“Ventrosia was the cosmic center about which the forces of McKenna and Slann rotated. She was a symbol of the power one was destined for and the other craved.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
Winter stepped out of the refreshing shower and dried herself off. She was relieved by the fact that she was no longer a suspect in the investigations by the Chancellery dept. She took solace in the fact that McKenna still loved her as she put her under garments on. She had laid her uniform neatly out on her bed, a bed she hoped to someday share with the man she loved.
Her schedule had her slated for a meeting with Lord Chancellor Awrann and Capt. Dunan for the Draesoneth at lunch, a little more than an hour away. It gave her enough time to sit down and review the foreign policy points she wanted to bring up with them. In all the events of the past few days, she almost had forgotten that the Alliance was on the brink of another war with the Humanis Federation.
The most recent incident in the Celastrus system had stirred up a nest of hornets. A number of noble houses were calling for a retaliatory strike on the Federation, believing the incursion was actually a front for an intelligence gathering mission. If that was true, then it was a definite precursor to war. According to the report from the Draesoneth, Capt. Dunan believed that in this incident, the Humanis were in fact going after criminals, but had failed to request official entry into Migichinan Space.
The Humanis were not happy about the whole mess either. Winter looked at the reports collected from the border patrols. The Humanis Federation was moving more ships and troop carriers into the area. It would have been one thing if they were only warships, but the sighting of troop carriers would raise the stakes.
Winter did not like the direction this was going. McKenna was about to inherit a quadrant full of problems, along with his new political authority. How he was going to handle it, though, would be the deciding factor in the Alliances’ future.
Rhaine Quatralis lay spread out on the floor, receiving a massage from one of Winter’s servant androids. The Ventrosia Estate was one of the first to employ artificially intelligent house keepers, and Rhaine made a point to enjoy some of their bonus talents on a regular basis. After about fifteen minutes into the session, the bodyguard was fast asleep, and the android picked her up and placed her on a couch. Leaving her to sleep, it returned to its normal, pre-programmed duties.
As it was cleaning the kitchen, the android noticed larger robots out on the estate grounds outside. It focused its optic systems on these robots, but did not immediately recognize them. After a few minutes of processing the visual data, the android was able to recognize the markings. They were not robots, but battle frames and bore the markings of house Slann.
The battle frames engaged and breached estate security within a matter of minutes, and moved towards the manor. The android took the initiative to activate internal security measures and activated its own defensive programming. From internal bays on the arms, chest and shoulders, weapons appeared and armed. The android calculated the point at which the battle frames would enter the manor and took up position as alarms sounded.
Blasting open the doors, the house Slann battle frames entered, and the android opened fire. Its weapons were unable to penetrate the more sophisticated and denser armor of the attackers and the android was quickly overtaken. The attackers left the android a smoldering heap on the floor as they moved onwards to achieve their objectives.
Rhaine Quatralis was wakened by the commotion, but there was no time to put her armor on. She engaged the intruders in nothing more than the silk robe she’d received her massage in. Unable to get to a weapon, Rhaine relied on her own draconic abilities. She shifted from her attractive disguise as a Migichinan female, to a more scaly and lizard-like draco-human hybrid.
From her hands, she fired mystical energy bolts at the attackers, managing to take down a couple, but was quickly overwhelmed. The attackers swarmed in and piled on top of her. She tried to resist, but was pummeled as a result. She screamed for help, but no one came as the attackers shifted out of battle frame. In horror, she returned to the Migichinan form that she was more comfortable with, which would prove to be her undoing, as the men tore her robe from her. She attempted to use her magic again, but a soldier fired a disruptor beam, scrambling her brain. Again she screamed, and then all went black.
Winter struggled to get her clothes on as the alarms wailed. She heard Rhaine’s screams and rushed to the door, only to be met by Slann’s men. Jumping back, she shifted into her own battle frame. It was matte black, unlike her name, which suggested something softer looking in a shade of white. She armed herself with her long handled battle-axe, which she preferred over her sword and engaged the attacking battle frames.
