Ascension: Book One of The Alliance Chronicles

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Chapter 1

“What could I tell them, his mother and sister? His book had not been written yet! It was on M’Kaera’s Mount that the first words began to appear in his book.”

From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny


It was a tepid summer’s night as a lone man climbed the hill known as M’Kaera’s Mount. He paused for a moment and looked up to the stars. What most would see as a beautiful arrangement of celestial bodies, he saw only as a mass of politics. Out there, out in the heavens, was the Saurian Galactic Commonwealth, the Valerian Protectorate, the Humanis Federation, and a number of other smaller political entities, He recited a silent prayer to the Goddess Migichina as he returned to his climb.

It would have been much easier for Zendista McKenna, Chief Marshal of the Migichinan Alliance to finish the journey by means of his battle frame, the winged war machine he was able to shape shift into. It wouldn’t seem right, though. He flew most of the distance out to the hill, and decided that it would be more traditional to climb the remaining mile to the hill’s peak. It would give him time to admire the countryside’s beauty, a luxury that his job and Migichinan politics would normally not allow. Now, he truly came to the realization that he missed working in the field.

Within a half an hour, he reached the summit. At the top of the mount sat another figure. This elderly man faced the illuminated sprawl of Migichina City, deep in meditation.

“Zendista McKenna... What brings you here this evening?” The old man asked, sensing the presence of the younger man as he reached the top of the hill. Over the years, Awrann had become accustomed to sensing the unique presence of his protégé. He did not even need to look up anymore to know that McKenna was approaching him.

“Lord Chancellor Awrann,” McKenna replied, “I’ve come to seek your advice concerning tomorrow. Are you sure you want to go through with this? McKenna stopped just behind his mentor and looked towards the expansive city.

Awrann looked up to the sky, as if to ask the stars for guidance in choosing the words he were about to utter. “We both know I am too old to be an effective leader of our people, my son. The Alliance needs your youth, your vitality. I would fall eventually, you know. I would be cut down by the warlord or by another, perhaps one of your more ambitious colleagues in the department.”

McKenna sat beside the Migichinan Lord Chancellor. “Sir, I honestly don’t know if I am ready for this. You’ve taken the Chancellery from the simple task of law enforcement and diplomacy to leading the entire Alliance.”

“You’ve been ready for a long time, Zendista McKenna!” Awrann countered. “Migichina brought you to this place so you could lead her children into a future filled with danger and uncertainties. You are the key to the survival of our race!” Awrann opened his eyes and looked at McKenna.

“Five years ago, when I first met you face to face, I saw a bright young man. I saw a man who had spent his life serving the Alliance and Migichina. I saw the man who uncovered the corruption of the Migichinan government on Cestas Delta IV and I knew that this is the man who should succeed me. Four years ago, I saw a man who was trying to learn politics after spending a lifetime enforcing the laws and will of the Alliance. Three years ago, I presented you to Xiang Ti as my protégé, and he accepted you, and just last year, you started taking seriously most of the official functions that I had pretty much taken for granted.” The Lord Chancellor paused for a moment, taking in the beauty of his homeland.

“Now, here you are, sitting beside me, ready to take the reigns of the Alliance. I am too old, my son. Xiang Ti has lost his interest in politics as he has advanced in his years. Our reverent Lord Prime has pretty much reverted to his priestly studies he’d taken up long before being forced into politics by his father.”

McKenna raised an eyebrow at this bit of information. Awrann had always been long-winded in his speeches, and this one turned out to be no different. McKenna loved to listen to his stories of glorious days past, as Awrann’s own life read much like a history book. As McKenna processed this information, he found one single item that he wanted to question. “The Lord Prime used to be a priest?”

