“With the death of Marshal Grindell,” Yanex said to his officers, in the Operations Room, “Packlin has assumed the senior slot. One of his first orders is to launch a counterattack against the Delphian base at Darcane.”
“It’s about time,” said Major Tollyn.
Marcone sat up. “Doesn’t he need Council approval for such a deployment?”
“There doesn’t seem to be a Council to give that approval,” said Yanex.
“This is a temporary situation,” Marcone countered, “one that could be taken advantage of.”
“This campaign is long overdue,” said Kayliss.
“Regardless,” Yanex quieted them with. “Marshal Packlin has contacted me and asked that we assist in the defense of Aultra during the operation.”
“As necessary as this operation may be,” Marcone persisted, “Packlin doesn’t have the authority to give those orders.”
“Under Chapter Fifteen he does.”
“I don’t see that Chapter Fifteen applies here, there is a legitimate government. This is only an internal conflict, one that they will work out.”
“At this point in time,” Yanex said sternly, “there is no government, and at a time of war. Chapter Fifteen does indeed apply.”
“Yes sir,” said Marcone, “but this happened before, in our past. They were able to solve their differences after a few days. There’s no reason to believe they won’t solve it again.”
“Because this event happened one way before, doesn’t mean it will occur that way again. The situation has changed.”
“Enough!” barked Yanex. The outburst was short lived, he immediately returned to his cool exterior. “The situation planet side is becoming precarious at best. We may find ourselves in a developing situation in which we will need to take action. In that event, and at the request of Marshal Packlin, we are returning to full combat readiness.”
Vice-Colonel Sands decided it was as good a time as any to divulge his suspicions. He wanted to tell what he knew, but not uncover the fact that he had history information, or implicate Hellor. After all, he had been told to drop his investigation.
“Commander,” Sands called across the table. He suddenly felt uneasy as all eyes settled on him. “I have good reason to believe that there is a plot underway to seize power and overthrow the government.”
“I’m aware of it, Vice,” Yanex responded.
“I think the death of Marshal Grindell may be related.”
“There is an investigation under way. Once they’ve concluded the cause of the crash, we can act accordingly.”
“That could take days, sir,” said Hellor.
“Regardless,” said Yanex, “we are in no position to intervene in that matter.” He looked Sands directly in the eye and warned, “I’m aware of the situation, Vice.”
Sands didn’t bring it up again.
“We are now back on second alert,” Yanex announced. “All fighters are to assume launch readiness. Bring the power grid back to full operation, and move us into a closer orbit.”
After discussing the ship’s status and readiness the meeting was closed. Although the clear enemy was the Delphians, Hellor couldn’t help wondering.
He caught Sands in the corridor. “What did you mean? About Grindell?”
“Grindell wasn’t supposed to die in some stupid shuttle crash,” said Sands. “He would have helped with the reconstruction of the government after Marlanna overthrew the Council.”
“So you think he was taken out?”
“A highly decorated, thirty cycle expert pilot up and flies it into the side of a mountain? Give me a fucking break.”
“Yeah, guess who’s running the investigation,” Hellor agreed. “The big kids play ruff.”
“He’s aware of it,” Sands referred to the Commander.
“Yeah, that’s what bothers me.”
As the other officers left, Marcone called Yanex aside. “I didn’t want to say anything about this in front of the others, but I’ve learned something disturbing. None of our people have come back from the resort.”
“I know,” said Yanex, “they’ve been debriefed.”
“Yes sir, but do you know to what extent?”
“What do you mean?”
“I became suspicious when some of our personnel files were deleted. I found that it was those people we had sent down. They were transferred from the resort to Kayden Station. I did some checking. This isn’t a standard military base, it’s a research facility.”
Yanex became more interested. “Go on.”
“One of those people was my assistant, he transferred onboard with me. I was able to track him down under the pretense that he had information for me. It was no easy task. They didn’t even want to say if he was alive. Anyway, I did talk to him. He remembered me, and us working together, but that’s it. He had no knowledge of the Oronos or anything related to it. They did something to him, Yan. They didn’t just debrief him, they did something beyond that.”
Yanex’s face deepened with anger.
“What did they say?” Aurora jumped up to confront Sands as he entered the dayroom. “Did you tell them about Packlin?”
“No, I didn’t get a chance.” Sands stepped around her and headed for his room.
“What do mean ‘you didn’t get a chance’?”
“The Commander said he already knew about it.”
“He already knows what?”
“Everything. He probable kept the history data for himself. He knows what they’re up to.”
Aurora stopped at the threshold of his door. “What exactly did he say?”
