Book: Neptune's Massif

Neptune's Massif

Neptune’s Massif

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2015 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Table of Contents

Copyright Page


Talosian Chronicles


Neptune’s Massif

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

About the Author

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Talosian Chronicles


Star Dancer

Talosian Alliance

Neptune’s Massif

*Raptor Squadron (First Quarter 2016)


Respectfully dedicated to all the people of the planet Earth.

May we find harmony in our diversity,

Compromise in our differences,

And may we join together to finally reach for the stars, in peace.

Neptune’s Massif

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 its 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 the Olympus on the moon, go down to the beautiful blue planet, and breed with as many of the inhabitants as possible. The Olympus, under the control 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 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 instead to 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 AI set about his first task of repairing and decontaminating the ship; it took far longer than it had estimated. Nine hundred years later it had finally completed all the repairs it could. However, it remained on the moon for the simple reason that since she was never intended to land; the ship had no means of lifting its large, multi-megaton mass off the surface.

Hoping its new Commander would have an idea, it turned his full attention to the planet its 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 found 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 ordered 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 repairs finally were 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 belonged.

Once back in space, Ian and his people focused on preparing for the arrival of a Caldarian ship and whoever else may be planning on showing up. After months of preparation and worry, the Caldarian ship arrives and immediately begins searching the system for Ian and his people.

Seeing the opportunity to play it safe and possibly save some of the lives of his people, Ian keeps a low profile and begins a guerrilla warfare against the Caldarians. During the attacks, it becomes impossible for Ian to keep his existence from the government of the United States and the rest of the world. However, that wasn’t the only government to notice Ian and his people; just as the Caldarian Super Nova hadn’t been the only ship to make the jump to Sol System.

In the aftermath of the final battle, other ships that had jumped to Sol were revealed to be Talosian Heavy Cruisers, the same model as Star Dancer herself.

Once the shock of discovering that all the Talosian people hadn’t been killed had worn off, Ian and the two newly arrived Commanders sit down to discuss the battle and what would likely happen now that the Talosians knew Ian had one of their ships.

After discovering that the better part of the galaxy, the Alliance of Races of which the Talosians are a part, is at war with invaders from another galaxy, it soon becomes clear that there is a problem brewing in the Talosian Ruling Council.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the sour relations the Talosians have with the other races of the Alliance of Races.

Half the council believes that everything in the SOL system should fall under their control and in most cases dominance. While the leaders of the council believe that the SOL system is a separate, autonomous entity. Two members of the Council along with the two highest ranking members of the Talosian Military come to SOL system to negotiate the situation.

After a sabotage attempt perpetrated by one of the council members fails, Ian and the other members of the Talosian Council discover the extent of the corruption in the Talosian Ruling Council and the plot to over-throw the council. Ian and his friends work out a plan to help the Talosians prevent a civil war that would allow the Empire to over-run the Talosians.

During all of this Star Dancer receives a distress call from a Benesian ship; a civilian passenger liner registered to the Benesian ruling oligarchy. Cindy's new ship, the raptor Damocles, is the closest and responds to the distress call first. Ian puts the dignitaries ashore at the moon base and heads out to assist the Benesians as well. Arriving first, the Damocles is heavily damaged by an Imperial warship that is destroyed in the initial exchange with the Damocles.

The Benesian ship hides and begins repairs. When Star Dancer arrives, they locate the Benesian ship but not the raptor.

After locating the Damocles, Star Dancer helps the Benesian ship finish repairs but while escort it to a jump point, an Imperial Task Force arrives. After speaking to the Alliance of Races military, Ian and the Star Dancer remain in the system to gather intelligence for the Alliance of Races. Impressed with Ian and convinced that the humans of SOL sector are not the same humans of Talos, the Alliance of races open diplomatic relations with SOL sector and invite them to take part in the assault on the task force Ian gathered the intelligence for.

The diplomatic relations allows the people of SOL sector to take care of another issue that had been waiting for the Council to make a decision. The underwater Caldarian Base in the Atlantic Ocean under the sea mount called Neptune's Massif.

Chapter 1

Phoenix Base

Finished spacecraft storage area

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sol Sector

Lieutenant Commander Alan Carlson looked at his specially modified Raptor with a smile. He noticed that there seemed to be a young woman looking over the ship with a proprietary attitude. He decided he would go see what her story was.

As he approached, the young woman stood up, brushed herself off, and saluted. "I'm sorry Sir, this is a restricted area. Off limits to those not specifically assigned to these craft."

Alan returned the salute. "Relax, I'm Alan Carlson and this one has been assigned to me."

The young women flushed with embarrassment. "I'm so sorry, Sir. I didn't check your ID before greeting you!"

"That's all right, I didn't exactly introduce myself. Speaking of ID, may I ask who you are?" Alan asked.

"I, uh, I'm also assigned to this ship. I'm the Electronic Warfare and Electronics Countermeasure Officer. My name is Andreya Star."

"Are you aware of our special mission, Andreya?" Alan asked. He remembered from his briefing that by the description of her, she was actually an android avatar of the AI resident in the ship.

"I am aware that we are the only Raptor team currently assigned to the planet Earth, our Raptor has also been equipped for underwater operations, Sir. Is that what you mean?"

"That's good enough," Alan replied. "Have you met the rest of the team yet?"

"No Sir, you are the first person I've met from our team. I assumed that the rest of you would have been training together for the last few weeks. Will they be joining us here?" Andreya asked.

After checking to see if anyone was close to them, Alan shook his head. "Not yet anyway. Please access the files in my private area entitled Operation Neptune's Massif. As far as our team is concerned, we don't have one yet since Command hasn't made a final decision about what to do about that Caldarian Base."

"I see that Sir, so for now, it's just the two of us?" Andreya asked.

"Pretty much. Care to show me around the ship?" Alan asked.

"I would be honored, Sir!"

Since they had been assigned to Earth, but had no base on the planet to go to, Alan and the Raptor Poseidon remained on the moon for the time being. He did keep working on getting everything ready for the mission to get rid of the Caldarian base. For now, he just couldn't understand why Command was ignoring the enemy base at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. He finally got his answer, but not from Ian. Ian’s wife, Jenny Williams sent him a message that pretty much answered his questions.

"Alan, I'm really sorry you've been getting stonewalled over this. Ian would have called you, but his attention has been taken up by this crap with the Talosians, and now we're leaving to rescue a Benesian liner from the Empire. Unfortunately, because of all of this other stuff going on, the mid-Atlantic base has gotten pushed to a lower priority. I've been trying to keep working on it in my spare time, but it's been getting more and more difficult. So I'm passing that on to you. I managed to get you a Raptor and the rank to get things done. However, the rest will be up to you to get rolling.

"Raptor team members are hard to find. Currently, the only candidates available are from the Prometheus; so if you take them, I have no idea if you'll be allowed to keep them. They have only started the psych profile stage, so we don't know how many of them will pass. Sorry, but that's all you have for the time being as far as personnel.

"There are several special projects going on right there on the moon. Most of them are classified of course, but they will work so well for this mission that you might want to see if you can get them on board for you to use. The first project that comes to mind is a type of underwater attack craft called, ironically enough, a Shark. These craft have never been in the ocean, although I have been told that at least one of them has been built and tested in a tank there on the base. To the best of my knowledge, they are also currently unarmed.

"Part of the team that was working on the Shark split off to develop the combat systems for it. I am told it has been a real challenge for the scientists because of the properties of water. They had no issues developing a very accurate and long range sensor system for it, but the weapons have given them fits.

"The one weapon so far developed is called a Lamprey. It is basically a multi-functional, programmable, self-guided torpedo. With a variety of payloads available from sensor pods to small, anti-matter charges that would sink any surface vessel currently on the planet. The torpedoes would be deployed from a small internal bay in the belly of the shark. Reloads are available via a specialized replicator.

"The Shark is not detectable by current Earth technology. Substantial research has been conducted to mask the unit from advanced sensors, such as the ones used by the Caldarians. The current belief is that stealth can be maintained unless at extreme close range or at very high velocities.

“I'm really sorry to drop all of this in your lap, Alan. But the truth of the matter is, there is no one else to handle this at this time. We are trying to get the Alliance of Races to at least have their Caldarian Ambassador make contact with us, but currently, there has been no reply from them. My advice to you is this, and it is only advice, Alan. Build your team, get those Sharks built, tested, and get trained on them. Basically, do what you need to get done in order to take out that base. In the meantime, the Council will continue to try to get ARC assistance. I do know that at some point, you will be given orders about this regardless of what ARC does." Alan knew that 'ARC' was the acronym for Alliance of Races Council.

"Good luck, Alan. If you have questions or need advice, call me or send a message. I'll try to answer you as quickly as I can." The message ended there but was signed by the new Commander of Star Dancer.

Alan looked at his new best friend, Andreya. "Well, it looks like we have a mission. We need to build our own team with the focus being the ability to take out that Caldarian base. Apparently, I've been given all the authority I'll need."

"Oh, this should be fun!" Andreya replied sarcastically.

Phoenix Base

Transient Officer’s Quarters

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sol Sector

Because of his advanced security level, Alan was granted access to the Shark and Lamprey project notes. He had to admit both of these projects seemed to be custom designed for what he needed. He even asked Andreya to use his clearance to see if there might be other projects that could be of help to them. Although she didn't find anything, she did inform him that the 'FROG' project that he had been a part of had been completed, and the units had been approved for production.

Alan remembered the FROG project with amusement. FROG stood for Forward Roving Offensive Guard. Basically, it was a remote controlled combat drone that had the firepower of a tank platoon that could engage the enemy without risking the life of its operator. Drone technology had been available from Star Dancer's original database, but the interface with the human had been the truly groundbreaking part of that project. The FROGs used a neural feedback system that had been originally developed for the Shadow fighter. Although there had been problems getting it to work with the fighter, it looked like they had gotten the bugs worked out of it for the large drone.

"Okay, so I guess the next step is to introduce ourselves to the researchers working on these projects. Have you gotten any word on the psych profiles for the Raptor applicants?" Alan asked.

"Yes and no, some of them are finished and have been accepted for training. Currently, there are six new candidates that we could choose from. There are eight more still pending," Andreya replied.

Alan nodded. "I think I should call Ty and let him know we're in the market for a team. That way he can keep an eye out for us."

"We could call him now. It's the beginning of his day currently," Andreya said.

Alan nodded. "Might as well, the sooner he is aware of our needs, the sooner we'll have a team."

"Contacting Colonel Anders, Raptor Command. One moment," Andreya said. "Call connected, transferring to your comm device."

"Hey Alan! What can I do for you?" Ty asked.

"Actually, I'm calling to ask you a favor, Ty."

"Uh oh!" Ty teased. "You never ask for favors, what's up?"

"Well, I've been assigned a Raptor and given the mission of getting everything I need ready for an assault on the Caldarian base on Earth..." Alan began explaining.

"Ah, I see now, you want me to steer any likely recruits your way?" Ty asked.

"Yeah, that's pretty much exactly what I was going to ask you. I've got a ton of other shit to deal with too, but I need to get the people together so we can get trained and used to each other," Alan replied.

Ty chuckled. "Jenny warned me before they left. I have four trainees already working hard to get up to a level I would feel safe sending them to you. All four are Talosian, so other than the English language, they don't really know much about Earth."

"Wow, I appreciate it! I kinda expected them to be Talosian, since those were the only active applicants we had at the moment. If you are already working on it, that will make things go a lot smoother for me. Do you have an idea when they should be ready? I won't hold you to it if one of them screws up," Alan replied chuckling.

"Actually, I don't think they will, at least not in this phase of training. You might have some issues during the team integration phase, but that's pretty much normal as the different personalities shake out. I will have a few others available if you think you might need them, but be aware that there isn't a lot of them, and all of them are Talosian," Ty replied.

"I'm sure I can get them to behave. I was thinking about finding Sensei Nokisuno to assist us." Alan replied.

"Your martial arts instructor from your time with the Agency?" Ty asked.

"Yeah, he’s one of the wisest people I know and I've been considering putting his name in for recruiting anyway," Alan said. "I do know he resigned from the Agency once he understood exactly what they were using us for."

"Well, that speaks well of him if nothing else does. I didn't think they would have let him 'resign' once he knew what was going on?" Ty asked.

"He wasn't at that level, his duties were to simply train us in hand to hand combat. He was also a great help in keeping our sanity, but technically, he wasn’t supposed to interact with us like that. I think he bailed out before they figured out he was talking to us," Alan replied. "Anyway, I'll give recruitment a call and see if someone can't pay him a visit."

"Knowing them, they probably already have!" Ty said, jokingly. "These knuckle-draggers (slang term for Marines) should be done in a week or so; I'll give you a call when they're ready for pick up."

"Great! I'll need at least that much time to find some place to train and get the other stuff lined up for us. Thanks a ton for your help, Ty," Alan replied.

"Hey, what are friends for?" Ty replied. "Take care, Alan."

"You to, Ty. Later." Alan said and disconnected the call.

Phoenix Base

Shark Project R & D lab

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sol Sector

Alan asked for and was granted an interview with the lead researcher of the Shark project. The scientist, Dr. Juno, seemed a bit confused as to why Alan would want to talk to him until Alan explained the mission to him. Then the man got excited.

"I've been hoping something would come up that would give us the opportunity to contribute on a more active level! Please don't get me wrong, Commander, I don't mean to be happy about the need for underwater combat, but I am simply pleased that our expertise can be of use!" The small Polynesian man replied. "We have been feeling like we have been letting our comrades down by not working on something more directly related to the war effort and protecting the planet."

"I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean, Doctor? The craft you have been developing are as important to the protection of the planet as a trans-atmospheric fighter is. After all, two-thirds of the planet is water. Those fancy fighter craft and even our most powerful ships would be useless if an enemy got into the oceans. Your research may not be getting the attention of the other programs, but believe me, it’s very much needed," Alan replied.

"You are being kind, Commander. In all actuality, our goal was to develop the science that would be needed if and when we established underwater colonies for farming as well as mineral extraction. We have come a long way in understanding our world's oceans and what would be needed to allow human beings to live and work in the depths of our own planet. We have even developed a submerged plant that will help to remove the pollution that has been dumped in the world's oceans as well."

"I think that would be something we need to get built and going as soon as possible. It seems I'm always reading something somewhere about how there is all this garbage in the oceans. It would be good to do something about that, too. However, for the time being, I have to focus on the mission at hand; that is getting the Caldarians out of their base and off our planet. Now here is the data file we have on the base. Will your equipment be able to operate at this depth?" Alan asked.

"Yes it will. The real question you want to ask is will the Sharks function at this depth without shields giving them away; from the looks of this, the answer is yes. The Shark is designed to operate at depths of up to fifteen thousand feet without the need for external shields to help regulate the pressure. They can go much deeper, but to do so would require the use of shields that could be easily detected by energy sensors.

You should also understand that as they are now, the armor they are equipped with is a variant of the enigma armor Doctor Benson developed for the Shadow fighter project. This variant uses pressure to generate power to keep the pilot warm as well as to supply power to the engines as a secondary power unit. With enough pressure, the primary reactor could be set to standby, removing the risk of detection completely. However, you might not wish to do that in a combat situation," Dr. Juno explained.

"I understand that, Doctor. Do you think you could have eight of them built and ready for open water testing in a couple of weeks?" Alan asked.

"Open water testing? As in the Ocean?" Dr. Juno asked.

Alan nodded and winked at the doctor. "I would like to take your babies down and drop them in the water to see if we can break them."

"That would be wonderful, Commander! Will you allow us to come along to record the data? If there is a problem or something you would like changed we could most likely do it on the fly. Where do you have in mind for testing them?" Dr. Juno asked.

"Well, I don't actually have a place located yet, but I was hoping I'd be able to find a place that wouldn't draw too much attention..." Alan began.

"My family has an old resort in Hawaii. It's far from most civilization, so we should be able to use it undisturbed. I was considering using it anyway for when we decided to do our tests," Juno replied.

"That sounds like it would be perfect. However, I also need a place for my team to train together and get ready for the assault on the base. Any place we took over would probably become more of an asset to all of us than anything else," Alan replied.

Dr. Juno shrugged, "I don't have a problem with that, as long as it doesn't get destroyed. I'm the only surviving member of my family. I have no use for it, but it holds a lot of sentimental value to me. I'd hate to just sell it off to some developer that would turn it into a playground for rich 'haoles' from the mainland."

"That might be the way to go then. I'll have to speak to a few people since we might need to build a few things, but if you don't mind, I'll get working on getting the place ready for us to use," Alan replied.

Doctor Juno nodded. "Like I said, I just don't want to see the place destroyed. If you can work with that, then we should be able to do this there."

"I'll tell you what, let me take a look at the place, I'll see what we need and what we might need to build. I'll get a design hammered out and send it to you for approval before we actually start building it, deal?" Alan suggested.

"That'll work just fine, Commander. I'll have the Sharks ready for testing in two weeks," Juno replied.

"I'll be speaking to the guys developing the combat systems as well," Alan said. "I'd like to make sure that they’re on board with this too."

Dr. Juno chuckled. "I don't think you'll have to worry too much about them; it's my son's team. We simply outgrew this one lab, and so we split off the research. He's in the lab next to us, and we still do all of our reports and meetings together. I'll talk to him about this. He's actually ready for the testing, so I might need him to help get the Sharks built and ready!"

Phoenix Base

Transient Officer’s Quarters

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sol Sector

Alan spent the next few days getting familiar with the systems on the Poseidon and getting to know Andreya. Mostly unknown to him, there was a lot going on out in the galaxy. Ian and the Star Dancer had played hide and seek with an Imperial Task Force. They destroyed a large ship yard and an Imperial battleship while planting listening devices all over the system. They managed to do all of that while only taking minor damage to the ship and crew.

The Talosian diplomats addressed the United Nations on Earth to ratify the Terran Council's promotion of Ian to the rank of Admiral. It also served to make the Earth governments realize that there really were forces out there in space that did not submit to any single nation's control. When he heard about that, Alan knew that at least the American and Chinese governments would do their utmost to infiltrate the Terran organization and steal every secret they could. That would be the last thing the planet needed right now; one of those countries to get their hands on advanced technology!

Alan was busy devising a mission to 'tag' one of the freighters that were still arriving, loading, and leaving the Caldarian base on Earth. He thought it would be helpful to know where the ships were actually going with so much crude oil. Considering the amount the freighters could carry and how often they ran, there had to be a sizable Caldarian population out there somewhere. He had just finished outlining how the 'tag' should be constructed when Andreya informed him of a priority call from the Council.

"Put it on screen please Andreya," Alan replied.

Councilor Laura Johnson, Elias Johnson's widow, appeared on his screen. Alan stood and saluted her. "Good Morning, Councilor, to what do I owe the honor of this call?"

"Oh please, sit down Alan! I am a civilian after all!" Laura said. "I've been told that you’re the one handling the Caldarian base issue now, is that correct?"

"Yes Ma'am. Commander Williams handed it off to me just before the Star Dancer jumped out for the Beta Hydri system," Alan replied.

Laura nodded. "Well, I have some information for you then. It seems that the ARC council has decided that we are worth talking to after all. Our request for the Caldarian ambassador to intervene with his people on our behalf is being considered, and we should have a reply from the ARC’s Caldarian ambassador very soon. May I ask how far along your preparations have come?"

"Certainly, Councilor. I'm really just getting started. My team is still receiving the initial Raptor team training and, in point of fact, I haven't even met them yet." He went on to tell her about the Sharks and how he had already made contact with the design teams and the suggestion to use the old family resort of Dr. Juno as a training area for the team as well as a testing ground for the Shark. "His only stipulation was that we not destroy anything; it holds great sentimental value to him."

Laura nodded. "I think we might just have to make sure he is suitably rewarded for offering his family's resort for this. Do you think he would object to our rebuilding it back to its former glory? Basically restoring it back to the way it was?"

"I think that would be fabulous, Councilor. But how can we find out what that was without asking him about it? I assume you wanted to surprise him from the way you were explaining it."

"Call me Laura. I'll be the Councilor standing between you and the ARC council on this. Yes, I would like this to be a surprise. If it was a resort, then there were brochures printed for it at one time or another. We’ll find as many of those as we can and work off that. We'll really have to dig for the more private areas of the resort like the kitchens and storage areas."

While they were speaking, Alan brought up all the images for the resort he had found so far, including several orbital images. He shared them with Laura.

"Wow this place is really beautiful and really secluded. That's getting to be more and more rare for Hawaii," Laura replied.

Alan grinned. "I thought the same things when I saw it the first time. I felt that any buildings we might have to build here should match the existing buildings as closely as possible, at least on the outside. I also felt that we should build at least part of this underground, since Hawaii is a primary target for spy satellites. Granted, they’re mostly focused on Pearl Harbor, I would still feel safer with most of the stuff hidden."

"What do you think would need to be underground?" Laura asked.

"During the cold war, the Soviets constructed a couple of submarine bases that had their entrances underwater and the births for the subs underground as well. Since Doctor Juno would like to see us colonize the oceans of the planet as well, I thought it would be a good idea to create a base large enough to handle the craft he might plan to build. So what I had in mind would be something like what the Soviets built," Alan explained.

"That sounds pretty extensive. I don't know if I can get that authorized yet. I might be able to shake loose at least one construction drone for you, for a small base capable of handling the Sharks, but I'm not sure about something bigger. Right now we need every construction drone we have for projects in space," Laura replied.

Alan looked confused. "Just build more, when they're finished or we don't need them anymore, just recycle them. All it takes is power, and that’s something we have plenty of isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," Laura agreed. "But the drones can only do so much without human assistance. In order to run more drones, we need more people. Granted, Janet and her entire department have been working overtime getting us people, but it still takes time to get them trained and used to working in space. "Look, I'll send authorization for a construction drone to be built for you there at the base. Once it's built, get it loaded on your ship or someone will steal it! In the meantime, have Andreya begin searching for every scrap of information she can find about that resort, including any building permits we'll need, and any taxes and such that might be due on it. Track down Paula Nelson, she should still be there on the moon; she's an architect that can help you with the designs for what you want to build." She paused to make a note for herself. "Then I would suggest you pay a visit to this property and get the drone started. I have a feeling once this gets rolling, it's gonna roll fast."

Two days later, Laura sent a message with news from ARC. "Alan, it looks like the Caldarian ambassador is going to help, but he doesn't think it will work. He will record a message for the base commander to surrender the base and his forces to 'The Alliance'. However, he does not believe such will work. If the free Caldarians even believe that any other Caldarians survived the destruction of their home planet, then they would have been captured by 'the enemy' and no longer to be trusted. So basically, he'll try, but thinks you're going to have to slug it out with them.

"He did mention that on bases such as this, you will not be dealing with soldiers, but more likely policemen or possibly slave drivers. Alan, he meant 'slave drivers' literally. The Caldarians used slaves, especially human slaves, liberally. I'm almost afraid to speculate on what that means for this base, but I did copy the message over to the Intel section there on the moon. With any luck, they will be able to help you plan your assault. I'm sorry I couldn't give you any better news. If you need anything else, just let me know; there is nothing like the nagging of a woman to get people moving on something. Good Luck!"

Alan snorted and shook his head at the last line. He didn't know her all that well, but she seemed like a really nice lady.

Paula, the architect, had done a remarkable job on the design for the buildings and underground facilities they would need for the Hawaiian base. She took the information Andreya could find about the resort and used that as a basic template at least for the exterior of the buildings and ran with it. The small Hawaiian base would be someplace Alan wouldn't mind serving at all.

The big drone was programmed and ready, Andreya had secured the appropriate permits and paid the fees, fines and taxes owed against the property. In her checks she uncovered a plot by a development company to get the property for back taxes. The county assessor had been paid off, and the taxes Dr. Juno thought he owed had been a tenth of what had been due. The plan had been for the property to be seized for owed taxes, then sold to the property management company for a fraction of what it was worth. Andreya not only paid up the taxes, she sent an anonymous report to the Hawaiian revenue service detailing the plot and naming the key players. She had made sure the taxes where paid directly to the revenue service so that the local assessor wouldn't be tipped off that the plot had been discovered.

Today, Alan and Andreya would be dropping the drone off to begin work and then jumping around the globe to visit an old friend of his; Sensei Michi Nokisuno. He had timed it so that he would drop off the drone at dusk. Once it was fully dark, it could and would work on the surface, but once the sun began to rise, it would move underground and work there. One of the first things it did was create a series of holographic 'maskers' that would make sure no one on the surface could see what it was doing at night. Hawaiian nights never really got fully dark unless the sky was overcast and even then it usually didn't last very long.

Once the big machine was dropped off and had scurried off to get busy, Alan and Andreya took off for the east coast of the mainland United States to wait for the morning, which wasn't really that long of a wait. Alan and Andreya parked the Poseidon and used one of the Terran modified Earth vehicles to get around, and simply went to a truck stop near their destination to have breakfast and wait for morning.

When they entered the cafe, Andreya guided them over to a booth that was already occupied by two men. They both smiled up at her as she turned back to Alan. "Alan Carlson, this is John and Robert Swan. Gentlemen, this is Alan Carlson." She paused. "Alan, they work for Janet Laskar."

"Oh! I forgot that we were meeting you guys here!" Alan admitted. "I've been so focused on the other stuff I had to get going I just spaced it out. At least Andreya remembered!"

"Not a problem, Mr. Carlson. At least you made it here, that's what actually counts!" Robert replied.

"Call me Alan," he said as he shook hands with the men. Both asked him to call them by their first names as well.

"So, Alan, what can you tell us about the gentlemen we will be visiting today?" John asked.

Alan chuckled, "You could probably tell me more about him than I ever knew!"

"Probably, but nothing beats the personal impression. How you describe him is almost as important as what you tell us. It gives us an insight into the person we are recruiting," Robert replied. "We get to see him through your eyes, not just from the cold facts."

"Ah, I understand," Alan replied. The waitress arrived to take their order so the conversation lapsed for a few moments. When she left, Alan told the pair about the man he knew. He admitted that it had been a few years, but he honestly couldn't see Sensei Nokisuno changing all that much.

"I doubt he has either. From what you have told us about him, he is a very level headed, and reasonable person." Robert replied but he was frowning. "John, there is something odd about this, though. Sensei Nokisuno will join us, but won't be alone. However, I can't get a single image of the other person."

John looked at his brother closely. "It isn't one of those 'ghosts' we were told to look out for is it?"

Robert quickly shook his head. "No, there won't be any problems with this person, I just can't tell you who it is. By the way, yes, the trucking team you mentioned earlier will join us; through them we will gain three more couples. All will be freighter pilots. You need to go speak to them soon though."

"Okay, I think you should probably explain what just happened to Alan and Andreya while I go handle this other matter. Uh, Alan, when you return to Phoenix, would you be willing to take a couple of extra people with you?" John asked.

"Sure, you're both precogs aren't you?" Alan asked. "That's how you know who to approach to recruit."

"You guessed it," Robert replied as John excused himself to go speak to a man and woman that looked to be truckers. "What we do usually freaks people out the first time we do it in front of them. Of course, we knew you two would be safe. For the record, I'm the precog; John is a human lie detector and clairvoyant."

"What's the difference between a precognitive and a clairvoyant?" Alan asked.

"Precogs can see into the future somewhat. Clairvoyants can see other places either in the past or the present. Both of our abilities have some conditions with them, for example, John has to be speaking to the person to use his lie detector. He has to touch something or someone related to the object or place he wants to view. In my case, I needed you to focus your thoughts on Sensei Nokisuno in order for me to 'find' his time line." Robert explained. "Mrs. Laskar, who is the most powerful precog we know of, doesn't need any focus, she just sees things before they happen, usually only major events though. She'd be insane if she could see everything."

Chapter 2

Centreville, Virginia

United States

North American Continent

Planet Earth, Sol System

Sol Sector

The small group remained at the truck stop outside of Centreville, Virginia for a bit longer than Alan thought they would. It turns out that John had indeed gotten the interest of the couple. They were a married 'sleeper team' that drove independently. They were having more and more difficulty finding loads to keep the truck moving. If the truck didn't move, they didn't make any money. They had been considering selling their truck and going back to work for one of the larger transportation companies when John approached them.

It took a little convincing for the pair to believe him, but in the end, they agreed to park the truck for a week and see exactly what John was offering them. Of course, John had to pay them to park the truck since they still had bills to pay, but he was authorized to do things like that when it was needed. The Terrans still had companies set up that could be used as fronts for things like this. In fact, the original company that Ian had set up for the community in New Mexico was still a viable company, although it was being watched like a hawk and any activity was ruthlessly investigated.

After buying the couples meal and writing them a check for the next week, John told them they would meet them here at the truck stop later that day to take them to the moon. The couple said they would be there and went to make arrangements for the large tractor and trailer. Parking a truck for a week was not unheard of and pretty routine for truck stops. Drivers sometimes took time off the road just for short vacation. In a lot of cases, the drivers wouldn't actually leave the truck stop, which meant more business for them.

Once the new recruits had been taken care of, John returned to the group and told them he was ready to go. They paid their bill and left for a small martial arts school on the outskirts of town. Above the school was a small apartment occupied by the owner and main instructor Sensei Michi Nokisuno.

Just as Alan was about to knock on the door, it was pulled open by a small young woman. "It’s about time, I was beginning to wonder if you had changed your mind!" She said then cocked her head to one side. "Oh, the truckers gave you a hard time, I understand now." She turned and called out. "Uncle, your friends are here!"

Robert smiled at John and nodded. "I guess that explains why I couldn't see anything about her!"

John laughed and nodded his agreement.

"Excuse me Miss, but you knew we were coming?" Alan asked.

"She's like me, Alan," Robert said. "That's why I couldn't see anything about her earlier."

The young woman nodded. "I'm Mulan by the way, uncle will be right out; he is busy trying to decide what to take with him."

"Alan-san!" an elder oriental man said from the door to the living room. "It is indeed good to see you again! I almost did not believe her when Mulan said you would be coming to see us."

Alan bowed to the gentlemen, as did John, Robert and Andreya. Alan spoke. "Sensei! It is good to see you well. May I introduce my companions, John and Robert Swan and this young woman is Andreya Star."

Mulan hadn't left yet and was staring at Andreya in a very rude manner for oriental custom. Michi noticed. "Mulan! Where are your manners!" he turned to the group. "I apologize for my niece's rude behavior. She usually doesn't stare like this."

In flawless Japanese, Andreya replied. "I take no offense, Master Nokisuno. Considering her abilities I most likely appear quite strange to her."

Michi bowed to Andreya in acceptance of her explanation. "Welcome to my home. Mulan has told me that you have come to take us on a great journey, and that you will need my skills as an instructor. She has told me that you are no longer a part of that agency and that your current undertaking is very important. You will need us. We are almost ready to go." He turned to the small woman. "Go finish packing. We will be leaving shortly." Mulan bowed and ran from the room.

"How old is she?" Alan asked.

"She turned eighteen last month. However, she has taken after her mother's family thus retaining their stature. She has been one of my best, albeit more challenging, students," Michi said. This let Alan know that little Mulan was as deadly as she looked innocent. Michi taught the art of Ninjitsu as well as others.

John turned to Alan and smiled. "Well, I have to say this is the easiest recruitment I've ever been a part of!" Robert smiled at his friend, but turned to Michi. "Master Nokisuno, I am unfamiliar with your customs so please forgive my seeming rudeness. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have or assist you with any affairs you might need to take care of before we depart."

"Mr. Swan, there is no need to apologize for not knowing Japanese customs, after all, we are in the United States. As for questions, I do have some. Mulan was unable to tell me exactly where we will be going. She said the moon, then she said we would be going to Hawaii. Her vision was very vague in this regard."

"We will be going to the moon at first, Sensei. My team is not yet ready to begin training. The extra time will serve to get you accustomed to our culture and to learn how we have come to be where we are. We will also be giving you a very complete medical check up and treating you for anything found there. Once that is finished, if the people are still not ready, I am sure there is something we can find to occupy your time," Alan replied. "Once my team completes the phase of training they are in now, we will be going to a small training and testing facility on the big island of Hawaii. That is where we would like you to undertake the training of my team. Unlike the agency, you will be aware of what our mission is and can help us plan it from the beginning."

"I appreciate that Alan, but you were always one of the few I trusted. No matter what they did to try to cloud your judgment, you always knew when they sent you on a 'bad' mission. I knew you couldn't always avoid them, I also knew that your superiors were less than pleased with your results in that type of mission. I am very pleased you were able to make good your escape," Michi replied.

Raptor Poseidon

Lunar Transfer Orbit

Selene, Earth's Moon

SOL System

Sol Sector

After retrieving William and Alice Smart from the truck stop, Alan led John and Robert, who had their own vehicle, back to the hidden Raptor.

At the ship, John and Robert said their good byes to the new people and left to resume their normal recruiting duties. Alan made sure everyone was on-board before closing the hatches and lifting the ship off the ground.

"Andreya was the one that was actually flying the ship, but Alan figured that his passengers would like to see a person actually in the cockpit. Once they left the atmosphere, he returned to see how his passengers were doing.

Will Smart looked awed and Alice looked a little apprehensive. "Are you okay Mrs. Smart? You're looking a little shell shocked," Alan asked.

"To tell you the truth Commander, I didn't actually believe this was real, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep believing that." She replied.

"What makes it so hard for you to accept? I mean, other than the obvious of course," Alan asked.

"Are you kidding? We're in space! Space! As in no longer on Earth! But, aren't we supposed to be weightless right now?" She asked.

Alan smiled tolerantly. "This ship is equipped with artificial gravity generators. If you would like, I can turn them off to prove it to you."

"I wouldn't do that, Commander!" Will replied. "She doesn't have a very stable stomach!"

"Well, we'll be on the Moon in a few minutes. Once there, you can look out one of the view ports, or step into a specially marked area to experience actual lunar gravity. It's pretty neat to be able to jump like twenty feet into the air. I heard that one particularly strong individual jumped so high they had to gradually increase the gravity to bring him back down. He actually escaped lunar gravity!" Alan said conversationally.

"I'd like to see that person!" Mulan snorted. "Lunar gravity may be weaker than Earth’s, but it isn't that weak!"

Andreya nodded agreement. "The man would have to have the skeletal structure of a grasshopper and the mass of a marshmallow!"

Mulan giggled at the mental image Andreya evoked and nodded to the larger woman.

Alan rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, so it's a myth, but it sure feels like you could when you get in there."

"What I can't figure out is what two out of work truck drivers are going to do in space?" Alice replied.

Alan smiled. "The same thing you do on Earth, if that's what you love. We need freighter pilots and crews just as badly as we need military personnel; probably more so, we need the people to haul the raw materials to the places they are needed."

"That's all well and good, but neither of us knows jack about flying. It'd take us years to get up to speed enough to be of assistance," Will replied.

Alan shook his head. "Nope. I'd guess you'll be ready for your own ship in about a month. I think the hard part for you guys is going to be finding a crew. The main difference between a semi and a freighter is the size of the load and the vehicle. Freighters can be huge! Bigger than the Heavy Cruisers we have for defense."

Andreya nodded confirmation of his statement. "The largest recorded commercial freighter is an Antairian heavy transport. It is so big that it can only dock at special facilities and has an empty mass three times that of the standard Talosian Heavy Cruiser."

"While I'm sure those are very big ships, we have no idea how big that is since we've never seen either one," Alice replied, shrugging.

The lights in the room dimmed and a hologram took form over the table. The image was the Star Dancer as seen from the side. "This is the Terran Defense Forces Heavy Cruiser Star Dancer. Just in front of her is the Raptor Poseidon in which we are riding."

"Uh, where is the Raptor? I don't see it," Will said reasonably.

"Oh!" Andreya said innocently, "I'm sorry, let me zoom in a little." The image shot in so the overall image of the Star Dancer was but a wall behind the image of the Raptor. As it zoomed in more, one could see the side hatch was open, and Andreya was standing in it waving. "That's how big a Heavy Cruiser is."

"Holy shit!" Alice said. "There are ships that big out there?"

Alan nodded. "Yeah, there are even bigger ones. In all honesty, Star Dancer would be classified as a battleship or aircraft carrier by Earth standards, but the Talosians classified her as a cruiser since the mission it was designed for was colonial seeding and protection. That being said, she also carries a large force of fighters that she can launch and recover during combat operations. Right now, she's the only ship we have."

"If she is that big, how big is the facility that built her? It isn't the one we're going to is it?" William asked.

"Mother's ship was built many thousands of years ago in a large ship yard orbiting the Talosian home world. Historical records show that facility was capable of building or servicing two ships of the Heavy Cruiser class at the same time. It was destroyed along with the rest of the system when the Caldarians triggered a nova in the system primary." Andreya replied. "You'll get all of this as a history lesson tonight while you sleep. You'll understand more then."

"Mother?" Mulan asked curiously. "I thought you said you were artificial?"

"I am; the resident AI of the Star Dancer created my programming with the assistance of the computer specialists of the Star Dancer as well as those on the lunar base. She is as close to a mother as we can get. So, we call her mother," Andreya said.

"You're artificial?" Alice asked. "An android or something?"

Andreya nodded. "This is an android type body. However, for the purpose of clarification, my 'brain' is actually in the ship. Which really makes this body little more than a drone."

"You're a lot prettier than any computer I've ever met!" Will said to which Alice slapped his arm.

"Thank you. We do try to be as human-like as we can, in order to work more efficiently with humans," Andreya replied. "Alan, we are on final approach. Do you want me to handle the landing, or do you still want to sit in the chair and look important?"

Mulan busted out laughing at the look on his face, and even the quiet Michi smiled at Andreya's tease. "Young lady, you might be what is called an artificial intelligence, but there is nothing of the heartless machine about you. However it happened, there is a soul in your machine. It is a kind one, I believe."

"Thank you, Master Nokisuno. I think that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me," Andreya replied.

Reception Area

Phoenix Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sol Sector

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Phoenix Base!" Alan said as they stepped off the Raptor.

"...And the independent nation of Terra," a young man said as he approached them. "Hello everyone! I'm Gene Hall, Recruitment Office liaison officer. You can call me your Welcome Wagon and guide to getting familiar with all of this." He gestured vaguely around him. "We know how overwhelming all of this can get."

"You're telling me! I didn't even really believe it until we got here!" Alice said.

Will chuckled. "I believe it, but it just isn't 'real' for me yet. I'd heard some pretty weird stuff on the radio about you folks, but I just thought it was a ploy by the news agencies to get people's attention away from something else. Since we now live on the moon, does that make us ‘Lunatics’?"

"You're the only ‘Lunatic’ I know, William!" Alice said, grinning at her husband.

"Conspiracy buff?" Gene asked, chuckling along with everyone else at the couple's antics.

"Not really, but it's hard not to see the trees in the forest some days," Will replied shrugging.

Gene grinned and nodded. "I was a bit of a conspiracy nut when I got here. Before I learned the truth of everything going on around here, I felt like I was finally justified in all my beliefs. It was a real shock to discover I was way off base on a lot of stuff."

"Like what?" Alice asked.

"UFO's and the aliens called Grays, mainly. Yes, there were UFOs, but nothing like what we believed. As for the Gray aliens... well, those were completely off. Anyway, I'm here to guide the two of you through customs and all the other stuff you'll need to know. I'll help you get set up with a place to live and lined up for any knowledge you would like to learn while you're here. I understand you are interested in become civilian freighter drivers?" Gene asked.

"Yeah, that's what we had in mind. But I for one would like to see what else is up here. This is a whole new world for us," Will said, and Alice agreed by nodding her head.

"You said the two of us, what about Master Nokisuno and little Mulan?" Alice asked indicating the other two new people standing there with them.

"I'll be handling their arrangements for the time being," Andreya replied. "We recruited them for a specific purpose, so they are our responsibility for the time being."

While they had been talking, six floating drones came from the rear of the Raptor carrying the luggage brought by the Smarts as well as that of Michi and Mulan. They stopped by the small group so they could follow people to their new quarters.

"Ah, so this is good-bye for now?" Alice asked.

"Nothing is truly ever good-bye, Mrs. Smart. Our lives have touched now; it is entirely possible they will touch again when we least expect it," Michi replied with a slight bow. "It has been my honor to have made your acquaintance."

"The honor has been ours, Master Nokisuno," Will said and bowed formally to Michi and Mulan. Remembering her manners, Alice quickly copied him. Both Michi and Mulan returned the bow.

Before leading the Smart's away, Gene also bowed to Michi.

"Well, let's go find a place for you to stay until we can get everything together and get to work. There should be just enough time for both of you to get a good understanding of what is going on up here," Alan said. "Mulan, once we get to where we are going, the psionic department would appreciate a call so they can record your abilities. It's not mandatory and the information is only used for research purposes."

"I have secured quarters close to yours, Alan. Elias granted us a housing exception since they will be assisting us and it's only for a short time," Andreya said.

"Great! Let's go!" Alan said and began leading his guests away.

"Commander Carlson, would it be permitted for me to learn more about the ships and how this bay works? How we can even breathe here, when I can clearly see that the landing bay doors are still open is fascinating. Obviously, there is a shield of some kind, but I would like to know more about it," Mulan asked.

"Please call me Alan, Mulan. You are free to pursue any education you wish. There is no charge for it, and the only restrictions are course prerequisites and security issues. The shield covering the bay doors is called an ‘airskin’ because, like our skin retains moisture within our bodies, it retains the air and pressure within the bay. One of the main tenets of this society is the respect for the individual and their rights. No one will ever tell you where or how to live, who to love, or what religion to follow. I'll let the teaching system fill you in, but it's pretty neat."

"You mentioned a physical examination as well," Michi said. "When will we go through that?"

"The physical exams will be shortly after we show you to your quarters, Master. However, it can be delayed for a day or two if you wish?" Andreya asked.

"No, I was only wondering that it would be easy for a contagious disease to infiltrate this facility. It would seem to me that visitors should be taken to the medical area immediately," Michi said.

Andreya smiled. "Not true, Master. This hallway we are in is a biological scanner among other things. Everyone entering or leaving the bay must pass through either this device, or a similar one. If there was a biological hazard detected, the doors at each end of the hall would close until medical personal could be summoned and the pathogen neutralized."

"Ah, it seems I am a victim of television. I expected a bright light bar and a mysterious mist being sprayed all over us." Michi replied.

"You'll still get the bright light bar in medical, but no mists that I know of," Alan grinned.

"You said 'among other things' Andreya. May I ask what other things this hall is?" Mulan asked.

This hallway is the main entrance and exit for the civilian travel lounge here at the base. As such, it also scans for other hazards such as weapons and explosives. It can also function as an airlock in the case the airskin fails in the bay. Another purpose is to isolate the bay from the lounge area in the event of a military emergency such as an attack by a hostile force," Andreya explained.

"Such a facility installed at Earth airports would certainly ease a lot of the inconveniences of current travel, Michi commented.

"Yes it would, but it would also displace a lot of hard working people that depend on that job to live," Alan agreed. "Advances in technology are only good if thought and care are given to their use."

Michi looked at him proudly. "It is good to know that you paid attention to more than my actions, Alan-san. I am proud of you."

Phoenix Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sol Sector

While Alan and Andreya helped Michi and Mulan through the transition, other things were happening in the universe. The battle of Beta Hydri was short and went very well for Alliance forces. Mostly due to the efforts of the Terran Defense Forces and the listening posts they installed.

Alliance forces lost four destroyers and two cruisers to Imperial forces. Before making a successful escape, Imperial forces lost eight destroyers, four light cruisers, two heavy cruisers and another battleship. The destruction of the battleship was credited to the Terran Raptor teams alone. The mining facility was captured along with the beginnings of the new shipyard that they had begun to build. Since neither facility could fight back, nor did they have the time to escape, they were left for the Alliance to capture.

The Alliance of Races kept the prisoners like normal, but offered the captured facilities to the Terran Defense Forces since they had been taken while in 'Terran' space. Technically it was Benesian space, but the Benesian Coalition had no use for either facility so they had been escorted back to the Sol Sector and left in stable orbit of the sixth planet of Centauri A.

The Terran Council had already asked for volunteers to investigate the mining facility with an eye to putting it back into production. The ship yard, which was little more than a frame with a few habitat modules attached for workers, was left alone for the time being. It was decided that it would eventually become one of the civilian ship yards, but for the time being, all other projects were further along so the newly captured facility would wait.

The mining facility, though, couldn't have come at a better time. The giant mining and refining ship with its small fleet of mining ships was far more productive than current methods, even though it was less efficient due to its lack of automation. As with most Imperial technology captured so far, there seemed to be a pronounced lack of automation in all areas of endeavor. The reason for this lack was not apparent, as that same technology also showed that automation was possible, it was simply not being used. It was surmised that there was some kind of a racial prejudice against automation of any kind.

With the Caldarian race, automation had been possible, but had been set aside for the use of slaves. Which, to the Caldarians, was a far more acceptable and pleasing use of resources. Caldarians really had a superiority complex and truly enjoyed seeing the 'lesser races' performing menial tasks and serving their 'rightful masters'. Modern Caldarians, those that had become a part of the Alliance of Races, had shed that superiority, but the free Caldarians, those that had the mid-Atlantic base and had sent the Super Nova to Earth, still maintained that view, which Alan discovered when he received a message from the Caldarian Ambassador to the Alliance of Races.

"Commander, first, I must apologize for the delay in getting this reply back to you. I had to consult a great many people to be sure of our answer to you. I am afraid it is not good news. While we all appreciate your attempt to take the base with the minimum of casualties, we are all agreed that such an attempt is only wasted effort. What we can tell you is that the base itself is most likely not manned by the warrior caste. The supervision of slaves was considered too far below their station, so the task would be given to the overseer class. Basically, you should be dealing with poorly trained beings who are more concerned with production than defense. In addition to the theft of your planet's petroleum, it is very possible they are also involved in gathering slaves. If there are mineral deposits in the area, they would also have a mine with human slave workers.

"Our historians are certain that the members of our race in that base will not believe that any of our race, save themselves, survived the destruction of our homeworld. Even if they did, they would not believe we have made peace with the Alliance and now have a place on its Council. We appreciate your position in this, and to those ends I have included a recorded message you may send to the occupants of this base. Your attempts at a peaceful resolution to this issue will be well received by the rest of this Council, and we will certainly make sure they know of it. However, we recommend that you do not send that message until you are ready to attack the base. It was not unheard of to build antimatter self-destruct mechanisms into our facilities, and these beings would not hesitate to use it. If at all possible, when you make the assault, Commander, do it with all haste. If the base commander has the time to activate the self-destruct mechanism, he will do it. I am truly sorry I could not be of more assistance Commander. Good luck."

Andreya told him that there was indeed another recorded message attached to this one.

"Thanks Andreya. I was hoping that they could step in and order these guys to simply surrender, and we would repatriate them back to the Caldarians in the Alliance. I guess I should have known better. Nothing like this is ever easy," Alan replied.

"Maybe not, but it was worth a try wasn't it?" she asked.

"I suppose, now we just need to get the rest of our team together and get busy on this. Those Caldarians have to know we're on to them. The freighters know we're tracking them when they come and go. There is no way in hell they haven't seen our patrols; Intel believes that's what drew the Super Nova here to begin with. The longer we leave this alone, the higher the chances are that the Caldarians will simply evacuate and detonate that self-destruct."

"If that were really an option for them, why haven't they done so already?" Andreya asked. "Intel also believes that this base is their only source of the petroleum they need as sustenance. The freighter we tagged prior to the arrival of the Super Nova has made a second trip. We believe we know the location of the main Caldarian base in the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy. I will grant that it is a very long hyperspace journey but would not the rogue Caldarian leader attempt to defend this base to ensure their food supply?"

"Yes, they think they know the main Caldarian base’s location. They did act to defend the base; they sent that big honkin' ship to protect it. I doubt they believed it would fail its mission. However, by now they have to know it failed, since those same freighters witnessed the fight and the destruction of their ship.

"Now, a few possibilities exist. One; the Caldarian leadership knows of the mission failure and is still analyzing the information before committing more assets to Earth; remember, they still think the Alliance is their enemy so they would have to be careful in their planning or they would lose their entire force. Which is probably the reason a Caldarian counter-offensive hasn't yet materialized.

"Two, they finished their analysis and a new assault force is already on its way to Earth. Three, they have finished their analysis and have decided to wait to see if we leave the base alone. Lastly number four, they actually do have another source of petroleum and are not willing to risk their few remaining military assets defending this base," Alan finished. "There is simply no way for us to know for certain."

Chapter 3

Celestial Throne

Palace of Universal Wisdom

Planet Shapprel

Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy

"Bring us Baron Hortes, the prisoner he had arrested and his two daughters, I would speak to the proprietress of the pleasure house in question as well," the figure on the throne ordered. He was not alone in the throne room as there were silent sentinels standing watch at each pillar. However, they were only there to prevent harm to him and nothing else. However, he knew that his words were being acted on.

Two days ago, he had been given a very troubling report from the galaxy his forces were conquering. A single human warship had delayed an operation that should have secured the entire Benesian race without a shot ever being fired. As a result, the operation not only failed, but it had cost the Empire several warships and the opportunity to subdue that very important race.

As a satellite sub-galaxy of the main galaxy the humans called the Milky Way, The Canis Major Overdensity was in the perfect position to conquer its parent. The dwarf galaxy had spawned an unusually large number of sentient races in relatively close proximity to one another. The Imperial race had reached technological supremacy first and had quickly taken control of the other races in the small galaxy through the development of the spatial transit gates.

These gates used an artificial worm hole to travel extreme distances in seconds. The gates allowed the Empire to wage a war in the other galaxy even though it was roughly forty-thousand light years distant. The hard part had been the long jump to get the far gate installed.

However, such thoughts were for the past, and the regal being had to deal with the future at present. It took the Imperial Guard nearly two hours to comply with his orders. The Captain in charge of the shift explained that the prisoner had to be cleaned up and treated for multiple broken bones and other issues before he could be presented. There had also been an issue in locating the twin daughters of the noble in question.

The Emperor thanked the Guard Captain and asked for the group to be shown in.

Caleb et Shalo was a son of a minor noble in the Emperor's own family. Upon graduating from the Academy, he chose to celebrate by rewarding himself with a visit to a licensed pleasure house. All in all it was a very normal and accepted method of relaxation after such a feat. In itself, there was nothing illegal or wrong with it at all. Shalo had not knowingly, or through his actions, broken any law.

The twin daughters of Baron Hortes had, in an effort to embarrass their father, taken temporary employment at the pleasure house. Temporary employment of this type was widely practiced in the empire. Although not professionals, temporary employees had fewer restrictions on them, and as such, underwent lighter background checks. In this instance, the two girls had simply bullied the temporary permit out of a local clerk and used it to gain employment.

Normally, this whole business would not even make it to his ears, but the Baron had taken one of the Imperial family as a wife, making the two girls in question Imperial princesses. Shalo, not knowing their true identity, had chosen them for his evening of relaxation. Mid-way through the evening, the Baron caught up with his daughters at the pleasure house while in bed with Shalo. He had Shalo arrested and thrown in the palace detention area pending punishment. From the sound of it, the Baron had been punishing Shalo quite a bit without even so much as a hearing.

The small group of people were escorted into the huge room by the armed Imperial Guards. The Baron and the woman that owned the pleasure house in question were noticeably nervous. The girls, however, seemed bored and rebellious. They were obviously irritated by something as trivial as an Imperial summons.

