“McKenna’s strength was in his honor. Those who valued honor stood by his side. Even his reputation was enough to draw loyal allies to him, regardless of species.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
After making sure Dakkoth was going to be okay, McKenna left him in the care of Rhaine Quatralis and headed back to his quarters. He was finally allowed to move back in after it after Branwyn had demolished it.
“Good evening, sir.” Greeted a voice as he entered.
“You again?” He asked, hoping to have been rid of Rachel, the holographic secretary.
“Back and better than ever!” She replied in a perky manner, typical of the holo-secretaries of her model. “Can I do anything for you?” She asked.
“Yeah, turn yourself off.” He said, going into the kitchen. Rachel grumped as she fizzled out of sight.
He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a cold beer. He couldn’t stand the replicated stuff, so he kept the real thing on ice. He opened it as he turned around, and on the table he saw a vase filled with flowers. The note read “Thinking of you.” Signed by Winter. He smiled, setting the card back on the table. She must have been here earlier to supervise the work. No more sleeping in the office, he smiled.
“It’s about time you turned her off. She was beginning to annoy me with her mindless banter.” Said the Migichina as she sat on McKenna’s couch.
“How long have you been here?” McKenna asked.
“Time is irrelevant to me, but if you must, about an hour. I took the time to do a little more decorating.” The Goddess looked up at the paintings on the wall. One was of herself, and another was a rendering of the Migichinan Homeworld from high orbit.
“Very nice. Thank you.” He took a swig of his beer, and then raised it to her. “Can I get you one?” He offered.
Migichina cocked her head. “You know, in all my time as a beautiful warrior Goddess, I’ve never once tried one.” She said. McKenna went back into kitchen and got another beer from the fridge, then opened it for her.
She took a drink, and then wrinkled her nose at the bitter taste. She tried it again, and then got used to it. McKenna pulled up a chair and sat in front of her.
“I had a dream.”
“About me. I know. And it wasn’t a dream.”
McKenna took off his red glasses. “Then what you said, it was all real?”
“Yes.” She said, starting to enjoy her drink. She prepared herself to answer what would prove to be difficult questions from McKenna.
McKenna considered her for a moment. If she was his mother, then that would make him a god, wouldn’t it? It was something he was not prepared to be. He was just a man, a man with a lot of problems to deal with.
“My son, I know this is not easy to deal with.” She said, sensing his thoughts. “I created you out of love. Love for the dragon I took as a husband, and the love I wanted to have in a child. You are my child, and I love you more than anything else. Please leave it at that.” McKenna stood up again.
“Why hide this from me? You know the situation I’m in. I’ve got Slann nipping at my heels, and there’s a long list of people, some distinguished, who all want a piece of me. I’ve got a lot more to deal with right now without having to worry about this!”
“Zendista. I gave you that name; it means ‘peace and strength.’ I wanted you to become the strength of the Alliance. I wanted you to become the person who would lead your people to a new golden age of peace and prosperity. The rift between the clans and the noble houses grow. I originally only meant for there to be tribes, but as the ideas of politics were born, so did social casting. It was not part of the plan. The Alliance has become nothing more than a name. I need you to make it mean something again.”
“So you steered me into this position. You made it possible for me to get to this point?”
“No. You did that on your own. I intervened only when it was needed. But you did all the hard work. You made a name for yourself, a name that stands for justice and hope. The entire Alliance is praying to me that you become the new Lord Chancellor. Though Awrann was good, his ultimate purpose was to prepare them for you coming. I granted him the ability to see into the future, and he saw you. That is the true reason you were pulled from your assignment on Meridia. Your place is here, leading your people. You made that place for yourself. I am only responsible for bringing you into existence.”
McKenna shook his head, still trying to comprehend it all. He was never one to really believe in fate, or luck. He accepted that there was a reason, no matter how strange or perverse, for everything. His years as a marshal taught him that. He looked back at the woman who he was beginning to accept as his mother.
“You know, this is going to make things awkward for me, especially when I marry Winter. A lot of people are going to be surprised when you show up for that, and the reception.” He smiled.
It made Migichina happy to see him smile. “I’m glad you took the time to propose to her. You are going to make a wonderful couple.”
She held out her hand, and a long, slender object wrapped in the finest silk shimmered into existence.
“I have a gift for you. Actually it is from a close friend of mine, and he wanted you to have it.”
McKenna took the object and unwrapped it. It was a sword, ancient in design, and probably age. The hilt was wrapped in leather, with a golden guard, and a wooden scabbard with an intricately carved array of art. He drew the sword, which had a name inscribed in ancient Migichinan.
“Draesoneth.” He said, recognizing the letters. Migichina nodded.
“We’re all pulling for you upstairs. We thought you should have a symbol of that. Lord Prime Draesoneth said it would be an honor to have you carry his sword into battle one more time.”
