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Chapter I "Isn't Life Strange?

A turn of the page

A book without lines..." Isn't Life Strange, the Moody Blues

Daisy O'Mega sat working the controls of the small ship she had stolen from the Tortuna spaceport. She was running from the Queen of the Crown's agents and from every low-life hood in the galaxy. She had to make it to Earth. It was her only chance of survival. She bullied, begged, pleaded and prayed that the small ship would make it.

The red-haired outlaw wished that she still had the SS Cheyenne battlecruiser. There was nothing like a having your own battlecruiser. It made people think twice about attacking you.

A song from late twentieth century Earth floated through her head as she allowed herself to sit back in the pilot's chair for a moment. It was a haunting melody and one line in particular tugged at her: "Isn't life strange? A word we arrange..."

Oh yes, thought Daisy, life was definitely strange. She, one of the most wanted criminals in the galaxy, was running to the Galaxy Rangers and BETA Mountain, the law-enforcement of the galaxy. It was either turn to them or risk being caught by someone like MaCross, who would just love to turn her over to the Queen. That was not an option she was willing to consider.

When she had blasted out of Tortuna two days ago, she had had the Queen's agents hot on her heels and so hadn't time to look for a better ship. The first thing she had done was to contact BETA mountain, telling them what she wanted in exchange for the information she had. At first, BETA and, in particular, one Commander Walsh had tried to stonewall her. But when she had mentioned the Queen of the Crown, the Commander had quit trying to put her off.

"Look, Commander Walsh, I know I'm not the most believable of people, but I'm not bluffing on this. Not when it comes to the Queen of the Crown, I'm not."

"Why don't you tell me what it is, Miss O'Mega?"

"On an open channel, Commander, and before you agree to my terms? I don't think so," Daisy said in her rolling Irish accent. "Look, you know what I want, Commander. It's either yes or no."

"Yes, Miss O'Mega," Commander Walsh answered. "You'll get a full pardon and immunity. Now, where are you, so I can send someone to bring you in?"

"Tortuna - with more than a few 'old friends' on my tail and the Queen's agents right behind them," Daisy said.

Commander Walsh frowned and thought about who he could send out there that he trusted.

The Series-5 team were the only ones experienced enough, and they were split up on different frontier planets on assignments-- Walter "Doc" Hartford, the best computer hacker/wizard in the league and Captain Zachary Foxx, the team leader were back on the planet Tarkon where they were needed to keep Princess Maya and her father, King Spartos, from going for each other's throats over the technology ban issue.

The other two members of the Series-5 team-- Rangers Shane "Goose" Gooseman, whose genetic engineering gave him enhanced bio-defenses, and Niko, whose already strong psychic powers were enhanced by the Series-5 experimental implant were on the planet Granna with the Kiwi Ambassador Zozo.

Niko was still recovering from her run-in with the Scarecrow entity and had not yet been given pa clean bill of health by the doctor. That left Goose. Granna was in another star system all together. Even if he did get Goose to take off right away, it would still take him some time to catch up with her.

He answered a moment later, "It will take me some time to get everything in place, Miss O'Mega. Can you find some place to lay low until I can send someone for you?"

"I can find somewhere, but for how long is the question. The Queen has a pretty hefty sum on my head right now, and it's not going to be easy," Daisy replied.

"Four days. Find a hole and lay low until then, Miss O'Mega."

"I can't stay on Tortuna, it's gotten a tad uncomfortable for me right now." Daisy didn't need to elaborate.

"That's the best I can do, Miss O'Mega, so do whatever it takes and find yourself a hideaway. Just contact me in four days." Commander Walsh said.

"Aye, Commander, I'll contact you in four days," Daisy said, leaning forward. "Daisy O'Mega out."

She broke the connection and launched the small ship into hyperspace as a group of ships began to converge on her position. None of her normal hiding spots would work, not with the price the Queen had placed on her head-- attached to her body being an option. No, there was only one place where she could hide, Earth, more specifically, the hill-country of Ireland, and it would take her about four days to get there.

That had been two days ago, and since then she had been jumping in and out of hyperspace, trying to stay one step ahead of the Queen's agents and all the scum who had come out looking for a chance to collect on the bounty out for her. If anyone found her, it would be MaCross of the Black Hole Gang. They had worked together on one too many schemes. He was still holding a grudge against her that she would not be "his gal," highly jealous that she had fallen instead for the rugged, blond Galaxy Ranger Shane Gooseman instead. He was looking for a way to make her pay for that. Her worry that MaCross would find her had kept her from sleeping or leaving the cockpit for long since she had blasted out of Tortuna.