As a number of the men were not prepared to face a Migichina Lord, the ones who did not run met their fate at Winter’s hands. The veterans of the group fell back to reassess their options. They opted to use an inhibitor rifle, which fired a slug that would attach to the armor and raise a disruption field that would shut down the warrior’s battle frame, returning the target to its natural organic state.
The shot was good, and Winter fell to the floor. The disruptor slug left her confused and she couldn’t even tell which way was up. The soldiers moved quickly to gather her up and ready themselves for transport. As per Slann’s orders, one of the veterans tossed a replica of the house Slann insignia on Winter’s bed.
Slann knew the chief marshal would investigate this incident, and he wanted his adversary to know exactly who was responsible. Winter would not be a bargaining piece, or a hostage. She would simply be bait.
By the time he downed his fifth pint, McKenna’s senses were dulled to the point where he could not feel the presence of anyone else in the bar. He wasn’t much for conversation, but neither were Dakkoth and Perrin. Perrin was quite inebriated. She had been all over Dakkoth, who didn’t quite know how to respond. McKenna smiled at the two, Dakkoth, chronically shy, and Perrin, who was attracted to that shyness. In a perfect world, they would have been perfect for each other. Yet, there was something eating away at him in the back of his mind, as if there was something terribly bad going on.
McKenna noticed a number of people wearing uniforms that bore a unit patch signifying their assignment to the warship Draesoneth. He recalled that they were headed back to the Homeworld, and the going rumor in the Chancellery was that Winter had recalled them incase Slann decided to use his own private starships to secure his seat of power. If that was the case, Winter had probably made the wisest decision of her career, as the crew of Draesoneth was unarguably the best in the Alliance.
He spotted Commander Kylarn, who happened to be an old friend. She saw him as well and walked over to the Chief Marshal and kissed him on the cheek.
“Hey you! Long time no see.” The commander greeted McKenna warmly. McKenna looked at Kylarn, and couldn’t help but notice how severely she was dressed.
“You mean to tell me “Pappy” Dunan actually let you out of the house looking like that?” He said with a sly smile.
“Pappy’ can’t tell me how to dress. It would not be proper.” From her manner, McKenna could tell she’d had already had a few drinks, and was probably on the prowl. Commander Kylarn truly had the heart of a sailor.
“So, what’s say you and me disappear for a few hours, eh?” Kylarn asked, getting dangerously close the Marshal.
“Now you know that I can’t do that.” McKenna said. They did have a relationship together for what seemed to be millennia ago, but even in his not quite sober state, McKenna remained loyal to his lady.
“Aw, you’re no fun anymore.” Kylarn quipped. They both turned as they heard Dakkoth yelp sheepishly. It seemed that Perrin had grabbed for a more private region of his body, and he had not been expecting it. Kylarn and McKenna both laughed, for it was the first time that they had ever seen the big, grey cat-man blush enough for it to show through his furry face.
“Looks like Perrin’s finally caught herself a tiger.” Kylarn chuckled.
Capt. Dunan secured a table at the rather posh Ratharna Club, whose sole clientele were Naval officers of the rank of Captain and above. As a member, Capt. Dunan could come and go as he pleased, and with the mention of a meeting with the Lords Chancellor and Admiral, the club’s staff was quick to accommodate. He waited only for about fifteen minutes. He saw the Lord Chancellor enter, and stood like all the other officers in the dining hall. After commanding them to return to what they were doing, Awrann walked over to Dunan’s table and seated himself.
“Honorable Captain, what a great pleasure it is to see you again. How is your ship and her crew?” The Chancellor asked.
“We’re all doing fine, my Lord, thank-you for asking.” Capt. Dunan poured the Lord Chancellor a glass of wine. Dunan made sure to order the Chancellor’s favorite vintage.
“We’re still waiting on the Lord Admiral. She seems to be running late, but what’s odd is the fact that she has not called to say so.”