“Then I shall do just that. I shall use it in the Ascension, and to fight Slann, if necessary.”
Migichina smiled. “I am proud of you, my son.” She said as she slowly began to fade. McKenna brought the blade of the sword up in front of his face in salute to his new-found mother.
After she vanished, he inspected the sword. Legend had it that the blade had been given to and carried by the first Lord Prime, Draesoneth. It was given to Callivare to complete the first Rite of Ascension in which she replaced Draesoneth. The sword was then handed down to each new successor. If this was in fact the real sword, then the one Lord Prime Xiang Ti carried was a fake. Wouldn’t that piss him off to no end!
“He would want the sword,” McKenna reasoned as he checked the sharpness of the blade’s edge. It was the symbol of his office. He would only give it up over his dead body, though. It was now a gift from his ‘mother,’ and he would not give it up for anything. Xiang Ti would just have to understand. He looked at the clock on the wall. Two in the morning. No wonder he felt tired! The past few days had been a whirlwind of death, destruction, and high drama. It was time for a much-needed rest before tomorrow’s end game.
It was early morning when he received the call. Dakkoth Starkiller rolled out of bed and walked to his living room, where displayed on the video screen was the seal of the Lord Chancellor. Tapping a button, he opened the channel.
“Dakkoth Starkiller, reporting sir.” He said, straightening up.
Awrann nodded. “Marshal. I would like you to come to my office at your earliest convenience. I have some business I would like to discuss with you before the Lord Prime calls the council in session.” His tone was somber. It looked to Dakkoth as if the Lord Chancellor had not gotten much sleep.
“I’m on my way, sir.” He said, closing the channel. After a quick breakfast and shower, he was on his way out the door. His walk to the Chancellery offices would take him past the apartment rented out to his new partner, but he resisted the urge to look in on her. He enjoyed Rhaine Quatralis’ company, and she was certainly good to have around when things got hairy, but he still had a lot of things to work out.
She seemed to be interested in him on a more romantic level, but he was not ready to return those feelings. Even Perrin’s ‘ghost’ gave him permission to at least date her, but his own sense of honor and loyalty prevented him from doing that, at least for the time being. He wondered how long it would take him to mourn the passing of Brigit Perrin.
After a few minor formalities, he was granted entry onto the level that contained the Lord Chancellor’s offices. It was quiet, as the day shift wouldn’t actually commence for another hour, but there were still a few who had come in early to get a head start on the day’s business.
Some greeted him as he walked past, and a few who wore the marshal’s office uniform stopped to offer condolences on the loss of his former partner. He accepted them with a graceful smile and a silent thank you, and then continued on to Awrann’s office.
His secretary stood and saluted, herself a junior ranked marshal, stating that the Lord Chancellor was expecting him, and led Dakkoth into the office. He had never actually been in Awrann’s office before. Wood panels hid the Archology’s steel walls, and those panels were adorned with the portraits of predecessors, Chancellors and Lord Primes alike. Weapons and trophies were also displayed, and each artifact told a part of the story that was the history of the Migichinan Alliance.
He walked up to Awrann’s desk and saluted. With a deep bow, the secretary excused herself to allow the men to talk in private.
“Please, sit down my friend. Can I offer you a cigar?” Awrann asked.
“No, thank you, sir. I do not smoke.” Dakkoth said. The refusal did not affect the Lord Chancellor, who drew one from the case on his desk and lit it.
“Marshal Starkiller, these are turbulent times we live in, and in a matter of hours, the future of the Alliance will be decided. As the sun rises today, I run the Alliance from this office. As it sets, there will be someone else to do the same in my place. Are you prepared for that duty?”
Dakkoth was thrown for a loop by the Lord Chancellor’s question. He thought that McKenna would become the new Chancellor. “Sir?” He managed.
“I have final instructions for you, and I have discussed this in part with Xiang Ti, Zendista McKenna, and Winter Ventrosia. If Slann defeats McKenna on the council floor, then Slann will be the one to take my head.”
“Slann’s missing, sir.” Dakkoth stated.
“Quite true, but I expect he is only remaining out of sight long enough to regroup and plan for the final hour. Now, as I was saying. It is in the best interests of the Alliance that we who engineer her future should have a back-up plan. If McKenna falls, then Slann will become Lord Chancellor. It will be up to you to remove Slann. What I am about to do is highly illegal, and a breech of honor. However, if my instructions are not carried out, then the Alliance will surely crumble. If I give you this order, Dakkoth Starkiller, will you follow it? I know you are a man of your word, and a man of honor. I certainly would feel a lot better about this if you say yes.”
“All you have said about me is true, my Lord. If you give me an order, then I shall happily carry it out without question.”
“Good. If Slann becomes Lord Chancellor, then you must kill him immediately, on the council floor, before he regains his strength. This will make you Lord Chancellor and the Alliance will be in your hands.”
