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Tylor's Fury An Irresponsible Captain Tylor fanfic by David A. Tatum

Disclaimer: I don't actually know who owns this series (the back of the box on my commercial tapes lists Hitoshi Yoshiyoka, Kadokawa Shoten, and the Tylor Project as owning the copyright) but suffice to say the characters and background history for this fanfic are not mine, and I do not want to make any pretenses of owning this series.

Notes: While I suspect you'll be able to follow this even if you've only seen the series, I have set it after the movie Tylor's War (which is set after the series). There may be a couple of spoilers for the movie (well, and for the series too, obviously), but... well... I want to set it after the movie, and it's hard to do that without spoilers, okay?

On with the fanfic... -------------------------

Yuriko Star was scared. No, scared wasn't the right word- make that terrified. She needed to talk to TYLOR about something very personal and very serious, and... well, she knew what he was like just as well as anyone else- no, make that better than anyone else, now.

She knew dropping hints would be useless. After he'd left the hospital following the incident known now as 'Tylor's War,' she'd spent months hinting she wanted him to marry him. She'd actually started a little before that- at the start of that mission, she'd asked him if he was proposing when he asked her to leave the ship. When he said no, she'd refused... and she was glad that she did. The mission had been hell for everyone on the Soyokaze, Tylor included, but she wouldn't give up being there for the reading of the Captain's secret orders for anything...

In the end, she'd just bluntly asked him, "Tylor, why don't you marry me?"

His response was typical Tylor. "Well, I don't really see the need to, but since I've always said you should just do what you want, I will if you want to."

Yuriko had just given up at that point. The next day, without even asking his permission, she'd moved all of her stuff into his apartment. They'd been lovers ever since; after all, that was what she'd really wanted, anyway- to be with him.

That had lead to the current situation, which terrified her more than anything- well, almost anything. When she knew all that Tylor had gone through during the last mission of the Soyokaze- where he had been tortured by a man he had thought of as a friend, where he had been forced to hurt one woman who he'd also thought of as a friend, where he had been betrayed by his crew which he thought of as his family, and where he had been injured- nearly killed- in a final battle- one where he couldn't fight back, couldn't run, couldn't surrender, and couldn't call for help. All he could do was hold her hand and wait for death- which thankfully never came. Then they'd found his orders, and everyone felt so guilty- even Dom had called and apologized both publicly and privately for his hateful attack.

Hearing that he'd gone through all that, even after the fact, had worried her more than this. But this would effect her more- and that made the terror all the more apparent. She had to tell Tylor, the Most Irresponsible Man in Space, that she was pregnant with his child.

"Captain?" Yuriko began, addressing him.

Tylor smiled up at her. "I knew you needed to talk about something. You invite me out to this fancy restaurant, pick through your food, and now call me by 'Captain.' What's wrong?"

Yuriko grimaced. She'd been his lover for almost a year, and both of them had been on inactive reserve since the mission had ended, but she STILL called him 'Captain' whenever she was nervous about something. She had to get out of that habit.

"Nothing really wrong, but... well, something important. Something I need you to be serious about...."

Tylor raised an eyebrow. "Me?"

"Yes, you!" Yuriko snapped, frustrated. She closed her eyes, took a couple of deep breaths, and then looked at him. "Tylor, I'm... I'm p-pregnant."

He stopped moving- in fact, it looked like he'd stopped breathing. 'Hmm,' Yuriko thought. 'Ten, nine, eight, seven, six... he's started breathing again, four, three, two, one...'

Tylor, somewhat recovered, blinked. "Um, er, congratulations! Who's the father?" he asked nervously.

Yuriko glared at him. "Who do you think? You're my only lover, you know." She frowned. "I may regret saying this, but I need you to help me take responsibility for the baby."

Tylor's smile, which had never left his face, widened happily. "I'd love to."

That stunned her. "Wh- what?! You, the Most Irresponsible Man in Space, are going to take responsibility for something?"

Tylor glanced around to make sure he wasn't being watched, leaned across the table, and kissed her. "Don't let it get out. It would ruin my reputation."

Yuriko was still a little shocked. She just quietly returned to her meal, uncertain of what to say to that. She'd prepared herself for a long, hard argument where he'd be trying at every step of the way to deny his role in their child's life- she'd never once believed that he might VOLUNTARILY accept it.

Finally, curiosity overcame her. "Why?" she asked.

"Why what?"

"Why do you want to help me with the child? I mean... that's not like you- you don't like responsibility."

Tylor smiled. "Ah, but I've always wanted to be a father. I want to be a bit like Admiral Hanner was. What he was to the twins, what he was to you, and what he was to me. To the twins, he was the man who raised them and took care of them as long as he could, to you he was a friend, and to me he was the only man I've ever looked up to. That is who I want to be to them- care provider, friend, and... hero."

"You've always wanted to be a hero?"

"Not really- I didn't really think about what being a father was until after I met Hanner. I just knew that there were only a few things I really wanted in life- I wanted an easy life, a woman to love for the rest of it, and children to raise to carry on my legacy." Grinning, he looked deeply into her eyes. "The military gave me two of those. You're giving me the third."

Yuriko shook her head. She couldn't believe he still thought of the military as an 'easy life' after that last mission, but she wouldn't contradict him today. "Well, I'm happy to help. It was fun, after all," she said slyly.

Tylor's smile twitched. "Uh oh," he said.

"What?" Yuriko asked, before seeing the uniformed military officer holding what looked like some sealed orders heading towards their table. "Oh... looks like they remembered we exist, finally. It's been a year- I was beginning to wonder if they'd ever give us orders again."

"Captain Justy Ueki Tylor?" the officer said.

"That would be me," Tylor said casually. Yuriko could almost see the shift in his attitude from his 'serious' side (which was still light-hearted by most peoples standards) to his usual 'let's not take anything seriously' side.

"Orders, sir. I was asked to wait for you to read them and then escort you to Admiral Mifune's office."

"Ah, okay." Tylor took the letter and stuck it in his jacket. Then he turned back to his dinner.

The officer looked disconcerted. "Um, aren't you going to look at your orders, sir?"

Tylor nodded. "Yeah- maybe later. I want to finish dinner, first, though..."

The officer looked as if he wanted to say something, but kept his mouth shut and stood at attention, waiting for Tylor.

Yuriko smiled secretly, watching the way Tylor drew out the meal, and allowing him to draw her into a long, somewhat intimate conversation for the sole purpose of embarrassing the waiting man. Over the time she knew him, she'd learned his little quirks, and had started to enjoy helping him with some of the simpler, less dangerous pranks he liked to pull over 'professional soldiers' like she had once been- and still was, to some extent. She used to be rather annoyed at him for it, until he explained (more or less) that he was trying to get her to laugh at herself, and not take things so seriously. She liked to think that if she became a little less serious, he would be a little more so- and it had worked out just like she'd hoped: every now and then, he'd talk 'seriously' with her, and not joke around... too much. At least, when dealing with her- when dealing with other soldiers, he wouldn't take them seriously at all.

When they had finally finished dinner, Tylor opened the orders and read them, then handed them to Yuriko. They were pretty basic orders- 'Commander Justy Ueki Tylor, Report to my office immediately upon receipt of these instructions for further orders- Adm. Mifune.'

Tylor sighed. "I think we need to talk a bit more about what we were discussing when the officer showed up. Let's pick up where we left off when I get home tonight, okay?"

Yuriko nodded, and watched as the officer escorted him away. Sighing, she turned back to her meal.

* * * * *

"Tylor," Mifune greeted gruffly. "Long time, no see. Please, sit down."

"Yes, sir," Tylor answered, giving a sloppy salute before relaxing into the chair across from the admiral's desk.

"Let's get down to business, shall we? I want to offer you a new command- the Soyokaze has been scrapped, but we've been building a new ship just for you. We can re-assemble much of your old crew easily enough, and you'll have a high degree of autonomy in this assignment."

"That would be nice, to see the old crew again," Tylor said, smiling.

Mifune nodded. "Yes, well... as you may or may not be aware, the peace treaty we have signed with the Raalgon has not been universally accepted by people of either side. Terrorist forces are forming in both kingdoms, and we are forming a joint task force with the Raalgon Imperial Fleet in order to root out the larger pockets of resistance."

"Is that so?"

Mifune nodded again. "Captain Dom will be in command of the Raalgon attachment. I believe you know him?" Tylor nodded, himself. "Before I continue this briefing, I need to know if you are willing to take the assignment. Are you?"

Tylor smiled. "It would be awfully nice to see the old gang again, but I'm afraid that you caught me at a bad time..."

"Oh?"

"Yes, see... Yuriko told me at the dinner your officer showed up at that she's pregnant, and so... well, I'd like to talk to her before making a decision."

Mifune's eyes widened. "You're going to... have a son?"

"Or daughter, yes. Why?"

Mifune was almost whimpering. "Oh, no, not more of him!" he whispered under his breath.

"Admiral?"

"Ahem," the Admiral said, coughing. "I mean, yes, by all means, discuss it with Miss Star. And congratulations..."

"Thank you, Admiral," Tylor said, standing up to leave.

"Oh, Tylor?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Please, if you do take it, think about taking this job seriously for once? These terrorists could strike anywhere, and you said you wanted a life of peace to bring your children up in..."

Tylor smiled. "Don't worry, Admiral. If I take it, all you have to do is leave it up to me, and everything will be fine."

* * * * *

Two men in black stood outside a particular apartment building. "Are you sure THIS is where he lives?"

"Aye- Tylor and his girlfriend have shacked up here."

"Then give me the charges- we'll teach them to make peace with those Raalgon devils!"

Inside of the building, Yuriko Star stood waiting for the elevator to arrive...

Chapter 2

Tylor hummed as he walked home, considering the Admiral's words. 'Terrorists? Ridiculous- I haven't heard of any terrorist activities. I suppose there might be some I haven't heard of- perhaps most of the strikes have been against the Raalgon or something- but it certainly doesn't seem as serious as he's making it out to be.' Smiling slightly, he spoke his last thought aloud. "It certainly isn't as important to me as Yuriko and our baby...." He wasn't really talking to anyone, but he wanted to hear it spoken aloud again- THEIR baby. The ever-present smile on his face grew considerably.

That smile fell a bit when an explosion that must have been centered only a few blocks away from him shook the ground, causing him to stumble.

"What was that- an earthquake?" someone, who had obviously not been involved in the war- or at least who had never been in a ship that had been fired upon- shouted.

Tylor, who had been involved in some of the most vicious combat in all of history (even if he almost never fired a shot), knew immediately what it was. Staring ahead, he knew exactly where the bomb had exploded.

"No... YURIKO!" He gasped, staring at his apartment building. A whole side of it was missing, and the floor where their room used to be was on fire. Without knowing what he was doing, he rushed into the building. He started to run towards the elevators, when he saw their doors lying several yards in front of the elevator shafts and flames coming from them. "Damn- of course the elevators wouldn't be working. Where are the stairs?"

His voice reached one pair of highly relieved ears. "T-tylor..." Yuriko called hoarsely.

"Yuriko!" he cried gratefully, looking around for her. Finally, he saw movement- a hand waving from underneath one of the fallen elevator doors. He choked on his own bile, but then ran over and, with surprising strength, lifted the door off of Yuriko's body. "You're alive!"

Alive she was, but she certainly wasn't in good shape. Tylor surveyed her visible injuries with concern written on his face. Half of her shirt was torn off, and burns had blistered her left arm. Her right leg was bent in an odd angle. A metal fragment had pierced her in the left shoulder, but only a little blood had seeped through that wound- a bad sign, as Tylor recalled from his own injuries, because it meant she was probably bleeding internally. She WAS bleeding badly from a nasty cut over her left eye, but that almost seemed minor compared to the other injuries he'd seen on her. If he'd cared to notice, her face was also streaked with soot and dirt, but that seemed very unimportant.

"How bad is is?" Yuriko croaked out as the faint sound of sirens started approaching.