“Highly irregular, I would say.” agreed Awrann. “Lord Admiral Ventrosia has always been on time to any meeting in the past. Perhaps something has come up?” He pondered. There was little point in starting the meeting without the Lord Admiral, so they decided to order their lunch instead. A lieutenant who was insistent upon seeing the Lord Chancellor, however, interrupted their waiter.
“My Lord. The Ventrosia estate was raided about a half an hour ago.” Reported the young man. Awrann and Dunan exchanged glances, both knowing who would be behind this.
“Captain, I want your people to respond to this. Recall your crew and get your security teams into the estate immediately. I’ll recall the Chief Marshal and his people. Slann will not be allowed to get away with this atrocity!”
Awrann stood and was escorted to the door by the lieutenant as Dunan called his ship and requested a beam-out.
McKenna and Kylarn made idle conversation as Perrin continued to make repeated passes at Dakkoth. To Kylarn’s dismay, her communicator chirped with urgency. Annoyed, she pulled it out of her pocket.
“Kylarn.” She said as she activated it.
“Commander, I need your back up on the ship, pronto. We’ve got a major situation brewing planet side, and the Lord Chancellor himself is getting me involved.”
“On my way, Kylarn out.” She said, pocketing the communicator. “I gotta go.” She told McKenna sullenly.
“Yeah, I’d better be checking in with Awrann if something big is going down.” Kylarn kissed the chief marshal again on the cheek and then disappeared by way of transporter.
“Dakk, Perrin, time to settle down. We gotta check in with the boss.” Perrin grumped as she applied a detox patch to her neck, and within minutes was quite sober. Dakkoth didn’t have to worry; he had stopped drinking hours ago.
They walked across the street to the mall, where they would be able to use transporters to get to the Archology. Upon entering the huge building, Dakkoth picked up a familiar scent. Immediately he pulled his gun.
“Dakk... What is it?” McKenna asked, un-holstering his sidearm as well.
“She’s here.” Dakk replied as he looked around. He started following the trail.
“Crap.” McKenna called the local police HQ, requesting backup. If Janus D’Saad was here, then a lot of people were in danger.
Perrin didn’t ask questions as she pulled out her gun. All she saw was a tactical nightmare. There were hundreds of people shopping. She was surprised that Dakkoth’s nose was keen enough to spot D’Saad’s scent.
Dakkoth kept his auto pistol at his side, not wanting to alarm too many people. McKenna and Branwyn did the same. Both knew Dakkoth was the best at what he did, so they let him take point. The cat-man wove his way through the crowd, diligently searching for a visual sign of D’Saad. He saw nothing, but the scent continued to get stronger. He decided to bring into play the resources of his cyber-brain. His vision changed from what everyone else would normally see to an enhanced mode. His optics displayed the archived sensor scans of D’Saad, and then he started to compare them with everyone else he saw.
His scans, assisted by his tracking abilities, led him to a popular women’s clothing store. Perrin was close behind, knowing that she would fit in better there. Dakkoth would stick out like a sore thumb. Perrin tucked her gun away as Dakkoth motioned for McKenna to take up position on the other side of the door.
Perrin walked through the store, occasionally stopping to look at clothes, and even found a dress she wanted to by. She pulled the dress from the rack and walked to a checkout counter; remember to mind her true reason for being here. She did not see the assassin she came in looking for, and the assassin would likely not recognize her, at least, that’s what the marshal hoped. She continued to monitor her surroundings with her cyber sensors.
Perrin took a bankcard out of her purse and waited for the woman in front of her to finish her transaction at the counter. The woman turned around and Perrin immediately recognized her. Her eyes grew wide in horror. The woman was D’Saad.
Spotting the expression on Perrin’s face, D’Saad smiled and began to walk away. Perrin dropped the dress and pulled out the sidearm she had tucked away in the back of her pants.
“Alliance Marshal! Freeze!” She shouted, aiming the weapon at D’Saad. The assassin stopped cold in her tracks.