She was growing hopeful that she might actually make it to Earth. Suddenly, a warning klaxon went off and the ship was jerked out of hyperspace. Daisy was thrown from her seat. She lay winded on the floor for a second before she scrambled back into her seat and strapped on her safety harness.

She was checking her sensors to see why she had been pulled from hyperspace when MaCross's cackling came from the speaker in the middle of the control panel.

"Look who got caught in my little trap, none other than the fastest gunslinger in the galaxy, Daisy O'Mega." MaCross sneered.

"MaCross, you dog! I should have killed you long ago and left your stinking hide to rot!" Daisy said as she made ready to release the emergency beacon she had modified after her conversation with Walsh. It was encoded and labeled to the attention of Commander Walsh of BETA Mountain, Earth.

"You've got the Queen of the Crown highly upset with you, Daisy. The money she's offering for you is enough for me to retire a happy man," MaCross said.

"You haven't caught me yet, MaCross!" Daisy snarled as she gunned the engines of the small ship. What it lacked for speed in its hyperdrives, it made up for it in maneuverability. While whipping the ship around, she called out orders to the computer. "Computer, plot as straight course to Earth as you can manage and get me the hell out of here."

The computer acknowledged with a single beep as Daisy brought the weapon systems on-line. The ship did not have heavy weapons, but she hoped that it would be enough until the computer could finish its calculations for the jump to Earth...

* * * * *

Back on Earth, Commander Walsh sat behind his desk lost in heavy thoughts after ending the transmission with Daisy. Just what information did Daisy O'Mega have on the Queen of the Crown that had her running for cover? From what he knew of her from various sources, Daisy had her own sense of honor. She never went out looking for a fight, and she tried to avoid getting innocent people involved. He stirred himself a few moments later and punched a button on his desk. He asked his aide to have someone tell Dr. Nagata that he would like to see him right away. Then he asked his aide to get Shane Gooseman on the line for him.

"Yes, sir," the aide replied crisply.

A few minutes later, Dr. Nagata arrived at his office, and the aide appeared briefly in the doorway behind Dr. Nagata to inform him that Ranger Gooseman would be on the link shortly, he was enroute to the spaceport to Ranger-Two.

Dr. Nagata's body had been too heavily damaged to survive when he had been attacked by a group of rogue supertroopers, so he had his mind placed in a specially created floating metal disk. He floated to a stop in front of Commander Walsh's desk. "You wanted to see me right away?"

Commander Joseph Walsh answered, "I've just been in contact with Daisy O'Mega who has some vital information on the Queen of the Crown."

"Daisy O'Mega?!"

"Yes, and in exchange for her information she wants immunity and a full pardon."

"Is her information reliable?"

"It's reliable enough to have the Queen of the Crown hot on her tail and offering an outrageous amount for her capture when she blasted out of Tortuna." Commander Walsh answered.

The comm unit beeped discreetly, and the aide said, "Sir, I've got Ranger Gooseman on the line."

"Put him through immediately."

"Yes, sir," the aide answered and his face was replaced by Goose's.

"Yes, Commander?" Goose said, looking a bit windblown. He had his white Hardee hat sitting back on his forehead and a red kerchief knotted around his throat. He wore his blue, polo-style uniform shirt with his badge visible high on the left side of his shirt, over his heart.

"An unusual situation has just come up and I need you to go to Tortuna right away."

"Tortuna? Why, what's on Tortuna, sir?" Goose asked. He had no fondness for the place.

"Not what, but who: Daisy O'Mega." Commander Walsh said.

"Daisy O'Mega, sir? What has she done now?" Goose asked. He had once asked, not ordered, her not to run, but she had chosen to go ahead and run and remain an outlaw.

"She has gotten some sensitive information on the Queen of the Crown and wants to give it to us," Commander Walsh answered.

"So, what's in it for her? Daisy never makes a move without looking to make a profit off it," Goose stated. He had had more than one run-in with Daisy, the most important one when the team had gone undercover as renegades, and he had taken up the task of distracting Daisy by paying court to her while Doc had hacked into the computer system to let BETA know what Daisy had planned as her next robbery target.

"Immunity and a full pardon when she reaches Earth. Which is why I'm sending you to Tortuna. I want you to escort Daisy here," Commander Walsh answered.

