“That she was of a noble house and he was not, overshadowed the fact that her love was as that of the Goddess Migichina. The former he could understand. The latter he could not fathom.”
From “The Book of McKenna” - Destiny
Winter slowly woke up. At first glance, she thought she might be back in the Archology, but on closer inspection, she saw that she was in a rather large conference room that seemed to double as a tactical center, unmanned at the moment.
She tried to stand, but realized she was tied to a chair and was not wearing much in the way of clothing. She recalled she had been getting dressed... when... when Slann’s men attacked! She cursed and shouted, but no one came. She tried to shift to her battle frame, but found she could not. The inhibitor collar around her neck prevented that. She couldn’t even access the tactical computer in her cyber-brain.
She looked around. There was nothing close to her that would help her escape. With the inhibitor collar, she would not get far even if she did get loose. Any further hopes of escape were quickly extinguished by the opening of the main doors. Slann and his entourage entered the conference room.
“Ah, my dear Winter, what a pleasant... WHERE ARE HER CLOTHES?!” He grabbed the nearest aide by the neck and squeezed. Knowing he wouldn’t get an answer, he tossed the aide aside and shifted to his battle frame. He tore his ceremonial cape from the armored shoulder plate it was attached to and draped it around the captive Lord Admiral.
“My deepest and sincere apologies, Lord Admiral. My instructions were to only capture you, not humiliate you. This, this is not civilized!”
“I wasn’t dressed to begin with, Slann. I was trying to do that when your soldiers rushed my house.” Winter responded coldly. Slann turned to face his entourage, of whom most where present during the assault on the Ventrosia estate.
“Who is responsible for the breach of chivalry?!” He shouted, looking at each one of his aides. One man finally stepped forward.
“My orders were to see that the Lord Admiral was captured unscathed and treated with respect during the operation.”
With a blast from his main particle cannons on his left arm, he incinerated the man who had stepped forward.
“This will not happen again! Do I make myself clear, gentlemen?” He ordered, looking over the group again.
“SIR YES SIR!” they responded in unison.
“Good. Clear the room.”
The aides filed out, not sparing a second glance. Slann looked down at the charred remains of the aide who had made the fatal mistake of not observing honor and chivalry during the operation. He turned back to Winter as he shifted out of his battle frame.
“Slann, what am I doing here?” Winter asked.
“My beef is with your lover, Zendista McKenna. I lost a good aide because of him, and now he is the only thing standing between me and complete control of the Alliance! Awrann is old and feeble, so is Xiang Ti. With them out of the way, I will be able to help the Alliance realize its true destiny as masters of this galaxy!” Slann boasted.
Winter eyed him carefully. There was something different about the Warlord. It was true that his ambition was to become Chancellor, but ruler of the galaxy? This was not like Slann. Something was wrong.
“Slann, what would you have to gain by taking control of the galaxy? The Saurians would stop us, and the Humanis would probably side with them. It would be suicide. You would lead us all to annihilation!”
Slann paid her rebuttal no mind. “Winter, we are strong! It is our destiny to rule this galaxy! It is what Migichina created us for. The Saurians will be no match for us and the Humanis can barely hold themselves together, let alone face us in another war. The time to strike is now, while they are all basking in a false sense of security. I can lead us to victory, Winter. Forget McKenna, he is bound by tradition and is weakened because of it. Join me, and together we shall reign supreme!”
“Slann, this is starting to sound like a bad movie. I would never have imagined that you could stoop this low. You were behind the assassinations and bombings, weren’t you?” She asked suspiciously.
“No, Lord Admiral, I was not. I would not use such subversive tactics to achieve my goals. I would rather face McKenna honorably. Maxaa acted on her own volition.”
“Then how did she manage to get past you?” Winter asked, forcing Slann to prove his infallibility. He said nothing, though. He couldn’t figure out how she’d managed it. Winter started to see the cold and calculating Slann returning to the surface. He was trying to figure out just how Maxaa Branwyn could have breached his own security protocols.
“Slann, for some reason, I bet Maxaa Branwyn was using you for her own purposes. She’s controlling you, Slann, even while she’s away. Fight it, now while you can!”
“ENOUGH!” He shouted kicking her chair over. Slann fumed, confused and visibly not in control. “Lord Admiral, you are not competent to carry out your duties!” He roared.
