Book: Raptor Squadron

Raptor Squadron

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Raptor Squadron






















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Raptor Squadron

Talosian Chronicles – Book V

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2016 Ben Winston

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

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

Neptune’s Massif – Book IV

Raptor Squadron - Book V

Armeggedon - Book VI (Release Date TBA)


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.

Table of Contents

Raptor Squadron






















About the Author

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Raptor Squadron

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 most 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, also named Olympus, set about his first task of repairing and decontaminating the ship; it took far longer than it had estimated. 900 years later he had finally completed all the repairs he could. However, the ship remained on the moon for the simple reason that, since it was never intended to land, the ship had no means of lifting its large, multi-megaton mass off the surface.

Hoping the new Commander would have an idea, Olympus turned its full attention to the planet the 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 crews. Fearing that the Commander’s plan had failed, but bound by his final commands, the old AI 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 began to influence man in small subtle ways, avoiding politics and religion, 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 as Commander of Olympus. Ian followed Talosian tradition and rechristened the ship ‘Star Dancer’ and changed the male AI avatar, ‘Olympus’, to a female, ‘Star’. He immediately began recruiting a crew after taking his best friend as bond mate. Suspecting that the ship had sustained further, possibly undetected damage, Ian ordered diagnostics run on the ship. After rescuing young Talena from her impossibly long four-thousand-five-hundred-year stasis, the small group found out how badly damaged the ship actually was, and even Star was surprised by how close to killing the 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 removal 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 introducing suppressed technologies and ‘green’ research.

The ship’s 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 arrived and immediately began 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 kept a low profile and began a guerrilla war against the Caldarians. During the attacks, it became impossible for Ian to keep his existence from the governments of the United States and the rest of the Earth. 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 the 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 sat down and discussed 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 became 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 came to the Sol System to negotiate the situation.

After a sabotage attempt perpetrated by one of the Council members failed, Ian and the other members of the Talosian Council discovered the extent of the corruption in the Talosian Ruling Council, and the plot to over-throw the Council. Ian and his friends worked 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 received 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 was heavily damaged by an Imperial warship that was destroyed in the initial exchange with the Damocles.

The Benesian ship hid and began repairs. When Star Dancer arrived, they located the Benesian ship but not Cindy’s Raptor, Damocles.

After locating the Damocles, Star Dancer helped the Benesian ship finish repairs, but while escorting it to a jump point, an Imperial Task Force arrived. After speaking to the Alliance of Races Military, Ian and the Star Dancer remained 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 opened diplomatic relations with Sol Sector and invited them to take part in the assault on the task force Ian encountered while assisting the Benesian liner.

The diplomatic relations allowed 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.

Almost as soon as the underwater base was secured, the political situation on New Talos deteriorated into civil war. A militant faction intent on racial dominance staged a coup that killed almost half of the Grand Council of New Talos and took control of the population and all the military assets in the system. During the Coup, Admiral Goya and Councilor Noren tried to send the self-destruct commands to the Talosian fleet. Councilor Noren was gravely wounded in the attempt. A Council guard made a lucky shot and killed the assassin, and another Councilor assisted Goya in sending the Council override command to the fleet, destroying the ships controlled by the rebels, but leaving the loyal Talosian Military basically unarmed.

Ian devised a plan to retake New Talos and restore the Council to power, but lacked the forces on his own. First Admiral H'Joles of the Alliance of Races sent several Talosian units under his command to Ian in order to restore New Talos. Before leaving, Ian ordered the construction yards in Sol Sector to begin rebuilding the Talosian Fleet and to use the new designs developed by the researchers in Sol Sector.

While Ian and the task force were busy at New Talos, the Empire pulled their forces back to a forward staging area. The new Commander had a change in tactics to implement and wanted to take advantage of the New Talos incident to spread suspicion and mistrust in the Alliance.

Shortly after Ian and his remaining forces returned to Sol Sector, the Empire began using their advanced hyperspace travel system to stage terroristic hit and run raids on unprotected Alliance worlds. It worked, the Alliance citizens began to panic and lose faith in the Council and the Military.

The Alliance Council called for an emergency meeting of all races to discuss the situation. First Admiral H'joles also called for the Alliance Military leaders to meet and discuss options for countering this new threat to the Alliance.

Intending to send them out searching for intelligence after providing security for the meeting, Ian took all available Raptor teams with him to the meeting. However, once they arrived, the First Admiral shared some new information with him. An Alliance social survey probe had captured images of three large rings near the main Imperial base. It was believed that these were the devices that gave the Empire the ability to jump hundreds of light years almost instantly. Ian and H'joles agreed to send Ian's Raptor teams to investigate and destroy the devices. After briefing the team leaders and their AI, First Admiral H'joles dispatched the Raptor Squadron.


"I've… seen things you people wouldn't believe; attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I've watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost…in time, like tears… in rain."

- Rutger Hauer as replicant Roy Batty

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982)

Raptor Apache

Hyperspace Transit Vector

Aris Sector, Imperial Occupied Space

Major Jana Cromwell, Commanding

"Jana, I was going to ask you, are you familiar with the traditions and customs of all the allied races?" Major Rathbone asked via the comm.

"Just the major ones, Rat, I'm still studying a few of the minor ones," she shrugged. "After what happened at Rataac I felt it would be smart to know the customs of those we might be working with," she replied referring to the incident with the Admiral in command of the Rataac Sector attack fleet.

"That just seems an impossible task to me. There are so many different customs and traditions, I'd get them confused," Rathbone replied.

"It helps that a good portion of the customs and traditions are shared between multiple races," Jana replied.

"That just seems odd to me. They adopted the customs of their enemies?" Major Thomas of the Raptor Gotham said.

"These folks have known each other for thousands of years. Almost all of them are former enemies of each other. When the Caldarians almost wiped out the Talosians, the five most powerful of them had already banded together to deal with the Caldarian threat. Once the Caldarians had been dealt with, civilian exploration was allowed to begin, and the new Alliance simply stayed together and began working things out with words instead of guns. More races joined up, one of them was a new race discovered by the explorers. Then, a mission was sent to a nearby dwarf galaxy where they encountered the Empire.

"As far as we know, the explorers were killed and the ship dissected to discover where it came from. A couple of years later, the first Imperial battle fleet arrived. By the time the Alliance knew of the threat, they had already established bases here and amassed a considerable force. When the Empire attacked, many believed the Alliance would fall because of losses incurred early on.

"Now, all the races in this half of the galaxy are members of the Alliance of Races, and the other half of the galaxy is controlled by the Empire," Jana finished.

"What does that have to do with why they share customs?" Thomas asked.

Jana grinned. "Think about this; your enemy takes two of your planets. A few years later, you retake those planets and capture three of his. You go back and forth like this for a couple hundred years; what do you think is happening on those worlds that keep changing hands? The cultures are blending, traditions, and customs become a mix of the two warring nations. Since the worlds that change hands are not always the same ones, the effect spreads. After a few centuries, the two societies end up sharing customs and traditions."

"I never thought of that. Does that effect eventually stop the hostilities then?" Thomas asked.

"Maybe in some cases it does, but the two races are still different, and the original purpose for the war still exists: territory, minerals, or resources may still be contested over," Jana said.

“It makes me wonder what we'll see once we begin taking back worlds that have been captured," Rathbone replied. "Will we see this cultural effect on the worlds that used to belong to the Alliance?"

"It’s hard to say," Jana replied. "From what we know, the beings on captured worlds are treated more like slaves than citizens. They may very well adopt what they observe as the customs of the Empire, simply because they have forgotten their own. Remember, there are some worlds that have been in Imperial hands a long time, such as the one we are headed to right now. It may very well be that the civilians may be citizens of the Empire now."

"Nor does it have a rebel faction that we know of. While they are still civilians, we must also consider them to be 'hostile' civilians in that if we are seen, they will report us immediately," Rathbone added. "They most likely will not attack us themselves, but they will not do us any favors either."

"We will have to be careful; we must also remember that if they do attack or act against us, they are not our targets. The actions on Grimaria are the distraction, not the mission. No matter what happens there, we must always remember that," Jana said.

"I still have difficulty believing that in all the centuries this war has been going on, the Alliance has never retaken a single bloody world. There is just something very wrong with that picture." Major Carl Mountbatten of Raptor Dynasty said.

"I heard that Admiral Williams is going to be changing that. He's going to retake one of the farming," Jana said.

Carl snorted. "With the way the Empire is flinging their forces about the galaxy, I'd think such an attack would draw their attention. He'd just get started and the Empire would drop a hundred ships on him from those bloody rings!"

"You know, that might be a way to counter what they're doing. If the Alliance could attack multiple worlds at the same time, it might force these assholes to fire off their ships to those worlds and not on terror attacks. Too bad we can't call back and tell them!" Rathbone replied.

"The Admiral is a smart man, I'm sure he'll figure that little angle out, if he hasn't already," Jana said, with complete confidence in her superior.

"Well, either way, we're still a few days from drop out. Has everyone finished their preparations?" Thomas asked.

Jana snorted. "We finished up last week. Have you guys figured out how to collect the dark matter without getting yourselves blown up?"

"Yeah, once we find some, we're going to have to take the containers out and fill them manually. Should prove to be interesting since we can't touch the stuff. Once we capture it, we seal the containers, and simply deliver it to the ships," Rathbone replied.

"Have you figured out how much you’re going to need?" Jana asked.

"Well, the equations we've run tell us we really don't need all that much to destroy the rings, we will need to make sure that a lot of ships get tagged since we don't know who's going to be sent where or when. No, the real problem is going to be finding the stuff to begin with, and once we do, getting it back to where it'll do the most good. Honestly, we might have to resort to using big anti-matter firecrackers." Thomas replied. "Alfred says the closest place we should be able to find dark matter is on the far side of the nebula over a light year away. Since we can't take it through hyperspace, that's a problem. Alfred and Circe will begin scanning for anything closer once we drop out," He finished; naming the Gothem AI Alfred, and Ithaca AI Circe. "The stuff just doesn't like to congregate near anything else of mass."

"Let's just wait and see what the AI come up with. If we have to use the A-M Demo charges, it raises our odds of detection by an order of magnitude," Jana replied. "But, if that's all we got, then that’s it."

Alliance of Races Command

Council Chamber

ARC Main Campus

Delle Morsi System, Almaas Sector

"Councilors, I understand your desire to protect your people and demand that ARC Command station fleets in order to protect your worlds. On the surface, that is the only way to defend against the tactics the Empire is now using. But this would be a horrible mistake that would give the Empire total victory in this war within a year," Ian said. "Please, let me show you what will happen if you order this."

He turned and gestured to the large hologram now being displayed behind and above him. It showed the current layout of nations in their half of the galaxy. "If you order the fragmentation of our fleets, and assign them to protect your core worlds, this is what it will look like. Now, because of the distances involved, you really can’t see much, so let's begin with the Gronian Protectorate as they are one of the nation’s closest to Imperial space."

The display zoomed into the Gronian territory, and showed several star systems spread out over dozens of light years. By each of the major planets, an icon representing the forces deployed took form. "Here you can see that ARC forces have been assigned to assist the Gronian defensive fleets. Because the Empire can attack virtually anywhere, only a few ships could be assigned here as the rest are spread out all over the Alliance protecting the other worlds. In the end, only eight ships, three heavies and five lighter ships would be sent here to help. Now, before you say anything about that, consider that you wanted the fleets sent out to defend all the core worlds. None of the other worlds get much more than this either. But now, the Alliance fleets instead of being together to defend each other, are now spread out over thousands of light years." As the image zoomed back out to show the entire Alliance, Ian continued.

"AI Freya, please randomly select any Alliance core world."

"Alharis Four, Capitol world of the Hurian Federation," the AI replied and zoomed into that system. "Population nineteen billion, this Alharis system also contains six major mining operations and eight non-planetary civilian research facilities. It has two ship building facilities, only one of which is capable of producing warships. After Alliance fleet dissolution, this system will be protected by one hundred and sixteen warships and two armored divisions."

"A strong force to be sure. Assuming the Empire also knows this, what is their most probable response based on observed tactics to date?" Ian asked.

As the AI replied, she animated the display to reflect her words. "While the Imperial transport device or devices are still in operation, it is most likely they will arrive at this system with no less than two, but the more likely scenario is four Imperial battle fleets. They will want an overwhelming force to ensure the fight ends quickly and decisively to demoralize the rest of the Alliance.

"As they enter the system, they will destroy all outlying facilities while driving directly toward the defending fleet." She sped up the display but the Councilors could still see the destruction of the mining bases and outer system research facilities. She slowed it back down as the two fleets closed.

"The amount of fire power sent by the Empire makes this fight a forgone conclusion. However, I am certain our forces would do their best." She once again sped up the display, showing the resulting battle at high speed. She set it back to normal once the last three ships of the fleet were destroyed. "The battle lasted eight hours, nineteen minutes. All main defensive units have been destroyed." She sped up again to show the fleet approaching the planet. As they took position in a high altitude assault orbit. She returned it to normal. "Planetary bombardment commences ten hours fourteen minutes after arrival. If a distress call were issued when the Imperial fleet arrived in system, there is still nine days before any assistance can arrive from the closest point. In this attack scenario, the Imperial fleet would leave this system in two days. Six to ten percent of the population will have survived. However, the planet is ecologically ruined. All unshielded food and water sources are now contaminated. Another sixty-five percent of the survivors will be fatally poisoned before help can arrive. Twenty percent will fall victim to the elements. By the time assistance arrives and is given to the survivors, only eight million beings will remain."

Ian took over then. "Councilors, this is not a 'worst-case' scenario; this is the most probable one. But even beyond this, is the fact that every single warship of every single member nation here will be destroyed, and we will still lose our people by the billions. As cold hearted as this sounds, if you order our fleets to defend our core worlds, you will only be making it easier for the Empire to destroy them while they still murder our people.

"We have taken steps to find and destroy the device the Empire is using to move their ships. But there is one thing I need you all to understand; the tactics they are using are specifically designed to do exactly what you see happening now. It is designed to create panic and foment terror on a large scale. I’ll admit it is very effective. Part of that is to make you, our leaders, make the wrong decisions based on the panic and fear inspired during these attacks. You must not let that happen.

"Until this mysterious device is located and destroyed, there is very little we can do to prevent these attacks. You will notice I did not say there is nothing we can do, because there are things we can do. But it will require that the Alliance fleets be available to perform their part and not get destroyed piecemeal by the Empire. Councilors, I am not suggesting we ignore these attacks; no, we have to respond as protectors of our people.

"We Terrans may be very new to this Alliance. I acknowledge we are also a very minor member as well. We may not understand any animosities you each may have had for one another in the past. But there is one truth we are absolutely sure of; the time for nationalism is over. It is time we forgive grievances, forget debts, and reach out to each other. We need to work together now, more than ever before. If we do not come together fully, work with each other to the best of our abilities to do so, this enemy will roll over us and all that we are and have ever been will be as tears in the rain.

"To that end, we of Terra will be expanding our facilities to build ships for all races. Although it will be done with care and in a controlled manner to preserve security, we will be releasing our technology to you and offering training in its use.

"Let me be very clear on this one fact, Councilors. In this war, if we do not stand together as brothers, we will all fall separately as strangers."

As Ian stepped back from the podium, the Councilors stood and applauded. To some, that was banging something on the table, to others it was clapping hands, while some growled and howled their approval of his speech. In whatever case, it was clear they agreed with him. Now would come the time to see if they put his words into practice.

Fleet Admiral H'joles replaced Ian at the podium and let the applause die down of its own accord. Ian may be new to the Alliance, but H'joles was proud of the young human. He had a quick mind and a good sense of duty. He turned to address the assembled Councilors.

"Councilors, we of the military ask that you consider Admiral Williams' words carefully before you vote on this. We have devised a strategy that should take the Empire's focus off of our worlds and buy us some time to do something about their transportation device. Because of security, I cannot tell you what that is right now, but it will work.

"For many years, before we formed this Alliance, we were enemies. Our diverse cultures and belief systems put us in direct conflict with each other. Some of you may even feel that those are still valid reasons to oppose one another. They are not. In the centuries we have been allies, we have found the benefits of peaceful exploration and the advances we can make if we simply talk to each other and work together. Right now, outside this very station, is a perfect example of what that cooperation can do for all of us; a device of Terran design and construction is being installed that will defend this entire system. A device they are offering to every system and planet in the Alliance. I ask you, how would such a thing be possible if we clung to the old ways and old beliefs?

"The Terrans, the newest, and by far the smallest member of the Alliance, is putting all of its not inconsiderable resources into supporting this Alliance. Even before they joined this Alliance they worked for it. They helped any who asked, and even some who did not but needed that aid anyway. They assisted the Talosians, the Benesians, and they assisted our own battle fleets at Beta Hydri. I feel we should learn from their example. Although it goes against some of our natures, mine included, we can learn a great deal from the Terrans. Things we can only learn through friendship and peaceful cooperation.

"But these are only the best examples of what can be gained by all of us, from this sort of cooperation.

“The Terrans have less than a thousand scientists and researchers at their disposal, yet look at all they have accomplished. Think about what could be possible, if those thousand were joined by the millions the rest of us have.

"You may be asking yourself what all this talk about peaceful cooperation is about since we have been allied for centuries. I agree we have, and we have done and accomplished amazing things. But what we are speaking of now goes beyond that; it goes beyond treaties and agreements between politicians and military leaders. What we are speaking of is a virtual dissolution of our mental borders of nationalism; in effect, we need to become one nation, united for a common purpose. That purpose is to defend our people; all of our people from those that would do us harm. To join together for the advancement and betterment of all of us." He grinned sardonically. "Yes, in effect we would form our own Empire, but unlike our current enemy, ours could be more diverse and well balanced if we create it with care.

"I am not proposing we need to do this immediately, but it is a goal we can work towards even in these dark times. Admiral Williams informed me, as I'm sure many of you may already know, that the leadership of the Terrans are beginning to build an Academy on one of their planets. To begin with, the idea was to create a place to train our military in the operation of the new ships being built and for the sharing of tactics and strategies.

"However, the idea has since grown far beyond that. The Military Academy is still going to be built, but a civilian one is also going to be built, and any member of the Alliance, and also non-member races, will be allowed to attend free of charge. For my part, which is the Military Academy, I have been asked to consider sending instructors and training officers once the facility is closer to completion.

"With your approval I fully intend to do just that. I would also ask that this Council consider sending the Terrans assistance for getting all of their facilities built. I would hope that the Terran leadership will forgive me for speaking out of turn, but all of us should ask them what they need and how we can assist. Every single project under construction there will be a benefit to the entire Alliance, and we all have a vested interest in seeing them get built quickly and efficiently.

"Admiral Williams told me that the Terrans will be sharing their technology with us. It would be good to have builders trained in how to construct those facilities. In this way, we could create teams of builders to travel around to the appropriate places and build what needs to be built or to convert what needs to be converted.

"I have said what I need to say. I am confident you have been given the information you need to make your decisions. Our Alliance Military stands ready to defend us," H'joles said and bowed as he stepped back.

Again the assembly stood and applauded. H'joles parting comments were not lost on those that had known him. His normal parting was 'Your Alliance Military stands ready to defend you.' By changing the wording to 'our' in place of 'your' it was a statement to the Alliance that he believed in the words he spoke. In his culture, his words were his truth. It was one of the reasons he had risen to the position he now held. He was incapable of political 'double-talk', and what he said was what he believed.

H'joles had officially listed Ian as an Alliance Fleet Admiral, and placed him in charge of 'special projects'. He was also assigned the responsibility of defending the Terran sector. Admittedly, Ian already did that, but now it was official. Ian could also now wear the rank of Fleet Admiral on his uniform. Although Ian did not technically have a fleet under his command yet, the construction yards and the ships they would produce there would become his official responsibility for the Alliance.

TDF Tiamat

Hyperspace Transit vector

Almaas Quadrant

Commodore Belirus, Commanding.

"Well, that certainly turned out much better than we feared it would." Luke said. The Tiamat had recently made the jump into hyperspace to return to Earth. Ian and the VIP's had been invited to the 'Captain's Mess' so they could talk about the trip and what had happened.

"Whatever happened certainly got the rest of the Captains and senior officers riled up. At first they all believed the fleets would be split up and sent to protect alliance worlds, but then the rumors started that command had something up their sleeve and had managed to talk the Council out of splitting up the fleets. They also began panicking because they said we were going to get rid of the Alliance and form an Empire of our own. I tried to keep everyone calm, but the rumors were pervasive. I watched the same broadcast as everyone else. I sure didn't hear anything that said we were doing that. It was suggested as an eventual possibility, but that was all I heard," Belirus said.

Ian nodded. "We did talk the Alliance out of splitting up the fleets. We have a much more effective strategy in mind. One of the reasons we were so late in departing is that I was still working with the Intelligence and Command staff to work out that strategy. We do have a major part to play in it, and I'll tell you all about it later. The other reason we were delayed was because Luke and the rest of the Council got to be pretty popular after the main meeting."

"Oh?" Belirus asked. "I kind of thought H'joles might have thrown you to the wolves when he said that."

Luke swallowed the bite of steak he was eating and nodded. "He did, but it was in a good way. I'd planned on asking for their help anyway. The way it turned out, we have more help than we know what to do with!" He chuckled as he took a drink. "Very soon, there are going to be a lot of Alliance personnel arriving at Atlas to be assigned to different projects in the system. I dare say that most of our projects will be completed within the year because of it."

"Even the Pleiades stations?" Belirus asked.

"Especially those. The priorities are the stations, then the academies. Of course, those won't be the only projects getting more workers; we have enough coming, and can easily ask for more, to fully staff every project on the books. Some of those coming will be staying as both students and instructors at the academies. Others will be going to Phoenix Base to learn how to build the Defense Networks, and they will be heading out as soon as teams are formed.

"The computer department on Phoenix will be tripling in size because, while the Alliance agreed to give our Sentient AI a try, they agreed that manufacturing of those units be controlled and isolated. Which means only Phoenix will be building them. So, all the relevant researchers, scientists, and technicians will be coming to Phoenix.

"The Pleiades stations will be fully staffed and defended. We will still retain command of them, but they will be brought up to full strength." Luke snorted. "We'll even be getting a civilian police force!"

"It sounds like we're getting invaded!" Belirus said.

"We are, in a manner of speaking." Ian took a drink of his beer. "I've been given the rank of Fleet Admiral in the Alliance. While we are far too small to rate a full membership within the Alliance, we are basically gaining all the benefits of it. Luke was asked to assemble and send a full diplomatic team as soon as he can, and not just a single representative."

Luke nodded and picked up the conversation. "All the people coming to us will be, in effect, our citizens. They will retain all the rights and privileges enjoyed by everyone else. The Alliance is entering into a kind of political and social flux. The speeches Ian and H'joles gave really seemed to impress the leaders and Ambassadors attending. They really are going to try to make us all just one nation instead of a group of nations. No one can tell how this'll eventually pan out, but I see it becoming sort of like the United States on Earth. The Alliance will become, in effect, the federal government, while the separate nations will become the states."

"Let's just hope they can avoid the corruption that seems to be effecting the nations currently," Chloe Brighton replied. "For their part, the Alliance Intelligence Branch seems to be already set up that way. Of course, it would almost have to be, in order to handle the massive and diverse reports they receive and analyze. The Pit, as they call it, is always busy. It's the main situation room for the Intel Branch. It's built like a huge NASA control center and in some cases, functions the same way. ““However, it can split apart to handle multiple situations at one time. Which is how it had been working until the Empire changed tactics." She chuckled. "They already have a request in for one of our AI. They've long dreamed of an AI that can make the needed leaps of logic that shadow ops requires."

"I didn't know they made the request. What race did they ask it be designed for?" Ian asked.

"Surprisingly enough, they asked for human. Admiral Djolet told me it really didn't matter what appearance it had, that its function is what is important. She is one scary, smart Ferran. Even the Croanians don't argue with her," Chloe finished.

"Will Raptor Command be transferred to the Intel Branch then?" Ty Anders asked.

Ian shook his head. "No, H'joles was very clear on that. Over-all command of all Raptor teams will remain with us. Even the ones assigned to fleets. Once a soldier is assigned to a Raptor, they become ours. Granted, the teams will be assigned out to fleets most of the time, but we retain final authority over them. We can develop special units for the Intel Branch that have the sole purpose of gathering intelligence, giving them special equipment and the like; but I don't see them as being combat units, more like spy ships."

"So, what's going to happen when we return to Sol Sector?" Belirus asked.

"We prepare for a mission. We still have a date with Hyperion," Ian said simply.

Belirus cocked his head to one side. "Won't that prompt the Empire to send their fleets there to stop you?"

Ian grinned evilly. "Let's hope so."

American Airspace

Spaceport America

Upham, New Mexico

Earth, Sol Sector

"Spaceport America, this is Terran flight three-four-niner. Request landing clearance, over."

"Terran flight three-four-niner, you are ordered to alter course and land at Holloman Air Force Base for inspection. Your landing clearances have been revoked," the controller replied.

"Yeah, that's not going to happen. Why have you revoked our clearance?" the pilot asked.

"Your clearance has been revoked by the Transportation Safety Administration and the Office of Homeland Security," another, more official and pompous voice was heard.

"On what grounds? We were given clearance by the FAA by order of the President of the United States," the pilot replied.

"We have it on good authority that you have been providing transportation to individuals in foreign countries that are on the terror watch list. Therefore, your clearance is now suspended, pending a full investigation by the Office of Homeland Security. You are hereby ordered to land at Holloman Air Force Base or you will be forced there," the pompous official replied.

"First off, I am presently empty. There is no one on this flight but the flight crew. Secondly, this ship is not used in other countries. Thirdly, no one on the terror watch list would be gaining passage to any of our facilities on any of our craft. Finally, you can't force us to do anything. We have complied with every one of your dumb-assed, inane rules. I have a load of passengers waiting for transportation up to the moon. Do you really want to turn this into an incident?" the pilot replied.

"I take it you intend not to comply with this order then? Fine, we are launching fighters to escort you to this base immediately. If you resist, they have orders to blow you out of the sky. Do you understand that, Flight three-four-nine?" the jerk replied.

"You idiots from Intelligence certainly didn't earn your names did you?" the pilot replied. "Spaceport America control, flight three-four-niner is reversing course and leaving the atmosphere until someone clears this mess up. Sorry you got put in this position, Jerry," the pilot replied to the controller.

"They cleared the area of all traffic already, three-four-niner. You have a clear path back to the black." The transmission was cut off abruptly by someone yelling at the controller. A moment later, another voice resumed the contact. "Negative, flight three-four-niner. You are not clear to return to orbit. You must comply with the order to land at Holloman immediately."

"I understand, Spaceport control. Notifying Terran Defense Command of this hostile action. I can see you are lying about traffic above me, or did you forget our scanners are much better than your radar?" the pilot altered course and increased speed. He could see the military fighters running full out to catch him, but they would be far too slow. He increased speed to mach thirty and shot back up and out of the atmosphere.

"Phoenix Control, this is Terran flight three-four-niner," the pilot called. "There is another problem down here and I think our folks might be in trouble."

"Three-four-niner, what happened? I still have comms with the ground crew down there. Nothing strange is happening yet," the controller on the moon replied.

While the shuttle pilot told his controller on the moon what happened, the controller, in turn, sent an alert to the military garrison. Within minutes, the passenger shuttle was joined in orbit by a Raptor and two Shadow fighters.

"Before we go back down, there is one other thing we are waiting for," Major Hiro of the Raptor Samurai called. "One of the Councilors is calling the President to see what can be done before we have to hurt anyone."

It took a few minutes, but the Councilor did call them. "Major Hiro, I have the President on the line. Captain Shaunassy, did you get the name of the man that ordered you to land at Holloman Air Force Base?"

"No, Madam Councilor, I did not. That's not normal protocol, but I can certainly ask when we go back down there," the Pilot replied.

Another voice came over the comm then. "If you go back down there, I'm afraid those idiots will fire on you. I have a feeling this is another of those intelligence agency projects that no one will take responsibility for unless if actually works. They were ordered to keep their hands off you folks and to allow you to do your thing as long as it was restricted to that spaceport. I've already got a call into the Director of the NSA and the Director of the OHS."

"Well, Mister President, I do have a load of passengers sitting down there waiting for me, how do you want us to handle this?" the pilot asked.

"I would ask you to wait until I can get this under control, but that could take hours. Go back down and try to land again, if you have to, force your landing as long as it's safe to do so. Try to get me as many names as you can so I can have their asses fired, please," the President replied. "The one thing that bothers me is they know we don’t have any conventional weapons that can hurt you. Since White Sands is less than fifty miles away, I'd be a little worried that they plan on using you for a weapons test of some kind. Those fighters might be equipped with one of their 'special weapons'. I don't know if they would or even could hurt you, but you should be careful none the less."

"They'd fire on a civilian ship?" the pilot asked.

"I'm sorry Son, but in their eyes, you're not civilians; you’re someone that has something they want. Once they get it, they can make up whatever story they want to cover their actions," the President replied sadly.

"Phoenix Control to three-four-niner, I just checked with the Federal Aviation Administration down there and no one has revoked your landing clearance. You can legally land at Spaceport America. In fact, that's the only place you can land. Landing at Holloman would get our clearance revoked," the moon base controller replied.

"Understood, and thanks, Neil. We'll take it from here," the pilot replied. "Major, with your permission, let's go see if these idiots are really going to fire on an unarmed civilian ship."

"Agreed, Captain Shaunassy. I suggest you maintain your shields until you are on the ground," Major Hiro replied. "Mr. President, although I do hope it does not come to it, I will defend the ship from hostile fire, especially with civilians in the area."

"I understand, Major. Good luck, to all of you," the President replied. "I'll continue to listen in so I can try to do something about this."

"We appreciate that, Sir. We apologize for interrupting your schedule," Major Hiro replied.

"It's not your fault, Major. That's why I want to fire those idiots; you said it yourself - they are endangering civilian lives with this stunt," the President answered.

"Okay, beginning decent; kids, don't try this at home," Shaunassy said and plotted a course to put him back at Spaceport America.


"Spaceport America, flight three-four-niner on return vector, over," Shaunassy called.

"Figured out you didn't have enough fuel to return to the moon and will have to land at Holloman after all did you?" the smug asshole replied.

Shaunassy snorted. "Hardly. I've enough fuel for at least four more trips before even getting into the reserve. No, I have passengers down there that need a ride. By the way, who are you? I need your name for my report."

The man chuckled. "You can list me as 'John Smith'. That's all you need to know. You will be landing at Holloman. I've already sent a unit to the spaceport to arrest the terrorists waiting there for you to arrive."

"You're a real piece of work, Agent. You know as well as I do that those are just normal citizens and not terrorists. Well, let me tell you a little secret, we anticipated your reaction. We will be landing at the Spaceport. If you try to stop us, we cannot be held responsible for what happens to your equipment or personnel. This is your last warning; recall your fighters and troops now, before someone gets hurt," Shaunassy replied. "I do have armed fighter escorts with me for protection. This action has been authorized by the President of the United States under executive order bravo-sierra-four-four-niner-three-golf-November. Because of the threat to civilian personnel and facilities, your actions have been deemed illegal."

The man actually laughed. "Right, like you actually called the President of the United States in the short time you've had. Nice try traitor, but it won't work," Smith replied.

"Agent Smith, this is President John Hatton of the United States, your boss. I suggest you call up that order before you get our pilots killed doing something stupid."

"Uh-huh, not going to happen. We know you have an AI capable of falsifying both the President's voice as well as that order. "Land at Holloman now, or die. That is your final order. We are finished talking now," the Agent replied.

"Okay, so if you're so certain I'm a dead man, why not tell me who you really are? Don't you think I have the right to know who killed me? By the way asshole, I'm Canadian, not American; you can't call me a traitor to your country no matter how badly you twist it!" Shaunassy replied.

"Fine, if you really want to know; my name is Craig Fergus. Does that make you feel any better?" Agent Fergus replied. "Now you gonna land or what?"

Shaunassy chuckled. "Yeah, I'm gonna land. I'm landing at Spaceport America to pick-up my passengers. Look Agent Fergus, don't do this; we really don't want to hurt your men."

"We're not the ones doing this, pilot, you are, by not complying with our orders. You should have simply surrendered yourselves and your equipment when you first arrived here and saved all this trouble," the agent replied.

"There is no trouble. We're not the ones pushing this, you are. Your current actions are not sanctioned by your own government, and you are calling us traitors?" Shaunassy said. "Spaceport America, this is flight three-four-niner. We are approaching from the north and will be landing to retrieve our passengers. Do you understand?"

"Flight three-four-niner, you do not have clearance to land at this facility. A forced landing at this time will result in the permanent loss of landing privileges at this facility. I will also issue a report to the FAA on your illegal and dangerous actions," the controller said.

"I understand, Spaceport America, may I have your name for my logs?" Shaunassy asked.

"Fredrick Danes, I am the director of operations here," the voice replied.

"Thank you, Sir, I will note it in my logs. Would you be so kind as to make sure everyone there is under some type of cover? That way, if Agent Fergus continues his illegal attack, fewer people would get hurt?" Shaunassy asked.

"It's already taken care of, three-four-niner," the Director replied.

"Alright, we're coming in," Shaunassy said. "Agent Fergus, one last time, please call off your planes. I am being escorted by two of our most advanced fighter craft. If you attempt to fire on us, they will defend us." He saw the rapidly approaching fighters on his scanners and made sure his shields were up. Over the intercom he said, "Sorry for the ride folks, someone on Earth decided they wanted to capture us, and we're resisting it. We might be coming under fire soon, but we are being protected by two fighters from Phoenix Base. Please make sure you’re all strapped in and ready for a rough landing."

"Flight three-four-niner, that was nice of you to bring us two fighters as well. They can land at Holloman with you," Fergus said.

"Three-four-niner, this is Phantom flight. Scanners show the approaching craft as being equipped with crude rail guns and low powered lasers. Threat level is minimal. However, a miss with that weapon would do considerable damage if it impacts the ground or a structure. How do you want this handled?" The flight leader of the fighters asked.

"I'd like to avoid killing them if we could, Phantom. Think you can give them a reason to go away?" Shaunassy asked.

"Those idiots!" the President said. "That's supposed to be for meteor defense! Those systems are prototypes, so if you can avoid destroying them I would appreciate it."

"I understand, Sir, but I can't make any promises. At these speeds anything can happen, and usually does. We'll do our best, for the pilots and for your equipment," the fighter pilot replied. "Three-four-niner, hostiles approaching. We're dropping back to protect you."

"Thanks Phantom," Shaunassy replied.

At two miles out, the first American fighter fired its rail gun at the shuttle. The recoil from the weapon almost stopped the fighter in mid-flight and severely injured the pilot when the G-forces all but crushed him. One of the Shadow fighters 'caught' the plane as it fell from the sky and 'carried' it to the spaceport where the pilot could get emergency medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the other American fighter tried to attack the shuttle with its lasers and missiles. Neither of which did any damage at all. The plane firing the lasers had issues with the lasers overheating the plane, so it only fired twice. However, it continued to fly around, trying to buzz the shuttle by getting as close as it could.

Captain Shaunassy ignored it and landed safely at the spaceport then taxied up to the terminal. The Samurai had gone ahead to the spaceport to make certain the people there were safe and would be able to continue their work unmolested. As a surprise, the original controller that Captain Shaunassy had been working with was waiting nervously in the terminal gate and asked to speak to Shaunassy.

Shaunassy came out to see him once he knew the man was there. "What's up Jerry? I know that mess in the tower couldn't have been any fun for you."

"It wasn't. Fred's always been an ass to work for, but this was a pretty good job. He fired me and ordered security to hold me for questioning by the Gestapo at Homeland Security. I told them I needed to go to the bathroom and came down here. Do you think I can get a job with you guys? If I stay here, I'll be on the next flight to Cuba and I'll never see my family again," Jerry asked.

Shaunassy looked around the gate area until he saw who he was looking for. Then looked at his friend, he winked and said, "follow me."

Jerry was introduced to the resident recruiter, who wasted no time in approving his recruitment. She put in a call to Major Hiro to ask if he had the time for a possible fast extraction of the man's family.

"I'm afraid I do not have the time at this moment. This Agent Fergus did in fact send troops over here. They have not yet arrived, but their helicopters will be landing in a few minutes. "Perhaps the man can simply call and have his family come here? If they act quickly, they should be able to arrive before the United States can react," Hiro suggested.

Letting him use one of their 'phones', Jerry called his wife and told her what happened. She was a little reluctant to leave at first, but once he told her that OHS had gotten involved, she said she would get the kids out of school and be there as quickly as she could. When she asked about all their personal effects Jerry told her not to worry about it yet, as they needed to make sure they were safe first.

Jerry's wife, Monica arrived with their three children, the oldest of which was sixteen and resented this forced relocation. Although she was excited about going to the moon, she didn't want to leave her friends.

"I know it's not the same, Hon, but you'll still be able to keep in touch with them once we get to the moon. Hell, even if you eventually move to Atlas, you will still be able to keep in touch with your friends. Besides, I'm sure as pretty as you are, you'll have no trouble making a ton of new friends in no time," the recruiter told the girl. "There is a ton of new stuff to do and learn!"

"I heard you guys brainwash people into fighting for you and kidnap entire families," the girl asked.

"We do use a form of brainwashing but not in the way you might think; it's used for learning. If you use it, you'll probably graduate from high school in less than a year. As for the kidnapping, that we don't do. However, we do help folks out when they want to join us. In some cases, like yours, extreme measures are required to get the family away safely before something bad happens to them."

"How do you mean?" the girl asked.

The woman winked at the girl, "Watch, you're about to see what I mean." She nodded toward the entrance to the gate area where several armed soldiers could be seen approaching the gate. They were being led by a man in a dark jumpsuit that was grinning smugly. However, when he tried to walk past the gate, he found he couldn't. One of the soldiers walked forward and slammed the butt of his rifle into the invisible barrier.

One of the gate personnel walked up to him on the far side of the barrier. "Excuse me, Sir, can I help you?"

"You can lower this fucking shield right the fuck now!" the man snarled.

"I'm sorry, Sir, but I cannot do that. You are not authorized to proceed past this point with weapons or without an invitation from Terran Recruiting," the gate attendant replied.

"I am with the Office of Homeland Security, and we are here to arrest all of you and seize your equipment. You are in violation of several articles of…" the Agent began but was interrupted.

"I'm sorry, Sir, but you have no authority here. As these people are currently leaving, and in fact have legally already left the United States, you have no authority to arrest anyone. I would also ask you to please watch your language as there are several children present," the gate attendant asked politely.

The man turned slightly, "Major, if this asshole doesn't open this gate immediately I want you to blow your way in," the Agent replied, and turned back to the attendant. "You are still on United States soil; therefore you are still subject to its laws. You are all terrorists and we will treat you as such."

Major Hiro of the Raptor Samurai joined the attendant and bowed to him. "Thank you, Sir, we will take care of this issue from here. May I suggest you begin the boarding process?"

"Of course, Major. Thank you," the attendant said and retreated quickly.

Hiro then turned to the belligerent agent. "Mister Fergus, by order of the President of the United States and the Director of National Security, you are to be placed under arrest for exceeding your authority and violating several international agreements. At this time, you are required to place your weapons on the floor and prepare to be taken into custody."

The agent laughed and the soldiers behind him smiled. "Just how are you going to do that? Besides, we have the authority here, not you!"

"I am afraid you are mistaken, Mister Fergus. Twenty minutes ago, while you were trying to shoot down our shuttle, the Director of the NSA, acting on orders from the President, declassified you. We have been asked by the NSA to detain you until you can be retrieved. Please, Sir, drop your weapons and comply with these orders," Hiro said.

Fergus turned to the Major beside him. "I've had enough of this shit Major, blow this open." When he turned back to Major Hiro he found himself looking down the barrel of a laser pistol. The force field was only one way, and Hiro had stuck his arm through it to put the pistol in the man's face. On two sides of the small group of soldiers, two Raptor officers dropped their camouflage and raised their pulse rifles at the troops.

Hiro spoke, but did not take his eyes off of Fergus. "Major Grey, please drop your weapons or we will be forced to stun you and your men. Weapons fire in this area would place too many civilians in danger."

The soldier nodded his agreement with that. "I understand and agree, but I have orders to obey Agent Fergus. I'm sorry, but may I ask who you are?"

"I am Major Hiro, Commander of the Samurai. I am certain you have been briefed as to what that means, Major." Hiro replied.

Again the man nodded. "I do. I also know I'm supposed to avoid hostile contact with you. So, I'm kinda stuck here. We can avoid all of this if you would just surrender and do as the Agent asked."

"The 'agent' has been fired and is pending criminal charges by his former superiors. At this point, I am willing to let you and your men get back on your helicopters and go home. However, if we are to continue this, we will have no choice but to detain all of you. You have not done anything illegal yet, Major. I give you my word of honor that nothing will happen to you or your men as long as you retire now," Hiro replied.

The Major put his hand to one ear letting Hiro know he was receiving a call. "Excuse me Major, but this is my command section. Perhaps this will help clarify my orders, may I take the call?"

Hiro nodded to him and the man told the rest of his troops not to move at all as he stepped away.

It only took a few moments before he was back. "Major Hiro, on behalf of the United States, I apologize for this entire incident. I have been ordered to detain Mister Fergus and also arrest the Director here, a Mister Fredrick Danes. With your permission I would like to send two of my men to do so at this time. We will not interfere in your operations any further." He turned to one of his men. "Rawlings, put some flexes on this asshole and make sure he doesn't have any weapons."

Hiro nodded. "You may carry out your orders, Major. I hope the rest of your day is much less eventful."

"We are to return both Fergus and Danes to Holloman Air Force Base to await transportation to a secure holding facility. I wasn't told where that will be, which tells me they're going to bury this" Grey replied. "In either case, with your permission, we'll get out of your A.O." (Area of Operations)

Once the cuffs were on Fergus, Hiro holstered his weapon. "Have a safe trip home, Major." Hiro motioned for his men to let the soldiers go.

TDF Star Dancer

High Orbit

Planet Atlas

Centauri System, Sol Sector

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding.

On arriving back home, Ian found that routine reports and other 'paperwork' had piled up on him. There was a huge amount of information he needed to get caught up on in order to get back up to speed on what was going on in the sector and all the projects that were currently underway. He did gain some consolation from the fact that Luke and the other Councilors that had gone with him were in the same boat.

When he saw the Spaceport America incident report, he added a recommendation that the Council work on adding their own security to the Earth facilities. He added a note that much could be done to help secure those facilities without using or even issuing lethal weapons. Force shields and stunners should be plenty of protection.

There was a request from the Council for his personal assistance with an issue involving the United Nations. The Security Council was opposing the building and installations of orbital fortresses for the defense of the planet. The request cited that the countries involved did not want weapons that could be used against them to be placed in orbit. Idiots. If Ian had wanted to take over the planet or attack any of them he could have done that easily. What was their real issue with this? Control of course; they wanted to have control of those weapons. Since that would also give them access to that technology, it wasn't going to happen. Besides, they hadn't been asking the United Nations for permission to build the fortresses, they were telling them the devices were going to be built. Ian sent the request to his Aide to have her schedule the appointment. He needed to tell them of the plans for defending the planet in a worst case scenario anyway.

The day after Ian arrived home on the Tiamat, the new workers and builders began to arrive. Serena and Jenny did a great job on providing security to screen the massive influx of workers, but when dealing with that many beings, Ian knew it was only a matter of time before someone got overlooked and a spy slipped in. It was for that reason that he wanted the orbital forts and all the other defensive precautions they had planned. Eventually, the Empire will find the Sol Sector and because of the ship yards, the research being done here and the academy they were building: it would be a priority target for them. They had to be ready for when, not if, that happened.

Ian opened the file he maintained for planning the sector defenses and looked them over. At any given time, there was a considerable number of warships in the system either having just left the ship yards or awaiting their turn for repair or upgrades. Originally, Ian thought that would be plenty of fire power in the event of any unwanted guests arriving. However, a good argument could be made that those ships might not always be there. They would need a large, heavily armed fleet in order to defend the sector. He added a number of ships to the list of defenses for the sector as well as two divisions of ground forces.

It would mean that more people would have to be recruited from Earth for the military, which might be a problem. While recruitment was very heavy, and they always had full shuttles running from the planet daily, fewer and fewer of the new people were signing up for the military. Ian thought that he might have to recruit from New Talos or some of the other Alliance races in order to fill out the crews of the defensive ships, which, he thought to himself, might not be a bad idea anyway. If we are going to espouse the virtues of working together and disregarding the boundaries of nationalism, then they should practice what they preach. He added a note to the file to begin working on creating multi-racial, integrated crews for the defense fleet.

He noted the progress being made on the goals already in the file, and nodded to himself in approval. Alan Carlson and his team were certainly doing their part. Alan had even left a note in the file recommending the 'kits' containing the shields for the major cities be placed in drop pods and mounted on the orbital fortresses for rapid deployment. The only problem with that was how much it would increase the mass of the already heavy forts. Ian tentatively approved, but noted that the alteration would have to be run past the designers before final approval.

On Atlas in the Centauri system, the planetary defenses were already being built and integrated into the structure of the population centers. There would be orbital forts there as well, but at least on that planet they didn't have to be sneaky about what they did or how they did it. The ground force training base, gunnery range, and impact areas for the bombers had been relocated to an arid planet in the Proxima Centauri system. The planet didn't have much for an atmosphere, being much like Mars had been before his people had begun terraforming it. The planet Minerva was actually a poor candidate for terraforming because of the primary it orbited. Proxima Centauri was an old red dwarf that was classified as a flare star. The flares, along with the high magnetics emitted, would prevent the terraforming of Minerva. In fact, anyone on the planet during a flare would have to be shielded from the heavy x-ray emissions.

Sighing, Ian closed the file and moved on to the next item on the long list. He needed to get to work finalizing the attack on Hyperion, but he had to get caught up on all of this first. Granted, most of it was simply reading up on the progress of projects and construction, but he had to be kept informed so he knew what assets he had to call upon if and when they were needed.

Seeing a follow-up report on the action at New Talos, Ian remembered his visit with Cindy when he got back. She was doing much better, although the doctors had not released her yet. They had determined that she had been suffering from a form of combat fatigue brought on by the situation she had found herself in on New Talos. She was aware of it, too, and was able to talk about it, which to Ian seemed pretty miraculous.

"I'm okay now, Ian," Cindy had told him. "When I saw what those monsters were doing to those children, I couldn't help but think of our kids. I just lost it then. I don't really regret what I did to those…  people, but I do regret how I did it. Will I be able to continue as a Raptor Team member? I think so, but Ty wants to re-evaluate me. I can't really blame him. What I did was something that shouldn't have happened, but it did."

The doctors told him that she had about a fifty-fifty chance of recovery. She would either come back stronger than ever, or she would fold at the first sign of combat. The problem Ty had with that was that there was no way to test it without actual combat, because the soldier knew a test was only training.

"Admiral, General Anders is here to see you. I contacted the Council administration about meeting with the UN, the next meeting is tomorrow at ten-hundred our time. Councilor Belden would like to get this issue resolved quickly. He asked if you could be ready to speak at that meeting," Alex said over the comm.

"Tell Luke I'll be ready, and please send Ty in," Ian replied.

Ian got up and went to the replicator for a fresh cup of coffee as Ty entered. Ian got him a drink as well and motioned the man over to the casual seating area. "I still have a ton of reports to go over, but if I sit at the desk anymore right now I'm gonna go batty."

"You need to take breaks from time to time," Ty replied. "That's one of the reasons I come to see you in person instead of talking to you over the comm."

Ian nodded. "So, is this a social call then, or did you have something on your mind?"

"Actually, I was coming here to talk with you about how to recertify Cindy for duty; I think I have an idea. It'll take some doing, but I think we can pull it off," Ty replied. "You have that meeting at the UN tomorrow; since you've been gone for a while, why don't you take the family with you and spend some time together on planet?"

Ian narrowed his eyes at Ty. "Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this idea of yours very much?"

"Because it will involve your family," Ty replied. "Keep in mind that, at no time will anyone be in real danger. Most of what will happen is will be in a virtual simulation." Ty said and took a sip of his coffee. "When you go down tomorrow, I'll assign the Damocles as security with a newly released Cindy at the helm. While she protects you and the Councilors at the UN, your family will be 'kidnapped' in order to force you to surrender or something. That's when Cindy's test will begin. I'll wait until after your address to the Security Council before I call you and tell you what happened. We can simulate any evidence we need to convince her this is for real, but in reality, your family will be perfectly safe back on the ship. Once you and Cindy board the Damocles and she gets her armor on, it'll go into simulation mode and run her through the test. The Damocles will return to the ship, but you won't be able to make a jump until the test is completed, since she would be able to feel a jump through the simulation. At that point, everything that happens will happen only in the computer realm. In her mind, it'll all be real. She'll be pissed once it’’s over, but I can deal with that."

"Everyone but Cindy will have to know it's not real," Ian replied, thinking about it. "And I'm not happy using my family this way."

"Major Hiro of the Samurai and the Ambassador can explain the situation to the Security Council after you leave. That way, if they happen to overhear something, they don't panic and do something rash themselves," Ty explained.

"Can you get it all set up that fast? The meeting is at ten-hundred our time tomorrow."

"I'll have to jump through my ass to do it, but I think I can. The hardest part will be convincing the doctors to release her under these conditions," Ty replied.

"Offer to bring them along to monitor her. The armor should be more than capable of transmitting the data they'll need. I'm sure Beth will want to be actively involved as well," Ian said and nodded. "Do it. Get it set up. I'll call and let Luke know what's going on so he can be prepared for it. If you need me to do any 'pushing' for you, just let me know."

Ty nodded and began issuing orders over his data pad. Ian sat and quietly sipped his cappuccino while he waited. Ty looked back up. "I'll brief the Damocles team before I leave the ship."

Ian nodded his understanding. "I'll talk to Jenny and Beth about it tonight."

Ty was hesitant. "You'll have to send your kids to Phoenix Base. There is no proof, but I think she can sense them when they're close by. We can bring them back aboard as soon as the test progresses to the point where she gets close to them, that will help her believe the simulation."

Ian looked thoughtful. "It'll be difficult, but we can do it. I can ask their grandparents to watch over them and get them back here in time. You won't be able to use normal humans from Earth though. Our technological advantage would make it a very short test."

"Yeah, you're right. We could always use a scenario involving a left over faction of the Talosian Cadre. That would stress her even more since it was those assholes that forced the breakdown to begin with." He paused. "Sir, I'm not going to lie to you, what I'm going to put her through will be brutal. I'm going to do everything I can think of to cause her to break again. It's the only way we can be absolutely sure of her. Our only other alternative is to have a telepath work her over, and I'm not a fan of doing that. She is my best officer and has become a very close friend. It has to be done this way," Ty replied sadly.

"I understand they are dangerous, Ty. But is it really necessary to go to these extremes?" Ian asked.

Ty nodded. "Sir, let's say that Cindy does break again. Only this time, she decides that the UN is to blame, or worse, ARC High Command. What do you think would happen? What if she decides that everyone on Earth or New Talos is at fault?"

Ian frowned. "She'd be killed trying to fix the issue."

Ty snorted. "Only if we were very lucky. That would be the best case scenario, I'm afraid." He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees and was as serious as Ian ever saw him; he even dropped the usual 'sir'. "Ian, if she wants to, she can become invisible; especially in a society that has humans in it. She has extensive knowledge of chemicals and explosives, is an expert marksman, and can walk past any ID scanner we know of without it detecting her. If she needed to, she could very easily and successfully hide from us. If she decides that someone needs to stop living, they will. Ian, she's better than I ever dreamed to be. We have to be certain about her, and we have to do it in such a way that we can control her or stop her if it fails. If we were still on Earth, the community would have already put a bullet in her head." Ty leaned back. "In my opinion, she is far and away the most dangerous and effective weapon system we have ever developed. We are the elite, Admiral, and she is the best of us."

UN Security Council Chambers

UN Building, New York City

Planet Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Ty's plan was indeed in place, although it was a bit more complex than even Ty had imagined it would be. The doctors from Atlas had insisted that they remain with their patient during the trial, but Ty had forbidden them from being in the Raptor with her. So, as soon as the Damocles left its birth, most of the psych ward from the hospital moved in and began setting up monitoring equipment for when the Raptor returned and the test began. For that reason, Lissa was ordered to place the Damocles in lock-down after it landed. It would remain sealed until the trial was over and Cindy was released from her armor.

Another complication to Ty's plan was that Ian would be in the Raptor with them. When Ty objected, he reasoned that in this test, Ian had a part to play and that part would be for him to insist that he accompany the team on any rescue of their children. Reluctantly, Ty agreed but only on the grounds that Ian wore his armor as well. Ian agreed and would bring his armor with them. The doctors had reluctantly agreed to release Cindy for 'light duty' and Ty assigned them as a guard detail for Ian's upcoming trip to the UN. He told Cindy that they would run her through the evaluation after they returned.

For her part, Cindy did remarkably well. She got back in the swing of things like nothing had happened and was on top of the security arrangements for the visit to the UN.

Ian looked out at the somewhat sullen faces of the assembled delegates as he explained the plan for protecting the planet if an attack was imminent. When he finished the Ambassador from the United States stood.

"Your plan sounds very effective and seems to have covered a broad range of issues in our defense. However, and with respect, Admiral, we will not willing allow a foreign power to place weapons of mass destruction we do not control in orbit over our country. If you wish to proceed with this plan, we demand that you surrender control of those weapons to us."

Ian smiled at the man. "Ambassador, I see that you still are having difficulty in understanding the situation. We are not asking for your permission to build those fortresses, nor are we asking your permission to place the weapons or shield units if an attack does come to this world. We are informing you of the actions we are taking. The plans are already being worked upon, several fortresses are already being built. We will not allow you to have control of any of our advanced weapons or technology. We have already made that very clear to you. We are simply informing you as a matter of courtesy, as to the actions we are undertaking on your behalf.

"Think about this, Ambassador; if we had intended on attacking any country on this planet, we would have already done so. That situation still has not changed. Therefore, you have no reason to fear these fortresses being built. I think I should also mention that, once online, they will be more than capable of defending themselves, so I would not recommend sending an exploration team up to one of them. No one will be allowed to approach any of them without prior authorization from System Defense Command.

"Oh, I forgot to mention that the fortresses themselves will be automated. They do not have the facilities to support a crew as one is not needed. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is happening. Construction has already begun. As we have in the past, we will continue to provide support for your own peaceful exploration of space as you request it, but we will not give you any weapons or technology that you can use to destroy yourselves. These fortresses certainly fall well into that category."

"You say that you will not allow us to obtain access to your advanced technology, yet you are assisting several mining consortiums on this planet, encouraging them to begin off-world mining operations with your assistance and technology. How do you explain that?" the Ambassador replied.

"I cannot answer directly to that, Mister Ambassador. However, I do know that none of the technology we will be providing will be allowed to be returned to Earth. I do know that some of the ores mined will be brought back down, but the ships that bring it will be guarded and protected. I believe the same sort of deal is in place for the food being grown on Atlas, if you would ever allow it to make it through quarantine. I am led to understand that you will eventually be offered to relocate a good portion of your heavy industrial, as well as other dangerous manufacturing facilities, off world as well." He shrugged. "I don't know all the plans for the future, I deal with the military defense of this world."

"You claim to be working for the protection of this world, Admiral, but yet you will not allow us a say in how those defenses are handled?" the Ambassador asked.

"We are working for the defense of this world, Ambassador. We have already proven that many times. As for giving you a say in how those defenses are handled, you have no one that is qualified to understand the issues involved. I do not mean to disrespect any of your military leaders, but this is something none of you have ever dealt with before, and there is simply too much to lose to allow you to bicker and fight among yourselves while you learn. There is far more going on out there in the galaxy that you people simply have no understanding of. To prove my point, I just read yet another report of an attempt by a government of this planet to capture some of our technology. The simple fact that the attempt was made is proof that not one single government on this planet is mature enough to be trusted with this level of technology. You are making progress; I will admit that. But as long as there are rogue factions within governments, or governments that are more concerned with their own power and money instead of those that elected them, none of this tech will be allowed to be passed to you," Ian finished, but it was clear he was getting frustrated with the old fools.

"Calling us corrupt and immature is not a very respectful thing to say, Admiral. We try to remain civil to one another here," the Russian Federation Ambassador replied.

Ian nodded. But out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Cindy was receiving a message. From her expression it was most likely Ty beginning the test. "That is true, Mister Ambassador, you do. You will also notice that I did not accuse anyone of corruption. As for the immature comment, that is only my observation of the actions of some of your governments, but again, I did not say which ones. I'm sure they are well aware of their own short comings.

"Ladies and Gentleman, I came here today to brief you on what will be happening in our preparations to defend this world. As I have done that, and it appears you have no further questions on that subject, I will step down now and let someone up here that can answer your questions. I bid you all a good day," Ian finished, bowed to them and stepped away from the podium.

As soon as he did, Cindy joined him as he was leaving the room. It was obvious to everyone in the room that something was wrong.


