“Welcome General Gilderith,” Grindell called out. “Take a seat.”
Gilderith sat rigidly in a lone chair on the far side of the large round table. On the other side were the three Marshals, with their aids assembling their notes.
“I’ve asked the General to join us this morning,” Grindell said, “as he has had about the most experience with this matter, and the people involved.
“The situation with the Oronos is becoming intolerable. It would be in all our interests to resolve this matter before the Council comes back into session and acts on its own. As the Emperor’s passing now distracts the nation, this would be the best time to deal with this mess more directly. Now, the last word from the sub-council was that they wanted Vice-General Yanex relieved of his station. This isn’t a formal order, yet. I suspect that will be forthcoming.”
A slight whistle from Marshal Packlin caught his attention. “Marshal?”
“That’ll be a lot easier said than done, sir. Especially if he doesn’t want to go.”
“Most assuredly he won’t want to leave,” said Zilldac. “He still clings to that absurd notion that his ship is an independent nation.”
“All right,” said Grindell, “we ask him to step down and he refuses, then what?”
“As a matter of law,” Zilldac stated, “this is not a clear cut situation of his disobeying his superiors.”
“He’s taken the oath of service,” said Grindell. “Most likely the same oath we’ve all taken.”
Zilldac said, “Yes, but it’s whom he has taken that oath to. He can easily argue that it was this nation of the future, the Grand Alliance, and not us.”
“He is an Aultrian officer,” declared Packlin, “in command of an Aultrian ship, I don’t care when he was commissioned, his duty is to Aultra.”
“His duty is to himself,” responded Zilldac. “I don’t see that we have a clear legal statute to give him any order.”
“Then put the law aside,” said Packlin, “take that ship by force.”
“Gentlemen,” said Grindell, “that is one of the options we are here to discuss, should it become necessary.”
Grindell called up a hologram of the Ittala class ship, which floated over the table, not the Oronos with all of its damage, a pristine example of the mighty warship.
“General Gilderith, what input do you have on this vessel?”
Gilderith was not prepared for the meeting. His ship had made orbit only that morning, and he was reporting to the Fleet Command Central when called upstairs. He had expected to be debriefed by the “heads”; however he didn’t expect it to be a strategy session on attacking the Oronos. His impression of the ship still lingered back to Earth’s moon, where he sat defenseless as the mammoth ship loomed over him, laughing. As brave and noble a man he was, he did not relish the thought of being in that position again.
Gilderith explained, “It’s a very advanced, innovative, and heavily armed warship, with an experienced and dedicated crew. Although she has sustained damage in other action, she remains a formidable weapons system. The battle at Arkonus proves that.”
“Is there a weakness?” asked Packlin, “something we can exploit?”
“None that I could see. The weapons system is well positioned. There’s no approach to the ship that would not put you in sight of at least three of their main batteries. And as maneuverable as she is, that number would quickly increase. Also, her fighters are far superior to our own. They possess a self-contained deflector shield that no other fighter in this sector has. I estimate it would take at least one direct hit to penetrate that shield, where as our ships are dead with that one hit.”
“Perhaps,” said Packlin, “but they are in limited numbers. We would have them vastly outnumbered in a shootout.”
Grindell asked, “Have any of their Tyramma left the ship?”
“No sir,” responded Zilldac, “it has mostly been secondary personnel, and that’s trickled off.”
“I don’t want a shooting match in orbit,” Grindell grumbled. “I’m sure the Emperor’s funeral doesn’t need a fireworks display. How about internally? What would be the best way to disable their power systems, General Gilderith?”
“Well sir, if you could get aboard...”
“We’re already aboard,” said Packlin.
“There’s no one point to knock it out,” Gilderith said. “My ship has a primary and backup reactor, this one has eight reactors.”
Grindell pointed up at the hologram. “This information shows a fully operational ship of that class, not the one we’re dealing with.”
“A deliberate ploy no doubt,” said Zilldac, “General Yanex is obviously concealing his vulnerabilities.”
“Wouldn’t you?” asked Packlin.
“Those reactors aren’t as powerful as the ones we’re using,” said Grindell. “If some of them could be shut down, how would that affect the operation?”
“I don’t think it would have a significant affect,” Gilderith said. “They may be smaller, but they are far more efficient. Based on these numbers, any single reactor would provide enough power to maintain operation of the ship.”
“I doubt they could operate their drive or weapon systems at full capacity, but they would retain command and control. That decentralized power grid would preclude any real damage. Look at the condition of the ship now and they’re still operational.”
“What about the command center?” asked Grindell. “Where is it? How heavily defended is it?”
“There were a number of security check points between the hanger and the COC. An armed assault would never work. At the first sign of trouble they’d lock down every hatch in the ship. You’d have to cut your way through a dozen blast doors. They’d resist you all the way.”
“How many troops are there?”
“The actual crew manifest was strangely missing,” Zilldac mused. “According to this data, the operating crew is at least twenty-one hundred. There’s also the capability to carry a full regiment (4500 troops). There’s no way to tell how many people there are, could be thousands.”
