive campaign for several cycles, until they were overrun by superior numbers. If we were to start our support earlier or even join forces with the Dynasty…”
Kryton cut him off, “Are you suggesting that we ally ourselves with a nation whose ruthless expansionism has threatened our boarders for many cycles? This could draw an even earlier attack on us.”
“All the better,” Yanex responded to people’s gasps.
“The Krix were slow to commit forces to the war with the Dynasty. They were either preoccupied somewhere else, or ill prepared for the resistance they received. Either way, they would not have been able to support a campaign against two independent enemies. We could leave the Gorrick to their fate, shore up our defense, and launch an offensive.”
With a nod to Lorran, Yanex stepped out in front of the desk. A holographic display of several star systems materialized before the desk.
“In 4249 the Krix will have an estimated seventy percent of their offensive force dedicated to a campaign to take Gorrick Prime. The rest of their fleet will either be in staging areas or loosely spread in defensive positions.”
He pointed out three stars and said, “These three systems hold most of the construction facilities for their main fleet production. A strategic strike against these systems will cripple their production of carriers and fighters. Our ability to overcome their shields, combined with attacks against key targets will bring them to their knees.”
Torin was outraged. “You’re talking about starting the war that we’re going to lose! Didn’t the idea of negotiating ever occur to you, General?”
Yanex became frustrated. “There’s no talking to them, you tried that. The representatives you sent were butchered. They view us as little more than an infestation to be swept out of their path. We are bugs to them. Bugs to be stepped on. They don’t even do us the courtesy of stepping on us themselves; they send machines to do it.”
“These are things that haven’t happened yet.”
“No, but they will.” Yanex waved an accusing finger at them. “You are the ones who made those decisions. You sat back and covered your eyes while billions on Gorrick, Tyrainea, and Castrya were massacred.”
Vailla jumped to her feet. “I’m not going to sit here and be accused of things I haven’t done!”
“I should’ve known,” Yanex bellowed. “This is the same thing you did last time! You’re the fools that tried to negotiate with them. It didn’t work then, and it’s not going to work now. I’ve given you the opportunity to save us all, and you’re just going to throw it away. The advanced technology I’m offering you will only make you more complacent. This is only going to prolong the inevitable. You’ll make those same decisions again, only this time it’ll take them longer to wipe us out. Well I’m not going to allow that to happen! Not again!”
Yanex stormed from the room. There was silence as the heavy doors crashed behind him.
Vailla also left in a huff, having been insulted.
Kryton rushed over to whisper to Torin, “I have a serious concern about him being in command of that vessel.”
“I agree. We cannot have someone who is obviously unstable in such a powerful position.”
Princess Marlanna was delighted at the fiasco. She leaned over to her assistant, “Now he is ready.”
“I’m worried about him,” Lorran said, “I’ve never seen him like that before.”
“Calm down.” Hellor lead her into his quarters. He sat her on the couch, then went to get her a drink. As a section head, he had larger quarters than most of the crew. His small living room was decorated in a staunch military manner with numerous ship models he’d built. Ironically, there was a Maya Class Carrier, similar to the Attragone, hanging near the refrigerator.
“Where did he go after leaving?”
“I don’t know. He was gone when I got out to the hall. I’m worried Hellor, I saw his face. I’ve never actually seen him mad before.”
“I have,” Hellor conceded. He didn’t explain that the man had done something very foolish in his rage. Instead he tried to reassure her with, “I’m sure he just needs to blow off some steam. This has been difficult for him. He has a great burden on his shoulders. He’ll come to his senses by the time the Council reconvenes.”
“I don’t know when that’ll be, the Emperor died,” she said slowly. “The entire government went out of session.”
“I know.” Hellor placed her drink on the table and sat next to her. He wrapped his arms around her delicate shoulders and held her. “We heard. It’s all over the news.”
“I shouldn’t even be telling you this,” her voice was muffled against his chest, “it was a classified meeting.”
“Don’t worry, none of this will leave this room.”
They sat awhile trying to reassure each other until the doorbell chimed. Hellor rose to answer it and found three smiling Tyramma. Aurora dangled a data crystal in front of him and said, “The goons erased some personal letters, I was wondering if you could help?”
Hellor glanced from Sands to Lazell. “Yeah, right, get in here.”
He snatched the crystal from her and led them in. A few glances down the hall were made as the three officers entered.
“How much trouble can I get in for this?” Hellor asked as he sat down at his personal computer in the corner.
“How much trouble can you be in if you don’t?” Sands responded.
“You guy’s are up to something.”
“We’re not the only ones,” said Aurora, “you know there’s something wrong here.”
Hellor rolled the crystal in his fingers for a moment as he thought. Placing it on the desk, he got up and went over to Lorran on the couch.
“Is this a good idea?” she whispered with concern.
“No, maybe you should go. I’ll see you topside.”
“I’m on duty soon anyway,” she said. “Be careful.”
Hellor nodded as she left.
Lazell walked the fellow lieutenant to the door while asking, “How long has this been going on?”
“Since after the crash,” Lorran smiled.
“You look happy.”
Hellor reached around the back of his terminal to unplug the network interconnect cable. A notation would pop up in the maintenance log about it, but the Major often worked on classified programs. The maintenance crew would wait to hear from him as to whether there was a problem or not.
Aurora explained her ordeal over the last few days of trying to recall the information as Hellor repeated a lot of the same procedures. His efforts were also unsuccessful.
“You’ll need the computer lab,” Hellor said as he sat back.