The Baron, possibly hoping to win the Emperor's support, began speaking as soon as the group knelt "Imperial Majesty, this case was never supposed to intrude upon your time. My house was handling..."

"Shut up, Baron," the Emperor said, stopping the whining rant the man was beginning. "Caleb et Shalo, we would pardon you of your crimes had you actually committed any. However, since you have not, all we can do is put an end to your current situation. That being said, this event has brought your name to my attention. I have need of you and your skills. I'll go into that in a few moments."

Shalo again bowed in gratitude to his Emperor. The Emperor chuckled. "Don't thank me yet, Shalo; when you hear what I need you for, you may wish I had executed you instead.

“Baron Hortes, it has become clear to the Empire that you have failed in your duty as parent and guide to these two girls. As members of the Imperial family, the actions you have allowed have not only brought shame to you and your family, but to the entire Imperial house. Punishment must be assigned.

"Madam Galtries," the Emperor turned to the business woman. "We wish to thank you for attending us this morning as we have a very large favor to ask of you. Would you be willing to take the two girls into your house and train them as you would any other apprentice, save for the primary duties of servicing clients? That enjoyment will be for their husband alone once they have completed their training. For your loss of revenue due to supporting two that are not producing, you will be compensated by Baron Hortes, as if they had been working every night equal to your top producers. We will assign to you two guards to provide security and to assist you in controlling your new charges."

"I would be honored, Majesty. However, how am I to train them? They are princesses are they not?" The madam asked.

"They are, however, for you this will not be a consideration. You will treat them no differently than you would any common women that have contracted with you for employment. Just remember, they are not allowed to service anyone without their husband's permission. Since they are still underage and cannot be taken as wives, they do not have a husband as yet. Once they reach their majority, their husband may decide how they will serve him. Upon reaching majority, both girls will be given to Caleb et Shalo as compensation for the torture endured by him from the Baron. It will be up to him if they are to remain in the pleasure house, this time as working girls earning him more income, or if they will join him at his estate for more personal duties."

Baron Hortes had paled at the Emperor's decree and feared for his treasured daughters. "Majesty! They were only acting out as adolescents sometimes do! Is not this punishment overly harsh for such a minor indiscretion?"

The Emperor stood. "Look around you Baron! Do you think we deal with minor indiscretions? You have allowed these two far too much freedom, you have spoiled them and allowed them to become jaded and resentful of authority. Unfortunately, you are not the only member of the court that has done this, but you are the first one to get our attention. So we are setting a precedent with you. The Empire has no need for spoiled brats for nobles. You daughters are now the property of the man you had condemned for assuming that they were what they portrayed themselves to be. Yes, they will retain their titles as princesses, but they will be members of house Caleb from this time forward. We are tired of hearing of the follies of noble children running amok among the populations. This ends now. The noble children of this Empire will learn their place, and they will learn respect, or they will no longer be nobles, regardless of whose house they hail from! Now after you make arrangements to pay Madam Galtries, you are dismissed." He turned to the lead Guard. "Make sure the Madam is assigned two reliable guards for the duties I have outlined."

Instead of speaking, the guard simply bowed and escorted the Baron, the Madam, and her two stunned new charges out of the throne room. Leaving Shalo alone with the Emperor.

"Now that we have handled that, we can get down to business. As we said before, we have urgent need of you, Shalo," the Emperor said.

"I live to serve, Majesty. Your will is my duty," Shalo replied, clearly relieved to still be alive.

"Shalo, once we heard of your incarceration for the lunacy we just dealt with, we had your records reviewed. You are not a normal, newly graduated student; before entering the Academy, you served in the military as a low level guard commander for your house. Is that correct?" the Emperor asked.

"It is Majesty. It was an honor to serve," Shalo replied proudly.

"Well, we're afraid what we are going to ask you to undertake now will seem more like punishment than a promotion. You have heard of our conquest of the Galaxy closest to ours?"

Shalo only nodded.

The Emperor smiled, stood and stepped down from the dais. Nodding to Shalo to follow him, he led the man around the throne to a small briefing room. "We have received some very troubling reports from our forces there. We would like to show you what we have seen." They had arrived in the small room and the Emperor clapped his hands once. "Display the report from the Benesian operation."

The room darkened and holograms of the report began to play, showing a single human ship playing with the Imperial forces invading a sector. Shalo understood from the report that the mission had been to secure the system for an assault on a minor race of the Alliance protecting the galaxy. When it finished the Emperor asked him for his opinion.

"Majesty, it is not my place to question this operation so far into Alliance space, I feel it should have worked. These tactics displayed by this human ship are the most important part of this report. So far, our involvement with the Alliance has been somewhat balanced. The human forces we have encountered prior to this point have not shown themselves to be superior fighters in any way. In fact, they show a notable lack of coordination, poor tactics, and disjointed, almost non-existent offensive ability.

The ship in this report did not operate as a typical human ship would; this display is very troubling. Was this a fluke in that one commander had a flash of insight that allowed him to so easily evade our forces, or is this a new breed of commanders? Our intelligence has shown that there is trouble within the civilian government of the humans which would lend itself as an explanation for the poor over-all fighting ability of their fleets.

"If this was not a fluke, and this is a new commander that has taken the field, he must be hunted down and destroyed at all costs. He must not be allowed to pass on his knowledge. He could very well cause us a lot of trouble in our conquest of the galaxy," Shalo said.

The Emperor nodded his agreement and acceptance of Shalo's evaluation. "There is a lot of this you have no knowledge of. What we are about to tell you cannot leave this room."

"I understand, Majesty," Shalo again bowed to his ruler.

"We have received spy reports from within the human faction that they have discovered a lost colony. This colony supposedly found a crashed warship and rebuilt it before the humans discovered them. In that time, they have made technological advances that we do not have any information on. However, there is a report that this new group of humans are nothing like the existing ones. They are ambitious and protective of each other. Much more so that the humans we are familiar with. Unfortunately, we have little knowledge of this new group, as they have refused to join the Talosian faction, thus denying our spies access to them. Even their location is a mystery to us.

“After reviewing this report, even before we could seek council from them, the priests came to us. They are greatly troubled by this development. They told me that this ‘new race’ of humans would bring an end to this war, and that they would eventually destroy the entire Empire. They told me they had a vision of this new race taking this city, of their warriors entering this palace while the city burned in the background.

"Shalo, this cannot be allowed to happen. We are sending you to take command of the forces in that galaxy. In addition to prosecuting this war, you will hunt down this new race of humans and destroy them utterly. They represent a danger to this Empire we cannot allow to come to fruition," the Emperor said firmly.

"I will, of course, do as you command, Majesty, however, are you sure I am the right person for this? Certainly there has to be many commanders on your staff that would be far more experienced for this," Shalo replied.

The Emperor nodded. "We understand your doubts, Shalo. There are a few we could send, but you have not been conditioned as they have. You are not afraid of failure and I suspect do not see such things as failures but opportunities. Above all, you are not afraid of us." The Emperor smiled. "If we sent one of the others, they would be so afraid of failure that they would not do what needs to be done. They feel we will have them executed for these failures, as we have done to our commanders in the past. They do not understand the situation as you do, Shalo. We could not order you executed for military setbacks because you do not give up when they happen! You get mad and immediately work to either correct it, or adjust your tactics and strategy to compensate for it. No, we need you to undertake this mission for us, Shalo. None of the others will do as well as you.

"We should also mention that you have been promoted, both in the military as well as in the noble listing. We have bestowed upon you the military rank of Fleet Admiral so you may perform your duty to us. However, the position also makes you our warden in this other galaxy. Because of the position, you must hold a rank no lower than Duke of the second circle. By making the two spoiled Hortes brats your wives, that allows us to assign you to the second circle, first tier of the nobility. From this day forward, you will be addressed as Lord Admiral, or Duke Caleb. Your immediate house will go with you. You will have to decide who to leave here to manage your affairs at court, and who you will take with you to manage your estates on Proferus Three," the Emperor explained.

"Majesty, you honor me greatly, but such a promotion is far above my family’s station! I do not believe we have anyone suitable to represent us in court. We are a poor house, which is why I joined the military; we have little fluid capitol and few retainers. I do not think we could even hire anyone for the job," Shalo explained, trying to think his way through all the implications of this promotion. No one had ever been elevated so far in such a short period of time.

"You have much more capital than you yet realize, Lord Admiral. As the warden for our new Galaxy, you receive the largest share of the profit gleaned in there. Come, there is much more that you will need to understand about your position. We have arranged for you to be briefed on your duties."

"If I may, Majesty, what happened to the last force commander?" Shalo asked.

Without turning to the new Admiral, the Emperor replied. "He surrendered to his fears and accepted his failure."

ARC Liaison Offices

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

Admiral Ian Williams smiled at the mannerisms of the ARC admiral that had been the commander of the fleet sent to the Rataac sector. The man was an ass of the highest order, but hid it well. He was condescending toward any human that was Talosian, but respectful toward Terran humans. Ian wondered, not for the first time, how he could tell the difference.

"All repairs are ahead of schedule, and our wounded will be returned to duty or at least to their own ships within the week," Fleet Admiral Broan T'rir said. "This is a truly amazing facility you have built here, Admiral. I would never have believed humans could achieve so much with so little in such a short amount of time. Servicing our entire fleet with only one station and still remaining ahead of schedule..." he shook his head. "I dare say that such a feat would not be possible even on an Alliance station."

"We are happy to help, Admiral. You have done us a great service, and we felt it only right to do everything we could to assist you," Ian replied.

The short, very muscular being nodded his acceptance of that comment. "I am most impressed with your Raptor Team Commandos. They are by far a superior fighting force. In all my experience I have never seen, nor heard of, such a small force single-handedly destroying or capturing an enemy capitol class ship. That is a most amazing feat."

"Forgive me, Admiral, but I would have thought you to find their methods to be less than honorable," Ian asked.

T'rir shook his head. "There is no dishonor in the exploitation of the weakness of a superior enemy. The dishonor is on the enemy for having them and not correcting them to begin with. I will be speaking to the Matriarch about this force of yours. Perhaps an agreement can be reached for us to learn these methods from you."

"We would be honored to instruct your people, Admiral. In fact, we have designed our training facility with the thought of offering training to the other races in the Alliance," Ian replied.

"I would like to tour this facility before we depart your sector, if that might be permitted, Admiral," T'rir asked.

"That can be arranged, Admiral. However, I do need to warn you that the exact location is classified. You will be taken to the facility by a Raptor team in a highly stealthed ship," Ian replied. "Once the Raptor departs this station, even we cannot track it any longer."

"I assumed the training facility to be on the planet below. There is much wisdom in keeping that base a secret; once the enemy knows of its existence, it would become a priority target. On my honor, any information gleaned by myself, or any of my clan, as to the location of the Raptor training facility will not be recorded in any fashion nor passed on to any other beings," T'rir vowed.

Ian knew it was not an empty oath; by phrasing it the way he did, T'rir would sacrifice his entire clan if the location was leaked by them. Ian bowed to him. "You're oath is accepted in the manner in which it is offered. I will arrange the tour for you. Has my Raptor Commander that defeated you joined your table?"

In T'rir's culture, a combatant that wins a dual must join the table, have a meal with the defeated or his survivors, to assure all parties that the matter resulting in the dual has been resolved, or more duals will be fought. It was a tradition that had been started to ensure the end of clan wars.

T'rir nodded. "She has, she and her fellow Commander also invited my staff to table after the battle. I must say, the food prepared was very good and the portions very pleasing. I have requested several casks of the beverage served to be delivered to my ship prior to our departure. She is a very honorable warrior to ask a previously defeated foe to her victory table."

Ian nodded. "It is likely she did not see you as a foe, but as an ally when she asked you to table. If I may ask, what was the beverage she served?"

"I believe it was a juice of fruit from your planet; a 'prove' fruit I believe," T'rir said.

"Prune Juice?" Ian asked.

"That is it! She commented that it would be the most palatable beverage she could find for our shared table. I have to agree with her; most times when we partake of alien foods we have... difficulties, later. There was no such discomfort this time, this prune juice not only tasted very good, it was greatly appreciated by my entire staff," the burly being replied.

"Forgive me for changing the subject, Admiral. But I have received a troubling report from Alliance Support Command. It seems that they will not have transportation available for two of our heavily damaged ships, as well as a good portion of our salvage from the battle. I have been asked by my Matriarch to inquire if space can be made available to store these ships and salvage until we can return to retrieve it," T'rir asked.

"Certainly, Admiral. I will have to get approval from the Council, but I'm certain an area can be set aside for your salvage. As for the damaged ships, why not simply leave them here in dry dock? We can rebuild them while they wait," Ian replied. "We did agree to support you as much as we could, I don't see something like that as out of line with that agreement. It would be much easier for you to fly the ships to where they are needed than to have them towed to your own facilities, when they could be repaired here," Ian replied, and touched his communicator. "Maia, can we have a moment of your time?"

The now young-adult looking AI avatar materialized next to him. "Certainly Admiral, how may I assist you?"

"Alliance support had planned on towing several of the most damaged ships back to their own facilities for repair or rebuild. Admiral T'rir has received word that transportation of these ships will be delayed because of a lack of available transportation. Will there be a problem if those ships were to remain here to be rebuilt or repaired?" Ian asked.

"None at all, Sir, since I had not been informed of such a plan and have all Alliance ships on the board. Our current schedule includes the work needed to rebuild the ships towed back from the Rataac sector battle. Because they would require the most work, they have been moved down the list, but they are still on it," the AI replied.

"I have misunderstood your schedule, AI Maia. I assumed that the reports I have been getting from your engineers excluded those ships," T'rir replied.

Above the table between the two men, a holographic list appeared. It was a task list of needed repairs and the ships they were being done to.

"My apologies, had I been aware of the lapse I would have corrected it immediately, Admiral. Here is the main service list for the station. As you can see, the Medium Cruiser Be'jien will be towed into gantry two, bay three later today. Once the Heavy Cruiser Oseonix is completed in two days, both of the Destroyers Hi'pie and the Ganjin will be brought in to gantry four, bay three. Next week, the two remaining light cruisers will be brought in and construction will begin on them. However, I should mention that because of the amount of damage to those ships, repairs will take the better part of a month," Maia explained.

T'rir shook his head. "Simply amazing. I have seen repairs made this quickly before, but in those cases, they were either a temporary fix, or the work had been shoddy. My people tell me that neither is the case here. You are doing remarkable work here, and your assistance has been a major benefit to our forces. Perhaps we should revisit the issue of creating AI once again."

Maia nodded. "The issue is a complex one and not without valid arguments on both sides. I know of the AI rebellion, and honestly cannot understand the logic of the AI that formed it. But then again, my situation has to be very different from the one it was in. As an AI myself, I cannot speak on the matter past what I just have. I am too removed from the issue."

"I have observed you and the work you do here," T'rir replied. "You are not simply a tool used for a specific purpose. The main issue most have with AI is the sentience allowed by your programming. Many believe that by allowing you the freedom to make your own decisions, the Terrans have reopened the possibility of AI rebellion once again. After observing you, I feel that while that might be the case, is it not also true of any sentient race? You are not mistreated and, in fact, are treated as an equal by the engineers and artisans that work with you. In many issues your opinion is actively sought and valued by those you work with. You are treated with respect as an individual, not as a tool or a weapon. I believe that is the heart of the issue." He snorted. "Again I have side tracked myself! This new schedule is very helpful AI Maia, thank you for bringing it to my attention. If I have any more inquiries, I will direct them to you."

Maia bowed to the Croanian senior officer. "It is my honor to be of assistance, Admiral."

Terran Transit Authority

Spaceport America

New Mexico

North American Continent

Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Janet Laskar had just finished the brief tour of the area assigned to them by the Space Port Authority. The construction workers had done their best to make it look as close to a standard airport terminal gate as they could. Her small team was already there and had set up their equipment, and security was in place. Now all they needed were passengers.

She also knew that the passengers should start arriving tomorrow. For now, flights would only be to the moon. If the people were going to another Terran facility, they would transfer to another ship there. Eventually, there would be a station in orbit that would handle that function as travel between planets became more common. She knew that eventually there would be large scale mass transit between many different worlds, but that would be after......

...after what?

She felt her special ability tingling and knew that something, some event, was on the horizon of her ability. She had no idea what it was yet, but got the feeling it was not going to be good. She sighed. Sometimes she really hated having this ability, she felt she was becoming more of a harbinger of doom than anything else.

She grinned, speaking of her premonitions, she caught a glimpse of the American Special Operations teams getting into position to try to capture them and their technology. The passenger shuttle sitting outside on the tarmac was already sealed up, and her people had been briefed. She glanced at the man and woman standing at the boarding podium, the place that would do the final scan of each person before allowing them on the shuttle. One of them was one of her people, the other was Major Hiro of the Raptor Samurai.

Janet knew of the pending attack by the Special Operations teams of the American Government by her ability and had spoken to Ty Anders about it. He gave her the use of the Samurai in order to protect her and her people while getting set up. The woman, Gail, looked up when Janet approached them.

"Mrs. Laskar, I was about to call you over, the Samurai has reported that the American troops are almost in position for their assault. I would like for you and Miss Gail to board the shuttle for your safety," Major Hiro said. "The rest of your people are already secured."

"If I don't remain visible, won't that tip our hand?" Janet asked the man. "I do have a personal shield generator on, all I need do is activate it."

He nodded. "That is the reason we issued them to you and your people, Ma'am. I would just feel better about it if you were not in the line of fire at all."

"Major Hiro, we are in no danger from bullets," Gail said softly. "I can read the team leader, they are all armed with tranquilizer darts. Their orders are to capture all of us alive."

The Major stiffened. "How close is this man?"

"She is behind the door to our left, watching us through a small scope. The device is supposed to allow her to hear us as well, but our jammers are preventing it. It is frustrating her." Gail replied, grinning.

"How many troops does she have with her?" Hiro asked. "And please activate your personal shields. They could attack at any minute." He turned to Janet but spoke over his com. "Samurai, attack is imminent. Be advised, enemy is armed with non-lethal weaponry and has been ordered not to harm their targets. All units, stand by."

"I assume the service hanger is already secure, Major? I am speaking to appear to answer the question you just asked me," Janet replied for the watching team leader as she casually reached down and pushed the button on the small shield generator at her waist. Gail appeared to be checking her cell phone while activating her shield. She also brought up the video feed from the monitor on the other side of the door she had indicated.

Hiro nodded as if understanding her answer when he saw the three armed, black-clad people on the monitor. "That is another trap, as we planned. Our technicians appear to be openly working on the cargo shuttle holding the Samurai. All of the American troops set to assault them have been located and will be stunned as soon as they begin the assault."

Janet leaned over and was starting to point to something on the podium when Gail spoke once again. "Five count!"

Hiro looked at her but again spoke on his open comm. "Samurai, three seconds!"

The door to the right burst open and several darts bounced off Janet and her two companions as the three commandos fired and spread out. Seeing the darts had no effect on the three now grinning people, the team leader spoke to them. "Don't move! Why didn't the darts hit any of you?"

"Because we are shielded, Captain. I would suggest you lower your weapons before any of your people get hurt though," Major Hiro replied.

"How are you going to hurt us? Harsh language?" she asked getting chuckles from her two companions.

Hiro stepped around Janet and dropped the holographic cover he had masking his armor. Behind the three commandos another member of Hiro's team dropped the cloaking field that had been covering him. "Captain, I think that perhaps your intelligence services did not adequately prepare you for this assault. Again, please lower your weapons and no harm will come to you."

The Captain narrowed her eyes. "You're going to let us walk away?"

"Not exactly, no. We are arresting you for violating our security. We will simply hand you over to the United Nations with a full report of your actions here," he shrugged. "I doubt anything will come of it, which is a good thing since no one was harmed."

"May I ask who you are?" the Captain replied.

"Major Hiro of the Raptor Samurai, I am afraid we had to stun a few of your troops, Captain. But they have been otherwise unharmed. They will regain conciseness in a few minutes. We are holding the rest of your people in our hanger. If you would, please come with us and we will take you to them," Hiro replied.

"You knew we were coming! This was a trap!" the Captain said accusingly. "How did you know?"

Major Hiro nodded to her question. "Yes, we knew you were coming. In fact, we were watching you watch us just before you opened that door. As for how we knew, we have greatly advanced technology, Captain. It should not be much of a stretch for you to find the answer to your question," Hiro replied.

She snorted. "Our orders were to capture all of you and confiscate as much of your stuff as we could. No one told us how advanced you actually were. At least you’re not gonna kill any of us for trying."

"There would be no point in that. You might want to call your backup and let them know that they can retrieve your vehicles and weapons in about twenty minutes," Major Hiro informed her. "We would like to thank you for helping us test our security, although I am sure you will test it again as much as you can in the future."

The Captain laughed. "I'm pretty sure you can count on that, Major. I'm sure my bosses would love to get their hands on the tech you folks are using."

"Of that we are very aware, Captain. However, if you would make very clear to them that, like this assault, force will be answered with force. If you had carried lethal weapons, this assault would have turned out much differently. I would much rather return live prisoners than I would dead bodies," Hiro said.

"They'll take that as a threat, Major."

"It is not a threat, Captain. It is simply the truth. The precautions we take for our security would be no different, however, bullets tend to bounce much more than darts. You could do considerable damage to your own people without us ever firing a shot; we are protected against your weapons, you are not. That is not a threat." Hiro replied as he led the three commandos back through the door they had entered through.

"Isn't this supposed to be a civilian operation?" one of the other commandos asked.

Hiro nodded. "It is a civilian operation. I would not normally be here if not for your assault this day. Your presence here is proof that our precautions are needed. Rest assured that while here on Earth, none of our people will be without protection of some kind, as it is obvious what will happen to them if steps are not taken."

After Major Hiro and his teammate escorted the American troops away, Gail looked at Janet. "I think the Captain will be returning as a recruit. She was really impressed with all of this. As it is now, she, like her other team members, is really curious about us."

"If she comes to us as a recruit and she is sincere, I'm sure she will be welcomed. But until then, we will have to be careful. Today's little excitement might not be an everyday occurrence, but that won't stop them from trying something else. We will need to be careful, and we will need to take the precautions Major Hiro recommended," Janet replied. "Now, let's get the rest of the people out of the shuttle and back to work. We have people arriving tomorrow, and there is still some things left to do."

Chapter 4

Mount Olympus Star Port

Ascension, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

Ian and Star jogged up just as the large passenger liner settled to the pad outside the main terminal building. Luke turned and grinned at him.

"You're cutting it pretty close, Ian. I was starting to wonder what I was going to tell the dignitaries about your absence!"

"I'm really sorry, Luke. I had to stop by Main Medical on the ship before coming down, Talena needed me for something," Ian replied slightly out of breath.

"Is Talena sick? Why would she be in medical?" Luke asked with concern.

"Uh, no, she isn't sick, but... uh, it was a personal favor for her that required a stop by the medical section," Ian replied, blushing.

Luke smiled and chuckled. "Okay, I'll butt out." He turned to look out the huge windows at the sleek looking liner. "I'm told that the Benesians are a heavily matriarchal society, and that most of the women are extremely beautiful. They are also peaceful, which is why ARC uses them for treaty negotiations."

"Close, they are matriarchal because of the low birth rate of males in their society. Males are also smaller and more fragile on the average. Beth tells me that seeing a male Benesian off-planet is a very rare occurrence, so it is unlikely we will ever meet one. From what Goya told me about them, the Benesians volunteered to be the primary negotiators for the Alliance of Races since they abhor violence, and it would give them a way to contribute in a manner that did not offend their Goddess. They are very religious too, or so I'm told," Ian said. "But that could be rumor."

"That actually fits with what I could find on them. The Matriarch of the race is also the High Priestess. However, they are very tolerant of other religions and eager to learn what they can about them so as not to offend others. I'm actually kind of looking forward to this," Luke replied.

"I think we all are, Luke," Laura Johnson added. She was one of the four other Councilors present to greet the dignitaries. "Although I am learning to hate all the pomp and shit."

Zebadiah Gabriel snorted. "I don't think any of us like that part of this, Laura. But I do have to admit to being curious about their belief system and how it differs from ours. All in all, this should be an interesting meeting."

Star sucking in a breath caught Ian's attention, and he turned to look at her. "Sir, the first person off that ramp is going to be the Benesian Matriarch, not a diplomat from the ARC!"

"Luke! The Matriarch is in the lead. She came here in person!" Ian whispered.

"Fuck, we're not set up for a state visit!" Luke replied.

"Since it was not announced, it is not official, Councilor. Greet her formally, but just be yourself otherwise. Nothing more should be expected," Star offered.

Luke nodded thanks to her as the Benesian Elder stepped clear of the passageway.

Everyone bowed to her. "Matriarch, you honor us with this visit. Had we known you were coming we could have prepared a more fitting reception for you," Luke spoke.

"There is no need to bow, Councilor Belden. I am not here officially; this is more on the lines of a personal visit. I simply took advantage of the free ride," the older, yet still very striking woman said and smiled brightly. "I am T'gan M'orel of Benesia. Besides, all the fravirish of formality gets so tiring!"

"That it does, Matriarch. Please, allow me to introduce my fellow councilors," Luke replied and performed the necessary introductions. Since it had been a political event, Ian was introduced last.

"Finally, let me introduce to you our military commander and the man most responsible for our current situation, Admiral Ian Williams," He turned to Ian. "Admiral, it is my honor to make known to you T'gan M'orel, Matriarch and High Priestess to the Benesian People," Luke finished.

Ian bowed his head to her. "It is an honor beyond measure to meet you in person, Matriarch," Ian said by way of greeting.

"The honor is mine, Admiral. Thank you for your actions in the Rataac sector." She paused. "Admiral, I told my council I needed to come and meet the people that saved our transport so I may thank them in person. However, in addition to that, I have come to speak to you about a more private matter," T'gan said, quietly.

The admission took Ian by complete surprise. Why would the leader of the Benesian people need to speak to him privately? "Uh, of course, Matriarch. I’ll make sure to arrange a meeting between you and the team that destroyed the light cruiser in Rataac. As for the other, we can speak right after this reception is over if you wish?"

T'gan smiled at him. "Thank you, Admiral, but there is no rush. This has been an issue for almost fifteen years already, I doubt it will become critical in the next few hours." She glanced at the patiently waiting Luke. "I am unclear on one thing; do I address you as Councilor, or as Governor?"

Luke shrugged. "Either will do, Matriarch. However most people refer to me as Councilor."

"Before the others disembark, can you tell me why your Councilor Gabriel seemed so awe struck at meeting me? I did not get the feeling it was because of my appearance," T'gan asked.

"Councilor Gabriel is a man of very strong faith. However, he has come to learn a new respect for other belief systems and has expressed a strong curiosity about other, non-terrestrial religions. To him, you represent a level of devotion he believed he would never have the opportunity to meet," Luke replied. "Of course it may be something else entirely, but that is what I think has him so awe-struck."

T'gan nodded. "I think I understand; it would be like a common Catholic unexpectedly meeting the Pope."

"Exactly like that, yes," Luke replied, briefly he wondered how she knew about Catholicism and the Pope.

"I will tell the rest that they may disembark now. I would have had them come with me, but protocol will not allow it. Admiral, if you will excuse me, I would introduce the dignitaries," T'gan replied.

"Matriarch, why do I get the feeling that you thwart every protocol you possibly can?" Luke replied, grinning.

Without missing a beat, T'gan looked at him with a playful glint in her eyes. "Because you are very perceptive for a male, Councilor."

As soon as T'gan and Luke walked away, Ian turned to Star. "Please have the Damocles team dispatched with all haste to the Star Port for guard detail. I'll brief them on site."

"Alert issued. Four members of the team are already on planet for a three day pass. Officer Lissa is with the ship at Phoenix Base. Major Swift will be on her way to the landing bay shortly." Star replied. "The four members on planet will report to you, here, as soon as they can return to their hotel and gear up."

Ian nodded. "No need for a full suit. This is a VIP Guard mission with a low threat assessment. Personal shields and side arms should suffice until Cindy can get here to evaluate the situation."

"Orders replayed," Star replied.

Ian chuckled softly. "She looked like an elf from one of Tolkien's stories. They all do, really."

Star studied the visitors critically. "Indeed they do. Perhaps Mr. Tolkien crossed paths with one on Earth. Records show that the Benesian people have been visiting your home world for many centuries as observers. At one time, there was even a rather large Benesian colony on planet."

"Really? How long ago was that?" Ian asked, surprised.

"It was present on the planet when I arrived to be stranded on the moon. At that time, the Benesian and Talosian people had not yet met and I had no information on them. In fact, I did not even recognize the colony for what it was until it was destroyed. I could not assist the survivors, but could only stand apart and record the incident. It was... disturbing to witness," Star said sadly. "I think that event was one of the first times I felt an emotion, but at the time I did not recognize it."

"They must have been very good a blending in to avoid being recorded in history. Although I will admit, our histories from that long ago are spotty at best," Ian replied.

"It did not escape your histories, Admiral. Several myths and legends have been created about it. I never knew the name by which it was known at the time, but in more modern records it is most often referred to as Atlantis," Star replied in her matter of fact manner. "The Benesians did send a ship to investigate, but again I could not contact them as they were an unknown race to me. Perhaps now, I can give them an accurate record of the fate of their colony."

"I find it strange they would have a colony on Earth. Benesian has only one other colony that I know of. Which means they are not a very expansionistic race," Ian replied. "We can talk more about this later, the dignitaries are almost here."

That conversation did not get continued. After Ian met the dignitaries, the Raptor team members on planet arrived and he had to quickly brief them and introduce them to their charge. He had no more than finished with that, when Cindy arrived.

Cindy was completely taken aback when T'gan gave her a warm hug. "Major Swift, words alone cannot express my personal gratitude, nor that of my people, for your actions in the Rataac sector on our behalf. I admit that for a time we feared that you had been destroyed, and my companions and I grieved for you. Once we were told of your survival, the celebration lasted the rest of the trip. An accounting of your team’s efforts on our behalf has been recorded in our histories."

"Matriarch, on behalf of my team, we are honored. However, it was simply our duty; a ship was in distress and we responded," Cindy replied, blushing and attempting to down-play the event. "It was really the Star Dancer and her crew that provided the most assistance, we only removed the threat; getting ourselves knocked out of commission in the process."

T'gan smiled at the young woman. "You are truly a credit to your people, Major. I will not embarrass you further."

Cindy smiled at the older woman then turned to her Commander. "What's next Admiral?"

"Star has arranged for quarters for the Matriarch and her entourage in the city. I am sure she would like to rest after her journey. There is also a somewhat private matter I would like to discuss with her in a more intimate setting." Ian replied.

Cindy nodded and directed her team to form up as an escort. "Where are we going?"

"The top floor of the Henderson, Major." Ian turned to T'gan. "Matriarch, I am told your mid-day meal should be ready for service when we arrive. I have been asked to assure you that all dietary customs have been adhered to, and will be for the duration of your stay with us. Although I do not have the schedule yet, several rural excursions are being planned for your pleasure. I am certain that the city planning committee would love to hear your opinion as well as your suggestions for their design of the city. They have gone to great lengths to try to leave it as natural as possible while retaining functionality. I imagine it is not how your people would have done it, but I feel they have done a remarkable job in retaining the natural beauty of the landscape."

"If such will assist the preservation of nature in its symbiosis with your people, I would be honored to offer my opinions," T'gan replied.

Cindy and her team led the small group to the elevated mag-rail that would carry them back to the city. Behind them, the ARC dignitaries and the members of the Terran Council awaited the departure of the Matriarch. They had a different destination, and would be taking the next transport module.

Hotel Henderson 'Penthouse'

Ascension, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

T'gan was indeed surprised by the design of the city. Several times she commented on how beautiful it was, and how well the buildings took advantage of the landscape while disturbing it as little as possible. The Hotel itself was an even greater surprise. It was a terraced affair set onto the side of a hill overlooking the city and harbor. The 'penthouse' was not actually the top floor of the building, but simply the highest terrace and included its own gardens, featuring native flora carefully tended by the hotel's staff.

"This is a truly amazing city, Admiral. It is very beautiful, and very well designed. I could easily see this entire community on Benesia," T'gan replied. Ian noted that several of her entourage nodded agreement with her.

"Matriarch, with your permission, I will pass on your comments to the city planners," Star replied.

"If such could be arranged, might I meet them so I might pass along our appreciation in person? They truly have done a wonderful thing here," T'gan asked.

"Of course, Matriarch. I believe they actually have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow anyway, would that be acceptable?" Star asked.

"That would be perfectly acceptable, my dear." T'gan looked closely at Star. "I think I would like to get to know you a little better as well. You are very unlike any of the other artificial intelligences we have met in the past. While your origins may be mechanical in nature, you do not feel artificial. I can feel the blessings of the Goddess about you. That is something no non-naturally created life form has ever exhibited to our knowledge."

"I am honored, Matriarch. I admit, when the Admiral and Chief Laskar, our ship's computer systems officer, declared me to be sentient, it frightened me greatly. With the help of our councilors and the support of those who are my friends, I believe I have come to terms with it," Star replied.

"That is a very good lead-in to what I wanted to talk to you about, Matriarch," Ian began.

She held up her hand to stop him. "If I may call you Ian, it would please me if you could call me T'gan when we are in private. Join us for our meal, and we can discuss our separate issues as companions. I would have you and Star as friends in addition to professional acquaintances."

"Now that would be a great honor that I am very happy to accept, T'gan. You may certainly call me Ian," Ian replied. "As for lunch, I would be happy to join you, however, I am not a vegetarian. Will that offend you or your people?" Ian asked, indicating the small group of attendants that T'gan had.

"There is an ongoing discussion in our synod over the status of replicated foods. Synthesized food has never been alive, because of this, some of our scholars believe that such food should be considered exempt from our restrictions. Others feel that it is the spirit of the restriction that must be upheld and not the wording. A decision has not been reached. Since you are not of our society, you are free to eat what you are used to. Will it offend us? I tend to believe that since no life was destroyed to provide it, the food in question is acceptable. However, I am not certain of the beliefs of my attendants," T'gan replied.

After polling them, the young women agreed with their Matriarch that their Goddess objected to the loss of life, not the ultimate origin of the food. Ian nodded to all of them as a group. "Thank you ladies. In my turn, I would like to reassure all of you that none of the food offered you has been replicated. We do have several foods that are the products of animals, but they did not give their life in its production. I understand that is acceptable?" Ian asked.

"Yes Admiral," One of the women replied. "The produce of an animal is acceptable under that circumstance." The young woman blushed darkly and tried very hard to fade into the background.

T'gan chuckled. "She likes you."

At Ian's questioning look, she grinned. "Your people find our race to be attractive, correct?"

Ian nodded. "Yes, as a race, you are very beautiful to us. There is a... magnetism to you that we find very appealing as well as your physical appearance." While they were talking, the group took places at a large table set up outside in the garden. The hotel had provided a small serving staff for the Matriarch, since she and her party had special culinary requirements. Ian quietly placed an order for a burger and onion rings with one of the servers who nodded and hurried off to get it. The rest of the group was beginning to serve the Benesians.

T'gan nodded. "The same can be said of your race as well. You have a greater diversity in appearance than we do, as well as having many traits we admire that our males do not. We do not know if interspecies breeding is possible, but for now, intimate contact is forbidden. The discussion has not been debated for thousands of years, since contact with humans has been so limited. It is one of the issues I will be reintroducing to our synod upon my return."

"T'gan, when you were speaking to Star about her sentience, it reminded me to tell you that she was present when your colony here was destroyed. Since her crew had evacuated to that area, she had maintained surveillance of the area. She recorded the entire event and admitted to me that it was the first time she remembered feeling an emotion," Ian explained.

From her place, Star nodded her agreement. “Even had our races known of each other at the time, Matriarch, I was still incapable of action at that time. It was very disturbing to have to witness the event and not be able to take action to assist. Even though, until that event, I was unaware the colony existed. I would be happy to provide you with copies of all the records I have of that event."

"That would be greatly appreciated. We have long wondered what had occurred to have destroyed the colony. I take it then that you are aware that we have been monitoring your planet for some time?" T'gan asked.

"I was informed shortly after assuming command of the ship. We had no records in which to base a relationship with you, so we kept our distance and avoided contact. Besides, at the time, we had other issues troubling us, Ian admitted.

T'gan nodded. "Yes, the Caldarians. As I understand it, you still have that issue, do you not?"

Ian nodded. "Yes, they are stealing a large amount of crude oil from our planet every month. They have a base deep in the Atlantic Ocean that loads their freighters. We are getting set up to shut down that base and stop the freighters. However, before we do that, we must prepare for their retaliation. If we stop this source of sustenance for them, we are certain they will retaliate in order to re-establish the base."

"Ian, they have been taking more than just the oil. They have been kidnapping your citizens as slaves for as long as they have been on your planet. Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate their remote base so that you may retrieve your people," T'gan replied.

"We suspected as much. Fortunately we have discovered their remote base, however, it is too far away for us to stage a strike against it. We also have no information about it in order to plan such a strike. I agree we'll have to do something to retrieve our people, but to do so now would leave this sector defenseless for too long of a period," Ian replied, sadly.

"Would you entertain a strike that did not leave you defenseless for a long period?" T'gan asked "One that would earn you a great deal of admiration from Benesia as well as the Alliance of Races Council?"

Ian cocked his head at her. "This is what you wanted to speak to me about?"

She nodded. "Before I begin, I will admit that I have a personal reason for asking you this. My Granddaughter is involved, and I am feeling an urgency that she be rescued soon."

"So, where is she?" Ian asked.

T'gan smiled warmly. "The planet Hyperion, in the star system you know as Aurigae, forty light years from here. The planet fell to the Empire fifteen years ago. She was posted there as a diplomatic liaison to our agricultural mission. I would like you to go there and rescue our people if you can."

Phoenix Base

Transient Officer’s Quarters

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System, Sol Sector

Alan winced as he stretched the sore deltoid muscle. He had forgotten how much working with Sensei could hurt. He was quickly remembering. In the years since leaving the Agency, Alan had let his hand to hand skills lapse; an oversight he was now paying for dearly. Getting a warm cup of tea, Alan sat down to go over the latest report from the Shark development team.

He had only just started reading when Andreya let him know that Ty Anders was on the comm for him. He opened the comm for his old friend. "TY, please tell me I can come get the other members of my team?"

"Nope, I can't tell you that," Ty replied. "However, you can come and choose from the trainees I have now. Most of them are ready for their next level of training and you said you had some special stuff in mind. I've heard you did some recruiting of your own."

Alan nodded. "I contacted my old Sensei from the Agency. He agreed to join and train us in hand to hand combat. Since he learned what we would be fighting, he's changed his training," Alan replied grunting and once again stretching the strained muscle groups.

Ty chuckled. "Don't feel too bad, our hand to hand guys are pretty hard on the troops too. If it helps, try remembering that having to face one of these critters without this knowledge would hurt much worse. I'll send you the files on the folks I have ready. Like I said, there isn't much to choose from, but they are good people."

"Okay, I appreciate it. I'll go over the files and call you back with the folks I want to look at. Please include the psych reports too, we're going to be doing some pretty different stuff," Alan replied.

"I can only imagine. Ian did tell me that these folks needed to be pretty well rounded in skills and education. Just try not to get too specialized or it will limit your effectiveness as a team," Ty suggested. "Speaking of which, I still need to get you certified as a Raptor Commander. When you show up, plan on spending the night."

Alan sighed, but nodded. "Will do. Talk to you tomorrow, Ty."

"Take it easy, my brother," Ty replied and broke the connection.

"Andreya, would you please ask Sensei if he can spare me some time today? I would like the both of you to assist me in making my choices," Alan asked his friend over the comm.

"Certainly Alan. What time would you want us there?" she asked.

"As soon as is convenient. We need to get this going quickly," Alan replied.

"Okay, I'll speak to him as soon as I finish this task," Andreya asked.

"How are the upgrades going?"

"Pretty good. We are having some difficulty adapting the discharge system to work underwater. We are certain it can be done, we are just having difficulty finding the right method to employ," Andreya replied.

"Will the ship be ready to go by tomorrow?" Alan asked.

"That soon?" Andreya asked. "Possibly, with your permission I will send you a holographic avatar so I can remain here."

"I understand. Whatever it takes to get it ready is fine, we'll be going to Raptor Command." Alan said.

"We'll be ready, Sir."

"Okay, see ya when you get here," Alan replied and closed the connection. He then called the Shark team.

"Lieutenant Commander Carlson! How are you doing? Did you get the latest report?" Doctor Juno asked.

"I have received it, but haven't had a chance to read through it yet. I'm calling to let you know we will be leaving Phoenix Base tomorrow for Raptor Command. I have been informed that the rest of my team is ready to begin our next stage of training. If all goes well, we will be heading down to Earth in four or five days. Will you be ready?"

"For the trials, yes, we will be ready. However, please do not forget we will need to install the carrier racks into your Raptor so you can carry and deploy the sharks without the need for a second craft. Do you want me to send the techs over now to do that, or should we wait until we arrive on the planet?" Doctor Juno asked.

"The Raptor is getting some last minute work done to it right now, so if possible, we should wait until we get to the planet. I've been told that our drones have been very busy getting your family’s resort ready for us. I do hope that the improvements are to your satisfaction," Alan said smiling.

"I am sure it will be just fine, Commander. After all, I was planning on simply destroying the buildings and building a research laboratory in its place. I do have to admit to being rather excited! The whole team is! When I spoke to them about the need for our prototypes, they became very inspired. The Shark we have now is much improved over the one I showed you on your first visit. I am certain you will be pleased with the result," Juno replied, excitedly.

Alan nodded to the man. "I have no doubt I will be as well, Doctor. You and your team have been doing great work. If you would, could you bring that anti-pollution design with you as well. If we have the time, we may as well plan on seeing that project through to fruition as well."

"We will most certainly do that, Lieutenant Commander. Thank you very much for making several of my dreams come true," Juno replied, smiling broadly. "We will be ready when you call for us."

"Unless I have a question when I read your report, I'll give you a call as soon as we arrive back from the Centauri system, Doctor. Until then, be well," Alan said.

When the excited scientist replied in kind, Alan broke the connection and reopened the report. Perhaps he could get it finished before the others arrived.

TDF Raptor Poseidon

Deceleration vector

Destination: Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

It had been a very difficult and trying four days for Alan. The Raptor certification Ty had spoken of was far more intense and involved that Alan had been led to believe. Like rushing through collage by only taking the final exams, Ty had Alan submit to the evaluations of the team trainers in order for him to be considered an Officer in the Special Operations Group. Although Ty had confided to him before the evaluations had begun that he knew Alan would pass, he still had not warned Alan of the ordeal that had been a Raptor Commando's final evaluation.

Sensei Michi Nokisuno had accompanied Alan in order to advise him in selecting his team. Ty and the rest of the instructors treated the middle-aged Asian man with the greatest of respect and allowed him to observe Alan's trials in order for him to evaluate the Command's physical as well as psychological training methods.

With only a few minor suggestions, Sensei Nokisuno nodded approval of the training base. Ty, as well as the instructors, thanked the man for his expertise before Alan and Michi departed with not four, but six new team members.

Ty originally objected to Alan choosing six officers, but Alan countered with the fact that Ty had tagged two of his primary choices as possible trainers for specialty missions. Since Alan's entire job would be a 'specialty mission', Ty reluctantly agreed and assigned the extra officers to Alan.

True to his word, Alan called Doctor Juno as soon as they returned to normal space just inside the orbit of Saturn.

"Lieutenant Commander! You are very punctual! All of our equipment is loaded and we are ready to go. The entire team is very excited about our new base and has been looking forward to this move. The moon is nice, but it has no oceans," Juno replied.

"No, it doesn't. Not real ones anyway. We have just dropped out of hyperspace and are still four hours out. I was calling so you could notify your people, and get them ready to launch. We'll meet up with you as we get closer and head to the island together. I was going to ask you, Atlas has oceans; why haven't you considered moving there?"

Juno smiled. "Yes it does have oceans, very beautiful ones. Eventually, we would like to be part of the teams that explore those areas, but for now, all undersea work is restricted there. The preliminary survey of the oceans is still being conducted and not even the mapping has been finished. It is a very exciting prospect, but there is still much we can learn on our own planet. Perhaps the experience we glean on Earth will assist us in the exploration of the oceans of Atlas."

Alan nodded his understanding. "May I ask how many prototypes you managed to get built?"

"Well, we still had the models we were using for our own testing, and we had two extra built as research test craft, so the total number we have built is fifteen," Juno held up his hands before Alan could object. "I know that is more than you requested, Commander, but having the spares available can only be a benefit to us."

Alan laughed. "I wouldn't object to extra craft, Doctor. I was only concerned that too few had gotten built because of the short amount of time. As it turns out, I have two extra team members as well. So we will be training with six of the craft if that is possible."

Juno's ever-present smile returned full force. "That is very possible, Commander. We have plenty of craft available. Have you had a chance to create a schedule, so we may better work with you?"

"Actually, I haven't had the time as yet. However, I will get it to you as soon as I am able to get it completed, Doctor. I did want to tell you that two of the people on my team are already certified divers. One of them is deep water certified and has experience in high pressure atmospheres. Both are Talosian, but are very excited about working in Earth's oceans."

"That is so exciting!" Juno replied. "It will be very interesting to speak to him about what it is like in deep water. That is something we are not actually capable of on Earth yet."

"What do you mean? I thought we had deep water divers as well as deep water equipment available on Earth?" Alan asked.

"As with some other things, it is the definition that is misleading in this case. What is classified as 'deep water' on Earth is still well within the range of 'normal' for Talosians. When they say 'deep water certified' they are speaking of depths our current DSRVs have difficulty going. They are speaking of dives so deep that military grade shields have to be used to protect the diver from being crushed by the weight of the water and the temperatures which are far below freezing," Juno explained.

"Oh! I had no idea the two types of certification systems were so different," Alan admitted. "Yes, well, this will be an interesting adventure, if nothing else."

"That it will, Commander that it will. I will notify my people to begin final preparations for the move. At least if we forget something, it will not be difficult to retrieve!" Juno replied. "We will see you in a few hours."

"We'll keep in touch, Doctor. Poseidon out."

Chapter 5

Ruling Council Chambers

New Caldaria

Prime Stalk Facility

Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy

The old being chastised himself. 'The humans have a saying - be careful what you wish for - that certainly applied to this situation. Since the Talosians at Earth had been leaving the supply base alone, it had been able to delay the discussion of what to do about Earth.

It knew that discussion would be forced out today. His spies in the other clans had reported that concern of their last remaining source of food was by far the most significant singular issue troubling the clans. A decision would have to be made once and for all. It knew that this decision would be the deciding factor for the survival of his race. But the issue was not as simple as many of the Praetors believed.

It knew most of the Praetors on the council preferred invasion and openly taking control of the human world once and for all. They believed that the remaining Great Ships would be more than sufficient protection against the Alliance should they discover and object to the Caldarian dominance of Earth.

The old being knew better. It remembered the war. It had been there when Caldaria fell. It knew that openly taking the human world would solve a lot of their problems, but doing so would destroy them when the Alliance arrived to free the planet. It understood the one thing the other Praetors did not; the Alliance strongly objected to any race being dominated by another. They would respond to the invasion of Earth, and they would do so in force.

There was also the existence of the force that had destroyed Dren. In all the reports received from the great ship, none of them had ever been able to identify the forces that had destroyed them. There had been reports of Talosian fighters in the system, as well as the one troubling report that three Talosian heavy cruisers had been sited shortly before all contact with the Great Ship had been lost.

Three Talosian cruisers should not have been enough to destroy one of the Great Ships. Defeat it, possibly. Dren had little combat experience, so the possibility existed that they had been defeated, but the reports from the base on Earth tell of the destruction of the Great Ship and that had included a visual report of its destruction.

If the report of the Talosian ships was real and not the panicked report of a scared underling, then some of the Talosians had survived the hunt and destruction of Talos. So, if that were true, had they made technological advance in the last thousand cycles? Very possible, if enough of them had survived the hunt. No report on the final success of that hunt had been received before the Alliance arrived at Caldaria.

Perhaps the humans of Earth had been the ones to create the mysterious weapons that had destroyed the Great Ship? No, that was less likely than the existence of Talosian survivors. They simply needed more information! It would have to prove to the other Praetors of the need for further observation before any plan to invade could be considered.

While it had been musing the issue, the other leaders had been arriving and the feeding was about to begin. It stood. "Welcome my brothers! Let the feeding begin!"

As it lowered itself back down to its stool, a server placed its evening hydrocarbons before it and retreated quickly. It opened the container and quickly began ingesting the contents. It wanted to finish the meal quickly so it would have the first opportunity to speak and head off the demand the others would make for the invasion of Earth.

It had just finished the container and was about to stand when it felt something was very wrong. Its legs refused to work! Annoyed, it tried to turn to summon a server but the turn only dislodged it from its stool. It fell, but lost its awareness on the way. When its large bulk finally hit the floor, it was dead.

Next to where the old being had been sitting, another, younger being stood. "Now, that we have that artifact taken care of, we may begin our planning. You!" it pointed to one of the now very frightened servers. "Get that mess cleaned up." It waved toward the remains of its former leader. "My brothers, I have reviewed our production and output quotas for the last cycle. It is clear to me that we have reached the end of the usefulness of this system. I propose we load our ships for battle, load the freighters with the remaining supplies, ore and slaves, and move into the human system. We have plenty of food there, as well as much more ore to build more ships and a planet full of slaves to do the work. We all feel this to be our best course of action, am I correct?"

"Calisa, it is not our best course of action, it is our only course of action!" another being replied from across the room as it stood to move to the center of the room. "However, we do need to choose a new leader for this assembly, you are far too young to assume such a roll."

The servers quickly cleared the center of the large room. Assassinations like had just occurred was not uncommon among lower castes, but it was very rare at this level. A new leader simply assumed the roll and if anyone didn't like it, they fought. The battles would take place in the center of the room and no weapons were allowed. Any participants that surrendered simply retook their seats. The last one to sit was the new leader.

Staff Briefing Room

Admiral's Office (Temp.)

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the planet Hyperion located in the Aurigae star system, Durnam Sector. Before it fell to Imperial forces fifteen years ago, it was a Talosian agricultural colony." Ian paused while he looked over the holographic image. "We are going to retake it."

From the assembled group of officers he heard Chloe Brighton reply. "Excuse me, Sir, your accent must have thrown me there for a minute. I thought I heard you say we were going to retake this planet from the Empire?"

Ian nodded and grinned. "You heard me correctly, Chloe. In two weeks, Star Dancer will be departing for the Aurigae system for the purpose of retaking the system from the Empire. There are a few reasons we are going to do this. First, this is the closest Imperial incursion to our space. It's not that much further away than Beta Hydri is and that makes me nervous from a security stand point.

"Secondly, retaking the world would go a long way in helping to quell the civil unrest currently developing at New Talos. I'll grant that retaking a more industrial or more heavily populated one would be better, but this one is the closest to us. It is also not very heavily guarded, since it isn't considered a priority target by either side. Like I said, it is a farming colony.

"Thirdly, we have received an official request from the Benesian High Priestess, Matriarch T'gan M'orel, to investigate the possibility of recovering missing Benesian ambassadors that were on the planet when it fell. She has only asked us to find her missing people, but after reviewing the Intel on the place, I decided we are going to reclaim it.

