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Galaxy’s Edge


Copyright ã 00 by Christopher Reed


All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers and/or authors.


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While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher assumes no responsibilities for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of information contained herein.





Galaxy’s Edge


The Places You Fear The Most








ONE


Captain Maggie McGillis, for all intents and purposes, stood on top of the world. At least she did so from her perspective. The view from the UnitedEarth orbital platform which was situated miles above the planet, hanging delicately in a standard orbit, was breathtaking, to say the least. The floor-to-ceiling view port before her gave way to the stunning view of the pristine globe that was the Earth, spinning slowly on its fixed axis.


McGillis herself stood firm, displaying impeccable posture, a glass of sparkling champagne in hand. Her dark silky hair had been put up in a regulation style bun, complimenting her meticulously pressed dress uniform. Even through the white naval garments, one could make out the fine figure of a well-toned woman.


Every so often she would sip from her glass, glance quickly at the formal party progressing around her and promptly return her gaze to the Earth, below.


“Congratulations on your promotion…Commander.”


At the sound of the jovial praise Maggie turned away from the view port to meet the gaze of a stout, balding man, in General’s garb. “Thank you,” she returned sharply.


“And not a moment too soon, might I add,” the portly General continued, resting his small hand on Maggie’s arm. She glanced down at the tactile gesture with slight distaste; the General unfortunately did not take notice. “With this blasted war between Earth and the Kryssk escalating, we could use talent like you manning the helms of our starships.”


“Thank you, General, for your vote of confidence,” Maggie said in measured tones, feeling not at all obliged to make small talk with her superior.


Obviously losing his grip on the conversation, the General verbally stumbled before continuing, “Well, yes…you’re quite welcome. How are you enjoying the party?” He haphazardly attempted to steer the conversation in another, more cordial direction.


“It was a kind gesture,” Maggie told him, eyeing the other officers and their guests, gathered together in the spirit of fun. They all seemed so…tense, as if waiting for their lives to end. This intergalactic war between earth forces and a mysterious alien war machine was enough to set anyone on edge, but it just seemed, to Maggie, as if the officers were having trouble unwinding; perhaps knowing that eventually they would all meet a Kryssk vessel in battle. Regardless, the affable atmosphere seemed…forced.


She did not take solace in the painfully obvious fact that they did not even seem to miss her, the very subject of their celebration. “I am glad the officers were given a chance to unwind from the rigors of the war, if only momentarily.” Maggie eyed the guests once more, this time scanning each of their faces.


“Looking for someone?” the balding General questioned, turning to glance at the guests as if he could assist her in her search.


“I am expecting a fellow officer and he has yet to---” Maggie spotted him from across the room, almost as if on cue. He emerged from the double glass doors and immediately; a number of women in the room took notice of him, and with good reason.


He was sharply dressed, filled out by broad shoulders, his strong chin protruded slightly seeming to lead his direction, and his closely cropped blond hair framed his handsome face. “Ah, and there he is. If you’ll excuse me, General.” Without awaiting dismissal, Maggie crossed the room by way of only a few swift strides, stopping just short of the expected individual.


“Congratulations, Maggie,” expressed Lieutenant Benjamin O’Sullivan taking her small form in his arms, attempting to embrace her in an amorous hug.


However, with slight reluctance, Maggie placed both her hands on his firm chest and delicately fought to push away from the gentleman. “Thank you, Ben, but please…not in public…not here.”


He eyed her with confused disdain, all the while still holding her in his arms, barely phased by her futile attempts to push him back. Grudgingly, he set her free, a placid expression now playing over his chiseled features.


“Please, do not be angry,” she pleaded softly, not wanting to draw attention. “It simply is not professional here.”


“Fine,” he agreed coldly. Abruptly, he stopped a passing waiter by way of clenching his broad hand around the sleeve of the servers’ pressed outfit. Gingerly, Ben removed a glass of champagne from the waiter’s silver platter and in one, impressive gulp the contents of the beverage were gone. Before releasing the server altogether, Ben helped himself to one more glass, this time pacing himself.


“That was rude,” Maggie said, watching the scrawny server weave his way through the crowd, every so often glancing back in their direction with what could only be described as confusion on his thin face.


“Sorry,” Ben muttered, nursing his drink, “It just seems as if every time I want to get a little close, you bite my head off. I’m only on leave for a week before I’m shipped out to the front lines.”


“Do not blame your drinking and behavior on my lack of inappropriate public affection,” Maggie warned him. As if taking notice of him for the first time, she wiped away a smudge that had collected on his uniform jacket.


Considering the gesture the most affection he would receive from her publicly, he let it slide and even seemed to relish in the attention. It was of course, no secret that Maggie McGillis was a cold woman, even considered a prude by some, but she was always gentle with Ben, no exception. Which is why he found it disconcerting when he registered the amount of force she was putting into his grooming. “You okay?” he asked, failing to make eye contact with her.


Maggie drew back her hand and sighed, her body still apparently tense. “I have some…news.”


Curious, Ben arched his brow. “What sort of…news?”


Maggie quickly swept her gaze around the room, realizing that if she were to step out for a quick moment, she would hardly be missed. “Can we please do this out in the hall?” she requested, motioning towards the exit doors.


“Do what?” Ben demanded, irked; although he had already fallen into step behind her.


Once they both were outside, relatively alone in the sparsely populated corridor, and the double glass exit doors had slid closed behind them, Maggie turned on Ben, a look of frustrated distraught playing over her smooth features.


“What is this all about?” Ben questioned, prompting the visibly nervous Maggie.


She made a quick visual sweep of the corridor and then, in one rushed statement, Maggie blurted, “Ben, I’m pregnant.”


“I’m sorry?” he said as if he had missed her declaration. Meanwhile, his eyes had gone wide with shock. “Did you say…you said…you’re pregnant?” He collapsed against the bulk head, seeming for all the world as if he were catching his breath. Maggie did not think the news would come to that much of a shocking blow to him. She had hoped he would take it well.


“With child, yes,” Maggie responded, so softly one would believe she was actually ashamed to admit to the natural occurrence.


“Wow.” It was more of a stifled response than a great proclamation, but either way, it did not seem to please Maggie.


“What am I going to do?” she pleaded, placing both her hands on her flat stomach, which in time, would protrude with new life. Admittedly, It was a rare site to see Maggie McGillis so flustered, so out of control of her surroundings and situation, it almost caught Ben off guard.


Almost.


“Have it.” Ben returned flatly.


The gaze that currently occupied her countenance demanded clarification.


With a sigh, Ben explained, “Maggie, I was raised in a strict Irish Catholic home. If my mother were to ever find out I condoned…an abortion…I…I’d probably be disowned. Hell, when she finds out I got you pregnant out of wedlock she’s going to go crazy!”


“In any case,” said Maggie, “I have made the decision to---”


That was when the entire platform rocked violently. The whole orbital structure seemed to shake from the very base. The violent and abrupt jolt knocked Maggie off balance and without anything to brace herself on, was flung into the arms of Ben who had been leaning against the bulkhead. The lights flickered for some time; it seemed as if there was some type of battle raging between the light and the dark. Finally, however, the dark won out, and the corridor was shed in black nothingness. Maggie could hear the faint cries of the officers in the reception room before the stark red emergency lighting kicked on, shedding an eerie glow on the situation.


“What’s happening?” questioned Maggie, without a hint of fear in her voice, only that of mild curiosity. For a time, she continued to clutch onto Ben, wrapped safely in the arms she had pushed aside only moments before.


“Whatever it is,” Ben said, giving Maggie a comforting squeeze, “you can bet it’s not good.” And again, the facility rocked violently, almost as if a giant sledgehammer was striking it.


Finally, during a momentary lag in the rocking, the double glass doors leading to the banquet hall parted, and the members of the UnitedEarth Government EarthSec spilled from the room, darting down the hall in all directions.


“General!” Maggie managed to snag the portly officer’s attention before he disappeared around the corner with the rest of the officers.


“Oh, Commander McGillis!” he wailed, clutching at his chest as if his heart were aching, “It’s a nightmare! We’re…we’re under attack! The Kryssk…they’re actually attacking us! We’ve sent out distress signals on all channels but the closest defense frigate is more than half a light-year away!”


“We need to get to our ships, General, if we wait for help, we are as good as dead,” Maggie explained.


The General only nodded in agreement before tuning on his heel and running as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He was fast for a man in such obviously unhealthy condition.


“We need to get to my ship,” Maggie told Ben with almost rushed panic. “It doesn’t have a crew yet, but we should be able to handle it. We have got to mount a defense!”


Without so much as a word, Ben was close at her side, jogging down the corridor to the docking ring. The station was being bombarded with presumably firepower from some Kryssk warship; the couple’s only hope for survival before the station was blown away was time, something the both of them did not have. This became painfully obvious when the stark tone of the automated computer announced, cryptically, “Alert! Hull breech section 1a. Alert! Decontamination in five minutes. Alert!”





TWO


“Ow.”


Reilly Richards clutched his aching head and clenched his jaw tightly, forcing the throbbing pain to subside, if only momentarily. In a less than dignified fetal position, he laid out on his bed, taking comfort in his darkened quarters. Had the morning sun chose to pour in through his windows; he would be in quite more discomfort than his present condition.


“Why do I drink?” he moaned into the vacant room, attempting to no avail to fight the symptoms of a hangover. He ran his fingers through his short-cropped auburn hair, disgust and distraught playing over his youthful features.


Realizing that the night before was now nothing more than a hazy blur to him, he pitifully let another moan escape his lips. The last time he had gotten himself completely wasted he found himself recovering on a transport ship two light-years distance from Earth, still a conundrum to this day, seeing as the evening had begun on Earth.


“God, this is the last time,” he proclaimed, though he had made a similar proclamation earlier, after recovering on the transport barge in the nude.


“’Morning, sleepy,” chirped a bubbly voice from the threshold of the doorway. The morning sun poured in from the living room, casting the figure in shadow, but filling the bedroom with dreaded light.


“Ah!” cried Reilly, trying desperately to shield his eyes from the natural light. “Too loud and too bright!”


“I made you breakfast,” said the woman, still hovering in the doorway.


“What I need is a med patch,” he told her, now pulling the white sheets over his head.


“I’ve got that too,” the woman responded.


Immediately, Reilly was out of the bed and at the woman’s side, grabbing the compact medicated patch. As if the object could somehow restore life to the dead, Reilly applied the piece to his right bicep and within a matter of seconds was relishing in the effects as it killed the hangover.


“Thank you, Becky,” he breathed, sighing heavily.


“Don’t mention it, sweetie,” she assured, placing the silver tray of steaming breakfast on a side table.


Reilly watched her with amusement, studying her womanly figure move about in her tight crimson silk robe that seemed to cling in just the right places. He enjoyed how it rode up on her, revealing more than one should in such a garment. Her velvety black hair had been loosely placed up in a messy bun, simply in place to keep out of her eyes.


“Say, where did you get that robe?” he wondered allowed, making his way to his breakfast, yet careful not break visual contact with her stunning beauty.


“You; silly.” She giggled as she tightened it around her waist. “It was a gift, or don’t you remember?”


“Huh?” He finished off a strip of bacon, still eying her. “I was probably drunk.”


Becky sighed with disdain, her cheerful face suddenly becoming very sullen, her shoulders slouching as if defeated. “Yes, you’re always drunk.”


Reilly shot a finger at her direction, a piece of bacon hanging from his full mouth. “Now…don’t…you…” he swallowed the remains of his meal, “start with this again. It’s not like my drinking ever does any harm to you. Hell, the only person I’m hurting is myself.”


“And you can live with that?” she challenged, defiantly crossing her arms over her perky chest.


“Sure!” he told her, shrugging his shoulders. “If I can why can’t you? By the way thanks for breakfast.” And with that, he made his way past her and into the living room, the argument dead before it had even begun. God knows he had had the same fight with her on what seemed to be a regular basis lately.


With complacency, he positioned himself in front of the room’s large wall-to-wall window, draping his hands behind his bare torso, overlooking the pristine waves of the ocean crash to shore in a rush of force, just below. The bright orange globe that was the sun hung low over the cerulean sea, rising slowly as its reflection danced across the water. A flock of seagulls had taken to the air gliding methodically in a tight formation even an EarthSec flight squadron would be envious of.


While in this age many chose to live in the overcrowded mega-metropolitan cities, with their unbelievably tall skyscrapers and close quarters, Reilly always felt an affinity for the open sea, and thus had made his home on Cape Canaveral, the original Space Coast, long abandoned after the establishment of the UEG. He found a certain solace in the repetitious crash of the waves, each one unique in its own way.


With the Kryssk confrontation currently raging only light-years from Earth, Reilly returned home as much as possible, if only to help remind him of what he was truly fighting for.


“Reilly, I’m sorry,” Becky said softly from behind, much like a child after being scolded. He felt her warp her arms around his waist.


“You’re concerned for my well being,” he realized, turning to face her. “Yet, you truly have no idea what I am going through right now. While I fight out there,” and he made a grand gesture towards the sky, indicating the outer space, “You’re here, on Earth, secure in the knowledge that the Kryssk are trillions of miles from you. I, on the other hand, am in a constant battle, never sure when we will encounter the next enemy vessel. It can really put a guy on edge, you know? I find relief in drinking, I can slip away from my worries, if only for so long.”


Becky stared up at him, gazing into his green eyes. “I…I know,” she said after a long silence, “I can’t understand --- will never understand, and I’m sorry for that.”


Seeming pleased with the response, he wrapped her in his arms, hugging her small but firm frame.


“I bet I know something else that will keep your mind off the war,” Becky said seductively, as she unfastened the restraints of her small robe. Effortlessly, the garment slinked to the floor, revealing her naked body.


“There’s only one way to find out,” he reasoned, meeting her lips with his. They stood there in the window for some time, lingering.


“Priority one message, received,” announced the automated messaging service.


With reluctance, Reilly pushed Becky away, gently, but with a force that meant business. A priory one message from EarthSec was nothing to ignore.


“Play new message,” he instructed. Within a matter of seconds, a static filled communication filled the room.


“---Please, this is the EarthSec Orbital Station, Earth; we are ….---tack by Kryssk forces…re---quest immediate assistance…urgent…” the message faded in an eerie wash of static.


“Replay message?” the computer inquired.


“No,” Reilly bit out, a little harsher than he had intended. His fists were now clutched at his side.


“What…what does that mean?” inquired Becky, redressing herself and fastening the robe around her. She held herself with her arms, taking a seat on the elongated velvet sofa.


“It means,” he explained, disappearing into the bedroom, “that somehow the Kryssk got past our final lines of defense and are attacking the Orbital Station.” He returned in full uniform, zipping up the green jumpsuit.


“So…the Kryssk…they’re right above us?” The expression on Becky’s face turned to one of steel fright.


“Becky,” he announced in a hard tone, “calm down. Just stay here and activate the security grid when I leave.”


Becky was on her feet within a matter of seconds. “Gone? Where are you going? You can’t leave me. They’ll get me!”


“I’ve got to get to the station; lend a hand,” he clarified, “Now just stay here and you’ll be safe, damn it.”


“Oh, God, this is it,” she wailed, sprinting to the door to block his exit. “I’ll never see you again!”


“Don’t say that, Becky,” he pleaded, running his hand across her smooth cheek. “I’ll be back.”


“You’d better be or…” Becky struggled to challenge him with a threat that would ensure his return.


“Or what? You’ll kill me?” he scoffed, making a move to step past her.


“Or no sex!” she blurted, placing her hands on her hips ruefully, taking pride in the initial reaction.


“That’s why they invented cortical VR’s,” he reminded. And with that, he kissed her hard on the mouth and was out the door all in a matter of seconds.


Upon his departure from the property, the white beach house turned a dull red in color, signaling that the home defense grid had been activated, shielding it from possible infiltration.





THREE


Ensign Michael Cummings awoke, just as he did every day at this time. His shift would be starting soon, and like a good officer, he had accepted long ago that his fate was to work the graveyard shift aboard the Orbital Platform.


Today was different, however, as he realized he was not in bed but floating in the middle of his cramped quarters. He noticed many of his belongings had joined him in the free float. And as he tried effortlessly to move about in the room he wished he could dismiss it as some sort of dream.


Michael did not dream, however; it was that simple. Since he could remember, he had never experienced a nocturnal dream like everyone else he knew. To be sure, he dabbled in daydreams every so often, especially when the workload was low and time for dazing off could be allotted.


When he slept, he would never lose complete consciousness of his surroundings, he was always aware of everything going on around him, but in his sleeping state, he became even more in-tuned with the workings of his own body and thus could hear his own heart beat and even feel his blood move through his veins. Thus, he would become so wrapped up in the workings of his own body that he would lose complete awareness of the world around him, akin to a very heavy sleeper.


“Computer, has the gravity plating malfunctioned?” he called out, actually taking a bit of pleasure in the feeling of free-floating. The last time he had even experienced the feel of weightlessness was during his training at the Academy. It seemed so long ago…


“Affirmative,” the stoic voice of the computer returned.


“What is the cause?” Michael wondered aloud.


“Decks twenty-seven through thirty have been breached,” the computer informed, “All systems on those decks are now inoperative.”


