Ian. J. Smethurst

The Krenaran massacre

Chapter 1


Lieutenant Michael Alexander could see the massive form of Delta base slowly drawing nearer.

He was a deck officer on board the E.D.F. S Ulysses, a Danitza class battleship, and it was just returning from a three month escort operation with another explorator fleet on the northern tip near Eidolon.

The relief on his face was plain, his lips curled up into a smile as he could see out of a nearby viewport that the Ulysses was coming into dock. It was his fourth explorator run this year, and was glad of the shore leave. Tired from his latest mission he longed to see his wife, Jana, and his son, Theo. He knew he had been away for far too long.

On board the station; Jana looked out the view port, along the structure of docking station twelve, she could just about see the small shape of the Ulysses coming towards them. Slowly but surely it continued to grow larger. Little Theo kept jumping up and down, trying to get a better view; impatient to see the approaching battleship in all its glory, and at the prospect of seeing his daddy again.

The dock was vast, and one of the larger ones onboard Delta base, capable of servicing even the mighty Danitza class battleships, being one of the largest ships in the Navy. The dock was rather minimalist in its design, and had large open spaces and loading areas which were intentional, due to the need to re-crew and re-supply the ship, once docked in case of an emergency.

However, right now throngs of people were gathered to greet the crewmen when they disembarked from the vessel, and dozens of servicing crews and vehicles were stood by also.

The forward thrusters began to fire, slowly killing the forward momentum of the huge ship. The thruster jets looked like two bright white streams extending out from the sloping front bow of the massive vessel.

On board the Ulysses the internal comm. beeped. “All hands, this is the captain; adopt docking positions.” Michael made his way over to a large fixed chair, and strapped himself in with an attached harness.

The ship slowly neared the base, which although the Ulysses was a colossal vessel; Delta base utterly dwarfed it, the station being the size of a major city.

There was a shudder, a metallic ’clunk’ and a grating noise, and then finally the ship gradually came to a stop. Michael un-strapped himself and made his way towards the forward docking arm.

On board the station, the internal comm. chimed and a voice spoke. “E.D.F. S Ulysses has successfully docked on docking station twelve, no admittance except military personnel and families.”

Slowly the crew of the Ulysses began to disembark. There were some quite old men, and some were relatively young. Several female crewmembers could be seen, but no Michael; Theo began to look worried, a tinge of doubt began to cross his face, and he looked up at Jana.

“He’ll arrive soon,” Jana said warmly looking down at him.

Then Michael emerged through the airlock. Theo saw him and bolted across the waiting area.

“Theo, wait!” Jana cried.

But it was no use; excitement had him now, and there was no stopping him. He reached his father in seconds, Michael put down his equipment bag and swept him into his arms.

“Hello dad.”

“Hello son, you didn’t think I would miss your fifth birthday did you, where’s your mum?”

“Over there,” replied Theo pointing to where Jana was walking towards them.

“Hello sailor,” Jana said seductively.

Michael smiled, put Theo down, and passionately kissed her.

Theo blanched and turned away. When they had parted, Jana said gasping, “I guess you missed me then.”

“You bet I did, let’s go home.”

He retrieved his bag, and together the three of them began the long walk back to their quarters. “How have things been, since I’ve been away honey?”

“Quiet actually, Theo has been getting on well with school. His teachers have said that he possesses a very curious mind.”


Theo looked up at his father and beamed a proud smile at him, which Michael duly returned.

They arrived back at their quarters in one of the outer living areas on the station. It had a large viewport which offered glorious views of the blue white atmosphere of Orion IV which Delta base orbited far below. As well as separate bedrooms, a large kitchen area and washroom facilities, together with a spacious lounge. Michael stowed his gear in the bedroom, and quickly changed out of his naval uniform, and into something more comfortable.

While he was doing this, Jana had made them all a drink and together they had dinner, the first dinner they had had together as a family for four months, ah domestic bliss, this is what I need, Michael thought.