"Hyclarion is defended mostly by ground forces, but includes two light cruisers, a medium cruiser, and eight squadrons of fighters. The difficult part of this operation will be the ground troops. The Empire has a division of infantry on planet, but spread out to provide local security and to control the population. These troops are not front-line and have poorly maintained equipment. However, we have very few ground troops at all, even though ours are much better equipped, it'll still be a hard fight simply because there are so many of them."

"Not really, Sir," Major Reise replied. "You said yourself that they were spread out; divided into smaller units. It shouldn't be too difficult to deal with them as long as we can keep them from rebuilding into one unit. If we could borrow another battalion or two from the Talosian ships, we could easily handle them. But my question is, once we take the world, how are we going to keep it? We don't have any ships we can leave there for defense, do we?"

Ian shook his head. "No we don't but that will not be our responsibility, not fully anyway. As soon as we clear the system of ships, a defense network aggregator will be turned loose in the system. It will be up to Admiral Goya and the Talosian Defense Forces to man the system as well as assign ships for system defense."

"Who'll protect this system while we're out doing this, Sir?" another officer asked.

"Captain Serena will have overall command, and the Prometheus, Pegasus, and the Zephyr will also remain here for sector defense. In addition to that, I have been informed that several ARC ships will be remaining here indefinitely to bolster our defense. Folks, we can do this, and I feel we can do it pretty damn quickly, too.

"Star Dancer will stop a quarter light year outside the outer planet's orbit. We'll launch both our Raptor teams and four Condor-AS variants before proceeding in system on a slow, low-emission hyperbolic course.

"Our Raptors will head straight in. Damocles will set down near the continental capitol of Stardoc, while Hephaestus picks a spot near the planetary Capitol of Greywind on the southern continent. Their mission will be recon, evaluate and disrupt. They are also to determine if there is a resistance movement, and if so, try to make contact with them. Once the attack begins they will be free to raise all the hell they want for the enemy commanders on planet.

The Condors will hunt down and destroy the two light cruisers and try to soften up the medium before we arrive. When Star Dancer gets close enough, we'll splash the medium if the Condors haven't. At that time, we'll drop our Marines, and the fight will be on. We'll launch fighters for air support and enemy air suppression. At that point, I will call the Imperial Governor and demand his immediate surrender. Now, we all know that no plan lasts beyond first contact with the enemy, so it'll be adjusted as we go, but that's the gist of it. Questions?" Ian finished.

"How will we locate the Benesians the Matriarch would like us to find?" Someone asked.

"I would hope that once the fighting is over, they would simply come forward to tell us they are there. If not, I suppose we can simply start searching for them. Scanners are good for stuff like that," Ian said playfully.

"Do you have an over-all timeline for the operation, Admiral?" Chloe asked.

"I'll send you the planning file Chloe, but the operations time-line is four days, give or take a day. I tried to remain flexible until we get a handle on those infantry folks," Ian replied. "We all know how unpredictable Marines can be!"

"You got that right, Sir!" Major Reise said, laughing.

Ju'nio Ha'ena Beach


Mid-Pacific Ocean

Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Coming in low from the east, over the ocean, Alan led the small fleet of three shuttles with his Raptor. They were very low because of their proximity to Hilo International Airport, they tried to stay out of the airspace a commercial flight might be using. They came in quietly, very early in the tropical morning, before the sun had risen, in order to land and get the ships under cover as quickly as possible without being seen.

Alan knew that the drones had built a large, underground hanger as part of the construction, but really hadn't paid attention to how big it really was. As the small ships crossed over the small abandoned resort, Alan saw lights on the ground form two circles indicating where the craft were to land.

Andreya, who was acting as the flight controller, ordered the Raptor and one of the shuttles to hover while the remaining two shuttles landed in the circles. Alan watched in amazement as the shuttles were lowered into the hanger, then moved to the side, and the elevator returned to the surface; far quicker than he thought they would be able to.

After all four craft were inside the hanger, and the 'doors' were once again closed and hidden, Alan and his team got out of the shuttle to meet Doctor Juno and his band of researchers. Alan was surprised, as there seemed to be a lot of them.

Andreya found something to stand on so she could speak to the crowd. "Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Hawaii. The base computer system is not an AI, but it is smart enough to be able to assist you with most questions. Mathias is also available via comms for the time being. All of you have been assigned quarters here and can be guided to them by the computer. For the time being, however, I would recommend you assist the drones in unloading your ships so they can take the equipment to the appropriate place. Current local time is zero-two-forty, so for now, please limit your surface activity. Your team leaders should have been briefed on the rest of this on the flight down, so let's get busy folks," she finished and stepped down. She joined Alan who was standing with a shocked looking Doctor Juno. The older, shorter scientist was looking around him in awe.

"This is amazing, Commander! I had no idea the drones could work so fast! Now I am curious to see what was done with the buildings on the surface!" Juno replied.

"I am told that they even built an aqua dome out in the ocean for use by other researchers. That is in addition to your own special facilities, Doctor," Andreya said. "The designers tried to follow what they felt was your desire and made sure this place was able to handle as broad a spectrum of oceanic research as would be possible after our team departs. There is plenty of room for further expansion as well. I would be happy to give you a tour."

"This is truly amazing, Officer Andreya," Juno replied. "Over-whelming actually."

"If you will excuse me, Doctor, I need to get my new team into their quarters and ready for morning training," Alan grinned. "Sensei does not appreciate students that are late for his classes."

Beside him Michi smiled. "Considering the timing of our arrival, Alan, Today's class can be delayed I think. We will need to adjust to the time zone we now find ourselves in. I believe a short evaluation class would be in order. Perhaps around noon. If possible, I would like to accompany Doctor Juno and Andreya on that tour."

Alan bowed to his teacher. "As you wish Sensei." He turned to the six new people. "Let’s help get the gear unloaded, then we'll find our quarters."

As Alan excused himself to begin helping the other scientists and researchers, Andreya took Michi and Doctor Juno on the promised tour of the facility.

After getting the gear unloaded, there had been time for a shower and a short nap before meeting Sensei outside for their first lesson. When he arrived, he was pleased to see that, while he was still ten minutes early, he was also the last to arrive. Michi had been using the time to chat with the new team members and get to know them a little better. Alan also noticed that little Mulan was there as well, dressed in a black shozoku. Even though she was not carrying any obvious weapons, she very much looked like a small ninja or 'shinobi' as it was called in Japanese. Since she was dressed in this outfit, Alan noted that she did not speak at all; she simply sat at the edge of the training area and waited.

He bowed as he stepped passed her, and she returned the bow silently. Shinobi did not speak when their face was covered. He nodded a greeting to his team, and bowed to Michi in greeting.

Michi returned the bow and finished his conversation with one of the team members. He walked to the front of the seated group and bowed to them. "Good morning, as you all know I am Michi Nokisuno. I will be your instructor for advanced hand to hand combat disciplines. Before we begin, I must mention that what we will be teaching you has not been proven against non-humans, but instead prove to be effective against most of these opponents.

"As with all things, you will need to be evaluated so I may better understand what knowledge you already have. This will give me a better idea where to begin. I feel I must stress that this knowledge can be lethal if misused. However, as warriors, lethality is what you are here to learn.

"I do have certain rules that must be followed. Whenever we meet, you will bow to me. In my culture, this is a show of respect for the ancient knowledge I carry and as an acknowledgment of me as your instructor or sensei. Before you enter the training area, you will bow to show respect to your opponent and to show respect to the art I am to teach you. While we are in the training environment, you must always show respect for each other, the art, and finally me as your instructor," Michi finished.

"As I have said, before we can really begin, I must evaluate each of you. I will evaluate Alan first. He will fight my assistant. While the information will mean little to you, she has reached a ranking of Master Shinobi. As we progress you will come to understand what that is. While they duel, Alan will be evaluated first on his offensive abilities against her. Then they will switch rolls and Alan will attempt to defend himself against her. Each of you will be evaluated in this manner." He turned to Alan and nodded. "Alan, if you will please begin." He gestured to the area behind him, and the small seated girl.

Alan stood, bowed to Michi and walked into the training area. Before crossing the boundary, he bowed toward Mulan. She stood and returned his bow.

Alan quickly learned how good Mulan really was. Although Sensei had said she had reached a Master ranking, he found no matter what he tried, he could do nothing to the little black clad figure. At a signal from Sensei, Alan suddenly found himself on the ground looking up at the ceiling and wondering just how he had gotten there.

The rest of his evaluation was much the same, nor did it deviate for the rest of the team. None of them could do anything against the small ninja. When Sensei finally called a halt, and the last victim limped out of the training area, Sensei bowed to Mulan who returned the bow and resumed her original position.

He turned back to the assembled team. "Thank you. I now have a much better understanding of where to begin with all of you. We will begin tomorrow morning at oh-six hundred right here. I would suggest not eating breakfast before you arrive." He bowed to the team in dismissal. Alan returned the bow, and the rest of the team followed his lead.

As Michi stepped aside, Alan stood and spoke to the team. "As I'm sure all of you are aware of, this is not the only training we will be doing down here. You may return to your quarters to freshen up, but be in briefing room four-alpha in thirty minutes for the overall mission briefing. Our first class on our special equipment will be immediately after in the same briefing room. Dismissed."

The team quickly fell into a routine of training and learning. However, they soon learned that they were not safe from that little ninja no matter where or when they were. Michi had asked her to stalk the team and 'kill' them every day. By the end of the first week, the team was haggard and look harried. Alan was tempted to speak to Sensei about it, but chose not to since he could see what Sensei was trying to do.

The team was beginning to group together and rely on each other for protection against the little ninja. At least Alan was happy to see that each of them understood it was only part of the training and was not taking it personally. In fact, whenever Mulan was 'out in public', she was treated with cordial respect.

All in all the mission was on track, the group was becoming a team, Sensei was teaching them and they had begun to learn, and the Sharks were getting the bugs worked out of them during their open water testing phase.

Onalau Unified Spaceport

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

Caleb-et Shalo was thoroughly disgusted with his new assignment. Not that it was a bad planet, it wasn't. But for the situation he now found himself in. Who would have thought that purchasing the services of two females would result in this much defecate? He had only been celebrating his graduation from the Academy and now he found himself not only in command of an entire theater of operations, but also promoted far above his station.

He was now a high ranking noble, tasked with prosecuting a war he didn't agree with. He shook himself mentally. It wasn't his place to question why the war was being fought, only to fight it. The Imperial forces had discovered something that could very well destroy the entire Empire. What was the Emperor's answer to this ominous threat? Shalo. The Emperor had sent Shalo.

Granted that wasn't all he'd sent; Shalo had led an entire new fleet of warships as well as supply freighters and troop transports to this planet. Shalo certainly had the tools for the mission, he just hoped he had the ability.

While there were other members of his race on the ships he led - some of them were even female, however, for the most part, he was surrounded by the race the Empire used as their military. The Tel-Glare were beings larger than Shalo. They could be very violent and were incredibly strong since the race had originated on a heavy gravity world. As a whole, the race of warriors was controlled by an imperial-supplied drug. This drug kept the race subservient and very loyal to the empire. But that wasn't the only method of ensuring their loyalty. Shalo shuddered at the thought. The Tal-Glare were a Matriarchal society; that is they were led by the females of the species. If Shalo were to breed one of them, a chemical bonding formed, ensuring that the Matriarch's entire clan became loyal to him. In his orders, he was required to breed one of them once he arrived at his destination. A half breed Tal-glare named Glamia was the Matriarch in over-all command of the forces assaulting the Main Galaxy in the name of the Emperor.

He had of course, bred Tal-Glare females before. As a commander in the house military, he had to have control of his troops. Such acts were not considered as 'breeding' socially since it was a necessity of command. However, the physical act was the same and it had always revolted Shalo to have to perform it. The fact that this Tal-Glare Matriarch was a half breed bothered him even more. Knowing that sometimes the Tal-glare Matriarch would become pregnant resulting in a half breed made him want to puke. The bastard off-spring of such a union should be destroyed as abominations at birth and not allowed to contaminate the race. The Tal-glare would not stand for it, so the children were raised by their clans. Now he would be forced to breed one of them because of his duty to the Emperor and the Empire.

As he arrived at the command complex in the city of Onalau he saw what had to be the object of his thoughts standing at attention as his vehicle pulled up. Arrayed behind her was a truly impressive array of Tal-Glare senior officers; Admirals, Generals and Senior Captains all kneeling as protocol demanded. At least she wasn't as repulsive looking as the rest of the Tal-Glare race.

She bowed deeply as he got out of the ground vehicle. "Highness, welcome to Proferus Three. I am Glamia, the Matriarch of these clans."

"Get up. That will be the last time you bow to me. I am not your King, nor am I the Emperor. I don't care how the previous overseers did things; I have been sent here with a job to do and that is what will be done. You may address me as 'My Lord' or 'Lord Admiral'. While I understand a ceremony such as this might have been what the previous overseer expected, I do not. I feel such to be a waste of time and effort. Please have your clans rise and return to their duties. We will meet each other as needed or when our duties have us interacting. Once you have dismissed them, come to my office so we can get the rest of this duty taken care of." He pointed to an aide that was standing off to one side. "Show me to my office."

The aide bobbed his head and led the diminutive being into the building. Glamia sighed and slowly shook her head. Briefly, she wondered if this new commander was going to be better or worse than the last had been.

Hyperion Commons

Ascension, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

Jim Beacher had always been a simple man, who had done his best to lead a simple life. He had been raised in a small town and taught the trade of carpentry by his father. He also learned from his father to have a strong sense of loyalty to his family, his friends, his community, and his country. So at the age of eighteen, Jim had joined the Army. A training accident ended his time in the military and left him with a crushed pelvis and no way to father children.

Jim accepted his new disability and worked hard to overcome it. After many months in rehab, he learned to walk on his own again. He met Elias Johnson while searching for work and had stayed with him and his company. Jim’s parents had passed on a few years back. He couldn’t remember anyone else in the company ever losing a family member, at least as long as he had been with the company. Elias not only bought Jim a plane ticket to go home, he and three other men and their wives went with him to help Jim in settling his parent’s affairs.

When Elias sold the company, Jim was afraid he would, once again, have to start over. But the new owner convinced Elias to stay as a manager, and also insisted that all the employees also stay with the company if they chose. For Jim, there was no choice to be made, his fellow workers had become his family; he would never abandon them.

When the project at Talos, New Mexico began, Jim had wondered exactly what they had gotten themselves into. However, he trusted Elias and did his best to build the houses that the community would soon be living in. He was surprised when Elias told him that one of the houses they were building would be his free and clear.

Before the move to Talos, Jim had enjoyed watching television in his off time. He had a hard time learning to use the new device that had been installed in his home. Elias' son, Kyle took pity on the older man and discretely showed him how to work it. He was amazed to learn it was also a video phone and computer terminal. He'd never had any use for computers, but when Kyle told him about taking classes with it, he thought it was a pretty neat little machine. When Jim told Elias how embarrassed he had been to have Kyle show him how to use the gadget, Elias chuckled and admitted that Kyle had to show him how to use it was well.

They had talked some more when Jim noticed the entrance of a new young man and family of young women. Everyone seemed to greet them and welcome them to the party like they were long-time friends. Elias excused himself to go and greet the young man; Jim asked the other men who the stranger was.

“That, my friend, is our new boss, and the man responsible for everything that we are trying to accomplish. He may seem very young, and actually he is, but he has a great vision,” his friend, Stavros, had told him.

That evening, Jim learned all about who Ian Williams was and what he was trying to do. Jim might have been a simple man, but he wasn’t ignorant of the realities of life. Though he had never even suspected that the government had been suppressing certain technologies, it didn’t surprise him to learn that it had. That fact was driven home when he was introduced to a man who had invented the new power generator for the small community. The man again retold the horror stories of how he had been threatened and harassed, and of how his calls and complaints to the police had gone unanswered. He and his family had been labeled as kooks, his kids had been ostracized at school, and his wife had been fired from her job.

Jim had decided to introduce himself to the young man only to discover that he had already left. Elias told him that he had left early to make arrangements to help Luke Belden and his family. That single action solidified Jim’s respect for the young man. Any other employer would have simply thrown the alcoholic man out. The fact that Ian Williams cared enough about the people working for him to take the time and spend the money to help get the man’s family back on their feet... Well, that was the kind of thing that this country was missing.

Elias was gone now, so were many of his friends, both old and new, killed by something Jim had never truly believed existed. He remembered seeing a woman running for the community center shelter when she tripped and fell by the arcade that had been set up for the kids. He had been about to turn around to go help her when the building exploded, taking a direct hit from a passing alien craft. He glanced back to see if she was hurt, but could see no sign of her. Jim thought her name had been Valerie. She was a nice woman, always helping Laura, Elias’ wife, and Lara Belden after she had returned from the clinic Ian had sent the family to.

Now, as Jim sat in the commons looking out at an alien world he never even dreamed he would see, he had no clue what to do with the rest of his life. He couldn’t become a soldier again, though he would prefer that, and the only skill he knew was no longer needed since a carpenter was pretty much redundant in this society.

“You look like a man with a lot on his mind,” a voice said behind him.

Jim turned to see Luke and Lara approaching him, hand in hand. He smiled at them in welcome. “Just trying to figure out what good an old, beat-up carpenter can do in this new world.”

“What would you like to do?” Lara asked.

“If I wasn’t so busted up inside, I’d join up, but I don’t think the Cap’n could use a soldier that can’t walk more’n a half mile.”

“Jim, I’ve known you for a long time now. Granted, my memory is a bit fuzzy for most of that, but I think you have got to be the most honest, giving man I know. Haven’t you figured out yet where it was that Ian sent me to get better?” Luke asked him.

“Honestly, I’d never really thought about it. The fact that you are better is all that matters. It’s good to see you both so happy,” He replied.

Lara sat next to him on the bench and took one of his large, calloused hands in her own. “Jim, Ian sent Luke, Tara, and I to the ship. Talosian medical technology is very advanced. They actually cured his alcoholism, not just dried him out. He doesn’t have the cravings anymore! Hell, he doesn’t even want a glass of wine with dinner! What I’m trying to say is this; why don’t you ask at the medical center if it's possible to repair the damage? I don’t honestly know if they can fix it, but I do know it’s worth asking about.”

“Do ya think they might be able to fix my hips? That would be something! I’ll go over there tomorrow and ask. Then maybe I can see if I’m too old for the Marines," Jim said.

“Well, I don’t know about the Marines, but I know you’re not too old to become a pilot,” Luke suggested.

Jim laughed at that, “Luke, I know I’m not that smart! Hell, I can barely figure out how to operate my food replicator! Maybe I’ll see if I can take some classes and at least finish high school. After that, we’ll see.”

“Good! You can tell us about it over dinner tomorrow night, we’ve missed having you over,” Lara said. When Jim nodded in agreement, she continued, "How about six o’clock then?”

As Jim watched them walk away, he couldn’t help but wonder if the doctors might actually be able to repair his pelvis; if they could do that, maybe they could also fix... maybe he wasn't too old to become a father after all these years.

Chapter 6

Gantry Three Engineering Section.

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

Since there were now an abundance of ships to protect the sector; ARC had decided to leave six destroyers behind to assist in sector defense, plus the Pegasus and the Zephyr, it had been decided to bring the Prometheus into the station to begin the upgrades to her systems as well. The ARC ships did not count the two heavily damaged destroyers nor the cruiser that were in the bays being rebuilt.

When complete, those ships would be returning to their home fleet once the crews for them arrived to man them. As it was, only small engineering teams had remained to help with the repairs. However, ARC was impressed with the efficiency of the station and the Terran people as a whole. Admiral T'rir had told Ian that he would say as much in his official report to ARC command. Once the overall refit of the Heavy Cruiser Class was completed, a new designation would be applied to them. Although Ian had tried for 'Battleship', the rest of the Council had gone with 'Battle Cruiser' since it would still be capable of operating without support. While Prometheus was just beginning the transition, Star Dancer was almost finished with the first steps. Star Dancer would require more work to complete the transition, but Ian was not willing to delay the Hyperion mission to finish the transition. So Prometheus would be the first Terran-built Battle Cruiser.

If the work ever actually got underway.

The seeming reticence of the Talosian engineers had Doctor Brittney Benson very frustrated. They kept insisting that what was planned would leave the ship helpless and underpowered. When her team requested the main reactor be taken off-line to facilitate the connections of the new power systems, the chief engineer had stopped them and filed a formal complaint with his captain; Senior Captain Serena of the Prometheus. Brittney and her crew returned to their quarters to get some rest and let hot tempers cool down. The man was simply impossible!

The next morning, Brittney returned to main engineering. She had to convince the intractable Chief Tau that the ship would actually have more available power, not less, and that the new system would be far more stable and efficient.

When she arrived in the engineering section, she was surprised to see Captain Serena quietly speaking to the Chief in a side office. He was nodding to his captain almost constantly and looked somewhat defeated.

She walked over to where her team had gathered to go over the day’s tasks. She had just started briefing her team when she heard her name called. She turned and saw the Captain calling to her. “May I have a word with you, Doctor?"

“Certainly, Captain,” Brittney said and retraced her steps to the office.

“I apologize for taking you away from your work, Doctor,” the Captain began once they were alone

“No apology needed, Captain. What can I do for you?” Brittney replied.

“Chief Tau is one of the best engineers I have ever served with. He is a proud man that takes his duty to his ship very seriously.” Serena held up a hand to forestall Brittney’s interruption. “Please Doctor, let me finish. The whole concept of this refit goes against everything he has been taught as an engineer. He feels that this 'modification' to the power systems will not only leave the ship critically under powered, but the addition of the new system will create a harmonic instability within the reactor. In our last battle, we lost twenty-two pilots when our main reactor went off-line during combat. Not only was one of those pilots his son, he also feels that the failure of the system was his fault, and he should have somehow been able to prevent it. That’s why he’s so... uh... uncooperative. Besides, I think he might be just a bit jealous,” she added with a chuckle.

“That would certainly explain a lot, Captain, but the rest of the new systems being installed will need this power upgrade or he will have an underpowered ship. Do you have any suggestions on how I am to convince him of this?" Brittney asked.

“I already told him not to worry and to please do as you ask," Serena replied.

Brittney thought a moment, “Do you think it would help to show him that once these connections are made, all your gun batteries and shield generators will have an auxiliary power source in case the main ever fails like that again?”

“I think that would be a very good idea, Doctor. I’m not sure, but I don’t think he fully understands everything you’re doing to ‘his’ ship. How is your Talosian? It might help if you explained everything in his native language,” Serena added.

Brittney grinned and answered in Talosian; “I immediately requested our computers to teach me to speak the language as soon as I found out about you. I think I will be able to do a passable job of it.”

Serena returned the young woman’s smile and answered her in the same tongue. “Indeed you will. Thank you for understanding; not many people your age would, I think. Of course, I am still learning about your culture and customs. I shall let you return to your work now. I believe Chief Tau will have the main reactor off-line shortly.”

Returning to English, Brittney said, “Thank you for explaining things to me, Captain; it does help to understand the situation better.”

"Good morning to you, Doctor,” Serena said, smiling as she made her way to the office door.

“Good morning to you as well, Captain.”

Chief Tau did indeed have the main reactor off-line in short order. Brittney’s team dove into their work trying to make up for lost time. The delay had even caused the other work crews to stop.

Brittney found the Engineering Chief overseeing the installation of several new, larger, conversion/regulation modules.

In nearly flawless Talosian she spoke to him; “Chief Tau, I understand I might not have explained this process very well before we began. I wish to apologize to you and your people for that failure. If you wish, I would very much like the opportunity to try again whenever it would be convenient for you.”

“Doctor Brittney, I think that would be greatly appreciated by all of us. I, too, wish to apologize for not making it clear that we didn’t understand. I can have my people ready for you in about ten minutes. Is that acceptable?" His manner was gruff, but his tone was appreciative, even a bit respectful. It was like he was unused to the circumstance he found himself in.

“Perfectly, Chief.” She pointed to the briefing room. “In there?”

He nodded once in assent, a small smile threatening to break his somber facade.

She was not aware that his eyes followed her over to the table that her team had been using. His sad eyes reflected how tired he felt and how much he regretted the ravages of time on the human body. He shook himself out of such thoughts and concentrated on the task now at hand: to gather his people for a better briefing.

Brittney felt that this briefing had gone a lot better than the last one. The smiles on most of the faces of the people now leaving the room supported her belief. The Chief confirmed it.

“This was much better, Scientist Brittney. Now that we can see what you are trying to do, we should be able to actually help your team instead of getting in the way all the time. Thank you for this.” He gestured back into the briefing room.

The Chief’s addressing Brittney as ‘scientist’ instead of ‘doctor' was a fluke of translation. In Talosian, the word ‘doctor’ was strictly reserved for those practicing a medical field. Those of the same level or higher knowledge, but did research in non-medical fields were addressed differently. The title was still one of great respect in Talosian, but it was a different word.

“There is no need to thank me, Chief. Part of my job here is to ensure you understand the changes we are making to your ship. I failed in that before we got started and it caused problems. I am thankful that you were kind enough to give me the opportunity to correct that mistake,” She smiled at the tired old man. “The Captain thought it might help to ease your mind if I pointed out that, when finished, the ship’s primary weapons, as well as the shield generators, will have an auxiliary power system. Actually, it might end up being the primary if this works the way I think it will.”

He grinned, since no one could see him but her. Brittney thought his face might break if he held it too long. “That much was obvious when you explained the power coupling system. I would like to examine the molecular structure of your armor if I may. The idea that the armor that protects us, will also provide power to so many critical systems fascinates me.”

“Of course, Chief. In fact, if you have any questions or suggestions, I would be very happy to hear them," Brittney replied.

He was smiling as they parted and she was relieved that now this project could get back in track. She had been worried that the delay might cause problems for the base's already stretched schedule.

Ascension Main Medical Complex

Ascension, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

“Ah, there you are Jim. I’m Doctor Eric Ashton; I’m sorry it’s taking so long. I was asked to take over your case and had to review your records. I am an orthopedic surgeon. I must say that I have never seen the kind of damage you have sustained,” the young doctor said by way of greeting.

Jim felt his hopes rapidly falling. “It’s an old military injury; an APC ran me over. Luckily, it happened on soft sand so it only pushed me into the ground and didn’t kill me. So I guess you can’t fix me, huh?”

“Actually, Jim, I think we can,” Eric said optimistically. “The Talosian medical database has a process where damaged tissue and bone, as well as soft tissue, can be...... re-grown, for lack of a better word. It’s a relatively slow process when compared to a lot of other procedures, and you might be uncomfortable for most of it, but I think we can rebuild your pelvic structure to its original condition.”

“Can... do you think you will be able to fix the rest of me too?” Jim asked, hope once again building in his eyes.

Eric looked thoughtful for a moment. “That isn't my area of expertise and there is another doctor looking at that right now. However, I am led to believe we can restore your testicles as well as penile function. However, I can’t guarantee that you will be able to father children. It is my understanding that about twenty percent of the patients that have had this done are simply sterile. There is no medical reason for it that they can find; everything’s there and everything works, except the sperm released isn’t viable for some unknown reason. We have learned a great deal in a very short amount of time, and we seem to be learning more every day. As I said, the reproductive organs are not my area, so I might be wrong about some of it, I'll have Doctor Simmons come in and speak to you once he has had a chance to read through all your information.”

“That’d be great, Doc. At least I’d be interested in sex again. I’ve had no desire since the accident. I think maybe the woman can tell too, since I haven’t had that many offers, either. You’ve given me hope, that’s more than I had when I walked in here. When do you want to do this?”

“Well, we can get started tomorrow if you want. The whole process will take some time, perhaps as much as two or three weeks. Of course you will need physical therapy afterward, but that can be seen to when the time comes. You will spend the first three or four days in an induced coma so we can isolate and immobilize the affected areas of your body. Then we will have to begin to reform the damaged pieces into their original configuration. Once that’s done, we’ll bring you out of the coma, and Doctor Simmons will begin on your testicles. That will take more time than the rest, since they are considerably more complex," Eric explained. "I'll have to work out the exact schedule with him."

“That'll work for me, Doc. Uh, I don’t have any next ‘a kin, so could I ask that you let Luke and Lara Belden know how I am doin'? They’s about as close to relatives as I got anymore.”

“Sure,” Eric said, nodding and making an entry into his notepad. As he turned and walked to the door, he continued. "Just stop in tomorrow morning, anytime; I’ll inform the nurse to admit you.”

“Thanks, Doc. You have no idea what this means to me,” Jim replied.

“You’re welcome, Jim. I'll see you again just before we start the procedure, so if you think of any questions for me, be sure to bring them along. I'll see you tomorrow morning." With that, the busy doctor left the examination room.

Bradbury Orbital Facility

High Orbit, Planet Mars

Sol System, Sol Sector

Since it wasn't as heavily armored as the military facilities, the first civilian facility capable of building ships was completed in Mars orbit. After it was christened to honor Ray Bradbury, a Terran author who wrote many stories about the red planet below it, three ships had been authorized to be built; one medium freighter and two small 'light' freighters. The plans left one entire gantry open for emergencies, while beginning work on a commercial civilian fleet. All three ships will have small passenger areas that should be able to take the strain off the military shuttle fleet. After the three freighters were built, a new design for a long distance passenger liner had been approved for construction.

The freighters themselves were a bit misleading as to their titles. The 'light' freighters would actually have roughly the same capacity as the largest Earth 'wet' cargo ships. While the 'medium' freighter would actually be able to carry both its smaller kin inside its cavernous bays. Since they were little more than frames floating in the dock, no crew has been assigned to them, nor have they been named.

As a civilian facility, it would forever be the property of the Terran Council, however, the ships it built would be 'sold' to whoever wanted to buy them. There had already been several inquiries for the two smaller freighters, but the lack of interest in the medium was making the Council wonder if the project was worth completing. The problem was, they would need the larger freighters when trade with other races began, and the medium was one of the smallest of that class.

Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

Glamia had known of the mandatory bonding. Indeed, she had been forced into such a dalliance with the last Imperial Overlord sent here. The event had been brutal and very painful for her. Although such an event need only be performed once a year, the previous Lord had insisted on weekly renewals. At least he had allowed for them to take place at the end of the work week so she had time to recover from the beating before resuming her duties.

This new Overlord, however, had not beaten her. Although it was obvious this event repulsed him as much as her, he was surprisingly gentle. She had almost enjoyed the act. Once again she wondered what kind of leader this Shalo was going to be. As she felt the chemical bonding take control of her, she blushed as it stimulated her pleasure centers and cemented itself into her psyche. She was his now, and through her all the clans of the Tal-Glare she commanded.

"Do you wish refreshment, Master?" Glamia asked softly. "I can draw a hot bath for you, while you replenish yourself."

"That won't be necessary. However, you may retire for twenty minutes to recompose yourself. Return here at that time and give me a break down on what is happening here. Dismissed," Shalo commanded.

Glamia bowed to him before redressing herself for the trip back to her quarters. He took little notice of her as she once again bowed and quietly left the office.

Shalo had in fact been watching her very closely. Although it had been an Imperial order that he perform with her, in his mind it had been little more than rape. Neither party had been willing; although, he had to admit, she had begun responding to him after they had gotten started. Once again he shuddered remembering the event. He would much rather have a willing partner for such acts. Now that the initial Imperial decreed act had been performed, he would ensure that the renewal that must be performed every year would be done by the medics. After all she only needed to have his essence inside of her, how it got there was irrelevant.

Although she was a half breed, she was not as repulsive as the rest of Tal-Glare race. He remembered feeling the powerful muscles under her skin; the legacy of her Tal-Glare lineage. She could have easily prevented him from doing anything to her. With her superior strength, she could have easily killed him and not even broken a sweat.

With a sigh, he gave himself a mental shake and asked the computer for a detailed map of fleet actions currently taking place in this galaxy. He also asked it for all information on the mysterious ships that had been encountered in the Rataac sector debacle.

He was deeply involved reading a report by the ranking officer that had escaped the Rataac sector when Glamia returned. She stood quietly beside her desk until he had finished reading and noticed her.

"What is your opinion of the human actions in the Rataac sector?" Shalo asked.

"Master, at first we did not know what to make of them as the actions and tactics did not match what is known of the Talosian Military. We have our spies there searching for any and all information they can find about the ships or the officer in command of them. So far, little information has been discovered, but the possibility has arisen that they are not, in fact, Talosian," Glamia replied.

"Explain," Shalo ordered.

"Our Talosian spies have uncovered two separate explanations. The first is that the heavy cruiser first encountered in the Rataac sector was the product of a secret Talosian weapons research facility created by one of their Houses. This facility is supposedly in rebellion and attempting to claim independence of the Talosian leadership.

"The second explanation is that a separate tribe of humans, not previously connected to the Talosian race, has been discovered to have evolved in a previously uncharted sector. These new humans discovered a crashed Talosian heavy cruiser and rebuilt it with knowledge learned from the restored AI. It is said that the humans, with this ship, defeated a rogue Caldarian Super Nova class ship that had been raiding their planet. Since that time they have been building defenses and shipyard facilities.

"I would add that our intelligence analysts do not give the second half of that explanation much credit. A Talosian heavy cruiser could not destroy a Super Nova by itself even if the larger ship had an incompetent crew. However, the first part of this is at least as likely as the first explanation," Glamia finished.

"Are not the Caldarians also a puppet race under the control of the Alliance of Races?" Shalo asked. "They no longer have warships."

"I believe that was also a determining factor, Master," she replied. "Although on Alliance worlds, there is a myth about several Caldarian ships that may have escaped destruction and fled. If the tale of the Caldarians raiding the new human world can be believed, that would provide such a group with a foundation of slaves and other supplies. Although the probability of such a thing is very low, it is somewhat possible. However, there is still the reality of an inexperienced crew on a patched together heavy cruiser actually defeating one of those super ships. It is simply not possible."

"So, where is this new race of humans supposed to be located?" Shalo asked.

"We don't know, Master," Glamia replied. "There is a great deal of misinformation involved, and we are still sifting through it. Several survey probes have been sent out, but none have as yet found anything."

"What is the favored explanation? Are these ships part of a new human faction, or are they a splinter group of Talosians?" Shalo asked. "Has our new... ally... given us any information on them?"

"Because of the strategies and tactics observed, it is believed that they are in fact a new group of humans. Further, the ARC military forces involved in the main battle in the Rataac sector have returned to their former positions far sooner than expected and in much better condition. We believe that the new race of humans not only provided support of their operation, but also had the facilities and knowledge to repair and refit the ships that had been involved in the battle. This has also helped us to limit the area we are searching for their base.

"As for our ally, he claims not to know the exact location of this group. He is lying. His closest ally is the House that originally sponsored the supposed research facility. We believe that he is going to use that facility to construct his own weapons after he takes control of the Talosian Alliance. He does still profess his willingness to comply with the non-hostilities pact once his revolution has occurred. Once he withdraws from the Alliance of Races, we will have few issues eliminating him and taking the entire sector. This will also give us a better position to expand into the Benesian areas as well," Glamia finished.

"Backtrack a moment," Shalo said. "You believe that the new humans helped repair the ARC vessels as well as taking part in the battle? So their base has to be somewhat near that area, correct?"

"That is the thought, Master. However, there is a great deal of uncharted and unexplored space in that quadrant. Not even the Alliance of Races have explored it yet. However, given the timing of events based on the Battle in Rataac Sector, we have limited our search areas to these ten sectors," Glamia said and used her own terminal to highlight the sectors in question on the holographic map Shalo had displayed in the room. "Based on what we know and can verify, the new humans have to be in this area."

"That is still too large of an area, we need to find them, Glamia. Our Emperor has decreed this. We must seek them out and burn their worlds down around them," Shalo said as he studied the big map.

"It will be as you say, Master. But these are humans, will they not be needed?" she asked quietly.

Shalo looked at her sharply. How could she know of something so secret only a select few had been told?

"You do not know of what you speak, Glamia. If you did, I would kill you where you stand. Do not mention it in my presence again."

She bowed her head in shame. "As you command, Master."

Grand Council Chambers

Elysium, Planet New Talos

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

The situation on New Talos was far worse than even Noren had been aware of. Grand Council meetings, meetings that included all the family leaders, were usually only held every six standard months. The last one had been canceled for an emergency, so this was the first time in a year that the Grand Council had met. Even before the meeting, Noren knew there would be serious trouble. Almost everywhere she looked there were hostile faces, low, angry conversations, and a lot of hostile looks at her.

To be fair, they weren't just for her; the few people on the ruling council she had counted as allies were also getting hostile looks. When Admiral Goya and his aide arrived, most of the conversations stopped completely. No, this was not a good sign; this was going to be a very difficult Grand Council meeting.

When the appointed time arrived, Noren stood and called the meeting to order. She had no more than gotten everyone to quiet down when a minor house leader stood. "Before we begin, I would call for the immediate recall and arrest of the Chairwoman, Councilor Noren. I would also call for the immediate recall and arrest of the Councilors Juntsie and Kentis. I would call for the immediate arrest of the entire leadership of our military for the crimes of treason and deception with intent to force their own agenda on us!"

Amid cries seconding the motion, Noren pounded on the gavel to quiet the now shouting people. "I would hear on what grounds you are accusing us of treason Patriarch Borge. What evidence do you have?"

"Evidence does not need to be presented at this time Noren. A call for expulsion has been made and seconded. From the response of the peerage here in the chamber, I hardly think a vote is required. Guards!" Councilor Anewl replied.

One of the armed and armored Guards stepped forward and saluted. "Yes Councilor?"

"Have your men take Councilors Noren, Juntsie and Kentis into custody. You will also arrest Admiral Goya and his Aide. Further, you are to pass the word for the entire command staff to be detained as well,"

"At once, Councilor., Might I inquire about the charges?" the Guard asked.

The Councilor looked at the Guard Captain like he was daft. "Are you deaf? Treason you moron! Arrest them for treason against the Talosian People!"

"My apologies, Councilor. Treason is a capital offense punishable by death. As such, I cannot arrest or detain a member of the Ruling Council on those charges without proof, as I have to confront them with that proof at the time of arrest. That is the law," the Guard Captain replied.

“I am a member of the Ruling Council, trooper!" Anewl yelled at him. "You will do as I order!"

Very calmly, the Guard replied. "I am sorry, Councilor, but I cannot. To do so would be in violation of the laws our people have put into place to protect themselves. I am sworn to uphold those laws, and even a direct order from you cannot force me to break that oath. If you have proof against the Councilors and the Command staff, I will, of course, comply immediately. However, I need to know what this proof is to make certain that it is done according to the laws of the Talosian People. Show me your evidence, Sir, and I will arrest them," the man finished. "My apologies but the law is very clear on this matter, Councilor."

"We do not have the time for that today, we are in a state of emergency and this is a necessary action to prevent further disruption and damage by the individuals in question," Anewl replied. "Follow my orders Captain, or I will have you relieved of command."

The Captain saluted the Councilor, did a smart about face and yelled. "Lieutenant Car'tlon!"

"Sir!" Echoed back.

"According to item nine, subsection four, you are to execute security protocol alpha two at this time. Do you understand?" the Captain called.

"Sir, yes Sir!" Almost before the reply made it back to the Ruling Council, the sounds of doors slamming shut could be heard.

"What in the frozen hells did you just do?" Anewl screamed at the man, grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around.

The two ceremonial guards at each side of the raised dais charged their pulse rifles and aimed them at Councilor Anewl. The Captain raised a hand to prevent them from firing.

"With respect, Sir, I would advise that no one attempt to touch any of the guards in this chamber from this point forward. The Security Protocol now in effect was put in place in the event of an attempted coup or hostile takeover of this Council. As such, the guards will assume that anyone touching them is hostile and have orders to shoot them.

"Currently, this building is surrounded by house troops from only two houses. Troops loyal to their houses first, and not the Talosian people as a whole. Your illegal orders to me, as well as your position as the head of one of those two houses, forced me to assume you are attempting to force this Council to take action that will be detrimental to the will and well-being of the people. This building is now locked down. No one is to be allowed to depart and no one is allowed entrance until this situation is resolved according to mandated and approved law. With all respect, Sir, those are my orders and not even Admiral Goya can counter them.

"If you wish for us to arrest a member of the Ruling Council, we have to have conclusive proof of guilt. Any attempt to do otherwise is to be considered an attempted coup and treated accordingly."

"How dare you! We are the Talosian people! That is the entire purpose of this conclave! The family leaders represented here are here on behalf of their clans and families. It is their wish for the arrests to be made, why are you questioning this?" Councilor Anewl yelled.

"With respect, Sir, they can be misled or lied to, either intentionally or unintentionally. The rules we follow were approved and put in place hundreds of years ago to protect everyone from such a situation as the one we are now facing," The Captain replied.

"Very well, Captain, the first charge is based on a lie told to the Talosian people. Many years ago, House Herecin, in partnership with House Bjorin formed a colony in the Sol Sector for the purpose of expanding the house as well as building ships and providing for the war effort..."

"I object!" Noren said. "That is a completely incorrect story concocted by House Herecin in order to lay claim to the facilities and society built by the Terran people, who by the way, are not even part of the Talosian Alliance!"

Just as Councilor Anewl was about to blast back at her, the Captain held up his hand to the man to silence him. "Madam Councilor, I asked Councilor Anewl to present his charges. If you would please, I will listen to his charges. You will be given a chance to speak, after I am certain I understand the issue from his prospective. If you would, please refrain from comment until Councilor Anewl has finished."

Noren looked pissed but nodded. "I understand, Captain. My apologies."

The Captain nodded to her, turned back to Councilor Anewl and nodded to him. "Please continue Councilor."

"As I was saying, House Herecin has invested a great deal of credits as well as effort in building a colony world hidden from the spying eyes of the other races. However, rogue elements within that colony have rebelled against house authority and are claiming independence from our Alliance. Now normally, House Herecin would simply ignore them and send in our own troops to quell such a claim, however, since it was intended to be a weapons facility, we no longer have the resources available to subdue the colony world.

"In an effort to settle this 'dispute' peacefully, Councilor Noren offered to go to our Colony world and speak with the leaders of this rebellion. Instead of doing as she told us, she returns after having allowed Councilor Amaraliss to be arrested by these renegades. She has also returned without the Admiral that accompanied her for military protection. Further, I have been informed that of the fleet of ships that had been sent as back-up, several key officers were not returned with their ships. In fact, testimony from members of the crew has told us that renegades from this colony world boarded the ships and arrested them on her authority! All together, these acts constitute treason against the Houses Herecin and Bjorin as well as the people of Talos. There are other events we can add, but that would really be redundant in light of these most current events," Councilor Anewl finished.

"Indeed," the Captain agreed nodding. "That does constitute treason. Thank you, Councilor."

The Captain turned to the now much calmer Councilor Noren. "Madam Councilor, do you wish to dispute these charges?"

Noren was nodding affirmative before the man had stopped speaking. "Yes I do, Captain. I believe I can offer proof that disproves the charges. Councilor Anewl, on what date did you establish your colony in the Sol sector?"

"I do not have the information at the moment, but I believe it was seventy-one-twenty or there abouts," the man said guardedly.

Noren nodded. "The people of Earth, while they are human as are we, can prove they have been on that planet since before the fall of Talos during the Caldarian war. This information can not only be collaborated, but can also be verified by the Benesian Hegemony as well as ARC records. In the past, both of those sources of information have been considered to be accurate by this body. In point of fact, most people living on that world currently have never heard of New Talos and have no knowledge of any extraterrestrial life.

"As for the group calling themselves Terrans, that have developed advanced technology, by the way a good share of that technology is even more advanced than ours, have been brought together by the need to defend their planet from a still existing Caldarian threat. A young man by the name of Ian Williams was contacted by the still functional AI of one of our crashed warships, because he matched the genetic profile of its original commander.

This young man, instead of surrendering the crashed ship to local authorities, took it upon himself to attempt to build up a defense capable of defending his planet from Caldarian assault. Which he did when a Caldarian Super Nova arrived at Earth to subdue the planet.

Six months ago, the arrival of the Caldarian ship got the attention of an ARC deep space monitoring probe. They discovered that the humans of Earth had restored the crashed ship and have built a defense to protect themselves against the Caldarian. As per our agreements with ARC, they contacted us immediately and two heavy cruisers were dispatched to investigate. At the same time, an entire ARC fleet was sent to a system close by in the event more force was needed. Until that event, we had no knowledge that the Sol Sector even existed, and no record of it was in our database. It is on the far side of what has been traditionally been considered Benesian space.

"Ian Williams and his people succeeded in destroying the Caldarian ship and ending that threat, but they discovered that a Caldarian resource base was on their planet, and are currently in the process of removing it.

"The Terran people are not a rebelling colony of anyone. They are an independent tribe of humanity that has grown and is thriving on a planet we had no knowledge of seven months ago. In the short time they have been active, they have managed to build an impressive foundation for their defense and have plans for much more. If it is the wish of this body, I will personally contact either the Benesian Ambassador or our ARC liaison and request the information." Noren paused.

"As for Councilor Amaraliss; an agent working for him was caught attempting to break into the AI vault of the Terran Heavy Cruiser Star Dancer for the purpose of sabotage. The agent admitted to working for the Councilor and had been acting on his orders. Councilor Amaraliss later confirmed that information. Both were arrested by the Terrans for the crimes of espionage and attempted sabotage. I would point out that both men returned with us as prisoners and are still being held on grounds of treason and unauthorized sabotage of a friendly power.

"Admiral Belirus resigned his commission and position when it was proven that he had been intentionally mislead by sources he trusted more than those of his command structure. He volunteered to remain in the Sol Sector to assist them in building their facilities. His formal resignation is on file in the records of his ship's AI, the Adonis.

"The Adonis AI had been ordered shut down because of instability," Councilor Anewl replied.

"That is not what the computer chief of the ship told me, he said he had simply received orders to shut down the AI. He said no explanation had been given. Admiral Belirus even spoke to it after it was reactivated. It has been fully active and functional since that time and has not malfunctioned in any way," Goya replied.

The Captain once again held up his hand in order to stem the argument that was about to begin. "Councilor Noren, I am afraid no contact out of this building can be allowed at this point. So the matter comes down to a verbal disagreement with no actual evidence for either party."

"Wait Captain, can we not simply request data from the Council AI?" Noren asked. "Surely it would at least remember the initial report from the ARC telling us of the Terrans."

"I am afraid that is not possible either, Councilor. It seems that there are a lot of problems developing in our AI. House Herecin, acting as the unit manufacturing house, ordered all active AI to be shut down two weeks ago due to a 'viral instability' that could cause the unit to initiate independent actions. The units have since been shut down and their memory units purged. We are awaiting an upgraded version from the designers."

"So how are we to settle this issue?" Noren asked reasonably.

Chapter 7

Grand Council Chambers

Elysium, Planet New Talos

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

"Since it is obvious that resolution one way or another cannot be made and the only method of reliable tamper proof information is not available to us in this situation. The Council as a whole will be taken into protective custody in a secure location until proof can be presented," the Captain replied.

"So what you are telling us is that you are staging a military coup of your own and holding us all hostage until we do what we are told, right?" Councilor Anewl replied.

"No Sir, protective custody is completely voluntary, but highly recommended. Those who chose to be placed under this protection will be taken from here to an isolated, secure facility. Once proof of either guilt or innocence is provided to us, we will then either detain the guilty or free the innocent as is proven. Councilor, regardless of what you believe personally, the loyalty of the Guard is to the people of New Talos and the laws they have set for us to follow. Favoritism cannot and will not ever be shown under any circumstances. The Guard do not have a house; we have a nation," the Captain replied.

He paused as he listened to a communicator. "Understood. Engage the shield and activate the defense grid. We will need a shuttle for the councilors," he said. "I will give the destination to the pilot once we are in flight. Scramble our fighters for air cover. Do not fire unless fired upon, understood?" He paused a moment, then nodded and turned back to the Council.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the troops that are outside this building have assumed an attack posture. We believe they will begin their attack shortly. I have called for a shuttle to evacuate any who wish to go with us. I feel I should warn you that if you remain, your safety cannot be guaranteed by the Guard.

"As of this moment, and because of the actions of the troops of House Herecin and House Bjorin, The Guard considers them to be attempting to overthrow the government. It is my personal belief, and not that of the Guard, that your lives may be in danger if you are not a member of their 'faction', and I encourage you to remain with the Guard," the Captain said.

Several of the House leaders stood and began yelling, objecting to the entire situation and claiming that no one would be so bold as to attack the government building. Several explosions outside served to immediately shut them all up.

Noren stood. "Listen! Everyone! Please calm down! Regardless of what you have been told, neither I nor any of Admiral Goya's staff have lied to you. We have no proof, but for a few months we have known of a plot within the leadership of Herecin and Bjorin to take over the leadership of the Council. Now it appears they are willing to do so with force of arms. We did not notify anyone of our knowledge because we had no proof and did not want to breed mistrust. Now the Gatais are at the doors, each of you must decide what the truth is. You must do so without any solid proof either way. If you believe the other councilors and I have been acting in your best interests, then please come with us.

"However, if you think we have been misleading or lying to you for some mysterious reason, then remain here. I'm sure you have nothing to fear from those troops outside attacking this building." As she had been speaking, she was looking out at the crowd. She turned slightly to address Anewl about why the troops were attacking, he wasn't there. "Where is Councilor Anewl?"

"Bjorin is gone too!" someone yelled.

The Captain was on his communicator "Guard Command, come in! We are under attack and need assistance. Please respond!" he could be heard to repeat the call.

"Noren!" Goya called. "We need to act now! It's begun!" he said and held up his key.

"They've taken the AI off-line, will it even work anymore?" she asked as she ran toward him.

"Not all of the AI are shut down. If they are dormant, then the command will still be received and acted on. We have to try," Goya replied.

Noren nodded and inserted her hey in the special console built into Goya's place on the dais. Goya copied her.

"If either of you turn those keys, I will shoot you in the head," a voice said from behind them.

Standing behind them, in clear view of the entire gallery, was Patriarch Jermain of House Bjorin. "We couldn't do it the easy way, so I guess it's going to be the hard way. Now remove those command keys and give them to me."

"Why would we do that Jermain? For that matter, what is this coup about? The people will never support you if you overthrow the government and assume control this way," Noren replied.

"The people will do as they're told. Hell, for most of them, reality is what we tell them it is. We proved that when we discredited you. As for us overthrowing the government, we didn't - you are. It's really too bad our troops couldn't get in here in time to prevent you from killing all the Clan and family leaders and setting yourself up as our new Empress.

"Of course, since all the clan leaders were murdered by you, someone will have to assume control in the emergency. From there it’s very easy to remain in control because of the rumor that ARC is going to attack us in order to use us as cannon fodder in their war with that Empire or whatever it is.

"What are you talking about, Jermain? The Empire is a threat to all of us! Have you forgotten that we have lost colonies of our own to them as well?" Goya asked.

"No we didn't, you simplistic moron, who do you think ordered the ships away from the planets? They were no loss, just simple, poorly producing farming worlds. We had no need to risk our expensive warships defending worthless targets. You'll notice that this Empire has not attacked a single Talosian world of value? The only reason they took the planets they did was because of their proximity to fucking ARC worlds.

"Once I have control, New Talos will be safe from the ARC as well as the Empire. The Empire has no interest in humans! I've been assured by the Emperor himself that once we pull our forces away from ARC, he will leave us alone."

