The huge black dreadnought grew larger in the bridge window, as the Argo slowly moved towards Zordar's main bridge. Derek Wildstar, at the captain's control panel, decided to aim for what appeared to be the main operations center of the huge battle cruiser. This should cause the most damage, Derek thought to himself. Hitting the main engine might only cause minor, repairable damage, but if I can take out the bridge, and Zordar, then perhaps I can die with victory.
Then the word struck him. Die. I am so close to Earth, yet I will never set foot on it again. I will never see my brother Alex again. Then he looked to his left, and saw the lifeless body of his beloved Nova, who appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Nova, without you there is no reason to continue living. He looked upon her and could almost see her sitting there looking back at him. He wondered if she would approve of his final actions. Nova, please understand, this is all I have left. Earth must live on, even if we cannot.
Another explosion rocked the ship. Derek made a minor course change to correct for the explosion, and noticed that the speed was dropping. That explosion must have been in the engine room, he thought. He tried to increase the speed, but the engine was already giving him everything it had left. With the Wave Motion Engine and one auxiliary engine damaged, the Argo was barely running at quarter speed. There was the chance that the Argo would just bounce off the hull of Zordar's ship, but with the engines ready to fail, the main guns destroyed, and the Wave Motion Gun useless without power, Derek had run out of options.
He managed a weak chuckle at the irony – Earth's government had become somewhat smug about how the Earth had not only rebuilt itself in such a short time, but had improved upon the Wave Motion technology they received from Iscandar. A lot of good it has done us, Derek winced. The Andromeda and the rest of the defense fleet – the pride of the Earth Defense Force – were destroyed by the Comet Empire's superior technology. But, there is still life, he thought. As long as I have life, I will fight. Derek looked back up at the dreadnought in the distance. Slowly, the Argo was closing on Zordar; according to the instruments, they would impact with the giant battleship in less than five minutes.
Five minutes isn't a lot of time to prepare for the end, Derek thought. To say he wasn't scared would be a lie - of course he was afraid of death. Most people were, but when you signed up for the Earth Defense Force, you had to accept death as a possibility. Every mission had the chance of failure. Even in a successful mission, there was always the chance that someone might have to sacrifice a life in the line of duty, whether it was theirs or that of their crew. Derek Wildstar, as Captain of the Argo, was going to go down with his ship in the name of life. He looked again at his beloved Nova, who had given her life to save his.
Derek had ordered the crew to make preparations for an all out attack on the Comet Empire, but before they could reach Earth, they were ambushed by their old enemy, Desslok. Desslok was presumed dead after their battle at Gamilon. Much to Derek's surprise, Desslok had not only survived but had joined forces with the Comet Empire. He used the Cometine forces to hold the Argo in place until he could charge his Desslok Cannon. Venture put the Argo into warp as the Desslok Cannon was fired, bringing the ship out of warp directly in front of Desslok's flagship. When the two ships collided, Derek ordered boarding parties to keep the Gamilon soldiers busy while he made his way to the bridge to face Desslok. Caught in a standoff, Desslok realized that he was fighting a pointless battle; he admitted defeat and dropped his sidearm. A Comet Empire officer on the bridge was not quite as willing to surrender, and took a shot at Derek. Nova attempted to push Derek out of the way and ended up taking the blast in the back. Desslok killed the Comet Empire officer, and expressed his deep regret that Nova had been injured. He then told Derek how to defeat the Comet Empire, and, having nothing more to live for, stepped out of an airlock into the cold darkness of space.
Despite Nova's serious injuries, she insisted on remaining at her post during their last battle with Prince Zordar. For almost two years, Nova had been a part of the Star Force, and she was not about to abandon her crew – her family - now. The crew always came first with her. Nova had gained the crew's friendship and respect, and Derek's love, but now she was gone.
Soon, we will be together. Derek glanced at the instrument panel. Less than a minute left. Soon, we will finally be at peace.
An alarm at the side of the bridge went off, signaling close proximity with another vessel. Derek looked up again and thought he could barely make out movement through one of the dreadnought's windows. He hoped that they wouldn't notice the approaching Argo until it was too late. The Argo was too close for Zordar to shoot at now - the great cannons of the dreadnought would hit their own bridge if they fired. The alarm got louder and faster, and Derek forced himself to keep his eyes open. I will face death with open eyes. Then the two ships collided.
He was thrown from the captain's chair as the jarring sound of twisting metal echoed in his ears. More alarms were going off, one of them signaling decompression as the bridge windows were shattered, another signaling imminent engine over-pressurization. Derek didn't even hear them. He raised himself up to stare down into a gaping hole the Argo had created when it hit. The front of the Argo had slammed right through the hull of the dreadnought, and the bridges of both ships were engulfed in flames. The floor burst open with the force of an explosion from a lower deck, and at last, Derek cried out in pain, as…
He awakened with a shout, and stared into the darkness. Fumbling for the light switch next to the bed, he kicked his covers to the floor. As the lights went on, he looked around to find his quarters, unchanged but feeling unusually cold. At first, he thought that the environmental controls were on the fritz, but then he realized it was because he was sweating.
It was the same nightmare again. It had been haunting him for weeks, always ending the same. The outcome of the final battle with Zordar would have been much different had Trelaina not stepped in and destroyed Zordar's warship with her mind energy. Derek's plan was to ram the dreadnought, that much was true, but Trelaina had stopped him. Her last act, after returning Mark Venture's almost lifeless body to the Argo, was to destroy Zordar. Whether she had given her life with this act, or merely disappeared into another dimension, no one could know for sure. Mark had suffered long after his recovery upon learning what had happened. Apparently, they had shared a love most people will never experience. Now Mark was gone too – he died defending the ship against the Dinguil Empire.
He looked at the clock to find that it was almost 0500, so he shuffled out of bed and headed towards the bathroom. On his way to the shower, he paused to look at his face in the mirror. This was a face that had seen much action, much life, and far too much death. It was finally beginning to show signs of its experience – the wild haircut from Derek's younger days had been replaced with a close-trimmed one more appropriate to someone with authority, and he had also grown a rather commanding looking beard. After months of deliberation, Nova had finally decided she liked the beard, so he kept it.
His thoughts once again went to his wife. How he hated missions away from her, but she had her own duties. They had known when they married that their duties would sometimes keep them apart. In his nightmare, Nova and many of his fellow crew-members had been killed in the battle against Zordar, yet in reality most of them still lived. Why was he being tormented with these alternate possibilities? Derek accepted the first occurrence of the nightmare as a reminder that his life could have ended many times in the course of his career with the Star Force, but when the dark visions kept returning, he began to think that they meant something more.
At 0800 hours, Derek stepped onto the bridge of his ship. The Avatar was a new long-range scout, named after the late Captain Abraham Avatar. There was much debating over whether or not a scout ship should be named after the captain of a battleship. However, the argument was presented that Captain Avatar's mission had always been to preserve peace, even in times of war, so the ship was finally commissioned. Derek, having served under Captain Avatar's last command, was asked to take the ship out on its maiden voyage. The mission was a simple one - explore the new galaxy formed by Dezarium's destruction. The force of the explosion caused a chain reaction within the twin nebula, forming a new galactic system. It had taken a few years for the gases and reactions to settle down; now that it was safe to enter the area, a team of astronomers was interested in it. Someone said it could show more about how our own universe was formed, or something like that. An old American space program called NASA was resurrected and renamed the International Space Administration. They argued that Earth hadn't been attacked by anyone in several years, so what else did the EDF have to do with its resources? It was presented to the President, who agreed that yes, the EDF was sitting on a pile of wasted money, and so the Earth Defense Force was ordered to loan out some of its scout vessels for ISA to use for exploration.
Derek walked up to the navigator, a bright young girl named Maria Santiago. She had just graduated from the academy, and this was her first non-simulated mission. "How are we doing?" he asked.
"We're on schedule, sir. We should be on Earth approach in approximately 16 hours."
After six months of studying nothing interesting whatsoever, Commodore Derek Wildstar and his crew were returning home. They didn't expect any problems, and certainly hoped they didn't run into anything threatening, since the ship was not designed for combat. There were battleships within radio distance that could be there at a moment's notice if the need arose, but Derek had issues with calling someone to bail him out. It had been many years since he had been on a ship that was not armed to the teeth, and it took a while to get used to. It had its good points: he could relax and not be on edge worrying whether or not the next battle plan would work without killing members of his crew. However, he found much of his time spent in idle thought, having nothing else to keep him occupied.
Derek stood looking out the bridge window at the blackness of space. Strange, how history repeated itself – once again he was returning to Earth from the former Black Nebula, looking forward to a reunion with Nova. Derek had been here five years earlier, fighting the Black Nebula Empire. As with almost every other battle he had fought, the entire Empire was utterly destroyed - no compromise nor surrender, but complete and total obliteration.
First was the war against Gamilon. In the name of defending the Earth, the Star Force almost destroyed the entire Gamilon race. This never sat well with Derek – they destroyed the Gamilon civilization to save their own. Was this what they had been sent to do? Sure, Desslok had dragged them there, but did the end result have to be so absolute? Derek was almost relieved when he learned that Desslok still lived, but then disappointed that the Gamilon Leader chose to fight on. Ironically, Desslok was the only enemy not killed in a war with Earth. In Derek's nightmare, Desslok had thrown himself into space after their last battle, but in truth, Derek and Desslok had made an uneasy truce before Desslok left the Sol System with what remained of his fleet.
After the war with Gamilon, the crew was forced to battle Prince Zordar and his Comet Empire. Whether this was the entire Gatlantian race or just one power-crazed leader, no one knew for sure. The cost in lives had been much higher in that battle – the Black Tigers, the brash but brave Sergeant Knox and many of his marines, Captain Gideon, almost the entire Earth Defense Fleet, and countless civilians.
Once the Argo had been repaired, a fresh group of academy graduates was assigned as the new crew. During a training exercise, Wildstar received a distress call from Queen Starsha of Iscandar. Gamilon had exploded, forcing Iscandar out of its orbit. The battle with this new enemy resulted in the destruction of Iscandar and the death of Starsha, and the Black Nebula Empire swore revenge on Earth for their losses.
The war with the Black Nebula Empire was the one that stuck most vividly in Derek's mind, not only because he considered it to be a senseless battle, but also because of the rechristening of their ship. While hidden at Icarus Base, the Argo had undergone extensive redesigns to both the weapons and the engine, and during the refitting, some of the workers commented that they felt a strange presence on the ship. This had been felt by the original crew during their long journeys, and as crazy as it sounded, many felt that it was the spirit of the ship's original captain, Admiral Aruga, who had gone down with the ship in World War II. In honor of Ariga and his crew, it was decided to restore the great ship's original name - Yamato. Unfortunately, the ship's first mission under its new name was to literally destroy the Empire's home world of Dezarium. Starsha, Alex, and their daughter Sasha all gave their lives to stop the Black Nebula Empire, yet still the enemy fought on, until Derek had no choice but to attack the capital city at the core, destroying the entire planet. An ancient Earth leader once said, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life." And a planet for a planet, added Derek.
Shortly after Dezarium was destroyed, Earth got caught in the middle of a war between the Bolar Federation and Desslok's new Garuman Empire. A stray missile caused Earth's sun to go nuclear, and once again, the people of Earth almost lost their home. This time Desslok fought to save the Earth rather than destroy it, and the Bolar Federation fell in Desslok's quest for power. Desslok had said, "Only by being peacefully aggressive through a war of conquest can I achieve peace in our time." Derek often wondered if he would live to see the day when no one would have to fight for peace.
Four years ago, Earth paid a high price for that peace – the sacrifice of the Yamato. The Dinguil Empire tried to use the water planet Aquarius to flood the Earth. Desslok once again helped to defeat Earth's enemy, but Aquarius was already approaching Earth. The Yamato was filled with Tritium and the muzzle of the Wave Motion Gun was blocked, turning the proud ship into a flying bomb. Once the crew had abandoned the ship, Captain Avatar detonated the Yamato by firing the obstructed Wave Motion Gun; the resulting explosion knocked the water planet out of orbit and away from Earth. The wreckage of the Yamato still lay encased in frozen water from Aquarius, as a floating tribute to the ship and her crew.
Why does peace have to be so bloody? Derek choked to himself.
It is 2209. After many brutal battles, Earth is at last enjoying peace. The surviving members of the Star Force have been reassigned to other posts: Derek Wildstar is returning home after a six month exploration mission. His wife, Nova, is studying to be a doctor in addition to part-time administrative duties at EDF HQ. Chris Eager is in charge of a new series of "Eye in the Sky" satellites being deployed around the solar system perimeter, and Dash Jordan has returned to the Academy for Captain's training. Homer Glickman, recently married to Commander Singleton's granddaughter Wendy, is Head of Communications at Earth Defense Headquarters. The other members of the Yamato crew are currently assigned to various ships and stations in and outside the Sol System.
Funds once used for building battleships and fighter planes are now being used for research and exploration, and new planets are being colonized. This is not to say that the defense fleet has gone completely ignored - should Earth again be put into a position of defending peace, no one wants to be caught unready. New designs are being researched, and old enemy technologies are being evaluated.
Derek shook himself out of his daydream and turned back to Santiago. "Fine. Let me know when we reach Mars orbit." Maria gave him a quizzical look, as he realized that he had been standing there staring off into space for ten minutes before addressing her. He spun on his heel, and walked past his command station. He was still not used to sitting up there. On the Yamato, he had been at the Combat Chief's duty station, at one with the bridge crew, but the Avatar did not even have a Combat Chief's station. Having to sit back and rely on a bunch of kids was not easy, but he had never been let down by a new crew.
He turned and looked at his bridge crew. In addition to Ensign Santiago, he had several other new cadets reporting to him. Donald Shackler, a former civilian scientist from New York, was probably the oldest among them at 41. (In the days of constant combat, anyone who lived past 30 was considered an "old timer.") Sean Mitchell, age 24, was radar chief, and also acted as a gunner if necessary. At communications was 27-year-old Akira "Sushi" Mayamoto - so nicknamed because of the amazing amount of sashimi he could put away in a single sitting. With all the computerized equipment, you didn't need much more crew than that. The Avatar was a small ship, and didn't need much for an engine room crew. Chief Engineer Mark Kimball didn't have much more to do than sit and watch the monitors telling him that nothing was wrong. Much like the captain, Derek thought. The most exciting thing the entire trip had been a radar glitch that kept showing something behind them, but at the range the radar insisted the blip was, someone would have been able to reach out the rear window and paint their name on the deck plating.
This is boring, Derek mumbled, as he returned to his quarters to make sure that all his paperwork was in order.
As expected, the Avatar returned to Earth without incident. The science vessel glided onto the landing pad and touched down with a soft thud. Derek, who had returned to the bridge when they passed what was left of the Earth's moon, nodded his approval.
"Not a bad landing, Santiago," he said.
Maria simply said, "thank you sir," but he could tell she was grinning from ear to ear. She was not overeager to please, but she definitely knew when she had done a good job. The rest of the crew began shutting down stations and switching computers over to docking control. Derek jumped out of his command chair and headed towards the elevator. He hadn't seen Nova in six months, and wanted to get home. She would probably wait up for him, regardless that it would be after 0200 before he got home. Then there was the filing of his reports, a (hopefully) quick debriefing tomorrow, and then he was free for two weeks. He was looking forward to finding out his next assignment soon - he hated the suspense.
Before Derek could get to the door, Sushi called after him. "Skipper?"
Derek winced. He hated being called that. When he was officially promoted to Captain in 2204, Venture and Sandor decided it would be funny to call him "Skipper." The rest of the bridge crew joined in on the joke, until Derek threatened to stick them all on a medical shuttle and use them for Wave Gun target practice. For some odd reason, every time he heard the word "skipper," he was tempted to smack the person with his hat.
