“Every death tore at his heart, for he knew that each one had died in his place. Somehow fate had placed the innocent between him and an assassin’s hand.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
McKenna walked into his darkened office after only a few hours of turbulent sleep. Knowing that someone was out to get him did not sit well, nor the fact that he did not know whom his would-be assassin was. He checked his messages as he sat behind his desk. Most of them were reports from the preliminary investigation some stating prematurely that one of the Archology’s security guards was the culprit.
He took comfort in the fact that Dakkoth Starkiller was already on the case, and that he had identified the fourth body found as not belonging to the assassin. He pulled up the autopsy report on Jenna Reese, the guard murdered early this morning. Initial observations showed no bodily injury or trauma, suggesting a poison or gas of some kind had been use, but on closer examination, it was found her neck had been broken.
McKenna collapsed into his chair. Jenna Reese had saved his life not more than two days ago. He hoped and prayed her death was quick and painless. Reese had been the daughter of a restaurant owner on Corona St., and had hoped one day to be an officer, even an Alliance Marshal. In her personnel file, he saw her test scores from the Law Academy’s entrance exam. All aces. She had been a prime candidate and had the potential of being one of the best. But now, that was no longer to be.
It struck him like a bullet through the heart. Jenna Reese was the same woman who had rescued him from his burning apartment two nights ago, the same young woman who he owed his life to. The more he thought about it, the more it tore him up. This tragedy was now more personal, as McKenna would never have the chance to thank Jenna Reese for saving his life. With her death, McKenna vowed vengeance on the assassin. He vowed to bring the assassin to justice for the lives that had been taken and the ones that might still lie in jeopardy.
He closed the file. Her father, her only survivor, was probably not aware of the incident yet. McKenna stood and walked over to his coat rack to pull his trench coat. He never really liked this part of the job, but it was tradition, and it was the right thing to do. As he walked out of his office, his secretary handed him a cup of coffee.
“Joyce, call the Captain of the Archology guard, tell him I’m going to see to Lt. Reese’s father personally. And see that Mr. Reese receives full benefits and rights for his daughter’s sacrifice.”
“Right away, sir.” The secretary went back to her desk.
McKenna made a side trip to the morgue to see the body of Jenna Reese. The coroner on duty escorted the marshal to the locker where she was kept. As McKenna looked at the dead woman, the coroner scurried off, only to return shortly with the woman’s badge and side arm. McKenna quietly thanked the man and left the morgue. It was never easy to see one of his own gunned down. He’d lost a number of close friends during his stint on Cestas Delta IV, and he knew that before this was all done and over with, another would fall. If Slann were truly behind all of this, there would certainly be hell to pay.
He removed her dog tags from around her neck, leaving one with the coroner. As he walked out of the morgue, he pulled his chain from under his uniform, with nearly thirty dog tags attached to it. Each one belonged to a man or woman who had lost a life in the line of duty, and each one had served under him. It was his way of remembering each of them, but Jenna would be different. Jenna did not serve under McKenna, but she her gift of life to him was enough to honor her memory.
Johannes Reese welcomed the regular breakfast crowd, who talked fleetingly about the situation in the Archology and the numerous murders and massive investigation. Johannes took the opportunity, as he always did when something was happening in the Archology, to brag about his daughter. She was his hero, and no man could seem any prouder of a daughter than he.
She was all he had left, after her mother had died. Jenna wanted so bad to be a marshal she couldn’t see straight, and her father spared not a penny in seeing to her dreams. He’d sent her to the finest schools of law and law enforcement on the Homeworld. And many of the marshals and security guards, whose business had been attracted by Mr. Reese’s daughter, helped the young lady with her homework and with free advice. All were more than happy to help the prospective addition to their team.
They all watched as the news cast revealed the tragedy. “Four murders, all seemed to be connected. An entire family destroyed, and a security officer killed as well. The family was reported to be that of a top-level aide to Warlord Slann. The aide, who was gunned down outside the Archology’s main chapel, and the security guard was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The video footage tracked the events as they happened outside the chapel.