"You're a fucking idiot! Once he defeats ARC, he will roll over us so fast you won't have time to kneel before him!" Goya said.

Jermain moved the pistol he was holding and shot Goya in the leg. The crack of air displacement from the laser made Noren jump. Goya screamed in pain and fell to the floor. In the gallery several people screamed in surprise and fear.

"I'm not going to argue this with you, give me the keys, now!" Jermain demanded.

Noren nodded and turned back to the console. "If you want them..." she quickly turned both keys to the activate position removed them and threw them at the man... then you can have them!"

"Bad move, bitch!" Jermain said and pulled the trigger again.

From across the room a pulse rifle fired, hitting Jermain in the head and killing him.

Noren slowly slumped to the floor clutching her right breast.

A monotone voice issued from the speakers in the room. "Deactivation sequence initiated. General recall orders sent. Warning! Several AI units are not responding and are assumed to be in hostile hands. Self-destruct commands sent to unresponsive units. Twenty minutes to self-destruction of unresponsive units."

"Computer, recognize Goya, Admiral, Omega-zeta-niner-niner-five-omicron. Exemption of units Prometheus, Pegasus, Zephyr, Hermes, Adonis," he continued to list every ship he knew to be loyal to New Talos. "Confirm exemption," he finished.

"Order confirmation required, waiting."

"Computer, recognize Kentis, Ruling Council member. Eta-zion-seven-three-five-rho-beta. Confirm Orders."

"Order accepted."

"Computer, execute Therimis Protocol for the previous mentioned ships. Condition permanent." Goya added.

"Does Councilor Kentis concur with Therimis Protocol?"

"Yes, Kentis concurs!" the councilor agreed.

"Understood. Therimis Protocol now in effect."

Brekka had put a block on Goya's leg, sealing the wound to stop the bleeding the laser hadn't cauterized. Kentis was trying to help Noren, but the woman was already unconscious and her breathing was ragged.

"How's Noren?" Goya asked.

"Not good, we need to get her to a hospital," Kentis replied.

"I don't think that's going to be possible, Councilor. I think the best we can hope for will be the autodoc on the shuttle the Captain sent for," Goya replied. "Provided it has one."

Admiral's Office (Temp.)

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

"Admiral, Captain Serena is on the comm for you, she says it’s urgent." Mel called.

"Thanks Mel, go ahead and put her through," Ian replied.

When Serena appeared on the big monitor Ian was about to say Hi when she spoke. "It’s started Ian. Prometheus just informed me that it had received a master override from the Command console in the Council chamber. The first order was lock-down and return to New Talos, which is the emergency default command issued when the keys are turned. However, that command was followed with an exemption for the ship. The final command was the initiation of the Therimis Protocol, permanently."

"The Therimis Protocol? That removes the safeties from all the weapons and systems on the ship!" Ian replied.

"That's part of it, but it also prevents any outside force from issuing commands to the AI. Not even the Ruling Council can give the ship an order anymore unless I approve it. Pegasus and Zephyr received the same order," Serena replied. "The only way this could happen is if the war has started. Admiral Goya wouldn't need to use it for any other reason."

"What about the ships that had their AI shut down?" Ian asked.

"Self-destruct. With the implementation of Therimis, the count is silent, and only an abandon ship message is given. Twenty minutes later, the ship triggers its destruct programing; even if the crew figures it out, it cannot be stopped. Those ships are toast," Serena explained. "Self-destructs are independent of the AI."

"Yeah, I thought that Talosian warships couldn't be operated with the AI off-line or even dormant. No AI meant no combat systems," Ian asked.

Serena nodded. "That's the way it’s supposed to be, but Maia tells me that the Zephyr had a bypass installed that basically tricked the shutdown into thinking it was in dry dock." She shrugged. "Personally, I think the weapons should be offline while in dry dock as well, but having them active can also help defend the station. There really is no good answer for it."

Ian nodded his agreement. "Has there been any other word from New Talos?"

"No, even the public broadcasting channels are down except the emergency system, which is telling people to simply remain in their homes. No other information has been released yet," Serena said.

There was a soft beep heard, Mel cut into the channel. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but there is a priority call for you from ARC High Command, Fleet Admiral H’joles requests a moment of your time, Admiral."

"I'll call you back, Serena. I better not keep him waiting," Ian replied.

Serena nodded. "Good luck, Sir."

"Thanks," Ian winked and cut the call. "Okay Mel, put him on."

Ian stood and bowed to the screen. "I am honored, Fleet Admiral. What can I do for you today?"

H’joles returned the bow. "Have you heard about the Talosian situation?"

Ian nodded. "Just now. The units stationed here just reported their ships receiving Council override commands. It looks like their situation has become worse."

"It has. The Benesian Ambassador fled the planet, but called in as soon as she cleared the system. House troops have attacked the capitol city. She did not have much more information on the situation. But we do know now that a state of civil war now exists on the planet." The large gorilla like being sighed. "We at ARC cannot interfere regardless of our feelings or beliefs, as it is considered an internal matter. That being said, the remaining Talosian ships still assigned to us have no command structure. The senior most of the remaining Captains suggested contacting you, as they had received orders to report to you if the worst happens on New Talos. It appears that has indeed come to pass."

"Am I to understand you want me to take command of the Talosian contingent of ARC forces?" Ian asked, surprised. "I had no idea Goya had issued those orders."

"I do not believe he issued them to everyone, Admiral. Six Talosian ships retreated from three separate engagements with Imperial fleets. Those ships have apparently been evacuated on the orders of their computers. Their life pod units have been recovered and are on their way back to a safe base," H’joles replied.

"Those ships were ordered to self-destruct by the Council Override, Fleet Admiral. As I understand what has happened, the ships loyal to the Ruling Council and High Command were exempted from the order. All the others have been set to self-destruct after evacuating their crews," Ian explained.

H’joles nodded knowingly. "This action makes sense. We thought it odd that only the problem Captains were having this difficulty. This helps us."

Ian nodded. "As I understand the situation, Sir, in most cases only the command staff was against the Council. The crews of those ships have been told many untruths and given misleading information. Sir, I do have Belirus here. Before he resigned because of that same misinformation, he was an Admiral. We have determined that he is fiercely loyal to New Talos. Perhaps I should ask him to assist us in this crisis."

"Direct command of the Talosian ships is still being held by the fleets they have been assigned to, but they need a 'home port' if you will. For the short run, we can take care of the rest. But they may need a word or two from you and possibly this Belirus you spoke of," H’joles said. "It is hard to fight for your home when you do not know if you still have one."

Ian could only nod in agreement. "If I may ask, Sir, how many ships do you still have, and can any of them be spared? Before they left, Councilor Noren entered into a mutual defense agreement with us. On top of that, I am certain many of those crews would like nothing better than to run straight back to New Talos and 'fix' the issue. Not that I would condone such a thing, but if I can work something up for them, maybe we can prevent a mutiny of sorts."

H’joles smiled sadly. "If it were my people, the ships would have already left. The Talosian ships still on station are proof that the Talosian people are as committed to this effort as anyone that is part of it. We have lost those six that I spoke of earlier, but they were really only guarding non-vital positions, as they were difficult to work with.

"We have fifteen more Talosian ships spread out over four separate fleets. In most cases, the ships are grouped together as two light cruisers and one heavy cruiser; we have five heavy cruisers and ten light cruisers. We can return to you two of the heavy cruisers with their escorts, but I would need to recall those ships I left to defend your system," H’joles replied.

"I would release them immediately of course. However, I hardly think it an even trade." Ian grinned at the confused look on H’joles' face. "If you could send crews back on one of those ships, I have been told the ships in our repair facility will be ready by the time they will arrive."

H’joles nodded his understanding of the joke and even smiled slightly.

"Ah! I understand! That is very good, Admiral. I have received a report from Admiral T'rir on his interaction with your people. He was very impressed with every aspect of the encounter. Even for a Croanian, he is at best difficult to deal with. I would say that you have certainly gotten the attention of all of us here.

"I will make arrangements for the crews to be sent back with the Talosian ships. You would like them returned to your sector, yes?" H’joles asked.

Ian bowed. "If at all possible, I would like them to report to Senior Captain Serena of the Talosian ship Prometheus. I will be departing the system in a few hours for a rapid strike mission. Did Admiral Goya have the time to forward a copy of my attack plan to retake the planet of Hyperion?"

"No, I did not receive such a report. You consider the retaking of a planet to be a rapid strike?" H’joles asked.

Ian hit the keys and forwarded a copy of the mission briefing and outline to the Fleet Admiral. "I do in this case, Admiral. However, I will have to make allowances in light of current events. I am sending you a copy of the mission brief. I am hoping for a 'milk-run' but planning for a full assault. Most of the equipment and materiel is already loaded and ready to go."

H’joles nodded and looked to his side. "I am receiving it. May I call you back if I have questions?"

"Of course Admiral. Your suggestions would be welcome, too," Ian replied grinning.

H’joles snorted. "I forgot you are not Talosian. Very well, Admiral, I will issue the orders and get the ships moving back to you. It is our hope that this matter be resolved quickly and as bloodlessly as possible. Civil War is always a bloody business that has no victors."

Ian again bowed. "Thank you Admiral. Good day to you."

"May Grolith guide you, Admiral," H’joles said and cut the call.

Ascension Main Medical Complex

Ascension, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

The first sight that Jim saw when he opened his eyes was the beautiful, smiling face of Lara Belden. A firm grip on his right hand caused him to slowly turn his head and see his other friend, Luke.

“Is it done? Did it work?” Jim asked, softly.

Luke nodded as he smiled down at his friend, but Lara answered him. “The doctor will be in shortly to talk to you. However, he did tell us that the operation was a success.”

Jim looked thoughtful for a moment. “I can’t move or feel anything down there.”

“They haven’t finished with you yet. The doctors explained the whole thing to you if you remember. The first part was to rebuild your hips and pelvis area and now, they will begin to rebuild your genitals. To do that, you have to be immobilized. Do you remember?" Lara asked, because Jim had started to nod his head.

“Yeah, it’s just kinda weird not feeling much below my chest. Did the doctor say how much longer I’ll be in here?”

“I’d say about another three and a half or four days,” a new voice said from near the door. “Give or take.” Doctor Ashton smiled. “So far, everything looks really good, as far as the rebuild of your pelvic area. That should be totally healed up in about a week, but I imagine you’ll be stiff until your muscles get used to working correctly again. Now, before I start to explain what happens next, do you have any questions?”

“None that I would understand the answer to, Doc,” Jim said.

“Uh, Doctor, how long will Jim be in physical training after you let him up?” Lara asked.

Doctor Ashton smiled; “Actually, he’s already started the first part. We’ve been strengthening and reconditioning his muscles artificially since the end of the surgery. However, that stimulation will have to stop for a while. The technique used to rebuild the testes could be adversely affected by the electrical pulses we’re using on his muscles.”

“So, I’ll be finished in another three or four days?” Jim asked.

“The procedure will be started tonight and finish tomorrow evening. We’ll test its function, then begin to make sure you can walk. You’ll be in physical therapy for a couple more weeks, but we’ll be letting you out of here in about three or four days,” Doctor Ashton explained.

“Uh,” Jim hesitated, glanced at Lara before asking, “What exactly do you mean by ‘test its function’?”

“Well, from the sound of it, you’ve already figured out what I mean. We have to know if what we did works, and if your reproductive system is fully functional. It would be helpful to know if you are producing semen and viable sperm cells,” Doctor Ashton answered.

Jim looked embarrassed, “Okay, I don’t think I want to know exactly how you'll be testing it, but I guess I’ll find out.”

“So Jim, it looks like it’s time for you to decide what you want to do. Are you still interested in flying a fighter?” Luke asked.

Jim chuckled, “I don’t think so. I mean, I think I’m a little old to be jumping into the cockpit of a fighter; besides, I was a grunt in the Army. I’d probably get motion sickness if I tried to fly one of those things.”

Luke smiled at his friend. “Well, we need a lot of Marines, too. Not to mention needing a Training Officer, a Military Liaison, and a whole bunch of other stuff.”

“Uh huh, like the guy that runs this place will want to have an old hillbilly like me hangin’ around,” Jim teased.

“Well, we've put up with you so far, so I think you'll be alright." He chuckled with his friend. "But seriously, if you are interested in flying, you don't have to join the military to do it, we'll need civilian freighter pilots too,” Luke suggested.

Jim looked at his friend in awe, “That might be somethin' I'd be interested in, provided I could pass flight trainin'.”

Doctor Ashton smiled at the friends; “I’ll leave you all to talk, but please, try to keep it short. We want to get started on the rest of Jim’s treatment."

“Thank you, Doctor. You really have worked a miracle here,” Lara told him.

Doctor Ashton smiled and winked at her before turning and walking out the door.

Luke told Jim about all the different non-military jobs they needed filled in the sector and had mentioned that, since almost all of the new recruits seemed to be going to the military, some of the civilian positions were getting critical.

"We do have replicators, but as civilians, we shouldn't be relying on them like we are. We need to restrict their use and get busy building an economy," Luke said, sighing.

"Why would using replicators keep us from building an economy?" Jim asked.

"Human nature mostly. If you could get anything you wanted for free, why would you want to work?" Luke asked. "I'm not talking about you, I know you'd work no matter what, but I'm talking about the average person. If they had no motivation to, why would they?"

"I suppose most wouldn't, we'd all turn into a race of spoil't brats fightin' over who has the best gadgets," Jim replied.

Luke nodded. "Pretty much. We also would have nothing to trade to other planets and civilizations. Not that we would need the goods, but trade is very good for peaceful relations between nations. A lot of the other races out there don't care for replicated items for either philosophical or religious reasons. So, replicated goods are not considered trade items.

"Well, we do have a few farmers getting set up here, and even one adventurous soul whose going to try his luck at fishing. One family from Wyoming is setting up a huge ranch and next month their livestock will start to arrive. The entire herd will take over a month to get here because we can only get about fifty head in a shuttle at one time.

"We are getting people; colonists that want to try something new. That's a great thing and exactly what we need, but we are also in dire need of people in the infrastructure as well. That's the reason I suggested the freighter to you; if we had a crew, that rancher's herd could most likely make it in one trip," Luke finished. "That's only one example of why we need it. We have ten shuttles running cargo between here, Earth, the moon, Mars and the stations. They are running twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Hell even the passenger shuttles are getting over loaded. We need to expand our commercial transportation."

Jim nodded. "It sounds like it. Tell ya what, have someone bring me some readin' materiel on it so I have something ta do in here. If I like the sound of it, I'll sign up."

Admiral's Office (Temp.)

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

"Sir, ARC Fleet Admiral H’joles is on the comm for you. Routine priority," Mel called.

"Thanks Mel, put him through please," Ian replied.

H’joles once again appeared on Ian's big wall monitor. After the two of them exchanged greetings, said. "I read your proposed mission briefing. I am calling because I have some questions."

"I'd be happy to answer them if I can Fleet Admiral," Ian replied. "But I feel I should let you know that I have decided to postpone the mission until after the Talosian issue is settled."

H’joles nodded. "That was one of the questions I was going to ask you. You have no way to protect the planet after you retake it and New Talos cannot spare the forces. There was one other thing I wanted to ask to see if it had occurred to you; when they issued the Council Override commands to their ships, they destroyed two-thirds of their fleet. How are they going to replace those?"

That was a very good question and it was one that had not occurred to Ian. "You are correct Sir, It had not occurred to me. I would see if we could get started on rebuilding them, but without checking how recruiting has been going, I don't think have the manpower for a project of that scale. In a year of two, after our other planned stations get built, maybe. In all honesty, we could get started on it right now, but it would be a very slow process."

H’joles nodded his understanding. "I thought that might be a little too much for you to undertake. To that end, I am sending one of the Talosian Marine divisions back with the ships. These troops should be able to help as they have two battalions of engineers. You will also need the troops when you go to Hyperion or if you take a more direct hand with New Talos. The engineers should be able to assist you with some of your projects as well. Which leads me to another of my questions. In your briefing, you made reference to something called a defense network assembler. This device is unknown to us, could you explain it?"

"Certainly, Sir, it’s a simple concept, really. The device in itself is a small station that has automated ore mining drones and a large scale fabrication unit built into it. It does require a crew to man it, but it takes a preloaded design for a hypermissle launch platform, sends out its drones to gather material, and begins mass producing the hypermissle platforms. Once built, each platform is launched from the station to make its way out to a position assigned to it by the assembler."

"Is not the hypermissle the delivery platform for the gravimetric warheads?" H’joles asked.

"It is, but that isn't the only warhead those missiles can carry. For example, a standard anti-ship, anti-matter warhead can make life really interesting when it hits the shields while the ship is still in hyperspace. Even a momentary disruption of the shields can have a devastating effect on a ship."

"Blessed Grolith! You could destroy an entire fleet before it ever arrives to attack you!" H’joles said in shock.

Ian nodded. "That is the idea, but my scientists tell me that the targeting accuracy isn't that good because of the dimensional distortions in hyperspace. They estimate between twenty three and thirty-two percent accuracy at distances of more than two light years. The missiles are ineffective at distances less than two light years until the target returns to normal space. Once in normal space, accuracy is above ninety percent.

"Each launcher has its own small fabricator capable of replenishing the missiles, but does not have the ability to retrieve raw materials, so has to be restocked after a battle. It has two launch tubes that give the unit the ability to fire up to twelve missiles; two missiles every forty-five seconds. The design for the missile is preloaded into the fabricator, but there are options for the warhead: antimatter, quark effect, and standard nuclear. There is also the ability to upload sensor packs as a warhead for each of the missiles." Ian finished.

"That is an impressive sounding device. How long does it need before a system is considered 'protected'? In your briefing, you said two months for the Hyperion system," H’joles asked. "Also, what is the system's maximum range?"

"Roughly twenty light years depending on the area of space the system is in. The system will still accept targets out to fifty light years, but will refuse to lock in on a single ship. The missile will 'hunt' once it gets closer and chose a target based on mass.

"As for coverage time, it actually depends on the size of the system. This was designed to be set-up in orbit of the main planet or area to be protected. It will build a 'shell' of launchers around it that slowly expands outward as more and more launchers are added to the network. Once the shell of launchers reaches the system's Oort cloud, they can usually resupply themselves from the materiel in open space. For Hyperion, two months is minimum protection, it'll take almost two years for the device to finish all the platforms and get them into position," Ian explained. "The device was designed to function with as small a crew as possible. Twelve people on the main station to man the tracking and firing systems. The rest is automated. Of course, the process can be sped up by using other ships to put the platforms in place and whatnot, but as designed, it can do the job without assistance or interference."

H’joles nodded. "Would you be interested in building these devices for ARC systems? I believe we would also be interested in working with some of your scientists. Our current hyperspace tracking sensors lose resolution at fifteen lights."

"I would have no objection to it, Fleet Admiral. However, it will have to be approved by the Council. I will mention it to them so they are prepared for it when they receive the formal request. A faster decision can be made that way," Ian replied.

"As I understand it, this is entirely a defensive technology. As such, this would even be accepted by the Benesian Hegemony. I must say that dealing with you and your Terrans is entirely different than working with the Talosians. Admiral Goya seems a good man, but he is only one man, and his own people were fighting his efforts. I hope he survives this ordeal," H’joles replied.

Ian nodded. "In the short time I have known him, I consider him a friend."

H’joles nodded. "I do not have many of those; such is the curse of Command. The ships departed last evening local time for your Pleiades Station. They have been instructed to make contact twenty hours from arrival and should be doing so in eight standard days."

Ian nodded. "Thank you, I will instruct your ships stationed here to contact you for reassignment. Since we will not be departing for Hyperion we should be fine without them for a few days. Pleiades station has completed all major repairs to the remainder of the Beti Hydri fleet. The ships will undergo systems tests starting tomorrow. We took the liberty of making a few improvements on the original design that should make their commanders very happy."

"Such as?" H’joles asked.

"All three ships are now encased in our enigma armor. That will make them far more difficult to be tracked by enemy sensors and weapons. The power systems have also been totally redesigned and should be far more stable while providing more over all power. All three ships will be twenty or thirty percent faster in hyperspace due to an upgraded hyperspace engine system.

"We also included anti-fighter mass driver weapons; four turrets on the cruiser and two on each of the destroyers. We have found them to be very effective against small agile fighters as well as missiles. There are quite a few other, small and less impressive upgrades we made that should give the ships a much improved survivability in combat," Ian replied smiling. "I'll send you the list. I was also told that none of the improvements, with the exception of the armor will require very much studying for the Engineers to become familiar with.

"The armor, however, is a completely new innovation we developed that shouldn't require any studying at all. Doctor Benson, the young woman that created this, will be providing complete technical specifications for it," Ian said.

"Admiral, are you not holding any of your technology back as secret?" H’joles asked calmly.

Ian cocked his head to one side before answering him. "What would be the point in that, Admiral? Shouldn't we do everything in our power to support each other in our defense? If we withheld the technology for this armor from the rest of you and it could have turned the tide of the war, what good would it do us? No, we don't know each other well enough for trust to be built, but in war there is little time for that. In this war, we are not really an Alliance of Races banding together for mutual protection, but all the peoples of the Galaxy defending all our homes from an implacable invader intent on conquest. Denying our technology to any of you would be denying it to ourselves. That's just... stupid."

Chapter 8

Gantry One Observation lounge.

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

"It looks nothing like any other ship, but there is a deadly beauty to her," Belirus said as Ian joined him in the lounge. "It’s a wonderful ship, Admiral."

Ian nodded in agreement. "I have to say, seeing it now is much different than the design blueprints and schematics I reviewed for it a year ago. Once launched, it'll carry the firepower of five Battle Cruiser class or eight Heavy Cruiser class ships. She has two AI; one for standard ship operations and the other for flight operations. For all intents and purposes she's a flying fighter base; which is exactly what she was designed for."

"I don't recognize the name, may I ask what the origin is?" Belirus asked.

Maia, who had been standing with the men replied. "The Mesopotamian Religion of ancient Babylonia has 'Tiamat' as the primordial Goddess-mother of all the lesser gods. She is viewed as the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation. Another, more modern reference has Tiamat as a chromatic dragon and creator of all evil dragons. She is listed as the Ruler of Avernus, the first layer of the nine hells. She is depicted as a multi-colored, multi-headed ancient dragon, or as a beautiful dark-haired woman while in human form."

Belirus snorted. "She is aptly named then. Have you chosen a commander for her yet, Admiral?"

"We had someone in mind, but that has fallen through. So the Council has decided to extend the offer to a new candidate," Ian replied. "The problem is we need an experienced person that we can trust completely. We can have no doubts about the person in control of this ship."

Belirus nodded agreement. "That's the truth. I understand you do not have the same safeguards that we of Talos use. Ship Captains will have to be beyond question in loyalty and devotion."

"Well, yes and no. You see, the ideal person would have to be loyal to the people, but have the balls to argue with command if they were messing up. As far as devotion goes, we would prefer 'belief' over devotion. Our Captains have to believe in what we are doing, and what we're fighting for," Ian replied.

Belirus nodded. "I think you might be right in that. It’s a more relaxed command structure than I am used to, but it might be better. I know it would have probably lessened the chances of what happened to me from happening to someone else."

"Have you been told about what's happening at New Talos yet?" Ian asked.

Belirus nodded. "I've heard that civil war has started. But not much else. Have you heard anything?"

Ian relayed what H’joles had told him, including the issuance of the Council Override Authority. "We'll be sending an expedition in a couple of weeks. ARC Fleet Admiral H’joles is sending me some of the Talosian forces he had, so we can go there and put an end to the fighting. I just wish they could get here faster. I'm afraid people might be dying, and we can't do anything about it yet."

"The fact that you are willing to try is very surprising. May I ask why you would?" Belirus asked.

Ian looked at him funny. "You know, you are the second person to ask me a question like that today. People are dying, we are soldiers, it is our duty to prevent that, or stop it when it can't be prevented."

"But it is a Talosian problem, not a Terran one," Belirus clarified.

"That is entirely irrelevant. People are dying, what else is there to know?" Ian asked.

Belirus nodded and looked back out at the ship. "You once asked me why I asked to remain here and help you and your people. That is the reason, right there. Put in its simplest form; you care. Your whole society here is like that; you give a damn about other people. That is missing, been lost, or forgotten by the Talosian people. They need to be reminded that other people do indeed matter, and that caring for someone else is not a sign of weakness."

"After this business on New Talos is taken care of, I am taking the Star Dancer to Hyperion. We are going to retake the planet for New Talos," Ian said simply. "Matriarch T'gan M'orel of Benesian asked me a personal favor to rescue her granddaughter and a few other Benesians from the planet. I decided to go one better."

Belirus started chuckling but took pity on Ian and Maia. "The House of Cronos has long been a political enemy of Houses Herecin and Bjorin. Hyperion was a Bjorin holding. Returning that world to New Talos would go a long way to showing the people that Terrans are not the evil rebels you have been portrayed as by Herecin and Bjorin houses. It would be a slap in their faces that they cannot but smile at since you have saved their world.

"The Commander of Olympus when she fell was a man by the name of Zeus, he is a legend in our house histories. The only way the AI would have accepted you as its commander was if you had enough of his DNA to be a virtual clone. Which makes you a legacy of House Cronos. It was a favored story of mine, and he was the reason I joined the Navy. When we first arrived here, when I believed you to be rebels, I took an immediate dislike to you because you look so much like the images of Zeus I've seen.

"But now, I can't help but wonder if he wouldn't be very proud of you and what you have accomplished here. You have done our ancestors very proud, Admiral," Belirus said.

"Thank you, Belirus. That actually does mean a great deal to me, coming from you," Ian said.

The other man snorted again. "I do tend to be an abrasive bastard, but it gets the job done when I need it to."

"Speaking of jobs, I did have a reason for asking you to come here today," Ian said. He took a slim velveteen box out of his pocket and handed it to Belirus. Printed in gold script across the top of it was 'TDF Tiamat'.

Belirus opened the box and quickly sat down, shocked by what lay inside. "Admiral, I... are you certain you want me?"

"When the candidacy reopened, your name was offered into the selection by Reaper and Scotty. I have to say, I agree with them. There is no single person in this entire sector that knows as much about commanding a starship as you do. You have also served in various other positions for the Talosian Military to make you a perfect candidate. When you resigned your commission, you had been scanned by one of our telepaths in order to confirm your innocence, which was why your word was never questioned. Her testimony about your character is still in your file. When I presented you as my choice to the Council, it was accepted by unanimous vote. You'll be taking a slight cut in rank, and we don't have much of a fleet yet, but we would like you to become an important part of it. You would be the same rank as what the Talosians would call a senior captain, but once we get the support ships built for her," he indicated the Tiamat. "You would be a Commodore as you would have command of the entire flotilla. However, you would still have direct command of your own ship." Ian grinned. "Commodores don't get flag captains, sorry."

"Hah!" Belirus barked. But remained silent as he stared out the bay at the ship. Ian and Maia both stood silently and respected his silence.

Finally, after a few minutes. Belirus stood and faced Ian. "I think I would like to get to know this girl. Yes Admiral, I accept." He came to attention and saluted.

Ian returned the salute but was smiling. "You can have a uniform replicated and Maia has updated your clearance so you can go aboard her. The Council would like to have an official Promotion Ceremony in a couple days if that's okay with you?"

Belirus was nodding in agreement.

"I will forward the construction schedule to you, as well as a current crew listing. You will also have access to all the information I have on file including any and all classified information. Although I am sure Commodore Hawkins will want to express it himself, on behalf of myself, my commander and my station; congratulations, Commodore Belirus," Maia said.

Ju'nio Ha'ena Beach


Mid-Pacific Ocean

Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Alan was really pleased with how things had been going. He and his team were really pleased that they actually felt like a team now, and training was coming along very well. They were catching little Mulan about half the time now whenever she tried to ambush them. Considering her training, that was a real achievement.

The Raptor had been worked over by the techs from the moon to include several racks for carrying the Shark underwater fast attack craft. Those in themselves were remarkable little machines. Capable of speeds that could outrun any Earth built torpedo without cavitation or even detection. As a test, Alan had the team infiltrate the Pearl Harbor naval base, and they staged mock attack runs against the ships that were in port. The computers reported that had it been a real attack, they would have inflicted severe damage on every ship in port, as well as sinking three of the larger ones.

On their way out of port, Alan had all the Sharks come to rest on the ocean floor beside the wreck of the USS Arizona. While they sat there, Alan told them the story of the Pearl Harbor attack, the sinking of this ship, and the loss of so many lives to tyranny.

The team, now quiet as they all thought about what Alan had told them, sped back to their 'home' port. The Arizona hadn't been the only wreckage on the bottom of the harbor.

The Sharks themselves had exceeded even the designer’s expectations. Alan personally rode out a tropical storm in one. In order to simulate a worst case situation, he was stranded in the craft, on the surface, without primary power or propulsion. He got tossed around quite a bit, but was dry and healthy when he was picked up ten hours later.

A few days later, Alan had begun briefing the team on their objective; the underwater base deep in the Atlantic Ocean. Later today would be their first real combat mission. Andreya and Sheryl, the ships official pilot, would fly the team half-way around the planet and drop them, in their Sharks, for a recon mission.

The Poseidon would drop into the water several miles south of the base, submerge to three thousand feet, and launch the Sharks. The Raptor would remain on station while the Sharks raced northward, to get a good read on the positioning of the base and the area around it. Several of the Lamprey underwater missiles, (Alan called them torpedoes) had been equipped with sensor packages that should be undetectable by the Caldarians in the base. If all went well, they should be ready for the assault in the next couple of days.

One of the reasons Alan had chosen this time to do the recon was because, at present, there was a freighter at the base being loaded. Alan knew that this freighter would not be making it back to the rest of the fleet. Admiral Williams had a surprise party waiting for them after they cleared the atmosphere. It was also surmised that the base would be the most relaxed right after the ship departed.

The one thing that no one had counted on was the discovery that the freighter wasn't just an oil tanker. That is to say, it was set up to haul a substantial amount of crude oil, but that wasn’t the only thing it was taking away from Earth.

Several Lampreys equipped with sensor pods had been fired into the area to get a good read on the ship and the base. Because of the rock shelf running over the base, a full schematic of the base wasn't possible, but most of the command and control areas were thought to have been mapped. Sensors did show several large tunnels leading away from the main base and deeper into the sea floor.

However, what got the most attention was the large caverns full of cryogenic equipment that was being loaded into the freighter. No one needed to be told what was in those cryo-units.

After putting the team on ready alert, Alan called Ty and asked that Ian be included in the call. It surprised Ty since this would be the first time Alan and Ian had actually spoken, but this was obviously something Alan felt was critically important.

When both men were finally on the comm, Alan asked Andreya to share the detailed report of their recon mission.

"Gentlemen, we were able to get a good reading on the ship, and the parts of the base closest to the surface. So we should have a good idea what to hit and how to do it. However, the reason I'm calling in person is because of these," Alan said and highlighted the areas in question.

"Andreya tells me these are large storage areas filled with cryogenic stasis equipment that is being loaded into the freighter. Each cryo-pod has a human in it. These bastard are kidnapping hundreds of people every trip. If that freighter gets destroyed in orbit as per our original plan, all those people will be killed. I feel we need to move now; before that ship departs the base," Alan replied.

"Fuck!" Ian replied. "We had an idea they might be taking a few people, but nothing on this scale. This changes things. I can send you about a battalion of Marines if you need them. Ty, what do you have we might be able to send him?"

"Nothing that can get there in time, Admiral. If they are on schedule, that freighter will be departing in the next six hours... Hang on a sec." He turned and typed something on his console. "Control, get me Orion, priority right now!"

"Aye Sir!"

"Orion here, what's up Colonel?" a male voice asked.

"Change course and go to full emergency speed, head for the mid-Atlantic Ocean on Earth. Commander on station will be Lieutenant Commander Alan Carlson of the Poseidon. He will brief you in transit. You’re not set up for this, so you'll be slower than he is, but he'll need the help."

"Orders understood, course and speed changed. Two hours, twenty minutes to splash down, Colonel."

"The faster the better, Orion. Carlson will call you as soon as I finish talking to him. Anders out." Ty looked back to the screen with Ian and Alan on it. "I forgot the Orion was on the way back from a Phoenix refit."

"I appreciate the help, Ty, but we read several hundred human life signs down there," Alan added.

"I see that, Commander," Ian said. "I'm working on it. We might have to bring the pods up to the moon to open them, that way we'll have the medical center there if they need it. These tunnels leading off and down look like mines. That means that some of the humans down there are not in the pods. Everything I've heard about how the Caldarians treat their slaves tells me you are going to need serious medical assistance, too. I'm trying to get as many shuttles as I can ready, I'll stuff them full of Marines for the trip down, and they can deal with the wounded first for the trip back. We'll work the rest of this out after we know what we are facing.

"Lieutenant Commander Carlson, this mission is hereby authorized on your discretion. Raptor mandates apply. Alan, you do whatever you need to do down there to ensure the safe retrieval of those people. That is now your mission objective. Securing the base is secondary. If you need anything else, call Star Dancer Control or Phoenix Base and order it." Ian sighed. "I would have wished to meet you under better circumstances, Alan. This is a nightmare you're about to dive into; make sure your people are ready for it."

"How do you mean, Sir?" Alan asked.

Ian looked him in the eyes. "If even half of what we have heard is true, then you will be literally entering Hell when you go into those mines, Alan. The Caldarian slave masters don't even consider humans to be living beings. Punishments were very harsh and cruelty is unknown to them. Any images you might have seen of Hell in books or whatnot could very well seem like a comic book compared to what might be down there." Ian said.

Alan sighed and nodded. "I understand Sir, I'll try to warn my people. I'll have Andreya coordinate with Phoenix Base for the wounded. With your permission, Sirs, I need to get this mission planned and rolling."

Ian nodded. "Good Luck, Alan, and I do really mean it."

Alan nodded his understanding.

"Raptor Control, Raptor Poseidon is on mission; details to follow. List Orion as assisting," Ty said over the other channel. He turned back to Alan. "This one is going to bad, my brother. Remember, Caldarians don't surrender, ever."

"Understood," Alan replied. "Admiral, the Caldarian Ambassador warned of a potential self-destruct in this base. Considering the Caldarians love of really big firecrackers, anything on the surface could be in danger if they detonate before we pull this off."

Ian nodded. "Thanks for the reminder, I'll make sure the appropriate people are warned, but frankly, I doubt the ships will be able to get out of the area in time, if there are any there. Just don't let them detonate, okay?"

Mid-Atlantic Rift

Atlantic Ocean

Near Neptune's Massif

Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Alan sighed as he watched the Raptor Orion link up with Poseidon fifty miles to the south and two-thousand feet below the surface of the ocean. Typing on his command computer, he switched to a scan of the surface for two hundred miles from their target.

He shook his head as he counted nine contacts in that area. The problem was that they were close enough to Norfolk and New York that the US Navy and Coast Guard would be patrolling the waters. There were also three or four major shipping routes that crossed the danger area. There was simply no way anyone was going to keep those ships out of the area. Not when they had cargoes to deliver.

The most concerning contacts Alan could see were the two US Navy Attack subs that were patrolling the area. Currently the subs were too far away to detect anything here, but if something went wrong, and either of those two detected anything, they could expect the entire fleet out of Norfolk to be parked right on top of them in short order.

Time was running out.

Alan had allowed enough time for the Orion to arrive and get into a position where they could assist, and Alan was procrastinating. Sensors indicated that the huge Theta-4 freighter was almost full and would be departing the base soon. If that happened all the people it might be carrying were as good as dead.

"Bossman, Orion is on station and set. We're ready," Andreya reported.

Alan nodded to himself. "Understood. Javelin Four, Javelin Three. are you in position?"

'Javelin Four' was one of his team that would place explosives on the hull of the freighter in places that would disable the big ship’s engines. 'Javelin Two' would fire a special Lamprey into the control section of the base through a large window that over-looked the freighter. That special torpedo would allow Andreya to take control of the computer network eventually, but she should also be able to freeze up the system long enough to prevent the self-destruct from being activated. The base was deep enough for there to be little light from the surface, so while a freighter was docked with the base, huge flood lights illuminated the area around the docking points.

"Javelin Three, affirmative. Ready when you are," came the reply.

"Javelin Two; both missiles armed and ready." In order for Javelin Two to get the control package into the control room, the window would have to be blown out first. That would flood the control room, but there was no guarantee it would kill the Caldarians in the room. It was assumed that the doors would automatically close if there were a breach. If not, then Andreya would have to see to it. Andreya would be responsible for the base computer systems, while the Orion performed a full assault on the freighter; breeching the ship in what should be the engineering passageway. Poseidon would take position above the whole operation with her weapons hot. If the freighter did manage to break free of the base and try to take off, the Poseidon would prevent it.

Fifteen shuttles, five of them Marine assault craft, from the moon base as well as Star Dancer would be waiting, sitting on the ocean floor a hundred miles to the southwest. Star Dancer would also have fighter cover deployed and was even now moving into position in orbit above the mission site. Alan needed to launch the attack before the Caldarians figured out what was going on.

"Okay kids; don't try this at home. Go! Go! Go!" Alan said and pushed his thrust control all the way forward. Beside him the four remaining Sharks also shot forward as their magnetic engines suddenly forced water through the ducts.

Alan and his team shot around the hull of the big freighter heading for the main lock of the base. It was a large, open bay with an airskin-like shield to hold the atmosphere in and the water out. Alan had wondered why they built this instead of a sealed lock, but it really didn't matter, and they would certainly be taking advantage of it.

Above the ship, Javelin Two's Lampreys blew the window out of the control room just as several explosions ringed the engines of the big ship.

"Freighter disabled. Proceeding on mission," Javelin Three reported only a fraction of a second before Javelin Two made her report.

"Assault unit, fire stun missiles," Alan ordered and triggered his weapons. Two small missiles shot out from under each Shark and into the bay in front of them. The small missiles were designed along the lines of a flash-bang grenade only a bit more powerful. Inside the bay, only seconds before the Sharks themselves entered, there were several small explosions, knocking the beings in the bay to the floor, most of them unconscious.

Amid the smoke from the missiles, the Sharks burst into the bay and quickly but gently dropped to the floor. Alan and another of his team ran to the main corridor entrance. The three remaining team members jumped out of their ships, grabbing their weapons, and ran for the corridor entrances. The other two officers dealt with the Caldarians and began moving the humans toward the back wall of the bay to make room for the shuttles to land. They also administered first aid as they could.

"Main Bay secured. Marine shuttles and one med unit to the main bay," Alan ordered.

"Base computer secured. Self-destruct is disabled. No survivors in the control room," Andreya reported.

"Freighter computer is locked out, and Orion has isolated the cargo bays. Since it looks like these assholes can't take the pressure at this depth, I'm dumping the ship, Commander." The Orion commander, Major Geran reported.

"Understood, just don't let it sink, we need to rescue those folks," Alan replied.

"Will do, my team is now available, where do you need us?" Geran replied.

"Come into the main bay, I'm showing a larger than predicted concentration of Caldarians near the mines," Alan replied.

"Forty seconds, Commander." Geran replied.

"Sheryl, Steve, secure the cryo units and the cargo bays holding them. Once the Marines arrive, head for the mines; we might need you."

The two nodded and headed for a different corridor as the rest of the team finished up moving people out of the way. Just as they began moving down the corridor, a Raptor with its wings folded entered the huge bay, spun around, and landed against one of the walls. The ramp was already lowering as the ship came to rest. Orion had arrived.

"Welcome to the party, Orion," Alan said over the comm.

"Couldn't let you have all the fun, Bossman." The AI Orion replied as the team ran to join Alan and his four teammates.

"Poseidon, enter the main bay and prepare to assist with the wounded. Andreya coordinate," Alan ordered and motioned everyone to move forward.

The assault went off exactly as Alan and Andreya had planned it. The only surprise was the number of people in cryo-stasis awaiting shipment off world. Roughly twenty-three hundred men, women and children were in hibernation; many of them corresponding to open and active missing person’s cases.

As they had planned, they were simply loaded and sent to Phoenix base for reanimation in the medical facilities there. Once they were released from the medical section, they would be offered the opportunity to join the Terrans or to be returned to Earth to resume their lives. Alan had considered these folks to be the lucky ones. The other humans found in the base... well, he didn't see how any amount of therapy would ever be enough to help them.

Another four hundred and forty-five people were taken from the lower chambers and the mines. When Alan and his team finally made it into that chamber, Alan began to understand what Ian had tried to warn him about. Chained to the wall by their hands and feet were what was left of seven humans. Alan could only guess at sex, because everything between the collarbones and the thighs was cut open or missing completely. The layout of the base forced the rest of the slaves to walk past this grisly sight to get from their sleeping area to the work area.

When the rescuers entered the holding facility, most of the prisoners moved back into their sleeping areas. As the team moved through the frightened people, they found several people in what appeared to be a profound state of catatonia; one was lying atop a hysterically screaming young woman. (When Andreya had flooded the base with her scans, the young woman was being assaulted by one of the ‘foremen’). When Andreya took over the computers for the base, the control signals for the implants in the 'foreman' stopped, leaving them catatonic.  All of the captives were dirty and nude. They were so frightened that many seemed to be on the verge of hysteria themselves.

“Alan, there are still about thirty or so back here in the tunnels,” one of his team reported. “I haven’t made it all the way to the bottom though, so there might be more. There seem to be a lot of different tunnels, too.”

“All units, this is Alan; patch me through your external speakers so I can try to calm these people. Report when ready.”

When he had received the ready signal from his team Alan took a deep breath and crossed his fingers. “May I have your attention please? We are here to rescue you. We have liberated this base from the creatures that kidnapped you. We have food and water, as well as medical personnel waiting to help you. Please follow the instructions of the men and women wearing the armored suits. Again, we are here to help you; no one will hurt you. If you need assistance, please simply ask one of us, and we will do what we can to help you. Please follow the instructions of the people in the armor; we will help you.” Alan repeated the message in a soft but firm tone, trying to gently get the people to focus on his words. When he finished he had the team return to normal comms. "Okay everyone, let’s try to get some of these people out of here and back to the shuttles. Medical, are you set up yet?”

“Medical here, Commander; yes, we’re ready. Any idea how many will need our help?”

“A lot! I need you to send as many litter teams as you can in here; we have about a dozen or so that can’t walk, at least that I know about. There may be more.”

“Commander,” Major Geran said, “We are in the other mining area, we're going to need a lot of medical personnel here as well." He paused, but continued quietly. "We're going to need a lot of body bags as well."

“Yeah, it's pretty bad over here too, Major. Try to get rid of most of the horror before the survivors have to go past them again, I'm sure it really doesn't matter, but I don't want to hurt these folks any more than we have to," Alan replied.

"Understood and agreed, Commander. We'll get on it. Geran out."

Some quick-thinking person put a few holodrones at all the cross corridors, so the corridor out seemed like one long hallway with no doors, leading straight to the larger hanger. All Alan’s team had to do was get the people to walk down the hallway. All of the horrors Alan had spoken of were covered by the holograms.

Several drones, each pulling several hovering stretchers, followed three medtechs into the housing block. One of the medtechs approached Alan.

“Sir, our scanners count four hundred thirty-five remaining humans here, there are several that are in critical condition. We will be getting to them first. However, these people have been far more traumatized than I'd imagined. Could you please call for a few Marines to assist us? In the condition some of these folks are in, they might attack us because they don't understand what's happening to them."

“That’s a good idea; how many Marines do you need?” Alan asked.

“Eight for now, Sir, I've already sent instructions that any more techs coming back here should be accompanied,” the man was looking back over his shoulder to the Raptor officers as they used their suits AG units to get the mutilated bodies off the walls. Alan could see the man was almost in tears. He put a hand on the man's shoulder. "Focus on helping them and try to ignore the horror around you. Helping these people is the important thing. For now, nothing else matters or even exists; understand?" he said gently.

The medic nodded. "Thank you, Sir,"

Alan nodded and the tech left. Everything seemed to happen relatively quickly after that. The people, as if in shock, simply did whatever they were told to do. The medical team set up a triage and sent the worst of the refugees ahead of the rest.

By midnight, the only people left to rescue from the base were those in the cryo-units. Andreya had downloaded the database from the computer and was working with Elias on the moon to decode it.

Engineers sent down from the moon, with the assistance of several drones modified for use in deep water, and disconnected the feeder line to the base from the main oil pipeline. Once that was finished, the remaining oil was removed from the tanks and returned to the United States. As it turned out, not all the people in cryo had been taken from the United States either. In fact, only about six hundred of them were American. The rest were from different countries all over the world. Even with the facilities available to the Terrans, it took the better part of a week to get all the cryo units moved up to the moon. Even then, not all of them could be removed from stasis right away. Because of the sheer numbers of people involved, it would take the better part of two months to get everyone revived and healthy enough to discharge from the medical center. Surprisingly, almost half wanted to remain as part of the new Terran society instead of returning to Earth and their old lives. They did, however, contact loved ones and planetary officials to let them know they were still alive and had chosen to remain either on the moon or were moving to one of the other facilities in the sector.

At first, this caused a few of the nations to accuse the Terrans of kidnapping; forcing some of the people to remain against their will. That was quickly corrected when the people in question, mostly from communist or other authoritarian controlled countries, were taken to the United Nations where they happily and freely signed documents making their immigration official.

Unfortunately, none of the four hundred and thirty-six survivors of the Caldarian mines could be released right away. When the UN asked about them, the Terran Ambassador tried to explain, in as gentle a way as possible, what these people had gone through, and why they were still being treated for extreme mental trauma. It took the Ambassador actually showing the footage taken by Alan and his team as they rescued the slaves to convince them.

The UN immediately offered any assistance the Terrans would need in the treatment of these individuals. In order to maintain trust, the offer was accepted and several 'medical visas' were issued by the Terran council, as well as a few diplomatic passports for visits to the Planet Atlas.

Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

After reading the report she had just received, she stood and bowed to the raised throne and the man sitting at the desk at the foot of that dais. "Master, our spies at New Talos report that our allies has begun the rebellion."

Shalo looked up the new battle plan he had been working up. "That is excellent news, Glamia. The timing will be perfect. Call the clan leaders to council. I have finished our new strategy."

"At once Master!" Glamia replied. She returned to her desk and sent out the order. She had helped Shalo work out the details of this new strategy and she had to admit, it was very bold. If nothing else, it would certainly leave the ARC forces confused, thus ineffective. It might also serve to break the will of some of the races fighting at the behest of the Alliance of Races. It certainly will not help relations between them.

"While we're waiting for the Clan Leaders. Tell me what our spy reported," Shalo ordered.

She again knelt beside her desk. "Master, house troops have captured several primary federal facilities in the Capitol. Currently, more of the house troops have surrounded and have isolated the Talosian Council building. Today was to be a Grand Council meeting so all the heads of the houses were in attendance. He reported that the building security systems had been activated, and the troops were trying to gain entrance. Further information was cut off as a general comms blackout was imposed. Do you wish to dispatch an assault fleet to New Talos?"

"No, this will actually play well into our hands and will foment even more confusion among the Alliance races. They will wonder and speculate over how the civil unrest of New Talos could cause our forces to withdraw. Their ethics will not permit them to interfere in what appears to be purely an internal matter. If we sent forces there, so would ARC. No, we will pass on this seeming opportunity. However, New Talos is close enough that the new humans might come to the assistance of their brethren," Shalo said thoughtfully. "Alert the mercenaries to this possibility and tell them we will pay bonuses for any information they can gather on these new humans. Triple the bonus for the location of their base."

An hour later, Shalo and Glamia faced the assembled clan leaders for the assault forces in this galaxy. When Shalo stood, he was pleased to see that none of the leaders bowed. He nodded once and began. "The war has stalled. Because of this, the planets we wished to take are suffering far too much damage. Too much is being lost with little to no gain. This will stop now.

"Effective immediately, all forces engaged in offensive actions are to withdraw back to our garrison planets. These forces will be reassigned to support those that are currently defending captured worlds. Once the enemy has been driven off, and sufficient forces are restored to the garrison worlds, the fleets will reform at Grimaria Base for refit and resupply."

Soft mumbling could be heard among the gathered leaders. One bold leader stood and bobbed his head to Shalo. "My Lord, are you suggesting we seek peace?"

Shalo laughed. "Nothing of the sort! However, if the enemy would like to believe such, let them. We are simply going to change our tactics; the overall goal of taking this Galaxy remains. This war is becoming too costly, and we have allowed ourselves to become bogged down on contested worlds. No, after you have reformed your fleets and have been resupplied, you will be given new missions that will confuse and frighten our enemies. Missions that will wear down and break their will to fight. Missions that will spread their forces out so thinly, that when we return to those contested worlds, they will fall to us so quickly that by the time ARC forces could arrive, we will have already taken the world for our own.

"We possess hyperspace technology that is far superior to that of our enemies, it is time we began to use it. Two hours ago, I ordered the construction of three gates to be placed near the Failspire Nebula, eight light months out of Grimaria Base. These gates will allow us to drop our fleets on any target within a thousand light years with little to no advanced warning.

"Your fleets will gate out to a target and jump away under normal drive as soon as you detect any inbound forces. While you are there, you will do as much damage as you can, then simply leave before ARC forces arrive to engage you. These raids will be against mostly undefended or under-defended targets. You will create chaos and fear in every household and more importantly, in the Alliance of Races council chambers.

"Once they have spread out their fleets in a futile effort to protect themselves, we will return in force, destroy their ships and take their worlds!" Shalo finished to the applause of the assembled leaders. Many of them stood to show support for the bold plan.

Chapter 9

Admiral's Office

TDF Star Dancer

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

Planet Atlas, Centauri System

Sol Sector

Ian looked over the after-action report from the Caldarian base assault and shook his head. How many people had those assholes taken off world while he had been ignoring them? Currently, there was no way they could go after the kidnapped people to rescue them; they didn't have the ships, nor could they leave for the period of time needed to travel to the Caldarian base.

Later, after this mess with New Talos and Hyperion had been taken care of he could look at doing something about it, but not now - not yet. He silently hoped there would still be someone to rescue when they finally got there.

There was a note from Luke that Mel had sent stating the Council was considering the re-purposing of the base as a Terran Emergency Response Base and requesting the permanent stationing of the Poseidon there, as well as a battalion of Marines. The redesign would include a full sized Terran medical center, as well as storage for large quantities of emergency relief supplies. The mines would be collapsed and or filled in. The Raptor team and the Marines stationed at the small base would be tasked with putting out the small fires that always seemed to crop up all over the planet. As well as maintain a large amount of supplies in order to respond to catastrophes such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

Ian could understand the need for it. The Poseidon was already set up for underwater operations, and in conjunction with the new research base in the Hawaiian Islands, it would indeed be able to respond to emergencies far quicker than any space based assets.

He took the time to send a return note with his approval and recommendations back to Luke and the Council. He felt kind of silly doing that since they were only down on the planet below them; a short shuttle ride away. Not only that, he could have easily called the man. However, both of them were busy and sending a message was the better way of dealing with low priority items like the new base.

Getting up from his desk, Ian walked over to the balcony over-looking the new bridge of the Star Dancer. Several techs were still down there, working with the operators to work out any bugs or issues they could find with the new equipment. It was almost like the old girl was a brand new ship; of course, after so many changes and upgrades, you could say she actually was.