“It’s unmanned and shut down,” said Sands.
“And that’s why you need a section head,” Hellor mused.
“We need you,” said Sands, “because I know you can be trusted, and I know that you will do what’s right.”
Hellor ejected the crystal from the terminal and rolled in his fingers again. “What’s on it?”
“History data,” Sands bluntly answered. To which, Hellor threw his head back and rolled his eyes.
“It’s unaccounted for,” Aurora tried to calm him with.
“We think Marlanna might have read this,” said Sands.
“Marlanna?” Hellor mused. “Now you’re playing with the big kids.”
“We think she might be making her move now,” said Aurora, “and trying to drag us into it.”
“The timing couldn’t be any better,” Hellor said. “Everything’s going screwy down below with Dayson buying it.”
“Members of the military supported her,” Aurora said. “We need to know who they were so we can expose them.”
“What about the Commander? Does he know you’re doing this?”
Sands and Aurora had no response. They each looked at each other waiting for an answer.
It was Lazell who stated, “We didn’t want to implicate him in case this goes bad.”
They all looked back at her for a moment.
“That’s almost believable,” said Hellor.
“I knew we brought her along for something,” Sands said.
Hellor thought a moment then slipped the crystal into his pocket. “I’ll think about it.”
“Thanks.” Aurora patted him on the top of the head.
“I said, think.”
Word of the fiasco in the sub-council meeting hadn’t reached the ship. Most of the crew hadn’t even known that such a meeting had taken place. They were uncharacteristically left in the dark. The notion of not being completely open with his people bothered Yanex when he left for the surface two days prior. When he returned, with an even greater lie, it tore at his very sole. His sole would have to suffer though, the final objective was far too important. It could not be risked over his consolation.
Yanex entered the Communication Center from rear and summoned Colonel Tollyn into the Colonel’s office. Tollyn was one of the few that knew about the meeting.
“How did it go, sir?” he asked as the General closed the door behind him.
Yanex drew a heavy sigh.
“That bad hu?” said Tollyn.
“Things have become a bit precarious with Dayson’s death. We may find ourselves in the midst of an evolving situation.”
Not knowing what he was talking about, Tollyn simply said, “Yes sir.”
Yanex took this as a vote of confidence and asked, “How many probes do we have left?”
“Is that enough to jam an entire system?”
“They’d be spread kind of thin, but without phased transmissions, we should be all right.” Tollyn was thinking of Darcane, or even grander, Delphia.
“I want you to set up one of the probes with a level three communications pack, to relay all traffic through our communication grid, then selectively block out certain signals.”
“No problem, sir. But if it’s a high volume of traffic, we should adapt two probes at different points. That is if you want this to be covert.”
“I most certainly do, Colonel. Make the preparation and launch as soon as possible.”
“Here, sir!? You want to jam this system?”
“I can’t express the need for secrecy enough on this operation, Colonel.”
As uneasy as Tollyn suddenly felt, he responded, “Yes, sir.”
Yanex turned back as he reached the door. “This may be difficult for you to understand.”
“It’s not a problem, Commander,” said Tollyn. “I’ll get right on it.”
Yanex nodded and said a simple, “Thank you,” before leaving. He returned to his own quarters to rest and think about what he had just started.
Major Hellor reported to the COC to find that he was to be the Duty Officer. It wasn’t his regular shift in the rotation, however he didn’t complain. He was more displeased by the fact that he would need to call someone up to man the Weapons Station.
Hellor was deep in thought, trying to make sense out of what he’d been told by Sands and Aurora. Was there something to it, or were they just paranoid? He thought about speaking to the General himself (without implicating them), to see what he could find out before getting too involved. He was torn between his loyalty and the nagging feeling that they were right, there was something going on.
He was so deep in his thought it took a second chime to get his attention. A monitor in front of him scrolled different information that would be of interest to the commanding officer. Most of it was fairly routine stuff that would pass right into the log, systems status, work reports, duty rosters, that sort of stuff. Once in a while, there was something that required attention, a sign off or such. This was such a memorandum. It was authorization for a launch package. It just asked for final clearance for probe launch, no details, just clearance.
Hellor found this interesting as most probe operations were under his jurisdiction, and he’d known nothing about it. Major Tollyn’s name was on the request, and despite the fact that Hellor was of a lower rank, ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) was under his section. As the duty officer, he had even more right to investigate.
Tollyn seemed annoyed at his call. He’d not thought to change the regular launch procedures that automatically informed the COC before any launch.
“Just abstain on the note,” Tollyn told him. “I already have clearance from the Commander.”
“I wasn’t aware that we were conducting a launch today. Is it being sent planet side?”
Tollyn was clearly not in a talking mood. “I already have authorization from the Commander for this operation. It’s nothing you need to be concerned about.” Then he rather rudely cut off.
Hellor walked over to the sensor station and asked Lorran, “Is the short range system up?”
“Yes,” she smiled up at him, then put the data on the monitor closest to him with the touch of a few keys.
At the center of the display was the Oronos, the moons and planet were also present, as well as many other objects. Hellor zoomed in closer to their ship and watched as three objects shot from the probe tubes located under each landing bay. They flew off in different directions, and not for the planet.
“What’s that?” Lorran said as she reached over to identify the objects.
“No,” Hellor stopped her, “it’s okay, I know what it is.”
After watching a second pattern shoot out, he returned to the Command Station and fell back into his deep thought. Only, this time it was on how he could get into the computer lab, undetected.