"Just how in the world did Daisy get this information, and is it worth the price she's asking?" Goose asked.

"She couldn't say what she had because it wasn't a secure channel. But whatever information Daisy has, it's important enough to the Queen to offer a large reward for her capture and to send a full complement of her troops and Slaverlords after her."

Goose let out a low whistle, "Then it really must be something big, sir."

"Yes, and if the Queen of the Crown is planning an all out offensive against Earth or one of the League worlds, then we need to know about it and be prepared to stop it."

"I'm curious sir," said Goose. "Why me? Why not Zach or Doc?"

"I'm sending you because I need to keep Doc and Zach on Tarkon for the moment to keep Princess Maya from blowing up out of control and starting a civil war against her father. They're at each other's throats with the technology issue again. Also, Doc and Zachary would stick out on the streets of Tortuna."

"One last question, sir. What about Niko and Zozo? I don't want to leave them stranded here on Granna."

Goose was more concerned about Niko than Zozo. Their recent assignment had been to Granna to collect soil samples and to check out how the new Kiwi grain strand was adapting to the growing conditions on the planet, when the Scarecrow had decided to put in an appearance at the harvest festival. Scarecrow had ambushed Niko and shot her. She had been knocked off her cyberhorse, Mel, and had broken several bones in the fall. In addition to those injuries, she had become seriously ill with pneumonia. They had all been worried about her, and though she was on the mend, she was still weak.

"I'll be sending a cruiser to pick them up as soon as Niko is ready to travel." Commander Walsh answered.

Goose was satisfied with what he was told. "Thank you. That's all I wanted to know. I'll let Niko know, then leave for Tortuna immediately, sir."

"Be careful Goose and remember to watch your back." Commander Walsh said in closing.

"I will sir. Goose out." He ended the transmission and slumped down in the seat, lost in thought.

His AI companion, Alma, a pink and blue 3-D floating eyeball, appeared on the blank screen and asked in a sultry female voice, "Goose, should I contact the tower and ask them for take-off clearance?"

Goose straightened up in the seat and answered, "Yeah, go ahead and do that, Alma. I'm going to go tell Niko I'm leaving. I'll be back in under an hour. Have everything ready to go for when I get back."

"Goose, you know I will," Alma said.

Goose stood up and moved towards the back of the ship to the lift. "Well, I'm just making sure, Alma."

Triton stood down below, looking up as Goose descended to the ground on the lift. The cyberhorse watched Goose approach. "Where to now, Goose?"

"Back to the Wilsons'. I've got to tell Niko I'm leaving and gather up my stuff. Then I've got to make tracks and get to Tortuna as fast as possible." Goose stepped off the lift and walked over to Triton. He paused next to his cyberhorse for a moment and said, "Alma, raise the lift and lock up until I get back."

"Yes Goose," the AI responded from Goose's wrist com-unit.

"Come on, Triton, let's ride." Goose said to his cyberhorse as he swung astride him.

Triton half-reared and shot forward with Goose crouched low over his neck, grinning. The two were long-time companions. Triton didn't lay on the speed until they had cleared the edges of the spaceport complex, then he leveled out into a ground-eating gallop. Soon, they were back at the Wilsons' farm and Triton began to slow as soon as the homestead was in sight, giving Goose time to catch his breath. Always eager to flaunt his appearance, Triton approached the house at an affected trot, precisely lifting and flaring each leg before setting them back down.

Goose said, "Show off."

Triton made no response, but lifted his head higher.

On the front porch of the Wilsons' home, Niko sat on the swing with a light blanket tossed over her legs. The red-haired Ranger watched Goose's approach and saw that Triton was showing off again. She shifted her weight and winced as her left collar bone reminded her that it still wasn't fully healed by sending sharp, needle-like pains down to her fingertips in both arms.

Tired of staying inside, she had bullied Goose and Doc Addams into letting her out of the house and sitting outside today. Doc Addams had been the easier one to convince, while Goose had been surprisingly reluctant. She was impatient to return to duty but knew that Commander Walsh would not even think about it until she had been given a clean bill of health.

Triton pulled to a flashy stop next to the front porch in front of Niko. Goose vaulted from the saddle to land at her feet.

Niko grinned. "Show-offs!"

Goose returned the grin as he straightened up, "Well, I just couldn't let Triton make me look shabby."

