Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Part two of Onet’s Tale now begins

~~~

Chapter Twenty-Eight – Janus Omega and Mutiny

In the four years since the escape to Kallorn, the war between the Drana Empire and the Alliance of Planets had raged back and forth across the galaxies. My kin made sure that neither side in the conflict was victorious; nothing short of total annihilation would satisfy my cousins’ evil plans. As the Alliance finally cleared one planetary system the Drana conquered yet another. In the endless bloody conflicts, borders were blurred beyond recognition. Nagesh had finally begun to follow the path of all previous Drana emperors, turning into a crazed effeminate fanatic, determined to expand the empire no matter the cost. The members of his court, on more than one occasion since his declaration of war, had attempted to assassinate him. Each time he stayed a step ahead, publicly accusing the would-be assassins of treason. Nearly every week the citizens of the empire witnessed bloody executions. His war placed an enormous strain on the Drana population. Thousands of families lost their precious sons in Nagesh’s maniacal determination to bring the Alliance led galaxies, and the millions of planetary systems they contained, to their knees.

Diverse factions each with their own agenda within the thousands of diplomatic, political and military sectors, stretched the resources of the Alliance of Planets to near breaking point. The peace-loving member nations of the Alliance were anxious to find a diplomatic solution to Nagesh’s ruthless expansion. While the diplomats argued endlessly over how to achieve their goal, the politicians and military leaders of all the remaining nations fought for control over the vast fleets of ships in the many campaigns against the Drana.

Deliberate political intervention would spell the end of the senior military leaders’ control of the armed forces, and probably the Alliance itself! Officers with political ambitions, selected for key roles by the various governments, placed the military in grave danger of self-destruction by their gross ineptitude. Something had to be done to rid the military leadership of the cancer within. The answer to the problem came from the Varga sector of the Drana Empire, but not from where both sides in the war expected! Admiral Memnet’s armada had suffered heavy losses since the first encounter above Jalnuur. Ships previously decommissioned into mothballed fleets or about to be scrapped by the penny-pinching financial ‘bean counters’ of the Alliance, were now reluctantly released by the civil governments and cheaply recommissioned, transforming the old ships into barely serviceable death traps, sent out as ‘new’ replacements for the fleets.

The army’s losses against the fanatical Drana commandos dramatically weakened Lord Seth’s invasion plans. The number of seasoned veterans capable of turning raw recruits into trained troops was rapidly declining. The main obstacle for both men to achieve their goal of ending the war was quite simply the staggering cost of the entire training phase, both in time and resources. Far from being a ‘short sharp shock’, the war had escalated into a seemingly endless bloodbath. The cost of waging the relentless war spiralled out of control. From every sector of the Alliance, planets were stripped of their populations by the insatiable needs of the military to prosecute the war against the Drana. Millions of men and women were drafted into service resulting in many planets becoming defenceless targets for the Drana, stripped of their own precious defence forces.

Memnet’s latest additions to his armada had arrived from Mars three weeks ago under the command of General Eugene L. Maas, Seventh Mars Marine Corps. Eugene was a cigar smoking good old boy, in the finest human tradition from the Kelno colony of the southern Mars military sector. Eugene was an army brat who followed his father into military service as soon as he graduated from high school. He loved the Marine Corps. Its tough way of life changed the sullen rebellious youth into a seasoned, intolerant killing machine that rapidly rose through the ranks by sheer ruthlessness and his natural ability as a leader. Eugene despised all other races. More than once during his career he had been busted for blatant racism within the Alliance. If you weren’t ‘his kind of folks’ you were dead meat! He enjoyed killing anyone different to himself. ‘Just having fun!’ he called it.

In no time at all he fell out with Memnet, and Seth whose command he now assumed. When Memnet called a meeting of senior officers to welcome Eugene on the first evening after the replacements joined the fleet, the general sent an aid with a clear message saying that ‘I am here to kill goddamn aliens! Not to play pass the parcel with them! And another thing; I refuse to breathe the same stinking air as those scaly lizard-bred sons of bitches!’

Memnet flew into a rage and angrily dismissed the assembled officers and the unfortunate aid after he had delivered the general’s message. The next day Memnet still seethed with anger over Eugene’s disgusting refusal and sent an officer to deliver an ultimatum, ‘apologize or surrender pending courts-martial proceedings.’ A few hours later Memnet got his reply when the shuttle returned bearing the skinned carcass of the admiral’s young Andrasian aid, hideously staked out on the shuttle’s deck, with a commando knife through each limb.

Word spread like wildfire throughout the armada. Memnet was rapidly losing control of the situation as the struggle for power between the two men accelerated. Ship’s compliments divided into racial factions, sending a shock wave of age-old hatred throughout the entire armada. In less than twenty-four hours, Eugene was in control and Memnet found himself and his few remaining loyal officers and men, delivered into the murderous hands of the mutineers. After a kangaroo court delivered its verdict, they were cast adrift in a shuttle. Memnet watched the armada head towards Janus Omega. The war was about to escalate beyond anyone’s control, much to the delight of my kind. Now two madmen, each with their own destructive agenda, fed by their fanatical hatred for all other races, occupied the same bloody arena. When they eventually met, all life across the cosmos would end unless someone or something put a stop to their insanity!