TDF Raptor Damocles

Various Locations

Planet Earth,

Sol System, Sol Sector

Major Cindy Swift-Williams, Commanding

Cindy watched Ian telling the politicians what was going on in space as she scanned the room for threats. At least the governments of Earth seemed to have all agreed that this place would remain safe, and they wouldn't try to attack when 'the Terrans' visited.

Everything was nice and quiet security-wise, but she was beginning to wonder if Ian was going to punch the American Ambassador in the face.

"Damocles, this is Control. Security Alert! Ensure the safety of the delegates and get them back to the ship as quickly as possible!" a voice called over her comm unit.

"Control, this is Williams. What's going on?" Cindy asked putting her hand to her ear.

Ty Anders answered her. "Cindy, someone just grabbed Beth, Jenny and the kids. Three Marines are dead and another is in critical condition. We don't know how they did it, or who they are, but we do know they are using advanced weapons. We're not tracking Beth and Jenny's comm units either."

"What?" Cindy hissed. "How the fuck did these Neanderthals get our tech? Hang on, Ian just finished his speech, I'll get him in the comm."

Ian was already walking toward her with a concerned look on his face. "What's wrong?"

"Someone using advanced tech just grabbed Beth, Jenny and the kids. We've been ordered to get you guys back up to the ship," Cindy replied.

Ian nodded. "Get Luke and the others, I'll call Ty."

Cindy nodded and moved toward Luke, who was at the podium speaking. She once again opened her comm. "Lissa, get Damocles ready for launch. Full security alert people! Everyone else, we are escorting the VIPs back to the shuttle. Full shields; we're facing advanced tech."

She moved next to Luke who excused himself for a moment so she could whisper the situation to him as well as her orders.

When Luke turned back to the assembled delegates to make their excuses, Cindy waited for him to finish so she could escort him to where her team was gathering their charges.

She couldn't help but wonder who would grab her family? Who would have access to the advanced tech to be able to do it? Their Marine guards had been in light assault armor; more than enough protection from Earth-based weapons, but not much against a pulse rifle or laser weapon. At least her family had been wearing personal shields.

She walked close to Luke until he joined the group of dignitaries. Sam, one of Cindy's team members, had already handed out personal shields and made sure they were on. Seeing everyone was ready, Cindy motioned to Ben to lead the way. Ian dropped back to walk next to Cindy.

"Ty told me that the initial examination of the bodies of the Marines indicates Mark seven pulse weapons," he told her.

"Type sevens? Ian, we've never used Mark seven weapons. When Serena showed up we upgraded from type twos to type nines," Cindy replied.

"I know. But the Talosian rebels were issued type sevens because that was all they could get their hands on," Ian said. "My question is; how did they get here?"

"Why would Talosian rebels want to kidnap our family?" Cindy asked. "There's no motive here."

Ian shook his head. "There's something we're not seeing here. That's why I'm going with you."

"No fuckin' way," Cindy said flatly. "You're a god-damned Admiral, Ian. You’re not a combat officer."

He stopped and looked at her. When he focused his eyes on her, she felt shivers run down her spine. "I am going with you, or I'll ground the Damocles and let the other teams handle this. This is our fucking family, Cindy! I will not let these assholes get away with this. I'm going with you and that is final."

In all the time she had known Ian, she had never seen him this pissed off before. "Okay Ian, but you'll be under my command. If you don't follow orders, I'll stun your ass and worry about the Court Marshal later."

"My armor is on the shuttle," Ian replied. When she raised an eyebrow at his comment he smirked. "I always carry it with me; I call it my United Express Card."

Cindy snorted. "Because you never leave home without it," she nodded and shook her head. She knew it was the truth, Ian did always keep his armor with him. This time, it looked like his paranoia would pay off. "Still, it isn't as heavy as ours is, so be extra careful."

Ian nodded and got back on the comms to direct the response to this emergency. From what Cindy could hear, whoever had done this was going to be in a world of hurt when they were found.

They got the dignitaries to the shuttle and Cindy saw two Shadow fighters hovering nearby as an escort for it. Ian came right back out carrying the case that contained his armor. "Let's go save our family, Cindy," he said.

She nodded and as a group they ran for the Raptor parked next to the shuttle.

"Lissa, as soon as the shuttle is clear, get us in the air. Everyone else, armor up; we have a job to do," Cindy ordered.

"Destination, Cindy?" Lissa asked.

"Abduction site first. Maybe those assholes left a clue as to who they are and where they might be going," Cindy replied.

Ian and the team all stripped and did as ordered. They all armored up, but as soon as Cindy pulled her helmet on for the initial system test, her armor froze in place.

"The simulation has begun, Admiral," Lissa reported. "I've set course for Star Dancer. We should be arriving in ten minutes. The Councilor's shuttle has returned to the UN landing pad and the Marine detail from their shuttle is acting as their guards."

Ian set his helmet on the table and nodded. "Thank you Lissa."

The rest of the team finished putting on their armor and tested it before they too removed their helmets. "The General said this is going to be pretty rough on her. Is that really necessary, Sir?" Sam asked.

Ian sighed. "From what Ty explained to me, yes it is. We have to be certain she has recovered from her ordeal. If she were to lose control again, she could do an incredible amount of damage before we could stop her. Too many lives are at stake not to do this."

"What happens if she fails?" Sasha Yukonov, the Damocles weapons officer, asked. She was named Sasha because her father had wanted a boy, she claimed.

"She'll go back into the hospital, I imagine," Ian replied sadly. "They’ll also have to try to remove much of her training telepathically. She'll never be allowed to return to service."

"She'll make it," Ben Carson said with complete faith in his superior. "She's the strongest person I know." Ben was the Heavy Weapons and Demolitions expert.

"Once this is over, she's going to kill me for putting her through this," Ian said. "Our relationship was already strained; this could very well destroy it."

The team sniper, Jerry Conan sat down across from him at the table. "Admiral… Ian, we all know what's been going on. We all confide in each other. Never doubt that she loves you. She has always been completely devoted to you and your family, even when you were all mad at her for choosing this career. Yes, she'll be mad because of the deception, but I think she'll understand why it was done."

Ian smiled at the man. "I appreciate your words, I really do, but I don't think Ty told you guys exactly what she's going to be going through in there. This is a worst case, no-win scenario. She'll think that she has failed everyone and lost her family. If you can think of the worst hell she could be put in, multiply it by ten."

"Why so harsh? Why can’t you let her rescue the hostages?" Sam asked.

"She will be allowed to rescue one of them, as I understand it, she'll have to choose who she saves. The rest of us will die," Ian explained.

"Sir, none of us could pass this test," Ben said quietly.

Ian shook his head. "This isn't about passing or failing, she will fail. This test is about what she'll do afterward; how will she handle the grief and guilt. Will it shut her down, or will she face it and accept it?"

"We are landing, Admiral. Damocles is now on lockdown," Lissa reported.

"Thank you Lissa, please join us when you can," Ian said.

TDF Star Dancer

Raptor Damocles Birth

High Orbit of Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

"We can watch what she's going through, Da?" Sasha asked.

"We could, but Lissa and Star didn't recommend it as it might introduce a lag into the simulation that she could detect. Ty said we shouldn't watch because of what she's going to see and be forced to do," Ian explained. "The doctors are monitoring her though, and we'll be able to review the mission after the fact."

"How long will this take?" Ben asked.

"At least a couple of hours, maybe longer," Ian replied. "It all depends on her."

Ian and the Damocles team sat and waited. They ate lunch and talked. During the time, Ian could see that Lissa was getting upset. She was one of the AI controlling the reality Cindy was in, so she knew what was going on in there.

"Mishka, are you alright?" Sasha asked gently.

Lissa nodded. "It's coming to an end. Doctor Williams has been killed, Commander Williams and the Admiral are both badly wounded, but the Commander was… I'm very glad this is only a simulation. The Admiral and Cindy split up; Cindy went to save the children while the Admiral went to try and save the women."

Ian sighed. "I'm sorry to have to order this, but everyone but Lissa, please seal up your suits and arm yourselves. She may be violent when she is released."

"Perhaps you should put your helmet on as well, Admiral," Lissa suggested.

Ian shook his head. "No, I want her to be able to see my face and know it was all fake."

"The children were put in the same situation as the ones on Talos had been, so far, Cindy has not lost control even though she knows one of them has already died. However, she is not allowing the bad guys to surrender either," Lissa said. "This time, she is very aware of her actions."

Ian only nodded. "I would do the same, but I would want to make them suffer more."

"She is at the final stage. She has to choose which child to save," Lissa replied.

Ian closed his eyes. He had been dreading this part.

"Huh?" Lissa said surprisingly. "She just… She saved all three?"

Ian looked at her." I thought that wasn't supposed to happen?"

"It wasn't. She used her suit to move very quickly and she shot all the bad guys before they could kill the children. She did accidentally wound Sean, but it's not life-threatening," Lissa explained. "Scenerio ending. Unsealing her suit."

The armored statue that had been Cindy moved slightly, as if looking around. Slowly she reached up and removed her helmet. She was covered in sweat and had tear streaks on her cheeks. "It was a test? It was all a fucking test?" she said almost hysterically.

Ian nodded to her. "Yes it was. I'm really sorry, Cindy, but we needed to know how you would react in a worst case. I'm really sorry we had to do this to you."

"No one was hurt or died?" Cindy asked, clearly controlling her anger.

"No hon, no one was hurt. The kids, Beth and Jenny are all right outside the Raptor," Ian replied. "Everything was a set up so you would believe the test was real."

She saw her team mates standing around armed and armored and nodded to them. "I'm alright guys. I'm not homicidal." She turned back to Ian. "Can you please put your helmet back on for a minute?"

"Sure, but why?" Ian asked, confused.

"So I can punch you in the face without ripping your head off," she replied somewhat angrily.

"You might want to wait on that," Ian said. "Your doctors are also waiting outside."

Cindy spent the next three hours with the doctors from Atlas after she made certain her family was really fine. However, they did finally agree to release her for light duty just as they had told Ty. This time, however, they insisted it really be light duty. She spent the early afternoon with her parents. Ian had them brought to Atlas when Cindy was originally hurt, and she had not had any time to spend with them outside of the hospital. There wasn't a lot to do on the ship, so Cindy and her team, Cindy's parents, Beth, and all four kids went to Phoenix Base for some rest and relaxation.

The meetings at the UN finished up and Ian had Jenny jump the ship back to Centauri to return the Councilors home. Cindy and the Damocles would meet them there. Cindy's parents had chosen to stay. Her father, Jacob had worked his way up through the ranks of an advertising agency and would be joining the public relations effort. Her mother Jean was a veterinary technician the also worked as a pet groomer. She had chosen to see if she could become a Veterinarian. While Cindy, Ian and their family took time off, they began their new lives.

Ian and his family took the weekend off to spend together. Ian hadn't realized how much they had needed the break until they finally took one. The kids were really happy with having all their parents together, even if only for a couple of days. Even though Jenny was in the late stages of pregnancy with Talena and Ian's child, Cindy was the focus of attention for the weekend.

TDF Star Dancer

Trans-Lunar Parking Orbit

Sol System, Sol Sector

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

Although Cindy never did punch Ian in the face, he did agree to a hand-to-hand training session with her. It didn't actually hurt him, and she got to work out her frustrations with him. Ty Anders, on the other hand, did not get away as lucky. He spent the night in the medical ward receiving therapy for a bruised deltoid and sprained left knee.

The return of the week signaled the end of the weekend off for Ian and his family, and they returned to the ship in much better spirits. For Ian, he needed to finalize the plans for the attack on Hyperion, which were mostly already finished; he only had to modify them in light of the discussions he'd had with ARC Command.

The delay in the attack had served to benefit Ian's forces as more of the equipment he'd wanted to use had been able to be built. So much had actually been built that both big Terran freighters were running constantly making deliveries. Jim Beecher's ship did get to take one of the runs out to an Alliance world as his normal cargo bound for New Talos could be loaded up into the new ships being sent there. Again, he would be returning with passengers, workers, and students for the new academy. Several Alliance freighters were also making almost non-stop runs out of the Sol Sector as well. At least until the back log was cleared and shipping caught up to production.

Work had begun on a customs and immigration station that would reside in deep space between Earth and the Centauri system. Traffic into the sector was getting heavy enough that there was now a need for such a station if for no other reason than to regulate the flow of traffic. Ian sighed, that was one more item on a list that seemed to grow daily. Which added more time to the overall construction they had planned. Well, with as many workers as the Alliance of Races seemed to be sending, that shouldn't be much of an issue, or at least wouldn't be an issue for much longer.

One of the things that Ian did do was record a personal message to the Benesian High Priestess, T'gan. In it, he apologized for taking so long to fulfill his promise, but assured her he hadn't forgotten it. He did not mention any details, or even what that promise had been; rather, he reassured her the issue was being taken care of.

Ian received a routine approval and support request for a scientific experiment involving a new type of hyperspace engine and immediately thought of the gate devices the Empire was using. As he read through the description and goals of the experiments, he realized that this was a different theory entirely.

"Star, do you have a couple of minutes?" Ian asked the room in general.

Since he had addressed her as 'Star' instead of 'Major', she thought the situation was a personal one and responded in kind.

"What can I help you with, Ian?" Star asked as she formed her hologram in his office.

He smiled at her. "I just got this request from a hyperspace research team wanting to perform tests on a new style of engine. I was wondering if you knew anything about the theory behind it?"

She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Ah, here it is. Maia has been lending the team a few processor cycles to assist them in developing the new engine. It is based on the folded space theory of travel. This is the theory that many believe theorized wormholes use for moving matter from one point to another in space-time. I say theorize because, while we know they have to exist, no one has ever been able to prove it.

"However, that being said, it is thought that naturally occurring wormholes would bring other issues into play as well; high radiation, instability, exotic matter and so on. This engine model works on that premise, but without the more dangerous side effects. During the computer modeling stage, the engines worked perfectly up to distances of twenty-eight point nine-nine-two light years. In each case, travel time was measured in micro-seconds.

It was discovered that, based on the mass of the ship, the amount of matter being jumped through had an effect on over all stability of the bridge during the jump. In the model, a shadow fighter was used to make the jumps. When the ship was increased in size, power requirements grew exponentially, but greater distance was gained for reliable transits. Given current power technologies, it would not be feasible for large ships to be equipped with this type of engine."

"How much more energy would it take for a heavy cruiser?" Ian asked.

"Eighty-four thousand times more than we currently produce at maximum output," Star replied. "Conversely, a fighter could easily do it without modification. A medium freighter would need an additional reactor, but it would be possible," Star explained.

"Okay, my real question was actually, is this theory at all related to what we think the Empire is using for their gate devices?" Ian asked. "Would they be able to detect the use of this engine?"

It took Star a moment to answer the questions, and Ian was wondering if he had asked too much of her. She finally looked back up at him. "I can't answer that question with complete surety. We don't have enough information on the Imperial devices. However, based on what has been observed, I would say the answers is 'no' to both questions. By all appearances, the Empire is using a form of compressed hyperspace to move their ships. Detection would be possible, but only by highly sensitive gravimetric sensors at relatively close proximity to the event."

"So we should be safe if we allow these tests to proceed?" Ian asked.

"From detection, yes. The team would like to conduct these test well outside the system in order to minimize the danger from unforeseen side effects the test might create," Star replied. "It really is very exciting work. I am looking forward to seeing their results."

TDF Star Dancer

Main Mission Briefing Room

Trans-Lunar Parking Orbit

Sol System, Sol Sector

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

Before Ian knew it, the time for the Hyperion assault had come. Hyperion was a nine-day jump from the rally point just outside the Centauri System. The Raptors would arrive at the Grimaria system in seven days. Ian had Ty use the special, heavily encrypted comm protocols to inform the Raptors of what was planned. When Ian launched for the Hyperion system, another message would be sent alerting the teams according to a predetermined schedule. The Raptors couldn't reply; they were too deep into enemy space to risk exposure, but receiving a message held no risk for them.

Ian stood and looked out at the room full of ship Captains and troop Commanders waiting for him to begin.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome and thank you for coming. In four days, I will lead an assault team in the retaking of the planet Hyperion. There are two primary objectives for this operation.

"The first objective is to retake the Talosian world of Hyperion and to ascertain how the Empire has been treating that world and its inhabitants. After the elimination or capture of all enemy forces occupying the planet, we will render any and all aid to the civilian population on an as-needed basis. A secondary objective to this is the rescue and repatriation of a Benesian Agricultural Ambassador and her aides that were trapped on the planet when it fell. An image and all required identification information will be given to you prior to our departure.

"Many of you are no doubt wondering why, if this mission is to free a Talosian planet, we are using a multi-national, Alliance force. Simple, this is an Alliance world we intend to rescue, not simply a Talosian one. It also involves our second primary objective. That goal is to draw an Imperial Task Force to Hyperion to stop us."

He had to stop a moment as many of the beings in the room suddenly began muttering and talking amongst themselves. He raised his voice. "Yes, we are intentionally trying to get them to attack us with an over-whelming force.

"The initial assault on the planet will be made by the Star Dancer, the Prometheus and the Zephyr in support of the twenty-fourth Talosian Marine division and the Second Ferandi Hussars. The rest of this fleet, including the Tiamat and her escorts, will remain on station in hyperspace by maintaining a null relative velocity, along with the Third and Fifth Alliance fleets that will meet us there. The three initial ships will drop out of the system and send Raptor teams in to recon the planet and verify our intel. Once that has been done, we will proceed in system, loudly and boldly making our presence known. The ships guarding the planet should have almost five hours to call for help before we destroy them.

"We will deploy our Marines and fighter wings and secure the planet. If the Empire responds as Alliance Intel believes they will, the Imperial fleets should arrive at this time, and try to trap our ships close to the planet. We will 'run away' to solar north and away from the planet; we are the bait. When the Imperial force commits to pursuing us, the rest of you will drop out of hyperspace and the fight will be on.

"Once we retake Hyperion, we will move on to the next planet and give them another opportunity. The same bait and trap tactic most likely won't work again, but we have a plan for that too. Unit specific goals and objectives are in the briefing files you should now all have. Does anyone have any questions?"

A Croanian Captain stood. "Admiral, how many ships should we expect the Empire to send?"

Ian nodded. "We are expecting thirty or forty light to medium ships with a few heavies mixed in to keep us honest. There is one thing I want to make absolutely clear; any Imperial warships arriving at Hyperion are not to be allowed to leave. The intelligence folks can sift through the wreckage if they want, but every enemy ship will be destroyed."

Another officer stood and Ian nodded at him. "If I may ask, Admiral, what planet will be the next one we liberate?"

Ian saw that almost all of them wanted to know that answer.

"I really wish I could tell you, Commander. However, because of the nature of this plan, that target won't be selected until shortly before the mission begins when each mission is authorized. We will be taking our worlds back from the Empire, we will free our people," Ian said grinning. "Hyperion just happened to be the first one selected."

The assembled commanders did ask a few more questions, but the details of the mission would be discussed in the next few days with the individual groups of commanders involved. Finally, Ian sensed that the questions were over. "Okay folks, give your people some down time where you can, but make sure you’re loaded up for battle. We'll assemble at the rally point in eighty hours. Dismissed!"

Jenny asked him a question once they were back in his office. "I noticed you didn't say anything about the Raptor team assault on Grimaira?"

Ian shrugged. "Raptor operations are on a need to know basis and they didn't need to know. I also didn't want word to get back to the Empire and put those people in danger. It's bad enough that I had to tell them about the assault this early; there is a possibility the Empire will learn of it before we even launch, and reverse the tables on us."

"You think we have a spy here?" Jenny asked.

"Oh, we probably have more than one. With the number of people our allies are sending us, it would be foolish to believe they're all clean," Ian said. "But, we're doing everything we can to insure our security doesn't get compromised. I'm mainly worried about the Empire getting our location. As soon as they do, we can expect to be attacked with heavy forces. This is the only place in the Alliance where so much research is grouped so closely together. Combine that with the ship yards and other facilities, and we are a prime target the Empire would have to destroy."

Jenny nodded. "If we know that, then why have we grouped it all together? Why don't we try and spread it all out a bit, make it harder to hit?"

"Many reasons; harder to hit also means harder to defend. Each facility would have less over all protection making them far easier to destroy individually. It's hard enough protecting everything with it spread over the two systems we currently have. Besides, with everything this close together, it is far easier for them to support each other as well.

"Researchers and scientists talk to each other. They share ideas much faster and easier when they are close to each other. A good example of that is the weapon that young man designed for Star Dancer; it was adapted for the Shadow fighters, and within a month it had been adapted for ground support weapons, orbital defense platforms, and a new weapon for the combat drones that are coming out. Doctor Benson's armor is another good example; it's being put on almost everything we build now," Ian finished.

Jenny nodded, she had known all this, but it was her job to make Ian think about situations like this. "Speaking of those drones, there is a problem with them, and production has been delayed. Colonel Carlson was the original test pilot for them. He has following development of the project and has filed a very promising report on them. He has recommended a possible addition to correct the issues and mentioned some form of large scale tests with production prototypes be held on Atlas as soon as the units can be built and a testing facility be made available."

"That big drone is a completely new system; what was the issue with it?" Ian asked.

"Durability during combat maneuvers. The first units were built and sent out, the platoon training on them were told that they should be capable of everything the soldier should be able to do; they couldn't. The first time a soldier dove for cover, it literally broke the back of the drone. This really isn't the designers fault either. They were rushed into production before the drones were completely tested. The designers have taken Colonel Carlson's recommendations to heart and expanded on them. The system is much tougher now, but they do not want to release the units for production until the large scale tests are completed under simulated battle conditions," Jenny replied. "They don’t want another failure."

Ian looked thoughtful. "I can understand that. Our designers take a lot of pride in their work, and a set-back like this had to have really bothered them. We don’t really have a place we can test them, do we?"

Jenny nodded her head. "Yeah, the heavy weapons training area should be good. From what I understand of the design and researchers notes, the hover tank training facility should be a good test area for them. However, with Alan's unit fully involved with the defense plans for Earth, we'll need a new unit to test them."

Ian frowned. "I don't like the idea of changing test pilots in the middle of the game. I'll call Alan and see if he has any suggestions."

Jenny nodded and made a note on her tablet.

"Raptor Damocles has been returned to service. Cindy has been released to full active duty by the doctors, as well as Ty. They will be returning to the ship tomorrow, mid-morning from Hades Base," Jenny said after reading the next item on her tablet.

Ian nodded. "I knew she had been released, but not when they would get here. I'll brief her and Corvis tomorrow night on the Hyperion mission."

Through all of this, Alex had been standing quietly off to one side, taking notes on the items and issues she would need to set-up or remind her Admiral about. Ian glanced at her. "Set that up for the evening meal, here in my office please."

Alex nodded but did not reply.

"As you know, Prometheus will also be getting her Raptor teams tomorrow. I've spoken to Serena and John, and except for the return of the Raptor teams, we are ready for deployment. Our Marines for this mission are still down at the base, but have begun loading their gear and preparing for departure. Our Marines have been training with them for the last month and will be returning to the ship as soon as the assault carriers are loaded. Eight days of that training were spent in boarding exercises with the 'target' ships being a Croanian cruiser and battleship."

Ian grinned. "How'd our folks do?"

Jenny chuckled. "We took the cruiser in twenty minutes, but the battleship held us off until it was declared a stalemate. The Croanian force commander, a senior captain, was impressed with us and invited both boarding party leaders to dinner. Major Getty would like to invite the Croanian Marines a return try at our ship."

Ian looked thoughtful. "That might not be a bad idea. With all the new tech we are putting into our ships, the Empire will want to capture as many of our ships as they can. If time permits, I'll look into it."

As Alex made note of it, Jenny cocked her head to one side. "The XO had an idea about that; with the addition of the military college here, he came up with an idea for an orbiting facility that can be modified to mimic most known ship types to be used as a boarding/anti-boarding training simulator. He had no idea how to design it, but I thought it was a pretty good idea. He said he got the idea from the aircraft mock-ups the special operations folks on Earth use for that kind of training."

Ian nodded. "It does sound like a good idea. Tell him to run with it. I would suggest he get advice from Ty Anders as well as some of our allied Marines that have actual experience with boarding hostile vessels. I would prefer to see it added to our basic Marine training regimen instead of part of the academy though. I'd like to see everyone have that training. It would be good training on many levels," Ian said thinking more about the idea. "We could bring in crews from the academy as the 'flight crew', or even rotate existing crews through it." He nodded more as he thought about it. "Yeah, this is a really good idea I think we need to make a reality. Hell, even the Raptor teams could use it!"


Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

"Glamia, what news of the search for the new humans?" Shalo asked.

"As you know, Master, our spies at the recent Alliance meeting failed to learn anything about the location of the human world. However, those humans did attend the meeting. While little new information was gleaned on the humans, the spies did discover that the military command of the Alliance managed to convince the Ambassadors and leaders not to withdraw their forces in an effort to protect their worlds. Instead, the Alliance High Command told them of a plan to counter our new strategy. Details were not given to the delegates; however, we believe that Alliance forces will begin attempting to retake worlds we have captured. The report did not indicate which planets were being considered as targets."

She used her tablet and an image of the Tiamat appeared in the air before him. "This is the ship the new humans arrived in. It is named 'Tiamat' but we do not understand what that might be in reference to. It has been determined that this ship is little more than a heavy fighter carrier, but it was also noted that many high ranking Alliance military personnel were given tours of it, to include the First Admiral himself. Such attention to this one ship would seem to indicate it is much more than it seems, but no data is available on it in any of the Alliance computer systems we have access to."

"Is this the same ship we saw at New Talos?" Shalo asked.

Glamia nodded. "We believe so. We also believe that the new humans are sharing their technology with the other races; most especially the Talosians, as the ship carrying the Talosian delegates was also equipped with the same strange armor as the heavy carrier. Reports from the fleet indicate the appearance of this armor on other ships as well, but it is not yet in wide spread use. Those same reports said that the armor equipped ships were far stronger in battle than similar class ships that had not been so equipped. We do not yet know if this is attributed to the armor alone, or if there have been other upgrades made to those ships. To date, none of them have been destroyed or recovered from battle salvage."

Shalo nodded. From those reports, there had to be more going on with those ships than just a simple armor upgrade. "Tell our forces that capturing one of those ships is now a priority. We will need to discover what has been done to them to make them so much stronger and counter it before the entire Alliance fleet gets upgraded." He couldn't help but wonder if this wasn't part of what had the Emperor so rattled. "What of the reconnaissance probes we sent out?"

"Nothing concerning the new humans has been found as yet, Master. However, they have found two arable planets, one with a thriving pre-iron-age civilization that is avian based. The information has been logged and tagged for later investigation."

Shalo nodded. "Continue sending the probes. Inform the spies at ARC I am not pleased with their failures and they are to make getting the location of the new human worlds their priority." He paused. "Have the spies at New Talos reported in yet?"

"No master, we are beginning to believe they may have been killed. Arrangements are currently being made for their replacement. Master, the spies at ARC command also tell us of a large device the humans had brought with them. Again, direct information has been difficult to locate, but the military was very happy to have the device. Since it was brought, it has been observed to have begun small scale mining of the surrounding area. It appears to be building other devices that are slightly larger than Talosian Centurians. When complete, these craft depart the device and fly away under their own power. Some have docked with ships tasked with the protection of the system, while others seemed to have just flown away on their own course. The purpose of this device remains a mystery to us. It has been difficult to gather data on this device, as it is currently located in a heavily patrolled area in the system."

"So what you're really telling me is that the spies we have there are basically useless. Do whatever you need to do, but get someone in that system that is capable of getting us information we can actually use! I'm tired of their excuses! We need information!" Shalo said, angrily.

"Yes Master," Glamia replied, bowing her head. "It would be easiest to raid that system in order to place the spies. May I have your permission to add it to the rotation?"

"As heavily defended as that system is, it would have to be a fast raid. Did you have something in mind?" Shalo asked.

"Master, because of the nature of our current strategy, Alliance Command has to believe that we would not strike where they are most heavily defended. Considering the potential for loss, I would tend to agree with them, however, the forces guarding that facility would be influenced by that belief. A raid there would not only serve to give us the opportunity to place our new agents, it would have the added benefit of shaking their belief of invulnerability. Additionally, any ships we destroy weaken the Alliance. They are already having difficulties replacing their losses. The raid could be costly to us, but I believe the potential benefit to be worth the risk," Glamia replied.

Shalo considered her words before he nodded. "Very well, prepare the new spies. You may schedule the raid when you are ready. Let me know before you launch it though."

"As you command Master."

Raptor Apache

Grimaria System

Failspire Sector, Imperial Occupied Space

Major Jana Cromwell, Commanding

Three days ago, the small group of ships received word that Ian had left for the assault on Hyperion, which put the Raptor teams on the clock. They had to have their devices set and ready before the ships jumped out to defend the occupied world Ian was going to retake. They had just under two weeks to pull it off.

When they got word of the departure of the fleet, Rat and the others felt certain there would be plenty of time. However, that was before they had arrived and taken a look at the reality that was the Imperial Base at Grimaria up close.

The planet itself was basically one large military base. There was a relatively small civilian population remaining on the planet, and those were workers and menial laborers that supported the massive imperial garrison.

The heavy industries and manufacturing had been moved to the moons of the main planet, and they supported and supplied the shipyards also orbiting the main planet. Farming and light industry, such as food preparation, clothing, and personal item manufacturing, had been relocated to the two green moons of the third planet. The rest of the system was literally infested with mining, refining, and smelting facilities that supplied the ores and fuel for the Imperial fleets.

In addition to the millions of troops stationed on the planet, there was a small guardian fleet in the system that was not part of the ships used in the assaults.

"Well, this is not what we expected. We're not gonna have time to locate the dark matter we'll need," Rat said over the tight-beam, short-range link between the ships.

"No, we're not," Jana replied. "But we still have to stop these assholes."

"I'm open to suggestions on how to accomplish it," Thomas replied.

Jana snorted. "Nothing's changed Thomas. We just have more playmates than expected."

"Which means we need more toys," Carl replied. "You have ideas, Jana?"

"A few," Jana said grinning. "We play it cool for now and avoid the planet completely. We plant charges on the guardian ships, the ship yards, and the industrial centers, but leave the mining facilities alone. They'll be staffed by civilians and appear to be running around the clock. Once we get all the toys set, we get the big stuff ready for our real targets and set off the fireworks while we go raise hell on the planet. When the big guys get here, we set our charges on them and continue the original plan."

"The industrial centers on the moons are staffed by civilians too. If we take those out, we'll be killing a lot of innocents," Rat said. "This really is a mess."

"If we do it right, we'll only kill one shift," Carl said. "The residential centers are separated from the factories. If we plant explosives only on the factories, we should limit the civilian casualties. I'm not crazy about it, but if we're going to draw those ships here, we have to do more than just take out the ships. Besides, if we can cripple this massive base, it might buy the Alliance more time to get rearmed and better equipped to defend themselves from these assholes."

Jana nodded. "Carl, Rat; would each of you take a moon and begin planting the bombs. The rest of us can work on getting the ship yard and the guardian fleet set. When we're finished, we can meet up someplace and get ready to hit the planet."

"The planet's a big place, Jana. There are hundreds of fighter bases and troop barracks alone. Not to mention the armories, munitions storage, and heavy weapons. There are also the defensive systems that are installed. We can probably sneak past those, but they count as targets too." Rat replied.

"I think we can discount most of the bases. If we go after the infrastructure we can really hurt them. Power plants, munition depots, supply points, and the like. We can always hit any nearby bases if we happen to get lucky," Carl said. "Look, no matter how we go about this, we are going to lose some civilians. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how badly we want to mess this base up, our mission is to destroy those rings, not this base. We only need to do enough damage to draw the assault fleets here from the rings."

Jana nodded agreement, "To do that, we've got to get rid of the guardian ships at least and make enough of a nuisance of ourselves to get them to come and stop us."

"Or, at least try to…" Rat said, grinning.

Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

"Master, you have an urgent communication request from Imperial Command. Lord Commander Kanis would speak with you." Glamia said after answering the call.

Shalo nodded to her to put it through, but wondered why the captain of the Imperial Guard would be calling him. A hologram of the bowing man appeared before his desk. "Has something happened to the Emperor, Lord Commander?" Shalo asked urgently.

"Yes and no, My Lord," the man replied and slowly stood. "His Imperial Majesty has just returned from a consultation with the Gods," the man said carefully. "We are still trying to make sense of his message, but it is centered around you and your mission at Grimaria. He is very upset presently and the priests are trying to calm him. It is by his order that I have contacted you, although I am presently at a loss as to the extent of the message. I was hoping you would have a better idea."

"I understand, Lord Commander. Unfortunately, I have no information that may assist you. His forces at Grimaria are presently engaged in an ongoing mission that has been in place for some time. Currently, all is proceeding according to our plan and nothing has changed that might have a bearing on it," Shalo explained.

The man nodded. "We were afraid of that. Speaking to the Gods is a very traumatic experience that often leaves his Majesty incoherent for days afterward. We would have delayed in this communication with you had it not been for a clear order to contact you immediately. As I said, he is upset, but we have not been able to discover if he is fearful or angry. Either would give us a better idea of his message for you."

"With respect for his condition, might we hear his words, perhaps we may understand more based on that?" Shalo asked.

The man shook his head. "I'm afraid I cannot authorize that, My Lord. I will speak to the priests on your behalf to see if an exception can be made in this instance, since he is almost inconsolable this time."

Shalo nodded. "I would not presume to intrude upon his privacy in such a manner if this did not sound urgent."

The Guard Captain nodded. "That is understood, Lord Shalo. I am certain the priests will understand this as well. I will speak to them and call you back."

Shalo nodded once to the Commander. "I will await your contact, Lord Commander."

Again, the man bowed to Shalo as his image faded. Shalo looked up at Glamia. "When he calls back, put him through right away."

Glamia nodded. "Yes Master."

Shalo had finished the report he was working on and had begun reading the next when he was interrupted by several alarms going off on Glamia's terminal. She had already silenced them and was typing furiously by the time he asked her what was going on.

"Master, the Grimaria system is under attack, could this be what his Imperial Majesty was trying to warn you about?" she replied.

"Perhaps. How many ships did the Alliance send?" Shalo asked. "Let me see a battle plot."

"Uh," Glamia said. "Master, no ships are detected within the system. No enemy presence at all has been detected. However, the Guardian fleet has been destroyed. All ship facilities in orbit of the planet are reporting heavy damage." She replied, but sounded confused. "How can there be this much damage if there is no enemy presence? For that matter, how did they get this close without us detecting them?"

The image Shalo had asked for appeared in the center of the room, but as she had said, no enemy forces were displayed, only the remnants of the fleet that had been there and the damaged stations.

"Could this have been something natural?" Shalo asked himself outloud. "No, the ships were shielded from those and we would have had some warning." He looked up at Glamia. "Was there any weapons fire detected?"

She scanned back through the report. "No, Master. The report only says that all the ships simply blew up, all at the same time. The base commander brought the base to red alert because he could think of no other reason for that much destruction to happen that quickly. He has ordered our fighter craft to search for survivors and to investigate the event."

Shalo nodded. "Maintain contact. I want to know exactly what's going on in that system immediately. Have there been any reports of activity near the Gates?"

"No, Master," She replied after making a quick inquiry. "The fleet commanders report all has been quiet, and they are on schedule for the next attacks."

Shalo nodded to her, thoughtfully. "Tell them to delay the attacks and to send a squadron of light cruisers back to the base to assist with the investigation."

"Yes Master, the Lord Commander is also calling you back; do you wish for me to put him through?" Glamia asked.

"Yes, right away," Shalo replied, as the image of a different man took form. With a start, Shalo realized this was one of the priests, and he bowed. "Revered Father, to what do I owe the honor?"

"This matter concerns his Imperial Majesty. He is very distraught, and we can make little of his words. Confronting the Gods has a very unsettling effect on the mind. Language is one of the areas most affected. When he speaks, it is to us little more than gibberish, but as his mind returns from the encounter, coherent words become mixed in but are still disjointed and not understandable," the Priest explained. "We are working with him to help his mind return to us with the messages of the Gods intact. However, it has become evident that something of import was revealed to him. He has been trying to get that out to us since he returned. His words to this point have been in an ancient dialect that we have had to interpret. That is where some of the difficulty lies. The words he has spoken refer to a revenant or undead ghosts, invisible dangers, and death of worlds or Empire. It is somewhat unclear and imprecise."

Shalo had gone a little pale. "Revered Father, I have just received a report from Grimaria. All of our space assets there have been destroyed or heavily damaged. However, there is no sign of the enemy. No hostile action was detected at all," Shalo replied. "Could that be to what he was referring?"

"I do not know, My Lord. It could be that is indeed what he was speaking of, or it could be the poor weather patterns in the southern hemisphere of the planet. At this point, we simply cannot tell for certain. It is for that reason we do not let the lay person listen to the words. I would mention that two of my brothers sought the answers His Majesty needed before this. They are both now little more than mindless: we record everything they say, but as yet, they have not said anything we can understand," the Priest replied. "We advised His Majesty that this was too dangerous to pursue, but he was adamant that he be allowed to try."

"Will his Majesty recover?" Shalo asked with real concern.

The Revered Father smiled slightly at his concern. "So far, the signs are good that he will. He has a stronger mind than our two brothers had, due to less contact with the Gods. It will take time and we will care for him."

Shalo nodded. "I understand, Revered Father. I accept your words in the spirit given. I will proceed cautiously, and in the best interests of the Empire."

"Of that, we have little doubt, Lord Shalo. May the Gods guide your path, temper your heart and keep you from harm," the Revered Father spoke. That was their standard words of departure.

Shalo bowed as if receiving them as an invocation as the image faded from view. He remained silent for a few moments to consider what was, and what was not said.

"Master?" Glamia asked softly.

"Arm the demolition charges on the gates and have the fleets retreat to a safe distance and hold position. I want hourly reports from the investigation of the destruction of those ships and I want to know immediately if anything else happens, no matter how strange or seemingly irrelevant," Shalo ordered.

"Yes Master," Glamia replied.

Raptor Apache

Grimaria System

Failspire Sector, Imperial Occupied Space

Major Jana Cromwell, Commanding

"I don't get it, we blow their ships up and damage the ship yards, and they send in more light cruisers?" Rat paused. "I think we failed to panic them."

"No, we only confused them because they can't see us; they don't know what happened, but they are not sure it was a hostile action," Jana explained. "Now we blow the facilities on the moons while we pound the planet."

"We still have some time before the Admiral is in position at Hyperion, Jana. Why don't we play with them some more?" Thomas suggested. "We plant charges on the new ships and maybe plant some charges down on the planet in certain places, then just sit back and wait a couple of days? The more damage we can do to them while we have the time, the better."

"I understand and agree, Thomas, but we need to get the bigger ships back here so we can get to our real job of destroying those damn gates," Jana said.

"I think we may accomplish that mission anyway, Major," Gouyen, the Apache AI, replied. "When the fleets at the gates withdrew, we detected a new signal from the gates that could be a self-destruct charge. Perhaps the local commanders are under orders to ensure the gate technology does not fall into Alliance hands under any circumstances."

Jana looked thoughtful. "So in order to destroy the gates, all we would need to do is get close enough to scan them and make sure the enemy sees that we are?"

"The act of getting close enough for a detailed scan would ensure we are seen. The problem is that the entire Imperial attack force is also at that location. So we are back to the original problem of drawing them off," Gouyen explained.

"Perhaps it would be good enough just to let them know we are here. If they do have orders to destroy the gates to prevent us from getting the tech, it would seem to me that finding enemies within a light year of the device would justify destroying them as a precaution. Equipment can always be rebuilt," Carl replied sensibly. "We have five more days before the Admiral arrives at Hyperion. We should use that time to set up as much sabotage as we can, try to get AM charges on the larger ships, and then allow our presence to become known and see what happens. In that way, we should be covered from all angles."

Jana nodded her agreement as did the other commanders.

It was the start of a very bad week for the Imperial forces at Grimaria. The industrial facilities on the moons were gone. Several hundred fighters had been destroyed on the ground. A hundred and fifty-two major munitions and supply centers, armories, and heavy armor vehicle depots were now smoking craters.  Through it all, the Imperial forces never detected a single weapon being fired, or any evidence of an enemy presence in the system at all. However, no other explanation remained to them.

Acting on orders from Lord Shalo, the fleets stationed at the gates sent in their heavy assault ships for a detailed, high resolution scan of the entire star system. By that time, it was getting close to the Hyperion deadline; Ian and the fleet would be arriving in a few hours to begin their own scans of the Hyperion system. Once that was finished, the attack would be on.

The Raptor teams, feeling that time was running out, planted the heavy charges on the capitol ships as soon as they arrived in system. During the seeding of explosives on the moon installations, the Raptors Gotham and Dynasty also installed very sophisticated 'listening' posts hidden some distance from anything else on the moon. Those devices would allow the Alliance to monitor what happened in this system in close to real time. The other Raptors left small, specialized drones at the ship yard facilities that would attempt to integrate themselves into the facilities during repairs. They would hack into the Imperial data and communications nets allowing more intelligence to be gathered.

The Raptors received the attack signal shortly after the Imperial ships began scanning the Grimaria system. Their time had run out.

"Okay boys and girls, it's time to drop our pants and moon 'em!" Rat said.

Jana laughed at him. "Yes it is, Rat. As we agreed, all Raptors, detonate our final presents and jump for the Gate devices!"

On the planet, several of the almost city-sized Imperial Marine bases began exploding as charges planted there began to detonate in a predetermined pattern. As one, all six Raptors engaged their jump engines and disappeared in a flash.

Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

"Master, the Grimaria ships are beginning their scans of the inner system, they should be complete…" Glamia was interrupted by another alarm going off on her terminal. She silenced it as she accessed the emergency message.

"The Hyperion system is under attack by Alliance forces. It is believed that the force is two to three ships, but sensors are having a hard time locking in on them. The Governor there has initiated martial law."

"This is an odd time for an Alliance assault on an uncontested world," Shalo replied. "What do we have there to defend them?"

"Only two light cruisers, a division of garrison troops and a squadron of older fighter craft. As you said, Sir, this world has been uncontested and far from the war for some years. Uh, it's also a former Talosian colony, My Lord. It has a human population," Glamia replied, urgently.

She no more then finished saying that when yet another chime sounded on her terminal. "My Lord, our forces at Grimaria have detected six enemy ships in the system. No identification or classification was possible as they were detected by their hyper jump signature as they departed. Master, this can't be a coincidence!"

Glamia made sure to manipulate the displayed holograms so her Lord could see all the information she had as she received it.

"The Alliance has never taken back a world from us, but if we do nothing at Hyperion, they will. The presence of Alliance ships at Grimaria threatens the security of the gates." He paused while thinking hard.

"Have the thirteenth assault fleet reassemble and gate to Hyperion immediately. Once they are clear, destroy the gates. The rest of the fleets at Grimaria are to locate and destroy the enemy ships as quickly as possible. Do we have a track on the ships that jumped from Grimaria?" Shalo asked.

She typed and got her answers. "Yes Master, they are heading for the gate devices. However, they cannot drop out of hyperspace close enough for a detailed scan. They will have to arrive in the midst of our current forces on location. Also the speed indicated by our sensors would show them to be smaller, Centurian class ships."

Shalo nodded. "Get them moving, Glamia, we're fighting the clock here. Those ships cannot be allowed to scan those gates."

"Orders sent, Master. Our commanders have anticipated your orders and had already begun acting on them. They had already begun moving to safe jump locations. The thirteenth has begun moving back to the gates and the capitol ships will make rendezvous at the gates. They should be able to depart in twenty minutes.

"The rest of the fleets are reassembling and preparing for the arrival of the enemy ships. They will not escape us, Master," Glamia said confidently.

"Glamia, they have spent the last week systematically laying waste to the base at Grimaria. They had to know the location of those gates. So why didn't they make a move on them sooner?" Shalo asked.

"Because of the Gates' location, there was no way even a cloaked ship could get within scanning range of the gates undetected. To attempt such a thing would be suicide. Perhaps their mission was to destroy the parts of this operation that they could reach, which would be the base at Grimaria. By doing so, they would cripple our efforts much as they have done. What we are seeing now is a last ditch, desperate attempt to get viable data on the gates before they are destroyed. Perhaps they believe they can get close enough to destroy them with missiles," Glamia replied.

Shalo looked thoughtful as he considered her words. "You may very well be correct, Glamia. However, I do not agree with you on the last assumption. Alliance forces do not engage in suicidal missions. There is something here we are not seeing, but for the life of me, I have no idea what it could be." Again he paused in thought. "What is the timing here? When will the enemy ships arrive near our fleets, and how close to that will the thirteenth gate out?"

Glamia typed for a moment. "Because of the faster engines on our ships, the thirteenth will gate out two minutes before the projected arrival of the enemy near our fleet."

"We could not detect them while they were in the Grimaria system. They had to know that we would detect their jump, which surrendered their advantage. How would they get it back? Would that invisibility hold while they were in the nebula?" Shalo asked himself. He shook his head. No matter how he looked at it, the gates had to be destroyed. The risk was simply too high to allow any other option.

"My orders stand," he said to Glamia. "But warn the commanders remaining at the gates that this enemy has advanced stealth capabilities. Inform the Hyperion Governor that we are sending assistance, but he is to immediately institute his corporate security protocols." He paused. "Tell our commanders that information on these enemies is secondary only to their main objectives. We need as much information on these ships and the race operating them as we can."

Glamia nodded and relayed the orders. Shalo sighed and added. "Tell the Garrison commander at Grimaria I need his damage and loss reports as soon as he gets them finished." He reached out and touched the icon from a system near to the one being assaulted. When it opened its information window he grinned. "Glamia, inform the twenty-ninth Circadian Guard about Hyperion."

Glamia paled. The Circadian Units did not belong to the Imperial Military. They had their own missions and chain of command. No one knew for certain exactly who they answered to, but most thought the Priests controlled them. They were brutal, ruthless units that did anything and everything necessary to accomplish their mission. While the units were made up of her people, they no longer belonged to any clan or family. They were completely isolated from the rest of their society and acted as if they were another race entirely. If they took an interest in the planet of Hyperion, it would not be a good thing for the population there.


TDF Star Dancer

Deep Space Entrance vector

Aurigae system, Durnam Sector.

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

"You know, since Ian mentioned this assault, I've always wondered why the system doesn't share the name of the planet like most other systems in the Talosian data base?" Jenny asked, looking at the image of the planet on the main viewer.

"The Aurigae system is far removed from nominal Talosian 'space'. It is the most distant of their colony worlds. The system had originally been discovered by a Benesian survey mission, but they did not explore the system. Through an agreement with the Benesians, the Talosian Alliance claimed the system with plans to build a remote ship yard and mining facility here. However, when they arrived, the colony ship discovered that the planet was ideal for agriculture.

"The agreement with the Benesians was contingent on this being a mostly dead system. When they discovered there was a viable planet here, they named it Hyperion and forbade the development of heavy industry on the planet. For some unknown reason, House Bjorin never built the facilities here it had intended," Star explained. "It was captured by Imperial forces with a minimum of fighting due to the lack of assets placed here to protect it."

"Maybe the Admiral should insist it be annexed into the House Cronos so the people here would at least be taken care of," the comms officer suggested.

"That is an excellent idea and I will make the suggestion to Councilor Noren after we finish taking it back," Ian said as he entered the bridge. "I can't insist, but I can make the suggestion based on past Bjorin stewardship."

Jenny stood and smiled at him. "As you know, we've arrived at our entry point and have begun scanning. Raptors Damocles and Icarus have already launched and are on course for the planet."

Ian nodded. "We're actually here early. We're going to delay out here for a bit longer than planned to make up the difference. Tell the Icarus and Damocles they will have a bit more time on planet than originally planned."

Jenny glanced over at Chloe who nodded and took care of it. Having all the combat departments available to the commander seemed like a good idea, but it had yet to be tested in a combat situation.

"Admiral, Fleet Admiral H'joles is on secure comm for you," the communications officer said.

Ian grinned up at Jenny. "I'm going to get a lot of exercise on those stairs to my office!" he nodded to the comms officer. "I'll take it up in my office, Ensign." He turned and re-climbed the stairs to his loft office.

After raising the security curtain around his desk, Ian accepted the call. "Good Day, Fleet Admiral, what can I do for you today?"

H'joles was smiling, so Ian knew it couldn't be bad news. "You can recommend those teams of yours for medals when they return! They have planted several hidden surveillance devices in the Grimaria system and we have begun receiving data from them. Not only that, but they have managed to inflict massive damage on the enemy while they did it! They've been very busy while they try to lure the enemy fleet in."

He lost much of his smile though. "Unfortunately, their efforts have not, as yet, been successful. The last reports we have received indicate that only light elements of the fleet have been sent to the system to investigate the 'mysterious destruction' of multiple facilities. However, that report is three hours old."

"The data feeds aren't live?" Ian asked.

H'joles shook his head. "Data burst transmissions. Given the distance and the security of the system, this was the best way to handle it. We should be receiving another data burst very soon. Perhaps we will know more when it arrives. What I am calling about is to express to you how amazed I am at the success of your teams. In the week that they have been there, they have managed to do more damage to the enemy than an entire Alliance assault fleet could have done." As he finished, his terminal beeped at him, which Ian could hear.

H'joles quickly read the report. 'I was correct; we did get a new data burst. The Empire is moving several of their capitol ships into the system. Major Rathbone reports that they will continue seeding demolition charges, but will also equip the capitol ships with the charges made to destroy the gates. He goes on to report that the AI believes there is a possibility the Empire will destroy the gates themselves in order to prevent us from obtaining a detailed scan of the structures. To that end, once the charges are planted, they will jump toward the gate from orbit, thus revealing themselves to the enemy." H'joles looked concerned. "Admiral, if they do this, will not the Empire be able to destroy them?"

"The action of revealing themselves is to remove any doubt in the enemy commander's mind that they have been attacked by a hostile force," Ian explained. "The action will also give the Empire the ability to track them while in hyperspace. It is a risky move, but if the AI are correct, it will accomplish the destruction of the gates. As for the danger to the teams, I wouldn't count them out just yet; they wouldn't be jumping into a trap without a plan."

H'joles nodded his understanding. "I am forwarding all data to you as we receive it. I pray you are correct, Admiral. Because, from what this report says, they are all committing suicide."

"Chloe, there is an incoming data link for you and Major Eischens. Please get it analyzed as quickly as possible," Ian said as he returned to the bridge.

"What's going on?" Jenny asked.

"Our wayward children have been busy," Ian said winking at her. "Operations, what's the status of the Damocles and the Icarus?"

TDF Raptor Damocles

TDF Star Dancer

Hyperspace Transit Vector

Durnam Sector

Two days before their arrival at the Aurigae System, Ian had briefed Cindy on a new team member she would have for this mission. Lieutenant Shannon Roberts was an engineering researcher, but she was also a very strong telepath that moonlighted working for Janet Laskar. Since one of their tasks would be to locate the Benesian exile on Hyclarion, Ian wanted Cindy to take the diminutive lieutenant with her.

At first, Cindy objected to taking someone untrained with them. However, Shannon helped with that. "Major, I may not be as well trained as you and your team are, but I do know which end of a pulse rifle is dangerous. I grew up in a family that enjoyed hunting and was taught how to handle firearms at a very young age. I passed military basic training as well as advanced officers training at the top of my class. I can protect myself if I need to."

"That's not really what I'm worried about, Lieutenant. We are going behind enemy lines. If we are compromised, my team and I stand a chance of evading the enemy long enough to rejoin our forces when the attack begins. If we have someone untrained with us, it lowers those odds. Honestly, I don't see the need to bring her along, Admiral," Cindy replied.

"Cindy, according to Janet, Shannon is one of the strongest telepaths we have. She can search a much larger area than you could ever hope to on foot or even with the scanners on the ship. Besides, if the Benesian woman feels someone searching for her, there is a stronger chance she will help in her own location. She's going; you're going to need her abilities," Ian said.

Cindy sighed. She knew that no matter what, Shannon would be going with them to the planet. She just hoped the girl wasn't bragging about knowing how to use a pulse rifle. She looked at the girl. "Grab your gear and report to the Damocles, Lieutenant."

"I'll be there, Ma'am," Shannon replied grinning. "You really don't have a choice, Major. Janet told Ian I have to be with you. Don't worry, we'll be fine. Besides, I'm one of the top rated snipers we have."

Cindy was surprised to hear the soft voice in her mind, but covered it well; she grinned at the girl. "We'll see, Lieutenant."

Lissa and Cindy were waiting as Shannon arrived carrying a smallish duffel bag. “Hi Major, It’s good to see you again.” She dropped the duffel and saluted. "Reporting as ordered."

Cindy returned the salute. “Shannon, let me introduce one of our team-mates; Lissa Dancer. Lissa, this is Lieutenant Shannon Roberts. As I told you before, she’ll be going with us to Hyperion,” Cindy said.

“It’s nice to make your acquaintance.” Lissa offered her hand to Shannon.

Returning the handshake Shannon got a strange look on her face and glanced at Cindy.

“Lissa is our computer and electronic countermeasures expert.” Cindy said aloud. "She is also an android but that is a secret, and up to her to divulge to you," Cindy held in the front of her mind so Shannon could read it.

“I look forward to getting to know you,” Shannon said to Lissa.

“Let’s get back to the Raptor and get her settled in. The rest of the team is anxious to meet you,” Cindy said.

In the day and a half that Shannon had been with Cindy's team, she had done her best to get to know the other members, as well as do her share of the work. When Cindy entered the bay after her briefing, she found Shannon and Ben working on one of the land rails.

“What are you two doing? This thing is supposed to be loaded.” She took a seat on the open left rear wheel of the modified dune buggy.

“Modifications, Ma’am,” Ben said. “The whiz-kids at Phoenix Base came up with a new weapons configuration, so we thought to implement it. We didn’t think we had time to do both rails though…”

“How much longer will it take?” Cindy asked.

“About another six hours. We have the parts to do both rails; but you did want these loaded,” Ben replied.

“How long have you been working on this?” Cindy asked. Looking at the turret mounted rail gun that replaced the laser on the top of the vehicle.

“We started about oh-seven-hundred. It’s really not that bad to do. You’re getting a new weapons computer and, of course, the rail gun. We are also mounting two more laser cannons on each side of the turret, installing a shield generator, and some suspension modifications,” Shannon explained.

“Wow, all that in ten hours?” Cindy asked.

“Yes Ma’am, Jerry and Lissa said they would give us a hand as soon as we finish getting the turret installed. Jerry will do the new suspension and Lissa will take care of the computer,” Shannon replied.

“Well, if you can pull it off in ten hours, unpack the other one and get it modified, too. For now, however, we have a mission briefing. Let’s go.” Cindy nodded her head in the direction of the Raptor.

When they got inside and the team was assembled, Cindy sealed the ship. “Damocles please project briefing notes for this mission,” Cindy began. “We're headed for the planet Hyperion. It fell to Imperial forces a few years ago and Admiral Williams thinks we can take it back. We will make planet fall here...” she pointed to the map, “…outside the village of Plainview. We are to keep a low profile until we can evaluate the situation and possibly make contact with any partisan forces on the planet. Our main mission is to evaluate enemy strength, reconnaissance of the area surrounding the city of Starlight; the planetary capitol, and to begin the search for a Benesian exile. The main planetary spaceport is located here, just south of the city. After our initial evaluation, we report back and await orders. Until those orders come in, we are to search for the exile and any partisans.””

“What are the rules of engagement?” Sasha asked.

“Ideally, we never fire a shot. The enemy is not to know we're there. However, if we are discovered, we are authorized to protect ourselves and the ship. Situational containment is also authorized, but only if the situation can be contained. Raptor Icarus will also be making planet fall near Rominy.” She indicated another major city 9000 kilometers to the west. “We will be going to full stealth after launch. Star Dancer’s Centurions are to do the recon of the system. We launch as soon as Star Dancer drops to normal space.”

“If we’re supposed to keep a low profile, how are we supposed to make contact with partisans?” Jerry asked.

“I was wondering when you’d ask that. Shannon? Why don’t you explain and then give us a quick rundown on our new toys,”” Cindy asked.

Fourteen hours later, Cindy and her team were suited up and sitting in the Raptor as Star Dancer prepared to re-enter normal space.

"Private channel, Cindy," Lissa said.

"What's on your mind Lissa?" Cindy asked accepting the call.

"If Shannon is a telepath that works for Janet Laskar, could it be that she is here to evaluate you in a real combat situation as well?" Lissa asked.

Cindy thought about it for a moment. "It's possible, but I doubt it. If they were going to use a telepath to evaluate me they would have done it before now. It might be part of her mission with us, but I don't think it's a big part. Really, I think she's just a sweet girl that got dropped on us for this trip. I just hope we don't see any action and are forced to see how good she really is with that rifle of hers."

"I know you said she was a trained sniper and they are allowed non-standard weaponry, but a completely custom weapon is very unusual. Besides if she's that good, why hasn't she been recruited into the teams already?" Lissa asked.

"I don't know, maybe she simply didn't want to; it is a voluntary force after all," Cindy replied. "Relax Lissa; she's only with us for this mission."

"Damocles, this is Flight, report status?" the flight controller asked over the comm.

