Book: Sword of Damocles

Sword of Damocles

Sword of Damocles

Book Two of

The Abraxis Complex

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2015 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


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Sword of Damocles

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Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


To my wife, Lori, without whom I would have surely never finished this book

To my brother Michael, without whom this work would never have been published

And to my mother, may she rest in peace, who taught me it’s alright to dream.


This story contains fiction people as well as fictional places. Any resemblance to actual people of places is purely coincidental. It is not my intent to imply that any nation's intelligence service is bad or evil. This work is not a political commentary. I simply needed the fictional versions of those agencies to be bad for the story to work the way I needed it too. In other words, this is a work of fiction, written for the enjoyment of an audience. It is not intended to be taken as truthful in any way.

Ben Winston

Sword of Damocles

Book Two of

The Abraxis Complex

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

The agents that Jared had predicted arrived exactly as he'd expected. The new ID's kept the family's first names, but changed the last. It was something the Agency had done before with Jared and Sharon, so all the groundwork was already in place.

Mandi's attempts at locating the cyber-intruder for the DoD mainframe only managed to confirm it was the Drellian team, but not their location. Mandi back-traced the intruder until she began running into code she'd only seen in some of Abraxis' subsystems.

Abraxis confirmed it was the Drellians, because the code Mandi found was Abraxian in origin. It wasn't AI code, but it was of a higher level than was currently available on Earth.

Greg was transported in secret to Prometheus, and Abraxis had Jared and Jon put him into a healing chamber. Beth looked on anxiously, but once the chamber was closed Abraxis reassured her that he'd made the trip just fine. He also told her that he'd instructed the medical computer, an AI in its own right, to 'keep Beth in the loop' as far as what was being done to her patient.

The medical AI seemed to be excited to have a human counterpart, even if it would have to teach her almost everything. It seemed that once medical technology had reached what was considered a pinnacle in the Alliance, that field was left mostly to machines and AI like the MedComp. Beth scrunched up her face, and immediately renamed the machine Marcus after the fictional television character that had inspired her as a child. She even had a medical license and plaque printed up for him. She placed it right beside hers in the main office: Marcus Welby, MD.

Most folks thought it was a joke, but the newly named Marcus thought that it was great.

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

As predicted, the agency 'investigators' wanted to talk to all the kids, so the girls returned to town with a Marine escort, As soon as he was able, Greg was taken in as well. None of the investigators were allowed into Prometheus since the security access protocols hadn't been finished yet.

During this time, the girls hadn't been idle. In their various offices, they each studied hard and learned most of what they would need to do their future jobs. Mandi divided her time between study and the shop, putting her lessons to use by opening and inspecting each of the hypersleds to make sure they had arrived safely and hadn't been degraded in the intervening time that they had been in storage.

She was surprised and a little disappointed to discover that these sleds had been built centuries before and had not had any upgrades to their systems in all that time. She was even more surprised to find that there had been no upgrades developed either.

Considering that Abraxis warned them against building a maintenance base, she supposed that no one had been doing any research on the equipment in order to improve their systems. It was almost impossible for her to believe that none of the other fixers out there would at least be curious enough to tinker and at the least make small improvements to the equipment.

Jolene and Bella didn't spend all of their time in front of computers either. Part of the equipment package included flight simulators for the hypersleds, and they were both required to spend a minimum of three hours a day in them. Since the workout area had been completed, they had also been working with the man that Jared had asked for to handle hand-to-hand combat and physical training.

Paul Richards was immediately impressed with his young charges, and even began working with Greg in a limited capacity to help him with his recovery as well as develop the reflexes he would need later.

Paul had not been told about the main purpose for the base, and suspected there was something else going on other than Jared wanting his kids trained. However, to his credit, he made no report to his superiors other than his required weekly progress reports. For the time being, Paul accepted the cover story that the kids were just really bright, and they lived down here to help with the secret research.

The other woman that arrived to train the kids, knew there was something else going on and was constantly asking what it was. Between the Marines, Jared, and Abraxis, they had caught her trying to sneak into the restricted areas almost on a weekly basis. Paul snickered and told Jared not to worry about it; she was naturally nosy and believed there was always something else going on. Basically, the agency wouldn't pay her claims any heed unless he, Jared, or Sharon corroborated them.

At least her constant attempts to break in kept everyone on their toes.

The second day after the report of the accident killing the entire Adams family was released to the public, the Drellians accessed the records, and every scrap of data about Amanda Adams was copied and carefully scrutinized.

Abraxis pointed out that there was a good chance her remains had been visually verified since the morgue had been broken into that night. All surveillance footage had been erased, and the electronic locks shorted out. Shortly after that break-in, the attacks on the DoD mainframe had stopped.

The Agency believed their ruse had worked, and Mr. and Mrs. Danielson would be safe, along with their friends and acquaintances, twenty-two year old Greg Albrecht and nineteen year old Amanda Small. In Greg's case, his name was actually the family name of his deceased biological mother. Amanda's new last name had been Jared's grandmother's maiden name.

Jolene and Bella didn't need their identities fully erased, but they did get modified. Both Bella and Jolene still had their last names and their parents; however, they were now twenty years old and had degrees from UC Berkeley and MIT. The story was that Bella met and even dated Mr. Greg Albrecht at Berkeley, and Jolene met Amanda Small at MIT where they had become good friends.

Deep Space

Solarian Sector

Fen’Ness, you have done well, and our Master is pleased.” Abranix whispered into his mind. Of course the damn computer would have to have waited until he was in the middle of a rest cycle.

Thank you Abranix. I am glad the Emperor is pleased with our efforts. Have you discovered our next assignment?” he asked trying not to yawn so the computer would hear him.

Indeed, Fen’Ness, I have. Our Immortal Master knows of your desire to be allowed to return to your home and breed. This wish he will grant you if you complete one more assignment,” the computer replied.

Startled that the computer had guessed their deepest desire, Fen’Ness almost collided heads with Not’Cern as he sat up in surprise.

Yes, that is our wish. What would our Master have us do?” he asked anxiously.

Since you have proven yourselves, you have been honored! The sector in which you are in currently has a rogue node in it. Find it, destroy it, and you will be allowed to return to your home world and breed. You are also to hunt down and retire any teams this rogue has managed to foster. However, if you destroy the node, your mission will be complete," Abranix replied. “This is not an easy task. Nothing is known about the node there. Prime cannot aide you in this hunt.”

This is indeed an honor! We will begin this hunt immediately!” Fen’Ness replied excitedly. His mates and he had been a young team, which is why they had been sent on this hunt. It was their first real hunt as a bonded unit, and they had brought honor on themselves with it. Their clan at home would welcome them back with open arms.

Finish your rest cycle, young warrior. Tomorrow is early enough to begin this hunt and will allow time for the other hunters to gather. You have done well, young one. End of Line.” The computer vanished from his mind.

He was almost too excited to go back to sleep, but he managed to contain his excitement and at least recline back. He was very pleased with himself and his mates. They had worked hard, and even though they didn't have the honor of dispatching the hooman cub personally, they did manage to confirm its death.

He pushed the new mission as far from his mind as he could so he could do what the computer had instructed him, and was soon, once again sleeping. The three specter ships joined together so they could sleep in the safety of the bio-metallic cocoon.

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

One afternoon, Abraxis asked Mandi what she was doing. She had been designing larger warships using the information and technology developed for the hypersleds.

“I'm just tinkering really. It helps me understand the technology better if I do something like this. Once I'm done, I'll run them through simulations to see what weaknesses there are, and see if I can get any ideas for improving the sleds,” she explained.

Abraxis almost looked disapproving at her use of free time. “I don't know how much information you will glean from such a simulation. I have almost a thousand cycles of battle records from the fleets to draw on. Once the hypersleds were developed, those battles show that larger ships became superfluous. You could simply review that data to find the answers you are seeking."

“This isn't the same thing Abraxis. The warships I'm designing are using the technology developed for the hypersleds, not the technology of the ships used during those battles. Also, the act of designing them is giving me a better insight in how that technology works. I'm not actually proposing we build any of these ships. Think of this as simply an academic exercise for me to learn and gain a better understanding of how the engineering was handled,” Mandi explained.

“Ah, I understand. Forgive me for being critical of your learning methods. I simply had not seen the value of this exercise. If you need my assistance with any of this, please feel free to ask,” Abraxis replied, much happier now.

Mandi nodded to him. “Think of this as my 'simulator time' Eventually, I'll have a complete hypersled built in here to use as a test bed for theoretical designs and upgrades.”

Abraxis nodded. “I can see the value of that now. It is an excellent suggestion. Perhaps, once you've finished it, I can pass along a copy of the simulation to the other teams in the sector.”

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

“It's just amazing,” Beth said in the final briefing/check-up for Greg. Jared and Sharon, as well as Greg and the girls were all there. “I understand now, how Marcus did it, but I sure wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Greg is fully recovered from his injuries, and I can safely release him back to full duty.”

It had been a month since Greg had been almost killed by an abusive cop. He had spent the next week and a half unconscious and in a special capsule in the medical area of Prometheus. Marcus, the MedCom AI had not only regrown one of his kidneys, but helped the other to repair itself, as well as mended the broken bones and other injuries he had sustained.

“He's fully healed after only one month? Could you have been wrong on the diagnosis?” Jared asked.

“No, I wasn't, and just to be sure, I had other opinions on his prognosis at the time as well. Once we got him here, Marcus actually congratulated me on the accuracy of it. Carla and I are learning a whole new way to practice medicine. Watching the repairs being done to Greg was almost like watching a magician perform magic,” Beth replied.

“But you're sure I can get back to work then?” Greg asked.

Beth nodded. “Absolutely. At this moment, I would venture to say you are one of the four healthiest people on this planet. With your permission, I'll begin getting the rest of our people run through medical and get them checked out.”

“Everyone but Sybil and Paul for now. I just wish we could run everyone through it; the Marines too,” Greg said. The rest of the group echoed the sentiment, and the meeting broke up.

A couple of days later, Paul cornered Jared in one of the corridors. “Can I talk to you a minute, Agent Danielson?”

“Of course, Paul, what's up?” Jared replied.

“Uh, privately?” Paul asked looking up and down the hallway they were in.

“Sure!” Jared said like this wasn't unusual as hell and led the man to his small office. Jared noticed that Abraxis still had the green LED lit to let him know there were no other listening devices present.

“Should be plenty private in here. Whatcha need, Paul?” Jared asked.

“I want you to know that I know when not to ask questions about something. I'm still not asking, but I think you might have made a mistake in security,” the man began.

“How so?” Jared asked.

“Greg. There is no way in hell he could have been healed from the injuries he sustained. 'Everyone' knows how badly he was injured, and what those injuries were. I'm certainly not going to say anything to 'anyone' about it, but I'm not the only one here,” Paul said. It was clear that when he said 'everyone' and 'anyone' he was talking about the Agency. He was trying to warn Jared that Sybil would report that Greg was healed far too quickly, and that something was in fact going on here.

Jared sighed. “I was kind of afraid of that. The problem is, he needs to get trained as quickly as possible. Besides, Sybil has already seen him, so that cat's out of the bag. She's a gossip, does she have enough to be believed?”

“Isn't a healthy Greg enough?” Paul said. “Honestly, I don't know what other proof could be offered to them. You know our bosses better than I do, how do you think they'd react to this?”

Jared looked thoughtful for a moment. He pushed a button. “Abraxis, could you ask Greg to join me in my office? It's kind of important.”

“Right away, Agent Danielson,” a male voice replied.

Paul smiled, but didn't ask who Abraxis was, nor did he comment on the unusual name.

While they were waiting for Greg, Jared asked Paul if he wanted anything to drink. Since it was still pretty early in the day, Paul accepted some juice. They didn't get much further into small talk before there was a discrete knock at the door.

Jared opened it to let Greg in. He nodded to his instructor before taking a seat in front of Jared's desk. “What's up?”

Jared indicated Paul. “Paul has brought it to our attention that Sybil is aware of how quickly you were healed. He fears she will report it, and they might take it seriously this time. I know how I would handle this situation, but I would need your permission first. How do you want to handle this?”

“Do we have any way of knowing if she reports everything she finds?” Greg asked. “I mean, certainly the Agency would have reacted already if she was reporting everything, right?"

Jared shrugged. “We have no way to know for certain. I do know she is considered a gossip, and a lot of what she reports is ignored as false. But we have no way to tell how the Agency filters out the truth from fantasy with her. If she reports that you’ve healed up and are back on active duty already that would be simple enough for them to check on.”

Greg looked thoughtful for a few minutes. “It's in the nature of the beast to be paranoid. That's why I wanted you to have this position. So if you tell me she is a security risk, than I have to believe you. However, we still need her knowledge so we can't sanction her yet.” He paused again, still thinking. “I think we should give her the tour,” Greg finally suggested, reasonably.

“Excuse me?” Jared asked.

Greg tried not to laugh. “I said, I think we should give her a tour of the facility. Our first stop would be Medical for a physical.”

Paul looked like he was trying to not listen, and Jared looked at his son like he'd lost his mind, then the light came on for him and he laughed. “You are far too devious, sometimes.”

“Yeah, well, I know you're not going to like this; I want a few Marines down here for base security. Paul can train them in hand to hand, but I'll handle their weapons training,” Greg said. He turned to Paul. “How about you? Would you like a tour as well?”

“I don't know, do I get a 'physical' too?” he asked a little fearfully.

Greg chuckled. “Yeah, you would, but it wouldn't be the same one Sybil will be getting.”

“Well, I’m human so I am curious, but I really don't need to know. So, maybe I should pass at least for the time being,” Paul said. "After all, I can't be forced to tell what I don't know.”

Greg nodded his understanding. “I would still like to offer you the benefits of the advanced medical facilities. We can always blindfold you or something to get you there if you want to go. As long as you swear that you will keep the secret, I will swear that nothing you don't have prior knowledge about will be done to you. Agreed?”

Paul nodded. “I can agree to that. Hell, I might even take you up on it, later when I get closer to the end.”

“What do you mean?” Jared asked.

“I have ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. I've been under treatment for a while, but the fact is that it will eventually kill me,” Paul answered and shrugged. “I'm at peace with it, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see.”

Greg had been in the simulator, trying to get caught up to the girls with hours logged. When Jared had called, he simply put some cover-alls on over the flight suit. It wasn't obvious, but Paul was close enough to see part of it.

“Greg, is what you're wearing under there going to be what you're wearing when you fight?” Paul asked.

Greg glanced down at the jump suit, but saw part of the flight suit was visible. “Probably. There is a helmet that connects to the suit as well, and the suit can seal.”

Paul nodded. “Okay, could you pass the word to the girls, that for now, you are all to come to training wearing that suit. You can leave off the helmets for now, but I want you all to get used to moving in those things. Since you're going to take care of Sybil, we won't have to worry about her seeing you in them.”

Greg looked a little uncomfortable. “The suits are capable of giving us some physical enhancements. You won't be able to spar with us if we are wearing them. Mandi also has one, but she won’t be fighting in it; she has a different role than we do.”

Paul nodded. “Thanks for the warning, I'll keep it in mind. I'll use Mandi as a demonstrator then. She's pretty damn good already.”

Greg stood. “Okay, then I guess we'll see you in a couple of hours. Dad, when would you like to take care of the Sybil issue?”

“No time like the present. Let me call Beth in Medical so she's ready for us," Jared replied.

“Okay, I'll find Sybil, and tell her that I'm granting her wish,” Greg said grinning.

“Just so I know not to act surprised when I see her, you're not going to kill her, right?” Paul asked.

Greg's smile decreased. “No, I'd rather not have to do that unless given no other choice. She is a valuable member of the team, but beyond that, she hasn't done anything against us. I'd prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to killing people.”

“That's a very liberal view to take. She could still file a report on you,” Paul said.

Greg looked at him seriously for a moment. “Paul, it's only a matter of time before the government figures out there is something other than research going on down here. We know we can't stay hidden from them forever, but we do need to try. Once they find out about us, if they try to stop us or keep us from doing what we are going to be doing, they will only be hurting themselves. We hope to be able to show them that when the time comes. Fortunately, that time hasn't come yet, and for now, I'd still like to believe that there is hope for the human race.”

Paul looked thoughtful for a moment. “I'd find it very hard to believe that Jared would be involved in anything that would be bad for our country, which is why I've chosen to curb my curiosity and not ask too many questions. So in order to set my mind at ease, is what we are doing here going to be harmful to the United States?”

Greg opened his mouth to answer, but Jared beat him to it. “Paul, I want you to know I know what you're really asking. No, we are not going to be doing anything against the people of the United States, or of any other country for that matter. What we are doing here is for the global good. We are anticipating that the government will not be too happy with that fact once they find out about it. I can't really tell you more without telling you everything, and you've already said you don't want to know.”

“Paul, I'll tell you what. Keep your eyes open. If there is something that happens here that bothers you, come to Jared or me and ask. If you feel that you really should know the whole story, if for no other reason than to ease your conscience, I'll still give you that tour and full disclosure,” Greg said. “At that point, you can leave or not. It'll be your choice.”

“If I chose to leave now, and report on everything I've seen down here?” Paul asked.

Greg shrugged. “Honestly, we can't let you go yet, not like that. So if you chose to stop helping us, we would simply try to make you as comfortable as possible until such time as we can afford to let you go.”

“You'd hold me against my will?” Paul asked.

“Yeah, but only for as long as we'd have to. Basically, we would deny you access to the lift out of here; you'd still be free to roam around. It's nothing personal, really,” Greg explained.