A discussion on who was involved in the murders was well under way as McKenna walked in.
“Johannes Reese?” He asked, looking around.
“That would be me, friend. What can I do for you?” Mr. Reese asked. It took a few seconds, but then he realized he was talking to the Chief Marshal. He went pale.
“S... Sir, if it’s ab... about the loans, I... I’ll have the money! Honest, I swear” The man was clearly nervous. McKenna put his hand on Mr. Reese’s shoulder.
“This is not about money, my friend. Please, sit.”
A waitress brought the men coffee, politely remaining silent as McKenna began to speak.
“I’m sure that due to the press coverage, you are aware of the incident that took place this morning in the Archology.”
“Yes,” Mr. Reese replied. “My daughter, Jenna, is this about her?”
“I’m afraid so, sir. This morning, shortly after midnight, your daughter was on duty and called to action. She was part of a team that was looking for the assassin that killed three others and tried to kill me. Mr. Reese, it’s not easy for me to say this...”
Johannes’ face contorted in anguish as he realized what McKenna was about to say. The waitress that served them earlier saw this and sat beside him, holding the man who would never see his daughter again.
“Mr. Reese, your daughter made the ultimate sacrifice. She was killed in the line of duty, and thanks to her brave and heroic actions, we are one step closer to bringing an insane murderer to justice. You daughter is a hero of the Alliance, and in dying; she has saved millions of people. More specifically, she saved my life. Two nights ago, someone bombed my apartment. If not for her quick thinking and decisive action, I would be dead, too. I owe your daughter my life.” McKenna placed Jenna’s badge and side arm on the table as Mr. Reese openly wept.
“My baby... “He buried his face in the waitresses’ shoulder. She decided to say a few words to McKenna, whose own eyes were welled with tears as well.
“Sir, Johannes, he’s a good man, and he did his best to love and raise Jenna, I know. I helped him. We all knew that something like this might happen someday, but how can anyone ever be prepared for it? Jenna was a good girl, I helped raise her.”
McKenna bowed his head. Why did it have to be like this? Why did people have to die, just so the Alliance could be held together? Johannes Reese did his best to compose himself. He looked at McKenna and spoke.
“Sir, I... I don’t hold this against you or the government. This happens, I guess. I... I just wish I could have seen her one more time. Just to tell her how proud I am of her, and how much I loved her. I...”
Johannes stood to try and escape the pained stares from the breakfast crowd, but McKenna stopped him and embraced the man.
“I know what you’re going through.” He whispered in Mr. Reese’s ear. “I can’t bring her back, as much as I want to. I’m... I’m so sorry, Johannes.”
Mr. Reese returned the embrace then went back into the kitchen. McKenna followed him.
“You said something about loans, Mr. Reese?”
Johannes sat down. “I owe a lot of money to a couple of banks. I had to keep my business running. It’s been my life, and now, it’s all I have left.”
“And you don’t have the money to pay them off?”
“It’s been really tight lately. I’m afraid they’re going to take it all away from me. I’ll loose everything!”
“No, Joe. You’re not going to loose anything. Your business will be safe, and I’m going to see to your loans, I owe that much to you and your daughter. You’ll not have to worry about anything ever again, my friend.”
McKenna went back out to the dining room and walked up to the waitress friend of Mr. Reese.
“I’ve ordered that he receives full benefits as a result of his daughter’s death, and my staff is going to take care of the funeral arrangements. His daughter shall rest amongst the heroes of the Alliance. Please see that he hears that.” He handed her a contact card. “This card will put you in touch with my assistant, Rachel. Tell her Uncle Mac sent you and she’ll help out with the restaurant’s bills.”
“I will.” replied the waitress.
McKenna stepped outside the restaurant to a humid summer morning. Weather reports talked of severe storms moving in later in the afternoon. He didn’t care. The storms would only help to reflect the dark mood settling over him. He shifted into his battle frame and took to the sky.
Within minutes he arrived at M’Kaera’s Mount. As he landed, the winds picked up and distant thunder rumbled.