Tylor wasn't one to lie- unless he was asked if he was telling the truth. He didn't this time, either. "Bad. Don't move- don't even try to talk. But don't fall asleep either- you've got a head wound."

A smile cracked Yuriko's lips. "So serious, Tylor... one might even think you were responsible enough to care."

He wanted to reach out and cradle her in his arms, but he was so terrified he would make her injuries worse that he could hardly breath. "Hush... don't waste your energy."

Yuriko smiled weakly. "You can't tell me that... turnabout is fair play, after all. You kept talking when you were hurt. You even sang with me."

Tylor's eyes watered. "Do... do you want me to sing for you?"

"I love you, Captain Justy Ueki Tylor," she gasped. The sirens stopped outside the hotel, and emergency personnel started rushing in, some carrying fire hoses. "I always will."

"I love you, too," Tylor whispered, tears dripping off his cheeks.

* * * * *

Someone was shaking him gently. That wasn't right- Yuriko knew the only real ways to wake him up, and this wasn't one of them. Why was she trying to wake him up this way?

"Captain Tylor?" a voice asked. "Captain Tylor, are you awake? We have some news..."

Suddenly, it all came back to him. The explosion, digging her out from under the rubble, the emergency medical technicians taking her away, him riding with them in order to hold Yuriko's hand, waiting for hours as she went through emergency surgery, the word that the 'People Against the Raalgon Alliance' had claimed responsibility for the bombing, and then still more hours waiting for word on her condition....

'Damn, it wasn't a nightmare,' he thought.

"Captain Tylor?"

"Yes?" his haunted voice said as he opened his eyes.

"We have some news. Ms. Star has stabilized- for the moment- but she's still in serious condition. She should improve, however, and may even be up to talking to you soon."

Tylor let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "And... our baby?"

"It's alive," the doctor sighed. "And if Ms. Star fully recovers, it should stay that way. Emphasis on SHOULD... Ms. Star has received a severe shock to her system, and that may hinder its development, especially at this stage. However, I'm not an expert in this area- perhaps you should talk to one of our prenatal care physicians."

"I think I will, doctor... what did you say your name was?"

"Desaix, Captain Tylor. Nicolas Desaix." An orderly ran up to the doctor and whispered something in his ear. "Ah, good. Captain Tylor, it appears your Ms. Star is waking up- would you like to go see her?"

In answer, Tylor stood up and grabbed the doctor, storming towards Yuriko's room.

* * * * *

Yuriko felt as if her eyelids were made out of lead, but opened them anyway. Tylor was staring down at her, bags under his eyes and concern written all over his face- and all she could focus on was his face- the rest of the world was too fuzzy still. He looked like he hadn't slept in days. She tried to reach out and hug him, but her arms were too heavy to lift and something was attached to them.

Oh, yeah... the explosion. She must be in the hospital.

"Tylor..." She smiled. "What are you doing here? I would have thought you'd be out having fun right now," she joked.

Tylor smiled as well, but it was forced. "There wasn't anything else to do, I guess."

"So... what happened?"

Something Yuriko had only seen on Tylor once- and then only in jest- flashed in his eyes. To her astonishment, the man who could always flow with the breeze, the most fearless man she had ever met, was angry. Very angry.

"Some terrorist group by the name of the 'People Against the Raalgon Alliance' placed a bomb at our apartment, claiming they were trying to strike at me as the 'symbol of the cursed peace.'"

"They were targeting you?" Yuriko said. She wasn't as surprised as she thought she should be- perhaps because everyone on both sides of the war had been trying to kill Tylor at one time or another. Still, this meant that the man she cared about was in danger, and she wasn't able to be there and look after him. "Is anyone doing anything about it?"

Tylor paused for a long moment. He turned. "Dr. Desaix, could you please leave us for a moment? I have something private to tell her...."

"Of course," the doctor, who Yuriko hadn't even realized was there, answered. A few seconds later, the door clicked to indicate it had been shut, and Tylor's face was once more in her vision.

"Yuriko... before the bombing took place, Admiral Mifune offered me command of Earth's contribution to an anti-terrorist task force. I told him I would talk to you first- I didn't want to be seperated from you, and I didn't think you'd want to take an assignment while you were pregnant. But if the terrorists are going to be targeting me anyway, then..." He paused. He didn't want to say this.

"Then?"

Tylor sighed. "If I stay around you, you AND our child are going to be in serious danger from these people... you've already taken a serious shock to your system, and the doctor said he was worried that it might affect the baby. I can't risk that again..."

Yuriko started to panic. "Wh... what are you saying?"

Pulling together all his determination, Tylor looked into her eyes. "I promised to take responsibility for our child. It would be very irresponsible of me to put him into deathly danger before he was even born, so... I'm taking the assignment."

"But... I want you here!" Yuriko cried.

"I know... I want to be with you, myself. But it isn't safe... if you were able to move right now, it would be a different story- I'd still take the assignment, but I'd bring you with me aboard the ship and keep you safe there. But you can't move right now, and won't be able to for some time, so..."

"So you need to go, while I have to stay." She sniffed. "It still isn't fair."

Tylor's eyes flashed again. "You're right- it isn't fair. We should have been left in peace... but we weren't, so now we have to deal with it." He kissed her on the forehead gently. "We've still got some time... let's make the most of it."

"That sounds so... final."

Tylor smiled. "It isn't... when you're feeling healthy enough, I'll come back as soon as I can and pick you up. Then we can be together, and to hell with what the rest of the universe says."

* * * * *

"Ah, Captain Tylor," Fuji said, greeting him as he arrived at headquarters. Mifune also arose next to him. "Glad to see you came despite the tragedy with Commander Star."

"It is because of that tragedy I am here. If the terrorists are targeting me, then she won't be safe with me near her."

Mifune and Fuji looked at each other. "So... what are you saying?" Fuji asked.

"I'm taking the assignment. Put me in that task force."

Mifune nodded. "I will do it right away, Tylor. The timetable for launching the force has been moved up, however, and the ship we were building for you is not completed. However, your crew has been reassembled- with the exception of Commander Star- and we have secured a ship which can temporarily serve as your flagship. I'll draft your orders and send you to her right away. The task force moves out for the rendezvous with Dom's squadron in four hours- I want you on board your new command in three."

Tylor nodded. "Will do, sir- what's her name?"

"The Tsunami- an old destroyer of the same class as your old Soyokaze, but refitted for more powerful shields and weapons. It'll just be a temporary command, so don't worry about the lack of creature comforts- we'll send your new ship out as soon as it's complete." Mifune paused. "I know you wish that the Soyokaze was still around, but the damage done to it by that last battle was way too severe for us to restore her..."

Tylor nodded. "That's perfectly okay. I don't think I'd be in the mood to command the Soyokaze right now... the Tsunami will be perfectly fine."

Mifune blinked, not quite understanding that statement.

Fuji, on the other hand, was grinning. 'Everything is going according to plan. I knew a hit on his apartment would scare him into accepting the assignment... too bad about Ms. Star, but it couldn't be helped....'

* * * * *

"I'm sorry, Yuriko," Tylor said, looking at his watch. "Mifune only gave me an hour in which I could visit, so I have to go."

Yuriko nodded from her hospital bed. "I understand... be careful."

"I will." He looked over at her. "I've arranged for the nurses to install a communications system in this room so that you and I can talk from time to time-"

"Every night?"

"Every night we're in range, yeah," Tylor said.

"Tylor..." Yuriko hesitated. "Don't forget what you are, okay?"

Tylor smiled slightly, but something flashed in his eyes. "I won't forget... but these terrorists are keeping us from doing what we want... so I'm going to take this seriously, okay?"

Yuriko's eyes widened. "Tylor..."

He cut her off with a kiss. "Next time I kiss you, it'll be on the deck of the Tsunami. Bye, Yuriko... I love you."

Before she could say anything in response, he was out the door.

'Fight seriously? The TSUNAMI? Oh, god, Tylor... what are you thinking of doing?'

* * * * *

"It's nice to see you back with us, Tylor, sir" Yumi said.

"We're always happy to be under your command, Tylor, sir," Emi agreed.

"Right?" they chorused to each other before breaking off into giggles.

"It's good to see you two again, too," Tylor answered. "This time, though, you two will actually have to do some work- at least until Yuriko gets better, I've gotta be a bit more serious than usual... to make up for her not being here, of course."

The two girls looked at each other in concern. Everyone from the Soyokaze knew how much Yuriko and the captain loved each other, and everyone also knew that Yuriko had been injured recently in one of the terrorist attacks. This reaction from Tylor, however, was completely unexpected. Tylor being serious? It was completely unheard of. Still, he was their captain. They had all wronged him more than once, and he constantly forgave them all. True, he was a bit... annoying... at times, but that was what made him who he was. If he acted a little different right now, well, they would forgive him. After all, having your lover caught in an explosion meant for you was a bit stressful, and perhaps the stress was getting to him.

"Strap in, Tylor, sir," Yumi said.

"We need to get going or else we'll be late," Emi added.

"Of course, with us flying, you won't be late," Yumi continued.

"Right?" they said to each other again, giggling.

Chapter 3

Dom was sitting at his desk, looking through some intelligence on the upcoming assignment, when there came a knocking on his door.

"Enter," he said.

Shia Has walked in, carrying an electronic message pad. "Dom, sir. I bring with me the composition of the Earth force that will be joining us."

Dom nodded, smiling slightly. "Good- it's about time the Earth joined us in trying to stop these terrorists. They've been on the move for the entire year since the war ended, though they've mostly been striking against us. But now that they are being attacked, too, they feel it 'important' that we work together as a 'demonstration of our new friendship.' So, which ships are they sending us?"

Shia Has shrugged. "I don't know, sir- the information was given to me sealed by the Empress with your personal code on it."

Dom's eyes widened. "Is that so?" Setting aside the intelligence reports, he took the data pad from her. "Leave me for the moment," he said.

"Yes, sir," Shia Has said, bowing as she left.

Keying up his password, Dom pressed the button for playback. Instantly, a holo-image of the Empress appeared.

"Hello, Dom," Azalyn's image said, smiling nervously. "It has been a while since we last talked. Many times, I wish that you had not transferred from my personal service, even though I do know the reason why...."

Dom's face fell slightly. It had been a rather painful decision, but after his reaction to Tylor's last visit he knew he was too close to the Empress to protect her objectively. Thankfully, she was willing to fulfill his final request before his transfer- removing Wang as her advisor. Wang was the man responsible for convincing Azalyn to start the war with Earth, and Dom suspected he was also responsible for the death of her father, as well. After he had become the Empress's advisor as well, he was able to keep Wang in check- at least partially. But now that they were both gone from her service, Azalyn had been running things fairly well on her own. Wang had been made viceroy over a colonial region on the far side of the Empire, but he had himself transferred anyway, as captain-commodore of the small squadron that had been dedicated to hunt down terrorists. Officially, it was just a two year rotation assignment, and he would be returned to the Empress's Personal Service in time, but he expected to be able to make the appointment permanent.... it would be too painful to return to her side.

"I felt I should let you know," Azalyn's image continued, "Who, exactly will be on your team. If you wish a transfer after I tell you, just let me know and I will place you wherever you want to be..."

'It couldn't be...' Dom thought.

"Dom, the man who has been put in charge of the Earth Task Force is Pako Pa... is Tylor. His old ship was decommissioned following your last battle with him, but he has been given a new one- the Tsunami."

"Damn!" Dom cursed. "Tylor again. Why can I not get him out of my life?" Then he thought about it a bit more. "Well, not this time- I'll just ask to be transferred. He is NOT my problem- he is not fighting against us this time, so someone else can deal with him."

"There... there is more," Azalyn continued, her face showing old pain. "Our intelligence reports that the girl... the girl that had been his lov- his living companion was caught in a terrorist attack and hospitalized. Initially, he was going to turn down the assignment, but after the bomb went off, he changed his mind."

Dom blinked. "What was that?"