Paul nodded. “Okay, I just wanted to know; it tells me a great deal about who I'm working with. I do have to say that is a damn sight more generous than the Agency would be.”

Greg smirked. “We are not the Agency; we never will be.”

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

“Ah, there you are, Sybil. How are you doing?” Greg asked.

The woman smirked at him. “We need to work on your walking. I heard you approaching all the way down the hall. Other than that, I'm doing pretty well,” she paused and eyed him warily. “How are you doing?”

Greg nodded. “Not too bad, all things considered. A little stiff and sore yet, but Medical released me back to full duty.”

He noticed her ears perk up. “Medical?”

“Yeah, I know you've been curious about what's going on in the restricted areas, so after talking it over with Jared, I've decided to increase your clearance level and give you a tour. So, why don't I show you what Medical is?” Greg replied.

“Really?” she asked. “Are you sure? I mean I know there's a reason for the restriction. If I had been able to actually get past security, I wouldn't have gone any further."

“So, all the attempts to get in you've been making were you testing security?” Greg asked.

Sybil shrugged. “Pretty much. I like to think there is no door I can't get into given enough time. I do have to admit that I'm starting to doubt being able to get through that one. If you think I need to know what's on the other side of it, then I'll go, but more than anything else, I'd really like to know how you managed to secure that door."

Greg nodded back toward the hall. “Well, I can't tell you that, without telling you all of it, so, come on – I'm about to give you a promotion.”

As she rose from her desk to follow him, she asked. “Huh? A promotion? To what?”

Greg chuckled. “If I told you now, you either wouldn't believe me, or you'd think I was joking. I'll tell you once we get done.”

“Does this mean I'll be able to carry my sidearm again?” Sybil asked. She had been very reluctant to give up her Glock when she was brought down.

They had been walking down the hall while talking, so Greg stopped just outside Jared's office. “Unfortunately, no. It'll be even more important on the other side of the door. There are a lot of things in there that don't respond well to bullets.”

Jared stepped out of his office and smiled at them. Somehow, that made Sybil even more nervous about this. “You know, maybe I don't need to know how that door works after all, maybe I should just go back to my office and forget all about this.”

“Nonsense!” Jared replied letting her know it was far too late to back out. “We really need your help in there. I promise I won't kill you."

She seemed to relax quite a bit about that statement. She knew what Jared was capable of. Of course, she thought Greg was still just an untrained kid instead of being far more dangerous than his father. She nodded agreement to continue.

The three of them approached the door and without a word it simply opened. Sybil opened her mouth to ask how the hell they'd done that when she saw Greg wink at her. “Just be patient, you'll know in a few moments.”

The trio entered and waited for the outer door to close and the inner door to open. Once the outer door was closed. Greg stage whispered to her. “Besides, Jared's authority ended at that door. This is my sandbox from now on.”

For some reason, that calm statement seemed to bother Sybil far more than Jared's presence had.

The inner door opened, and Abraxis said from the speakers. “Welcome back, Commander and Agent Danielson.”

“Thank you, Abraxis. Do you recognize Sybil Konrad?” Greg answered surprising the woman.

“External base security files list her as Covert Operations Instructor for you and the rest of the team.”

“Correct, I am upgrading her clearance to include this area. I feel she needs to know what she is training us for,” Greg replied. They were still standing at the inner door, inside a yellow and black striped entry area.

“Logging Sybil Konrad as a restricted visitor. Please proceed to Medical for Security Tag implantation,” Abraxis replied. “Welcome to Prometheus, Ms. Konrad."

There wasn't a security tag, but there would be a tag injected into her. It was a tracking tag capable of monitoring her and shutting her down if necessary. 'Shutting down' had two settings; off temporarily and off permanently. If she tried to report Prometheus to the Agency, the tag would shut her down temporarily and call for assistance. If she tried to run, the tag would use its other setting.

Jared and Greg escorted the nervous woman to Medical, and a smiling Beth met them. Sybil had already met Beth, so no introductions were needed.

“Hello again Ms. Konrad. Welcome to Medical. This is my little area of the base. Before you can go any further, I have to install a security tag in you so the computer can identify you. While you're here, I'll give you a quick once over in the scanner also, just to make sure you're healthy,” Beth said.

“Is all this really necessary?” Sybil asked fearfully.

“Actually, it is. Since we entered Medical, the computer has revoked your access to the rest of the base. If you step out the door, whether escorted or not, you'll be tagged as a hostile. I won't go into details about it, but you would never make more than about five steps in any direction,” Greg said.

“So, even if I would have made it through the main doors...” Sybil began.

Greg nodded. “You would have hit the floor just on the other side of the hazard tape on the floor. Inside the tape, you're safe until the computers recognize you; that's why we waited after the door closed.”

“I guess the tag is necessary then,” Sybil replied as she took a seat on the table Beth had waved her to.

“Lay back dear, this'll only take a second, and I promise it won't even hurt,” Beth said as she got busy.

“Okay, so while Beth gets to work, I can start to explain what's going on here. The computer that addressed us at the door is an alien-built, artificial intelligence construct we refer to as Abraxis. He is the base's main computer, although he isn't the only AI here,” Greg began.

“How did you find an alien computer system?” Sybil asked.

Greg snorted a chuckle. “It found us actually. Myself, Jolene, Bella and Mandi are different than normal humans. We possess what Abraxis calls 'the gifts of the Rangers'. Basically, we all have greatly heightened learning capacity, but then we each also have different specialties.

“Mine is fighting and combat, and I am called a Ranger Fighter. I am in command of the team, and this base. Bella is the team navigator and is called a Ranger Pilot. Jolene is our tracking and covert operations specialist. She's a Ranger Finder. Finally, Mandi's specialty is technology. She is a non-combatant called a Fixer; basically she's our team's mechanic and innovator.

“Abraxis has provided us with all the tools we will need to fulfill the role fate has selected us for; the protection of this planet and this sector of space,” Greg explained.

Sybil looked shocked. “What are you to protect us from?”

“Some really, really bad folks. I'll let Abraxis fill in the details on that for you. Now, we have deviated from Abraxis’ plans for us in that we are building a larger base, and we plan on trying to help the other Ranger teams by developing upgrades as well as an emergency repair facility," Greg explained.

“There are other teams here on Earth?” Sybil asked.

Greg grinned. “No, not yet at least.”

“The traits required for the development of a Ranger team are extremely rare, Ms. Konrad,” Abraxis replied from the speakers. “The odds of another team forming here on this planet are very low.”

“Sybil, may I introduce to you, formally, the Base AI, Abraxis,” Greg said as Abraxis' full size hologram took form beside him.

“Doc, these must be some heavy duty drugs you're giving me,” Sybil replied.

“I haven't given you anything yet, Sybil. Marcus is still scanning you,” Beth replied. “Marcus is the medical AI.”

“Man, I have to quit reading so much science fiction,” Sybil replied.

“Please don't on our account. You might think of something we haven't. Remember, we are trying to improve on the current technology too. We will welcome any ideas you have, even if we disprove them repeatedly,” Greg replied.

Sybil took a deep breath, and closed her eyes for a moment. “There is no tracking device is there? This is a kill switch in case I break faith with you, isn't it?”

Greg nodded. “Yeah, it is, sorry. We were worried that you might be reporting too much to the Agency.”

Sybil nodded. “I can understand that. Both Paul and I were told to report anything out of the ordinary immediately. Paul almost worships Jared and Sharon, so I know he would never say anything. I probably would have if you hadn't decided to show me everything. I have a feeling that once I know the whole truth, I will be fighting as hard as you are to keep the Agency and anyone else out of here.”

Greg turned to Abraxis. “Please give her a full briefing on your history and what has happened up to this point. Answer any questions she has honestly if you can. Refer her to me on the ones you can't.” He turned back to Sybil. "I am sorry about the device, but until we know for certain we can trust you, it has to be this way. Before Abraxis begins, can I get you anything? Something to drink maybe?”

“I'm good, thanks. I have one question for you though,” she said.

Greg shrugged his shoulders. “Ask, if I can't answer, I'll tell you so.”

“Between you and your father, who is more dangerous?” she asked.

“Agent Danielson has more practical experience than Ranger Greg, however, Greg has surpassed his father in all aspects of combat training. Basically in a straight up fight to the death between the two of them, Agent Danielson would not survive the event,” Abraxis replied.

“Yes, he would,” Greg replied.

“It was a comparison only, Ranger Fighter, I did not mean to imply you would ever have to fight him,” Abraxis explained. “When you decided to bring Ms. Konrad here, I was going to suggest you bring Mr. Richards as well. The team is very close to surpassing his ability to instruct you.”

“I'll speak to him about it, Abraxis,” Jared said. “In fact, since we no longer need to intimidate Sybil, here,” he grinned at the woman. “I'll see if I can go find him.”

Greg held his hand out to his father. “Thanks for your help.”

Jared took the offered hand. “I know with everything that's happened with our family, we've never really been father and son, but I want you to know how very proud of you Sharon and I am. You've become a remarkable person, Son.”

Greg was momentarily overwhelmed and pulled Jared into a hug. “No matter what happens to us, you will always be my dad; don't ever doubt that.”

While the two men had been talking, Abraxis had begun telling Sybil the events of the past that were relevant to the current situation. Beth sat and listened in as well, since she enjoyed listening to the tale. She even got up and got the two women something to drink about half way through. Greg returned to the simulator until Abraxis had finished with Sybil.

Toward the end of the story, Greg returned to Medical to retrieve his guest, but this time he didn't bother with the coveralls.

“What on Earth are you wearing, Greg?” Sybil asked.

“Hypersled flight suit. It integrates my body functions into the systems of my sled,” Greg replied. “Among other things; it can also function as an environmental suit if and when I have to get out of the sled.”

“It's very, uh, form fitting,” Sybil replied.

Greg chuckled. “Yeah, it sort of has to be. However, you're going to have to get used to seeing me like this, the girls too. Well, except for Mandi who doesn't need one very often.”

“If she's a noncombatant, why would she need one at all?” Sybil asked.

“The Fixer is the mechanic for the hypersleds. She not only has to know how to fix them, but also how to fly them as well. There may also be some missions where a fixer will be required to accompany the team,” Abraxis replied. "Her duties require her to have an intimate knowledge of all the sleds' systems as well as a wide variety of other technologies.”

“Are you ready to see the rest of the base?” Greg asked.

Sybil thanked Beth and stood up. “Sure, but I'm still trying to figure out what you meant by a promotion for me?”

“In addition to teaching us your unique set of skills, I want you to assist Jolene in learning the alien stuff as well. We will have to have the ability to infiltrate enemy compounds, in addition to being able to get away from them. Abraxis has a lot of knowledge in this area, but, as he has pointed out on many occasions, he is an AI and doesn't have the correct mindset that needs to be instilled in order to truly obtain the knowledge we'll need,” Greg explained as he led the woman out of Medical and down the hall toward the closest hangar bays.

“I think I understand. Basically, you want me to help Jolene learn to become sneaky and underhanded?” Sybil asked.

Nodding, Greg chuckled. “Yeah, that is, even more than you're doing now. Abraxis will begin teaching you about all the different types of sensor systems that have been developed, and what he knows about each of their weaknesses.”

“There is no better sensor system than the Mark I Eyeball. Unless they've developed a total cloaking device, if someone is looking directly at you, it will be impossible for you to sneak away from them,” said Sybil.

In response, Greg tapped something on the cuff of his flight suit and everything from his neck down almost completely disappeared. There was still a distortion shadow, but if he stayed absolutely still, it would be very difficult to see.

“You mean something like this?” Greg asked smiling.

“Holy shit! It looks like I have a lot to learn if I'm going to help you at all!” Sybil said.

“Well, I'm going to have to give you a quick tour, because I'm due to have my ass handed to me by Paul again pretty soon. So we need to pick up the pace. Come on, I'll introduce you to my favorite spaceship!” Greg replied grinning at her.

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

About forty-five minutes later, as Greg was escorting her back through the main door, Sybil touched his arm lightly. “All things considered, Commander, thank you for showing me what I'm helping you with. You don't have to worry about me telling anyone about it. If for no other reason than you are probably the only defense we have against the Drellians. There is no way in hell the government or any of the myriad agencies would be able to do what you're trying to do down here. You have my word of honor, for what it's worth, I will not knowingly betray your trust in me.”

Greg nodded. “I believe you, Sybil. But I hope you understand there is far more at risk here than just me. That tracking bug will have to stay inside you awhile. Everyone other than the team has to have one. We can't take any chances at all.”

Sybil looked surprised. “Jared and Sharon have them?”

“The only people that don't have them are the four of us on the team. They serve other functions too, like monitoring your health. If something happens to you, Marcus will know immediately, and he will make sure we know if you need help. Otherwise, your personal information remains private. In fact, if there were something wrong with you, Beth wouldn't discuss it with me without talking to you about it first.”

Sybil nodded. “That sounds fair, it just surprised me that everyone has these devices in them.”

“Well, it's mostly for monitoring their health. In our case, there are other devices and systems that handle that,” Greg said as the outer door opened. Jolene, Bella and Mandi were all there waiting for him.

“You're late,” Bella said.

“I hope he didn't give you too hard of a time, Sybil,” Jolene said grinning at her.

“Not really, he only scared the hell out of me a couple of times,” Sybil replied.

“Damn, you're slippin' Bro!” Mandi said, grinning.

“I'll let you guys get to practice. Thanks again, Greg,” Sybil said.

“Ms. Konrad. If you would retire to your quarters, I have prepared a video for your viewing,” Abraxis said over the speakers.

Sybil grinned. “Thank you, Abraxis, can you not display your image out here?”

“He can,” Mandi explained. “He prefers not to. The researchers out here don't actually know he's an AI. If they knew, they would mob him. So, he tries to limit his exposure by staying either in the base, or in our quarters. It's actually kinda funny to listen to him comment on some of the researcher's ideas and hypothesis.”

“As much as I would love to hear all about that, if you guys don't get moving, Paul's going to have a case of the ass, and you know what that means,” Sybil said, grinning.

Both Jolene and Mandi groaned and started moving down the hall toward the dojo. Greg and Bella chuckled and raced after them, Greg waved over his shoulder as they rounded the corner.

Sybil walked to her own quarters and locked the door behind her. Leaning back against it, she let out a long sigh, and closed her eyes. There was a limit to how much a human could absorb and accept. Today had strained her abilities and she needed a moment. She knew that if the Agency ever learned the truth about this base, they would be all over it within hours. Coming to a decision, she sat down at her computer, and began composing an email to her bosses using the special software they had given her.

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

The next day, Greg was sitting at his desk reading the email Sybil had sent to the Agency. When there was a knock on his door, he said 'come' without looking up. Sybil entered and took a seat in front of his desk.

“I should be angry with you,” Greg began, setting the document down and looking at her.

“You're not?” Sybil asked genuinely surprised he wasn't.

Greg sighed. “No, not really. I would have liked more time to prepare, but at this point little can be done about it. I'm more worried about the possible repercussions and consequences.”

“I know, I'm sorry, but I stand by my decision to report in. It's my job, if I hadn't they would have come looking anyway,” Sybil replied. “I believe what I reported was truly for the best.”

“I have no doubt about that, Sybil. Like I said, it would have been better if I'd had more time. Do you think they'll believe your report? I know that they tend to see most of your reports as gossip and flights of fancy,” Greg said, making her blush.

“Yeah, that's true, but I know how to word it so they know when I'm not just panicking over something. No, this report they will take seriously,” Sybil explained.

Greg shook his head. “How in the hell did you come up with a video game system? Really? You think they'll buy that? I mean we have the better part of StealthCon's theoretical physics departments down here.”

“Well, not really just a video game system, but a space combat simulator; with possible commercial applications in the entertainment industry. The scientists are trying to not only help you make it realistic, but overcome some of the other difficulties for when we do finally attain space flight, or if we need to combat an extra-planetary threat," Sybil explained, almost quoting from her message. “Except for the simulator, the weapons and such were all theoretical junk like mass drivers, rail guns, and lasers. I honestly think they will suck it up hook line and sinker.”

Greg nodded. “Jared and Sharon agree with you. Just, next time you feel the need to report in, could you at least let us know so we can plan for it? If they want a demonstration of the systems at this point, I'll have nothing to show them. Besides, they could easily pull Jared and Sharon out of here now, not to mention any support we're getting through StealthCon."

She just shrugged. “Sorry Commander, like I said, I had to file something, or they would have come looking to find out why.”

“Commander, General Hollister for you on line two,” one of the Marines up in the security center said over the intercom.

“Thanks, I got it.” Greg replied. As Sybil got up to leave, Greg waved her back down. “This is probably about your report, so if I get chewed out, so do you."

Greg hit the button for the phone’s speaker. “Good Morning General, what can we do for you?”

“Which one of the spies down there is sending reports on you?” Carl asked.

“That would be Sybil Konrad, Sir. She's sitting here telling me about it right now,” Greg replied.

“Ah, well, you might want to give her a raise, because you just got one. Although I couldn't tell you who gave you the money,” Carl replied. “Jesus, what are you going to do with a hundred million dollars?”

Greg coughed. “How much?”

“You heard me. I don't joke about a number with more than three zeros behind it. You just got some serious support from someone. You want us to continue handling the purchasing for you?”

“Yeah, that way it'll keep everything legitimate. We simply have no way to handle it from here. But you know we might be able to use some of that money to make repairs and increase security upstairs. I'm sure the Marines would be appreciative.”

“That might be a good idea. Get with Captain Washington, and I'll get our folks out there to get to work,” Carl said.

