“The best strategy of war is negotiation, and McKenna understood this. A dead enemy could never become an ally. A live one could become a loyal friend.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
General Ferrin stormed into the Archology command center. Activity was fast and furious as intelligence and naval strategy experts gathered information and compared notes. For the first time in fifty years, the Humanis Federation had crossed their borders in an open act of aggression, and now the task was to stop them cold.
Ferrin looked up to the main tactical screen to view the chaos. Migichinan forces had drawn the line, engaging Federation warships on both sides of the borders in open space. The saurian fleet had broken up into groups of threes to fives, and began to actively hunt the Humanis. So far, only two Migichinan warships had been lost, compared to the ten Humanis ships that the fleet engaged and either crippled or destroyed.
He saw a new report come up, placing a Humanis destroyer squadron escorting troop ship and getting dangerously close to a colony world.
“Where’s the Lord Admiral?” He asked.
The people around him were too busy to respond, but his question was answered when Winter Ventrosia entered with the Lord Prime.
The general saluted them both. Winter returned the salute.
“Well ma’am, I’m no space dog, but we’ve got ourselves a full scale engagement. We’re starting to take as many lumps as we’re dishing out. We’ve lost two...” he looked up at the monitor, “Make that three ships. And they’ve lost about fifteen.”
“Bloody hell.” Xiang Ti muttered. “Right. General Ferrin, until Slann recovers and we figure out what to do with him, you are the acting Warlord. You will report directly to the Lord Admiral until I or the Lord Chancellor instructs you other wise.”
General Ferrin drew himself to attention and gave his confirmation of the order in his salute. Xiang Ti nodded. “I have other matters to look into. Winter, you will be able to deal with this?”
“Of course, sir.” Winter turned and sat down at a station to begin reviewing incoming data. General Ferrin was close behind, looking over her shoulder.
Xiang Ti smiled. That was the way it was supposed to be, the Lord Admiral and Warlord, working together instead of against each other. If he had his way, this was how it would remain. He decided to see to that, and left quietly.
The Lord Prime made his way to the door of McKenna’s quarters, where Dakkoth and Rhaine Quatralis stood guard. They snapped to attention as they saw the Lord Prime approach.
“At ease, my friends. No one is around, and I often tire of these formalities.” The two relaxed.
“How is McKenna?” He asked.
“Resting quietly, sir.” Rhaine responded. “The doctors have just left, and say he’ll be fine after a few hours of rest. His holo-secretary is attending to him now.”
“Very well. I will visit with him.” He looked at Dakkoth, who keyed in the security override to the door, allowing the Lord Prime to enter.
Xiang Ti had never seen the inside of McKenna’s apartment before, but noted that it was immaculately clean. Rachel, the holo-secretary came out of the kitchen with a cup of tea for McKenna. Upon seeing the Lord Prime, she bowed in reverence.
“Is McKenna awake?” he asked her.
“Yes, he is. Please follow me.” She said, walking to the bedroom. She opened the door and allowed the Lord Prime to enter, then followed him in and placed the tea on the stand next to McKenna’s bed.
The new Lord Chancellor tried to sit up, but was still rather sore. He made the effort regardless of the strain.
“Relax, Zendista. This is not an official visit.” He said, sitting in a chair. Rachel departed to fetch a cup of tea for the Lord Prime. McKenna lay back, wincing from a pain in his back.
“How do you feel?” Xiang Ti asked.
“Normally with my hands.” McKenna replied, regaining his sense of humor. Xiang Ti smiled. It was good to see McKenna crack a joke, considering what had happened. But then he recognized the joke, one Awrann had used long ago. He considered himself fortunate that his old friend would still be present, even in the form of this younger man.
Rachel returned with a cup of tea for the Lord Prime. He graciously accepted and thanked her. She adjusted McKenna’s blankets, and then left the room, closing the door behind her.
“We are at war, Zendista.”
McKenna raised an eyebrow. “The Humanis?”
“Unfortunately. They crossed our borders in aggression. Saurian forces have joined our own to fight them, but the Alliance needs you. You will have to make the call to formally declare war, and you will have to lead us in this crisis. Most of all, the people need to hear that they have a new and stronger leader. The status of the Alliance is still in danger.”
