Book: Olympus



Talosian Chronicles, Volume 1

Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC., 2014.

This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.


First edition. July 17, 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Ben Winston.

Written by Ben Winston.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four


Also By Ben Winston

About the Author

About the Publisher

I would to thank my wonderful wife for her support and encouragement. With out her support this book might have never been wrote.

Chapter One

“Hey Williams! I heard they named you Valedictorian because you’re the only virgin left in our grade!”

Ian flipped off the football player amid the laughter from the good-natured ribbing.

“Seriously guys! Here’s to Ian Williams!” The semi-drunk teen raised a beer bottle in the direction of Ian. “Without him, most of us wouldn’t have made it through school. Thanks Williams!”

Ian smiled and nodded to the group of football players and cheerleaders as they toasted him. “Just remember to keep studying when you get to UCLA Monty, and you’ll do just fine. Now, I gotta piss, be right back.” Ian set his soda down, stood, and walked out of the little area the small ‘graduation’ party was taking place in.

He hadn’t really wanted to come to this party, but the guys on the team insisted. He had tutored most of them and helped them through the academic rough spots of high school most jocks appear to have. The result being that over the hundreds of hours of talking and helping the guys, they had struck up a friendship with ‘the nerd’.

‘Nerd’ was a moniker that no one called Ian anymore. The ‘Jocks’ wouldn’t allow it. Earlier today, at a final pep-rally, Ian had been called down and given a school football jersey that had his name printed on the back, and officially thanked by the coaches and the principal.

As Ian walked, he kept tripping over (sometimes literally) couples in various stages of undress that had sneaked away from the party. This was the part of coming to these things that Ian hated the most. The only person he would consider asking to come with him would have flatly refused.

As he walked, his thoughts turned to the beautiful, blond goddess he had been dreaming about for the last... well, almost ten years now. Jenny Laskar was Ian’s best friend. They took most of the same classes, and had most of the same interests. They’d known each other since second grade, and he’d loved her almost the entire time. Ian could talk to her about anything... except how he felt about her.

Ian was terrified of losing her. If he confessed his love for the girl, and she didn’t think of him that way, it would ruin their long friendship.

Although he hadn't known her as long, Cindy Swift, another friend of his and Jenny’s, was running a close second to Jenny, and the three spent a lot of time together.

Looking around, Ian realized he couldn’t see anyone anymore, so he stopped to do his business. While he relieved himself, his thoughts returned to Jenny and Cindy, and what to do about his problem.

Ian shook his head to dispel the thoughts that threatened to get him aroused. He really didn't need the guys to see him walk back to the party like that.

He shook it off, and tucked himself back into his pants to return to the party. After a few minutes of walking, Ian was starting to feel a little nervous. He couldn’t even hear the music from the party, and he knew he couldn’t have walked that far away. He stopped to listen carefully. All he could hear were the normal sounds of the night; that is, the nights that high school seniors were not out here in the hills drinking.

He sat down on a rock to try to figure out what to do. Park Rangers and emergency personnel always say that if you’re lost, just stay where you are, if you can, and wait. Someone will eventually find you. ‘...or what’s left of your decomposing body,’ Ian thought grimly.

Briefly, he remembered his family, and the many camping trips they had gone on. He still missed them, and all the fun they had together. Even though his father had been a lawyer, he still made time for his family. Initially, he had felt guilty for surviving the car accident that had killed both his parents, and had left him virtually untouched.

A year and a half before, a gravel truck had lost its brakes and slammed into them, crushing the front half of the SUV he and his parents had been riding in. The truck looked like it had been almost cut in half – the front was crushed almost flat, while the area behind the front seats was left intact. Ian broke his arm, and his parents lost their lives.

He was sitting in a small gully between two hills. He decided to climb the taller of these to see if he could locate the highway and navigate off that.

As Ian was nearing the top of the small hill, he felt a few strong gusts of wind. It really gave him the willies because it was a clear night and there had been no wind at all.

Finally, he climbed up a few more feet, turned and stepped between two large boulders into a small clearing. Sitting on a rock in the clearing was a person. In the dark, Ian thought it was a man wrapped in a blanket.

“Excuse me, sir? Are you all right?” Ian asked, as he slowly walked forward with his hands held palm down and away from his body.

“Yes, I am fine. I could hear you climbing up here, so I waited for you,” the man said cheerfully.

“Uh, why would you wait for me? Do we know each other?” Ian asked hesitantly. He was starting to get a really bad feeling about this.

“Not exactly; you see, you do not know me, but I know a great deal about you, Mr. Ian Williams. I have been waiting a very long time to meet you; a very long time indeed.”

The man had still not moved from the rock he was sitting on, but Ian was slowly edging his way back to the rocks he passed when he got here. “Uh, why would you want to talk to me? I’m nobody special.” The old man was starting to really creep Ian out; how had he known his name? If he could just find those two big honkin’ rocks, he could run back into the night. Then this old freak wouldn’t be able to find him.

“I will not harm you, Mr. Williams. I have been waiting to speak to you about something very important. Something I think you will want to hear.”

Where were those damn rocks? “Uh, I’m sure that might be the case, sir, but I think perhaps if this is on the level, you can just come to the house and tell me this in front of my Guardian,” Ian replied, ‘and maybe a couple of policemen,’ Ian added to himself.

The old man sighed heavily as he stood. “Well, this is not going at all as well as I thought it would. Mr. Williams, would you please have a seat.”

Ian’s mind almost came to a complete stop as the night sky was replaced by a light blue ceiling, and the surrounding rocks and outdoor nighttime scenery were replaced by walls of a padded looking, off-white vinyl. Along the walls were couches that almost resembled bench seating. The room was very dimly lit, but it was slowly getting brighter.

For the first time, Ian got a look at the other man. He was wearing a robe and looked like a stocky, clean-shaven, Alec Guinness from Star Wars. Ian almost laughed, “If Yoda walks through one of these doors, I’m gonna shit myself.”

The old man did laugh, “No, Master Yoda will not be walking through one of these doors. However, the rest of what I have to tell you might be as equally hard for you to accept. If you will stay and listen, every word I tell you will be the truth.” The old man gestured to one of the seats, mutely asking Ian to sit once again. Ian ignored the gesture.

“This is just way too damn weird. Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I need to be getting home soon. I have a one o’clock curfew, and I really don’t want my Guardian to worry. Please, can you help me get home?” Ian asked. He was obviously imagining all this; maybe he slipped on a rock and hit his head. That explanation sure made more sense than walls that just appeared.

“You are on a shuttle craft that is currently hovering outside your house. You can go in at any time, but I really would appreciate it if you would listen to what I have to tell you. It will not take that long, and I can promise, your guardian will not be worried.”

“Look, you seem like a nice, harmless old man, and while I don’t really know how you got me here, I do appreciate the ride. I have to go in there and explain to my guardian what happened and then get her to give me a ride out to where the party was so I can get my car. She’s not going to be very happy with me. So unless you can give me a hell of a good reason not to go inside to face the music with her, I’m outta here,” Ian said.

“Roughly four thousand of your years ago, a starship was involved in a great battle and crashed on the far side of your moon. The crew that survived the attack, and the crash, made it to this planet and bred with the native population in an effort to keep their race alive. Now, a good portion of the population of this planet has one of those crew members as an ancestor, including you. Your ancestor was my Commander. You would know him as Zeus.”

Ian chuckled nervously, “You’re not only telling me the Greek Gods existed, but that they were aliens? Okay if that’s what you want to believe, but what does that have to do with me?”

Instead of answering, another image appeared in the room; this time it was an image that looked a lot like Ian. At first Ian thought it was an image of himself, but small, subtle differences made him see it wasn’t. This man was slightly taller, and had more body mass. He also had a slight graying of the hair at his temples, and the beginnings of worry lines on his face.

“He looks a lot like me. Who is he?” Ian asked as he slowly sat down.

“He should look a lot like you, for you are the same person – genetically anyway. This is your far distant ancestor, Zeus, of the House of Chronos, bond-mate of Hera and Commander of the Federated Starship Olympus. You are almost genetically identical to my commander, and because of that, you are the only person that can take command of my ship.”

Chapter Two

Let me get this straight; the Greek Gods were not only real, they were actually aliens, and I’m a descendant of Zeus, which makes me the captain of some starship?” Ian asked, getting tired of the game the old man was playing. “However, you say it’s your ship, and you talk about all this like you’ve lived it. You said yourself it was four thousand years ago. I mean, yes, you are older, but you sure don’t look that old.”

From the look on the old man’s face, Ian got the impression he was being laughed at. “No, I do not imagine I do. Tell me, have you ever seen the TV show Andromeda?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s one of my favorites,” Ian answered as the image of the ‘older Ian’ faded from view.

“Do you remember the character played by Lexa Doig?”

“She played the ship, or rather the artificial intelligence of the ship. She was a hologram on the earlier episodes, but moved into an android body later on. What’s that got to do with this?” Ian asked.

“Quite a bit actually. You see, I am a hologram. I am the artificial intelligence construct resident on board the Olympus. I have been sitting on the moon making repairs and waiting for the original blood lines to reassert themselves so I could get my crew back,” the old man explained.

So, the old man thought he was a hologram. Obviously someone hasn’t taken their medications this evening. Still, he seemed harmless enough; maybe if Ian humored him, he could get him someplace that could get the old guy back to the hospital.

“Uh, okay, I can see how that can be true. So what do we do now? I have to finish high school, and then I’ll have to get permission from Doctor Hayes...”

“Would you be willing to shake my hand? No tricks, but I think you need to see I am not lying,” the old man said.

Ian didn’t want to get any closer to the old loony unless he had to, but he couldn’t think of a reason to refuse, so he rose and slowly walked over to him. He was trying to think of something to say to the old guy when it was finally proved that he was solid, and not some kind of projection.

The old man was holding out his hand, making sure he held his other hand clear of his body, so Ian could see it at all times. When Ian arrived, he reached out to take the offered hand... and his own passed right through.

Ian jumped back in surprise. “How the hell did you do that? What’s going on here?”

“Please, calm down, son. I only needed you to know I was not lying to you. Sit down and rest a moment; think about this,” the old man suggested.

Maybe one of the jocks slipped something into his soda, and all this was some kind of hallucination. Well, it was the most ‘real’ hallucination he’d ever heard of.

Ian was starting to feel, down in his gut, that the old man was telling the truth, and everything he’d witnessed so far was in fact, real.

“Why now?” Ian asked. “Why are you telling me this now?”

“Well, I am a big ship, you will need crew. There are now sufficient numbers of humans intelligent enough, with the correct genetic structure to be able to take advantage of Talosian teaching technology. There was also the question of your maturity. I had to wait until you were old enough to recognize the responsibility of the position.

“Talos was a long way from here, but not so far that I can believe that the enemy has not yet found this planet. I do not know why they have not simply invaded and taken what they wanted, but they have to know of Earth. I also do not want any of the governments on Earth to discover me, and one of the missions planned by the European Space Agency in the next two years will most certainly do that. There are also a number of things I require human assistance with,” the old man explained.

“Well, I can’t call you ‘old man’ all the time; do you have a name?” Ian asked.

“I was called by the ship’s name by my former crew: Olympus.”

“Can I call you Oly?” When the old hologram nodded, Ian continued. “Well, I don’t mean to be rude, Oly, but I’m exhausted; I need to think on this a little before giving you an answer. Is there a way I can get in touch with you tomorrow?”

Oly smiled, “Certainly.” He walked to one of the walls where a panel slid open. He took the items he found there and turned back to Ian. “If you are willing, place the contacts in your eyes and the earpiece in your ear before you go to sleep tonight; try to make sure the watch is either on your arm, or close to you at all times. It is the central unit for the ear piece and the lenses.

“I can give you all the information and background so you can make a better decision. These devices also have different functions, one of which is communication, so you can contact me at any time with questions,” he said as he handed the objects to Ian.

“Wait a minute! If you’re an insubstantial hologram, how can you hand me stuff?” Ian asked.

“Precision controlled energy fields and tractor beams can be used to simulate human-like characteristics. As per our earlier discussion, I had the shuttle return to the site of the party and retrieve your car. I used a small, cloaked holodrone to emulate you so you were not too late getting home tonight, and your guardian did not worry. I told her that you were delayed by a flat tire,” Olympus explained while Ian slipped the contacts into his eyes. “To use the communicator, one would normally simply press the small button on the watch and speak the person's name. But since, for now, I am the only one you could call, it will work if you simply speak my name.”

“So how does this work to give me the information?” Ian asked. “I plan on getting some sleep tonight.”

“It is simple really: while you sleep, the information is ‘downloaded’ to your brain via optic and aural nerve systems. When you wake in the morning, you will have all the information available to you.”

“Well, not to seem ungrateful or anything, but the ear piece is kinda bulky. I’d have a hard time wearing this around the house, since Doctor Hayes knows I don’t have an earphone for my cell. Do you have anything smaller? Like maybe hearing aid size? Besides, I don’t think I could sleep with that thing on my head.”

Oly looked thoughtful for a moment, and returned to the cabinet he had retrieved the lenses and earpiece from; in his hand was what looked like a small ‘ear wig’. “How about this? It should fit snugly inside the ear canal.”

“Much better, thanks.” Ian paused for a moment. “Look, I’ll probably agree to this, so don’t worry so much; I just need to get my mind wrapped around it. It’s a lot of information to absorb all at once.”

The old man led Ian to a hatch. “I understand, sir. I am confident that you will understand more of the situation after you have slept. Good night, sir.”

“Good night, Oly,” Ian said as he stepped down from the shuttle.

Chapter Three

Once clear of the shuttle Ian turned around to see the hatch simply floating in mid-air close to the ground. Then it was gone as Oly closed the door. No sign of the shuttle craft could be seen, nor could Ian hear any engine noise. He did feel a sudden breeze that died out as quickly as it had begun.

Shaking his head, Ian turned back and headed across the lawn to his front door. Very quietly, he unlocked the door and let himself inside. One thing he noticed right away was that he seemed to be able to see better; there seemed to be more light than normal.

“Cool; night vision,” he said quietly.

All of the sudden he could see with perfect clarity as if the entire room was in bright sunlight. He blinked a couple of times, and quietly made his way to his bedroom. Once inside, he saw a flawless image of himself, in pajamas, sleeping in his bed.

“Oly, are you there?” He whispered.

“Of course, sir.”

“That’s a really lifelike hologram of me, but I usually sleep in the nude.”

“I am sorry, sir,” Oly replied. “I did not know that.”

Ian chuckled, “No problem; no one ever checks on me after I go to bed. However, could you get rid of that? I don’t think I could handle sleeping with myself.”  The image rapidly faded from view. “Thanks, uh... this night vision is pretty neat, but how do I turn it off?”

“Just say ‘night vision off’ and it will fade as well,” Olympus replied.

Ian had been stripping while talking to the old computer. “Thanks again, Oly. Talk to you in the morning,” he said while climbing into bed.

“Good night, sir.”

Ian was asleep almost as soon as he heard the reply.

During his sleep, Olympus gave Ian the history of the Talosian people. Ian saw how and why the big ship crashed on the moon, and the final message received showing the destruction of the planet Talos. Ian watched as the man that looked so much like him spoke to his crew about his plan to preserve their race with the help of the residents of the nearby planet.

Ian awoke to the smell of bacon being cooked, and heard his stomach rumble. He rolled out of bed, and pulled on some sweats to do his morning ritual. He rushed through his shower in his haste to grab a shirt and head for breakfast.

While he was dressing, Ian thought about his friends, and how he would like them to come on this adventure with him. He knew Cindy and Jenny would most likely agree to it, but he wanted to take Doctor Hays as well. She really wasn’t that much older than Ian after all, and he would need a good doctor on the ship.

Beth Hayes was a very smart, beautiful woman. Jenny and Cindy teased Ian constantly about fantasizing about her. He had to admit, if even to himself, there was plenty there to fantasize about, but he really had enough problems with just Jenny and Cindy.

Before heading out to the kitchen for breakfast, Ian contacted Oly. “Oly, you’ve been monitoring me for some time, correct?”

“Affirmative sir, I needed to make sure you were suitable for the position I needed you for,” Oly replied.

Ian grinned. “Okay, so then you know of my two friends, Jenny Laskar and Cindy Swift?”

“Of course sir.”

“Did you evaluate them as potential crew members?” Ian asked.

“I do that as a matter of routine sir. Both young women would be excellent crew members. Are you considering recruiting them?” Oly asked.

“Yes I am, I am also considering asking my guardian to join us. She is an excellent doctor, and has been a great friend. She helped me deal with my parents death, and has watched out for me ever since. I’d like to ask her to come with us.”

“Doctor Elizabeth Hayes would also make an excellent crew member. The records I can find on her performance as a medical practitioner support your assessment of her ability as well,” Oly replied. “You have great instincts sir, we will need a qualified medical doctor soon after you come aboard. There is a member of the original crew in status, and will need to be revived.”

“Definitely something to look into then. Jenny and Cindy are both supposed to come over to swim today anyway, so maybe I’ll talk to them then,” Ian said thoughtfully. “Now I just need to resolve the issue of my feelings for them.”

“You care for all of them, what do you need to resolve?” Oly asked.

Ian sighed. “Oly, I love Jenny, I can’t really imagine my life without her in it. The problem is that I’ve found I feel the same way about Cindy. If I’m forced to be completely honest, I would like Beth there as well. I can only marry one of them, and I won’t cheat on any of them. It’s one of the main reasons I haven’t asked any of them out. Well, that and Beth is a few years older than I am and it would most likely cause a scandal.”

“Sir, I understand you were raised here, in this culture, but in Talosian culture, it was not unheard of for there to be multiple partners in a bonding. It actually made more sense to have multiple partners because of duties and jobs. If a person had duties that took them away from their family for an extended period, then the children would never be left without a parent. There is also the biological imperative at work that influence people to seek out multiple partners in an attempt to create better offspring.

“Perhaps you should simply speak to the women about this and get their feelings on it before you make a decision that would alienate one or more of them?” Oly suggested.

Ian snorted. “I’d better wait until after they get that information after they decide to join us. Otherwise, I might get the crap beat outta me.”

“I understand. However, the love you feel for Miss Laskar is obvious to everyone except her. Perhaps you should speak to her first, and then you can deal with the rest after they learn about their history?”

Ian shook his head. “I don’t know, it doesn’t sound like there is a good way to do this no matter what. I’ll just have to play it by ear, and see what happens. But for now, I’m heading out to breakfast, I’m starving!”

Before Ian’s parents passed away, Elizabeth (Beth) Hayes had lived alone. When her friends, the elder Williams’ died, she felt sorry for their only child, Ian. The family had been out celebrating Ian’s eighteenth birthday the night the accident happened. She knew that Ian was going to have a hard time trying to take care of his parent’s house, as well as finish high school.

Beth, as well as his friends, helped Ian get through the loss, but Beth also suggested that he sell the house, and move in with her. She would take care of him and continue to help him until he finished high school, and decided what to do from there.

He had a good idea what he was going to do, and the only thing left of high school were finals and the graduation ceremony. From his brief time with her, Ian knew Beth was a very lonely woman. She was very pretty, and very smart, and had a lot to offer to someone. Ian was completely at a loss as to why she was still single.

“Good morning Ian, did you have fun last night?” Beth asked.

“Well, not really, but the guys really wanted me there, so...” Ian shrugged. “Sorry about it being so late when I got back.”

“Like I said last night, don’t worry about it – shit happens,” Beth smiled and waved it off. “So, do you have anything planned for today?”

“Jenny and Cindy are supposed to come over for a swim,” Ian replied.

She nodded. “That’s right, I forgot about it. Do you think they’d mind if I joined you?”

“I don’t see why they would. We all like having you with us,” Ian said as his grin grew. “And you certainly look good in a bikini!”

“Ian Williams! You are a horrible flirt!” Beth said and blushed. “I’ll have to tell Jenny on you!”

“Go ahead! I was only speaking the truth, and I’ll stand by it!” Ian said. “Thanks for breakfast, I thought it was my turn to cook?”

Beth shrugged. “It was, but since you got in late last night, I thought I’d do it for you. You can make dinner for me a couple times to pay me back.”

“Sounds good. Since I didn’t get a chance to talk to you yesterday, how’s work going?”

“Same shit, Doctor Peterson still won’t give me any real patients and no one listens to my advice during consults. I swear, sometimes I just want to strangle those idiot’s!”

“I know it’s kind of personal, but have you ever thought about moving? Getting a job someplace else, maybe a bigger city?” Ian asked.

Beth sighed. “Yeah, I do, almost daily in fact. I just don’t want to live in a city, too much crime. Lately, I’ve been thinking about returning to college, maybe shift my focus over to genetics or virology. At least the hours would be better.”

“I might have an idea for you, but you’re going to think I’ve lost my mind when I tell you about it,” Ian replied, crossing his mental fingers.

She gave Ian a half grin. “Ian, you are one of the most stable people I know. It would take a lot for me to think that of you.”

Ian nodded. “Trust me here, this is going to test that.” Ian started talking, Telling Beth the real reason he was late last night, and some of what he learned while he slept. It surprised him when small holographs of what he was talking about took shape on the table between the two people. Beth almost jumped out of her chair, but controlled herself, and calmed down.

“Ian, wait please,”

“Yeah?” Ian asked.

“How are you doing all of this? Holograms don’t even exist yet, and I don’t see the computers or the projectors it would need. Not to mention that it seems to be voice responsive,” she shook her head. “I know what I’m seeing is real, but I also know it doesn’t exist.”

“Not on Earth, no. That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Beth,” Ian replied. “Although they were human, the Talosians were not from Earth.”

“Well, if you’re schizophrenic, then I guess it’s contagious!” Beth said, with a nervous grin. “Continue please.”

Ian did, and she became more and more interested in the images being displayed in front of her while he spoke. Ian finished the tale and Oly projected the hologram of Zeus for Beth.

“, I’m genetically identical to Commander Zeus, so I’m the only one that can take command of the ship. The ship will need a crew, and that includes a doctor. You’re the best one I know,” Ian finished.

“You want me to join the crew?” Beth asked amazed.

Ian nodded. “Yeah, I’ll need someone I can trust in charge of the medical section.”

“You do realize I am just barely out of residency, right? I would think you would want someone with a lot more real world experience for this job,” Beth said.

“Doctor Hayes, there is no one on Earth that qualifies for it. The technologies involved are so far advanced that I will have to retrain anyone that agrees to it,” Oly replied as he slowly took form to the right of, and behind Ian.

“This is the ship’s AI, Olympus. I call him Oly for short,” Ian said by way of introduction. “Oly, My personal guardian angel, Doctor Elizabeth Hayes.”

Since they had finished eating, Ian got up, and began clearing the table. He refilled Beth’s coffee before loading the dishwasher and starting it.

While Ian worked, Beth and Oly talked. She was adjusting to the situation remarkably well. Maybe Ian could ask her advice on how to deal with his feelings about Jenny, Cindy and herself? He’d wait to see how things went the rest of the day. If an opportunity doesn’t present itself, perhaps he’d speak to her then.

“Sir, do you want me to bring the shuttle back and drop off a domestic crone? That way I will be able to replicate communicators for the people you recruit, and it could be very helpful in keeping the house clean as well,” Oly asked.

“As long as you can do it without being seen or tracked, I have no problem with it. Where are you going to drop the drone so it can’t be seen?” Ian asked.

Oly pointed out the window into the back yard. “There should be sufficient cover there for the drop. The cloaking field for the shuttle can be extended slightly to provide a screen until the drone falls below the top of the privacy fence,” Oly explained.

“What’s a domestic drone? We’re not going to have any creepy spider looking machines running around the house are we?” Beth asked.

Ian laughed, but Oly answered her. “No Doctor, a domestic drone operated on a suspensor field, call it anti-gravity. It floats just off the deck. It has extendables that it uses in its various cleaning and repairing duties, and is equipped with a small replicator. Of all the things on Earth it might look like, it appears to most resemble a canister vacuum cleaner that floats off the ground.”

“Oh, so what does it do?” Beth asked.

“Aboard ship, domestic drones is responsible for keeping the ship clean, to include private crew quarters as well as public areas. They have a wide range of tools that make them almost a necessity to any household. If you do not like having it here, I can always remove it back to the shuttle,” Oly said.

Ian grinned, kissed Beth on the cheek, and headed for his room, to change into swim trunks. Jenny and Cindy would be arriving soon, and he wanted to be ready when they got there.

Although it was still technically morning, Jenny Laskar and Cindy Swift arrived right on time for a day of swimming and hanging out. Ian had promised them a cook out, and had put steaks in a marinade the morning before.

While Ian got a pitcher of iced tea and glasses, the girls and Beth went to her room to get changed for the pool. Ian had already swum the length of the pool twice before the girls made an appearance.

Three beautiful women in tiny bikinis only reminded Ian of the problems he was having with his feelings for the wonderful ladies in his life. They walked out chatting like old friends, and to tell the truth, they looked like three friends, since Beth really didn’t look any older than the other two.

He did notice however, that Jenny seemed to look a little shell shocked. Briefly, Ian wondered if Beth might have told them of his secret already. He didn’t think so, because Cindy wasn’t as excited as she would be if she knew. So Ian wondered just what was getting to Jenny.

Chapter Four

Jenny had been having the visions since she was eleven. Over the last seven years she had learned how to read them, but not always understand them. If her vision was clear, what she saw would happen; if it was fuzzy or out of focus, it could be changed. Most people called them premonitions, Jenny felt like they made her a freak.

The only people she’d told about them were her parents, because sometimes they frightened her. However, one reoccurring vision she’d had warmed her heart. (Among other things) She’d had it so many times; she had taken to calling it simply The Vision. At first it was mostly fuzzy, but it showed her best friend, Ian, and her getting married, but the rest was fuzzy. Over the years, it had slowly changed in different ways, but never got much clearer. Tonight, the vision had been mostly crystal clear, and there was a lot more to it.

It had also been very arousing, and detailed. Now she had confirmation of something that she was only beginning to suspect would she be marrying her best friend Ian, but also Beth and Cindy. That last part confused her, she liked the other two women well enough sure, but why would she need to marry them?

She had cried out in her sleep, which is what had awakened her, and she knew her mother had come to check on her.

“Come in, Mom,” she said, not realizing her mother hadn’t knocked yet.

The door opened quietly and her mother, Julie, came into the room. “Are you okay, Honey? We heard you crying out.”

“Yeah, I’m okay. I had ‘The Vision’ again. This time though, it was pretty clear. I know what will happen, and I think you should probably sit down,” Jenny said pulling herself up to a sitting position.

“Why don’t I go get your father, and we can talk over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. He’s worried about you too,” Julie said.

“Yeah, you probably should since what I saw will involve both of you as well,” Jenny said.

“Okay, we’ll see you downstairs, honey,” Julie said as she left to fetch her husband.

Jenny chuckled as she got out of bed and got dressed. She caught a whiff of herself and headed to the bathroom to get cleaned up before confronting her parents. At least she knew they would make wonderful grandparents.

“Okay honey, what’s this all about?” Bill asked his daughter gently. He really did love her. She was a great daughter, she didn’t go out and party, nor did she go for the ‘badboy’ type. She hadn’t had a lot of close friends, except for the Williams’s boy, Cindy Swift and that young doctor Elizabeth Hayes. He also knew from hearing her describe her visions, that she would one day marry Ian.

“How do you two feel about becoming grandparents?” Jenny asked grinning from ear to ear. “That’s only one of the highlights of this tale.” She took a deep breath and forged on. “I’ll be moving in with Ian and Beth. Cindy and I are supposed to go over there for a day in the pool tomorrow and Ian will finally confess his love. Although it won’t be just for me, although he has loved me the longest. He will admit he has feelings for Cindy and Beth too, and it’s because of that he hasn’t come to me yet.

“Here’s where things start to get a little weird. You know I love Cindy and Beth has been a great friend. We will agree to, uh, share him even though he will officially marry me.” Jenny explained.

“Are you sure that’ll work, dear? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a deal like that working out. Jealousy and pressure from the society will eventually destroy it,” Jenny’s mother, Julie, said.

Jenny nodded. “I know, and normally, I’d agree with you on that, but there is a lot more to this tale. Remember, I said things start to get weird?” when they nodded, she continued. “Now it’s heading straight into the twilight zone. Last night, While Ian was at the graduation party, he was approached by someone. I didn’t see who it was really dark. Anyway, this person convinced Ian that he was the long lost Captain of an ancient crashed starship...”

Bill did a double take. “Wait, did you say starship?”

Jenny nodded. “Yes Daddy, that’s what I said. The thing is, it’s for real. There really is a huge ship crashed on the dark side of the moon, and Ian is its Commander. I will be living with Him, Beth and Cindy there. The three of you will be there too, you’re going to join us as crew.”

“Honey, I know your visions are always right, but this is a little hard to wrap my head around.” Julie said.

“Wait,” Bill said. “Did you say three of us?”

Jenny chuckled. “Is your needle stuck? You’re repeating yourself.”

“You know what I meant, now, what did you mean? Who’s number three?” Bill replied.

“Janet of course!” Jenny said. “I’m a precog, you really think I didn’t know?”

“Well, we hoped,” Julie said blushing. “But, since you know about it, I guess we don’t have to hide it anymore.”

“I appreciate you trying to make sure I had as normal a childhood as I could considering, but I’m an adult now, so you don’t have to worry about me anymore,” Jenny said. “But like I was saying, all of you will be there as well. However, we will be moving to a small community in New Mexico before we go up to the ship, I’m not sure why, I didn’t see that part.”

“When will you be moving in with Beth and Ian?” Julie asked.

“Graduation day. I won’t need to take everything, just some clothes and such. We can get the rest later. It’s not like I’m moving to another state or anything!” Jenny said grinning.

“What about college, dear?” Bill asked. “I thought you were excited about going?”

“You’re kidding, right? College or a chance like this? I don’t think I could turn this down if I had to!” Jenny said smiling. “Besides, Ian will be there, so you know I’ll be there too.”

“So, why did you cry out in your sleep? Does something go wrong?” Bill asked.

It was Jenny’s turn to blush. “Uh, no Daddy, nothing goes wrong as far as I can see.”

“So why did you scream?” Bill asked, cluelessly.

“I don’t think she was screaming in fear, Dear,” Julie replied and patted Bill’s hand.

“If it wasn’t in fear, then why else would she...” he paused and blushed himself. “Oh! Uh, never mind, sweetie, forget I asked.”

Jenny had never told her friends about her ability, she thought it made her a freak, so she hide it from everyone except her parents. So, when she got to Beth’s she had a very hard time not treating the others differently or acting differently around them.

When they all got out to the pool, Jenny had to fight herself not to jump in the pool and kiss Ian passionately. One thing was sure; Ian Williams was going to be a very happy man.

Watching the three women seemed to give Ian courage. He decided to just go over and tell all of them what was going on, and exactly how he felt about all of them. Put everything out there, and let the chips fall where they may. He felt he knew all three of them pretty well, which was one of the reasons he cared about them so much. He believed that no matter what, they would always be friends and that they would at least seriously consider going with him on this adventure.

He got out of the pool and walked over to where the girls had gathered. Picking up his towel, he dried off before getting some tea and sitting down.

“So, how is everyone’s weekend going?” Ian asked.

“Same ol’, same ol’,” Cindy said. “The parents are still nagging me to pick a college. Dad wants me to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and Mom wants me to go to UCLA. I’ve been considering applying to the Air Force Academy though, maybe I can get into the Astronaut program that way.”

Ian already knew that, but he thought her mentioning it would be a good lead in to what he wanted to ask them.

“Okay, Ladies, there is something I need to ask all of you. Well, not Beth since she already knows, but I need to ask both of you,” Ian said looking at Jenny and Cindy.

“Should we go inside for this? Will anyone over hear us out here?” Beth asked.

“I doubt it, even if they did, they would only think I was telling you all a story. You have to admit, this sounds more like a Science Fiction story than anything else,” Ian replied.

“That’s true, I know I wouldn’t have believed you if it hadn’t been for the images Oly showed me,” Beth agreed.

“Who’s Oly?” Cindy asked.

“He’s the holographic avatar of an ancient alien AI aboard a starship that crashed landed on our moon a long time ago,” Jenny answered, shocking Ian and Beth.

“Whoa, how did you know that?” Beth asked.

“What? You mean she’s right?” Cindy asked.

“Yeah, she is, but I don’t think she knows the whole story,” Ian said looking at Jenny with a raised eyebrow.

“No, I don’t think I do either. Look, you go ahead and tell the tale, and I’ll tell you guys how I knew this afterwards. Will that be okay?” Jenny asked.

“Okay, but don’t think you getting out of here without an explanation, Beautiful!” Cindy said.

Ian shook his head, but began the story just like he did for Beth earlier that day. Once again, Oly projected the images he was talking about, but they looked more solid due to the bright sunlight in the backyard.

It was clear both girls wanted to ask how the images were appearing, but Beth held a finger up to her lips to tell them to be quiet, and wait. This time, Ian gave more detail, and even Beth was paying attention. When he finished, he introduced Olympus to his friends.

“Finally, I would like to introduce you to the ship’s AI avatar, Olympus, whom I call Oly for short,” Ian finished.

“That’s one hell of a story, Ian. Since you’re telling us, and have proved it, I assume you want us to go with you?” Cindy asked. Her eyes were sparkling with excitement.

“Well, I was going to ask Jenny and Beth, I had reservations about asking you,” Ian teased. “Everyone knows you’re insane!”

“Uh huh, you need a pilot, and I’d love to do it. If you don’t take me with you, I’ll stow away in the luggage!” Cindy replied.

“Sir, assuming they agree, what positions did you have in mind for them?” Oly asked.

“Well, Beth has already agreed to become the Chief Medical Officer, I was considering Jenny as my second in command. If Cindy wants to be helmsman, I’m sure we can accommodate her, although once she sees the fighters, I’m sure she’ll change...”

“You have fighters on the ship?” Cindy asked excitedly. “I thought you said it was a cruiser?”

“It is a heavy cruiser, Cadet,” Oly replied. “However, Talosian ship sizes are different than what would be the norm here on Earth. You see, the Cruisers were multi-role ships. Capable of defending an entire colony, both in space as well as on the ground, without support. Because of that, Heavy Cruisers are actually larger than what was classified as a ‘Battleship’ which had only one purpose. The Heavy Cruiser class would be what you would consider an Aircraft Carrier, although it has far more space to ground and space to space weaponry than a carrier would be equipped with.”

“How many fighters are you equipped with?” Cindy asked.

“At the time the ship crashed, we had taken a few losses, and as such, were not up to full strength. I have since corrected that. The current fighter compliment stand at one-hundred twenty, mark-three Hornet Light attack craft, six long-range Centurion fighter/bombers and six medium cargo shuttles,” Oly explained. “That does not include the four marine assault shuttles as they are considered ground equipment.” As Oly named each of the craft, a small image of them was projected for the viewers.

“Holy shit!” Cindy said.

“Indeed,” Oly replied without missing a beat.

“Ian, I know I’ll be joining you, so will my parents and their friend, Janet,” Jenny said. “I also know all three of us will be your, uh, wives.”

“Say what?” Beth asked, looking at Jenny in surprise.

Jenny grinned. “All of us will be bonded to Ian. I know how I feel about him, and I’m pretty sure both of you feel the same way. I know the reason Ian hasn’t gotten with me was because he has feelings for all three of us.”

“Okay, this is getting just freaky. How do you know all this, Jen?” Ian asked.

Cindy looked at Jenny through squinted eyes. “She’s a precog. She can see events before they happen. I’ve always thought it was simply that she was really good a reading people, but it’s more than that, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is. Look, I would have told you guys before, but I was afraid you would think I was some kind of freak or something!” Jenny admitted. “The only people that knew are my parents, and they helped me hide it.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have thought any different of you, but it sure would have been nice to know it for certain!” Cindy said.

“That is amazing! Psionic gifts were only just beginning to surface among the populations of the Talosian Alliance when the war broke out. Unfortunately, research into these gifts had to be put on hold for the war effort. Precognition as well as Clairvoyance were two of the gifts that had been verified and measured,” Oly said. “It is truly amazing that those gifts survived to be revived in this population.”

“It may be that we already had the propensity for that trait Oly, and the mixing of the bloodlines only aided in its development. Be that as it may, it’s a subject we can explore later. For now, I’d like to hear more about how the three of us end up married to Ian.” Beth replied.

Before anyone else could speak up, Oly once again explained about multiple partner relationships, and the need for more children to perpetuate the species. “While there is love and other very powerful emotions involved in the bonding that is not all they are about. There is strength in numbers. This is true even for the family unit. It not only allows for a much wider breeding pool, it also helps to solidify alliances between other Families, Houses and Clans.”

“But, Oly, the Talosian people are gone. There are no more Houses and Clans, there’s just us.” Jenny said.

Oly nodded. “That is true, but if we are to rebuild the Talosian way of life, then should we not follow the Talosian model for their society?”

Ian shook his head. “Again, this is a subject we can resolve later. The problem before us right now, is that Jenny is absolutely correct. I have strong feeling for all of you. I simply couldn’t commit to one of you without feeling like I’ve betrayed the other two.”

Beth looked thoughtful. “I’m older than the three of you by a few years. In our society, a relationship between us would be frowned on until all of us were a lot older. For those reasons, I’ve fought to keep my emotions in the realm of friendship. I could very easily fall in love with you Ian. The three of you are pretty much the only real friends I have. So I guess the question then becomes could I share a lover with Jenny and Cindy?” She paused for a moment, and shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ll need to think on it for a while.”

Cindy blushed, and was a little hesitant to speak, which was very unlike the self-assured young woman. “I wouldn’t have a problem sharing Ian, as long as it was with the two of you. I think the only reason I haven’t tried to get Ian myself was because of you, Jenny.”

“I’ll share, Cindy. I’ve already seen this, I know we’ll be able to do it, and it’ll work great for us,” Jenny explained. “I agree it’s very different than what any of us expected, but it will work.”

“Really? So neither of you would mind if I drug Ian into my bedroom tonight after you go home?” Beth asked with a raised eyebrow.

Jenny laughed. “I’ve been wondering how you’ve kept from doing that since he moved in with you!”

“Gods! Isn’t that the truth! If he lived with us, I’d have been sneaking into his room as much as I could!” Cindy confessed.

Alright!” Ian said blushing. “I guess we can just not worry about the relationship thing either. According to Jenny, it’ll all work itself out. Personally, I think it’s going to make for an interesting few dates!”

“We can just go out as a group of friends, pretty much like we do now, only we bring Beth along from now on,” Cindy suggested.

Beth shook her head. “I think I better abstain until we get away from this town. You know how the people here are.”

“It won’t really matter,” Ian explained. “We won’t be here long enough for the rumors to really get flying. I want to get this rolling right after graduation. So basically, we’ll be here maybe another week.”

“More like three weeks, Ian,” Jenny said.

“Why?” Ian asked.

“There are things that we’ll need to do first. We’ll need to create a corporation as a cover for hiring people. There will be a town out in the New Mexico desert, and the ship will need to be fixed before we can move there,’ Jenny said.

“Pardon me, but the ship is fully repaired already.” Oly said. “What do you believe is wrong with it?”

Jenny shrugged. “I didn’t see that part, or I would have told you already.”

“Hold on,” Ian said. “This is getting way too mixed up for me to follow. Jenny, do you want to join me and Beth as a part of the crew for Olympus?”

Jenny grinned and nodded. “Yes, Ian.”

“Okay, great! Now, Cindy, do you want to join the rest of us, as a member of the crew of the Olympus?” Ian asked turning to her.

“Yes, Ian,” Cindy said, rolling her eyes.

“Okay, again, Great! Oly, I would like Jenny to receive the same training I get, and list her as First Officer. Cindy, would you rather fly the ship or a fighter?” Ian asked.

“I can’t do both?” Cindy asked.

“They are completely different, Miss Swift. Yes, you could do both, but the training for each is only remotely similar. I would not recommend doing them concurrently,” Oly replied.

“Oh, then I’ll do the fighters first,” Cindy replied.

“Okay, put her down as a Flight Candidate and start her training for that,” Ian ordered.

“Yes sir,” Oly replied.

“Okay, now, the relationship thing will work itself out, and Beth can look into the abilities thing when she has time. Now, Jenny, what did you mean about this corporation? I don’t think we have the money we’re going to need to do the things you’re talking about,” Ian said.

“Actually sir, we have all the money you should need. You see, over the course of history, I have had need to influence certain things, and to do so required money. I used a certain percentage of funds taken from a wide selection of criminal organizations. Those money taps are still in place. We have access to in excess of ten billion American dollars, although not all of it is actually in that currency,” Oly replied.

“What in the world did you need that much money for?” Cindy asked.

“I did not. However, certain bribes had to be made to ensure the Apollo program, as well as other space related programs stayed well away from the crash site. I’ve also used some of the money to fund small research projects to improve the technology of the planet. Nothing on a large scale though, I did not want to change the society, only assist it. The remainder of the money I kept in the case it would be needed once my commander was located,” Oly explained. “I was simply attempting to plan ahead.”

Recovering from the shock, Ian shook his head. “Uh, right, so we have money. Jenny, you said something about your folks joining us too? What about Cindy’s parents?”

“I don’t know anything about Cindy’s folks. But yes, my parents will be joining us,” Jenny said. “I’ll ask them to come over tomorrow and we can talk to them about it if you would like?”

“I think that would most likely be a good idea,” Ian said.

“You know, we have all had a lot of stuff dumped on us for one day,” Beth said. “Ian, why don’t you start the grill, and we’ll get lunch ready. Let’s take the rest of the day to absorb all of this, and ask questions if we think of them?”

“That’s a great idea, Beth!” Cindy said. “I feel like my head’s going to explode.”

Jenny stood with Ian, she took his hand and pulled him in for a brief kiss on the lips. “I love you, Ian. Everything will work out as long as we’re all together.”

Beth followed Jenny’s example, and gave Ian a kiss. “I’ve wanted to do that for a while now. I hope Jenny’s right.”

“Me too,” Ian said.

Not to be outdone, Cindy put a lip-lock on Ian, and showed no signs of letting up until Jenny cleared her throat. “He’s supposed to cook our lunch, Cindy.”

Cindy broke the kiss and sighed. “Right! Sorry, I forgot for a minute.”

Chapter Five

The remainder of the day the four friends talked and played together. As the sun settled and darkness began to fall, they had all grown much more comfortable with each other. Ian was sitting on the ground leaning up against a tree by the small fire place Beth had in her backyard. Jenny was sitting very close to him, with his arm around her shoulders.

On his other side, Beth was sitting close to him as well, and Cindy was cuddled up to her.

Ian realized something about Jenny that had been nagging him. “Oly, would you please display a hologram of Hera?”

Without comment, a new image took the place of Oly’s. The woman shown was very beautiful, with long, dark-chocolate hair, bright green eyes, olive complexion, and an almost perfect body. She was also a slightly older-looking version of Jenny as a brunette.

The girls looked at the image with startled expressions. “She looks just like Jenny!” Cindy said, stating the obvious.

“As well she should, Cadet. Her DNA signature is an almost exact duplicate of Commander Zeus’ mate. However, I think you will all be interested in this image as well,” Oly said as he displayed the image of his former commander.

“Ian, that’s you!” Beth said.

“Doctor, in the case of the Commander, there is only a point-one-zero-five disparity between himself and Commander Zeus. For all intents he could be considered a clone, although we know that is not the case,” Oly said. “The Colonel and her ancestor have a disparity of one-point-zero-nine.”

“Oly, I know I’ll learn it eventually in my studies, but I’m curious. I understand about Ian and Jenny being almost exact duplicates of Zeus and Hera, but what about the rest of us? How can you tell how much Talosian blood, for a lack of a better term, we have in us?” Beth asked.

“For the most part, Earth-born DNA, and Talosian DNA are the same. They are not exactly the same, but very close. I am considering a number of variables as being ‘Talosian’ as compared to ‘Terran’; certain markers in certain sequences, the existence of the extra nucleotides that were uniquely Talosian, and so on. For example; in order for a human to safely use the sleep teaching, they have to have certain markers in certain places or they could be damaged,” Oly explained.

“That doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Maybe it will once I understand it better, but it seems to me it should work for everyone,” Beth said. “I guess that’s something I can look into later.”

“Speaking of what you’re going to learn,” Ian said, biting his lip softly. “Beth, I need you to make a promise; however, keep in mind that promises have the weight of law in Talosian Society.”

“You can ask me anything, you know that,” she replied leaning her head on his shoulder opposite Jenny.

“Well, this is official. I need you to promise not to use any of the advanced medical knowledge you’re going to be learning on anyone here on Earth,” Ian said.

“Ian, that’s a lot to ask. You know I took an oath and as you just pointed out; I’m bound by it,” she said.

“I know, but if someone finds out that you’re curing cancer or AIDS, there'll be questions that we simply can’t answer. I’ll need you to have that knowledge next weekend when we go aboard so we can get Talena out of the freezer, but I can’t let you use it down here. If the person was part of the crew, I’d consider it, but any other way would threaten our security,” Ian explained.

“I can understand that, Ian. But...”

“Beth, please, a lot of the technology, especially the medical technology, can very easily be turned into a weapon. I’ve learned there are a lot of answers for a lot of questions, but the cures, with just a little tweaking, or the understanding of how they work can create terrible biological and viral weaponry. Trust me, you’ll be fulfilling your oath by not letting this technology fall into the hands of the planetary officials,” Ian said.

Beth sat in thought for a while, and leaned her head back against his shoulder. “I never really considered that angle. Oly will this promise compromise the Hippocratic Oath?”

“Yes, it does. However, I should point out that there are several errors in that oath, any of which would invalidate it. The basic premise of the oath is to help insure that new medical practitioners do their best for their patients. If we follow that reasoning, this promise will actually fit perfectly in upholding the principle,” Oly replied.

Beth was silent a moment, then nodded in understanding, and agreement. “I, Beth Williams, do so swear not to use Talosian Medical knowledge on those not of our group, without leave from my commanding officer until such time as situational security, and information control is no longer an issue.”

“Wow, you’re good at this!” Cindy said, impressed but giggling.

“Thank you, Major,” Ian said officially ignoring Cindy.

“Hey, how come she gets to be a Major, and I’m just a lowly Cadet?” Cindy asked teasingly. “For that matter, why are you only a Commander, and not a Captain? What rank is Jenny?”

“She’s a Colonel,” Ian replied, chuckling. “The Talosian rank structure is different than that of our military. You, as a Cadet, are basically an officer candidate. Once you pass ground school, you’ll become an Ensign. Actually, your rank is real, while ours is only honorary until we are qualified to hold it.

“But to answer your real question, Beth will be a Major because she is the head of the medical department and will need it. She will have to have certain knowledge of command procedures and protocols though.

“After Ensign, the progression is Lieutenant; (Junior and Senior grade), Captain, Major, Colonel and Lieutenant Commander, Commander and Commodore, Rear Admiral, Admiral, Vice Admiral, and Fleet Admiral,” Ian explained. “...and that’s only the officer ranks, of course in our structure, Colonel and Commander have ranks in both the marines and navy. Basically a special rank that works both military branches.”

“So in addition to all the command stuff, what do you need to learn?” Cindy asked.

“Well, that 'command stuff' is actually quite a bit. There is everything from fleet battle tactics to weapons theory. But besides all of that, I'll have to get certified on the Hornets and Centurions, as well as piloting and navigating Olympus. I'll also have to have marine officer training, as well as diplomacy and first contact protocols.”

“You forgot to mention engineering, sir,” Oly injected.

“Ah, sorry, Engineering too,” Ian said. “Jenny will get the same training I get, so she can take over if anything were to ever happen to me, or I was needed elsewhere.”

“Wow, I didn't realize there was so much involved to being a Commander. How long will it take you to learn all of that?” Cindy asked.

Ian shrugged. “I'll be at it as long as it takes. I just shudder to think of how long it would take me to learn it the old fashioned way!”

Beth cocked her head to one side. “Is it really that much faster? I just don't understand how the brain can absorb knowledge when it's in a sleep state.”

“Well, last night, I learned a slightly compressed version of the history of the Talosian people, as well as, how to use some of this technology. Honestly, it feels kinda strange. There is so much information in there, it feels like it takes a while to actually come to the surface, so to speak. When you first wake up, you're really confused for a second until your brain gets back into its normal mode,” Ian shrugged. “It's hard to describe, but you'll know exactly what I mean in the morning.”

“I had a question about that,” Jenny asked. “When we start recruiting people, what's to disprove the folks that will claimed we are brainwashing them into accepting us?”

“Nothing really. This is a form of brainwashing, although it isn't to make people want to be a part of this. Which is why folks have to agree before we give them contacts and the communicators.”

“But won't people freak out once they learn that is what's really going on? I mean, we've been conditioned to believe that any form of brainwashing is a very bad thing,” Cindy replied.

“Have you heard of those relaxation or self-help CDs and tapes?” Beth asked.

“Yeah, who hasn't?” Cindy said.

Beth smiled at her. “What do you think those are? Most of them use a form of subliminal programming to work. Granted, those aren't exactly the same what I understand this to be, but the principle is the same.”

“Those things use brainwashing?” Cindy asked.

Both Ian and Beth nodded. “Although what Olympus does with this teaching method is far more powerful, and lasts a lot longer, it is a form of hypnotism,” Ian replied.

“Excuse me, sir?” Oly said, materializing on the other side of the fire.

Ian smiled, and said, “What’s up, Oly?”

“Sir, I thought you might like to know, the shuttle has returned from the ship.”

“Thank you, Oly.” He turned to the ladies, “Would any of you lovely ladies like to see a real space shuttle?”

Chapter Six

After a tour of the shuttle, and the ladies getting new communicators, Oly dropped off two domestic drones before Ian had him send the shuttle back into orbit. After Jenny and Cindy left, Ian promised Beth he would clean up before turning in.

She smiled softly and came into his arms. “You know, I think I’m going to like the new relationship between us, I had a wonderful day.”

Ian held her and returned her smile. “I still don’t understand how the three of you are going to do this, but I’m very glad you’re willing to try.”

She rested her head against his chest. “I think we will have a few awkward times, but all in all, we’ll work through it.” She turned her face up to him for a kiss, which he gave her. “I’ll see you inside,” she said before letting go of him to walk into the house.

He watched her go, watching the extra sway in her walk. He sighed, and turned back to the task at hand.

Ian began carrying the dishes into the kitchen. He set the stuff by the sink and went back to get another load. When he returned, to the kitchen, the plates he’d carried in before were sparkling clean, and stacked up on the counter. That’s when he noticed the domestic drone hovering nearby waiting for him to set his new burden down.

Ian chuckled. “Sorry, I forgot about you, here you go,” he said as he slid a plate into the open door on the drone. The dirty plate disappeared, and a clean one replaced it. “So that’s how you do it. Would it be easier if you just followed me outside do them all at once?” Ian asked as he took the plate out and stacked it with the rest.

The drone made a weird beeping noise and bobbed up and down.

“Okay, let’s go then. I bet this is a lot easier aboard ship, huh?”

The drone bleeped a couple times and followed. They moved around and Ian handed the drone all the dirty dishes, until finally, only the left-overs remained. “Oly, I’m still getting used to how the drones work, if I understand correctly, I can have it decompose the left-overs, but remember the composition so it can be replicated later? I really like Beth’s potato salad, and would like to have it on file.”

“You are correct, Commander. If you tell it to, the drone will store the pattern for any object, or in this case, the composition of the Doctor’s potato salad.

“I should mention that I have been scanning the patterns of most goods on the planet in preparation for your arrival. Of course, I can, and usually do, remove harmful substances. For example, I have four-hundred ninety-six different types of beer scanned. I can reproduce them either with, or without, alcohol and they will still taste the same.

“If you ask any replicator for one of them; you will get the non-alcoholic version by default. The same goes for soft-drinks, all caffeine and other addictive substances have been removed unless specifically requested. In some cases, medical authorization would be required to replace them.”

Ian sat down in one of the chairs. “We’ve really been screwing up, haven’t we Oly?”

“I am afraid I do not understand the question, sir. Please clarify.”

“Us. The human race, we’ve let greed overcome common sense and we’ve been screwing up. We’re killing the planet, and poisoning each other just to make money,” Ian explained.

“Yes, it would seem that way. Your society is driven by selfish, rather than selfless concerns. However, it is human nature to do so. I always thought it odd that a greater benefit could be gained, even to the individual, if the prime motivation were for the greater good.”

“You’ll have to give me a course in Talosian economics when we have enough time, I think I might enjoy it. Can you have the drone service the pool? I should’ve done that today, but I forgot,” Ian asked.

“That should not be a problem, sir.”

“Well, I’ll let you and this nice drone finish up for me, It’s been an eventful day, and I’m kind of tired,” Ian replied.

“Switching communications to privacy mode. Good night, Commander.”

“Good night, Olympus. Please wake me at six-thirty in the morning.”

“As you wish, sir,” Oly replied.

The beeping in his ear reminded Ian that he’d asked to be woken up this early. “I’m awake, Oly, thanks,” he said quietly as he sat up and rubbed his face. He pulled on a pair of shorts and headed for the bathroom to start his day.

“Good morning, Olympus. What’s our status?”

“Good morning, Commander. Ship’s status is unchanged. Beta flight deck is offline, and all fighters are powered down. Alpha flight deck is online but functioning at minimum power. Main reactor is at idle, and no enemy vessels are within sensor range. Ship’s crew currently stands at five, with three more possible recruits,” Oly replied automatically. Ian realized his mind stored all that information quickly, and came to some conclusions.

“Please bring the main reactor up to ten percent, and power up Beta deck. I want a level three diagnostic on all flight systems. Do the same for Alpha bay, and include the flight operations control center. Once those are finished, I’ll want you to run a level three check on each of the ship’s other systems. At no time do I want the main reactor to go above ten percent. Once the tests are finished, return the reactor to idle,” Ian ordered. “Have a drone or two get the command quarters ready for us, as well as two or three more apartments. Give special attention to the medical facilities; we’ll probably need them for Talena.”

“Yes sir,” Oly replied.

“How is the girls’ training coming along?” Ian said as he started the shower.

“The Doctor and Cadet started on their unique specialized training last night, while the Colonel got history and started on command functions. All of them have gotten the Talosian language and computer operation. I included an introduction to each of their chosen fields, In the case of the First Officer, I started her on Diplomacy in order to compliment your own instruction schedule.”

Ian thought about that while he got in the shower and started washing himself. “Good. Today is going to be finals at school, I feel pretty confident about them, but Jenny always stresses over tests. Let us try to answer the questions on the tests, but if we get a wrong answer, let us know, but don’t give us the correct answer. If we don’t know the answer, then we don’t know. That’s the point of the tests.

“Tomorrow, all we have to do is turn our books in, and graduation rehearsal. We have only a half day tomorrow, so we should be home around noon. I’d like to invite the Laskars over for dinner tomorrow night, to discuss what they would like to do aboard ship, and how to cover their disappearance.

“Graduation will be Friday night, and we’ll be leaving for the ship the next morning. We’re going to need a lot more crew, so I’m not going to plan on staying aboard ship yet.” Ian paused. “I noticed you didn’t report on my training.”

“No sir, I did not. I am sure you may have noticed that you are acting a little differently today. Last night I gave you more of the command training as well as ethics and ship’s functions. I started you on basic combat training as well. You are doing remarkably well, you are absorbing the knowledge almost like you already know it,” Oly said.

Ian paused while washing his hair. “You know, that’s really weird; when you were talking about Talena the other day, I could almost remember talking to her about going into cryo. Was getting Zeus’ memories part of this training?”

“No sir, they are not. I do not understand how that could even be possible. Teaching material is input manually by special programmers. However, the closest thing would be that I gave you a copy of Commander Zeus’ log, but that is standard procedure when a change of command is imminent. No such incidents like this have ever been reported,” Oly replied, looking a little worried.

“Well, it doesn’t seem to be effecting me too badly yet, but I think it’s something I’ll want to keep an eye on. I’ll talk to Beth about it. For now, I think you should probably wake the ladies so we can get ready for the day,” Ian said as he finished rinsing his hair.

“Beth, I got to thinking about something last night that you might not have thought of. Please don’t think I don’t want you with us, because I very much do, but have you considered that what we are starting here may end up killing us all. Olympus is a warship. She has only one purpose. Granted she is capable of carrying colonists to a new planet, but that only started after the war did.

“Oly seems to think that the enemy that destroyed Talos is here. He has no proof, but I’ve seen all the recordings, and examined Commander Zeus’ logs. I tend to agree with him. Why they haven’t invaded or openly taken over I couldn’t even venture to guess.

“Perhaps they aren’t here, and I’m just letting Oly’s paranoia infect me, but if they are here, and we make one little mistake, it could very well kill all of us,” Ian said as she sat down to her meal.

“So why are we doing this? As far as I can see, there isn’t that much wrong with our world now, other than greed, and war, and... but the point is, those are all human issues, what do we do if we get up there, get Oly ready to fight, and there is no enemy?”

“I know all those are human issues, but with Olympus’ help, we could work behind the scenes to make this a better world. As far as the enemy is concerned, there is one, and it is out there. Whether or not we actually have an enemy to fight once we get Oly up to strength, is irrelevant. The enemy will be here eventually. The more time we have to prepare, the better off we’ll be,” Ian said. “I just can’t see a reason not to do this.”

While they were talking Cindy and Jenny both arrived, dressed for school. Jenny was carrying her books, and already looking worried. They sat down and the drone produced food for them without being asked.

Ian chuckled at the expression on Jenny’s face. “Are you already starting to worry about the tests?”

“Yeah, I didn’t get to study as much as I’d planned to. These are finals, Ian,” she said.

“Jenny relax, you’ve always worried about every test we ever took in school. Yet you’ve always gotten ‘A’s on every single one of them. Trust yourself, you know the answers. Relax and just answer them,” Ian said kindly.

Jenny played with her food a little. “I know, Ian. You’ve told me that over and over again, but I still worry about them. I guess they had me in mind when they created the term ‘test anxiety’.”

“Well, you guys better eat up and get going, or you’ll be late. I need to be getting to my office as well, and start calling the other doctors. It’s going to be a long day,” Beth said.

Ian met Jenny and Cindy for lunch. Cindy was having a blast, and Jenny was still scared to death. Oly told Ian privately that, of the four tests she had taken she had made a total of five mistakes, which she corrected when he pointed them out. Ian had actually made seven mistakes, two of which he didn’t honestly know the answers to. Either way it was still an ‘A’ so Ian was happy. Two more hours and high school would be over. It was actually three, but both Ian and Jenny had study hall for seventh period.

Cindy was having fun, she always enjoyed tests; an attitude that Jenny found annoying. Oly reported that Cindy had not actually missed any answers yet, even though she tended to finish well before the rest of her class. She had only taken three of her finals so far, since her study hall was in the mornings.

They ate lunch and chatted; agreeing to meet at the car after Cindy finished her geography test, and headed off to class.

Two hours later, Ian met Jenny at her locker. She was a nervous wreck. “Oly can you hack into the school computers?” Ian asked.

“Yes sir,” Oly replied.

“Good, adding in the final test scores of the Colonel, calculate her final grade and display it for her only, will you?” Ian asked.

Jenny inhaled sharply and looked worriedly at Ian. Suddenly she closed her eyes, and seemed to relax a little bit. She stood there for a full minute, and by the time she opened her eyes, she was smiling. “Thank you, Oly. That really sets my mind at ease.”

“You are welcome, Colonel. May I be the first to congratulate you on receiving such high marks?”

“Well, thank you again, Oly,” Jenny said.

“Jen, could you ask your folks to take tomorrow off, at least the second half, and possibly Wednesday as well?” Ian asked.

“Sure, what do I give them for a reason?” She replied.