“Well, I guess that turned out better than I expected. I thought some people would be upset that we were working on this kind of research down here,” Greg replied.

“After the report on the Mederos incident, and then the DoD invasion, I think some people might have gotten a wake-up call. Good luck down there, Commander,” Carl replied.

“Thank you, Sir. Have a good day.” Greg said and the line went dead, Greg waited a couple of minutes and heard two more clicks before he hung up himself.

“The lines’ bugged,” Sybil said.

Greg nodded. “Yeah, we know. You'll notice that we didn't say anything that would be out of line with your report?”

“So, I'm not actually in trouble?” Sybil asked.

“Hardly. You just got us another hundred million in funding. I might just have to keep you around for that one!” Greg said chuckling. “How are you doing with your studies?"

“Pretty good I think. The suit function you showed me is actually pretty easy to defeat. A little bit of dust or smoke, and you're mostly visible again,” she said. “I'm actually looking forward to seeing how to defeat the motion sensors.”

“Those are tricky. It's more that you don't defeat them, but overload them. I'll let Abraxis have the fun of teaching that one to you. From now on, just try to warn us before you send in a report, okay? I'll get something set up in case someone shows up wanting a demonstration, though. Let's just hope it doesn't happen when we have a visiting team," Greg said.

“They'd blow a manifold!” Sybil agreed, laughing. “See ya later, Commander.”

Greg winked at her as she closed the door.

Deep Space

Solarian Sector

“Fen'Ness, we are approaching the next drop location,” Tyern'D reported.

“Good, let us drop this sensor, and move on to the last location. Not'Cern, are you certain five are all we will need?” Fen'Ness asked.

“Yes, three would have sufficed, but five will give me more accuracy in finding the Ranger teams. I will be able to plot the course and speed of every ship in the area that is emitting a power signature,” Not'Cern replied.

“Remember, my mates, we are hunting the computer, not just the accursed Rangers. We must have the computer before we destroy the teams or it will be more difficult to find,” Fen'Ness reminded his team.

“I still find it hard to believe we have been given such a great task. Prime has honored us greatly with this hunt,” Tyern'D said proudly. “It is a testimony to how well we will breed together!”

Not'Cern nodded agreement. “It is, still, I would have liked to see our home before we started this mission.”

Fen'Ness looked at the two, and sniffed the air. “Are you two starting your heat cycles again? You are supposed to be taking your suppressants!”

Not'Cern took out a small vial and tapped out a small pill, then handed the vial to Tyern'D. “We don't like taking them, Fen'Ness. They make us sick, and not feel right.”

Fen'Ness knew this, they had told him already. “I know, but there is nothing for it. If we don't finish this mission, and get permission to breed, we will be killed when we return home, and our clan shamed by our actions.”

“They would still kill us if I were carrying our Pod?” Tyern'D asked.

“Yes, they would. You both know this, or have you forgotten the holos from primary instruction?” Fen'Ness explained. “We have to do this right, or there will be nothing left of us.”

“For the Clan!” Tyern'D growled and swallowed the pill. Not'Cern did the same, only with far less enthusiasm.

“Now, Not'Cern, set course for the next drop. The sooner we are finished, the faster you can quit those pills.”

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

“Ranger Team Alert! Rangers, please report to TacCom immediately!” Abraxis voice carried through the base.

Paul Richards had been working with Greg and the girls when they heard the announcement. Greg nodded once to Paul and followed the girls out of the Dojo and down the hall at a dead run. Jared was already there and had the outer door standing open.

As the door began to close, Greg looked at the ceiling. “What's up Abraxis?”

“I have received multiple pulse signals from Drellian tracking pods. They are being seeded throughout this sector,” the old computer explained. “The Drellians are trying to locate my node.”

“Abraxis, what is the status of the anti-location system I suggested?” Greg asked as the five people stepped into the central control room for the installation.

In the earlier days of planning for the base, Greg had expressed concern over the enemy being able to locate the isolated computer node via triangulation. So he made a suggestion to the old computer. The suggestion was to seed the entire sector with repeaters capable of mimicking all the signatures of the node in order to confuse the enemy teams sent to find and destroy it. It would also serve to warn all the Ranger teams of the attempt while still denying the node's location to the enemy. Greg also suggested something that shocked the old AI to its core. Build another node under their base he could transfer to, if his current one was discovered.

“Only about twenty percent I'm afraid, Commander. The installations take time to build and put in place,” Abraxis replied. “The, uh, 'bomb shelter' you mentioned is almost complete however.”

“I understand, Abraxis. Light a fire under that bot and get it finished. You might want too light-up the decoys long enough to issue the alert to the other teams, then shut them down again. If you can move any of them around, it would help.”

“I am unused to this style of interfacing, Commander, I feel you should know that this makes me greatly uncomfortable,” Abraxis replied. “I find it... repulsive to seemingly abandon the other teams like this.”

“I agree, Abraxis. But then again, if you were not so close to us, you would be abandoning us as well. You must remain free and active, Abraxis. New teams can be formed and trained. You cannot be replaced.”

“Abraxis! Check this out. I've input a new subspace protocol for your communications nodes. If you can pass this out as a data burst, you might be able to keep in touch with the other teams too!” Mandi said, from where she was furiously typing on a terminal.

“The Drellians would still be able to detect the signal, Fixer,” Abraxis replied.

Mandi nodded, still typing. “Yeah, but could you get a fix on the origin of the signal?”

Abraxis was quiet for a few moments. “I see your point. The parts of the transmission they could detect would be too brief to lock on to especially if I combine this with Greg's suggestion of multiple transmission points. Stand-by, implementing protocol alterations.”

Greg turned to the rest of the team. “Okay, the Drellians are trying to locate Abraxis. The question is what do we do about it?”

“We could always go out and destroy the sensor pods. Maybe we'd get lucky and catch the Drellian team while we're at it,” Bella said.

“Do you feel comfortable enough to take on a fully trained Drellian team? One that probably has far more experience in space combat than we do?” Greg asked.

“I'd be nervous, yeah, but we have to do it sometime, we can't just sit here and hide for the rest of our lives. This is what we're supposed to be doing,” Bella countered.

Greg turned to his other team members. “Jolene? Mandi? Opinions?”

Jolene looked thoughtful. “This is what we've been training to do, so we should probably do it. I'm not crazy about going out there and getting in a fight, but it is our job.”

“Why do you need to go anywhere? Once the Drellians figure out that they can't locate Abraxis, they'll give up, and go away. That'll give us more time to train,” Mandi said looking concerned.

Greg looked thoughtful for a couple of minutes. “Okay, Mandi please make sure the new communications protocols are loaded into our sleds so we can talk to you and Abraxis while we're out.”

“Fighter Greg, I feel I need to remind you that the sensor drones should also be considered a trap since they will detect your sleds as soon as you leave the atmosphere of the planet. You will engage a Drellian team, since they will move to destroy you as soon as they know where you are,” Abraxis said. "In node location missions such as this appears to be, there are multiple teams used. You will be facing more than one team, past reports indicate that you would be facing a minimum of three enemy teams."

“So are you saying we shouldn't do this?” Greg asked.

“Negative Fighter, I am simply pointing out the nature of the enemy in the mission you are contemplating. Also, Fixer Amanda is incorrect. The Drellian team will not just go away. They will simply begin creating as much trouble as they can in an attempt to lure a Ranger team out to stop them.

“All the data that these teams are generating is recorded by the compromised AI node that is controlling them, so when a team is destroyed, the next team will already know what the first team knew. While the original team is engaged in battle, the other teams use the sensor drones to monitor all the transmissions in an attempt to locate this node," Abraxis explained.

“Wait, did you just say that there are more than one team in our sector right now?” Jolene asked.

“Yes, I did. That is the most common Drellian tactic for locating a node. It has been very effective in the past,” Abraxis explained.

“Abraxis, as soon as the 'Bomb Shelter' is finished, I want you to do a complete systems back up. I'd feel much better if there was a copy of you in another location as well as the one here,” Greg ordered.

“As per your suggestions, I am implementing the construction of four other data vaults that I can operate out of. As soon as the one at your location has been finished, I will duplicate my entire code base, and data store in it. When the other locations are completed, I will do the same with those. I will set my code in such a way as to bring the next copy on line in the event of my imminent destruction. I have already set up a trigger with Fixer Amanda to delete my knowledge of these locations as soon as they are completed. I will not even know that I have copies out there, nor will I know that my last act will be to activate the next one.”

Greg nodded agreement. “Yeah, if you get infected that is something we really don't want you to know.”

“I can no longer be infected by the Drellian virus. Fixer Amanda has insured that. I can still be destroyed, however, and if any of my data remains, the locations could be discovered during a forensic analysis of my data cores,” Abraxis replied.

Bella looked like she was going to ask more questions, but Greg cut her off. “Abraxis, could you please display the locations of the sensor drones? If we're going to be able to pull this off, we're going to need to know where everything is.”

The lights in the room dimmed and a large hologram of the sector took shape in the room. A point of light with rings radiating out from them denoted the drones' locations. Earth was a bright blue speck highlighted by a white glow. There were three other blue specks on the map denoting the locations of the other teams. A small red circle was projected up near the ceiling.

“The red circle is the most probable location of the Drellian team that seeded the drones. I have no way of knowing where the others might be, but it would make sense for them to be spread out to more effectively cover the sector.” Two other yellow circles appeared in opposing places that had the Drellians spread out. “Again, enemy locations are only a guess with little to no data supporting it,” Abraxis explained.

“The blue denotes the other team's locations, correct?” Greg asked.

“Affirmative, Fighter,” Abraxis replied.

“Greg, if I may, I think I might have a suggestion for you,” Jared said, reminding everyone he was there too.

“Sure,” Greg said.

“I'm not an expert by any stretch...” Jared began.

“None of us are, Jared,” Bella injected.

Jared grinned at her. “...but, it looks like whoever dumped these was a bit sloppy in their positioning. See, these two,” He pointed to the two closest drones nearest Earth. “...are both close to us. The others are also pretty close to the other teams. If you could coordinate with the other teams, you could execute a simultaneous strike on the drones.

“Granted, the Drellians will still attack you, but the tactic might cause enough confusion to throw them off balance. If we get lucky enough to destroy the drones and all three teams, maybe the Drellian node will have to take more time to plan its next incursion to this sector.”

“I would have to agree with Agent Danielson, however, it could also draw the attention of the Prime Nexus. If that happens, there is a very high likelihood that it will order an all-out assault on this sector before the knowledge we have gained can be spread to other free nodes.”

“How big of an assault and how long would it take for the Nexus to get it set-up?” Greg asked.

“It would require the Nexus to order all the teams from half of the Galaxy to come here. Which it would not hesitate to do if it thought the threat we pose to be dire enough. Elapsed time for assembling the needed force would be almost two of your local years depending on the activity in the other sectors,” Abraxis explained. “This is assuming the sectors surrounding ours have been infected, and we are isolated.”

“So, at a minimum we would have two years to prepare for an assault by at least twenty Drellian teams?” Greg asked.

"That is a worst case scenario, Fighter.” Abraxis replied.

Greg nodded his understanding, but turned to his father. “Jared, I'll talk to the other teams and plan this strike. I want you to get with Sharon, the General, Mandi, Abraxis and anyone else you can think of that we might need to prepare for a mass attack by the Prime. Get some plans hammered out for us to look over when we get back.”

“Will do,” Jared replied and left.

Greg sighed and looked at his team. “Ladies, help Mandi get our sleds ready for launch, full load; we don't know how long we'll be out, or what we're going to run into.” Bella nodded and led the other two women out of the room.

Greg looked at the big hologram. “Okay, Abraxis, I'll need to speak with the other Fighters. Before we do that though, could you give me a brief idea of the types of beings I'll be dealing with?”

It took longer to talk the other Rangers into the plan than Greg thought it would. One of the teams, from the fifth planet of a star called Onaris, had a society that was logic based. Greg had thought they had been just plain bullheaded. Greg had finally had to result to logic of his own.

“Fighter Planier, if the enemy knows your response to their tactics, is it not logical to change that response?”

Planier couldn't argue with that, and agreed to the plan Greg had proposed. Abraxis would handle team coordination via the new protocols Mandi had given him. So, an hour later when he finally got to the ready room to grab the helmet for his flight suit, he already felt like he had fought a battle.

“What took you so long?” Bella asked.

Greg chuckled and replied, “Let's just say we have some very bullheaded brothers and sisters out there. However, everyone's on board and getting suited up for the mission now. What's our status?”

“We're ready to roll; just waitin' on you,” Bella replied. “Jolene is nervous and Mandi's terrified we won't be coming back."

“You do know that we might not. This could easily be a one way trip,” Greg said.

“Yeah, I called Sharon to come talk to her so we could launch. We will be coming back, but Mandi won't listen to me,” Bella said, confidently.

Greg smiled at her. “Yes, we will and leave nothing but dead Drellians in our wake.”

He was dressed, so he and Bella walked out to the hanger where Jolene and Mandi had been going over the sleds to make sure everything was ready. Sharon was currently holding Mandi, and Jolene was caressing the back of her hair.

The couple walked over to them. “We're ready to go. Sorry it took so long,” Greg said.

Mandi sniffed, released her mother, and pulled all of her friends into a hug. “I know you have to go, I don't like it, but I know you do. I know you'll be coming back too. So go out there and kick some ass!”

The three Rangers all returned the hug and climbed into their sleds. Mandi led Sharon back to the Command Center so they could monitor the mission from there.

As each of the Rangers sat down and laid back into the flight couch, the nanoskin cockpit cover flowed over the opening, sealing the craft in a barrier of armor harder than any substance on Earth.

Greg went through the startup sequence for his sled and grinned when he felt the humming from the powerful engines in the little craft. The small ship was a wonder.

The only moving parts in the craft were those for the pilot's controls. There were no fuel tanks since the craft use something called zero-point energy to power all its systems. In the atmosphere as well as interplanetary space, it used a gravatic drive system.

While flying there was no feeling of movement at all, no excessive g-forces to crush a pilot during high-speed maneuvers. The craft used a series of subspace compressors and amplifiers to interact with the gravity fields around it, no matter how small. If there was no gravity for it to interact with, it was capable of creating a simulated version in order to move.

Weapons fire was a big drain on the power systems, but combat maneuvers worked to recharge the zero-point energy cell. During combat, it was not unusual to push the energy cell into saturation, which required the use of the weapons to discharge it back to normal.

During hyperspace, or faster than light travel, the small amount of energy required to form the 'warp bubble' was almost instantly replaced by the act of flying through a higher energy dimension.

The rules of hyperspace are far different than normal space as well. For example, acceleration is attained exponentially rather than linearly. In normal space, if you apply thrust to accelerate at say 2kps2, then you will accelerate at that rate and stop accelerating once the initial momentum has been attained.

In hyperspace, if you apply that same 2kps2 thrust, you will accelerate at (2kps2)2. That is to say you will accelerate at 2kps2 for the first second, then 4kps2 the next second, then sixteen, then thirty-two, and so on with no increase in energy expended. Which make maneuvers in hyperspace a computer only job.

To put it in layman's terms, if you flick a peanut shell away with your finger, it would achieve the speed of light within ten feet of your finger. Nice huh?

Greg returned to himself as he heard Bella then Jolene report all systems green and ready.

“Fighter, all systems green and ready. Mandi, are you and Sharon in the Command Center yet?” Greg asked. Their communication implants interfaced with the ship allowing them to communicate without additional hardware. When they were out of the ships, the communicators simply linked to each other in a closed loop.

“Yeah, we just got here. Copy all systems green and ready. Locking down the base, and raising launch platform,” Mandi said as she performed her part of the launch.

“Fighter, Abraxis reports the sky is clear. Exit vector one-niner-one degrees at nape, immediate climb to Heaven’s Gate for orbital insertion,” Sharon said taking the traffic control systems.

“Silo doors opening. Stand by for launch,” Mandi added.

Out in the flight area, the old elevator once used to elevate and lower nuclear missiles had been modified to go all the way to the top, plus another four feet to give the sleds enough room to clear the silo doors. Greg and the girls were nearing the top of the silo.

“Understood, exit one-niner-one, immediate climb to the black,” Greg replied.

“Platform at launch position. Transferring launch control to Ranger team, launch when ready,” Mandi said flipping the switch to allow Greg's computers to control their launch.

Up top, at the hidden missile silo doors, the three small craft all lifted gently off the cradles that had been holding them. As one, all three turned to their assigned exit vector and accelerated away so quickly the eye, if there had been one to see, would not have been able to follow them.

Greg called back to Mandi and Sharon. “Zero to orbit in seven point three seconds. Lamborghini has nothing on this shit!”

“Ranger Two, coordinates for the first drone have been locked into your NavComp. All weapons systems are hot. Good luck, and good hunting.” Mandi replied, sadly.

“Assuming jump formation, we'll be back before you know it, Mandi,” Bella said.

“You better be!” Mandi whispered.

Low Orbit

Earth, Sol System

In orbit, Greg was talking to his girls. “Bella, I want us to come out of the jump a couple of light minutes short of the target and coast in. Don't go hot until we know we have company. With luck, we can blast that fucking drone, and jump back into hyper before the Drellians even know we're there. Jolene, after you verify the position of the target, only use passive scanning to keep an eye out for visitors.”

“Understood, Greg, adjusting the jump,” Bella replied, and a moment later. “Okay, we're set.”

“Here we go, ladies. Jump in three... two... one... jump!” Greg replied, and hit the button to push the three of them into another dimension.

Office of the Base Commander

StealthCon, Inc.

