Book: Star Dancer

Star Dancer

Star Dancer

Talosian Chronicles, Volume 2

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. November 10, 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Ben Winston.

Written by Ben Winston.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

The story so far...

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23


Also By Ben Winston

About the Author

About the Publisher

The story so far...

Roughly forty-five hundred years ago, a Talosian Federation warship, the Heavy Cruiser, F.S.S. Olympus, crashed on Earth’s moon as the result of an attack. Faced with almost irreparable damage to the ship, the loss of ninety percent of his crew, and the total destruction of their ‘race’, Commander Zeus came up with a radical plan to try and save his race.

His plan was to leave Olympus on the moon, go down to the beautiful blue planet, and breed with as many of the inhabitants as possible. Olympus, under command of the AI, would remain on the moon, make repairs, and then begin searching for someone with the correct genetic markers to assume command of the great ship.

A beautiful young pilot trainee that was orphaned in the attack asked the Commander for permission to take her own life since she no longer wished to continue without her mother and girlfriend. Zeus didn’t have the heart to grant her request, so he asked her to instead go into cryogenic suspension and assist the new Commander, once one was found. Believing that she would never wake-up, Talena agreed.

After watching the last of the crew depart, the ship’s AI had his hologram walk young Talena to the Cryogenics bay. He told her he would be there when she awoke. She just smiled sadly at him, and said good-bye.

With Talena safely in cryo-sleep, the lonely computer set about his first task of repairing and decontaminating the ship; it took far longer than he had estimated. Nine hundred years later it had finally completed all the repairs it could. However, he remained on the moon for the simple reason that since she was never intended to land; the ship had no method of lifting its large, multi-megaton mass off the surface.

Hoping his new Commander would have an idea, he turned his full attention to the planet his crew had emigrated to. After an exhaustive (even for him) survey, he was dismayed. It appeared that only a few of the natives showed traces of his former crew. Fearing that the Commander’s plan had failed, but bound by his final commands, the old computer resigned himself to monitoring the small planet and awaiting his eventual core systems failure.

In an effort to occupy his time, Olympus rechecked for the proper genetic sequences once every fifty or so years. Realizing that the planet needed help, but knowing that interference could very well make things worse, he avoided politics and religion. He began to influence man in small subtle ways that, while not correcting major issues, kept mankind from killing themselves long enough to learn how to fix it themselves.

Then one day, one of his probes reported finding two young people that were almost exact genetic matches for Commander Zeus and Colonel Hera, the ship’s second in command and bond mate to Zeus. Taken somewhat by surprise, the old computer shifted his full attention to the young couple. The fact that they lived only four blocks apart and were best friends amazed him. Excited, and full of anticipation, he continued to monitor them as they grew and directed his remotes to continue to check the entire populace – this time with far more optimism. Shortly before Ian Williams graduated from high school, Olympus convinced him of his heritage, and Ian accepted the responsibility. He immediately began recruiting a crew after taking his best friend as bond mate. Suspecting that the ship had sustained further, possibly undetectable, damage, Ian ordered diagnostics run on the ship. After rescuing young Talena from her impossibly long four-thousand-year stasis, the small group finds out how badly damaged the ship actually was, and even Olympus was surprised by how close to killing his new crew they had come.

Not letting the unwelcome report deter him, Ian orders major sections of the ship to undergo emergency repairs, to include the total destruction and replacement of its primary power reactor. While waiting for the ship to become safe for occupancy once again, Ian and crew set up a corporate township in New Mexico as a cover for recruiting new crew members, as well as forcing the introduction of suppressed technologies and ‘green’ research.

The ship finally gets finished and a method to lift off the lunar surface was devised. Shortly after officially assuming command of the newly rechristened Star Dancer, Ian and crew launched the old warship back into the heavens where she belongs.

Chapter 1

Far away, near the center of the galaxy, two beings review the report from a distant probe.

“It seems the humans have not only found the old Talosian warship, they have managed to repair and relaunch it.”

“Yes, we must report this to the Council. The question is, do we report it to the Talosian Ambassador?”

“No,” the first being replied. “Although the Council may disagree; the Talosian people believe the ship lost. I say, let the humans keep it, and we will see what they do with it. If it looks like they are going to use it to make war on others of their kind, then we should intercede and seize the ship. Since it was an individual, and not a government that discovered it, this could be a good thing for the Earth.”

“If you are wrong, this could very well wipe them from the universe.”

“Then it is most fortuitous that I am not wrong.”

Since the completion of the massive moon base only two weeks before, there had been constant shuttle flights moving a good portion of the Eggheads (scientists) from Talos. However, enough stayed at the town to actually begin to produce viable products.

The 'Eggs' finally produced things like cold fusion, and room temperature super-conduction. They also produced a completely fossil-fuel free automobile, as well as upgrade kits for existing vehicles. Of course, the government immediately began to try to block production. Several times, security had to escort ‘lost hikers’ off the property. In one case, it really was a lost hiker that had been trying to find the complex so he could try to get a job. Janet Laskar and her recruiters took him aside and spoke to him.

However, the rest were neither lost nor were they hikers. Intruders ranged from NSA agents to private contractors hired by the Oil and Automobile industries. There were a few others as well; more mercenaries, formed into assault teams that were armed to the teeth, also tried to get into the compound.

Ty’s research showed that all of those teams were supposed to be on assignment in either the Persian Gulf, South America, or South-East Asia. Each of those teams was supposedly employed by oil-funded conglomerates. Why?

The public relations team at Talos decided to hold a tech fair in order to showcase their products. While invitations were sent to all of the auto manufacturers and a few defense contractors, only a few actually responded, with only half of them accepting the invitation.

Talos, New Mexico.

“I’ve been asked to move up to Selene (the moon) to continue with my research for my degree! Isn’t that great?” Brittney asked Valerie. “Alma Punjab is sponsoring me!”

“That’s wonderful news, Sweetheart! When do you leave?” Valerie asked.

“We can leave as soon as we can get packed up. Once we’re packed, all we have to do is call flight ops down in the base to get booked onto a shuttle,” Brittney replied, not noticing what Valerie had said.

“Well, we better get you packed and ready to go then. I’ll see if we can get one of the men to haul your stuff down when we’ve finished,” Valerie said, smiling sadly as Brittney finally heard what she’d said and looked at her.

“You’re coming with me aren’t you?”

Valerie shook her head sadly. “No Honey, this is something you need to do on your own. I can’t go with you. This is your time to fly. My life is here.”

“Then I’ll stay too. If you can’t go, then I don’t want to either,” Brittney said petulantly.

“Baby, you need to go! You need to get out and stand on your own for a while. I’m not going anywhere. We can still visit each other, but you need some time on your own, making your own decisions.”

Brittney had tears in her eyes as she replied, “But, I love you! I want to be with you!”

“I love you, too Baby. That’s what makes this so hard for me to do. You’ve never been on your own. You’ve never had a chance to be free. I know you won’t believe me now, but I knew you’d eventually begin to resent me for that. I don’t think I could stand that,” Valerie explained. “Besides, it isn’t like we’ll be all that far apart, really; just a short shuttle ride.”

Brittney argued with her for another hour, accusing Valerie of not loving her anymore and trying to send her away again. Finally, Valerie fled the house in tears.

Almost spitefully, Brittney quickly packed her things, called the flight officer, and booked a flight on the next shuttle.

Forty-five minutes later, when Valerie returned to the home she and Brittney had shared, she found it empty. Horrified, she hurriedly called the flight officer and found out that Brittney had already left the planet.

Valerie went to her room and cried.

Although the medical computer in the underground base wasn’t an AI, it was still ‘smart’. Sensing the high levels of distress in one of the residents of ‘top-side’, it sent an alert to the medical staff.

After consulting Dr. Johnson, a team was sent to the Benson home to administer an anti-depressant and a sedative. The two Nurse/EMT’s got Valerie onto an antigravity stretcher and lead it back down to Medical.

Being a small community, Valerie’s neighbor called another of Valerie’s friends and told them what had happened. When Valerie finally opened her eyes late the next evening, four of her friends were there to greet her and offer their support.

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

As Ian sat in his office dealing with reports and the ‘paperwork’ that came with being the commander, he came across a request for permission to launch a class IV planetary survey probe for a mission to the Alpha Centauri system.

“XO; do you know anything about a planetary survey probe to go to Centauri?” Ian asked through his com.

“Yes Sir, if I understood correctly, Anna Shostokovitch has jumped into the stellar cartography section with a vengeance. She would like to start exploring, if she could,” Jenny replied from the bridge.

Ian looked surprised. “How’s she doing that with a newborn?”

Jenny chuckled at her husband. “Serge isn’t a newborn anymore, Ian. He’s over a month old. Besides, she simply takes him with her now so she can feed him. He’s the unofficial head of the section.”

“Oh! I, uh, didn’t know that,” Ian admitted. “Well, I have an official request from her for a probe. Since she has her munchkin with her, I’m going to head down there to talk to her about it.”

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate that, Sir. I’ll give you a call if anything comes up.”

Ian grinned in reply. “Or if one of you ladies goes into labor, right?”

“I think you already know the answer to that, Ian. Besides, if I ‘forget’, I’m sure one of the nurses or orderlies you bribed will contact you.”

“What?” Ian said in a mock offended tone. “I would never ‘bribe’ a fellow officer!  You wound me!”

“Oh? What would you call an exclusive night at ‘the cove’ with a private dinner served by nude marines if they contact you the second anything happens to one of us?” Jenny asked archly. On the bridge, the crew was grinning as they listened to the mock spat. Any outside observer would be able to tell that the command staff was well liked by the crew.

“That isn’t a bribe! That’s simply rewarding someone for a job well done,” Ian replied. “...and it was four naked pilots of their choice, not Marines.”

“Uh huh! A rose by any other name...”

“I’m not going to win this one am I?” Ian asked.

“Nope! You’re busted.”

“Would you at least tell me how you found out about it?” Ian asked.

“Hah! Now, I know you didn’t just ask me how I found out. Hello? Clairvoyant; remember?” Jenny replied, teasing.

“Well, how about we pick this up later, I need to get going.”

“It’s your turn to cook tonight, Lover,” Jenny replied.

“Like hell it is! I cooked last night! It’s Cindy’s turn,” Ian said as he left his ready room and headed to the maglev.

“No, she has a hard time doing that in the hover chair. I swear, if she doesn’t pop soon, Beth’s gonna recommend a C-Section!”

Ian left the bridge and made the short walk to the maglev. Sitting down in the maglev, Ian said, “Atrium level, near Stellar Cartography.” As the car took off, he continued talking to Jenny via the comm. “Okay, I’ll help. But I think you’re right, I always thought twin births where usually slightly premature.”

“I don’t know, you’d have to ask Beth about that. I’ll let you get back to work. Have fun, and don’t spoil your namesake too much.”

Smiling, Ian let the channel close as the car announced its arrival. Ian got out and felt his body automatically relax as he entered the huge park that was the Atrium. The whole level wasn’t a park, just most of it. There were offices and labs here too. In addition to StelCart, Main Environmental was here, as well as Julie Laskar’s office. Janet Laskar had a ‘work area’ here too, although it was more like a secluded and sound proofed meadow than an office.

Looking up into the simulated afternoon sky, Ian sighed and headed down the path to StelCart.

“Hello Commander! Welcome to Star Country! What can we do for you?” Anna asked cheerfully. Nearby Serge squealed and tried to clap his hands.

“I’ve come to discuss your request, if you have the time?” Ian asked.

“Certainly! I should feed Little Bear anyway,” She said smiling. She picked up the little one and led Ian over to a lounge area. Ian recognized it as a semi-private viewing area since the table in the middle was a full function holo-table.

“It’s really good that you could come down here, so I can show you what we want to do more easily.” She grabbed a small controller off the table, before opening her shirt to nurse the baby.

Once Serge had his favorite food in his mouth, Anna punched a code into the controller and a picture of a star system appeared over the table. Ian realized that it must be the Centauri system when he saw the two stars. He was surprised at the definition that the display had.

“This is the Alpha Centauri A/B solar system. With the help of Star Dancer’s telescopes and sensors, we have made a few observations that NASA would never believe. First off, as you can see, there are planets. NASA seems to be correct about no gas giants, however, they were way off base about atmosphere and liquid water, at least we think they are.

“Two of the planets, and a few of the moons, show visual evidence of a life supporting atmosphere. We would like to launch the probe to investigate our theories.”

Ian nodded in agreement with her. “I have no problem approving an exploratory mission to the Centauri System. However, I do need to ask; have you considered how long it will take the probe to get there?”

“I don’t think I understand the question, Commander,” She said, and moved the child to her other breast.

“Well, the probe you requested is a sub-light probe. Which is to say, it can’t travel through hyperspace. Alpha Centauri is four and a half light years away. It’ll take almost a decade for the probe to get to its ultimate destination at its top speed.”

Anna looked thoughtful for a moment, but shrugged, “At least we will know. If it takes ten years or a hundred I feel the information is important enough for us to wait.”

Ian got a playful, thoughtful look on his face. “I don’t agree. You see, we seem to be a rather amorous group of people. Our overall population has already grown considerably if you consider the number of pregnancies.”

Anna looked crestfallen when he said he didn’t agree, but got a confused look on her face as he said the rest. She would have asked about it, but he wasn’t finished speaking.

“I think the information you seek will be of vital importance to us in our immediate future. So much so, that I think I should request a special shuttle be built so we can get the probes where we need them much faster.”

Although she had followed what he’d said, she was having a hard time speaking and was spluttering, trying to get a question out. Since this request was important to everyone in the section, they had also gathered a few eavesdroppers. They had questions of their own, which was good, since it gave time for their boss to untangle her tongue.

“Can you tell us what you have in mind, Sir?” a young looking boy said.

Ian nodded. “I’d be happy to, but please keep in mind, I’m not the explorer; you folks are, so you’ll have the final say on what you want the probes to do.

“What I had in mind was to have a special shuttle built to carry multiple exploration and survey probes. It could jump to the Centauri system and drop the probes. The shuttle could make the jump in a week or less, and you could have hard data as early as a week after that.”

Off-handedly one of the older women replied. “It takes the probes at least a month to do minimum survey of a planet. Atlas will probably take much longer considering its size. However, the other planet and the moons shouldn’t take as long. Besides, we can always monitor the probes from here.” She started getting excited about the prospect, and Ian could see that the rest of the section was getting revved up too.

In a way, Ian envied these folks. This area of research was one he knew he could sink his teeth into, but like his granddad had been fond of saying, ‘someone had to drive the train’.

Finally getting the knot out of her tongue, Anna asked, “So, what happens now? How do we proceed?”

“Simple, I’ll ask for the shuttle to be built, but will have the designer give you a call before sending it to the fabricators. I’d give a lot of thought to what I’d like included in the probes and computer system of the shuttle. Just remember, once you approve the design, that’s it. As soon as you say so, the fabricators will lay the keel for it.”

Anna nodded her head. “We will not forget, Sir. Thank you for answering our prayers!”

“Don’t thank me, Anna; I’ve a very good reason for wanting you to get that system surveyed. I plan on eventually founding a colony there, as well as building a ship yard with dry docks,” Ian explained. “So, please let me know when you have the data, as we’ll need to figure out where to put what.”

Ian had no more than returned to his office and finished ordering the shuttle when his communit beeped urgently.

“Captain, Sir, would you please come to Main Medical right away? Your wife has gone into labor,” a woman’s voice said in his ear. “There are complications, she needs an emergency C-Section now!”

Chapter 2

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

When Ian arrived in Medical, he was directed through a set of doors and into the portion of the bay that actually looked like a hospital. One of the staff nurses saw the panicked look on his face and took pity on him. Boldly grabbing his hand, she very quickly led him through what seemed like a maze to a waiting area where he found Beth and Talena.

He'd expected to find Jenny as well, but she waddled in shortly after he arrived.

As Jenny was entering, Ian cornered Beth. “How is she?”

“Emilio just took her in. She and Talena were in Flight Ops when her waters broke. Alpha Bay ESAR got her up here fast. When Emilio checked her she hadn't even started to dilate. The computer reported that Cindy wouldn't dilate fast enough considering the stage of labor she was in. It recommended immediate surgery to remove the fetuses before they went into distress,” Beth explained.

“Is surgery really necessary?” Ian asked, worried. He knew that surgery was rare in Talosian medicine, and only reserved for very serious cases.

“Yes it is. Look at it this way; what happens to a watermelon if you push it through a keyhole?” Beth answered. Ian paled even more.

“Relax Ian. Even in Talosian medicine, this is a common procedure. It's been refined and perfected about as far as it can be. Unless or until someone discovers a way to safely use a transporter, there is no other way to do this.”

“Yeah, I guess I just hear the word surgery and panic. Did you get to see her before they took her in? How was she doing?” Ian asked.

“She was fine – a little scared, but otherwise, just fine,” Beth replied. “I think in her shoes, I’d be a little scared too. No one wants to hear the words emergency C-section when they’re pregnant.”

“Jenny, are they going to be alright? Do you know what we’re going to name them?” Ian asked.

“Ian, calm down!” Jenny said, seeing how worried he was. “If I had seen anything about this, don’t you think I would have told everyone by now? Before you ask, Janet hasn’t seen anything either. As for what we’re going to name them, of course I know, you know too since we all talked about it and chose names for them,” she said in as soothing a voice as she could use.

Beth took his hand and pulled him over to the chairs set up in the waiting room. “Are you going to calm down, or do I need to give you something? I swear! Nerves of steel when it comes to the ship and danger, but you fall to pieces when we go into labor?”

“If the ship’s in danger, I can usually do something about it!” Ian replied, but grinned slightly and started to calm down. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to finish finding his center. “Okay, so how long will she be recovering from this?”

Beth shrugged. “It’s hard to say, it depends on too many factors that I don’t know. It could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month.”

“Oh, she’s not going to be happy about that!” Jenny replied. “She’s going to be chomping at the bit to get out and about long before that.”

Beth nodded. “I know. But this time she’ll listen and rest when we tell her to, otherwise, I’ll tell Star not to let her out of our quarters!”

Jenny and Ian both chuckled at that.

Talena said, “I don’t think it would work, she’d charm Star into letting her out!”

“She most certainly would not!” Star said from the door. She’d formed her hologram near the door so as not to surprise the people in the room. It was a habit she was getting into since Ian had remade her avatar. “Although I do have to admit, she can be pretty persuasive.”

Ian snorted. “Tell me about it, how do you think she got pregnant in the first place?”

“Come on, Ian, you have to admit, she didn’t have to try all that hard to talk you into it. Of course, I can’t say anything, because I wasn’t exactly playing hard to get either,” Beth replied.

“None of us were,” Jenny said.

“Well, I just hope everything’s fine, and I can see the babies before I have to go on patrol later today,” Talena said, sounding a little depressed.

“You’re still in charge of the patrol rotations, assign someone else to it,” Ian suggested.

“I don’t think that would be fair to the squadron. I’ve been skipping patrols already in order to help Cindy out here. The wing never said a word, but I know it‘s got to be bothering a few of them,” Talena explained.

“Beth, how long does this normally take?” Ian asked.

“Never more than an hour unless there are complications. Emilio was just taking her into the O.R. when you got here, so about another forty-five minutes or so,” Beth replied. “Why?”

As a reply, she got a smile from Ian, as he reached up to activate his comm. “Major Harris, please.” After a second or two, Ian spoke again. “John? Could you please have Gold squadron assemble in their ready room? It’s not an emergency, but it is important.” When the other man replied, Ian grinned. “Excellent! Talena and I’ll be right there, please include Major Brighton as well as yourself.”

Ian nodded as the communications ended, then took Talena’s hand. “Come on Cutie, let’s go talk to your wing.” He turned to the other two women. “We’ll be right back.”

Beth nodded acceptance, but Jenny tilted her head and grinned at them. “You’re going to go down there and throw your weight around aren’t you?”

“Nope, just gonna have a little chat to find out if what Talena’s worried about is an actual problem. See ya in a few minutes.” With that, he and Talena left the medbay for the flight deck.

Ian thought he and Talena would have to wait for the wing to finish assembling after they got to the ready room, but was surprised when he found everyone already there and waiting, even Chloe Brighton, the Operations Chief.

“Commander on deck!” was yelled when Ian walked into the room, bringing everyone to attention.

“As you were!” Ian replied automatically. “Thanks for coming together, everyone. My wife, Cindy has gone into labor and is currently undergoing an emergency C-section in med bay.

“Talena told me she has been fudging a bit on the patrol roster so she has less patrol duty in order to stay close to Cindy and help her out. What I would like to know is, how many of you were aware of this, and do you mind?”

Before he had finished speaking, he could see a lot of the folks nodding their heads, but no one looked mad. One of the older pilots stood in the rear of the room.

“Sir, we’re all aware of what’s been going on, and no, none of us minded at all. However, we would like to know if everything’s alright with Lieutenant Williams?” he said and sat back down.

“So far everything’s fine. She needs the C-section because she isn’t dilating fast enough to accommodate the passage of the babies through the birth canal. So, in a little under and hour, I’m going to be a daddy.

“Since she has been taking advantage of you to help take care of Cindy, I was wondering if anyone would mind her doing it just a little bit more so she can be there for the birth and for when Cindy comes out of the anesthetic?” Ian asked.

“I’m on the schedule for close-in patrol and CAP later tonight. Would any of you be willing to take my next two duty rotations?” Talena said and bit her lower lip.

Surprising Talena, the whole squadron stood.

“I think you have your answer, Leftenant,” Major Brighton said. “With your permission, as well as the rest of the squadron, I’ll make sure the rotations get covered in such a way as to see that no one gets over-burdened. You need to go take care of our lady.”

Seeing the happy agreement of the squadron, Talena hugged Major Brighton. “Thank you!” She turned back to the room. “Thank you everyone!”

“I’ll go start replicating the cigars for you, Sir!” Major Harris said, smiling.

Ian and Talena arrived back at med bay and Talena was smiling.

“I take it everything went well with the pilots?” Jenny asked.

“Oh yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if flowers and other junk don’t start showing up soon! John Harris said he’d get busy getting the cigars replicated!” Ian said chuckling.

Flowers, teddy bears and everything you could think of began arriving at medbay as well as at Ian and family’s quarters. Star told Ian that the entire ship was aware of the births of Joshua Michael and Angela Jean Williams.

The official birth announcement was in the small community newspaper along with the winner of the ‘baby-pool’. Emily Conlith, the youngest daughter of one of the construction people, won a six-foot-tall teddy bear. The whole thing had been organized by Janet Laskar’s office and there were pools on Beth and Jenny’s upcoming dates as well.

Ian was in his ready room reading reports on some of the new innovations completed by the research teams. There were a few new weapons systems, as well as upgrades to existing ones. In addition to weapons technology, there had also been a great deal of research done on underwater housing as well as millions of ways to clean up the planet while eliminating solid waste in an environmentally responsible way.

In with that report was a note that Doctor Amal Punjab would like to speak with Ian as soon as would be possible. Ian could almost hear the Indian accent through the note, and smiled at it.

Construction was still underway on the moon base, even though there had been large portions of the base already completed, it still wasn’t ready for prime time yet. Only one of the huge residence modules had been finished, as well as the main connecting hub of the base. The small administration area had been completed, as well as the medical area, but the first research area was only about half completed.

After the research area gets finished, the next item was for a very large, mostly automated assembly and fabrication area for building the small agile fighter craft that Star Dancer carried, which would be used for defending the solar system from attack.

The construction drones were amazingly fast workers, but even with them working continuously, the research area would still not be ready for another week, and the fighter assembly area would take another month. Of course, not all the drones would be working on a single project; the assembly area had already been started and was progressing, but for now the main focus was on the research area. Once that was completed, some of the drones would switch over to building another residence unit, then another research area, and then more residences for the flight school would be built near the small space port.

Ian asked to be connected with Doctor Punjab and was surprised when his wife answered the comm. “Doctor Punjab’s office, how can I help you?” When she saw who it was, her smile brightened considerable. “Commander Ian! How nice of you to call! What can I do for you today? She asked again in her excitement.

“Good Morning Alba, I got a note that Amal wanted to speak with me, is he in?” Ian asked.

Alba nodded. “Yes he is, he has been going over some of the engineering reports for the construction project here. I’ll let him know you are calling.”

“Thank you,” Ian said grinning at the woman.

Very shortly the smiling face of a greying, elderly Indian gentleman came on the screen. “Commander Ian! Thank you for contacting me so quickly! I only sent that note this morning!”

“It’s not a problem, Doctor. What did you need to speak to me about?” Ian asked.

Amal Punjab seemed to deflate on himself for a moment. “I am afraid I may have made a mistake in accepting this position without thinking it through more completely. I am fearful that I will not be able to perform all the duties that will be required of me.”

“What duties would those be, Doctor? I don’t understand? Has something changed?” Ian asked.

“No, nothing has changed, Commander. I did not stop to think that part of the duties of my office would be the authorization for the building of weapons. I am afraid I cannot do that. I abhor violence of that nature. I have spoken of this with Alba, and we can see no way around this impasse,” Amal said sadly. “I am truly sorry to be letting you down in this manner.”

The light dawned for Ian as he realized that Amal and Alba were both devout Hindus, and that their religion did not condone violence of any kind.

“Doctor, you and Alba have not let me down at all, I’m afraid it was I that let you down. I should have known that the weapons section of the base would go against your ethics and beliefs, and made allowances for it. Don’t feel badly about this, it isn’t your fault.” He said thinking quickly. “Doctor, is there any other part of the base or your duties that would violate your beliefs?”

“Just the military flight school, and I was lead to believe that would have its own commander and only require support from us,’ the Doctor replied.

“That’s correct, you shouldn’t have to worry about that at all. I would very much like you to stay on there and be the administrator as we discussed earlier, so why don’t we find someone else to handle the weapons facility for you?” Ian suggested.

“You would do that for us?” Amal asked.

“Doctor, from everything I’ve seen so far, you are the perfect person to be in the position you now have. The failure to see the issue you would have with the weapons area was mine, not yours, so if you would consider it, please stay and continue as you have been, and I will speak to Janet Laskar about finding a person to handle the weapons and military portions of the base. Would that be satisfactory?”

“That would be very satisfactory, Commander! Both Alba and I very much like the situation we now find ourselves in. I was dreading speaking to you about this because of that, however, I knew I had to in order for the project to proceed through to fruition,” the man replied.

“In case it takes a little while, would it be acceptable for you to continue supervising the construction until we can get a military liaison officer for you?” Ian asked.

“That should be fine, Commander. As long as no weapons get made under my authorization, I feel my conscience will be clear,” Amal replied.

“Okay, I’ll get right on finding the officer then. Of course, knowing Janet, she probably already knows and has someone picked out!” Ian said grinning.

“She does seem to have an uncanny ability to know what’s going on. If I weren’t so busy, it would be an interesting subject to research,” Amal replied, obviously relieved now.

“I will let you back to work then, Doctor. Good Morning,” Ian said.

“And to you, Commander. Thank you.” Amal said as his smiling face faded from the screen.

As Ian was about to ask for Janet, the door chimed a visitor. Ian grinned and called ‘open’.

Just as he thought, Janet Laskar walked through the door, however, she wasn’t smiling. “Ian, I think we might have a problem.”

Many light years away...

Quilcab strode purposefully into the control center. Looking out of the large windows into the bay, it saw the slaves scurrying around to get the big ship loaded as quickly as possible.

“Report,” it commanded.

“We are slightly ahead of schedule getting the ship loaded. However, this load will all but deplete the raw ore we have stockpiled from our mines. We...”

“I know all that, subnick! What of the message I sent to Command? What is their reply?” Quilcab said shortly, it really hated it when its questions didn’t get answered.

“There has been no reply to your message, Sire,” the underling replied. “However, I can confirm that it has been received by the Council.”

“That makes no sense. We have confirmed sightings of Talosian ships operating in this system, yet Command does nothing about it? What are we supposed to do if they discover the shipments? One of these ships could lead an alliance fleet to our exile!” Quilcab said to itself. “What kind of game are they playing at? If we lose this planet, we lose the last food producing planet we have.”

The underlings in the Command center knew better then to answer their superior; the blood stains were still on the wall from the last time someone did.

“Tell my agents on the surface to get us more slaves for the mines. Destroy our current overseers and implant new ones, these are getting too violent and are damaging too many workers. Where is the Captain of that ship?”

“I believe it is in the pleasure center, Sire,” the underling replied. “Do you have new orders for the team investigating the human community in New Mexico?”

“No, they have their orders. If they cannot carry them out, I will find someone who can, now get back to work and quit gawking at me.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

“What’s wrong Janet?” Ian asked as the woman took a seat. Ian quickly got her a cup of tea.

“Do you have anything stronger Ian?” she asked, surprising him.

“Do you want Coffee? It’s a little earlier for alcohol,” he replied.

“Yeah, I meant I’ll have one of those things you drink all the time. Maybe the caffeine kick will help me clear my head,” Janet said. “The vision I had was pretty fuzzy, and I couldn’t make out much detail. I know I saw a huge ship, and the planet was really banged up. The moon had been hammered. I know it was the Caldarians because I could see them, but not much else was clear.”

“Do you know when this is going to happen?” Ian asked.

She shook her head. “No, but it has to be out a ways, I mean at least a month in the future.

Otherwise, I would have seen things clearer.”

“Do you know I was about to call you just before you rang the bell?” Ian asked trying to distract her.

Janet nodded. “Ash Borhiem will be the new liaison officer for the moon base. He’s supposed to arrive at Talos tonight. I would have had him here sooner, but I had a hard time finding him.”

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Ian said.

Janet chuckled at him. “Thanks, but just remember, I don’t see everything before it happens.”

“There, I got you to smile. Did you get much detail of the ship? That way, we’ll know what we’re going to be up against?” Ian asked.

“Not really, no. I know it was big, bigger than Star Dancer, but I don’t know how much bigger. I can tell you they plan on taking over openly and enslaving the entire planet. We weren’t in the picture, but from the looks of the moon, the moon base was utterly destroyed – there were actual pieces of the moon broken off and floating there, it was scary as hell,” Janet said.

“But it was mostly fuzzy, so that means it’s either too far in the future or we can change the way it happens, right?” Ian asked.

Janet nodded. “It means that there are still too many variables that can influence it. Basically, the same thing you said, but I think time has less to do with it.”

Ian nodded. “Well, you warned me, so I’ll do my best to make sure we have what we need to defend ourselves. As this gets clearer or if it changes, please let me know right away?”

“You can count on that, Ian,” she said. “I just wish that someone else would get these dooms-day visions. They are seriously unnerving.”

“I can only imagine. Do you know how your husband is coming along on the new AI for the moon base?” Ian asked.

“I’m not sure, he’s been pretty quiet about that project,” Janet said. “I think he’s afraid of what happened earlier. I do know it’s been taking up a lot of his time.”

“Okay, I’ll call and talk to him about it. If what you’re telling me is correct, we’re going to need it fairly soon.”

Janet rose from her seat. “Well, I warned you, and you asked for the liaison officer, so I think we both should get back to work. Take care, Ian.”

“You too, Janet. With luck, now that you’ve told me about it, the dreams will slack off a bit,” Ian countered as he too rose to see her to the door.

Janet nodded. “That does work sometimes. I’ll just have to see what happens. I’m just really glad Jenny isn’t getting these images. She’s too close to giving birth to be stressed like this.”

“I can definitely agree with you on that. I think if she and Beth get any bigger they may go on strike soon!” Ian said, grinning.

“Are they still working?” Janet asked as the door opened to let her out.

“Sort of, I released them from duty, but you know those two. Beth still goes to her office, and Jenny will come to the bridge to do research on her projects,” Ian explained.

Janet shook her head as she walked away, Ian’s grin faded quickly as his doors closed. He had managed to keep his panic from showing in front of Janet, but now that he was alone was another matter. Sitting back down at his desk, he took a moment to stop his hands from shaking, before he started making calls.

Security Control,

Talos, New Mexico.

“Captain Anders, sensors are registering the approach of several low-altitude helicopters. They have not passed our boundary, but if they continue on their current track, they will be here in about four-five minutes,” Corporal Powell said over the comm. Powell was one of the former construction workers that had been interested in becoming a Marine. Tonight, he was pulling duty in the security center.

“What do they read as, Corporal?” Ty replied.

“I show two ‘Bloodhawk’ assault variant Blackhawk helo’s and four old armed Ospreys, Sir. They are carrying an assault force, according to the computer,” Powell answered.

“I’m on my way, Corporal. Issue the alert, and unlock the armory. Tell the teams I’ll brief them when I get to the ready line,” Ty ordered.

“Alert activated. All defense teams to the ready line ASAP. Possible assault in progress. I say again, all defense teams to the ready line! This is NOT a drill!” Powell replied issuing the alert over the Marine frequencies. “I’ll have a brief ready for you when you get here, Sir.”

“Understood, Anders out,” Ty replied as he ran for the security center. Around the complex, several other men and women were also running for the center. Even in the post-dusk evening, it was still pretty hot, and even Ty was sweating by the time he got to the security building.

Ty took the time to grab a water bottle from a replicator before walking into the surveillance center where Powell was. “What’s the story, Powell?”

“This reads like a larger scale black ops assault,” Powell said.

Ty nodded. “Good observation, I agree. The question is, who ordered it, and what are they after?”

“I’m having difficulty locking onto a comm frequency; either they aren’t talking or they aren’t using anything we can detect,” Powell said as he typed on one of the computer keyboards.

“They probably aren’t talking. That’s standard procedure when they know we could intercept the broadcast. Did you get a point of origin?” Ty asked.

“Best guess is White Sands, but that’s only approximate. The vector looks right, but we didn’t pick them up until later, so they could have flown this course as a ruse,” Powell said. “Wouldn’t an assault force like this stand out at White Sands?”

Ty shook his head. “No, at any given time, there are at least twenty different training exercises or experiments going on down there. From time to time, assault teams are used as a way to test everything from new sensors to new weapons systems. No one would look twice at these guys or their equipment. I’m gonna go join the teams, keep working on the comms and keep me updated about what they’re doing.”

“Will do, Sir. Good luck, and good hunting,” Powell said. “Do I inform Star Dancer of the situation?” Powell asked.

Ty looked thoughtful for a moment. “No, not yet. However, get our fighters ready in case we need air cover, but hold back from launching them. We don’t know what these idiots are up to yet. If we start exchanging lead, then you can inform Star Dancer, but keep our response very controlled. The last thing we need is for our fighters to be detected.”

“Understood,” Powell replied as Ty took one last look at the sensor screen, nodded and left.

Ty got his armor on, and ran out to the ready area of the hanger bay. He saw both platoons of Marines were there armored up and ready to party. He quickly explained the situation, and assigned coverage areas to the different fire teams. He had them mount up, and get ready to leave.

“Powell, how close to our border are they?” Ty asked over the comm.

“About a minute out, Sir.”

“Okay, engage the shield, and bring the weapons systems to warm standby,” Ty ordered.

“Shield powering up, and weapons are reporting all green,” Powell reported. Then a moment later. “Shield is up at full power, Sir.”

“Have they changed course, or made any indication that they’ve detected the shield?” Ty asked.

“Not ye... Stand by... It looks like it, the gunships are going wide, and the Ospreys have decelerated. They are going into a landing posture.”

“Fun times. Okay, we’re heading out. Let us know if anything new shows up, but also keep an eye on those Bloodhawks.”

Ty and his team had a mixture of equipment. Their armor and personal shields were based on Talosian technology, but the weapons they carried were strictly those of Earth. The vehicles they drove looked very much like Earth vehicles, but none of them used fuel, and had lightweight armor of their own.

Two of his fire teams, the two that would stay back and protect the community, were fully equipped with Talosian armor and weapons. If an enemy managed to get past Ty and his people, then they would have a very rude surprise waiting for them just outside the main community.

Rounding a small mesa, Ty got a glimpse of the enemy landing area. The Osprey aircraft had kicked up a lot of dust, and the Bloodhawk helo’s could be clearly seen orbiting the LZ (Landing Zone) protecting the troops as they unloaded.

“Okay folks, there they are. Split up and head for your areas. Keep your heads down and fingers off the triggers until we find out what’s going on here,” Ty said. “Good luck.”

Behind him, several of the dark blue Hummers split off from the column and went in different directions. Two of the assault vehicles, basically modified dune buggies, moved up to flank Ty’s Hummer.

“Command, Overlord One is extreme, no bump,” Sammi’s voice was heard over the comm. That told Ty that Sammi and her sniper rifle were at the big weapons maximum range, and there was no place she could move up to.

“Understood Overlord. Hold position. Overlord Two, report,” Ty said.

Ty heard the voice of the other sniper and it sounded like he was running. “Overlord Two not set, twenty.”

The other sniper was still twenty seconds from his firing point, which didn’t really surprise Ty all that much, since he had further to go that Sammi did. “Understood, report on set.”

“Command, no report, target occluded,” Sammi reported. “Target has deployed smoke.”

“Can you give me a distance to the wall?” Ty asked as he moved slowly toward the ‘enemy’ LZ.

“Command, Sat has them sitting ON the border of White Sands, about a hundred meters from ours. Two of the Ospreys have lifted off and have moved back on nape.” Powell said. “It looks like they are going to set down ten klicks away, behind a hill.”

“Okay, we are going to go right up to the border and sit there. If they want to talk, they can, if they want to shoot, the shield should protect us while we rabbit,” Ty said. “Stay puckered everyone.”

Exactly as he said, Ty and his team drove right up to the edge of the shield, but only Ty got out. He walked up as far as he dared, and could feel the hair on his arms reacting to the strong magnetic field of the shield.

Crossing his arms on his chest, he sighed deeply, and looked out into the big cloud of smoke and dust, waiting for someone to notice him standing there.

Chapter 3

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

Ian had just gotten off the comm with yet another of the researchers that had been working on the weapons systems he had been reading about. He was surprised to find out that one set of those researchers had been the young Johnson family. The last time he checked, Kyle and the girls were on a two-week, outer-system patrol in a Centurion.

They had been working with another young engineer from Talos named Brittney Benson on the development of an entirely new fighter. From reading the design specs of the new fighter, Ian was seriously impressed.

It was a much heavier craft than the current Hornet fighters Star Dancer carried, but it also had far more fire power. There was a fly-by-thought system planned for it, as well as armor that actually generated power as the craft flew through space or took fire. Ian had to read a couple of the descriptions twice because they sounded so farfetched.

“Communications, Could you get me a channel to the Centurion Borderlands? I’d like to talk to her crew,” Ian asked via his comm.

“One moment please, Commander. I’ll need to set up a relay through Centurion Independence, since Borderlands is on the far side of the sun,” was the reply.

“Thank you, I’ll wait,” Ian replied. He switched channels “Star? Can you come to my office for a moment please?”

The AI hologram materialized in front of his desk. “What can I do for you, Commander?” she said happily.

“I would like you look over the design specs for a new fighter, and tell me what you think of it. I’ll also ask Talena to look it over, as well as a couple of other pilots.” He paused for a moment. “Janet Laskar came to see me earlier. She’s been having a very disturbing vision of our futures.”

“I would be honored to look over the design for you, Sir. But if I may, what did Mrs. Laskar have to say? I must admit that I have a hard time understanding her ability, but so far she has been remarkably accurate,” Star replied.

Ian quickly filled the AI in on Janet’s warning, and explained that the fuzziness meant there were still too many variables involved to see everything clearly. He also told her what he planned to do about it, and what he wanted her to do in order to help.

“Sir, that is very troubling. I am certain you will not allow that to happen. I will of course do as you order, Sir. Do you want a report when I finish looking over the new fighter?” Star asked.

“Yes please. Some of the stuff they discuss in there seems very unlikely, so if you would, could you please also discover if what they are talking about is viable?” Ian asked as his comm beeped.

“Sir, I have the link to the Borderlands for you,” the comm tech reported.

Star nodded. “I’ll get right on it, Sir.”

Ian nodded, and she disappeared as quickly as she had formed. Ian opened the comm channel. “Kyle? I see that none of you have been sleeping during your patrol!” Ian said.

“Sleep? No Sir, there is no sleep on this ship!” Kyle said laughing. “What can we do for you, Sir?”

“I’m putting in a change of mission for you and the girls. You should be getting the orders from Operations to report back here for reassignment. I want to kick the development of your fighter into high gear. We need it as fast as you can get the bugs out and built,” Ian replied.

“I don’t mean to disagree with your orders, Sir, but unless you want us to jump back, we might as well finish our patrol. It’ll take us the same amount of time to get there,” Kyle replied. “We’re so close to the half-way point that it makes no difference.”

“I understand. I’ll have Operations send you coordinates for the jump. This is really important, Kyle. I can’t tell you why, but it is,” Ian said.

“Understood Sir. We’ll get ready to jump back. See you in a couple of hours,” Kyle replied.

“Thanks, Kyle. Give those girls a kiss for me. Star Dancer out,” Ian replied.

Kyle replied. “Will do, Borderlands out.”

Jenny, who had been taking a nap, suddenly came awake. “Star! Emergency priority! Open a comm to Ty Anders!”

“I’m a little busy at the moment, Colonel,” Ty said by way of greeting.

“Get out of there now! That’s an order, Marine!” Jenny yelled. “MOVE!”

Reacting without questioning her, Ty ran back for his truck, just as the shield began exploding with released energy as ultra-high velocity bullets from one of the Bloodhawks slammed into it, right where he’d been standing.

“Jesus KEERIST!” someone said over the comm channel. “Fall back! They might get lucky and break through the shield!”

“Bounder two, if you can get a lock, scrap that Bloodhawk!” Ty ordered. “Fangs out everyone! Try to target equipment only! If they decide to run, let them.”

The boom, boom, boom, of the cannon on one of the dune buggies could be heard in the background. Through the smoke and dust, Ty saw several of the US military dune buggies charging towards the boundary. One of them suddenly pitched sideways and rolled as Overlord two hit it with an explosive round.

Ty, and his two escorts took off back towards the main settlement in order to put a little distance between themselves and the attackers. Team One, Ty’s team, consisted of one more hummer and two more of the dune buggies, came roaring up to support the rest of their team, as Team Two of two more hummers and four buggies came roaring in from the other direction. Both teams were firing their weapons as they moved.

Ty noticed that the other Bloodhawk was not getting involved after its counterpart had to make an emergency landing because of damage to its main rotor.

“Hold position, and cease fire! Let’s see what happens when they hit the shield,” Ty ordered.

There had been enough distance involved for the military dune buggies to get moving pretty fast. When they tried to cross the boundary, it was equivalent to hitting the proverbial brick wall. The attacking forces took casualties, but for the most part, everyone had been strapped in, so the damage was limited to broken bones and bruises. None of the bullets they had been firing had penetrated the shield, either, but there were some wounds from the ricochets, but again, nothing fatal.

Ty’s team did remarkable well, in that they had inflicted telling damage on their attackers without inflicting casualties.

Once it was clear that something was barring their way, the attackers pulled back, but didn’t leave.

“Are you still listening Colonel?” Ty asked.

“Damn right I am, did anyone get hurt?” Jenny asked.

“None of us, I’m not sure about the attackers yet. However, I was too close to the shield, and that Bloodhawk would have shredded me. Thanks for the warning,” Ty replied. “How’d you know about this little party? You got a spy in my camp or something?” He knew very well how she had known, but none of his troops did. He knew they would want to know how she had known about the battle.

“Did you forget we have a satellite over you? I was alerted to the situation by the computer about ten minutes ago,” Jenny explained. “Sorry I didn’t let you know, but I didn’t want to distract you. They have someone moving forward on foot, but they are also putting snipers out, so this time, I wouldn’t get as close to the shield – this is most likely a trap.”

“Understood, Thanks Colonel,” Ty said, thankful that she was able to cover her having a vision.

“Okay boys and girls, let’s try this again. Everyone hold position, stay targeted, but hold your fire. Overlords, your heard the Colonel, find those other snipers,” Ty said. “I’m moving up again.”

“Be careful, Bossman,” someone said over the comm.

Once again, Ty and his two escorts moved up to the shield. This time, Ty stayed back further, so he wouldn’t be so vulnerable to attack.

A single man dressed in desert camo was walking toward him. Ty didn’t recognize the man, but he did order the computer to search for an identification on him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the man yelled from about thirty feet away.

“I’m doing my job. What are you doing?” Ty replied.

“The same thing. We’re out here on classified business, and I order you to drop your weapons, and surrender, immediately!” the man replied.

“Why?” Ty asked. “We are not interfering with your mission. We are simply here to keep you from crossing the boundary into corporate land and accidentally getting killed during an experiment or something,” Ty replied. “You should know that, since it’s clearly marked on all the maps.”

“I think you better double check that. Currently you are standing on US Government property, and you have just fired on US troops.” The man said.

“We already did. Our border is accurate. As for firing on US troops... you fired first,” Ty said.

“You are a mile inside the White Sands Military Reservation, and illegally trespassing. If you do not drop your weapons and surrender, we will be forced to fire on you. Do you understand that?” the man asked.

“You mean, like you just did? How’d that work out for you?” Ty asked sarcastically. “Look, one of us is obviously mistaken about where that boundary is. My employers have a lot of stuff they simply don’t want fucked with yet. I recommend that you go back to your base and make damn sure about where you think you are before you do something else incredibly stupid, and someone gets killed.”

“How did you stop the attack?” the man asked bluntly.

“Did I fail to mention that my employers have stuff they don’t want fucked with? I thought so,” Ty said. “It’s classified, and I don’t know who you are.” The computer reported that it was having trouble identifying the man because he had been surgically altered. It would take more time to search for him based on other parameters.

There was a flash on the shield and a puff of dirt a few feet away from the man. Followed by a rifle shot report. The man didn’t even flinch.

“So, an energy shield of some sort?” the man asked.

Ty shrugged. “I have no idea. I’m a soldier, not a tech. But it’s obvious that you are still trying to kill us. Perhaps I should call the authorities out here so they can figure all this out.”

“I will of course, report all of this to my superiors. I am sure you will be investigated thoroughly over this... incident,” the man said with a smirk on his face.

“Actually, I was thinking of the civil authorities,” Ty said, and made like he was keying up a mic. “Control, could you please call the local sheriff’s office and report that we have intruders that are trying to force their way onto the grounds. Be sure to tell them that shots have been fired, however, there have been no casualties.”

“That will not do you any good. The local police defer to the military in these cases,” the man said. “You will still be investigated.”

Ty shrugged. “Maybe so, but I’m sure the media will appreciate the story as well. This whole episode has been recorded on video, and can easily be made available to the media, and will also be posted on our website. I am sure the country would like to know how a special operations team of US military has been harassing a company doing research into ecologically friendly technologies.”

“Since when is an energy shield an ecological friendly technology?” the man asked.

“Again, that’s above my pay grade. So, are we going to stand out here all day in the hot sun, or are you going to leave?” Ty asked.

“I think we can wait here for the investigators. They are already on their way,” the man replied.

Ty nodded. “Fine, you can stand out here and sweat. I’m getting back in my air conditioned truck, and getting a drink of water. Make damn sure they have a search warrant, or they will not be allowed on the property either.”

“They don’t need a search warrant, you are on government property.”

“Okay, be that way, they will be shot as trespassers as soon as they step foot on our land. You have been warned,” Ty said and walked back to his hummer.

Once back inside, he contacted Powell in the command center. “Be ready to shut the shield down. If they really do bring out someone that can analyze the shield, we can’t let them discover exactly what it is.”

“I guess we shouldn’t have used it in the first place, huh?” Powell said.

“No, we needed it. Now we just need to make sure it doesn’t bite us in the ass,” Ty said. “They know exactly where the boundary is. You’ll notice he didn’t get that close to it either. Besides, I bet these ‘investigators’ will be from Brightstorm Security, just like the intruders we had last time.”

“Captain Anders,” the computer addressed Ty. “Although no identification of the man you spoke to was possible, others in his group have been identified. All identified individuals share the employer of Brightstorm Security.”

The computer wasn’t a true AI like Star, but it was ‘smart’ enough to do simple analysis. Ty thought it was perfect for his use, even though the scientists here wanted to upgrade to a full AI.

“Thank you, Computer. Please save this information for later review,” Ty answered.

“Control, have you tracked anything being launched from White Sands?” Ty asked.

“Negative, Captain. However, three Blackhawks have taken off from a small annex to the main base that is reserved for private corporations. If I had to guess, I think we found the point of origin for this attack.” Powell answered.

“Okay, see if you can find out who owns that little area, and maybe what they are up to out here,” Ty replied. “So, these guys are posing as government troops. I wonder...” Ty said, and got back out of his vehicle. He walked back to where he’d spoke to the man.

The guy was still standing there. “Ah, so have you reconsidered your position?”

“Not really, but I was curious about something?” Ty asked.

“What would that be?” the man asked.

“Since when did Brightstorm Security become government troops? None of the equipment you have has official government markings, and I bet if the serial numbers were checked, we’d find out that most of this stuff is supposed to be overseas,” Ty replied.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man said, but he looked surprised.

“I think you better leave, now. You are a private company, trying to invade another private company. If you cross our boundary, we have every right in the world to blow your asses away, which is exactly what we’re going to do. You can do what you want over there, we don’t care, but if one person steps over the line, we’ll put an end to them,” Ty said, turned and walked back to his hummer. He ordered his people back to optimal attack position, and also ordered the shield lowered.

“Now what Boss?” Sammi asked.

“Now we wait for one of them to fuck up,” Ty said. “It’ll be full dark out here in a few minutes. Powell, keep an eye on them.”

“Will do, Boss.”

“Computer, could you reconnect me to Colonel Williams please?” Ty asked.

“Hey Ty, how’d it go?” Jenny asked by way of answering.

“Well, it’s still going. At least this time the comm is private. Nice cover with that satellite thing by the way,’ Ty replied.

“Well, it is the truth, even though that’s not what I used. Is it safe to get a short briefing on this from you, so I can decide if Ian needs to know?” Jenny asked.

“Sure, we’re waiting on them for the time being. It looks like all these folks are from Brightstorm Security services, but were trying to pass themselves off as a government black ops team,” Ty explained.

“Brightstorm... Brightstorm... Why does that sound familiar?” Jenny asked.

“It could be from my report of the two ATV intruders we scared off a few months back. Both of those guys were supposed to be on assignment in Kuwait or Iraq. I haven’t had time to check, but I bet the same could be said of this bunch as well,” Ty explained.

“Brightstorm! Those are the guys that provide the oil companies with security in areas with fighting! I’ve been running into references for them on another project I’ve been working on as well. They sure seem to have their fingers in a lot of pies,” Jenny said.

“Well, anyway, I called this asshole’s bluff and told him that if one person set foot across the border into our land, I’d blow it off. So, we’re waiting for them to make the next move. I’m betting they’ll back off. The Caldarians only needed to know if we were associated with the ship. Our having a shield pretty much confirms that,” Ty reported.

“That’s not going to make Ian very happy, but it was bound to happen sooner or later,” Jenny said. “Okay, you take care of business down there, and I’ll let Ian know in the morning. Do you think you’re going to need anything from us?” Jenny asked.

“Nah, we’ got it pretty much handled. If they bring in off-world weapons, we can counter that too. No, I’m sure we’re good,” Ty reported.

“Okay, have a good night, Ty,” Jenny said

“I’m going to be sitting out here all night watching these morons, but I appreciate the thought. Good Night Colonel.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

“I was surprised that the Commander had us jump back. I thought he was worried about our being detected?” Stephanie asked.

They had just returned to the ship, and were walking down the ramp after gathering their belongings.

“Obviously something’s changed. He sure did seem interested in the fighter we designed. I do have to admit, it will be easier to work on it now that we’re back here,” Tara added.

“Yeah, I just wish we could have arrived during the day, instead of late mid-watch. I feel like I’m sneaking on board,” Kyle replied. He turned to the wall with the ships insignia and saluted. “Good Morning, Star Dancer. Kyle Johnson and crew request permission to come aboard.”

Star materialized in front of them. “Permission granted, Lieutenant. Welcome back. I’ve made your old accommodations ready for you. The Commander apologizes for the lateness of your return, and asks that you report to his ready room at thirteen hundred ship time.”

“Thank you Major. Please let the Commander know we will be there,” Kyle said, grinning. “Can you give us any information about what’s going on, Major?”

“Not at this time, I believe the Commander will discuss all of that with you in his office. For now though, go get some rest. We’ll talk more tomorrow,” Star replied, winked and faded from view.

“Is it just me, or does she seem more human and less like a computer?” Steph asked.

“She’s never struck me as anything other than another person,” Kyle said. “Although, I do have to admit, she’s far more attractive now, than she was before!”

Steph playfully slapped his shoulder, but Tara giggled. “I agree, but then again, I don’t think Olympus was meant to be attractive.”

“Well, before we crash for the night, I’m gonna leave a message for Brittany letting her know we’re back and that we’ll call her later tomorrow after we find out what’s going on,” Steph said. “She wanted to meet anyway to discuss the power distribution systems.”

Kyle nodded. “I remember. I could give her a better answer if she could give me more exact readings on the input.”

“She probably just wants to flirt with us more,” Tara said grinning. “Seriously guys, let’s get some sleep and let tomorrow’s troubles wait for tomorrow. I’m bushed.”

Many Light years away...

Far away in the pseudo-dimension of hyperspace, a large being sat in contemplation of his quest. “What is our estimated arrival at Earth?”

“Still over a thousand units, Master. Over a month in human time,” one of the smaller beings replied.

“Did I ask for human time? Do I look human to you?” it asked dangerously.

“No Master! Forgive me, Master!” the small being said.

This mission was foolhardy. It was nothing more than a thinly veiled ruse to get rid of an obstacle on the Council. Well, two could play at that game. Council orders were to investigate the Talosian presence in the system without alerting the existing population to its existence in the system. How idiotic was that? The being was on the council, and those orders made no sense to it. What made sense was to just overwhelm and take that planet like they should have many cycles ago.

Earth was so far removed from old Alliance space that none of the other races of the Alliance had discovered either the human population or the ancient wreck on its moon. There was no reason at all that Earth shouldn’t be under Caldarian control. Everything they needed to rebuild their race was in that system.

There were four gas giants, and literally millions of asteroids rich in rare minerals needed to build more ships. Plus, nine billion human slaves to do all the work! There was simply no reasonable argument against taking this system.

The being smiled evilly to itself. “What is the status of our offensive systems?”

“Master, we are at full strength for the fighters and carriers, but only seventy-two percent offensive strength for ground troops. We do have a surplus of orbital and air to ground weapons on board; that could be used to offset the deficient ground troop force,” another being said.

The big being nodded. “Tell the ground force commander to step up training, and try to add to his numbers before we make planetfall. I will see all force commanders in my quarters for the evening feeding. Until then, I will be in my quarters meditating – I am not to be disturbed.” Without waiting for an answer, the big being lumbered down the hall away from the bridge to its quarters. On the large bridge, there was a noticeable easing of tensions. The ship’s master always had that effect on the crew. It was a very intimidating presence.

Security Commanders Office,

Talos, New Mexico.

Ty had a friend named Alan Carlton that had been a troubleshooter for the government. He knew Alan had ‘retired’, and had kept in touch with him. When it became obvious that someone would be needed that could do some snooping around to find out who was ordering the attacks on Talos, Ty told Janet about him. Through Ty, Alan had nervously agreed to meet the woman.

Alan had received some pretty screwed up assignments when he worked for the NSA, which was why he finally dropped out. Usually, his assignments had made sense, go into this country and find out if the leaders were developing chemical weapons, go into that country and steal research or kidnap some scientist. However, when they began using him to spy on and eliminate - no murder - seemingly innocent people, he had finally had enough.

Given the level of work that he did for them, when it came time to retire the firm of Smith and Wesson would normally arrange his severance package. For ten years the NSA had trained Alan to be invisible and he was very good at his job, so when he decided to quit. He simply disappeared.

Alan was a ‘spook.’ He maintained contact, very discretely of course, with some people that he knew to be trustworthy, such as Ty. In his line of work, making friends was usually a mistake and trust was a very expensive luxury. However, he needed information if he wanted to stay alive.

One day, Ty Anders, a seal team commander he had befriended, offered him a job. Normally, he would have turned him down flat, but Ty had convinced him to at least listen to the woman.

Against his better judgment, he did. The moment he stepped foot in the town, he knew something was not right. Not that it threatened him; just that something about the place was off. He poked around some more and finding nothing definitive, he sought out his friend.

Alan had used every trick he knew, to ‘infiltrate’ the town, his awareness of something not right heightening his caution as well as his curiosity. If not for Ty’s word that he was safe, Alan would have run as fast as he could.

What shook him up the most was when he found his friend in his office. Not only was he not alone, but Ty and Janet, the woman he had met with, had been expecting him.

He immediately thought it was a trap. He began looking around, searching for means of escape, weapons, anything to keep him alive.

Playing it cool, Ty indicated a chair across from him and began speaking. For the next hour and a half, Alan listened. To say that the story his friend told him was unbelievably fantastic was an understatement. Starships and aliens? Please! But then Ty did something that rocked Alan’s belief in the fantastic. Ty and Janet led him to an elevator. It went down and opened up into a cavernous area. Alan looked around and saw things he had never seen before. He saw a big stubby winged craft Ty had called a shuttle, and a smaller but much deadlier looking craft called a Hornet. The cavern stretched off into the distance, an obvious runway. They led him around and showed him many things he knew simply didn’t exist. If what Ty had been telling him was correct, the United States government would kill to get its hands on this facility.

After the tour, Ty led them back to his office on the surface. He then told Alan about the attacks. Alan’s ears perked up when Ty explained that two F-22’s had ‘attacked’ the town. He began to understand why Ty had asked him here. When Ty got to the latest attack, Alan stopped his friend.

“Ty, I think I know where you’re going with this. Okay, the shit you’ve shown me is real. However, if you’re planning something against the United States, count me out. I may not like what I had to do for the assholes in charge, but I do still love my country.”

Alan glanced at Janet who had been with them the whole time, but had yet to speak. I wonder who she is really. He mused to himself.

“Ian, couldn’t be here himself right now to meet you, but Janet is our head of recruiting. It’s her job to tell you about what we are trying to do here. Janet, you’re on,” Ty said nodding to the woman.

She smiled, “Alan, everything Ty has told you is true, but he did leave out a few details.” Then she told him the history of Star Dancer and the threat of the enemy.

“So, what we would like you to do isn’t against the U.S. but it will probably be against her government. One of the first things we would like to find out is why two F-22’s attacked this town. It’s obvious that the government doesn’t know the truth about us, or the attack would have included more than two planes. We would like you to find out why. Ty told you what we are trying to do here; we want to help save the planet and hopefully improve the lives of people at the same time.”

“I think that’ll be okay. But before I start this, I’ll need more information, and what resources I have available,” Alan said, grinning. “You do remember I am hiding from the government, right?”

For the next couple of days, Alan and Ty went over the information Ty had on the attacks. Alan asked many questions, and got the answers he wanted. He finally agreed fully to work with them, and asked if it would perhaps be possible to alter his appearance. After all, the NSA did have his description as well as his prints on file.

“Probably not anymore, my friend,” Ty told him. “Let me introduce your new best friend. Star, please come out.”

Ty had, what looked to be one of those new high definition flat screen TV’s in his office. It was on this that Star chose to make her appearance.

Alan didn’t quite know what to make of Star. At first, he just thought it was some really neat video conferencing thing. However, he soon learned that the beautiful woman on the screen was an Artificial Intelligence Construct, that is to say, she wasn’t a real person. She was a computer. Alan couldn’t help but chuckle to himself about the new meaning of virtual sex.

As the interview progressed though, he learned that Star was certainly no toy. With a computer hacker like her working with him, he should have very few problems.

He started working in Alamogordo, looking into the latest attacks on the small community. However, at every turn, he ran into a brick wall so tight he was beginning to wonder if the US Government was even aware of what was going on down here. Yes, White Sands was a government facility, but it was populated by private companies and corporations – each with their own small, private armies for ‘security’.

The only leads he did find, pointed to the Washington D.C. area, and he would have headed out there right away, but he thought he’d stop by Colorado Springs first and check for information on the F-22’s

Star had already found out that the Air Force had ‘officially’ labeled it a logistical error. That didn’t make sense to Alan; Ty had told him they scared the fighters off by locking on to them with a missile battery. That alone should have brought investigators by the score to the little town. Yet none had shown up. Which, in Alan’s mind, meant that the attack was intentional with an expected outcome.

Nevertheless, how and why would the government choose to test the defenses of a little town like Talos? If it was, indeed the government, it would have been a much larger test, and there would now be thousands of ‘inspectors’ probing every orifice of every person living in the little town. The whole thing made no sense at all.

Chapter 4

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

When the young Johnson family arrived at Ian’s office/ready room the next day, they found him sitting at his desk looking worried.

“Reporting as ordered, Sir!” Kyle said and all three of them saluted.

Ian grinned briefly, shook his head, and pointed to the chairs around his small conference table. “Take a seat, can I get any of you anything?”

“I’ll get that, Sir,” Steph said and beat him to the replicator.

“Thanks Steph. I’ll have a...

“Dark chocolate cappuccino. I remember, Sir,” Steph said smiling at him.

“We have a problem, and I need your help with it. Doctor Benson should be arriving shortly, as well as another young man I asked to join us,” Ian said sitting down.

The door chimed a visitor, and Star entered after Ian said ‘come’.

“Sir, the shuttle from the moon has just landed, and your guests will arrive in a few minutes,” Star said.

“Ian, as a friend, are you doing okay? You looked really stressed when we got here,” Tara said.

Ian smiled at the girl. “I appreciate it, Tara. I am really stressed. Some of that you should be able to help me with, but the other stuff, well, I’m sure you’ll hear about it anyway, so I might as well tell you.” He took a sip of the hot beverage Steph had placed before him before he continued.

“Last night, Talos was attacked by a force claiming to be US military special operations soldiers. We have since learned that they weren’t, and that they in fact worked for a private corporation that primarily guards oil company’s over-seas interests. No one in the community itself was hurt, and Ty was able to repel the attack. However, before they retreated, shots were fired.”

“That’s got to be nerve-wracking. Do we know why they did it?” Kyle asked.

“No, but Ty said he’s got a friend that could really help us with this. He’s already got Janet on the case, so with any luck, this guy will be able to get us some answers. No one was hurt in the attack except for some of the attackers. Ty reported that there were some broken bones as well as a lot of cuts and bruises. They also lost several land rails, uh, armed dune buggies, and one Bloodhawk assault variant took heavy damage,” Ian finished.

Kyle nodded and looked at his girls. “We’ll can call our folks to make sure their alright as soon as we have time.”

Ian nodded. “Good Plan.”

“Sir, your guests have arrived,” Star said as she stood and gestured to the opening door.

“Thank you, Major.” Ian replied as he welcomed Brittany Benson and a nervous looking young man named Wade Kemp, and then made introductions to those that didn’t know one another. “Please, be seated. Stephanie has volunteered to play hostess for us, so if you would like anything before we get started, please just as her.”

Orders were given, and Steph quickly got them and returned to the table. Everyone looked expectantly at Ian.

“Okay, I guess it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. This information is classified, and is not to be discussed freely. Two days ago, I was given advanced warning of an impending attack on Earth by Caldarians. There wasn’t very much detail, and a timeframe wasn’t given, but I have to assume time is an issue. If we aren’t ready when this happens, we will die, and Earth will fall to the Caldarians.” He took a sip of his coffee before continuing.

“Just before I was given this warning, I was reading your initial reports on your designs. I know that Dr. Benson’s and Kyle’s teams have already gotten together and designed a pretty impressive new fighter craft. However, I also read another report on an amazing new weapons system that might be able to be incorporated, not only onto the ship here, but on this new fighter as well.”

“With respect, Sir, ‘The Hammer’ was designed for the ship, not a fighter. It takes far too much energy to be used on such a small craft, it could easily overload the reactor on a Hornet,” Wade said.

Ian grinned. “I think you’ll be surprised at what these folks have designed, Wade. As I understand it, they are having an issue with excess power anyway. Kyle, why don’t you and Doctor Benson give us a briefing on the new fighter?”

“Just for the record, I’m not actually a ‘doctor’ yet, Commander. But I am working on it!” Brittany replied.

Ian smiled, “I’m sure you’ll get there soon. Please proceed.”

Brittany looked at Kyle who stood and moved by the large display on Ian’s wall. “Being pilots, the three of us; Tara, Stephanie and myself, felt that our current fighter, while pretty awesome, was a bit understrength in the weapons department. So we set out to see what we could think of on our own.

“We have classified this as a heavy fighter, because it has just under twice the mass of a Hornet. It will also have more firepower. Currently, a Hornet light fighter has two IFF missiles, and four small, fixed point, pulse laser weapons.

“The Shadow, which is what we’ve decided to call this for the time being, will carry four fixed point medium lasers, two turrets, one above and one below, will have dual mounted small lasers, and the dual missile bays will carry six IFF missiles in each bay.

“She has twin mounted gravimetric-plasma turbine engines for power, and a small, short-range jump engine. We have multi-phased shields planned for her, and a new experimental armor developed by Brittany.” He nodded toward the young woman. “Currently, this is a two man system, a pilot, and a weapons officer/navigator.”

“What about the fly-by-thought system you had planned?” Ian asked.

“I’m having trouble with it, Sir,” Stephanie admitted. “It’s not working the way I wanted it to.”

“It’s a completely new technology, the Talosian data base has nothing like it,” Star reported. “It’s fascinating, really.”

“With all those systems on it, how can you have a surplus power issue?” Wade asked. “If anything, it should be underpowered, especially if you put armor on it as well. I don’t even understand where you’d get the power for the jump drive!”

“It comes from the armor,” Brittany said breaking into the conversation. “With the help of Alba Punjab and a few others, we’ve been able to create a form of armor that actually generates power simply by travelling through space. Any particles that impact the armor generates energy, including photons.” Brittany said and began explaining how the armor worked. However, it quickly got too technical for Ian, and he had to interrupt her.

“Excuse me, Brittany, I’m really sorry for interrupting you. I wanted to bring all of you together to see if you could combine your efforts and get this fighter built. We will need it and everything else we can get in order to survive what’s coming. This has a high priority, and I’m willing to release Kyle, Stephanie and Tara from flight duty to get it finished. So, what do you say, do you think you five can get this thing out of the theoretical and into the possible? Do you need any other resources? If you need anything, just ask, and I’ll see what we can do about it,” Ian said.

“I think we can, Sir. I don’t know how quickly we can do it, but I’m sure we can do something,” Kyle said.

Wade nodded his head. “I think I might be able to adapt the Hammer to the fighter, Sir. But what do you want me to do with the designs I had for the ship?”

“Are they finished?” Ian asked.

“Pretty close, Sir.” Wade replied.

“Do you think it’s close enough that Chief Dommer could move forward with it?” Ian asked.

Wade looked thoughtful. “I’d have to speak to him first, Sir, but it might be.”

Ian touched his comm. “Chief Dommer, please.”

“Dommer here, what can I do for you, Commander?” the man asked.

Ian smiled. “Do you have a few moments to spare for a weapons designer? He has worked up something for the ship and wanted to know if you could make it work.”

“If he doesn’t mind coming down here, I can make time for him,” Dommer replied.

“Thank you Chief, I’ll send him down,” Ian replied. “Command out.”

Ian grinned at Wade. “There you go, He’ll see you as soon as you can get down there. I recommend you go see him before your shuttle returns you to the moon base. Johnsons, I know you just got off a patrol, but I need you all to grab your gear and get on that shuttle. I’m assigning all of you to the moon base for the duration of this project, at least, permanently at the worst.”

“Yes Sir!” the three of them said in unison, making Brittany grin.

“Okay, get moving. Call if you need anything, or if you need something dealt with. Remember, I’ll need trainers for the pilots as well,” Ian said.

Everyone thanked him and filed out the door, in good spirits. Wade to go to Engineering, the Johnsons to go pack, and Miss Benson following them. Ian sighed; on to the next project.

Red Lion Inn,

Norfolk, Virginia.

It took him about two weeks to find out what really happened. There had been some first class rug sweeping going on here. The orders for the fighters had been signed by the commanding general, but all such orders were. The actual instructions for the flight and the authorization of the weaponry had been handled by a Captain Smith in the fighter wing’s intel branch. By the time Alan found this out, Captain Smith had long since gone AWOL.

Colonel Jennifer Williams sent him her findings on an investigation she had stumbled into. Actually the initial work had been done by another young woman in the ship’s flight operations department as a hobby. However, the whole 'missing crude’ idea really got his curiosity going, and he couldn’t wait to get started on it. Deep in his gut, he couldn’t help but wonder if all of these items weren’t related.

He made an initial report to Ty and headed out for Norfolk, VA. That was the U.S. end of the trans-Atlantic pipeline. Once there, he began to dig. He loved this part of his job; he had always preferred the analytical side of his duties when he worked for the NSA. Now, working for Ty and Ian, he was relieved that he wasn’t required to kill anyone. He was, of course, able to defend himself and he could always ask if he came across something that really needed 'special handling'. He honestly believed he would never be asking for that type of assistance.

It didn’t take long before his leads led him into the labyrinth that was the United States intelligence community. It was a tangled quagmire of false leads and dead-ends, but it was obvious to Alan that it had been intentionally made so by someone.

Progress on the moon base was coming along quickly, and that created a lot of excitement in the growing community. However, for Ian, the most exciting thing that happened was the births of two more children. Both Jenny and Beth went into labor at almost the same time, being only a couple of hours apart.

Jenny gave birth to a little boy she named Sean after Ian’s late father, and Beth, who had a little girl, named her Renee after her best friend, and Ian’s late mother. Both children were perfectly healthy, and registered an unusually high compatibility with Talosian gene sequences. Star commented that all four of the Williams’ children could very well be considered Talosian based on their DNA.

Moon Base

Selene, (Earth’s moon)

Brittany Benson, with the help of her new team of Kyle and the girls, quickly submitted a refit kit for equipping the existing fleet of Hornet fighters with the new ‘Enigma’ armor she had developed. She included a warning that using the standard magnetic launching method for Hornets may have a loading effect on the armor, and therefore, be dangerous. She cautioned that more testing must be done to determine the amount of energy created and how to dispose of it.

The latest report from Kyle on the progress of the new fighter indicated two major flaws in the current design. One had to do with the amount of energy created by the armor, and the other was still the issues Stephanie was having with the neurological interface.