"How did we do?"
Oh, yes, they will be expecting some sort of performance review. "You all did very well for your first deep space mission," Derek began, "even though this was fairly routine, and we didn't run into anything too challenging, you all performed your duties without any deviation from standard… oh, hell, enough of the command pep talk. You all did fine. No one died, we accomplished our goal, and the ship is in one piece. That, to me, is the definition of a successful mission. Go get some R & R before your next duties are posted." That seemed to satisfy the hopeful looks directed towards him. With a smile, Derek stepped into the elevator and headed towards his quarters to gather his belongings.
It was well after 0330 when Derek finally stepped through the door of his home. He tried to be quiet so as not to awaken his wife, whom he assumed would be asleep when he saw that all the lights were off. At first, he was disappointed that she hadn't waited up for him, but when a yawn almost split his head in two, he was relieved at the idea of crawling into his own bed for a change. Spaceship accommodations were comfortable, but nothing compared to returning home to your own bedroom. He hoped that the familiar surroundings and the warmth of his wife pressed against him would keep the nightmares away long enough to catch up on his sleep.
As he silently closed the door, he hoped that Nova hadn't decided to buy a cat for companionship – he'd be sure to trip over it in the dark. He dropped his briefcase and duffel bag next to the door, took four steps towards the stairs, and was assaulted from behind. A laughing woman jumped on his back and hung on while trying to kiss him.
"Nova!" Derek turned to embrace his wife, but she was still clinging to his back. "Nova, you're still awake?"
"Silly! Did you think I could sleep, knowing you were returning tonight?" She finally hopped down so he could give her a hug and a long, passionate kiss. "Did you expect to find me asleep by the window, like a child waiting for Santa Claus?" she asked.
"Well, you do have to be at work by 0700."
"I managed to convince Central Administration to give me a few days off." She danced backwards towards the living room. "Come on; tell me more about the trip! Your messages weren't too long – did your crew keep you so busy that you didn't have any time to write to your poor lonely wife? Or did you find a girlfriend to keep you company?" she said with a wink.
Derek flopped down on the simulated leather couch. "What I sent was it," he began, ignoring the "girlfriend" comment. "It was just a routine exploration mission; you really didn't miss anything. Truth be told, I was unnecessary on that ship – it practically ran itself. Sending me was a PR move more than anything else." He yawned, then added, "I would rather have been training Astro-Fighter pilots." Nova giggled, knowing how much he hated his tours of duty as a pilot instructor.
Nova looked out the window at the stars. "You miss the action, don't you?"
Derek looked at her. "I don't miss the endless combat, that's for sure."
"No, not the constant fighting, although that did keep us all busy. I mean the idea of being occupied all the time. We didn't have time to be bored. We knew what our goal was, and we did it. You like to be kept busy - that's why you accepted command again."
In a surprise attack by the Dinguil Empire, the Yamato was shot down over a desolate planet. Many of the crew died from the Dinguil hyper-radiation missiles; if not for the automatic systems, designed to return the Yamato to Earth in the event of an emergency, the ship and its entire crew might have been lost. Derek accepted responsibility for the crew's deaths, and resigned his commission.
After Captain Avatar's memorial service, Commander Singleton offered to promote Derek to the rank of Commodore. Derek had thought it over for almost a month, and came very close to leaving active duty entirely. All the things he had seen, all the lives he had taken, and all the worlds he had touched, he decided that it was enough for one lifetime. No one would have thought badly of him for retiring, even at such a young age, although many said it would be a waste of experience not to continue with the EDF. Aside from the opinions of the Defense Council, something told him that he would regret his decision if he retired now. So, he accepted the rank and the assignments that came with it.
Being in charge of a crew was nothing new. What bothered him was that he was only given small assignments and inconsequential commands. There wasn't much to do other than exploration, overseeing construction efforts, and training new cadets. He had to admit that he wasn't finding his new rank to be all that exciting. At age 28, he was the youngest Commodore in the EDF. He had earned that rank, no one could argue that, but he had noticed the strange and uncomfortable looks he would get from older people who reported to him.
"You don't fault me for it, do you Nova?"
"No, of course not! I have always felt that you belonged in the captain's chair. You may not have felt ready for it when we took off in search of a new Earth, but you handled the new crew with such professionalism. A far cry from making people run laps in their skivvies, I think." She giggled.
"Ah, so you did think I was being too hard on them," Derek winked. "It was a popular punishment at the Academy - as you learned once."
Nova blushed as she remembered her scantily clad evening calisthenics in flight school. "Not that YOU ever had to do so, of course."
"Um, no, of course not… I was a model student."
"Sure you were," Nova tossed a pillow at him. "I wonder how you would have done in command school. You lucked out, and got on the job training."
"Well, Captain Avatar once said that there's no better teacher than experience. I guess that's why he made me Deputy Captain. He must have seen some potential in me. I had hoped I'd get to take Yamato out again, though."
"You were disappointed when Captain Yamanami took command of Yamato to go to Dezarium, weren't you?"
"Actually, I expected Sandor to captain Yamato. I certainly didn't anticipate commanding her. She was practically a new ship with all the refits put into her. It did feel good to be back on board, even if you weren't with us for that mission."
"I took care of myself, thank you very much," Nova replied with a mock pout. "Even if Alphon was making passes at me."
Derek looked her in the eyes. He knew what she was thinking, even if she was trying to smile. "Nova, you don't have to keep torturing yourself over it."
While Nova was Alphon's prisoner during the Black Nebula Empire's occupation of Earth, he offered the secret to disarming the hyperon bomb if she would sleep with him. She still wanted to believe that Derek was alive, but she had weakened enough to consider the proposal. If she gave Alphon one night, Earth might be saved, but if Derek was still alive, she would have shamed herself beyond forgiveness. Derek told her many times that he would have understood – as far as anyone knew, the crew WAS dead, thanks to some quick thinking by Dr. Sane. However, Nova still never fully forgave herself for it, and refused to think of the consequences of her actions had she gone through with it.
"You didn't love him," Derek continued. "You were doing what you always do – what needed to be done."
"Derek… I… no, of course I didn't love him. I felt… pity. Compassion. I genuinely felt bad for him, especially when I found out what happened to his race."
"You know, that's part of what I love about you. You always manage to find good in everything. It was your love for me that helped Desslok to realize that he was fighting a pointless war." He looked up at the clock. "And now, my love for you says we should get to bed. You might have the day off, but I have a debriefing to attend in five hours." She giggled like a schoolgirl as he scooped her up from the couch and carried her up the stairs.
Derek gave his reports at a debriefing the following morning. The only people who didn't look bored were the ones from Science Division. One of the presiding generals kept nodding off in the corner, only to be jarred awake whenever someone coughed or tapped a stack of papers on the table. Four hours later, the meeting finally adjourned. Just in time, Derek thought, I was about to fall asleep myself.
Derek was walking through the halls towards the rail tubes when he heard shouting from behind him. He turned towards the voice to see Sandor waving at him.
"Sandor!" Derek called out as he turned to approach his old friend. Sandor, the oldest of the remaining original crew, was starting to show signs of age as well. His hairline was receding, and what hair he did have was starting to turn gray. He had once said that having bionic arms and legs would at least prevent arthritis in his old age.
"Wildstar! I heard the Avatar returned from its first mission. Sorry I missed the debriefing. How did it go?"
"The meeting or the mission?"
"Yes," Derek said with a grin. "Consider yourself lucky that you couldn't make it for either one. There have got to be better things to do than stare at burning gas clouds. It was a nice easy assignment though."
"Wildstar, have you had lunch yet? I have some things to show you." Sandor always loved to show off his work.
"Not yet. I was on my way to meet Nova for lunch."
"Bring her afterwards, if you want. I haven't seen her in months. Meet me at the Science Center in two hours?"
"Well, sure, okay, I'll bring her along. What's this all about?"
"Remember the salvaging from the Comet Empire Fleet?"
"I heard something about that." After the Battle of Saturn, salvage ships were sent out to collect wreckage so the EDF could better understand who they were fighting. When the war ended, most of it was stashed into storage facilities.
"We're discovering a lot of new things. With any luck, we can use some of it to enhance our own fleet. See you in a few hours!" He slapped Derek on the shoulder and walked off.
Derek met Nova at a little café about a mile from EDF HQ. They had eaten there a lot over the years, and they were glad it had been reopened every time Earth had to rebuild. It was like an anchor in a sea of constant change.
"So, how did the briefing go?" Nova asked between bites.
"Almost as dull as the mission. At least I was allowed to sleep onboard the Avatar if I got bored." He poked at his sandwich. "I don't know why they are so interested in that part of space. There's a lot of other territory we haven't explored."
"There are a lot of other scout ships, Derek. Maybe they sent you to that area because you had been there."
"As much as I wanted the chance to command a ship, I didn't really want to go back there."
"Sasha?" Nova whispered. They each had their sore spots; Sasha had been his. He had promised to protect her when she learned of Alex's death, yet she died at the hands of the Black Nebula Empire leader. His only solace was that she was finally content.
"The entire Black Nebula War was a waste. First, Gamilon was destroyed. Then Starsha destroyed Iscandar to take out that Gorba ship. Alex killed himself to save the Commander, and then Sasha was killed on Dezarium. That war wiped out everything related to our first mission together. So, to make up for it, we destroyed Dezarium and the entire Black Nebula civilization with one blast of the Wave Motion Gun. Is this what we are, Nova? A bunch of savages, bent on revenge?"
"Derek… maybe it wasn't one of your finest moments, but that's not you at all."
"Isn't it? I had to face it all again, staring out at that nebula. It all came back - all the death and destruction I've caused in the name of peace. We've always been taught that peace is worth fighting for. Well, why does it have to be me doing the fighting? When those memories come back, I regret taking the promotion." He shoved his sandwich away.
"Derek, you go through this every time you get depressed. Talk to me, what's going through your mind?"
He wanted to tell her about the nightmares, but not here. A street café was not the place. "I told Sandor we'd be stopping by after lunch."
"Oh? What's the mad scientist got to show us this time?" She was uneasy about the change of subject, but decided to let it pass for now. When he wants to open up to me, he will.
"Something about the Comet Empire salvaging. He seemed pretty excited about it. How can I say no to Sandor?" He guzzled the rest of his tomato juice and looked at the sandwich. "I'll probably want it later." He flagged over a waiter.
Not too likely, thought Nova as she reached for her bag.
The Science Center was about twenty miles away from the cafe, which was about a 10-minute trip by train. Derek and Nova stepped out and walked up the stairs, waving ID badges at the front desk guard. Getting into this part of the Science Center didn't require special clearance, but it had become habit to flash badges whenever entering a building. The guard nodded, then went back to his crossword puzzle.
They took the elevator to Sandor's floor. Sandor had his own section of the building, mainly because he had his hand in so many things that it was easier to put them all in the same place than to have Sandor run from one building to the next. There were also sectioned off places in several hangars for experimental spacecraft. Derek and Nova entered a secure lab area, which did require badge access. As soon as the door opened, Sandor looked up from a computer terminal to greet them.
"Welcome to my humble little laboratory!" The three friends greeted each other with hugs and handshakes. While Derek and Sandor saw each other about once a month, many of the other crewmembers didn't get to see each other more than once a year when they gathered to honor the fallen at Heroes' Hill.
"They don't let me out much, so I appreciate the two of you coming to visit," Sandor joked.
"You look like you enjoy it, though," Nova observed. There were papers and data pads all over the place, food containers on the floor, and large metal and plastic objects she could not identify. "I bet you don't even know what half this stuff does," she grinned.
"You're probably right, but don't tell anyone or I'm out of a job," Sandor grimaced. Then he motioned towards a door. "Follow me. I think you'll like this." He led them through to another door, which led to an elevator. The glass elevator went down several levels, until Derek was able to see the remains of an underground city. "It's been converted to a staging area," Sandor answered, as if he knew what Derek was thinking. "We needed a place to build experimental craft without the press in our faces. They can be merciless at times." Derek remembered from his wedding - of all the enemies they had faced, tabloid reporters were the absolute worst.
The elevator stopped at a lower hangar level. They climbed into a small car resembling an old golf cart and drove towards a large ship. The only insignia was a number "24" on the hull. Much of the hull was still missing, and large sections of the engine were still visible. "This," Sandor puffed his chest proudly, "is the Prometheus."
"It looks like a cross between the Andromeda and the Magna-Flame gunship," Nova whispered. Instead of the Andromeda's dual Wave Guns at the front, it had one gun muzzle in between two rectangular pods.
"We did use those ships as a starting point, but then we improved upon anything we could. Thanks to what we've learned from salvaged Comet Empire ships, we were able to squeeze 75 more power from the Wave Motion Engine. We've made so many modifications to the original Iscandarian design that it's only called a Wave Motion Engine for sentimental reasons. In addition, the radar range has been doubled with no loss in resolution, and the shock cannons have almost twice the range. If we can scan it, we can hit it. The Prometheus has runways topside, so she doubles as a carrier." He pointed towards the top of the ship – the pods on either side flattened on the top to form twin runways. "While most battleships carry a small complement of fighters, we're designing the Prometheus to be an independent warship. It isn't always possible to have carrier escort, but as you may recall, having fighter backup can often decide the outcome of a battle." Derek nodded; the presence of the Black Tigers had turned the tables in combat many times. "We also found that having the hangar door on the bottom of the ship was a serious handicap if the ship had to make an emergency landing, such as our crash on the Dinguil flagship."
Sandor led them inside the massive ship, and took them to the bridge. Most of the panels were still hanging by wires, and the video displays above the main window were not completely assembled, but it was apparent that the bridge was laid out like the Andromeda. Sandor flipped a few switches, and a couple of panels lit up. "The bridge is a cross between the Yamato and the Andromeda. We kept the layout of the Andromeda, but the instrument panels are not as computerized. The computers are better, but they don't completely remove the necessity of a good crew. One of the complaints about the Andromeda was that there were no calibration settings – the computer set everything as it saw fit. This was okay for cadets fresh out of the academy, but more seasoned operators like to have more control over the system. So, we compromised - the system was designed to be faster and more efficient than the one used in the Andromeda series, but it still has a manual override if necessary. The Prometheus is a test case; if this new system works out, we're going to recommend it as an upgrade to existing ships."
Nova took a look at the radar. She fiddled with a few dials, and threw a few switches. The radar appeared to be functional, but nothing was responding. "This doesn't look promising," she laughed, as she motioned towards the static on the twin-globed display.
"It's probably not hooked up to the external antenna array," was Sandor's reply. "I'll have to check the duty schedule. For all I know the antenna's not even here yet."
She turned off the switches, and the displays went dark again. She looked up at Sandor and frowned. "No offense, but it's not…"
"Yamato?" He nodded and closed his eyes. "I know. Nothing is Yamato." He turned to shut down the bridge. "Let me show you around the rest of the ship." They went back to the elevator and went down a few levels. Then the elevator started moving sideways, and stopped a few moments later. The door opened to reveal a large room that resembled the pressure chamber for the Wave Motion Gun, except it was much larger, and had some additional pipes and chambers. "Welcome to the Magna-Wave Gun control center."
"Magna-Wave Gun?" Derek looked at the chamber with awe.
"Well, as you know, we tried to salvage as much of the Comet Empire's technology as possible after they were defeated. We were very interested in the Magna-Flame gunship, but unfortunately, Captain Gideon's fleet did too good a job in destroying it." He stopped short when Derek gave him a puzzled look. "Ah, well, I mean unfortunately from a scientific point of view. Of course it had to be destroyed," he stammered. "At any rate, all we were able to learn from the ship's computer was that they called it 'Madaruusa', the commander's name was Bleak, and their mission was to knock out the Earth Defense Fleet. There were no design plans aboard, which didn't make any sense – how did they expect to do repairs on it without some form of blueprint? We can only assume that the Gatlantians were more concerned with protecting their technology than preserving their resources.