"Some of my advisors feel," Azalyn concluded, "That this information may be rather important. So... so do I. If you can take this assignment, let me know. A description of the Tsunami and the makeup of the other two ships under Tylor's command is enclosed. That is all... for now."

The holo faded out, but Dom didn't stop staring at the spot where the projection of his empress had been.

"Tylor let something phase him? Damn... this is VERY bad. It looks as if I won't be able to stay out of this after all."

* * * * *

The assembled crew looked especially happy to be there and greet Captain Tylor at the shuttle dock. Yuri and Emi ran out, down the ramp, and joined the others who had come from the Soyokaze. The whole crew then raised its hands in salute... and then let them down as he walked in, revealing a pair of sun glasses in a particular style covering each pair of eyes.

"Morning, everyone!" Tylor called as he walked to the center of the raised platform he was used to making speeches from. "I should probably say a few words, as this time I'm going to be doing a bit more captain-stuff while commanding this ship."

Some took his words with surprise, but most were used to ignoring everything he said anyway, and didn't notice anything weird about him. Those that did, however, began prodding those that weren't paying attention.

"Well, on board the Soyokaze, I had 'Do Whatever You Want' as standing orders. I'm afraid I can't leave it at that here in the Tsunami. With Yuriko injured and not able to do what she wants, however, I have to do it for her- and so I'll be making a couple of rules that will remain in effect until she is well enough to join our crew," he said.

The doctor, drinking down some of his sake, did a spit-take at that. "Rules?!"

"Not many- I don't want to forget who I am, after all. The main rule is- 'Don't do anything which will reduce our ability to fight.' The reason for this is that we are not fighting people we can trick or escape through just luck- we need to do more than just run away this time." Tylor frowned. "Unlike when we were fighting the Raalgon, our current enemy is not being ordered to fight- these people WANT to fight. They want to ruin the peace, and they don't care who they hurt in the process. They want everyone to kill everyone else, regardless of whether they are innocent or not. And because of that, I don't care if they die, either." He paused for a moment, and something flashed in his eyes. "That's all for now. I'll see you later, but right now I need to make a call. Lt. Yamamoto, take the ship out of dock and set us on course for the rendezvous at the Raalgon border. If anyone needs me, just knock on my door."

Without giving anyone a chance for questions, he left the room. Everyone immediately started talking about the speech, stunned at some of the things he had said.

"Rules?"

"He... doesn't care if they die?"

"What happened to Yuriko?"

"More captain-stuff?"

"You didn't hear?"

"Since when does TYLOR issue orders or rules?"

"What does 'nothing which will reduce our ability to fight' mean, anyway?"

"No, what?"

"Yuriko was hit by a terrorist attack!"

"Why the sudden change?"

"Weren't they lovers?"

That shut everyone up. Of course, people sort of knew this already after having heard the recording of Tylor's secret orders on their last mission, and seen Yuriko's response in the hospital room. But the implication that he might be affected by someone attacking the woman he loved surprised them all- he never seemed even remotely fazed when anything bad happened to them- or to him. Furthermore, he'd never cared before when HE'D been the one to hurt Yuriko, so why did her being slightly injured bother him so?

Suddenly, a rumor started circulating- that Yuriko had been pregnant with Tylor's child... and that he had lost that child to the terrorists.

They all both loved and hated Tylor. And they all at least liked Yuriko. That the child of those two people might have been hurt angered them all terribly. At that moment, they all began to feel something which could best be described as the same stuff which inspired many crusades and holy wars. Those terrorists would have to answer to them.

* * * * *

Dom looked around. It had been a while since he'd been aboard his flagship, the Doraeme. The last time, he had been trying to destroy the man who he was soon going to be working closely with. The last time, he had been in a rage- more at himself than at anyone else. But it was all his fault that situation ended badly. He had nearly destroyed the peace before it had even started- and why? Because he was jeal- because he did not like seeing his empress treated that way?

Whatever the reason, he deeply regretted it now. He was determined to make it up to Tylor, and then to work with him to preserve the peace, and atone for his mistakes. Mistakes which he should never have made.

The elevator stopped, and the door opened. He walked onto his bridge, closed his eyes, and took in a deep, calming breath.

When he opened his eyes again, he nearly had a heart attack. "Y-your highness!" he stuttered.

"Hello, Dom," she said, smiling sadly. "Long time, no see."

She was not dressed in her usual outfit- instead, she wore the uniform of an officer- a lieutenant, in fact. She still carried the royal staff, however, and had obviously not given up the throne. In fact, her chair had been installed into a corner of the room.

"What are you doing here? And why are you dressed like that?!"

"I'm going with you- as both your Empress and your first officer," she said.

"Wh- what?!"

"You heard me," Azalyn said indignantly. "I have assigned myself as your first officer for this mission. I also had my throne installed on the bridge so I could remain Empress- I do not want to have to deal with the wild designs of another regent."

"But... why?"

She smiled playfully. "Well, I'd think that would be obvious, after what Wang did when he was last in charge..."

"No, I mean, why...." He couldn't find the words to finish- why would she want to be near him after all that he had done?

"Why just as your first officer? Well, I've never been in command of a ship before, so obviously I'm not ready to be that yet. Still, as Empress I need SOME rank with authority, so I had to make myself your lieutenant," she said, still smiling.

Dom recovered slightly. "No, my Empress. You know that's not what I'm asking."

Azalyn's smile fell with a sigh. "This is important to me, Dom.... I know that Pak- that Tylor is involved with that WOMAN, but... well, I still care about him. Also, this is important to my people- I've given them peace, but the peace hasn't been stabilized yet. My job as Empress is to change that... and this time, I'm not going to be hiding behind the lines. I'm going to be out there, risking my life alongside our people, to show them that I am committed to the peace. If I... if I die, then I may become a martyr for peace... just like my father became a martyr for war when he died."

"I do not think you should risk your life just for that-"

"There is one more thing... I miss working with you. You were always a good advisor, my best captain, and a friend. Perhaps things didn't quite work out for the best last time, but if it weren't for you we'd never have been in a position to ASK for peace." She smiled at him again. "Besides, you need me- only together will we be able to understand Tylor. You're the best there is at guessing Tylor's next move, and I'm the only person still on her feet who's walked through his mind."

Dom blinked. "Walked through his mind?"

"When Tylor was captured the first time, Wang ordered an implant be placed in his brain to make him more docile and controllable. The crew of the Soyokaze, after rescuing him, used an experimental procedure to rescue him that involved a device which allowed someone to walk through his mind. Yuriko and I volunteered to take that risk, and so we went in. It was very... confusing... but I learned a few things about him which may come in handy. For example, apparently one of his life's philosophies- one he doesn't ever tell anyone- is 'Appear weak where you are strong.' I really don't understand how it fits into his life, but I recall it being from an ancient Earth text known as 'The Art of War.' I've never read it myself, but it's supposed to be still relevant today despite being written thousands of years ago..."

Dom nodded. "I've heard of it... and I fully understand how it applies to him. His whole crew believes he's a dolt, but he's the most perceptive man I've ever known- he figured out Wang after only a day as your pet, and he knew you were on vacation from just the fact that you wouldn't see him the moment we captured the Soyokaze the last time. He knew the only solution to the mass battle we had been planning during the first phase of the war that would not resolve in one or both of our forces being utterly destroyed. Yet still, few people realize the extent to which his plans go- he hides his brilliance by appearing to be unintelligent." He frowned. "But there's another part to that quote... I wonder."

"Wonder what?"

"Empress, would you say that Tylor was unaffected by what goes on around him?"

Azalyn nodded enthusiastically. "Of course- no matter what happens, he's always cheerful. It's one of the things I like... liked... about him."

"The other part of that quote is 'Appear strong where you are weak.' He is very clever at hiding his mental strength... I wonder if he's just as clever about hiding his pain when something affects him?"

Azalyn's eyes widened. "Well, there was a part of his mind which was very conflicted... saying that it hated both me and Yuriko, then that it loved us, then... Oh, my god. He's never let anything faze him before, except for Admiral Hanner's death. But he couldn't do anything then. He's already shown that this attack on Yuriko has affected him- but now he can do something about it! Dom, what... what is he going to do?"

Dom nodded sagely. "I know that if it were me, I would become totally obsessed, and not even allow those I care about or respect get in the way of exacting my revenge. That is why-" He stopped, not wanting to finish that sentence.

"Why what?" Azalyn asked.

Dom shook his head, his eyes closed. "It's not important, Empress." He looked up at her. "Well, if you want to be my first officer, there's nothing I can do to stop you. I still believe you are taking a foolish risk, and for all the wrong reasons, but... it is your choice."

"Thank you, Dom," she said, smiling. "If you'll excuse me, I need to supervise my servants as they finish up with my room."

"Of course, Empress," Dom said, bowing.

As Azalyn left, she thought about the one time she'd known Dom to become even close to being obsessed- and that was during Tylor's War. And suddenly, she knew something else about him, too- and finally understood the real reason he had himself transferred.

Chapter 4

The mood aboard the Tsunami was subdued as it soared across space to their rendezvous with the Raalgon. Two other Earth ships, the destroyers Asimov and Bonapart of the Aranami class, had joined them and were flying in formation behind them. The final ship of the Earth contribution to the task force, a fast scout ship named the Hitokiri, was supposed to meet them at the rendezvous.

In the inner recesses of the Tsunami, a few select people were gathering together to discuss a small problem. The source of that problem was normal for that crew: the captain, one Justy Ueki Tylor. The problem that he gave them, however, was by no means normal.

"This new Tylor," Emi was saying, "Well, see, he..."

"Scares us!" Yumi finished.

"Right?" the twins said together.

Yamamoto nodded. "He's certainly not himself. He stays in the captain's chair at rigid attention most of the day. Sometimes he'll notice this himself, and try to force himself into his usual relaxed attitude, generate small talk with me, and slouch down in his chair, but soon he runs out of talk, starts fidgeting in his seat, and soon returns to attention. Then, when he finally DOES leave his chair, he forces himself back into his relaxed position, and takes off for his cabin. When he gets there, he stays only for about an hour before returning to his chair. I haven't seen him eat or sleep in the three days since he arrived on board."

"Of course he's not himself!" Anderson, representing the marines, growled. "His woman was nearly killed in a blast meant for him- he's probably got a lot on his mind. It's how BADLY it's effecting him that worries me. No sleep? No food? That's bad, but it's also understandable- he probably doesn't want to sleep for fear of nightmares, and he's probably so worried about Yuriko his stomach's upset. But what's worse to me is that he isn't even able to keep up the pretense of his old self... and we need to do something about that."

"And do you have any ideas on what to do?" Yamamoto demanded.

Anderson shook his head. "Not a clue."

Ensign Kojiro shrugged. "Well, I'm not too good at dealing with women, but maybe we could get one to help. Would Yuriko want Tylor to act so... well, self-destructive? Maybe we could get her on the comm and ask her for advice? I mean, she probably knows him better than anyone else- she's been living with him for a while, after all."

Yamamoto shook his head. "I know Yuriko pretty well, and I have a feeling she'd actually be HAPPY that he's acting this way- he's showing some responsibility for once, after all."

"Yeah," Lieutenant Kim agreed. "While we girls like our men to have a bit of a wild side, we also want them to be responsible enough to take us into consideration as well. Yuriko might actually welcome the change."

There were murmurs of assent from the three other women in attendance. "Besides," Harumi said. "Yuriko's injuries were severe, and it would not be a good thing to worry her about this right now. We can't involve her in this."

Suddenly, an alarm sounded. "All hands to stations- we have reached the rendezvous," Tylor's voice echoed over the loudspeakers.

Everyone started scrambling around, preparing to go on duty.

"We'll meet again on the next off-duty shift!" Yamamoto cried over the chaos. "Until then, do whatever you can think of to try and snap Tylor out of this funk."

