ALTERNATE TALES OF THE STAR FORCE
STAR BLAZERS--AND THEN THERE WERE TWO...
Being the first part of THE RIKASHA INCIDENT
By: Frederick P. Kopetz
With assistance and contributions provided by
The Iscandar Project's Author's Review Forum
Thanks to Derek A. C. Wakefield for an idea
provided for the eventual fate of the original
character "Michelle Hartnell-Iiyama"
ACT ONE-WITHIN THE MAELSTROM
The Varalndus (Beta Valentis) System
Between the Second and Third Planets
Earth Date: January 9, 2202
2315 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
The glorious universe stretches into infinity...
It is filled with many different lifeforms, all of which exist as part of a cycle of life that began in the distant past. New stars are born from the cosmic dust of space, while others age, die, and return to the cosmic dust from which they were made.
In the depths of space, there is an immensely ancient and evil Entity who will not accept the fact that there will come a day when he must die. Through twisted experiments he sought to extend his lifespan far beyond its natural limit, and he sought to bend the Cosmos and all life to his will. In so doing, he has become a terrible being, filled with hatred and contempt for all natural forms of life.
In his quest for Absolute Dominion, he has become...a Dark Lord...and he has created torment and suffering for untold billions of innocent men, women, and children.
Now, in one of the greatest examples of his hubris and pride, this Dark Lord has stretched out his foul hand to this galaxy, bringing death and pain here from his own galaxy when he dared to toy with an entire world...
It had once been a beacon of hope for the oppressed, a place of refuge for the suffering, and a bastion of defense against decades...no…centuries worth of madness, terror and suffering wrought by a distant madman who was, unfortunately, no legend to those he brought suffering, pain, heartbreak and death to for what seemed to be no good reason at all.
Pellias had once been a vast Federation of races united against the Empire led by the legendary Dark Lord Ekogaru. To some, Pellias seemed like a contradiction...the home planet of the Federation was a monarchy, with a Queen elected by the consent of the governed whenever the hereditary line failed. An interstellar empire based upon free petitions of entry by member worlds. A vast military machine dedicated to freedom and self-defense.
A Crystal Throne...where a young woman had sat, a woman elected when the Queen who had preceded her had been poisoned by their enemies, her assassin screaming out worship and praise to his god, Lord Ekogaru, as he fell before the firing squad.
A Crystal Throne sat on Pellias...but it was now vacant. For the Queen was dead. And, sitting at the foot of the empty throne, sighing, there was a young delicate-featured woman with floor-length reddish-gold hair who guessed that there would be no Accession Ceremony placing her on the Crystal Throne to rule as the 329th Queen of Pellias.
Nauseating, she thought as she toyed with the silver necklace that decorated the low neckline of her royal blue gown. One of her white boots tapped against the polished black marble step she sat on as she closed her eyes, thinking, Some people worship...HIM. Who knows? Maybe they were correct all along. Maybe...Shardovan...was correct when he defected two years ago as the Federation Inner Ring was broken by those accursed Goraizu Fortress ships, those ships, coming like horrid carnivorous Cararerban Death Hounds in front of Ekogaru the Great and his bedamned floating world!, she thought as she toyed with the silver necklace that decorated the low neckline of her royal blue gown. One of her white boots tapped against the polished black marble step she sat on as she closed her eyes, thinking,
Maybe Shardovan was right, thought Princess Astrena, when he decided to defect and leave...me...and...leave his only daughter. Shardovan Gralnacz. You were our Lord High Protector, our last military genius, our last defiance...our last hope...our last Protector. And, then, out of the blue, you counseled surrender...to HIM! And then, you turned about and worshipped HIM and entered HIS service! You monster…!thought Princess Astrena,
Astrena took off her necklace and began to weep. "I am half of what is holding this mad husk of a world together...but why? Stubbornness? Willfulness? If I just went in, dropped my concentration...and ordered Pellias to meet her inevitable end in this maelstrom, here in nothingness, then we could all just die like we were meant to, I guess. I called out. No one will answer! No one heard me..."
Then, the door to the empty, vacant throne room opened. "Who is it?" demanded Astrena, still summoning up a ghost of imperviousness. "Who disturbs the meditation of the last grown Noble of Pellias?"