The news that the orbital platform was missing three of its decks gave Michael pause. For the briefest of moments he entertained the idea that this was all some elaborate hoax, concocted to get a laugh out of his fellow ensigns. For the briefest of moments. As swift as the thought had come it left just as quickly, replaced by the realistic fact that the station was indeed in some sort of danger and so was he.


“Computer, I need to speak with someone in operations,” Michael requested, meanwhile grabbing a pair of pants that happened to be floating by. With some degree of effort he was able to pull on the slacks, now covering his lower half. His shirt, he noticed, had collected in one corner of the room and seemed intent on not budging, he would have to settle for going topless.


“Unable to make connection. Decks one through ten have been breached,” the computer chirped back.


Michael’s heart sunk at the news. With the Operations office breached that meant that control of the station had been lost and no doubt life as well. He racked his brain to try and fathom what had happened, how it was possible to have awoken to such horror. While completely aware that Earth was at battle with another race, he found it unlikely that the Kryssk would have been aloud to transgress so close to Earth.


“Computer, can you illuminate my quarters or are the generators out, as well?” Michael half wondered why he had even posed the question, almost certain of the reply.


“Affirmative. The illumination generators are off-line.”


Michael was quickly growing to resent the computer and its monotone voice. With a push off the back wall, he was able to hurtle himself towards his door. He supposed that it too was malfunctioning and was prepared to deal with it when he got there.


Applying great strength, Michael was able to actually imbedded the ends of his fingers into the metal of the door, a feat any other human would find impossible to mimic. He clutched the metal in his hands, relishing in the feeling as it easily molded to his liking, creating a firm grip.


While he moved with more ease than any other individual would be able to do in such conditions, he silently cursed the weightlessness, hating having to operate in such an odd and unfamiliar condition. With one smooth gesture and a stifled grunt from deep within him, the door slid open, revealing the smoky corridor, drenched in a morbid red emergency light.


Easing his way through the doorway, Michael was suddenly met with all the force of gravity as he was driven down to the hard metal floor, taking the brunt of the impact on his chin. It became obvious that the gravity was out only in sections of the station, and much to his dismay, was working in this corridor.


Michael eased himself up and dusted off his pants as he made his way down the dimly lit hall. From a small view port he was able to make sense of the situation. Outside, pieces of the orbital platform floated about in what appeared to be a suspended dance of destruction and decay. As well, he was able to see a number of vessels break away from the station and propel forward, distancing themselves from the no doubt doomed station.


Michael’s mission was quickly laid out before him he had to get to the docking ring before all the ships were gone or he would end up joining the station’s fate.


With due haste, he located a service tube, exposed. He had deduced that the lifts were most likely not functioning, like many other things aboard the station and thus made his way down the utilitarian ladder to the docking ring.


Emerging on the preferred deck after a brisk climb down the service corridor, Michael quickly made a visual sweep of the level and noticed many of the rings had been sealed, meaning those ships had already departed and now, there was nothing on the other side of those rings save for the harshness of space.


“I don’t have a ship!” Michael called out into the still silence. Somehow he hoped those outside would hear his pleas and return, offering him sanctuary.


“You can ride with us,” a stark female’s voice declared from behind.


Michael turned to see a female Commander with straight black hair and a male Lieutenant of rather well build approaching from one of the smoking corridors.


The woman seemed to regard Michael’s bare chest with a hint of curiosity for a mere second before questioning rather hastily, “What are your qualifications? What’s your field?”


“I’m a stellar cartographer,” Michael informed, hoping they would be happy at his response and feel the need to allow him to tag along.


“We’ve got little use for a science officer,” the woman quipped. Michael noted idly that the name on her uniform breast was Cmdr. Maggie McGillis. “Regardless, we can’t just leave you here. My ship, the Galaxy, is just over here.” She made a quick gesture towards one of the rings that happened to still be exposed.


“Thank you,” Michael returned, promptly falling in step with the two officers.





FOUR


The small, one manned fighter knifed through the Earth’s outer atmosphere and was quickly enveloped by the darkness of space. Dwarfed by the immense size of the planet from which it had just launched, it spun sporadically upwards, pushing its way through the space towards the orbital platform. Reilly stared out the main view port, ignoring the readings and gauges projected onto the translucent window.


The scene before him was quite disheartening. Not more than a few hundred meters away, a large Kryssk battle cruiser effectively laid waist to the orbital platform, strange blasts of orange glowing balls of plasma energy erupting from the darkened hull and making contact with the once pristine casing of the station. An immense explosion, visibly rocking the platform almost out of its orbit, followed each blast. Soon there after, all that was left was a great amount of plasma leakage and a scorched hole so devastatingly damaging, Reilly was forced to look away. The thought of the lives lost racked his conscience.


It was soothing somewhat, to see the support craft once docked to the platform gradually breakaway and fall into obvious defense patterns, missiles erupting from their cannons, attempting to inflict some type of damage on the impregnable hull of the Kryssk cruiser.


“Damn,” he whispered, watching the action unfold before him. He lost himself in the scene, brilliant explosions and firepower igniting the desolate darkness of space. He hated to admit that he found the proceedings somewhat awe inspiring, humbling almost.


It was when the antagonistic cruiser sliced through one of the rather larger ships poised in defense, that Reilly realized he, in his small one-man fighter, could do little to rival the unbreakable Kryssk hull. The only aspect he had going for him was the small craft’s speed and maneuverability, easily dealt with by a well-placed cannon shot.


The large view port sprang to life, suddenly, chirping a general civilian S.O.S, a call which quickly jutted Reilly from his trance. His hands danced over the dashboard, and within minutes, the vessel in distress had been highlighted on his screen. Upon closer examination, he was able to see large amounts of purple plasma slowly drift from the craft. One unlucky blaster bolt, and the entire area would go ablaze, taking the entire freighter and its unknown number of civilians with it.


With haste, Reilly forged the small craft forward, dodging up, down, left and right, trying to avoid the attention of the attacking cruiser, a task made rather easy by his fighter’s diminutive size. The single engine blazed with ferocity, shoving the small craft nearer and nearer the desperate freighter. Every so often, Reilly’s screen would flash an update on another EarthSec defense ship lost in the battle, all the more reason to speed forward, lest he be the only one left in the battlefield with the Kryssk.


Meters away from the freighter, Reilly cut his thrusters and glided effortlessly toward an undamaged docking ring. The wait for the ring to make the connection with his ship, creating a seamless seal, felt almost like an eternity.


With a hiss, the main viewer parted, and immediately, the small cockpit was filled with smoke. Before the suffocating dark cloud washed out all visibility, Reilly reached below his seat and was able to produce an oxygen mask and visor, which he fastened around his face.


Stepping aboard the metal plated freighter was eerie to say the least. The only sound to penetrate the darkness was the ominous support beams, creaking loudly as if to protest the stress being placed upon them. No one screamed out, no one moaned from pain…aside from the failing structure, no human voice was audible.


It became clear that either every single hand aboard was dead, or perhaps the crew was not as large as he had originally believed. He continued forward, down the tight, smoke filled corridor, each step, a cautious effort. He used the bulkheads for guidance and support, keeping one hand placed squarely in front, in case a bulkhead he was not anticipating decided top leap out, likely causing quite a bruise from the impact, if not careful.


Coming to a cross-section in the corridors, Reilly attempted to cry out for attention, begging for anyone within the reach of his voice to direct him towards them. All that emanated from him was a muffed voice, blocked by the cumbersome oxygen mask. He attempted the cry once more, this time without the mask, making it harder to scream, as he had to hold his breath, lest he breathe in the thick smoke and suffocate.


“Here,” came a distant, muffled response. “I’m stuck!”


Reilly assured the voice he was on the way and followed the distressed cries, coming up on a heap of ruble, where both the ceiling supports and bulkheads had given way, collecting on the grated floor.


In no time Reilly spotted the unmistakable pink flesh of a human hand, standing out brilliantly against the dull gray and black metal from which it was trapped. He tore into the heap pile, removing the larger pieces of metal first, then carefully removing the smaller ones, vigilant not to injure the trapped civilian.


Before long, the body was exposed and surprisingly revealed itself to be a girl, no older than eighteen, her auburn hair in a disheveled mess and her tight jumpsuit tattered and torn, revealing open wounds. Reilly especially did not like the pose the girl’s left arm had taken on. It seemed to have been completely turned around and then angled at a degree that seemed impossible.


“Can you feel your arm?” he questioned, hefting her to her feet.


“It hurts,” she moaned. She brushed a lock of hair from her singe-coated face. “Why?”


“It may be broken,” he told her, noticing the odd way in which the limb dangled from her body. She seemed to take the news with little concern.


“My parents,” she suddenly exclaimed. She turned back to face the heap that had just only moments ago, been her captor. “They…they were following right behind me when---” she coughed on the thick smoke billowing out from the exhaust vents overhead.


With a quick glance, Reilly affirmed that there was no possible way for a couple to survive where the bulk of the metal support beams had collapsed and so, wrapped one arm over the girls shoulder and ordered her to stay close.


“My parents!” she screamed once more, this time coughing so much it seemed as though she would lose a lung any moment. Reilly was quite aware that if he did not get the girl back to the fighter he would lose her to asphyxiation and all his efforts would have been for not.


“We have to go,” he told the girl, “We can’t save them…but I can save you.” With that he almost had to drag her back to his craft, though he was aware that she reluctantly followed, not putting up a fight.


It was not until the two were safely aboard Reilly’s fighter and the smoke vented that the girl questioned the possibility of her parents demise.


“I’m sorry,” Reilly consoled, breaking the seal with the freighter and inching away from the craft, “the likelihood that your parents survived that collapse…not possible.” He slumped slightly in his chair, making his remorse evident to the girl now seated behind him.


After a long moment of silence, one that Reilly figured the girl used to try and make sense of everything she let out a wail, “Ohhh…my arm really does hurt!”


Reilly could sense her rocking back and forth in her chair, obviously trying to wish away the pain.


“I know,” he said blasting away from the freighter, “we’ll get you to a medical facility as soon as we can---”


“What…what happened?” she questioned. Obviously attempting to create a diversion from the pain.


“A surprise attack….never saw it coming,” he said. Carefully he dodged the debris which now filled the space before him, ships that had once stood in defense of Earth, now existed as shambled ruins, floating stoically through space.


“What happens now…” came the frightened question from behind him.


Staring out at the damaged ships and the still intact Kryssk vessel, Reilly honestly had no forthcoming answer.





FIVE


“Just seal that vent and we’ll worry about it latter!” screamed Maggie over the noise of the escaping vapor. Her new ship was falling apart around her, and it was becoming quite obvious that she and Ben would not be permitted to battle the Kryssk cruiser for much longer, lest they fly the entire ship apart. She was stubborn, however, and if it meant flying the ship apart to defend the planet, than she would gladly do it. And Ben…he would have to see it her way.


“Maggie,” Ben called from the tactical station just behind her, “We’ve got to pull out! Other ships are on the way and if we stay here any longer that ship will tear us apart!”


“No!” she snapped immediately. The sudden dispute from her lover was a shocking blow to her mindset. If Ben did not want to fight to the death, how could she feel right leading him into the jaws of destiny without his consent? “We are one of the only defense vessels still capable of striking back…we can’t retreat!”


“Damn it, Maggie! You’ve got a child to worry about now!”


Maggie’s hand fell to her still flat stomach. The child…she had completely forgotten that she was carrying a defenseless life within her. It took her a moment to register that not only her life was on the line any longer…but her child’s too. Only an alarm sounding every so often cut through the silence that had befallen the cockpit.


“You can’t afford to be a hero this time!” Ben pointed out.


Maggie turned in her chair, now facing Ben, his face betraying that of a worried father. At that point, any question Maggie had developed towards Ben’s possible fathering ability was wiped away, in the assurance that he would most likely even outshine herself as a better parent.


“Ben…” she said in measured tones, “if we don’t fight, there will be no Earth to raise our child on.” She placed her hand atop his and gave it a reaffirming squeeze. “Now…please reload the missile bay and prepare for another go.”


Ben shot up from his seat, his hands in the air as if surrendering at blaster point. “Maggie, no! We’re not doing this again! Set a course for Earth and we’ll wait for the larger ships to arrive! We’ve done our part. I know you didn‘t want this child…but I do!”


“Warning…incoming.” The shipboard computer hummed methodically.


Without hesitation, Maggie gripped her station as the cruiser rocked violently, now the obvious target of the Kryssk vessel. She watched in horror as the tactical station exploded in a rain of sparks and enveloped Ben’s head. Within seconds, Ben’s once characteristically handsome face had been reduced to a smoldering mesh of flesh. She watched in stunned silence as he collapsed to the cockpit floor…dead.


Maggie cried out at him in protest. She fell beside him and tried to locate a pulse. She could not, even to her dismay, locate his neck, for it was so charred. Again, the ship rocked, taking on another blaster strike.


Maggie returned to her station and rocketed the ship forward, weaving up, down, left, right. Dodging the Kryssk onslaught. With ferocious vigor she wiped away the tears that had begun to stream down her cheeks.


“EarthSec vessel, this is fighter Bravo-Delta 6. I’ve got wounded here and I’d appreciate it if you could lend a hand,” came a voice over the communications system.


Managing to steer the ship and locate the craft which had issued a distress at the same time, Maggie called back, weakly, “Bravo-Delta, I’ve set an intercept course…as soon as you dock…I could use a hand in the cockpit.”


“Roger that…Major Reilly Richards standing by.”


Momentarily, the Kryssk vessel had obviously broken pursuit, as the small fighter craft docked with the cruiser. Within minutes the presumed pilot of the fighter entered the cockpit. Maggie studied his soot filled uniform and singe covered face, wondering how much trouble he had seen in this battle.


“Whoa,” he groaned, stepping over Ben’s corpse. “Is it just you aboard?”


Maggie informed him that a young science officer was aboard below decks, wiped away a stream of tears, and ordered the officer to take a seat at the auxiliary tactical station.


“Charge an EMP pulse,” she requested, keeping her eyes glued to her controls. “I want to take that Kryssk ship down, once and for all.”


“If you think a simple EMP pulse is going to cut it---”


“Just charge it!” Maggie snapped. Reilly, now situated at the auxiliary station, complied.


“Pulse charged,” he announced.


“Our fire power is not enough to harm that Kryssk cruiser,” Maggie stated. “But, I think that if we fire a pulse at their weapons discharge, it should have a counter-effect--”


“Giving them a dose of their own medicine,” Reilly finished. “Then let’s do this.”


The cruiser arched forward, blasting towards the Kryssk vessel. With ease, the small ship took on two blasts before a third was launched.


“Fire the pulse, now!”


Reilly released the burst of EMP wave, watching the screen, expecting fully to see the plasma blast ricochet off the pulse and return to the Kryssk ship, reeking havoc. Instead, to their shocked surprise, the pulse and plasma blast met in an eruption of light and fiery explosion.


Maggie’s hands rushed across her dash, trying to steer clear of the strange phenomenon she had created. It soon became painfully obvious that she was a commanding officer and not as well a trained pilot, as she was too slow to react, blasting straight through the stellar phenomena.


The intensity of the light was so great she was forced to seal the blast shields, blocking out her view. From behind, she could hear a cry tear from the Reilly’s lips.


“Full stop!” she managed to bark out. Directly on demand, the ship lurched forward, coming to a complete stop. Maggie was tossed over her dash, the young Major, once seated at the auxiliary station was now next to her, on the floor. All about, an eerie silence fell upon them.


“Ugh…what happened?” The Major was able to moan, propping himself up on his elbow.


“This…this wasn’t supposed to happen,” Maggie said, pulling herself back into her seat. For a moment, she sat there, catching her breath and then…the silence donned on her. The ship was no longer rocking, there were no blasters barely pelting the cruiser’s hull.


Reilly regained his footing and fell beside her in the co-pilot’s chair. “Something’s wrong.” He told her. “Open the blast shield.”


The two officers gasped at the sight that lay out before them. Maggie’s eyes darted about, desperately trying to confirm that which she feared the most…the Earth was no longer looming in sight, there was no battle debris and more importantly, there was no Kryssk cruiser wreaking havoc.


“What the hell?” Reilly demanded. “Did we destroy everything in the system or something?


“Hold on…” Maggie scanned the computer’s logs knowing the stellar blast she and the Kryssk vessel had created could not have wiped out everything in the Sol system, including a planet and then leave them unharmed. Not at all pleased with what the computer was telling her, a gasp escaped her lips. “It says…it says we opened a wormhole…”


“You mean when we fired at that plasma charge, we somehow opened a stellar highway and you flew us right through it!?”


“If the computer is correct…” Maggie indexed the view screen, and the two watched in stunned silence as a graphic of the galaxy appeared. Maggie placed her hand to her lips, feeling sick at the information being fed to her. The Earth was plotted, as well as their current position….trillions of light years from their previous destination all the way on the galaxy’s edge. “Shit.”


SIX


“I still can’t believe we traveled trillions of light-years from Earth…we’re so screwed.”


Major Reilly Richards paced frantically back and forth in the small confines of the team room, allowing his proclamation to settle over those present. His hands were draped behind him while his head and shoulders hung low. Slowly he circumnavigated the table in the center of the room, forcing the occupants to follow him with their gazes.


His green jumpsuit was covered in soot from his earlier rescue mission and his auburn hair was in a disheveled mess. He could scarcely remember when he had looked so bad. Being confined to the cockpit of a fighter usually afforded little in the way of “dirty work.”


