Outrage filled the city of Maracasa. News coverage picked up right after the speech, telling people what they heard and what they should think about it. However, it wasn’t until midmorning that the suddenly jobless politicians filled the channels. One of the most outspoken was Shylock. (Actually he was more outspoken than he was told to be.)
His remarks opened with a condemnation of Marlanna and her, “attempt to turn the military into an independent entity. This is an intolerable situation. One which the people I represent should not stand for. Therefore, I intend to lead my delegation in a vote to secede from this council until the situation is rectified.”
The bulk of his speech focused on the Krix and how concerned everyone should be about whoever they were. That, and a few other gentle pushes, moved a portion of the media in the direction that Marlanna wanted. Putting her people out early helped set the tone of the coverage. Yet there were still other broadcasters that remained on her crimes. Shylock was convincing in his outrage and determination, although somehow every discussion in which he participated in always ended up on the Krix.
Not knowing where Shylock’s true convictions lay, Vailla contacted him that afternoon. He had tried to avoid her, but she caught him as he left one of the broadcast centers. With reporters and cameras about he didn’t want to push her away. Here was an unexpected meeting between old rivals who were suddenly on the same side. With no other choice, Shylock asked her into his limousine. Cameras flashed and pundits speculated as the car pulled away.
“Interesting that you should find the time to hunt me down when you couldn’t return my calls yesterday,” Shylock said bitterly.
“Now is hardly the time to dwell on our past differences,” Vailla said in her aristocratic tone, “we have a far greater common adversary.”
Shylock gave sullen nod and listened to what she had to say. He made no attempt to hide his apprehension or misgivings toward her.
“After all,” she continued, “it is our differences that brought this situation about.”
“I tend to think it goes a lot deeper than that. This was far too well orchestrated to be a spur of the moment scheme.”
“Regardless, we need to deal with this now, before Marlanna becomes too strong.”
“It may already be too late. If the upper levels of the military are supporting her, we may be powerless to resist.”
“Nonsense,” Vailla said. “I have already worked out a plan. As long as she can claim some semblance of legitimacy people will be reluctant to move against her. That is our fault, we gave her that opportunity. However, we can just as surely take it away.”
“What are you getting at?”
Vailla leaned forward and spoke intently. “As long as there is no Council, there is some validity to her claim, however remote and twisted. If we bring the General Assembly back into session, we can reclaim power and denounce her, force her to step down by act of law.”
“And if she refuses? She has the might of the fleet behind her.”
“We declare her corrupt, and all those who follow her.”
“Great, you divide the military and start a civil war. In march the Delphians.”
“There will not be a civil war,” Vailla said reassuringly. “A few of the top military leaders may be in league with her, but the bulk of the officers’ corps will not fight against their own people. These are of course our sons and daughters.”
“What do you want from me?”
“We need two-thirds of the membership to open the session. If you can get your contingent to agree, we can end this tomorrow.”
Shylock stiffened up. “And how does this resolve anything? My people have been wronged. They aren’t just going to walk back in there.”
Vailla grimaced at his resistance. “This is more important than that issue.”
“Not to us. You’re going to have to make some concessions here.”
Clearly perturbed, Vailla said, “We can deal with that afterward. If we do not stop Marlanna, how much freedom are you going to have then? Help me reopen the session and I will switch my vote on Writ 625.”
“What good will that do? It already failed.”
“All right,” Vailla said angrily. She had to play her last card. “We can sanction the chairman and remove him from post. 625 will pass then.”
Shylock thought a moment. The vehicle had arrived at his next stop and the driver waited outside for him to signal that he was ready to exit. “I’ll think about it.”
“You had best do more than ‘think about it’. The longer we wait, the stronger Marlanna becomes. And if need be, the less likely people will be to rise up against her.”
He knocked on the window, then turned back before climbing out. “I’ll talk to the others. I can’t make any promises, they’ll be resistant. They don’t all love you as I do.”
“Love me or hate me, so long as they are there, first morning session.”
