“That Zendista did not understand the strength of Migichina’s love is clear. He was a warrior at heart and not at all interested in being divine.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
“Scan again.” McKenna ordered. “There have to be survivors.” He stared diligently at the monitor, hoping to see something new.
“I’m sorry, my friend, but when a sub is destroyed in subspace, there is nothing more than debris left over. Rarely any survivors.” Adm. Tereskiad said.
“Then let’s hope this is a rare occasion.” He turned back to the monitor.
“Set course for the Migichinan Homeworld, best speed.” Tereskiad ordered.
“NO!!! We have to stay here and look for Winter! I’m not leaving without her!” He grabbed Tereskiad by the lapels. The massive saurian knocked him senseless to the deck. “Miss Quatralis, while your boss is unconscious, take him down to the infirmary. Have my doctor keep him sedated until we arrive. I will break off part of the fleet to continue to look for your Lord Admiral.”
Rhaine shifted to her draconic form and scooped up McKenna. It was better that he was out cold, but she could feel his pain. Winter was gone; they had both lost someone very close and dear to them. She took one last look out the forward windows as the fleet divided. If Winter was still out there, she hoped they would find her.
From the safety of a bunker she had built for herself, Maxaa Branwyn watched as the events unfolded: the destruction of Warlord Slann’s compound, the hunt for his sub by a joint Migichinan/Saurian taskforce. It was all falling apart around the Migichinan Warlord, and she was sure that he would be truly sorry for dismissing her from his service.
Reports came in from the fleet that the sub, believed to be owned by saurian pirates, had been destroyed with no trace of survivors. She knew otherwise. Slann was too good to be killed in such a fashion, and had in all certainty escaped. He would resurface soon enough to take the Chancellery out from under McKenna. But what troubled her were the unconfirmed reports of Winter Ventrosia’s death. If the reports were true, then McKenna would surely blame the Warlord for her death, and would not rest until Slann had been defeated and was dead.
It was hard for Branwyn to decide who to root for in the scenario, and the decision would have to be made quickly, as the engines of a shuttle craft signaled the arrival of a guest. She opened the strong doors, which lead into a natural cavern. The pilot of the shuttle had brought his ship all the way in to avoid any further detection by orbital stations, just as she’d ordered. A lone, uniformed man stepped out of the shuttle
“Welcome, General Glyn Kale.” She greeted.
“Maxaa Branwyn, deposed aide of the Warlord Riskahd Slann. A pleasure to finally meet you. Slann was certainly a fool to fire you.” Gen. Kale returned the greeting.
“Well, I’m glad someone still thinks highly of me.” She said as she took him by the arm and led him to her bunker. Upon entry, she offered him some bourbon out of her private stock.
“Well, Miss Branwyn. I’m sure your invitation wasn’t purely social, judging by the content of those tactical and video screens.” Kale stated.
“You never know, General. I’ve always tried to mix pleasure with business, and sometimes they are one in the same. In this case, you should find my plans a pleasure to carry out.”
“Do tell.” The general said as he sipped the bourbon.
“General, I am aware of your, shall we say, strong dislike of our dear Warlord, and you would like nothing more than to see his house removed from the Alliance permanently, is that correct?’
The general looked up, not answering the question. It smelled of a trap. If anyone were to discover his plans for a military coup, he would be arrested and killed almost immediately. It would be just like Slann to use a seductress to lure him into such a trap. He rose to his feet.
“Go on.” He said suspiciously. Branwyn sat behind her desk, away from the imposing presence of the general.
“Slann had no right to dismiss me. I was in the perfect position to help him become Lord Chancellor.”
“Slann dismissed you because you did exactly that, and overstepped your boundaries in doing such a dishonorable thing. I should kill you right now for your transgressions!” He pulled his side arm and took aim.
“WAIT! Don’t shoot! Hear me out! I know you want to become Warlord, and I can help you! If you kill me, you’ll loose a valuable asset! I know Slann’s secrets, and I know how he thinks! If you kill me you won’t have a chance.”
“If I kill you, I’ll probably be protecting my own ass, woman. What you say is treasonous. How do I know you still do not work for him, and are only the bait in a larger trap designed to snare me and take me out of the game? Rumors were you were sleeping with the Warlord, and the only reason he did not take you as a wife if because you are clan and not a noble.” Kale cocked the trigger, as Branwyn’s eyes grew wider.
“I can’t prove my honesty, but you have to give me a chance. If you will allow me to, I will prove myself.” She said quickly.
“Very well, woman. But remember this. I know what treachery you are capable of, and I know the webs you weave. Do not try any of that with me, or I will ensure you a slow and painful death!”