"You've been spending way too much time around Doc, Goose. You're starting to worry about image." Niko teased.

"Who, me? Never."

"I can't help it if you choose to look shabby, Goose, but I refuse to," Triton said with his nose in the air.

"Ouch! Even my horse is attacking me. Well, I guess it's a good thing that Commander Walsh gave me the assignment he did, because you can't go with me, Triton."

"What assignment?" Niko asked as she straightened up in the swing seat.

"Tortuna. I've got to go and escort Daisy O'Mega to Earth, to BETA Mountain to be precise." Goose answered.

"What? Daisy O'Mega? Did she finally get captured?" Niko asked.

"I don't know exactly how it all happened, but Daisy O'Mega is turning to BETA for help..." Goose perched on the porch railing and related to Niko what he knew of the story and what Commander Walsh wanted him to do.

Niko's green eyes went wide with surprise as she listened to him. After he was finished, she shook her head in disbelief and said, "Daisy O'Mega, the Queen of the Crown and Tortuna-- what a combination!"

"You're telling me!" Goose replied, sliding back to his feet. "Now, I've got to get my bags packed and get out of here."

Niko swung her legs down off the swing and pulled off the blanket covering them. She shifted her weight forward and pushed herself to her feet.

Goose stared at her in confusion, "What do you think you're doing?"

"Helping you pack," Niko answered, taking a step towards the door.

Goose was about to protest when Niko cut him off, "Look, Gooseman, I'm tired of being coddled by you! Of all people, I would never have expected you to act this way, but I've had enough!"

Goose was caught off guard. He had never expected to have Niko's temper directed at him and now he didn't know what to say. "But--"

"But nothing, Shane!" Niko interrupted, with a slash of her right hand. "I know I'm not back to a hundred percent yet, but I'm not exactly at death's door anymore." She turned and walked into the farmhouse, leaving a flabbergasted Shane staring after her.

A slight clearing of a throat brought him out of his stunned state. He whirled, hands on his holsters, ready to pull out his guns. Mr. Wilson stood on the ground next to Triton, wiping his hands on a well worn rag.

"I overheard the last part of what she said, Ranger Gooseman," the older man said, stuffing the rag into a pocket in his overalls and adjusting his hat. "She's right, you know. You have been acting like she would break if you even looked at her wrong."

Goose frowned and growled in frustration. He didn't know if he should punch something or go after her.

"Well boy, what are you waiting for?"

Goose dashed across the porch and into the house.

Inside he found Niko sitting on the edge of her bed, staring off into space.

"Niko..." he began, then stopped. He had no clue what to say. "You were right.... I'm-- sorry."

She didn't turn around but said, "I'm not made out of glass, Goose."

Goose shifted his weight and said, "Yeah, I know..."

Niko turned to look at him, "Shane, I've twice survived being shot by Scarecrow, and having him invade my mind and try to take it over on no less than three occasions. I think that ought to tell you something about me."

Goose shifted his weight again. "I'm sorry, Niko. I guess I just didn't realize what I was doing."

Niko looked at him steadily.

After a long moment of silence, he said, "I've got to get packing. Alma's prepping Ranger-Two for me and should be ready to go by the time I get back to the spaceport."

He moved out of the doorway and went into his room. He grabbed his duffel bag out of the closet and tossed it on the bed. By the time he had grabbed his dress uniform out of the closet, Niko had walked into the room.

Goose looked at her in confusion once more.

Niko shook her head and said, "I may be mad at you Goose, but that doesn't mean I won't help you. Besides, you're on a deadline."

Shane breathed easier. At least she wasn't totally mad at him. He handed her his dress uniform and she carefully folded it up using her right hand to do all the folds. She put it in the bottom of the bag and then turned to accept the stack of uniform shirts he handed her.

They worked in silence and Goose was unsure of what, if anything to say. Nothing in his upbringing had prepared him for the situation he now found himself in. Before he could work up the nerve to say anything, all his clothes had been packed in the duffel bag and the bag had been closed.

Niko stood up and tried to lift the duffel bag, but couldn't. She muttered a smothered curse and said, "I guess I've still got a ways to go before I get all my strength back..."

Goose stepped forward and swung the bag up on his shoulder. He placed a comforting hand on her right shoulder and said, "You'll be back to your old self in no time." He paused and smiled, "Especially without me here hovering around you."

He turned to go, leaving Niko standing next to the bed.

