Summary: An ensemble piece. Andromeda's present crew (including Tyr and Rev) meet under very different circumstances when Beka backs out of Gerentex's High Guard salvage job. The Andromeda emerges on her own three years later to a tyrannical despotism that has taken control of the Known Worlds.

Category: Mostly action/adventure, with liberal angst.

Pairing: That's a good question. Quite possibly none, but I'm not sure I can resist some Tyr/Beka or Rhade/Beka. We'll see.

Rating: The usual PG/PG-13.

Tarazed had stayed safe for hundreds of years, but it couldn't stay safe forever. Not when the government insisted on remaining isolated behind their slipstream wall and refused to join any of the new alliances that sprung up in the face of a new enemy. Admiral Telemachus Rhade had led the isolationists, and as long as the enemy was the Magog, he was confident in his path. The Magog were hardly going to expend much time and effort searching for a tiny planet hidden in a slipstream warren when there were much easier targets more readily available. Eventually, he knew, they would find Tarazed, but they would not find the planet unarmed.

He hadn't counted on any major threats arising before that time, in his very pragmatic and uncreative Nietzschean way. Certainly not from a small group of human fanatics held in contempt by most their homo sapiens sapiens brethren. It was hardly his fault that he had not foreseen their rise to power; people much more involved than he in the politics of the Known Worlds had failed to predict their sudden appearance on the galactic stage.

They were more legend than fact among his people—and he didn't think it even mattered if 'his people' meant the tiny Commonwealth or the Nietzscheans—an unpleasant story told to rebellious youth. "Disobey your parents," or "Disobey the Matriarch," or "Disobey the Triumvirate, and the Genites will get you." The universal percentage of unmodified humans was small, but on Tarazed, they simply did not exist. Descended from members of the old Systems Commonwealth at a time when genetic manipulation was standard medical procedure among humans, everyone had some sort of tweaking in their genetic code.

The Genites would have known that, of course, led by a lunatic who claimed to be a member of that former republic. Many humans were modified in order to survive on inhospitable planets, others to give them an edge against more specialized species. Those few unmodified humans who found their way to Tarazed after the Fall inevitably married modified humans and produced modified children. No one had thought much of it until very recently, and by that time, all of Tarazed was in it together.

Despite everything, Telemachus liked that. No longer was his planet divided into isolationists vs. expansionists or humans vs. Nietzscheans or civilian vs. military. Now they were all modified beings, impure in the eyes of a people who didn't see grey. Telemachus had always been less interested in competition between people than competition with himself. People respected that, a man who strove to better himself for his own sake.

"The last wave is gone," he reported, looking up from a console. The only remaining blips on the screen were enemy fighters. He turned toward the three people who sat across from him at a round table, ignoring the few other military personnel scattered about the room. "I don't like this, Triumvirs. As an admiral of the fleet, I have a duty to protect my people for as long as I am able. My evacuation will ensure the deaths of civilians I could prevent were I allowed to remain." It wasn't exactly a token protest; Telemachus would rather have stayed on Tarazed than flee, but he had debated this point before and saw a very Nietzschean logic in the Triumvirate's argument.

"Admiral, we agree entirely," one of the Triumvirs said with a put-upon smile. "Your duty is the protection of Tarazed for as long as possible. If you resign yourself to defending the planet, you will not have the chance to protect us for long. You've seen our enemy's capabilities. You would prevent no death but simply postpone it for a few hours, perhaps a week." Her boneblades flared for a moment. "As a Nietzschean, I strongly object to your willingness to die for a lost cause, but as your Triumvir, I applaud your courage and sense of duty."

Another Triumvir nodded. "Nietzschean or human, we all know that we will need you in the coming months and years to take back our home. So we will appeal to whichever of your loyalties we must, so long as we can get through to you. We need you alive Telemachus, for the future. You are no good to us dead, and if you people are right," the man grinned here, "God is dead anyway, and you won't have much to look forward to should you die a martyr."