“He said he was ‘aware of it’.” Sands shuffled through the reports on his table and turned his computer terminal on. He had a lot of work backed up. It had been piling up due to his negligence.
“Aware of it?” Aurora repeated sarcastically. “I’m aware of a lot of things. I’m aware that this ship needs to be painted, that doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it.”
“Hey, I don’t have time for this. I gotta put a flight schedule together, we’re back on alert, and you’re on patrol.”
“What? Patrol? Are we actually launching?”
“We’re holdin’ at the top of the count.”
“I’m not gonna just sit in the launch-bay while that bitch is running amuck.”
“What the fuck do you want me to do, hu?” Sands snapped. “We’re just a couple of fuckin’ piss-ants! What are we gonna do? I told the old man. It’s his mess, not mine.”
Aurora came in and closed the door behind her. “They are going to kill us, all of us. They’ve already started. We’re witnesses, we know too much.”
“The Commander knows what he’s doing. If he needs us, we’re here for him. In the best role we can play, the one we’re trained for. He’ll deal with her.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s dealing with her all right,” Aurora quipped as she stormed out.
From the staff meeting, Yanex went directly to the forward hanger-bay. This smaller bay was primarily used for secondary flight operation so his departure went relatively unnoticed. Piloting the shuttle himself, he flew directly to the Royal Pyramid. Flight Operations was reluctant to clear him in and the receptionist in Marlanna’s suite was even more surprised to see him.
“Do you have an appointment, sir?”
“Tell her I’m here,” growled Yanex, “Vice-General Yanex, of the Oronos.”
Yanex tried to control his anger as his mind drifted back to four days prior, when he last met with Marlanna. How foolish he had been. After storming out of the Sub-Council meeting, he contacted her. In the complete seclusion of her office, Yanex knelt on one knee and took her hand in his. “My life and allegiance to you,” he said.
“Without reservations?” she asked.
“With many reservations. But, I have no choice; you know what must be done.”
“That will have to do, I suppose.”
As a young officer Yanex had found it difficult to send people to their deaths, to sacrifice them for the greater mission. In time, it became easier. A fact that often troubled him as he lay awake at night. He found some comfort in the idea that he was now sacrificing himself, instead of an all too eager underling. It was not his physical body that was being thrown into peril, but something he valued far greater, his spirit. These actions would have far greater ramification to him than just that single life. It would follow him beyond, where he would be judged for them.
That was a chance he was willing to take for what he truly believed was a greater good. Those who had sent the Oronos back in time may not have foreseen this, but he was doing his best.
There would be the suffering of others, which he surely would answer for. However, faced with the alternative, the outcome of the Krix war, it would be a small price to pay. As troublesome as the next century would be, and he had no delusions about that, one day all would be set right. He would be vindicated.
Yanex tried to find some solace in his higher objective as he was led into a small, quiet room. Perhaps when he crossed into the next life they would realize his true motives and judge him on those. That didn’t help to relieve the bitter taste in his mouth, nor would it change anything. He had made his decision, and was committed to it. He would pay the price for it, whatever it might be. He knew there was no backing out. Things had already gone too far. However, he was far from helpless. He was not some pawn to be used then thrown away, nor were his people.
Marlanna entered shortly afterward. Her eyes were ablaze with fury. “What are you doing here? You risk everything by coming here.”
“My crew,” Yanex said in even tone, “what’s happening to them at Kayden?”
“Your crew? You endanger my entire time table over that?”
“My crew!” Yanex thundered.
“They are being reconditioned,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “Surely you knew about that? Grindell set that up.”
She looked into his incensed eyes, reading him like a book. “Ah, you didn’t. Grindell didn’t tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“They are having their memories rewritten as part of the cover story.”
“I agreed to no such thing!”
“You agreed to keeping your ship’s origin a secret, this is part of it. I thought you knew,” she lied. “It is essential that we conceal the true origin of your ship, is it not? Will not every other nation in this sector try to lay some claim to it?”
Yanex reluctantly agreed. “It also serves you, doesn’t it? Your plan was meant to fail.”
“True, but I’m making certain provisions to adjust for that. Now that I know where my flaws are. Come now General, how has the situation changed? Our objective is still the same.”
“You lied to me. You stole from me.”
“You never asked me if I had your precious files. I did what I had to. In order to further the cause.”
“The cause,” Yanex scoffed.
“Events have already been put into motion. The government has fallen into disarray. Without something to take its place the nation will descend into anarchy. Who will build your fleet then, Yanex? You said it yourself, we need strong central leadership. Have you changed your opinion on that?”