Gilderith neglected to mention how few people he’d actually seen.
“The COC is the key,” said Packlin. “If we can secure it, the rest of the ship will be ours.”
Gilderith shook his head at that. “Not necessarily, sir. Most of the actual functions of the ship are not performed in that one location. There’s a number of secondary command stations throughout the ship.”
“But, aren’t they are all coordinated through the main center?” asked Grindell.
Gilderith said, “The control network is also decentralized. Each of these sub-sections has a station designated for interface with the other sections. If one of them were lost, another could take over its function. Conceivably the entire ship could be run from any one of these centers. Gentlemen, this ship is designed to have holes blown it and still operate. From what I’ve studied, you could blow off the entire forward section and still have an operational carrier.”
“Can’t wait to have a fleet of these things,” commented Packlin.
“Grindell, if I may,” said Zilldac, “the key to controlling that ship is its commander.”
He turned toward Gilderith. “What was your impression of the second in command? Would he be easier to deal with? Do think he could be persuaded to relieve his commander?”
“I doubt that Colonel Marcone would act against his commander, but I tend to think he would be more likely to cooperate with us, depending on the circumstances. He gave me the impression of an ambitious man.”
“An ambitious man would want a career after all this is over,” said Grindell. “We can use this to our advantage. All we need to do is remove General Yanex. We can replace Marcone in time.”
“Sir,” Gilderith said, “separating Yanex from his ship can be a much simpler and less bloody matter if you approach it differently. If you start shooting at him, the rest of his officers well come to his aid. These people are from a desperate time.”
“Then how would you do it?” Packlin asked sarcastically.
Gilderith threw up his hands. “Get him off the ship for starters.”
“And then?” Grindell asked.
“Ask him to meet with you. Then order him to turn over the Oronos. If he refuses, arrest him, nice and legal.”
“Thank you for your input, General Gilderith. You are dismissed.”
Marshal Grindell hadn’t quite decided how he would spring his trap on General Yanex. Perhaps he would invite him to sit in his booth at the Emperor’s last service, and then ask him back to his office for a word. Whatever it was to be, he had to act quickly. The memorial would conclude the next day and the General Assemble would return the after that. His prestige rested on his ability to show up the sub-council, namely Vailla. Whatever dirty business was to be done, he would deal with it in the morning. He was home and all of that garbage belonged at the office. He would think no more of it as he sat to dinner with his beloved family.
The ability to leave the job at work was, of course, an illusion for this highest of military officers. He was called from the table by his second shift assistant and told of an urgent message. In a scrambled and highly classified call, Packlin told him that something had gone terribly wrong. Somehow Yanex had learned of their plans and was demanding to see him immediately, and in a neutral area.
Grindell was furious. He exploded at Packlin then called for his shuttle as he made an excuse to his wife. Lies that kept them clean of these dirty affairs were a justifiable matter.
Further angering him was the fact that it was not his regular pilot who was sent to fly him back to his office. A short round faced woman, with her blond hair tied tightly back, reported to him in the foyer as he gathered his things.
“Where is Caleb?” Grindell demanded as the house guards checked her identification.
“He took a sudden leave, sir,” said the woman in a sharp uniform. “I believe a relative may have died.”
A nod from his assistant said that her ID checked out. Although he was not happy about it, Grindell followed the woman out toward the small concrete pad, off to the side of the house.
As it was going to be a dirty matter, Grindell saw no reason to take his assistant with him. He dictated orders to him as they hurried to the small idling ship. Strobe lights interrupted the darkness and a high pitched whine filled his ears as he said, “And send flowers to whoever Caleb’s relative was.”
“Yes sir,” saluted the assistant. He turned back at the edge of the pad so as not to be subjected to the noise. The pilot stood by at attention as the Marshal climbed the steps into the shuttle. Then her hand slipped into her pocket for a small tube with a button on the side.
The inside of the ship was cramped, there were two seats forward for the crew, and a small table set between the two rear passenger seats. Grindell noticed that his seat was slightly forward as he dropped into it. He was unable to adjust it as it was jammed on something behind it. Pulling the seat back up revealed that there was something covered by a tarp. Grindell pulled at the cloth and found Caleb, his head unusually twisted on his shoulders. It took him a moment to react, but by then it was too late. The button on the side of the tube produced a long needle as the woman casually jabbed him in the leg.
The General Assemble came back into full session amidst the glare of the media. As he had promised during the recess, Shylock led a noisy protest that forced the Prime Minister to recognize him. Shylock then made a boisterous speech calling for a vote on Writ 625. With no other choice, the Prime Minister called for the vote.
As was allowed by the rules, the Prime Minister withheld casting his own vote until the others had done so. With the measure about to pass by a narrow margin, he made a highly controversial move. The Emperor had retained certain powers for himself in order to ensure that his government moved in the right direction. In addition to a complete veto power, he had the less direct move of casting an equivalent of five votes for himself. Every other member, including the Prime Minister, had one.