“Green Squadron this is Oronos Flight Control, you are clear to land, port bay. Proceed to main hanger.”
In the Flight Operation Sub-Section the technicians watched the fighters approach and land in the port bay.
“We’re short one sir,” said a crewman.
“Are you sure?” asked the officer, “re-check.”
Lieutenant Lazell wasn’t the only one to notice their welcoming committee as she swung into the hanger and headed for her parking spot. Members of the surface work crew, still in their utility uniforms, poorly concealed short pulse rifles as they gathered at the rear of the bay where the ships entered. Among them the menacing Horace.
As her canopy opened, Lazell reached behind her seat for her survival equipment and produced a pistol gripped stock, which was not part of the usual package. To that she quickly snapped a thick barrel the length of her forearm. An oversized scope and power pack completed the weapon. Lazell left the collapsible stock folded as she jumped from her ship and rushed to join the rest of the unit, the rifle slung behind her back.
The upper ranking officers of the 663rd formed a line just past the rear row of fighters, facing off against Horace’s troops. With troops also in the forward maintenance shops and passenger terminal, the rear lifts were the best way out.
Between the opposing forces was the rear taxiway that ran between the two landing-bays. An open no man’s land, which the soldiers slowly encroached into.
“Check stun,” ordered Horace as more of his people rushed in from other entrances, “we want then alive.”
Sands stood in a firm firing line with most of his flight leaders and closest officers. The other members stood back or drifted toward cover. Lazell climbed onto a fighter putting herself in a position that gave her a clear sweep of the opposing line and plenty of cover.
“I knew it would come to this,” Aurora said through gritted teeth. Her eyes were locked on Horace. She still couldn’t believe it was him.
“By the order of Fleet Command,” Horace bellowed, “your unit has been relieved of duty. You are to relinquish your weapons and proceed to the debriefing center.”
“You mean the slaughter center,” Bogan called out.
“Shut up!” Sands ordered. “Hold your ground.”
“No harm will come to you,” Horace said. “Drop your weapons, now!”
Sands shouted back, “This ship’s not under Fleet Command. You have no jurisdiction here.”
“It is now. Your commander has joined the fleet and submitted to the command structure. I speak for him as well.”
“Fleet Command is now Marlanna,” said Aurora without taking her eyes off Horace. Her hand floated near her sidearm, mussels tense and ready. “Yanex screwed us over. He sold out to that bitch.”
“Shut up,” said Sands, also prepared to draw his gun.
The soldiers pointed their rifles upward as more of them filtered in. Horace repeatedly told them to hold for his order.
“Easy, keep steady,” he told them. His weapons were set for stun, however he could not account for his adversaries. They were of course in a chamber full of fuel and explosives.
“They’re cutting around us,” breathed Talya. She suddenly felt vulnerable as they were becoming greatly outnumbered. She thought Sands was a fool to wait. The longer they put off the inevitable, the weaker they became.
“They’re coming up behind us,” Marcus said. Those Tyramma who were not on the firing line, took up positions to engage the troops moving in from the passenger terminal and deploying among the fighters.
“Hold your fire,” Sands repeated.
“I want to speak to General Yanex,” he called to Horace, “bring him here!”
“Give it up,” Aurora sneered. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”
Talya had waited long enough. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a soldier jump behind the tail of a fighter that was behind their line. The rest of the troops were out in the open, except for the ones behind them. More appeared on the catwalks above. That was her breaking point, they were almost completely surrounded. If Sands wasn’t going to act, she would. Talya selected the man who had crossed their line. In a flash, she jerked her large gun from its holster and hit him in the head with a stun bolt.
One shot was all it took. The bay erupted with weapons fire. Half the Tyramma and most of the troops went down in the first salvo. Horace, who lay unconscious in a pile of his men, had reinforcements. Sands did not.
“Weapons fire in the main hanger!” shouted Blane.
“Enough of this!” yelled Yanex. “This ship is not going to become a battleground!”
