Chapter 4: Declaration


Wellington Base, Jennifer’s Star, August 15th


Demar woke to a terrible headache.  When he opened his eyes, the throbbing got worse.

“We were afraid you wouldn’t make it,” Colonel Vin Dane said, towering about him.  “CSR found you in the gravity well of the second moon.  You were lucky.  You could have been flying out there forever.”

Demar turned his head to the side and spit out the bile in his mouth.  Just looking at Dane made him want to vomit.  “What happened?”

“Well, that sword uncoiled—”

“What happened to my platoon?”

Vin sighed.  “The lieutenant died... as did most of your unit.  Five of us managed to escape; I managed to create a force field to buy us some time...”

Denmar's heart was pierced by a cold feeling; my boys are dead.  Feelings seemed to flow out of him as he felt a dull hole where his heart used to be.  My fine boys, strong girls... all dead.

Somehow his hearing returned halfway through Dane’s speech.  “...more powerful than anyone could have imagined.  He only needed a second’s warning before the explosives hit him.  That kind of reaction time is...”

Palencia’s cold heart suddenly returned, warming up into a growing rage.  As the colonel droned on about Pollos’ ability to eviscerate his boys and girls, the sergeant only grew to hate the man who sent them to their death.

“...threw you off the planet.  I mean, it’s only blind luck that you got caught by that moon’s orbit...”

The rage grew into a heat, flowing through his entire body.  Demar felt the animal ready to burst out.

“...amazing that you even survived...”

Palencia surged up, enraged as he broke the small forest of tubes and connections keeping him alive.  He was about to leap onto Vin when he was stopped; frozen in mid-air, staring into the face of annoyed Colonel Dane.

The beast didn’t care, but he was still locked into his human form.  How?  Why can’t I rage?!

The colonel answered his unspoken question.  “You’re wearing a collar, sergeant.  It nullifies your ability to shift.  Now, the field holding you... that’s all me.  Had I let you actually touch me, I might have lost control and killed you out of hand.  But I don’t like to waste good material... unless I have to.”

Vin stepped closer to the suspended werewolf.  “Now are you going to behave yourself?”

“You killed my—”

“Xavier Pollos killed your platoon, Sergeant Palencia,” Dane corrected, “not me.  If you should hate anyone, hate him.”

“You sent them to die.  You knew we didn’t stand a chance.”

“There was a chance, Demar.  Yes, I knew he was powerful, but I didn’t know to what level he’d developed his powers.  That ambush should have killed him, but...”

“But it didn’t,” Palencia finished, his words thick with venom.  “You should have nuked the bastard from orbit.”

“Demar,” Vin sighed, “I’m sorry.  I thought we could have taken him.  I was wrong... and too many troopers paid the price.”

My troopers.” 

“I know.”  The colonel stepped back to lean against the wall.  “But there’s more at stake here than just our lives, or the lives of people under our command.  You saw that second sword that Xavier wields?”

“A ring.”


“It appears as a ring on his hand... when he’s not using it.”

Dane stood up.  “Interesting.  Well, as you’ve seen, it can change shapes.  A shield, a sword, a ring...”

“An orb,” Demar added.  Then a flash of insight bolted through him.  “That’s what you’re after, not Pollos.  My people died for that stupid orb?!”

“The Orb is more than a weapon, sergeant, it’s a beacon.  Something large and nasty is coming our way and its aiming straight for it.  If we don’t get the Orb soon, all of humanity is doomed.”

Palencia managed a laugh against the restraints.  “You expect me to believe that?  After what you did?  Go to hell, colonel, you’re not taking me with you.”

“Frankly, I don’t care if you believe me or not.  I need you.”


“Because you managed to take Pollos on hand-to-hand while the rest of us were standing still.”

“Bio-aug and balls, sir.  Any TI trooper can do it.”

“But they didn’t, did they?  You did.  If I stand any chance of stopping Pollos, I’ll need your help to do it.”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“Nope.”  With a flick of his wrist, Palencia fell back down to the bed.  “See you tomorrow.”