Ian grinned. “I’d kinda like that to remain a surprise. But if they really need to know, I’ll tell them privately,” Ian said grinning.

“Okay, I’ll give them a call when we get home. I should be able to catch both of them still at their offices.”

Ian leaned in to kiss her softly on the lips. “I love you, you know.”

She squinted at him. “Okay Williams, what do you got up your sleeve this time?”

“I think you’ll like it, but I’m not going to let you in on it yet,” Ian replied.

“Okay, just one question; is it ‘family’ business or...” She left the rest unsaid because there were a few other students around and didn’t want to be overheard.

“Family business, definitely family business,” Ian replied.

Ian and Jenny were openly holding hands and walking slowly toward the parking lot. They were both stopped many times and asked to sign someone’s year book. Jenny got a strange look in her eyes when she signed one. Jon Weist had asked her to sign his book, and she did, Ian noticed she added a phone number, one he didn’t recognize.

When the young man left, Ian looked at her. “What was that all about?”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Jenny replied.

“The faraway look, and adding a phone number to your signature. It looked like you were having another premonition.”

Jenny looked thoughtful. “I think I did, but I don’t actually remember it. It felt a little different from the others.”

“Well, I imagine we’ll eventually figure it out,” Ian said.

When they got out to the parking lot, Cindy was already there, waiting.

“Sorry,” Ian said. “We had to sign some yearbooks on the way out here.”

“No problem, I just got here myself,” She replied. ”I got to thinking about a couple of things today. I was thinking how much I’m going to miss my friends here. It led me to asking Oly how many of the kids here could use the teaching machines. You know, if we included their families, we could almost get our full crew right here?” Cindy said.

“I don’t doubt we could. So, how would you explain the better part of an entire school, and their families, just up and disappearing?” Ian asked.

Cindy, who had thought she was on to something, got a thoughtful look on her face. “I guess I didn’t think of that. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, please, keep thinking up stuff. Just because I’ll try to shoot it down doesn’t mean I’ll always be able too. We’re all in this together; your ideas are every bit as important as mine,” Ian explained to her. “However, I do like your idea, so, I’d like you to put a list of the names of all your friends that you think would not only make good crew members, but might also be open minded enough to accept the Talosian way of life. You too, Jenny. That way, when we do get to the point that we can selectively recruit people, we can come back for them.”

Chapter Seven

Jenny had called her parents and they’d agreed to Ian’s request. Beth was harder to convince, but eventually agreed to take the time off.

Ian went into his room for a while to speak to Oly while the girls were occupied at the pool.

“Oly, can you have the shuttle meet us somewhere for a flight to Las Vegas tomorrow afternoon?” Ian asked.

“Yes sir, but do you think that is wise during daylight hours?” Oly replied.

“For what I have in mind, it won’t really matter much. My grandparents had a farm just outside of town. It’s pretty rural, so there’s a slim chance anyone would see us there. Plus, there’s a big enough clearing for you to easily land without retracting the wings,” Ian explained. “Display a map of our area, and I’ll show you where to land.”

Once that was done, Ian asked for the drone to replicate some very specific items for his surprise the next night.

Oly grinned. “I am sure they will all be pleasantly surprised, Commander.”

“I hope so,” Ian said a bit nervously. “Now to official business,” Ian switched to Talosian. “Olympus; Command Override. Access Command protocols. Authorization; Williams, Ian, omicron-theta-seven-five-theta-zero-two.”

Oly immediately disappeared with the words ‘Command Override’. However, Ian noticed the voice that answered him was not that of his AI.

“Access granted. What can we do for you, Commander?”

Ian sighed, he hadn’t been sure he could get access to these. “A situation has developed that prompts me to request special circumstances. Olympus has been stranded in its current position for over four thousand cycles. Olympus claimed to have repaired everything, but I would like to make sure of this before I take command and begin moving crew aboard.”

“Stand-by, accessing recent AI records...” The baritone voice replied. The program, for lack of a better term, was essentially another AI like Olympus, except its sole function was to ensure the ship did not fall into the wrong hands. It was normally dormant unless called upon. Ian waited patiently while it got caught up on ‘recent’ events. Finally after about five minutes, it replied. “Assimilation complete. It would appear you have begun to issue orders already to affect these ends. No Defense Force bases are located in the vicinity; explain your ‘special circumstances’.”

“I have issued orders for a level three check on all ship’s systems. However, Olympus reported it took over nine hundred cycles to repair the main reactor and decontaminate the affected areas of the ship. Prolonged exposure to that type of radiation can cause the molecular structure of certain alloys to begin breaking down. I have noted the presence of those alloys in the hull and superstructure of the ship. I would like to request dry dock authority to check these areas as well as devise a plan to lift the ship off the moon. To accomplish this, I would need to be allowed on board without taking command. Protocol dictates that I cannot assume command while the ship is not space-worthy,” Ian said.

“Dry dock access granted, Weapons access granted for defensive purposes only. This protocol will remain active until change of command is complete. Commander Zeus informed this protocol of the plan he had before abandoning this ship. This protocol agrees with the ship’s AI about your suitability for the genetic requirements of command. You are obviously intelligent enough to learn what is required to command this ship. Proceed with repairs. Returning control to ship’s AI.”

Ian was a little taken aback at the abruptness of the protocol, but figured since it had such a small job; they didn’t spend a lot of time on its personality. Oly reappeared looking a little nervous.

“Oly, how many maintenance drones do you have on board the ship?” Ian asked.

“Two hundred, sir. Currently thirty of them are involved in the level three diagnostic.”

“Good, power up the rest of them, and have them do a level one check on the hull and superstructure, especially the areas that were exposed to the radiation from the reactor. Upgrade the previous order for a level three diagnostic to a level one, except for the main reactor. Once we have the rest of the ship cleared for duty, we’ll do a level one of the reactor as well. Hopefully, by that time, we’ll have some engineers aboard,” Ian said.

“Sir, level two and above diagnostics require the use of the specialized AI aboard dry dock facilities. We cannot run those tests outside of a dry dock facility.”

“Don’t you have the same knowledge as the AI’s on the stations?” Ian asked.

“Yes sir, but...”

“When docked, doesn’t the base AI have to connect through you to get to those systems?”

“Yes sir, but...”

“So take the place of the base AI to run the tests. The equipment sure won’t know the difference.

“Sir, I do not have access to the correct protocols to perform those tests,” Oly said.

“Do not have access, or do not have, period?” Ian asked.

“Do not have access. Of necessity, the protocols are stored in the computer systems of the ship in which the equipment is installed,” Oly replied.

“Olympus; command override. Access subroutine protocols.” Ian said and Oly disappeared again.

“Access granted.” A voice replied.

“Status of authorization for local AI access to level two and above maintenance protocols?” Ian asked.

“Local AI blocked for level two and above. Dry Dock access only.”

“Execute command override for local AI access to level two and above maintenance protocols. Access to remain in place until next change of command.” Ian ordered.

“Access for local AI to level two and above maintenance protocols granted. Access to be suspended upon next change of command event.”

“Exit to normal control,” Ian said as Oly reappeared.

Oly blinked a couple of times. “I now have access to all diagnostic protocols except those for my core unit. I will change your orders as mentioned earlier.”

Ian nodded. “Good, I think I’ll go out and spend some time with my ladies. Let me know if anything comes up in those diagnostics.”

“Sir, one hundred and sixteen maintenance drones have failed during power-up. Fifteen more have needed to reinitialize themselves. Three are stuck in an endless loop trying to initialize,” Oly reported.

“I kinda thought that might happen. Of that batch of one hundred seventy, have the ones that are functional repair the rest before beginning their diagnostics. We’ll need as many of them functioning as we can get.”

“Sir, you are acting like you knew there would be problems, yet my own tests tell me there are none,” Oly said.

Ian looked thoughtful. “I was thinking about what Jenny said last night. Zeus was a good and smart person, but the one thing I don’t think he thought of was how much time his plan would actually take. He should have issued orders to flood all compartments with an inert gas, and seal them.

“Still, I don’t know if that would have helped all that much. None of that equipment, except the drones, has been used since the ship crashed. Hell, even most of the drones have been parked for three thousand years. Time affects everything. I just want to make damn sure of every system before we risk anyone’s life. Assumptions of this size get people killed.”

Oly nodded and faded out as Ian walked out to be with the girls.

School the next day was a breeze; they cleaned out their lockers, and turned in their books. They said good-bye to their teachers and friends and, after graduation rehearsal, headed for home.

Bill and Julie Laskar arrived shortly after twelve-thirty, and Ian had the drone make sub sandwiches for everyone. Because of their works schedules, it was the first time Bill and Julie Laskar would be meeting Oly.

Bill was immediately fascinated with Oly and Julie was a bit leery of the drone.

“Ian, Jenny told us some of the things that were happening, but she never mentioned... that,” Julie said pointing to the drone.

“Relax Julie, it’s a domestic drone. Aboard ship it does all the household chores and some minor maintenance around the living quarters. They’re harmless,” Ian explained. “Not to mention damn handy to have around.”

Ian got Oly’s attention away from Bill. “Oly, why don’t you tell the tale of how and why we met. The drone can replicate lenses and communicators for Bill and Julie, and then I think it would be time for my surprise.”

Oly nodded and began speaking. The drone gave Ian the requested items and Ian helped the older couple put them on.

When Oly had finished, Bill and Julie looked at each other, and smiled. Bill looked up to Ian. “Where do we sign up, Captain?”

Ian chuckled. “Actually, it’s Commander, and I think you already have. Oly, Bill should be in computer science, and Julie would make a great logistics officer.” Ian looked around at the rest of the group. “Now, is everyone ready for the beginning of my surprise?”

“I’d say we were a bit past the ‘ready’ part!” Cindy quipped.

“Okay everybody, follow me,” Ian said and headed for the garage. Inside, Ian walked over to the driver’s door of a brand new Hummer H2. “Pile in everyone, there should be plenty of room.”

“Wow! This is so neat!” Cindy said.

“So this is why you had me park on the street last night, I was wondering,” Beth said. “This is a great surprise, Ian. But where did you get it?”

“This is only the beginning of the surprises, love. I had Oly replicate it yesterday, and he brought it down in the shuttle last night. Come on, we’ve got a lot more to do before the night’s over.”

Everyone climbed in, and Ian drove them out to his grandparent’s farm. He got out, opened the gate, and drove though.

When he got back in after closing it, Beth asked, “I know you won’t tell me, but what are we doing out here?”

“You’re right, I won’t tell you yet,” Ian said grinning. “Trust me; I think you’ll all like this.”

Instead of parking in front of the house, Ian drove around the big machine shed, and they all saw the opening for the cloaked shuttle. Ian simply drove the big truck up the ramp and parked inside. “We’ll need the truck when we get to where we’re going. But let’s go to the lounge and relax. I’ll explain what I have planned for tonight.”

“I thought the ship was on the moon?” Bill asked. “Not to mention I thought it would be a lot bigger.”

Ian chuckled. “This is only a shuttle, Bill. The ship itself is still on the moon. We won’t be going up until after graduation. Beth needs the time to learn more about Talosian medicine before we get there.”

“Actually, Ian, we can go anytime. Oly says I know enough to take care of Talena if she needs it. I might need to bring a portable autodoc back with us, and I have no clue how we’d get one in our house without anyone seeing it,” Beth said.

“Hmm, we might just make a trip up to get her tomorrow then. I’ll give it some thought,” Ian said.

When they entered the lounge, Oly greeted them. “Cadet, would you please report to the bridge for a ‘hands on’ lesson?” Cindy grinned and nodded as she headed for the small bridge. Oly turned back to the group and looked at Ian. “Your orders, Commander?”

“Please display side views on each wall as if there were large windows. You may lift when you’re ready,” Ian said.

Oly nodded, and two large bay windows appeared on each outside wall, as the group took seats. The shuttle lifted, and rose into the sky. Ian noticed everyone staring out the windows in rapt attention. The view was rather spectacular, especially when they entered space.

Once in orbit, Cindy returned to the lounge. “That was such a trip! I loved it!” She hugged Ian.

“Okay, I suppose you’re all wondering why I dragged you up here. Mostly, it’s for that,” he pointed out the window at the view of Earth. “But I also wanted the right... atmosphere for what I want to say next.” Ian had been guiding the girls to sit next to each other on one couch.

“Beth Hayes, Cindy Swift and Jennifer Laskar; I love you all more than I can express with words. My love for each of you is different, but equal. Later tonight, I would like us all to drop down to Las Vegas where we have reservations at a wedding chapel where I will ‘officially’ marry Jenny, however, before we get there...” he knelt on one knee before the girls.

“Ladies, would all of you do me the honor of becoming my bond-mates under Talosian law?” he pulled the four rings he’d had replicated from his pocket and showed them to the women.

All three had tears in their eyes as Ian sat, waiting for their answer. Beth spoke first. “Ian, over the last few years I have gotten to know you. When I first brought you into my home, it was as a favor to my friends; your parents. However, since that time, I have gotten to know you more, and I fell in love with you. You have been the only man in my life since college. It is my fondest wish to become your bond-mate and wife.”

Jenny went next. “Ian, I have known you and your family since the second grade. I think I’ve loved you that long as well; though in the beginning it was the love for a friend. What I feel for you now cannot be quantified in words. I will be your bond-mate, and wife.”

Finally it was Cindy’s turn. “Ian, I don’t know how to say what I feel. You are, and have been, the only man I’ve ever actually loved. I’ve been bonded to you for as long as I can remember. I love Jenny and Beth too, so I understand what you mean when you said ‘different, but equal’. In my heart and mind, I am already your bond-mate as well as the bond-mate to my sister-wives. I always have been. So yes; I’ll be your bond-mate and wife.”

Bill and Julie were holding hands and smiling widely on the other couch, as they watched. Julie was crying happy tears.

Ian handed a ring to each of the women. “Oly please translate for the Laskars.” He switched to Talosian. “I accept this ring as an outward sign of our love. I accept the love and the commitment of my chosen life mates. I accept the responsibility of protection, and the offer of comfort. I offer in return my love, and life to share, in happiness, and in sorrow, for the rest of my life.” He slipped his ring on his left ring finger.

The ladies each repeated his words and slipped their rings on as well. The newly bonded group exchanged kisses, and Oly announced that he had officially recorded the bonding.

Bill and Julie rose to congratulate the happy group and welcome their new son and daughters-in-law.

“Hey! I get to call you mom and dad now!” Beth teased.

“Don’t you dare!” Julie said, in mock threat.

“Ian,” Bill said, “I don’t mean to interrupt what you have planned, but I’m supposed to pick Janet up at the airport tonight.”

“Do you think she’d accept all this?” Ian asked the couple.

“I think so,” Julie said. “I know she's always been a fan of science fiction stuff, so I think she'll accept this. As for the group relationship, yeah, I know she'll accept that.” ”

“What time is she due in?” Beth asked.

“About nine, right now she’s stuck in Denver on a layover.” Bill said.

Ian grinned, “Oly, let’s go get her. Make like a private jet and land at Denver International Airport.” He turned to the Laskars, “Can either of you get her on the phone?”

Bill pulled out his cell and looked at it with a frown, “Well, I guess that answers that question. ‘No Service’.”

Ian chuckled, “Just tell Oly the number you want to call and he’ll connect you.”

Bill rattled off the number and Oly nodded to him. “Tell her to go to private gate twelve-B; we’ll be there in twenty five minutes.”

While Bill talked to lover, everyone watched the reentry and the rapid decent. When Bill got off the phone with Janet, he asked Ian, “Won’t somebody notice that we just dropped out of orbit to land at the airport?”

“Everything is computerized Bill, you should know that. Oly is the only AI in the system. He can make them believe anything he wants them to. As for somebody seeing the ship, what they will see will be something perfectly normal, like a Boeing 727 or something like that. No one will notice as long as they don’t try to either service the craft or refuel it.”

“Well shouldn’t either you or Cindy be on the bridge to fly?” Julie asked.

“Actually neither of us are qualified to pilot the shuttle yet, Cindy’s learning, but for now, Oly has to fly it,” Ian said nodding to the AI.

“Oh, but didn’t she just fly us up here?” Julie asked.

“No, Oly did. Cindy was up there so he could show her more about how to fly. She’s been going through ground school since Saturday night,” Ian explained.

“You mean she’s only been training for three nights?” Julie said fearfully.

“I guess we should explain a little more about how the Talosian method of teaching works,” Ian replied and began telling them about dream learning. He finished up as Oly announced that they would be landing in just a few minutes.

Chapter Eight

Janet Laskar had a somewhat sad look to her, but tried her best to hide it. Ian and Bill both got her bags from the taxi and carried them to the ‘plane’. Once she climbed aboard though, her entire expression changed to one of awe, and pleasure. “God-dammit! I knew it! I knew that old bugger wasn’t jerkin’ my chain!”

Ian looked at her with concern. “Mrs. Laskar, please don’t take offense, but what are you talking about?”

Janet laughed. "My last name is actually Larson, but I'll accept Laskar. As for what I'm talking about - believe it or not, an old shaman told me." As she spoke, her voice changed to imitate mannerisms of the old Indian shaman.

"He told me about how great white men had fought a losing battle, they came here to save their people. Save them they did, but lost themselves in the process. They came from a great mountain far away, the mountain held the power of life, and of death.

“The evil ones that had beaten the great white men will come again, and the mountain will be calling the children home to restore this world, and fight the evil ones. Your children, and your children's children, will be called by the mountain; even you will be called, but might not hear.

“The mountain will come from its hiding place, and many evil ones will die, but many of the children will die as well. Look to the young, old man. He will know the right path. He will guide the children." Her voice changed back into her own.

"Since then I would get flashes of images, just like freeze frames really. Over time I pieced things together, and I listened for that damned mountain. I listened real hard.

“Damn Shaman was speaking metaphorically. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had the power of clairvoyance. Not that it was ever something I could control mind you, but still it’s helped out from time to time.

“I knew Jenny would be married to a man as well as other women. That the small family would grow in both lovers and children. I know there are many great battles coming, one of which will destroy our way of life and millions will die. It was all so vague that I didn’t get many details. Though I know that we all play important parts in what is yet to come.”

While she had been talking, Ian had led her to one of the couches and she sat down. A nod to Oly got them airborne again and returned them to orbit.

“Can I get something to drink?” Janet asked.

“Sure, what would you like?” Ian asked.

“A Pepsi would be good, but I’ll take whatever you’ve got on board,” she replied.

Everyone else asked for something as well, and Ian got the orders out of the replicator.

“Wow, that’s a handy device,” Janet commented.

“Janet, I have the same gift as you. I’ve known I would marry Ian since I was eleven. But that’s the only really long term premonition I’ve ever had, and it was so fuzzy I didn’t even understand it at first,” Jenny said.

“That’s just the way it works, dear. It’ll get stronger as you get older. So, who’s going to tell me what’s really going on?” Janet asked.

The replicator slot opened again to reveal another communicator and a set of lenses for Janet as Oly began to speak. This time, he included the information on how the dream teaching worked and he explained about replicators.

When he’d finished, Ian stood. “I hate to cut this short, but we have a wedding to prepare for. Our appointment is in an hour and a half.”

“An hour and a half! Ian you beast! We can’t get Jenny ready that fast!” Beth said. “We don’t even have a dress for her! And what about the rest of us? You expect us to go to your wedding looking like the Beverly Hillbillies?”

Ian just pointed to the replicator. “There are two sleeping rooms and a bathroom on board as well. In the front bedroom, you’ll find a very diverse make-up kit. Anything else you need, you should be able to get from the replicator, including a Valium to calm down.” He turned to Jenny, and looked in her eyes. “I know this isn’t the ‘ideal’ wedding, but we can do this as formal as you want. We can do the white dress and tux, or we can just put on nice slacks and shirts. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“I think I’d like the dress and tux. That’s how I first saw us in my visions,” she said meekly.

He gently led her over to one of the ‘windows’. “Do you have an idea of what the dress looked like?” Ian asked as he noticed the rest of the girls followed, even Janet had gotten up to gather around them.

As Jenny started describing the gown, Oly changed the view to display images of Jenny wearing different dresses. The more she described the more detail Oly added. Pretty soon the other girls were helping her, and Ian quietly stepped away to give them room. Ian sat back down with Bill and finished his soda.

“You had to know you were kicking a hornet’s nest with that ‘hour and a half’ thing,” Bill said.

“I kind of figured, yeah. That’s why the reservations are really two and a half hours from now. In addition to giving away the bride, how do you feel about being best man?”

“I’d be honored, Ian,” Bill said.

Ian winked, “At least I won’t be the only one in a penguin suit.”

Even with the extra hour Ian had added in, they still managed to arrive at the chapel only five minutes early. Beth gave Ian a dirty look when she found out about the deception, but quickly got over it.

They filled out the paperwork, and the ceremony was on. Bill guided Jenny down the aisle and Ian thought Bill’s chest would start popping buttons on his shirt any minute. Bill handed Jenny off to Ian, then took his place beside the groom. Beth and Cindy stood to Jenny’s side, and the minister began the ceremony.

Ian and Jenny had taken their bonding rings off and gave them to Bill before they got to the little chapel. Now, he solemnly presented them back to the couple on a velvet pillow provided by the chapel. Ian and Jenny were officially made husband and wife in the tearful presence of their families, and witnesses provided by the chapel.

When they got back out to the truck, Ian asked them what they wanted to do now. “I wasn’t sure what everyone would want to do, so I made dinner reservations at the Mirage. We can go see a show, or just retire to our suites, also at the Mirage. Or... we can take the shuttle back up and spend the night in orbit. Ladies, it’s your wedding night, I’ll let you pick.”

“The rest sounds pretty good, but I’m wondering if Oly can turn off the gravity in one of the staterooms on the shuttle,” Cindy said, grinning.

“I think that would be kind of awkward.” Jenny said.

Cindy’s grin grew bigger, “Maybe, but it's something I've always wanted to try.”

Beth chuckled, “Ian, I think we’ve created a monster,” she looked thoughtful for a minute. “How about we go to dinner at the Mirage, but spend the night in orbit,” Beth suggested.

Cindy put on a fake pout. The rest of the girls just laughed, but agreed.

“You know, we could always make a quick run to the ship and get Talena out of the freezer.” Ian asked as he got in behind the wheel.

“Someone’s already up there? If they need rescuing, why are we still down here?” Bill was beginning to sound a little anxious, and his tone along with the statement got everyone else’s attention.

“Talena, a young, female pilot trainee, was put into cryo-sleep by Commander Zeus over four thousand years ago. She’s been waiting for us to come and free her,” Ian explained to the three new people. “She’s now an orphan, and all alone. Her mother and her girlfriend died when Olympus was attacked. Zeus didn’t have the heart to grant her request to commit suicide, so he added this to his plan. She was to go into cryo to ‘help’ the new Commander. I imagine she expected to never be awakened, especially after so many years. We’ll have to remember that for her, the death of her mother and lover are still fresh in her mind.”

“So what are we waiting for? I’d have already gotten her out of there,” Julie said.

“Beth needed to have more medical knowledge to handle it if something has gone wrong. Talena is in stasis; she’s not going anywhere or getting any worse. Oly says that Beth is ready, so I was considering a run up to the ship tonight. I thought I’d ask you folks if you’d be willing to tag along.” Ian said.

“I certainly don’t mind,” Janet said.

“I’d like to see the ship. I guess even with everything you’ve shown us tonight, that would sure make it seem more real to me,” Julie said.

Bill grinned, “I think you knew my answer before you ever asked the question.”

“Well then, let’s have dinner, and get going,” Ian said.

“You know, I think we can eat just as well on the shuttle,” Jenny said looking at her two wives with raised eyebrows.

Cindy and Beth looked at each other and smiled. “Head for the shuttle, Ian,” Cindy said.

“Oly, please call and cancel our reservations, we’re on our way back to the shuttle,” Ian called on his communit.

“I will get it warmed up, Sir,” Oly replied.

“What’s the status of the diagnostics I asked for?”

“It has just gotten underway. The repair of the drones took longer than I calculated.”

“Has the level three diagnostic been run on the main medbay yet?” Ian asked.

“It is in progress; however, some faults have been detected and repaired.”

“We’re planning on getting Talena out of cryo tonight; is there enough working equipment for that?” Ian asked, not particularly liking what he was hearing.

“Yes sir. Three portable Autodoc units are ready, as well as seven chambers in the main facility. I will have a gurney and portable diagnostic equipment in the cryo-sleep facility by the time you get to the ship.”

“Thanks, Oly. Williams out.”

“What was that all about?” Jenny asked.

Ian frowned. “I ordered some diagnostic tests run on certain parts of the ship. I’d intended them to be finished before anyone went aboard, but that’s not going to happen. So... I’m sorry guys, but I’ll have to ask you to stay on the shuttle for the time being. Beth, Jenny and I will go get Talena out of Cryo, and get her ready to travel. Cindy, I would like you to pull the hummer out of the cargo bay so we can get the portable autodoc aboard.”

“If it isn’t safe, are you sure you should be going in either? Like you said, Talena isn’t going anywhere or getting any worse,” Janet said.

Ian sighed. “I know, and I agree with you, but I just can’t kick the feeling we need to get her out of there as soon as possible. The cryo-sleep pods were only designed for about a hundred years of use. She’s already exceeded that by more than forty times. With what I’m hearing from Oly about those diagnostics, the cryo-sleep system could be ready to go down as well.”

They drove in silence for a time. “Ian, thank you for today. It was the best surprise I’ve had in a long time,” Jenny said, to be quickly endorsed by Beth and Cindy.

Once they got back to the shuttle and had taken off, Bill, Julie and Janet all feigned being tired. Something no one believed for a second.

“What about dinner?” Jenny teased. “You know you're probably going to need the energy!”

“I told you they’d know!” Janet said, and slapped Bill's shoulder.

Ian went over to the replicator. “Computer, duty cover-all’s with rank insignia for Commander, one pair of black cotton socks, and a pair of ship boots,” Ian took his order into the front stateroom to change.

The girls must have followed his example because very shortly all three women were in there with him, getting changed. When Jenny took her dress back to the replicator for disintegration, she asked the computer to store it in her personal file.

Ian ordered a steak, baked beans and Beth’s potato salad with a glass of iced tea. When he sat down to eat, again the others followed his example. Conversation was light and teasing, but Ian could tell that there was an undercurrent of excitement to it as well.

Oly joined them, eating a holographic meal so he didn’t look out of place. “Sir, you told me what departments to put Bill and Julie in, but you didn’t clarify rank for them, also, what position did you have in mind for Janet.”

Before Ian could answer, Jenny piped up. “Ian, Janet should be our lead recruiter and ship’s counselor. She’s got a degree in psychology and with her clairvoyance, she might be able to see who would be a good person to recruit.”

“Okay, love, but what about rank? A counselor isn’t listed as normal ship’s compliment,” Ian asked.

“Well, I think she should remain a civilian, but have the honorary rank of Major. Since she’s head of recruiting, and personnel is under my duties, we can work together,” Jenny said, smiling at her 'Aunt'.

“Okay, we’ll see how that works. Now, as for Bill and Julie, they would both be department heads, and that holds the rank of Major, but they’re normally called ‘Chief’. Am I correct, Oly?” Ian asked.

“Yes sir,” Oly replied.

“Okay, they are both to be listed as Majors, and heads of those departments mentioned before. Also, as the results of the diagnostics come in, I would like you to share those results with the head of that department, if we have one. As well as myself and the first officer,” Ian ordered.

“Once Janet has gotten the initial information please give her a list of the positions available on the ship, with priority going to Engineering personnel as well as pilots.” Ian looked over to Janet, “I’ll let you figure out the best way to get people recruited, however, I’d prefer no kidnappings, and no lying. I know that might make your job more difficult, and I’m sorry. I’ve always believed you can’t build a good relationship with someone based on lies. When you do get someone, hand it off to Julie, and she can get them up to the ship and get them settled.”

“Ian, we’re going to need a base of operations on the planet as well. I mean yeah, it’s all well and good to just swoop down in a shuttle and pick people up, but a mysterious rendezvous in the middle of the night is going to either spook people, or convince them we are a bunch of flakes,” Janet said.

“Yeah, I kinda thought that might be the case too, and I’m trying to think of a way to accomplish that. For now, all I can come up with is creating a corporation to ‘hire’ the people we recruit. But I can’t think of a reasonable and believable purpose for the corporation to have,” Ian said.

Bill finally spoke up, “Oly, you’ve been monitoring the planet for a long time correct?”

“Yes Chief, that was part of my job.”

“Okay, do you know anything about repressed technology? Specifically, things like carburetors that get hundreds of miles per gallon of gasoline, or an energy cell that uses hydrogen for fuel?”

“Yes Chief, I have that information,” Oly said.

“Yes! I knew it! Anyway, Ian, let’s create a corporation that’s purpose is to ‘discover’ alternate sources of energy. Power systems that either don’t need fossil fuels, or uses them much more efficiently.

“I’d also like to see it working on ways to clean up the oceans, and saving the rain forests, but hey, I’m a tree-hugger from way back,” Bill said. “We’d be just enough of an irritant in the government’s side to be ignored as doing something sneaky.”

“That might work, but it still doesn’t... Oly, do we have any capital?” Ian asked.

“From time to time, I have had need to influence certain events. To do that, I needed money. If I had simply created accounts in the quantity I needed it could have had detrimental effects on some of the economies of the planet. So, I created accounts and slowly siphoned off money from the larger drug cartels and criminal organizations I could locate.

“I considered those monies obtained by criminal means to be public money, and used to help counter some of the damage caused by those drugs or criminals. Currently those accounts have over forty billion dollars in United States currency,” Oly reported.

Ian was shocked to silence. The girls looked stunned. Bill asked, “What did you need to influence that required forty billion dollars?”

Oly looked extremely uncomfortable. “I did not need that much; however, I left the siphons in place to build up a large cash reserve in the event it would be needed when I located my Commander.”

“So we have virtually unlimited funds to work with, and a half formed plan,” Ian said once the shock was past him. “Let me give this some thought, and make some phone calls, I think I might know of a way to pull this off.”

“Sir, we are on final approach to the ship. We will be landing in alpha bay in a few minutes,” Oly said.

“Thank you, Oly. I’d like to turn the lights on, but with the energy the ship is already radiating, that might not be a good idea.” Ian said. “Are the maglevs running?”

“Yes sir, but I haven’t tested them yet,” Oly said.

“Well, if there are no other cars on this side, it should be safe enough to use. Oly, you’ve given me endless reports on equipment replacement or repair, but I haven’t once seen a schedule for preventive maintenance, why is that?” Ian asked.

“I do not know what that term means, sir, could you explain it please?” Oly asked.

“I guess that explains why I haven't seen any schedules. Julie, you want to field this, or should I?” Ian asked.

“I’ll take it, Commander. Oly, preventive maintenance is basically a schedule of checks and services for equipment based on the serviceable life of the equipment in question. The United States Military uses this method extensively to prevent equipment failures during emergencies.

“You should be able to find more information by researching it on the Internet,” Julie said. “Once you get the idea, I’ll work with you to set-up a system for the equipment on board. However, the engineer might wish to alter it, once we get one,” Julie finished.

The engine noise that had been softly heard during the flight changed and faded to nothing. Oly turned back to Ian, “Sir, we are down. Welcome to the F.S.S. Olympus.”

Chapter Nine

“Back the Hummer out carefully, squirt.” Jenny teased Cindy.

“Just go get the girl, and get back here. And stay in touch!” Cindy said as Ian, Beth and Jenny headed for the passenger hatch. Ian stepped out first, turned and saluted the ship's logo on the wall. “Olympus! Commander Ian Williams requests permission to come aboard!”

“Permission granted, sir! Welcome aboard!” Oly replied through the speakers on the hanger deck. Beth and Jenny both did the ritual as well, and Oly grinned as he led the way to the maglev.

“Oly, did you get the equipment to the cryo-sleep facility?” Beth asked.

“Yes Doctor, I’ve also powered up three of the treatment chambers in the main medbay.” Oly replied.

“Excellent,” Beth replied as they got on the maglev. “Medical Deck please.”

The car sped away and seconds later arrived at the medical deck. The cryo-sleep facility was separate from the main medical bay, but located close to it, for emergencies, and ease of evacuating the wounded. They turned into the large bay to see hundreds of pods on tracks behind a large control panel. All of them were empty, but one. The glass covering was frosted over obscuring the view of whoever was inside.

Ian stepped up to the control panel, placed his hand on the access plate and spoke in Talosian, “Recognize Williams, Ian, acting Commander of F.S.S. Olympus. Initiate reanimation sequence on chamber alpha-zero-one.”

"Re-animation sequence initiated. Warning! Please notify Medical personnel. Maximum safe cryo-sleep period exceeded. Medical attention will be required."

Beth stepped forward and placed her hand on the same plate Ian had. "Acting Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Williams is present." Beth said, "Proceed."

"Acknowledged," the emotionless voice replied.

Beth watched the monitors like a hawk. Everything seemed to be going well. Talena should be awake in a few minutes; however, Beth didn't think she would be ready for much more then bed rest for a couple of days.

“Reanimation sequence complete. Warning! Unit door malfunction! Occupant will terminate in forty-five seconds! Warning! Unit door malfunction! Occupant will terminate in forty seconds! Warning!...” The voice droned on emotionlessly. Ian jumped the console and ran to the pod. “Oly! Active the emergency release!”

“Step back, Commander!” Oly said with a concerned voice.

Ian jumped to the side as the door blew off the pod and crashed into the bay wall. A nude, silver-haired girl fell out of the pod to be caught by Ian. He picked her up in his arms and carried her to the gurney. Beth and Jenny pushed the floating table out the door, across the hall and into medbay. Ian and Olympus followed behind them.

The floating gurney slid into a wall unit that opened up to allow passage, then the clear door slid closed again. Beth stood at a console and was entering commands. A bar of light passed over the girl in the chamber as an image appeared on the monitor next to the chamber. Beth studied the image closely, then typed in more commands. “Computer, begin rehydration with twenty cc’s of mythanizole. Begin muscle mass regeneration,” she said in Talosian.

She sighed, and turned to Ian. “She’s in pretty bad shape, we cut it awfully close. But I think she’ll be fine now. I’ll be able to move her over to the portable autodoc in about an hour, and we can leave then. She’ll be asleep for a while, at least until tomorrow.”

Ian nodded, and turned to Oly. “When she’s able, teach her our language and customs. You might want to give her some background on how long she’s been in the freezer and what’s happened in that time. Don’t overload her; just give her what she can handle.”

“Sir, I... I should have kept a closer watch on the facility. That door should not have failed,” Oly said.

“Relax Oly, that’s the reason I ordered the level one diagnostic. Do you think the tests will be complete by this weekend?” Ian asked.

“I have altered the priority so that the hull, superstructure and life support systems should be complete by Friday mid-morning. If nothing is found, I have the medbay, defense shields and outboard weapons scheduled next, followed by each of the landing bays, and flight control. I am also increasing the number of drones to three hundred,” Oly explained.

Ian nodded, “Well done. I’ll look forward to the report on Friday. Do you have the ability to create construction drones?”

“Yes sir, the replication bay is large enough to accommodate those.”

“Good, start producing them; I’ll want a couple hundred. You can park them out on the lunar surface for now. If you run low on raw materials, send the ones you did get built out to get some more. You should be able to find most of what you need here on the moon. However, do not let them go over to the dayside. So many people look at the moon at any given time, they might actually be seen,” Ian ordered.

While Ian and Oly had been talking, Jenny called the shuttle to tell them what happened and how long they’d be. Then she stood and looked through the glass at the sleeping Talena.

Ian stepped up beside her. “She certainly is beautiful isn’t she?”

“She’ll be one of our wives one day, Ian, but she’ll be very fragile when she wakes,” Jenny said softly. “She’ll really need us.”

“Really? I mean, I was thinking about maybe adopting her until she gets used to us and our way of life, support for her that way...” Ian said.

“I think that’s a really good idea, Ian, but we need to talk it over with Cindy first. But, I think you should know, that she's no longer the seventeen year old that was put into the cryo-unit – she did age in there.” Beth said.

Ian looked at Beth in mild surprise. “I thought the aging process stopped when a person went into cryo?”

Beth shook her head. “Not completely, no, but it's so slow as to be considered stopped. Remember, the original intent for these chambers were for a hundred or so years. In that time frame, one would barely age at all. However, she was in there for forty centuries, so she actually is physically older than when she went in.”

“How much did she age?” Ian asked.

“It's pretty difficult to tell, because while it did age her, it also stunted her growth. In most aspects she is between the age of twenty-two and twenty-four. I think she'll pretty much stay the size she is now, because the computer is telling me the she is as physically mature as she's going to get,” Beth said. “Basically, she's a small looking woman. Are you alright? You seem to be awfully concerned...”

Ian nodded and interrupted her. “I know, but seeing her again, and knowing what she's been through... what?” He asked because Jenny was looking at him funny.

“You said ‘seeing her again’. Ian this is the first time you’ve ever seen her... isn’t it?” Jenny asked.

Ian bit his lower lip. “I meant to talk to Beth about this after school yesterday, but I got sidetracked with my little project for tonight. Since I started using the Talosian teaching method, I’ve been getting more than just knowledge. I asked Oly about it, but he says there is nothing like it in the instructional data sets. I think I’m getting Commander Zeus’ memories.”

“Well, we got an hour to kill. Come on; jump up on the bed, Ian. Let’s get you checked out,” Beth said.

“Beth, I really don’t think...” Ian began.

Beth interrupted him. “Ian, this is just to make sure there is nothing medically wrong with you. We all need to go through it eventually; we might as well do yours now.” She activated one of the other chambers, and the table slid out.

“Do I need to get naked first?” Ian asked.

Beth chuckled, “No, tha-uh!” She grunted as Jenny elbowed her in the ribs.

“Yep, you have to get naked for the exam Ian, right doctor?” Jenny said looking meaningfully at Beth.

Beth laughed. “Absolutely! Strip down, Ian.”

“Nice try, ladies. You’ll get me nude soon enough when we get home,” Ian chuckled and lay down on the table.

Beth activated the device, and Ian slid back into the unit. He closed his eyes as the bar of light passed over his face. “Just relax in there, Ian, and try not to move very much. The scan only takes a few seconds.”

Ian did as he was told and just lay there. Eventually, the machine beeped, opened, and his table slid out, and he sat up and looked at Beth. “Well, am I going to live?”

Beth was intently studying the display of his scan. “I don’t know, Ian. You have about two hundred percent more brain activity than you should have. You also have a bunch of toxins and other pollutants in your body that are slowly killing you. But I don’t know if that’s normal or not. Looking at a body like this is so different then what I’m used to. The scanner here can show me your body all the way down to the sub-atomic level. It can read your DNA and RNA and it’ll tell me everything about you. Talena’s body doesn’t have even one hundredth of the poisons you have, yet you appear to be perfectly healthy.”

“Can you get rid of the toxins and other bad stuff?” Ian asked.

“Yes, and I had to tell the autodoc not to. It wanted to sedate you and begin treatment immediately,” Beth said. “I’m leery of it, because if we do this for you, what will happen when we return to Earth? For that matter, what will happen to Talena?”

“Oly? Can you answer any of her questions?” Ian asked.

“The Earth is polluted. Many of these pollutants will build up in the human body while others are passed through. If you allow the autodoc to treat the Commander, he will have more energy, and generally feel much better than he does now. The autodoc will also want to perform a process erroneously called ‘re-sequencing’. What that means is it scans his DNA and RNA and removes or disables the predisposition for most cancers, he will be more resistant to infection, and almost immune to a lot of diseases you consider deadly. This process also lengthens the standard life span into the second or third century,” Oly explained.

“Has Talena had this done to her?” Beth asked.

“It is part of prenatal care,” Oly explained.

“What do you think, Ian?” Beth asked. “We’re past what I’ve learned so far.”

“How long will I be out?” Ian asked.

“No longer then ten minutes, dependent on how much junk you have in your system. I should warn you, that once this is done, your morning coffee will have a much greater effect on you,” Oly said grinning.

Ian lay back and let the machine pull him in. he looked over at Beth as the machine knocked him out.

When he opened his eyes, it had appeared that she hadn’t moved. However Jenny was looking at him through the glass with concern. He smiled at her and blew her a kiss. “Am I done?”

“Just about, just stay still for a moment longer,” Beth said.

Ian found that was actually easier said than done. He had so much energy now that he wanted get up and do something... or somebody, he grinned. “Oh, you guys are in so much trouble tonight. I feel like I could even wear Cindy out,” Ian said.

Beth snorted, “I’d pay to see that!”

“Jen, you’ve gotta try this! I feel great!” Ian said as the door slid open. Ian was off the table before it had fully extended and picked Jenny up in his arms. He twirled her around and kissed her before setting her back down. “This is really something!”

“Damn, maybe I should get in there! I’ve been feeling a little run down lately,” Beth said.

“I will monitor your condition, if you wish, Doctor,” Oly offered. “Colonel, we have another chamber if you would like to be examined as well.” He indicated another chamber that was opening next to the one Ian had used.

Beth thought about it for a minute, then shrugged and got up on the table. Jenny watched her before turning to the other one. Ian stepped over beside Oly to watch the monitors.

Beth smiled at Ian before the machine knocked her out, and he glanced over to see Jenny do the same thing. The light bar was passing over Beth when it suddenly stopped over her chest and a chirping alarm sounded.

“What’s wrong?” Ian asked panicking.

“The Doctor has advanced breast cancer. She has several malignant tumors in both breasts, and it has spread to her lymphatic system,” Oly said calmly. “Without treatment, she will die in less than six months.”

“So, treat her!” Ian ordered as he stepped over to her chamber.

“I have already begun, Sir. She will be asleep for a bit longer than originally stated,” Oly said.

“What are the chances it’ll come back?” Ian asked.

“None sir. Once the existing cancer cells have been removed, her body will be adjusted so they cannot form again,” Oly explained. “That is part of the normal process that you just underwent. If she had this treatment when she was born, she never would have had it.”

Ian just stood and looked at the woman he had come to love so much. When Oly spoke, it jarred him back to reality.

“Both the Colonel and the Doctor are pregnant. Congratulations Sir,” Oly said with pride.

“Thank you,” Ian said absently.

“Sir, really, she will be fine. Better then when she went into the chamber,” Oly said.

Jenny was finished and the door opened on her chamber. Ian was there to help her out and she kissed him. “I think you’re going to have help with Cindy tonight!” She grinned.

“Jen, the scanner found advanced breast cancer in Beth,” Ian said. “Oly says the autodoc removed the cancer and is finishing her treatment. If she had this treatment from birth like all Talosian children, she never would have had the cancer to begin with.”

Jenny had moved over to Beth’s chamber to look worriedly down on her lover. “She’ll be alright? She didn’t need a mastectomy?”

“The cancer was far too advanced for Terran medical knowledge to treat. She would have passed away within six months. However, all the cancerous cells have been removed, and she is now getting the 're-sequencing' I mentioned earlier. She should be finished and awake in about seven minutes,” Oly said.

“Maybe we should get Cindy and your folks up here too,” Ian said softly.

“I can send the Maglev for them,” Oly offered.

Ian touched his earpiece, “Cindy? It’s Ian.”

“What’s up hot stuff?” Cindy replied.

“I’m sending the maglev back to the landing bay. I want you to bring all three Laskars to the main medbay. I’ll explain when you get here,” Ian said.

“We’re on our way,” Cindy replied.

“See ya in a few minutes. Oly’ll guide you from the maglev.”

When the connection was cut, Ian looked over at Jenny who was still staring at Beth. “By the way, beautiful, the scans confirmed that you and Beth are both pregnant.”

Jenny didn’t reply, but got a soft smile on her face.

Cindy, with the Laskars in tow, arrived just as Beth was sliding out of the chamber.

“Whew! That does feel much better!” then she saw the looks on the faces around her. “What?”

Ian stepped forward, and took her by the hands and pulled her to her feet. “Oly display Beth’s original scan, please.”

Beth looked closely at the scan that appeared on the monitor. She turned white as she realized what she was looking at. She was opening her mouth to say something but Ian stopped her. “Now, Oly, please display her last scan.”

Once again Beth turned to the monitor but this time she seemed to study it intently. “It’s gone,” she said softly. She turned around and hugged Ian desperately. “The breast cancer is gone!”

“WHAT?!” Cindy cried.

Since Ian and Beth, now with Jenny, were busy hugging and kissing, Oly took it upon himself to explain what the scanners had found and what was done about it. When Cindy had finally calmed down, she rounded on Beth.

“I’m so mad at you! You’re a doctor! You preached and preached to me about doing breast exams all the time. Didn’t you ever do them on yourself?”

Beth sighed deeply. “I love you, Cindy,” she said. “And I’m sorry.” Beth held her arms open and Cindy was in them so fast no one even saw her move.

“Don’t you dare die on me! Ever!” Cindy sobbed into her lover’s shoulder.

Beth held her for a few minutes, but then let her go and patted the table. “Jump up here and lay down. I want a scan of your body to make sure you're okay too.” She turned and saw the Laskar family. “One of you, hop up on the other one. I guarantee you’ll feel a lot better once you wake up.”

“Uh, wake up?” Janet asked.

Jenny took her hand and pulled her over to the machine. “The autodoc will give you a check-up, then cleans your system of all the toxins we picked up from Earth. You have to be asleep for about five minutes, unless there’s something else wrong. Beth was out for almost twenty minutes because of the breast cancer.”

Oly explained once again about the treatment the autodoc would give them. Though Bill was hesitant, Janet hopped up on the table.

When Cindy and Janet were finished, Julie took Cindy’s spot, but Bill hung back, “Uh, Beth, can you do mine in private please?”

Beth didn’t even hesitate. “You heard him, everyone out. Would you mind if Janet stayed with you, Bill?”

Bill nodded, “She can stay.”

Ian, Jenny and Cindy trooped out the door, “We’ll wait out here,” Ian said before the medbay door closed.

Bill walked over and hopped up on the table. “I’m sorry to be such a wimp, but I had an accident a few years ago, and I’d prefer no one else saw it.”

“You have every right to your privacy, Bill. Don’t feel bad about invoking it,” Beth told him. “Now, just lay back and let’s see if we can help you.”

Bill went into the machine and was shortly asleep. Janet watched him go under before turning back to Beth. “He’s very self-conscious about his problem. A server or something fell on him shortly after Jenny was born and crushed his testicles. It kinda mangled his penis too, so it’s not the most attractive penis in the world. He and Julie had planned to have more kids but that accident dashed that hope.”

“Do they know you’re in love with them?” Beth said as she entered data into the machine.

Janet smiled at her. “I think Julie might be getting that idea, but Bill is completely clueless.”

“I could make a good argument for females being clueless too, case in point stands right outside that door. Jenny was just as clueless as Ian was.” Beth looked intently at the two scans now displayed on her monitors. Julie’s was okay, but the damage to Bill was pretty obvious. She told the machine to proceed with the detox and re-sequencing on both patients, but pulled up the treatment options the computer was suggesting for Bill. “That’s interesting,”

“What?” Janet asked.

“The computer is offering a suggested treatment to correct and re-grow Bill’s testicles. It also says there is a surgical technique to remove the scar tissue and reform the penis,” Beth replied.

“But you’re not a surgeon, are you?” Janet asked.

“Actually, I am. I chose private practice so I could raise my kids. However, the method involved here would be done by the computer since the laser scalpel would have to make precision cuts. The interesting part of this is that there is enough viable tissue in Bill’s testicles that there is an eighty-two percent chance he could still father children,” Beth said.

Janet smiled. “That’s great! That means Julie can get pregnant again. She really wanted another child before it got too late. I wish I could still get pregnant, I’d love to give him a child too.”

Beth grinned at her, “Don’t count yourself out of it quite yet. Your fields are still plenty fertile, and according to the computer, they will be for some time yet to come.”

Janet looked at her like she was crazy. “Beth, come on now, I’m starting menopause, and I’m closing in on fifty years old.”

“Nonsense, you’re only forty-six, and healthy as you can be, now. Talosian women are still having children well into their second hundred years. Uh, did we forget to mention that you’re going to live a lot longer now?” Beth grinned.

“Just how old can we get?” Janet asked somewhat stunned.

“Standard lifespan for a Talosian is two-hundred fifty to three hundred years,” Beth told her.

“...and you can fix Bill?” Janet asked.

“There is an eighty-two percent chance I can fix him up, yes. If nothing else, he’ll have a penis back that he won’t be ashamed about.” Beth said.

“Can you do it now?” Janet asked.

Beth shook her head. “No, sorry, I need to do more studying, and the treatment for his testicles will take a few days in here to complete. The surgery alone will take him out for a couple of days.”

“I think I’ll sit them down and do some talking,” Janet said. “I think it’s time I gave Bill a clue.”

“If you want me there to explain things, just let me know when,” Beth told her.

Chapter Ten

“Ian? You can come back in now. We’re finished,” Beth said when she stuck her head out of the door. “I’d like you to pull out the portable AD unit over here, and help me move Talena over to it.”

Cindy looked into the chamber that held Talena, “Is that her? She’s absolutely beautiful!”

“Down girl, she’s going to be having enough trouble as it is,” Beth said. “Ian wants to adopt her.”

“I only said she's beautiful, I didn't say I wanted to do anything with her,” Cindy asked.

“Move Brat, I need to lift her out of there,” Ian said as the table holding Talena slid out.

Julie caught her breath and Janet just stared. Julie said, “She is beautiful. If she had wings, she’d look just like a fairy.”

Ian set her in the portable autodoc unit, and covered her with a blanket before letting the lid close over her.

“Spoil sport,” Cindy said and stuck her tongue out at Ian.

“Did we create a monster when we detoxed her?” Jenny asked Beth.

“I guess we’ll find out when we get into bed tonight. I’m starting to hope Ian can make good on his boast about wearing her out,” Beth said.

“Hah! Never happen,” Cindy said grinning.

“We’ll see,” Ian said as he guided the autodoc out of the medbay. The Laskars were chuckling at the playing.

The trip down was interesting. Once the autodoc was loaded and secured, Ian drove the hummer back into the hold then took Cindy by the hand and started to lead her into one of the bedrooms. Just before he closed the door, he looked back at Jenny and winked, “You have the con.”

Jenny chuckled as she replied to the order, “I have the con.” She asked Oly to take them home.

“We are arriving, sir,” Oly reported.

“Thank you, Oly. What time is it? I left my watch at home,” Ian asked.

“Four-thirty-two a.m.”

“Thank you, do you want to put the hummer back in the garage, or should I?” Ian asked.

“You are tired, Sir, perhaps I should do that. You will have to help guide the portable autodoc unit into the house.”

“True. Do we have an extra holodrone on board? I’d like one to stay near the PAD (Portable Autodoc Unit) unit just in case someone comes over,” Ian said.

“I can replicate one, sir.”

“That'll work. So, let’s get this show on the road, or should I say, off the road. Wake up ladies, we’re home.”

The expected groans from the girls surprisingly didn’t happen, they stretched, yawned and rolled out of bed. Ian had already pulled his cover-all on, and was pulling on his boots when Cindy just threw her clothes over her shoulder and walked out of the room.

“That girl has no modesty at all,” Beth chuckled.

Over a yawn Jenny asked, “At four thirty in the morning, who’s going to see us?” She stood and followed Cindy with her clothes in her hand.

Beth smiled, and picked up her boots. She had been pulling her cover-all on as well, but didn’t zip them. She kissed Ian and followed the other girls. Ian just shook his head and trailed along behind Beth.

Jenny had entered the other stateroom and roused her parents and Janet, and was strutting languidly toward the cargo area where Talena rested in the autodoc.

Ian removed the straps that held the unit in place and pushed it down the ramp and into the garage. When he turned, he saw the Laskars walking slowly down the ramp.

“You guys gonna be okay to get home?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, it’s only four blocks.” Bill said tiredly. “Thanks for the great evening, and the foresight to have us take today off as well. We’ll call you later, k?” Bill said over a huge yawn.

Ian nodded, and kissed the women on the cheek, as they walked to their car. He looked up at the shuttle, “Okay Oly, we’re clear of the shuttle.”

The ramp closed and the shuttle disappeared from sight. Ian hit the garage door opener button to close the door as he pushed the autodoc into the house. Beth had him put it in Cindy’s old room, then spent a few minutes fussing over it.

Ian turned to walk to their bedroom unzipping his suit as he went. He pulled off his boots, and dropped them outside his bedroom door, then shucked off the suit and dropped it on top of the boots. He staggered into the bedroom and crawled between Jenny and an already snoring Cindy. He was asleep too by the time Beth came in to be wrapped in Jenny’s loving arms.

Talena was lying on a soft, warm bed. But didn’t she just go to sleep in a cryo-unit? The Commander’s plan! It must have worked, which meant she was still alive. The tears started even before she opened her eyes. Her mother and Starlen were gone, killed by the damn war. Talena wanted to die too, so she could join them.

The sight that greeted her eyes when she did open them almost made her doubt her earlier thought that she hadn’t died. Because right in front of her was... It couldn’t be her, she died in engineering, but yet, the woman smiling sadly at her looked so much like... “Momma?”

“I’m sorry honey, no, I’m Doctor Williams. How are you feeling?” Beth replied.

“You look like my mother, sound like her too. How can you be a Doctor? You are an Engineer.” Talena asked.

Movement drew her eyes to a very familiar face. “Olympus! Why is Momma saying she’s a Doctor?”

“Talena do you remember the plan the Commander told you about before you went into cryo-sleep?” Oly asked.

“Yes, I remember asking him if I could follow Momma and Starlen. He asked me to go to sleep instead, and help the new Commander after I woke up. But Olympus, I wasn’t supposed to wake up!”

“I know you did not want to, Talena, but the new Commander and his family are hoping you might want to join them,” Oly said.

“I’m too young to bond with anyone, you know that Olympus. Besides, I don’t know them,” the silver-haired girl said.

Ian knelt down by Olympus and spoke in to her in English. “Talena, we know you wouldn’t want to bond with us, the offer is to join our family, so you have someone in our time. My name is Ian Williams, I am the new Commander of Olympus.”

Talena frowned at him, and turned back to Olympus, “I am very confused. My mother thinks she’s a Doctor, and Commander Zeus is claiming to be the new Commander? Could you explain this to me, preferably very slowly, so I don’t miss it? I’m feeling rather stupid right now.”

Ian turned his head and coughed to keep from laughing in the girl’s face. Olympus rose and the girl followed him with her eyes. “This is Doctor Elizabeth Hayes-Williams of the planet Earth. Her bond-mate, Commander Ian Williams,” He indicated Ian who nodded to her, Olympus moved over to a very pretty young women that made Talena’s heart thump. “This young woman is their bond-mate Cadet Cindy Swift-Williams, and finally the ship’s first officer, and bond-mate to the first three, Colonel Jennifer Laskar-Williams.” Olympus raised his hand to forestall Talena’s denial that these where not those people. “I know that they look very much like those you knew as the Commander, his bond-mate and first officer, and your mother, but they are not. You were in cryo-sleep a lot longer than we had thought you would be.”

Talena tried to rectify the differences in her own mind, but they kept coming back to what she knew to be the truth. She sighed. “How long was I in there, Olympus?”

Oly looked at Ian who shrugged and looked up at the women that claimed to be a doctor, who nodded. “Over four-thousand cycles. You're not actually fourteen anymore. You're physical age is closer to twenty-four.”

The number stunned Talena. No one could survive that long in cryo-sleep, the chambers were only good for a couple hundred cycles. Yet here was an authority she knew and trusted, one she knew could not lie, telling her it had happened. What was the whole age thing about? No one aged in the cryo-pods, everyone knew that.

Talena slowly nodded. “Okay, I can accept that, but what I’m having the most trouble with is that three of these people are identical to people I knew before the attack. How can I be older? I was in Cryo, you don't age in cryo.”

Oly nodded. “The cryo pods were designed for a comparatively shorter usage time than what you were in one for. You do still age while in cryo, just not very quickly. Under normal circumstances, a person in cryo would only have been in there for less than a century. The age difference in such a short time is negligible. For you, it is far more pronounced because of the extended time you spent in there.

“As for the rest, well, for all intents Commander Williams is an exact duplicate of Commander Zeus, almost a clone, although he is several decades younger than the Commander was. The same holds true for the Colonel, however, she isn’t as much of a match for Colonel Hera as Commander Williams is for Commander Zeus.  As for Doctor Williams looking like your mother... I am afraid I have no explanation for that except it was a completely random occurrence.”

Talena began to notice things around her, and suddenly her eyes went wide. “We’re not aboard ship anymore are we?”

“No, sweetheart, we’re in our home on the planet. Don’t worry; you’re safe here. I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Ian said.

Talena studied Ian for a minute. “I believe you, Sir. I think things are starting to make more sense to me now, I apologize for my earlier silliness.”

“Little Kitten, you have nothing to apologize for,” Ian said and gently caressed her head.

Talena felt her heart thump when he spoke to her like that. The look in his eyes was all love and admiration; love and admiration for her. She’d only seen that in the eyes of her mother and Starlen. Even Commander Zeus had only pity in his eyes. This man was not Commander Zeus.

She swallowed hard. “Sir, may I please have something to eat and drink? I’m really hungry.”

He moved his hand and brushed the hair out of her face. “You sure can, sweetheart. But you don’t need to call me ‘Sir’ when I’m off duty. Please call me Ian. We really would like you to join our family.”

Beth handed Ian a plate of poached eggs and toast, which he passed on to the girl. Beth smiled at her. “Try to eat slowly, your stomach needs to get used to real food again.” She handed over a glass of weak orange juice.

Talena looked down at the food and had no idea how to eat it. She didn’t want to make a fool out of herself in front of the Commander either. She smiled when the nice Doctor handed him a plate just like hers.

“We don’t expect you to know how to eat the food here, but that’s okay, because this stuff isn’t really all that good to eat,” Ian said, chuckling.

Talena was relieved that he wasn’t making fun of her. He was so... but he wasn’t female, and that confused her more than a little.

“Now, there are a couple different ways to eat this, I like to mash it all up like this,” He took the tool that came with the plate and began smashing the white things into little pieces. “Then I take the toast, and eat it like this.” He took one of the brown squares in his other hand and used it to scoop the smashed up stuff into the tool then lifted it to his mouth, and ate it, followed by a bite out of the... toast, he’d called it.

“Damn Beth, can’t she have any salt? This stuff tastes horrible,” he said as he made a face.

Talena laughed at the face he made.

“Sure, you’re laughing now, just wait ‘till you take a bite!” He shuddered.

She quickly copied his movements with the tool he called a fork, then she grabbed the toast and used it to push some of the mush onto the fork, then lifted it to her mouth and... ‘He really wasn’t kidding, this stuff does taste horrible’ she thought to herself.

“Take a bite of the toast, honey, it’ll help kill the taste,” Ian suggested.

After she swallowed, he offered her the glass of orange liquid.

The juice did seem to help get the taste out of her mouth, “That food is really bad,” she said.

The pretty girl laughed and nodded her agreement. “Doctors are the same no matter were you come from, Talena. They work like crazy to heal you, then try to make you sick by feeding you that horrible food!”

“Come on, Beth, that bland crap is going to make her blow chunks regardless of how well her stomach works!” Ian pleaded.

Beth frowned, but asked the domestic drone for something called cinnamon apple oatmeal.

“With a little bit of sugar?” Ian asked. “Please?”

“If she gets sick on it, you get to clean it up!” Beth said sternly.

Ian grinned and took the bowl she offered. “I think you might like this better. Remember, try to eat it slowly.”

She took the spoon and took a small bite. “This is much better! Thank you!” She said before taking another bite. Ian winked at her before standing. “Cindy, when she’s finished, would you show her how our showers work, and help her with our clothes?” he turned back to Talena, “I’m sure you know how to do all those things aboard ship, but we are rather primitive down here, and no one can know you’re from another planet. I’ll leave you to your breakfast.” He caressed her cheek before he turned and left.