Awrann laughed gently. “I grew up with Xiang Ti. We were and are even now still the best of friends. He was much more handsome than I, and when we were of age, I tried to get him to join the Marshals with me. “It’s a better way to meet girls.” I told him, but he would not listen. He told me there was only one woman in his life, and that was our Goddess, Migichina. I laughed. I told him that what he’d sought was unattainable. He had put our Goddess on a pedestal so high, that he could not reach her. ‘I’ll grow wings’, he’d said. Well, eventually he did, after, of course, being bonded with a battle frame.”

“Is there a point to this, my Lord?” McKenna asked, becoming impatient with the oratory.

“Yes, my son, there is. Xiang Ti told me not to reveal this to you. However, I know you are one who does not like to be kept ‘in the dark.’ Migichina sent an Avatar to visit Xiang Ti. She revealed to him that our Goddess has intended for you to lead the Alliance to the greatness that our fate has planned for us. As an interstellar government, we are second only to the vast Saurian commonwealth and a ‘wild card’ in the political climate of the galaxy. Many do not trust us and would rather our Alliance be conquered or destroyed.

“The Saurians, though our friends, have criticized us in the past, especially for our occupation of the Meridian Homeworld. Of course, that was to protect us. The sons and daughters of Merid are our sworn enemies. It was enough that the dragons of Valeris sacrificed their neutrality to side with us. This is a very volatile time, McKenna. The decisions you make will shape our future, and there will be those that would rather not have you make those decisions.”

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” McKenna quipped.

Awrann’s face softened a little. With McKenna’s comment, he was certain that the Chief Marshal understood just how important this was. He decided to change the subject.

“Zendista, did you know the Lord Admiral is still attracted to you?” he asked.

McKenna frowned. “Yes.” He said with a faint touch of sorrow. “Winter makes her feelings known to me every chance she gets, but tries to maintain some form of secrecy. If the council was to find out that we had a relationship, all hell would break loose, and a number of noble houses would be certain to complain.” McKenna cut short his preaching, caught by the memory of when he first met the woman of his dreams. Then in a tone that sounded of defeat, “She’s out of my league. She always has been.”

Zendista and Winter Ventrosia had been introduced years back, during a diplomatic maneuver disguised as a gala-ball. As he recalled, the Lord Prime and Lord Chancellor had literally forced him to dance with the then Lord Admiral Esteban Ventrosia’s lovely daughter. He’d dreaded the moment, but ultimately, it had become the best time he’d ever had. He could still remember the fragrance of her perfume...

“Any woman is way out of your league, you undeserving twit!” Awrann laughed, tugging him back to the present. “She confided in me after seeing you in council session following the party we threw for the Saurians. She told me you were cute, and wanted to get acquainted with you on a more personal level. Just because a woman is raised to be so prim and proper, does not mean she can’t be attracted to a wretch like you.”

“I’m about as cute as a brick being thrown at a window, sir.” McKenna said sharply.

“That’s what I told her, but she disagreed. She sees you more as a diamond in the rough.”

McKenna shook his head. “If I am to be Lord Chancellor, I am not exactly going to have time to commit to any kind of personal relationship. I hope she can understand that.”

“True,” Awrann agreed. “A Chancellor’s life is never his own.”

“Lord Prime Draesoneth.” McKenna stated, recognizing the quote.

“Yes, but that is beside the point, my son. Winter Ventrosia is a very powerful woman in a very powerful position. Her house is ancient, noble, and prestigious, and if you were to have her affections, you would gain a powerful ally in the council chambers. Don’t sleep on this, McKenna! Winter Ventrosia wants you. Don’t give Slann the chance to gain her affection. You see, your own position is not that strong, from a political standpoint. You need the backing of House Ventrosia in order to make your voice heard. Winter will be willing to give you that backing in exchange for your affections. It’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me. Besides, Winter is a born leader, just like her father was. With her at your side, you won’t have any problems at all.” Awrann reached into the satchel lying beside him and drew out a pipe and tobacco.

“Do you think the Warlord will try and step in, tomorrow?” McKenna asked as Awrann lit the pipe.