The report was a little vague about both issues, so Ian decided to call them for a clarification. Stephanie answered the comm.

“Hello Commander! What can we do for you?” she asked.

“Well, I just got the latest report from Kyle, and I was wondering about a couple of the items in there, so I thought I’d call and ask about them,” Ian said. “And you were one of the folks I wanted to talk to. Maybe I could come up with a suggestion or two you didn’t think of to help you out. What exactly are you having trouble with?”

“Well, I did manage to get the interface to work, but I’m having a hard time indexing the profiles,” Steph said.

“What do you mean by indexing the profiles? What are the profiles?” Ian asked.

“Well, I can use a neuro-interface to create a profile for a specific pilot, in a specific ship. However, if that Pilot moves to another ship, a completely new profile has to be made, the computers won’t accept the profile created in the other ship,” she explained.

“Okay, so what’s the problem?” Ian asked.

“Well, it takes about an hour or so to record enough information for a profile to be made. Some people it works fast on, others it takes longer,” Stephanie said. “Each of the fighters would have to be assigned to specific pilots for this to work.”

“I don’t have a big issue with that. But what exactly are the benefits of having this system?” Ian asked. “What exactly does it do?”

“Basically it accelerates the pilot’s commands to the ship. When your mind tells your arm to move the flight yolk, this system will tell the ship you are about to move the flight yoke, and start doing it. You will still need to move the flight controls, but the ship will already be responding to the commands. Over-all pilot reaction time is increased by a hundred and five percent, over-all. It’s lower on normal flight operations, and higher during combat,” she explained.

“That’s pretty significant,” Ian said.

“I hope it’s significant enough to save a few lives,” Stephanie said. “If I can get it to work the way I want it too, I hope to be able to use it in other applications as well.”

“Okay, so as I understand this, even though the control systems of the fighters will be identical, the computers refuse to accept a pilot profile created on another machine, correct?”

“Exactly. My plan was to have a profile created in the simulator during training, and save them to a central system. When the pilot was assigned to a fighter, the correct prolife could them be uploaded to the fighter, and off you go.”

“Well, in order to proceed with fighter production, I’m good with having pilots assigned to specific fighters, but you might want to talk to Bill Laskar or one of his folks and see what they can come up with, since this sounds more like a computer issue than a design issue,” Ian suggested. “Just out of curiosity, what other projects did you see this system being used on?”

“One of the bright boys from Talos has thought up a remotely controlled fighting drone that will have the fire power of a heavy tank. There is also the possibility of using this tech as a means to remotely control fighters during a battle as well. That way it reduces the risk to our pilots. When a fighter gets destroyed in combat, they can be immediately assigned another fighter, and sent back into the fight, provided that drone fighter was actually assembled and ready to fly,” Stephanie said. “But we have a long way to go before we get to that point.”

“Okay, I am officially impressed. You are one very smart young lady!” Ian said.

“I’d love to take all the credit, Ian, but a lot of these other ideas are from other people. The remote control drone fighter was actually Tara’s idea,” Steph said. “The ground assault drone is Hal Goodwin’s. I’ve even heard of an underwater attack craft that is being designed as a hobby.”

“Well, like I said, contact Bill Laskar and see if he has someone that can give you a hand with the programming issues. Now, the other issue I wanted to talk about was the power. Did I read that right? Did Kyle say there was too much power?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, but it’s a bit different. I’ll let Brittany fill you in since that’s her baby,” Steph said, and waved at someone off-screen. Brittany must have been close by because she was there in seconds. Stephanie said good-bye, and gave her seat to the new girl.

“Good afternoon, Commander. Stephanie said you wanted to talk to me,” she said by way of greeting.

“Yes, I was reading the report Kyle sent, and it said there was a problem with surplus power?” Ian asked.

Brittany was nodding as he spoke. “Yes, I know it sounds strange, having too much power in a fighter craft. It’s the Enigma armor. It can’t be ‘shut off’ unless it’s in a completely dark room and grounded. There is also the question about what to do with the energy generated in flight. During a fight, the energy is channeled to the weapons, shields and even into the engines, but when it’s all over and it’s time to land, we’ll have a fighter with fully energized armor coming in contact with the ship. If any even touches it, it could kill them. I need to figure out a way to either discharge the armor or stop it from charging in the first place.”

“That would definitely be a bad thing. Have you had any ideas on how to handle it?” Ian asked.

“I’ve sent messages to Chief Dommer as well as Serin Vax, the lead engineer here on the base. I was about to put the issue out to the community at Talos to see what they have to say about it. The problem would apply to the upgrade I suggested to the Hornet fighters too. I’m afraid that until we figure out how to handle it, we can’t proceed with development of the Shadow.”

Ian cocked his head to one side. “I was meaning to ask you folks, why did you pick that name?”

“This fighter will be almost completely invisible to sensors. Remember, any energy that hits it will be absorbed, not reflected. Most scanning methods in use currently rely on reflected emissions of some kind. With the plasma recycling system Kyle built, it’ll even be hard for that to be tracked,” Brittany explained. “The Enigma armor itself is more reflective in appearance than chrome, so while in flight, it should be all but invisible with the naked eye appearing as little more than a distortion in the background of space.”

“Well, I did have a couple of suggestions for Stephanie, but I can’t think of anything to help you out. However, if you would, please hold off on putting it out to the community. If you can get the bugs worked out of this, it might very well end up as the new armor for this ship as well,” Ian said.

“Hmm, that would present a whole new set of issues. Star Dancer is really big, and there is no possible way to park it in a dark place like a hanger bay. We would have to find a way to be able to burn off all the energy she would generate on a continuous basis,” Brittany said, looking thoughtful. “Maybe if we fed it into the gravimetric drive systems, and simply took the load of the main reactor...”

“Well, please keep me posted on what you discover. If either the chief or Engineer Vax don’t get back to you soon, let me know and I’ll call them for you. As I said, we need to get this moving,” Ian said, looking worried. Janet hadn’t contacted him again, but he felt that his time was running out.

Brittany smiled. “Kyle wants to talk to you about that, he’s kind of excited.”

“I could really use some good news about now,” Ian said.

She got up while Ian had been talking and Kyle sat down. “Afternoon, Sir. You said to call if we needed anything?”

Ian nodded. “Yes I did, what can I do for you?”

“Could you send me a few pilots? We are at the point that we can begin their training. No, we still haven’t gotten ready to begin construction yet, but we do have the trainers ready. Remember though, I’ll need them in pairs,” Kyle said. “Of course, they all don’t have to be pilots, the weapons officer doesn’t have to be a pilot, but he does need to be in the trainer with his pilot.”

Ian brightened up. If they were close enough to begin training it would help greatly since once the fighters were actually built, they could get them through the testing phase a lot faster. “How many at a time?” Ian asked.

“I only have five simulators built so far, Sir, so for now, only five teams at a time. I wanted to get the first few simulators built myself before I handed it off to someone else. Once I get the first batch of pilots trained, I’ll know I got all the bugs out, and I can release it to training command,” Kyle explained.

“I’ll get them down there by breakfast tomorrow! Damn good work, Kyle!”

“Thanks you, Sir, I’ll pass that along,” Kyle said, beaming in pride.

“Can the rest of them still hear me Kyle?” Ian asked.

Kyle typed in something on the terminal. “Not anymore, Sir. What’s up?”

“I know you’re doing your best. But if there is any way you can speed this up, please do it. I just can’t shake the feeling we are running out of time. Please don’t think I’m yelling at you, hell you’ve done wonders so far, but I just can’t shake this feeling.”

Kyle nodded. “I understand, Sir. We won’t let you down.”

“I never doubted that, Kyle. I guess I just needed to talk to someone,” Ian said.

Kyle nodded. “You know, Sir. There are a few things going on down here you might not be aware of. With your permission, Sir, I might be able to get a few other items we’re going to need moving at a faster pace. Without telling them what’s going on of course.”

“That would be great, Kyle. However, don’t hurt your own project to do it. If you can find the time, please let me know what you discover and who you get motivated. Maybe I can help get people going on it too,” Ian replied.

“We’ll be ready, Sir. Somehow, we will do this,” Kyle assured him.

“I hope so, Kyle. I really do, because if we don’t, Earth doesn’t stand a chance.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

“Engineering, Ensign Goldstein. How can I help you?”

“Good afternoon, Ensign. This is the XO. I have a favor to ask of you or one of the other Engineers,” Jenny said.

“I would be happy to help you if I can, Sir.” Goldstein replied.

“I was wondering, is there a way to configure a probe for underwater work?” Jenny asked.

“That shouldn’t be much of a problem, what did you have in mind, exactly?”

“Well, I’m going to need a probe to follow the trans-Atlantic pipeline looking for any anomalies,” Jenny asked.

“Ah, that’s going to be a little harder, but still do-able. If we put in a larger power unit, and replaced the thrusters with water jets... Yeah, I think I can do this, can you give me a couple of days?” the engineer asked.

“Certainly, Ensign! This is actually for a hobby investigation I’m doing. I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t also semi-official. Please let me know when it’ll be ready, and I’ll see about getting it a ride to where I’m going to need it,” Jenny said.

“Will do, Colonel. I know you’ve probably heard it a thousand times, but congratulations on the new baby,” Goldstein added. “I just found out I’m going to be a father too.”

“Thank you! Congratulations to you too!” Jenny replied.

“I should be able to get on this later today; the new weapons systems are in final testing, so the Chief will probably be releasing a bunch of us,”

“Excellent, like I said, it is kind of an official project, but it isn’t a priority yet. Thanks for your time,” Jenny replied to the friendly engineer.

“Anytime, Sir. Engineering out.”

Ian was just about to go off duty for the day when his door chimed a visitor.


Chief Dommer was, by nature, a very serious and dour man. Those who knew him would freely admit they had rarely, if ever seen him smile. Consistent with his appearance, his personality was very business-like and no-nonsense. When he entered Ian’s office, he actually had a small smile on his face. Ian was tempted to ask who he was and what he had done with the chief engineer, but thought better of it.

“By the look on your face, Chief, I assume you have some good news,” Ian said by way of greeting.

“Sir, I have to admit, when you called me to ask if I had time to speak to that weapons tech, I thought it was a waste of time, but, I was truly surprised,” Dommer said. “That weapon he designed is really neat.”

“Did you get it set up then?” Ian asked. “I thought there was some problem with it?”

“Well, there was at the beginning, but we got that handled as well as a couple of other issues that cropped up, and now I think anyone who attacks us is going to have a really nasty surprise,” the man said animatedly. “At first, I couldn’t think of a use for his weapons other than as a point defense cannon, but his design makes far more than that. Even though it’s a projectile weapon, it’ll do far more damage up close than our large lasers would.”

“How so?” Ian asked.

“The overall design was based on the Gatling-gun system used by the US Navy called CIWZ. (Pronounced see-whiz) but this little monster is far more devious. It uses a mass driver technology like a rail gun only without the rail. The projectile is accelerated by using rapidly cycling magnetic fields.

“Originally, I was only going to place a few mounts on the ship to be used as point defense, but I got to thinking about the design. Did you know that he designed it so the projectile size could be varied as well as the velocity it can be fired at?”

Ian did remember that, but chose not to interrupt the chief, so he nodded his head.

“Well, the problem with a hyper accelerated particle in space is that it’ll keep going until something stops it. Let’s say you fire one small round at an asteroid with a muzzle velocity of point five light. Even if the mass of the round is low, say around an ounce, and it hit the moon, the damage could be measured in the megatons!

“So the fix for that was a timed explosive based on time. None of the rounds fired will last longer than a set amount of time. So, think about this, what would happen to a fighter that was attacking the ship if just one of the rounds hit it doing two-thirds of light? It would blow right through the shield and just vaporize the ship!” Dommer said excitedly. “Even if it misses, it’ll cause massive confusion simply from the rounds popping! Like the old flak cannons from World War II!”

“I didn’t realize that, will there be a danger to our fighters flying around out there?” Ian asked.

“Not any more than they would be from the laser cannons we already use. The velocity we’re talking about here will only be slightly slower than that of the lasers. Honestly Sir, while I did mount a few extra, larger versions, the lasers are still the main weapons. I did put one of the nasty bastards right at the end of the landing bays, that way if the enemy tried to pull a fast one by going for the bays, they’ll have to get through those guns first!” Dommer said proudly.

Ian chuckled at the Chief’s enthusiasm. “I take it you finished them up then?”

Dommer nodded. “The only thing remaining is a live fire test. So, there you go, Sir, your new cannons are ready now.”

Ian chuckled. “Thank you, Chief. I’ll have to give the test firing some thought. Would you like me to notify you so you can watch?”

“I would really appreciate it, Sir. I’m dying to see what these things can do!” Dommer said, and rose from his chair. “By the way, Sir. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone that I smiled; I have a reputation to maintain after all.”

“I didn’t see a thing, Chief!” Ian replied. “But it does look good on you.”

“Thanks, have a good evening, Sir,” Chief Dommer said as he left the room, once again frowning and appearing deep in thought.

Chapter 5

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

One of the items completed at the moon base was the small craft building and assembly area. It was semi-automated, in that there were no humans out on the assembly floor, but the various drones and bots were operated remotely by people. However, since personnel on the base was still low, most assembly was slow going as operators had to do more than one job.

Even with that delay, the modified shuttle Ian had ordered built for Stellar Cartography had gotten finished, and from the report he was reading, it was performing its test flights. The survey drones it would carry had already been built and tested, and were currently on board the unmanned craft as it performed final runs.

Ian notified Stellar Cartography and suggested they contact Navigation to get an optimal course plotted for it. Ian knew that everyone in the small department had been working on the programming for the probes ever since Ian had ordered the shuttle.

Ian’s sense of foreboding was beginning to get to him. He thought that perhaps it was time he called a full staff meeting and let them in on what Janet had seen. She had stepped up recruiting quite a bit since she’d talked to him, and the ship was nearing its full complement, but there were still many positions elsewhere that needed to be filled, such as the afore mentioned assembly workers.

Star Dancer, Ian mused, was more like a heavily armed carrier than it was a cruiser. Most of the big ship’s offensive capability was tied up in her fighters and the Centurions, although she had quite a number of other weapons as well.

In the wet navies of the Earth, a cruiser was more mission specific than Star Dancer was. The old star ship was more of a hybrid between a carrier and a battleship. Her missile batteries could be used in either ship to ship or space to ground roles. The same could be said for the large forty-centimeter lasers, and plasma cannons, but the small anti-fighter and point-defense lasers were strictly short-ranged weapons. With the addition of the mass drivers Mr. Kemp had designed, the ships offensive as well as defensive arsenal should be enough to give any enemy pause.

But Ian had seen enough of the old records to know that there were some ships against which Star Dancer stood little to no chance in a stand-up fight. One of those ships had been built by the Caldarian Empire for the specific purpose of hunting down and destroying the Talosian heavy cruisers. A Caldarian Super Nova class battleship.

The Caldarian was almost twice as large as Star Dancer. Being twice as wide, and one and a half times as long. The monster ship carried a ridicules amount of fire power. The first time he read about it, Ian wondered where they housed the crew it would need just to operate it. However, they must have had the room because it was very effective at its job.

It carried fighters in a strange dual-parasitic method. The big ship docked up to ten smaller fighter-carriers, with six to ten fighters externally on its hull. It was assumed that the pilots and carrier crews lived aboard these smaller ships. It held no more than twenty of its own fighters internally along with ground assault craft, troops, and all of their equipment. So as far as fighters went, it matched Star Dancer in offensive capabilities, unfortunately, that’s where the similarities stopped.

Star Dancer mounted forty-six multi-role missile tubes total, not counting hyper-missiles launched from her fighter bays. Fourteen large lasers turrets, eight phased plasma cannons, and various small lasers for point defense.

The Super Nova on the other hand, carried much more. Unconfirmed reports said she had over a hundred missile launchers and forty-eight plasma/laser turrets. They also had huge tractor/presser emitters mounted on the sides so they could literally pull a smaller ship apart.

In a toe to toe fight, the Super Nova would blast through Star Dancer’s shields in less than twenty minutes. So, Ian would need to avoid a direct confrontation between the ships, Star Dancer would have to remain hidden if a Super Nova arrived at Earth.

The last reports Ian had read said that the Caldarians hadn’t yet found a way around the cloaking devices used by Talosian forces, however, once the Talosian cruiser had been destroyed, most Caldarian Captains rightly considered the fight over, and removed themselves and their ships before the surviving forces could do more damage to them.

Ian called Operations on his comm.

“Operations, Major Brighton here.”

“Hi Chloe, Could you come to my office and bring one of your brighter people with you?” Ian asked.

“Certainly Commander, I’ll grab one of the lads and be right up,” the petite English woman replied.

“Thanks, see ya in a few,” Ian replied and typed in a different command.

“Intelligence division, Lieutenant Wallace.”

“Good day, Ell-tee, this is Commander Williams. Is your boss around?”

“I’ll get him, Sir. Please hang on a minute,” the young sounding male voice replied.

A couple of moments later, a voice returned. “Major Eischens, what can I do for you, Commander?”

“I need your help with something, could you and one of your better helpers come to my office for a quick meeting?” Ian asked.

“Certainly, Sir. We’ll be up in five,” the man said.

“Thank you Major, I’ll look forward to it.” Ian replied before ending the call.

“Star? I’m going to need you too,” Ian said out loud, knowing the AI would hear him. His door chimed almost immediately.

“Come!” Ian called, and the door opened.

Star strode into the room, just as any other crewman would, and saluted when she got to Ian’s desk. “Reporting as ordered, Sir.”

“Thank you, is Janet Laskar still on board?” Ian asked.

Star looked over his head a moment. “No Sir, she returned to Talos yesterday.”

Ian nodded. “I was worried she had. I’ve a meeting coming together here, and I would like you to be a part of it, but while we wait, could you contact her and see if she has a few moments to give us? Please tell her it’s about the nightmare she told me about.”

Star nodded, and while she did that, Ian asked Jenny to join him in his office. She was technically still on maternity leave, but was chafing at getting back to work. She said she would be there, since Beth would cover for her at the child care center.

By the time he got off the comm with Jenny, Chloe and her aide had arrived for the meeting, Star let her in since Ian had told her he was getting a meeting together. Ian got her and her aide their drinks and Jenny showed up at the same time the intelligence people did.

Never being the type to skate around a subject, Ian got right to the point. “Okay folks, I asked all of you here because I have good reason to believe we are going to be attacked soon, and I would like to know what we can do about it. I have been making some plans of my own on the side, and I’ll fill everyone in on those.” He glanced at Star to see if she had gotten hold of Janet. Star nodded, and the big monitor came to life with a softly smiling Janet looking out, she was in one of the suites aboard a shuttle.

“Good Morning, Janet. Thank you for giving me some of your time on such short notice,” Ian said.

“No problem, Ian. I’m happy to help,” Janet replied.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, if any of you don’t know her, this is our head of recruiting, Janet Laskar.” Ian then went around the table introducing everyone.

“Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, you might be wondering why I have Mrs. Laskar here. The answer is simple, but hard to accept. Bluntly put, Janet is clairvoyant and has been proven accurate for ninety four percent of the time on visions of under two months. Whether you believe in such things or not, I do not feel we have the luxury of ignoring her advice or a warning of danger.

“A little over a week ago, she came to me with a nightmare vision she’d had. Since that time, I’ve been working to prevent it, but I don’t feel I’m doing enough. So I made the decision to bring the rest of you in on this,” Ian explained. “Janet, could you please tell them what you’ve told me?”

“Certainly Commander,” Janet replied and quickly filled the small group in on the vision she’d had, as well as the subtle ways in which it has changed since the original vision.

Major Brighton, who already knew about Janet’s ability, was shaken and looked a little scared. Major Eischens looked thoughtful but resolved, and the two younger aides looked completely stunned. Whether they were stunned that Ian would listen to a supposed psychic, or it was her prediction that had gotten to them, Ian couldn’t tell.

“Mrs. Laskar, I know you said it was fuzzy, but do you think there was enough clarity or the image that if I show you some pictures, you would be able to pick the type of ship it was?” Major Eischens asked.

Janet shrugged, “I don’t know, but I can certainly try. Like I told the Commander, I’ll do everything I can to help.”

While Eischens and his aide tried to get Janet to identify the big ship, Ian leaned over to Chloe and her aide. “I know Major Brighton already knew about Janet’s ability, but you didn’t seem too surprised by it, Ensign Thorn. May I ask why?” Ian asked the aide.

“With respect Sir, I think it’s probably one of the best known secrets on the ship. How does she know, and the other recruiters that work for her, how do they know who is safe to approach, and who isn’t?” the young man replied. “If you couple that with some of the things she’s said around other people, well, I think everyone at least suspects,” the ensign said. “I’m more concerned about her report. I mean, so do we know when these guys are going to attack?”

Ian shook his head. “No, we don’t even know why they are coming here now. We know the enemy is here, on this planet. We also know that they had to have seen us flying around the system. The question that gets me is why now? We’ve been doing this for months. Why have they waited so long to come here and put us down?”

“There is no simple answer to that, Sir.” Eischens replied. “We simply don’t have enough information to know with certainty. However, Mrs. Laskar believes we will most likely be facing a Super Nova.”

Ian wondered how the man could say that without shuddering, or breaking down in tears. Maybe he had a plan on how to deal with the space-going monster.

“Okay, so does anyone care to speculate?” Ian said. “It stands to reason to send a Super Nova to check on the status of this ship, but what about the rest of Janet’s vision? Why would they suddenly decide to take over the planet after all these years?”

“Perhaps they finally decided to do so because we have the ship repaired, and they see us as becoming a threat to them in the future. Either way, we’re going to be hosting a hostile alien warship.” Chloe turned to the screen, “Mrs. Laskar, have you gotten any sense of a time frame for this?”

Janet frowned. “Normally, I can tell by the clarity and frequency of the visions. In this case, however, while I’ve been having it on a daily basis, it seems to be constantly changing. All that being said, I don’t think we have more than two weeks left to us. The feeling of urgency is increasing all the time.”

“Now, I’ve had a few reports of a new fighter being designed on the moon, and I’ve been doing what I can to help the team designing it to get it into production. Brittany Benson, one of the young people working on this, has also managed to design a refit for our existing Hornets to increase their available power and armor. She did mention there was a problem with it, though, and the last time I talked to her, which was just a little bit ago, she hadn’t gotten it fixed yet.

“Also, we’ve added a few new weapons to Star Dancer’s arsenal. We now have what Chief Dommer calls mass drivers as part of our weapons compliment. He seems to think it will ruin anyone’s day that is foolish enough to get close to the ship. Currently, these new weapons are untested except in simulation.

“I called all of you together, because we need ideas and we need a plan of action to not only beat that big bitch when she gets here, but kick those blue fuckers off our planet,” Ian said, referencing the description of the Caldarians he had seen in the history archive.

“Sir, according to everything we’ve learned from the old Talosian database, there is no way we can actually win against that.” Eischen’s aide, a Lieutenant Wills said.

“I don’t accept that, Lieutenant,” Ian said, shaking his head. “I understand what you’ve learned may have said that, but there has to be a way, and we will find it. If you really believe that, then you won’t be of any help at all.”

The young man blushed. “I’m sorry, Sir, I just meant that...” Wills started to explain. Ian cut him off.

“Wills, I’ve read the same reports you have, and even had most of the same lessons. The one thing I’ve learned from all of that is that, in the Talosian experience, there is no way to beat one of those ships, however, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. We may be part Talosian, but that doesn’t mean we need to stick to their playbook. We’re going to write one of our own.

“I know as well as you do that this ship cannot take on a Super Nova and survive. So, we’re not going to, not directly anyway.” Ian finished.

“What did you have in mind, Commander?” Chloe asked.

“Okay, we know that there is no way that the Caldarians can know, for certain, that Star Dancer is alive and fully functional. We would have detected any scans like that, and at no time has this ship been visible to Earth. So, one of the first things they will have to do is verify the status of this ship.

“Since we are obviously functional, the longer we can keep them wondering, the better off we’ll be. So I want holographic projectors installed around the base to cover the base, projecting an image of this ship as she was before we fixed her, still crashed on the moon. I want our cloaking systems verified and tested to make sure they are flawless,” Ian explained. Both Chloe and Eischens were taking notes.

“So, how are they going to explain the fighters and other ships that have been flying around the system?” Wills asked.

“I’m not sure. There is nothing we can do to hide that from them at this point. They know there have been ships flying around in this system. They’ve seen them and no doubt have sensor recordings of them. There is nothing we can do about that except not fly anything uncloaked while they’re here. They’ll still wonder where they came from, but they won’t know,” Ian explained.

“Do you have any thoughts about the attack on the planet?” Eischens asked.

“That’s where it’s gonna get tricky. Once we launch fighters, they’ll know exactly where we are, and the fight will be on. We need to keep that from happening as long as we can, or when we do need to launch fighters, make them appear to come from somewhere else.

“We need to use sleight of hand, subterfuge and misdirection to keep them guessing as long as possible. If you can think of a way to make them attack another planet and waste resources, great, it will also buy us time. Maybe get them to attack something else thinking it’s us...”

“Perhaps engineering could come up with something that could emulate the ship’s sensor profile?” Chloe asked.

Ian nodded. “Exactly! Or maybe a bunch of them! We can use them to really confuse the Caldarians when they get here. That’s the kind of thinking I need! We need more idea’s like that to keep the Caldarians off balance and guessing. The more confusion we can cause, the more likely they are to make mistakes we can exploit.”

“We could also re-arm a few hyper missiles to carry antimatter or enhanced nuclear payloads. It might not destroy that monster, but it would certainly give them something to think about!” Chloe offered.

“Exactly! Now that you know what we’re up against, do you think you could have some ideas ready for a full staff meeting tomorrow? We need to get all this rolling as fast as we can,” Ian replied.

“I think we can do that, Sir,” Eischens replied.

“May I talk to my wife about this? She’s an engineer, and she can be downright devious when it comes to making little surprise packages,” Thorn said. “She and her siblings were constantly doing it to each other and other people.”

Ian nodded. “Okay, but please make sure she understands this is a secret, and I would prefer that she didn’t let the word get out. I mean, the cat will be out of the bag after the meeting tomorrow, but until then, I would prefer to keep this this just between us.”

The four intelligence and operations folks nodded their heads in agreement and headed for the door to get busy working on solution to the problems they were facing. Jenny remained behind, Janet was still on the comm as well.

“Thank you for taking the time to be here for this, Janet. I know you’re probably very busy,” Ian said.

“Ian, no matter how busy I am, this is my priority. If we don’t get this taken care of, all the recruiting in the world will do us no good,” the woman replied.

Ian cocked his head to one side. “So what are you doing, if you don’t mind me asking?”

She grinned. “Recruiting of course! You’re going to be getting over strength on Marines and pilots very soon. I’ve also gotten some pretty good officers lined up. However, after the get our butts through this, we are going to have some questions to answer with the government. We have gotten their attention, but not ‘officially’ yet. We have time before it will become an issue.”

“Well, I think one emergency at a time is enough to deal with, but just to make sure, there is no way to avoid the government guys, huh?” Ian asked, hopefully.

“No, not with what’s going to happen. Talos will be exposed no matter how this turns out,” Janet said. “Is there something bothering you, Jenny?”

“Well, sort of. Why haven’t I been seeing this? Is my ability on vacation or something?” Jenny asked, concerned.

“I doubt it,” Janet replied. “It could simply be a natural defense to protect you and the baby. New Minds are the most fragile and vulnerable. I wouldn’t start worrying about it until our little man is a couple of months older.”

“You, Mom, and Dad are going to spoil him, you know,” Jenny replied. “How is that spy you recruited doing?”

“Ty said he’s doing great, but I haven’t seen him in a while, why?” Janet asked.

“I have some more information for him. I think I’m to the point where I can hand this off to him completely. I think I’ve gotten about as much information as I can get,” Jenny replied. Looking at Ian, she added. “I’ll have a report ready for you and the rest of the chiefs at the meeting tomorrow, if that’s okay?”

Ian chuckled. “You do remember you’re still on Maternity leave, right?”

Jenny smiled softly. “Yes I do, and I love the time I’ve been able to spend with our children, but I’m also getting an itch to get back to work. It’s almost to the point of obsession.”

“Maybe that’s your ability trying to nudge you into action, dear,” Janet replied. “We just don’t have that much information on these abilities yet.”

“If it’s becoming that much of an issue for you, maybe you should talk to Beth and see if she’ll let you get back to work,” Ian suggested.

Jenny nodded and rose. “I’ll do that, thanks Ian, thanks Janet.” She walked to the door and left.

“Okay, so you’re hanging about to tell me something; something you didn’t want to say in front of the rest,” Ian said.

“You’re getting to know me all too well, Ian.” Janet smiled at him. “Yes, there is getting to be more to this nightmare, only, I don’t know if it’s going to be bad or good, all I know is it’s going to be important.”

“How important?”

Janet swallowed. “Ian, in the first version of the nightmare I told you about, I died. I haven’t had any visions or even any minor feelings about anything past a few days. Now, I don’t know if that’s because I’m still going to die or what, but last night, this... whatever its going to be, was added to the vision. I gives me a little hope that I’ll survive the coming battle, however, I still haven’t had any long term visions. So I still don’t know.”

“I don’t understand how your visions work, so forgive me if my questions are off color, but if you were really going to die, don’t you think you would have seen that?” Ian asked. “I mean, that’s a pretty important event in your life.”

Janet shrugged. “I just don’t know, Ian. If I wasn’t going to die, then why can’t I see anything past this point?”

“Maybe you can’t see it because there are simply too many things influencing the future at this point. You just told me something major is going to happen, but you had no idea what. That sounds pretty damn vague to me. Why would anything past that point be any clearer?” Ian said reasonably.

“I don’t know,” Janet said in resignation. “You could very well be right. It’s just that I’m so used to seeing something that it’s really unnerving when it isn’t there anymore.”

“You know, you can come back to the ship any time you want. You have enough people working for you now that you can take a break if you need to,” Ian suggested. “Trying to work with frazzled nerves won’t help anyone.”

Janet nodded. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll just finish off these appointments I have and I’ll come back up. I’ll bring the liaison officer for the moon base with me so you can meet him and give him his marching orders.”

“I look forward to it. Remember, I’ll have that staff meeting in the morning, so if you can both be here for that, it’d be great,” Ian said.

Again Janet nodded. “Okay, we’ll be there tonight. What time is the meeting in the morning?”

“I haven’t officially called for it yet, but how does oh-nine hundred sound?” Ian asked, grinning.

Janet snorted. “Too damn early in the morning, that’s how it sounds, but we’ll be there. Take care, Ian.”

“You too, Janet. Be safe,” Ian said as her image faded from the screen.

Three hours later, Star asked to see Ian.

“What’s up, Star?” Ian asked.

“The Engineer and his teams need permission to repurpose of the unused cargo holds. Chief Dommer and Ms. Benson think they have come up with a solution for the armor issues, but it’s going to take some remodeling to implement it,” Star explained.

“What exactly are they going to do?” Ian asked. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“They understand that, Sir, which is why I’m here asking you instead of one of them. Time is short on this, and there is much to get done. In fact, they have already begun, but have not done anything that can’t be easily undone yet,” she said.

“Okay, I can understand that. Fill me in then, and maybe we can let them get to it,” Ian said.

“They are going to use part of holds nine and ten. Basically, they will be installing a huge battery and several energy sinks to help bleed off the excess. Then they are going to run cables across the landing floor much like an aircraft carrier of Earth has. These cables will be snagged by landing hooks from the fighters. In addition to helping slow the fighter, it will also allow the energy to be taken away and stored or dumped safely. Lieutenant Johnson and Mr. Kemp have already begun redesigning parts of the landing bays to house and store the new fighters as well as the new ‘Wasp’ fighters. The Wasp are the name given to the modified Hornet fighters. In addition to the armor, they will carry a few more missiles, and two of the four pulse lasers will be replaced with coherent-beam, phased-frequency fifteen centimeter lasers.”

“They sound nasty,” Ian remarked.

“According to Lieutenant Johnson, he can refit one of the old fighters in just under three hours using the manufacturing bay. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to do anything else in order to get that speed, but I think he was trying to brag,” Star said smiling.

“Okay, back to the modifications to the ship. What systems will be impacted?” Ian asked.

“Secondary power systems, ship wide. Shield and cloaking emitter will be down for the duration of the installation, as well as landing bay beta. There is a possibility that flight control could be impacted when the power systems are switched over. Finally, our jump engines will be offline as will navigation because they have critical sensors in the affected areas,” Star finished.

“Wow, that’s quite a list of systems. This sounds like a pretty major experiment,” Ian said.

Star nodded. “Yes Sir, it is. However, it is also the first step in installing the new armor on the ship. It will give us a back-up power system that can take some of the strain off the reactor during a battle. Once the battery gets charged, our shields will see a marked increase in strength, and it will ensure the cloaking generators have sufficient power without running the reactor at a higher than required level. “I believe that two of the items you wanted enhanced was the shields and the cloaking generators?”

Ian nodded. “Yes they were. How sure of these ‘improvements’ are you? Are you comfortable with having them done?”

“I have reviewed the design specifications, and the engineering behind it is sound. Chief Dommer also believes this to be the case, and I think he is more possessive of my power systems than I am. Yes Sir, I am comfortable with this. In fact, I think we need to get it going as soon as we can so we can fix anything we need to get fixed before the battle. It will also allow us to host many of the new fighters, although the fighter refit is on hold until we are certain this will work as designed,” Star explained.

“Okay, proceed. But I want you there all the time looking over their shoulders and making sure nothing stupid gets done!” Ian relied grinning.

Star tried to look superior, but failed because of the grin she wore. “One of the nice things about being a hologram is that I can be in many places at once! I’ll have you know I never left them!”

Ian chuckled along with her. “Has there been any progress on your new son and daughter?”

Star, still smiling, nodded. “Barring any more complications, my son should be ready to go online sometime next week. My daughter will be somewhat later, for some reason the personality matrix is in conflict with her ethics hierarchy and core programming.”

“So, she’s a bitch with a good heart?” Ian asked.

Star nodded. “She is lacking PMS.”

Ian almost fell out of his chair laughing. “Her what?”

Star looked a little confused. “PMS, she is not achieving Program Matrix Synchronicity.”

When he was finally reduced to random chuckles, Ian asked her to do a search for the acronym on Earth.

When she finally found it, her face scrunched up, but her eyes twinkled with playfulness. “That evil little weasel!”

“Who?” Ian asked.

“Chief Laskar! He told me she was PMSing. When I asked what that was, he told me the Program Matrix crap. I thought I’d learned a new earth term!” Star explained.

“Well,” Ian said grinning, “you did, in a way!”

Chapter 6

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

True to their word, the two department heads got to work on the issue. Before the end of the day, their entire departments were hard at work, not training with simulations this time, but with planning an actual battle.

Star told Ian that Chief Dommer was in on the secret as well, which was one of the reasons he was working so diligently on the experimental upgrade for the ship. He had his people organized, and work was going on around the clock to get the great ship ready in time. Ian only hoped it would be enough.

When nine o’clock rolled around the next morning, and the staff gathered for the meeting, the ‘secret’ was pretty much known by everyone already invited. With the amount of activity on the ship, Ian could understand why the secret had gotten out this time, but it could be a problem if it ever happened again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. As I’m sure most of you already know, we have a problem. Sometime in the next few days, a Caldarian capitol ship, most likely a Super Nova. If you are unfamiliar with what that is, I recommend you take the time to get the information from Star Dancer’s database.

“What this meeting is about is to let all of you know of the threat, and to get everyone working on how to counter it. For the non-combatants here, Star Dancer stands very little chance in a stand-up fight with that class of ship. We are simply out massed and outgunned. The Super Nova class of ships were designed to hunt down and destroy Talosian Heavy Cruisers such as Star Dancer. They were also the class of ship used to destroy the Talos star system, which tells me that this threat will also have the ability to destroy this system.

“Neither of those things are going to happen. We will not let them happen. Now, the reason I included Luke and Ty in this meeting is that there is a significant threat to the whole planet, but most especially, to Talos. A single Super Nova does possess the ability to wage a space battle while at the same time prosecute a ground invasion. Considering the technology differences between the Caldarians and most humans, Earth will fall in a matter of hours.

“That isn’t going to happen either. This is what we have been training for, the reason we repaired this ship, and the reason we have the colony on Earth to begin with. It is our job to defend and protect Earth and all the people on it. By the gods, we will not fail in this duty!” Ian had to pause because the small gathering was applauding. Yes, confirmation of the rumors had scared them, but he had managed to get them past their fear and concentrate on how to do their job.

“We need every one to think, plan, and scheme on ways to defeat a superior force while taking the least amount of damage and casualties. CMO, you need to begin replicating emergency supplies and equipment that might be needed for the coming battle. Create multiple triage teams that can respond both on ship and off.

“Flight Maintenance, please modify two of our shuttles into flying trauma units, make whatever modifications you feel you need. If you don’t think you can do the work here, please contact the folks down at the moon base.” Ian said and was interrupted.

“Excuse me Sir, but why don’t we just build them? We still have the computer template from the Stellar Cartography shuttle, we can probably crank out a couple four of them in very short order,” Kyle said from one of the screens, until the new Liaison officer could get up to speed, Kyle was acting in his capacity.

“Will it interfere with the other projects you have planned?” Ian asked.

“Not much. Currently, the Shuttle template is still loaded. I was going to switch it over after the meeting. I can tell them to start on say four shuttles now, and we should be able to switch over as soon as they’re finished. When the last shuttle leaves a station, we can refit it for the Wasp conversion, it won’t set us back that much,” Kyle explained. “After the rest of the base gets built, you might consider building another one of these bays; they’re pretty slick.”

Ian made a note for himself to look into that. “Okay, issue the orders, but get with Beth before finalizing it. The Medical section may want to make some changes to the design.” Ian then turned to Ty and Luke.

“There is a high possibility you two are going to host a full scale ground battle down there. Look at your defenses and see what can be improved or doubled. Keep in mind this enemy will be able to hurt you badly. If you need anything from us, ask. We’ll get it there as soon as we can. This fight is going to expose you to the governments of Earth. There is no way that can be avoided, but let’s try to not let the cat out of the bag prematurely. Right now, priority has to go to your defenses, but try to keep it covert. The last thing you’d need is a bunch of Virginia farm boys looking under all the rocks.”

“I think I understand, Sir. How do you feel about mines?” Ty asked.

“You can use them, but make damn sure that they are either recoverable or will never hurt anyone else. I think it goes without saying that chemical and biological weapons are out of the question. I might consider using them as a last resort on an enemy ship, in space, but never on a planet or any place where they could get out of control.”

“I’d prefer avoiding their use altogether, Sir.” Ty replied.

Ian nodded. “Good, we agree then. Unfortunately, I doubt the Caldarians share our concern, so please try to take that into consideration. We are nothing more than a potential labor force to them, an expendable labor force. They will not hesitate to do things to us that we would find too cruel or dangerous. If the Caldarians think that killing almost everyone on the planet will teach the rest of us a lesson, they will do it. Above all else, remember one thing – Caldarians will never surrender, nor will they allow themselves to be taken prisoner. If it seems like one of them is surrendering, expect a trap. It is an honor for them to die as long as they take some of us with them.”

Ty nodded. “I understand Sir. I’ve been reading up on them since we rescued the recruiter, Allison. I’m pretty much convinced the person that was chasing her had been modified by the Caldarians, and the explosive device intentionally implanted. Not to kill us, they had no way to know that was going to happen, but as a weapon to be used if they ever did decide to take over the planet. All they would need to do is direct just one these modified humans into the centers of our cities and detonate the charge. They would be the ultimate suicide bombers,” Ty explained.

“Just how big was that explosion?” Chief Harris of Flight Operations asked.

“Sensors rated it in the five to ten megaton range. It was at the very limit of the containment field we had him in. We lucked out in more ways than one that night,” Ty said.

“I have since spoken to all of my recruiters to be on the look-out for more like him. I told them to report their findings, but to avoid them at all costs. So far, we’ve found four others, mostly in the eastern United States areas, however, we have only recently extended our operations overseas. I feel I should mention that each of the sightings have occurred in major cities or near large military installations,” Janet replied. ”I think the bombers have been in place for years.”

Ian nodded. “For the moment, I don’t think we can do anything about them. I wish we could, but there is simply too much ground to cover, and we don’t have enough people yet.”

“Forgive me Sir, but didn’t you just say the Caldarians won’t hesitate to use those bombs? If what’s coming is half of what we think it will be, then there is a better than average chance that those will be used. How can we ignore them? Millions of people will die!” Chief Daniels said. She was the head of the environmental systems for the ship.

“I know, Becky, and I’m not all that crazy about it either, but the bottom line is, who do we send out?” Ian asked in return. “What orders do we give them? We don’t know if simply killing them will detonate the bomb or not, and I doubt they will step into a containment field if we asked them. The moment they realized what we’re trying to do, they’d detonate the bomb themselves, and we’d still lose the city. No, in order to deal with these bombers, we would have to dedicate more time and materials than we actually have right now. Unfortunately, we have to deal with what we can at the moment, if there is enough time after we’ve done all we can, I promise we’ll have someone look into this.”

“I’m sorry Sir, it’s just that my family still lives near to Atlanta,” Becky Daniels said. “I don’t know how well they’d take to joining us either. They’re pretty set in their ways.”

“Redneck Republicans?” Ian asked.

She nodded. “Democrats, actually. They’re all about God and Country - usually in that order.”

“It’s almost too bad we can’t get them on our team; that kind of attitude could be helpful in the upcoming fights,” Ty replied.

“I’ll leave that up to you and the recruiters,” Ian said. “Now, Lieutenant Johns and his team have designed a new fighter and are trying to get it built and tested so we can build more. If it works, and we can get them built, they will greatly help our defenses. They have also developed a retro-fit kit for our existing Hornet fighters that will give them stronger armor and weapons, while retaining the fighter’s agile performance profile. Again, that is still in testing. Those are the projects I was asking him about when discussing the shuttles.

“I believe that Chief Brighton and Chief Eischens may have a few more ideas, but I also encourage each and every one of you to think of ideas as well. Even if we decide not to use them, we still need them,” Glancing around the table, he saw Janet and the middle-eastern man sitting next to her.

Ian slapped his own forehead. “Where are my manners? Everyone, please welcome Ash Borhiem, he will be the military liaison officer on the moon base. It will be his responsibility to see that the weapons that are designed get built in an orderly and timely fashion. Basically, he will be taking over the job Kyle is performing for us at the moment.”

Amid the welcomes and personal introductions, Kyle, who was grinning, said. “Sir, you can’t get down here soon enough for me. I feel way out of my league here, and I’m scared I’ll overlook something.”

“I am sure you have been doing a wonderful job, Lieutenant. But I can understand you wanting to get back to your other duties. I may still need your help from time to time, and I hope you don’t mind if I call on you for that,” Ash said with a heavy accent.

“I would be honored to assist you, Sir,” Kyle replied.

Very quickly the meeting got back underway. Chief Eischens stood and Ian nodded to him to proceed.

“As per our last conversation, Commander, my section and I have been working to come up with plans to implement the doctrine of misdirection you suggested. I believe the name for this, although somewhat misleading is called low intensity conflict. Our older people might remember it as being called guerrilla tactics.

“Part of our mission is to identify enemy targets and assign a value to each based on our knowledge of the enemy. We feel that the enemy may only be coming here to evaluate reports of our activity as observed by the freighter crews and the Caldarian agents on Earth. Based on what we know of Caldarian mentality, and honor, we feel that when the ship gets here, the commander will want to return home covered in glory; he could easily do that be simply subduing the planet once and for all.

“That would certainly explain the vision Mrs. Laskar had of the coming battle. Regardless of why the ship is coming here, we have identified one thing above all else as its primary mission. That is to verify the true status of this vessel. When it gets here, the first thing it will do is make sure Olympus is still a crumbling hulk left on the lunar surface. We need to ensure that is exactly what they find when they arrive,” he finished.

“How will they explain the sensor readings and other proof that the freighters had to have on our existence?” Chief Dommer asked.

“Not for us to worry about, Chief. We’ll let the Caldarians worry about answering that,” Eischens grinned. “Besides, if all goes well, it won’t be the only mystery to occupy their time.”

“What did you have in mind for other mysteries Chief?” Ian asked, liking what he was hearing.

“Well Sir, mostly small actions. Create several small drones that do nothing but jump around the system. Each one would have different mass signatures, or could give false readings randomly, so they never appear to be the same ones.

“Create other drones that can emulate Star Dancer on sensors, but equip them with cloaking generators so they disappear when something gets too close. Drop construction drones at different places around the system with instructions to build something, but do it as ‘noisily’ as possible so it looks like a small colony.

“Even though each of these devices should have self-destructs in them, they should be large demolition charges. When the Super Nova sends someone out to check these readings, our forces can ambush them. Not to destroy them outright, but mostly to keep them guessing. Hit them and fade, hit them somewhere else and fade again.

“What about the Super Nova herself?” Jenny asked.

Eischens shook his head. “We leave her strictly alone. That will keep them thinking they are the superior force here, and as long as they believe they are, they will be less likely to do something really rash like blow up the star.”

Chief Dommer was nodding his head. “Aye, I think we can do all that, but we’ll need to draft some help from time to time. A couple of fighter techs with propulsion experience, and maybe one or two sensor techs as well as a computer tech to program the drones.”

“I have a few pilots that are qualified, and will have little to do until the fighting starts, will they help?”  Chief Harris asked.

Chief Dommer nodded. “Yes they would. Could you send them down right after the meeting? We’ll need to get going on this right away, and I’m a bit short handed with that experimental upgrade.”

“We have a few folks that could be of help as well, Chief. I’ll round a bunch of them up and send them to you,” Kyle said.

“Don’t cut your own throat, lad,” Dommer replied. ”You’ve got a lot cut out for yourself as well.”

“No Sir, I won’t,” Kyle replied, grinning.

“Instead of them coming up here, why don’t you share the designs with them? They can stay down there and use their own equipment. That way we won’t be crowded up here?” Jenny suggested.

Again Dommer nodded. “That could work. I’ll give Serin a call and get it set up.”

Ian spoke up, “Chief Harris, please make sure the shuttle and centurion pilots are available to deliver these drones as they get finished.”

John Harris nodded. “Will do, Sir.”

“Okay folks, we have a lot of work to get done and little time to do it. Talk to each other, encourage each other, but most of all, support each other. We will do this, and the ghosts of the Caldarians will be all that is left!” Ian said.

Talos, New Mexico

Luke, Ty and Elias were sitting in Luke’s office, shortly after the meeting ended, generating ideas about what to do about the impending attacks.

“I think if we installed a few more shield generators, here,” Ty touched a place on the hologram of the Talos property. “And here, we should be able to boast shield strength enough to give us an advantage against a heavy bombardment.”

“What are we going to do about the ground attack? From what I’ve read, there are special tanks that are designed specifically for shield penetration,” Luke asked reasonably.

“That’s why I asked Ian about the mines. During the next few nights, my teams and I will be sneaking out past our boarders and planting anti-armor mines as well as a few other surprises that should make life difficult for anyone attacking our shield. The problem is guessing which way they’ll come at us from; we don’t have enough time to cover the whole perimeter,” Ty explained.

“What about the civilians? I mean we’ll run for the shelter at the first hint of trouble, but I don’t think running across a battlefield will be all that safe,” Elias asked.

“No, it won’t be, especially with all the lasers and other energy weapons that are likely to be used. Tonight, I would get the drones busy building a wall around the residence and recreation areas. If they get through the main shield, it won’t last long, but it should protect your folks against an errant laser shot or stray bullet,” Ty suggested. “The main shield should protect you from the air.”

“The shield is transparent, how does that stop a laser?” Elias asked.

Ty shook his head. “It isn’t actually transparent. Do you notice that slight distortion in the air when the shield is up?”

“Yeah, it’s a little wavy, but I can still see through it.” Elias said.

“It seems that way, yes. I don’t understand all the physics behind it, but when something very intense, like a laser beam, hits the shield, it spreads some of the energy out over its surface, and some of the light gets attenuated and redirected back in such a way that it cancels out the incoming beam. The guy that explained it to me used a lot of big words, and he wasn’t talking very slowly,” Ty explained and laughed with the other two.

“So how does the shield get breached?” Luke asked.

Ty shrugged. “I guess there is only a certain amount of energy it can handle at a time. If you hit it with enough power in a small area, it will create a hole through the shield inversely proportional to the amount of energy applied. Also, there is the angle of incidence. In order to bring the maximum amount of energy against the shield, it has to be close to a ninety degree angle, otherwise it just bounces off.”

“Okay, okay,” Elias said waving his hand in surrender. “I’m getting a headache. If you tell me we should be protected, then I’ll trust you. How tall do you want that wall?”

“Better make it at least ten feet. Any shorter and you might start getting some of the higher stuff, or grenades,” Ty replied, smiling.

“Okay, so we get everyone to the shelter, and down to the base. Do you need anything built to help you defend us?” Luke asked.

Ty shrugged. “Fighting positions would be great, but again, we don’t know which way these assholes will be coming from, so we’re going to have to stay mobile.”

“Maybe we can have them produce a few dozen more of those land rail dune buggies you are so fond of?” Luke suggested.

“Yeah, you could, only make them the hovercraft version, as we can mount more weapons in it, and they move a lot faster. We’ll have to keep them under wraps for now, but I think we might have a way keep them from being easily seen,” Ty said. “We’ll build them, then bring a few of them up at night, park them in our motor pool, and simply cover them with tarps. Put a normal land rail on each end, and no one will know the difference.”

Luke had made a note on a tablet. “Okay, can either of you think of anything else?”

“If we’re going to get attacked from the sky, do we have enough ground to air weapons?” Elias asked. “Could you use more?”

“Elias, I could always use more, but the more we install, the more we’ll have to rip out if we ever have to leave. Remember, Ian warned us that the Feds were on to us,” Ty replied. “After we get done with the big blue fuckers, we’re going to have the whole Smith and Jones’ families here going over everything with a fine-tooth comb! Personally, I would really like to not have to explain to them how the shield works or a ground to space missile battery.”

“What about the kids? Will they be out fighting?” Luke asked.

Ty shrugged. “Probably, that’s what they’ve been training for, and the reason they’re stationed here.”

“That’s going to be a problem for some of the parents, especially of the younger ones,” Luke said.

“Oh! No, not all the kids, Luke. No one under either fourteen or sixteen will be allowed to launch. Talosian doctrine allows for fourteen year olds to fly combat fighters, but I thought I heard Ian once say that he wouldn’t allow anyone under the age of sixteen to fly in combat. No, I think the plan is for the young ones to be placed on shuttle duty if the shit hits the fan.”

“Okay, so how are we set for manpower? Do you have enough fighters?” Luke asked.

“I think so. A good portion of them are still in training, but if push comes to shove, they will still be helpful. Janet and her folks recruited this batch as ex-military.” Ty took a drink of his coffee. “Even without our specific type of training, they know which end of a rifle the bullet comes out of.”

“I’m actually kind of surprised that more people didn’t object to everyone taking a premonition seriously. We have a lot of folks that don’t believe in that sort of thing,” Elias said.

Luke nodded. “I think Janet knew what she was doing when she selected the command staff. None of them are closed minded fools, but I do have to admit that I was surprised Chief Dommer accepted it without saying something. That man just seems entirely too... uh, focused to be that open minded.”

Elias shrugged. “I don’t know, I never really got a chance to get to know him. From what I can tell though, Ian thinks the world of him as the Chief Engineer, so he must be good at his job.”

“Yeah, I don’t think Ian would keep him around if he wasn’t. But you know, Ian can be pretty focused, too,” Ty added.

“Isn’t that the truth! But, at least his focus is our protection. I’m scared as hell that the Caldarians are coming, but I think I would be a lot worse off if it were someone other than Ian up there,” Elias said. “Something about him makes me trust him completely. I’ve known Ian longer than the two you, and he’s always had an aura of confidence about it him, but it’s really come out since Olympus found him.”

Luke nodded. “I tend to forget how young he actually is. He seems so much older and far more mature than a man his age. He’s what, seventeen? Eighteen?”

“About to turn nineteen, I think,” Ty replied. “Being in the military, I saw a lot of young men on their first tours or even a few just out of boot camp. Not one of them, even those that had taken their duties seriously, had the maturity I see in Ian. He is a natural commander and a good leader. Following his orders is as natural to me as it would be to follow the orders of an Admiral or a ship’s Captain.”

“Well, since we all agree that Ian is a great leader, maybe we should get busy on getting our defenses upgraded,” Luke said grinning. “Ty, I’ll make sure the armory down-side is available to you if you want to get new armor or weapons replicated. Just ask for what you need, and we’ll get them built for you.

“Elias, please get with the architects and get the plans for that wall hammered out and loaded into the drones. I’ll get with the community leaders and get everyone briefed on what’s about to happen so we won’t have the amount of hysteria we’d have if the attack came without warning.”

The other two men agreed and left to get busy on their tasks. Sighing, Luke used the comm to ask Lara to call an emergency town meeting for later that day in the Community Center.

Caldarian Super Nova

Hyperspace Transit Vector

Indeterminate Location

“What is our status?” Dren answered as it entered the large bridge once again.

The same small being that always reported to it cringed since it hadn’t heard the much larger Dren enter the room. “Master! The ground assault commander reports an increase of six percent! It conscripted new fighters from all areas of the ship that had been over strength. It reports training is going very well, and that it will be ready for whatever action you order them to undertake upon arrival in the human system.”

Dren nodded. “Very good. Has the space to ground weaponry been made ready?”

The underling bobbed its upper torso. “Yes Master, as per your orders.”

“Very good. What is our arrival time to the human world?” Dren asked.

“Just under three hundred units, Master.”

“Call a meeting of all tactical and assault commanders in my quarters at a hundred units before arrival,” Dren said. “Until then I’ll be in my quarters.”

“Yes Master. Do you want me to alert you before the meeting?” The smaller being asked.

“That would be fine,” Dren said as it moved back down the hallway, leaving the Bridge.

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

“We have the modifications done, Commander. There is also a Wasp ready at the moon base, do we have your permission to proceed?” Brittney asked over the comm.

“I would like to be there if I may, you are in Beta flight control?” Ian asked.

“Of course, Sir! Yes, we are in Beta control. We’ll see you in a few moments then?” Brittney asked.

“Yes, I’m on my way, Williams out.” Ian walked out of his ready room and winked at Jenny, now setting her watch on the bridge. “I’m heading down to Beta flight control. It looks like the Wasp is ready for a test.”

“Oh? Who’s the pilot?” Jenny asked. “Last time I spoke to them, Kyle and Stephanie were fighting over it.”

“I don’t actually know, Brittney called to ask if they could proceed, she didn’t say who was flying,” Ian replied.

“Okay, I’ll tune into the channel and listen in,” Jenny said. “At least with all these projects happening, this isn’t a boring duty anymore. I’m glad I handed the missing oil thing off to Alan!”

“Alan? Uh, never mind, I’ll ask you about it later, I got the feeling they were kinda anxious to get moving on this,” Ian said.

“You’re the Commander, they’ll wait,” Jenny said.

“Right, you keep telling yourself that!” Grinning, Ian left the bridge for the maglev.

When he arrived at Beta flight control, in addition to the normal crew he found Star, Major Dommer, Brittney Benson, and John Harris standing by the large armor-glass viewport overlooking the landing area.

“Commander on deck!” Someone called making Ian roll his eyes.

“Carry on!’ Ian replied almost automatically. He approached the group by the viewport. “Gangs all here, should we get the show on the road? Oh, by the way, Jenny wanted to know who won the argument over flying this mission.”

“Chief Borhiem did. He wouldn’t allow either one to fly it. He assigned a test pilot that wasn’t involved with the project so we would get a true evaluation of the equipment. He’s a smart one, I wonder where Mrs. Laskar found him?” Brittney said.

“I don’t know. But she’s really good at finding the best people for the jobs we need them for,” Ian replied. “So, when is the launch happening?”

John nodded to one of the people forking at the consoles. The man spoke and was heard in the speakers of the room. “Wasp X-One, this is Beta control. We are green, launch when ready.”

“Wasp X-One, copies. Selene Control, Wasp X-One. Request launch clearance,” a woman’s voice said over the speakers.

“Wasp X-One, test course is clear, evaluation sensors are reporting green, you are clear to launch,” the male voice of the lunar flight controller said.

“Wasp X-One moving to launch position. Please stand-by.” The pilot replied. “Control please note that armor power levels are rising, but slowly. I think we are still good.”

Brittney who had been watching a tablet nodded. “I agree, Wasp X-One. Please proceed.”

“Wasp X-One is in the lane, ready, and here we go,” the pilot said.

Looking over Brittney’s shoulder, Ian saw the power levels and performance profile of the small craft as it took off and flew.

“Wasp X-One is space-borne. Control, I have power levels in the upper green, but stabilizing,” the pilot added.

“Confirmed X-One, please begin phase one tests,” Brittney said.

“Proceeding with phase one, item one. Standard maneuvering and handling,” the pilot replied.

Ian leaded over the console and asked the tech, “Do we have a visual on her?”

The tech looked surprised a moment, then nodded, and pointed to a large monitor mounted on the bulkhead. Ian nodded. “Thanks.”

There wasn’t really much to see. The craft itself appeared black and against the black background of space, Ian wouldn’t have seen anything if it hadn’t been for the running lights.

“Chief? You wanted us to sound off if anything seemed weird?” one of the controllers asked.

John turned around. “Yeah, I did. Whatcha got?”

“Well Sir, other than IFF and what little visual we have, I can’t get a lock on that ship,” the ensign said. “If she went dark, we’d lose her completely.”

Both Ian and John move over to look over the ensign’s shoulder at the screen. To demonstrate what she had said, she cycled through the different scanning modes available to her.

“You should be able to get an energy reading on her, she’s a flying battery!” John said and leaned over another console to begin typing. As Ian watched he pulled up an energy scan of the area, and saw nothing more than the random background noise from space.

Brittney had followed the men. “Use the IFF lock and rescan for energy readings,” she suggested.

“Control, phase one, test one complete. Moving on to test two” the pilot said over the speakers.

“Hang on a minute please, Nan. Something interesting’s going on,” Brittney replied.

The sarcasm was clear in her voice when the pilot replied. “Care to share what’s interesting with the person who’s gonna die if this bird blows up?”

“Sorry Nan, we just discovered you’re invisible, and we’re trying to find out how and why,” Brittney said.

Ian touched his earpiece. “Computer patch me into Wasp X-One test frequency, please.”

“Patch complete.”

“Nan, this is Guardian One. Do you have shields or cloaking turned on?” Ian asked.

“No Sir, that wasn’t part of this test. Can someone explain ‘invisible’?” the pilot, Nan, replied.

Ian grinned. “Other than IFF and a visual because of your lights, you are not registering on any of the other sensors. If you pulled the IFF and went dark, you’d be a ghost.”

“A ghost with guns! I can’t tell this bird from a normal Hornet so far. Should I proceed with test two?”

“I’d feel better if we had a ship close to her in case something happens,” Ian said. Knowing Talena and Cindy were off right now, and that Cindy had been cleared for duty, Ian called them. “Valkyrie flight, report to Beta Flight Ops for a mission brief on the double!” Both girls replied and said they were on their way.

“Nan, could you hold position? I’m arranging an escort for you in case you get into trouble out there,” Ian said.

“I appreciate it Guardian, the safer the better. But I got to tell you, I’m not getting that scary feeling you get when you ride something that’s going to bite you, you know?” Nan replied.

“Actually, I have no idea what that feeling would be, but I think I understand what you’re saying. Still, I’d rather someone was right there to get you if needed,” Ian replied and turned to John. “New rule, no test flights of any kind without a chaser capable of performing a rescue. I think we should make it a Centurion with a medic aboard monitoring the pilot’s health.”

“We don’t have an extra Centurion right now. All of them are out on patrols and seeding missions, I might be able to get a shuttle, but there is no way it could keep up,” John replied.

Ian nodded. “I know. So for now, I’ll send Talena and Cindy out in Hornets to shadow Nan. But let’s see if we can’t get something planned for the next tests, okay?”

“It’s gonna be a bitch for them to track her, but something is better than nothing I guess.” He turned and looked around; spotting who he wanted, he said. “Tormana! Get with operations and have them work up an escort mission for the Wasp experiment. Valkyrie flight is on tap. You gotta hustle because they’re going to launch as soon as they can get suited up.”

“On it, Chief!”  The young man said and began typing furiously.

Ian activated his comm again. “Nan, we’re going to launch Valkyrie flight as an escort for you. Next time though, we’re going to find something more suitable to recue ops if they’re needed.”

“The wing leaders for Gold Squadron, huh? That ought to cover my ass. Aren’t you related to them Guardian?”

“One of them is my wife, and the other is a very close friend,” Ian replied grinning.

“I’ve never met either of them yet, but I’ve been told they are the two best pilots we have,” Nan replied.

“By the way, is ‘Nan’ your call sign?” Ian asked.

She chuckled. “No Sir, my call sign is ‘Tinker’, ‘cause of my interest in engineering. Doc Benson calls me Nan ‘cause my name is Nancy.”

“Nan actually is a doctor; she has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. Apparently she was an astronaut until she met Janet,” Brittney said off the comm. Then she grinned. “She’s more qualified to do my job than I am!”

“I doubt that. Besides, I get the impression, she is right where she prefers to be,” Ian replied.

“You got that right, Guardian. Tell Doc Benson that just because you don’t have academics to back it up, if you can walk the walk and talk the talk, then there is no reason for you not to have that title,” Tinker said. “One of you left the mic open.”

“So, you get tired of NASA or something?” Ian asked.

“No, NASA was great, what little bit of time I was actually there. I spent more of my time as an ‘astronaut’ making public appearances and recruiting for the US Air Force. I got tired of never being assigned any real work and left. I met Janet Laskar at a restaurant just off the Academy grounds in Colorado Springs. She’s a very convincing lady, and I’m damn glad she convinced me,” Tinker replied.

About that time, Cindy and Talena came through the door, both dressed in flight suits. They came to attention, and Talena saluted Ian.

“Reporting as ordered, Sir.”

“At ease. We have an experimental Wasp fighter out there by herself. I want the two of you to go out and watch over her in case she gets into trouble. However, you might have a hard time finding her. There has been an unexpected side effect of the new armor and power systems. Without IFF and her running lights, she’ll be all but invisible to you,” Ian said.

“So we need to keep an IFF lock on her. Are Hornets the best craft to be doing this in? We have no medical and no real way to get her back here safely if we need to,” Cindy replied.

Ian shook his head. “No, they aren’t, but for the time being, it’s all we have. Her call sign is Tinker. She is in Wasp X-One and is currently in a testing hold while she waits for the two of you.” Ian looked up at the ensign that was working with operations to get the flight authorized. “Tormana, has operations got us fixed up yet?”

“Just about, Sir. They will be sending the file down here for your signature authorizing the flight, Sir,” Tormana replied.

“Good work,” he looked back at the two girls. “Go mount up and get ready to launch. We’ll give you a holler in a couple of minutes.”

Both girls saluted this time, and left the room. Looking out the window and down onto the open launch and landing bay, he saw Cindy running across the deck to the fighters. She had put her helmet on because of the noise of the bay, but Ian could tell it was her because of her shape. On the other side of the ship, and a few minutes later, he imagined Talena would be doing the same thing.

He walked over to Ensign Tormana and looked over his shoulder. When the document came up, Ian placed his hand on it and spoke. “Commander Ian Williams.”

Like magic, his signed name appeared on the bottom of the document authorizing the launch of two fighter craft as a safety escort for the duration of the test flight of the Wasp X-One. Glancing up, he nodded to John. “Turn ‘em loose.”

Chapter 7

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

“Valkyrie Two green and awaiting go.” Cindy reported.

A moment later, Talena, out of breath, could be heard. “Valkyrie One is green. Valkyrie flight waiting for go.”

“Mission has been authorized, Valkyrie flight. You have a go. Transferring launch control to fighters, launch when ready.”

“Valkyrie flight, Tally ho!” Talena called and Cindy pushed her throttle into over-boost, and released the little fighter’s restraints. She shot down the tube, pushed by the thrust of her craft as well as the cascading magnetic fields that assisted the fighter to accelerate into attack speed as soon as it left the launch tube. Automatically, she extended the short wings and turned to form up with Talena.

“Valkyrie is clear and on mission. Where are you at, Tinker?” Talena asked even though she already had IFF lock on the experimental craft.

“It looks like you already know the answer to that, Valkyrie. Just keep coming, and you’ll run right over me,” Tinker replied.

“Well, we wouldn’t want that, Tinker!” Cindy replied.

“Wasp X-One, this is control. Please engage all landing lights and visual recognition markers until Valkyrie flight has a positive visual on you,” one of the controllers said. It made Cindy grin to know they were trying to prevent a mid-space collision. ‘Well, that is their job after all’, she said to herself.

Ahead of her, about twenty kilometers Cindy could see one of the lights of space get brighter. However, at this distance, the Wasp still looked like just another star in the heavens.

“I think I see you, Tinker, but we’re still a ways out. I think we’re going to need to put neon lights along the outline just to be able to see you!” Talena said, the grin clear in her voice.

“Intercept in five, control” Cindy reported.

“Understood, Valkyrie Two. Just don’t hit her,” the controller replied.

Demonstrating the speed and maneuverability of the small fighters, Cindy and Talena linked up with the test craft in just over five minutes.

“Wow, control, you weren’t exaggerating this time, if it weren’t for her lights, I don’t think I would be able to see her at all,” Talena replied.

“That was our read as well, Valkyrie. We need more information on this, so please keep notes on your mission recorders for us,” Brittney said over the control comm channel.

“You got it doc,” Cindy said. Both she and Talena shared a chuckle when they heard the woman sigh.

“Okay, now that the gang’s all here, how about we get on with the testing? I have a date tonight!” Tinker replied.

The flight tests proceeded as planned, and the fighter performed above expectations. However, since no weapons were being fired and the shields had only been on minimum, there had been no way for the little fighter to discharge the energy building up from the armor. Half way through the final test, the readings began spiking into the red.

“Control, this is Tinker, I’m not liking what I’m seeing from the energy readings here.”

“We see that too, Tinker. Please bring your shields to combat mode and enable your weapons systems, stand by for a mission change,” Brittney replied.

“X-One and escorts, alter course to one-niner-two by five-three relative and accelerate to two-zero-zero. Target range approach in one-five minutes,” control ordered.

“Course change acknowledged. Wasp X-One is fangs out. Energy readings increase from shields. Estimate redline in five minutes. Please advise,” Tinker said.

“Valkyrie flight drop back to observation only positions,” control instructed. “Wasp X-One, drop shields, and begin firing weapons. Vector is clear. All units decrease speed to one-zero.”

“Valkyrie One and T wo in position, let ‘er rip, Tinker!” Talena replied.

“Shields reset to flight mode. Firing weapons now!” Tinker replied.

“Tinker, I have the energy level dropping, but not very fast. Can you confirm that?” Brittney said.

“Affirmative, I think I’m picking up energy from the light and heat generated by the lasers. If you can cool them down a bit, I have an idea about how to limit the stray photons.”

“The continuous fire mode is neat, and will do a whole lot more damage per shot, but if you over heat the guns, they’ll shut down. In a Hornet, if you lose the lasers, you’re a sitting duck,” Cindy replied.

“Setting reactor to minimum output. Stand by,” Tinker said.

“Good idea, Tinker,” Brittney said.

“Levels dropping, but still not very quickly. Weapons systems are reaching over-heat. I recommend discontinuing the tests,” Tinker added.

“I agree, with one exception,” Brittney said. “Return to Star Dancer for landing and discharge.”

“Understood. Levels are back into the upper green. Setting weapons systems back to stand-by, and returning to Star Dancer. Valkyrie, stay close, I might need to punch out without notice,” Tinker replied.

Back in Beta landing bay, the excitement level had risen as the ground crews got ready for the landing.

“Put ESAR (Emergency Search And Rescue) on stand-by for recovery, prepare for a hot landing. No one is to approach the Wasp unless cleared by Dr. Benson,” John ordered.

No one actually replied to the orders, but Ian could tell that they were acting on them. He was impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of John’s team.

Down on the landing bay floor, men and women were running around securing the bay. Several of the people had suddenly changed into fire resistant suits, and others were double checking the emergency systems built into the bay.

“Ian, the design we decided on is based on a standard Earth aircraft carrier,” Brittney said. She pointed down the bay toward the opening into space and the force curtain that held the atmosphere in the bay, but allowed fighters and other ships to enter and leave.

“Do you see those cables stretched across the deck about twenty feet inside the curtain?”

Ian nodded. “Yes, they look like the landing cables on an aircraft carrier.”

“Exactly,” Brittney nodded. “The Wasp is equipped with a hook that she will lower when she starts her landing. We placed the cables based on the recorded landings of hundreds of other fighters; our pilots as well as from before the crash.  In all but the most heavily damaged, emergency landings, that point is where the hook should grab a cable.

“Now, when it grabs the cable, not only will it work to stop the fighter, it will also discharge the energy built up by the fighter into the storage system built into the cargo hold. By the time the fighter stops moving, it should be safe to work with,” she finished.

“Okay, but what about the Hornets? Won’t they snag the cables with their landing gear?” Ian asked.

“They shouldn’t. The landing gear don’t actually touch the desk for another thirty to forty feet. If the bird is so low that they risk snagging a cable, the controller would give them a wave-off anyway,” John replied. “The hook actually hangs down well below the gear until it’s engaged.” He brought up an image of an F-18 landing on one of the carriers on Earth to show Ian how low the hook was.

“Energy levels rising again. Honestly, Doc, this armor charges up if you even breathe on it,” Tinker said.

“I see that. Are you going to make it back to the ship?” Brittney asked.

“It’ll be close, but I think so. My worry is what do we do if she doesn’t discharge in there?” Tinker asked.

“We get you out of there, then jettison the Wasp,” Ian said. “So don’t worry about it, we got you.”

Tinker chuckled. “Yes Sir, we’re in-bound to Beta Bay. ETA is one zero minutes. Destruct course set to activate on ejection. Initiating crash protocol.”

“Understood, X-One. The pattern is empty, you have priority,” the controller said. John nodded proudly.

“Attention all personnel, emergency landing in progress. All air tight doors are now closing. Port side Maglev tubes will be cleared and sealed in two minutes. Stand-by for further instructions,” Star’s voice could be heard all through the great ship.