"We dragged what was left of the hull to our Io Research Facility and combed through it to find out what made it tick. After almost a year, we came to the conclusion that there just weren't enough pieces left over to even make a wild guess. So, we tried to improvise by combining it with our own technology. What we ended up with are plans for a dual-purpose offensive weapon with the power of the improved Wave Motion Gun and the range of the Magna-Flame cannon. It charges quicker than the Wave Motion Gun, so instead of a three-minute recovery time after firing, it comes to full firing charge in one minute, with a 30-second recovery time. Thus, it allows for repeated firing, much like the Magna-Flame Gun."
"That's amazing! How would that work?" Derek was looking at a sheet with simulated test results and specifications.
Sandor showed them a schematic with several sections highlighted. "Well, you already know how the Wave Motion Gun works – it takes tachyon particles from the Wave Motion Engine, compresses them into Wave Motion Energy, and fires this energy out the front of the ship. The problem with this design is that it puts a strain on energy reserves, making the ship vulnerable while it's charging and for a short time after firing. For this reason, the Wave Gun is a weapon of last resort. On the other hand, the Magna-Flame Gun looks like it was designed to be a primary assault weapon."
"It took out several of Captain Gideon's ships before the Andromeda Fleet could even fire a shot."
"Exactly. A weapon like that would be quite valuable, but since the Andromeda Fleet was destroyed before the Comet Empire fleet was in scanning range, we have no real data on the original Magna-Flame Gun. From analyzing recordings of ship-to-ship communications during the battle, we know that the gun backfired when the enemy tried to use it in Saturn's ice rings. We're still not entirely sure why."
"Fortunately for Captain Gideon, it gave the fleet the time they needed to regroup," Derek said.
"If this thing works, it might be something we'll have to remember ourselves."
"If it works?" Nova asked. "That doesn't sound at all like you!" She winked.
Sandor looked embarrassed. "It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle with 80 of the pieces missing and no box cover. There just weren't enough pieces left over to make a working model, and the components we do have, well, we can't figure out how they work." He flipped a few pages on a clipboard and pointed at a drawing of the Madaruusa. "You see these round ports on the front? They are energy conduits of some form, but we can't tell whether they were meant to collect or discharge energy." He flipped to another page, this one showing the front of the Prometheus with two pods sticking out of the sides of the hull. "Our collector pods are mounted here and here, on either side. One theory says that they are used to collect energy from space and add that to the main power cells to charge the weapon. However, after studying the Gamilon Matter Transporter another valid theory has been presented."
Derek looked surprised. "When did you get hold of a SMITE unit?"
"We grabbed one of the SMITE pods from Desslok's flagship and studied it."
Derek laughed. "That explains a lot. While we were on Garumania, Desslok told us that he sent a crew to retrieve his flagship after our last battle. He didn't mind our taking some parts from the Gamilstadt to repair the Yamato, but he was curious as to why one of the SMITE generators was missing. I didn't realize we had taken it."
"Sorry about that. In all the confusion, it sort of slipped my mind to tell you about it. While we were scraping deck plating from Desslok's ship to repair our own, Royster suggested taking one of the SMITE pods along to study. I wasn't sure if we had the time, but it didn't take long to disassemble one. These devices caused a lot of trouble for us when we fought General Lysis, so it was almost an obsession with some of the engineers to get it working. One of them even compared Lysis with Adolf Hitler – brilliant strategist, powerful weaponry, pity he ended up causing so much death and destruction."
Derek ignored the comparison, remembering that the Yamato was a product of that war. "So what is the new theory?"
"One of our engineers suggested that these unknown ports were used as teleportation devices, similar to SMITE technology. Based on chatter recorded during the battle, it seemed like the blast from the Magna-Flame Gun came from directions other than line-of-sight, which implies that somehow, those pods on the sides were able to open a rift in space through which the cannon was fired. This allowed the blast to come from the fleet's flank and even rear. Impossible with a normal energy weapon, but somehow possible with this one. This leads to the idea that if an energy blast can be sent through the rift, so can a ship."
"So, we would be able to teleport fighters from one place to another, just like the Gamilons did at the Rainbow Galaxy?" Derek asked. "A ship without a warp engine would still be able to travel great distances."
"Medical shuttles could jump in and out of a battle field," Nova whispered. Derek looked at her and nodded.
Sandor looked down at his feet. "There are lots of possibilities, but we weren't able to precisely duplicate the SMITE's power source either."
"So none of this has actually been tested?" Derek asked.
"Well, not in an actual production model, no. Without more information on Gamilon power reactors, we've been afraid to power it on." Sandor looked embarrassed that his theories were still just those – theories. "It didn't come with an operating manual," he said, trying to break the tension.
"Why not just ask the Gamilons for help?" Nova asked.
Sandor looked even more sheepish. "It's a matter of pride – no one wants to go begging the Gamilons for help, and if they found out we even had the thing, they might want it back. Remember, there hasn't exactly been an official peace treaty. I doubt that Earth Command would trust them enough to sign a trade agreement that allowed us to exchange technology. Even though they did try to repair the damage done to the Sun, well, it was their missile that caused it to go nuclear in the first place. There are a lot of people in key positions that still don't trust the Gamilons. The President is one of them."
"It's been many years since we fought the Gamilons and the Comet Empire. Why are we just now seeing some of their technology?" Nova asked, trying to change the subject to prevent further embarrassment. Sandor looked relieved.
"We actually started looking at some of this back in 2202, but then the hyperon bomb showed up in our back yard. Earth Defense wouldn't give us the time to research new technology when we needed to rely on something that worked. The supercharger and the Wave Motion cartridge guns were the extent of our research at that time, and even those required a lot of last-minute hacks to make them work. Given more time, I would have rather built the supercharger into the engine itself. I was very relieved that it worked after our first real test, but further experimenting had to wait when I found out that the Earth had been attacked. Even after the Dinguil Empire was defeated, it was a long time before anyone at headquarters felt safe enough to let us start looking at new technology again. We blew the dust off the Magna-Wave gun plans about the same time that the Avatar hit the drawing board."
As they were leaving the control room, Derek asked, "what about other enemy technology? Has anything from the Dinguil or Black Nebula Empires been used for anything?" Since the engine room and flight hangars were still a skeleton structure and not much to look at yet, they were heading towards a break room outside the ship. Sandor had said that this was the only place in the known universe that served coffee worse than Nova's.
"We had a series of meetings on that. When the hyperon bomb was dismantled, we studied it carefully. We decided that the technology was just too barbaric for us to adapt. The same decision was made about the Dinguil hyper-radiation missiles - anything that was designed to be as painful as possible in taking a life just wasn't something we wanted anything to do with."
Nova stabbed at a piece of cheesecake. "So, we can take lives, as long as it's quick and painless?" She frowned at the double standard.
Sandor took a sip of coffee. "Top brass's unofficial position is if we have to take lives at all, we don't have to enjoy it." Sandor looked over at Wildstar. "From what Derek said in his reports about Emperor Lugarl, he was an absolute fanatic who didn't care much for the welfare of anyone who fell outside his plans. He sacrificed his own sons for what he believed. The leader of the Black Nebula Empire was hell-bent on taking our bodies from us. Earth has never attacked another race for its own gain, just in self-defense. We want to keep it that way.
"Besides, the Prometheus isn't just another flying death machine. The ship may never be commissioned in its current form. It's just a test bed for new designs."
"So who's the lucky crew to fly the Prometheus on its first mission?" Derek asked. "Should be very exciting, flying a ship with scavenged alien technology. It'll probably take years to work out all the bugs."
"We're looking for an experienced crew for the Prometheus, and a second crew for the escort ship." Derek's eyebrows rose when Sandor said "escort ship." Sandor caught it, and explained, "in case anything goes wrong with the Prometheus, we'll have an escort as a backup. The Gemini will carry rescue shuttles if necessary, and it's also a good way to test our remote control system. We're going to fit every ship with the capability to take control of another ship's systems in case the bridge is captured or rendered inoperable."
Sandor took a sip of coffee, and looked at Derek. "I was hoping you would command the Prometheus."
Derek stopped mid-chew, then swallowed and looked wide-eyed at Nova, then back at Sandor. "Me? I don't know. I'm not sure I'm cut out for it."
"Who else has more experience with unexpected situations? Besides, it's only a test flight. Look, I have to put in my recommendations by next week for a crew. Give it some thought, okay? I want good people backing me up." Sandor finished his coffee and tossed the cup in a well-practiced perfect arc across the room into a trash barrel.
"I'll give it thought, but I don't think they would accept me."
"Oh, why not, Derek?" Nova poked at his arm.
"I don't know, it isn't… well, it won't be the same."
Sandor stood up to leave. "Wildstar, face it. I'm as sentimental as the next guy, but Yamato is gone. We have to move on." He looked at his watch. "Speaking of moving, I have a meeting in a few minutes. May I escort you out?"
Captain Avatar was adjusting the controls from his post, mumbling something under his breath. Derek turned and looked out the window of the bridge, and saw the great water planet approaching. Avatar began the countdown to firing the Wave Motion Gun, knowing that pulling the trigger meant killing himself and destroying the Yamato. The ship that had saved mankind from extinction so many times was now about to do so one last time. The look on Avatar's face was not one of fear, but of regret. Regret that he was destroying the ship? Who was to say? In less than 5 seconds…
Then Derek realized he was on the bridge of the Yamato. How could this be? He was on board the Fuyuzuki, how could he be here? Before he could move, the ship was rocked with an explosion, splitting it in two. The flash of the explosion blinded Derek. He tried to cry out, but no words came. The last feeling he had was icy water filling the bridge…
He woke up with a start, almost knocking Nova out of bed. She turned to hold him.
"Derek! What's the matter?" She placed a hand on his back, then exclaimed, "You're soaking wet!" She got up and grabbed his robe.
Derek grabbed the robe and wrapped it around his shivering body. He looked at the clock, which read 3:02am. He turned to look at Nova, who appeared very worried. "I'm, okay, it's just another nightmare."
"Another? What do you mean another? You've been having nightmares? Why didn't you tell me?"
He spent the next half-hour recounting the occurrences of each nightmare, while Nova listened intently. "They seemed like nothing at first, but lately they seem to hold some meaning. The circumstances are different, but they always end the same," he concluded. "I die in an alternate version of a decisive point in my past."
"Something is about to happen. I can feel it too, Derek, but not through nightmares. Everyday actions seem to be somewhat more than simple routine." Nova looked at her hands. "I feel like everything I do is for some master plan, leading up to something."
They fell back to sleep holding one another, almost not waking up for the alarm clock.
Derek spent the next week relaxing, catching up on old mail, and even repainting the bedroom ("that awful blue!" Nova had said many times.) He kept bouncing between "I could really get used to this puttering around at home stuff" and "I need to get off this rock." Nova had to go back to work at Central Hospital, and had duties at EDF HQ four nights a week. She really amazed him sometimes – at age 28, she was a Lt. Commander, a combat veteran, an accomplished pilot, an accredited nurse, and was still working to better herself by working towards a doctorate in medicine. How many guys were lucky enough to be married to a woman like her? Of course, when he would tell her this, she would just blush and say, "oh, YOU!" or something equally dismissive.
Just when he was starting to get used to the idea of lounging around in a hammock, the party was over. Monday morning, he reported to EDF Headquarters to receive his assignment: just what he had feared, more pilot training. Not exactly what he had hoped for, but at least it didn't take him very far away from Nova. He was to report in two weeks to the Delta Training Facility in Chicago. Derek hoped that he would have time to see some of the cities, and how people were managing. He felt badly for all the people who had to rebuild their lives after a devastating attack, only to have them destroyed again the following year when someone new decided to take over the Earth. For now, Earth was enjoying peace, but would it last? He told himself not to think about it.
He was heading for the monorails, grumbling to himself about the assignment, when he heard a familiar motorized noise behind him. He stopped and turned to see IQ-9 heading his direction.
"Commodore Derek Wildstar, I have a message for you from Sandor."
"Go ahead, IQ." Derek hoped IQ-9 was being used for more than a messenger robot.
"At 1500 hours next Saturday, the Prometheus will be taking off for a test flight. You have been invited onboard the escort ship Gemini as an honored guest. Sandor needs a reply by tomorrow morning so he can finalize the crew roster." IQ-9 paused a moment, then added in a more animated voice, "Of course, you are welcome to bring Nova."
"Yes, you would say that," Derek grinned. He would have a week to spare, so he could still make it to Chicago in plenty of time. Maybe he could get some flight time in himself before classes began. "Tell Sandor I will be there, and Nova might come with me. Don't get your hopes up."
"I will relay your message, Commodore Wildstar." Nova would not be thrilled to be on a ship with IQ-9 again; he had grown even more eccentric since the wedding, if such a thing were possible. He tried to lift up her wedding dress twice, which Dr. Sane simply called, "an improvement."
The following Saturday, Derek and Nova reported to Docking Bay Four as instructed by Sandor. At Nova's insistence, Derek was dressed in his black captain's jacket, even though he was not the ship's captain. Since Derek was an experienced captain, Sandor had placed him in a position of "advisement." Nova joked that this meant, "All the seasoned captains are too busy, so they brought in some wet-behind-the-ears trainee who will be bugging you the entire trip wondering where to find the head." They were approaching the gangway when Sandor, also dressed in a black captain's jacket, approached them. While Sandor carried no military rank, he had apparently been placed in the position of Captain for this test flight. Based on the way he kept tugging at his jacket sleeves, he was obviously not used to wearing it.
"Ah, welcome Commodore and Lieutenant Commander Wildstar, our honored guests!" He bowed in mock reverence. Nova poked him on the top of the head.
"Get up before you get stuck like that!" she giggled. Sandor straightened up and motioned towards the Prometheus, which was now, at least externally, completed. The number was still there, but the holes in the hull were closed up. In a docking cradle next to the Prometheus was a smaller ship, the Gemini, which wasn't much larger than the Avatar.
Derek looked over the Prometheus, his eyes stopping on the front. "Sandor, did you remove the SMITE pods?"
"They're retractable. No sense advertising, especially since they don't work. They are wired to the Magna-Wave Gun, but I shudder to think what would happen if we actually activated them." He grimaced and motioned towards the new ship. "Shall we take a tour of the Prometheus before we take off?" he asked, changing the subject. "You should see the bridge now that it's finished." The three walked into the massive ship and took the elevator up. The door opened, and they stepped out to the bridge. A bunch of technicians dropped what they were doing and saluted in the standard fist-over-heart fashion.
After a few seconds, Sandor whispered, "Wildstar! Salute them back, before they fall over!"
Derek saluted smartly, and added, "As you were." The crew returned to their stations. Nova smirked.
"You've carried that rank long enough, you should be used to it by now, Commodore," Sandor laughed, giving emphasis on the last word. He walked over to the captain's console and threw a few switches. "Lieutenant, how much more is there to do before we're ready?"
"We're just about done, Sandor. Four more relays to connect with the main engine, and we're all set. Should take about 15 minutes." The lieutenant saluted; Sandor returned the salute, and the lieutenant returned to his work.
Derek leaned over and whispered to Sandor, "The engine's not online yet?"
Sandor whispered back, "This was a rush job. I'll tell you about it later."
The communications officer shouted from across the bridge, "Captain! Message from Command: they want to know if all crew has checked in."
Sandor, obviously not used to being called "Captain," paused a few seconds before realizing that the officer was addressing him. He pushed a few buttons on his data pad and scrolled through the crew roster. "Tell them the Prometheus' engine crew is still missing a few people. They have ten minutes to check in or they're on report."