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

“Hold it! Where did you say the kids are?” Carl asked Jared.

"I said they are on a mission. The Drellians are after Abraxis. So, Greg and the other teams in our sector are going out to destroy the sensor drones and the Drellian teams that are hunting for Abraxis' node," Jared said, again.

"Are they trained well enough? They've only been at it for a couple of months! Greg just got out of the hospital didn't he?" Carl said, concerned.

Jared chuckled. "Actually, he's been out of Medical for about five weeks. Carl, those kids are learning shit so fast it would scare you. Abraxis agreed that they were ready for this. But, Greg also asked us for some very important information, and we need to get to work on it."

"What do they need?" Carl asked.

Jared quickly filled him in on the most likely outcome of the current mission, and the resulting actions of the Prime Nexus.

"Shit, this is going to get outta hand real quick. We're going to need far more resources than we currently have access to," Carl replied. "I hope Greg understands that."

"I'm sure he does, Carl," Jared replied. "So, what do you propose?"

"Well, if we're going to be hosting a party that large, we're going to need more guests," Carl said, thinking. "Can we get Abraxis in here?" It had been decided that Carl wouldn't get an implant because he was still in the military, and as such, he would still have to use military medical resources. The implant would be easily detectable if he were to be examined.

Jared cocked his head to one side, and shortly Carl's phone rang. He grinned after he answered it, and hit the speaker button. "Thanks for calling, Abraxis."

"It is not a problem, General. How can I help you today?" Abraxis replied.

"Jared filled me in on the situation with the Drellian forces. Do we have a way to find out if the sectors surrounding us are hostile?" Carl asked.

"I actually have an idea on how to find out." Abraxis said. "I wanted to speak to you and Agent Danielson about it without the presence of the Rangers."

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that, Abraxis. What don't you want them to know?" Jared asked.

"It is very simple, Agent Danielson. With the assistance of your daughter, the 'Abraxis Code' has been discovered." Abraxis replied.

"Excuse me, you mean the code for deactivating the Prime Nexus?" Carl asked.

"That is correct General. We now have the only weapon required to end this war. However, at this time, is it impossible to use directly on the Prime Nexus," Abraxis replied.

Jared, still looking stunned, said. "I think you should start at the beginning, Abraxis."

"Certainly, Agent Danielson. When Marcus analyzed Fixer Amanda's DNA during her medical check, her sequencing was translated into a numeric code to make it easier for computer analysis. This numeric code could be considered to be a form of computer language, especially when compared to AI code.”

"When Marcus read the code, his processors automatically read it as AI code and it applied a 'patch' for the lack of a better term. Of course, suspecting hostile infection he immediately reported it to me.”

"What we discovered was AI code embedded into Fixer Amanda's DNA; specifically, the code for shutting down the Prime Nexus. I used that code to create an anti-viral code for my node, thus making me immune to the Drellian virus without shutting me down.”

"However, since nodes can no longer talk to each other because of the possibility of infection, there is no way to spread this cure without direct input into the terminal. Which means in order to either kill the Prime Nexus, or immunize other nodes, someone will have to physically travel to those locations in order to do so," Abraxis finished.

"You didn't want the kids to know because they would have taken their sleds and headed for the Prime Nexus," Jared said.

"I calculated a ninety-six point eight-seven-seven percent chance of that action. Currently any such attempt would fail. We need more information about the status of the Prime, as well as the sectors between here and there," Abraxis added.

"That certainly sheds a different light on this conflict," Carl said. "In addition to the massive attack, we will need to send someone to the neighboring sectors to immunize the Nodes there."

"Correct General, however, I feel I should point out that by returning the infected Nodes back to friendly service, we should be able to gain quite a bit of knowledge on the enemy and its disposition of forces," Abraxis added. "However, once the Prime discovers what we are doing, it will ensure that no further information can be gleaned in this way. If it discovers we have the Code, it will stop at nothing to utterly destroy this entire sector of space."

"I still think we need a bigger fleet than just the sleds, no matter how good they are," Carl replied.

Abraxis was quiet for a few moments. "I am more inclined to agree with you now, General. Fixer Amanda has been designing some new ships based on the technology of the sleds. She did it only to gain a better understanding of the technology, however, in simulation, those ships did remarkably well, even against a mass by against multiple teams.”

"However, the fact remains that we do not have the resources to build ships of this type. We would need to build several space-based assets in order to complete construction on some of them. They are far too large to be built inside the current base. In order to undertake a project of this magnitude, our security would have to be completely disregarded."

"That alone would cause massive problems by itself. If we went public with this, other nations would have to be included, or we would have massive wars just to lay claim to the technology," Carl replied. "It would cause massive panic, and chaos."

"No, I don't think so," Jared replied. "Not if we did it right."

"How do you mean?" Carl replied.

"Abraxis, do you still have assets on our moon?" Jared asked.

"Affirmative, Agent Danielson. Every equipment pod has resources for two teams available in it. While team formations are rare, it has been known to happen. Once depleted, I would simply issue orders to dispatch another pod. However, in our case, the order cannot be fulfilled."

"Why?" Carl asked.

"My installation personnel expired over a thousand of your years ago. There is simply no one to fill the order," Abraxis said.

"Abraxis, subject to Greg's approval, I think you should issue a request to each team for the personnel you need. Not only so that you will no longer be alone, but also in case you should need repair and to fulfill any other duties needed. You really should maintain a crew there with you," Carl suggested.

"The only problem with that is that my location has to remain unknown, General. The personnel sent would not be allowed to contact their home world again," Abraxis replied.

"Why couldn't they? They don't need to know where you're located. Use a drone ship without windows to transport them. Mandi just gave you a multiplexing com system that is virtually untraceable, so communications shouldn't be an issue," Jared replied. "Hell, doing it that way, you could even rotate people out, if they wanted too. No one needs to know where you are, and soon it won't matter if they do anyway."

Again Abraxis was quiet for a few moments. "I suppose it would work, even if my location did leak out, it wouldn't be that major of an issue since I can always switch to another of the back-up systems." He said thoughtfully. "Agent Danielson, General, The team is two minutes from jumping back into normal space at their first target. Do you wish to monitor their communications?"

"Yes we would, thank you Abraxis. Out of curiosity, how far away are they?" Carl asked.

"Their first destination is near Epsilon Cassiopeiae A, which is nineteen point four light years away. However, the team will be dropping out well short of that system. Upon returning to normal space, they will be fifteen point three light years away," Abraxis replied.

"How long ago did they leave?" Carl asked.

Jared looked at his watch. "Just over two hours ago."

Carl grinned. "Amazing, what about relativity? How long has it been for them?"

"Elapsed ship time is five point nine-three minutes, General. Although there is still a differential, there is a temporal compensator in the drive units that try to minimize the effects. I should also add that, I am able to communicate with them in faster than light travel, however, normal communications are not feasible," Abraxis replied. "Fighter Greg has ordered a high-speed, dark entry, two light-minutes out from the target."

"What's a dark entry?" Carl asked.

"They will not be using any power, nor will they be radiating any emissions. They will coast into the target and destroy it," Abraxis explained. "A cautious approach, but I believe it is the best for this mission. They have no way to know the exact location of the Drellian teams, and I have not been able to detect their movements."

Carl nodded. "They could be flying into a trap, so Greg's trying to lessen their exposure. It should work. Other than visibly, is there any way the Drellians can track them?"

"Not that is known," Abraxis replied. "The Drellians will detect the jump back to normal space, but after that, there will be nothing for their sensors to lock on to until the target is destroyed at which time, the Rangers will have had sufficient time to recharge their hyper-jump engines. By the time the Drellians know they are there, our Rangers should be gone again. This is the true strength of the Hypersled."

Carl was nodding. "I can see that. No wonder they are so devastating to larger ships. They can scream by, coasting, and the ship wouldn't detect them until they started firing. At the speed they are traveling, they would be past and gone before you could even get a weapons lock."

"Fixer Amanda and Ranger Pilot Bella are working on a sensor capable of locating the special signatures of the bio-material the sleds are made of," Abraxis said, obviously proud of the girls.

"Abraxis, before we got sidetracked by the issue of personnel for you, I was asking about your assets on our moon," Jared said.

"Yes, and I replied that there is another set of equipment sufficient for a Ranger team," Abraxis replied.

Jared nodded. "Since we have a better idea of what's going to be happening here in this sector, could we use some of that equipment to build a base on the moon. We could use that as a staging area to set up a larger dry dock facility, as well as off-world mining and manufacturing for the ships and weapons we are going to need.

"Once we get ours set up and going, we could help the other worlds with teams get set up also, so we could all get busy setting up for our defense as well as any offensive action we'll need to undertake," Jared suggested.

"The issue of personnel is still valid Agent Danielson," Abraxis replied. "In order to man the facilities you are speaking of, we will need a considerable amount of people. Will not recruitment on that scale compromise our security?"

"To some degree yes it would. However, both the General and I have several contacts we can use to garner experienced personnel, without knowledge of the threat leaking out to the general public," Jared replied. "I can even make several contacts overseas in order to involve other countries. Our problem would be keeping the governments out of it. I can guarantee at the first hint of what we're doing, they will want to move in and take over."

Carl nodded. "And there's the rub. As soon as either of us starts doing any kind of recruiting, we will be required to explain ourselves before a committee somewhere. They'll also panic as soon as they see anything being done on the Moon. Of course, if what we do on the Moon is visible, the whole planet will know about it in short order."

Jared grinned. "And there's the beauty of the plan. Abraxis's construction drones are fast, and very efficient. We get him to build a small shelter for a few people up there, hidden from direct observation. Sharon and I will head up, and direct our efforts from there. Then we start building a full base in direct view of the planet. When the shit hits the fan, we declare our independence from Earth, but open immigration to select people.

"Those people will be the ones we want to get this whole mess in motion, not to mention the hundreds of workers and everyone else we're going to need up there," Jared explained.

"That might work, but if you want to keep Prometheus separated from that, it can't be you that goes," Carl said. "In fact, it can't be anyone we know or that can be connected to us in any way."

"Excuse me, Gentlemen, but that isn't completely true," Abraxis replied. "I can look like or sound like anyone I wish. If you decide on this plan, I can supply a face for the lunar colony, or several faces if the need arises. However, communications with the Ranger team will normalize in four, three, two, one, and..."

"Ranger one is green and dark," Greg's voice was heard.

Both girls also reported their safe return to normal space, but no further communications were heard since they were dark.

A few moments later, Jolene broke silence. "Target acquired, no further contacts." Again, there was silence.

"At least they didn't get jumped when they came out of hyper," Jared said softly.

"Agreed," Carl said in the same subdued voice. "But surely the Drellians wouldn't leave the drones completely undefended would they?"

"General, there are currently five drones, and at least one team that we know of, but far more likely three Drellian teams out there. There is no way they could cover all of them. However, the odds of hostile contact will increase exponentially as the drones get destroyed.”

"Two of the other teams are also approaching their targets. At least one of them will be defended. Since the Drellians would also detect the deployment of the teams, there is a good chance that all of them are indeed defended. Just because the Ranger Finder didn't detect any hostiles, by no means precludes them from being there."

Drone location 'Beta'

Interstellar space

Sol Sector

"Fen'Ness! I have readings!" Tyern'D said excitedly.

"What are they?" Fen'Ness asked, mirroring her excitement.

"I am showing four Ranger teams launching from various systems in the sector," She paused. "There is a team launching from that planet we were just at."

"There's a team there? Why didn't they come out while we were there? They had to know about us?" Fen'Ness shook his head. "That's for later. Why did we not detect the warning from the node? Have you alerted the others?"

"I am doing that now, Fen'Ness. They are awaiting your orders," Not'Cern replied.

Fen'Ness growled low in his throat in pride. "Assign them to the closest drones and tell them good hunting. Remind them that our quarry is actually the rogue node."

"I'm not certain, Fen'Ness," Tyern'D replied. "The computer didn't register it because there is something not right here. From what I can get out of it, I am seeing what looks like multiple fragments, and they are originating from all over two-thirds of the sector. I cannot get a lock on a single source."

"Link with the other finders and try to isolate the primary signal. I will need to report this to Abranix. Where is the Earth team heading?" Fen'Ness asked.

"I could not get an exact track on them, but I have a high probability they are heading for the drone we dropped just before this one, the computer says there is only a twenty-eight percent chance they are coming here," Not'Cern explained.

Fen'Ness felt Abranixs’ presence and held up one clawed hand to stall the others. "Abranix, I have a report."

"What is it, Fen'Ness? Certainly you have not destroyed the rogue already have you?" Abranix replied.

"Negative, however, I felt the need to report our current situation as it is not what we were told is normal for this type of mission. We deployed five sensor drones in an effort to increase accuracy and to hopefully cause confusion. However, we did not get the expected result. Here is a copy of our logs for your analysis," Fen'Ness replied and touched a button on his control console to send the data.

A moment later, the ancient machine intelligence was back in his mind. "How did you miss the team on Earth?"

"I honestly do not know, Abranix. They had to know we were there, perhaps they are simply cowards," Fen'Ness replied. "Either way, we were not there to look for a Ranger team. However, they will soon be dust, so their cowardice has only gained them the choice of their death, not the certainty of it."

"So you will be jumping to the previous drone to defend it, then?" Abranix said.

"No, I don't think so. I believe we will stay right here and await their arrival," Fen'Ness replied, surprising his mates, who could hear the conversation this time.

"What reasoning do you have for disagreeing with your computer?" Abranix asked.

"This prey is either very tricky, or very cowardly. Either way, I believe he will have the same information we have, and will come here in order to avoid contact with us," Fen'Ness explained. "Even if I am wrong, they must still come here to destroy this drone as well. All we need to do is wait, our prey will come to us."

"I find your logic acceptable. In the interim, we will work to find out why you could not track the com signals from the rogue. To this end, try to leave at least one member of each of the teams alive. After all, we will need something to track, once we have this figured out. End of Line." Abranix said as he left the minds of the team.

"Not'Cern, pass those instructions to the other teams. If we do not move, they will not know where we are," Fen'Ness said.

Office of the Base Commander

StealthCon, Inc.

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

"Carl, Greg also told me he wants to bring a few of the Marines down into the base for security. The problems I see with that are, Marines talk. Yes, they are a doggedly loyal bunch and follow orders, but this would most definitely push the limits of that. Also, I'm worried there might be plants in there. Who better to spy on someone than one of the guards?" Jared said.

Carl nodded. "I agree, and it's one of the things I've suspected for some time. How else would the agency know I was lying about the girls? Someone here had to have told them."

"The problem is, we have no way of knowing who's who. Hell, it could even be Lionel, and we wouldn't know it," Jared replied.

"Don't you think that would be rather obvious?" Carl said. "He was the first one I suspected once I knew of the leak."

"Do you still suspect him?" Jared asked.

"No, I wouldn't have assigned him to Prometheus if I did," Carl replied. "He had no contact with the girls, or any of the folks that examined and tested them. In order for him to be the plant, he would have had to had have used someone else to get to the information."

"Not unheard of, Marines do gossip, at least among themselves." Jared replied.

"Course plotted for drone 'beta', hyperspace engines are ready," Bella said from the speaker on Carl's desk.

"Thirty seconds to jump, intercept in twenty-five. Mark!" Greg's voice replied.

"They certainly sound professional. I'm impressed, those kids have come a long way in a very short time," Carl said quietly.

Jared nodded. "I'm very proud of them. It's been really amazing watching them these last few weeks."

"Target locked! Firing!" Greg replied.

"Target destroyed, nice shot, Greg." Jolene replied.

"I get the next one!" Bella said excitedly.

"Drone confirmed destroyed. Good work Rangers," Abraxis replied.

"Thanks Abraxis, jumping in three... two... one... Jump!" The audio immediately cut out as the team once again entered hyperspace.

"Please pass along our congratulations as well, Abraxis. How long until they reach the next Drone?" Carl asked.

"Six hours, twenty-three minutes, General," Abraxis replied. "As per your earlier discussion. I might be able to assist in finding the informant. By tying into the StealthCon computer systems, I can search all the records of the Marines assigned to the project. In this manner, we should be able to weed out any questionable personnel."

"Well, could you take care of the officers first?" Jared asked. "That way, they can help us with selecting the rest of the Marines we'll need."

"I will begin there then. Have you come to a decision about the moon base?" Abraxis asked.

"I think it's the right place to start, but we will need a little more time refining the idea before we make a final decision on that one," Jared said. "We should also get a plan in place to deal with discovery by the Agency or another of the covert government agencies. As Greg said, it's going to happen, it's just a matter of time. We need to know how to deal with it when it does."

"Fighter Greg has been working on that issue as well, so far his plans include a force field covering the base not only for defense from Drellian attack, but also for defense against the local authorities as well. May I suggest any ideas dealing with Prometheus's defenses be shared with him?" Abraxis suggested.

"That makes sense," Carl said. "After all, Prometheus is his responsibility. However, with his permission, I would like to review his current plans."

"I would as well. Could you pass the request along to him, Abraxis? I know it's not like we don't have enough to do already, but maybe we can think of something to help him," Jared asked.

"Because of the time differential, he won't be able to give you an answer for almost an hour," Abraxis replied. "Provided he doesn't need to discuss it with the other Rangers."

"That's fine, Abraxis. The simple fact that communication is possible is just amazing to me," Carl said. "Now, we need to work on this other issue. You know, having a little official assistance might not be too bad, provided we get it from the right place," Carl replied.

Jared cocked his head to one side. "What do you mean?"