Telemachus couldn't quite manage a grin of his own. "I understand. If this is your decision, I must leave you now, as my ship is prepped for launch." He rose and saluted the trio. They returned the salute, and the admiral left his world's leaders without another word.

That uniform was tattered now. All he did these days was run and hide and plot the downfall of the Knights of Genetic Purity. No, he didn't plot anymore. Those months and years the Triumvir had spoken of were shapeless, and the present was painfully bright.

He had never thought much of the majority of the Nietzschean people who made their living bullying and slaving and pirating. He wondered where Drago Museveni's dream of a race of warrior-poets had gone awry. Nietzscheans were universally feared but little respected.

But as little as he liked the swaggering, trigger-happy state of his people, he preferred it to their current condition. The Knights of Genetic Purity set a bounty on every Nietzschean head, ignoring genetically-modified humans for the time being. Nietzscheans—and half-breeds, too—were hunted and slaughtered en masse. They weren't even warriors anymore. They barely had time to pass on their precious genes, if they were skilled enough to keep themselves alive.

The Prides were little more than names, now. Internecine rivalries were forgotten—a measly positive that had arisen from genocide—as Nietzscheans met and lived in secret. Some lived only for themselves, leaving others to the Genites or bounty-hunters when necessary, but a few of the more long-sighted among his people recognized that the only way the species homo sapiens invictus would survive was if its members began to support one another.

It was called "reciprocal altruism" in the animal world, and before the Genites' rise to power, no one would have thought to associate anything altruistic with Nietzscheans. Then again, before now, Nietzscheans were a flourishing people, however wrong-headed. Today they had forgotten about seizing as much territory, slaves, and power as they could; staying alive was enough of a challenge for anyone. If they didn't help each other now, they would dwindle and die out.

Sometimes Telemachus chuckled dryly when he thought of this. He wasn't superstitious or spiritual, but it did seem a sort of karmic retribution that the Progenitor's genetic reincarnation would be born into such an era. The father was a Kodiak orphan who must have found some bitter humor in the fall of the Pride which had destroyed his own and the mother an Orca pirate who saw the Dragan Alpha reduced to a state lower than her own. And the child was a curly-haired boy with wide brown eyes and the largest bounty ever placed on a single person in history.

The admiral had lost track of these things, but he was sure the bounty on his own head was impressive as well. When they finally located it, the Genites targeted Tarazed's tiny Commonwealth with a ferocity usually reserved for high-ranking Dragan slavers. Ordinary humans, as well as Than and Perseids, were outraged by the horror the Genites wrought on the Known Worlds; if there was ever a time for species to bind together and recreate the Systems Commonwealth with its visions of equality, justice, and freedom, it was now. The Knights of Genetic Purity were merciless on its rivals, human or otherwise.

"Wake up, boy," a reedy voice growled at him.

Telemachus jerked awake from his reverie. "What do you want?"

A clawed hand grabbed his shirt collar and dragged Telemachus to his feet. "Look," the voice hissed. "There she is. Drifting in space, waiting to fall into my hands."

Telemachus peered out the grimy window. He saw a silvery blur which the battered console at his fingertips claimed to be a ship. "All right, so we've found her." His fingers flew over the sensors. "She's hundreds of times larger than us. Do you plan on firing our way into the hangars or just beaming ourselves over on a magical rainbow?"

The speaker, who turned out to be a hideously-attired Nightsider, ignored Telemachus's snide question as he spoke quietly to himself. "Now, the ship's just emerged from an orbit around a black hole, so she's bound to be weak from the strain. How that ship managed to escape the singularity, I'll never know." For all his eye-wrenching taste in clothing, this Nightsider had a surprisingly sharp mind. "One good blast from our weapons should be enough to open the hangar doors." His voice trailed off. "You!"

Telemachus turned his head. "Yes?" Even after all these months, his body reacted to commands without first consulting his brain.