“But sir, I’m... I’m just a soldier.”
“Silence!! You gave me your word you would carry out my instruction, and so you shall! If this happens, you will be Lord Chancellor. Winter Ventrosia, who considers you a close and dear friend, will take you under her wing and show you the ropes, as will Xiang Ti. You will respect the Lord Prime as your god and the Lord Admiral as your advisor. There are also others who will help, but their names are not important. Will you do this, if not for me, then for the Alliance?”
“I will do as you have instructed me, with no sorrow or regrets.” Dakkoth said.
“Excellent. Now, take a damn cigar and humor an old man for once!” Awrann said, sticking a cigar in Dakkoth’s mouth. Before the marshal could protest, the Lord Chancellor lit it. He mimicked the Lord Chancellor’s actions as he puffed on the cigar, having never done that before. He coughed at first, but slowly began to enjoy it.
Awrann sat back in his seat and smiled. He considered Dakkoth Starkiller, who was with neither house nor clan, but one of the Alliance’s best citizens. Though he would not say it, it was an honor to be in the same room with him. Awrann as a marshal was mediocre, at best, as it was his abilities as a bureaucrat that had gotten him where he was. Dakkoth was all blood and guts, and that’s what he likes about him.
“Son, I wanted to talk with you on a more personal level, about the death of your partner, Brigit Perrin. She was a good woman, one of our best. Her investigative abilities were almost without equal.”
“She was my best friend.”
“That too. Dakkoth, many people never realize what they have until it is taken away from them. I have my life, if only for a few more hours. It’s been a good life, and I was proud to be the one who lived it. Sure, there were things I would change if I had the chance to, but we are the sum of our experiences. I’m certain that there are a number of events that occurred to make you the man you are today. Without those experiences, what would you be, an accountant? I don’t think I could picture you as that. You’d probably throw the adding machine through the window before the day was through.”
Dakkoth chuckled, picturing the sight.
“What I’m trying to say, Dakkoth, is that life is a precious thing. Perrin lived a full life. She did her job with pride, and died in service to the Alliance, the same way that most of us would like to go. Don’t mourn her, my friend. Celebrate her. Go to a bar when this is all over and raise a glass in her name and tell her story. Ensure that she is not forgotten, but don’t let her passing hold you back from living your life. Life is good, and, life goes on.”
Dakkoth pondered that for a moment. Awrann was certainly a wise man, but letting go just wasn’t as easy as putting down a book. It would take time, time to heal and mend.
“Thank you sir. I... I will consider what you have said.” Dakkoth said as he stood. He turned to walk out.
“Son, I just realized something. I see a lot of McKenna in you. If this all works out, I’m not going to be there to be his friend and drinking buddy any more. Would you...”
Dakkoth smiled. “I’ll watch his back for you sir.”
“Thanks.” Awrann said as Dakkoth closed the door behind him.
Winter Ventrosia was fixing her hair when the comm panel came to life, alerting her to an urgent incoming call. She pulled her robe on and went back into the bedroom and sat on the bed.
“Open channel.” She ordered. The computer complied, the image of the house Ventrosia coat of arms melting into the face of Admiral Okona.
“Good morning, Lord Admiral. My apologies for disturbing you so early. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.” He said, sounding somewhat pathetic.
“No, I was just getting ready to come in. What’s going on?”
“It’s the Humanis again. They’re moving ships to the border. It would appear as if they might take action pending the outcome of the Rite of Ascension.”
Winter swore, jumping off the bed and pulling her uniform out of the closet. “Admiral, up fleet readiness across the board. Put all ships on alert, and by the Goddess, get Dunan out there as quickly as possible! I’ll be there as quickly as I can. Is Tereskiad still in orbit?”
“Good. Get my shuttle ready. I’m going up there to talk with him.”
“As you command.” Okona said, cutting the transmission to carry out her orders.
Putting the final touches on her hair and uniform, she burst out of her quarters and sprinted for the nearest lift that could take her to the Archology’s flight deck. She would have to get breakfast on the way up.
Once there, she could see the ground crew prepping her ships for launch, but there was no sign of Rhaine Quatralis to see her off, but then she remembered the memo from McKenna, stating that he inducted her into official service of the Alliance. She would have to do without a bodyguard for now. As she stepped into the shuttle, she wondered if Dakkoth Starkiller had any brothers looking for a job.
After waiting for fifteen minutes, the shuttle crew made its final checks and requested priority clearance for departure. The shuttle slowly backed out of the bay and swung around. In no time at all, it was darting skyward and well on its way to the saurian battleship that hung in orbit above that planet.
Winter took the time to look out into space. Migichinan warships were abandoning their berths at the various civilian and military space docks, all making preparations to get underway as per her orders. She silently blessed Okona for not wasting any time. If the Humanis were on move, she wanted her best out there to make sure they didn’t cross the line.