"Only the bearer of the Matrix...thy daughter," said a younger, but even more imperious voice as a young, willowy, very thin woman strode in. She was simply dressed...a common knee-length black dress, although of rich material, a plain necklace, plain black lace-up sandals with straps that wound up to just below her bare knees. This young woman's distinction was in her face...a face with delicate features somewhat like that of her mother's, but more set in some ways. Her eyes were dark brown and blazing, and they were framed by a mane of honey-blond hair that wound down to her waist but which had two pert, cute curls at her cheeks. Save for the demeanor of her face, she looked much like a normal upper-class Pellian woman of just twenty (and Astrena knew there were now few of her age left on Pellias.)
But...the face...and the fire that shone in her eyes, made her unique. She was the one whom most on Pellias had revered...and feared...since her birth. She had been given the name of a Pellian who had said, upon her dying breath almost three thousand years ago, that the her name would not rise again until the last of her line rose up to face their Opponent...but, in that day, in that age, Pellias would die.
She was the Lady Aliscea D'Shal. She was now all that was left of the fabled defiance of Pellias, at least in spirit.
"I should've known you'd show up here to counsel me," said Astrena mildly.
"Mother, pick up your necklace and put it on. All is not yet lost! Why give in to pride and despair?"
"Can you not but look outside?" sighed Astrena. "Ekogaru has won. We are finished. You fulfilled the Prophecy...and you..."
"Like Perdition I did!" snapped Aliscea. "I know it is not over yet!"
"Why? You know what happened yesterday...why, you were with me to see the end...and experience it..."
"Oh, you mean...?"
"Don't speak to me thus, child," said Astrena in a weak, sick voice. "You know what Ekogaru did yesterday! You know it!"
"Yes, I know it," said Aliscea. "And, I shall recite the tale again, like a bard!"
"To prove to you it is not yet finished!"
"Then you have leave to speak," sighed Astrena.
"Yes...it was like unto this…" said Aliscea as she walked up to her mother, sat down on the floor, and began to speak as she took her mother's hand. "It was like this..."
The realm of the Dark Lord Ekogaru was far off in the depths of space in a cluster of galaxies known as the Virgo Cluster, between the constellations Coma and Virgo as seen in our Galaxy. It was located 12 million lightyears away in a spiral galactic system known as the "Blackeye Galaxy".
This galaxy was much like any other spiral galaxy, save for one unfortunate fact. Namely, a major bastion of freedom was about to be overrun by a vast spacegoing object known as the Technomugar Fortress.
This fortress, the citadel of the Dark Lord Ekogaru the Great, was a huge black battle station almost the size of Pellias itself. Its central core was surrounded by many immense towers, each of them at least several hundred kilometers tall. They were covered with ports, windows, and bays that glowed with multi-colored hues of light. At a distance, the Fortress looked like a huge black globe that glowed with innumerable points of multi-colored light. As a result, this huge Fortress was both strangely beautiful and incredibly foreboding in appearance all at once. Today, if its Master would have his way, it would bring death to the planet Pellias.
On Pellias, an assembly of men and women stood behind a number of large crystalline control panels in the lower portion of a vast underground hall. This room was the emergency meeting place of what remained of the High Council of the Chancellor of the Pellian Federation. The Chancellor was a stately old man named Jerrold. In spite of the stress he felt in this hour, he maintained a type of lonely dignity as he strode up to the head of the last of the consoles to confer with two young women who stood there.
"Princess Astrena, Lady Aliscea, ...we must now give Lord Ekogaru our last reply. Do you still wish to abide by our decision?"
"It must be as I have foreseen, but it is not as I hoped, Uncle." said Astrena. "Ekogaru destroyed all of our allied colony worlds, decimated our defense forces, laid our cities waste, and sent his cyborg troops through the remains to capture or kill the survivors as part of his warped plan. One of them, you are aware, was my mother, our beloved Queen Arkalaia. Aliscea and I have decided that we have had enough. We cannot allow him to turn our what is left of our race into a weapon for his evil benefit. You know what must be done. We must tell Ekogaru that we are taking the only logical choice."
"So be it," said Jerrold. "Aliscea?"
"NO! Granted, I'm at my mother's side, Chancellor," said Aliscea "I shall do my part to fulfill our destiny, sad and bitter as it is. But...I shall add something of my own, here."
"And that is?"
"Chancellor," smiled Aliscea. "Before the End, I'm going to tell Lord Ekogaru to go off and geradde'ichan himself!"
