“He could be as merciful as he could be cruel. Perhaps his love for Ventrosia tempered him, anchored him to something good and beautiful in his life.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
McKenna made his way through the corridors of the Archology on his way to Slann’s office. He was joined by Dakkoth, who looked troubled.
“Sir, there was an attempted bombing in the Lord Admiral’s office.” Dakkoth stated. McKenna looked at him waiting for the rest of the story before he started cursing every enemy he had, and even the ones he did not know about.
“A bomb was discovered in a package addressed to the Lord Admiral. It was supposedly sent by you. Of course, you wouldn’t do something like that.”
“Damn straight, I wouldn’t!” McKenna roared. The fact that someone would resort to going after Winter in order to get to him really tanned his hide. After a few minutes though, and seeing Dakkoth still standing at attention, he simmered down.
“Is she all right?” He asked. McKenna knew he could trust Dakkoth with his life, and the life of the woman he loved.
“Yes sir. Rhaine Quatralis and the EOD had disarmed the device by the time I arrived. I inspected the bomb, but did not pick up even a trace of your scent. You’re off the hook.”
“Good.” Dakkoth’s renowned heightened senses made him one of the best criminal investigators and huntsmen in the quadrant. With his report finished, he still looked troubled.
“At ease. Problems, buddy?” Mac asked flippantly.
“Well, kinda, sir.” They stopped at a vending machine to get a drink. “The Lord Admiral’s ‘dragon-lady’ was giving me ’the eye.” Dakkoth said nervously.
McKenna raised an eyebrow at this. He had always assumed that Dakkoth and he were a team publicly and privately, as his subordinate rarely, if ever, talked about women.
“Rhaine Quatralis is a feisty one. Grabbed my ass one time. She caught hell from Winter for it, too.” McKenna took a swig of his soda. “She’s probably interested in you, since she doesn’t care much for Migichinan men. They would rather stick to their own and observe tradition, rather than make passes at her. Since you’re not Migichinan, Rhaine probably considers you fair game.”
“Perish the thought.” Replied Dakkoth. He had a hard enough time trying to deal with Brigit Perrin; he didn’t need another woman to worry about.
The Lord Admiral and Rhaine Quatralis joined McKenna and Dakkoth at the vending machine. McKenna was genuinely happy to see the Admiral, though she was a little bit more reserved. She was still in shock from the attempted bombing of her office. Rhaine took up position next to Dakkoth, who became visibly nervous and began to perspire. The proximity of Winter’s bodyguard led Dakkoth to wonder what kind of game she was playing.
“Mac, tell me you didn’t put the bomb in my office.” Winter asked, trying not to sound pleading.
“No I did not. I just learned about the incident from Dakkoth. They can shoot at me and try and blow me up to their hearts content, but now that they’re going after you, there’s going to be hell to pay!”
The fact that McKenna still sounded like he loved her made Winter feel better. But from the sounds of it, he was about to do something very dangerous.
“You’re going to see Slann, are you not?” She asked, her voice somewhat sullen.
“Yes.” McKenna replied, putting on his trademark red sunglasses.
“Take Rhaine with you. You’ll need her in case Slann decides to fight you there.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary. I’ll have Dakkoth with me, and I think the two of us will be more than a match if he tries something.”
“Slann cannot formally challenge to any Rite, since he outranks me. I can, however, arrest him if I find evidence that he is behind the bombings and assassination attempts. Either way, I’m going to get to the bottom of this, and I’m going to do it now.”
Dakkoth fell in behind McKenna as he left Winter’s side. Both men were ready for whatever might happen in Slann’s office or on the way to it. The Warlord had strengthened his own security measures in response to the assassination attempts, but McKenna reasoned that it was a ruse to hide his own wrongdoing.
Just before arriving at the war department’s security checkpoint, Dakkoth used his natural ability to disappear into the shadows. McKenna would be the only one seen entering. With the flash of his ID and badge, as well as the mentioning of ‘official business’, the guards at the gate allowed him entry. Dakkoth was already inside, though, halfway to Slann’s office.
Before arriving at the office, McKenna released the safety on his particle beam pistol, making sure he was ready for anything. His cybernetic eyes showed him a map of the local area, as well as the signal from the low-yield homing beacon Dakkoth was using to keep McKenna up to date on his position.
To maintain politeness, McKenna rang the doorbell. After a few minutes there was no response. He rang again. Still nothing. Growing impatient, he keyed in his security access codes, forcing the doors open.
Walking in, he saw Maxaa Branwyn standing in the middle of the room; hand on her own side arm.
“Sir! You are not allowed to be in here. This is a secured area, and you do not have clearance...”