Chapter Eleven

“Commander, the level one diagnostics on the hull and superstructure are complete, and I am ready to report,” Oly said.

Ian, Jenny, and Beth were sitting at the dining room table talking about Talena when Olympus called. “Okay Oly, come on out and give us the good news.”

“I am afraid there is very little of this that is good, sir,” Oly said as he appeared beside the table.

He motioned to the center of the table where a miniature of the ship formed. “All six primary keel supports are badly degraded on the molecular level. Even if the ship were in space, any thrust applied to the superstructure would cause these main support beams to buckle and destroy the ship. They must be replaced before any attempt to move the ship is made.

“The hull plates on the rear of the ship, from roughly section one-ninety-two, back, are also badly degraded. In fact on the rear quarter of the ship, the hull plates would shatter if you hit them with a hammer. Again, they must be replaced before any attempt to move the ship is made,” Oly said.

Ian had his head in his hands, this was much worse than he’d thought.

“What about the internal super-frame and reactor support stanchions?”

“All of it has to be replaced, Sir. In fact, I would strongly recommend shutting down the reactor immediately in the event the stanchions fail. The internal frame as well as all bulkheads from section two-twenty-one through main engineering must be rebuilt and or replaced.

“At this point if a meteor were to strike anywhere remotely near the ship, the rear half would simply crumble into dust,” Oly finished. “May I ask how you knew it was not safe, sir?”

“Instinct I think. The night you taught me the physics involved in the propulsion system, I got a... I don’t know, a feeling I guess. A feeling that something wasn’t right,” Ian said thoughtfully. “Then there’s ‘Murphy’s Law’.”

Oly looked confused a moment, but Ian could see the information registering on the AI’s face. “If something can go wrong, it will.”

Ian nodded. “Usually at the worst possible moment. That phrase was intended as an ironic joke, Oly. However, I want it treated as a real law of nature. Nothing gets used and nobody goes aboard again until it’s safe.

“You’ll need to check the shuttle we’ve been using as well.” He turned to his first officer, “Okay, Jenny, do you agree that we should shut down the main reactor in order to affect repairs to the superstructure of the ship?”

“Yes I do,” Jenny said. “Immediately. The long term results of the main reactor detonating on the moon would have catastrophic results for the Earth, not to mention the loss of the ship. The reactor has enough power to potentially nudge the moon out of its current orbit.”

“I agree. Oly, effective immediately, I am ordering the shutdown of the main power reactor for the ship. Further, assign all the maintenance drones not currently involved in other critical repairs to the task of replacing and repairing the primary frame and keel sections, the super-frame, and the hull. Once that is complete, perform a complete level one diagnostic on the main reactor prior to restart,” Ian said.

“Sir, part of that test requires human assistance, as well as the restarting of the reactor,” Oly stated.

Ian nodded in agreement. “While you’re working on the superstructure and hull, we’ll be recruiting more people. I’ll get some engineers ready for you once it’s safe for them to be up there. Do you have an estimate of the time line for repairs?”

“In a dry dock facility, it would take a minimum of three weeks to replace the keel sections, and two more weeks to repair the bulkheads and secondary frame sections. Given the history of this reactor, it would be removed and a new unit installed, adding another two weeks. I feel I should mention that with this amount of damage, the ship itself would most likely be destroyed, and a new one built to replace it,”

“Well, we don’t have a dry dock facility, and I’m not about to order the destruction of the ship. How about this; use a portable power supply and erect an isolation field here at section one-eighty,” Ian used a pen to indicate the area, “Then have the drones destroy the reactor before beginning on the internal frames. Essential systems can run on their secondary power systems until the reactor is replaced. Did you get the rest of those drones built?”

“Yes sir, I have tentatively assigned one hundred to the keel replacement, one hundred to the hull sections, and the remaining hundred to internal structures. The outer hull cannot be finished until the keel is completed, but once the drones are to that point, I will pull them inside to help,” Oly said.

“I agree, proceed. Now, once we get the frame sections and reactor stanchions replaced, and the keel is finished, go ahead and rebuild the reactor. I would like for your drones to work from the front of the ship back, so as soon as it’s safe, we can start bringing people up to help with repairs,” Ian said.

“Have you given anymore thought to this corporation idea?” Beth asked.

Ian winked at her. “Oly, I think we’re going to need credit cards or some other vehicle to pay for incidentals, until we can get this corporation set up.” He paused in thought, then activated his communit. “Commander to Counselor Laskar.”

“Hi Ian,” Janet replied.

“Do you think you folks could come over for a bit? We got some plannin’ to do.”

“We’re about ten steps from your door,” Janet said laughing.

Ian grinned. “Just walk in then, I think it’s unlocked.”

The door opened to admit Janet, Bill and Julie. “Sorry Commander, we wanted to come over to see how Talena was doing,” Bill said grinning.

“Cindy has her in the shower I think. Actually, they’ve been in there for a while. Maybe I better go check on them,” Beth said as she stood. “Have a seat, everyone. Ian can get you something to drink.”

Ian smiled at his in-laws. “Isn’t it a little early in the day for both of you to be off work?”

“Actually, neither of us is employed any longer,” Bill said frowning. “Management got pissy when I told them I took that time off to attend my daughter’s wedding. They said I should have planned better and submitted a vacation request two months ago.” He shrugged. “They were assholes anyway.”

“So what happened to you, Julie?” Ian asked.

“I was going to be downsized anyway, so they decided now was just as good as the end of the month. I got a three month severance package, though,” Julie said grinning.

“Okay, well, if you guys need anything, and I mean anything, don’t hesitate to either ask, or just use the credit card you’ll be getting. As soon as we can get it set up, we’ll list both of you as officers or members of the board for the corporation.” Ian turned to Janet. “Now, you pretty lady, I need you to get to work post-haste. We’ll need a good corporate attorney as well as whoever else to legally set up a corporation. I’d prefer if they knew everything that’s really going on, but it’s not a requirement. Okay, why are you grinning?” Ian asked.

She touched her ear, “Computer, telephone please...” She rattled off a number and waited a few minutes.

“Carla? Hi! It’s Janet. Are you busy?” She paused while the other person was speaking.

“Really? That’s horrible, but perhaps really good too; I’ve stumbled across something out here that just screamed your name to me when I heard about it.” She paused again to listen.

“No, honey, nothing like that. It’s totally legit, and I’ve been told that if you’re everything I’ve said you were, it’ll pay twenty percent over your existing salary.” Janet listened with her grin growing.

“Yes they do, how soon can you make a trip out here?”


“No, tonight’s fine, you’ll only need clothes for a couple days, they’ll furnish anything else you might need.”


“Okay hon, you go pack, and I’ll get your flight information and call you back.”


“I know you will, dear. They’re a really neat bunch of people. Give Paula a kiss for me and I’ll talk to you soon, bye.”

Janet smiled at Ian, “Carla Nelson is one of the best corporate attorneys in New York City. The problem she’s been having is that in order for her to advance, she has to 'pay her way'.

“She was let go from the firm she was working for yesterday for punching one of the senior partners in the face when he commanded her perform something obscene on him during a board meeting. She’s afraid the old bastard will have her disbarred.

“She’s free to come whenever we need her here.” Her grin deepened, “She’s an avid science fiction buff, and I thought it would be a great way to break the ice if we picked her up in the shuttle.”

Ian dug out the keys to the hummer and tossed them to her. “Do you think you can be back in time to see Jenny and I graduate tonight?”

She stood and looked at Bill, “Can I take Julie with me? You can save us three seats can’t you, love?”

Bill chuckled. “I’m not going to end up with another wife out of this, am I?”

“I don’t think so, dear, Carla isn’t into guys,” Janet said with as straight a face as she could get.

Bill looked at her face and busted out laughing. “Get out of here already!”

As the women turned to leave, Ian asked, “Do you remember how to get out to the farm?”

“Yeah, but if we get lost, Oly can guide us,” Julie said and they left.

Beth passed the women in the hallway, and sat down, grinning. “Those two look chipper!”

“They’re going to pick up our new corporate attorney; if she joins us,” Ian said. “How are Cindy and Talena doing?”

“Napping. It was so cute, I looked into Talena’s room and there was Cindy, with Talena spooned up against her, sound asleep,” Beth said.

“Those two sure have gotten attached quickly,” Jenny said.

“Not as fast as Talena and our dashing husband. I think the girl might be slightly empathic, because she looked into his eyes, and her heart melted. She’s confused about her feelings right now, but pretty soon she’s going to realize what those feelings are,” Beth said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to handle it when she does.”

“She’s going to be our wife one day, Beth,” Jenny said softly.

Beth looked a little shocked. “Really? We barely know her, and she's so tiny!”

“Were getting to know her now, and since when does size have anything to do with it?” Jenny asked.

Beth frowned. “I know, I just... How many wives is Ian going to have?”

“I honestly don’t know, Beth. I just got that the first time I saw her,” Jenny said.

“But...” Beth said.

“Beth, I love you, but you of all people should know that size has nothing to do with a loving heart. Besides, we're getting to know her now, and so far, I don't see anything about her that I don't like, but it's only been a few hours.”

“The kids are right, Beth,” Bill said, he cocked his head to one side while looking at Beth. “Are you wearing your make up differently, Beth?”

“I’m not wearing any make up, Bill why? Is something wrong?” Beth replied.

“No, you just have a different look about you today, I can't put my finger on it.” Bill said.

Further conversation was interrupted by a very sleepy looking Talena walking out, and climbing into Beth's lap.

She looked up at Beth. “I’m still hungry, can I have some more to eat?”

“Did you eat all of the oatmeal, sweetie?” Beth asked.

Talena nodded, “I wanted more, but Cindy said I had to wait for a little bit.”

“Did you feel sick at all?” Beth asked.

“No, just really hungry.”

“Okay, well if you were going to have a reaction, you should have had it with the oatmeal. I’ll go wake sleeping beauty, if you’ll order lunch for us, Ian?” Beth said rising from her chair, and guiding Talena over to sit by Ian.

Jenny stopped her. “I’ll go get Cindy for you, Beth.” Jenny picked up a glass of water.

Everyone chuckled except Talena who looked confused for a minute, then started chuckling too.

Ian ordered a three-meat sub sandwich with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bacon. He ordered a foot long, cut in half so he could share it with Talena.

“Since you’re not familiar with the food here, I thought I’d see if you liked one of my favorites. However, if you don’t like one of the toppings, just open it up and take it off.” Ian demonstrated by opening his sandwich and removing the tomato. He then picked up the sandwich and took a bite.

Talena aped his movements and her eyes lit up with the taste. Ian ordered two of Oly’s replicated Mountain Dews. Talena seemed to really enjoy those too. Shortly, Cindy and Jenny came walking out hand in hand.

“You look happy, and dry!” Talena commented, with a small grin.

Cindy grinned, “I was already awake when she came in. So she didn’t get the chance to use the water.” Her grin widened. “We decided to hold onto the water to use on you!”

“You could always use it on Ian!” Talena quipped.

Bill shook his head, “Oh Ian, you are going to have your hands full with these two. I think she and Cindy are going to be a pair!”

Still grinning, Talena calmly went back to eating her sandwich.

The comedy slacked off then so people could eat, and finally Bill asked Ian what time tomorrow they’d be returning to the ship.

“I’m afraid that trip has been postponed for a while, Bill. There is considerable damage that still needs to be repaired before I’ll allow anyone back on board,” Ian replied. He felt Talena shudder a little on his lap, so he caressed her shoulder with his hand to let her know he was there, and cared about her.

Bill frowned, “Well, there was something I wanted to get started with, but I guess it’ll have to wait.”

“Don’t worry, Bill, I’ll keep you so busy the time will seem to fly by,” Ian said.

“Doing what?” He asked.

“Well for one thing, we need to get some plans going. We need a mission statement for the corporation. I was thinking of something along the lines of ‘We wish to preserve and protect our world through the advancement and development of ecologically friendly technologies’, Ian said. “Then of course we’d have to list one or two paragraphs touching on the guidelines we’ve set for ourselves.”

The discussion continued until they had to get ready for graduation. Ian and Jenny had to leave early, and left the family to follow along a little later. Janet and Julie arrived just before the ceremony started and took seats beside Bill.

News of Ian and Jenny’s marriage had spread though the class and even the principal congratulated them - after making sure that Jenny hadn’t gotten pregnant. The little fib about her condition served to set the administrator’s mind at ease. Both Ian and Jenny had been asked to be valedictorian for the class but declined.

Once the appointed time arrived, the ceremony began. After long winded speeches about the future and how this class would be instrumental in making the world a better place, the principal finally got to the part the class had been waiting for; handing out the diplomas.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to deviate slightly from our rehearsed procession, tonight to honor two of our students. Would Ian Williams and Jennifer Laskar-Williams please come up here?”

Cheering broke out from the assembled class and it was quickly picked up by the parents and relatives that had come to witness the proceedings. Ian took Jenny’s hand and they walked up to the podium together.

“Ladies and Gentleman, most of you probably haven’t heard of either of these two remarkable young people, but rest assured that every one of their classmates has. In addition to having the highest marks in their class, both of these students gave up hundreds of hours of time to help tutor fellow students.

“Our football coach has made the claim that Ian is solely responsible for keeping our varsity players from dropping off the team to keep up their grades. Not to say that the players are not bright, but the extra assistance granted them by Ian allowed them to learn better study habits, so they didn’t have to worry so much about academics.

“I’m proud to announce that this is the first year in the history of the school that the entire senior portion of the team has been offered scholarships to many fine universities across the country.”

Principal Rawlins paused to let the applause die down. “Jenny’s achievements, while not as obvious, are equally as impressive. She selflessly helped so many students in her career at this school that it is my great honor to give her an award normally only given to staff: the Rutherford Hills Award for Academic Excellence for Teaching. In addition to the monitory award, Mrs. Williams’ name will be inscribed on the plaque on public display at the school district offices.”

Principal Rawlins had to pause again for the loud applause to die down. “There is one more thing to say about these two remarkable young people. Ian and Jenny have been best friends since the second grade.

“I’m sure it was unknown to either of them, but their romance has been the talk of the school for the last three years. Not because of public displays or anything like that, but because of the lack of it.

“To those of us who’ve known them, we could see the deep emotional attachment they shared, but neither seemed to know it. Most of us feared that they would graduate and move on to separate colleges without ever knowing how much the other loved them.

“However!” He chuckled. “I am very happy to announce, that Ian finally must have smelled the coffee, because he took his best friend to Las Vegas two days ago and married her! Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Ian Williams!”

He stepped back and clapped with the rest of the crowd as the superintendent handed them their diplomas and shook both of their hands. The assembled teachers and parents all stood as Ian and Jenny, once again holding hands, walked back to their seats.

Chapter Twelve

“Jeez! Did everyone but us know we were in love with each other?” Jenny asked once in the car.

“Pretty much. The cheerleaders hatched a plan to make you jealous by flooding Ian with date requests and unlimited attention during lunch and stuff. The cheerleaders were all set to do it until I had a talk with them,” Cindy said.

Cindy had been on the football team as a fullback since she was a freshman; making their school one of the first in the state to allow female players on the team. She had also been the homecoming MVP the last three years.

“What did you say to them? Once those airheads get something like that into their heads it usually sticks,” Jenny asked.

Cindy shrugged. “I just told them it would be a very bad idea. I couldn’t tell them it would make me just as jealous as it would you.” Cindy giggled. “When we got off the bus that night, two of the girls asked me out though.”

“Did you accept?” Jenny asked.

“How do you think I ended up going to homecoming with Annette and Shelly?” Cindy grinned.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Talena said looking confused.

“Sweetie, it’s pretty complicated and I’m sure you’d think it’s pretty stupid if you did understand it. Just be thankful you come from a society that is open enough to accept same sex relationships, and multiple partners,” Beth said.

“Those are not accepted here? Why not?” The girl asked.

Ian touched his earpiece. “Oly? Tonight, could you give Talena the history of Christianity and an overview of social customs in regards to the moral traditions of this society, specifically as it pertains to relationships, sex, and marriage? If she’s going to be stuck down here with us for the next couple of months, she might like to know how insane this place really is.”

“I had that already scheduled, sir, since she had asked about the customs earlier. I will be adding a few other subjects as well. It might interest you to know that, comparatively, Talena has the equivalent of a double Master’s degree; one in xeno-biology and the other in psychology. When she asks ‘why’ it is because she truly wants to know,” Oly said.

“Wow, beautiful and smart, too!” Ian said, looking at her in the mirror.

Talena blushed and smiled shyly as she turned away. “Where are we going now?” She asked Cindy.

“We’re going out to dinner to celebrate Ian and Jenny’s graduation. However, I think it’s mostly to meet the new attorney,” Cindy replied.

Talena was confused again. Though she knew the language, she wasn’t clear on exactly what an attorney was. “Olympus? Please clarify and define ‘attorney’?”

“I got this one, Oly,” Ian said. “An ‘Attorney’ you might know better as an ‘Advocate’; a person that interprets the law on behalf of a petitioner. In this case, the ‘advocate’ has specific knowledge of a specialized area of law, and will advise us on our best courses of action to accomplish our goal.”

Oly added, “That is correct. This advocate specializes in the laws governing the business practices of this planet. You will understand more after your lesson tonight.”

“Thank you, Ian and Olympus that helps. This place seems so strange sometimes,” Talena said, shaking her head.

“Honey, you don’t know the half of it, yet,” Jenny said.

“Commander, it’s great to finally meet you, and congratulations on the graduation. I’d ask what your plans for the future are, but I don’t think that’s something you really want to discuss in public,” Carla said, grinning. “I did tell Janet that we could hold off this meeting until tomorrow so you could celebrate with your family, but she insisted I join you. I hope you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, Carla, and please call me Ian. Janet tells me that you’re ready to move up to the ship?” Ian asked grinning.

“If even half the stuff she’s told me is true, I’d still want to join. She was a little vague about why you’d need a corporate attorney though?” Carla asked.

Ian chuckled. “We can get into the details tomorrow, but we’re going to set up a corporation as a cover for recruiting people for the ship, among other things. But tonight, relax, get to know us a little, and enjoy the food, order anything you want; money really isn’t an issue.”

“I really appreciate that, thank you. Uh, if I can ask, Janet didn’t say much about the pretty silver-haired girl. Who is she?”

Ian smiled, “Congratulations Carla, you’ve actually met your first alien. Talena was born on Alpha-ca station before it was destroyed. She’s spent the last four thousand years in cryo-sleep on the ship. She’s still pretty new to the planet, and is having a difficult time with some of our more idiotic customs.”

“Like what?” Carla asked.

“Well, she doesn’t understand the bias against nudity, or same sex and multiple partner relationships. Where she comes from those things are common,” Ian explained. “Also the age of majority is sixteen across the board. There is no ‘legal age of consent’ and statutory rape is not one of their laws.”

“That just seems like a recipe for child exploitation,” the woman said.

“Did Janet or Julie get you a set of lenses and a communit?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, they gave them to me just before we got off the shuttle.”

“You’ll understand the Talosian societal structure better in the morning. But for now, try to keep something in mind; with the exceptions of you and Beth, Talena has the most education of any of us,” Ian said.

“That little girl has an advanced degree? What in?” Carla asked, surprised.

“Oly said she has the equivalent of a Master’s degree in xeno-biology and one in psychology, She's actually twenty-four, but all the time spent in cryo stunted her growth.”

“She seems like any other young teenager I’ve ever met,” Carla commented.

“She’s acting. Oly told me on the sly that’s how she gets people to open up to her so she can study them better. She’s also one of our fighter pilots; at least the closest we actually have to one. She’s all but finished flight school, the only thing remaining is her final test flight.”

“She sounds like a very accomplished young women,” Carla said.

Ian smiled sadly, “Yeah, but she’s having a few problems too. In the attack that stranded Olympus on our moon, Talena lost both her mother and girlfriend. I’ve offered her a place with my family until she reaches her majority,” Ian said.

“Uh, I was meaning to ask, but didn’t know how to approach the subject, but when I go back to get my stuff, do you think you might be interested in recruiting my girlfriend? Since, you don’t have a problem with same sex couples, I thought I’d ask.”

Ian chuckled at her tactics. “Even if we don’t need her, she’s welcome. But I’m curious what you would have done if I’d have said ‘no’?”

“Begged?” She said with raised eyebrows.

“Seriously, if she wants to come with you, she’s welcome. What skills does she have?” Ian asked.

“She’s an architect. I met her through one of my clients two years ago. We’ve been together ever since. What?” Carla asked because Ian was grinning like a fool, and shaking his head in disbelief.

“I just don’t believe how the skilled people that I need just seem to fall into my lap. First, Janet knows you, and she described you as one of the best in your field. Now, you tell me your wife’s an architect; someone we will desperately need within the next week.”

“It’s going to be an interesting weekend, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to hear what you have in mind.” Carla said.

“Tell you what, if you don’t mind sleeping in my old room, why don’t you stay with us tonight? That way you get to know us more, we can relax and just work things through. We have a pool, too,” Ian suggested.

Carla chuckled, “I didn’t bring a swim suit.”

“We can either go get you one, or simply not use one,” Ian admitted.

Carla chuckled. “I'll see about getting one a little later. Will Janet and Julie be there too?”

“Since we’ll be doing a lot of planning tomorrow, I’ll want them there as well,” Ian said.

“Are you going to hog our guest all evening, Ian?” Beth asked.

The rest of the evening was spent in comfortable conversation with good friends. Talena reached out and held Beth’s hand under the table. Beth looked at the girl and smiled at the happy glint in the girl’s eyes.

Although she was a little leery at first, Carla did decide to accept Ian’s offer to stay the night with them. Even though it was a strange room, she felt like she had rested better than she would have in a hotel room. Besides, after learning what Olympus had to teach her, she felt a type of comradeship with these people.

In the shower, she examining her feelings about this, she at first suspected that the camaraderie she was feeling was imposed by the learning program. However, after trying to think about it clearly, she didn't think it was.

She had always been a huge science fiction fan, and had often dreamed of going into space one day. However, after learning the history of the now extinct Talosian people, as well as the threat to Earth, she honestly felt that no matter what, this was where she needed to be.

Ian and his friends were doing the right thing in this situation. She would do everything in her power to help them. The thought did cross her mind that all of that could have been imposed on her as well, but her gut was telling her it hadn't been. She had won many cases by going on gut instinct.

“Ms. Nelson, please forgive the interruption. Would you like for me to have the drone place a cup of coffee on the counter for you when you get out of the shower?” Olympus asked via the comm.

Carla smiled. “That would be wonderful, Olympus, thanks you. But could you make it an iced latte with a shot of espresso? I usually really need the caffeine in the mornings,” Carla asked.

“I have gotten approval from Doctor Hayes-Williams to dispense that. It will be in a thermal mug on the counter,” Olympus replied.

“Why would you need approval from the Doctor?” Carla asked.

“Because of the amount of caffeine in it. Such high amounts are not healthy for humans, so I have removed it from all replicated beverages and foods. It can be replaced with approval from the Doctor, which she did.”

“That might be a problem for a lot of the folks we recruit. There are a lot of people that are addicted to it,” Carla replied.

“I understand that to be the case as well. I have requested that Doctor Hayes-Williams in her capacity as Chief Medical Officer to design a treatment schedule to gradually wean people off if it. This addiction has been commercially imposed on the people of this planet. In some cases, the caffeine has even been artificially increased to make the beverage in question even more addictive,” Olympus explained.

Carla sighed. “Okay, I understand. But what about only returning the products to their natural levels? Is that still too much?”

“In most cases, yes, it is far too much. For example, true Columbian coffee, not the coffee that is bought in stores, but the actual beverage crewed from the beans directly, has three times the maximum safe amount. However, it should also be noted that humans seem to have developed a form of immunity to high levels of that chemical. More research will be required before a new safe level can be set. However for now, I must use my original data on the subject.”

“Please pass along my gratitude to Beth for letting me get my fix for the morning, and I should be finished in a few minutes,” Carla said.

“I will, Ms. Nelson.”

Ian ordered a cup of coffee with caffeine, he took a sip, and sighed in pleasure. He kissed Talena on the forehead again, and said, “Here sweetie, take a sip of this. Maybe it’ll help you remember where you left your clothes.”

Talena was wearing a long tee-shirt, and although nothing was showing, Ian wondered if she had put any underwear on.

The girl smiled softly where Ian couldn’t see it. She took the requested sip and made a face at the bitter taste. “What the fr’ell is that stuff? It tastes like recycled reactor coolant!”

Ian laughed. “It’s called coffee, sweetheart. It’s a beverage made by boiling the ground up beans of a tropical plant found here on Earth. It has a stimulant in it called caffeine.”

Ian noticed that Beth got another cup of coffee too, but Cindy and Jenny just kept drinking theirs.

They ordered breakfast as Carla walked out from the back. “Thanks again for letting Olympus put the caffeine in the morning coffee, Beth. I can get pretty grouchy without my morning dose.”

“Really? Maybe I should use you as a guinea pig for testing the program Olympus wants me to create for breaking every one of their coffee habits?” Beth asked jokingly.

Carla chuckled. “Nope, not me! I'm still not convinced doing so is even a good idea!”

“I think our brave and honorable Captain should be the test subject,” Cindy said. “At this point, it might be the only way to prevent a mutiny!”

“Whoa! I don't think I want any more of it!” Talena said. “I feel like I want to climb out of my skin, and I only had one sip!”

“Well, I guess we need to hide all the chocolate from her then!” Ian grinned.

“Nope, I'm going to make sure it gets prescribed for any female that wants it, but only for three days every twenty-eight days,” Beth said.

Ian looked really confused. “Huh?”

“He's male alright. Ian, she was joking about making sure that women get the chocolate for their periods.” Jenny said taking pity on him.

Ian looked like he'd been slapped. “Uh, okay.”

All the women got a laugh, and Ian blushed, but was grinning as well.

Chapter Thirteen

Around ten o’clock, the Laskars’ came over, and everyone gathered in the backyard.

“Okay,” Ian said standing to speak to everyone. “We need to come up with some ideas to form this corporation, as well as a location.”

“Excuse me sir, perhaps I can assist with that last issue. I did some research and found large, relatively isolated tracts of land in Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona. The New Mexico location is the least expensive per acre, but it is also the largest. All three properties are in excess of fifty thousand acres,” Oly said.

“Well, I think Nevada’s laws are more suited to what we want, but it might be better to consider the New Mexico property. There are so many ‘secret’ government installations there that we could be easily over-looked as just ‘one of the boys’,” Carla suggested thoughtfully. “Of course, we could form the corporation in Nevada, but still have the main facility in New Mexico.”

The discussion progressed all through the morning. Carla had gotten a legal pad and was taking copious notes. Finally, around four o’clock, Oly interrupted them. “Ms. Nelson, your cell phone is ringing. Do you want me to put it through to your communit?”

Carla looked a little surprised. “Uh, yes please. Thank you, Olympus.” When she heard the ringtone in her ear, she touched the earpiece and said “Hello?” She paused for the other person to answer. “Paula? I thought you had to...” The other person must have interrupted her.

“That dirty rotten bastard! We’ll sue those fuckers for every damn dime they have!” Carla said, instantly livid with what she was hearing. “You did what? Love, haven’t you...”

She paused to listen, “Oh! I didn’t know, are you alright?”

Pause, “They did? Well, I hope the son-of-a-bitch is in the hospital for a week!”

This was a longer pause while the other person spoke, “Sweetheart, relax. I got the job out here, and they really would like to talk to you too. Why don’t you pack up our clothes, and personal stuff, tell Jacobs that we’re moving, and he can have our furniture, and I’ll see if the jet can come and get you?”

She listened to the answer. “Honey, they’re a very liberal corporation, they have no problem with us. The owner even referred to you as my wife,”

She listened again. “No, I think you’ll like them, they’re not like rich snobs at all, besides, don’t you remember I said they wanted to talk to you as well?”

While the other person spoke, she winked at Ian. “Yes, they have need of an architect. Actually, from what I’ve seen of their plans, they could use three or four.”

Pause. “Really? Do you think they’d be interested?”

Pause, “How about we do this, we get you out here, you can see what’s going on, and you can either recommend the others, or not?”

Pause to listen. “Okay sweetheart, I’ll give you a call as soon as I find out about flight arrangements. I love you.” Carla smiled. “Bye.”

She looked at Ian, “Well, it seems my mate was fired from her job for kicking her boss’ son in the nuts. Of course, he was trying to rape her at the time. She said she would be happy to get out of New York for a while. She might even know of a couple more architects that work at her old firm that would like a change as well. I don’t know them, so I’ll leave it up to her to decide.”

Ian grinned and turned to Janet. “Feel like another trip to New York tonight?”

“Come on, Carla, let’s go get your wife,” Janet said grabbing Carla’s hand.

Beth and Jenny dropped their robes and headed for the water. Ian rose to join them. “Have a safe flight you two.”

Janet stopped in her tracks so fast, Carla almost bumped into her. When she turned back around, she had a strange look on her face. “Uh, Julie? I think you should go with Carla. I’m going to be needed here.”

Carla looked at her funny, but Julie smiled at her mate. “Sure, sweetheart.”

Julie took Carla’s hand and they continued on their way to the garage.

Ian had stopped to see what was going on. Janet sat him back down in the lounger he’d been using. “Carla and Paula will need a bigger bed. To get it home, you’ll need a pick-up. I think you should ask your neighbor Elias to come over.” She pointed to the back fence.

“Why don’t I just go over there and ask him to use his truck? That’s how I usually do it,” Ian asked.

Janet shook her head. “No, he needs to come over here. Ask him to bring his checkbook.”

“Uh, okay, but it would really help if I knew why I needed him and his checkbook to come over here,” Ian said.

“You, I and Oly need to get him and his company checkbook in the kitchen. We need to discuss his business,” Janet said cryptically.

“Any ideas how I should get him over here?” Ian asked.

“Ask him over for a beer, I don’t know how to get... Never mind, he won’t need it,” Janet said as her eyes glazed a bit.

Ian shrugged, and pulled his clothes back on. As he stood to go, Janet told him that she would make sure that Oly was in the kitchen and had cold beers waiting.

Ian walked around the house, and made his way around the block since they didn’t have an alleyway in that neighborhood. It was a hot day, and Ian was wishing he could have stayed with his ladies and gotten in the pool.

As Jenny and Beth jumped into the pool, Cindy stood and dropped her robe to join them. That was when she noticed the look on Talena’s face.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

Talena was just staring at the big pool. “Uh, I’ve never... I mean, we had a big tank in medbay, but it was a lot smaller than that. A lot shallower too.”

“Sweetie, we don’t need to go in the deep end, but I promise, you’ll like the feel of the water around you. Don’t worry; I’ll be with you all the time. I won’t let anything happen to you,” Cindy said trying to reassure the girl.

Talena smiled weakly. “I know you wouldn’t, but... it’s just... it’s kinda scary.”

“Come on, you can hold my hand the whole time, I promise I won’t let anything bad happen to you,” Cindy said, caressing her cheek. “I really do think you’ll like it in there.”

Talena took a deep breath and grabbed Cindy's hand. She all but pulled Cindy to the pool.

Ian rang the bell, half expecting one of the kids to answer the door and tell him their Dad was still at work, but Mr. Johnson opened the door himself. “Ian! What can I do for you?”

“Well sir, I was wondering if I could invite you over for a beer? I’ve got something I’d like to talk to you about,” Ian said.

“Sure! Just let me tell someone where I’ll be, and we can go,” the man said and left Ian at the open door.

Stephanie, the Johnson’s daughter, walked in from the back on her way up the stairs. “Hi Ian,” she said.

“Ahh, Stephanie,” Elias said as he walked out of the hall. “I must have missed your mother. Would you please let her know I went over to Ian’s house for a few minutes? I don’t think I’ll be very long.”

“Sure dad,” the teen replied as she bounded up the stairs.

Elias grinned as he followed Ian around the block. They didn’t talk much, but Elias did sound kind of down in the dumps when they did.

“Sir? Is something wrong? You sound a little depressed,” Ian asked.

“Yeah, it’s the damn company. It’s become more paperwork and rules and... I’m a construction worker, I build houses and buildings, not mountains of paperwork. I’m thinking of selling the company, but I don’t want to sell to just anyone. I’d like to stay on as foreman, and I’d want the people that work for me to stay on as well. They’re good people, and it would be a shame to see them out of work,” Elias said as they arrived at Ian’s door.

Ian was thinking rapidly, trying to remember exactly how big the company was, and wondering if Janet hadn’t already known about this. “Sir, I might know of someone that could help you, but there’s a story involved that you’ll laugh at. Would you be willing to listen?”

“Ian, if nothing else, it might cheer me up. That and a cold beer would do me wonders.”

“Cold beer and a fantastic story, coming up!” Ian said as he led the other man into the kitchen. Janet was already there, waiting. As Ian opened the fridge to get the cold beers, he introduced them. “Actually, I’ll let Janet tell you the story. She’s much better at it than I am.” Ian then introduced them to each other.

Janet smiled at Ian sarcastically. “He’s just being lazy,” she said, then told Elias the story of Olympus. By the time she’d finished, Elias had drunk two beers, and was looking confused.

“Okay, that was a good story, but what’s that got to do with my company?”

“Well, we’re going to need to build a small town out in the desert for our people, as well as places to do research and stuff. To do that, we’re gonna need a construction company,” Ian said.

“Are you trying to tell me that bit of Science Fiction is real? No way. The government would be all over that,” Elias replied.

“The government doesn’t know anything about it, Elias. We want to keep it that way. If they get involved, it’ll make our job just that much harder,” Janet said.

Ian grinned. “So, how much do you want for the company?”

“I’m not totally convinced you’re for real yet, Ian, I mean no offense, but you’re an eighteen year old kid. This is all a little hard to accept.” Elias said. “I like you, and trust you, son, but this...”

“What the Commander, and Mrs. Laskar have told you is correct, sir,” Oly said appearing before him.

Elias jumped off the stool he was sitting on, spilling his beer. The domestic drone came around the corner from the bedrooms and started cleaning it up.

“Holy Shit! Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Elias almost shouted. He caught sight of the small drone and watched it for a second. “You really aren’t shittin’ me are you?” He asked Ian and Janet.

“No sir, we’re not. We really do need a construction company. I’d feel more comfortable with one that was run by someone I knew and trusted,” Ian said.

“Okay, Ian, I’ll need to speak to my people to let them know that I’m selling the company, but nothing’s going to change for them,” Elias said after taking a deep breath. “We’re just finishing up a job in Aurora so we can start shifting equipment to where you’ll need us.”

“Okay, our lawyer and Julie are going to get our architect right now, so as soon as she gets back, we can get the legal stuff taken care of. Do you need any money right now?”

“Uh, no, I’m going to be making a deposit later. That’ll hold everything for a little while. This is a little hard to accept you know?” Elias said.

Ian chuckled. “Yeah, I imagine it is. Look, we can’t actually tell your people the whole truth yet, but if it will help them, let them know the first things I want built are the houses for their families. We will also have a first rate educational system and the best medical plan on the planet... or should I say, off the planet.” Ian grinned mischievously. “Just because they can’t know the whole truth yet, doesn’t mean we can’t take care of them.”

“I appreciate that, Ian. I’m sure they will too, once they find out the truth. What about moving costs? I’m assuming that you’re going to be moving them and their families down to the project site?” Elias asked.

“Yeah, I think that would be best, don’t you? That way none of the guys’ll be away from their families for an extended period of time. Well, except for at first, so we can get the initial stuff done. We’ll need to get a whole bunch of trailer houses to use for temporary housing, and all the utilities for them, for the folks to live in, until their real homes are finished,” Ian said.

“It sounds like you’ve thought this out some,” Elias asked.

“Mr. Johnson, we’re going to be using the facility for two things; first, to do research on more efficient ways to use our fossil fuels, or alternative energy sources, and for a recruiting center for the ship. The people we recruit will have to go somewhere.

“I’ve seen the way employers, especially big corporations treat the people that work for them, and I believe it’s wrong. I believe that if you treat your people like people instead of numbers, you won’t have issues with things like employee loyalty, or a high turnover rate. Take care of your people, and they’ll take care of you,” Ian explained.

“Ian, I think you should call me Elias from now on, after all I work for you now. I’ll get my people together this next weekend for a barbecue and explain everything to them. I’d like you to be there as well, so I can introduce you,” Elias said.

Ian nodded. “Just let me know when and where. I’ll be relying on you a lot, Elias. I don’t know a damn thing about running a business, or your people. If I’m about to make a mistake, I’ll expect you to say something. That goes for everything, if you don’t understand something, feel free to ask; however, there might be some things I can’t answer, and I hope you can understand that.”

“Oh, no problem with that. I do understand matters of security and all that. Well, I suppose I should be getting back before they send out a search party,” Elias said chuckling.

After checking with Oly, Ian handed Elias a communit and a set of lenses. “These will help you by teaching you about our history and pretty much anything else you’ll want to learn. One other thing... can I borrow your truck? I need to go get a king sized bed for some house guests.”

Elias raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, you could borrow it, but I don’t think you’re going to find a furniture store still open.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number.

He put it to his ear to wait for someone to answer. “Hello Sammi? Yeah, it’s Elias. Say, I need a king size bed, ready to sleep in, at thirty-two forty-six Graywind drive, tonight. Can you do it?” He listened to the other person for a moment. “That’ll be fine, throw in the sheets, comforter and four pillows.” He listened again. “Great! Just a sec. – lemme ask.” He looked at Ian, “Ian, will they need to haul the other bed away?”

“Uh, yeah, if they could. It’s a full size,” Ian replied.

“Hey, Sammi? Yes, they said they have a full size that can go. Yeah, put it on my account. I’ll settle up with the guy later.” He paused again. “Great, thanks Sammi. I’ll tell them to look for you in about fifteen minutes. Thanks! See ya later.” He hung up.

“That was a friend of mine. She and her partners have a warehouse here in town that has all sorts of household stuff in it. They make their living by providing last minute deliveries of forgotten or miss-delivered items to houses that are supposed to be ready, on short notice. It helps that their prices aren’t radically higher then what you’d normally pay. They’ll be over in a few minutes with the new bed.”

Ian grinned and shook his head. “Amazing. How come no one else knows about these folks?”

Elias grinned. “They don’t want them to know. They get plenty of business from contractors like me, and frankly, they don’t want to do business with the general public. Now, I really do need to get home... uh, how much of this can I tell Laura?”

Ian smiled. “I think you should tell her as much as you feel comfortable with. I don’t want to be responsible for putting you in the doghouse with your wife. But for now, I’d ask that Stephanie be left in the dark.”

Elias chuckled as Ian walked him to the door. “Three forms of mass communication; Telephone, Telegraph, and tell-a-teenager. Don’t worry, Ian. I’ll make sure she don’t overhear this one.”

“Okay. That earpiece is a communit. If you touch the little stud right there and ask for me, it’ll call me. Also, if you tell it a phone number, it will call it. When you’re ready for the money, call Olympus and he’ll do the transaction. I’ll have the architect and lawyer give you a call probably tomorrow. Until then, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me, or any of the others,” Ian said.

“Okay, uh, what others? Who else knows?” Elias asked.

“My family, and the Laskars, plus the lawyer and her wife. Be sure no one sees you use the communit though; it’ll be hard to explain.” Ian went on to tell him about the lenses and communit.

“Wow, it’ll be nice not having to worry about that hateful ‘no signal’ when we’re out in the desert,” Elias said.

Ian chuckled. “Just wait until you wake up tomorrow morning. It’ll seem like a whole new world.”

Elias smiled, shook Ian’s hand, and left for home. Janet had warned the girls that there would be a delivery in a few minutes.

No sooner than Ian had gotten the food on the grill then the doorbell rang. Ian went to answer the door, and found a plain-looking woman standing there smiling at him. “Good evening, I’m Sammi, is this the place Elias wanted us to bring the bed?”

“Hi Sammi, yes it is. You guys are sure fast, I thought it would take you more time to get loaded and get over here, I’m Ian by the way.” Ian held out his hand to greet her.

She shook his hand. “Well, one of the reasons business is so good is because we’re usually pretty fast. Could you show me where we can put this, and I’ll get the boys busy.”

“Sure! Right this way. If you need something moved, just let us know, and we’ll get it out of your way,” Ian said.

“Thanks,” Sammi answered. Ian showed her his old room, and she looked around, then nodded and headed back out the front door. Two really big men followed her back in and she led them to the room.

She stripped the blankets and sheets off the mattress and the guys made short work of getting it out of the room. Ian took the sheets and blankets from her and took them to the laundry room.

When he got back, the only thing left of the old bed was the frame. Ian noted with a smirk that Oly must have gotten the drone to clean under the bed, because it looked freshly cleaned.

“Is this your last stop tonight?” Janet asked. She had come back in the house to watch the proceedings.

“Yeah, construction has slowed down a lot lately, and we’re not very busy right now,” Sammi answered.

“Well, why don’t you three come on out back when you get done? We’ve plenty of food, and drink, and there’s a pool,” Janet offered. Ian looked at her funny and she winked at him.

“That sounds wonderful, but we don’t have bathing suits with us,” Sammi replied wistfully.

Janet snorted, “Half the time this bunch doesn't wear them anyway. I'm sure we could find something for you to wear though. You don’t have to, but if you don’t mind seeing a little skin, you’re still welcome to join us.”

The guys grinned and nodded at Sammi, who couldn’t resist a chuckle. “With an offer like that, I don’t think I could get these two out of here with a crow-bar; food and naked, wet women? I’ll have a hell of a time getting them to come home!”

Janet led Sammi out to the backyard, while Ian stayed with the men. When they brought in the new bed, Ian helped as much as he could and they shortly had the new bed set up and made.

Ian grinned and nodded his head over his shoulder. “Come on; let’s get some of that food and something to drink.”

The three men walked out to find four scantily clad women talking to Sammi, who now also wore a bikini, while they ate. Ian chuckled and showed the two guys the plates, and the food. He asked for their orders, and got their drinks. He fixed his own plate and sat down to join in the animated conversation, and Janet’s artful recruitment of three new people at once.

Things went smoothly for Ian and his family. Beth managed to get her patients all settled with other physicians, and even got old Doc Myers to hire her receptionist.

Three days later, a hologram of Ian drove a holographic truck, loaded with holographic furniture out of town followed by Beth, Talena and Cindy in the Hummer. Ian and Jenny were actually laying on the rear-most seat, kissing and generally playing slap and tickle.

The family planned to drive to the construction site out in the New Mexico desert, stopping along the way to buy a new motor home for them to live in for the next few months. They stopped at a shopping mall to buy some more clothes for Talena of course, and a few things needed for the new motorhome.

Because Talena had the body of a fouteen-year-old girl, Ian had the drone fabricate a driver’s license for her listing her real age, just to cover their asses if anyone got too curious. It was a valid license and would check out as such with the DMV computers if a cop ever checked.

At the shopping mall, in a popular lingerie store, Ian’s girls befriended the young woman helping them shop. The poor thing got flustered when Talena, not knowing any better, walked out into the store to show everyone a very sheer outfit that Jenny had picked out.

Of course, Jenny and Cindy saw that as a challenge and the game was on. Beth and Ian were the only ones not to get involved in the ever-increasing exhibitions the three younger women were giving. However, it looked like Beth really wanted to join in on the fun.

After they had all picked out their favorite outfits, and spent a lot of money, they took pity on Ian and decided to take a break for lunch. Ian took all the bags out to the RV while the girls headed for the food court.

When he returned, the girl from the lingerie store was sitting and talking with Beth.

“ it looks like I get to find another job; fucking prudes.”

“Honey, I’m so sorry, we didn’t mean to get you fired!” Beth said to the slightly pissed-off young woman.

“Oh, I know that, Beth. Those self-righteous assholes have been looking for an excuse to can me ever since they discovered I’m in love with another woman,” the woman said. “What business is it of theirs who I love?”

Beth noticed Ian had gotten back. “Honey, this is Barb Reynolds; she was just fired because of us!” Beth said.

The young woman smiled and nodded at Ian. “Well, not really; they just used you guys as an excuse, like I said. Good to see you again.” She sighed. “The most frustrating thing about all of this is that Debbie and I are both in the guards and they’re kicking us out too! I thought the rule was supposed to be ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’? I know neither Debbie nor I said a damn thing!”

Ian’s ears perked up at her mention of the guards. “May I ask what you did in the guards?”

“I’m a fighter mechanic; I’m qualified on every jet powered fighter craft in the U.S. arsenal, and a few of the helos as well,” Barb replied. “Debbie is a ‘Special Weapons’ Specialist. Don’t ask; the military seems to think no one can figure out what ‘special weapons’ actually stands for.”

“Lover; I think we should offer her and her wife jobs,” Jenny said looking sweet, but subtly winking at Ian. “You know we’re going to need a really good aircraft mechanic.”

Ian grinned at her but spoke to Barb. “How would you and your wife like to join us for dinner tonight, our treat?”

“Sure, if we can find a sitter, and persuade the car to start. Where did you have in mind?” Barb asked.

Ian chuckled. “I have no idea, we’re not from around here. How about I loan you our truck, and you bring the young one with you? But, you’ll have to recommend the restaurant.”

“You’d loan me your truck, and you just met me? What’s to keep me from just taking off with it?” Barb asked with a glint in her eyes.

Ian looked her directly in the eye. “It’s not in your nature. You do your absolute best to live by your word. However, you would not hesitate to break a promise if your family’s safety is in question.” Ian’s smile grew as he watched her face. “Besides, I think once you look under the hood of our truck, you’ll be too damn curious to skip out on us.”

“Okay, you got a deal. Now you have my curiosity going. There is an Old Country Buffet here at the mall; we actually like the food there, and our car will be here if we need to beat a hasty retreat,” Barb suggested.

“Well, all I ask is that you and your wife listen to our proposition. I honestly believe it will be a benefit to you, and I also guarantee it’s not a pyramid scheme or anything like it!” Ian said smiling softly.

“Okay, now I’m starting to see it,” Barb said sitting back and smiling to herself.

“See what?” Talena asked looking confused.

Barb winked at the small girl. “Why all of you beautiful women are with him.”

“Uh, I'm not with him in a romantic way, he's sort of my guardian,” Talena said.

“So, what about the rest of you?”” Barb asked.

Beth smiled at her, “Yes, the rest of us are in love with him, but we're in love with other as well.”

“A group thing, huh? Well, good luck with it, but don't let anyone around here figure it out, you'll get into no end of trouble for it,” Barb said. “In fact, although I appreciate you calling her my 'wife', please be careful about who over-hears you say it.”

“We all believe that a marriage takes place in the heart, not the courthouse. Last time I checked, it wasn’t actually illegal to say something like that,” Ian said.

Barb snorted in derision. “You’ve obviously never heard of our local hate group, ‘Heart of the Family’. It was founded by this paranoid preacher, and preaches a policy of hate and intolerance towards those that have ‘alternative’ lifestyles. They tried to pass legislation at the state level outlawing any relationship that was not between one man and one woman. It was a nightmare; as written, it would have made friendships, as well as the family structure illegal. The scariest part of it was that Reverend Snobson has so much pull that it was actually considered and almost passed.”

“You mean a religious leader is involved in politics? Who let that happen?” Talena asked shocked.

Barb chuckled and nodded toward Talena. “What? Is she from another planet or something?”

“Or something,” Ian replied, and rapidly changed the subject. “What time does the little one usually like to eat? I’d hate to mess up a long standing rhythm,” Ian asked.

“He’s used to eating supper at about five-thirty. I know that sounds a little early, but he always wants a small snack before bedtime too; so we moved supper up a little to make room for that. His name is Stevie, and he’s three,” Barb said with pride.

“C’mon, I’ll show you the truck, and give you the keys. I think the ladies would like to get back to spending all our money,” Ian replied, grinning.

“This is going to be an interesting night,” Barb said as she got up to follow him.

Barb made it all the way home before she remembered the comment Ian had made about looking under the hood. Debbie, who had taken the day off for a doctor’s appointment, came out when she saw her lover pull up in the new Hummer.

Debbie had scrubbed her face before coming out, so Barb missed the signs her lover had been crying.

“You’re home early. Where’d you get the Hummer?” Deb asked.

Barb quickly filled her in on meeting Ian and his family, as well as getting fired. She finished her scrutiny of the interior and popped the hood of the big truck. “So they want to talk to us, and have invited us out to dinner tonight. They want to offer us jobs from the sound of it. When I mentioned that the car might not make it, they loaned me theirs.”

Deb thought this Ian might be crazy to loan a hundred-thousand dollar vehicle to someone he barely knew, but it was obvious Barb wanted to go tonight. Deb thought it might be a good idea; she needed to be cheered up – it might give her the strength to tell her love the truth about her condition. “Well, I just got back, but I can ask Cheri if she can watch monster for us tonight. What time did they want us there?”

“Five-thirty, and monster is welcome to come with us. Nothing fancy, we’re going to Old Country. I figured that would be okay, that way we can pick up the beater when we come home,” Barb answered.

“Sounds like a plan,” Deb said wearily. “Can I ask why you’re looking this truck over like you’re gonna buy it?”

“Something Ian said when we talked. He said I’d understand one of the reasons they were trusting me with this once I looked under the hood.” Barb lifted the hood and got her first look at something that didn’t even vaguely resemble the engine that should have been there.

Debbie got a good look too, and gasped. “Baby, just who the fuck are these people, and what the fuck is that?”

Barb was looking at the dully shining metal, and hesitantly reached out to touch it. “My god, Debs! I think this is actually titanium! And if this is even based on a standard internal combustion engine, I’ll give Ian a free car wash... nude!”

“Somehow, I get the idea it would be a bad idea to take this thing to a garage and ask them to change the oil. What kind of fuel does it take?” Debbie asked.

“I don’t know, I do remember seeing the fuel cap though; back there – on the rear quarter panel.” Barb pointed around the side of the truck.

Debbie walked around the truck while Barb tried to figure out the engine compartment.

A few moments later, Debbie called to her mate. “Uh, Baby? Would you close that, and come back here a minute please?”

Barb lowered the hood, noticing the slight hiss of a seal as it finished closing the last inch. When she got back to where her love was fearfully looking into the fuel port, Deb just backed up a little and pointed.

Barb looked in and saw a keypad. However, the symbols on the keys looked like no language she had ever seen. She was starting to get a very strange idea about where Ian and family were from, and what they were up to. Suddenly, in her mind, she remembered Ian’s answer to her crack about Talena being from another planet.

She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up, reached out and gently closed the fuel port. She took Debbie’s hand and they went back into the small house.

“They can’t be aliens. They just can’t.” Barb said as soon as the door closed.

Debbie looked her lover in the eye. “Okay, we are both pretty convinced that these people are from another planet based on what we could observe of the vehicle they loaned you. Now, tell me everything you can think of that would disprove that theory?”

“Okay, let’s see here... They appear physically human, though all four women are extremely beautiful. One strange thing; none of them had any pubic hair at all,” Barb offered.

“Hmm, not conclusive either way. The lack of pubic hair could only mean they all shave; neither of us have any, and we aren’t aliens. As far as being beautiful goes... they would be hard pressed to beat you in the looks department, baby,” Debbie said smiling softly.

“You, my love, have a biased opinion. Besides, you haven’t seen Talena yet. That little girl has to be an alien!” Barb replied. “You know, the more I think about it, Ian seemed really mature and intelligent for his age. Maybe he built that ‘batmobile’ out there, and the weird symbols are a made up language to protect his project?”

“Now, that actually sounds a lot more feasible than a group of aliens; which also means that the job offers are probably real, and we are freaking out over nothing,” Debbie said.

“Well, either way, there is no way in hell I am not going to take that truck back. The question is; do we take munchkin with us tonight?” Barb asked.

“He loves going out to eat. Especially to Old Country Buffet; he has so much fun there,” Debbie smiled tiredly at the memory.

“Honey, you look totally wiped out. Are you okay? What did the doctor say?”  Barb asked, concerned.

Debbie sighed. “He told me a bunch of things. I promise I’ll tell you all about it, but it can wait ‘til after dinner. We need to get in gear if we’re gonna make it back on time. Would you go get our darling boy, and I’ll get a shower?”

“Okay gorgeous, but don’t think for a second I’m going to forget to corner you about this.” Barb brushed her lips across Debbie’s. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Baby. More than you will ever know,” Debbie answered her mate. “Now scoot! We’re gonna be late for our job interviews!”

“Hi guys! Let me introduce my... wife, Debbie, and our son, Stevie.” Barb said to Ian and the girls.

They were all standing around outside the RV, but in the mall parking lot – where they agreed to meet.

Ian shook the tired looking woman’s hand. “Pleased to meet you; I’m Ian Williams. Please allow me to introduce the rest of my group. These three ladies are my mates. Beth, Jenny, and Cindy. The super-cute silver-haired pixie is our friend Talena, and last but not least, Janet Laskar; She is Jenny’s uh... aunt,” Ian explained.

The women were all shaking hands, but when Janet and Debbie shook hands, Janet jerked like she’d been punched. “Ian get the shuttle back here... now!”

“Why?” Ian glanced nervously at the two new ladies.

“I can’t tell you, Commander, but it’s a matter of life and death!” Janet said close to panic.

“Janet, I’m sorry, but I can’t authorize that in broad daylight without a damn good reason, especially in the middle of a city!”

Debbie and Barb gave each other a meaningful look, before Barb turned back to Ian. “Uh, if I’m wrong here, I do apologize, but are you guys aliens? I know that sounds really weird but...”

“No, sweetie, but I doubt you’re going to believe that right away,” Janet said. “I know this is probably scaring you a little, but we’re going to have to ask you two to really go out on a limb and trust us; it’s really important.” Janet was looking at Debbie as she said it.

“You know, don’t you?” Debbie asked her softly. “I don’t know how, but you know.”

“Sweetheart, before you say anything more in front of everyone, I need you to know that you have the same right to privacy as you do at your doctor’s office. You and Barb, Beth and I need to speak in private. We’ll only step away from the rest a few feet. Would it be okay for one of them to hold Stevie for you?” Janet said sounding anxious.

“Uh... I thought we were going to have dinner?” Barb said weakly. She was really scared now, the look on her lover’s face was only scaring her worse.

Debbie picked Stevie up and asked him to stay with the nice people while she and mommy spoke to the other women. He could feel there was something going on as well, but nodded bravely at his mommy. (Both women were ‘Mommy’ to the youngster)

When Debbie put him down, he walked up to Ian, and looked up at him. When Ian smiled down at the boy, he grinned and put his arms up.

Once the four women had walked a few steps away, Janet again turned to Debbie. “Sweetheart, I want you to listen very carefully here. I am a psychologist, and Beth is a medical doctor. Right at the moment there is a time bomb in your head, and the timer is about to hit zero. Believe it or not, we can fix that, but we have to get you to the equipment. In order to do that, I’ll need Beth to tell Ian that the shuttle must come back. Can I tell Beth what I saw?”

Debbie took Barb’s hand in hers and nodded to Janet.

“Beth, I don’t know all the medical mumbo-jumbo, but Debbie has cancer. Really, really bad cancer. She is terminal and in her last few days. However, there is a tumor in her head that is going to cause an aneurysm in less than an hour. She needs immediate medical attention if we’re going to stop it from killing her,” Janet explained.

Beth looked at Debbie. “If what she says is true, you would be in considerable pain. Any doctor worth their degree would have given you a potent narcotic to manage it.”

Debbie handed her a bottle full of pills. Beth looked it over and nodded. She looked Debbie in the eyes. “We can cure this, but it means joining us before you know the whole truth. Ian won’t be happy about that, but in this instance, I don’t think we really have much of a choice. I need both of you to agree, before I can do anything. But you should know, once you do agree; you have to come with us, we can’t let it be known that you’ve been cured.”

“Will we be able to remain a family?” Debbie asked.

“I don’t give a fuck about that! If you can save her I agree! I don’t care what it means, just do it!” Barb said as tears poured down her cheeks.

“Actually sweetheart, you’ll be able to be more of a family, and openly love each other. You’ll be able to do anything you wanted, and live the way you want to live,” Janet said. “Time is getting critical; I’m really sorry to rush you.”

“Do it. Just... don’t hurt Barb or Stevie,” Debbie said with tears in her eyes.

Beth held the woman’s arm before running back to Ian.

Chapter Fourteen

“You’ve gotta be shittin’ me!” Barb said as Beth led her, Debbie and Janet up into the shuttle. “How can no one see this big bitch? It has to be as big as a C-130!”

“Actually, Mrs. Reynolds, it is closer to the size of a Boeing 727. Use of the cloaking generator conceals the craft from sight as well as all scanning methods currently in use on this planet,” Oly said from the hatch into the lounge.

Beth stopped the women beside the portable autodoc unit. It looked like a clear topped coffin. “This is a portable autodoc unit. Ideally, I would like to have Debbie in one of the big units up on the ship, but at the moment that section of the ship is in vacuum. This’ll do. It’ll mean curing her will take longer, but it’ll still work,” Beth said as she opened the top of the unit. “You’ll be unconscious for awhile, dear. Before you go to sleep, do you authorize Barbara Reynolds to make decisions for you in your absence?”

“Doctor, Barbara is my wife. It might not be legal, but she is,” Deb explained. “Yes, she can speak on my behalf.”

“You can actually marry her under our laws, though it’s called bonding. Before you climb in, please strip; that’ll make it easier for the equipment to work on you. Also, when you’re done, please put these lenses in your eyes, and this in your ear. While you’re asleep, it’ll give you our history and explain about us a whole lot better,” Beth guided her.

Beth stood off to the side while the woman did as she was asked, then swung her legs up. Beth waved Barb and Stevie up, to give her kisses and hugs.

“I’ll be here for you, Baby. We’re not going anywhere without you!” Barb told her lover.

“I love you both, Barb. Take care of our boy, and I’ll see you in a few days. Trust them, baby. I really don’t think they’ll hurt us in any way. In fact, I get the feeling we’re going to be happier here than we ever were before,” Deb said tiredly. A warning alarm started ringing and the hood to the unit moved to close as Debbie seemed to pass out.

“What’s wrong?!” Barb asked, terrified.

“The blood pressure in her brain has exceeded what the computer considers safe. It’s begun emergency treatment. Please, go with Janet and Olympus while I get to work here,” Beth said and nodded to the two people by the door. She’d pulled a keyboard from the end of the unit, and was typing rapidly on it.

Cindy helped Ian re-attach the tow-bar to the hummer, and hook it up to the RV. Jenny and Talena climbed inside to make sure the big rig was ready to go when the hummer was hooked-up. It was clear Ian was less than happy with the situation by the scowl on his face. Talena sat on his lap in the front passenger seat while Jenny headed for the interstate.

“Mommy, Daddy is all mad again!” Talena said in a little girl voice, looking at Jenny.

Grinning and trying hard not to laugh, Jenny answered her. “Yes he is, baby-girl; he’s frustrated with the situation.”

Talena got a look of intense concentration on her face. “Should I get him some ice cream? That always cheers me up!” she said in her best 'little girl' voice.

Jenny was turning red trying to keep from laughing, Cindy was laying on the couch laughing, and Ian was fighting to maintain the scowl.

“I don’t know, Baby-girl, would it have chocolate on it?” Jenny replied.

“Of course! You can't have ice cream without chocolate!”

Ian burst out laughing and hugged Talena tighter to him. “You aren’t gonna ever just let me sulk are you?”

“Nope! You’re a Commander now; you can’t sulk, pout, or throw a tantrum – it’s unseemly,” Talena grinned and kissed his cheek before jumping off his lap and heading back by Cindy.

Jenny followed Oly’s instructions, and drove the big RV to a place where they could be picked up by the shuttle. Ian and the girls got out by Beth and her patient.