“MIGICHINA!!!” He shouted as he raised his fists to the sky “I know you can hear me! Answer!” He stalked a circle.
“Migichina, why does it have to be like this!? Why do people have to die?” He raised his voice as the wind picked up.
“Four people died this morning, Migichina! FOUR! A good man, his wife and child, and a young woman who had a very promising future to look forward to! They’re all dead! Jenna’s father did not blame me, but I blame you! You, Migichina! You caused their deaths! You and you traditions, your rites! You want me to be Lord Chancellor, fine! You made a mistake in choosing me, ’cause I’m not going to follow your policy, and I am sure as hell not going to bow to your every whim!”
Still no sign of the Goddess and by now he did not even care if she was listening.
“I’m going to do this MY way, Migichina. You want to keep the Alliance together; well it’s gonna be my policy that does it, not yours! I’ll bring the houses together whether they like it or not, and I’ll make us a force to be reckoned with one more time! Slann isn’t going to like it, and neither will the politicians in his pocket, but that’s the way it’s gonna be. Take it or leave it!”
McKenna stood silent, waiting for the Goddess to respond. Rain began to splash off his chrome armor, and his rage began to subside. Still there was no response from the Goddess.
“Yeah, I thought so.” He finally said as he spread his wings and flew back to the Archology.
With a faint glimmer of light, Migichina appeared on the mount. She said nothing as she watched McKenna fly away. She had been there the whole time, watching and listening. A tear formed in her eye. McKenna hated her, and the four who passed on shouldn’t have. It was her fault.
“Draconus...” The Goddess whispered.
Like a stone tossed into a pool of water, the view of the city that bore her name waved with distortion as a hole in the time/space continuum opened, and out walked a dragon.
“You called, I came. You are sad, my dear sister.” Draconus said in his typical rumble.
“It’s falling apart. All of it. McKenna’s rebelling, Slann’s going to take control, and his minions are beginning to get out of control.” She turned away from her dragon brother, not wanting him to see her cry. Migichina had always been the strongest and most stable of Chrysara’s children.
“Mig.” Draconus addressed her. He was the only one she allowed to address her with that ancient pet name. “McKenna is one of us. He is strong and young. I have talked to Destiny at your request, and I know what will happen.
“You instruct your children to have faith in you. You tell them to pray to you, and give to you their fears and frustrations.” Draconus gently embraced his sister.
“I will now instruct you the same. Have faith in McKenna, for he is the future. Trust in him, for he will not let you down. Love him, because he wants to love you. He just doesn’t know how. McKenna’s not very good at that kind of stuff.”
She looked into Draconus’ deep red eyes. The ancient dragon-god did his best to smile, hoping his words would strength his sister. He could trust that they did as she rose up on her toes and kissed him on his hawk-like nose. She could remember the time when she had finally convinced him to stand still long enough to help her craft the first Migichinan battle frame, which she’d created to resemble her brother. She had loved him so much, she wanted to be reminded of him every where she looked.
Draconus left much the same way he had come, leaving Migichina alone once again. Her brother was right. She would let time take its course, and she would let McKenna do things his way. After all, he was one of them.
McKenna returned to his office, still slightly steamed. Looking at the clock, it was only a quarter to seven. Dakk and Perrin were due in fifteen minutes. His secretary had left a number of forms on his desk he would need to sign for Mr. Reese to receive the benefits McKenna said to authorize, and to begin preparations for a state funeral for Jenna Reese. And even though the security guard was dead, McKenna wrote in a promotion to be awarded posthumously to the rank of marshal. He also made a made a note to award her the Order of Draesoneth, the highest commendation any Migichinan warrior could receive. He would have to do that once he became Lord Chancellor, though. That was something he was now determined to become.
He got onto the computer and looked up the Reese family bank accounts. 50,000 credits on one loan, 450,000 on another. Though they had kept up on the payments, the latest ones were marked past due. He accessed his own accounts and transferred an even million credits to the Reese account. This, on top of his daughter’s death benefits, would ensure that Johannes Reese would not have to worry about anything ever again.