Maxaa Branwyn was shaken by the intensity of General Kale. The man was a hardened veteran of a number of major military actions, and among his peers considered one of the best. The man could easily replace Slann, but simply did not have the backing of a prestigious house.
“General, I know what you’re thinking, and this is not a trap. This is genuine; I have been truthful with you. If you are not going to overthrow Slann, then step aside.”
Kale refilled his bourbon. “Very well, Miss Branwyn. I accept you into my staff, but you will not technically exist. It would be far too dangerous to my cause to publicly be seen with you. Further more, I am the ultimate authority. You may only make suggestions, nothing more. Slann may have only dismissed you for your insubordination, but I will kill you if you cross me. Is that clear, Miss Branwyn?”
“Yes.” She said, somewhat sullenly.
“Yes sir!” She said. She prayed this was going to be over with soon. She could tell that working with, or more likely for, General Kale would be pure hell.
“Helm, Conn. Course change, 276 mark 120, execute.” Captain Dunan said, responding to new sensor readings.
“Conn, Helm, Aye. New course 276 mark 120 confirmed.” Replied the ensign at the helm. The Draesoneth slowly turned left and angled upward in response to the helm.
“Ops, narrow your scan field by thirty-five percent. I just got a hit on my screen; I wanna see what it is.” Dunan said.
“Aye, skipper.” The operations officer narrowed the field, focusing the scanner to a tighter cross section of space. “Locking on to your object, sir... Looks like a battle frame.”
The main monitor focused in on the object. As the image cleared, Dunan could definitely see the battle frame tumbling at random amongst other debris.
“2000 kilometers and closing.”
“Helm, full stop.”
“Full stop, aye.”
Dunan stood and walked to the main screen, looking closely. The image was slightly distorted by electromagnetic radiation in the area as a result of the destruction of the Invictus.
“Gun Boss, can you clear this up some?” Dunan asked
“I’ll try, skipper.” Dunan looked at the monitor again.
“Is it Slann?” He asked, not really caring who would answer.
“No sir.” replied ops. “Doesn’t have the same mass. Its profile fits that of a... female battle frame.”
“Female...” He looked harder, and then noticed familiar shapes. Along time ago, he served as Winter Ventrosia’s Helmsman aboard this very ship, and he’d once had the opportunity during an away mission to see her in battle frame.
“Damn, it is her!” He gasped. “Lock on to the target and send it directly to sick bay. Bridge to sick bay, we’ve got the Lord Admiral, and she’s on her way to you. She may be in stasis lock.”
“We’re standing by.” Sickbay responded.
Engineers and doctors worked side by side to get the Lord Admiral ‘back online.’ As the engineers replaced or repaired damaged systems, the chief medical officer monitored Winter’s life signs, making sure they did not drop below safe levels. The fact that she’d managed to place herself in a stasis lock was probably the only reason she was still alive.
Dunan stood in the background as the team diligently worked on his commander and friend. He could remember the days when they would stand together in the very spot he was in as they waited for a severely injured crew member to recover, so he could be congratulated on a job well done, or mourned when he didn’t make it.
“Come on, Winter. Ya’ gotta pull through. Ole Mac needs you.” He said silently.
The assistant to the chief engineer, Commander Jarred Albrek, threw up his hands and cursed, attracting the attention of the Captain. As the only authority on battle frames on board, this worried him.
“Jarred, what’s wrong?” He asked.
“Her morph catalyst is severely damaged. I can recover the data, but she can’t shift out when she’s brought out of the stasis lock.”
“Can we replicate one?”
“No. Morph Catalysts can only be made by hand. It takes years to build one because of the intricacies.”
“Then use mine.” Dunan said.
“Sir, I can’t promise you’ll ever be able to return to organic form if we transplant yours into her.”
“I don’t care. I’ve lived my life, and she’s still got a full one ahead of her. There’s an Alliance out there that still needs her, and more importantly, a man who needs her more. I think we can get by if I’m stuck as a robot.”
“Captain...” The chief medical officer began to object, only to be hushed by Dunan’s raised hand. He shifted into his own battle frame.
“The matter is not open for discussion. As an officer of the Alliance, I am expendable. The Lord Admiral... my sister... is not. Proceed with the transplant, commander. That is an order.”
“Captain, you are a hero of the Alliance and I am proud to carry out your order.” The commander said as the Captain took position on another table.
Winter opened her eyes slowly, as the bright lights above her blinded her.
“Where... am... I...?” She said, still groggy from stasis.
“You’re on board the Draesoneth, Lord Admiral. We picked you up about 20 hours ago, and you just came back on line. Would’a had you back sooner, but your regenerative systems were all screwed up.” Dunan reported.