Once they had finished eating, and the crockery was cleared away, Michael said to Theo. “Since you have been such a good boy for your mum, and doing well at school, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Returning to the bedroom he searched inside his black equipment bag, picking out a rather large, white box. He held it vertically behind him, so as not to afford Theo a view of the item when he returned to the lounge.

Theo approached his father with an excited, yet also curious look on his face. Finally after the space of a few seconds he handed down the nondescript white box to his son.

“It’s a model of a Henschel class star liner, one of the ships I’ve been escorting. It’s used to transport large amounts of colonists to new colonies.”

Theo opened the box excitedly, which was almost as wide as he was and took out the model, it was cylindrical in shape, except for the complicated command structures and navigation towers. It tapered at the front end to an almost bullet like nose, at the bottom of this nose two fragile little plasma drive emitters jutted out, and at the rear of the model, were four engines. The model was incredibly detailed; hull panels and small viewports were all faithfully represented. Theo’s eyes grew wide and a broad smile instantly flashed across face. “Wow, thanks dad.” He rushed over to give his father a big hug.

“Thank you son.”

“Where did you get that?” Jana whispered into his ear.

“I had someone make it for me, for a few credits; an engineer aboard one of those ships while I was escorting it.”

Michael gestured to Theo, “if you push a small button on the bottom of the ship, the windows will light up.”

After a little bit of searching Theo located the button, pushed it, and sure enough the toy lit up. “Wow, cool.” He almost shouted in joy as he pretended to fly the model ship around the lounge area.

That night, Jana and Michael slept soundly together. It felt good to sleep in my own bed again, Michael thought.

The next day Theo asked the question that he had been waiting four months to say.

“Daddy, tell me about the E.D. F,” he said walking towards a seated Michael. He sat his son on his knee and said. “What do you want to know about it son?”

“Everything,” he said.

“Everything?” Michael replied, “I’ve only got three months shore leave,” he said laughing.

“Please daddy,” Theo replied, a somewhat serious look flashing across his face.

Michael looked at his son for a moment. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“It’s for a project at school that I’m doing, and because I want to be in the E.D. F one day; just like you,” Theo replied.

“Okay,” Michael said with a sigh. “Where do you want to start?”

“When did the E.D. F start?”

“The E.D. F started in 2054.”

“What was there before the E.D. F started?”

Michael looked over at Jana with a puzzled expression on his face. “Before the E.D. F, there was a big alliance between somebody called N.A.T. O, and a space agency called N.A.S.A.” he picked up little Theo and hefted him onto his knee.

“Together they patrolled the solar system, however men and money became a problem, and piracy soared, so much so that freighters carrying goods from planet to planet took up arms to defend themselves against the pirates.” He said pausing as Theo was sat in rapt attention.

“So when E.O.C. A, the Earth and Outer Colonies Alliance were formed in 2051. They quickly pooled all the resources of planets in the solar system and the outer colonies, to form the E.D.F. And its purpose is to defend the solar system, and its outer colonies from attack.”

Theo paused for a while, trying to take all this in. Finally he asked, “have there been any attacks since the E.D. F daddy?”

“Not since the pirates’ way back in 2057,” Michael replied.

Just then Jana came over and handed Michael a cup of coffee. “Here,” she said as she smiled lovingly at the two of them.

“Thank you my darling,” Michael replied, smiling warmly and taking the cup. Jana beamed and then busied herself with her daily chores.

Then Theo began again. “What makes up the E.D. F daddy?”

Michael, taking a sip of coffee replied. “There are five different departments that make up the E.D. F, there is the E.D. F Troop Division, which trains and maintains control of all the soldiers in the E.D.F.” He took a short breath.

“There is the E.D. F Navy, who maintains control of all the starships, and their crews in the E.D. F, of which I am a member of,” pausing to let Theo take this all in.