Avalon, Patton Base, August 16th


“What do you mean, ‘You lost him?’”

Miranda was staring through the vidcom at Vin Dane, several systems away, and she couldn’t blame the connection for what she was hearing.

“I took a platoon of Tech Infantry with me to get Pollos—and he wiped most of it out.  Barely got out with our lives.”

“So now you want me to find him again, is that it?”

Vin shrugged.  “That’s about it.”

“What makes you think you can do better a second time?  Vin, you’re just going to get yourself killed!”

“I know what he’s capable of now.  I know how I can face Pollos again.”

Mayfield’s concerned creeped into hysteria.  “You’re out of your mind!  He’s a killer!”

“I don’t have a choice!” Dane shouted back.  Closing his eyes, he took in a deep breath, and then continued.  “We don’t have a choice.  I have to get to Pollos before the Caal do.”

“All right,” she accepted, running her fingers through her braided hair, “all right.  But why did you wait so long to call me?”

“Had to clean up a few things.  Governor wanted to know why there was a firefight outside a major city, local commander wanted—”

Miranda held up a hand.  “I get the picture.”  She brought her search program up on a separate hologram.  “So you lost him yesterday...”

“No, the 13th.”

The doctor checked her search file.  “That’s impossible, Vin.  I only gave you his location on the 12th.”


“Vin, it’s a six-day jump from Avalon to Jennifer’s Star.  Even with your own gravity drive, it would still take four days minimum.”

“Oh... well, I wasn’t on Avalon when you called.”

“But the prefix...”

“I had the vidphone program patch it to me on Wilke’s Star.  I figured it would be a more centralized location.”

“Okay, the 13th then.  That means Pollos has had three days to trip records and pass through scanners.”  She activated her search program, watching it go through its initial parameters.  “When I get something, I’ll call you.”

Dane’s brow furrowed.  “You mean, you don’t have anything now?”

Miranda glared back through the vidphone.  “Vin, I’m searching through all the known databases in the universe for a scrap of information that will track one man.  It’s going to take time!”

“Sorry, Miranda.  I know you’re doing your best.”

“Vin,” she sighed, “are you okay?”

“I’m fine.  I told you that already.”

“I know, I’m just...”  Mayfield pushed aside her worry.  “How are you going to stop Pollos?”

“Carefully, Miranda.”  He smiled.  “Very carefully.  Discom.”

The vidphone blanked and left her in the middle of her lab... alone.  For the first time in a long while, she really missed him.  Miranda was worried about Vin... for everyone, really.  After all, if he doesn’t get the Orb, humanity is doomed.

At least, that’s what Vin said, she thought, but he never told me the whole truth.


Jennifer’s Star, August 17th


The only reason Ivan decided to land was because he was running out of fuel.  Commander Sun had been running from the Ares Battle Group for so long that fatigue was something that seeped into his bones.  None of the systems he had jumped through believed him... not that they had the defenses to stop them anyway.

Sun tried to warn them, but all he could do was run and hope that someone would believe him.  But after running for so long, Ivan wasn’t even sure himself anymore.  What did I see?  Did those... ghosts take over the crew?  Or was it my imagination?

No, he decided, it was not my imagination that slaughtered my squadron.  Axe—or whatever controlled him—did that.  They have to be warned, even if they don’t believe me.  I have to try.  For their sake, I have to try.

Through the jump gate, out of the swirling orange of hyperspace, his little freighter made its way toward the inhabited world beneath him.  He told them the usual things; he had to talk to the governor, life or death situation, etcetera, etcetera.  Maybe they’d even listen... but he doubted it.

Once the freighter landed at the military spaceport, he was quickly put under guard and taken into a room at Wellington Base, the main Tech Infantry installation for the system.  The system governor took his sweet time getting there, as they always did.  Ivan learned quickly that life and death was as important to politicians as their last lunch meeting.

The governor of Jennifer’s Star was an anorexic blonde woman with a face that looked like a skull with skin.  Her voice was thin and reedy; the kind of sound that grated at the back of your skull.  “Who the hell do you think you are?!  Life and death, indeed!  Well, Lieutenant Commander Sun, do you have a reason for this interruption?”