Winter slowly sat up. Her warm hands touching the cold steel of Dunan’s
“Dunan, why are you in battle frame?” Winter asked.
“Well, your morph catalyst” He picked up a medical tray and handed it to her “was slightly damaged, actually, damaged beyond repair. I got a guy on board who is skilled at battle frame repair, so I told him to take mine out and give it to you.”
“Ma’am, I won’t hear your objections. I owe you my life seven times over. This was the least I could do for you.”
She stood up and kissed his facial plate. “Thank you, my brother. McKenna?” She asked.
“Back on the Homeworld. Had a nervous break down when he though you were dead. I think, though, that seeing you might just cheer him up. We’ll be within transport distance shortly.”
“Then I’d better get dressed.” She walked over to the counter, where her uniform was neatly folded and placed by one of the nurses.
“I took the liberty to replicate it... We, uh, still had your measurements on file.” Dunan said nervously. Winter smiled slyly. She walked back over and kissed him again.
“You always think of everything. You are the sweet one.” If battle frames could blush, Dunan’s would have been bright red. He turned his back to her as she changed.
“I’ll escort you to the shuttle bay when you are ready, Ma’am.” He said.
“Then let’s go.” She said, walking past him. It amazed him how she was able to dress so quickly, but then again, that was a trait common to most sailors.
“You work too hard, my son.” Migichina said as she bathed McKenna’s back, gently massaging it at the same time. The chief marshal wasn’t exactly sure how he returned to Avalon, or how he managed to end up in the warm natural pool. But the Goddess was there with him, in wet robes compared to his own nakedness.
“You should have the doctors remove these scars. They look horrible.” She said in disapproval.
“I’ll keep them, thank you. They serve as a reminder of my status as a warrior, and as your servant.”
“I do not ask you to serve me, McKenna. I ask you to love and accept me.”
“Winter is my only love, Migichina.”
The Goddess smiled in a fashion that would resemble a little girl’s smile. “Not in that way, silly. I am your Goddess I created your people, and I created you specifically. You are my son, and I love you. Remember when I said that?”
It was only a few days ago, but he remembered his first conversation with the Goddess clearly. She constantly referred to him as her son, but he thought all deities would say that to their people.
“I’m afraid I do not understand.” He said.
Migichina tossed her head back and looked up at the stars of the ethereal universe they were in, far removed from the real world.
“Two thousand years ago, when Xiang Ti came to power on your world, I wondered what it would be like to have children the proper way, and not to fashion them out of the star dust I used to create your world. The result of my pregnancy was you, Zendista McKenna. As you grew up, I realized you needed a proper education, and sent you into the custody of your natural father, Dragon Lord Kavas, the Blue.”
McKenna could say nothing. The woman... the Goddess before him had just claimed to be his mother! Shock could not properly describe what he was feeling.
“My son, it is time for you to go. We have chatted long enough, and it will soon be time to take the place I have prepared for you in life. Go; go with my love in your heart. And say hello to Winter for me. She shall make an excellent daughter-in-law.”
With a wave of her arm, the white light returned and took another shape, the shape of a face only few inches from his head.
“Hey, baby!” Winter Ventrosia placed her lips on his, kissing him. She would reserve the passion for a later time though. However, McKenna was a little less restrained as he wrapped his arms around the Lord Admiral and pulled her on the hospital bed with him. “Mac, be careful!” She giggled.
McKenna looked up seeing various doctors and nurses, as well as Dakkoth, Rhaine, and a Migichinan in battle frame.
“Family reunion?” McKenna asked.
“Don’t worry, they all know about us, don’t you?” They all turned around, many realizing they had more important things to do. Three oddballs decided to stay and watch.
“Who’s the frame?”
“Uh, that would be me, sir. Captain Dunan.”
McKenna raised an eyebrow.
“You should thank Captain Dunan, Mac. He saved my life, and boy, do I have a hell of a story to tell you!” She sat up, fixing her uniform. McKenna sat up as well.
“Dakkoth, may I borrow your sword?”
“Certainly, sir.” Dakkoth replied, handing his boss the blade. McKenna inspected it. The sword was fashioned from endurium, and the edge was razor sharp.
“Dunan, it’s a good thing we’re in the hospital, ’cause if you answer me wrong...”
“Zendista McKenna, you stop that right this instant! He saved my life! Anyways, you’re my man, not him.” McKenna smiled.
“I know. I was just seeing if you still loved me.” McKenna handed back the sword to Dakkoth. “Could we have some privacy?” He asked. “The lady and I have some catching up to do.”