* * * * *

The Doraeme was late, and Dom was worried. Sure, Tylor wasn't his usual self, but there was nothing stopping him from irresponsibly taking what there was of the assembled task force out without waiting for the flagship of the Raalgon contribution. Actually, the personal nature of the direct attack by the terrorists against him might make him want to move all the faster. He had sent Shia Has ahead of him in the Intrepid, a scout ship, in the hopes that she would be able to hold the unpredictable Earth captain long enough for him to arrive. There were no guarantees, however.

"Time to destination," he called.

"Twenty-six minutes, Captain Dom," Azalyn answered. Apparently, she was taking her responsibility as first officer seriously, because she'd actually taken a duty station. The other members of the crew were a little astonished at that- it was not the first time Azalyn had traveled with the Doraeme, but it WAS the first time that she wasn't doing so for recreational purposes. "Don't worry," she said comfortingly. "He'll wait for us. He'll want his friends around him right now. I would."

Dom sighed. "Perhaps, but there's also the possibility he might not want any more of his friends hurt by the terrorists."

Azalyn nodded triumphantly. "See, that's why I figured it would be best for both of us to work on this- I know what he wants, you know how he thinks. He WANTS us there... but he THINKS we should stay away for our own protection." Then she frowned. "So which will be triumphant now- what he wants or what he thinks?"

Dom thought for a moment. "Normally, with him, it would be no contest- he usually just does what he wants- and what he wants usually agrees with what he thinks. But right now...."

Azalyn didn't need him to finish. "Well... we'll find out when we get there, won't we?"

* * * * *

"Dom's tardiness is very inconsiderate, you know?" Tylor said, yawning as he stood up from his chair. "I'm gonna take a break for an hour... if he isn't here by then, we'll quit waiting and start our assignment without him, okay?"

"Um... yes, sir," Yamamoto replied. "I'll let the other ships know- if the Doraeme doesn't arrive in an hour, we'll move out." He hesitated. "Pardon me, sir, but... if Dom doesn't arrive with his intelligence, how will we know where to go?"

Tylor frowned. "I have our own intelligence, which is enough to act without his report, and I know what our orders are. Don't worry- I'll deal with it if it becomes important. Right now, though, I have some... personal matters to attend to. You have the con until I return."

"Aye, aye, sir," Yamamoto said.

Tylor walked out, and steadily marched down to his quarters, smiling and waving at the people he encountered as he went. After all, he shouldn't lose sight of himself, right? And he was always relaxed, always confident, always able to put a smile on his face, no matter how grim the circumstances, right?

As the door to his cabin closed behind him, he let his face fall. It wasn't always true, actually. Sometimes, he had to fake being relaxed, confident, and happy. He usually was, though, and faking it usually wasn't much or a strain for him, but right now....

Sighing with fatigue, he collapsed at his desk, opening the drawer. His vision blurred slightly.

"Damn, the stim's wearing off faster this time," he cursed. Pulling open a desk drawer, he pulled out a hypodermic needle and filled it from a small container of a yellowish liquid. With a slight grimace, he injected himself full of the drug in the shoulder. Almost instantly, a warming sensation started spreading from the injection point, and within a minute had traveled all over his body, giving him a lot of energy. For a little while, he'd be back to his usual self.

Walking over to a console that had been installed in his room, he keyed up a code sequence and waited.

Yuriko's bandaged face appeared a minute later, smiling faintly. "Ah, Tylor! You decided to call after all. One might think you were growing a touch too responsible."

"Who, me?" Tylor joked back, no longer having trouble pretending to be his old self. "I'm just as irresponsible as always! Why, I should probably be on deck right now, instead of chatting with you!"

"So, how is everything about the Tsunami?"

"Well, let's see..."

* * * * *

Shia Has frowned. "Where is Dom? He only has a few minutes to get here before Tylor ordered us out."

Her communications officer sighed. "Well, if you want, I could try to raise the Tsunami again and see if Tylor will listen to you this time. He was 'resting' last time we tried to raise him, but..."

"He probably will still be if we try again. Obviously, he doesn't want to talk to us for some reason... but if you can get me his first officer, one Lieutenant Yamamoto, on a private channel, I'll get you a bottle of Earth Brandy."

He smiled. "Deal..."

A few moments later, Lt. Yamamoto's face showed up on the monitor by Shia Has's command chair. "Yamamoto here... Ah, Shia Has! What can I do for you?"

"As the acting-Commodore of the Raalgon contingent, I'd like to be able to speak with Tylor about delaying action until Captain Dom gets here. He seems to be avoiding me, however."

Yamamoto hesitated. "Tylor isn't seeing anyone right now. He's... not his usual self."

"Yes, we'd heard that Tylor's woman was caught in a bomb blast."

Yamamoto nodded, hesitating. "Your intel probably knows this already, but even if it doesn't I doubt I'll be giving away many state secrets. There's also a rumor," he informed her, "That Yuriko was pregnant with Tylor's child. Emphasis on WAS."

Shia Has gasped. If true, the Tylor Problem was even worse than expected. "It's still just a rumor, right?"

"So far, we've been trying to confirm or deny it as best as we can without directly confronting Tylor or Yuriko about it. I took the liberty of secretly contacting Admiral Mifune, and he informed me Tylor initially rejected this assignment by saying that Yuriko was pregnant... we haven't heard anything about SINCE the bombing, however, and the hospital refuses to release information about patients under their care.... The answer to your question is, yes, it is just a rumor- partially confirmed by Tylor himself, but still just a rumor, since he's not exactly known for always telling the truth. But... well, I seriously doubt Tylor would act this way if it WASN'T a rumor."

Shia Has shook her head. She'd been hoping that, if Dom didn't arrive in time, she could deal with Tylor until he caught up. This information, though, seemed to ruin that hope. "Damn. Now it's even more important that we keep the fleet here until Dom arrives, because he's carrying the Empress, and they were planning to keep an eye on Tylor and make sure he didn't flip out. Is there any way that you-"

Yamamoto glanced behind him quickly when a sudden jumble of noises erupted. "I've got to go. Tylor just returned on deck..."

"Wait!" It was too late- the transmission was cut. Shia Has sighed.

"Ma'am," her communications officer said. "Message from the Tsunami. Await telemetry- orders are being sent. Move out in five minutes."

Shia Has shook her head. "Damn again. Okay, send those orders down to my cabin for review. In the meantime, prepare a message buoy, and code it for the Doraeme. I have a little bit of intel on the Earth Force that the Empress will probably be interested in. Five minutes, huh? I'll have the message for you in four."

"Aye, aye, ma'am."

"And remind me to get that bottle of brandy for you tomorrow."

"Aye, aye, ma'am."

* * * * *

"He left without us," Azalyn said sadly.

Dom nodded. "I feared as much."

"Captain Dom, sir," another officer said. "I'm picking up telemetry from a message buoy coded for us from the Intrepid. Should we send a shuttle to pick it up?"

"Of course- proceed."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Your protege left a message for us?" Azalyn asked.

"Probably letting us know what her orders were so that we can join them quickly. She should be able to handle Tylor until we get there."

"I hope so.... How bad do you think it will be?"

Dom shrugged. "Well, Yuriko wasn't severely injured, from what we've heard. He's probably a little shocked at what happened, but in a short while he'll probably recover and be his normal self. How long that will take, I don't know... and for that time, I suspect he'll demonstrate symptoms of paranoia, though how those symptoms will manifest themselves I am unsure."

Azalyn looked at Dom oddly. "You sound like a psychologist."

"One way to be a good leader knows a little bit of everything. It allows him to understand anyone under their command, whatever their specialty, and it makes him sound more intelligent. A sign of a bad leader is to only FAKE knowing what you talk about." Dom shook his head. "I am not a psychologist, but in all modesty I believe myself to be a good leader, so perhaps I may sound like one if I am in a position where I need to act as one."

Azalyn frowned. "Hmm... there's a lot of stuff I don't know. Am I a good leader or a bad one?"

Dom hesitated. "You may not know a little bit of everything, but you do know how to ask the right questions at the right times, which can be even better if you ask them to the right people. You're a little naive, but outside of that you are a good leader."

"Naive?" Azalyn said, a little bit of her royal indignation rising in her voice. "I'm naive? What do you mean by that?"

"I'm merely thinking of how Wang manipulated you into starting the war with Earth, my Empress," Dom soothed. "That was not your best day, by far."

"That, I'll agree with," Azalyn agreed. "However... there were some good things that came out of that day."

"Oh?"

"Yeah."

"What was it that happened to you that day that you remember so fondly?" Dom asked, smiling.

"Well... that was the day that-"

"Captain Dom, sir, we have finished- oops," a messenger began, not noticing that Azalyn was even there until after he had begun. Bowing down, he began apologizing profusely. "My Empress, I am terribly sorry for interrupting your discussion. Please, continue."

Azalyn shook her head. "No- ship's business must come before personal discussions, even if I am the one having that personal discussion. As it also comes before protocol- arise, and give us your message."

"Thank you, my Empress," the man said, straightening up slightly but continuing much more reverently. "Captain Dom, sir, the message buoy has been retrieved, and here is the data cube. Your fingerprint is required to activate it..."

Dom nodded, walking over to a nearby monitor. "Come, Empress. This report may interest you, as well... and if you are to act as the first officer, you should know our destination."

"Of course, Captain Dom."

Shia Has's face appeared on the screen in front of them, looking a little haggard.

"I don't have long to record this message- we're supposed to be moving out in a couple of minutes. We haven't been given our orders yet, just a new destination where we're to receive a second set of orders. Tylor doesn't appear to trust all the captains in the task force, considering how little information he gave us with these orders. Furthermore, he gave us strict instructions NOT to divulge the co-ordinates that he gave us... for that reason, you are on your own in trying to find us, for the moment. I'm also supposed to maintain radio silence, but this message technically does not violate that order as it is not generating a radio signal."

"I did not expect him to order that," Dom said under his breath.

"You may be wondering why I'm bothering to leave this message, if I can't even tell you where to go. Well, I have some information regarding Tylor's current motivations. What I am about to say is rumor, but a portion of it has been confirmed by Tylor himself to his superior officers."

"Did our intelligence force miss something important?" Azalyn asked.

"I suspect you are listening in, too, Empress. If you are, you may not like what the news I am about to give you. Through somewhat reliable sources, we have learned that Yuriko Star was pregnant with Tylor's child at the time of the explosion, and that she may have lost the baby in the terrorist attack."

"Dear god..." Dom and Azalyn both whispered.

"That is all I have time to report at the moment. I will do my best to handle the situation from this end, but the sooner you can find us and provide support the better."

The screen went blank. Dom turned to a downcast Azalyn.

"My Empress, if this information is correct, than the situation has just gotten worse."

Azalyn's hair had fallen to cover her eyes. "Dom," she said without looking up. "I'm afraid. We have to find Tylor, and find him now. I need to talk to him."

Dom nodded. "I shall start the search immediately, my Empress."

Chapter 5

The seven ships had rendezvoused again, and Tylor was still in his chair, ready to give more orders.

"Open a channel to all ships," he said.

"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Kim replied, flipping a few switches efficiently. "Channel open."

"The blackout period is ended for one hour," Tylor began. "From here on out, you are ordered to maintain a communications blackout for twenty-three of twenty-four hours. All transmissions during that one hour period must be triply encoded, and no ship is permitted to divulge its co-ordinates or future destination to anyone. These are admiralty orders, not mine. I did my best to get you all that one hour. Use it wisely- that is all."

Lieutenant Kim cut the transmission, and then turned her attention back on Tylor. "Receiving acknowledgments from all ships, sir."

Tylor nodded. "Good," he said, standing up. He walked over to her console and deposited seven data cards. "Just before our hour is up, transmit these orders to the squadron. I'll be back shortly."

Kim hesitated. "No need to rush, sir- you've been up twenty-three hours a day since we left, and that can't be good. Yamamoto's not the same sort of person you are, but he's capable of running the ship in off-hours enough to let you sleep a bit longer."