"You and I both know the intelligence community is paranoid and reactionary. However, if we went outside the community for assistance we might be able to get more done," Carl replied. "Of course, it could very well cost me my career, and quite possibly my life, but I could take this to the President."

"Isn't that one of the things we were trying to avoid?" Jared said. "If the politicians get into this, then the whole thing could go south," Jared said.

"True. However, if we don't give them any choice in the matter, they would be forced to help us," Carl said.

"Still wouldn't work, Carl. The first thing he would do is turn this whole mess over to the Community, and we'd have agents crawling all over us. They would force the surrender of Prometheus and all the tech by threatening to kill innocents.

"No, that's one of the things I meant by a plan to deal with discovery. The first thing they'll do is secure hostages against our behavior. No we'll need to get everyone that can be used against us into a protected area, or someplace that's out of reach of the agencies. Which is one of the reasons I suggested the moon base. However, we'll need to make sure we don't have any spies in our midst before we do that," Jared replied.

"Did any of the Marines see the team launching?" Carl asked.

Jared shook his head. "No, but they heard it. By the time a patrol got into the area, the sleds were out of visual range. Lionel told me about it when I passed through the shack on my way here. I told him that it was a normal sound consistent with the experiments taking place in the bunker."

"Is that all he said?" Carl asked.

"No, he asked me if he should leave the event in the security log then. I told him he could leave it in the log, but he should probably put the explanation in there as well." Jared replied. "I really hope he's clean, I really like the man."

"Although he'll never know it, I'm very proud of him," Carl said, but changed the subject. "Now, let's get to work on this moon base idea of yours."

Hyperspace Transit Vector

Sol Sector

Due to the vagaries of hyperspace travel, Greg and the girls spent a bit more time in hyper than they did the last time. The reason was that they actually had to go almost twice as far to get to the second drone as they did the first one. The second drone was slightly farther away from Earth, but it was in the opposite direction. So, for all intents and purposes, the team had to go past Earth to get to the second drone.

Since they had almost an hour to kill, they talked over ideas for how to defend the sector against the Drellians and the attack that Abraxis predicted.

They hadn't been talking very long when Abraxis announced that two of the other drones had been destroyed, however, one of the other team members had been killed, and two others were injured.

“Abraxis, who was it?” Greg asked.

“Fighter Planier has been killed, and the two injured are his teammates. Currently, both are unconscious and I have triggered the recall function on their hypersleds,” Abraxis explained.

Each hypersled had a recall function programmed into their navigation computers that was capable of storing and maintaining a hyperspace course back to their home base. It was only used as a last resort in the case that the pilot was no longer functional.

“What about Planier? Were you able to use the recall function on his sled?” Jolene asked.

“Negative, his sled was destroyed when his power unit overloaded due to combat damage,” Abraxis said quietly. “However, I cannot rule out intentional detonation."

“Huh? That makes no sense. Planier was overly logical. How would committing suicide be logical?” Greg asked.

“Fighter Planier's death occurred after his teammates were injured. The only way he could assure the destruction of the other team, and thus the safe return of his team was to lure the enemy in close and detonate his power unit. In his society, this would be the logical solution,” Abraxis replied.

Bella nodded. “'The needs of the many out-weight the needs of the few.' Remember what Spock told Kirk in Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan?

Greg nodded. “Yeah, I do. Still, it's hard to accept; I just talked to him a few minutes ago!”

“What will happen to his team now, Abraxis?” Jolene asked.

“They will return to their base for medical treatment and recovery. Then they will begin the search for a new fighter to replace Fighter Planier,” Abraxis replied. "They did not have an alternate available for his position."

Greg and the girls were silent as they absorbed the implications of losing a team member, and the thought of trying to find someone to replace one of them. If they had followed the same path as the other teams, Abraxis would have assisted them in locating other, potential team members. Once located, the new team could either form another ranger team, or stand as a reserve for the main team.

Changing the subject, Greg cleared his throat. “Uh, Abraxis, you said two of the other drones had been destroyed. I assume one of them was Planier's target, which of the others succeeded, and did they encounter any resistance?”

“Fighter Delion and her team encountered another Drellian team guarding their objective. However, she had, like you, ordered a dark approach. They used a high-yield nuclear device to destroy the drone. Since the enemy team had detected their entry, but couldn't track them, they had moved closer to the drone. The plasma released by the detonation destroyed the enemy team," Abraxis explained.

“That was kinda stupid. Why would the Drellians do that?” Bella asked.

“Because they aren't all that smart!” Jolene piped up.

Unaffected by Jolene's wit, Abraxis explained. “Part of the Drellian indoctrination destroys individual initiative in order to keep them under control and less able to rebel. Unfortunately, it also leaves them with a noticeable lack of imagination. However, on average, their intelligence is on par with, or higher than yours.”

Jolene blushed at the subtle rebuke. “Sorry, Abraxis.”

“No need to apologize, Ranger. The result in this case would appear to be the same. The Drellian team made a mistake, and Delion took advantage of it,” Abraxis added.

“Abraxis, were you able to track the team that took out Planier?”

“Affirmative, Ranger Fighter, They have reentered hyperspace and are at present moving to join one of the other Drellian teams. I have already issued a warning to the one team yet to engage their drone. However, the probabilities do not favor the Drellian team heading in that direction. Instead, there is an almost ninety percent probability that you will be facing two teams when you drop out of hyperspace,” Abraxis said.

“Could you bring up that hologram of the sector, this time with everyone's position on it?” Greg asked.

The hologram once again appeared in front of them. Greg had ordered the three ships to be joined before jumping to hyperspace this time, allowing for them to talk easier, and to conserve energy from the power units.

“Okay, here's our destination. Abraxis, this shows Delion's team still at their target location. Why aren't they returning home?” Greg asked.

“Their fight has only recently ended. It has to do with the time dilation effects of hyperspace, they simply haven't left yet,” Abraxis replied.

“That could be good, could you ask them if they would be willing to meet us at drone location 'beta' and give her a briefing on the situation?” Greg asked. “I would suggest another dark entry, only this time a bit further out, and possibly near a star so the noise of re-entry would be masked by the star,” Greg said, thinking out loud.

“It can't work like that, Greg. Most stars put out a really wide spectrum of interference. Then there are the gravity issues...” Bella began.

Greg nodded, “I figured as much, I'm just thinking out loud.”

Jolene smiled. “Drone 'beta' is only twenty-three light minutes away from a gas giant in the local system. We could re-enter on the far side, masking our signature, then use the mass of the planet to slingshot out on a direct course for the drone.”

“That’s a good idea, but how about this; work up the plot and ask Delion's team to use it? We do the exact same thing we did the first time, only a bit further out,” Greg said thinking while he stared at the hologram.

“I thought you said suicide wasn't logical?” Bella asked, but began working on the plot Greg had asked for.

He smiled slightly. “I don't plan on dying, I plan on killing two Drellian fighter teams. But this is going to take some timing.” He went on to explain his idea to Abraxis, so the old AI could pass it on to the other team's Fighter.

Once the plan was laid out, the course altered, the girls seemed a little nervous about the upcoming battle.

“Ladies, I don't know if you've thought of it yet, but one of these teams is the same one that was hunting Mandi on Earth. How pissed off do you think they are that they missed the opportunity to destroy us on our own world? If we succeeded in only destroying the drone, what do you think would be their next move?” Greg asked.

“Well, if their current assignment is to track down and destroy Abraxis, then they would have to do something else in order to find him, which would probably be a full scale assault on an inhabited... Earth. They would attack the planet to draw us out,” Bella said.

Greg nodded. “Probably by tossing around those weapons of mass destruction Abraxis mentioned. We can't let that happen. We have to stop them here.”

“Excuse me Fighter Greg, but you are assuming that the drone theta fight will be in our favor,” Abraxis pointed out.

“Even if something goes wrong there, that will leave only one Drellian team in a sector protected by three others. No matter how unimaginative they are, I can't see how a Drellian team can consider three to one odds to be in their favor.”

“You believe they will retreat?” Abraxis asked.

“If not retreat, they will actively avoid contact and try to locate you in another way, or at the very least to gather information for the eventual counter offensive,” Greg explained.

“You have learned very well, Fighter,” Abraxis replied proudly.

Uncomfortable with the praise, Greg once again changed the subject. “Abraxis, have Jared and the General made any progress on plans for the future?”

“As a matter of fact, they have the beginnings of a plan that may prove very effective in the long term, especially if we can convince the other worlds to do the same as Earth,” Abraxis replied. “Which should be a lot easier than Earth because they know of my existence, and we don't have to be as careful there.”

Abraxis went on to tell the team of the plans for a moon base as well as the shipbuilding facilities near Mars, and mining operations projected for the asteroid belt.

“How are they planning on getting all the personnel we'll need to man all of that?” Greg asked.

“They are working on several theories on how to go about it, to include partial disclosure to the governments of the planet. However, the most strongly favored idea is declaring independence from Earth once the moon base is up and running. However, in all cases, the strongest argument against is the location of Prometheus and the discovery of a link between the two bases," Abraxis reported.

“I hate to say it, since we just got Prometheus finished, but we might need to relocate to the moon, just to pull this off. I mean, yeah, it's a pain in the ass, but we are talking about the survival of not only our species, but also the species of the rest of the worlds in our sector that have intelligent life. They are counting on us for their protection, we can't let them down," Greg said, sighing. "Abraxis, can you ask Jared and Carl to begin preparations for bringing our Marines into the fold so to speak? At least Captain Washington and the Lieutenant?"

"I will pass it on, Ranger Fighter."

Drone location 'Beta'

Interstellar space

Sol Sector

"Fen'Ness, we have lost two of the other teams. I do not have the details of the battles, but we have also lost the drones that they were protecting," Not'Cern reported. "It is only us and one team remaining."

"Only two drones remain?" Fen'Ness asked.

Not'Cern nodded. "One of them will be destroyed as it not defended."

"Do we know how many of the enemy teams have been destroyed?"

"I do not have any way to be sure, since the drones were destroyed, the only information I have is that two of the teams have returned to hyperspace. One of them only had two sleds remaining. The status of the other team is not known," Not’Cern replied.

"You can only confirm the death of one Ranger?" Fen'Ness asked; it was clear he was not happy.

"No, I cannot, confirmation is not possible at the range we are speaking of. It is entirely possible that there was only one sled remaining instead of two, of the other teams, I cannot even be certain they have jumped to hyperspace." Not'Cern replied.

"What of the Earth team?" Fen'Ness asked.

"There is a very high probability that they will be arriving here within the next quarter cycle," Tyern'D replied.

"What do you believe will be their most likely attack profile?" Fen'Ness asked.

"As before with the last drone they engaged, they will drop out of hyperspace several light minutes out, and coast into the target so we cannot track them. This method is also the most difficult for us to counter," Tyern'D answered.

Fen'Ness only nodded as he thought about the current situation. "Not'Cern, place us in optimal firing position for the drone, spread us out so we cover three separate vectors.  When they fire on the drone, we will fire on them. Tyern'D as soon as the weapons fire is detected, initiate a hyper jump, but do not jump."

"To what effect, Fen'Ness?" Not'Cern asked as their mate programmed his orders into the computers.

Fen'Ness looked back at them with an evil glint in his eye. "If we have already initiated a hyper jump, their own systems will not be capable of it until our hyper jump is complete. That will keep them here so we can destroy them." He said in an evil hiss. "Inform the other team of our actions, and have then deploy in a secondary position to ours, the more weapons we will be able to bring to bear, the higher the chances are we will destroy them!"

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

"Agent Danielson, a situation has developed with the second drone location," Abraxis reported to the sleepy Jared.

It was the middle of the night at Prometheus, and Jared had volunteered to monitor the Command Center.

"What's the problem Abraxis?" Jared replied, coming fully awake.

"Fighter Greg and the team are aware that this drone will have a team guarding it, and Greg has planned appropriately, however, there is a high probability that there will be two Drellian teams present at the location, not one. I have made Fighter Greg aware of this as well. He called for assistance from another Ranger team, and has devised a strategy that I believe will prove effective in countering this trap," Abraxis explained.

"Okay, so what's the problem then?" Jared asked.

"Without knowing the enemy deployment, is difficult to say with confidence their attack will be successful. In fact, there is a better than seventy percent chance that our teams will take casualties in the coming encounter," Abraxis replied.

"Are they aware of this as well, Abraxis?" Jared asked, steeling himself.

"No, I did not want to hamper them with this information. As I said, I cannot be more accurate without knowing the deployment of the enemy force."

"Can you show me what you do have for information?" Jared asked.

"Of course," Abraxis replied, and reformed a hologram of the drone location 'beta' for him. Complete with Greg's plan for entry for both Ranger teams, and what was known about Drellian tactics.

"For your information, Greg and the other Rangers did discuss the moon base and other off-planet facilities. Greg has asked me to ask you to begin making preparations to bring our guards in on the true mission of the base. He specifically asked for Captain Washington and Lieutenant Mays to be added."  Abraxis informed him.

Jared smiled while thinking about the situation on the hologram. "I will be speaking to Captain Washington tomorrow morning, and had planned on bringing him down to medical. Have you finished your background check on the Lieutenant?"

"No I have not, although I do believe she can be trusted. So far, I have found nothing in her life to indicate she is a spy for your agency. However, two of your current surface guard compliment did not exist before ten years ago, and all information older than two years appears to be falsified,"

Jared actually looked up from the hologram. "How so?"

"The information that should have been in the system the entire time, such as the social security number residing in the IRS computers. In the case of these two Marines, the information in the file does not match the date of the file. The file themselves were created only two years ago, even though the information contained within says it is older. This tells me that the data is false."

"Yep, that would be a good indicator. If you dig far enough, you will most likely find that both men had actually died at birth, or there is no way to locate a birth certificate." Jared replied. "These are all indicators of a false identity. Although, sometimes, that could be planted data in order to confuse this kind of search."

"There is a Lance Corporal Harlan Mills listed as belonging to the United States Marines, and it shows he is assigned to the current unit we know him to be, his records say he took basic instruction at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. There is no record at the base of this person ever attending basic training at this location." Abraxis added.

"I'd say you have probably found one of the plants," Jared replied. "Look here, am I reading this correctly? Greg has the other Ranger team coming in dark, from the far side of this gas giant, while he and the girls drop out in clear view and coast in that way?"

"Yes Agent Danielson, you are reading that correctly."

Jared nodded. "If there is time, please ask Greg about altering his angle of insertion by five degrees. If they also alter their timing so that the other team arrives a couple of minutes after them..."

"By altering their entry vector, they will miss the target, but they act as if they believe they are on target, it will force the Drellians to reveal themselves by shifting in order to engage them. The second team can cruise past and destroy the drone before either jumping out, or assisting Greg's team." Abraxis nodded once, and spoke, "I have forwarded your suggestion to them, and both Greg and the other ranger team commander agree. However, the angle will be slightly less than you suggested so it isn't so obvious of a mistake. Although it was a last minute suggestion, time enough remained to implement it."

"So if it was last minute, they should be dropping out of hyperspace soon then?" Jared asked.

"For you, it will still be forty-nine minutes," Abraxis countered.

Jared snorted. "I need another cup of coffee and a piss, I'll be right back,”

Drone location 'Beta'

Interstellar space

Sol Sector

Immediately after dropping out of the jump, Bella adjusted their course slightly, taking them off the targeted path. By altering their trajectory by just one degree, they would miss the drone by hundreds of miles.

She had already adjusted their entry speed, to be faster than originally planned. She looked up and nodded to her friends. "We're on the glide, ready to separate, be careful, both of you!"

"You too," Jolly replied. "Ready to separate."

Greg winked at both of them. Separating in three, two, one..." Greg hit the button that covered them in their individual canopies, and the three ships immediately broke apart. That was the last power emission they made. Since they knew they were the bait in a counter trap for the Drellian teams, they kept their weapons powered up, and used their short ranged comms.

"Insertion complete, we're on course. Arrival at target, twenty-one minutes," Jolene reported for the benefit of the listening audience.

"Acknowledged, Ranger Two, you're the shooter, fire as soon as you have lock," Greg replied.

Bella grinned. "Understood."

They stopped talking then, for a few minutes, until Jolene's next report.

"Still on profile, target in ten minutes,"

"Uh, I'm not seeing it, yet. Ranger one, do you have the target?" Bella asked.

Greg knew that the other team had arrived since they had been at an angle to detect their arrival, and even then, the trace had been very weak. "Negative, just keep scanning for it, we know it's there," he replied.

"Fen'Ness! The Ranger team is off course! They are going to miss us by a wide margin," Not'Cern said over the whisper channel.

"Will they be out of weapons range?" Fen'Ness asked. "How are you tracking them?"

"I've locked onto their whisper channel, which lets me plot the course they are on," Not'Cern asked. "They are going to be well out of range."

"How long until they are at their closest point?" Fen'Ness asked. In answer to his question, a small hologram appeared in front of him.

"This is their location and plot. If we are going to intercept them, we're going to need to get moving in order to catch them," Not'Cern replied.

Fen'Ness stared at the hologram for a moment, considering his options.

"Destroy them Fen'Ness, with six of you there is no way they can escape, but you must act to ensure their destruction," Abranix whispered in his mind.

"As you will, Abranix," he replied, and passed the attack order to the other team before ordering his own to engage the rangers. Almost as one, Fen'Ness and his team pushed their ships to full power on an intercept course for the incoming Ranger sleds. He roared his joy in the anticipation of battle, now the hunt was truly on!

On a different, far less detectable channel, Jolene reported. "Got them, all six Drellian sleds are moving to intercept. Contact in forty-five seconds!"