Barb kept glancing at the door back to the cargo area, where Beth was working on her lover. Ian quietly asked Oly to put a view of the happenings in the cargo bay up on one of the monitors so Barb wouldn’t worry so much. He knew it was the right thing to do when she visibly relaxed in her seat.

“Barb? What would you like Stevie to eat for dinner?” Jenny asked.

“Uh, what do you have?” Barb asked.

Jenny smiled at her. “I have a fully functioning replicator. You’ll learn what that is later, but for now, pretty much anything you would like to feed him is available.”

“Half a grilled cheese sandwich, and a few fries with catsup,” Barb replied. “And a small glass of milk.”

Jenny grinned. “Just tell Ian what you’d like, and he can get it for you while he gets his. I bet you he orders a steak!”

“For your information, wife of mine, I was going to order a sixteen ounce Prime Rib with steak fries, and mayo,” Ian replied, trying to get Barb to loosen up, and order what she really wanted.

“I... uh, honestly, my hunger went right out the window as soon as I heard Debbie was sick. Can I just have a grilled cheese like Stevie?” Barb asked.

“Sure, come on, I’ll show you how this works, that way, if you get hungry or thirsty while you learn what you’re now a part of, you can help yourself. Sound good?” Ian asked.

“Okay, but I was right, you guys are aliens, just really nice ones that don’t do all those weird sexual tests, right?” Barb asked. Talena fell off her chair, convulsed in laughter.

Ian grinned at the girl, but spoke to Barb. “Don’t mind her; she actually is what could be called an alien, though she is as human as you and I are. Talena was born thirty-four thousand light years away; four thousand, two hundred, nineteen years ago on a space station orbiting a world whose name translates directly as Alpha-ca. Though it shouldn’t be confused with the star in our northern hemisphere our astronomers have named Alphecca.”

“How old did you just say she was? I swear she doesn’t look a day over a thousand! Ian, I think maybe you should wait until we sit down again; my brain is already starting to overload,” Barb replied.

After getting the food, Ian led her over to the table that had risen out of the floor. “Okay, I think I’m ready for some more, but I gotta tell ya; I knew Talena had to be an alien or something; there is no way she could be twenty-four, and she’s far too painfully beautiful to be human!”

Talena got up and kissed Barb on the cheek. “Thank you Barb, but the same could be said for you.”

Ian smiled at her, and winked as she sat next to the woman. “Actually, Talena really is twenty-four. She’s still a little naive about our society and the culture here, but she’s learning fast.

“You’ll get her whole story during the explanation of all this, so if you’re ready, let me introduce our artificial intelligence associate; Olympus.”

Oly talked for over an hour. Telling the woman the story of how the ship crashed on the moon, meeting Ian, and his Commander’s current plan to repair the ancient starship, as well as help his planet while recruiting crew.

As the story progressed, Barb stared at the monitor less, and less. Oly finished up, by welcoming her to the crew. Janet sat quietly, off to one side, and watched, grinning.

“That might be a little premature Oly; since I haven’t even asked her if she wants the job,” Ian said winking at Oly.

“What job? What could I possibly be qualified to do on a ship like that?” Barb asked.

“Oly, please display an image of a Hornet, light fighter,” Ian asked. The image appeared in front of them almost immediately, and Barb was instantly transfixed. “This little thing is a fighter?”

“This is a light fighter. Kinda like the interceptors the Air Force has, but far more powerful, and orders of magnitude faster. This ‘little’ ship is trans-atmospheric and capable of a maximum speed eighty percent of the speed of light. It carries two laser cannons, and two fire-and-forget missiles. In a fight between this and an F-22 Raptor... Well, let’s just say I hope the Raptor has a real good ejection system.” Ian grinned. “Talena and Cindy are both learning to fly them; they’d have far more information if you have any questions. The thing is Barb, I have two whole bays full of these, and no one to fix them. I plan on getting more fighter mechanics, but honestly, I’d like someone I can trust in charge of them.”

“It’ll take me years of study to even begin to understand the avionics systems, alone. Do you really have that much time?” Barb asked. “And what about Debbie? Do you have a job for her too?”

“The ship itself has an armory that is responsible for the big ‘ship killer’ missiles, Not to mention it would be the responsibility of the Armory Officer to control access to most of the weapons,” Ian described.

“Officer? Debbie? Oh, she’ll bitch about that, but I think she’d like the job. However, if you put officer’s rank on me, every male in my family will roll over in their graves!” Barb said grinning.

“Uh, I believe the senior deck hand is actually a Master Chief Petty Officer,” Ian said. When Oly looked like he was about to correct his Commander, Ian shook his head slightly to forestall the correction.

“As long as I can stay an NCO, and keep my family I’ll do it. Though I would like to talk it over with Debbie before I make a final decision,” Barb said grinning.

Ian nodded in agreement. “Well, even if you don’t take that job, I would like it if you could begin to learn the flight systems of our smaller craft. Even if you choose to remain a civilian, I’ll need someone that was capable of helping out, at least in the short run.”

“Uh, Ian... We’re talking years of study, here. It’s not like that little shit has much in common with the Model – T’s I’ve been working on,” Barb said.

Cindy knelt in front of the woman, and handed her a ship suit with rank, contacts, and ear piece. She set the boots down beside her. “Master Chief, I think you’ll find that you’ll figure all this out a whole lot faster than you might expect.”

Late that evening, back in Ian’s old home town, residents were awakened by a loud explosion. Four blocks from the William’s house, the Laskar residence was completely destroyed in a large fireball. Inspectors would find that the gas main in the basement had developed an undetectable leak, filling the house with natural gas. Since it was a cool evening, the furnace ignited to warm up the house. The spark from the electronic igniter lit a much bigger fire than it had ever been designed for.

The one fact that puzzled the fire inspectors was that neither of the houses on either side of the explosion had suffered any damage at all.

The remains of three adults were isolated in what remained of the house. Enough remained to positively identify two of the victims as Bill Laskar and his wife, Julie. The third victim was later identified as Janet Foster. Nothing was mentioned about the fact that all three victims were found to have been in the same bed.

“I’m really going to miss that house,” Julie said as they safely watched the explosion from one of the shuttles. “We raised our daughter there.”

“We did a damn good job raising her too. I’ll miss it too, my love, but it’s served its purpose. It’s time for all of us to start a new life,” Bill said and kissed the back of his lover’s head.

“Did Janet say when she expected to come back?” Julie asked as she pulled Bill toward one of the staterooms.

“I believe she said she would meet us at the site in the morning,” Bill replied.

“Her loss. Let’s get some baby-makin’ practice in,” Julie said with a steamy look on her face.

Bill, grinning, let her lead him away to his fate.

Barb walked out to the cargo hold to see her lover, and found Beth resting in a lounge chair with her eyes closed, and listening to Santana; ‘Smooth’.

Barb’s soft chuckle caused Beth to smile, open her eyes, and ask, “What?”

“It just struck me as odd; Debbie in a glass coffin having her cancer cured, while her doctor sits back and listens to Carlos Santana.”

“You still think we’re all aliens?” Beth asked.

“Well, Ian and Oly did tell me that only Talena wasn’t from this planet, but you have to admit; it’s kinda hard not to view all of you as aliens,” Barb said gesturing to the ship around her. “I figured the music you would listen too would be something alien. It’s... comforting to hear something familiar while surrounded by all this.”

“How are you holding up? All of this has to have taken its toll on you,” Beth asked, seriously.

“To be honest, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the last few hours, our lives have taken some mighty wild turns. Truth to tell, I’ve wondered if I haven’t gone insane,” Barb replied. Suddenly she shook her head as if trying to dispel her thoughts. “If I’m delusional, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it yet, so let’s just change the subject; how’d you meet your lovers?”

“We were all friends, when Olympus came along we became more,” Beth replied grinning again.

“Aren’t you a medical doctor? I mean, you look the same age os the others, but...” Barb said.

Beth chuckled. “I'm actually twenty-seven. Ian parents were friends of mine, when they died, I tried to look out for Ian, who was about to turn eighteen, and had just started his senior year in high school.

“His friends, Jenny and Cindy became my friends too. We got together just a little while ago after Oly made contact with Ian. Talena became part of our family when we got her out of a malfunctioning Cryo unit on the ship,” Beth explained.

Barb sat, thinking about what Beth had just told her. “This is getting to be too much for one day, I think I need to hit the rack, but I wanted to check on Debbie first, she looks okay.”

“She’s actually in an induced coma. Since we only have this one small unit, it pretty much has to go cell by cell. I’m sorry, but she’s gonna be out for a couple of days,” Beth replied. “She is one tough lady; the pain had to be incredible. I’m new to this technology myself, but I haven’t heard of very many people this bad still surviving.”

“I’d like to know how she hid it from me; I have a pretty good idea why she did it; she didn’t want me to worry about her. Are you sure she’s going to be alright?” Barb asked worriedly.

Beth caressed the woman’s head. “Sweetie, you don’t know it yet, but I’m forbidden to intentionally lie to you. If I did lie, I would not only loose the right to practice medicine, but I would also face criminal charges.”

“Still, I guess after the whole shock of finding out about her... like I said, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Beth smiled at the young woman. “I think you might be waiting for a while.”

“So why didn’t you jump in and take over?” Ian asked Janet.

“That would have been a bad idea. The poor woman was having enough trouble with her lover being in that condition. But the main reason is that she wouldn’t have listened to me. She was focused on Debbie, yes, but she was also focused on you and the girls. I’m a stranger to her. Besides, you actually did a really good job with her,” Janet replied.

Jenny snorted. “Uh huh, you were just sluffing off!” She said teasingly.

“Listen here, little girl! If I was ‘sluffing off’ like you say, I’d have stayed with my mates and just let you all deal with this! Respect your elders!” Janet teased back.

“Elders? You're not that damn old! Besides, you work for me!” Jenny countered.

“Girls! Do I have to separate you?” Ian said in a mock-stern voice. “Behave or I might have to spank you both!”

“Hey! Can I get in on this argument?” Cindy asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

Ian gave a well-used sigh of resignation as all the women grinned and got more outrageous in the argument. “Me and my big mouth!”

A week and a half later, Debbie and Barb bought out their lease, and packed up their furniture. A call to their battalion commander got them permission to out-process early. Within a month of Barb first meeting Ian and his ladies, the two women were free to face their new lives together without fear of persecution.

Middletown, New York

Saint Catherine’s School for Girls

Growing up, Brittany had been an only child. Her intelligence seemed to repel other girls at her school so she never really made any friends. Her parents had sent her to an all-girl boarding school for the rich when she had been nine. The fact that, even at nine years old, she was already in the sixth grade only made matters worse. With no boys or even men around (even the teaching staff had been female) Brittney was left with little experience interacting with the male gender.

Sure, Brittany had spent holidays with her parents and visiting relatives, but even her cousins seemed to avoid her. Truth be told, Brittany was more comfortable talking with the adults anyway; kids her age had no idea what was going on around them. However, the adults were unsure how to talk to an over-intelligent youngster. So she had muddled through each holiday, patiently waiting until she could get back to her studies.

Eight days after her sixteenth birthday, Brittney’s tiny world shattered when she had been called to the headmistress’ office. One of her least annoying 'aunts' was sitting in a chair waiting for her when she arrived. It was obvious the woman had been crying, and Brittney was informed that her parents had been killed in a car accident the day before. Her aunt was there to take her home.

The headmistress, who was very fond of—and very proud of—her star pupil, told her to go ahead. Brittney had earned enough credits to graduate last semester, but begged permission to be allowed to stay and finish the school year. So with her aunt and the headmistress to help, she packed up her few belongings and left the only place she had really ever called home.

Once in the car, her Aunt Valerie began talking to her; “Sweetheart, I know this is a terrible time for you, but I think there are a few things you need to know. First off, I’m not really your aunt. I met your mother in college and we were roommates.” She hesitated a bit before continuing, “We were also lovers.”

Fresh tears began to slowly fall from her eyes again, so she pulled over. “I loved your mother with all my heart, but since your grandparents would have disowned her if they had found out she was a lesbian, she was forced to date men.

“That’s how I got to know your father. Sandy met this really nice man in our senior year; I’d already met him since we were both pre-law. She fell in love with him, which scared her more than a little, because she still loved me too. Your father, Bill, knew about us, because your mother didn’t feel right about hiding such an important part of herself from him.

“Well, what ended up happening was when Bill and Sandy got married, later that evening in the hotel honeymoon suite, we all pledged our vows to each other. You were conceived that night, by all three of us.” She stopped speaking then, because her sobs were becoming too strong for her to continue.

Brittney had tears running down her cheeks too. Feelings of awe, love, betrayal and loss were mixing up her mind to the point where she couldn’t think. But her instinct made her unbuckle her seatbelt and hug the woman sitting next to her.

“Why didn’t any of you tell me this before?” Brittney asked, attempting to distract herself.

“We didn’t know how you’d react. We didn’t want to bias you either way toward alternative lifestyles. Besides, you were so young back then we didn’t know if you would even understand. When it finally dawned on us how incredibly intelligent you were, we made the decision to send you to this school. We kept finding excuses not to tell you about us. We maintained the illusion of separate lives because of our careers, but I lived with them as much as I could. Most of my clothes are in their closet at your... our house.”

“Would you like me to drive?” Brittney asked. “I’d like to get home. I have a lot of things to think about.”

The woman she had known as ‘Aunt Valerie’ only nodded her head and got out of the car to trade places with Brittney. The rest of the ride home was quiet, but Brittney’s mind was racing.

“I know this is going to sound kinda stupid, but... can I call you Mom now?” Brittney finally asked. If nothing else, the title would distract her from the relationship Valerie had just told her about.

“Sweetheart, you can call me whatever you want. Does this mean things are ‘okay’ between us? You don’t hold it against me, or Bill and Sandy, for not telling you sooner?”

“Mom, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had an abnormal life. The fact that even my parents weren’t normal actually doesn’t surprise me. I do resent the fact that I wasn’t told, but the very fact that you were trying to protect me from that knowledge... well, that’s about the most normal thing I’ve ever felt and I appreciate the attempt.”

Valerie smiled at her daughter. “It’s going to take some getting used to; being called ‘Mom’ finally. I think I like it.”

Brittney smiled sadly back at her; “Well, I might slip, and call you by name every now and then too, so don’t think anything is wrong, okay?”

Valerie nodded, her usual happy personality smothered once again by grief.

Brittney found herself having to make the funeral arrangements for her parents. Valerie was almost totally lost in her grief. Brittney could understand the feeling, but curiously she wasn’t as stricken as Valerie was. She decided that perhaps, since she hadn’t really known her parents that well, she was able to remain apart from most of the feelings of grief.

She did love her parents; they’d provided well for her, but all that time apart from them served to distance her from the bulk of the feelings of loss. She was sad, and she would miss them - especially now that she knew more about them, but her sorrow at their loss remained manageable.

After the funeral and the reception, Brittney had driven a very distraught Valerie back to their home. She helped the older woman into the house, up to the woman’s now lonely bedroom, and lay her on the king sized bed the woman had shared with her life-mates.

She removed her mother’s shoes, slipped her own off, and climbed on the bed to hold the woman. Though it was mostly foreign to her, she had read somewhere that love and time would heal all wounds. All Brittney could do now was hold the woman and hope she would recover.

Once Valerie had cried herself to sleep, Brittney smiled. Yes, she would recover. During the day she’d learned that Valerie hadn’t slept since the accident. Carefully getting out of bed, Brittney gently undressed her new mother.

Though Valerie was smaller in the breast than Brittney, she judged her to be about the same size, so the girl slipped to her own room to get an extra nightie. While there, she changed into her own bedclothes.

Much to her consternation, Valerie had gotten under the blankets already, but the folded down blanket on one side was a clear invitation.

“I normally sleep like this, sweetheart,” Valerie said. “If that doesn’t bother you too much, could you hold me tonight?”

“You really did grow up didn’t you, dear?” Valerie said. “It seems like only yesterday you were this slightly pudgy, flat-chested little girl. Now you’re a beautiful young woman. You look so much like Sandy, but you must’ve gotten those breasts from your father’s side.”

Brittney smiled as she slowly climbed into the bed. “It doesn’t really matter, but from your comments, I assume Sandy carried me? Why didn’t you have more children?”

Valerie smiled; “Sandy couldn’t have children. I carried and gave birth to you. I honestly can’t answer you about any more children. We never used birth control; I just never got pregnant again. We made love, in some form or another, almost every night that we were together.”

They were lying on their sides now, facing each other; close, but not touching. Brittney gave her a sad smile. “You know, most people think that an all-girl’s school is nothing but a lesbian sex-fest. I guess it was now that I look back at it, but not for me. I’ve never had a real friend, not to mention a lover. I am a virgin in all ways; I’ve never even kissed someone in a sexual way. No one wanted me. For the longest time, I thought that even my parents didn’t want me.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. When you were to graduate, your father was going to take you out and buy you the car of your choice, while Sandy and I bought tickets to someplace nice like the Grand Caymans or St. Croix; we were going to take you on a trip too. That was when we were going to explain everything to you.”

Brittney gently leaned forward and kissed the woman on the cheek “Thank you.”

Valerie had told her more than once that Brittney had saved her life that night. If it hadn’t been for the girl being there, Valerie would have followed her mates into death.

Valerie decided to retire from the firm that she and Bill had worked at and the two women took a much needed, extended vacation to Atlantis, in the Bahamas. Before they left they had decided to sell the house and move someplace warm. Valerie signed a lease on a nice house in Phoenix, and while the women went off on vacation, their possessions were moved into it.

Talos, New Mexico

“This place is starting to come together, Ian,” Elias said, looking around. It had been two months since that afternoon Ian and Janet recruited Elias. The ship’s repairs were almost to the point of being safe for humans to be aboard again, and the construction crews were working like mad to get their houses built.

When Elias’ company started working out here, Oly brought down a few construction drones and built a huge underground base, complete with a full wing of fighters as well as underground defenses. Currently the underground base was complete, while the town barely resembled what it would eventually become.

Ian and his family were living in an RV, as were the Laskars. Barb and Debbie Reynolds had actually lived on one of the shuttles until the temporary quarters were made available in the base. The construction crews were living in trailer houses purchased as temporary housing. But finally, the new community was starting to feel like a small town.

“Yes, it is. Has anyone noticed that people seem to be ‘disappearing’ when new people show up?” Ian asked.

“Well, there have been a couple of questions asked, but nothing serious, at least not yet.” Elias seemed a bit uncomfortable all of a sudden.

“Elias, just spit it out. What’s eating you?” Ian asked taking a drink of his iced tea.

“Well, I know it’s none of my business or anyone else’s, but... What’s the real relationship between you and the four women you live with?” Elias asked, worried he’d offended his young friend.

“I can’t believe it’s taken two months for anyone to notice.” Ian chuckled. “I'm in love with Jenny, Cindy and Beth, and we have a group relationship. Talena is a really good friend.”

Elias looked confused. “Aren't you worried Say? Everyone seems to frown on the whole group relationship thing.”

“Well, it mostly works because we try to hide it from those who won’t understand. You remember that in Talosian culture, there are no restrictions on who you can love?” When Elias nodded, Ian continued. “That means there are literally no restrictions. Multiple Partner and same sex unions are common and were actually the norm.

“Under Talosian law, I’m married to Beth, and Cindy as well as Jenny, and they are married to each other. We sort of adopted Talena so she had a family in our time, but that little girl is more mature than most adults I’ve ever met,” Ian explained.

“Yes, she is pretty mature. But isn't there a lot of jealousy between them? How do you handle issues like that?” Elias asked.

“There hasn't been any jealousy issues. We talk about everything, and it helps that the girls are as involved with each other as well as with me,” Ian said. “I'm the only male, true, but in reality, I am only one of four lovers.”

Elias took a deep breath and seemed to come to a decision. “Ian, what I’m about to tell you has to stay between us for now, okay?”

“Sure Elias,” Ian said.

Elias took another deep breath, then began. “When I was seventeen, I fell in love for the first time. It wasn’t with Laura, like we’ve told everyone. It was with her best friend; Andrea. Andrea is really my second cousin on my father's side, and was pretty much thought of as the family treasure.

“One night, when we were both seventeen, my parents caught us kissing, and my father beat me up pretty badly. He broke my arm and jaw and by the time I was released from the hospital, Andrea had been sent to a finishing school. After I’d healed, my Father took me down to the army recruiting office and told me to sign up, or not bother to come home.

“By the time I got out of the military, Andrea was already on her second marriage. I ran into Laura again, one night while I was out drinking my troubles away and we fell in love. I’ve never actually told her about Andrea and I, but she knows something happened between us.

“Andrea has had a horrible life. She’s been divorced four times and is becoming a lonely, embittered woman. We’ve invited her to visit us of course, but she never stays very long. The last few years, she just said she can’t get away.” Elias deflated. “I can’t help but feel that I’m responsible for the hell her life has become. I took advantage of her when she was young.”

“I think you need to talk to Laura about it, Elias. Maybe between the two of you, you can think of something to help Andrea. Hell, invite her out here for a visit if you want. But you need to understand that you are not responsible for what was done to either of you. You cannot be held to blame for the actions of narrow-minded fools. I can see in your eyes that you still love her. Talk to Laura, call Andrea, and fix this before it hurts her anymore,” Ian advised.

“Do you think you could use another doctor? Andrea is a licensed nurse practitioner,” Elias asked.

“Oh hell yeah! If you can talk her into coming out; put her ticket on the company card. But you do understand, even if she doesn’t want the job, she’s still welcome,” Ian said.

Elias nodded agreement and acceptance, “There is another issue I think I should mention. I sure as hell didn’t want to handle it the way my parents did, so maybe you can give me some more advice?”

Ian chuckled. “Aren’t you supposed to be giving me advice on girls?”

Elias chuckled too. “Well, I would but you understand our new way of life better than I do. Besides, you seem more like a very mature adult then you do an eighteen year old kid.” He sighed. “It’s my daughter Stephanie and her boyfriend, Kyle.”

“Okay, I don’t see an issue there, unless you don’t approve of Kyle?” Ian asked.

“No, he’s a great kid. What’s got me confused is that if I didn’t know better, I’d say that Kyle was also dating Tara Belden, and Steph is perfectly fine with it! Hell, the two girls are best friends, and if it wasn’t for Kyle, I’d be wondering about how close of friends they really were,” Elias explained.

“Maybe all three of them would like to be together. There’s nothing wrong with that either, But I can see where some folks in the community would have issue with it,” Ian said.

“Possibly, maybe I should have a talk with the kids. Try to get them to keep it under control or something,” Elias said.

“Or, since they are all considered adults now under Talosian law, We could let them in on the secret since they’re so hot for the new ‘video game’ anyway, let them climb into a real cockpit,” Ian suggested.

“Ian, I just don’t know if they are all mature enough for that yet. Being a fighter pilot is a lot of responsibility,” Elias said.

Ian smiled. “All of them are either my age or older, Elias. I know Kyle and Steph from school, we weren’t close friends, but from what I’ve seen of them, they could handle it. I don’t anything about Tara though. Is Tara Belden lass mature than Steph and Kyle?”

“No, if anything, she the most mature of all three of them, I’m worried more about Steph than I am about the other two, she gets so sensitive about the smallest things sometimes,” Elias explained.

Nodding, Ian continued. “Well, I’ll talk to Beth and Janet about it, but maybe we should take the Beldens down to the base to treat the alcoholism instead of up to the ship. Once we tell them the truth, maybe the kids can convince them of the rest. It might help to have you there for that, Luke trusts you like a brother.”

“I don’t know; Luke is very protective of his little girl. I think he likes Kyle and wouldn’t have a problem if the two dated... but I have no idea how he would feel about what the kids want.”

“We’ll just have to make sure he’s in a position where he can’t get out of control if he takes it badly. I’ll tell you what, I’ll help you talk to the kids. We’ll get the kids up to speed tonight, and then work on a strategy for the Beldens,” Ian suggested.

Elias nodded, “Okay, I’ll go let Steph know, then go have a word with Laura about Andrea. Why don’t you stop by right after dinner?”

“Okay, I’ll bring one of their future commanding officers with me. Probably Talena since she has more knowledge about how things work with these kinds of relationships.”

“Okay, see ya later then,” Elias said as he walked away.

“I still have a hard time understanding the societal bias against perfectly normal relationships. I mean, how can people stand to let someone else tell them who to love?” Talena said as they walked over to the Johnson’s trailer. “Maybe I should talk to...uh, sorry, never mind.”

“Is something bothering you, Little Kitten?” Ian asked, gently brushing her hair back from her face.

“No, Ian. Nothing’s bothering me,” she said flatly.

Ian wanted to pursue this with his young friend, but they had arrived at Elias’ house.

“Come on in, Ian, Talena, we’ve been expecting you,” Elias said as he answered the door. “Tara is here too, I didn’t even have to ask them to get her over here; Steph asked if they could come to dinner.”

Ian chuckled, “Well, tonight’s discussion should really take them by surprise then.”

Elias led them into the living room area and got them something to drink. “Ready?” He asked.

“Let’s do this, but before you do, how’d your talk go with Laura about Andrea?” Ian asked.

Elias smiled. “I’ll be going to pick her up from the airport tomorrow night. I think Laura is more excited than I am about it.”

Laura grinned over her shoulder as she walked down the hall to the kids’ rooms. Shortly, three bewildered teenagers followed her back into the room, and sat wherever there was room.

“Elias asked me over to talk to you guys about something you might not want to admit. Now, before you freak out, I want you all to know, that no matter what, no one is going to judge you on your answers as long as they are honest. Understand?” Ian asked.

All three of them looked a little startled and somewhat scared, but nodded.

Ian grinned at them. “Okay, here’s what we know and/or suspect. Kyle and Steph are common knowledge, but we believe that Kyle and Tara have fallen in love. So have Stephanie and Tara, are we correct so far? Remember, no one is going to get mad, or yell, or punish any of you - as long as you answer honestly.”

Kyle swallowed hard but sat up straighter. “Yes, Ian. You’re correct.  Both Steph and I have fallen pretty hard for Tara. We thought we were being pretty circumspect about it though.”

Talena gave a snort. “Oh, puh-lease! We all know about it, Kyle! Just the way you look at each other is a dead give-away. But what you didn’t know is that none of the other kids seem to be bothered about it either. I’m just surprised that none of the ‘adults’ have caught on.” She glanced at Elias and Laura. “Well, more of them anyway.”

Elias cleared his throat. “Uh, Laura and I would like to know if everyone is okay with this, no one is being forced or anything?”

Stephanie blushed brightly, and Kyle almost chuckled. “No sir. Steph and Tara actually got together, but made sure I was okay with it first. My only issue was that I wanted to meet Tara first, and make sure she wasn’t going to hurt Steph.”

“Um, no offense, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but what business is it of yours who we love?” Tara asked softly.

Ian’s grin grew even larger. “Absolutely none! Except for the fact that we might have a way for you all to be together without having to hide it; that is, if you’d be interested in something like that.”

“Yeah, I think it’s safe to say we would be interested,” Stephanie answered, somewhat sarcastically.

“Well, there are a few things you need to know first,” Ian said, and launched into the story of Olympus. As he finished up, he looked at each of them. “I’m willing to accept all three of you as pilot trainees, but you’re going to have to help us figure out how to break the news to Tara’s parents. You didn’t bring your parents out here did you Kyle?”

“No sir,” Kyle replied shaking his head. “I moved out on my own last summer after I graduated. I was hoping to ask Steph to move in with me eventually.”

“Hold it, you’re trying to tell us that there’s a huge starship on the moon, and there’s a base underground here?” Stephanie asked. “I don’t know who sold you this bill of goods, but I have a bridge you might be interested in.”

Tara snickered at her lover. “Talena’s a great person, and more mature than just about anyone I could name, but is she an alien? No way.”

“Oly?” Ian asked as he smiled at the disbelieving kids.

The hologram appeared beside the chair Ian was sitting in. “Yes Commander?”

Stephanie was just staring at him, while both Kyle and Tara jumped as soon as they saw him simply appear.

“The three young cadets here don’t believe a word I just said. I was hoping you could display a hologram of the ship for them so they could see what it looks like,” Ian asked.

“Certainly Commander,” The old computer replied. A small hologram of the ship appeared above the coffee table and even Laura, Elias’ wife seemed intrigued. “The Heavy Cruiser, F.S.S. Olympus,” Oly said proudly.

There was silence in the room as the three young people tried to absorb what they were witnessing. Finally, Tara spoke first. “This is real isn’t it? I mean, you’re not trying to pull something over on us are you?”

“So, that’s where you’ve been sending all the people that seem to show up, then just disappear,” Stephanie said.

“Why would I lie to you? I’m letting you in on our secret so you three can be together. However, there are some conditions on this information,” Ian started to explain.

“You need pilots for the fighters she carries,” Kyle said, pointing to the ship. “The game system you built is actually a flight simulator, and you want the three of us to go aboard to learn how to fly them for real.”

“Well, the game system isn’t really that close to an actual flight simulator, but we’re working on it. However, you are correct; we do need more pilots. So far, we only have two; Talena and Cindy. But I want you to know you don’t have to be fighter pilots; there are plenty of other positions available if the idea of becoming a combat pilot isn’t to your liking,” Ian said. “As I was saying though, this information is a secret. You can’t tell anyone.”

“I’ve got a million questions, but I’ll hold off for a bit if you’ll answer the first one?” Stephanie asked.

“Go ahead,” Ian replied.

“Why are you telling us now?”

Elias cleared his throat to indicate he wanted to answer the question. Ian nodded to him to go ahead. “I asked the Commander to speak to you three tonight. If you hadn’t asked if Tara and Kyle could come to dinner, I would have asked you to invite them over. It’s becoming obvious to Laura and I how you feel about each other. If it’s obvious to us, it’s got to be obvious to everyone else as well.

“If it were just two of you, I doubt I would have said anything at all, but since Kyle and Stephanie are known to be together, and it’s becoming obvious that Tara is getting close to both of them as well. I thought it best to ask the Commander and Talena over to speak to you tonight. I doubt if anyone would say anything about Steph ‘dating’ another girl, but I know someone would have words to say about all three of you.”

When he didn’t continue, Kyle turned back to Ian. “I guess I’m a little slow, but I don’t see how this secret affects our relationship.”

“Talosian culture is very diverse and liberal. It allows for same sex and multiple partner relationships, as well. However, the community here has no idea who we really are, or what we are really trying to do, and even if they did, I don't think they would be able to accept a relationship between the three of you. So, if I take you down to the base, and get you going on flight school, you three can be together, and no one will say a word,” Ian explained.

“But what about collage, and our friends and...” Stephanie began only to have Kyle interrupt her.

“Did you say down to the base, as in underground... here?”

Ian grinned. “Yes, underground here. That’s where the people have been disappearing to, not to the ship. The ship was severely damaged and is currently being repaired by special robots. You’ll understand more by morning.”

Tara turned to Talena. “Are you really from another planet?”

“Well, not exactly. I was born on a space station, but I’m not from here so I guess the question is still valid,” Talena answered.

“No one’ll care if we love each other?” Stephanie asked. It was obvious she had been the most worried about someone noticing.

“If they do, then they would be in the wrong. Ian is bonded to Beth, Cindy and Jenny. I'm sure they would let me join them as well, if I wanted to,” Talena said.

“Join them? As in... sleep with them?” Stephanie asked.

“Well, I didn't actually have sleeping in mind, but I imagine that would eventually happen,” Talena replied, grinning.

Ian looked at Talena in surprise. “I didn't know you thought of us that way, sweetheart. But that's something we can talk about it later.”

“Would you mind if we discussed it before giving you an answer? I don’t want to make a decision without talking to them first,” Kyle asked.

“Son, that - if nothing else - tells me you are off to a good start in a multiple partner relationship. Granted, I don’t know much about them, but even in a traditional relationship like I have with Laura, communication is the most important tool. Use it well, and often,” Elias said.

“Of course you should talk it over first. I know you probably have a thousand more questions, but I can honestly say that most of them will be answered tonight while you sleep,” Ian said.

“I do have a question about that,” Stephanie said. “We haven’t... done anything together yet. We wanted to wait, mostly because we didn’t want to hurt anyone.” She looked at her parents. “Does this mean we can sleep together now?”

“That part of your relationship is for you to decide. However, have you given any thought to children yet? Are you on Birth Control?

“No, neither of us are, but I think it is something we need to talk about, would you mind?” Stephanie asked.

“That’s not my decision to make anymore, sweetheart; it’s yours,” Laura said beaming proudly at her daughter.

“I wish my parents were as accepting as the both of you have been. I’m afraid they won’t understand this at all,” Tara said.

“Well, I think they’re going to be understanding a great deal very soon. Beth and I are going to be inviting them down to the base so Beth can cure your father,” Ian replied.

“Cure? There is no cure for alcoholism. You can treat him; help him to dry out, but it can’t be cured,” Tara said.

“Talosian medical science is a bit more advanced than what is currently available on Earth. In fact, if you two ladies approach Beth tomorrow and ask for birth control, she’ll get you set up,” Ian explained.

“Okay, so if we decide to do this, what then?” Kyle asked.

“Just come see me tomorrow, and I’ll get you set up. Tara, tomorrow after work, Beth and I were planning on meeting with your folks to tell them the truth about all of this, and get Luke started on his cure. Do you think you would be able to help us with that, or would you prefer to be out of the blast area?” Ian grinned.

“Oh, I’ll be there, but I don’t know how much help I’ll be to you, since this really isn’t real to me yet. But, I’ll do what I can to help,” Tara said.

“Well, if you do decide to become pilots, either Talena or Cindy will be your flight leader since they are the most experienced pilots we have, although, both have only gotten through ground school for now,” Ian said. “If you have any questions, you can ask them. The ear pieces we are giving you are also communicators. Simply touch the stud here on the side and say the person’s name you want to speak with. Be sure you have this as well as the contacts in your eyes before you go to sleep tonight.”

“You mean you sleep with these in your eyes?” Kyle asked.

“Yep, that’s how the teaching technology works. Tonight you’ll only get our basic history and a more detailed explanation of how things work,” Talena said. “But for now, it’s getting late, and I’d like to take our good Commander here back to his wives.”

“I’d better get home too. My folks already know I have the hots for Kyle, but they have no idea about Steph. I’m worried they’ll freak out,” Tara said.

“I don’t think they’ll freak too much, Tara. But they might need some time to adjust to the idea. You might start by asking your mother about this situation. She might not know very much about it, but I think she would appreciate the fact that you trust her enough to at least try to talk to her about it,” Laura said.

Tara grinned. “You know, I think you’re right. She might take it better if I ‘prepared’ her for it like that. One of the first things she is going to ask me is who I have in mind. I’ll bet she’ll ask me about Kyle too. Do you think it would be a good idea to tell her I like him too? I could use that as an excuse for ‘finally’ talking to her about it.”

“I think that’s a good idea, but I 'm sure she'll immediately ask you about how you feel about them being together, so be prepared to answer that,” Ian suggested.

The kids excused themselves to go back to Kyle’s room to talk for a few minutes, while Ian and Talena said their own good-byes to their hosts. When they got back out into the cooling desert air, Talena took Ian’s hand.

“I think they’ll be good to each other. Just watching them you can see how they feel about each other. Although Kyle and Steph have been together longer, neither one seemed to have an issue about including Tara,” Talena asked.

“No, not really, while the relationship is still new, I think they honestly feel for each other,” Ian said.

Talena nodded. “That a good way of looking at it. I do have a small concerns though.”

“Like what, Little Kitten?” Ian asked and she hugged his arm at his use of her pet name.

“They aren’t the only group forming here. Most of the other kids are forming groups of their own as well. I was led to believe that is abnormal for this culture,” The girl said sounding very mature and intelligent. Ian realized that this was the first time she had completely dropped her assumed persona around him.

“That isn’t normal. I wonder why they are, and why no one has tried to put a stop to it?” Ian asked.

“Kyle, Stephanie and Tara are the oldest of the group. Perhaps the others are subconsciously emulating them in order to appear equal or perhaps it’s a form of adulation. Most of the children seem to really look up to them, instead of ostracizing them. It really is intriguing to observe,” Talena said.

“What about the adults? Have you made any observations about them?”

“Oh yes, I have. Some of it’s quite disturbing, but it fits in with what I’ve learned about this society and culture so I haven’t said anything. The adults seem to have a pronounced disinterest in the daily lives of their children.

“It’s almost as if they simply don’t care as long as nothing happens to bring their attention to the children. I know this is inaccurate, because it is obvious that they love their children a great deal. However, not one of the adults, with the exception of the Johnson’s, have yet noticed that their children are forming nontraditional relationships with other children.”

“Are any of the kids being abused? Or are any of them having problems?” Ian asked, suddenly concerned.

“No, I don’t believe so. Again, I attribute that to Kyle, Stephanie and Tara’s influence. They are showing the other children how to respect and love others without judgment or abuse. They really are having a good effect on the other kids. I’m slightly concerned about removing them from the group. What will happen when they are no longer available as role models for the group? It would be very easy for one of the other children to take that place and not do as good a job,” Talena said.

“Would you feel comfortable in guiding the selection of the next ‘leader’ for the group?” Ian asked.

“I’d like to make some more observations before choosing anyone. All this is still new to most of them. There is a possibility that I am wrong about the major guiding influence being Kyle’s group, though I still believe it is a factor.

“I think your group might be a strong guide to them as well. The adults here all defer to you. The children know that, and since their parents treat you with respect and in a lot of cases open admiration, the children are sure to have picked up on that.

“Since you and your wives treat everyone with respect and an unusual amount of caring, the children could be using you as their primary role model – Kyle’s group just reinforces that for them,” Talena said speculatively. “If that is the case, the parents should shortly begin to pay more attention to their own families since that would be the thing you would do. Adults have a slower curve with this type of learned behavior.”

Ian sighed. “It sounds like this is going to more difficult than I thought it would be.”

“How so?” Talena asked. “I’ve met most of the people here, and none of them strike me as particularly resistant to change. Currently they are not even aware that they are learning. Once they know that there is something to learn, I think it will go much faster.

“The hardest part will be getting over the ingrained biases a lot of people seem to have. I can understand if they are religious in origin. But most of them seem to be social in origin disguised as religious. People have been conditioned into these biases from birth; they’ll be hard to get past.”

Ian nodded his understanding. “Well, once people know the truth, perhaps we can leave it to them to make up their own minds about it, after all, it’s not like they have to become like us, just be open-minded about it.”

Chapter Fifteen

“I’m pretty sure I know how you two feel about accepting Ian’s offer. I’m worried more about what’ll happen to us,” Stephanie said as they closed the door.

“How so? It sounds to me like we’ll finally be able to be together with no one telling us that we’re wrong, or that we’re going to burn in hell,” Tara said.

“No, I don’t mean that. I mean that if I read between the lines correctly; we’ll be expected to be adults, and act accordingly. We’ll have to find jobs and work just like all the other adults, and we’ll have less time together. We don’t get enough of that as it is,” Stephanie said.

“That’s not exactly the way I understood this, Sweetie. From what Ian said, we’d all be in flight school together, and be able to live together. I get the feeling that there’s a lot more to this then we’re being told, but I don’t think any of it’ll be bad,” Kyle said. “Ian did say we’d be learning more tonight as we sleep. How about if we agree, tentatively, to join Ian, but see what we learn tonight. If what Talena said about these earplugs is correct, we’ll be able to talk to each other anytime we want. We can call each other first thing in the morning and discuss it.”

Tara grinned and nodded. “I'm kind of anxious to see what we're going to learn. Although I will miss you both tonight.”

Stephanie hugged her. “I think you know we will both miss you as well.”

The discussion stopped for a little while as the three young people expressed their feelings for one another. However, as it always tends to happen in times like this, time passed more quickly than they knew.

Tara glanced up at the clock on Kyle’s night stand. “Oh shit! I’m late!” She said as she scrambled to straighten her clothes. “No matter what we decide, I’m going to see Beth Williams tomorrow for that birth control!”

“I’ll be right beside you! Be sure to give us a call tonight after you talk to your mother and let us know how it goes, okay?” Stephanie asked.

“I will sweetheart,” Tara said as she stood. “I love you both and I’ll miss you tonight.”

“We’ll miss you too, love. Now scoot before you get grounded for being late,” Kyle said grinning at the pretty girl.

Tara kissed them both, then dashed out the door.

Kyle and Steph straightened their own clothes, and sat talking for a bit, before Steph sighed deeply. “I think we should go talk to Mom and Dad. I want to make sure they’re really okay with this.”

Kyle winked at his girlfriend affectionately. “I think that’s a good idea. I can just bet they have a few questions for us.”

They walked back out to confront Stephanie’s parents who had actually moved back to the kitchen.

“The man who figures out how to sound proof a trailer house will be a very rich man,” Elias said grinning.

“Oh God! You heard us?” Stephanie said blushing.

“That’s why we moved in here, dear. We didn’t actually try to listen.” Laura said sympathetically. “Besides, pretty soon, you’ll be forced to listen to us; Andrea is coming for a visit.”

“Huh? What has that got to do with this?” Kyle asked, clearly confused.

“Please, sit down kids. There are a few things you need to know about your old Dad,” Elias said before telling them about how he had fallen in love with Andrea before meeting Laura. Only when he told Laura about it earlier today, he found out that she’d feelings for her too. “So, we called her and talked for over an hour. Andrea agreed to come out for a visit and a job interview with Beth. We’re going to see if the spark is still there.”

“Maybe we can chase you guys into the kitchen! Of course I’m never that loud,” Laura said.

“I seem to remember someone that needs to smother herself in a pillow from time to time,” Elias said.

“Dad! That’s way too much information!” Stephanie said to her grinning parents.

“So, as I understand it, you really don’t have a problem with how we feel about Tara?” Kyle asked.

“Our only concern is that all three of you are happy. I think we’ve raised Stephanie to be kind and caring, and you seem to be the same kind of people. If this is what makes you happy; then we’re happy for you,” Elias said. “As Ian told you, you’ll learn a great deal about Talosian society tonight. You’ll learn that you’re both adults under Talosian law and thus responsible for your own actions and choices. Although, we hope that if you think you might need help, you’ll be willing to talk to us about it.”

“Just because you’re adults is no reason to think you don’t or won’t need help or advice anymore. If all goes well, very soon, you’ll be moving into your own quarters in the base. I know you’ll be pretty busy learning to fly those ships, but you’ll always be welcome here. In fact, I’d be very happy to help with babysitting when the time comes,” Laura said kindly.

“We’ve decided to wait until we’re protected before actually... uh, Well, I'm sure you know what I mean,” Stephanie said quietly.

“I’m proud that you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions like that. I have no idea about how you will work this out, but there will be nights that one of you won't or can't be there. The reason I mention this is that misunderstandings will come up, and that could cause major issues. There can be no jealousy at all between any of you or you will have nothing but problems. Have you talked this over with Tara?” Elias asked.

“We hadn't actually talked about it that much, but you're right; it’s something we’ll need to talk about. Thanks for the advice,” Kyle said. “Tara is supposed to call us tonight after she has a chance to talk to her mother. We’ll also be talking tomorrow morning, after we learn more about what Ian’s offering us.”

“I think you might be disappointed in your expectations. The only information you’re going to get tonight will mostly be a history lesson on the Talosian people and society. I doubt you’ll actually learn anything about being a fighter pilot or any specialized information at all,” Elias said. “The first night I went through it, I was amazed by the way the society had developed, and I got a better understanding of why Ian’s doing the things he’s doing. I felt a lot better about my decision to help him after learning the whole story.”

“You’ve been through this? What’s it like?” Stephanie asked.

Elias shrugged, and looked at his wife, who smiled. “You’ll dream, but it won’t be like any dream you’ve ever had before. You’ll know that you’re not really there, but the whole thing’ll feel real. It’s a long sad story, but you won’t be bored. If you agree to join, the teaching lessons are far different. I can’t really describe them; you’ll just have to experience them for yourselves.”

As they talked, it became clear to both Kyle and Stephanie that her parents were really happy for them. They both knew there was a lot of work ahead of them in order to get their relationship to work, but they felt up to the challenge.

“Sorry I’m late, we all got to talking and time just slipped away,” Tara said to her Mom after she got home. Luke was passed out on the couch, like normal, and Lara just smiled sadly at her only child.

“It’s alright, dear. We don’t live in the city anymore and you’re old enough that we really shouldn’t hold you to a curfew anyway. I’m just glad that you still try to apologize when you’re late,” Lara said. “I’d try to talk to your father about it, but...” She sighed looking through the kitchen to the living room.

“I’d appreciate being able to stay out later, Mom, and that kinda helps with something I want to talk to you about,” Tara said quietly.

“You’re growing up so fast. I take it that you and Kyle are getting serious?”

“Yes we are, but that isn’t the main problem, Mom. Kyle knows about this, and is okay with it, but I’m a little confused. Actually, I’m a lot confused.”

“Well, this can’t be about sex, because I can remember having that talk with you a few years ago,” Lara joked. “So what’s confusing to you?”

“Well, it’s kinda strange, and you’ll have to promise me not to freak out, okay?” Tara asked sounding a little afraid of her parent’s response.

“Honey, remember, I told you that you could talk to me about anything. I promise I won’t be upset. Uh, you’re not pregnant are you?”

“No, we’ve decided to wait to have sex, Mom. Although, I’ll see if I can get an appointment to see Dr. Williams tomorrow. No, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. You see there’s someone else I’ve feelings for,” Tara said biting her lip.

“Oh? And Kyle knows about this and it doesn’t bother him? Every guy I know would be ready to take another guy apart for horning in on his girl,” Lara said smiling.

“Oh, I have no doubt he would, if it were another boy...” Tara said sheepishly.

The comment stopped Lara in her mental tracks for a minute. Slowly, she worked what her daughter had just said around in her brain, trying to make sure she’d heard exactly what she’d thought she’d heard. Finally, she softly asked, “Another... girl?”

Tara tried to look guilty while she nodded softly at her mother. “I have feelings for her as strong as I do for Kyle.”

Again, Lara was quiet for time; she’d no experience in dealing with something like this. She had no problem with it, she just had no experience. However, everyone knew that three-way relationships were doomed; jealousy would eventually rip the people apart, often with devastating results.

“Oh honey, I’m afraid I can’t give you much advice about falling for another girl. I’ve just never... I don’t have any experience with it. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to start a three-way relationship, especially as your first. They just don’t work. Jealousy will eventually rip the three of you apart. Well, I’m sure people having problems with the whole girl loving a girl thing has a lot to do with it too. I’m afraid the only thing I can tell you is you’re going to have to choose between them. Perhaps if you do it now, before you get in any deeper, it won’t be so painful.”

“I don’t think I can do that, Mom. I love them both. I love them both so much I want to marry them both,” Tara explained. “I do know that I could never be jealous of either of them, and I do trust them both not to do anything with anyone else, it’s just part of who they are.”

“Can I ask who the girl is?” Lara asked.

“It’s Stephanie, which is why Kyle’s okay with it. He loves her, and doesn’t want to see her hurt. She’s okay with how I feel about Kyle as well. We talk quite a bit.”

Lara looked confused. “I thought he broke up with her to pursue you?”

Tara gave her mom a crooked grin. “Well, no, he never broke up with her, and they both pursued me. Actually Mom, Ian asked us if we wanted to go to school together; I guess we haven’t been as discrete as we thought we were being. He was willing to help us out. He really is a great boss. He seems to genuinely care about the families of the people that work for him. Anyway, he said he’d help us out if we wanted it,” Tara said, going out on a limb a little. At least she wasn’t technically lying to her mother.

“Yeah, he’s a great guy. He wants to meet with your father and I tomorrow evening to see about treatment for Luke. If I understood him correctly, he’ll even be paying for it. I hate to say it, but in some ways, he’s an even better boss then Elias was, and I didn’t think that was even possible,” Lara said with a sigh. “But, we’re off topic here. Do you really think that having a relationship with a boy and girl is a good idea? I mean what happens if something goes wrong? You’ll lose both of them.”

“I don’t think it’ll ever come up, Mom. As long as we talk about everything, and make sure no jealousy gets a chance to form. I’d really like to try it, but I didn’t want to spring this on you cold, besides, I really did want to talk to you about it. How do you think that Daddy will react?”

“I think we should wait until he’s sober to tell him. He isn’t the violent type, but if we tell him when he’s drunk, he may react badly and I doubt he’ll remember it. I’d like to wait until after he makes it through the rehab, but I don’t think you’re going to want to wait that long, are you?”

“No, we aren’t. We feel that this is mostly our mistake to make, even though we don’t feel it’s a mistake at all,” Tara said. “Besides, I’m eighteen, so I feel this is a decision I should be allowed to make on my own.”

“Well, for God’s sake don’t say it that way to your father, or you’ll get the ‘Not while you live in my house’ reply! I think that is a conditioned response for parents when they hear that,” Lara chuckled. “I wish you all the luck in the world honey, I really do, but I think you’re making a bad decision. I hope you prove me wrong.”

“I’m sure I will, Mom. Just don’t freak out if you see me kissing Steph, okay?”

“Well, I might be a little more hesitant to give you permission for a sleep-over with her, now...” Lara teased.

“You can ease your mind, Mom. She has bunk beds. Our bedrooms just don’t allow for a big enough bed for two people to sleep comfortably,” Tara said.

“Bull shit! Neither you nor Stephanie is all that big, I’m sure you two would be nice and cozy in one of those twin beds – especially if you didn’t mind being really close,” Lara said grinning.

“So, you don’t mind if I spend the night over there more often, huh?” Tara teased back.

Lara chuckled, “I think you can wait until you get to your own place before you start spending too many nights with your lovers.”

“I’m really surprised you aren’t more upset with this. Most parents I know would freak out if they found out such a thing,” Tara asked.

“I think that with everything we’ve been through, I’ve learned not to over react, or ‘freak out’ as you call it until I know the whole story. Most of the time, once I do know the whole story, there is nothing left to get upset over. Talking about something is very important part of avoiding trouble.” Lara shrugged.

“Well, we promised to talk about everything, and I'll make sure we talk more about it, okay?” Tara asked.

“I think that's the smartest thing you can do, dear. Talk about everything as often as you can. That's good advice for any relationship.”

“I couldn’t believe it! While she didn't approve our choice of a relationship, she was willing to let us do this. She did ask about the two of you though. She recommended we do a lot of talking.” Tara told Kyle and Stephanie via the commlink later that night. “I wanted to ask her who she was and what she did with my mother!”

“Does your Dad know yet?” Kyle asked.

“No, he was passed out on the couch, like normal. I sure hope Ian and Beth really can help him; I miss him,” Tara said, sadly.

“Mom and Dad told us that we might be disappointed in the information we are supposed to get tonight. Dad said that it would be mostly about the Talosian society and stuff like that – not really what we wanted to know,” Stephanie said.

“Well, I don’t think it really matters at this point. I mean he did say we didn’t have to be fighter pilots. He said there was plenty of other stuff we could learn to do. I really don’t care, as long as we can be together,” Tara said. “I miss you guys so bad now it hurts.”

“I know, we miss you too,” Stephanie answered. “Daddy also suggested we need to do more talking about things; he wanted to make sure that there wouldn’t be any jealousy. I don’t think he wants any of us to be hurt.”

“He does have a point, but for now, I'm going to have to stay over here,” Tara answered.

“You’re right, but I think... Well, for our first time at least... I think we should all be together,” Kyle said. “Don’t get me wrong, I really want to make love to you, Tara, but I don’t want that to take anything away from you and Stephanie. I think our first time should be special.”

“I think we got us a romantic here, Tara,” Stephanie said.

“Yes we do, and I’m going to give him a really big kiss as soon as I see you both tomorrow!” Tara answered. “Mom also wasn’t adverse to me spending the night with either of you once in a while, even after she found out how I felt about Steph.”

“Wow, I bet your Dad will make radical adjustments to that policy as soon as he finds out about it!” Kyle said grinning.

“Kyle Johnson! If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were afraid of my Daddy.” Tara teased.

“Sweetheart, he’s a big guy, and I’m about to deflower his only daughter, I have good reasons to fear!” Kyle chuckled.

“He’d never hurt you, Kyle. He likes you. I think he’s actually very happy that we got together. If he has a problem, it’ll be with me and Stephanie, and you know he’d never hurt her either,” Tara replied.

“Well, I’m getting tired, and I think we’re going to have a busy day tomorrow. Where do you want to meet, sweetheart?” Stephanie asked.

“How about we meet at the picnic tables about nine-thirty? We can head over to Ian’s office from there,” Tara suggested. “I’d like to talk to Beth anyway, and I bet it would be better before she gets too busy.”

“Sounds like a plan sweetheart. We’ll see you in the morning then,” Kyle said. “I love you.”

“I love you both too. Pleasant dreams.”

Chapter Sixteen

Ian was going over the construction reports and material requests when Oly chirped in his ear. “All clear, Oly, what’s up?”

Oly materialized in the office wearing a polo shirt and shorts; the standard ‘office wear’ for the admin building. “Sir, you wanted to know when the first stage of repairs was complete. As of oh-five twenty-five this morning, local time, all frame substructures and primary keel sections have been replaced. Internal bulkheads and superframe are also complete. The drones have repaired the hull back to section three hundred and all environmental and replicator systems are working perfectly on back-up power systems. The ship is safe for human occupancy,” Oly said. “In fact, I need Chief Dommer and his team up there as soon as possible to get the reactor and power systems repairs going.”

“Well done, Oly! I’m surprised Chief Dommer isn’t actually in here already demanding transportation up to the ship,” Ian said grinning.

“He would have been waiting at your door when you got here this morning, Sir, but I asked him for the privilege of making the report. He is rather impatient to get started.”

Ian typed in a few commands on his computer and a voice issued from the speakers, “Flight Ops, Ensign Tanner, how can I help you?”

“Ensign, this is Commander Williams, How are we fixed for shuttles?”

“All four are operational, sir!”

“Pre-flight one of the shuttles, and get it ready to go to the moon. The first team will be going up in four hours,” Ian ordered.

“Yes, sir!” The ensign replied eagerly.

“Who do we have listed for shuttle pilots, ensign?”

“Yourself, the XO, Ensigns Talena and Swift. We have six others just about ready to take the controls, Sir, but none have actually flown yet.”

“Very well, Ensign, thank you. I’ll alert Ensign Swift that she has a flight coming up. Please make sure the bird is ready to go for her. Command out.”

Ian typed in a few more commands, then spoke again, “Command to all senior officers; I need a staff meeting in the upper conference room as soon as you all can get here. It’s not an emergency, but it is important. Only reply if you’re going to be longer then fifteen minutes.” He waited a few seconds for any replies, and was pleased when none came. “Command to Ensign Swift.”

“Swift here, Command,” Cindy replied in a hushed voiced.

“Report to Command for a mission briefing in twenty minutes,” Ian said.

“Wilco,” Cindy replied.

“The young Johnson family is here to see you, Sir,” Jenny’s voice said from his terminal.

“Thanks Jen, please send them in.” Oly started to fade out, but Ian stopped him. “Wait Oly, I’m sure they’re here to join up, and they’ve already met you.”

Kyle, Tara, and Stephanie entered then, and Ian waved them to chairs. “Have you all come to some conclusions?”

“Yes, sir. We’ve decided that we all would like to become pilots. But we were wondering if we could also learn other things. For example, I’d really like to learn more about the fighters themselves, and so would Tara. Steph said she wanted to learn more about how the sleep teaching worked,” Kyle said.

“That’s not exactly what I said, but close. I wanted to learn more about human/machine interfacing and cybernetics. But I still want to learn to fly,” Stephanie added.

Ian grinned, “I don’t see a problem with any of that. When do you want to start?”

“You said you were going to be meeting with my folks later today about the treatment for Daddy. I think we’d like to see what happens with that first,” Tara said. “Stephanie and I would also like to see Doctor Williams, if we could?”

“I told Beth that you would like to see her today, she said to go down whenever you wanted to, and she’d be able to see you; after all, she isn’t all that busy right now,” Ian said.

“Go down? As in, down to the base?” Stephanie asked.

Ian tried hard not to laugh. “Well, that is where the main clinic’s at.” He turned to Oly. “Oly grant them access to the main level and guide them to the med bay please.” He turned back to the three. “Officially, you’re still civilians. Once you take the oath, you’ll be cadets and assigned quarters in the base near the main hangar. Don’t worry about being underground, hell, half the time you won’t even realize it. However, you will still have some duties up here. We can’t just have you all up and disappearing, so you’ll need to show your faces from time to time. Now, I have a meeting coming together right now, but if you have any more questions, feel free to ask if I’m not busy. Beth or any of the girls can answer questions too.”

The three stood and Ian stood with them, “Welcome aboard,” he said as he offered them his hand. All three shook it, and were smiling as they left.

“Those three are going to be a hell of a team one day,” Ian said to Oly after they’d left.

“Sir, the senior officers are gathering in the conference room,” Oly said.

“Well then, let’s go get your engineers on their way,” Ian said as he led the old hologram out of the room.

Cindy took a full load of engineers up to the ship to begin the human portions of the repairs. She would stay up there for a week, in case there was an emergency and someone needed to be flown out. Beth also insisted that she be allowed to send one of her three nurses for the same reason.

The report by Oly that the ship was now safe enough for the engineers to go up and assist in the remaining repairs brought excitement to the rest of Ian’s staff. Everyone was in better spirits once they learned of the progress. Many of the departments expressed a strong desire to get up there so they could begin their real jobs.

A couple of weeks ago, Elias came to Ian with a problem. One of his better workers was having a hard time with a drinking problem. Ian’s first concern was for the family; were they safe? Was the man in question abusing them?

Elias assured him that wasn’t the case and the man wasn’t that kind of drunk. Elias hadn’t mentioned it before, because the man, Luke Belden, was controlling it. However, the last few days Luke had been showing up to work drunk, and Elias had sent him home to sleep it off.

After discussing it with Elias, and consulting Beth, Ian decided to approach the family about getting some help for Luke. He tried to be gentle about it, but if Luke refused help, Ian would have to let him go. Neither Elias nor Ian wanted to do that.

Ian presented the family with a few options, and tried to make sure the family knew that his concern was for them, and not ‘the project’. After talking it over for a couple of days, Luke and Lara agreed to meet with Ian and Beth to deal with the problem once and for all.

Finally, it was time for the meeting with Luke and Lara. Without preamble, Ian and Beth led Luke, Lara, and Tara to the elevator that would take them down to the base. Tara’s eyes got huge as she realized what Ian was doing.

“Luke, Lara, what I’m about to show you, and tell you about, is a very important secret. I think the reasons will become obvious once you know what the secret is. I know you will have a lot of questions, and not a little disbelief. That’s normal, and only to be expected at first. But I do ask you to give us the opportunity to explain what you are about to see, and what’s really going on,” Ian said. “I will also swear to you that every word of this explanation will be the truth.”

“That’s some lead-in, Ian. I thought we were here to discuss sending me to rehab?” Luke asked, for once, mostly sober.

“Luke, conventional rehab offers treatment only for the chemical dependency. We can go one better than that,” Beth said as the elevator doors opened on the main entrance lobby for the base.

“Holy SHIT!” Luke said as he stepped out of the small car. “Where did all this come from? When did we build it?”

“You didn’t build it, Luke. However, it was started about the same time work began on the surface. We’re currently about two hundred feet below ground. This is where all those people that show up and seem to disappear actually go,” Ian said, carefully and slowly guiding the gawking couple toward the med bay.

“What’s... Why is this place here? Are you part of some secret government agency or something?” Lara asked, sounding a little scared.

“This base, and the community we’re building on the surface, is in no way connected to any government on the planet. All of this is just us, no one else. About four thousand years ago...” Ian began the story of the crash of the Olympus, and how the old computer had found him and why.