McKenna pulled his own blaster and aimed at Branwyn. “ALLIANCE MARSHAL, HANDS UP!” He shouted. He slowly walked towards the aid. Branwyn backed off slowly. “Put your hands behind your head and kneel, NOW!”
“Sir! You do not have clearance...” Branwyn said again in defiance, but she followed McKenna’s orders. McKenna went to her side and put the barrel of his blaster to her forehead as he pulled her weapon out of its holster. At this point, she could have taken him down, but that would have bought her only a few seconds before the marshal would have regained his balance and neutralized her. She decided not to resist.
“Now that we’ve established who I am, I want to see your boss.” McKenna growled.
“He’s in a meeting, and cannot be disturbed.”
“Let me rephrase that, then. Get Slann in here now, or be charged with obstruction of justice.” McKenna ordered.
Branwyn stood, went around behind her desk and began to press the comm button. With a sudden change of heart, though, she reached for a pistol under the desk and aimed for McKenna.
The marshal didn’t react, though, letting Dakkoth Starkiller do his job. Dakk charged from the shadows, much to Branwyn’s horror. Dakkoth grabbed her from behind and slammed her down on the desk.
“SLANN!!!” She screamed. Her gun fell to the floor. McKenna, putting on gloves, reached for the gun and deposited it in a plastic bag marked for evidence.
“You have the right to remain silent.” Dakkoth started as he placed the cuffs on Branwyn, who was still forcefully bent over the desk. Branwyn struggled against the overpowering strength of Dakkoth, but could not break free.
“From this point on, anything you say and do will be held against you in the tribunal.” Dakkoth continued as he frisked her, searching for additional hidden weapons. All Branwyn could do was howl in anger and agony. The marshal paused, and then moved closer to the woman. He sniffed, and then sniffed closer. He wasn’t convinced. He moved closer, until his nose was on Branwyn’s neck. He sniffed again.
“BITCH!!” He roared, throwing the aide across the room, narrowly missing McKenna.
“What the hell was that for, Dakk?” McKenna asked.
Dakkoth pulled his sidearm and aimed at the aide. “I should kill her right now. The scent on the bomb in the Lord Admiral’s office is hers!” He said, pointing his gun at the aide. She was out cold, sprawled in a corner of the office.
“Her?” McKenna said, in disbelief.
It was then that the doors of Slann’s inner office slid open to reveal the dreaded warlord of the Migichinan Alliance, fully adorned in his techno-samurai battle frame. McKenna responded quickly, shifting to his own battle frame and taking up a combat ready stance. Dakkoth pulled his trusty thump gun off his shoulder and aimed for the warlord.
“What’s all this then?” Slann asked, not really caring who answered.
“We came here to talk to you about the bombings and assassination attempts. Your aide is being charged with obstruction of justice by refusing to allow us to see you, and then she went as far as pulling a gun on me. She’s also the one responsible for the bombings.”
“Don’t forget resisting arrest.” Dakkoth added, pushing harder as Branwyn continued to struggle. ”GET OFF ME!” She bellowed, as she regained consciousness.
“That too.” McKenna replied.
Slann looked at his aide, now cuffed. The look on her face implied that she wouldn’t mind being rescued, but Slann decided otherwise. He shifted out of his battle frame.
“I do not think fighting will be necessary, Chief Marshal. Please, let me make up for my aide’s rudeness by extending my hospitality to you.” Slann motioned for McKenna to join him in his office. With only a glance to Dakkoth, he gave the order to have Branwyn beamed to a holding cell in the Chancellery, and then join him.
McKenna followed Slann into his office after shifting out of his battle frame. Slann poured a drink for himself and McKenna and offered him a cigar. McKenna looked at both items suspiciously.
“Oh, come now, my dear chief marshal. Poison is not my style. I assure you that if I wanted you dead, you would be by now. For the record, I did not hire an assassin to kill you, for such are the way of fools and the honorless. I did not plant bombs in yours or Winter’s quarters. Nor did I order Maxaa Branwyn to do so. She acted entirely on her own without any support from my office. Winter is not a target, and I would prefer to face you honorably before the council. Do you find my statement acceptable, Chief McKenna?”
McKenna nodded. Without a lie detector handy, he could not tell if Slann was being truthful, but he was right. Bombs and assassins were not his style. Slann did prefer direct and brutal combat. McKenna sipped the bourbon then accepted a light of his cigar from Slann. He had never seen the inside of the Warlord’s office before. The wall behind his desk was filled with screens of many sizes, all filled with video or tactical images. One screen was broadcasting a popular Migichinan soap opera from a local studio. Slann quickly shut it off.
“I am endeavoring to get to this bottom of this... snafu, as well, chief marshal. I would like to trade information with you, if you do not mind.”