Cindy switched back to that channel. "We're all dressed up and ready to leave for the party, Flight."

"Understood, raising the elevator to launch position - stand-by for launch," Flight replied.

Outside the ship, in the big bay, the massive doors over the ship opened and the section of the deck the Damocles sat on began to rise. Once clear of the bay, Cindy put her hands on the controls for the Raptor. "Flight, this is Damocles, we're on the roof and ready to launch."

"Understood, interface in thirty seconds," flight replied.

Across the hull of the big ship, on the opposite side, the Raptor Icarus was also in launch position. Cindy brought her mind back to her own ship as she listened to the countdown. She watched as Star Dancer returned to normal space and immediately received clearance to launch. Rising up off the external hull of the big ship, she engaged the stealth systems and put them on course for their destination far ahead of them. Without prior coordination, the Icarus took up a wingman's position beside them and matched course.

It was going to take time to get to where they were going, but that had been allowed for in the overall plan. While the Raptors made for the planet, Star Dancer and the other ships would be doing scanner sweeps of the rest of the system while centurions did recon. After five hours of flight, Ben and Sasha arrived to relieve Cindy and Lissa. It was still another six hours to their destination, but Cindy would be back long before they arrived.

When she got back to the common area of the Raptor, she saw that Jerry and Sam were playing a card game while Shannon was working through some pretty complex equations on a portable terminal.

"Whatcha doin?" Cindy asked the girl.

Shannon smiled at her. "Trying to build a model of hyperspace in the computer so I can test a theory. It's part of the Doctorate program I'm working on."

"Hyperspace Physics? That's not intimidating at all," Cindy said sarcastically. "I thought you were a simple Engineering tech."

Shannon shook her head. "I help out if its needed, but this is my goal." She cocked her head up at Cindy. "Major, you keep thinking of me as a girl; you do know that I'm actually a year older than you are, right?"

"I thought you folks didn't intrude on the private thoughts of others?" Cindy asked, surprised the girl…er, young woman, would peek like that.

"We don't and no, I didn't peek," Shannon replied. "It's like you were projecting that at me. Almost as if you were telepathic yourself." She shrugged. "You could be a latent that simply hasn't expressed her power yet."

"What do you mean?" Cindy asked.

"Well, people aren't born with abilities. They are born with the latent ability in a dormant state. It wakes up on its own. We still don't know how or why it does, but it does. Sometimes it wakes up on its own for no apparent reason, for others, a traumatic experience brings it on. There is simply no way to tell, as everyone seems to be so different. You could be like that. Of course, this could be the extent of it too. There's no way to tell until it manifests completely," Shannon explained. "Research continues."

"Can you tell what it is?" Cindy asked.

"Not without looking deeply, which I normally don't do unless the person is a candidate to join us and their surface thoughts are questionable. That is an invasion of privacy," Shannon explained. "I'd do it for you if you asked me to, but it's something I would really rather not do, especially to a friend."

"Okay, I'll give it some thought then," Cindy asked. "I'll let you get back to your studies. You know, you could ask Lissa to help with the building of the hyperspace model. As long as that's not part of the course requirements."

Shannon thanked her and looked to Lissa, who had sat down next to Ben.

“Okay folks, we’re down. Let’s get a base set up, and the gear unloaded. Sasha you have guard duty in the gunnery chair,”” Cindy said as she climbed out of her chair.

Though it was night and the sky dark, Cindy had seen through the enhanced senses of the Raptor that it was much like Earth. This was a hostile planet though, so the peaceful beauty had to be ignored. The clearing was mercifully flat, and Jerry rushed out the back door pulling a floater full of the components for the shield. Ben had followed him out with another floater carrying a power unit and the shield generator. This shield generator would not only protect them from a small scale attack, it would hide them from orbital and aerial spies.

It took them the better part of an hour to get everything unloaded and a base camp established. Dawn was still a few hours away, but Cindy wanted to do an aerial recon of the area surrounding the city and space port. So she and Lissa climbed back into the Raptor and rose back into the night sky.

"Starlight is to the south, on a heading of two-two degrees, one-two-one miles. Plainview is at a bearing of one-zero-four, at four miles and we’ll be flying over the village of Serenity, at three-five miles.” Lissa reported.

“I wonder what people do out here in these small towns?” Cindy asked.

“Farming or logging I would guess. That's what was listed in the Talosian planetary abstract. Our scans didn’t show any significant industrial centers out this far,” Lissa replied.

“This place feels so peaceful. It's hard to believe it’s an occupied world.”

They flew in silence for the next few minutes. “I have two fighters taking off from the space port,” Lissa reported anxiously.

“Arming weapons. Any idea if they’re after us?” Cindy asked.

“Stand-by. Negative, they are tuning on heading three-one-four. I would guess it’s a routine patrol.”

“Slowing to two-zero-zero, and dropping to nape.” Cindy stared hard at the monitor in front of her. She had terrain guidance scans and a plethora of other systems to assist her in flying this close to the ground, but she had to assume they would be detected if she turned any of them on. “Let’s just hope no one throws a rock in the air.”

The trees were thinner here, and Cindy was thankful that no power lines existed on this planet. She would have flown right into them had this been Earth.

They did a few passes over the city, then headed for the space port. An energy field was over the base, so they couldn’t get too close. They had just finished their second pass, when the communit beeped.

"What's up?" Cindy asked, opening the channel.

"Sensors show five people approaching our location, but they are still on the main road. They're still pretty far away, but we thought you'd like to know," Ben said.

"Thanks, we're returning now. Just keep an eye on them for now," Cindy replied.

"Will do, see ya in a few, Boss." Ben replied and closed the channel.

"Turning to heading one-niner-seven and climbing to one thousand. Increasing speed to five-five-zero," Cindy said.

Lissa calculated the course. "Return vector set. ETA one five minutes."

"Let's just hope it isn't the Imperial welcome wagon; I've heard they can be downright rude!" Cindy said.

"It could be a patrol, but that would make no sense this far from the city. It has to be locals," Lissa replied.

Cindy opened a channel. "Shannon, are you getting anything from those people?"

"A little; I can get that they are looking for us. One of them is… brighter than the others. I think that one has an ability. They are armed, but not with military weapons. Finding us is important to them, but I can't tell in what way," Shannon replied.

"Well, if it were an attack, I think there would be more than five of them. Just keep an eye on them for now and let me know if you learn anything new," Cindy replied.

Cindy started cutting back on her speed as they neared the area of the base camp. She dropped to about 100 feet and followed the road up past the camp and very soon was hovering over the side of the road, watching a group of people walking toward them. Four of them were armed with old hunting rifles and one with an old Talosian pulse rifle, the fifth looked to be a very tall woman.

The belly mounted rail gun was locked on to the woman as she was the one in the middle of the group. But Cindy didn’t see anything that looked like a uniform, or in fact, anything that looked remotely military, except for the pulse rifle.

As Lissa and Cindy watched, the woman stopped her group and looking around, then looked right up at the Raptor. She spoke some quiet words to her companions, and two of them placed their weapons on the ground, while one obviously tried to argue with her. Finally, however, she must have won, because the last hunting rifle and the pulse rifle joined the others on the ground.

Cindy's sensors beeped at her softly. She was surprised when she saw that the woman was Benesian. That would stand to reason, as Shannon had said that one of them had an ability. Cindy opened a comm to the camp. "Jerry, you and Sasha come out to the road ASAP, it looks like these folks just surrendered to us."

"How did they know you are there?" Sasha asked, but Cindy could tell she was running.

"One of them is a Benesian woman. Possibly the one we are after, so be nice when you get out here. She had to have sensed us since we are still cloaked. Shannon, can you reach them yet?"

"Just a sec, Major," Shannon replied.

As Cindy watched the group below them, the Benesian woman smiled and put her hand to her head. She nodded, and looked up at the still cloaked Raptor.

"I understand Major. We will wait here for your people."

Cindy was surprised by the heavily accented, musical voice in her head.

"Major, she is the Benesian Ambassador, the men around her are her guards. There is a story here, but she will tell you when we get them back to our camp," Shannon replied.

"Understood. Did you get that Jerry and Sasha? Treat them as guests, not prisoners," Cindy ordered.

"Gotcha, Boss. We're almost there, coming up under the Raptor now," Jerry replied.

Cindy knew that, since she had been able to see them since they had left the camp.

"Understood, we'll land so all of you can get aboard, then head back to the camp and do the introductions there," Cindy ordered.

It happened quickly, Jerry and Sasha returned the weapons to the men and escorted the small group into the Raptor. Cindy then moved the Raptor back to the camp they had set up, landed, and secured the flight systems, leaving the powerful scanners operating in passive mode.

When Cindy joined the group in the now crowded common area, she saw that Sasha had given the new people refreshments, and Jerry was busy treating an injury one of the men had.

Setting her helmet down on her bunk, she bowed to the Benesian woman. "Good morning, I am Major Cindy Swift-Williams of the Raptor Damocles. On behalf of the Terran Defense Force, welcome aboard." Cindy had spoken Benesian, but felt she had done so poorly. She briefly wished she'd had the time to practice.

The tall alien beauty stood and returned the bow, she spoke in Talosian. "I in turn bid you a good morning as well. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Ambassador Shies M’orel of the Benesian Agricultural Directorate on a mission to the people of the planet Hyperion. These men are my escorts; they are freedom fighters that have been protecting me since the Imperials arrived. My I make known to you, Lieutenant Commander Hisar, and his brother, Trante. These other two are Fram and Yaris; they are woodsmen and have worked tirelessly to keep me safe. Fram is the head of the local resistance. On behalf of the old government, I welcome you to Hyperion.” As she spoke, each of the men stood and bowed. "Hisar and Trante are also my consorts."

"Before it happens, please let me apologize to all of you for any seeming lack of manners or protocol. We do not intend to offend any of you, so I ask that you all please be patient with us. We are a combat unit with little diplomatic training," Cindy said. "Since most of them are in here now, I would like to introduce you to the members of my team. My co-pilot and the team’s electronic warfare specialist, Officer Lissa Dancer," Lissa bowed to the woman.

"The gentlemen to your left are Officer Jerry Conan, our sniper and covert operations specialist, and Officer Samual Asper, Heavy weapons and ground assault specialist. Behind you is Officer Benjamin Conan, our equipment specialist and resident engineer. He is also Jerry's mate. The woman to your immediate right is Officer Sasha Gorski, ship's weapons officer and our explosives expert. Finally, the woman beside Ben is Lieutenant Shannon Rogers. She has been attached to us for this mission to assist us in locating you," Cindy replied.

"I'm afraid all we have for rations are replicated foods, and we don't have a lot of Benesian foods available. With respect to your escorts, we will keep you safe until we can return you to our cruiser. If your escorts would like, we would be happy to show them the arrangements we have made to ensure your security while you are with us."

Hisar nodded. "That would be very much appreciated Major. If I may ask, you said locating Shies was only part of your mission here, may I ask what the rest of your mission is?"

"I can't give you details, Commander, but we are here to retake this world," Cindy said grinning. "Another part of our mission was to make contact with the local resistance and offer any support we can in the time we have. I am also authorized to brief them on the plan to liberate the planet. So, you folks have really helped us out this morning."

The Ambassador smiled. "Please, call me Shies. We are all pleased to meet you and very relieved that you are here. By your comments, I understand that replicated foods have not yet been accepted by the Benesian Synod. Unfortunately, in order to survive, I've already had to violate that." She looked sadly at her two mates. "But, that will not be the only thing I will be punished for." She turned back to Cindy and smiled bravely.

"Ben, Sasha, take guard duty for now. Jerry, could you set up a place for our new friends to sleep. If it would be acceptable for everyone, we can talk more over breakfast," Cindy suggested.

The new people agreed, and Lissa offered to serve the meals. To break the ice, Cindy ordered a pancake breakfast with sausage, coffee, and milk. Shies asked for the same, but Lissa thought to clarify the order. "Ambassador, the Major has ordered a common morning meal from her home planet. However, it does include meat and a mild stimulant. Although the food is replicated, the original product came from the flesh of an animal."

"Ah, thank you, Lissa. Please omit those items if you would," Shies replied.

Lissa nodded. "I will do so; I understand that the produce of an animal is acceptable though? The milk she ordered is produced by a living animal."

Shies nodded. "Yes, that is acceptable."

Lissa quickly got each person's meal from the replicator and set it in front of them. Trante asked for a duplicate of Cindy's meal, but the rest of the men ordered typical Talosian meals, but did wish to try the stimulant.

When Lissa had finished, she sat with only a cup of brownish liquid, but no food.

"Are you not hungry Lissa?" Shies asked.

"No ma'am, I'm not. This will do for me," Lissa replied smiling at the woman.

Shies smiled tenderly at her. Cindy had noticed that none of the men had touched the food in front of them and so hadn’t attacked hers, afraid that she might offend someone. Her instinct had been correct, for a moment later Shies spread her arms and tilted her head back.

“Blessed Lady, thank you for this bounty. It will strengthen us, sustain us and allow us to fulfill our lives. Thank you also for bringing these new friends into our lives, and give us the opportunity to correct this great wrong.”

That last part raised Cindy’s eyebrow, but she kept her peace. Shies lowered her head and brought her hands back in front of her. “Let us begin. Major, I am totally unfamiliar with this dish or how to eat it,” she almost laughed.

Cindy did chuckle, asked everyone to call her Cindy, and described what the items were, how to prepare them and then how to use the utensils. After the first bite of the sticky mess, Shies’ eyes lit up and she did smile. “This is wonderful!”” she said after she swallowed her mouthful.

The men expressed their approval of the coffee and asked for more. Cindy rose and ordered a pot and placed it on the table.

Shies asked what the food she was eating would normally be made from, and Cindy spent the rest of the meal, in between bites, explaining the origins of maple syrup, butter, pancakes and orange juice.

To her astonishment, even the men had questions about the food. However, Shies finally asked what planet Cindy had originated from.

“We are all from the same planet. Earth, in Sol Sector,” Cindy replied.

Shies looked thoughtful for a moment, but Hisar spoke first. “I know. I’ve been out of circulation for a few years, but I don’t remember a planet Earth being a member of the Alliance. When was the colony formed?”

"Earth isn't a colony and we are not a part of the Talosian Alliance. We are a part of the Alliance of Races. We are on friendly terms with the Talosians though. Commander, a lot has happened since Hyperion was taken. It's going to take some adjustment to get used to it," Cindy replied. "I don't mean to change the subject, but very shortly, this will become a combat zone. We will get you to safety as quickly as we can, but it might not be soon enough. I ask that you please stay close to the ship so we can protect you until transport is possible"

"Possible? Why can't you send for a shuttle now?" Yaris asked.

"At present, the Empire has no idea we are about to attack. Currently, there are two battle cruisers and a light assault cruiser hidden in this system. There is a lot more going on here that I can presently tell you," Cindy explained. "After the fighting starts, we may be able to get you up to the ship in the confusion, but until then, we have to remain hidden."

"Yaris and Fram have to return to their homes. They are known to the Imperial census and would be missed if absent for an extended period. They will also have to make contact with the rest of the resistance to let them know something is about to happen," Hisar replied. "Trante and I will remain with Shies. We're not registered and the Imps have no idea about Shies at all."

Cindy nodded. "Good, we'll try to keep it that way." She looked back at Yaris and Fram. "As I said before, I am authorized to render what aid I can to you. Is there anything you and your people might need?"

Fram snorted. "Just about everything, really. All we have for weapons are hunting rifles. We have no armor or medical supplies, no explosives or anything else. Most of us don't even have any training. Luckily, the Imps didn't stop the merchants that travel from town to town, if they had, we'd be forced to rely on runners that could be caught." He paused. "We've not been very good at pushing them off the planet, but we have been able to keep Shies hidden as well as some other folks."

"I am due to report in soon, but before that and if you don't mind, I'd like to get some more information from you gentlemen," Cindy asked.

"What would you like to know, Major?" Yaris asked.

"Well, like I said, we are going to take this world back. We'd like to know how many folks can fight, where you need us to drop supplies for them if we can, stuff like that," Cindy replied.

"Major, you do know that we are talking about completely untrained civilians here right?" Hisar said. "Very few of them know how to fight, most of them have never even seen a pulse rifle,"

Cindy smiled back at him. "Would two divisions of Marines help with that? Commander, we know that these are civilians. But ask yourself this; if you were in their shoes, would you stand back and watch if you thought you could help?" Cindy asked. "I get the impression that life has not been pleasant here since the Imperials arrived. Do you really think that those people are not going to try to do something to help us?"

"It's what I've been trying to tell you, Hisar. If they had the weapons, we would have already tried to retake the planet ourselves. Especially now that we know the Imps are up to something here," Yaris replied.

"What are they up to?" Cindy asked. "Are the ships in danger?"

Hisar sighed. "Major, to be perfectly honest with you. I've never heard of you before. I've never heard of a battle cruiser and I've certainly never seen a ship like this one or a team like yours. My instinct is to not trust you because there are simply too many unknowns. However, Shies tells us you are not only trustworthy, but are really here to help us get free of the Empire." He gestured to Yaris and Fram. "The resistance sees Shies as their figurehead, the heart of the resistance. They would do anything for her, and if she says you are trustworthy, they accept that without question. In a lot of ways, she is the real leader of the resistance. So, forgive me for seeming to doubt you and your motives. I am only trying to do my best for Shies and the people of this world."

Cindy nodded. "There is nothing to forgive, Hisar. I would be suspicious as well, if I were in your position. I can swear to you that, to the best of my knowledge, there is no deception or untruths involved in this issue. I will freely admit that there are things I cannot tell any of you, but that is a matter of security and not one of mistrust."

Shies looked a little uncomfortable. "Major, please understand that Hisar is a military person, much like yourself. It is simply in his nature to be suspicious," She sighed. "It has been given to me as a facet of my gifts, a limited type of foresight. That is how we knew when and where to find you this morning. It doesn't always work, and cannot be directed. It simply shows me what I need to see at times. It is in this manner I know you to be trustworthy."

"Thank you for that trust," Cindy replied. "If you would, please tell me what it is you have discovered, Yaris. Maybe we can do something about it."

Fram actually answered the question. “As was said, we’ve recently found out a few things. It’s not common knowledge among our people, but we believe the Imps are…… harvesting us, for lack of a better word.

"We’re not sure why, but we are all required to go to their clinics once a month, to ‘monitor’ our health. They sedate us and then stick a needle into the back of our necks. We all have horrible headaches for a few days after. One of our people was able to watch what was going on. They drew several vials of fluid out, then moved the person into a room to recover from the anesthetic. Every person on the planet is required to do this. We have no idea what they are doing with all that spinal fluid.

"Freighters come and go pretty regularly; not surprising in itself since we supply food for their damned armies, but we load those ships. There is one ship we are not allowed anywhere near. It gets loaded in the big hanger at the spaceport and we've been unable to get anyone inside there to see what's going on. Shies can’t read the Imps like she can us. It's a bit of a stretch, but we think they are shipping that spinal fluid off world on that freighter.”

"I'll let command know what you've told me, I'm sure they'll want to check it out. We've often wondered what the Imperials do on captured worlds and how they are treating our people. Do you know when that freighter is due to depart?" Cindy asked.

"Not for a couple days, yet. The schedule is pretty regular," Fram replied.

Cindy nodded. "Okay, now how about we figure out how to get your people some weapons they can use?"


TDF Star Dancer

Aurigae System, Durnam Sector.

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

"Admiral, Damocles is on the comm for you," Alex replied.

"Thanks, I'll take it here," Ian replied and tapped the accept button.

Cindy's smiling face appeared. "Reporting in Admiral."

"You're a little earlier than I expected. Did you find something?" Ian asked.

She nodded. "Ambassador Shies M'orel tracked us down this morning. She is here with us and safe. Two of her escorts were actually from the local resistance here, so we made contact with them as well. I'm sending a data file with the locations of the closer cells that need supply. Most of them are untrained civilians, Admiral, so if you can give them a couple of Marines to guide them, it would be greatly appreciated."

"I'll see what I can do, what else did you find?" Ian asked.

"We took a look around and so far every thing's pretty quiet. There is only one wing of fighters at Starlight and we actually had a little difficulty locating any ground troops. The resistance folks helped out with that too, the information is in the data file. We're providing the supplies needed for the local cells in our area and they will wait for the main attack before moving. There are several people the resistance is hiding down here; some of them are former government officials, but a few others are doctors and professionals.

"There's little concrete proof at the moment, but the resistance believes the Imperials have been up to something down here. All citizens are required to visit a clinic every month. Supposedly, so the empire can monitor their health to better care for humans; since they say they have little experience with the race. What happens is that the patient is sedated, then spinal fluid is removed. The people have horrible headaches for hours, sometimes days afterward. They are going to try to get someone that has recently been 'treated' to our ship so we can have the autodoc look them over. I'd rather have Beth down here, but this will have to do."

Ian nodded. "I understand the desire, but you’re not going to get the chance. We launch the attack in just under an hour. Tell the resistance leader I'll direct one of the medical shuttles to him as soon as it's safe for them to come down."

"Understood, what about the Ambassador? We hadn't planned on locating her this quickly," Cindy replied.

"Are you finished supplying the Resistance?" Ian asked.

She nodded. "For the most part. We gave them several crates of pulse rifles, power packs, emergency medical kits, rations and personal shield modules. I threw in some grenades and other explosives as well, along with comm units, scanners and sensors. Whatever they asked for, plus anything I could think of they might need."

Ian nodded his understanding. "Good, break camp and bring the Ambassador up here before you move on to your first target. You're gonna have to haul ass though."

"Understood, Sir. We'll be on our way shortly," Cindy replied. "Damocles out."

Ian took a moment to skim the data file before looking up at his aide. "Alex, parse out the data concerning the removal of spinal fluid from the civilians as well as that part of my conversation with Cindy and forward it to the CMO A.S.A.P. please," Ian asked.

"Yes Sir," she replied and got busy.

Ian opened a comm to Jenny down on the bridge. "Jen, can you come up here for a minute? Bring Star with you. I'd like a comm to Commander Serena and Colonel Harris as well."

The comms were open before Jenny and Star made it to the office. Ian quickly told them about the spinal fluid and the special freighter that would be leaving the hanger at Starlight. "I would like that ship captured if at all possible. Star, during your assault on the computer systems, I'd like you to keep your eyes open for any data that might be related to this issue. It may seem irrelevant, but I can't help but feel this is important somehow."

"Are we still on schedule, Sir?" Serena asked.

Ian nodded. "We are. Damocles has secured the Ambassador. All other Raptor teams report contact with the resistance and have been supplying them with weapons and other supplies. Damocles is bringing the Ambassador up here before heading for their first target. We begin the assault in," he checked his clock. "Thirty-five minutes. Good luck."

When the comms to the other ships closed, Ian told Alex he was heading down to the CIC before he had to go meet the Ambassador. She grabbed her tablet and stood to follow him. Damn that girl was efficient.

Separated from the main bridge by a blast wall, the Combat Information Center had been built using the original ideas Ian and Star had, with suggestions from the Intel and Operations departments. It was the electronic nerve center of the ship and capable of processing every scrap of information a fleet of warships could amass during a battle. In the center was a huge holographic tank capable of floor to ceiling display. Surrounding that huge tank were terminals for the command staff to manipulate the data in the tank. Behind them were rows of smaller holographic terminals for each of the techs and operators that worked to make sure their commanders had all the information they needed to make decisions. Every time Ian walked in there, he couldn't help but think; "NASA ain't got shit on this place!"

"How are we lookin' Chloe?" Ian asked as the woman handed him a special ear-piece.

"So far, so good, Admiral. We've compiled our target lists and assigned stick missions. We're having a little difficulty planning on how to isolate their troops on planet, but we're getting it worked out. We'll be ready on time," the woman replied.

"Oh? What's the problem?" Ian asked.

"They're actually not as spread out as we anticipated and they are more heavily armed. The main garrisons are too close to population centers for anything more than a ground attack. We're probably just going to have to slug it out with them; at least until the civilians can get clear," Chloe explained.

"The Raptors on the ground have issued comm units to the resistance leaders. Maybe we can have them try to clear out the civilians before we hit those places," Ian suggested.

She nodded. "I'll see what I can make happen," she replied as she accepted a call over her ear-piece.

Looking at the tank, Ian could see that everything was in place and ready to go. Seeing that Chloe was no longer busy with her call he got her attention. "I need to go meet the Ambassador, I'll be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, I'll keep the ear-piece with me, so if you need me, call."

Chloe nodded. "Major Swift-Williams will need to hurry to make her target in time."

Ian nodded. "She knows. Be back shortly," Ian said and left with Alex.

The Damocles called in and said they would drop off their passengers in Alpha bay, so that's where Ian headed. He and Alex arrived in the small visitors lounge just off the main bay to await their arrival. Alex had called for a liaison officer to be present as well, and she had arrived before Ian and Alex. They didn't have to wait very long. In fact, Ian suspected Cindy had been pushing the limits of the Raptor's engines in order to get them to the ship this fast.

When the Damocles arrived, Cindy spun the ship around and landed so the side passenger hatch was only few feet from the access hatch to the lounge. As Ian watched, one of the team helped a tall woman and two men out of the Raptor and pointed to the lock doors for the lounge. The trio were wearing isolation headsets to protect their ears and, following instructions, ran to the indicated hatch. The Damocles waited until the trio were inside the airlock before lifting off and flying back out of the landing bay portal.

Once inside the lounge, one of the men turned and saluted the ship's colors imprinted on one bulkhead, while the tall Benesian woman bowed to them. They turned back to Ian and the woman bowed to him. She spoke first, "Good day Admiral, I am Shies M'orel of Benesia. We request permission to come aboard."

Ian returned the bow. "Granted, Madam Ambassador. Please excuse the lack of a formal welcome, but we are rather busy at the moment. On behalf of my ship and crew, welcome back to the Alliance."

She smiled. "Thank you, Admiral. Please allow me to introduce my consorts, Lieutenant Commander Haskin late of the Talosian Defense Force and his brother Trante." As she introduced him, Haskin saluted Ian and Ian returned it.

Ian smiled and waved to the Liaison Officer. "May I introduce Senior Lieutenant Samantha Farnsworth of our Liaison Office. She will act as your guide and take care of anything you might need while you’re with us. If there is anything we can do to make your stay with us more comfortable, please don't hesitate to ask her."

The woman stepped forward and bowed to Shies before speaking her greeting in Benesian.

"My Lady, I must apologize for being horribly rude, but I am needed back in the command center. The Lieutenant will show you to your quarters and see to your needs. As soon as we are able I would be honored if you and your mates would consider joining me for dinner, although I fear that might have to wait for tomorrow," Ian said.

"There is no rudeness, Admiral. People’s lives are at stake, go and liberate this world. It would be our honor to join you for a meal when you are finished." Shies replied. She was still smiling, and so was the man she had called a Lieutenant Commander.

Ian smiled a thank you at her and turned to the Liaison Officer, "Lieutenant?"

"I've got this, Sir, go on. Kick some butt for us, too," she said and shooed him out of the room.

Ian arrived back at the CIC with about five minutes to spare.

"Cutting it pretty thin, Admiral. I was afraid we were going to have to do this without you!" Chloe said teasing him.

Ian snorted. "What do you mean? You guys do this without me anyway! I'm only here to blame it on if it all goes to hell!"

Chloe nodded to a grinning Major Eischans. "See? I told you we had him trained well!"

Ian just shook his head and looked into the tank. "Okay Chloe, it's time to go to work, get 'em moving."

"Aye, Sir," she replied and touched a stud on her ear-piece. "All units, this is the Umpire. Batter up!"

In the tank, Ian saw the Centurions move into position to attack the Imperial ships. Down in the landing bays, flight control was rapidly launching fighters. Normally, they would have already had the fighters launched and in position, but this time, they wanted the planet to be able to call for help. Down on the planet, Major Corvis and the Icarus Raptor team began their assault on the regional government offices in the city of Rominy. That attack was a diversion to make the Imperial commanders think the Alliance force made a mistake by attacking the wrong city. Of course, that city was also home to the division of troops stationed all over the planet and was the real target for the Icarus.

Damocles would be making an assault on the main communications complex in the city of Starlight, which was the real planetary capitol. Their mission was a simple search and destroy. They were to destroy the communication array but do it slowly enough to allow the Imperial leadership time to call for help.

Almost to the second, the Centurions hit the Imperial ships without warning, doing heavy damage, but failing to destroy them. The Centurions continued to work on the cruisers, pounding on them relentlessly.

At the moment the Centurions began their attack, Star Dancer, Prometheus, and the Zephyr all began active sensor and targeting sweeps of the system. The action made certain that the Imperial ships would be able to detect them. In the case of the Zephyr, she launched missiles against the light cruiser furthest from the planet as if it were simply assisting the Centurions. When they got in range, the Prometheus did the same against the ship in orbit. Neither Imperial ship survived impact, but they had plenty of time to warn the planet.

"Damocles and Icarus both confirm civil defense sirens going off in the cities of Rominy and Starlight. Damocles reports the scrambled launch of fighters from the spaceport," an operation officer reported. "The civilians are running for the shelters."

"Sphinx flight reports spotting heavy armor being deployed in Rominy!" Ian heard over his ear-piece.

Chloe typed on her terminal. "Warn the Icarus they have heavy playmates. What about Starlight? Can we confirm any troop deployments there?"

Then, it got really busy. So many reports were coming in that Ian was almost dizzy, but somehow he managed to keep track of what was going on and helped Chloe and Major Eischens keep a handle on the flow of battle.

It was going pretty well until Ian got a call that broke his concentration and scared him.

"Medical emergency on the bridge! The Commander has collapsed! Admiral to the Bridge!" The XO called on the open comm.

Ian ran from the room. The guards had already begun opening them for him and turning sideways, slipped though. When he got there, Jenny was sitting in her chair, unconscious. Colonel Poul Festun, Jenny's executive officer, had taken charge. He was on the battle bridge in another part of the ship, and only his hologram was present. One of the Marine guards had gotten Jenny back into her chair and was doing what he could for her.

Ian picked her up in his arms. "I'll get her to the ready room, Poul. Send the medics in there please."

"You got it Sir," the man replied. "Please keep us informed?"

"Count on it, Poul," Ian said as he left the command dais and headed for Jenny's ready room. One of the guards from the bridge door was already there and had opened the door. Star accompanied Ian.

"There is nothing physiologically wrong with her or the baby, Ian," Star replied. "However, she is showing signs of mental distress. In my opinion, she had a vision; judging from her reaction, it wasn't a good one."

"It wasn't," Jenny said weakly. "Ian, we're in trouble. The Empire is coming to murder the planet and I couldn't see how to prevent it!"

The medics arrived then and gently but firmly pushed Ian to the side.

"How soon, Jen?" Ian asked.

"I don't know Ian. When they arrive we'll think they are an Imperial infantry unit. They'll drop from orbit while we destroy their ships, they're brutal, heartless killers. Their targets are Starlight and Rominy; they have a chemical of some kind that utterly destroys organic matter," Jenny said.

"Admiral, we need to get her to medical," one of the medics said trying to get him to get out of their way.

"A moment, this is important," Ian replied, but his eyes never left Jenny. "Tell me everything, love."

"They'll arrive close and fast. They'll ignore the big ships and fighters and push to the planet. They'll drop in groups of smaller pods surrounding a larger pod. The Rominy group will make it to the ground without the larger pod.

"The Starlight group will fall short of their target, but land short of the city. The smaller pods aren't pods at all but large powered armor suits. Four of them will pick up the large pod and they will head for the city killing and destroying everything in their path.

"The vision jumps then to a building in Starlight, a hanger I think. They open the large pod they carried and activate what's inside. They get into the ship there and wait. The pod is some kind of chemical weapon but the chemical dissolves anything living. It goes off and the grass and tress just…melt. Everything, Ian it's horrible, animals…… the people… they all die screaming. The winds from the ocean pick it up and carry it inland. It gets into the streams and rivers, spreading to the oceans. It all dies." She began sobbing again.

"Sir, we really need to get her to medical," the medic said urgently.

Ian nodded and moved back. "Jenny, was it clear? Was the vision real to you?"

"Yes, it's all real," Jenny replied, and began sobbing again.

"Admiral," Chloe's voice called over his earpeice. "We have the confirmation from the Raptor teams that the gates are destroyed, but we are tracking six inbound hyper-wakes at normal speeds originating in Imperial space. Their E.T.A. is about an hour.  I'm sorry, Sir, but we need you back here."

Ian stared after his wife for a moment. "I'm on my way back, Chloe. New orders for our reserves. Take out those inbound ships at all costs. We can't let them get close to this planet. Destroy them by any means necessary."

TDF Star Dancer

Assault Orbit

Hyperion, Aurigae System

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

"Things are gonna change fast, Chloe. We're gonna have to keep up or we'll lose the planet," Ian said as he entered the CIC.

"What's happened, Admiral?" the woman asked, concerned. "Is Jenny alright?"

Ian nodded. "She had a very strong vision of what's about to happen to us, and it overwhelmed her. For now, Poul's got command. Those incoming ships are carrying some kind of super-elite Imperial Shock Troops coming here to kill the planet. Which doesn't make any sense unless there is something here they really don't want us to find. Jenny said their targets will be the cities of Rominy and Starlight. She didn't say what they were after in Rominy, but their target in Starlight is that freighter I mentioned earlier. They are also armed with a very nasty chemical weapon and mechanized combat suits.

"What’s the status of our Marines?" Ian asked.

"Full deployment. They've all either hit their primary targets or are about to," Major Eischens replied.

"Double fighter cover for both cities. If they haven't engaged an enemy, get the Marines back on their shuttles and get them back to one of those cities," Ian said as he pulled up the continental map and battle areas for the planet. Tell Majors Corvis and Williams to prepare for the possibility of a massed attack by heavy armor. Have them coordinate with the Marine commanders to prepare for the attack.  If even one of the enemy transports makes it into the system I want all our people to assume biological combat protocols."

"What about the civilians, Sir?" Chloe asked. "It's gonna be impossible to help all of them."

"I know, we're going to have to stop them before they get to the surface. At the very least we have to destroy the large pods those transports will be dropping. That's what the fighters are for. If and when any of those fuckers make it here, they will drop out of hyper insanely close to the limit and come in hot. I want all three ships to focus on destroying them. If they make it close enough to drop their pods, then the fighters are to immediately ignore everything else but the large pods. We cannot allow even one of them to make it to the ground. If it does; the planet's finished," Ian said.

"Large pods?" Chloe asked.

"According to Jenny's vision, they will drop two types of pods as groups. Several smaller pods and one large pod. The smaller pods are actually heavily armed powered armor suits. But the larger pods are carrying the chemical bombs. No matter what, we cannot let any of them make it to the surface of the planet. I'd prefer not letting them into the atmosphere at all since we have no idea what they are comprised of," Ian said. "The armored power suits are going to be problematic all by themselves, but those large pods are game enders."

Chloe looked back at the display in the tank. "Okay, we can do this…" she said and began typing on her terminal She touched her earpiece. "All units, this is Command; stand by for mission change." She changed channels. "Weapons command, we need as many AM hypermissiles as you can launch put on the inbound tracks. You are authorized to launch on target acquisition." Still typing, she changed channels again. "Reserve fleets, this is command. Immediate return to n-space and assume defensive formation in system. In bound hypertracks are priority targets and must not be allowed near the planet. They are equipped with highly toxic chemical weapons."

Chloe and Eischens both continued to redeploy their troops based on Ian's orders. He watched as the structure of what they were planning was plotted out on in the big tank.

"Admiral, Admiral T'rolith is on a private comm for you," one of the comm techs called.

Ian nodded. "Thanks, I'm pretty sure I know what's he's calling for, so please make sure it is very secure."

"You're gonna tell him the truth?" Eischen asked.

Ian nodded. "They'll find out sooner or later anyway, so it might as well be now."

In front of Ian, a small window opened displaying an Alliance Admiral of the same race as H'joles. The window was bordered with red and black stripes indicating a scrambled, secure channel.

The new Admiral nodded a bow to Ian. "We are deploying as requested Admiral. With respect, I would know your information on these incoming ships."

Ian nodded. "I completely understand Admiral. That's the reason I asked for the secure channel. We have deemed this information to be highly classified and wish to be careful with its release." Ian paused to frame his response. "As you know, the Terran people are genetically close to the Talosians as well as the Benesian races. As a result, we have begun to develop certain special abilities of the type the Benesians have developed." He paused because of the look of shock on the large being's face. "We do not know why the Talosian people have not developed similar abilities, as we do know they have the correct genetic make up for it. However, one of the abilities certain rare individuals have developed is precognition. My wife, Commander Jennifer Williams, is one of those people. Although she does not have such visions often, when she does they are accurate nine out of ten times. We do have a person that is more accurate as well as more sensitive, however she is not with us on this mission. Fifteen minutes ago, Commander Williams had a vision of this battle." Ian said and told the other leader of the vision.

"We do not know if this outcome can be avoided, but I refuse to standby and do nothing to prevent it," Ian finished.

The shaken commander nodded. "I can understand your actions now, Admiral. We will do our very best to prevent this vision from becoming a reality. Let us pray that this is one of the times the Commander is wrong." He stood proudly. "On my blood I swear that this knowledge will not be passed to anyone without your leave to do so." He relaxed again slightly. "Admiral, I thank you for the trust you have shown me, I will not betray it. Guard well this secret, Admiral. If it ever gets out, you will have more than just the Empire to worry about. I would ask that you consider trusting H'joles as you have me. He is of my mind on such things and will work to protect you as well. I know of no one else in the Alliance worthy of that trust at this point."

"I understand, we must keep this from the Empire, but the Benesians can detect it in us. Surely the other leaders are trustworthy?" Ian asked.

"Not to let the Empire know; yes, but there are other issues involved. I fear even my own people would not respond well to this knowledge. I would be pleased to advise you more on this after the battle," T'rolith replied.

Ian gave him a half grin. "Yes, we are a little busy for such a discussion. The rudeness of the Empire knows no bounds."

T'rolith snorted. "Neither does their utter contempt if they have come to murder this world. That is a crime unforgivable to all the races of the Alliance. These worlds are our life; to intentionally kill one of them is to kill a part of ourselves. I will tell my people you had one of your Raptor teams watching the closest systems, that is how you know of the attack. Most believe your teams to be almost supernatural anyway."

"Reserve fleets are dropping out of hyperspace and moving in system. Tiamat is moving to the planet and will assume Combat ATC functions," Chloe said so it could be recorded into the logs.

Ian nodded. "Good, we'll need her fighters for this." He brought up a plot of Starlight and the surrounding area, including the starport. "What's the status of the Damocles?"

"They're through the shield and are moving to their drop point," a tech replied.

"Put me through to Major Williams, please," Ian asked.

"Damocles, what's up boss?" Cindy's voice said in his earpiece.

"When you get finished with your current mission, I would like you to head over to the starport try to clear out the people. We may have to hit the place from here, so I want to make sure we have a clear target," Ian said.

"Chemical weapons and now this? Is there something we should know about?" Cindy asked.

"Nothing I have time to tell you about, but the faster you can clear that starport, the better off we'll all be," Ian replied.

"Understood, we'll get it done," Cindy replied.

"Good, keep us posted. Guardian out." Ian closed the channel and tried to figure out which of the large hangers was the one holding the freighter. "Operations, contact the resistance and see if they can begin the evacuations of the target cities. Give them as much assistance as we can spare."

"That will expose the local resistance to the Imperial troops. But, since we have Marines already heading for the cities, we should be able to protect them," Major Eischens replied. "I'll get them together to work it out."

Ian nodded. "Good, please tell them they need to hurry. I know it'll take time to evacuate an entire city, but the sooner we can get people moving the safer they'll be."

"Major Eischens, what about the cargo line? Wouldn't that system be ideal for evacuation?" a tech asked "It even has a gate in the shield for moving troops in emergencies."

Eischens nodded his head. "Awesome idea. Set-up a camp midway and unload the trains there. Make it happen! Rivera, Peters, help Ensign Dawes."

"What's so special about the rail system?" Ian asked.

"Nothing really, except that there is one route that was designed and built to haul huge amounts of cargo between Rominy and Starlight. A standard rail line has one rail for the train. This turkey has four. Two rails for each of two trains that usually move constantly between the two cities. It's built to move heavy weights very fast. They're shut down for the moment, but we can get a hell of a lot of people out of the city on those." Eischens explained.

"How long does it take each train to get from one city to the next?" Ian asked.

Major Eischens had to ask the computer, but replied. "Six hours one way. Twelve hours, plus load time, round trip. Figure thirteen hours."

Ian shook his head. "Too long. Start setting up camps one hundred klicks from each city, more camps every twenty k after that. Have each train take a load out, then return to the city for another load. Try to set that up for the any other trains as well."

Eischens nodded and looked to the tech that was busy making it happen. He nodded back indicating that he had heard the Admiral.

Checking the tracking screen, he saw that only three inbound tracks remained but they would arrive in system in thirteen minutes. As he watched, another trace stopped, indicating that ship making it had been destroyed. That left two; the same number he believed Jenny saw in her vision.

Either the resistance had the same idea, or the tech setting it up was really fast, because Ian saw that they were already moving to secure the rail depots. "Ensign Dawes, assign two platoons to assist at the cargo yards and one platoon for each of the passenger terminals. Make sure they take their shuttles; they may need the replicators," Ian ordered.

"On it, Sir!" the young man replied.

Ian and his team then returned their focus to fighting the battles. Only to be interrupted a few minutes later. "Sir! The Imperial troops are… Sir, they're helping to evacuate the city!"

"Excuse me?" Ian asked.

"I got a report a few minutes ago of one bus convoy getting ambushed by Imperial troops. As soon as the enemy troops realized what was happening, they not only stopped firing, but withdrew. Now, I just received another report of one of the convoys being flagged down on its way out. Sir, they say they were brought there by Imperial soldiers," Ensign Dawes reported.

"The evacuation will help them as well as us," Eischens replied. "Still, it's surprising they would go this far."

"Well, maybe they'll be willing to let us evac the hospitals we can't get to yet as well," Chloe said.

"Be alert for traps or deception. Make sure everything and every person is scanned before getting on that train. All we need is for one of those people to carry a bomb onto one of those trains," Ian replied. "Comms, please get me Admiral T'rolith."

"We're expecting those ships to drop out any minute Admiral, what can we do for you?" T'rolith asked.

"Have you ever heard of Imperial soldiers assisting in the evacuation of civilians from a battle area?" Ian asked.

T'rolith looked surprised. "It's not unheard of, but it is rare. I believe it mostly depends on the enemy commander. Is that happening on the planet?"

Ian nodded. "We have reports from Starlight as well as Rominy of the Imperials guiding civilians to a place where we can pick them up for evacuation. Have they ever tried to slip bombs or other devices into the refugees?"

T'rolith shook his head. "Never. Up until the start of the terror attacks, I'd believed their sense of honor prevented that. Perhaps the ground forces have a different code of conduct than the naval forces. Still, it is good to be wary."

"Thank you Admiral. I'll try not to interrupt you further," Ian replied.

T'rolith shook his head. "It is not an interruption. I would have sought advice as well in this position. I should have known you would not have called were it not important. It is our duty and honor to assist."

Ian smiled at the being and nodded as the channel closed. "There you have it guys; there is precedent, but it's rare. Stay on your toes everyone."


TDF Raptor Damocles

City of Starlight

Hyperion, Aurigae system

As they flew Cindy, could feel the Raptor shudder slightly as the weapons fired. Nothing was said over the comms during the trip until finally Sasha broke the silence. “Major, we will be dropping you in about a minute. Things seem pretty chaotic out there right now, people are streaming out of the city on whatever kinds of vehicles will carry them. The roads are getting clogged, but the area near the capitol building looks clear. There are still fighters in the area, as well as ground missile batteries, so be careful.”

Cindy could hear the rear door open. In the position the Rails were in, with the front of the vehicle lifted to the ceiling, she couldn’t actually see it.

“Thanks Sasha,” Cindy said, enabling the weapons and scanning systems on the rail.

She felt the nose of the craft come down and could see that Rail One had rolled forward to the end of the ramp. Looking past them, Cindy saw the low skyline of Starlight scrolling out from under the Raptor’s belly.

“Fifteen seconds to drop, stand by.” Lissa’s voice said in her ear.

The buildings were replaced by a scattering of the bluish trees, as the Raptor dropped lower into the large park near the center of the city.

“Three, two, one. Go!” Lissa called.

Jerry and Sam, in Rail One, shot forward. The rear tires of the open wheeled vehicle throwing small roster tails of dirt into the air as the wheels hit the soil and then turned right sharply, When the first rail left the Raptor, the nose of her rail dropped to the deck and Cindy also accelerated rapidly out of the belly of the Raptor. She turned to the left and accelerated to her assigned route as the Raptor rose into the air behind her. They were across the park and shot between two rows of residential buildings in seconds.

“Rail Two is clear, and on route green. No resistance,” Cindy reported.

“Rail One is clear, proceeding to route yellow, minimal resistance,” Sam’s voice followed hers.

They rounded a corner with the tires squealing on the smooth pavement. They’d gone just a short distance when alarms began squealing at them, followed shortly by a missile impacting next to them.

“What the fuck was that?” Cindy said over the noise of the alarms.

“That would be a tank, sweet-thing,” Ben replied calmly as he opened up with the rail gun and lasers.

“They got fuckin’ armor?”

Ben chuckled through the headset, “They’re ground troops; duh!” He barely got those words out as another missile hit close enough to push the rear of the rail sideways. ““Another hit like that and we’ll lose the shield generator!”

Cindy had slowed somewhat and was swerving as much as she could on the narrow street. “Damocles, we have a tank blocking route green. We could use some help.”

“Sorry Two, can’t right now, more fighters have shown up and they are not playing nice. You’re on your own for a few minutes,”” Lissa replied.

“Shit.” A glance at her monitors for an alternative route showed two more tanks moving down side streets. “Computer, identify target to our front.””

A moment later a picture of the tank appeared on the screen. ‘Imperial medium tank. Weight: 34 tons. Propulsion: antigrav/magnetic. Armament: One class three medium bore laser cannon (Anti-armor), four small bore medium class laser cannon (Anti-missile/anti-personnel), One medium-range multi-objective missile rack – 10 missiles (Anti-armor/anti-aircraft). Armor: Unknown composition. Mirrored surface reflects lasers and is strongly resistant to projectiles. Deployment: Any. Crew: 2.’

“Well, that was really fuckin’ helpful.” Cindy said to herself.

“Rail gun rounds and lasers are being deflected by the armor.” Ben reported as he fired a missile.

“So increase the round velocity!” Cindy yelled back to him.

“I’m already at the highest velocity I can go in atmosphere. I need a command override to increase it more.” They both saw the missile hit the tank, the explosion blew the windows out of the buildings near it. A large sheet of what Cindy guessed to be armor was thrown into a nearby air car, destroying it. Seeing this, Ben opened fire with the rail gun again and was rewarded with an even bigger explosion as the tank blew up.

"Rail Two, this is One," Sam called. "I have a clear run on the target, but could use assistance getting back. Can you jump over before those tanks do?"

"Sounds like a plan Sam," Cindy called. "Take out the control center and we'll be there as soon as we can. Chances are, we will be bringing friends."

"We might be able to do something about that if you can get them into the open park, Major." Lissa called. "They're hugging the buildings and making it very difficult to target them. Remember, they can move just as fast as you can."

"Understood, Damocles. We'll double back and see what we can drag with us," Cindy replied. She stomped the brakes and cranked the wheel hard to the right. The tires screamed as the rail slid around on the pavement, almost rolling over. She pressed as hard as she could on the accelerator and headed back the way they had come relying on the burst of speed to shake any weapons locks.

Coming to the intersection they needed to turn at, Cindy again stomped on the brakes to slow them for the corner. That was the only thing that saved them from ten missiles that would have utterly destroyed the land rail. As Cindy turned the corner, a hail of missiles blasted the street apart only a few yards farther down. If they had continued, they would have been in the middle of it.

Again, Cindy pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. Missile and laser blasts chased it down the street and Cindy tried to swerve as much as she could to avoid a missile lock. A laser blast hit the rear of the land rail and almost flipped them. She heard Ben cry out in pain and then swear a blue streak.

"What happened Ben? You alright?" Cindy asked, not daring to look behind her to see for herself.

"That last hit took out the shield generator. When it blew, I caught a piece of it. I think the armor stopped it, but I know I'm gonna have a nice bruise at least," Ben replied.

"Well, hang on and keep your damn head down!" Cindy replied. "If you see that fucker that shot us, kill him!"

"I'm working on it, Cindy," the man replied. "That's how they did it! Cindy, we have three of those assholes shadowing us. One of them looks to be a heavy missile launcher though."

As he finished talking, Cindy saw another hover-tank pull out to block their route. "Fuck! Hang on!" she warned as she engaged the anti-grav unit to jump the tank instead of ram it. The tank tried to fire at them, but because of their speed missed. Both Cindy and Ben knew they were in trouble.

"Rail One get off that street, now!" a voice she didn't recognize called over her comm. Without looking where she was going, Cindy cut hard right, into an alleyway between buildings. Behind them, the street exploded into small chunks of ferro-crete and armor plates as a shadow fighter hammered it from the air with missiles and mass drivers.

"Thanks, whoever that was," Cindy called.

"Don't thank me yet, I only got one of them from the looks of it. Two others are damaged, but that missile launcher is still moving," replied the pilot. "If you can lead them to the park, we'll have a warm welcome waiting for them."

"We're working on it!" Cindy replied.

"Rail Two, this is One, objective destroyed. We're on our way back. We'll cut over to the east and see if we can help you out any," Sam replied.

"Negative, One. By the time you get here, this little party will be over. Head for the rendezvous," Cindy ordered.

"Understood, heading for point delta-three," Sam replied.

Cindy turned left out of the alley and once again headed for the park. The arrival of five missiles let them know they hadn’t lost the tanks. One of the missiles impacted near the rear of the rail and threw it sideways.

Cindy got the vehicle back under control as they emerged once again into the park. Cindy opened up the land rail and shot across the open ground for the relative cover of the buildings on the far side. A hail of missiles announced the arrival of the missile launcher into the park. Cindy and Ben made it half way across the park when a missile blew the front of the land rail apart.

The blast drove the nose of the rail into the ground causing it to flip. The speed they had been going lifted them into the air. When it came down it continued to flip, end over end, until it finally slid to rest against a tree.

The tanks that had been chasing them emerged into the park to be met by fire from the Damocles and four Shadow fighters. The larger caliber slugs from the mass drivers pounded into the heavily armored craft and pushed them to the ground. Missile impacts shattered the armor and the heavy craft exploded before any of them made it twenty feet into the park.

Jerry and Sam, had been passing close to the park on their way to the rendezvous, saw the crash and headed in. Bailing out of their rail before it stopped moving; they pulled Cindy and Ben’s unconscious bodies from the twisted metal.

Without waiting for Jerry and Sam to use the jump packs in their suits, Lissa used a tractor to grab them off the ground. Once they were in the cargo bay, she set the rails for self-destruct, closed the door, and did a full burn for the sky.

“Operations, this is Damocles. We are returning to base with wounded. Request emergency approach and a medical team standing by.” Lissa called.

“Affirmative Damocles. Transferring you back to Flight Control. Medical has been alerted.”

“Thank you, Operations,” then changed channels. “Flight Control, this is Damocles requesting emergency approach. I have wounded on board.”

Damocles, emergency approach granted. Turn on heading one-one-three. Reduce speed to one-seven thousand. E.T.A. three minutes. Beacon activated.”

“I see you, Flight. We’re coming in,” Lissa replied.

TDF Star Dancer

Assault Orbit

Hyperion, Aurigae System

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

Ian had just gotten confirmation that the civilians at the spaceport were being moved to the cargo tram station by Imperial troops when he heard Lissa's call to operations. He was tempted to run back to the Raptor bay to meet them, but knew he couldn't. The incoming ships had just passed their projected interface point and were still in hyperspace. He was in the process of pulling ships back to the planet when he heard the call.

Chloe looked at him worriedly as he closed his eyes for a moment to pray that Cindy was okay. She turned to one of her aides. "Get down there and find out what's going on with the Damocles ASAP. Verify Major Williams' condition."

The aide nodded and ran from the room.

Ian opened his eyes and got back to work. "Ops, take the Damocles mission to the starport off the board. Since the Imps are already moving the people, they won't be needed there."

"Enemy vessels dropping from hyper! Four hundred MK from the planet!" tracking called.

"All ships! There's your target!" Ian called. "Don't let them get close to the planet."

"Admiral, message for you from Commander Williams," the comm officer said.

Ian nodded, and a recording from Jenny was played for him. She was jogging down a hallway as she recorded it. "Ian, Beth let me out of Medical and I'm cleared for duty. However, I heard the message from the Damocles before I left medical and Beth and I are on the way there with the trauma teams. I know you probably can't get there, so I'll make sure you know what's going on." She paused. "Hang in there and know that we all love you." The message ended.

Ian looked up and wiped a tear from his face. "What's the status of those ships?"

"The bastards couldn't have slowed much before dropping out. They're heading straight in at speed and seem to be ignoring the pounding their taking," Major Eischens replied. "They are every bit as tough as the commander said they'd be. They have to know that once they get here, they won't be leaving."

"Suicide troops. The mission above all else. The only thought they have for their own safety is the impact it will have on finishing their mission," Chloe said. "Sounds like fucking suicide bombers back on Earth."

"Tracking, project their plot and make sure our fighters know where they'll be needed," Ian ordered as he watched the plot being projected in the tank. Ian nodded. "Star Dancer and Prometheus, they're coming right at us. Let's go give them a warm welcome to Hyperion."

Chloe handled the ship's maneuvers while Major Eischens kept up with the ground battles. The incoming Imperial ships would, if they lasted that long, be heading straight into the two battle cruiser's teeth. Unfortunately, if they did make it that far, it would also mean that they had gotten close enough to the planet to deploy their deadly cargo.

"What I want to know is how those assholes are managing to survive the pounding we're giving them?" Chloe asked.

"Missiles are all but ineffectual against them. It's like their entire hull is covered with point-defense guns, but the shields are insane! Every time we think we knock them down, they come right back up," a tech said from near Major Eischens. "They’re really odd looking ships, too, we have nothing in the Alliance database that is even close to these things."

"What do you mean?" Ian asked.

The tech brought up an image of one of the inbound ships, froze the frame and removed all the visual 'static' of exploding weapons, laser flashes and shield impacts, then turned the craft so the view was side on. The ship almost looked like an ear of corn after it had been shucked. The tech explained his observations. "As you can see, it seems to have armor attached like a dragon's scales. As near as we can figure, each scale has its own shield generator and weapons. We have not yet been able to identify a central command area and assume it's positioned deeper in the ship…"

"Those aren't scales Lieutenant! Those are hundreds of pods!" Ian said looking closer at the image and even zooming it in. "They must be the small pods Jenny was talking about. She said they would change into suits of heavy mechanized armor."

"Those are some strong shields for personal armor! Are our troops even going to be able to damage them if they make it to the ground?" Eischens asked.

Ian shook his head. "Jenny implied they would be more like mecha than personal armor. Almost like the FROG prototypes we're testing, except these have pilots." He shook his head. "Our troops will have their hands full fighting them. If we had some of the FROGs with us, at least it would be an even fight. If these hit the ground, we're going to need our fighters and tanks to focus on them. The infantry is simply not equipped for this, and I doubt these folks are going to want to stick around to play."

"We're moving; we'll be in range of the Imperial ships in five minutes," Chloe reported. "Both Star Dancer and Prometheus are charging their particle cannons."

Ian nodded acknowledgment of her report but kept watching the battle scene in the big tank. "Major Eischens, has there been any preparations by the ground forces to the approach of these ships?"

Eischens shook his head. "No Sir, It's like the Imperials down there have no idea these guys are even coming."

"Maybe they don't," Ian said "From everything we can see, these are not your normal Imperial troops. The only marking the new ships had on them was that weird glyph or whatever it is; normal Imperial ships have writing all over them. I'm starting to think these are not Imperial military, but something else. Something no one has ever seen before."

"That wouldn't make any sense; why would they introduce new forces here? This is an out of the way planet and an unimportant battle over a planet that holds no strategic value for either side. That makes no sense," Eischens said, mostly thinking aloud.

"I think the Admiral is right Ike, ('Ike' was Chloe's pet name for Major Eischens.) This is the first time a captured planet has been taken back by Alliance forces. I think these guys are here to make sure any evidence of what they were up to down there does not fall into our hands," Chloe said.

"It's a farming planet. We weren't even sure they were up to something. This still doesn't make any sense," Eischens replied. "I just wish we could capture one of them alive so we could question them; we know so little about them!"

"We should get some information from the people of this planet, but that will be second hand, at best," Ian said.

Eischens nodded. "One of my folks has asked the Ambassador and her escorts for an interview, I believe one of Mrs. Laskar's folks is also involved. They are trying to gather information on the social structure of the Empire."

Ian nodded. "That's fine, if they agree, but please ask them to be respectful and considerate. The Ambassador has been in hiding since the planet fell, so she might not want to deal with being asked a million questions she has no answers for."