Sandor pointed at the communications officer. "That's Jason Dunlap. He graduated from the Academy a few years ago, and has been working in traffic control for the Houston Space Port. Over there is navigator Michael Morley, and radar operator Tom Silver. Theresa McGovern has the honor of being the first female combat chief to graduate from the Academy." Each person nodded or saluted as they were introduced.
"Sandor, who will captain the Prometheus?" Derek asked, examining the controls on the captain's console. All captain's consoles were laid out pretty much the same, so a captain from one vessel could easily take command of another, but there were always slight differences to account for ships' functions.
"Well, I really would have preferred you in that chair. Admiral Rolaski will be taking the ship out."
"Vladimir Rolaski?" Derek had heard the name before, but not in a good light. Admiral Rolaski had a history of acting without thinking, and it had cost lives and ships. In a battle with Black Nebula ships, he was ordered to fall back, but Rolaski ignored the order and tried to keep the offensive. Most of his fleet was destroyed, and his flagship would have been as well if the enemy fleet didn't have other agendas.
"The same. He arrived earlier, and is in his quarters brushing up on some of the ship's specs."
Derek nodded. "Is this a good idea? Rolaski is, after all…"
"Yes, and that was considered, but I was told 'no one else has the time.' Personally," he lowered his voice, "I think it was a political decision. This is only a shakedown cruise, so one would hardly expect someone as high ranking as an Admiral to do this kind of work. I think someone wants to clean up Rolaski's act, and being the first to take out a combined tech ship will make him a media darling. Either that, or Rolaski drew the short straw. Besides, he has experience with new ships."
"He's been through enough of them," Derek mumbled.
Sandor ignored the comment. "He can think on his feet too. He's rather set in his ways, but when he found out you would be on board the Gemini, he promised to be receptive to your recommendations."
"Oh, I'll bet."
Suddenly, someone shouted, "Admiral on the bridge!" Everyone stood and saluted; Derek and Sandor turned and saluted as well. Admiral Rolaski stepped up to his command chair, turned and saluted, then looked at Derek.
"Commodore Wildstar, it is I who salute you. Welcome aboard the Prometheus." He took his seat behind the command console. "Sandor, are all crew members aboard?"
Sandor punched a few keys again on his data pad and looked up. "Yes, sir, all crew are present and accounted for. The engine crew is priming the Wave Motion Engines, all computer teams are ready, and the navigation crew is standing by for course information."
"Very good. All bridge crew, take your stations." He picked up a microphone. "Attention all hands, this is Admiral Rolaski. Take your stations, and prepare the ship for launch."
Sandor tapped Derek on the arm. "That's our cue. We should get over to the Gemini." Sandor motioned towards the elevator as Derek took Nova's hand. "Come on, it's time for us to get underway."
As they walked towards the escort ship, Sandor explained, "As I said the other day, the Gemini has the ability to control another ship if necessary. With any luck, we won't need that little feature."
"Are you afraid something will go wrong?" Nova asked.
"Let's just say there's so much duct tape holding the Prometheus together at the moment, I'll be impressed if she makes it out of the dock."
"Then why not postpone the test flight?"
"Nova, were it my decision, I'd want another month at least. There are quite a few people who are very interested in seeing this project succeed, and quite a few more that are up for re-election soon. I was told to have it ready to fly by this afternoon, or they'd find someone who could."
Derek nodded in understanding. "It's the Argo refit all over again."
They crossed the deck and stepped up the much smaller gangplank of the Gemini, takingthe lift to the bridge. After Derek was done saluting the crew, Sandor waved Derek and Nova over towards the captain's chair.
"Wildstar, you and I will sit at the command console. Now, you should meet the crew." Derek stepped down towards the left side of the control panels. "Our operations chief is someone you might remember."
"Kitano!" Derek stepped forward to shake the hand of one of his own trainees. "It's been a long time!"
Kitano stood proudly. "Captain - excuse me - Commodore Wildstar, it's good to see you again."
"What have you been up to?" Kitano had started out rather green, but by the time the Yamato had returned to Earth after the "Iscandar incident," Kitano had proven himself to be a valuable member of the crew.
"I was assigned to a defense ship near Pluto after we returned from our first encounter with the Black Nebula Empire. We got into a skirmish with one of the Black Nebula fleets on their way to Earth, but they weren't too interested in us. Nothing like the excitement you saw, from what I hear." Something on his console beeped. "If you'll excuse me, sir, can we catch up later?"
Derek shook Kitano's hand again. "Absolutely. It's good to have you aboard." Kitano returned to his seat and began going over some displays. "Any more surprises, Sandor?"
"No other former Yamato crew, if that's what you mean," Sandor grinned, "although Chief Yamazaki was one of the designers of the new Wave Motion Engine." He pointed to the navigation chair. "Our navigator is probably comparing notes with the Admiral. Ensign Maria Santiago - she's new, but very qualified."
Derek looked at the navigator's chair. "Yes, I know her. She was my navigator on the Avatar. Good pilot, but never tested under real combat conditions."
"We're not running any live combat tests on this trip, just some target practice. We're a long way from battle games." Sandor pointed at the radar post, where Nova was chatting with the operator. "Our radar operator is Ryu Fujita. This is also his first real flight."
"Sandor," Wildstar whispered, "why so many trainees? We're babysitting an untested ship, anything could go wrong. I thought you wanted a more seasoned crew for the Prometheus, at least."
"Well, it's mostly because of the short notice. My original crew recommendations were approved for a test flight three weeks from now. However, as I mentioned before, I was told to accelerate things a bit, or give up the project to someone else. This is my baby, and I want to see it through, so I was forced to take on academy graduates that have no current assignments. I'm not too worried, though - I am sure you remember the time we went up with trainees."
Derek tried to stifle a laugh at the memory of a soaking wet Tim Orion, who had capsized the transport boat because he was gaping at the size of the Argo instead of watching where he was going. "Yes, they certainly were green. But they were flying a proven ship."
"We ran into unexpected circumstances. No one could have anticipated what was going to happen on that trip, yet we couldn't have asked for a better crew. Besides, were you any different on the first flight to Iscandar? As I recall, you had been stationed at an outpost on Mars, and the Argo had just risen from the ocean bed. How much testing did the Wave Motion Engine have? How much action did we see out there? How much actual combat experience did you have? Your first battle was right before our first warp to Mars. It was the same with Sakamoto and the new Black Tigers. They had no real combat experience either, but they didn't let you down at Iscandar, did they?"
"Once Sakamoto grew up, he made a damn good pilot."
"Once you grew up, you made a damn good captain."
Derek looked out the bridge window at the closed bulkhead doors. "You're right. These cadets deserve a chance."
"Sandor," Nova asked, "speaking of the crew, where's IQ-9?" Neither had heard her come up behind them.
Sandor laughed. "Helping Dr. Sane, if he knows what's good for him. I told him he was not needed here. I could tell he was real disappointed not to see you again," Sandor winked.
"I could have safely worn a skirt, then?" Nova replied with a frown. Derek laughed.
A door opened behind them. Santiago came running in, pausing for a moment to salute Derek, then continued to her station.
Sandor took his seat at the command console, and motioned for Derek to sit next to him. He pointed to the radar console and said, "Nova, you're welcome to sit down near operations. Your advice and opinions will be valuable, as a veteran bridge officer." She nodded her thanks, and sat beside Fujita as Santiago began pushing buttons. "Santiago, get the Gemini ready for launch." She nodded as a microphone came up from her console.
"Engine room, power to 1500. Two minutes to engine start."
A voice crackled over the intercom. "You got it, bridge. Engine room out."
Santiago slumped down into her chair. "Wow, that wasn't so bad." She grinned at Kitano. "Maria Santiago," she said, offering her hand.
He took her hand, and replied, "Kitano Tetsu, and that was the best command voice I've heard in a while."
Santiago smiled and said, "Oh, you and I are gonna get along just fine."
"Dunlap, report to Command that we are ready to get underway," Rolaski barked. "We don't want to be late for our maiden voyage."
"Aye, sir," Dunlap responded. "Command, this is Prometheus, reporting ready for liftoff. Please acknowledge."
A few seconds passed, and then a reply came over the bridge speakers. "Prometheus, this is Command. You are cleared for takeoff."
Sandor was monitoring the Prometheus' com signals. "Okay, it's our turn. Kitano, would you let Command know that we're ready?" Sandor pushed a few buttons on his console.
"Aye, sir. Command, this is escort craft Gemini, ready for take off."
Nova looked back at Derek and winked. He looked back and smiled. This was almost as exciting as the first launch of the Argo.
Santiago turned. "Captain, Gemini is ready." Derek could feel the surging of the Gemini's engine as the ship powered up. Through the bulkhead, he could hear the whine of the Prometheus' flywheels increasing in speed. He looked at some of the monitors on the captain's console, showing various parts of the Prometheus so Sandor could keep an eye on the ship. One of the external cameras showed several technicians outside the ship. They appeared to be saluting.
Sandor picked up a microphone. "Sandor to Dunlap, Gemini is ready."
Dunlap responded. "Prometheus is under way, Captain."
Sandor nodded. "Santiago, follow the Prometheus."
"Taking us out, sir." Santiago threw some switches and pulled the throttle back, engaging the auxiliary engines. The Prometheus had already cleared the docking bay doors. Outside the gate were several vessels, both private and commercial, all taking pictures. Police skiffs were buzzing around trying to keep the vessels out of the way. The Prometheus passed them and headed out to open sea. Santiago increased the throttle once they were clear of other ships, skimming the surface of the water.
"Why all the fuss?" Derek asked, watching the flutter of ships.
"Word got out that we're launching a ship that uses alien technology. Apparently, it's a big deal." He turned towards the front of the ship. "Santiago, start the main engine once we clear port."
"Yes, Captain." Derek could see her whispering something to Kitano, causing Kitano to blush, but Derek could not hear what it was.
The Prometheus was gaining speed, so Santiago increased speed to keep up. When the Prometheus lifted from the water, Santiago started the main engine. As the ship lurched upwards, Derek couldn't help but remember Kitano's first liftoff, which almost beached the Argo on a small island. He later found out that this is what Santiago was whispering to Kitano – "Watch how it's done, beachcomber."
"Prometheus will clear the atmosphere in five minutes, sir. We're having trouble keeping up."
"Good. Keep her steady," Sandor answered. "Looks like Rolaski's showing off for the press." He threw a few switches, and picked up a microphone. "Gemini to Prometheus. Let's keep her at half speed for now, okay, Admiral? If you get too far away, I can't get accurate readings."
"As you wish, Captain, but you're not going to get very realistic readings if you insist on keeping a leash on us."
Derek looked at Sandor. "What's he trying to do?"
"Trying to show us who's in charge. Santiago, distance to atmospheric boundary?"
Sandor seemed satisfied with the readings he was seeing. "Prometheus, set course for the moon. We'll do a few orbits and test out the scanning equipment first, then head for the asteroid field for some target practice."
"Prometheus is in space, sir," announced Dunlap. This was followed by the sound of clapping from the rest of the bridge crew.
"Wildstar, there's nothing much to see until we reach the moon, care for some coffee?" Sandor stood. "Nova, you're welcome to join us."
Nova waved them off. "No thanks, I want to stay here for a bit." She smiled at Derek.
Sandor smirked. "I promise the coffee here is much better than the stuff we had on the Yamato." Nova put on a mock pout and tossed a data pad stylus at him. Sandor ducked and started down the stairs to the lower deck. "Kitano, let us know as we approach the moon."
The mess was smaller than most they had been in. They sat alone, since all crew-members were at their stations. The kitchen crew was just starting up their equipment, so there was nothing to eat yet, but coffee was always available for those who had difficulty adjusting to the lack of night and day in space.
"What comes after the gunnery tests?" Wildstar asked between sips.
"Warp testing," Sandor answered. "We'll head for Pluto and visit some of the survey stations for radar calibration."
"Will we get to see the new Wave Gun?"
"No. The Magna-Wave Gun still needs some simulation tests, and the energy transfer conduits for the collector pods are too unstable."
"Too bad, that would have been impressive."
"Oh, I'll make sure you're around for that. I doubt that we'll be ready for another few weeks."
"I ship out to Chicago the week after we return. I'll probably miss it."
"Lucky you. More pilot training?"
"Yes. I wish they'd put me on a ship. A real ship, not a scout ship."
"Wildstar, I know what you're looking for. There hasn't been any need for new battleships. Until someone retires, or we have a reason to commission a new ship, you won't be given a ship of your own. You'll just have to settle for the occasional scout ship."
Derek stared into his cup. "I can't help but think that command is trying to shield me. Not that I would have wanted the job, but was I even considered for the Prometheus?"
"You're being paranoid. Here's something to take your mind off it, though: if the Prometheus is redesigned to be a real ship, she will need a captain. Rolaski will go back to his own ship when we're done with the test flights. The Prometheus, whatever it ends up being called, would be a new ship, and you would be available." Sandor tossed his cup into the garbage. "Think about it, Wildstar."
Before Derek could answer, Kitano's voice came over the intercom. "Captain Sandor! Report to the bridge at once!" They ran for the hall and ducked into an elevator.
"What's going on?" Sandor demanded as they ran onto the bridge.
Fujita turned and replied. "The radar's picked up movement near the Aquarian Sea. The Prometheus is on her way to intercept."
"Yamato…" Derek whispered. When Aquarius was driven away from Earth, the water that was left behind froze into what was now called the Aquarian Sea. Captain Avatar's body was removed from the bridge of the Yamato for a proper burial, but the ship was still encased in the ice. The Aquarian Sea was declared off limits to civilian spacecraft. "Maybe it's just a private transport doing some sight seeing."
"We'll know more in a minute," Fujita replied. "We're still too far away to ID them."
Rolaski's voice came over the speakers. "Captain Sandor, we have the ships on the main viewer. Computer's not coming up with a match, so we're assuming that they are hostile."
"There's a surprise," mumbled Derek.
Fujita hit a few switches, and the overhead panel lit up with an image. The ice was clearly visible, and part of the Yamato's hull could be seen poking out, but if there were ships near it, they were too small to be distinguished from floating debris. The image slowly enlarged.
"Look at that!" Sandor pointed at the screen. Several small objects were heading away from the ice in a hurry. "They must have spotted us. Where are they headed?"
"Dunlap, raise those ships. I want to know who they are!" Rolaski shouted.
"Yes sir! Unidentified craft, this is the Prometheus. You are in restricted airspace, please identify yourselves." No response. "I repeat, this is the Prometheus, identify yourself." Still nothing. "Sir, they're either ignoring us or don't hear us."
"Follow them," Rolaski answered.
"I don't suppose the Prometheus has any fighters on board." Derek asked half-jokingly. Had this been the Yamato, he'd already be in his Superstar Fighter.
"No, a ship is not given fighters until it's officially christened," Sandor answered. "She doesn't even have any Cosmo Hounds on board. Just escape shuttles." He looked up at the viewer, which showed the Prometheus following the strange ships.
"What's that?" Four large ships suddenly appeared directly in front of the Gemini. "Santiago, evade!" he shouted without thinking. "Er, I mean… sorry, Sandor."
Sandor either didn't hear him or pretended he didn't. "Change course, 20 degrees to port, and drop 10!" Santiago adjusted speed and course to avoid the new ships, but the Prometheus was changing course to intercept them.
Fujita looked back at Sandor. "Captain, there is no sign of the smaller ships. They might have warped, or boarded one of the new ships." He looked back at the radar. "Sir, the Prometheus is –"
Sandor frowned. "I see it."
The four ships began moving apart to avoid the Prometheus. When they were clear, they turned towards the approaching ship.