Dakkoth politely motioned for Rhaine and Dunan to make their exits, and then Dakkoth took one last look to ensure McKenna’s safety and closed the door.
“Is it me, or is Dakkoth a little bit more serious than usual?” McKenna asked.
“Rhaine said he’s still taking Perrin’s death pretty hard, but he’s warmed up to her a lot more. He actually invited her over for dinner when the fleet pulled in.”
“When was that?”
“Two days ago.”
“How hard did Tereskiad hit me?” McKenna asked looking at the paper calendar on the wall.
“Enough to put you into a mild coma. He told me you were very stressed out and needed some time to relax. It seemed to him the right thing to do.”
McKenna looked out the window. Night had settled on the capitol hours ago, yet he felt awake and fresh.
“I had a dream while I was in the coma.”
Winter looked at him. McKenna wasn’t one to mention his dreams to her, so when he said that, she knew that it must be important.
“What was it about?” She asked as she placed a blanket over his bare shoulders.
“I was on a different world. A magical world, with Migichina.”
“Our Goddess?” Winter was not aware that McKenna had been in close contact with the Migichina often in the past week. She was never really sure if he believed to begin with.
“She was bathing me, and massaging my shoulders. She told me I was her son by blood, and that my father is the Dragon Lord Kavas.”
“It was only a dream. You couldn’t really be her son. You’re just as mortal and Migichinan as I am. Perhaps there is something more in the symbolism of it. Maybe you’re ready to accept the religion.” She pondered
“I’ve always accepted the Goddess, but I also always had my own agenda as well.”
“Then there must be something else.”
“There was. She said you would make an excellent daughter-in-law.” He smiled. Winter turned red as she shared his smile.
“That almost sounds like a proposal.” She said.
“Perhaps it is.” McKenna replied. He went to the closet and reached into his jacket. “When this all began, I made up my mind to do this, and Awrann said he’d crawl out of his grave and kick my ass if I didn’t.” McKenna walked back over to her and got down on one knee.
“Winter Ventrosia, in all my life I have never met a woman like you. You are strong, courageous, loving, and most of all, absolutely amazing in every aspect and use of the term. You’ve been the best and closest friend I’ve ever had, and when the times get tough, all I have to do is remember the smell of your hair warmed in the sunlight, and the scent of your perfume when I hold you close, and in that I find a reason to continue.
“I’m not much. I got sandpaper for skin and a lump of coal for a heart. My blood is battery acid, and most rocks are probably better versed in romance than I. But, if you will have me, I promise to be the best husband you could hope for. Winter Ventrosia, would you marry me?”
Winter, for probably the first time in her life, was speechless. McKenna opened the small velvet box he’d pulled from his jacket, and removed the diamond Ring from it. “I bought this when I made up my mind to do this. I had to search long and hard to find out your Ring size, and I would rather not tell you how I finally found out.”
“It’s... it’s beautiful, and so are you.” She finally said. She drew him up to her and kissed him, holding no emotion back. “I will marry you, Zendista McKenna. And I promise to be the best wife to you that you could ever hope for.” She kissed him again.
McKenna opened his eyes briefly to see a faint image of Migichina standing in a corner of the room, smiling. As she faded, she winked. With that, McKenna knew things would be better, soon.
The shuttle rose slowly backing out of Branwyn’s cavern. The craft was small, only big enough to seat two people. She reasoned by the picture of a woman and two children taped to the dash that Gen. Kale must have privately owned it. She sat back and relaxed as the shuttle now nimbly ascended into the cloudy night sky.
The general’s base was located in the northern polar regions of the Homeworld, in the Lorasan Province. She silently stared out the window, having nothing really to say to the general.
“This is going to be a long trip if someone does not strike up a conversation.” The general said, not taking his eyes off the instrumentation. Branwyn looked over to him, then at the picture.
“Who are they?” She asked.
“Ah, that is my family: my wife, Kara, my son, Damien, and my daughter, Morgana. They are wonderful. If it weren’t for them, I would probably not be a very good general. Kara gives me her shoulder to lean on, and my kids always find a way to make me smile.”
Branwyn silently cursed the Migichinan for their strong family values. Having a loving wife would make it harder to seduce the general and place him under her control. Fortunately for her, though, there were ways to get around that.
“So, when will we begin?” She asked.
“To get rid of Slann? After McKenna becomes Chancellor. Slann will either be dead or have lost face, either way, making my own Ascension much easier.”
“You plan to challenge him?” She asked
“Of course. It is our way, is it not?”
“Of course...” She replied. With the general being unexpectedly honorable, she foresaw being forced to adjust her own plans to fit.