The mighty warship Pegasi dominated the cockpit windows of the shuttle. The pilots began to receive landing instructions from the saurian ship, and altered course to match. Soon the shuttle was inside and gently settling onto the deck.
Outside, the saurian honor guard was assembling for yet another visit by an alien dignitary, but Winter had been on the Pegasi before and did not have time for the usual formalities. As the door opened, she hopped up and walked right up to Adm. Tereskiad.
“Buddy, we gotta talk.” She said with urgency, dispatching any hope the saurian admiral had for a traditional greeting.
“Right this way.” He said, leading her to the main conference room. Once inside, they got down to business.
“I talked with Admiral Okona, who said the Humanis Federation is on the move again. I assume your visit is to ask the Saurian Galactic Commonwealth to assist you in defending your borders. Is my assumption correct, Lord Admiral?”
“It is, Admiral Tereskiad. I looked at the preliminary intelligence reports on the way up, and they’re rolling at least half their fleet, positioning at key points across the border. Official word out of the Federation is they’re conducting training maneuvers.”
“Training maneuvers my scaly ass!” Tereskiad commented.
“That’s what I said. Look at this.” She handed him a data pad showing the report and strategic map.
“These locations are within striking distance of a number of your colony worlds. You could have a massacre on your hands before the day is out.”
“Will you help us, please?”
“You need not even ask. I have enjoyed the friendship of your house for many years. It is the least I can do for you and your people.”
“On behalf of the Migichinan Alliance, Thank you.” She said.
Tereskiad took her hands into his. Winter’s were tiny and fragile compared to the mass of his bone, leather skin, and blunt black claws.
“Do not worry. I guarantee you will be able to celebrate with your beloved tonight without worry.”
Winter smiled, tears of joy forming in her eyes.
“Go back to your shuttle. My battle group will depart immediately for the front and make sure those Fed bastards do not threaten your safety.”
Escorted by two saurian security guards, Winter was led back to the shuttle bay where her flight crew was engaged in idle conversation with other saurian pilots. It made her happy to see the two culturally and biologically diverse groups finding friendship on common ground. She almost hated to interrupt.
“Come on, boys. We’re getting out of here.”
The pilots said their farewells and headed back to the shuttle, which was being maintained on hot standby. Winter had anticipated that the visit would be short and to the point, and to her satisfaction, all went according to plans. As quickly as they had arrived, they departed. She watched as the massive stardrive of the Pegasi came to life in preparation of its departure. Other saurian warships were already breaking out of orbit and heading off.
Like Okona, Tereskiad did not waste time either. It was good to have people like them on her side.
Winter went to the back of the shuttle where she could have some privacy. She sat at her station and called up the communications program on the computer. She opened her private channel and punched in McKenna’s address, hoping he would be available. The transmission went to his apartment, where the computer there noted he was not in and routed it to his office. The office computer picked up and placed her on hold.
“McKenna here. Oh, Hi.” He said, recognizing his caller. Winter smiled. “Howdy roughneck.”
“Where are you? Adm. Okona called me, saying that the Federation was rattling their swords again.”
“I paid a visit to Adm. Tereskiad. He’s on his way out there to back up the Migichinan ships I’ve already dispatched.”
“This isn’t good at all. I don’t need my first act as chancellor to be fighting a war. It’s going to take me weeks just to repair the damage that Slann and his people have done. Did you know there is talk of a number of clans considering succeeding from the Alliance because of all of this?”
“I didn’t hear that, but I’m sure once you get in there and start putting the screws to people, things will start getting better.”
“Damn straight, baby. I’m drawing up a long list of asses that need to be kicked, and those that deserve to be kicked.”
Winter laughed. Her love was starting to sound like himself again.
“Mac, I want you to know, that no matter what happens, no matter what the outcome of this is going to be, I love you. I love you with all my heart and all my being. The Ring you gave me means a lot to me. I haven’t even taken it off since you slipped it onto my finger.” She held up her hand for him to see. “I don’t care what people think. I’m proud to be your fiancée, and I will be the happiest woman in the Alliance when I’m finally able to fall asleep in your arms.”
“Stop it, Winter! You’re going to make me cry.” He said in a mock frown.
“You? In tears? I could sell tickets to that. Listen. We’re going to be docking soon, and I’ve got to put together some reports before the council meeting.” She kissed her fingers and touched them to the screen. “I love you, Zendista McKenna.”
“I love you too, Winter Ventrosia. McKenna out.” He replied, touching his own fingers to his screen. For that brief second before the screen went blank, she could feel him, as if he were standing in front of her. She wanted to hold him one more time, afraid she would never be able to again.
Slann was still out there, and could still take away from her the one man she ever truly loved. She slumped back in the chair, trying not to cry.