As he passed the officers seated at the table he regarded each one with inquisitiveness. The young science officer, who had introduced himself as Michael Cummings, struck Reilly as somewhat of a mystery and a conundrum all wrapped nicely if not confusingly in a Pandora’s box.


Though Reilly had noted that the Ensign was rather soft spoken, he attributed it more to the fact that the boy was more than likely hiding something rather than poor upbringing in some socially interactively deprived environment. As well, his gray eyes made quite an impression. Reilly had personally never met someone with such a naturally odd coloring.


He observed that the boy did not seem scared or that he gave off any emotion at all for that matter, rather he sat comfortably in his chair, seeming intent to follow Reilly around the room with his eyes. Those eyes! God, Reilly found them to be so interesting…he wanted to comment on them but decided better of it as he rounded the table once more, this time taking in another individual.


The commanding officer, Maggie McGillis sat ramrod straight in her chair looking for all the world like she was thousands of miles away. Of course, Reilly could completely understand her predicament; she had just lost the love of her life and her home all in one day. But damn it, so had he and he could not help but stifle the feeling that it was she who was responsible for this mess. She knew the limitations of her own ship and chose to ignore them, even if it meant risking the life of her lover. He hated how she just sat there, not saying a word since the discovery of their predicament. He hated her.


“Its all her damned fault!” Reilly accused, breaking the silence that had befallen the room. Maggie did not react, yet continued to stare down at her hands that were folded neatly on the table.


“Forgive me,” the young Cummings piped up, eyeing Maggie with concern, “But is that really fair?”


“Fair!?” Reilly scoffed, ceasing his incessant pacing, he leaned across the metallic table, placing his hands squarely atop it. He stared deep into the science officer’s gray eyes and hissed, “Was it fair to end up here!? Is it fair that we’ll never see the people we love again!? Is it fair that our home is gone!? Don’t talk to me about fair, damn it!” Reilly turned his attention to the stoic McGillis, who again seemed somehow distracted by her hands and totally out of the conversation. “She’s the commanding officer! She should have used her damned judgment and realized a piece of crap ship like this would do nothing against a Kryssk vessel!”


“You are angry,” Michael told him in soft, measured tones. “That is understandable…we are all angry. However, placing blame will do little in the way of finding a way home.”


Reilly pushed himself away from the table, abruptly turning his back to the two individuals. With irritation and anger, he crossed his arms over his chest and stared ahead at the bare bulkhead. “I can’t believe you think we’ll get home,” he sneered, just above a whisper. “Hell, we might as well just set up a home on the nearest inhabitable planet and call it a life. I don’t want to die needlessly like that guy in the cockpit---”


“Enough!”


Reilly turned back towards the table rather curiously at the command. Finally, Maggie had spoken and he noticed Michael was just as taken aback at her outburst.


“That guy,” Maggie began, still starring down at the table, careful not to lose her composure, “Was the best officer I had ever known. He did not die needlessly…he died because he loved me.” She glanced up at Reilly, searching his countenance with her eyes. “Was all this my fault? Perhaps it was. But what sense does it make for you to go on about it as if by simply talking or placing blame we can somehow change the past?” She paused a moment, before saying simply, “We’ll get home…I’ll see to it.” And with that she was on her feet.


“Now she speaks!” Reilly declared, making a big show of the event. “Oh, esteemed leader, please dispense with your orders so we may follow them blindly and end up in an even worse predicament!” Reilly danced around the stern McGillis, taunting her for the mere fact that, in his opinion, she had screwed them all over in quite a major way.


All the while Michael continued to watch on, taking in Reilly’s childish antics and McGillis’ rather cavalier attitude at the mocking.


“The engines are not responding, Michael,” Maggie informed, doing a splendid job of ignoring Reilly. “If you wouldn’t mind seeing what you can do about that?”


Michael nodded, rising from the table only to be cut down once more by the immature Reilly.


“Oh, and Michael,” he began in a rather formal tone, “Why don’t you use that scientific mind of yours to see if you can concoct some device that will make the engines travel at faster than the speed of reality while your down there!”


“We will all handle this in our own ways,” said Michael softly, making his way to the exit, “Your way of coping is to make light of the situation. I understand.”


“Thank you, Michael,” Maggie expressed, joining him at the exit. It was quite apparent that it took much effort for the Commander to muster up as much strength as she could to quell her emotions. “I’ll be in my quarters.”


And with that, the two of them were gone, leaving Reilly in the empty room. All that was audible was the sound of the life support systems pumping breathable air into the atmosphere.


Not that anyone could hear or cared, but Reilly called out into the emptiness, “I’ll uh…see how the civilian’s doing…”


SEVEN


“Hey, Kiddo, how’s the arm?”


Reilly leaned casually against the doorframe of the med lab as he watched the stout medical droid tuck in its number of opposable arms and move slowly away from the rather shaken seventeen-year-old girl seated on the exam table.


The tattered jumpsuit she had been sporting when he first rescued her had been discarded, replaced by a pair of baggy sweats with the UEG emblem stitched onto the left breast. Reilly could not help but notice just how young she seemed in the oversized garments. He felt absolutely sorry for her.


“Much better,” she declared, moving her left arm in a circular motion, as if testing its limits. “But I must look like a mess.”


Reilly shrugged his shoulders and entered the room, joining the girl on the table. “Nah. I mean, look at me,” he made a quick sweep of himself with his hands as if he were a model, “I look like hell. You…you like fine.”


She smiled politely at the compliment and bowed her head, a gesture that warmed Reilly’s heart. In the midst of all this fighting and being thrown to the other side of the galaxy, it was concerting to see someone able to smile.


“That was pretty scary,” she admitted after a brief silence. She looked up to meet Reilly’s gaze. “In all my life I have never experienced something like that and I was born in space!”


Reilly let a small chuckle escape his lips for good measure. “Welcome to my world,” he said, spreading his hands wide apart as if ushering her in. “Life on a frigate must have been pretty easy going…if not interesting.”


“It was,” the girl chimed in, her expression lighting up the room. “I met so many people…traveled to so many worlds. I actually do not envy anyone who remains planet-side; they are missing out on so many wonders!”


“I completely agree,” Reilly confessed, flashing her a small smile. He hated how it felt, so forced…so fake. He knew their current situation; for all this girl knew, they were still within orbit of Earth. “That’s why I joined the fleet, for the excitement,” he let a heavy sigh escape his lips, reflecting on his time in the Terra-Kryssk war, “I’ve had enough excitement.”


Unaware of Reilly’s emotional scars, the girl went on, “There was this one time when we thought we were being chased by space pirates, so my dad---” the mention of her father forced her to trail off. A sudden wave of angst overtook her small frame.


“I’m sorry about your parents,” Reilly expressed. He wondered if wrapping a comforting arm over her shoulder would be the right course of action to take but instead opted to simply pat her on the back. “If it makes you feel any better…I never even knew my parents. I grew up in an orphanage.”


“It doesn’t make me feel better,” she admitted sadly, “it only makes me feel sorry for you.” That was not the reaction Reilly was hoping for.


“Aw, forget it then,” he consoled, “If you want…I’ll help get you through this.”


He watched as a tear streamed down her rosy cheek. She made no effort to brush it away. Instead, Reilly placed his finger against her warm skin and removed the droplet himself. The tactile gesture seemed to reinvigorate the girl.


“You saved my life,” she reminded with a rather distant voice, she gazed back at Reilly, filling him with not only a sense of pride but also a strange sense of discomfort. “You didn’t have to.”


Reilly would hear nothing of her sorrow. “It was no problem. I did my job as an officer. We’re trained for stuff like this.”


“What’s your name?” The question struck Reilly rather oddly. He had not even realized that the two were not even acquainted yet. When he had arrived aboard the Galaxy with the girl in tow he had dropped her off in the med bay to the care of the droid and high tailed it to the bridge, at the request of the Commander…never even making introductions.


“Major Reilly Richards,” he greeted, extending his hand to meet hers. Instead of the intended shake which he had thought would take place, the girl wrapped her hand in his, holding it still with what seemed to be determined strength. “You can call me Reilly,” he finally said, realizing she had no intention of releasing his hand and in turn gave way to the gesture.


“I’m just plain Lauren Alonso,” she said, mocking the use of Reilly’s rank in his introduction.


“It’s a pleasure, Just Plain Lauren Alonso,” Reilly jested. The two shared a small laugh before allowing a silence to envelop the room once more.


This was the time, Reilly told himself. He had to tell this girl that she would never see her home again, that they had traveled trillions of light-years from Earth. The girl had already lost her parents today; he hated to have to break her heart all over again.


“Um…Lauren,” Reilly began rather weakly, releasing his hand from hers, “I’ve got some bad news.” Lauren only stared back at him, curiosity obviously piquing her interest. “When we took on that Kryssk ship…we somehow created a gateway that allowed us to travel trillions of light years from Earth…all the way to the galaxy’s edge. Now we’re kind of stuck out here.”


“Can’t we just create another gateway?” she questioned without missing a beat.


“God, I wish,” he declared, “but it’s not that easy. You’ll probably never see your home again---”


“My home was the Advantage,” Lauren corrected, referring to the damaged frigate from which Reilly had rescued her. “Space. Earth may have been your home but I had never lived there. We picked up supplies and made deliveries there on occasion…but that was not my home. Space was and is my home.”


“I didn’t know,” Reilly admitted, surprised at how well she had taken the news. But one who called space their home he figured would be “home” anywhere as long as they were in space. A rather simplistic life he had decided. He considered her to be quite lucky. “That’s good. I was afraid you would be some spoiled brat constantly complaining about how much you missed Earth…”


“The only thing I will miss are my parents,” she reaffirmed, this time with less sadness than before. Reilly could completely understand.


“So, has that hunk of junk cleared you?” Reilly made a small gesture at the domed medical droid, now resting quietly in the corner of the room, “or do you have to stay in bed or something?”


“I’m free to go,” she told him, rising from the table and taking a few strides around the room as if to prove her stamina had been restored.


Reilly too rose from the bed and made his way to the exit, motioning for her to follow. “Good, lets go check on our engines.”


“I’m afraid I don’t know much in the way of engineering,” Lauren admitted, falling in step with Reilly as they made their way down the dimly lit corridor. “My Dad was the resident fix-it man. Mom and I usually hung out in the galley and prepared the meals for Dad and the crew.”


“A cook, huh?” Reilly smiled at the prospect. “Looks like you’ll come in rather handy around here, seeing as we don’t have a full crew.”


“I’ll see what I can do.”


EIGHT


The engine room was far from welcoming, that much was clear to Michael. The last ship he had been on was the UESV Enforcer, during a fleet wide tour of the vessel. Their engine room, he noted, was in far better condition than the one he currently occupied.


The Enforcer’s engine hold, much like the rest of that vessel, was spacious and coated in a reflective metal, polished to perfection. Officers darted about, busying themselves with readouts and adjustments; no one ever came close to bumping shoulders.


Such conditions were not similar in the small craft that was the Galaxy. The engine room was literally nothing more than a thin catwalk that stretched the length of the ship, allowing exposure to the three massive engines that propelled the vessel. Below was impossible for a human to transgress due to the number of mixed wires and dangerous conduits that filled the space. Normally, the sound of radioactive fluids would be heard churning about in the monstrous engines, however at the moment, only silence reigned.


Michael was no engineer, a fact that was obviously clear to both himself and the Commander. Her request for him to “see what he could do about the engines” meant no more than activating the engineering android and allowing it to perform its programmed duty.


Of course, it was standard procedure to incorporate a live engineer aboard all EarthSec vessels, the android served merely as a backup in the event that the resident engineer became incapacitated, or in their case, was never even assigned one to start with.


Michael had actually heard talk from the engineers about how lame and unreliable the pieces of technology were. To be sure, they never talked directly to him about it, rather he put his super sensitive hearing to use and eavesdropped in on their conversations; his justification for doing so was that the graveyard shifts aboard the orbital platform were intensely boring and thus, he was forced to find alternate means to entertain himself.


Now that Michael thought about it, he could not even remember if the Enforcer carried an engineering android. His photographic memory played back the images from his tour and as he duly recalled, he could remember seeing no hold where the droid would have been kept. He supposed a vessel as large and well staffed as the Enforcer would have little use for the droids.


Coming upon the chamber in which the cyborg ‘slept’ Michael was taken aback. Unlike the utilitarian design incorporated into the medical droids with its stout domed structure, the engineering android was actually shaped like a human female. Above the glass door that kept the machine in place was the name ANDREA, an acronym for something rather high-tech, Michael had decided.


For a short moment, he studied the full figured drone. While she sported the basic uniform worn by engineer’s it was fit onto her rather snugly, revealing her perfectly designed body. Her strawberry blond hair hung freely at her shoulders and her face carried a remarkable resemblance to one that Michael had seen before. Upon closer examination, her skin seemed to glisten much like that of a real human’s; he imagined it felt just as real, reading somewhere that the droids’ skin was grown in vats from cloned material and later applied and shaped over the metal endoskeleton.


Michael keyed a sequence into a panel adjacent to the chamber, activating the android. With a slight hum and a hiss of escaping vapors that were used to preserve the delicately cloned skin, the glass chamber door slid open to the side, allowing ANDREA the freedom to step out.


“Our engines are not functioning,” Michael informed without preamble. He not only felt rather uncomfortable addressing a piece of technology as if it were human, but was too, quite unsure of how to speak to it…or her…at all.


“I will begin by running a diagnostic,” she explained in a rather soft and delicate voice. Michael had half expected the drone to sound much like the dull, monotone voice of the station computer on the Orbital Platform; he was pleasantly surprised to discoverer otherwise.


“Do you require anything of me?” inquired Michael, feeling for all the world like he would come off as a lame duck just standing around as she…it…preformed its job. Upon further consideration, he wondered even why he cared what it thought about him at all, he doubted it cared little in the way of how he acted in her presence.


“No, thank you,” she rebuffed politely and turned to face an exposed panel. Without haste she began to pluck away at the controls, determining just why the engines would not respond to helm control. Meanwhile, Michael could not help but catch himself admiring her considerably attractive back side.


She’s not a piece of meat, he reminded himself, bashfully breaking visual contact with her form. Yeah, he sarcastically quipped, she’s a piece of machinery.


Idly, as ANDREA busied herself with her work, he found interest in the handrail, taking an admiration in its smoothness.


“Is that what I think it is?” came a rather unmistakable guffaw from down the catwalk. Michael glanced up to see both Reilly Richards and Lauren Alonso approaching.


“It is an engineering android,” Michael enlightened.


“No, it’s not,” Reilly replied rather adamantly, “That’s an Escort droid.”


Michael arched an eyebrow at the proclamation and noticed that Lauren too, was slightly confused as well.


“They were developed by Quark Industries back on Earth for those losers who could never score a real life date.” Reilly glanced sidelong at Michael. “You know what I’m talking about, right?”


Michael could not determine if Reilly was questioning whether he knew the history of the Escort Droid or whether the Major was poking fun at his bleak social life. “No, I don’t know what you mean.”


“Yeah, I read about it in a report a while back. They were supplied to EarthSec for dirt cheap and the Corps of Engineers turned around and programmed the things for support roles aboard the ships in the fleet.” Reilly studied the android that continued to adamantly work away at the panel, as if not knowing or caring that the three were talking about her as if she were not there. “Though, this is the first time I’ve actually seen one.”


“She’s pretty,” Lauren pointed out, making audible the thoughts that no doubt both Michael and Reilly shared.


“She should be,” Reilly agreed, inching closer to study her facial features. “She was designed after that one beauty model…the one from the Alpha Centauri colony.”


With the provided information, Michael became aware why the android’s face seemed so familiar; he had seen it a number of times on billboards and in dozens of ads. He remembered admiring the model’s beauty but now that she…or a replica of her was in front of him, he found it a bit disconcerting.


“Hey, can you…” Reilly seemed to struggle for the right word and had Michael known what the Major was referring to, he would have endeavored to lend a hand. “Is it possible for you to…can you do…it?”


ANDREA ceased briefly and regarded Reilly with her full attention. “It?” she repeated, cocking her head to the side, slightly.


“The Major wants to know if it is possible for you to participate in sexual intercourse,” Michael clarified, sounding rather disgusted at the thought. He wondered idly to himself why this man was so childish.


“I am able to perform a number of functions,” ANDREA made clear, “sexual intercourse included.”


“Alright!” Reilly chirped, clapping his hands together with glee. “Suddenly this trip doesn’t seem so long! Ooof---”


Lauren gently elbowed Reilly in the gut, a grim smirk playing over her countenance. “Reilly!” she scolded. “I thought you said those droids were for losers.”


“It’s just us,” he reminded, “who’s gonna know?”


“You’re sick, Reilly,” Lauren laughed.


ANDREA casually returned to her duties, plucking away at the exposed board. Michael could not help but smile at the interaction that passed between the two. He indolently noted the connection that had already been established between the young girl and the Major.


He was glad that Lauren had attached herself to someone and found a bit of happiness, he was not so pleased that it was Reilly she had decided to confide in, but he was contented to see her somewhat happy, considering her earlier loss.


It was then that a distinctive beep echoed through the engine room. Piquing both his and Reilly’s interest.