Fujita turned and shouted, "Sir, they're aiming guns at the Prometheus!"
Sandor grabbed a mic. "Admiral, what exactly is it you intend to do?"
"Captain Sandor, I am assuming command of this operation."
"You're what? This isn't an operation, it's a test flight!"
"Those ships are aiming weapons at us, which is an act of war. We are now at battle conditions, which dictate that the senior officer must take command."
"Sir, with all due respect, I am in charge of this test flight. We do not have permission to engage any enemy ships, so we should radio EDF HQ before we take any action. I am relinquishing command to Commodore Wildstar, and since the Gemini is the lead ship in this 'operation,' to use your word, he is now in charge." Derek looked at Sandor with a pained look on his face.
"Regardless of the legendary Commodore Wildstar's past accomplishments, I still outrank him. The Prometheus is the closest battle-ready ship in the area."
Sandor pounded his fist on the console. He looked up, and tried to contain his anger and frustration. "That is exactly my point! The Prometheus is not battle-ready! The armor is just tacked on to make it space worthy! There's no way she'll stand up to an attack!"
"Do you have any other suggestions, Captain?" Rolaski challenged. "We don't have time to debate this."
"Return to Earth. Warp out of their way. Anything, but we cannot face them head on!" He poked a few buttons. "The Perseus is 15 minutes away. Radio Earth Defense Headquarters, they'll send her to inter-" An explosion rocked the ship, knocking Sandor off his feet.
Rolaski stared intently at the ships ahead of them. Dunlap shouted, "Admiral, the Gemini has been hit."
"McGovern, open fire on those ships."
She turned to face Rolaski. "Sir, if Captain Sandor is right-"
Rolaski stood quickly and slammed his hands down on his console. "This is no longer a test flight; we are now at battle conditions. I will thank you not to question my orders!" His face was beet red as he glared down at McGovern.
"Yes sir!" she replied, hitting a few switches. "All forward guns, fire!" Under her breath, she mumbled, "Cross your fingers."
Sandor looked out at the approaching ships as the forward cannons of the Prometheus rotated into position and fired. The ship that had fired on the Gemini took a direct hit, and was knocked off course with the resulting explosion. The other three, however, turned towards the Prometheus with no apparent regard for the first. The Prometheus' side missiles fired, hitting another one of the ships, but the blast didn't cause enough damage to slow it down. The remaining two ships drew closer together and extended what appeared to be docking tubes.
Derek noticed it first. "What are they doing?" he asked.
The ship that had taken missile damage was now linking between the other two, forming a triangle. Sandor grabbed his mic, but before he could say anything, the three enemy ships, now joined, fired a massive energy beam at the Prometheus. The beam hit the ship's underside, ripping open a large hole and sending the huge battleship careening towards the Gemini. Santiago frantically attempted to avoid the Prometheus, and in doing so tilted the Gemini violently to port. Nova screamed as she was thrown to the floor. Derek ran to help her up.
"You okay?" he said.
"Hang on, everyone!" Santiago shouted.
Nova looked around, attempting to dust herself off. "Yes, I'm fine. That'll teach me to be out of my seat during an attack." Derek looked back out at the enemy ships.
Sandor steadied himself and started shouting into the microphone. "Gemini to Prometheus, report status!"
There was static, followed by Dunlap's frantic voice. "We're having trouble controlling her!" There was some unintelligible yelling in the background, then after a pause, Dunlap continued. "We've lost our starboard engine!"
Santiago was trying to get the Gemini back under control. Sandor looked up at the display and saw the Prometheus spinning towards the frozen remains of the Yamato.
"That's probably the safety lock," Sandor shouted over the wailing alarm. "If the engine conduits rupture, the engine shuts down to prevent an explosion."
Morley cut in. "That must be what happened, then, because I can't get any response from it at all. Port engine is reading full power, but the ship is still spinning."
Sandor looked up at the display. "Will someone shut that damned alarm off?"
"McGovern!" Rolaski's voice boomed. "We have to hit them before they fire again."
She turned and replied, "Sir, our shock cannons are offline, and missiles were ineffective. Those ships must be shielded or something. Recommend we fall back and wait for reinforcements."
Silver pounded his console. "Either the radar's offline too, or they're jamming us. I can't get any sort of reading on them."
Admiral Rolaski stood and looked out at the enemy ships, which appeared to be circling for another attack run. "Charge the Magna-Wave Gun."
McGovern stood and her jaw dropped. "Admiral, the Magna-Wave Gun -"
"Is untested, yes."
Morley shot the Captain a sideways glance. "Sir, I can barely keep the ship steady, how are we going to aim the gun?"
"YOU'RE the navigator, Morley, which makes that YOUR problem," Admiral Rolaski said tersely.
"Captain, check out the Prometheus!" Kitano was pointing at the video panel.
Sandor's jaw dropped when he looked at the monitor. He looked at Derek and Nova in disbelief. "He can't be serious."
Derek looked up at the monitor to see the Prometheus extending its SMITE pods.
McGovern was calling out a checklist from her station. "Magna-Wave Gun charging… I think. Energy collectors are extended and, well… they appear to be functioning. There doesn't appear to be any feedback indicator on them. Mike, try to steady the ship so I can get a lock."
"Doing my best," he replied through gritted teeth.
The firing trigger for the Magna-Wave Gun rose from her console. "30 seconds to firing," McGovern called out as she nervously grabbed the trigger and pulled the firing pin back.
Sandor looked at Derek. "If this goes as I expect, we may have to get out of here in a hurry." Derek nodded and motioned for Nova to return to her seat. "Fujita, what kind of readings are you getting from the Prometheus? My panel's not responding."
Fujita punched a few keys, and then turned to look at Sandor. "There's a large energy accumulation at the front of the ship."
Sandor looked up at the monitor, and saw energy rings forming around the SMITE pods. "Oh, no," he gasped.
Santiago wiped her brow. "What's going on?"
Sandor sat down. "No time to explain, Ensign. Kitano, establish command override protocols. Take control of the Prometheus."
Kitano sat back down and started flipping switches. "Aye sir, beginning command override."
Fujita pointed at the enemy ships. "They might be getting ready to fire again. The front ship is emitting an energy field."
"Hurry, Kitano, before…"
Rolaski stood and looked at the approaching ships. "Fire."
McGovern pulled the trigger. A loud surge from the front of the ship rose in pitch and volume. Then a deafening roar was heard from the center of the Prometheus.
"Captain, the Prometheus is firing!" Santiago shouted.
Sandor stood. "Get us away from the Prometheus! Now!"
Out the front window, the crew watched the Prometheus discharging an energy blast towards the enemy ships as the entire midsection of the ship began flying apart. Then the remainder of the Prometheus was engulfed in an explosion that threw the Gemini off course.
Santiago was climbing back into her chair. "Got to get us back under control!" she yelled as she grabbed the control sticks.
Somehow, Fujita managed to stay at his post. "Sir, there's no sign of the attacking ships. Oh, shit."
Sandor was trying to steady himself. "Fujita, watch your language! There are women present!" Then he looked up at the viewer, and said, "Oh, shit."
The fourth enemy ship, previously thought to be out of the fight, was now swinging around to attack the Gemini.
Sandor started pushing buttons, but nothing was responding. He pounded on his useless console. "We're sitting ducks out here. If the Prometheus couldn't shoot it down, the Gemini doesn't have a snowball's chance." Sandor turned to Santiago. "Do we have power enough to warp?"
The enemy ship rotated its gun turrets to aim at the Gemini, and was knocked off course by an explosion. A dozen fighters flew past it as a ship in the distance fired another volley. The enemy ship turned 90 degrees, accelerated, and disappeared into the blackness of space.
"Perseus to Gemini: come in! This is the Perseus, does anyone copy?"
Santiago finally managed to get the ship on a steady course, as Sandor sat back down and breathed out sharply. He picked up his microphone, and quietly replied. "This is Gemini. I'm not sure what our status is, but we need assistance."
"Copy, Gemini, we're on our way. A fighter squadron will stay with you until then."
Derek breathed a sigh of relief while Sandor started making a few notes on his data pad. "First test of Magna-Wave gun: failure. No, scratch that. Utter failure. Crew performance: Below Standards. Ship assessment: total loss."
The wreckage of the Prometheus was examined, and a flood of reports was filed. A week later, the engineering team in charge of the "autopsy" concluded that the SMITE devices had shorted out the engine conduits, which caused the Magna-Wave compression chamber to overload and feed back into the remaining engine. Sandor told several boards of inquiry that he had expected this to happen, but Admiral Rolaski had ignored Sandor's warnings.
"Sorting through the red tape will probably take longer than building a new ship," Sandor sighed as he recounted this for Derek. Kitano and Santiago were also at the table. The four had joined in the café near EDF HQ to discuss the attack. "That's assuming that they will bother. They might look at the whole idea of alien technology as a costly mistake in both money and lives. We lost some good people up there."
"What's the official word on the enemy ships?" Kitano asked.
Sandor looked off in the distance. "The three that combined vanished without a trace, not even wreckage. I don't think the Prometheus actually hit them, I think they warped out. The one that almost fried our bacon managed to get away as well, but there were some fragments left behind from the Perseus' attack. We're examining them, but so far haven't learned anything."
Kitano munched away on his sandwich. "So we don't know who attacked, why, or whether we'll see them again."
"That's about it," Sandor frowned.
"Well, that's just great," Kitano said. "Just when I was getting used to the peace and quiet around here. What did they want with the Yamato, anyway?"
"Curiosity, perhaps. You have to admit, it is a bit unusual to have the remains of a battleship orbiting the planet inside a giant ice cube," Santiago said with a laugh, then she looked at Derek and noticed he wasn't laughing. She added quickly, "no disrespect intended, Commodore."
Derek grinned. "None taken." He was only half paying attention anyway. Something was happening, and he knew he would be – had to be - a part of it.
Derek had a few more days before he had to ship out to Chicago, so he decided to spend some time on his boat. His father once had a boat, which Derek and Alex used during the summer months for fishing, snorkeling, and just wasting time. When Derek revealed to this to Nova, she insisted that he get a boat of his own. She felt that they both had missed out on much of their younger years because of the planet bombing. So, as a first anniversary gift to themselves, they bought a 30' pleasure boat. Nova christened it Spirit of Yamato, and they spent their first anniversary cruising.
Derek had gotten to know several other people down at the marina where the Spirit of Yamato was docked. One of them, a short man named Paulson, kept challenging the others to a race, but only one or two would bite at the idea, so it was dropped. Today was no different – Paulson was bragging about how fast his boat was. For some demented reason, he had called it Zordar's Revenge, because, "some day, Zordar's people gonna wonder what happened to him, and they gonna come looking. When they get here, I guarantee that they gonna be pissed."
"Hey, Wildstar!" Oops, Paulson had seen him. He was hoping he could sneak onto his boat and get away without being noticed. "Come 'ere!"
Derek dropped his gear onto the dock and walked over. "Paulson, I told you, I am not –"
Paulson cut him off. "Now, wait a sec, you haven't heard the stakes."
"Stakes? What could you possibly offer?" Derek was trying not to sound too impatient.
"Ah, not what I'm offerin'. The harbormaster's offerin' 25,000 as part of a marketing campaign."
"Is he betting one of his boats against us?" The harbormaster sold boats on the side, and Derek figured he was trying to show how fast his new stock was.
"Yep. He says his new Clearwater 3000 can beat any of our little dinghies. You up for a race?" Derek almost said no straight out, but 25,000 was a lot of money. Not that he and Nova were hurting for it - the EDF and Central paid well, and they had nice little savings accounts from the "bonuses" paid to them as "thanks" for saving the planet so many times. This had been the topic of many a humorous discussion – how exactly does one put a price on saving the planet?
"Well, I don't know. Spirit of Yamato isn't really built for racing. I'd be out of the race before we hit the first marker." Derek knew that the Spirit of Yamato was fast, but he really didn't want to admit that the idea intrigued him.
"Aw, come on Commodore, what can it hurt?" This was from a tall man named Stocker. "If he wins, what have ya lost?"
"When is this race, anyway?" Derek was hooked, and the others knew it.
"Tomorrow afternoon, 1:00." Stocker replied. "We start here, and race out about 30 miles or so, then turn and come back. Not even you could get lost, Wildstar." The others laughed at this. Derek had gotten lost in fog one evening, and needed a Coast Guard cutter to escort him back to port. The guys at the marina thought this was just too funny, a great space captain getting lost at sea.
"All right, I'll be here."
"That's the spirit, Wildstar!" Paulson slapped Derek on the back. "I've been waiting for the chance to have you suckin' my bilge."
"You have such a way with words, Paulson," Derek said over his shoulder as he scooped up his gear and headed for his vessel.
Derek went out until he couldn't see shore. There wasn't another vessel for miles. Quiet day, he thought. Usually this area was crawling with other boats, but this was a workday for most. He baited a fishing hook and tossed it out, then attached the rod to a clamp on the side of the boat. He didn't expect to catch anything, but he tried anyway. He hadn't eaten fish for dinner in a long time, but had resolved that his next fish dinner would be something he caught. After this week, it would be a while before he got another chance.
He lay back and looked up at the sky. He couldn't see the stars, but he knew they were there. And somewhere among them, there was an enemy. Yet another thing he tried to put out of his mind. The race - that's something he should be thinking of. Nova was going to think he was being a bit too much of a child with this one. Why was he doing it, anyway? Paulson would finally be off his back about it, and he supposed it was for a decent cause. Maybe he was just rationalizing it so he'd feel better, but he knew what Nova would say. She'd knock on his head and shout, "Anyone home in there?" the way she did when he did something stupid. Years ago, they had seen an old movie about a kid who traveled through time in a flying automobile – one of the characters would knock on heads shouting, "Hello, anybody home?" This became a little joke phrase between the two of them, as it probably was back in the 1980's when the movie was made. Derek chuckled at how silly such a concept might have been 225 years ago when cars did not fly, but now, warp travel was a reality. Could time travel be that far off? The Black Nebula Empire had tricked them into believing that they had traveled through time, but it was just that – a trick. Could people travel time?
He was shaken out of his dreams by a beeper on the rod clamp. He jumped to his feet and grabbed the rod, starting to reel in the line. Whatever it was, it was not going to come along easily. He struggled with the rod, then set it back in its clamp so he could grab a net. He pulled the line in a bit more, until he finally managed to get the fish to the surface. In all the splashing around, he couldn't quite tell what he had caught, but he scooped it up to get it onto the boat. When it finally stopped thrashing around, he was able to grab a book and look up the fish.
"Wow, a marlin!" he shouted to no one. "I didn't think there were any of these left!" Many fish had died out when planet bombs had irradiated the Earth; only the ones that had been saved by preservation groups had survived. They were in such a hurry to grab as many different kinds of fish and animals as possible that not all of them could be cataloged, so occasionally someone would come across an animal that was presumed gone forever. However, there were no more whales, nor were there any dolphins or many large fish. There just wasn't room underground for that much water.
He looked down at the marlin, which was still twitching. "And there may not be any fish at all if people catch a whole lot more of them." He removed the hook and tossed the fish back into the water. "I guess you're the one that got away."
Far off in space, someone else was watching a small fish. Only, if he had his way, Earth would not be the one that got away.
"Yes, my King?" Lanis stepped forward and dropped to one knee.
"Is the attack fleet ready?"
"Yes, my King. They will begin their raids tomorrow, midway through the Western Hemisphere's light period."
"What about their detection grid?"
"Our sources say that it is not yet online. We can slip through unnoticed."
"If their defenses are as pathetic as that ship our scout party reported, this will hardly be a battle." He rose and hit the floor with the tip of his cane, causing sparks to fly from the metal tip. "And this time, they won't have their beloved Yamato to bail them out."