"WHAT?" cried Astrena. "Aliscea...why have you decided to start…speaking like a common laborer? Remember who thine mother is!"
"Mother, it is simply our spirit. The spirit of the old motto beneath the Federation Flag...TESENT'DIQUAT JIARR! You know it meansNever Say Die.' in our modern tongue." smiled Aliscea. "And, I'm going to spit in his eye, too, before all this is over."
"But it's too late," said Astrena. "I've foreseen it."
"Space take what you've foreseen, Mother!" snapped Aliscea. Did you not once tell me that my vision can oft be clearer that yours?I have foreseen something different! Hold my hand, now. We're not giving up! Let us execute the plan we devised!"
"We should...forbear…give up…" said Astrena with a sigh. "We really should.. Against that..."
"Mother, it's going to work. Have I not told you?" snapped Aliscea.
"You think you can defy HIM?" said Jerrold.
"Aye, we can! Verily…I can do it," said Aliscea. "Mother and I can join our forces and do it."
"Princess, we need your word. Do you agree with the Matrix-Bearer?"
Everything went silent as Astrena stood in thought. "I do. We will not send him the declaration! Open the channel," she sighed.
"Princess...it will probably mean our...extinction."
"Do it," snapped Aliscea.
Horror-struck, Jerrold looked at Astrena, hoping she'd put this child in her place. She was bright, she was powerful, but...
"Listen to her," said Astrena simply. "When she tells you to do something, you do it. I am the last political authority here, but you know that she is the servant of the Secret Flame..."
"So be it," whispered Jerrold. "Lieutenant?"
"Chancellor, he stands ready. I will open the channel at your command."
Everyone stood in solemn silence as Jerrold turned back towards the screen. A moment later, a face hidden in shadow appeared on the screen. "Jerrold," said the deep, penetrating voice of Ekogaru from the speakers. "My friend. What is it you have decided?"
"Ekogaru," said Jerrold in an even, low voice. "After due consultation, we have decided, en masse, to reject your offer of "asylum". We have decided to stand free and, hence, we decided we will never serve you or surrender to you."
"Do you expect to receive supernatural assistance, Jerrold? You know it's hopeless to resist me!"
"Yes, as embodied in a Spirit and a Power you know little of, Ekogaru," said Astrena. "You can do what you wish to us, but I feel that Destiny will sustain what remains of our race, regardless of what will happen. And, those of us who have survived here in the capital have determined by lot that even if Destiny does not come to our aid, we would all prefer to join our brothers in death rather than serve you."
"How sad it is that you have chosen to die, Astrena." said Ekogaru. "This is my last conquest here in this Galaxy. Today, I shall become Lord here. Furthermore, the death of your world shall enable me to extend my realm to even greater heights! It is most unfortunate that your valiant world's orbital path crosses the hidden doorway of the dimensional rift I must open via an Interphase to leave this galactic system and begin widening our sway and power to the Milky Way, and it is even more unfortunate that today your planet is directly over that doorway, but such is Fate sometimes. I have offered you mercy! Why have you chosen suicide over greatness?"
"Ekogaru, we know the will of our people," said Astrena. "I may shiver in my boots, but we shall never surrender unto you. We know better now. "
"How charming! Because, Astrena, you will most surely die! Your planet will never survive against My power!"
"You will fail someday, Ekogaru. Be assured of it!" snapped Aliscea.
"YOU?" snapped Ekogaru. "Child, you defy me? Astrena, slap her for me. She's very, very unruly."
"And I'll spit in your eye!" snapped Aliscea.
"I am a God. Try it," said Ekogaru.
"I have foreseen it. Someday, I shall do it!" said Aliscea.
"Or perhaps I should delay this so I can ask your father to land a Goraizu fortress there and spank you?" smiled Ekogaru.
"She won't permit it, and I know it," said Astrena, fired a little by her daughter's indomitable, if mad, spirit.
"You are so wrong, Astrena," hissed Ekogaru. "Let's see the child save everyone's lives now when she's about to go on the hangman's gibbet, too," laughed Ekogaru.
As the channel remained open, he twisted his throne around to face his military aide, Generalissimo Vergar. "Vergar, you shall give the order to begin the procedure now!"
"My Lord, I am not certain we are in position yet," said the thin, blue-skinned cyborg. "Any sort of mistake might..."