Yanex wished he could. He wished there was someone else, anyone.
“The cause includes killing people?”
“It is an unfortunate price to pay, but how else are we to achieve our objectives. The more efficiently this operation progresses, the fewer people have to be hurt. The last thing any of us wants is a civil war.”
“And my crew is to be just another one of those prices?”
“Isn’t this what is best for them? Do you want them to live out their lives haunted by their past? Consumed by the guilt and horror of the war they lost?”
“As well as being a thorn in your side.”
“True, there would have to be some unfortunate provisions to ensure security.”
Yanex imagined his people being hounded and persecuted. As much as he hated what she was doing to them, it was far better then what could happen. For a brief moment he almost wished he could join them. Live in ignorance rather than be a slave to the monster he was creating.
“And what of Grindell?” he asked.
“An unfortunate accident. However, it does remove an obstacle from our path.”
“I thought Grindell supported us, how was he an obstacle?”
“Grindell supported exploiting the Oronos, not us. He had his own ambitions in mind. I know it’s difficult to believe, but I’m not the only one who would seize power.” She smiled her devilish grin.
“An unfortunate accident,” repeated Yanex. The words did not sit well with him.
“A most unfortunate accident.”
Yanex had a sudden concern for his own life. If she’d kill someone as high profile as Grindell, someone who has never been heard of before would be of no consequence to her. He brushed any fears aside with his determination. After a lifetime of fighting the Krix, he could never fear one person, nor could he place that much value in his own life. His mission was too important for that. Besides, she needed him.
“After all,” said Marlanna, “Grindell was becoming a threat to you. I could not allow him remove you from your ship.”
“He was planning to trap you, arrest you and take your ship and crew.”
Yanex didn’t know whether to believe her or not. His anger was starting to fade. True, he had not trusted Grindell, however he trusted her even less. There was only one solace he found in her, in a strange way, he felt he knew her. Her motives were clear to him. As long as he could stay one step ahead of her, he would be all right. It didn’t occur to him that he was already too far behind to catch up.
Marlanna was quick to dismiss Yanex as she was already late for another appointment. She utilized her secret office for one last time before it was stripped and abandoned. Believing they were about to engage in secret negotiations with the chairman, Counsels Torin and Shylock were led in and begrudgingly sat when they saw whom they were meeting with.
“Gentlemen,” Marlanna said, “it seems that your dispute has thrown our government into disarray.”
“It is scarcely the disaster the media makes it out to be,” said Torin. He was less than respectful in his tone and saw little use in speaking with, whom he considered, Dyoney’s representative. Prior to that meeting, he had viewed Marlanna as a simple errand runner for her father, and assumed she was taking on the same role for her sister, the future and lame Empress. He couldn’t have been more surprised.
“On the contrary,” smiled Marlanna, “the government has fallen into infighting during the worst of times, while the nation is at war.”
“What are you getting at?” demanded Shylock. He had an uneasy feeling about her tone.
“The national charter, which my father laid out for you, requires that there always be a clear line of national command. The upper most portion of that line is now gone.”
“It’s hardly gone,” said Torin, “this is a dispute, one that we will work out, in time.”
“Will you?” Marlanna asked sarcastically. “The prime Minister will never capitulate to you.”
“What do you know of the Prime Minister’s actions?” demanded Torin.
“I own him,” Marlanna lied. She actually had no influence over him at all.
“You orchestrated this?” asked Shylock.
“Actually you did. I am simply trying to rebuild after this catastrophe.”
“There is no catastrophe!” shouted Torin. “We will reconvene tomorrow!”
“Then you will give up your planet’s right of self-rule?”
“No,” Shylock said flatly.
“What are you trying to do?” Torin jumped from his seat. “You’re trying to take advantage of this situation. Blow it out of proportion for your own means.”
“Quite to the contrary, I am attempting to clean up the mess that you, and yours, have made out of my father’s dream, a self-ruling people.”
“And Dyoney isn’t trying to grab power for herself?”
“Dyoney?” Marlanna laughed. “She is more interested in her parties and social circles. Has she not said that she would not take a stance in this crisis?”
“It’s you then?” asked Shylock. “You’re the one seizing power?”
“Of course it is!” bellowed Torin. “You have even less authority than she does. How can you even dream of doing this?”
Marlanna remained cool as she said, “I have the responsibility of holding this nation together. A job that you have failed at due to your own self-serving interests. However, there may be a place for you both in the new organization. I plan to instill greater self-rule over the individual planets. You both could play important parts in what will become a true republic.”