“I would lay money on that. He has had his eye on the Chancellery for a long time, but its men and women like us that will keep him at arm’s length and never allow him to achieve his goal. Be warned, Zendista McKenna, Warlord Slann is not a fool. He is cold and cunning, and he knows how powerful you are and is not afraid of you. He has been a warrior for a long time and has a litany of honors to prove it. He will not be an easy foe to defeat.”

McKenna nodded. Chancellor Awrann was just as wise now as he had always been, and if there was ever a more diabolical Migichinan warrior, McKenna reasoned, he would not be as diabolical as Slann.

“Retire for the evening, my son. Tomorrow is going to be a day that shall change your life forever. And tomorrow shall be the day that the future of the Migichinan Alliance shall be decided.”

McKenna considered the old and feeble man. Though Awrann could not defend himself, there were those like himself that were ready to die at his command. Would he be able to carry on B’Trel Awrann’s legacy of grace and fairness? Could he make amends to the mistakes that the Lord Chancellor had made, and would he be able to deal with his own?

McKenna considered this as his skin lost its form, his body changed composition, and all reformed into the falcon-man form of the exotic steel-alloy battle frame he had been bonded to many years ago. He bowed respectively to the Lord Chancellor, his mentor of many years. His respect for the man was deep enough that he would grant any wish this father-figure had, even if it meant Awrann’s demise. McKenna spread his wings and took to the air.

Even from fifty miles away, the Migichinan Alliance Government Archology was an impressive sight. Five hundred and ten stories high, with over 75 subterranean levels, the lights of the Archology glowed and dominated the capitol’s skyline and surrounding urban sprawl. At fifty miles, a leisurely air speed would allow McKenna some time to think. The Chief Marshal of the Migichinan Alliance allowed himself to enjoy the time by flying around and through the clouds, rolling and looping. It made him feel giddy. The Archology, illuminated by the hundreds of thousands of points of light, beckoned McKenna home.

The giddiness wore off when his sensors alerted him to the presence of another airborne battle frame. Rather than attempting to establish radio contact with the ‘bogey’, McKenna decided to have some more fun by activating his electronic counter-measure suite. He pulled into a high arc as his sensors visually locked on to the contact.

It was definitely another battle frame, this one sporting desert camouflage colors, unlike McKenna’s chrome plating. The contact was low and slow, and a lack of energy emissions suggested that McKenna’s bogey was using passive sensors. The bogey’s weapons and shield systems were being maintained on ‘hot’ standby. The bogy was doing a good job in trying not to be seen and was ready for anything.

With what was about to take place, McKenna could not take any chances. As he got closer, he focused his optical sensors in and identified the markings on the flying battle frame belonging to an army officer, probably a lieutenant. McKenna reasoned that an army junior officer out for a leisurely solo flight in the middle of the night was probably not a coincidence. He armed his weapons and vectored the thrust from his drive system to establish an angle of attack.

The contact’s sensors alerted it to McKenna’s active weapons and dove to ground level, disappearing into the Cal’Makar canyon which led to the proving grounds. McKenna leveled off and swept the area with active sensors. The returns indicated no sign of the bogey. After covering ten miles along the length of the canyon, McKenna broke off the search and reset his course for the Archology, ready to call it a night. He was still curious, though...

McKenna wasted no time getting back to his apartment. With someone following him, he couldn’t help wondering if there were already something afoot, or if Slann had already initiated his own quest for the Chancellery.

A notification of waiting messages flashed in a corner of the screen on McKenna’s computer console. With a command, he routed the visual messages to his main screen in his living room. The first message was from Lord Admiral Winter Ventrosia, of the House Ventrosia. The size of his screen magnified her image by a factor of three.

Her larger than life image smiled warmly. “Hi, Mac!” She started her message. Her silvery-chrome uniform and glistening white hair gave away her location. She’d recorded the message in the Archology’s Strategic Information Center.