That night, over dinner (pasta, since Derek didn't manage to catch anything he could convince himself to bring home) he told Nova about the race.
"Oh, really?" She raised one eyebrow. "And what possessed you to sign up for this?"
"I have no idea. Wild oats, perhaps?" He grinned, but it was lost on her.
"Well, I don't think I want to know. All I want is for you to not wreck the damn boat and get yourself killed."
"Oh, come on, I've been on much more dangerous trips than a boat race."
"So that means that you need to go looking for trouble?" She tossed down her fork and ran into the living room.
He stood and followed her. "Nova! Come on, it's just a race! Why are you so upset?"
"I don't know! I feel like we've been leading a charmed life. We've been lucky. It just doesn't sit well with me for you to go out and look for something that could kill you." She turned and looked at him. "We've been married almost four years; I am not ready to be a widow! There have been so many times I thought I would lose you! Can't you see what it does to me?"
Derek took her in his arms. "Nova, if it bothers you that much, I'll back out. I hadn't thought of it that way. Maybe I am so used to winning that I've gotten a bit complacent. The 'nothing can touch me' outlook on life."
"You won't have Durasteel armor surrounding you out there, or triple deck cannons to knock out your enemies." She almost smiled. "But you will need a first mate."
"Nova?" Derek was completely confused. "But… you just got done saying…."
"That I worry. Yes, I do. On the other hand, it is only a boat race, and I am not going to tell my husband that he can't go out and wave his manhood in front of his friends."
"That's NOT why I am doing this!"
"Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But if you're going to be out there, you're going to need someone to help. That boat is tough enough for one person when you're not in a hurry, but in a race, you'll need someone to steer while you play with the sails."
"Nova, there are no sails on the Spirit of Yamato."
"Well, so much for that excuse." She grinned. "Come on, dinner's getting cold." Derek realized that he was never going to understand women, even if he lived to be 100.
That voice. It sounded so distant, yet it was right beside him.
"Uncle Derek, please listen."
No, it couldn't be.
"Sasha?" He sat up in bed, looking over at Nova. She was still asleep. He then looked over at the window and saw Sasha standing… no… hovering at the foot of the bed.
"Uncle, there is great danger. You will be called upon once more to fight for peace. Please, my brave uncle, please take care."
"Sasha!" The image grew brighter and blinded him. "Sasha, come back!"
Nova woke up and found Derek staring at the window. "Derek? What is it?"
He was squinting at the morning sun mumbling, "Sasha."
"Yes, you said that. What about her?" Nova held him.
"She said 'you will be called upon once more to fight for peace.' Then she said to take care."
"Derek… you're feeling way too much guilt over her."
"Nova, this isn't just guilt. These nightmares are a warning."
"Derek," she started, but he was already up and heading for the shower.
At 12:00, Nova and Derek were in the Spirit of Yamato, making sure everything was working properly. Derek had given it a quick check the day before, but this time they brought along a checklist that had come with the boat when they bought it. She apologized several times for her hysterics the night before, but Derek did understand, at least partially. All sorts of things could go wrong, especially when you're traveling at high speeds. These boats were not like the high-speed jet-propelled patrol craft used to keep gawkers out of military bases, but standard, ancient combustion engine types owned by people who looked back on the late 1900's and early 2000's as "the good old days." Derek had been a big fan of this period in school, and read many books about the events that lead up to the last World War. World War III was a schoolyard brawl compared to the Gamilon attacks, but had the planet bombs not covered the Earth with radiation, America and the Middle Eastern area of what was once called Europe might have taken care of that with nuclear missiles anyway.
They reached the end of the checklist, so Derek pulled away from the dock and towards the starting line. Several other boats were already there, but he did not see Paulson yet.
"Maybe he chickened out?" Nova responded when Derek asked aloud.
"Not likely. Paulson's been on my ass for months, I highly doubt he'll miss this opportunity."
Just then, a loud klaxon went off behind them. Derek and Nova turned, and saw a wide gray cruiser pulling up aside of them. Paulson was waving at them.
"Hey, Wildstar! I see you brought your wife along to help pick up the pieces! Afternoon, Mrs. Wildstar!"
She nodded in his direction, but said nothing.
"You've got 15 minutes to finish your will, Wildstar. I'm gonna bury you!"
"Paulson, ever heard of 'friendly competition?'" Derek shouted.
"What of it?" Paulson laughed.
"Oh, nothing." Derek looked over to Nova. "I'm planning on staying out of his wake. He drives like a madman."
Nova tossed Derek a cracker, which he caught in his mouth. "I can guess, and I haven't ever seen him drive before."
A man with a bullhorn appeared on the dock behind them. "CAN I HAVE EVERYONE'S ATTENTION, PLEASE?" He waved a red flag, motioning for everyone to look in his direction. When everyone had quieted down, he continued.
"THANK YOU. WELCOME, ONE AND ALL! AS YOU ALL KNOW, YOU'RE ALL ABOUT TO GET SWAMPED BY BIG JEB."
"Big Jeb?" Nova asked.
"The harbormaster. Jeb Coltrane."
"BIG JEB, IN HIS CLEARWATER 3000, IS GONNA RUN CIRCLES AROUND EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU." This was answered by loud booing. "IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT ONE OF YOU ACTUALLY DOES BEAT HIM TO THE FINISH LINE, YOU'LL GO HOME WITH 25,000."
"Is that why, Derek? You know darn well we don't need the money."
"Yes, I know. There's more at stake here."
"And that's the part you can't seem to explain to me," she sighed.
"SO, IF EVERYONE IS READY, WE'LL GET THIS RACE STARTED. YOU WILL HEAD OUT TO THE 40-MILE MARKER, TURN, AND THEN HIGH-TAIL IT BACK HERE. OF COURSE, BY THE TIME ANYONE GETS BACK, BIG JEB WILL HAVE ALREADY BEEN HERE LONG ENOUGH FOR HIS ENGINE TO COOL OFF." More booing from the crowd. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!"
Those who were already running their engines revved them loudly. Derek sat down and looked out at the open sea. "You all set down there?" he called back to Nova.
"No, but let's do this anyway!" She almost sounded like she was enjoying herself. The excitement was undeniable.
"ON YOUR MARKS…."
Derek looked around, and saw Paulson waving his fingers in a "V" to the crowd. Clown.
A loud horn sounded, as the announcer shouted, "GO!!"
A dozen boats roared out of the dock. Derek slammed the throttle forward, and heard Nova yelling as she tried to stay in her seat. He had never opened it up all the way, and was surprised at how much power was in this little boat. Zordar's Revenge was right next to him, but Paulson was making a show over the fact that he was only at ¾ throttle. He waved, then threw it into full power and shot past them. Derek was not the head of the pack, but he was definitely not the last.
Nova was pointing at other boats. One of them, the Cobra, was skimming way too close to other boats. Derek couldn't tell if the driver was just inexperienced, or if he was deliberately trying to spook other boaters. Whichever it was, the guy almost caused two accidents, and was heading for a possible third. Derek steered well clear of the guy and kept looking ahead.
Derek had estimated about a half an hour until they reached the marker, then maybe another half-hour back. There was no way he was going to win this race, but he didn't want to be the last one to finish either. There were seven boats behind him, and he was gaining on two more. Paulson was way out in front.
"What's he got in that thing?" Nova shouted.
"Too small for a wave motion engine," Derek laughed. He passed the first, then the second of the two nearby boats, and kept going. The drivers of those boats waved as Derek passed. At least some of them are friendly about it, he thought as he waved back.
As they got closer to the marker, Derek noticed that the wind was picking up. He had checked the weather charts before the race, and saw nothing resembling a storm, but before he could ask Nova to re-check the weather systems, the boat in front of him turned sharply and capsized. Derek barely avoided it, and stopped the boat to check on them. Before he could say anything, the boat exploded. Nova screamed, and ducked behind the side rail. "Derek, look!" He looked down at her, and then where she was pointing.
Just as he looked up, ten small black craft flew overhead. He turned to follow them and shouted for Nova to get inside the cabin. She ducked through the door just as the ships turned and came back. Some of them started firing at the boats; the rest flew towards shore and took shots at buildings. Derek followed Nova into the cabin and grabbed a radio.
"This is the Spirit of Yamato, calling mayday! I repeat - mayday! We are under attack by unknown ships. Requesting assistance!" The radio hummed, then a voice answered back.
"Spirit of Yamato, we are already aware of the attackers, and are sending a squadron. Please keep the channel clear and get to safety if possible. Defense Station 4, out."
"Well, that was helpful." Derek put the radio back in its holder and looked back out at the attackers. They were circling around for another run. Any boats that weren't already shot to pieces were heading any direction they could. He spotted Paulson's ship in the distance, on fire and sinking fast.
"Nova, we gotta try to help him." She nodded her agreement. Derek ran back up to the pilot chair and slammed the throttle to FULL. The craft jumped forward towards Zordar's Revenge. Paulson was so busy trying to beat down flames with a blanket that he apparently had not noticed that his ship was taking on water. Derek blasted his horn a few times to get Paulson's attention. Paulson looked relieved at Derek's approach, when suddenly his face took on a look of horror as he pointed in the air. Derek looked back to his left, just in time to duck as one of the black ships dove and fired. The shot hit the front of the ship, reducing it to splinters. Derek was thrown through the windscreen and landed headfirst in the water. He surfaced as quickly as he could, sputtering and calling for Nova. He looked back at the sinking Spirit of Yamato to see her standing on the stern, waving to him. She dove in just as another blast hit what was left of the boat. Wooden planks flew everywhere, raining down over Derek. He tried to duck his head under the water to avoid them, but instead felt his body being jerked upwards. A Coast Guard rescue ship had pulled up behind him, but he had been too shaken to notice the rope being dropped around him. He looked around to see a man in a diving suit jumping in to save Nova, and another one off to his right dragging Paulson into a lifeboat. Several fighters were now flying overhead, trying to chase the enemy planes away from the populated area.
Nova was dragged onto an elevator platform on the side of the rescue ship; Derek noticed that she was clutching a wooden plank. She refused to let go of it, so the rescuer shrugged and let her keep it. As Derek ran to help her onto the ship, he realized why the plank was so important to her – it was the nameplate from the back of the Spirit of Yamato.
That evening, after medical examinations to make sure there were no serious injuries, Derek and Nova were sitting in an EDF briefing room with Commander Singleton and Lt. General Stone.
"Were there any markings on the ships at all?" Stone asked in his usual demanding tone.
"No, none," Derek and Nova both answered.
"Although, they were moving quite fast, it was hard to get a good look at them," Nova added.
Stone looked disappointed that no one had bothered to ask the enemy pilots what planet they were from. He snorted loudly, then said, "Commander, there are no military bases in that area. At least the other attacks made sense."
"Other attacks?" Derek asked. "How many others?"
Singleton held up a report. "We fought off attackers from twenty different places this afternoon, all of them either military bases or shipyards. Their attack pattern is logical except for the ones attacking the boat race."
General Stone waved his pipe at Nova. "Commander, they could have been after Commodore and Lieutenant Commander Wildstar."
"An assassination attempt? If that were the case, it's an elaborate one. Nineteen diversionary attacks?" Singleton rolled his eyes. "I am not discounting the possibility, but it's a bit of a long shot."
"Commodore and Lieutenant Commander Wildstar are not ordinary people anymore; they are heroes of the Earth. Their marriage has gained them quite a bit of publicity, as well. I am recommending that they be given a security escort and armed guard at all times."
"That's ludicrous!" Derek shouted. "We are not going to give up our privacy just because we happened to save the world a few times. General Stone, I will not agree to that. Nova and I have taken care of ourselves under far more dangerous circumstances."
"Commander, I – "
"I've heard enough, Stone. Whoever it was, they probably saw all the sea-going vessels and mistook it for a militia. They turned tail and ran rather quickly once they realized it was a boat race. I hope you were winning, Commodore." Singleton winked.
Derek smirked. "Against a boat called Zordar's Revenge? I was putting my heart and soul into it, Commander."
Singleton rose. "You are both dismissed. If we need any more information, we'll contact you." Derek and Nova stood and saluted. General Singleton returned the salutes, then left.
"Derek…" Nova began.
"I know. And we're right in the middle of it."
"Your attack was successful, Lanis."
"My King, we have succeeded in confusing them. They have no idea who attacked, or why, or what the objective was."
"Perfect. The first blow against an enemy should merely confuse them. Then, while they are unprepared, and trying to figure out where to send their forces, we hit them again. Is the second line fleet ready?"
"Yes, my King. They are waiting for you to give the order."
"The order is given."Pluto Observation Base – 0040 hours, Earth time
Eager paced the floor of the control room, looking up at the monitor every few seconds. He didn't really expect it to change, but all the years he spent on the Yamato taught him to expect the unexpected. He paced some more, then walked over to a control panel and poked a few buttons.
"Jackson, any updates?" Eager barked.
"No sir, B sector is still down."
"Can you add more hands?"
"Sir, we woke up four people who already worked a double shift. We're doing all we can down here, and your interruptions every 10 minutes are just keeping me from my work. Now, stop telling us to do our jobs, so we can do our jobs!" The com went dead, then clicked on again just long enough for the voice to add "sir!" Eager was left standing there dumbfounded.
Jackson was right - everyone was doing what they could, and he was expecting a lot from them. The Eye in the Sky project was two weeks behind schedule, and EDF Command was expecting something to be online by tomorrow. The best they could do, Eager told them, was to have four sectors up and aimed towards unknown space, but the rest of the grid would not be up for another week and a half. General Stone was not happy about that, but then he never was completely satisfied with anything. Eager decided that there wasn't much else to do but take a nap. It had been 48 hours since he slept, and a two-hour nap might do some good…
An alarm jarred him awake. "Commander Eager, we got something!" Eager shook the sleep from his head and looked at the monitor. It suddenly occurred to him that in his haste to get in some sleep, he had dozed off at his terminal.
"What's goin' on?" he asked sharply, trying to hide the fact that he hadn't been awake.
"Sir, we got inbounds on Sector B, Grid 12! A LOT of them!"
"Inbounds? When did Sector B go up?" Eager realized that he had no idea to whom he was speaking.
"It's not completely operational. We were running some tests when we picked up some blips. We thought it was a malfunction, but we've confirmed it. Looks like a huge armada."
"A Gamilon patrol?"
"No way to tell until they get closer. The identification system's not connected to the grid yet, so we have to wait until they are closer to Brumis."
"Wonderful. If they're unfriendly, the only way we'll know it is because they'll be shootin' at us!" He punched some keys to change signal frequencies. "Pluto Observatory to Earth Defense Headquarters! Come in please!"
"This is EDF, Pluto. You are using a military channel, please –"
"I know what the hell channel I'm usin'! There's a large fleet headin' for Brumis, and we have no way of identifyin' it. I need a recon ship out here, and fast!"
There was a pause, then, "Stand by, Pluto." A few more seconds passed, then, "Eager, is that you?"
"Hey, Eager, what's going on up there?"
"Eye in the Sky is pickin' up a large fleet, but we can't tell what it is yet. You got any recon ships in the area? We're still deaf and dumb up here."
"Closest ship in your area is the Gideon. She can be near Brumis in about 20 minutes."
"So can the inbounds."
"We're sending the orders to the Gideon now, Eager. Sit tight. EDF out."
Sit tight, he says. Not much else I can do up here. Then another voice came over the con.
"Commander, did I hear correctly? Eye in the Sky is online?"
"Not completely, General Stone." This was going to be a long day.
"A scouting mission, you say?" Captain Warren Morrison asked. "I suppose anything would make for a nice diversion from circling empty space. Thomas, warp to Brumis."