Dakk and Perrin walked in right as the bells chimed seven. Perrin looked short of breath, a sign that Dakk was again in a mood that had forced her to scurry keep up with him.
“Good morning, sir.” Dakkoth Starkiller rasped. Perrin remembered to salute, even though McKenna didn’t notice.
“Have a seat.” McKenna said, still going over the paper work.
After about ten minutes, he was done and called his secretary to pick up the papers. He turned to his officers.
“This is our assassin, caught on the Archology security net last night.” The image showed empty halls until McKenna entered a few commands into his computer, changing the display to infrared. A figure appeared in the form of a heat splotch that vaguely resembled a female figure.
“Dakk, you were there, what do you know about this?” McKenna asked. Dakkoth stood to brief his boss.
“Our ‘assassin’ was sporting Humanis issue “opti-flauge” combat armor. Designed to hide the wearer from most sensors, and issued by Humanis intelligence agencies, Special Forces, and a number of corporations. And sir, I already know who the assassin is.” Dakkoth handed McKenna the files he’d brought with him.
“The assassin is Janus D’Saad. I caught her scent last night in the halls, and on the armor she was wearing. D’Saad switched armors with her before making her escape.”
“You’ve come across her before?’
“A couple of times. D’Saad is a gun for hire. Insanity makes her dangerous to her enemies, and sometimes to the ones who hire her. According to Humanis Intelligence, she went nuts and killed her family after finding her husband in bed with another woman. The Humanis has been trying to take her down for years. She specializes in corporate espionage and assassinations. She’s never missed a target until she picked up your bounty.”
“Wait a minute. There’s a price on my head?!”
“Thought you knew. Humanis don’t like you much. Neither does the Meridian Resistance. Goin’’ price for you is 20 million credits, gold. No one until now has been stupid enough to try and take you down, though.
“Way I figure it; D’Saad’s working for someone who’s going to give her a cut of the bounty. She’s done it before, but doesn’t go any lower than 60/40. A hit like this would set her up for a while. I think it’s an inside job, someone who knows your every move. Someone high level.”
McKenna considered this. Dakkoth was always one to get to the bottom of things quickly. There were those inside the government who wanted McKenna out of the way. Slann was at the top of the list, followed by the governor-general Callus on Cestas Delta IV. The list was long and prestigious. “Humph. 20 Mil, that’s all?”
But there were others that would not make that list. His closest friends. Lord Admiral Winter Ventrosia had always kept an eye on the man she loved, but was it possible she was secretly against him? He could not dismiss the thought. Awrann and Xiang Ti both supported McKenna, so they were out of the question.
It was the thought of the possibility of Winter betraying him that was the scariest of all. He loved her with all his heart. For her to turn on him would be the end of his world. Investigating her would have to remain an option, even though his feelings could not be ignored.
“Perrin, I want you to investigate Lord Admiral Ventrosia. I want to know if there is a possibility she might be involved in this pooch-screw. Dakkoth and I will pay a visit to Warlord Slann. One of the two is going to have an answer for us. And I’m quite interested in finding out just who it might be.”
Perrin got up and left on her way to get the next shuttle headed for space dock. McKenna called for his secretary. As she entered, McKenna gave his order.
“I need you to set up an appointment for me to speak with the Lord Admiral. Call him directly. Do not speak to his aides; otherwise, we’ll never get into see him.”
The secretary headed back out to her desk to make the calls.
“Dakk, what have you done so far in regards to the investigation? From the looks of it, you didn’t get any sleep last night.”
Dakkoth shifted in his chair. “I called Vice Admiral Okona. I believe D’Saad’s ship is somewhere on the Homeworld, and probably pretty close by. She makes extensive use of her transporters to get from point to point, and it makes for a pretty convenient escape. Adm. Okona has his men searching the yards and space ports for her ship. He’s going to notify me if he comes across any leads or finds the ship himself, whichever comes first.