“Not at all, warlord.” McKenna took the seat Slann offered him as Dakkoth entered and sat on the couch. He pulled a data pad from his jacket to catch up on paper work while the politicos talked. Dakkoth didn’t care much for politics, but kept an ear open for any information pertinent to his investigation.
“We’ve got a positive ID on the assassin. Her name is Janus D‘Saad.” McKenna presented the picture to the warlord. “She’s on the run, and likely to strike again. We do not know where she may strike next, but we’re ready for her.”
“Yes, you ordered the marines to boost security across the city. A nice idea, but I doubt they will have any effect other than to scare the citizens. I know D’Saad. I’ve... dealt with her before, and the marines will not be able to subdue her. You must find her ship and secure it. The vessel serves as her base of operations. Without its resources, she will be severely limited in her activities.”
“Adm. Okona is heading up the search personally.” McKenna volunteered.
“Excellent. I do not doubt his abilities. If anyone can find it, he can.” Slann took a puff of his cigar. What about your personal security, McKenna? I’m sure Mr. Starkiller cannot always be there to protect you.” He asked.
“I can take care of myself, Slann.”
“Funny, you happily walked into the bomb in your quarters. I don’t seem to find that very convincing.”
“Ah, that raises another point.” McKenna said to change the subject. “I intend to prosecute Branwyn for attempted murder. I’ll be able to add terrorism to the charges.”
“Then you may want to add conspiracy to commit murder, as well. I’ve been reviewing office communications logs and found that my ‘aide’ has been sending transmissions, and then attempting to erase the evidence. She has been acting strangely for the past few days. It is my belief that she may be the one who has employed the assassin sent to kill you. Speculations, at best, but I’ve seen it before. She is hiding something. I would be more than happy to interrogate her for you.”
“No, that’ll be fine, I’m sure we can do it.” McKenna countered. If Slann were still ultimately behind all of this, he would not be able to afford handing Branwyn back over to him, only to release her back into the game.
“I should remind you, Maxaa Branwyn is a military officer, and subject to military law, not civilian law. I would be within my rights to order you to turn her over to me so she can be court-martialed.” Slann stated, his agitation with McKenna growing.
“This is a matter of Alliance security, Slann. If Branwyn has hired a Humanis mercenary as you say, then she will be charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. Her life is effectively over, Warlord.”
“So be it, then. Do with her what you will. I will have the week’s communications logs sent to the prosecuting attorney’s office for her review. I wash my hands of this matter, and no longer wish to be bothered by it. Good day, chief marshal.”
Slann extended his hand towards the door, a gesture for McKenna and Dakkoth to leave. Slann considered the nature of his plan as the two lawmen left. Branwyn was a traitor, and McKenna knew of Slann’s plot, even though Lt. Klaive never got the chance to talk to McKenna.
McKenna monitored the progress of the interrogators as they interviewed Maxaa Branwyn. She would only confess to the charges of obstruction, and pulling a weapon on the chief marshal. As they technically had broken into Slann’s office, the defense attorneys would probably fight any charges of attempted murder, citing self-defense.
After five hours of intense scrutiny under the bright lamps, Branwyn looked like hell. Her clothes were drenched with sweat, and her makeup was ruined by her perspiration. She was physically exhausted, but did not give into the continual traps they verbally laid for her. She was getting frustrated, and it was beginning to show. The pair of interrogators themselves were relatively calm, as they were both veterans of the last war against the Humanis Federation, and knew how to handle traitors.
McKenna could see the team was getting nowhere. Branwyn was sticking to her story.
“Get them out of there.” McKenna ordered the technician monitoring vitals and the atmosphere of the room.
“All right boys. Boss said come on out.” Said the tech over the loudspeaker. The interrogators moved towards Branwyn to release her from her bonds.
“Leave her there!” McKenna said as he grabbed the mike out of the tech’s hand. The interrogators collected what little equipment they’d used and left.
“Dim the lights.” McKenna said as he headed for the door. He entered the chamber to find Branwyn passed out from exhaustion.
“Wake her up.” McKenna said. The technician in the control booth set a dial and pressed the trigger that would send a mild electrical shock to the electrodes on Branwyn’s head. She jolted awake, eyes and mouth wide open, but no sound came out. She breathed hard as she realized what happened.
“Had enough?” McKenna asked her. “I have. You tried to blow me up. You sent an assassin after me, killing four innocent people in the process, and you tried to kill the Lord Admiral!”
“You’ll have a hard time proving any of it, McKenna!” Branwyn said in defiance. McKenna backhanded her across the face, knocking the chair she was strapped to over. She hit the floor hard, with blood trickling out of her mouth. She took inventory of her teeth and came up two short.”
“Isn’t this ‘excessive force’, marshal?” She asked.