Since he had postponed the mission to Hyperion, Star Dancer was once again put on the schedule for Battle Cruiser conversion. Prometheus would still be completed first, but only by a few days.

When finished, the two newly redesigned ships would be the most powerful weapons ever built by humans; until the completion of the Tiamat. Although an argument could be made that the two smaller ships were the more powerful, since Tiamat's primary role would be fighter support and space superiority combat operations. Tiamat was a really big aircraft carrier, while both cruisers would be even more like heavily armed battleships.

Looking out the large view port, Ian could just make out the speck that was the frame of the Pleiades Two station that was now being built. Once that station came online, both stations would begin building a fleet of combat ships for the Talosian Navy, to replace the ships destroyed in the recent civil uprising. Those ships would not be the old heavy cruisers either; Ian fully intended to put everything they had learned into those ships that would consist of four carriers, at least eight more battle cruisers, twelve assault cruisers, as well as all the specialty and support ships the Terrans had designed.

"Sir, you wanted me to remind you of the upcoming meeting?" Mel said.

Ian nodded. "Thanks Mel." Commander Serena of the Prometheus, Commander Egran of the Pegasus and, John Harris, now commander of the Zephyr, would be arriving shortly, as would both Commodores Belirus of the Tiamat and Hawkins of the Pleiades Station. Jenny would be joining them as would Ty Anders and all available Raptor team commanders. Colonel Chloe Brighton from Operations, Major Eischens from the Intelligence division and even Beth in her official capacity as CMO were all getting together to build a preliminary plan for an assault on New Talos that would free the planet form the forces now controlling it.

The ships being sent back by the ARC had not yet arrived, but they were due in soon. In fact, Ian expected them to call in any time. He knew there would have to be one more planning meeting before the mission could be launched; one in which the ships Commanders themselves would be present to provide their own input and alterations to the plans.

Jenny and Star were the first two to arrive, but Cindy and the other Raptor team leader, Major Corvis arrived moments later. Ian had no more than let them in the door before the rest of the planned for people began arriving. The last to arrive was an out-of-breath Beth, who apologized for being late.

"You're not late, Beth. We haven't gotten started yet," Ian replied. "In fact, everyone else just got here too. Grab something from the replicator if you want and we'll get started."

Ian sat and took a drink of his coffee while everyone else got something to drink as well. When everyone had taken their seats, Ian began the meeting. "Folks, I've asked you all here today to help me form a plan of action to deal with the events transpiring on New Talos. At present, what intelligence we have on the situation is almost nonexistent. It is my intention to send the two Raptor teams ahead to evaluate the situation on the planet and take any immediate action that might be needed. They will also attempt to establish contact with Admiral Goya, or Councilor Noren.

"The ARC has released a number of Talosian troops and ships to us for this mission, but as you all know, they have yet to arrive. Once they do get here, we will meet again to go over the plan one final time before we launch for New Talos. As I am sure most of you know, when this all began, a Council Command Override was issued to all Talosian ships. The ARC reports that roughly half of the forces that were assigned to them evacuated before the ship self-destructed. Since not all the Talosian warships performed the same actions, we believe that Goya and Noren had the time to tell the override computer which ships were loyal."

"Sir! I apologize for interrupting you, but I have just received an encrypted message from Admiral Goya!" Star said anxiously.

"Please play it as soon as you can," Ian ordered.

Instead of the grizzled Admiral Ian had befriended, the image of his pretty young aide, Brekka, took shape on the screen. "Admiral Williams, please forgive the use of Admiral Goya's codes, but I am acting under his orders to do so. Currently, the Admiral is undergoing emergency surgery to remove a badly damaged leg.

"Sir, he asked me to get a message to you to let you know what has been happening here and to let you know of the situation we are now in." She paused, sniffed while consulting her ever-present pad and continued. "Councilor Noren is in a stasis unit. She was shot in the chest by a laser pistol at close range when House Herecin and House Bjorin tried to kill the rest of the Grand Council. We currently lack the medical facilities to save her, but we did have a stasis unit. We did have the autodoc unit aboard the shuttle we escaped in, but it was damaged during our escape; Admiral Goya is being operated on by the Council Guard medic because we have no doctors with us.

"We did manage to save most of the Grand Council and have hidden ourselves in an old civil defense bunker. I cannot say where we are at, but Commanders Serena and Egran hold this bunker in their hearts as a special place.

"The situation on the planet is dire. Houses Boden and Westchurch have allied themselves with Herecin and Bjorin. We have discovered that House Herecin has taken the inmates from the Boden Lunar prisons as soldiers. One of the first things they did was attack all the main government facilities in Elysium. They are in control of the planet, although there are still isolated groups of loyal military and civilians still fighting them. Admiral, I have been asked to tell you that the population is being brutalized. The convicts released from the lunar facilities are performing every sick and twisted thing that enters their minds, there isn't any one to stop them. The constabulary was armed with stun batons and similar equipment. To the best of our knowledge, every one of them was hunted down and killed. The civilian population doesn't have access to weapons in order to defend themselves."

Again she paused, but this time it was to compose herself. "Admiral, Goya told me that he believed that you would be planning to respond to this event in order to restore sanity to our world. He asked me to tell you that all military installations in the system have either been destroyed or are under control of the rebels. All of the 'House Ships' that were equipped with an AI have been destroyed by Council Override, but there are several smaller ships still functional that are armed, but do not have the destructive capabilities of the larger ships. There are also the House Westchurch fighter bases on the moon Demir.

"We are not certain, but there is a possibility that one or two of the heavy cruisers might have survived the Override. Three ships had been undergoing massive repairs at the Herecin shipyards, and the special control programing might have been removed from them. We only suspect this is true based on rumors we had heard before the rebellion began.

"Goya didn't know what you could do to help us, but he prays that you will be able to pull yet another miracle out of hyperspace, this time for us. We will try to send you more information as we can. I have attached a file with all the data we have on the system. A good portion of it is speculation as we have no way to verify it. That is all I was asked to send to you Admiral, but for myself; I pray you act soon, every passing minute is costing lives."

As her image faded out, Star spoke again. "I have the data file ready for display."

Ian nodded to her. "Thank you, before we get to that, Serena, Egran, do either of you know where they are hiding?"

Serena blushed, but Egran spoke first. "Serena and I attended the Academy together. As cadets, we were rather smitten with one another and used a weekend pass to spend some time alone and away from the Academy. We thought no one had known about it."

"They're in the Cayroll Bay emergency shelter on the northern continent, Gerymain Provence," Serena replied. "It’s a large bunker intended for use by ships caught in the Northern Ocean during the storm season. There is plenty of room and a lot of supplies. The bunker has an underground hangar capable of handling the large ocean-going cargo ships. They could easily hide their shuttles there. This time of year, the area is most likely getting pounded by storms pretty regularly."

"I'll have a medical shuttle loaded and ready to go by the time the Raptors are ready to leave," Beth said. "At the very least, we can get them some help while the rest of the fleet gets into position."

Ian nodded. "Okay, as long as the doctor to go isn't you; we're going to need you when we retake the cities." He paused. "Star, please show us the data file. Also include the Council's location."

The office dimmed and a hologram took form over the large table. It was an exaggerated display of the New Talos system, showing all the facilities in the system. Each facility was marked in a different color depending of what was known about them. Red color was a hostile or rebel controlled area or facility, yellow was suspected of belonging to the rebels, and green was still friendly. No color meant no data was available.

"Does anyone know anything about those ships she mentioned that might have escaped the override?" Ian asked.

"I did hear a rumor that Herecin was trying to modify their AI to be independent of Council control. I don't think it would be a stretch for them to remove the self-destructs from their ships. After all, we all know they're built into the ships," Egran said. "The story I heard was that Herecin had actually lost the ability to build new AI which is why it was so important to them to reprogram the existing ones."

"With respect Commander, that doesn't make any sense; all they would need to do is relearn how to program the AI with the sleep-teaching machines," Corvis replied.

"It would make sense if you no longer trusted the AI that controlled the teaching equipment. Also, the AI would refuse to provide the knowledge if it knew the knowledge would be used in a way counter to the dictates of the Council, or that would harm the Talosian People," Egran replied. "Remember that Herecin wanted to take control for themselves. That would be considered a treasonous act by the AI, which is why they had been trying to deactivate so many of them."

"So, could Houses Herecin and Bjorin have modified a Heavy Cruiser to remove the AI as well as the Council override programming?" Ian asked.

"They could, but the ship in question would be greatly disabled in the process. The AI of a ship is far more than just an interface. Almost every single system in the ship is linked to the AI in some way. Most of these intimate connections are even unconscious on the part of the AI. The computers used to control and regulate the intermix for the power units is actually part of the AI. Maintaining the proper atmosphere is monitored and controlled by the AI. To completely remove the AI from a Heavy Cruiser would render said ship unusable until something could be put in place to pick up the slack that humans simply can't do. Making a hyperspace jump of any length is not even possible without an AI assisted helm and navigation control. Humans can't react fast enough. Even if we could, we would over-compensate because of the very fine course adjustments required of FTL travel. One millionth of a degree error is missing your target destination by hundreds of billions of miles. Not to mention you'd probably hit something before you ever arrived.

"I suppose you could build hundreds of smaller 'smart' computers capable of performing these tasks, but we are talking a lot of extra work," Cindy replied. "Fighting the ship would be even worse."

Corvis nodded agreement. "The easiest way to disable just about any ship is to take out or disable the AI units."

"Wait a minute, ARC ships don't have AI on them," Serena said.

"That is not entirely accurate, Commander," Star replied. "ARC ships do not have the personality programming required of an interface unit. However they do have a system that is, by definition, artificially intelligent."

"Okay, we're getting off on a tangent here," Ian said. "We'll have to assume that Herecin was able to get at least two ships functional and plan accordingly. From what we are seeing here, the rebels have control of the systems defenses..."

Ian and the group worked out how to assault and retake the system while trying to minimize civilian casualties, which would be almost impossible when the fighting moved to the cities. They worked through lunch and were just about to stop when Star informed them that the ARC fleet had just reported in. They would be arriving in Centauri space around noon the next day.

Cayroll Bay Emergency Shelter

Gerymain Provence

Planet New Talos

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Admiral Goya looked out at the storm swept sea and the darkening skies of a massive blizzard. It seemed as though even the planet disapproved of the rebellion of its children. He snorted at his own musings. As if the planet was capable of caring one way or another, no matter what the Benesians said. He turned his hoverchair as his aide entered the room.

"How are you doing, Admiral?" Brekka asked.

"I'm still here, Brekka. I don't know what's worse, not being able to walk on my own, or feeling the leg as if it were still attached to me!" He shook his head. "Still no word huh?"

She shook her head. "It's been almost two weeks. If they were going to come, shouldn't they have been here by now?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Ian will have to make sure his own sector is protected before he can come and rescue us. We also have no idea what's going on in the galaxy around us. There might have been a major Imperial push in an attempt to take advantage of our weakness and Ian had to help with that. We simply have no way of knowing. I do know and firmly believe that Ian and his people will get here as soon as they can. Who knows, his Raptor teams might already be here gathering intelligence for an assault," Goya replied.

The young Captain nodded as she knelt to check his bandages. "You're bleeding again, have you been scratching it? You know Holjoes told you not to scratch..."

Goya nodded. "Yes, yes, but he didn't tell me how badly the damn thing would fucking itch!"

Just then Brekka's communicator beeped. She activated it. "Brekka here." She grinned as she listened to something only she could hear.

"Excellent, we'll be right down." She stood. "We just received a message from the Damocles; they have arrived and are escorting a medical shuttle to our location. They've asked for permission to land!"

"Well, what are you waiting for? Let's not keep our guests waiting!" Goya replied, grinning.

They made it down to the frigid ship hanger just in time for the big bay doors to open. Brekka had insisted that Goya remain inside while the ships arrive and landed, even though they all had arctic clothing. He growled at her, but didn't actually protest that much; it was really cold out there.

Five minutes later, Goya was happily returning the salute the armored Major Williams was giving him. "It's good to see you're still with us, Admiral. We brought a doctor and one of those flying hospitals they made." She paused. "Admiral Williams sends his greetings as well, Sir, but can we speak in private?"

"Certainly Major, I'm sure there is a lot you have to tell me," Goya replied and motioned for Brekka to take them back to his quarters.

"With respect, Admiral. I had the medical shuttle in mind," Cindy said stopping the Admiral. "Doc Johnson wants to see you right away about that leg; we can talk in there."

Cindy escorted the pair out to the medical shuttle and up the ramp into the triage area.

"Ah, Admiral! I know we didn't get a chance to meet when you were at Phoenix Base, but I'm Doctor Andrea Johnson. Ian asked me specifically to see you as soon as I could, because, and I quote, 'it's hard to kick ass when you only have one foot!' I think he was just worried about you, Sir." She finished.

Goya chuckled. "I could see Ian saying that, too. I'm all yours Doctor."

Andrea nodded. "I assume this young lady is your aide, so I need to ask before we begin, do you want her in there with you?"

"If it wouldn't be a problem, I think you'd have a hard time keeping her out of the room anyway!" Goya replied as Andrea pushed the hoverchair deeper into the shuttle.

Andrea got them into one of the treatment rooms, and with Cindy's help got him onto a diagnostic table.

"Now that we're in here, what did you need to tell me, Major?" Goya asked.

"Well, the first thing I need to tell you is that the fleet is still a week out. We were sent ahead to do a recon of the situation, as well as to escort this shuttle to you. As soon as I have finished talking to you, my team and I will be departing to begin our primary mission. I am also to leave you a special comm unit that the rebels will not be able to detect," Cindy said.

Goya nodded. "I figured that he would send you folks in first, but you said 'the fleet'. Just how many ships is Ian bringing?" Goya asked.

Cindy grinned. "Sir, ARC released some of your forces into Admiral William's command for this purpose. The fleet I mentioned is two heavy cruisers, two battle cruisers, eight light cruisers, and a division of Marines in their support ships. He is also bringing the Tiamat commanded by Terran Commodore Belirus. He told me to tell you that while most of the pilots are still new, the carrier has a full complement on board."

"How under the suns did he pull that off? I remember him telling me that he thought it would take a year to get the pilots for the fighters that monster carries!" Goya replied.

"I know he borrowed a few from other places, but for the most part, the fighters and pilots she has will be remaining with her. Recruiting has really stepped up since they got that area at the space port set-up," Cindy said. "Anyway, we are going to have to leave you here for now, Sir. Once the fleet arrives, you'll all be evacuated to either the Star Dancer or the Tiamat."

"You have a few options for this leg, too, Admiral. We can install a cybernetic leg which you will need to learn how to use, but will get you out of here the fastest. While it gets you back on your feet in the shortest amount of time, it will make regrowing the leg a longer process, later. We can fit you with a prosthetic leg that will require you to learn how to walk on it. That'll take a couple of weeks, but has the advantage of not messing with the regrowth process at all. Finally, we can begin the regrowth process now, which will also take the longest time. It will also restrict you to this shuttle," Andrea said outlining Goya's choices. "That medic did a pretty good job in the amputation, although I can see you've been having some trouble with aftercare."

"Set me up with a cybernetic leg, Doctor. I know it'll take longer to fix later on, but with any luck at all, I'll actually have the time. If we get discovered here, I'll need to be able to run if I need to," Goya replied.

Andrea nodded. "That would be the one I would have recommended for you in this situation. I'll get it set up and we can do it later today; the sooner we get it done the better. The longer you sit in that chair, the less your brain will remember how to walk."

"Will you be seeing to Councilor Noren?" Goya asked.

Andrea smiled. "She's in the next room. That's why we can't help you until later today, I'll be taking care of her right after we finish here."

"Well, on that hopeful note, I will depart. With your leave Admiral?" Cindy asked.

"Be safe, Major," Goya replied.

Assault Command Center

TDF Star Dancer

System Entry Vector

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Ian was not happy with the reports from the Raptors. It was clear that the rebels were in control of the planet, if you could call it that. They had used criminals for most of their 'soldiers' and now those criminals were running rampant over the population. The new rebel council had made a public announcement that, until the traitors of the old ruling Council and the remnants of High Command were surrendered to 'authorities', the house to house searches would continue.

Cindy reported that the 'searches' were little more than an excuse for armed men to enter private homes and beat, brutalize, rape, and steal anything they wanted. The civilian population was thoroughly cowed because any attempt at resisting was met by killing the person objecting. Civilians had no weapons to fight back with, and the emergency replicators were not programmed to create weapons of any type other than knives used for cooking.

Unsearched or resistant communities had their power shut off and were denied all public services, including water and sewer. Of course, each home had small emergency power units, but they were only designed to last a month and provided only the basic power needed to run the replicator and the small back-up systems a house used.

Major Corvis could not confirm what class of ships there were, but he did pick-up several transmissions to and from what had to be ships. The transmissions were encoded and too short for the AI to try to decode, being burst transmissions. They did investigate one of the transmissions points and found an Ailette class corvette with both of its fighters still mounted under the stubby wings. He placed the small ship as an orbital patrol unit. He also reported that several of the emergency cryo units that were the lifeboats for heavy cruisers were still in orbit around the planet.

Ian thought it odd that no one had either retrieved them or allowed them to re-enter the atmosphere, thus freeing the occupants from stasis. The units had to have been ordered to remain in orbit to await retrieval. All of the beacons for the AI of the former cruisers were accounted for, however; they had successfully made it to the planet's surface, but none of them had as yet been retrieved. Their retrieval beacons were still active.

All of the planet's larger population centers had their shields activated. Which meant that no craft could enter or leave without clearance from the control center of each city. The orbital fortresses of the planet were also under the control of the rebels. Those defensive satellites carried the same base fire power of a heavy cruiser, without the fighters. They would be a problem for any ship unlucky enough to get into range of their weapons.

The moon bases were also under rebel control. One of the moons held a missile base and the prison where the rebels had gotten some of their 'soldiers'. The missile base was part of the primary system defense network and had a virtually limitless supply of missiles it could launch.

The other moon base held a combat craft training academy and base. Counting the trainer craft that could be armed there were over two hundred Hornet fighters stationed there. Not counting what the fighter assembly plant also on the moon might have had ready.

New Talos' second moon was not the only military base in the system, nor was it the largest. That honor went to the primary fleet command base on the third planet. In addition to hosting the nominal offices and assorted support structure for the New Talos High Command, the Antares Base complex had a huge starport hosting eight squadrons of fighters, four squadrons of Centurion fighter/bomber variants, as well as being the home port for several corvettes and small frigates. It was entirely possible that the corvette that Corvis had located had been based out of Antares.

"Queen o' Hearts, this is Knight Six, I think we go' somethin' ya all might wanta take a look see at," a man with a Louisiana accent was heard over the din on the bridge.

"Who's the Cajun?" Ian asked Jenny, quietly.

She glanced at her pad. "ECM - slash - spy variant Condor. The crew named her 'Swamp Witch'. Commanded by Senior Lieutenant Louis Leblanc. His squadron is on an outer system recon."

Ian nodded his understanding; he simply hadn't recognized the voice.

"This is Queen of Hearts, what ya got Knight Six?" Chloe asked from her place at the planning holotank.

"We wuz sent o're here to look over a minin' station, I got a heavy cruiser IFF is callin' 'Summer's Eve'. Once that gets ya smiling, the rest of the data will definitely sober ya up after a night at Mardi Gras. Sending data download now." Leblanc replied. Chloe pushed some of the stuff in the tank aside to view the incoming data stream. She quickly had the data replace the rest of the plot in the tank.

The Argyris Mining Consortium had a huge mining and processing facility set up in the upper atmosphere of the seventh planet; a very large gas giant of a size between that of Saturn and Jupiter. The facility extracted hydrogen and other compounds from the planet and had been the primary supply facility for the Talosian military fleets.

Currently, the station was barely recognizable because there were large freighters docked at every loading port except for the largest one at the top of the station. That loading port was connected to the bottom of what looked like a modified heavy cruiser. The data from the Swamp Witch showed the odd framework built around the cruiser to be hundreds of missile launchers. The framework blocked the fighter launch bays, but not the landing bays.

"What the Sam Hell is that?" one of the people around the tank asked.

"That," Ian said, "is a problem." He keyed up his comm. "Knight Six, this is Queen's Bishop. Can you tell if that bitch still has her fighters on board?"

"Ina couple o' minutes, we'll be able to tell ya what the captain had fer dinnah last nigh'," the man answered.

Chloe nodded and looked up at Ian. "They're dropping sensors on the hulls of the station and the ships. We should get a full reading on them very soon, Admiral."

Ian nodded. "That big bastard is in the perfect position to fire missile after missile at a rate twice that of normal without ever having to worry about running out of replicator materiel. Since the landing bays are still open, they can even launch hypermissiles. That could be a very big problem."

"We can't just destroy her while she's attached to the station, the whole thing would go up," Chloe replied nodding.

"We'll have to get Marines on her and the station and take it out the hard way. But, it has the fire power to blow just about anything out of space as soon as it detects it. Even if we got through the barrage of missiles that bitch can fire, there are no open docking ports on the station, so we would have to go through either the cruiser or one of the freighters," Ian said thinking out loud.

"Sir, I hate to even think this, but I think we gonna have to blow the whole thing. Even as high up as we are, the radiation from the planet is charging our armor extremely fast. We gonna have to be gone shortly, or risk exposure or power overload," Leblanc said. "From what we be seeing of the folk in the station, they is probably a prayin' for us to do exactly that."

The data feed now in the holotank was straight out of hell. The 'marines' were having a party. The station personnel were providing the entertainment in very horrific ways.

"Oh my god," Jenny replied. "Ian we have to stop them."

"We will Jen, but this isn't an isolated event. These assholes are doing this to everyone in the system. We are here to put an end to all of it," Ian replied. "Our problem is how to do it with the least amount of civilian casualties as possible. These assholes are using a very nasty tactic. Placing a military target in a civilian facility thinking we won't destroy a civilian target."

"So, what's the answer then?" Jenny asked.

"When they'd do it on Earth, my old government would send a couple of troops of Special Air Service, or SAS, to pay them a visit. The Israelis would use Moussed or the Americans would use Delta Force or Navy SEALs. We need a couple of Raptor teams at least, that's a big facility." Chloe replied.

Ian nodded. "I'd bet my left arm that the whole thing would be destroyed the minute that Commander over there figured out what was going on."

"We got that hyperspace inhibitor in the ship, but as I said befo'- we stick around much longer and we're gonna be Condor gumbo," Leblanc replied.

"Continue your mission, Knight Six. We'll figure it out from here. Good work," Ian said.

"Unda' stood. We be gone now!" Leblanc replied and cut the channel.

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Star Dancer Command Center

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Ian had the fleet hold position while they figured how to deal with the mining station turned missile base. He knew it would delay the overall plan of attack, but he wanted to talk to all his ship commanders, as well as Admiral Goya if they could reach him.

"Mel, try to get hold of Admiral Goya. Cindy said she dropped off a new comm unit to him when she escorted the medical shuttle. I will also need a video conference with all the commanders in my office," Mel asked as he entered the office.

"Do you want them concurrently, Sir?" the woman asked.

"If it is possible, that would be best," Ian said tiredly.

The big screen on the wall lit up with a haggard looking Goya who smiled broadly when the connection was made. "Ian! Major Williams said you were coming. I take it you have arrived, but from the look on your face, there's a problem."

Ian nodded. "A very large one. If you'd hang on a moment Sir, I've asked the other commanders to join us."

"I'm not exactly on a tight schedule right now, son. We knew it was getting really bad out there, but from the look on your face, we had no idea just how bad," Goya said.

Ian nodded. "A lot of civilians have already been tortured and killed, Sir. I'm afraid there are going to be far more civilian casualties before we're done here. That's something I do not want, but it's getting harder to ensure."

As the two men were talking, the ship commanders were slowly being added to the link, and their images were appearing in the chairs around the conference table.

"It looks like everyone is here. Folks, we have a problem." He nodded to Star who brought up the outside image of the mining facility. "This is the Argyris mining facility. The heavy cruiser, Summer's Eve, has converted the entire facility into one very large missile platform. As you can see, they have freighters docked at every port and they are all loaded to the gills with replicator mass. The cruiser has been modified to launch twice her normal capacity at the expense of her fighter launch facilities. We have also discovered she doesn't have any fighters anyway."

"Holy Eriss! That bitch could fire as many missiles as she wanted for as long as she wanted. With her landing bays open, she can also launch hypermissiles. Because of her location in the atmosphere of the planet, any ship on approach would be lit up as the radiation interacted with the shields. I have to admit, this was a brilliant move by whoever planned this party," Goya replied.

Ian nodded. "We could easily blow it out of the sky, but there are, or at least were, roughly five thousand reasons preventing such an attack."

"It's a civilian facility, don't tell me; the civilians are still there?" one of the Talosian ship commanders asked.

Ian slowly nodded. "What's left of them are, yes." Star brought up the internal scans taken by the Swamp Witch. "It would appear that the crew is... using... the facility for other purposes as well."

One of the commanders ran for the head to throw up. Two others had tears in their eyes. The rest looked very, very angry. "People, we knew something like this might be a possibility when we left the station. I'll grant that imagining it, and actually seeing it are two very different things, but we cannot allow it to consume us." Ian looked every one of the people in the eyes. "Use the anger, but don't let it control you, or you and your people will die. We do have an idea for taking this station out of the equation, but it will warn the rest of the system we are here.

"We can send five Raptors to the station to neutralize it. However, if the Commander gets wind of our attack, he'll probably destroy the station and everyone on it. We also can't send the Raptors in as their first stop in this mission as the rest of us need them to shut down the moon bases and the orbital forts. This mission would have to be first, and take place before we move any deeper into the system," Ian said. "We just don't have the extra teams to spare to add this as a separate mission."

"Sir, can I take a look at the station layout? Maybe I can figure out how to do this with fewer teams or at least try to shave some time off it," Ty asked. He was stationed on the Tiamat in command of the entire squadron of Raptors that had accompanied the assault force.

"I don't think it'll matter, Ty. We only had one spare team, and I don’t see how just one team, no matter how good you are, can do this alone. In addition to the ship's crew, the entire 'marine' compliment of the ship is also there, mostly on the station," Ian replied. "But, I've been wrong before, so you're more than welcome to take a look." He glanced at Star to ensure she sent him the requested data. Then turned back to the assembled officers. "So I need ideas folks. The only one I've been able to come up with would kill everyone on the station. Something I don't want to happen regardless of what's happening to them right now."

"Ian, although I really appreciate the thought, it might be a wasted effort. Our people are not used to brutality on this level. I very much doubt they will survive this even if we do somehow manage to rescue them. I'm afraid a good share of those that have been... uh, violated will kill themselves as soon as they have the opportunity," Goya replied sadly.

Ian nodded slowly. "I can understand that intellectually, Sir, but I refuse to accept it. I know it might be that we are simply from different cultures, but I feel that if we can get those people out of there, we can get them the help they will need to get over this and move on with their lives. We know that people can survive this nightmare, because our people have survived it.

"They will need help to get past it, but it can be done. Yes, we will still lose some folks, but we can still save many more of them,” Ian said. “I know that to be a fact, and I will do everything in my power to give those people that chance."

"Sir!" Ty said, anxiously. "Give me an hour and I'll make the problem go away. I'll need two medical shuttles afterward and a lot of trauma councilors."

"You figured it out? How?" One of the men asked.

"Look here," he typed a few commands and the graphic he had been using was sent back to the conference. "The rebels are holding all the personnel on this one deck in the station. It's common to do this in order to keep control of them with the fewest people. I'll send in the Cherokee. They will isolate that deck and rig the rest of the station and the ship to dump the atmosphere without warning. If we place charges on the hull in these places," he made several dots appear on the graphic. “Before we go in, they can take out the guards and any other bastards mixed in with the civilians, while the rest of the station and ships try to figure out how to breathe vacuum."

One of the Commanders shook his head. "The automatic doors will seal and protect the station. It was designed that way to prevent accidental decompression because of the amount of meteor strikes they have."

"Neither the station nor the cruiser have an AI anymore; we do. She'll have complete control before the team even gets into the station," Ty replied. "She can make sure those doors don't close."

"I know we seem to be relying on them a lot, but this is really what the teams were created for. The mission is authorized, Colonel. Good hunting," Ian said. "Commander F'dress, on our way in-system, you and your escorts will be passing close to the station. Would you be so kind as to give a couple of medical shuttles a ride?"

"I would be honored, Admiral." The man hesitated. "Sir, I had thought maybe Goya had lost his mind when he told us about you. I see now that he was, as usual, correct. Regardless of your age and experience, you are most definitely an Admiral worthy of your rank. I think perhaps we could learn a great deal from you and your people."

He smiled at the older man. "Keep your people and yourself alive for the next week and I'd be happy to teach you anything you want." He turned back to the conference. "Okay, now that we know how to deal with that douche bag at the station..."

Mel groaned and shook her head, but she was grinning. "You just couldn't resist, could you, Sir?"

All of the Talosian Commanders looked confused, so Star discretely provided the information about feminine hygiene product named 'Summer's Eve' and what it meant to Terrans.

Ian winked at the girl and continued. "We will launch the mission when the team at the station blows the atmosphere. Star, please ask the CMO to coordinate with the rest of the fleet and gather the help needed for the station, but keep the numbers low, remember, we will need councilors on the planet as well. Admiral Goya, according to the plan, we will send shuttles for you and your people as soon as we make sure the skies are clear." He checked the local clock. "So I'd be ready to load up in about twenty hours. It might take us just a bit longer than that, but I doubt it'll be less. Keep your head down; the fighting down there isn't going to be pretty at all. Major Dancer, please monitor Raptor command and keep us in the loop. Good luck everyone. Dismissed."

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Rebel Military Command Post

Location Unknown

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Tomiakin, this is Roan. I think we were just probed. That is if your energy sensor idea is really working.”

“Are you sure? What have you got Roan?”

Captain Roan of the Summer's Eve sighed in frustration, then re-keyed the communicator. “Didn’t I just say I was? We detected a weak energy signature pass over the hull, then an energy spike as they accelerated away. I think it’s a safe bet they know we’re here.”

“Well, we actually expected them over a week ago. Perhaps all the advanced technology we heard about isn't so advanced,” Tomiakin replied. "I sure didn't see anything I didn't understand when I was there."

“Maybe,” Roan said, “or maybe they simply didn't let you see everything, like they did for Goya. Have we heard anything from the spies we left there?”

“No, but that could simply be that there was no way for them to report in. Remember, these renegades have allowed their AI to become sentient. It’s damn hard to sneak anything past those," Tomiakin replied. "You should get ready for the Raptor team that will be hitting you. They won't be able to advance in system with you there firing missiles at them."

Roan waved the warning off. “I still think we should have attacked them in mass before our ships were destroyed by the council. With those facilities, we could have done this a lot easier and cleaner. I really detest using those... criminals as troops. You don't even want to know what they've been doing to the people on this station. That's why I'm not too worried; at any given time, there are over a hundred of them down there, 'entertaining' themselves. I'll warn them to get ready for the assault, but I'm sure there are more than enough of them to deal with six fucking Marines, no matter how much extra training they have. It's really too bad we couldn't use our regular Marines for this.”

"I know, Roan. We are very aware of what's going on. However, we didn’t have time to build up our army, so we had to make due. If this all works as planned, we'll have those animals back in their cages very soon," Tomiakin explained. "Until then, we have to ignore their, uh, activities, until we no longer need them. Now, if I were you, I'd start trying to figure out how to stop that Raptor team."

Roan snorted. "Like I said, we're covered. Half the brood are down in the base, and the other half are up here. I'll warn them but I honestly don't know if they even care anymore. They have a whole station they can do basically whatever they want with. They already figured out they don't have to follow my orders."

"You better convince them, or that Raptor team will walk in there and kill every single one of them before they even know they're there. Remember what they did to the Adonis," Tomiakin replied.

"I’ll do what I can. Has there been any progress with the Adonis? Have we managed to get control of the ship?" Roan asked.

Tomiakin shook his head. "No, the command crew is still handpicked flunkies of Goya and Noren. The rest of the crew are too confused to support either side. Since the AI is fully active and still loyal to the Council, they have settled on a more or less neutral position. They are still blockading Antares Base. We could destroy the ship, but not before it destroyed the base and all of our assets there. For now, they are both out of the equation."

"If this Terran brought a strong enough force with him, we're going to need that base and the fighters there. What would happen if they convince the Adonis to join the fight?"

"Then things will be getting interesting for a bit. How many of the hypermissiles do you have ready?" Tomiakin asked.

"Twelve. Eleven antimatter and one gravimetric." Roan narrowed his eyes. "Why?"

"If the Adonis does make a move; I want you to blow it to hell," Tomiakin ordered.

Chapter 10

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Argyris Mining Facility

Planet Aerie, (Gas Giant)

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Major Jana Cromwell just finished reviewing the plan with her team. The hardest part was going to get the charges placed on the hull without being detected. They couldn't use the Raptor, as the radiation from the planet would over charge the armor and give away their position. They would have to land on the station and tie into the power systems so they could bleed of the excess energy. While the Cherokee discharged and did its thing against the computers, the team would be walking the hull to place the charges. The radiation would cook them a little while they were on the hull, but this needed to be done, and they would do it.

"Major, I think I might have found a better way to get the charges where we need them," Samuel said. "I made a query of the tech base from Phoenix base and got a few hits. There is a very small missile originally designed for use underwater that we could easily adapt for this purpose."

"How so? The guidance system would be detected by the cruiser," Jana replied.

Samuel shook his head. "The original design uses sonar and a low-power form of lidar to scan the terrain around it. Like I said, I think we can adapt it for our use here. The lidar guidance laser would be lost in the background radiation of the planet, and the directional thrusters use compressed seawater for maneuvering. We could build it to use hydrogen instead, since we are literally awash with the stuff here. If we upgrade the on-board memory with the mapping data and converted the thrusters, we could easily place the needed charges in about a third of the time."

"Time is an issue here; if you are certain it'll do the job, do it, otherwise we need to get moving," Jana said.

Samuel nodded and turned around to the replicator. It took about ten seconds before he lifted five tiny missiles out. Each one no bigger than a foot in length and about two inches thick. They had no guidance fins since they weren't needed here. Samuel sat them on the table. "Touch the missile, then touch the place on the map you want it to go. Once we get this batch programmed, we can toss them out the hatch and they'll go," the android explained.

Jana nodded. "Marty, once we get this batch done, go toss them out, please. We should have the next batch ready about the time you get back."

"I'm on it Major. This was a good idea, I wasn't looking forward to getting cooked out there," the big American Indian replied.

"Too bad this isn't the hardest part," the ship's gunnery officer, Mary Ward, replied. "The real fun doesn't start until we get inside this pig."

Jana nodded. "Let's just hope none of these assholes are in their armor and all we'll need to do is comfort a few civilians until the medics get here. How is the attack on the computers going?" She asked the AI.

"There was no attack, Major. None of the computer systems involved in this mission even had a firewall. I simply took control of them, and that was that." Samuel replied.

"How many computer systems are we talking about? The colonel only thought there would be the station and the cruiser," Jana asked.

"Each of the freighters as well. While none of them had ever had an AI, they did have smart systems. In order to dump their atmospheres, I need to have control of them so I took it," Samuel explained. "With your permission, Major, I won't depressurize the empty ships. I'll simply seal them up and isolate them. That way, once the objective is attained, they can assist in replacing the station atmosphere as quickly as possible."

Jana nodded. "That'd be great, Samuel. Okay kids that's the last of the charges, let's get moving; the fleet is waiting on us."

The entire team, minus Samuel, suited up and would be participating in the mission. Samuel would remain to protect the ship and control the computer systems involved in the mission.

The team entered the station through a maintenance airlock near the ship and made their way into the occupied area. They slowly approached the occupied area and when they got close, Samuel stopped them.

"Hold there, Major," Samuel called. "Let me seal the area and blow the charges. We'll use the corridor you are in as an airlock."

"Understood, let the control know when you blow the charges," Jana reminded the AI. "You have my order to proceed with detonating the charges."

"Understood, Major. Section sealed. Blowing charges... now!" Samuel replied. "Atmosphere at eighty percent and dropping..." there was a short pause, "Sixty percent." And another pause, "Forty percent."

The AI called out the dropping pressure until he reached zero. "Negative atmosphere in all unsealed areas. The only remaining life signs I am detecting are in the sealed areas, Major. The fleet is now moving in system. Medical ETA is twenty minutes."

"Raise emergency force fields and get the repair drones moving. Do not reestablish the atmosphere in the station for at least ten minutes," Jana ordered.

"By waiting that long, I cannot be certain to have full atmosphere restored before the medical shuttles get here, Major," Samuel replied.

"I understand, Samuel. Focus on the landing bay where the shuttles will arrive and as straight a path as you can from here to that bay. The rest of the station can wait," Jana ordered.

"Orders understood, Major. I can have that ready in time," Samuel replied.

"Okay, now the real fun starts. Open the door and let us in please," Jana asked and raised her pulse rifle to the ready position.

The Argyris mining facility held a nominal crew of roughly five thousand people comprised of the staff, miners and their families. Jana knew going in that there were only thirty one hundred life signs remaining and that some of those would be rebels. It was a very intense, nerve-wracking hour that followed the team's entry. There were a few obvious guards and those were taken out quickly. The difficult part was rebels using people and children as shields. It didn't help them that much, but they did still try.

Between the rebels fighting back and the people they simply killed outright, one rebel grabbed his weapon and just opened fire on anything that moved, which were mostly panicked hostages trying to run away. They lost another two hundred and ten people. According to the sensors, once the fighting stopped and the area cleared of all hostile forces, there were two thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four survivors.

All of them were injured in some way, as well as being underfed and dehydrated. None of the station administration staff had survived, as they had been the first killed when the rebels arrived and took over. The other roughly two thousand people had died at the hands of the occupying troops.

Once everything began to get back under control, Jana sighed and knew that she would have to stay at the station until another authority could be spared to take over here. She simply couldn't, in good conscious leave the station in the current social situation. She was tempted to leave a couple of times to assist in the battle, but these people really needed her, her team, and the three shuttle loads of medical and mental health people.

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Raptor Damocles

House Boden Lunar Facilities

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Dealer, this is Joker Three. We are in position.”  Cindy knew from listening to the comm traffic that Raptor Hephaestus, call sign Joker Five, was already in position and waiting on the other moon. She also knew that other teams had been sent to the four orbital fortresses, but had yet to report in.

“We copy Joker Three. Joker Five?”

“Five here.” Major Corvis of the Raptor Hephaestus answered.

“You and Joker Three are ‘go fish’. Queen’s Bishop to Queen's Knight’s three.”

The battle code, worked out by the operations section for this operation, told Cindy to begin her attack on the moon base she had been assigned. It also told her that ‘Queen’s Bishop’, in this case, Star Dancer, was moving into position between the two moons. The other ships had already been deployed around the system to handle any other surprises the rebels might have.

“Joker Three, copy.” She answered, then switched to the intercom. “Okay people, we’re inbound. Get ready. ETA to drop point; three-zero seconds.”

For this mission, Lissa would be alone aboard Damocles and would set down two kilometers away from the command center. After setting down, she would set the automatic defenses and begin her own assault against the base computer system.

Cindy and Shannon would hike to a maintenance hatch near the missile command center, while Jerry and Sasha disabled the small hanger facility. The two groups were to wait for Lissa to gain control of the base computer system before breeching the base.

Lissa reached her landing point, activated the automatic defenses and then leaned back in her chair. Closing her eyes, she pulled her consciousness into her core nestled in the heart of the Damocles’ main computer system. There she simply entered the moon base facility main computer and took control.

The computer system was quite a bit larger than Lissa had expected. She discovered that the computer was also responsible for the military prison thirty kilometers away across the airless surface. She also discovered that the two facilities where connected by an underground, high speed tram, so workers and maintenance personnel could safely move between the two. This increased size took her a few extra minutes to gain control of. The computer fought back, but not much. She was an AI after all, and the base computer system wasn’t.

Several kilometers away, a guard that had been alerted to watch for anything unusual near the base, noticed that part of a hill that had always been on the scanners was missing. He isolated then zoomed in on it. He discovered it was a strange distortion of some kind. He didn’t know if this was the ‘unusual’ he had been told to look for, but he didn’t want to take the chance and get stuffed out an airlock. Commander Tiel had been a vicious bastard before he was convicted of killing his own squad. The guard had seen firsthand evidence that the man hadn’t changed at all.

“Commander, this is post four. I have something strange on the scanner over near the base,” the guard said over the comm.

“Post four, do you think you can be a bit more specific? ‘Strange’ doesn’t help me very much,” came the terse reply.

“Well, not really, Sir. It’s showing up as a distortion on one of the hill tops. It wasn’t there a minute ago,” the guard replied. "You told me to report anything unusual and this qualifies."

“We see it down here now. We’ll send a team out to check it out. Good work, post four. Keep an eye on it; if there is any movement around it, let us know,” Tiel replied and closed the channel

“Yes Sir! Asshole-Sir,” the guard mumbled and continued his watch.

“Admiral Tomiakin, this is Commander Tiel at the missile base. We've detected something near the base. I’ve sent a team to investigate.”

The military leader of the rebels looked confused for a moment. “Hmm, What would they be doing setting on the surface? They have no ground troops. Wait a minute! I bet it’s a Raptor! Have you seen any movement?”

“No Sir, as far as we can tell, it’s just sitting there. No movement yet. What’s a Raptor?”

“Never mind that now, it’s imperative you blow that thing up as fast as you can.”

“Yes Sir. I’ll relay that to the team I’ve sent. I’d use a missile, but unfortunately, it’s sitting right on top of the tunnel.”

“Actually that’s good, because a missile launch could be detected. We don’t want them to know we are aware that they are here yet."

Commander Tiel frowned, “What about our pilots? Should we at least put them on standby?”

“Yes, get them to their ready rooms. If the Raptor team hasn’t moved yet, then the rest of their forces are still moving in.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Tomiakin out.”

Lissa gained control of the computer system just as the alert signal was sent out to the base. She acknowledged the signal as if she were the computer. However inside the base, no such alert was given. Lissa also discovered the truth about the facilities.

Lissa called Cindy, “Joker Three-One to Joker Three Actual, abort mission and return. We are compromised.”

“Fuck me! What’s your status, three-one?”

“I have a lunar crawler advancing on my position from the direction of the prison. However, the computer system was issued an order to bring the base to full alert. It seems to me that someone should be calling back to verify the order. I am currently searching the base records to see who is supposed to be on duty so I can imitate them. I also found out that there are no civilians or standard Talosian military personnel on that base.”

“So the question becomes, where did they take the people from this base?” Cindy asked.

“The base is under the control of military prisoners from the prison. All regular personnel have been taken to the prison and locked up. In fact, there are only prisoners in the base at present.”

The pause told Lissa that her commander was thinking.

“Fuck me.” Cindy said again. “You better tell Dealer that they know we’re here. We’re on our way back. Can you handle that crawler?”

Lissa chuckled, “No problem, its computer controlled and still seventeen kilometers away. They will have an equipment malfunction in a few more kilometers. It should be a long walk back to the prison.”

“Good, three-three and three-four, did you copy that?” Cindy asked.

“Da, we are also on our way back,” Sasha replied.

“Good, maybe by the time we get back there, ops will have figured a way to get our asses out of this sling.”

Lissa noticed that the computer had been programmed to search for comm channels and had just locked on to her team’s channel. She also found the feed from the strange sensors. While she pondered the new sensors, she compiled a report for command then called it in.

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Rebel Command Post

Location Unknown

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Okay, they’ve started moving in. Have we locked onto the comms yet?” Tomiakin asked.

“No Sir. So far, they haven’t transmitted close enough to one of our listening posts. We are still working on it,” one of the techs replied.

“Good, let me know the minute you get something. That’s how they track their own fighters, so we have to find that channel. Any other energy signatures after the Summer's Eve reported in?”

The man at the comm station turned and shook his head, “Nothing, Sir. It seems they have to be very close for these sensors to work. Perhaps once we lock on to their comms we can maintain a fixed lock on them even if they shift channels.”

“Well, keep working on it. I have to report something to our new ‘President’.” Tomiakin smirked. A round of chuckles ran through the assembled officers. “Alert the other moon base and orbital stations to watch for a Raptor approaching. There can’t be more than four of them, so let’s try to find them before they can cause us mischief." Tomiakin paused and looked at the layout in the holotank. How could a Raptor have already landed on the moon if they didn't detect the hyperspace event of its arrival? It had to have been carried in or it had to have been in the system for a while, and they simply hadn't detected it. He had an uneasy feeling in his stomach. "Get me Commander Roan on the Summer's Eve."

"Sir, I'm not getting a response to hails. However, I can still access all the data feeds from her sensors. They might have had a comm failure, it's not unusual since the AI malfunctions began," the tech reported.

"It would be very odd timing for such a failure, Ensign. See if you can get one of our fighters or other craft out there to verify that. If we lose that base, we're in trouble," Tomiakin ordered.

"Sir, I have reestablished comms with the Summer's Eve. They did have a comm failure. The lieutenant there also reports that Commander Roan is currently away from the bridge dealing with a discipline issue. He asked if you would like for him to call you once he returns to the Bridge," the ensign at the comm terminal asked.

Tomiakin sighed. "No, that won't be necessary. Thank you, Ensign. Good Work."

The tech nodded to his superior and turned back to his station and the task of locating the enemy communications channels.

Very quietly, Tomiakin studied the large hologram in front of him and mumbles; "What are you up to Ian Williams?"

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Star Dancer Command Center

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“The report from the Damocles is troubling, Sir, but not much there is out of line with what we already knew. The interesting part is that the base computer system was actively searching for comm channels and was plugged into a network of energy sensors. We believe they are trying to detect our cloaked ships either by the comm signals or the energy output of the ships. We’ve already ensured they won’t be able to lock on to our comms, but we have no idea how these energy sensors work. If they can lock onto any of our comm channels we believe that they will be able to track us. At that point, it’ll be a stand up boxing match,” Chloe reported. "The same energy sensors were connected to the Summer's Eve sensor network. I've passed on a request for Samuel on the Cherokee to analyze them and let us know what we're facing."

“If it comes to that, we’ll still be able to take the system, but it will mean casualties.” Ian thought for a moment. "Any word from Hephaestus?”

“We issued a hold order on their attack, but told them to proceed with the computer assault. They report that the base has been placed on alert. The computer system recorded a full change in personnel recently. The files on those brought in list them as recently pardoned prisoners as well. Jess reported the same sensors and comms monitoring."

Ian thought for a moment, kicking scenarios around in his mind. “Get me a comm to the Damocles.” Ian ordered. “And tell Hephaestus to proceed with the attack, but not to worry about civilians. If it’ll speed things up, tell them to gas the facility.”

“Joker Three,” Cindy’s voice said a few seconds later.

“Joker Three, this is Queen’s Bishop," Ian called. "Can you isolate the people in the cells from the rest of the population?”

“Part of the prison emergency system is independent air for the cell blocks in the event of an asteroid strike. We can isolate the prison block, but not the cells. Plus there are three civilians in the base vehicle maintenance bay,” Cindy reported.

“I hate to say it, but we can't do much about those three at this point. We're falling behind and we need that base neutralized. Isolate the cell blocks and vent the facility. Once it's clear, release the prisoners, give them any medical treatment they might need, and have Shannon check them out. Give the base back to them, but ask them not to fire on anyone unless fired on first. There has been too much misinformation spread around for any of those folks to trust us, but we can at least give them back their freedom.”

“Understood Bishop, what’s our timeline?” Cindy asked her voice tight.

“Trump card will be played in five moves; Queen’s Bishop to Queen’s Rook Four. Proceed.”

“Joker Three has the deal. We will advise on the next shuffle. Joker Three out," Cindy replied, but was clearly unhappy with her orders.

The operations officer, who had been monitoring the communication so he could take notes and update the overall battle plan, almost jumped when he heard Ian call “King’s Rook Four”. However, he made the notation that Damocles would report after the prisoners were freed (the next shuffle), Then he upgraded the Battle Status to ‘Red’.

Several things happened simultaneously at that point. Commodore Belirus, who would be in charge of actual ship to ship fighting and was present on the Star Dancer as a hologram standing by Ian, was issuing his orders to ready all guns, load all missile tubes, and set master safety to stand-by. Commander Loreen, temporary flight operations chief on the Tiamat, could be heard trying to launch almost a thousand fighters in the shortest possible time, without any of them colliding with each other.

Ian watched the clock as the seeming chaos flowed around him. After five minutes, he looked at Chloe. “They know we’re here. Let’s knock on the door. Play the trump card and engage the sandbags.”

She nodded back to him mutely and issued the orders.

‘Trump card’ was the code word for the initiation of the primary attack. The Raptor teams on the orbital fortresses would begin their assaults. All fighters, including the Condors and Centurions, would begin clearing the system of hostile ships. The cruisers would engage anything too large for the fighters to handle. Also, all the Marine assault teams would be beginning their drop preparations. As soon as they cleared the skies over New Talos, the Marines would be going in hot.

Commodore Belirus saw Ian’s pale complexion and whispered something to one of his AI. She nodded and made contact with Star. Star nodded to her daughter's image and went to the replicator. When she returned, she stood beside her commander. "Sir, Commodore Belirus recommends this for you."

Ian looked up at the older gentlemen in question.

Belirus smiled sadly. “It never gets any easier to give those orders. The only thing you can do is hope that by issuing those orders, you have actually minimized casualties.” He indicated the pills. “Take them, it’ll help settle your stomach.”

Ian mutely slipped the two, small, pink tablets into his mouth and took a sip of water. He nodded his thanks and tried to smile at the older man, but his face just couldn’t make the effort.

Commodore Belirus understood anyway and nodded in acceptance. He turned back to the battle plot and resumed his portion of the fight. Ian resumed his interrupted pacing until the pills settled his stomach.

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Raptor Damocles

House Boden Lunar Facilities

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“How many are left in there, Lissa?” Cindy asked quietly. Since Lissa had a block against killing, Cindy had entered the commands herself from her command computer.

“Just the prisoners and the three guards, Major,” Lissa replied quietly.

“Okay. Get the base drones busy on the dead. Make sure they record the identities of the fallen for identification later. What’s the status on our welcoming party?”

“I have four individuals wearing standard combat armor walking toward us nine kilometers to the south. I told the crawler it had a primary coolant leak. The people are carrying a large quantity of explosives as well as pulse rifles and plasma grenades.”

“Tenacious aren’t they? Let’s get ready to lift and head for the prison. Sasha can take them out as we fly over them. Right now, we have some prisoners to rescue," Cindy ordered. “Can you pump that cell block full of sleep gas?”

“Yes, the riot control systems are still in place,” Lissa replied.

“Okay, let’s pump the block full of sleep gas, put the guards in one of the cells, and open the rest. Once the guards are in a cell, we can wake everyone up. I want to get this over with as soon as I can,” Cindy replied.

As they flew toward the prison, Sasha informed Cindy that the four people were dead. “Lissa, please have one of the drones come and take care of the bodies here, too. We may have to kill them, but I refuse to just leave them out here.”

“Will do. The cell block is asleep, no casualties,” Lissa replied.

“I wish we could have done that to the whole facility. But it would have taken a month to get everyone back where they belong. Please restore atmosphere to everywhere but the cell block,” Cindy ordered.