Tylor shook his head. "I'm fine- got used to weeks on end with an hour or less of sleep back in college. I couldn't sleep easily for the first three weeks I was there- either I was at a party, or throwing a party, or a party was being held so close by that it kept me up all night. I'll be fine for a while yet."

"If you say so, sir," Kim answered uncertainly.

"If an emergency comes up, I'll be in my cabin. See you in an hour!" Tylor said, waving as he left the door.

Kim clicked a certain button on her console. "Did you guys catch all that?" she whispered.

"Yes, we did," Harumi's voice answered quietly. "I don't THINK human metabolism allows such a degree sleep deprivation for as prolonged a period as Tylor's gone through without SOME form of physical manifestation, but I'm not entirely sure. I certainly have no idea how he can be staying awake and alert as long as he is..."

The doctor's voice chimed in. "Harumi's right- it SHOULDN'T be possible for Tylor to act as he does right now. I'm not a psychiatrist, though, so I don't know if there's some sort of psychological effect that allows a person to remain conscious for an extended period of time which might be effecting him. There is one other possibility, but... I hesitate to accuse him of something like that here."

"Whatever it is," Yamamoto's voice interrupted. "We'd better find out... this isn't healthy."

The Doctor's voice returned. "I'll try and get him down for a physical in a couple of days, and that should reveal whatever it is."

"Good," Yamamoto replied. "Until then, everyone, remember: Keep an eye on Tylor, and make sure he doesn't become a danger, either to himself or to us."

Down in his cabin, Tylor sighed, putting away the freshly used bottle of stims. Again, they had wore off much more rapidly than they had before- he'd almost collapsed before he could give himself the injection. He didn't have time to worry about that, however- Yuriko was waiting for his call....

* * * * *

Dom and Azalyn continued to stare at the intelligence data that they were carrying, trying to discern some pattern which they could use to guess what both the terrorists and Tylor's next move would be. They were having problems, though, because they had no idea what Tylor himself knew.

Dom shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly. "We've cut it to twelve possibilities, but without that intelligence from Earth, there's no way to narrow it down any further."

Azalyn yawned and stretched, standing up. "I'm going to head down to the mess hall and get a snack. Do you want anything?"

"Coffee. Earth coffee. Not the imitation stuff we produce- it's never the same. Black."

Azalyn perked up a little. "You drink coffee? I didn't know that..."

Dom allowed himself a slight smile. "Only Earth coffee- the stuff we make tastes like boiled mud. Since we didn't meet until the start of the war, and coffee was illegal contraband during that time, I couldn't indulge myself. Now that we have peace, however, I'm an avid drinker."

Azalyn shook her head as she started to leave. "I'm sorry I didn't know that! My father obsessed over coffee, and when he died we still had two warehouses full of his private stock of Earth coffee in storage. I don't like drinking it myself, but the aroma when someone else drinks it is delightful and reminds me of him. I would have let you have access to those warehouses if I'd known."

Dom smiled sadly at her retreating back. "My failure to inform you was my loss, my Empress," he said. Once he was sure she was out of earshot, he finished with, "And not just about the coffee."

After a few seconds of contemplation on what might have been, he returned to sorting through the data he had, trying to guess exactly what moves Tylor might make, given what he knew of him. A few minutes later, a messenger arrived.

"Captain Dom, sir! I have a pair of messages to deliver. May I ask where the Empress Azalyn is?"

"In the mess hall," he answered, not looking from his computer terminal. "She'll be back in a minute or two."

"There's an encoded message for you from Shia Has, and a privately coded personal message for the Empress."

Dom turned to the messenger. "A message from Shia Has? They must have broken radio silence. Give them to me- I'll make sure the Empress gets it. Carry on."

The messenger nodded, handing Dom the two message chips. "Aye, aye, sir," and then left. A moment later, Azalyn returned carrying a cup of coffee, a sandwich, and a plate full of cookies and candies.

Dom smiled slightly at her return, putting the first chip into the computer receptacle. "Ah, just in time, my Empress. Radio silence has been broken, apparently- we received a message from Shia Has, and I was just about to view it." He handed her the other chip. "Also, a personal message arrived for you."

Azalyn blinked. "A personal message? From whom?"

Dom shrugged. "It was privately encoded."

Azalyn looked at the chip curiously. "I can't imagine who it would be from. Oh, well... I'll look at it later. Maybe Shia Has's message will tell us how to find Tylor."

"I sincerely hope so," Dom replied, activating the chip.

Shia Has's face appeared on the screen. "Greetings, Captain Dom- this will be a short message. I suspect the information you most want is where we are and where we are going, but I'm afraid that is impossible. Captain Tylor has ordered that, while we may break radio silence for one hour a day, we must encode all of our messages and messages must not contain any information related to our movements. However, I can tell you I will not be with Tylor much longer- he's splitting the task force up into four groups to cover more territory, though we haven't received our orders yet. I will try and send more information at a later time, but I figured I should send you this brief update while I had some opportunity."

The screen blanked. "Well," Dom said. "It appears that we are on our own."

"Now what are we going to do?" Azalyn dispaired.

"Actually," Dom said. "The information in Shia Has's message helps. We've cut the number of possibilities down to twelve, and now we know that we know they're splitting up into four groups instead of moving as one group, we have better chances at our worst case scenario: we can just try one of the twelve sites at random, and we'll have a decent chance of running into one of the task force ships. Then we can follow that ship to wherever the next rendezvous is, and we'll have found Tylor in no time."

Azalyn looked relieved. "Well, let's try to make those chances better, okay?"

Dom nodded, but then looked at her. "What about your message?"

Azalyn looked at the message chip in her hand. "I forgot! Oh, well... it can wait until later. We really only have about an hour before we have to choose a spot or else we'll risk missing them at the rendezvous... I'll check my message after we've started moving."

Dom nodded again. "Very good, my Empress."

* * * * *

Yuriko shifted uncomfortably as she talked with Tylor. Sure, he SEEMED all right, but there was an edge to his voice that wasn't normal. It had been there for the past several days, and it scared her.

Suddenly he asked a question that knocked her out of her reverie.

"Yuriko, do... do you still love me?" he asked hesitantly.

"Wh- what?!" Yuriko cried, startled.

"You seem distracted, and-"

"What does that have to do with anything? Why in the world would you think that I don't still love you?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Tylor said, his voice trembling. "I never proposed to you, even though I knew you wanted to marry me. I wasn't there when the bomb went off and you needed me- I only showed up after it was too late to do anything about it. Then, instead of taking care of you, I left you to go off on this terrorist-hunting crusade... oh, god, you must hate me!" Tears were starting to drip down his cheek.

Yuriko panicked. What had brought this on? Just a little distracted thought during their conversation? There had to be more to it than this- he was acting extremely paranoid, which she KNEW he wasn't usually. She took a deep breath, hoping to calm herself enough so that she could comfort him without making a mistake, and then answered him.

"Tylor, please listen to me. I don't hate you. It would take a lot to make me hate you- after all, I didn't fall in love with you until after I saw you at your most annoying, and it didn't stop me. I did- and do- want to marry you, but I know that marriage isn't your sort of thing, even if you ARE committed to me. And you think I hate you for not being there when the bomb went off? I'm GLAD you weren't there- if you had been, you might have been hurt or even killed. And I know WHY you left me to go after the terrorists, so of course I don't hate you for that. Believe me in this, Captain- I love you."

Tylor shook his head. "Why? Why would you love me?"

Yuriko opened her mouth and closed it a few times. "Tylor, there are so many reasons I couldn't list them all."

"Then name one."

Yuriko tried desperately to think of just one reason she could give him. True, she could list a number of reasons, but none of them were satisfactory for an answer. She loved him for his sense of humor, but that same sense of humor also had angered her so often that he probably wouldn't believe her if she mentioned it. She loved him for his courage, but probably even he didn't realize how much courage he had- it had taken her an entire war to learn of it herself. She could mention that she loved him for how good he was in bed, but that would seem so shallow she feared it would disgust him. What could she answer?

"Captain, I don't know of any answer that would satisfy you," she finally said. "Anything I would say either wouldn't make sense or wouldn't seem enough. I'm sorry... but just because I can't name a reason why I love you doesn't mean that I don't love you- I do, more than I think you could imagine. And that's not about to change any time soon."

Tylor seemed to slump back into his chair. "If you'd been able to name one, I would have known you were lying. Now, I know you're not...."

Yuriko was happy that she'd seemed to call him, but now she wondered what the hell had brought that on. "Tylor, something beyond my being a little distracted brought this on. Why are you acting so-"

A loud beeping interrupted her. "Uh, oh, Yuriko. You know what that means..."

Yuriko sighed- yes, she did. That sound meant they had only thirty seconds before they had to disconnect. She'd have to find out the next time he called. "Goodnight, Tylor. Talk to you tomorrow. Remember that I love you."

"Goodnight, Yuriko.... I love you, too."

The screen went blank.

Yuriko shook her head. "There's something really wrong about him- I need to talk to someone. But who?"

* * * * *

Ensign Kojiro, the ace pilot who had managed to earn a reputation as a combat veteran despite the fact that the ship he was on almost never fought a normal battle, was performing the usual daily inspection of his fighter when the two most terrifying people he had ever met appeared out of nowhere to stand less than six inches in front of him.

"Hi, Ensign Kojiro! How are you today?" Yumi and Emi chirped.

"Ack! Get away!" he floundered, stumbling back. Then he recovered slightly- he was trying to be nicer to them, so he shouldn't get so upset when they showed up like that. "Uh, I mean, um, I'm fine, I think. And you?"

Yumi and Emi smiled happily. "Oh, we're fine." they giggled, answering together. Then Yumi looked at him with some worry. "Ensign Kojiro, what happened to that doll we gave you?"

"We worked so hard on it for you," Emi explained.

"And we always used to be so happy seeing it hanging in your cockpit," Yumi added.

"So we were wondering why it was no longer there." Emi finished.

"Right?" they chorused, a little sadly.

"Oh, that," Kojiro laughed nervously. "I'm sorry- it was destroyed in that test plane crash I was involved with during the war."

"Oh!" the twins said, blinking at each other.

"Well, then," Yumi said.

"We'll just have to make a new one for you!" Emi continued.

"Right!?" They chorused, much more enthusiastically than before.

As they ran out the door, Kojiro called, "Wait! You don't have to... do... that." He sighed. They were gone before he could finish his sentence. Oh, well- he wouldn't mind having a replacement for that little plushie version of him they had made before. Until it had been burned up in the crash, he had liked that little good luck charm.

He finished up his inspection, and then turned his attention to the girls' fighters. Maybe he was trying to be nicer to them, but that didn't mean he trusted them to conduct all of their own safety checks- they were, after all, the ditziest pair of people he'd ever met... though if he could get over his fear of girls, he might even think they were kind of cute. Okay, very cute... still, that cuteness just made them even more terrifying.

Not finding anything wrong, he left the fighter bay and bumped into Captain Tylor- literally.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Captain!" Kojiro said, offering a hand to help him up. "Are you okay?"

Tylor glared at him suspiciously. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Tell me, why, exactly, were you in there? You weren't sabotaging the fighters, were you?"

Kojiro stared, shocked. Sure, Tylor joked a lot, but that sure didn't sound like one of his usual jokes. Maybe there really WAS something to this rumor of Tylor being affected strangely by the terrorist attack on Yuriko.

"Of course not!" Kojiro sputtered. "Why would I do that? It would be suicide- I'm the one who has to fly those fighters most of the time, you know. I was just completing my daily inspection."

Tylor coughed. "Of course he was- what was I thinking?" he muttered to himself. Then he perked up a little, putting on the smile he usually wore. "Of course you were- I was just joking, of course. Yeah, just joking. Of course I was just joking- I wouldn't be serious, would I? No, of course not." With that, he seemed to stagger away drunkenly, muttering the occasional 'of course.'

Kojiro stared after him, a look of horror etched on his face. "Was that really Captain Tylor? I've got to tell the others about this...."