"Enough! Order the helmsmen to use the auxiliary systems to make all of the necessary course changes after we compress Pellias, use its mass to open the rift, and then blast it down the rift!"
"Yes, Lordship. It shall be as you command." said Vergar, who bowed and left as Ekogaru cut off his transmission to the Pellians.
In space, the Technomugar Fortress turned one of its larger protuberances towards the planet. As it did so, the Pellian sky began to grow dark. Underground, everyone knelt in fear, save for Astrena and Aliscea, who stood holding hands and looking at the blank screen with defiance in their eyes. Now, the time comes, thought Astrena. Aliscea's impetuous...but she seems to know the prophecy. I guess this is it. Now, we shall defy you...or die in the attempt.
And, at that, she and Aliscea knelt down together, still holding hands, and they bowed their heads and began to glow slightly.
Aboard the Technomugar Fortress, Vergar and his other black-robed generals stood in a vast control room, operated by rank after rank of blue, orange, and Caucasian cyborgs in two-toned blue tunics with black trousers and boots. The energies of the Fortress began to coalesce about a long protuberance that was actually a two thousand kilometer long gun barrel that began to glow green at its muzzle. It was the muzzle of the Phased Density Cannon, a multi-purpose invention of Ekogaru's that was the foundation of his power. Soon, a massive greenish lance of energy shot up its barrel.
It boomed and howled and screamed like the voice of Doom itself as it blasted through the atmosphere of Pellias, heading right toward one of the planet's major continents. It literally created a horrible green dawn for a moment in the darkness as it roared down towards a plain not far from the planetary capital. Finally, it impacted the plain, and turned red. A mushroom cloud rose as the beam's energy began to spread over the entire planet in an energy surge that looked like a tidal wave of blood. It swept over the whole planet, including the capital, in spite of the fact that the capital itself was glowing with golden light.
A huge planetary quake hit Pellias as the Technomugar Fortress began to move slightly, making the star of Pellias appear as red as blood as it emerged from behind the vast black disk in the sky. The planet's mass then began to shrink at an ever-increasing rate as the beam and the energy field turned purple.
As soon as that happened, a titanic, roaring field appeared in space. The field opened and expanded into a hole in the space-time continuum that roared and hissed with strange energies and gravitational disturbances. The shrunken, pathetic husk that had been Pellias fell into the Void, sucking vast amounts of energy and gas down with it as it roared down through the Interphase out of the Blackeye Galaxy. It took the Technomugar Fortress with it as the field of the Phased Density Cannon that attached the Fortress to the remnants of Pellias like some bizarre umbilical cord turned green again, and held as the mass roared further down the chaotic natural warp tunnel, into the maelstrom in the very substance of space that Ekogaru had just created.
Aboard the Fortress, even the Technomugar themselves were awe-struck as the Fortress roared down, down, down, down into the depths as every indicator, klaxon, and control panel screamed in protest against the stresses that Ekogaru was forcing them to endure.
Only the Dark Lord himself remained unfazed by this passage down the warp tunnel. "Now my Plan is almost complete!" he screamed as he flicked on the intercom control on his throne. "Vergar! How far have we come?"
"Instruments indicate we are more than...halfway...," gasped the cyborg. "We have traveled seven point two million lightyears, Lordship."
"How is the energy tendril holding?"
"Lordship, it is growing tenuous, and the tunnel is beginning to narrow. If we don't make it to the Milky Way in another two minutes, it could easily break, and…"
"Power up our thrusters," intoned Ekogaru.
"Power up our thrusters! We have to complete our passage within the allotted time period!"
"Lordship, if we transfer too much power to the thrusters, the power to the Phased Density Cannon could drop beyond the critical point, and we could collapse the tunnel around us, thus forcing us out earlier than we..."
"DO IT," snapped Ekogaru. "We have enough reserves left to cover this contingency!"
"Yes, Lordship," said Vergar. "Marda! Initiate thruster sequence."
"Yes, Generalissimo," said the Prophetess Marda, a beautiful cyborgized woman with orange skin and red hair. "Initiating sequence: we have now traveled ten million lightyears."