“Then cut my head off, Slann! Do it now while I’m tied up and helpless, throwing all honor out the window, or cut me loose and allow me to defend myself! Either way, I’ll fight you any way I can!” She challenged.
“You are not worth the effort, woman! Once I deal with McKenna, I will remove Awrann’s head. And when I’m Chancellor, I’ll come after you and put someone more reliable and worthy of my trust in your place. I will win, Winter Ventrosia. Of that, I assure you!”
Disgusted with the Lord Admiral, Slann left the room, headed for his office.
Slann sat down at his desk and rubbed his temples. His head hurt. He did not mean his outburst towards the Lord Admiral and wondered if he should go back and offer apologies, but figured it would be a futile attempt. His actions guaranteed that she would not listen to him. There was a knock at his door.
His guards entered, bringing with them Maxaa Branwyn in chains. She glared at Slann with contempt.
“Leave us.” He ordered.
He stared at Branwyn. Aside from the injuries she’d received during her interrogation at the Archology, she appeared to be in good condition.
“You will explain your actions, Branwyn, and do not deceive me.” He ordered as he stood and walked in front of his desk.
“I did it for you, my love.” She said, her voice and face softening. “McKenna and Winter were in the way. I wanted to remove them from the game...”
“THIS IS NO GAME!!” Slann shouted, his fist pounding the desk. “The future of the Alliance is at stake here, and I do not have the patience for this subterfuge! If I wanted them out of the way, I would have given the order for their assassinations!”
“But Slann, you needed my help.”
“No, I did not need your help, nor was it your place to take any action. You are only an advisor, and that was your duty, to advise. If you thought we should have done something sooner, than you should have said so, not taken matters into your own hands.”
Branwyn’s face went hard again. “Is that all, sir?” She asked.
“No, there is one more matter I want to address. Did you hire the assassin?”
Slann backhanded her across the face.
“You evil bitch! You know that doing such a thing is a serious breech of honor, and is against the very core of the concept!”
“So what are you going to do?” She asked, looking directly into his eyes.
After mulling over his thoughts for a minute or two, he responded to her final question. “Nothing. A reprimand will appear in your record, and you will be on probation for one year. That is all.”
She stood with Slann’s assistance. He removed her chains, and she rubbed her wrists.
“Slann, what about us?” she asked, hoping there was still something there.
“Us?” he said with slight humor. “You must be mistaken, Branwyn. There is no ‘us’. There never was. You were only a distraction. Nothing more. Leave.”
Branwyn did just that, but with tears streaming from her eyes.
Slann returned to his desk and tapped a button on his console. “Karon, get your ass in here, now!”
An older man made his way into the office and stood in front of Slann’s desk at attention. “Karon reporting as ordered, sir!”
“At ease, my friend.” Slann stood and offered the army colonel a cigar. “Karon, I’ve just had an opening for the position of top aide. I’d like you to fill that position.”
“It is a great honor that you would even consider me for the position, sir. How may I be of your service?” Karon asked, trying not to grovel. Slann hated groveling.
“I want Branwyn watched. She is in an unstable emotional state, and could be dangerous to my cause. I trust you with this assignment.”
Karon rendered a textbook salute, turned on his heel, and walked out, issuing orders to those who waited outside.
Capt. Dunan took his chair inside CIC aboard the Draesoneth. His crew, all aboard and accounted for, were already hard at work looking for the missing Lord Admiral. So far the sweeps had no results. Slann’s compound was shielded from all sensor scans, supposedly for security reasons, and none of Slann’s private starships were in the local sector. “All very convenient,” Dunan said to himself, going over a batch of returns.
The Draesoneth had gone back into operational status only a few hours ago, but had not been refitted per the Captain’s request. There’d been no time. The ship hung in low orbit and was maintaining alert status as it conducted its scans of the surface. Capt. Dunan ordered his smaller reconnaissance craft dispatched, hoping they would see something his ship did not catch before. He needed any clue he could get at this point.
He watched the main monitor in CIC for anything out of the ordinary. There was plenty of local traffic to be tracked. Ships of the 1st fleet were conducting spherical zone patrols, set up in a manner to allow for their long-range sensors to overlap. The data they collected was sent back to the Draesoneth, allowing Capt. Dunan to see a real-time tactical layout of the region. Ships conducting surface scans of the home world were set up in a similar fashion, in high orbits to allow for maximum sensor coverage of the surface.