McKenna disregarded his own pain, making the effort to get out of bed. His wounds had all healed on their own, but the internal damage was still being attended to. He pulled on his pants, and a T-shirt he’d picked up on a recent vacation to a resort world inside the Saurian Galactic Commonwealth.
“You’re going, dressed like that?” Xiang Ti asked. McKenna picked up and tossed his torn and bloodied uniform to Xiang Ti.
“Not unless you’re a tailor as well as a Lord Prime.” He opened the door.
“Zendista McKenna! You return to bed right now!” Rachel protested. McKenna looked at her.
“End program.” Rachel continued to protest as she fizzled out. McKenna opened up his coat closet and pulled out his leather jacket and sidearm.
“Let’s go fight a war.” He told Xiang Ti.
McKenna walked into the command center and looked around. He saw Winter hunched over a computer terminal, with General Ferrin standing behind her. Even though it was probably nothing, McKenna saw that the General was standing a bit too close to his woman. He walked up to them and placed his hand on Winter’s shoulder. She looked up at him and smiled. General Ferrin stepped aside, reluctantly though.
“What’s going on?” McKenna asked the Lord Admiral. She turned around and stood. After gently kissing her man, she began her report.
“We’re fighting pitched battles across the board. We’re winning, but only marginally.”
McKenna looked up at the screens. It was a scene of chaos, as ships were engaged in a ten light year corridor that stretched the length of the border.
“Has anybody been watching the Federation News Net?” McKenna asked. The group on the command level all had rather blank stares. Winter went to a panel and called up the channel and put it on the main screen.
A woman’s face appeared, with an FNN logo in the upper right corner.
“Sporadic reports continue to trickle in from the border, as our forces engage Alliance forces... President Jarek has stated that he will end the conflict only upon the immediate release of all Federation nationals held in Alliance prisons.”
McKenna turned the tactical screen back on. “I want Jarek on that screen, and I want the Saurian ambassador here as soon as possible.” He said. A communications technician worked furiously to get his call through to the Federation. Winter put her arm around McKenna’s waist and kissed him again, on the neck. She stepped back as Haran Jarek, current president and CEO of the Humanis Federation, appeared on the huge screen.
“To whom am I speaking to, Migichinan?” The human asked.
“I’m Lord Chancellor Zendista McKenna. Pull your ships back now or I will order full and unrestricted warfare to be conducted on your people. I’ve got Saurian support, a bad attitude, and a serious need to kick someone’s ass. I’ve been watching your FNN and I know your statement is the biggest crock of crap ever to be aired.
“You know we extradite all Federation nationals arrested as per the Ventrosia Edicts. Now, your actions are in direct violation of those edicts which your predecessor signed, and I, as well as the SGC expect you to honor interstellar law and cease your hostilities unconditionally.”
Jarek said nothing.
“Are you willing to throw this all away? You and I both know that the Federation cannot sustain a direct assault by joint forces. You wouldn’t last a week before being pounded into submission. Pull back now, Jarek, or that will happen. What’s it going to be?”
Jarek looked off screen, listening to the advice of someone else.
“There would be nothing to gain from a sustained conflict. Perhaps we have underestimated the Alliance.”
The screen flickered off, replaced by tactical data. McKenna stared at the screen for another minute. He then turned around to face Xiang Ti, Winter and Ferrin.
“That, my friends, is the way you fight a war. Report!”
A tactical officer looked up. “Fed ships are withdrawing, Lord Chancellor.” Command Center personnel joined in a round of applause.
“Now, if you all don’t mind, I’m really tired, and could stand to get some sleep.” Xiang Ti patted McKenna on the shoulder as he walked out, with Winter in tow.
McKenna held Winter’s hand as the elevator ascended the floors. He could feel her warmth and love just through her delicate skin, and to stand next to her without having to fear tradition was a joy that could not be described. The elevator stopped, and the doors opened. They were only a few hundred feet away from Winter’s apartment, so he walked her to the door.
Winter opened it, and then turned around.
“Coming in?” She asked. This would be their first chance to be together in almost two years.
“I can’t, not yet.” McKenna said.
“Why not? You’ve paid your dues, and now you’re all mine. Come on.” She said, tugging at his arm.