“What is it?” questioned Lauren, glancing both at Reilly and Michael’s bewildered expressions.


“It is a standard UESV distress signal,” Michael informed, “But out here? Can that even be possible?”


“One way to find out,” quipped Reilly, slapping his Wrist-Link. “Commander to the cockpit!”


Like a blur, Reilly belted down the catwalk back towards the lift. Michael quickly fell in step, with Lauren lagging somewhat behind. If there was indeed another EarthSec vessel in this region it meant that the crew of the Galaxy was no longer alone.


But more importantly, why and how did it get here? Only time would tell and as the three loaded into the small lift, Michael decided it moved entirely too slow for his liking.





NINE


Maggie was already seated in the Co-pilots chair when the rest of the crew barged into the cockpit, jarring the solace that she was monetarily permitted to enjoy. She had just begun to relish the solace of her quarters, as well, when Reilly had piped up over the wrist-link that she needed to report to the cockpit.


She would have rather remained in her dark quarters, wallowing in her own self-pity than to be amongst this rag tag crew that had become assembled. She was not yet ready to return to the cockpit, the very place Ben had lost his life. She was not ready to take command again…she was not ready to continue living while Ben ceased to do just that.


Maggie realized as she took notice of the young girl entering the cockpit following close to Reilly, that she had yet to meet her. Maggie could not help but feel sorry for this child that had somehow ended up in this mess with them. She did not deserve this fate; she had her whole life ahead of her.


“No civilians, in the cockpit,” Maggie ordered flatly.


“Give me a break, McGillis,” Reilly shot back, placing a reaffirming hand on Lauren’s shoulder. “She’s not going to break anything.”


Somehow, Maggie had expected nothing less than a rebuttal from the Major. Already she regretted allowing him to dock with the Galaxy. He was impulsive and insubordinate, two traits she could not and would not tolerate. She was unsure of how they conducted themselves in the flight squadrons, but aboard a UESV ship, command was to be obeyed, regardless of personal mind-set.


“No civilians,” Maggie repeated, this time with a bit more tenor to her voice. Unfortunately, Maggie had learned first hand just how dangerous the cockpit could become, having lost Ben to an exploding station. Maggie assured herself she would be damned if she was going to allow a civilian to be put in harms way. It was bad enough the girl was along for the ride without much of a choice in the situation. Maggie would not be responsible for her death.


“That’s not fair,” Reilly complained, however he was already leading the girl out, whispering something to her that did not reach Maggie’s ears. The young girl gave off a reassuring nod and disappeared out the exit. After the door had slid shut, Reilly tuned back to face his commanding officer and snarled, “She’s part of this crew too, now. She deserves to know what goes on as much as the rest of us.”


“I won’t argue my stance, Major,” Maggie explained in measured tones. “I am still in command of this vessel.”


“By who’s decree?” Reilly shot back, “For all we know the UnitedEarth Government doesn’t even exist anymore. They could have failed to defend themselves against the Kryssk…we don’t know!”


“We don’t have time for this,” Maggie sighed, turning to Michael who waited ever so quietly in the corner. “Check that signal we received and see if you can verify its authenticity. If there is another UESV out here, I want to find them.”


She watched, as Michael seemed to exchange glances with Reilly. In the split second, she discerned that he felt sorry for not taking a stance with the Major but that there was little he himself could do about it. And with that, he was seated at the communications board, studying the readouts.


“It is definitely a UESV…science vessel,” Michael informed, still pouring over the readings. “It is possible they may be in trouble. The signal they sent was a standard S.O.S.”


“Any indication as to how they got here?” Maggie wondered aloud.


“None,” replied Michael, leaning back from the board, “There was no further information in the message. Though, their current position was given…I have fed it into the nav board.”


“Major, if you would be so kind,” Maggie said, making a gesture towards the vacant pilot’s seat.


Without haste Reilly bounded into the chair and strapped himself in. “You don’t have to ask twice,” he smirked. “ANDREA, how are our engines?”


“Full power has been restored,” came the crisp reply over the comm.


“Excellent.” Reilly took hold of the controls and called aloud, “Let’s punch it!” With that, the crimson vessel that was the Galaxy blasted off for the fellow ship. Meanwhile, a thousand questions swarmed about the crew’s minds as the anxiety built.








Maggie was not pleased at the current predicament. The ship that had sent the distress signal was indeed of UEG design that much she could discern from the monitors, but the vessel itself was in complete disarray. The engines were completely off-line, as well, evidenced by the lack of illumination common for normal running ships.


It was clear to her why they had sent the distress signal. And she realized if she did not act quickly, those officers would not survive long enough to shed light on just how they arrived out here, as well.


“Looks like they’re dead in the water,” Maggie observed, she noticed Reilly nod in affirmation.


“I wonder what happened,” Reilly admitted as he urged the craft forward, edging it closer and closer to the other vessel.


“Michael, see if you can make contact,” ordered Maggie, her sight never wavering from the slowly spinning science vessel.


“I have been trying,” Michael responded, “however, to no avail. They will not answer our hails.”


“Something may be keeping them from doing so,” Maggie hypothesized. “Reilly, dock with their ship…we’re going over there. Michael…you have the controls.” With that, Maggie released the straps holding her in place and stood from her chair. She watched indolently as the Galaxy made a clean connection with the other craft.


She was not sure what awaited her aboard that science vessel but she had a feeling that the crew was still there, if not okay; they had only sent a message for help not too long ago. A successful rescue attempt was still a high possibility. “Reilly, let’s suit up.”





Maggie loathed the environmental suits. They were bulky and cumbersome and for some reason it always seemed as if hers came equipped with an ungodly stench. Nevertheless, she managed to dress herself without too much trouble and now stood in the airlock, her helmet trucked beneath her right arm. They were unsure of just what type of environment they were heading into and if the ship was truly dead in space, that meant the life support systems would be down, leaving little in the way of breathable air.


With an irritated tug, she tried haplessly to loosen the grip area around her neck. God, she hated these suits. She almost regretted having to put her helmet on for fear of that stench but reasoned it was either that stench or no breathable air at all.


“Are you sure we won’t need any weapons?” Reilly questioned, indexing the airlock door closed behind him.


“They’re EarthSec,” she reminded, pointing at the door which separated them from the other ship. “We’ll be cautious, but no weapons.” It was more of a personal preference than anything; Maggie was not a big fan of side arms.


She felt the fleet should focus more on scientific endeavors and less on engaging dangerous races. Of course, there was always going to be the threat of danger in space, but Maggie hailed from the school of belief that diplomacy could solve most if not all problems. Throwing one’s self into a situation with guns blazing seemed so barbaric to her, if not counter productive. She supposed that was why the fleet gave her an assignment of diplomatic envoy, opposed to the more prized postings of patrolling the front lines.


“Helmets on,” Reilly urged, fastening his own into place. Maggie took a great breath of the clean smelling air once more before putting her own helmet into place.


“Open the door,” she instructed over the built in communication device, desperately trying to stifle an expression of disgust caused by the smell wafting about in her suit.


With haste, Reilly indexed the airlock open. Almost instantaneously, dark smoke billowed out of the opening, filling the small airlock chamber full of the mess. Maggie was glad they had decided to don the EV suits after all. “Switch to infrared sight,” Maggie suggested over the comm.


Like magic, the dark smoke seemed to disappear from sight as the view plate took on a dull shade of red. Any heat or live bodies would be easily spotted in the mess of smoke. She wondered if the crew was still alive, she found it quite hard to believe anyone could survive in these conditions. Seeing Reilly’s face out of the corner of her eye, she could not help but think how demonic the red light made him and most likely her, appear.


As they stepped forward into the ship Reilly questioned, almost cryptically, “God, what happened here?” Maggie wondered the same, herself.


“Just keep alert,” suggested Maggie, placing her had against the bulkhead, allowing herself to feel her way through the myriad corridor.


“This ship’s five decks high,” Reilly whined, “How will we ever find the crew in time to save them all?”


“We’ll start with the bridge and work our way down,” said Maggie tersely, continuing forward carefully. “Chances are the crew would most likely have been on the bridge if they were in danger. If they were forced to defend themselves that’s where they would have been.”


“Defend themselves from what?” Reilly inquired cryptically.


“I don’t even want to think about it,” Maggie shot back. If something had attacked this ship, she doubted her petit Galaxy could hold up against the attacking forces.


They traveled the rest of the way in silence. Unlike many ships in the fleet, this vessel lacked a formal lift-car system, instead, in its place, were small flights of stairs. The two had to be extra cautious going up these flights as the billowing smoke made it rather difficult to see.


Upon reaching the first deck the two discovered that the metal door leading to the bridge had been sealed, though Maggie had anticipated this. If the rest of the ship became inhospitable, it was common practice to seal off the bridge and thus became even capable to divert all life support systems to one area.


Without any words passing between them, Reilly stepped up to the double doors and placed a small device across the part. With ease he keyed in a sequence of numbers and within seconds the doors parted, permitting the two entrance onto the small circular bridge.


There was no smoke in this section of the ship, and Maggie was sure that the air was just as breathable. However, she opted to keep the helmet in place, just to play it safe. It was when they discovered the number of bodies sprawled out over consoles and the floor that she realized the unconscious crew must have diverted all power to the bridge, hoping to hold out as long as possible for a rescue.


“We’ve got to get them back to the Galaxy,” Maggie said, moving to the center of the bridge where the presumed commanding officer laid sprawled out, just at the foot of the command chair.


With some effort, she hefted the man to his feet and found it rather surprising that he still had his wits about him, at least in some respects. “This one’s able to walk,” Maggie told Reilly, draping the man’s arm over her shoulders. “Check to see which one’s are still breathing…we’ll take them to the med bay.”


Reilly complied with a simple nod, moving about the dimly lit bridge as he checked each body for a pulse. Out of the remaining bodies, he reported he was only able to ascertain that three others were still breathing. The rest were lost to the fates.


“We’ll save who we can,” Maggie promised, making her way for the exit with the commanding officer, “If four is all we’re able to save then it’s four. It beats the hell out of none.”


Reilly agreed as he hefted a female body to her feet. As Maggie shuffled down he corridor with the man under arm, she worried that the medical droid would fail to save them all and that was a reality she did not want to live with.


TEN


“I’m not bothering you, am I?”


Reilly stood at the entrance to Maggie McGillis’ quaint quarters. His hands were draped behind him and he was dressed in more relaxed casual attire. His hair was combed neatly and his face was no longer covered in soot. During the downtime while the med droid worked feverishly on the science vessel’s remaining crew, Reilly had deiced to wash up and rid himself of his smoke scented flight suit. The fact that Maggie continued to retire to her quarters irked him a bit. Hours had passed and she had yet to ever emerge.


“Reilly,” Maggie said flatly, “you’ve been a bother to me since I brought you on.”


He smiled at the jest. At least he hoped it was just a jest. While he had admittedly accomplished getting under her skin, he doubted she hated him for it. “You’ve been in there for a long time.”


“Thinking,” was Maggie’s one word response. It was not lost on Reilly that she was a very cold yet calculating person. He admired that in a leader, never bothering to mix with the crew; he had served under quite a few leaders like that. He was determined to break Maggie of that habit rather quickly.


“I do that from time to time,” admitted Reilly.


“Somehow I would doubt that,” Maggie sighed. “Look, is there a reason you are here or did you just want to pass the time by exchanging witty banter?”


“May I come in?” he requested, motioning to the interior of her darkened quarters. He tried to get a glimpse of the interior but failed, as the lighting was too dim. He found it to be very disheartening that Maggie just sat in there for hours in the dark…alone.


“Though it is highly inappropriate,” Maggie began as she stepped to the side, allowing room for Reilly to pass, “…I suppose.”


He stepped into the small room and frowned. It was much larger in comparison to his quarters which literally consisted of no more than a bunk and a shelf, it was still quite small. There was a bunk on one end and a desk on the opposite. Other than that, the room was very Spartan, very cold…much like Maggie herself.


As the door slid shut behind Maggie, she indexed the lights to a higher illumination, most likely not wanting it to feel as if she had set it for any particular intimate mood. Curtly, she drew out the chair from the desk and took a seat, placing her hands squarely in her lap.


Reilly followed suit, taking a seat on the edge of her neatly tidy bed. He continued to study her quarters in silence until he noticed the single framed picture resting atop her desk.


“This is nice,” he told her, continuing to glance about the room, “Very quaint…very Buddhist.”


Maggie flashed a rather mocking grin. “I’ve never prided myself on my lacking ability for interior decorating.”


“You’re not kidding,” he agreed, finally resting his attention on the only object in the room that consisted of any character at all the picture frame that sat upon her desk of a rather well built man. “Was that him?” Reilly wondered, motioning to the lone frame. “Was that the guy in the cockpit?”


Maggie regarded the frame as if she had not even realized it was there. She took it in her hands and studied it for quite sometime before replying softly, “Yes. This was…is Ben. We were involved for a time and I suppose he would have popped the question eventually, but our careers were always more paramount to us.”


“I have or had a girl back home,” Reilly sympathized. “Her name is Becky. We were living together but I had never even dreamed of marriage. She was always out with her friends and I was always out with mine. We both ran with very different crowds. She came from a very prominent family on Alpha Centauri and I guess there was something about the image of a bad boy pilot that excited her about me. God, her parents hated me though. I guess if we ever get back…I wouldn’t mind marrying her.”


“Wouldn’t mind?” Maggie repeated caustically, “Doesn’t sound like you two were too deep in love.”


“Nah,” Reilly responded, “But we had some good times together. How about you and Ben? Was it love?”


There was a long silence before Maggie replied. Reilly wondered if he had hit a sore subject and almost whished he had not even posed the question. As far as Reilly could remember he himself had never experienced love, to be sure he had experienced moments of elated pleasure, and a lot of it was due to his consumption with beer but there was no true love in his lifetime.


“It was,” admitted Maggie softly. “I love him so much that would like to think I would have left the fleet for him…and the chance for me to prove it almost came about.”


“Oh? How’s that?”


“He impregnated me,” Maggie informed delicately, letting her hand rest atop her stomach, “…a birth I was not ready for…and now that he’s gone I fear I will be a horrible mother. Ben was always the one more suited for parenthood.”


“You mean…its in you right now?” Reilly questioned rather childishly, pointing at her rather firm stomach.


“Not only is it in me, but I fear when I do give birth to it that it will be a constant reminder of Ben.” Maggie removed her hand from her stomach and turned to place the picture of Ben face down on the table, away from sight. “I don’t want that and I don’t want it.”


“But just think of it Commander,” Reilly pointed out, “it will be the first human baby ever born on this side of the Galaxy! Hey, I’ve already got a name for the little bugger. What do you think of Galactus?”


“Sounds a bit too melodramatic for my tastes,” seethed Maggie. “If anything I want to name it in honor of Ben.”


Reilly nodded agreeably. “I see, but really, what’s the girl version of Ben? Galactus is so much cooler.”


Maggie let a small smile escape her lips. “I’ll take it into consideration, Major.”


“You know,” began Reilly as he stood from the edge of the bed and made his way to the door, “it wouldn’t hurt to mingle with the rest of the crew. We’re going to be together for quite a while…and I couldn’t dream of anything worse than spending this time friendless. After all, you’re not the only one who has lost someone they care about.”


“Thank you, Major,” replied Maggie graciously. “I respect that you do better in the company of others but I require time to myself to heal these wounds.”


Reilly shrugged his shoulders and indexed the door open. “Suit yourself, Commander. But just know that we’re here for you. In the meantime…I think I’ll check on the science vessel’s crew.”


Before Reilly could leave altogether, however, Maggie’s voice beckoned him back. Standing at the threshold he inquired as to what it was she wanted.


“This little conversation we had between us,” she made a slight gesture between her and her bed, which he had previously occupied only moments before, “It remains between us.”


Reilly winked charmingly at Maggie before replying amiably, “Absolutely.”


ELEVEN


Reilly cleared his throat and did so with obvious attention. Idling in the doorway of the cramped med bay he was rather taken aback to notice one of the crew members had been revived and was now occupying a chair in the corner, his head hung low, his hands folded together.


By way of a quick glance, Reilly noticed that the rest of the crew was still in a state of unconsciousness; however the medical droid was now resting silently in a corner of the room, its operations complete. It would now only be a matter of time before the rest of the crew began to wake from their slumbers.


At the rather obvious attempt to make himself known, the awakened crewmember raised his head slowly, quietly taking in the pilot. Reilly too studied what had been determined earlier to be the commanding officer of the damaged vessel. His scruffy head of unusually long brown hair was in a disheveled mess, his face was covered in stubble and the bags under his eyes spoke volumes, telling of a man who had not slept in nights if not weeks. Seeming content or quite uninterested, the Captain turned his head slowly to take in his sleeping crew. Reilly was rather surprised that it was the Captain who broke the silence.


“God, would you look at them?” the Captain remarked in a scratchy if not very distant voice, “They seem so calm, so at rest. They deserve that after what they’ve been thorough.”


Interest piqued, Reilly prodded indelicately, “Just what did happen?”


The weary Captain seemed to regard the question for sometime, as if racking his brain for the answer, however after a moment of massaging his temples as if to force out the memories he responded deftly, “I…I don’t remember. There was an explosion, I ordered everyone to the bridge…I don’t know.”