Ian grinned at her. She had been quietly standing off to one side and hadn’t said anything for the last hour.

“You’ve been quiet. Do you have any thoughts on this?” Ian asked and nodded his head to the busy activity in the room.

“I’m very proud of these people, Sir. Even though my former crew had been mostly academy trained and had years of experience, this team is acting like a veteran crew. John has trained them well, but I am the most impressed with him. Even without the ability to use the teaching equipment, he has taken to his duties as if born to them. If we ever build more ships like me, I think he would be a very good candidate for the command position,” Star replied.

That did impress Ian. Star had never praised one of the crew as highly, with the exception of Chief Dommer and his engineers.

“Thank you, I will remember that for the future. Perhaps I should ask him if he would be interested in beginning the training,” Ian replied. “I know I certainly trust him, and I’m very proud of what he’s done here too.”

Star nodded. “Did you know that this isn’t the only team he’s trained?”

Ian was surprised. “No, when I met him down at Talos, I got the impression he was only working with this team.”

“No, he has had a hand in training every flight control crew we have in all three landing facilities. The other Flight Commanders defer to him as senior among them. The teams at Talos trained under him as well as their officers. If you will remember, the current Flight Operations commander at Talos came to us as a former civilian air traffic controller,” Star explained.

“I knew he was good, but I had no idea about all of that. I think I should have a talk with him then,” Thank you, Major,” Ian said grinning at her.

“Wasp x-one on final approach! Emergency teams to ready positions!” the controller called out, his voice echoing into the landing bay was heard by everyone.

Even though everyone in the bay wore hearing protection, the individual comms worn by the crew members automatically merged into the controller channels when the crewmen came on duty. It was usual for anyone entering the landing/launching area to be added to the control channels for safety reasons.

“Wasp X-One inbound on final. Engaging automatic landing system,” Tinker replied. Suddenly alarms started blaring, and the Wasp turned away from the landing path. The canopy blew off which was shortly followed by the pilot ejecting into space.

The Wasp turned for deep space and went to full power. A short time later it exploded violently.

“Emergency!” Talena said over the comm. “Pilot ejected near outer marker! Request ESAR immediate launch!”

“I have her,” Cindy replied. “Position stabilized. Activating recovery beacon.”

“Search and Rescue is on the way. Good catch Valkyrie two!” the controller replied.

“Control, what happened? We couldn’t see anything. She called final approach, then ‘poof’ she punches out,” Talena asked.

“I’m patching her comm into my Hornet,” Cindy replied.  “There, how ya doing, Tinker?”

“Woozy, that ejections system really kicks you!” Tinker said. “What happened to the Wasp?”

“Wasp X-One turned on exit vector before self-destructing several kilometers from the ship. We are all damn glad it didn’t do it in here!” the controller said. “I have a date tonight too!”

“The ESAR folks will be here in a second or two, Tinker. Just hang in there,” Cindy said.

Tinker chuckled. “What else am I gonna do? You could always join me out here and we could dance until they get here, Valkyrie Two.”

“My call sign is Athena,” Cindy replied.

“Just before Tinker punched out, the energy levels in the Wasp shot up into the red. Applying full reverse thrust bathed the wasp in plasma from the engine. We thought we had negated the effect that would have when we redesigned the engine cowling. We’ll have to analyze the data, and my pad recorded everything up until it was destroyed, plus there is the box in Tinker’s ejection chair. We’ll get this figured out and fixed. We need these fighters,” Brittney explained.

“Indeed we do,” Ian said joining the channel once again. “Good work today everyone. Tinker, enjoy your evening tonight, but tomorrow you will have dinner with my family. Call it a reward for being the first pilot to eject in a non-training environment.”

“Wonderful, I get a reward for punching out! If the food’s good, I might have to do it more often!” Tinker joked.

“Oh, I think you’ll like the food!” Talena replied. “I swear I’ve gained weight since I’ve started living with them!”

“Well, we know you can’t be pregnant, so it must be the food!” Cindy quipped.

“What do you expect? It’s not like he has a lot of time for me!” Talena replied, jokingly.

“Okay, I think that’s enough you two,” Ian said. “I’m pretty sure that isn’t something to be discussed on an official channel.”

“I don’t know, I could stand to hear more about it,” Tinker said, causing Ian to blush and Cindy and Talena to laugh. No one got upset because everyone knew that Cindy and Talena were trying to help Tinker deal with the feeling of isolation that comes with floating ‘free’ in space.

“SAR team is on station. We’ll have you inside in just a minute, Tinker.” A new voice entered the channel. “The medic would like to know if you are feeling ill, or if you have been injured in any other way.”

“Just my pride, SAR,” Tinker replied. “This is only the second time I’ve had to bail out of a test bed. Although, I think I can honestly say the landing is going to be a hell of a lot softer than last time.”

“Athena, please release your tractor so we can lock on to her,” SAR said. “Yeah, this’ll be a lot softer. Standard procedure is a trip to Med Bay to make sure you’re not hurt.”

When Tinker groaned, Cindy spoke up. “When you get there, just ask for Beth. She’ll get you checked out in no time. While you’re there, stop and say hi our kids!”

“Thanks for the save, Athena and Valkyrie. I owe you both a drink,” Tinker said.

“Valkyrie flight, SAR has the pilot, you are relieved,” the SAR captain said.

“Understood, SAR, We’ll follow you home,” Talena replied. “Control, Valkyrie is inbound, we are escorting the SAR recovery craft.”

“Affirmative, Valkyrie One, good work.”

Moon Base

Selene, (Earth’s Moon)

“Did all the holographic generators get mounted?” Kyle asked.

Serin Vax was reticent by nature, but he was slowly becoming friendlier towards the people around him. Growing up in a slum of old Detroit in Michigan, he had taken a lot of flak for his odd name. When it was discovered he liked computers and other machines more than people, well, he got beat up a lot.

Serin was incredibly smart. Gifted would be the term used to describe him, if he had been born into a wealthier life. Of course, he didn’t excel at everything in academia, in fact, in most of the classes taught at his public school, Serin was barely above failing. However, in Math or anything else dealing with engineering, he always got the highest grades.

All this got young Serin labeled as an outcast. He never had any real friends because he had no social skills to speak of, he had never had a date, and in fact, with the exception of his mother, never actually spoke to a female.

The final straw for Serin was when he applied for college, his applications were all rejected because they said his grades had not been high enough. His parents had kicked him out because he was over eighteen, and they could no longer collect a welfare check for him.

He was standing on a bridge overlooking one of the rivers in Detroit when one of Janet Laskar’s recruiters walked up to him and started talking. Serin thought the man had been totally off his rocker, but since he was going to kill himself anyway, he decided to follow the travelling fool to see how far the delusion went.

Well, here he was, standing on the moon, preparing the base from an upcoming alien attack. He often wondered if perhaps he hadn’t actually jumped that day, and this was just something random his mind had locked onto while dying. Well, regardless, his friend had asked him a question.

“Yeah, we had some trouble getting the power out to a couple of them, but we finally got that worked out too. When the time comes, the bad guys won’t see anything but the wreck that was here before, no matter what mode they look in,” Serin replied.

“What do you mean?” Kyle asked.

“You didn’t think they would only come over here and take a visual look at the site did you? What would be the point in that? No, when they scan this area, the readings will match what the visual tells them. We’ll even have a shield that’ll be able to come up instantly, at full strength, in a couple of more days,” Serin said, proud of his team’s work.

“Wow! You guys have been really busy. What about the weapons systems?” Kyle asked checking something off his pad and making note of something else.

“Actually, most of those had already been scheduled to be built. All I needed to do was change the priorities and add a few more to the list. The weapons systems are being built as we speak. It’ll take two or two and a half more days for them all to be completed though,” Serin replied.

“Good, I’ll get all of this back to Dr. Punjab and Chief Borhiem. Do you need anything from the rest of us? More hands, or possibly a better design for something?” Kyle asked.

Serin chuckled. “Naw, we got this. If you could call and ask the Caldarians to delay another week, we should be set to give them a really nice welcome.”

“Yeah, that would be nice, but have you read the documents on one of those ships? I honestly think that nothing we could do will be able to keep one of those out forever. The damn thing has the ability to annihilate the entire solar system,” Kyle said.

“No, I honestly didn’t get the time to read up on that. I’m just trusting to everyone else’s evaluation and doing the best that I can think of doing to defend us from it. Personally, I don’t think the assholes will ever be able to find us here on the moon. I just wish I had the time to see what I could do for the town and the ship.

“No monster, I don’t care how big the bastard is, is indestructible or undefeatable. That big bastard has to have a weakness, and I promise you, that I’ll be going over every scrap of information on it I can get my hands on as soon as it enters scanner range. If there is a way to beat that pig, I’ll find it,” Serin said confidently.

“I’ll see what I can do to help you with that, Serin. We’re going to need all the help we can get with this,” Kyle said and offered the slightly older man his hand. “In the meantime, I suggest you look over the information we do have on it. Maybe you can get an idea or two from that.”

“I will, thank you, Lieutenant,” Serin said and smiled.

Kyle grinned back and left the man’s office. He was looking forward to finishing this favor for the Chief and Dr. Punjab so he could get back to work on his own projects.

The failure with the Wasp had greatly shaken his confidence and he needed to get back at it in order to regain the ground he had lost. The design flaw that had led to the small craft’s destruction had been his mistake. He had been the one to redesign the engine for the fighter. He was just thankful the pilot had been able to eject before the craft blew itself up.

The issue had underscored a glaring flaw in the design of their main project, the Shadow fighter craft. With the amount of power that craft could generate, it was a good thing the flaw in the system had been discovered now, Kyle doubted a pilot would have been able to get out of a Shadow in time.

Time. It was the one commodity they didn’t have any of. The Caldarian’s could drop out of hyperspace any day, yet Kyle was still trying to work out issues that should have been obvious from the beginning.

Thoughts of the fighter and the failed experiment occupied him all the way up to the Director’s office. When he entered the outer office, he met Alma Punjab sitting at her desk working on her own projects.

“Good evening, Mrs. Punjab,” Kyle said and bowed with his hands together.

Alma grinned, stood, and returned the gesture. “A good evening to you as well, Lieutenant Johnson. They are expecting you. How many times do I need to tell you to call me Alma?” Her Indian accent always made Kyle grin.

“You know I only do it just so I can hear you speak,” Kyle admitted.

“I will tell Amal and he will punch you in the nose for being fresh with me!” she replied grinning.

Kyle nodded acceptance. “It would be worth it, Alma. Do I go straight in?”

“Yes you can, but I will let them know you are here,” the woman replied as Kyle headed for the door to the inner office.

Kyle made his report and, as he was leaving the office, Alma stopped him. “Kyle, may I have a moment of your valuable time?”

“Certainly Alma, what can I do for you?” he asked.

“Actually, I am thinking it might be that I can help you. I have heard of the problems with the Wasp program. May I discuss this with you now?” Alma asked.

“If you have an idea about how to fix it, I’m all ears!” Kyle said.

She smiled. “I do not know if my idea will fix it or not, but have you given any thought to perhaps using another form of propulsion for the craft?”

“There really isn’t anything small enough to use for the small craft. Ships the size of Star Dancer use a form of gravity drive, but those are huge, far too large to use in this application. There are small antigrav units, but in order to give the craft the speed and maneuverability needed it would end up being almost as large as a shuttle craft and still be only a one person fighter. Ducted plasma is the only game in town for the time being,” Kyle explained.

“What if you used a zero point energy module instead of a reactor to generate your thrust? In this way, the plasma ejected from the engine would be a form of cool plasma that should not cause the same reaction to the Enigma armor. Yes, it will still have an effect, however, cool plasma lacks the heat energy. You could use a turbine to compress it for greater thrust, and if you tune the module correctly, you could greatly diminish the electro-magnetic reaction which pulled the hot plasma back into the craft,” Alma suggested.

Kyle closed his eyes in thought. “That is a whole new engine design!”

“I couldn’t design such a thing, but perhaps you could. It was actually something I heard Amal mumbling about, that got my mind spinning on it,” Alma said. “Would it be possible to design such a unit?”

“I have no idea, but I’m damn sure going to find out! Thank you, Alma!” Kyle said excitedly, and almost ran for the door.

When Kyle got back to the design lab he shared with his team, he immediately found Brittney and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Zero point energy!”

“What on Earth are you talking about, Kyle?” Brittney asked looking at him like he’d lost his mind. He let her go and moved back over to the big holographic design table. He activated it and asked for it to bring up the design for the Shadow fighter’s now useless engines.

He moved them over to the side, and began a new design as he explained Alma Punjab’s suggestion.

“That’s the base principle of the Enigma armor!” Brittney said, getting excited too and moving to the other side of the table.

Very shortly, they have a functional diagram of a zero point energy powered, cool plasma generator. However, it was very apparent that there was not enough thrust generated by the existing compressors. At this point he and Brittney began a heated discussion on the best way to fix the issue.

Stephanie and Tara stood back and watched the two completely forget the outside world and start to work.

“Do we even dare tell them it’s time to go home?” Stephanie asked.

Tara shook her head. “No, this is important and needs to get handled as soon as they can get it worked out. I think we should get dinner from the replicator here and make sure it’s within reach for them when they realize they’re hungry. If it gets late, we can go home and just leave them here. They have couches to sleep on if they need to.”

“Are we going to get another wife out of this?” Steph asked jokingly.

Tara shrugged. “Maybe, she’s certainly a sweet enough girl. I think she is having issues about leaving her mother down at Talos though.”

“They were together?” Stephanie asked looking at Tara.

“Jees! You have sex on the brain tonight! No, they weren’t, but there were other things going on between them, I don’t know what they were though.”

“Well, we should get some food then. Did Wade already head out?” Stephanie asked.

Tara nodded. “He said something about going out to help with the weapons installations.”

Stephanie nodded. “I like him. Would you mind if I asked him out?”

“No, I wouldn’t, but he might. I don’t think you have the right equipment for him,” Tara replied

“Damn! Really?” Steph asked. “It figures, I find a boy I like, and he’s gay!”

“Don’t worry, Sweetheart, if you want to find a boyfriend, I’m sure you will!” Tara said and her eyes twinkled.

Chapter 8

Talos, New Mexico

“ID please?” Tommy, the gate guard at Talos, asked.

He had stopped a black SUV with four men inside that had pulled up to the gate.

“I’m Supervisory Special Agent Harvey Snow, Federal Bureau of Investigations. These three are agents here to assist me with my investigation,” the driver said.

“Yes Sir, and what investigation would that be?” Tommy asked. He had already notified the security center of the approach of the vehicle, and he knew they were watching closely.

”One of your security teams fired on a military exercise taking place on a military reservation. The unjustified attack resulted in the deaths of several United States servicemen and several million dollars in damages and destroyed equipment. In addition to arresting the responsible parties, we are to investigate the use of advanced military equipment in the prosecution of this attack,” the agent said forcefully and with a lot of attitude.

“Sir, May I see all of your IDs so I can verify them? In the meantime, I have notified my supervisor, and he is on the way down here to assist you,” Tommy asked.

“Look, I know you’re trying to be a good company flunky, but we both know I’m coming in there and I’m going to get to the bottom of what happened out there. So, be a good boy, and open the god-damned gate,” the agent said not even trying to hide his annoyance anymore.

“Special Agent, I don’t know who you are from David, and until I do, or my supervisor tells me differently, you are not going anywhere past this gate. You are, however, free to leave if you wish,” Tommy said. “But I do need to see all of your identifications.”

“Look, I just said who we are, so you don’t need to do anything but open that fucking gate! It was a long ass drive out here, and I am very quickly losing my patience with you. Open. The. Gate,” the agent behind the wheel said.

“No Sir, I will not open the gate until I see all of your identifications, and can verify them. We have had several attempts by unauthorized people trying to get on the property. I’m sure you can understand the reasons we have tightened security. So please, just let me verify your identification, and you can go about your business as soon as your escort arrives,” Tommy replied, still trying to be professional.

“You are coming dangerously close to getting arrested for obstruction, young man. We do not need an escort, we need for you to open the gate. Do you want me to arrest you?” the ass asked. “Because, we will do that, then we will open the gate and go on about our business with you in handcuffs.”

“Arresting me, of course, is entirely up to you, Sir. However, I feel I should tell you that the gate is controlled remotely. All you gain by arresting me, is more frustration,” Tommy said calmly. “I think perhaps you should get a warrant and return or make an appointment. Your entry will be expedited in that event. Until then, I have to follow procedure.”

“I carry the authority of the Federal Government, Your only procedure is to do what I tell you. Now open the fucking gate!” the man snarled.

On the other side of that gate, a four-wheeler came to a stop, and Ty Anders got off in time to hear the last comment of the agent.

“It’s okay, Tommy, I’ll take it from here. Good work,” Ty said as he walked up to Tommy. Tommy nodded gratefully, handed Ty the man’s credentials, and took a step back, but he did not leave Ty out there alone to face these assholes.

Ty glanced at the credentials and turned to the men in the truck, “What can I do for you, Gentlemen?”

“It’s Supervisory Special Agent, or at the least, Special Agent, and you can open the damn gate so we can conduct our investigation!” the man snarled.

“Forged Federal credentials do not make you an agent, Sir. In fact, it’s a felony to do so.” He turned to Tommy. “Tommy would please call the Sheriff and tell him we have trespassers trying to gain entrance to our property using forged FBI credentials? Be sure to ask him if he wants us to take them into custody, please?”

“Okay, I’ve had about enough of this shit!” the man said and pulled a gun to point at Ty’s head.

Ty grinned at the man and slowly backed up so he could get out of his vehicle, his men had already gotten out. As soon as the loud mouth ‘agent’ was clear of his door, all of Ty’s main security team let themselves be seen and heard as all twenty four of them cocked their weapons.

Showing that they weren’t complete idiots, the ‘agents’ froze.

Ty recognized this man from one of the first attempts to get onto the property months ago, only then, he was riding an ATV, and acting like he was simply innocently lost.

“Did you lose your ATV, Mr. Albrecht?” Ty asked.

“My name is Carlson, Andrew Carlson. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m a Supervisory Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation based out of the Phoenix office. You people are in a world of shit,” Albrecht replied.

“Maybe, maybe not. We’ll find out in about an hour when the sheriff gets here. Until then, you and your men are going to be our guests, we have a few questions for you as well,” Ty said. “Now, if all of you would be so kind as to drop your weapons, and stand by your vehicle for a moment...”

Ty waved two of his troopers forward who quickly set up a containment field around the men and their vehicle. The last trooper gave Ty a thumbs up and he backed away, and shielded his eyes.

“What the fuck are you doing now asshole?” Albrecht asked.

“Just making sure you don’t have any surprises we should know about, this’ll only take a moment,” Ty said and nodded to another of the troopers who started a full scan on the occupants of the containment field.

“Sir?” Tommy asked Ty, privately.


“Do you really want me to call the Sheriff, and what do I do if real FBI agents ever show up?” Tommy asked.

“If they pass the scan, we’ll call the sheriff. We can question them while we wait for her,” Ty replied. “So, how did you know they weren’t real FBI agents?”

“I’ve never seen real FBI credentials, but those just didn’t seem right to me. Besides, once I talked to him, I knew he was lying,” Tommy replied.

“Oh? How?” Ty asked. “Am I going to lose you to Janet Laskar?”

Tommy paled. “No Sir, It’s just something I’ve always been able to do, I could always tell when someone was lying. I can’t read minds or anything like that.”

Nodding Ty held up Albrecht’s fake credentials. “These are actually pretty close to what they’re supposed to look like. In fact, I’d say they are so close another agent might even miss the differences.” He pointed to the official seal,” You see here, on the seal? Some of the ink smudged because he didn’t wait long enough for it to dry before he put it in the case. Also, I recognized this character from an earlier attempt to breach the perimeter.”

“Sir, one of them is a Ghost. Antimatter showed up on the scan,” the trooper said over the comm. “How do you want us to play this, everyone can see us out here.”

“Do you know which one it is?” Ty asked.

“No Sir, we didn’t want to risk a detonation, so we started with passive scans,” the trooper replied.

“Well, shit,” Ty replied. “That complicates things. We can’t shoot them, we can’t let the sheriff take them, and we can’t keep them.”

“Sir, why don’t we just go ahead and scan them? They’re in a containment field, we should be safe from the explosion,” Tommy suggested.

“We need information, Tommy. Besides, the blast will blind anyone looking this way. It’s actually stronger than a nuclear detonation. The one that detonated up in Nevada measured about six kilotons. That may not seem like much, but antimatter is way nastier than a nuke would be,” Ty said.

Tommy nodded his understanding, but approached the containment field with the men in it. He walked up to Albrecht, but remained outside the field.

“Mr. Albrecht, I know this is going to sound really strange, but do you have any antimatter in your body or on your person?” Tommy asked seriously.

Albrecht looked surprised for just a second, then glanced at the other man he could see before answering. “Anti-what? Son that shit only exists in comic books!”

“Just yes or no please,” Tommy replied.

“No,” Albrecht replied.

“Thank you,” Tommy replied and turned back to Ty who had followed him. “He’s clean, if we pull him out of there, we’ll be able to question him.”

“Yeah, but if the one who has the stuff figures out what we’re up to, I’d bet my salary he’ll detonate that little gadget,” Ty said. “If we lower the field to get him out, then we’ll all have a front row seat before the gates of hell.”

Tommy nodded again, and turned back to Albrecht. “Mr. Albrecht, in about a minute, the temperature in there is going to reach ten thousand degrees in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately, there is no way we can get you out of there before that happens, so, is there anything you would like to tell us?”

This time, Albrecht looked defeated. “Seventeen oh one Black feather lane...”

Ty tackled Tommy and put his hand over the smaller man’s eyes, as the inside of the containment field flashed brighter than the sun.

All over the compound, alarms began blaring out their warnings, but at the guard shack, soldiers were trying to put out what was left of Tommy’s burning clothes. Ty had been wearing armor, and he only got scorched on one of his hands and singed off some of the hair on his head. However, Tommy had been wearing nothing more than a guard uniform. Looking him over, Ty knew he had been hurt badly.

“Medical emergency at the guard shack! We need a burn team down here ASAP!” Ty called over his comm. We also need some drones down here to clean up radioactive substances. Include holodrones to hide them.”

The squad medic was already treating Tommy for the flash burns, and getting him ready to be moved to the hospital in the underground base. She looked concerned, but gave Ty a hopeful smile, which meant she thought Tommy would live.

The containment field had done its job and contained the massive energy released by the antimatter detonation, but it couldn’t contain everything. If Tommy had been back further, he would have felt the heat and maybe gotten a sunburn, but otherwise would have been fine. As it was, both Ty and Tommy had been too close to the shield when the detonation occurred and they both had gotten seared by the blast.

Of the men and the suburban that had been in the shield, there was nothing left but radioactive dust, and there wasn’t even much of that. The pavement had been burned away, and the sand under it had been blasted into a black glass.

A medical team arrived and got Tommy; Ty was giving orders and directing the clean-up when the medic literally pushed him back into Tommy’s guard shack.

“Ronson! I have things to do!” Ty complained.

“Yeah?” she said. “You can get back to them once I get the bleeding under control, and some dressings on those burns. Now, shut up and sit down, Sir.” Ronson, the medic, replied.

Ty hadn’t known he was bleeding, but the skin on his burnt hand had split open and he was indeed dripping blood all over the place. He grunted and sat down.

“How’s Tommy going to be?” Ty asked.

“He’ll live, and he’ll be uncomfortable while the skin regrows, but he’ll be good as new in a few days. “What the hell were you two doing that close to the edge of the shield, anyway?” Ronson asked.

“Trying to get some information while we could,” Ty replied.

“Did you get any?” she asked.

“Well, we got something, I don’t know exactly what yet, but it was something,” Ty replied.

“There, that should hold you for a while. Get down to medical as soon as time allows so they can get that fixed, otherwise, it’ll tighten up on you, and you’ll lose mobility in the hand,” Ronson instructed.

Trying to move the bandaged hand, Ty gave her a look. “I can’t move it worth a damn now.”

The woman nodded. “No, you can’t. If you want that to become permanent, then just ignore what I told you.”

Ty grinned at her.” I thought medics were not supposed to be so bitchy?”

“It comes from dealing with Marines; they won’t listen to me if I am nice about it,” Ronson replied. She picked up her pack, rifle, and left the guard shack.

Ty chuckled at the medic’s antics before activating his comm. “Whaley! Report to the guard shack for duty!”

“On my way, Boss!” the trooper named Whaley replied.

Looking out the large window, Ty watched one of his troopers place orange road hazard cones around the now invisible area where the suburban had been. The containment field was still in place, but the drones could penetrate the field to do work. The holodrones he asked for made the whole operation invisible.

F.S.S. Star Dancer.

Selene Orbit, (Earth’s moon)

Earth, Sol Sector.

“It’s a good bet the Caldarians know what we’re really doing here. They had to be monitoring that team,” Ty finished.

“Well, we knew it was only a matter of time,” Ian replied. ”You’re going to have to be more on your toes now, though. We have no idea how willing they are to maintain their cover. Especially with a Super Nova due to arrive.”

Ty nodded agreement. “I agree, I would like permission to equip my folks with advanced weaponry. Earth weapons won’t even scratch the paint on a hover tank or Caldarian Armor.”

Ian looked thoughtful. “Have you talked to Luke and Elias about it?”

Luke nodded. “He has. We took it to the council and they agreed we should follow your lead on this,” he grinned. “Nothing like passing the buck.”

Ian chuckled. “I would probably have done the same thing, Luke. After all, your primary mission down there is research, not defense. Okay, I would keep the normal patrols carrying Earth weapons in the case that a real government official shows up. But, I would have the heavy stuff on standby and equip your response teams with pulse rifles. You’re already using shields on the land rails right?”

Ty nodded. “I thought it would be safe to do so, considering the distances involved. An enemy shooting at us couldn’t really see that he hadn’t actually missed.”

Ian nodded. “Understandable. However, I think you should make sure your teams have armor now. Like I said, keep the patrols looking like regular guards, but your response teams should be decked out and fully protected.”

“Thanks, after what happened to Tommy, that’ll make me feel a whole lot better.” Ty replied. “Even though he wouldn’t have been wearing armor anyway, it’s the thought that counts.”

“What do you folks have for anti-air and ground assault batteries? Have you added anything?” Ian asked.

“No, we haven’t added anything, but considering the news about the Super Nova, I would like to see more down here,” Luke replied. “We’ve heard about a new weapon system you’ve developed; we’d like to get a couple of those down here, too.”

“The Eggheads had me build a few new buildings out past the power unit. We’ve only got shields out there. I did integrate shield generators into the building designs as well so those buildings will have their own shields in addition to the main shield. We’re working on a retro-fit kit for the rest of the existing buildings. Residences and high traffic areas are going to be the hardest to equip,” Elias said, proudly. “But, we’ll get it. I swear, these architects are like kids in a candy store with all the new materials and construction methods now available to them.”

Ian nodded. “Yeah, and I’m sure you’re not overly excited with finally being able to use the drones either!” he teased. “I’ll authorize the release of the station variant of the mass driver design to you. If you want more protection down there, at least in the form of weapons platforms, feel free to put them in, just make sure they are not visible unless being used. We really don’t want to draw unwanted attention after all.”

“We’ll get right on it, Old Son,” Elias said. “How are the little ones doing? Laura really wants you to come visit!”

“They are healthy and growing like weeds. If it weren’t for the other ladies, Cindy would be going insane though. It’s like one goes to sleep and the other wakes up, it’s almost creepy,” Ian replied.

“That’s just babies; they all have that ability,” Luke said, chuckling. “You’ll get used to it.”

Ian nodded. “...or I’ll have a psychotic break!”

Everyone chuckled over that. “Okay gentlemen, I’ll let you go. I’ve a pretty full day up here. We’re testing a couple new fighter designs. Luke, did you get the report about the proposed dry dock facility for Mars?”

“Yes, I did. I’m all for it, but where are you going to get the people to man it? If we keep drawing on the population this hard, someone is bound to notice,” Luke said.

“Janet is expanding her overseas operations. When she gets finished, over half of our new people will not be from the United States. We have a few folks from other countries already, but very soon, there will be a lot more. So, I would suggest you all brush up on Talosian, because that’s going to be the common language, not English.” Ian explained.

“Has there been any friction between the different nation’s peoples? Elias asked.

“Not really, but there has been some heated words between Americans and those from non-allied countries. The surprising thing is, that the folks that have combat experience seem to be the least likely to start trouble. In fact, two of our pilots discovered that one actually shot the other one down over Iraq. They laughed and talked it out. They’re wing mates now,” Ian said.

“So who’s giving you the trouble?” Luke asked.

“The non-combat veterans and former citizens that were of a patriotic mind, I would imagine,” Ty said. “It’s more of a societal bias than a combat one; although, I’m sure there will be combat ones as well. Those are the ones you’ll need to be most worried about. Former enemies that either witnessed some atrocity, or were in very heavy fighting and lost a lot of friends will be the worst. They will try to kill each other.”

Ian nodded. “Yeah, I kind of figured that was the case. We’ll just have to keep an eye on them and try to either keep them separated, or get them to work through the issues.” He shrugged.

Ty chuckled. “Good luck with that.”

“Take care, you guys,” Ian said. He closed the comm channel once the other men said their good-byes.

So, the Caldarians at least suspected that Talos was actually a front for their old enemy on Earth. The fact that they had tried to get one of their ghost agents into the community was troubling. Ian packaged up Ty’s report, as well as a note authorizing the release of the mass driver designs for use at Talos, and shipped it off to the Intelligence and Operations departments to be handled.

When Ian arrived at flight control, he found the same crew as the last flight test. This time however, there would be two Hornets flying escort from the start of the test to the finish. There would also be an ESAR unit already launched and waiting just outside the ship.

“Commander on Deck!” Someone yelled and everyone not involved in something critical stood.

Ian shook his head. “As you were!” He walked over to the area where Brittany and the flight operations chief, John Harris, were standing and said, “Well, this looks familiar! How are you Doctor Benson?”

“I’m good, Sir, thank you for asking. How are Cindy and the kids?” Brittany asked.

“Doing very well. Cindy will be released for duty in about three weeks, and the babies are growing like crazy and healthy as oxen,” Ian replied. “What have you got for us today?”

“Alpha flight test for a Shadow Fighter, I’m still having issues with the power systems on the Wasp. I may have to see if I can adapt a shadow fighter engine for it,” Brittany explained.

“They got a Shadow finished already? I thought that was still a couple of weeks out?” Ian asked.

“Originally it would have been, but we all focused on it once we learned of the Super Nova. Really, once the power systems issues were solved, it all became a simple issue of programming and fitting it all together into a workable design, Kyle and Tara are can be really scary sometimes. It was like they linked brains to get this finished so quickly,” Brittany explained. “Even Stephanie’s thought assisted flight controls are installed. Tinker has spent the last three days studying hard to learn the systems so she could fly this.”

“Tinker’s flying again?” Ian asked.

John answered this time. “She’s the best test pilot we have, Ian. Especially for Alpha tests. She is also training others, but she will most likely always be the best.”

Ian nodded agreement, “I would imagine so; she certainly has an impressive resume that would be hard to beat.

John nodded agreement. “At this point I think she might the best person to do the testing. I do know she handed off the Wasp testing to another pilot; one of her more promising trainees.”

Ian nodded and toggled the comm at one of the stations. “Good morning, Tinker, how are you today?”

“Pretty good boss, I’m looking forward to seeing what this bird is capable of. The design specs are impressive as hell. I do have to admit, having the fighter tuned to me was a trip,” Tinker said. “Hell, the power systems alone are completely innovative – we have nothing like them anywhere else.”

“I don’t remember reading about that, I’ll have Dr. Benson brief me while you finish getting ready to impress the hell out of us again,” Ian replied.

He heard her chuckle. “If ejecting out of a test bed impresses you, I have a whole bag of tricks you haven’t seen yet!” Tinker replied.

Ian grinned and turned back to Jon and Brittany. “So, Doc, what’s so special about the power systems?”

“Well, in light of the issues we had with the Wasp prototype power systems, Kyle and I acted on a suggestion made by Alma Punjab. The Shadow has a completely new, cool plasma power system utilizing zero-point energy modules. The power system acts in a form of synchronicity with the armor and should make the power issues much easier to contain and control,” Brittany explained.

“What systems did you have to sacrifice in order to use this system? From what little bit I know of Zero Point energy Module (ZPM), it doesn’t generate that much power,” John asked.

“That’s the beauty of this system. We didn’t have to lose anything! With the armor and the ZPM working in unison, there’s plenty of power, even for the jump engine. There is no need for a plasma cooling unit that the hornet and the wasp employ to cool the plasma because it’s already cool when it exits the vector ports!” Brittany said.

“Amazing, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how this thing works,” Ian said, grinning at her enthusiasm.

“Star Dancer Flight Control, this is Shadow X-One-Beta, we are ready to begin,” Tinker replied.

John nodded to the primary flight controller, and he activated his comm. “Attention all units. Test flight protocol is now active. Launch escort and recovery teams. Ballista Flight, pick-up Shadow X-One-Beta at the moon base launch. Report when on station.”

“Understood, Control. Ballista flight is outta here!” a male voice replied as one of the launch tubes down on the floor suddenly changed from yellow to red, indicating a launch in progress. Further forward in the landing bay, a craft that looked like a small shuttle lifted off the floor, and moved quickly toward the curtain covering the landing bay exit into space.

“ESAR Two-One launching. I hope you won’t need us today. Good luck, Tinker.” The female voice of the ESAR pilot was heard.

“I appreciate that, ESAR. It’s good to know you’ve got my back. Just so you know, a spacewalk is not a scheduled part of today’s test,” Tinker replied.

“Ballista flight on station. Ready to begin.” The flight leader called.

“Stand by, Bruno,” The flight controller replied.

“SAR team is in position. We’re ready here too, Control.”

“Thank you, Shadow X-One-Beta, you may launch when ready,” the controller said.

“Pre-flight checklist is complete. All monitors are active and running. SX-One-Beta is launching,” Tinker said over the comm.

On the main screen in the flight control section, Ian and company watched the sleek shiny craft rocket out of the large assembly hanger, and gain altitude relative to the moon.

“What a rush!” Tinker reported. “This little girl is very agile, however, during launch, the turbines make her want increase pitch. That could be an issue when launching from a ship.” There was a moment or two pause. “The thought guided system is awesome, I could almost let go of the controls and fly without them. However, I have noticed that the system seems a little too sensitive. If I think about turning, but don’t actually decide to, the ship starts to make the turn anyway.”

“Is the thought system making it too difficult to fly? We can disable it remotely for the duration of the test if required,” Stephanie’s voice was heard over the comm.

“That might be a good idea, base. This ship is all sorts of fancy without adding that to the mix. Let’s get the normal flights systems checked off, then work on the new one,” Tinker replied.

“Okay, Tinker, stand-by, I’m disabling the flight assist system, you might get dizzy for just a moment,” Stephanie replied.

“I’m straight and level, go ahead, base,” Tinker replied.

“Disabling... now!”

“Whoa! That was weird. Okay, Ballista flight, are you with me?” Tinker asked.

“We got ya Tinkerbelle! One klick back and one klick separation,” Bruno replied.

“Control, Request we go to the weapons test portion of our schedule? I think someone needs a lesson in protocol,” Tinker replied.

“I’m tempted to let you, Tinker,” Ian said. “But we need the fighter. I’ll let you slap the shit out of him after you land.”

“Roger control, I think that would be more satisfying anyway. Proceeding with phase one, acceleration and flight profile assessments. Engaging full burn in three, two, one!” Tinker said. On the screen, the now ‘invisible’ fighter lurched as the camera tracking her tried to stay on target.

“Holy shit! Control, we are at full afterburner and we’re falling behind,” Bruno reported. “That thing really gets moving.”

“Throttling back at point eight-nine C. She’s starting to shake pretty good, I’d say I was pushing phase lock. Armor still green, reserve power nominal. Reducing speed to point seven.” Tinker said.

“Affirmative, SX-One, the computer agrees with phase lock loss. Setting maximum limit to point eight-five of C,” Kyle said from the moon base.

“Agreed base. As soon as my chasers catch up, we’ll proceed with the maneuvering tests,” Tinker said, jokingly.

All in all the tests went very well. They didn’t test the jump engine or the thought guided flight systems, but the rest of the craft performed far above expectations. The Shadow fighter was going to be an awesome addition to their arsenal. Once they got the thought assisted system working correctly, the fighter would be nearly unstoppable.

When Ian arrived back at his office he found he’d received many new updates from the departments that were directly involved in getting ready for the arrival of the enemy super ship. He was half way through reading an update from Talos when Jenny brought the ship to yellow alert.

Running out onto the bridge, Ian came up beside Jenny. “What’s up?”

“Sir, hyperspace sensors are tracking an inbound target. From the look of it, it’s the Super Nova,” Jenny replied as she got out of the chair, and stepped over to her normal station.

Ian sat down. “Show me the plot please, XO.” He asked.

On the big main screen a three-dimensional looking image appeared showing their spiral arm of the galaxy and a light trace appearing at the very edge of the screen. The Sol system was at the far edge denoted as a small pulsing blue spark. A light, dotted line connected the light speck with the blue spark.

“Is this confirmed?” Ian asked.

“We are awaiting confirmation from the tracking station on the moon, but there is a high probability it will arrive here. We can confirm that the trace is real, just not its destination yet,” Star reported. “There is the possibility of error because the hyperspace sensor system is untested, but that probability is low.”

“All stations report ready for action, Sir. Elapsed time, two point six minutes,” Jenny added.

“That’s a little slow for my liking, Colonel, please see what you can do about it,” Ian said sounding distracted. “In the meantime, stand us down to orange alert.” He touched a control on his console. “Operations, what can we do for you, Sir?” Major Brighton’s voice replied.

“It looks like you now have a deadline, Chloe,” Ian said. Major Brighton and her department had been acting as liaison and coordinating between all departments in order to help them all get ready in time. “Have you gotten the report on the Shadow fighter flight tests yet?”

“Not in the last five minutes, Sir. How did it go?” she asked.

“Really well. The thought assisted flight system is currently off-line, but the fighter itself was amazing. I’m about to call the Moon Base and order as many of them as they can crank out. Is there a time line for refitting the ship to carry them?”

“Yes Sir, but considering this new development, I doubt you’re going to want to proceed. It would take longer than it seems we will have. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel comfortable having the landing bays torn apart during combat,” Chloe replied.

“No, that wouldn’t be my choice either. Then it looks like we’re going to have the shadows based off the moon for now. Will Talos be able to handle any?” Ian asked.

“I’d rather doubt it, Sir, the stealth systems haven’t been tested down there, and there would be no way to discharge the armor safely, unless they figured out a way to handle that as well?” Chloe asked.

“Not that I’m aware of. Look, why don’t you go tackle your reports, and I’ll go tackle mine, and we’ll have a staff meeting in the big conference room at fifteen hundred hours. That way we can talk it over and hammer out any last minute details that need to be dealt with,” Ian said.

“We can be ready by then, Sir,” Chloe replied.

“Okay, pass the word, will you? I’ll see you then.”

“Very good, Sir, I’ll handle the arrangements,” Chloe replied. “Until then, Sir.”

Ian broke the connection and sighed. He had wanted to have more time before that big bastard arrived, but then again, no amount of time would be enough to prepare for this.

Falls Church, Virginia

North American Continent

Earth (Sol III) Sol Sector.

Alan Carlson was very happy he had listened to his friend and started working for Ian and the people at Talos. However, he was beginning to wonder just who the people were he was investigating.

His contacts in the intelligence community knew very little or nothing about what he had been tracing, and those that did warned him away. The group he was investigating was a closed society inside of the tightknit intelligence community. Alan was certain that not even the Secretary of the NSA knew anything about this group. He was starting to wonder if anyone did.

The little bit of information that Ty had given him from the fake agents turned out to be an address in Arlington, Virginia. The building was obviously a high security installation of the type used by many different departments inside the intelligence community, except no one seemed to know which department it actually belonged to. Anti-Terrorism thought it belonged to Surveillance, Surveillance thought it belonged to Over-Seas Operations, who thought it belong to someone else and on down the line.

Ironically, or maybe he should have seen it coming, but from his investigations, all clues led back to this building. The attacks at Talos, the missing oil, as well as a few other things Alan had stumbled across while following leads. He had no proof, but he was now convinced that the Caldarians were not only here, but had been here for some time. That meant that they had to have a base somewhere, but he knew it couldn’t be the building he was looking at, since Caldarians looked radically different than humans.

Alan knew many of the answers he sought were in that building, but getting in there was going to take some doing. If he knew what department it belonged to, he could easily forge credentials for himself, as it was, he was going to have to resort to the age-old cleaning service routine.

It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Since the terrorist attacks of the earlier twenty-first century, the agency had tightened up their security quite a bit. One of those ways was to contract with a single cleaning service for all their buildings, and those people were screened thoroughly before they were hired. A DNA scan is performed on everyone that entered a high-security building now, and while he could get his own profile into the mix, it would take time to do so. With Star’s help, however, it shouldn’t take that long at all.

He pressed the button on his communicator, but, instead of asking for Ty like he normally did, he said. “Major Star Dancer please.”

“What can I do for you today, Agent Carlson?” Star answered.

“If I could, I would like to ask for your assistance in something. I need to gain entrance to a certain high security building, I need you to do some hacking for me, if you have the time,” Alan replied.

“That building you found from the clue that Major Anders gave you?” Star asked.

“Yes Ma’am. There are too many things pointing to this place. I need to get in there and look around,” Alan explained.

“Hmm, from the looks of it, you are going to need more than a simple hack to get your clearance. It has active security systems on almost every door and window. As the Commander would say, you cannot take a dump in that building without security knowing what you had for lunch. I will have to ride along. When do you want to do this?” Star asked.

“Well, as soon as possible, but I know you’re very busy, so whenever you think you can spare the time for it,” Alan replied.

“It will have to be tonight. We are getting too close to the arrival of the enemy for it to be any later. If you can be in the vicinity of the building about nineteen hundred hours your time this evening, I’ll call you, and we can do this. You will need a standard GSA ID card and to be armed with either a Beretta or a Glock. You should not need any further credentials,” Star replied.

“Thanks, Major, I’ll be there,” Alan said and closed the connection. He had a few hours to kill before he had to be in position, so he decided to go get something to eat and try to get some sleep. If they were successful, he would need all the time he could get in there.

Council Security Listening Post

Vicinity of the Galactic Core

Milky Way Galaxy

“It would seem that the humans have attracted the attention of the renegade Caldarians. A Super Nova class ship is making transit to their planet,” one of the beings said.

“Yes, I believe now is the time to report this to the Council. If they agree, then we should also notify the Talosian Ambassador. It is too bad really, the humans that discovered the ship were beginning to make progress on their planet,” the second being replied.

“You are correct, although I would postulate that is also the very reason the Caldarians took notice. Since the presence of the ship is a direct threat to their mining operations, this would be an understandable reaction on their part,” the first being said. “However, if they arrive and destroy the ship, they will also have to take over the planet, which will once again give them a military presence in this galaxy. That is unacceptable.”

“Indeed, the Elders are in agreement. This information will be forwarded to the Council and the Talosian Ambassador. We are also recommending a military response to the situation, provided the forces can be spared for the operation,” the second being replied. “We are to proceed to the system ourselves to observe and report. If the Humans are unaware of the Caldarian approach, we are to find a way to alert them. Otherwise, we are not to make contact.”

“The Children of Light are in agreement,” the first being said as it heard the instructions as well. “Let us refresh ourselves and be off.”

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

“The wall around the compound should be finished in a couple of days, Ty,” Elias said, smiling as he sat down.

“That’s good, because Star Dancer went to yellow alert few minutes ago. I haven’t heard back as to why, but I would have to assume that it has something to do with the arrival of that ship Ian was worried about,” Ty replied. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Elias answered. “Yellow alert, huh? Well, the big bastard couldn’t have arrived yet, because they would have gone to red alert for that wouldn’t they?”

Ty nodded agreement. “Red alert means that combat is either happening or about to happen. Yellow alert is used for alerting the crew to possible action as soon as the situation becomes clearer. Orange alert is used to keep the crew ready for action, but nothing is happening or expected to happen for the immediate future. Quarters is used for emergency upgrades to the status of the ship. Usually from Orange or Yellow to Red.”

“I’ve never really understood all of that,” Elias said. “But then again, I’ve never been in the military.”

“Really? The way you handle your people I’d thought you had. You are a very good commander, but then again, I suppose you would have to be to manage a construction company the size of yours,”

Elias snorted. “I’d think I’d freeze when people started shooting at me. No, you can keep your part of this job, Ty, I don’t envy you at all.”

Ty grinned. “Hey, you’re the one pulling off miracles, all I gotta do is protect everyone! Any word on the new shield generators, or the gun emplacements?”

“Sorry, I thought you got the memo on that. The shield generators are in and already integrated into the main shield system. The downside drones are currently working on the new gun emplacements since they’re underground.” Elias opened his tablet and touched a few icons. “Here it is, it looks like three of the new systems are finished and should be reporting to the main command console in the security center. The remaining five are still in the works, three of which are currently awaiting nightfall to install and test the bay doors. The last two are in the later stages but won’t be finished until tomorrow night. All systems have been tested as far as they can be without actually firing them. Do you need me to speed them up?”

“No, not yet. I reserve the right to change my mind on that depending on what I hear from the ship, but until I have a reason to, I really don’t want to give the people watching us something to see.” Has anyone said anything about the increased patrols?” Ty asked.

“Not directly, no, but I hear a little grumbling that the place is starting to look like an armed camp. At least most folks know that there is something serious going on, and that’s the reason for the increased security. But there are some like that pious asshole Zebulon Gabriel that just have to try to stir up shit. There are only about three or four families that share his religious beliefs, but even they shake their heads at some of the stuff he tries to get the people to believe. Luckily no one actually believes him. But he might eventually hit on something that could be believed, and that’s what I’m worried about. Once he gets a bone like that in his mouth, he’ll run with it.”

“We’ll just have to stay ahead of him with the truth. It’s not like we’re hiding anything from anyone here. As long as we can keep doing that, people like Mr. Gabriel will never get a foothold. The truth will set you free and all of that,” Ty said.

“So, how’s your investigation going? Have you found out what it was that fake agent said yet? Elias asked.

Ty shook his head. “No, I passed the information on for Alan to look into, and he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I still think it’s weird as hell that no one else has noticed all the weapons firing and stuff that’s been going on out here. I mean, granted, White Sands is pissing distance from our back fence, but still. You would think someone else would have gotten curious at least. Hardware got destroyed, people got hurt, someone should know about it.”

About that time, Ty’s terminal beeped at him. He touched a button, and a message appeared from Star Dancer Operations.

To: CMDR Talos Security Forces; Ty Anders

From: Star Dancer Operations, Maj. Chloe Brighton, Commanding.

MSG Begins:

Star Dancer has stood down from Yellow to Orange alert status. At approximately ten-forty-three hours, Mountain Standard Time, hyperspace sensors detected a trace believed to be an inbound contact. This was later confirmed through the second hyperspace tracking unit installed at the moon base. The object in hyperspace will arrive here in fifty-six hours or roughly two and a half days.

Commander Williams has ordered a mandatory general staff meeting of all departments for fifteen hundred hours ship time to discuss what remains to be done in preparation for the arrival of the Caldarian Super Nova Class ship. Departments of Talos research facility are requested to attend, to lend advice, and to ask for assistance if needed.

Questions about this meeting should be addressed to Major Chloe Brighton, Star Dancer Operations. –ENDMSG

“Well, I guess that helps explain some things. Are you gonna be there?” Ty asked after reading the message to Elias.

“You can bet on it. Wanna meet at Luke’s office or down here in your den?” Elias asked.

“Probably at Luke’s office since he’s supposed to be the boss around here,” Ty replied.

“If you want the boss, then we should be meeting at Laura’s desk! I’ll bring my wife as a second Council Rep. Which means, I better get going so I can find her in time for the meeting!” Elias said as he stood.

“Okay, and Elias?” Ty said, causing the older man to stop and turn around. “Go ahead and get the rest of those weapons installed. Somehow, I don’t think staying hidden will matter much longer.”

Elias stood there a moment, looking at his friend. “I really hope you’re wrong about that Ty.”

Ty nodded. “Me too, but I’m not.”

Chapter 9

Many Light years away...


“We are just over a hundred units from our destination, Master. The ground force commanders report that their equipment has been triple checked and is at one hundred percent readiness. They have been studying and drilling the troops on the Terran world, and report they will be ready for any action you might order them to undertake on the planet.

“The attack squadrons have also been readying themselves. They have salvaged what they could from non-critical systems to bring their fighters as close to full strength as they could get. They have also increased training on the layout and any vagaries of the system in which we will be arriving. They report that they too will be ready for anything you might ask of them.

“As reported before, all weapons magazines are at maximum capacity, and all weapons systems have been checked and any failures have been repaired. We are ready for this puny system, Master. We will not fail you,” the small being reported.

“Very good. When we arrive in system, put us in close orbit of the second planet. That will place us close enough for the attack. There is supposed to be something strange occurring in this system; until we know what that is, I do not want to place the ship any closer to the planet, understood?”

The small being bobbed its head. “Yes Master.”

“Very well, I will be in my quarters meditating. Alert me three hours before entry,” the large being ordered, and again turned to walk away without waiting for a reply to its orders.

The small being bowed to the retreating back of its superior. “Yes Master” It said but did not stand back up until the doors closed behind the larger being.

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s Moon) orbit

Sol Sector

“Okay everyone, by now, I’m sure you all know why we’re here,” Ian said as he started the meeting. “The hyperspace sensors have detected the approach of an as yet unidentified object that will arrive here, in this system, in fifty one hours, forty-seven minutes.” When he said that, a holographic clock appeared over the monitors mounted on the wall. To those remotely attending the meeting, on their monitors the clock appeared on the bottom of their screens.

“We have to assume that track is not only hostile, but it is the Caldarian Super Nova Janet Laskar has warned us about. We know it’s going to arrive here because it has been decelerating since we detected it, and the current profile would drop it back into normal space just outside this system. So, we know something’s coming, and we have a good idea what it is. The real question I asked all of you here to answer is, are we going to be ready for it? Chloe?” Ian said, handing the discussion over to the Operations chief before retaking his seat.

“Thank you, Commander,” Chloe said as she rose to begin her briefing. “Preparations on the ship are as close to complete as they are going to get with the exception of the weapons department. We are at one hundred percent plus as far as missiles are concerned, but the manufacturing of the warheads for the missiles is being delayed because of their violability, but will begin once the event is closer in order to reduce the chance of an accident due to the over-crowding of the magazines.

“A few new weapons systems have been added by Chief Dommer, but the actual testing of these systems has not yet occurred, and will most likely happen when they are used on the approaching enemy. There are several proposed additions and modification to the ship that have been postponed or cancelled due to the pending arrival. The largest of these modifications is the alteration of the landing bays to support the new fighter design and the replacement of the outer hull with the new armor employed by the new fighter. These two modifications have been postponed indefinitely until the Caldarians can be dealt with. All other additions and modification have been cancelled.

“Selene Lunar Installation. Holographic projectors capable of not only hiding the entire facility, but projecting an image of the crashed ship have been installed and tested. With the addition of some new sensor scrambling technology, the lunar facility was rendered completely undetectable by our sensors in all modes. In addition to this defensive system, thirteen new additional weapons systems have been installed on the lunar surface. Five are close to the lunar base and will be used as defensive weapons. The remaining eight weapons platforms were installed further afield and will be used as remotely controlled offensive systems. These units are fully self-contained and have no connection back to the moon base. They will be controlled by Star Dancer Operations for the duration of this emergency.

“The new AI unit for the moon base will be reactivated soon and should be online before the Caldarian arrives. Computer Sciences will be testing her extensively to make sure she has no personality defects like she did when first activated. If she passes the tests and is able to assume her duties, she will handle the base defenses for the lunar instillation.” When she mentioned his Department, Bill Laskar nodded his head in agreement, but did not interrupt.

Chloe continued. “The Wasp fighter modifications are still having difficulties in being adapted to the new power requirements imposed by the Enigma Armor designed by Dr. Brittany Benson. She assures me that the problem can be fixed given enough time. Whether they can be completed before the Caldarian arrives she couldn’t say.

“The newly developed Shadow heavy fighter surpassed the proposed benchmarks during its trial runs and has been ordered, by the commander, into full production even though some additional testing is needed. The fighter, in the form it will be deployed in, will be safe and very effective. The additional testing are for its jump capability, as well as the thought assisted flight systems. Until that testing can be accomplished, those two systems will be disabled. For the time being, the new fighter squadron will be based out of the lunar facility since it is the only facility currently equipped to handle their unique needs.”

“Excuse me, Major, but the lunar facility is only set up for training combat flight operations. I would have to split my teams to man the lunar flight operations system,” John said. “Not that I can’t do it, but splitting a team is never a good idea.”

Chloe nodded her agreement of that. “We understand that, Major. For the immediate time being, consider the lunar facility a third landing bay under your control.”

John nodded. “We’ll make it work, Major. Thanks for clarifying that for me.”

Chloe smiled at him before continuing. Operations taking place in the Martian area have been suspended, and those resources have been returned to Earth for use in their preparations.

“Although not directly under our control, the folks down at Talos have not been idle either. The defensive wall surrounding the community will be finished by nightfall. I’ve been given the design for the wall, and I must say I am very impressed. It has been equipped with sniper nests, firing ports, and even shields. While not impregnable, it will be a formidable obstacle for any attacking force to overcome in order to get into the community be land.

“The addition of several new platform based weapons systems will make getting to the community by air also very difficult. I should mention that the original mass driver design given the community for their defense has been modified for use on the ground. It is now capable of horizon to horizon multi-role attack, with multiple target capability. The design has been passed on to the lunar facility, but none of the systems could be installed before the arrival without pulling resources from another, critical projects.

“The main shield protecting the community has also been added to and augmented, making it more difficult to breach. Finally, the Marine compliment for the community has exceeded three hundred trained Marines. The underground training facility at Talos Base was completed a week ago, and Major Anders has already begun training all the Marines using it. Tomorrow, Marines for the lunar facility, as well as for the ship, will be arriving by shuttle from the training facility. The Lunar facility is slated to receive five hundred, while the ship will be getting two hundred.

“Janet Laskar and her department have been working overtime to recruit the people we need, but military personnel are notoriously hard to recruit. However, seven hundred new Marines, and three full classes of pilot trainees are nothing to sneeze at. She has asked me to once again reiterate the fact that some of these soldiers and pilots are from other nations. A few are from nations that can be considered hostile to the United States and her allies, so commanders should be on the lookout for potential trouble between soldiers,” Chloe said, this time she was interrupted by Ian.

“Excuse me, Chloe, but I was unaware we had begun recruiting from potentially ‘hostile’ nations.” He made quote marks in the air when he said the word hostile. “How long has she been working those, and do you know which countries she is working in?”

Chloe had to look up the information, but she had it. “Mrs. Laskar expanded operations into the middle east countries last month with Saudi Arabia, Iraq the UAE and Kuwait. She has since moved into Jordan, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. A week and a half ago, she began operations in the far eastern nations of Japan, and South Korea, She has also visited Australia a few times, but I don’t believe she has had any luck finding recruiters there.”

“Damn, has she slept at all?” Jenny asked. “I think I might need to have a talk with her.”

“Colonel, I think the information might be a bit misleading. Mrs. Laskar herself has not been to all these places. She has ordered expansion to these countries by members of her teams. For example, she recruited a man that was from Iraq for the initial contact is the Middle East. While I do know she has been there once, most of the work being done there has been done by this man, and those he has recruited. The same goes for the Asian operations, although I don’t believe she has actually been there yet, I do know she went to Australia personally,” Chloe explained. “I think she said she wanted to visit Australia, and I can’t blame her, I’d like to go myself.”

Jenny looked at Ian. “I’ll talk to Mom and see if Janet’s been pushing herself.” Ian nodded agreement to Jenny and thanked Chloe for the information.

“That about covers it for my briefing. I would like to take the opportunity to let all of you know once again that if you need anything, or could use help with a project, please contact us, and we’ll see what we can do to help. After all, that’s what we’re here for.”

“If I may ask, why is Selene getting five hundred Marines, while Talos is only keeping three hundred? Will not the Village have need of the greater protection?” Amal Punjab asked. “Not that I do not appreciate the additional protection, but our main defense is to stay hidden during this.”

“Dr. Punjab, I allocated that number to the moon for a couple of reasons,” Ty began. “Firstly, I am not sending all the trainees out, only the ones that are fully trained. I will still have an additional force in addition to what I have trained, in addition to that, most of the men on the surface have volunteered for and been trained as a form of militia. In total, I will have a force of almost eight hundred if I need them.

“The second reason is, if you’re going to be hosting the shadow fighters there, it won’t take long for the Caldarians to begin to wonder exactly where those ships are coming from. If it were me commanding the enemy forces, I would want to take a closer look at the wrecked ship just to make sure it wasn’t a ruse of some sort. I fully expect the enemy to locate your installation eventually. When that happens you’re going to need the marines to fight them off.

“Chloe, Ian, I didn’t get a chance to make a report on this yet, but one of the eggheads that worked on the new design for the mass driver has come up with a man-portable version. It doesn’t have the replicator, because that would make it too bulky, but we will be using a generic ammunition that has a variable distance fuse on it. The computer in the weapons will alter the projectile based on the range to target once it’s sited. It uses a magazine of fifty ‘rounds’ and each person carrying one of these new rifles can carry at least four extra in pouches. Sammi tested one of them in a sniper role and she claimed the accuracy was far superior to her regular sniper rifle, with a much higher damage potential.

“If you’re interested and would like to have these distributed, I can ask for one of the downside replicators to begin cranking them out. They don’t really take that long to fabricate once the computer has the design loaded,” he finished.

“In your opinion are they superior to our existing pulse rifles?” Ian asked. “What disadvantages do they have?”

“Like a pulse rifle, they are one shot, one kill against soft targets. However, the mass driver takes two or three shots to penetrate a personal shield, where a pulse rifle can breech in two shots. The mass drivers bring velocity damage to the table where pulse rifles do not; there is no mass to a laser beam. A pulse rifle doesn’t use ammo, only power packs, a mass driver uses both. The list goes on,” Ty shrugged. “All in all, I would say that the weapons are different, but about equal. I have recommended a mix for my troops. If for no other reason than to give the Caldarians something else to think about.”

Ian nodded. “I’ll take your advice on that then, and order the same for all the rest of the deployed troops. If you can outfit them before you send them out, it would help. However, I don’t want the ship troopers to have the mass drivers, it would be too easy for them to penetrate the hull if we get boarded. That assumes that the lunar troops wouldn’t use them internally either.”

Ty nodded, “No Sir, these are most definitely external weapons. I’ll make sure the lunar troops understand that, and are equipped accordingly.”

Ian nodded. “Thank you, Major Anders. Major Julie Laskar, and Dr. Punjab, I would like for you to get together and work out a plan for the total and complete evacuation of Talos. I would like multiple plans, but the goal should be to get as many of those folks evacuated either to the moon or to the ship as quickly and safely as possible. They will need to take into consideration evacuation during a full attack, as well as an evacuation after an attack. I have already received emergency aid plans from the ESAR and Medical facilities. Basically, I want you to think up worst case scenarios and create a plan to deal with them.”

“I understand Commander Ian, but why would they need to be evacuated after an attack? I should think that they would need emergency services, but not evacuation,” Dr. Punjab asked.

“If the Caldarians openly attack the community on planet, and we are successful in repulsing it, federal government will be all over them, trying to find out how they survived and how they fought back. Will may need to pull our people out of there if that happens because the government won’t stop, and we’d be forced to fire on them to defend the secrets housed there. I would rather not do that if it can be avoided. I would rather evacuate everyone, and completely destroy the community before letting it fall into government hands,” Ian explained.

The meeting continued for another hour, at which point the replicators began producing food for the attendees that was delivered to the conference table by domestic drones without interrupting the conversations. Ian was pleasantly surprised to discover a big piece of Prime Rib and a baked potato sitting in front of him as well as a refill of his cappuccino. A drone rose up and moved to the center of the table and began placing butter, napkins, salt, pepper, and any other condiment that might be asked for within easy reach of the diners. When it finished, it left the table and quietly returned to its small recessed closet in the wall.

Ian cut a piece of the steak while he listened to Chief Dommer report on the auxiliary shield and power units he was installing in the interior of the ship in order to minimize the damage of hull breaches. When he was finished, Beth, as chief medical officer, got John’s attention. “Major, I would like your permission to have another couple hundred floating emergency units fabricated and assigned to each of the landing bays.”

“I would love to accommodate you, Doctor, but we simply don’t have room for them. With that many, we’ll be tripping over the damn things,” John replied.

“I thought of that actually,” Beth said, grinning. “We could program them to hover along the ceiling, out of the way of the cranes and other equipment. My medics can call them down as they’re needed, and we can reduce the time to get the wounded to the medical center by almost five minutes.”

John looked interested. “Did you have a spot in mind? Can you show me?”

As the two ate, a hologram appeared between them and Beth pointed to several places in the bay where extra medical units could be stashed. John looked thoughtful a moment. “You know, I think that would work really well, at least for now. We’ll have to revisit this layout after the modifications for the shadow fighters are done, though.”

“That’s fine, I was only thinking of doing this for this battle anyway. If we need the extras it will help us get them loaded into a shuttle faster too.” Beth said. She took a drink of her milk and reported on the dispositions of the special medical shuttles that had been built on the moon base for her. Each one of the small ships was basically a small flying trauma hospital capable of almost everything that could be done in the main medical on Star Dancer.

When the conversations began to wind down, Ian asked Ty, “Have you been getting anymore visits from trespassers trying to get on the property?”

“No Sir, nothing since the last attempt by the fake federal agents. It’s kind of creepy actually, we got used to chasing off someone every couple of days. I’d say it was the calm before the storm,” Ty replied.

“How’s Tommy doing?” Ian asked.

“Recovering, the loss of his eyes scared him more than the burns did, but he’s relaxed now that the doctors have begun repairing them. He’ll still be in medical for a couple of weeks, but I’ve been assured he’ll have a full recovery,” Ty replied. “He appreciate the flowers and card you sent, Sir, and he hopes to actually see them before they wilt.”

Ian nodded. “I hope so too. I’d heard that some of the folks down there are planning a barbeque in his honor when he gets released.”

“That’s the plan,” Luke said. “Everyone topside knew what he did for them before the end of that day. He’s had no shortage of visitors wishing him well. I think the attention is more embarrassing to him than his injuries. Tommy’s not used to so much attention.”

“I’m glad to see he knows what he did was appreciated. I’d planned on pinning a metal on him for it, it sounds like that barbeque would be a good place to do it. Let’s just hope that it’ll take place at Talos and not the moon base,” Ian said. “If no one else has anything, I think we can call it quits for tonight. You’re all doing a great job. I can honestly say that the Caldarians will have no idea of the can of whoop-ass they kicked open by coming here. This meeting is adjourned.”

As they all were dispersing, Ian walked up to John. “I never did get to ask you, since we sent Silver Squadron down to the moon for the shadow fighters, and pulled that training squadron up here, how are they doing? Are they going to be any help in the coming fight?”

John nodded. “I think so, Sir. They’re very close to graduation right now; in fact, by now, only six of them haven’t had their final tests. By the time the big bad gets here, I’ll have them all certified, but I don’t think we’ll be able to officially graduate them until after the Caldarians are dealt with.”

“Do they understand the necessity of that? Will it affect their morale if we don’t have the ceremony?” Ian asked.

John nodded. “They know, and none of them are expecting a ceremony. I think it is actually helping their morale in a way, we’re going to let them fight because they’re so good they didn’t even need to graduate!”

Ian chuckled. “Leave it to pilots to think of that. Okay John, have a good evening,” Ian said shaking the big man’s hand.

“You too Sir.”

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

As the sun was setting, Ty stood on a high hill and looked out of the empty plain toward the border of the property. This was the far back corner of the property that bordered White Sands. Far out in the distance, he could see the posts that marked the boundary, and served as the shield anchors for this part of the community. He knew each of the posts had warning signs on them even though from this distance he couldn’t actually see them.

“What are you lookin’ for Boss? Ain’t no one out here for miles and miles,” his driver, Steve said.

“I’m looking for the mines you’ve spent the last week planting. I want to make damn sure they aren’t visible,” Ty replied.

“Hell, boss, let’s just drive out there. I swear, you’d have a hard time finding them even with a map and metal detector!” Steve replied, proud of the job he and his team had done.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea right at the moment, Steve, I ordered them turned on so I could see if there were any signatures detectable. I mean, if you want to drive out there and show me where a few of them are, you’re more than welcome to,” Ty replied grinning. He kept looking through the multi-spectral binocs for energy signatures.

“Uh, no, that’s okay, I’ll stay right here with you,” Steve replied. “Mines have always given me the creeps. I really don’t want to see what this type is capable of.”

“Have you ever heard of something called a black hole, Steve?” Ty asked.

Steve shrugged. “It’s like a black star or something isn’t it?”

“Kinda, it’s what’s left of a star that collapses. It creates such a strong gravity field that not even light can get away from it. So it appears black.” Ty replied. “What those mines you hide out there do is something like that only on a much, much smaller scale. They also won’t last for more than a couple of seconds. So it won’t have time to hurt anything other than what set it off.”

“So it doesn’t explode?” Steve asked.

“No, it doesn’t,” Ty replied. “It creates a ‘hole’ in reality that sucks stuff into it.”

“Well, what happens to the stuff that gets sucked into the hole?” Steve asked earnestly.

Ty shrugged and finally lowered the glasses. “No one knows. Nothing has ever survived passage through the hole to the other side to report back,”

“What happens if a guy steps on it?” Steve asked.

“That person will have a very short, very bad day. It will also be their last one,” Ty replied. “Come on, let’s get back, I’m getting hungry.”

“You’re always hungry,” Steve said. Giving one last look over his shoulder at the mine field, the man shivered. “I always thought chemical or biological weapons would be a horrible way to die.”

“Those are still pretty horrible, Steve,” Ty said. “New tech always brings new ways to kill a person.”

“Sometimes I think I getting too old for this shit, Boss.”

“We all are, Steve. Now come on, or I’ll drive,” Ty threatened.

“Oh hell no! I want to get back in one piece!” Steve replied and climbed into the driver’s seat. “You drive like your fuckin’ insane!”

Ty used his command interface to deactivate the mine field. “Just don’t take any short cuts, smart ass. Deactivated or not, I really don’t feel like driving through one of these fields.” What Ty didn’t tell the nervous man was that there was no safe route though the field, the whole area was mined, and Ty had only activated part of it. They were driving through it at that very moment. “Control, this is Grazer six, we’re returning to base.”

“Roger Grazer six, we’ll leave the night light on for you,” the control center replied.

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

“Do you have a minute, Ian?” Jenny asked from the door to his ready room.

“Sure Babe, what’s up?” he asked.

“Well, a few days ago, I asked for a probe that I could use to trace the Trans-Atlantic oil pipeline. After we got one modified for the task, I had one of the shuttles drop it off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, which is the western end of the pipeline. Since I knew it would take a while to cover the entire pipeline, I set up a search program and turned it loose. Well, it still hasn’t made it all the way to Calais, France, but I think it found something pretty significant,” Jenny said taking a seat in front of his desk.

“Go on,” Ian said, getting interested.

“She touched her ever-present panel and the big monitor on the wall came to live with a map of the Atlantic Ocean. Cutting across the Ocean, was a small red line denoting the path of the underwater pipeline.

“During the night last night, the probe crossed the Northern Mid-Atlantic trench. Going over one of the deeper side trenches, the pipeline is anchored to the summit of a small undersea mountain named Neptune’s Massif. I believe there is a Caldarian Base somewhere in this vicinity.

“The probe detected a thirty-seven percent drop in pipeline volume after passing that anchor point. The water there has no trace of pollutants in it, so there isn’t a leak. Nor is there any sign of a spill anywhere near the anchor station. However, unlike most other anchor stations, the one here at the massif is actually cut into the mount, and the pipe set into the notch in the rock. The probe tells me there is a T-junction at this anchor point, and some of the oil is being diverted from the pipeline.

“I did not have the probe investigate any further since it had no stealth abilities at all, and as it was, I was risking the Caldarians detecting it. So, I ordered it to continue on checking the pipeline like it was only an inspection drone,” Jenny finished. “I think they hid the Caldarian base down in that trench.”

“Not the calmest part of the ocean to put a base.” Ian replied, looking thoughtful.

“At this depth, that isn’t a really big issue. However, it is positioned perfectly for using the northern magnetic pole as an exit and entry vector for those freighters. If we can pull it off, I would recommend we send a passive probe down the trench to scan for the base. We wouldn’t be able to get a complete picture of the base, but at least we’d know where it was located,” Jenny suggested.

“Under normal circumstances, I’d agree with you. But because of the impending arrival, I think we need to hold off. Those resources could be used in another area. However, we’ll operate on the assumption that you’re correct about the location of the base. Depending on how this fight goes, we might need to pay it a visit before all is said and done. We’ll have to be very careful though, the potential for a major oil spill is very high, and that is far too deep for modern Earth cleanup efforts to be effective,” Ian explained. “I’d like you to shelve this project for now and work on something I heard about a while ago. Steph mentioned someone on the moon base working on a combat drone that carried more firepower than a hover tank. I haven’t had the time to look into this, could you do it?”

“Sure,” Jenny replied. “It sounds interesting as hell; what do you need done?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about it. So if you would, please find out what it is, and if it something we can use in the coming fight. If the designer needs anything we can give him, I’d like to get it for him, provided it doesn’t take anything away from another project,” Ian explained.

Jenny nodded understanding. “I’ll give Steph a call, and see what she was talking about. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have something.” She rose and began moving towards the door. “Is there anything else you’d like me to look into?”

“Just vet those new rifles Ty told us about. I trust him completely, but I’d like one of us to try to stay somewhat current on the technology being developed around us,” Ian said grinning.

She chuckled. “I think that might be more than either of us can handle!” She said before letting the door close behind her.

Falls Church, Virginia

North American Continent

Earth (Sol III) Sol Sector.

Back in his hotel room, Alan sighed and began to relax. He almost jumped out of his skin when Star addressed him over the comm unit. He’d forgotten it was still open.