He stormed up to the side of the COC that housed the security post. “Sergeant, your and you troops are to secure the hanger. You are to relieve Horace of duty and take command of his troops, on my order.”
Blane snapped to attention. “Yes sir. I’ll have to pull my men from their guard positions, sir.”
“Do it, full armor.”
Yanex turned to his new second in command. “Kayliss, have the Tyramma from the 204th assume the defensive positions.”
Lazell and her NL-15 rifle greeted the soldiers who tried to rush the starboard flank. A stream of rounds cut the troops down in their tracks as she made a quick sweep. She jumped down behind the tail of the fighter and used the weapon’s flexible eyepiece to shoot across the taxiway without exposing herself. When she saw no one standing, she stepped out in a slight crouch to fire directly. Anyone who had not made it back to the aircraft lifts was on the floor. Rounds raining down from the catwalks drove her back. There was little cover as she dodged rounds and picked off soldiers above her.
Sands also found himself firing in all directions as people dropped around him. The two greatest threats were now the troops above and forward. The ones above were wide open and soon reduced to those in the rear doorways. However, the taxiway survivors had regrouped and were firing from the cover of open aircraft lifts.
“We’re pinned down!” said Aurora as she lay down fire to keep the soldier’s heads down.
“We can’t last long!” Marcus shouted over from the next aisle of fighters. “We have no idea how many there are of them.”
Sands looked about. The nearest exit was the access tunnel that led back to the landing-bay. Only thing was they had to enter the exposed taxiway, and there could be soldiers in there waiting for them. He turned to Ecar next to him and gave a questioned gesture at the tunnel.
Ecar shook his head. “There’s no cover in there! They’d cut us down.” He glanced about to get his bearings, then waved for the Colonel to follow him. Aurora and Bogan were close behind, providing cover fire.
“There,” Ecar pointed at an access hatch on the side wall. There was a wide gap between the parked fighters and the wall. “It’ll take ’em awhile to figure out where we went.”
The small round hatch had a manual handle that would have to be turned and pulled as the exposed person dodged rounds.
“Cover me!” said Sands as he readied himself for the dash across the open space.
“No,” responded Ecar, “you’re the leader, we can’t risk you. I’ll go.”
“He’s right,” Aurora said as she dropped the power pack out of the grip of her gun and jammed in another one. Hammann and Lazell then joined them, with her powerful rifle.
“Go,” Sands said reluctantly. Ecar made it to the hatch unnoticed. Then rounds started in his direction. A few random at first, then they homed in on him. With his hands griping the handle, his body convulsed from a stun blast. The hatch swung open with his dead weight hanging on it.
Sands cursed himself, then ordered the others to go. Bogan, Aurora, and Hammann made it into the access tunnel, scrambling over the unconscious Ecar without as much as a glance. Lazell was also running low on power as she jumped about spraying the advancing soldiers.
“Come on!” Sands called to Marcus and two others who were pinned down in the previous row of fighters. The soldiers then figured out the ships rested on their landing gear and the floor was mostly exposed. The feet of the two Tyramma were clipped out from under them as rounds came skipping across the deck. With no other choice, Marcus made a run for it, only to take several hits in the middle of the aisle.
“I’ll get him!” yelled Lazell as she darted out, the rifle spitting out the last of its power.
“No!” Sands said as she left. He found himself alone as she too went sprawling to the deck. The rifle flew off wildly.
Sands hesitated only a moment before he had to start dancing to avoid the rounds streaming underfoot. He ran and dove for the access hatch with complete abandon. Aurora pulled him back as he tried to reach out for Ecar.
“Forget him,” she said, “he’ll only slow us down.”
The volume of rounds hitting around the hatch was an even greater persuader. They slammed the door and tried to jam it shut before retreating down a narrow ladder.
“These figures are outrageous,” Marlanna told a group of officers, under the watchful eyes of her personal guards. “I want a complete list of all military suppliers and cost analysis. I also want a full accounting of all funds and holdings.”