The Fortress and the husk of Pellias roared on. The thrusters fired, and the speed of the Fortress increased immensely. It had traveled ten point two million lightyears so far. However, at 10.5, trouble began to occur. The warp tunnel began to narrow as the energies that phased the relative density of Pellias began to weaken and the planet's mass slowly began to creep back towards normal. The planet still roared on but its connection to the Fortress began to grow weaker. Finally, it broke free and began to reform and tumble down out of the tunnel as the rift collapsed. The Technomugar Fortress, now liberated from the planet, continued to roar on as the tunnel collapsed around it. It went onwards until a mass-energy explosion took place, and it blasted out into normal space, smoking, spinning with severe damage as a massive rift appeared in the Milky Way Galaxy, followed by a maelstrom: it was the final ghost of the Interphase that Ekogaru had created.
The maelstrom was the madness that would soon be detected by the Gamilons in the Varalndus system appeared out of nowhere as matter roared out of the rift in space that the Dark Lord had formed. The fabric of space-time itself shook in the Varalndus System, with eddies rolling out through hyperspace all around it as out of the rift appeared a little rocky planet that had once been blue-white. Now, its oceans were gone, and its atmosphere had become very, very thin and cold. But, it had survived.
Pellias had made the passage into the Milky Way intact.
And, at that, Astrena guessed that Aliscea...and she had, together, managed to spit in Ekogaru's eye. They should not have survived. Pellias should not have survived. It would not survive forever. But, by their psionic powers, the planet was holding together.
In a sense, the defiance of Pellias continued.
However, about one million lightyears away, the same could not be said for Ekogaru's Fortress.
"Report!" yelled Ekogaru. "Vergar! What happened to us?"
"Lordship, the tunnel has collapsed. We emerged prematurely."
"What in Perdition's Name happened to Pellias?"
"Lordship, we are analyzing it now." A moment later, a graphic of the nearby galactic region appeared on a screen before the Dark Lord. "We emerged about one million lightyears short of our goal. The planet made the passage and survived once it broke free of the Phased Density beam, Lordship."
"That meddling Astrena!" hissed Ekogaru. "Where is she?"
"Quite a distance away. She emerged about one thousand lightyears away from an insignificant star system in the Eastern part of the Milky Way."
"What is that system called? Is it inhabited?"
"Yes," said Vergar as a massive readout appeared. "It's an insignificant threat, Lordship. It is called the Sol System. Its primary planet is called...Earth, my Lord."
"Earth," chuckled Ekogaru. "Excellent! I have a spiritual ally there. One of the followers I have cultivated through my mental powers. I will let her begin to deal with this as I make my Advent to her and prepare for Our Advent when we reach the Milky Way itself. Marda: you have the Rikashans and their R'Khell clerics under your sway?"
"I do, Lordship," said the Prophetess.
"Then, you'll contact Lord Zaden of Rikasha, and see to it that Pellias is placed under a Rikashan blockade until we can get to the Milky Way ourselves and destroy it. In the meantime, you and Gralnacz will also see to it that the Rikashans and the R'Khell extend their Holy War, acting as advance shock troops for Us until We can get there ourselves and finish the job as we conquer the Milky Way. Vergar! YOU will tell Me how long it will take for us to get to the Milky Way as I contact some of My servants and...of course, see how that Astrena...and that foolish child Aliscea...survived."
"Lordship, she couldn't have..."
"She did," hissed Ekogaru. "And, I should like to know why! Do you understand?"
"Good. See to it at once!"
And now, Astrena knew, as Aliscea finished the tale, Pellias was dying. Aliscea would not say how much longer their powers cold hold together the planet. But, it was doomed. Its mantle was irreparably cracked. Quakes were roiling its surface even as they sat talking, with their strange subconscious minds locked like a death-grip on the task of counteracting the geological forces that were tearing apart Pellias from inside. It was weakening Astrena to keep on concentrating, even subconsciously.
Astrena had no idea what it was doing to her daughter. The child simply refused to let her into her mind to probe the forces and see what was happening.
Yet, despite her defiance, Astrena somehow knew her child was slowly dying. She had gotten more pale, and, earlier today, after a fitful sleep, Astrena knew that her daughter had clutched at her bosom and screamed for a moment as the first throes of a coronary were raging across the twenty-year old girl's body. Aliscea's age was still twenty in Terran years, although Pellias' year...had been...just two days longer than that of Earth.
Somehow, Aliscea had cured herself...and not even her mother knew how she had managed it.
I am dying...she is dying. Behold, we all are doomed and dying, thought Astrena. But, she still stands defiant. Spitting in the face of Death himself. How does she do it? And to what end?thought Astrena.