~~~

After the ethnic cleansing within the ships that made up the armada was complete, Eugene led his human dominated mutineers into his second treasonous act. Several small flotillas of Alliance vessels operated independently, surviving on their wits under a communication blackout, cut off from the armada, engaging in hit and run exercises deep within the empire disguised as Drana freighters. Cargo ships supplying Nagesh’s troops with arms, ammunition, food and medical supplies, in addition to the ‘new recruits’ chained up in their cargo bays, became targets. One such flotilla now lay directly in the path of the armada.

The intercom above his head between his two favourite flags, the corps colours and the framed bullet ridden, ancient Confederate flag his ancestor had proudly carried at Shiloh, sounded. “General to the bridge.” Eugene swung his legs over the side of the bunk and thrust his feet into his combat boots. He snapped the lever-action retaining clips into place, securing his feet inside them, holstered his side-arm, lit his cigar, and then grabbed his forage cap as he left the confines of his cabin below the carrier’s bridge. His large frame filled the narrow main flat leading to the ladder access upto the bridge. As he strode along the flat, the men going about their duties dived out of his way, stood to attention, and saluted. Bursting into the bridge lit by red emergency lights, he strode across to where his second in command stood in front of the tactical screen. “What is it boy!” Eugene snarled, spitting a wad of tobacco in a high arc across the space.

“Sir, we have an Alliance flotilla directly ahead,” the colonel reported.

“How far boy; are they in range yet?” Eugene rolled the cigar across his mouth as he spoke.

“At our present speed, sir, they’ll be in range in forty-five minutes,” the colonel answered.

Eugene looked at the icons on the screen merge with others in the heat of the battle. “Huh,” he grunted, rolling the cigar back and forth in his mouth, as he watched the gallant Alliance vessels chase down and eliminate their targets. “Get us within thirty-thousand kilometres,” he said, his eyes narrowing.

“Sir, yes sir!” The colonel saluted and passed on the order to close the distance.

“They see us yet, Michael?” Eugene quietly asked the operator handling the screen’s information.

“Sir, no sir,” the young marine answered, proud that his general always used his name in place of his lowly rank.

“Well, keep an eye on them, son, and let me know the moment they do,” Eugene said, squeezing the young marines shoulder.

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Two thousand kilometres,” the navigator reported as the vast armada closed the gap. “One thousand, seven-fifty… Four hundred kilometres. All stop! We’re parked at thirty thousand kilometres sir,” he reported, not looking up from his navigation console.

“Do they see us yet, son?”

“Sir, no sir, they’re taking casualties, sir. Three of ours are down,” Michael said.

“Huh!” Eugene rolled the cigar to one side of his mouth. “Ok boy, launch all fighter squadrons and clean up Michael’s screen,” A cruel smile replaced the customary scowl on his face.

The colonel gave the order. “Launch!” The space around the armada filled with fighters like a cloud of midges swirling in the sunlight on a hot summer’s day, and headed for the battle.

On board the senior Alliance officer’s ship the tactical operator watched his screen fill with over five thousand Mordred fighters. “Sir the cavalry has arrived!”

“Thank god for that, and not a moment too soon,” the captain replied. The battle was soon over. As the armada sped away from the area, the jumbled remains of all the ships engaged in the fight minutes earlier, floated lifelessly together like wrecked vehicles piled up in a scrap yard. Michael’s screen was empty except for the icons of the armada.