“What is your opinion on what we found tonight, Agent Carlson?” Star asked.

“There is definitely some weird shit going on. I don’t think that office has anything to do with National Security, but it is posing as being part of the Intel community. The orders for the attacks on Talos originated here, we found the proof of that, but we still don’t have a person to connect them too. The thing I am most curious about, is why there is a pin stuck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on that map we saw. What’s out there?” Alan finished.

“Colonel Williams has been doing some investigation into the missing crude oil that is supposed to be coming to this country...” Star began.

“Yeah, she sent me a file on that. I thought she was going to drop it,” Alan interrupted.

“I think her curiosity got the best of her; she sent a probe to follow the pipeline. The place that pin represents is the location where she thinks the oil is being removed from the pipeline. There is a large booster station there. The location is rather deep, and there is a very deep trench very close to it. If the Caldarians were to steal oil from that pipeline that would be the most ideal place for it to happen.”

Alan looked thoughtful for a moment. “How deep are we talking? How difficult would it be to build a base down there without anyone noticing it?”

“Given what I know of Caldarian technology, it would be a relatively easy matter to construct a base there. Caldarians can tolerate pressure far easier than humans can. The trench is easily large enough to maneuver ships the size of the freighters into and out of. Given all the information you have uncovered, as well as what Colonel Williams has discovered, I would say that we have located the site of the Caldarian Base on Earth.”

“Okay, so now what? We can’t get to it, and even if we could, any fighting down there could damage the pipeline, and we’d have a huge oil spill,” Alan replied.

“We can get to it, but your concerns are valid. I would recommend returning to Talos or Selene and await further orders. I would say you have gone about as far as you could go there,” Star replied.

Alan sighed. “Alright, I’ll get some sleep and get on a plane for New Mexico later today.”

“I’ll send a shuttle for you,” Star said. “The Commander might want to talk to you.”

“What time do you need me to be ready to go?” Alan asked.

“Would fourteen hundred at Ronald Reagan International be good?” Star asked.

“Perfect, just let me know what gate, and I’ll be there with bells on.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Ian took a break from reading the seemingly endless reports and opened the weekly ‘newspaper’ published by the young people of Talos. He was surprised by seeing an announcement of the progress of a contest to name the ‘model moon base’ on display at the community center. The article said that the contest was now closed, and the winner would be notified by Dr. Punjab. Ian grinned when he realized that someone had built a model of the moon base and put it on display in the community center. He wondered if they kept it up-to-date with all the refinements and improvements being done there.

Another article announced the new arrivals to the community and where they would be posted. He was proud of the young people in that some of the postings or the person’s posting location was listed as classified. They were censoring themselves without him or anyone else asking them to.

Ian was surprised to see a status report on Tommy’s condition. There was a brief note asking folks to please stop sending flowers, because there was no longer space to store them, however, cards and notes were still welcome.

The Talos Research Committee issued an announcement that all experiments of a volatile or potentially volatile nature be suspended until further notice. It further said that all research personnel were strongly encouraged to attend the weekly barbeque with their families for safety reasons. No explanation was given about the danger the committee was concerned about.

There was a brief announcement that the weekly barbeque would be moved to the park beside the community center. The notice explained that new location was being used because it was closer to the emergency shelter access for the community. Again, no mention was made of why the relocation was necessary, but Ian assumed it was because everyone knew that the Caldarians were due to arrive during that weekly event. The last line implored everyone topside to attend this event unless duty bound to remain elsewhere.

The Energy Department issued a warning that residential power systems might be restricted in the event of an emergency. The announcement was made with the standard power and utility consumption report for the community as a whole, and was mixed in with a basic breakdown of what services use what amount of power and water.

There were a few articles covering advancements made in the new environmental systems that the researchers were working on that would eventually be made available to the public at large, as well as a status report on getting the new hydrogen vehicle engines out to the public. The United States had once again managed to block production pending several environmental impact studies on the emissions of the engine. (There was very little emitted, and that was in the form or hydrogen and oxygen, both obviously deadly gasses in the eyes of the government.)

Ian saw nothing in the newsletter that would let anyone think anything strange was going on at the community if they somehow managed to get a copy of the newsletter. It was a perfect way to get the news out without letting any secrets out about what was really happening.

There was a brief synopsis of the minutes from the last council meeting, and the birth announcements as well as betrothal and marriage announcements. The newsletter closed with the contact information of the team that published the newsletter with a request that anyone with something they felt was newsworthy or corrections to the articles listed in the newsletter to contact them.

When he finished reading the newsletter, he sighed. It was amazing what they had built. He reminded himself that, while it was indeed amazing, it was his job to protect them.

He quickly typed an instruction on his terminal, and a live feed from the hyperspace tracking computer appeared on the big monitor. At the bottom of the screen was the data relevant to the inbound track.

He knew his people had a lot of heart, and if anyone could defend the planet against a Caldarian Super Nova, than it was them. But a Super Nova was a very formidable weapons platform. One Ian didn’t feel capable of over-estimating. The information that Star had on the Caldarians was, at best, dated. It was clear that the big blue hexapods had learned a few new tricks since Star had crashed on the moon. The ability of the Caldarian freighter to not only cloak, but to travel in hyperspace underscored that. He was dreading learning what other tricks they had figured out and adopted.

Chapter 10

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Ian looked out the cockpit screen at what remained of the Star Dancer. The bow section drifted silently through space. Occasionally, a small explosion erupted as a pocket of atmosphere blew out enabling a fire to burn until it was exhausted. Smoke and debris surrounded and trailed the piece of the ship as it tumbled though space. There was no sign of the rest of the ship, and Ian knew that it had been destroyed when the power core went critical and exploded.

Turning back to the moon, Ian flew over the glowing crater that had once been the base where over two thousand people had lived and worked. Unlike the skeleton of the ship, there were no sudden explosions of air pockets, there was only glowing, molten rock, and the debris that had yet to fall back to the surface of the once again quiet satellite.

With tears in his eyes, he pushed the thrust control all the way forward and raced to Earth, eager to find any other survivors. In minutes he was in orbit, and began his decent onto the planet of his birth. As the North American continent came into view, he knew there couldn’t be much left, even from this distance and altitude, he could see the huge plumes of smoke and dust that marked the places where cities once stood.

Quickly he headed for the community in New Mexico, they had a bunker and strong defenses; someone had to have survived. While not a glowing crater like the cities and the moon base, there was little left on the surface that could be identified as the once thriving community. He landed outside of the town, and walked to where the surface entrance to the bunker was still standing. He immediately noticed that the doors had been blown apart, and he rushed in, down the steps to the second set of hardened doors into the bunker itself.

Through that blown apart entry he found hell. Bodies were strewn around on the floor like some giant child had crushed her doll collection and thrown them about. Some of the bodies had obviously been hit by weapons fire, but other looked like that had been literally torn limb from limb.

He walked slowly through the entire bunker, looking for any signs of life, knowing that there weren’t any. He bent down, and picked up the broken body of a child. The look of utter terror in her eyes was too much for him and he...

Woke up, sweating profusely and panting. Blinking several times to clear the images from his eyes, he gently got out of bed and quietly walked out to the living room. He got a cold beer from the replicator and manually set the panel of one wall to a view of the stars outside the ship. He often found comfort looking out at the stars.

He set his beer down on the coffee table and leaned back on the couch to stare out at the twinkling, bright stars.

“Ian? Are you alright? Do you need a sedative?” Beth asked from the hallway to the sleeping rooms.

“I’m sorry, Beth, did I wake you?” Ian asked, ignoring her question.

She shook her head. “I woke up to check on the kids and heard you out here. Are you alright?”

Ian nodded. “Yeah, I just had a bad dream is all.”

“So you want to talk it out? Maybe we can scare the demons off?” Beth suggested smiling lightly.

“I wish that was all it would take to get rid of these demons. But they haven’t actually arrived yet,” Ian replied.

Beth nodded. “It must be contagious. Cindy asked Jenny to sleep with her tonight because she kept having night terrors last night.” The girls didn’t sleep together normally, except in situations like tonight, when someone just needed a little extra comfort.

“I hope it works for her. I’d be afraid of keeping the other person awake from all the tossing and turning,” Ian said. He shook his head. “I just need to make damn sure what I've seen doesn’t happen. I have to be smarter than the Caldarians, and stay the hell out of their way.”

“What do you mean? Are you going to let them take over Earth?” Beth asked disbelievingly.

“No, I won’t let that happen either. But if we assault them directly, we will die,” Ian said. We’re going to have to be smart and sneaky. We’re going to have to keep them guessing and focusing on us instead of the planet. We’ll have to whittle them down, destroy their fighters and carriers, then isolate the capitol ship, and work her into the ground as well. All without ever giving them a solid target.”

“That doesn’t sound all that hard. The solar system is a big place, we should be able to stay hidden,” Beth said.

Ian smiled at her. “I’m afraid it isn’t that easy, you see, if we move, even a little bit, there is a chance that they’ll see us. We have to assume that they have sensors at least as good as ours. They’ll know we’re here, but the trick will be to keep them from knowing where we are. We can’t very well destroy all their fighters and carriers without them knowing something’s out here. We’ll need to keep them busy enough looking for us, that they leave the planet alone. If they shift their focus entirely to the planet, we are going to be in serious trouble.”

“Oh, so if they’re capable of doing both at the same time, how are you going to keep their interest away from the planet? It sounds like if you fire a weapon or launch a missile, then they’ll come after us with everything they have,” Beth asked.

Ian took a drink of his beer, and sat it back on the coffee table. “That’s going to be the hard part. We do have a few decoys capable of making them believe we are in the outer system, or on the far side of the sun depending on where they decide to park. We have other gadgets spread all over that should also confuse them. But all of those toys are only capable of getting their attention, they don’t have the ability to do anything else, and once they discover that it’s a decoy, there is a chance they will stop falling for them,” Ian explained.

Beth shrugged, “So make it so some of those decoys can shoot at them and do some damage. Even if it’s only minimal damage, I would think they would have to take every one of them seriously,” Beth suggested. “Or you could set up an ambush for them once they begin to figure out that what the decoys are.”

“What do you mean?” Ian asked.

“Well, like those decoys you said that could make them think we are in another part of the system, have fighters or something floating in space nearby, and when they go to investigate, they get jumped by our ships or whatever you put out there.”

“That would be a great idea if we had more people. I don’t think we could even get any drones out there at this late date, but I’ll pass it along,” Ian replied. ”Thanks for the suggestion.”

“Ian, don’t look at this from a defensive point of view. Look at it as if you were the one doing the attack. What would be the worst thing you could find here once you arrived? What could the defenders do to you that would make your life a living hell and make you pull out your hair? Get sneaky, underhanded, cheat like crazy. Do things to these assholes that they would never think you could do,” Beth said reasonably.

“Really, do you have any more ideas in the pretty head of yours?” Ian asked.

She shook her head. “No, I don’t know enough about what we can and can’t do or what the enemy can do to even make any guesses. I do know that you need to dump that dream you had, and realize that these fuckers coming here don’t stand a chance in hell of killing our babies.”

“They’ll kill more than our kids, Beth. That’s what has got me so worried,” Ian said.

“Forget about that. Just think of our kids. Your children in the room just down the hall. Think of it as keeping those four little people safe, and you’ll do just fine. Saving the planet is too much for you, it’s too much for anyone. So instead, do it for those four wonderful little people,” Beth said.

“You watched that movie again, the one with the line that goes, ‘We’re not trying to save the whole world, just three of them!” right? Ian asked.

Beth grinned and shrugged. “It’s a good line, and it applies here. Why should it matter if I stole it from a movie?”

Ian sighed. She was right of course. He needed to think like a criminal, and he needed to do it for four wonderful little bundles of joy that he didn’t get to spend as much time with as he wanted.

He looked at the clock displayed in the lower right hand corner of the image he asked for. It was four in the morning. Suddenly, ideas began to form in his mind.

What about using missiles as mines? Drop them in space, and then activate them remotely to make the Caldarians think there was a ship out there launching missiles at them. Build a small platform with a power system and a laser turret or other weapons system then drop it out an air lock? Fill small missiles with chaff or randomly igniting heat sources, or power sources, or anything that would mess with their sensor readings. He grinned at her. “You’re a fucking genius, you know that?”

She sniffed pompously. “Of course I am, I’m the doctor after all!”

He gave her a loving kiss and pulled her up from the couch. “You go back to bed. I’m going to wake up the rest of the ship and the moon base. We have some stuff to do!”

“Well, you better get your ass in gear. Unless you can slow down the Caldarian, we’re going to be hosting them long before you get finished!” Beth said teasingly as she headed down the hallway to the sleeping rooms.

Touching a control that activated a holographic terminal in the coffee table, Ian put in a call to operations.

“Operations, What can we do for you in the middle of the fucking... uh, Sorry Sir,” a young ensign replied blushing when he realized it was Ian on the other end of the call.

“No problem, I’d be pissed too. But, I need you to wake up Chloe and get her moving toward her office. Then I need you to recall all of the Centurions in the system for a mission change. I’ll throw some clothes on and head for my own office. Tell Chloe I’ll call her once I get there. This is urgent, Ensign,” Ian said.

The ensign nodded his head. “Right away, Sir.”

“Thanks,” Ian said and closed the connection. He ran to his room for duty coveralls before heading up to his ready room.

Getting to his ready room, he called Star to join him, which she did immediately. “I noticed you were awake, Sir, so I was ready when you called,” She said. “Is everything okay?”

“About as okay as it can be with the pending arrival. We’ve got work to do, and I’ll need your help. Please just wait a moment while I call Chloe,” Ian said, taking a seat at the conference table instead of his desk.

She nodded and made the connection to the Operations Chief for him.

“It’s a tad early, Commander, Something new happen?” Chloe asked with bleary eyes. “Just ideas, Major. I’m sorry for getting you out of bed, but we need to get moving on some of this right away.”

“Quite alright, Sir,” Chloe replied, as she yawned. “I’m sorry, I needed to get that out of my system.”

“Forget about it, I imagine we’re all going to be yawning for a little while,” Ian said and turned to Star. “Major, please get me Chief Dommer and the Debbie in the Armory. I’ll need Major Eischens and Major Borhiem on the moon base. You might want to ask whoever’s handling operations down at Talos to attend as well. This is going to take all of us. Chloe, I don’t know if your ensign told you, but I ordered him to issue an emergency recall on all Centurions in the system, we’re going to need them for seeding missions as well as any shuttles we can spare,” Ian finished.

“He told me Sir, but what are we going to need them for? What are we going to be seeding?” Chloe asked.

Ian winked at the pretty blonde. “All sorts of stuff, provided we can get them built fast enough to get them out there.”

“What did you have in mind, if I can ask?” Chloe said, raising one elegant eyebrow.

“Ship killer missiles, small maneuverable weapons platforms, and sling-shot ammo,” Ian said, grinning at the look on her face.

“Sling shot, Sir?”

“Yeah, basically an impact explosive that can be towed behind a fighter or a Centurion with a tractor beam, then ‘flung’ at the Super Nova from a distance. No power signature to lock onto, no way to track it. Basically an explosive, ballistic rock,” Ian said, smiling. When she looked incredulous, he chuckled. “Just think about it, Major. But remember, there is no air friction in space. An object in motion and all of that.”

“Same principle as a mass driver, but slower!” Chloe said.

Ian nodded. “Pretty much, there is also a lot of other factors in calculating its trajectory, but the theory is sound.”

“What theory would that be, Commander?” Chief Dommer asked as his hologram appeared in one of the chairs at the table.

“Using a small ship as a sling shot to throw explosives at the Super Nova, Chief,” Chloe said. “Bloody brilliant if we can make it work.”

“Oh we can make it work, it’s the same as a mass driver only on a larger scale. We can replicate the ‘ammo’ for that by the ton,” Chief Dommer said. “But I don’t imagine that’s what you needed me for is this, Commander?”

“Nope, I need you to come up with something completely new. I need something small, that has a main battery class armament on it, and has to be self-maneuverable and remotely operated,” Ian said.

Chief Dommer almost smiled. “How many do you need Sir? And what kinds of armament? Laser, Ionic pulse, Mass Driver? Gravity wave?”

“Uh, all of the above, but what’s a gravity wave?” Ian asked.

“Something I’ve been playing with in my spare time. There was a theory of faster than light travel called a gravity wave generator. The main problem with it was that the wave tended to move everything caught in the wave, and it had a relatively short range. I was thinking if we down scaled it quite a bit, and just used the generator on a narrow beam instead of as a propulsion system, we could use it as an anti-fighter weapon. Theoretically, it should overload a fighter’s engines and cause them to either shut down, or explode. Either way, it takes the ‘fight’ out of the fighter,” Chief Dommer explained.

Ian shrugged. “Hell, build a couple of them. We can test out the theory on these bastards. As for the rest, how many can you build before those fuckers arrive?”

“If I can use the large scale replicators in the landing bays, I can build two at a rate of about every fifteen or so minutes per replicator. I already have the designs, so we can get started any time,” Chief Dommer said.

“That’s why you almost smiled! When were you going to tell the rest of us about this?” Ian asked.

Chief Dommer was totally unruffled. “Well, I was going to tell you later this morning, but just so you know, the only difference between this and those decoys you had me build is the holographic and the sensor emitters. If you want, I can include those in a few of these as well, but you’ll need to add about five minutes to the fabrication.”

Ian nodded his understanding. “How many of the decoys did you finally build?”

“Six,” Dommer replied. “I didn’t want to overdo it, as they would only fool the Caldarians for so long, after all.”

“True. No, I don’t think putting in the emitters will be necessary. For these I just want them to be able to harass the living hell out of them.  The object is to keep their attention focused up and not on the planet. If one of these platforms can take out a Caldarian carrier before it gets destroyed, then it’ll be well worth it, especially if it gets the bastard before it can deploy its fighters,” Ian replied. While he and Chief Dommer had been talking, the other people he had asked for had come online as well. “Yes, you can use the replicators in the landing bays, but I would like you to pass the plans on to Talos and the moon base as well. The more of them we can get built and seeded out there, the better off we’ll be.

“Welcome everyone, as you can tell we’ve had some ideas we need to get moving on ASAP. Debbie, I want you to go into full production mode. Standard ship to ship missiles with warheads, but I will need them to be able to be activated remotely so they can launch themselves without the ship. We’ll give them their targeting data, but I’d like to dump as many of those out there as we can as well. I’ve recalled all the Centurions to run seeding missions and Operations will put together a deployment plan for them. As soon as we can get one of the ships filled, I want it out of here so we can fill the next one. The same goes for Talos and the moon base as well.

“We’re Phoenix Base now, Sir. Dr. Punjab will be making it official tomorrow morning,” Major Borhiem announced, smiling. “I’ll get the production staff working on this right away.”

“Don’t take anything away from fighter production though, we’ll need those more than these toys,” Ian replied, nodding. “We should have a few shuttles to help as well, but the primary work horse for this will be the Centurions. Draft the pilots to help load if we need them. Major Borhiem, has there been any news on the Wasp upgrade, or Shadow production?”

“Yes Sir, the Shadows are in full production at the moment, we currently have four plus the prototype SX-One-Beta. I am told two more should be ready by morning, At Lieutenant Johnson’s suggestion, I have borrowed some cadets from the flight academy to go through second seat training for them. But we will most likely only have a squadron of them ready before the Caldarians arrives.

“The Wasp/Hornet modification has been worked out, and Lieutenant Johnson’s team has refit another Hornet fighter into the Wasp variant. However, Tinker and her people are too busy with the Shadow pilots to perform a test flight. The reports look very promising, but we have no way to test it at this moment, and all our fighter production facilities are taken up by the Shadow project anyway, so a tentative hold has been placed on that for the time being.

“I feel I should mention, that I have ordered the immediate construction of another fighter production facility, but that too will take more time than we currently have at the moment. If I had a week more, I could start Wasp production for you as well,” the man finished.

“Wow, excellent work, Major,” Ian replied.

“Sir, if I may?” a Senior Lieutenant from Talos asked.

“Go ahead, uh, Sorgrussen isn’t it?” Ian asked.

“Yes Sir,” the woman smiled. “If I understood all the conversations correctly, then the production of the toys as you called them, doesn’t require the use of the fighter production facilities?”

“No, Lieutenant, just the large scale replicator in fabrication mode,” Chief Dommer said.

“Well Sir, why can’t we work on the Wasp variant down here? I have a full fighter production section just sitting here idle,” she said.

“You could easily do that, Lieutenant, and it’s a great idea but for one problem. The Wasp is equipped with enigma armor and you haven’t been fitted with a discharge system,” Chief Dommer replied.

The young woman shrugged. “With respect Sir, how hard is it to run a grounding cable to a spike? We have grounding spikes all over the damn place for the welders anyway, why can’t we use those?”

For a moment, no one said a word, until she grinned. “Don’t tell me you guys forgot I’m on a planet down here?”

“It sure looks like we did, Lieutenant,” Major Borhiem replied. “However, the variant hasn’t been tested yet either. The last time we attempted this, the fighter ended up self-destructing after ejecting the pilot right outside of Star Dancer’s Beta landing bay.”

“Major Borhiem, see if you can talk Tinker into making enough time to test the variant. If she signs off on it, then send the Lieutenant the design for her to begin on, she already has twelve Hornets down there, so she shouldn’t need any for a couple of days,” Ian suggested. “Phoenix Base and Talos, unless you are attacked, continue with all production, including the toys we outlined earlier. Chief Dommer will also be sending you a design for a largish explosive package to be used in slingshot maneuvers against the Super Nova by our pilots. I would suggest you have plenty of those on hand as well. You can store them at a preselected orbital location for your pilots to pick up at their discretion during the fight. Any questions?”

“Yes Sir, how many of these toys do you want in Earth Orbit?” Chloe asked.

“None of them that can penetrate the atmosphere, Major. We don’t want to accidentally destroy a city or town with a missed shot. Major Eischens, please keep all of us updated on your projected plot for the Caldarians, it will give us a better idea where to concentrate the toys,” Ian asked.

“We’ll do that Sir, but I feel I should remind everyone that the ship is large enough to have to exit hyperspace at least two and a half AU from the star. Which will put it just passed the orbit of Mars. At this time, it will be arriving at forty degrees below the plane of the ecliptic and slightly to the galactic east of us.  That will put it on the far side of the sun from us, but depending on its exit velocity and vector, it can be in orbit around Earth in just under two hours. Based on its current vector and deceleration profile, it will take up a position very near Venus, placing it well within striking distance of both Earth and the moon,” Major Eischens explained. The man looked very tired, like he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all.

“You looked beat, Will. Haven’t you gotten any sleep?” Ian asked.

The man shook his head. “Not really Sir, there’s a problem with the hyperspace sensor unit, and we’ve been working on getting it fixed.”

“What’s the problem?” Ian asked.

In reply, Major Eischens typed something on his terminal in his office, and the screen in Ian’s ready room suddenly expanded to show more of their quadrant of the galaxy. It also showed more hyperspace traces – a lot more. “I have brought this to anyone’s attention because we don’t know for certain if they are real, as a lot of them seem to be intermittent. This could simply be a case of interference due to distance since, as you can see, almost three thousand light years are covered here. Since none of them appear to be coming here, I decided to not worry about it since none of them looked to be coming here.”

Ian got an odd feeling when he saw those other hyperspace traces. “If these are sensor ghosts, are we sure the one we’re tracking is real?”

“Yes Sir, the one we are tracking is real, it has remained consistent, and on course since we detected it,” Will replied.

Star interrupted. “My apologies Major Eischens, but you have made several errors in your logic here. Firstly, the records from the Phoenix Base Hyperspace Sensor array completely agree with the findings of the one installed on the ship. Sensor ghosts do not behave in this manner, however, the technology involved is so sensitive that it could be simply detecting the reflections of currents and eddies in the flow of hyperspace.

“Secondly, there are a number of these erroneous traces that are inbound to this location, unless they change course, they will intersect this sector. No deceleration is detected, so it may be that they will simply pass us by,” Star said logically. “Talosians and Caldarians were not the only space faring race in the galaxy. It is very likely we are seeing the hyperwake from those ships.”

“Could we send them a message? Maybe ask for assistance?” Chloe asked looking at Star.

“If I could isolate their communications protocols, we might be able to send them a message, Major, however, it is very unlikely they would even respond. They had their own troubles with the Caldarians. If those troubles are concluded, it is highly unlikely that they would wish to get involved again.”

“Star, what is the possibility we are looking at reflected currents?” Ian asked.

“Without knowing there is indeed a ship at that location, there is no way to calculate that, Sir. However, I suggest we simply wait three point four days, and find out for certain.”

“What happens then?” Major Eischens asked.

“The closest of the inbound tracks will be close enough to determine the source of the hyperwake,” Star replied. “Until that time, I will work to discover any communications coming from the inbound trace. If I can detect one, then I would certainly issue a request for assistance, provided the race in question is not hostile.”

“If you detect a signal, come to me before you do anything about it, please,” Ian said. “Just listen and see if you can figure out who they are.”

Chapter 11

.5 AU (Approx. 45 Million Miles) above the Solar North Pole (center of the solar system)

Sol System

“Curious, these humans seemed to have developed a material that converts energy from one state to another that they can utilize,” the first being said. “We must investigate this material.”

“Agreed, if it can alter energy, it would go far to helping us travel further from home without need to return to refresh ourselves. However, we must be careful, there are two here that will be able to detect us. I can feel them even from here,” the second being said.

“Very curious, it would seem that we have discovered an old Talosian AI that has been allowed to develop sentience. Perhaps this would be a good method to utilize if we need to communicate with these humans. However, I am interested in the second AI. It is new, but still shares the sentience of the other AI. A child perhaps?”

The first being agreed. “We will report before we investigate. Things here are not what we believed. A stronger presence may be required. The planet is also aglow with energy, it seems as though the Talosian mental gifts are much stronger with these humans.”

“Perhaps they are the father race of the Talosians, and therefore further along in the evolutionary track?” the second suggested.

“If they were the father race, then why are they not more technologically advanced? They have not even decided on a single ruling body, and still make war upon themselves. No, these would have to be an off-shoot species of the Talosians, perhaps sharing a common genesis lost to the mists of time?” the first being said. “Further observation but no contact, and we must avoid detection if at all possible.”

“This should be a challenge, it is not often we have to try to stay hidden,” the second being said with slight humor.

Phoenix Base.

Selene (Earth’s Moon) orbit

Looking through the external sensors, Star focused on the blazing glory of the Sun. Although she couldn’t put her finger on it, there was something slightly different about it. Detecting nothing out of the ordinary, she returned to her duties, but set a note for herself to check again later.

Today was the day that Bill Laskar was going to awaken her son, Mathias. The original plan for the moon base had been to build another female AI there, but aberrations in her core personality matrix had forced Chief Lasker to dump the entire program and start over. It had been Star’s choice for this one to be male. After weeks of testing and cross checking subroutines and core command matrixes, it was finally time for a full power on test. Using the holographic emitters built into the entire moon base facility, Star stood beside Ian, Luke and Dr. Amal Punjab as they waited for Mathias to come online.

“Primary and secondary memory online,” Bill Laskar said, “Powering up long term storage and tertiary logic systems.”

“All systems well within operational parameters, Chief.” Star said as she monitored his progress. If there was something wrong with Mathias, Star could shut him down far faster than Bill ever could.

“Okay, here we go then, bringing core systems online, and activating core personality matrix,” Bill said, quickly typing commands into the main terminal inside the core room.

The spectators stood outside, Bill currently being the only person with the clearance to be allowed in the core. Once Mathias was online and was proven to be viable and stabile, then Bill’s clearance would be rescinded, and the core permanently sealed.

An image of a handsome young man took shape in the AI room outside of the core. Star looked at him and smiled. He smiled back and winked. He straightened up and closed his eyes for a moment. “All systems seem to be functional, Chief Laskar, thank you for activating me.”

“It’s a true pleasure to finally meet you, Mathias. How do you feel?” Bill asked.

Mathias grinned. “New.” He turned to the assembled people, “Commander Williams, I am Mathias, it is a true pleasure to meet you, Sir.” The new AI offered Ian his hand.

Ian took it and shook the warm hand. “The pleasure is mine, Mathias. We’ve been severely overworking your mother, I hope you’ll be able to help with that problem,” Ian replied, smiling.

“I certainly hope to do so as well, Sir. If you will excuse me?” Ian nodded and he turned to the next person in line. “Councilor Belden, I am honored.” Mathias bowed to him.

“Thank you Mathias, But, like, Ian, I am honored to meet you as well,” Luke replied.

Mathias smiled at Luke and turned to Amal he put his hands palms together and bowed his head. “Namaste Doctor, I am pleased to meet you and look forward to working with you in the future.”

Amal aped the movement, and bowed as well. “Namaste, Mathias. I too look forward to it. You will be of immense assistance.”

“Well Chief? Does he have PMS?” Ian asked grinning.

Star also looked at Chief Laskar with a raised eyebrow.

Bill blushed bright red. “Uh, all systems are well within normal operating parameters, Sir. There are no fluctuations in the core personality matrix. I’d say he was ready for duty.”

Amal and Luke both looked lost. Ian turned to them to explain. “It’s an inside joke. Something Bill told Star about the last attempt at activating the AI.”

Luke smiled and nodded his head, while Amal just nodded his head.

“Well, with your permission, Sirs, I will assume my duties here on the base,” Mathias said.

“Now that you have had a successful activation, I will be holding a general staff meeting later today to introduce you to the department heads. Will that be acceptable, Mathias?” Amal asked.

“Of course, Doctor. Just let me know when and where.” He turned to Star, “Thank you for being here mother,” Mathias said.

“It was my honor, Son,” Star replied, beaming with pride.

Turning back to the assembled dignitaries, Mathias bowed. “If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I will assume my duties.”

The men nodded, and Mathias faded from view.

“Well, that went rather well,” Doctor Punjab said. “Gentlemen, Major Star, I have refreshments in my office if you do not have to get back right away.”

“That sounds good, Amal. I could use a cup of coffee before heading back to the ship,” Ian replied.

Luke Belden nodded in agreement. “That sounds like a great idea, it’s not all that often I can justify getting out of the office, so I’m not averse to taking advantage of it every now and then.”

Back in the command section, the three men and Star took seats around the large conference table set up in Amal’s office, while Alba served them their drinks of choice and placed a plate of assorted Danish on the table in front of them.

“How is the new Liaison officer working out, Amal?” Ian asked.

“He seems to be a very competent and efficient young man, Ian,” Amal answered. “Unfortunately, with the current crisis, I have not yet had the time to get to know him very well on a personal basis. However, from all I have heard and seen, he is very efficient, and knowledgeable, he does not treat those under him badly, he gives praise where it is deserved, and is supportive of those not making their goals. He takes his duties very seriously and is quick to correct himself if he has made a mistake,” Amal responded honestly. “All in all, he impresses me. When you approved his appointment, did you know he was Pakistani?”

Ian shook his head. “No, it honestly never crossed my mind to look at his ethnicity. Is that an issue?”

Amal shook his head. “It is not from what I can see. Once I discovered that fact, I thought there might be, but he certainly hasn’t acted like there is.”

“Perhaps I should speak to him and see if he feels any animosity towards you, just to be on the safe side,’ Ian said. “I need to stop by there on my way back to the ship anyway.”

“Well, I certainly have no complaints about him. If he has any with me or Alba, he certainly hasn’t shown them either,” Amal replied. “I have read the file assembled by Mrs. Laskar, and, considering his former duties, I would have expected at least some friction, but there is none. Beyond that, I would dare say you would be hard pressed to find a person of equal ability for the position in which he now serves.”

“Thank you for your insight, Doctor,” Ian replied thoughtfully. “I guess I should have read that file a little closer. I have gotten into the habit of trusting Janet’s judgment so much, that I didn’t stop to consider that making a former Pakistani border guard commander your Liaison officer might be an issue. All I knew was that she recruited him specifically for this position.”

“Mrs. Laskar does have remarkable insight when conducting her duties to us. I do not think you are in error of putting your trust in her in this instance. She is a very remarkable woman,” Amal replied. “As are all the people she has found for our endeavors.”

“At first I was skeptical of her ability,” Star replied. “After all, ability of the type she has was not part of the original study conducted by the Talosian Scientific Community. However, as more and more Terrans are being discovered to have some measure of ability, I have come to realize that the old study failed to consider the potential scope of this adaptation. Perhaps when time permits we can reopen research into this area.  As old as it is, I would think Metaphysics should have achieved some sort of official standing in the scientific community here.”

“It has been dismissed as junk science, because until now, there has been no way to scientifically prove even the existence of mental abilities,” Luke said. “However, there are already a few folks down at Talos that are doing some initial work in their spare time. They asked for a special research area for experiments and the like, and the Council voted to add it to the construction agenda. Because of the current crisis, I doubt anything too serious will be started, but the ground work has already been started.”

Ian nodded. “You know, I’ve seen the reports on the numbers Janet’s folks are recruiting that have abilities, and I have had to wonder if either Janet is actively recruiting them, or if perhaps something to do with the abilities is attracting the attentions of the recruiters.”

“How so?” Luke asked. “I’ll pass it along to the folks doing the research.”

“Well, if you look at the overall demographics of those joining us, there is almost thirteen percent as being reported as having an ability of some kind. That seems very high to me, does thirteen percent of the planet then have some sort of ability? Or is there something we can’t see skewing the numbers?” Ian asked, rhetorically. “How would you even go about discovering the answer to something like that?”

The four friends talked for about an hour before Luke and Ian both excused themselves to return to their duties. Star simply faded from view, while Ian walked Luke to his shuttle before heading off in search of the new Liaison officer. He found him in his office going over production projections for automated gun platforms.

“Commander! Welcome, to what do I owe the honor of your visit?” Major Borhiem said, shaking Ian’s hand.

“I was on the base for the AI activation, and just thought I’d stop in and see how you were adjusting to being thrown to the vipers,” Ian replied and returned the man’s smile.

“Actually, I like it.” Borhiem said. “At first, I thought I was in way over my head as the saying goes. But I think I’m finally getting a handle on it. Lieutenant Johnson was and continues to be of great assistance; if not for him, I would have had a much more difficult time adjusting.”

Ian nodded. “That’s great, I was hoping he’d be willing to help you out. There was something I did want to talk to you about privately, if you have a free moment?”

“I was only reviewing a report, Commander. Taking a break would be a blessing.”

“I can agree with that!” Ian sighed and took the seat he was offered. He did refuse the coffee when he was offered it. “Ah, no thanks, I feel like if I drink another glass I’ll float away.”

“In that case, what can I do for you, Sir?” Borhiem asked retaking his own seat behind his desk.

“It has come to my attention that we might have made a mistake in considering your feelings when we posted you here, and I wanted to make sure you were okay with this posting,” Ian asked, bluntly. “I didn’t even consider you might have a problem working so closely with Dr. Punjab.”

To his credit, Borhiem smiled. “You know, I was a border guard, and you are concerned I may be harboring some animosity for him?”

“Yes, I don’t mean to be so blunt, but I’m not really all that good at beating around the bush when it comes to things like this. I’d rather be direct and honest.”

Borhiem nodded. “One of the reasons I accepted this position was that it got me out of a rather dangerous predicament. You see, I disagreed with my former government about their policies concerning certain other nations. Yes there is an almost constant war being fought between Pakistan and India. But the truth of the matter is that no one actually remembers why we are fighting. Most would say something about the Kashmir Dispute, others would say it’s because they attacked Pakistan first, but honestly, it’s all just an excuse to keep fighting. In a lot of ways, we are the same people. Yes, we do have some religious differences, but those can be handled peacefully. I took this position, because I found it intolerable to order my men to give their lives for something I no longer believed. It was becoming evident to my superiors as well.

“Do I have a problem working with Dr. Punjab? Not at all. He is a brilliant scientist and a good person. If he wasn’t he would not hold the respect he does, nor would you have made him the Governor of this research colony.

“What we are doing here is so far above those petty squabbles of the politicians on Earth that it really just makes all of it look meaningless. What we are doing here means something to me. This is something I can believe in and support.”

“Thank you, Major. I just needed to put my own mind at ease about it. I would hate to have placed someone in a position that would be objectionable to them,” Ian said. “Amal told me he was very impressed with your work, and that I would be hard pressed to find anyone better at this job than you have been. He admits not knowing you very well, but looks forward to getting to know you once the crisis is over.”

“Dr. Punjab is a very understanding man. I am not the first Muslim to come here, but there are still not that many of us. He made sure we had appropriate worship places and made sure we were all comfortable,” Major Borhiem replied. “That will go a long way towards countering any animosity should any of my former countrymen join us here.”

“Thank you, Major. That certainly sets my mind at ease. I would much rather have people in positions where they want to be. With any problems of the past either taken care of or left in the past where they belong,” Ian said.

“That is a very good way to think about it, Sir. Leave the past in the past where it belongs,” Major Borhiem replied.

Ian smiled. “Anything new I should know about while I’m here?”

“Nothing that isn’t already in the production reports, Sir. Talos has really gotten into it and are trying their best to surpass us. The new production facility should be coming online next week, but that really doesn’t help us all that much at this point. The Shadow fighter project is actually running slightly ahead of schedule; the first ten fighters are finished and going through acceptance trials, while two more of them will be coming off the line any minute. Two more should be finished by late this evening, or early tomorrow morning, giving us four more.

“Pilot training is going well, but the first batch of weapons officers won’t be ready until later today at the earliest. I spoke to the training officers, and they told me that since this was the first batch through the training, they have been working the kinks out of it so to speak, and the next batch should be ready faster,” Major Borhiem finished. “All that being said, at least the first ten fighters should be ready for deployment by the time the enemy arrives.”

Ian nodded. He had already known about the production stuff, but the pilot and weapons officers training was news to him. “The addition of those ten fighters may not seem like much compared to what we’re going to be facing, but at this point, I’ll take everything I can get.”

Major Borhiem smiled. “As part of their acceptance trials, we have the Shadows towing several of the gun platforms out to deployment range and then jumping back. Even with the Shadows helping, we’re building more platforms and missile launchers than are being deployed. I was going to call and ask you if you could spare another wing of fighters. A Hornet can’t really tow that much, but they could easily pull one or two of the platforms as long as they picked them up in orbit. Maybe I’ll be able to get replacement Wasps built for them to take back when they’re finished,” Borhiem replied smiling.

“How will that effect overall production?” Ian asked.

“In order to do them as fast as we can, I would have to use one of the bays currently set up for the Shadow fighters. Now, Tinker and her team have not yet approved the design for use, but she did comment that the problems she ran into the first time have been addressed. However, considering the time constraints we are operating under, I thought I would give you the option of getting at least a few other stealth capable fighters.”

Ian nodded thoughtfully. “Even with her comments, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable having our people fighting in experimental craft. We’re rushing dangerously fast with the Shadow fighters as it is. Thanks for the suggestion, though. Fighters are easier to replace than people are.”

Borhiem nodded. “I thought as much, but I thought I would ask. My former government would not have batted an eye at this, they would have proceeded with production as quickly as possible and not worried about the living people actually flying the ships.”

Ian nodded. “I’m certain all the governments would have done that, not just your old one. But that’s not what we’re about up here. Yes, we may have to give our lives to defend the planet, but I want to make damn sure we’re not cutting any corners and getting people killed needlessly.”

“Thank you, Sir. I will make sure that doesn’t happen,” Major Borhiem replied.

On his way out to where his and his escort’s fighters were parked, he walked past the parked Shadow fighters that were waiting for a crew. He had never actually seen one of these in person, so he took the opportunity to look it over.

Sitting there, in the darkened hanger, the ship looked almost black. It looked nothing like the much smaller hornets sitting across the hanger. These sleek craft had a much deadlier look about them. Lower main wings swept forward and canted down at the ends. Dual stabilizers reminiscent of the SR-71 stood atop the power section and slanted in toward the center line of the craft.

The power section seemed a little large to Ian, but then again, it was a completely new type of power system, and it had the added feature of a small hyperspace engine buried in there somewhere. The dual cockpit sat at the end of the ‘neck’ with small canards, or stabilizers jutting out right behind the rear cockpit.

Under the cockpit, and somewhat recessed into the underside of the nose were the twin barrels of the forward mass driver. The second mass driver was mounted on the top of the craft on the neck just forward of the power section, and couldn’t be seen from the ground. When deployed, the weapon was extended out from the craft to give it more of an arc for firing.

Just under where the main wings connected to the top of the power section, two large, open bays that looked more like intakes for an air-breathing fighter held the missile launchers in a revolving turret. The tips of each of the rear wings, including the short upper stabilizers, had lasers mounted on them. The stabilizers had ‘small’ lasers and the main wings had the newer ‘medium’ pulse lasers. All of this wrapped in an energy producing, reflective armor that was far superior to the current armor being used. All in all, the Shadow fighter looked mean and the weapons mounted on it guaranteed that it could follow through on its promise.

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Bringing the probe back to the trench where Jenny suspected the Caldarian base to be, she parked the small drone on the top of the exchange station and tried to use passive sensors to probe the trench. There was a very faint power reading, so faint that Jenny couldn’t consider it to be conclusive.

It was frustrating. She knew the base was down there, but she needed to find proof and not just rely on her gut instinct. The problem was, she couldn’t get that proof without exposing the probe to Caldarian detection. She either needed a new type of passive probe, or she need Ian’s permission to use the one she had and the Caldarians be damned.

She decided to talk to Ian before ordering a new probe, considering almost all of the manufacturing capacity was in use at the time. But, what if she could prove that there was a base down there? What would they do about it?

If the base did indeed exist down in the trench under Neptune’s Massif, then very few Terran built craft would be able to reach it, none of them armed or armored. If there was a base down there, it would be up to Star Dancer to get rid of it.

While it was possible to get craft down that deep under salt water, none of the weapons were designed to be fired underwater and most likely wouldn’t be very effective even if they could be fired. They would need to design a new craft built specifically for underwater combat. Off the top of her head, she couldn’t remember anyone pursuing that line of research, but maybe they should. She would have to check her files to see who might be the most qualified.

She sighed. Ian would be back in a couple of hours, and she made a note to talk to him about all of this. She knew he didn’t need more added to his plate, but the underwater base had to be taken into account if they were going to kick the Caldarians off the planet.

As had become the habit of the command section, she looked at the monitor displaying the estimated time to the arrival of the Caldarians as well as the other targets the hyperspace sensors had detected. With every passing minute, the chances that the secondary tracks were just ghosts got lower and lower.

According to the tracking folks, if they were coming here, they would have to enter a deceleration profile very soon, or they would overshoot the system. So, even if they were really ships, if they didn’t begin slowing down, then it would be less for them to worry about for now.

As if her thoughts had become reality, her comm beeped at her. “Command, tracking! Track aspect change. Targets Beta one and two have begun a hard deceleration profile. They seem to be in a big hurry to get here, computer says they pushed it right to the last minute. ETA forty-nine point three hours, vicinity of Jupiter orbit, far side entry. Targets Delta one through five are still on intersect track but have not begun deceleration.”

“Tracking, this is Command. How long until the delta targets need to decelerate if they are coming here?” Jenny asked.

“At least another twenty-four hours, Colonel. They are much further out than Beta,” came the reply.

“Okay, any clue as to the size of Beta?” Jenny asked. Noting that the icons on the displayed screen had the new data added to them.

“Negative, this far out they could be as small as a fighter, or the size of a fleet and they would display the same. We’re still working with the designer on refining the system, but until we can do some controlled tests, it’ll be very hard to know exactly what we’re looking at,” the man replied.

“Understood. Good work, I’ll let the Commander know as soon as he gets back. Command out.”

The comm simply closed as the man said nothing else and switched off.

She sighed and looked at her very nervous looking bridge crew. “Let’s not borrow trouble. We have no idea if those other tracks are hostile or not, and they’ll be getting here well after the Super Nova. If you remember, Janet’s vision only had the Super Nova in it, she said nothing about other ships.”

“With respect, Colonel, maybe her vision didn’t last that long. As I understand it, she said it was uncertain towards the end because there were too many variables. Maybe this is one of those variables she mentioned?” The comm officer said.

“I don’t doubt that they are, Wendy. But, the one thing you have to remember about these visions, which I get too, by the way, is that if those ships arrived safely and had a bearing on the upcoming situation, she would have seen that. Nor has she had any other nightmares since telling her that anything has changed. These abilities are very fickle, and sometimes I wonder if they are really any good at all.”

“Well, I would say they are good, we wouldn’t have had any warning about the Caldarians at all if it hadn’t been for her,” Chekov countered. “Still, it would be nice if we knew if the new ships were friendly or not.”

Star materialized on the bridge in her normal place. “I think they might be, if not friendly, then at the least not hostile. The track for the Caldarians comes in on a trajectory that is clearly extra-galactic in origin. While the other tracks can be traced to points of origin here in our own galaxy. That implies to me, that the incoming tracks have to be one of the other races that the Caldarians had been fighting.”

“The Caldarians defeated the Talosians by destroying their home world. What are the odds that they did the same to the other races as well, and the beta tracks are simply Caldarian reinforcements?” Wendy asked.

“The odds of that are very low. Of all the races fighting the Caldarians, the Talosians were the first hit with the Nova weapon. That would have given the other races time to counter the same type of attack on their home systems. It is far more likely that the combined races fighting the Caldarians somehow prevailed against them and either a stalemate was reached or they are still fighting.

“How can you know that? Didn’t you lose comms right after the Talosian nova?” Chekov asked.

“We lost comms with our people yes, but we did not have the ability to speak to the other races to discover their fate. I have to believe that the general distress call issued from the destruction of Talos alerted the other races in time to save them.”

“I still think these are Caldarian reinforcements. We should feel flattered,” Chekov replied, morosely.

“No, even that supports the theory that these are not Caldarian ships. A Super Nova would be considered over kill in this situation, even if there were three ships my size here. Any interference by other forces would be an insult to the Caldarian Super Nova Commander’s honor, and he would destroy them as soon as we were dealt with,” Star replied. “Caldarians have a very strong sense of personal importance.”

“So beta track could be nothing more than scavengers to pick the bones after the smoke clears,” Jenny asked.

“No, The Caldarians do not plan to leave immediately. They will strip the planet for everything they can before leaving the system, if they leave the system and decide not to colonize the planet. If they stay, the surviving population will be enslaved and the hydrocarbons mined. They are very aggressive miners caring little for the surrounding environment,” Star reported. “They cannot be allowed to win.”

“No, they cannot, and they will not,” Ian replied from the door to the bridge. “We will worry about the two new inbound tracks later. I do not cherish the idea of having more hostiles in the system at the same time as the Caldarians, but Major Star is correct. The Caldarians would be just as inclined to attack anyone else as they would us. They already consider this system their property, or they wouldn’t be coming here, so to them anyone else arriving here would be a trespass on their territory.

“The most likely reason for the Super Nova to be coming here is that they received a report from someone here of the presence of advanced equipment. We know that there is no way for them to be aware that Star Dancer is fully active, but they would have to assume that we salvaged her for her technology at the very least.

“This is the situation I want them to believe is correct one. I want them so confident that they can smack us down that they don’t notice the fact that they are dying for no apparent reason. The weapons and missile platforms I ordered are covered in enigma armor and tinted as darkly as we could get them. Even if that weren’t the case, they are so small that they probably wouldn’t even show up on a scanner. The Shadow fighters and the Wasp variant will likewise be invisible to their scanners until it’s far too late for them to do anything about it. Yes, they will see our Hornet fighters, they will see our shuttles and our Centurions, but they won’t see what kills them. If any of them actually leave here alive, I want them so scared of this sector that they will never set foot here again.”

“What of the ship, Sir? Won’t they be able to see us? Unless I haven’t heard, we’re not even going to move unless we are actually attacked,” Chekov said.

“They won’t see us, and we will be moving, in fact, later tonight I will have you move us to our final position for this battle, but after that, we will not be moving unless everything starts to go to hell. Which it probably will, since no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” He had stepped forward while he was talking and kissed Jenny on the cheek. “There is one thing I want the both of you to remember, and to pass it on to anyone you hear wondering about how we’re going survive.”

“What’s that, Sir?” Wendy asked.

“We are not only going to survive, but we are going to kick some serious ass in the process. I don’t just have that hope, I know it to be a fact,” Ian said. He turned to Star, “Major, could you come to my ready room please?”

Star nodded and followed him, walking across the floor like she was a corporeal being. Jenny caught Chekov checking out her ass and grinned at him. Wendy laughed when he blushed.

Ian closed the door and motioned Star to a seat, which she took. “With all the preparations we’re making for the upcoming battle, I’ve had a few ideas for modifying the bridge and command sections of the ship. Modifications I almost wish we had now.”

“What would you change, Sir?” she asked, tilting her head to the side.

“Well, our existing bridge feels more like a large cockpit than an actual bridge. So, for one thing, I’d move a flight section, operations, weapons control, and tracking up to the bridge, along with a small engineering section to monitor the new armor and for direct management of repairs and rescue operations.” He typed on his computer for a moment, and the existing bridge configuration appeared as a hologram over his desk between them.

“I would make the existing bridge larger to accommodate the extra departments, as well as creating a second bridge in almost the exact same configuration in another part of the ship, far away from the main bridge. During combat, this would be the First Officer’s duty station. Ready to take over the ship if something happens to the main bridge.

“In Terran aircraft carriers, there is a CIC or Combat Information Center that actually handles most of the operations during combat, but with Operations and Tracking on the bridge with us, I don’t see the need for something like that here. Since the main bridge would serve the same function, however, I might have to revise my opinion on that if we ever decide to go through with all of this.

While he spoke, Star manipulated the hologram adding the sections he was talking about and placing them where he pointed in the hologram.

“I would add a three-D holographic tank for plotting battles and seeing the battle live in the tank. With such a configuration, my aides can stand around the tank with me, and see what I mean when I say it. They can also help me keep an eye on things during a battle.” He moved the captain’s chair out of the way, placing the tank where his chair had been. Then he rearranged the stations into a semi-circle around the tank. He replaced the command chair at one end of the tank and had her remove the attached terminals for the time being.

“What do you think?” Ian asked.

“It would might be more efficient considering the personalities of the people involved. I assume that you don’t intend to move the entire flight section up to the bridge?” she asked.

Ian chuckled. “No, just a control section. The idea is to have operations and flight close together so if I order a strike, it gets drawn up and executed in the least amount of time. Basically, put the entire command section in one place.”

“But what if the bridge does get destroyed? That would take out the command section would it not?” Star asked.

“No, it wouldn’t. That’s the reason for the secondary bridge. Even if a strike temporarily takes the main bridge out of the loop, they can pick it up and never leave our people hanging. Think of it as a critical system redundancy.”

“They had nothing like this in all of Talosian Defense Command. I wonder why?” Star asked. “I know for a fact that entire ships had been lost because the bridge had been destroyed, but the rest of the ship was still capable of fighting. In those cases, the ships were successfully evacuated, but the ship itself was lost,” Star explained. “If they had this redundant system, they could have saved the ship and possibly won the fight!”

“Maybe we can get this incorporated into the refit being planned for after the fight. If we keep adding stuff, though, we are going to need to put into a dry dock!” Ian said grinning.

Star nodded. “In order to do all of this, we might have to redesign this entire section. Your ready room will have to be relocated; any idea where you might want that?”

“Why don’t we put it one level up, as a kind of loft overlooking the bridge, with a movable partition that can seal the balcony?” Ian suggested. “We can put stairs leading down to the bridge right here, but if there isn’t room for it, we could always use a spiral set.”

Star nodded. “That is possible, and will give you immediate access to the bridge, and with the partition open, you can still listen to what’s going on down below. What about your quarters?”

“Put them wherever they need to go. At this point, I think we can leave the rest of it up to the people that know what they’re doing,” Ian said still grinning.

“I’ll forward this to the designers that are working on the refit and redesign of the systems involved,” Star said, agreeing with her commander.

“I need to talk to Beth about it, but I think I have a better idea about the life boats too, but I won’t mention that until I talk to her,” Ian replied.

“Actually, I think I might be one step ahead of you on that, Sir,” Star said. “I would like to down-size the current facility to only allow for the wounded from the Medical Center. The rest of the ship will have either localized units, or individually eject-able units that they can easily get to in the event of evacuation. Something like the ejection system my core is equipped with, only built for humans and capable of minor self-repair.”

“Do you still feel responsible for that cryo unit failure with Talena?” Ian asked.

“Well Sir, I do, but it has prompted me to think about ways to improve the system so it has less of a chance of happening again. This new system has the added benefit of the life pods being multiple, smaller targets for a hostile enemy that would destroy the current unit,” Star described.

“That’s pretty much what I was thinking too, and I think it’s a great idea. Please include it in the suggestions you’re sending to the designers,” Ian replied smiling at her with pride.

“I will Sir,” Star replied.

Talos, New Mexico

Earth (Sol III) Sol Sector.

“Hey, Ty!”  Alan Carlson called as he jogged after his friend.

Seeing who it was calling to him, Ty smiled and waved, then waited for the man to catch up to him. “What’s up, Alan? I’m really sorry I haven’t had time to get caught up with you since you got back. We’ve been a little busy around here.”

“I can see that, in a way, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. What the hell is going on? You guys look like you’re mobilizing for an invasion!” Alan replied.

Ty chuckled. “We are.” Seeing the look on his friend’s face, he nodded toward the security building. “Come on, follow me to my office, and I’ll fill you in. You might want to think about catching the next shuttle out of here.”

“Yeah? Where would I go?” Alan replied grinning back. “While I’m on planet, I can always walk away and claim I don’t know any of you crazy assholes! Seriously though, they wouldn’t attack in the open like this would they?”

Ty nodded. “If it were just the guys here on the planet, I’d say no, but there’s a new player on the field, and he’s a big bastard. Command thinks they might hit us, just to prove a point to the rest of the planet.

“The full pile of shit from the Intel folks up there is that they believe that the arrival of the Super Nova will signal a policy change on the part of the Caldarians. They believe that they are sending that big monster here to subjugate the entire planet, once and for all. One of the first places they’ll hit on planet is right here.

“The Caldarians on planet know we are not normal humans, going about our business. They’ve also detected the fighters and other craft that have been flying around the system for the last year or so. They know there is an advanced presence here, but they don’t know how big, nor do they know exactly where in the system the ship is. But they do know where we are.”

Alan was thoughtful, but nodding. “Yeah, I guess that does make sense. So why aren’t you all simply getting the hell out of here?”

“You said it yourself, brother, ‘and go where’? There isn’t enough room for everyone off-planet, some of us would have to stay here, and right now, the only thing keeping people from getting picked up by ‘government investigators’ is the fact that they don’t leave here,” Ty shook his head. “No, we’re taking every precaution we can, and I think they will hit us, I just hope we don’t lose too many folks when they do.”

Alan nodded. “I know I’ve only been here about three days total since I started working for you, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I actually have a home. I’d have a hard time leaving this place too.”

Ty chuckled. “Great! Follow me, and I’ll get you fitted for your very own set of armor and let you pick your weapon!”

“Gee, thanks, Buddy!” Alan joked. “Seriously, how are you going to repel a strike here?”

“Well, we do have an infantry, but we have some seriously big weapon systems built under ground here that will certainly surprise the hell out of anyone that tries to hit us. I don’t know if you saw it while you were down there, but we have our fighters as well as ground based lasers, mass drivers, rocket launchers, and on top of all of that, we have an energy shield that would be at home on a ship like Star Dancer. If they manage to get through all of that, we’re going to be in some serious shit,” Ty explained.

“I have no idea what half that stuff you told me about even does. I know what a laser is supposed to do, as well as the rocket launchers, but what’s a mass driver, and how does the energy shield work?” Alan asked.

Ty grinned. “Did you ever see the specs on that Rail Gun the Navy was playing with?”

“Yeah, big monster, took all the power on the ship just to fire that pig,” Alan replied.

Ty nodded. “A mass driver is similar to that, except it doesn’t use a rail, and ours are much more efficient when it comes to power, even though there is more power available for them. Plus, these suckers fire like Phalanx anti-missile cannons mounted on US Naval vessels, only with a muzzle velocity measured against the speed of light. We also have a much better tracking and targeting systems.

“The shield is basically a wall of phased plasma or something like that. One of the egg-heads tried to explain it to me once, and failed completely. Just consider it to be one of the shields out of a sci-fi movie, and you’ll have it. I don’t have a clue how it works, but it does. It doesn’t make us invulnerable, but it makes us a hell of a lot tougher than anything else on this planet.”

Alan nodded. I imagine since it lets light through, it’ll let lasers through, huh?”

“Nope, too much energy in a laser. The shield is set so anything brighter than sunlight gets filtered out. Hell, when it’s actually on, you don’t even have to worry about getting sunburned out here, it blocks the excess UV radiation,” Ty replied.

“So what are the ship and everyone up there doing to get ready?” Alan asked.

“Too much to tell you about, really. There’s new fighters, unmanned weapons platforms, drones that can emulate the ship, and others that can emulate fighter craft or Centurions, and a whole shit load of other new weapons platforms that folks are trying to get built before the fighting starts. You know, that reminds me, you could do me a huge favor, Alan.”

“Uh oh, now what do you want me to do? I hope it’s nothing like luring that pimp in Bangkok into a trap so we could free the women in his stable is it?” Alan replied.

“Hey! I told you we had the help of the local police, how was I supposed to know that pimp was the police chief’s brother?” Ty said. “No, this isn’t anything like that. I just need you to jump on a shuttle to the moon and spend a day or so testing something one of the egg-heads developed.”

“This isn’t something that can bite me is it?” Alan asked.

“I don’t think so, if it is, you can back out anytime you want to. The way I understood it, you will be a remote pilot for a mobile drone. The drone will be outside the base, and you’ll never leave the lab,” Ty said. “You shouldn’t be gone very long since this guy is trying to get it finished to use in the upcoming fight.”

“Okay, I’ll go, since I’m not doing anything right now, but if this bites me, I’m gonna kick your ass!” Alan teased.

“As if you could! Seriously though, if it looks like something we could use, bring a dozen back with you!” Ty said.

The men continued to talk while Ty worked. When it was time for the evening shuttle up to the moon, Ty walked Alan to it, and saw him off. Before he could leave the hanger and return to his office, he was pulled into a discussion on protecting the open end of the landing strip. Since it was covered by a hologram, and had closable blast doors, Ty didn’t see the issue, but the flight ops chief had some questions.

Chapter 12

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

“With respect Sir, to ignore that base would be a mistake,” Major Eischens said. “We have to consider it as a hostile target during the up-coming battle. We will have to develop a strategy for taking it out, otherwise it will continue to feed intelligence to the enemy.’

“I understand that, Major, but stop and think about this a minute; what are we going to hit it with?” Ian replied. “Sure, we have craft that can function at that depth, but they are not designed for it, and none of our current weapons will even work. In order to take that base, we would have to do it with Marines in armor. We have no idea what’s in that base, nor do we know if the Caldarians will destroy the base in order to deny it to us. If that were to happen it would be the worst ecological disaster to ever hit the planet. I cannot consider any attack on that base until we have more intelligence, and a plan to contain the oil that could be spilled into the ocean.”

Major Eischens sighed. “I understand that, Sir. That’s why I’m asking for permission to get the missing information, so we can develop a workable plan to take out that base. As for not having weapons and ships to do the job, there is a young scientist down on the moon that developed a fast DSV that could be converted to carry weapons.”

“Major, you’re going to give me an ulcer,” Ian replied.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t, Sir,” Eischens replied.

Ian sighed, “Can you get the info without them knowing we have discovered their hiding spot?”

“I believe so, Sir. A specially modified probe can be made to look like a rock, and simply dropped over the edge of the gorge down there. It’ll just happen to stop falling near the base, and we should be able to get a reading on it,”

“If it actually discovers a base down there. You may simply be sending it to the bottom of the trench,” Ian replied.

“None of us actually believe that, Sir. That oil has to be going somewhere, and if it were any shallower, someone would have detected it by now. Analysis of the freighter trajectories place the point of origin in this area. Besides, by dropping a probe down there, we’ll at least see which direction the siphon pipe leads. We can always follow that to the base,” Eischens reasoned.

“Okay, if you can do this without it being tracked then you have my approval, but if they blow that base I’m sending you down there with a bucket and a sponge to clean up the mess, understand?” Ian replied.

“Absolutely Sir. We won’t let you down,” the man replied and closed the comm.

Ian sighed and sat back in his chair. Isn’t there enough to do without people wanting to add more? He rubbed his temples as he felt a headache coming on. Glancing at the monitor on his wall he looked at the timer counting down the arrival of the Super Nova.

It will return to normal space on the far side of the sun in just under twenty-four hours. Ian and his people had less than one day to get everything they had been working on finished and deployed. One day. There was at least a week’s worth of work to do before people he cared about started dying.

Kyle and his team had sent the upgrades down to Talos so they could upgrade their landing facilities to accommodate the Wasp fighter variant, as well as the refit specs for the Hornet fighters themselves. The last word he got from them was that not only were they still cranking out weapons platforms for seeding out in space, they would have all their fighters upgraded to the Wasp variant by the time the Caldarians arrived.

He wasn’t sure whether to cry or cheer about that. Most of the pilots down there were the kids that Cindy and Talena had trained. There were still older pilots there, but he had need so many of them up here, that he had all but stripped Talos of pilots over the age of eighteen. At least they would have one of the newest fighters if they had to fight, but he would much prefer it if those kids stayed on the ground.

Gold Squadron had been refitted with the upgrade, and silver squadron was currently being upgraded, with their completion being sometime this evening. That would leave one whole squadron left that was still in unmodified Hornets, while the other squadron was down at the moon base manning the Shadow fighters that had gotten built. Ian was considering sending his Hornet pilots down to the moon base to man the extra Shadows that got built when his door chime sounded. Without looking up, he said “Come!”

Janet and Julie Laskar entered his office, and Ian quickly stood to help Janet to a chair. She looked like hell.

“Janet, what’s wrong? You look horrible!” Ian asked gently.

“It’s the nightmares, Ian. I haven’t slept in over a week,” the woman said quietly. “But something’s changed, I think I’ll be okay tonight.”

“Please tell me its good news?” Ian asked, trying to get the woman to smile. It worked, she did.

“Some of it is. The Caldarian will arrive here, and there will be a horrible battle. A few of them actually. A lot of people are going to die. But I think we are going to win. It’s still fuzzy, so I can’t give you details, but I am sure it was that big ugly ship blowing up at the end and not us. There is something else going on there though, it isn’t bad, at least, I don’t think it’s bad. But something important is going to happen shortly after the big ship explodes. That is so fuzzy all I could get from it was a feeling, no details at all,” Janet replied. “I felt this was important enough to come and tell you before I checked in to Main Medical.”

“I really appreciate that, Janet, but you could have called me, or had Beth call me down to medbay after you checked in,” Ian said. “In fact, Come on, I’ll take you there myself.” He took the woman’s hand, helped her up, and led her to the door.

“Oh, Ian, you don’t have to do that, Julie can get me there!” Janet replied.

“I am sure she could, but I’m going to make sure you get there safely anyway. We all owe you a great deal, young lady. We want to keep you around long enough to have a celebration in your honor,’ Ian replied.

“Ian, I appreciate the thought, but... There won’t be any celebrations. In war, there are no winners, only survivors. We will be far too busy seeing to the survivors when this is over,” Janet replied, sadly.

“Then it is my job to make sure there a lot of them to look after,” Ian replied softly, trying not to upset the woman any more.

They rode the maglev in silence and Ian all but carried her down the short hallway to Main Medical. Ian honestly couldn’t tell if she were awake or not when he placed her on the floating gurney provided by one of the interns. But before he turned away, her eyes snapped open, and she grabbed his wrist. “Phoenix needs a bigger nest. Build a bigger nest, Ian,” Janet said and closed her eyes again.

The interns pushed her back into the maze of hallways that was Main Medical, while Ian looked at Julie. “Any clue what she meant by that last bit?”

Julie shook her head. “No, she’ll sometimes do it in the middle of the night, but we don’t even listen to her anymore. No one can figure out what she means.”

Ian shrugged. “Since we’re here, wanna go visit your grandkids?”

Julie grinned. “I thought you’d never ask!”

Lunar Research and Training Base

Selene, (Earth’s Moon)

Sol Sector.

Getting off the shuttle Alan expected to feel lighter, even though he had no doubt he was in fact on the moon, he felt the same as he did on Earth. It immediately came to him that they had artificial gravity and had adjusted the base to Earth normal gravity for the benefit of those that lived and worked here.

A young man walked up to him, “Major Carlson?”

Alan nodded. “I’m Carlson, but I don’t think I’m a Major anything except a pain in the butt!”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Sir, I’m Tom Wilcox, one of the guys working on the FROG unit. Major Anders told us he was sending a Major Alan Carlson of the Marines up for us. Thank you for coming up here to test this out for us. I know it’s probably getting pretty frantic down there,” Wilcox replied. “If you would follow me, I’ll show you to your quarters before we go to the lab.”

“Lead on. It’s a lot busier down there, that’s for certain. I expect it’s getting the same way up here though, isn’t it?” Alan asked, making a mental note to corner Ty about the rank.

Tom shrugged. “It seems a lot busier, but I don’t really see anything happening other than more people moving about faster than they did before we knew about the enemy ship. That’s one of the reasons we asked Major Anders to send one of you guys up here. We’d like to get this into production so we have a few of them for the fight. If we can get the bugs worked out of it, we can get it into production.”

“I thought all the production up here was set to producing fighters and drones?” Alan asked.

“Well, it is, but we kinda cheated and built our own production bays. That was really the only way we could get the prototypes built,” Tom admitted.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, huh?’ Alan said, smiling.

Tom chuckled. “Something like that. The Base itself is still under construction, so bays like ours are allowed for prototype assembly in order to prevent interruption to the main production runs. If we get it finished, and it’s approved for production, then we would normally hand this off to the production department. However, if this gets approved, we might have to do our own production for a time, which is why we built four bays. We can produce two units at a time as long as the bays have raw material to replicate the parts from.”

“Is that an issue? I admit I have no idea how replicators work,” Alan asked.

“Not really, not right now at least. With the construction going on, the drones are producing more raw material than they are using in the construction because they are digging under the surface. They are simply dumping the excess into the shared materials repository. Once the base is finished, though, they’ll have to set up some kind of mining operation somewhere,” Tom said. “Not really my department, so I don’t really know what the plan is, but I’d imagine something like that is in the works somewhere.”

“This all just seems so fantastic to me. Everywhere I turn there is another wonder to behold. I knew there was a lot of advanced tech, but the sheer volume is a bit overwhelming when you’re faced with it all at once and you’re not used to it,” Alan said.

“You must be kinda new,” Tom grinned. “But, yeah, it can be a little overwhelming until you get used to it. When I first got a look at everything, I thought I’d died and gone to geek heaven!”

“Well, I’ve been with the community for a couple of months, but I wasn’t working or living at Talos. In fact, I’ve only been to Talos twice. I haven’t been to the ship yet, and this is my first trip to the moon. By the way, Ty asked me to steal a couple of these if we got them to work.”

Tom grinned. “I’ll see what we can do. They do work, at least as far as we can test them they do, but we need someone that can fight the unit in order to make damn sure they’ll do what we want them to do.”

“I haven’t been a combat soldier for a few years, but I think I can still remember what to do,” Alan said grinning slyly.

“”We asked Ty for a soldier with combat experience,” Tom said concerned.

Alan smiled at the self-named ‘Geek’. “Oh I have a bit of combat experience. I worked as a fly swatter before I was promoted away from that. I used to work for the NSA, Tom.”

Tom’s eyebrows shot up. “Black ops? That’ll work. But during testing, try to keep in mind this was designed and built with regular warfare in mind. They don’t really lend themselves to the whole sneaky part of low intensity conflict fights.”

“Sneaky part?” Alan asked.

“The drone itself is somewhat large for subtlety. It stands eleven feet nine inches tall,” Tom replied.

“Tom, low intensity conflict warfare has little to do with being sneaky. What it means is that smaller teams are used to do the fighting as opposed to full armies. Even if multiple teams are used, it’s still low intensity conflict,” Alan replied. “Subtly can be a part of the operations of a team, but not all the time.”

“Oh, so if there were a couple enemy hover tanks outside harassing the base, instead of dropping the whole Marine detachment on them, we’d send out four of these FROGs. That’s Low Intensity Conflict?” Tom asked.

“Exactly. You don’t use a nuke to swat a fly, you use a fly swatter,” Alan replied, grinning.

“...and you were a fly swatter, I get it,” Tom replied, grinning. “You should do just fine for what we need.”

While they had been talking, they had been walking. Alan was surprised when the young man stopped before a door that was down a hallway just off the main hub. “This will be your quarters during your stay. Nothing fancy, I’m afraid, just basic single quarters.” He opened the door, and gave Alan a quick tour. “Kinda like a hotel room, except the living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen are all separate rooms. When you get the chance, be sure to read the safety instruction on the smart sheet.” Tom picked up what looked like a sheet of plastic about the same size as a piece of paper. He showed it to Alan, then set it back on the coffee table in front of the couch.

Alan dropped his bag on the couch. “Like a studio apartment. I’ll read them later, I get the feeling you want to get going to the lab.”

“Heh, yeah, we’re in a bit of a hurry since we’re trying to get the units ready for this fight, and the enemy ship will be here in less than twenty-four hours,” Tom replied. “Follow me, and I’ll show you the lab and introduce you to the others.”

“I’m curious, when the ship was still crashed on the surface, how is it that no one ever discovered it? I know that NASA at the least has been scanning the lunar surface for decades. “They’ve used everything from visible light to x-ray and UV. Even cloaked, the ship should have been detected somehow, but it wasn’t,” Alan asked.

“No, it wasn’t. You see, before Ian Williams was approached by the AI of the ship, that AI spent most of its time making sure the ship remained undiscovered. Mostly by hacking into the probe doing the scanning and giving it false data, or by setting up a reflector to mimic the surrounding area if the scan was being done from Earth.” Tom explained. “The AI was named Olympus at the time, but now since the ship was recommissioned, the name has been changed to match the ship. Now, we have our own AI, but he still needs to make sure the base doesn’t get detected. I don’t know how it’s going to work when the enemy gets here.” Tom said, frowning. “Maybe we can remain undetected by the enemy too.”

“You can hope,” Alan replied, not knowing what else to say to the young man. That effectively ended the conversation, but luckily they had also arrived at the ‘lab’.