The Major nodded his agreement and made a note to remind his interviewer.

"We're in range for the big cannons and missiles; beginning attack!" Chloe reported. "Missiles away!"

An aide approached the table and Ian hesitantly. "Sir, I have a message from Commander Williams."

Ian nodded. "Quickly please, Ensign."

"Yes Sir," She looked down at her smart sheet. "The doctors tell us that Cindy is going to be alright. She's in serious but stable condition. She is expected to make a complete recovery but is still unconscious. I'm sorry Ian, but Ben has died of his injuries. He took a lot of head trauma that just couldn't be repaired. I'm returning to the bridge.' That's the end of the message Sir," the Ensign finished.

"Thanks Ensign. Please return to your station," Ian replied sadly. He hadn't known Ben all that well, but liked him based on Cindy's reports and the few times Ian had met him. Cindy wasn't going to take his loss very well.

Seeing the look on his face, Major Eischens put his hand on Ian's shoulder in support. Chloe was blinking back tears of her own, but kept to her duty. "Cannons are firing. Missile impact in fifteen seconds."

The large fixed-mount particle cannons on the new battle-cruiser class ships fired a massive ion charge meant to disrupt the electrical and magnetic systems of an enemy ship. Disrupt, not destroy; basically, it caused all shield generators and control systems to reboot or reset before they could be put back into operation.

"Well, the big cannons worked, both ships are tumbling!" Chloe reported grinning.

"Colonel! The Pods!" one of the operators said from the ranks of consoles.

In the tank, Chloe zoomed in on one of the ships. The ships were releasing the pods as they tumbled. The pods were floating away and trailing the larger craft like debris since they were currently unpowered as well.

"If those pods are manned, those pilots have to have nerves of battle steel. At least some of them are going to burn up before they can get their shields back online," Eischens said as he watched the scene.

"Chloe, get our fighters in there. Priority targets are the larger pods, but they are to destroy as many smaller ones as they can too. Tracking, we need to know where every single one of them is going to come down. Make sure and pass that info on to the ground force commander for a strike. Major Eischens, make sure you warn them that these are unknowns and most likely untouchable by anything short of heavy armor," Ian said. "Do we have a total count on the pods?"

"Three hundred, seventy-seven Sir, but the count is dropping fast," someone replied. "So far, I have twenty-one pods with a heavier mass reading than the others. I've passed the target info on to the flight leaders."

"Good work, those have to be destroyed before they get to the atmosphere; no exceptions!" Ian ordered.

It took a few minutes for the drop pods' weapons to come back on line, but when they finally did, they began shooting back at the fighters and tried to protect the large pods. Alliance forces didn't lose any pilots, but several fighters did get damaged. It was a close thing, but the last two large pods did get destroyed just as they began entering the atmosphere. Large concentrations of toxic chemicals and other really nasty stuff was detected after their destruction, but none of it would make it to the planet. In the end, only one hundred twenty-nine smaller pods made it into the atmosphere; and ninety-six made it to the ground. That's when things began to get interesting.

"Give me a total and a status of the pods that made it to the ground," Ian ordered. "Please get me Admiral T'rolith."

A comm window opened in front of Ian with T'rolith in it. "Did you prevent the large pods from making it to the surface?"

Ian nodded. "Yes we did, but it was a close thing. Thank you for destroying those other ships. If there had been more of those pods, we might have been in trouble."

The other Admiral nodded. "I'm moving my ships to the planet now to assist in support of the ground operations. This mission has been one surprise after another; let us hope that we have no more of those."

"That is has, Admiral. I was actually calling to ask if you would assist us. I agree with you and would like to put an end to this. The sooner, the better." Ian looked up at Chloe. "Could we send our data over to Admiral T'rolith?"

In the video window, T'rolith smiled. "I have already given orders to the fleet to take direction from your command center as soon as they are in position." He paused. "Many of our peers felt that this mission was a waste of time and resources. I will admit that even I had my doubts. However, after seeing what you have done here, and the affect it has had on our troops, I can only wonder how the news will affect our people as well. I am beginning to feel that this mission will be one of the most important ones of this war. You have shown our troops that there is still hope. The Empire can be defeated and we can take back that which was taken from us. You have done well here this day, Admiral. I am proud to have been a part of it."

Ian gave him a small smile as well. "I appreciate that Admiral. I'll make sure my people know it too. But, we still have work to do, and the battle isn't over yet."

"Surely you don't think there is anything those few troops can do to prevent this victory?" he asked.

"As far as our taking the planet, no. But the very nature of these pods and the way the troops operating them are acting, makes me uneasy. I'll not feel safe in calling this a victory until they are no longer a threat," Ian admitted.

T'rolith nodded. "I can understand that. In all the years of fighting, we have never encountered forces such as these. I have issued orders to locate their point of origin. The more knowledge we have on them the closer we will come to an answer as to why such elite forces have never been used before."

"Excuse me; Admiral. Those assholes are not even bothering to regroup! They are all heading straight for Starlight as fast as they can," Major Eischens reported. "They are even ignoring our forces!"

Ian was surprised. "What do we have for heavy armor in and around Starlight?"

"We only have one battalion of medium tanks there so far. Two other battalions are still in route," Eischens replied.

Ian looked thoughtful for a moment. "New orders for the Raptor teams; unless they can't get free, they are to move immediately to the Starlight spaceport and secure that freighter. If there is something so important that the Imperial troops are going to such lengths to protect it, we better figure out what it is, fast! Shift all fighter craft over to stopping those pods!"

"Sir, the glyph that was on the ships has been identified. It was archaic and is in reference to one of the enemy deities. The glyph itself means 'Swords of Light". Major Eischens reported.

"Religious troops," Ian said flatly. "That certainly explains their tenacity."

"How so?" T'rolith asked as he was still on the comm.

"These troops are not part of the Imperial Military, they are part of a religious sect. Which means they are zealots; fanatics that believe they are the chosen of their god," Ian explained.

"Like temple guardians?" the other Admiral asked.

Ian shook his head. "No, more like the militant branch of a religion. Fanatically loyal to the church and blessed by their god. They offer no mercy, will never surrender, and will never, ever turn away from a mission." He paused. "When fighting normal Imperial forces, if you beat them down far enough, they will withdraw and cede victory to you. These troops won't; they will continue to fight with everything and anything they can until they are destroyed. For them, victory is their only option."

"Surely they cannot believe they can retake this world?" T'rolith said.

"I'm pretty sure retaking this world is not their mission, Admiral. From the beginning, they have been focusing on a certain hangar, containing a certain freighter, at Starlight spaceport. That was the target identified in the vision," Ian explained. "They will do anything they can to prevent us from getting our hands on that freighter; including killing the planet itself."


TDF Raptor Apache

Failspire Sector

Imperial Occupied Space

Major Jana Cromwell, Commanding

While Ian and the fleets began their assault on Hyperion, the Raptors were nearing their objective.

"Five minutes to interface, Major," Gouyen reported.

"Thanks Gouyen. What are the Imperials up to?" Jana asked in return.

"It appears that they are preparing to send a fleet through the gates. Several of the ships have left the parking formation they had been in and are moving toward the gates. Our sensors at Grimaria have also confirmed the departure of the capitol class ships we placed mines on. They will be arriving in the vicinity of our own destination any minute," the AI replied. "The remainder of the Imperial fleets have taken up a formation centered on our arrival coordinates. It is safe to assume they know exactly where we will be arriving."

Jana nodded. "Pass the signal to the others to execute the rest of the plan one minute before we drop out."

Gouyen nodded. "They have acknowledged. All missiles and probes are ready for launch."

"Good maybe we can confuse this idiot even more and still survive this," Jana replied.

"The capitol ships have arrived. Activating and arming the demolition charges," Gouyen reported. "Confirmed, one of the fleets is preparing to enter the gates. Energy readings indicate the gates have activated. I recommend we evacuate the area immediately."

Jana nodded. "Agreed, let the others know please. Changing course to secondary arrival location. Drop one of the sensor probes if you can."

"Probes dropped. Gate detonation confirmed. Hyperspace distortion wake approaching!" Gouyen reported. When she heard the fear in her normally unflappable AI, Jana turned to look at her.

"How big?"

"Estimating force twelve. Exact magnitude is beyond sensor abilities," Gouyen replied.

"Warn the others Gouyen! Executing emergency hyperspace exit!" Jana replied as she turned back to the Raptor's controls and began trying to save the ship.

Hyperspace naturally had distortion waves. Like the waves on an ocean small currents and eddies of energy moved and flowed as a result of solar flares, emissions from pulsars and other large astronomical occurrences. Normally, those waves were small and had little to no effect on the ships that traveled in this dimension. Even battles between ships in normal space could produce hyperspace wake. However, the detonation of the gates had created what amounted to a hyperspace super-tsunami that would be far too strong for a hyperspace engine and the field it generated to overcome. The engine would overload and explode, leaving the ship in a virtual blast furnace of energy that would shred even a capitol ship. There was a long drawn out scientific explanation for what happens, but the end result was the same: any ship hit by an 'h-wave' larger than force eight would be disintegrated.

"All Raptors are executing emergency interfaces. Main distortion wave will arrive in thirty seconds, harbingers are already hitting us," Gouyen reported.

Events happened pretty quickly at that point. The raptors all made it out of hyperspace, but three of them took damage to their hyperspace engines. They had already altered course for the predetermined secondary exit points, so when they returned to normal space, they were some distance from the enemy fleets. However, each of the raptors had different secondary exits. It had been decided to do that in order to confuse the enemy commanders.

"Gouyen, I'm triggering the rest of the demolition charges we planted before they figure out what we did," Jana replied as she typed on her command input keyboard. "While we have a moment, what the hell just happened? We should have had plenty of time to get clear of that monster."

"Open comms request from the other commanders," Gouyen said and Jana just nodded. They're faces came up on the main viewer in front of Jana's pilot station.

"What happened was the Imperial fleet making the jump led off with a ship we had rigged. Their normal protocol is to send their scouts in first. We calculated a full minute before a capitol class ship would enter the event horizon of the jump gates. That was not the case. The first ship to enter the event horizon was a heavy battleship," Gouyen replied.

Jana nodded. "I guess we got caught by a fluke. We took a little damage to the hyperdrive exiting hyperspace. We should be able to have it fixed in a couple of hours. How about the rest of you?"

"We lost the synchronizers; we're gonna have to set down somewhere and drop the hyperdrive initiator to get to them. It's gonna be a real bear, 'cause when they shattered, they hit the surrounding equipment too. Luckily, the shards didn't penetrate the hyperdrive housing," Major Thomas of the Raptor Gotham replied. "Finally, we lost the cloaking generator. If we land someplace to make repairs, we can put up a temporary cloak, but until them, we're not going to be able to hide from anyone."

"What other systems got damaged?" Major Carl Mountbatten of Raptor Dynasty asked.

"Rear equipment, ramp control systems, and force field controls for the ramp. The top mass driver actuation controller was all but destroyed. It'll still fire, but we can't extend it, or aim it," Thomes replied. "Everything else is okay, but we might be in trouble if we get into a fight like this."

"Our hyperdrive is a fused chunk of junk now. We got hit by a big wave just as we exited. We're gonna have to replace the whole thing before we can jump again. We also lost our rear shields, port side lasers, and have damage to the port side main engine. To complicate matters, we lost the replicator mass in trasition, so we're going to have to find a place where we can do a little mining before we can even start repairs. Like Thomas, we can't hide either. We're pretty much a slow-moving target dummy for the Imps at this point," Major Rathbone of the Ithica reported. "Circe estimates repairs would take a minimum of a week if we were at Phoenix Base. Doing it ourselves is going to be a major issue."

"I hate to say it; but we might have to abandon Ithica, Rat. Pull Circe's core and evacuate to another raptor so we can get the fuck out of here," Thomas replied. "I'm even considering it for the Gothem and Alfred."

"Right now, we're all spread out and vulnerable. The Imps are scattered and confused, but that won't last long. If I may suggest, Dynasty and Acadia, link up with Ithica and Gothem as soon as possible. No one can jump until the hyperspace distortion passes, including the Imps. So we have a little time. In the meantime, we should start what repairs we can. Rat, my sensors show a class three asteroid near you. Can you make it there?"

The man nodded. "Yeah, we're already moving that direction. I've had Circe run an estimate based on the minerals we can detect; it isn't good. Once we set down, we'll prepare to evac over to the Acadia and rig the ship for self-destruct."

"We may have to consider the same for the Gothem. We do still have our replicator mass, but repairs will still take a week and a half; mostly to tune the synchronizers. I don't know about the rest of you, but I would much prefer getting the hell out of here," Thomas replied.

"You have said little of the estimates of your own repairs, Major Jana," Major Sizani of the Raptor Zulu, the sixth raptor included in the mission, asked. "We have already set course for your location. Nolwazi informs us that we will be able to jump safely in ten hours. We will join you at that time. Now is not the time to seek honor alone, but to surround ourselves with our allies."

Jana nodded to him. "Your presence will strengthen us, Major Sizani." Jana replied. "The Hyperdrive control suite took a power spike during our exit. It fried the control systems, but we got lucky and dropped out between waves. All we need to do is replace our hyperdrive control electronics and we'll be back to a hundred percent."

"Could we not tractor the two damaged raptors with us?" Carl suggested. "I know I would hate to have to abandon the Dynasty and I can see the decision is bothering Rat and Thomas."

Rat shook his head. "No, I appreciate the thought Carl, I really do, but it would slow us down too much and put too much strain on your hyperdrives. Jumping home is a long ride, your drives have already been stressed by the emergency exit we had to make. No, we're gonna have to leave them."

Thomas agreed. "Rat's right, Carl. If we try to make repairs, the imps will hunt us down. If we try to tow the damaged ships out of here, the added strain on the drive systems could cause the rest of you to be stranded as well. It's time to cut and run." He paused. "Just remember, I'm allergic to watercress!"

"Good God; who isn't?" Rat replied, jokingly. The rest of the majors all laughed, including the very British Carl Mountbatten.

"Okay, so we have a plan. Anyone have any other issues we need to work out?" Jana asked.

"When we are able to jump again, I suggest Cathy and I jettison our land rails to make room for our brethren," Carl replied. "Otherwise, it's going to be a very cramped ride home."

Major Cathy Timberlake of Raptor Acadia nodded her agreement. "Already planned on it, Carl. We got the drones working on fabricating the hook-ups for Circe as well."

"Major, the hyperspace distortion is beginning to pass. I estimate ten to fifteen minutes until hyperspace travel will again be possible in this sector," Gouyen reported.

"That's pretty much in line with your original estimate, Gouyen," Jana replied.

The AI nodded. "We may have underestimated Imperial scanning technology. The remaining imperial fleets that were at the gate location have reformed into larger fleets. Two of those fleets are already moving in the direction of our damaged raptors. One of the other fleets is heading here. They may have orders to capture us."

"What leads you to believe that?" Jana asked.

"The three fleets moving to our locations divided up the troops transports among them. If they did not plan on capture, they would have sent the Marines in Grimaria to assist in rescue and rebuilding efforts," Gouyen replied.

Jana sighed. "That's not good. Do Thomas and Rat know about this?"

"Yes, they are being notified as well. There will be no issues with our escaping undetected as our repairs are completed. However, neither the Gothem nor the Ithica are repairable in this situation. The Dynasty should make it to the Gothem in time to effect the rescue, however, the Imperial warships will arrive at Ithica's location five minutes before Acadia can make the rendezvous. This prediction is assumed based on the earliest jump possibilities for the Imperial fleet as well as our own jump estimates."

"I can't accept that. There has to be a way to get our people out of there before the Imperials arrive," Jana said shaking her head.

"The math doesn't lie Jana. You guys might have to leave us," Rat replied as the comm opened again.

"We're not going to let you be captured by the Imperials, Rat," Jana replied. "It just isn't going to happen."

The other major grinned. "No, it isn't going to happen. We can't let the Imps get their hands on either the AI or the ship. Circe, activate self-destruct sequence. Command authorization for immediate detonation if detailed Imperial scans are detected or Imperial troops board the ship. Set destruct sequence for verbal command and prepare to eject your core."

"Wait! If you raise your shields, it'll keep the Imps from scanning you…" Jana suggested.

"It'll also pinpoint our location for them, Jana. At that point it'll be too late for Acadia to get to us," Rat replied. "Jana, we knew this could happen when we left."

"Rat, hang on for a couple of minutes, we're working on something here," Cathy said.

"Planning on changing the laws of physics, Cathy?" Rat asked.

"Not exactly; we're going to jump a little early. If we can time our jump between distortion waves, we can use them to get to you faster. Kinda like surfing in hyperspace," Cathy replied.

Again Rat shook his head. "You won't be able to slow down enough to exit without taking damage to your own hyperdrive, Cathy. Then we'll lose two Raptors instead of one. Look, we're getting geared up. I'll pull Circe and we'll try to steal one of the Imps, landing craft. We'll blast out of here and detonate the Ithica. In the confusion we should be able to get some distance on them before they launch fighters. If it gets too hairy, we'll bail out of the lander. Acadia can swoop in and pick us up then."

"You honestly think that's gonna work, Rat?" Jana asked.

"Probably not, but it's the best we have at the moment. If Cathy tries her surfing idea, it'll trash their hyperdrive and strand them here. Ithica can't even take off now. Our only options left are to steal something or stay here and try to draw them in. We can use the stealth systems of the suits to hide us from their scanners, once they deploy and head for the Raptor, we should be able to take over a landing craft."

"Won't they think somethings up when no one tries to stop them from boarding the Raptor?" Carl asked.

"Ah, they won't get that chance, Carl; we haven't been sitting on our thumbs here. We've deployed our mines, the portable missile launchers, and we'll be setting the guns to automatic when we leave. They should be pretty sure someone is still here," Rat replied. "Since we had planned on blowing up the Ithica anyway, I was planning on doing all of this to draw them in as close as possible. So it was already set up."

"That's crazy Rat! The guns will see the landing craft as hostile! They'll be shooting at you as well!" Jana said.

"Yeah, well, this is all we got and time's up. We gotta get moving to get into position before they get here. It's been an honor folks," Rat said and saluted.

On the screen each of the officers returned the salute as Rat killed his connection.

"If anyone can pull this off, they will," Carl replied softly. He didn't sound very sure of himself.

"Strap in kids, we're heading for the rendezvous in thirty seconds," Jana said over the intercom.

"I've reset our exit point to give us some room when we get there," Cathy said. "If they can get off that rock, we'll find them."

"Good luck, Cathy," Jana replied.

"Imperial fleets have jumped," Gouyen reported. "Arrival here in four minutes. Arrival at Raptor Gothem in six minutes. Arrival at Raptor Ithica in three minutes."

"We're gone," Jana said and initiated the jump. She noticed that Raptor Dynasty dropped out of the comm for a moment as they jumped as well.

"Two minutes, Thomas," Carl said.

Thomas nodded. "We're pulling the core and we'll be waiting, Carl. Talk to you all soon." With that, Thomas too dropped out of the comm link.

On the Ithica asteroid, Major Rathbone and his team were having difficulties. Because of the heavy fire from the Raptor, the Imperial landing craft did not actually land right away. They flew close to the site and dropped their troops before moving back to land in a place shielded from the guns of the crashed Alliance ship.

Rat's team would have to run further than anticipated to get to the landing craft. While they were moving, several Imperial fighter craft made strafing runs on the missile launchers and ship in an attempt to destroy the weapons systems. The missile launchers were destroyed quickly, but they were having trouble with the ship's guns and four of the fighters were destroyed. It was obvious they had orders to capture the ship and not to destroy it.

Once the missile launchers had been taken out, the Imperial Marines discovered the very well hidden mines and other nasty traps the Ithica team had placed to protect their ship. All in all, it served to buy the raptor team time to find a landing craft, kill the crew, and take control.

Just as the team was lifting the big craft off the rock, Imperial fighters performed multiple strafing runs on the areas surrounding the Raptor to clear out the mines and traps for the troops. The Imperial Marines now only had two things preventing them from attaining their prize; the ship's shield and the very nasty high-powered mass driver weapon on the top of the craft that could even shoot through rocks.

Once again the fighters were called in to weaken or knock down the shields, six more fighters were lost before the shields finally gave out. The Imperial Marines concentrated their fire and destroyed the mass driver on top of the craft. The troops approaching from the front and sides of the craft then discovered another mass driver weapon mounted under the nose of the craft. However, it was quickly discovered that this gun had a blind spot and that was used. The Marines approached the Raptor from the rear, placed their boarding charges and blew the hull of the stricken ship open. Two Marines took positions on each side of the hole and carefully turned in, ready to fire at anything that moved.

The Ithica team had cleared the asteroid and were accelerating away on the far side when the Ithica and the two remaining demolition charges it carried detonated. The explosion did take the Imperial forces by surprise; twenty-two fighters, and a full battalion of Marines were killed instantly, two light cruisers took heavy damage, and one of those crashed into a battleship when it lost steering. The large ship suffered moderate damage but did not impair its combat efficiency.

The landing craft was heavily armored but was still not up to the plasma wave caused by the explosion. The engines exploded, ripping the rear of the craft open to space and venting what atmosphere it had. Two of the team members were wounded by shrapnel from the explosion. The landing craft was now a drifting hulk with no power.

"Acadia to Ithica, please tell me you guys made it?" the team heard over their comms.

"Acadia, this is Ithica team. It's really good to hear from you. We have two wounded and we're in a dead ship," one of the team members replied.

"Is Major Rathbone wounded?" Cathy asked.

"No ma'am. Major Rathbone remained with the ship to keep the Imperial troops occupied so we could escape." He paused. "Ma'am, he ordered us to go and forced us out of the ship at gun point!"

"I understand, Officer, we're locked onto you and will be there shortly. Keep your stealth systems on, this place is crawling with Imps," Cathy replied sadly.  "Is Circe with you?"

"Yes Ma'am, I'm sure she would have stayed as well, but Rat had her core removed before we knew he was staying," the Officer replied. "Major, we never would have made it to the ship if he hadn't drawn them in."

"We're just outside now, get ready to jump clear of that mess," Cathy replied.

"Major, the imperial fleets are redeploying. I'm having difficulty predicting their destinations, but they are all heading back toward Alliance space." Gouyen reported.

"They're not returning to Grimaria to help repair the damage we did?" Jana asked. "That's odd."

"Raptor Acadia has retrieved team Ithica. Major Rathbone is not among them. His teammates report he remained with the Raptor to ensure the Imperial troops remained focused on the Raptor while the rest of the team escaped." Gouyen reported. "Sister Circe is with the team."

Jana closed her eyes at the news of the death of her friend. "Rat, you stupid…" she shook her head. "Are they heading for the rendezvous?"

Gouyen nodded. "Yes, Sister Circe is still reinitializing and doesn't know about the Major yet."

"She and Rat were pretty close. She might need help with it when she regains awareness," Jana suggested.

Again, Gouyen nodded. "We are aware of it and are ready to help as we can." She was talking about herself and the other Raptor AI. "We fear she will wish to purge herself. She still may after we return to base."

Jana nodded. "That would be her choice of course, but I hope she doesn't; after this nightmare is over, she'll be one of our more experienced AI. We're going to need all of you more than ever. I'm sure the rest of us would be willing to help her in any way we can as well. All of you are part of our family, and family help each other."

Gouyen smiled softly. "Thank you, Jana."

Jana nodded. "Anytime, my friend. Now, please keep an eye on those Imperial ships and let us know what they're up to as soon as you figure it out." She paused. "I'm starting to wonder just how good their hyperspace tracking technology actually is."

"How do you mean?" the AI asked.

"They knew our exact position when we jumped for the gates. I'll grant they could have figured it out because we made sure they saw us jump, but based on the set-up they had before the gates blew, they knew our exact positions," Jana explained. "After the gates blew, they started after us before the distortion cleared, even though they could have detected our exit, it still seems like they reacted pretty damn fast."

"I think I see what you mean. Would it not be safe to assume they have tracking at least as good as our own?" Gouyen asked.

"That has always been the assumption, but let me ask you this; if our positions were reversed, how quickly could you have gotten our positions in both circumstances?" Jana asked. "Remember that the Imperials don't use AI."

Gouyen looked thoughtful for a moment. "Performing the math manually would take hours. A logic based computer would still take about twenty minutes. Predicting an incoming hyperspace event takes into account certain assumptions of variables that a normal computer would have difficulties with. That being said, using our current technology, it would have taken roughly a minute to a minute and a half to predict both events.

"Factoring in the amount of distortion created by the detonation of the gates, and the effect it would have on our tracking sensors, target detection would not have been possible until the distortion wake declined to force seven or lower. We only knew of Imperial movements because of the real space sensors we dropped."

"So they should have lost track of us because of all the distortion from the explosion, right?" Jana asked.

Gouyen nodded. "We have to assume they have more advanced tracking technology than is currently available to us. Even in hyperspace, a Raptor's signature output has been reduced to that of a much smaller ship. On our current sensors, a raptor would register as a ship the size of a centurion without IFF transponder recognition."

"So they can track us in hyperspace, but think we're actually centurions?" Jana asked.

"There is no way to know that for certain. The fact that they can track us even through heavy distortion makes all but one assumption pointless. That assumption is that, in hyperspace, we cannot hide from them," Gouyen replied.

"That is going to make getting out of here very difficult. We're faster than our size would indicate, but we can't outrun their big ships," Jana said thoughtfully.

"I have passed this information on to the other AI. We are working on possible escape scenarios based on this new information," Gouyen reported. "However, most of the Imperial ships are still in hyperspace; they all seem to have different arrival points based on they're profiles. If I had to guess, they are setting up a very large net to trap is us in." She paused. "Acadia will arrive at the rendezvous ten minutes after we do. Ten Imperial light cruisers are also in route to that location. We will need to leave immediately if we wish to avoid contact with them."

"Yeah, maybe not," Jana said. "Please begin replicating ten class IV mines. Alter our trajectory slightly so we arrive where you think the cruisers will drop out and we'll deploy them there. Make sure our stealth systems are fully operational as well."

"We're going to fight them?" Gouyen asked.

"Maybe, those cruisers are meant to scare us into jumping. Once we do, they'll know exactly where we are. While we're in normal space, they can't track us. The longer we can stay hidden, the better off we'll be," Jana said.

"Dynasty is already on station at the rendezvous. Major Mountbatten said he will get the mines in position for us. However, he recommends the rest of us go ahead and prepare at least five additional mines for deployment as needed," Gouyen replied.

Jana nodded in agreement with that plan. "Sounds even better. That way, the Imps won't suspect we left a surprise for them."

"Yes, but do we take on the enemy that survive the mines, or do we try to escape this trap?" Major Sizani said from the comm. Jana had told Gouyen to allow connection while their ships were traveling together.

Jana shrugged. "I'm of a mind to destroy them. We already know a light cruiser is no match for a raptor. Our mass drivers blow right through the armor on the light cruisers."

"I agree; they have sent this force to prod us into making a mistake. I feel the need to show them the error of that assumption," the stoic African said. "The tiger is most dangerous when it is wounded. The hunter must be very careful in order to avoid becoming the hunted."

Jana nodded. "I think you might be closer to the mark than we know, my friend. They are very definitely hunting us."

Sizani nodded. "Yes, so we must exploit every mistake while avoiding them ourselves. Sending only ten of their smallest ships after us was just such a mistake. However, it will also show them we are not what they believe we are."

Carl Mountbatten joined the conversation. "I disagree Sizani; what we did at Grimaria has already done that. I believe these ships are more of a test to see how badly damaged we are. Once they hit the mines, I believe they will withdraw."

"Perhaps we should continue with our ghost games," Jana replied grinning. "Carl, set the mines for remote detonation after they attach to the ships. We will retreat a small distance to give them something to chase, then detonate them after they are certain we are not near them. If we can continue with the ghost ops, I think we can keep them off-balance and maybe rattle them."

"It is almost certain they cannot detect smaller artifacts in hyperspace," Gouyen said. "They did not detect the probes we launched while in hyperspace or they would have destroyed them before leaving the area. Perhaps we can use that as well."

"I don't know; the probes didn't actually have hyperdrives, just a field generator that was active until it exited hyperspace," Carl replied.

"So you think it's the hyperdrive itself they detect?" Jana asked.

"It does have emissions that are not natural to hyperspace. It stands to reason that is what they're detecting," Carl replied.

"Well, nothing we can do with that at the moment, but it's good to know. We'll have to make sure we put it in our reports," Jana said.

"Major, we will be arriving at the rendezvous point in four minutes," Gouyen reported.

Carl nodded. "We're starting to drop the mines right now. We'll be finished by the time our guests arrive."

Once the four remaining raptors met up, they all headed in the direction of the closest Alliance outpost at maximum sub-light speed but under full stealth. The Teams figured that the Empire knew they were not flying centurions, because they had gotten close enough to get a visual scan of the Ithica before it was destroyed.

As predicted, the Imperial light cruisers arrived at the rendezvous shortly after the Acadia arrived. However, the raptors had already left the area. After they dropped out, the Imperial ships spread out, searching for their prey, and flew right into the mines left for them. Of course, they didn't know it; the mines simply attached themselves to the hulls of four of the ships but did not detonate.

"Major, we've finished analyzing the movements of the Imperial fleets. We have a good idea of where they are, and what they might be up too," Gouyen reported to her commander.

"Oh? What did you get figured out?" Jana replied.

It was late in the evening, Jana and her team had finished supper and had been sitting in the common area trying to relax.

Gouyen darkened the room to better display a hologram. "The enemy has deployed in three 'shells' between us and Alliance space. We know they can track us while in hyperspace, and we believe this is a large, elaborate trap. The light cruisers behind us are deployed to push us into it."

"If that's the case, can't we just fly around it?" Officer Redfeather asked. "We can jump once we're past the edge, so they can't catch us."

Gouyen replied by highlighting the distance scale of the 'shells'. "Travelling at sub-light speed, it would take us five point three-nine-nine years to get past the edge of the trap. At present, we can see only two options realistically remain to us," Gouyen replied.

"The first and most obvious option, is to go through this, and try to survive the gauntlet the Empire has set up for us. By attacking their forces rather than trying to fly past them, we could break through and arrive at Gamma-Hydra Four. We estimate that with the stops for fighting and repairs we can make the trip in six months.

"We believe the enemy expects us to try and fly past their small ships and try to fight past their larger ones. We have calculated a ten percent chance that would be successful; but only two raptors would survive.

"If we do not fly past any imperial units, use our stealth and 'ghost' tactics, as Jana called them, the odds of success increase to forty-six percent for two raptors to survive; twenty-four percent for three, and seven percent for all four. The odds are one hundred percent that more than three of our ships will be damaged heavily."

The other raptor commanders had been included in the report, and their images were displayed on the large screen on the forward bulkhead.

"Those are not very good odds. There has got to be a better way out of this," Cathy replied. "We've already lost too much on this mission."

"There is an old saying among the old mariners of Earth," Alfred, the Gothem AI said. "A stern chase is a long one. If we can force the Imperial fleets into a position where they have to chase us, and provided we can get enough of a head start, we can increase the odds of our survival up to sixty percent."

"What did you have in mind, Alfred?" Jana asked.

"We go on the offensive, Major," Alfred replied. "We attack them."

"Wait; didn't you just say we had only a ten percent chance of surviving that?" Carl asked.

"Yes, if we attacked the ships in the gauntlet before us," Gouyen replied.

AI Circe took over the briefing. "We turn around destroy the light cruisers behind us, and jump to Grimaria. There, we finish what we started and destroy as much as we can." The hologram changed to show the entire sector. "Once we hit Grimaria, the Empire will have to recall the fleets to stop us. We will have to do as much damage as we can, as quickly as we can, in order to pull at least the majority of the ships back. From their current positions, it will take six hours for the closest units to reach Grimaria. Depending on the size of that force, we can either stick around and destroy them, or we leave.

"If we depart Grimaria, we jump for the Imperial base at Omicron-four-rho. This will make the Empire believe we are not planning on leaving them just yet, and they will be forced to commit assets to our destruction. We believe the fleet at the new base will jump out to intercept us. One thing we have in our favor over the Imperial ships is that they have to drop out of hyperspace to alter course - we do not. The more ships we can add to the chase, the slower they will become. We head for Imperial held planets and destroy or damage as much of the military stationed there as we can before we move on. Eventually, we will pass beyond their scanning range and we'll be able to go home. At this time, we believe that range to be thirty light years."

"Wait, a thirty light year lead is more than enough for us to outrun them. Why can't we simply do that?" Carl asked.

"You can't outrun a radio, Carl. All they have to do is call ahead, and we have another fleet chasing us," Jana asked. "This is a dangerous game of tag you've outlined. How long will we need to stay out here?"

Gouyen frowned slightly. "If we do not get lucky before then, about nine months."

"So, you're recommending we run a much larger gauntlet than the one set before us?" Major Sizani asked. "Have you forgotten that the Empire did send ships back to Grimaria to assist in the defense and rebuilding of that facility? Although they won't be able to find us, they will know we are there this time and be on alert for us."

"Yes, we have taken that into account. Our first targets at Grimaria will be the capitol class ships stationed there," Circe replied. "They are the ones that have the ability to do a high resolution scan that will detect us. We believe they will send in a fleet with capitol ships to replace them. At that point, we will need to hit the planet as hard as we can and jump out at least two hours before the new ships arrive."

"Well, first things first, we need to take out the ships behind us," Sizani said. "However, there is one thing about the theory of their tracking ability that is bothering me: If they can detect us that far away, how did we manage to arrive at Grimaria originally without being detected?"

The humans and AI both had to think about that. It was true, if the Empire could track ships in hyperspace, they should have detected the Raptors approach to the Grimaria system, yet they had not.

"One possibility exists. We know that the Imperial ships did not begin tracking us until we made our presence known to them by jumping away from Grimaria. It is possible we have over-estimated the resolution of their tracking system. In order for them to track us, they first had to identify us as targets. In order for them to continue tracking us, they must maintain a 'lock' on us. This could be the real reason for the ten ships currently behind us," Circe replied.

"So if we destroy them, we will be able to slip out of this trap?" Jana asked hopefully.

"There is no way to know for certain. We recommend using the Grimaria plan to assist in breaking this lock. If we can gain enough distance when we depart Grimaria to break that positional lock, perhaps we will be able to jump for Alliance space after that. We will still have to make it look like we are remaining in Imperial space," Alfred replied.

"We recommend you do not destroy the ships behind us; rather, leave as many survivors as possible," Gouyen replied. "This will also give them something to occupy some of their forces for a time."

"I'll handle the report to command; Sizani would you handle the attack on our pursuers, Carl, Cathy and Thomas can start on the strikes for Grimaria?"

"A good plan, let us go slay our tormentors, avenge our fallen and leave our enemies with nothing but pain and confusion," Sizani said.

As one, the raptors turned around and headed back toward the pursuing force. Because of the rate at which all the ships were moving, they closed with the Imperial ships in less than twenty minutes. Just before the raptors opened fire, the mines were detonated. Two of the cruisers were destroyed outright as the mines had been attached to the drive sections, thus detonating the drive core and destroying the ships. The other two cruisers were basically hulled as the mines blew large holes through multiple decks and exposed the internal structures to hard vacuum. One of the cruisers had a mine attach to the hull near the bridge and computer core.

The mines left two ships heavily damaged and drifting in the debris of their other two comrades. The six remaining ships began to spread out but did not get the chance as the raptors opened fire on them. Even through the shields and armor the mass drivers ate into the light cruisers like a cancer. The raptors targeted the command and control centers, which killed the ships in very short order. The last two cruisers began firing their weapons wildly in an attempt to hit the raptors before they too were destroyed.

The small Alliance ships lived up to their namesakes in that attack. In the span of five minutes, all eight remaining Imperial ships were dead in space, and the small squadron of raptors jumped for the Grimaria system.

The Imperial fleet command had ordered one battleship, a heavy cruiser and an assault cruiser along with multiple, smaller craft to Grimaria to provide assistance as well as protection while they rebuilt what was destroyed. The Majors used the data from the probes left behind to target the three capitol class ships that were actually the closest to the planet.

Major Sizani suggested that they build drones with small hyperdrive units on them. They would launch the small drones before arrival and they would spread out, opening return portals at the same time as the raptors, thus confusing the tracking sensors of the Imperial ships. When the raptors arrived, they would strafe the big ships with their mass drivers and lasers while dropping their remaining mines as they passed by. The mines would activate and attach themselves to the hulls of the big ships. When the Raptors were clear, they would detonate the mines. The attack by itself might not destroy the battleship or the heavy cruiser, but they would be heavily damaged and vulnerable to a second attack by the small ships.

Just to show how nasty they could be, both the battleship and the assault cruiser targeted as many of the interface portals as they could and opened fire on them as soon as anything was detected. Two of the raptors absorbed so much energy that they had to use their lasers and shields as well as the mass drivers to dissipate it. Thus doubling the normal output rating of the lasers and shields. While the specially designed lasers were designed with this use in mind, they could not sustain that energy level for long. The same was true of the shield generators, but they had much higher rating and could maintain the increased output for a much longer time.

The Imperial assault cruiser was destroyed in a spectacular explosion that was visible even from the planet's surface. The Heavy cruiser took considerable damage to its drive section and had to eject the entire thing. The move surprised the raptor teams since it had been unknown that Imperial ships had that ability.

Without it's drive section, the big ship became a very well-armed and heavily armored battle station that could not move very quickly. It would be a problem until it was dealt with, provided the teams were given that much time.

The battleship lived up to its name, having taken a horrific pounding at the hands of the raptors, it was still functional and maintained most of its combat efficiency. Major Sizani landed on it and placed two antimatter demolition charges; one near where the command and control center was believed to be, and the other near the drive section. Assuming they would be detected, neither charge was activated until it was time to detonate them.

They almost didn't make it. While they were on the hull several fighter craft were launched from the heavy cruiser-now-battle station. They began patrolling close to the station and several headed for the battleship as protection. Raptor Zulu had just taken off when the fighters arrived.

As Zulu rejoined the other raptors, the demo-charges were detonated, destroying most of the battleship and all the fighters sent to protect it. Ignoring the new battle station, the raptors dove for the surface. This time, they would be hitting factories and fighter craft assembly plants. During their last attacks here, they saw that as soon as the sirens went off, these facilities had been evacuated to nearby shelters. Now they would be their primary targets, with anything else they could find to hit while they moved from target to target. In the skies around them, Imperial fighter craft buzzed around like angry bees unable to locate their tormentors.

The raptors remained on the night side of the planet, using the cover of darkness to increase their stealth. On the day side it would be possible for reflected sunlight to give away their location even while cloaked.

They had destroyed eight separate facilities when the AI told them it was time to leave. They left the planet on the far side away from the battle station and jumped for their next destination; a suspected munitions and resupply point thirty-nine light years away. Four light cruisers entered hyperspace in pursuit ten minutes later.

Jana smiled when Gouyen reported that, and the Raptors dropped out of hyperspace to wait for them.


TDF Star Dancer

Assault Orbit

Hyperion, Aurigae System

Commander Jennifer Williams, Commanding

When the strange armored pods hit the ground, the real battle for Hyperion actually began.

Like Major Eischens reported, the new troops did not attempt to regroup, but instead headed for Starlight as soon as they hit the ground, no matter how far away they were. Some of the pods didn't even make it to the main continent and fell into the ocean on the far side, they fell from the sky in a deadly rain of metal war machines that left them widely scattered across the entire continent.

But once they hit the ground, they moved with frightening speed.

The pods did not have the ability to fly, but they could make very long 'jumps' that simulated flight. By using this jump function, it gave them the speed of a light aircraft while still carrying the fire power of a heavy tank. When the shadow fighters from Star Dancer and the Prometheus arrived and engaged them, they stopped jumping, but otherwise ignored the powerful fighters. Even on the ground, the humanoid-shaped, armored mecha were incredibly fast.

Their shields were back online too and most of them used those shields as plows to pass through even heavily forested areas without a major reduction in speed. In the open, the mecha reached over a hundred miles an hour, making them very difficult to hit. Yet even through forests and towns, their speed only slowed slightly. The strong shielding and armor they carried made them very hard targets to stop.

They all were headed for the city of Starlight; and the closest mecha hit the ground only eight hundred miles from the city.

"Major Eischens, if we can't get the city shield back up before they get here, I want enough shield generators down there to stop those assholes long enough for us to blow them away," Ian ordered. "Chloe, have the Zephyr enter the atmosphere and take position outside the city; they are to destroy as many of those mecha as they can. I'd order Gold squadron sent down as well, but as it is we have so many fighters down there, they are going to start running into each other."

"Well, they're still pretty spread out; it's a big continent after all, but it's still valid. As the enemy mecha get closer together, we're going to start having problems attacking them with fighters," Chloe said.

"Have any unassigned fighters begin patrolling the coast; we need to make sure those mecha that went swimming don't make landfall," Ian said. "Get us a count on the remaining mecha and their status, please."

A window opened in the tank with a red '96' at the top. The next line was 'destroyed' followed by a green '18'. As Ian watched, it changed to '19'. The next line was 'Unknown - water landing' with a blue '19' behind it. The last line was the critical one; 'Active threat' and a yellow '58' as the count.

"Damn, I was hoping we'd killed more than that," Eischens replied.

"They're tougher than the average bear," Ian replied.

Chloe shifted the display in the big holotank to the entire continent and marked the locations of the enemy mecha as well as the forces opposing them. To Ian, it was a mess. There was no rhyme or reason to the attack. It looked just like what it was; enemy units desperately running for their objective and ignoring everything else.

As they watched, the enemy began to change tactics. Three enemy mecha had gotten close to each other. Two of them suddenly stopped and turned on their pursuers while the third mecha continued on. Ian shook his head. "Now it's gonna get nasty. Be sure to keep someone on the runner, we can't let them use this tactic to bog down our forces."

Chloe nodded and got a half smile. "TDF Zephyr, we have a fire mission for your missiles." She gave out the coordinates for the two mecha that had stopped to engage the fighters, then warned the fighters of the impending attack. Very shortly, the counter listed two more mecha as destroyed. The fighters in the fight split up, half turned and headed for the far coast, and the other half went to join the fighters chasing after the one that didn't stop.

"Admiral, we just received a report from one of the destroyed mecha; the reason none of the pilots ejected isn't because they are zealots, it's because they can't." Eischens reported. "Sir, they are… the empire… grafted them into the machines. Those pilots can never leave their mecha."

"Well, that would certainly ensure loyalty among the troops; Chloe replied. "It's programmed into them."

"That's probably their version of an AI control system," Ian said and shuddered. "Poor bastards."

"The lead units are still three hours away from Starlight at their fastest observed speed. We've been destroying them as they get closer, but as more get added…" Chloe began but Star's Hologram took form beside Ian, and interrupted her.

"I apologize, Colonel. Admiral; about ten minutes ago, multiple cyber-attacks started on the Starlight city computers. They're not very good at hacking, but they're learning really fast. Normally, I would be able to handle this with little effort, but this is an imperial designed system, and the attacks seem to be increasing in both number and frequency. I believe the source of the attacks are the mecha," Star reported, she sounded strained already.

"Ask for assistance from the Damocles' AI, Lissa. She should be still on board," Ian suggested.

"The Damocles went down to the spaceport to assist Icarus in the securing of the freighter. However, Lissa is helping; she's protecting the shield and transit systems. Prometheus is fully involved protecting Rominy. All other AI are similarly occupied," Star reported.

Ian nodded his understanding. "So the only help you can get is for us to blow these assholes up as quickly as possible."

"Yes Admiral," Star confirmed. "Both Lissa and I are rapidly approaching our limits."

"Are the cyber-attacks on Rominy as heavy as at Starlight?" Ian asked.

"No, however, there is a higher concentration of Imperial troops in that city," Star replied.

Major Eischens backed her up. "She's right there, Sir; they're really dug in too. We could take them out quickly, but we'd have to level the city to do it. Evacuation is only estimated at twenty-nine percent. The Imps aren't helping out in Rominy."

Ian nodded. "What's the status of Starlight's evacuation?"

Major Eischens had to check his notes. "Twenty-five percent. Remember, Starlight had almost twice the population of Rominy."

Star grabbed her head and screamed as she fell to her knees. Her hologram wavered, became transparent and began flickering. "Ian, Lissa's off-line! They got in! Power system… Reactor overload… can't… stop…" her hologram failed completely and she was gone.

"Chief Laskar to the AI core! Emergency! Star is off-line!" Ian shouted.

"On our way Ian!" Bill replied, it was clear he was running.

"Chloe, spread the word and get our people out of Starlight now! Try to find out how much time we have before the reactor goes critical. Comms! I get me the Icarus!" Ian yelled.

"Corvis here, whatcha need Sir?" Ian could hear weapons fire in the background of the call.

"Corvis, they hacked the power grid. The city reactor is going critical, Damocles AI is offline. I need you to get out of there and drag Damocles with you! I have no idea how much time we have, but you gotta move. NOW!"

"Admiral; there's still civvies down here!" Corvis replied.

Ian closed his eyes against the pain of the next order. "I understand Corvis, if you can get some of them, do so. But if you are not clear of that city in five minutes, you'll never leave."

In a final attempt to rescue as many people as possible, every vehicle, including military tanks and other hovercraft were loaded to maximum before running at full speed for the camps south of the city. The heavy tram was loaded to critical capacity and sent on. Loaded busses got on the main route south and sped away with as many people as they could carry. Even the Marine assault shuttles were loaded to capacity and beyond.

The Prometheus AI, now named Poli, tried to stop the Starlight reactor. He managed to gain evacuees critical time to get out of the city.

"Give us an orbital view over Starlight!" Ian ordered.

The hologram in the tank cleared away to be replaced by a real-time view taken from one of Star Dancer's belly mounted weapons. There was a bright flash at the eastern edge of continent, next to the ocean; followed by an expanding greyish-white cloud.

"Oh my god!" Chloe said softly.

"Major Eischens, how many were left in the city?" Ian asked.

Sadly, the major replied. "We don't have a solid count yet Sir, but we are estimating at least two-hundred, sixty-four thousand people remained."

Ian nodded "Where are the rest of the mecha heading now?"

It took a moment for the team to respond as each person dealt with the horrible loss at Starlight. "Uh, they are changing direction…" Chloe said as she typed furiously on her keyboard. "They're not all going the same direction though. It looks like some have turned for the camps south of Starlight, and the rest are headed for Rominy."

Ian nodded. "Isolate the reactor and power grid at Rominy; if possible shut it down completely. Wait, what's the Zephyr doing?" Ian noticed the icon representing the ship was still dangerously close to Starlight.

"Commander Harris landed the ship, loaded as many people as he could, then used the ship's shields to protect those he couldn't load. He's asking for evac shuttles for the people that were left outside. He has a lot of injured there," Major Eischens replied because Chloe was busy with the orders for Rominy.

Ian sighed and nodded. "Contact the fleet and see if they can send shuttles to help. Hell, anything that can carry people would be good at this point."

"Sir, the General has sent their troop transports with orders to move those folks to the refugee camps. The Fleet is sending every available shuttle as well, they are also sending medical and emergency support equipment and personnel to the camps," Chloe said, rejoining the conversation.

"Good, pass along my thanks, and be sure to let camp coordinator know of the additional assistance," Ian ordered as a soft alarm was heard and Chloe began typing again. "What's going on?"

"It's those damn mecha, they're not running past everything anymore, their stopping to destroy every house and town they pass. They're killing everyone they can find." Chloe replied. "I'm asking for the fleet's light cruisers to get down there and assist in stopping them. If they are going to slow down enough for that, then we can take them out with missile strikes from the cruisers."

Ian nodded. "Good, also let the fighters know they can use their missiles as long as the area is clear; same rules of engagement as the cruisers." Ian thought for a moment. "Can anyone think of anything we can do from orbit that wouldn't destroy the countryside in the process?"

"Sir, Major Laskar reports Star will be back online shortly. He said she shut down from overload and had to be reset," one of the techs reported.

Ian nodded. "Please pass along a request that he call for a councilor to assist her. She's going to blame herself for the tragedy at Starlight."

"Will do, Sir," the tech replied.

"Did we lose any troops at Starlight?" Ian asked gently. He was still trying to deal with the event.

"Yes Sir, we did," Chloe replied. "Two companies of Terran Marines and one company of Alliance Marines. They had remained behind to ensure more seats could be given to the civilians on the shuttles. It was reported that they had loaded as many as they could in ground vehicles and headed south. Due to the timing of the event, there is no way they could have gotten to safety in time. Interference is blocking their locater's, but we are still scanning for them just in case."

"What of any shelters in Starlight, could any of them have survived?" Major Eischens asked hopefully.

Chloe nodded. "Some of the outer shelters could have survived, but as I said, the interference is still pretty heavy. Fleet ESAR teams are preparing to begin searching the area. They will be launching in a few minutes," Chloe reported. "I've asked Admiral T'rolith's ESAR Chief Dhawes to take command of the operations."

"Perfect. Good work, Chloe. Make sure we lend as much support as we can spare to their efforts." Ian then refocused on stopping the now rampaging mecha. He typed in the commands to open a comm channel to all combat troops. "People, this is Admiral Williams. If you have not heard by now, we have lost the city of Starlight. Enemy mecha infiltrated the command computers for the city power grid and detonated the reactor. At this moment, those same mecha are turning on the general population and murdering as many as they can. This cannot be allowed. These… animals are not worthy or honorable adversaries. They are murderers deserving only of our utter contempt. We must destroy them before they can kill any more of our people.

"I know you are tired, every one of you have done very well in this campaign. I have truly been honored to have been your commander for this mission. However, the Empire saw the need to murder innocent civilians and sent these… things here to do just that. It is our duty to protect those civilians. So I am asking you to give just a bit more; seek out and put these animals out of their misery before they can harm anyone else. May the light of freedom guide each and every one of you. Good luck."

Ian's speech did actually inspire the troops. Within two hours the count had been reduced to three, as yet unaccounted for, mecha that had landed in the ocean. It was suspected that they had been destroyed as the water was very deep there, but Ian would not accept that until the wreckage had been verified. A special drone was built and dropped in the sea-trench. It did verify that two of the mecha were indeed dead and on the bottom of the trench. However, that left one unaccounted for. The drone dropped in that area found nothing; no trace of it. The search was focused on the area between its landing and the closest population center, as well as the city of Rominy, which was several hundred miles inland on a major river that emptied into the ocean.

Elements of the fleet took up position over the eastern seaboard of the main continent and began high-resolution scans of the entire coastline extending hundreds of miles inland. Nothing moved that those ships did not see. Commander Harris put the Zephyr in the river just east of Rominy and used his scanners to watch the river bed. He used his shuttles and fighters to scan the river through the city and as far inland as was thought the mecha could travel.

It was eventually discovered as it tried to get into the fresh water intakes for the city. The Zephyr equipped four fighters with lamprey torpedoes to engage it while two marine assault shuttles covered the intakes with force fields after dropping their troops. Since the assault shuttles were blocking its way, it ignored the fighters and attacked the shuttles. As soon as it came out of the water to do it, the fighters from the Zephyr blew it into scrap.

The remaining Imperial Marines on the planet dropped their weapons, but quickly died before they could be taken into custody. Their armor quickly and efficiently cremated their bodies, leaving nothing for forensic examination. In the Imperial commander's office, a note was found, written in Talosian.

"The Sword are not us. The Sword answers to a higher clan. May the souls of those lost forgive us and find peace in the next world."

Along with that puzzling message came the reports that several survivors had overheard Imperial soldiers talking about the arrival of the 'sword' and how they needed to get as many people out of the city as possible as quickly as possible and by any means possible. It was shortly after that the Imperial soldiers began escorting civilians to Alliance lines.

When Major Eischens made his after action report, he offered a conclusion for the actions of the Imperial soldiers at Starlight. "From everything we can piece together Sir, the Imps knew the mecha were coming and feared them. That's why the forces in Starlight helped get the civilians out. They knew it was going to be the primary target."

"What about Rominy? Why didn't they help?" Ian asked.

Eischens shook his head. "Rominy was either not a target or was considered to be a secondary priority. It's almost impossible to tell; hell maybe the commander there didn't agree with trying to save the civilians. I doubt we'll ever know for certain Sir."

Ian nodded. "Package up all your data along with your report for Alliance Intel to go over. I'll be sure to include your summations in my report to High Command. You and your people did good work, Paul. Thank you."

"Sir, about that sword unit; the only markings they had were the observed insignia. Any data they might have carried was destroyed with the unit. Tracking is not completely sure of their planet of Origin, but are certain it has to be within thirty-five light years based on reaction times. Back tracking their course led to what is believed to be interstellar space. The whole area is completely uncharted by any Alliance race, so we have little data on that sector. It is possible that the Empire has a base out there we have no knowledge of."

Ian was thoughtful for a moment. "Equip a survey probe with a hyperdrive and a standard cloaking module. Launch it on the return course of the sword ships. It is to stop periodically to make a scan but once it hits forty lights have it self-destruct after sending its data. Make sure it can't be captured or tampered with, either."

Major Eischens nodded. "We'll get it set up as quickly as we can." He glanced back down at his data pad. "Alliance Planetary Aide is holding at the system boundary, but they're getting very insistent about being allowed into the system. Do we continue to keep them out?"

Ian nodded. "Yes, until the Terran forces leave, they stay put. I don't want the Empire knowing our location yet."

"With respect, Sir, I think that might be a little late; I mean we're getting more and more Alliance personnel every day back home. Some of them have to be spies; there's just too many of them," Major Eischens replied.

"I agree, Paul. There are also several hundred Alliance security agents and a very wide variety of creative and innovative traps in the mix as well, but you don't know any of that. Only four people know of the details; one Commander, two Admirals and the head of Alliance security who set it up personally," Ian replied.

"There actually is a head of security then? Rumor has it that no one actually runs that department," Eischens replied.

"There is, I've met with them personally," Ian replied and then sighed. "As soon as your security checks are complete, I'll be releasing the Fleet back to High Command. I've asked Admiral T'rolith to leave a ship here to handle the transition back to civilian control. So once you finished your checks, get your folks ready to depart."

"Yes Sir," Major Eischens replied, saluted and left Ian's office.

"Alex, have the day's arrangements been completed?" Ian asked.

"Yes Sir, I was about to interrupt you, you're falling behind schedule. Commander Jennifer Williams and the Ambassador's party are waiting for you in landing bay Alpha." Alex replied.

Ian nodded and picked up the helmet for his armor/duty uniform. "Well, grab your helmet and let's get moving then."

Transportation down to the planet was aboard the Raptor Damocles escorted by four shadow fighter craft. Ian was not crazy about the idea of this tour, but knew it had to be done. The people wanted to know that Shies was still alive, and they wanted to see the commanders that had rescued them. It was also Ian's responsibility to make sure everything was being done that could be done for the refugees. Security for the group would be the remainder of the Damocles team as well as one of the teams from the Prometheus.

Shies and Jenny were both subdued when Ian met them in the ready room. The Damocles was sitting just outside, waiting for them. Ian gave them both a brave smile. "Ladies, yes, we lost a great many people, and we will mourn them. However, the people down there need hope right now more than ever. They need to see it on our faces and in our hearts, before they will find it in themselves. We will remember and honor the fallen, but it’s the living we must see to now."

Shies nodded. "You are correct, Admiral. They would not like to see sadness and pity on our faces. We must inspire them and give them the strength to rebuild and continue to live."

"Serena and her team are in route to pick up Admiral T'rolith and his staff. We're going to link up with them at the landing area near Camp Alpha," Jenny reported.

Ian nodded. "We should go then. I'd like to survey the wreckage of Starlight before we land."

Jenny nodded. "There's really not much left to see; the ocean filled in the crater. We've been sending down drones as fast as Star can get them replicated to try to contain the contamination. There's still going to be problems with fallout, but we're working on that too. Admiral T'rolith said that a few of the old wars used nuclear weapons until it was decided that was too destructive. However, a lot of damage had already been done. They came up with many different methods for cleaning up the contamination they had caused. They've built a small fleet of airborne scrubbers that will follow the clouds and filter them. The drones we are using are actually based on the ones they originally developed."

"Wow, I had no idea," Ian replied. "That's good to know. Are the drones we're sending down only cleaning everything up, or will they try to start rebuilding as well?"

"They are basically heavy construction drones. They are just going through the soil and wreckage and removing the radioactivity. They are also demolishing the wrecked buildings and recording the remains of those killed for later identification. Two of the drones are building a simple AI and storage complex in the outskirts where they can deposit the replicator materiel and data they collect. Once the area is decontaminated, they will switchover to construction mode and begin rebuilding the city. The two drones that are building the complex will be switching over to a hospital and temporary housing in the same area, using the materiel collected from the city.

"Star has provided the drone control AI with every scrap of information she can find about the city before the accident. However, the crater is very large and will take considerable time to fill back in," Jenny finished.

"Perhaps they should not try," Shies replied gently. "The city can be rebuilt around it and the crater turned into a harbor. Before this atrocity occurred, Starlight had a very active and busy seaport. I do not know the details, but I do know that there was a large fishing fleet based out of there, as well as shipping from the other continents."

"Perhaps you might suggest that to the incoming civilian authorities, Ambassador. They will be taking over here once we depart for our own system," Ian replied.