“There is the E.D. F engineering services, which builds the starships, constructs bases and outposts and produces most of the equipment for the Troop Division and the Navy.” He took a sip of the coffee, before continuing.

“There is also the E.D. F research division, who has many scientists who come up with designs for the Troop division and Navy, build and test new types of starships, weapons, and structures. As well as helping in civilian projects,” Michael took another breath, before draining his cup.

“Finally there is the E.D. F Intelligence services, which monitors threats from within and without the entire E.O.C.A.”

“One day I want to be in the Navy, just like you daddy,” Theo said yawning.

“Well, a Naval officer needs his rest,” Michael replied, “time for bed for you, little fellow.”

“Do I have to dad, I want to know more,” Theo sighed.

“In the morning, now I’ll see you off to bed.”

Theo trudged off to his bedroom with Michael following behind. Theo changed into his pajamas, and Michael gently tucked him in.

“Daddy, will you tell me a story.”

“Okay son.” He picked up a book, from the side of Theo’s bed, Robinson Crusoe, and began reading from it.

“If I have a bad dream, will you stay to chase the nightmares away?” Theo asked sleepily.

“I will always be here, I’ll make sure the nightmares don’t get you son,” Michael said as he stroked Theo’s hair, slowly he drifted off into a deep sleep.

As Michael quietly left Theo’s bedroom, he noticed that Jana had sat down in front of the viewer, and began watching.

“This is the outer colony news service; I am Annika Raumov, the headlines tonight. The new colony on Geki Alpha is nearing completion; this is what E.O.C. A spokesman Abdullah Abundu had to say about the development.”

“The colony is coming along very well indeed; we have stable water and oxygen supplies, and now have a working hospital and sanitation, we are now working towards permanent homes for the colonists.”

“Thank you Mr. Abundu. In another story, there seems to be some trouble in the Connaught sector, near the Agemman system. We now go live, to the office of private enterprise on Agemman, come in Mr. Mike Jones.

“Hello,” came the voice of a red haired man, in a smart suit.

“What is the cause of the trouble near your planet Mr. Jones?”

“I am currently representing a mining consortium called Connaught mining services. Eight light years from Agemman lies an asteroid belt that has been found to be rich in iron, nickel and sulphur deposits, which the mining company have been exploiting for several years,” the man paused for breath.

“However, within the last month three of their mining ships have been lost. Two have not been seen or returned. And the one that was found has been damaged beyond repair, and with no crew onboard. What I want to know is what exactly is the E.D. F going to do about it?”

“Thank you Mr. Jones, we now go live to E.D. F Naval services operations commander, Commodore James Watts. Commodore; are you aware of the situation near the Agemman system, and what is your response?”

A portly looking Commodore with greying hair appeared on the screen. “Yes we are aware of the situation near the Agemman system, the E.D. F Navy sent an anti pirate task force of an Alexander class medium cruiser, and two Gandhi class destroyers there three months ago,” he said with a dutiful nod.

“However, no pirate activity was detected and the task force returned to base. In light of these new attacks, the Navy are already sending a Montgomery class carrier, equipped with a full wing of Peregrine fighters to the area, which will provide a more permanent anti pirate presence, as well as reassurance for the people of the Agemman colony,” the Commodore paused for breath. “The carrier is currently on route, and should arrive by the end of next week.”

Jana turned the channel over, as Michael was coming down the hall.

“Have you heard about the trouble near Agemman?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “It’s probably just some terrorist cell, or some colonists wanting their five minutes of fame.”

“Maybe,” Jana said. “But I think its more than that, my gut tells me something is wrong over there.”

Michael was in the kitchen fixing himself a drink, “like what?” He asked. “If it was pirates, that last task force would have found something, and if it’s terrorists, it’s a job for intelligence anyway. So there’s nothing to worry about, right?”

He made his way over towards Jana, and gently cuddled her. “Even if it is pirates the Montfort has got it covered when it gets there anyway,” he said softly, trying to ease her worries.