She waited for a moment, hoping he'd turn around and say something more to confirm what she suspected about his feeling for her. The second passed and he didn't turn around. She cursed to herself and with an adjustment to the sling supporting her left arm, she took off after him. She caught up with him at the top of the stairs and walked down next to him, not saying a word.

Goose could tell that Niko was still mad at him. He was saved from saying anything though by his watch-comm unit beeping for his attention. He reached the bottom of the stairs and answered the beeping.

"Yeah, Alma, what's your status?" Goose answered.

"Granna Tower has given us clearance to take off whenever you're ready, Goose, and I've completed the pre-flight warm up and check-list."

"Great, Alma, I'm on my way." Goose answered and shut down the link. He turned to face Niko as they stepped off the landing. "Look, I've got to go, Niko."

"I know," Niko answered. She wasn't going to hear what she wanted to hear from him.

"I know you want to go with me, Niko, but as you said yourself, you're not back to one hundred percent yet. You know Commander Walsh won't let you return to duty until Doc Adams gives you a clean bill of health. But, don't worry about being stranded here. Commander Walsh promised he'd send a ship for you whenever you were ready to head back to Earth."

Niko looked away and said nothing.

Looking at her, Goose finally figured out something to do. He reached out with one hand to lightly hold her chin. He gently turned Niko's head towards him, and leaned over to place a light kiss on the one cheek as his hand lightly stroked to opposite cheek.

This time, it was Niko's turn to be at a loss for words.

Goose let go of her chin, and gave her cheek another light caress before turning to go. Over his shoulder, he said, "I'll see you in a few days."

Outside, Goose said his farewells to Zozo and his hosts as he secured his duffle bag to the saddle on Triton's back. Then, he was up on Triton and they were heading at full speed to the spaceport.

* * * * *

In an empty sector of space somewhere between Earth and Tortuna, Daisy O'Mega wished she could be somewhere else. She was in a bad situation. She didn't know how in known space she was going to escape from MaCross now, her only hope was to hold out long enough until the nav-computer could come up with the coordinates for the jump to lightspeed. She swung her small ship around and brought the weapons systems on-line.

She growled, "You're going to have to fight to capture me, MaCross!" and opened fire on his ship.

The shots strafed along the outer hull of the larger ship, doing little or no damage. But, they accomplished what she wanted-- to distract MaCross and give her more time. She brought the ship around once more and opened fire. This time her shots just bounced off the deflector screens.

Daisy cursed and checked the nav-computer. The monitor displayed a countdown until it was ready to jump. Two more minutes. Just then, a warning tone went off. They were trying to get a fix on her for a tractor beam.

"Not if I can help it!" she swore, and turned the ship about.

She was just a hairsbreadth too late. The tractor beam got a lock on her, and she was caught. The ship jerked as it was pulled in closer to the bigger ship. Daisy was thrown hard against the safety harness. She immediately eased on the throttle and thought for a second. Then, she had a wild idea. It probably wouldn't work, but at this point, anything was better than nothing. Instead of putting the engines in full reverse and trying to power her way out of the tractor beam, she opened the throttle back up on the small ship and jumped into the tractor beam. If she could just pull this off....

She checked the weapons systems status and smiled grimly; she was going to use the pair of torpedoes to help her escape. Then, she threw the engines into full reverse, bypassing all the safety shut-offs. She was thrown against her safety harness as the ship bucked and the engines squealed in protest.

"Now!" Daisy shouted, and let fly with the torpedoes. The tractor beam immediately locked on to the torpedoes, leaving Daisy free. The torpedoes exploded against the Black Hole Gang's ship, giving Daisy an opportunity to escape.

She didn't waste it. She whipped the small ship up and over the pirate vessel as the tractor beam locked on to the torpedoes. She glanced at the nav computer display.

Finally, it was ready to make the jump to hyperspeed. "About damn time," Daisy muttered and punched the button to make the jump.

On board the Black Hole Gang's ship, MaCross turned to Patch, who passed as his second-in-command and asked, "Status?"

"Tractor beam's out of commission, and we've got some minor hull damage, but that's it, MaCross. Nothing else was damaged." Patch reported.

"Which way was she heading when she jumped?" was his next question.

"Earth."

MaCross growled. Daisy had really gone too far this time. She must be running to those wimps, the Galaxy Rangers, at BETA Mountain on Earth.

"Let's go. The Queen is offering a huge reward for her capture, and I intend to collect it," MaCross said to the Black Hole Gang members who was manning the navigation station.