“Um... Well, guess you’re not in, so I’ll try back later. Just wanted to remind you about tea this afternoon, and about the inspection of the new Aramys class heavy cruiser tomorrow morning.” She looked at something off-screen as an alarm sounded in the background. Her warm and silky voice abruptly went cold and hard. “I gotta go.” She touched her fingertips to her lips and touched them to the screen. It was Winter’s way of telling McKenna she loved him when she was in a public place. She disappeared, replaced by the ‘end of message’ screen.

McKenna slammed his fist into the wall. He’d forgotten! How could he forget? Winter was now the single most important person in his life, and he’d forgotten about his date with her for tea! With any luck, the alert that sounded would have made her forget as well, and he would be let off the hook, again.

He thought back to the earlier conversation with Awrann, and the clandestine nature of his relationship with Winter. If the council did find out about this, he would loose support because of the breech of tradition. It would be easier for Slann to gain their support and eventually depose him. He could see that the ice he would be treading upon would remain thin for a very long time.

“Next Message.” A gray hairy face with glowing red eyes filled the screen. “Sir, Dakk here. Wanted to remind you of our sparring session tomorrow... And I need your advice on a matter involving my partner, Perrin. See you in the morning. Dakkoth out.”

Again, the ’end of message” screen appeared. McKenna activated his holo-secretary. Out of a hole in the wall, a small floating orb appeared. It took up a spot in the center of the room and activated. The orb was replaced by the pixilated form of a rather attractive computer-generated female in a marshal’s uniform, thanks to McKenna’s programming skills. Originally, the holo-secretary had been dressed in a tight and revealing business suit, but McKenna had deemed the original suit inappropriate, since his holo-secretary would have to deal with contacts outside his apartment and office.

“What’s my morning look like, Rachel?” He asked.

“Sparring with Marshal Starkiller at 0700 hours, followed by a breakfast meeting with your staff at eight, and at nine, you have a block set aside until 1300 hours for your inspection of the Aramys.” Rachel the holo-secretary began to pick-up McKenna’s discarded clothes and deposits them in a hamper. She then began to straighten up his apartment.

“If I may, sir, I do not know how you can live like this.” She held up an empty beer can and a dirty shirt for him to see. “I can see why you never invite the Lord Admiral over here.”

“It’s not because of my ‘poor’ house keeping... Rachel.” He was not use to addressing the holo-secretary by name, even though he had been using the program for over a year. If it were not for ‘her’, his professional life would be in shambles due to missed important meetings and appointments. Rachel continued to clean as he showered.

The Marshal’s thoughts wandered back to his earlier conversation with Awrann. If Slann was as ruthless as he’d said he was, then why had he not already tried to kill or at least incapacitate him? McKenna knew that if he were the Migichinan Warlord, he would not waste time, as Slann seemed to be doing. What scheme could the dreaded Warlord be cooking up this time? It made no sense. McKenna had studied Slann’s career: a Migichinan with a passion for war, and a knack for politics, a Migichinan’s Migichinan.

If Slann was going to make a move, what would it be and more importantly, did he already make it? After washing his hair, McKenna stepped out of the shower to see Rachel waiting with a towel. She had her backed turned to him, not wanting to see the marshal in the buff.

“Sir, there is one more message waiting for you. It does not have an identification stamp like the others, so I cannot say who it is from.”

McKenna wrapped the towel around his waist. He walked back out into the living room with Rachel close behind. “Play the last message.” He ordered.

Rachel looked towards the screen and accessed the message. The face of Migichinan Warlord Slann appeared.

“Ah, Zendista McKenna. It has been a long time.” Slann started in his deep, raspy voice. “I was hoping to schedule some time with you to discuss the ‘future’ of the Chancellery department. But, since you are not in, I guess I will have to take these matters into my own hands. Oh, I almost forgot.” Slann smiled insidiously. “I left a ‘gift’ for you. I hope you get as much of a thrill in the experience as I did in its creation. Good bye, Zendista McKenna.” Slann’s image faded.