“Captain,” Reilly said sympathetically, “When we got to your ship, some of the crew was already dead. Was there an attack of some sort? The exterior of your ship seems pretty beat up.”


“An attack!” the Captain snapped, as if suddenly remembering; however slowly he lowered his head as if surrendering to defeat and repeated solemnly, “I don’t remember.”


Reilly was becoming rather impatient with the Captain’s untimely bout of amnesia. If there were indeed hostile forces out there it was imperative that they know what they would be dealing with if to at least avoid further provocation.


He could only hope that once the other crew awoke, they would be able to remember collectively what had come about to render their ship defenseless and cause the death of half of their crew.


“If you don’t mind I’d like to call in the commanding officer,” said Reilly, reaching for his wrist-link, “I’m sure she’ll have a few questions for you.”


Making no acknowledgment, the Captain continued to watch his sleeping crew. With that, Reilly called in Maggie and within a matter of moments the Commander joined the two.


“I’m Commander Maggie McGillis, commanding officer of the UESV Galaxy,” she began without preamble.


The Captain repeated the ship’s name under his breath but did not look away from his crew. Reilly could not help but note how protective he was of them, almost like a father. “Is this a rescue vessel? Did EarthSec send you to find us?”


Slowly, Maggie returned, “I am afraid not, we are just as lost out here, unfortunately.”


The Captain remained silent, seeming unfazed by the realization that this ship, which had rescued them, was not one with a mission to return them to Earth. Reilly wondered just how long they had been out here on this side of the galaxy. It gave him pause to know that another group of EarthSec officers were stranded out here before they and still had not devised a way home.


“Captain, what happened out there?” Maggie requested, not aware that Reilly had already posed the question.


“Its no use,” Reilly informed, crossing his arms over his chest, “He doesn’t remember, at least that’s what he’s saying.”


“Well maybe if---”


The shushing of the Captain, still intently watching his slumbering crew like a hawk, abruptly cut off Maggie. Both Reilly and Maggie exchanged puzzled glances, unaware if somehow she had said something offensive.


“Please, I…we need our rest,” said the Captain.


After a moment’s deliberation Maggie seemed to agree and bowed slightly saying, “Of course, we’ll check back in the morning.”


With that, she left the room, Reilly following close behind. After the doors to the med bay had closed behind the two, Reilly questioned, “What do we do now?”


“We try and get some sleep,” she said flatly, “We’ve all been through a lot today. However, I don’t trust that its completely safe here. For the time being I want the blast shields deployed…in the event of an unforeseen attack.”


“Right,” Reilly agreed although not sounding completely convinced. He greatly doubted if he would be able to sleep this night. He could already picture himself tossing and turning in his cramped bunk, never procuring a moment of slumber.


TWELVE


“Hey Kiddo, sleep well?”


Reilly watched as Lauren emerged from her quarters, if they could even be called that. The sleeping chamber really only consisted of a bed, a shelf, and a door to seal it off from the corridor, not much in the way of comfort. However, the Galaxy had never been designed for long term or deep space missions, a fact Reilly greatly regretted as he felt like he was in some type of tomb when occupying his own bunk.


“The quarters are a bit smaller than they were back home,” Lauren replied, trying effortlessly to stifle a yawn, “but I managed. How about you, Reilly?”


“I feel like a sardine in a can,” he mumbled, sliding out of his own quarters and allowing his bare feet to make contact with the cold metal grated floor.


“Growing up on a frigate has helped me become pretty accustomed to tight places,” beamed Lauren, tugging lightly on her oversized tee-shirt that served as her nightgown, “I wouldn’t even know what to do with all the space of a real home if I ever got one.”


Reilly simply watched the young girl as she went on about her past home life aboard her parent’s frigate. He said nothing for quite sometime before she came to the realization that it was only she leading the conversation, with Reilly offering little. With perplexity, she paused.


“What is it Reilly?”


“It’s you,” he responded with a small grin, “I’m so glad you’re with us. You just have this knack of putting a positive spin on what seems to be the worst situations. I admire that…in fact I think it’s what is keeping me sane.”


Bashfully, she brushed a stray lock of dark auburn hair from out of her face before replying, rather coolly, “Thank you…I mean I’m glad I can help.”


“Speaking of help,” Reilly said rubbing his empty stomach, “You mentioned you were quite a cook. How about putting breakfast together for the crew?” Personally, he could not wait to see how the young girl would prepare the rations the Galaxy had been stocked with. It was no secret that EarthSec field rations were far from gourmet yet there were certain individuals that possessed the skill to turn even the most mundane food item into a treat, he hoped Lauren possessed those same culinary skills.


“Just let me get changed and then I’d be happy to,” she returned with a smile. With that, she slipped back into her bunk where her change of clothes presumably waited for her.


As Reilly made his way down the corridor, headed for the med bay, he could not help but reflect on Lauren. In such a short amount of time he had made quite a connection with the girl. He supposed he owed much of it to the fact that he had saved her life but there was something else as well, they just seemed to click together.


Reilly had never had a sister, being an orphan he really had no siblings at all to speak of, but he imagined that if he did have a sister she would be somewhat like Lauren. That brought a smile to his face at the realization that she was much like the sister he never had.


He wasn’t sure if she had any brothers or sisters, but form their conversations of her life on the frigate she had never mentioned any and thus he wondered if she shared his sentiments, or perhaps he was reading too much into their very fresh relationship. Either way, he decided that he very much liked the girl.


Stopping just outside the med bay doors, Reilly could hear a cacophony of voices emanating from just within. Indexing the doors open he was stunned to see that the entire crew they had rescued the night before was up and about, engaged with both Maggie and Michael in what seemed a rather lively and informative discussion.


He took idle note, however, that the Captain seemed to be quite withdrawn from the conversation, standing in one corner with his arms crossed over his chest and offering little in the way of explanations.


“Well, good morning,” Reilly greeted.


His salutation was effective at ceasing the conversations altogether and drawing all glances in the room upon him. He too took the opportunity to study the officers that had, only hours ago, been in a deep slumber.


Aside from the hushed Captain, there was a rather lanky man who sported an unkempt dark blond hairstyle and possessed an unshaven face. His standout feature however, was the dark circles under his eyes. Curiously enough they seemed to be more intense than the Captain’s.


As well, there was a rather sultry Asian woman with voluminous black hair. What struck Reilly most was the sly yet alluring expression that played over her countenance.


Finally, there was an extremely attractive, extremely well built woman with flowing locks of auburn hair and thick red lips. Reilly quickly sized her up and decided he would indeed not enjoy engaging her in hand-to-hand combat due to her unique build. Seeming to be aware that he was staring at her she flashed him a warm smile, causing Reilly to quickly look away.


“This is our resident pilot, Major Reilly Richards,” Maggie announced to the onlookers. She continued to make the introductions for Reilly’s behalf, introducing the other crew. “Major, this is Captain Darien Blake, whom you’ve already met. This is medical officer Clayton Philips.” The tall, lanky man gave a rushed hello in a clipped British accent before Maggie continued, making a gesture towards the Asian woman. “This is communications officer Lisa Tomita and this is Amory officer Kristen Coles.” The two ladies nodded in acknowledgment before returning their attention to Maggie.


“I’m sorry about your ship,” Reilly expressed, joining Michael at his side, “I don’t suppose anyone remembers how it happened?”


“As a matter of fact they do,” Maggie informed, “Apparently, a race known as the Talshaun are responsible for attacking the Helter Skelter---”


“Helter Skelter?” Reilly repeated, not sure of what or whom Maggie was referring to.


“Helter Skelter is the name of their vessel,” Maggie made clear. Reilly nodded in affirmation, still a bit unsure of what to think of the rather unusual name for the vessel. “In any event, the crew says that the attack was unprovoked.”


“Just out of the black?”


“Actually, we are quite versed in the races out here,” Captain Blake finally chimed in. “In the five years we’ve been here we actually have put together a somewhat primitive database of the races that occupy this side of the galaxy as well as created star maps. So, we knew of the Talshaun and their hostilities towards other races but we just happened to be caught in the wrong place as the wrong time, I’m afraid. Now…we’ve lost damned good officers because of it.”


“I’m sorry for your loss, Captain,” Reilly sympathized, “But did you say you and your crew have been out here for five years? How is that possible?”


“We were exploring an uncharted region on the edge of the UEG’s space when we were swept way by a phenomenon we can only categorize as a very intense ion storm. When it finally let up, we found ourselves transported thousand’s of light years from our previous position…here. To this day, we’re still trying to work out the science.”


“Again,” Maggie piped up, “We are certainly glad to have found you.”


“Same here,” replied Captain Blake. “However, now that you have rescued us and we have joined your motley crew of sorts, what has been determined about our ship? Is it beyond salvageable?”


“I am afraid so, Captain,” Michel announced softly, “We sent over our engineering Android earlier this morning to have a look. The conclusion was not good.”


“We have decided to cut her free,” Maggie said rather tersely.


“Cut her free!?” the Captain suddenly snapped. “You can’t, I mean please don’t! There are a few items I must bring over before we just let my ship go adrift!”


“Captain, the environment over there is far from hospitable,” Maggie tried to explain, “whatever it is you need I’m sure the Galaxy can provide it for you.”


“But our databases and star maps, you will be lost without them,” Blake reminded.


“Captain,” Maggie began in measured tones, “Those can easily be sent over via a secure uplink, I’m sure your communications officer can see to the safe transfer from our cockpit.”


“If it’s all the same to you, Commander,” Blake replied fiercely, making sure to put obvious emphasis on Maggie’s lower ranking status, “I would like to go over there and ensure the safe transfer manually. I can easily use an environmental suit…I’ll be back in no time.”


Reilly watched, as Maggie seemed to contemplate this request. Form the corner of his eye, however, he noted the rather suspicious glance Kristen Coles, the armory officer, was giving her captain. Reilly too became suspicious of the Captain’s motives behind wanting to risk injury or life to go back aboard his doomed ship to simply acquire files that could just as easily be transferred through an uplink between the two ships.


Maggie sighed as she said, “Very well, Captain, but I want you back aboard the Galaxy within fifteen minutes.”


“Clayton and I will be back within ten,” said Blake, slyly announcing that the doctor would be joining him on his short trek.


Indeed, Reilly did not like the feeling he was getting from this situation, it was all very suspicious. Suddenly, he found himself wondering just how trustworthy this other crew was, after all, they virtually knew nothing about each other, a fact that Reilly certainly hoped to remedy.


He came from the old adage of ‘Keep your friends close but keep you enemies closer;’ and in this case Reilly was determined to discover just what the crew of the Helter Skelter was friend or foe.





THIRTEEN


“So, are they nice?”


Reilly did not even hear the question posed to him by Lauren, who stood idly by with a spatula in hand and a drab apron coving her attire. He was simply lost in his breakfast, one prepared quite well by Lauren. However, his mind was lost to the appreciation of a well prepared meal and Lauren’s inquisitive mind, instead he could not help shake the feeling that the crew of the Helter Skelter was not entirely good.


Of course, many in this day and age were not entirely good; with the exception of Lauren, he had decided. However, it seemed to him that there was something rather suspicious about all of this, the rescue, the damage to their ship, this mysterious race known as the Talshaun…he hated his suspicions.


After all, he was a fighter pilot, a breed of whom relied little on their suspicions and instead on their senses to guide them though hostile situations. How he wished he was at he helm of a fighter craft again, easily gallivanting about the Sol system with little worry---


“I said is the other crew nice!?”


“Hmm?” Reilly glanced up from his meal to meet the youthful gaze of Lauren, a worried look now playing over her countenance.


“What’s wrong? Is it the food? You barely touched it,” Lauren pointed out. Indeed, the majority of the meal she had prepared still sat there upon Reilly’s plate, untouched.


“No, no,” Reilly assured, ushering for her to join him at the circular table. “The food’s great, you’re a good cook. It’s just…I’m thinking, that’s all.”


“You seem to be thinking pretty hard,” she observed, taking a seat across from him. Gingerly she placed her spatula down on the metal table. “Should I be worried?” Reilly flashed a puzzled expression. “About this new crew, I mean. After your meeting with them you seem to be different. I was wondering if perhaps they’re not nice.”


“They’re plenty nice,” he promised, placing a reassuring hand atop hers, “There’s nothing to worry about.” He hated to lie to her, yet at the same time he did not want to upset her or cause her to worry anymore than she had to. She was still getting over the loss of her parent’s for God’s sake.


“That’s good,” she sighed. “Because that one officer…the doctor I think…he’s pretty cute. I peeked in on them last night before I went to sleep. What do you think?”


Reilly scoffed at the inquiry. “I think you’d better stay away from them, at least until we can determine just how…nice…they really are. And besides…what kind of question is that anyway? You don’t ask a man if he thinks another man is cute.”


Lauren furrowed her brow in confusion. “But you just said they were nice.”


“I know what I said, Lauren,” Reilly snapped in a rather stern tone, he felt awful for taking such a stance but damn it, he cared for this girl, “I just don’t completely trust them yet. Maybe it’s my nature but I like to get to know someone a bit better before I just go and let down my guard around them.”


Lauren sneered back at him. “Is that how you feel about me?”


“What!? No, you’re just a kid,” was Reilly’s response. For some reason, it was not the one that she wanted to hear.


With that, she shot up from her place at the table, yanking her hand away from his. With gusto she snatched up her spatula and made her way for the exit. Before leaving altogether, however, she tuned back to the baffled Reilly and shot, “I hope you enjoy your meal…don’t choke!”


As Reilly watched her leave, rather agitatedly, he came to the horrible conclusion that he had come to long ago he would never understand women, despite their age. He shook his head in disbelief, letting a small grin take form over his lips as both Captain Blake and Clayton Philips burst into the room.


Clayton’s helmet had been removed and was held close to his side as he breathed urgently, “We must leave, now!”


“What?” Reilly wondered, “Why, what’s the problem?”


“There is no time for explanations, Major,” Captain Blake shot back. “Now, you’re the pilot. Get us out of here!”


“I take orders from Commander McGillis,” Reilly said, standing. “Now, if you would just tell me what is going on maybe I could---”


Suddenly the entire ship rocked violently sending him flying over the table and causing both the Captain and Clayton to lose their balances. Unfortunately, Reilly knew the cause of that unmistakable feeling; someone was firing upon his ship! As he drew himself back up, he could not help but recall the attack on their vessel by the Kryssk…and how poorly they had come out of that skirmish.


“What the hell is going on!?” Reilly demanded.


“We’re under attack, we must leave immediately!” begged Clayton.


“Major, we need you in the cockpit,” came Maggie’s voice over his wrist-link, “We’ve got company and they are not friendly!”


Reilly shot a warning glance at both the Captain and Clayton, all the while believing that they indeed had something to do with his unprovoked attack. He could not at all prove it, of course, but he could not shake the feeling that they were somehow the cause of all this.


Without wavering from his intense gaze one bit, he raised his ‘link as he replied sharply, “I’m on my way.”





FOURTEEN


Maggie watched the view ports intently from the co-pilot’s chair, wide-eyed at the site of the alien looking spacecraft that was currently pelting them with firepower. It was only moments ago that she had finally cut loose the damaged Helter Skelter, allowing the hunk of space junk to effortlessly float away, freeing themselves from the cumbersome craft.


“Take evasive maneuvers, Major,” she instructed Reilly, who was now seated beside her in the pilot’s chair. From behind, she could feel the intent stares of the other crewmembers as they stood and watched on.


Maggie’s stomach actually churned as Reilly’s expert piloting skills sent the Galaxy spiraling away from the enemy craft. She was quite impressed at how well he did to dodge the majority of the firepower, yet could not help but feel that the pilot had forgotten that this was indeed a well-sized space vessel and not a compact fighter craft, like he was used to.


“It’s almost impossible to shake these guys!” he cried, never easing up on the throttle.


“Who are they?” questioned Maggie, turning in her seat to face Captain Blake. She could not help but shake the feeling that the Captain knew more than he was indeed letting on.


“They are the Talshaun,” he informed cryptically, “Obviously returned to finish the job they had started.”


Maggie was completely unaware of the magnitude of this new race’s power or tactics and thus doubted they would last long in a dogfight against the other craft. Her only hope was to try and make contact with them, perhaps explain that they were not their enemy, instead that they are only lost explorers.


“Lisa, can you try and transmit our peace message on all channels and frequencies…maybe they will---”


“I am well versed in the Talshaun language,” the Asian communications officer announced, taking a seat at the elongated communications board.


“Then tell them we mean them no harm!” Maggie shot back, gripping the edge of her console for stability.


Meanwhile Maggie was able to overhear Captain Blake whispering to Kristen to have a seat at the tactical board. If she were not feeling so sick, thanks much in part to Reilly’s piloting, she would have questioned his course of action, instead she let it slide, focusing instead on keeping her breakfast down.


“It is no use,” Lisa called from the comm board, “They will not respond to my transmissions.”


“You’ve got to keep trying,” Maggie urged, “It is our only hope.”


“There is another option, Commander,” Blake informed, placing a hand on Kristen’s shoulder. “We can end this now and in turn save our own lives if we would just return fire.”


“Their attack is unprovoked,” reminded Maggie, “I won’t give them a reason to continue to fight us.”