"You know why," said Aliscea in reply, just as she had read her mother's thoughts. "Aid is coming. "The imperious man I saw in my last vision...he'll rescue you..."
"Don't be a fool!" sighed Astrena. "No big blue man in a cavalry outfit is going to show up and sweep me off Pellias in his arms as the flames blow behind him, framing his blond hair like a halo. Aye, you have the Matrix, but the Great Ones of the past would not be showing you stuff like unto that, because it will not happen thus. No one heard me."
"Don't you be ridiculous, Mother! They heard you! And, my Prince is hearing me, too."
"Your Prince?" said Astrena, smiling a little as she stood amused. "And where do you get this odd, hasty manner of speech from? I taught thee better!"
"I get all of this from a Prince with national descent from a line of mad princes that have a habit of telling tyrants to get lost, hopeless as the cause may be," smiled Aliscea. "I've seen him. He has dark eyes, sable hair, and he's coming with guns blazing, leading the charge. He's something like Father when he was young, before he went mad and defected. The song of Shalinskar is calling me, Mother!"
"Do not act like that! You are not going to take a mate!"
"I will. It will be in the tombs," smiled Aliscea. "It'll be wonderful. Then we'll leave."
"How do you know?" asked Astrena.
"I gave you the language of the world. Yes, the tongue of the hasty world known as Earth…"
"Which you have begun to speak like a space sailor."
Aliscea just smiled at that. "There will be many space sailors! The Earthers will come! You'll see!"
"My confident daughter," sighed Astrena as pain wracked her chest for a second. "You always were the one giving me strength. I believe I am beginning to believe you."
"Good, because I'm tired, too, Mother," said Aliscea in the first bit of vulnerability her mother had heard from her in several hours. "I'll let you into my mind a little bit," sighed Aliscea as she just stretched out and put her head back into, her mother's lap, yawning, flexing her arms, stomach, legs, everything down to her exposed toes as she began to relax, "Won't it be nice, letting you back into my head?"
"Why is that?" said Astrena.
"To make sure my heart doesn't give out when I wake up," whispered Aliscea. "By the Most High, it's such a burden," she sobbed.
"I shall protect you," said Astrena with a hopeful smile. "You, the last bit of our defiance. I will protect you down to my last heartbeat. Because, if you die, what remains for us save the grave?"
II. A SENTINELS' WATCH
Aft Observation Deck
Space Battleship Argo
Earth Date: January 9, 2202
2344 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
Ensign Paul Rosstowski was not in a hopeful mood as he stared out towards the mere point of light that was now Saturn as the Argo cruised slowly towards Neptune.
Paul banged his hand on the wooden railing below the window. "What's the use," he said out loud. "The Captain thinks I'm an idiot. Junior Lieutenant Parsons thinks I'm chopped liver, the XO probably thinks I'm dirt, I know Bryan Hartcliffe of the damn Tigers thinks I'm a moron, him and his razzing me about not having a girlfriend. I don't want a girlfriend. I'm a divorced and bitter man paying child support for a kid I haven't seen in Lord knows how long, and I don't treat women like playthings. And his wife's trying to set me up with a Sergeant she knows? Give me a break, Angie Hartcliffe," sighed Paul. "That's just another way of saying: Go sleep with the enlisted people where you belong, you deck ape! You're not in the officers' college club. You're not fit to be one of us. Take your battlefield commission and go blow your nose in it..."
"That commission," said Paul. "When this blows over, I oughta just resign it, become a Sergeant again, and when my hitch runs out, go live on Skid Row and drink myself to death slowly," muttered Paul in a soft voice. "Mom always said I'd never amount to a damn thing...that I was no good...that I was a bad seed. And when you were dying of Radiation Sickness, you told me I wasn't fit to be your son, Mother. Sweet Mother. Whatever..."
Paul sighed and put his head in his hands. "I oughta give it all up now, become a drunkard. Yeah! End up in the friggin' brig...a fight with the right guy would do it. That's what I should do. That's what I should..."
Don't you dare! sounded a voice in his mind.
"Who are you?" Paul replied out loud.
Your intended, Paul.
Paul snickered and shook his head. "Yeah, sure! I don't need to drink. I'm going crazy already! WHEEE," he yelled, not caring if anyone was there. "And as long as I've got company in my head, better speak to it, I guess. Who are you, voice in me head?" said Paul in a mock-Liverpudlian accent like that of one of the long-dead musicians known as The Beatles. "Are you my fairy Godmother?"