“I have to visit someone first. I’ll see you in the morning.” He said, kissing her. He walked back to the elevator, leaving Winter alone at the door. She went inside and closed it. She sat on her couch and turned on the TV to watch the news. The anchor talked about the official press release from the Chancellery, reporting that McKenna was the new Lord Chancellor, narrowly defeating Warlord Slann in a bid for the same office. The anchor also talked of how McKenna was able to convince the Humanis to fall back and cease hostilities. Then she went on to give information regarding the state funeral to be held for the previous Lord Chancellor Awrann, as well as ‘two of the Alliance’s finest.’ Winter figured that would be Brigit Perrin and Jenna Reese, both killed in the line of duty.
Winter tied her computer to the TV and accessed a program that allowed her to watch McKenna at all times via Archology security cameras. This was something she would often do when she couldn’t be with him, and Rhaine Quatralis having learned about it dubbed it MAC TV.
She watched as McKenna stepped out of the elevator and went to the infirmary. After talking with a nurse, the nurse led him to a room and opened the door, allowing him to enter. The nurse then closed the door, returning to her duties.
The feed switched to the inside of the infirmary, only after Winter entered a security code, though. She was horrified at the sight of the person McKenna went to visit. The Warlord Slann...
McKenna considered the man in the bed. Broken, bruised, and utterly defeated. “Slann.”
The Warlord opened his eyes. “Why have you come here? To add to my humiliation? To gloat? You have won, Lord Chancellor, leave it at that.” He rasped.
McKenna frowned. “As much as I would like to, I cannot. Your actions of the past week were treasonous, not to mention a direct threat to the integrity of the Alliance, which as warlord you are sworn to protect. I intend to charge you with these crimes, but I’ll reconsider those charges if you work with me. You’re a good general, and I’d really hate to see you throw away your career only to rot in a prison.”
Slann struggled to sit up. “What... What do you have in mind?”
“I know that Maxaa Branwyn was controlling you, otherwise you would not have kidnapped Winter, for starters, and I think you know the rest. I’ll suspend the charges if you agree to psychiatric treatment and evaluation. Upon release from Medical care, you may return to duty. However, step out of line again, and I’ll string you up. Is that clear?” McKenna asked.
“Crystal.” Slann replied. “I assume you are actively searching for Branwyn?” He asked.
“Yes.” McKenna replied. “She broke D’Saad out of jail. Dakkoth Starkiller is the new Chief Marshal, and he’s got half his staff on the case.”
“Good.” Slann approved. “Starkiller is an excellent officer. He will bring her in. McKenna, I wanted to take the time to apologize, to you and your friends. It was never intended that anyone die during this bid for the Chancellery. I only wanted you out of the way, so I could achieve what my ancestors had always striven for. Once again, it would appear that the legacy shall be passed on to my offspring.”
“Slann, we’re all in this together. The Alliance needs me, and I need you on my side. I don’t have anything against you, and you should have nothing against me.” McKenna pleaded.
“The fact that you are an outsider, with no house or clan is enough for me to stand against you. But I shall only do that privately. In public, and when the security of our people is on the line, you will have my full support and cooperation. Perhaps we may someday be friends. Perhaps not.”
McKenna extended his hand. “I’m willing to take the first step. If the name “Alliance” is to mean anything, then that has to start with the council, both public and privately.”
“You are correct. Awrann was wise to choose you as his successor.” Slann shook McKenna’s hand.
“I’ll let you rest. If you’re up to it, there’s a state funeral tomorrow. You’re welcome to attend.” McKenna offered.
“I shall consider it, Lord Chancellor. One thing before you go. Keep your eye on General Ferrin. I believe he has a... romantic interest towards Winter Ventrosia. I would advise you to correct him if my information is valid.” Slann drifted off into sleep.
Winter continued to monitor McKenna’s movements, but was interrupted by the chime of the door. When she answered it, all she found was a pot of flowers with a note.
“Thinking of you.” It read. She smiled, figuring it must have been from McKenna. Seeing as he’d left Slann’s room, she decided to give him a surprise of her own. She slipped out of her dress uniform into something more seductive, and used her private transporter to go directly to his bedroom. There she waited for him under the covers, ready to pounce when he entered. She placed the flowers on the nightstand.
A few minutes later, the Lord Chancellor did arrive. He walked into the room as Winter sprang up and pulled him onto the bed. He broke off after a few minutes of passion due to his sore back.
“Winter?” He said, quite surprised.