“Don’t be a fool,” snapped Blake, “You saw what they did to my ship and crew, and they will do the same to us if we don’t fight back.” With that, he turned to Kristen, “Arm the torpedoes, and prepare to fire.”


“Belay that,” ordered Maggie, “I am still the commanding officer of this vessel!”


“A commanding officer that will not defend her ship and crew is not fit for command!” Blake pointed out, “Now return fire!”


“Even if we did,” explained Maggie, gesturing to the stream of readouts spilling over the screen before her, “the sensors project that our firepower would have little effect against them!”


“We’ve been in this situation before, Commander, if we equip an EMP pulse to a torpedo it will not only cripple their vessel but destroy it as well. They are a highly mechanical race, they depend on machines for almost everything…that is their weakness!”


For a short moment, Maggie exchanged worried glances with Reilly, knowing what trouble the EMP pulse had gotten them into earlier. However, it became evident that they would not be permitted to outrun this ship forever and the time had come for fight or flight. Allowing herself to put her pride aside and defer to Blake’s judgment she sighed, saying, “Do it.”


“Commander, to go through with what Captain Blake is suggesting is highly hazardous,” Michael informed from his science station. “There is a high risk that the EMP pulse could again very well back fire and cripple us as well.”


“I know, Michael,” Maggie admitted, “But we’ve no other options. Fire away.”


“You heard the Commander,” Blake spouted to Kristen, “Fire the torpedo!”


Almost with reluctance, Kristen returned fire while the entire crew watched as the missile struck the Talshaun ship, effectively tearing through it only to cause an explosion that cascaded through the vessel, destroying it. Collectively, a sigh of relief erupted in the cockpit as Maggie ordered the Galaxy be taken to the next system, to plan their next move.


Not even a day into their travels on this relatively unknown side of the galaxy and they had already managed to make enemies and even destroy one of their vessels, Maggie was not pleased with the way this mission was turning out at all.





FIFTEEN


“Okay, I want to know what the hell that was all about!” Demanded Maggie. She was on her feet now, pacing the small confines of the cockpit, hastily awaiting a response from Captain Blake.


“As I said before, the Talshaun are a bloodthirsty race,” explained Blake coolly.


“Bull shit,” Maggie snapped, “I want answers and I want them now! Trouble seems to follow you and your crew, Captain. Trouble I don’t want to involve my crew in.”


“That is quite an astute observation, Commander,” Blake pointed out, smiling. “Since we put you and your vessel in harms way, I suppose I owe you some answers.”


At this news, Maggie could see Reilly perk up from the corner of her eye. She herself had never fully trusted this new crew and now Blake was giving her reason to assure herself that her distrust was indeed warranted.


“You must understand, Commander,” began Blake with a clearing of his throat, “that we have been out here for five years trying desperately to secure a way home. It was not until we met the Talshaun that we learned their hyper-drive systems were not only far superior to ours but the technology could be seamlessly integrated into our systems. So, we requested the schematics for the design of their engines but when they refused, we disabled their ship with an EMP wave; as superior as they may be, their technology is highly susceptible to our own line of defenses---”


“So it was you who attacked another ship unprovoked,” Maggie realized, “and not the other way around.”


The Captain continued, unfazed, “When we attempted to board their vessel to attain the schematics, one of their sister ships intervened and crippled us, leaving us to die in space.”


“Sounds like it serves you right,” piped up Reilly. Maggie could not help but concur with his reaction.


“You are an EarthSec officer,” Maggie reminded, “You do not attack other race’s to only further your own cause---”


“Get real, Commander!” barked Blake, and he made a grand gesture about him, “Look around you! We’re not in UEG space anymore; EarthSec has no authority out here! We had to do what we had to do to survive and get home, give yourself five years and I’m sure you would not hesitate to do the same!”


“I would like to think otherwise,” assured Maggie, unsure if she could ever trust this man again. For his actions, she and her ship were almost destroyed, and now she was aware that their journey home would no doubt be the worse for wear thanks to the hostilities created between them and the Talshaun.


“As a show of good faith I will give you coordinates that will take us in the complete opposite direction of the Talshaun Hegemony,” said Blake, pulling a navigation disk from his pocket. “I, like you, want nothing more than to put them behind us, and move on.” Gingerly, he outstretched his hand, offering the disk to her.


With disinclination, Maggie took hold of it and handed it to Reilly to feed into the computer. With a stern air she scolded, “You made a mistake, Captain, and that is clear. But I take your word as an EarthSec officer and will trust that you regret your mistake and are willing to put it behind you. Hopefully, the rest of this trip home we will avoid such further transgressions.”


“Oh, absolutely, Commander,” Blake beamed, “Absolutely.”








SIXTEEN


“She will not command this ship for very much longer.”


Clayton Philips leaned forward in his chair, not only completely shocked at the words his Captain had just spoken but just equally curious. Moments ago, he and the rest of his crew had departed the cockpit and converged in the secrecy of the Team Room, now sitting about discussing their distaste for the leadership of the UESV Galaxy.


“What is your plan, sir?” he questioned, inching closer to Blake’s side.


Blake leaned forward as well, lowering his voice to just above a whisper as a large grin played over his features. “Those coordinates I submitted will not take us away from the Talshaun, but instead lead us directly to their colony world where their ships are constructed. Once there, we will steal a hyper drive engine for us and then destroy their fleet yards with simple EMP blasts. We will be home in a quarter of the time and those bastards will pay for what they did to my ship and crew!”


“Commander McGillis will never agree to this course of action,” Kristen pointed out, sitting resolutely in one of the chairs, her arms crossed over her perky chest.


“She doesn’t have to,” snapped Blake, “We will overthrow her and I will take command of this vessel.”


“It is not right to involve this crew in out personal disputes with another race, they should have no part in this,” Kristen urged.


“What’s your problem, Kristen?” demanded Clayton, “Captain Blake has done everything for you and now when we get on a new ship you turn your back to him. Where are your loyalties!?”


“I’m loyal to the stipulations set forth by EarthSec,” she shot back doggedly.


“If you’d like, we could simply kill the crew,” Blake suggested, hands spread apart as if welcoming other options.


“Even you wouldn’t sink that low, Blake,” Kristen fired back, “You don’t have the balls. Besides, haven’t we seen enough killings?”


For a short moment an eerie silence engulfed the room, only the sound of the life-support systems and the active ion drive were audible.


Clayton could swear his Captain would indeed meet his armory officer’s challenge and order the buddle murder of the Galaxy’s crew. God knows it wouldn’t be the first crew they had killed.


Instead, Blake folded his hands slowly and replied, “Perhaps you’re right, Kristen. So instead, I want all of you to make good with this crew, so as when the time comes to overthrow them, they will never see it coming. Kristen, I believe I saw that science officer eyeing you earlier---”


It was at that moment when a crash emanated from the galley service window, effectively halting Blake in his tracks as the rest of the crew listened intently for the source of the crash. With a decisive gesture, Blake ordered Lisa to enter the galley and discover the cause of the thud.


After a short moment she returned with a young Lauren Alonso in her grasp. Clayton noticed the shear fear in the girl’s eyes and wondered if she had not overheard their entire conversation.


“It was a girl,” informed Lisa, “I think she heard our plans.”


Blake rose from the table and made his way to the two. Gently, he brushed the girl’s rosy cheek before questioning, delicately, “Young girl, what did you hear?”


“Everything,” she spouted, “and you won’t get away with it! I’ll tell Commander McGillis!”


“That’s rather unfortunate, for you,” informed Blake, seeming to regard her apron with mild curiosity. “Because now, we will have to kill you.”


“Captain!” stammered Kristen, “You can’t, she’s just a girl!


“Oh, I suppose your right, Kristen,” Blake laughed. “She is too young to die. Lisa, lock her in the pantry, and when our little coups has been successful, we can release her.” As Lisa complied and dragged the young girl back into the galley, Blake turned to Kristen to regard her with inquisitiveness, “By the way, Kristen, when did you get such a big heart? If I’m not mistaken it was you that led the slaughtering party on the Talshaun vessel.”


Kristen glanced down at the table, overcome with emotion. “I regret that,” she said softly, almost too soft for any to hear. “Their cries still haunt me…” she trailed off.


“Aw, buck up,” he told her, “you and Lisa go and make nice with the crew now.”


And with that, she left, albeit rather slowly and sullenly, but left she did. It was now only Clayton and the Captain remaining in the meeting room, and Clayton wished it no other way.


“We will be successful,” Clayton piped up, “We are under your guidance after all.” He relished the tactile gesture of his Captain’s hand as Blake brushed it against his stubbly cheek. He took in a great whiff of the Captain’s fragrance as he drew near and in turn, he placed his hand against his own Captain’s. “When we do get home, sir, I was hoping you and I could tour Europe together…like we had talked about. I mean, now that the reality of actually getting home is so much closer and all…”


“I’ll be eager to see my wife again,” replied Blake bluntly.


“Your wife?” Clayton questioned, a sense of betrayal tingeing his tone, “But after all the horrible things you said about her, why would you want to go back to her? After everything we had…I just thought…”


“What did we have, Clayton?” inquired Blake, almost as if he had never even made the doctor’s acquaintance before.


“I can’t believe you are saying this, Captain,” Clayton faltered.


With force unlike Blake had ever used against Clayton before, he removed his hand from the young doctor’s face and turned his back to him, staring decisively at the bulk head in font of him.


“Believe it, Doctor,” demanded Blake. “I’m not sure what it is you concocted in that head of yours but whatever you think we had, I must tell you has been greatly exaggerated in your own mind.” With that, he slipped out of the room, leaving Clayton to himself.


“Captain!” he called after him, his voice only echoing about in the empty room. He repeated his cry a number of times before a tear trickled down his cheek and the good doctor collapsed into one of the nearby chairs, overcome with confusion and distraught.


This was a test, Clayton assured himself. The Captain was testing his loyalties and Clayton had no intention of letting him down, none whatsoever. They had simply been through too much.


SEVENTEEN


“You seem awfully young to be in EarthSec.”


Michael Cummings glanced up from his workstation to see the more than attractive Kristen Coles leaning lazily against the adjacent bulkhead. He marveled at her beauty, and as shy as he was, found it even more difficult to reply to her, simply because she was more aesthetically pleasing than other individuals. The reasons for this baffled him and he had promised himself he would study the phenomena later, perhaps to make headway in this field of sociology.


“I assure you, I am twenty-one,” he responded curtly.


“Well, your looks can be deceiving,” she told him, taking a seat next to him on the provided bench against the wall. He found it rather strange that she would take the initiative to simply sit, without so much as any invitation. “They said you are the stellar cartographer…we didn’t really get a chance to talk in the med bay did we?”


“I suppose not,” responded Michael, “Though I was unaware there was much of anything to say. After all, I doubt you and I share many common interests, you seem to prefer the violent way to solve issues, where as I prefer a more logical, if not peaceful approach.”


And with that, Kristen let out a great guffaw, startling Michael somewhat. He was not aware he had said anything overly humorous and thus found her reaction to be somewhat out of place.


“What did I say?” inquired Michael, still unaware of what had made her laugh so.


“You certainly tell it like it is,” she pointed out, “But what’s so great is I don’t think you are even aware you are doing it!” Again, she let a small chuckle escape her lips.


This time, Michael could not help but join her in her amusement. “I believe I see your point.”


“You know,” she suddenly said, much more solemnly, “despite the fact that I prefer the violent way to solve issues, as you put it, I joined EarthSec because I share your love for the stars. Hell, I could have remained planet side if all I was interested in was fighting and tactics.”


“I suppose you are right,” Michel concurred. After a moment of silence Michael made a quick gesture at his readouts. “These star maps you have given us, though collected rather primitively, are quite impressive. You have seen quite a bit in your five years out here, have you not?”


Curiously, Kristen bowed her head, becoming very sullen. “I’ve seen more than you can imagine,” she breathed, “And more than any human would ever want to see. I’ve seen horrible things, death, murder, strife…” she glanced up at Michael and he too starred back, locking on to her hazel eyes. “I’ve also seen beautiful things stars, nebulas, planets in the midst of creation…”


“Space is quite funny in that respect,” he remarked, setting his readings aside and opting to join her on the small bench. “It holds beautiful things and it holds awful things…the latter of which I believe has been imposed by man.”


“And woman,” Kristen agreed, nodding her head.


For a moment, Michael studied Kristen, unbeknownst to her. He took in her slouched shoulders and her low hung head and wondered just what horrible things she had seen…or been the creator of. “I find it hard to believe that you are responsible for the awful parts of the galaxy.”


“Then that would make you a very dense person, Michael Cummings, and I highly doubt that is what you are.”


Michael smiled. “Kristen, whatever mistakes you have made out here, I am sure can hardly be your fault alone. If anything, you share the burden with your fellow crewmembers. I am unsure of what it is you think you have done wrong, but I find little to make me believe that you take any joy from it. You will find a way to repent…you are not an evil person; that is something I can sense.”


“You’ve known me for a whopping ten minutes,” scoffed Kristen.


“But in that ten minuets I have been witness to a rather soft spoken, if not very kind individual who wishes harm to no one,” Michael admitted. “You seem to care more for the affinity of the stars than the brutality of war and murder.”


Slowly Kristen stood from the bench and placed her ands upon her hips. Dourly she shook her head while saying, “I guess I was wrong. You are a dense individual.” And with that, Michael sat as he watched her sashay away, down the dim corridor.


He was not permitted to return to his study of the star maps, however, for the Galaxy smoothly fell from hyper-drive and promptly Commander McGillis spouted over the comm. rather abruptly, “All hands to the cockpit, now! This goes for you especially, Blake!”


EIGHTEEN


Reilly Richards had decided he was sorry. Of course, what he was particularly sorry for was anyone’s guess. All he could tell was that Lauren was less than pleased with him and after much deliberation he had realized that she was his only true friend aboard the Galaxy, thus far.


He had even decided to put aside his pride, a feat Becky, his girlfriend, could rarely even accomplish. And he would be damned if he was going to allow Lauren to remain mad at him, for something he wasn’t even sure that he did, nonetheless. And so, after making theses decisions, he spent the better part of the morning searching for her, his apology rehearsed in his head.


“Oh, hello…Lisa isn’t it?” greeted Reilly as he entered the crew lounge. He was rather surprised to find Lisa Tomita sitting at the round table, alone. She did not seem the type to mingle, of course, but the mere fact that all she was doing was sitting while starring straight ahead, perked his curiosity somewhat.


“Yes,” she replied curtly, not seeming overwhelmingly pleased to see Reilly enter the vacant room.


“Making yourself at home?” he wondered, closing the distance between him and the table.


“This is not my home,” was her cold response.


Apprehensively Reilly found himself tapping on the head of the chair before him, unsure of what to say next. He was sure he would have better luck carrying on a conversation with a bulkhead than Lisa. “You are at least able to keep your self occupied, I trust.”


Delicately, Lisa folded her hands in her lap. “I am fine.”


“Are you sure,” he questioned, glancing quickly about the sparse room, “Cause it seems pretty boring in here. I mean, all you’re doing is just sitting there, starring straight ahead. I could get you a data pad if you’d like…upload some periodicals to it. It’s been a while since you’ve read anything from Earth, I bet.”


“I have no interest in periodicals,” she informed, continuing to stare ahead.


Puzzled, Reilly scratched the back of his head, wondering just what type of things kept this woman entertained. However, judging from the current circumstance, it appeared it took little for one to go out of their way to make her happy. Idly, he had wished to meet a few girls like her back home.


Casually he let the prospect of dating such a low maintenance girl bring a smile to his lips…a smile that quickly faded as a stray object caught the corner of his eye.


“Hey, that’s Lauren’s spatula,” he said aloud, pointing to the utensil now resting on the steel floor. “I wonder why she didn’t put it away.”


“She is a child,” Lisa quickly interjected. “Children are constantly making messes.”


Reilly doubted it. “She’s seventeen,” he told her, “She knows well enough to put things away. Where is she anyway? I’ve been looking for her all morning.”


Slowly rising from her chair, Lisa responded coolly, “I haven’t seen her either. Have you checked her bunk? ”


“Twice,” moaned Reilly, moving to pick up the discarded kitchen utensil. Carefully he studied the spatula, curious at the shape it had taken on. “Would you look at that?” He held it out for Lisa to see, as she came around the table. “The thing’s been bent, like she was holding on pretty tightly to it.”


“Perhaps you should keep her out of the kitchen,” suggested Lisa, “Who knows, she may just overhear something she is not supposed to.”


Just as Reilly began to question Lisa’s last, rather odd statement, he felt her fist connect with his jaw creating quite an audible snapping sound. He half wondered if she had broken his jaw right off. The force of the attack caused him to stagger back quite a ways as pain swelled about his head. He knew this new crew was no good, and finally they had made it evident to him, he had only wished they did so in a less physically painful way.


“God, what was that for?!” he cried, clutching the side of his face as if his very jaw would fall off, and judging from the throbbing pain, he would not have doubted that it just might.


Before receiving any response, Lisa again pelted him, only this time making contact with his rib cage, sending a sharp bolt of pain though his body and effectively knocking the wind from him.


“I don’t make nice with others,” Lisa seethed, before letting another fist fly into his gut, causing Reilly to double over.