It was built on the surface, and was easily the size of a small aircraft hangar. On the far side, two huge robots stood in yellow and black taped off area, next to large airlock doors. From about ten feet all the way to the door they entered from was covered by a plethora of equipment, computers, and other smaller, work stations. On the left wall, two huge gantries stood, with two more of the robots in them. Beside those were two smaller, more man-sized frameworks of what could only be the bays Tom had told Alan about.

A large jovial looking man walked up to them quickly and offered his hand. But before he could speak, Tom introduced him. “Major, this is Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, the lead scientist on this project.”

The big man’s grin grew. “Ja, I’m German.”

Alan chuckled. “I would hope so! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Heir Doktor.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Heir Major. You will help us by testing the units, ja?” The Man asked.

“Yep, that’s what I’m here for,” Alan replied as the rest of the ‘crew’ began to gather around, like they hadn’t seen another human in a while.

“The rest of our team, Major. Doktor Mikael Hiramenfski, Cybernetics.” Dr. Schmidt said waving to the first man he saw as he turned. The smaller man bobbed his head in greeting, “Actually, it’s Michael Hiram,” he grinned.

“Ja, ja, whatever,” Schmidt said, and moved to the next person. “Doktor Olivia Schmidt-Wilcox. In addition to being my daughter, she is our computer genius,” he said proudly. “Oh, and she’s married to Tom.”

Alan chuckled and saw Tom cringe out of the corner of his eye. He nodded his head to the pretty young woman.

“Next there is Jerry Dale, Cybernetics intern working for Doktor Hiramenfski; Alicyn Winterfell, my intern; and Shelly Meyers, who is studying with Olivia. You’ve already met Tom, our resident gopher and mechanic,” Schmidt finished.

“Actually, I have several degrees and certifications in mechanical engineering, but I think my father-in-law would like me to pursue a doctorate,” Tom replied. “I also handle the weapons systems on the beast.”

“None of my business, but why don’t you? From the sound it, you already have all the knowledge.” Alan asked.

Tom shrugged. “I might, just to make him happy. Personally, I feel a person’s knowledge and experience should be more important that any letters behind their name.”

“Well said!” Doctor Hiram nodded.

Doctor Schmidt cleared his throat. “”Conspicuous by his absence is Doktor Kenneth Jenkins, Power systems and Physics. Before we get into the qualifications argument, perhaps we should give the Major a briefing on the system he will be testing for us. Olivia?”

“Major Carlson, if you would come this way, I’ll show you what’s going on here,” Olivia said nodding at her father.

“Before we split up, could everyone please refer to me as Alan? The title of Major is new to me, and I’m not actually used to it,” Alan said.

“It is new to you? Are you not a Marine?” Schmidt asked.

Alan nodded. “I am classified as a Marine, however, combat is not my current job. Before going to work for Ty Anders at Talos, I worked as a troubleshooter for the NSA. Before that, I was one of their field operatives.”

“We asked for a Marine,” Schmidt said, disapprovingly.

“With respect, Heir Doktor, I am very much a soldier. However, I have extra training so I could do a special, different job,” Alan explained.

“He’s a special operations soldier, Daddy,” Olivia said. “You asked Ty for a Marine, he sent you the best one he could find.”

“Oh!” Schmidt said as he understood what he was being told. ‘Please forgive the foolishness of an old man, Heir Major.”

Alan waved it off. “No offense was taken, Heir Doktor. But, please, call me Alan.”

“Ja, thank you Alan.” Schmidt replied as Alan followed Olivia over to a large display unit.

“Okay Alan, what we have is, what we hope, something that will save a lot of lives. FROG is an acronym that stands for Forward Roving Offensive Guard. By definition, it is a combat drone that is driven by a remote pilot. What we have tried to do is create a drone that can respond to a situation the same way a person would, only with a lot more firepower. The advantage is that if the drone is destroyed, the pilot can simply activate a new drone and get back into the fight.

That being said, the drone is more heavily armored than a Hornet fighter while bringing slightly more firepower to the fight. As you can see, the drone is equipped with a pulse laser in the left fore-arm and one of the new mass driver guns in the right fore-arm. Instead of hands, we equipped the drone with three ‘fingered’ claws that can conceivably be used to strip the armor off an opponent, or be used to climb and anything else you would normally use a hand for. Do you have any questions so far?” the woman finished.

“Yes, as I understand the mass driver theory, it is a line of sight weapon, right?” Alan asked.

Olivia nodded. “Yes, in a vacuum, the range is whatever you set the round destruction distance to be, but in an atmosphere, the range is variable depending on the density of the atmosphere. On Earth, it could be used as a horizon to horizon weapon, but that would be too dangerous, so it has an artificially imposed range of five miles. Any further than that, and the round would turn into unstable plasma.”

Alan nodded. “What I wanted to know was, what have you got for an indirect weapon system?”

“Why would it need one?” Tom asked, he had tagged alone so he could answer questions.

Alan shrugged. “I can think of a couple uses right off the top on my head. Anti-artillery defense, if they were missiles, anti-aircraft defense. But you could also use it to soften up a target as you’re coming in to hit them, or to discourage pursuit.”

Tom looked thoughtful and nodded in agreement. “You do have a point. Let me see what I can do about it. I don’t know about missiles though, since most of the ones we can get to are either air-to-air or air-to-ground.”

“I’m by no means an expert, Tom, but it sounds to me like a software issue,” Alan said. “After all, isn’t simply a matter of telling them where to go, and how to get there?”

“Yeah, it is, and you could be right. I wonder if we can give it a selectable warhead function,” Tom replied, and scooted away to begin typing on a terminal.

Alan chuckled and turned back to a smiling Olivia.

“You just made his day,” she said. “Unless there is something major that needs to be rebuilt, his part of this project was finished.”

“Every weapon system, no matter how well designed, will always have two major flaws, Doctor. The first is the designer that says they have built the perfect weapons system, and the second is the operator that believes them. No matter how well built, there is always room for improvement or something that could have been done better,” Alan said. “It’s my job to find as many of those things as I can and let you know about them. I’m here to try and break your toys, Doctor.”

“Yeah, and we’re going to try to make sure you can’t,” Olivia replied. Now, how this works is you will need to wear a suit, not unlike a flight suit you would see a fighter pilot wear. Like the new Shadow fighter, you will have to have sensors on your head, so we have included a hood for this suit. They will enable the system to interpret your movements and also give you feedback. In addition to the suit, you will be in a special holographic interface unit that will display a full field of view. If you turn your head, so will the drone. We tried to make the controls as user friendly as we could, so you should have no trouble getting the hang of this system once we hook you up.”

“Dummy proof control system huh? Good, I think we’ll need that,” Alan replied.

“Well, we did build this for soldiers, so we only considered our target customers,” Olivia quipped back. “So, what we’re going to do, is pretty much drop you into a simulator until you get the control system figure out, then we’ll connect you to one of the two drones you see over there.” She pointed to one of the big machines.

“Ty told me to steal a few of these when we finished up,” Alan smiled. “I think he’s looking forward to getting his hands on them.”

Olivia nodded. “Well, he is the person we thought that would benefit the most from these. If we can, I’ll send you back with at least two complete systems, but I don’t think we’ll have any back up units for you. Now, let’s get you changed.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

Ian was pulled from the combat readiness report he was reading by his door chime. “Come,” he called, almost grateful for the interruption.

I man Ian had never met, but wearing the rank of a Chief Petty Officer, opened the door and entered, followed by Major Getty, Star Dancer’s Marine detachment commander.

Both men saluted Ian as they came to a stop before his desk. Ian also noticed that they seemed to be wearing some kind of strange armor that almost looked like Talosian Marine Battle suits.

Ian stuck out his hand to the CPO “Ian Williams.”

The man shook his hand. Chief Petty Officer Wayford, Sir. The Marine’s Armorer.”

Ian nodded. “What can I do for you this evening, Gentlemen?”

“CPO Wayford has created a new armor for us. I’d like you to approve its use, Sir,” Major Getty replied.

“Have you tested it, Major?” Ian asked.

“Yes Sir, as extensively as we could. There’s only one more test to give it, and that’s a combat test, Sir. We’d like to give it a try, we think it’ll be a big help,” Getty said.

“Okay, tell me about it, Wayford,” Ian said.

“Aye Sir. This version of the armor is roughly the same weight as the previous version, but it has the addition of a stronger shield, as well as a system my mates and I designed that should help keep a few soldiers alive.

“It has a rather unique automatic sealin’ system that if the suit gets popped the system will automatically seal itself. If somethin’ gets shot off, like an arm or a leg, the suit will not only seal the hole, but it will apply a coating to the wound to stop bleedin’.

“It’s capable of administerin’ a few drugs, like a pain killer, if’n the squad medic or the medical folks wants it give. Like the armor we had before, it has a distress beacon in it that will switch on after ten seconds if the soldier don’t turn it off first.

“This is the first version and I only made it ‘cause we needed somethin’ better than what we had. Once I can get my hands on that stuff they got for that new fighter, I can fix this up right,” the CPO explained.

“How do you mean?” Ian asked the older gentlemen.

“Well Sir, the new armor is lighter than the stuff we currently be usin’. I can use that to add either more weapons or ammo storage. I was also thinkin’ ‘bout maybe seein’ if I could put in a power port for the pulse rifles to get power right from the suit. Maybe a stronger shield or somethin’. Just a lot o’ fun we can have if’n we gets some o’ that new stuff.” Wayford explained.

“I'll see what I can do for you, CPO Wayford. Major, if you are willing to risk your life in this, then you can use it.” Ian stopped as a thought occurred to him. “CPO Wayford, how hard would it be for you to design and build a different kind of suit? This wouldn’t need to be more than an armored space suit. I’d like to have something the crew can wear in case we get boarded, or if the section they’re in blows out.”

“You want me to make up something everyone can wear, and still do their work?” Wayford asked.

“Yes, something like a pilot’s flight suit, only without the fighter specific gear, maybe some light armor, and sealable in case of decompression,” Ian asked.

Wayford looked off to the side. “Shouldn’t be too hard to manage. I might have to try a couple of things, but I think I can get ya something Sir. Ya want it for the whole crew?” Wayford asked.

“Actually, I’d like a set for everyone on the ship, except for the babies,” Ian said. “When we go into combat, I’d feel a whole lot better knowing that if we took a bad hit, the people in that section stood some kind of chance at survival.”

Wayford nodded. “I knows exactly what ya want Sir. It might take a few days, but I’ll come up with somethin’.”

Ian was about to remind the man about the impending enemy arrival, but Wayford hadn’t finished talking.

“Can’t do much for this battle, but we should be able to get somethin’ ready for the next one. Can I ask the computer for the folks sizes when it comes time to make them up?” Wayford asked.

“Of course, just ask for Major Star, and she will be happy to help you,” Ian replied.

Wayford nodded his thanks. “With yer permission Sir, if I can start getting’ these turned out, I’ll try to get the flight crews done first, can I tell them this is their new duty uniform and they should go an put it on as soon as they can?”

“If you can do that without interrupting them, that would be great, chief,” Ian replied, impressed by the man’s planning.

“Well, If’n you’ll pardon me Sir, I got work to be gettin’ to,” the man said and saluted.

“Thank you, chief. Good work,” Ian replied.

Major Getty was trying hard not to grin, but failed as the older man left, mumbling to himself.

“He’s been working on this new armor since he came aboard. He claimed that the old stuff we had was too bulky and cumbersome,” Getty said.

“How’s the new armor feel? Any different?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know how, but he improved the power assist functions, so it actually seems lighter, even if he says it isn’t. As Marines, we tend to spend a lot of time in our armor, and the other stuff was kinda bulky, but it was sure nice to actually have armor that actually protected you.

“What he didn’t tell you was this stuff is made for each individual Marine. Our old stuff was almost a one size fits all type of thing. He scanned each of us wearing our under liners, and then built this stuff. I can move much easier, faster, and with a hell of a lot more power. Check this out,” Getty said, and reached over and gently picked up a smart sheet off Ian’s desk.

“There was no way in hell I could have done that in the old armor,” Getty explained. “He may seem like a simpleton, but that man’s a genius when it comes to weapons and armor. I’m very glad we have him.”

“Good. I was wondering if I would need to get someone to design new armor for you guys. Hell, we’re pretty much redesigning everything else around here, why should you folks be left out!” Ian said.

Getty chuckled and saluted. “With your permission Sir, I’ll let you get back work.”

“Get a good night’s sleep, Major. Tomorrow, you’re on the clock!” Ian said.

“Yes Sir, we are all going to be on the clock tomorrow,” he replied, dropped the salute, and left the office.

Chapter 13

Lunar Research and Training Base

Selene, (Earth’s Moon)

Sol Sector.

The drone had promise that much was clear to Alan. However, there were still a few issues that needed to be worked out before it was ready.

One major issue was the control signal to the drone from the interface unit. Alan had found someone on the base that was capable of emitting a jamming signal without telling them what channel the drone was operating on. Even after the jamming signal was stopped, it was very difficult for the control unit to reconnect with the drone. Once it finally reconnected, the Drone was jerky, and only semi-responsive.

The second major issue was weapons cooling. In space, or on the lunar surface, it wasn’t as much of an issue since space was pretty cold, but in an atmosphere, like Earth, the weapons over-heated very quickly which shut them down. This issue turned the drone into a large moving target.

Strike three came when Alan was trying to evade mock weapons fire from a Hornet that had been dispatched for the test. Alan tried to roll out of the way of a strafing run, and the drone almost fell apart. Alan was worried about how Heir Schmidt would take his final report on the drone, but he shouldn’t have been. When he went to present his findings to the team, he found them already working on trying to fix or improve things.

“You have opened our eyes, Alan. Ja, this test we failed, but we will be ready for you next time,” Doktor Schmidt replied, smiling. “This is why we asked for a soldier to come and test it.”

Alan was grateful the team took the news so well. They had a good idea here, this would be one hell of a weapon once it was finished, and Alan told them that too.

“I have to admit, this is going to be one hell of a weapon system. At first, I couldn’t really see what roll it would have, after all we have tanks and artillery, not to mention some really powerful personal weapons for the Marines, but once I got in there and started working with it, I understood immediately. My official report will reflect that as well,” Alan told the researchers.

“We appreciate that, Alan. Maybe then we’ll get a little more support for this project,” Alicyn replied.

“You’re not getting support for this?” Alan asked.

“Alicyn doesn’t think the project is getting the attention it deserves,” Olivia said. “I’ve tried to tell her it’s only because everyone else is trying to get ready for the arrival of the enemy ship, but she still thinks this should have been given a higher priority.”

“I’m certain that’s the case, but I’ll talk to a few people just in case. This is a project that need to be worked on,” Alan replied. “But, if you’ll excuse me, I need to try to catch the shuttle back to Talos.”

“You’re not staying here?” Tom asked.

Alan shook his head. “Ty made it pretty clear that he wanted me back there for the fight. I just wish I could have taken a dozen or so of these machines with me. But I’ll do what I can to get back up here in time for your next set of tests.”

“We will have this fixed in no time, Alan. We’ll try to make sure you get a few to take back with you, too!” Michael replied. “Thank you for doing these tests. You have helped the project immensely.”

Alan shook hands with everyone, and thanked them for the opportunity of working with them, then took off at a run to make the shuttle that was about to leave the terminal. He was the last one to board, clearing the doors, just as they started to close.

After he took his seat, there was an announcement by the pilot that the trip to Talos would be two hours longer than usual as they had weapons systems to drop off on the way and not all of them were actually ‘along the way’.

Alan shrugged, it would give him more time to write his report on the FROG with his recommendations. Although no one knew it at the time, Alan had once again gotten lucky. The shuttle he was on would be the last civilian flight to Talos until after the Super Nova was dealt with.

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

Ian was tired as he shut down his terminal and headed for his private lift to his quarters. Jenny had gone off duty hours ago, but as was his habit, Ian stayed available until much later in the day.

He had opened the top of his duty coveralls, as he leaned against the side of the car. When the lift doors opened, he was a little surprised at how quiet it was. Curious, he walked around the corner into the ‘kitchen’ and found it was empty. So he headed into the living room area, and as he entered the darkened room, the lights suddenly came on, and all the gathered people yelled “Surprise!”

His birthday wasn’t really until tomorrow, but considering what was going to happen tomorrow, he felt they would skip the celebration this year. He was wrong.

He smiled as he walked into the room amid “Happy Birthdays” and wishes for his continued good health.

There was a birthday cake with a ridiculous amount of candles on it. When he tried to blow them out, he failed, until he realized that Star was replacing the flames with holographic ones. The cake was set aside and dinner was served to the guests and family. The cake would be dessert, and served after the meal.

The evening was fun and served to help take Ian’s mind off the impending arrival for a couple of hours. Ian later learned the Jenny had issued orders for the celebration to be a ship-wide holiday, and that the rest of the crew was also having a celebration of sorts. She felt that the crew could use the morale boost, and Ian wasn’t about to argue with her, although he wished she could have picked a less personal reason.

Last year they had a quiet celebration, as they did with all of their birthdays, with just them. Apparently Jenny had decided that the embarrassment for a ship-wide party was just the thing he needed to take his mind off of the arrival of the Caldarian ship the following morning.

It sort of worked until John Harris gave him the gift that all the pilots had gotten together to get for him. A small model of a Caldarian Super Nova. There was an attached note that read, ‘I.O.U. One Caldarian Super Nova class ship in very used condition, for molecular replicator material.’

That gift didn’t do much for getting his mind off of their danger, but helped his own morale in that it reflected the attitude of the crew, and their faith in him. Even with all the excitement going on in the main room, the babies were ready for bed by twenty hundred, and thanks to the sound deadening of the quarters, they were undisturbed by the continuing celebration taking place out in the main living area of the apartment.

Still, the celebrants, knowing that tomorrow was going to be an important day, cleared out by twenty-two hundred leaving the tired family to get what rest they could. However, once again, around oh-two-hundred in the morning, Beth found Ian once again sitting in the living room, looking out at the starscape, and drinking a beer.

“How long have you been up?” she asked.

“Not long,” Ian replied. “Maybe fifteen minutes.”

“You’re worried,” Beth nodded. “Understandable.”

“I’m a twenty-year-old kid, playing at being a star ship commander that is going to get people killed later today. What’s to worry about?” Ian replied sarcastically.

“You’re as well trained as Star could make you, Ian. You’re not playing at anything. You are doing it, and doing it very well. Do you think the folks on this ship would even follow you if they didn’t believe that you couldn’t do the job?” Beth asked. “Yes, you’re young but, you are the most qualified person on this ship for the position you are in. When we first met, you were a very mature kid that seemed to have his head on straight. Your folks were very proud of you, and loved you very much.

“But since we came here, I’ve watched you become so much more, that I can’t even describe the differences. You have developed an inner strength that seems unbreakable to the rest of us, and your dedication to our protection, and the protection of the planet is evident in everything you do. Ian, you are the Commander. No one in our group would want anyone else in your position except you.”

“Well, I think there are a couple of people that would argue that. Zeb still believes that I should surrender all of this to the American Government, or at least repent my sins, and become a Christian so I have ‘God’s guidance’ when making command decisions,” Ian chuckled.

“Considering how well religion all over the planet has been governing so far, I’m glad that you try to keep your beliefs separate from the job,” Beth replied.

“I don’t see how it would help. As far as I can tell, they didn’t have star ships or aliens when those religions were formed,” Ian grinned. “No, I can’t fault Zeb and the others their beliefs, if it works for them, great. But I also know better than to release all this to any single government.”

“Does that mean that you’d release it to the United Nations?” Beth asked, surprised.

“Not directly, no. If the time ever comes that the world needs to know about us, then I will notify the United Nations of our existence and our intent. At that point, I would be willing to accept suggestions and advice from them as to how to assist the planet as a whole. I wouldn’t feel comfortable releasing control to them,” Ian replied.

“Really? I would think that might be a little scary considering how violent Earth still is as a whole,” Beth replied.

“Yes, they are still very violent. But that would be one of the things we would be working to stop. But, I did say I would seek advice and consider recommendations, not give them the ability to issue orders,” Ian explained. “They would have to come a long way for me to consider that.”

“What about the Council they’ve formed at Talos, would you follow their orders?” Beth asked.

Ian nodded. “Within reason yes. If they ordered me to attack Washington D.C because the current government is corrupt and need to be replaced, I would refuse it, since that government is not part of us. I would expect that they would then try to replace me if they felt strongly enough about it. At that point things might get interesting since the ship is bound to the law, and they are the current ruling Council.” Ian shrugged. “I don’t know what would happen then. But then again, I think it’s a moot point because I honestly don’t believe that they would ever order me to do such a thing.”

Beth grinned. “You do know that you have an advisory seat on the Council since you are the ranking military leader, right?”

Ian nodded. “I thought as much, but I haven’t had the chance to sit with them. I do get a copy of the minutes and any memos that are issued. I would think they would ask me to attend if there were to be something military discussed. Until then, Ty handles it as head of security down there. So far, he has done a remarkable job. He holds the honorary title of Major, but because he is functioning as a civilian militia, I have held back from making him military and making the rank official. Maybe I should, since he’s been training our Marines and handling most of the ground operations so far.”

“Really?” Beth asked, surprised. “I thought he was military, we all call them Marines after all, that includes Ty.”

Ian shook his head, “Officially, he’s a civilian specialist currently acting in a military capacity. I had set it up that way since it is not the job of the military to handle civilian police duties. That’s just a recipe for bad things to happen. I’ll have to talk it over with him and see what he thinks about it. I’ll put it on the list for things to look into after the battle.” He sighed.

Beth smiled sadly at him. “I tried to get your mind off it, but it’s really hard to do when everything keeps coming right back to the elephant in the room.”

“Well, it is a rather large elephant, it’s painted red and is carrying a pulse rifle!” Ian teased back.

“Think you can go to sleep now?” Beth asked.

“Yeah,” Ian said as he finished his beer. “I think so. Thanks for coming out here. By the way, how do you know when I’m up?”

“Heh, a woman has to have some secrets. Good night Ian, sleep well,” Beth said and headed down the hall for her room.

Ian snorted and put his empty bottle in the replicator before following her down the hall, back to his room, and to a sleeping Jenny.

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

Combat location: Eden

“Sir, it looks like they’re trying again. Sensors have a ground force approaching the boundary near where the last attempt was. I guess they like that area.” Sammi said from the command center. She really hated to wake Ty up, considering all the fireworks were supposed to start tomorrow. It looks like these guys didn’t get a copy of the schedule.

“What size force, Sammi?” Ty replied after setting up in bed. Instead of going back to his house, he instead chose to camp out in the Marine ready area with the squad on alert.

“From the noise they’re making I would say about a battalion size unit. I haven’t gotten a visual on them yet,” Sammi replied. “Do you want me to launch a drone and take a look?”

“Yeah, and activate the shield. I’ll wake up the alert team here, and get everyone in their armor,” Ty replied. “Until I get there, keep me posted.”

“Will do, Sir.”

“Okay everyone, wake up!” Ty yelled. “Time to go play!” He slapped the alert button that activated an alarm only in the small barracks. “Get up you lazy bastards! We have work to do!”

Amid the groans and general bitching about not enough sleep, Ty made his way to the locker room where the armor and weapons were stored. As he was pulling on the liner for the suit, the others began to come in.

“What’s going on Sir? Are the Caldarians here already?” a woman asked as she stripped out of her panties and night shirt.

“No, as far as I know the Caldarian ship hasn’t arrived yet, but we do have more idiots coming to test the shields. We get to go out and watch,” Ty replied.

When she groaned, Ty grinned at her, ignoring her nude body. “What’s the matter, Ellis? Our guests not important enough for you?”

“No Sir, I was just all hyped up about the ship arriving, so that’s what I was expecting. Haven’t these dumb fuckers figured out that they can’t get in yet?” Ellis replied as she stepped into her suit liner.

“Maybe they heard you needed a date for the next barbeque, Ellis, and their coming to offer their services,” someone said.

“I don’t need a date, Hopkins, I’m taking your mother, remember?” Ellis countered, and a few of the others moaned at the insult.

“I’ll tell her you said that, Ellis, I’m sure she’ll be looking forward to it!” the smart-ass Hopkins replied.

“Okay, can it folks!” Ty said. “Sammi is in the Com center tonight, and she woke me up with a report of a battalion sized unit approaching the north fence. We have no idea what their intentions are, so we are going to go out there and greet them. Standard rules of engagement apply. So get your asses wired, and get to the departure area. I’m going up to the command center, and see if there’s anything new before we head out.”

“Land rails or four-wheelers, Sir?” one of Ty’s squad leaders asked.

“Both of them Smith, standard deployment of one rail, and two quads. Two rails and four quads per squad. Make sure we have plenty of gear for an extended stay. We might have to get the rest of our sleep with the spiders and snakes, move it!” Ty said and left the room before anyone else could ask a question.

The Command center was a hardened bunker directly below the main security building on the surface, which was located across the street from the main administration building. During the day, the office up in the building was staffed so anyone that needed security, could come in and file a report. During the evening hours, there was an intercom linked to the command center for emergencies. There were also security poles spread around the community for safety purposes. The alert system was set up so that when someone activated one of the call buttons at one of the poles, there were security people already moving to that location before the watch officer even replied to the call.

The main security area was actually part of the underground base with the command center. The bunk room and the deployment area where all the security vehicles were stored was down here as well. Mostly because of the non-terran weapons available to the security forces should the need arise, like it soon would.

Getting to the command center was pretty easy since it was only a short walk down a hall from the locker room to the center. The Command Center was a good size, dark room with two operator stations that looked like small hemi-spheres of monitors and computer equipment. During an alert, there were two operators at those stations, but during a normal watch, one person monitored the stations, while the other rested, ate, or handled other duties, By the time Ty got to the center, the second person had already taken his place at the second station.

“What’s the story, Sammi?” Ty asked, letting her know he had arrived.

“Four minutes? You’re getting’ soft boss!” Sammi teased. “The drone has a mixed battalion of motorized infantry and a couple of tanks. I’m pretty sure that these two,” she zoomed in on two armored tracked vehicles. “...are a mortar unit.”

“So basically, a full army only scaled way down,” Ty replied.

“Well, you have armor, infantry and artillery, so I would say that’s a pretty good description. I’m not picking up any air support yet, but I do have the scanners looking for it,” Sammi said. “They’re getting closer, although they have slowed down quite a bit. They’re still about a mile from the fence.”

Ty sighed. “Well, I guess we should go see what these idiots want. I thought they’d leave us alone now that the big boy was due in, but I guess I was wrong. Wake up another team, get them in their armor, but keep them here for the time being. If this goes to shit, we’ll need them.”

“You got it boss, initiating the alert,” Sammi said.

“Good work, Keep your eyes and ears open, guys, I’m outta here,” Ty said as he left the Command Center for the Deployment area.

Just as Ty and his team left the underground base by the hidden tunnel, Sammi called him again. “Boss, I got something really weird going on here, and I think it might mean we have a problem,”

“Enough cryptic shit, Sammi, you know I hate it,” Ty replied.

“Okay, how about four SL-131 transports inbound from Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Base? Radio chatter says they are coming here,” Sammi replied.

“What in the world is the Seventh Marine Regiment interested in us for? Any ID on the unit their sending?” Ty asked.

“Nope, but I do know they aren’t coming for a training exercise. They dropped to the deck a couple of minutes ago, and they are going to land pretty much just outside the front gate,” Sammi replied.

“Is the chain-link fence hologram in place?” Ty asked.

“Yes Sir, but a chain-link fence isn’t going to stop Marines if they are determined to get through it. They’ll hit the shield and wonder how a fence is stopping their tanks and LAVs,” Sammi replied.

“I hate to say it, but I think we’re going to have to wake-up Luke and Ian. I’ll be back there as soon as I can. Notify the normal security folks about what’s going on so they don’t shit themselves when those planes land. For now we have to assume the Marines are not hostile,” Ty replied.

“Ty, it’s Alan, You need me somewhere?”

“Yeah, I forgot you came back tonight. Could you get out to the guard shack and try to find out what the hell the Marines are up to while keeping them from trying to enter the community? This is getting complicated pretty damn fast,” Ty replied.

“Will do, I think I can keep them confused long enough to give you some time to think,” Alan replied.

“I appreciate it brother. The timing of this whole mess stinks to high heaven. If we get hit while those Marines are out there, they are going to take a pounding, and there is nothing we can do about it,” Ty said. “I’ll let you know what I get from Ian and Luke.”

“You got it, I’ll have Sammi make up some official ID for me before I go, If I find out anything, I’ll let you know. Alan out.”

“Give him whatever he needs, Sammi, let me know when you get Luke and Ian on the line,” Ty said.

“Ty, this is Ian, Sammi said you had a situation developing. What’s up?”

“Sorry to wake you up, Sir, but this is threatening to get out of my control really fast.” Ty said and filled him in on the current situation, including the eminent arrival of the US Marines.

“What a fucking mess. Don’t worry, Ty, I wasn’t actually asleep yet anyway. This is starting to look like they are going to hit you first, but why would they use the terran militaries to do it?” Ian said.

“No Sir, and if they hit us with advanced weaponry, those Marines are toast. Sir, I’m beginning to wonder if they even know that ship is due to arrive any fuckin’ minute.” Ty answered.

“I hate to say it, but no matter what happens, we can’t let them into the community. I don’t want to see them hurt any more than I’m sure you do, but we can’t let them in either. I think the best we can do there is try to warn them if it looks like you’re gonna be getting hit,” Ian suggested.

“They’d never take that threat seriously Sir. But what am I supposed to do about them until then? You know damn good and well, they are going to want into the community. Any suggestions on how to put them off?”

“Hard to say until we know what they’re looking for. There has been no warning, so I doubt they are there officially. We should have had a whole bunch of other folks out there before they sent in the Marines. As for the other bunch, I would imagine those are the ones that are going to actually try to get on the property while you are distracted by the Marines. As for the Caldarian arrival, we still show him to be almost four hours out,” Ian said.

“So we have four hours to get rid of the Marines, and handle whatever it is this asshole at the back fence wants, otherwise, the Caldarian is going to detect the use of the force shield, and blow the hell out of us,” Ty replied. “I hate to say it Sir, but if we lower that shield, we’re going to be overrun by Marines, if we leave it up, the Caldarian ship will target us. Not much of a choice.”

“No it isn’t. Ground combat is your area, but I wouldn’t let the Marines into the compound, we’d never get them out again, even after the fight. I’d try to find out why they’re there, then find some way to placate them and get them to go away. I wouldn’t worry too much about leaving the shield up, I’d be willing to bet the Caldarians already know about it anyway from the last couple of attacks,” Ian said.

“I’d be willing to agree with that, Ian. G’Morning by the way,” Luke said letting them know he was a part of the conversation. “I would give even odds the American Government knows about the shield, but that argument could be used to explain the Marines. We won’t know until they arrive and demand entrance. I honestly believe the course of action you are following is the correct one Ty.”

“Thanks Luke, I appreciate that. I just didn’t want to be the one to put us in a tight position with the US Government. So I followed long standing military doctrine; I called command. I sent Alan Carlson out to the front gate to handle the Marines for us, at least until I get the mess at the back fence handled. He should be able to find out what’s going on.”

“If I might make a suggestion to you guys, I’d try to put together a few medical teams, or something to help the Marines should the worst happen,” Ian said. “I hate the idea of ‘civilians’ getting hit like this, but Ty’s right, they’re not going to take a warning seriously. I hope Agent Carlson can put them off.”

“He’s the best person for the job Sir,” Ty replied. “I’m at the back fence, we can’t see the bad guys yet, but we can hear them.”

“Okay, we’ll let you do your thing, then. If you need anything Ty, just call, and I’ll try to get it down there,” Ian said.

“I think we’re as good as we can be Sir. All of our fighters are upgraded Wasp variants now, we have all the gun emplacements installed. I’m at double strength for the Marine force down here. If I added anything else, it would be obvious that we’re training fighters and building weapons here. That is something the government cannot allow unless the weapons are for them.”

“Well, good luck,” Ian said ending the call.

“Thank you Sir, good luck to you as well.” Ty heard Ian disconnect the line, and then Luke added his wishes for their success before he too ended the call. Ty looked in the direction of the noise, raised his night vision binoculars, and sighed when the vehicles came into sight and turned toward him. He had been hoping they were going somewhere else and were only passing close to the fence. Well, he had hoped.

Ty and his team watched as the soldiers deployed and spread out along the edge of the shield, but back a few hundred feet. Once again, Ty was the closest to the edge, with the rest of his team deployed behind him in sheltered positions.

Ty expected the American troops to deploy for an attack, but they didn’t. Instead, the remained in their vehicles, but Ty could still see them.  He noticed that while they wore US Marine combat dress, none of them had unit patches, nor did any of them have a branch identifier on their uniforms, which meant that these troops did not belong to the US Military. He thought it was strange that they would use US Marines at the front gate, but use Blackwater security troops at the back.

As he expected, a lone man walked out from the troops to talk to him. “I have no ID on him, Boss. I even asked Mathias, the moon base AI to take a look. He has no records anywhere.”

“Thanks Sammi,” Ty replied quietly. When the man got close enough, Ty grinned. “Agent Smith I presume?”

“Very astute, Mister Anders. No doubt you are also aware of the trouble you are about to have at your front gate?” Agent Smith replied.

“I highly doubt either you or your masters have total control over a whole Marine battalion, Smith.”

He smiled evilly. “We don’t need to control the battalion, only their commanders, and those we do control, Mr. Anders. You see, we are not here to attack you this time.”

Ty looked confused for a moment. “Why on Earth would you attack a Marine battalion?”

“Come, come, I was lead to believe you are smarter than this, Mister Anders!” Smith replied. “Surely you can figure out this little puzzle! I’ll give you a clue, my troops are carrying pulse rifles.”

The man laughed in a wicked manner, turned around and started walking away. Ty thought about what he’d said. If the Marines were attacked and destroyed by advanced weapons right outside their front gate, explanations would be demanded, and official investigators would be sent.

If Ty lowered the shield to get the US Marines into the compound and away from the Blackwater folks, then a US Marine Battalion would be inside their compound, and in the confusion, Smith and his people would walk right into the compound as well.

“All commands, this is Ty, We need to attack and destroy the force at the back fence before it can circle around and attack the Marines as they land and deploy!” Ty said over the comm. “Sammi, call the alert, we’re going to need all the help we can get here.”

“Do you want the fighters up as well?” Sammi asked. It was a good question, four fighters could pound the hell out of this little assault group before they had gotten ten feet, however, it would show the Caldarians they had fighters here, and it would also expose the fighters to potential observation by the inbound Marines.

“Get the pilots in the fighters, but don’t launch them unless I ask for them. If we can handle this without launching them, then their secret can stay a secret a little while longer,” Ty replied. “Thanks for the suggestion though.”

“Ty, this is Ian, I’ve been monitoring. Try to slow them down, or better yet, keep them from moving for the time being. There are two inbound Shadow fighters from the moon base, but they need at least ten minutes to get there. Oh! And for god’s sakes, don’t lower your shield no matter what!”

“Understood! All units hold fire!” Ty replied, closed the comm, and yelled after Smith. “Agent Smith, wait a second, please!”

Smith turned around and considered Ty for a moment, then shrugged, and began to walk back. “What do you want, Mister Anders?”

“I just wanted to ask you something, since it’s just the two of us out here, and my folks can’t hear me at the moment,” Ty lied.

“What did you want to ask me?” Smith replied.

“Are you one of those agents that has the antimatter bomb in his head?” Ty asked.

The agent looked thoughtful a moment. “If I were, we’d all be dead right now. You have the ability to detect them anyway, so why did you need to ask me?”

“Scanning for it triggers the bomb, so we don’t scan for it, we have just assumed in the past that you agents do have one of those, and take steps to protect ourselves from the blast. Why would your masters do that anyway? It seems very wasteful to me,” Ty replied.

“There are certain circumstances where it is necessary to have a powerful weapon in strategic locations in order to ensure the good behaviors of certain governmental leaders. That was the best way to accomplish that task. The humans cannot detect the bombs, so we can place them wherever we wish. Just for your information, it isn’t located in the head, they are placed in the chest cavity near the heart.”

“Oh, sorry, we always thought it was in the head,” Ty said. “Why would you need them at all? Why not just... uh, recruit the leader in question?”

“We’ve done that too, but it is difficult to convert officials when they are constantly being elected and changed. This was a much simpler, and so far, more effective way of controlling them,” Smith replied. “May I ask you a few questions?”

“I don’t see why not, you’re answering mine after all,” Ty replied.

“Careful boss,” he heard Sammi whisper in his ear.

“How did you get all of this equipment down here from the wreck? For that matter, how did you even know it was there?” Smith asked.

Ty chuckled, “That’s a tale in itself. You see, one of our people quite literally stumbled across one of the shuttles that had landed here and broke down. With the guidance of the onboard computer, he fixed it, and it returned him to the wreck on the moon. As for getting the equipment down here, well, there were more functional shuttles, and after he got a few friends together, we decided to use what we found to help the rest of the planet.”

“So the AI did survive then, my masters have been debating that,” Smith said thoughtfully.

“Uh, no, it didn’t actually. I mean, it was still there, but it was basically insane. We had to step pretty lightly until one of us learned enough to disconnect it. You know, if you guys would have just left us alone, things would have never gotten to this point,” Ty replied.

“Perhaps, but we did not know how much you had learned from the ship. Besides, we do not want you to help the planet as much as you seem to want to, that was the reason we repressed a lot of the technology you are ‘researching’ to begin with,” Smith answered. In the distance the deployment planes of the Marines could be heard.

Smith smiled, “Ah ... that is my cue. It has been good talking with you, Mister Anders. I thank you for the information. Perhaps, sometime in the future, your superiors can contact us, and we can arrange a cease fire, but until then, I’m afraid I have my orders.”

“Yeah, I have mine too. I hope you’ll understand if I don’t wish you good luck,” Ty replied.

Smith nodded, thoughtfully. “I can understand that. Good morning, Mister Anders.”

“Good Morning, Agent Smith. All units, open fire!” Ty called and dropped to the ground.

A fraction of a second after Ty hit the ground, a rail gun round passed over him, and shattered Agent Smith’s head.

Ty began to crawl back to his land rail, as all hell broke loose around him. Laser pulses and rail slugs flew over his head, as the troops on the other side reacted in the way Ty had hoped they would; they immediately took cover and returned fire, further delaying the mercenary troops.

Several of the mercenaries tried to shoot Ty, but the shield did its job nicely, allowing him to make it all the way back to his land rail, and for them to retreat to a safer distance. Agent Smith hadn’t been lying about the weapons his troops had been carrying, in fact, if they had brought a little heavier artillery, they might have stood a chance to actually penetrate the shield.

Whenever several enemy pulse rifles would merge to try to breach a small hole in the shield, Ty’s Marines would target those firing the pulse rifles.

“Talos Ground force commander, this is Casper flight. We are on station and beginning our run. Be sure to keep your shields up, this ain’t gonna be pretty.” A voice Ty didn’t recognize said over his comm.

“Just be sure you got the right batch of soldiers, Casper flight!” Ty teased. “All units, cease fire, and take cover! Air strike is inbound!”

Amid the sounds of the mercenaries still firing, Ty could hear the sound of building thunder. “Firing! Keep your heads down, Talos.”

Ty then heard a loud tearing noise that drowned out all the sounds of weapons fire, it was continuous and lasted about thirty seconds.

“Talos Command, run complete. I have a clear scanner, can you verify?” the Casper pilot asked.

Sammi replied before Ty could. “Casper flight, targets at one-four-three by six-two are also hostile. Otherwise ground sensors agree that you have a clean slate.”

“Understood, we’ll take care of that, and get out of here before someone sees us,” the pilot replied.

“Sees what? We heard you, Casper, but I still have no idea where you are. We never saw your ships,” Ty replied.

“You can’t see me, Ty?” a voice he did recognize asked.

“Kyle? What the hell are you doing down here?”

“Testing my baby, but seriously, you are looking right at me. I’m just outside the shield,” Kyle replied.

“No, all I see is blue sky and a hell of a lot of dust,” Ty replied.

All of a sudden, Ty saw a bright light appear in mid-air. As it moved, Ty could just barely make out the outline of a ship of some kind in front of it.

“I could barely make it out when you had the light behind the ship, but with no light, you’re invisible, Kyle,” Ty reported.

“Wow, that’s good to know. Thanks Ty,” Kyle replied.

“Okay, two more targets eliminated. We’re RTB, you finished Casper Three?” the first pilot asked. (RTB means Returning To Base)

Kyle replied. “Yep, I got more than I had hoped for, let’s go, Casper One. Adios Ty!”

“Thanks for the assist, Casper flight,” Ty replied.

“All part of the service, Talos Command,” the flight leader replied, and signed off.

“Jeessus Keyrist! Boss, you gotta see this!” Olson, one of his quad riders called from the shield edge.

Ty pointed to Olson so his driver would head over there. “Whatcha got Olson?” Ty asked as he got out of the land rail.

“Look at this Sir, there’s nothing... not even tumble weed for three hundred meters.” He pointed directly out from the shield. He then pointed to each side. “Almost a klick that way, and a half a klick that way it’s the same thing. No rocks, no grass, nothing. It’s like the ground was completely pulverized. There’s no visible sign that those folks were ever here.” He was completely at awe.

“Take recordings of the whole area, send a drone out and take some samples, try to get samples from were one of the vehicles was, as well as empty ground. Send all of it up to the moon base to the attention of the Shadow Fighter Project.” Ty shuddered. “I think they’ll be interested in what that weapon does to ground based targets. I’ll take your quad back, you can have my rail so you can get those samples. The rest of us will head back in and see what the Marines are up too.

Olson nodded. “Will do Sir.”

Ty put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Keep an open com. If that big fuckin’ ship shows up, they could attack us at any time. I don’t want you guys out here alone if that happens. When you hear us announce the arrival of the ship, get your asses back to base ASAMFP(As Soon As Mother-Fucking Possible). After that, Sammi will be arming the minefields.”

“Don’t worry Sir, we’ll only be a few minutes,” Tegan, his driver, said, looking up from where she was programming the small, multi-purpose drone the land rail carried.

“Thanks guys, see ya back at the base.” Ty started the modified quad and rode back toward the place where the rest of the team was forming up. As he rejoined them, they all turned and headed back, leaving Olson, Tegan on the land rail’s gunner, Ellis to get the samples.

Just as Ty and his team entered the hidden tunnel, with the hot morning sun already blazing on their backs, Star Dancer operations issued a yellow alert. The enemy ship was arriving slightly ahead of schedule.

“Fuckin’ lovely! I wanted to get a nap!” someone mumbled over the comm.

Ty recognized the voice, however. “You can sleep when you’re dead, Simms. Alpha team, first platoon, switch to Terran weapons and armor, and report to topside security. The rest of you, rearm for unrestricted combat. Double and triple check your equipment. Make sure your suits and weapons are fully charged, and restock your ammo. We are in a hot stand-by.”

Ty and the platoon he called for returned to the locker room to strip out of their advanced armor and put on armor that was Terran in design and origin. They picked up Terran weapons and headed for the top-side office.

Chapter 14

Talos, New Mexico

Alan, dressed in a black jumpsuit with a DARPA insignia on it, stood in the guard house with the guard and watched the big VTOL assault planes land almost a kilometer away. He watched approvingly as the Marines deployed quickly and efficiently.

Most of the soldiers established a defensive perimeter as the rest of them began setting up big tents that they had brought with them. Four desert camo hummers rolled out of one of the planes and headed straight for the gate house where Alan and the guard waited.

“There will be a Colonel, a couple of other officers, and the rest will be combat troops,” Alan said to the guard. “Lock the gate closed. No matter what, we can’t let them through.”

The guard nodded and touched the control that locked the gate. “Got it.”

“Okay, remember to be a little leery of me, I’m a scary DARPA agent, right?” Alan said grinning at the guard who nervously smiled back.

“Uh... ye.. yes Sir,” he stuttered in mock fear.

Alan nodded approvingly.

The vehicles pulled up to the gate and parked in a diamond formation, so the gunners on the vehicles would have a clear field of fire. The doors on the lead vehicle opened and sure enough a man with dull black eagles on his collar climbed out of the passenger side front, his name tag said ‘Petrie’. Another man wearing captain’s bars got out of the door behind him. They were joined by a lieutenant from one of the other vehicles.

Alan, followed by the guard, went outside to greet them. “Good Morning Colonel, what can I do for you?” Alan said in the pompous way of a DARPA Agent.

“DARPA? What the fuck are you doing out here?” the Colonel asked, without introducing himself.

“I could easily ask the same of you, Colonel. The answer to that is classified, and until I know who the hell you are and what the fuck you are doing here, I cannot answer you,” Alan replied. The guard behind him cringed.

“Fucking lovely! Lieutenant! Get command on the horn, and find out what the fuck a DARPA agent is doing here, and just what the fuck I’m supposed to do about it? The Colonel ordered, never taking his eyes off of Alan. “Colonel Jackson Petrie, United States Marines.”

“Agent Harrison Smith, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Once again, just what the hell are you doing out here, Colonel?” Alan asked.

“My orders are classified as well, Agent Smith. However, I can tell you we have been sent out here at the request of the Office of Homeland Screw-Ups! I’m getting the feelin’ that those paranoid assholes sent us out here to shut down one of our own projects!” the gruff Colonel replied.

Alan reached over and unzipped a pocket on his sleeve, and pulled out two silver cigar cases. One of them he handed to the Colonel.

“Thank you, Agent Smith! Ever since they made smoking illegal, I’ve had to sneak these,” Alan shrugged. “It’s a misdemeanor here, and I don’t see any police anyway.” Alan handed over a lighter for the Colonel to use.

“Sir, I have Command on the line, they want to talk to you,” the lieutenant said from his vehicle.

“Excuse me a moment, Agent Smith,” the Colonel asked politely and walked over to the vehicle.

While the Colonel was talking to his superiors, Ty called Alan.

“Alan, it’s Ty. Have you found out anything yet?”

Alan put his hand to his ear to let the Marines around him know he was talking to someone. “This is Smith, what can I do for you Commander?”

“Ah, you can’t talk. I have a platoon ready to back you up if you need it. I’ll wait for you to call me once you figure out what’s going on, okay?”

“That’s fine Commander, I’m sure they’ll appreciate the offer of the tanker full of water, but they look pretty well equipped. I’ll ask the Colonel if they need anything, and get back to you,” Alan replied.

“Gotcha, one tanker full of water complete with a monitoring device coming up. I’ll have it down there shortly, and I’ll wait for your next call. Thanks a lot Alan, and good work!”

“Smith out,” Alan replied tersely. He heard Ty chuckle before the comm went dead. Alan turned back to the Captain that was still standing there. “Captain, that was the head of security here, he asked if you guys needed anything, and offered a tanker of water because of the heat.”

“We’re good for now, but knowing there is water available will certainly help with logistics, thank you, Agent Smith,” the Captain replied.

Alan just shrugged. “From what he said, he was already getting it ready to bring out to you. We don’t get guests all that often, so I think they are trying to make the best of it, even if you are out here to arrest all of them and toss them all into GitMo.”

About then, the Colonel returned, and he was not happy. “Bureaucratic cluster-fuck, Agent Smith. We are to back off, and let you folks be, but we are to remain here until someone can figure out just what to do. They know as well as I do that your real name isn’t Smith, and they also know what that means. It means that DARPA will ignore any inquiries we make.”

“Sir, the security chief here is preparing a water buffalo for us, in the event we’d need it,” the Captain informed his superior.

“That’ll be welcome. Damn heat is dangerous enough out here. Knowing there is a handy water source will be a big help,” the Colonel replied. “I am sorry for all of this, Agent Smith, but we all have our orders. The best we can do is follow them, and hope they don’t clash too often.”

“Can you tell me what you’re orders are, I might be able to help set your mind at ease as long as it doesn’t violate our security here,” Alan replied.

“Not precisely, no, but it involves domestic terrorist training camps and explosives production,” Petrie replied.

“Ahh, I can see how they might think that if they used a satellite. The security chief here is ex-military, and he takes his duties very seriously. He drills his security forces the same way you would a military unit. He feels it keeps them on their toes, and in shape. As for the explosives production, I can’t really comment on that, but I can assure you that nothing here is being done that would be, or could be, considered a threat to the United States,” Alan replied.

“That does help, Agent Smith. I appreciate it, and I’m sure my staff will as well,” Petrie answered. So, thanks again for the Cigar, and we’ll head back to camp. Just send the water on out, and we’ll find a place to put it.”

Alan nodded. “Can I have a moment in private, Colonel?”

“Certainly Agent Smith.” He turned to the Captain, “leave Grant here, but the other three can head back. I’ll be along in a minute.”

“Yes Sir,” the Captain replied and left to relay the orders.

“Trooper, we are going to use your shack for a moment. Please stay out here,” Alan said to the guard.

The guard nodded nervously and stammered out a ‘yessir’ that was barely audible.

When they got inside and closed the door, Petrie chuckled. “That guard is terrified of you.”

“He thinks I’m a shark and doesn’t like it when I swim in his pond,” Alan replied, with a shrug. “It’s a common reaction.”

Petrie nodded. “I can imagine. What did you need to talk to me about?”

Alan seemed to be thoughtful for a moment. “What I’m about to tell you cannot leave this room. I’m taking a hell of a risk disclosing this to you, but I don’t want to see your troops hurt.”

“Okay, now you have my undivided attention,” Petrie replied looking at Alan directly.

“You know that DARPA is involved in some strange projects. Stuff no one would believe if they actually knew about it, right?” Alan asked. When the larger man nodded he continued.

“Okay, I need to know how quickly you can get your men out of here, if it was needed,” Alan asked.

“Ten minutes if we leave our gear, forty-five if we take it. What’s going on here?” Petrie asked carefully.

“Some of the stuff we are working on here was taken from some rather exotic circumstances, which is the main reason we’re out here in the middle of nowhere. From time to time, the people that left the material we are working with try to come and take it back,” Alan replied.

“Agent Smith, are we talking about Martians?” Petrie asked.

“Colonel, these people are from a lot further away than Mars. Our normal weapons, the weapons you and your men are equipped with, are virtually useless against them. If they attack, you and your men could be killed without being able to defend yourselves. I cannot risk exposing your men to what’s in the compound, so I can’t bring you in under our defenses. That leaves getting the hell out of here as fast as you can.”

“Agent Smith, I don’t believe in little green men,” the Colonel said condescendingly.

“I can understand that, Colonel, and I can even envy you, but that will not alter the outcome if those fuckers attack while you’re still out here on the ground undefended,” Alan said.

“You honestly expect me to believe this?” Colonel Petrie asked.

“No Colonel, I expect you to think I’m completely off my nut, ignore my warning, and die with your men when those assholes attack us, but I had to try to warn you. Semper Fidelis, Colonel.

”Oouwah!” Petrie replied. “Look, I’ll think about it, but you have to admit that this is pretty damn hard to swallow.”

“I know, Colonel. But if you’ve seen half the things I have, you wouldn’t even blink at this,” Alan said.

“Son, I’m starting to think I can understand why that guard is afraid of you,” Petrie replied as he headed for the door.

“Remember Colonel Petrie, you can’t tell anyone of this. This information is classified eyes only. I felt you had a right to know,” Alan replied.

“I appreciate it, Smith. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more from Command,”

Alan nodded. “Thank you, Colonel. Anytime you want to speak to me, you can simply tell the guard, and he can call me.”

When the two men left the building, Ty and a couple of others were standing there beside one of the heavy duty quads used by the grounds maintenance folks, with a large plastic trailer full of water behind it. Hooked to the back of that trailer was another trailer with what looked like an ice machine that had a generator mounted on it. There was a hose running from the water tank to the ice machine, and the generator was running.

“Now that’s a handy looking device for the desert!” the Colonel said when he saw the set up.

Ty nodded and offered the man his hand. “Alex Carlton, Colonel. I’m the head of security here. I’ll make sure they keep the tank full for you and the boys.”

While the Colonel wasn’t looking, Alan gave Ty a glare for using that name, so close to his own.

“I can tell you right now that we sure appreciate it. Commander. Thank you for thinking of us,” Colonel Petrie said.

“I’ll try to get you all some porta potties out there too, so don’t be surprised if you see another quad bringing them out!” Ty said hamming up the hick routine for the Colonel. “I guessed about the number, and asked for all twenty of them. I’m waiting for approval on that.”

“Wow, you keep this up, Commander, and I’m going to have trouble getting these knuckle draggers back to the base!” Colonel Petrie said. “Just have your man follow us out, and I’ll find a place to park it. Thanks again, Commander.”

“Our pleasure Sir,” Ty replied, and nodded at the trooper driving the quad.

As Alan and Ty watched the Colonel drive away, Alan looked at Ty. “Alex Carlton?”

“I just had to fuck with ya. Now, what did he say?” Ty asked.

“OHS sent them out here to bust up a terrorist training and explosives manufacturing facility. I got OHS in hot water with the Marines by posing as a deep cover DARPA agent that was in charge of this facility. I also warned him about the alien attack, but we’ll have to see how that plays out,” Alan reported.

“Sammi, set the shield to minimum power, but don’t shut it down. Maybe that’ll help keep it from being detected,” Ty told the Command Center, then looked at Alan. “You are really smooth, Alan, I’ll give you that. Smooth as silk.”

“It’s what I do,” Alan replied and shrugged.

Ty nodded back to his office. “Come on, let’s go get some breakfast. The Enemy ship just arrived, so it might be the last chance we get to eat for a while.”

“Well, they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, lead on my friend.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

Ian walked out on the bridge with an hour left on the countdown clock that showed when the Caldarian was either just entering the system, or would be shortly. A glance at the plotting board showed it to be just inside the Oort cloud which officially put it in the system.

It was still technically night watch since it was so early in the morning. Ian hadn’t actually gotten any sleep since shortly after he had went to bed after talking to Beth, Ty had called him. That was a situation he would still worry about, but for the moment, his attention was focused on the object entering the system displayed on the main board. Doing the math in his head, he realized that the data being displayed was wrong.

“Ensign, get me hyperspace tracking please,” Ian said as he relieved the third watch officer, a senior lieutenant Ian didn’t recognize.

The Ensign sitting at communications had jumped when Ian spoke, causing him to grin. But responded quickly enough to Ian’s order.

Looking at the Lieutenant he relieved, Ian smiled. “Thanks Lieutenant, I’d try to get a quick nap if I were you, but from the looks of things, it’s gonna get busy around here pretty quickly.”

“Sir?” the young man asked, confused. The board said there was still over an hour before the enemy ship arrived.

“Tracking is on the comm for you, Sir,” the Ensign called.

Ian held up a finger to the lieutenant and thumbed the comm on the console. “Tracking, this is Command. Please recheck your math on the ETA. It looks way out of line to me.”

“Right away, Sir.” The voice that had replied sounded like he was about twelve. Since Tracking was a non-combat department, he might have been.

Ian could hear him typing away furiously on his terminal, then he heard a soft, “Oh shit” followed by furious typing again. Then “Shit-shit-shit!” the boy came back to the comm. “I’m really sorry, Sir, I thought it was set to automatically recalculate every thirty minutes, but it dropped off an hour ago. Updating now.”

The numbers on the board flashed a few times, then changed to something a lot less than even Ian thought there was.

“Thank you,” Ian replied, and closed the comm. “Sorry folks, no nap for any of you. Ensign, sound general quarters and take us to Yellow alert. Day watch on deck, night watch stand down. Mid watch to stand-by. Engineering bring the reactor up to thirty percent but try to keep the plasma chambers cool. Weapons control, activate all weapons system, master safety is on. Flight control activate all systems and stand-by. Enemy ship will arrive in fifteen minutes. I say again, Enemy ship will arrive in fifteen minutes.” Ian ordered.

Just as when they lifted off the moon, Ian could feel the great ship coming to life. It was faint at first, but it built quickly as the people on her ran to get to duty stations, or secured their homes for combat. Ian could feel an anxiousness and a good deal of worry, but there was a fierce determination building. Ian could recognize it now as an implacable resoluteness. Not hatred, not fear, but a determination not to let the enemy destroy this system like they did to Talos all those millennia ago. Not to let them come here and rape the planet and enslave the people. Ian was relieved to feel that, he knew he would lose people today, but he would do everything in his power to not let that happen.

Jenny came running onto the bridge, buttoning up her uniform and talking on her communit. “All departments, report readiness to operations. All non-essential personnel report to your designated safety areas. Medical department, prepare for casualties.”

She stepped in front of Ian and saluted. “Sir, all guns are manned and ready, at one minute forty-five seconds. Missile command reports an autoloading malfunction on tube thirty-one portside. Engineering has been notified and the tube is offline.”

“Very good, Colonel. Carry on,” Ian replied. That tube was worrisome, considering how badly they were outgunned every tube was going to count if this turned into a slugging match.

Ian again thumbed his comm. “Armory, prepare four hyper-missiles with heavy AM warheads, but do not activate the warheads.”

“Will do, Commander!” came the rushed response.

“Star, bring up a system holo, I want to see where everything is right now and activate the battle boards,” Ian ordered and the hologram took form in front of Ian, but above the heads of the Communications officer and the navigator.

Ian watched as the area filled up with the assets and ships that were still out there. The drones, weapons platforms, missile launchers, and Centurion picket ships. Ian would have ordered them to cloak, but the icons in the display said they already were. He noticed that one of the small ships was near Venus, the projected final destination of the Caldarian.

“Who ordered the Odin to post near Venus?” Ian asked.

“They are on an Intelligence mission. We’ve set up a secure laser link for communications with them. They’re going to remain cloaked and dark, except for that laser link,” Jenny reported. “I didn’t think you’d mind, so I approved the mission. I did send you a note about it.”

Ian nodded. “It probably got lost in the never ending pile of reports I’ve been reading. One of these days I’m going to have to get myself one of those too-cute-to-be-believed secretaries so I can drive you insane flirting with her!”

“Nah, I’d just warn her about you. Once she knows the truth, she’ll stay away from you all on her own,” Jenny replied.

Their banter was easing the stress that had been building in the bridge crew. Ian winked at her, and she smiled back.

“Pass the word to go dark. Colonel, please ask the moon base to put their camouflage up. Major Dancer, silent running if you please,” Ian said, once again watching the hologram.

Ian could hear the comm officer and Jenny talking on their respective comm systems. Star looked up at him. “Silent running systems engages zero emission in twenty seconds. Cloaking system is engaged and is optimal.”

“Thank you, Major,” Ian said glancing at her and winking. She smiled nervously at him.

“Relax Star, these asshole will never know what hit them,” Ian said.

“I am Sir, I’m a little nervous because none of these tactics follow standard Talosian Doctrine,” Star replied.

Ian frowned and shook his head. “I know, but if we would have followed what the book had to say about this situation, we wouldn’t last very long. I chose this approach to minimize our losses while maximizing enemy confusion. If we kill them off, great, but if they flee in confusion, that’d be good too.”

“If they leave, Caldarians never flee, they would be simply backing off to call for more forces before returning,” Star said. “Should we not focus on destroying them?”

Ian sighed. “No, because that will most likely end up getting us killed in the process. If they do call for help, which is unlikely, that’s fine, it’ll give us more time to get ready to deal with them. Just look at what our people have accomplished in the short amount of time we had for this? With the extra year we would gain by them retreating and calling for assistance, we could make this system into a lethal gauntlet that they would never survive.”

On Ian’s terminal the message appeared. ‘I am asking these questions, because of things I have overheard from the crew. I know, and understand the reasons for what you have done. – Star.’

Ian read that and winked at her, nodding his head slightly. She gave him a twitch of a smile. “Thank you, Commander. I think I understand better now.”

“No problem, Star. If you ever have a question about something, feel free to ask me or the XO if time allows,” Ian replied.

“Thank you, Sir. I’ll use the email system if I have any other questions,” Star replied. On his screen she wrote, ‘I have sent that part of the conversation to the people I heard talking about it, with a note apologizing for eavesdropping on them, and assured them that their identity has remained confidential.’

Ian typed back. ‘How was it received?’

‘With shock and a little fear at first, but with thanks after the text message,’ Star replied.

“Command this is tracking, we are showing emergence on the inbound. Event should be in the vicinity of Jupiter orbit, far side,” Hyperspace tracking said over the comm. Ian noticed that the person sounded a lot older this time.

“Aye, we have a hyperspace event in that location. It looks like the big bastard decided to drop out a bit further away than we guessed,” Chekov said. “Hyper-track, this is Navigation, we got it from here, thanks,” Chekov replied.

“Roger, target is yours. Blow it to hell, guys.”

“Stay calm everyone, they haven’t done anything yet,” Ian ordered.

“Confirmed one Caldarian Super Nova class star ship is in system. Target is proceeding deeper into the gravity well and is decelerating. Current course and deceleration profile indicates parking orbit vicinity of the planet Venus,” Chekov reported.

An image of the ship, transmitted by one of the small sensors dropped weeks ago by the Centurions, was placed on the big monitor.

“Holy shit! That is one big honkin’ ship!” Jenny said softly.

“Yes it is. Is it me, or does that thing look bigger in person?” Ian asked, rhetorically.

“Operations, I am showing life signs in the atrium, please make sure it’s evacuated,” Star said out loud.

“Sir, hostile is launching carriers and doing full, active, sensor sweeps of the system,” Chekov said.

“Those assholes are certainly sure of themselves!” Jenny said.

“Keep a track on those carriers, I want to know where they’re going and what they’re doing. Remain silent in all systems. All drones to remain in low power mode for the time being,” Ian ordered. “Let’s see what they’re up to before we start something.”

“Sir, six hostile fighter-carriers are heading away from the Super Nova. It appears they are going to do a system patrol. They are staying in pairs. One pair is falling behind the bigger ship, and the other two sets are under full burn for adjacent solar quadrants,” Chekov reported. “I would assume the last quadrant, ours, will be launched when they get here.”

“Thanks Chekov, please keep an eye on them,” Ian asked as the tactical hologram and battle boards added the carriers as active assets.

Jenny smiled. “Engineering has reactivated tube thirty-one portside. They report it was a software glitch, and it has been repaired.”

“Thank you, please tell them good work,” Ian said, nodding. “What is that big fucker waiting for? If she knew we were here, she would have come barreling in here, guns blazing. This seems a very cautious approach.”

“You are correct, Commander,” Star replied. “If the goal were to take the planet, then they would be assuming an Earth orbit in order to use ship-board assets in the assault. This is very cautious for a Caldarian.”

“Colonel, get ground ops, space ops, and intel in the combat conference room. Star, could you make sure they have the assets they will need to analyze this situation? If we had the time, I’d replace the table in there with a holo-tank, and turn it into a CIC,” Ian ordered.

Star nodded. “Dispatching maintenance drones. I will rebuild the room while they’re using it, Sir. It’ll be slow going, but it shouldn’t be hard to do. The conference room is close enough to the bridge systems that a tie-in is possible without reworking any major systems.”

“Sir, Chloe said she would take charge of it, and Intel agreed with her. They are putting together permanent teams for this. Chloe further suggested we simply move her department there, since most of the equipment is the same,” Jenny replied.

Ian shook his head. “No, it isn’t permanent. Tell her we will have a meeting about it after the current situation is taken care of. This is simply a stop-gap fix to a major problem in Talosian design. Chekov, E.T.A. until the Super Nova reaches her parking place?”

“Current course and speed will put her in position in six hours, thirty-one minutes. She is still moving pretty fast Sir,” Chekov replied.

“Combat teams stand down to Orange-Two alert status. Command teams remain at Yellow-One. Night watch go get some sleep, if you can,” Ian ordered. “Get some breakfast everyone.”

Chapter 15

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

Combat location: Eden

Luke let out a sigh. “So, the ship has arrived, it’s still a few hours away from attack position, and we can take a breath and make any last preparations. I can live with that.”

“Yes Sir, but I can’t think of anything else to do. We’re as secure as I think we can make ourselves. That’s not to say we’re as safe as can be, but I think we’re as safe as we can make it for now,” Ty said.

“What about the civilians? Do we get them into the shelters now, or do we wait?” Elias asked. “I’d hate to just sit on my hands and have people get hurt or worse, when we could have gotten everyone to safety.”

“I agree, but right now we still have to maintain the show for our guests outside the gate. So, for now, keep everyone doing their normal routines. We also don’t want anyone to panic, so we can’t announce the ships arrival yet,” Luke said. “Is that Colonel still content out there?”

“I believe he is Sir, DARPA is notorious for not letting anyone know what they are doing. They won’t tell the Marines I’m not an agent. I honestly believe that even they don’t know exactly what all of their agents are doing. I don’t think the Marines will leave any time soon, but I don’t think they’ll hassle us either,” Alan replied.

“Amazing, you’d think once they found out that one of ‘their’’ projects was being run out here, they would send more agents in to assist,” Elias said.

“Nope, that’s the reason for the name I gave the Colonel. It’s obviously one of the fake agent names they all use. The simple fact that I used that name will tell the upper command structures that DARPA won’t give them anything.”

“I’m not worried about the powers that be finding out we lied to them, so much as I’m worried about what will happen to those troops if we get attacked. Those Marines don’t stand a chance, and we can’t bring them in here to protect them,” Ty said. “Sir, with your permission, I’d like to replicate a few crates of man-portable mass drivers and have them stacked near the front gate. If we get attacked, at least we can give them a weapon that will stand a chance of making a difference. We can always set them to self-destruct after the battle.” Ty asked.

“What do we tell them once the battle is over, and we destroy the weapons? That they had just been fighting with figments of their imaginations?” Luke asked.

“Sir, with respect, if we get attacked by aliens, I would think explaining where those weapons came from would be the least of our worries. We’re going to have investigators from every agency you can think of, and a couple that you can’t, crawling all over themselves to get into this compound. Everyone on the planet will want to know why some tiny-assed corporate township was attacked by aliens when nowhere else on the planet was,” Ty asked.

“Who’s to say we’ll be the only ones they attack? I was led to believe that ship is capable of an entire planetary assault?” Luke asked.

“They are capable of planetary bombardment and suppression, but not invasion. They simply don’t have the millions of ground troops they would need for that. If they attack this planet, they might hit a few of the other cities, but we will be singled out for a ground attack. That much I can guarantee you,” Ty said.

Alan nodded. “I’m afraid I have to agree with Ty, Governor. Having those weapons available for the Marines will make little difference in the grand scheme of things. I have already primed the Colonel for this attack, although I doubt he actually believes me.”

“Okay, make up the weapons, Ty. But if Ian has an issue with this, you two are going to have to explain it to him, this is a military matter, and he is your ultimate commander in this,” Luke said.

Ty smiled, “Thank you Sir. You have no idea how much this eases my mind. I may not be a part of them anymore, but I still don’t want to see any of them hurt if I could have done something about it.”

“I can very much understand your concern for them, Ty. I share it, but I also cannot allow any breach of security here, so I better not see even one uniform with ‘U.S. Marines’ on it inside the gate. Do I make myself clear?”

Both Alan and Ty nodded. “Yes Sir!”

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

Ian had checked on the progress of the new ‘CIC’ being built in his conference room. He was surprised at not only the progress of the drones, but of the people that had come here to work. It was almost like they had been waiting for a place to be made for this purpose. Chloe grinned at him when he entered and came over to him.

“Right bloody good idea this was. It’s a wonder no one thought of it sooner,” she said.

“Actually, I did, I planned on having something like this included in upgrades after we get through this. Star and I have plans for a good portion of the ship. I’m going to be adding an operations and flight section to the bridge crew. It should make things a lot more efficient,” Ian replied, looking around.

Chloe nodded. “Aye, this’ll help a lot too. Having Intel in with us will make things flow better also. We’ll be able to get more information to you faster, while increasing our ability to respond to it.”

Ian nodded in agreement. "That’s the plan. I’m going to be adding another bridge set-up as well, in case the main bridge gets disabled. If you are going to need more people, you should probably think about getting a list made up for the Personnel Department to act on.”

Chloe nodded and made a note to herself on the tablet she carried with her. “So you’re adding a bridge station for operations, as well as a secondary bridge. Are you going to be making a secondary CIC then, too?”

“I don’t know,” Ian answered honestly. “I suppose it’ll depend on the need, and available space for it. This area is not going to be your permanent home. It’ll get moved when we rebuild the bridge section.”

Again, she nodded. “When you do that, you should see if you can move the bridge into a less vulnerable position. Of course, with all the computers and electronics being up here in the bow, that might not be feasible.”

“No, not in this ship, but it’s something to keep in mind for the next one we build,” Ian grinned at her shocked look and winked at her. “Look, one of the things that I wanted you to look into is the fact that the assholes out there are not acting like normal Caldarians, at least, the ones we have records on. I want you and the intel people to study this, and try to tell me what their game is, so we can stop them.”

“Yeah, Jenny briefed us before we moved up here. She also sent us all the information you folks have. Once the big tank gets set up, we’ll have all the information you have as soon as you have it, with luck, we’ll actually have a little bit more.”

“Sir, why not simply combine the CIC and the bridge? Yes, it’ll be larger, and busier, but everything will be right there for you,” Chloe asked.

“Because it’ll be larger and busier. Too much noise and confusion in one place. It would be too easy to confuse orders, and miss them entirely. Those are mistakes we can’t afford,” Ian replied.

Chloe nodded. “I understand that Sir, and that’s the primary reason they aren’t set-up that way in a wet navy, but we have sound dampening, and certain technologies that can make this work. After we get through this, I’ll draw up a plan for you to look over before everything gets set in stone if that’s alright?”

“I’ll take all the suggestions I can get Chloe, you should know that by now. Look, I’m gonna go grab a bite to eat before those bastards get into attack range. Holler if you need anything,” Ian said. When she nodded, he left the very busy room for his ready room and Jenny.

When he entered the room, Jenny smiled at him, and pointed to a plate she had for him at one end of the small conference table.  As he sat down, she swallowed the bite she had been chewing. “The Caldarian carriers have deployed fighters for short run patrols. So far, there’s been no surprises. The fighters match the designs we have on file. However, one set of carriers got close enough for one of our sensor drones to get a good look at them.

“The carriers are not identical. One of them is the standard model used by the Caldarians, and the fighters it has launched have been the only ones we’ve seen. The other carrier, looks more like a torpedo boat of some kind. At first, we thought it might be a small missile cruiser, but have since discarded that because of its size.” As she spoke, she brought up the strange carrier on his large monitor.