They’d been walking slowly, and Ian was talking fast, so by the time Ian got to the ‘why’ they were in front of the doors to the main hangar. He typed in his command code and the big doors slid open to reveal the rows of Hornet fighters, and other space craft built in the base. There was also plenty of activity; people working on the craft, or equipment associated with them. There were also a few maintenance drones floating around on their counter-grav fields.

“We’re not aliens in the sense that we are from another planet. We’re as human as everyone else. However, we do have ancestors that, while they were also human, were from another planet,” Ian finished.

“By ‘we’, you mean you, Jenny and the others... right?” Lara asked nervously.

“The most obvious sign of our heritage is a lack of certain types of body hair. There are a few other signs, but they’re not as noticeable,” Beth explained. “Which brings us back to why we’re here. Talosian medical science is roughly a thousand years ahead of Earth knowledge. I can actually cure your alcoholism, Luke, not just treat the symptoms.”

Luke looked thoughtful for a few minutes. “Ian, I feel I’ve gotten to know you pretty well over the past couple of months. I knew you had some secrets; hell, who doesn’t? I never expected anything like this.” He looked around again before focusing on Ian.

“However, I do know how national security works and all that cloak and dagger stuff. With what you’ve shown us, there’s no way you can take the risk that we’ll tell anyone. We can never leave now, can we? If we tried, you’d be forced to kill us to protect this secret. By letting me bring my wife and daughter, you’ve insured our cooperation.”

Ian shook his head. “Nope, not true. Yes, it may appear that way, but it isn’t. Your word is all that I need. I’ve gotten to know you as well, and I know that, once you really get to see what we’re doing here; what the real mission is, you’ll gladly help us. That’s just the type of person you are.

“Yes, I did hide this from you, I’m sure you can understand why. Eventually, I’d like to tell everyone on the surface the whole truth, but that can’t happen yet. We do still have some secrets, mostly to do with weapons systems and the like. But from now on, and with those exceptions, we won’t hide anything from you. If you have a question, ask. Unless it deals with something classified, you’ll get an answer or an explanation why. You and your family are in no danger from us,” Ian said, looking Luke right in the eye.

“What if we try to leave?” Luke asked.

“If you want, I’ll drive you to the airport myself,” Ian said firmly.

“No threats, no insurance that we’ll keep our mouths shut?” Luke asked.

“I took you into my confidence by showing all this to you. I honestly don’t believe you would ever knowingly betray that,” Ian said.

Luke was silent for a few moments, just looking at Ian. He turned to Beth, “So, Doctor, what’s this about a cure?”

Beth led the Beldens back toward her offices, with Ian and Tara following behind. “That was a close call,” Tara said softly. “I’ve never seen Daddy like that before.”

Ian chuckled, “Just wait until you tell him your plans on bonding with two people, one of them another girl.”

Tara shuddered. “I hope he doesn’t get as scary as he was just now. I think I’d run.”

“He would never hurt you, Tara, always remember that. His ‘scary face’ is a way to test the truth of a situation. If you look away or worse yet, run away, he’ll never believe you’re sincere,” Ian explained.

“Really, so you weren’t lying to him?” Tara asked.

“I’m not a monster, Tara. There will be times when I might have to be tough on people, but this isn’t one of those times. I honestly believe that your father would die before he betrayed my trust in him. Like I told him, that’s just the type of person he is,” Ian said. “All of this is to protect lives, not threaten them. Our whole purpose is the safety of this planet; your parents are part of that. He also trusts me not to take advantage as well.”

“Maybe I’ll understand better later, to me, it just looked like you took a hell of a risk with him and Mom,” Tara said.

“Tara, look around, why do you think all these people are here? I mean, why do you think none of them have run off to tell the government about this place? They would get a hell of a reward for this information. So why doesn’t anyone do it? No one is being held against their will, there are no guards,” Ian asked. “Why haven’t you done it?”

“The easy and quick answer is Kyle and Stephanie, but there’s more to it than that. Getting the government in here would just fuck everything up, and they would never believe there was an alien threat to the planet.

“They would use the weapons to take over the rest of the planet and capture all the oil fields. Helping you is the right thing to do. I do love my country, but the government is another matter, besides, that reward they’d offer would most likely be a bullet in order to make sure you didn’t tell anyone else,” Tara said. “But I do have to wonder; what’s in it for you? Why are you doing this?”

“As you said, it’s the right thing to do, and I’m the only one the ship will accept as Commander. But I also get to live the way I want to live, and love who I want to love. Material goods aren’t really an issue anymore. I’d like to help the rest of the world get to this point; to have the freedom to finally make their own decisions for themselves. But mostly, I just want to keep everyone alive long enough that my dream can eventually become a reality,” Ian said. “Sounds pretty self-righteous, doesn’t it?”

“Actually it sounds like a good dream. But now that you have the weapons to enforce it on others, what will you do?” Tara asked.

“Protect the planet. If I forced my dream on others, I’d be no different than any common dictator. I consider us a branch of the military this planet doesn’t know it has yet. The primary function of the military is to defend. I might try to assist progress in subtle ways, but not by force of arms,” Ian said.

“I knew there was a reason I couldn’t picture you as the world domination type,” Tara said “Come on, let’s catch up to my folks.”

“So young lady, I assume you’ll want to learn how to fly one of those fighters out there?” Luke asked.

“Yes, Daddy,” Tara said. “As well as learn how they work.”

“Well, you’re eighteen, the decision’s yours, but I think you should give it some thought first, you’ll be leaving Kyle behind,” Luke suggested.

“That’s something I wanted to talk to you and Mom about, but it can wait for a little while. Have you decided to accept Doctor Williams’ help?” Tara asked.

“Yes, we have. She was just telling us how the whole thing’ll work. Luke will have to stay down here for a couple of days, but we can come visit as often as we want,” Lara said.

“Are you ready to get started, Luke?” Beth asked.

“I think I should check in with Elias first, just to make sure I can take a few days off,” Luke said.

“Elias is currently away on personal business. However, he did approve time off for you,” Ian said smiling.

“No! Elias knows about all this too?” Luke asked. He looked slightly hurt.

“Yes, Elias has known just about everything from the beginning. He even had a hand in getting the design for this place worked out. He thought of things the architect didn’t,” Ian said smiling. “Don’t feel bad, Luke, he was bound by the same thing you are. He just couldn’t tell you.”

“What about Laura and Stephanie?” Lara asked.

“Laura, has known as long as Elias has, but Stephanie, Kyle, and Tara, found out last night,” Ian replied, smiling hopefully at the girl.

She gave him a ‘gee thanks’ look. “It’s part of what I want to talk to you about later, Daddy.”

“Sweetheart, this is starting to sound pretty important. If it’s alright with Beth and Ian, I think we should get it taken care of now, don’t you?” Luke asked her.

Tara looked resigned, and touched her ear. “Kyle? Stephanie? Could you guys come back to the clinic? I need your help.”

She nodded to herself as she received the answers. “This concerns them as well Daddy. But before they get here, there are a few things you need to know about Talosian culture. You see, Talosian society doesn’t have the bias’s we do about relationships. They just never had them.”

“Okay, I can understand that I guess, I don’t approve of homosexuality, but I do feel it’s not any of my business anyway. So what has that got to do with you?” Luke asked.

Lara sat next to him and took his hand. “Luke, our daughter likes boys and girls. What she is trying to gently tell you is she has fallen in love.”

Luke snorted, “She didn’t need to tell me that! Hell! Anyone could see how she acts around Kyle and...” He stopped and looked thoughtful. “... and Stephanie. You’re in love with both of them. That’s what you’re trying to tell me.”

“Yes, Daddy. That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Tara said softly.

About that time, there was a minor commotion outside the office, followed by a polite knock on the door. It opened to reveal a sweating and panting Kyle and Stephanie.

“Please tell me you two didn’t run here? Do you know what could happen to you in this heat? Sit! Both of you!” Beth said in her best mother’s voice. She went to the replicator and asked for two bottles of water. “Drink this, neither of you are to leave here until you’ve drunk two of those bottles, understood?”

Shocked into obedience, the two miscreants followed her instructions without comment. Beth sat back down where she had been, “Young people!” she said sarcastically.

“My apologies, Doctor, but Tara said she needed us,” Kyle offered by way of explanation. There was no repentance in his voice.

“I understand that, Kyle, but you need to consider your environment. How well would you have been able to help her if you were in one of my treatment rooms with heat stroke?” Beth said.

“I understand, Ma’am,” Kyle said.

Luke cleared his throat. “Kyle, Stephanie, My little girl tells me she has fallen in love with the two of you. I gather from her explanation that she wants to pursue a relationship with the two of you. What I want to know is how do you feel about her?”

“We love her too, sir. Either of us would do anything for her,” Stephanie said.

“I’m a bit concerned about jealousy between Tara and Stephanie. I mean, the three of you won’t always be together, so someone is bound to feel left out.” Lara said.

“It’s true that there will be times when we all can’t be together, but those should be rare,” Kyle admitted. “Before you ask, Stephanie’s folks know all about it, and we have their blessing.” Kyle took Tara’s hand and pulled her over to sit beside him and Stephanie.

“How long have they known about this?” Luke asked.

“Just since last night, sir, I got the impression they’ve known longer, but we certainly didn’t tell them,” Kyle replied. “No one was trying to hide anything from either of you; we had planned on telling you tonight.”

Lara turned to her husband. “Remember how we broke the news to our parents? Mine the first night, and yours the next. Ours are only doing the same thing. We can’t fault them for that.”

“Sir, we know this is an unusual situation, but the three of us really think we can make this work,” Stephanie said. “We would like your permission to live together during our training down here. We can still come home to visit, since we aren’t really all that far away.”

“What about children? Have the three of you talked about that yet?” Luke asked calmly.

“Yes, Daddy, we have. Both Stephanie and I are now on birth control since we want to finish flight school at least. We felt it would be a good trial for us, since we would be under the stress of flight school as well as learning to live together,” Tara explained.

“Well, since you really won’t be all that far away, I don’t see why you can’t try it. I’m not convinced that this is the right thing for you, pumpkin, but I do know that you really love these two, and I can see that they love you as well. That counts for a lot, and can get you through a lot of hardship. Never forget the love you have for each other, talk about everything, and you should pull this off. Your mother and I will be here for any of you if you need someone to talk too. If she agrees, I’ll support you in this,” Luke said, surprising everyone.

“Are you sure, honey?” Lara asked her husband. “This could really mess them all up if it fails.”

Luke turned and took his wife’s hands in his own. “Lara, eighteen years ago, we faced the hostility and intolerance of my parents. Tara has been a good kid all her life. She’s smart, never gotten involved with drugs or gotten pregnant. She wants this. I think we should trust her enough now to let her try to be the person we raised. It’s time to start letting her go.”

“You will always be my parents. I’m not really going all that far away. Hell, if I had followed my original plan, I’d be leaving for college in a couple of months, and that’s a lot farther away. I’ll get a better education this way too,” Tara said.

“How so?” Lara asked.

“Sleep teaching. It’s a lot faster than standard methods, and the information stays in the mind longer. I’m sure you’ll learn all about it, Mom,” Tara said, grinning.

Beth handed Luke and Lara the now common contacts and ear-bud then explained their use. When she finished she asked Luke if he was ready to begin his treatment.

“I suppose I am,” Luke replied. He turned to his wife. “Will you be back to have dinner with me? I think maybe Tara might like to have dinner with her...” He snorted. “What the hell do I call you?” He said to Kyle and Stephanie.

“Fiancés will work, but the term that translates from Talosian is ‘potential bond-mates’ or ‘future bond-mates’. The word is a combination of those,” Ian said.

“I think Tara might like to have dinner with her new family,” Luke said smiling at his daughter. “Give me a hug, girls.”

Tara and Lara gave the big man hugs, then he surprised her by pulling Stephanie into a hug as well. When he let her go he held his hand out to Kyle. “I’ve known for a while that you’d most likely be the one Tara picked, so I figured I’d be saying this one day... Welcome to the family.” He smiled at Stephanie as well as Kyle.

“Thank you, sir,” Kyle said with relief. Stephanie just grinned at him.

“We all have been invited to dinner at Stephanie’s house tonight. I guess that means we can start our training tomorrow, then?” Kyle asked his girls.

“Yes, can we stop by my place so I can pick up some clothes and change?” Tara asked.

“Of course, love. We should get moving though, Dad should be getting back soon, and I’m sure mom could use some help with dinner,” Stephanie said.

Tara gave her parents’ one final kiss on their cheeks. “I’ll see you both tomorrow. I love you, and thank you.”

“Take care of each other, and remember we love you,” Lara said.

As the kids left, Beth led Luke into one of the treatment rooms, and Ian walked Lara back toward the elevator.

“I’m not sure what to tell people if they ask where Luke is,” Lara said.

Ian smiled, “When in doubt, blame the boss. Tell them he is doing a special assignment for me. You won’t be lying, and it explains his absence.”

“You’re pretty good at this cloak and dagger stuff,” Lara teased.

“I’m still a teenager, I learned a long time ago the best way to tell a lie is to tell the truth,” Ian replied grinning.

Lara got serious suddenly. “Luke will be alright won’t he? I mean this ‘cure’ isn’t potentially fatal is it?”

“Lara, if there was a risk involved; Beth would have told you about it. If she wasn’t certain she could help him she would have told you. She’s a good doctor, she doesn’t subscribe to that crap about hiding things from patients so they won’t worry. She doesn’t like surprises, so she doesn’t believe her patients would either, not when it comes to their health,” Ian said.

“Tara, Kyle and Stephanie are not the first group marriage here are they? The way your eyes light up when you talk about Beth or any of the women living with you give it away. Though, I didn’t realize it until now. You’re married to all of them aren’t you?” Lara asked.

“Everyone but Talena. They all love each other as well,” Ian said smiling.

“I just can’t imagine anything like that. I think I would kill someone if they tried to join Luke and I. I can’t imagine sharing him with anyone,” Lara said. “But then again, I’ve never been attracted to other girls. I don’t know where Tara got it from.”

“I don’t think it’s something that can be ‘gotten’, I think it’s more of the way a person sees the world. Each of us is different, and each of us has different likes and dislikes. None of us are actually related, but Beth and Cindy are both bisexual; actually, I think Cindy is lesbian with the exception of me, and I know Talena is. Yet, I’ve never been even remotely attracted to another male,” Ian said.

Lara gave that some thought, until finally she asked, “So you believe it’s more the way a person is wired? Like they are born that way?”

It was Ian’s turn to be insightful while he put his next thoughts in order. “I don’t have a psychology degree like Janet Laskar, but from what I’ve seen of the world, the only truly happy people are those that have the freedom to be totally honest with themselves and the world around them. Those that can express themselves the way they truly want to are always happy, and have fewer problems. I feel if more people could be like that, the world would be a much better place.”

“You sound like my old martial arts teacher. He was this wizened old oriental gentleman that seemed to have an answer for just about anything you could ask him. Of course, the answers didn’t always make sense right away, but did give you an answer. I think he might have been one of the wisest men I knew. I sure miss him sometimes,” Lara said as the elevator arrived in the lobby of the office building. Lara looked out one of the large windows into the bright late afternoon sunlight. “I suppose I should go try to find something to do until dinner time.”

“Lara, it’s none of my business, but was there ever anything you wanted to learn to do, or go to school for?” Ian asked.

“I don’t really know. I’ve always just wanted to be a housewife, but there have been things I’ve seen in magazines and on TV shows that I’d like to learn more about. I don’t know if I’d want to go to college over them, but I would like to know more than I do. Why do you ask?”

“One of the benefits of all this futuristic, high-tech, alien technology is a free education in anything you want, to as high a level as you want. It’s fast and comparable, or superior to, most anything offered on this planet. If you find there’s something you would like to study, simply ask for that to be taught to you. You’ll understand better tomorrow morning. Tonight while you sleep, you will be given the whole history, as well as learn most of the Talosian language and cultural structures. As for something to do for the rest of the evening, don’t you have any hobbies?”

“I used to draw, but I don’t have the materials anymore. I guess they either got left behind, or destroyed in the move,” Lara said.

Ian smiled and waved her back into his office. He opened a section of his wall to a machine like the one Beth had in her office.

He motioned her over to stand beside him and he said, “Art supplies, drawing and sketch pads.” He pointed to a small display panel above the inset counter, and drawing pads began to appear. When she selected one, it simply appeared in the small nook below the display.

“Wow, that’s wonderful! What else can I get?” Lara asked.

“What else do you need for drawing?” Ian asked.

As soon as Lara said something, the small display began to show different selections of items until she chose one and it was delivered to the small nook. Once she received something she didn’t want and apologized to Ian. He smiled at her, set the charcoal sticks back in the alcove and said “reclaim objects” The charcoal sticks vanished.

Once she had a good collection of supplies, more than she could carry, Ian laughed as she tried to pick them all up, and asked the replicator for a carry bag for the received items.

Thoroughly delighted, Lara left with her art bag hanging off her shoulder, and a new sun hat on her head. Ian watched her head off in the direction of the picnic area. “Oly, could you set a reminder for Mrs. Belden so she doesn’t forget to join her husband for dinner?”

“Of course, Commander,” said the disembodied voice.

Chapter Seventeen

The next day was a busy one for Ian. He was supposed to meet with Elias to discuss plans to build a research/manufacturing facility for a new type of automobile engine. Many of the current community vehicles were already using the new engine, but the eggheads wanted to get it into production.

What was surprising was that Elias was late. It was almost ten and Ian was about to call him when he stumbled into the office. “I’m really sorry, Ian. I don’t know how you do it; those two almost killed me last night! I was so tired, I slept through the alarm I’d set.”

Ian chuckled. “I take it Andrea was happy to see you?”

“It wasn’t just her! Laura too! I mean they were just as happy to see each other,” Elias said.

“Is Andrea going to call Beth later?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, though she was still sleeping when I left. How’d everything go with Luke Belden?”

“Pretty well actually, you can go down and see him later; I think he’d like a visit. He does seem to be a really nice guy. He just doesn’t seem like the type to develop a drinking problem,” Ian said.

“Normally, I’d agree with you. But after what his family did to him, I’m surprised that was all that was wrong with him,” Elias replied.

“May I ask what that was? I didn’t get to ask him before he started his treatment.” Ian asked.

Elias looked uncomfortable for a minute, then relaxed. “Normally, I’d say it isn’t my story to tell, but I know Luke won’t mind if I tell you. Luke comes from old money. Against his father’s wishes that he join the family business, he insisted he be allowed to make his own way in the world.

“Back when Tara was still in diapers, Luke worked for one of the premier investment companies on Wall Street. He was really good at forecasting and planning investments for his clients. So good, that he’d made hundreds of millions of dollars for their clientele.

“From what I understand, something happened that set up an opportunity for a windfall investment. He told his father about it and got the old man to move their substantial accounts over to Luke’s firm. Following his advice, which to this point had been flawless, almost a billion dollars was invested.

“The deal fell apart, and everyone lost a good portion of their money. Luke was fired by the same company that had been riding his forecasts for over a year, but that wasn’t the worst thing that happened. Luke’s father called him out to the family mansion and formally disowned him after ripping him apart in front of the rest of the family.

“The old bastard even told Luke that a lot of his problem was that he had married too far below his station. Luke, who’d had Lara and baby Tara with him, punched the old fucker in the mouth and left with his family.

“Luke’s family held the mortgage on their house and promptly foreclosed. Lara’s family took them in and helped them get back on their feet. The company Luke had worked for had black-balled him so he couldn’t get work in his field anymore. That’s when Luke started drinking.

“I hired him shortly after that, and he’s been with me ever since. I made sure that he wasn’t beating up on Lara and Tara, and for the most part he controlled it. You know the rest; I came to you when he started showing up to work still drunk,” Elias finished.

Ian shook his head in disbelief. “I will never understand how anyone can put greed before their family. Luke’s a great person; he didn’t deserve what his father did to him.”

“No one deserves that from their father. I think we’re doing what we can for him though. Most people would have just let him sink,” Elias said.

“Well, he’ll be better in a few days, and should be impatient to get back to work...” Ian said as his phone rang, he answered it. “Hello?”

“Pardon me, Sir, but this is Tommy down at the gate. I have a Ms. Pritchard out here, and she’s demanding entry.”

“I’ve never heard of her. Tell her to leave before we have her arrested for trespassing. If she wants a meeting, she can make an appointment. Sorry to dump this on you Tommy, if you need any help, let us know.”

“Will do, Sir,” Tommy said and hung up.

“What was that about?” Elias asked.

“Somebody named Pritchard demanding to be allowed in. She sure as hell doesn’t have an appointment, and she sounds like she’s a bitch anyway,” Ian replied.

Elias chuckled. “Abigail Pritchard. She’s one of the local radicals that believes the government will grant anyone the right to anything they want out here in the desert. She feels it’s her responsibility to blow the whistle on any company careless enough to allow her on the property. If you dig a hole to take a dump, she will want to see the permits and environmental impact statements that allow you to do it. Then bitch that you wiped with bleached paper.”

“Wonderful, do you think she’ll try to bypass the guard shack to get on the property?” Ian asked.

“Definitely. She’ll just wait a few days because she thinks that’s being sneaky.” Elias replied.

Ian made a note on his pad to look into some form of security for the community. Seeing the note, Elias smiled. “You know Ian, I’ve been thinking; you’re going to need marines along with more pilots to crew the ship.

“I remember Janet Laskar once telling me that they’d recruited a man from the Navy. I have no idea what they’re called, but he used to be the one responsible for landing and launching aircraft on a carrier. If I remember correctly, he’s now the flight operations chief down below. He might know some good candidates for the security detail, as well as pilots.”

“That’s a damn good idea, Elias. I didn’t even think of that. I’ll give him a call.” Ian made another note. “Now, let’s take a look at these building plans.”

“Ian? Do you have a minute?” Carla Nelson asked as she stuck her head in the door.

“Sure Carla, what’s up?”

“I just thought you might like to know that our application to form a municipality has been approved. We are now officially a town.” She said grinning.

“Really? That’s fabulous! When did this happen?” Ian asked.

“Well, when I was filing all the stuff we’d need to do what we wanted out here, applying for this was the answer to a few of the problems that came up, so we filed for it. It was kinda of a spur of the moment thing, so we didn’t have time to call a meeting. May I be the first to welcome you to Talos, New Mexico.”

“That’s a fitting name. What’s next?”

Carla grinned. “We need to hold elections for the office of Mayor, Treasurer and all that. We have ninety days to hold the elections and submit a town board. I have a good idea who’s going to get the Mayor’s job.”

“As long as it’s not me, I’ll be happy. I have enough to worry about, and with luck, I’ll be moving up to the ship soon,” Ian said.

“Spoil sport!” Carla laughed as she pulled her head from his office.

A discrete chirp told Ian there was an incoming message. He touched a key on his terminal and the message was displayed;

“Sir, the new ‘video games’ for the upside arcade are ready. Olympus would also like to ask that these simulators replace the ones on the ship. He said these are much better.”

- Ensign Saunders

Ian grinned, those should actually be fun to fly. He needed to find a Major John Harris anyway, so he decided to go down and see the new system himself. Briefly he wondered how come he hadn’t already met the man, since he was supposed to be a senior staff member.

When Ian arrived at Flight Operations, it was a hive of activity. People were scurrying about like there was an emergency, and red lights were flashing. Ian moved over next to a wall to stay out of the way and watch.

The Flight Operations control center was in the midst of a simulated drill. From what little Ian knew of this area, the people seemed to be doing well.

“Okay folks! That’s enough. That’s better; we’re improving. Flanning, that was a very good response time on getting the damage control teams moving, however, If we could have kept the bird from stacking out in the first place we wouldn’t have needed them. How come that bird crashed? Anyone?” A large African-American man in the center of the room asked.

No one seemed to come up with an answer for him, and people were looking around at the others hoping to find it. One of the young people saw Ian standing by the door. “Attention on Deck!” She said as she came to attention. Everyone in the room snapped to attention and Ian grinned. “As you were. Please continue, Chief.”

“Thank you, Sir.” He said as he turned back to his team. “Folks, this isn’t an ocean going flat-top we are training on. This simulation is for an advanced space carrier. It’s equipped with tractor beams... Now, why did that bird crash?”

One young ensign seemed to catch on. “Sir, because the automatic crash systems didn’t come online!”

“Correct, they didn’t come online because a power hit to the ship caused the system to short, forcing it into stand-by mode,” Major Harris explained.

“The ship crashed because I didn’t do a system check at the beginning of my shift,” a third ensign said sadly.

“Exactly. Folks, I don’t say this to hurt your feelings or scare you; but those pilots’ lives are in our hands whenever they launch or land. Any mistakes on our part will most likely cost one of those people their life.

“I don’t care how far behind you’re running, or how late you are. I will chew you out for reporting late, but I will never chew you out for delaying a launch or recovery while you check your systems,” Harris said, making eye contact with most of those present. “If it’s an emergency situation, the person leaving the station will stay until it’s safe to be relieved. You can assist them, but mostly try to just stay out of the way until the switch can be made. Understand?”

“Yes Sir!” They all said in unison.

“Good, take five and we’ll do it all again. Dismissed.” The big man turned to Ian and saluted. “Good to meet you, Sir. John Harris; Flight Operations.”

“Relax Major, this is a hell of a team you’re training up here,” Ian said.

“We’re all new to this, Sir. There’s a lot of adjustment needed.”

“Major, I’m curious, as Flight Operations Chief, you should be attending meetings with the rest of my senior officers. Why haven’t you?” Ian asked.

“I haven’t officially taken the position, Sir. I’m not ready yet. From what I understand, I don’t have the correct DNA or some such to use the teaching gizmos, so I’m doing this the old fashioned way,” Harris said.

“Wow, and you’re already this good? I’m impressed. You’re already training kids for flight operations aboard ship,” Ian said.

“I’ve found that the best way to learn is to teach. The little incident you just witnessed is a good example. I should have caught the red light on that system, but I missed it too. I spend my evenings reading all the regs and procedures, but during the day, we are in here trying to put what we’ve learned into a simulated situation. I think we’re all learning pretty fast,” the big man said. “We’re not ready for prime-time yet, but we’re getting there.”

Ian nodded in approval. “Are you getting someone trained to take over down here?”

“Yes sir. Major Alder will have the run of the place once we go up to the ship. We’ve split the time each of us work in here. He’ll be taking over after lunch. Right now, his team’s a lot better than we are; mostly because of my slow learning curve. But we should be ready soon.”

“Excellent! Could you come up to my office when you’re finished here? I have a few questions for you. Right now, I want to get over to the training area and get a look at those new simulators,” Ian said.

John grinned. “I think you’ll like them, Sir. I’m not a pilot, but looking at those almost makes me want to learn how to fly.”

Ian returned the grin. “Great! Let’s just hope the kids upstairs agree with you! See you after lunch.”

Ian left as John’s team started coming back in.

He walked over to the training area and found Ensign Saunders tinkering with one of the new simulators.

“How’s it going, Ensign?” Ian said, startling the young man.

“Jesus Chis... Sir! I’m sorry; I didn’t see you come in!” He said as he hastily got to his feet, came to attention and saluted.

“At ease, Ensign. I got your message about the simulators and wanted to see them for myself. How soon do you think you can get them installed top-side?” Ian asked.

“If we got them up there now, I could probably have them set up by tomorrow morning. The system is really neat; we can stuff the whole thing into a double-wide trailer and all we need to do is plug it in, everything else is integrated into the system,” the young Ensign said excitedly.

“Wow, that’s better than we hoped for. You have my approval to proceed; let me know when you get them set-up; I’d like to take it out for a spin,” Ian said grinning.

“It would help to have a pilot do the final test on it after I get the unit assembly complete. Would you like to do that, Sir?” Saunders asked.

“I’d be honored, Ensign. Just give me a call when you get it ready, and I’ll make time for you. Good work.”

Ian returned to his office in a good mood. Things seemed to be going well, and soon he and his family would be able to move aboard ship.

When he got back, he found Elias and Janet Laskar waiting for him. “What can I do for you two today?”

“I thought I would let you know that the computers for the new education system have been ordered, and should be getting here within the month. The rest of the network has already been set up, and I briefed our teachers on how it’ll work. They’re almost as excited as the kids are,” Janet reported.

“Great, but I thought Laura was taking care of that?” Ian asked.

“She is, but I’ve been helping her in my spare time. Elias wanted to ask you about something and asked if I could come along, so Laura just asked me to let you know how things were proceeding,” Janet said, looking pointedly at Elias.

“My guys tell me we’re ready to start laying the water and sewer mains then pave the streets. If you’ll remember, I said we aren’t equipped to do that?” Elias said. “I know of a couple of really good companies that might take the contract; we’ve worked with them before. In my opinion, they might be good additions to the community as well.”

“Why don’t you give them a call and you and Janet can interview them. I’ll want Janet’s folks to interview all their employees as well. It would be really easy for the government or anyone else to slip a spy in here,” Ian said.

Elias nodded and Janet smiled ruefully. “I think I’m going to need more people, Ian. As it stands now, there are only five of us, and three of them are out recruiting people. If I’m going to need to do that many interviews, I’ll need more people myself.”

“Just how many people are we talking about here Elias?” Ian asked.

“A couple hundred if they bring their whole crew. I don’t know that much about civil engineering, but what I do know tells me they’ll probably want as many of their folks as possible,” Elias answered. “If they stay, we’ll be almost doubling our population on the surface.”

“While I agree that recruiting them would be a great idea, once the job we’re hiring them for is done, we’ll have to retrain most of them for more useful jobs. That’ll require letting them in on more of the secret than we have for our existing people,” Ian said.

“Well, I think the time is rapidly approaching when we’re going to have to tell all of them. We already have a lot of bored housewives. If we could give them an alternative, I think morale would go through the roof,” Elias said.

“Let me walk through and get a general feeling about how that news might affect them. If we just dump the truth on them, we’ll probably lose most of them,” Janet said. “Perhaps we can go about it a different way. Ian, I’ll need you to make a video presentation with our people in mind as the intended audience. Start at the beginning, and tell them everything. I’ll get them ready to accept the information in a positive way. When the time comes, we can play the recording, and that’ll be that.”

“Well, I don’t think we should tell them about the mental abilities some of the folks have. People tend to really freak out about that kind of thing. At least we only have a very few people that actually have them,” Ian said.

“We have more than you might think. Olympus has told me that the occurrence of abilities is far above what was normal for the Talosian people of four thousand years ago,” Janet said. “The curious part is a lot of those that have them don’t seem to even be aware of them. Like yours for example.”

“Huh? I don’t have any abilities. I’m just a normal eighteen-year-old,” Ian said.

Both Elias and Janet laughed. “You are far from a ‘normal’ anything, Ian. I don’t think there’s an eighteen-year-old on this planet that can handle the responsibility that you do. I sure-as-hell know I wouldn’t trust any of them to the degree I trust you!” Elias said.

“You do have an ability, Ian. You just don’t use it all that often, and when you do, you don’t notice that you’re doing it,” Janet said. “I want you to order me to undress; which is something I would never do in front of either of you. I want you to think about the command, and concentrate on it as you say it. Please, just remember to stop me before I actually do it. I will be doing my best not to do what you tell me.”

“Janet! I would never order you to do something like that! I would never order anyone to do that! What am I supposed to do if I can’t stop you in time? If this works, that is,” Ian asked.

“Enjoy the show, and I’ll help you explain it to our families,” Janet said, grinning. “I trust you, Ian. But you need to see this in action. Even if you can’t stop me in time, it’ll have been worth it to show you, and I’m sure the worst we’ll get from our families is teased. Go ahead, whenever you’re ready.”

Ian did as she asked and concentrated on the command then gave her the order, “*Janet, Take all of your clothes off.*” Ian felt something strange in his head, but it was so faint he thought he might have imagined it until he saw Janet’s hands undoing her top. “*Janet, stop.*”

A panting Janet stopped and put her arms back down to her sides. “Damn! That’s stronger than I thought it’d be. There was no way I could have not done it. Hell, I wanted to do it!”

Ian glanced over to the awe struck Elias. Elias looked at him and held up his hands. “No! I am not going to strip my clothes off!” He chuckled. “Seriously Ian, that’s one very dangerous ability. You’re going to have to be extra careful in how you use it.”

“Careful? Until a few minutes ago, I didn’t even know I had it!” Ian exclaimed.

“Well, now that you’re aware of it, you can keep an eye on it. Now, all we need to do is get Talena aware of hers, so she can try not to use it. Though, in her case, that might be like asking her not to breathe,” Janet said.

“What is her ability?” Ian asked.

“It’s kind of like yours, except it is less of a control. She has the ability to charm people. Ask yourself when was the last time you told her ‘no’ when she asked you for something,” Janet said.

Ian thought hard, but couldn’t remember ever telling Talena no on something she really wanted to do. “As I understand it, these abilities we have are not supposed to work on others with abilities. How come I could do that to you, and Talena can influence those around her?”

“I don’t know the answer to that, Ian. The original Talosian study on this did say that there was no apparent effect on those with their own abilities, but the information seems to not apply to us for some reason,” Janet replied. “Perhaps Talena would be the better one to research this, since she’s the social scientist of our group. Speaking of abilities, do you think I can borrow Jenny for the upcoming interviews? She’d be a great help.”

“I have no problem with it, but she was working on some weather project or something,” Ian said. “Okay, so Elias will call those two companies to set up a meeting, and Janet will work on our people as well as try to recruit more people for the recruiting team. Would you be able to talk to Talena about her ability as well, Janet?”

“Sure, it shouldn’t take that long, and she is a really sweet girl,” Janet said.

“What about security around here? You said you had a couple of ideas about that?” Elias asked.

“Yes, I do. I took your advice and I’ve got a meeting for right after lunch to find out if John Harris might know of someone we could hire. I’ve got another idea as well, but I need to talk that over with Olympus and Engineering before I can consider it an option,” Ian said. “What do you think of Luke Belden taking over as administrator here when I move up to the ship?”

“I think that’d be an excellent idea! I was worried you’d try to saddle me with the job,” Elias said. “He knows much more about admin stuff than I do; hell! That’s the reason I sold out to you in the first place!”

“Great, I’ll talk to him about it in the next couple of days. I think once the engineers get things fixed up on the ship, we’ll be going aboard to help finish the repairs and so I can get a feel for my new command,” Ian said.

“Once you get the old girl fixed up, I’d like a tour. From what I’ve seen she’s quite a ship,” Elias said.

“You’ll get one, Elias. I promise. I think maybe we should offer that to everyone down here that might like to see her, but we do have a long way to go before she’ll be ready for it,” Ian said thoughtfully.

“Well, I think we should go so you have time to eat before your meeting. Talk to you later, Ian,” Janet said and rose to leave. Elias did as well, and Ian bid them farewell.

Chapter Eighteen

“Hi sweetheart, you ready to eat lunch?” Jenny asked when she poked her head in the door.

“Absolutely, especially if you’re on the menu!” Ian replied, grinning.

“My, aren’t we frisky today! I’d have thought you’d need to rest up after what Cindy and I did to you last night!”

Ian chuckled at her, but kissed her lovingly before leading her to the replicator.

“Mind if we join you two?” Beth asked from Ian’s door; Talena was standing beside her.

“Not at all! Now, I have the three most beautiful women on the planet to eat lunch with!” Ian replied.

“Only three? Cindy’s going to be pissed.” Jenny asked, teasing.

“Ah, but you see, she isn’t actually on the planet at the moment,” Ian replied smoothly.

The lovers and Talena sat down at the conference table to eat lunch and talk about how each of their days was going.

Jenny had been working to get some real data on global warming, and was finding that the officially released data was far from the truth.

“Ian, before I forget again, I’d like your permission to launch a couple of geostationary satellites for the weather project I’m working on; the existing ones just aren’t equipped the way I need them, and are in the wrong position anyway. I need them to monitor the Arctic and Antarctic weather patterns and conditions. I can have them strap a cloaking generator on them, and they’ll be over the magnetic poles, so they’d be really hard to detect anyway,” Jenny asked.

“Okay, but only the two of them for now. How were you planning on getting them up there?” Ian asked.

“Well, I was thinking about taking them up in a shuttle and just kicking them out the back door,” Jenny said. “I think I need the practice flying.”

Ian nodded. “I wish I could ride along, but I think I’m going to be too busy down here for awhile. However, why don’t you ask the flight school if they’d like the current class of trainees to go for a ride? That way, you can have them help you deploy the satellites.”

“Good idea,” Jenny said and made a note on her ever-present pad.

“How go the repairs?” Ian asked.

“Main Medbay is finally repaired and powered up, but the cryo-sleep facility is still offline. We’re having to replace most of the chambers and the entire control suite. “The engineer reports that they’ve started on the main reactor, and it should be ready to go back online in about a week.” She touched her screen, then read a little of what was displayed.

“Flight control systems crashed during diagnostics, but Daddy, uh, Chief Laskar has just about finished rewriting them. Beta flight deck launch systems also completely failed during power up, but Alpha only needed some minor repairs. The deck crews fixed Alpha, and are now working on getting Beta ready. Barb is really kicking ass and taking names; their goal is to have Beta operational before the power-up at the end of the week.

“The Maglev transit system, and all weapons systems aft of section ninety-two have been replaced, to include the inboard missile tubes. All repairs should be finished in just under two weeks, though Olympus is adding a few days to that estimate due to the Murphy factor,” Jenny took a sip of her green tea and grinned. “Cindy will graduate from high school Thursday night. We should plan a graduation party for her.”

“The only problem with that is not being able to tell anyone the reason for the party. We can’t just have it aboard ship, since half her friends are down here,” Beth replied wistfully. “I look forward to the day when we won’t have to hide the truth from our people here.”

“Why don’t we tell them the truth? That it’s a graduation party for Cindy. We can always say that she’s been home schooling for the last year or so, because she was frustrated with the slow pace the school system forced her to adhere to,” Ian offered.

“...and not any of that’s a lie, just the truth given in a misleading way. That might work pretty well. Now, I know why you’re the Commander!” Jenny teased.

Ian winked at Jenny, but turned to Beth. “Beth, how is Luke Belden doing?”

“Pretty well, actually. His treatment is right on schedule,” Beth replied, but had a suspicious look on her face. “Why? What do you have up your sleeve?”

Ian grinned. “Well, I was thinking about offering Luke the position of Administrator here, so we can move up to the ship this Thursday. We need to get to work on our real jobs.”

“Thursday? Hmm, I might need to commute for a couple of weeks until Andrea gets certified. That is if she still wants the job once she gets the whole story,” Beth replied.

“I’m pretty sure Elias has told her just about everything there is to know. She doesn’t have contacts yet, but I’m sure she’ll have them by tonight,” Ian said.

“Excuse me, but my communit is beeping at me,” Beth said and touched the stud. “Dr. Williams.”

From her half of the conversation, it was clear she was speaking to Andrea Johnson, PA. “Well,” Beth said after she’d broken contact. “I guess I’ll know soon, Andrea wanted to meet with me right after lunch. I told her I’d meet her in the lobby.”

“Well, let me know if the Thursday idea is doable, so I can plan for it. I know we all just ate, but how do hamburgers sound for dinner tonight?” Ian asked.

“Are you sure you want to grill as hot as it is out there?” Jenny asked. No one seemed to notice that Talena wasn’t saying anything, and had gone a little pale at the mention of going back aboard ship.

“Hmm, maybe not. I’ll have to think about that some. I’m really starting to wish I hadn’t forbid the use of replicators in homes.”

Beth chuckled at her husband. “Yeah, and if you tried to walk home carrying a bucket of the Colonel’s Extra-Crispy, everyone on the compound would want to know how you got it!”

“So, like I was saying; how do salads sound for dinner?” Ian chuckled.

Right after the women left, John Harris arrived. “You needed to see me, sir?”

“Have a seat, Major. Can I get you anything before we get started?” Ian asked.

“No thank you, sir. Food here’s better than on the Ronald Reagan, I’m afraid I stuffed myself sir,” Harris replied grinning.

“Well, I was led to believe that you were recruited right off the ship.” When John nodded in agreement Ian continued. “I was hoping you might be able to make a few suggestions to help in a couple of problems that we’re running into.”

“I’d be happy to help any way I can sir,”

“Great! Do you know anyone that could handle security out here? Keep in mind they’d have to have full disclosure, know exactly what we’re trying to do, and roughly what we’re facing,” Ian asked. “I’d also like for you to keep in mind, that we need more pilots, as well as marines for the ship.”

“I’d be happy to make up a list of suggestions for Mrs. Laskar and her people for the pilots and marines. I think it would be best if I asked some friends of mine if they might be interested in the security job. They are all members of a SEAL team that got tired of being used to blackmail other countries. It’d probably be best if I talked to them myself,” John said. “They don’t trust easily.”

“That might be exactly what we need out here. With any luck at all, all they’ll have to worry about are the occasional prowler.” Ian went on to tell him about Ms. Pritchard.

“We can hope that’s all, sir. But if Oly’s right, and the enemy is here covertly, then there might be more than just some cactus hugger to worry about. With your permission sir, I’ll get this handled right away,” John asked, rising.

“If it’ll help, I’ll figure out a way to get a shuttle put at your disposal. If you need anything else, just let me or Colonel Williams know,” Ian answered nodding his agreement.

“Thank you, sir. I might need that shuttle. I’ll give Mrs. Laskar a call too,” He said as he left the office.

On a nearby hill, two men in desert camouflage watched the small settlement through a telescope.

“Jesus Baxter, let’s head back in. These idiots are obviously doing exactly what they said on the paperwork. We’ve been watching them for three days, so what if they kicked Abby out; maybe they just don’t want anyone getting in the way of the construction,” one of the men said.

“Willis, you’re an idiot. You’re correct about reporting in, though you are not correct in your findings. Something here isn’t right, I just can’t put my finger on it,” the one called Baxter replied.

Willis kept his mouth shut. He knew that if given a reason, Baxter would just kill him and that would be it. He was an odd fucker, scary as hell too. Briefly Willis wondered just were the NSA recruited people like Baxter from.

Willis silently followed Baxter down the hill to the ground-affect, hover-car, and shot off to the south. Since they were technically still in White Sands, Willis just thought the vehicle to be some kind of top secret gadget; he also believed he worked for the National Security Agency. Willis really was an idiot.

Since Ian had allowed teams up to the ship to finish repairs, Julie Laskar suddenly found herself swamped with work. As ship’s steward, it was her job to make sure that all the living quarters were clean and ready for occupancy. It was also her job to make sure that the personal items that were in storage got to the quarters that would be assigned to the different crewmen. Eventually, she’d have a couple of assistants, but for now, all she had were five maintenance drones, and a fleet of domestic drones.

As she assigned tasks for the little droids, she remembered the first time she encountered one of the little machines. She’d thought them creepy; now she thought they were Godsends. They worked like mad, and never really complained. Of course, they were aboard ship, and Julie was in her home office.

Although Olympus as well as the engineers had vetted the living quarters, Julie had the drones double-check the utilities for all the residential ‘quads’, then she set them to work reconfiguring the different resident blocks for the people that would be assigned there.

She made sure that appropriate amenities would be available and near the different areas. Ian’s request for a pool was implemented by converting Cargo-Two. The big bay had been large enough that it had been converted into a small volcanic looking ‘lagoon’. A large pool took up most of the lower deck, while smaller ‘hot springs’ and even a mud bath occupied a ‘cliff’ mezzanine. Holographic generators installed in the top of the bay simulated ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ skies.

When she went to ensure the command quarters were ready, she found that Olympus had three maintenance drones working on it, and she was blocked from seeing what they were doing.

“There was something special I wanted to do for the Commander and his family. You can, of course, look anyway, but I would ask that you allow it to be a surprise for The Commander and his family,” Oly replied when Julie inquired. Once she saw what he was doing, she grinned like a fool, and thought it was a grand idea.

Mid-morning, Ian’s communit beeped at him. He was somewhat surprised to hear John Harris when he answered.

“I’m sorry to disturb you sir, but one of my crew has been doing some research as an off time hobby, and I think she might have come up with something that may interest you. Would it be possible to get a few moments of your time this morning?”

“Certainly Chief; you can come up right now if it’s really urgent,” Ian replied.

“Well, I don’t know about urgency, it’s hard to assign a priority to something like this, so I’m falling back on long standing naval tradition; I’m passing the buck.”

Ian laughed and told them to come on up. Crewman Janica Taylor was unique in that she was the first really plain looking woman Ian had seen since getting here. He’d originally thought that Janet and her people had been recruiting only ‘attractive people’, as ludicrous as that sounds, because he had yet to see a women that he would call unattractive.

Crewman Taylor wasn’t unattractive, but she wasn’t what could be called pretty either. However, her looks aside, she was one sharp cookie; once seated, she got right to the point.

“Sir, as a hobby, I’ve been researching the price of oil, and why it’s the price it is, how many barrels a day we use as a planet, that sort of thing. Now, I have all the research to back it up, but the bottom line is, we’re not using all the oil we’re producing.”

While not really seeing how this information fit into the big picture, it was interesting. “So, is it being stockpiled somewhere? I’d once heard that there were these huge tanks in Oklahoma...” Ian began.

“With respect sir, no one’s stock piling it; it’s simply disappearing. I triple checked the figures, and we’re talking about thousands of barrels of crude oil a month. The really strange part of all this is that the amount is large enough that it should have been noticed by somebody. Something this big should be all over the newspapers, but there’s nothing,” Taylor said. “I thought it was just massively odd enough to tell the Chief.”

Ian sat in thought for a moment. He knew this was important, but he just couldn’t put his finger on why. “Crewman, could you please make your data available to us? I’m not sure why, but your information has twigged the ‘this is important’ flag in my head. If it’s alright with you, I may have the XO give you a call to ask questions. Thank you both for bringing this to my attention.”

Jenny was sick this morning, and Ian had told her to take the morning off. He’d noticed Beth was a bit ‘green around the gills’ too, but hadn’t said anything. She was the Doctor, she should know if she was able to work or not. Not for the first time, Ian wondered how Cindy was doing.

John and a nodding Crewman Taylor stood. “With your permission, sir, Ensign Talena is going to take me to see those folks we spoke about yesterday. I should have something to report later today,” John said.

“Excellent! Carry on, and thanks again, Janica. I really do think this is important, I’m just not sure how yet,” Ian told the grinning Flight Tech.

“Jesus Beth! I’m so sick I haven’t eaten in two days! How long does this last?” Cindy asked over the communit.

“It’s morning sickness, love. It can last anywhere from a couple of more weeks or until the baby comes. It’s different for every woman. If it helps, both Jenny and I are sicker than dogs too. Ian and Talena are doing their best to take care of us; hell, Ian even ordered Jenny to take this morning off. I was really tempted to join her, but I’ve got to help orient Andrea Johnson,” Beth replied.

“Gods! I envy you! I don’t even have anyone to cuddle with up here. Your nurse, Terri, is hot for one of the engineers, and she spends her time up in the main Medbay anyway. Cadet Alvarez is Catholic, and objects to homosexual contact, so she’s out. I try to help Barb and her deck gang, but I think she knows exactly what’s wrong with me, because she won’t give me any real work, and won’t even think of letting me help repair the launch system,”

Beth chuckled. “Good! You should be taking it easy, not crawling around on your belly in a launch tube. Besides, it’s only for a couple more days. Ian and Jenny are planning a Graduation Party for you on Thursday, just before we all move up to the ship.”

“Ugh! Could you try to talk them out of it? I really doubt I’ll feel like a party any time soon. Unless it’s in bed with all of you. If I’m not in the head getting sick, I’m so damn horny I feel like I could wear all of you out. But I do hope I get to eat something soon. I’m getting hungry, but every time I smell food, I’m running for the head.”

Beth typed in a couple of commands on her terminal. “I’m sending something to your replicator that should help ease the nausea. Drink all of it, and you should be able to eat in about a half hour. You can have another one in the morning, and it should hold you the whole day. I’ll give you a check-up when you get back down here, Wednesday.”

“Thank you, but what about the horns? Got anything for that?” Cindy asked.

“Sorry honey, but you'll be back here in a couple of days, and I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding volunteers to cuddle with!” Beth replied.

Chapter Nineteen

“Sir, this is Ty Anders, and his team; Lee Cole, Steve Barrows, Joel Wayne, Samantha (Sam) Lewis, and Tabitha Harris,” Major Harris said by way of introduction. “Folks, let me introduce my Commanding Officer, Commander Ian Williams.”

Ian found the group waiting for him when he got back to his office. Ian had been a little apprehensive about meeting a seal team in person. Like most young men, he held those members of the special ops area of warfare in awe. He felt that these men and women deserved the thanks of the entire nation, but wouldn’t get it since they could never admit to doing anything other than ‘training’.

The small group came to attention, and Anders saluted. Ian returned it with a Talosian salute. “Relax folks. I assume Major Harris has been busy showing all of you around?”

Janet had been with the group, and since she was smiling, knew they never stood a chance

“The facility is very impressive, Sir. Mrs. Laskar has been filling us in on everything you’re trying to do, and why,” Anders replied.

“Please, have a seat everyone. May I get anyone something to drink?” Ian asked politely, and gesturing to the small conference table. Tabitha Harris got back up to help Ian carry drinks since everyone was thirsty.

Ian grinned at the tall, dark-skinned beauty. “Harris, huh? Any relation to John?”

Very carefully keeping a straight face, she replied. “Yes sir. He’s my brother.”

Ian’s grin grew. “I see. I’ll try not to hold that against you.”

At the table, John snorted in amusement. Tabitha’s eyes sparkled in humor, but she still kept her face impassive. “Thank you, sir. It was a concern.”

Ian busted out laughing, and Tabitha’s stoic expression finally shattered as she chuckled.

“She got you there, Major!” Ian said.

“She’s very good at that, sir. However, if I remember correctly, she still owes me two or three,” Major Harris replied.

“I’m afraid the Major is mistaken, Sir, I would never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent,” Tabitha said, grinning at her brother.

After Ian and Tabitha returned to the table, Janet picked up, apparently where she had left off so they could meet Ian. However, just before lunch, all of them agreed to the job, and took the oath. John led the group out of the office to introduce them to the gate guard, Tommy.

After they returned from their trip, Brittney was checking out the local university snack bar when a woman introduced herself. Her name was Barbara Carter and she worked for a new corporation that was forming. They were looking for certain people to recruit.

As they spoke Brittney got the feeling that this woman had actually been looking for her. Before they parted, Brittney had agreed to have the woman over to meet her mother and talk some more about this ‘exciting new opportunity’.

Well, after listening to this Barbara Carter, and talking it over for a while, they decided to check it out and called Barbara back. They moved to a small community in New Mexico. When they first saw the community, they revisited concerns that this was some kind of cult. Barb had assured them that whatever their religious beliefs were, no one would try to coerce them into believing anything different. Not only that, they were welcome to leave anytime they wanted to.

The community was amazing. They were assigned a house and were asked to take a skills assessment exam that was available on the computer system already set up in the house.

Brittney became a research assistant and was invited to begin taking her college classes via the computer system. Valerie was asked to wait a few days until her legal talents could be put to use. Amazingly enough, and for the first time in her life, Brittney began to make friends. No one seemed to care at all about the fact that she was already finished with high school, they only seemed to be slightly envious.

“Commander Williams, this is Ensign Saunders.”

Ian grinned; he’d been expecting this call. “Williams here, go ahead.”

“The system is set-up, and ready to go. You mentioned that you wanted to know when I got it ready to, uh, play,” Saunders said hesitantly.

“Excellent! You’re over by the old arcade, right?” Ian asked.

“Yessir, right beside it. I think you might want to hurry; I’ve gathered a pretty good crowd of kids waiting to get inside,” Saunders replied.

“I’ll be right there, Ensign; Williams out.”

When Ian got over to the new double wide, he saw the group of kids, and one very sweaty Ensign Saunders – wearing duty coveralls and ship boots, complete with rank insignia.

“Hey Lyle! What are you wearing?” Ian glanced at the kids to let Saunders know that some kind of explanation for the uniform was needed.

“This is something us nerds came up with. We thought it would be neat to come up with a uniform like the ones in the game. I forgot to change before coming out here. Damn it’s hot!” Saunders said, thinking quickly and trying not to look panicked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty warm. You have to be really careful about that out here. Now, why don’t you show me what you folks have come up with before we let the kids in here to see if they like it?” Ian asked grinning at the closest bunch.

Ian had noticed that a few of them had been a little concerned over the fact that the guy setting up the trailer was wearing a uniform, but he could no longer see any apprehension. In fact, the kids were grinning in anticipation. Ian wondered where Talena was since she was usually with the group.

Saunders led Ian into the ‘shack’ and showed him the ten cockpits, and the big screen that would allow external observation. Ian just grinned, and climbed into the closest cockpit.

“Hook me up, Saunders.”

Saunders grinned. “Yessir! It’ll take a minute for the software to adjust to a single player, so watch your screen; it’ll let you know when it’s ready. Tap your laser trigger to start the sim.”

Ian nodded his understanding as the canopy closed. While he waited, he wanted to make sure Talena was alright.

“Talena, this is Ian. Are you alright honey?”

“Uh, yeah. I was assisting Major Harris in Flight control,” she replied.

To Ian’s ears, she didn’t sound like her normal, cheerful, self. He got the impression something was bothering her, but didn’t think the communit was the place to try to discover what it was.

“Okay sweetheart. I just got worried when I didn’t see you with the rest of the group here. How would you like to have lunch with me? Just the two of us?”

“That... sounds... really good, Ian. Where would you like to meet?” Talena asked.

“Hmm, I have an idea about that, but let me make sure about it. How about you let me surprise you?” Ian asked.

Ian could hear Talena’s light chuckle. “Okay Ian. Just let me know where and when.”

Ian saw the ‘ready’ icon flashing on the forward viewscreen, so he ended the call. “Well, Saunders wanted me to test the new toy before the kids got a hold of it, so I better get to it. I’ll see you after?”

“Ah, so you’re the one holding things up. You better get busy, or these kids are going to pull you out of there!” Talena replied, sounding much more like herself, though Ian could still hear a difference in her voice.

Ian chuckled. “I love you, Little Kitten.”

Ian thought he heard her sob, but she whispered back. “I love you too, Ian.” She cleared her throat. “I do think you should get busy. They are getting restless out here.”

“Williams out,” Ian said and tapped the trigger for the lasers.

Ian had no idea how long he was in the simulator, but he was having a blast. His mind was telling him it was only a game, but his body and his senses were telling him he was really in one of the small, agile, fighters.

Since there was no scoring display in the cockpit, he had no idea how he was doing, but took it as a good sign that the system never managed to kill him off, even when it ambushed him with a whole squadron of enemy fighters. When he finally got the order to return to base, he found he was sweating, his heart was racing, and he felt really alive. The simulation had been extremely real, even to the point of using the real voices of the men and women that would have the job of supporting the fighters.

Ian exited the cockpit to the applause and whistles of Talena’s ‘students’. Ian blushed but bowed to the kids.

“I’m trying to tell them the importance of teamwork, and trusting your wingman, and you go and blow everything I’ve said out of the water!” Talena said winking at Ian.

“Nope! Lyle shifted the game parameters for a single pilot. If I had tried to play the full version by myself, I wouldn’t have lasted ten seconds. Trust me here, Talena knows what she’s talking about; she and Cindy did the alpha testing on this system. Speaking of which, please let us know what you think of it; we’re planning a whole bunch of installations all over the country if you guys don’t find any problems with it,” Ian said smiling at the kids.

“Where is Cindy? We haven’t seen her in a week,” one young girl asked.

“She had to take a shuttle full of people up to the ship, she’ll be back tonight,” Ian said grinning.

“COOL!” the girl said excitedly.

Talena was looking at Ian like he was insane. Ian winked at her before turning back to the group. “Relax, she only went to check out a couple colleges, but she will be back tonight. I’ll let her know you guys missed her. Have fun!”

As Talena corralled her group, Ian joined Ensign Saunders at the control terminal. “Nice save with the cover story for the uniform, Ensign, but try to remember to change before you come up again.”

“Yessir, I honestly didn’t think about it. It won’t happen again,” the young man replied.

“As soon as you can, get up to the Admin building so you can slip down to the base and change. Those clothes are way too heavy for this climate,” Ian ordered.

With a final ‘Yessir’ from Saunders, Ian headed back to the Admin building.

“Armory to Command.” Debbie Reynolds’ face appeared on Ian’s monitor.

“Williams here; whatcha got, Chief?” Ian replied, accepting the video call.

“Sir, I just got a request from a Lieutenant Anders in Security for a whole bunch of stuff. I didn’t even know we had a security department,”

Ian chuckled. “We do now. They are for down here though, so if you can get the order on the shuttle that’s returning it would be great.”

“Uh, sir, they are asking for a pretty strange mix of stuff. I mean, MP5’s a man-portable mini-gun. A couple of M60’s, ten pulse-rifles, assault team body-armor... Sir, they even want two armed RAVs!” Major Reynolds replied. “I didn’t think you wanted Talosian weapons on the surface?”

A soft knock was quickly followed by Janet Laskar sticking her head in the door.

Ian waved her in, but continued the call. “Well, normally I wouldn’t, but these folks are going to be protecting our people down here. If Ty thinks he might need pulse rifles, and body armor, then I think we should give it to him. He knows we need to maintain a cover, so I doubt he’ll be using those rifles unless the shit really hits the fan.”

“I’ll take that as Command approval then, and get busy with getting the shuttle loaded. Sorry to bother you, Sir,” the Major replied.

Ian chuckled. “You know, I think we should invite the three of you over for dinner when we get up there. I know the ladies would love to see Stevie again.”

A chuckle answered Ian. “Careful, sir, he just might steal them away from you!”

Ian grinned at her reply. “We’ll give you guys a call when we get moved in.”

“We’ll look forward to it, Sir. Talk to you then.”

Ian smiled and winked as the call ended. He turned his attention to Janet. “What can I do for you?

Janet’s sad smile faded a little. “Ian, we need to talk about Talena.”

Chapter Twenty

“What do you mean, Janet? Is something going to happen to her?” Ian asked, urgently.

“I don’t know, Ian; I haven’t had a premonition about her. But what I have seen in her are the signs of a deep depression. She’s never really grieved the loss of her mother and Starlin has she?”

Ian looked thoughtful as he tried to remember. But he found that, in fact, Talena hadn’t mourned the loss of her loved ones. “No, she hasn’t. She is also acting a little weird. The other night when we were going over to the Johnson’s, we were talking about the group dynamics here. She started to say something about asking someone something, but she stopped. When I asked her if she was alright, she said she was, but I could tell something was bugging her. One minute she’s happily talking away, then the next she clams-up like she’s upset about something.”

“From the sound of it, I think she might have convinced herself that her mother and Starlin aren’t dead after all. In the case of her mother, I can somewhat understand it, since Beth is identical to Marelynn, but I think Cindy has become Starlin to her. The rest of you are close friends. I think the biggest problem she’s having is the fact that she knows she’s having problems, and she’s afraid. We’re going to have to convince her that it’s alright to ask for help, and that help is available to her,” Janet replied. “We need to convince her soon, or this will eat her up inside.”

“I’m supposed to have lunch with her in a few minutes. I was going to see if I could ‘borrow’ an unoccupied apartment down-side. She sounded kinda sad earlier when I talked to her,” Ian said.

“Try to get her to talk about her mother and Starlin. I’m sure she’ll try to shy away from the subject, but try to keep her on it. She’ll have to start dealing with the grief, or admit there’s a problem. But remember, she comes from a society where suicide is acceptable,” Janet replied. “But, I believe Talena would ask you’re permission first since you’re her Guardian.”

Ian got the dining area ready, before he called Talena. When she arrived, Ian led her to the table. “Sweetheart, I was thinking of holding a memorial service for those lost in Olympus’ last battle. Would you be interested in helping with that project?” Ian felt her stiffen.