No, I'm the one you dreamed about last night.
"That was a centerfold in a porno magazine I borrowed from Grant," sneered Rosstowski.
Say that again and I'll slap you when I meet you, even though I'm going to marry you.
"Okay, Little Miss Delusional Voice in My Head," said Paul. "You're nothing more than some bad fake beef, some Star Force chow, and a porno centerfold, and you've all conspired together to make sure I get a Section 8."
You've earned one slap, returned the voice cheerfully. You'll get it when we meet. Which cheek, and how hard should it be, Earther?
"Okay, now you're telling me you're an alien."
No, I come from Allensburg, Pennsylvania, which used to be called Allentown, once. That's an even worse place! sang the mocking voice.
"How'd you know about that evil place?"
Stole it from your head, Paul. Nyeeeaahhh!
"Okay, if you're real, show me what you look like," mocked Paul.
A long pause came, and then the Voice answered, very mischievously, Look now...look in the magic mirror of the observation deck dome, Paul...
Paul looked, and he was surprised when, either across space, or across the glass, or across his mind, there danced an image of a pretty girl's face.
She had honey-blond hair, blown by some unseen wind. The hair had two curls at the cheeks, and the eyes were incredibly beautiful...although they seemed a little threatening for a minute...almost as if something was on fire deep inside them.
The nose and small mouth were beautiful, cute, magnificent. Damn, thought Paul. She almost looks like Queen Starsha of Iscandar...or Starsha gone punk or something? A black dress at the shoulders? Boy, what a looker. Looks kinda familiar, too. Looks almost like pictures I've seen of Astra of Iscandar, or...
And then, suddenly, (with a ghost of a little chortle lingering in his mind), the vision (if it was any kind of vision) faded, but not quite, for the face was still there, observing Paul.
There was just one problem. The honey-blond hair had gotten a little shorter, some of the fire in the eyes had gone out, and she was wearing gold...trimmed with black...and had on a clearly visible wedding ring.
"Paul?" said Nova quizzically as he turned around to look at her. "Are you all right? You look like you've just seen a ghost!"
"Anybody ever tell you look just like Starsha of Iscandar?"
"Yes, all too many people," smiled Nova. "If they keep it up, I'm going to buy a light blue dress and silver heels and a long wig and be her next Halloween," she laughed. "That'll shut them all up."
"Sounds like an idea," he sighed.
"…That should not be taken seriously," said Nova. "Sorry, Starsha," said Nova as she looked out into space.
"You never read the histories?" said Nova. "Or talked with Her Highness or heard the scuttlebutt on our first mission? One has to be somewhat careful about what you say about Queen Starsha. She seems to sort of know what we're up to. More seriously," said Nova, clearing her throat. "Where were you?"
"Well, I know that," huffed Nova. "What were you doing here? You know we're busy..."
"You guys are busy. Combat Group isn't, ma'am. At least I'm not on duty at the moment."
"Well, you are now," said Nova. "The Captain needs a complete report on the status of every one of our weapons systems from you and Dash. There's going to be a staff meeting at 0100. We think we're getting on track as to when that disturbance is going to hit, and the Captain wants everyone on their toes against any sort of eventuality. That's why he sent me to look for you."
"I thought we were supposed to contact the space frigate Colin Powell at 2330 to let them know when it was going to hit. It's 2345 now," he said, looking at his chronometer.
"The Captain's hope that we would find the epicenter of the disturbance by then has proved to be more that a little overoptimistic," said Nova. "We told the Powell that we're still looking, and asked them to just keep as close a watch on the space liner Westhampton Beach as possible under the circumstances. We've all been working hard on the first and second bridges to try to get a handle on this, but Derek wants every officer busy appraising their Groups right now. I'm both having to scan for this thing and calibrate my radar at the same time. Not an easy job, to say the least."
"Okay," said Paul. "Sorry I made myself scarce, Nova. Just..."
"You've got to think?" said Nova.
"Yes...How do you...?"
"I come here myself to think sometimes." said Nova. "I wish I … had some time to think just now," she mused. "But...the Captain wants us ready for that meeting ASAP."
"Where's the Captain?"
"In his cabin for a moment…writing up a personal log entry. He's trying to make some sense out of all of this."
"Yeah…like the rest of us."