“Gift?” McKenna said thoughtfully. “Rachel?”

“I’m... sorry... sir. A holographic tear formed in her eye. “I... could not stop them. They broke in. They de-activated me, reprogrammed me to not speak about it.” I...

“Who?”

She cried as an intense light burst from her chest. The bomb contained in the holo-orb detonated. The low-yield explosive knocked McKenna across the room. The last thing he heard was Rachel’s shrill scream, followed by the explosion, then nothing as he abruptly fell unconscious.


5 Years ago...

Zendista McKenna adjusted his uniform. Medals and ribbons adorned his chest, all carrying with them the memories: memories that contained tragedy and joy, the faces of friends made and lost, the smells of war and peace. He could tell a story of how he had earned each one. He took another look at the uniform, making sure that the ribbons and medals were all straight and that the fabric was free of lint, hair or other unsightly foreign particles.

He turned to the mirror and combed his brown and white hair back, carefully running through the white stripes, forcing them back. He used a touch of hair spray to keep them in place, and then applied some cologne to his neck.

He looked into the mirror, gazing into the reflection of his red pupils. The faint red glow always unnerved him. The artificial eyes served to remind him, now and always, that he was a warrior and defender of his people. In their everyday lives, he was now the first line of defense when the safety of those he had sworn to protect was in jeopardy. He put on his sunglasses, mirrored with a red tint, his trademark, as it were.

Reflected in the mirror, he saw the door open behind him and his top officer enter. Dakkoth Starkiller was one who could put the fear of the Goddess into anyone just by standing next to him. The gray felinoid rarely smiled, even though the event he was about to attend with McKenna would be a pleasant one. He held out a shoulder holster, containing a chrome-plated blaster.

“Thanks.” McKenna removed his uniform jacket as Marshal Starkiller strapped the holster and sidearm onto his boss.

“I am not used to this, Dakk. Bow ties, formal events...”

“Debutantes?” Dakkoth interrupted, grinning slyly.

“Debutantes.” McKenna muttered putting his coat back on. “I thought you didn’t get along well with women?” McKenna asked.

“Well... ummm... they’re pretty to look at.” Dakkoth replied hesitantly.

The two were the final remnants of the now disbanded Roughnecks, Zendista McKenna’s team of elite law enforcement officers. When McKenna had accepted the appointment to the position of Chief Marshal by Lord Chancellor Awrann, it had doomed him to a desk job. He’d given his people a choice whether to stay and work the Archology offices, or to return to the field with new assignments. Dakkoth Starkiller was the only one who had stayed behind, muscling his way back into the job of being the Chief Marshal’s right-hand. McKenna was grateful that Dakkoth had stuck around.

“Yeah, I bet they are. Have you ever seen a debutante before?” McKenna countered.

“Well... er, no.” Dakkoth replied.

“You spent too much time with the Roughnecks, Dakk.” McKenna said, patting him on the arm.

The two left the apartment, and headed for the Archology’s Fandalas Hall, location of the gala-party that would celebrate the signing of a new peace treaty with the Saurian Galactic Commonwealth.

“How’s the new partner working out?” McKenna asked his friend.

“Brigit Perrin?” Dakkoth replied. “She’s still green. Hell, I’m afraid to give her a pistol! She’d probably shoot herself in the foot. Shoulda given her a desk job.” Dakkoth growled.

“Aw, come on, Dakk. Be nice. She’s bright, and she graduated the top of her class. I want the best working with the best, and since you’re it, I want you to show her the ropes.”

“I am not questioning her competency, sir. She’s a little girl. You and I both know that as marshals we face some major league bad guys on a daily basis. I would prefer to work alone on field assignments, I don’t need a woman slowing me down, and she would certainly do that. I would be forced to watch her back as well as my own... Remember Meridia?”

McKenna stopped and faced Dakkoth. “I remember Meridia. I remember you going off on half-cocked hunches. Granted they were usually right, but I want you to work with her. One, to teach her how to be one of us, and two, because you need to work on your people skills.”