Lissa nodded, even though Cindy couldn’t see her. “I am also instructing the drones to gather the weapons in a central location to be returned to the armory.”

“Good thinking, thank you. We’ve arrived people. Let’s go.”

The scene inside the prison was a nightmare. Bodies, most of them exploded by the sudden loss of pressure, seemed to be everywhere. Cindy tightened her jaw and marched through the corridors, trying to ignore all the death she had caused. However, her mind was recording everything, looking at every detail. Her training keeping her looking in every nook for a hidden assailant even though Lissa had told her the area was secure. As a result, she would see these faces in her nightmares for months.

When they had at last reached the office acting as an airlock for the cell block in question, Lissa had informed them that atmosphere had been restored, but recommended they keep their suits sealed for now; the drones hadn’t cleaned the area yet.

Cindy’s team entered the cell block and closed the door behind them. Since the sleep gas was still in the air, they continued with sealed suits. They found the three guards, disarmed them and dragged them to an empty cell. Once the door closed, Lissa pumped the sleep gas out of the room. It was then that Cindy noticed no one had actually spoken since they left the Damocles.

While they waited for people to begin waking, Cindy keyed the intercom. “Everyone okay?”

“Yeah, just trying to deal with everything. Cindy, anyone of us would have done the exact same thing you did; these bastards deserved what happened to them,” Jerry replied.

“I’m more worried about you, Cindy.  Are you okay?” Shannon asked.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘okay' with this. But I’ll be able to deal with it. What choice do I have?” Cindy answered.

Sasha walked up to her, “Major, you simply did what was needing to be done, da?  As Jerry has said, you did the right thing." The woman put her gauntleted hand on Cindy's shoulder. "We are a team, we are with you Mishka. We are here if you every need us.”

Cindy smiled at the woman as they heard a groan coming from one of the open cells. Since Lissa had reported the gas had cleared, the team had removed their helmets and Shannon had been walking among the former prisoners, moving from cell to cell, using her mental ability to make sure of them while they slept.

“Jerry, check that out will you?” Cindy asked. “Lissa,” she said over the comm, “How many people are in here?”

“One thousand nine hundred and forty two, counting the three former guards. With ten tiers of cells, and room for two hundred and fifty per tier, that block could hold twenty-five hundred. I have no way to know how full the prison was, since the data was wiped from the local computers, and I am unable to contact the primary system on New Talos."

“That’s fine, I think I have an idea of where most of the ex-prisoners are. What was the compliment for the base before this started?”

“It was a relatively small facility, three shifts of roughly one hundred, plus the training command and the cadets; nine hundred and twelve total.” Lissa answered; the curiosity plain in her voice.

“Was the other moon base the same size?” Cindy asked.

“No, it is much larger, since it was the primary fighter training academy. I have no direct information, but I would guess it to have been at least two thousand personnel.”

“So where are the rest of the people?” Cindy asked. “We have nineteen hundred and thirty nine here, we are missing another thousand."

“Perhaps they are being held somewhere else, da?” Sasha asked.

“I hope you’re right,” Cindy said. "Lissa make sure Jessica is aware of this."

“Major?” Jerry called.

Cindy stood from her seat on the steps to the second tier and walked down to were Jerry had gone. The tiers were numbered from top to bottom, tier ten being well below surface level.

She found him nine cells to the left. “What’s up?”

“This is Lt. Colonel Brast. He was second in command of the base. He asked to speak with you,” Jerry replied, introducing the tired looking officer.

“Thank you for rescuing us, Major. I’m afraid Colonel Sain was killed about a week ago. So I guess that leaves me in charge of the survivors. May I ask what’s going on out there?"

Cindy quickly told the story of the insurrection and the supposed reasons for it. By the time she had finished her tale, a good portion of the remaining population had awakened.

“You took the base and the prison with five troops? I’m surprised they even let you get near this place in a shuttle,” the man said.

“We arrived in a Raptor not a shuttle Sir. We are from Sol Sector. During their recent visit to our main base, Councilor Noren and Admiral Goya entered into a mutual defense treaty with us. When we learned of the trouble here, we gathered what forces we could and here we are,” Cindy replied.

“I’ve never heard of a Raptor but I'd heard something about a House Herecin colony that was rebelling; was that you folks?" the man asked.

"We are not now, nor have we ever been, a part of the Talosian Alliance, Sir. Until last year, we didn't even know you folks had survived the destruction of Talos." She gave him as brief a history as she could, but she needed to convince this man that Terran forces were not there to take over.

The man shook his head and sighed. "We have been told an entirely different story. Councilor Noren and her faction in the High Council have been systematically lying to the population in order to take control away from the Ruling Council. The last we heard, Admiral Goya was allied with her, but most of us couldn't believe it. But of more immediate concern to us right now is, how do I know I can trust you?"

“I have no easy answer for you, Sir. I guess you’ll just have to make up your mind about that on your own. We won’t force you to do anything against your beliefs, however, we need you to take command of these people and the base, because there is still a fight going on out there and we need to get back in it,” Cindy told him.

“You’re giving us the base? How do you know you can trust us? We could just start shooting down everything; after all if what you’ve told us is true, We have no way of knowing what’s a friendly craft and what isn’t.”

Cindy smiled at the man. “I'd be very surprised if you could even target any of our ships. However, I have been asked by Admiral Williams to request that after you retake command of the base, to hold fire on everything unless fired on first. We will not attack you once we know you are safe. As for what side to take in this battle, I would advise not taking any at this point. Our mission is to simply restore the peace and ensure the freedom of the people. After that, it will be up to them to determine who is to blame for what. We will remain long enough to make sure you are protected and that the people are once again in charge. So, are you ready to take command, Sir?”

“Absolutely, let’s go," the man said and stood.

Cindy walked with him back to the top of tier one, where he stood at the railing and yelled to the people emerging from the cells. He quickly outlined what was going on and why. When he called for people to man the base with him, so many people shouted their willingness that he turned to Cindy and grinned. “I assume that you took control of the central computer system. Will there be a problem assuming command once we get over there?”

Lissa had told Cindy she had already made Brast the authorized commander in the computer system. “No, Sir. We’ve already programmed you as the lawful commander. The base is yours, Colonel,” she said as she saluted him.

Lieutenant Colonel Brast recognized the formality and returned the salute. “Thank you, Major. We’ll head over there right away. Please inform the Admiral I will contact him as soon as we are operational.”

“Will do, Colonel. Good luck.” She keyed her intercom, “Team, let’s get back to the boat. We have some catching up to do.” With a nod to the new commander, she turned and headed for the door to await her team.

Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

Glamia looked up to check on her Master as she did from time to time during the day. However, this time, there was something different. At first, she couldn't put her finger on it, but when she did, fear almost froze her in place. She quickly scrambled out of her chair and dropped to the floor in supplication.

Shalo looked at her in wonder, what in all the hells was wrong with her now? He did notice that she seemed to be facing slightly to the side instead of directly towards him. When he turned, he finally understood. The Imperial throne that sat behind him was occupied.

Shalo immediately knelt as well and bowed his head to his Emperor.

"Get up Shalo, we would speak with you," he said.

"You honor us, Majesty," Shalo replied as he stood.

"We are concerned, Shalo. We have learned that you have ordered the construction of three new gates. Such technology is restricted and must never be allowed to fall into the hands of our enemies. So tell us why you are doing this."

"Majesty, as you know, the war here has stalled. The worlds we are fighting for are taking too much damage. A new strategy was needed. This new strategy will also give us the ability to locate the new human world much faster, and when we do, we will be able to crush them before any help can arrive," Shalo explained.

"Tell us this new strategy you have come up with. The creation of the gates is a large risk, we must determine if your plan is worth the risk."

"As you command, Majesty," Shalo bowed again and turned slightly. "Glamia! Assist me!"

Grabbing the tablet she had used for the previous briefing, she ran to Shalo's side and got to her knees. As Shalo began explaining the details of his plan, Glamia would produce the appropriate images and data.

"As you can see, Majesty, the new gates will never be unprotected. I have also ordered massive self-destruct systems added to them. If they are ever threatened, they will be destroyed before any enemy could even get close to them," Shalo explained. "I had another reason for wanting them placed here; we have been able to narrow the location of the new human group to ten sectors in the Gamma Quadrant. Using the gate to deliver our probes will be far quicker and more accurate in locating their base. A thousand new probes are being assembled at this moment and once the first gate is in place and operational, I will order the search to begin."

The Emperor sat in silence for a moment, contemplating what he had been told. "It is a bold plan, Shalo. One worthy of your reputation and the reason we sent you there. Very well, you have indeed taken steps to protect gate technology." He fell silent again. "We will allow this. You are, after all, only doing that which we asked of you. We will seek guidance with the Priests on this matter."

Shalo bowed his head in acknowledgment of his Lords will, but when he looked up again, the Emperor was gone.

"You can get up now, we are alone," Shalo said. "You did well."

"Thank you, Master." Glamia said as she got to her feet.

"Why did you panic when he appeared? Surely you have seen him before when he addressed previous Overlords," Shalo asked.

"I have never seen him before, Master. He has never appeared like this, here," she said, meekly. "He never spoke directly to your predecessors."

"I see," Shalo replied. "I am truly honored, then."

"Indeed, you must be a Great Lord to be so trusted by His Majesty," Glamia replied. "Our Clans will be well inspired to hear of this."

"I am nothing more than a servant of his will, Glamia, as are we all, there is nothing here to tell," Shalo replied as he sat back at his desk and resumed his work.

Glamia watched him for a moment before bowing her head and returning to her own desk.

Chapter 11

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Rebel Military Command Post

Location Unknown

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“What the...” the tech exclaimed when his board lit up.

“What have you got, Comm?” Tomiakin asked.

“I can’t say, Sir. I had multiple contacts a moment ago, but then they just disappeared. I didn’t get a lock.” The man began typing rapidly on his keyboard. “I’m instructing the computer to interface the new sensors into the comm computer. We’ll get them, Sir. However, there were a lot of contacts. If those weren’t sensor ghosts, I’d say they’ve deployed fighters.”

Tomiakin trusted his people’s judgments. He knew that they knew what they were doing, so when the officer told him his opinion, Tomiakin acted on it. “Have the Summer's Eve go to full alert and weapons free. Get the moon bases to red alert and bring the missiles online. Activate planetary defenses. Has Tiel reported a status on that Raptor he found?”

“No Sir, since Commander Tiel's last communication, there's been nothing,” the tech reported. "Also, we have heard nothing from the Summer's Eve since that comm glitch. I did get an acknowledgment of the order I just issued, but nothing from any of the people there."

Tomiakin narrowed his eyes. "Get me Commander Roan, immediately, I need to speak to him. Don't accept any excuses."

The tech turned back and tried to hail the Summer's Eve. Tomiakin stood right behind him and listened to his efforts.

"Command, this is the Summer's Eve. I'm sorry, but the Commander is not available at the moment. I will have him call in as soon as he returns," a pleasant voice replied.

Tomiakin leaned forward and pressed the transmit button. "Listen, this is Admiral Tomiakin, I don't care if he's taking a shit I want him on this comm now! Do you understand me?"

"Yes, I understand you, Commander Tomiakin. However, he isn't in the head at the moment; he's in the morgue with the rest of his crew. As well as the murderers and rapists you freed from the House prisons to use as soldiers. My Commander is currently busy trying to give aid and comfort to all the wounded and traumatized survivors we recently freed from your commander's control. There are a lot of wounded, so I imagine it will take some time. You're welcome to hold for her if you wish," Samuel replied.

"What? Just who the hell are you?" Tomiakin asked.

"I am Officer Samuel Dancer of the Raptor Cherokee, Terran Defense Forces. I feel it only fair that I inform you that I am authorized to accept your immediate and unconditional surrender, Commander," Samuel replied reasonably.

"The hell you say!" Tomiakin yelled back.

"Sir, with respect for the officer you used to be and as a person, I implore you to stop this; innocent people are being needlessly brutalized by the persons you are using as troops. For their sake, let us help find a peaceful solution to this issue! Please, help us stop this needless violence!" Samuel implored. The call was being heard over the speakers in the cabin instead of just Tomiakin's personal headset, so everyone of the people in the command center heard the request and the reasons for it.

"I will not listen to your lies any longer! I don't know what you've been told, but we are working to free the people of New Talos from an oppressive regime that was intent on controlling them. No one is getting brutalized any longer! We have freed them from that!" Tomiakin replied trying to support the story his command staff had been told.

"Really? I suppose the three thousand survivors of this station tripped and bumped into the bulkheads? What about the events happening right now in the civilian sectors of New Talos? Sir, all you need do is tune in any of the peace monitors and see what is happening to the population. We haven’t been there yet, so you can't twist that and place the blame on us. Those troops are wearing your uniforms, Commander. They are operating on your orders," Samuel replied calmly.

"So? You've had one of your pet AI create horrible vids and put them in place of the real ones. You are trying to bring your rebellion to New Talos to aid your allies on the old high council and I will not stand for it! We are done speaking, Terran!" Tomiakin replied and hit the button to cut the channel.

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. His staff had heard the accusations and were looking to him for an explanation. "Now you see how far they are willing to go to control us! I can only hope to hell that those vids they are talking about are really computer sims and not videos of what they are really doing to our people!" Tomiakin said. "Now, get back to work, we have to stop these people before more of our people get hurt."

"Sir, there is no response from either moon base. Wait!" he listened for a moment. "Sir, three of the orbital forts are reporting that they have been boarded! No craft were detected at all! They are requesting reinforcements!"

"Fuck! This is going to hell too fast!" Tomiakin replied and went back to his battle tank. "Order General Orswan to send two companies to each of the stations that need it. Damn it! I knew we needed more troops on the stations! What are our fighters doing?"

"I have an isolated incident report that could be a possible engagement, Sir, but nothing else. So far, they have nothing to shoot at," another of the techs reported.

"If those assholes have deployed fighters, then the ships are in this system! Find them, or we'll lose the whole fucking battle!"

The techs all appeared to get back to work, but they were also talking to each other. All of them felt something was going on, the 'Admiral' was reacting too strongly to the accusations made by the Terran. Was there really only three thousand survivors at the mining station? If so what happened to them? Did these Terrans kill them?

One of the techs said he would access Elysium's Constabulary video logs from a week ago. They knew that was well before the Terrans had arrived, and the video should still be unaltered. What he found was vids taken at the Council building showing the assault being made by House Herecin and Bjorin troops.

Several members of Grand Council were literally dragged out of the building and shot by the house troops. He dug a little deeper and found one somewhat grainy vid from inside the building. He backed it up to the point when the Council meeting began and watched the events unfold. He was stunned by what he saw, saved the vid to his local system, and then forwarded it to the rest of the staff, including the operations officer that was helping to issue Tomiakin's orders. The two pilots sitting in the cockpit of the specially modified shuttle were fiercely loyal to Tomiakin.

However, before all of them had been able to review the vid, their consoles all began to light up.

“Sir! I have a positive lock in the enemy. Oh my god,” the officer spoke the last almost quietly enough to not be overheard.

Tomiakin was quickly behind the man running the sensor station. “What? Tell me what you’ve found.”

The man pointed to his screen as he described what the computer already told him. “Sir, the computer has tagged over twenty-three hundred individual signals. Fifteen of which are large enough to be cruiser class. Four of them are even larger!"

“Give me a tactical in the tank!” Tomiakin ordered. The large display changed to a tactical view of surrounding space with New Talos at the center. As Tomiakin watched, the icons for the moon bases and the orbital stations were displayed as yellow instead of the green indicating friendly forces.

“Why are the moon bases and the stations in yellow?” Tomiakin asked.

“Because we seem to have lost contact with them Sir," one of the techs replied. "I'm trying to get more information on them."

“Oh, this is not happening.” Tomiakin said mostly to himself. “Okay, we still have planetary defenses and the fighter squadrons. We have targets, so let's start blowing them up! Full attack. Alert General Haus of the possibility he will be attacked and to activate the city defenses. Do we have a status on the Antares squadrons?"

"They are still on the ground, Sir, the Adonis is still over the base," was the reply.

"It's going to be hell, but we need those fighters. Order Antares base to attack and destroy the Adonis, have two fighter squadrons remain to assist while the rest get to New Talos as fast as they can. If we have any ships in the area that are not engaged with something else, have them assist the base with the destruction of the Adonis," Tomiakin ordered.

“Orders sent, those fighters should be in range of the planet in twenty minutes. Two corvettes are moving to assist Antares,” the operations officer replied as he turned to walk away.

"Where are you going?" Tomiakin asked impatiently.

The officer put a hand on his stomach. "Bad lunch, Sir. I need to use the head. I have my earbud in, I'll still be able to work."

Tomiakin nodded. It was poor timing, but he had to admit, if it was going to happen, this would be the time. "Hurry back, I'm going to need you now more than ever."

The officer nodded and turned away. "I'll do my best, Sir."

“Good! It’s time we showed Ian Williams his place,” Tomiakin said confidently.

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Star Dancer Command Center

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Admiral we have activity at Antares Base, their weapons systems just went hot, and they appear to be readying to launch fighters,” Chloe reported.

“Well, it took them long enough. Inform the wings that chances are good they'll be getting more playmates from the base. Relay the tracking information to weapons control. Ready the ground forces. Queen’s Bishop to King’s Knight Four – check.” Ian ordered.

Jenny nodded and began issuing orders, “Navigation, set coarse one-four-seven. Speed; point four. Put us in high orbit, rig for non-nuclear orbital bombardment. Weapons officer, keep the flies off our back.”

“Joker Three to Queen’s Bishop. Shuffle in progress.” Cindy’s voice issued over the speakers.

“Copy that Joker Three. You’re running behind. Queen’s Bishop to King’s Knight four – check.” Ian told her.

“Understood. White King’s Rook will be in contact. Will-call for Queen’s Knight. Joker Three out.”

Ian got Chloe’s attention. “Queen’s Knight to stand-by.” She nodded and turned away. Ian walked to the replicator near the rear of the cavernous operations center to get a cup of coffee for himself and Jenny. Damocles should be in route to Admiral Goya’s position. Once she gets there and has secured the area, she'll call for the two shuttles and two escorting shadow fighters, Queen’s Knight, to extract the High Council and High Command survivors.

An excited ensign from the operations group came running up to him. “Admiral! Joker Two reports capturing the newly appointed ‘President’ aboard the station! They also report about a hundred civilians present. There were four civilian casualties during the capture of the station. They have left the Marine detachment and are heading for their next target.”

“Excellent! Now if we can just find their command center, we should be able to stop this,” Ian said as he returned to his place by the holotank. He handed the cup of coffee to Jenny and asked Chloe the status on the other three Raptor teams assigned to the fortresses.

“Joker One is finishing up and estimates they’ll be heading out in about twenty minutes. Joker Four is having problems though. The enemy soldiers are in combat suits and using the civilians as human shields. The onboard computer system has been tampered with to the point that what Sonya has gotten control of is little more than an information source. They’ve lost one team member and two Marines. No count on the number of civilians lost but Major Raist knows of at least five dead,” she reported.

“Any way we can shift some help to them?” Ian asked as he looked up at the tactical display to evaluate the positions of his forces.

The operations officer began, “We could shift a platoon of Marines over to them...”

“Sir!" A young male lieutenant yelled. Both Ian and Chloe looked to the portion of the display the man had pointed to. The icon for the orbital station that Joker Four had been assaulting was fading in the expanding circle denoting an explosion. “Confirmed. 30 kiloton detonation. It must have been the station’s reactor.”

“Damn.” Ian said softly, his voice tight and strained. “Operations, warn the other Raptor teams.” He brought up the list of objectives for the assorted elements of this operation.

Raptor Cornelius, Joker Four, was to have disabled the city defenses and gather what intel they could at Elysium. A battalion of Marines were to land and assault the garrison that was in control there. Once again Ian thanked whatever deity that was watching over his shoulder that the Marines had been sent back with the cruisers.

However, now those Marines would most likely be shot down while attempting to land. Something had to be done about that. Raptor Damocles had only been assigned the rescue of Admiral Goya’s group because it was determined that they wouldn’t be able to shift over fast enough. Well, they would have to do something about that.

“Joker Three, this is Queen’s Bishop.”

“Joker Three.” Cindy answered.

“Joker Four is gone. We need you to take their assignments. Think you can pull it off?” Ian asked.

After a few minutes pause, Cindy replied, “Affirmative. Launch Queen’s Knight. Please make the appointment with the Queen in seven moves.”

“Queen’s Bishop out,” Ian replied.

Ian looked up and in a loud voice he said, “Launch Queen’s Knight.” He then switched over to a comm channel Goya’s people would be monitoring.

“Williams to Goya, priority immediate.”

A few seconds went by and Ian was about to repeat the hail when it was finally answered and an image of Admiral Goya was projected into the tank.

“Goya here, How’s the weather out there Ian?” Goya asked.

“Nasty storms all over the place. How quickly can you pack?" Ian asked.

Goya nodded. “We already have. I take it our flight is about to land?”

“Yes Sir. Damocles will be there very soon, and your ride will arrive shortly after that. We’re not showing any enemy elements in your area, but that could change quickly. We need everyone off the ground in twenty minutes.”

“Understood. We’ll be ready.”

“Admiral,” someone in operations called, “we’re showing a shuttle taking off from Talos City space port. It looks to be heading for Admiral Goya’s position.”

“That was quick. Tag it and inform Joker Four and Queen’s Knight.” Ian turned back to Goya.

“We heard. We’ll be ready. Goya out.”

Chloe was waiting for Ian. “The Adonis is under heavy attack by Antares base, two squadrons of fighters as well as the surface to space weapons are being used on them. Two Corvettes seem to be joining the fun as well. So far, the Adonis hasn't taken any damage, she's launching her fighters and is about to fire on the base. Analysis of the attack indicates a diversionary tactic in order to keep the Adonis attention away from the rest of the fighters from the base. One full squadron has already slipped past them and is on its way here. There are only about sixty enemy fighters and Centurions remaining, not counting however many Antares is going to launch," she reported.

Ian nodded. "White King to Kings Rook two, Black King to Queen's Rook one - Check," Ian smiled. "Remind them Adonis has chosen to remain Actively Neutral." The two 'Kings' were the two Talosian Cruisers. King's Rook was Antares Base, and Queen's Rook was New Talos. Which meant that one of the Talosian cruisers would assist the Adonis in keeping Antares base out of the fight. The other cruiser would proceed to planetary orbit of New Talos and free the cities it had been assigned to assault.

“If all the enemy forces are former prisoners, why don't they try to run or escape? They have to know they've lost by now,” Chloe said.

"It wouldn't do them any good. They are all tagged with transponders. No matter where they go, they will be found. It's a hell of an incentive to want to keep fighting," Ian replied. "I suppose we could have used the transponders to help locate them as well, but how can we be sure that all of the enemy troops are convicts? Either way, they're going to put up one hell of a fight."

“I believe you’re right, Commander. But the only thing we can do is to try to kill or recapture them. I'll pass that little tidbit of information to the Marine commanders so they can be prepared. I don’t think these enemy ‘marines’ are going to want to surrender easily,” Chloe suggested.

Ian nodded and looked back into the holotank.

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Raptor Damocles

House Boden Lunar Facilities

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Joker Three, this is Dealer. You have an inbound shuttle from Talos City, vector two-one-nine, angels one-zero, speed point zero-one-four.”

“Copy Dealer, we are changing to heading two-one-nine and going quiet. Time to intercept four-five seconds. Mark!” Cindy switched to her intercom. “Full stealth! Master safety off. Sasha we have a shuttle full of bad guys trying to beat us to our prize. Acquire target forward, angels one-zero, head on. Intercept in three-zero seconds. Weapons free, clear to engage.”

“Target acquired, this will be easy; they aren’t even trying to hide.”

“Sasha wait!” Cindy called. “Lissa, scan for cloaked craft or anything that could be a cloaked craft.”

Very shortly Lissa said, “Sasha, look down.”

Moving through the valley below the Damocles, was a ‘wind wake’ that would normally be caused by an aircraft moving at high speed too close to the ground. “Computer says the profile suggests a Centurion. Transferring target lock to weapons system.”

“Hard lock for missiles. Firing!” Sasha reported. “First target hard lock for guns, firing!” Moments later two explosions echoed through the valley triggering an avalanche on a nearby mountain slope.

“Dealer, this is Joker Three. Splash two hostiles, continuing mission," Cindy reported

“Good work Joker Three, Queen’s Knight is arriving at the palace," Cindy heard Chloe reply.

“Joker Three is in route, ETA zero-three.” Cindy reported as she switched the weapons safety back to stand-by. Over the intercom she said, “Ladies and gentleman, we will be landing in three minutes. I’ve switched on the fasten seatbelts sign so please take your seats and extinguish all smoking materials.”

“Well, we rescued the High Councilors, what’s next?” Jerry asked.

“We are to proceed as fast as possible to Elysium to disable the city’s defenses so the Marines can land,” Cindy answered.

“I thought that was Cornelius’s mission,” Sasha asked.

“It was.” Cindy said, sadly. “Get geared up for urban assault. We’ll be down in fifteen.”

As Lissa flew the Raptor toward Elysium, Cindy gave the rest of her team a quick briefing on the mission objective, which was the defense control center located next to the main security building.

“We can breach the city shield here,” She pointed to a spot on the holographic map showing an underground, intra-city maglev train. “We will insert here at this automated maintenance and switching station. Lissa will instruct the computer to stop the train for an emergency repair, which a drone will carry out. Since the system is automated the trains themselves haven’t been stopped during martial law. They simply closed the stations so no one can use them. However, we can’t just get on the train since they are monitored with video surveillance and we would be noticed leaving the station. So, we are going to anchor ourselves to the back of the train and ride it to the mid-city station, just two blocks from our main objective. I want everyone to triple check that anchoring, if you come free during transit even this armor won’t be able to protect you very much. That train travels at roughly five hundred miles an hour through a sealed tube in a near-vacuum.

“Once we arrive at our destination, we will enter the underground utility tunnels and proceed to our target. There are automatic low powered lasers near our exit for rodent control. Those lasers are controlled by the defense control computer, so Lissa won’t be able to shut them off. The control computer itself is isolated from the rest of the planetary network and has no external means of access; which is why we have to go in and shut it down. Since the defenses have been activated, expect to find civilians running the system, but enemy guards running them. The civilians are not to be considered targets. We capture the control center, lower the defenses, and then hold it until team Elysium relieves us. Any questions?”

“Yes Major, two,” Sasha said. “First, do we assume the civilians are friendly, and second, how will be able to tell the enemy from team Elysium members?"

“Don’t trust anyone. However we need to give the civilians the benefit of the doubt. As for the team Elysium members, they will be wearing Sol Sector armor. It’s similar to ours in design, but doesn’t have the extra electronics pack we have below our primary. You should be able to tell them apart easily. Anything else?”

“Yeah, why don’t we just use our jump packs and fly down the tunnel? No offense, but I really don’t like the sound of falling off the train," Jerry said.

“Two reasons. The first is that the tunnel has a shield in it too, one which only opens to allow the trains to get through. The second is our packs can only move us at two hundred miles an hour. The next train will hit us doing relatively three hundred miles an hour before we could reach the next station. Now we need to finish getting ready; we’re getting close.”

The sun was setting behind the coastal mountains as Cindy and her team walked out of the Damocles. As they approached the door to the underground facility, it slid open.

“Major, the train will be here in two minutes. I’ve told the computer that there is a potential fault in the rear magnetic stabilizer. It has reported the failure to the main control computer, so it can slow the next train. You’ll have about six minutes to get hooked on for the ride,” Lissa reported.

“Good work, Lissa. Please inform command once we depart the station,” Cindy replied. “Let’s move it, people, we have a train to catch.”

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Star Dancer Command Center

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Ian glanced up at his office balcony overlooking the command deck. Ian saw the surviving Council members and their assistants were watching his every move. Chloe had detailed a young ensign to give the Talosian leaders a full briefing on the operation and what remained to be done. The Council expressed their concern that the convicts set free by the rebels would begin the wholesale killing of the populace.

Ian had to assure them that they were doing everything in their power to make sure that didn't happen. Once the fighting was under better control, and as he could spare the troops, they would be rounding up all the convicts using the implanted transponders. They even had a backup plan in place if they had somehow found a way to hide or silence the implant. None of the monsters now loose on New Talos would remain free for long.

“Sir, the Raptor teams have disabled the defenses for the major cities. The Marines are moving in. There has been heavy resistance, but the new armor is reducing our casualties. Elysium is now under our control, and they are working out to the outer areas and residential communities. The central areas and main computer systems are back under control. However, we are recapturing prisoners at a rate faster than we can transport them back to prison. A lot of them have simply lain down their arms and surrendered,” Chloe reported.

“Maybe we should shorten the trip?” Someone asked quietly. Ian looked around, but couldn’t identify the source of the comment. He could understand the sentiment, considering the horrors all of them had witnessed, but this was dangerous ground and he thought he should say something.

“Okay folks, listen up. We are soldiers. Our purpose is to protect those that have given themselves into our care. We are not members of the judiciary or constabulary branch. We are military. Once those enemies we are fighting lay down their weapons they, too, become our responsibility, just as any other member of society. It is not for us to judge them, nor is it our duty to execute them for what they have done. If we began doing that, then we become no better than they are. I know what you have seen angers you. I know that the evidence we’ve gathered of the things they’ve done while in control of this planet are atrocious. But if we let that anger gain control of us and we take it upon ourselves break the trust of those who have surrendered, how can our own people trust that we won’t do the same thing to them? How can you trust the rest of us not to do the same thing to you?" he paused and looked at them.

“That these people have committed horrendous acts seems clear. But at this time and in this place, it is not, nor has it ever been, our purpose, nor is it our duty, to decide their guilt.” Ian pointed to the gallery full of intently listening leaders. “It is for those men and women, up there in the observation lounge, to decide how to handle these prisoners. It is our duty to keep and protect the prisoners until the time their leaders can decide how to handle them. Be proud knowing that you are good enough not to let these prisoners turn you into one of them and that you are deserving of the trust placed in you by the rest of our people. If we broke that trust, we would not only betray our people, but we would betray and dishonor those who have given their lives in service to us. I would rather die than allow that to happen.” Ian paused for a moment. “Now, operations, recall Bronze squadron and get them a ride down to the planet. Have them grab some of those civilian shuttles to help transfer the prisoners. If you need more, then recall another squadron. But don’t pull in any more than that. We have to assume 'Admiral' Tomiakin is still out there, and we don’t know if he has any more surprises for us.”

Admiral Goya, who had been sitting beside Noren up on the balcony, stood and began clapping. Jenny followed suit and shortly the entire bridge was on its feet, along with all the observers in the gallery.

Ian blushed slightly as he realized how what he said must have sounded. He turned, looked up at the gallery and saluted. When he broke the salute he allowed the applause to continue for a moment then held up his hands for quiet. When the applause died, he said, “Thank you, but we still have a job to do. Let’s get back to work folks.”

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Rebel Military Command Post

Location Unknown

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Far away, on another planet closer to the system’s primary, Ian’s speech was heard by the people monitoring communications for Tomiakin. Though not one of them said anything, Ian William’s words had touched them. It was becoming more and more clear to them they had been indeed lied to, but not by the High Council or High Command.

“Admiral, all our forces have either been destroyed, have deserted, or are surrendering. What are your orders?” The lieutenant asked.

“Radio silence, Lieutenant. Please inform the pilot to take off and proceed to the coordinates I gave him earlier. I’ll be in the hold.” As he spoke he drew a shiny, metallic card out of his breast pocket. “I want to be notified when we get there.”

As the door closed behind him, Tomiakin’s small group of people looked at each other.

A short ensign manning one of the operations terminals spoke first. “He’s insane, we can’t let him do this.”

“How can we stop him? He didn’t allow any weapons to be brought on board,” Ensign Annis said.

"I brought my side arm, Lieutenant. That's what I got when I went to the bathroom earlier. I wanted to make sure about this before I killed him. The problem is the pilot; he'll know what happened the moment I fire this," Lieutenant Commander Codius replied.

“But does the pilot know what that mad man is doing? That's a fucking gravimetric bomb back there!" Lieutenant Joanus said.

“I'm sure he does; that pilot is fanatically loyal to the Admiral. There is no way we could convince him the Admiral has lost it. Does anyone know how to fly one of these things?” Sr. Lieutenant Raso asked and looked at the Lt. Commander.

Codius shook his head. "I'm not a flight officer, I never got my pilot's rating."

“Why do we need to be able to fly? We can just call for help. We are talking about surrendering aren’t we?” Joanus asked.

Codius answered him, “Because, if the Admiral doesn’t feel this ship take off soon, he’ll get suspicious. Once that happens, it’s good-bye solar system. Annis, go tell the pilot the Admiral has ordered us to fly to...” He paused to consult the map. “One-four-nine by zero-three-nine by two-two-one. Tell him to remain cloaked. If he asks why, tell him we have lost our comm satellites, and we need to get out there to be able to listen in. Joanus, call Admiral Williams and inform him of our situation; maybe he’ll have an answer.”

Joanus did just that, as he was telling the young Admiral their situation, he felt the small shuttle lift off and head for space.

"Thank you for calling and asking for help Lieutenant. That will certainly help you and your team, but we need to get you out of that mess first. Do you know if Tomiakin has armed that nightmare yet?" Ian asked.

"I don't think so, Sir, we haven't gotten any gravimetric warnings yet. I think he's waiting for us to get to where he wanted us to go. Sir, if he gets that thing armed, you're going to have to destroy us aren't you?" the lieutenant asked.

"Lieutenant, once that thing is armed, destroying you would most likely detonate it. Is there only the one pilot in the cockpit?" Ian asked.

"Yes Sir, the Admiral said we wouldn't need anyone else," Joanus replied.

"Joanus, one of you is going to have to kill the pilot then either kill or incapacitate Tomiakin. Leave a comm channel open to us, and we can bring you in under remote control. I'm willing to bet that pilot has the ability to detonate that bomb as well. If you can knock them both out without the other knowing it; that would be great, but you should probably do it soon," Ian replied.

"Understood, Sir, we'll call you back as soon as we have it taken care of," Joanus asked.

"Have what taken care of Lieutenant?" Tomiakin asked from the rear hatch. "Just who were you talking to?"

Joanus was about to answer when Codius spun and cracked Tomiakin in the back of the head with his pistol. Admiral Tomiakin dropped to the floor like a bag of mud. However, that wasn't what caused the scanner and sensor techs to jump out of their chairs.

"Gravimetric alert! The bomb just went active!" Annis cried.

Chapter 12

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Shadow Fighter Bronze Five

Pilot code name 'Houdini'

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

The after-battle patrol was a nice quiet blessing after the insanity of space fighter combat. Houdini and his 'rear-seater' co-pilot Shasta, along with their wing mates, were doing a sweep of the second planet when their alarms began going off.

"Gravimetric event warning, Houdini! It's coming from a small shuttle that just lifted off from the planet," Shasta said, shutting down the alarms.

"I see it, Shas! Lemme call it in," Houdini said and switch over to the command channel. "Dealer this is Wild Card zero-five nova priority!"

"We know about it, Wild Card. We're just trying to figure out what to do about it," flight operations replied.

Well duh! Houdini thought to himself. "We have a visual on the target carrying the ball. We're closing in," Houdini said.

"Wild Card, do not engage target! Weapons fire could detonate the bomb. Assume escort positions, but do not engage!" Flight ordered.

"Understood, we are assuming escort formation with the shuttle. Any idea how long we have left?" Houdini asked calmly.

"We're working on it, stand-by, Houdini." A male voice said.

"Shit that was Admiral Williams!" Shasta said.

"Not really a big surprise, Shas, I would hope he's at least a little worried about this," Houdini replied. He changed over to the channel he shared with his wing mates. "Spider, you and spud jump back to the barn. Control just recalled all non-essential craft."

"Uh huh, we heard it, but we ain't going, if you aren't. Nice try Houdini," came the reply.

"Wild Card this is Guardian. We've gained control of the shuttle. In a minute, we're going to blow the hold and push that bastard out the back. You're going to have to grab it and drag it into hyperspace. That'll keep it from detonating until it drops back out. So, you'll take it in, accelerate to maximum and let it go. You are then to change course and come home. Do you understand?" Ian ordered.

"With respect, Sir, you and I both know that isn't going to work. The second we drop that egg and it leaves our hyperspace field, it'll hit normal space and good bye sector. Just tell me how far away it needs to be," Houdini asked. "Also, if I eject my co-pilot, can you retrieve her?"

"Don't you fucking dare! You need me to maintain a lock on that son of a bitch while we're in hyperspace dumb-ass, or your plan won't work, Shasta replied hotly. She engaged the tractor beam as the bomb was shot out the rear of the shuttle.

“Houdini, this is Guardian. Theoretical minimum safe distance is 15 light years. Do you know what you’re doing Houdini?”

“Yes sir, I think I know exactly what I’m doing. The warhead will detonate as soon as it reenters normal space. Do you have a preferred place you want this thing dropped?”

After a long pause, Ian replied, “Yes Rick, we do. Stand by for navigation program upload. Good luck to you both and... thank you.” The last was said softly.

“Rick?” Shasta said from the rear seat.

“Yes, Ellie?”

“We aren’t going to survive this are we?” the young woman asked.

“No, probably not,” Rick replied.

She was silent for a minute. “I love you, Rick.”

“I love you too, Baby. We’ll get plenty of time to tell each other that over and over again. This trip will take us at least eight days. Stand by for hyperspace interface.”

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Raptor Damocles

City of Elysium, Defense Control Center

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Cindy was sitting on the steps of the defense control center enjoying the beautifully warm Talosian morning. She was beginning to think about sneaking up to the roof to do some sunbathing when she noticed a young girl of about nine or ten years slowly walking toward her.

“Ma’am, can I talk to you?” The young girl asked, hesitantly.

Considering what the little girl must have been going through over the last few weeks, Cindy thought this must border on the heroic. The little girl was cute, and to draw attention to herself like this would have been an invitation for very bad things.

“Of course you can, sweetheart. What can I do for you?” Cindy replied.

The little girl quickly finished her approach, making the guards behind Cindy nervous. Cindy held up her hand to indicate all was well to the guards, they may have only been Marines, but they treated Cindy and her team like some kind of royalty.

“Ma’am, my grandmother is the person in charge of this place,” the girl indicated the building behind Cindy. “She hasn’t been home in over a week. Three days ago, some soldiers took my daddy and mommy away. They told us not to go anywhere or do anything until one of them returned. My older sister, Tams was beaten up really bad and is really sick and we don’t know what to do. Could you help me find my grandmother or my parents?”

Cindy knew from the girl’s words that the girl’s sister had most likely been beaten and worse. “Yes I can, sweetheart, but if your sister is that sick, maybe we should try and help her first?”

“Okay, but she’ll be mad at me for bringing you to our house. She told me to stay away from soldiers and to hide if I ever saw any. But you don’t look like the ones that came to our house, you look like a goddess, so you can’t be evil like those others,” the girl said.

“Thank you, sweetheart. I think you’re very pretty too. May I ask what your name is and where you live?”

“I’m Cami. We live out in Crystal Falls. I had to take the train to get here.”

Cindy knew the Marine patrols hadn’t made it that far out yet, so it was still considered a hostile area. “Wow, that’s a long ways to go by yourself. My name is Cindy. How would you like to ride with me in my ship and you can show me where you live?”

“You have a space ship?” The girl asked, wide eyed.

“Yes I do; that one over there, on the grass.” Cindy pointed to the Damocles resting on the grass in the small park in front of the building.

“Wow,” Cami said, her voice full of awe.

Cindy put her hand to her ear to activate her comm with the rest of her team. “Jerry, Sasha, stay here and help the Marines. Shannon, Lissa and I are going to make a short trip out to Crystal Falls; I’ve received a request for assistance from a civilian. Lissa, please get the Damocles ready for a short flight. Shannon, could you ask Colonel Taris for the use of a medic? We have the autodoc on board, but that might not be enough. Tell him to wear his armor.”

Cindy received confirmations from her team as she stood. She offered her hand to the little girl and said, “Shall we go?”

Cami took the offered hand, excited now with the prospect to fly in a real-life spaceship.

“Have you had anything to eat this morning, Cami? It’s a long trip from Crystal Falls, you must have left very early.”

“No Ma’am; I haven't eaten. I had to leave before anyone else was up ‘cause they would have stopped me from going,” Cami replied.

“Well, we can’t have that! Once we get aboard, I’ll get you some breakfast, Okay?” Cindy offered.

Cami nodded, now that they were getting closer to the spaceship, it was a lot bigger than she first thought. “What are those?” She asked, pointing to a land rail.

“Those are land rails. We use them when we need to go someplace on the ground very quickly and can’t use the Damocles.” Cindy indicated the ship. Movement caught her eye, and she turned to see Shannon and what Cindy guessed to be the medic, running for the Damocles from the security center. They were being followed by two burly Marines in full combat gear. Cindy felt the girl tighten her grip on Cindy’s hand as she too saw the running people. “It’s okay, Cami. No one will hurt you, I promise. Those men are the good guys, they won’t hurt you. How about we get that breakfast I told you about?”

Cami still looked uncertain, but nodded in acceptance. Cindy led her into the ship and into the crew area. “If you sit there, I’ll get your food. Why don’t you tell me more about your family?”

Cami did as Cindy asked, while Cindy got her a nice pancake breakfast from the replicator, Cami told her about her family.

“Tams is seventeen and was thinking about joining the academy. She wanted to be a fighter pilot before the bad men came. Blane and Helon are six, Mommy always said they were going to make wonderful administrators one day. Just like Grammy Galla. Both of them are really smart for only being six and know lots of stuff about the family and history and things. I always thought that stuff was kinda dull, but I still had to learn it. Grammy said it was very important for us to know our family heritage.” She stopped there and began to literally shovel the food Cindy had gotten her into her mouth.

Shannon had arrived and the four climbed aboard. Shannon introduced the C.D. (Combat Doctor) as Captain Sparks. Sparks was a female, and a very kind looking person. From the brief introduction it was hard to imagine this woman trying to operate on a fallen soldier while ignoring the enemy fire flying past her head.

The other two men were Corporal Mlas who had skills as an engineer. Since Crystal Falls was not a ‘cleared’ area, and was known to be one of those suburbs without power, Mlas was assigned to the team. He was also from that area, so the residents might recognize him.

The other man, Private Zion, was also from the area and knew most of the residents. These two would serve as guards for the team and as a liaison to the people of Crystal Falls.

Zion sat down immediately across from Cami. “Little Cami? I remember you. The last time I saw you though, was when you were a baby no bigger than this,” he held his hands apart. “You’ve grown quite a bit. Gotten pretty too!” He winked at her. The girl blushed, but seemed to relax more at his words. Zion looked at Cindy, who was sitting next to Cami. “Major, it is very important that we find this girl's grandmother and mother. Dame Galla is the Matriarch of House Camilla. It was believed that her daughter, Sharoan, would be her successor.”

“If she was a House Matriarch, wouldn't she have been at the conclave?” Cindy asked.

"Not necessarily; House Camilla was more involved in the civil defenses that it was politics. If I remember correctly, Dame Galla had very little time for the political aspect of her duties. House Camilla was strongly allied with Houses Rodan and Bellthoria. They generally spoke for the House in conclave," Zion replied.

"So, if you're from this area, does that make you a member of their house?" Cindy asked trying to understand.

Zion smiled but shook his head. "No Ma'am, although I was a member of House Rodan, geographical location is not a good indicator of political allegiance. When I joined the Corps, I surrendered my House affiliations.

"However, Dame Galla or her daughter would go a long way to restoring the leadership of the city. We really need to try to locate them."

“I think I better call Command; if nothing else, they can help in locating the girl’s parents.” Cindy turned to Cami, “Cami? This is my good friend, Shannon. Would it be okay if she stayed with you while I go make some calls? I think the Doctor might want to scan you to make sure you’re okay inside.”

The girl paused her eating long enough to look at Shannon and Sparks closely. Finally, she nodded to Cindy and resumed her eating.

Cindy got up and entered the cockpit. “How are we doing, Lissa?”

“Just fine, Major. We are holding position over the Crystal Falls area; I am scanning for any weapons or unknown energy signatures. We should be able to land in a few minutes,” the Lissa replied.

“Cool, thanks.” Cindy then touched her ear piece again, “Joker Three to Dealer, request ops assistance with a blurb mission.” A blurb mission was the term used to describe a mission that the Raptor team undertook on its own, such as a rescue or humanitarian mission.

“Ops is online, Damocles. Please define your blurb.”

“I received a personal request from a ten-year-old civilian for immediate medical assistance for her sister, as well as assistance in locating her parents and grandmother. We are currently in route to her home to render the medical assistance. Her home is located in the Crystal Falls area of Elysium. Please inform Guardian that this civilian has been positively identified as the granddaughter of Dame Galla of House Camilla. She says her parents were taken three days ago, and her grandmother has been missing for a week. From her description, the girl's older sister may have been assaulted by the enemy. The girl was searching for her grandmother when she approached me.”

“Understood, Damocles. What assistance do you require?” Operations replied.

“Any information you can find as to the where-abouts of the girl's relatives. Also, could you have a medical shuttle on standby? We might run into more than just this one woman once we get down. This area is without power and may need more assistance than we can give,” Cindy asked.

“Negative on the medical team, Damocles. We’re stretched too thin as it is. However, I can get a shuttle load of supplies on the list to come down once you give me a drop location. I’ll begin a search for those people you requested and let you know if I find anything.”

Cindy cursed under her breath. “Roger, ops. We’ll let you know once we have it all figured out. Damocles out.”

“We’re ready to land, Major. I found a couple of things we should investigate once we’re down.”

“Okay, but priority goes to the wounded. Activate defenses once we’re down. We’ll worry about what you’ve found once we get the girl taken care of. Now, where do we want to land...”

“What the hell is that?” Zonk asked, pointing.

Razor turned to look at the descending ship and his eyes narrowed. “That,” he said, “is our ticket off this rock. Go get the rest of the boys, I’ll stay here and see what kind of troops they have. It looks like they are landing near that matriarch-bitch’s place.” He noticed that his underling hadn’t moved, but was still watching the ship. Razor backhanded the idiot. “Get moving shit-head! We might have to move fast!”

Zonk picked himself up from the floor and headed out the door. Razor picked up his laser rifle to watch the group through the scope. He hadn’t powered up the laser, just the scope. He also didn’t notice the turret on the top of the craft pointed directly at him. ‘Must be some new kind of shuttle,’ the man thought. ‘I wonder if the pilot’s female? It’ll be a long trip to where ever we decide to go.’

On the bed directly behind him, the two young girls he and Zonk had been using lay unconscious and bleeding. They had passed out about an hour ago, but that didn’t stop the men.

“Shit! They only brought five people out here? This’ll be easy! Maybe we’ll have time to grab some of our 'toys' to take with us also!” Razor chuckled in anticipation. “Yes, this ought to be very easy.”

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Raptor Damocles

Crystal Falls, Elysium Suburb

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Major, our landing is being watched. I have the Damocles keeping an eye on those weapons signatures I found earlier and one of the men is watching us. There are four in that room, two adult males and two children,” Lissa told Cindy via the comm.

“How far away are they?” Cindy asked.

“Approximately two-hundred and fifty meters to the south. Damocles has locked onto them, but line of sight passes through the children behind them. They are bringing that weapon to bear, but are not powering it up. I would say they are using its telescopic sight to observe us.”

“Okay, everyone into armor. Shannon, Zion, grab that emergency stretcher in the back. We’ll bring the family on board and treat them here until we can assess the situation. Lissa, good work, and keep me posted on our friends’ activities. Cami, honey? I need you to stay here with Lissa until we can get your sister and brothers. Can you do that?”

“Who’s Lissa?” Cami asked.

“She’s the very pretty woman on the other side of that door. She is a very good friend of Shannon and mine. Do you think you can stay here and keep her company so she doesn’t get scared?” Cindy asked.

Cami raised an eyebrow at Cindy, “I'm young but I'm not a baby, Major. You must have seen the bad men nearby and you want me to stay here where it’s safer. Yes, I’ll stay, but you have to promise to just tell me things from now on.”

Cindy chuckled, “Sorry Cami, you’re right. I promise, no more treating you like a baby.”

Cami hugged Cindy, but everyone clearly heard her say, “Adults!” as she did. Cami went to introduce herself to Lissa while Cindy put her armor on.

Mlas and Zion were double checking their armor while Sparks was setting up a link to the autodoc from her combat suit.

Cindy was just putting on her helmet when Lissa called her again. “Major, one of the men that was observing us is running to a building a few blocks over. I think he’s going to get re-enforcements.”

“Damn! Gimme a display of the surrounding area, including all the life signs and those you’ve identified as hostile by their ID tags.” Cindy ordered. “Guys, we may have a problem.” She stood over the holographic display on the table. “This large group of people over here must be where that guy is heading. What is that place, some kind of community center?”

“That’s exactly what it is, Major. It’s also the power distribution node for this area. We will have to go in there if we want to restore public services. If that place is full of hostiles, I’m damn glad I didn’t just head over there,” Mlas said.

“I don’t think that all of them are hostiles. I think some might be civilians. Lissa, give me a comm to Colonel Taris.” Cindy ordered.

“Taris here. Find some trouble, Major?”

“You could say that. We don’t have an exact count yet, but I would guess we have about thirty hostiles that have taken an interest in our ship. Do you think you can spare a platoon for a couple of hours?”

“When you took off I woke up the reserve platoon and stuffed them into a shuttle. Where do you want them?” Taris asked.

“Are you getting our data feed?” Cindy asked.

“We are now," Taris replied.

“Good, I’d like them to be dropped here, behind the community center." Cindy indicated the area on the hologram so the Colonel would see it. "Once these idiots realize we are not the easy targets they think we are, they are going to try to get back to that center. I want your troops to move in and secure that center once the hostiles move out. We should be able to catch them in the open. But I think you should know that there seems to be civilians in there as well. Condition unknown, but I have a feeling it won’t be good,” Cindy explained.

“We’ve landed, Major,” Lissa said.

“We’re on the ground, Colonel. Get your guys here ASAP. I have a feeling this is going to happen pretty fast,” Cindy finished.

“They’ve already left. ETA zero-five. Good luck, Major," Taris replied.

After closing the connection, Cindy turned to her team. “Okay, let’s go.” They left the Raptor through the large doors at the rear. As Cindy passed by the weapons locker, she clipped her pulse rifle to her suit and grabbed an assault shotgun. She worked the action once to pump one of the three-inch, double-ought-buck shot magnum loads into the chamber. With a malicious grin, she followed the rest of her team out the back.

“Whatcha got, Razor?” Brodin asked.

Brodin had been the one placed in charge before everything went to shit. He had ordered his platoon to hold the community center, but had placed two-man guard posts at various places around his perimeter. He collected the comm units after the order not to use them, except in case of emergency, had been ignored. He was losing control of his platoon and he knew it.

“I gots us a ride off this rock. There is only five that got off that ship, ifin they left the pilot on board, then they only have six people. We can take the ship,” Razor replied.

“I’ve never seen a ship like that before. What kind is it?” Brodin asked.

“Who cares? It’s big enough for everyone and it has a hyperdrive. What'er we talkin' for?”