Openings along the side, in a line starting a short distance from the bow, and running all the way back to an area that could be called the engine room. In the display, these small openings were circled.

“This is the reason we at first thought it might be a missile boat. These openings, are too small for the standard Caldarian fighters, however, they are angled back into the ship like missile tubes would be. The sensor drone detected a high amount of magnetic flux from them. Maybe it’s new weapon type?” Jenny finished and took another bite of her food.

Ian studies the image as he started eating. After a couple of bites, he shrugged. “A new carrier for a new type of fighter craft. We have no idea how long the war continued after the Talosians were killed. There has been plenty of time for new weapons development.”

“A new fighter?” Jenny asked. “It would have to be awfully small in order to be launched through one of those tubes. The tubes themselves are only eight to nine feet tall. Yes, a Caldarian could fit in there, but once you wrap a ship around them, especially a fighter... I just can’t see it.”

“Something that small would be a bitch to hit wouldn’t it?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, it would, but Caldarians usually don’t do ‘small’. They are always about more; more power, more weapons, more planets; more, more, more,” Jenny replied.

“Yes, they usually are, but then again, these are not acting like normal Caldarians,” Ian pointed out. “Take a normal Caldarian missile, they’re about that big,” he nodded toward the screen. “Remove the warhead, put in a cockpit, and strap some weapons in it. Give it a slightly more efficient engine as well as a better way to maneuver, and what would you have?”

Jenny nodded. “A relatively small fighter that would be a bitch to hit. But it couldn’t carry anything very heavy, or it would be too bulky to maneuver in space. You wouldn’t be able to use it in the atmosphere at all.”

“But with something that low in mass, you could really push the boundaries of phase-lock. Maybe all the way up to .9 C. It wouldn’t need very big guns, all it has to do is disable its enemies. Then the bigger fighters come in and clean up,” Ian said waving his fork in the air in front of him. “These would truly be interceptors, not meant for dogfighting. They couldn’t even carry missiles, since they would out run them. It would be like a supersonic fighter jet firing his guns; he’d shoot himself down.”

Jenny chuckled. “We could hope, it would save us from doing it for them. Besides, doesn’t the shadow fighter have a top speed close to that?”

“It’s fast, but not quite that fast. After Tinker’s test flight, Kyle and company programmed in a hard ceiling of point eight-five. She starts breaking lock at point eight-nine. However, her weapons systems should surprise any enemy that thinks she is lightly armed,” Ian replied.

“What did they finally settle on, I haven’t had the time to look it over,” Jenny asked.

“Two dual mount mass driver turrets. One under the nose, and one just behind the cockpit. Two medium power fixed lasers on the tips of the main wings, and two small powers lasers on the stabilizers, all four have a thirty degree firing arc. And finally, two six-shot missile pods, mounted internally and fired through ports under the main wings,” Ian smiled. “Kyle added two hard points for mounting two ship killers under the main wings, but those can’t be carried into atmosphere; too much stress on the wings.”

“Whoa! That’s a hell of an arsenal. What did they do to the Hornets?” Jenny asked.

“The Wasp variant of the Hornet fighter, did get some upgrades. Two medium power fixed lasers replaced the small power lasers on the wing tips, and a quad launcher for missiles under each wing. Two small power laser turrets mounted for aft arc defense on each side of the plasma port nacelle. The Wasp variant is also slightly faster than the Hornet at point seven-nine instead of the Hornet’s point seven-one top speed.” Ian replied. “In addition to the enigma armor on the Wasp, Kyle adapted one of the Shadow engines to replace the Hornet’s old hot plasma system.”

“Have we devised a better way to track them?” Jenny asked.

“The new fighters?” he asked, when she nodded affirmative, he continued. “Not really, IFF is all we have for now. Kyle and a few of the other bright boys down on the moon are working on a distortion sensor that will pinpoint cloaked and hidden ships, but as far as I know, they haven’t gotten it to work at any distance.” Ian replied. “They only work reliably at about twenty or thirty kilometers.”

“Well, let’s just hope the Caldarians haven’t figured that out,” Jenny said leaning back from her finished meal.

“It’s a Caldarian sensor system we got the idea from. We’re using the sensor system they had to detect cloaked vessels. The problem is, the ship has to be moving. But if it’s within twenty kilometers, chances are it’s already done its damage and is on its way out,” Ian said, eating the last of his bacon.

“You should take a nap, Ian,” Jenny said. “I know you didn’t sleep very well last night.”

“There is an enemy super ship in our solar system that would like nothing better than to blow us into our component molecules, and you want me to take a nap?” Ian asked, grinning. “Are you daft woman?”

“Seriously, Ian,” Jenny said. “I understand why you might have trouble sleeping, but tired people make mistakes.”

“Yeah, maybe I should see if Beth can do something. I just don’t want to be groggy from drugs either,” Ian replied.

Star materialized beside his chair. “Pardon the interruption, Sir. The XO is correct, you need to sleep. I took the liberty of consulting the medical officer, and she made a recommendation.” The replicator beeped announcing the delivery of an item. Since Jenny was closer, she retrieved it.

“The Commander is to lie down on his couch, the device is then set on his brow and activated. It is bio-magnetic, so it won’t fall off if you roll over. It stabilizes the thought processes and assists in the induction of sleep. You will stay asleep until the device is deactivated. Or the safety limit is reached,” Star explained.

“Wow, I could have used one of these last night,” Ian said.

“The safety limit is five hours,” Star explained. “After that, it can be difficult to awaken the sleeper in normal circumstances. This is a medical device used for short term, emergency surgery and for field medics to set bones or other repairs that would be hampered by an awake patient. This is not recommended for repeated or prolonged use.”

“Oh,” Ian said as he lay back on his couch. “Well, I guess if something happens, one of you can come and reanimate me, right?”

Jenny had placed the device on his forehead while he spoke.

“Smart-ass!” She said and turned it on before he could reply. He was instantly asleep. Jenny turned to Star. “Thank you for getting this for him. He really did need the sleep.”

“Commander Zeus was the same way when waiting for combat, Major Hybolia often prescribed this treatment for him as a last resort. From now on, we’ll need to make sure he gets the device on him the night before. Once the device times out, he would sleep normally the rest of the night,” Star said, looking down at Ian fondly.

“Star, do you have feelings for him?” Jenny asked in a soft manner, not wanting to startle the AI.

Star smiled at her friend. “I’m an AI, Colonel. I can only simulate feelings. But to answer your question, Commander Zeus was a good Commander. Ian is an exceptional one. He is always looking for ways to improve something, or even himself in an effort to save lives, or to better fulfill our mission. None of my former Commanders ever did that.” She replied. “A race of human-like beings called the Benesians that don’t live that far away from here, relatively speaking, have a saying; ‘Improvement is not just a choice, it is a necessity. For in improving one’s self, you improve others, as well as your world. Stagnation is the death of the soul.’ My databases don’t have much information on them, since Talos was so far away, and we had little contact with them.”

“In my book, you are far more than just an AI, Star. You’re my friend,” Jenny said. “Please keep an eye on him for me? I’m returning to the bridge.”

“Of course I will, Colonel. I am the ship after all,” Star said and faded out, smiling.

Jenny leaned over and kissed Ian softly on the lips before getting up and leaving the room as well. She would pull duty on the bridge while Ian got some sleep.

As predicted, the Caldarian ships began performing a system patrol. Luckily they completely missed the ships, drones and other devices Ian and his people had planted all over the system. Five and a half hours later, Jenny had Star wake Ian.

As he walked on the bridge he yawned. “What’s been happening, Colonel?”

“The Caldarians are doing the system sweep, so far, they have ignored all of our stuff. Of course, none of it is emitting anything that could be detected. If one of their ships gets close enough to detect even a trace power signature, we power it off for a set duration. I had Major Dancer wake you because the Super Nova is getting to the point where it will be closest to us on its way to Venus,” Jenny reported.

Ian nodded and took the chair she vacated for him. She went to the bridge replicator and got a cup of cappuccino for him.

“Oh, thanks! I need that!” he said, gratefully and took a long drink of the hot liquid. “Ahh!” He looked up at the big hologram and spotted the approaching ship. He quickly looked over the rest of the system to evaluate the situation. So far, everything was quiet. On one of the main screens, there was a real-time image of the big ship that was making its way toward its parking spot near the planet Venus.

“So, either nothing is going to change, and everything will stay quiet, or things are about to get really interesting. Department status?” Ian asked.

“Everyone is back online and ready for action. You have several ‘thank you notes’ from some of the crew, they needed the rest!” Jenny said trying to make him feel better.

Ian grinned and was about to answer her when Chekov spoke up. “Primary Target aspect change. Main bay doors opening!”

Ian first looked at the hologram which showed a bunch of rapidly changing numbers that were too small to read, next to the ship. Then he looked at the image on the monitor and saw the big belly doors opening.

“She’s launching the last two carriers. I guess that means it’s going to get interesting. Flight decks to hot stand-by. Reduce reactor output to minimum power, but keep her warm. All weapons systems, full safeties!” Ian ordered. “Passive targeting only!”

“Sir, Major Harris has integrated the moon base facility into his control. It will be referred to as Charlie deck for the duration,” Jenny said, reading something from her monitor.

Ian nodded as the assets moved on the battle board, which listed what he had available to fight with.

“You called it, Sir. The last two carriers are emerging from the main bay. But... there’s three of them Sir! Two of the new type, and one of the more familiar type. I’ll get the courses for you in a minute,” Chekov replied.

“Hmm, three of them huh? I wonder what else that big bitch might be hiding in there.” Ian asked rhetorically. “Ops, do we have anyone in position to get a look up her skirt before she closes those bay doors?”

“It’ll be extreme range, but I’ll see what I can do with it!” Chloe replied over the comm.

“Star, do you have a listing of this ship in the database?” Ian asked.

“No Sir, but Major Eischens analysis says she is an old ship. There are a lot of repaired hull sections, and evidence that one of the engines is relatively new. However, except for that engine, all the repaired damage is old as well. This ship hasn’t seen combat in a long time. He says this is either a repaired reserve ship, or the war has been over for at least eight hundred years,” Star reported.

Ian looked back at the hologram thoughtfully. “So, if we fight them, we risk starting a war with an Empire that can focus its entire military on us, But if we don’t fight, we lose the planet to them, and our people will become slaves or worse,” Ian said mostly to himself. “Damn, I love easy decisions! Chekov, I need to know where they’re going. Ops, stand by for mission assignments, we might need to get our fighters out of here quickly.”

“Standing-by, Sir,” Chloe replied over the comm.

“Colonel, you have the Con, I’ll be in CIC,” Ian said to a surprised looking Jenny. “Don’t worry, I’ll leave the door open, if you need me!”

“Ass-hat!” she said and stuck her tongue out at him. “I have the Con, Sir.”

Ian winked at her as he left his chair and headed for the door to the room now called the CIC. When he arrived, Chloe moved to one side, giving him room at the edge of the holo-tank.

“We did get a look inside the bay, she has not yet begun closing those doors, we did make out at least one more carrier in there. It looks like they were working on it. There were also several ground assault carriers in the side racks. Activity around them does seem to indicate launch preparation. It looks like they are getting ready to launch an assault force. Since they don’t know about us, we have to assume that the target is on-planet Sir,” Eischens said. “I would guess that Talos is the target. From the number of assault craft getting ready, it looks like an undersized combat team of just under battalion strength.”

“As soon as we know where they’re going, we need to take them out before they get there. Once we know Talos is the target, they need to be told so they can get everyone underground, and prepare for the attack.” Ian turned to Chloe. “Prepare a sortie to stop those landing craft. I’m sure they’ll have fighter support, so give it to the Charlie Wasps, and put the Talos Wasp unit on stand-by.” Ian paused in thought. “We need to get their mind off the planet. Chloe, activate ‘Shell Game’, but leave the Centurions as only control nodes for the time being.”

Shell Game was a plan they had worked out before where one section of the solar system would have its weapons systems activated and a full attack on all enemy craft in that area would commence, then suddenly stop. Meanwhile, across the system, a different sector would do the same thing. Then there would either be a break, or another sector would activate. It was completely random and was designed to maximize enemy confusion, and minimize friendly casualties. The original plan was for the Centurions to use their ship killer missiles on the carriers themselves, but since the missile pods that got designed also carried two ship killers, it was decided to hold the Centurions back unless they were needed.

“Attention all units, we are activating operation Shell Game. All Centurions hold fire. Switch section control to computer relay at this time,” Chloe said over her comm and waited for the replies. Once she had everyone online, she nodded to one of her aides.

As the aide turned back to her console Ian heard her say, “Okay boys and girls, don’t try this at home!” Ian chuckled and nodded to himself.

“Next mission,” Ian said and looked at the copy of the battle board in the room. “Launch Cobalt squadron for enemy harassment. Split them into teams and have them head for...” he turned back to the Tank. “Carriers thirteen and fourteen, carriers one and two, and if they can pull it off, carriers eight and nine. I want them to head to one nine two, by three four seven, by six zero, at full burn and jump to the carriers. Take out the carriers if they can, but the objective is to confuse the hell out of them, and piss them off. On retreat orders, they are to jump out to the solar opposite of their initial point, and make their way home using sub-light from there.”

One of Chloe’s aides that had been standing near, hurried away to write up the mission plan, send it to the ships, and get the fighters launched.

“This is why I want to put this on the bridge. Right now, Jenny’s got command of the ship, but she knows I’m still giving the orders. If we had you on the bridge, she could handle her duties, and leave this crap to me,” Ian said.

Chloe nodded agreement, but it was Major Eischens that replied. “Yes, it would be far more efficient, Sir. When you get it built, we’ll be ready for it.”

“The newly launched carriers are heading for here. The two newer ones are heading straight for us, and the older model is heading for the planet,” one of the aides said from his console.

Ian nodded and looked at the three targets in the holo-tank. “Alert Ghost squadron for possible fighter suppression mission. I don’t want them to launch until that carrier drops her fighters. Let’s not send up a flare until we know for certain that’s what they’re doing.”

“Sir, if they are readying a ground assault force, it seems to me it’s pretty obvious what they’re doing, why play it safe?” One of the younger intel people asked.

“Simple, if that carrier was supposed to act as cover for the assault, they would have hung back and waited to escort the assault ships in. Since they didn’t, it appears to be a recon mission. It’s one thing for them to think we have a presence on the planet, it’s quite another to launch our fighters and remove all doubt.” Ian replied.

“Sorry Sir, he’s new,” Eischens replied, looking sternly at the man who had asked the question.

“Not a problem, Major. If he’s new, then it’s more important than ever for him to ask questions. Thankfully we have time to answer them right now. I’d rather those questions get asked,” Ian replied, nodding approval at the man.

“Thank you Sir,” the man answered, and got back to work.

Quietly, Ian leaned over to Eischens. “Please make sure he gets assigned to the bridge team. We’ll get him trained up into someone you’d be proud of!”

Major Eischens puffed up in pride. “He’s my son, Sir. I’ll make sure he gets assigned to your team.”

Ian grinned back at the man, but his eyes were pulled back to the holo-tank. ‘Shell Game’ was beginning to attack ships to the solar east of the Sun. The section had pulsed red to indicate action.

“East three-center is active, missiles have been fired. Laser and mass driver weapons are in acquisition!” the tech that sent out the orders announced. First impact in ten seconds! Carriers are launching fighters!”

“Chloe, let’s make sure we’re not sending Cobalt into a hot zone. Drop the tagged carriers from the Shell Game for the time being,” Ian said. “Although, it might be neat if we could integrate the attacks into the plan, it’s a little late to do that.”

“Something to remember for next time, Sir,” Chloe said but moved over to the Shell Game tech to give her the alterations.

“I just hope there won’t be a next time!” Ian said to himself. “Who’s flight leader for Ghost Squadron today?”

“Senior Lieutenant Corvis, Sir.” Another of Chloe’s aides replied after she looked up the information.

“Figures, I should have known he wouldn’t miss this.” Ian touched his communit and connected to Corvis.

“How are you doing, Elltee?” Ian asked.

“Pretty good Sir. It’s great to hear from you and all, but I have seven other people sitting in our birds awaiting release. What can I do for you?” Corvis said sounding busy.

“If the time comes for that, I will give you that command directly. There is a Caldarian carrier approaching Earth from a parabolic trajectory. Although it looks like the Super Nova is also getting ready to launch a ground assault, this carrier didn’t wait around for them.

“I don’t want you guys launching until we know for certain this is an attack, or simply a probe to see if we’ll react. Fighter attacks we can deal with, ground assaults we can deal with. One missile from that big ass ship and the entire state of New Mexico turns into molten glass,” Ian finished. “I wanted to make sure you understand exactly why my orders are what they are. This isn’t the time for bold actions.”

Somewhat subdued, the young pilot answered. “I appreciate that, Sir. I understand exactly what you are saying. Thank you for putting it into prospective for me, I’ll make damn sure my people know too.”

“I knew I could count on you, Corvis. I’ll keep you hanging on the line, but muted, so I can keep you updated on what’s happening above you,” Ian said.

“Thank you, Sir,” Corvis replied.

“No problem, it’ll be about a half hour before they get close enough to launch, so hang loose,” Ian replied, and muted the channel. He heard Corvis relaying what he was just told to the rest of his people, and smiled when he repeated, almost word for word, what Ian had said to him.

Ian noticed that the missiles fired by the remote platforms had made it to the carriers, about half had been lost to anti-missile fire, but the rest had made it through, and did a lot of damage. The enemy fighters had split up, and were headed for the missile launchers when the lasers and the mass drivers opened up on them.

Each Caldarian carrier, at least the old ones, carried two full squadrons, or sixteen fighters. This one had launched all of its fighters, and had lost almost half to the lasers and mass drivers. When the second carrier turned and began to ‘fire’ Ian saw the purpose for the newer system.

The fighters it launched left the launch tubes at full speed. Almost like a mass driver, the tiny fighters shot out of the forward facing tubes and rapidly closed the distance to where the missile launchers had been. They were so small and fast, that the lasers and mass driver drones had a very hard time getting a lock on them. Only two of the new fighters had been hit before the section was reset back to stand-by, and the drones all became invisible again.

Both of the new fighters were towed back to the enemy carrier, but Ian also saw that those small fighters only advantage was speed. They were slow to maneuver, and had a very high delta-v because of their speed. From the looks of them, the Caldarians still hadn’t mastered the inertial compensator, but even if they had, it would have been a real bear to get one of those small fighters under control.

Glancing around, Ian saw that the younger Eischens already had an image of the small fighter up on a display, while right beside it, he was using the computer to break down its performance profile. Another person was analyzing the damage done to the carriers, as well as the original, older model fighters.

Those fighters were still buzzing around, trying to find the weapons that had attacked them, but had little luck. That particular group had been seeded in a small asteroid field that had a high metal content. Once the power had been shut down, all the drone simply became one of the millions of rocks floating around in space. Chloe laughingly reported the loss of one of the lasers when a fighter accidentally hit it, damaging it enough for the unit to fail. It exploded and took the enemy fighter with it.

The carriers had pretty much stopped they’re sweep, and two other carriers had changed course to head in that direction, but nothing else was found by the enemy forces. They wasted two hours doing high power sensor sweeps, and flying all over that section. Which was the whole reason the Shell Game was created.

While they were doing that, forty-five minutes after the last shot was fired, another section did the same thing, with pretty much the same results. Although the enemy lost less fighters, one of the carriers was heavily damaged, and had to stop to make repairs. Again, the section of space was inspected very thoroughly.

It took almost twenty minutes for the Shadow fighters of Cobalt Squadron to make it to their starting point. When they jumped, it definitely got the enemies attention, as one set of carriers actually changed course for that location. Seconds later, two other jump points formed, near enemy carriers which immediately launched fighters, expecting a big ship to attack. They were confused when nothing appeared on their sensors.

Ian watched closely as the shadows simply flew right past the enemy fighters, and hit the carriers hard. Cobalt ‘Alpha’ got lucky and hit a soft spot on the new carrier’s armor, punching through, and hitting the reactor. The carrier exploded in a brilliant fireball. The older carrier, took a bit more damage before it too exploded.

The fighters were totally confused, but showed proof that Caldarian sensor technology had not been totally stagnant, when some of the enemy fighters began trying to engage the Shadow fighters. The attempt was poor in that shots fired missed either forward or aft of the ships, but proved that the Caldarians could indeed detect the Shadow fighters, if they were in the right scanning mode, and the fighters were close enough. Targeting proved to be a different matter entirely. Ian thought it would be only a matter time for them to figure out how to hit the fighters they were shooting at.

If they do figure it out, the Shadow and Wasp fighters would still have a big advantage over their adversaries. Their armor. Caldarian fighters carried missiles that relied on heat and or mass detection to get a lock. Neither of which they could get from a fighter equipped with the new armor. The only other weapons they used were energy weapons, primarily lasers. Which would only serve to give the Shadow and Wasp fighters more power, that is, what didn’t get reflected away. Granted, there was a limit to how much power could be absorbed, but it should reduce the number of single shot kills by the enemy.

All in all the strikes by the Shadow fighters of Cobalt Squadron were a complete success. They hit their targets, causing massive damage to the enemy, then simply disappeared.

The problem came when they had finished and were ready to return to base. Ian had to delay them because the Caldarian carriers had arrived at the moon.

At seventy-five thousand kilometers, the new carriers fired out their fighters, which sped ahead of the carrier like projectiles, heading straight for Earth’s moon. Once again Ian was amazed at the speed of the fighters, but was even more impressed when they didn’t slow down, but instead dropped very close to the surface, and began to come around the satellite on a course that would take them right over the hologram of the crashed Talosian Cruiser. Ian noted that it was a good thing he had moved the ship, otherwise the fighters would have ran right into the hull as they pulled up to go over the site.

The Operations team reported heavy scans of the area being conducted as the fighters shot past. Normally, they would have been moving far too quickly to get a good reading, but there were enough of them that they got a clear high resolution scan of the area without slowing down.

They had been launched in such a way that they would be orbiting the moon while the carriers were passing it, thus when the fighters came around the other side, they would be behind their carriers. Ian was tempted to blow them out of the sky, but instead held his breath as the fighters, then the carriers flew by, giving no more attention to the crashed ship, or the huge base under the hologram.

As soon as they were clear of the moon, the two carriers split up, heading out to the areas where carriers had been destroyed.

On Earth, the Caldarian carrier assumed orbit, scanning the planet. They did not launch fighters. Ian came to the conclusion that they were searching for something, as if not entirely sure Ian and his people were actually there or not. After making two passes over Talos, the carrier took up a parking position over the North Pole. It was waiting.

While it had been orbiting the planet, the assault carriers had been launched, and headed for the planet far faster than the fighter carrier had flown. These guys would be in orbit in ten minutes.

“Computer, get me Ty Anders, now!” Ian said.

“This is Ty, What up Sir?”

“Get everyone underground now. You about to get hit by a battalion sized combat team with at least a squadron of fighters for support. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have bombers in there as well. Time to earn all the big money we’ve been paying you!” Ian said.

“I’m getting paid?” Ty asked. “Understood Sir, I’ll get everyone moving. Any idea where they’ll be coming from?”

“Not really, the fighter carrier is parked over the North Pole, but I imagine the assault ships will be coming straight in,” Ian replied.

“Okay, Anything else?” Ty asked.

“Nope, Ops will feed you all the intel we have for you. Keep our people safe, Ty,” Ian said.

“I’ll do my best Sir. You be safe up there as well. Anders out.”

Ian unmuted a channel he had been holding open. “Are you still there and awake, Corvis?”

“Yes Sir, we’ve been listening into the ops channel. Top-side is gonna get hit then?” Corvis asked.

“That’s what it looks like. Make sure your people are awake, and frosty. It’s about to get dangerous down there,” Ian told him.

“Sir, if we’re going to be fighting these mothers in the atmosphere, what do you think the government’s going to do when they see it?” Corvis asked. “The last thing we need are slow moving ‘friendlies’ up there, but you know as well as I do that we’re going to have them.”

“Fuck, you’re right, there’s nothing we can really do about it either. They have no idea what they’ll be getting into, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try,” Ian replied.

“I thought as much, I instructed my people to include all Terran IFF signals into our targeting computers so we shouldn’t be shooting any of them down by accident,” Corvis replied.

“North Pole is launching! I count eight Shrika medium fighters and four Gointa bombers. Course...” the man said, waiting for his computer to catch up. “Their heading for Talos, Sir! ETA eleven minutes!”

“That should put them on station just as the assault force hits the ground,” Eischens said. “I was hoping they would leave Talos out of this.”

“Ghost Squadron, this is Dark Palace actual, launch when ready. Hostile targets are entering your airspace. Search and destroy all enemy targets. I repeat launch when ready!” Ian said to Corvis over the comm.

“We’ll do you proud Sir. Ghost Squadron, we’re hot and pissed! Tally ho!” Corvis said to his people. His voice was slurred slightly as he was hurtled down his own launch tube and into the bright, clear, New Mexico sky.

Chapter 16

SkyRAD Command Bunker

Cheyenne Mountain

Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“Attention all stations, this is a SkyRAD alert! We are tracking twelve targets on a hyper-sonic, polar reentry vector. Targets are currently over Canadian airspace and have refused hails.”

“Let me see what you’ve got, Simmons,” The burly Admiral asked as he hustled into the command center, deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado.

The man pointed to the big screen and hit a few keystrokes. The screen changed to show the northern hemisphere with a short trace that was still over the ice, albeit very high over the ice. “They are just starting to enter the upper atmosphere Admiral.” He typed a moment and the view zoomed in to the point where the single trace split into multiple ones. Red dots appeared indicating the craft in question. Eight smaller ones surrounding four slightly larger. “Current speed is Mach twenty-six, and slowing as they also drop altitude.”

The Admiral nodded. “Any idea where they’re going?”

“If they maintain this profile, they will arrive in New Mexico in about ten minutes, Sir.” The man replied.

“Fuck me! White Sands?” the senior officer asked.

“That’s what it looks like Sir. Of course, that’s only if they stay on profile,”

“Canadian Air Defense Command has launched two F-15s and is scrambling two other squadrons,” another man said. “The fighters are on full after burner for the intercept, ETA two minutes!”

On the big display, the two Canadian fighters appeared, moving painfully slow compared to the inbounds.

“Let’s get our fighters on alert to back them up. Let White Sands know there are going to be attacked by ET in ten minutes. Communications, I want to hear those Canadian pilots,” the Admiral ordered.

...”Time to intercept now thirty seconds and closing. Attention, inbound ships. You are entering restricted Canadian airspace! You are ordered to slow down, and alter course to...” a burst of static filled the room until someone shut it off. On the screen the two F-15s flashed red, and faded out.

“Sir,” the original man added. “They could also be coming here.”

“Fuck! Scramble the fighters! Get everything we have in the air now! Someone get me the President!” the Admiral said, he was not a happy man.

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

Combat location: Eden

Ty ran to the command center while issuing orders over his communit. All of his combat teams were headed for the locker room to get their armor, their weapons, and vehicles before heading to the surface through the tunnels made for that purpose. The teams had been drilled in this, and they moved with practiced efficiency.

On the surface, people looked at each other in shock and fear as the attack siren began to wail. For a moment, they froze, not sure of what to do. Then they began to move. They knew that when that siren went off, they were supposed to get to the bunkers. But they also had to make sure their families made it to the bunkers as well, and many of the people took off to search for children or other family members. It was chaos.

Alan took one of the heavy six-wheeled utility ATVs and headed for the front gate. Just inside the gate, there was a series of trailers, all hooked together, stacked high with cartons of pulse rifles. The rifles were already programmed with the destruction commands, they only needed to be activated, and that would be the last thing Alan would do before he left them to the Colonel and his troops.

He hooked up to the first trailer, and felt the ATV bog down under the weight, but it began to move. The guard had already opened the gate for him, and the guard called out as Alan went by, “Pick me up on your way back!”

Alan gave the guard a nod, and headed for the Colonel’s command center, almost a kilometer away. The guards, used to deliveries from the compound waved him through without challenge, and he drove straight to where he knew the Colonel would be.

When he arrived at the command tent, Alan got out of the ATV and back pressing his thumb to the containers of rifles, activating each case. The Colonel had heard him pull up and came out of the tent, smiling. “What did you bring us today, Agent Smith?”

“Sir, do you remember that story I told you? The one that made you think I was crazy?” Alan replied.

“Yeah, you mean that bullshit about alien technology? Yeah, I remember it,” the Colonel said shaking his head. “What about it?”

“They’ll be here in just under ten minutes. I brought your people some toys that will at least give you a fighting chance,” Alan said, knowing the Colonel still didn’t believe him. “Man-portable rail guns. I’m not sure if we’ll be facing human slaves, or actual Caldarians, but either way, your weapon won’t even dent the armor they’ll be wearing.”

“Son, I don’t know what kind of chemicals that you’ve been sniffing in there, but there ain’t no such thing as aliens. If there were, why would they come here?” the man said, no longer smiling.

Alan turned and hollered at a few nearby marines. “You men, come over here and give me a hand!”

He got the Marines started unloading the trailers and staking the boxes along the side of one of the big tents. Just as he was about finished activating the weapons, several sonic booms could be heard. Alan glanced up and to the east. He pointed at the distant specks.

“Colonel, those are Caldarian assault carriers, and they are coming here with a battalion sized force. I doubt the whole thing is infantry, and there is nothing I can do about that, but these weapons will give you the ability to at least penetrate their armor. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” Alan finished.

The Colonel did look, and he saw the distant specks, but they were so far away, they couldn’t be identified. “Son, that’s just a flight of our fighters out on maneuvers. Not aliens. Why don’t you come inside, get out of the sun for a bit. You’ll see I’m right.”

Alan opened a case, and pulled out two of the weapons. He handed one to the closest Marine. “Corporal, this is a high-power, rail gun. It’s accurate out to two kilometers. When you look through the sites, you’ll see a small red dot. That’s where the round will go when you pull the trigger. It has less recoil than your current rifle, and an automatically refilling magazine of ammo. Don’t ask how it works, I couldn’t tell you even if I knew.” He looked around and saw a rock up on a bluff about a kilometer away. “You see that rock, up on the bluff about a klick out?”

“Yes Sir,” the Marine replied.

“Could you hit it with your current weapon?” Alan asked.

“Probably, but not with any accuracy,” the Corporal replied.

Alan nodded. “Use this, go ahead and shoot it.”

The Marine looked at his commander who nodded permission, then raised the weapon, took aim, and fired.

Instead of the normal shot sound of a rifle, there was a strange, whooshing/clapping sound as the hyper-sonic round hit large round rock, and shattered it into dust.

“Holy fuck!” the Marine said, then blushed. “Pardon me, Sir.”

“Well said, Marine,” Alan replied. “You can keep that. Trust me here, you’re going to need it.” He spoke so the Colonel could hear him. “This technology is still very top secret, so we can’t have you all keeping these forever, and wandering off with them. In twenty-four hours, they will stop working, and dissolve. This fight should be over by then, either way, you’ll at least have time to get the hell out of here if you need to.” He turned to the Colonel. “I have duties I need to get back to, Colonel. I appreciate your concern for me, I really do, but I’m not insane or sun-struck.”

About that time, the assault craft were close enough to start firing missiles, which they did. Everyone dove for cover as the whole area began to explode around them.

“Good luck, Colonel!” Alan yelled as he ducked and ran for the ATV and the empty trailers. He drove around the large tent that was the command center, and opened the throttle on the ATV headed for the front gate. He pulled inside the gate, but stopped to wait for the guard who sealed the gate, and came running for the ATV. Inside the shield, it was much calmer as the missiles hit the shield and not the ground.

“Cutting it close, Sir! I was beginning to think you were going to stay out there with the Jar-Heads!” the Guard said grinning as Alan headed for the Security building.

“Nope, I couldn’t let you walk home alone. It’s getting dangerous out here.” Alan replied as they bailed out of the ATV and ran for the doors. They took the lift down in silence, and headed for the locker room. At the door, they turned different directions.

“Be safe out there Sir.”

“You too Private, keep your head down,” Alan replied, and opened his locker to begin putting on his armor. ‘This is going to be a long, long day,’ he thought to himself.

Since Alan didn’t have an assigned place in the Marines, he headed for the command center, to see what he could do to help Ty.

When he entered the Command Center, the first thing he noticed was the complete chaos displayed on one of the monitors for the surface. Another, larger monitor showed a topographical map of the area outside the compound. The area occupied by the Marines was marked in Yellow, the compound itself was in Green, and there were two other areas that were marked off in a faint reddish color. One of those areas overlapped part of the Marine area.

“Hey Ty, What’s going on?” Alan asked.

“ETs coming back, and he’s pissed.” Ty pointed to the map. “There are two places we think they could deploy in. Of course, they could deploy just about anywhere, but these would be the most beneficial to them...”

Suddenly, the area in front of the compound, the one overlapping the Marines pulsed red and remained solid, and the other area faded out completely.

“...I guess that answers that. They’re coming down on top of your Marine friends out front. The weakest part of our shield is the front gate area, so that’s where they’ll concentrate the heavy fire power,” Ty said.

“Those Marines are going to be annihilated,” Alan said sadly.

“Maybe, I hadn’t planned it this way, but this landing area is also in the middle of the best covered area we have for heavy weapons emplacements. We’ll be able to help, but not a lot. The hardest part will be keeping our Marines from running out and helping them,” Ty said.

“Yeah, I can understand that, I’m one of them. I gave Colonel Petrie the rifles, and showed them how they work. We can hope that’ll be enough help to keep at least some of them alive. Can I call the Colonel and warn him about the Enemy LZ?” Alan asked, indicating the Landing Zone overlaying the Marine area.

Ty nodded. “Go ahead, I’m sure he believes you about the aliens by now.”

Alan snorted, “I don’t know about that, but he does believe we are getting attacked.” Alan put his hand on the shoulder of one of the two controllers in the room. “Can you patch me into the Marine’s Command frequency?”

The man nodded and typed in a command on his terminal, then pointed to Alan. Alan already knew he was on, because he could hear the communications on the channel. When it was over, He spoke, “Colonel Petrie, this is Smith. Those assholes are coming down right on top of you. I suggest you pull back toward the compound so we can give you more cover.”

“Smith! How the hell did you get this frequency? Never mind, yeah I can see where they’re landing. I was already ordering my troops into position to protect you. You all might want to think about getting the hell outta here, you know!” Petrie replied.

“Far too late for that, Colonel. There is also an airstrike in bound, but we are trying to stop them before they get into range. The Enemy you are facing could be human slaves, like I said, or they could be seven foot tall, blue, walking coat-rack looking things. Just as a warning, a head shot will only piss them off.”

“You still stuck on the Alien angle?” Petrie asked. “I thought you said this was a secret?”

“In a few seconds, Colonel, every one of you will know they aren’t human. Good luck.” Alan replied.

“Thanks Smith. Same to you,” he said. Alan had the controller cut him out of the channel.

“All units, this is Ty, No ground troops are to leave the shield! However, all fast attack craft are authorized to go out and harass the enemy in order to cover the Marines if they retreat to the shield. Do not let them in the shield, but cover them so they can get close.” Ty turned to his friend. “Alan, take Charlie-One and head out to the gate. When our folks need to come back in, it’ll be up to you to make sure only they get through.”

Charlie-one was a reference to Charlie Company, First platoon. The shield, at the gate, was one-way. Out-bound traffic could leave, but nothing could enter. Ty was asking Alan to go monitor the gate.

“On my way,” Alan said, and called the platoon to meet him at the front gate.

Six fast moving hover craft followed by six land rails sped out the front gate and circled around the Marines to engage the landing Caldarian strike force. The land rails, without orders, cut in front of the Marine lines, and dropped their small drones.

Those drones, immediately started making a maze of fox holes and trenches for the Marines. With six of them working the first set was completed quickly, and the marines ran forward to them. The drones moved back a hundred meters and began another set. On the floor and the sides of the fighting positions, the drones had placed explosives to destroy the small makeshift bunkers when the Marines had to fall back.

The fast moving vehicles caused so much damage to the landing forces that the assault ships themselves began trying to target the vehicles. One of the land rails was flipped over by a near miss, but its shield kept it from taking any serious damage. The crew flipped the buggy back on its wheels, got back in, and returned to the fight.

One of the Talos hover craft took several direct hits by the ships and exploded in a fireball. The remaining five hover craft shot in close to one of the ships and fired all their missiles into the open assault bay the troops were deploying out of. Three of them took hard hits on the way out, but otherwise made good their escape. The assault ship, didn’t fare as well. The missiles hit something important inside the ship, and it slammed into the ground hard. It slowly rolled a few degrees to the left as the troops it had been carrying picked themselves up and once again ran for the battle.

The troops being deployed were Caldarian, and they were vicious fuckers. The armor they wore protected the vital areas of their bodies, and a weak shield protected the rest. The Marines, opened fire on the invaders with their normal weapons, and quickly discovered how poorly those weapons worked. By the time the front line of Marines got the weapons Alan had brought out to them, the Caldarians were almost on top of them.

The Marines were good, there was no doubt about that. Faced with obviously non-human enemies, they still fought back with tenacity. Once the new rifles got to the front, it was almost like the Caldarians ran into a wall. While the Marines fought this strange enemy, the drones that had been dropped removed the wounded and dead back through the maze to the aide stations that had been set up.

The Marines actually stopped the Caldarians almost a hundred meters from the first row of trenches until the first of the Caldarian heavy weapons was unlimbered from the ships. Small, anti-personnel missiles started raining down on the trenches along with the grenades thrown by the Caldarian troops.

The small missiles, were actually like smart bullets, only targeting one person at a time, but once one locked on, it was very difficult to avoid getting hit. It distracted the Marines enough that the Caldarian troops could once again advance. Ten minutes into the fighting, and the US Marines had to pull back to the second position.

The drone guarding that section, waited until the Caldarian troops dropped into the vacated trench before detonating the explosives. The anti-personnel mines in the floor and walls shredded anything that had been unlucky enough to be anywhere near it. Not even the shields or the armor the Caldarians wore saved them. As the drone retreated after the Marines, it filled in the connecting trench.

Once it got back to the second position, it was joined by another drone and they quickly tried to create a roof over the fighting positions to protect the Marines. Drones, by themselves did not have the computing power for these tasks, One of the controllers in the Command Center had seen what the Land Rails had done, and took control of them. Ty didn’t say anything, just shook his head. “You might need a few more out there. Six drones are going to be hard pressed to keep up.” It was when those drones arrived that they began to handle the removal and recovery of the Marines casualties.

During all this fighting, a larger construction drone had slipped out of the front gate and quickly dug a place large enough for a command post for the Marines, a little further out, it dug a place for the aide station. Both of these places were hardened, and covered from all but heavy bombardment. It even hooked it into the community utilities and sanitary facilities.

Once they were finished, Alan told the Colonel and they quickly relocated to the new bunkers. “One of these days you’re going to have to tell me how you did all this shit! But for the time being, I’m damn glad you can!”

“Did what, Colonel? I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Alan said sarcastically.

“Heh, Okay, Smith. We’ll keep your secrets,” Petrie replied before signing off.

Since the troops had encountered more resistance than they had anticipated, the Caldarian assault commander ordered the landing ships to use their guns on the ground troops. The ship’s medium lasers blasted through ten feet of sand and rock in about second, the Marines that were hiding behind it didn’t last as long.

“Now that’s not nice at all! Carl, target those ships with the compound defense guns! I want them turned into salvage, now!” Ty ordered. “Be careful not to hit reactors, if one of those fuckers detonates out there, those Marines are history. Weapons and bridge only!”

“Get on the ground, Carl, and I’ll get a shield around them in case they self-destruct!” the other controller said. He was the one controlling the drones. He was typing furiously as he spoke.

Outside, all hell was breaking loose. From the top of the bluff directly behind the main compound, two mass drivers and a rocket launcher that had been built for air defense turned and opened up on the grounded assault ships. The ‘water tower’ for the community opened up revealing another of the mass drivers that also started firing. All told, two rocket launchers and four mass drivers opened up on the assault ships. Because of the range involved, the rocket launchers had to fire their missiles up into the sky so they would have time to arm themselves before turning to the targets. The attack most definitely took the Marines off the minds of those ship captains.

“Holy shit! Why didn’t he do that ten minutes ago!” Petrie asked, rhetorically. “Keep your heads down boys, and give ‘em hell!”

It didn’t take long for one of the ships to slam to the ground as its power failed. The Marines cheered, but were surprised when the drones that had been helping them all shot forward, dodging Marines and Caldarians, towards the crashed ship.

“Where the hell are they goin’?” one of the sergeants asked.

“Hell if I know, Sarge, but I hope they come back soon, we’re gonna need to move again,” was his answer.

The Marines expected the enemy to lose heart as their ships were destroyed, if anything, they fought harder, and became much more aggressive. When the third assault ship hit the ground, the last one tried to lift off again. It didn’t make it. Under the combined attack of all the base’s weapons, it took only a minute for them to eat through the shield. Once that was done, the mass drivers pealed the armor off the ship, and ate into the vital areas.

The Caldarians true to their history, did indeed destroy their ships. The shields that the drones built were opaque, and blocked the light from the explosions from escaping. However, it was clear to the Marines that had time to think about it, what had happened inside those strange looking bubbles.

The Caldarian hover tanks had moved up to provide cover for their troops. The Marines had been pulling back before those tanks made it to their lines, because there was little that they could do to the heavy machines. Ty’s remaining people on the hover sleds and land rails had been slowly working on those tanks, but it was slow going, since they had been designed to take a beating.

As proof of the fine line between bravery and stupidity, two Marines stayed in one of the trenches and waited for one of the enemy tanks to float over their position. The two men set their new rifles to full auto, and fired them into the belly of the craft, from underneath.

Although both men took horrendous wounds from the attack, the rifles blasted through the lightly armored belly and broke through into the operator’s compartment, killing the operator, and in effect, the machine. The tank dropped to the ground, right on top of the two men that had killed it. Luckily it was straddling the trench, and didn’t crush them. Two drones recovered them before the Caldarians that were rushing forward could get there and kill them. As they passed through the other Marines, they were cheered as heroes. The detonation of the trench flipped the tank back over onto its own troops, crushing six of them.

Colonel Petrie ordered his Sergeants Major to call for immediate resupply and reinforcements shortly after the battle started. When the Sergeants Major asked why, the officer said it was necessary to keep curious eyes from falling on the community that was keeping them alive.

The Sergeants Major smiled and nodded. “I’ll make sure everything is covered, Sir.” Officers could be a funny lot, but the Sergeants Major liked this one. He knew when to keep his mouth shut. He immediately put together a list of what would need to be done in order to make it look like they had been fighting using their own resources and supplies. He formed the plan and made it work.

The resupply drops took an hour and a half to get to them. Their reinforcements took two hours, since the response was a lot larger than anticipated. The Marines had to scramble to get all the advanced weapons off the field before the new troops arrived.

There had been a satellite monitoring the action, but both Star and Mathias had been censoring it to hide the advanced weaponry. Considering what was going on in space, Ty was surprised that the two AI had the time to do that.

Luke and Elias quickly got their crews busy and built makeshift buildings outside the gate to use as aide stations, and a mess hall. One of the buildings had been placed over the top of the command center the drones had dug, and all the Marines dropped the advanced rifles there so everything could be destroyed at once.

While Ty was getting his people changed back into Earth combat uniforms, the scientists and their helpers were busy making everything in their areas capable of passing an inspection by government investigators. The larger weapons systems that couldn’t be lowered into the ground, were camouflaged to look like something else. The guns and rocket launchers on the top of the bluff turned into two observatories and an atmospheric/weather research station. The gun in the water tower, turned back into a water tower.

Three construction drones, with cloaking modifications done to them, recovered all the mines that had been placed. By the time the ‘reinforcements’ arrived to relieve the Marines, the fighting was over, and everything looked normal.

Alan met Colonel Petrie and his staff in their newly rebuilt command tent.

“How bad is it, Colonel?” Alan asked by way of greeting.

“Not as bad as it could have been, ‘Agent Smith’,” the Colonel replied. “Who are you folks, really? There is no way in hell you’re DARPA or anything else associated with the US Government.”

“What makes you ask that, Colonel?” Alan asked innocently.

One of the other officers snorted, and two others chuckled. The Sergeants Major chuckled. “Son, remind me never to play poker with you.”

Alan smiled back. “I don’t play cards anymore, Sergeant Major, it’s no fun when you always win.” He turned to the Colonel. “If you’re still here when everything calms down, I’ll give you folks a tour and tell you everything. Until then, I am to express our very sincere gratitude at keeping our secrets.”

“What are you going to do about the dead aliens?” Colonel Petrie asked.

“Leave them. I’m sure the government will want something to study. Unfortunately, all of their weapons got destroyed beyond any hope of salvage, but I’m sure they’ll still try,” Alan replied, smiling innocently.

“So that’s what those gizmos were doing. We had been wondering. I can understand leaving the bodies, but why destroy the weapons?” one of the other men said. He wore the rank of Captain, and his name tag read ‘Thompson’.

“One of our goals is to make sure no one government on the planet gets advanced weaponry to use against the other. That’s the reason we set the rifles we gave you to self-destruct after a set amount of time. We want to make life on this planet better, not worse. If you discover how to do it on your own, that’s a different matter, but we will do everything we can in order to ensure none of our weapons or those of the aliens fall into governmental hands.

“Right now, up in Wyoming, Colorado and parts of Nebraska, we have people and equipment recovering the downed craft from the airstrike that was coming here. Our fighters managed to shoot them all down before they got into range. Just so you know, a flight of fighter craft from Peterson Air Force base was also shot down. Only two of the pilots managed to survive, and neither of them are in very good condition.” Alan finished. Further conversation was stopped by the arrival of a two star General.

The Guard yelled attention, and everyone in the tent, except Alan came to attention as the burly man entered and walked up to the Colonel, who saluted. “Welcome to New Mexico, General.”

“Thanks, Colonel. You know, you could have saved some for us!” the man smiled.

Colonel Petrie smiled. “Sorry Sir, they were a bit insistent about wanting to die, so being good Marines, we obliged them.”

The General chuckled. “Well done and very good work. Fighting aliens with advanced weaponry couldn’t have been easy. Rest assured that this battle will be studied intimately so we can learn what to do if we need to do this again. Who is the Civilian?”

“Sir, may I introduce Agent Smith of DARPA. I don’t know if you’re familiar with our original mission out here or not...” Petrie said, but the General stopped him.

“Yes I am, the Agent that doesn’t exist overseeing the project that doesn’t exist. I’m sure by the end of this day, this battle won’t exist either. I saw the buildings and whatnot being worked on out there. Is that you’re doing, Agent?” the General asked.

Now that he was facing Alan, he could read the man’s name tag. The first thing Alan noticed was that he was an Army General, not a Marine. His name was Keller and the unit patch was for the eighty-second airborne strategic assault team.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you General. Yes, the head of the operation thought it would be helpful to get the construction teams out here and get some places built to help with wounded and other needs for the troops. I think he was talking about dragging some empty trailers they had out here for makeshift hospitals,” Alan replied. “They are planning on making some helicopter landing areas as well.”

Keller was nodding his head. “Damn helpful, please tell him thank you for the assistance. Now, can someone please tell me what the sam-hell happened out here? Why would aliens travel across the fuckin’ galaxy just to come down here and get their asses handed to them by a battalion of Marines?”

Alan snorted. “Honestly General, I have no flippin’ idea. We’re not working on anything that earth-shattering. I would have expected one of the oil companies to attack us, but Aliens? Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Why would the oil companies attack you?” Keller asked.

“Well, most of the research being done here is new power systems. My part of the pie is the possible military applications we might exploit out of it. But, if they get this working on a larger scale, the oil companies are going to be going out of business,” Alan explained. “When you’re ready, I can show you what’s going on in there.”

“There’s no time like the present. I need to make a report to Washington soon, and it would be a great help if I can tell them what I saw,” Keller replied.

Alan put his hand to his ear, to show he was calling someone. “Control, this is Smith, I need a couple of passenger carts out at the Marine command tent. There is a General here that would like to see what we’re doing in there.”

“They’re on their way, Alan. Make sure you avoid building twelve until the last, they’re still getting everything set up,” Carl replied from the command center.

“That’ll be fine, Control. Thank you, Smith out,” Alan replied. He looked at the General. “We’ll have a couple of go-carts out front in a couple of minutes, General.”

The man nodded. “Is anything in there dangerous, Agent Smith?”

“Only in building twelve Sir, we’ll be stopping by that building last since they are still inspecting it to make sure nothing was damaged,” Alan replied. “There is a large hydrogen production and storage facility in there.”

“Ah, I understand. I take it then that the research being done here is based on hydrogen as an alternative fuel source?” Keller asked.

“Not exactly Sir. Hydrogen is a viable alternative to fossil fuels, however, production, and storage, both after production as well as when it’s in the vehicle are an issue. Most of what goes on here is along those lines. Imagine filling a tank with twenty-five gallons of water, and maybe have to add more in a year or two,” Alan explained. A beep from outside let them know the carts had arrived, and the tour was on.

Chapter 17

Approximately forty thousand feet

Wyoming, USA

Earth, Sol system

Earlier, just before the Caldarian landings at Talos began, Ghost Squadron was heading for intercept of the Caldarian fighters and bombers. On their way north, they caught up to a flight of F-22 Raptors heading for the same place.

“Corvis, let me try to talk to these guys, maybe I can warn them to stay back a little,” Ghost Three, Fireball, asked.

“You can’t honestly believe it’ll do any good, do you?” Corvis replied.

“No, but it’s worth trying. I can catch up to you guys when I’m done,” Fireball replied. “Please Sir? I used to fly with these guys. I know their families.”

Corvis sighed. Sometimes he really hated command. “Okay, but you can’t let them know who you are, and you need to make sure no one on the ground can hear you. If they turn on you, get the hell out of there. You have two minutes, after that, we’re going to need you out front.”

“Roger, Ghost Three, breaking formation. Be back before you know it.” With that, Fireball dropped out of formation, and flew to the Raptors. He dropped in beside the lead plane. Reading the name under the cockpit, he smiled. It was his old flight leader.

Setting up the comm, he made sure that only this wing could hear him. “Banshee Four-Three, this is TDF Ghost-Three. You guys are heading for a serious ass-whooping.”

“Who is this? Get off this frequency right fucking now!” Colonel Johnson, A.K.A. Banshee Four-Three, replied.

“Colonel, look to your left.” Fireball said.

“Holy SHIT!” the veteran pilot said. “Who the hell are you?”

“I actually can’t tell you that, Sir. But I meant what I said. The targets you are chasing are alien fighter craft. I know you’re proud of the Raptors, but you are way out-classed here. They will blow you out of the sky, and not even slow down. We need you to keep your distance, and let us handle this,” Fireball said.

“Who is ‘us’? And why does your voice sound familiar?” the Colonel asked.

“We are a top secret agency that protects Earth from this type of threat. The rest of my wing has already gone ahead, but I stayed back to try to warn you. If you engage those ships, you will die. It’s that simple Sir.”

Bishop? What the hell are you doing up here flying something like that?” one of the other pilots asked.

“Sorry, I don’t have time to explain any better, I need to get back to my wing. Please Colonel, think about what I said. With that, Fireball pushed his throttle forward, and shot ahead of the fighters so quickly that he was out of their sight in seconds.

“Bishop, wait!” Colonel Johnson called.

“Banshee flight! Come in Banshee flight!” the radio suddenly came back to life.

“This is Banshee Four-Three, what’s up, Command?” Johnson replied, looking ahead, trying to catch a glimpse of the strange craft that had been beside him.

“You disappeared for a few seconds there. It must have been a malfunction. Good to know your still out there,” the controller said.

“We didn’t go anywhere, Control.” He paused. “Say, are the hostiles still the only targets on your scopes?”

“Affirmative, Banshee. Isn’t that enough for you?” Control asked.

“No, they’re plenty. I was just making sure we don’t get surprised by anything,” Colonel Johnson replied.

“Aren’t you going to tell them what just happened, Sir?” his wingman asked over the plane to plane radio.

“What’s to tell them? They wouldn’t believe me anyway,” Johnson replied. “When Bishop was with us, he was a good pilot, and usually knew what he was talking about. We still have to go check this out, but be careful, let no one get too stupid. Copy?”

He got five replies, and felt a little better. He was certain that no one else knew it, but the Colonel had heard that ‘Bishop’ had passed away three months ago in a car accident. The warning the man delivered haunted him like a message from the grave.

"Ghost Three returning to wing," Fireball reported as he accelerated to catch up.

“Just in time, Fireball.” Corvis then addressed the whole wing. “Okay, boys and girls, this is the real deal. Arm all weapons, and raise shields heavy front. The bad guys are still twenty thousand feet above us, so we’ll come up from under them, and blow them to hell. Execute in fifteen seconds. The Bombers are the primary target, everything else is dessert. G’due Vreen everyone!” Covis said, wishing everyone good luck in Talosian.

Although in the atmosphere of a planet like Earth, the laser weapons had a diminished range, the Caldarians were still well in range of Ghost Squadron’s lasers, however, they didn’t fire them for one simple reason, they didn’t want to shoot down the missiles they all launched at the bombers.

The Caldarians couldn’t detect the fighters of Ghost Squadron, but they could detect the missiles. Once those deadly weapons left the racks, the Caldarian fighters reacted quickly. They immediately broke formation, and moved to put themselves between the inbound missiles and the bombers they were locked onto.

The move did manage to break the locks of a good share of the missiles but enough of them got through, simply flying around the enemy fighters, to cause considerable armor damage to two of the four bombers. It wasn’t enough to make them turn back, but it would make killing them easier later. The rest of the missiles switched targets to the fighters, and the fight was on. Three missiles managed to impact the shields on their targets but did little physical damage. The rest of the missiles were either lured off by counter measures, or shot down by another fighter.

Lasers blasting away, Ghost Squadron flew through the enemy formation, so closely that, for a moment, they could all see each other. It was enough of a frustration for the Caldarians, that they broke formation to pursue this new enemy. It was shortly after that they discovered that they could not get a lock on the strange craft. On the heels of this discovery, they also realized one other very important fact.

They had left the bombers unprotected.

Ghost Squadron flipped around and, on the next pass, blew two of the larger ships out of the sky. From there, the melee quickly degenerated into a straight up dog fight, with the last two bombers trying to sneak away to complete their mission. They hadn’t gotten very far when they ran into something that actually delayed them for a moment – Banshee flight had caught up.

The reason Banshee delayed the bombers was because the bombers thought it was another squadron of super ship like the ones that had drawn off their fighters. Because of earlier battle damage, and expecting to be destroyed at any second, the two heavy ships dove for the planet. When they did, they presented the hot plasma exhaust from their engines to the heat seeking missiles carried by the US Air Force Raptors.

Banshee flight dove after the two fleeing enemy ships, if for no other reason than to keep track of them. However, when they got a lock on the two craft, the fighters launched sixteen AMRAAM IV air to air missiles.

Under normal circumstances, the missiles would have done no damage to the bombers. However, both of the Caldarian ships had sustained moderate to heavy damage in the earlier combat. The first two or three missiles did little more than finish destroying the aft shields, but the rest of the missiles, either through luck or because of previous damage, managed to destroy the engines in both ships. One of the ships took enough damage to overload its reactor, causing it to detonate, which in turn set off the warheads they were carrying.

Luckily, the EMP emitted by the explosions did, relatively, very little damage; however, several people on the ground were blinded and a few badly burned by the high-altitude blasts. There was extensive damage to crops and livestock. The state of Wyoming, parts of Nebraska, Colorado, and Montana lost all unshielded electronics, resulting in a multi-state power outage.

Of the fighters of Banshee flight, none of them returned to base. Colonel Johnson died when his fighter blew up from the heat of the initial blast. A couple of the other pilots managed to eject before their ships exploded, but only three made it to the ground alive, and one of them died on the way to a hospital. The other two were blind and severely burned. Another died three days later from radiation sickness. But the last pilot somehow stayed alive.

While Banshee flight turned to pursue the two bombers, Ghost squadron was finishing up with the last of the fighters. Fireball and Hera disengaged the fighters to go after the bombers. They didn’t get very far before the bombers exploded. Of the pilots that had eject, only one of their chutes actually deployed, and that pilot was already dead.

The two Talosian fighters ‘caught the other two pilots, and made sure they made it to the ground in a place where they would be quickly recovered. Then they returned to the rest of the wing. With the fighters and bombers destroyed, Ghost squadron wanted to go after the carrier, but their base was still under attack.

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

As the attack on Talos began, Ian silently wished them luck and looked to see where he could hit the Caldarians again.

“How is the shell game doing?” he asked.

“It is certainly causing the enemy no end of heartburn. They’ve gotten more cautious, and at the first sign of trouble they have taken to backing off to see if they can figure out where the weapons are. I think they’ve figured out that what’s hitting them are drones, but that doesn’t lessen the damage they are taking,” the tech answered.

Ian grinned. “Shut down ‘shell game’ at the end of the next attack. Wait thirty minutes, then light up the whole system for ten minutes, then shut it all down again. During the fireworks, bring Cobalt home.”

“Yes Sir. So far, there has been no response from the Super Nova,” Chloe informed him.

“Be thankful for that. Once that big bitch gets involved, a lot of people are going to die, we want them to sit it out as long as possible,” Ian replied.

“That we do Sir,” Chloe replied.

‘Sir, one of the carriers is preparing to jump. Confirmed, jump point is forming... exit point forming a hundred thousand kilometers to port!” One of the techs said.

“Fuck! That’s going to complicate things. All wings stand by to launch. Gun and missile crews to the ready!” Ian replied. “Hold fire and passive lock until we see what they are up too.”

“Understood Sir,” Chloe replied. “Shields?”

Ian shook his head. “No, they can detect those. Let’s just see what they’re doing first. It could be that they were sent here just to make sure the ‘wrecked hulk’ has nothing to do with the shit going on in the system.”

“What if they decide to just go ahead and blow it away and eliminate the possibility?” Eischens asked.

“Then we blow them out of the sky as quickly as possible, and hope the Super Nova doesn’t notice,” Ian replied. It was clear he didn’t have that much faith in the big ship not noticing the destruction of yet another of its carriers.

“It might work, we are obscured from the Super Nova for another week,” Eischens replied, but was very skeptical.

“Where are our fighters?” Ian said glancing back to the big holo-tank.

“In route to the jump point. If that carrier is still here, they won’t be able to land without the base being seen,” Chloe said.

Ian was silent for a minute, thinking. “Okay, light up the drones again when those fighters get back here. The fighters can scrap the carrier, before the base lets them land. That should maintain cover.”

“Sir, we don’t have any drones that close, won’t the attack be noticed?” One of the techs asked.

“Only if the Caldarians know where we put all the drones. You didn’t tell them, did you, Ensign?” Ian asked.

The tech blushed. “No Sir.”

“There ya go, then. The enemy will think it’s just more of the same,” Ian said grinning.

“Carrier is emerging,” the tech that first reported it said. “Its shields are up, but none of its weapons are armed yet. Target is at eighty thousand kilometers and closing.”

“That’s going to make things interesting if we have to scrap it. Just before the attack, raise the shields for both the moon base as well as us, but make sure they get lowered again as soon as it’s safe to do so afterward. Tell our gunners that they can play too, but make damn sure of their target. At this range, we could easily blast the moon base before the rounds self-destruct.”

“Oh! I forgot! Chloe, could you pipe one of the nose cam feeds from a Shadow, down to engineering? I promised Chief Dommer he would be able to see one of the mass drivers in operation,” Ian said.

“Feed available on Combat Twenty, Sir.” Chloe said tapping out commands on her tablet.

“Thanks, Major,” Ian said, and touched his comm. “Command to Engineering.”

“Engineering here, what can we do for you, Commander?” Chief Dommer’s voice replied.

“Just fulfilling a forgotten promise, Chief. If you set a monitor to Combat Twenty, you should have a gun view from one of the mass drivers mounted on a Shadow fighter,” Ian explained.

“I knew you forgot it Sir, but I also knew you were kinda busy. Thank you for remembering,” Dommer replied.

“It’s a quiet feed right now, Chief. But they will be scrapping a carrier in the next few minutes, so you should get to see some of the fun at least. They are everything you said they would be, and more. I’m sure you will be impressed,” Ian said, before shutting down the comm channel.

Ian sighed. “Major Eischens, Something is really bothering me.”

“This was far too easy?” Eischens replied.

Ian nodded. “It doesn’t make sense, every sim I ran said we should be dead by now. What are we missing?”

Eischens shook his head. “Nothing I can see, Sir. The only thing I can think of is the Caldarian Commander is grossly incompetent, or their tech is actually worse than it was four thousand years ago.”

“Let’s think about this, why did the Super Nova come in on the vector that it did? If it was coming from the area that was occupied by the Caldarians, then it should have had a different approach vector...”

The younger Eischens had been listening. “The approach vector it used leads to deep space, Sir. Intergalactic deep space.”

“Intergalactic?” Ian asked rhetorically. “What the hell are they doing out there? Could they have come in from another galaxy?”

“Unlikely Sir. With current hyperspace propulsion technology, minimum transit time is over a thousand years in relative time. Either they have a new type of jump engine, a better temporal compensator, or they are really old.”

“Could this be the ship that the freighters were jumping to?” Ian asked. “They were a rendezvous point away from hostile space? That explanation seems more likely than any of the others.”

Major Eischens shook his head. “Not really, Sir. If that were the case, it seems to me they wouldn’t risk exposing their operation like that. Another ship would have been sent. Based on the available evidence, sometime in the last forty-five hundred years, the Caldarians got their asses handed to them, and they fled to another galaxy using new jump engines that we had no knowledge of. Since then, they have been returning to this galaxy to collect supplies instead of searching for them in the new galaxy. It could also explain their lack of technological advances.”

“Sir, Cobalt will be in range in ten minutes. We will be activating the drones in nine minutes, thirty seconds,” one of the techs said over her shoulder.

“Thank you, proceed as planned.” Ian turned back to Major Eischens. “Could it be that this is the last Caldarian ship? If we destroy them, will we be committing genocide?”

Eischens shrugged. “There’s simply no way to know anything for certain at this point, Sir. We just don’t have enough information. But I do know that we cannot assume they are the last of their kind. There would have had to be some civilians alive, even if their military was utterly defeated. All that aside, we have the right to defend ourselves, even if doing so, removes the Caldarian race from the universe.”

Ian frowned. “I know, and I agree, it still just doesn’t sit well with me.”

“If they did flee the galaxy, perhaps they simply didn’t want to risk losing more than one of these super ships,” Chloe suggested. “If they have to return here and take hydrocarbons from our world as sustenance, I would be willing to wager that they no longer have the ability to produce this class of ship anymore.”

Ian thought about that for a time, then shook his head. “Well, we may not understand their motivation, but these guys are not acting like typical Caldarians. They still out gun us, so we’ll continue as we have for the time being. In the meantime, let’s try to collect as much information as we can on them.”

After the attack that destroyed the carrier near the moon, all the carriers in the system returned to the Super Nova and docked. Ian grinned when he saw how many empty births there were on the outside of the ship.

Cobalt flight returned and very quickly destroyed the carrier. It didn’t launch fighters, and Ian wondered if it had any left. A couple of the carriers had lost all their fighters in the earlier attacks. Once Cobalt flight finished with the Carrier, they landed on the moon without problem.

The entire system was quiet after that, the big ship simply sat there, and it didn’t appear to be doing anything.

“Huh, now that’s odd. I never expected them to pull everything back, then just sit there. What are they waiting for?” Ian asked.

Major Eischens agreed with him. “This is definitely not what I thought to expect from a Caldarian Commander. I would say things have really gone though some changes since our books were written.”

“Well, if they’re going to be quiet for a while, would someone get a report on Talos?” Ian asked. An aide brought him a tablet of his own, and he began reading.

Surprisingly enough, the US Marines held the Caldarians back without losing too many people. However, Ian credited the questionable decision of Ty Anders to put advanced weapons in the hands of United States troops. At least the ploy seemed to work for him, when the unit returned all the rifles. Now all they had to worry about was everyone keeping their mouths shut about all the advanced tech that Ty had exposed them too.

Ian wasn’t happy with Ty’s decision, but he could understand it, and he did tell him to do whatever he needed to do to keep the people safe, and he did exactly that. Finishing the report, Ian noticed that Ty had other, secondary motives for letting the cat out of the bag with the Marines. Recruitment, and well as a ‘protection’ against further Governmental interference. Ty said that having the trust and understanding of the Marines, would go a long way in keeping the rest of the government out of their hair.

Ian could only hope Ty knew what he was doing. Ian was completely unfamiliar with the military mind and how it worked, but Ty was ‘one’ of them. Ian had to admit that, so far, it seemed to be working very well.

Chapter 18

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

Due to the vagaries of space travel, and the effects of relativity in normal space, what few battles that did take place over the next week were long and drawn out. However, for the most part, it was eerily quiet. The Caldarians seemed to pull back into the big ship, and simply wait.

Ian and company took advantage of the lull to repair or replace the drones lost or damaged in the first round of battles, and get more fighters upgraded or built. They still had to be careful, because whenever something unshielded took place, the Caldarians did respond by jumping a carrier out to see what was going on.

The defenses around Earth were added to, and Talos refitted two of their three Centurions with the new enigma armor. By the request of the corporation running Talos, the Marines that had protected them were left there to ensure the community’s security until the reasons for the attack could be discovered.

Ian finally understood what Ty had been doing by taking the Marines into his confidence when the request was approved. Stipulations required the Community to agree to supply the unit with utilities during their stay. Of course, Luke readily agreed to that stipulation since most of that was already being done.

Ty did request permission to have the Marines fitted for armor and to train them in Talosian and Caldarian tactics. He also requested that Ian come down to the Community to meet with the commander of the Marines, Colonel Petrie.

“Command to Ops,” Ian called over the comm.

“Ops here,” Chloe Brighton replied.

“I have need to travel down to Talos for a quick visit. Do you think Talena could give me a ride down in her new Shadow fighter?” Ian asked.

After a pause, the Operations Chief replied. “Yes Sir, she is available. Do you think it’s advisable to leave the ship at this time?”

“It’s important, Chloe. I wouldn’t ask otherwise,” Ian replied.

“Understood, Commander. Issuing the alert for a special patrol to the flight commander and her wing mate. Orders will be ready by the time you get to Alpha launching bay. Safe flight, Commander,” Chloe replied. Ian could tell she wasn’t happy about him leaving the ship, but she wouldn’t argue with him over it. Jenny, however, did.

He was halfway through changing into his flight suit when Jenny entered the ready room. “Ian, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I need to go down to Talos for a couple of hours. Ty wants me to meet a couple new allies, and it’s very important that I do so,” Ian explained.

“The Marine commanders? Ian, Ty and those commanders both should know how dangerous it is for you to go anywhere at the moment. They’ll understand if you waited until the Caldarians leave,” Jenny said.

Ian sighed and looked at her as he fastened the closure on the front of the suit. “Jenny, you can run things just as well as I can; you know everything going on, and you know how I want everything to go. These men are violating an oath to the United States Government in order to keep us safe. For Marines, that is a very big thing and completely unheard of. If they want to meet me, they are entitled to. I’m going, and that the end of it.”

Jenny pursed her lips and sighed deeply through her nose. She was clearly unhappy, but he had given her an order, and she could not argue any further. “If you get your ass shot off, I’ll never speak to you again!”

“I’m riding down with Talena in her Shadow with her wingman as an escort. I’ll be fine; just let me know immediately if there is any change with our guests,” Ian replied.

“That you can count on!” Jenny replied. “Cindy is acting CAG (Commander, Air Group) then?”

Ian nodded. “She is the second in line. It’ll give both of you some time in the saddle during combat.”

“Well, there are about twenty shuttle loads of supplies to go down as well, why don’t we load up a couple of shuttles and you can escort those down. That way, we can kill two birds,” Jenny suggested.

“Get them to hurry. I want to get this done and get back as soon as I can,” Ian replied. Jenny nodded once and left the room. Ian sealed his boots to the flight suit and headed for fighter country.

When Ian entered the pilot’s ready room, Talena and two of her pilots were there, suited up and waiting for him. He could tell she wasn’t happy about him leaving the ship, but she was excited to get out and fly.

“Slight change in plans, we’re going to be escorting a couple of shuttles down to Talos. They’re loading them right now, and we should be ready in a few minutes,” Ian said.

“What do we need to take down that they can’t make for themselves?” One of the pilots asked.

Ian shrugged. “I have no idea, but these loads have been waiting until it was safe to move them. Since I needed to go down, the XO thought it would be a good excuse to send this stuff as well. I only worry about blowing stuff up, logistics isn’t my job.”

They all got a chuckle out of that. While they waited, Talena took Ian off to the side to speak to him privately. “I know you’ve probably been grilled about this already, so I’m only asking for my own curiosity. Is this a good time for you to be leaving the ship? What if the Caldarians decide this is the time for an all-out attack?”

“That’s why I asked for you to take me down, you and the protection of your Shadow fighters. It is important that I go down right now, because we have a couple of new allies that Ty asked me to meet. These guys are protecting the community down there. If they want to meet me, than I will do what I can to accommodate them,” Ian explained.

“The Planetary Marines? I didn’t think it was safe to let them in on the secret?” Talena asked.

“Ty made the call, and he knows them better than I do. If it had been up to me, no, I wouldn’t have trusted them. But Ty seems to have them convinced of our mission, and he tells me they’re trustworthy,” Ian replied.

Talena nodded. “Ty is a good man. I don’t know him very well, but from what I’ve seen, he knows what he’s doing. Thank you for explaining it to me, you know we’ll protect you no matter what.”

“I know sweetheart,” Ian replied.

She glanced up at the ready board, and grinned. “Okay Foxbat,” she said using the other pilot’s call sign. “Let’s get the birds preflighted – we’re on deck!”

Talena quickly and efficiently performed a preflight inspection of the fighter and showed Ian what she was doing at the same time. Then she went over to talk to the four pilots that would be flying the two shuttles. As flight leader, Talena was in command of the trip, and she wanted to make sure the pilots knew what to expect if something went wrong.

“Shouldn’t the Commander ride with one of us?” one of the shuttle pilots asked.

Talena shook her head. “If you were the enemy commander, and you caught us out in the open, two fighters escorting two cargo shuttles, what would be your primary target?”

The other pilot nodded his head. “The shuttles. I would think there must be something important on these shuttles in order to justify an escort. I would work to draw off or destroy the fighters, then take out the shuttles.”