“Put your hands where I can see them, NOW!” Perrin ordered. With a free hand, she reached for her cuffs, slowly moving towards the assassin. The clerk at the checkout counter sensed the immediate threat of danger and ducked down.
D’Saad stood there, not moving. She waited until the marshal got close enough then turned to attack. Closing her hand into a fist, she hit Perrin with a hammer strike to the neck with enough force to knock the marshal to the ground. Then she pulled her own weapon and fired. Three plasma bolts buried themselves into Perrin chest. D’Saad kicked Perrin’s lifeless body to ensure that the law officer was truly deceased. She laughed as she collected her bags and began to make her way out of the store.
McKenna and Dakkoth heard the shots, and the screams of the customers. They ran inside the store
“ALLIANCE MARSHALS, EVERYONE DOWN!!!” McKenna shouted. Dakkoth immediately spotted D’Saad. Without a second thought, the cat-man opened fire, obliterating a rack of the Saurian fashion designer Rock Rendar’s latest line of dresses. D’Saad, anticipating the onslaught, dove behind a counter and readied her own weapons. McKenna and Dakkoth both fired at the counter, forcing the assassin to flee to another spot.
D’Saad sprang from her hiding spot, firing straight out in the direction of McKenna and Dakkoth. Dakkoth saw the shots coming and dove for cover, hoping McKenna did the same. Unfortunately for McKenna, though, he took a plasma shot in the left shoulder and went down. Dakkoth saw Mac fall, then turned his attention back towards D’Saad and fired again.
As the assassin ran, store security guards leapt out from their own hiding places and overwhelmed the fleeing assassin.
“Mac, are you all right?” Dakkoth asked, looking at the severe burns on his shoulder.
“I’ll be fine. It’s only a flesh wound.” McKenna grunted painfully.
McKenna ran to the spot where the men had dog-piled D’Saad and began arrest procedures. Dakkoth looked around, but could see no sign of his partner, Perrin.
“I’m going to go look for Perrin.” Dakkoth said. Again looking around, McKenna waved a free hand, telling Dakkoth to go as he began reading D’Saad her rights. Dakkoth looked around. His sensors picked up Perrin’s life signs, but they were dangerously low. He ran to her position, to see her lying on the floor, her chest torn up from the plasma shots.
“PERRYN!” He cried, kneeling at her side. She opened her eyes, but barely.
“Hey, Tiger. Did we get her?” She whispered weakly.
“You’re hurt... Yes we got her.” Dakkoth held his partner as she coughed. “Mac! We got a problem!” He yelled, hoping his boss would hear him.
McKenna jogged over to the spot where Perrin had met the enemy.
“Aw man...” he said, seeing Perrin’s injuries. Perrin tried not to cry, knowing that her life would be over in only a few short minutes.
“Dakk...” She whispered. “There’s some much I wanted to tell you, so much I wanted to do. I...”
“Shh. You’re going to be alright. We’ll get you to a doctor. They’ll patch ’ya up, and you’ll be chasing ’em down with me in no time, you’ll see.”
“Dakk... I’ll always be with you. I... love you.” Perrin said as she lost her grip on life. Her body went limp.
McKenna had never seen his friend cry before. Dakkoth embraced Perrin’s lifeless body, sobbing uncontrollably, until his inner rage boiled over and he roared in anger.
Medics ran to the scene, but were too late. Dakkoth stood, carrying Perrin to the waiting hover ambulance outside the store. Tears streamed down his face. Close behind, McKenna followed. He wanted to cry, too. Perrin had always been a good friend, and probably the closest thing he would have ever had to a sister. But his heart went out to Dakkoth, his best friend, who had just lost the first woman he had ever realized he could love.
McKenna walked over to D’Saad, being held by marines who had arrived during the firefight. He looked her in the eye, and then turned away briefly. He spun around, backhanding her across the face.
