"…so your day job consists of flying around the galaxy in a corvette…"

Betty turned quizzically to look at Noah, and, remembering her surroundings, turned to check the quiet, empty North American suburban street for eavesdroppers. Satisfied, she spoke.

"We call it a star cruiser, Noah, but I think you could call it a frigate or patrol boat – it's definitely not a capital ship."

"…a space cruiser, responding to military emergencies by conducting naval engagements and light infantry battles."

Betty frowned, annoyed that her friend thought of her as a mere soldier, and began.

"Well, a lot of my missions actually involve rescue and relief operations, but yes."

"And the forces available to you consist of…"

"One robot, one helmsman, one lightly-armed spacecraft, an armory's worth of light and medium weapons, and me."

Noah quizzically scratched his head.

"Not much of a force, considering the scale of the operations you're sent to conduct..."

"We punch way above our weight, yes."

Noah, his interest piqued, continued his barrage.

"How large exactly is your organization?"

"I'm… not sure. The Galactic Guardians are pretty heavily compartmentalized."

"Your organization doesn't sound like a regular military…"

"It isn't. Admiral DeGill commands a security garrison for HQ, I trained with regular military, and a lot of my gear is mil-spec, but the Galactic Guardians aren't regular military."

"What exactly is the role of the Galactic Guardians in the uhhh… governmental structure?

"According to what I was told in Basic, the sheer size of the Galaxy makes true centralized government impossible…"

"Even with faster-than-light-travel?"

"Noah, the Local Group is ten million light-years across, and has nearly one-point-five trillion stars, billions of which are populated. Galactic government isn't centralized - most planets run themselves with minimal interference, and enforcement of what few galactic "laws" there are – mostly trade and sophont rights laws – is pretty sketchy. Our job is to stop that lawlessness from descending into complete anarchy – and represent Galactic civilization wherever we go."

"Sounds important."

"A good analogy might be the Marshals of the Old American West. Like the Old West, the galaxy is too big to run properly, and all the government can do is send in the occasional visiting Marshal and hope for the best."

Noah raised an eyebrow. As one of the few sources of law and order on the lawless American frontier, many Marshals of the Old West had acquired fearsome reputations – and earned the respect and admiration of the populations they served.

His friend's appearance on galactic television (well, 3-V) suddenly made much more sense.

"A space marshal with kiloton-yield energy weapons, combat armor, and an intergalactic spacecraft. Sounds like something from those old "Space Patrol" stories."

"Those authors pretty much nailed it, I guess…"

Noah suddenly had a very unpleasant realization, and frowned.

"And the Galactic Guardians recruit children?"

"Some Galactic Guardians are recruited from pre-contact civilizations in order to maintain the neutrality of the Galactic Guardians in local conflicts."

"No, Betty, I'm not asking how they recruit personnel; I'm asking why they recruit juveniles. You know, CHILDREN. Don't they have adults to recruit from?"

Betty stopped dead in her tracks, and her expression grew serious.

"Huh. I never thought about that."

Realizing that he had stepped into a conversational minefield, Noah decided to change the subject.

"Betty, I heard your boss calling you "Atomic Betty". What does "Atomic" mean?"

Betty snapped out of her contemplative torpor, and resumed her purposeful stride.

"Oh. It's a title, with the connotation of "Marshal" or "Peacekeeper". It's my job description, as distinct from my rank of Captain."

Noah raised an eyebrow.

"How is it that an alien civilization uses the same rank structure as human militaries?"

Betty chuckled.

"It doesn't. "Captain" is just what my Babel Fish translates my rank to."

"You have a universal translator in your ear?"

"It's a brain implant. Standard issue."

"Did they have to crack open your skull, or did they assemble the thing in your brain from nano…"

Betty's bracelet chose that moment to begin beeping insistently.

Noah frowned. "Huh. Duty calls?"

Betty glanced at Noah apologetically, and responded.

"Duty calls."

"Well… good luck, then. I'd better… uh… make myself scarce so I don't see any state secrets or anything. Stay safe."


Betty ran into the bushes, accepted the call, and saluted to the low-fidelity, jam-resistant, heavily-encrypted visage of Admiral DeGill.

"Ahhh… Atomic Betty, I have a mission for you. A strategically important mining station in the Large Magellanic Cloud is under attack. The system must be retaken. I'm currently in the middle of something, so you'll have to read the report yourself for the details."

Betty nodded. "I'll do my best, sir."

Admiral DeGill smiled. "I know you will, Atomic Betty. Good luck."


His briefing over, Admiral DeGill turned his attention back to a far more significant task – interpreting the fossil collection of London's Natural History Museum.

The collection's mineralized skeletons of ancient terrestrial organisms, unmistakably the predecessors of so many of the Milky Way's sentient DNA-based inhabitants, predated any similar fossils of DNA-based lifeforms by many hundreds of millions of years.

They firmly established Earth – a backwater, pre-contact world of no significance whatsoever – as the origin of nearly five percent of the sentient population of the Milky Way Galaxy.

They would revolutionize (i.e. throw into turmoil) countless fields, from Galactic History to xenoarcheology to biology to medicine…

…and, by virtue of the presence of his forces (and headquarters) on-planet, control of access to this monumental find was the sole province of himself, Admiral DeGill, Commander-In-Chief, Galactic Guardians, Orion Arm.

Earth was turning out to be far, far more interesting than he had anticipated…

END

*Note that some Atomic Betty episodes refer to missions to other galaxies, indicating that the titular character's adventures are intergalactic in scope.


This segment of Atomic Betty was sponsored by the Bureau of Development.

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*GOVERNMENT-MANDATED DISCLAIMER: Ho Lok Shang is a major shareholder of Ho Hydroponics. The Solar System's largest offworld agricultural operator, Ho Hydroponics owns and operates hydroponic farms, chemoautotroph food-microbe vats, and live animal farms on Luna, Mars, Deimos, Callisto, and Mercury, providing food to hundreds of thousands of offworlders. Images used in this promotional video may have been enhanced. Prospective settlers to Mars need to be vetted by the Bureau of Development's Healthy Colonist Program, and must meet criteria for academic and skill-based qualifications, general competence, and psychological health. Moving to an offworld settlement is a major and often irrevocable life decision which should not be made in haste. The evidence that the low-gravity environment of space prolongs lifespan remains equivocal. Long-term habitation in space may lead to muscle wasting, loss of bone density, and manageable growth deformities in children.