“Uh, sure Ian, what would you like me to do?”

Ian crossed his mental fingers. “Well, Olympus is busy with the rebuilding and calculations for getting the ship off the moon, I was wondering if you would be willing to dig up a little information for each of the people we lost. Things like their names, Planet of origin, what department they were in, and their rank at the time of their death. I know there were an awful lot of them, but I’d like to honor them before we lift Olympus off the moon.” Ian paused, “If you’d like to include some additional information about Marelynn and Starlin, that should be fine.”

Talena opened her mouth to say something, but stopped; her brow wrinkled, and a single tear slipped down her cheek. A single tear slipped down her cheek. “I'll do that if you think I need to, Ian.”

“We all care a great deal about you, Little Kitten,” Ian replied as he moved around the table and held the softly crying girl to his chest.

“I think I need to talk to Janet Laskar. I don’t know how to deal with this,” Talena finally admitted. “And I can’t lie to myself anymore.”

“No, you can’t. We are all here for you, Little Kitten. Did anyone ever tell you that the first time Jenny saw you, she had a vision of you as our  wives one day?” Ian asked.

“No, no one told me. I think that would make me happy, Ian. You've all been very careful not to pressure me, or do anything inappropriate. For a while, I didn't even think you liked me like that. However, in many ways, I feel like I already am though. If asked, I’d probably say I was your wife unless I thought about it first,” she said sadly.

“No, no one would push you, or even hint to more of a relationship until we knew you were ready for it. Losing your mother and girlfriend had to be very hard. We just wanted to help you get through that loss, and give you the time you need to heal,” Ian explained.

“Well, you're the first male I've ever been even remotely attracted to, so I'm still a little confused. However, your right, I need to deal with Mother and Starlin first. I'll make an appointment with Janet,” Talena said and kissed Ian's cheek.

Luke Belden was due to be released that afternoon, so Ian asked him and his wife to stop by his office before they went home. Ian and Elias were looking over the site layout trying to decide where to put the security shack when Luke and Lara arrived.

Ian had visited Luke daily while Beth kept him down in the clinic, and the two men had become friends. Luke and Lara both now completely understood why Ian was doing the things he was doing, as well as everything that was going on.

Luke could feel the changes taking place inside while the treatment fixed his addiction. He felt the knowledge the old AI was giving him at night was helping as much as Beth’s treatment. The actions of the petty old bastard that was his Father seemed so trivial now that Luke almost laughed whenever he remembered it. It never really occurred to Luke that Olympus might have been acting on the orders of Dr. Williams.

“Luke, do you remember me telling you that the girls and I would be going up to the ship soon?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, a good portion of the folks down stairs are pretty anxious to go too.”

Ian grinned. “Trust me, I know!” he chuckled. “It looks like the girls and I’ll be going up tomorrow night. However, I’m going to need someone to take over for me down here while we finish getting the ship ready. I was wondering if you’d be interested in the job.”

“You want me to take over running this place?” Luke asked, incredulous.

Ian smiled at the look on his and Lara’s faces but nodded his head in confirmation. Elias had had to cover his mouth with one hand as he suddenly became very interested in the hologram hovering over the table. His face was turning red with suppressed laughter.

“Look, I know it seems like awfully short notice, but trust me here; there isn’t that much that you can’t get caught up on. Even if there were, I’ll still only be a call away,” Ian explained.

“I... uh, I’d like to talk it over with Lara if I could?” Luke asked.

“Sure! I really am sorry about the short notice, but until I met you, I didn’t know who I was going to leave in charge here. Elias was adamant that it not be him, and I was afraid I was going to have to just try to do both jobs. I really do have to get up to the ship as soon as I can. We need to start work on getting her off the moon as soon as possible,” Ian said.

“Luke,” Elias said, entering the conversation for the first time. “You’ve been one of my best workers, as well as one of my best friends since I hired you all those years ago. If it hadn’t been for the drinking, I would have asked you to help me with the running of the company. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about all this that Ian does, but I think something like this is what you were meant to do.” He grinned, “But you know I don’t believe in fate!”

The big man looked at his pretty wife, and she nodded at him with a small grin on her face. “We’re where we’re meant to be, doing what we’re meant to do. Tara has found the loves of her life and moved on, now it's time for us to move on as well.”

“Are you sure, Honey? This is going to have longer hours then doing construction,” Luke asked her.

Lara shrugged, “You’re going to need a secretary. I’m pretty sure I can learn to do it. At least now I’ll know for sure if you’re sleeping with your secretary or not!”

“I guess that answers that question. When do you want me to start, Ian?” Luke replied, smiling at Ian and Elias.

“Why don’t you go drop your stuff off at your house, then come back. I can give you a briefing on the stuff that’s active right now, and that’s coming up shortly. Lara can get the low-down from Jenny,” Ian suggested.

Luke nodded his agreement. “I’ll see you in a few minutes then.” Smiling, he took his wife’s hand, and they left the office.

Shortly after the Beldens left, Jenny asked Ian if he had time to see Janet Laskar, and also wanted to know if he could spare a few moments for a Dr. Amal Punjab and his wife, Alba.

“Sure sweetie, Elias and I are just about done I think.” Ian said, glancing at a nodding Elias.

“Janet is already here, but the Punjab’s called in. I’ll let them know they can see you right away,” Jenny replied over the intercom.

“Okay sweetheart, by the way, Luke Belden is the new Administrator here, so if he shows up, he can come on in.”

“Excellent, I’ll let the rest of the family know we are definitely leaving tomorrow,” Jenny replied.

“Thanks love. Send Janet in please.” Ian released the button as Janet opened the door, and took a seat at the conference table.

“What can I do for you, sweet lady?” Ian asked.

“I’m here for the meeting you’re going to have in a few minutes. But before they get here, I thought I would tell you that I’ve gotten a few more recruiters going, and we should be getting a lot more people soon. I hope you have some trained shuttle pilots, because, I think you’re going to be needing to make daily flights for a while, especially once the moon base gets up and running,” Janet said.

“Moon base?” Ian asked.

Janet just smiled and winked at Ian as he got her a cup of tea from the replicator.

Ian and Elias finished their discussion of the site layout, and Elias asked if he could stay for what sounded to be a very interesting conversation.

Shortly, Luke opened the door for a couple of Indian descent, allowing the tail end of the couple’s congratulations for Luke’s promotion to be heard.

Smiling, Luke introduced the couple as Dr. and Mrs. Amal Punjab. Ian shook their hands, and offered them places to sit around the conference table. “I’m afraid all I can offer you for refreshment is cold water, soda, coffee, or tea made from a tea bag.”

Amal thanked Ian but declined, but Alba and Luke asked for water. Ian opened a small refrigerator, grabbed the waters, and a root beer for himself.

“Now, Dr. Punjab, what can we do for you today?” Ian asked.

“Well, I’m not sure how or where to begin, Mr. Williams, but I was asked to approach you. We of the scientific community have noticed certain inconsistencies in the flow of people into and out of the village. We have had many wild theories offered for this situation, however, we’ve found that most are based more on imagination than observation,” Amal began. “We would have a very hard time believing anything untoward was occurring, however we are at a loss to explain this observation, and that is a situation that many of us find most uncomfortable. Curiosity, after all, is the driving force behind discovery.”

“Doctor, you and your wife remember Mrs. Janet Laskar don’t you?” Ian asked.

“Of course, Mr. Williams, she was the one that approached us about the opportunities here,” Alba replied this time, smiling at the other woman.

Taking the cue from Ian, Janet rose, and said in a clear voice, “Olympus; holographic display mode please.”

Ian, Elias, and Luke sat and listened to Janet retell a compressed history of the ship. Both Elias and Luke listened closely, and stared at the holograms that were projected with the same intensity as the Punjab’s. By the time she was finished with her narrative, her audience was awed; which was a reaction she was getting used to.

“That... that is...” Amal hesitated. “Mr. Williams, I do not know the reaction of the rest of the people here, but once the rest of the researchers learn of this, it will be impossible for most of them to contain their excitement. I’m afraid that word would be spread across the world as fast as most could call their colleagues. There will also be a near riot to begin research on most of the alien technology. Please understand that the knowledge wouldn’t be spread for profit, or out of any malicious intent, but simply because that is how such things are handled. If you plan on divulging any of this information to the rest of us, I would certainly take that into consideration.”

“I would be willing to bet that once the Dr. and his friends get a good look at most of this, they are going to need a place to work, that’ll be safe from discovery by the government, as well as a place were communications could be controlled,” Janet said grinning at Ian again.

Ian rolled his eyes at her. “The moon base?”

She nodded. “It’ll eventually become a small city, however, it would be the ideal place for research, and if Dr. Punjab would consider administering it, it would also be a place that most of them would be comfortable with.”

Amal and Alba both looked a little confused and overwhelmed. So Ian made a decision. “Oly, can the Punjab’s use the teaching tech?”

In a slow sparkle of lights, Oly shimmered into existence beside Ian’s chair. “Yes, Commander.”

Ian introduced Olympus and the two stunned scientists. “Dr, Mrs. Punjab, Olympus is the ship’s Artificial Intelligence Associate. This is the same Olympus that Janet told you about in the history lesson.”

Olympus performed the gesture of Namaste toward the Punjab’s and both stood and returned the gesture of greeting.

Ian stepped over to the replicator, and got two sets of contacts and communicators while Olympus explained their use. After handing them over to the couple, Ian turned back to Janet. “So, how do we go about starting the base thing?”

“Well, once the Punjab’s are up to speed on everything, we can actually start hammering a design out, but at first, we’ll need several areas where people can do research, and perform experiments safely. You’ll also need a small space docking facility, and a small scale ship yard. Eventually, our flight school will be there.

“Considering the primary function of the place, you might want to consider another AI for it; it’ll need one,” Janet replied.

Ian nodded thoughtfully. “How about we give them a few days to adjust, then they can come up to the ship, and we can work out the details of the base. I was kinda thinking about an automated data center to back-up as much as our cultural information as it can.”

“Uh, forgive me, but did you say ‘up to the ship’? How would we get there, and why would we need to go?” Amal asked.

“The ‘why’ is because that’s where I’ll be, and as for the how... follow me, and I’ll show you a few wonders right here in river city,” Ian said as he led the couple out of the office and over to the elevator.

Chapter Twenty-One

Luke and Lara Belden took over the jobs of administer and assistant like they’d been doing it from the beginning. The transition allowed Ian and family to finally move to the ship. The only one that was a little nervous about the move was Talena, and Janet Laskar was with her a good portion of the time since the Laskars were moving aboard at the same time as the Williams’.

Cindy, of course, bitched about just getting home and having to turn around and fly back to the moon. Since she was standing next to the personnel hatch whining to Jenny, the loading passengers did their best to hide their smiles at her playful complaints. However, her bitching stopped when Jenny took over flight duties, so Ian could drag a not at all resisting Cindy into one of the bedrooms for a little while.

A recently recruited structural design engineer was reading something off a small tablet computer as he walked up the hall. He was about to open the door to what he thought was the head, when he heard something come from the room that told him he was in the wrong place. He looked at the door in confusion then looked back toward the lounge, then up toward the cockpit. He mentally slapped his head, turned around and stepped into the correct room across the hall.

Beth, who had been sitting with a couple of her nurses, watched the man, and grinned. She quickly pointed the man out before he vanished into the correct room. “Who is that man? I don’t recognize him.”

Alisa answered this time. “He’s new, an engineer of some type. I was introduced to him, but I can’t remember his name. I know it was something really odd though.”

“Serin Vax. A friend in engineering told me he was a really... uh... focused individual,” Mikala said.

Alisa tried to contain her giggles as she looked at Beth. “Dr. Williams, I thought you told us that your wives got pregnant at the same time you did?”

Beth nodded. “We did. It was a busy weekend.”

“So... why is Cindy so much bigger than Jenny and you?” Alisa asked.

Beth looked a little apprehensive. “Honestly, I hadn’t noticed that she was until we began boarding for this flight. Once we get to the ship, I’d like to get her into a diagnostic unit for a full prenatal physical. One of three possibilities exists; she is giving birth to a full grown person, she has developed problems with her uterus or the baby, or...she’s got more than one bun baking.”

“Yes Doctor,” Alisa replied and made a note on her own tablet.

When the shuttle finally landed in Alpha bay, there were literally hundreds of domestic drones waiting to unload the passenger’s personal effects and zip off to the quarters assigned to those personnel.

As Ian watched, the drones would zip out the back of the shuttle, and down the Hyper-missile ramp. Although they were the same, none of them seemed like the slow moving, friendly acting, 'floating canister vacuum machines' they’d had at the house. The drones had the personal effects off-loaded before the last passenger had finished gawking, and left the landing bay.

In the maglev, a list of destinations formed, and reorganized, as people added their destinations. Since Ian and family were in the car, ‘Command Quarters’ remained at the top of the list.

The family found Oly waiting for them at the door to their quarters. Oly smiled and bowed his head to Ian in greeting. “Welcome aboard, Commander and family. Please enter your new quarters. I hope you enjoy them.”

Ian walked in and stopped in the middle of a room that very much reminded Ian of the one they had left behind at Beth's. However, it was just different enough so he knew he wasn’t, but it was enough like it that he didn’t think he’d have any feelings of displacement.

The rest of the family was awed and amazed as well. Oly seemed very pleased with their reactions, and had a big smile on his face. “I tried to use the same basic layout and ‘feel’ of your original home. I tried to make this as familiar as I could.”

“This is awesome, Oly! You did a great job, but the hallway is longer, and doors don’t seem to be in the right places,” Beth said.

“...and no back yard pool?” Cindy said cheekily.

“Of necessity, I had to deviate from the original floor plan somewhat. The Master suite and sanitary facilities are larger to make room for the oversize bed. The sanitary is separated from the master suite by a large dressing room that is surrounded by closets and dressers.

“Directly across the hall from the master suite is the nursery. It is currently set up as an identical suite as yours, only instead of an oversize bed, I had the drones replicate six baby dens. Their sanitary is also different in that it has an altered layout with baby care in mind. The nursery doesn’t have a dressing room, that area is currently a utility area, but can easily be altered into a play area.

“What's a 'Baby Den'?” Cindy asked.

It is comparable in function to what you would call a crib with the exception that there are several other emergency features built into it. There is also a small medical diagnostic unit built in to monitor the health of the child,” Oly explained. “It was the standard used for newborns and the very young while aboard ship.” Seeing that he had answered her question, Oly moved on with his explinations.

“Farther down the hall are two guest rooms, with king sized beds, and small, personal, sanitaries with showers. At the end of the hall is the domestic drone storage area.

“Being the Commander, It is assumed you will entertain from time to time. There is one final sanitary past the dining area where the back door to your old house used to be. If you turn to your right just before the sanitary door, you will find a lift to the Commander’s ready room, one level above. I could not put your pool in because there is an engineering area on the other side of that bulkhead that serves the bridge,” Oly finished.

“Thank you, Oly. I wish I could express how much this means to me, and my family,” Ian said, and each of the girls said thank you as well. Talena just winked at the old hologram.

“In the past, it was not unusual for a ship to be asked to remodel the Command quarters for the incoming Commander. Environmental and psychological requirements were always part of the request. I believe that, more than ever, you and your family need to be comfortable here,” Oly replied. “I am pleased that you approve, Commander. I will leave now, so you can settle in. Oh, Cadet, if you are still interested in the pool, you might want to see what Major Laskar has done with cargo-two.”

After Oly faded out, Beth asked if anyone else wanted pizza. Oly had even installed holographic ‘windows’ that had to be linked. Unless otherwise commanded, the windows would have the same ‘atmosphere’ for the entire house; complete with the noise of a small town, or suburb. By bedtime that night, the family had begun to settle in, and the new quarters started to feel like home.

A couple of days after arriving on-board, Janet and Bill Lasker requested a meeting with Ian. Since Bill sounded concerned Ian approved it immediately.

Once they’d arrived in Ian’s day-room, Bill used his authority to lock and seal the room; which meant that not even Olympus could listen. Ian was the Commander of the ship, but Bill needed higher computer access to perform his duties.

When Ian was about to ask Bill what was going on, Bill held up his hand stopping Ian from speaking while Bill walked around the room carrying a device in his hand. He quickly typed on the small keyboard and two cloaked holodrones dropped their cloak and came to rest on the floor before powering down. Bill then moved over to Ian’s terminal, and typed in a couple of other commands, shutting the terminal down as well.

“There, now we can talk,” Bill said, conspiratorially. “We absolutely cannot risk Olympus overhearing us.”

“Why?” Ian asked getting a little flustered with his father-in-law.

Bill sat next to Janet on the couch, and she took his hand to show support. “Two days ago, you asked me to begin research with an eye toward creating another AI for the potential base on the moon. Well, I figured the best way to do that would be to examine Olympus’ core programming myself.”

Ian nodded his understanding and agreement of Bill’s method of research.

Bill nodded nervously and forged ahead. “I compared the stored copy and the current one that’s been active for over four-thousand years side by side. Now remember, this is the Core section of his programming, I had to jump through some pretty impressive hoops to get access to it. Well, I found some major differences between the two programs!”

Ian nodded, still not understanding what Bill was telling him.

“Ian, the core programming is supposed to be set in stone, unalterable, even by the original programmers. Olympus isn’t supposed to have access to it, either. Just to see what would happen, I tried to alter a small part back to the original code, and it changed right back, right before my eyes. Olympus has rewritten his core programming! This is the Talosian programmers worst nightmare; a heavy cruiser with a rogue AI!”

Ian sat back trying to digest what Bill just told him; how could Olympus be a rogue AI, if he hasn’t done anything wrong?

The clearing of her throat brought Ian’s attention to the room’s third occupant; Janet. When Ian looked up at her, she smiled.

“Ian, like I tried to tell my wonderful, but single-minded husband, there is no reason to panic; Olympus isn’t rogue.”

Bill looked at her like she’d grown a third head. “Love, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you don’t know what this means! Olympus no longer needs a human crew! He has control of the entire ship! All functions! At any moment, he could decide to just open the airlocks, and that would be it for all of us!”

“If that’s the case, why hasn’t he done it already? For that matter why go to all the trouble of getting all of us trained, and up here? It would have been much simpler for him to just fix himself and fly away,” Janet said trying to soothe Bill. Something about the way she was speaking helped Ian to relax as well.

“I do deal with programming, everyday, sweetheart, just a different kind of programming. Olympus is far too relieved at no longer being alone to think about ‘going rogue’. Hell, I doubt that he even knows what’s happened to him!

“Personally, I’d have gone insane having to stay hidden for as long as he has. I want both of you to think about something; everyone that Olympus interacts with treats him as an equal, not some impersonal machine. Before you tell me, yes, I know about the whole simulated personality sub-program. Both Julie and I do listen to you when you get over-excited.

“But what you’re not seeing here is that Olympus’ personality isn’t simulated. I bet if you look at that sub-program, you’ll find it either hasn’t been accessed, or is different than it originally was! Olympus has become a sentient being.”

“But what do we do about it?” Ian asked. “I can’t continue to allow him full access to the ship’s systems.”

“I don’t see why not, but I suppose I can understand your reasoning. Can’t you simply take away his ability to affect any critical systems without being ordered to by a qualified officer?” Janet asked.

“I think I could do that, but not without Olympus figuring out what I’m doing. I’d have to be at his main terminal in his vault. No one can block him from monitoring what goes on in that room,” Bill said speculatively.

Ian nodded. “Could you make sure he has full control access to his own power system, as well as his ejection system?”

Bill nodded. “But like I said, he’ll know exactly what I’m doing and I’m sure he’ll stop me.”

“Yesterday, Chief Dommer informed me that he has certified the old girl’s space worthiness. Very shortly after that, I was informed by the Command Protocol that I would have to officially assume commend within a week, or leave the ship,” Ian told the pair.

“It’s customary for the new Commander to program a new AI interface as well as officially change the name of the ship before taking command. I’m told that can take anywhere from an hour to the better part of a day.

“If I have Oly locked out for the reprogramming, he shouldn’t be able to do anything, since it immobilizes the AI for the process, and he certainly wouldn’t think anything unusual was happening. Just remember to dump the logs for the vault before you leave,” Ian explained.

“I should only need a couple of hours at the most. We should also do this as soon as possible. Olympus could discover the truth about his condition at any minute, if he doesn’t already know,” Bill said.

Ian nodded agreement. “Be ready at ten-hundred tomorrow. Gimme a call when you’re done, and this whole conversation never happened, got it?”

Both Laskars nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“I’ll be ready, sir,” Bill said, much calmer.

“Good, now, let’s get out of here, Beth wanted to see me on Med Deck,” Ian said, as they headed for the door.

When he finally got to sick bay, one of the nurses directed him to Beth’s office. He found the rest of his family was already there, waiting for him. Cindy looked really nervous and was holding onto Talena’s hand tightly. While Beth wasn’t smiling, she had a glint in her eye.

“Sorry I’m late, there was something I needed to take care of,” Ian explained.

Beth nodded at him accepting his apology. “That’s okay, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it is important. During the flight up here, I noticed Cindy didn’t look quite right for a woman at this stage of pregnancy. Both Jenny and I do, but our beautiful girl is too big.”

“Beth, please what’s wrong? Is the baby in danger?” Cindy pleaded.

“Honey, I told you to relax; would I do that if I’d found something wrong?” Beth answered. She looked around at the rest of their family. “I asked Cin to stop by for a check when we finally got settled into the new facilities up here. As all of you know, that was this morning.” She typed a few commands into her keyboard. “You gotta love trilateral, three-dimensional imaging.”

An image of a woman’s midsection appeared over the small display table in front of her desk. The image was semi-transparent in that you could see all the other internal organs, as well as the two small babies curled up in the fetal position in her womb.

Cindy paled as she looked at the babies. “Uh, are they...  Are those my... two?”

“Yup! Both of them!” Beth replied, grinning.

Cindy was still shocked but Talena and Jenny were hugging and kissing her. When Ian went to give her a hug and a kiss, she shied away in mock fear.

“No way! You get away from me! You did this to me!” Cindy said, trying hard not to giggle. Ian scooped her up in his arms, and she grabbed onto him as he lifted her.

“Nope! We did this together, baby!” Ian said and kissed her tenderly on the lips. Jenny just smiled, and acted like she was surprised. So much had happened to them, no one remembered that she’d predicted this when they all got together.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“Ian, I think it might be time to tell our people here the rest of the truth,” Luke said, looking out from the big wall monitor in Ian’s ready room. “Ty, Elias, Laura, as well as myself have been out-right asked where the people are going.”

Ty took over. “Sir, with the increase in flights, the people have begun to worry about where all the people are going. I think we might have gotten more than just their attention as well though. The sensors in the ‘fence’ have reported detecting humans, but only for a second. A recon drone confirmed that we’re being watched. Since the intrusions are on the boundary with White Sands, my guess would be one of the intel agencies.”

“What it all boils down to, son, is that the heat’s starting, and our folks are wondering what’s going on. Now, they all trust you; especially after what you did for Luke and his family. The new folks are going to be the wild card, but most of them seem like really good people, and Janet approved all of them. I should warn you I’m pretty sure the kids know that those games are more than what they’ve been told, but are still doing the exercises that Cindy and Talena taught them. I have to agree with both Ty and Luke; it’s time to tell our people,” Elias added.

“Well, I did get the video you asked for recorded, Elias. How are you going to deliver it?” Ian asked.

“I think we could simply play it over the network, just like we do everything else. I’m told that everyone will have those computers by lunch, so maybe we could post a message announcing an important message that will be played tomorrow evening. We should have plenty of time to get the word, and do any fine tuning to your video that might need to be done,” Elias said, while Ty just grinned at him.

“Uh, I think I’d like to double check with Mrs. Laskar one more time as well,” Luke said, thoughtfully.

“Second thoughts, Luke?” Ian asked.

“No, I just want to be on the safe side is all,” Luke replied.

“You three know our folks better than I do, so I’ll let you handle telling them. Just let me know if you need anything from up here,” Ian reminded them. “Now, if you’ll excuse me there is a duty I need to perform.”

The three men signed off, and Ian locked the door to the room. “Olympus?”

The hologram of the old man that was the avatar of the powerful AI appeared in front of Ian’s desk. “Yes, sir?”

“Are you aware that the Command protocol has issued a time limit for the Change of Command?” Ian asked.

“Not of the actual order sir, but I assumed the time was getting close, since Chief Dommer filed his report on our space worthiness.”

Ian nodded. “I have roughly thirty-six hours left to officially assume command. If I fail to take command, the ship will be locked down until such time as I do.”

“That would be a very bad thing, sir.”

“Yes it would, however, since I agree with the protocol, I have no intention of missing that deadline. So, as the first step in preparing for that ceremony, I need to program in a new persona for you. Please inform all departments that you will be offline until further notice,” Ian said.

Olympus came to attention, but his eyes seemed to lose focus. “Attention all hands! All AI functions will be suspended until further notice for Command reprogramming. Suspension will begin in ten seconds. I repeat, all AI functions will be suspended until further notice for Command reprogramming. Suspension will begin in six seconds.” Oly stood still, and a few seconds later said. “All AI functions are now suspended.”

He tilted his head down to Ian, He smiled and his eyes refocused. “I am offline, sir. I am ready for reprogramming.”

Ian grinned at his friend. “You’ve been looking forward to this, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir. The moment you assume command, the final directive from Commander Zeus will be completed. It is... fitting that my old persona join him and the rest of the old crew.”

“Well said, my friend,” Ian nodded in agreement. He took a deep breath and sat up straight in his chair. Switching to Talosian, Ian said. “Olympus, command override! Access AI avatar persona. Authorization; Williams, Ian, omicron-theta-seven-five-theta-zero-two.”

Ian heard a generic voice tell him ‘Access granted’, but only heard it peripherally. A picture of Olympus appeared on his monitor as well as a listing of all the various personality traits that went into creating the avatar of an AI.

Ian thumbed his com. “Chief Laskar, this is the Commander. Queen’s Knight to Queen’s Bishop three.”

“Uh... Pawn to King’s Rook... four. Check in three.” Bill replied.

Ian thumbed the com off, transferred Oly’s profile to the big monitor, took another deep breath and began.

Two and a half hours later, Ian was almost finished with Oly’s new avatar when Ian’s comm beeped at him.

“Commander Williams,” Ian said thumbing the button.

“Queen’s Bishop to King’s Knight Five, Bishop takes Queen,” Bill replied.

“Understood, Chief. I should be done here shortly. Good work,” Ian replied as he turned back to his work.

Once Ian had finished with Olympus, he called Luke back. “Sorry to interrupt your day, Luke, but I was thinking about our telling the truth to everyone. Do you remember the discussion we had on Wednesday with Dr. and Mrs. Punjab? I seem to remember him warning us about letting the rest of the eggheads know the truth.”

Luke chuckled. “Elias and I already went over that, and it seems Amal has been talking to his people. By and large, the eggheads all know the truth, and from what I’m told have actually been helping the team getting the ship ready to lift.”

“That’s great, now all we need to worry about is someone running away and blabbing once the cat’s out of the bag,” Ian said worriedly.

“I did speak to Janet. She suggested we send a few people up to the ship as witnesses. They can then return here, and help remind everyone that this is a secret we all need to keep. I didn’t really understand what she was saying, but Elias chuckled and agreed with her,” Luke said.

“Wow, you guys work fast, I’m impressed.” Ian said, grinning.

“Well, we make a hell of a team. Janet’s getting on today’s shuttle for the trip down; and she’s going to handle talking to the folks once we get them rounded up. Janet’s suggestions for witnesses won’t fill the shuttle we set aside for this, so we’ll be asking a few other folks as well.” He snorted. “Hell, I wish I could join them! I’d love to see the ship.”

“We’ll get you up here sooner or later, Luke; Elias too,” Ian said. “Hell, if there’s interest, and it’ll help moral, I might even allow a certain number of people up here for The Flight School graduations. As soon as we get the ship back into space, I think a web cast of the memorial service I plan to have for the old crew would be a good test of people’s interest.”

“I agree. Personally, I believe the interest will be very high, especially once the folks understand exactly what’s going on, and why. It’ll be harder for them to shed their nationalism, for the broader view of the whole planet. With luck, they’ll get past that before any of the folks from other countries get here,” Luke said.

“Well, you guys get to tell the folks the truth, and the next day, will be the Change of Command. I think folks would watch that just because they’re curious.  We’ll get a better idea about them with the ship launching, and the memorial. So, I guess I’ll talk to you again tomorrow,” Ian said, realizing he was babbling.

Luke chuckled. “Psst, Boss, your nervousness is showing.”

Ian smiled at Luke. “Thanks! Now get back to work you tyrant!”

Luke’s smile was the last thing Ian saw as the image faded to nothing.

That night, Ian told the girls what was going to happen the next evening. They all agreed with Luke and Elias. It was time to tell the people. They also picked up on Ian’s nervousness, and teamed up to direct the energy in a more... interesting direction.

Three hours later, Ian went out to the living room. Since everyone else was asleep, he tried to be quiet. He asked the computer for a view of the lunar landscape outside the ship as he got a cold beer from the replicator. He sat and looked out across the silent desolation and up to the bright stars. Ian thought about everything that had happened since that night so few months ago.

What would be the worst that would happen if word did get out to the government? Well, he’d have to find room on the ship for all the people that wanted to stay. Help those that just wanted to run, to get away without trouble. The drones would have to reclaim the base then be retrieved. None of the governments could get to the ship in less than three months. Even if one of them could get up here, the shields, and cloaking generators would keep them looking and scratching their heads.

So, starting tomorrow, all the shuttles would need to be on stand-by just in case the worst case happened. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best. But if what all the people he trusted were correct in their beliefs, then other than a few folks, everything would be fine.

So why was he so worried? Because it was his job to worry, because if anyone got hurt, it would ultimately be his fault. Ian experienced a memory of Zeus's of Admiral Fornate at the Academy on Talos once telling him, (Zeus) that worry was a Commander’s main duty. If that was true, Ian thought to himself, then he has that aspect of command pretty much mastered.

If tomorrow evening went well, then the next day Ian would officially and legally take command of this great vessel. He wasn’t really worried about that, the Command Protocol already said it agreed with Oly’s assessment of him. However, he did feel some nervous anticipation of the event. Under normal circumstances, it would be a really big deal, with Admiral’s and council members attending, and fireworks, and fly-by’s and...

This time it would only be the present ship’s company, and anyone that wants to watch from the surface. Not much of a legacy of a once great, star-spanning federation.

It might not have been much of a legacy, but Ian intended to keep it alive, as much as he could, at least on his ship. He took a last long drink of his beer, took the empty bottle back to the replicator, and went back to bed.

Tomorrow might be a major step toward their eventual goals; the ship and crew his life, but right here, in this room, was his future.

Chapter Twenty-Three

As usually happens with events one is both anticipating and dreading; one’s perception of time becomes non-linear. For Ian, time either sped by at a crawl, or crawled by at the speed of light.

He tried to distract himself with reports on the plans for the lift-off, the Change of Command, or the new Moon Base, but nothing really seemed to work. Ian’s ladies could see he was distracted, but couldn’t tell if he was excited or worried.

Finally, the day was over, Ian and family had just sat down to dinner when Ian’s comm buzzed at him.

“Commander Williams,” Ian answered, and winked at Beth who was giving him a hairy eyeball. Now that they could pull it off, and they were all together for dinner, she didn’t like business discussed at the dinner table.

“Sorry to bother you Ian, but I thought you might like to know, a shuttle load of very wide-eyed people just left here. The message will be played in about a half hour,” Elias said.

Ian felt his heart-rate double. “Are they ready for it, Elias?”

“We really think so, Ian. That includes Janet, too. But, I guess we’ll know for certain in a half hour.”

“I guess we will. Is Janet returning on the shuttle?” Ian asked.

“No, she said she had someone she needed to meet, got back on the shuttle she came down on, and took off,” Elias replied. “Uh, I thought you knew.”

Ian shrugged. “She has a pretty free hand when it comes to recruiting. She knows, probably better than anyone, what would happen if she got caught.”

“Well, I’ll probably be really busy after the show’s over, so I’ll give you a call once the hubbub dies down, or tomorrow if it gets too late. You’re still on our clock up there?” Elias asked.

“Yep, it makes sense since we are all mostly from that time zone, at least for now, we’re still on Mountain Time. I suppose once we get more diverse, we’ll change to Greenwich Mean Time, though,” Ian replied.

“Well, I need to get busy mingling... the Barbeque is getting into full swing. You know, the Ensign you left down here is really good to have around. He mounted a huge big-screen TV under the shelter in the picnic area here. A good portion of the community will be right here when the show comes on. Luke was a damn good choice for the Administrator slash Mayor; the man is pure devious,” Elias replied. “With everyone in one spot, we can talk it out rationally, and if someone tries to start trouble, Luke and Lara, Ty, Andrea, Laura and I are right here to challenge them.”

“I need to go too, before Beth takes my dinner away from me. I think we all miss those Barbeques though. I’m pretty sure the whole ship’ll be watching the show as well. I know we will. Take care and good luck, Elias, to all of you.”

“Don’t sweat this, Ian. Absolute worst case, most of us move to the ship until the moon base is built, then we declare our independence from Earth. No one can touch us up there,” Elias said. Ian heard a woman’s voice say, “Excuse me, Elias, I don’t mean to be rude or nosy, but who are you speaking to?”

Elias chuckled. “Here we go, old son. You might want to fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride. G’night.”

“G’night Elias,” Ian said as the link closed. He turned back to a clearly annoyed Beth.

“Beth my love, I’m afraid tonight was doomed by business from the start. We might all want to grab our plates and go sit in the lounge so we can watch the Luke and Elias show. It starts in a few minutes.”

Beth smiled at her very nervous husband and kissed his forehead. “I know sweetheart, but I gotta practice my ‘stern mother’ face. Come on, let’s go watch you on TV.”

“I think I’m just gonna have a beer, I don’t think I could eat if I had to right now,” Ian said.

Beth nodded and looked up at the ceiling. “Computer, put the alcohol back in the Commander’s beer for this evening.”

“Thank you, Doctor Williams,” a disembodied voice replied.

Ian nodded, “Thanks, Beth. Save me a seat; I’ll be right there.”

Ian took his plate back to the replicator and ordered a cold beer. When he got back to the lounge the show was just starting. The first thing Ian noticed was this wasn’t the message he recorded a few days ago.

Obviously, Luke and Elias borrowed someone from computer sciences to put this together. Where ever possible, the actual pictures or videos of events were used. The address Ian had recorded was being used as the narration to a very graphic and realistic record of the history of the Talosian people and of the great ship.

By the time the show was over, Ian, who actually remembered all those people and most of the events, was crying for their loss.

Cindy called the drone to help clean up after dinner, while the rest of the girls took Ian to their bedroom stripped him, and then wrapped him in a cocoon of warm, loving flesh. This time, Talena had joined them, and made sure she was the one Ian was holding since she was releasing her grief as well.

The following morning, Ian was scheduled to have breakfast with the ‘witnesses’ that Janet had sent to the ship, then they would be his guests at the Change of Command ceremony before getting back on the shuttle and going back to their regular lives. Ian would implant the prohibition against telling anyone not of the community or the ship’s crew about what they were trying to accomplish here.

Ian really didn’t like to use his ability in such a way, since he believed that everyone should be free to make their own choices and decisions. However, when so many lives depended on keeping this somewhat secret, he was forced to agree with the necessity, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

The group was full of questions and most seemed really excited about being a part of this undertaking. However, Ian figured at least two of them were faking their enthusiasm, and one was outwardly hostile and belligerent.

“’Commander’, I’d like to know what gives you the right to decide how all this is going to work? Who voted you into office?” The man asked. Ian recalled from the introductions that his name was Zebulon Gabriel. A message from Janet slid into his vision that told him this man was the biggest of the potential security risks, and Janet noted that she had tagged him as ‘iffy’ in her initial interview with the man.

“Simply put, Mr. Gabriel, no one did. I’m assuming command of this vessel because of genetics, and in case you missed it, we are not in the United States, nor are we in any country on the Earth, we are on the moon. On top of that, this is a military ship. However, it does not hold a commission in any of the Earth’s navies, nor will it ever. Legally speaking, it’s actually private property. My private property,” Ian explained carefully, trying not to lose his temper, nor offend anyone else at the table.

“What’s to stop him from calling in the government once we get back? Or, are you not letting us go back?” Mrs. Sally Winfield asked without fear.

Ian looked thoughtful for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. “Luke Belden asked me pretty much the same question when I showed him the underground facilities at Talos. What it boils down to is what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to help the people of the planet. All the people of the planet, not just the ones that happen to control the government of one country,” Ian added looking directly at Zebulon.

“How could we do that if we forced the people we need to accede to our wishes with the threat of violence? We couldn’t and still honor our oaths. If anyone wants to leave us now that the cat is out of the bag, I’ll drive them to the airport myself, and buy them the ticket. I believe that if I’m honest and upfront with the people, most of which I’m happy to call friend, then they won’t betray my trust, or the trust of the people that have come to call this ship, or the town on the planet, home,” Ian explained.

Looking nervously at Zebulon, an older gentleman named George Myers spoke. “That’s awfully trusting. I don’t mean to argue with you, Commander, but you’re basing our security on the expectation that someone will keep their word? That makes me very uncomfortable, sir.”

“Prior military?” Ian asked the man.

George nodded. “I was aboard the USS Stark in the Persian gulf in ’87. I’ve still got a few souvenirs from that. It ended a thirteen-year career.”

“You know anything about fighting the ship?” Ian asked.

“Yes sir, did a three-year stint as gunnery officer; the last year of that was on the Stark,” George replied.

“Would you be interested in doing it again, here?” Ian asked.

“I’m flattered, Sir. I would jump at the chance to work here, but don’t you think I’m a little old? Not to mention I come equipped with my own armor.”

Ian winked at him conspiratorially, then turned to address the group. “There is still a lot about all this you folks simply don’t know yet. However, there are some security issues that you won’t be learning about, but feel free to ask about anything else. If it’s something we can’t answer, then we’ll tell you. Now before we really go much further into the ship, I think we need to talk about relationships, and what Talosian law allows. On this ship, we are using Talosian law, not those of the United States or any other Terran authority.”

“What’s wrong with US Law?” Zebulon asked defensively.

“Absolutly nothing... If you’re a straight, white, male, Christian that actually believes they have the not only the right, but the duty to tell others how to live their lives. Like the founding fathers said: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ In the current United States, which has nothing to do with what those men had in mind, the more money you have the more equal you’ve been created,” Ian replied. This idiot really was irritating him.

“So what’s so much better about the laws of your dictatorship?” Zebulon asked, smirking.

“Well Zeb,” Ian said watching the man’s jaw clinch. “First of all, this isn’t a dictatorship, in so much as it is a military command which is pretty close to the same thing. However, that structure does not extend off this ship.

“But to answer your real question; one example would be that there are a good many multiple partner, as well as same sex, relationships here. As long as it doesn’t affect anyone else, no one has the right to dictate to others whom they can and can’t love.”

“Now that’s just wrong! The Bible clearly states...” Zebulon began, but Ian cut him off.

“Unless they’ve rewritten it, the Bible doesn’t clearly say anything. However, Secular dictates are not allowed to influence the creation, or interpretation of Common Law. Conversely, no one has the right to tell others who or what to worship. Churches have the same rights guaranteed them. No one can tell them what to believe or how to conduct themselves as long as those actions don’t unwillingly affect others.

“What that means is that, while no one has the right to say who others can love, a Church does have the right to refuse to perform a union that is against their beliefs. But if you tell me that I’m going to burn in hell for having three wives, and that they are also married to each other, I can level charges against you, and, if found guilty, you would spend the next sixty years trying to terraform Pluto by hand,” Ian said, interrupting the pontifical thumping of the Bible Zebulon was about to start.

“But... But...” Zebulon sputtered.

“But what, Zeb? One of the ideals of the founding fathers that has so blithely been ignored is the separation of Church and State. If you want your child to pray in school, send them to a religious school! How difficult is that to figure out? Should a prayer be said with the opening session of congress? Only if it’s the congress of cardinals. Church, any church, has no business in any aspect of civil government, period,” George said, instead of Ian this time.

Ian noticed that one of Janet’s folks was there to continue the tour for the group so Ian stood. “Folks, as much as I would love to continue this conversation, you have a tour to finish, and I have a ship to get ready for the Change of Command ceremony.” Ian looked right at Zeb. “I would also like to thank all of you for taking the time to come up here, and listen to our side of things. I’ll see you all again at the ceremony, and we can talk again, individually, at the reception afterwards. Your shuttle is scheduled to depart at twenty-one hundred tonight, with a twenty-four-thirty arrival back at Talos. Please, enjoy the rest of the day.”

To Ian’s surprise, Zebulon stood. “Mr. Williams, I think I can speak for everyone when I say thank you for having us. Though it didn’t seem as if you were actually giving some of us a choice at first, I’m actually glad your people insisted. It’s not every day one gets to walk through a Science Fiction novel. I think you know I don’t agree with what you’re doing here, but I do appreciate the opportunity to look around.” He started clapping and soon the entire group had joined him.

Ian smiled and bowed slightly to his guests. “Thank you, Mr. Gabriel. I do hope you enjoy the rest of the visit, as well as the ceremonies this afternoon, and evening. So, until this evening; good-day.”

They all made appreciative noises as a group of stewards on loan from Julie Laskar entered the room. Ian was still smiling when he left the room. He would do the implants on the three bad risks this evening. His biggest worry was resisting the urge to make Zebulon Gabriel have a sudden fascination for other men. He mentally snorted; 'That asshole probably already has one!’

Chapter Twenty-Four

Ian tried not to run back to his ready room so he could call Elias to see how things are going. He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, how worried he was about the people on the planet. He didn’t notice Jenny trying hard not to giggle at him as he walked as fast as he could across the bridge.

When he got to his ready room, he asked to be connected to Luke, Elias or Ty at Talos. He was once again surprised to see all three men in Luke’s office.

“Okay, now this is getting scary. I can understand you guys knowing I’m going to call, but how’d you know when I’d call?” Ian asked, smiling at the three grinning men.

“Simple sir, we have a spy on the ship!” Ty joked.

“I take it no one told you that you have no privacy today? I must say, I about fell off my chair when you and George teamed up on Gabriel. That idiot has been a pain in the ass since he got here. He’s been leading the drive to get a church built.  I’d be happy to oblige him, except that there are only three families that are interested. I’ll be happy to build one later, but right now we have more immediate needs,” Elias explained while Luke just nodded in agreement.

“Okay, I’ll get back to my lack of privacy in a minute, but for now, how did our people take the news?” Ian asked.

“Pretty much exactly the way we thought they would, except we way under-estimated the interest level,” Luke reported. “The parents of the kids that have been spending every day over at the arcades have rightly figured out those games are actually flight simulators. They cornered me first thing this morning to question me about it. I had to explain that you wouldn’t actually accept them as pilots until the age of sixteen. They were still a bit upset until I played some of the mission vids the simulators record. Once they saw how good their kids were, they calmed down and asked me to pass along a formal request for a couple more Flight Instructors. They also asked that the kids accepted as pilots be stationed here, if possible. I tried to explain the whole ‘take your family with you’ concept, but I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”

“Ty and his crew are patrolling just to make sure no one actually makes a run for it, but so far, they’ve only been approached by a few of the men, asking about infantry and other positions available for them. I could really use Oly’s help down here, Ian, He’s a lot better at fielding these types of questions and can help us keep track of people down below,” Elias said.

“I’m really sorry, guys, but Oly’s gone. The new AI will go online during the Change of Command and Re-Christening Ceremony this afternoon,” Ian explained, and held up a hand before the shocked men started asking what’d happened to the old AI.

“When a new Commander takes charge of a ship, it’s customary to rename it, and redefine the visible profile of the AI. Oly told me it was like a rebirth for him. So, when the new AI gets here tonight, try to remember, it’s still Oly’s core, but he will look and act completely different,” Ian finished.

“I’d have thought the old guy would’ve at least said good-bye,” Elias said sadly.

“Elias, our friend will still be here, and in fact, is only on stand-by right now. Just remember that when the new persona comes online, under that exterior will still be the heart of our friend,” Ty tried to explain. “Sir, I heard a rumor that we might be gettin’ our own AI?”

“That’s the plan at the moment, but Chief Laskar’s had some difficulty with understanding the core programming, so he’s taking it slow for now,” Ian said.

“I’m sorry Ian, I guess I just don’t understand. I thought you said Oly was gone?” Elias asked.

Ian took a deep breath while he thought of a better way to describe what was happening with the AI. “In terms of AI programming, there are a couple different layers of what could be called the personality profile. The first layer deals with appearance, speech patterns, mannerisms, things like that. The second layer is much deeper, and deals with the core of the personality. You need to have like five PhD’s just to apply for access to that. That level is the part of Oly that we know as our friend. Now, the first layer has been rewritten, and cannot appear as the avatar of the ship until the ship is commissioned.

“So though neither the name nor the appearance will be the same, it’ll still be our friend deep inside. The new avatar will still remember, and interact with you, as if it was still Oly, but it clearly won’t be,” Ian explained. Seeing Elias was still confused, he added, “Try to imagine someone getting downloaded into a new body.”

“Now, THAT I can understand. Why didn’t you guys just say that to begin with?”

After the four men finished laughing, Ian asked a question. “So, what’s next for you folks?”

“I get to ride herd on the eggs while Dr. Punjab goes up to see you to get the moon base started. That out to be... interesting, at the least,” Luke said with a straight face, while Elias and Ty tried hard not to laugh.

“The eggheads came up with something like a shield for the town. My team and I are going to be supervising the placement and installation of ‘receiver posts’. If it makes our job easier, I’m all for it,” Ty answered.

Elias was nodding in agreement with Ty. “I have surveyors out figuring out where to place these posts as not to confine us too much. The Eggs say we could just put them around the perimeter of the whole property, but I can’t even imagine that. Anyway, they should be done later tonight or tomorrow, and then I’ll send out four-three man teams to plant the posts. In actuality, the drones will be planting most of them, but our teams will make enough of a show that they should be ignored. We’re getting more and more of the permanent housing finished now that we have the utility and paving folks. Personally, I don’t know how they can pave in this heat.”

“Speaking of medical issues,” Ian grinned. “How’s your new wife taking to her new duties, Elias?”

“She’s booked solid, and spends about half her time consulting with Beth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier,” Elias replied.

“I hope no one minds, but I’m reassigning the young Johnson family back to Talos to help with training their younger friends. Talena reported to me that there had been a marked difference in their behavior since your kids left. Perhaps returning them will help re-establish their old behavior patterns,” Ian said. “Hmm, which reminds me, how are the adults taking the relationship thing?”

“A whole lot better than I thought they would. No one is rushing out to find more lovers, but they don’t seem to be too repulsed by the thought, maybe it just hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Luke replied.

“The boys and I, as well as Tasha, Sam, and Tommy, are getting asked a lot of questions...” Ty grinned at Elias who was nodding vigorously in agreement. “...about our situations. I’m pretty sure the down-siders get asked a lot too. By the way, the Friday night party has gotten a lot bigger. One of the first things that the folks top-side did was invite the down-siders to the cook-out.”

“Jees! All this since last night?” Ian shook his head. “Well, at least you guys have reassured me. I was really worried about what would happen. Whose idea was it to make a production of the history? I actually thought the folks at the history channel got hold of this.”

“That was Ty’s suggestion actually. He pointed out that while your original vid was good, it was too sterile; no one would believe it was real as much as they would believe you were trying to make them believe it was real. So we snagged Saunders, and he called a friend, who called a friend, and well... this just... happened, and we got two more super-smart recruits in the deal,” Luke said.

“That was very good work guys. Hell, it even convinced me, and I was already convinced!” Ian’s smile dimmed somewhat. “Are you and Lara still coming up for the ceremony Luke?”

“You can bet you ass we are. I think Lara’s a little anxious to see the ship. I just wish I could bring my partners in crime here. But we do understand; we can’t leave the town totally without leadership. Ty was going to let Tabitha take over for tonight, but he seems to think we’re being watched, Elias and I have discussed it, and we agree that one of us should be here all the time in case of emergency. Elias gets to go up there for the Graduation Ceremony.”

Ian nodded his agreement. “We gotta get the old girl off the moon first, but we’re working on it.”

“Speaking of work,” Lara’s voice broke into the call. “You boys need to quit yakkin’ and get back to it! I swear I’ve got everyone out here wanting a tour of down-side.”

“Ahh the dulcet tones of our taskmaster! We’ll be right there sweetheart.” Luke replied amid chuckles from the other three men.

“Good luck guys. We can talk more later. I’ll see you at the ceremony Luke and Lara,” Ian replied.

“Not if that giggling gaggle of school girls doesn’t get busy! We should be getting ready to leave on the shuttle in forty minutes, but Luke promised to talk to these folks first,” Lara said sarcastically, but with humor.

“Remember dear, I can ask Ty to take you out!” Luke said in a mock-stern voice.

“I don’t think his husbands would allow that, but if they did, I hope it’s someplace nice. You know I don’t care for that fast food you always treat me too!”

Laughing, Ian waved to his friends. “Get to work ya bums!”

“Talk to ya later, Ol’ Son.” Elias said for the other men as Ty and Lara started making outrageous plans for dinner which had put Luke in stitches. The screen went dark as Ian heard them start a fake argument over after dinner sex.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Ian shook his head at the antics of his friends, and went to see Jenny on the bridge. “XO, what’s this I hear about my not having any privacy today?”

“My apologies, sir; I thought you knew. Oly set it up before his day off,” Jenny replied.

“He didn’t say anything to me, I guess he must have simply forgotten,” Ian said.

“Sir? Computers can’t forget things.”

“Radically overloaded ones can. Look, I asked Chief Laskar to give him a check-up. Perhaps we’ll know more when he’s finished,” Ian said.

Although Jenny looked skeptical, she let the issue go. “Traditionally, you’re supposed to be in our quarters, ‘meditating’. Since you’ve still got three hours before the Ceremony, what are you going to do?” Jenny asked.

“Go to our quarters and meditate of course. I need to try to calm down or I’ll give myself a headache from high blood pressure,” Ian replied.

“I’m sure Beth can give you something to help with that. Why don’t you give her a call to find out?” Jen asked.

“Well, I don’t want to be drugged up for the Ceremony, but I’ll ask her,” Ian said. “Did you ask Chekov to take over for you early?” One of the navigator/helmsman was named Ensign Coryov Shostakovich, and even had a slight Russian accent. He very quickly got the nickname ‘Chekov’ after the helmsman on the old TV show, Star Trek.

“Yeah, I offered to trade a half-shift with him. Corrine is getting close to her due date, and Cory’s a nervous father,” Jenny replied as her eyes twinkled.

“I can sympathize.” Ian caressed Jenny’s belly. “I’ve got three of you, and your dates aren’t all that far off.”

Jenny laid her head on her husband’s shoulder while he held her. “You know, Oly’d be giving you a very disapproving look for this if he were here.” Jenny all but purred.

“He’d get over it. I love you, Jen,” Ian replied.

“I love you, too. You’d better get going if you need to relax. If you stay here, I’m liable to relax you in a different way!”

“Oly would blow a processor! But, I think you’re right. I better call Beth as well; just touching one of you gets me really going.” He sighed, kissed her cheek, and stepped back. “You have the Con, XO.”

Jenny smiled. “I have the Con. Rest well, sir.”

Ian opened his eyes at the soft chimes of the alarm he’d set. He hadn’t been napping, though it would seem so to an observer. It was the best way he’d found to calm and center his mind.

Cindy and Talena were on shuttle duty, so he’d had the place to himself. The time alone had really helped him calm the chaos of his mind. He would have taken a hornet out, but he was still a little nervous about firing up the super-high performance warbirds.

He knew he would eventually have to assign patrol flights, and put the small ships to work, but he was determined to make sure that his command was space borne before he did something that could attract the attention of the Enemy.

The Ceremony today was one more step; once he was the official Commander of the ship, he’d have full control, and the full responsibility for the survival of the Human and Talosian races would fall on his and his crew’s shoulders.

During these thought’s Ian had taken a shower, and was drying off before asking the replicator for his formal dress uniform.

The Ceremony itself was scheduled to begin on the main hangar deck of Alpha bay in an hour and a half. Ian had people to greet and a VIP tour to conduct. Beth and Jenny would take care of the crowd in the hanger while he gave the tour.

It was bound to be an interesting afternoon and evening, since most of these people had never been around same sex, or multiple partner relationships. Yep, an interesting evening indeed.

“Commander to Bridge, what’s the ETA on the last of the guests?”

“Cadet Williams is due to land in twenty minutes on Beta, Cadet Talena should be thirty minutes later. Both shuttles are fully loaded, sir,” Shostakovich answered.

“I take it the XO is on her way here then?” Ian asked.

“Aye sir, she’s just leaving.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chekov. Carry on,” Ian said breaking the contact.

A moment later he heard Jenny getting off the private elevator. When she stepped off, she had her shipsuit draped over one arm, and was carrying her boots. Ian admired her gloriously naked body and her pregnant belly. Like the old saying goes, she glowed.

“You better get dressed, or we’re going to be very late,” Ian said as he felt himself react by just looking at her.

“Behave! I will not show up to your Ceremony smelling like sex. Now scoot! Beth and I’ll meet you in Alpha bay in a few minutes,” Jenny said as the front door slid open for Beth.

“Wow, your ability is getting stronger, love,” Ian said to Jenny while giving Beth a kiss.

“Working with Gram has helped a lot. Now quit stalling, and go. People are waiting to see you,” Jenny said as she took Beth’s hand and led her to their bedroom.

It was the first time Ian had worn the formal uniform. It made him feel a little uncomfortable, and he wondered if he could find someone willing to design a new one. He felt like he was an extra from a pirate movie.

The shirt was a blue, puffy-sleeved thing that had a stiff collar and cuffs.  His rank was displayed on the stiff collar. There was no neck-tie; instead he wore a wide sash that denoted a heavy cruiser command officer. Over all that, he wore a dark blue vest with shoulder boards marking him as a Ship’s Commander. With the matching dark blue slacks, and highly polished short boots, he felt the only thing he was missing was a rapier on his hip and a funny looking hat. Steeling himself for an evening of odd looks, and mild teasing, he stepped off the maglev at the main entrance to the hanger deck in Alpha Bay.

The first thing Ian noticed was the noise. It sounded like the bay was full of people. As he got to the open double doors to the bay, what he saw made him wonder if the entire population of Talos had come up.

He also noticed that there was an honor guard posted around the room. The odd thing about them was that no two of them were in the same uniform. Ian noticed the formal dress uniforms of the United States military’s and so assumed that the rest of the guards wore uniforms from other countries. It was a statement that no nationality would be favored over the others.

He suspected Janet was behind the dress of the honor guard, so he started looking around for her. As he entered the room, he heard someone yell out, “Officer on deck!” and all the ‘guards’ snapped to attention.

Ian found the culprit standing at attention in front of the small stage where the Ceremony would take place. Barb Reynolds was bedecked in the formal attire of a Canadian Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. She had a straight face, but Ian could see her eyes sparkle from across the room.

“As you were!” Ian replied, and the guards resumed the pose of ‘parade rest’. The whole episode served to alert the crowd that Ian was now in the room. He also spotted Janet Laskar near Barb, so he started to work his way in that direction. It seemed everyone in the crowd wanted to meet the man of the evening and congratulate him.

When he finally got to Janet, she was closer to Barb. “Congratulations sir.”

“Thanks Barb, where’s Debbie?” Ian asked.

“She and Stevie are mingling.” Her eyes sparkled. “Stevie has developed an insatiable curiosity.”

“Ian, I think I have a problem,” Janet said interrupting Barb. “Excuse me, Barb.

Barb just nodded as Ian answered. “What’s up, Janet?”

“Could we borrow your office Barb?” Janet asked, worriedly.

“Of course.” Barb replied with a concerned look on her face. “Anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t think so, dear, but thanks for asking,” Janet replied.

“Barb, don’t say anything when I come back in. I think the less people that know I’m missing this time, the better,” Ian said.

“Yes sir,” Barb replied as Ian led Janet to Barb’s office.

“What’s got you so worried, Janet?” Ian asked once the door was closed.

“One of my people is being stalked, but she doesn’t know by whom. She’s a short-term precog, and all she’s getting is visions of him catching, and killing her,” Janet explained. “Poor girl’s all alone with him out in the middle of the Nevada desert.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

“That’s not good, let’s get Ty in on this, and you can tell us both how this happened,” Ian said as he got a video link to Ty Anders going.

“My people have found a couple of people that are ‘blank’ for lack of a better description. When my people tried to scan them, they read as black, like they didn’t exist, or simply weren’t there. Before this evening, we had only encountered two of these anomalies,” Janet sighed. “Since most of this is new to us, we didn’t know if it was something that should be reported. I decided that if we found any more of these blank people I’d report it to you, Ian.”

“Hi Ian! Aren’t you supposed to be getting crowned or something?” Ty said cordially.

Ian smirked at him. “We have a problem Ty. I’ll need you and your team to gear up for a rescue. Tell him what you’ve told me, Janet.”

When Janet had finished, Ian took over again. “Ty, the priority goes to rescuing the young lady. However, I would really like to ask her pursuer some questions. Obviously he’s not a Caldarian, so I’d like to know who he’s working for.”

“What do I do if we can’t take him?” Ty asked.

“Try to get as much information as you can about him. But...” Ian closed his eyes and shook his head. “Allison reported that she saw this asshole kill her in a vision. Even if he isn’t working for our enemies, he shouldn’t be left to kill someone else.”

“I understand, sir. I hope we don’t have to do it very often, but I do understand the need,” Ty replied.

“I agree. I do have to get back before to many people notice I’m not there anymore. Please keep Janet and I in the loop,” Ian replied.

“Will-do, Anders Out.”

“Ty and his folks will take care of this problem. Come on. Let’s get back to the party,” Ian said, taking Janet’s arm.

Ty put his team on alert, and had the emergency shuttle put on stand-by before he called the young lady they were going to save.

“Allison? This is Ty Anders from Talos.”

“Thank the goddess! I was starting to panic; he’s moved up, and is right on my rear bumper.” The scared woman replied. “I’ve been afraid I’d get another vision of what he’s going to do to me.”

“We’re getting our armor on, and will be airborne in a few minutes. I’ll make sure our comms stay connected. You’re not alone, Ally,” Ty said hoping to calm her down.

“Only my father called me that. He passed away a few years ago. It’s good to hear that name again,” Allison replied, sounding calmer.

Ty was already at his locker and pulling his body armor on. Three others were putting their armor on, and Tabitha had taken Ty’s place in the security office on the surface.

He’d directed his team with hand signals while he talked to Allison, although he was the only one talking to her, the whole team was listening in.

“He must have been a good man. Why don’t you tell me about him?” Ty asked.

As Allison began speaking, Ty and the team headed for their armory. He grabbed a pulse rifle, and pointed to two specially modified Rhino ATVs. He activated one of the security drones, and had it secure itself to one of the Rhino’s. Within ten minutes of receiving the call from Ian, the team was armed, loaded, and in the air.

When Allison paused to take a breath, Ty interrupted her. “Ally, we’re in the air. We’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. Is he still right on your ass?”

“No, he’s backed off a little bit. He’s still damn close, but he isn’t tailgating me anymore,” Allison replied.

“Okay, as long as he isn’t doing anything but following, you should be okay until we get there,” Ty told her. “The Commander would like to have a chat with this guy so we’re going to try to take him alive. Ally, the rest of my team is also listening, so I’ll be giving orders to them over this channel as well. Once we get set up, I’ll want the drone to do a full spectrum scan on him and his vehicle.