“Hey baby. Didn’t feel like sleeping alone tonight, so I came here. Thanks for the flowers by the way.” She said, leaning over to take in their fragrance.
“I didn’t send you any flowers.” McKenna said flatly. He read the card, and then growled.
“If you didn’t, then who...” She asked.
“I think I know who.” McKenna growled. “General Ferrin was standing awfully close to you in the war room, and as I entered he stepped away, quite quickly I might add.”
“The general’s always been a good friend and ally, though. We’ve maintained a good working relationship, and I never realized that he would be interested in me in that way.” Winter rebuked. She nuzzled up next to her man as he crawled back into bed, deciding against sending the Lord Admiral back to her own apartment. He reasoned it would be much safer for her to stay here.
Both were tired, and though Winter wanted their first night together to be a little more passionate, she quickly fell asleep in McKenna’s arms. Her smile didn’t fade though, even as she slept. It made McKenna joyous to no end just to have her there.
Hours later, the Lord Chancellor found himself awake again. The thought of Ferrin having intentions towards his woman had given him a bad dream. Winter was beside him, huddled close to his body. It didn’t seem real, but her warmth dissolved any doubts. Quietly, he got out of bed and went to the front room.
The clock showed one in the morning, and outside the window, the lights of the city far below still burned bright. This was all his, now. He sat at his desk and called Dakkoth. To his surprise, Rhaine Quatralis answered.
“Marshal Quatralis?” He said, wondering what she would be doing in Dakkoth’s quarters.
“Hello, sir.” She said. Rhaine looked as tired as she sounded.
“Everything all right?” McKenna asked.
Rhaine nodded. “Dakkoth just fell asleep on the couch.” She positioned the screen briefly to show the slumbering marshal. “He’s still having problems getting over Perrin. What was it between them?”
“Love, pure and simple. Neither of them really admitted it. And now she’s gone, leaving him empty and cold. I’ve lost friends before, but no one I was ever in love with. What he’s going through I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
“Is that why you assigned me as his partner?” She asked.
“In part. The two of you work well together, and I know how you feel about him. He’s not going to say it, but Dakkoth needs you right now. He needs a friend and a partner.”
“You’re right, sir. I do love him. It’s just going to be hard trying to get him out of this funk. I’ve never dealt with it before. I’ve always been on my own, a free spirit, subject only to my own whims. Aside from Winter, I’ve never really cared about anyone, but Dakkoth’s different. His apartment is always spotless, adorned with trophies and souvenirs. I read the poetry he’s written. Aside from those of his love for Perrin, they show his warrior’s heart. That’s what I love about him. I love what he is and who he is. You know, I think Winter said pretty much the same thing about you not too long ago. She’s very special, you know.”
“Yeah, and that’s what I called about. Don’t wake Dakk; you can relay this to him in the morning. I think General Ferrin’s got his eye on my lady, and if he does, I intend to gouge it out.” McKenna said.
“Brutal.” Rhaine said. “I honestly don’t think Winter could ever conceive of being with someone other than you. You’re all she ever talks about. If Ferrin’s got the hots for her, then count on Dakk and me to douse him with some very cold water.”
McKenna smiled. “Thanks. You and Dakkoth are the best friends a guy could have. There’s a state funeral tomorrow at nine. I need you both there, with Winter and me.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Rhaine cut the channel. McKenna turned the chair to face the city and lit a cigarette. In the night sky, he could see the space dock, and a few white dots, starships, moving about. Occasionally one or two would grow into a shuttle, heading for a ground base.
“Zendista?” He turned to see Winter in one of his shirts coming out of the bed room. “Come back to bed, love.”
McKenna extinguished the cigarette and stood.
“Is everything all right?” She asked as they embraced. McKenna ran his fingers though her hair and took in the scent of it.
“Everything’s fine.” He picked her up and carried her back to the room.
Rhaine watched Dakkoth as he slumbered on his couch. She knew McKenna was right. Dakkoth needed her, but she still wasn’t sure what to do. She had things of her own to work out, like when Slann’s men violated her when they abducted Winter. That was the only time in her life when she did not have the upper hand in a messy situation.
Rhaine watched Dakkoth. She marveled at how a man of such primal passions and actions could sleep with a look of peace and rest on his face. She looked around the apartment. All of what she saw was different facets of his existence. Swords, guns, various paintings, some his own work. Framed poetry and books of ancient prose stored under glass, and the sanctuary with the pictures of Migichina and Brigit Perrin side by side.