“Mac, you know how I am with women...” Dakkoth rebuked.

“I know how you are around women, but you’ve got to get over it. You may not notice it, but there are a lot of women in the Marshal’s Office that are constantly daydreaming about you. Some practically throw themselves at you and you don’t even notice it. Because you’re a felinoid with a close human resemblance, it gives you an exotic air. At least give it a shot. Perrin is one of the few women that are not lusting for you, and that’s why I made the assignment. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll reassign her... But consider yourself under orders to give her a chance.”

Dakkoth straightened up. “Yes sir!”

They entered the hall. McKenna had never really seen the ‘posh’ side of the Alliance. He’d gotten a taste of it, though, when he’d graduated from the academy. He hadn’t had fun at that party, and reasoned he wouldn’t have fun at this one, either. Top brass from the military hob-knobbed with the social elite as he walked through the crowd. Generals and Admirals, captains and colonels, all put on their best faces and primmest poses to impress those who relied on them for safety, but mostly to impress the Saurian dignitaries.

McKenna wove his way through the crowd until a hand reached out to grab his arm. He turned to see Capt. Dunan Ventrosia, son of the Lord Admiral Esteban Ventrosia.

“Mac!” Dunan shouted of over the noise of nearby conversations. McKenna smiled, happy to see the man whom he often relied on to get from planet to planet when duty called.

“Dunan, ya old space dog, how the hell are ya?” The men embraced.

“Half lit and ready to rock! I hate these events, but the Champaign is well worth it. The brass rolled out the good stuff for the lizards.” Dunan smiled.

He led McKenna over to a bar where drinks were being served. He ordered a medium dry martini, and then turned to see Lord Chancellor Awrann flanked by the Lord Prime Xiang Ti headed directly for them.

“Oh glory...” McKenna muttered. Dunan patted him on the shoulder. “Bogeys inbound. You’re on your own, Hauss.” Dunan walked away, avoiding the Migichinan lords.

“Chief Marshal, so glad you could make it this evening.” Greeted Awrann.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the Alliance, sir.” McKenna replied, sipping the martini.

“I finally get to meet the new protector of law and order in my Alliance.” Stated Xiang Ti. You chose well, Awrann. Even now, I can see that he is uncomfortable. As I recall, when you were in this very same position, you would only see this as a logistical and security nightmare, rather than allowing yourself any enjoyment. Your new man is a proud reminder of that.”

McKenna bowed slightly. “I thank you, sir, for your compliment. My life belongs to the Alliance, and I will defend her to my dying breath.”

“Spoken like a true hero of the Alliance, Zendista McKenna! Come, I want you to meet someone.” Xiang Ti led the Chief Marshal through the crowd and to where Lord Admiral Esteban Ventrosia stood next to a lovely young woman in a slim, silvery dress. They were conversing with Saurian Vice Admiral Z’oord Tereskiad as the Lord Prime stepped in.

They all bowed in reverence to the leader of the Alliance.

“It is my honor to introduce to you the new Chief Marshal of the Migichinan Alliance, Zendista McKenna.”

McKenna bowed to the Lord Admiral, who smiled. Esteban shook McKenna’s hand. “Welcome aboard, son. Heard about your adventures from my son, Dunan. Kid can’t stop talking about you. Say’s you’re the best there is!”

“I do my best, sir, never claimed to...”

“I, too, have heard of your exploits, Zendista McKenna.” Interrupted Admiral Tereskiad. “It is an honor to be in the presence of such a fine warrior.”

McKenna was at a loss for words. The respect of the Council of Lords was not easy to obtain, but respect from a high ranking Saurian Naval Officer was truly something to write home about, not that McKenna actually had a family to write to.