“What…are you talking about!?” he demanded from the floor, raising his had to ward off any further attacks. Normally, Reilly was a rather good fighter. Before he had even joined the Academy, where his training could be honed, he was forced to constantly defend himself in the orphanage where he grew up. There, it was either fight or take the pounding and he was never fond of the poundings.


However, back at the orphanage, the girls never picked on him, and now a woman was effectively kicking his ass! “If this is about the periodical stuff…I’m sorry!”


“You ass,” she returned. “This is about the ship; we’re taking over.”


Somehow, Reilly was not surprised at the news. In the back of his mind, he had figured they would pull something like this, but with little to no proof to corroborate his worries, he could do little in the way of stopping them. “Over my dead body,” he breathed as he pushed aside the pain and leapt to his feet, his fists poised and ready to both strike and defend. Unfortunately, his balled up hands could do little against a side arm, and currently, Lisa held just that, the end pointed squarely at his chest.


“Apt choice of words,” she smiled. Sternly she used the weapon to gesture for him to make his way into the darkened galley. “Move, now.”


Compiling with her firm request, Reilly placed his hands above his head as he scraped his feet across the smooth floor, slowly crossing the threshold into the galley. His mind raced to find a way to elude her capture and warn the others of the mutiny, but as he felt Lisa drill the business end of the blaster into his back, he abandoned all hope of escape, quite aware that she was not playing any games. “Unlock the pantry,” she urged.


Reilly did as he was told and opened the door to discover Lauren on the floor, her knees tucked against her chest.


“Reilly!” she beamed upon noticing him. She was on her feet within an instant, closing the distance between her and him, tightly wrapping him in an amorous hug.


“Hey Kiddo,” he whispered, returning the gesture. Gently, he released the young girl and turned about to face Lisa who continued to train the weapon on him. “You won’t get away with this,” he snapped.


“Awfully big words coming from a man whose about to be locked in a kitchen pantry,” she smiled.


“All hands to the cockpit, now! This goes for you especially, Blake!” came Maggie’s harsh tone over the comm., suddenly.


“I must be going now,” mocked Lisa, “Give me your wrist-link so I won’t have to kill you.”


Immediately, Reilly surrendered the device to his captor, meanwhile wondering why they had dropped out of hyper-drive and what had caused so much anger in Maggie’s voice. But as Lisa carefully closed the pantry door and secured its lock, he feared he might never learn the cause.


With his ear pressed firmly against the door he listened intently as she walked away, her footsteps growing softer and softer with every step.


“I overheard their conversation,” Lauren admitted, leaning against one of the shelves and crossing her arms over her chest. “Reilly, they are not good people.”


Coming about to face the tear drenched face of Lauren; it was all he could do to stifle a moan of sympathy. “Kiddo, that’s pretty clear now…in fact it’s crystal clear.”





NINETEEN


Maggie had never experienced so much anger and fear all at once in her entire life. She had hoped to be rid of the Talshaun nuisance altogether, having presumed to be leaving their territory thanks to coordinates provided by Captain Blake. Yet before her; just out the view ports was a most fearsome site.


To the left of the view was a small gray moon, hanging delicately in the blackness of space. However, it was the numbers upon numbers of alien spacecraft that currently occupied the area around the moon, all docked to some sort of massive structure, that had Maggie troubled. The range of sizes was astonishing; there must have been hundreds of fighters, and numerous cruisers, carriers, and battleships. And from the looks of the similar design, it was some sort of Talshaun fleet yard.


She listened languorously as someone joined her in the cockpit, however she was too awe struck to even turn and take notice. “My God, will you look at them all?” came Blake’s maleficent voice.


Maggie barely noticed as he helped himself to the pilot’s chair beside her, joining her in her the viewing of the other vessels. “Blake, we are supposed to be going in the opposite direction of Talshaun space…yet here we are in one of their God damned fleet yards!”


“Relax, Commander,” he urged, “This is no normal fleet yard. This is a Talshaun repair facility, I wouldn’t be surprised if even a third of these vessels were up to its full capacity.”


Maggie sighed and lowered her attention to her readouts to confirm that Blake was indeed telling the truth. Many ships were completely powered down and unmanned while others were missing vital parts altogether. “Regardless, Captain, we have no reason to be here. If anything, we should be avoiding these people’s installations like the plague.”


“You know, I was as delusional as you when we first got out here, Commander,” Blake began softly, still eying the crafts just outside the Galaxy, “We bartered with the species we encountered, exchanged information on each others cultures and the like and we even played diplomat; established relations on the behalf of the UnitedEarth. But throughout it all, I realized that it was all of no use, because we would not be getting home…ever. So I was forced to change my views, our new mission was to obtain the technology we needed to quicken our trip home. You would be surprised at how closely some of these races guarded their technological secrets. Nothing we could say or diplomatically do would cause them to relent. But, we needed that technology mind you.”


“What are you saying?” Maggie questioned nervously. The very idea that a captain of EarthSec would abandon his entire code of ethics was almost unbelievable to her. Sure there were those who broke away from the fleet for varied reasons, however it was quite rare if ever.


“We killed them Commander.” Blake let the dark words resonate throughout the cabin for sometime before the entrance of Lisa, Clayton, Kristen and Michael whom all took seats at their respective stations, broke the silence. It had suddenly become clear to her, however, that this man and his crew were indeed bad news.


“I’m taking us closer,” said Blake, inching forward on the control throttle.


Immediately, Maggie’s hand was upon his, halting his action. “The hell you will,” she snapped, “If anything you will be taking us away from here. And regardless, Major Richards flies this craft.”


Slowly, Blake smiled a devilish grin as he pried Maggie’s hand from his own. “I’m afraid Major Richards is occupied at the moment.”


“Where is he Blake?!” Maggie demanded, rising from her chair. She shot Michael a sidelong glance, hoping that he would pick up that they were indeed in a very dangerous situation.


Before Blake could divulge Reilly’s whereabouts, however, Michael piped up from his science station, “We have company…two Talshaun interceptors have just entered the system.” He continued to glance over his readouts, “They are weapons hot.”


Maggie clutched the grip rail above her head as she watched Blake strap himself into the pilot’s chair and promptly bring the vessel about, a grin still playing over his countenance. “Oh, good. I was afraid this was going to be too easy.”


“They are demanding the surrender of this vessel,” said Lisa coolly from the communications board.


“We can’t have that,” said Blake, beginning to push the controls forward, “I don’t think Commander McGillis would appreciate that too much. Kristen, send our reply in the form of an EMP equipped missile.”


The vessel began to spin about, bringing a sensation of dizziness to Maggie’s head. The ship itself, however, was more than stable on its intercept course, yet the rapid pace at which these horrific events were unfolding was more than enough to cause Maggie to almost lose grip of the entire situation.


“Belay that,” she snapped to Kristen, who was already diligently plucking away at her own controls. “Blake, I demand that you step down, now!”


Carefully setting the nav board to autopilot, Blake swiveled his seat about to meet the even gaze of Maggie and slowly yet excruciatingly confident he returned, “No. I demand that you step down.”


Maggie wanted to finally put the smug Blake in his place. To reach out, grab the man by his lapel and give him a good shake while she, meanwhile chewed him out. There was so much she wanted to do, so much she felt she needed to say…all quickly abandoned once she felt the blunt end of a disruptor at her back.


Carefully, she glanced behind her to find that Kristen Coles had abandoned her station, but was now holding Maggie at gunpoint; a somewhat saddened expression playing over the armory officer’s countenance.


“I’m sorry,” Kristen mouthed; a sentiment that Maggie met with utter skepticism. She doubted that Kristen was sorry at all and she knew quite well that Blake was far from sorry. It was then that she herself decided that she was indeed the sorry one, for having brought this crew aboard in the first place.


“I bet you are,” Maggie bit out, never failing to break complete visual contact with Blake. “By destroying those vessels, you will have condemned us all.”


“Unfortunately for us,” sneered Blake, “the good crew of the Helter Skelter has long been condemned, and now you and your fine crew will join us. Don’t you see Commander? The Talshaun fear our EMP technology leading them to inevitably fear us. And now with the appearance of another EarthSec vessel in their space they can only assume that we have called upon reinforcements, forcing them to try and put a stop to us once and for all. The irony of it all is that they have no idea we are stuck out here.”


“They are attacking out of fear,” Maggie made clear to herself. “You have tormented them and now they believe that we are fighting back!”


“They will learn soon enough,” he remarked while nodding at Kristen. “Escort Mr. Cummings and Commander McGillis below decks and secure them. We can’t afford any interference.”


Kristen did not acknowledge the order but instead motioned with her free hand that Michael should rise from his chair and lead the way to the exit, while she continued to drill the end of the blaster into Maggie’s back.


Slowly, as the three made their rather hastily departure, Maggie overhead Lisa report from her station, “Blake, it appears that they are on an intercept course, I believe with the intentions of boarding us.”


Unfortunately, she was not permitted to learn what Blake’s next course of action would be, as the cockpit door slid effortlessly closed behind them. With the persistence of the blaster at her back, she saw no way of escape no way to stop this mutiny before her ship was used as a massive genocidal weapon. She was at a loss.


It was in the lift car that Kristen relented her show of force and even holstered her sleek blaster pistol. With almost sudden urgency she turned upon both Maggie and Michael before breathing out in a rushed manner that she was terribly sorry for this entire mess.


“It is not your fault,” Michael tried to console. Maggie would have none of it, however.


“You knew,” Maggie challenged. “You knew all along that the Captain in my cockpit was a homicidal maniac! You knew and you went along with his plans!”


“I can’t do this anymore,” admitted Kristen, collapsing against the lift’s wall. “I can’t kill and I won’t be responsible for the deaths of fellow EarthSec officers. That is too far.”


“Then help us,” Maggie urged. “Help us retake this ship so we can get the hell out of here. I heard Lisa say that those Talshaun were on an intercept course. Their intentions are to board us. If we don’t get out of here, before they come aboard, we’re as good as dead. Blake can’t repel an attack with only two other people!”


“What would you have us do, Commander?” inquired Michael.


“We need to get Blake alone, somehow get the other two to abandon their stations.” Maggie thought for a moment, relishing in the silence and the slight hum of the lift car as it descended further into the depths of the Galaxy. “Kristen, use your wrist-link to inform Blake that we somehow overpowered you and that we escaped for the engine room and the torpedo keep. Blake will have to send Lisa and Clayton after us if he wishes to succeed.”


With a nod of approval, Kristen drew her communication device close to her lips and called for the cockpit.


“Blake….what is it?” came the response.


Kristen did her best to feign disappointment and doggedness. “Sir, they…they overpowered me---“


“What the hell are you talking about, Kristen!?” Blake demanded from the other end. It was clear to all aboard the lift car that the Captain was far from pleased with this sudden turn of events.


Kristen breathed a heavy sigh. “They overpowered me…and they escaped. One headed for the engine room and the other headed for the torpedo keep.”


There was a short moment of silence as Blake presumably contemplated his next course of action. “You’re the god damned armory officer and you let them get away! Come back to the cockpit. I need you to man the tactical station. I’ll send Clayton and Lisa after those two, perhaps they’ll have better luck.”


And with that, Kristen cut the link, a broad smile now playing over her features.


“Perfect,” Maggie exclaimed. “You two try and locate Reilly and have him go to engineering, tell him to see what he can do about shutting down our engines. And then go to the torpedo keep to see what you can do about sabotaging the launcher.”


As the lift came to a stop and the door parted, Maggie watched as both Kristen and Michael piled out. Taking notice that she was not going to be at their side, Michael turned, a look of worry betrayed in his expression.


“What will you be doing, Commander?”


“I’m going to get my ship back,” she bit out, indexing the lift’s doors closed.


“You never would have succeeded in holding us prisoner,” Michael let slip as he and Kristen bolted down the corridor for the galley, where she had informed him that Lisa had locked both Reilly and Lauren in the pantry.


“Oh?” she returned, rather amused by the remark. “And is that a fact?”


“I played along because I did not want to make you think you had lost your edge as an armory officer,” he admitted softly. The grin displayed on his face betrayed a jovial undercurrent to the context.


“I don’t need your sympathy,” Kristen bit out, resting her hand upon the butt of her holstered weapon. “I know I happen to be a pretty damned good armory officer.”


Michael continued to smile. “I do not doubt it. Just know that had it come down to it, I would have had no problem overpowering you.”


The two slowed as they entered the darkened galley. The brilliantly polished pots and pans that hung from a center rack in the ceiling swayed gently with the movement of the ship, clinging together to produce a subtle symphony of tin noise.


“If and when that time ever does come,” Kristen reassured, “We’ll see who the better man is.”


Michael could not help but stifle a chuckle at her expense as he watched her unlock the pantry door with her access code. The door slid open to reveal quite a scene.


Lauren stood in the center of the room, clutching Reilly’s legs, supporting his weight. Only the lower half of Reilly was even visible, his upper half immersed in an air vent overhead.


“Push me higher!” came Reilly’s plea. “I’m almost-“


Lauren complied with Reilly’s request and hefted him up, shoving him further into the duct. It became clear the two had decided not to wait for a rescue and had thus devised their own escape attempt, a terribly flawed escape attempt.


“Ow!” came Reilly’s muffled scream. “I’m stuck!” He kicked his feet wildly beneath him, trying desperately to wedge himself free. Lauren was forced to move away from his dangling limbs, joining Michael and Kirsten at the threshold of the door.


“Am I glad to see you,” she expressed. “Our escape wasn’t going so hot.” She languidly gestured back at Reilly and exhibited a wry grin.


“We can see that,” said Michael as he entered the small confines of the room. Carefully he positioned himself just below the kicking and screaming pilot. With gentle yet quick force, he yanked Reilly from the vent, collapsing on the ground under his weight.


“Ow,” Reilly whimpered, rising to his feet as he gingerly massaged the pain away from his right elbow. Upon noticing Kristen in the doorway, however, he quickly became defensive. “You! What the hell are you doing here?”


“She’s on our side,” Michael reassured. “Blake’s taken over the ship and Kirsten is going to help us get it back.”


“That’s right,” she agreed. “I want to go home as badly as you do.”


Reilly eyed her skeptically, “Is she trustworthy?”


Kristen delicately patted the weapon at her side. “Do you really have much of a choice?”


“I suppose not,” he realized, leading the way out of the pantry and into the dim galley. “So what’s the plan?”


“Commander McGillis wishes for you to go to the engine room and try and shut down the engines, expect company though. Kristen and I will head to the torpedo keep to sabotage there what we can.”


“A Talshaun boarding party is on its way,” informed Kristen, “so we haven’t much time. We need to retake this vessel and escape this system before they make a seal with our ship.”


Reilly nodded, obviously approving of his orders. He turned to Lauren and carefully placed both his hands on her shoulders. “Listen to me,” he began, “I want you to go to your quarters and stay there. If we should fail, I want you to get to the closest escape pod. It won’t be safe for you here.”


Lauren was already shaking her head in disagreement. “I’m staying with you,” she retorted. “I’ll help you shut the engines down.”


Reilly’s voice became stern and parental. “No, Lauren. It’s not safe. Go to your quarters and hide. Besides, you said yourself you’re a cook, not an engineer.”


Lauren was not at all pleased with her instructions and appeared as if she would rebut once more but instead bowed her head and simply left the room for safety. The safety of her quarters.


“Okay,” Reilly breathed. “Let’s do this.”


TWENTY


Reilly Richards was an idiot. This conclusion came upon, all on his own. And now, as he stepped onto the thin catwalk that was situated over the humming engines below, he scolded himself for being just that an idiot.


Michael had warned him that he should expect company during his attempt to shut the ion engines down. Being the fool he was, however, he did not heed the warning and now he found himself in engineering, alone and without a weapon.


It hurt his libido enough to learn that he could not even defend himself against the attack of a woman. But thorough that lesson, he learned that side arms would indeed come handy in a combat situation like the one he had faced earlier, or was sure to face in moments to come.


As for the engines, Reilly was not well versed in their workings and thus was not completely sure how to go about shutting them down, as he had been instructed. Upon reaching a large and very complex switch box, he presumed he could just start pressing buttons and hopefully achieve a positive final result.


“Step away from the control panel,” came a harsh, if not all too familiar voice.


Immediately, Reilly turned about with his hands raised to the air, cringing at the figure of Lisa Tomita, standing now only meters away from him, a blaster pistol drawn.


“I’m not even really sure how to work this thing,” Reilly admitted. “I don’t really even pose that great a threat!”


“Shut up!” Lisa barked, her finger noticeably tightening around the trigger of her weapon. “You are an annoying man.”


“Why are you doing this,” Reilly questioned, glancing about cautiously to locate any blunt object he could possibly put to use as an effective weapon. “There’s a boarding team on its way! You can’t possibly hope to repel them by yourselves!”


“By the time they get here,” Lisa explained, “They’re fleet yards will have been decimated. They do not stand a chance.”


“And with you holding that weapon,” Reilly breathed, “neither do I.” And with that, he lunged at the woman, deflecting her arm just in time to avoid the blue blaster beam that erupted from her pistol. He was satisfied to hear the clacking sound of the weapon skitter across the catwalk, coming to a rest meters from their position.


The two struggled for the upper hand as they fought against each other. Reilly’s blows were effective in weakening Lisa, but hers were just as equally matched, sending pain ricocheting through Reilly’s body. If he could only break free and gain control of the blaster, this fight would be his.