"I will do that, Admiral. Thank you," Shies replied, smiling at him.

They boarded the raptor and left for the planet. Sasha and Lissa took them over the ruins of the city and Ian saw the extent of the damage. Surprisingly, the suburbs were mostly intact, but the city center, for a kilometer in every direction was gone. Ian saw the drones working in the rubble close to the water and while he watched, three drones surfaced in the flooded crater and headed west on their anti-grav drive systems.

Finally, Ian asked Sasha to take them to the camps. What he had seen of the remains of Starlight had depressed him, but he knew that it would be rebuilt better than before.

"I'm actually surprised Hyperion did not have a planetary AI. I thought the invasion predated the Talosian policy regarding AI," Jenny said conversationally.

"Actually, it did," Trante replied. "It self-destructed when the Empire attacked. But, since this was a rather unimportant colony, she was the only one in the system."

Ian smiled sadly. "Well there'll be more than one here now. One of our freighters arrived very early this morning carrying the defense network assembler, as well as a traffic control unit, a communications control unit and a new planetary controller. The ATC and Comm AI will remain in orbit with the Network assembler while the techs take the new AI down and install her on planet. These are Terran AI, not Talosian; which means all four are sentient beings."

"We have been given the information about how your AI became sentient, Admiral. I can't say I agree with the practice, however, I also have not had much opportunity to interact with one," Lieutenant Commander Haskin said.

"Actually, my Love, you have," Shies replied gently. "Officer Lissa is a sentient AI."

"No, she can't be, Shies! I've touched her! I've shaken her hand! She's a real being just like you and me, not holographic," he replied.

"Officer Lissa Dancer is the AI present aboard this very special vessel, Lieutenant Commander," Ian replied. "She inhabits a biological android body, but her main processors and memory units are installed below us. She was given the body to better interact with the team as well as perform her duties."

Both Talosian men were stunned.

"Is she not romantically involved with Officer Sasha?" Trente asked.

"With respect, Sir, she is romantically involved with all of us," Jerry replied from his place at the table. "We are a very close team, and she is very much a part of it."

Ian nodded. "It's also a very closely guarded secret. So I must ask all of you not to pass this information on to anyone else without her permission to do so. The truth of her existence is at her discretion. She has the same right to privacy as any other citizen of our society."

"Of course, Sir," Haskin replied. "It is only that the information took us by surprise. We meant no disrespect or insult to any of you."

Jerry smiled and put his hand on the man's shoulder. "It's just one of the differences between our cultures, Commander. No offense was taken."

"She feels very different from other beings, but she does feel… alive," Shies replied. "As does Major Dancer. Whatever else may be said of them, they are life-forms and well worthy of our respect. At first, I did not understand what I was feeling from her, but I made the connection after I met her mother."

"Mother?" Haskin asked.

"Major Dancer of course," Shies replied. "There is even a family resemblance, after a fashion."

Ian put his hand over the hologram of his rank. "There is something I would like to ask you, Shies, not as an Admiral, but as Ian Williams, a friend to Lissa and Star."

"Of course, Ian. What can I help you with?" Shies asked concerned.

"Both Lissa and Star were the ones fighting to keep the Imperial mecha out of the control computers at Starlight. Presently, they believe they failed. The truth is, they did not fail; they were sabotaged," Ian said.

"They were what?" Sam asked, surprised.

"They were sabotaged, Sam," Ian replied. "Intelligence has been working on it since Chief Laskar found the proof in the logs. As close as we can figure out, one of the Talosian Marines we brought with us isn't just a Marine."

"Why would a human be working for the Empire?" Haskin asked. This discussion was troubling him.

"We don't know, Commander; it's one of the things we will be asking them once we catch them," Ian replied. "Provided they survived the blast."

"As troubling as this news is, Ian, I would be honored to speak to them with you," Shies replied. "What happened in Starlight could not be blamed on them, even if sabotage had not been involved. That atrocity can only be placed at the feet of the Emperor and his servants."

"Thank you, if it would be alright with you, I will ask both of them to join us for dinner this evening. I would do it before, but I don't believe time will permit," Ian said. "Ladies and gentlemen, what has been said here is still classified. I must ask all of you to keep this to yourselves as well."

The Raptor team was bound to secrecy anyway, but Shies and her companions nodded agreement.

"Admiral, we’re landing at Camp Alpha. Admiral T'rolith and his party have just arrived and are awaiting us near the control center," Sasha said over the comm. "Team; Escort Protocol."

"Thanks, Sasha," Ian replied as the rest of the team, already dressed in their armor, unracked their weapons, slung them on their armor, and fitted Shies and her consorts with personal shields.

"Is the shield really necessary, Admiral? I have nothing to fear from these people," Shies asked.

"I'm afraid it is, Ambassador. It is not just the people out there that I am worried about. If the Empire has a saboteur in our forces, who knows what else they may have?" Ian replied.

"I agree with it, Shies," Haskin said. "Personally, I would prefer you to be in the same armor the Admiral and Commander are wearing, but I know you would not agree to that."

"You know me too well, my Love," Shies replied smiling at him and caressing his cheek.

Sam stepped forward and offered Haskin and Trante sidearms. Both men accepted the weapons and strapped the belt around their waists.

The Raptor landed, and the side passenger door was opened. Jerry and Shannon exited first, to make certain the area was safe, and stood guard as the VIPs and the rest of the team got out of the ship.

Off to one side, Ian could see the large form of Admiral T'rolith standing next to Serena. As Ian and his group approached, both Serena and T'rolith came to attention and saluted. Ian returned the salute and bowed to T'rolith as custom dictated; Although Ian was the leader, T'rolith was actually senior in rank to Ian.

"Sorry we're a little late, I asked Sasha to take us over the remains of Starlight," Ian said by way of greeting.

"No apology is needed, Admiral. We, too, used this opportunity to survey some of the damage," T'rolith replied. "There is much to be done to repair this world."

Ian nodded. "Yes there is, but that is a task for others to accomplish. We are needed to get back to the war soon. Shall we go make sure everything that can be done is being done?"

T'rolith nodded. "Perhaps we can use what we have learned here to free other worlds lost to the Empire. In that way, push these invaders out of our galaxy once and for all."

Ian smiled. "That's a nice thought, but this strategy will only work until the Empire changes tactics. Now that their gates are destroyed, they are probably doing that exact thing right now."

T'rolith nodded agreement. "Well, this is still a viable plan. One I do not see High Command abandoning anytime soon. Now that we know we can take worlds back from them, I am certain there will be more."

As they were talking, they had begun moving out into the camp. As expected, they're passage began to draw a crowd. People in the camp coming to see just who it was that had rescued them. People applauded them and cheered, but there were a lot of folks that wanted more information on the fate of Starlight. They had all seem the explosion, even from this distance. Rumors had invaded the camps and people wanted to know what happened, as well as if there were any other survivors. Many of them had friends and family that had not made it out of the city with them.

All Ian and the others could do was to refer them to the location and identification service that had been set up. In return, they asked them if their needs were being met and if there was anything that they might be in need of.

There were the normal complaints, especially from the 'privileged', about poor or inadequate accommodations, and how the 'menials' were not showing them proper respect.

Ian looked at these people like they were from another planet. "All of you, listen to me; and you better take this to heart. The accommodations you have are all you will be getting here. There are no class distinctions here. There are no menial laborers here. The people working to supply your needs are not servants, but in most cases are soldiers. Many of them had to watch their friends die or be wounded in the battles fought to protect you. Since they are still armed, you might want to think twice about pissing them off. In short, be thankful you have what you got, because you won't get anything more until you return home - if your home is still standing. If you still feel you are being mistreated here, you are free to leave. I'm sure the support staff would be greatly appreciative for having less people to worry about."

"I tried to leave! These 'people' refused to provide transportation back to the city! So don't tell me we are free to do any such thing young man!" a rotund man snarled.

Ian narrowed his eyes at the man. "Who are you, Sir?"

"I am Silas Herstel of House Bjorin, Garins Family. I am the head of the undersea mining guild here on Hyperion," the corpulent man said, puffing up with his own self-importance.

"Mister Herstel, I am Admiral Ian Williams. Among other things, I am the person in charge of all military operations here. May I assume from your description that you had an office building near the waterfront?"

"The top four floors were our residence! It is the tallest building in Starlight! Now, I demand you order these men to take myself and my family home this instant!" the man replied.

"Mister Herstel, at present, the place where your building stood is currently under a thousand meters of saltwater. In case you did not hear the news, the main power reactor for the city was intentionally detonated by Imperial soldiers resulting in the total vaporization of the downtown area. The force of the blast destroyed buildings in the outer areas and killed two-hundred and forty thousand of your fellow citizens. If you try to demand anything from these people again, I will order them to take you out into the middle of the now flooded crater, dump your fat ass in the water, and leave you there. Do you understand me?" Ian said in not so friendly a manner.

"Now see here!" the man began. "I will not be spoken to in such a manner! I'm…" the man tried to reply but Ian stopped him.

"Corporal?" Ian called to one of the troopers holding the crowds back.

"Sir?" the woman asked as she stepped forward.

Ian pointed to Herstel. "This man doesn't care for the way he's being treated here. Please see that he is taken to the edge of the camp and released. He no longer requires our assistance."

The woman grinned hugely, but the man sputtered. "Now see here! You can't do this to me! I'll have you arrested and drummed out of the military!" Two other soldiers took the man by the arms and led him away. Ian turned back to the corporal. "Keep an eye on him, and let him back in in twelve hours. You can do it sooner if you think he's learned anything."

She nodded. "Understood, Sir, we'll drop him near one of the guard posts, and they can keep an eye on him."

Ian nodded. "I don't want him hurt; just scared a bit. Make sure he has plenty of water, but I wouldn't be too concerned about food; I think he'll be fine for missing a meal or two."

"I'll take care of it, Sir," She replied and saluted. Ian returned the salute and she took off after the two soldiers.


While he'd been speaking to Herstel and the corporal, Ian had noticed Serena seemed distracted. He moved over next to her. "What's bugging you?"

"One of the guards over there reminds me of one of my granddaughters. She'd be that age now. The problem is, she was on Premora with the rest of my family when it fell," Serena replied.

"What was her name?" Ian asked gently.

"Jarla. I admit, she was only six cycles old the last time I saw her, but it's really bugging me," Serena replied.

"Not a very common name. It means 'sacred' or 'blessed' in ancient Talosian doesn't it? Do you think she would remember you?" Ian asked.

Serena nodded. "It means 'precious' actually. She should remember me; she was always following me around when I was home on leave. I didn't mind at all, either; she was a great kid."

Ian got Sam's attention and waved him over. "Sam, Serena thinks she recognizes one of the Marines in that group over there," Ian nodded his head in their direction. "The problem is the girl is supposed to be on an occupied world. Think you can find out if her name is Jarla?"

"Not a problem, Sir. What do I do if I confirm it?" Sam asked.

Serena looked up at him. "We'll need to speak with her, Officer. She shouldn't be here."

Sam nodded to her once. "Aye, Ma'am. I'll get her back to the Raptor without causing a scene. I'll backfeed the conversation to you so you know what's going on. May I borrow Lissa? She can get control of their armor faster than I can."

Ian nodded, and Sam grabbed Lissa, giving her a quick explanation while they walked toward the three female Marines. They had removed their helmets, and Lissa nodded her agreement to his plan. She was smiling softly by the time Sam approached the women.

Suddenly Ian and Serena could hear Sam's voice over their comms; "Excuse me, ladies, I'm Officer Sam and this is Officer Lissa of the Raptor Damocles. Might I beg your names?" Sam was using every ounce of charm he could muster, and he wasn't an unattractive man. The women responded almost automatically.

"Certainly Officer, I am Sergeant Laorna, this is Corporal Kinber, Private Jarla, and Private Shomes. What can we do for you this day?" The woman smiled at him in a friendly manner.

"Well, Lissa and I just found out about a special shipment the Admiral ordered for the folks here and we're gonna need some help driving the sleds back. If I clear it with your CO and offer to buy you ladies lunch, would you be willing to give us a hand?" Sam asked very politely. "All you'll have to do is drive the sleds back here; no heavy lifting involved, I promise."

"Throw in your contact info and I'll go!" Kinber replied, grinning.

"Kinber, you're such a slag," Jarla replied chuckling.

The Sergeant laughed along with the others and agreed for the group. She gave Sam the name of their CO so he could clear his borrowing of his soldiers for a time. The captain had no problem since they were off-duty anyway, and the group headed for the landing area.

"It's all set-up," Sam replied. "You guys seem close, been friends long?"

"We're all from the same planet except for Shomes; she's from Crellilte III. We met in training and have been friends ever since," Laorna replied. "Where are you from?"

"A small planet you've probably never heard of. It's called Atlas. I'm told that the system wasn't on Talosian charts," Sam replied.

"Officer Lissa, are you from that planet as well?" Jarla asked innocently.

"Not exactly, I'm from one of the moons, so I guess you could say I am," Lissa replied. "Sam and I only met when we began Raptor team training."

"What's that like? We've all heard hundreds of rumors about it, but no one really knows. Your whole sector is like that, really," Shomes said.

"Well, mostly, it's classified. But honestly, it's way harder than basic training was. It even seemed impossible a couple of times, but we made it through," Sam replied, making small talk and flirting with the girls.

Ian glanced at Serena who had a concerned look on her face. "Did you notice they avoided saying their planet of origin?"

Serena nodded. "Yes, they skipped right over it. My question is, who are these women?"

"I don't know, but we're going to find out," Ian said and lifted his cuff to access his comm. "Lissa, don't acknowledge. Try to get them to say what planet they’re from and what unit they're with."

While Ian was speaking to Lissa, Laorna asked her what it was like spending so much time on missions cooped up with such a handsome man.

"Well, it's sure isn't boring!" Lissa replied jovially. "Besides, there are four other members of the team, and none of them are exactly ugly or hard to get along with. Besides, I'm sure you know what it's like being stuck on a ship with attractive men! What unit are you guys with?"

"Freise Company, second platoon. We have all women in our squad, so we have to go hunting when we're stuck on the transport. Not that we mind keeping to ourselves, but sometimes a girl just needs a change, you know?" Kinber replied. "None of us have any ranking in our house, so we can do pretty much what we want."

"So you're all from the same House then? Let's see, that's House…" Lissa said like she was thinking hard.

"Harclen, Yes, we're all from the same House. The girls and I are from Rijiz out near the occupied zone. When Premora fell we thought we would be next, but they never showed up, thank the gods," Laorna replied.

After a bit more flirting and small talk, they arrived at the landing area. Of course, there was no shuttle.

"Damn, they're late. Come on ladies, let's go to the Raptor, I can get you that lunch I promised and find out where the hell that shuttle is," Sam said casually.

Lissa and Sam let the women precede them into the ship, and Lissa stunned them as soon as they were inside. All four women hit the floor, unconscious.

Sam picked up Jarla first and carried her into the common area where he removed her armor and put her into the autodoc to scan her body for suicide devices. The machine found two; one was a poison capsule in her mouth, the other was a remote kill device implanted in her chest. The woman was also suffering from radiation exposure. Lissa had the machine remove both devices but held off the treatment for radiation as it was not life threatening at the moment. Sam put her in restraints and placed her on a bunk. Then he carried the next women in. This time, Lissa took her armor off while Sam went for another woman. By the time the last woman was in the autodoc, Jarla was beginning to come around. All of them had the suicide devices and all of them had radiation sickness.

"What… what's going on? What happened?" she asked, fearfully.

Sam smiled at her sadly. "You're being sequestered for the time being my dear. Your grandmother recognized you."

"My Grandmother? I don't have a grandmother, Sam. They all died years ago," Jarla replied.

"Commander Serena is alive and well, Jarla. She would like to speak to you," Lissa replied gently.

"No! She's dead! I saw her ship destroyed!" Jarla replied with tears in her eyes. "She died trying to protect us."

"Shut up you stupid slag!" Laorna said angrily. "What have you done to us?"

"We ran all of you through the autodoc and removed the kill devices you had implanted. We have some questions we'd like for you to answer," Lissa replied neutrally.

"Damn, I told you slags it was too dangerous to meet up," Laorna said. "Now we're really shafted."

"Not really," A new voice spoke from the door. "But if you don't answer our questions you will be, and not in a good way either."

The women all turned to look at the new man. He was young and handsome and they recognized him immediately without needing to see the Admiral's rank on his armor.

"Sam, can you and Lissa take them up to the ship and come back? As much as I would like to be present for their questioning, I need to finish this tour. I'll let Major Eischens know he has guests on the way so he can make the appropriate accommodations for them," Ian said.

Sam nodded, but Lissa answered. "Of course Sir, we can handle this."

"Okay, Lissa, take Sam into the cockpit and seal the door. I need to tell these ladies something I don't want either of you to hear. I'll let you know when you can return," Ian ordered.

Lissa and Sam stepped through the hatch into the cockpit and closed the door, leaving Ian alone with the four women.

"Listen closely, because your lives depend on it." Ian said getting their attention. When they were all looking at him, he used his ability on them. "For the next week - ship time, you will answer any and all questions asked of you truthfully and as completely as you can. You will not try to escape, kill yourselves or each other, or cause trouble for those guarding you. You will obey the orders of your guards and those sent to ask you questions. Do you understand my instructions to you?"

All four women nodded. Ian nodded back to them and knocked on the hatch Sam and Lissa had used. When it opened, Ian smiled at them. "Take them up to the ship, but try to keep it quiet. I'll tell Eischens the same thing; but use only Terran Marines as guards. We don't know who else might have been planted with the Talosian Marines."

"Sir, to that end, might I suggest we also keep them in the isolation cells? These are high risk prisoners," Sam suggested.

Ian nodded. "Major Eischens will take charge of them from you. He'll make the arrangements. Have a safe and quiet trip." Ian said and turned to leave. He stopped at the hatch and turned back to the four women. "One thing before I leave; is there anyone else in your unit that works for the Empire?"

"Lieutenant Boughow gives us our orders, there are a couple of others in other units but I don't know who they are," Laorna replied through gritted teeth.

Ian nodded. "Thank you.” Ian turned back to Sam and Lissa. "Hold here until we can add the Lieutenant. I'll have Jerry and Shannon go get her." He paused and looked at Jarla. "Citizen Jarla, it is my happy duty to inform you that your grandmother, Commander Serena, is alive and well. She has asked to see you after your initial interrogation."

As Ian turned and left, Sam turned and looked at the former sergeant closely. She had obviously tried not to tell the Admiral what he wanted to know, but it was like she couldn't stop. The other two women looked scared and Jarla was crying.

"Whatever the Admiral told you must have been pretty convincing. I would suggest you continue being as forthcoming with your interrogators when we get to the ship. If you do, you might just survive this ordeal," Sam finished. "It is my duty to inform you that as a condition of your incarceration, anything you say or do is being recorded. After your interrogation, an independent advocate will be appointed to you if charges are leveled against you as a result of your information. Since this case involves Alliance security, there is the possibility you may be remanded over into Alliance custody. If that is to occur, and in accordance with Alliance law, you will be assigned an Alliance Advocate prior to your extradition." Sam continued to explain their rights to them as required by law and Raptor Command mandate.

Before the now former lieutenant joined the four women, Ian gave him the same commands he had given the women. Shannon had lured the lieutenant to the landing area under the ruse of one of the girls getting hurt while helping her teammates. When they arrived at the landing area, the Lieutenant had become suspicious and Shannon had stunned him. The action was seen, but caused only a little commotion. Very shortly, the Raptor lifted off with its prisoners.

Ian and his party finished the tour of the camps and returned to their ships. Ian had told T'rolith about the sabotage and the prisoners taken. By the time they returned to their ships, Major Eischens had completed all but one of the initial interviews.

As it turned out, the saboteur had died in the explosion. However, the woman had been one of Laorna's troopers. The Lieutenant had given her the device and sent her to place it. The rest of the squad had gone with her, but had been able to get far enough away to survive the blast. The four women were being treated for radiation poisoning in the detention center Medbay under heavy guard.

In preparation for handing planetary control over to civilian authority, Ian formally dismissed Admiral T'rolith and his fleet, with gratitude. One Alliance battle cruiser would be remaining as a guard for the planet, as well as a Talosian Marine battalion. The Alliance ship would be relieved as soon as the Talosians could send a ship of their own to do so. Admiral T'rolith was invited to the dinner Ian was having as a matter of protocol. To the Alliance, it was a necessary function to have a 'victory dinner' after a major battle.

The dinner went well and the Alliance contingent departed after a short tour of the newly rebuilt Star Dancer. The Alliance fleet departed that night for High Command and a new assignment.

Commander Serena was reunited with her granddaughter. As it turned out, Jarla had been seriously messed with. The Empire had used drugs and mental conditioning to program the women to become human spies. Jarla and two of the other women would be deprogrammed, but it was found that the former sergeant, Laorna had taken a much higher dose of radiation. Although the doctors on the ship were doing everything they could for the woman, she had gone too long without treatment; too much damage had been done. Unlike current citizens of the Talosian Alliance, her body had not been scanned and the information stored prior to her exposure. There were no health records of her to base replicated or cloned organs on. The radiation sickness guaranteed she would reject any universal transplants.

It was late in the evening when Ian finally got to make the call he'd been waiting to make. Alex smiled and made the connection for him.

Two people took form in the chairs at the conference table.

"Ian! It's damn good to hear from you! We were getting worried," Admiral Goya said.

Councilor Noren smiled and nodded. "We really were getting worried. I think if you had not ordered a comms blackout, we would have been calling you every day!"

Ian grinned back at his friends. "Obviously, I've lifted the comms restrictions!" He sat up straighter and cleared his throat. "Councilor Noren, Fleet Admiral Goya, it is my great honor and privilege to report to you the successful recapture of the Planet Hyperion." He lost his smile. "Unfortunately, it was not bloodless. During the fighting, a previously unheard of unit arrived at the planet. "ARC records have never seen this unit, nor any of its type before. They were not part of the Imperial military. Intelligence believes they were religious troops. They were brutal in the extreme. Thanks to the assistance of a saboteur, they managed to seize control of the Starlight power control computer and detonated the city's main reactor.

Ian paused and looked down. "Our estimates place the losses at Starlight at over two-hundred-fifty thousand."

Noren was shocked and had tears in her eyes. Goya looked grim.

Ian nodded. "I am very sorry, we did everything we could to prevent it, but in the end, it hadn't been enough. I will send you a copy of my report so you can read the details of the event.

"Our forces will depart this system in the morning and turn control back over to your representative currently with the planetary aide ships standing at the system boundary."

"Ian, Starlight held a population close to six-hundred thousand. What happened to the rest of the people?" Noren asked.

"Evacuated, mostly. Also, our sensors placed the pre-attack population of the city at just under five-hundred thousand. The computer records show that a lot of people had been reassigned to different jobs and moved around all over the planet. Those records are really messed up; instead of just listing who, what, and where, the Empire used accounting codes to track the movements. We've been having to figure out what each of the codes mean in order to find the people. I can tell you that the rural population of the planet is much higher than what it was before the Empire captured it."

Ian paused again. "They were up to something here. The detonation of the reactor at Starlight was done to cover whatever it is they were hiding. Those weird religious troops were focused on getting to Starlight and destroying a certain freighter that had been housed there.

"In all honesty, I don't know if we'll ever figure out what it was, but we do know it was medical in nature. Our doctors and medical research folks are going over every scrap of data they could find or acquire while on planet. About all we know right now is that it has something to do with spinal fluid.

"In any case, it is my honor to inform you of the return of your colony world," Ian finished. "Belarus suggested I refuse to release it back to you unless you agreed to reassign the colony to House Cronos. That way, at least we'll know the people would be taken care of."

Noren chuckled. "Ian, even though you are not a part of the Talosian Alliance, you are still considered a son of House Cronos. With everything you and your people have done for us in the past few months, and the trouble that was caused by the real rebels, the High Council was already considering that. So if you did request it, it would probably happen.

"However, Houses Heracin and Bjorin are all but destroyed politically. This whole episode could actually cause them to be disbanded and the families assigned to new houses. I feel I should tell you, and Admiral Goya as well, that I've been working to keep that from happening."

Goya looked a little concerned. "Why? Those two houses are your chief political rivals on the Council aren't they?"

Noren nodded. "Yes they are, and that’s one of the main reasons they have to remain intact. In order for the Council to function properly, there has to be opposition among us. Without it, there would be no balance in the Council, and we would lose touch with the people and their needs. Such opposition forces us to seek the opinions of our people on decisions that would affect all of us. Any other way, and our system would quickly become nothing more than a dictatorship.

"The other reasons is that our populations have grown to the point where we will need begin considering the addition of new houses. Several of the major houses are well above the legal limit for population size. So, instead of disbanding two houses and making the issue worse, we need to add at least two more houses," she finished. "My House will offer to sponsor the creation of House Gaia in honor of our Terran allies and all they have done for us.

"So, if I may ask, Ian; don't make that request. As it is, Hyperion will most likely be assigned to another house anyway as we will need to do a minor restructuring to allow for the formation of the new houses."

"So that's what's going on; I was beginning to wonder," Goya replied. "You don't know this yet Ian, but one of the first things the restored Council did was to reclassify our military facilities to prohibit 'private' ownership. In other words, the High Council has taken direct control over the shipyards, fighter assembly plants, and anything the produces military equipment. They will still be staffed and run by our citizens, but no single house will have control over them."

Noren nodded. "We've already requested permission to send our designers and engineers to Sol Sector for retraining and to help us update our facilities. It's pretty much the same thing the rest of the Alliance of Races have done."

Ian nodded. "Yeah, I think our population has grown way beyond control." He paused. "That's one of the things I wanted to tell you about. The atrocity at Starlight was the result of sabotage by human Imperial spies posing as Talosian Marines." When he saw the look on his friends' faces, he quickly continued. "This isn't your fault, and it couldn't have been easily prevented. In fact, I doubt we would have even caught them if Commander Serena hadn't recognized one of them."

"Serena recognized someone?" Goya asked.

Ian nodded. "One of the spies is her granddaughter, Jarla. Three of the women with her are from the same planet. Their controller, and one of the other women, are from two other Imperial occupied planets. They all got dosed with radiation in the explosion, but one of them will not survive for much longer. I'm expecting an extradition order from Alliance High Command since their crimes took place during an ARC mission."

"Still, since they are our citizens, we should be involved in this case," Noren said. "This is truly horrible, and couldn't have happened at a worse time; we are just beginning to get back on good terms with the rest of the Alliance of Races."

"With respect Noren, they are not Talosian citizens, they are Imperial citizens. Even by the laws of the Alliance of Races, there can be no other legal status for them. Until we retake their home planets, the population of a captured world is the legal citizen of that governmental entity. For example, until tomorrow morning, the Planet Hyperion is technically an ARC colony world," Ian replied. "By arresting those spies during the action, no argument for repatriation can be made because of their actions at the time."

"They're human, they will still be seen as Talosian," Noren said.

Ian shook his head. "No, I don't think so, Noren. ARC has been made very aware that there are non-Talosian humans. Besides, we have proven and verified extensive mental tampering has been done to all of the individuals. Currently, they do not see themselves as anything other than Imperial citizens. Ambassador M'orel has already requested Benesian Advocates be assigned them if extradition is called for. If it is not requested, then we will locate and assign Advocates for them ourselves." He paused and sighed. "I would be very surprised if they would be executed over this. As I said, they have been heavily manipulated. It is very clear to all of us that they cannot be held directly or solely responsible for their actions."

"What will you do with them?" Noren asked.

"Try to undo what was done to them. If we can return to them what was taken perhaps they can be reevaluated at that time. Until then, they will be sequestered and given treatment," Ian replied. "I'd have a hard time supporting a decision to execute any individuals under these conditions."

"Well, I'm sure it's a moot point; ARC will request extradition, they will be tried, and executed quickly and as publicly as possible," Goya replied. "Imperial attacks on Alliance member races has created a strong desire for retaliation of some kind. I'm afraid this event will only feed that fire."

Ian shook his head. "That is a fire that will burn the entire Alliance to the ground in very short order. I haven't spoken to High Command yet, so you probably know more than I do on that."

Noren nodded. "Our Ambassador reported that, while it still hasn't been called for officially, the member races are discussing the use of gravimetrics on select targets within Imperial held space," she paused. "The feeling is that once we locate Imperial bases we fire hyper-missiles equipped with gravimetric warheads at them."

"They have no idea what they're asking for. They all see the gravimetric warhead as nothing more than a really big bomb that explodes, and that's all. They don't understand the long term effects of using one of those," Goya replied.

"We'll just have to show them when the time comes, Admiral. I think I'll see what I can do to get the AI we are building for them finished as soon as possible. It would do them good to be able to run large scale simulations of the damage such a thing would do," Ian replied.

Noren winced. "That's another thing; some of the races are suspicious of your generosity. Races do not just openly share their military secrets with other races. Many of them believe you have ulterior motives."

"Like what? Other than their friendship they really don't have anything we don't already have ourselves," Ian replied.

"Control, Ian. They think you want to rule them," Noren replied.

Ian just snorted and shook his head. "The same damn problem we're having with Earth. None of them can understand that we have no interest in ruling anyone. But, since that is what they'd do, they can't help but attribute us with the same motivations. If they would just stop and think about it, they'd see there is no way we'd be able to do that." He sighed. "I guess it can't be helped; the paranoid will always be paranoid no matter what. We'll just have to let the future prove them wrong."

After speaking to Noren and Goya, Ian called ARC High Command to make a verbal report to Fleet Admiral H'joles and answer any questions he might have as he had time to read the reports that had been filed. After he finished, he told operations to make sure everything was ready for them to depart before turning in for the day.

He took a late meal in the infirmary while visiting Cindy. Beth, Jenny, Talena and the kids all joined him in visiting Cindy. She was overjoyed with the company, but quickly got tired and Beth chased everyone out to let her rest. Jenny was getting pretty tired too so the family returned to their quarters for the night. Jenny was only two weeks from delivery and was having trouble getting comfortable, which worried Talena. (Jenny was carrying Ian and Talena's child.) Just to reassure her, Beth asked Jenny to come down to the Medbay the next day, after the jump, just to make sure everything was going smoothly, and proceeded to help Jenny get comfortable.

The next day was as big a circus as Ian expected it to be. With all Terran Defense ships in system cloaked, the Planetary Aide ships were allowed in system. Ian met the Talosian Representatives on planet to officially return the planet to Talosian control. After she took a tour of the facilities and discovered everything that had been done as well as the continuing efforts, the Benesian woman leading the Planetary Aide Unit praised Ian and his people on their efforts.

Ian and his guards climbed back into the standard, unmodified Marine assault shuttle and returned to the ship. After they returned the shuttle to the Marine unit that would be remaining on the planet, the pilot told Ian that she had felt naked without her 'normal' shuttle. An hour later, Ian ordered the fleet to return to Sol Sector.

As she had been asked, Jenny reported to Medbay after the fleet made the jump. A soon as she was on the examination table, and Beth had entered the room, Jenny went into labor. Her due date was still two weeks away, but even with the advanced medical knowledge the doctors had, babies still insisted on keeping their own schedule. Jenny delivered a very healthy baby girl with silver hair and deep blue eyes.

Talena was overcome with joy and boldly kissed Jenny and Ian both on the lips in her happiness. She named the baby Sara Marelynn Williams, in honor of her mother. Ian arranged for Talena to have some time to be with Jenny and the new baby.

Gold squadron held a small party in the ready room in celebration of the birth, and the morale on the entire ship was raised even higher.

Two days before the fleet dropped out of hyperspace at Sol Sector, Laorna died as a result of the damage done by radiation exposure. Under guard, Ian allowed the prisoners to attend the funeral of their friend after the fleet returned to normal space. Before being escorted back to their cells, the three women thanked Ian for allowing it.

Star Dancer and Prometheus took up a parking orbit around the planet Atlas in the Centauri system. There, they began unloading the wounded, the extra soldiers they had taken, and said good-bye to three new friends.

Shies M'orel and her two consorts made themselves more than just passengers during the trip home. They spent time moving around the ship, speaking to people that had had a hard time in the battle, they spent time in the make-shift clinics Beth had set-up, helping the staff to take care of the wounded. Shies was there when Laorna passed, and it was clear the Benesian woman had helped ease Laorna's pain at the very end. When she finally closed her eyes for the last time, Shies said a prayer for her.

"Ambassador, it has been a true pleasure to have you with us these last few days. On behalf of the crew, have a safe journey," Ian said kissing her cheek as was custom.

"It has been a treat for us as well, Admiral." She smiled sadly and cocked her head gently to one side. "Ian, we will be returning to this sector as our Ambassador to your people. There is something coming, something very dark. When I return I will be bringing many women with me, and they will become your people; and your soldiers. I don't understand this vision because our people do not fight, yet I know these will. They will be fighting here, for all of us."

Ian looked at her in confusion. "Are you certain, Shies? I know you have the gift of foresight as well, but none of our people have seen anything like that yet."

"Speak to Janet Laskar and your wife. Although Jenny is not aware of the dreams yet, they are the reason for young Sara's early arrival. Very soon, Janet will need your help dealing with the anxiety this will cause her. I cannot see any more than I have already spoken of, so I cannot say more, save this; prepare your world, Ian. Begin preparing your own defenses and building your own weapons. You will need them," she finished as a tear slid down her cheek.


Apache Squadron

Deep Space Transit Vector

Imperial Space

"Majors, we will only have five minutes to destroy our pursuers and return to Hyperspace if we wish to break the lock they have on us; theoretically. Again, we do not know their exact capabilities," Gouyen explained.

"Well, it's still worth a try," Jana said. "If nothing else, we'll learn more about their tracking capabilities."

"Agreed, if we're caught in a trap, we should try to learn as much as possible until we can escape it," Carl replied. "We might also want to consider building some decoys; equip a missile or something capable of mimicking our signatures to help confuse them."

"At present, we do not have enough replicator materiel to build the devices you mentioned. We would need to resupply from a gas planet rich in hydrogen. Asteroids or other planets would work as well, but it would take longer to build up sufficient replicator stock," Alfred explained.

"How much time are we talking about here?" Cathy asked. "We are being chased."

"Using a hydrogen rich source, it would take roughly eight hours to build up the needed supply. Building the devices would take two days and require the use of the hold; we would have to jettison the land rails," Gouyen replied.

"Wait, we can't empty our holds; where would we put the teams living there?" Carl asked.

"The devices would be built only in the holds of the Zulu and the Apache. That is why it would take two days. Our existing missile supply do not have sufficient power systems for the task, we would have to build each device from a design," Gouyen explained.

"Well, let's worry about what's behind us for the time being. If we need to, we can work on the drone idea later," Jana said. "So, how are we gonna take out four light cruisers in under five minutes with them being suspicious of a trap?"

"Can we pull it off in a straight up fight with them?" Thomes asked.

"Probably not," Gouyen replied. "The Imperial ships will most likely exit hyperspace spread out widely in order to reduce the potential of ambush as well as to maximize their scanner effectiveness. This will make them difficult for us to destroy in the time required."

"Do not target their ships," Sizani said. "We place ourselves in position to fire anti-matter into the event horizon of their interface."

"The timing would have to be perfect; we'd actually have to fire the missiles before they began translating," Thomas said, thinking.

"I was not thinking of using the missiles, my friend. Because of our position, we allow the mass drivers their maximum possible speed. If we can place ourselves within ten light-seconds of their interfaces, we can destroy them as they translate," Sizani explained. "We use the remaining time to get clear of the area so we, ourselves, can return to hyperspace."

"That is possible," Gouyen replied.

"It would require that our hyperspace engines be completely off-line during the attack in order to avoid damage. After the attack, we would need to select a new heading and proceed at maximum power. I would suggest we leave another tracking probe here in order to assist us in our own jump as well as what the Imperial response would be," Gouyen replied.

"Do we have enough time to set this up?" Carl asked.

"Yes, but we need to get into position immediately, the enemy will arrive here in seven minutes," Alfred replied.

"Let's do this. Good luck everyone," Jana said as she returned to the cockpit. Gouyen and Officer Redfeather, the Apache's gunner, followed her.

The first thing Jana did was shut down the hyperdrive engine.

As Redfeather climbed down into the gunnery station, Gouyen was setting their new course. "Major, we've worked out the most probable positions for the enemy to interface. Each Raptor will take one of those positions. We still need a new heading to go in after the attack though."

"What is the second closest Alliance controlled area?" Jana asked.

"There is an abandoned Cronian military prison facility in the Shamini system. Alliance forces withdrew from the system during the invasion. The Empire never took it because there is no value in it. The only functioning equipment there are a listening/tracking station. At present, it is the closest point in Alliance space."

"If the others agree, use it. If nothing else, it'll get us out of the lion's den," Jana replied.

Shortly, Gouyen reported. "Course set. Two minutes to enemy arrival. Velocity restrictions on the mass drivers are removed. Anti-matter rounds set for twelve second self-destruct."

"That should be plenty. Are you ready down there Redfeather?" Jana asked.

"As ready as I will ever be, Major," the man replied.

"Shawn, I am putting up a marker in your display where the event should occur. I will adjust it as I can. I will tell you when to begin firing at it," Gouyen replied.

"Thank you Gouyen, that will help greatly," the gunner replied. "I have your marker locked, I am ready."

"Early exit, event forming to the rear! Shawn: turn around and begin firing!" Gouyen said urgently.

Jan heard and felt the heavy cannon under them begin firing, and quickly asked for a rear view.

She felt her heart sink when she saw that the rounds were falling short of the target. The Imperial ship had exited hyperspace more than twelve seconds early.

"Adjusting duration of the rounds," Gouyen reported as the light cruiser began to emerge.

As Jana watched, the bright white line of rounds from the mass driver dimmed slightly and extended out to hit the ship, tracking along it and into the event horizon.

The explosion was very bright and the optics of the raptor dimmed. Jana reset her view and pushed the throttle control all the way forward. "Target destroyed, going to maximum power."

"Major, two of the other targets are emerging later than expected and further away. They will not be destroyed in this manner," Gouyen reported.

"Fuck! Are we close enough to the others to help?" Jana asked.

"Adjusting course, linking to Acadia AI for coordination," Gouyen reported. "Check speed, reduce to point five."

Jana got back to work flying and reduced her acceleration profile.

A few seconds later, Jana felt the scream from the mass driver again, louder this time as the top mounted gun was also used.

"Targets destroyed. All raptors, return to escape profile and go to maximum power," Gouyen said. "Two minutes, forty-nine seconds to jump, initiate hyper-drive unit start-up."

"That puts us over the time limit by almost forty-five seconds," Jana asked as she began the hyperdrive start-up procedure.

"Correct. It is possible we may not lose the tracking lock, however, the attempt should still be made," Gouyen replied. "Recommend we do not fly in formation, rather more spread out, to lessen mass and energy signatures."

"So where are you taking us again Jana?" Carl asked.

"Gouyen says there is an abandoned Croanian Military Prison the Empire hasn't bothered with yet that is the closet point to us right now. I thought that if we were successful in breaking the tracking lock the Empire had on us, it would be a good place to head for. If we haven't broken the lock, then we can always change course and make for our original destination as planned," Jana replied.

"I've taken this opportunity to do a little research on our destination," Sizani said. "It would be an ideal location for a base from which to strike out at our enemies. With a little work it could easily be made very difficult for the Empire to attack."

"How so?" Cathy asked.

Sizani nodded. "The system is little more than a massive asteroid field, it has three planets, two are hydrogen rich gas planets, and the last is a massive ice world. In a pinch, the ice world could be used to produce hydrogen as well as a few other rare elements.

"The large number of asteroids could easily lend itself to the setup of multiple automated weapons systems, targeting and tracking sensors. The system itself was used to mine the materials used to build Croanian warships. Most of the original equipment is still there, it has just been shut down. Given it's spacial location, it would be an ideal place from which to stage missions deep into Imperial held space."

"That is definitely something to think about. Why don't you write up a report on your idea and send it off to the Admiral. If we were to do something like that, we'd need permission from the Croanians anyway. My only concern would be the Empire noticing the increase in activity in the system. If they attacked before we could get the defenses set up, it could be a very bad thing," Jana replied. "The other issue I'd have is that given our current location, how hard would it be for the Empire to figure out exactly where we went?"

"I have been thinking on that as well," Sizani replied. "If Zulu and Apache were to go to two separate occupied worlds and stage an attack, it would greatly confuse the issue for the enemy. They would have to spread out their forces in an effort to attempt to either capture us, or reacquire the hyperspace lock. Meanwhile, Acadia and Dynasty proceed to the Echelon system and begin fortifications pending Alliance approval. If the Alliance does not approve, then we can all simply return to base. However, I feel this is an opportunity that should be considered since it has presented itself to us."

"If we were to build an entirely new facility under the ice of the third planet, the composition of the ice itself would help in masking our presence. Alliance records of the chemical analysis show a large occurrence of deuterium and tritium; these two substances would serve to scatter the signatures of our activities there while leaving the original facility appearing abandoned. Provided it was deep enough under the ice, a substantial base could be built in this system," Alfred replied.

"We still have the problem of two destroyed Raptors and a team leader to replace," Cathy said quietly. "Team Ithica will have to return to Hades, and the Raptors can only be built at Phoenix Base."

Jana nodded her agreement. "Yes, they will. Let's wait and see what Command has to say about this plan. Once that's decided, we can figure out how to get the teams back there and replace the two missing ships." She paused in thought. "Okay, how about this; we hold off making a decision until we know if we're free of the lock. Until then we look for targets for Zulu and Apache and plan out how to build the base. If we're lucky, we'll get word on this whole plan before we know if the Empire is on to us or not."

The rest of the Majors agreed and began their tasks. Major Sizani compiled his report and sent it off to both Admiral Williams and Admiral T'rolith. In the meantime, Jana and the other team leaders searched for likely targets for them to hit to distract the Empire from the Echelon system.

The next day, the AI in the group reported that it appeared that the Empire had lost them, but they were beginning to search in this direction. The clock was now running for the plan. If they were going to build this base, they needed to distract the Empire as soon as possible.

With the agreement of the other Majors, Jana and Sizani changed course for the targets they had decided on. One was a poorly defended Imperial supply point. The other was a minor reinforcement and repair facility. They were both in the same general direction they had originally been heading before destroying the light cruisers, yet both targets were also some distance from the other. By destroying these facilities, it should thoroughly confuse the Empire as to the squadron's actual location.

Finally, two days from Apache's attack, which would be the first of the two, orders were received from Command in the form a prerecorded data burst.

Jana had Gouyen decode it and play the message in the common area.

The first image to come up was that of the Raptor Section Commander, General Ty Anders.

"Let me begin by telling all of you that you are definitely living up to your reputations. You're in the middle of running from the enemy, and you want to stop and set up a Bed and Breakfast. Well, you're getting your wish.

"Currently, we are refitting a medium freighter with enigma armor and stealth systems in order to deliver hard to get supplies to the Echelon system undetected. It will be flown by unassigned Raptor personnel in order to keep your exact location as confidential as possible. We will also be assigning two additional teams, as well as support staff, to you once the base is built. The replacement Raptors will be on the first load sent to you. Team Ithica is to return to Hades for retraining as soon as Circe is installed and verifies the new ship.

He paused and looked down a moment. "We all feel the loss when one of us doesn't make it home. Major Rathbone has been added to the wall. I feel I should tell you that Officer Ben Conan of Raptor Damocles died of injuries sustained in action on the planet Hyperion. Major Williams was also gravely injured but is responding to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery.

"In a moment, the Admiral will fill you in on the particulars and other pertinent info you might want to know. So, in closing, I want you all to know how proud you have made me. I am honored and humbled to be your commander. Good work, and God speed."

The next image to form on the screen was that of Admiral Ian Williams. "Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to you, the planet of Hyperion has been returned to Alliance control. Even with your amazing actions, the fight did not go well." He told the teams about the battle and the strange troops that appeared at the end as well as the civilian losses. "What happened at Hyperion will not be allowed to happen again. Now that we know of these strange suicide troops, we will be taking measures to prevent their interference in future battles.

"Now, to the heart of the matter. You have a very bold and dangerous idea. Alliance command is allowing you to proceed. That's actually what has taken so long to get this message sent to you; we needed to talk to the Croanians about using that system. Although there is a bunch of legal shit involved here, until further notice that system is yours. I mean that literally; Major Jana Cromwell has been granted Croanian citizenship and basically given that system as her property. Like I said, there is a bunch of legal shit involved, but the bottom line is, you can do what you need to do there. Considering its location, I wouldn't plan to set up a retirement home there.

"So, if you guys need anything out there, let us know, and we'll see what we can do to help you out. After discussing it with the Council and General Anders, it has been decided to promote Major Cromwell to Colonel and place her in nominal charge of the facility there. Due to my personal relationship with Major Cromwell, I removed myself from that decision. Included in this packet is an updated list of potential targets for you, and what we know of their defenses. We will do what we can to keep you as up-to-date as possible on new tech and weapons.

"Echelon Base will not officially exist. You'll be a combat version of Area 51 or Kapustin Yar, but with far less publicity. You'll also be an Alliance Base not a Terran one. Which means that some of the teams we send you might not be human, try to keep that in mind when building your living and recreational areas.

"The Croanians will be listing the system as lost and officially forbid travel there. Travel was pretty much out of the question before, but now it'll be official so to speak. Basically, it will be quietly added to the weekly navigation updates issued by the Alliance to non-military ships. No official announcement will be made, but Echelon will be taken off the books. There is a possibility that you might find pirates hiding there. The Croanians would rather you killed them than return them as 'pirates are without honor and do not deserve to live'. Honestly, your location needs to remain a secret, so you might have to destroy anyone you find there.

"Folks, to be completely honest with you, I'm not comfortable having people that far from home and relatively unsupported. I was against creating the base for that reason. However, Ty agreed with you, and Admiral T'rolith approved it, so you get your wish. I want all of you to hear me on this; if it gets too hairy out there, or it looks like you can't hold it. Rig it to explode and get the hell out of there. I do not enjoy adding names to that wall, and I have no desire to add any of yours; understand?

"You've been given mostly free reign to terrorize the hell out of the Empire. However, from time to time we will be calling on you to support this or that mission or maybe provide assistance for a fleet or mission in your area. We will need to know what you're doing, of course, in case it clashes with something else. So, keep us in the loop and don't get killed - that's an order."

While not a fully military target, the distribution center on the planet of Tekkera Nee was a massive supply distribution point for Imperial forces operating in this sector. The center itself couldn't even be called a military base, since it only had a platoon of soldiers as guards. Other than a small fleet of freighters, there were no fighters or guardian ships of any kind in the system.

Jana and her team were actually rather lucky in that during shift changes, the warehouses were all but unoccupied except for the guards, and the freighters were all Imperial. However, instead of a fully aerial attack, she and her team took the time to place charges in the warehouses in locations that would ensure the destruction of the supplies they held. Once all the charges were placed, they used the Raptor and its weapons to destroy the freighters. Although it was during a shift change, the workers ran for shelters when the freighters were attacked. With the civilians out of the way, it made blowing up the warehouses much easier.

Fourteen hours after their arrival, the Apache and her team were on their way back to the Echelon system. Compared to the other mission, Tekkera Nee had been a milk run.

The Imperial base on the moon 'Gar' in the Groth system was not as large as Grimaria had been, but it had the same function on a much smaller scale. Sizani frowned when he saw that there was a small fleet of warships in port for servicing. This mission would be far more complex and time consuming than originally planned.

Both capitol class ships were in refit gantries in the orbital yard along with two of the cruisers. Sensors reported all four ships were powered down and the carrier had its reactors removed. The battleship still had its reactors, but was powered down and a large section of hull removed for repairs. The two cruisers were getting weapons systems replaced and were also in a dormant condition. They were not, however, unprotected. Six light cruisers patrolled the system while two more heavy cruisers maintained parking orbits around the moon near where the shipyard was located. In addition to that, several wings of fighters patrolled the inner system continuously. The raptor team would have to be very careful in planning and executing their attack.

Sizani laid out a bold plan that called for the placement of demolition charges on the hulls of the ships in the yard, as well as the dry dock facility itself. The two heavy cruisers would also get charges, as would the large base on the airless moon. The fighters and light cruisers would be ignored.

Raptor Zulu would then set the timers on the charges and leave the system, using one of the large gas giants to mask their jump point. One hour later, the charges would detonate and destroy the facilities in the system.

However, the plan did not remain intact. While planting the charges at the dry dock facility, one of the heavy cruisers and four of the light cruisers departed the system. Major Sizani just shrugged; they would get those ships another day, for now, his team still had a job to do. With the charges at the dry dock placed, the Zulu moved on to the Heavy Cruiser and the base on the moon.

The charges themselves were mostly dormant, having only a small cloaking unit to hide them until detonation. The anti-matter inside them was heavily shielded and, until they were ready to detonate, were virtually untraceable.

Unless someone physically tripped over one.

Just as the final charges were being placed at the moon base, Nolwaz, the Zulu AI, informed her commander that one of the charges at the dry dock facility had been discovered.

"Just perfect! What else can go wrong with this mission!" One of the Zulu team members said over the comm.

"There is always a chance that the devices could be found before detonation. Nolwaz, what is the status of the device; do they know what it is?" Sizani asked.

"Negative Major, at present, a worker tripped over the device presently near the engineering section of the battleship. I do not believe he has reported it yet," the AI replied.

"Understood, continue to monitor the situation. Do not activate the device, but stand ready to detonate as quickly as possible. Zulu team, we need to leave. Now," Sizani ordered.

The team quickly returned to the Raptor and they left the moon for their predetermined exit point. "Nolwaz, what is the status of the devices?" the Major asked as he flew away from the moon.

"The worker has lost track of its exact location and is currently trying to relocate it. No alarm has been raised, nor is there panic in his actions," the AI replied.

"There sure as hell will be in a few more minutes!" one of the team members replied softly. Sizani ignored him.

"What are the odds he will relocate the device?"

The AI was silent a moment. "If he continues to search, he will eventually find it again. However, he has already been reprimanded once for dereliction."

"If he locates it again before he is called back to work, I will need to detonate all the devices at that facility immediately," Sizani ordered. "If not, we stay with the original time line for detonation."

The planned exit point for the team had been near the closest of the gas giants. Ironically, or perhaps luckily, one of the light cruisers that left the system was the only one that would have been able to see their jump. Since it had departed, they're escape should go unobserved.

Sizani felt they had gotten lucky, if such a thing as luck could be said to exist. The worker that tripped over the device was called back to work by his superior before he could relocate the demolition charge. The Zulu jumped to hyperspace without incident and the charges were detonated on schedule; as soon as the raptor jumped to hyperspace.

Groth-Gar base was completely destroyed in the attack. The event left the Imperial fleets in that sector mostly unsupported and susceptible to large scale attack by the Alliance.

Palace of Imperial Enlightenment

Onalau City

Planet Proferus Three

Orgatan System, Gar Sector

"Shalo, we have heard some disturbing reports of the battles there. Report," the hologram of the Emperor said from the throne.

Shalo bowed as was proper. "Imperial Majesty, we have indeed had some serious setbacks. It would seem that the Alliance has learned some new tricks." Shalo replied and outlined the losses sustained in the last weeks. "For the time being, I have halted all offensive activity until we can replace some of the key facilities. Specifically, the Grimaria Base and the base at Groth-Gar. We will also need to replace the ships that were lost in the fighting; I have sent the full report in just this morning. You should have it shortly."

"You would call a major defeat such as this a setback?" the Emperor asked.

"Yes, Majesty. That is all this is. We lost one very minor planet that we can retake. The rest can be rebuilt. I will admit we lost a great deal of materiel as well as personnel, but we did not lose the space. The Alliance did not invade. We believe that the initial attack on Grimaria was a distraction, whose sole purpose was to keep us from responding to the Hyperion invasion. The gates there were destroyed before they could be scanned by the enemy, aside from the damage done, nothing more was lost.

"However, we have learned that the Alliance now has a small, well equipped assault teams capable of operations deep in our space. They have superior stealth abilities that make them all but invisible to us, and the soldiers used are well trained in multiple disciplines of warfare. While we can track them in hyperspace, we can only do so if we can obtain a solid fix on them prior to their transition and we remain within four light years. I should mention that two of these teams were destroyed shortly after the main attack at Grimaria. We believe the attacks at Tekkera Nee and Groth-Gar were carried out by the survivors of the Grimaria farce," Shalo replied.

"After all this time, how do you see the Alliance gaining this new ability?" the Emperor asked.

"Imperial Majesty, the only thing that has changed here is the addition of the new humans. They were the primary force that captured Hyperion and defeated the Sword of Light there…"

"You are mistaken Shalo, the Sword was not defeated. They accomplished their mission," the Emperor replied.

"Of course, I am mistaken then. Still I believe it is these new humans that have brought new tactics and new technology to the Alliance. I have issued orders to double the effort to locate their planets before this technology can spread. These new humans are a grave threat to us and our plans here," Shalo replied.

"Yes they are. Shalo, as you know, I've spoken with the Gods on this matter. These new humans will rise to power in the Alliance and eventually destroy the Empire. If you cannot stop them now, in that galaxy, they will certainly burn our worlds to the ground around us. Shalo, the fate of the Empire rests on your shoulders. Find them and destroy them utterly. Destroy them before they destroy us." The Emperor sounded strangely different now. "I've seen it happen, Shalo. They showed me what will come to pass. Invisible warships, hidden demon soldiers killing… everyone. The Palace in flames." He said softly, in almost a whisper.

Shalo saw a priest enter the image. "Majesty, you are not well, come, let us attend you."

The Emperor nodded, but pushed the priest aside so he could see Shalo. "Shalo, you are our Marshall there. You will be our protector. You will find these humans, find them, kill them on their planets and in their stations and ships. Then use whatever you need to erase their existence from the universe! There can be no chance at all of their survival! This is the highest priority! Above all else, the Empire must survive!"

Shalo saw one of the priests inject the Emperor with something, and he slowly collapsed into himself. As if using the rest of his strength, he looked up at Shalo. "Not even dust can remain, Shalo. If it does, we will die."

The Priests lifted the unconscious Emperor from his throne and carried him out of the pickup area. A very wizened, senior Priest, one of the Elders, remained and was studying Shalo.

"Lord Shalo, I am told you have honest concern for his Majesty. That is rare in this day. I do not need to tell you; he is still recovering from his ordeal with the gods."

Shalo nodded. "I can see that, Revered Elder, will he be alright?"

The Elder was still studying him. "It is still early, but all indications tell us he will eventually return fully to us. However, the ordeal has left him… changed."

"I will continue to offer prayers for his recovery Elder. Is there more I can do to aide him?" Shalo asked.

"Continue as you have. He picked you for the position you now hold for a very good reason; reasons we are only now beginning to understand ourselves.  The message our Lord Emperor has brought to us is becoming more clear now. To that end, we are sending Inquisitor Daneel and the remainder of the Circadian Guard to you. Once you find one of the human worlds, they will sterilize it for you prior to its destruction.

"I feel I do not need to caution you in this. However, I will remind you that humans are very important to us. The fact that these… demons are also human is not lost on us. Be very certain of the targets you give to the Guards; we cannot afford to lose a productive world to a mistake," the Elder explained.

"I understand, Elder. When a target is selected, there will be no mistake," Shalo replied.

The Elder nodded. "Very well. The Guard will depart in six days. I am led to understand you will also be receiving a great many supplies. The gates will be in open operation for extended periods of time, be sure these new humans do not detect them. These gates cannot be destroyed; do you understand, Lord Shalo?"

"I do, Honored Elder."

The Elder nodded more to himself than to Shalo. "May the Gods guide your path, temper your heart, and keep you from harm, Lord Shalo. Until we speak again." The image near the throne faded and was gone.

"Glamia, give me a map of this world," Shalo ordered.

She immediately complied and a holographic globe of the planet took form in the air before Shalo's desk. He studied it for a few moments before he stopped its slow rotation. "Here, this place," He selected a large, fairly isolated island in the southern hemisphere. "Have this entire island evacuated immediately. Be sure no one remains and place a thousand click quarantine around it. No one is to go anywhere near this island nor will they pass over it lower than a thousand K. When the Guards arrive, send them there."

"Yes Master," she replied and began entering the orders into the terminal.

Shalo manually had the image he was studying zoom out so he could see an exaggerated view of the entire system, including the two massive gates in deep space just outside of the system boundary. "Order four additional battle fleets to return here immediately. I will give you their final disposition before they arrive. Order the rest of the fleets to maintain a defensive posture and to continue repairs where needed." He paused. "Order all fleets and battle groups to dispatch two light cruisers apiece to form up at Grimaria. That group will then join the search for the human world."

"It will be done Master. You received a report from the spies at Delle Morsi this morning. It now available for you to review at your convenience," Glamia replied.

"Oh? Are they trying to redeem themselves?" Shalo asked.

"I do not know my Master, but they have managed to gain some information regarding the new humans. As you know, we have not yet been able to stage the raid to place the new spies, however, they are ready and have been sent to Grimaria pending approval of the operation to insert them," Glamia explained.

Shalo returned to his desk and opened the report from the spies. He lifted one bushy eyebrow when an image was also opened. He read the information and then pondered the image of the young human in it.