“Chief, I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Captain Winter Ventrosia, Commanding Officer of the MNV Draesoneth.” Winter curtsied as McKenna kissed her hand. He could not help but notice how her dress hugged her lithe body and accentuated her shape. He tried not to stare, and won a smile from the lady in his efforts to be a gentleman.

“Would you care to dance?” She asked. Her voice was soft and musical, with a slight lilt in her voice that made her absolutely haunting.

“Uhhh...” McKenna fumbled.

“Oh, of course he would like to dance with you, fair Captain, with your father’s permission, of course.” Xiang Ti stepped in, seeing McKenna was not currently able to speak for himself.

“Absolutely, she may, my liege. I would be honored to see them dance together.” The elder Ventrosia replied.

“As would I.” Tereskiad added with a wink. McKenna said nothing as he led Winter out to the dance floor, with one hand holding hers and the other around her waist. His eyes darted back and forth, both watching where they were walking and also studying the near perfect features of her pale face. The couple joined in the waltz being enjoyed by others.

Winter smiled as she gazed into the face of the Chief Marshal. His hard features didn’t even soften as he looked into her eyes. She reached up and took off his sunglasses so she could see his eyes. Immediately she could tell that he was all the seasoned veteran her brother had said he was, and the soft red glow of his pupils confirmed it all. Though McKenna’s eyes were cybernetic, they still displayed the years of experience that he carried.

“I was hoping I would get to meet the legend, someday. Looks like that day is here.” She said with a soft and inviting smile.

“I’m honored, milady. Your brother has told me about you, and he always said he would introduce us, but never got around to it.” McKenna was known amongst his peers for not being any good at all when it came to romantic affairs, but he had tried. He’d had several failed relationships, and he’d learned from each one, at least that is what he thought. They had all ended the same way, with his devotion to duty getting in the way of his heart.

“I’m glad to get away from the brass for once.” Winter began, seeing that McKenna was not one to start a conversation. “All that ‘yes sir, no sir, and I would be honored sir’ really gets to me after a while.” She said. “You’re not like that, are you Mr. McKenna?” She asked.

“No, not at all. I’m more than happy in the middle of an alien jungle with a blaster and a ball of twine, hunting for criminals and fugitives. By the way, you can stow the “mister” stuff. My friends call me Mac.”

“Okay, Mac...“Winter smiled.

McKenna looked into Winter’s eyes, and their warmth betrayed her cold name. As the pace of the music slowed, they danced closer together. McKenna found the vanilla fragrance of her perfume to be intoxicating. Their bodies touched as they gazed into each other’s eyes...

Awrann joined Xiang Ti and Esteban Ventrosia. “I see that my protégé has found someone to keep him occupied for this event. I bet money with Dakkoth Starkiller that McKenna would have found a reason to leave in under an hour.”

“Hope you didn’t bet too much, Awrann.” Ventrosia replied, sipping his drink. “I haven’t seen my daughter smile like that in a long time.” He said as he watched the two dance. “That guy’s special. Warlord Slann has repeatedly tried for her favor, and she keeps refusing him. I’ll tell you one thing about my daughter, when she sees something she likes or wants she goes after it. I think Mr. McKenna may fall into one of the two categories.”

Xiang Ti looked at Awrann, then to Ventrosia. “McKenna’s a good and honest man, unlike Slann. The Lord Chancellor and I will personally vouch for him. He would be an excellent suitor for your daughter, Esteban. I hope you will consider it.

“I would, Lord Prime, but McKenna is not an established house. There would be repercussions if I were to give my consent publicly.” Ventrosia rebuked.

“That tradition is an ancient one.” Stated Xiang Ti. “If we forever hold to those ancient laws, then we will doom the noble houses to extinction. Arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, where is the love?” He asked.

“There, on the dance floor.” Awrann replied. “Reminds me of the saying... oh, what was it.” Awrann pondered a moment. “Ah! ‘Love hath no finer a beauty than that of two whose destinies are intertwined and their path together is finally realized.’”

“If we allow this, then what becomes of our houses?” Esteban asked.