However, he knew very well that she had the same intentions and so, as he carefully backed down the corridor, still entwined with Lisa, he kicked the weapon away, over the side of the catwalk to the pulsing ions below.


“Now it’s a fair fight,” he breathed.


“Now I---“ she stopped talking rather abruptly. Her body went limp and Reilly watched with perplexity as her eyes rolled back into her head. Before he could question what had happened she slumped to the grated floor, unconscious.


Standing in her stead was Lauren, a brilliantly polished skillet clenched firmly within her hands. An innocent smile betrayed a sense of worry.


“God, did you just hit her over the head with a frying pan?” Reilly demanded, still not quite sure what had transgressed.


Lauren glanced down at the utensil in her hands and blinked wearily. “I guess I did.”


“But I told you to go to your quarters,” he remembered. He stepped over the slumped body of Lisa and joined Lauren at her side. Carefully he removed the pan from her hands and immersed her in an amorous hug.


“Aren’t you glad I didn’t listen to you?” she questioned, squeezing him tight.


And as Reilly realized how bad he really was at hand-to-hand combat he nodded his head vigorously. “I am,” he said. “I truly am.”


“I will leave it up to you to disable the launcher,” Michael said generously. To be honest, weaponry was not his forte and as he stood about in the brilliantly lighted torpedo keep he could only stand in awe of the high shelves of slender torpedoes, all designed with the intention to destroy.


“I won’t disable it,” Kristen reaffirmed, hovering over a freestanding terminal, her hands dancing about its more than complex interface. “If there’s even the slightest chance that we survive this, we’ll need this launcher later, for future skirmishes. If we disable it now, we might as well hand ourselves over to the Talshaun, because we’d be as good as dead. I’m just going to lock out the cockpit from controlling it, and encrypt it with a password.”


“That sounds like wise reasoning,” Michael admitted, feeling totally useless in the room that was clearly Kristen’s domain. Watching her work, he could not help but feel compelled to engage her in small talk. He might have even admitted to himself that he was feeling drawn to this woman.


“That model of blaster you use,” he said, gesturing to the idle weapon at her side, “Its quite outdated. The fleet issued new models years ago.”


“I don’t care,” she said, pausing momentarily to run her index finger along the butt’s smoothed surface. “This one’s gotten me out of many jams. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I never take it off.”


“I would not be surprised if you slept with it, either,” Michael quipped.


Kristen glanced up from her station and deadpanned, “I do. It goes right under my pillow.”


Suddenly, she drew the weapon, aimed it in Michael’s direction and pulled the trigger. In the split second it took to discharge the weapon Michael’s mind raced. He calculated a number a ways to dodge the beam in time, but unfortunately he came to the came conclusion in each scenario she was too fast. And in the meantime, he scolded himself for trusting her and allowing himself to lower his defenses around her.


It was after another consecutive split second that he realized the blaster beam did not strike him but instead missed. He was alive and she was a horrible shot!


“You missed!” Michael challenged, taking a defensive stance.


“No I didn’t,” she responded coolly. She motioned for him to turn around.


Michael complied and was quite surprised to see the body of Clayton Phillips swallowed out on the floor, a pipe of some sort that he had not doubt meant to brandish as a weapon laid only inches from his grip, and upon his chest was a rather nasty scorch mark.


“Not a bad shot,” Michael remarked. “Is he dead?”


Kristen moved to the body and forcefully kicked the pipe far away from Clayton’s twitching hands. “No,” she seethed. “He’ll live. Unfortunately.”


It was now or never and while Maggie preferred later, with the rest of her crew at her back, she knew this could not be for the Galaxy was in imminent danger and the Talshaun boarding crew had to have been only meters from the hull, only meters from making a connection and only minutes from taking control of her ship.


Carefully, with her free hand she indexed the door to the cockpit open, in her other hand was the EarthSec standard issue blaster pistol, its setting adjusted for the maximum effect. One shot and there would be no body left, save for the reaming ashes which would collect on the floor.


“The Talshaun are almost here,” Blake announced starring ahead out the view ports. He apparently assumed that Maggie was Kristen, returning to the bridge as he had instructed her to do.


Maggie leveled her weapon at the back of Blake’s head and tightened her grip on the handle, her sweaty finger snugly placed against the trigger. Her aim was unwavering.


“Stand, slowly!” she ordered. The pure command that emanated from her voice resounded throughout the cockpit and she watched with pleasure as Blake’s shoulders slumped at the realization that his coup was coming to a possible end.


As instructed, Blake slowly stood and turned about, casually placing his hands at his side, a small smirk gracing his demented face. “Very resilient, Commander.” He put his hands together in a sharp sounding applause.


“Surrender the ship, Blake,” she demanded, careful not to let him make any sudden moves.


“Would you really shoot me, I wonder.” Blake took a cautionary step forward. Tentatively he was able to make out the settings on the handgun. “I see you have that thing programmed to its maximum setting. You should be careful with that…no one would survive a shot from that gun.”


“That’s the intention,” she bit out as she watched him take one steadier step forward. “That’s far enough, Blake. I don’t want to have to kill you---“


“I don’t want you to have to kill me either,” he seethed.


“But I will.”


The words hung about in the cockpit, creating a rather foreboding atmosphere. It had come down to this, Commander versus Captain. It was her ship and he wanted it. She would be damned if she would ever surrender her vessel to the likes of Captain Darien Blake.


“I need my revenge, Maggie,” Darien begged, “The Talshaun must pay for the lives they destroyed; the hardships they put me through.”


“You started it,” Maggie fired back. Before she could rebuttal further, a panel near her beeped, followed concurrently by another beep. Careful to keep one cautionary eye upon Blake and glance at the readouts at the same time, she let a smirk crease across her face, breaking the resilience.


“What,” Blake questioned, “What is it?”


“Its my crew,” she gallantly informed, “They are signaling that they have control of their respective stations and have taken your crew into custody. It’s over Blake, stand down.”


Maggie’s chipper mood did not last long however, as a sudden jolt rocked the ship. She was careful not to lose her balance or her upper hand in this situation. But she glanced quickly back at her readings and then at Blake for confirmation.


He smiled. “You know what that is don’t you? That’s the Talshaun making a connection to the ship. It will be only a matter of time now before they drill through the hull and board us. I have it on very good authority that they don’t take prisoners.”


“Damn it, Blake, step down so we can get out of here!”


“No,” was his cold response. “I’ll fight each one to the death if I have to.”


“You’ll be doing it alone, because we aren’t sticking around.” Maggie tensed her arm and gripped the blaster as tight as she could. She narrowed her stare and demanded icily, “Move away from the helm or I will shoot you.”


He did not comply, and again Maggie repeated her warning with much more force this time. She caught his glance wavier towards the tactical station, and she knew why, for there lay his escape.


It was then, in the blink of an eye that Blake lunged for the pistol beneath the tactical station, the one stored aboard all vessels. His hand almost made the connection to the butt of the weapon before he and his hand evaporated in a cloud of dust.


Captain Darien Blake was gone and all that remained was indeed a small pile of debris on the floor.


Maggie lowered her weapon, its barrel still emanating wisps of vapor from the pervious shot. She had just killed a man. She did not like the feelings associated with the taking of a life, and she knew she would have to deal with those too, in her own time.


But now was not the time to mourn the loss of evil. Now was the time to escape and escape she did. Maggie bounded for the pilot’s chair, not even taking the time to strap herself in. Faintly, she could hear the sound of drills as they attacked the lower decks.


“All hands, brace for evasive maneuvers!” she belted over the communications device before throwing the Galaxy into hyper-drive. The mighty ion engines pulsed the crimson ship forward at the faster than the speed of light.


The compact boarding craft that had attached itself to the side of the hull had broken off during the acceleration, unable to match the speed of the mighty Galaxy.


Maggie’s ship was saved. And as she set a new course into the navigation computer she frowned, knowing that the Talshaun would likely pursue her for Darien’s crimes.


Obtrusively, the computer beeped, yanking Maggie away from her thoughts and requesting her confirmation for the selected heading. Firmly she indexed the command, sending the Galaxy on its way home Earth.














Commander’s Personal Log Entry





We are so far from home, and as Major Richards himself pointed out earlier, we are not even sure if Earth was able to remain resilient in the face of the Kryssk surprise attack. For all we know, there is no Earth to return home to. But…I owe it to this crew. I owe it to Lauren, who didn’t deserve to end up with us; I owe it to Kristen, whom has seen more than her fair share of bloodshed.


And I even owe it to Major Reilly Richards just so he can get home and maybe marry his sweetheart. We will get home.


I do not yet fully trust the remaining crew of the Helter Skelter. Only in time and through their actions will they earn my trust. They have already betrayed it once…that’s strike one for them.


And finally, as for the child within me…it grows. I know it is impossible to tell, yet I feel it growing inside of me and I think to myself what better way to commemorate the best damn officer and man I have ever known…than to bare his child. I owe it to my child to get home…I look forward to the days ahead for they carry much adventure…I can almost sense it.


Commander Maggie McGillis


UESV GALAXY


GALAXY’S EDGE MINIPEDIA


Advantage, SS.


A cargo frigate that made its rounds through the Sol system, often making deliveries to Earth’s colonies. In 85 a Kryssk vessel destroyed it with all hands aboard save for Lauren Alonso, daughter of the ship’s Captain.


Alonso, Lauren.


Civilian. Sweet and caring. Takes a liking to Reilly. She is one of the most caring, unselfish people in galaxy. When mind is set on something, does not give up, making her rebellious. Is a bit naive. Accepting of new races. Cute. Very girlish fine nails, nice hair, no blemishes. Straight brown hair, shoulder length. A warm, inviting smile, able to disarm anyone. Curious expression.


ANDREA


Engineering Android. Developed by Quark Industries. Extensive knowledge of ship design and repair. Equipped with clone grown skin to create a human look and presence. Able to reason, feel, and perform all the more personal functions of humans without anybody the wiser. In her droid form she is very utilitarian. In her human form, she is quite attractive (based after model). Long blond hair and cheerful smile.


Blake, Captain Darien.


Commanding officer of the UESV Helter Skelter. Once stranded on the other side of the galaxy he led his crew on a murderous rampage to attain any and all supplies and technology they required. His personal vendetta against the Talshaun War Machine ended up costing him not only his ship but also his life.


Blast shield.


Metal plating, which slides into place over more vulnerable areas of a vessel in times of conflict or immediate danger. Used most often to cover portholes, one of the weakest points of a ship.


Bravo-Delta 6.


A one manned fighter craft. Major Reilly Richards made use of the vehicle during the Earth defense against a Kryssk onslaught to rescue a civilian girl from a damaged freighter. The craft is now attached to the UESV Galaxy as its only fighter.


Cape Canaveral, Earth.


The original space coast, it was from here that orbital vehicles were once launched into space. Since its abandonment long ago during the formation of the UEG, the Cape is now a residential and historic area. It was here that Reilly Richards had made his home.


Coles, Kristen.


Armory. Kind of tough and a loose cannon, she pretty much follows her own lead. She can get pretty trigger-happy at times and is less trustworthy of other races. Her attractive appearance contrasts greatly with her tomboy style. Very attractive. Fine figured body. Flowing brown, shoulder length hair. Ocean blue eyes and thick red lips. Not petite by any means, is very muscular.


Cortical VR.


A small metallic disk used for recreational purposes. The device is placed on either temple and interfaces directly with the users brain. The mechanism is able to place the user in any environment and or situation he desires. All the sensations of interacting in such an environment seem completely real to the user while no physical harm ever comes from such use. Many have become addicted to the device, opting to live in their fantasy worlds, rather than the real world.


Cummings, Michael.


Stellar Cartographer. Born as mentally handicapped. Was genetically enhanced at birth which has been outlawed. Thinks faster, stronger; athletic, agile, excellent hand/eye coordination. Is soft spoken. Feels uncomfortable fitting in. Has gray eyes. Short blond hair. Strong chin. Good build. Boyish. A distant expression.


Data Pad.


Personal hand-held devices used by crewmembers to create and read reports, monitor a vessels progress, etc. Able to link with a vessels computer and download various items from periodicals to staff reports.


Escort Droid.


Cybernetic organisms developed by Quark Industries to look, feel, and act like a human female; designed to cater to the needs of their male clients. The industry failed to find its footing and as a last ditch effort to make a small profit, sold its Cyborgs to EarthSec’s Corps of Engineers who in turn, developed the droids as Engineering assistants to post aboard space vessels.


EMP wave.


Electro-magnetic-pulse. Every EarthSec ship is capable of creating such a wave and utilizes it to disable enemy computer systems. The discharge of one such wave from the UESV Galaxy into the blaster fire from a Kryssk vessel was able to create a temporary wormhole to the galaxy’s edge.


Galaxy, UESV.


Registry ES-4551. A diplomatic cruiser refit to join the fight against the Kryssk. Was lost on the other side of the galaxy while defending the planet from a Kryssk surprise attack. Commanded by Maggie McGillis.


Helter Skelter, UESV.


Registry ES-85. A science vessel charged with testing highly confidential and highly experimental subjects of UEG interest. This five-deck ship was lost to the other side of the galaxy five years earlier than the UESV Galaxy. Eventually the craft came under heavy bombardment from the locals and was surrendered to the elements as its crew transferred over to the Galaxy.


Hyperdrive.


The engine and interrelated systems that propel a starship through the alternate dimension of hyperspace. In hyperspace, there is no limit to how fast a starship can travel, and thus interstellar distances can be traversed in mere minutes.


Kryssk.


They are a carnivorous species by nature.... although they have evolved a bit beyond their basic instincts; they are still pretty close to them. Very intelligent, however. They are gray-skinned, and typically hairless. Most Kryssk wear the scalp/hair of the first person they ever kill as their own.


McGillis, Maggie.


Commanding Officer. Spit and polish, by the book. Number one priority is her job; relationships and life suffer as such. Very cold and icy exterior. Shows little emotion. Level headed and clear minded. Thorough and effective. Cute yet a contrast to her personality. Straight, shoulder length black hair. Has an expression that would just as soon kill as it could melt ones heart.


Medical Droid.


The sturdy medical assistant droid aids live doctors in medical procedures. The Medical Droid is a cylindrical droid, with a number of retractable appendages. The cap-like head is a cluster of sophisticated medical sensors and diagnostic equipment. The droid lacks mobility. It is designed to be posted in a specific medical station, and kept in one location for the duration of its service. It is capable of performing minor medical procedures without the supervision of a medical doctor. Allowing the machine to perform more complex tasks is not recommended.


Medicated Patch.


A small square patch that is placed on the bicep. Once contact is made with the skin, the patch releases the medication into the body via microscopic needles. The process is quick and painless. They are an essential part of an EarthSec medical bay’s inventory and are also readily available over the counter for civilian use.


O’Sullivan, Benjamin.


A lieutenant of Irish decent with the EarthSec. Was to be wed to Commander Maggie McGillis and father to their unborn child. Had been ordered to the front lines but lost his life while defending the Earth against a Kryssk surprise attack, aboard the UESV Galaxy.


Phillips, Clayton.


Medical. Eccentric. Very emotional. Harbors a strange lust for his captain. Reverts to cortical stimulator to suppress mood. Is dependent on tridoxil, an anti-depressant found in the ships pharmacy. Quite unkempt. Disheveled, dark blond hair. Unshaven. Lanky. Dark rings under eyes. Sometimes limbs shake uncontrollably.


Richards, Reilly.


Helmsman. Considered youthful or immature, depending on who one asks. He is very childish and approaches life with such an attitude. Rarely is serious. Fair at his job. Pokes fun at everything. A complainer. Possesses a youthful appearance, usually always smiling, has short cropped brown hair. Considered handsome, yet boyish. Slightly above average figure.


Starbase 001.


Facility within orbit of the planet Earth also referred to as an Orbital Platform. Serves as the EarthSecs home base. The facility was host to the promotion party for Commander Maggie McGillis. As well, Ensign Michael Cummings served aboard the station as stellar cartographer during the night shift. The station came under attack by Kryssk forces in 85.


Talshaun.


A race of aliens with which occupy a large sector on the other side of the galaxy. Completely dependent upon technology, they are quite susceptible to EMP waves but little else. They are feared throughout and are enemies to many. Physically they are very demonic in appearance. They posses sandstone colored skin and are completely hairless. They are powerfully built with large hands and two down-sweeping horns surrounding their grim faces.


Tomita, Lisa.


Communications Officer and Computers Expert. Asian. Sly and conniving, she is loyal to her Captain to his very end. She is surprisingly strong and trained in advanced hand-to-hand combat. As well, she is an advanced linguist and can amazingly pick up on new races speech patterns with ease. Like that of a black widow spider, her appearance is very exotic and alluring. She is finely shaped with short, voluminous black hair. Pouty lips and a sly expression.


UnitedEarth EarthSec.


The deep-space exploration, diplomatic and defensive institution of the UnitedEarth Government. Graduates of the EarthSec Academy are usually assigned to service aboard a starship, space station or other observation post.


UnitedEarth EarthSec Academy.


Located in Road Island, North America, it is the only training facility for individuals wishing to pursue a career in EarthSec. Officers typically must graduate a rigorous training program that trains them not only for the rigors of command, but for that of space exploration, as well.





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