In the year 1987, at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes...

The payload perched on the nose cone of the massive rocket was a one-man exploration vessel: Ranger 3

Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William 'Buck' Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension, an awesome brush with death...

In a wink of an eye his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of it's planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast!

An orbit which was to return the ship full circle to it's point of origin, it's Mother Earth, not in five months...

But in five HUNDRED years...

For five hundred years Buck Rogers drifted through a world in-which reality and fantasy merged into a timeless dream...

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Far Beyond the World

Part I - Alive and Kicking

In the year 2494...

With a brilliant shimmer of diamond-shaped light, the Earth ship Searcher completed transit through the final stargate and the artificial space/time portal snapped shut behind her, ending the last leg of the spaceship's return journey to her star system of origin.

For the first time in more then two years, the rays of Sol played across the hull of the pug-prowed deep space exploration vessel, painting her usually subdued gunmetal grey hull plating in shades of sizzling orange and dazzling gold.

But the warm exterior appearance of the craft did not mirror the mood of the interior, especially among the crew upon the forward Bridge, which was at best morosely subdued, and at worst, cut with fearful trepidation.

Most of the assembled crew stood instead of sat at Stations, with two of the top Officers standing at the forefront of the deck, closest to the Master Screen, the primary display mounted at the front of the Bridge.

On the left was Colonel Wilma Deering, a tall, athletic woman, her regal bearing evident despite her demure appearance, thanks in part to her crisp uniform and the tight bun she had pulled her wavy auburn hair into. Over the last two years Col. Deering had 'let her hair down', as her closest friend had put it in that unique way of his, both figuratively and literally, but now her hair style matched her mood: cautious and severe.

And the close friend in question was also the person on her right, a square jawed, bull-chested figure of a man, clad unlike Deering, in what would be considered casual attire, much more fitting for a rogue space explorer then a starched Officer of the Earth Exploration Directorate, though the man considered himself to be a fusion of both, much to the consternation of his friend and partner, Wilma.

His name: William Anthony Rogers, Captain as per a granted field title given him soon after his arrival in this, the 25th Century.

But he didn't go by William, or even Bill. No, he was known to both friends, superiors, subordinates, and especially enemies, by the nickname of

"BUCK!"

The crew all jerked, save Wilma and Rogers, and every face turned to bear upon the one who had shouted, a tall being clad in black armor, his imposing hook-nosed visage made even more intimidating by his helmet-shaped shock of grey-flecked white hair, which a closer inspection would reveal to be composed of a tight network of feathers, exposing his true nature not to be human, but of a humanoid race known as the Bird-People.

Searcher's prime reason for leaving Earth and setting off across the Galaxy was to locate the various groups of human beings that left Earth to settle in deep space before and after the devastating Nuclear Holocaust of 1987, and that mission had it's first true success with the discovery, and subsequent recruitment to the crew, of this very alien man, the famed warrior known as

"Hawk!" snapped back Buck in reply, "What is it?"

"There, Rogers!" and the alien threw out a hand and gestured at the screen in warning, "Can't you see it?"

All eyes returned to the holographic Master Screen, but none saw what the Bird-Man indicated.

"Our eyes aren't as sharp as yours, Hawk." scowled the heavy-set Admiral Efram Asimov from the raised Command platform, as he searched the seemingly-empty starfield they were rushing through, "But are you sure you aren't imagining it? Understandable, considering the circumstances."

"If he says he see's something, Admiral, then I believe him." said Buck.

"What is it, Hawk?" asked Wilma, her stomach knots tightening even further.

"Four vessels on an intercept course with us." his gaze narrowed.

The Admiral was still not convinced, "Are you completely sure-"

"Sir!" piped up the Tactical Officer, "I am detecting four ships on a direct bearing for Searcher, just now entering our extreme Scanner range."

Asimov sat back with a frown, "That'll teach me to doubt you. Apologies, Hawk."

"None required, Admiral." and he folded arms across his molded black breastplate.

"Perhaps now we will finally get an explanation for why we have been unable to contact Earth at all since entering radio range a week ago." remarked Colonel Deering, cautiously allowing a hopeful tenor to enter her tone.

"I'm with you on that, Wilma." said Buck, chewing his bottom lip thoughtfully, "The waiting has been killer. I can't take much more of this, and neither can the crew I'd wager. I'm getting tired of breaking-up arguments every hour and at least one fist-fight a day."

"Perhaps the crew would benefit from a broad-based sedative." suggested a dry mechanical voice from the rear of the Bridge.

"Not now, Crichton." Buck shot a glare back over his shoulder at the tall robot.

"I was only attempting to offer my sage advice-"

"And I'm saying can-it." interrupted Buck, "Last thing we need right now is the crew falling asleep at their posts."

"Whatever..." snorted the rectangular-headed automaton, "As always, I bow to your superior intellect." The last line was stated sarcastically, not that Rogers needed to hear the tone to sense Crichton's ambivalence.

One of these days I'm gonna do it, Buck seethed inwardly. That trumped-up bucket of rusty bolts is going to push me one step too far and I'm just gonna haul off and atomize him with a pulsar pistol. And nobody would criticize me for doing it, I know it, because lately he's been getting worse and driving everybody nuts!

"Are they within Comm range?" demanded the Admiral, as four tiny dots at last materialized on the Master Screen and began to slowly expand.

"Not yet, sir." replied Tactical.

"As soon as they are, hail them."

"Understood."

"Buck?" Wilma moved closer to the Captain and spoke to him in a low voice.

"Yeah?" he stared with a dark intensity at the displayed objects, gaze searching for any details as to their layout.

"Do you think it's a welcoming party?"

"What, from Earth?"

"Yes."

"I darn well hope so, Wilma. But somehow I doubt it."

She sighed, "Why? Because of our failure to reach home with the Comm?"

"Yeah, that pretty much hits the nail on the head. Something is up, Wilma, and it's probably not good."

"Yes, I know." she gripped his arm gently for support, and Buck was glad of the personal contact. It lessened the tension, if only a fraction. But any reduction to the stress was warmly welcome right now. He wished he could wrap an arm around Wilma's narrow shoulders and pull her to him, to give comfort to her when she so desperately needed it. But that was out of the question.

But sooner or later it's NOT gonna be out of the question, this I swear, he promised himself deep within. But most likely it was a hollow oath, because Buck knew Wilma's first duty was to Earth, and for her to give herself to him in pretty much any way beyond the current gentle touch, she would need to first let go of that duty, or at least feel her presence was no longer required on the front lines, defending their homeworld.

So much for finally making my move when we got back to Earth, Buck scowled, then his gaze narrowed because on the Master Screen he finally was able to identify the ships closing on them at maximum speed.

No...

"Buck!" gasped Wilma and her soft grip became frantically tight.

"ADMIRAL!" shouted the Tactical Officer.

"I see it, son!" growled Asimov, "Go to Full Alert!"

"What make of craft are those?" frowned Hawk, his hackles rising despite the lack of pertinent information.

"The last kind I ever wanted to see again." replied Buck Rogers, his gaze hard as marble, "They're-"

"Bidi-bidi-bidi!" exclaimed Twiki from his position beside Crichton, "Draconian Marauders! Oh my achin circuits!"

And they were! The four trident-shaped attack ships screamed toward Searcher and as one unit unleashed their missiles!

To be continued...