At that, Nova smiled. "Yes. Let's go, Paul."
"Okay," said Rosstowski as he walked up towards the hatch and let it whir open. "Ladies first, ma'am," said Paul as he motioned towards Nova.
"Thank you, Paul," said Nova with a smile. "You're such a gentleman."
"Yeah...thanks," said Rosstowski.
III. MEMORIES IN THE NIGHT
Space Battleship Argo
Earth Date: January 10, 2202
0008 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
Captain Derek Wildstar sat drinking a cola with his Captain's Log open on his computer. He had just completed writing a personal entry in the Log about the events of the past few weeks, trying to place everything in perspective.
After looking out at the stars for a while, and considering the depths of space, he turned back to his work, typing in the following entry:
Now that I have again summarized the events of the past few weeks in regard to the Comet Empire's attempt to return, I would like to add the following to this Personal entry, as commentary.
One threat appears, at least for the foreseeable future, to have been abated. That is, the threat of Baron Gernitz and his House has apparently faded away for the moment. Whether or not Gernitz will ever return to carry out his threats of vengeance, or whether or not another Cometine House will seek to avenge Zordar's death by attacking Earth is at the current time unknown. I have reported this to the Commander, and General Singleton recently reported back that the Defense Council has agreed, at least, that the current Defense Fleet is in severe need of additional construction. What form this upgrade will take is unknown. However, the Commander noted, and I also agreed that the current Fleet is sorely lacking in close escort ships and in anti-submarine craft. Granted, we are now close to a point wherein all private shipping is supposed to be on its way back to Earth or other safe harbor, but I can't help feeling that even that shipping is somehow exposed and vulnerable. Which leads to my second point…
The strange appearance of this planet one thousand lightyears away from Earth, and the cosmic disturbances that seem to have begun as a secondary consequence of its arrival are bizarre and unsettling events. What do they portend? What caused this appearance, and what led to the apparent fact that the inhabitants of this planet seem to be crying for help? The Gamilons have left to begin a preliminary investigation of this matter, while we are here, on the Commander's orders, scanning for evidence of the wave of subspace disturbance that is supposed to hit the area shortly.
This impending disturbance is a major threat to shipping in the area, and may be a threat to Earth itself. Still, part of me wishes that this wave was not on its way here, and part of me also wishes that the Argo was already on its way towards the Beta Valentis System, also known as the Varalndus System, to investigate the strange appearance of this planet. The appearance of this world is a portent that just cannot be ignored.
But, the more immediate threat is the approaching wave of subspace disturbance. What will it do to us? What will it do to the Westhampton Beach? Will we be able to guide that liner to a safe landing on one of the moons of Neptune? I pray that no lives will be lost due to this threat. Everyone in the Star Force is trying to find answers…and those not involved in the search directly are to be ready for anything…at my orders.
But, still…I can't shake the feeling that somehow, we aren't doing enough.
At that, Wildstar closed his personal log and shut down his word processor. He sat back, shut his eyes, and tried to think. Then, a moment later, his intercom went off.
He answered at the second ring. "Captain's quarters, Captain Wildstar speaking," he said.
"Wildstar, this is Sandor. Royster just calculated a guess as to when and where the disturbance is going to hit."
"What's your guess?"
"Per our guess, it's going to hit around 0412, plus or minus ten minutes…at EQ-234A, about three hundred megameters beyond the orbit of Neptune."
Wildstar let out a low whistle. "That's damn close to Neptune's gravity well and even closer to her moons…especially the small base on Nereid, which is just five megameters beyond Neptune. That could mean trouble for us, for the Westhampton Beach's chances at putting in safely at the main base on Triton, and for our personnel at the bases at Triton, Nereid, and Proteus. How accurate is your guess?"
"The confidence factor is about 96," said Sandor.
"Good. Sandor, I want you, Royster, Venture, Nova, and Parsons to get together on the second bridge and confirm these results…I'd like all of you to put your heads together and make the confidence factor as high as possible in the short time we have before the meeting. I know that's asking a lot of you, but I'm confident you can do it. We can't give the crew of that liner or her escorts the wrong information. I'll be there in forty minutes to meet with you right before the staff meeting."
"We'll get right on it, Wildstar," said Sandor.
Once again…we're close to discovering a piece of the puzzle, thought Wildstar. But…not close enough.thought Wildstar.
Here ends Act One of And Then There Were Two...