"Yes sir!" Ensign Thomas flipped a few switches and put his hand on the warp lever. "Course data?"
Ensign Chavez looked up from her display. "Navigation computer is set, Bill."
"Okay. Warp!" He yanked the lever towards him, and the ship flashed off towards Brumis.
"Sir, our fleet is approaching the outer rim of their galaxy."
"Excellent. How long until we're within range of the planet they call Earth?" War Commander Shir'Pa of the Voracious stood to look over his crew.
"Present speed, three days," the navigator answered. "Two hours if we use the fold drive."
"No hurry. We already know they can't detect us, and even if they could it's not like there is anything they could do about it. We'll be landing on Earth before they even know we're here."
"Sir, a large ship just appeared near the outer planet."
"Put it on the view screen." The Gideon appeared on the display.
"Your orders, sir?"
"Need you ask? Turn it to floating debris." The Commander cracked his knuckles.
"Weapons ready, War Commander," the weapons master reported. "In range in two minutes."
"Captain Morrison, we have visual of the fleet."
Morrison stood and squinted at the display. "Any match?"
"Negative, sir, no match."
"Captain, they are training cannons on us!"
Morrison sat back down. "Brace for attack and prepare all guns. With any luck, this won't end up messy."
"Let's hope not, we're vastly outnumbered."
"War Commander, the ship is in range."
Shir'Pa grinned. "Open fire."
The guns on the front and side of the Voracious fired. The energy beams surged towards the Gideon.
"Captain, we're being fired upon!"
Morrison stood and gaped at the approaching beams. "Helm, evasive-"
The captain never got the chance to complete his order, as his ship vaporized around him.
"The ship has been destroyed, War Commander."
"Excellent. Stand down all weapons and continue towards Earth." Shir'Pa flexed his hand. "This should be easy."
Eager and his team were monitoring the Gideon's progress. While they couldn't positively identify the ships, it wasn't too difficult to figure out what happened when the Gideon disappeared from radar.
"Wilson! Get me EDF HQ pronto!" Eager shouted to one of his assistants.
"HQ online, sir!" came the reply.
"Earth Defense Command, this is Pluto Base. We've lost the Gideon. Repeat – we have lost the Gideon."
"We can see that, Commander." This was General Stone's voice again. "Can you ID the enemy ships?"
"Sir, all we can tell you is that they are nothing we have seen before. They are not Garuman, Comet Empire, Dark Nebula, Bolar, or Dinguil."
"Commander Eager, get that grid operational. Defense Command out." The line went dead.
Jackson stepped forward. "If we don't recognize the ships, what good will –?"
Eager held up his hand. "One thing I have learned is not to argue with General Stone, regardless of how senseless his orders are. Let's get back to work. There's nothin' more we can do. It's in Earth's hands now." He had said the words, but he did not agree with them at all.Titan Defense Base – 0130 hours, Earth time
"Titan Defense Base, this is Earth Defense Command."
The Ensign on duty sleepily hit the microphone switch. "Titan Defense here," he yawned.
"There is a large unidentified fleet headed towards Earth. Second and Fourth Battalions are ordered to intercept. Do you copy?"
This knocked the Ensign from his stupor. "Fleet? Is this a drill?"
"This is not a drill. Repeat – NOT a drill. Get those ships in the air! Defense Command out."
He changed channels, then keyed the mic. "Major Talford, this is Ensign Venture in Communications. Sorry to wake you sir, but we just received orders from EDF HQ to launch Second and Fourth Battalions. They've spotted a large fleet heading for Earth."
After a minute, a voice replied, "stand by, Ensign." There was a long silence, then Talford came back on. "I've alerted the commanders of those fleets. Did HQ give any other information?"
"No sir. Just that we are to intercept them. Nothing more."
"I understand, thank you Ensign. Talford, out." As the channel went dead, Jordan sat staring at the panel. This was not what he wanted to be doing, but for now, he'd do his part any way he could.
The two battalions – fifty ships total – launched within 20 minutes of the order. Some of the crew hadn't even finished putting on their shoes when the fleets hit space.
"Captain Chu to Captain Reynolds, acknowledge please." Captain Yong Chu was in command of the Second Battalion, a fleet of 35 battleships and escorts. The Fourth Battalion consisted of 12 carriers and 3 long-range missile ships.
"Reynolds here, Captain Chu. All ships report ready. Warp in one minute."
"Warp in one minute, check. See you at Pluto."
Both fleets warped, not knowing what to expect.
"Sir, there is a fleet warping into this area."
"On viewer, please."
The Earth fleet was appearing on the screen, as each ship came out of warp. Shir'Pa grinned. "Attack them as they come out of warp. They'll need a few minutes to charge their weapons."
"As you wish." The weapons master pushed a few buttons, sending the command to the other ships. Immediately, the ships began firing on the Earth battleships.
"All ships, open fire!" Captain Monroe of the Laconia shouted out orders to his escorts. "Get the fighters out there and provide some cover! Martin, get Captain Reynolds on the – AAHHH!!"
The side of the bridge exploded as a missile hit the side of the carrier.
"Monroe! Come in, Laconia!" Captain Reynolds stood up as he watched the carrier exploding. "Dammit, this can't be happening. Okay, all missile ships, open fire!" He sat down and started checking monitors. "Richter, have we taken down any of the enemy ships?"
"Only a few, sir," the combat chief reported. "They have a longer range than we do. By the time we get into firing range, they're already picking us off."
"Hmm… This is all so familiar…"
"Sir, incoming transmission!" the radio operator shouted, his voice cracking slightly. Pat Romano had just signed on as ship's radio officer, but hadn't expected to see action quite so soon.
A voice crackled over the speakers, amid the explosions: "Earth fleet, this is General Hizak of the Third Garuman Sol Battle Fleet. Are you in need of assistance?"
Captain Reynolds turned a ghostly shade of white. "Those Gamilon bastards," he whispered.
"Sir?" the radio operator turned to see his captain stepping towards the bridge window.
"Gamilon BASTARDS!!" Reynolds screamed at the air.
"Sir, they're Garuman…"
Reynolds turned and shot a look at Romano. "Gamilons, Garumans, same people. The same blue-skinned, black-hearted soulless demons that destroyed my home, killed my wife and son, and NOW they want to waltz right into our solar system and save us? Who the hell do they think they are?"
Ensign Morgan stepped up behind the captain and put her hand on his shoulder. "Sir, forgive my speaking out of turn, but the Gamilons are not our enemy. Look out the window, you'll see that."
Reynolds turned to the navigator, ignoring Morgan for the moment. "Port, 70 degrees, and raise the nose 20 degrees."
"Sir," Ensign Fry called out, "that course will aim us at the Garuman fleet."
"Just do it. Romano, open channel to Hizak."
"General Hizak, this is Captain Don Reynolds of the Battleship Yorktown, flagship of the Fourth Earth Battalion. Your presence here is an act of war. We demand that you withdraw your forces at once."
Fry stood up. "Sir! What the hell do you think you're doing? The Garumans are here to help us! Considering that our fleet is being shot to pieces all around us, I suggest we-"
Reynolds pointed at Fry, and shouted, "I didn't ask for your suggestions! Now sit down and await my order, or I will get someone up here who will!"
Fry looked at the Garuman fleet, then at Reynolds. He then walked to the bridge elevator and entered it.
Reynolds muttered "traitor" under his breath and stepped back to his command console. He started pressing buttons, and a "thunk" was heard from the front of the ship.
"Captain Reynolds, this is General Hizak. Our presence here is a part of our normal patrol route, which was approved by your Earth Defense Force. I assure you, we are acting with your government's support." He paused, then asked, "Can you assure me of the same?"
Reynolds was gritting his teeth. "Ten years ago, you killed my family. You destroyed my entire town. Everything I knew, you wiped out with a single planet bomb. But that wasn't enough. No, even after we defeated you, you kept on coming. Then you do an about face and we're supposed to just open our arms to you? Your leader makes a billowy speech to Commodore Wildstar, and suddenly we're all supposed to just forgive you for everything you've done?"
"Captain Reynolds, I am not sure what it is you're getting at. Emperor Desslok -"
"Hizak, you're supposed to be so advanced, you figure it out."
"Are you saying you blame me for a war that happened ten years ago? If I remember correctly, your world had a war between countries over two hundred years ago. Would you hold their descendants responsible?"
In all the confusion, no one noticed a shuttle leaving the Yorktown.
Hizak's voice came back over the communications channel. "Captain, we're reading an energy buildup coming from your ship, consistent with that of a Wave Motion Gun. You don't seriously plan to fire on us? I shouldn't need to remind you that doing so would not only break our treaty, but my ships would retaliate. Given your current circumstances, you hardly need another enemy."
Reynolds flipped a switch, and a trigger rose out of the console. "You're forgetting something, Hizak. Every one of Earth's wars eventually ended with a treaty signing. Your Leader Desslok never signed anything, therefore there is no treaty to honor or break. And as for your retaliation – bring it on."
Reynolds turned to the communications officer, and barked, "Romano, close the channel."
Romano was dumbfounded at what he was hearing, and almost didn't hear the order. He snapped out of his stupor and hit the switch.
"Sir, I must protest!" Ensign Monroe shouted. "If you fire, they'll fire back, and we can't afford to lose any more ships!" The battle outside had almost been forgotten.
"File a complaint with Major Talford." He looked down at his console, and mumbled to himself. "Firing circuit open. Goodbye, Gamilon scum." Reynolds reached for the trigger and looked up at the Garuman fleet on the monitor, but before he could act, an explosion knocked him from his chair. Alarms wailed all over the ship, signaling a hull breach. Reynolds pulled himself back up to his console. "What the hell happened??"
The display screen came on, with Captain Chu's face staring down at the bridge crew. Ensign Fry was standing behind him. "Don, you disappoint me. We're in the middle of a slaughter here, and you're attacking Garumans?"
"Yong, you fight your battle, and I'll fight mine."
"I already had to waste a perfectly good missile on your ship. Don't make me waste any more. The lives of your crew are more important than a petty squabble. Stand down and return to Titan. You're relieved of your command."
Reynolds pounded his fist on the console. "Romano, get someone up here to pilot this crate." He looked to either side as two armed men appeared. "I'll, um, be in my quarters."
Alarms. Everywhere he went on the ship, alarms were going off.
"Orion, what's going on?" No answer.
"Homer! Shut off that alarm!" Still nothing. Wildstar ran down another hallway, looking in a control room, but no one else was there. He ran in, beating on switches, but still the alarm continued.
"Someone turn that alarm off!!"
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and saw Nova wrapped in a towel, dripping water onto the floor.
"Derek, didn't you hear the phone? I had to get out of the shower to answer it!" She handed the wet phone to him, then ran back into the bathroom and closed the door.
Derek stared, not having a clue what was going on, then put the phone to his ear. "Yes?"
"Wildstar! It's about time you answered!!"
"Good morning to you too, General Stone." Derek rubbed sleep from his eyes and yawned. He glanced over at the clock, which read 7:43am.
"Wildstar, how fast can you get to HQ?"
"An hour, maybe."
"Make it 30 minutes. We have a problem."
Where have I heard that before?
"Fine, I'll be there in 45 minutes." Derek hung up before the General could protest. He shuffled into the bathroom. "Nova, care for some company?"Defense Council Chambers – 0915 Hours
90 minutes later, Derek was seated in a briefing room with Sandor, IQ-9, a bunch of generals, and Commander Singleton. It had been a while since Derek had seen so many generals in one place. The problem must have been pretty serious to get this much brass out of bed so early.
"Gentleman, again my apologies for dragging you all in here on such short notice. You'll soon see that this isn't a combat readiness drill." General Stone nodded to Sandor. "Mister Sandor, please brief the others."
"Sirs, at 0127 this morning, Earth time, we received a distress call from Commander Chris Eager on Pluto. A large fleet was spotted just beyond Brumis. The Gideon was sent to investigate, but was destroyed." Gasps from around the room.
"At 0155, two fleets were dispatched from Titan. Out of 50 ships, only four returned." More gasps, and some swearing. "According to the crew, the enemy had a greater range and stronger firepower."
"Where is the enemy fleet now?" General Heinrich von Drach asked.
IQ-9 rolled over to a display panel and inserted a data tape into the console. A view of the outer solar system appeared. "The enemy fleet is now passing Pluto. They appear to be heading towards Earth, and are being pursued by a Garuman patrol fleet."
"Garuman?" Derek asked.
"The crew of the Yorktown reported the Garuman fleet near the battle. The Earth fleet was almost completely destroyed, but the Garumans have not been attacked. I compute an 80 probability that the enemy is not interested in Garuman."
"Or the Garumans have new weaponry, and are trying to catch us off guard for an attack," suggested General Bill Dunlop.
IQ-9 beeped a bit, then replied, "Based on Desslok's past actions, I only compute a 2 probability that the enemy fleet is of Garuman origin."
"So what do we do about it?" General Thurman Marcus asked. "We can't just sit here."
"We can't go rushing in without knowing our enemy, either," Derek replied. "Captain Gideon made that mistake."
"How do you propose we learn about them? Send an ambassador's shuttle and ask to see their passport?" General von Drach sneered.
General Marcus looked over the data sheets in his hand. "What are the chances that these ships are the same as the ones that attacked the Earth yesterday?"
"And destroyed the Prometheus?" General Dunlop added, with closed eyes.
Sandor turned to IQ-9, who computed on this for a moment. "Based on the current data, I compute a 64 probability that this is the same enemy. However, until I have been able to analyze the recordings from the surviving ships, I cannot be any more accurate than that."
"How soon until we have those recordings?" General Stone asked.
"I should have them within the hour," Sandor replied.
"Then may I suggest we reconvene after lunch to go over your findings, after you and IQ-9 have had time to analyze them?" General Von Drach said, already getting out of his chair. "Otherwise, we're spinning our wheels on a bunch of conjecture."
"I agree," Stone nodded. "We will reconvene at 1300 hours. Gentlemen." With that, everyone stood and filed out of the room.
Derek walked up to Sandor. "Meanwhile, that fleet is still headed this way," he whispered.
"I know that, and you know that, but officially, we don't know that."
"When was the last time a fleet entered the solar system that wasn't on its way to Earth?" Derek smirked.
"Yeah, and when was the last time mouthing off to the Defense Council got your point across?" Sandor nudged Derek in the arm. "Come on; let's go see if those recordings are here yet."
They took the train to the Science Center, and entered the communications area. They were joined by Homer Glickman, who brought over a box containing four data tapes.
"Here you go, Sandor. I wanted to handle this one myself," Homer said. "These are copies of the tapes from the Ganymede, the Yorktown, the San Marcos, and the Fuyuzuki."
"Those are the only four surviving ships out of 50." Derek shook his head.
"Yes, unfortunately. I was also told to warn you, the log of the Yorktown is… well… odd."
"Odd? How so?" Sandor asked.
"I haven't heard it myself, but apparently there was a disagreement between Captain Reynolds and General Hizak of the Garuman fleet."
"Disagreement?" Derek looked at Sandor quizzically.
Homer coughed. "Captain Reynolds was going to fire on the Garumans. Captain Chu of the Ganymede had to disable the Yorktown before Reynolds could do any damage."
"Oh, great," Derek winced. "That's going to look good on a review board. We're in battle with an unknown enemy, and our ships are shooting at our allies and each other."
Sandor grabbed the box of tapes. "Right now, I don't think high command is going to care. That fleet is bound to be near Neptune's orbit by now. Homer, are you coming?"
"Wouldn't miss it." The three went into a room where they could play back the logs in private.Defense Council Chambers – 1305 Earth Time
"So, what have you learned, Captain?" General Von Drach belched. He had obviously had way too much garlic with his lunch, and others were sliding their chairs away from him.