“Not really,” McKenna replied. “You are a traitor to the Alliance. Your life is over, and I got dibs on the switch when we toss you into the plasma chamber.”
The plasma chamber was the only form of capital punishment the Alliance used. The chamber was designed to slowly pump super hot liquid into the death chamber containing the prisoner. Death would be imminent, but it was guaranteed to be slow and extremely painful. At the mention of the chamber, Branwyn reconsidered her position. They might cut a deal with her, if McKenna’s goal is to discredit Slann while becoming Lord Chancellor. But then, they could be solely after her, not willing to bargain for her life. Things remained bleak.
“I want to know why you would be as stupid as to pull a gun on me. You must have known I’ve been bonded to a battle frame for many years now, and that there would be no chance of you taking me down with such a conventional weapon. I cannot fathom why you would do something so silly. Obviously you are an intelligent and capable woman, otherwise Slann wouldn’t keep you around. Why?” He asked.
“Slann loves me, McKenna. And I love him. He has become my life, and I am an integral part of his. He needs me to watch his back, and he needs me to help take you down.” Branwyn responded.
“What can you do, woman. You are nothing. You are nothing to me, you are nothing to Slann. He and I are both Migichinan Warriors, and we are far more powerful than you may ever come to realize. There is nothing you can do that Slann cannot do himself.” McKenna rebuked.
“So, what are you going to do, McKenna?” She asked. McKenna looked at her, still helplessly tied to the chair. He resisted the urge to kick her. “Tell ’ya what I’m going to do, bitch.” McKenna crouched down beside her, lighting a cigarette. “I’m gonna go to the next council meeting and chop off Awrann’s head. If your boss gets in the way, he’s gonna end up a few inches shorter as well. But, I suppose that will be for the better. I’ve got plans for the Alliance. Slann ain’t gonna get in the way, and he ain’t gonna continue to screw things up for us.” McKenna took another drag on the cigarette. “You know there are ways you can make life easier on yourself.”
“Really...?” Branwyn replied. If McKenna were going to let her go in exchange for sex, then it would be only a small sacrifice. “What... What do I do?” She asked innocently.
“Confess to hiring the assassin. I might be able to convince the magistrates to make your death a quick one.” Her hopes plummeted. “Or... you can stop breathing.”
The door opened to reveal Brigit Perrin and Dakkoth Starkiller. Perrin approached the Chief Marshal. “Sir, you’re not going to be happy about this.” She handed him a data pad, containing orders for Branwyn’s release, signed by Slann. McKenna looked it over then roared in anger as he threw the pad against the wall. He then punched the mirror, shattering it to reveal a dumb-founded technician.
With blood streaming from his right knuckle, he stopped. “Right.” He finally said. “Let her go. Dakkoth extended one of the claws embedded in his fingertips and cut the straps. He didn’t help her up, though. Branwyn struggled to stand, but was finally helped by two soldiers who’d entered the interrogation chamber. They held her up and dragged her out without saying a word to the marshals.
McKenna sat down and looked up at the ceiling. Slann had pushed Awrann to sign extradition orders to get Branwyn out of civilian authority and back into the military system. Slann had promised her court martial, after they complete their own investigations. By then, Slann would have Branwyn tucked away where McKenna wouldn’t be able to touch her. That could be a good thing, or a bad thing depending whose office you were in.
McKenna saw it as very bad. D’Saad was still on the loose, Branwyn was effectively free, and he still wasn’t sure who the real mastermind was. The ball was now back in Slann’s side of the proverbial court. He rubbed his eyes. What would happen next?
“Sir?” Perrin said. “Dakk and I are going down to Corona Street for a few cold ones. Would you like to join us?” McKenna looked at the definitely odd couple.
“Sure.” He said finally. He needed to relax a bit, away from Winter, away from Slann, away from life for at least the evening.
Slann smiled wickedly. Even though McKenna had thought he’d won the day, the quick thinking of his own legal team made for the release of Maxaa Branwyn into his custody. Even now, his honor guard was escorting her to his private compound outside the city. His current problem would need to be addressed, however.
McKenna now knew, or at least suspected, that Slann might be behind everything. Slann’s plan of using Branwyn as a scapegoat if his own less than honorable scheme went south, as the mind control techniques he used on her, proved to be more effective than he had hoped. But, it should have been expected, for Branwyn was weaker in the ‘will’ department than most other Migichinan.
Slann would have to act fast now. He called up the layout of the Ventrosia Estate. Entry and exit routes were highlighted, as were security devices. He called in his advisors, who were already familiar with his next strategy. As they gathered around, they became silent, waiting for their leader’s command.
“Initiate Operation ’Storm Warning.” Slann said.