To the growing murmur of the Assembly, the Prime Minister stepped up, made a short speech describing how he had inherited that privilege, and to the outrage of all, cast the five votes that defeated the Writ.
The room exploded with angry shouts as the entire Darcane contingent, most of the Tainus, and a few from Aultra, stormed out in protest. With less than half the members present, the Prime Minister had no choice but to close the session. The General Assemble went back out of session with a firestorm of anger and controversy, much to the delight of Princess Marlanna and her followers.
The media went crazy over the story. It was on just about every channel. As officers the Oronos watched the circus in the lunge, Marcus noted, “This is right on schedule.”
“This happened before?” Sands asked.
“Yes,” said Marcus, “they were out for a few days. When they finally came back, they voted to fire the Prime Minister.”
Sands didn’t give it much thought. His mind was still full of what he had learned from Hellor. The data that Hellor was able to retrieve from the crystal was partial at best. Bits and pieces were all that was left. The most poignant thing they were able to read was that Marshal Grindell had come out of retirement to lead the forces against Marlanna. As Grindell was still firmly in power, and not due to retire for a few more years, Sands had argued that the situation was not nearly so grave. They should wait and see what happened. He didn’t have long to wait.
Almost as an afterthought in the newscast, after the ongoing analysis of the government problem and continuing celebrity reaction to Dayson’s funeral (how outlandish it had been and how Dyoney had gone overboard), was day-old footage of a crash site on the side of a mountain. There was little left of the craft, which had plowed head long into a rocky cliff. Merely pieces of metal and burning brush.
Sands sat in shock as he heard, “Military representatives have confirmed that one of the two occupants of this shuttle was Marshal Grindell, head of Fleet Command. A full investigation is now underway as to the cause of this accident.”
The newscaster didn’t mention who that top position now fell to, Marshal Packlin. The crystal had also revealed that Packlin was an ardent supporter of Marlanna and would later betray her to save himself.
“Sir, Sergeant Blane reporting, sir!” the soldier snapped to attention before the desk.
“What is it, Sergeant?” Marcone asked without looking up from the computer in his office.
“I am informing you of a security breach, sir”
Not really wanting to be bothered, Marcone asked, “Have you informed your section commander, Major Hellor?”
“Yes sir. He directed me to come to you.”
“What is the nature of the breach?”
“Electronic sir, a number of our personnel files have been deleted.” Blane handed him a plaque with a list of names, names that the Colonel was quick to recognize.
“These are the people we sent down to Kayden.”
“Yes sir. To date, none of them have come back. With these files gone, sir,” Blane sounded disturbed.
“I know Sergeant,” Marcone cut him off with. He was aware of the loss of people, one of them was a valued assistant. The man who had kept his office from degenerating into the disorganized mess it was becoming. A man he much needed to speak with.
“How is it that these files were removed? No such action can be taken by law. You can’t even make a drastic change to a personnel file without the individual’s knowledge, let alone his commanding officer’s.”
“An access code has been added to our system, sir. I was able to track it down and identify it. The name is at the bottom, sir.”
“Colonel Seaver,” Marcone read angrily. “So, Colonel Seaver has decided to give herself an access code higher than mine, we’ll see about this. Well done, Sergeant. I’ll look into this. I want you to keep this to yourself, and put your men on alert.”
“Yes sir, they are on alert.”
Marlanna watched the newscasts with a different eye, and a smile. Events were going according to her revised plan. It wasn’t entirely what she had wanted though.
“I want them to start calling it a collapse.”
“I would hardly call this a ‘crisis’, let alone a collapse,” Packlin said as they stood together in her secret office.
“We have influence with one of the network’s controllers, do we not?” she asked.
“We have enough evidence to send him away for ten cycles.”
“Well then, this is now a collapse.”
“One newscast calling it a collapse doesn’t make it so.”
“If it is repeated long and loud enough the others will follow suit. The bigger the story, the more people will be interested in it.”
“And if they should work out their differences and reconvene?”
“They won’t,” Marlanna said with a fiendish smile. “Have you spoken with Zilldac yet?”
“No, Your Highness. I will see him later today.”
“Good. Speak as I have told you. Do not deviate from what we went over. Once he is entangled, he will be easier to control.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Packlin said obediently. “There is a small problem. The military unit transfers I’ve initiated are drawing some questions.”
“You will proceed with them as I have directed. These are the officers who would oppose me. I should think that using them in an offensive to drive the Delphians from Darcane would be reason enough. You should remind them of their duty and nationalism. Do not lose sight of our higher ideals. Once we have secured our position, we will start weeding them out.
“I plan to initiate the next phase of our plan tonight,” she continued. “With the government in shambles, the people will have only me to turn to when the true evil is revealed to them.”
“What of Dyoney?” Packlin reluctantly asked. “If the monarchy were to reassert itself, isn’t she the true heir?”
Marlanna laughed out loud. “Do not concern yourself with that, I will deal with her.”
The newscast showed part of an interview with Dyoney where she repeated her stance that the crisis was a government matter, and she would remain neutral in the dispute.