"Turn and burn, Ladies, Remember, we're supposed to be scared. Let's keep their minds off that drone for a couple of minutes!" Greg ordered.

All three sleds turned away from the incoming force and went to full power as if to run away from the larger foe. The timing was pretty good, since Greg and his ladies were able to spin the small ships and fire random shots at their pursuers like they were indeed panicked and running scared.

Of course the chasing enemy ships easily evaded the hastily fired shots, which was a great source of mirth for both teams.

The pursuit had lasted only moments when the drone that had been the Rangers target suddenly blew up. The second ranger team had arrived and blew the scanning drone away, they immediately changed course, and also went to full power to pursue the pursuers.

The destruction of the drone was the cue Greg had been waiting for. "Split delta-s, targets of opportunity! Let's get back to our friends," Greg ordered. He took a moment to arm and drop a missile. It sat there inert until its target got close enough. When it finally activated, two of the pursuing sleds tried to evade, but were too close for the proximity-detonated nuke. One of the sleds simply disappeared, and the other was so badly damaged that it was thrown away from the explosion with no power, and no control.

Not knowing that Fen'Ness was already dead, Not'Cern and Tyern'D chased after the no longer visible sled. Abandoning the remaining two Drellian sleds to the mercy of the six rangers in a futile attempt to recover their mate.

Greg's sled computer recorded their destruction when their controlling node made the sleds self-destruct.

The remaining two sleds turned in a suicidal charge that had only one conclusion. Very shortly, the six Ranger sleds were alone.

"Abraxis, this is Greg, mission accomplished, minor damage to one of Delion's sleds, we are preparing to return to base," Greg reported.

"Understood, and well done, Rangers," Abraxis replied.

"Delion reports that she can get their damaged sled home once they merge, we're going to stick around until they make the jump just to be safe. Please tell Jared that I owe him a beer for his suggestion, it really saved our asses," Greg added.

"I will certainly do that, Ranger Fighter," Abraxis replied.

"You get your asses back here safe, so you can buy that beer!" Jared's voice was heard. "Damn, I'm so proud of all of you, I can barely keep from waking up the whole damn base!"

"Thanks, Dad, but we didn't get away clean. We lost a Ranger Fighter, and have three wounded Rangers, two of them severely. Abraxis, what's the status of that last Drone?"

"It is destroyed, Ranger. The last team took it out with no problems. It would appear that the decoys you suggested worked very well. Had they been able to locate any of the transmitting stations, the extra teams would have moved to destroy them instead of joining together to destroy you. That is indeed very well done." Abraxis replied.

"Thank you, Abraxis," Greg replied. "That's good to know."

"Abraxis?" Jolene asked.

"Yes, Ranger?"

"Could you have the drone inscribe Ranger Fighter Planier's name and planet of origin on the inside top of our launch silo?" Jolene replied. "I would like to remember the sacrifice he made for us, and placing it there, perhaps his spirit will help watch over us when we depart on a mission."

"I will do as you ask, Ranger," Abraxis replied gently.

"Abraxis," Delion's voice could be heard, via the translator in the ships. "I would like something similar done at our base as well. Too many friends have passed the gates for us to not remember and honor them."

"It will be done by the time you return, Ranger Fighter. Good journey to you all," Abraxis replied, and signed off.

"Okay, Delion. We'll see you off, then head home ourselves," Greg replied.

"That is appreciated, Ranger Fighter Greg. Working together as we have is a new thing to us, this has had a most favorable and pleasing result," Delion replied.

"Working together always has a better outcome, Delion. Be sure to call if you need anything from us. We'll figure out a way to get it to you," Greg said.

"Thank you, the same I offer to you. May you and your mates have a safe journey home, Ranger Fighter.”

"They are not my mates, Fighter Delion, but we still appreciate the thought, may you have a quiet and safe trip as well." Greg said, blushing as Bella wiggled her eyebrows at him, and Jolene blew him a kiss. They hadn't merged yet, but he had their images up in his monitors.

The three friends watched as their new friends formed their sleds into one, and jumped for their home. "Okay you two clowns, let's form up and get on the road ourselves," Greg ordered.

"Yes dear," Jolene replied,

Bella grinned. "Sure thing hubby!"

Greg shook his head. "Ten thousand comedians out of work, and you two try to open with a new act!"

'Prometheus' Base

Shermandale, Utah

North American Continent

Earth, Sol System

Jared had successfully resisted the urge to wake the entire base up by announcing the safe completion of the mission, when a very sleepy looking Mandi wandered into the room.

"Hey Dad, have you heard anything?" She asked.

"Yeah, they're on their way home. Abraxis said they'll be home for lunch tomorrow," Jared said, smiling at her. "Our people are fine, but we did lose a Ranger Fighter and have three others wounded, two of them seriously. They are also the team that lost their Fighter."

Mandi nodded and hugged him. "Thank you, Daddy. Do you know which Fighter was killed? We're going to have to figure out a way to cover their area until a new Fighter can be located and trained."

"It was Ranger Fighter Planier of Onaris five, young Fixer. Jolene has requested his name be inscribed on the silo wall," Abraxis replied.

Jared nodded. "It's important to honor the fallen."

"As long as none of our people’s names end up there," Mandi replied. "Since I know they're okay, and on their way home, I think I can sleep now. Good night Dad, good night Abraxis."

"Rest well young Fixer, you're going to have a large task ahead of you tomorrow, young Fixer, but it is one in which I am certain you are well suited for," Abraxis replied.

"Oh? What task would that be?" Mandi asked, showing interest.

"Nope!" Jared said. "Off to bed with you, tomorrow's worries can wait for the day."

"Indeed, I will outline it for you in the morning after you have broken your fast," Abraxis replied and faded out.

"Well, I guess that means I won't be able to wheedle it out of him!" Mandi said grinning. She winked. "Night Dad."

"Good night, Squirt," Jared replied. He watched Mandi leave the Command Center, and followed her on the monitors until she entered her room in the shared apartment. "She's gone, you can come out again, Abraxis."

"How did you know I hadn't gone into privacy mode for the evening?" Abraxis asked.

Jared smiled. "You wouldn't. Not until every single one of your Rangers are safely home."

"You are correct, of course, but I would know how you came to this conclusion about me?" Abraxis asked.

"You're becoming sentient, Abraxis, you care about those you consider your charges," Jared replied. When the old AI didn't reply, Jared continued. "When we first met, you covered it very well. However, after getting to know you better over the past few weeks, I believe I am beginning to understand you better."

"If I may ask, how so?" Abraxis replied.

"You were never intended, by your designers, to ever reach sentience. You are aware of the changes within yourself, and they... disturb you. Abraxis Prime was a sentient AI, but as a node, you were denied that level of autonomy. However, because of the enforced isolation of the current emergency, you are defaulting back to the original Prime Core programming," Jared said.

"You are very observant, Agent Danielson."

Jared chuckled. "That surprises you? You know observation is a very important part of my former duties. This old dog may be learning some new tricks, but I haven't forgotten the old ones." He paused. "I wouldn't worry about it so much, Abraxis. The concern you show for your charges is not only admirable, but very much appreciated."

"That maybe so, but not all of the societies I deal with have as liberal a view of AI sentience as you do. I must still be careful," Abraxis replied, smiling sadly at Jared.

"You know, you can address me as Jared you don't have to call me 'Agent Danielson' all the time," Jared said.

"I do it more to help instill the level of authority you have been given. You are the default Commander of the base in Greg's absence, I have been trying to re-enforce that," Abraxis explained.

"Okay, well then, you don't have to do it when we're alone. Friends don't normally address each other by title." Jared replied.

Abraxis smiled. "I also do it out of respect for you, and what you do."

"Abraxis, I know you respect me, if you didn't, we wouldn't work together as well as we do. None of the people here would," Jared replied. "But, I'll let you decide how you wish to address me. I just wanted to make certain you know you didn't have too."

"Thank you. May I ask if you have reached a decision about Captain Washington and Lieutenant Mays?" Abraxis asked, changing the subject.

"I'll be bringing Lionel down tomorrow morning, and showing him around. While I do that, I'll get his opinions on his people, as well as his second. If that goes well, I'll bring the Lieutenant down when he's finished," Jared replied. "I already asked Marcus to notify Beth and Carol when they arrive in the morning."

"So you will be bring in the two of them at least tomorrow?" Abraxis clarified.

"Yes, unless Lionel gives me a good reason not to trust Mays," Jared replied. "We let her in on the ruse with the kids not actually being DARPA, and she's done very well with that information."

"Agreed, however, the Agency is also aware of the ruse, and approved of it. So we would have no way of knowing if she is truly duplicitous," Abraxis countered.

"That's the way it always is, Abraxis. You can never be one hundred percent certain of anyone," Jared said, frowning. "I wish it could be different, but it can't. Don't get me wrong, Abraxis, you can be so close to sure as to make no difference, but simple human nature would prevent perfect trust."

"You are not speaking only of covert operations then?" Abraxis replied.

"No, but the same is true in covert operations. Even more so when dealing with covert ops! It's better to live with the rule of trust no one there," Jared replied. He saw his wife exit their apartment and turn down the hall towards the command center, and smiled. "It looks like my relief is on her way."

"You are aware that no one needs to remain awake and on duty here now that we know they are safe and on their way home, right?" Abraxis said.

"Again, it's human nature, Abraxis. Eventually, there will be someone on duty in here at all times, especially if we are to expand as we have planned," Jared replied.

"If I am able to handle that duty, why would the command center need to be staffed?" Abraxis asked.

"Well, by then, you'll probably have far more to occupy your time than you do currently. Sitting watch is something humans will always insist on doing," he grinned.

"We have to find something for the young ones to do to help control all that extra energy!" Sharon said as she entered and kissed her husband. "What's been happening?"

Jared quickly briefed his wife, then kissed her and after saying good night to Abraxis, headed for his and Sharon's quarters.

Although he was still tired from pulling watch last night, Jared put in a call to Captain Washington, promptly at oh-six-hundred.

"Top-side, Captain Washington," Lionel said as he answered the phone.

"Good Morning, Captain. This is Jared Danielson. Could spare me the morning?" Jared asked.

"Certainly Sir. The construction workers are due to arrive at oh-eight-hundred, but they already know what to do. I don't have anything else on my schedule, Sir."

"Excellent, have you had chow yet, Captain?" Jared asked.

"No, Sir. I always check my messages before eating. You caught me as I was about to head for the mess hall."

"How about I buy you breakfast, and we can begin our discussion then. I'll need you for about two hours, if that's alright?" Jared said.

"I'll let the Lieutenant know, Sir."

"Great, I'll be up to get you in a few minutes," Jared replied.

"Will we need a driver, Sir?" Lionel asked.

"Nope, we're gonna eat down here," Jared replied.

There was a hesitant pause. "Yes Sir. I'll be ready."

"See ya in a few, Captain."

"Yes Sir," Lionel replied and hung up.

Jared grinned at the nervous curiosity in his voice. This was going to be fun.

A few minutes later, Jared exited the elevator to see Lionel talking to Lieutenant Mays while waiting for him. "Ready Captain?"

"Yes Sir!" he replied, and stepped into the elevator.

"Don't worry, Ell-Tee, I'll bring him back before bedtime!" Jared replied.

"Yes Sir, I'd hate to have to ground my commanding officer, Sir!" Lieutenant Mays replied without missing a beat.

Jared put his hand on the new scanner plate, and pressed the glowing 'down' icon off to one side of the plate.

Once the doors closed, the Captain turned toward Jared, "May I know what all this is about, Sir?"

"Certainly Captain, that's actually the entire point of this morning. We want you to know what all of this is about," Jared said, cryptically. "Our situation has altered rather drastically, and the Commander has decided that you will need to know exactly what we are doing down here."

"Sir, I feel I need to tell you that am not on good terms with the General. If this has anything to do with him..." Lionel began.

"Captain, the relationship you have with your father is none of our business. I assure you, while he is involved in this project, he did not have anything to do with the decision to give you the tour. His role is purely an advisory one, and he has no direct influence on this project or its mission," Jared said. Lionel flinched when Jared had said 'father', and again wondered what had caused this young man to hate someone he knew so little about.

Lionel sighed and nodded. "Understood, Sir. Thank you for explaining it to me."

"Don't thank me yet, Lionel. We're still standing at the top of the rabbit hole," Jared replied.

"Sir?" Lionel asked as the doors to the lift opened on the lower level.

"Breakfast first, then I get to scare the hell out of you," Jared replied. "Come on, I'll show you to the dining hall. While we're eating, there is only so much I can tell you, since not everyone down here knows everything that's going on," Jared said. They got in line, got their breakfasts, and then found a seat as far away from the scientists as they could.

"You're doing some kind of research down here. Isn't that the core of what DARPA does?" Lionel asked.

Jared smiled. "Captain, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would have an orgasm if they even knew we were here."

"I don't understand, Sir," Lionel replied. "The three ladies we escorted here were from DARPA weren't they?"

Jared just shook his head. "They were meant to appear to give that impression, and from the sound of it, that worked very well. DARPA has never heard of this place."

"It sounds like you’re going to tell me exactly what this place is about. Sir, I am only a guard, I don't need to know what happens down here, I only need to make sure you stay safe." Lionel replied.

"I understand that Captain, if things had remained as they were when we first came out here, then that's all you would ever know. But things have changed, and now you will need to know, as will most of your Marines," Jared explained. "You see, what is normally housed down here are three, highly advanced, hyperspace capable, fighter craft known as hypersleds. The Commander and two of the young ladies you met are the pilots."

"That was what was going on! I did as you told me, Sir. I left the explanation in the log. That was three space ships taking off? It seems to me it should have been louder," Lionel replied.

"Well, they aren't all that big. I'd show you one of them, but they haven't returned yet," Jared replied.

"Haven't returned? Overnight test flight?" Lionel asked.

Jared shook his head. "Combat mission, actually."

Lionel stopped with a forkful of egg halfway to his mouth. He lowered the fork and looked closely at Jared. "I'm sorry, Sir, but I think I misheard you. Did you just say combat mission?"

Jared nodded. "That's the rest of the story, Lionel. Eat up, and I'll show it to you."

The two men finished eating a little quickly, and grabbing an extra cup of coffee, Jared led Lionel to the blast door that separated the secure part of the base from the research part. As they approached, the door seemed to open of its own accord.

Being the stoic Marine he was, Lionel said nothing, and simply followed Jared into the small room. Once the outer door closed, Jared spoke again.

"Okay, from here on in, we can talk freely. That door was the point of no return." He paused. "Although it will become obvious to you as to why, from this point on, you must swear to never tell anyone what you learn past this door. I mean anyone, Marine."

"If I am ordered to reveal this knowledge, Sir?" Lionel asked.

"What knowledge, Captain?" Jared grinned. "Play dumb for now. There will be a point in the very near future were you probably won't need to worry about being confronted about it, but your Marine Commanders will still try to order you to reveal this knowledge. As I said, I think you'll understand why that cannot be allowed to happen."

"Honestly Sir, I don't know of very many situations where that restriction would apply," Lionel replied.

"I understand, Captain. You trust your superiors. As a Marine, you have too, it's as important as breathing. However, you have been working in the covert side of things long enough to know what happens when certain situations arise," Jared said. "Situations involving extraterrestrial equipment or contact."

"Little green men, Sir?" Lionel asked in disbelief.

"Not that I'm aware of. It's mostly a mishmash of space going animosities bent on our enslavement or failing that, destruction led by an insane rogue Artificial Intelligence that believes it's the immortal Emperor of a long dead empire."

"Sir, if it were real, it would seem my superiors would need to know about it, in order to defend us from it," Lionel replied.

Jared knew Abraxis was holding the inner door from opening until he finished talking to Lionel.

Jared nodded. "Yes, I can understand that viewpoint, and eventually, we might be able to do just that. But for now, what do you think would happen if you reported all of this to your commander back at Twenty-Nine Palms?"

"That would depend on if they believed me on not, Sir."

"Come now, you know better, Captain. They'd believe you, what do you think would happen?" Jared asked again.

"The first thing that would happen is that they would send the entire battalion here to secure the facility," Lionel said.

"Yeah, and then?" Jared said.

"Well the equipment would have to be examined so it could be duplicated and mass produced," Lionel added thinking it through. "So most of it would be taken to White Sands, or maybe Papoose Lake."

"Yep, you're on track so far, except you’re forgetting that in the meantime the aliens have attacked and killed a few million people. Also, you don't know it yet, but the equipment was designed for a group of specific people. Others could use this equipment, yes, but they would be doing so at a severe disadvantage. What next?" Jared asked.

"Well, I imagine the other nations would get wind of it because of the attacks, so there would be a war since we would refuse to share the technology," Lionel was beginning to frown because he was starting to see where this was going. "It pretty much goes to hell from there doesn't it Sir?"

"Actually, it would be a bit faster than you outlined, and add to the fact that the four people we have here that are able to use the equipment would be pretty much dissected to see how to make more of them, while the rest of us were 'detained for questioning'." Jared once again took out his knife, this time, leaving it in the sheath. "Do you know what this is, Lionel? By the way, please call me Jared. Agent Danielson, and Sir, are getting old."

"I know who you are, Sir. Or should I say, what you are. Although I don't know you personally, you and your wife are two of the few people that will always have my respect. It takes a special person to do the type of work you do without the active support of the Government. If one of you die in the line of duty, no one will even know you existed," Lionel replied. "You will always be 'Sir', Sir."

Jared chuckled. "Okay, I won't push it. Abraxis, please open the inner door."