* * * * *

Admiral Mifune growled at the papers he'd received. The terrorists had been totally silent since he'd sent out the task force- not just the ones attacking Earth forces, but the ones attacking Raalgon forces, as well. That meant either the terrorists heard of the task force and gave up before the action started, or... or it meant that they were planning something big. Very big.

The intercom on his desk beeped. He pressed the acknowledgment button, and his secretary's face showed on the screen.

"Excuse me, sir," she said, "But you've got a call from a... Commander Yuriko Star, asking if she can talk with you privately for a moment. Should I put her through?"

Mifune shrugged- he was doing nothing that demanded his immediate attention. He could take a call from a worried serviceman's lover, no problem. "Sure. Transfer her here."

"Aye, aye, sir," the secretary said. His screen blanked for a second before Commander Star's face showed up on the screen.

"Admiral Mifune, sir!" Yuriko said, saluting with the wrong hand. Over the video transmission, the Admiral could see she was still suffering from the injuries received during the bomb blast- bandages were still covering a cut on her forehead, and there were a couple IVs stuck in the arm she was supposed to salute with.

Mifune waved it off. "As you were. How are the injuries?"

Yuriko shrugged. "They aren't painful any more, sir, just annoying- I don't know why I have to stay here." That last bit was said a little bitterly.

Mifune laughed. "Don't worry, Commander Star- I'm sure the doctors are just thinking of what's best for you. Now, why are you calling? I'm a busy man, but I've got a couple minutes."

Yuriko hesitated. "It's about Captain Tylor, sir..."

Mifune nodded. Of course it was- just like he thought, she was worried about her lovers well-being. He'd gotten thousands of calls like this in his career. For once, he could give someone some good news. "I'm fairly certain he's okay, Commander Star. You don't have to worry. Why, he hasn't been in action once since he left port!"

Yuriko nodded. "Yes, I know. I know that, physically, he's just fine. What I'm worried about, though, is his mental state. He and I have been communicating daily since he left port... when we last talked, he seemed... I don't know, a little paranoid? I was wondering if it was possible to send someone to check him out, and make sure he's fine, psychologically..."

Mifune frowned. Maybe he'd grown to respect Tylor's ability to get the job done (maybe not the RIGHT job done, necessarily, but get it done, nevertheless), but he'd ALWAYS thought he needed psychological help, regardless. Still, if the woman who knew Tylor best said that he was acting strange, maybe there was something to that.

"Well, I'm afraid that there's nothing I can do for you right now. However... in one week, we're supposed to send a supply ship, a ship tender, and an escort to repair his squadron's ships. I might be able to join that relief force and talk with him, if I'm not too busy. If he IS having problems, I might consider stationing a ships counselor on board the Tsunami to help him out."

Yuriko smiled, relieved. "Thank you, sir. I'll leave you to your work.... Oh, and, Admiral, sir?"

"Yes?" Mifune said.

"If you DO decide to place a ships counselor about Tylor's ship... make sure that counselor is a MALE, okay?"

Mifune laughed. He never understood why the girls were attracted to Tylor (though obviously they were- not only had he captured the beautiful Commander Star, but he'd also managed to get a android spy to feel human enough to betray her programming for him, and if that wasn't enough he'd ALSO managed to get the Empress of the Raalgon to offer her surrender in order to protect the man... and those were just the women he knew about), but they were. And this particular girl who was attracted to Tylor would probably be a little bit jealous if he were to give another girl a chance to fall for Tylor.

"I'll consider it, Commander Star. Now, are you satisfied?"

"Yes, sir," Yuriko answered sheepishly.

"Good. Now, rest up- if Tylor's paranoid, it's probably because he's worried about you. Besides, you need your sleep for the baby."

"Admiral!" Yuriko cried, scandalized. "How did you know about the baby?"

"Tylor mentioned it, of course. Now, get some sleep! That's an order."

"And I wanted to surprise everyone with printed baby announcements, too," she pouted. "Oh, well. Thank you, Admiral."

The screen went blank, and Mifune chuckled. "Poor girl," he said, shaking his head. "That's what you get for falling in love with Tylor." That said, he went back to his papers, feeling a little happier for the day.

* * * * *

Dom sighed. "Well, we cut it down to the seven most likely possibilities, but we're out of time. So, my Empress, which location would you go, if you were Tylor?"

Azalyn looked at the sites listed, and pointed. "Earth Colony Station 535. It's got the largest number of people on it- he'd want it protected more than any of the others."

Dom nodded. "Makes about as much sense as anything else we could decide. I'd probably have picked it for the same reason, myself. I'll go tell the navigators where to go."

Azalyn nodded. "I'll come with you."

Dom shook his head. "Why don't you see what's on that private message first, my Empress? It might be good news...."

Azalyn slapped her forehead. "Of course- the message! I totally forgot about it. Thank you, Dom. I'll join you on the bridge in a moment."

Dom nodded and left. Azalyn pulled out the chip and placed it in the computer receptacle. A picture of a handsome blond she remembered quite well from her past flashed on the screen.

"Hello, Azalyn," the man said.

Azalyn's jaw dropped in shock. "Him!" she cried.

Chapter 6

Tylor watched as the last pair of ships in his squadron headed off to their patrol with a sigh. Each pair had been a Raalgon ship with an Earth ship to accompany it. The whole process of organizing and moving out the six ships had taken a full hour, but finally it was the Tsunami's turn.

"Okay... now for our move. Lt. Katori, is the course plotted in?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good," Tylor said. "Then engage the jump drive- destination, one hour's conventional drive travel from Earth Colony Station 535. The first patrol is about to start." The destination had been chosen to provide a 'safe' distance from the colony, as hyperspatial jumps were never very accurate. Usually, they were making jumps in such haste that there was no pre-planned destination, so usually such calculations were impossible, but now that they were finally given enough time to worry about it Tylor felt compelled to remind Katori that he needn't get them too close to the orbital platform that served as an away base for an Earth Colony still terraforming its future destination.

"Aye, aye, sir," Katori replied. He pressed a button on the navigation console, and the generators producing the energy field that signalled the Hyperspace Transit System's activation began to hum. With a small lurch, the ship vaulted into the field.

Hyperspatial jumps took some time, but fortunately it was a short jump and it only took a half hour to arrive at their destination. When they got there, they immediately noticed something was wrong.

Tylor blinked, looking out the giant bridge windows. "Is that... weapons fire?" he asked.

Katori checked the instruments on his console. "Yes, sir. Registering particle beam fire, directed at the colony. Given the limited amount of particle debris, I'd say that the battle has just begun."

"Who's fighting who?" Yamamoto asked absently.

"It looks like there are a grand total of four Earth destroyers and twenty three fighters engaging the colony. The Colony's barrier is holding for the moment, but the constant bombardment will knock it down in about an hour."

"Earth destroyers?" Tylor asked cautiously. "Which ones?"

"Checking their registration, sir," Katori replied. "Hmm... all four were supposed to have been mothballed at the end of the war with the Raalgon. There's the Moskva, the Bolivar, the Avenger, and the Kalu. All four are at least twenty years old, but then the Soyokaze was fourty when you took command of her, and this ship is fifteen. The fighters all appear to be Shinryuu class- slower than anything we've got, but able to take more of a pounding than the Ranpu's that the twins are now flying. We do have that one Ganryu class fighter of Kojiro's, though, which is as good as about five of them."

"The terrorists," Tylor said simply.

Yamamoto's eyes widened. "Eh? They were already here?!"

"Go to general quarters," Tylor ordered. "Have they spotted us yes?"

"I don't think so, sir, but it's hard to tell. They may just be ignoring us until we're in range."

Tylor nodded. "Lieutenant Kim!"

"Yes, sir?" she asked hesitantly. Everyone almost groaned when they heard him address the communications officer. Tylor hated making surprise attacks- he was sure to do as he always did and warn the enemy of their approach, making the job ten times harder.

"Can you tap into their communications network and find out whether they have sighted us yet or not?"

A slight murmur arose from the bridge crew as they looked at their captain in wonder. Tylor not revealing their position? That meant he wasn't going to attack, didn't it?

"Uh... um," Kim stuttered, not expecting that question. "Checking!" She adjusted a few knobs, and tried a few things before shaking her head. "Sorry, sir, no can do. The enemy has set up enough jamming devices to block any message the colony might send, and if the base isn't able to break through their jamming, we sure aren't going to be able to break through it enough to intercept ship-to-ship transmissions."

"Damn!" Tylor cursed, bringing more stares and more murmurs his direction. "Well, we don't have a choice- whether they know we're here or not, we have to stop them. I can't let the terrorists hurt anyone else. Start moving in. Put the marines and the fighter pilots on standby- we'll need them soon enough. I'd say we should contact the rest of the task force, but we can't risk breaking radio silence on the off chance that the enemy doesn't know we're here."

Kim hesitated. Hoping to comfort Tylor, she added, "It wouldn't matter if we wanted to, sir. The jamming is so strong we wouldn't be able to reach anyone if we tried."

Tylor nodded. "Then it's up to us. Katori, take us in. Charge the barrier, but don't bring it up until we're within firing range- again, we don't want to risk letting the enemy know we're here." He hesitated. "Yamamoto, report to my stateroom. I'm going to brief you on something. Katori, you have command while I'm gone. I'll be back in ten minutes, but if ANYTHING happens that I should know about call me right away."

Katori nodded. "Yes, sir," he said.

Of them all, Katori was the least phased by Tylor's unexpected decisions. When Tylor and Yamamoto left, Kim turned to him with a stunned look on her face.

"What's with you? Haven't you noticed how strange the captain's acting?"

Katori nodded. "Of course I have, but I'm not letting it affect my job. As I said before, it doesn't matter who the captain is- I'm still one of the best navigators in the fleet, and will do my job irregardless."

"But... doesn't this affect you at all?"

Katori didn't say anything for a moment. "Well... it IS taking all my Buddhist training not to scream to the captain at the top of my lungs 'Who are you and what have you done with the real Tylor?'"

* * * * *

The two twins stopped Ensign Kojiro just before he got into his fighter.

"Ensign Kojiro, sir!" they called.

Hesitantly, he turned around. "What is it? We're about to head into battle."

"We know that," Yumi said.

"But we figured you might want this, first," Emi continued.

"Right!?" the asked each other as they offered a brand new plush Kojiro doll to Kojiro.

Kojiro nearly had to blink away a tear, quite touched in spite of himself. "How did you finish this so quickly?"

"Oh, we knew how important it was to you," Emi started.

"So we spent the last hour and a half making it for you," Yumi continued.

"And we finished it just in time," Emi concluded.

"Right!?" the chirped to each other, giggling.

Kojiro shook his head. "Girls, I..." He frowned. This terrorist force was much larger than anyone on the ship had suspected it would be- four destroyers and a virtual swarm of fighters. It would be dangerous anywhere, but the fighters weren't shielded, and so the risk would be much greater for him and the girls... IF they all went out for battle. "Are you sure you two are ready for this? If it comes to a battle, this'll be our biggest combat mission ever. We'll be heavily outnumbered, and you'll have to rely on your speed to outwit the enemy's bulk. You can sit this one out, and we can get two of the other pilots to take over for you..."

They looked at Kojiro sadly. "Don't you think we can do this?" Yumi asked, biting her lower lip and nearly tearing up.

"Aren't we good enough for you?" Emi questioned, mimicking her sister's pose.

"Flying's all we ever wanted to do!" Yumi wailed.

"We've worked REAL hard at it!" Emi wailed.

"Ack!" Kojiro panicked. He couldn't take the assault from both of them at once. "I won't stop you! You're both great pilots- you'll do a good job... but please, stop crying!"

At once, both twins immediately became their usual bouncy selves. "Oh, thank you, Ensign Kojiro, sir!" Yumi cried, running up and hugging him so hard he squawked.

Not to be outdone, Emi ran up and hugged him as well. "We promise we won't let you down, Ensign Kojiro, sir!"

Turning their heads towards each other, but refusing to let go of the poor, girl-shy fighter ace, they crowed their usual confirmatory phrase at each other- "Right?!"