“So the Montfort is the ship that has been sent, your cousin is on that ship,” Jana added.

“I know, I bet Jake is sorry the day he signed up now.”

“I hope he’s okay.”

They spent the rest of the night cuddled closely in front of the viewer.

Chapter 2

Little Theo’s questions

The next day Theo returned to his relentless questioning, Michael decided to take them all to the famous shopping arcades on Orion IV. Jana didn’t want to go too far, and Theo was just happy to go on a shuttle ride.

So that morning they set off. Michael thought that since Delta base orbited Orion IV, a quick shuttle ride down to the surface wouldn’t be too far to go.

They left their quarters, and headed down a long narrow corridor, eventually they came to an elevator. The three of them waited for the elevator to stop, and the grey doors slowly slid open as they entered.

“Destination,” a voice spoke from a speaker in the elevator roof above them.

“Civilian departures,” Michael spoke into the speaker.

“Thank you.”

The doors slowly closed and the elevator gently whisked them off to their destination. He wondered how they would have coped on the huge primary bases of the E.D.F. without the complicated elevator systems that criss-crossed the base, and served as the primary mass transit system in all the different bases. Especially with the likes of Delta base, which housed nearly a million people. At any one time there were hundreds of elevators in use, and they ran in specially made elevator tubes across the entire base.

Each elevator could carry up to thirty people or five tons in weight, or any combination of the two. Michael also wondered how much of a logistical nightmare it would be, if the elevators weren’t there.

Ten minutes later they had reached their destination. The three of them stepped out into the bustling civilian departures area.

“Theo, keep close to me,” Jana said.

As they made their way through the throngs of people, they came upon a large archway some thirty feet tall, and over a hundred feet across. Above the archway, there was a white illuminated sign that read “Internal Departures.”

The three of them made their way into the internal departures lounge; which was much less crowded than where they had just come from. Together they walked across the length of the hall and came to a small desk, with an illuminated sign above it which read ‘Orion IV shuttle service.’

A young woman in a bright blue uniform white blouse, and blue hat looked at them; smiled, and then asked. “What is your destination?”

“The Orion plaza,” Michael replied.

“May I see your identification?” asked the woman.

“Sure,” Michael replied; as he pulled out three small cards, each of which contained a small photo as well as a microchip. He passed them over to the woman. Who examined the photos, and then placed the cards in a small electronic reader at the side of the desk. At once all the information came up on her terminal, name, age, blood group, doctor, employment status, place of residence; everything.

One by one the woman placed the cards into the reader. “You’re clear,” she said finally. “Theo is only four years old, under fives go free when accompanied by an adult.”

“Thank you,” Michael replied, glad that Theo’s birthday was in two weeks time, and not today; as the woman passed the cards back to him.

“The next shuttle will be docking in ten minutes; if you would like to wait over there,” the woman said, as she gestured toward a row of comfortable seats.

Michael acknowledged the woman with a curt nod, and the three of them headed over to the seats and sat down.

“How big is the E.D. F daddy?” Theo asked.

Michael looked a little worried at answering Theo’s rather probing questions in public, “I’ll tell you on the shuttle son.”

“Okay daddy, then what is the biggest ship in the Navy?”

“Like I said son, I’ll tell you on the shuttle,” Michael replied, this time getting a little exasperated.

“Who is in charge of the Navy daddy?”

“Would you like a chocolate bar?” Michael asked, trying to avoid Theo’s relentless questioning.

“Yes please,” he said excitedly.

Michael walked over to a vending machine on a far wall, and keyed in the selection for a chocolate bar; it was an Orion delight, one of Theo’s favorites. Michael inserted his payment card into the machine, and the bar dropped out, walking back over to Theo, he handed him the chocolate bar.

“Thanks daddy,” he smiled, as he excitedly un-wrapped the chocolate.

“Maybe you should work for the intelligence services son.”