"Man the weapons system! We ARE going to shoot our way in, and you're going to be ready for any surprises the ship might have left in her." The Nightsider's smug grin was almost unbearable. "It's good to have a proper little canary when entering a dangerous mine, don't you think?"

Telemachus could have killed and disemboweled this creature in his sleep, and they both knew it. They also knew that if the Genites found a rogue Nietzschean roaming the stars unprotected, he would be exterminated on site by technology centuries advanced than anything he might have procured. This Nightsider had top-notch smuggling cabinets peppered all over his freighter, which were most the wage Telemachus received for his services. An admiral of Tarazed's High Guard was reduced to a canary and smuggled cargo.

When they approached the ship, Telemachus gasped. It was beautiful. It was a High Guard Glorious Heritage Class Heavy Cruiser. It was, to be precise, the Andromeda Ascendant, in all her shining glory. At this distance, the damage from a battle three hundred plus years gone and the black hole were minimal; she looked ready for a round against a Genite fleet.

Gerentex was right about the hangar; he fired a single shot, and the huge hangar doors gaped open like toothless silver gums. He piloted the ship in smoothly through the dark bay, and Telemachus had to repress a shiver at the thought that they were flying into an enormous maw waiting to snap shut behind them.

"Finally," he murmured. "After years of waiting... after that faithless Valentine ran out on me..."

For a month now, Telemachus had heard these references to a Valentine who had betrayed Gerentex, from the way he told it. More likely, this Valentine came to her senses—Gerentex's choice in invectives referred to a woman—and realized that any mission with Gerentex was probably be her last. If the adventure itself didn't kill her, the Nightsider would've managed it himself. He didn't like sharing his finds. But Nietzscheans were more difficult to kill than humans and very useful when alive.

The loss of Valentine's services might have set Gerentex back a year, but he would have found another desperate crew before long. But then the Genites had arrived on the scene, claiming to fight for the lost Commonwealth while making it known that anything resembling that republic would be annihilated. So Gerentex let his associates forget that he had ever pursued a High Guard relic and lay low, organizing mine workers somewhere as he stole even-handedly from both sides.

Then somehow, the Nightsider heard about a Tarazed admiral on the run. Even better, the admiral was a Nietzschean. If anyone could help him retrieve a High Guard ship and keep quiet about it, it was Admiral Telemachus Rhade. There wasn't much to negotiate once Gerentex found him; he was content with a criminally low salary and a place to hide. Most of the money he sent to a few friends who would use it where it would do the most good for his people—both the Nietzscheans and refugees from Tarazed. Nietzscheans had always said he was too nice, but what did his people care for money, anyway?

Soon, Telemachus was prowling the corridors alone, checking the ship for major damage and taking control of it if possible. The Andromeda was brighter than he would have expected, but he supposed no one had bothered to turn off the lights before scrambling to the escape pods. He thought he knew where the Command center was, but that was from poring over old manuals. Now that he was in a real ship, he wanted to take his time, sightsee.

Half an hour had passed when he heard a quiet, regular noise echoing around him. He cocked his head and tapped his wrist computer. It wasn't registering much activity in the ship's computer, but he couldn't think of anything else that could explain the noise. If the computer was making strange sounds, he thought he'd better take the most direct route to Command and see what he could do with it.

The noise was sounding more and more like footsteps to Telemachus's sensitive ears. He was sure this was a sign of a mental breakdown, hearing ghosts in the passages. Then he heard a voice that sounded very alive.

"Turn around and drop your weapon."

If not for the sound of a weapon powering up—a weapon that sounded like no gauss gun he'd ever come across—the Nietzschean might have written the voice off to the stress that pressed ever more heavily on his nerves. But that sound was clear as day, and it hit Telemachus like a shot. It was a forcelance. He unhooked a gauss gun from his belt and let it fall to the floor before turning to face this impossibility.