The pirate ship swung about and jumped into hyperspace.

Daisy didn't get far. About two light years from where she had left MaCross, the hyperdrive engines on the small ship burned out and she was forced to drop back to normal space. The read-outs from the diagnostic system were not promising. The engines needed major repair after the stunt she had pulled in escaping MaCross, more than she could do on her own in the middle of nowhere. She didn't have enough fuel or oxygen to make it to the nearest inhabited planet either.

"Damn!" Daisy swore, slamming a gloved hand down on the armrest. She thought about her options and knew she had to send off the beacon before MaCross found her again. And he would find her again, of that she had no doubt. For MaCross, it was more than the money the Queen was offering for her capture, it was now a matter of his saving face in front of the gang. He wouldn't let her get away this time.

Well, Daisy finally decided, I've got to get that beacon off and then I've got to find some place to shelter behind when MaCross comes calling. She quickly modified the beacon's nav-program, to send it towards the commercial lanes, and as soon as she had finished that, she launched the beacon. She stared at it wistfully for a moment and then scanned the area for a suitable hiding place. There, she stopped the computer in its scan, a small asteroid belt, just a short distance off the starboard bow. Perfect, she thought and moved to go take cover in the asteroid field.

She powered down and drifted behind an asteroid large enough to hide her ship. She wanted to make herself as inconspicuous as possible for as long as possible. She had to give that beacon all the time she could for it to reach the commercial lanes. It was her only hope, and the only hope for the frontier world that the Queen planned to launch a full scale attack against. She prayed that it would be enough time.

Instantly, the Black Hole Gang's ship leaped out of hyper-space, almost right on top of where she had been. Daisy shivered and pulled her dark brown cape closer about her. Whether it was from the dropping cabin temperature, since she had turned down the life-support to minimum levels, or her fear of what MaCross would do to her when he captured her, she didn't know. She just watched the pirate ship, waiting for the right moment to bring everything back on-line.

She watched and waited as the pirate ship moved closer. "Patience, Daisy," she counseled herself, her gloved hand hovering over the power switch. As the cabin temperature steadily dropped, she wrapped her cape close about her body. She continued to watch and wait. When the moment was right, she'd power back up, but not before then.

As the outlaw ship entered the asteroid belt, Daisy watched the diminishing numbers on the scanner display. Right as the ship passed her, she hit the power switch.

When all the systems came back on-line immediately, Daisy moved the small ship in on the pirates' tail. She still had a trick or two left, one of them being the beacon. She checked the weapons' systems and got a lock on one of the engines. She fired away with the lasers, scoring a direct hit. The engine started shooting orange flames while smoke came billowing from it in a giant plume.

In the ship, MaCross was almost thrown out of his chair when the engine was hit.

"What was that?!" he roared.

"Port engine's been hit."

"What?!" MaCross shouted. "How did that happen?!"

"She slipped in under our sensors," the reptilian-alien gang member manning the sensors answered.

"Where is she now?"

"I don't know. The sensors aren't picking her up."

"Launch the fighters and go find her!"

The order had some of the gang members rushing to the one-man fighters. They were looking forward to a good fight.

Daisy noticed with satisfaction that she had scored some damage on the pirate vessel. She moved in on the engines again and let lose with another hail of laser bolts. This time, she scored damage on the starboard engine. Then, she saw the fighters launching from the ship. She commented to herself, "Ah, so you boys have decided to come out and come play with me now, have you? Well, you'll soon learn that Daisy O'Mega doesn't play nice, not when me life is on the line, I don't."

She moved out from behind the pirate ship and hid behind another asteroid. She had done what damage she could to MaCross' ship by knocking both of his engines out of commission for the moment.

In the pirate ship, MaCross was thrown out of his chair this time as Daisy hit the other engine, because he hadn't thought that she would be able to do that.

He yelled, "What the hell was that?"

"Starboard engine's out," Patch replied angrily, looking at the sensors.

"Damn! Where are those fighters at?!" Why haven't they captured her yet?!"

"Fighters just launched, MaCross," another gang member reported.

"What's the damage report on the engines?"

"Both engines off-line. Minimum four hours to repair port engine. No word yet on the starboard engine."

"Once we get Daisy, how soon until we can jump to hyper-speed?"

"Unknown. We can't make the jump until both engines are back on-line."