With the danger of the upcoming mission still in his mind, he almost managed to avoid screaming in terror... almost.

* * * * *

Tylor entered his room first, checking to make one hundred percent certain that he had put away the stims. Once he was sure of that, he let Yamamoto into his room before shutting and locking the door behind him.

Yamamoto looked concerned. Why had he been dragged to Tylor's personal quarters at a time like this?

"Captain," he said. "Why did you bring me here right before such an important battle? What is going on?"

Tylor sighed, then walked over to his desk. Using a key to unlock a small thin drawer, he pulled out a memory chip and handed it to his first officer.

"I didn't want to give this out, but now that the battle's approaching, I suspect it is rather important that someone on this ship other than me have that piece of information, just in case something... happens."

Yamamoto blinked. "What is it?"

"A copy of the compiled set of intelligence data that the Earth has discovered. It is important that it not be given out indescriminately, because if the wrong people learn about what intelligence we have on them, then certain other people who are loyal to Earth will be killed for passing data on to us. Some of this stuff will seem rather silly to keep secret, but it's highly important that it REMAINS secret. Do you understand?"

Yamamoto nodded. "Of course, sir."

Tylor took a deep breath and nodded. "Good. There is one other reason I asked you down here, though."

"Oh?"

Tylor nodded. "Yes. Yamamoto... if I... well, if something happens to me, will you please let Yuriko know and look after her for me? It would be much better for her if the news were to come from a friend, and it will be a trying time for her with my gone...."

Yamamoto stared Tylor straight in the eyes. Even with his recent surge of... well, discipline, Yamamoto had never heard his captain seem so responsible as he did right then. Looking out for Yuriko was something he would have wanted to do, anyway, and the captain begging him to do this made it seem all the more important.

With a firm nod of his head, Yamamoto agreed. "I would be highly honored, Captain."

Tylor sighed, relaxing a little. "Good. Now, let's get up to the bridge before the action starts, shall we?"

"Aye, aye, Captain."

* * * * *

"Everyone ready to kick some terrorist butt?" Andersson asked his company of marines as he took his seat in the cockpit of the Marine transport.

"Hell, yeah!" Master Sergeant Cryburn answered from the cockpit of his Marine Mecha. "I've been waiting for some good action since the end of the war- FINALLY, we can get some!"

"This'll be tougher than the usual mission," Andersson cautioned. "We'll be heavily outnumbered, and the enemy is likely to have their own set of marines- not just the Raalgon footsoldiers we're used to dealing with, but Marine Mecha."

Cryburn snorted. "Please- we've taken on the Melba with no problem, we broke out of Earth's strongest military prison and rescued Captain Tylor, we can take these ninnies!"

Andersson thought for a moment. "Maybe I should take my own mecha this time- it's been a while since I did anything but pilot this tub. I want to be part of the action this time."

"Bah! We aren't gonna need your help against this bunch of idiots. We can handle them."

Suddenly, Luitenant Kim's voice came over the transport's loudspeaker.

"Attention, Marines," she said. "Time to launch. Remember- conceal your engine signatures as long as possible. Also, you must time your strike for EXACTLY twenty-one minutes from now. The Tsunami will be in firing range, and once we are we'll start shooting. If you wait too long, the enemy ships will have their barriers up and you won't be able to board. If you move too soon, you'll be unsupported. Do you understand?"

Cryburn growled. "Why does she keep telling us what we already know? Andersson, let me talk to her."

Andersson shook his head. "Lt. Kim, don't worry about us. We know our job," he said. "Ready to launch."

"Confirmed," Kim said. "This is the last communication we'll be able to send until we destroy whatever's jamming our transmission. The bay door is opening- you may proceed. Good luck."

Andersson nodded. "Okay, men, we're off. Let's go!"

The marines cheered as their transport left the Tsunami's fighter bay. The action was about to begin.

* * * * *

"Are you ready to launch?" Kim's voice broke into the cockpit of Ensign Kojiro's Ganryu class fighter.

"Um," Kojiro stuttered. He was in the middle of tying his replacement gift from the twins to his control board, and couldn't really take off right then. "I'm, uh, completing some last-minute adjustments to the cockpit. Should be ready to go in under a minute, however."

"That's okay, we've got a few minutes. Don't rush those safety checks," Kim said. "Remember, though- you can't take off the usual way- we'll be giving you a push-start to mask your engine signature until the last minute, and you should allow your forward momentum to carry you until we reach the combat zone. Do you understand?"

Kojiro finished tying the plushie to the pilot's stick and then strapped himself in. "Understood- don't fire the engines to the last moment. Ready for takeoff."

"This is the last communication any of us will be able to make until we destroy the jamming device. Good luck."

Kojiro looked to his left, where Yumi was flashing a victory sign his way. Then he looked to his right, where Emi was doing the same. "Good luck, you two," he whispered.

* * * * *

"Kojiro and the twins are off, sir. Confirmations coming from engineering and weapons control that our weapons and defenses are charged and ready. The marines are off our scanners, but at last check were on schedule," Kim reported.

Tylor nodded. "Good. Time until we're within range?"

"Six minutes," Katori said. "Attempting to form a lock on the enemy destroyers weak points with passive scanners, but it will be difficult."

Tylor shook his head. "Belay that. Target the fighters."

Katori turned to him. "Sir?"

"Our fighters have orders to strafe the enemy destroyers before turning to face the enemy fighters. Our marines are going to try and board the one destroyer they're likely to miss. We can't fire on them until they're clear, so we'll target the enemy fighters until Kojiro and the twins have completed their first pass."

For some reason, it bugged most of the bridge crew that what Tylor was saying made sense.

Yamamoto coughed. "Time?"

"Four minutes, thirty seconds until we're within range," Katori noted.

"Is there any indication that they may have spotted us?" Tylor asked.

Katori shook his head. "They still haven't raised their barriers. They seem to be concentrating on the Colony. It may be that their communication scrambling device is masking our presence."

"Don't count on it," Tylor said under his breath. "We need to hope that they aren't playing possum. How is the Colony?"

Katori shook his head. "The barrier is holding, but won't for long." He sighed. "Who's the idiot who designed that defensive system? A barrier strong enough to withstand a barrage like that, but no weapons to counter-attack with?"

"It did have one," Tylor noted. "The reason I picked this location as our own was because someone had sabatoged this base a few weeks ago- there used to be a fighter bay, but that section was ejected when an alert warned that it was about to explode and take the station with it. Left them utterly defenseless except for the barrier."

Yamamoto blinked. "Then why was there any doubt that this was going to be a terrorist target?"

"There has been a rash of sabateurs striking against these outer rim stations lately. This was the biggest target of them, though- fifty thousand men and women, all waiting for their future home planet to be terraformed."

Kim gasped. "Fifty thousand? But... why? I mean, they're civilians- why would the terrorists attack a place like this? It makes no sense!"

"Because all terrorists are cowards!" Tylor growled, startling Kim. "They strike at innocent targets which cannot defend themselves, merely to scare other civilians into helping and protecting them in order to keep the terrorists from treating them the same way. They're obsessed with making their point, and they don't care who they hurt along the way, but they're too scared to face off against the regular military."

Even Katori seemed a little shocked. Sure, since he'd come aboard, he'd seemed a little... testier, and sterner, and more serious... but that was pure, unadulterated anger in his voice just them. Tylor was... angry? No, worse than angry... Tylor was furious.

A beeping brought Katori's attention back to his monitors. "Two minutes, Captain. No change in the enemy's defenses."

Tylor nodded. "Everyone... prepare yourselves."

* * * * *

Dom turned as Azalyn arrived on the bridge.

"Ah, you're finally here," Dom said, a smile accompanying the gentle admonishment in his voice. "It's not befitting the first officer of a ship to be late, you know... what was the message you recieved?"

Azalyn looked at Dom with a somewhat shellshocked expression on her face. "In two weeks, I will need you to take me to a rendezvous with... a former enemy, to discuss matters of state under a flag of truce."

"My empress?" Dom said, a little stunned. "Which former enemy, may I ask, are we going to be meeting?"

Azalyn shook her head sadly. "I would like to tell you, Dom... but I'm afraid of how you would react. Just trust me on this, though- I know what I'm doing."

Dom blinked. "My Empress, I will always trust you to make the right decision. But can you not trust me?"

Azalyn looked at him with tears in her eyes. "Not after the last time you met this man, no..."

Dom wondered. It couldn't be Tylor- true, he had behaved poorly after the last time he had met the Earth captain, but Azalyn understood that he was able to deal with him. Besides, Azalyn would never call Tylor a 'former enemy.' Perhaps it was Wang?

Well, no time to worry about that. "Very well, my Empress. I am disappointed, but... it is your decision."

Azalyn nodded, not able to meet his eyes. "I am sorry, Dom, but I just can't risk this... You do understand, right?"

Dom sighed. She was entitled to her private concerns. It just hurt that she wouldn't trust him... though after what he'd done in the Tylor's War incident, he totally understood. "Yes, my Empress. I do." He sighed, and decided to change the subject. "We should get moving- even with the jump drive, it will still take nearly two hours to reach our destination... if we hurry, we should still have a chance to make a second jump in case our first guess is wrong."

Azalyn nodded. "Yes, we should hurry." They were both silent for a moment. "So, are you going to give the order, or what?"

Dom jumped a little bit, somewhat flustered. "Oh, right... Riska, set course for Earth Colony Station 535, ten minutes out." The Raalgon Hyperspatial Jump Drive was a little more advanced than Earth's- they could even track other ships through those jumps- but they were still somewhat inaccurate.

Riska, the Navigator for the Doreame, blinked. "Um, I already did, when you first ordered me to ten minutes ago."

"Oh, right," Dom said. "Well, then, commence the jump."

Riska nodded. "Engaging."

Silence reigned, except for the hum of the generators.

"Dom," Azalyn said quietly.

"Yes, my Empress?"

"You will understand when I meet with this person why I won't tell you... but I will need your help when I meet with him. So please, don't hold this against me?" Azalyn pleaded.

Dom paused. There were any number of things he could say in answer to that- not the least of which was that she, being the empress, shouldn't be begging him for anything. But the truth was, there was no way he could answer in anything but the affirmative.

"As you wish, my Empress."

* * * * *

"Ten seconds until we're within range, sir," Katori said.

Tylor nodded. "Full power to engines, raise the barrier, and open fire on those fighters.

"Yes, SIR!" Katori replied. "Full power. Barrier up. Weapons are ACTIVE!" Under Katori's skillful hands, the Tsunami descended into the cloud of Shinryuu class fighters and started ripping bolts of heated plasma into them.

Tylor turned to Kim, who was supposed to be monitoring the other elements of their forces. "Status of the fighters and the Marines?"

"The marines timed their assault perfectly, sir- they've succeeded on attaching their transport to the Kalu, and I believe that they are storming it as we speak... however, I am not able to communicate with them, so beyond that I can't say. I am unable to pinpoint the source of the enemy jamming, so I don't know where to target to eliminate it. As far as Kojiro and the twins go... their straffing run is going very well."

That did not even begin to describe the success of the fighters. They had several very specific targets that they were aiming to hit- each destroyer had six shield nodes used to generate a barrier, and each destroyer had at least four gun turrets. In seconds, half of the turrets were gone. Figuring that the destroyers' firepower had been weakened enough, Kojiro began targetting the barrier generators. Between him and the twins, all of the shield nodes on the Moskva were blown out, and half of those on the remaining two ships were gone. Kojiro was tempted to go around for another pass, but the Bolivar and the Avenger were already starting to raise their defensive grids, and his orders were to move on to the fighters after weakening the destroyers. With a sigh, he turned his Ganryu towards the remaining Shinryuu class fighters and charged in, performing a nice fly-by of the Tsunami's bridge with Yumi and Emi following.