"So, Admiral Ian Williams, it is good to meet you." Shalo said to himself and smiled.


United Nations Building

New York City, Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Ian wanted to take a short vacation on Earth at one of the American ski resorts. Arrangements had taken a great deal of time because the United States still refused to see the Terrans as their own country. The Council did have an Ambassador at the United Nations, but the United States had refused to accept one.

The Ambassador had been working on arranging visitation rights for the citizens of Terra and there had been a few countries that had agreed; mostly European and South American countries. However, none of the 'major' countries had yet to agree. The United States refused to allow armed guards for visiting dignitaries in any form; stating they were perfectly capable of providing protection for the dignitaries themselves. Due to pressure from the UN they did finally agree to allow guards provided they did not carry lethal weaponry.

There were other issues as well. The United States would have to recognize 'Terra' as a separate and sovereign nation; something they had been resisting since they still believed that they could capture some of the advanced technology held by the Terrans. By recognizing them as a sovereign nation, it would complicate their attempts. The United States would also have to allow Terran craft general access to American airspace. Exceptions had been made to allow for UN visits as well as civilian and commercial access to Spaceport America, but this was a different matter to them. Finally, there was the issue of diplomatic courtesy and immunity.

In order to get the treaty worked out, the Terran Council would have to allow visitation as well, but they had been allowing that already on a case by case basis. However, the United States wanted other concessions as well; they wanted detailed reports of the comings and goings of all ships in the system, a full and complete listing of all weapons systems available to the Terrans up to and including a listing of all warships and any other defensive systems currently deployed in the system. They also demanded a listing of all personnel including age, race and place of origin.

The Terran Ambassador laughed at the list of demands when he read them and shook his head. He looked at the frowning American Ambassador. "You're out of your mind. Look, we are willing to allow that any guards accompanying visiting dignitaries will carry only non-lethal weaponry. We are also making the effort to ask for your permission for our personnel to visit your nation. We are making an effort to at least try to normalize relations with the countries of this planet. What you seem to be overlooking is that this is a formality we are extending to you as a matter of courtesy. At present, we are recruiting from every nation on this planet regardless of diplomatic relations. How do you suppose those people are retrieved?

"Ambassador, the United States has no more right to our confidential information than any other nation has to yours or each other’s. You cannot use the excuse of our being a threat to your nation as it has already been proven that we have no interest in making war on this planet or any of the peoples here. We have enough problems with the fucking Empire!"

"Yeah, so what will happen when the war with this Empire comes to this planet? We have a right to know what you are doing to defend us? We also have the right to have an active say in how that is accomplished. To that end we demand to know what weapons you have available to you and how they are deployed. You have taken it upon yourselves to force your guardianship on us and then refuse to give us a say in your actions. That is unacceptable; we have the right to know what you have done in our defense," the American Ambassador countered. "We have the right to know what the hell is going on out there!"

The concern was a valid one, so the Ambassador spoke to the Terran Council and got permission for a new information sharing policy. The Terran Ambassador asked for and received permission to address the Council.

"Ambassadors, I have been given permission to share news of Galactic events with you. In order to set the stage for that, I will explain our current position in that political environment.

"We are allied with the Alliance of Races, which is the force defending this half of the galaxy against the forces of the Empire. This Alliance is comprised of every still free, space-faring race in the Galaxy. That would include the Talosian Alliance, whose representatives you have already met. As well as the other 'human' race called Benesians that are, spatially speaking, our closest neighbors." He briefly explained the structure of the Alliance of Races and how the Council worked.

"I would also mention that the Alliance has never made so much as a mild insult to us. You are unaware of the political situation in this regard, but it is such that we have entered into a mutual defense and technology sharing treaty with this body. Simply put Ambassadors, we have nothing to fear from them at all; now or in the future.

"You have all met and spoken to the Talosian delegates that visited here some time ago. Shortly after their visit, criminal elements in the government of that nation stages a coup to over-throw the government. An event that had never happened to them before. Part of their military doctrine, and because of the power of their warships, they had a self-destruct protocol programmed into the ships to prevent them from ever being used in this manner. The result was the almost complete destruction of their entire defensive fleets.

At present, we are building a replacement fleet for that nation using the latest technology at our disposal. We are also refitting or building new ships for the other races of the Alliance of Races. When complete, the facilities here will be the largest, most complete ship building complex in the Galaxy. Because of that, we are also one of the most secret and closest guarded secrets the Alliance of Races have. We are aware that by assuming this role in the Alliance, we have placed a very large target on ourselves." He paused to gather his thoughts. "By doing so, we have become very important to the Alliance. While we are, by far, the smallest of the member races, we are currently one of the most important, trusted, and respected members.

"Recently, Admiral Williams led an Alliance force in the liberation of a captured Talosian World. The event, while highly important as well as successful, was a diversion. The real target was a facility deep in Imperial space that they had been using for terror attacks on non-military Alliance worlds." He went on to explain the non-classified parts of the missions. He finished with one last comment. "Ambassadors, there are two things you need to understand about these events; While both missions were authorized by the Alliance of Races, the liberation of the planet Hyperion was the first time in the history of this war that the Alliance has been able to retake a world from the Empire, and that the mission in Imperial space was accomplished by our Terran forces alone."

"Ambassador, might we at least have some of our own military men with your forces as observers?" the Israeli Ambassador asked.

The Terran Ambassador smiled. "How many more do you want?"

"Excuse me? I was unaware we had any people with your forces," the woman replied.

"Rear Admiral Joshua Hawkins who is now serving as a Commodore in charge of the Pleiades Stations in the Centauri System. Major General Vladimir Zolninisk who is now serving as the overall commander of Marine training on the planet Atlas in the Centauri System. Rav seren Aviel Ancel formerly of the Israeli Mussad who is now second in command of the Terran Intelligence division, should I go on?" the Ambassador replied. "Ambassadors, there are people who you know and trust already working with us. I will grant you that none of them will be willing to pass on classified information to you, but have you even bothered to call and ask them their opinions?"


Hover Tank training area

Rostov United Arms Military Base (RUAM)

Northern Continent

Atlas, Centauri system

Sol Sector

"It's good to see you all again, Doctors! How have you been?" Alan said, grinning at his friends.

Doctor Schmidt smiled back at him. "We have been doing much better. I would thank you for the suggestions you made to correct the flaws in the system. Honestly, we were at a loss for how to proceed."

Tom rolled his eyes. "Actually, I was thinking adding a skip plate of sorts to cover the rear, but that would have limited the unit's ability to move like a human. Your suggestion of using a hard force shield was perfect."

Alan just shook his head. "You guys would have gotten there without me, I just happen to think of it first. I saw in the project notes that the balance, stability, and endurance issues have also been corrected. Does that mean you are ready to see if these are ready?"

"Ja," Doctor Schmidt nodded vigorously. "We believe we have covered our bases this time. However, we insist that the units be retested fully before sending them back to the production facility."

Alan nodded and looked around. "Tom, forgive me, but I don't see Olivia? Is everything alright?"

Tom grinned. "She's getting checked out by the medical center. They wanted to make sure she and the baby made the trip okay."

"Baby! Congratulations! I had no idea! When is she due?" Alan asked.

"In a few days. She did tell me to say hello for her, and to let you know she will be very pissed off if you wreck her drone again!" Tom replied, still grinning.

"Nien! If it can be broken, you must try to do so!" Doctor Schmidt said. "We will know what needs to be fixed!"

Alan just shook his head and chuckled. "Well, I brought some top of the line help this time. Doctors, ladies, and Tom…" he winked at the man as Tom rolled his eyes. "These gentlemen are members of the Terran Marines that have been assigned to me for another project. They have all been well trained and have extensive combat experience. They are the same folks that will be issued these drones when they're ready. I've briefed them in the same manner they would be briefed by a training officer. That is to say, while they are here to assist us, they have no knowledge of any of your testing notes or design concepts. All they have been given are the operational parameters of the units and instruction on how to operate them. I set it up this way on purpose; I want them to come into this project without any preconceived ideas about what to expect. I felt that would give us the best data we can get on the units."

Doctor Schmidt looked a little skeptical, but Doctor Hiram nodded his understanding. "Yes, that is exactly what we need. Very well done, Major: thank you."

Alan chuckled. "They promoted me, Doctor. I'm a colonel now, in command of the Raptor Poseidon."

"You're a Raptor Commander? Wow, we had no idea!" one of the women said. "We sure got lucky getting you as our test pilot!"

Alan grinned at the woman. "We're not that special! I hate to rush this, but we do have a limited amount of time we can be away from our other projects. Since it's a bit later in the day, I'd like to get my team fitted for the suits so we can begin tomorrow, if that's alright, Doctor's?"

Doctor Hiram nodded. "Of course! Colonel, we still have your original suit and have been making sure it stayed current with upgrades and such, so you shouldn't need to be refitted. Why don't you and Doctor Schmidt go over the changes since you were last with us, while I take you team to be fitted?"

"That would be great Doctor," Alan replied. "Herr Doktor, I am at your disposal."

As Doctor Hiram lead the Marines into another room, Doctor Schmidt led Alan over to a holographic terminal. "There has not been any changes to the base machine, Heir Colonel. However, we have changed a few things." As the doctor began going over the changes and modifications to the drones, Alan got the impression that no one had created a schedule for the tests to be performed.

"Herr Doktor, has anyone made up a schedule for these tests? I would like to go over it as well and make sure we cover everything you need tested," Alan asked.

The old man shook his head. "I have not seen one, Colonel. A lot of this is because we insisted on further testing before allowing the unit back into production. Because of that, I do not believe we are getting the support the project deserves."

"This project has great potential, Doctor. It increases combat effectiveness while reducing the risk to our soldiers. It deserves to have much more support, but there are a lot of other projects in the works as well." He winked at the older gentleman and activated his comm device. "Andreya, can I borrow you for a few moments?"

"Certainly Colonel, what do you need?" Andreya replied. Alan had activated his virtual audio system so the doctor could hear her as well.

"Well, the FROG project doesn't seem to be getting the support it should from the base. For example, no one has created a schedule for the tests we're going to be running. Would you be willing to work with the design team and work out a schedule for us so we can make sure everything gets checked out?" Alan asked.

"I would be honored, Colonel!" Andreya replied. "I will also check into why this project has been neglected. That doesn't sound like my brother at all; usually, Mathias is very conscientious when it comes to assisting the designers and researchers."

Schmidt looked confused. "Herr Schmidt, allow me to introduce Officer Andreya of the Raptor Poseidon. Among other things, she is sister to the Main AI at Phoenix base, Mathias. Andreya, with me is the lead scientist on this project, Doctor Wilhelm Schmidt."

"Your Officer Andreya is an AI?" Heir Schmidt asked.

Alan nodded. "Although she is considered a tactical asset, she is also a non-combatant. Honestly, I don't think I could get out of bed in the morning without her help!"

"Well, I do have to wake you up in the morning!" Andreya replied teasingly. "Herr Doktor, may I have access to your project data? With access to your notes and designs, I can create a test regimen that will help you finalize your work. Of course, standard AI security protocols will apply."

"Ja! Of course! The assistance of an AI would be invaluable to us! Thank you very much, Officer Andreya!" the old man replied and quickly input his authorization codes.

Andreya was silent a moment. "Okay, now this is odd. The entire project container has a seal on it. If I didn't know it was there, I wouldn't even be able to locate it. There is also a tag that would prohibit me from mentioning it to anyone if I were not a Raptor AI. Alan, this project has been sabotaged."

"What?" Alan asked, surprised. "Can you tell by whom?"

"No, but now I know why Mathias wasn’t helping them; he wouldn't even be able to acknowledge the project existed," Andreya replied. "Give me a few minutes while I figure out how to break this seal." She paused a few minutes. "Alan, I recommend increasing security for the department and personnel until we can figure all this out. Whoever has done this has accessed it recently."

"How recently?" Alan asked.

"Four hours ago the container was accessed from within RUAM, but not from that area. Whoever it is, followed them there," Andreya said.

"Get me a secure line to General Anders right away please," Alan asked.

"Right away, Sir." Andreya replied.

"What's going on Alan? I thought you were on Atlas helping the FROG developers?" Ty replied.

"I am, General. We have a problem here. The project has never really gotten the support it should have from Phoenix base, so I asked Andreya to take a look to help us work out a testing plan. Doctor Schmidt gave her access to the project data but she found a can of worms," Alan said and told him what Andreya had found. While they were talking, Andreya added more comments as she found things she felt she needed to report.

"Sirs, the production version of the drone was altered prior to manufacture. A much softer alloy was substituted for key frame components in the assembly program. I am finding other items that appear to have been altered as well; erroneous programming that would cause random weapon failures, some of them could be catastrophic. There is a section in the feedback synthesizer that could seriously hurt or even kill an operator. Sirs, none of this is part of the original programming, that is clear. As designed, this unit should have been just fine," the AI reported.

"What is your assessment of the threat to the designers?" Ty asked.

"I'm actually very surprised some of them have not been harmed already. They longer they are allowed to remain as a functional part of this team, the greater they risk the alterations they made could be discovered," Andreya replied.

"Sir, one of the team members, and Doctor Schmidt's daughter is currently at the medical section; she is in the late stages of pregnancy and was being checked out before returning to the lab. She's out there alone," Alan said anxiously.

"Andreya, contact the medical unit and have them detain the woman until Alan can arrive to escort her. Then contact base security and have them secure the entire testing facility. Alan, secure the lab and the rest of the team before you go get the young woman. I'll get someone out there as soon as I can to take over security. The Raptor AI can assist the designers and provide data security at the same time. Until then, Andreya will have to do it. Armor up brother, you're back on the clock for now."  Ty replied. "I'll call the Admiral."

"We'll need more time here, Ty," Alan replied.

"Don't sweat it; your team can work on the other project just as well from there as they can on Earth. Your other mission is far enough along that we can make the designer's safety a priority for you. With you helping them, and another team guarding them, we should be able to track down the bad guys pretty quickly," Ty finished.

"Alright, I'll get right on it. I'm worried about Olivia," Alan replied.

"Well, go get her then!" Ty replied. "Hades Base out."

"Sir, I was able to contact the medical center and they will ask Doctor Schmidt-Wilcox to remain there until you arrive to pick her up. According to the nurse I spoke to, she was just about to leave," Andreya said.

"Thanks Andreya. Herr Doktor, please ask your team to assemble here in the lab immediately. I'll have my people get armed so you are protected until we figure out what's going on," Alan said.

"I do not understand this Alan. How could someone do this?" Schmidt asked. "It makes no sense!"

"I agree, but the fact is you are in danger. We need to make sure you are all safe, then we can figure out how to proceed. Now, please assemble your team," Alan replied, sadly.

While Alan had been talking to Ty, Andreya moved the Raptor from the base landing area to a place closer to the lab so the rest of the team, as well as the Marines that had accompanied them, could have access to their equipment. While Alan put on his armor, Andreya got one of the land rails ready. The team at the lab had been given a car for their use while on the base, and Alan borrowed it as well. It wouldn't be good to transport a pregnant Olivia in a land rail.

Alan drove the land rail while Andreya drove the hover car. The clinic Olivia was at was only eight blocks away or they would have just taken the Raptor to get her. She had been planning to use the base public transportation system to get back to the lab, the same way she got to the clinic in the first place. What Alan was having difficulty with was why the saboteurs had not acted sooner? Why had they waited? There was still no guarantee that they would attack the members of the team at all, but that was a chance Alan was not willing to take. The whole thing just smelled fishy as hell.

"Andreya, have you discovered when the bad guys first accessed the project files?" Alan asked over the comms while they were driving. He had one of the Marines as a gunner while the rest of the team deployed around the lab to make sure it was secure.

"It's difficult to nail down precisely since the intruder used lab access. However, it would have had to have been after you tested the drone initially. I reviewed the tests you did and the drone would have failed if the current assembly parameters had been used to assemble it," Andreya replied.

"I remember Tom telling me that they had to build their own assembly units in the lab for the prototypes. They didn't have access to the base units at that time because of the emergency with the Caldarians," Alan replied.

"Hmm, that would predate our first contact with the Talosians. At that point in time, only Earth-born people were at Phoenix base. Although the alteration to the program was very clumsy, almost amateurish in fact, the knowledge needed to do this was not widely known. I think, based on that assumption, we would have to put initial access after first contact. I will grant that someone could have altered the program before then, putting the AI block in place required specialized knowledge of how AI work and access data. Even now, that level of information is strictly controlled," Andreya replied.

"Back then, Mathias was still pretty new to the base wasn't he?" Alan asked.

"Yes, at that time, he had only just been installed. They were still working some minor bugs out of his systems," Andreya replied. "So you have an idea about who did this?"

"Maybe. Can you do an archival search to see if anyone had submitted any ideas remotely like the drone project? Possibly submitted by an adolescent?" Alan asked.

"Searching. Do you think a child did this?" Andreya asked. "I can see wanting the project to fail for revenge, but some of the alterations are seriously dangerous. They could have killed someone. But again, how could an adolescent have the required knowledge to put in that block? That took special knowledge restricted to a select few."

"Hackers can be resourceful people Andreya. If they think they've been wronged, they will act on it. Their pride won't allow them to just let it go," Alan explained. "It would also explain why no one has been attacked. Physical violence just isn't part of it."

"If this is an uneducated hacker, then he would have to have some serious skills. With all the AI prowling around the network searching for just that sort of activity, he would have to be elite," Andreya said.

"Could the part of the code that would hurt someone be accidental? Maybe not what the person intended?" Alan asked warming up to his idea.

Andreya was thoughtful for a moment. "That is possible; looking at how the feedback system was altered, it could have been a clumsy attempt to simply numb the operator's limb if a leg or arm took damage instead of immobilizing it. However, if the chest or head areas were to take damage with the current settings, it would be fatal to the operator." She paused. "Possible match identified. An idea for a manned mecha was submitted by a very bright young woman at Talos before the attack. In her proposal, she used a closed bio-feedback system utilizing a cybernetic neural interface helmet worn by the pilot as a means of not only stabilizing the mecha, but for gross and fine motor control as well.

"She was rather vague as to the workings of the system, but she included a sample of potential programming that could be used in the mecha. Her programming skills are far about others of her educational levels at the time. If it were not for the fact that she was supposed to have died in the attack, she would be a good candidate as a suspect in this case; provided your assumptions are correct. However, again, how would she have been able to put the AI block in? AI language has nothing in common with standard programming languages in use at that time."

Alan grinned. "Let's be sure to ask her when we find her. What's her name and how old was she?"

"You believe the sabotage was done by a ghost?" Andreya replied. "Chelsea Irons was thirteen years old at the time of her death."

"I don't think Miss Irons is actually a ghost. I think something happened to her during the attack on Talos and she got a new identity. Using facial recognition, compare Miss Irons to the wounded Talos survivors. Specifically, those listed as new arrivals the day of the attack that might have lost a portion of their right arm," Alan suggested as they arrived at the base medical center. "I'll go get Olivia since she knows me. I doubt you'll need to, but keep your eyes open. Make sure the team doesn't let anyone out of their sight, not even for bathroom breaks. I'm pretty sure Miss Irons doesn't want to hurt anyone, but I don't want her to escape, either."

"You think she's a member of the team?" Andreya asked.

"She is either a research assistant or very close to one of the team members; it's the easiest way to get access to the lab and data files," Alan replied. "We have to remember she's really only fourteen years old. She's probably been passing herself off as an adult, though."

Andreya chuckled. "I found her, she's been using the name Heather Kinds. She's living with one of the computer systems research assistants. She came with the team as a sort of vacation. She's been working as a data analyst in the administration section of Phoenix Base."

"Okay, hang on a sec, I'm at the clinic," he said. When he arrived, he saw a very pregnant Olivia in one of the more comfortable chairs waiting for him. A uniformed security person was standing near her. Alan showed his ID and relieved the security agent, thanking her for her time.

As the guard left, Olivia held out her hand so Alan could help her stand up. "Okay, Hotshot, just what the hell is going on?"

Alan grinned at her. "I'll tell you once we get you out to the car. Are you sure you shouldn't be in a hover chair?"

"I'm pregnant, not crippled! I'll be fine just as soon as little Peter decides to arrive," Olivia replied.

Alan gave her a look of mock surprise. "Really? Wasn't it a 'little peter' that got you into this situation in the first place?"

Olivia burst out laughing and slapped his shoulder. "You and Tom are horrible! He said the exact same thing! Dad fell out of his chair he was laughing so hard!"

Alan led her back toward the exit while she calmed down. "But really, what's with all the security stuff? Did something happen?"

"You could say that. The drone project has been tampered with. Your original prototype was fine the way it was but the person that tampered with it changed a bunch of things to make it fail. Andreya discovered the issue when I asked her to give us a hand coming up with a testing schedule," Alan replied.

"Who's Andreya?" Olivia asked.

"I am Doctor," Andreya replied as she opened the vehicle door for the woman. "I'm the tactical AI for the Raptor Poseidon; Colonel Carlson's ship. It's an honor to meet you."

"Let's get you back to the lab. Andreya can tell you all about it while we go," Alan replied.

When they returned to the lab, Olivia was upset, but had it under control.  "Please don't say anything to anyone else about what you were told. As far as the rest of the team is concerned, the identity of the saboteur is still unknown," Alan asked.

Olivia nodded. "I won't say anything. What are you going to do with her once you catch her?"

Alan shrugged. "I don't know what'll happen to her. She broke a ton of laws and security restrictions. Normally, she would be executed for treason and espionage. She is a minor that has been successfully posing as an adult. In our current society, that is not as easy as it used to be. Because of that, I could only speculate as to what her punishment may end up being. Thankfully, stuff like this is rare in the extreme."

"I think execution might be a little harsh; I mean, yes she did mass with stuff that could have hurt folks, but it didn't, and it's obvious that hadn't been her intent. I can even understand her actions to some degree if she believes we stole her ideas. To tell you the truth, she isn't wrong. The idea for the drone is based on her original suggestion. However, we believed her to be dead so she wasn't included in the design phase. Unfortunately, there is no place in the documentation to list whose concept the project is based on. However, I did reference Chelsea in several places in the introduction of the research proposal. I made sure her name will always be associated with the project. I had intended it to be a memorial to her and her father," Olivia explained.

"Why her father?" Alan asked.

"He designed the muscle fibers used to make the drones move. I'm sure you've seen standard assembly robots in use on Earth, right?" Olivia asked.

When Alan nodded, she continued. "They are very precise in their movements and somewhat jerky. For what they do, they need to be precise. So the motors and actuators use in them are perfect for that application. However, we needed a more fluid form of motion while still retaining precision. These muscles were the answer. I wouldn't be surprised if Andreya didn't have them in her android body."

Andreya smiled. "No, my body is almost as human as yours is. I can even get pregnant if I wanted. This body is a bio-genetic construct. However, that is still somewhat of a secret. I can tell those I trust, but it's not common knowledge."

"Thank you, I won't tell anyone, but if I may, can I call on you from time to time to learn more?" Olivia asked.

"Sure, but I hope you understand I might be too busy to answer right away. Alan tends to keep me pretty busy," Andreya replied.

Alan nodded toward the door into the lab. "Come on, let's join the others." He paused. "Just so you know, Heather is in there; she was called in as part of the protection order."

"Thanks for the warning. How are you going to handle this?" Olivia asked.

Alan shrugged. "That'll depend mostly on Miss Irons and how she'll react to learning the full knowledge of her actions. Either way, we will be arresting her. What happens then will depend mostly on her."

When Tom saw Olivia he all but ran to her to make sure she was alright. She smiled at him and gave him a quick kiss. Alan caught Heir Doctor Schmidt smiling at the pair, but he quickly changed his expression when he realized Alan had seen him.

"Okay can I ask everyone to gather over here so we can figure this out?" Alan called, pulling the project team together. He saw Heather looked a little nervous, but stuck by her friend. Lissa had gotten one of the other team members and made sure they were close to the girl.

When the team had gathered around and found places to sit, Alan began. "Earlier today, I asked an AI to assist us in planning out a test schedule for the drones. In order to ensure all the benchmarks were being met, she had to have access to the project data. As this was a specialized military AI, she has abilities and access levels that the civilian AI, like Mathias at Phoenix Base simply don't have. I'm telling you this because she found several problems that prove beyond doubt that this project has been sabotaged." Alan had to stop then as the group began talking and whispering to each other.

"Stay with me here folks, I'm getting there; we've learned a great deal about what's happened and what's going on. I'll explain everything, so please just be patient," Alan said loudly to be overheard. When the group quieted back down, he continued.

"Thank you. Now, the reason you were not getting the aide you should have been getting from Mathias is due to a special block placed on the data container. This block made it so a normal AI would ignore it. If asked, the AI in question would deny even being able to locate the container. Creating and placing this block took someone with the specialized knowledge of AI systems that is still restricted to selected individuals. Just keep that in mind for now and we'll come back to it later.

"Now, once that block was in place, it gave the saboteurs the ability to modify almost anything they wanted within the container of the project. The AI I asked to assist us found several places where these modifications have been made. Keep in mind that the part of the project you were working with in the lab itself could not have been modified because you would have caught that right away, so the modification could only be made to the production platen after it was sent to the base assembly bays. We believe the modifications were input while the project was still in the lab, but did not take effect until the data left the lab systems. If you will all remember, the two FROG drones I tested for you performed very well. That was because they were built in the lab, using your own assembly bays. The design platen did not leave the lab, so the modifications did not affect those prototypes.

"Some of the modifications were frustrating, but relatively harmless; altering the composition of the alloy used to form the frame to make it much weaker, rewriting control protocols so the systems would function erratically and other relatively harmless alterations that would do little more than discredit the project and the people that designed it - namely all of you. While all of these modifications were malicious, time, and resource consuming, not to mention the delay in getting this system out to our troops as soon as possible, there was one modification that was potentially lethal and could have proved fatal to an operator. The feedback system used for controlling the drone itself. The way it was modified would kill the operator if the drone would have taken damage to the head of the torso.

Heather stuck her hand in the air. "Uh, excuse me Sir, but if there was only that one modification that was potentially lethal, is it possible the person simply made a mistake and had not intended to harm the operators?"

Alan sighed and slowly nodded. "Yes Chelsea, we believe that part was simply a mistake you made and wasn't intentional." He waited for her to realize he had called her by her real name and accused her of sabotaging the project. "Miss Irons, I don't think you understood the consequences of your actions here are grounds to be charged with treason not only under Terran law, but in the Alliance as well. Treason during time of war is punishable by execution."

"Wait, Heather, what's he talking about?" the woman beside her asked, turning to her friend.

The girl looked down as tears formed in her eyes. "Heather Kinds was killed in the attack at Talos. My family and I were helping the newbies get to the shelters when we got hit. My family was killed along with Heather. I lost my arm that had my ID chip in it. I guess Heather's purse landed on me or something, because when I came to, I had a cybernetic arm and people were calling me Heather instead of Chelsea." She sniffed and wiped tears from her face. "I was in a bit of shock because of my folks dying. Heather had been an adult, so I just kept my mouth shut for the time being. I fully intended to have it corrected later.

"But then I heard about how our ideas had been stolen by another scientist I couldn't stand to just sit back and let credit for my dad's ideas go to someone else. I've had some experience with programming, so I put myself in a position where I could do something about it." She looked up and directly at Alan. "Colonel, no one was supposed to get hurt, I swear. I only wanted to kill the project for my dad."

Again Alan nodded his understanding. "I kind of figured it was something like that. Unfortunately, the laws you have broken here are pretty serious and I still have to arrest you. You're going to be charged with multiple crimes, because this was a military project; espionage and treason will be included in that list. At this moment, Admiral Williams is being briefed on your crimes and the status of this project. AI Mathias has been taken off-line to make sure no further tampering has been done to him either by you or as a result of your initial actions. Further, three military grade AI from Raptor teams like us will be going through every line of data and code in the computer systems of the base to make sure nothing else was damaged or affected. As a result, Admiral Williams will most likely have to place the entire sector on alert." He paused and just looked at the girl. "Chelsea, what you didn't know was that your revenge plot was for nothing. Olivia, could you please read the introduction you wrote in your proposal for this project?"

"Certainly Colonel," Olivia replied and opened it on one of the terminals. It the introduction, Olivia not only credited Jeremy Irons as the ultimate creator of the muscles fibers used in the drones, she also mentioned Chelsea's own work in the programming of the at-the-time theoretical machine. When she finished. She looked at the crying girl. "Both you and your father are listed as primary sources, and your proposal paper is referenced in several places. I would like to add that your father's work is living on, and not just here. His work has been accepted by several medical researchers for use in articulated replacement limbs for patients that cannot have their limbs regrown. There will be a whole new generation of cybernetics based mostly on his work."

"I've been such an idiot. I should have known! I was so used to his work being stolen by others before we joined, all I saw was the same thing happening again here. I'm sorry just isn't good enough, but for now, that's all I can say," Chelsea replied through her tears.

Doctor Schmidt stood and walked over to the girl. "It is the very brightest that make the biggest mistakes, Ja? Keep in touch if you are allowed. This project is your papa's legacy; we will make sure you are kept aware of its progress and make you both proud."

Alan was convinced Chelsea did not intend harm. She was also very sorry for what she had done. Before they took her away, she made sure to point out all the areas where she had made alterations, so the original program could be restored. When Andreya asked her how she got the AI block in place and exactly how it had been constructed, young Chelsea asked about self-incrimination.

"I hacked some security cameras and learned some AI coding from a man that was studying it. He was a really good programmer, I think his name was Bill," the girl replied. "AI code is really different than what I'm used to."

When the other Raptor team arrived, they took custody of the girl. Alan had a long talk with Major Gh'rallith about her and send a report on the investigation with the team as well. From talking to Ty, Alan knew they would be taking her to Hades base to hold her until the Council could decide how to handle her. He thought it was somewhat strange that Ty told him all information about this was even classified, and he needed to brief his team and the designers accordingly.

"We're not going to cover this up, are we?" Alan asked.

"Yes and no, I'm trying to keep information about Chelsea under control for a couple of reasons. One, she is a minor and this was a pretty major crime. She needs to be protected from the possible backlash that could come out of this. Two, Ian suggested we try to keep a lid on all of this because it deals with a very sensitive issue," Ty explained. "Finally, I have my own reasons for wanting to keep information about her restricted."

"Ty, she's fourteen years old! You can't be trying to recruit her!" Alan replied, shocked at his superior.

"Alan, did you watch a lot of television when you were on Earth?" Ty asked.

"What the hell does that have to do with this?"

"Well, if I said the name 'Penelope Garcia' to you, what would it mean?" Ty asked reasonably. "Yes, I'm trying to recruit her, but not for the teams."

"You got something else going on and you want her for that, don't you?" Alan asked. "Just… promise me it won't be dangerous, okay?"

"No more dangerous than her current job was," Ty replied. "Actually, it'll probably be safer; she'll be here."

"Yeah? How's that gonna work? It's a solid military base with no associated parasite town. No kids her own age, no one for her to relate to. Do you plan on locking her in her office with her computers?" Alan countered.

"Not exactly. Sammi is going to offer to be her guardian. She will live with Sammi on Atlas, and the pair of them will commute back and forth just like Sammi does now. When there is a mission or something, She'll stay here in the apartment we'll have set up for her," Ty explained. "Of course, this is all really dependent on the girl and how the Council will react to the charges against her."

"It's a criminal case, why would the Council even be involved?" Ty asked.

"Capitol Crimes. The way our laws are written the Council is the only body that can legally handle espionage and treason cases. Kind of like a Grand Jury back on Earth except these are our national leaders," Ty replied. "This is the only espionage case we've ever had. I imagine something else will be done if they become more common."

"I want to be available for questioning in this case. Do you know when it'll be heard?" Alan asked.

"The Council has a pretty full docket right now, but she has to be tried within the next week. I'll let either you or Andreya know as soon as I find out," Ty replied.

"Well, be sure to ask the girl before you drop this on her. Blindsiding her with it might be worse than executing her," Alan said.

"I'm not that cold-hearted. Keep the faith, Brother. Hades Base out." Ty replied and signed off.

Of her own volition, Chelsea wrote letters of apology to Admiral Williams, Dr. Punjab, Mathias, Dr. Schmidt, and each of the Councilors apologizing for her actions. In the case of the Council, the letters were withheld pending the trial so as not to influence the Council one way or the other.

The trial itself was held in the evening, after normal business had been concluded. It was the only time available for the council to hear the case. Alan postponed the tests scheduled for that evening so he and Andreya could attend. He was surprised when the rest of the project team insisted on accompanying them.

The trial itself was closed as it dealt with sensitive information. The randomly selected AI would serve as official recorder of the proceedings and be allowed to release a copy of the transcripts after the trial. In this manner, any references to classified information could be removed before release. Alan and Andreya were allowed, as he was the arresting officer. Dr. Schmidt and Olivia were also allowed as members of the affected project. Alan was surprised to see Admiral Williams, Dr. Punjab and a large group of people he knew and some he didn't.

As it turned out some of those he didn't know were the prosecuting officer from Fleet Intelligence and Security, a defending officer from the Judge Advocate General's office and the recording AI. The AI was from a civilian shipyard in orbit of Mars where they built the large civilian freighters and other ships. One other official of the courts was a telepath to ensure only the truth was given.

The trial itself was relatively quick. The evidence and testimony was pretty straight-forward. Chelsea even admitted to her crimes and again apologized for them. The last person to testify was the telepath who only affirmed she detected no deceit from any party involved. She testified that the defendant was indeed guilty in her own mind but was also repentant and resigned to accept punishment.

The Council recessed to deliberate but returned after only a few minutes.

"It is the order of this court that the census data concerning the minor Citizen Chelsea Irons and the Citizen Heather Kinds be corrected immediately." Luke paused as he thought of how to say what he needed. "The fact that Citizen Chelsea Irons did knowingly act to sabotage a military research project is clear. However, her actions, although requiring considerable planning and forethought, do not reflect a desire to inflict harm or injury. Her motives for her actions are clear and understood. Therefore, it is the ruling of this body that the main charges of Military level espionage be reduced to that of Felony-Level Misconduct. Although her actions do constitute as well as fulfill the requirements for Military Espionage, it is clear that was not her intent and does not justify the required penalty of the higher crime.

"Over the course of the last year, Miss Irons has been living as an adult and comported herself in such a way as to successfully conceal herself and her true identity. Therefore, her crimes will be considered as those of an adult."

He looked down at his datapad, took a breath and continued. "Count one - Felony Misconduct with criminal intent. We find the defendant, Chelsea Irons, guilty of all charges and specifications.

"Count two - Felony Misconduct with Malicious intent. We find the defendant, Chelsea Irons, Not guilty of all charges and specifications.

"Count three - Identity Theft. We find the defendant, Chelsea Irons, guilty of all charges and specifications.

"The remaining charges are summarily dismissed as redundant. We will now listen to any statements we might need in considering sentence," Luke said and sat back down. It was clear he did not like this part of his job.

Doctor Schmidt and Olivia beat Ty to the punch, as they stood, surprising Alan.

"Please Identify yourselves for the record, citizens," the AI said.

"I am Doctor Wilhelm Schmidt and this is my daughter, Doctor Olivia Wilcox. We are two of the leaders of the project Miss Irons altered. We have been asked to speak on behalf of our entire team, if we may."

Luke nodded and the AI turned back to him. "Please proceed Doctor Schmidt."

"Thank you." The old man replied and bowed to Luke and the Council. "We of the FROG project, as a whole and as individuals, forgive Miss Irons her transgressions. We all can empathize with her motivation, and we respect the tenacity and strength of spirit it had to have taken. As a department, we beg this court to be lenient with her sentencing. Please consider that no harm was actually done by her actions. Yes, the potential for disaster was present, that was never her intent, and it was caught before it came to pass. This statement reflects the thoughts and feelings of everyone in our department. Again, thank you."

As the couple returned to their seats, Ty stood and approached the testimony podium.

Again, the AI asked for identification.

"General Tyler Anders, Commander of Special Operations."

Luke nodded again, and the AI let him speak.

Ty outlined his plan for 'adopting' the girl for special operations which took the entire council completely by surprise.

"General, let me get this straight; you want us to remand her over to you as punishment. You will then proceed to not only give her better hacking tools, but train her in how to use them effectively?" Luke asked.

Ty grinned. "Yeah, pretty much. We have a project in the works that requires highly skilled people with her unique qualifications. These people are rare in the extreme, even more so when you consider the position we will be entrusting them with. Look, your pretty limited on options for her; sending her to prison for the next twenty years might as well be a death sentence. For a girl like her, she'd never survive even the first year. What I'm suggesting is not 'letting her off'. While she will be paid for her work, and she'll have the ability to order items electronically, she will not be allowed to leave our base un-escorted for the next however long her sentence will be. There is precedent for indenturing a person convicted of a crime as opposed to a term in a prison.

"But not for a minor, General," one of the other Councilors replied.

Ty shook his head. "You convicted her as an adult, Councilor. You have to sentence her as one."

The Councilors pulled back from their microphones for a moment to confer. When they returned Luke once again stood. "Thank you for the offer, General." Ty bobbed his head and returned to his seat in the gallery.

"Chelsea Irons, please stand." The AI ordered. When the girl and her advocate did, Luke began. "You are hereby remanded to the Department of Corrections, there to be incarcerated for a period not to exceed eighteen years at the planetary work camp on the planet Atlas. Alternatively, you will be remanded to Special Operations Command for a period not to exceed twenty-five years. This will be subject to oversight by a member of the Department of Corrections and all travel privileges will be revoked. You will remain at the Hades base for the duration of your sentence. Violation of these terms will result in your immediate reassignment to the work camp. What is your decision?"

"I - I will go to Hades Base, Councilor. Thank you," Chelsea replied and bowed.

Luke nodded and tapped the gavel. "This trial is concluded. Good evening everyone."


Breckenridge Ski Resort

Colorado, Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

The result of all the diplomatic crap at the UN was that, while the US still refused to recognize the Terrans as a Country, they did allow for entry visas to be issued. Ian and his family took advantage of the diplomatic situation to take a short vacation to Breckenridge Colorado for some skiing. Because she was a member of his family, Cindy, who was now on light duty, and the rest of the Damocles team were assigned to 'guard duty'. Ty told Ian that the team needed a break after the loss of Ben and the injuries to Cindy. Although she was not an official member of the team, Shannon would remain with them until such time as the team returned to Hades Base to adopt a new team member.

Ian also asked Bill, Julie and Janet Laskar to join them. He still remembered the warning Shies had given him. He had tried to speak to Janet in the last week, but both of them had been too busy to meet up. He almost felt as though Janet had been avoiding him.

The family had no more than gotten settled into the ski lodge before Chloe called Ian.

"This better be good Chloe; I'm on vacation," Ian said when he answered the call.

"I know Sir, and I am sorry about this but, High Priestess T'gan M'orel is coming here to speak with you. I tried to delay it, but she has already left Benesia and I was told that the meeting was of the highest importance. They were very insistent Sir," Chloe replied.

"If it's that important, why is she coming to see me and not the Council?" Ian asked rhetorically. "Did they happen to say what it was about?"

"No Sir, all I could get was the meeting was very important and she had to speak to you personally. They did schedule a meeting with the Council, but that's not for a week. The agenda lists seating an Ambassador here as one of the items for discussion, however, they asked for a large amount of time to be scheduled as there were other issues to be discussed," Chloe replied.

"Well, if she hasn't shown up on our detection network yet, we should have a couple of days at least before she arrives," Ian replied.

"Well Sir, about that…" Chloe said hesitantly.

"Spit it out, Chloe."

"Her ship showed up on sensors four hours ago. Since it was positively identified, passage was granted to Atlas via the customs station," she explained.

"So what your saying is that in roughly thirty hours, the leader of the Benesian people will arrive to speak to me, personally about an urgent, but as yet unknown matter?" Ian replied. "Chloe, I'm going to spank you."

"Uh… Sir, when I tried to delay the meeting, I told them that you were already on vacation and could not be disturbed…" she said hesitantly.

"Yes, so what's the problem?"

"Sir, she's coming to see you down there. They said that since this was a personal meeting, your vacation should not be interrupted," Chloe replied hurriedly.

"The supreme leader of the Benesian people is going to come here, to Earth, to speak with me in person. Is that what your telling me, Chloe?"

"Yes Sir, they are so insistent that it has been impossible to change their minds; they're Benesians, Sir; it's not like we can threaten them!"

Ian sighed and shook his head. "Chloe, that spanking is going to be on the bridge and I'm going to broadcast it to the entire fleet!"

"This is getting interesting!" Cindy said quietly from one side. Ian lightly slapped the back of her head.

"A…as you say, Sir, I really am sorry, I tried everything I could think of to get them to change their minds," Chloe replied.

"Oh please!" Cindy said so Chloe could hear her. "Chloe, playing meek and innocent just isn't you! You know damn good and well that Ian would never do something like that to you, no matter how much you wish he would!"

Chloe could be heard to splutter over the comm. "Now you listen here you little strumpet! I am not that kind of girl! I would never allow something like that to happen much less enjoy it! Unlike a certain Raptor commander we all know!"

"Yeah, yeah, why don't you call me back after you go change your 'knickers' and we can pick this up where we left off?" Cindy offered. "After all, we do need to discuss security arrangements for the visit."

"Hmph! For your information I'm not wearing any!" Chloe replied without thinking.

Cindy caught her. "Oh? No knickers huh? I guess that kind of shoots the whole 'not that kind of girl' thing in the 'bum' then doesn't it?"

By now, the whole family was laughing at their antics. Ian took pity on Chloe and took the conversation back from Cindy.

"Chloe, get with Major Eischens and give Cindy a call back to make sure we're covered for the visit." He grinned as he paused. "I'm sure you can step out long enough to change your uniform."

"Yes Sir, I'll do just that…" then she realized what she just said. "Uh, get with Major Eischens that is! I swear I'm going to strangle that girl!"

"Thanks for the call Chloe, talk to you later," Ian said and closed the connection. Turning to Cindy he raised an eyebrow. "You really shouldn't piss her off too much, she is the one that handles a lot of your missions."

Cindy winked at him. "She knows I was just playing. Besides… Star, where is Colonel Brighton right now?"

"Colonel Brighton has temporarily excused herself from the operations center for personal reasons and is currently en-route to her quarters. She told Major Eischens she would 'be right back'. After she departed, the entire room broke into laughter," Star replied playfully. "She was laughing and smiling as she left."

Ian just shook his head and winked at Cindy. "Discipline has gone right out the window around here!"

"That's true, but what are we going to do about T'gan? Somehow I don't think the United States government is going to issue her a passport," Cindy replied.

"Well, we still have some time before she gets here, so I'm gonna go get some skiing in before duty slaps me in the face again. Anyone want to join me?" Ian asked.

"Shannon, Sam, take a drone with you and go with them," Cindy ordered when Talena and Beth said they wanted to go as well. "Make sure they are all wearing personal shields. Sasha, suit up and go with them, but stay cloaked."

"Isn't that a little much Cindy? I mean, I know you take our protection seriously, but personal shields and armor?" Beth asked.

Cindy smiled at her friend. "Five minutes before we landed, two US Navy Osprey aircraft were tracked taking off and trying to fly low enough to hide. It's safe to bet there are at least two SEAL teams already on the ground here. We have no idea what their orders are, and I'm not going to take any chances. Jerry and Lissa are already placing the shield emitters around the lodge."

"What about the Raptor? Will it be okay by itself?" Talena asked.

"Yeah, if they can actually find it, the shield is active on it as well. They could drop a nuke on it and not so much as scratch the paint," Cindy replied.

As if Cindy had been prophetic, Ian and the girls had no more than gotten in line at the lifts when Ian felt something pressed against his back.

"Welcome to Earth Mister Williams, you and your party will come with us. Now," a man's voice said quietly right behind him.

"Navy SEAL right?" Ian asked. "We saw your landing craft leaving the area when we arrived. I would not recommend firing your weapon, sailor. I'm wearing a shield that will deflect the bullet. As for us going with you… I'm here to enjoy a much needed rest. Go tell your bosses we declined their invitation."

"Son, I don't think you grasp the situation here; you don't have a choice in the matter. You will come with us, now," the SEAL operative replied. "The barrel of my weapon is pressed against your spine; there is no way you can be wearing anything it won't blow right through. Now come along and this won't have to get messy."

"George Bean you fucking idiot!" Ty Anders voice was heard in Ian's ear. From the reaction of the man behind him, the SEAL could hear it too. "You dumb fuckers are violating a major UN treaty right now, not to mention you are completely outclassed and surrounded!"

"Anders? I'd heard you turned traitor and were working for some group of terrorists out in New Mexico someplace!" the SEAL replied, but he didn't lower his weapon. Ian glanced at the girls and saw Talena grinning and Beth looking concerned, both had large serious looking men standing very close to them but as yet none of them had moved. Ian casually waved the people behind them to go around and slowly stepped out of line. The two women did the same.

"Did you hear about the group that had gotten hold of some alien tech and moved up to the moon and were now protecting the planet from Alien attack?" Ty replied.

The man behind Ian snorted. "Yeah, I heard that. Fucking intel pukes and their hunt for ET. Like we'd fall for that!"

"Really? You have a gun pressed to the back of the man that happens to be in overall command of those forces. He actually is wearing a shield device that will prevent you from harming him. You still think this is all bullshit, pull the trigger. The bullet will hit you in the stomach. One thing I can tell you, if you do not simply walk away right now, you and your team are in serious shit. We can stun you and your men there, but the sniper is out of range of the stunners. So a high powered railgun is trained on him. If he fires the only thing that will be left of him is a blood smear," Ty explained.

"Fuck you! All units, comms are compromised. Change to tac two and continue mission," the man said.

Behind Talena and Beth, the two men grunted and slowly fell to the ground unconscious. The lift operator immediately called for the ski patrol as people began to gather around.

"Still don't believe me, George?" Ty asked.

Ian was pushed slightly forward as the pistol at his back fired. The man, George, grunted and doubled over. Ian quickly turned and helped him to the ground. Beth rushed over to assist him. "Stupid asshole!"

"Hey, I had to try! It's my job!" George replied through gritted teeth.

"Quiet!" Beth ordered. "I'm a doctor. I'll try to stabilize you until the ski patrol arrives and they can get you to a hospital. For now, just lie still. SEAL teams! If you can hear me, this is Colonel Elizabeth Williams, I'm a doctor with the Terran Defense Force. Your man has been wounded by a ricochet from his own weapon. We are protected by powerful force shields. Do not fire your weapons or you could hurt innocent people!"

The crowd gasped when they heard that and slowly let Shannon and Sam push them back. The Ski Patrol arrived while Beth was working on the man and she got some supplies from them. She managed to stop most of the bleeding, but the bullet had perforated the small intestines.

"Call for a medevac; if he doesn't get to the hospital in ten minutes he's not going to make it!" Beth ordered.

"It takes fifteen minutes just to get the bird out here, Doctor!" one of the EMTs said.

"Fuck!" Beth replied. "Ian I need to treat him, right now, or he's a dead man."

"You know what they'll do to him if you do Doctor?" Ian asked.

"Then we'll fucking rescue him if we have to, he doesn't have another option!" Beth replied.

Ian sighed. "Very well Colonel, do what you need to do."

Beth nodded. "Cindy, I need my emergency bag out here now. Can you get the Raptor in here?"

"Negative, Doctor. There is too much slope there to land," Lissa replied. "I recommend treatment in place. Relocating him to the Raptor would place too much strain on his system."

"Understood Lissa, you bring the bag, I'll need your help as a nurse." She turned to the ski patrol that was keeping the oxygen mask over George's face. "What your name, Sir?"

"Jed Brown, Doctor."

"Jed, we're going to have to try to do this right here. He doesn't have enough time to wait. I have my emergency kit and a nurse on the way here. For now, I need to know his vitals at all times. Can you do that for me?" Beth asked.

"Yes Ma'am," the man replied.

A man from the crowd called out. "I'm a doctor, do you need assistance?"

Beth nodded to him and waved him over. He knelt on the snow next to the man and looked over the wound. "He was hit with a bullet two centimeters above and to the left of the navel. The bullet perforated the small intestine and he is spilling fecal matter into the body cavity. As far as I can tell the bullet did not pass through and is still in him. I called for my emergency bag and a nurse from our party, they should be in the next two minutes," Beth replied.

"Have you called for the helicopter?" the new doctor asked.

"Yes Sir, it's twelve minutes out," the ski patrol replied.

"He'll be dead in twelve minutes," the doctor replied. "What's your plan?" he asked looking up at Beth.

"Repair the intestine in place, stabilize him for transport," Beth replied.

"You're going to operate on him right here?" the new doctor asked.

"Unless you have a better idea, that's exactly what I'm going to do. We don't know where that bullet went, so if we move him, it could kill him all by itself," Beth replied.

"Blood pressure and pulse are dropping Doctor, his temperature is one oh three and rising really fast!" Jed reported.

"Damn, there's a bleeder. Lissa, where are you?" Beth said more to herself than anyone else.

Lissa fought her way through the crowd carrying a big case with her and wearing a backpack. "Here Doctor. I brought the sterile field unit as well."

"The what? Say, just what kind of Doctor are you?" the male doctor asked.

Beth looked up at him with a half-smile as she opened the backpack. "Colonel Elizabeth Williams, Terran Defense Forces, Medical Corps."

"Who?" the man asked.

Beth just shook her head as Lissa got the sterile field system set up. "I'll explain later, Doctor. Right now, we need to save this man's life."

Sirens could be heard approaching the scene. Ian knew the last thing they needed was a big publicity nightmare, although it was probably already too late for that.

"Listen up everyone, SEALs too, situational security is shot to hell," Ian said over the comm. "This is going to be all over the news in less than an hour and now the local police are going to be involved. I would recommend one of the SEALs get down here to head off the local police. Once we get your man stable, we'll let them take him to the local hospital. We'll play stupid about this incident because, frankly we have no idea what the hell you guys were told or what your bosses were thinking."

"What about the other two men?" a voice answered.

"They are only stunned. They should be waking up in a couple of minutes, I'll do what I can to try to keep them from being arrested. You might want to get someone over to their department to handle the issue," Ian suggested.

"You're being very forgiving Mr. Williams, why are you doing this?" the voice replied.

"Because I have my doubts you are working for the United States Government at the moment. These men you sent here are being used for some other agenda and I'm sure they had no idea what it was or what this was about. This is the second time we've had to deal with you people. I will be speaking to your superiors on this matter, but until then, be warned that this is the last time we play nice with you assholes. The next time you try something like this you better bring your own body bags," Ian replied.

"Well, since you won't be going anywhere, we'll just see who does what Mister Williams. Good Day," the voice finished.

Ian stepped over to Lissa, who was assisting Beth. "What's the status of the Raptor?"

"It's still cloaked and the shields are still up. It is surrounded by a large group of heavily armed men. However, they have nothing that can penetrate the shields. The ship is still secure," the woman replied without looking up. "If they do try anything overly destructive I can pulse the shields and stun them."

"Good work, I will leave you to your job," Ian said and walked over to Sam. "Where's the drone?"

"I ordered it to project a shield against sniping. Sensors say there are two snipers still in position upslope from here. Cindy is paying them a visit," the big man replied.

"She's not going to kill them is she?" Ian asked.

"I don't think so, neither of them actually fired so they are safe for now. She's going to stun them and drag them back to the Raptor and the men there. She's in full armor," Sam replied, grinning.

"Great, can this day go to hell anymore?" Ian asked shaking his head. "Where's Sasha?"

"Sasha is on top of the first Chair lift tower covering one of the snipers. Sir, the Major's cloaked and will remain so until she arrives back at the Raptor. The last man you spoke to is not a member of the armed forces nor is he on site. Currently, General Anders is trying to get through to Vice Admiral Jamison who actually is in their chain of command. He'll get this mess figured out."

"Well, we're going to have to deal with the local police very shortly. Do you have your cover story in place?" Ian asked.

"Yes Sir, both stunned men even have the taser marks to back it up," Sam replied.

"I told you to stop what you are doing and back away from him, NOW Lady!" a police officer shouted. Ian turned to see an officer had his weapon pointed at Beth's head while she worked to save the wounded SEAL.

Ian rushed over to the officer. "What the fuck do you think you're doing asshole? Do you want this man to die?"

"Back the fuck off!" the officer said and pointed his weapon at Ian.

"Deputy, these two people," Ian indicated Beth and the male Doctor, "Are medical doctors. The man on the ground was critically injured when a bullet pierced his intestines. The helicopter would not have gotten here in time to save his life so these two medical professionals are doing everything they can to prevent his death. You are interfering and could easily cause them to make a mistake that will kill this man."

"Yeah? And just who the fuck are you, dick-head?" the Deputy Sheriff asked.

"I am Admiral Ian Williams of the Terran Defense Force. My family and I are here on vacation and have diplomatic immunity. The woman you are trying to stop is a member of my family," Ian replied and slowly reached for his passport and diplomatic documents.

"Uh huh, I ain't never heard of a twenty-year-old Admiral. Besides why would they even bother coming back to the planet? The government would only capture them to force them to give up their tech secrets!" the Deputy replied, snarling.

Ian chuckled and shook his head. "The man on the ground is a US Navy SEAL who was attempting to do just that. We wear protective shields that bullets bounce off of. He didn't believe that and tried to shoot me in the back, the bullet hit the shield and… well," Ian indicated the man on the ground.

"Uh huh, if he's a SEAL, where is the rest of his team?" the deputy asked sarcastically.

"Two of them got tased and are right there," Ian said pointing to the other two men. "The rest are trying to figure out how to capture the ship we used to arrive here."

"Then you've lost your ship spaceman; that's what those men do," the Deputy chuckled. "Okay, I've heard enough of this bullshit, on your knees and put your hands on your head, kid. You're under arrest for obstructing justice."

Ian shook his head. "Deputy, I think you should call for the Sheriff."

"So now you're gonna tell me how to do my job?" the man asked. "Look, just get on your knees before I have to force you."

"That would be a bad idea, Deputy. For one, there are several cameras filming us right now. For another, it would violate our treaty more than has already been done," Ian explained. "And I don't think our bodyguards would be very comfortable with that."

"What Bodyguards?" the Deputy asked and sudden got very nervous.

"They're right here, but both are only carrying tasers," Ian replied, pointing to Sam and then to Shannon.

"Okay, the big guy I can believe, but that little girl is a bodyguard? Please!" the Deputy said. "She's what? Maybe sixteen years old?"

"Excuse me Deputy, but I am actually twenty-two. I was also first in my class in hand to hand combat at the academy and I have been trained as a combat sniper and small weapons specialist," Shannon replied as she slowly approached the two men. She looked at Ian, "Admiral, Major Williams has subdued the two snipers and is currently taking them back to their companions. Sasha will remain in position in the event further over-watch is required."

"Okay, this is a major cluster-fuck. All of you; nobody try to leave the area!" the deputy said and keyed the mic at his neck. "Patrol Six to County One."

"County One, what's up Stiles?" a woman's voice replied.

"Ma'am, I'm at the resort call. There has been a shooting but the situation is calm. I need help over here, one of the parties involved is claiming diplomatic immunity and has requested your presence, over," the Deputy replied.

"It sounds like you have a situation. Don't do anything until we arrive. The military is involved with this. I just got a call from some big-wig that only wants us to try to contain the situation until they can arrive to deal with it. Try to keep everyone there and calm, we're on our way," the woman replied. "Just don't shoot anyone before we get there, okay?"

Ian grinned at the blushing Deputy. "I'll try real hard Ma'am, but there is one guy who's really asking for it!" Stiles replied, sarcastically. "Just kidding, Ma'am. He's a smart ass, but he seems harmless."

"Well, if his name is Ian Williams, make damn sure you don't shoot him! There'd likely end up being a crater where this state used to be!" The woman replied. Ian could hear the sirens in the background of her transmission.

"Do you know him, Ma'am? Do you know his age?" Stiles asked.

"Not his exact age, no. I do know he's really young; early to mid-twenties. Treat him with respect, Stiles; he's an Admiral in the Terran Space Navy, over."

"Understood Ma'am. I'll introduce you to him when you get here," Stiles replied.

"Well shit! We're ten minutes out, just keep everything under control until we arrive. County One out," the woman finished.

Stiles looked back at Ian. "You're really him and this is for real, isn't it?"

Ian nodded. "Unfortunately, it is, Deputy. I'm sorry for all the trouble. We'll assist you as much as we can, just let us know what you may need," Ian looked back at Shannon. "Officer Shannon, inform the Major to assist local law enforcement within reason. Use of deadly force is not authorized."

Shannon bobbed her head. "Yes Admiral." She moved away to make the call to Cindy.

The Deputy just shook his head and sighed. "I don't get paid enough for this shit."

"Okay, so any idea how we get through this shield so we can get to the ship?" Lieutenant Forbes asked the other two officers standing with him.

They were just about to answer when two toboggans coasted into the clearing seemingly under their own power. But what got everyone upset was what they carried.

Each of the sleds held the unmoving form of the SEAL team snipers.

"Archie! Will! Check them!" the lieutenant ordered.