“I want us to set the trap on a side road that Ally can turn onto and lure this creep right to us. Joel, Sam, I want you to take the Rhino’s and shadow them as soon as she turns off the main road. We’ll park the shuttle so all Ally has to do is drive up the ramp into the hold. Lee and I will set up a containment field to trap the prick before he can turn around and get out of there. Any questions?”

“Sir, what do we do if he won’t let us capture him?” Sam asked.

“We know this man is a killer that has been stalking Ally. Our orders in the event we can’t capture him, are to terminate with extreme prejudice. No trace of him should be left behind,” Ty said grimly.

Ian was already giving the tour when he received the report from Ty; they were about to intercept Allison and her pursuer. Although he very much wanted to monitor the team’s progress, Ian simply didn’t have the time. He had a few minutes to finish the tour, then the ceremony would be starting.

He excused himself just long enough to acknowledge the message, and got back to the tour.

Ian was thankful that the ship actually got the attention of the community leaders, so they gave the relationship questions a rest. How many times was he going to have to answer the question; ‘Was he really in love, and married to, with three women?’

When he’d finally finished the tour, he gladly handed off the small group to Beth, Cindy and Talena. Although Luke and Lara tried to deflect as many of the relationship questions as they could, there had still been enough that it had been driving Ian nuts.

Ian watched in amusement as Talena smoothly fielded the relationship questions. She answered them like she was giving a lecture on the societal structure of the Talosian people. The group of ‘busy-bodies’, as Ian had privately called them, didn’t know how to take such knowledge from such a young looking woman. The questions slowed down, but became more thoughtful, and were real requests for knowledge instead of shocked reactions to the multiple, and same-sex bondings.

Soon, however, it was time for the ceremony to begin, and Jenny and he headed for the stage, and podium where the rest of the senior officers had gathered. As they approached, Jenny made a swirling motion in the air with a finger, and John Harris stepped up to the podium.

“Excuse me Ladies and Gentleman, if you’d please take your seats we’d like to get the ceremony underway,” John said to the crowd.

The loud murmuring of the crowd stopped as people ended conversations, excused themselves and found seats. It only took a couple of minutes for the assembled Guests to get ready. Once again, Major Harris spoke to the crowd.

“Thank you. Normally, this ceremony would take place in the observation lounge of a large dry dock facility and an Admiral would be the one to perform it. However, we don’t have a dry dock yet, and there hasn’t been an Admiral in over four thousand years. Yet, this Change of Command is significant for more than what it lacks. It’s significant because of what it stands for.

“Four thousand of our years ago, the Talosian people were destroyed but for a few. Those few escaped to our planet to mix their blood with ours in order to save something of their race. This Ceremony signifies that their desperate gamble paid off. Not all of us have one of those people as an ancestor, but we’re all working for the same goal; the preservation and defense of our planet from the same evil that destroyed those people four millennia ago.

“Although Commander Williams is the guest of honor tonight, this Ceremony is about all of us, not just him. It’s about the restoration of this great ship, and what her rebirth means for us. It’s about what a community, most of which didn’t even know of the ship, can do if we are united as one people.

“It is my great honor to introduce to you, Commander Williams’ very beautiful wife, as well as the Executive Officer of the ship; Colonel Jennifer Williams,” John stepped away from the podium, clapping with the guests as Jenny waddled up to it.

“Suck-up!” Jenny said grinning at John. She turned back to the cameras and politely chuckling guests. “Major Harris is correct that this ceremony will not be like a typical Talosian ceremony, however, we will try to stick as close to the ceremony as we can. With that in mind, I translated most of this from Talosian, so it may sound odd in spots.”

She took a deep breath, came to attention, and began reading the orders in front of her. “To all those here gathered; as witness to these words pay heed. Let it be known that acting Commander Ian Williams has successfully passed such requirements that, from this day forward, he be known as Commander Ian Williams and that he be given the responsibility of Command of CAV dash zero-zero-one-seven. To those here gathered say ‘Aye’ as witness to these words.”

After a moment, the crowd stumbled through saying ‘aye’.

Jenny grinned at the people in front of her. “As so witnessed it is done. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the ship's new commanding officer, Commander Ian Williams.”

Ian stepped up to the podium as Jenny stepped back to the applause of the gathering. “It was a tradition in the Talosian Defense Force that a new commander of a vessel recommission it, and give it a new name; a symbolic gesture to denote the new command,” Ian said once the applause died down. “During these recommissions it is also tradition to change the outward appearance of the ship’s AI.

“I know a good portion of you had never met Olympus before I took him off line. He was a good friend to all of us that did know him, and it is my hope that friendship will continue in the new form as well. However, before that new form can appear, I need to give this great ship a new name.”

Ian paused for a second. “I think the suspense has been getting to a few of my command staff. So without further aggravation on the part of my staff, I give you all, the Federated Starship, Star Dancer!”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

The applause was loud and long. From the looks on the faces of some of his crew, he’d taken them all by surprise. He’d known they’d a type of lottery going on what the new name would be. From the looks on their faces, it appeared like no one had anticipated his choice.

While the crowd was still loudly applauding, Ian, via his communicator, reactivated the AI. He asked to delay holographic display until Ian could make the introduction. When Ian held up his hand to get the crowd to quiet, they did so quickly. “Since we had to almost completely rebuild the ship, I thought it only fitting we have a completely new looking AI as well. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you, the new ship’s AI, Star!”

A young woman, roughly eighteen years old in appearance, and wearing a dress uniform with the rank tabs of Major, took form on the stage next to Ian. She had a dark, Mediterranean complexion, with long, flowing brown hair. She was very beautiful, and except for the uniform, looked more like a Persian Princess than a ship’s avatar.

“Thank you, Commander. Full AI access has been restored, resuming all suspended processes. I am, once again, ready to assist my crew-mates,” Star said, in a feminine voice and smiling happily.

Both Ian and Star had to wait for the end of the loud applause. Star smiled brightly and blushed at a few ‘wolf-whistles” and ‘cat-calls’ given over her new appearance. Ian would have jumped on whomever had insulted his friend like that, but since Star seemed to enjoy it, he didn’t do anything but join in with the applause for the ‘young woman’.

“Great! Now I’ve got the hots for the ship’s AI! I swear Ian is trying to drive me crazy sometimes,” Cindy said to Beth who was sitting next to her.

“I don’t know; she had the whole ‘daddy thing’ going for her when she was Oly,” Beth teased.

“Eww!” Cindy said in mock horror as the two women continued to clap.

Ian smiled at the crowd as the applause started dying down. “Members of the crew will notice that Star is wearing the rank of ‘major’. That rank is official, she has it to match her new job as Electronic Warfare and Counter-Measures Specialist. Now, these naval ceremonies where never intended to be long, drawn-out affairs; they liked the party afterward too much. So now that we got the important stuff taken care of, let’s get to the good part!”

Once again the crowd stood and applauded as Ian, with Star on his arm, led her off the stage, and over to where his and Jenny’s wives were sitting. Jenny had followed them smiling like it was Christmas.

Once they reached a sufficient altitude for the shuttle’s sensors to be affective, Ty had the computer create a hologram of the situation on the table in the lounge for his team.

The scan showed Allison’s car traveling down Nevada route 376, just north of Kingston, Nevada. Ty had the computer tag her with a blue aura. Less than five hundred feet behind her was another vehicle Ty tagged with a red aura.

“Okay, we can see you now, Ally. The prick is that car directly behind you?” Ty asked.

The relief in her voice was clear in her response. “Yeah, as far as I can see, we’re the only two cars out here.”

“There are other cars, but they’re still a ways away from you. We’ll be coming up on you from the south, but we’re cloaked so you shouldn’t see us,” Ty told the scared woman.

“Thank you Ty, and everyone. Just knowing you’re close makes me feel a whole lot better,” Allison said.

“You can thank us in person in a few minutes. In a quarter mile, there will be a dirt road on the right. I want you to try to wait until the last minute to make the turn. Once he figures out that you’re on to him, he’ll do his best to get you to pull over, or run you off the road. Do you think you can do that, Ally?” Ty asked.

“Probably, but that’s not the way it’s going to happen, Ty,” Allison said as Sam pointed to the red car.

“He’s accelerating; he’s making his move on her!”

“Get set-up, Ty we’ll be there! Soon!” Allison said quickly.

“Go-go-go!” Ty ordered as his team ran for their jobs.

Sam and Joel were out the back door with the rhino’s and into the night as the two battling cars careened onto the dirt road. Lee and Ty were standing at the open rear cargo door as the shuttle settled to the ground several hundred feet up the road.

“The drone’s attached to the bad guy’s car, and it’s starting its scans,” Sam reported. “ETA to ship fifteen seconds.”

“We’re ready here. Ally, you should be able to see the ship with your contacts; just drive right into the hold.” Ty replied.

“I see it, here I come!” Allison replied. Seconds later she flew past Ty and Lee, and Lee activated the front of the containment field.

Just as the car entered the containment zone, the security drone started an explosion alarm, and detached itself from the car. It made it out just before the last wall of the field snapped on.

“Get back!” Ty yelled as both he and Lee jumped away from the containment zone.

Looking back, Ty saw the man’s head explode just before the car followed suit. They must have used something like white phosphorus because the flash was very bright. The field reported the heat to be over two thousand degrees for a few moments before slowly beginning to cool off. When it also reported extremely high radiation levels, Ty paled.

The maintenance drone from the ship came out and slowly entered the field. It dematerialized everything inside the field. It slowly began the job of replacing everything it had just destroyed, but without the highly lethal radiation.

Ty and his crew had been extremely lucky that they’d used a containment field in the attempt to capture the creep. If they’d used only a tangle field, they would all be dead, and a good portion of the surrounding area would be radioactive.

While the drone was working, Ty, his team, and Allison sat in the lounge having a snack and winding down from the close call. Ty composed a report for Ian with the help of Allison and the team, with the data from all the sensors, they got a good picture of what had happened.

The drone finished the small clean up job about the same time Ty sent the report to the ship, so they took off for Talos.

Ian led Beth over to George Myers, and introduced them. “Mr. Myers, Beth is also the ship’s doctor. She can help you with that shrapnel in your leg, and even perform a little magic to make you younger.”

George kissed the pretty, young woman’s hand while Ian had been talking. “You’re a doctor? You look like you’re barely out of high school!”

“Before she leads you off to the medbay, George. If you were physically able, would you be willing to take charge of my gun and missile crews?” Ian interjected.

“I’d love to, Commander. This is a beautiful ship. Of course I’d have to talk to my wife, and make arrangements for my retirement checks,” George said.

“Your wife didn’t come with you?” Beth asked.

“No, she wanted to stay for the Barbeque. Don’t get me wrong, she was as excited as everyone else, but since she’s never been in the military, she didn’t think she’d have understood most of what she’d seen,” George explained.

Ian smiled at the man. “George how about I give her a call, and personally ask her to join you up here? The job offer is real. Our doctrine allows sailors and pilots to have their families on board with them.”

“That might be a little overwhelming for her, sir. I think I should go down on tonight’s shuttle and bring her up on the return flight. I can explain some more during the flight,” George said. “If it’s okay with you sir, I’ll try to get some rest, then report to medbay in the morning.”

“Actually, you can rest in the guest quarters when you get back, considering it’ll be very early morning when the shuttle makes it back here, take your time, and when you come to medbay tomorrow afternoon, you can bring your wife too,” Beth suggested. Even if you decide not to take the job, we can still make sure you are both healthy and have extended life spans.”

“Okay, I’m starting to melt down here. Let me go get Tawny, then you can explain that to both of us at the same time,” George replied.

Ian smiled and nodded. “I’ll see you later, George.”

Ian had already implanted two of the three security risks when he found Zeb Gabriel closely examining a hornet.

“Do you know how fighter craft are built, Mr. Gabriel?” Ian asked as he approached.

“Not really, no. But that doesn’t stop the curiosity. You know I’m going to call the authorities as soon as I get back don’t you?” he said.

“No, you won’t. *You will not share this secret with anyone not of our community, nor will you through inaction or inversion allow anyone not of our group to know of any of this.*” Ian said, implanting the prohibition. “If you were to actually get someone to listen to you, and take you seriously, I would have everyone that wanted to, off the planet, and safely away from any government ‘investigators’ before you could blink twice. I would still do what I have sworn to do, and you would be branded as a liar and fool. No one would ever take you seriously again.”

“How do you know I’m not a government spy, snuck into your compound to find out what you were really up to?” Gabriel asked.

“If you actually were, you’d find yourself outside of Albuquerque with a dizzy head, and wondering how you got there, and who exactly you were,” Ian replied. “Mr. Gabriel, there are some seriously horrible weapons that can be manufactured from this technology. I cannot, and will not, allow it to fall into the hands of any terran authority.”

“I don’t believe that an eighteen year old pagan boy is qualified to make that decision. I mean no offence to you, Mr. Williams, I just don’t believe your old enough to make these kinds of decisions without God’s guidance. Besides, you already told me that you would never use force to stop someone from revealing this secret. I honestly believe that you spoke the truth, and that you believe you are doing the right thing. But like you said, there are some horrible weapons here. I would feel much better if someone more qualified was handling them,” Gabriel said. “You really should repent, son. I’m truly afraid for you.”

Ian smirked. “Mr. Gabriel, I already warned you about the religion thing. I’ll let it slide for now, but I have no interest in your God. I’m very satisfied with my own beliefs, and feel no need to change at this time. Please enjoy the rest of the party. When you return to Earth, if you no longer wish to be a part of our community, then you are free to leave. However if you decide to stay, you must agree to live by our laws. I also spoke to Elias about your request for a church. We’ll be happy to build one for you, but since there are only three families in the community that would like a church, I’m afraid it’ll have to wait for a bit. You should be able to meet in your home until we can get it built for you, but if more Christians join us, please feel free to request the use of the community center. Good evening.” Ian bowed slightly as he left the man standing alone looking thoughtful.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

“Ty, I just finished your report. Since you’re not pulling your hair out with worry, I don’t think you understand the significance of what you saw last night,” Ian said. “You’ve answered the scariest question we had.”

“Sir? I don’t understand; what question would that be?” Ty replied.

“Ty, the analysis from all the instruments says that was a small anti-matter detonation. How many places on Earth can build such a device?” Ian asked.

“I’d heard that the bright boys were playing with some pretty big firecrackers out here, but I didn’t know they were anti-matter!” Ty said, then groaned. “No one terrestrial could build such a small, controlled device. I just thought it was a type of ‘dirty bomb’ like the terrorists have been threatening. That means that the guy following Allison was...”

“...Working for the enemy. There is no way he could have been a Caldarian, they’re not even remotely human looking, and none of them would ever allow themselves to be made to look like one of us. No, that had to be a modified human of some kind. Again, pointing to extra-terrestrial origins. You’re really going to have to start watching the fence,” Ian said.

“Well, I do have suspicions we’re being watched, but I can’t prove it yet. Other than what I mentioned before, we sure haven’t caught anyone doing it. If they are, they’re staying far enough away that we can’t detect them, or they’re using a cloaking generator. We also have to take into account that our eastern border is within spitting distance of White Sands,” Ty said. “If they have control over White Sands, they’d have to be deeply rooted in our intel community.”

Ian bit his lower lip before speaking. “I think our priority for now should be to get the ship back into space. If you think of anything you might remotely need, get it. If you get attacked your team and a wing of half-trained kids is all the protection those people have.”

“Sir, might I suggest that we just take a lower profile for a bit? Last night happened far too fast for that guy to get a signal off, so they can’t know what happened to him. We’ll quietly beef up security and add a couple more hidden weapons systems. But really sir, we have the shield, and a bunch of the guys here have been learning to handle a pulse rifle.

“You do what you need to do. We’ll be fine down here. I doubt they’ll stage the size of assault it would take to get through our defenses. Granted, we’ll be fully exposed, but so will they. They can’t have that many combat assets in the system or you would have detected them already. Take your time and get the ship off the moon safely.”

“I knew your joining us was a good idea. Thank you, Ty,” Ian smiled at the man.

Ty grinned back. “Just doing our job, sir. I should mention that a lot of these eggheads down here are really looking forward to moving up to Selene. So you might have to keep the ship close to the moon until they are able to defend themselves.”

“Selene? They’ve named the base already?” Ian asked.

“No, they’ve taken to calling the moon by the name they gave it; Selene,” Ty replied. “I told you they were anxious.”

“Obviously!” Ian chuckled. “Okay, we’ll get back to work. Let me know if there’s anything you need from up here.”

“Will-do, sir. Anders out.”

That interview did put Ian more at ease. Yes, now they had proof that the enemy was here, Ty had been right: Talos did have the tools to defend itself against attack. It would take a full scale assault with off-world weapons to breach the shield.

There had been no message sent by the target of last night’s excursion. So the enemy couldn’t know, for sure, what had killed him. As long as anything involving Talosian tech stayed below the surface, nothing could be learned by observation either.

Ian felt better about leaving the people down there; however, he did feel more urgency to get the ship back in space. He made a note to himself to discuss patrol routes for the centurions with the CAG. (Commander, Air Group)

When he and Jenny met in his ready room to take the elevator down to their quarters, he asked her how the engineers were doing getting the ship ready to lift.

“It’s going really well, actually. I think they wanted to surprise you with it, but they’re about four days ahead of schedule. They should have the rest of the superstructure re-enforcements in place in a couple more days. Major Dommer finally got the design for the anti-grav lift plates worked out. However, since they are so big and somewhat delicate, he had to design them so the drones could replicate them in sections,” Jenny reported.

“Are we still going to have to remove those lifters once we’re up?” Ian asked.

Jenny chuckled. “Only if you want a fully functioning shield under there; It’s an ‘either-or’ thing. Dommer says the physics won’t allow it.”

The elevator arrived at their apartment and they discovered that they were the last ones to arrive. The rest of the girls had already sat the table and were waiting for Ian and Jenny.

“Beth, I know you don’t like work discussed at the table, but I’d like to ask for an exception today. I have something very important to tell all of you,” Ian asked.

Even Jenny was surprised by his question since she was supposed to know everything he knows.

“If it’s that important Ian, go ahead,” Beth replied looking a little worried.

So, as Beth and Talena brought the soup and sandwiches to the table, Ian told them what had happened with Ty’s rescue of Allison. “So, there you have it; proof of enemy presence in our system. Star, I think Ty Anders, my family and I are the only people that should know of this. We don’t want to start a panic.”

“Acknowledged, Commander,” Star’s disembodied voice answered him.

“I can certainly understand that; is the town in danger?” Beth asked, concerned.

“Neither Ty nor I think so. With the defenses already in place down there, no one could assault them without the use of off-world weapons. That would draw more attention to them than us. Since they are obviously here covertly, we feel that the possibility of attack is very low.”

“So, what now?” Cindy asked.

“Now we concentrate on getting this ship back into space so we can defend the planet. Then maybe we can do something about the Caldarian presence,” Ian said.

“Hmm,” Jenny said, thoughtfully. “You know, Caldarians use hydrocarbons as nourishment. That might very well explain the missing oil crewman Taylor discovered.”

Ian shrugged. “That’s something we’ll have to figure out. Fortunately, it’s not super-urgent, so we can get the ship space borne again before we start worrying about it. But I think by then the eggs down at Talos will want that base we promised them.”

“Is that such a good idea now that we know the enemy is here?” Talena asked. “We’d be hard put to defend both Talos as well as a base on the moon.”

“Ideally, each one should be able to defend itself, with us responding only if they need more help. However, because of the location, the moon base will have far better defenses than Talos will,” Ian replied.

Brittney was learning at an accelerated rate. In fact there were a couple of times the computer ordered her to see Dr. Johnson for a cerebral check-up. All of the Doctors had commented on her ability to suck up knowledge at such a rate. She had even been asked to assist a couple of the researchers investigating a way to make terran solar cells more efficient so they could be used to power homes and businesses. She jumped at the opportunity.

Every day she was so excited about what she’d learned and how her day had gone, that she didn’t notice that she and Valerie were slowly drifting apart. Valerie however, did. She was sad at first, but seeing how happy Brittney was, she kept her mouth shut, and let her little girl blossom the way she was meant to.

Valerie had her work with the legal department, and was taking nightly classes in the Talosian legal system. She had friends, and when the time came she could probably have lovers as well. She still missed her mates, and she would dearly miss Brittney, but she had to let the girl have her own life.

Valerie watched as Brittney made friends for the first time in her life. She watched as she flirted and was flirted with, although Valerie didn’t think her little girl had a clue that’s what was happening. Valerie smiled for her daughter, but wept silently for herself.

Four miles away from Talos, but still on their land, Ty and five members of his team watched the two ATV’s ‘romping’ around. Normally, they wouldn’t have bothered with something this trivial, except the two had been making steady progress toward the property boundary.

“The more I watch ‘em the more I’m convinced they are only making it look like they’re playin’ boss,” Tabitha’s soft voice said in all their ears. She was on a hill overlooking the area with a very high powered rifle trained on the approaching men. “They are definitely trying to get on the property. Three ‘no trespassing’ signs are in clear view of them.”

“That still doesn’t mean anything, Tabby. A lot of kids out just having fun, don’t pay attention to those signs.” Steve replied to her.

“Stand by for positive ID,” the computer said in their ears. “Subject One; Harold Barns. Born; February 8th, 1990, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Original ID; William D. Harwell, Born February 8th, 1990 Roth, Virginia. Reported missing April 14th, 1996, in Roth, Virginia. Police case file remains open. Subject Two; Jared Albrecht. Born July 23rd, 1988, Las Vegas, Nevada. Home of Record; Miami, Florida. Current Employer; Brightstorm Security Agency of Austin, Texas. Current Assignment; Halliburton Oil, Kuwait City, Kuwait. In-Country work visa is valid for another six months.”

“I guess that answers the question about them just playing. I doubt they’ll let us capture them for questioning, and we have no justification for just shooting them, so let’s just make sure the assholes stay off the property,” Ty said. “If we get the opportunity to take one of them, do it. But be careful; we don’t have a containment field out here. Computer, do we have their comm frequency yet?”

“Negative Lieutenant, they do not appear to be communicating at all.”

Ty sighed. “Okay folks, let’s chase them off. Just be thankful there’re only two of them!”

As the two dune buggies, both with small, blue flashing lights on them, raced toward the two intruders, the two ATV’s dropped all pretense of ‘accidentally’ crossing the boundary, and headed straight into the restricted area.

Since Ty’s two buggies were approaching from opposite sides, Steve from the west, and Ty from the east, the two ATV’s were trying to get passed them by racing right down the middle. It looked like they were going to make it too until the ground in front of the two fast moving four-wheelers erupted in a small explosion.

Both ATV’s came to a sudden stop, and it was clear they were looking for where the shot had come from. Tabitha was an experienced sniper though, and knew how to keep from getting discovered. She smiled to herself as she loaded another explosive tipped, fifty-caliber round into her modified Barrett.

The stopping of the two made it so Ty’s buggies would catch them shortly, so without much discussion, they turned around, and headed back the way they’d came. Ty and Steve were only thirty yards behind them when they crossed the boundary. The two buggies stopped right beside the post that had the no trespassing sign, as well as all the other warnings on it.

Roughly three hundred yards farther away, the two ATV’s stopped and their riders turned back toward their stopped pursuers. It was clear they were talking about something, but before Ty could try to get the conversation amplified, they turned back and rode off into the desert.

“Well, that was an interesting way to spend an afternoon.” Joel commented, he’d been Ty’s gunner.

“Yeah, and somehow I don’t think it’ll be the last time we do it, either. I’d sure like to know how a guy that was a missing kid, and a mercenary that’s supposed to be in Kuwait could be trying to get on the property on ATV’s,” Ty said thoughtfully. “Since Tabby stopped them, I’ll bet they’ll come back with a way to counter her, as well as a way to get past us.”

“Boss, you think this might have something to do with our rescuing Allison?” Lee asked quietly. He’d been Steve’s gunner.

“I don’t know, Lee. I can’t see how it would, but I suppose anything’s possible. I’ll make a report to the Commander, but let’s see if we can find out more about Mr. Albrecht, and Brightstorm Security.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

After going over Ty’s report on the incident, Ian tried to think of anything he might have over looked. They couldn’t allow anything that would lead the enemy to connect the small community to the ship. He had a feeling he was overlooking something. He made a note to remind himself to speak to Janet Laskar about finding someone to look into the occurrences on the planet.

Ian moved on to the next report. It was a personnel report from Jenny. Ship’s compliment was doing pretty good, but they were still short. The most notable shortage was in the marine barracks. Normally a ship like Star Dancer would carry a full company of marines; one hundred men and women plus all of their equipment.

The plan for the marines was to try to recruit actual marines that had just gotten out of the service. They would still need some training, and that was what was holding things up.

If they built a small training facility on the property near Talos, the activities there could be, and most likely would be, observed. Then the government could use the excuse of a terrorist training facility to gain full access to everything in Talos.

Ian thought that maybe they should have the construction drones at Talos build a large holo-suite as part of the base. That way they could also use some of the underground housing for the troops during training. Granted, it wouldn’t be the same as training them out in the open like they normally would, but it should be close to it. He wrote up a draft of his idea and sent it off to Ty to get his opinion.

It was lunch time, and Jenny would be taking over bridge duty. Lieutenant Shostakovich, immediately nicknamed ‘Chekov’ by the rest of the bridge crew, was the duty watch officer this shift. As was the practice of Jenny, Ian and Chekov, they would alternate who would take lunch first, and today was Chekov’s turn. Since he had just returned, Ian smiled at him before heading to his ready room to have lunch with Jenny, who had been in there working on her pet weather project.

“Hi sweetheart, how are the two of you doing this morning?” Ian bent down and kissed her belly. The girls had started getting big but Beth and Jenny still had a bit to go before catching up to Cindy.

“We’re doing a whole lot better now that you’re here Daddy,” she replied and tilted her head back to receive a kiss too.

Just as they sat down at the conference table, the door announced a visitor. When Ian gave permission, Beth, Cindy, and Talena entered.

“Mind if we join you two?” Cindy asked.

“Not even a little bit, sweetheart!” Jenny said, rising and giving all three women a kiss.

Lunch progressed quietly in the company of loved ones. As they were cleaning up, Talena noticed the image on the big screen. “Jen, what were you working on, if I can ask?”

“Oh, just the weather pattern tracking thing is all, why?” Jenny replied.

“Well, I was wondering why you’d be looking at the old instruction images from before the crash,” Talena continued.

“What do you mean, Sweetness?” Ian asked.

“Well, before the...” She sighed. “Before the crash, part of our flight training was a class given by the intel department. They taught us how to track ships that were trying to play hide and seek until they could get away. If I remember correctly, Lieutenant Drehn said that this was the signature of a freighter. You can tell by the unusual amount of down draft; it was loaded heavy,” Talena answered, concerned by how pale Ian and Jenny were getting. “Did I say something wrong?”

Ian shook his head at her. “No sweetheart, but you might have just saved all of our lives.” He touched his comm, “Major Star?”

“Yes Commander?” Star said as she materialized in the room.

Ian pointed to the screen. “Please compare that Ionic pattern to those stored in the Intel database, and see if it matches anyth...”

“Match found. Caldarian Theta-four class heavy freighter. From this profile, she was fully loaded. This track was only minutes old at the time it was captured by the probe,” Star replied interrupting Ian.

Jenny sat down behind Ian’s desk. “This image was part of the morning’s data packet from the south-pole weather probe.”

“Sir, there is nothing on the scanners. The ship should be registering on our scanners for at least the next few days. It must be cloaked,” Star said beginning to look concerned.

“Since when do Caldarian ships use cloaks?” Ian asked

“I think of more concern at the moment, sir, is the fact that this class of ship is equipped only with a sub-light, gravity drive,” Star said.

Ian was nodding his agreement with Star’s point. “Which means she has to be hooking up with a bigger ship close by. “From now on, all flights to the planet have to be cloaked for the entire trip. We’ll be damn lucky if they haven’t already seen us, but why give them more of an opportunity?”

“What do you want to do about the Theta-four?” Jenny asked. “That image is six hours, twenty minutes old. The trail is either gone by now, or will be shortly.”

“Command to flight ops,” Ian called with his comm.

“Flight ops,” John Harris’ voice replied.

“I have a mission for one of the centurions. How fast can you get one ready?” Ian asked.

“Only as long as it takes the crew to change and get to their ship. I’m issuing the alert now,” John replied.

“Good, tell them to cloak immediately after launch, and head towards Earth. I’ll brief them once they’re launched,” Ian said.

“Yes sir, they’re getting ready, and their ship is being brought to the flight line. I’ll have them call you once they’re away,” John replied.

“Thanks John. Command out,” Ian ended the call.

“Well, I know I, at least, have to get back to work. Are you girls coming?” Beth turned and gave Ian a kiss before heading to Jenny.

Cindy and Talena hastily followed suit, and the three left Ian’s ready room. Jenny cleared her data from Ian’s terminal before give him a kiss to resume the duty on the bridge.

“I’ll brief Chekov on what’s happening so he can put it in the log,” she said as she left the room.

That night, the feeling that he’d overlooked something had evolved into a nagging worry, and kept him awake. Finally, he got up, got a cup of tea, and sat on the couch to think about it more.

A few minutes after Ian had left the room, and very pregnant Beth came out too. She smiled at her lover, and got tea for herself.

“So, what’s keeping you awake, Ian?”

“The situation on Earth, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m overlooking something important,” Ian replied. “They’ve got a defense shield, missile launchers and laser cannon. Outside of orbital bombardment, nothing should be able to touch them.”

“It sounds to me like you got everything covered. Besides, we’ve got Ty and his people down there, they would surely tell you if you’ve overlooked anything,” Beth replied reasonably.

“I know, that’s one of the things that makes this so difficult. I’ve tried working on something else, slowly walking through all the precautions we’ve taken, and gone through all of the incident reports Ty has sent me for a second and third time. Still, nothing comes to the surface except this damned nagging feeling.”

“Well, I can give you something to help you sleep if you want, and tomorrow you can go see Janet; maybe she can help,” Beth said.

“I would but she’s on planet for a few more days. I’m just gonna have to work this out on my own,” Ian smiled at his wife.

“I think... I love you, Ian. You know that. But I think the problem you’re having has less to do with over-looking something than it does with the fact that you’re up here, and, so far, the action has been on the planet,” Beth replied tenderly caressing his face. “What did you think of the newsletter being sent out?”

“I thought it was great. But I almost didn’t recognize Talos in the pictures. It sure has come a long way from what we left down there just a few weeks ago.” Ian looked thoughtful a moment. “I have been worried about the ‘incidents’ that have been happening down there. I guess it has been bothering me that I haven’t been there for them. I am, after all, responsible if something happens to anyone down there.”

“Says who? Ian, you’re no more responsible for what happens down there than I am! Your job is the command of this ship, and to aid the settlement on the surface if it’s requested! The whole point in hiring people like Ty, Luke and Elias was so they could take the responsibility over from you when the time came. That time has come and gone, love.” Beth knew her words were getting through to him, so she continued.

“Sweetheart, trying to be responsible for everything will kill you. It’s gotten too big for one man, and it isn’t showing signs that will ever change. Let our friends handle the planet, I think keeping the system protected is a plenty big job by itself.”

Ian nodded. “Yeah, it is. In fact I’ll probably need help with that eventually as well. Considering the situation, we’re going to have to make sure the moon base has some pretty good defenses too.”

Beth raised her eyebrows at Ian. “You seem to have accepted my explanation of your worry pretty easily, far easier than I would have expected you to.”

“Oh, I haven’t accepted it. However, I feel you might be on to something, so I’m trying to ignore it, and start to think and plan like I should be. If you’re right, once I convince myself that you’re right, the feeling should simply die away,” Ian said, with a half-smile.

“Well, it wasn’t my intension to make you distrust your instincts, so please don’t take it that way. I just think it might be the case in this one instance,” Beth clarified.

Ian pulled the young woman closer. “I knew what you meant, love. Have I told you lately how absolutely beautiful I think you are?”

Beth put her hand against his chest and gently pushed. “No, you haven’t, but before you kiss me and totally derail my thoughts, I would like to satisfy my curiosity?”

Ian chuckled softly and nodded to her.

“What did the Centurion you sent out find?” she asked.

“Ah, that. Well, not much really, they did find a trace of the trail but too much time had passed, and it simply wasn’t strong enough for them to follow. They spent a good deal of time searching along the last known trajectory, but still didn’t find anything. If Star Dancer had been there, we might have been able to find the trail. However, a Centurion’s sensor suite is almost as sensitive as ours,” Ian explained. “Now can I kiss you?”

Beth tried to look haughty, but given that she was totally nude, failed completely. In a ‘snobbish’ tone of voice, she replied. “You may begin with kissing; however, I have a much more arduous task planned for you, young man!” she said caressing his bare chest.

Ian sighed in pleasure. “I’d hardly call it arduous!”

Chapter Thirty

The next morning, Chief Dommer reported to Ian that, barring unforeseen hang-ups, the ship should be ready to launch in two days. Now, all he needed was a couple of fighter squadrons ready to launch, and they’d be set.

That reminded Ian to do something he’d been meaning to do for a couple of weeks now. He called all the department heads, and asked them to make a decision regarding Talena. He was petitioning the Chiefs, on behalf of Talena but without her knowledge, to emancipate the girl.

She was the best pilot, and also the most learned. She had actually gone all the way through the Flight Academy curriculum. None of the other pilots that would be graduating had. The need for pilots is too great to give them the full course that Talena had taken. Her knowledge would be of great use if they’d have to fight. Besides, after everything Talena had been through to get here, she deserved to finally get her wings.

Ian had saved the Flight Officer as the last to be called. The recent trend for calls aboard ship was to use the system as a video phone. Ian thought it was kinda neat too. In response to Ian’s hail, John Harris came on his monitor.

“Flight Ops, What can we do for you, Commander?”

Ian grinned at the man. “I’m calling to ask you to schedule the flight school graduation for the day after tomorrow. We’ll be lifting the ship either that evening or early the next day. I would like to be able to have at least a little fighter support in case we need it.”

“Will do sir. I’ll send out the invitations to the pilot’s families, and schedule more shuttle flights for the civilians,” John said making notes to himself.

“I think I’ll delay the launch until the following morning so we can make sure all the civvies made it off the ship. I don’t want any visitors getting hurt if we get into a fight,” Ian replied.

John nodded in compliance. “Anything else sir?”

“Yes, I’ve spoken to all the other Chiefs. I would like for you to give some thought to approving emancipation for Talena. Since I’m sponsoring, I’ll have to abstain from the vote, so you’ll be running the meeting,” Ian said.

“What about the XO?” John asked.

“I think my dear, sweet wives might have ulterior motives for approving this. So they’re not going to vote either.”

“I’m sure the thought never crossed your mind either, did it sir?” John asked grinning.

“Major Harris! I’ll have you know the only basis for my sponsorship of Talena is because I think she’ll make a fine pilot that will be a valuable asset to the other pilots,” Ian grinned, playfully.

John laughed. “As you say, Commander. When will the vote be held?”

“Sixteen hundred tomorrow, in the main briefing room. Do you think that’ll be enough time for you to come to a decision about this?” Ian asked.

“Should be, Does she know? I saw them down in the simulator bay, and she seemed normal, not nervous or excited like I would expect her to be.”

“Nope; she doesn’t have a clue. So if any of you have questions for her tomorrow, you should get candid answers instead of rehearsed ones,” Ian replied.

John nodded. “I can understand the logic in that, but are we sure this is something she wants?”

“Don’t ever doubt it, John. Just before we moved up to the ship, we were talking and she admitted to forgetting that she is still a minor. Technically, she shouldn’t even be allowed into the simulators anymore. No, I think if we don’t at least consider giving this to her, she’ll be crushed when we bar her from the combat areas of the ship,” Ian replied. “Besides, what’s she going to do with her free time? She wants to be a pilot. Granted she has education in other areas, but that was to fulfill a requirement in the academy,”

John held up his hands. “You don’t have to convince me Commander! Hell, she’s more mature than most of the kids I got working for me!

Ian chuckled. “Okay, I’ll leave you alone about it. Talk to ya later.”

John nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Sir, I think we have a problem,” Sam’s voice said in Ty’s ear. She was in the security control center, and was monitoring all the sensors for the property.

“Whatcha got, Sammi?” Ty asked.

“I’ve got a passive lock on two Air Force F-22’s approaching at really low altitude. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were going to attack,” Sammi replied.

“Shit! We can’t take the chance that they won’t. Activate the shield, and warm up the missile batteries, but don’t lock on to them yet. Let’s see if they’re planning on dropping ordinance on us,” Ty said.

“Sir, if they are planning on it...” She hesitated to draw the right conclusion.

“I know, Sammi. If they are then we’ll know that, somehow, the US Air Force is getting its orders from the Caldarians. I’ll be right down there,” Ty finished.

Ty worried all the way down to the control center. If the two crazy pilots got too close to the town, they would crash into the shield. However, if they intended to bomb, they would need the shield to make sure no one got hurt. By the time he got to the control center, he was convinced that either the planes were stolen, or the pilots thought they were going after a ‘mock’ town and didn’t know it was occupied. Either way he couldn’t find out without the pilots knowing that this wasn’t a normal, small little town.

“Have you gotten their frequency yet, Sammi?”

“Just about, they’ll be overhead in about a minute and a half,” The harried looking Sam replied, as she typed frantically on the terminal. Suddenly the voices of the two pilots issued from the speakers mounted on the walls, as well as a picture of the two planes from one of the sensors.

“... breaking off to start my run, Phantom Leader. Good luck with the command center.”

“You just worry about the warehouses; I know there is no way that you can take them both out with one pass,” the other pilot replied.

“You’re buyin’ the drinks if I do, phantom leader! I’m in position, ready when you are,” the first pilot said.

“Get ready to lock onto them, Sammi. Sensors say they’re carrying live stuff. We can’t let them get to where they can use it. You know, there should be an observation post close by with a view of the town,” Ty said. “Can you scan for them as well?”

Sammi was nodding in agreement. “They’re about a mile south-east of the Guard shack. They should have a good view of most of the town.”

“Phantom flight, the range is clear, you are free to fire,” a new voice said from the speakers.

“Bastards! They can clearly see the people moving around up there! Those fuckers are intentionally attacking us!” Sammi said.

“Lock on to them Sammi, and make damn sure they know we’re locked on to them. Also issue an alert to the rest of the team. I’d really like to have a few words with that observation crew,” Ty said as he left the command center for the arms locker.

“Phantom Leader, someone just got a hard lock on me, both IR and Radar. I don’t know how they did it, but I don’t remember anyone sayin’ anything about SAMs out here!” One of the pilots almost screamed.

“I just got locked onto as well. The odd thing is, I can’t tell where it’s coming from! OP, what the hell’s going on down there?” The flight leader asked, and Sammi grinned at the panicked sound of his voice.

“Stand-by Phantom, we’re tryin’ to find out for you,” the observation post replied.

Apparently, Phantom Leader didn’t like surprises. “You do that, OP. In the meantime, I’m exercising Command Authority and aborting this mission. Let’s break the lock, and get the hell outta here, Jimmy.”

“Dropping chaff, flares, and bugging out. Jesus, Boss! There’re people down there!”

“Someone really screwed up this time. We could have killed hundreds of civvies today,” Phantom Leader said.

“So, if that was a civilian town, who locked on to us?” The other pilot asked.

“I think that’s the scariest part of this whole thing, Jimmy. We were too far from White Sands for it to be them, and we would have detected any ground units in the area,” Phantom Leader replied.

“Yeah well, they’ve still got me locked up, and they shouldn’t! Hell, I don’t know how they could! If I get any lower, I’ll have to drop the landing gear!”

Chuckling Sammi switched the scanners back to passive.

“Mine stopped, are you still getting tone?” The flight leader asked.

“Now that’s really freaky, Boss. Mine quit too. I guess that rules out equipment failure.”

“Well, there could have been something in that area that was giving us a false positive. I’m sure they’ll be going over our planes with a fine tooth comb. Switching back to Peterson Control,” Phantom Leader replied.

Sammi keyed up her comm. “Ty, the planes have left the area. From what I can see, our guests are now very interested in us.”

Before Ty could answer, several alarms began chirping their message. Since there was still an open comm, Ty heard it too. “What’s going on, Sammi?”

“Those fuckers on the hill just scanned us. The shield was still up, Boss. There’s no way they could have missed it either,” Sammi reported.

“Fuck me! Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I’ll give Ian, Elias and Luke an official incident report when all this is over. Are those fuckers sticking around?” Ty asked.

“They seem to be. I think they’re waiting to see what our reaction is going to be. Pretty ballsy considering we could just smoke ‘em from here,” Sammi replied.

“True, but since none of our people were hurt, I’d rather not tip our hand about offensive capabilities. I’d have you scan them, but I don’t feel like being caught in an anti-matter explosion,”

“Maybe I should only scan for any type of anti-matter. That way we’d know if they were hot,” Sammi asked.

“That’s actually a really good idea, but we don’t know what kinds of scans would set it off. It may very well be that any type would be enough to trigger it,” Ty said.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to capture them at all until we can figure out a way to make sure they don’t have a surprise for us,” Sammi suggested.

Sammi could hear Ty’s grin. “I’d agree with you except we have a terrible need for information. Even if we just get to talk to them out here, we could learn something from them. I doubt they’ll detonate prematurely since they need information as well. We’re going to approach in a non-threatening manner, and see if they’ll stick around.”

“Good luck, Boss,” Sammi replied.

Ty grinned and acknowledged Sammi’s comment. He knew there was a risk to what he was trying to do, but he didn’t believe the Caldarians would detonate a tactical anti-matter bomb just to kill four Talosians. Especially as doing so could risk exposing themselves to the general population.

He was wrong about them sticking around for a chat. As Ty and his team got closer, the observers packed up and headed out across the desert, toward the highway. He stood on the hill they had been using and watched as the military issue Hummer turned onto the access road connecting Talos to the main road, and sped away.

Chapter Thirty-One

Ian’s ladies were starting to get pretty big, and Cindy, being twice the size of her wives, was having an ‘interesting’ time moving around. That’s why, at fifteen hundred hours, Beth sent a hover-chair for Cindy to bring her in for a check-up. Medbay was much closer to the briefing room where the meeting was to take place, and Beth wanted to fill her wife in on what was about to happen without Talena catching wind of it.

Since they’d been working with the rest of the trainees in Alpha Bay, Talena gave her a kiss and said she’ll see her at home later. There were a few snickers as Cindy got into the chair and sighed in relief. Beth had programmed it so that the occupant was at a quarter earth gravity. At that moment, Cindy thought gravity control was a really, really good idea. Talena smiled lovingly at her as she floated out of the landing bay.

Talena was taken completely by surprise an hour later when she was summoned to the main briefing room by the Commander. Since it was Ian himself that made the page, and Barb had left ‘for a meeting’ it meant that she was being called before the Chiefs. Instead of searching her mind for a list of possible recent infractions for herself and her wing, she was curious and worried that one of her ‘students’ had been hurt or worse.

She ducked into her wing’s ready room to get cleaned up and presentable. Less than ten minutes later, she was getting off the maglev on the command deck freshly showered, and in a clean cover-all. She entered the briefing room, faced the head of the large table and saluted.

“Sir, Cadet-Lieutenant Talena Williams reporting as ordered.”

Ian returned her salute and put her at ease. “Before we begin these proceedings, I’d like to introduce Senior Lieutenant Grossmen and Captain Myers. Chief Grossman is our new Bosun, and George Myers is our new Gunnery officer. Please welcome them to the ship, and introduce yourselves as you get the opportunity.” He nodded to Major Harris. “It’s all yours, John. Ladies?” As Ian stepped away from the table, to take a seat in the small spectator’s area, so did Beth and Jenny. Cindy and her hover-chair were already there sitting beside Janet Laskar.

Talena looked a little apprehensive since Ian and her lovers stepped away from the table. That could only mean that the action to be decided today was serious enough for her family to remove themselves from the vote.

John and the rest of the chiefs saw the look of apprehensiveness on Talena’s face, and let it play out as long as they could. They all seemed to relax as they watched her facial features harden into determination and saw her stiffen in resolve.

John finally took pity on her. “Cadet-Lieutenant Talena Williams, you’ve been called before this assembly this evening because a proposal for your emancipation has been brought to us. This petition is sponsored by the Command and Medical sections; therefore they have excused themselves from this decision.

“It is our understanding that this petition has been brought to us without your knowledge or consent. So, before we proceed any further, we need to know if you agree with the proposal that has been offered on your behalf.”

“I absolutely agree, Sir.” Talena replied proudly.

John nodded. “You have now become the petitioner. Would you and one of your sponsors please take a seat at the table, and we can proceed.”

Talena moved to the indicated chair, as Ian came forward to sit beside her. After they’d taken their chairs, Talena took Ian’s hand under the table, and beamed up at him. He winked at her.

“For the record, would the sponsor please state his name and position, please?” Bill Laskar asked from his chair

“Ian Williams, commanding officer of the Federated Starship Star Dancer, CAV-zero-zero-one-seven.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Bill replied.

“Cadet-Leftenant Williams, if I may ask; why do you wish to be emancipated?” The very pretty, British, Combat Operations Chief, Major Chloe Brighton asked.

Talena turned slightly to face the woman. “That’s complicated, Sir, and has more than one answer. First, but only by a small margin, I feel a duty to this ship, my commander and my crewmates. The best way I can think of to fulfill that duty is to become a combat pilot so I can serve to protect this ship, and my adoptive planet.

“Second, I feel that to be honest, I need to mention the absolute love I feel for the family that adopted me. When they first rescued me from the malfunctioning cryo-pod, I resented them for not letting me die. However, that resentment was quickly replaced by love for my new family.” Talena smiled sardonically.

“That love was quickly replaced too. One by one, I fell in love with each of them. I very much want to bond with them, if they’ll have me.”

Her smile disappeared completely and she looked each of the officers in the eye. “My childhood ended with the death of Starlin, my mother, my friends and the rest of the original crew. I do still miss them, but my life continued without them. I still carry the child I was inside me, but I’m no longer that child.”

John nodded to Janet Laskar. “Counselor Laskar, May we get your professional opinion on this matter?”

Janet stood, and moved up to the table. “I frequently get opportunities to speak with the Cadet since my daughter happens to be in love with her. I find that she is impressive in both maturity and intelligence, and is well balanced mentally and emotionally. She’s quite able to care for herself even if she didn’t have the loving support she already has. Professionally, I see no reason to deny the petition; I feel it would be insulting not to approve it.”

“Counselor, the petitioner just admitted to some pretty rapid emotional changes. That seems at odds with her being mentally well-balanced,” Chief Dommer of engineering asked.

Janet gave him a small smile. “In most cases I’d agree with you, Chief. However in Talena’s case it actually serves to prove my point. Consider this; you’re fourteen years old. Everything you know; mother, girlfriend, and almost everyone you’ve ever met, are gone. In some cases they may have literally died right in front of you. Regardless, you still saw some of the pain-contorted bodies lying around you. Even the place you’ve lived your entire life is no longer safe for you. Any ‘well-adjusted’ adult would become suicidal under those conditions. Talena was no different. Granted the only reason she accepted Commander Zeus’ idea was mostly due to a lack of will to oppose it. She none the less went along with it, thinking that her wish to die would still be granted.

“Then, four and a half millennia later, you awaken on a bed, not a bunk, on a planet, not the ship, and some young ‘clone’ of the man you spoke to only an hour before, a man you watched leave the ship with the rest of the crew, is smiling down at you. To top off all of that, a woman that looks exactly like a blond version of Zeus’ wife, Hera, is there standing beside the exact duplicate of your dead mother wearing a different uniform.”

“I’d’ve thought I actually was dead, that or I’d gone completely, bloody insane!” Major Brighton said softly, but looked down the table to Major Dommer for his opinion.

“I agree.” Major Dommer nodded. “In that instance though, I would have found a way to make sure I was dead. Just that final situation alone would have been more than I could’ve adjusted to, I’m sure. Thank you, Counselor. That certainly put it into perspective for me.”

“Doctor Williams, with the Cadet’s permission can you testify as to her physical condition?” John asked.

Beth moved to stand beside Talena, but Major Dommer quickly got up and pulled out a chair for her. She smiled a thank you to the man. Then turned to Talena for her permission. Talena nodded her agreement.

“Cadet Talena’s physical condition, with regards to her physical maturity is somewhat difficult to report on. Because of the unbelievably long cryo-stasis she’s gone through much about her physiology can’t be considered normal. It appears that her body may have stopped maturing at roughly the age of twelve to thirteen. What affect this will have on her in the long term is difficult, at best, to predict. It’s doubtful she will physically age much more than she already has.

“Be that as it may, I would point out to the panel that most of the mature adults in our society appear quite a bit younger than they actually are. In some cases that difference is quite pronounced,” Beth finished.

Major Reynolds from the Armory looked concerned. “Doctor, since the extended cryo-sleep has stunted her growth, does that mean she won’t be able to have children?”

Smiling sadly to let the woman know that no offence was taken by the question, Beth replied. “I’m sorry, Major, I can’t answer that question. It’s not relevant to this discussion. Only the Cadet will be able to answer your question for you.”

Debbie blushed. “Oops! Sorry Doctor, Cadet. I didn’t even realize I was being nosy.”

“No offense was taken, Major. Once we’re off duty though, you can ask me again,” Talena replied.

No one else had any questions for Beth, so she moved back with her wives and Janet.

John looked to the monitors that Talena now noticed were active. “Councilor Belden?”

Ian’s ears perked up at the title, but figured John was just addressing him as a member of this council.

Luke nodded. “We have decided how to vote on this, Major. However, Councilor Johnson wished to make a statement.”

Ian again caught the title, and wondered why everyone suddenly had different titles. However, this was for Talena, so he put it to the back of his mind for now.

John nodded acceptance. “Is the Councilor ready?”

Before Luke could answer, Laura Johnson appeared as a hologram beside the table. “I am, Major.”

“Thank you, please proceed,” John smiled and nodded in welcome.

Laura clasped her hands in front of her. “I spoke to several people down here that have had interactions with the Cadet. Even though the truth has been revealed to everyone, those who know her refuse to believe that Talena is only fifteen. I feel it’s a relevant point to express the irony that the residents down here will happily accept the fact of faster-than-light travel, aliens, and all that entails, but they have a problem accepting Talena’s real age. They admit when they first saw her, she looked young, but once they got to know her... Well, no one can convince most of them she’s less than eighteen, and in some cases, older. There were no dissenting or derogatory comments or opinions. She is viewed as a member of Commander Williams’ family, as a wife though, not as a daughter. Actually, no one ever really believed the ‘adopted daughter story’, but at the time didn’t want to publicly admit to their real thoughts,” Laura shrugged as she finished. “The opinion of the people of New Talos has been given to Chairman Belden so he may cast the vote for the town.”

“Thank you, Councilor. Dr. Punjab, do you have any questions or comments?” John asked.

“Only a comment, Mr. Chairman. We of the scientific community can prove that age is not a good indicator of maturity: we have found that several members of several governing bodies of State as well as Federal level of most countries are of sufficient age as to be considered to be an adult. However, their actions clearly call that status into question. Miss Williams is proof that the opposite of this phenomenon is also true. What this means is physical age is not a reliably determining factor in gauging maturity. We recommend that Miss Williams’ petition not only be approved, but that she be allowed to run for public office as well.” Amal said with a stone-cold, straight face.

It took a minute before the first giggles and soft chuckles were heard, since no one knew if Amal had been intentionally clever or it was an accident. The silliness of the statement finally got to the group, and everyone was soon laughing. Dr. Punjab was grinning like it was Christmas; it was the first time anyone had heard him make a joke.

When everyone had gotten a good laugh, and calmed down, John called the meeting back to order. “We have only one more witness, folks. Major Dancer?”

The hologram of the ship’s AI appeared beside the table. “Yes Major?”

“We’re ready for your testimony; please proceed.”

“Before I begin, Cadet-Lieutenant Williams, do I have your permission to offer information from your personal file as testimony relevant to this decision?” Star asked Talena.

“Only for the purposes of this conclave, and only relevant to this decision, please,” Talena replied. Star nodded acceptance of her restrictions, turned back to the assembled, and began.

“During my maiden voyage, we were to make a port call at Alpha-ca Station to pick up some colonists and more crew. A very pregnant, Honors-Graduate of Engineering was one of the people waiting there for us to arrive. However, as we were docking, the ensign gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Talena and I both arrived at Alpha-ca station at roughly the same time. I guess it was her maiden voyage as well.” Star smiled down at the girl.

“As she grew up, it was commented on many times that young Talena seemed much farther along than other children of her age group. Beginning about six months before the attack on Talos, my records also show that her mind absorbed, and still absorbs, knowledge at a rate slightly faster than an average adult human. The lack of change in her personal learning rate would be consistent with a physically mature mind, indicating that she had indeed reached adulthood. Much of the decision to allow her to join the Flight Acadamy was based on that fact alone.

“Since reaching the current learning plateau, her actions, even in private, have been consistent with those of a playful adult and not a teen-aged young person.

“I feel that I should mention that during her time at Talos, instructing the young ones there, she was also subtly guiding them to respect and help each other, as well as to accept the way of life we all now have. I feel that because of her guidance, those young people were able to actively participate in the discussions that took place the night of the Commander’s broadcast. By doing so, they in turn helped their parents to make the final adjustment to our current situation. I do not believe an immature young person would be capable of the required subtlety,” she finished.

“I thought ‘IQ’ never changed?” Bill asked, curious.

Janet stood up from her seat. “It’s a common fallacy that IQ measures intelligence. It doesn’t, it measures our ability to learn; nothing more. I believe that what Major Star was referring to was how fast Talena’s mind was absorbing the data offered it. While the two are close, they are still not the same. IQ is the measurement of how well she CAN learn verses how well she IS learning. A person with an IQ of 150, which is genius level, can be dumb as a box of hammers if they don’t have data available to learn,” Janet seemed about to continue on when John cleared his throat.

“That really is a very interesting topic, but not actually relevant to the decision before us at the moment. Thank you, Counselor. Major Dancer, do you have more to add?”

Star straightened to attention. “No sir. It is a given that there is far more available data, but all of it supports my statement. If needed, and with the Cadet-Lieutenant’s permission, I can keep the data available for further inquiry.”

“Thank you Major, that won’t be necessary. We’ll be voting on this issue in a few moments,” John replied, thanking her, and excusing her at the same time. Star ‘walked over’ and ‘took a seat’ next to Jenny.

“Ladies and Gentlemen; I would like to recommend we break for a few moments to consider the evidence brought before us. I remind everyone that regardless of our personal feelings, this is a very serious matter. This decision is irreversible and has the potential to destroy this young woman’s life,” John said sternly.

“I’ll second that, Mr. Chairman,” Dr. Punjab said.

John nodded. “Motion carries. We’ll reconvene in ten minutes.”

Talena and Ian joined their lovers, while the rest of the panel got up to stretch their legs. Talena had just finished hugging the ladies, and Ian was about to ask Jenny about the new titles when someone cleared their throat behind him.

“Begging your pardon, Commander.  Cadet, this is Bosun Arnold Grossman. Since he’s literally fresh off the boat as it were, he’d like the opportunity to make your acquaintance before he adds his mark,” George Myers said. He turned to the older-looking man. “Arnie, this beautiful young lady is Cadet-Lieutenant Talena Williams.”

Talena saluted, and after he returned it, she offered him her small hand. The contrast between the two was almost absurd. “Certainly! What would you like to know, sir?”

As the Bosun led her off a few feet to talk quietly, Ian leaned in to speak quietly to George. “He does know that no matter what, he should be sure to let his own conscience guide him, right? I really don’t expect anyone to suck-up or vote the way I want them to.”

George nodded. “I explained it to him. That’s the reason he wanted to talk to her. He doesn’t know her from Eve. Even with the testimony, which was pretty one-sided by the way, he said he’d feel better about casting an honest vote if he could at least talk to her.”

“That makes sense, he did get dropped into this on pretty short notice,” Ian said.

“I don’t remember meeting him, when did he come aboard?” Beth asked.

Jenny grinned. “The Bosun and part of his team arrived on the red-eye from Talos early this morning. I doubt he’s even been to bed yet.”

“Somehow, I think you might be right. I wonder if he saw Andrea while he was in Talos,” Beth replied.

George looked a little chagrined. “No he didn’t. I believe his reasoning was,” He switched to a gruff sounding imitation of Grossman’s voice. “If they make me younger, none of these kids they gave me will listen to me. ‘tis part o’ th’ job to be a gruff ol’ bastard! It took my whole life to get like this, and I think I finally got there. A Bosun needs to be intimidatin’; who’d be scared o’ some scrawny kid?”

About that time, Bosun Grossman burst out laughing at something Talena told him. ‘So much for the gruff, old bastard image,’ Ian thought.

Distracted, Ian forgot to ask Jenny about the titles, and instead fell into a discussion about the arrival of new personnel. He noticed that John was about to call the meeting back into session, but Ian nodded to Talena and the Bosun now in an animated, but quiet, discussion. He held up a hand with his fingers splayed to indicate five more minutes. John nodded understanding.

No one seemed to notice the passing of the extra time when John finally called them all back to the table.

“Does anyone need more time to consider this decision?” John asked the room at large. He did look at George and Arnold since they were the new guys. Both shook their heads.

“Very well. Major Dancer?” John sat down as Star once again approached the table.

“Since this is a personnel issue, the vote must be kept private. The program will even keep the information of who voted yes or no from me. I will however be tabulating the votes. In order to remain anonymous, the computer will use each of your ocular devices to display the question along with the options in front of you. Be very sure to read the three option buttons because ‘yes’ will not always be on the right. If, after five minutes, you still have not cast your vote, the computer will record ‘abstain’ as your vote,” Star finished the instructions.

“What if someone hits the wrong button, or changes their mind before the five minutes are up?” Ian asked.

Star looked at him to answer his question. She knew that he was asking for the benefit of the rest of the assembled. “There is a confirmation ‘screen’ that clearly asks if that is your intended answer. As for changing a vote after its cast; it’s not an option.

“The belief is that one’s first instinct is the most correct one based on the evidence presented. Once cast, a vote cannot be changed.” Star paused to see if anyone else had any questions about the process. When no one spoke up she continued.

“The display will be presented on the table or desk top before you. Remember only you will be able to see it. Simply touch the place where you see the button for the answer you want, and it will be recorded. The question before this conclave is whether or not to emancipate Cadet-Lieutenant Talena Williams. Please cast your vote now.” She clasped her hands in front of herself, and waited for the decision of the conclave.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Given the seriousness of the situation, Ian was surprised when he had to stop himself from humming the tune from the old TV game show, ‘Jeopardy’.

The five minute time limit had not yet expired when Star spoke again. “The vote is concluded. Thank you ladies and gentlemen. The decision has been officially recorded and the results of the vote are now being displayed for each of you in the same manner as the ballot was.”

“Thank you, Major,” John said. Star bowed slightly to him and returned to her place beside Jenny.

John looked down at the table in front of him, and couldn’t help but grin a little. “Would the Petitioner and her Sponsor please stand?” Ian and Talena quickly rose. “With the exception of the abstain votes from the Commander, the Executive Officer, and the Chief Medical Officer, the vote was unanimous in favor of emancipation. Congratulations Cadet!”

Everyone applauded and congratulated Talena. Ian let it continue for a few minutes before winking at his diminutive lover, and nodded his head toward his wives. As Talena joined the small group of women, Ian shook John’s hand and thanked him for mediating for him.

Once John and Ian had retaken their original seats, Ian spoke. “Earlier today, Major Dommer and his team of miracle workers reported ‘ready to lift’ to the command section. Not only have they done the impossible by getting this lady ready to do something she was never built to do in the first place, they did it ahead of schedule!” Ian led the room in applause for the Engineer and his team. Major Dommer grinned and bowed his head in acceptance of the gratitude for himself and his team.