“These prices are according to existing contracts, Your Highness,” one officer said meekly. “And by law, the military holds no properties.”
Marlanna addressed the military’s top financial staff in her new office suite. She was dressed much more conservatively and had her hair up as she interrogated the reluctant group. Most of them had been pulled from their offices by her soldiers and held no support for her or her proclamations. They attended because they were forced to.
“Those contracts are with the prior administration,” said Marlanna as she paced before them, “those agreements no longer exist. If they wish to continue business with us, they will have to re-negotiate these terms.”
“With all due respect,” another officer said bravely, “some of the major corporations have already declared your actions to be illegitimate. They will not support you under any terms.”
“I would not concern yourself with that,” she said, leaning back against the desk. “The majority of those companies make most of their profits supplying the military. They may attempt a boycott, but I assure you, it will not last long.
“Unless, of course, we need to start nationalizing them.” Which was her long term objective.
When an aid whispered to her that someone was demanding to see her, Marlanna cut the meeting short. Directing them to gather the information she wanted she ordered them from the room.
One person, who had secretly declared his loyalty to her, for a price, lingered behind.
“He’s right,” he said after the others were gone, “there will be protests and boycotts.”
“Not to worry, companies that do not turn a profit become financially depressed. They are then easily bought out.”
Realizing what she was getting at, the man said, “Yes, Your Highness, but again it is illegal for the military to own property, let along buy up its suppliers.”
“That is one of the first things which is to be changed. I want you to setup a corporation, under my direct control. You will then start investing heavily in those companies that we do business with. I am first interested in shipping companies. Our main source of income is now gone, we must supplement it as quickly as possible. No member of our loyal military will go without pay.”
“Easier said than done, our financial reserves are nearly depleted as is. This has been a costly war, and with the loss of tax income, that is unless you intend to assume control of the Civil Revenue Institution?”
“Absolutely not,” said Marlanna. “We are to become a self-supporting agency under this new corporation. If people are not paying for something, then they have little say in it. I am sure they will appreciate the cut in taxes.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” he said slowly. There was no point in arguing with her, unless he wanted to disappear as others had. “I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will,” she said with conviction. “Not to worry, there are some hidden reserves we can draw on for the time being.”
The officer reached the door only to be shoved aside by Dyoney.
“Are you insane? Just what do you think you’re doing?” she demanded. There was fire in her eyes as she glared at her younger sister, who casually returned to her desk.
Marlanna told everyone in the room to leave, except for one particular guard.
“I am fulfilling Father’s wishes,” Marlanna said in a cavalier tone. “I am building a great empire, making us a great people.”
“This is not what Father wanted, and you know it!” Dyoney stormed up to the desk. “He established the Council in order to prevent someone like you from becoming dictator. I was left in charge of the clan to see that his laws were carried out. And you have thrown everything he worked for asunder, for your own lust for power!”
Marlanna leaned back carelessly and shocked her sister with, “You are right. This is not what Father was planning for. I’m sure he is not happy right now. You are the true heir, you are the Empress.”
Marlanna then waved for that one guard to step forward.
“Place your weapon to the Empress’ head.”
Dyoney’s eyes lost the look of anger and spread open with terror as the heavy gun jilted the side of her head. Her mouth quivered, but nothing came out.
Marlanna stood up and snickered.
“You’re the rightful ruler,” she said as she walked around the desk. “Order him not to kill you.”
Nothing came out of Dyoney’s shaking lips as she stared at her smug sister.
“Oh, do not be alarmed dear sister. I have no intention of killing you.” Marlanna waved off the soldier. “That was one of my mistakes last time.”
“Last time?” Dyoney gulped for breath. “What are you talking about?”
“You really don’t have a clue, do you? Perhaps if you had your priorities better focused you might know how you came to be here. You are better made irrelevant.”
“How can you possible do that? I am the rightful heir. I’m to be publicly crowned. The people well never accept you.”
“Perhaps, not at first, but they will adapt. They will come to understand the need for strong leadership when the Krix attack.”