Normally this might have been intimidating, but since this was the fourth governor he’d dealt with...  “Yeah, you’re all going to die.”


Sun smiled as her skin stretched even tighter over her small frame.  “I’ve got an entire battle group behind me that’s going to take over your whole planet unless you call for help right now.”

“Battle group?”  Suddenly her tone wasn’t quite as grating.

“The Ares, bitch!  It’s been taken over with all its escorts, and it’s coming this way.”

“Taken over?  By what?”

“Ghosts,” was the first word out of his mouth, but he quickly recovered.  “Look, I don’t know what they were, but they got their ships close to our and then took over the bodies of the Fleet personel.”

The shock of his verbal attack wore off with the incredulity of his story; the governor countered with disbelief.  “You expect me to believe this dribble?!  It’s clear now that you’re suffering...”

Outside the door, there was an alarmed shout, then a thump.  The blonde woman turned toward the door just as it burst open.  A man in a colonel’s uniform stepped in; his face also having a stretched look to it, followed quickly by a tanned man with sergeant’s stripes, who looked like he could punch through a mountain.  The colonel looked at Ivan and asked, “You’re Lieutenant Commander Sun?”

Ivan's cockiness seemed to drain from his body; the colonel’s entrance made it clear that he was not to be messed with.  “Yes... yes, sir.”

The governor rose to her feet.  “What is the meaning of this?!”

The colonel turned his head slowly towards her and stared.  “Governor Elisa Yuknis, am I correct?”

“Who the hell are you?!”

“Colonel Vin Dane, head of Military Intelligence.”

A cold breeze seemed to chill the room, but the governor was still burning with rage.  “That does not give you the right to—”

“December 5th, 2258,” Dane spat out.  “Starlight Casino on New Madrid.  I’m sure you would love some of the photos of you and—”

“STOP!” she shrieked in panic.

Vin smiled like a predator.  “That is but a fraction of what I can do to you.  If you wish to keep your career, I suggest you be quiet.

Yuknis shriveled back into her chair as the colonel turned his attention back to Sun.  “Now, lieutenant commander,” Dane said, grabbing a chair, “I want to hear your story from the beginning.”

Ivan told him everything; the alien fleet, the takeover, the flight and destruction of his squadron, and the numerous attempts to warn the Federation.  The colonel sat there and took it all in, not interrupting the pilot’s tale once.  When the fighter pilot was done, Sun felt drained.

Colonel Dane looked back at the sergeant.  “What do you think, Demar?”

“Sounds like the same bullshit you were feeding me... sir.”

“No bullshit, sergeant.  This is real.”  Vin turned back to Ivan.  “They’re not ghosts, commander.”

“Ghosts?” he looked up.

“They’re called the Caal.  If you’re right, they now have possession of a quarter of the active fleet.”

“That’s right,” Sun replied, feeling his heart grow lighter.  He believes me.  After all this time, someone finally believes me!

“And since Pollos was last at Jennifer’s Star, they’ll be coming right here.”  Anger flowed underneath Dane’s stretched face.  He turned to the governor.  “M. Yuknis, you are going to declare a system-wide emergency and activate the defenses.  We must not let anyone from the Ares land here.”

“Are you insane?” she asked, managing to gain some of her arrogance back.  “I can’t authorize that without a statement from Chairman Clarke—”

“DO IT!” Vin barked.  Yuknis shuffled out of the room in a dash.

“Sir,” Ivan managed, “the system defenses won’t stop a star control ship.”

“I know,” Dane replied, “but maybe it can buy us enough time to get the rest of the fleet here.  We have to stop the Caal here.”

“And if we don’t?” Palencia asked.

The colonel turned toward him and shrugged.  “Then there’s still a chance.  Come on, there’s a lot to do.”  They walked out of the room, leaving Ivan sitting there.  Suddenly, Dane stopped and looked back.  “Are you coming?”