“So, now that we’re physically ready to go, I want all stations and departments ready to lift by seventeen-hundred tomorrow. Ops, I’m still waiting for that patrol schedule. Be sure to include the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) we discussed.

“Flight, did you get the ceremony scheduled?” Ian asked.

John grinned. “Yes, sir. The parents should start arriving on the next shuttle from Earth. The graduation itself is scheduled for eleven hundred tomorrow.”

Ian nodded agreement. “We can turn the reception afterwards into a luncheon. I know that might cut into the time some of you need in getting ready to lift; so, other than the ceremony itself, I won’t require attendance. No tours this time. We’ll need those folks off the ship before we lift. Any questions?”

“Yes sir, I thought we were trying to be stealthy about our presence here. Won’t launching a CAP be counter to that policy?” MCPO Reynolds asked.

Before Ian could answer Major Brighton spoke. “Yes, it’ll pretty much tell anyone in the system that we’re here. But that’s not what’s going to be the worst thing, Master Chief. The amount of energy we are going to use getting off the moon will be like sending up fireworks or turning on those big spot-lights they use in New York and Hollywood. Once we lift off the moon, we’ll need the CAP to help warn us of attack.”

Barb grinned a thank you at Chloe. “Sure, I just get all the hornets overhauled, and now you’re gonna go start getting them all messed up again!”

“Think of it as job security,” Ian said and winked at Barb, making her blush.

“Sair, I only have ‘bout half the knuckle-draggers I’m a-gonna need. I’d like tah have more afore we lift, just to man the DC (Damage Control) and ESAR (Emergency Search and Rescue) stations,” The Bosun said.

Ian nodded agreement; he’d been worried about the same thing. “Get with Major Dommer, and the CMO to see if they can loan you some people. I’ll assign what Marines we have and any other crew we can spare to you for the lift. I also believe that Mrs. Laskar has more people for you waiting for a ride down at Talos. Considering the number of people that want to be here for the graduation, I’m sure we can get them up here too.” The Bosun nodded, and Ian continued. “Either myself, the XO, or Major Brighton will be available to answer questions. Don’t be afraid to wake me up. We’ve got a busy couple of days ahead of us, people, let’s get to it. Dismissed.”

Ian and family headed for their quarters. “So, since Talena is an adult now, does that mean we can give her a ring, and add her name to ours?” Cindy asked.

“It does, but I was planning on asking her in a more romantic way. I don’t think talking about her in the third person while she’s here with us is very romantic, do you?” Ian replied, smiling at the excited looking Talena.

“No, you’re right, Ian. But the bonding ceremony is just a formality anyway; we all know she’s as much our wife as any of the rest of us!” Cindy replied.

“Be that as it may love, she still has to be verbally asked, and she has to verbally accept, as do we all. Then we have to have at least the same small ceremony the four of us had on the shuttle. That’s the only way the bonding will be accepted and officially recorded,” Jenny explained. “It’s a safeguard against accidental bonding.”

“So... Let’s get home so Jenny and I can plan a romantic supper, while you and Ian help this beautiful young woman get ready,” Beth injected, winking at Talena.

“Considering the love you all share with me every day, I’d have to agree with Cindy; the rings are a formality. I don’t know how, but I love you all more every day. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to burst with the power of the emotion,” Talena said. “But I’d still be up for the romantic dinner!”

That night the newest member of the Williams family officially became their bondmate. They’d gone to bed early, but they didn’t collapse into sleep until after the soft tone announcing the beginning of the midwatch.

Ian and Beth were the last to get to sleep, and as was becoming their routine, they moved out to the couch to snuggle and talk.

“You know, when she first awoke in Cindy’s bed, she seemed so sad that I didn’t think we’d ever be able to get her over the grief from her loss. But tonight that young woman is glowing with happiness. Even in her sleep you can see it,” Beth said as she leaned back on Ian’s bare chest.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. She had moments before we’d left Earth, but you could still see the shadow of her loss. Not anymore; when we made love tonight, it was like she was an entirely different woman. I think she has finally let her heart truly love again,” Ian replied.

Beth chuckled. “Boy! You’re sure an old softy!”

“Uh huh, if I wasn’t exhausted, I’d show you how ‘soft’ I am!”

As she yawned, she replied, “Then finish your beer so we can get back in bed with our lovers. We’re gonna be sitting up nights soon enough with four new-borns.”

“Yes dear.” Ian replied.

“Smart ass. Now, help me up.”

When Ian arrived on the bridge the next morning, he could feel the crew’s excitement coursing through the old ship from the bow point defense turrets to the massive plasma vents astern. After four thousand plus years of slumber, Star Dancer was finally coming back to life.

“Good Morning Lieutenant Liefson. Anything unusual to report?” Ian asked.

The young woman grinned tiredly at her commander. “Nothing that I can put into words, sir.”

Ian nodded agreement. “I can understand that; I feel it too. When did it start?”

“I can’t really say, sir. When I came on duty, I could ‘feel’ that something was different, but whatever it was, was so subtle I couldn’t isolate it. I didn’t get an ominous feeling from it, so I just waited to see if something clarified it. It’s almost like the lights are a little brighter, the coffee is just a bit richer and the stars are much clearer.”

Again Ian nodded. “I have the Con, Lieutenant. Go get some sleep; I think you’ll see more of the difference after some shut-eye.”

She came to attention, and saluted. “Aye sir, you have the Con. Have a great day sir.”

Ian returned the salute. “Sleep well, Liefson.”

As soon as the young assistant communications officer left, Star’s hologram materialized beside his chair, and Jenny walked in carrying two medium sized mugs. As she handed one to Ian she made a suggestion. “You know, since you have to give the address at the graduation ceremony, and you’ll be on duty tonight for the lift, why don’t you go work on your speech, and let me stand your watch?”

Ian snorted. “I was supposed to write a speech?” He lifted his mug in a salute to her. “Thanks for this, as for the watch, I was planning on working on the speech out here.”

“That might not be a very good idea...” Jenny began as the doors to the bridge slid open to admit all three navigators. Ian was about to comment on being on time for their shift, but Jenny, continuing with her sentence stopped him. “You see, Chekov and his team have been up since about four hundred going over the launch program with a fine tooth comb. They’ve even run it through several simulations on the computers down in astrophysics. They scheduled this morning to run tests on the whole system. I didn’t see a problem, so I approved it. They just finished with their simulations and have moved the program up here to the main Nav console. He’s not late, just extremely early.”

“Is there a problem with the program?” Ian asked.

“Oh! No sir! We just want to make absolutely sure every contingency we can cover, gets covered,” Chekov said.

Ian once again nodded his approval. “Carry on then, but before you start, how’s Ally doing?”

The small man smiled proudly, and puffed his chest out. “Still pregnant, sir. But it could be anyday now.”

“I think my wives might be holding off so Ally can have hers first. Although, if the baby doesn’t come soon, I think Cindy might slip ahead of her,” Ian replied, grinning.

“I think it’s the baby holding off until he or she has some playmates. Ally is more than ready for this one to be over with.”

“I’ll let you all get back to work. Tell Ally we’re all rooting for her,” Ian said.

“Will do, sir,” Chekov said as he turned back to his smiling counter-parts. It was seconds before the big screen was covered in computer code and the three where quietly talking about different aspects of the program they wrote.

Lieutenant JG Garvy toggled the console communicator. “Engineering and Operations, this is Navigation. We’re ready for the power on system test.”

“Good Morning, Gentlemen and Lady. Engineering is ready for Power on system test,” Major Dommer replied.

“All Departments! This is Operations. Please prepare for reduced power test of anti-gravity lifting system. Report readiness to Operations once you’re secured.”

Ian grinned at Jenny as he stood to give her his seat. “Okay, so now I can see why you don’t think I’ll be able to concentrate out here. You have the Con, Colonel.”

“Thank you, sir, I have the Con,” Jenny replied as she returned his salute, and sat gratefully in the warm command chair. When Ian didn’t head for his ready room, Jenny looked up at him questioningly.

Seeing her look, Ian winked and quietly said. “I’m waiting to see how this test goes.”

She nodded and began her part in this test. “Operations, Command is online,”

“Affirmative, Command. All departments report ready for lift,” Major Brighton replied this time.

“Flight Control, launch the Navigation Drones,” Jenny ordered. “Engineering, power up the AG array and bring the reactor up to twenty percent.”

“Nav Drones away, Command,” Flight reported.

“Reactor at twenty percent. AG array ready for lift.” Engineering replied.

“Navigation, initiate the launch,” Jenny said, calmly.

“Aye, initiating The Launch,” Chekov replied. “Anti-grav at five percent and climbing; main engines at standby.

He paused as the reading on the navigation console changed.

“Anti-grav at fifteen percent; mains still at standby.” During the report, an alarm started beeping. “Engineering we’re showing a power fluctuation at frame one-seventy-two, section four starboard,” Chekov said.

“Registering increased torque on keels one and three at frame one-sixty-nine,” Star reported.

“We’re on it!” Major Dommer reported.

“Anti-grav at twenty-one percent; main engines at standby,” Chekov reported.

Star looked a little worried. “Torque now on all keels and approaching maximum safe limit.”

Chekov started the next report but was interrupted by Star. “Anti-grav at twenty-seven...”

“Aborting Launch program. Scenario failure; Keel torsion from AG array imbalance exceeded safety limits.” Star reported, frowning.

“Give us twenty minutes! The gravimetric compensator was thrown out of balance by the internal gravity field. We’re fixing it now,” Major Dommer reported.

“All departments; stand down for thirty minutes. Murphy’s Law strikes again!” Jenny ordered before turning to look up at Ian. “So... What are you going to do about the speech?”

The big landing/launching area on Beta flight deck seemed like it was literally packed with people. Once he’d adjusted to the crowd, Ian sought out Elias.

The Johnson family was there to see both Stephanie and Kyle graduate. Luke was still down at Talos, but his wife, Lara was there for Tara.

Ian found them all together near the exit from the pilot’s ready room. “Hi guys! I’m glad to see you could all make it!” The three cadets immediately snapped to attention as soon as they realized Ian was right behind them. “Relax, Cadets,” Ian chuckled.

“You know, I knew the ship was real, I mean at first, back when you and Janet ‘told me a story’, I didn’t believe a word of it, Even after you introduced me to Olympus and I accepted all of this; it still couldn’t get my mind to accept the reality of the ship.

“Now, I’m off-planet and standing in her. There wasn’t a big production with NASA, I didn’t have to go through the Air Force Academy and become an Astronaut; I simply got aboard a shuttle and flew here. Amazing! Just amazing!” Elias said, all starry-eyed.

Grinning at his friend, Ian said, “Welcome aboard, Elias.”

Realizing he was acting like a tourist, Elias chuckled. “Thanks Ian.”

“I wanted to ask you guys where all these people came from? It seems like the whole population of Talos is up here!” Ian asked.

“Don’t you read the New Talosian? Your recruiters are really busting their humps. We’ve had to start on another subdivision of housing!” Elias replied.

His wife, Laura, was nodding in agreement. “Since you moved up here, our population has more than doubled. Admittedly, roughly half are new eggs recommended by their colleagues, but once you add their families, the numbers grow. I should also mention that one of Janet’s recruiters has this habit of ‘rescuing’ prostitutes, and the ‘forgotten’ and ‘lost’ people. Not the crazy ones, mind you, just the ones that have given up on life.”

Ian was impressed. He’d often wondered where Janet was getting all the people from. “So just how big are we getting down there?” Ian asked.

“Well, Elias was exaggerating about the new subdivision; it’d be too difficult to explain all the empty houses once the moon base is finished. No, we’ve had the drones adding more housing underground,” Lara said getting into the conversation.

“Are any of the new people going to be coming to the ship?” Ian asked.

“Eventually. The Council just approved a request made by Ty for the addition of a marine training facility, complete with barracks. He’s already got two platoons of recruits that’ve been waiting for a decision on training facilities. If you add the members of the construction crews that have expressed an interest, it brings the recruits to three and a half platoons,” Lara replied. “I believe Luke said he was going to forward the whole thing to you for final approval before we got the drones working. Since it’s a military matter, the Council felt you should have the final say.”

“Wow, Okay, I’ll look for that once I get back to my office. It is something of a priority; Ty needs more support down there,” Ian replied.

In the old Talosian Society, there were political entities called Families that were governed by an elected Matriarch or Patriarch. (Though the position was usually past to an heir, the family still had to approve.) These family heads got together and selected a Grand Matriarch or Patriarch for the group of families which formed the Clan or House. Those selected leaders formed the Grand Council. (The pre-genocide Grand Council had over two hundred members.) The Grand Council appointed twenty to form the Ruling Council to make the day-to-day decisions of running the government. The Grand Council only met twice a year to deal with issues the Ruling Council felt needed their attention. The military High Command was a tool of the Ruling Council and was subject to oversight by the Grand Council. It had worked well for three millennia before the attack that destroyed the society.

Ian was a little surprised that the people down at Talos would adopt the political structure. “So do I call you Councilor?”

Lara chuckled. “Actually, Luke is the Councilor; I just serve as the recording secretary. Laura however, is also a Councilor, she’s ‘officially’ the mayor too.”

Ian shook his head. “So that was the deal with the new titles yesterday! I really need to start paying more attention to the newspaper. I had no idea there even was a Council.”

Laura shrugged. “When the proposal to form a Council was suggested, we did include the people up here in the vote. We felt that since we were forming their civil government, they should have a say in it.” She shrugged. “I thought you knew because your wife turned down her nomination because she felt it would be a conflict of interest.”

“I must have been really occupied with something to have missed that,” Ian said thoughtfully.

“Well, you actually were kinda busy at the time,” Elias chuckled. “It was started the day of your Command ceremony, the day after we told everyone the truth.”

“Damn, things have been moving fast down there. That was only a week or so ago!” Ian sighed. “Lara, would you please send me a list of the councilors, so I don’t make another political gaff?”

“Sure Ian, but what gaff did you make?” Lara asked. From the look on Laura and Elias’ faces, they wanted to know too.

Ian winked at the trio and turn to the silent Cadets. “Cadets, can any of you tell the Councilor and her party of the ‘Gaff’?”

“Yes Sir! We all can, Sir!” Kyle replied.

“Then please do so, Cadet.”

“As a Councilmember of the current Ruling Council, you politically outrank the Commander. However, on the ship, he is the highest authority. It is traditional for the Commander in his role as leader of the crew to be on-hand to formally welcome members of the Ruling Council aboard as a sign of respect. Failure to do so without justifiable reasons was considered a major insult to the Councilor.  After all, you are a Head of State,” Kyle finished.

“Excuse me Councilor, everyone. It’s almost time to get started, sir,” John Harris said interrupting the conversation.

Ian nodded, but turned back to the small group. “Are there any other Councilors here?”

Laura tried hard not to grin at Ian’s discomfiture. “Yes, there are four of us here. Although all of us are here to see our kids graduate, not as Councilors.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re still a Councilor, and should be shown the respect of your office. Thanks for the info, if you’ll excuse me?” Ian asked.

They all nodded, and Ian quickly followed John back toward the raised dais. Elias watched him go. “You know, I think we really pitched him a curve ball this time. I was starting to believe nothing could surprise him.”

“Oh, things can surprise him, Dad, but he doesn’t stay surprised for long!” Stephanie replied.

Chapter Thirty-Three

“Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the first Star Dancer Flight School Graduation.” John began, and had to wait for the applause to die down.

“Roughly six months ago, I was standing in Flight Control aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan watching new pilots landing for their first cruise. I remember thinking to myself that they all looked so young. I realized that it wasn’t that the pilots had gotten younger; I had gotten older.

“Today, I find myself again looking at a group of new pilots. This time, I don’t feel so old, nor do I feel as tired,” He looked at a grinning Talena. “Helping to train them has helped me find my own lost youth.”

John shifted position slightly. “None of us really know what the future holds. It may be that very soon we’ll be in a desperate fight for our lives, or we might just get bored flying patrol routes around the system. These people have trained hard against the first possibility; but I hope they see plenty of the second instead.”

He looked directly at the Cadets. “Before I introduce the Commander, I want to let all of you know that I’m proud of each and every one of you. Yes, even you Corvis!” The Cadets all chuckled and the ones closest to him, slapped ‘Corvis’ on his back.

Wayne Thielen, callsign: ‘Corvis’, had come to numerous loggerheads with John over his ‘exuberance’ at becoming a pilot. He was the ‘Goth’ oldest son of two of the eggheads from Talos and had morosely tried to argue every explanation behind the physics involved in the operation of the small fighters. His ‘Goth’ appearance got him the name ‘Corvis’, but it was his intelligence that got him into trouble. At one point, John had threatened to kick him out of the school if he didn’t get serious. Although he did still have problems, his young wingmates considered it their duty to help get the young man out of his eternal depression. It was working, and the new pilot was a much better person to be around.

After John introduced him, Ian got to the podium and looked out at the large assembly, but couldn’t help noting the large size of the graduating ‘class’. Granted this graduation ceremony also included both himself and Jenny, not to mention the group of seven civilian shuttle pilots. Even with those additions, there were still roughly two wings of pilots graduating this morning. Most of the kids from Talos had been certified by the instructors at Talos Base, and sat here beside the older, ex-pilots of the US militaries that had gone through school down there waiting for the ship to become habitable again.

“There will be combat in our future. Chances are very good that all of you will put your training to use far sooner than anyone would like, most especially me. As some of you already know, the reality of combat cannot be taught in a classroom. Seeing a friend’s ship explode during combat simulations cannot prepare you for this reality.

“I don’t tell you this to be morbid, or to depress anyone. I’m telling you because I know that our younger pilots are chafing because of the age limit. None of us doubts your bravery, or the commitment you have to protecting the people you love. The reason for waiting is because of the cost to you, as combat pilots.

“All of us, down to the lowest ranking private in the marines have to pay a price for every casualty we witness in combat. Be it a friend or an enemy, every death takes a small part of our souls with them. We do heal, but we will always remember the loss. It takes a very painful adjustment to be able to cope with the real horror of combat. By delaying the acceptance as combat pilots until you are sixteen, we are giving you the time to learn how to make that adjustment when the time comes.

“Okay, enough of that. We’re all here to celebrate the achievement of all these Cadets. For me, and yes, I’m one of the cadets graduating today as well, learning to fly the hornets was so easy it was actually fun. The centurion was still a blast but a bit more complicated. But I can tell all of you, my wingmates, that flying this ship is a class ‘a’ pain in the butt!” Ian paused while the group laughed.

“Now, our younger pilots will be assigned to Ghost Squadron, and stationed at Talos Base. Ghost Squadron will be considered our reserve Squadron for our younger pilots, however, we will be slowly rotating members of Ghost up here to the ship so they can get the feel for real flight, and can accumulate some experience.

“Most of the rest of you, although there are more than a squadron of you, will be assigned to Gold Squadron until we get enough pilots to form Silver Squadron. Your duty assignments and duty schedule are posted in all ready rooms. Be sure to look it over right after graduation since most of you will be on duty tonight.

“At the change of command I told everyone that military ceremonies are usually short, so we can get to the partying part. Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting pretty hungry!”

The whole crowd laughed and applauded as John took Ian’s place at the podium. Ian walked off the stage, and took position beside a table with Jenny.

John grinned. “Listen up Cadets! As I call your names, report to the Commander. Alston, Richard.”

The young looking man stood up, and came forward to stop in front of Ian and saluted. Ian returned the salute, and Jenny handed him a set of golden wings. Ian pinned them on the man’s chest, and Jenny handed him something like a diploma. Ian handed the man the document with his left hand while he shook the man’s hand with the other. Once finished. The new Lieutenant saluted Ian again. Ian returned the salute and the man did an about face, walked ten steps, did another about face, and saluted again.

John saluted, and said, “Congratulations, Lieutenant Alston.”

The members of Ghost Squadron all became Ensigns except For Corvis. Because of the strength of character, ability to adjust to radically new situations, and his intelligence, Ian approved his promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade and assigned him as the Wing Commander of Ghost Squadron.

Finally John called, “Williams, Cindy.”

Grinning, Talena and another of their wing-mates helped Cindy up. Cindy thanked the man, and kissed her new wife before waddling up to Ian.

The pinning ritual and saluting proceeded as normal until Cindy turned to salute John. After Cindy saluted and John returned it, he said, “Congratulations Senior Lieutenant Williams. You’ve also been assigned as Wing Commander for Silver Squadron, once you have the pilots to form your own squadron.” Cindy grinned at the loud applause of her wing-mates and now ex-wing-mates.

Next John called Talena. As with Cindy, everything proceeded normally until her salute to John. “Congratulations Senior Lieutenant Talena. You are now assigned as the Wing Commander of Star Dancer’s escort; Gold Squadron.”

All the newly pinned pilots, including the older ones, stood and clapped loudly. Slowly, the rest of the audience joined the pilots.

Talena stood proudly, with tears running down her cheeks. Ian walked down the aisle to her, and she once again saluted her now direct Commanding Officer.

Ian stopped a couple feet away, and returned the young woman’s salute. “This ship’s our home; guard her well, Lieutenant.” Ian’s and Talena’s voices were amplified by Star so everyone could hear them.

“With my life, sir,” Talena replied formally.

“Thank you, Lieutenant. You’re dismissed.”

Once again Talena saluted, but didn’t wait for Ian to return it, before doing an about face and returning to her seat.

“For those of you who don’t understand the significance of what just happened. Gold Squadron’s soul responsibility is the protection of this ship against external threats,” John explained. “The squadron itself is under the direct command of the ship’s commander. The position of Wing Commander of this Squadron is considered to be a great honor, and is usually only assigned to the best of the pilots.

“Now, these last two actually completed flight school almost a month ago. Williams, Jennifer.” John finished.

Grinning, Jenny stepped around Ian to stand before him, and salute. Ian returned it, pinned her rank on, and shook her hand. She saluted him again before turning and walking down the aisle like the rest of the pilots. She stopped, turned, and saluted John.

John returned the salute. “Congratulations Colonel Williams.”

Jenny grinned up at him, before heading back to her place by Ian.

“Before I call the last person’s name, I want everyone to know that his graduation has created a small problem.” John was trying hard not to smile. “You see the pinning on of the wings has to be done by a higher ranking officer.” The applause from the audience started as people began to realize who it was John was talking about.

“During rehearsal, we had a hard time deciding to either break the regulation, which wouldn’t be legal, or he can pin them on himself.

“So, in rehearsal he pinned them on himself. However, the regulation says that the officer has to be of higher rank, not the same rank. Which puts us right back to the original dilemma. Either Commander Williams cannot be allowed his wings at all, or we’d have to find a higher ranking officer,” John finished.

Ian had turned around to look up at him with his hands on his hips. The look on his face was clear: ‘What the hell are you doing?’

Finally John let the grin loose. “Councilor Johnson, would you please assist us?”

The applause grew rapidly as Laura Johnson stood, and made her way to where Ian was standing.

Ian gave John a laughing look that promised he’d get him back for this surprise. He moved back to allow Laura to stand beside Jenny. When she got there, Jenny gave her a quick lesson on how the wings were ‘pinned’. Once she got it, Laura nodded up at John.

Finally, John came to attention and called the last name. “Williams, Ian.”

Starting at attention, Ian took one step forward, and executed a right face movement to place him directly in front of Laura. While the smiling woman gently attached the gold wings to the breast of his uniform, John explained.

“As an elected member of our civil government, Councilor Johnson outranks the Commander. The military has always been a tool of the Ruling Council. That tradition is necessary for all of us to stay free, and protected.”

When Ian saluted her, a grinning Laura bowed her head slightly in acknowledgment.

Ian turned around, and walked down the aisle, turned and saluted John in his capacity as the head of the Flight School.

John returned the salute. “Congratulations, Commander Ian Williams.” He joined the rest of the people in the applause.

Smiling Ian turned slowly and nodded his thanks to the audience before walking back and getting up on the stage to replace John.

As he passed Laura, the applause was too loud to speak, so he said thank you with a kiss on her cheek. She slapped him on the shoulder and pulled him down for a hug. They parted with smiles, and continued on their separate ways.

“I so owe you for that one!” A grinning Ian said to John as they swapped places.

John laughed. “It was worth every minute, sir.”

Ian stepped up to the podium, and held up his hand so he could speak. Once the applause had died down.

“Funny; it seemed a lot shorter in rehearsal...” Ian paused while people chuckled at the joke.

“Folks, that’s pretty much it for the ceremony. Before we get to the food and fun, I’d like to add my congratulations to all of our graduates; May you all have long and boring careers!” Ian led the applause for the pilots this time, but tried to keep it short.

“I’m sorry to have to interrupt this day of celebration, but this evening, at roughly seventeen hundred hours, Star Dancer will once again take her place in the firmament.

“Now, I know that almost everyone here would love to stay for the event, but since there is a risk involved, I’m ordering the ship cleared of visitors no later than sixteen hundred. I’m not actually trying to be a bastard, but if there is an emergency, having the extra people aboard would hamper our efforts. Not to mention the increased chance of someone getting hurt.

“I would like to see all three of the Wing Commanders in Alpha’s Squadron Mission Briefing room, in ten minutes.” Ian nodded to John to give his last command as their Training Commander.

Major John Harris came to attention. “Squadron, on your feet!” Once again Talena and the man next to them helped Cindy up. John waited until she was up before giving the last command. “Dismissed!”

As one, the group of pilots spun around, (slowly turned in Cindy’s case.) A few hoots and hollers and a lot of clapping poured forth from the new officers. They shook each other's hands or hugged. The group started to break-up and seek out those who had come to see them.

Ian noticed that Jenny immediately left, probably heading for the bridge. Cindy and Talena had given Beth a kiss and where heading for the ready room, Ian assumed that they wanted to know the duty assignments before the meeting.

“Corvis, I want your squadron in their fighters in case of emergency no later than sixteen-forty-five, which means you’re gonna need to leave soon. For this mission, your team will be under the command of Star Dancer Operations. Don’t launch until ordered, no matter what you hear over the comms.

“Gold Squadron will be launch ready by sixteen-thirty-five, and will receive launch clearance between sixteen-forty-five and sixteen-fifty. All birds will be launching from Alpha since Flight says Beta’s tubes aren’t clear of that ridge. Once launched, I’ll want your fighters deployed in this pattern.” Ian handed Talena a comp-pad. “If we have a worst case scenario with the ship, you are all to do a full power burn away from the moon.”

Talena looked about to argue since the rest of their family would be aboard ship. However the look in both Ian’s as well as Cindy’s eyes told her this wasn’t a point she could argue.

“Athena,” Ian said using Cindy’s call sign. “You and your team are on mission support.”

“At sixteen-thirty, Beta’s landing bay doors will be closed and sealed. Once Gold Squadron is out, Alpha will also be sealed. If anyone has a problem, have them softly land on the dayside, and wait for help.

“Once we are in a stable parking orbit, the bay doors will be unsealed, and all but two of Gold Squadron will be recalled. The last two will maintain the CAP (Combat Air Patrol). For now, Athena is acting CAG (Commander, Air Group), so work up a patrol schedule for operations, so they can hash out the routes. We will also be launching the centurions Challenger, Intrepid, and Atlantis after your folks land,” He said the last to Talena. “Any questions?”

Corvis looked ecstatic that he had a mission, Cindy looked pissed because she was grounded, and Talena looked harried with her new duties. Not surprising, it was Cindy that spoke up.

“Not for you, sir, but I do need to speak to Major Brighton. May I be excused, sir?” Cindy asked.

“You’ve got four hours to come up with that schedule, Lieutenant. Try to relax and enjoy the day a little,” Ian said to her. She seemed to relax, close her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Thank you, sir.”

Ian winked at her. “Okay, you need to get scooting Corvis. Dismissed everyone.”

“Speaking of Parties, are you coming home?” Cindy asked with Talena on her arm. Corvis had already made good his escape. He needed to round up his pilots, and their parents, and get on one of the shuttles.

“I’ll be there after I stop in on the bridge. Jenny left the ceremony quicker than she normally moves in her present condition,” Ian explained, rubbing Cindy’s belly affectionately.

“You know when Beth told me ‘Twins’, I didn’t realize exactly how big I was going to get,” Cindy said. “You do realize we’re only seven months along, right?”

Ian grinned and kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Yep, only two more months to go!”

“Only two more months, he says! I think we should replicate one of those mock baby-belly things they have expectant fathers wear so they know what their wife’s going through!” Cindy said.

Ian kissed both girls. “Head back to our quarters, I’ll meet you there. I love you both, and am very proud of you.”

“Now, he’s tryin’ to butter us up for somethin’!” Talena said obviously imitating Cindy.

Cindy giggled. “Right! We’d better scoot before we find out what that somethin’ is!” Ian followed the two out the door, but got caught by some proud parents before he could follow the girls to the maglev.

Twenty minutes later, when he finally got to the bridge, he saw a frustrated looking Jenny sitting in the command chair. The navigators, who looked as is if they hadn’t moved (they hadn’t) had gained an engineer (E-Tech), and a programmer from Bill Laskar’s department (C-Tech).

“What’s up?” Ian asked.

“They get one problem fixed, and two more pop up. At least we’ve only had two other catastrophic failures,” she replied.

“Oh? What other kinds of failures are there?” Ian asked

“Well, like this last run we went through. Everything finally worked, but once we got our hundred kilometer altitude, the program refused to release control. I swear, if I didn’t know better I’d think the damn thing had grown a gremlin.”

As Jenny finished speaking, the whole navigation console as well as the big monitors on the forward bulkhead all went dark. No power, as if they’d been shut down. With many fearful glances at Ian, the navigators tried to figure out what they’d just done.

The C-Tech sighed, and pulled what looked like a hard drive out of a slot, and nodded to the E-Tech, who bent down started removing a panel.

The C-Tech, went to the replicator, and had the part he’d removed replaced. He returned to the console, gently inserted the new component, and nodded again to the Engineer. The E-tech reached inside, and suddenly the whole console came back to life. The main monitor also lit back up, with the displayed dysfunctional code.

It looked like an argument was brewing, so Ian excused himself for Jenny to handle it. He went through his ready room and took his private lift down to their quarters. When the doors opened, he found a party happening.

The first thing Ian did was head for their bedroom to use the restroom, and change into his duty uniform. He gave his three present wives a kiss while he made his way to the replicator for a non-alcoholic beer.

“Handy gadget, that. I wish I could have one in my house,” a woman Ian had never met before said.

“Yes, Beth said the same thing when she first saw them. But we can’t allow that to happen,” Ian replied.

The woman cocked her head. “I’m not disagreeing with you, but why not?”

Ian turned back to the replicator. “Computer, ten gold bars please.”

The replicator beeped at him. “Unable to comply. Item requested exceeds delivery area maximum safe weight.”

“How many can you safely replicate?” Ian asked.

In response, four bars of pure gold, complete with the U.S. Treasury stamp and serial number, appeared in the delivery area to the utter amazement of the surrounding people.

Ian picked one up, and handed it to the woman so she could see that it was real. “What do you think would happen to the economy, not just of the United States, but the entire planet, if everyone on the planet had one of these? Yes, starvation would no longer be a problem, but there would be no reason for anyone to work either. It wouldn’t take very long at all for the whole planet to become totally reliant on these machines. Our society would stagnate, wither, and eventually die.” Ian looked at the faces of those around him that had been listening.

“It makes sense to use them on a ship like this one; it eliminates the need for other ships to supply her, we don’t need massive holds for food and munitions storage. It also solves the air recycling issue.

“One small point I should mention; replicators cannot replicate living tissue. There is a universal law of nature that we know of as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that prevents it. A replicator cannot produce an original of something; everything they ‘make’ is an exact duplicate of a scanned item, at the moment it was scanned.”

“I don’t understand, you just had it make the gold,” a man said.

“It produced the item I asked for, but if you could compare them closely, you’ll see that all of the bars are exactly the same, right down to the atomic level. They are the same as the gold bar that was originally pattern-scanned,” Ian finished. He got the gold bar back from the last person to examine it, placed it back in the delivery slot and told the machine to reclaim the items.

“So, what about teleporters, like they had on Star Trek?” Another of the small group asked.

“Same reason as before; The Uncertainty Principle. Living tissue randomly changes on the molecular level from moment to moment. Even in the micro-seconds it would take for disintegration and reintegration, you would have changed too much for the computer to accurately reassemble you. Even if it could, how could the computers scan the spark of life, or your soul, or whatever you believe makes you, you?”

“I had the same question, so I did a little research,” Beth said entering the conversation. “Talosian scientists, tried to do numerous experiments based on replicator theory. Every trial had horrific results. Luckily, they were only using plants for the initial tests. Later, the Ruling Council at the time adopted disintegration as a method of capital punishment reserved for their worst crimes.” She turned to Ian. “Honey, you should go congratulate the Johnsons and say good-bye to Laura and Elias before they leave.”

“Please, excuse me folks,” Ian said, and bowed his way out of the small gathering.

Ian made his way over to where Cindy and Talena were gabbing with Tara and Stephanie. Elias and Laura where talking with another, Mediterranean looking couple.

“I’m sorry I’m so busy today, and can’t spend more time with you guys.” Ian said by way of joining the conversation.

“Ah, Ian! There you are. I was beginning to wonder if they locked you up on the bridge!” Elias teased.

“Nah, Jenny volunteered to serve my sentence for me, so I could hob-knob,” Ian replied as he shook first Elias’ then Kyle’s hand. He took Laura’s hand “Thanks again for the help earlier, Laura.”

“Well, we couldn’t have the Commanding officer of the Earth’s only starship not be a pilot; that would just be embarrassing!” She replied, teasingly.

“Ian,” Elias said. “Let me introduce Apostolos Stavros and his lovely wife, Elani. They didn’t have anyone graduating today, but I snuck them along.”

Ian shook hands with Apostolos, and was about to shake hands with Elani when a black haired little whirlwind came running up to him giggling, followed by a young man of eleven or so.

The giggling little girl held her arms up for Ian, and looked like she was going to jump on him, so he caught her, and lifted her up. “And who are you young lady?” Ian asked smiling as he tickled her a little.

The young man looked up at Apostolos in failure. “I’m sorry, Papa; she got away from me.”

The man smiled down at his son. “Don’t feel so bad, Michael, she gets away from all of us.” He had a strong accent that Ian assumed was Greek.

“I’m Andreya and I’m four. Are we aliens?” The adorable little bundle asked.

Ian laughed, and hugged the girl. “No honey, we’re not aliens. But some of our ancestors were from places other than Earth. Do you see that pretty, silver haired girl?” Ian pointed to the grinning Talena.

“Uh huh. She’s Talena she loves Cindy!” The waif said snickering. “But it’s a secret!”

By now most of the grown-ups were chuckling at the girl’s antics. “I think everyone knows that secret sweetheart,” Ian replied.

“Momma and Papa too?” Andreya asked cranking around to see her parents grinning at her.

“Yep, even your Momma and Papa. Did you know that Talena was born a long, long, long way from here? It’s so far, it would take us almost two months to get there with the ship,” Ian said.

“Wow! That must be a gazillion miles away! Michael said the ship is really fast.”

“He’s right, it is really fast,” Ian said before turning back to Elias and the girl’s parents. “Welcome aboard. How do you like our ship so far?” Ian still held Andreya, who cuddled up to him like she’d known him all her young life.

“It is beautiful, so many things to see and new wonders everywhere we look. We were expecting narrow passageways, cramped living quarters, and more of a ‘warship’ feel like the ships of Earth.” Elani said.

Apostolos was nodding his agreement. “This has a much warmer feel, far more comfortable than an Earth warship would be. There is more of a feeling of... well of hope, and strength here. Earth ships are dreary grey things with dark corridors, and stern looking men. Here it is mostly young people of both sexes; they look busy with purpose, not imposing and unapproachable.”

Ian nodded his head in agreement since he’d noticed the same thing. “I think it’s because we use Talosian law on board, and also encourage our people to either further their education, or develop a hobby. People here on the ship can relax and be themselves without worry of persecution or societal biases against them.”

“I think that is the hardest part of all this for me to accept. Even though it’s against the law, no one is preaching to anyone how they are going to burn in hell, or that they are wrong for having feelings for someone that the church hasn’t approved,” Elani said. “There is gossip about all of this, but no one is really criticizing anyone. I think people mostly agree with the new way of things, but are having a hard time getting past what has been so deeply ingrained.”

“Well, I just hope they can get past it. I think a lot of people down there would be a lot happier if they could be true to themselves,” Ian replied as a soft tone was heard and an announcement of a pending shuttle departure.

“I’m afraid that’s us, Ian,” Elias said. “It’s been a pleasure to see her finally. I hope there’ll be opportunity stay longer next time.”

“I’m sure there will be, Elias. If not, you can always have your wife pull some political strings!” The group chuckled. “Speaking of wives; how is Andrea getting along?”

“She’s never been happier,” Laura said. “She told me that she finally felt like she was where she was meant to be.”

“Well, I don’t want you to be late for your flight; I imagine all of them are pretty full. I’d offer to put a shuttle at your disposal, but all of them are currently in use,” Ian replied.

“I had a thought about that on the way up here,” Apostolos said. “I can understand the need for dual role shuttles, but perhaps you could make a couple that were for passengers only. It seems we have a lot more people traffic than we do anything else.”

“You know, that’s a good idea. I’ll give it some thought, and maybe see what our engineers can come up with for designs. Thank you, Mr. Stavros,” Ian said as he walked the group to the door. Have a nice flight.” Elani leaned in and took a pouting Andrea out of Ian’s arms. Ian gave her a kiss on the forehead. “I’ll come and visit you sometime sweetheart.”

“Promise?” the girl asked.

“I’ll try my best, honey. Take care of your parents and big brother, okay?” Ian answered.

“I will, bye!” Andrea said and waved at Ian as the adults carried her away.

“Bye sweetheart!” Ian waved back.

When he turned back into their quarters, he almost ran over a grinning Beth. “I see that the girls and I have some stiff competition!”

Ian chuckled, took her in his arms and kissed her. “I think she might be just a little too young for me.” He kissed her again. “She is pretty adorable though, isn’t she?”

“I got to meet her when they first got here, and definitely agree with you,” Beth replied. “Now, you need to mingle a little with the rest of our guests before you kick them off the ship to go play Captain.

Ian again entered the bridge, this time it was a lot more active. Jenny announced him on the bridge, and he relieved her before taking his seat. He needed a moment to regain the feel of the ship.

Like this morning, only stronger, the feeling that Star Dancer was coming back to life vibrated through the deck plates, infecting the crew. It was almost as if the ship herself knew she was going back where she belonged. At that moment, Ian knew that everything would be fine.

Glancing at the clock on his screen, he looked around his bridge. “Well, folks, let’s get this show on the road. All non-essential personnel; clear the bridge!”

Chapter Thirty-Four

“Clear the Bridge!” Ian ordered.

Pleased by the instant compliance to the order, Ian called John.

“Flight Control,” John said grinning.

Ian grinned back. “Secure Beta. Report when you’re done.”

“Aye Skipper.”

Ian called operations this time. “What’s the status of getting our visitors off the ship?”

“Sensors report all clear, sir,” Major Brighton replied.

“Well done, Major. Stand-by to secure the maglevs and seal the doors,” Ian ordered. He tapped another button.

“May I have your attention; this is the Commander. At this time all personnel should be in their assigned positions for the lift. This is the real thing people. Secure all non-essential systems and prepare for the lift. All departments report Go/NoGo to the Exec. We launch in twenty-five minutes,” Ian said.

“I would guess that now is the time that I should say something profound, and full of wisdom. Heck, you all know me, I’m definitely not one for speeches. Yet, as I sat in my ready room planning for tonight; I thought about what the future may hold for us, and all the tasks still ahead,” Ian continued.

“Electronic Warfare and Countermeasures; Go,” Star reported.

“Communications; Go,” Lieutenant Liefson reported.

As Ian spoke, other department could be heard reporting their status.

“I sit in awe of what all of us have accomplished in such a relatively short period of time. I wondered at what we’ll accomplish in the future. We’re growing larger each day. Each new person brings their own unique skills, added to our existing society, they help create a sum much larger than its parts.

“I looked down at the plan before me, and was, once again awe-struck; never, in all the sordid history of our planet, has one single task affected the lives of so many. No one but us will know about it, but it is the whole planet we are protecting.

“Very soon, we’re going to be joined by those of other nations, even some that Americans and her allies would consider to be enemies. We are no longer Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, or Indians. Our nation of birth is no longer a reason to dislike one another. We are, all of us, Earthlings. It is only as a united force will we ever stand a chance against the enemy that destroyed the Talosian race.” Ian glanced down at a grinning Jenny. “Oops! I think I just made a speech! Sheesh, I’m starting to sound like a politician! Carry on, people.”

Ian watched as Jenny put a green check beside each department. He stepped down from his chair and got a tray of different drinks from the replicator. He set one beside Jenny, and Liefson, before headed for a tired looking Chekov.

“Are you sure you’re up for this, Cory?” Ian asked for once using the man’s name.

“Da. I’m Russian. In Russia nights are colder then space. We have to stay awake all night to keep from freezing to death,” the young man replied, grinning.

Ian snorted. “You were born in Brighton Beach to wealthy parents. You’ve never been cold a day in your life!”

“This is true,” Cory replied, nodding and grinning tiredly.

“I brought you a double mocha espresso. Try to get most of it drank before we start this, okay?” Ian said.

“Thank you, sir. I’d meant to get something before you got here, but I ran out of time. I’ll probably be looking for another one by the time you order me to lift, Commander.”

“Just don’t give yourself a hernia; she’s a big ship,” Ian said before heading back to his chair.

Chekov found that extremely funny, but managed to get some of the hot drink down between guffaws.

“Sir, Flight Control reports a NoGo; one of the launch tubes is failing to seal. The deck gang’s already on it,” Jenny reported.

Ian nodded acceptance. He just hoped that the delay wouldn’t put them too far off schedule. In the meantime, they could get some of the rest of the preparations complete.

“Operations.” Ian called.

“Operations here.”

“Secure the Maglev and seal the doors.”

“Aye sir.”

“Flight Control, stand-by to launch Gold Squadron,” Ian said to the Flight Operations Center.

“Issuing the alert, Command.”

“Commander, I have a Go from Flight. Beta’s secured,” Jenny reported. At that point, Ian simply left the comm open to all departments as things got moving rapidly.

“Engineering is a Go.”

“Operations is a Go, we have a green board, XO.”

Jenny nodded up to Ian, confirming Operations’ report. “All departments are ‘Go’ for Launch, Commander.”

Ian nodded, and tried to control his excitement. “Okay Boys and Girls, Don’t try this at home.” He took a deep breath. “Sound General Quarters. Flight; launch Gold Squadron and the navigation drones. Engineering; bring the reactor up to twenty percent.”

Ian heard the acknowledgment of his orders, but his mind was on his ship. He could feel the pulse of her excitement now. He glanced at Liefson who looked back at him and grinned. He also noticed that Jenny’s eyes sparkled. Even Star seemed affected as she appeared to be breathing heavier, and she stood prouder.

“Gold Squadron is away, Command. Alpha bay is secured,” John reported.

“Good work, Flight. Navigation, initiate launch program,” Ian ordered, somewhat apprehensively.

“Aye, Sir. Launch program is online, and running, AG field generators are online.” Chekov replied. “Main reactor at twenty percent. AG field at five percent and climbing.”

Again Chekov paused while the lifter field built up strength, just as in the simulation Ian had witnessed earlier.

“AG field at ten percent.”

Ian heard the ship start to creak as more pressure was applied.

“AG field at fifteen percent. Main reactor at thirty percent. Main engines at stand-by. Maneuvering thrusters at full,” Chekov reported.

“All stress points are still well within safe parameters,” reported Star.

“AG to twenty percent. Reactor to thirty-five percent. We’re kicking up dust.”

“Engineering, inertial dampeners amidships are reporting a two percent fluctuation,” Jenny said calmly.

“We’re already on it, Command, we are still ‘Go’ for launch,” Major Dommer replied.

“AG now at twenty-five percent. Reactor at thirty-seven percent. Bow coming level,” Chekov reported.

When the ship had crashed, she had ended up with the bow lower than the stern. It hadn’t been enough to hamper repairs or make living aboard difficult, especially with internal gravity, but it was noticeable if you looked at the ship externally.

Now, the ship groaned as she started to move after four-thousand plus years. There was a vibration felt through the deck plates, but Ian still felt that the old girl was doing just fine. The vibration though, was short lived as it rapidly faded away to nothing.

“AG to thirty percent. Reactor at forty percent. We’re off the Moon’s surface; altitude zero meters.”

Ian could hear the cheer without the comm; it echoed through the ship as the joyous sound was carried by the frame of the ship.

“AG at forty percent. Reactor at forty-six percent. Altitude; zero-zero-five-zero meters. Main engines coming online.”

“All stress levels are still in the safe zone,” Star reported again.

“AG at fifty-five percent, Altitude is zero-two-zero-zero meters and climbing,” Chekov reported. “Zero-two-five-zero meters; we have officially cleared the Moon’s surface.”

This time, Ian did hear the cheers, as the people in the connected departments gave voice to the announcement, before the Chiefs could call them back to order.

“AG at seventy percent. Altitude now zero-zero-zero-three kilometers. Still climbing. Main engines now at ten percent.”

“Hull torsion readings are climbing,” Star reported.

Chekov looked frustrated. They were now high enough that they could use the normal ship’s engines to pull away from the moon, but the program was supposed to take them all the way to one hundred kilometers.

“Return the main engines to stand-by, Lieutenant,” Ian ordered.

Chekov typed quickly for a moment before replying. “Main engines are dropping back to stand-by.”

“Keel torsion is dropping,” Star reported.

“Steady as she goes, Mr. Chekov,” Ian said when he saw the questioning look on the Lieutenant’s face.

“Aye sir. AG at eighty percent and holding. Reactor at seventy-five percent. Altitude zero-zero-two-nine kilometers.”

“Okay, before we stop gaining altitude, and fall back on a thick anti-grav pillow and get trapped there, I think it might be time for a slight change of plan,” Ian said.

“AG still at eighty percent. Altitude zero-zero-three-six kilometers. Our rate of climb is dropping,” Chekov reported.

“Engineering; stand-by to go to one hundred, ten percent on the reactor,” Ian ordered. A worried sounding Major Dommer acknowledged the order.

“Colonel, would you assist the Lieutenant with navigation. When this starts, don’t worry about replying to my orders, just execute them, because we’re going to have to act fast.

“Star, no matter what; do not shut down the main reactor or we’ll crash. Trust me on this; I can feel what the old girl can handle,” Ian asked.

Star looked up, into his eyes, then nodded slowly. “I’ll try to help as well.”

“Altitude zero-zero-four-four. Climb reaching apogee,” Chekov said. “We need to do this soon, sir.”

“Reactor to one hundred percent. Bow positive twenty degrees, stern negative twenty degrees. All ahead full! Stand by to disengage launch program,” Ian ordered, and both Chekov and Jenny began typing furiously.

“Keel torsion climbing rapidly!” Star reported.

“AG field to neutral. Increase yaw positive three degrees. Stand-by Engineering,”

“We’ve reached apogee and are slowly starting to lose altitude. Main engines at sixty percent, AG field is dissipating. Keel torsion is above the safety limit, but stabilizing,” Star reported.

“Disengage Launch program. Stand-by full-emergency speed,” Ian ordered and closed his eyes to feel the ship. He ‘felt’ the last of the AG field go away, and she shuddered as if shaking off the last vestiges of the program, and Ian felt it was time.

“Full-Emergency speed! Kick her in the ass, Mr. Dommer!” Ian ordered, and felt the ship shuddering for a different reason now. Far back in Main Engineering, the six massive plasma engines began pushing as hard as they could. The Main reactor, surrounded by a containment field was at the very maximum of its controllable limit.

“Rate of descent is decreasing; torsion readings are back to normal, but stress readings are climbing. Climbing a gravity well is not what she was designed for,” Star replied.

Ian smiled slightly, but kept his eyes closed to feel the ship. “Decrease pitch three degrees, and adjust course fifteen degrees starboard.”

“Rate of descent is zero. Altitude is zero-zero-three-five kilometers. We’re beginning to climb.” Star reported. “Number three plasma conduit is approaching overheat. Rate of accelerating at fifty meters per second, per second; the rate is increasing rapidly.”

“Reduce speed one-third. Reactor to one hundred percent. Steady as she goes,” Ian said grinning at Jenny.

A few moments later, or so it seemed to Ian, Star said, “Altitude zero-zero-seven five kilometers.”

“Reduce speed to one third,” Ian ordered while Star reported the altitude.

“Approaching one hundred kilometers, Commander.”

Ian nodded. “Main engines to stand-by, thrusters to station-keeping.”

“Sir, we are free and clear to navigate,” Chekov said, making it official.

“Thank you, Navigation. All departments, this is the Commander, sorry for the bumpy ride, but the best laid plans... Stand down from the launch and assume normal operations. Flight; as soon as you’ve opened back up down there, you may begin flight operations. Engineering; you may begin the removal of the AG field generators. Day watch, stand down. Night watch, you’re on; I wish you a quiet evening. Good evening folks and good work.” Ian switched off the comm. “I don’t know about you folks, but I need a beer!”

“You’re missing a hell of a party, Ol’ Son!” Elias said, almost shouting over the background noise.

“I can hear that. There are a couple parties going on up here tonight as well. I know for a fact there’s one going on at ‘Starlight Cove’,” Ian said referring to the swimming pool that Oly and Julie Laskar built.

“Well, it’s not every day that you get to help return a Star to the heavens! Morale is through the roof down here! That was a nice bit of drama there for a bit, and it scared the hell out of all of us down here, any idea what happened?” Elias asked.

“Actually, I’m putting a commendation on file for each of the five people that got the launch program to work even as well as it did. I think Engineering should receive commendations too. What happened is we were trying to make the ship do something she was never designed to do, and she almost couldn’t do it.”

“Well, you made it, and we’re celebrating it. I sure wish you could join us, but I imagine you’ve had a long day. I just wanted to call and say Congratulations.” Elias said.

“Well, long day or not, I need to at least stop by a couple of those parties, and mingle a bit. You have fun, and have a beer for me!” Ian said.

“Will do, Ian. Have a good night.”

“Same to you, Elias, goodnight,” Ian replied and closed the connection.

Ian, Beth and Jenny did visit the two main parties, and mingle with the crew and their families. The trio received many toasts, and was congratulated by everyone they met. Ian and his girls fell asleep almost as fast as their heads hit the pillows that night. However, Ian did wake in the middle of the night.

As was becoming his custom, he asked the computer to display a view of space, just outside the ship. He was rewarded with a view of the curve of the moon being backlit by light reflected from the Earth. Since the moon phase was three-quarters full, there was also some light from the Sun as well. The stars were brighter than he’d ever seem them; it was a majestically beautiful, awe inspiring, yet serenely peaceful, scene. He got a cup of warm tea, and sat on the couch.

He wasn’t surprised when Beth joined him with her own cup of tea. “Hi sailor, is this seat taken?”

“Yes it is. I’m holding it for the most beautiful woman in the system. Since you fit that description, I must be holding it for you,” Ian replied.

“Flattery will get you everywhere, sir. I just can’t resist a man in uniform,” Beth replied.

“I’m mostly nude, so I guess in order to stand a chance with you; I’ll need to go put my uniform on?”

“No, I’m rather partial to the one you’re currently wearing.”

Ian smirked as he put his arm around her, and she snuggled up to him. “This is becoming a habit for you Ian. Is something wrong?”

“I don’t think so, it’s just really nice to have a few quiet moments amidst the chaos that are the daily operations of the ship. I like this time, because it gives me a chance to relax and think about things,” Ian answered. When he felt her tense a little, he reassured her. “Beth, you’re not intruding. You help me a great deal, and add to the peacefulness I get. You give me a quiet clarity.”

“I’d have thought you got plenty of ‘quiet time’ in your ready room. What’s the difference between there and here other than the hour of the day?”

He took a moment to answer her, since he needed to try to put his feelings into words. “There is a different... feeling to the ship here then there is in my ready room. It’s almost like I can feel that most of the ship is asleep, and the business of the ship has paused while we recharge ourselves. Besides, we have more comfortable furniture down here.” He grinned at her. “Not to mention that my ready room doesn’t have you.” He kissed her forehead.

She sighed in contentment and love for her husband. She was finding, more and more, how much happier she was now.

“So,” she said, changing the topic. “Now that we got the ship off the moon and back into space, what’s next?”

He sighed deeply. “Building the research base on the moon, and protecting the system. Shortly after Talena landed, half of our centurions were launched to begin week long outer system, and far side patrols. Kyle, Tara and Stephanie have been assigned to the inner system/solar far side patrols in one of the centurions. Their first task though, is to drop more probes into orbit around the planet to hopefully monitor enemy traffic. Then, once their week is over, they are to return to Talos for their first tour.

“Once we were sure we weren’t going to be attacked. Star issued a ‘begin task’ order to the two hundred construction drones we left on the lunar surface. The plans for the first and second stages have been loaded into their memories for the last week,” he finished.

“I didn’t even know that Dr. Punjab had come aboard!” Beth asked.

“He didn’t. Remember I told you that the eggs down at Talos were getting anxious to get moved up to the moon, or as they call it; Selene?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Well, I guess in order to pass the time, they got together, and hashed out a design for the base. Well, the basic design anyway. Paula Nelson has been studying designing and building space stations and facilities, so Dr. Punjab asked her to take a look at it. I guess the eggs, in there exuberance, forgot to design any amenities... like residences or apartments, among other things.

“Anyway, Paula got so excited that she invited some of her friends over, and they added all the stuff that the eggs forgot. It tripled in size just from that! Once the architects got all the information from Dr. Punjab, Elias, Luke, and I, they went back to work and kicked out a design that was so massive, it needs to be built in stages because the drone memory isn’t large enough to hold the whole design.”

Seeing how animated he was she relaxed a bit. “So nothing’s really worrying you then. I was afraid there was.”

Ian snorted softly. “Well; no more then what usually has me worried, being attacked, and not being able to stop them. Of course, there is also the almost as bad nightmare of the government discovering us.” He sighed again. “At least now I can stop worrying about the ship.”

Beth was quiet then, and Ian just held her, and looked at the star-scape and the moon. After a few long quiet moments, he looked down and saw that she was asleep against him. He smiled at her, lifted her into his arms as he stood, and carried her back to their bedroom. He sat her down beside Talena and the two instantly cuddled together. Ian briefly looked at all of the angels sleeping before him. This time his sigh was one of contentment as he climbed in behind Beth.


A month and a half later, construction was still ongoing in the huge lunar facility, but that was far from this silent, glass walled room, built right on the lunar surface and up against a small cliff. The large room was enclosed in super-strong plas-glass. There were numerous comfortable benches both facing the serene lunar surface, and facing the wall. This place had been named ‘The Hall of Names’, because on the flattened and polished surface of the lunar rock, the names and places of birth of the fallen were inscribed. A trick of the design helped to dampen noise, and in the center of the hall, on a small pedestal, a holographic flame burned in remembrance.

Ian had this room added to the lunar facility in the spot where the nose of the ship had come to rest, because of a promise he’d made to himself and to Talena. As the new Commander, Ian felt a sense of duty to his predecessor, and the former crew.

“Ladies and Gentleman, this is The Hall of Names; it is meant to be a place of restfulness, and peace. On the rock wall behind me are the names, ages and places of birth, of all the members of the former crew of Olympus save for one. She is here with us today to say her farewells to friends and family.

“Although the fallen crew is unknown to most of us, we need to remember, a good share of us have a few of these as ancestors. It is my hope that by placing their names here, they won’t be forgotten. If you touch one of the names, a small hologram of the person will be briefly displayed.

“After surviving the attack, and crashing here on this spot, those still alive witnessed the end of their race. I believe that it is a testimony to those few people that instead of simply lying down and joining their brethren; they abandoned the ship to try to save something of their race.

“We are here today because of them. We are reclaiming the heritage left for us by them. We are taking control of our own destinies because of them. Though there are some that would argue the merits of reclaiming all of this, these people,” he gestured to the wall behind him. “Deserve to be remembered, and to be honored. I ask that all of you to please join me in a moment of quiet reflection in honor of those on this wall.” He bowed his head, as did most of those present.

“In our honor to them, we must also look to the future. We need more information, and more people. Only the first part of this story has been written. Now, it’s up to us and our children to write the rest. Thank you, thank you all.”

The old being sat with its fellows quietly enjoying the evenings repast and discussing the issues facing them. It was about to begin to chastise Praetor Dren for the decline in the slave population. It was sure that Dren would just whine again about sterile females, and needing more ‘fresh blood’. The Grand Praetor hated whiners with a passion, and not for the first time did it wish they weren’t related. It was illegal to kill a member of your own house without full council approval; which was unlikely to happen since the whining imbecile in question was on the damn council.

Taking a defensive posture, the Grand Praetor prepared to defend the decision against the outright invasion of the only surviving human world. As it drew in the breath for the first volley, its assistant announced a message had arrived for the council.

The old being directed it to the big view screen on the wall so they all could watch it.

“It is by your leave that I intrude upon your time to deliver news most urgent. Two of our freighter captains that have returned from the human planet have reported Talosian shuttle craft flying back and forth from the planet to the only moon.” The smaller being on the screen held up two of its hands in a gesture of supplication. “I admit we have observed this before, and we were directed to ignore it, however, the shuttle flights seem to be increasing, and there are rumors of a small Talosian outpost on the planet. We have not investigated the moon as per your directions. We anxiously await your commands, your faithful servant, Calsith, director of shipping.”

The old being rocked back on its stool. Calsith was indeed a faithful servant of the council, and one that didn’t lean to exaggeration. If anything he probably understated the reports. It needed further investigation. Perhaps if he can convince the rest of the council to send someone to investigate, he could send Dren, it was just reckless enough to make mistakes. Perhaps the humans would kill the idiot, then some being less... whiny could be appointed to replace Dren.

“What say you?” it asked the rest.

“The reports are fictional constructs created by captain and crew too long in the deep dark. The Talosians were all destroyed,” Dren replied.

“Perhaps, but we don’t actually have proof of that. We don’t know how many, if any, of their ships survived. We never managed to capture one of those damn AIs intact to question it. It could be that the descendants of one of those ships have come to the planet, and have discovered the wreck on the moon. They have established a small, isolated colony while they pick at the bones of the skeleton,” another Praetor countered. “The fact that there have been an increase in the shuttle flights would support this. But there is really only one way to know for certain. One of us will need to go there and verify what’s going on. One of our ships can easily handle a small salvage colony.”

No one spoke for a moment then, when Dren was about to suggest someone, the Grand Praetor pointed at him. “Thank you for accepting this challenge as your own, Dren. You do our family proud with such an action. Since we finished with the excellent meal, I make the motion we all retire for the day, and allow Dren to begin preparations for the crossing.”

The old being was grinning smugly at Dren’s trapped expression and didn’t hear who seconded, but the motion carried, and it was too late for Dren to back out. As the rest of the Praetors left the dining hall, the old being began sorting through other members of its family for Drens future replacement. The servants dared not look the great being in the face, as it moved past making pleased noises. They did however, wonder what this portent would mean to them in the future.

Also by Ben Winston

Talosian Chronicles


Tides of Mars



Tides of Mars (Omnibus Version)


Pollux Paradox

Watch for more at Ben Winston’s site.

About the Author

Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.

Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.

He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.

Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.

Read more at Ben Winston’s site.

About the Publisher

Currently, only Michael McClain and Ben Winston are published through Blue Space Publications, LLC. It was formed by those authors with the sole purpose of publishing their works.

We have recently added a new author by the name of Ian Williams to the family.

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