"Shift targets," Tylor ordered. "Head towards the destroyers. Let's try pulling the battle away from the Colony- if we can move this fight, the station can shut down its barrier and recharge it for a bit."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Concentrate our fire on the Moskva. Their barrier is down- if we can eliminate them fast, we might actually stand a chance in this battle."

"Yes, sir!" Katori said.

Tylor sighed, collapsing down into his chair. "Now if we could just tell how the marines were doing...."

* * * * *

An explosion blew a hole in the bulkheads of the Kalu, allowing the small platoon of marines entrance into the warship. At the first intersection, Master Sergeant Cryburn took charge.

"Okay, boys... Jason, take half the men and storm the engine room. The rest of you, with me- to the bridge!"

The marines cheered, following Cryburn's lead. Once Jason's group had broken off, Cryburn blasted a hole in the deck above him, and jumped up to the next level, followed by the rest of his mecha.

He turned a corner, with Corporals Bunta and Yamada on his heel. He immediately stopped and dove for cover as five of the Kalu's Marine Mecha confronted him.

"Look out!" he cried.

The terrorist mecha opened fire, and Bunta was caught in the hail of bullets. His own marine mecha lost a leg before added support arrived, returning double the rate of fire that the Kalu's marines were showing. Soon, the hallway was clear.

Cryburn inspected the situation. "Sorry, Bunta, but you're out of the action- no way we can fix that here. Angel, Charly, take Bunta back to the transport. Yamada, the rest of you, follow me!"

Andersson was a little surprised when the three mecha came back much earlier than he was expecting. "What's going on?" he called.

Bunta opened the hatch of his mecha and sighed. "Hi, skipper. Master Sergeant sent me back when I lost one of my mecha's legs."

"Damn- so he sent TWO mecha's to take you back? Cryburn's weakening his force much more than he should... damn, I knew I should have gone with you guys. I should be part of the action, dammit."

Charly laughed. "Relax, skipper. We can handle it."

Andersson nodded. "We'd better hope we can."

* * * * *

Despite the barrier, the constant barrage of four destroyers pounding on the Tsunami rattled the warship. Amid all the chaos of battle, however, the bridge of the ship was much as it had been before the battle, save for Yamamoto having been knocked head over heals from one rather rough blast.

"Captain," Katori reported dutifully. "The Moskva has been partially disabled and is attempting to move away."

Tylor glared out of the Tsunami's bridge windows to see the damaged ship running out of the fight. "Follow it! I want that ship destroyed!"

"Captain?" Katori said questioningly. "We've still got three other ships to deal with..."

"I don't care!" Tylor growled. "I don't want them to have a chance to... wait," he stopped and grabbed his head, massaging his temples.

Kim nearly left her seat in surprise. "Captain Tylor, sir, are you okay?"

"Don't get carried away, think about this," he babbled." I don't need to worry about them doubling back right away- it takes a few minutes to turn one of those ships around, so I can spend some time worrying about the other two ships if I'm careful. The marines can handle the Kalu, but that still leaved those other two ships..." Looking up, he started issuing orders. "Katori, change of plan. Concentrate on the, um, the... uh, what were there names... concentrate all fire on the Avenger. Lt. Kim, I want you to keep a CLOSE eye on the movements of the Moskva... if they even start to turn around, give out the loudest shout you can."

"Yes, sir," Kim said.

"Aye, aye, sir..." Katori added.

Yamamoto finally recovered from being so ignominiously flipped upside down to stare at the Captain. Tylor seemed to be wincing as if his eyesight was troubling him, and was rubbing the temples of his forehead tiredly. Yamamoto didn't know what to make of it- perhaps he was having trouble because he wasn't allowing himself enough time to sleep? Whatever it was, Tylor bore watching....

* * * * *

Kojiro wasn't doing too well. After the straffing run, he and the twins decended on the scattered fighters that the Tsunami had left in its wake, but most of the enemy force had survived the brief attack that the destroyer had launched, and so the three of them were outnumbered by more than five to one. Thanks to their speed and manueverability, the Ranpu's had been able to take out one terrorist fighter each, and his Ganryu was able to take out two more, but that still left them heavily outnumbered. Now, they were on the run, and things didn't look good at all.

A blast of plasma barely missed the nose of his fighter, rocking the tiny craft as it passed through the comet-like blast's tail. Kojiro made an evasive maneuver, and then noticed what happened with that shot that missed him.

Yumi's Ranpu had been hit, and hit badly. The cockpit was undamaged, but her engines were utterly destroyed and she was spinning out of control. "Damn!" Kojiro cursed. Spinning his Ganryu around, he sped towards the damaged craft, laying down some covering fire to keep the enemy Shinryuus from picking off the damaged craft. He launched a cable at Yumi's fighter, and started to try to stabilize it. An enemy fighter, however, split the cable with a quick shot, sending Kojiro shooting out of action due to his own momentum.

Emi picked up where he had left off- launching a cable to try to bring her sister's fighter to a stop, hopefully allowing her to eject safely. Her Ranpu, however, was immediately mobbed by enemy fighters, and before long another blast of plasma hit her ship. The Shinryuu's closed in for the kill.

That was when Kojiro's Ganryu came screaming in, tearing into the attacking fighters. Taking out the two lead ships, he scattered the enemy force, making it fall back to re-organize.

"Damn you all!" he shouted, not caring that they couldn't hear him, as he positioned his fighter to protect the two disabled fighters. "I can't let you hurt those two girls- they're MY responsibility, and I WILL keep them safe!"

Realistically, he knew he didn't have a chance. He was outnumbered twelve to one, and his need to protect the twins seriously hindered the advantages his ship's greater maneuverability gave him. He didn't stand a chance, and he knew it.

A re-organized cluster of fighters charged in, guns blazing. Kojiro took a ship he knew that the Ganryu could stand to keep it from getting through to the twins damaged ships, and fired the last of his missiles to kill the lead Shinryuu. He was down to one particle beam cannon, and that was it- the other three his ship was equiped with had either been damaged in the combat or had overheated to the point that they couldn't fire. Then the last one gave out, and Kojiro knew it was over. He closed his eyes, bracing himself for the final blow.

"I'm sorry, girls... I did my best," he whispered. When nothing came for several seconds, he opened his eyes, surprised. "What?" There, in front of him, eleven pairs of engines showed as the enemy fighters retreated. "They... ran away? What's going on? Why would they leave without finishing us off?"

* * * * *

Cryburn and the three marines left with him (Yamada had been held back in order to provide a rearguard, and hadn't caught up with them since) kept moving, dodging the occasional potshots that the Kalu's crew were able to send at them. They didn't have time to worry about the enemy marines- their job was to secure the bridge and take the destroyer out of action.

"Okay, boys," Cryburn rallied. "Just this one last door to get through!"

Rats pointed his gun at the offending bulkhead. "We're ready, Sarge."

"Let's go!" Cryburn cried. The combined fire of the four Marine Mecha shattered the door, and they ran in, ready to fire on anyone who moved. Turning on his loudspeakers, the Master Sergeant started shouting terms to the startled bridge crew.

"Don't anybody move! If you so much as twitch the wrong way, you'll get a bullet right between the eyes, so you'd better not try anything funny!"

"Oh, dear," the Kalu's captain said impudently, standing and putting his hands over his head. "I guess that means I'm not going to be allowed to deactivate the scrambling device and warn everyone that I disabled this ships engined and activated the self-destruct, which will destroy everything within a radius of ten thousand kilometers. Oh, well- I guess that means no-one will survive this battle."

Yamada chose that moment to show up. "We're clear guys- what's goign on here?"

* * * * *

Tylor wasn't feeling very good at all. He had a headache, he couldn't see straight, he felt short of breath, and his arms and limbs seemed to be giving out on him. He didn't know why, either- he didn't THINK he was sick. Were the stims wearing off? That didn't make any sense- they were supposed to last twenty four hours each, and his last one was less than six hours ago.

"Captain," Katori shouted urgently, "The enemy fleet is withdrawing- fast. Correction- the enemy fleet minus the Kalu- she seems to have been disabled. Guess our marines managed to disable her."

Tylor nodded. "Begin pursuit of-"

"Captain," Kim interrupted. "Um, the jamming is cleared up... and you might want to hear this."

"-TES LEFT! REPEAT, THE KALU HAS ENGAGED ITS SELF DESTRUCT, IT WILL VAPORIZE EVERYTHING WITHIN TEN THOUSAND KILOMETERS, AND WE'VE GOT JUST OVER THREE MINUTES LEFT! TSUNAMI, DO YOU READ ME? YOU'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!" Cryburn's voice blared.

Tylor stood up in shock, staggered a little when his legs almost gave out underneath him, and said, "Cryburn, we read you- how long will it take for you to make it to the transport?"

"I... I think no fewer than five minutes. Captain, just get out of here. Don't wait for us," Cryburn answered, sighing. "We're toast."

"Damn," Tylor cursed. "Lt. Kim, recall the fighters... at least maybe we can save someone."

"The fighters have been damaged," Katori noted. "It will take them some time to get here, but we should have enough time to escape if they hurry."

"What about the Colony?" Yamamoto asked.

"Checking... we were able to pull the battle twenty-thousand kilometers away from the base, it should be fine."

"Good," Tylor sighed. "At least we were able to save someone."

"Captain!" Andersson's voice called. "I've got an idea- I can get the marines out in two minutes; can you pick me up and escape in that last minute?"

Tylor looked to Katori.

"No good, sir. It'll take thirty seconds to pick them up, and a full minute to get enough distance to not be affected by the blast."

"What if we were to execute a jump?"

Katori thought for a split second. "It'd be risky, but it might work. It'll take a few seconds after pickup to execute the jump, however, so we'll be cutting it close."

"Andersson, go ahead! Have we picked up Kojiro and the twins yet?"

"Not yet, captain," Kim answered. "Twenty seconds."

Tylor sighed. "So what's Andersson got in mind?"

* * * * *

Andersson looked back to where Charly, Bunta, and Angel were waiting.

"Airlock closed... everyone strapped in back there?"

"Yes, sir!" they chorused.

"Good- hang on!" With a ferocious movement, he thrusted the marine transport off of the Kalu's hull and violently turned it ninety degrees, to travel straight along the hull. Ten seconds later, he slammed the ship to a stop, spun, and connected once more with the destroyer. "Seal established. Opening airlock. Charly, Angel- blow a hole in that ship. If our boys can't come to us in time, we'll go to them...."

As the marines that had been in the engineering room started pouring in, Andersson grinned roguishly. "Ya know, maybe you don't really need to pilot a mecha to be part of the action on these missions, after all."

* * * * *

"The marines are securely aboard. Approximately fourty five seconds until detonation on my mark. Mark!" Katori said.

"Good work, Andersson," Tylor said tiredly from his chair. "Katori, get us moving and activate the jump drive."

"Yes, sir."

"Sir!" Kim said. "I'm picking up an incoming ship from jump space... it's the Doraeme! And she's within the blast range!"

"What!" Tylor said standing up. The blood all rushed from his head, and he started to fall. "No, not now," he whimpered before collapsing to the ground, passed out.

The bridge crew all stared in shock at Tylor's limp form. Yamamoto, who had been worried something like that would happen, was the first to come back to the situation. "Time to detonation!" he cried.

Katori blinked, then looked at his monitors. "Thirty five seconds and counting."

"Lt. Kim, raise the Doraeme, and hurry!"

"Yes, sir!" she replied. In record time (seven seconds), she'd opened a communications link with the Raalgon vessel.

Dom and Azalyn's face appeared. "Ah, Mr. Yamamoto. We appear to have been quite lucky to-"

"No time for pleasantries!" Yamamoto shouted. "Jump out of here now! The ship behind us is about to self destruct!"

Dom's face looked shocked for a second. "Riska, recharge the j-" The rest of his words were cut as the transmission ended.

"Mr. Katori, punch it!"

The Tsunami entered a hyperspace jump, followed almost a second later by the Doraeme. In space, where they were just seconds before, a brilliant light shone as the Kalu, named for an African god of thunder, detonated.

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