Sun didn’t wait.  He leapt up and followed them out of the base.  Ivan did his best to hide the tears in his eyes.


Avalon, August 18th


Clarke had never called an emergency meeting before, Amanda knew, at least not for the years she had been on the Grand Council.  Usually he just gives orders and we have to catch up to him.

As Kait rushed to her waiting aerodyne, her mind was full of questions.  She hated to rush into a meeting she wasn’t prepared for; Ministers who did often lost their heads.  Once she got in the vehicle, the pilot took off, flying the small craft through the mania of the city’s air traffic to reach Capitol Park.

Amanda wasted no time in activating the vidphone.  The hologram appeared and she entered the number for the Finance Minister’s car.

The face of Antonio Villeneuve soon appeared.  “Couldn’t wait five minutes to see me?”

“Antonio, what’s the emergency?”

“We’re talking on unsecured lines.”

“To hell with security!  What’s happening?!”

“I’m not sure myself.  All I know is that something happened on the frontier.”

“Then why doesn’t Clarke do something?”

“Be glad he’s consulting us at all.”  Villenueve shrugged.

“That’s what’s worrying me.  Why should he start now?”

“Guess we’ll find out in chambers.  Discom.”

As the hologram disappeared, all Kait could do was tap her foot as she counted out the beats it took to reach the capitol building.

Once on the ground, the Minister of Production rushed as fast as decently possible into the Grand Council chambers.  Villeneuve was already there, looking smug as she walked over.  “I told you, I don’t know anything more.”

“What about them?” she asked, waving a hand at the other Ministers.

Antonio shrugged.  “They’re just as much in the dark as we are.”  He pointed at Admiral Patel.  “Even him.  At least he bothered to shop up this time.”

“He should, he has nothing to fear.”

Villenueve looked askew at her.  “What do you mean?”

“He wanted an alliance.  I gave it to him.”

The short man looked incredulous.  “Really?”

“He guaranteed repeal of the Five Acts in exchange for a limited Chairmanship and the keeping of our jobs.”

“You think the Admiral is the right man to join our triumvirate?”

“No,” Amanda smiled, “but it will save us from attack in the meantime.  And if there’s a sudden shift in power, our positions are safe.”

“No one is safe when Clarke dies.”

She shrugged.  “Then maybe it’ll buy us some time.”

Suddenly the great double doors opened and Chairman Clarke stomped in.  His white hair was flowing wild and every muscle screamed his anger.  Before everyone could take their seats, Clarke’s fist slammed down on the table.  “Which one of you did it?!”

The council members were stunned; no one knew what he was talking about.  The old man pointed a finger at all of them as he ranted on.  “I know you’ve been conspiring, whispering against me!  This is the first step in your plot, isn’t it?!  Answer!!!”

The council chambers were silent.  Clarke waited for an answer but none came.  “Fine, you cowards, hide in your lies.  The truth will come out.”  The chairman hit a button and a huge hologram of a solar system appeared.  “Twelve hours ago, Jennifer’s Star went into a State of Emergency and activated their system defenses.”  The hologram changed and lit up with all the defense satellites and missile platforms.  “An hour ago, the Ares Battle Group entered the system and was attacked by the defenses.”  Several blips emerged and flashes of light played out on the outer planets.  “Within a few more hours, the fleet will reach the main planet and breach the orbital defenses, as they believe they are under the control of a rebel faction.”  A dotted line ran from the blips to the third planet.  “Those defenses cannot hold them off for long.  Millions of my citizens will die... and for what?!  You have one chance to stop this farce or my Raptors will hunt you down, as well as your family, your friends, and everyone you love until they are all DEAD!  Now ANSWER!”

The tension in the room was as thick as soup; no one even dared to breathe.  Clarke grew even angrier, grabbing his chair and throwing it across the table, smashing it into the far wall.  “I will teach all those who oppose me.  Computer!  Vidcom to Governor Yuknis, highest priority.”

The system disappeared in favor of a simulated flat screen.  Soon enough, the emaciated governor’s face floated above the council table.  Clarke verbally attacked.  “Elisa, why have you called an emergency?!”