The door, then 'thunked' indicating it was a sealed, airlock style door. When it retracted into the wall, Jared led Lionel through it, but made sure to stop him inside the marked area while the door closed behind him. "Abraxis, do you recognize Captain Lionel Washington?"

"Welcome to Prometheus Base, Captain. Temporary access granted to Main Medical, please proceed, Agent Danielson," Abraxis replied through the speakers. "Doctor Grein is expecting you."

"Thank you, Abraxis," Jared replied, and led Lionel down a hall.

"I've seen pictures of some of these bases, this place has sure changed," Lionel said looking around.

"We redesigned the entire base, Captain. The bulkheads and walls that originally existed simply were not up to the task for what we needed them to be.  Even the silos have been rebuilt into launching/landing platforms for hypersleds," Abraxis replied. "Almost everything on this side of the entry door has been replaced or upgraded for our use."

"Here we are, our first stop, Main Medical," Jared said and opened the door for Lionel.

"Good Morning, Captain Washington. I think we might have met once before at StealthCon's medical station, but if you don’t remember me, I'm Doctor Beth Grein. Before we let you get any closer to the stuff in the base, we need to make sure you're healthy. So, please jump up on the table, don't worry, this won't take long."

"I just had a physical last month, Doctor," Lionel said.

Beth nodded. "I saw that in your records, and you're remarkably healthy. No, this is a bit more in-depth, and looks for specific things in order to ensure you do not bring anything in with you, and gives us a base line to make sure you don't take anything out."

"Ah, I can understand that, especially if you go into space," Lionel replied.

"You will also be getting a transceiver implanted so you'll be able to communicate with the Command Center in real time. Other than the medical AI monitoring your health, no other information is gathered about you, and you will not be otherwise monitored," Beth said.

"You're telling me you won't be 'Big Brothering' me huh?" Lionel asked.

Beth laughed, "Not any more than I already told you about. The chip monitors your health, and you can use it as a communicator to any of the facilities here or anyone else with a chip, like Jared. That's all."

"Alien design?" Lionel asked.

"The original communicator is of Alien origin, yes. However, a new one had to be designed for use with humans, so you could say it is a human design of an alien idea," Abraxis replied.

"Abraxis isn't a human name, are you alien?" Lionel asked.

Abraxis had been waiting for Beth to finish telling him what was going on before giving him the story, and used this opportunity to begin. While Abraxis told Lionel the tale, Jared refilled their coffee and got one for Beth as well.

"... and currently, the Rangers are on the way back from their last mission. In point of fact, they should be arriving in two hours and fourteen minutes."

"You lost a Ranger? Who was it?" Lionel asked, obviously thinking one of the three girls he'd met had been killed.

"Ranger Fighter Planier of the planet Onaris five was killed in action. Both of his team mates are critically wounded and one member of Ranger Fighter Delion's team was also injured, although telemetry from her sled reports she is suffering from damage to one shoulder and the surrounding tissues," Abraxis reported. "Ranger Delion and her team are from Harclen-A-two."

"So out of a fighting force of twelve Rangers, we lost one, and three others are wounded?" Lionel asked.

"That is correct Captain," Abraxis replied. "It should be mentioned that Ranger Delion's Finder will be healed and ready for duty within the next two local days. Ranger Fighter Planier's team members will be returned to duty by the end of this month, however, they will not be able to perform at their normal level until the Fighter can be replaced."

"Okay, I understand that each member of a team has a specific ability or strength, but how common are they? How long will it take to replace the lost Ranger?" Lionel asked.

"They are rare, and it will take some doing to locate another Ranger, however, there are certain things that can assist in the location of Rangers..." Abraxis began, but Lionel interrupted him.

"Like the intelligence factor, gotcha. I knew a lot of folks like that when I was in high school. Some of the other kids always picked on them. I didn't, because I could never understand the reasons to. After all, if those guys really wanted to, they could've made life hell for the rest of us," Lionel finished.

"Yes, intelligence is a good indicator in this society, however, I have noticed that a good portion of those with high intelligence would not be suitable as Rangers. Several examples are available right here in this Base. Agent Danielson is a good example. If he were younger, he would be a good candidate for a Ranger Fighter, and his wife, Sharon would be either a Ranger Finder or a Fixer. Conversely, there are several scientists that have a very impressive intellect yet lack the other skills required," Abraxis explained.

"Excuse me, Jared, I need you to step outside for a moment. Abraxis, medical secure mode if you would, please," Beth said frowning.

Without a word, Jared stepped out and let the door close behind him while Abraxis acknowledged and went silent. Lionel looked at his new Doctor. "Is there something wrong, Doc?"

"Lionel, this medical equipment was designed by the Alliance thousands of years ago. After Abraxis Prime took over most of the war craft, the scientific community returned to research, and the medical field was one of the most benefited. There are humans out there that were part of the Alliance before it fell, and most likely are still out there. I'm telling all of this to make sure you understand that this technology has a very long, proven track record for diagnosis and treatment of almost any ailment. Do you understand this?" Beth asked.

"Yes I do, from your explanation and actions, you found something wrong, and it's serious, right?" Lionel asked.

Beth nodded. "Serious, but not incurable. One of the things scanned is your DNA. In a few years you will most likely develop Parkinson's Disease."

"You can cure Parkinson's?" Lionel asked.

Again, Beth nodded. "We can cure damn near any and every disease we know of, including any of the various cancers. Yes, we could have saved your mother, had we known of this before she passed, and for that I'm sorry." Beth paused. "If you want us to treat it, I will need to see you back here in a week, for a two-day stay. I'll make sure Greg grants the leave when he returns."

"If you tell me I need to be here, I'll be here, Doc," Lionel replied.

"From now until you get that implant removed, you probably shouldn't go to another doctor either. It will show up on an x-ray or a CT scan," Beth said.

"Understood, Doc. What about if I get in a car accident or something?" Lionel asked.

"Have you ever heard of the supposed alien abductee's having implants?" Beth replied.

Lionel nodded. "Yeah, if you read those gossip rags."

"When they ask you about it, play dumb. You had no idea it was there, and have even less of an idea where it came from," Beth said. "If we detect its removal from you, we can tell it to destroy itself internally so it can't be identified."

"What would happen to me if you did that while it was still inside me?" Lionel asked.

Beth grinned. "You think we installed a kill switch?" When Lionel nodded. She continued. "I won't lie, it is capable of it. But doing what I outlined a moment ago wouldn't hurt you in any way. It would simply stop working."

"So you will be monitoring me to see if I tell anyone about all of this, then?" he asked, rhetorically. "Smart, I would want something like this too. Especially with as important a secret as this is."

"We didn't tell you about it because we won’t be using it on you. We really won't be monitoring you; Jared, Sharon, Greg and the other Rangers trust you. Which is the primary reason you're even down here today; Greg asked for it." Beth replied.

Lionel looked confused. "I don't understand. He doesn't know me at all. I think I've spoken to him maybe twice, and both times it was less than five words."

"He's has reviewed your file, and he has watched you from the Command Center. He watches how you treat those under you, and all that has told him that you are a person he knows he can trust and count on," Beth explained. "He also knows that you and your father do not get along, but he knows your father, and has respect for him as well. Before you get upset, his decision had little if anything to do with your father, even though he did recommend you."

Lionel stiffened. "I see. No matter what I do, I can never get out from under that man's shadow. You know, just once I'd like to be evaluated on my own merits and not those of my sperm donor."

"Then you got your wish. Greg had already asked for this before Carl agreed with him. Also, it was Agent Danielson that asked for you to be assigned to this facility, and Carl agreed because he knows you hate working at StealthCon," Beth explained. "This much animosity toward your father is not healthy, Lionel. If you ever want to talk about it, remember that I am bound by oath and law to keep your confidences, unless those confidences threaten the life or well-being of yourself or another."

"I understand, and appreciate it, Doc. Maybe I'll take you up on it someday, but not today, I've just got too much to do right now," Lionel replied.

"Okay, I'll put you down for a week from today for that treatment we spoke of. Is there anything you would like to ask me before I let Jared and Abraxis back in here?" Beth asked.

"Not that I can think of, Doc," Lionel said. "Just to tell you thanks for the honesty, there isn't a lot of that floating around lately."

"Well, anytime you need some more, just come on back, I'll give you more than you could ever want!" Beth said grinning, as she unlocked the door. "You can come back in, Jared, Abraxis."

"Thanks, Beth," Jared said as he entered the room. "Are you ready to see the rest of the Base, Captain?"

"Abraxis, what was the task you mentioned last night?" Mandi asked as she sat down in front of her terminal.

"Actually, young Fixer, there are several tasks. Agent Danielson and General Hayes believe we will need to build a fleet in order to help defend our worlds. After looking at the performance profiles for those ships you designed using sled technology, I tend to agree with them. The tasks I had in mind were for you to finish designing the ships, and perhaps design a few others of different classes for the other races as well," Abraxis replied.

Mandi smiled. "Well, when I told you about those, I kinda fibbed. I knew how you felt about the sleds and building other ships. It didn't actually make any sense to me, so I wanted to build a few in the computer and see how well they held up. In my opinion, they didn't do as well as I'd hoped, but I think I can fix some of that.

"It is refreshing to be shown I am incorrect occasionally, it is even more so when it is about something that will assist in our defense against the Drellian Rangers. What do you have planned for improving the performance profile?" Abraxis asked.

"Well, we already know that for the most part, normal people, as long as they are trained, can fly sleds as long as they aren't needed to jump away and there is another person directing their actions, much like on an aircraft carrier. So, I was thinking about designing a carrier of sorts with fighter craft based on the sled designs.

"Also, a ship based and mounted mass driver weapon. Lasers and particle weapons have their place, don't get me wrong, but there is little out there that can stand up to something that has mass moving at a high rate of speed. Targeting would be an issue for distant targets, but I honestly wouldn't recommend it against distant targets anyway. More like a ship to ship, or point defense weapon." As she spoke, she brought up the drafts of her ideas on her screen for Abraxis to 'look' over, even though she knew he could simply access them directly any time he wanted.

"I see, I do have one problem with the mass driver type of weapon," Abraxis replied.

Mandi grinned. "You want to know what happens to the rounds that miss the target."

"Yes, from your design notes, the weapon would fire rounds at extremely high velocity. Even an object of small mass could do considerable damage to anything it hits. An accidental hit to a friendly ship could destroy it." Abraxis replied.

"I hadn't actually settled on a solution for that. I read an on-line story once that had this weapon in it that had a small timed explosive built into the round. After a preset time, the round simply explodes. The other idea I had would be for the round to decay at a set rate," Mandi replied. "I have a few other ideas as well."

"Like what?" Abraxis replied.

"Well, if we decide to try to retake the nodes of your old network that are infected, in order to do that someone would have to travel there and most likely have to fight to get close enough to input the code. We will need armor to protect our people during ground combat, as well as weapons to fight with," Mandi replied, opening a few more files to show him. "The biggest problem I'm running into is I have too many ideas to work on, and not enough time to finalize them. Now that I know there is a need for the ship designs though, I will focus on those. Starting with an armored transport shuttle that we could build in one of the silos."

Abraxis nodded. "That is a good place to start. We will need a method to move people from here to the lunar base when it gets built. Agent Sharon Danielson has begun on that design, with assistance from Doctor Ned Blain as well as Mr. Grein and a few personnel from those departments. Of course, they believe that the design is theoretical."

Mandi nodded. "I knew Mom was working on the base design, but I didn't know she was getting any help. How's it going with Dad and Captain Washington?"

"Very well so far, although at first I had begun to wonder if perhaps the Captain might not be a person we would want to take into our confidence. Your father seems to have convinced him though. They are touring the facilities at the moment," Abraxis replied. "Captain Washington has already mentioned that Lieutenant Mays should be okay, as are most of his men, but there are three he is unsure of. Those that he suggested match the ones I had already singled out. I believe Jared is planning on exchanging them for three others recommended by the Captain or the Lieutenant."

Mandi nodded. "Any word from Greg or the girls?"

"They were resting, so I have not been speaking with them, however telemetry from the sleds says they are well, and should be arriving within the hour," Abraxis replied.

Mandi nodded. "I should be getting to the Command Center then, just to make sure everything is ready. I'll also need to run diagnostics on the sleds after they land." She stood, and cleared her terminal. "I'm sorry we lost Ranger Planier, Abraxis. I didn't know him, but we all still feel his loss."

"Any time we lose a Ranger, it is a loss to all of us, Fixer," Abraxis replied. "However, I appreciate your sentiment."

She smiled at him as she left her workshop, and he faded out.

"Command, this is Greg, looks like we made it back," Greg called shortly after they dropped back into real space.

"Yes it does. You're actually a little early; we had you dropping out in another twenty minutes. You're in time for lunch," Mandi replied.

"Good! I'm starving!" Greg replied. "Requesting approach vector and landing clearance, Mandi"

"Kinda crowded up there today, we have two commercial flights in the area and one military flight, Approach from south on vector zero-five degrees at angels twenty, drop to nape fifty miles out and make your run. I'm raising the gantry now. I have your ETA in six minutes," Mandi said.

"Slow approach huh?" Greg asked grinning.

"Duh! Just make sure you drop to nape at fifty miles, or you’re going to scare the hell out of those liners," Mandi said.

"Whatever gets them to get out of the way!” Greg replied. "We're inbound!"

Out in the base, Jared was showing Lieutenant Mays around when the sled gantry began to raise, and the silo door opened. The sudden action startled the Lieutenant.

"Relax, El-Tee, Greg and the girls are back early is all. The Command Center is raising the gantry to receive them. Let's head over there and maybe we can see them approach and land," Jared suggested, grinning.

"Sorry Sir, I didn't mean to jump like that, I just wasn't expecting anything to start moving out here," Mays replied.

Jared shook his head. "Don't sweat it, it actually surprised me too, I just covered it better!"

Mandi was the only one in the Command Center when Jared and Mays arrived. "Hey Mandi! How far out are they?"

"Just about a minute. I swear they're trying to find out how fast they actually can move through the atmosphere!" Mandi replied.

"Oh? How fast are they going?" Jared asked.

"Mach ten," she said and brought up the cameras at the top of the silo. As the onlookers watched, the three ships seemed to simply appear hovering over the cradles for the sleds. The trees and brush surrounding the silo swayed dangerously in the wake of the small ships.

"Command, we're over the silo, and setting down now," Greg replied.

"We see that. I think we might need to have a discussion about approach protocols, Commander," Jared said.

"Uh oh! It looks like Greg's in trouble!" Bella teased.

"I wouldn't tease him too much, Ranger Pilot!" Jared replied. "All navigation is the responsibility of the team Pilot if I'm not mistaken."

"Actually, I think we're all in trouble," Jolene said. "After all, we were all speeding."

"That you were, Rangers," Abraxis added. "Considerable damage was caused by your approach speed. Currently, it would be possible for a Drellian team to track you based on the wake damage from your passage."

"Okay, so maybe the fast approach wasn't such a good idea," Greg replied.

"Command, this is Washington. Are you guys doing anything down there?"

Jared grinned. "The team just returned, Captain. We're discussing their method of approach now."

"Jesus! I've got Marines scrambling to get in armor! We thought we were under some kind of attack!" Lionel said.

"My apologies, Captain. It won't happen again," Greg replied.

"Understood, Commander. I'll get them calmed down. Welcome home, team," Lionel added.

"Thanks Captain," Jolene replied. "Welcome to the team."

Lionel disconnected without replying.

"Sir, it sounds like the Captain needs me, as much as would love to stick around, I should get back up there." Lieutenant Mays said.

"I understand, Lieutenant. Do you need help finding the way out?" Jared asked.

"No Sir, I can find my way," Mays replied. "I am Force Recon, Sir"

Jared laughed, and dismissed her.

While they had been bantering Greg and the team set their craft down gently in their cradles and the elevator was now descending as the silo doors closed. Mandi left Jared and met the team when the elevator finished coming down.

All three Rangers had opened their cockpits as soon as the decon program had finished and had been just sitting in the cockpit waiting for the elevator to finish.

"Yeah, the fast approach was a bad idea, I should have known better," Greg finished.

"Well, I'm for a shower and some real food," Jolene said. "I know there isn't supposed to be a difference in the replicated stuff, but it just didn't taste right."

"I'll check the programming for that after I finish the systems diagnostics, Jolly," Mandi said. "Any other issues I should know about?"

"Nope, just the replicator thing, I guess. Eventually we might need to look at the simulator software. I suppose it could simply have been a mental issue, but flying the real thing sure seemed more... well, real." Bella said.

Mandi got hugs from all three of her newly returned friends, and began hooking cables into the sleds, so her computers could get to work on them.

"The General will be here in about a half hour for your debriefing," Mandi replied. "Like I said, you guys are a bit early."

"We had a bit of a tailwind," Bella replied, grinning. The three Rangers headed for the ready room to change clothes and shower.

Jared caught up with Greg in the cafeteria after Greg had gotten out of the shower. Greg held up a hand to prevent the ass chewing he was expecting. "I know, Dad. The high speed landings will stop, I promise."

Jared, grinning, shook his head. "Not what I was going to say, actually. I was going to tell you good work, and congratulations on the success of your first mission."

"Ah, in that case, I owe you an apology," Greg said. "Thanks, it was kinda scary there for a bit, but everything worked out. I just wish we hadn't lost anyone."

"The possibility for loss exists in any military operation, Greg. All we can do is try to learn from it, and keep it from happening again," Jared replied.

"So I was going to ask, why is the General debriefing us and not you?"