“Admiral on deck!” Announced a tech that looked up to see Vice Admiral Okona entering the CIC. Dunan stood to greet him with a salute.
“Anything yet, B’Trel?” The admiral asked.
“Nothing, sir.” Dunan replied. “I’ve got enough coverage of the sector that even a bug can’t sneeze without me knowing about it, and so far even that has not happened.” He turned back towards the monitors.
“Captain, I stopped by to talk to you about the sub you encountered during your transit back to the Homeworld. Your report said there were Migichinan life forms aboard. Can you offer any more detail on that?”
Dunan dreaded this moment. The admiral was essentially asking him to explain his actions, which would not be easy, and the wrong answer would likely end his career.
“The sub we encountered was saurian built, but had no detectable transponder signal. When we scanned the vessel, we detected Migichinan life signs onboard. We attempted to make contact with them, but there was no response. We fired a warning shot across their bow, and they started to run. We got off a shot that nailed them amidships, but they dove into subspace before we could disable them.”
“That was when you called for the ASW capable ships?”
“That is correct, sir.”
Okona turned his attention to the main screen. “Good work, Captain. I do not think this incident was entirely coincidental. Slann may have acquired that sub on the black market. I would imagine that when this is all over, McKenna is going to string the Warlord up on a number of charges, including treason. With his possession of Saurian hardware such as a sub, that is only going to make it more difficult on him when he is called to testify on his actions to the council.”
“So what do we do?”
“We follow orders. In the absence of the Lord Admiral, I am to fill her shoes. I know Awrann has ordered you to look for the Lord Admiral, but I think that sub is too dangerous to be over-looked. I have the strange feeling that it is not too far away. Keep your eyes open, and engage the ship if it surfaces. You have official permission to fire on the ship, even if there are Migichinan onboard, but try to capture it, if at all possible.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
“Very well, Captain. As you were.” The Admiral stopped to look over the shoulders of a couple of technicians before finally leaving.
Dunan made a mental list of his crew’s brain trust. He would need the best and brightest to help him find a sub without ASW sensory equipment. Then he came up with a name.
“Computer, locate Ensign Brol MacKinnon.”
“Ensign MacKinnon is in the ship’s lounge." The monotone voice responded. Dunan looked at his watch. Considering the late hour, Ensign MacKinnon was probably off duty.
Brol MacKinnon was one to party hard, and was often right there with Commander Kylarn when it came to wild nights in port. He slammed his fourth beer as his buddies and his girlfriend cheered him on. His judgment was well on its way out the window as Capt. Dunan entered the ship’s only lounge. Seeing Brol throwing ’em back made the Captain wonder if allowing the lounge’s continued existence was really a good idea.
He walked up to the bar and got his own drink, a gin and tonic.
With glass in hand, he strolled over to the table where Brol was seated. The group gathered there shot to attention when they saw the skipper. The senior of the group, Lt. Commander Kayla B’train, saluted. Dunan returned his chief science officer’s salute. He looked directly at Ensign MacKinnon, who realized that he might just possibly be in trouble.
“Son, can I have a word with you?”
“Yes sir.” Brol replied as he stood. His girlfriend grabbed at his ass as he tried to make his way out of the crowd of scientists.
“Sir?” He asked, finally breaking away.
“I need you sober and in astrometrics as soon as possible. There’s a saurian sub in the local area, and we need to find it.”
“Well, I’m sure we could do it, sir, if we had the ASW suite you asked for a month ago.”
“We’re going to have to work around it, and I’m giving you the Astrometrics Lab to do just that. You’ll be ranking officer while in there, and I expect results, understood?”
“Yes sir!” Ensign MacKinnon responded. He went to gather a few of his friends who would be most useful to his new assignment.
Dunan didn’t want to sound harsh, but the situation required urgency, and to be a hard ass around certain people was the only way to get the point across.
Using a slap-patch designed to purge a body of intoxicants, Ensign MacKinnon made his way to the Lab. If the Captain wanted to find a saurian sub designed to be undetectable, then he would just have to do that.
He entered the Astrometrics lab and commandeered a sensor station. With the entry of his ID code, the station configured itself to his specifications. He stared at the screen full of Technicolor teddy bears that stared back at him, and some of them occasionally blinked. He stared at them for almost a half an hour before it came to him.