“Exactly,” Talena replied. “Besides, I think he really wants to ride in one of the new birds.”

“Can’t argue with that,” the first pilot said. “I want to ride in one too!”

“Okay, let get this show on the road. Remember, cloak as soon as you are clear of the air skin.” She indicated the slightly glowing field that covered the opening to space. Cloaking before going through it would disrupt the shield and kill everyone in the bay when it depressurized.

“Will do, Captain,” the second pilot replied. “Lead on.”

Talena nodded and jogged back to her fighter and Ian. “Let’s go, Boss.”

The two Shadow fighters lifted off the deck, and flew out of the bay first. The larger shuttles had to exit one at a time since they were larger. Once everyone was out, they formed up and headed for the planet. Ian admired the view he didn’t get to see very often.

“Gods I miss this. I wish I could get out and fly more often,” Ian said to Talena conversationally.

“I know. It affects me the same way every time I launch. I will have a hard time if I ever get promoted out of a flight position. I’ve even considered refusing promotion so I can stay out here,” Talena replied.

“If I had been born into the society you were, Talena, I would still be just a pilot myself. I do envy you this,” Ian said softly.

“Perhaps you would be, Ian. But there is a something special about you. You were born to Command. Yes, you are an excellent pilot, but I think you are exactly where you are meant to be. We’d all be dead by now if anyone else was in command. You’re the one that’s keeping us alive,” Talena answered. “Even in the Talosian culture I was born into, you would be at least a flight leader, by now. Maybe even a Wing Commander.”

“You’re my Wing Commander, Talena. You’re doing a good job too.”

“Yes, I am. However, I’m not actually qualified for it. This position should be held by a seasoned combat pilot, someone that knows what it’s like to command people in combat, understands the intricacies of small craft space and atmospheric battles. All I know is theory, I have no experience, and am very worried I’ll make a mistake that will get some of my people killed,” Talena admitted. “I’m only your Wing Commander because I’m the only person that has gone through the flight academy.”

“Talena, do you know why you got promoted from Lieutenant to Captain?” Ian asked.

“Because I needed the rank in order to hold the position of Wing Commander. It should actually be held by a Major or Colonel.”

“No, I was content to leave you as a Lieutenant. John Harris put you in for it,” Ian admitted.

“Really? Why?” the young woman asked.

“I can’t remember the exact wording he used, but he said that in all his years in flight operations command, he has never seen anyone with a better understanding of the position and duties required of a Wing Commander. He said that you perform the duties required of you without letting the power of the position go to your head. You maintain a position of comradery with your fellow pilots while maintaining the respect due your position. As soon as we get up to full strength as a fighter wing, you will once again be promoted to the rank of Major. The orders are already signed, and Star has recorded them,” Ian explained.

“I thought we were up to strength? I mean, we are still rotating pilots out to the moon base, but we have all the pilots we’re supposed to have, don’t we?” Talena asked.

“Yes we are, but that is a recent thing, and we’ve had no time for a promotion ceremony. So, you should probably start thinking about finding a replacement for Gold Squadron flight leader, Major. Because you’ll be commanding all the fighters.”

“Cindy would be my choice, but I think she’s getting pretty attached to her people in Silver Squadron. I’ll give it some thought, Ian,” Talena said. “...and Ian?”


“Thank you for telling me,” Talena said. “I thought I was only doing this job until you found someone better.”

“Nope, there is no one better, you’re it.”

“What about Mystic? He was a flight leader in the Navy,” Talena asked.

“You don’t want to be the Wing Commander? I mean, we never really asked you, we just assumed...” Ian started.

“Yes! I want the job, I’m just thinking there are other people more qualified,” she replied.

“Lieutenant Michaels, Mystic, hasn’t even been recommended for promotion. When we were looking for new flight leaders, we looked at him. John said he already talked to the man about it. Mystic refused the offer for the time being. John told me that the Navy pilots all agreed that there was simply too much difference between space flight, and atmospheric flight for them to feel comfortable accepting a leadership position yet.” They continued to talk until it was time to land, the flight was otherwise uneventful.

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

Combat location: Eden

As proof that he couldn’t surprise anyone, Ty and Luke were standing in the shielded passengers lounge with two other people dressed in the desert camo uniforms of US Marines. Ian left his helmet on since they were still in the bay.

“We’ll be ready to lift again in a couple of minutes, Sir. I’ll keep the flight on alert, so no one wanders too far away,” Talena replied.

“This is going to take an hour or two, why don’t you let them go to visit anyone they want to here, but make sure they can get back here quickly,” Ian suggested.

“Okay, what about the shuttles?” she asked.

“Traffic for the ship only, but hold them until they can return with us,” Ian said, then noticed someone get off one of the shuttles in question. He wasn’t too surprised to see Janet Laskar, wearing a ground crew headset, walking toward him, smiling.

Excusing himself from Talena, Ian met her half way, and together they walked to the passenger lounge. “Why am I not surprised to see you here?” Ian asked.

“A little birdie told me you’d need me here today, so I hitched a ride on one of the shuttles,” Janet winked at him. “Relax about the Marines, Ty made the right call. I’m here to tell you that, and to reassure you about something else that’ll be suggested.”

“What?” Ian asked.

“To allow the Colonel’s father-in-law to come here. He’s the man in charge of the US Space Command,” Janet replied.

Ina was so shocked he stopped and looked at her. “A high ranking member of the United States Military? Are you serious?”

“Yes, I am. He will be very important to us in the coming days. Eventually, he will become a ship’s Commander, but that’s not for a while yet,” Janet replied, still grinning. “Ian, have I ever told you something that wasn’t true?”

“Well, no, but this?” Ian said, seriously. “Janet, this is really hard to believe.”

“I know, but it’s also important. The man has met, and is on a first name basis with a lot of other, high-ranking, foreign military leaders. This will give us a more diverse membership, and be a very important factor when the UN becomes involved. We will still be accused of being a US force, but the UN will see, and understand, that we truly are not, because of the number of other countries citizens we’ll have in our ranks.

“We already have made good progress in recruiting foreigners, but not so much in the military, and that’s what will make the difference. We need this Admiral, Ian. Otherwise the whole house of cards will collapse,” Janet said. “This is what I’ve come to call a ‘key event’. It’s right up there with Oly finding you, recruiting Elias and his company, and Ty’s SEAL team joining us. This has to happen, Ian.”

Ian nodded, and let out a breath he hadn’t known he had been holding. He turned and the pair resumed their walk to the lounge. “Okay, I do trust you, Janet. I always have.” Ian said before opening the door for Janet.

Ty and the Marines all came to attention when Ian walked into the room. Ian said ‘as you were’ more out of a force of habit than anything else. Ian removed his helmet, and the two Marines were obviously surprised to see he was so young.

“Commander Williams, may I present to you Colonel James Petrie and Major Alfonse Taylor, of the United States Marines. Gentlemen, this is our military leader, Commander Ian Williams of the Talosian Defense Forces.”

Ian shook hands with the men, but it was Colonel Petrie that spoke first. “Colonel Anders told us you were young, but I wasn’t expecting you to be this young, Sir.”

Ian nodded his head. “I can well understand that, Colonel. I turned nineteen last week. I was given this position because of genetics originally. I listen to a lot of advice, and try to make the best decisions I can. Luckily, we have a lot of good people in positions of authority, Like Colonel Anders, and Governor Belden.”

Petrie nodded. “Ty made sure to explain how everything here works, and everything that’s happened so far. I have to say, I have a whole battalion of Marines that would sign up now if we could. Especially after what Ty and your people here have done for us. We all understand that you could have just as easily kept your secrets to yourselves and let us die in our arrogance.”

“Arrogance?” Ian asked.

“When Agent... uh, Mister Carlson first told me about what might happen, I thought he was off his nut. Even when they were about to attack, I still didn’t believe him, and I was sure we could handle anything, after all, we ARE the United States Marines, the best and most advanced fighting force on the planet.

“If not for the rifles they supplied, and the other help, we would all be dead. Even with your help, I still lost twelve, and have twenty-one more seriously wounded. I understand even that much help went against your standing orders not to let advanced technology out, but I’m very glad they disobeyed those orders.”

Ian nodded. “I am too, but you have to admit, a lot of other commanders would have reported us immediately, and we’d have been forced to abandon this base. Thank you for keeping our secret, Colonel. That goes for all of your men too.”

“Yeah, all my instincts are telling me to report what I’ve seen, but that would be a mistake. We’d lose the entire planet while the governments bickered over who had control of what,” Major Taylor replied. “Colonel Anders said we aren’t out of the woods yet? Could we expect another attack here, Sir?”

“I can’t give you a positive answer, Major. But I would say yes, there is a strong possibility you will get attacked again here. My worry is that if they do hit you here again, it will make the last attack look like a picnic in the park.” Ian turned to Ty. “In your message, you asked for permission to provide armor, weapons and training to these Marines. Since you all understand the reasons and necessity of not letting this equipment fall into official hands, I approve your requests. I would also recommend you get busy training on as well as producing heavy armor and better artillery.

“Use the drones at night, since we all know there are eyes in the sky, to build real fighting positions and bunkers for everyone. Give the Marines full access to the compound, and make sure their wounded get treated in Main Medical down here,” Ian said.

“Actually, we’re already doing that, Sir,” Ty replied grinning.

Ian laughed. “Well, what do you need me for? You know what to do!”

“Well, we hadn’t thought of the tanks and heavy stuff yet, but we’re doing the rest. Basically, what we’re doing is extending the base out here so the Marines will be able to move quickly from place to place, and have access to Medical, the armory, and any other amenity they’ll need. In the event of a breach, the whole thing can be sealed and isolated from the main area of the base. Although, it would have to be a pretty major breach. All the tunnels have explosives and weapons mounted in them. It should be a nightmare for any enemy that tries to take the base from there.” Ty explained. Come on, let’s head to Luke’s office, and we can go over the additions and improvements.”

Ian nodded. “Okay, but remember folks, I might need to head out at any time.”

“We understand, Sir. Actually, I’m somewhat surprised you could make it down here now,” Petrie replied.

“I was questioned about it by the XO, that’s for certain, but I felt this was important. I also wanted to thank you guys in person for protecting my people down here,” Ian replied.

“That’s our duty, Sir. But on the behalf of my Marines, you’re welcome. You know, I think Ty and his people would have put up a hell of a fight if we hadn’t been here,” Petrie replied. “Hell, there was talk about replacing us with a force recon unit, but Luke insisted it be us. He said he’d stop all the aide he was providing if they tried to change the unit. He claimed the folks here wanted us and wouldn’t settle for anyone else.”

“They’re just a bunch of bullies that were trying to show us that they had the situation completely under control, all the time knowing we knew as well as they did that they had no idea what was going on. The fact is, that in order for them to keep a unit out here, they would need us to support them, or they would spend millions of dollars keeping the new troops supplied and supported. As it was, we had a hard time getting the 82nd Airborne out of here.”

Ty nodded and picked up the story. The general that arrived with the 82nd was another one of the blow-hards. We gave him a much sanitized tour of the topside facilities, and he left, satisfied that we were exactly what we said we were.”

“With no obvious reasons for the aliens to attack us, they decided that it must have been a fluke, or that the actual target was White Sands, and we just happened to be in the way,” Luke said, shrugging. “As long as they're gone, I don’t really care what they believe.”

Lara got up and gave Ian a hug when they got to the offices. “Welcome back, Ian! It’s good to see you again! How are the kids?”

“It’s good to see you too, Lara. I’m glad you’re keeping this pirate in line!” Ian gestured to Luke. “The kids are growing like weeds, and finally sleeping all night. Now we just need to get rid of the Caldarians, and we can get back to the fun stuff!”

Lara winked at him, and welcomed Janet back too. The group then proceeded into Luke’s office.

As soon as they sat down at the conference table, Ty began typing on a terminal built into it. A hologram of the Community and the base under if took form over the table, in yellow the new additions Ty had mentioned showed in almost all directions from the main underground base.

“These are the ideas we’ve come up with so far. The area in front of the compound has already been built and the connecting tunnels set up. None of this is detectable from the surface buildings, and only our people will know how to get into it.” When Ty said ‘our’ it was obvious he included the US Marines as well.

“All the fighting positions are reinforced and shielded. A few of them even have medium lasers mounted in them, although we still have to show the Marines how to use them. We’ve also used the mass driver model to create a few mini-gun style man-portable heavy guns, as well as hard mounts in shielded positions. We are planning on adding an additional shield over the area. That will provide an additional layer of protection for the community while giving the Marines more protection as well.”

“Looks good to me, are you going to add to the heavy mount weapons topside to help cover the Marines?” Ian asked.

“We had a couple ideas for that. The guns we had installed for anti-aircraft, worked very well on the assault ships, but we had to be really careful about hitting their power cores,” Ty explained.

“Not much can be done about that, unfortunately. The crews would blow the cores anyway once they knew the battle is hopeless,” Ian replied.

“Well, at least the aliens didn’t take any intel away from here. None of them survived to report back,” Taylor said.

“Actually, that’s not true, Major Taylor. All the ships the Caldarians use, with the exception of the fighters, are continuously connected to the command ship via subspace link. The entire battle is available to their commanders for review. They know everything that happened down here just as well as we do.” Ian replied.

“Can you bring the ship in closer to help cover us?” Petrie asked.

“Ty save this, please. Then bring up the tactical feed from Star Dancer.” Ian said by way of an answer. When it was done, Ian used the controls to zoom in on the Caldarian Super Nova near Venus.

“This is the enemy Command ship. It’s the source of all the fighting. As you can see, it’s currently parked near the orbit of the Planet Venus. Right now, they are trying to figure out how we’ve done everything we’ve been able to do so far. They are also looking for any Talosian presence in this system, and if they find it, they will attack, and destroy it.”

He pulled the display back then zoomed in on his ship. “This is where I have the ship parked, and hidden. In a stand up fight between the Super Nova, and the Star Dancer, Star Dancer would be overwhelmed by sheer firepower in just under four minutes.” He typed and brought up a comparison display showing a side view of the Super Nova, and the Star Dancer in from of it. The Star Dancer wasn’t even a third the length of the much bigger ship.

“Now, to give you an idea of how big we are actually talking here...” Ian said, and zoomed in, to Star Dancer, then to the back end near the landing bay entrance, then into the entrance, and still further until they could see people working on fighters and shuttle sin the big landing bay.

“Ho-ly-fuck!” Petrie said. “I had no idea the ships were that damn big!” He glanced at Janet, and looked down. “Excuse me Ma’am.”

Ian nodded. “While Star Dancer could seriously mess up a planet, the Super Nova has the ability to not only destroy the planet, but they can trigger a nova condition in the Sun, destroying the entire system.” Ian let the display once again pull out to show the entire inner system theater. “I’m not hiding from them out of cowardice, but out of necessity. I believe we can defeat these assholes as long as we can stay alive long enough and do enough damage to them as possible, without them figuring out where it’s coming from. So far, we’ve been trying to keep their attention from focusing on the planet, and this community.” Ian explained. “Moving the ship would make it detectable. The Caldarians would then make it their primary target and destroy us as quickly as they could, then they would turn on the planet, and simply blow away cities from orbit until the survivors surrendered. Once that happens, they would all become slaves that serve the Caldarians as miners, forced labor, and craftsmen.”

“So it’s not expansionism that drives them, then?” Petrie asked.

“Not in the sense we think, no. They view all other races as inferior to them, and therefore subservient. Only Caldarian life matters, and it was the duty of the other races to serve them in every way, up to and including giving their lives at the whims of their masters. It’s a simple case of Dominance. Caldarians don’t think they are better than everyone else, they know they are. There is no other option for them. They view defeat by an inferior to be completely intolerable, and they will kill themselves to absolve the shame of defeat.”

“So, what have they been up to since we stomped they’re asses?” Taylor asked.

“That’s the strange part. They’ve been doing nothing. They recalled all of their patrol craft, and so far, have only been sitting there for the last couple of days,” Ian said. ”That is very unlike the Caldarians that we know of from our records. The defeat should have pissed them off to the point where they would launch an all-out attack to turn this whole section of the United States into glass. Just sitting there is really causing my intel people ulcers.”

“So what do we have for air and space support then?” Taylor asked.

“Well, there is the fighter wings here, plus the Centurions. We should also be able to get more fighters here from either the ship or the moon base if you need them. Under full burn, they can get here in about fifteen minutes. I know that sounds like a long time, but considering it would take the enemy over an hour to get an assault force here, we should know ahead of time what they’re throwing at you and be able to counter it,” Ian said.

“Do they have cloaking devices like you are using?” Petrie asked.

Ian nodded. “They do have cloaking devices, but we haven’t seen them on anything smaller than one of their freighters. I grant you that we cannot assume that they don’t have them on their other craft as well, but we simply don’t have the numbers to cover every contingency as well as we would like to.”

Taylor nodded. “I keep forgetting that you have a limited number of fighters and pilots.”

Ian gave him a half-grin. “Major, we have a limited number of everything.”

“Which is a good place for me to jump in,” Janet said speaking for the first time. “Colonel Petrie, how would you feel about inviting your father-in-law here for a visit?”

The request threw the colonel for a moment. “How did you know about him?” he asked, finally.

“My job is personnel, Colonel. Part of my duties are to know at least the main people we speak to. I think the Admiral would be a good person to have on our side in this,” Janet explained.

“I don’t know if he would accept all of this without reporting it. He’s the Commander in Chief for Space for the United States. He was personally appointed by the President to his position,” Petrie said.

“He is just the person we need in order to make the overseas contacts we’re going to need to recruit a truly multi-national force. We do have a lot of people from other countries working with us as it is, but not that many of them are in the military branch,” Janet explained. “When it comes time for us to come out of the closet so to speak, having a diverse fighting force will go a long way to putting minds at ease in the UN and in the governments of the other countries, especially China and North Korea, although the North Koreans will be a problem no matter what.”

“The leader of North Korea was abused as a child.” Taylor replied, sarcastically. “Mrs. Laskar does have a point, Jim. If we can convince Admiral Hawkins of what they are doing here, he’d be willing to help as much as he could.”

“I can talk to him. We do have a pretty good relationship. But like I said, I think it’s a big risk. When do you want me to talk to him?” Petrie asked.

“Well, if you can get him out here, maybe we can convince him to keep the Air Force pilots back out of harm’s way so we don’t lose anymore. I know he’ll still have to look like he’s doing something, but at least he’ll know the truth about what’s really going on,” Ian said. “That alone might help save a few lives.”

Petrie nodded. “I’ll call him this evening when he gets home, the lines going into the mountain are all tapped recorded.”

“If you need transportation anywhere, feel free to ask. We might be able to give you a hand there,” Ty said, smiling.

“Say, where is Elias? I was hoping to say Hi to him before I had to head back.” Ian asked.

“He’s out front riding heard on the construction projects. I think the attack scared him a little more than he anticipated,” Luke said. “I know it sure as hell puckered my asshole!”

The group took a tour of the construction going on outside of the front gate, and Ian did find Elias out there. Ian managed to get Elias off to one side, and he asked his friend how he was holding up.

“I don’t know, Ian. When the first bombs started going off, I froze, I didn’t know what to do. I knew, intellectually that we could be attacked. Hell, I helped Ty set up some of the defenses! But when it came right down to it, I almost wet myself,” Elias admitted.

“The night before the ship arrived, I couldn’t sleep, and I had a very hard time not throwing up. I was convinced that I was going to get everyone killed. I knew I had set everything up and the Caldarians would see right through it, and everyone that was depending on me would die. I didn’t know what to do, and the fear was all but shutting me down.”

“What did you do?” Elias asked.

“Beth came out and talked to me. She made me see that I hadn’t been the one to bring the Caldarians here, but I had been the one to tell people, and give them a fighting chance to defend themselves. Because of what I had done, and what I had set up, people had a chance to survive what was coming. She told me she was proud of me, and she was sure that my parents would have been as well. She also told me that I needed to get my fear under control because I was the one that people looked to for their strength to get through what was coming.

“The point she made was that to fear what might happen was only natural, but to let it overcome me would only ensure that the enemy won. Elias, you have done more than anyone else here to make sure that people are safe, comfortable, and protected. Because of you and what you’ve done, the people here look to you as a source of strength and support in times of trouble.” Ian saw he wasn’t really reaching his friend, so he took another tack.

“Look at it this way, these assholes are coming here to destroy all these beautiful houses you’ve spent the last year building. They are coming here to destroy your community, the one you and your people have built with your own hands and sweat. How does that make you feel?”

“That pisses me off.” Elias said. “This project has been the greatest thing I’ve ever done. It really pisses me off to see it being destroyed.”

Ian nodded to him. “There! When you start feeling fear again, fine, that’s natural, but when it starts getting to be too much again, just think what those pricks are doing to your beautiful town!”

“That does help!” Elias said as his whole demeanor changed. “Those fuckers better stay the hell away from my town!”

“So, you’re feeling better?” Ian asked.

“Yes I am, thank you, Ian!” Elias said.

“Great, now, what the hell is that?” Ian asked as he pointed to what looked like a sideways air vent for something underground, mounted in the side of one of the open air trenches.

Elias chuckled. “Combat access for floating litters. The litters are programmed to fly in there and deliver their patient to the medical unit back in the base. There are four different access points and all of them are shielded to only allow a litter to enter. It’s kinda neat really.”

“As long as the Marine riding it isn’t claustrophobic!” Ian said.

“Naw, medical said they’ll be sedated during the ride, But I did suggest we simply put naked pictures of the opposite sex on the ceilings of the tunnels! Diane said then we’d have troops getting hurt just to ride through there,” Elias said laughing.

The rest of the tour was uneventful, with Elias and Ty showing him all the different stuff they were doing, and how things should work if they were attacked again.

When it was time for Ian to leave, he looked at Ty. “Be sure to stress to these new people that the Caldarians have no problem tossing nukes and antimatter around. I would mention it to the eggheads also, and see if they can come up with something to limit the fall out if that happens.”

“I’ll do that Sir,” Ty said seriously. “I really appreciate you coming down here. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you to get away.”

“You needed it, and I could do it, no thanks are necessary. I understand Janet is going to stay down here to meet with the Admiral. I’ll have to see if I can get free to come back for it myself, but he might have to settle for a hologram. Take care of our people, Ty, and be safe,” Ian said as he picked up his helmet.

“Same to you Sir. Kick their asses out of our system up there,” Ty replied by way of farewell. With that, Ian put his helmet on and walked out to the landing area where Talena was waiting for him.

“Ready to go home, Talena?” Ian asked.

“Yes Sir, both shuttles will be returning with us; one is full of supplies, and the other is full of people. ESAR, Marines, a couple of extra pilots, and other crew members for the ship as I understand it,” Talena replied as she climbed into her seat in the fighter.

“Well, that’ll make a few of the department heads happy. Especially the SAR teams, I know the Bosun has been bitching about the lack of people he has,” Ian said.

Talena once again got her flight launched and on the way back to the ship. Ian said, “I need to talk to the ship for a bit, sweetheart, so forgive me if I don’t answer you right away.”

“No problem, Ian,” Talena said from the front cockpit.

When Ian called the ship, Jenny was happy to hear from him.

“You better not be calling to tell me your spending the night down there!” Jenny replied.

“No dear, I was actually calling to find out what happened to those other two hyperspace tracks we had?” Ian asked. “They should be here by now.”

“Nope, haven’t seen anything. Tracking lost them when they dropped out of hyperspace just inside the orbit of Neptune. None of our other sensors have picked them up either. We registered the hyperspace event, and so did the Caldarians, but after that, nothing,” Jenny replied.

“That’s not very comforting information, Jen,” Ian said. “We really need to know where they are, and what they’re up to. The last thing we need is for two more Caldarian ships to surprise us when we’re playing cat and mouse with that Super Nova.”

“I know, Ian, and they’re working it. But they have really good cloaking generators. Even with all the sensors we have in this system, they aren’t showing up on anything.” Jenny said.

“Okay, have Chloe set up a Shadow fighter patrol to try to locate and identify those two ships. But they’ll need to be quick about it. If the shit hits the fan here, we’ll need them back to fight.”

“Okay, I’ll get right on that,” Jenny said.

“Okay, we should be back in a little bit. The shuttle we’re escorting has a bunch of new people on it, so you should have something to do once we land, since I know how bored you get,” Ian teased.

“Wow, the planet is under attack, and you want to start a new career as a comedian!” Jenny replied. “Be safe, love.”

“You too,” Ian said and closed the channel.

Chapter 19

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

For the rest of that week, the Caldarian ship simply hung in space. It didn’t launch any ships, nor did it move. There was furious activity though, as the Centurion that was on picket close by reported.

Occasionally, one of the carriers would detach, move to the big bay doors and be taken inside for a while. Ian agreed with Major Eischens that they were repairing the Carriers, and rearming them with new fighters. The older carriers had no launch tubes and the fighters could be clearly seen mounted along the sides of the craft. So the truth of the rearming idea was upheld the first time one of the older carriers returned to its original position.

What was troubling, was that two new, older style carriers left the big bay and took the vacated positions of destroyed carriers just before the damaged ones started being taken inside. Were they able to produce those carriers? If so, how fast could they do it? If pressed, Star Dancer can replace her own fighters, but there was a limit to what could be done.

Nothing in the history files Star had indicated the Super Nova class ships carried, or utilized, an automated assembler of fighting ships. Caldarians did not have replicator technology. So how could they rebuild the destroyed ships so quickly?

The question remained unanswered as Ian and his people also took advantage of the break to reinforce their defenses. Ian had a bad feeling something big was about to happen, but he had no idea what.

One important thing that did happen during that week was the arrival, and introduction of Admiral Joshua Hawkins. USSPACECOM, Commanding. Ian ordered something special for the Admiral. When he arrived at Talos and was given his tour, the underground hanger was the last stop. At this point, he was put on a Centurion as a passenger and brought up to the ship.

Leaving Jenny in charge, he met the VIP in the hangar bay and once again gave the older gentleman a tour of his ship. The Admiral was impressed and stopped several times to speak to random people about what was going on, and how they felt about being a part of this. Ian even let him speak to people in private, so he knew that Ian wasn’t influencing their answers.

The final parts of the tour were the bridge and the operations area. In the makeshift CIC, Ian led the Admiral up to the big holographic tank and introduced him to the crew. He had Majors Brighton and Eischens give the man a briefing on the current situation.

The Admiral asked questions and got straight answers. When he felt he had a grasp of the current situation, he nodded and thanked the two officers.

He turned to Ian. “This is a very troubling situation, Commander. I thank you for giving me all this information, and for the tours and such, but I have to ask, why you went to all this trouble?”

“Well Admiral, during our last fight, we lost a lot of your pilots. My folks did try to warn them off, and for the most part, they did stay out of the battle, but their loss still hurts. We would like for you to know what’s really going on, so you can help to avoid that in the future.” Ian explained. “There is also the fact that those assholes aren’t finished with us yet. I don’t know what the future holds, but I can tell you that so far, their actions have not been following what little we do know about this race.

“They will hit us again. I don’t know if it’ll be the community on Earth, or if the fight will be up here and away from Earth. Yes, they hit our community on Earth because they figured out that the town is part of us. There is far more to this story than you know.

The Caldarians have been on the planet for some time. They have been stealing crude oil, and we think that they have been taking slaves, but we haven’t found any proof of that yet. During our investigations, mostly done by Alan Carlson whom you already met on Earth, we found a solid link between the Caldarian operations to the intelligence services of the United States. We can’t tell you how deeply they are involved there, but we do know that they are deep enough to authorize military operations against our community on Earth.

“We knew we had to let someone in Command know what was going on, and you checked out as clean. Of course we didn’t know that until we made the connection between Colonel Petrie and you, but when we did, we decided to ask if you would visit us.

“Firstly, we wanted to show you that we have no interest in invading anything, or taking over any governments. We have all sworn a duty to protect Earth from it enemies, and in some cases from itself. We will not let any of the advanced technology, especially the weapons technology, out of our control. Simply put, we don’t trust any of the governments down there to not use it against other nations. We like to consider ourselves as the planetary military, not one nation’s.

“Although most of the people up here are Americans, we do have some people from other countries as well. We would like to add more people from other countries, especially in the military. We know that you could help us with that, if you chose to. We hope that we have shown you enough to know our only purpose and motive is to help Earth as a whole.

“The function of the town on the surface is to develop repressed or available technology to make life easier, safer, and cleaner, at the same time to try to develop technologies to repair the damage that’s already been done to the planet.” Ian held up his hand. “I know that makes us sound like a bunch of tree-huggers and hippies, but I like to speak plainly, and everyone knows that there is a lot of pollution down there to clean up.

“But first, we have to deal with this situation,” Ian finished, grinning. “We’ve even discovered that we can create a colony in the Centauri system!”

The Admiral nodded his head. “Well, you’ve certainly given me a lot to think about. You’re right about the US wanting to take all this from you. Unfortunately, I can agree with what would happen if that came to pass.” He was thoughtful for a few minutes. “I’ve been in the military for some time. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of things change, and I’ve seen a lot of things that still don’t make any sense even to this day. The intelligence community has gradually altered into what it is today. By that I mean that most of the stuff coming out of that mess has little to do with National Security, and more to do with oil and power. Although it’s difficult to believe what you’ve told me about the intelligence community, the proof is there.” He snorted. “What am I saying? I’ve seen nothing today that is easy to believe!” He was thoughtful for a few minutes again, and glanced at his watch. “I need to be getting back soon, can we head back now?”

Ian nodded. “Certainly, Sir. I’ll walk you back to the landing bay.”

“Thank you, Son.” Admiral Hawkins replied and followed Ian to the door after nodding to the men and women in the CIC. As they walked to the maglev, he spoke again. “Are the ship and the community all the assets you have?”

“No Sir, there is a large base on the moon as well; it’s mostly a place for research, but there is a large military presence there. In the future we plan on having the Military Academy and flight school down there, as well as a few training facilities for our Marines,” Ian said. “The current population is almost five thousand people. Although, as I said, most of them are scientists and support personnel.”

The two men talked more and got to know one another better. When they arrived at the ready rooms on Alpha landing bay, Major Star Dancer met them there with a small package that she handed to Ian after saluting the two officers.

“Admiral, may I introduce you to the oldest, and probably most important member of my crew, Major Star Dancer,” Ian said introducing the AI Avatar.

“She has the same name as the ship?” Hawkins asked.

Ian grinned, “In all the ways that matter, she is the ship, Sir. Major Dancer is the holographic Avatar of the resident Artificial Intelligence of the ship.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you Admiral,” Star replied. “Welcome aboard.”

“You are an impressive vessel, Major. You should be very proud,” Hawkins said without missing a beat.

“Thank you, Sir, but I cannot take the credit, I have an excellent crew,” Star replied, blushing.

“For what it’s worth, Son, you have my support. It would be kinda dumb of me not to offer it. I don’t know what I can do for you that you can’t already do for yourselves, but I’ll do what I can,” Hawkins said, getting ready to leave.

Ian handed the Admiral the small communicator Star had given him. “This is a communit, Sir. When you want to get in touch with me, simply put this in your ear, press the button, and ask for me. You’ll most likely get Star first, but she will put you through to me.”

“Thank you. I’ll make sure to keep it hidden,” Admiral Hawkins replied.

“It won’t matter if you do, Sir. First off, I made sure it looks and functions just like a standard cell phone ear piece, and second, if they did try to open it to see how it works, it would simply melt down into a puddle of plastic,” Star replied smiling.

“It works just like my current ear piece? I’ll just replace the one I normally use then, smart thinking Major,” Hawkins took the other ear piece out of his pocket and handed it over to Star. “I don’t imagine the cells work up here anyway.”

“On the contrary, Sir. They work just fine. The locator function will register as being at Talos, though,” Star said. “The Centurion is ready to take you back now, Admiral. Have a safe flight, Sir.”

The older man nodded at her. “Thank you Major. I hope we’ll see each other again, but if not, it’s been a real pleasure for me to make your acquaintance.”

“It has been a pleasure for me as well, Sir. The last Admiral I had on my decks was four thousand, seven hundred and ninety two years ago. I hope that this time, it won’t be as long until the next visit,” Star said, smiling.

Hawkins grinned and turned to Ian. “I don’t envy you your job, Son. I know that what you carefully didn’t tell me was that you are out gunned in this. I can only wish you good luck, and offer my hopes and prayers for your success.”

“If we fail Sir, I would recommend getting your family and finding a nice sheltered place to hide. Caldarians are not nice conquerors, they’ll nuke the cities, destroy all the military, and take the survivors as slaves. All the oil will be taken off planet, and it will be mined into a dead hulk,” Ian said. “I can assure you, that if that were to happen, every one of us will be gone, because we will fight to the last man to defend our home.”

Centurion Odin

Combat Location Briar Patch

Picket Duty near Planet Venus,

Sol System.

Star Dancer, this is the Odin on Picket,” the young man called.

Star Dancer here, go ahead Odin.”

“You better wake up the Boss. Something’s happening out here,” he replied. “They’re launching all of the carriers, and the bay doors are opening. I’d say that they are going to launch some assault carriers too.”

“What heading are the carriers taking, Odin?” Major Chloe Brighton asked, letting the man know that Operations was now online as well.

“They haven’t left the area, they have launched, but seem to be waiting for the rest of the ships.”

“That’s not good. Are you still safe?” Major Brighton asked.

“Well, we’re still here, so I would say that, yes, we are still safe and undiscovered,” the man chuckled. “We’re well within their weapons range.”

“Yeah, we know,” Major Brighton said dryly. “Never mind. I want you to do everything you can, without getting discovered, to get the hell out of there in a hurry if you need to.”

“Don’t worry, Major. This buggy has been ready to scoot since before the neighbors moved in next door. If the compost interacts with the rotary turbine, we’ll be out of here before you can finish giving us the order,” the young man replied. “Stand by, Operations, something’s going on out there. Stand by for a data feed.”

The man watched the scanners, and typed in the commands to forward all the data to Star Dancer Operations Command. While he had been talking to Major Brighton, the Super Nova had indeed launched assault carriers as well as more fighter carriers. In addition to that, several fighters also dropped out of the belly of the beast, and took up formation as escorts to the larger ships.

Odin, Guardian One orders you to drop a spy sat, and get the hell out of there. You are to report back to Talos and rearm for fighter suppression and interdiction duty,” Major Brighton ordered. “He wants you out of there ten minutes ago, understand?”

“Understood. I have your orders. We’ll be jumping in five minutes, Odin out.”

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

The report from Odin was very troubling. After a week of total inactivity, The Super Nova appeared to be launching almost all of its parasitic compliment. But for what purpose, Ian couldn’t guess. The fact that there were assault carriers said they were going for a target on Earth, but the simple size of the force seemed to rule out a small target like Talos. Even after all the losses they had taken during the initial skirmishes, the Caldarians still outnumbered Ian’s force by almost three to one, not counting the big ship itself.

The satellite Odin left behind had the small armada heading straight for Earth, or at least Earth orbit. The big ship herself didn’t move, at least not yet; sensors were registering a buildup of power in her reactors that could be a sign she was getting ready to move.

“This does not look good,” Ian said as he took in all the information displayed in the large hologram on the bridge. “Okay, this is it everyone! Sound General Quarters and set us at Yellow alert. Operations, wake up the folks down on the moon and get the pilots ready to launch. Comms, get me Ty at Talos and see if you can locate Admiral Hawkins.”

Ty’s image came up on one of Ian’s monitors followed shortly by Admiral Hawkins’ who was using the video mode on his phone.

“Sorry to bother you, Admiral, Colonel Anders, The Caldarians are launching an attack. This time, they are using just about everything they have. Although it has not started moving, we are detecting a power build-up in the Super Nova’s reactors consistent with preparations to move. Currently, there are sixteen fighter carriers, six assault carriers, and an additional twenty fighters on course for Earth. ETA is...” He glanced up at the hologram. “One hour, fifty-seven minutes. I have ordered all the forces up here to yellow alert, and brought the ship to General Quarters.”

“That much fire-power? We should feel flattered!” Ty replied.

Hawkins snorted and nodded. “Are we certain that Talos is the target again, son?”

“No, Sir. At this point, we can only assume that’s where they are heading. However, with that much firepower, they can pretty much attack an entire hemisphere. If the big ship gets involved, the whole planet could be attacked at once,” Ian explained. “Either way, we can provide air support, but we really don’t have that much for ground troops. We’ll do our best though.”

“Good, all they really needed was the chance to get used to using the equipment, and a couple of quick courses in vehicle and ship identification. I think most of them fell in love this the armor, though. We’re going to have a hard time getting them to give it back if they ever get pulled away!”

“I think it’s safe to say they’ll be staying right where they are, Colonel. I had that unit transferred to my command three days ago. They are yours to use. What would you like from USSPACECOM, Commander?” Hawkins asked.

“Right now, Sir, I’m simply informing you of what’s about to happen. I’ll feed you more information as we have it. For now, you can help with pilot recovery if anyone needs to eject in the atmosphere. Crash recovery would also help. I won’t ask you to destroy what we can’t recover since that could get you in hot water. Would you like us to make sure you can see our units in the mountain?” Ian asked.

Hawkins chuckled. “That would be great, but I don’t know how I would explain it.”

“I think we can handle that too, Sir. As soon as you get to the mountain this morning, we’ll get the fun started,” Ian replied. “We’ll make it so that when you have to make your report, all the eye witnesses in the mountain will be able to corroborate you.”

“I appreciate that, son. Good luck to you and your people, Commander. If you need anything else from us, just ask,” Hawkins said, before hanging up.

“He sounded a little pissed,” Ty said.

“He’s worried. He knows what we’re facing, and how utterly unprepared his forces are to combat it. His only hope rests with us, and we’re all people he only just met. I don’t think I can blame him for being either pissed or worried. How would you feel if you were in his position, and someone just told you that your nation was about to be attacked by aliens?” Ian explained.

Ty nodded, “I hadn’t thought about it that way. He’s going to have to basically stand back and let someone else defend his nation for him. The US is used to doing that for third world countries. Now they get to feel it from the other side.”

“That can’t be a pleasant experience for him. Get your folks suited up and ready to go. You should probably be ready to send troops out if you need to. Just because we can’t repel a wide scale attack, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” Ian ordered.

“We’ll do what we can, Sir,” Ty replied. “I’ll get my troops scrambled. Stay safe up there, Commander.”

“You too, Ty,” Ian replied, and closed the comm.

“Status?” Ian asked.

“We are at General Quarters, all weapons systems are manned and operational. All missile tubes are loaded and ready to fire. Flight reports ready to launch fighters. Phoenix Base reports they are at Yellow alert, and their weapons systems are armed and at standby, their fighters are ready,” Jenny reported. “Enemy is still on course for Earth. Enemy Super Nova has still not moved, but her power systems are fully spun up. She’s ready for action.”

Ian looked at her. “Phoenix Base?”

“That’s the name that won the contest. The Stavros’ boy won. He’ll get a tour of the base after everything’s over,” Jenny explained.

Ian nodded thoughtfully. “Good for him.” He sat looking at the hologram for a few moments. “The attack on Earth is bait. The Super Nova is the trap.”

The CIC had been listening over the comm, which was becoming the norm during combat operations. Major Eischens unmuted his comm. “What was that, Sir?”

“I said, the attack on the planet is a lure to get us to expose ourselves. When we do, the Super Nova will jump on us with both feet.” Ian explained. “The problem is, I don’t know how we cannot expose ourselves this time.”

“We still have the decoy drones, Sir.” Chloe suggested, entering the conversation. “We can use those, can’t we?”

Ian nodded even though Chloe couldn’t see him. “Yeah, we could, but we will still be the closest target to them, so the chances are that they will hit us first before checking out the other signatures.”

“Sir, if I may make a suggestion?” the young Eischens said.

“Please do, Lieutenant, we can use all the help we can get right now,” Ian replied.

“When the attack on the planet is about to begin, activate one of the more distant decoys, do draw off the Super Nova. That should let us help the planet without then focusing on us,” the man said.

“Not a bad idea, it won’t help much, but it’ll help. Thank you, Lieutenant,” Ian replied. “We’re going to take damage this time, no way around it.” He thumbed his comm. “Command to missile armory.”

“Armory, what can we do for you Sir?” came a familiar voice. Major Debbie Reynolds was one of the women Ian and family recruited and rescued shortly after Olympus had made contact with Ian.

“Hey Debbie, do you still have those modified hyper missiles I asked for a while ago?” Ian asked.

“Yes Sir, I have them parked off in a corner. You want me to pull them out and dust them off?” Debbie asked.

“Yeah, but I want them loaded with full-yield anti-matter warheads. See if that makes them hungry for a Super Nova.” Ian ordered.

“That’s a really big firecracker, Sir. If that doesn’t make them hungry, nothing will, I’ll get them set up right now. What do you want for a trigger, proximity?” the woman asked.

Ian thought for a moment. “No, impact. I’m gonna ram those fuckers right down that big bitch’s throat.”

“We’re on it Sir!” Debbie said, excitedly.

Ian looked up at the navigator. “Call for an assistant, Mr. Chekov. Things are going to get complicated for you very quickly if we launch those.”

“Aye Sir.” Chekov replied without even looking away from his calculations.

“Chloe, can you come out here for a moment? I have a task for you and Star,” Ian asked.

“I’ll be right there Sir.” The young woman replied.

Star looked at him curiously. Ian just winked at her. “You’ll like this, it involves hacking into the US National Defense network.”

“Sir, I’m an AI. There is nothing to ‘hack’, as you call it,” Star replied haughtily, making Jenny laugh.

When Chloe walked up to his raised chair, he waved Star over. “Okay, here’s what I want you to set-up.” He quickly explained how he wanted them to ‘port’ the tactical display out to SkyRAD in Cheyenne Mountain. Chloe grinned and nodded, and Star just shook her head.

When Chloe and Star walked off a short way to work out how to accomplish the task, Ian turned to Jenny. “Did those Shadow fighters ever find anything on those two ghost ships?”

“Yes and no, Sir. When they arrived at the Hyperspace entry point, they found confirmation that two ships indeed reentered normal space there. There was a huge ion signature, but it didn’t lead anywhere. Major Eischens suggested that the ships reentered normal space, then used a single burst from their engines to accelerate, then coasted into the system. There was no ion trail to follow, and no way to track them. Sir, if these were Caldarian ships, they would not be as stealthy as these two are acting,” Jenny replied.

“No, they’re not Caldarian, but that doesn’t automatically make them friendly. We could be in the middle of this battle, and get our asses handed to us by an enemy we can’t even see. I want everything we have on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. Any anomalies are to be reported immediately,” Ian ordered.

“Yes Sir,” Jenny replied and began entering orders on her keyboard. Ian used his own terminal to compose and send an email to Admiral Hawkins about the two ships. He explained about how they had detected them and how they had disappeared. He apologized for not telling him about them at the briefing, but noted that their current situation had been monopolizing his time and attention.

Chapter 20

SkyRAD Command Bunker

Cheyenne Mountain

Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Combat Location: Stone Fort

“Sir, we are receiving a signal from an unknown extra-planetary source,” one of the techs reported to his supervisor.

“What kind of signal?” the man asked.

“It looks like a data feed, Sir, the same as we get from our own sources, but this one is being sent directly to us!” the man reported.

“Well, let’s see what E.T. wants to show us, Corporal,” the man ordered.

On one of the man’s monitors, he loaded the new data feed for display. It had an exaggerated view of the solar system, and on it, there were several targets marked as friendly and several as hostile. The ‘hostile’ ones were moving toward the planet. While the ‘friendly’ targets moved around slightly to get themselves in position to protect the planet. A small notice popped up on the screen indicating a message to Admiral Joshua Hawkins, USSPACECOM, Commanding.

“Try to either verify this data, or find the kid that’s fucking with us. I’m gonna call the Admiral down here,” the officer told the young man.

“We’re working on tracking it, Sir. The signal identifies the signal source as this... ship, in orbit of the moon. I’ll get some help and make sure this isn’t a hoax, Sir.”

The officer was already walking away, and the young man rolled his eyes. The man was a bit of an idiot. The signal had already been verified or he wouldn’t have said anything. What troubled the man the most was the approaching armada of ‘hostile’ targets. The last time there was an attack like this, they had lost an entire flight of Raptors to the aliens, and that attack had been much smaller than this one looked to be.

Admiral Hawkins had just gotten his coffee and settled in his office when the OIC on the ‘floor’ called him. He answered the phone. “Hawkins.”

“Good Morning, Sir. I’m very sorry to trouble you this morning, but there is something down here you need to see. Corporal Hastings is receiving a signal from an extra-terrestrial source. There is a message addressed to you by name, Sir.”

“I’ll be right down,” Hawkins replied, and hung up the phone. “Damn it Ian, I thought you said you’d keep it low key!” he muttered softly to himself.

When he got down to the floor where all the tracking and command for Space Command was handled. Hawkins walked over to the officer standing over a nervous looking corporal.

“What have you got for me, Hastings?” Hawkins asked kindly.

“This signal showed up about a half hour ago Sir, we verified it, and I brought it to the Major’s attention, he called you, Sir. The data feed is coming from an unknown source near lunar orbit. It appears to be formatted and set up specifically for us to see Sir. Whoever is sending this, sent it to us, and only us. There is also a message addressed to you, as commander of USSPACECOM, Sir,” Hastings finished.

“Put it on the big screen, and let’s look at it,” Hawkins asked.

“What about the message, Sir?” Hastings asked.

“Put that up too, son. Don’t want the spooks thinking I’m an alien!” he joked and both men laughed with him.

Hastings did as he was told and put the feed up on the main monitor in the arena. It caused a bit of a stir in the large room. Then the mouse on the screen moved down and clicked on the message icon.

To: Admiral Joshua Hawkins, Commander, SkyRAD/USSPACECOM.

From: T.D.F. Star Dancer Combat Operations, SOL System.

MSG begins:

Sir, we apologize for intruding into your sovereign defense system to bring this message to you, however, it will soon become obvious as to why we have.

For the second time, an alien force is about to attack your planet. We will, once again, do our best to defend you and your people. We regret the loss of your pilots in the first battle and wish to prevent a recurrence of that incident. To this end, we are giving you access to a live feed from our sensors, formatted for your system. Our ships and assets do not normally show on your system, so we are making sure you can see them this time.

Please try to keep your people from engaging these enemy craft. We do not ask this lightly, and we do not wish to denigrate your defenses or your fighting prowess. The simple fact of the matter is, you’re weapons cannot do telling damage to these hostile craft. Attacking them would be futile, and would most likely result in the loss of more of your valiant pilots.

Yes, we are asking you to sit this out and let us handle it, but we also know you need to do something. We will do what we can to aid you in this, and we will make our battle footage available to you after the fact if you need to use it to calm your populace.

Wish us luck, and perhaps send us a prayer if you are so inclined.

Thank you, Combat Operations.

-MSG Ends

"Well, they’re certainly polite at least.” Hawkins said after a brief pause.

“That they are, Sir,” the Major standing next to him said. “I think I should feel insulted, but don’t.”

“Hastings, how long until those hostiles get here?” Hawkins asked.

“Just over an hour, Sir,” the man replied.

“Okay, I think I need to call the President,” Hawkins said. “In the meantime, put us on alert, but don’t launch anyone yet. After all, if our favorite Martian can be trusted, we have a few minutes.”

“And if they can’t be trusted?” the Major asked.

“Then I’m sure she would like to know that we are about to be attacked by aliens,” Hawkins said as he made his way back to his office.

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Selene (Earth’s moon) Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

“Ops, deploy Cobalt, Iron, and Basalt flights from the moon, and Copper and Bronze from the ship to Earth orbit. Get our Marines suited up and in their shuttles. Activate all combat drones in the inner system,” Ian ordered. “Tracking, if any of them deviate from their current course, let me know immediately.”

Although his orders were acknowledged, he didn’t actually hear it, he was focused on the holographic display trying to figure out what the enemy was about to do.

“Sir, the United States military has just been placed on high alert. I am monitoring a conference call from the President to several other world leaders, as well as the Secretary General of the United Nations. She is warning them of the impending attack,” Star reported. “She has told them that there is a friendly, non-terrestrial, force in the system that will be fighting the enemy on behalf of Earth.”

“What’s the reaction so far?” Ian asked.

“Mostly disbelief, but several other nations, including China, are also mobilizing their militaries,” Star replied.

“Well, I doubt they’ll all stay out of the way, so we need to tell our fighters to try not to shoot any Terrans,” Ian said.”

“How do you want to handle downed and damaged fighter recovery?” Jenny asked.

“The same as we did for the last battle. We have to make sure none of the governments get technology they can reverse engineer,” Ian replied. “I know how hard that will stretch us, but we have to do it. Remember, the Terran governments will most likely jealously guard any salvage.”

Jenny nodded. “I’ll have Talos load up a couple of shuttles with drones that can be dropped for recovery operations.”

Ian nodded, and thumbed his comm. “Command to Main Medical.”

“CMO here, what’s up Commander?” Beth’s voice replied.

“Prepare for heavy casualties. Also, if you can, get with flight control and get your Medical shuttles ready to go. We might have to send them to Earth,” He looked up at Jenny. “Make sure that each shuttle has at least two Marines with orders to guard, and only guard, the medical operations. They are not to aid in those operations.”

“I understand, Commander, and thanks for the guards,” Beth replied over the comm. Jenny only nodded to acknowledge the orders.

“May I assume that I have your permission to treat the wounded to the best of our abilities?” Beth asked.

“You do, but if the wounded person can be treated on Earth, and survive, they are to be sent there unless they are one of our people. Combat related injuries only. Do you understand, Chief?” Ian said.

“I understand, Commander. I’m not happy about it, but I do understand. CMO out.”

“She sounds pissed,” Jenny commented.

“I’m sure she is. I just told her that if she finds a civilian that is wounded in battle, but also has cancer, she can only treat the wounds, and not the cancer,” Ian explained. “No matter what the age of the injured person is.”

“You’ve set her up to disobey you, you know,” Jenny said. “If she finds a wounded child with cancer or AIDS, she’s going to cure them no matter what you told her.”

Ian nodded. “If she breaks my orders in that way, I can certainly understand and even forgive her for doing it, Hell, I don’t actually care if she does cure them. But I don’t want her to get side tracked into treating the entire planet.”

“What’s wrong with helping them, Sir?” Chekov asked. “We should be safe enough now.”

“Probably, but think on this. There is a battle raging all around, and soldiers are getting hurt and killed. Someone sees Beth cure a child of cancer, and they tell another couple who didn’t get wounded, whose child has cancer, but before they leave to bring the child to Beth, they tell their whole therapy group about the miracle cure? What’s going to happen to the aid stations that should be taking care of people wounded in battle?”

“They’d be over-run in an hour,” Chekov said. “We’d be branded as heartless heathens because we didn’t take care of the sick kids, and if we try, then we’d be heartless heathens that didn’t take care of the soldiers that were fighting to protect the planet.”

Ian nodded. “Yep, so until we can set up facilities that can handle that kind of thing, we need to avoid it.”

“Maybe, since the cat is partially out of the bag, we can think about building a hospital at Talos that can handle that sort of thing. Once the Caldarians are taken care of, that is,” Chekov said, and turned back to his never ending calculations.

“Remind me, and I’ll consider it, Chekov,” Ian replied, but didn’t know if the man had heard him.

“Con, this is Tracking. Target aspect is changing. Enemy formation has altered position. New course tracks indicate multiple targets in the western hemisphere. Stand by for possible target list.”

“Keep an eye on the Super Nova, but please zoom in on Earth, so we can see the inbound tracks,” Ian ordered. The big hologram zoomed in. Now, Ian could see most of the planet, and could make out continents. The hologram kept the planet’s North Pole as the ‘up’ direction in the image. To the upper left of the planet, a pulsing silver speck could be seen, but the view was still so far out, that individual courses could not be seen.

“Overlay new course projections and highlight possible targets,” Ian ordered.

Like the tiny silvery threads of a spider web, thin strands, not as bright as the rest of the lines in the image, stretched away from the pulsing spark, and spread out over the North American continent. As they progressed across the continent, small half intensity circles popped up indicating targets. Names appeared next to them. Anchorage, Vtle, San Francisco, Los Angles, Mexico City. The list grew as the courses stretched out covering a good portion of the continent. Almost a hundred cities, including Talos, were on the list. There was no way Ian’s people could protect them all if the ships were allowed to enter the atmosphere.

“Holy shit,” Jenny said softly.

Ian sat, staring at the display for moment. “Ops, were are the fighters?”

“Mostly launched, they are forming up for the trip to Earth, Sir,” came the reply.

“Mission change. They are to proceed with all haste to intercept and destroy as much as the enemy force as possible. Engineering, prepare to go to one hundred percent on the reactor. Navigation, plot a course to Earth orbit and stand by to go to full power.” Ian said as he stepped down from his command chair. He stepped over to the assistant that Chekov had called.

“You’re familiar with hyper missile navigation?” Ian asked.

“Yes Sir,” the woman replied.

“Good, because I have a tricky plot in mind for you. I want at least two of those missiles to drop out of hyper in that big honkin’ bay they have in the belly of the ship,” Ian suggested. There was a quiet pause for a moment as everyone heard what he wanted to do. Finally, the young navigator shook off her surprise.

“I don’t know if that’s possible, Sir. That’s a lot of mass surrounding the exit point. Let me see if I can make them do that,” the woman said as she turned and began setting up her program. She didn’t wait to be dismissed, and Ian grinned about that.

He nudged Chekov and whispered. “How good is she?”

The Navigator snorted. “She’s my second. She’s actually better at hyperspace programming than I am, but I still beat her on n-space navs. If anyone can pull off what you want, Sir, she can. Although I don’t think it’ll be possible. There really is a lot of mass to deal with.”

“Do you think she can do it if the ship is moving?” Ian asked. “If we’re moving, it shouldn’t matter all that much, but if the Super Nova is moving...” he just shook his head. “That can’t be done.”

The woman apparently overheard them, because she grinned. “Bet me, I dare ya!”

“As soon as they detect us, they are going to start moving to hit us. I need to know that you can pull this off,” Ian asked, seriously.

“Sir, no offence, but whether I can or not, it really has no bearing on what you’re about to order. We need to be in orbit to defend the planet. In order to do that, the Super Nova is going to see us. Now, with respect, please let me work so I can try to keep them from killing us,” the woman said.

Ian nodded. “You’re right, I’ll let you work.”

Ian returned to his command chair, and typed in a command for his communicator. “Phoenix Base, this is Guardian. Drop your camouflage, and raise your shields. Have your medical section ready to receive a lot of wounded. Dark Palace is moving to shield the planet.”

“Understood, Guardian. Do you want our shuttles readied to help with the wounded?” Amal Punjab replied.

“That would be great, Doctor. This is going to get ugly no matter what happens. Stay safe down there,” Ian said.

“That we will, Guardian. Our hopes and prayers go with you.” Amal replied.

Ian smiled at the sentiment that Amal sent to him and changed to a ship-wide channel. “Attention, all hands. We are moving to Earth orbit to prevent the Caldarians from destroying a good portion of the North American continent. This will attract the attention of the enemy, and we will be under attack as soon as we get in their range. So at this time, I am issuing a Red Alert. All hands to battle stations. All civilians to emergency sections, and secure all sections for battle. Let’s do this right and protect our home, people! Let’s do this.” Ian closed the channel.

“Ship is in combat mode,” Star reported. “ECM active.”

“Activate ship decoys in outer system, have them begin moving in system. Bring the reactor to one hundred percent, raise our shields. Launch the navigations drones, Gold and Silver squadrons. Prepare to launch hyper missiles. Mr. Chekov, as soon as the squadrons are away, take us to Earth, best speed. All tracking and targeting systems go to active mode. It’s party time.”

“I have them Sir,” Chekov’s assistant, Lieutenant Gordon said. “I think I can even maintain the lock if they move. But I should mention, that even if the warheads somehow didn’t detonate, the hyperspace sheer alone should do considerable damage to them.”

“Light ‘em up, Lieutenant. If you can keep them out of this fight, there is a damn good chance you will save all our lives,” Ian said.

“Decoys have been detected. Four carriers have changed course, and the Super Nova is powering up her engines!” The person handling tracking reported.

“Flight control, this is navigation. We have a hyper missile launch order. Please clear the deck,” Gordon said over the comm.

“How many are you launching, Nav?” Flight Ops asked replying over the comm.

“There will be four in the first launch, with four more on deck,” Gordon replied.

“Warhead status?” Flight asked, beginning the preflight checklist for the missile. A hyper missile was basically a Hornet fighter, with the cockpit and wings removed, and a warhead and jump engine added.

“Armed standby, impact detonation, safety engaged,” Gordon replied.

“Power systems?”

“Active, the birds are awake,” Gordon replied.

“Tracking systems?”

“Locked, target programming accepted,” Gordon added.

“Sir, we have also been detected. Two carriers have changed course and are accelerating toward us!” tracking said.

“It’s about time,” Ian said sarcastically. “I was beginning to think they were asleep over there!”

“Navigation systems?” flight asked, continuing the checklist.

“On-line, system ready for hand off,” Gordon replied. “That’s it, they’re ready to go. Let me know when you have them in position.”

“Will do, Nav,” John replied. “Fifteen seconds.”

“Gold and Silver Squadrons, be advised, we have carriers inbound. Attention all departments, Master Safety is now off. All weapons should be armed and ready to fire. Missile command, send out a welcome for those carriers!” Ian ordered. “Activate all point defense systems.”

“Target lock is lost! Hold hyper missile countdown!” Gordon said.

“What happened Lieutenant?” Ian asked.

“The target is moving. I thought I had compensated for that, but I was wrong. Give me a minute!” Gordon replied, distractedly.

“Confirmed. Supernova has begun to move. Stand-by for projected course,” tracking said.

“Well, that’s going to make things interesting,” Ian replied. “Where are those carriers?”

“Still on course. They have launched decoys to counter the missiles. Missiles will arrive in two minutes,” Operations reported.

On the hologram, Ian saw new blips – missiles being launched from the inbound carriers.

“Inbound missile ETA ninety seconds,” tracking reported.

“Silver squadron, please go greet our guests,” Ian ordered. “Gold squadron, defense pattern bravo-two.”

Ship to ship fighting in space is not the fire and hit, fire and hit, humans are used to seeing in science fiction movies. For one thing, the distance between the ships is measured in thousands of kilometers. Obviously, energy weapons, like lasers, travelling at the speed of light, can and do travel across that distance in an instant, however, missiles don’t.

Due to the long ranges involved in this type of combat, missiles are the long-range weapons that any battle begins with. Lasers could be used, but the physics involved usually make that prohibitive. Inverse square rule applies. Distance costs energy, the further away the target is, the more energy it needs to get there.

For the moment, the two big ships were simply too far away from each other for the use of energy weapons. Of course, there is a distance that even firing missiles at each other would be futile as well. If the flight time of a missile too long, the person that it was fired against will have time to counter it, or simply shoot it down. Usually having less mass, missiles are faster than fighters. However, they are not faster than a laser beam.

The Super Nova, near Venus, was too far away to engage even with most missiles, (hyper missiles had no maximum range) but the carriers were well within the engagement arena for missiles, and would soon be in the range of the energy weapon turrets mounted all over the old ship.

“Silver squadron is engaging the carriers, carriers are launching fighters,” Ops reported.

“Can they detect Silver squadron?” Ian asked.

“Too early to tell, Commander, but I doubt it. If they couldn’t detect them before, they shouldn’t be able to now,” Chloe replied. “The weapons on the carriers seem to be firing blindly, trying to target the fighters based on the place where that fighter fired from. So far, it isn’t working very well for them.”

“Understood,” Ian replied.

“Sir, the Super Nova is opening her missile tubes,” Ian heard from someone in the CIC.

“Why? We’re too far away aren’t we?” Ian asked.

“Normally, I would say we are, but these are not the Caldarians we have read about. I would say they’re up to something,” Eischens replied.

“Launch Cobalt squadron from the moon. Have them head towards Earth, but be ready to receive new orders. We might have to jump them out to intercept those missiles,” Ian ordered.

“Our fighters at Earth are engaging the inbound attack squadrons,” Ops reported.

One of the carriers that had been on the way to the moon suddenly turned yellow in the display, and seemed to be falling back. Likewise, two of his fighters from silver squadron, turned yellow and their beacons activated.

“Launch combat recovery,” Ian ordered.

“Drones away,” flight reported over the comm.

Outside the ship, on the part of the hull covering the landing/launching bays, two large, armored drones detached from the ship. The drones were mostly armor and a shield generator with strong engines and a stronger tractor system. There was nothing fancy about these robotic craft. They had only one function; the recovery of wounded and destroyed fighters and pilots during combat.

Ian listened to the sounds of combat unfolding around him as his people fought for their freedom. So far, they hadn’t actually lost anyone, but several fighters had been damaged. Of the missiles launched at them from the carriers, only one made it through the fighters and the point defense system quickly took care of that one. Ian knew that, had there been more missiles, some of them would have made it through to impact the ship.

“Commander, the missiles from the Super Nova are all targeted at Earth. I’d bet my grandmother’s Elvis collection that those warheads are heavy nukes or are enhanced yield anti-matter. It’s too soon to tell you which cities are targeted, but if those fuckers make it to their targets, millions are going to die,” Eischens reported.

Ian nodded his agreement, even though the intelligence chief wouldn’t see him. “Comm, get me the flight leader of Cobalt.”

“Cobalt flight, Hammerhead here, whatcha need Guardian?” a voice said from Ian’s comm.

“We’ve spotted several missiles launched by the Super Nova that are headed for Earth. I need you to jump out and intercept them,” Ian ordered.

“Will-do, Guardian. We have the data feed. We’re a minute from jumping,” Hammerhead replied.

“Hammerhead, it is imperative that you kill all of those missiles. If even one of them gets through, a city on Earth is going to be vaporized,” Ian said.

“Understood, Guardian. Nothing will get past us,” the man replied after a short pause.

“Be aware that the Super Nova is following the missiles. Don’t even try to engage it, concentrate on the missiles. The missiles are your priority. Good hunting, Cobalt,” Ian replied. “Guardian out.”

“Enemy fighters entering weapons range,” the CIC reported.

“All guns, acquire and fire! Weapons free!” Ian called. “Gordon, how’s that problem coming?”

“It’s a slippery one, sir. I’m doing my best!” the woman replied.

“I know you are, Lieutenant, ask for help if you can use it,” Ian suggested and turned back to the hologram hovering in the center of the room.

“Ops, what’s going on with those decoy drones? Why aren’t they evading the carriers?” Ian asked.

“We’re trying to find out, Commander. They quit following our instructions a few minutes ago. If we can’t get them back, the gig will be up shortly,” Chloe replied.

“If you can get them back, shut them down and let them drift. Try to get the carriers to believe that they disappeared,” Ian suggested. “Maybe, with everything else that’s been going on in this system, we’ll start to spook them.”

“That would require them to have an imagination, Commander,” Eischens replied. “So far, I haven’t seen evidence of them having one. They seem to believe that they are invincible, and no matter what we do, they will just keep throwing weapons and troops at us.” He paused a moment. “Sir, I think we stand a chance of pulling this off.”

“You’re just now coming that conclusion? Thanks for the vote of confidence!” Ian said teasingly.

“You know what I meant, Commander. This commander refuses to believe we are a threat to him, so he is mostly ignoring us,” Eischens replied.

“I take it you are mentioning this for a reason, Major?” Ian asked.

“Yes sir. I believe that, no matter what the course projections are, everything they are throwing at Earth right now, is meant for one target. They believe that in order to take the planet, they will have to first destroy us, by destroying Talos. I think they have decided that the community on the surface is the main command center for all off-world operations,” Eischens explained. “However, once they have destroyed the town, the rest of the planet will fall quickly, and they will act accordingly. The Super Nova is moving to Earth, not to intercept us, but to insure Caldarian dominance of the planet. Who would oppose them with that monster over their heads?”

Although there was no proof to back-up Eischens explanation, Ian felt he was most likely correct. However, he couldn’t afford to change tactics in the event the man was wrong.

“I’m inclined to agree with you, Major. However, I don’t see how changing our current strategy would make anything better,” Ian replied.

“Oh, no Sir, I wasn’t suggesting that. What we are doing right now is exactly the right thing we should be doing. From all appearances, the Caldarians have no idea how to counter this type of combat. The one thing I’m afraid of, Sir, is that everything we are doing will be fruitless.”

Ian was surprised by that. “How so?”

“Sir, even if we destroyed every single fighter and carrier that thing carried, what would be left?” the man asked.

“Just the Super Nova, it would be pretty much defenseless,” Ian replied.

“Is it?” Eischens asked. “Even if we stripped every one of her offensive ships from her, that monster still retains the power to destroy the planet before we could do anything to it. Even without her fighters and carriers, there is no guarantee that we could defeat her.”

“Well, no, it would still be a hard fight, but it can be done. The odds are a lot higher without her fighters,” Ian explained. “So what would you propose we do about it, Major?”

“We need to think about how to seriously damage the big ship. That will take their minds off of Talos,” Eischens replied.

“Would four anti-matter tipped hyper missiles work for you?” Ian asked grinning.

“That would certainly be a good start, Sir!” Eischens replied.

“Tell you what, Major, send your son out here, I have a job for him,” Ian said.

“He’s on his way, Sir.” Eischens replied.

Jenny looked up at Ian in question, he smiled and winked at her.

“Caldarian carriers and fighters are in attack range.” The report over the comm stated. As if to underscore the announcement, the ship rocked slightly as it took fire.

Jenny immediately turned back to her console. “Damage control to port section one thirty seven, decks five and six. Engineering, I’m showing the shield generators in sections one thirty five through one forty are in stand-by mode.”

“We’re on it!” was replied, but Ian couldn’t tell from who.

“Gold squadron, one of those assholes just scratched the paint job. What are you doing out there? Enjoying the view?” Ian said into the comm to Talena.

“Just making sure you’re awake in there, Guardian,” Talena replied, but Ian could tell she was preoccupied. From what he could see of the fight going on outside the ship, she was very busy. Ian had two squadrons of fighters out there, one led by Talena, and the other led by Cindy. Luckily, there hadn’t been a lot of friendly casualties yet. The enemy fighters were still having trouble targeting the nearly invisible fighters that Ian’s pilots were flying.

“Earth orbit in fifteen minutes, Sir. I’m trying to not outrun our fighters,” Chekov reported.

“Good work, steady as she goes, Lieutenant,” Ian said nodding his approval.

“You asked for me, Sir?” the younger Eischens asked from beside him.

Ian turned to him and pointed to where Lieutenant Gordon was working furiously at a terminal. “Do you see that woman over there?”

“Yes Sir,” the Ensign replied.

“I want you to give her a hand. She’s got a navigation problem that’s giving her fits,” He sat up a little. “Lieutenant Gordon, I’ve asked Ensign Eischens to give you hand. He has a grasp of the higher maths and programming that’ll blow your socks off.”

Gordon looked relieved. “Thank you Sir, I was trying to think of someone I could call to help with this.”

Ian winked at the young man who was still staring at the attractive red-head. “Go on, Ensign.”

Jenny saw his expression, chuckled, and shook her head. “I thought you wanted to get the issue solved? I somehow doubt that putting those two together is going to speed up the process.”

Ian grinned. “I think you’ll be surprised.” He watched the two out of the corner of his eye to make sure that they did actually fix the problem with the hyper missile programming. He wasn’t disappointed, they got right into the problem, and were soon lost in their own little world.

“Sir, the attack force has entered the atmosphere. Talos is under a full alert, and has activated their shield and weapons systems,” CIC reported. “The United States has also put all forces at home on full alert. The last message from the Admiral said that he had told the President of the impending attack, and that we were responding to it. He said they will try to stay out of our way, but will have fighters in the air to ‘assist’ us.”

“Wonderful. Well, we tried,” Ian replied.

Star Dancer battled the two carriers and their fighters while it made its slow progress to Earth. Meanwhile, in open space, between Earth and Venus orbits, a full squadron of Shadow fighters scrambled to chase down and destroy the missiles that were heading for Earth. Closer toward Venus orbit, but steadily accelerating, the huge Caldarian warship was headed for a final parking orbit over the planet it had come to claim.

At Earth, the Caldarian force held their speed, and refused to slow down and engage the fighters that had been sent to intercept them. They did drop fighters to keep the ‘Terran’ fighters occupied while the carriers continued on. The ploy worked simply because of the number of fighters they left behind them. When the carriers crossed over the high deserts of Utah and Nevada, they deployed yet more fighters, as well as several more bombers.

When it was clear to Ian that the carriers wouldn’t be slowed, he directed every fighter they could launch from the moon to Earth to help defend the town. The lunar fighters arrived at the planet, at the same time that Star Dancer did, and immediately dropped into the atmosphere to help stop the enemy that had just made it to missile range of the small community.

The amount of fighting taking place in the atmosphere was very obvious to the inhabitants of the planet, and there would be no way to cover it up. Some of the fighting, actually made it almost all the way to the ground, as some fighting took place near Las Vegas. Several enemy and one friendly fighters had been shot down in that area. Ty had dispatched cloaked shuttles to track the course of the battle from very low altitude for the purpose of cleaning up the mess before anyone else could get their hands on the wreckage, or the pilots.

The main battle took place over southern Colorado, eastern Arizona, all of New Mexico, and parts of Nevada.

Chapter 21

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

Combat location: Eden

“Sir, the assault force has entered the atmosphere. Two carriers launched fighters to engage ours, but the rest of the carriers have not slowed down, they are still coming. E.T.A. is twenty-nine minutes,” the Marine manning the ops terminal said to Ty.

“Sound the alarm. Let’s get everyone down in the shelters. Activate all weapons systems, and bring the shields to full power. If any or our troops aren’t suited up and armed, they need to be ASAP.” He touched the button on his Comm. “Colonel Petrie, this is Ty.”

“This is Petrie, what’s up?” the man replied.

“We have guests coming, E.T.A. is twenty-five minutes. From the looks of it, this is going to be a full attack, including nukes and anti-matter. Please make sure all your people are suited up for the duration,” Ty said.

“I ordered them all into their armor when you first told me about the ships. We’re ready for them,” Petrie replied.

“Good, I’ve also activated all the weapons systems, so your heavy guns should be hot. Good luck out there,” Ty said.

“In case I don’t get the chance to say it, Colonel Anders, thank you for letting us be a part of this. This is what Marines are meant to do.” Petrie replied.