"Tell the fighters that I want her taken alive! The Queen is offering twice as much for her capture if we deliver her alive!" MaCross ground out as he regained his seat.

Outside the cruiser, the fighters skimmed close to the hull of the ship, looking for Daisy. They thought that they could take her by surprise. Except, when they got to where Daisy should be, she wasn't there. The fighter pilots looked around in confusion. Where was she?

Just as their sensors picked her up, she came out from behind an asteroid, blasting away with her lasers. She caught them off guard, and before they could recover, she had destroyed one of the fighters. She took off, not sticking around to engage the squadron of fighters, and ducked back into the asteroid field.

"Come and get me boys!" Daisy challenged as she streaked away into the asteroid field.

She wove around the asteroids at high enough speeds to make even the more hardened members of the Black Hole Gang blanch and used them as cover when the fighters fired their lasers at her.

The numbers of the fighters on Daisy's tail was further reduced when one of them failed to pull up in time and crashed into an asteroid.

In the pirate ship, MaCross barked out orders to the fighter squadron. "Split up and have half the squadron move out of the asteroid field and get in front of her. Remember, I want her taken alive!"

The squadron did as told and split up. They lost one more fighter when the pilot failed to pay attention to his instruments and got clipped by one asteroid, then went spinning out of control to crash into another.

In her small ship, Daisy noted with satisfaction that the number of fighters on her tail had been reduced by one more. She saw that the squadron was splitting up and guessed what they were about. Her time was running short. She knew that she couldn't hold off a whole squadron of fighters, but she was going to lessen their number by a few before she was done.

The fighter pilots wised up after that and flew more carefully within the asteroid field, while the other half of the squadron finally managed to get clear of the field. The squadron half in the clear sped forward to try and get around in front of Daisy.

Daisy cursed as she struggled with the controls on the small ship. The ship wasn't moving fast enough to keep her from taking a hit or two as the fighters continued to pursue her. Her shields were almost gone. Another warning light started blinking- the engines were starting to overheat from her constant full power running and hard maneuvering. The ship had not been designed to withstand the stress she was putting it under, and not being in the best of conditions to begin with, it was now beginning to show signs of breaking down completely at any moment. Another quick glance at the sensors revealed that the other half of the fighter squadron had managed to reenter the asteroid field in front of her and were closing in for the kill.

She knew, however, that the Queen had offered too much money for her to be taken alive rather than dead. That meant the fighters wouldn't dare risk killing her, not if they wanted to capture her alive. So she continued to dash and swerve among the asteroids, hoping to hold out for a little bit longer. Her engines were overheating now and on the verge of breaking down.

"Damn ya' MaCross!" she cursed. Apparently, that dog of a space rat had hit her worse than she thought, or this pitiful little craft just didn't have any guts. Or both, she was starting to think.

She saw a cluster of metallic asteroids up ahead. There was no way she could fly past them in her damaged state. The fighters were firing to cripple, not to kill and were doing a good job of it. Soon, Daisy's entire system overloaded and sparked as it shorted out and caught fire. Everything went off line as fire started to eat through the wiring and use up whatever oxygen was still left in the cockpit.

She was starting to feel the effects of the lack of oxygen: weakness, blurred vision, and shortness of breath. She couldn't even hold up the empty fire extinguisher any longer. Just before she passed out, the last thing she heard was the securing of towlines and umbilicals. She was being boarded and there was nothing she could do about it.

The gang members were smart and waited until she was unconscious before opening the hatch. In armored spacesuits, for protection from the fire and Daisy, in case she was faking it in some way, two of them boarded the small craft and pulled her from the wreckage. One spoke into his suit's com, "Etak to MaCross- We got her. She's breathed in a lot of smoke, but she'll live."

"Good. Bring her back and lock her up in the brig," MaCross answered. "Just let her ship blow up. That'll cover our trail."

"Yes, boss." Etak cut the transmission.

MaCross turned to Patch, "Told you I'd get that little bitch."

"Don't get too cocky, MaCross. Daisy's gotten out of worse."

"Those other times I wasn't running the show. This time I am. I've got a score to settle with Daisy. Something I've been itchin' to do for a while. I'll punish that whore good. Besides, she's not going to get out of the Queen's Psychocrypt, which is where she's going when I'm done with her. You just man the bridge, Patch. I'll attend to our guest." MaCross said.

"Help humanity! Feed the Heidmeister!" - LadyNiko@betamountain.org