Saurians called their ships “subs” because they normally traveled in subspace. Subspace was normally used by ships and bases for standard communications. He accessed the Naval Intelligence database for all information on them. Intel reported that the subs could theoretically disrupt a communications beam if it passed through the signal.
“MacKinnon to Capt. Dunan.”
Sir, I might be onto something. I need exclusive access to the communications array. I think I can use it to track any objects in subspace with a little modification.”
“You got it. Dunan out”
A screen popped open, showing him the configuration settings for Draesoneth’s communication’s array. He started to change the settings, creating links to the various sensor pallets mounted on the ship’s hull.
After an hour of trial and error, he finally got an accurate picture of subspace. It resembled the geography of normal space, except that the colors were inverted. Black was white, stars appeared as black dots on the screen. The computer translated communications traffic into dashed lines, which varied in length depending on the type of transmission.
He pulled a tech to the screen and told him to watch for a field of static. That was what he believed a sub would look like in subspace. He went to the next station to start figuring out how to shoot at the sub once they found it.
Slann looked out his window. Two recon mechs belonging to the accursed marines stood out beyond the walls of his compound, watching and waiting. Watching him, but waiting for what, he wondered. Branwyn would have been able to find out, but by firing her, he’d lost the connections she’d had.
That was too bad, he figured. More damage would be done by keeping her around, but was that true? He brought his own combat mechs to alert status in case his watchers were joined by more mechs. He knew McKenna was up to something, or even perhaps General Franclyn, who McKenna would want to replace him as Warlord. The scarier thought was that Franclyn was possibly strong enough and smart enough to present a challenge to him. Franclyn was a military intellect with almost no equal in the Alliance, and that was disguised by his weird sense of humor.
That was of no consequence at this time, though. He had Winter, and he had to figure out what to do with her. It was far too dangerous to keep her on the planet, where the marines could easily corner them. Slann did not want to have to fight his way out, but was ready to if they used siege tactics.
He did have a way out, and it was time to start planning on how to use it, for the only thing he could hold for certain was that McKenna would come for Winter, and when he did, the marshal would surely pull no punches.
“Sweet!” exclaimed Ensign MacKinnon. By using an electromagnetic feedback pulse, he could disrupt the sub’s systems, and even force it out of subspace if the pulse was strong enough. He started to run simulations on his discovery, by constructing a combat scenario using archived sensor data on past contacts, and attacking them with simulated feedback pulses. He tried everything possible, but even at 110% power, the EMF pulse could not force the sub out of the ‘water.’ It was a start, as he began to research additional possibilities.
He left Astrometrics and headed for engineering. Once there, he looked for Captain Hal Hakar, one of the few Saurians in service to the Alliance and only because he was on long term loan from the Commonwealth under an exchange program. He spotted the huge tricerotopsoid managing the replacement of a backup plasma generator.
“Captain!” He called out. Capt. Hakar patted a junior officer on the shoulder, giving him command of the job and walked over to greet the Ensign.
“What can I do for you, Ensign?” He said in his usual rough voice.
“Sir, we’re going after a saurian-built sub, and we need the weapons to do it. Can you help?” Ensign MacKinnon asked, not entirely sure if the commander was frowning at the request.
“How soon do you need them?” Hakar asked.
“Yesterday, sir. I’ve got the means to detect them, but I can’t shoot at them.”
“Then I assume your torpedoes will need to be able to acquire their own targets after launch?”
“Yes sir, we won’t be able to target, but we can at least point them in the right direction.” The Ensign turned to leave.
“Ensign,” Hakar called out. “Who are we going to be shooting at?” The Saurian engineer asked.
“One of our own, sir.”
Ensign MacKinnon arrived on the bridge and headed for the Captain’s office. Receiving permission to enter, the ensign stood in front of Dunan’s desk. The Captain cleared his screen of a classified status report and turned his attention to MacKinnon.
“What’cha got, kid?” He asked, looking at the Ensign who was standing at attention. “Relax, son. Have a seat.”
“Thank you, sir.” MacKinnon sat. “I’ve got a way to find and track the sub, and engineering is working on torpedoes for when we do find it. I can also use EMF pulses to try and force them out of subspace.” He reported.
“EMF?” Dunan inquired.