“Get this animal out of my sight, gentlemen.” The marines responded, dragging D’Saad away. “Oh,” he called after them. “If she’s not exactly in one piece when I get ready to interrogate her, I’ll understand.” He looked back at Dakkoth, who watched as the coroners zipped up the body bag that contained Perrin. The cat-man glanced miserably at McKenna, but said nothing. McKenna saw in Dakkoth’s eyes the look of someone who had just lost everything.
It was then that the Lord Chancellor arrived in a limousine. He stepped out as McKenna rendered a salute.
“No time for that, son. You’ve got a problem. Dakkoth, I need you too, boy, let’s go!” Awrann said. They all piled back into the car. Awrann was the only one to speak. “Winter’s been abducted.”
McKenna wondered what else could possibly go wrong. Awrann looked at McKenna and his shoulder.
“That’s a pretty nasty burn you’ve got there, son. Perhaps we should get you to the infirmary...”
“With all due respect, sir, Winter’s more important. I’ve been through worse. I’ll survive this.”
Capt. Dunan led his group of marines into the Ventrosia Estate. They were all armed to the proverbial teeth, in the event that any troops loyal to the house Slann had remained inside. They spread out, cautiously scanning their surroundings. Dunan’s team was the first inside, entering through the hole in the wall created by the earlier assault. With a jab of his fingers he pointed in the direction that he wanted checked out, and assigned a couple of marines to do so. The rest followed the Captain as Commander Kylarn’s voice came to life over the tactical band.
“Skipper, word from the Archology is that the assassin has just been captured.” She said.
“Excellent, is the chancellor and chief marshal on their way here?”
“Good. Keep me posted.” Dunan looked around his home. Wherever he looked there was a memory of his childhood, and now that was all being replaced by the atrocity that had occurred.
One of the marines spotted Rhaine Quatralis, naked and lying prone on the floor with visible injuries. He alerted Dunan, and shouted for the medics, who ran to the side of the bodyguard. She was still alive, but badly beaten. Dunan ordered the teams to spread out, and then made his way towards the Lord Admiral’s bedroom.
He entered the bedroom, which showed obvious signs of struggle, indicating that the Admiral did not go without a fight. He scanned the room for clues and came across the Slann insignia, resting on the bed.
“Skipper,” a marine said over that tactical channel, “the Lord Chancellor’s ride just pulled up. He and the Chief Marshal are on their way to your position, over.”
“Copy that.” Dunan replied.
Awrann and McKenna entered, and Dunan immediately saw the anger on McKenna’s face. The Chief Marshal was not at all happy about the Admiral’s Ventrosia’s abduction, leading him to wonder if there was something else going on behind the scenes. He presented the evidence to Awrann, who commended him on his good work.
The Chancellor handed the insignia to McKenna for inspection.
“It’s Slann’s, all right. He wanted us to know who was responsible for this. No smoke and mirrors, unlike Branwyn.” Awrann said.
It did not make sense to McKenna. What purpose would Slann have to take Winter hostage? As Lord Admiral, she knew the risks associated with her rank and title. Slann could certainly challenge her to the Rite of Ascension, and would probably win, but if his goal was the Chancellery, why waste time with her?
He expected to find a note or message, but found neither, just the insignia. Then he thought of another possibility. What if Slann was holding Winter as a bargaining chip? Would he ask for McKenna to step aside, giving the Warlord a clean shot at Awrann? He knew he could not allow that, even if it meant Winter’s death. He knew that the state of the Alliance was more important than his personal life. But this would mean that Slann was already aware of his intimate status with the Lord Admiral, information that was very dangerous indeed. The situation grew grimmer as the minutes ticked away.
He looked at the Chancellor. “So what do we do now?”
“I think you should handle this, McKenna. If you’re going to be Lord Chancellor, it’s time you start acting like one. Save Winter and take your rightful place in history as our next leader. I place this matter in your capable hands, my son. Do whatever you have to.” The Chancellor turned to leave.
“Dunan, I need you back on your ship. Assemble the fleet both here at the Homeworld and in the local area. I want ships scanning the surface for either Slann or Winter. I want Slann’s starships seized and boarded. That asshole could be anywhere in the sector by now and I want to know where that might be.” McKenna ordered.