“The only thing you’re doing is throwing us into civil war!” shouted Torin. “You will never succeed. We will fight you! I will fight you!”
“Come now Torin, you must realize that not only have I already succeeded, I already control the Unified Military. Any armed attempt at resistance would be foolhardy.”
“We’ll just see about that,” yelled Torin as he stormed out and slammed the door behind him. His anger and confusion blinded him to the fact that he was alone, Shylock remained seated.
Shylock watched him leave, and as the echo of his thunderous exit passed, he turned back to Marlanna. He sat quietly as her eyes bore into him.
“I think we can work something out,” he said softly.
“I’ve met with some of the fleet-generals,” said Zilldac, “they’re having difficulty making the departure schedule, but most of the units should be ready by tonight.”
“Good,” said Packlin as he flipped through the reports on his desk.
“They are also wondering about the choice of units. You’re sending standard fighter units and keeping mostly Tyramma squadrons here.”
Packlin brushed past that and said, “We’ve already lost too much time. The Battle of Arkonus was eighteen days ago. We should have launched this attack as soon as that happened. If it were up to me then, I would have coordinated the operations.”
“If it were up to you then?” Zilldac questioned. “Speaking of moving fast, you should be waiting for Council approval before moving units around. And need I remind you that the Council appoints the senior slot, your promotion is not official. They could choose me, or even someone under us.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Packlin said coyly, “my position has already been confirmed.”
“The Council went out session yesterday morning. Did they approve you before that?”
“No, no they didn’t.” Packlin ordered the other officers out of the room and motioned for Zilldac to be seated. “The Council isn’t coming back.”
“What do you mean? What are you up to?”
“The Monarchy is reasserting itself,” Packlin said flatly.
“The Emperor is dead, how can the Monarchy come back? Dyoney wouldn’t dare do something like this.”
“It’s not Dyoney. Princess Marlanna is forming a new republic. A stronger nation that will standup to our enemies.”
“How can she do that? This is illegal!”
“It’s unorthodox,” Packlin admitted, “but hardly illegal. Under Chapter Fifteen there is a mandated line of command.”
“Yes, but I wasn’t aware that we had been struck by a disaster.”
“We have, and will be. With the General Assembly dissolved...”
“Just when was the Assembly dissolved? They went out of session yesterday!”
“They were dissolved when they allowed a petty dispute to divide this nation at a time of war. There are provisions for this action in the National Charter. Should the government become ineffective, there are steps that can be taken to ensure the nation’s survival.”
“Is that what it is? You’re using some obscure provision to overthrow the government.”
“Her Highness didn’t overthrow the Council, they did that to themselves, with their bickering and self-serving. They fight amongst themselves as we are besieged by our true enemies.”
Packlin was on his feet and striding about the office. He waved his hands wildly, as he became more insistent. “Marlanna has put forth a new and stronger nation. One that will not be tied down by the bureaucracy.
“Ever since our ancestors settled this region, we have been under attack by those races that were already here, those who think that we occupy their planets. They will stop at nothing to drive us from this sector, from existence. The Krix are just another example of that. Why if they Delphians, or the Borrad, had their way, they’d do the same. But now we have a chance. The Oronos is more than an opportunity to avoid destruction. It’s a chance for us to become the great nation that we are destined to be. We can rise above everyone else, unit the human race, and take our role as the dominant race in this sector.”
Zilldac sat in silence listening to him rave. He had known Packlin to be aggressive, and yes a bit xenophobic, but this threw him for a loop. He didn’t know what to say. He started wondering just how much of an accident Grindell’s death was.
“Princess Marlanna has envisioned this,” Packlin went on. “She believes that we can be a great people, if we work hard and fight for it! I agree with her.”
“Obviously,” squeaked Zilldac.
Packlin stepped up behind him and placed his hands reassuringly on his shoulders. “I’m hoping that you agree with us as well. You will be a great asset to the New Republic.”
“Or end up like Grindell?” It had slipped out. Zilldac wished he could suck those words back in, but it was too late.
Packlin sighed and walked back to his chair.
“I’m sorry about Grindell,” he said as he dropped down. “He was a great man. However, he would not have understood what we are trying to accomplish. He was, too short sighted, and had only his own interests at heart. Surely you could see that.”
Zilldac nodded slowly. He partly agreed. But more importantly, he dared not disagree. There was no doubt in his mind as to what his choices were.
“I need to know that I can depend on you, Zilldac. I need to know if you share our dream.” Packlin extended his hand to him. “Join us. Together we will build a great nation.”
Zilldac took his hand without hesitation