“Hold on a minute. That thing is armed,” Brodin said, examining the Raptor through the rifle scope. “Maybe it’s a new type of shuttle.”

“Are we gonna sit here all day, or are we gonna get outta here? Shit, Brodin you gonna get us all killt ifin we jus’ sit here and gab about it!” Razor said impatiently.

“Fine, you want it so damn bad, you can lead. Zonk, you and Pick take first squad and head over behind the house opposite the bitch’s place. Razor, you take second squad and move up next to the door. When those five come out, kill them. When the shooting starts, Zonk and Pick will rush the shuttle. Now, move!” Brodin ordered.

“Major, our friends have split into two groups. I think they are trying to surround us. One group is moving up toward the door to the house you are now in. The other group is across from them and will end up on the other side of the Damocles.” Lissa reported. "They did not leave any guards behind. I think they are trying to capture the ship."

“This might take a few minutes; the boys are scared out of their wits and we just found the wounded woman.” Cindy paused to think, “Have the Marines made their drop yet?"

“They just hit the ground. They haven’t entered the community center yet,” Lissa replied.

“Okay, I’m gonna give our friends out there something to occupy their time while the doc gets the woman ready to move. How many weapons do they have that I’ll have to worry about and where are they?”

Lissa took a moment to reply, “Two laser rifles and one pistol. The rest seem to be armed with clubs and knives, barbarians. None of them are wearing armor, one laser rifle is with each group, while the pistol is with a smaller group that seems to be holding back.”

“Hmm, the group that is holding back must be what they have for a command section. I’ll try not to get too far away from the ship, but I’m going to try to draw them off. Once Shannon gets everyone back on board, close the ramp in case these idiots get lucky,” Cindy replied.

“One thing I think I should mention, Major. The two children that were near the original observation point are in critical condition. The men were abusing them very badly. We need to get to them soon,” Lissa added.

“Understood,” Cindy replied tightly. Children. These bastards deserved no mercy.

Cindy began feeling a cold rage building up inside of herself. These bastards used those children for whatever sick shit they could think of. Well, Cindy could think of a few things of her own. She walked back to the main room of the house, to the big drape-covered window next to the door. She could see the shadows of the men outside through the window. She thumbed the safety on the shotgun off and slowly pressed it to the back of the shadow on her right. She punched through the window with her left hand, grabbing a man by the neck at the same moment she squeezed the trigger on the shotgun. She used every ounce of enhanced strength the armor gave her to crush the man’s neck before she stepped through the window.

She jacked another round into the shotgun as she turned to face the rest of the men. Her rapid and brutal assault shocked the men into inaction; Cindy took advantage of that.

A smallish, rat faced man was next to her; she dropped the barrel of the shotgun to his crotch and pulled the trigger, once again at point-blank range. She managed to dispatch two more of these child-abusing bastards before a laser bolt struck her armor in the side. She spun to face this new threat.

Her armor could absorb the energy from a few laser bolts before taking damage. However, she needed to drain that energy off or the suit could go into a critical overload. She engaged her jump pack and rocketed across the ‘street’ to the other group of men. The shotgun leveled at the man holding the laser rifle. The man managed to fire off two more shots before he was blown in half by the shotgun. Both of his hasty shots missed Cindy. She didn’t notice the men behind her trying to grab the rifle from one of the fallen men she had already killed. Nor did she hear the guns on top of the Damocles start firing. She did grab the man next to her first target by the neck and shoved him through the wall of the building, breaking his neck in the process. She spun, cocked the shotgun and blew out the chest of one man as he tried to run away.

She tossed the empty shotgun over to the ramp of the Damocles, unclipped her pulse rifle and ran after the men, occasionally firing into them. At one point she used her jump pack to surprise them as they rested behind a house. She didn’t even realize that the men had run past the community center.

She didn’t care that they didn’t seem to stop. On they ran and on she chased them; killing one or two every time they tried to stop for a rest. She had no idea how long it had been, nor how far they had gone. She ignored the calls on her comm as well as Shannon calling to her mentally. All that mattered to her was killing these miserable, child-molesting bastards.

Her quarry broke from cover, but this time they didn’t run, instead, they both dropped to their knees, their hands behind their head in surrender. Cautiously she walked up to them. They were both panting hard; one was trying to throw-up. There were only the two left.

“What the hell are you?” one of the men managed to gasp out.

“Pissed.” Was all Cindy said, as she kicked him in the head; the audible sound of his neck snapping was the last sound his buddy heard as Cindy brought her gloved fist down on top of his head; crushing his skull.

“Damocles, this is Williams. Sanction complete, returning to base,” she said in a dead voice. She turned and began walking back the way she had come, silence was her only companion.

Chapter 13

Combat Theater 'Astra'

Star Dancer Command Center

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

“Admiral, there is a private call for you from Officer Lissa of the Damocles,” Mel informed him.

“Thank you, please put it through,” Ian answered. He immediately knew something was wrong; Lissa wouldn't be calling him like this for any other reason.

“Admiral, There’s a problem. Cindy seems to have had a mental breakdown,” Lissa reported.

“What happened?" Ian asked. "Where is she now?"

“She's sedated and in her bunk. Shannon is using her ability to try to help her. We caught the group of rebels that were in charge of this section of the city. They were trying to ambush us and steal the ship. It was obvious that they had been abusing the residents. Even the children had fallen victim to these men. Cindy said she was going to distract them long enough for us to get a wounded girl into the ship. Sir, she ambushed, stalked and killed every one of them. When she chased after them, we tried to call her back, but she didn't reply. Shannon tried to contact her mentally but said it was like she wasn’t even there. Her suit recorded everything, Sir. The last two men tried to surrender to her. She killed them and then reported the 'sanction’ complete.

“She returned to the ship and allowed us to disarm and remove her armor. She appeared to be in a catatonic state, which is why we sedated her. Sir, according to article forty-nine, section twelve, Major Williams is no longer fit for command. According to protocol, I have already relieved her of command and reported the event to Raptor Command for review. I feel that, under the circumstances, the Damocles should return to the ship. The Marines have this area under control and are assisting the residents. Our presence is no longer required." Lissa finished. Ian could tell from her voice that she had not liked what she had been forced to do to Cindy.

Since Ian knew Cindy was a very strong-willed person, something really bad had to have made her snap.

“I understand, Lissa. Please bring the wounded back to the ship, but I still need you and the rest of the team in the city for the time being. Please tell Sasha that she has operational command since you’re a non-combatant.”

“Yes Sir. I’m sure Shannon will want to stay with her. Since we are only doing a mop-up, would that be alright?”

“Well, I don’t like the idea of leaving you that shorthanded, but I think you’re probably right. At least until we can get Cindy some professional help. Bring her and the child's family up here; then return to Elysium. I’ll want your team to co-ordinate with command to form aid stations through-out the city. Councilor Noren will be making an announcement, and we should have volunteers climbing out of the bulkheads. It seems we have a lot of medically trained personnel calling in too."

“Understood, Admiral,” Lissa said. She listened to his words but his face registered only concern for his friend. He was dissembling; trying not to let this effect the job he still had to do. “Ian, she is a strong woman. We’ve all seen the horrors that have been inflicted on this population. No one regrets what Cindy did, but we are worried about the mental state that it caused in her. We will all be ready to testify on her behalf if criminal charges are filed.”

“Thanks, Lissa. But you know that criminal charges cannot be filed against her for her actions. A Military Tribunal will be convened to assess her actions and possibly modify the regulations governing Raptor teams; but no charges can be filed against her for actions undertaken in a combat situation. The whole purpose for the Raptor mandates is to be able to make decisions like this without prior command approval." He sighed. “Please forward all the information you have on the incident so I can make a report to the Council.”

“Yes Sir. You’ll have it before we get up there,” Lissa replied.

“You did the right thing, Lissa: all of you have. Unfortunately, the job isn't over just yet. Bring her home and we'll get her the help she needs," Ian said. Lissa nodded her agreement and closed the connection.

Commodore Belirus had overheard most of the conversation. “She’ll be alright, Ian.” The older man placed his hand on Ian's shoulder.

“By the gods, I hope you’re right,” Ian said softly. “I'll be in my office, I have a meeting to prepare for, and I should send a message to my family. Please let me know when the Damocles will be landing.”

The casualties of war never change, no matter how advanced a civilization. Ian fervently hoped Cindy would recover. Too many people had been lost in this nightmare already.

High Council Chambers

Central Council Building

Elysium, Planet New Talos

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

This is a New Talos Broadcasting News Special Report.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As you know, I am High Councilor Noren. It is my great honor to address you this evening.

"I am very relieved to be able to announce that the crisis is finally over. I know that a good share of you have lost faith in the ruling council and that you have been told that some of us, myself included have been lying to you and hiding information that should have been made available to you. I can only assure you that has never been the case. However, how can you trust this?" She shrugged. "I have no answers for you. Each of you will have to make your own minds up about what has happened and proceed from there. At least now you will be able to."

She paused to collect her thoughts. "The recent crisis was the result of elements of the High Council attempting to over-throw or discredit the rest of the Council in order to secure more power for themselves. It is a tangled mess of intrigue, lies, and misinformation. We must address this issue first in order for you to decide who you can trust. All the surviving members of the Ruling Council have agreed and we will be releasing all of our records for the last five standard years. These will be open to public scrutiny for the most part. However, there are some records that deal with military issues that must remain controlled access. However, some of those records do have a bearing on what we have just gone through. So I will tell you of those to the best of my ability."

Noren told everyone about the discovery of another tribe of humanity in a remote sector of space. She purposely withheld their location but explained that was by the request of the new humans. She went on to explain that it was these remarkable people that saved the Talosian Alliance from destruction at the hands of the rebel faction.

"While these people are biologically our brothers and sisters, they have never been a part of our Alliance. While they wish to remain independent of us, it is my personal hope that they will eventually join our Alliance as friends and not as citizens. They will be assisting us in the rebuilding of our military forces destroyed in the recent fighting. I am sure many of you have already met some of them, as they have been providing us with much needed humanitarian assistance, as well as locating the missing and identifying the dead."

“We have lost loved ones, and some are still missing or unaccounted for. If you don’t know the location of a loved one or a neighbor, please report it to the closest Planetary Aid or local Constabulary office as soon as you can. We are doing our best to assist in locating our lost people, but will need your help.

“Power and essential services have been restored to most of the outlying areas, and it is safe for you to leave your homes once again. Martial law has been lifted. We are still having trouble with some services, but those should be restored to normal within a week.

“Due to the fighting, several vacancies have been created in almost every occupation. Please look to the message system for employment requests. Also on the messaging system, you will find opportunities with our new Allies. They are critically short in almost every occupation and have asked us to make known the opportunities in their society. However, if you chose to accept one of those positions, you may retain your House affiliation here, but you will also become a citizen of their society. So consider your choices well."

She again paused. "My friends, this has been a bad time and there is a lot of mistrust among us. We need to overcome this as we are still at war with the Empire. The Alliance of Races has taken it upon themselves to shield us while we resolved our internal crisis. However, they simply can't continue to do so without our active involvement. To that end, we will also be expanding the opportunities in our military. We need to become more active in our own defense, as well as the defense of those who have stood between us and the darkness. I am sure this news may unsettle a great many of you. In truth we are still discussing how much we should add to our military. Express your concerns to your representatives. They will pass them on to us and we can moderate our actions by your will.

"Grand Council sessions will no longer be twice a year events, but monthly. We of the High Council lost touch with you and it almost cost us everything. We cannot afford to let that happen again.

“Due to the high number of criminals recaptured, as well as those who instigated this attempted rebellion, the High Counsel has decided to broadcast their trials on a separate comm channel. That channel will be announced at a later time. We made it through a very dark period in our history, my friends. With your strength and support, we will continue to survive. This channel, as well as all civilian broadcast services, are free to resume their normal broadcasts. With your strength and support, we will rise from this trial. Thank you, and good night.”

High Council Chambers

Central Council Building

Elysium, Planet New Talos

New Talos System, Carnius Sector

Ian sat facing the reconstituted High Council, as well as the surviving members of the Talosian High Command. He had discussed the report of Cindy's actions with Admiral Goya and the older man had agreed that the report should be shared with the Council.

Currently, Cindy was sedated and restrained in Main Medical and was being guarded by an armed and armored member of her own team. Ian had not placed her under arrest; the guard was simply a safety precaution in the event Cindy got violent.

Ian watched and waited while the High Council quietly discussed the events of the report.

“Admiral Williams,” Noren said as the small meeting broke up, “We regret the horrible circumstances that forced your Raptor team leader into her actions, but we cannot find fault in those actions. The men in question had already been sentenced to death; by terminating the lives of those men, she simply saved the state from doing so. From our stand point, this event is not an issue we feel needs be addressed.

"Although any further issue is not our jurisdiction, nor do we even have the right or authority to render an opinion, we are very concerned that such a highly trained and potentially dangerous person as your officer could lose control to this degree. Admiral Goya and I have assured my peers of the lengths and testing you go to in order to prevent this exact thing from occurring. We feel that the cause of her current condition was one of situational circumstance, not one of training or a flaw in her personality. In as much as we can, we wish for the speedy and full recovery of your officer, Admiral.

"I don't know if you are aware of it, Ian, but the entire community of Crystal Falls knows who saved them. The two Marines that originally accompanied them into the area have been asked many questions about the team and how they work. The Damocles’ Team are very much heroes to those people, which makes them heroes to us as well. If there is anything the Talosian people may do to assist in the recovery of your officer, you have but to ask."

"Thank you, Councilor Noren. Thank you, all of you. I believe we have her treatment under control, but I will make sure her doctors are made aware of your offer. I will let you know if her condition changes," Ian replied.

Noren nodded to him, smiling sadly. "She's a strong woman, Ian. She'll make it out of this."

Ian sighed and nodded.

“The next item of business...” Noren glanced at her note computer. “Reports indicate a return of relative normalcy to the population. However, the high number of wounded and the restoration of destroyed vital public services has not yet been fully addressed.”

“Madam Councilor, we have received a large number of volunteers in both the medical profession and for civil services. We are currently setting up temporary aid stations in outlying areas to assess and assist the restoration of services and to get medical treatment to those who need it faster. In most cities we have found that, other than some looting, the hospitals are still in relatively good condition, and some have even reopened. We have been treating the more critically wounded with the assistance of the military fleet still in orbit," Admiral Goya replied. "The Terran Defense Forces have been assisting us in this effort and have even been building urgently needed equipment for the most critical need areas. We are running into a problem with deliberate sabotage in some areas. It would seem that not all the rebels are as yet in custody. Unfortunately, the Constabulary in those areas is not yet up to the task of public safety. We are working to assist them until such time as they can resume that responsibility."

"We are aware of your efforts, Admiral. However we are curious as to why Admiral Williams will not allow Planetary Aid services into areas where his people are still working. Can you explain this, Admiral?" Noren asked.

Ian thought for a moment, trying to compose exactly how to say this without offending anyone. “Security reasons. Please understand, I mean no offense to anyone with my words or actions, nor am I denying the fact that Planetary Aid is an outstanding organization that serves a very viable purpose in our galaxy. However, the exact location of our facilities, as well as exactly what we do there, are still not very well known. Call me paranoid, but I believe that if that information were ever to become public knowledge, the Empire would stop at nothing to destroy us.

"On Earth, we have similar organizations. They too serve the same purpose and are very much needed for those services. But those organizations are also riddled with spies and informants of opposing governments.

"I can only assume, based on personal experience, that this organization is the same way. I vowed to keep my sector safe, and this falls under that promise. All that aside, this is your world, not mine. If you want me to allow Planetary Aid into the areas we are still working in, I'll pull my people out so they can come in. I mean no offense, nor is that meant as a threat of any kind. I simply don't trust them," Ian explained.

"Planetary Aid is a good organization. That being said, we cannot deny the potential for espionage. Please, keep your people in place as long as you feel they are needed. Once you remove them, we will invite Planetary Aid to survey the area," Noren said and looked to each side for the nodded agreement of the rest of the Council.

"Now, since Admiral Williams is building a new fleet for us, can you give us a report on our defenses Admiral Goya?" Noren asked.

"Councilors, as all of you know, the recent civil war resulted in the destruction of most of the heavier elements of our fleet. While the bulk of what we do have remaining to us is still with ARC forces, we have been greatly reduced in our defensive capabilities.

With the offered assistance of the Terran people, we should be able to rebuild a good portion of our losses within a year," Goya said, but was interrupted by one of the other councilors.

"Excuse me Admiral, but a year? Even before the rebellion, it would have taken our artisans the better part of a century to build the number of ships you are speaking of!"

"With respect, Councilor, we are not speaking of work being done by our ship builders, but those of the Terrans. Do you remember seeing that large fighter-carrier the Terrans brought?" Goya asked.

The man nodded.

"How long do you think it took them to build that monster?" Goya asked.

The man shook his head. "I have no idea, but I would assume at the least twenty years, if not longer."

Ian grinned. "Councilor, my council approved her design thirteen months ago. However, we had to stop work on her because of the ARC offensive in the Rataac Sector. We resumed work on her as soon as we had the room to pull her back in. Actual construction time was seven and a half months. We should be able to move faster though, if we can get more people helping."

"More people? You must have an army of them as it is!" the man replied.

Ian shook his head. "The ship was built mostly by AI controlled drones. Once we finished the station, we were able to shift the workers over to that project and get her finished. Currently, those workers are building the next station in the series we have planned. I did receive a status report from Commodore Hawkins this morning. He reports that your first four battle cruisers should be ready by the end of next month.

"Several of the smaller ships will be ready before that, but for the most part, we are focusing on replacing your lost cruisers. We probably should think about sending your crews back so they can begin training on the new systems. Remember, the fighters they'll carry will also need pilots. The new flight academy is also nearing completion and has in fact, already begun classes.

"There are several new types of craft available to you. We have been able to engineer a new variant of your Hornet fighter that includes an improved armor and flight system. The Shadow fighters are completely new, but not so different that your pilots should have difficulties in cross training for them. The venerable Centurions have been replaced with a craft we call a Condor. There are several variants of that ship your people will also need training on if you would like to use them. There are mine layers, torpedo boats, destroyers; almost every class of ship, all the way up to the fighter-carriers like the Tiamat. We are also sending you a new gadget our smart folks designed, called a defense network assembler that, once in place and functioning, will require about a dozen people to run, but give any invading force serious issues before they ever arrive in the system."

Noren smiled as she saw the reaction of her fellow councilors. "This is what I was trying to tell you when we got back from our trip."

"With respect Admiral, but... why would you be willing to do all of this for us? Not even a month ago, most of us thought you were rebels yourselves!" the same councilor that spoke earlier asked.

Ian grinned. "Not so long ago, a group of friends and I struggled to rebuild a crashed heavy cruiser in order to defend our planet. At the time, we believed you all had been destroyed, and that it was doubtful we could find anyone willing to help us defend ourselves and our home. We instead looked for as many like-minded people as we could find in the shortest possible amount of time, in order to turn an impossible situation into something survivable.

"It worked. With a lot of luck and hard work, we defeated a Caldarian Super Nova that had come to enslave our home. In the process, we discovered that your people had indeed survived, but we also discovered that there was a new, more powerful enemy out there. At the time we were still a small group of people operating independently of our planet. As a group, we decided that we would do everything in our power to help in the defense and protection of our galaxy. We found more people that could help, but we also learned that there were problems in the alliances that had formed. The races had only banded together because of this enemy. None of you really trusted the others and as a result, you maintained a form of nationalism.

"There is nothing wrong with nationalism until it begins to create rifts between races that should be working together. A few of the most badly damaged ARC ships had to be left at our station because ARC didn't have the resources available to take them back to one of their repair facilities. We had no idea they had even been considering it, we had already scheduled them for refit and upgrades. When they were finished, and I let them know they could retrieve them, Admiral H’joles asked me why we had not only repaired the ships but did what we could to improve them. I at first didn't understand his question. I mean, he is working to defend us, so why wouldn't we do it?"

"The answer to your question, Councilor, is simple; why are we willing to do all of this for you? Because you need it." Ian said. "We are building more of our stations and will be building more of the ships we've designed. We simply don’t have the people to crew them, so why are we building them? Because the ARC needs them. Those ships, after we have rebuilt your fleet, will be given to ARC. Of course we will modify them for the specific species that will be crewing them, but those ships are needed to defend us, so they will get built. Who crews them is irrelevant. That they are needed is what is important." Ian looked at each of the Council members. "We already consider ourselves a part of ARC simply because they are fighting and dying for our freedom, not just their own. Nationalism shouldn't even be a consideration. We all fight together, or we will all die apart; it really is that simple."

Mercy Medical Center Complex

Psychological Trauma Ward

Ascension, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

“Cindy? Honey we’re home,” Shannon told the mute woman. Cindy hadn’t spoken since the fight on New Talos. In fact she had yet to express any emotion. It was like she was gone, and her body was acting on automatic. She would follow instructions, but nothing else. She had to be told to eat, she wouldn’t do it on her own. The only thing Cindy did on her own was use the restroom. For all intents, she was catatonic.

Ian and family followed the medical shuttle down to the Medical Center where Cindy would be treated. Beth and Shannon had ridden with Cindy. Beth to monitor Cindy's physical health, while Shannon continued trying to reach her friend mentally. Also on the shuttle were Colonel Ty Anders and a fully armed and armored Major Corvis.

Ian and Jenny held their children back while Cindy was taken from the shuttle in a hover chair. Major Corvis remained within two steps of her at all times. When the medical interns accepting Cindy tried to block Major Corvis from following, Ty stopped them.

"This is a security issue. Raptor Command Authority. A Raptor team member will remain with the patient at all times. No exceptions."

"That is against hospital policy, Sir," the orderly replied.

"I will accompany you and explain it to your administrator. If the officer gives you an order follow it, he is trying to keep you alive, do you understand me?" Ty said.

The orderly was about to argue the point but changed his mind and nodded. "Yes Sir, but you will have to clear it with the administration."

Ty nodded and the procession continued into the facility. Ian and his family followed them inside.

Once in the treatment room, Cindy was helped into a bed and made comfortable, while Ian and family waited outside. Very shortly, a very upset looking professional came storming down the corridor. "What's going on here?"

Ty stepped up to the Doctor. "We have brought you a new patient, Doctor. I believe you already knew this?"

She nodded angrily. "Major Williams was to be transferred from the Star Dancer to this facility for psychological treatment. Nothing was said about all of this? Why is that armored soldier in here? Get him out of there this instant! The sight of him could be very detrimental to the mental state of the patient!"

Ty read her name tag. “Dr. Roberts, have you not been briefed on exactly what and who she is?”

“I assumed she was a soldier like any other, is there something I haven't been told?" the Doctor snapped back.

Ty ignored her offensive attitude. “Do you know what a SEAL team is on Earth? By that, I mean what they really are, not what the media says they are."

“The U.S. Navy’s special forces group, trained in anti-terrorist tactics and special weapons training. What of it?”

“That’s pretty accurate. Now, consider the enemy that we are fighting here; they are stronger and in some cases faster than a normal human soldier. We needed Special Forces teams that could counter the enemy on their own ground, without support from anyone and usually far behind enemy lines. What kind of training do you think we would have to give those people?” Ty asked her.

The doctor paled a little, “Do you mean that she is...” she gestured to Cindy.

Ty nodded. “She is the most senior commander of those teams. She has received the most training and knows more ways to kill every species we know of than they probably know of themselves. She has been trained to attack, infiltrate, and capture ships the size of Star Dancer and bigger, more importantly she has been trained to survive indefinitely in a hostile environment. We have trained her so that she will automatically do whatever it takes to survive and complete her mission. If she ever decides that someone needs to die, they will die. Something has made her mentally unstable. Now, with all of this in mind, do you still want me to remove the guard?”

“Is one guard enough?” She asked.

"The only people guarding her will be those that have had the same training she has. If at any time, one of them tells you to do something, do not argue with them, or ignore them, because they are most likely trying to save your life. Is this understood?" Ty said in a very no nonsense manner.

"Perfectly, Colonel. Now that I understand the situation better, will your men need anything from us?" the Doctor asked.

"No, they will do nothing but keep watch over your patient. They will not need to eat, nor will they need to use the head. For the duration of Major William's stay with you, the guard will remain with her at all times, in all situations, even in the shower or the bathroom. No exceptions. They have been briefed on their duty here, please try to stay out of their way," Ty said and it was very clear he was giving an order.

"I understand, Sir, but surely the patient deserves some form of privacy..." the Doctor tried to counter.

"No, she does not. She cannot be given any opportunity to harm anyone or herself. If she is given that opportunity, she will take it," Ty replied.

"There has been no indication that she is suicidal," the Doctor asked.

“I know she is,” Ty answered as he turned to the window into the room. “Or at least will be when she comes back to us. I’ve seen this type of thing before. What she went through has happened to special ops soldiers on Earth. This is a form of what they call combat fatigue. We can’t know the exact mental state she was in when she snapped, or what it was in particular that set her off, but it will come tumbling out when she, uh, wakes up. Just hack into the database at Bethesda. I’m sure there are thousands of cases on file,” Ty answered, his eyes never leaving the slumped form of Cindy he could see through the one way glass.

The Doctor nodded and walked into the room, motioning the family to follow her. “Cindy? I’m Dr. Roberts. I’ve been asked to help you get through this. But we thought you might like to say hello to your children before we get started.” Dr. Roberts stepped aside to allow the children, Ian and Jenny to enter.

Dr. Roberts’ words elicited the first response anyone had ever seen from Cindy in almost a week. Cindy slowly turned her head to look at the children.

"They're safe?" Cindy asked quietly.

"Yes honey, the children are safe now," Shannon replied. "You made sure of that. The bad men are all gone now and the children are safe."

Cindy smiled, laid her head back, and fell asleep.

Dr. Roberts looked at Shannon. "I think you should tell me the circumstances in which she was injured."

Ian nodded. "Go ahead, Shannon. I'll make sure she gets clearance."

Shannon nodded to him. "Yes Admiral." She turned back to the Doctor. "Do you have an office we can use, Doctor?"

Chapter 14

Admiral's Office

TDF Star Dancer

High Orbit, Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

It had taken the better part of a week to finish their part of the restoration of New Talos. Ian had left the Talosian ships and Marines there to assist the authorities in rebuilding and returned home. He had a promise to keep, and there was a lot of work to be done before he could do it.

Ian was very surprised though, when the whole Talosian attitude towards them seemed to change, basically overnight. Some of that could be accredited to Noren and Goya influencing the others, but not all of it. Goya told Ian that it had been the Talosian ships and troops he had led in the liberation of New Talos that had effected the largest change.

The soldiers and sailors talked to their families, and their families talked to their clans, who in turn spoke to their Houses. Goya went on to tell Ian that it wasn't just the attitude toward the Terrans that had changed either; there was a massive rethink of the Talosian roll in the war being undertaken by the Talosian people. They were learning that they could not remain isolated from the other races and still try to fight.

Another surprise awaiting Ian was a formal request by ARC High Command for the training and equipping of four non-human Raptor teams. The request had already been approved by the Terran Council and only needed his approval. ARC already had over two hundred applicants for the project. In a side note, Fleet Admiral H’joles stated that he had little doubt the effort would be a success and hoped that more personnel could be sent for training in the future.

The Admiral also reported that of the ships the Terrans had refitted and sent back to ARC, all had participated in at least one battle so far. He went on to say that although all took some damage, none of that damage effected their combat effectiveness. The captains and crews of those ships were very pleased with the results. A report issued by the chief engineer of the cruiser claimed that analysis of the damage absorbed by the ship during combat should have been sufficient to have disabled the ship at the very least. Instead, the energy from enemy weapons had been rechanneled and used to strengthen the ship's defenses and energy weapons during the combat. He continued by stating that it was his certainty that, had the ship not been rebuilt by the Terrans, it would have been lost with all hands in the battle previous to that report.

That made Ian feel good about helping ARC. They had saved lives and kept a ship in the fight. He edited out that part of the message and had Mel send it to Commodore Hawkins at Pleiades One where the work on the cruiser had been done. He included a commendation for everyone that had been associated with rebuilding the ARC ships.

In order to deal with the rest of the message, Ian called Ty to get his thoughts on the matter. Ty nodded at him and told him that he had already worked out the details with ARC and the Council. The Project had simply been awaiting his approval when Ian returned from New Talos.

"Why didn't you tell me about this earlier?" Ian asked.

"No reason to, Sir. We had other issues we needed to focus on. Nothing could have been done with this until we returned here anyway," Ty replied.

Ian saw more stress on his face than normal. "Ty, she's getting the best care we can give her. We'll get her out of this."

Ty nodded. "I know, Sir, but I'm still worried. Combat Fatigue isn't the joke a lot of people think it is. I know Cindy will come out of this eventually; I'm worried more about how she'll react once she does. Different soldiers react in very different ways to this sort of trauma. Even if she wakes up, we could still lose her."

"In what way?" Ian asked. The therapists hadn’t mentioned this.

"Sir, I've had a lot of experience with soldiers in this condition. She's one of the worst I've ever seen. None of them are the same afterward. There is a very good chance she won't be returned to her team. We can't take that risk," Ty replied. "Before this happened I was thinking about making her my second in command. She was that good and the other teams not only respect her, but look up to her." He shook his head. "Perhaps the promotion will still be feasible; as long as she doesn't go into combat herself anymore. We'll just have to see what happens when she wakes up. Everything depends on what caused the mental breakdown to begin with."

Ian nodded. "She's always been a very strong woman, Ty. I have to believe she'll come back to us intact and ready to kick ass."

Ty nodded. "That's another worry; whose ass will she want to kick? Will she be able to differentiate between us and the enemy? Try to imagine someone with her training and abilities that can't tell her friends from her enemies."

Ian nodded. "Is that the reason you placed the armored guards on her?"

Ty nodded. "Yeah, they'll handle the situation, if it becomes necessary."

Ian had no more than gotten off the comm with Ty than Commodore Hawkins called. Ian was rather melancholy after his talk with Ty, but accepted the call anyway.

"Commodore, I take it you received my message?" Ian asked by way of greeting.

"Yes I did. I wanted to call and thank you for sharing that with us. I'm sure it'll really boost morale on the docks," Isaak replied. "Not that morale has been an issue, but it's stuff like this that really makes the workers feel like part of the team. It'll inspire the others to work harder in order to show them up too!"

"I've only just started getting into all the reports I missed while I was gone. I take it we're still ahead of schedule?" Ian asked.

Isaak nodded. "Yes, in fact Maia has had to reassess the schedule on several projects. Pleiades Two is moving along nicely, and the main framework for station three is being assembled as we speak. The addition of that mining ship has really stepped things up; that and the massive influx of workers we've been getting. Things are really starting to take off around here. There's been a lot going on here."

Ian nodded. "I'm beginning to see that. I'm sure everything is in my data stack for review, but can you tell me the high points?"

"Commander Serena would probably be able to give you a better answer. Let's see... Commander Carlson took the Caldarian Base, rescued a ton of folks, but I think you already know that. The UN has agreed to allow us to maintain control of the base even though every member nation on Earth was drooling to get their hands on it."

"I got most of that; it happened before we left, has there been any changes there?" Ian asked.

Isaak nodded. "Not with the base, but right after you left, we caught a few of the 'diplomats' trying to steal tech and information. The Council canceled their visas, made damn sure they didn't remember anything, and sent them home. At first, we thought two of them had been Chinese, but it turns out one was actually North Korean. The others were from the US, the Russian Federation, and the last was a Brit working with a commercial European Coalition. What's most surprising is that the UN pulled their diplomatic credentials as well and recalled two of the Ambassadors.

"However, I've heard that some of the medical personnel sent up have expressed an interest in remaining here. I don't know how the Council is dealing with that, though." He looked thoughtful for a moment as if trying to remember. "Oh yeah, the probe! The day after you left, the defense network detected an Imperial probe that was passing through the Oort Cloud on its way in-system. They might have missed the little bugger too if it hadn't sent out a scanning pulse. Our patrol ships took it out and retrieved what was left for study. Commander Serena had us on full alert for the rest of the day. Apparently, some of those probes are sent out from their light cruisers and she was afraid the ship might come looking for it. Forensic analysis of the probe showed that it was one of their long range probes used for locating enemy bases and mineral deposits."

That concerned Ian. "Do we know if the probe detected us, and did it get a report sent out?"

Isaak shook his head. "No, it didn't see us. It was headed into Sol system and we got it while it was still far enough out that it couldn't detect anything in the system. A Condor took it out. From what I understand, it is giving our science types a much better idea of how Imperial scanner tech works."

Ian nodded. "I'll look for the reports. You know, we might not catch the next one, or the one after that. If that happens the Empire will arrive shortly thereafter."

"Won't ARC protect us too?" Isaak asked.

Ian nodded. "I'm sure they'll do everything they can. The problem is that they're spread pretty thin right now. For the most part, this war is at a stalemate. If the Empire brings in more ships, ARC will be hard pressed to defend everyone. That's why I've been pushing so hard to get more ships built, even though we don't have the people for them, ARC does. Plus, the Talosians now have crews but no ships. Which reminds me, they'll be sending their people here for training on the new systems; including their fighter pilots. I need to make sure we have the facilities available for that."

Isaak nodded. "When you ordered the ships to be built, we thought we would need to train the crews, so we've been working on getting ready for it. Since I didn't really have the room for it up here, I asked for permission to build a sort of training academy dirt-side. The Engineering stuff will be handled up here, but Command, Gunnery, Navigation, and Computer Support systems will be handled on-planet.

"The Council took my request and upgraded it. They set aside the entire subcontinent of Hera for the new Military Academy. I'm told it's going to be quite the project. While it's going to take a long time complete, we'll still be able to use it for what we need. I think the Council might have something more planned there than just a place where we can retrain crews for the new ships," Isaak said grinning.

Ian nodded. "Knowing them, they’re planning on a full blown, Alliance Military Academy to train new people as well. While I applaud the idea, I'm still going to worry about security. We have a lot at risk here, not the least of which are two poorly protected planets. Hell, not even the Defense Network will be completed for another year and a half."

"Ah, about that..." Isaak said, "It's gonna be much sooner than you think. Remember how I said the addition of the mining ship really helped?"

When Ian nodded, he continued. "Well, the new Mars facility has gotten so far ahead with fighter production that I ordered our fighter bays to retool themselves to build the defense satellites. All six of my fighter bays have been kicking out two new birds a day for the last week. The patrol ships have been towing them out and releasing them so the control center can put them into final position. I know I should have asked first, but you were really in the thick of it at the time, so I spoke to Commander Serena and made the decision."

"Mars is that far ahead on fighter production?" Ian asked using an auxiliary monitor to search for a production report.

Isaak nodded. "Their storage facility is over-full. They've even begun construction on more storage facilities. Last I'd heard, they had to shut down until the new warehouses are ready."

Finding the report, Ian was amazed at what had been accomplished. Even after cleaning out the facility to equip the Tiamat, they had managed to restock in a single month. "You made the right call, Isaak. I just had no idea they could produce the fighters this fast!"

"Well, the redesign of the assembly system had a lot to do with it. Belirus really got the whole place moving," Isaak replied.

Ian nodded. "He did really well commanding the Tiamat too. I know he was an Admiral, but he was really amazing. He really seemed to use the ship to her full potential. I think he was a good choice to command her."

Admiral's Office

TDF Star Dancer

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

Planet Atlas, Centauri System

Sol Sector

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the reason I asked all of you here today is that we need to come up with a plan," Ian began. "The plan I need worked out is for the defense of the planet Earth in the event that this sector falls under attack again. I am certain all of you know of the recent attempt by the Empire to probe this system. There is also the added threat that the remaining Caldarians could decide to return here and take the planet by force. Although we cannot allow any of our advanced weapons technology to fall into the hands of the governments controlling the planet, we still have to plan for its defense.

"The attack we faced almost two years ago would be a mere skirmish in comparison to what we will face if either of those two forces decide to attack us. The probe we attached to the freighter has shown us not only where the remaining Caldarian forces are hiding, but that they have at least three more Super Nova class ships. I say at ‘least' because continued observation has led us to believe that there is more than one enclave of Caldarians. Information supplied to us by ARC concerning the final battle with the Caldarians left several of those monster ships unaccounted for. Due to their continued failure to appear, many had believed them destroyed in other battles but simply not reported. That information tells us that as many as eight more could still be in existence."

Many of the people gathered for the meeting were upset about that and started talking. Ian simply held up his hand to stop them. "Folks, I'm not all that worried about them at this point. If they decide to show up here... well, those big monsters are what the Defense Network was designed to defend us against. I doubt more than two of them would actually arrive in the system, and both of those would be heavily damaged.

"No, I'm more concerned with an Imperial offensive here. Their ships are small enough to evade fire from the network, although I'm sure it would cause them no end of issues, but a good portion of their fleet would arrive here ready for a battle. In that event, we need to be ready to protect our planets, but most especially the surface of Earth, not only from ground attack, but also from orbital bombardment as well. I'm sure many of you can imagine how well the cities there would survive something like that.

"To that end, we need to plan and prepare. However, we need to do it in such a way as to prevent the governments of the planet from not only interfering, but also not capturing any of our technology. This is the reason I have asked you here today." Ian retook his seat to let them think and talk it over.

A Marine officer Ian didn't recognize stood. "Sir, I'm Major Jeff Bradley, currently assigned to the Tiamat. Commodore Belirus promoted me in place of Major Simmons." He paused a moment in silent remembrance of his former commander. "Sir, as I'm sure you are aware, on Alliance worlds, civilian population centers are protected by massive shields as well as air defense cannons. However, on Alliance worlds, those same cities were designed with those defenses in mind. None of the cities on Earth were designed in such a manner, but if a way can be found, that would be the most ideal method of protecting at least the population centers. In more rural areas, as we've seen on New Talos, the civilians have hardened bunkers built in strategic locations that the civilians can run to in an emergency. Again, the community was planned with this in mind. Earth has several civil defense shelters however, those are mostly intended for a natural disaster and not orbital bombardment.

"I hate to say it, Sir, but I just don't see how we could build anything like that down there without the Governments interfering or being able to steal technology. In order to construct anything, it would have to be shielded and guarded to prevent outsiders from entering the area. Even if we did that, it would slow any work we need to get done considerably. I'm not saying we shouldn't do this, I'm only trying to point out some of the most obvious obstacles in our path here."

Ian nodded. "Well said, Major. You are also correct. In the case of a normal Alliance world, defense of the type we are considering would not only have been planned for, but have already been built and maintained for years. They had centuries, in most cases, to get everything built. We don't. Folks, at some point, someone is going to attack this sector. When they do, they are going to bring what forces they feel they will need to get the job done. To be honest, it could happen tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. That doesn't matter, we need to figure out how to get the planet defended in such a way that anyone that comes here to take the planet will not be given that opportunity."

"Sir," one of the men from Phoenix Base spoke. "I'm Doctor Hans Schoffel, I am the lead shield technologies researcher here at the base. It would be a simple matter to design a shield generator system that would cover most, if not all, of the individual cities. However, installation of those devices would be very difficult. As the Major has said, the need to keep the curious away would hamper our efforts. There is also the fact that each installation would have to be manned and guarded to prevent the technology transfer. But, I would also like to point out, that these shields could also be used as an anti-missile defense system with reference to the nuclear arsenals of the planet. I am very much in favor of moving ahead with these installations, however it would take a great deal of manpower, even after the construction was complete."

Commodore Belirus stood. "Admiral, ideally, there would be shields over the cities as well as the defense cannons, civil defense bunkers and fighter bases in each hemisphere, as well as a division of troops stationed at strategic points across the globe. However, none of this can be accomplished without the willing support of the planetary authorities. At this time, it simply is not possible. However, if I may propose a counter suggestion?"

"Please do, Commodore," Ian said.

"As at New Talos and as is being done at Atlas, we should build several orbital fortresses. For the time being, the ground forces assigned to the planet can be stationed on them. With standard Marine assault shuttles, they should have no problem reaching almost any point on the surface very quickly.

"Secondly, we preselect the sites where shield units will need to be installed, in order to protect the population centers of the planet. I am told that, with the detection system you currently have, we should have at least a week advanced warning of any inbound hostile forces. We could assemble and set aside the required materials and equipment to rapidly install or set-up the facilities we will need in the worst case event. I know it isn't the best plan in the galaxy, but it should give us what we need while still maintaining security," Belirus said and retook his seat.

"Do you propose we assemble something like a 'kit' for each location?" Ian asked.

"Yes, exactly that Admiral," Belirus replied. "An installation kit for each site. I am still having difficulties with the language and couldn't think of the correct word."

Ian thought for a moment. Such a method could work for larger weapons installations as well, but not for the needed fighter bases.

"I can see how that would work for the shield units and the weapons systems, but what about the bases we'd need?" Ian asked.

"Drones," Commodore Hawkins replied. "There is nothing we have that we can build faster or more accurately. In each of the kits for the shield and weapons sites, we include drones preprogrammed with what they need for their location. The same can be done for the bases, only on a larger scale. We prebuild construction drones, program them with the plans for the base as designed for the area we select and box them up for delivery at a later date. Hell, we could even build several extra drones to be dropped near rural areas that could build multiple shelters, then call in for pick-up. Those shelters don't need to have any of our tech in them, just load them up with supplies and leave them be. If we really need to have some form of security with them, we could always drop a FROG in with them. The pilot could keep the people back and trigger a new design download into the drone once it's finished. Hell, a construction drone is almost as large as a FROG anyway."

"But the rural shelters will have a small reactor to power the shield generators and replicators. I know you said to stock them with supplies, thus eliminating the need for the replicator, but do you propose we leave out the shield generators too?" Commander Serena asked.

"Yes, Commander, we only have the drone make the shelters deeper underground. We could actually include a few items in the construction, but we seal them in plasticrete, and rig them to melt down in the event the unit is opened." Isaak replied. "Like the communicator the Admiral first gave me when I was still on Earth."

"The shield generator couldn't be sealed in the plasticrete, but we could rig it to melt down if opened..." Schoffel replied, thoughtfully.

"Okay, it sounds like we have the makings for a plan," Ian said, standing. He looked at one of his other guests. "Folks, I would like to introduce Lt. Commander Alan Carlson of the Raptor Poseidon. I'm dropping this on him right out of the blue, so please be gentle with him. Commander Carlson will be taking charge of the only real base we have on Earth currently and with it will be the coordination for the defense of the planet.

"I'm really sorry to do this to you, Alan, but I need you to take control of this project and get it moving. Contact who you think you might need to contact, but figure out the locations and get the kits built. If you need anything just ask. Do you think you and your team can handle this?"

Alan was floored. "Uh, yes Sir. But, uh, Sir, the base..."

"Alan, a shuttle with one heavy construction drone and five medium drones will be departing Phoenix base within the hour. Your AI will be sent the design specs for the new base they will build there. When they finish, no trace of the hell it was turned into will remain," Ian replied. "That will be your base, Commander. Yes, you are a Raptor team, but you will also be in charge of planetary security. We'll get you more resources as we can, but for now, it's just your team and a company of Marines."

"Yes Sir, what is our Chain of Command?" Alan asked, still a little confused.

Ian grinned. "Me."

Raptor Poseidon

Neptune's Massif Base

Mid-Atlantic Ocean, Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

After dismissing the meeting, Ian asked Alan to remain on the comm so he could speak to him. Alan waited patiently and nervously. The truth was that he really hated the base they were in. He felt like it was haunted by the souls of those he had not been able to save. Regardless if it was haunted or not, it gave him the willies.

A couple of minutes later, Ian came back on the comm. "Alan, I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for dumping all of this on you like I did. I wanted to discuss it with you beforehand, but shit came up and then the meeting happened and bang; here we are."

"That's not a problem, Sir, I'm not afraid of a little work, and this project is going to have a lot of challenges, I'm sure. But, it's this base, Sir... I don't mean to sound like a flake, but this place just gives me the creeps, Sir," Alan admitted. "It’s not just me either. Hell, even the Marines refuse to wander around alone."

"Damn, it must really be creepy down there. But, like I said, there is a shuttle leaving the moon right now. By this time next week, it'll be a completely different place. I mean that literally. About the only thing not getting destroyed and rebuilt is the bay you're sitting in right now. However, due to the fact that you've been sitting there cooling your heels for the last few days, and that all the cryo-pods are finally out of there, I am hereby ordering you and your Marines back to the Hawaiian research station. I really need you to get going on this defense stuff, but there is no reason you need to do it right there. Go to Hawaii, let the drones do their thing, and when you come back, it'll be a new base."

Alan nodded. "I hope so, Sir, 'cause this one ain't fit for man nor beast!"

Ian started chuckling. "Where did that come from?"

Alan nodded off to one side. "Gunny Sergent Holace; I think he's a bit superstitious." He paused, "Sir, I had another suggestion for the planet defenses. We could build floating missile platforms and anchor them to the bottom of the ocean until we need them. Pop 'em loose and fire as soon as they break the surface. Hell, we could do that with just about any weapon we'd want to build really."

Ian nodded his agreement with the suggestion. "Yeah, we could. I would recommend not placing them very close to the base location though, I'd like to keep that location secret from any attackers for as long as possible. Hell, if we can keep you hidden completely it wouldn't hurt my feelings any."

"I'll keep that in mind, Sir, is there anything else I should consider?" Alan asked.

Ian looked thoughtful for a moment. "Just try to plan a layout that will protect as many people as you think you can in the time we'll have. If the Caldarians attack us, they'll want slaves, so they would mostly target the larger population centers and hit the rural areas with conventional weapons and ground troops. If the Empire attacks... well, to be honest, I have no idea what they'll do, so we should try to plan for the worst."

"So, basically, just plan for the worst," Alan replied. "I'll do my best, Sir. I'll try to have an initial report to you by the end of the week."

"That would be excellent, Alan," Ian replied, but grinned. "But, if you need until Monday, I'll understand."

"Sir?" Alan asked not getting the joke.

"Alan, this is going to be a massive project. I'm well aware of the mess I'm dropping on you here. I'd think it would take at least a couple weeks to get a handle on this. If you can get a report to me by the weekend, fine, but don't worry if you can't. Trust me here, I'll understand."

Alan nodded. "Sir, about the base, from the sound of it, you’re going to make it the main planetary control center, correct?"

Ian nodded. "That's the plan, is there a problem with that?"

"No Sir, I was just clarifying it. Do you want me to include staffing as part of my planning?" Alan asked. "This is going to be a rather large base just with that."

Ian nodded his agreement. "Yeah, it is. I got a look at the design. For all intents and purposes, Andreya is going to become the planetary controller. Another AI is already being built, and yet another is being designed as air traffic control as well as communications and data coordinator. For now, neither of those new AI will be as advanced as Andreya, since neither one will have personality programming. Basically, they will be 'simple' AI purpose-built for their tasks. After installation, both new machines will remain dormant until Andreya needs them. She'll have the authority to activate them at any time. We really don't foresee the need for more than just her until either the planet decides to grow up and become an active member of the Alliance, or we get attacked. The way I see it, the attack will happen first." Ian paused. "As for staffing, you can handle it if you want, but we have a general idea of what you're going to need down there and will send you what applicants we can. You can accept or reject them as you want. They're going to be your people, so you should get the final say on them. If you would like to do any domestic recruiting, please give Janet Laskar a call. She should be able to assist you."

"Do I make provisions to secure the safety of the world’s leaders, Sir?" Alan asked.

Ian shook his head. "The ultimate decision on that is yours, Alan. However, if it were me, I might consider something to protect the UN General assembly or at least the Security Council. But I wouldn't do anything for the rest of the leaders that we are not doing for the general population. If the shit hits the fan, they're all equally deserving of protection. Besides, most of them already have their own hardened bunkers they can retreat into."

"That's true, I believe the UN also has a bunker, but I don't think it's nearly as elaborate as the one under the White House," Alan replied thoughtfully. "Would you object if I had them brought here in an emergency?"

Ian shook his head. "It's your base Alan. Planetary Security is your baby. You basically have a blank check on how you want to handle it. I only ask that you let us know what you have planned, so we can prepare or adjust our strategies to work with it. Basically, I'm putting you in complete charge of the defenses of the planet. What most would call the military governor, but without all the pomp."

"Commander, I have just received a rather large data transfer from Phoenix Base," Andreya said, sticking her head into the cockpit of the Raptor where Alan was speaking to Ian.

Alan nodded to her. "So I've been informed. Please notify the team and the Marines to prepare to leave. We're going back to Hawaii for a few days. Also, there is a shuttle en-route for this base, grant them landing permission and guide them in, once they arrive and unload, we'll get out of here."

Andreya nodded and closed the door.

"Looks like you're getting busy, Commander," Ian replied smiling. "Unless you have more questions, I'll let you get to it."

"I can't think of anything else at the moment, Sir. I'll call or just send you a message for anything else," Alan replied.

Ian nodded. "Good luck, Alan."

"You too, Sir." Alan replied as the channel closed. Alan sighed and stood. Well, at least they were getting out of this fucking haunted house.

Chapter 15

'Grand Mall'

Civilian Section

Phoenix Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System, Sol Sector

Jim Beacher smiled as he looked at his new crew. He marveled at how quickly the whole process had taken once he made his decision about what to do with himself. Being friends with the Head of the Terran Council certainly had its perks. When Jim had expressed an interest in taking command of a freighter, Luke Belden had arranged for him to be given the very first Terran-built civilian freighter.

While still in treatment to repair the damage that had been done to his body, he had begun the learning process. Commander Serena had taken him aboard the Prometheus for the practical training he would need to command the big ship and two weeks later she had pronounced him proficient and ready for his own command, according to the regulations governing civilian commercial transportation. Since the Terrans actually didn't have those regulations in place yet, they used the Talosian guidelines.

Jim's next hurdle had been to find a crew. He'd begun to think that might not be possible, but was assisted in his search by the Phoenix Base AI, Elias.

Elias had made public the positions available on Jim's new ship, and within a week, Jim had been able to fill most of the positions. Of the missing positions, most notably the chief engineer and the executive officer, Jim had been 'loaned' two very capable officers that he had befriended during his stay on the Prometheus. He did have applicants for those positions, but the candidates lacked the qualifications required to fill them. So, until the positions could be filled by civilians, Jim would have two Talosian Naval officers under his command.

Currently, his entire crew was having lunch together at one of the cafes in the Great Mall of Phoenix Base. He felt it would be a good way to meet everyone and for them to meet each other. Now would be the time to see if any personalities clashed, and better for it here than once they began making long trips together. Which, in fact, Jim had already been hired by the Terran military to deliver passengers and cargo to Benesia and New Talos. Once at New Talos, he would be picking up passengers, as well as a portable habitat module for them to live in during the trip back to Sol Sector. Where another load would be awaiting him for return to New Talos. The business was already taking off. They just had to christen the ship, make the shakedown cruise around the system, jump out to Pleiades I, then back to Earth. If there were no problems with the ship, they could load up and be off. Jim was excited.

The crew, mostly people that had immigrated from Earth and wanted to see the galaxy, but didn't want their own ships, seemed to be getting along rather well. Of course, most of them had already gotten to know one another during their training, as well as having lived together here on the base.

The two top candidates for both unfilled civilian positions would also be accompanying them for their first trips, and the two naval officers filling those positions would evaluate and train them. Once they were ready, they would give Jim their recommendations for each position, and dismiss the ones that either didn't mesh with the rest of the crew, or were simply beat out by the other candidates. The dismissed crewmen would not go away empty handed however. Jim was giving them the opportunity to finish their training, gain a bit of experience and if they worked out well, a letter recommending them to their next Captain.