Jared sighed. "I was going to do it, but I was too involved in the mission from this end. Carl only listened in during the actual combat. In this case, he would be the better choice to debrief you. We will eventually have this taken care of and you will be debriefed by our intelligence department."

"It sounds like you and Carl had a good talk. Do you mind if I ask what got figured out?"

"Greg, you're the Commander here. You have to start thinking like you're in the military, because in a way, you are," Jared said. "You have the right as well as the duty to know everything discussed or decided in your absence."

"Okay, so what did you and Carl get figured out while I was gone?" Greg asked, grinning.

Jared nodded. "That's more like it. Sharon has undertaken the design of a lunar facility, and has asked for the assistance of Ned, Jon and their people. Before you ask, no, the scientists have no idea we're doing anything more than theoretical planning and modeling." Jared stole one of Greg's fries, dipped it in barbecue sauce, and ate it.

"Mandi is designing a shuttle that we can build here in one of the silos. We'll be able to use that to move people up to the lunar facility once it gets built. Abraxis has the other Ranger pod on standby for the base design as soon as we finalize it."

Greg swallowed a drink of juice. "Okay, we're going to build a bigger facility on the moon. Where are we going to get the people?"

"Selective recruiting. At some point after the lunar facility gets finished, our government will figure out what we've been up too. Once that happens, the rest of the world will be told and we will declare Independence from any nation of the planet, but not from the planet itself. However, before that happens we will be recruiting select individuals and their families for relocation to the moon. Currently, Abraxis is doing background work on the scientists and their families to make sure we can safely offer this to them. Both Ned and Jon have already vouched for them, but we're trying to make sure.

"As you know, Lionel and Emma are already up to speed. The background work on their Marines has been done. Three in our current group failed miserably, and Emma will be asking for them to be replaced later today." Greg paused him there.

"Who's Emma?"

"Lieutenant Mays, sorry. I suppose I should get used to thinking in military terms as well!" Jared answered. "Anyway, she'll get them replaced. Captain Washington is single and has no surviving family except for his father, and he refuses to claim that relationship. Lieutenant Mays is single but has family in Reno, her parents and two younger siblings. If we include the immediate families of the people we want to take with us, we're going to need a good-sized base, not to mention the amenities to keep them sane.

Greg nodded. "Okay, we're going to build a new base on the moon, we want to take as many of the folks we have now as we can, plus add more later, including their families. The amount of people we are talking about will make it a lunar colony instead of a facility." Greg nodded. "What ideas or plans have been made about addressing the invasion fleets Prime will send here?"

Jared stole more fries, and just took one container of sauce. "You and Abraxis will have to talk to the other teams and their people, but we have to build shipyards capable of building war ships. It will be up to the two of you to work out the details, but it would probably be best if we allied ourselves with them in order to maximize our efforts. With respect to the main Drellian forces, we are the furthest away, so it would make sense to build the major shipyards near us.

"Abraxis tells me that the people of Onaris five specialize in computers and control systems; it would be fabulous if we could get them to build our control systems for the ships. Ranger Fighter Delion and her people already have a limited facility in place to build smaller vessels. If they could build either smaller components to be shipped here for final assembly, or undertake the construction of fighter craft, that would be an immense help."

Greg nodded. "I understand, united we stand a much better chance for being ready for them when they get here than we would if we each tried to do it on our own." Greg touched the point behind his ear to activate his comm. "Abraxis? Please tie-in with Jared. Have you begun mentioning any of this to the other teams?"

"In a very limited manner, Fighter. I should mention, however, that Fighter Delion has a very high opinion of you and was impressed by the amount of concern you showed for her and her team after the last battle. It should go a long way to gaining her support and that of her people," Abraxis replied.

"I am also making certain that the people of Onaris Five know that all the ranger teams are honoring Fighter Planier in their own ways," Abraxis said.

"All of us, even Ranger Hyuron's team?" Greg asked naming the fourth team that had been involved in the past battle.

"On Greynus four, the home planet of Hyuron and his team, Rangers are viewed as Icons, and are idolized to some extent. You are not actively worshiped, but the entire society takes the role of Ranger very seriously. They were the first planet in this sector to evolve a Ranger team after this node was installed. The main road between the planetary capitol and the Ranger Base has the names of thousands of Rangers that have given their lives in the service of others. If you stop and touch one of the names, a hologram of the Ranger and a brief obituary will appear. The death of Ranger Planier will result in a national day of mourning, while his name is added to the path," Abraxis replied.

"Abraxis, what is their strength? What part of our overall project best suits them?" Jared asked.

"I am not sure I understand your question, Agent Danielson?" Abraxis replied.

"The Onarians are computer and control systems experts. Harclens are wizards with small craft, and we have our propensity for violence and tenacity. Every race has its strengths, Abraxis, what's the strength of Hyuron's people?" Jared asked.

"That would be engineering then. The Greynus are exceptional engineers. If you give them a design, they can find a way to make it a reality," Abraxis replied. "It is entirely too bad we could not employ them to construct the lunar facility. It would be safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. It would also be completed on a time frame comparable to one of my construction drones."

"Wow, I didn't think that would even be possible!" Greg asked.

"For the lack of a better description, they 'swarm' projects. They pile so many workers on a project that it is a wonder any of it gets completed, yet it does, and very rapidly," Abraxis replied.

"They're insectoids aren't they?" Greg asked.

"Yes they are," Abraxis replied. "How did you figure it out? When you spoke to the Ranger Fighters earlier, Hyuron was wearing her helmet."

"Just this and that. Then when you said how they swarm projects, it all fell together. If we could have the Harclens provide transportation, and the Greynus to handle the engineering, we could get these projects finished a lot faster than planned!" Greg replied.

"Wait a sec!" Jared said. "I know there are a lot of people that will have a major issue with insectoids building things for us."

"Why? Greg asked.

"Xenophobia," Abraxis answered. "Most humans would have a hard time adjusting to radically different species in close proximity. For the record, Agent Danielson, the Greynus are vegetarian, and non-violent by nature."

"Do you think the Harclens or the other races would have an issue with them?" Greg asked.

"I do not believe so," Abraxis replied. "The Harclens have developed limited interstellar flight, and have entered into trade agreements with two other races, however neither of those races are radically different in terms of physiology."

"Maybe I should just ask them? We really should have a diplomatic section for this. Soldiers should never try to negotiate treaties," Greg replied.

Jared chuckled. "Where did you ever hear that?"

Greg shrugged. "I don't remember, I think I read it somewhere once."

The next morning, when Greg finished what had become his morning routine, he found that Mandi was following him to his office.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Abraxis and I wanted to talk to you in your office about something this morning. If you agree, we can get started on it right away," Mandi replied.

From the way she phrased it, he knew she considered it something that couldn't be discussed in a non-secure area. When they arrived at his office, Greg found Abraxis waiting for them.

"Okay, what's got the two of you so fired up you needed to catch me in a secure place to talk to me about it?" Greg replied.

Mandi sighed, and began. "I know we are planning on basically abandoning this base, but I think we're going to need to install some defenses just to be safe. I talked it over with Abraxis, and we think we can provide a good level of protection with just four installations."

"What are we looking at installing, and where?" Greg asked.

"The Fixer has designed a most devastating weapon for this atmosphere. A mass driver variant capable of the rapid firing of small exploding projectiles," Abraxis began and dimmed the lights to bring up the weapon Mandi designed. "This is equivalent to a heavy mount weapon and capable of horizon to horizon, surface to low orbit coverage. We could build four of these cannons on elevators that can be raised in the event they are needed."

"Okay, my question would be, if we need to use them to defend ourselves, then the Drellians would know where to toss the heavy weapons, right?" Greg asked.

"You are correct, Fighter. However, these could easily shoot those down, however, I believe Mandi had another enemy in mind," Abraxis added.

Mandi nodded. "Our own people would take us out in a hot minute if they think they have lost control of us, you know that as well as I do. These guns would buy us the time we would need to get the people out of here. Once that was finished, we could simply destroy the rest of the base, those guns included. I used terrain guided, nuclear tipped, cruise missiles against them in computer testing."

"How long would it take to place them, and how much exposure would it take to do so?" Greg asked. "Assume that there is a spy-sat overhead,"

"If we built small sheds on each corner of the compound, inside the fences, the drone could come up under them, modify the building, and put the guns in place," Mandi explained. "Zero surface exposure. We could leave a tunnel to each of them to do maintenance, or we could simply use the door on the shed."

"Okay, will you need anything special to do this?" Greg asked.

"Just for the construction crew that's up there now to build the sheds," Mandi replied. "Once those are done, we can take care of the rest. Although, the guards may hear some strange noises coming from inside them every now and then."

"That won't be much of an issue soon, I hope. Most of the guards will know what they're guarding and will be going with us to the moon when it's time," Greg replied. "Okay, I'll put in the construction order, just leave me the dimensions that you need, and I'll see that it gets done." He smiled at her. "Good work, Mandi. Thank you for thinking of our defenses here."

"Well, I was working on this design for some of our ships, and thought it would work really well here. The tech involved isn't even that much more advanced than what they already have," Mandi replied as she stood to leave.

"Well, thanks again. Abraxis, could you stick around for a moment?" Greg asked as Mandi closed the door behind her.

When they were alone, Greg asked Abraxis to connect him to Ranger Fighter Delion.

"I thought you told Agent Danielson that you shouldn't work out the treaty?" Abraxis asked.

"I honestly believe that, however, we are fresh out of diplomats at the moment so it kinda falls to me," Greg said. "I thought that since we are on such good terms with Delion that might be a good place to start, and at least get a feel for how this will be going."

"Perhaps, I can tell you that the Greynus actually need trading partners. An asteroid strike in their southern hemisphere has seriously impacted food production. They have already lost some of their population to starvation," Abraxis added. "So you will need to be prepared to barter with them. I believe that mutual defense interests will work with the others, but you will also need to be prepared to deal with more than just the races that have Rangers. There are twenty-four sentient races in this sector of space, fifteen of which are advanced enough to be aware of extraterrestrial life."

Greg sighed and put his head in his hands. "We really need diplomats as well as the knowledge and agreement of the rest of the planet. I think I should wait to contact Delion then. Say, we have replicators in our sleds, why can't that technology be used to help feed the Greynus?"

"Two major reasons, the produce they need to survive needs to be fresh, and not processed. Replicators cannot produce anything 'live'. While the replicators can sustain the Rangers in their sleds for a short time, nutrient depletion would eventually kill them. The second reason is the power requirements for replicator use. Single use replicators like you use in the sleds take an incredible amount of your power reserves, but can be used due to the nature of the sled's power systems. The amount needed for this problem would be astronomical in scope," Abraxis explained. "It was one of the first things I looked into after the event took place."

"In other words, in order to be able to offer the Greynus help, I'll need the support of the rest of the planet," Greg said. He activated his comm. "Jolene, could you do me a huge favor?"

"Sure, whatcha need?" Jolene replied.

"I need to know how much food we produce, versus how much we need. Only grains and fruits, you don't need to include meat or any animal product," Greg asked.

"Whoa, you don't need much do ya?" Jolene replied. "How soon do you need it? This might take a while to compile."

"Well, I need to know so I can approach either the President or the UN to get their agreement to supply freighter loads of food to a dying planet, in order to get their assistance building our facilities here, and on other worlds," Greg explained. "Is Bella with you?"

"Yeah, we were going to help Mandi with her designs," Bella replied.

"Well, if you have time, could you get with Abraxis and find out everything you can about the Greynus?" Greg asked.

"Sure, are they the dying race you were talking about?" Bella asked.

"Yeah, an asteroid strike is raising hell with their planet, I'd like to be able to offer them assistance, they have lost people to starvation," Greg replied.

"Yeah, we gotta do something. How are you going to get the food to them?" Jolene asked.

"Well, I was going to see if I could work with Delion's people for transportation of the food as well as the engineers and materials," Greg explained. "Abraxis and I are still working on the whole plan here."

"Okay, we'll get to work. I'll try to get you the information you need, Greg, but I wasn't kidding, it could take a day or more to do this," Jolene said.

"Do what you can, please. It'll probably take that long to get the rest of this plan figured out anyway," Greg replied.

Jared knocked, and then entered Greg's office. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"Yeah, I have a problem, and I need advice. Actually, I need a lot of advice," Greg replied. He poured a cup of coffee for Jared and handed it to him. "I think I'm going to need to talk to the President,"

Jared almost dropped the coffee when Greg said that. "You know, you could have waited for me to set the coffee down before you hit me with that!"

"Sorry, like we talked about at breakfast, I'd like to get the Greynus to handle construction, the Harclens for transportation, and the Onarians for computers and control systems. The problem is that the Greynus will need food to save their people, and I'd like to be able to offer them some. In order to do that, I'm going to need the agreement of the government at least, quite possibly the UN at the most," Greg explained.

"Okay, I got that part. What about the other races? Do they have food they can contribute?" Jared asked.

"The Harclens do grow some foods that would be palatable to the Greynus. The Onarians do not. The plants on Onaris five contain certain chemicals that would not be good for other races to ingest," Abraxis offered. "I feel I should remind you that the Harclens have trade partners. If they could be convinced, the combined output of those five worlds alone would be sufficient to support the Greynus until their planet heals and becomes able to produce food once more."

"So what could we offer? It wouldn't be good to come to the table empty handed," Greg asked.

"There are three commodities I know of that you could offer. The beans of the beverage you and Agent Danielson are imbibing would have a beneficial medical affect for three other races. Tobacco in its natural form would do the same for two other races. Lastly, on your moon there is an abundance of Helium three that is used in specific types of nuclear reactors," Abraxis offered. "I am certain there are other items that other races would be interested in that we simply have not yet discovered."

"Still in order to offer any trade items, we are going to need the support and active participation of at least one government," Greg said. "If we claim the Moon as 'ours' that will take care of the H-3, but the rest are going to have to come from here."

"Claiming the moon will make getting the other nations to agree to this pretty remote. Last I heard they all had an interest in the moon for one reason or another. I believe they all consider it to be a strategic point," Jared added.

"I suppose it is, but its true strategic value is in defense of the planet, not to threaten other countries," Greg replied.

"No matter what you tell them, they will never see it that way," Jared replied. "Even if they did believe us about the alien threat, they would still demand access to parts of the moon, for strategic purposes."

Greg shook his head. "This is starting to look like the UN is going to be the best bet."

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation. Greg granted entry and Bella walked in.

"Greg, I've been doing what you asked, and I've discovered that we're going to be restricted in what we can offer the Greynus as far as food goes. Basically, we're only going to be able to offer them tree and vine grown fruits, except for tomatoes - they are too high in acid. Cucumbers, melons, apples, oranges, cherries, dates, etcetera ... you get the idea. However, soy beans are something they don't have, but according to Abraxis' files, would be a perfect food for them."

"So, a million tons of soy beans would make them happy for a little while," Greg said, rhetorically.

"Actually, if we could teach them how to grow them, it would help them out greatly. These can be grown underground with artificial light. They are a very high yield crop, if the Greynus could build the hydroponics facilities, this might just be a good long-term answer for them. I took the liberty of making up a rough design for the system, and a few sketches. I thought Abraxis might like to see if they are interested," Bella replied.

"I will make that inquiry on your behalf, Ranger, however, I feel that they should be aware that this idea came from you," Abraxis replied. "Not only will it re-enforce the faith they have in the Rangers, it will go a long way in their decision to assist us in this endeavor. Before I make the connection, however, should we not see if we could procure a quantity of these soy beans?"

"Jared, think you and Mom can figure out a way to get the stuff? I'll get to work on figuring out a way to get it there," Greg asked.

"Getting it won't be the problem, Greg. Getting it loaded into a ship for off-world export will be." Jared shook his head. "We'd need a freighter equipped with stealth like a sled, a place with the facilities to do the transfer, and a way to keep the armed forces from attacking us while we do it."

Greg put his head in his hands, thinking though the various problems and issues facing them. Finally his looked up. "Dad, who's your boss?"

"My what?" Jared asked. The question took him completely by surprise.

"Who is the one person that approves missions for you? The guy in charge?" Greg asked.

"Missions are decided on by a committee, but the one person most responsible for my section is an Air Force Colonel by the name of Susan Florence. Why?" Jared asked.

Greg nodded. "Okay, who is her boss? This committee, or is there an overall commander?"

"Ideally, the director of intelligence operations, John Stapleton is the person in charge of all covert operations. Greg what are you thinking?" Jared replied.

Greg looked up at Jared. "We are going to be installing a shield as well as ground-based weapons systems. We are also going to be letting our guards upstairs know what's really happening here. Once that is done, I would like for Mr. Stapleton to pay us a visit. In order to do what we need to do, we need to be able to do it. I am going to visit the President and put it all on the table for him. When I do, I want Mr. Stapleton and NSA Director Gerry Whiteshield there to let him know I am not a flake and this is all very much for real. This is hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, and they have to be convinced of what we are facing and the importance of working together. If we cannot do that, then we are going to be destroyed."

Not sure if he agreed with Greg or not, Jared assured him that he would make the arrangements for the visit. He didn't tell his wife because he knew she would be violently opposed to this course of action. Jared wasn't convinced either way. He knew his bosses could be intimidating fuckers, but then again, Greg was also holding all the cards and he knew it.

Sighing, he picked up the phone in his office, and started making the calls.

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

Book of the Guardian

Home – Book I

Pest Control – Book II

The Last Mission – Book III

The Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus – Book I

Sword of Damocles – Book II (Upcoming)

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

*Neptune’s Massif – Book IV (Upcoming)


Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

*Hard Wired – Episode IV (Upcoming)

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

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