“Honored Chairman, I was ordered to—”

By who?!?!”  Kait was afraid Clarke would rip out the table.

Another face appeared; a man’s face whose features seemed to be stretched.  “I did, Chairman.”

Clarke’s eyes went wide.  “You?  Colonel Dane, what is the meaning of this?!”

Unlike the governor, this colonel showed no fear in addressing the chairman.  “I have recently discovered that the entire fleet in this system has been taken over by the Caal.  I ordered the defenses activated to try and stop them from landing.  I’m currently organizing every weapon available to destroy them before they land.”

The chambers echoed with the sound of murmurs.  The Caal?  Who are the Caal?!

Only the chairman was not dumbfounded.  “You’re sure?”

“I’ve had my agents track their infiltrators for some time.  Then a fighter pilot managed to escape the Ares before the takeover.  It is obvious to me that this is the first step to an invasion.”

“It can’t be... I thought...”

“Chairman Clarke, you must send the fleet.  We can hold them as long as possible, but we must stop them here and now.”

The old man seemed to freeze for a moment.  “Jennifer’s Star is a six-day jump.”

“It’ll take that long for them to take over and refresh their ships with the stores here,” Dane replied.  “They’ll be at their weakest.”

Clarke didn’t have to think long before replying.  “Very well, I’ll order the fleet out.  Hold until relieved.”

“We will.  Discom.”  The face of Vin Dane vanished and the system graphic reappeared.

Clarke’s anger had been replaced with determination.  “Admiral Patel, you will order the entire Home Fleet, both the Poseidon and Hachiman Battle Groups, to Jennifer’s Star and destroy the Ares.”

Kait’s eyes, as well as everyone else’s, turned towards Nirav.  She had never seen the admiral turn so pale.  “Um... well, sir, the...”

“What is it?”

Patel swallowed.  “Those battle groups are not fully operational, honored chairman.”

“It doesn’t matter, admiral.  We can leave some of the ships behind.  Two star control ships will be more than a match for the Ares.”

The admiral coughed again.  “No, sir... I mean that most of the battle groups are not operational.”  A stunned silence fell over the table.  “Most of the personnel have been reassigned and... the ships are... they’re not even close to completion.”

Clarke’s gaze could burst stars.  “How... many ships are operational?”

“In the Avalon system, I would be lucky to muster two squadrons.”  Nirav let out a shaky sigh.  “Our operational groups have been sent to picket duty throughout the Federation.  There’s no way to consolidate them at Jennifer’s Star in six days.”

Clarke’s determination melted into despair.  “The Jennifer’s Star is lost.”  With a touch of a button, the system hologram disappeared.  “Do you have any other revelations to tell us?”

The admiral bowed his head.  “No.”

“Very well.  Then you’ll order the recall of every ship you can muster to Avalon.  Minister Kait!”  Amanda’s head perked up.  “You will give absolute priority to the repair of the ships here.  General Walters, you will activate the reserves, and General Wagenecht, you will enact martial law.  I will send out the declaration after this meeting.”

Then Clarke leaned over the table, looking at all the council members.  “Have no doubt.  We are in an emergency.  We must preserve the Federation at all costs.  Meeting adjourned.”

As the members shuffled off, Villeneuve leaned over to Kait and said, “We better hope Clarke stays around, otherwise... we won’t know what we’re supposed to be scared of.”  Antonio gave a smile and left.

Amanda was the last to leave the council chambers.  The emergency wasn’t real to her; Vin Dane was.  She was captivated by the man.  He had stood up to Clarke without a hint of deference; even the governor had the sense to be scared shitless.

A man who could intimidate a governor, stand up to Clarke, and face an entire battle group was someone she wanted on her side.

Now only one question remained.

What the hell are the Caal?


Click to go to the previous act in the story Go back to the Table of Contents Click to go to the next act in the story

Text Copyright © 2002, 2011 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.
Do not try ANY of this at home, no matter how much you want to scream at your governor.