“I also instructed the Captain of the guard to expand his search throughout the city. D’Saad’s not likely to go too far if she has yet to complete her mission objectives.”
McKenna opened up a comm channel to Marine General Viktor Franclyn, who just happened to be one of the members of his weekly poker games.
“Hi ya, Mac. What can I do for ya?” The general was genuinely happy to see the chief marshal alive and well, despite the attempts on his life.
“Vik, I need your services.”
General Franclyn frowned. “Mac, you know you gotta go through Adm. Ventrosia first. I take my orders directly from her.”
“Not this time. As Chief Marshal, I outrank you, Vik. I’m afraid it’s time to pull rank.” McKenna had him there.
“All right, but you owe me for this. The usual price, of course.”
“Of course.” McKenna replied. “I need your marines in the city, backing up Archology guards who are searching for the assassin that tried to grease me. I need them out there now, and I need them loaded for bear. I’m transmitting objective files now.”
“Very well, sir.” General Franclyn replied. McKenna was dead serious, and he saw it. As he received the files, his expression turned to hatred.
“You mean to tell me some Humanis bitch tried to take you down, and we haven’t declared war yet?”
“We’re not sure this is a Humanis caper, Vik. Dakk and I think this might be an inside job.”
“If you string Slann up by the nuts, can I get a few whacks in at him before to make his life really miserable?”
McKenna laughed. “You bet Vik, but you may have to take a number on that one. The line to kick his ass starts with me, and then becomes long and prestigious.”
“Aw spit. I’ll get my men on the street right away. As long as I’m around, you’ll always have someone watching your back, buddy.” The screen clicked off. It made McKenna feel good to have the marines in his corner.
His secretary returned promptly to report that she could not get through to Slann’s office, or his residence. Dakkoth stood.
“Looks like we’ll have to pay him a visit, unannounced.”
“That would be rude, Marshal Starkiller.” McKenna scolded, but Dakkoth could see that he agreed.
“Then what are we waiting for?” McKenna stood and went for his coat.
“Mac, earlier you said the Lord Admiral could be a suspect. I thought you an’ her were pretty tight?” Dakk said as he slung his thump gun over his shoulder.”
McKenna stopped. “I learned a long time ago that sometimes even your best friends can be your worst enemies, and the woman that kisses one moment, may very well put a knife between your ribs the next.”
“Point taken boss, but off the record, I hope it’s not that way.”
McKenna stooped and turned to Dakkoth. “Now just one minute here, mister. What do you know, and I want you to tell me all of it!”
Dakkoth looked McKenna in the eyes. “I know you and Winter are involved. Honestly boss, I don’t care. The Lord Admiral is an extraordinary woman, and I wish you happiness. That’s all.”
McKenna let his guard down. “I’m sorry, Dakk. I didn’t mean to snap.”
Dakkoth graced McKenna with a rare smile. “Hey, I couldn’t be your left nut if I didn’t keep an eye on you. Now let’s go. I got a hankering’ to kick someone’s ass.”
McKenna chuckled as they left the office. “My left nut. Dakk, you been hanging around me too damn much.”
Slann tossed the report on his desk. Lt. Klaive had been a valuable member of his staff, even though he had been a little too morally ‘correct’ to really fit in. He had still been young, with a wife and kid. Why would an assassin kill him and his family? Then it struck him.
He thought back to the last time he had seen the Lieutenant. It was himself, Branwyn, and the Lieutenant, no one else in the office that night. Is it possible that when he said that he did not want the Lieutenant talking to McKenna, Branwyn went and hired an assassin to kill him?
Slann activated the camera in the reception area in front of his office. He saw Maxaa Branwyn doing her nails while chatting with her mother on the computer. If she were behind all of this, she showed no sign of involvement. This only fueled Slann’s suspicion and anger.
McKenna was his to kill, and his alone. If Branwyn were involved, her beauty and intelligence would be rendered irrelevant by honor, for honor would dictate that he would have to kill her for her transgressions. He prayed silently that it would not come down to that.