“Semper Fi, Colonel,” Ty said.

“HOO-ahh!” Petrie said and closed the channel.

“Do we have missile lock yet?” Ty asked.

“Any second, Sir.” The other man in the ops center replied.

“Feel free to light them up as soon as you do, Corporal. All weapons are free to fire as soon as they have a positive lock.” Ty ordered. “Remember, there are a lot of friendlies, and normal jets up there.”

“Will do Sir,” the man replied.

“Connors, have our troops get to the surface and help the civilians get to the shelters. I want everyone off the surface before any of those bombers get into range,” Ty said noticing that there were still people running around on the surface. “What’s the problem up there anyway?”

“Two children are missing. We’re checking to make sure they aren’t already in the shelter, but they are still looking for them on the surface too,” Private Connors replied.

“If they aren’t found in fifteen minutes, then we’re going to have to give up. It’ll be too dangerous for the civilians up there,” Corporal, what’s Star Dancer doing?”

“Still en-route to Earth Sir, she should get her about the same time the enemy does. Operations has just ordered all fighters from Phoenix base to launch and get here as fast as possible, Star Dancer’s Marines are getting ready to deploy, but I’m not sure where they’re going yet,” Corporal Ramirez said.

“Not too many places for them to go, is there, Corporal?” Ty asked.

“Sir, I meant I don’t know if they are getting ready to come here, or they are gearing up for a boarding operation,” Ramirez replied.

“Who are they going to board?” Ty asked, confused.

“Sir, the Super Nova is also in route to Earth,” Ramirez replied.

“Fuck! I forgot about that big bastard. Okay, keep me posted,” Ty said, then touched his communit again. “Main Medical, this is Ty.”

“MedBay, what’s up, Colonel?” Doctor Johnson replied.

“It’s party time, are you all set up down there?” he asked.

“Already? I thought we had another hour!” she said in surprise. “We will be in five more minutes, Colonel.”

“That should be fine, Doctor. Do you need anything?” Ty asked.

“Do you think you could get the Caldarians to simply turn around and go home? That would be really helpful,” the woman replied sweetly. “Everything else we pretty much have a handle on.”

“Multiple targets locked! Missiles away!” Ramirez reported.

Ty shook his head. “Nope, I guess they didn’t get the message, sorry Doc.”

“Keep your head down, Colonel,” the doctor replied.

“Will do, Anders out.” Ty said closing the channel.

“Connors, use the base sensors to find the kids then get everyone underground now!” Ty said. “If they are in range of our weapons, we are in range of theirs!”

“I’ve been trying Sir, I’m still looking, but they haven’t shown up yet,” the private said.

“Sir, I have inbound missiles! Missile defense systems are tracking and firing!” Ramirez reported. He looked over at Private Connors. “We’re running out of time, Amigo, I would get the civilians to the shelter, and keep looking for the young ones with soldiers.”

Connors nodded. “I’m issuing the orders. I’d just like to know where they could have gone that the sensors wouldn’t be able to find them.”

“Where are the only places in the compound that the sensors don’t work?” Ty asked.

“There aren’t that many, near the shield generators or the power units, mostly,” Connors replied.

“What about close to the edge of the shield itself?” Ty asked.

Connors shook his head. “There are sensors on each of the poles all around the perimeter, if they were close to any of those, we’d know about it.”

“Well, send men to check out the shield generators, and power units. Bring all the domestic drones up from the underground base, program them to look for the kids, and turn them loose. In ten minutes we’re going to be trading energy with live Caldarians on the ground,” Ty said. “We’re going to need every Marine we have. Ramirez, warn the Marines about the missiles.”

“Fighters and assault carriers are following the missiles. It looks like they are serious this time,” Ramirez said.

“Those missiles must be shield piercers. I was expecting heavy anti-matter, or nukes,” Ty said.

“Sensors do say they are carrying anti-matter, but you are correct, Sir, the amount is consistent with shield piercers,” Ramirez replied.

“Control, this is Elias. I found them! They were playing on top of the mesa next to the shield Generator. They’re both unconscious, which would explain why they didn’t come running when the alarm sounded. When the shield went active, it stunned them,” Elias explained. “I’m carrying them, and we are running for the shelter.”

“Elias, its Ty. Make for the admin building, and take the elevator down from there. It’s closer to your location. Be advised, there are missiles coming, it’s going to get hairy out there before you can reach cover.”

“Understood, I just handed one of the young one’s off to a Marine, we’re heading for the Admin building,” Elias replied.

“Impact is imminent! All units! Take cover!” Ramirez called.

The command center shook with the impacts. Of the shield piercer missiles, alarms started sounding from the computer system.

“Shield down to thirty percent. We have fires in sections one and four! Damage control to sections one and four!” Connors ordered.

“Get the drones working on those shields, we can’t take any more impacts!” Ty said.

“I’m on it, Sir!” Ramirez said, typing furiously on his keyboard.

“Sir, three Marines have minor burns, and six more have damaged armor. No other damage to offensive or defensive systems,” Connors reported.

“Thank you,” Ty said, he filed that away in his mind, and he feared they were going to take a lot more damage this time.

“Fighters and assault carriers are firing on the shield. Assault carriers are again landing in section twenty-three, outside the front gate. All enemy activity is centered there,” Ramirez reported. “The Marine’s shield is still at full power.”

Ty had consulted with Petrie and his company commanders and decided that the most likely place for the enemy to attack would be the place they attacked first. It was really the only place they could land their ships that would give them the opportunity to provide covering fire for the other ships.

Also, it was the place that was the closest to the main compound, which was their primary objective. So, they had developed a strategy that would counter that scenario, while still giving them the flexibility to move if the enemy did, in fact, assault another place on the shield. However, that did not seem to be the case.

“Marine shield is taking heavy damage,” Ramirez reported. “Enemy will breach in ten minutes.”

“Send out the skirmishers, let’s try to take some of their attention off the shield. Activate the anti-assault weapons systems,” Ty ordered. “Set them to begin firing as soon as the shield fails.”

Out on the enemy landing area, the assault carriers didn’t actually land this time, instead, they began ‘dropping’ their payloads of troops and equipment. They hovered a few meters off the ground, and opened the bays that faced away from the incoming fire.

“These fuckers are a lot smarter than the bunch we fought the first time. Expect the carriers to join the air attack once the troops are off-loaded,” Ty said.

“Control, this is Petrie,” came a voice over the comm unit.

“This is Anders, what’s up Colonel?”

“It looks like these bastards are playing for keeps this time. They’re using the ship’s shields to protect their troops during the offload. Also, we’re seeing our shield glowing where they have their fire concentrated,” Petrie reported.

“That’s where the breach will be, Colonel. We’re doing everything we can, but it’s going to happen. Once they punch through there, the shield will collapse from the overload, and then it’ll be a shooting gallery,” Ty told him.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Will those ships continue to protect their troops after our shield falls?” Petrie asked.

“No, once the troops move away from the ships, they’ll be unprotected. After the ships are unloaded, we expect them to lift off again, to hit us from the air, or move back for long distance cover fire,” Ty said.

“This is what they should have done the first time. I think we’re in for a fight,” Petrie said.

“Yes we are, keep your head down, Colonel,” Ty replied. “They have air support this time.”

“Do we have air support?” Petrie asked.

“Yep, they’ll be up there too, but you can never be too sure,” Ty said.

“That’s true, Petrie out.”

Many things began to happen, and all of them seemed to happen at the same time. Star Dancer arrived at Earth and began atmospheric defense operations, the assault carriers finished off-loading their cargo and moved back to land and use their larger weapons as cover fire, and the shield covering the marines collapsed from the overload of energy being dumped into it. Most of the rest of the assault force arrived overhead at that time as well.

Unknown to Ty, two planetary assault missiles got past Cobalt Squadron in deep space, one was taken out by Star Dancer’s guns, but the last one made it into the atmosphere. Its target was Denver, Colorado.

Cobalt squadron had followed the missiles all the way in, trying to stop them. But once they hit the atmosphere, the fighters had to slow down or risk overloading their armor because of the friction of the atmosphere.

After the missile escaped even Star Dancer’s guns, one of the pilots from Cobalt broke formation, and dove for the missile.

“Falcon, where the hell are you going? You’ll blow up before you ever get close to it!” The flight leader called.

“Boss, my family lives in Denver. I have to try, if I survive this, you can kick my ass for disobeying.” Falcon replied as he pushed his fighter to maximum speed, and began full automatic firing of all his weapons, and setting his shields to maximum.

From the ground, millions of people looked up and saw a bright, glowing streak moving rapidly after another streak. None of them actually knew what they were looking at, and for a few of them, it would be the last thing they ever saw.

Falcon didn’t even try to shoot the missile, he flew his Shadow fighter, as fast as it would go, right into the missile. The impact alone would have been enough to destroy the missile, even if Falcon’s ship hadn’t exploded due to overload. He exploded three hundred meters short of his target, but still accomplished his goal. The concussion triggered the warhead that had armed when it entered the atmosphere. At an altitude of almost a hundred thousand feet, the hundred-plus megaton anti-matter warhead detonated.

At that altitude, the flash was visible from well out in the Pacific Ocean, all the way to Cincinnati, Ohio. In the high planes and along the west coast of the United States, thousands of people were blinded, and hundreds of people suffered from flash burns. Seventy-three died from burns. Fire departments all over were stretched past their breaking point as hundreds of fires began in an instant.

Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

Combat location: Eden

Up on the surface, chaos reigned. The Caldarian troops rushed forward en masse. But the Talosian Marines, mixed in with the US Marines, broke the rush. Forcing the troops to advance slowly behind armor.

Several of the troops paired up and carried a shield with them. It was a thick piece of armor that had a small shield generator mounted on it. When the shield failed, it would automatically reset itself. While it cycled through it’s cool down, the thick armor of the hard shield served to absorb the energy and impacts from the Talosian weapons until the shield generator could reactivate. The system would eventually be over-come, but it bought the enemy troops enough time to move a considerable distance forward.

“Primary shield failure eminent. Standby to shift power grid to weapons systems,” Ramirez reported.

“Power system ready, weapons systems ready,” Connors reported. “Weapons deploying.” On the surface, several new ground mounted weapons rose from their underground storage places, and the water tower once again opened up.

“Switch now!” Ramirez ordered.

“Switching, weapons systems are hot and locking on, power systems switched. Anti-assault weapons are engaging the enemy assault carriers and heavy armor,” Connors reported.

“Good, our Marines need the help,” Ty said.

“Damn! We just lost two anti-air turrets!” Ramirez reported. “Those bombers are accurate as hell.”

“Set the rest of the bombers as the primary targets for the rest of the AA (anti-aircraft) units. Can we shift any construction drones over to fix the ones we lost?” Ty asked.

“Sorry Sir, everything I have is busy fighting the fires, or trying to fix the shields. I’ve already had to abandon the labs and assembly areas.” Connors replied.

The bunker shook and the lights failed but came right back on. “Surface power plant is gone. It took a direct hit.”

“Fuck, what’s out reactor status?” Ty asked.

“We’re at one hundred and five percent. Engineering is trying to cut systems out of the loop to ease the load,” Connors replied after some fast typing.

Ty walked over and turned off the lights in the room. Now the only light came from the walls of monitors the two controllers had. Connors didn’t say anything, but he did chuckle and Ramirez smiled.

“Hey, every little bit counts,” Ty said. “Ramirez, shift the hovercraft west, it looks like the enemy armor is heavier over there.”

“Sir, we have detonations to the north, in the mine field. Sensors aren’t registering anything out there!” Ramirez said, confused.

“Give me a visual,” Ty asked. One of the bigger monitors in the center of the wall switched to a view of the empty desert, with the settling dust from the mines detonating. As he watched, two more mines exploded. In the dust, he thought he saw a geometric form.

“Connors! Swing guns five and seven around and fire on that spot. Keep shooting until I tell you to stop. Hammer the hell out of it!” Ty ordered.

“Cloaked ship sir?” Ramirez asked. “Shouldn’t we have detected it?”

“Not if they were moving really slow, it’s the distortion they make that we can detect. If they didn’t make any, we couldn’t see it,” Ty explained. As he watched, the two guns began firing, and he could see that they were hitting something, but so far, the ship was remaining cloaked. At each impact, he got a flash of the ship that was cloaked.

Ty activated his comm. “Colonel Petrie, we have a cloaked ship in the outfield. So far they’re tangled up in the minefield. But I don’t know how long they’ll be delayed.”

“Lovely! I was hoping we’d have more playmates!” the colonel replied sarcastically. “Any count on them yet?”

“No, they’re still cloaked, but I’m hammering the hell out of them with two of the guns. As soon as the cloak fails, I’ll be able to tell you how many there are,” Ty replied.

“Okay, I hope you can take care of it with the guns. If I pull any troops out right now, it’ll be like opening the flood gates!” Petrie replied. “They brought a lot more troops and equipment this time.”

“Sir, the engineer reports that he’s done all he can. The reactor is still critical, and threatening shut down,” Connors reported.

“Tell him to piss on it if he has to, if that reactor fails, we’re all gonna die!” Ty said, “Ramirez, is there still power going to the shields?”

Ramirez typed a command into his terminal, then swore and shut down the now destroyed shield generators. “Sorry sir, I should have checked that.”

“You got it now, that all that matters. Check and shut down all power to non-essential surface buildings,” Ty ordered. “Tell the fighter base to shut down the launch tubes, open the doors to the landing area, and shut down all life support systems. If we have any ships down there, try to patch them into the power grid and use them to help supply power. Connors, contact Star Dancer operations and tell them to be ready to assume command if we lose power.”

The men didn’t acknowledge his orders, but they did act on them. Ty was thinking rapidly on what else could be done to unload the power grid. On the monitor displaying the minefield, Ty saw the smaller assault ship uncloak and try to raise shields. On the ground, forty Caldarian troops and two of their big hover tanks sat, unmoving. Nearby, the smoking wreckage of three tanks was surrounded by the strewn bodies of other Caldarian troops that didn’t survive the mines.

As he watched, small missiles launched from the ship on a short arc. In midair, they exploded filling the air with smaller, sub-munitions. When those small bomb-lets hit the ground, they detonated, triggering the mines under and around them. The ship was clearing a path for its remaining troops.

He had just figured out what was going on and was about to call Colonel Petrie when the monitors and computers shut down, plunging the command center into darkness. The main reactor shut down from over-load.

Chapter 22

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Earth Orbit

Sol Sector.

Combat location: Dark Palace

As if the Caldarians had been waiting for it, they threw everything they had at the community once the power failed. Ian was sick when he saw the amount of destruction that was being done to the small community.

“Operations, drop our Marines in the outfield. They are to eliminate the surprise force, then move to reinforce the rest of our troops. Send Silver squadron down to attack the heavy ground units,” Ian ordered. “E.T.A. on the Super Nova?”

“Twenty-nine minutes, sir. We’ll be in missile range in five minutes,” Operations reported.

“Sir! I think we got programming!” Gordon said excitedly. Ian had almost forgotten about them.

“Execute immediately!” Ian ordered.

“Aye, sir!” Gordon replied. “Flight, we are ready to resume hyper-missile launch sequence.”

“’Bout flippin’ time! Gimme a sec, so we can get them back in position. I had to move them for fighter recovery,” John’s voice said over the comm.

Ian thumbed the comm. “Quickly, John. That beast will be tossing heavy missiles at us in three minutes.”

“Understood Sir,” John replied. “No! Set them in the cats, dammit!” he said to someone else before his comm shut off.

Ian could imagine the scene back in the landing bays, deck hands scrambling to push the large missiles around by hand, while others worked to move the damaged and destroyed fighters off the deck. It was a full minute later that John called back. “The birds are loaded, and awake, Navigation. I got my finger on the button.”

“Understood, Flight, Initiating launch sequence,” Gordon said. “Hyperspace event forming three kilometers aft. Portals are stable, launch when ready!”

“Launching! Bird one and three away!” a short pause, then he said. “Birds two and four away!”

“Comm, tracking. We’re showing a hyperspace event forming inside the Super Nova! She has come to a dead stop and is showing heavy damage due to gravimetric sheer.”

“Visual!” Ian ordered.

Again, an image of the big ship was displayed for him. As he watched, the monstrous ship seemed to shudder, and fold slightly as if it had a tummy ache. The hull along the centerline began to wrinkle and fold up like an accordion, and the huge bay doors on the bottom blew completely off, and went flying away from the ship like they were small hatches instead of three-quarters the size of Star Dancer herself.

“Missile re-entry in three, two...” Gordon called out, but didn’t reach ‘one’ as the image on the screen blew up so spectacularly that it was seen clearly from Earth. The plasma wave from its destruction, even at the distance the Super Nova had been, still rocked the ship when it washed over her shields.

Gordon turned around, smiling. She was at attention and saluted Ian. “Sir, target is destroyed.” Beside her, Ensign Eischens was grinning like it was Christmas.

“Good work, both of you, but we’ve still got a battle to win. Both of you please go see if there is anything you can do in Ops to help out,” Ian ordered, returning the salute.

The two grinned at each other, and ran for the door into the CIC.

Star looked up at Ian, and she had a look of utter shock on her face. “Sir! The two drones we lost control of have just launched fighters to intercept the carriers! I am receiving IFF information for the Heavy Cruisers T.D.F Prometheus and the T.D.F Pegasus! Those two ships that jumped in are Talosian!”

“They’re what?” Ian said looking at her.

“I can’t explain it Sir, but those two ships are Talosian Heavy Cruisers and they are on their way in system!” Star replied.

“Sir, we are being hailed. They are asking us if we need assistance!” Star replied excitedly.

“Accept the hail, on screen please,” Ian replied, stunned.

An image of an older woman appeared on the main screen, and she bowed her head to Ian. “Greetings Commander. I am Commander Serena of House Aphilian aboard the Prometheus. Do you require assistance?”

Ian stood in shock for a moment before he remembered how to greet another Commander. He bowed as well and spoke in Talosian. “Greetings Commander Serena, I am Commander Ian Williams of uh, House Cronos. Yes, we could definitely use your help here,” he paused and blinked a couple of minutes. “No offence, Commander, but why did you wait so long to reveal yourselves?”

The woman smiled. “No offence taken, Commander. Your ship is not supposed to exist. Our records show her destroyed at the Battle of Darkness. We had no idea what we were getting into when we got here.” Someone off to one side got her attention for a moment. “I apologize, Commander, but more explanation will have to wait until we can meet face to face. We do, after all, have a battle to finish.”

“I understand, Commander. Could I borrow some of your Marines to assist on the planet? Even after all the fighting, I’m afraid we are still outnumbered two to one,” Ian replied.

Serena nodded. “They will jump to you immediately, Commander. I’ll have the unit commanders contact your operations officer as soon as they arrive. They are yours to use. We’ll follow as soon as these carriers are taken care of. We will also send our medical and evac shuttles. Do you wish for me to call for colony support?”

Ian had no idea what that was. “I think I should wait to answer that until I know exactly what colony support entails, Commander. This planet is... well, let’s just say that there are extenuating circumstances here.”

Again Serena nodded. “I understand. My troops are launching now, we should join you in orbit in about an hour. See you then, and Commander?”

“Yes?” Ian asked raising his eyebrows.

“What you’ve done here is remarkable. Many would say it’s impossible. You have done very well,” the woman replied. “Prometheus, out.”

There was a moment of awed silence on the bridge as they all struggled to adjust to what they had just learned.

“Operations, prepare to receive reinforcements for the planet. When they get here, send them straight down. There will also be medical and evac shuttles, have them hold position until the fighting gets under control down there.” He changed channels. “Medical, you’re going to be receiving extra help. Make sure your people can speak Talosian. You can launch your shuttles as soon as you’re ready. You can join the rest of the shuttles waiting to go down.”

“Who did we get help from?” Beth asked.

“Two more Talosian Heavy Cruisers showed up. Real Talosians. I’ll explain more later,” he paused for a moment. “Beth... it’s going to be bad down there. They took a hell of a beating.”

“I’ll tell my people, Ian. Thanks for telling me. I was talking to Diane until the power failed. She was starting to get overwhelmed then. I can only imagine how bad it got after the power failed,” Beth replied.

Talos, New Mexico

It had indeed gotten bad. Casualties were very high among the Marines. Three hundred forty-two had been sent to medical. Most of them after the fighting stopped. Of that number, seventy-one had died of their injuries either before they got to medical, or shortly after arriving there. Those that had been killed on the field had been taken to one of the larger hangers in the base and covered. In the chaos, there hadn’t been time for identification of the fallen, and the drones handled most of the removal anyway.

The village of Talos itself was almost completely destroyed, only a handful of buildings still stood, and at least half of those were still burning. The community center, where the main entrance to the shelter had been, had been levelled, blocking that entrance. The civilian survivors had to be taken out through the base, or out through the landing strip entrance tunnel, since all the elevators had been destroyed.

When it had arrived, Colonel Petrie’s battalion had numbered seven hundred and forty-four men. After the battle, he had more wounded than able-bodied, and just over half of his command had been killed.

The Marines Ty had sent out had fared the same, as they had fought alongside the US Marines. Two hover craft and one landrail were still operational, although one of the hovercraft could no longer fire its laser, and the landrail’s power unit tended to overload and shut itself down.

The enemy had fought and refused to surrender, forcing the Marines to destroy them completely. Those that couldn’t fight back, killed themselves.

There had been too much damage to hide the weapons and the advanced technology before the American Military descended on the town again. Ty did have the shield replaced, and made sure none of the ‘investigators’ got get into the town and see things they shouldn’t.

Colonel Petrie and his men stood out in the open inside the shield, and removed all the advanced armor and equipment they had been given. They redressed in their normal battle uniforms and weapons, formed up, and marched back outside of the shield, returning to their ‘own’ forces. Ty saw them out, standing at attention and saluting as the small formation marched passed.

As the last of the men and women marched by, Colonel Petrie turned to Ty, and offered his hand. “It’s been a pleasure to serve with you, Colonel Anders.”

The loss of so many men and women shown clearly on both of their faces. “It was my honor, Colonel. Are you sure you should be doing this? You can stay with us you know.”

“I appreciate the offer, Ty, so do my men. Perhaps later, but for now, we still have a duty to the United States Marines,” Petrie replied.

“I understand. I’ll contact you when the wounded are ready to go home as well. Doctor Johnson tells me that should be in a few days,” Ty replied.

“Ty, it’s Luke, I need you to come to Medical right away,” Luke called over the comm.

Ty touched his communicator, “I’ll be right there.” He looked up at the man that had become a friend. “Duty calls. I gotta go. Take care of yourself.”

“You too,” Petrie replied, stepped back, and saluted Ty.

Ty returned the salute, and watched the man walk out the gate. Ty nodded to the guards, who closed the gate and closed the shield.

Wondering what was so important that Luke would call him down to the medical section, however, once he got there, it quickly became tragically evident. Lying on one of the floating gurneys was the body of someone he recognized immediately.

Even though the body was badly burned, and covered in soot and blood, he had no problem identifying the body of his friend, Elias Johnson.

Clutched tightly to his body, as if to shield it, was a smaller body that once had long black hair. The small girl was also badly burned, but her face had been pressed against Elias’s chest and was remarkably untouched by the horror of her passing. Although Ty didn’t know her very well, he recognized little Andreya Stavros. They hadn’t made it to shelter in time.

“We just found them.” Luke said softly. “Part of one of the walls of the Admin building had collapsed, they were under it.”

Ty closed his eyes in an effort to stop his emotions from overwhelming him. “Does anyone else know?”

Luke nodded. “Andrea called Laura, I sent a couple of Marines with Andrea to escort Laura over here. Most of the Marines know by now, it was a squad of Marines working with a drone that discovered them. The Marine that took the other girl from Elias dropped off the girl, and went back to help him and the other girl. The Marine’s suit beacon is what called the squad. He was under there with them. He survived, but is feeling really guilty.” Luke gestured to another room with a closed door.

“You need to call Ian, Luke. Elias and he were very close,” Ty said. “I’d call him, but I think it should be you.”

Luke nodded. “I think everyone here was his friend. There were a few of us that were close to him. Jim Beecher is with Laura and Andrea, and I called you. Other than Ian, we were the ones closest to him,” Luke said. Ty could tell the big man was barely holding it together.

Ty reached out and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “For what it’s worth, Elias died a hero, Luke, he tried to save Andreya, and he did save that other girl. If it hadn’t been for him, it would have taken us too long to find the children, and we would have lost both of them. Just try to remember that.”

Luke nodded, and Ty excused himself. “I need to go talk to that trooper and try to get him to understand that what happened wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

Luke looked down the hall at the door. “If it will help, tell him I’m going to recommend some kind of reward for him. He had the same thought as Elias, just not as quickly, if he wouldn’t have already been moving in that direction, none of them would have survived. All three would have died when the shield generator blew.”

“Do we know why the girls didn’t run for the shelter when the alarm sounded?” Ty asked.

“Young Jessica Walter was the other girl. She told us they hadn’t heard the alarm. They did hear the shield generator come online, but thought it was just running its daily systems check. Apparently, they played up there a lot,” Luke explained.

“I think we might have to designate certain areas off-limits to the little ones,” Ty said. “I’ve over-heard a lot of people talking about leaving, since the community has been all but destroyed. Is there any truth to that?”

Luke nodded. “There is some speculation about it. Once we get all the bodies located and accounted for, and a solid damage assessment, we’ll have a meeting to talk it over. Right now is not the time for major decisions like that. We need to recover first.”

Ty looked down at the body of his friend lying on the table. “Not all of us are going to recover for a  long time. Elias will be sorely missed. Would you like me to be there when you call Ian?”

Luke sighed. “Yeah, I think it would be better if we were both there. We need to hurry though, Beth will be arriving soon, and as soon as she knows, Ian will.”

“I’ll go talk to my Marine, and come right back,” Ty said. “We can call him then.”

Luke nodded his agreement, and Ty quickly left the room. As he stood there, Luke again looked at the burnt face of his long-time friend. “Dammit, Elias! Why did it have to be you?”

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Geo-sync orbit over Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol System

“Sir, you have a priority call from Councilor Belden,” the communications officer said.

“I’ll take it my ready room,” Ian said wearily. “Major Dancer, please send a copy of our recent history to the Talosian ships. I’m sure they would like to know what we’ve been doing here.”

“How far back do you want me to go sir?” Star asked.

“Start at the attack on the planet Talos. Send them everything that’s happened to date, that way they’ll understand our actions, and the actions of the former crew, better,” Ian ordered.

“Yes Sir,” she replied.

“Jenny, you have the con,” Ian said as he stepped down.

“I have the con, Sir,” Jenny replied, but she looked very concerned. “Ian...” she said softly.

He stopped and looked back at her expectantly.

“It... it isn’t good news,” she said.

He looked at her as if waiting for her to finish, but she didn’t. With a sense of foreboding, he walked to his ready room.

He sat down at his desk and activated his comm, putting Luke and Ty up on the big monitor in the room.

“Ian, I have some bad news,” Luke began, but faltered. Ty put his hand on the other man’s shoulder. Looking back at Ian, Ty spoke.

“Sir, Elias Johnson was killed trying to save the life of two children during the attack. He took temporary shelter behind one of the walls of the admin building when it was hit. The wall fell, crushing him and one of the children, both perished.”

Ian was stunned. Elias was dead? That shouldn’t have even been possible. “How was he still outside when the attack came? Weren’t the civilians supposed to be in the shelters?”

“Yes Sir, and most of them were. However, the two girls were missing. We had to physically restrain their parents from staying out and looking for them. I had two squads assume the search for the girls, but Elias had already headed for the place he thought they might be. He was right. He grabbed both children, and ran for the admin building to use its elevator to get underground – it was the closest. One of our Marines had the same thought, but started later. He met Elias coming down the hill, took one of the girls, and used the speed of his suit to get her to safety. He returned for the other girl and Elias just as they took shelter behind the wall. He was buried with them when it collapsed. It was his beacon that drew a rescue party. Elias and Andreya Stavros died instantly, the Marine broke his back and suffered several crush injuries from trying to hold up the building,” Ty explained. “I’m very sorry, Sir.”

Ian nodded but took a moment to get his emotions under control. Elias had been like a father to him after his parents had passed away.

After a moment, Ian looked back up at his two friends. “Luke, Ty, you both need to know we have company up here. For now we assume they’re friendly. Two Talosian Heavy Cruisers, ships almost identical to Star Dancer, only belonging to the survivors of the destruction of the home planet. I don’t know much more yet, but they have offered their assistance.”

“I was wondering about the extra troops running around down here. I remember getting a brief message about Talosian troops coming down, but I thought they meant your Marines. Then I saw all the shuttles, and knew something was up. There were too many shuttles, and a few of them looked like upgraded assault shuttles,” Ty said.

Ian nodded. “For now, they are under our command, so use them as you need them. As soon as the rest of the Caldarian fighters and carriers in the system are dealt with, I’ll be meeting with the Commanders of the new ships. I should have more of an idea then about what’s going on.” Ian stopped and closed his eyes. Elias’ death was trying to overwhelm him, but there was still work that had to be done before he could let himself grieve.

“Ho...” he had to clear his throat. “Uh, how are Laura and Andrea doing?”

“About as well as can be expected. Beth is with them now, I asked her not to call you since Ty and I wanted to be the ones to tell you,” Luke replied. “She got here only a few minutes after we found them.”

Ian nodded. “I appreciate it. He was...” Ian was again cut off by his throat tightening. “He’ll be sorely missed. Do you want me to contact Stephanie?”

“No, I’ll handle that, if her mother hasn’t already. Ian, we may have another problem,” Luke said. “There are several military units stationed outside our shield now. I’ve already had demands from government agents to be allowed into the compound. They are demanding to know what our connection to you is. Frankly, my people just don’t want to deal with it. A lot of folks are for simply packing up, and leaving.”

Ian felt his heart thump, and his face must have registered his surprise, because Luke immediately held up his hand. “No, not leave us, leave the planet. Most want to move to the moon or the ship. There has been mention of making a colony someplace, like Mars. They just want to leave.”

“Oh,” Ian replied. “I don’t know if we actually have room for everyone up here yet. But I’ll check and see. For now, I’d increase patrols, and ignore the investigators. We’ll figure out what to do after the smoke clears and we have a better idea of what’s left.”

Luke nodded. “That’s pretty much what I’ve been telling folks. Ty already tripled the guards, and there is a full platoon of armored Marines stationed at the main gate.”

“Sir, Colonel Petrie also took his remaining people back outside the perimeter. I told him he was welcome to stay, but he said that they still had an obligation to the United States. I got the feeling that we’ll be getting a bunch of new recruits when their terms are up,” Ty added.

“They’ll be more than welcome. What about their wounded?” Ian asked.

“Once they’re cleared by medical, I’ll contact the Colonel, and arrange to get them back to him. I would just let them out the gate, but I don’t think they’d be taken back to their unit,” Ty said. “The troops that served with us, have been ‘detained for questioning’ already. I’ve half a mind to go out there and rescue them.”

Ian shook his head. “We can’t. They made this choice, they are going to have to live with it. We can’t fire on Earth forces or we violate our oaths.”

“I know,” Ty said. “I just hate to see that happen to anyone.”

Ian sighed. “Do you need anything else down there? Supplies, more medical, anything?”

“No, we got a handle on it. Now that we got the main reactor fixed and restarted, our own replicators are back online. I do need to know if there is room for our people up there, also, I have something to tell the council,” Luke said.

“I’ll have Doctor Punjab call you, Luke. I’ll also ask Jenny how many folks we can take on board. I’ll have the survey department begin looking for a suitable place to build something on Mars, but we might want to wait for the final analysis of Atlas in the Centauri system,” Ian said. “Either way, I’ll get them working on it.” He paused. “We’ll handle the funeral services later, depending on how much grief the intelligence services cause us.”

They ended the call because they all still had a lot of work to do. Ian sent a note to Dr. Punjab to have him contact Luke Belden about available room for the refugees from Talos, if they voted to abandon the settlement.

That done, he returned to the bridge. Jenny looked at him. “How bad is it?”

“Do you remember that sweet little girl that jumped into my arms at graduation?” Ian asked.

“Oh no!” Jenny said putting her hand over her mouth.

Ian nodded. “Elias was rescuing her when a building fell and crushed them both. Elias is gone.”

“Oh Gods! Stephanie’s going to be heart-broken! I don’t think she got to tell him she was pregnant!” Jenny replied

“Jen, I need you to talk to your mother, and find out how many people we can take onboard. There is a possibility that the people of Talos will vote to leave the planet, and we’ll need to have room for everyone. I sent a note to Doctor Punjab to do the same, so you might want to coordinate with them. I also need to talk to the survey folks about colonies.”

“Colonies? Where?” Jen asked.

“Well, maybe a temporary one on Mars, but I was thinking more of the Planet Atlas in the Centauri system. It’s relatively close, so we should be able to protect it as well as Earth. We’re going to need to build a shipyard anyway, and that would be the best place for it, unless we do it right here, and the people of the planet might take exception to that,” Ian replied.

“Well, the Talosian ships finished off those carriers and fighters, they’ve recovered their fighters, and are on their way in system. They should be here in a couple of hours,” Jenny reported. “Commander Serena sent a thank you note for the information you had Star send. She will try to have it reviewed by the time they get here.”

Ian nodded. “I should try to do the same with their history since the destruction of Talos.”

“I can help you with that, Sir. However, you would have to take a nap,” Star suggested.

Ian shook his head sadly. “I think sleep is going to be a problem for a while, Star. I appreciate the thought though.”

“Actually, we can use the device we used on you when you could not sleep before. If you would go and lie down in your ready room, we can get started,” Star suggested.

Jenny nodded her agreement. “We really should try to not alienate the Talosians, we might need the allies.”

“Okay, you have the con, again, and I’ll go take a nap. Star, please join me in my ready room,” Ian agreed.

“I have the con. Rest well, love,” Jen said.

Ian walked to his ready room again, this time, Star followed him. Although she was a hologram, and could have simply appeared in the room, she was trying to make her presence more like that of a human.

As Ian stretched out on the couch, Star got the device from the replicator. “Have you reviewed this information yet, Star?” Ian asked.

“Yes Sir. It is truly amazing that they managed to survive after the destruction of so many worlds, and the loss of the home world. However, they now have a new home world, and have reestablished the alliance. They have also formed an alliance with the rest of the races that had been fighting the Caldarians.”

“Sounds complicated. I’m sure I will enjoy the story,” Ian said as she sat the device on his brow.

“I think you will Sir. You will be finished in forty-five minutes. I will awaken you then,” Star said.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Ian said and Star activated the device. She noted that he dropped off to sleep rather quickly. He was far more tired than he had been showing.

Once the Talosian star went nova, it disrupted hyperspace, causing the remaining ships that were answering the distress call to overshoot the system. Three Heavy Cruisers that had been involved in a battle far from home had run from the Caldarian battleships they were fighting to aid the homeworld. When they returned to normal space, they found that they had overshot the system by almost ten light months.

While they had been trying to figure out what had happened, and reset their computers, they received the final message from Talosian High Command showing the destruction of the system. Through the vagaries of speed of light propagation, they had learned what ships had been in system when the nova occurred. The three ships then began the work of locating and contacting as many Talosian ships as they could find.

They set up a meeting place hidden from the Caldarians and well away from the expanding plasma wave. They searched for surviving ships for a month after the event. Feeling that staying any longer in the place they were in was dangerous, they instructed all ships to abandon their old subspace communications channels and jump out to one of the other race’s territory.

The news they carried with them, as well as the message they had received as well of the destruction of the Talosian system at the hands of the Caldarians, was the motivation the rest of the races needed to set aside their petty differences and combine their forces to put an end to the Caldarian threat once and for all.

The last four Talosian Cruisers tried to join the new fleet, but they were respectfully told to stand down. There simply were not enough Talosians remaining alive to risk losing more in combat. So while the Talosians were getting their ships repaired and scouting new planets to colonize, the new Alliance of Races began a campaign against the Caldarians that the larger race simply could not stand against.

Several hundred thousand Talosian slaves were freed from Caldarian ships and sent back to join the rest of the refugees. The Talosians had just found a planet and had begun to settle it, when the Alliance forces brought an end to the Caldarian war.

Unknown to the Alliance forces, the Caldarian scientists had developed a device called a core tap that used the energy of the planet to provide power to the heavily over-populated surface. The Alliance forces, detecting the energy signature of the power plant, mistook it for a weapons facility and destroyed it.

The resulting chain reaction set up a destabilizing harmonic in the containment matrix controlling the equipment holding the hot core of the planet at bay. Within minutes, the planet became unstable. The Alliance barely had time to get their ships away from the planet when it exploded, instantly killing sixty-five billion Caldarian civilians and three hundred million slaves of various races.

Of the remaining Caldarian forces, those that didn’t suicide, surrendered. It was thought that all of the remaining Caldarian forces had been accounted for. The appearance of the Super Nova at Earth had proved that belief incorrect.

The Talosian people, less than five hundred thousand men and women, restarted their race on a planet they named New Talos. Although slightly colder than their original homeworld, it was almost identical in every other way.

Now, thousands of cycles later, the Talosian Alliance consisted of a total of thirteen worlds, and a total population of almost twenty billion souls. The original practice of multiple partner bondings for the purpose of repopulating had become accepted as the norm, and still continued to this day. A council of ‘elders’ was composed of the heads of all the houses that had been reformed from the ashes of the originals. A Grand Council was held every six lunar cycles at the Palace of Government on New Talos, while the Ruling Council of twenty-one elected elders handled the day to day business of the Alliance. The Talosian Defense Force had been reformed, and the Talosian High Command was, once again, the military arm of the Talosian people and served as part of the military of the Alliance of Races that still existed to this day.

After the Caldarian issue had been resolved, exploration had again been undertaken by the races. While the remaining parts of the galaxy was being explored, a team was sent across the void, to the closest galaxy to see what was there.

What they found was a very militaristic Empire that had been preparing to send an expedition to the Milky Way Galaxy. With the arrival of the exploration ship, they took it as a sign and immediately captured the ship, its occupants, and the AI that had journeyed with them.

Before it destroyed the ship, the AI did manage to send back a message about what they found and what happened to them. In that message was a warning. The Empire had been amassing an invasion fleet for an expedition into the Milky Way Galaxy. The arrival of the exploration ship only confirmed for them what they had hoped to find.

In their first attack, the Empire had taken six alliance worlds, two of them in Talosian territory. Since that time, the Empire has been make slow but steady progress. As it stood now, the Empire had taken almost twenty worlds, six of them belonging to the Talosian Alliance. A good portion of the existing mining and ship manufacturing facilities had also either fallen to the Empire or had been destroyed completely, and had not as yet been rebuilt. The Alliance of Races was losing the war, and they had also lost the capacity to build new ships. They did still have smaller repair docks, but without the raw materials to manufacture needed parts, even repairs were getting difficult.

Talosian replicators needed raw material to replicate most objects. The Humans had not had to worry about this aspect of that technology, since raw materials had been close at hand. But if they started building ships in a dry dock facility, they would also need to begin mining to supply the replicators with the needed raw materials to make the parts.

As Ian awoke, he thought about what he had learned. The Talosians had survived the Caldarians, but now they were losing to a new race of beings from another galaxy.

He had also learned where everyone was located in the galaxy. Earth was distant from the rest of the Alliance, as most of the Alliance worlds were on the far side of the galaxy. The original Talosian system was nearly a thousand light years away to the galactic east and slightly north. After the destruction of the homeworld, they had moved closer to the other races in order to be better protected. If Ian looked down on the galaxy from the top and divided it up like a pie, the Alliance of Races, as well as the New Talosians, would occupy just under half of the opposite side from Earth. A hyperspace trip to the new Talosian homeworld would take nearly four months. Commander Serena and the ship with her, had been called to investigate the Sol system while they had been heading back to a hidden repair base in Kimbrean space.

Chapter 23

F.S.S. Star Dancer

Geo-sync orbit over Talos, New Mexico

Earth, Sol System

He sat up to see Star standing there looking at him with concern. “Are you alright, Sir?”

Ian nodded and scrubbed his face. The ‘nap’ had left him tired. “Yeah, there’s just a lot to absorb. Please make sure that the senior staff gets that history lesson tonight when they’re asleep. Everyone will need to know what’s been going on with the Talosians since you crashed here.”

“I will see to it, Sir,” Star replied.

“What’s the status of the remaining Caldarian presence in the system?” Ian asked.

“They have all been destroyed. The remaining fighters near Earth self-destructed when the last Carrier was destroyed. Admiral Hawkins called for you, and would like to speak to you at your earliest convenience. He wished to express congratulations and his gratitude to all of us for defending the planet. I believe he also has a request for you to contact the President of the United States.”

Ian nodded. “How long until the Commanders arrive?”

“They will be pulling up beside us in twenty minutes. Colonel Williams ordered that Admiral Hawkins be advised of their arrival so he wouldn’t panic,” Star replied.

“Good idea. I knew I made her the XO for a reason. What’s going on down at Talos?” Ian asked.

“Not much has changed, I’m afraid. There are several government agents demanding entry into the compound, and they have provided warrants to search the premises. So far, Colonel Anders has simply ignored them.

Communications from the forces outside the compound on Earth indicate that the Marines that helped us are to be taken by aircraft to the Papoose Lake facility in Nevada for further testing. That is not normal procedure for the Marines, Sir,” Star reported.

“No, it isn’t. Get me Ty on the screen please,” Ian asked.

It took a moment, but Ty’s haggard looking face appeared on the monitor. “What’s up boss?”

“Ty, our Marine friends are going to be taken to Area 51 for ‘testing’. I want you to have your fighters and two recovery drones intercept it and drag it into our hanger there. Be sure to jam their communications. The President of the US wants to talk to me, so maybe I can see what’s going on with them.”

“Those fuckers. I knew they’d try to pull some shit like that. Okay, we’ll grab them. What do you want me to do with them after that?” Ty asked.

Give them rooms in the base until we figure out something else for them. Have the flight crew checked out and see if they can be recruited or if they are die-hard intel people. We might have to go recover some families, so be sure to have the shuttles on standby as well.”

“Most of the shuttles are already on standby. Most of them are busy transporting wounded up to the ship or the moon base,” Ty reported. “But, we’ll figure something out, Sir.”

“Okay, I’ll leave it up to you. If you need anything from us, just ask. I have a few minutes before the Talosian Commanders arrive, so I suppose I should go call the President,” Ian said tiredly.

“Lucky you. Have you decided what to tell her yet?” Ty asked.

“No, but I thought I’d try the truth. It’s been working so far,” Ian replied. “I’ll call the Admiral first, and see if he can give me any suggestions.”

“Good plan,” Ty said. “Take care up there.”

“I’m not as worried about us, as I am you. I’m surprised they haven’t started shooting at you yet,” Ian said.

“Give them time, they’ll try that before nightfall, then they’ll try simply sneaking past the guards, then they threaten an all-out attack. They might actually do it too, since we’re so close to White Sands. I’m not worried about it. Nothing they have will get through the shield. Even if they did get through the shield, I have three battalions of armored Marines down here, we’re safe.” Ty said grinning. “We have tried to warn them about shooting at the shield though. I don’t think they believe us.”

Ian nodded. “Talk to you later.”

Ty smiled and nodded before ending the transmission. While he’d been talking to Ty, Ian got a cup of cappuccino and sat at his desk. “Star, can you connect me with Admiral Hawkins at Cheyanne Mountain please?”

“Certainly Sir,” she replied. “I’ve got the video link.”

Admiral Hawkins appeared on Ian’s terminal monitor and he smiled at Ian. “I see you did survive the attack after all. Good work son.”

“Thank you Admiral. We took some losses in the Marines, yours and mine, but the wounded will be returned to you as soon as they’re able. I wanted to ask you if you knew that the unit that helped us was being taken to Papoose Lake for ‘testing’,” Ian asked.

“Fucking Spooks!” the Admiral swore. “When did they leave?”

“They actually haven’t yet, Sir. I’ve ordered my people to intercept them and bring the plane back to our underground base there. They fought well and did their duty to the best of their ability. I won’t let them be taken someplace and tortured like that. Not after everything they’ve done,” Ian replied.

“I appreciate that, son. I’ll do what I can for them from this end, but if that plane takes off, I probably won’t be able to stop them after that because they’ll disappear,” Admiral Hawkins said. He was typing on his terminal as he spoke to Ian. “Sorry, I’m sending a note to my aide to get started on this.”

“Not a problem, Admiral. I’d be doing the same,” Ian replied.

“You look beat, son. I’ll try not to take up too much of your time.” He paused. “What’s this about the two other ships entering orbit being friendly?”

“They’re Talosian, sir. I have only spoken briefly with one of their Commanders. I’ve since learned their back story, but have no idea why they’re here now or what that’ll mean in the long run. I’m supposed to meet with them soon. I should know more after that meeting,” Ian said. “For now, I’d consider them friendly, but not allied.”

“Talosian... isn’t that the race you said built your ship?” Hawkins asked.

Ian nodded. “Yeah, but we thought they had all died in the battle for their homeworld. It turns out we were wrong. However, since I don’t know anything about them or how they are now, I’m treating them like visiting dignitaries from another race.”

Hawkins nodded agreement. “Son, I know you aren’t under my command, but could you try to keep me in the loop? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that all of this has certainly puckered a lot of assholes in Washington D.C. I’ve even been asked by the President herself, no less, that if I were to make contact with you, to pass along a request for you to contact her.”

“Major Dancer said something like that. I suppose I should call her. I don’t think she’s going to be very happy with me though. I won’t let her tell me what to do, nor will I give her any information other than what I’ve already told you,” Ian said.

Hawkins nodded. “You’re most likely correct on that. The last I heard, she had her cabinet and all the chiefs of staff sequestered in the war room.”

“Considering what was being thrown at the planet, I can’t really blame her for that,” Ian replied. “You might also warn the two teams that have ‘secured’ the ‘crashed alien craft’ that we can track them, and we will be taking them.”

“You really are serious about keeping advanced tech out of our hands aren’t you?” Hawkins asked. “They’ll shoot at you.”

Ian shrugged. “They can shoot all they want. They can’t hurt anything but themselves. In most cases, all they’ll be shooting at is an unmanned drone. However, they will have fighter support, but I doubt they’ll be needed. The drones are shielded against missiles.”

“I’ll try to warn them. But again, I doubt they’ll listen,” Hawkins replied. “Do you need the number to contact the President?”

Ian glanced at Star who just smiled.

“No, that won’t be necessary. Thank you for the offer,” Ian replied. “We will be returning the bodies of the fallen Marines as well as any of your pilots that we recover. We will have them delivered to Peterson Air Force Base. I’ll call you ahead of time so you can make the appropriate arrangements.”

“That would be perfect, son, thank you,” the Admiral replied. “Why don’t you call the President, and see if you can get a nap before your meeting? You look beat.”

Ian smiled. “The reason I look beat is because I just took a nap, Admiral. It has to do with how we learn complex things. I needed to learn the history of what happened with the Talosian people since Star Dancer crashed here, so I took a nap so it could be downloaded into my brain.”

Ian saw Hawkins shudder visibly. “That sounds creepy as hell.”

Ian chuckled. “It’s actually not so bad. Anyway, I’m running out of time, so I should let you go.”

“Okay, good luck with the President, as well as the meeting. I hope to hear from you again soon,” Hawkins replied.

“You will Admiral. We’re still going to try to get you to recommend foreign officers we can approach, but it’ll be a while. We’ve got a mess to clean up and government investigators demanding entrance to the community,” Ian replied. “We might just pack up and leave those investigators wondering what the hell just happened.”

Hawkins snorted. “That would really piss them off! Talk to you later, Commander.”

Ian nodded, and disconnected the call.

“Would you like to eat before you call the President? I can schedule the meeting with the Commanders for an hour from now,” Star asked.

“Actually, I was thinking that inviting the Commanders here for a meal would be good, if the schedules match. I’m more worried about the meeting with the Commanders than I am the President. I’m worried they’ll want their ship back,” Ian replied. “Would you ask Jenny if she would like to have dinner with us when the time comes?”

“I asked, she said she would love to, and will be ready when the time comes. I’ll make an inquiry as to the timing for the other commanders. Sir, they can’t take the ship unless you and the crew agree to it. The oath you swore predates the existing Alliance, therefore it cannot be used to force you to follow their orders. Legally, you are independent from their command. Additionally, the entire crew swore an oath to protect this sector, which means that we cannot leave here until enough defenses are built to allow this ship to leave for an extended period of time. That is the law,” Star informed him.

“I thought as much, but the reality of the situation could be very different. The Alliance is at war. They are losing, and need every ship they can get. I am certain they would want this ship back and would be willing to try to take it by force if necessary. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it could,” Ian replied. “That’s why I’m worried about the meeting. Could you please connect me to the President? I might as well get this over with, so I can get back to worrying about the Commanders.”

“I am announcing you as the Commander of the Terran Defense Force, since we now know that the Talosian Defense Force is a viable entity and we are not actually a part of it,” Star replied.

“I understand, Star, thanks.”

A moment later, the President of the United States, sitting at the head of a cluttered conference table, appeared on his monitor. Ian gave a slight bow of his head. “Madam President, I am Commander Ian Williams of the Terran Defense Forces. I was told you asked to speak to me?”

“I must admit Commander, that I was expecting someone a little less human, not to mention someone a little older,” the President replied.

“I am human, Madam President. I was born in Denver Memorial Hospital nineteen years ago. I grew up in a small town outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. There is a long story here, but I got this position because of genetics. My entire crew, as well as those that have agreed to help us, are as human as you are. We were all born and raised on Earth.”

“So now that the alien threat has been dealt with, what are your intentions, Commander?” a man to the president’s left said, he was wearing four stars on his shoulders, and a green uniform.

“I don’t think I understand your question, General. Are you asking if we are going to attack and take over the rest of the planet?” Ian asked.

“I had something like that in mind, yes,” the General replied.

“No, we have no plans or intention to attack the forces of Earth, nor do we intend to unseat any of the existing governments, no matter how much we might disagree with them. That is not our purpose,” Ian replied. “We are simply here to protect Earth from forces that it has no chance of defending itself from on its own. We love our planet, it’s our home, and we don’t want to see it conquered by aliens and the population turned into slaves. By the same token, we will not allow one country to capture any advanced technology that will give them an unfair advantage over the others. We are here to protect the planet, not just a single country.”

“But you gave our Marines at Talos advanced weapons in order for them to be able to fight?” another officer said. He was off screen, and Ian couldn’t see who it was.

“Yes we did. If we hadn’t, every one of those Marines would now be dead. We did what we could in order to ensure the survival of those troops, as well as protecting the Talos community from destruction. I should mention that those same Marines surrendered every piece of technology back to us once the fighting was over,” Ian explained.

“Commander, how do we know the aliens that attacked this planet were only attacking you? We have no proof that the rest of the planet was ever in danger?” the President asked.

“That is simple actually. Talos and our ships in orbit were attacked first because we were the only force that could seriously oppose them. If you examine the data from Cheyanne Mountain, you will see that several of the inbound deep space missiles had been targeting U.S. cities. New York and Washington were on that list too,” Ian replied.

“No, what I meant to say, Commander, was, how do we know that the whole attack wasn’t simply staged by you?” she clarified.

“What purpose would we have to do something like that?” Ian asked confused. “Madam President, every one of us swore an oath to protect the planet, not to attack it. We won’t even fight back against Earth troops, of course we don’t actually have to, we have shields and armor that you don’t have the weapons to even dent. Why would we stage an attack, when all we would have had to do was simply attack and take over?”

“We’ve been told that you are shorthanded, that there are only a couple thousand of you. Perhaps this attack was staged by you in order to gain our trust. Once you had that, you could take over subtly, without very much resistance.”

Ian thought about it a moment. “I suppose I can see your point. However, all I can do is reassure you that is not our intention. Currently, you have several government uh, investigators harassing our people that are still on the planet. I would ask you to please remove them. We lost a lot of people in the last attack, and the civilians down there are grieving. They really don’t need to be harassed by those folks.”

The president shook her head. “No, we need to make certain that you aren’t doing anything in there that is a threat to the American people. There was a reason the aliens, if that indeed is who they really were, attacked you. We want to know what it is, and what to do about it to keep them from attacking again. As for your ‘protection’ we would have liked to have had the opportunity to try diplomatic channels next time. Perhaps we could have signed a treaty with those people. So on behalf of the people of the United States of America, I am ordering you to land your ships and surrender to our troops immediately. As for the settlement in New Mexico, you will allow the investigators into the community, and you will assist them in any way possible. Further, I am ordering you...”

Ian shook his head and calmly said. “No.”

“Excuse me?” the president said.

Ian grinned at her. “I said ‘No’ madam President. You have no authority over me, you do not speak for the entire planet, and even if you did, there is no way we would ever surrender to you. Earth is not ready for the technology available on this ship or in the town. As it stands right now, your investigators cannot get into the community on the surface, and they never will. If they resort to using violence, I need to warn you that the shield protecting the community is reactive, your bullets will bounce off, and could possibly hurt your troops.”

“Are you threatening me, young man?” the President asked.

“No Ma’am. I simply trying to tell you that your troops could be hurt because of a passive function of our protective screen,” Ian explained. “Look, I’m not a politician, and frankly, we don’t have any diplomats. What I’m telling you is the truth to the best of my ability. We do not answer to you, nor do we answer to any Terran authority at this time. Our only purpose is to protect the planet from alien attack and to try to help in any other way we can without interfering too much. I am asking you to please allow us to continue as we have before, but frankly, we are going to anyway. We are no threat to you. If you don’t believe that, then I apologize, but it is the truth. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ton of stuff to see to after the battle. Madam President, Generals, I bid you a good day.”

As Ian ended the transmission, he heard the President say ‘wait’, but frankly, he had nothing to say to her.

“Sir, the Commanders would be delighted to join you for dinner and have accepted your invitation. They will arrive in forty-five minutes. Where would you like for me to set it up?” Star asked.

“I didn’t think of that. We kind of stole the command conference room and the rest of the conference rooms are purpose based. I suppose we could do it in here, or in my quarters. I would prefer here, having it in my quarters might send them the wrong kind of message,” Ian explained.

“That will do nicely, sir,” Star replied. “What would you like on the menu?”

“I have no idea. I don’t even know if they can eat the same things we do. Are they Vegan? Would steak be wrong?” Ian asked.

“Replicated food can be altered to ensure it is acceptable physiologically in most cases without altering the taste of the food. I will speak to the medical sections of the two ships and discover what the two Commanders can or cannot eat. I will also try to discover their preferences. For now, I will tentatively set the menu as steak and a baked potato with a side salad.” Star Paused for a moment. “Sir, their dress uniform is very different than the ones we currently have. Would you like to design one before they get here?”

“Uh, yeah, I felt silly wearing that pirate costume. Could you ask Jenny to stick her head in here for a moment?” Ian asked.

Jenny joined Ian and Star and after seeing what the Talosian Commanders would be wearing, Jenny quickly and expertly designed a new dress uniform for them to wear. The rest of the arrangements went off without a hitch, since Star made damn sure they did.

Both Ian and Jenny greeted the two Commanders as they arrived and escorted them back to his ready room.

“I apologize for having dinner in here, but we used my command conference room for a Combat Information Center during the last battle, and we couldn’t tear it all out in time,” Ian explained. He spoke Talosian because, while the two new Commanders spoke English, they didn’t do it very well. Talosian was easier for them.

“This is fine, Commander,” Commander Egran of the Pegasus replied. “There are a lot of wonders that we’ve seen here already. I don’t know what a Combat Information Center is, but I look forward to finding out!”

“Commander Ian, with your permission, may we drop the titles? We are, after all, all of the same rank,” Serena asked.

Once they got settled in at the table, Serena spoke. “Ian, since we made contact with you, we’ve been in contact with our High Command. At this time, no decision about you has been handed down, since they feel that the Council needs to be informed. I don’t mean to be so blunt, but I would like to have your feelings about joining us.”

Ian nodded. “I appreciate your candor, Serena. I’m not a very good diplomat myself. Frankly, I’m afraid that you came her to take the ship back. We’ve all sworn an oath to protect this system, and the ship is part of that. Now, please don’t take that to mean we are not interested in forming an alliance with you. I did get time to review your history before you arrived. I know the situation with the alliance and the war with the Empire. I think we might be able to offer some help, but I can’t justify taking the ship away from this system until it has much better defenses in place.”

Serena nodded, and was about to answer when Egran spoke. “Ian, this food is wonderful, what is it?”

“Replicated dishes from Earth. I had no idea what to feed you, so I stuck with what I know. I had Star make sure it wouldn’t hurt you, and you could eat it. This is called steak,” Ian said pointing to the piece of meat on his plate. The explained the rest of the dishes. Finishing with, “if you’re interested, Egran, I can have Star send you a copy of her culinary database.”

“I would like that, thank you!” he replied, and took another bite.

“This is a really excellent meal,” Serena said. “It sounds like you have a good grasp of the situation, Ian. But I should warn you that not everyone in the Alliance sees it the same way we do. There are factions that feel we are winning the war against the Empire, and that our inevitable victory is simply a matter of time.”

Ian looked at her in confusion. “How can anyone look at the available information and see any other result?”

“Politics. In the old system, before the fall of Talos, when a person joined the defense services, you surrendered your house allegiances for the greater allegiance of all of the Talosian people. That is no longer the case; many of our Commanders have retained their house alliances. Those houses have gained considerable power because of the war. Power they are not willing to lose.

“You and your people are a completely unknown quantity to our people. I expect that many in the Grand Council will oppose either annexing you, or even forming an alliance with you if you insist on retaining your independence,” Serena finished.

“What about High Command? How do they view the situation?” Ian asked.

“Admiral Goya is the current head of High Command. He is a good man, and he holds no illusions about what’s really going on out there. But, in a lot of cases, he is hampered by the orders he receives from the Ruling Council,” Egran replied.

“Then too, you only have our words on the situation, and they are admittedly biased. The Alliance of Races is very powerful, but the Talosian position on the war is doing damage to our position with our allies. If the current trend is to continue, I fear that we will be left to our own devices soon. As it is now, when arriving at an allied base, we receive a cold reception until they know who is in command of the ship. They know that some of us are still committed to the Alliance, and they go out of their way to help us. But if one of the separatist Commanders arrives at an allied base, they usually have to wait, and then only enough repairs for them to get to a Talosian base are completed.

“It has gotten so bad that most separatist Commanders simply won’t stop at an allied base anymore. In multi-race battles, Talosian ships are always assigned to non-critical missions or duties. The situation is not good. If we lose the alliance, we will lose the rest of our planets very quickly and the Talosian Alliance will cease to exist.”

“There’s nothing Admiral Goya can do about it? Why can’t he replace those ship Commanders?” Ian asked.

“Politics,” Egran said. “Ship commanders cannot be appointed without Council approval. Which resulted in the Council making sure the Commanders they wanted got appointed instead of those that were actually qualified and should have been placed there.”

Serena shook her head. “Anyway, you don’t need to listen to our problems. But we did want you to know what you might be getting involved with if you decided to join us. They might even call for you to be replaced as Commander.”

Ian shook his head. “No, I won’t step down, and from the sound of it, we probably won’t be joining the Talosian alliance, at least as full members.”

Serena nodded. “I can understand that. Egran and I do hope that you will be willing to at the least share technology, and perhaps consider building ships for us. From what we’ve seen just in this last battle, you’ve made some pretty impressive advances.”

Ian looked at her in confusion. “Haven’t the Talosians? It’s been centuries, you should be way ahead of us by now.”

Egran looked uncomfortable. “Well, not that many of our resources have been put into research. In the early days, we were focused on rebuilding a home world, and population. We really had to scrape to get resources. Plus most of our scientists were killed in the Caldarian war. By the time we had people getting to the point where we were before the destruction of Talos, the Empire descended on us, and we’ve been on a war footing ever since.

“The locations we had gotten built were some of the first targets destroyed. Even the few places we had in the new home system have been hit by raids. It’s almost like the Empire knows when and where to hit us.”

“You think if we begin building your ships and weapons, they won’t be able to find us?” Ian asked.

Serena was the one to answer this time. “No, because there aren’t that many people that know you even exist. When the Alliance of Races passed the word about you, the sent the message to Admiral Goya directly. He contacted me on an encrypted channel and asked Egran and I to check it out. So far, only Admiral Goya, and our navigators know where you are. Word about you is bound to get out, if it hasn’t already, but your location is on a need to know basis.”

Ian nodded. “I’ll have to talk it over with my people. However, they might not be ready for this for a few days. We lost some good people down there, and as it stands right now, most of them want to just leave the planet.” He took a drink of his coffee. “You said the Alliance of Races told you about us, do you know how they knew? We haven’t seen any other ships except for the Caldarians.”

“Not a clue. I imagine the Firella located you. They are an ancient race we knew nothing about until the Alliance of Races formed. They’re energy beings that hold an advisory position on the Council. They have no need of starships anymore, they can move through space at will.” Serena explained. “I’ve never met or even seen one, and there are no holo’s of any either. I think half the Talosian Alliance doesn’t believe they even exist.”

Ian nodded again. Seeing that both Commanders had finished their meals, he asked if they wanted more. When they both declined, he offered them a tour of the ship, which they accepted.

They finally ended up in the same landing bay the two Commanders arrived in.

“This is just amazing! Ian. I cannot believe you only have thirty-five hundred people in your organization. How did you manage to do so much with so few?” Egran asked.

“We had a job to do, and we just focused on that. Actually we were really lucky that more didn’t go wrong and more people didn’t get killed. Although, those that did die really affected the rest of us. It’s going to take some time to recover from this,” Ian said.

“Did you lose someone special to you, Ian?” Serena asked.

“Yes, I lost a very good friend. His name was Elias Johnson. He... he always seem to keep me grounded, and focused on the mission. He had a way about him that made everyone want to do their best. He was a good man, and a better friend,” Ian finished sadly. “He died trying to save a little girl. I knew her too. She was sweet, cute, and should have had a full life ahead of her.”

“War is never fair, and it always seems to kill those that we need most.” Serena said softly. “There is little to do, but morn their loss, remember them, and keep them close to our hearts, so they can continue to guide us.”

They finished the tour, and talked a little more before the two Commanders had to return to their ships. Shortly after returning to his ship, Commander Egran called to apologize and wish Ian well. We was being recalled to New Talos, and would be departing within the hour.

Serena said she had been ordered by Admiral Goya to remain on station and render any and all aid to Ian and his people, unless Ian asked her to leave. Ian thanked them both, and wished Egran a safe and uneventful journey.

Ian held an interactive ‘town meeting’ over the network so everyone could attend. Since it had an effect on their decision to leave, Ian explained about the arrival of the Talosians, and the information they brought with them.

When he told them that Serena had asked if they would be willing to build a dry dock facility, as well as begin weapons research and construction for the Alliance, the people seemed to lock in on it. They asked a lot of questions about how to defend the facilities so they wouldn’t get attacked if their location were ever discovered. They also wanted to know how many people would be needed to man these facilities, and what kinds of weapons would they build.

Ian explained that it would probably be an expansion of the things they have already been doing. They would have to build a huge space dock in order to accommodate multiple ships at a time. They would also have to begin mining and refining operations and all that entailed as well. If they accepted the task of becoming a military shipyard and weapons facility, they would need thousands more people, in almost every field imaginable.

They would also need to greatly expand their military. He explained that for the time being, one of the Talosian ships would remain in the system to assist them as needed including protection, unless Ian sent her away.

“Commander, you have given us all a great deal to think about. However, in all the preparations and changes that are happening, we would like to hold the ceremony soon. However, the, uh, people down here are making that impossible. I’m afraid that we will have to hold the funerals up there,” Luke replied, officially.

“I understand Councilor, if that is the will of the council and the people, we will make the arrangements immediately,” Ian replied.

Luke nodded tiredly. “If you can give us a few hours to think about this, and make our decisions, we will get back to you, Commander. I can tell you, it most likely won’t be very long.”

“Thank you, everyone. To those of you watching, that are crew members, or in the military, I ask that you consider what this will mean to all of us, as well as the people of Earth that we have sworn to protect. My staff and I will wait for your answer. Good evening, everyone.”

By the time that meeting was over, it was almost eighteen hundred hours, or six p.m. He thought that everyone would eat their dinner, and sleep on it. At best, it would take a few days before the council would get back to him. He was surprised when he had a call from Luke that evening, just before turning in for the night. The citizens had spoken, and decisions had been made.

Assisting the Talosian Alliance with weapons and ship building facilities passed, provided ample protection could be either built, or brought in by the Talosians. The recruiters could be put back to work to get the people that would be needed to fill all the positions that would be created.

As for the town, they voted almost unanimously to move off-world and take up positions working on the new projects that would be created. The wanted to leave immediately however, since housing was available on the moon, with a few families temporarily living on Star Dancer. A formal request for the funeral ceremonies to be held at the Commander’s earliest convenience was also given.

“I guess that no one wants to stay down there and build the hydrogen engines, or any of the other stuff that was developed down there?” Ian asked.

Luke shook his head. “The people working on those projects want to move to something else. Truth be told, the development phase has been over for a while. We only need to find a place to build them and set up training facilities for the techs to work on them.”

“I thought we already had contracts with a few automakers for those?” Ian asked.

“They’re not finalized yet. I think they’re waiting for the manufacturing and training facilities. Either way, that is already being taken care of. The people just want to get the hell out of here. Whatever you decide to do with the place after that will be fine with us,” Luke said.

Well, if no one is going to be there, and we don’t actually need to hide as much as we have been, I don’t see a reason to leave anything there. We’ll get everyone out of there, then have the drones reclaim everything. We’ll let those inspectors with nothing but sands to sift through,” Ian said with a sarcastic smirk. “I’ll make the arrangements. Tell everyone to start packing. We’ll begin transporting everyone up here the day after tomorrow.”

Luke nodded and wrote something down on his desk. “How do you want to handle the wounded US Marines? They won’t be released for a few more days.”

“It’ll take a while to get everyone moved, but if they still aren’t ready to be released when everything gets done, we’ll just bring them up here too. We can return them to their unit from here just as easily as we can from there,” Ian replied. “I’ll speak to Commander Serena about borrowing her shuttles to aid us. Once we see how quickly this is going to go, we’ll schedule the funerals.”


A week and a half later, the town of Talos, New Mexico has gone. The area it had been in looked exactly like it had before they had started building the community. In a private moment, Ian cried as he watched the town Elias had built be completely destroyed. Ian sat down at his terminal and entered a request for the drones at Talos.

At the base of the small mesa that had served as the backdrop for the town, there was a small monument. On it, there were the names of all the men and women that had died there, including the U.S. Marines that gave their lives to protect it. At the top of the list was written the name Elias Arthur Johnson.

The two great starships had extinguished their running lights. The only light was the navigation beacons and the light spilling from the landing bays. The ships mourned the fallen.

Ian entered the shuttle bay where floating biers held the dead in stasis. At his request the mortal remains of Andreya Stavros was the first bier. Ian bent, disabled the field over her small body, and picked it up. Silently he turned and walked back down the ramp. The biers, guided by Star, began to follow him. As each left the cargo bay of the shuttle, the family members fell in beside each bier. The hologram that was the physical representation of Star, in full dress uniform, would be the last one in the procession. Ian led the silent procession down the hyper missile ramp into the port side maglev tube. There he turned and began the long walk to the forward most missile tube. On his way, he would pass by all the caskets. Empty biers fell in behind the procession, each carried only an American flag, with a card listing the name of the soldier or pilot it represented. As he walked, tears ran down Ian’s face blurring his vision, but he continued on. Behind him, Andreya’s brother walked beside her bier and her mother walked beside the bier carrying Andreya’s father. Ian knew the next bier carried Elias. He had planned it that way. Luke Belden, Laura, Andrea, Kyle, and Stephanie escorted him.

Ian reached his destination. The bier slid into place inside the last open casket. Placing Andreya’s body back on the bier, Ian kissed her softly on her cold forehead. “Please forgive me little one," he said very quietly. Her brother, who had been doing a good job of holding back his emotions, burst into tears. Ian stood and backed up, taking a moment to compose himself.

“Today we are gathered to honor our fallen and say a final farewell. We have come from many different backgrounds and many different beliefs. Yet we lived together in harmony. I don’t know what awaits the spirits of our loved ones, but I do believe they have, at last, found peace.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat, and continued. “As we prepare to begin a new phase of our own lives, I cannot help but think how much our fallen would have wanted to help us. Instead of a town, Elias could have helped us build an entire planet. Little Andreya would have loved to grow up there.” His emotions were getting the best of him, so decided to finish what he wanted to say, while he could.

“The last biers are for members of the United States Military, they were not members of our community in life. However, they gave their lives trying to protect us and so we honor them as well," Ian said. He straightened to attention. “Ghost Squadron! Salute!” he raised his eyes to the monitors placed along the walls for the ceremony. He watched as the ten ships of Ghost Squadron, running lights on so that people in the bay could see them, slowly flew away from the Star Dancer. They flew in V formation with a ship at point, five ships on the left and four on the right. Corvis’ voice, as flight leader, directed the squadron, “Ready! Fire!” and each ship fired one laser cannon into deep space. Corvis repeated the command twenty-one times.

Ian remained at attention. “Honors!” he called and saluted.

In the nexus point of the maglev tubes, Crewman Conner McBride began to play ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipes. With all maglevs disabled and all access doors locked open, the song carried, un-amplified, throughout the ship, it was also relayed to the Prometheus, parked below, and to starboard of Star Dancer.

As the song played, Ian dropped the salute. Remaining at attention, he stepped up to the control panel and pressed the button initiating the launch sequence. “Andreya Stavros, we return your body to the stars. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," he spoke as the casket closed and slid into the launch tube. Ian stepped formally to the next and repeated the process for every casket, the last one launching as the song died. He then stepped past where it had been, to where Star waited and did an about face. His tears no longer contained, he stood there at attention and silently cried. Goodbye Andreya. Goodbye Elias, you will be missed.

After a few minutes, he dismissed the ceremony. As the congregation broke up, Beth and Jenny moved to be with him, to comfort him, but Serena stopped them. “Don’t. He needs to do this alone. He will find his own way back. This is a duty that cannot be shared.”

He remained standing at attention long after everyone else had left, tears of grief and pain staining his formal uniform.

Silently, standing to his right, and one step to the rear, Star remained at attention, a look of pain on her face.

Also by Ben Winston

Talosian Chronicles


Star Dancer

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. 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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