The man's voice had been so confident, but when Telemachus turned around, the man turned white. "That's impossible," he muttered, and Telemachus couldn't help observing that they were thinking exactly the same thing.

It was a human wearing a very old High Guard uniform, a maroon jacket with dark blue square buttons and khaki-colored pants with a dark stripe down the leg. His hair looked a bit longer than regulation, sandy-colored and brushing his collar. His eyes were wide in shock. "You can't be here. You're in stasis." His grey-blue eyes flicked to Telemachus's collar, and a disbelieving smile crossed his face. "Your hair's too long, and you're definitely not an admiral." In honor of the occasion, Telemachus had donned his uniform, to Gerentex's derision.

Telemachus cleared his throat, hoping to make this officer—captain, by the pips on his collar—realize that he was not seeing a phantom. "That is debatable right now, Captain." If Tarazed survived the Genite campaign intact and autonomous, maybe he would have the chance to wear this uniform again for real.

The mention of his rank seemed to bring the human back to the present. He squinted at Telemachus. "Who are you?" And then Telemachus knew what this was about and thought he knew the answer to a question that had plagued the Rhade family for a long time.

"My name is Admiral Telemachus Rhade of the Tarazed High Guard." He didn't think his serial number was necessary here.

The man's eyes lit up at the words 'Tarazed High Guard', and Telemachus felt a rare burst of sympathy. "Our world was populated by Commonwealth survivors of the Nietzschean Uprising. Our ancestors were gathered by Sara Reilly," he added, with a curious look at the captain.

The captain ran a hand through his almost too-long hair. Telemachus found himself suppressing a frown of disapproval and laughed silently at himself. His dark hair brushed his collar, untrimmed since the day he left Tarazed.

"She told me," the captain said grimly, "but I didn't believe it." He looked up. "Your ancestors?"

Telemachus nodded. "Three hundred years ago. Gaheris Rhade had nearly a dozen wives and twenty children. Most of them found their way to Tarazed amid accusations of his treason." The captain didn't look quite ready to speak again. "I believe what you're seeing is what Nietzscheans call 'genetic reincarnation'. We don't often breed with humans, and we have strict genetic controllers to prevent against mutation. It's hardly common, but there are documented cases. I'm told the effects can be... startling."

The captain offered a weak laugh. "Startling. That about covers it. Admiral Telemachus Rhade, I think we need to have a very long conversation... if you have the time, sir."

The smile Telemachus gave was the first genuine smile he'd felt in weeks. "There's a Nightsider in your hangar bay, but I think he'll be willing to forget the existence of a High Guard warship for a little while. He'd hate to have any mention of the Commonwealth associated with him."

And so the pair walked to the Command center, and Captain Hunt ordered Gerentex out of his ship and the Hephaestus system as fast as he could. His rodent face screwed up in a rictus of fury, but he left without argument. Telemachus told Captain Hunt he was sure the Nightsider would wait at least a month before sending an anonymous tip to the Knights of Genetic Purity.

They had a very long talk about the Genites, beginning from the collapse of the fledging Nietzschean empire due to internal squabbling to the rise of the F.T.A's financial empire to the mysterious appearance of this group of fanatics with technology that surpassed even that of the Systems Commonwealth in its heyday.

This was all old news to Telemachus, who was exceedingly curious about Captain Hunt himself. Apparently, the ship had broken free of its orbit by itself just a week ago. Hunt regained consciousness after his deep sleep several days ago and had spent the time fixing what he could and trying to ignore what his ship was saying about star positions.

A hologram shimmered into being beside them, and Telemachus had to grasp a console very tightly so he didn't jump. "Captain, I can confirm part of this man's story." Telemachus stared at the pixilated image, a beautiful specimen of human artistry.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," he said, "but is... is she an artificial intelligence?" His voice was quiet and reverent.

The hologram made a noise like a cough. "I am. Please call me Andromeda." It... she was clearly suspicious of Telemachus but courteous enough to a man who spoke the right words, approved variants of High Guard passcodes that were still current for her.