“Perrin. I need your help here.” She said silently.
“Ask, and you shall receive.” The picture of Perrin had become animate as Rhaine drew herself closer.”
“Oh wow...” Migichinan mysticism had always fascinated her, even though she was a follower of the teachings of Draconus, the dragon god.
“What... oh this? Heh, an avatar just taught me how to do this. Pretty neat, eh?”
“I’ll say. I’m Rhaine Quatralis. I don’t think we’ve gotten the chance to actually talk, but I need your help.” Rhaine said.
“I remember you, my friend. I will always be with you and Dakkoth, but I need you to look after him, and take care of him. I’m no longer with your world, and it grows more distant every day as I get used to... where I’m at now.
“I gave Dakkoth my permission to be with you. I still love him, and I love you, too. He was my world, and since I cannot be there, I want you to be his world.”
“I think I understand, my sister. Don’t worry. Dakk’s in the best of hands.”
“I’m glad. I could not think of anyone else I would want him to be with, other than me. Love him, with all your heart. He needs you, he needs you to be the reason he exists.”
The picture of Perrin returned to the way it was, and Rhaine would never see it the same way again. It had changed though. Before, Perrin had not been smiling. Now she was. “Odd, but comforting,” Rhaine thought. She turned back to Dakkoth.
The warrior had shifted in his sleep. She walked over and knelt next to him, kissing him gently on the lips. She went and got a pillow and blanket and lay down next to the couch on the floor. She drifted off to sleep, and dreamed of a future with him.
Slann woke to the morning sun. Free of the wires that had monitored his vital signs; he stood and drew back the curtains. He opened the window to let in the crisp morning air and took a deep breath. He felt wonderful to be alive, and in that feeling, his thoughts were clear again. He knew McKenna had been right, that Branwyn had been controlling him. He would have to atone for his actions, for abducting Winter, for fighting McKenna, and for the lives that were lost as a result.
A knock sounded at the door. Slann turned to see Dakkoth Starkiller enter.
“Marshal Starkiller, what a pleasant surprise, yes?” He said pleasantly.
“Pleasant would be to see you behind bars for the rest of your life, and that’s Chief Marshal, now!” Dakkoth hissed.
“My apologies, ‘Chief’ Marshal Starkiller. To what do I owe your visit?” He asked, sitting in a chair.
Dakkoth pulled an envelope from his jacket. “This is a warrant for your arrest. You are to appear before a tribunal to answer for your crimes against the Alliance.”
Slann nodded. “I would have expected as much. I give myself freely to your custody.” Slann stood, holding his arms out expecting to be cuffed.
“The Lord Chancellor says that won’t be necessary. He trusts your honor, and has asked me to confine you to your Archology office. There, you will remain under guard until the tribunal is convened and you are sent for. Do you understand these instructions, Warlord?”
“I do.” Replied Slann. As if on cue, two marshals entered, and motioned to Slann to follow them. Dakkoth watched as he left, certainly not the man whom he’d fought two days ago.
“Slann.” Dakkoth said. The Warlord stopped and turned.
“Chief Marshal?” Slann said.
“McKenna extends an invitation to you to the state funeral to be held for Awrann, and two heroes of the Alliance. If you wish to attend, then you may come with me.”
“I can only wonder if I would truly be welcomed.” Slann asked.
“I cannot speak for the Chancellor, sir. But I believed he would want the council united in public for the sake of the Alliance, so that the people can see that the government is still strong.
“Then I wish to attend.”
“Very Well. Marshals, you are dismissed.” The two marshals left. Dakkoth watched as the Warlord changed from his casual clothes, to the uniform that was brought for him.
“Warlord, McKenna may be letting you off the hook, but I want you to know, that if I were in his place, you would be dead right now.” Dakkoth growled.
“Mr. Starkiller. You have every right to be angry with me, especially when I tried to kill you, but I have no grudge against you. I do not hate you. If you wish to challenge me for honor’s sake, then we shall do that, but not today. We go to mourn those who have fallen, let’s not stain this occasion of sorrow with more blood.”
Dakkoth clenched his jaw, and followed the Warlord out of the hospital room.