"They're only stunned Lieutenant. They'll wake up in a few minutes with a slight headache," a slightly mechanical voice was heard to say. Off to one side, a large suit of what looked like armor straight out of a kid's video game shimmered into view. "I am Major Cindy Williams, Commander of the ship you are trying to steal. I would not recommend firing your weapons at me, since I am protected against them and you would risk injuring your own men."

The commandos quickly surrounded her and all of them had their weapons trained on her. "Don't move bitch!" one of them said to her. She turned slightly to look at the man.

"Corporal, I am not a female dog, nor am I threatening any of you. I am trying very hard to respect you and your ranks, I expect the same courtesy," Cindy replied.

"That's enough, Corporal. She's right; be nice," the Lieutenant ordered. "However, I'm afraid we have to insist that you surrender yourself and your equipment immediately, Major."

Cindy nodded. "May I ask on whose authority you are currently acting, Lieutenant? Because the United States government signed a treaty with us that would prevent stunts like this."

"I'm afraid you are mistaken Major. All of our orders come from the United States Government through our chain of command. As such, and by that authority, I am placing you under arrest pending an investigation into your terroristic activities within the borders of the United States," The officer replied.

"What activities would those be, Lieutenant? You see, I've only just returned to this star system. I'm supposed to be enjoying a vacation with my family after a stressful mission in which I lost a team member. If someone has told you we have been performing terroristic attacks here, then I'm afraid you have been misinformed. Until a few days ago, my team and I were over forty light years away from here," Cindy replied.

"That may be so, Major, but it just isn't my call. I have orders to arrest you and all those with you, and I will follow my orders," the man replied.

"That's good to know, Lieutenant," Cindy replied. "Because right now, my commanders are talking to your commanders to get this ironed out before someone else gets hurt."

"I'd like to know how you shot one of our men, Major?" another officer asked.

"We didn't," Cindy replied holding her hands out to her sides. "We have a type of energy shield that repels bullets. When your man tried to shoot Admiral Williams, the bullet bounced back into him. He is currently undergoing emergency surgery to save his life. I don't know the details, but I remember something about a perforated intestine or something. No matter what, stomach wounds are the worst."

"I can agree with that. If that is what you are really doing to him, then I thank you for it. However, that doesn't change the fact that we are arresting you. So put your weapons on the ground, remove the armor or whatever that is and we won't have to use force," the original Lieutenant said.

"Lieutenant, I'm not carrying any weapons; the treaty prohibits all lethal weapons. We are allowed to have and wear our defensive systems such as the suit I am wearing. Besides, I'm naked under here and I'd really rather not freeze my ass off in the snow. As for surrendering, I cannot do that either. At present we are at a standoff; your weapons cannot harm me in any way. As far as the ship goes, even if you had a way to actually move it, you'd never get through the shields," Cindy explained.

"We have you, we can force you to fly it," the other officer said.

Cindy removed her helmet and looked him sadly. "You were dropped on your head as a baby, right?"

The officer shot his silenced pistol at her head and the bullet was deflected up and away from the other soldiers. Cindy snorted. "Fucking Idiot! How did you ever get to be an officer? You could have killed one of your own men!"

"He's not an officer, he's a civilian," the Lieutenant said. "It does indeed look as though we are at a stalemate Major. We cannot leave because of our orders and you will not surrender. What do you suggest?"

Cindy shrugged. "It looks like we get to sit here until your orders get changed. You guys hungry; I can call for lunch? I heard there is a really awesome pizza place here."

"We're here to capture or kill you and your offering to buy us lunch?" the Lieutenant asked.

"Ell-tee, I have nothing against you or your men. You've never been, and I doubt you ever will, be my enemy. Like me, you're just following orders. We're both kinda stuck, so why not have lunch while we're waiting? I could get it from the ship, but I don't think you guys would trust it, so I'll buy it from a store in town." She grinned. "Besides, I can always justify the expense under 'diplomatic negotiations'."

"We just tried to kill you and you're offering to buy us lunch?" another man asked.

Cindy smiled at him. "I refuse to hold your orders against you. This fuck up isn't your fault, well, it might be some of his fault," she said and pointed to the asshole that tried to shoot her. "But the rest of you are simply doing what good soldiers do. Why should I be pissed off over that?"

"Well, I think I would be a little less than charitable towards someone that just tried to kill me, but hey, I'm funny that way," the man said.

Cindy nodded to him. "If there was even a chance that he could have hurt me, I doubt I would be as forgiving. What you guys don't understand, or maybe you weren't told, is our gear is designed to fight battles in space; against lasers, particle cannons, plasma guns and whole range of other high-tech shit that you just don't have access to here. You can't even gas me because the suit has its own air supply."

"Yeah, but how long will that last for you? We force you to seal up and sooner or later, you'll need to resupply your tanks," the asshole said.

Cindy shook her head. "No I don't; I could very easily spend the rest of my very long life in this suit and never have to take it off, refill any tanks, or even replace the batteries - because it doesn't have any."

"We'll get you out of that suit, as soon as we capture the rest of the people you have down here. You'll do exactly what we tell you to do," the asshole replied confidently.

"Really? You mean the people that are right now surrounded by civilians with cell phones that are recording the entire event? The same ones that are talking to the local police while our doctor works to save the lives of one of your men?" Cindy asked sarcastically. "The same folks that are wearing shields that prevent you from even touching them? Just how do you suppose you're going to capture them?" Cindy shook her head. "Look, Agent Smith, or whoever the fuck you are, you've been trying everything you could think of to get your hands on our tech for the last two years. Even when you did manage to get your hands on some advanced alien tech, we just took it away from you without hurting anyone. Why are you idiots still trying?"

"Because you'll eventually make a mistake, and we'll get all of you traitors back in line and under fucking control like you should have been to begin with!" the man spat.

Cindy slowly sat down on the snow. "Did you know that any of you, well maybe not Agent Smith there, can now buy a commercial ticket to visit the moon base or even the planet Atlas in the Centauri system? Our Council is allowing tourism!" She grinned. "But let me give you a little bit of a reality check 'Smith'. For the sake of argument, let's say you did manage to get your hands on some of our stuff; let's say you did manage to get my ship. Do you honestly think we would let you keep it?"

"Like you'd have a choice! First, you'd have to find it!" the man replied. "Then, even if you did, you'd have to get through a lot of defenses! No, we'd never let you have it back."

"Really? So you just gave us those Caldarian ships you tried to capture in the battle last year?" Cindy asked. "You have no idea what technology we have or how we're able to keep track of it. You couldn't even so much as steal a pistol from us and hide it so well we couldn't find it."

"We don't have to steal the pistol, we just have to steal the designs. You can't track that," Smith replied.

Cindy nodded. "I wouldn't be so sure about that, Smith. Anyway, Lieutenant, how about that Pizza? I'm getting hungry."


Raptors Dynasty, Acadia, Gothem, Ithica

Deep Space, Echelon System

Contested Space, Alliance Border

"Major we are showing small power readings in the old prison. It may well be that Pirates have indeed taken up residence here," Alicia, the Dynasty AI reported.

"Well, that should make this a tad more interesting. Thomas, Cathy, should we clean them out, or just ignore them for the time being?" Carl asked.

"Is it wise to leave a potential enemy this close to our base?" Thomas asked.

"Normally, I would agree with you Thomas. However, if we leave them alone for as long as we can, it would give the Imperials something to focus on if they look here. I think we should leave them alone for the time being while we establish our base on the planet. We can always just deal with them if they become an issue. Until then, we should begin building our base and defenses," Cathy replied.

Thomas nodded. "I can see that. We'll have to do something about them before we start putting in the remote installations, but for now we can ignore them."

Carl smiled at his friends. "Okay then.  Alicia, please set course for the ice world and let's get to work."

"Course plotted. ETA is two hours, twenty-one minutes," the AI replied.

"Let's leave a probe somewhere near the prison so we can keep an eye on these people. You know, they might not really be pirates, but simply refugees that fled the war," Thomas replied.

"A probe drone is a good idea, I know I'd feel like shit if we found out they were only refugees after we cleared out the prison," Cathy replied. "The Croanians say they're pirates, but they could just be a group of people that steal only what they need to survive our here."

"If they've actually stolen anything to begin with. We should talk to Jana about it before we take action against them. She knows more about the Croanian society than we do, besides, if she's the new 'Lord' of this system, then wouldn't these people be 'hers' by default?" Carl asked.

"Who knows? Just one more thing for Jana to figure out when she gets back." Thomas replied.

"Apache should be getting to their target, but Zulu is still a day out. I wish they could let us know how it goes and when they'll be back," Cathy replied. "I don't like being this spread out."

"We'll need to get used to it if this is going to be our base. Either way, both of the other teams should be back here by the end of the week. Between now and then, we need to find a good place to build and get busy. I just wish we had a couple of construction drones already built." Thomas replied. "Instead we have to build the stuff to build the stuff before we get started!"

Carl chuckled. "It does sound ridiculous, but it is what it is. The replicators we have are not capable of building the larger drones, but it can build a maintenance drone that can build a large scale replicator capable of building a construction drone. It's just the way it has to be."

The four teams left two drones near the large asteroid that held the prison facility, and one near the largest of the mine sites, since there was a weak power signature detected there as well. They moved on to the ice planet, called Echelon, which took its name from the system. The Echelon system was a trinary star system consisting of one small yellow star, a small brown dwarf and a small, very hot 'white' dwarf that appeared blue to the naked eye. The planet Echelon had a nitrogen rich atmosphere but there was not enough oxygen to be breathable, then too, at a daytime high of minus one hundred seventy degrees Fahrenheit, it was far too cold anyway. Because of the distance from the closest primary, the noon-day sun cast only as much light as twilight on earth. It was a dark, frozen, forbidding world.

After several orbits to survey the surface, the two ships decided on a spot near an old mountain range in the southern hemisphere. They found an ice cave with an opening large enough for the raptors to fly into. The cave system extended down under the ice for quite a distance. While there had been signs of tectonic activity in other areas of the planet, this area showed only very old evidence. They took the raptors a quarter mile into the caves before setting them down to begin their work. Cathy had gotten to work on how to cover the entrance with a shield while Carl and his AI began working on how and where to reinforce the cave system. The rest of the people from the teams, led by Major Thomas, began building the shelters and the housing for the big replicator they would need.

By the time the Apache arrived the cave system turned hanger was complete, the shelters that would eventually become the maintenance facilities were finished, and three large scale replicators had been built. There were a dozen hangar buildings to house Raptors, a large warehouse near the command building for off-loading cargo and passengers, and three smaller hangars capable of servicing any shuttle craft or small freighter in the Alliance. While it was warmer in the cave system, it was still well below freezing so the hanger bays were heated to make repairs easier.

From the Command building a shaft had been dug down a half-mile to where the main base and the reactors would be built. The administration areas and human quarters were very close to being finished, but the non-human living quarters, recreation, and training areas were still on the to-do list. Covering it all was a special shield; one that did nothing more than cancel out any and all emissions from within the base. One of the construction drones was tunneling out almost twenty miles from the base, laterally. It would then tunnel up, to the top of one of the local mountains to install one of the communications units. The unit itself would be on an elevator that could be raised or lowered from the command center in the base operations room. Two other, identical units would be built in other directions and distances in order to help conceal the location of the base itself.

It would take another four or five days to finish building the base complex and hidden defensive weapons systems on the planet. In order to make sure they were hidden, one of the raptors climbed into orbit and scanned for the base. The only thing detected was the communication nodes, and those only when they were being used.

When she returned, Jana listened to the explanation the team leaders gave her about leaving the 'pirates' alone for the time being. She agreed that more investigation was needed and reviewed the data from the probes left to monitor the prison and mines. The data showed that the teams working on the planet had not been detected by the occupants, nor had they actually left during the week-long base construction. The group did send out patrols during this time. Armed freighters would leave the prison and move around the system on a regular schedule. Jana smiled at the other team leaders. They had found a place to start.

Major Sizani and the Zulu sent a data burst that their mission had been successful and they were returning. In his report, he noted that the situation had been different from what they had thought so the mission had taken them longer to accomplish. He ended the report with their expected arrival in five days.

Jana also received word that Sol Sector command would be sending a company of Marines for security, along with the techs and other support personnel the base would need. She got the idea that there was getting to be a lot of people and supplies awaiting the completion of the special freighters to get them sent. The creation of the base had taken command by surprise, but they were adapting. Jana just had to make sure that the base would be large enough to house everything.

Some of the equipment was sent as design data for them to build on site. Some of the lighter ground equipment for the Marines fell into this category, but one item caught Jana's eye. They had been requested to test a new type of land rail in the cold weather of Echelon. If it was feasible, the teams would be getting this as a replacement for their existing land rails.

The experimental 'Storm Shadow' assault hover craft looked impressive as hell on paper. It was basically a small fighter craft that only lacked flight engines. It had a smaller mass driver cannon than the existing land rails, but also boasted two particle canons, two fixed-base pulse lasers, a missile rack and a mine layer in the under-carriage. It also had a top speed of almost twice the existing rails and did not require a relatively smooth surface for its use. She noticed in the developer notes that they were working on creating a user interface like that of the FROG drones, but for now it still had a two-man crew.

Jana had no idea what a FROG drone was, but figured it had something to do with remote operation. Which for the Raptor teams would not be desirable. The rails were used as transport as much as they were used as weapons. The idea was to be able to get someplace the ship wouldn't or couldn't go. Shrugging, she authorized the replication of four units, but it would have to wait until one of the construction drones could build the special assembly bay used for small craft construction. They had one on the list to be built already, since it would be required for the base, but it hadn't been a priority so was left for later. She passed out the user manual to the other teams so they could read up on the new craft.

Raptor Acadia was chosen to capture the freighter and interview the crew. Not that it was a difficult mission, but it was important to not actually hurt anyone until their status was clarified. Raptor Apache would head to the prison while the Dynasty took one occupied mining site. If these were indeed pirates, Jana intended to take them prisoner and return them to their people for punishment. However, if they were just a bunch of refugees… well, that could be a problem.

Apache went to the prison because that seemed to be where the main pirate base was located. Once the Acadia took the ship, Cathy would report to Jana about the crew and Jana would proceed from there. While the ship assault was happening, Gouyen would search out any computer systems she could find and gather information as well as disable the remaining ships to prevent escape.

Sensors told Jana that there were more than just Croanians in the old prison. There were members of two other Alliance races present as well. They did have weapons, but they were older and not very plentiful. She did note that according to their sensors, the weapons were kept in a central location near the ship bay.

As the scanners probed more, they registered the presence of females and children. In Croanian society, neither was allowed anywhere near combat. The females because they did not have the strength of the males and, because they were the thinkers, Croanian females were far more intelligent than the males, and they handled logistics and strategy. It wasn't really chauvinism for them, it just made more sense to do it that way. Then too, Croanians tended to have a low female birthrate.

The other two races were from nations that were spatially close to Croanian territory. The Frellic and the Tyrne. The Frellic were a small nation located between Croanian and Tyrne space. The nation spanned only five star systems, but those systems had a lot of occupied worlds. Apparently, the Frellic could adapt, either by altering themselves or their environment, to most climates. From what Jana knew of them, they were not a very warlike race and appeared to lack ambition in most things. They had only moved off their homeworld as a matter of necessity due to overcrowding. Before the Empire arrive, the Croanians moved to conquer them, but met with no resistance. The Croanians quickly found out that little would be gained by ruling these people, and promptly began ignoring them. They set up bases in Frellic territory to begin invading Tyrne space and found what to them was something glorious; a race that could provide a challenge for their warriors. The Tyrne stopped the Croanian war machine dead.

The Tyrne were not a warlike or expansionist race. However, they did understand that they were not alone in the universe and that many of the other races were warlike. So they made sure that they could protect their people and continued on with their business.

While Jana secretly viewed the Croanian race as 'dwarves' in her mind. She saw the Frellic as more 'troll-like' at least in appearance, and the Tyrne as gnomes. Over the centuries of war with the Empire, the three races had come to many agreements. Commerce between the nations opened up and interaction began to influence their societies.

To see these three races in the same place, living together showed just how much trust existed between at least the common citizens. More and more Jana began to feel that these were not pirates at all.

"Colonel, I've finished with their computer systems. These are not pirates in the true sense of the word. They are indeed refugees, but have been forced into acts of piracy to obtain food and supplies. Some of their targets have been Imperial, but a few have been Alliance. The computer systems show that they have requested asylum on fifteen different worlds. All their requests have been either refused or ignored. They are aware of the fact that, since they had to raid a supply convoy, the Croanians have labeled them as pirates, but one thing of note; no one was killed in any of their raids. They only took what they needed, and left," Gouyen reported. "The leader here is the former Croanian noble that fell from favor when she ordered the system abandoned."

"That doesn't make any sense; if she ordered the system abandoned, why would she return here?" Jana asked.

"I don't know. That information is not in the computer systems. However, there are no military personnel here. Just people that have fled the war," Gouyen reported. "The possibility exists there is an Imperial spy here as well. It seems odd that the Empire would ignore this system completely. There is a great deal of minerals and ores here to be mined. It could easily be considered a strategic resource based on that fact."

"Well, sending them to Sol Sector is out of the question then. But perhaps we can have the Council appeal to one of the other races to take them in. One way or another, we need to get them out of here," Jana replied. "Pass the word to the Dynasty and the Acadia about what you found. Then I suppose we should go talk to these folks."

Landing the Raptor in the large hanger bay, Jana and her team, in armor, got out and walked over to the airlock leading into the old prison complex. "Gouyen, could you ask the leader to meet us on the other side of this airlock? I don't want them to think we are just invading them."

"I am certain the message will still take them by surprise, Colonel. They are not expecting company, and we have not tripped any sensors as yet," the AI reported.

"I am certain it will once we open this airlock, right?" Jana asked.

"If I allowed it," Gouyen replied smiling softly. "I do believe there is a manually activated warning chime on the inside door that is not part of the computer system. Once we cycle the lock, the chime will sound."

"Either way, we need to let them know we are here and are not a threat to them," Jana said.

"I will take care of it, Colonel," Gouyen replied and paused a moment. "The Matriarch was startled by the message, but will assemble her advisers and meet us inside. She understands that, while we are military, we are not a threat to her or her people, and are not here to arrest them."

"Thank you. That was pretty fast for all that to be passed back and forth," Jana replied.

"I simply called her on the internal comm system. I think they have been worried about the military eventually showing up here," Gouyen replied. "She sounded somewhat resigned."

Jana only nodded and the team opened the airlock to enter the prison.

When the team finally made it through the slow cycling airlock, they found themselves in a large open area that used to be a storage area of some type. Possible for the storage of the supplies that were brought here to feed and clothe the guards and prisoners. There were a couple of beings near the far bulkhead; a Croanian and a Tyrne that looked to have been taking an inventory of some of the crates still in the room. When Jana and her team had entered, the two simply stopped and stared at them. Slowly, both beings knelt to their knees and put their hands on their heads in a very human gesture of surrender.

Speaking in Alliance common, Jana said. "You do not need to surrender, we are not here to arrest you. Only to meet with the Matriarch. Please, resume your duties, citizens."

The two workers looked a little confused, but stood while they did seem to go back to work, they kept a close eye on the group of armored soldiers. In only a few minutes, another group of beings arrived. Two Croanians, two Tyrne and two Frellic. A Croanian female led them over to Jana and bowed. "Colonel Cromwell, welcome to Echelon Prison."

"Thank you Matriarch. It is an honor to meet you," Jana replied.

"Forgive our rudeness, Colonel, but we have no knowledge of your race and do not know the proper customs to observe. If we seem to offer insult, know that it is not our intention," the Croanian women replied. "My name does not translate well into common, but you may call me Tr'ellhandress." She gestured to the group that had come with her. "These are my advisers and friends." She introduced each being, who in turn bowed to Jana.

Jana introduced her team. "We are all human from a world I am sure you have never heard of. Standard customs will be fine; we do not anger easily." In Croanian customs, among the military caste an insult was an open invitation to a duel; like on the Croanian ship in the Rataak sector. By saying they did not anger easily, Jana was telling the Matriarch that humans did not consider a verbal insult worth the effort of killing someone. "Forgive me, but is there a better place we may speak, Matriarch? There is an issue that will affect your people we need to discuss."

"Of course, Colonel, please follow me." The Matriarch replied and gestured back the way she had come. "All of our people are presently here, except for those on one of our freighters that is patrolling the system looking for Imperial ships and sending messages, and those of us who are mining for trade materiel. Eight are on the ship, and twenty-three are at the mine."

Jana nodded as if she had not known that already. "We will bring them back to you shortly, a situation has arisen here that requires both operations be suspended." She stopped the group a moment. "Matriarch, before we proceed, is there anything your people require? We have a replicator on our ship we can use to generate emergency supplies for you if there is need."

The female visibly relaxed at Jana's words. "Yes Colonel, there is a great deal we need. That is the reason for our mining operations. We had hoped to be able to use the ore to trade for the goods we need. Some of our food was contaminated, and we did not know it. We are also short on food, fresh water, and several other basic items. If you could see your way to assisting us with these, we would be very grateful."

Jana turned to her AI. "Turn the Apache around and move it closer to the airlock. Once we have a list from the Matriarch, begin replicating supplies for a week, if they will need more than that, we'll use the big equipment at the base and one of their freighters to get it here. Give priority to the medicines and any other critical items followed by food and water." She turned to one of the other officers with her. "Grab a scanner and get a solid scan of their food supplies. Get rid of the contaminated stuff."

Tr'ellhandress was surprised, but responded well. She turned to her own people. "Gather a crew to assist unloading the supplies. Hergran, get the Colonel a list of everything we have need of right now. You can drop the weapons and other military equipment; I have a feeling we are not going to need it any longer."

The Tyrne being bowed to her. "At once, Matriarch." The being then turned to Gouyen and indicated they should continue in a different direction.

The Matriarch then turned to face Jana. "I feel I should tell you that my people have branded us as pirates. By assisting us, you will be considered our accomplices."

"I do not believe so, Matriarch. The message I received from your people was that I could do with you what I pleased. I feel that while they had to brand you pirates, they understood the nature of your raids on their shipping. Croanians are not forgiving people. But the fact that you made sure no one was harmed in those raids did much to mitigate the charges against you. In all likelihood, you would be tried and convicted if you returned to your people. That being said, we do not intend to let that happen to you simply because you did what was needed to survive," Jana replied.

"We are indeed fortunate that it was you that has discovered us, Colonel. Thank you for assisting us," Tr'ellhandress replied.

"Matriarch, the Alliance has decided to put a base here in order for us to make strikes against Imperial bases and outposts. To that end, the Croanian Magistrate, through their Ambassador to the Alliance, has given us this system. Because of that, there is a very strong possibility that the Empire will be taking more interest in this system and the facilities here. We need to relocate you and your people or they will get killed.

"I know that you have been trying to find a better place to live, but your requests have been at best ignored. I will be contacting my superiors to see what can be done about that. I can't promise that you'll end up anywhere near Croanian or Tyrne space, but I can promise it'll be far safer than remaining here," Jana explained, once they got to an office.

"Colonel, as you say, we have been trying to find a better place. In the latest batch of missives we've sent we've appealed to a few of the other Alliance Ambassadors to allow us to take refuge away from here. We did not hold much hope, as we are a mixed race group and have been labeled as pirates. If you could find a safe place for us to raise our children; if such a place even exists in our world, we would be forever grateful. However, there is a point I would like knowledge of, if I may?" Tr'ellhandress asked.

"If I can tell you, I will, Matriarch," Jana replied.

"My people do not give territory to other nations under any circumstance. They feel it would dishonor those that gave their lives in its acquisition. So how is it you are in possession of this system?" the woman asked.

Jana smiled sadly. "I was made a Croanian citizen and given this system to, and I quote, 'Do what was needed to support and defend the Alliance and the Croanian people'. I'm not certain of all the legal particulars since the message was passed to me through a third party, but that is how I understand it."

"You must be a very great warrior; the magistrate rarely adopts one not of our race. I have never heard of them making such a person a noble as well. That is unheard of." The woman nodded. "Colonel, by Croanian law, we are now your subjects as we were living here when ownership was passed to you. Because of your position, you do not have to address me as Matriarch, as I am your social inferior," the woman said and knelt as if Jana was royalty. When the rest of the group heard Jana's explanation, they too knelt.

"Please, don't kneel to me. I understand that is your custom but it truly makes me uncomfortable. The society in which I was raised taught me that we are all equal regardless of rank or position. Matriarch Tr'ellhandress, I address you as such because of the work you have done here and continue to do for these people. You deserve my respect and should not be forced to bow to me," Jana asked gently. "I am a simple soldier who has found herself in an unusual situation, that's all."

Tr'ellhandress looked up in surprise. "You're female?"

Jana blushed. "Forgive me, I thought you had knowledge of my race. I am human; and yes, I am female." Jana turned and gestured to one of her remaining team. "This is a male of my race."

"My apologies, Colonel. It is that we are not used to seeing female soldiers. The fact that you have been adopted by my people and given this system means that either our leadership has changed radically, or you are indeed a very special soldier. I mean no rudeness by this," Tr'ellhandress replied, trying to regain her composure. "As you can imagine, we have been out of contact for some time. We do not even have access to the datanet here."

Jana nodded. "This system is rather isolated from the rest of the Alliance. Setting up the equipment needed for real time communications would be dangerous because of the proximity to Imperial space." Jana looked thoughtful for a moment. "I hate to ask this, because it may be insulting to you, but I know I will be asked by my superiors. What are the chances that there may be an Imperial spy in your group?"

"I can understand the concern, Colonel. No offense is taken. I will freely admit that the possibility exists, however, I know every being here personally. I would find it very difficult to believe any of them would be working for the Empire. Of our population only five have ever been under Imperial rule. The latest of those was more than ten years ago and she is Frellic. I would find it very hard to believe she was a spy; the Frellic are as indifferent to the Empire as they are to everyone else," the Matriarch replied.

The Frellic adviser with the group nodded. "That is very true; to my people, the Empire are simply another race struggling with their place in our universe. The Frellic have accepted their place, what would be the point in taking on someone else's struggle?"

"I was going to ask about that. If the Frellic are indifferent, how is it you find yourself in this situation?" Jana asked. "Why would you flee an oppressive government?"

The Frellic nodded. "Fair questions. We will continue as we always have regardless of who governs. We are here because our friends brought us. They did not wish to see us put to death. Word has reached us that the Empire has little use for those of our race as we will not serve as slaves nor will we follow laws not of our own choosing."

"I am sorry for your losses. We had not heard such a thing, but then again, I am sure there are many such atrocities happening in this war," Jana replied. "I know you do not see it as such, but I believe that each of us has something to contribute to the whole; even if that something is only our existence."

The being bowed slightly. "Your condolences are accepted in the spirit in which they are offered, Colonel."

Jana smiled at the being but spoke to the Matriarch. "Now, as I've said, I'll contact my superiors and see what arrangements can be made for you and your people. Do you have transport available for your entire population?"

"We did when we arrived, but it was crowded. Our numbers have grown some since that time. I think we could still fit on our ships, but it would be very tight," the Matriarch replied.

"Okay, now that I know what is needed, I can see about making it happen," Jana replied. "I will see if I can get an extra ship out here to assist in your relocation."

"This facility is an old one, Colonel. However, it was built very strong and will make a fine base for you to work out of," the Matriarch replied. "I will make the complete schematics available to you so you may better plan out how to modify it for your needs."

Jana grinned at the large female. "Matriarch, the base is already built and functioning. We've been in this system for almost two weeks getting it ready."

"Two weeks! We have detected nothing! How… where… Uh, never mind, I don't need to know." The woman replied. "So, if you have already built your base, what is to become of this facility?"

"Nothing, it will remain empty. That is what we want the Empire to find if they come here looking," Jana explained. "It may be that they will come here, and simply blow this place to hell when they don't find anything. We just don't know, but we don't want to risk your lives on the chance they won't do it."

"Are you certain they will come here at all?" one of the other advisers asked.

"The reason for this base is so we can perform military raids in Imperial space. They are already looking for us, but in a different place. They will eventually look here as they know this is one of the places we could be hiding. We want them to find exactly what they will expect to find; an abandoned prison facility and nothing more," Jana explained. "So, we need to make sure you are taken to safety as soon as arrangements can be made."

"Colonel, you have done much for us already. I can see that you actually care about our people here. However, I think there is one thing you have not been truthful about," the Matriarch said with a half-smile.

Jana was surprised. "What would that be, Matriarch?"

"You are far more than a simple soldier." Behind her, the other advisers nodded agreement.


Breckenridge Ski Resort

Colorado, Earth

Sol System, Sol Sector

Beth and the man who identified himself as Doctor John Corman got the seal somewhat stable as the medical helicopter arrived and sat down on a small flat area several hundred feet away. When the chopper had landed. The flight crew ran uphill to check the status of the patient.

"How did you find that bleeder so quickly, Beth?" Doctor Corman asked.

"One of the functions of the medical scanners we have is to look for things like that. Let's get his intestine closed up, and I'll explain a little more," Beth replied.

"How are you going to handle the infection? He's already septic and if his temperature gets any higher, he's not going to make it," John asked.

"Part of the function of the sterile field is to counter the spread of infection. Do you see that almost invisible light that passes over the wound every few seconds?" Beth asked.

"Yeah," John replied.

"It has a lot of functions, but one of them is the removal of the fecal matter in this instance. It prevents infection. It cleaned and sterilized our hands when we reached through it, as well as prevents any foreign materiel from entering the protected area. Even the man's skin has been sterilized," Beth replied. "His temperature should begin dropping shortly."

John sighed. "You know what they’re going to do to him, don't you? They'll take him to some hidden laboratory and try to figure out what you did to heal him. Even if we save him, they'll kill him with the tests."

Beth nodded to the crowd of civilians. "I'm counting on them and you to make sure that doesn't happen. It'll end his career, but that'll have to be better than some butcher cutting him up because some drug company wants to know how we did it."

John snorted. "I've been assisting you, watching everything you've done, and I still don't know how you did it!"

Beth grinned while she began mending the small intestine. "Our medical technology is about a thousand years ahead of where Earth tech is. We used micro force fields to maintain the integrity of the blood vessel until a tissue stimulator could repair the damage. Look here, I'm doing much the same thing with the small intestine, see?" Beth explained and held back some of the surrounding tissue so the man could see what she was doing.

"I have no idea what a tissue stimulator is or how it works, Doctor," John replied. "I can see what you’re doing, but I couldn't tell you how you did it. It just looks like magic to me!"

Beth chuckled. "I suppose it does. But there is a scientific explanation Doctor. Now, the mended areas will be weaker than normal for the time being, but not all that much. If he were to remain my patient, I would most likely release him from the hospital in a couple of days."

"Won’t the trauma from the bullet take longer than that to heal?" John asked.

Beth nodded. "Yes, he'll be stiff and sore for a few days while the bruising heals, but it will heal. By getting him back on his feet as quickly as possible, it will reduce the overall trauma to his system, and he can get back to normal much faster. Before I learned all of this, we would have had our hands full with him. The infection alone could have killed him even after surgery."

John could only nod. "So when will this tech be getting to the rest of us?"

"I'm afraid that's going to be awhile, Doctor. A lot of this stuff shares technology with stuff that could easily be made into pretty horrible weapons. It's very much part of the tech we can't release to the planet yet," Beth explained.

"That's really a shame. There are a lot of people we could help with this stuff," John replied. "What about things like Alzheimer's or HIV?"

Beth nodded. "We can cure HIV, and treat Alzheimer's much more effectively than here. We can also cure cancer and prevent it from recurring. But again, the treatments, or knowledge of how they are made or work could easily be perverted and warped into something far more evil than the disease ever was."

"So you were a doctor here before you joined the Terrans then?" John asked.

"Yes, I was. I still have my license as well. Although I'm sure eventually someone will call it into question because I won't allow the treatments I know of to be passed on to other medical professionals here. Our oaths say above all else, do no harm. I feel I've chosen the lesser of the two evils," Beth replied sadly.

John nodded. "I can understand that. Its simple triage; the greatest good for the greatest number."

Before they could continue talking, the flight crew arrived to check on the patient. "What the hell?" the big male nurse asked when he saw what was going on. "You're operating on him out here?"

"Excuse me Nurse. Yes, they are operating on him out here. They had to or you would have been picking up a dead body," Lissa said. "The patient had a perforated small intestine, as well as a lacerated artery from a bullet wound. Both issues are currently repaired and the patient is stabilizing. You will be able to move him shortly."

"Who are you?" the nurse demanded.

"Officer Lissa Dancer of the Terran defense forces Raptor Damocles. Among my other duties, I am the team's combat medic. This is Doctor Elizabeth Williams, Chief Medical Officer of the Terran Defense Forces Battle Cruiser Star Dancer. The other man is Doctor John Corman, from St. Joseph's Hospital in Denver."

The nurse took a deep breath. "Okay, I guess that explains things somewhat. I'm still going to have to report this, I hope you both understand that, Doctors."

They both nodded. "We did what we felt was necessary to save the patient's life. If that cost's me my license, then so be it."

"I'll give you an audio recording of my notes during the treatment to take with you, Nurse. Perhaps that will help with your report. Please make sure the other doctors have access to it as they might need to contact me for further treatment," Beth said.

"Thank you, Doctor," the nurse replied.

Beth glanced at Lissa. "Lissa, prepare to record please."

"Ready, Doctor," Lissa replied after touching some buttons on the equipment she had brought.

Beth began speaking, explaining the incident, the wound as she had found it, her diagnosis, and actions taken. She explained the operation in detail, making sure to include all the relevant data. She finished with explaining who she was and how to reach her. She also mentioned that she had been assisted in the treatment of the patient by Doctor John Corman and Officer Lissa Dancer. When she nodded to Lissa, the young woman stopped the recording and pressed another button. A small SD card dropped into a cubicle on the side of the device. Lissa handed the chip to the nurse as Beth closed up the incision she'd had to make in the man's abdomen.

"There you go, he's closed up, stable, and ready for transport, Nurse," Beth said as she stood letting the sterile generator clean her hands. John followed suit.

"That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," Jed, the ski patrol EMT said as he helped get the man on the gurney.

Around them, the crowd began applauding and cheering. Both John and Beth blushed but bowed to them.

With the arrival of the helicopter, the Sheriff had also arrived. She led the flight nurse up the hills by only a few steps. Instead of trying to stop the emergency surgery, she quietly began interviewing the people involved and had her men taking statements from the witnesses. She began with Ian.

She walked up to where Deputy Stiles was standing with a young man. She extended her hand. "Admiral Williams I presume?"

Ian smiled at her. "Sorry to ruin your day, Sheriff. Thanks for coming."

"While I appreciate the sentiment Admiral, I'm getting the impression this wasn't your fault. What happened here?" the Sheriff asked.

"My family and I have recently returned from a mission in another star system, and we decided to take a vacation. We worked it out with the Government and booked a ski lodge here. Everything was going fine until we got out here to the lifts. The wounded gentleman came up behind me, pressed a weapon to my back and ordered me to go with him as I was under arrest. When I looked over at my companions, they also had men standing very close to them," Ian began. He went on to explain the situation as he saw it.

The Sheriff nodded. "So basically, the spooks sent two SEAL teams out here to do whatever they needed to do to get your tech. They ignored your warnings and got hurt. You do have diplomatic immunity, so their attempt to arrest you was illegal."

"Pretty much, yeah. But I don't blame the SEALs, they were just following orders, I'd bet they have no idea we're diplomatically protected. No, they were being used," Ian replied.

"You're being pretty generous considering they just tried to kill you," she replied.

"Soldiers following orders are just being good soldiers. If I knew who was using them in this way, I doubt I would be as forgiving to them," Ian admitted.

The Sheriff looked at him. "You mean you don't know?"

"We have some pretty good ideas, but there's not a whole lot we can do about it. It has to be left to the US Government to deal with issues of this type," Ian replied. "The problem is that it's not good for one's career to arrest the people that put you in office."

The woman snorted. "I do it all the damn time! But I do know what you mean. Hard to fight this type of corruption at such a high level. Hell, everyone knows about it, but no one knows how to get rid of it. I think if it weren’t for the fact that they'd have to leave the planet, you'd find yourselves flooded with applications for citizenship!"

Ian chuckled at her. "The last time I checked, we were anyway. How do you want to handle this, Sheriff?"

"Not really much to handle; You didn't commit a crime and I couldn't arrest you even if you had. The SEALs have already been covered, so about all we can do is take everyone's statements and file our reports." She sighed. "Before I took this job, I didn't mind paperwork all that much."

"Well, now we just need to get the rest of the SEAL teams out of here and maybe we can get back to our vacation," Ian replied.

"The rest?" the Sheriff asked.

Ian nodded. "We parked our ship in a clearing over by the lodge we rented. I'm not sure how, but they found it and are sitting around trying to figure out how to haul it away."

The Sheriff just shook her head. "What a mess. Do I need to get anyone over there?"

"I don't think so," Ian replied. "The ship's commander is over there right now talking to them. I've heard they've stopped shooting at her, at least."

"Well, if we don't get it under control pretty soon, we're going to have another crowd of folks gathered over there that could get shot; if that happens, I'm sure you'll get blamed for it," the Sheriff replied.

"We've got someone on the line with their commanders right now trying to figure this mess out," Ian replied. "At least no one died over this. I just hope they decide to leave that man alone and not try to dissect him to see what we did to help him."

"They don't really do that do they?" Deputy Stiles asked.

Ian gave the man a half-smile. "Deputy, it wouldn't surprise me if they hadn't already gotten the lab prepared. They can very easily say that he died from his wounds because of the poor treatment we gave him here."

"No, they can't." The doctor that had assisted Beth said as he came over to Ian and the Sheriff. "Sheriff, I am a surgeon at St. Joseph's in Denver, my name is John Corman. The procedure was amazing, but I saw everything she did and she explained it all in great detail. The only thing that man needs is time to heal. If anything happens to him, it will be because it was done to him after the fact. I would testify to that."

The Sheriff nodded. "Thank you, Doctor. We'll make sure your statement is in our report."

"Admiral, with your permission, I'll escort the other two SEALs back to their team," Sam replied. "The sooner we can clear this area, the sooner the folks gathered around will go back to skiing."

Ian nodded agreement. "Just remember, you'll probably get shot at, you don't have your armor on."

"I think these two at least have learned their lesson. But I'll be careful, Sir," Sam replied, turned and walked back over to the two waiting men.

"How much do you want to bet they're still going to try to arrest him?" Stiles asked.

Ian chuckled. "No bet. They'll do it as soon as they're out of earshot of this little group. I'd wager a steak dinner that they won't be any more successful than they were here."

"Now that's a sucker's bet! No thanks!" Stiles replied.

While they'd been talking the sound of a snowmobile could be heard approaching. When people began moving for it, the Sheriff frowned. "It looks like the old man has come to see what's going on for himself! I wish he wouldn't do that!"

"Old man?" Ian asked.

The Sheriff nodded. "Jason Montgomery. He owns the resort and most of the land around here. He's also older than Moses and in a wheelchair. He shouldn't be coming out in this cold like this. Come on, I'll introduce you."

The woman led Ian over to where the machine had stopped, but one of the red-suited ski patrol had beaten them there. As they approached, they overheard the conversation between the two men.

"Dammit, Granddad! What are you doing! If you catch cold, it could kill you!" The big ski patrol said.

"Relax Trevor, I'm bundled up so much I can barely breath! I had to see what was going on out here; I'd heard there had been gun shots." The old man replied after removing his helmet.

"I can understand you were curious, but this is risky, dammit! We're under a blizzard warning right now!" the other man replied.

The old man on the snowmobile pushed his grandson to one side as Ian and the Sheriff approached. "Ah Sheriff! I'd heard you been called. What's happening here?"

"Jason Montgomery, you cantankerous old bastard! You know damn good and well I would have stopped to see you before I left and filled you in. Trevor's right, this is too dangerous for you!" The Sheriff replied.

"Yeah? And you would have made me wait for hours before you did, too! It's bad for my heart to stress like this!" Montgomery replied.

The Sheriff just shook her head. "Jason Montgomery, I'd like to introduce you to Admiral Ian Williams of the Terran Defense Force. Admiral Williams, Jason Montgomery, owner and president of this resort, hotel and casino, and most of the mountains behind us."

"It's an honor to meet you, Sir," Ian replied and after removing his glove, offered his hand.

The old man did the same and looked impressed. "Youngest damn Admiral I've ever met! I'd wager the duty will make you an old man well before your time though, son. Welcome to Breckenridge, Admiral." He looked at the Sheriff. "So, what happened here Jean? Feds try to capture the Admiral and his party again?"

The Sheriff nodded. "That's pretty much the whole thing in a nutshell, Jason. One SEAL stopped his own bullet when he didn't believe the warnings from the Admiral. He would have died but one of the people with the Admiral was a doctor and performed emergency surgery on the man, saving his life, at least from this incident. We just sent him to Denver in the medical bird." A she spoke, another snowmobile could be heard approaching.

"Ah, that would be my nursemaid catching up to me. Admiral, Sheriff, perhaps we can continue this discussion in my office?" Jason asked.

"There you are, you old deviant! What the hell do you think you're doing running off like that!" the young woman that literally jumped off the snowmobile said, laying into the old man. "Do you have any idea what this cold air is doing to you?"

Jason looked up at Ian and the Sheriff. "Please excuse her, she's a mean little shit, but she means well."

"Yeah? You're not going back to your office either! I'm taking you back to your room right now! Maybe we can head this off before your idiocy kills you!" the girl replied, pushed him back from the control of the snowmobile, and climbed in front of him.

"Prudence, don't be rude. There is something very important I need to speak to the Admiral about. Besides, I was only trying to find out what was going on out here," Jason replied.

"Don't give me that crap! The doctors said bed-rest and you've managed to push even those orders! We're going back, now." She looked up at the Sheriff, with a pissed off look on her face. "I'm sorry Jean, but he really can't be outside, stunts like this could kill him right now." She looked over at the big Ski Patrol Trevor. "Trev, can you get the other sled back for me?"

"Sure Prude, I'll handle it." Trevor replied. "Thanks."

She smiled at him, started the snowmobile and drove away.

"Is he going to be Okay?" Ian asked looking at the big man. The Sheriff had a concerned look on her face as she looked to him as well.

"Grandpa just got out of the hospital with pneumonia. He's got cancer and the chemo has really weakened his immune system. But he refuses to rest like the doctors are telling him. It's almost like he doesn't care or doesn't believe them," Trevor replied.

"Knowing him, he's probably fighting it the only way he knows how," the Sheriff replied. "He's been bull-headed all his life and has always met every challenge head on. He's a fighter, and the doctor's orders are like torture to him."

Trevor nodded. "Yeah, they are. But if he doesn't listen to them, he's going to die." The big man looked like he was on the verge of tears.

"He said he wanted to speak to us, should we ignore it, or do we go see him?" Ian asked. "Trevor, if you would like, I can ask Beth to come with us to check him over?"

"That would be great, Admiral. I just wish he'd agree to join you all so you could help him," Trevor replied. "I know he's getting old, and he'll leave us eventually, but I just can't… we can't lose him yet." He slowly shook his head. "Ignoring it is not a good idea when it comes to grandfather. He's very persistent."

The Deputies and Ski Patrol were getting the ski lift line running again. People had begun to wander off and get back to enjoying their vacations. Ian excused himself from the Sheriff and Trevor for a moment to call Cindy. "What's happening over there Cindy?"

"Calm. I talked them down and bought them lunch from the pizza joint in town. We're still waiting for the word to get passed back down the line here," Cindy replied.

Ian grinned. "Careful or you'll end up with a dozen or so new boyfriends!"

"Uh huh, Ian one of these folks over here is not a SEAL or Delta. He's a 'civilian' agent. I think he might be the contact on site for this fuck-up. What do you want me to do with him?" Cindy asked.

"That depends, is he an ass or is he playing nice?" Ian asked.

"Well, he shot at me without warning when I took my helmet off. He's been a belligerent ass-hole ever since. He still thinks he'll find a way to force us 'under control'," she replied.

"Sheriff, can I ask you a favor that will probably generate a lot more paperwork?" Ian asked. He left the line to Cindy open so she could listen to him.

"That depends, how much paperwork are we talking about?" Jean replied.

Ian grinned. "I'm told one of the gentlemen trying to capture our ship is not a SEAL or a member of the armed forces in any capacity. He's technically a civilian."

"A spook. You want me to go arrest the spook in charge of this mess don't you?" the woman asked raising an eyebrow at him.

Ian shrugged. "Well, he is one of the assholes responsible for this fiasco, and since he is a 'civilian', he's not protected like the military guys are. At least you can arrest someone over this mess."

"I don't know whether to thank you or curse you, Admiral. Stiles! Grab two of the others and put that idiot in cuffs. Be sure to search him very well before you do," the Sheriff ordered. "Keep him under guard at all times. Literally do not take your eyes off him; he's liable to cut your throats just for fun while he escapes."

"What are the charges, Sheriff?" Deputy Stiles asked.

"He did try to shoot my person over there in the head. So attempted murder would work," Ian suggested. "I'll get you the video of the incident."

"Just how did you manage to get video of it? Never mind; I don't think I want to know," Jean replied.

Ian laughed. "They're beside our ship. I'm certain it recorded everything." He waved the women he had arrived with over. "Shannon, Talena, Beth and I have been asked to visit the owner of this resort. I'm sorry to bail out on you two, but I'd be happy to join you after we're finished if you want to meet us back at our lodge."

"Sure Ian, I don't know about Shannon, but I'm getting kinda hungry anyway," Talena replied.

"Okay Ian, you have fun with the rich folks, I'll eat pizza with the grunts," Cindy replied, reminding him she was still on the comm.

"Yeah and I'm sure you’re actually enjoying it. You like those folks!" Ian replied.

"I do, I'm sure we could be friends if the situation were different. We understand each other," she replied.

"Well, keep me in the loop. Beth and I will accompany the Sheriff to see Mr. Montgomery," Ian replied.

"Yeah, not without a guard. Sasha, you escort Talena back to the lodge but stay hidden. Shannon, stay with Ian and Beth," Cindy ordered.

"Understood, will do," Shannon replied as Sasha also acknowledged the order.

Ian sighed and turned back to the Sheriff. "I guess that's handled. I'm ready when you are, Sheriff."

Jean led the small group back to the biggest of the resort's lodges, which wasn't really all that far way. Jean led them through a couple of 'staff only' doors, and up a set of stairs to a nice, comfy loft area over-looking the lift area where the SEALs made their attempt.

"Well, now we know how he knew something was up!" Ian grinned.

"Damn straight, Admiral!" Jason said from a door in the back of the room. "If I can't be out there, at least I can see them."

"Mr. Montgomery it's good to see you again. Sir, if you wanted to speak with me, you could simply have called," Ian replied.

He chuckled. "Well, I didn't actually know you were staying with us, and you're not the easiest person to get hold of otherwise."

"No, I suppose not," Ian said smiling at the man. "Sir, before we continue, this is Doctor Elizabeth Williams, the Chief Medical Officer on my ship. Trevor asked if she could give you a quick check to make sure you’re doing okay."

He grinned. "Trevor's a good lad. To put it simply, I'm dying. I know that. He and my nurse here are trying to deny that fact as long as possible." He shrugged. "I'm old; no one lives forever."

"That's very true, Sir, but one person's reality might be different than that of others. I promise I won't hurt you or make you do anything embarrassing," Beth replied. "Unless you piss me off that is!"

"Doc, I tend to piss people off without even knowing I do it!" Jason replied. "Williams? I thought you were married to a blond woman?" he said the last to Ian.

"We have a unique situation aboard ship, Sir. I'm not actually married to anyone but Jenny, officially," Ian explained. "By our laws, we can join together, but since I am such I high profile person, we are trying to keep that aspect of our lives as private as we can, things are difficult enough when dealing with the governments down here without that type of complication."

"Makes sense. Admiral, the reason I wanted to speak to you was for Trevor; he's in a very poor position here," Jason replied.

"How so?" Ian asked.

"Trevor is my heir. When I pass, all of this will fall to him," he held up a hand. "He can handle the resort I have no doubt of that. Unfortunately, he isn't the only member of my family, and the vultures have already begun to circle. He doesn't stand a chance against all of them. They'll take all of this away from him and sell it off. He grew up here. When I go, the corporation will sell it off in pieces and I think that will be more than he could deal with." Jason replied.

"Mother is such a bitch!" Prudence said softly.

"She is still your mother, Prudence. I'll ask you again to not speak of her like that," Jason said in mild rebuke.

She blushed. "Sorry Pampa."

"I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't see why you needed to tell me this?" Ian asked.

"When I pass, Trevor will be forced out. I've done all I can, but it's going to happen. I trusted Prudence's mother as the executor of my will and that was a mistake. She has the board eating out of her hand. She's convinced them of all the money they will make by selling out. They are already poised to take Trevor down by a vote of no confidence. She'll take over as the president and sell off the resorts. It'll crush Trevor. When it does, I would ask you to take him and Prudence as new citizens. If time remained to me, I'd see about starting up a new ski resort out there on your world for them," Jason replied.

Beth leaned back and put her tool away. "So how much time do you think you would need?"

Jason smiled at her. "I've heard you have some pretty amazing technology doctor, but I don't think even you can cure stage four cancer."

"Actually, we can. I can take care of the pneumonia too and possibly even give your legs back to you; but once all that is done, I doubt you would want to come back here," Beth replied.

"As promising as that sounds, I can't run away right now. Besides, how much time would it give me really? Five years?" he shook his head. "No, I've been dealt this hand, I'll stand pat."

"Actually, we're looking at more like thirty years, barring any accidents," Beth replied. "Think that'll be enough time for you?"

"Prue? Be a dear and send for Trevor please?" Jason asked the girl and looked back at Beth. "Doctor, are you certain of this?"

"Under our laws, I could lose my license to practice medicine if I lied to a patient, Mr. Montgomery. I could even go to prison for it," Beth replied as the girl left. "Now that you know, I need to tell you that the pneumonia has caused an issue with your heart. If you remain here, I'd give you six months if you follow your doctor’s orders. Less if you continue to ignore them; just your stunt today took a month off that."

"Dead now or dead in six months. What does it matter if I'm miserable?" Jason asked. "I'm still on borrowed time, Doc. But if you're sure you can keep me going another thirty years, I might be able to do something to help Trevor and Prue."

"What do you have planned, Jason?" the Sheriff asked.

"If the Admiral will accept me as a citizen, I'll retire and hand everything off to Trevor now and go for treatment. If I'm still alive, my will cannot be enacted and the board won't have the power to act. Trevor gets to keep his home, the business stays in the family, and I might live long enough to see those two get married," Jason replied.

Ian activated his communit. "Operations, this is Guardian."

"Operations is online. Aren't you supposed to be on vacation Guardian?" Chloe replied.

"I am, and this call is a personal one. I'd like a shuttle sent to retrieve a medical patient who will be asking for citizenship. He's a personal friend," Ian replied.

"Understood, Sir, when and where would you like the shuttle?" Chloe asked.

"Well, there really aren't any airports close by, so your gonna have to have them land close to the resort, I guess. Get with Lissa and find a place as close to the main lodge as you can. The man is currently in a wheelchair," Ian said.

"Stealth landing?" Chloe asked.

"Maybe for the trip down and back, but the landing itself shouldn't be too bad. They'll just be picking him up and leaving again; should be no big deal," Ian replied.

"Gotcha, I'll make it happen," Chloe replied.

Jason also called his attorney and hung up the phone just as Prudence returned with Trevor. Jason waved him to a seat near Ian.

"Trevor, I will be leaving tonight for medical treatment. Doc Williams tells me I'll be able to stick around for another thirty years if I agree to treatment at one of their facilities. So, I'm going to retire and hand over the control of all of this to you now. You know what would happen if we wait until I pass away," Jason replied.

"Why do you need to retire? You can just resume your place after they treat you," Trevor replied.

Jason shook his head. "No, I can't. The ghouls in the government would fillet me to see what was done. Besides, if we do it this way, the board won't be able to touch you, and Alicia will be left holding the bag. You've been running the place for the last year anyway, you might as well do it officially."

"But, you will be coming back won't you, Grandpa?" Trevor asked.

"Of course I will! We can visit each other anytime we can. Besides, I want to be at the wedding if you ever get your head out of your ass and ask her!" Jason replied, grinning. "How much longer are you going to keep the poor girl waiting?"

"I… uh, I don't… She doesn't…" Trevor stuttered.

Shannon stepped forward. "Trevor, I know you don't know me, but I can tell you with absolute surety that she indeed does love you. You already know how you feel, so just make it official."

Jason handed Trevor an old rosewood box. "Take this. It's the rings your grandmother wore and her mother before her." He grinned slightly. "I had them sized to fit Prue two years ago. When it’s time, you can pass them on to your son or daughter."

"Grandpa, you're a bastard," Trevor said softly.

Jason nodded, and smiled back. "I love you too, Trevor."


An old Chinook helicopter landed in the clearing beside the Raptor and collected the military teams. About half the men in the two units actually said goodbye to Cindy and thanked her for lunch. When the Colonel on the chopper asked where Agent 'Smith' was, he swore a blue streak when the Lieutenant told him. Cindy had no idea if they left the spy in the hands of the police or not. She saluted the Colonel as the rear ramp closed and was surprised to see him return it before the ramp hid him. Putting her helmet back on, she activated her cloak and walked back toward the lodge.

Two days later, during a semi-heavy snow fall, a shuttle set down next to the Raptor and deposited T'gan M'orel, four guard/assistants and Luke Belden on the snow. Ian, his family and the Raptor team were there to greet them.

"Honored Matriarch, welcome to Earth," Ian said smiling. "I am actually happy to see you, but I got the impression this was pretty important?"

"It is, Ian," T'gan replied. "We need to discuss that which Shies told you of when she left. Has Mrs. Laskar arrived here yet?"

Ian shook his head. "No, Janet is supposed to meet us here; she should have arrived last evening."

Luke sighed and nodded to Ian before activating his communit. "Major Hiro, please bring Mrs. Laskar here as per our earlier instructions."

"I understand, Councilor. It will be done," the Major could be heard to reply. "Samurai out."

Jenny and Julie both looked upset and concerned. "Luke, what's going on?"

"Your mother is having troubles with her ability, Child," T'gan replied. "Currently, she believes if she doesn't share what she has seen, it will not come to pass."

"She has been acting kind of strange the last few days. But we've both been so busy, setting up a time to see her has been difficult," Ian replied.

T'gan nodded at his words, but continued to look at Jenny. "How have you been feeling, Child?"

"Uh, f… fine Matriarch. A little trouble sleeping, but I went through the same thing after giving birth to Sean," Jenny replied.

"Good, it hasn't manifested for you yet," T'gan replied. "Your mother and you are the only long-term precognitives you are aware of correct?"

Jenny nodded. "There are other precogs, but they are all shorter term. Janet has the longest sight of all of us though."

T'gan nodded. "Good, perhaps that means that the event is still far enough away that the rest of you are not being affected as yet." She turned to Ian. "Ian, it is for this we have come to you. We need to discuss preparations for our defense."

"I understand Matriarch, let me introduce you to our group, so we can get back to the lodge and out of this snow," Ian replied.

The group walked the short distance back to the warm lodge after Ian introduced the rest of the group that T'gan hadn't met before. She, in turn, surprised Ian by introducing her group to him. Two of the women that Ian had originally thought were assistants, were actually therapists brought along to help Janet and possibly Jenny deal with the trauma of their visions. They were both Benesian registered and Alliance authorized mental health professionals that specialized in combat related trauma. They both had very high empathy ratings and were telepathic.

Cindy spoke to the other two members of T'gan's groups, as they were actually guards. She gave both women a briefing on the security arrangements that had been made and introduced them to the human security officers Trevor had arranged for them. Of course, she did not let the men know the two women were 'aliens' and the women played along with the ruse. The head of the security detail, a good man that took his duty very seriously, cornered Cindy on it, out of earshot of the rest of his team.

"Okay Major, just what the hell is really going on here? You wouldn't need to add anymore security just for four more dignitaries; hell we got more protection here right now then the friggin' President would have!"

One of the Benesian agents put her hand on Cindy's shoulder, stopping Cindy's denial. "Commander, I would be happy to tell you, but you have to swear to me that you will keep the information to yourself. This is very important."

The man looked at her closely, but slowly nodded. "Okay, I swear I won't tell anyone. I'm only concerned about who we're guarding; I want to make sure we don't have any surprises."

"I understand that, Commander." The woman replied and looked at Cindy. "You can tell him the truth, Major. He will not betray us."

Cindy sighed. "Commander, Luke Belden is the head of our ruling council. For all intents and purposes, he is our version of a President or Prime Minister. The Lady Tegan Morel is actually named T'Gan M'orel and she is from the planet Benesia. She is the High Priestess in their belief system and is also the overall ruler of the Benesian people."

The man looked thoughtful for a moment. "So what you're telling me is that we are actually guarding two heads of state here?"

Cindy nodded. "Yeah, but there is a bit more to it than that. You see, Ian is not only our highest ranking military official, he is also a Fleet Admiral in the Alliance Military and a highly trusted adviser to Admiral H'joles, who is the Alliance Chief of Staff and nominal head of all military operations in the Alliance."