“Simple.” Xiang Ti replied. “Love, rather than politics and power will make them stronger. ‘Peace and Unity through Combined Strength.’ Never forget our motto, Lord Admiral.” Xiang Ti reminded “Its time that we begin to consider shedding some of the old ways that hold us back, in favor of new ways that will insure our prosperity. Look at them, old friend.” He extended his arm to McKenna and Winter, who were lost in each other’s gaze and embrace. “That is our future, Awrann, never forget that.”

“This is an outrage!” Slann bellowed. The Migichinan Warlord watched the dance from a balcony, surrounded by his entourage. He took particular interest in the movements of Winter Ventrosia, but seeing McKenna so close to the starship Captain and seeing the two of them obviously getting along so well only served to fuel his anger.

“Sir.” His top aide, Maxaa Branwyn, stepped forward stretched up to speak directly into her commander’s ear. “Esteban Ventrosia has told you personally to back away from his daughter. He will not allow you to court her, and she herself has denied you. Why do you pursue this?”

“Because I need her at my side if I am going to take the Alliance. She will be Lord Admiral some day, and if I am in her favor, then she will be a valued ally.” Slann hissed. Branwyn backed down and took a step back.

“Then it appears you have competition, my Lord.” Branwyn said, pointing at Zendista McKenna. “I hear that he is intended to replace Awrann.” She stated. Slann came to regard most of what his aide said as fact. She seemed to have a knack of learning the intimate secrets of the Migichinan government quickly. She was always on top of the rumors as they surfaced. Slann had recruited her for that very reason.

Slann looked down at the chief marshal. He recalled smashing his desk when the marshal and his ‘Roughnecks’ had uncovered the corruption of Governor general Callus on Cestas Delta IV, commonly known as Meridia. If it had not been for Awrann, McKenna would have also discovered that Callus was acting under orders from Slann, and not of the Chancellery Dept. he belonged to. That would have served to end Slann’s career almost immediately, as the council would have called for his resignation and suicide.

“McKenna... he will pay for this, for what he has done and what he is doing, and what he will do in the future, however short that future may be for him!” His steel grip crushed the section of marble he was leaning on as he turned to leave. Branwyn walked up to the ledge and took a long, hard look at McKenna... then turned to follow her master.


Now...

Alarms sounded as smoke billowed out of McKenna’s apartment. The fire was spreading quickly, and McKenna was on the floor, out cold. The first Archology security officer on scene was Jenna Reese, a young lady who herself had hopes of becoming a marshal someday. It took some jimmying, but she managed to override the door’s security system and go inside.

McKenna’s apartment was fully ablaze as Reese found the marshal in the middle of the room. She crawled her way to McKenna and then dragged him out of the room. Once back in the corridor, she put him over her shoulder and made her way down the hall. After about a hundred feet, she set McKenna down and turned to see fire-fighting crews arrive to battle the blaze. She turned her attention to McKenna, who had stopped breathing.

“MEDIC!!” She screamed as she started mouth-to-mouth necessitation. A young man from the fire team heard her cry for help and ran to her side with a med-kit.

“Dear Goddess... It’s the Chief!” The medic muttered as he recognized the fire’s victim. Jenna continued her attempts to revive McKenna as the medic used a medical sensor to determine the marshal’s injuries.

With a cough, McKenna began to breathe on his own again, thanks to Jenna’s efforts. The medic began procedures to stabilize his patient as a trauma team arrived.

“Report!” The team leader ordered as the additional medics moved McKenna onto a floating stretcher.

“He appears to have suffered some internal damage from the explosion. He still had a pulse, but was not breathing. The security guard,” the medic patted Jenna on her shoulder, “saved his life by resuscitating him.”

“Good work, young lady.” The doctor commended. It made Jenna feel wonderful. These men regarded her as a hero; a status that she had just earned by saving the life of the man intended to be the Alliance’s next Lord Chancellor.

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