“Yes,” smiled Marlanna. “The true danger to our nation is from outsiders, not among us. Father did not intend for me to assume control, however he had no perception of what was to come.”
“You expect us to believe that? That you are nobly trying to save us from this mythical enemy? You planned this long before you met that traitor, Yanex. How foolish do you think I am?”
“Very foolish actually. You soaked up the spotlight as the world revolved around you and you alone. You spent your life pining for Father’s attention and putting down everyone else around you as you clawed your way into his heart. However you made one huge mistake, Father has gone beyond and the rest of us are still here, running things for him. Sorry to say that your coronation will have to be canceled.”
“In place of yours, no doubt.”
“Quite to the contrary, I really do not think that would be in order right now. This is of course a temporary situation. Once the emergency has past, I will work on reforming a new council.”
“Once the emergency has past,” Dyoney scoffed. “I’m sure there will be another to take its place.”
“We have many enemies, this is a dangerous galaxy.”
“I will fight you.”
Marlanna laughed out loud, “With what? Father, in his infinite wisdom, dissolved the civil garrison and disarmed the population. You yourself fought to ban the ownership of private weapons.”
“You will never succeed,” Dyoney said bitterly.
“There you are again, refusing to see reality. I have already won.”
Marlanna turned to the guard. “See that Her Highness makes to the street, unharmed.”
“Sir!” a soldier standing over a body called out, “we’re gonna need a medic for this one.”
Horace steadied himself with the wing of a fighter. He nodded his approval then looked back upon the circle of groggy prisoners, surrounded by his troops. The dead, mostly his men, were lined up on the other side of the hanger-bay. Although he had been ordered to leave the ship, he waited for confirmation from Packlin. The Marshal was not happy that rouge officers were running loose on the ship. He was even less happy that one of the fighters was missing.
“We’ve accounted for all of the pilots except for five,” reported a soldier.
“Which ones?” Horace asked as he tried to shake off the stun effects.
“Vice-Colonel Sands, Captain Aurora, and lieutenants Hammann and Bogan. Also, a Major Russell did not land with the rest of the unit.”
Horace cursed, then told him, “Notify the surface units, he is to be hunted down at all costs. No one is to escape.”
His attention was drawn back to the prisoners. One of the officers was trying to get to the wounded man.
“I’m a medic,” Lazell told a guard. When he went to push her back down, she ducked around the much larger man and gave him a kick in the back of the leg sending him crashing to the floor. Horace ordered other soldiers not to fire as he followed after the stumbling woman.
Lazell dropped to her knees and pulled Marcus onto her lap.
“What’s the matter old man,” she whispered, “can’t you take a little stun.”
Marcus tried to laugh, but only coughed. “Sure, but ten or twenty is a bit much.”
“It was five at best you pussy.”
“It was too many,” he sighed. His breathing was deep and difficult. “My time is over here, I can already see the other side.”
“No,” she pleaded. “We’ll get you to medical. You’ll be all right. We’re almost home. We’re so close. We need you. Hold on.”
“It’s all right,” Marcus said, as his eyes became more vacant. “I wasn’t meant to go down there. In a way I’m still alive.”
Lazell rubbed the side of his face as she tried to accept what he was saying.
“Do something for me,” Marcus said, his voice becoming weaker.
“I should have gotten closer to you when I had the chance, I see that was a mistake,” He tried to explain. “With all the death...”
“It’s okay,” Lazell said. “I understand.”
“If by some chance we should meet, you and the man from this time, try to be my friend, if you can. Don’t tell me of this whole mess. Just let him benefit from you, as I have. I wrestled with the idea of doing something for him. This is about the greatest gift I can give him, you.”
Tears overcame Lazell. “I’ll find him,” she promised.
He smiled up at her. Then a look of contentment washed over his face, the pain was gone. The physical pain of dying faded along with all those many years of doubt and remorse.
“Live well, Lezzy.”
Lazell looked into his eyes. “What do you see?”
“Everything.” He was gone.