"You're giving me a headache, Major," the Commander replied.

The Benesian woman smiled broadly at the man. "Well, what she didn't tell you is that she is actually a Colonel, the most seasoned and senior member of the Special Operations group and the nominal second in command of that organization. She only uses the 'Major' rank in situations like this."

The man sighed and shook his head. "You women are going to give me an ulcer."

Cindy gave the man a half smile. "Sorry about that, Scott. We felt the fewer people that knew the truth the better."

The man named Scott nodded his understanding and agreement. "That would explain the SEALs and Delta having an interest in you. I guess that means that just about everyone else is of high rank as well, right?"

Cindy nodded. "I think the lowest ranked person here is Talena and she is the fighter wing commander on the Star Dancer. She's a Lieutenant Commander."

"Trevor better give us a bonus for this job!" Scott replied shaking his head. "Wait, just how old is Talena? She doesn't look more than sixteen!"

"If he doesn't, give me a call. I'll take care of it," Cindy replied. "Just remember, you can't say anything to anyone; not even your own men. As for Talena, she's twenty-four; two years older than I am."

"You're all so young! How did that happen?" Scott asked.

"That is a long story, Scott. I'll try to tell you all about it when this mission is over," Cindy replied, grinning.

Janet was not in a good place when she arrived with the team from the Samurai. Major Hiro had ordered her sedated as she was almost hysteric when they found her in the hotel. She hadn't slept in over a week, and the visions had begun coming to her during the days, keeping her from doing any recruiting as well. She had checked into a hotel and just closed herself off from the rest of the world. Ian wondered why the woman hadn't killed herself to stop the visions.

When the Samurai arrived, both Benesian therapists took immediate charge of her. They took her to a room in the lodge and began working with her to try to restore some form of balance in her mental state. They asked that Beth assist them as she would also need medications they simply did not have with them.

It took almost two days of continuous work for them to get Janet back to a somewhat balanced mental state where she could speak to Ian, Luke and T'gan.

"Janet, I know what you've seen is bad. Why didn't you come to us when this started getting to you; we would have tried to help you!" Ian asked.

"Ian, from the first, this vision hit me very hard. The first time I had it, I didn't even know what it was I was seeing. I was physically sick to my stomach for two days after it hit me. I couldn't report anything to you since I didn't know what it was I saw. At first, I didn't even know what planet I was seeing. I still don't know who it is that's going to attack us; the Empire or the Caldarians. Sometimes I see both, other times it's just one or the other. The end is always the same though; it's the end that really gets me," Janet replied.

She still sounded as though she were on the edge of hysterics, but was controlling it for now. One of the Benesian women was beside her and holding her hand. Ian could feel the calm serenity flowing off her in waves. Janet closed her eyes and fought her emotions back under control.

"It's still very distorted and little more than impressions. Ian we lost. There's nothing left. No planets, no moons… nothing. They are coming here to utterly destroy us. They don't want to capture and will not accept surrender." She sobbed "Not even dust, Ian!" Janet replied and began crying. The Benesian woman took her back to the room they had been staying in, effectively ending the interview.

"This is not good," T'gan replied. "You are not getting this vision yet, correct?" She asked Jenny.

Jenny shook her head. "No Matriarch; just a vague feeling of unease during sleep."

T'gan nodded. "Okay, it would be safe to assume we have at least nine months to a year before this event arrives. Which doesn't give us a lot of time to prepare, but at least we have been warned."

"Forgive me Matriarch, but my ability may not even react to this event. It has been spotty at best," Jenny replied.

T'gan smiled at her. "It will react because it already is. All of your precognitive people will react this time. The scale of this event is so massive, that even our seers are reacting to it. When we report this to the Alliance, we will only tell them of our reactions."

Ian nodded. "I was warned about that by Admiral T’rolith. He said that we need to guard this ability from the rest of the Alliance, but I don't understand why we would need to; they are aware of the ability in your race, and have not reacted badly to it."

"Benesians do not fight, Admiral. It is widely known that we do not have any combat forces at all. What the other races fear is a telepathic, or rather a telekinetic fighting force," T'gan explained. "Long ago, there was a race of telepathic and telekinetic beings that did not have the same reverence for life that we of Benesia have.

"They were all but unstoppable. They warriors could read the minds of their enemies and crush their ships without ever firing a shot. Shields and armor had no effect against them. Their precognitives could see any sneak attacks before they happened. They rolled over the other races in a war of conquest that could not be stopped and enslaved every race they encountered. Believing they were superior to all other beings, they forced the entire galaxy to do their bidding. Conquered soldiers were forced to fight one another to the death in massive arenas for sport, citizens were tortured and killed for any infraction against their masters, real or imagined. It was horrible. When they were finally freed of the controlling race, the different races of the galaxy all vowed that they would never let it happen again, and would destroy any race that developed mental abilities for combat. So you see, if the Alliance, as a whole, ever discovered your abilities, they would ignore the Empire and come after you. They would destroy every trace of your race in order to prevent a return of the masters."

"I've never heard anything like that. How long ago did it happen?" Ian asked.

"Almost a hundred thousand of your years ago. Most believe it is a myth, but there are still records from that time. The leaderships of the races know the truth. They would come attack you if this knowledge ever gets out. We worked very hard to prevent the knowledge of Talosian gifts from getting out. However, the Talosian no longer have these abilities. They began to appear, but then just as suddenly seemed to have left the race. We had just begun the war with the Empire, so it was a good thing. The blessing of the Goddess protected them from total destruction at the hands of their own allies. Unfortunately, your race has already surpassed the level the Talosians reached. Admiral T’rolith is a good Commander. He knows of the dangers you would face if this knowledge got out," T'gan replied.

"What happened to free the races? How did they regain their freedom?" Jenny asked.

T'gan smiled sadly at her. "We don't know. The records from that time have little information in regards to that. All that is said is that one day, the masters were simply no longer there. As if the entire race simply disappeared all at once, leaving everything behind. It is speculated they ascended to another plane of existence, no other theories really exist."

"It strikes me as wrong that such a cruel sounding race would be able to ascend like that," Jenny replied, thoughtfully.

"You see 'ascension' as a reward, such as you would receive in the afterlife, right?" T'gan asked.

"I guess I do. Maybe it was just the way I was raised or the influence of all the people I've known; it just seems wrong to me for that to have happened," Jenny replied.

T'gan nodded her understanding. "Much of what we see in the world around us depends greatly on our own point of view. For example, would you consider humans to be superior to the monkeys here on Earth?"

"Well, yes, I guess so. After all we have language and have developed spaceflight and technology," Jenny replied.

T'gan nodded. "Have you ever though to wonder how the monkeys see it?"

"But Matriarch, we don't abuse the monkeys or at least most of us don't. We don't abuse any animals," Jenny replied.

"How do you think your cattle feel about being a food source for you?" T'gan asked. "Please don't think I am criticizing you or your beliefs, I am simply trying to point out that your own point of view has a direct bearing on how you see the world around you and that point of view may differ greatly from other beings. The same could be said in this situation; we cannot understand how the masters viewed the rest of the races, therefore, we cannot understand their point of view. The races in the Alliance share enough with the rest of us that we can understand each other and agree on treaties and concepts. The Masters obviously did not share that point of view."

"While that's all really interesting, and I really would like to learn more about it sometime, we have a problem we need to get dealt with," Ian said gently. "Matriarch, although we greatly appreciate it, you didn't come here personally to take care of Janet."

T'gan smiled at him. "No, I did not. It is also the reason I asked Chairman Belden to accompany me, even when he is far too busy to be absent." She paused to gather her thoughts. "Many in our society do not share the same point of view on the worship of Our blessed Milgaia. You could call them a different sect of our belief system. While we disdain the taking of sentient life for any reason, these people believe that violence and killing are sometimes necessary. It is one of the reasons we have two planets. There are other differences that separate us; the eating of replicated foods including meat, joining outside of our race, are the other two main issues.

"That part of our society has not joined the fight for two main reasons; the first is that they do not wish to damage our relations with the Alliance by confusing the issue of our neutrality and the other is our birth rate," T'gan explained. "Please, Ian, just be patient a bit longer, I will get to your answer," she said, smiling at him.

"Our race is dying a very slow death. As you know our males are restricted from travel and cannot join in a permanent relationship. This is because of our birth statistics. Currently, almost fifty females are born for every male. We have not been able to understand the reasons, and some of my people feel it is simply Milgaia's will. Others feel our Goddess has let us advance to the point where we can at last attempt to save ourselves. But therein lies yet another issue; our scientific community will not delve into our own genetics far enough to discover the cause of our current situation. They feel it would be to trespass into the realm of the Goddess.

"There are some scientists, those that are among the other sect, that would investigate this, but lack the training and equipment to do so. Our Council of Elders also refuses to purchase this equipment from another race; they feel allowing it would be allowing our sisters to sin against the Goddess. I can see both sides of this issue, but I am only one tired old woman. I believe Milgaia has shared her views on this with us, much as she always does, by guiding the actions of our people.

"To that end, and with Council approval, we are doing something unprecedented. We are going to allow our less orthodox sect to seek out assistance from another race; they have chosen you," T'gan finished.

"Uh, I don't think I fully understand this; chosen us for what?" Luke asked.

"To put it simply, several members of that sect wish to immigrate. They would like to join your society as citizens, scientists and military; our Council has given them permission to do so. My Granddaughter, the woman you rescued, has already been assigned as your Ambassador, but if you agree, she will also immigrate and act as liaison for the new citizens," T'gan replied. "She has been excommunicated from the orthodox church for the taking of two human males as mates."

"Forgive me, T'gan, but wouldn't allowing Benesian women into our military make the other races nervous in regards to the whole 'Master race' thing?" Ian asked.

"We do not believe so. On average, our mental abilities are far too weak to be a threat. This fact is widely known in the Alliance. If you agree to take them in, we will also work within the Alliance to foster acceptance and approval from the other races. It should be accepted by them without too much trouble," T'gan explained. "I would mention that the women in question will not be allowed to bring any males with them. We are not sure if interbreeding is possible, but we do find your race to be physically attractive. That usually means Milgaia approves. We were attracted to the Talosian people as well, but could never develop the trust we felt would be needed for such as this. That is not an issue with your race."

"Forgive me, T'gan, but interbreeding should not be an issue. I have been conducting research into the events on Hyclarion to discover what the Empire was doing to the citizens there. Part of that has been genetic analysis of our races. The only differences between Talosian, Terran and Benesian are sequential placement of some of the alleles and chromosomes. Medically speaking we are all the same race," Beth explained. "If we can't interbreed, then I'd like to know why."

"That is good to know, Doctor. Perhaps if time permits you can discover why our birth rates are skewed towards females instead of something more balanced," T'gan said.

"How many women are we talking about here, and how quickly would they begin arriving?" Luke asked. "We would need to make certain we have accommodations and facilities for them."

"There are just over ten million members of the other sect, and we do not know for certain how many of them would apply. We are estimating around twenty percent will wish to come," T'gan replied. "Roughly two to two and a half million women. Obviously, they could not come all at once. You could always regulate their arrival based on the availability of accommodations, that would be entirely up to you," T'gan replied.

Luke sighed. "What do you think Admiral? Would you like a few more people?"

"More help is always welcome, Luke. Besides, not all of them would be military. T'gan did mention scientists as well as a few regular citizens too, I would imagine," Ian replied.

T'gan nodded. "I did say that, but for the sake of argument, it would be safe to say that most of those joining you would do so as military applicants in one form or another. There has been interest in every branch of your services, including the Raptor teams, although we made certain to let them know that selection for that was strictly regulated to specific individuals and applicants accepted on a case by case basis."

"I will need to speak to the rest of the council, T'gan. However, I don't foresee a problem with this as long as we have time to build places for them to live. We could even bring some of them over now and put them to work building the rest of the needed facilities," Luke said, nodding to himself. "Yeah, let me talk it over with the Council. I think they'll like the idea. Considering the coming Armageddon; I'm sure they'll welcome as many people as we can find."

T'gan nodded her understanding. "Then we can return to Atlas when you are ready, Chairman. There are other items I would discuss with your Council as well. Once Shies arrives, she'll be able to handle these things, but for now, I have to do it myself. Ian, I will leave the two tending Mrs. Laskar in your care. They are of the other sect and will most likely be asking to remain here anyway. Please watch over them, both are kind to a fault and somewhat naive when it comes to interracial interactions."

Ian nodded. "A trait many medical professionals share. They will be cared for, T'gan."

Beth nodded. "I'll add them to my staff. If we have need to send them out, I'll make sure to send suitable assistants with them."

"As both Jenny and Janet are based off the ship, that would be the best place for them I think," T'gan nodded.

Jenny snorted and shook her head. "Now I just need to get used to sleeping with another woman in the bed as a form of therapy!"

T'gan and Luke left that evening to return to Atlas. It turned out that she wanted to ask the Council to consider a trade agreement that would enable Benesian ships to receive military-grade cloaking generators and shield upgrades at Terran facilities. In return, T'gan offered several tons of food, entertainment devices, and other commodities in trade. Luke, proving he had been paying attention, countered her with asking her people to manufacture emergency medical and survival kits that could be freely distributed on Earth.

T'gan happily agreed. She said it was a fabulous idea, not only for this trade agreement, but for use by all other races as well. She said she would make certain there would be no advanced tech in the kits for Earth, while still making them as useful as possible. When Luke tried to discuss how many units would be covered by this agreement, T'gan waved it off. "No limits, Chairman. Your suggestion is something we should be doing anyway and offering them for free to everyone. Also, as you have done in the past, you are assisting us in many ways with only thoughts for the benefits to all citizens. At a certain point, we may need assistance in the form of resources for the kits, but we currently have a major surplus of many of the items that will be needed. I will order the construction of the assembly plants to begin at once. The ships that will carry the first loads of these supplies can be the first to receive the upgraded shields."

"Nope," Luke replied smiling.

"Pardon me?" T'gan replied.

"While that would be a good plan, it's not feasible. You need your passenger liners upgraded as well, those need to be started now. They can be worked on at the Mars facility since the Pleiades stations are at full capacity. Perhaps we should consider expanding the facilities there as well," Luke replied looking to the other Councilors. "There might be a need to do so if other nations want this type of service done."

They agreed, and the request to expand the Mars shipyard was officially made. Crews were still an issue as most of the construction effort had been shifted over to the Pleiades stations and the Academy on Atlas, but the work request was accepted and the expansion was placed on the schedule.

While Ian was still on Earth trying to enjoy his vacation, he contacted Commodore Hawkins and ordered another bay on one of the stations set aside for Terran ship construction and increased the priority on those ships. Isaak was surprised by the orders.

"What's wrong, Ian? The Empire find us or something?"

"Not yet, Isaak, but they will soon. We need to be ready, because they are going to send everything they have at us. If we're not ready, none of us will survive," Ian replied.

Isaak lost his grin and looked at Ian closely. "You're serious. What's happened?"

Ian sighed. "You're familiar with how Janet Laskar does the things she does, right?"

"Yeah, kinda spooky, but she's a damn good person," Isaak replied.

"Yes she is. She's in treatment for psychological trauma right now due to the strength and… severity of the visions she had. None of the other precogs are reacting like this yet, so we probably have a bit of time, but I don't want to waste even a second of it." Ian replied. "We need to start getting ready, right now."

"Can we ask the Alliance for assistance?" Isaak asked.

"No, not yet. I want to keep our precogs as a secret. The rest of the Alliance have a bias against mental abilities in races that are willing to fight. There's a long story here, remind me and I'll tell you about it sometime," Ian replied.

"Okay, say aren't you supposed to be on vacation or something?" Isaak asked.

Ian grinned. "Yeah, like I can ever truly go on vacation!"

"Well, try to enjoy what you can; it's the only thing that keeps us sane over the long haul," Isaak said.

"That reminds me, there is a grumpy old bastard that would make a great fishing partner for you going through medical treatment at Phoenix base right now. Jason Montgomery; he owns the Breckenridge Ski Resort down here," Ian said.

"You recruited Ol' Monty? Where did you find him?" Isaak asked, amazed.

"You know him?" Ian replied, surprised.

"Yeah, I know him! We used to go fishing together back when I lived in Colorado. He's at Phoenix you say?" Isaak asked. "Maybe I can run over there for a couple of days, I'm sure he could use a friendly face; except for his grandson and great niece, he's been alone since his wife passed."

Ian nodded. "If you can, please do, I didn't get to know him all that well, but I like him."

"Thanks, Ian. I'll do that. Take care." Isaak replied.

"I will. I need to give Colonel Carlson an ulcer next. Then the fun really begins; I get to go back to the UN and tell them what we're going to be doing to their planet," Ian replied.

"They are going to fight you every step of the way, Son. I think you might be facing a harder battle down there than you ever have up here. Good luck."

Ian winked at him and closed the channel.

Ian did call Alan Carlson to let him know that as soon as Ian could make the arrangements on the planet, the defense kits would be getting installed and their time was running out.  Alan reminded him that only about half the kits had been assembled so far, but he would make what preparations he could to get them installed as soon as Ian told him to begin.

Next Ian contacted the orbital fortress construction project and asked what they needed to be finished in three months.

"A miracle Admiral. It just can't be done with the resources we have. We're actually ahead of schedule and we're still looking at nine months to a year," the project head replied.

"What do you need to get them finished sooner?" Ian asked.

"At least a hundred more people and a dozen more special drones. The help of an AI wouldn't hurt either," the man replied.

"I'll get them for you. Do you need the AI full time or would part time be enough?" Ian asked.

That took the project lead by surprise. "Uh, I think part time would be all we'd need. Mostly for the drone programming and for a limited time when they start on a new station. Has something changed Sir?"

"Yes it has, but I can't tell you what yet. Look, do you care if the people are human or not? I think I can find some skilled folks from the group the Alliance sent, but you'd have to train anyone else," Ian replied.

"Skilled is always better, Sir. But mix them up a bit, maybe if we can get more folks trained watching a skilled craftsman we'll be better off in the long run."

"Okay, I'll get your drones ordered and start working on the personnel anything else?" Ian asked. "Oh, yeah, the AI. I'll speak to Andreya on Earth, but you might end up with a new unassigned AI for a time. Andreya's going to be pretty busy, very soon."

"Anything will help, Sir," the man replied. "I'll keep you posted on our progress and anything else we might need."

"Great, call me directly if you need to. I'll make sure you can," Ian replied before ending the call and moving on to the next task.

"Sir, I've gotten you an appointment with the UN security council on Monday," Alex replied. "They weren't happy about it, but they agreed to hear you."

"They're going to be even less happy after listening to me. I'm going to be pissing off a lot of countries over this," Ian replied. "What about the meeting with the researchers at Phoenix?"

"That was a little more difficult. They will all be available at the same time on Wednesday of next week. I did try to make it earlier, but…"

Ian interrupted her. "Don't worry about it, Alex. I know how busy everyone is. Next week will be fine. Please ask Chairman Belden's aide to have him give me a call tonight so we can discuss my addressing the UN on Monday. However, I think I better get my ass back to my vacation before I have more pissed off ladies on my hands."

"I think you might be right, Sir; I heard Commander Jenny talking to Major Cindy about deactivating your communit," Alex replied.

"Yeah and if I make you late for your date with Sam later, I'll have him to answer too as well!" Ian teased, making her blush. "One last thing; how is Janet doing, have you heard anything?"

Alex nodded. "Chief Laskar told me that she was doing better. The therapists got her to stop crying finally and got her to sleep. She was in much better spirits when she woke to have breakfast with her family."

"That's good, I was really worried about her. Her gift can be dangerous to her, now more than ever," Ian replied. "Unfortunately, we're going to need her now more than ever before."

The rest of Ian and family's vacation went pretty smoothly. Ian suspected that there was a conspiracy afoot to ensure it did, but he could never prove it. What was good, at least to Ian's perspective, was that Janet was able to join in the fun a little by the end of the week. Janet and Bill, along with Talena and Janet's two therapists began ski lessons on Friday. Trevor himself gave them semi-private lessons and everyone had a lot of fun. Trevor and Prudence hosted a dinner at the resort restaurant on Sunday evening. Which included all the guards. Cindy installed temporary shields and used drones for patrol duties so all the guards could attend.

Surprising Ian, Cindy called for an extra shuttle for the security guards Trevor had hired. They were actually a small mercenary unit that took jobs like this when between missions overseas. Scott had spoken to his people, who had in turn spoken to their families. The decision to join up had been unanimous, even with the children. When Ian found out, he took Scott aside.

"Scott, you and your company have done a great job for us. But before you make this decision, you need to know that something’s about to happen. It's not widely known yet…" Ian began but the man stopped him.

"Admiral, I can tell you've never worked security before. We know there is something major going on. We also know it isn't going to matter all that much where we are when it does. We all feel that our families would actually be safer off-world since you guys have better defenses, but we also know that is not a guarantee. "We made the decision to join you after we found out about the attack and mostly because of it. You're going to need as many fighters as you can get.

"None of us will act against the United States as we feel we are still under oath from our time in the military. We know that the government is trying to get their hands on your equipment and basically interfere with you folks as much as they can. Because of that, the government has declared you all terrorists, traitors, and criminals. From getting to know you these last few days, we disagree with that policy. In this case at least, the government is not acting for the good of the country. Hell, most of us feel that they usually don't anyway, but that's a discussion for another time.

"The bottom line is you need soldiers you can count on; you need as many as you can get. We're joining you because of that. I appreciate that you pulled me aside to warn me; it just proves to us that this is the right decision to make, Sir," Scott finished.

Ian smiled at him and held out his hand. "Welcome to the Terran Defense Force, Scott."


There had been a lot of defenses planned to defend the Sol System. They had been given a slightly higher than 'routine' priority as there were other projects that needed to be completed sooner; such as the Pleiades stations, the Academy, and a few other projects. Until now, Ian had been fine with leaving the priorities the way they were, since the Alliance actually did need the products that were, at least for now, only available in Sol Sector. Many of the technologies would be given to the other races so they could build their own facilities, that would take much of the work load off the Terrans. It would also benefit the Alliance from a strategic stand point. With so many advanced facilities all located in one sector, it made for a high priority target for the Empire if it ever became known.

Late Sunday night, Ian called and spoke to Admiral H'joles about what had been foreseen.

"It would be difficult to explain the need for increased security there at the moment. However, as you have said, we have a little time, so perhaps I can slowly increase the defensive forces you now have and possibly begin delaying the departure of new ships," he said thinking out loud. "Yes, perhaps we can do it that way. Little would be said about the inevitable delays that everyone knows crop up after a refit or with new constructions. Of course, that has never applied to your facilities, but I doubt that will occur to many beings. We will also simply explain that out of concern for the security of your responsibility, you have reassigned a portion of your facilities to improving your own security to better serve the Alliance. Yes, this can be done safely and quietly." The large being paused. "Did your Seer happen to know how the Empire will find you?"

Ian shook his head. "No, the power of the main vision was simply to great and overwhelmed her. Also, to date, her ability has been more of a broader focus; she mostly sees events that will impact a large number of beings. We do have precogs that are more 'focused', but they are also much shorter sighted and usually have to be involved in the event somehow."

H'joles snorted. "Abilities such as that are good to have access to, but certainly leave a lot of unanswered questions. We will do as much as we can to assist you, Admiral. But we must be careful to not let knowledge of your race's abilities to become known even among the delegates here. Fear of the Ancient Masters is still very much in their minds."

Ian nodded. "Matriarch T'gan M'orel of Benesia has approached us to request that we adopt certain members of their society. As she explained it, these will be the less orthodox believers and followers of their faith. This group believes they have the duty to take a more active role in the defense of the Alliance. Some of these women will be joining our military, and yet others will be assisting in military research. They will become Terran citizens."

H'joles looked thoughtful a moment. "We had heard a rumor of something like this. It wasn't given a very high level of trustworthiness, as everyone knows that Benesians are non-violent. That being said, it is also known that not all Benesians share that philosophy and have been separated from the rest of their society. Most believe these are the Benesian criminal element.

"Regardless, the strength of Benesian abilities is known to have less of an area of effect. The move will make some in the Alliance nervous, but I do not believe they will over-react in the same way they would if it were known humans also had these abilities. The adoption of Benesians by the Terran race should be accepted. However, I think it will make some suspicious. You will come under greater scrutiny; we may even be ordered to keep a closer watch on you."

Ian waved that off. "I know we have Alliance spies here; that doesn't bother any of us. We don't have anything to hide from you. It's the Imperial spies we are worried about. As you know, we've identified three confirmed spies and suspect twelve more. We've found a few of yours as well, but we leave them alone; the Council feels that having them here will help with over-all relations with the Alliance. Which reminds me, are you ever going to send an Ambassador and Liaison Officer?"

H'joles grinned. "The Ruling Council has been unable to decide on who to send you. As for the Liaison Officer, I'm afraid that is my fault. I was set to send one before you told me about your abilities. Since that revelation, I am searching for just the right person to send. I would send you my youngest sibling, but she has not yet risen to a high enough rank for the duties required of the position and is more combat oriented."

"If she is anything like you Admiral, I would welcome her. Sending an administration officer would be fine, but having another person with a combat mentality around would be a huge help," Ian replied.

H'joles nodded. "I agree. Let me speak to our Clan leadership and see what can be done. Alliance command has already approved her, even though she is young and of lower rank. If there is agreement, I will send her to you as quickly as possible. You will be able to trust her as you would me. She will not betray you or your race's secrets."

"That sounds perfect, Admiral. I look forward to meeting her," Ian replied.

H'joles snorted. "Only until she arrives Admiral! She is a rather outspoken youngling which is the main reason she is still of lower rank. You might need to take a stronger hand with her until she learns her place in your organization."

Ian looked somewhat surprised. "Not like the Croanian ritual that Colonel Cromwell had to go through?"

"No, it would not be a fight to the death, but you might have to knock her unconscious the first time. If it were any other human besides you, I would be concerned for their health should they attempt such a thing. When she arrives, knock her on her bunta before she gets the opportunity to insult you, and that will be it," H'joles explained. "It is the way our command structure is established when a new officer joins a crew."

"She is Grellian Navy and not Alliance then?" Ian asked.

H'joles nodded. "Combat Marine actually. Thus the need to define her command structure for her. It is an idiotic and outdated ritual, but still widely practiced by my people. Thankfully the Alliance has grown past such ritual or I would spend all my time beating my staff."

"If you say so, Admiral," Ian replied, unsure how he would fair in a fight against a being like H'joles.

"I do," H'joles nodded. "As for your address to the leaders to Earth tomorrow, I would like to assist if I may. I will speak to them on your behalf."

"Sir? I didn't think you dealt with civilian leadership outside of the Alliance Council?" Ian asked.

"Officially, I do not. In my capacity as head of the Alliance Forces, I do not interact with civilian governments outside of the Council as a matter of form. It is also to get away from the implication of coercion should such a question later arise. However, Earth is not a direct member of the Alliance, and I would not speak to them as head of the Alliance Military. I would simply address them as H'joles and offer testimony as to the threat they will be facing. I consider you to be one of my very few friends, because of that, I feel a need to assist. It may be that testimony from a different source will help to sway their minds on this matter. You did much the same thing for me during the last meeting we had here; I would return that kindness."

"I would welcome the assistance, Admiral. I feel I should warn you, however, that these people may not be as polite as the Councilors there are. These men and women believe in their own power and superiority. To most of them, we are nothing more than a nuisance that refuses to give them the technology to kill themselves with," Ian replied.

H'joles nodded and smiled sadly at Ian. "Not so unlike my own people were long ago. I understand the situation, Ian. I still will try to help."

"Okay, but the meeting will be held during your late evening; nine standard hours from now," Ian replied.

H'joles nodded. "I will be ready."

Ian arrived at the UN with Cindy and her team. The rest of his family had returned to the ship in the same shuttle the new recruits would be taking to Atlas. The shuttle would be stopping to pick up the soldier’s families and loved ones along the way. Janet had returned to her old self enough to help deal with the fears and concerns of the new people and to call ahead to make sure the group would be well cared for when they eventually arrived at their destination.

Ian, at Cindy's request, was wearing his armor, but was unarmed. The Raptor team carried stunners in accordance with the treaty agreements, and the whole group went into the building like normal. To Ian's surprise, the United States Ambassador was waiting for them outside the council chamber. When he saw the group, he gave Ian a half smile and stepped forward.

"Admiral, I have been asked by the president to apologize, which I will do formally once the meeting starts, for the events of last week. I wanted to speak to you personally before the meeting to let you know that it is a real apology and not what normally passes as such. Those troops were not acting on the orders of the government, but of a rogue agency within the intelligence community. I was instructed to tell you that it is the same agency that perpetrated the events at the spaceport as well. The agency in question would have been discontinued already, except that it's rather difficult to do. You see, the Agency is DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. However, at present, the leadership of that organization are answering some very difficult questions asked by some rather insistent men."

The man waved it off. "Anyway, we wanted you to know that was actually a mistake. We would also like to thank you for the care you gave the wounded man."

"It was not a problem, Mister Ambassador. Our concern was how quickly he would be sent to a special lab to be dissected," Ian replied.

"He won't be. The steps you took ensured that. I would personally like to thank you for that. Of course we can't officially hint at such a thing even happening, but we both know better. I do love my country, Admiral; even if I don't always agree with it," the Ambassador replied.

Ian cocked his head at the man. "I can understand that, Sir. Could you do me a favor?"

"If I am able, of course," the Ambassador replied.

"You love your Country. That's admirable and nothing I will ever criticize. But during our official discussions, could you keep in mind that I feel the same way, only about the entire planet? Everything I do, every action or move I make, are for the defense of this world and everyone on it. All those that work with me feel the same way as well. We don't have a hidden agenda; we don't need one. All we are doing is trying to make sure you, all of you, remain alive so you can disagree with us. There really is nothing more and nothing less," Ian said. "Thank you for the apology, please tell the President as well."

The Ambassador nodded. "I will try to remember that, Admiral." He paused and looked at Ian closer. "Something has changed, you're acting differently."

Ian nodded. "It's why I'm here today, Sir. I can pretty much promise you are not going to like what I have to tell you."

"That sounds pretty dire. I take it your fears of our destruction are coming closer to fruition?" the Ambassador asked.

"Pretty much, Sir. I'm afraid playtime is over. We're going to have to get serious about this from now on," Ian replied.

"Well, thanks for telling me before the meeting. We have a few minutes. If you'll excuse me, I'll see if I can get hold of the President and warn him," the man said.

"You might want to have him with you over the phone during the meeting. I'll recommend the same to the other delegates as well," Ian said. The man nodded and hurried off.

"Was that smart? Giving him advanced warning?" Cindy asked quietly.

"At this point, it can't hurt anything. If they believe us, they're going to panic and demand we share military technology with them again," Ian replied.

"How are you going to handle it?" Cindy asked.

"I won't give them what they want, obviously, but I will suggest they begin preparing for this in their own ways. They can use their military to help get the civilians to safety and control panic. I'll let them provide security to keep the curious away from our installations, while denying them access at the same time," Ian said. "They will have a choice, they can help us, or they can get the hell out of our way. It won't matter which they choose, this needs to happen, and it will."

Cindy left Ian alone to think about how to handle this meeting while they waited. About twenty minutes later, a page called them into the security council room. As he stepped up to the testimony podium, the Secretary General introduced him to the assembled delegates.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow citizens of Earth. I come before you today not to argue or debate, but to inform you of a real impending threat to all life in this sector. The force that will arrive here will be coming to destroy us utterly. There will be no negotiation and no quarter given. Before you ask, we don't know why, as this is not the normal way they fight. From the beginning, this has always been a war of conquest for the Empire, and not one of annihilation or genocide. If we cannot stop them, every living object in this sector will be reduced to dust; even the planets are to be destroyed," Ian said sadly.

"Forgive me, Admiral. How do you know this?" the Russian Ambassador asked.

Ian sighed. "Last week I was visited by the Matriarch of Benesia. As you all know, she is the supreme leader of her people, as well as the highest ranking member of their religion. It is also a well-documented fact the Benesian race have special abilities in the form of what we would call mental abilities." Ian held up his hand to forestall the outburst he knew was coming. "Ambassadors, I know how most of you feel about such things; I doubted, too, until it was proven to me. These abilities exist. They are real, and so are the visions. The Benesian precognitives have a one-hundred percent accuracy rate. They have never been wrong.

"After Matriarch T'gan arrived, I was given the news about the visions. This attack is going to happen. It will happen here, to us," Ian replied.

"Admiral, it's obvious that you believe the truth of this… vision. So it would be pointless to argue with you about it. However, I would ask, if they are so accurate, and they have seen our destruction, how will we stop it?" the American Ambassador asked. The look on his face told Ian it was the President that asked that question.

"They are accurate about the events, the outcome is based on a worst case scenario, and I am led to understand the vision will change, adjusting to events and actions taken prior to the arrival of the event. I will admit I do not understand how it works, but this ability is very well documented and proven. Even the Alliance is taking this threat seriously, and they have a lot more experience with this than any of us," Ian explained. "Ambassadors, I would recommend we take a few moments for you to contact your respective leaders in order to include them in this meeting. There is a person that would also like to address you before I get into the preparations that will be required before this attack happens." They were grumbling and it was obvious they believed Ian was wasting their time. He spoke again. "Look, I know you probably don't believe me. You feel I am wasting your time for some reason. All of you believe that mental powers are just more fantasy and those that study this phenomenon practice pseudo-science. UFO's and aliens don't exist either, right?"

The Secretary General called a five-minute recess so the delegates could contact their leaders. Some actually refused to call based on the fact that Ian was using precognitive visions as proof. During the break, the SecGen approached Ian.

"Admiral, may I have a word with you?" the man asked.

"Certainly, Mister Secretary, what can I do for you?" Ian replied.

"I know you have come to us with many things that none of us believed in. Even after your first address to us, there were some that refused to believe the truth. They felt it was some plot by the United States to deceive them. However, since that time, you have proven many times that you were telling the truth, and the aliens you spoke of were real. But I have to admit, this time even I am having a hard time believing you. Is there any way you can prove this to us?"

Ian shook his head. "I don't know how I could in such a way as to allow the delegates to believe me."

Unseen by Ian, Shannon had approached him and the Secretary General. "Admiral, perhaps I can be of assistance?"

Ian sighed. He thought Shannon might come forward, but Ian hadn't wanted the delegates to know that some humans also had measurable abilities.

"I know you didn't want it known, but Admiral, this is important. These men and women need to believe us," the girl replied.

Ian sighed. "Mister Secretary, this is Officer Shannon. She is a member of the special operations team assign as my guards. She is a registered telepath."

Before he could speak his reply, she answered him. "Yes Sir, I am. No Sir, I am actually twenty-two years old." She paused and blushed slightly. "Thank you, Sir. No, please do not be embarrassed, I am used to such thoughts being directed at me. I take no offense at them. No Sir, in addition to being able to read thoughts, I can send my thoughts to others as well. I am not precognitive only telepathic. I do have a set of ethics that prohibit me from reading anything deeper than what's in your 'public' mind; that is, what you are thinking at this very moment. Unless it is an emergency or I have your permission I will not invade your privacy."

"Mister Secretary, Officer Shannon is not the only telepath we have, nor is that the only ability we have found our people to have. There are enough of them that they police themselves in the set of ethics they have set for themselves. Officer Shannon is volunteering to demonstrate her ability in order to convince the Ambassadors we are telling the truth," Ian replied. "Although we've never lied to any of them, we are still always met with disbelief and distrust. We may not tell all of the information we have, but we have never purposefully lied."

The Secretary General nodded his head. "That is true, you have never lied to us. I think it is more that what you tell us is so fantastic, it is hard for us to believe. I'm afraid that even with Officer Shannon's demonstration, many will still not believe you. May I ask who the person is you will be asking to testify?"

"The Alliance Chief of Staff and head of Alliance military operations, Admiral H'joles. He is Grellian; not human or even human-like in appearance. He cannot testify in his capacity as the head of the Alliance Military, but he asked if he could assist me in speaking to you today. Honestly, I don't know what he wants to tell all of you, but he did wish to speak," Ian explained.

"The head of… Is not the Alliance the largest galactic organization?" the SecGen asked.

Ian nodded. "Admiral H'joles commands fifty-seven fleets of warships and twenty or so divisions of ground troops. He can call for about a hundred more fleets and seventy or so divisions if they are needed or there is an emergency. He is also a non-voting member of the Alliance Council."

"Do you think it is wise to expose a non-human to us? Especially one as important as this one is?" the SecGen asked. "Some of the Ambassadors are still having trouble with this aspect of what you have spoken to us about."

"What the Ambassadors and leaders have problems with is discovering we are not alone, but they can't have the advanced technology so they can kill each other easier," Shannon said quietly then blushed. "I'm sorry Mister Secretary, that's only my opinion."

He smiled at the girl. "It may well be you are correct, young woman, and we are all entitled to our opinions." He turned to Ian. "As tempting as it is, I don't believe Officer Shannon should give a demonstration. If we do manage to convince the Ambassadors, then they would become paranoid that she read their minds and stole all their secrets. No, I feel we should simply proceed as you had originally planned, Admiral. I will try to assist you as much as possible. Now, I think we should probably get back to work."

Ian nodded his agreement and dismissed Shannon. She bowed to the SecGen before returning to her post near the door of the chamber. The SecGen returned to his place and recalled the meeting to order.

"Follow delegates, please retake your seats so we can continue our discussions. Before I yield the floor back to Admiral Williams, I would like to tell all of you that I spoke to him during the break. I believe my thoughts and opinions on the issues of extraterrestrials, UFO's, mental abilities, and the like have been well documented and are well known. Without solid evidence to substantiate such a claim, I find such things to be very difficult to accept. There have been too many scams and other shenanigans in the past using these issues to believe otherwise.

"Before the break, I felt the same way as many of you; that we could not credit the visions of our doom offered by an alien race. To me, it sounded like an idea for one of the movies created for entertainment. As I said, I spoke to the Admiral during the break. Because of security, I cannot tell you what he offered to me as proof, but I can tell you that I have no doubt he is telling us the absolute truth in regards to this matter. No doubt at all. I urge all of you to set aside your personal feeling on the method this information was gleaned and instead focus on what we can do about it.

"Admiral Williams, please continue," the Secretary General finished.

Ian bowed to him. "Thank you, Sir." He faced the still suspicious faces of the Ambassadors and began to introduce Admiral H'joles. "First of all, I would like to thank those leaders that did join us. I am aware of how all of this sounds to you. I assure you I have never knowingly lied to any of you and I'm not about to start now; none of us can afford it.

"As I mentioned before the break, there is a being that has been standing by to speak to you on this issue. Before I have him connected, I would warn all of you that he is not human. To many of you, I would imagine he will put you in mind of the reports of Big Foot or the Yeti. He is neither of these; he is a member of the Grellian race. They occupy a sector of space over two hundred light years away. While this being has asked that I do not introduce him by title, as he wishes to speak to you only as a knowledgeable citizen of the Alliance, I can tell you that he is a being of importance within the Alliance. I do not know what he wishes to say, I am simply honoring his request." He nodded to Lissa who would make the connection with H'joles.

As H'joles image took form before the podium, Ian introduced him. "Ambassadors, and world leaders, I give you H'joles of the Grellian Patronomy, and citizen of the Alliance."

"Ambassadors, on my own behalf, I would thank you for allowing me to speak to you this day. There is much I would speak to you of, and in this way, perhaps help you in gaining knowledge for the coming days." H'joles said while he bowed to the assembly. He spoke in standard, which Lissa was translating while he spoke.

"I would begin by speaking to you of what you are now facing," H'joles began and laid out exactly what he knew of the total strength and capabilities of the Empire and their military. "Very soon, that war machine, in its entirety, will focus on this one sector of our galaxy for reasons we do not yet understand. In order to save you and your people, Admiral Williams will have to do something that the entire Alliance has been unable to do in a thousand years of war; he will have to defeat the Empire. He will have the assistance of the Alliance, but even with that, the odds do not favor a victory. News of this event has just now reached the High Council of the Alliance and discussions have only just begun, but I believe that if there is anyone in our universe that can salvage this situation, it is the man standing behind me. To that end I would urge you to listen to what he says and aide him in his efforts; he is trying to save not only your lives, but the lives of your entire race. I would imagine you have questions, yes?"

The Ambassador from the Russian Federation was first. "Citizen H'joles, we have no proof of the existence not to mention the reliability of the visions of supposed precognitives. How is it that an organization such as yours could be taken in by such a gimmick?"

The translation took a moment and H'joles nodded when it finished. "I was told you may not accept the visions as proof of this event. The Benesian Hegemony have been members of the Alliance for seven hundred years. In that time, very detailed investigations have been conducted by all the races into the viability and reliability of their abilities. Still, if this vision had been seen by only one member of that race, it may not have been taken as seriously as this is. However, every Benesian seer with a strong enough ability has had the exact same vision. In addition, the two other races that have demonstrated and documented abilities such as this have confirmed it. This report is being treated just as any advanced warning from a spy would be; that is to say, very seriously. I would also mention, in cases where the events foretold have not been averted prior to their arrival, they have always occurred. As unsettling as it sounds, the seers have been remarkably accurate. The visions are not seen as 'gimmicks' as you called it. The persons involved gained nothing from the visions and in many cases, such as this one, have experienced a great deal of trauma as a result of it."

The French Ambassador was next. It appeared that the American Ambassador was still speaking to the President quietly.

"Citizen H'joles, are we to understand that you are recommending that we allow the Admiral to place weapons and troops in our countries that we do not have control of?"

H'joles nodded. "I am. Ambassador, the placement of weapons, shields, and other equipment is how the Admiral will defend your people. I find it hard to understand why you would not want him to do so. If the control of those weapons is what you are concerned about, how are his people supposed to use them effectively if they do not have control of them?"

"Each Nation should be able to control the weapons inside its own borders. I am sure we can use them just as effectively as Admiral Williams can," the Ambassador replied.

"Truly?" H'joles asked seriously. "My information must be incorrect. I was unaware that Earth had experience with phased pulse lasers, mass drivers, surface to space missile systems, particle weapons, advanced trans-atmospheric fighter craft, or shield technology. My apologies for this oversight. Then if that is the case, why are you not already assisting the Admiral?"

The Ambassador got a smug look on his face. "We do not currently have such technology, but we could have been familiar with it if the Admiral would have shared this knowledge with us earlier."

"I see," H'joles replied. "So it is because you resent the Admiral's position that you are protesting. His actions in this regard are not without precedent. None of the Alliance races share their military technology with civilians; there is no need. It is the duty of the military to protect and defend civilians, why would civilians need this technology?"

"We are not civilians, Citizen H'joles, we are national leaders," the Ambassador replied.

H'joles nodded to him. "I understand that, Ambassador. The equivalent in my own race would be a clan or tribal leader. As with other races, only select members of the racial leadership have access to or knowledge of military technology. It prevents the tribes and clans from fighting among themselves, which they would do if they had the means to do so. As it is, this forces the clans to seek arbitration rather than resorting to costly war that does far more harm than good. Our citizens are far more comfortable with this arrangement, there is far less damage to commercial facilities, and far less cost in repairing damage. Please do not misunderstand, we do still have inter-tribal disputes that cost lives and do damage. However, a hunting rifle is not a phased pulse laser rifle, and a petrochemical explosive is not an antimatter warhead. If our tribal leaders had access to military grade weapons, my race would have gone extinct centuries ago. My people and yours may look very different, but in reality, we are not so different. It is the duty of the military to restrict its technology as part of its duty to protect civilian lives. Admiral Williams is acting accordingly and responsibly."

"Are you saying we should disband our own militaries and rely solely on Admiral Williams?" the Israeli Ambassador asked.

"Is not your defense his sworn duty? Each of you has the right to waste your credits on whatever you wish, but let me ask you this; have any of you been able to wage war on each other since he made his presence known?" H'joles asked. "Why would you need a military if you can't use it? Could not those beings be better used to aide your citizens in emergencies? Perhaps they would be of assistance in hunting down and eliminating some of the more difficult members of the criminal element?"

Ian interrupted him. "Just to clarify, H'joles, we have only been able to keep them from using weapons of mass destruction. We have not had the personnel until recently to keep them from fighting each other. I was planning on informing them of this prior to the news of the invasion."

H'joles nodded to Ian. "I am corrected. I tend to forget just how small a force yours is when compared to others."

"Citizen H'joles, can we know why you do not want us to know of your position within the Alliance?" the American Ambassador asked. For once, he wasn't being snide or hateful.

"There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it is a matter of tradition and prudence for a person in my position to not directly address a single national leadership in an official capacity. As such, I did not want address you officially using my title. Secondly, I chose to do this out of friendship to your Admiral and to your race, and not as an official of the Alliance. I am doing this of my own volition and not as a representative of the Alliance. My title and position are not by any means secret, it was only that I wished to separate this action from my office," H'joles replied.

The Ambassador nodded his understanding. "Thank you for telling us that. Can we then know what your duties are within the Alliance? Based on your knowledge and your testimony you are in the military, correct?"

H'joles sighed. "I am Fleet Admiral H'joles of the Alliance of Races Command also known as ARC. I hold the highest office within the Alliance military organization and am the over-all commander of all Alliance forces."


Admiral H'joles' address to the UN Security Council must have had an effect on the leaders that had attended. Whether it was out of respect for his position or they were beginning to believe the warning, Ian wasn't sure. After H'joles closed the comm, Ian took a moment before speaking which gave the Secretary General the chance to ask him a question.

"Admiral Williams, why did you ask Fleet Admiral H'joles to speak to us today?"

Ian could see the sparkle in his eye from across the room. "I didn't ask him, Mister Secretary; he asked me if he could speak here today."

"Why would he ask to speak to us?" the American Ambassador asked. "We're not part of the Alliance."

"When he asked me to speak, he said he wanted to return the favor; I'd spoken to the High Council of the Alliance on his behalf when the Empire began a series of terroristic attacks on civilians." Ian replied. "Admiral H'joles has a reputation for being a tough commander and a hard ass. If you want to know if he has an agenda he does; it’s a simple one. Every action he makes is for the protection and well-being of the citizens of the Alliance. Just for the record, he does consider Earth to be a part of that whether you are officially a member or not. We, that are known as 'Terrans', have sworn to protect you, and we are members of the Alliance. In his mind and to his way of thinking that means it is also his duty to protect you.

"The High Council is really not so different from all of you; they argue and bicker but eventually work out their issues. However, at the heart of all of it, the Alliance is about the protection of the people. The races that make it up are just like you folks; they all have different national agendas, they worship different deities, and at any given time not all of them get along. But at the foundation of the Alliance, you will find that every member, regardless of their beliefs or political agenda, share one solid idea; and that is that none of them would still be free if they had tried to stand alone against the Empire," Ian finished. It was clear he wasn't preaching to them, but rather only explaining what the Alliance was.

"So, as I understand it, each of the separate races still retain a military?" the American Ambassador asked. "Do they fight each other?"

Ian nodded and looked down. "Yes, each nation of the Alliance still retains their own military. They are used for the defense of planets and other important facilities and are usually comprised of mostly new recruits and older, outdated equipment. They are the Alliance reserve fleets. As for fighting other nations in the Alliance, no they don't.

"Seven hundred years ago, in the early days of the Alliance the Grellian and the Croanian races had a major disagreement over the mining resources of a certain star system. It escalated into war. Both races recalled battle fleets from the front lines with the Empire to settle the matter. The Empire, aware of the discord between them, followed with a hidden fleet three times the combined strength of the two races. The disputed system as well as two other inhabited systems were lost in the fighting. Four hundred thousand military personnel and both fleets; a total of roughly two hundred war ships, were destroyed, and the Empire captured three inhabited worlds and the resources of the disputed systems. Two of those inhabited worlds belonged to a race that had been uninvolved in the dispute.

"In the aftermath of that horrific event, the Alliance agreed to suspend all 'internal' hostilities until the threat of the Empire has been dealt with. Currently any disputes like that are brought to the High Council for mediation. I will admit, there have been times that mediation failed, and the two sides began moving their forces once again. They were met by an Alliance battle fleet and basically forced to negotiate. Since that event, hostilities between nations have never progressed to the point of armed conflict."

The Ambassador from the Russian Federation spoke next. "So the Admiral was not telling us to get rid of our military, but to use them in a different manner?"

Ian leaned forward on the podium and looked at each of the delegates. "In the coming fight, we will be facing the largest military force the Empire has ever assembled against a single target. Current estimates place that around ten thousand warships and at least three million ground troops. Currently, my fleet is about fifty ships and three quarters of a million ground troops. All but four of those ships and a third of our ground forces belong to other nations. However, at best, the estimate of Imperial strength is a guess. We honestly have no idea how much they are going to hit us with, but it will be what they believe to be an over-whelming force.

"The fight this time will not be isolated to just one country; it'll be the whole planet. Not just this planet either, but the moon, Mars, all of our stations here as well as every facility and settlement in the Centauri system." He paused and looked grim. "People are going to die. World War three is not going to be fought between our people, but for our people." He nodded slowly. "And some of our people are going to die. How many will depend on all of us. Not just my forces, but on you and your leaders as well. We have to work together on this; I mean all of us, not just those of us in this room or even just the UN member nations, but everyone. We must set aside our differences for the time being and work together or we simply won't be here anymore.

"This is why I'm here today. I would like to ask all of you to give more resources to the UN Military. I would also ask that you consider including non-member nations in this effort. We have many projects in the works to build defenses and shelters for our people on the planet. I would like to ask for your help in implementing them.

"Any disputes between your countries have to stop, at least for now. Bring the problems here and work it out. We can't build the defenses for our people if my troops are busy stopping wars. It has never been the intention of our group to exert power over any of you or force any of you to our will, but this is an emergency. We will not interfere any more than necessary; If North Korea decides to invade the South, we will stop them. During that if the South tries to use the opportunity to retake the North, we will stop that too. If India and Pakistan heat up again, we will stop it again. People, this is too important to be messing around with nationalistic issues. Which leaves one major issue that still affects all of us; terrorism.

"With the permission of this body, I will direct my special operations teams to seek out these people. We have left this issue to you unless it involved a weapon of mass destruction, we don't have the option of playing with these people anymore. The attacks have to stop now. If this redirects their hatred onto us, then so be it; at least they'll be alive to hate us."

"Admiral, are you ordering us to stop fighting each other?" the Ambassador from Sri-Lanka asked.

Ian shook his head. "No, I can't give you orders; you are a civilian authority. I am strongly suggesting you stop fighting as well as telling you that if you do chose to fight, it will be my troops you will be fighting, not your nominal enemy."

"That's kind of a dichotomy, Admiral. You say you won't give us orders, yet you will be installing defenses, shelters, and God only knows what else anywhere on the planet you want to. How is that not giving us orders?" the American Ambassador asked chuckling.

Ian smiled at him sardonically. "That's true, I guess. However, unless otherwise requested, every installation we place will be removed once the emergency is over and the area returned to its previous condition. I know it's been a major deal to you folks, but we still won't be allowing our technology into your hands. Anything containing advanced technology that we leave under your care will self-destruct if opened or removed from the location it was installed at. The emergency kits being assembled and shipped to us by the Benesians will only have food, water, and basic emergency medical supplies. The shelters will have stand-alone powers systems as well as a replicator, but if either are removed or misused, they will be deactivated or destroyed. I know that’s frustrating to you, but we are trying to protect you here, not give you the technology to kill yourselves once all this is over."

"I think we are starting to realize that, Admiral," the Secretary General replied. "What of our troops? Will you assist us with arming and armoring them?"

"Do you mean UN troops or the separate nation's troops?" Ian asked.

"Do you consider there is a difference?" the French Ambassador asked.

"Yes and no, I suppose. Look, if you give us troops to train, we'll be keeping them. We'll need as many able bodies as we can for both the Marines as well as the ships being built. We'll be increasing our recruiting efforts considerably on planet for the next few months. As for giving your troops weapons and armor; I'll have to think about that. If a way can be found that would allow us to increase their protection while still keeping the tech our secret, we’’ll do it. But I can't promise it's possible," Ian replied.

"As I understand it then, you are going to enforce a ban on fighting while guaranteeing national sovereignty. While you do that, you will be installing weapons systems and defensive shields in our countries to protect our people from the coming attack. To that end, you are asking us to use the resources of the UN as well as each of the member nations to support this effort. You are also asking us to approach the non-member nations and try to get them on board with this plan as well?" The Secretary General asked.

Ian nodded. "In addition to the weapons systems, shields, and shelters, we will also be building several fighter and Marine bases in strategic locations around the world. We already have one base on planet, in international territory, that will be used to support our construction efforts until the other bases can be built and brought online. We are also asking you to supply some of your military personnel for us to train as defensive crews and soldiers, but remember those will become Terran troops. They will be fighting for the planet, not just one of the countries."

"As usual, you've given us much to think about and discuss Admiral. Please let us deliberate and see if we cannot reach agreement on what you have asked of us," the Secretary General asked.

"That's all I ask. Thank you for your time this day. Ambassadors, please treat this issue with urgency; the faster an agreement can be reached, the more we can get done to protect our world," Ian replied and bowed to them. "Good day."

Cindy walked beside him as he left the Council room. "Long one today; do you think it'll do any good?"

"I hope so, Cin; we need their help and cooperation this time. If they don't give it, we could lose the planet," Ian said softly. "We can't afford the games they've played in the past; this time it's for all the marbles. I just hope they'll see that."

That night, Ian stood in his darkened living room looking out at the planet. Star Dancer was in high orbit and the European continents had just rolled into view. How was he going to protect that world from the forces coming to destroy it? Would he look out at it someday and not see the green and blues, but the brown of a dead world? Did they have enough time to build up enough force to stop the murder of the planet?

"You're stressing out again," Beth said quietly coming up behind him. The family had gone to bed a couple of hours ago and the apartment was dark.

Ian sighed and took a drink of his beer. "Probably. I've got a few things to think about I guess."

She nodded as she sat down on the small couch facing the window. "You know, if a problem is keeping you awake, then you should try talking to someone about it. Letting it fester won't help you any."

Ian nodded. "Yeah, I remember. I don't think this is festering so much as it's just so large it takes more time to think it through."

"I don't see it as being overly large. Yes, the scale of events is massive, but the issue itself isn't all that big," Beth replied.

"Really?" Ian snorted and looked back at her. "How do you see it then?"

"We are to defend a specific target from destruction by the Empire. That's it. One sentence, nothing more nothing less," Beth replied.

Ian chuckled softly and shook his head. "The 'target' you so blithely mentioned has twelve billion souls living on it. That isn't counting the rest of the sector. I just can’t see that as anything but large."

Beth nodded and stood. She held out her hand to him. "Come on, I want to show you something."

Ian sat his beer down and took her offered hand. She led him back to the kids' room. They were all still young enough to still use the nursery even though that would be changing soon. Beth opened the door and led him into the room. She stopped in the center and pointed to each of the sleeping children. "This is the true scale of the problem facing you. Not twelve billion, not three million; five. The target you have to protect is right here in this room. If you do that, and focus on just that, the rest will take care of itself."

"Beth, it's not that simple…" Ian began.

She put a finger over his mouth. "Yes Ian, it is. Just think about it for a few minutes. If you focus your mind on protecting the people in this room, the rest of this issue will solve itself. I actually saw this in a movie, but you know, it's the truth; trying to save the entire planet is impossible; it'll drive you mad. So don't try to save the planet; try to save these five people. That's a problem you can get your mind around; that's a point for you to focus on."

Ian giggled. "Hon, if it were just these five little ones, I'd bundle them up and run like hell. I can't do that with our people."

"Why not? We have a year to evacuate. Surely we could get a lot of people out of here by then," Beth asked.

Ian shook his head. "It's the people that are the target, not the system. If you look at what Janet said, the people have to be the target, otherwise they would simply try to take the system, not destroy it completely. If we evacuated, they would just keep hunting us. No, this has to be done here."

"Okay then, bust the big problem into a series of smaller ones and deal with them one at a time," Beth suggested as they walked quietly back out to the living room.

Ian nodded. "That's pretty much what I've been trying to do. My mind just keeps refocusing on the big picture; so, all I can do is keep trying."

"So why are you still awake tonight?" Beth asked.

"Thinking of the little problems and which one needs to be done next," Ian grinned at her.

"Is it really going to be that bad Ian?" Beth asked.

Ian nodded slowly. "It'll probably be the worst battle in the history of this entire war, Beth. It'll be so bad, I'm sure the religious nuts will be out in force once this gets out. Unfortunately, they won't be wrong; this is going to very much be biblical in proportion.

"What was it called in the Bible? Wasn't the ‘end of days’ war named after some small village in the Middle East somewhere?" Beth asked.

Ian nodded. "Yeah it was. The name will definitely apply to what's coming; Armageddon."

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.

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Ben Winston


Blue Space Publications, LLC.






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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

Raptor Squadron – Book V

*Armageddon – Book VI (2016)


Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus – Book I

Sword of Damocles – Book II

Abraxis Code – Book III

Forging Aegis – Book IV

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

New Day – Book IV

*Homeworld – Book V (Coming 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

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

Table of Contents

Raptor Squadron






















About the Author

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Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

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