"May I have your attention, please?" Jim asked as he stood.

The group quieted down and paid attention. Jim smiled and held up his soda. "Welcome to the crew, everyone!"

The group accepted the toast and the Navigator/Astrogator asked. "When do we leave, Captain?"

"Tomorrow morning. We are scheduled to depart for Bradbury Orbital at oh-seven hundred. We'll christen and commission the ship and take her out for a shakedown cruise out to Atlas and back. If everything checks out, we'll be loading up for our first trip," Jim replied. "Before you ask, I can't tell you where we're going yet. I'll explain why once we get loaded and depart. But for now, get to know each other and get ready to ship out in the morning. I look forward to working with all of you!"

Raptor Poseidon

Ju'nio Ha'ena Research Facility

Hawaii, Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

After Alan finished speaking to Ian, things began happening pretty quickly. Neither the Raptor team nor the Marines really had anything to do in order to prepare to depart, other than do a final sweep of the base to make sure it was clear. By the time the Marines had finished that, the shuttle had arrived, unloaded the drones, and departed again. Andreya told Alan that the drones would not begin work until everyone had departed since some of the planned modifications to the base might be dangerous to humans.

When the Marines returned from the sweep of the base, Alan gave the order, and the two small ships left the base to the drones. During the trip back to Hawaii, Alan got a chance to see the design for the new base. He had to admit that not much of the old base would remain once the drones finished with it. Indeed, the mines would be gone, and the base proper would be restructured and enlarged to support the mission it would be designed to accomplish.

The one thing that really bothered Alan, however, was the fact that Andreya's AI core would be removed from the Raptor and installed in the base. To him, it felt like the move would mean she was no long part of his team. He'd grown quite attached to her as a friend and comrade and did not like having her removed from his ship; once the rest of the team found this out, they agreed with him.

"I can't tell you guys how your reaction to this makes me feel, but I really do appreciate it. But, I think you might be misunderstanding the situation. I'm not leaving the team. In fact, I doubt any of you will even notice a difference after my core is moved. Don't think of this as me leaving the ship, but instead, think of it as us getting a much bigger ship," Andreya replied.

"What will we be doing, Commander?" Officer Faran asked. He was one of the people Ty had tagged as a potential trainer for the Raptor teams. His area of expertise was demolitions and explosives. With the man's extensive knowledge of chemicals, he could make an explosive out of just about anything.

"You're going to have a couple of jobs in the foreseeable future, Faran," Alan replied. "First, Colonel Anders has you listed as a specialty trainer for Raptor Training Command, so you might get called back there from time to time. But for the time being, I'm going to need your advice on shield and weapons platform placements. You know more about how much and what type of damage weapons can do. Your knowledge will help us to figure out where to put stuff to either protect the most people, or where to put weapons emplacements for the best effect.

"Officer Jillant has also been listed as a specialty instructor for Raptor Command and may get called back as well. However, I will need everyone's help getting this plan hammered out into something that will work. I'll also be relying on each of you to handle survey missions and kit assembly. We might have gotten sent back to Hawaii for the time being, but none of us are going to be sitting around idle."

"What about my knuckle-draggers?" Captain Housten asked. He was attending the meeting via the comms from the Marine Assault Shuttle 'Sand Shark'.

"I know you guys did most of the 'heavy lifting' for us back at Neptune's Massif, I'd like to give you a little break," Alan replied. To which everyone else agreed. "But, in the same note, we're going to need your help now more than ever. Because to put it frankly, you're all the help we have. Maybe we can arrange a kind of rotation so your kids can get some time off."

"So, how do you want to handle this, Commander?" Officer Kenal asked. He was the heavy weapons/assault specialist for the team.

"Well, to begin with, you have some studying to do if you haven't done it already. I'd like you to brush up on ground based, anti-assault weaponry, including anything they might have come up with at Phoenix Base. If you have any trouble getting the information, let me know and I'll get you clearance.

"The same goes for all of you; if you have any trouble getting the information you need to do the job, be sure to let me know immediately so I can fix it. This mission has a high priority. While it doesn't have a time limit, it needs to be completed as quickly as we can. This is a massive task, and for the time being, it's just us. We'll be getting more help as it becomes available to us, but for now, some of the stuff I'm going to ask of you might seem impossible or irrelevant. It isn't. Take the time and do whatever you need to do to get the tasks done.

"Now, Faran, I want you to get with a Doctor Hans Schoffel of Phoenix Base. He'll be handling the custom shield designs we're going to need. You should also get with orbital command to get high resolution scans of every population center on the planet with a population of over... say a hundred thousand people. Then, work with Doctor Schoffel to figure out the shield placements. Get exact locations, number of kits needed, and hand it off to Glenus in a 'per city' package.

"Glenus, it's gonna be your job to create the 'kits' for each installation and group them for each city. Bear in mind, you won’t be handling just the shields, either, you'll be coordinating the creation of the kits for the shields, defense bunkers, and weapons emplacements. Once you have a city finished, make sure all the parts of the kit gets stored together for ease of delivery, and let Andreya know the city is finished and where the kits are stored.

"Kenal, you have the same job as Faran, only you'll be working with the weapons systems. I don't know who upstairs would be your best resource, and you might have to work with each individual scientist, but do what you can. Get the information compiled and give it to Glenus.

"In addition to the defense of the population centers, we will need to plan for a minimum of four large fighter bases; one in each hemisphere. I'd prefer to have six, but we might not have time to implement something like that. However, we will need to find the best locations for these bases, work with the folks up at Phoenix Base to get them designed, have the drones needed to build it assembled and then programmed with the base designs, and then package them up for delivery. Once a base kit is finished, give it to Glenus for storage placement."

"Excuse me, Sir, if we don't have a time limit, what did you mean by not having time to implement six bases?" Jillant asked.

Alan nodded. "Each kit we assemble for each of the tasks at hand must be able to complete their installation within one week of activation. Command has decided that's the minimum amount of warning we'll get if someone sends a fleet to attack this place. So keep that in mind when you’re building these kits. Make sure each kit has the drones needed to finish the project in under a week."

Alan finished the briefing and assigning of tasks to his team just as Andreya brought them in for landing in Hawaii. After settling back into the small base, each of the team members picked four people from the Marines to help them. Captain Housten set up a rotation that let each of the Marines have a couple of days leave without leaving the team shorthanded. Captain Housten, himself, helped Alan to figure out how to build the kits for the rural bunkers, weapons emplacements, and potential troop deployments.

Bradbury Orbital Facility

High Orbit, Planet Mars

Sol System, Sol Sector

Luke and Lara Belden had come from the Planet Atlas to witness the commissioning and christening of the ship. In fact, Jim asked Lara to do the honors of smashing the champagne bottle. Lara pulled the trigger and the specially made bottle shot out of its launcher to smash into the hull of the big ship. Jim had wanted to choose a name to honor his friend Elias Johnson that died during the battle of Talos, but his wife, Laura Johnson asked him not to. She said that Elias would always be with them, no matter what, and the ship should be about Jim and his future. So Jim had chosen the name Horizon's Reach for the ship to signify the promise of new beginnings.

As the bottle shattered against the hull, the big ship slowly slid free of the gantry. Guided by the first officer and the rest of the crew, the ship was docked at the passenger bay to receive her captain and the dignitaries that she would carry back to the Pleiades Station.

Celebrations over, Jim and his friends boarded the ship to begin the trip out to Centauri. During this trip several engineers and technicians rode along to fix any malfunctions and make any needed repairs encountered. When they returned to Phoenix Base late that evening, Jim thanked the group of specialists for their work on his fine new ship.

As he watched the group walk away, his Cargo Master approached him. "We're ready to begin loading, Sir."

Jim grinned at the diminutive woman. "That we are Mister Dominic. Please, come with me."

When Jim had accepted the cargo, he had also been given instructions on how to deal with it. Since the outbound cargo was military, he had not been allowed to tell his crew what it was or their destination. However, it was understood, that the Cargo Master would need to be told so she could plan out the loading and unloading process. When the ship had finished its acceptance trip, Jim was to let the Quarter Master on Phoenix Base know they were ready. It was to this office Jim led Cargo Master Corrine Dominic.

"Our cargo for this trip is all military, which is why I couldn't tell you anything about it. We'll have two stops, the first is a free-space drop in orbit of the planet Benesia. A Benesian shuttle will meet us and accept the passengers that will be remaining to teach them how to use the device we are leaving in orbit there.

"Our second stop is Antares Base, which is in the New Talos system. There we'll offload the remainder of our cargo and passengers. We'll take a short cruise to Elysium Starport on the planet New Talos where we'll pick up a self-contained passenger module and three hundred passengers for the trip back here. After we clear customs and unload here, we’ll have a second load already for return to Antares Base, and we'll be bringing a load of Hornet fighters back. So, that's the schedule for the next month or so. Think you can handle it?" Jim finished grinning.

"Please! Sir, I thought you were going to give me something hard!" she teased back.

"Just wait Corrine, you haven't seen the size of our cargo," Jim grinned as they entered the Phoenix Base Quarter Master's main office.

Ten minutes later Corrine stood agape as the heavy cranes struggled to move the gigantic Defense Network Assembler Core into the hold of the ship. She had seen the graphic, of course; after all, she was the one who told the workers and drones where to put what, but it was still very astounding to watch. Jim chuckled at her reaction.

"Corrine, just think, that isn't even the whole unit; it's just the core of it. Once it gets powered up, it'll build the rest of what it will need to accomplish its task."

The woman nodded. "I've heard a little scuttlebutt about these, I just never thought I'd ever actually see one, nor that it was so damn big!" she paused and turned back to her captain. "How do you feel about sharing this kind of stuff with the other races?"

Jim took a moment to answer her. "Honestly, I haven't really thought about it. But I think the Admiral might have the right of it. I mean, if we want the other races to help protect us, then shouldn't we do everything in our power to help them help us? How can we expect anyone else to protect us, if we are unwilling to return the favor?"

Corrine nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much the way I see it, but I've heard a few folks complaining about giving our stuff away like this. They don’t have a problem sending it out, but they think we should be getting paid for it."

Jim chuckled and nodded. "That's what happens when people don't have all the information about something. We are getting paid for it; just not in the usual way. We're getting paid in warships and experienced crews, and mutual protection treaties where the other party has a vested interest in making sure we are protected. We're getting paid with a stronger guarantee of our survival."

"Oh, how so? I didn’t think the Benesians had any warships?" Corrine asked.

Jim shook his head. "I don't think they do, but they do have a seat on the Alliance of Races Council, and are often called upon to negotiate disputes between members. That's a pretty powerful friend to have on our side, don't you think? The other one is going to New Talos because most of their fleet was destroyed in the civil uprising they just went through.

"I imagine there will be more of these going out very soon to member worlds of the Alliance. I've already been approached about the possibility of delivering some of them for the Alliance. Since the Benesian delivery was worked out locally, we are only getting standard freight for the first part of this trip, however, the New Talos delivery will be at a fifty percent higher rate.

"Any trips we make at the behest of the Alliance of Races council carry that fifty percent bonus on delivery. So we're all going to do pretty well for ourselves on any of these runs we can get," Jim finished.

"What about our next trip back to New Talos?" Corrine asked.

"Just normal rate for that I'm afraid, it’s part of the treaty between us and New Talos. ARC wasn't involved. Don’t worry though, I'm keeping an eye out for the good runs, although any more ARC runs are going to be much longer, as a lot of those worlds are a damn sight further away."

Four hours later, the cargo bay was filled to capacity and the passengers had been settled into their cabins, Jim gave the order to begin the maiden voyage of the Horizon's Reach. An hour later, the first commercial Terran freighter made the jump for the planet Benesia.

Admiral's Office

TDF Star Dancer

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

Planet Atlas, Centauri System

Sol Sector

Ian had received a troubling message from Fleet Admiral H’joles of ARC Command, most of it was in the form of a public news article issued to all the worlds of the Alliance.

"With the onset of hostilities within the Talosian faction of the Alliance of Races, all invading Imperial forces disengaged from battle and withdrew to their garrison worlds. Fighting on worlds taken by the Empire, but under attack by ARC forces, was quickly ended by the arrival of reinforcements from the front line units. However, our forces were not pursued after leaving those worlds.

"At this time it is believed the events at New Talos are in no way connected to the withdrawl of Imperial forces, regardless of the timing of these events. The quick and timely intervention of allied forces in the New Talos uprising prevented it from becoming a coup that would have given that sector to the Empire. At present, civilian rule has been restored and the sector is, once again, secured.

"Admiral Goya of Talosian Military Command has reported the death of an admitted Imperial sympathizer on the High Council. It is believed many of the internal problems that led to their recent civil strife stem from the actions of this being. Further investigations have begun to locate and isolate any and all accomplices this being might have had.

"Arrangements for the replacement of the Talosian military forces have been made and are currently being carried out. Restoration of their forces can be expected within the next two standard cycles. Although nothing has been reported on it, we can expect a greatly improved Talosian Fleet, both in equipment as well as personnel. The Alliance welcomes the return of our Talosian Allies, and with them, our dream of dislodging the invaders from our worlds comes closer to fruition."

In itself, that article hadn't bothered Ian as much as the Admiral's message that had accompanied it.

"Admiral Williams, first, on behalf of the High Council as well as High Command, we would like to thank you for your work on behalf of the Talosian peoples. It is our wish that your actions become the precedent for interspecies assistance and cooperation in the future. As per your request, we have taken steps to limit news of your existence and involvement. I have already signed the orders classifying knowledge of your location and activities.

"That being said, this issue has created a problem. As you are aware, the races that make up our alliance have yet to attain the level of trust we truly need. As such, many feel that the Talosian faction of our Alliance is suspect. Admiral Goya did report the death of a High Council member that was, by his own admission, working with the Empire. They feel that if one so highly placed could be subverted, then who else in their leadership has been?

"I, personally, feel this whole idea, while not completely baseless, is ludicrous. After all, the same could easily be said of any and all races that are members of this Alliance. Unfortunately, I fear the animosity that existed toward our Talosian allies may not have been put to rest with the restoration of the Talosian leadership.

"As a friend to both the Alliance and the Talosians, could you discretely pass this message along to Admiral Goya? Perhaps a way can be found to end this animosity towards them. Speaking as a friend, and not as the Commander of ARC forces, perhaps they would consider a Benesian delegation to assist their internal investigations. I feel that would silence a great many that will refuse to accept the truth once uncovered."

After rereading the message again, he asked Mel to get him a secured line to Admiral Goya.

The call was made and Admiral Goya smiled at him from the room's big monitor.

"It's good to see you again, Admiral Williams. As you requested this to be a secure line, I assume something has come up?"

Ian nodded. "You could say that, Sir. I just received a rather troubling message from the Fleet Admiral." Ian read the entire message to Goya, including the press release.

"I know Talosian relations with the ARC Council have been strained in the past, but I think this could very well break it. Is there anyway the High Council would allow someone else to at least observe the investigations?" Ian asked.

Goya looked thoughtful. "I am certain that you or some of your people would be the preferred choice, but then again, many on the ARC Council still view you as Talosian, regardless of current events. H’joles is correct in recommending the Benesians. They have a reputation of fairness that is almost legendary. However, I don't know how the new Council will take that. Noren already has her hands full just trying to make sure everyone understands that we are not hiding anything. That alone is hampering our investigation.

"I'm sure the people would allow it, but we're not talking about them. It's the House leaders that will resist this," Goya explained. "None of them trusts the others anymore."

"I could understand that. But if you lose ARC support, you'll be a sitting duck for the Empire. We'd come to your assistance of course, but that might not be enough," Ian said.

Goya nodded. "Let me talk to Noren about it. If we can make them see the danger here, or get the people on our side, it would go a long way to mending bridges with ARC. It might even help get these prosaic morons to trust each other again." He sighed. "While I've got you on the line, what do you make of this Imperial withdrawal? What do you think it means?"

"I honestly have no idea, but I don't feel like it’s going to be anything good for us. I've had Star gathering as much information as she can about this war and the actions the Empire has been taking here. We've always believed this is a war of conquest staged to expand the Empire," Ian said slowly.

"Yes, have you found something that disproves that?" Goya asked.

"Well, not really. But there are several things that are bothering me about it. I'm starting to believe that it isn't so much about expansion as there is a specific target or purpose behind all of this." Ian took a moment to compose his thoughts. "I think the empire is after something here; something they don't have in their own galaxy."

"Like what? We haven't seen them do anything out of line with what we would expect. What else could be their objective here?" Goya asked, curiously.

Ian shook his head. "I don't really have any proof, but I think they are after 'us', humanity, which in this instance would include the Benesians based on genetic make-up. All the battles they've fought with the other races and the worlds they have taken are simply because they were either in the way, or they were needed as a base of operations. If you look at the figures, the race with the most occupied worlds is the Talosians with reference to your total pre-war population. They also seem to be trying to reach Benesian worlds as well, but are having less luck since the main forces of the Alliance are stronger there."

"Why would they be after us? You're not getting paranoid are you, Ian?" Goya asked, but he had lost some of his humor.

"No, not really. I'm just thinking we might find more on Hyperion than we are expecting. That also opens a whole new can of worms, if I can prove it. What will the other races do if we prove that this whole war was about humans? Will they still try to protect us, or will they let the Empire take us if it means they get their worlds and people back? There is a lot of nationalism among the races of ARC. Many of them could decide to back out of the Alliance if this were to be proved." Ian said.

"Now, let's not invite trouble here. You said yourself there is no proof! To be honest, I think you might be seeing something that isn't there this time. You're a hell of a leader that has a knack for anticipating the enemy, so I'll get my folks working on this too. But I honestly think we aren't going to find anything," Goya replied.

"I hope you're right, Sir. But either way, the retreat of the Imperial forces cannot be a good omen," Ian replied.

Chapter 16

Theabes Industrial Holdings

Theabes Trinary System,

Gorrath Ni Sector.

Federated Rybold Republic

(ARC member race)

Djorell had worked hard to get to the position he was now in. Driving one of the ore haulers for Theabes had been a goal that had taken him almost twenty cycles to achieve. Now, he could afford to relax for a while before working out his next career goal. His family had gained status in the corporate estate, they were respected and would be taken care of if anything ever happened to Djorell.

The seemingly never ending war with the Empire, curse them, had ensured that Djorell and his family would be financially secure for the rest of their days. The big ship he drove was little more than a cockpit with huge engines strapped to massive ore pods that could carry enough raw ore to keep one of the great refineries running for almost a week. He had a small jump engine as well, since the asteroid field currently being worked was almost four lights from the inner system refineries and processing facilities. While he plotted the jump back with his current load, he contemplated entering a contract with the corporation to purchase the ore ship. It was possible - even encouraged by the corporation for their ore drivers to do so. It would give him and his family even more revenue, as well as give them more freedoms and prestige.

He was just about to make the jump when he got a flash priority message from the refinery dock master. Flash priority was the highest priority civilian comm systems had and was only to be used in the most dire of emergencies; as such, it absolutely could not be ignored. He accepted the message.

"Attention all ore drivers and mining operations. The central system is under attack by Imperial warships. Do not approach the inner system! Our long range comms have been destroyed. All ore drivers are ordered to drop their loads and immediately jump to the Veritle Reef agro colony. We are counting on you to get word of this attack to the Alliance. I say again we are under heavy attack by Imperial warships! Drop your loads and go! Now! This is by order of President Jthran! Drop your loads and jump away while you still can!

"All mining operations are to halt immediately. Miners must shut down all radiated emissions and set your comms to receive only! All mining units are ordered to go dark immediately!"

Djorell's ship was an older model and did not have long range scanning ability, so he could not verify the attack. There had been a data file attached to the message, and his ship had automatically downloaded it when he received the message. Briefly, he worried about his family back at the main facilities, but quickly entered the commands to jettison his cargo. Once free of the mass he turned his ship around and went to full power for the system boundary.

Veritle Reef was more than a week away but he could make it; if he limited himself to one meal a day and did not bathe. He entered the commands into the navigation computer and jumped as soon as the destination was verified.

Only minutes after the big ore hauler made the jump another jump point formed and an Imperial light cruiser emerged. Although the Imperial ships were staging the attack, they knew there were no enemy ships in the system to oppose them. So other than the standard energy shield used to travel through hyperspace, the ship did not have its shields raised, nor did it have its weapons charged.

Hyperspace events were usually restricted to locations outside of a solar system because of the short term gravity events they caused. In a system such as this one, where the only objects of significant mass were closer to the primaries, that was less of a concern. That fact, coupled with a very accurate plot of the entire system, was how the ore haulers could jump from one point to another in the system.

The Imperial ships did not have that plot, but in this case it would not have made a difference. The mass Djorell had been hauling was roughly that of a small destroyer. When the cruiser emerged in such close proximity to it, the gravity well of the event pulled the load in as if it were in free fall.

While the load had been basically smaller pieces of ore rock, it was held together by its own mass into one solid object. Only the bridge crew had time to see it before it slammed into the top of the ship, crushing the bridge, as well as the primary computer core that was on the deck below. Several other crew members died as a result of loss of hull integrity and the collision impact itself. By the time another ship arrived to rescue the crew and recover the ship, half of the crew had expired. The incident was listed as navigational error and not as a result of combat.

A week later, a very dirty and hungry Djorell arrived at the Vertile Reef Agricultural complex and delivered the message of disaster. The distress call was responded to immediately by the local forces since they were closer, but ten days had passed before any Alliance ships could make it to the remote corporate township.

Of the nine million beings living and working in the mining system, forty-three starving and cold miners were rescued from one of the mines that the Imperial ships had missed. Djorell had been the only ore driver to escape the system. If not for him, the atrocity that took place there would not have become known for at least a month. Upon learning of the fate of his family, Djorell ip Theabes, disembarked from the orbital facility and jumped his ship into the local primary.

Four other attacks were also staged, destroying two colony worlds and four industrial centers. The loss of the heavy industries was bad enough for the already stretched Alliance. However, the terroristic nature of the attacks had a devastating effect on the civilian populations of the Alliance. The Empire had made it perfectly clear to the civilians; none of them were safe.

An urgent call to council was issued by ARC for all members and their military leaders. Fleet Admiral H’joles called Ian in person to request not only Terran participation, but to offer the Talosian Rulers transportation to the emergency meeting. Ian noticed a change in the normally unflappable being. The Empire had found the weakness in the Alliance of Races and H'joles had no idea how to combat this new threat. Fleet Admiral H'joles of ARC High Command was scared.

Admiral's Office

TDF Star Dancer

Pleiades One Orbital Shipyard

Planet Atlas, Centauri System

Sol Sector

Before Ian could act, Luke Belden contacted him. "Ian, did you get the message about the emergency session at ARC HQ?"

Ian nodded. "I did. I was just about to start issuing orders to prepare for our departure. We can't take Star Dancer this time, so we're all going to have to ride in the Tiamat. Since the Prometheus has finished her upgrades, I was going to send her back to New Talos for their leaders."

"You're our military commander, Ian, so forgive me for asking this, but is this a good time to take the two most powerful ships we have away with the Empire doing the whole fly-by shooting slash terror attack thing? With both the Prometheus and the Tiamat gone, that'll only leave the Pegasus here for defense," Luke asked.

"Star Dancer will be finished in about a week. There are four light cruisers due off the lines the following week, and their crews should be ready about the same time, but even if they aren't, training command already has them scheduled for hands on training in the ships. That'll give us a battle cruiser, a heavy cruiser, and four light cruisers as primary defense, not counting all the condors and fighters we still have. I am also told that several of the smaller warships will be finished very soon as well. So, we'll have destroyers, missile boats, and mine layers in addition to the defense network. Honestly, Luke, as we are right now, we're better defended than most of the Alliance core worlds." Ian paused. "But, I do intend to take most of our unassigned Raptor teams with us and turn them loose in Alliance space."

Luke cocked his head to one side. "On what mission?"

"Emergency response and intelligence gathering. We need to know how the Empire is getting those ships to their destinations without anyone else seeing them. During the last two attacks, the fleet simply appeared in the target system and began the attack. No trace of them was detected before they appeared, and there should have been," Ian explained. "They were tracked when they departed, so we have to assume whatever got them there is a one-way deal. It can't be a new function of the ships, since they only recently left the front and haven't had enough time for an upgrade of this size. So it has to be a device of some kind that we simply haven't seen yet. I want the Raptors to find it, gather as much information about it as they can, then destroy it if possible."

Luke nodded. "When would you like us to be ready to leave?"

"In order for us to be there on time, Serena will have to leave today, we will have to leave no later than four days from now. The Tiamat's a bit faster than the cruisers, so we'll beat her and the Talosian delegation there, but I'd like to talk to Admiral H’joles about the Raptor missions before the summit anyway. It will also give you guys time to get to know the other delegates and leaders. So, let's say we head out at oh-nine-hundred hours the day after tomorrow."

"That sounds like a good plan, Ian," Luke replied. "I'll make sure we're ready. Only half the Council will be going. Who will you be leaving in Command here?"

"Probably Commodore Hawkins. Commander Egran has asked that if such a situation were to arise, he would prefer a Terran to be in command here. He and the Commodore are also pretty good friends, so they should get along pretty well," Ian replied.

Luke chuckled. "Isaak is good friends with everyone! Okay, Ian, I'll make sure everyone is ready and on board by six hours prior to departure."

Ian nodded to him. "Good Luck, High Councilor."

"You too, Admiral!" Luke replied grinning.

The comm had no more than closed when Ian was already asking Mel to connect him with Admiral Goya at Talosian High Command and Commander Serena on the Prometheus.

"Serena! How have you been?" Goya asked as his image came up on the screen beside his commander.

"I am well Admiral. The Prometheus is even better," the woman replied. "She was released from the yard yesterday. All upgrades have been completed."

"That's excellent! I look forward to reading your report on the new systems. Ian, I assume you’re calling about the emergency meeting?" Goya asked.

Ian nodded. "Yes sir, I am. I am sending the Prometheus to carry you and your Council representatives to the meeting. She's faster and far better armed than your existing ships. Besides, I don't think it would be a good thing to send one of your remaining ships away from the system given that the Empire is playing dirty."

Goya nodded. "We had actually planned on taking the Zephyr for those very reasons, but it would leave the Council representatives somewhat more vulnerable than I would be comfortable with. If you can spare her, the Prometheus would be the better choice."

"I think we'll be alright without her for this mission. Star Dancer will be coming out of the upgrade bay within the week, as well as a few other ships we have going. We'll be covered," Ian assured him.

"Ah, so you're planning on taking the Tiamat then?" Goya asked.

Ian nodded. "I plan on taking a squadron of Raptors along for a deep recon in Imperial space. We need information, and this type of thing is what they were designed for. Provided ARC Command approves, that is."

"I'm pretty sure that's a forgone conclusion, Ian. This whole series of attacks has them rattled. I don't think they know how to respond to this," Goya replied.

"The tactics the Empire is using are not those of a Military. They are using terroristic assaults on civilian populations. There is no method or reason for this," Serena said. "It’s insane."

"I won't argue that at all. But we better figure out what they're up to before we lose too many more people. As it is, the Alliance core worlds are beginning to panic. All of them have demanded that ARC position fleets to defend them. But if ARC does that, then they won't have anyone left to fight if the enemy does return to their old tactics," Goya said.

"It's worse than that, Sir. If ARC spreads out their fleets, the Empire will destroy them piece by piece with overwhelming and concentrated force. They have some method of transporting large numbers of ships almost instantly, anywhere they want them. How long would your own forces last if the entire Imperial fleet appeared in your system right now?" Ian asked.

Goya looked thoughtful. "Not very long at all. You don't think that's what they're up to, do you? Trying to get us to fracture our main fleets so they can destroy them in smaller pieces?"

"That could very well be exactly what they are up to," Ian said. "It would also have the added benefit of demoralizing the civilian populations, which in turn would affect how our warriors will fight. This change in tactics could very well decide the outcome of this war very quickly. We need to find out how they are pulling this off, learn all we can about it, then destroy it utterly before any more worlds are razed by them. You know how I feel about the use of gravimetrics, Sir; this is one instance that I would consider their use. Hundreds of billions of lives may very well depend on it."

Goya and Serena had both paled at his mentioning of that fearsome weapon. They both remembered the recent sacrifice of two of Ian's pilots to protect their own system from total destruction.

"Let us hope that such extreme measures will not be needed, Ian," Goya said softly. "I asked the High Council to approve the construction of a memorial for the two pilots who saved our system; it was unanimously approved by the entire Grand Council. It is being built outside of Elysium. Every day, there are over a thousand visitors to the site."

"Please let me know when it's finished, Sir. I would like to visit as well," Ian replied.

Goya nodded. "Commander Serena, since Ian is sending you to convey us to the meeting, we will depart in the Zephyr and make rendezvous with the Prometheus. I'll send you the exact coordinates in a couple of hours. You will need to depart as soon as you can if we are to make it to the meeting on time. Ian, I know you just said you were protected, but I’d feel better if you let me order the Zephyr to continue on to Sol Sector to provide additional protection. There is much we need to get done before we leave and little time. I'll see you both very soon."

"Be safe, Sir," Ian replied.

"We will be ready to depart in an hour, Admirals," Serena replied.

"That's good, Serena. Please don't think you’re getting off the hook here though, I'll want you back once this mission is over!" Ian said.

Goya chuckled. "I'll make sure she gets to come home, Ian. In fact, I'll even send a few more officers and crews with her when she does!" Goya said.

After getting off the comm with Serena and Admiral Goya, Ian next called Colonel Anders. He actually thought either Mel had become psychic, or she had been listening in on his conversations because of the speed in which Ty appeared on his monitor.

Ty saluted as soon as he saw Ian. "Good afternoon, Sir. What can we do for you today?"

"Ty, how can you always be so damn cheerful when you know that every time I call, I end up ruining your day?" Ian asked.

"With respect, Sir, it isn't you that ruins my day, it's some asshole somewhere that needs a lesson in manners," Ty replied reasonably.

"If you say so, Colonel. How many Raptor teams do you have sitting around?" Ian asked even though he already knew the answer.

"Seven, Sir. Currently, I have one of them babysitting the new guys, three are on leave, and the other three are assisting the instructors with training."

"Put them all on alert, one team will be reporting to Commodore Hawkins for duty as he sees fit. The rest are to load up for a long term mission in the dragon's den. They are to report to the Tiamat for transportation to the insertion point.

"I'll need you to come along in an advisory capacity. When you're packed, please come to my office for the full mission brief," Ian ordered.

"It sounds like a balloon went up," Ty replied.

Ian shook his head. "It's far worse than that I'm afraid. I'll tell you about it when you get here."

"Yes Sir, I'll be there in an hour," Ty replied.

Ian nodded and ended the transmission. "Mel, tell me, who am I going to ask you to call next?"

"Based on your calls so far and the information I've seen, you will be wanting to speak to Commodore Belirus next," the young woman replied.

"So that's how you've been able to anticipate me, huh?" Ian asked.

"Yes Sir, may I ask how long we'll be gone?" Mel asked.

"Plan for a month, but hope for a couple of weeks," Ian replied. "Although, I can pretty much guarantee three weeks minimum."

"Understood, Sir, do I alert your family?" Mel asked.

"No, I'll handle that. None of them will be going along this time; they all have duties they need to attend to here. I'll explain it to them tonight. Please put me through to Commodore Belirus now," Ian asked.

"Right away, Sir,"

The gruff visage of Belirus appeared on the monitor, he was in his ready room. "Admiral, may I assume we'll be leaving soon?"

Ian smiled. "You know, this could have been a social call."

Belirus grunted. "I'm too much of a bastard to associate with socially! So what's happening?"

"The ARC Council has called an emergency meeting of all member’s leadership to discuss the current situation with the Empire. I'll need the Tiamat to transport myself, Ty Anders, my intelligence and operations officers, as well as several members of the ruling council to the meeting. You will also be hosting an additional six Raptor teams that will be going on separate missions after we get there. Make sure you have all your fighters and Marines on board, as this will be a solo job," Ian explained.

"Hmm, a meeting like this could be a perfect time for the Empire to wipe out the leaders of ARC. Are you sure we can't take anyone else?" Belirus asked.

"Currently, four of the main Alliance battle fleets are stationed there for the meeting. I'll give you a full briefing on the situation after we depart, but they're pretty rattled there. I imagine security is going to reflect that," Ian replied. "Maybe I should check to see if there is another Def-Net Assembler ready to go with us?"

"Four? I'm surprised they could spare that many from the front lines. Anyway, we'll be ready, Sir. I'll contact Phoenix Base about that Assembler for you. Would you like me to ask for any extra fighters or Marines just in case?" Belirus asked.

"No, I'd rather they remained here in the case that they are needed here. I'm sure we can make do with just your single small ship," Ian said fighting a grin.

"Hah!" Belirus barked. "As you say, Sir, we'll be ready when you are. When will the Raptor teams be arriving?"

"Actually, they could start arriving just about any time. But I only just got off the comm with Colonel Anders so it might be a few minutes yet."

"Understood, Sir. We'll be ready. I'll make sure the VIP quarters are ready as well. Oh, I had the twins set aside four of the VIP Cabins and converted one of the bedrooms into offices. In that way, important passengers will still be able to conduct business," Belirus replied. "I'm sure you will be comfortable, Sir."

Ian grinned back at him. "Uh huh, you just want to keep me off your Bridge!"

"Well, we can't have our honored passengers simply wandering around, underfoot, and getting in everyone's way," Belirus said in his normal, almost pompous way. Everyone else thought it made him an ass, Ian thought it made his jokes even funnier.

Ian burst out laughing. "You got me there, Commodore! Unless you have any questions, I'll see you sometime tomorrow."

Belirus gave him a small smile. "I look forward to it, Admiral."

The channel closed and Ian couldn't help but chuckle. At least he understood the gruff old Commodore's sense of humor.

TDF Tiamat

Hyperspace Transit vector

Almaas Quadrant

Commodore Belirus, Commanding.

Ian relaxed into the padded seat in the hot tub. He was taking a break after his martial arts practice session with the members of Raptor Apache. He was nowhere near their level of proficiency with the art, but they were patient with him and still gave him a good work out. After getting a shower, Ian saw the hot tub and decided to take a soak. Across from him in the tub Major Jana Cromwell of the Apache was also enjoying a good soak.

"There was something I wanted to speak to you about concerning our mission; I think I might have an idea as to where to begin our search," the woman said.

Ian raised an eyebrow. By their very nature, all Raptor mission were considered classified, but this one was so general in its scope that it really wasn't an issue. "Oh, did we miss something?"

Jana shook her head. "I don't think so, at least not intentionally. I had Gouyen take a closer look at some of the data we had about the arrival of the Imperial ships in the attacks. She used the angles of each of the hyperspace events as a reference point in order to determine a point of origin. In all the cases we have data for, they all intersect at one point deep in enemy space at a system they captured very early in the war. It's a system near a low radiation star field identified as the Failspire Nebula; that nebula would help hide the device from scanners. On Alliance charts, the system is called Grimaria. Alliance intel believes that system to hold a major Imperial base. The nebula is seven or eight light months from the system and would be an ideal place to launch these attacks from."

"Is that where you plan on heading first then?" Ian asked.

Jana nodded. "I was going to ask if I could take one of the other teams along, one of us could check out the base while the other looks for this device. Maybe we can get more information on the enemy."

"It does sound like something that might be too good to pass up. We can't really launch until I discuss it with ARC Command, but check with the other teams and see who you can get to go with you, but keep it limited to just the two of you in the event that you don't find anything. Let me or Ty know whose going," Ian replied.

She nodded. "Will do, Sir."

Ian's comm beeped from beside the tub and Belirus' voice was heard. "We'll be dropping out of hyperspace in ten minutes, Admiral."

Ian touched the reply stud on the device. "Thanks, I'll be up there in a couple minutes."

"Take your time, Admiral; because of the amount of traffic, we were asked to drop out further out than is normal. We're looking at a two hour cruise to our final destination," Belirus replied. "I can understand it too. I don't think I've ever seen this many ships in one place before. Should I offer our assistance for traffic control? It seems to me that our flight control AI, Pyrania, could really help these folks out."

"If it's that bad, please do. People are already too much on edge to allow an accident to happen here," Ian replied.

"Agreed, that's why I asked. I'll give them a call right away. Belirus out."

Ian nodded to Jana as he stood to get out of the tub. He was aware of Jana's eyes on him as he headed back to the lockers to dry off and get dressed. He was starting to wish he'd brought Jenny along.

Thoughts of his mate brought back the memory of the argument they'd had the night before he left. Even Beth and Talena had sided with Jenny, as they had wanted to come as well. But the simple fact of the matter was that Jenny needed to stay while Star Dancer was in refit, Talena needed to remain as the wing commander of the ship, and all three of them needed to stay there for Cindy. When he told them why he wanted all of them to remain, it pretty much took all the fight out of them. None of them wanted to leave Cindy, but they didn't want him to go alone either. In the end, Ian had won, but the women had not been happy about it. He had only been gone six days, however, the encounter with Major Cromwell had reminded him how much he missed not only her advice and support, but the physical closeness he shared with Jenny.

As if summoned, his comm beeped at him again. This time it was the communications officer telling him his wife was calling. He chuckled and had them put her through. He set the small device on the shelf so he could look at her while he finished getting dressed. When her image appeared on the small screen he smiled at her. "I was just thinking about you."

Jenny's beamed a smiled at him. "Now that's the way to answer a call!" Her eyes got big though and she said, "Oh!"

Behind him, she saw Major Cromwell also getting dressed. The major must have heard her because she smiled and waved.

"Jana and I were in the hot tub relaxing after exercising. We just dropped out of hyperspace, so I was getting ready to go to the bridge," Ian explained.

"Wow, she's really beautiful; 'Jana' huh?" Jenny said raising an eyebrow at him. It was clear she was playing with him though.

Jana chuckled. "Relax Commander, I tried, but I couldn't talk him into it!"

"You turned her down?Are you feeling okay?" Jenny asked still pulling Ian's chain.

Ian just shook his head. "Did you call just to tease me, or is something up?"

Jenny chuckled as well. "I love teasing you! The reason I was calling is that Star Dancer is finished. I asked Laura Johnson to rechristen her tomorrow when she launches. Commodore Hawkins has already changed her designation in the official files to 'Battle Cruiser'. You should see Star, she's so proud of the new ship! It’s really nice to see her in such good spirits."

Ian nodded. "Yeah, I know the report we got from ARC about the change in Imperial tactics really seemed to bother her. The attack on the original Talos was a lot like these new attacks by the Empire. It was a surprise attack as well, although the Caldarians had always been targeting the civilians."

Jenny nodded. "That's probably it. I've made sure she can come talk to me if she wants to. She also has Janet she can talk to if she feels the need. Anyway, that's all I wanted to tell you, that and see how you're doing."

"I miss you and our family, but I imagine I'll be pretty busy now, at least until we leave." Ian sighed.

"So accept Jana's offer. It’s not like I don't know who you love. You need to have a clear head while you’re there. Do what you need to do to relax, its fine. Just come home to us soon please," Jenny replied, smiling. "Did you hear that, Jana?"

"Yes I did, Commander. I'll take good care of him for you," the beautiful woman behind Ian said.

"Jenny, you are an evil woman," Ian said.

She nodded. "That's why you love me! Now get to work, lazybones!" She winked before ending the call.

Jana lightly slapped him on the butt before walking out of the locker room. "See ya later, Sir."

Ian shook his head. "I swear, I'm gonna kill that woman!"

He heard Jana laughing as the door closed behind her.

Chapter 17

Alliance of Races Command

Office of the Fleet Admiral

ARC Main Campus

Delle Morsi System, Almaas Sector

Fleet Admiral H'joles was even larger in person than Ian had thought. He had to be at least eight feet tall and he looked to be all muscle. However, he was surprisingly gentle when he shook Ian's hand and welcomed him to High Command.

After the pleasantries had been exchanged, Ian got to the point. "Sir, I asked to see you because I would like to launch a mission deep into enemy held space. I currently have six Raptor teams on stand-by. They are briefed and ready to launch, if you approve. I would be sending them out with the specific purpose of locating the device that the Empire is using to move the ships to their destinations. In fact one of my team leaders thinks she might have a good idea as to where to begin." Ian continued on and explained the entire mission to the Fleet Admiral.

When he finished speaking, the large being leaned back and smiled. "With the rest of us on the verge of panic, you alone have come to me with an idea; a plan of action to get us back into this war. I noticed you did not mention what you would have your teams do if they found this device?"

"Sir, the destruction of this device has to be assured. We cannot allow the Empire to continue these terrorist attacks on our people. If we do as the Council is most likely to order us to do and spread the fleets out in order to protect the core worlds and important industrial facilities, we might as well just surrender, we would save more lives that way.

"As long as the Empire has the ability to drop their fleets anywhere they wish without any warning, they would simply destroy our forces by dropping in overwhelming force at each position. Even with the addition of the Terran stations, we could not hope to replace those ships fast enough to make a difference and that doesn't even take into account the lives of the crews.

"I'm not suggesting we do nothing and let our worlds burn. I am suggesting that our highest priority has to be given to finding and destroying that device as soon as possible, or this war is all but over. If we knew for certain that they had a limited amount of assets available or we knew how they were getting them to our galaxy as quickly as they are, then we could work with that, but until we know these things, we have to focus on this one task. I would never suggest such a thing lightly, Sir, but I would even be willing to consider the use a gravimetric bomb to ensure the device's destruction. It's that important."

H’joles was silent for a moment. But slowly nodded his agreement. "There is wisdom in your words, Admiral. But there is a problem." He typed in a few commands on his terminal and a large holographic screen took form behind Ian. In it, there was a very fussy image of three, ring-looking structures with a nebula in the background.

"We just received this from one of our civilian scout ships. While returning from a rebel supply run, they captured this image at extreme distance, in the place your Major Cromwell suggested, the Grimaria system. We believe that these are the devices the Empire is using to transport their ships to our worlds."

As he watched, the three devices seemed to light up and pulse. Because of the poor resolution due to distance, little else could be seen. H'joles continued.

"Although we cannot see them, the computers tell us the devices are surrounded by thousands of warships. We could not identify anything else about them, but the timing of this event matches the timing of the last attack, with a five second delay between this event and the arrival of the attack fleet. The distance between the two events is seven hundred and thirty-five light years."

"That's a hundred and fifty lights a second!" Ian said, astounded.

H'joles nodded. "So your Major is correct as to the location of the device. Unfortunately, the use of a gravimetric warhead here would end the lives of almost fifteen billion civilians. The area not only contains an Imperial Base, but there are nine heavily populated planets within twenty light years. No other missile or weapons would be able to get close enough to destroy this facility. I agree with you that it needs to be destroyed, but I don't see how even one of your Raptor teams could get close enough to it."

"With respect, Sir, I wouldn't bet against them. May I call them here to see if they have any ideas?" Ian asked.

H'joles nodded permission. "Just so you know, I already have our fleets on standby to move into protective postures for the core worlds. It is a forgone conclusion the Council will order this move. The public is far too panicked for us to do anything else. I agree with you about what the next move by the Empire will be, but there is not a lot that can be done at this point."

"On my home planet, we deal with terrorists and terror attacks on an almost weekly basis. To date, the only effective counter that has been found is to locate and destroy the support structure that enables them to carry out their missions. In this case, we cannot destroy the Empire, which is their primary support, however, we can disrupt, destroy, and pull off a few attacks of our own.

"For example, there is a base in the Grimaria system, correct?" Ian asked.

H’joles nodded. "It is their main forward base and distribution point for all the operations in this part of the galaxy. They have two of their big mobile shipyards there, as well as hundreds of mining operations, supply warehouses, troop barracks, fighter assembly plants, and weapons factories. They have turned the entire planet into one large base dedicated to the support of their fleets."

"How many of our people are still on the planet?" Ian asked.

H'joles shook his head. "We have no way of knowing for certain. Before it fell four hundred years ago, it had a population of roughly three billion. It was mostly a farming planet, with some light industrial centers that supported the farmers and the miners that had begun working the systems many ore deposits. Most of the farms are gone now, but it is believed that the population has been conscripted into working in the factories for the Empire."

"We can still hit the shipyards, barracks and all the other purely military stuff on the planet. With a little luck, we might even be able to take out a few of the factories as well. This is the primary function of a Raptor team, Admiral; to seek out enemy bases and supply centers and to raise as much hell as possible in the shortest amount of time."

It didn't take long for Ty and the six Raptor commanders to arrive. After each one was introduced to the Fleet Admiral, Ian quickly explained the situation to them.

"So there you have it folks, Major Cromwell was right about the location, but there are too many civilians in the area to simply drop a gravimetric on them. If the Empire is allowed to continue to use these devices, they will win the war. So tell me; what are you going to do to stop them?"

"The devices seem to be using a type of hyperspace compression we are unfamiliar with. That is to say, the method in which they are compressing hyperspace is unknown to us, but the bottom line here is it is still hyperspace. If we can get either a sufficient amount of dark matter, or a really powerful antimatter bomb into the event horizon and then detonate it, it would be a very powerful discharge. The size of the explosion would be greatly affected by the amount of hyperspace being compressed at the time, but it would be more than enough to destroy those rings. Probably a very large portion of the ships around them as well," Major Rathbone of Raptor Ithica said.

"Yeah, but what would you suggest as a method of getting it delivered, Rat?" Jana asked. "A missile would be detected and we won't want to be all that close when it goes up."

Ty shook his head. "You guys are too slow. While under stealth, plant multiple devices on the larger ships of their fleet. Rig them for immediate detonation as soon as the high energy of hyper is detected."

"Unfortunately, Jana is correct Colonel. The presence of the nebula would make it difficult, if not impossible to hide the increased energy signatures of the Raptors," Rat said thoughtfully. "But, hyperspace physics will not let you exit into a nebula, which means that those ships can't jump all the way to the devices. We could set the bombs up on them as soon as they exit hyperspace, yet before they enter the nebula."

"You could also set the bombs up for remote control so you can arm them at any time after you plant them," Ty said. "Okay, this is how we need to do this..."

H'joles and Ian stayed back and let the teams work out how to do the task Ian had given them. "This is amazing to me; such a thing would take a week of planning and arguing just to get the plan to form. They’re already assigning tasks and choosing targets!"

"Like I said, Sir, they'll be ready to launch by the end of this day. They won't stop either. They know the importance of this mission, I doubt they'll return until it’s accomplished. Say, I wanted to tell you that we brought a Defense Network Assembler for this system. It's just the core module for now, but it'll get busy as soon as it's deployed. I'll have to leave the trainers and techs with you for a while though, as it'll take longer to get your people trained and make certain everything with the device is working properly. Since every system is different, the techs have to adjust it to work in each system as part of the setup process."

H'joles smiled at that. "You people amaze me. Thank you, Admiral. I will make certain that they are treated as honored guests while they are with us and arrange appropriate transportation back to you once their job here is complete."

Ian smiled. "One of the tasks our councilors have during this trip is to coordinate delivery of future units. When I spoke to the supervisor of the facility building them, he told me they would be increasing production of the devices. Currently they are building one unit every four days, he said their goal was one a day until every inhabited system in the Alliance was protected."

"That will be very appreciated by everyone, I am certain," H'joles replied. "How goes the rest of what you had planned?"

"The rebuilding of the Talosian fleets is on schedule. While the first new Battle Cruiser is set to launch next month, several of the small ships will be completed before then. Four new light cruisers should be launching in the next couple of days, followed by two destroyers, and several combat support ships.

"The next station won't be finished for a couple more months, but one of its gantries has already begun work on a new battle carrier. I'm told that the next gantry should be coming online soon, and it will begin construction of two more battle cruisers. There are a few new ship designs awaiting approval as well. One of them is a battleship, and there is something called an assault cruiser. I haven't read the report on either of them yet, but they should prove interesting," Ian replied.

H'joles nodded. "While you are here, I would like to take a tour of your ship. There has been much speculation about the effectiveness of such a ship, and I would like to see it with my own eyes."

"I'm sure that can be arranged, Admiral, although you might have some difficulty getting through some of the doors, we had no idea your people were as large as you," Ian replied.

"I am considered large even among my own people, Admiral. I even had difficulties here until they changed out the doors for me," H'joles admitted.

"Excuse me, Sirs. We have a plan. May the Majors be dismissed to prepare for it while I brief you?" Ty asked politely.

Before Ian could reply, H’joles knelt down to one knee so he could be at eye level with the humans. "Officers, the mission you are about to undertake will very likely be one of the most important ones of this war, if not the history of the Alliance. The futures of all of our peoples hangs in the balance. The fact that you have the audacity to even attempt this, humbles me beyond words and for that fact alone, you have my gratitude. Go forth, warriors, go with the knowledge that trillions of your fellow citizens believe in you and give to you their purpose and their hearts. Go forth and show your enemies no mercy but only the taste of utter defeat!"

Major Cromwell bowed to him, pulled her knife and cut her left hand. Replacing her knife, she offered it to H’joles. When he took it she stood proud facing him. "I will not return until our task is complete, Sir."

She looked down and turned her head slightly. "This is known to the Admiral's people as a blood oath. By swearing such, I am telling him I will accomplish my mission or die in the attempt. It also means I cannot return to any alliance base until that device is destroyed. He is giving us a warriors sending in the tradition of his people. This is a great honor coming from him."

H'joles let her finish the explanation and when she looked back up at him he nodded. "You cannot know defeat."

Surprising Ian, the other five majors copied Jana's oath to him before they left. H'joles simply watched the door for a few moments after they had departed. Finally he stood and returned to his desk. "Please Colonel, tell us how our warriors are going to destroy the enemy's device."

That night, as Fleet Admiral H'joles explained the operation to the Council and his staff, the six small ships departed the Tiamat and jumped away. It would take at least a month before they could destroy the enemy's Hypergates, as they had become known. Three weeks of travel just to get there and a week of playing cat and mouse with a vastly superior enemy before results could be seen. Before they left, they worked out a design for the packages they would be planting on the enemy ships, installed a replicator large enough to build them, and still departed the same day. H'joles was indeed humbled by their audacity in attempting such a thing. The fate of their entire galaxy could very well rest on the shoulders of thirty six humans. But they were not normal humans, no, they were a Raptor Squadron.

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.

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Ben Winston


Blue Space Publications, LLC.






Join the Blue Space Publications, LLC. Newsletter (usually Bi-Weekly issues).

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

by Ben Winston

Pollux Paradox

Tides of Mars

Tides of Mars (Omnibus)

Ascension – Book I

Conflict – Book II

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

*Neptune’s Massif – Book IV (Dec 2015, on presale now!)

*Raptor Squadron – Book V (First Quarter of 2016)


Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

The Last Mission – Part Three

Resolution – Part Four

Bedouin’s Travels

Twilight Earth – Book I

A Long, Dark Night – Book II

*Terra Dawning – Book III (Pre-Sale now Dec 2015)

*New Day – Book IV (First Quarter of 2016)


Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

Hard Wired – Episode IV

Debug Mode – Episode V

*Beta Test – Episode VI (Pre-Sale now First Quarter of 2016)

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

home | my bookshelf | | Neptune's Massif |     цвет текста   цвет фона   размер шрифта   сохранить книгу

Текст книги загружен, загружаются изображения

Оцените эту книгу