Sandor was putting a tape into the console. "This is a summary of our findings." He looked across the room at Derek and Homer, who were standing in the back by the door. "Based on data collected by Commander Eager's Eye in the Sky, the enemy fleet entered the solar system here." A star chart appeared, and the lights dimmed. Sandor pointed to a large group of dots, representing the enemy fleet. "They approached Brumis, took out the Gideon here, and continued onwards where they engaged the Second and Fourth Battalions here." The star chart updated to show the battle with the two Earth fleets, which then disappeared from the display. "Based on the flight recorders of the four surviving ships, not only were the enemy ships of the same design, but fighters were seen in the battle that matched the ones that took out the Prometheus." A picture appeared on the display next to the star chart, showing three ships coming together to form one triangular configuration ship. The ship fired a massive beam of energy, which took out a carrier with one blast. The image froze. "This is the same type of ship that disabled the starboard Wave Motion Engine on the Prometheus. It is made up of three individual fighters that are able to link up and combine their energy into one beam. Based on these tapes, they can only do it once, then they have to separate." The image resumed showing the ships separating, as they flew off in different directions.
General Marcus spoke up. "So this is a single shot weapon."
"Single shot, but still effective, and it's possible that they could link up again later after a recharge." Sandor replied. "The one you just saw took out a carrier in one blast. A squadron of these fighters could take out an entire fleet. They're fast and very maneuverable – more so than our own Astro Fighter Mark III. I've seen them in action – the Prometheus couldn't even take out one of them, and the Gemini would have been destroyed if the Perseus hadn't shown up when it did. If I were to offer an opinion -"
"We don't have time for opinions, Captain," General Dunlop interrupted impatiently.
"Very well," Sandor continued without missing a beat. "The data suggests that these ships could have taken out the Perseus if they had wanted to. They were testing our capabilities and we failed miserably. Now, there is a large armada headed right for us, and once again, our fleet was wiped out."
"So what do you recommend?" General Von Drach asked. "Send some more disposable war ships?"
"Send in a full battle fleet." All heads turned to look at Derek, who up until now had kept quiet. General von Drach scowled, and looked disgusted that the young Commodore had dared to speak. "Not a bunch of carriers. Fighters didn't even dent them. Missiles had no effect, you saw that. We need seasoned battle veterans. Hit them before they can launch those multi-fighters, take them out, and send them home with their tails between their legs. Warp in from both sides, surround them, strike and strike hard. Use wave guns if we have to – they at least have longer range. Plus, we have a Garuman fleet following them that the enemy doesn't even seem interested in – has anyone thought to use them for intelligence? Maybe a pre-emptive strike to weaken and confuse them before we hammer them from the front?"
Everyone was silent. Derek was waiting for someone to tell him to shut up - the last time he had spoken out of turn, he was told that he didn't have the right to lecture the council, but perhaps his years of experience had earned him that right. Still, no one had asked for his opinion. Finally, General Stone turned to General Von Drach.
"How soon can a battle fleet be ready?"
von Drach looked surprised at the request, then composed himself. "Two hours, perhaps three. We have a few people on leave… we'll recall them at once of course."
"Gentlemen, opinions?" Stone scanned the room.
"They killed my son," General Dunlop whispered. Several of the other generals nodded in support.
Stone nodded, and said, "Do it. I want every available ship in the air in two hours. Our battle line will be drawn at Jupiter. Gentlemen, you are dismissed. I believe we have a war to coordinate. I will inform the Commander of our decision; I am sure he will back me up on this." As the generals left the room, General Stone turned to Derek. "Commodore Wildstar, I'd like a word with you."
Sandor and IQ-9 were leaving the room. As he passed, Sandor leaned over and whispered, "And here I thought you'd learned your lesson."
Stone walked over and sat down on the edge of the table. He looked at Derek and said, "Of course, the Gdansk is without a captain, now that Admiral Rolaski is, how shall we say, departed."
"I'm going to make some personnel changes, so the Gdansk will have a new captain, but this will still leave a ship someplace without someone in the command chair. I can't stick someone up there on the Jupiter line with wet ears, though. You understand, yes?"
"What I'm getting at, is that, well, I may have to put you up there. It's against my better judgment, but I don't really have much choice in the matter. You've been in space before, and you do have battle experience. So, I'll let you know my decision in a few hours. Just thought I should warn you ahead of time."
"Thank you, sir."
Stone sat there a moment, then said, "Well, is there something wrong with your legs, Commodore? You're dismissed!"
Derek turned and left, closing the door behind him. Homer was waiting outside, grinning madly. He had obviously heard everything, and as soon as they got about 20 feet away from the council chamber, Homer burst out laughing.
"Oh, help me, PUHLEEZE! 'Battle experience?' 'Been in space before?' Wildstar, I can't think of anyone I would rather have in a command chair!"
Derek was trying not to laugh, but the joke was setting in. "Well, it's no secret that Stone never got over that whole mutiny thing years ago. As far as he's concerned, I can't be trusted. The fact that we all saved the planet a few times doesn't seem all that important. He'll swear that we just got lucky."
"Well, luck or not, I've never served under anyone more competent. Well, except maybe Captain Avatar of course."
"You've never served under anyone but me and Captain Avatar."
"Well… see? I'm not lying, then! Although, I have to say, you sounded more like Captain Gideon than Captain Avatar in there."
Derek gave Homer a crooked smile, then gave him a weak punch in the arm and said, "Get back to your post. I'll catch up with you later, assuming they aren't sending me into space. Which reminds me, I guess I should tell Nova."
"Yeah, she'll be thrilled to know that you're accepting command of a battleship again."
"Oh, sure. When I returned from my last deep space mission, she asked me if I wanted my own command again. What is it they say about being careful what you wish for? Me and my big mouth."
Homer turned and walked away. "See ya later, Commodore."
Derek walked down a different hallway, towards the train platforms. He took one to the center of the city, then transferred to another one to the west side where the hospital was located. Going into the lobby, he entered an elevator and took it to the floor where Nova usually worked. The doors opened, and he walked down the hall.
"Wildstar! Long time no see!" He entered the medical ward and saw the huge grin of Dr. Sakezo Sane beaming at him.
"Doc! How are you?"
"As well as can be expected, considering all they do is send sick people down here. What about you? How was your trip?"
"Yes, Nova said you're always looking for excitement. One of these days you might get it."
"Funny you should say that, Doctor Sane. There's a large enemy fleet headed this way, and… where's Nova?"
"She took some supplies down to one of the operating rooms. Enemy fleet you say?"
"Yes." He looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot. "We're sending up a fleet of our own, and I might be given command of one of the ships. I have to tell Nova."
"What!? Well, she should be back soon. Sit down; you look like you haven't slept in a week."
Derek took a chair next to one of the examining tables. "Well, I haven't been sleeping all that well, but it's just stress."
"What kind of stress could you possibly be under? You just said your last mission was dull." Dr Sane came over and made like he was going to give Derek an exam, but Derek waved him away.
"Well… it's a long story. I'm fine."
"Mm hmm." Dr Sane walked away and started shuffling through some things on a shelf. "That might work with your wife, but I'm your doctor." He pulled out a small bottle and slapped it into Derek's hand. "Take two of these and call me in the morning. I guarantee that you need them. People will thank you for taking them."
"Breath mints." With that, he laughed and walked back to his desk. "Nova's in operating room number 12 if you want to go find her."
"Thanks, Doc… I think."
"Any time, Wildstar, any time." As he left, he saw Dr Sane pulling a flask out of a desk drawer. Derek shook his head, put the bottle of "pills" in his pocket, and walked down the hallway.
He entered the operating room area, and walked into OR 12. The red light wasn't on, so he assumed it was safe to go in. He saw a few nurses talking, and an assistant robot cleaning the room, but Nova wasn't here. Derek knocked, and said, "Excuse me…"
"Yes?" one of them asked. When she saw a military uniform instead of a medical uniform, she frowned and said, "You're not supposed to be in here."
"Sorry. Doctor Sane said I could find Nurse Wildstar in here."
"And you are?"
"I'm her husband, Derek."
"Oh!" She relaxed and said, "Sorry, I didn't know. Nova was called into OR 4 to assist with an operation. Can I get a message to her?"
"Please. Tell her to call me at the Earth Defense HQ as soon as she can. It's urgent."
"I'll get the message to her as soon as she's out of surgery."
"Thank you. Please make sure she gets that message." Derek left the OR area before someone else told him he wasn't supposed to be back here, and went back downstairs to the lobby. He took the train back to EDF HQ.
As he was entering the building, a woman carrying a data pad came running up to him. "Commodore Wildstar, sir!"
He turned to her. She stopped and saluted. He returned the salute, and asked, "What is this about?"
"Sir, Commander Singleton asked me to catch you when you returned to the building. He needs to see you immediately."
"In his office, I assume?"
"Thank you, Ensign." He turned and headed for the elevator that led to Singleton's office.
As always, there were armed guards on either side of the door. They came to attention when Derek approached, but demanded to see his ID badge. He flashed it, then the door was opened and Derek walked in. I guess considering that the entire planet is on alert, the extra precaution isn't unwarranted.
"Ah, Commodore Wildstar, come in." Commander Singleton returned Derek's salute, and motioned towards a chair. Generals Stone and von Drach were already inside. Fortunately, von Drach had managed to rid himself of the garlic stench, as Singleton's office was much smaller than the Defense Council Chamber. Derek sat down, as did Singleton. "Now that we're all here, we can begin. Wildstar, General Stone mentioned some personnel changes to you earlier, yes?" Derek nodded. "The Gdansk is due for a refit, and we were about to put her in dry-dock, but we need every available ship for this, so I am putting Captain Alexi Vladimirov Rolaski in the hotseat. You understand, I assume."
"Yes, sir." How can one not understand Rolaski's son taking his father's old ship?
"However, we do have a few other crew assignments open. We had to put Captain Peter Valsoris in command of the Yorktown after Captain Reynolds' sudden… removal…. which leaves Captain Valsoris' battleship without a captain. So, I'm putting you in command of the Hercules. She's a heavy battleship, with a bit more firepower than you're used to, but I think you'll manage."
"Thank you sir."
General Stone scoffed. "The Hercules is a rather important part of our front line offensive, so try not to get it shot out from under you." Derek ignored the comment. After this many years of serving under Stone, it wasn't difficult to tune him out.
Singleton appeared to ignore the remark as well. "Commodore, the fleet launches in an hour. The Hercules is already in Earth orbit, so a shuttle will be taking you to your ship in 15 minutes. I hope you had a chance to…."
"I left her a message to call me here, but we haven't had a chance to see each other."
"I'll be sure to pass on any messages," the Commander said in a quiet voice. "Now get going, Wildstar. Do us proud." He saluted, and Derek returned the salute. He turned, and left the office. von Drach looked up at Singleton as if to ask a question, then thought better of it.
There was an escort waiting for Derek outside the office. Derek was whisked to a shuttle, handed a command packet containing access codes, orders, and crew rosters, and before he had time to breathe, the shuttle was on its way to the battleship Hercules. Derek watched the Earth as it grew smaller beneath him, all the while wondering if Nova ever got his message. Then he wondered if he was even going to see her again. Stop it, he told himself. Now isn't the time to be thinking such things.
The shuttle entered the docking bay on the underside of the massive battleship. The Hercules was larger than the Yamato, had six cannons topside, four underneath, two mounted on platforms on each side, and three wave motion guns. It had re-enforced armor plating that could survive an impact with another ship. This was a ship built for war - the Hercules was designed to be a front line assault ship, so Derek knew he'd be one of the first to see action.
Me and my big mouth!
He was greeted by his second in command, Lieutenant Commander Richard Rosen. Rosen was also combat chief, and led Derek to the bridge. The elevator doors opened, and everyone stood.
"Captain on the bridge!" someone shouted.
"As you were, people, we've got too much to do for formalities!" Derek shouted back. "Rosen, I'd like to address the crew."
"Of course, sir." Rosen led Derek to the captain's chair. Derek picked up the mic as people turned to look at him.
"Attention all hands, this is Commodore Derek Wildstar, your new captain speaking." As soon as Derek mentioned his name, he noticed a few bridge officers whispering to each other. Okay, so his reputation preceded him. "Some of you already know why we've been called to action in such a hurry. There's an enemy fleet heading for Earth which, by latest reckoning, is near Saturn orbit. We intend to intercept and defeat them near Callisto, the fourth moon of Jupiter. They've already wiped out the Second and Fourth Titan Battalions at Brumis. We know very little about this new enemy, only that they have long range weapons and powerful fighters. We have a fleet of thirty battleships ready to kick their asses, and we have just the crew to do it. Those of you who know anything about me know that I've never lost to an enemy, and I don't intend to start now. Engine room; be ready to get under way in 15 minutes. We warp for Callisto in 30 minutes. That is all."
Derek looked down at the bridge crew, and said "We'll have time for formal introductions later, guys. Right now, we have an enemy to flatten." Several men saluted, others raised their fists and cheered. Well, at least I'm starting out on the right foot.Central Hospital – 1530 Hours
My feet are killing me! Nova walked into the locker room and stripped out of her operating room garb. She put her nurse's uniform back on, and rubbed her sore feet. Must be time for new shoes again. She'd have to give her cousin Natalie a call and see if she wanted to go shopping tonight.
She walked out of the locker room and heard a voice calling out to her. She turned to see Diane coming up behind her. "Nova, your husband was here. He said to call him at Earth Defense HQ, it was urgent."
"Oh, darn, I wish you had pulled me out of surgery!"
"He didn't say to."
"Probably because he couldn't. He'd have to offer an explanation, and… oh, never mind. Thanks Diane, I'll call him." She ran for a phone and dialed the switchboard at EDF HQ. The operator answered and asked for a department. "Can you page Commodore Derek Wildstar, please?"
There was a pause, followed by, "I'm sorry, Commodore Wildstar is not here."
"Where is he?"
"I'm sorry, I don't have that information."
"Fine, then connect me with General Singleton."
Another pause, followed by "General Singleton is not in his office, ma'am."
"Well, can you have him paged?"
Pause. "General Singleton cannot be disturbed."
"Look, I was told to call my husband. If he's not there, then General Singleton is probably the one that gave him the order to leave, so if you connect me wi-"
"Ma'am, I cannot give you any information on high ranking personnel without the proper authorization code. I need authorization to connect you with General Singleton ma'am."
"This is Lieutenant Commander Nova Wildstar," she said through gritted teeth, emphasizing her rank. "My authorization is Delta Delta 772 Alpha 109 dammit!" She put her hand over her mouth as she looked around, then let out an embarrassed giggle. Funny, that last word wasn't part of her authorization the last time she had to give it to an EDF operator.
There was a pause. "Yes, ma'am, I'll see if he's available." Then after another pause, a female voice said, "Hello, how can I help you?"
"Who is this?"
"This is Major Nicole Jones, General Singleton's assistant."
"Nikki! It's Nova!" She was relieved that she was finally talking to a real person.
"Nova! Where are you?"
"I'm at Central! Where the hell's Derek? He said to call him, but the operator wouldn't tell me where he is!"
Nicole got quiet. "Nova… Derek's been assigned to the battleship Hercules. They're sending a fleet to Jupiter."
"Oh, no. That's why he was here… he wanted to tell me but I was in surgery. Can I come down there?"
"Of course. The fleet's already left; they're probably in warp by now. You can monitor the battle from here."
"Thanks, Nikki, I'll be right down." She hung up the phone, knowing somehow that it would all be okay, but still, she was very afraid. She went back to her locker to change into her civilian clothes. She felt a little guilty leaving in the middle of a shift, but she was also military, and that had to take priority today.