Eight days later a Drana commander watched his battle fleet silently pass through the remains of yet another Alliance invasion fleet. He was totally bewildered. No reports had come from this sector regarding any kind of conflict. His orders were to engage the enemy at this spot, but someone had beaten him to it. He went to his cabin to compose a report describing the situation. Calling for a messenger to take the report to the communications officer for immediate coded transmission, he returned to the bridge of his Battle class destroyer.

~~~

Dranaa Nagesh studied the reports coming in from his fleet commanders. His beautiful face was transformed into a caricature of its normally self. Was there a new force to be reckoned with? If so who, and more importantly – why? Issuing orders for his spies to double their efforts, he turned from his paper strewn marble desk and went out into the walled garden of his harem, to relax in the perfumed air pampered by his most trusted and youngest concubine, Ahmed.

“Dranaa, forgive me for disturbing you, but Hesket awaits your pleasure in the anteroom,” Hasan whispered quietly into Nagesh’s ear, after quietly entering the harem where Nagesh had just finished making love to his second favourite youth.

“Bring him to me in my private chambers,” Nagesh commanded his intelligence chief. Then changing his mind, said, “No, bring him to the outer courtyard beyond the garden.” There was no need to foul the air of the palace with the stench of a Khaz.

“As you command, Dranaa.” Hasan bowed and quickly withdrew. Nagesh arrived at the courtyard via a tunnel in the palace walls. Before he opened the door to the courtyard, he peered past the ornate grill in the door. Hasan stood a little way from the diminutive Khaz spy. No one liked standing too close to one of us.

Opening the door Nagesh walked over to the steps of the courtyard and sat on the gilded chair his eunuchs had placed for him, ten meters in front of the Khaz. Arranging his female atire carefully about him, Nagesh sat for a long time saying nothing, closely studying the brightly painted talon like nails of his delicate hands.

For several minutes he looked directly at Hesket, transfixing him with his cold eyes, which unnerved my cousin, before asking, “why have you come here?”

Like thousands of my kin, Hesket chose to serve Nagesh. Not to aid the Drana domination of the cosmos, but to further our own dark ambitions. Since our home world had been destroyed millennia ago by a massive explosion caused by a giant meteorite plunging through to its core, we had spread across the cosmos by attaching ourselves like parasites to the most powerful species in control at the time. Then like all parasites when their host dies, my kind quickly look for another. As I said earlier, we Khaz are a self-replicating species capable of survival in nearly all environments, but we prefer to live beneath the surface of a planet rather than on it. My cousin’s metallic grey skin suffers from exposure to direct sunlight and their enlarged black eyes, which are equipped for subterranean life, are practically blinded in direct sunlight. We all absorb what nutrients our bodies need through specially adapted pores in the palms of our hands rather than eating in the normal manner that you are accustomed to dear reader. We excrete the discarded remains of our ‘meal’ through our skin, which unfortunately creates a foul stench in the air surrounding us. When we become frightened, our bodies purge the entire contents of our system in a gut wrenching, pungent concentrated cloud of gas, which was precisely why Hasan stood well away from Hesket in the fresh air of the courtyard, and Nagesh held a perfumed handkerchief over his painted mouth. My cousin was absolutely terrified! Hesket cleared his throat and tried shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight of the courtyard with his scrawny arms, hopping from one foot to the other, as the delicate soles of his feet burnt from the reflected heat of the marble paved courtyard. “Great Dranaa, lord of all, I bring disturbing news!” he hissed.

“You mean the destruction of the Alliance fleets,” Nagesh replied.

“Yes my lord. The Alliance now has troubles of its own. They have a renegade in their midst, great Lord, who has seized control of their largest armada and wreaks destruction wherever he goes!” Hesket’s feet were in agony and the rest of his body was beginning to burn under the intense baking rays of the sun.

“Who is this renegade?” Nagesh demanded.

“Great Lord, he is called Maas, a human general in the Alliance military. He has surrounded himself with his own kind, waging his personal war throughout the Alliance, cleansing it of all other races. Daily he grows stronger! Soon he will turn his attention towards Dranaa and the empire, Sire. His armada grows with each conquest. The Alliance is in total disarray. If he is allowed to continue he will become more powerful than you!” Hesket screamed in agony.

Nagesh sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. Hasan circled the Khaz and came over to where Nagesh sat. “Dranaa, we may be able to turn this to your advantage.”

Nagesh sat motionless. “What do you propose?” he enquired, not opening his eyes.

“A meeting between yourself and this General Maas,” Hasan replied.

“To what end?” Nagesh replied, his eyes now open and staring directly into Hasan’s.

“A new Alliance of your own,” Hasan whispered. Nagesh closed his eyes once again and smiled. Forgotten, Hesket hobbled away in agony, disappearing into the shadows of the palace. How he hated all Drana. He swore that when the time came, Nagesh would suffer more than he just had in the burning inferno of the courtyard.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Twenty-Nine

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