“Electromagnetic feedback. I can shower the ship with high-frequency energy that should disrupt its systems and force the sub’s generators to go into a default mode, returning the ship back to normal space.”
“Excellent work, Lieutenant.”
“Congratulations, son. Let’s just hope your promotion isn’t premature. This will work, I hope?”
“Y… Yes sir. The sensors are on line, but simulations of the EMF pulses had minimal effect. That’s why I’m having Commander Hakar retrofit our torpedoes for ASW Ops.”
“Good work. I’ll pass this on to Admiral Okona. Dismissed.”
Dunan looked out his porthole. Somewhere out there was a ship that did not want to be found. With MacKinnon’s ingenuity, they would find it.
Capt. Faruk Brodin stood on the bridge of the newly commissioned MNV Aramys. He monitored the activity of the fleet as they searched for their missing Lord Admiral. Rumors had it that there was a saurian ship operating in the area, and were considered to be possibly hostile. As a state-of-the-art warship, Brodin was confident of his vessel’s ability in a firefight, but was concerned about the presence of the sub.
Aramys was scheduled for installation of ASW equipment so it would be able to patrol the Alliance’s saurian borders for Saurian pirates, but the equipment was not on line as of yet. Brodin heard about the Draesoneth, and one of its ensigns having figured out a way to look for the sub jury-rigging the communications system and tying them into the sensors. Brodin watched as the Draesoneth maneuvered into a higher orbit. Though Dunan’s ship was stocky and pug looking in shape, it still maintained grace and elegance as it moved.
“Conn, Sensors! New contact, bearing 247 mark 5. It’s a scope!” The sensor tech yelled as he adjusted his controls to focus on the contact. Brodin spun around and took his chair.
“Break orbit, shields up, bring all weapons on line!” The bridge crew scurried to carry out the Captain’s orders. He saw the Draesoneth adjusting its own course, so he assumed that Dunan had seen the same thing. The men and women started to call out their readiness reports as they came in. Weapons and shields were nominal, the stardrive was at peak efficiency, and the crew was ready.
“Tactical, on screen.” The Captain ordered. “Comm, put the tactical net on audio.”
The ship’s computer complied and replaced the view of the Migichinan Homeworld with a two-dimensional grid that showed all objects in the area as seen by the ship’s sensors.
“Center and zoom in on the new contact, designate Sierra-One.” The computer complied, zooming in on a hollow circle that represented the periscope.
“Lock a tractor beam onto the contact; we’ll drag them out of subspace.” The officer at the engineering station carried out the command, locking the tractor beam. The Aramys took hold of the sub, but the sub’s movement only served to slowly drag the ship along.
“Thrusters!” Brodin ordered.
“No effect, sir.” Responded the helmsman, who was busy trying to figure out a way to hold the ship in place.
“Captain! I’m detecting a power spike from the sub!” Shouted the engineer.
“Visual!” The main screen shifted to show space in front of the Aramys, with a blue- green field extending from the ship to the sub’s periscope. With a flash of light from the scope, a wave of energy traveled back up the beam and towards the Aramys.
“Disengage!” The Captain yelled.
“Can’t! The beam is too intense, I’m stuck in a feedback loop... attempting manual shutdown...”
“Nuts to that, ensign...” Brodin said as the surge came closer. “Everyone hang on, this is going to get...”
Brodin was cut off as the energy surge slammed into the Aramys, destroying the tractor beam emitter, and frying half the ship. The surge traveled up through the secondary hull to the starboard drive wing, causing it to explode. The Aramys, without power, began to tumble towards the Homeworld.
“Migichina all mighty...” Dunan muttered as he watched the sub cripple the Aramys. He checked his status display, which showed that the Aramys was tumbling towards the Homeworld. The ship had one hour until it would come in contact with the atmosphere.
“Target the sub and fire hyper-torpedoes!” Dunan ordered. He had just received word from Hakar that the weapons were ready. The torpedoes screamed away from Draesoneth and disappeared into subspace. The sub’s periscope disappeared as well.
“Status.” He asked. The tactical officer checked his monitor. “I’ve got debris, but not enough to be sure if we got ’em or not.”
“Damn.” The sub had gotten away. Again! “Let’s get in on the rescue ops.”
The Draesoneth swung around to join the tenders that were pulling the Aramys’ out of its slow death spiral.