She focused her attention on her captain. "Sir, the dates Admiral Rhade has given us correspond with the star charts." This was something Telemachus gathered the two had discussed many times before. "Additionally, I am picking up faint chatter from surrounding star systems. Much of it is military and reminiscent of the Commonwealth. They call themselves the Knights of Genetic Purity."

Telemachus gazed out the viewscreen at twinkling stars. They were out there, and closer than he thought. "We should get out here." He hated the fact that he was running again. "I know the systems that... aren't safe but are somewhat less dangerous than our present location." His mind processed the few places he knew where they could lay low for awhile, and then it hit him that they didn't need to lay low with equipment like this. They might not want to take on an entire fleet equipped with Seraphim and the like, but they could eliminate the errant ship that crossed their paths.

He knew just where to go. The Triumvirs had hinted that they might escape there, but Telemachus had avoided it so far in order to protect his planet's highest leaders. It was among the last places the Genites would think to look for anything Commonwealth or anything Nietzschean. It was a very unpleasant place, and most of its inhabitants were unaware that it had become a refuge for the galaxy's hunted. Once it had been a world bursting at its seams with life, but much of it was faded or dead now. Vast regions the size of countries lay empty—not because they were unsuited to life but because their residents had harassed their slavers one too many times. The few people left on the world huddled in cities, marginally safer from Magog attacks than open country.

This world had been mostly ignored by the Genites so far, despite the sympathy for their cause that grew there. The Genites were the reason the planet's Dragan slavers fled. These people made up a large chunk of Known Worlds' population of unmodified humans, and the Genite philosophy told them that they were pure, natural, and superior to the modified humans they envied. For the most part, the sympathy had died a quick death when the humans discovered that their distant liberators wouldn't protect them from the Magog. There was heated contention as to whether the Magog or Nietzscheans were worse, but while the Nietzscheans were around, the Magog visited rarely and briefly. It was hell living under Dragan bootheels, but it was living. With the slavers gone, no one was interested in protecting the blue-green planet of humanity's origin.

Terrans died by the millions, even faster than the Nietzscheans for a few months. Someone should have been alerted to the fact the Magog raids on small worlds like this were becoming more frequent and more brazen, but no one paid much attention. The Magog had always hung around the edges of civilization like lions, stalking the herd to single out the sick and dying. If a few former Dragan slave worlds were experiencing more raids than usual, well, people had their own problems to worry about, and the Genites were a very large problem. If the Magog were lions, the Genites were rabid dogs. No one knew who they would attack next, and unlike the Magog, they didn't care how strong their opponents were. They were stronger and had the advantage of insanity on their side, which outweighed a sane survival instinct in any battle.

Telemachus explained this to Dylan and his ship. They consulted in private and then agreed to accompany Telemachus to Earth to find his Triumvirate.

"If they're still alive," Andromeda added with a glower. She had decided to trust this Rhade for now, but she hated being so out of the loop. A few days monitoring local transmissions while on the run weren't very helpful in this area.

"If they're not," Telemachus replied, "there will be others. Some things have managed to escape Genite ears, and there are rumors of Nietzscheans returning to Earth to hide."

Neither the captain nor his ship looked pleased at this prospect. Telemachus allowed himself a sigh. "I know. I wouldn't choose them if I had any other choice." He laughed and almost meant it. "If I were in your position, Captain, I wouldn't trust me. I suppose it proves the human cliché, 'it takes all kinds'."

"But the Nietzschean people were able to put aside their treachery long enough to overthrow the Systems Commonwealth, and they've been playing together nicely since the Knights of Genetic Purity set the bounty."

Dylan scrubbed a hand over his face. "I know. I was there for that first one, remember? It felt like yesterday." He fell silent for a moment. "But you said their empire fell apart as soon as the war was over."

"It fell hard," Telemachus agreed. "And if you're in this with me, we'll worry about that later."