Dunan saluted. “Right away, sir!”
McKenna went to Winter’s personal computer and activated the communications suite to call General Franclyn.
The General appeared on the screen with a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth. He quickly pulled it out. “You know, I should have never let them install one of these blasted things in my mirror.” He said in an irritated tone. “McKenna, what are you doing calling from Admiral Ventrosia’s private line?”
“She’s been abducted.” McKenna said flatly. He didn’t need to say anymore. General Franclyn had always been a close and personal friend of the Lord Admiral, and regarded her as his ‘little sister.’
“So Mac, whose ass do we get to whup?” He said, wiping off his mouth.
“Call your boys and arm ’em for bear, ’cause we’re going after Slann.” McKenna said, and then closed the channel. As he walked out of the manor, he came across Rhaine Quatralis, who was finally awake and wrapped in a blanket. Medics, who were running final diagnostics before releasing her from their care, were attending to her. She smiled weakly as she saw McKenna walking toward her. To her dismay, he did not return the smile.
“Winter?” She asked.
“Taken hostage by Slann.” He replied. Rhaine’s smile faded.
“That bastard, I’ll tear out his spleen!” The dragon-lady growled.
“Are you all right?” McKenna asked, seeing her black eye.
“I’ve been better. They did a number on me. Literally caught me with my pants down as they rushed me. I won’t go into the rest.”
McKenna could see there was a lot more to what had happened when Slann’s men attacked. He prayed to Migichina that they did not do worse to Winter. “It’s time for some payback, Rhaine. I need you with me, are you up to it?” He asked.
“Brother Mac, you’re going to have a hard time holding me back.” She shifted to her draco-human form as she tossed off the blanket. “My claws are sharp, my teeth are bared, and I want some blood!”
McKenna didn’t doubt that. He turned to head for an armored personnel transport. Rhaine grabbed him by the shoulder. He winced slightly in pain.
“Mac, where’s Perrin? She asked
“We lost Perrin. Fire fight with D’Saad...” McKenna said grimly, not turning to look at her.
“Oh no... Dakkoth?” She asked with sorrow. She looked over at the man who McKenna regarded as one of his best and most trusted friends. The marshal had dragged his feet while searching the estate. He just did not seem to have his heart set on anything at the moment.
“He’s not taking it very well. They were close, best friends. He’ll be fine, eventually. But he’s going to need our help, our friendship... our love.” McKenna replied
That much was true. Dakkoth was alone again on this world. Perrin had been the closest thing he’d had to family, and now that had been taken from him in cold blood. Again he was alone. Rhaine thought about this. She took the liberty not too long ago to read his service record. Numerous medals, service awards, never turned down an assignment, all the signs of not having a family to go home to. Dakkoth was the best there was, only because his life belonged to the Alliance, and no one else.
That changed, though, when Brigit Perrin had been assigned to him as his partner. She’d been fresh out of training, and he was already the seasoned veteran. He’d taken Perrin under his wing and had shown her the ropes. Not too long afterwards they’d became the best of friends and almost inseparable. It was Perrin who finally would give Dakkoth a reason to fight, and it was Perrin’s clan, the Nevarn, who’d tried to help him feel a little more at home. That was all but gone for the warrior now.
He would need somebody to fill that empty space inside. Rhaine wondered if she could possibly get close enough to him to do that.
McKenna finally pulled her from her reverie by grabbing her arm and dragging her to the transport. Marines followed them in. McKenna made his way up to the cockpit to give his instructions
“Where to, skipper?” The marine pilot asked.
“The Archology, and step on it!” Within moments, the transports were airborne and on their way home. McKenna rubbed his shoulder. Plasma burns were almost always nasty, and the medic that had checked him out said he would need immediate medical attention.
“Just great,” he thought to himself. “Another hospital visit, while Winter is in Slann’s clutches.” He could not rest until she was safe.