Jana shot Michael an angry look, “leave him alone, he’s only interested!”

“Sorry I spoke,” retorted Michael, as he winked at Theo next to him.

Jana harrumphed, “when is this damn shuttle going to come?”

Michael wondered what the hell had gotten into her; but thought nothing else of it, women, he thought.

Just as Michael was finishing his musings, the shuttle airlock slid open and the passengers disembarked.

“At last,” Jana said with a sigh, as she made her way to the airlock, Michael and Theo in her wake.

Together they boarded the shuttle; the seats were arranged in four tight rows, with a small aisle down the middle, which led to the airlock door behind them. Another small door at the other end of the aisle directly ahead of them, led to the cockpit.

Over an internal comm. system the pilot said, “please keep yourselves strapped into your seats at all times, our destination is the Orion plaza. E.T. A is approximately thirty minutes, and we will be landing on pad ‘B’. Please make yourselves aware of the safety signs around you; they are for your information. Thank you.”

Theo, Jana and Michael all strapped themselves in with the supplied harnesses.

And with that; the airlock closed. There was a slight shudder as the airlock depressurized and released from the station. And the shuttle slowly began to depart Delta base, Theo turned to get a closer look out of the view port.

He could see the massive outline of the base grow steadily smaller. The constant arrival and departure of civilian and E.D. F ships could be seen; like small ants scurrying around a giant nest.

The lights of the station twinkled along the length of its superstructures, the numerous docking ports, arms, and service depots could clearly be seen, able to accommodate even the enormous battleships and carriers of the Navy.

The outer defence platforms could also be seen; the huge station glowed as the light from the yellow Orion sun, played along its numerous surfaces.

“What guns are they daddy?” Theo asked, pointing towards the defence platforms.

Michael leaned over, and looked to where Theo was pointing.

“They are the Rail-cannons,” he said “and there are smaller laser cannons dotted between them.”

“What is a rail-cannon, daddy?”

“A rail-cannon is a massive gun, about the size of a four storey building. They fire a huge shell, filled with high explosives; at near the speed of light, where it causes massive damage to a target.”

“Why is it called a rail-cannon daddy?”

“The name actually comes from a very old weapon that was once used on earth during the second world war. The weapon was so big, that it had to be carried on a thing called a railway line. The shells our rail-cannons fire are so big and heavy, that we have to use a special vehicle called an autoloader to load them,” Michael replied.

Theo sat back in his chair mulling over this new information, his imagination going wild as he imagined all the adventures his father must go on.

The shuttle neared the atmosphere of Orion IV. Theo’s questions apparently answered; for now.

All the view ports suddenly went black, as the atmospheric heat shields slid into place over them.

“I hate this part,” Michael said, as he looked at Jana.

“Don’t worry; it’ll all be over in a minute,” she replied, touching his hand reassuringly.

The shuttle quickly began to shake and rattle, like an old aero plane hitting turbulence. Michael tightened his safety harness as he was jostled in his seat a little; his pulse raised and nerves began to rattle. A few minutes later, the shaking had slowly stopped. And sunlight began to pour through the view ports as the heat shields slowly slid back up.

Theo remembered his questions again. “Daddy, how big is the E.D.F?

Damn; I thought he had forgotten, Michael mentally cursed. “Nobody knows the exact amount; the last audit done last year puts it at around three hundred and sixty thousand men all told. Of which one hundred and forty two thousand are made up of Naval and Troop personnel.”

“Wow, that’s a lot,” Theo said, his eyes widening with surprise.

“Not really; considering the size of the territory we have to protect, most people don’t think its enough,” Michael replied.

“What is the biggest ship in the Navy, daddy?”

Michael had to consult his memory for a moment. “The biggest ship; let me think, that would have to be the Jupiter class assault carrier, there are only four of them in the entire E.D.F.”

“Do they have rail-cannons?” Theo asked.

“Yes; they are the only carrier that does, but much smaller than Delta base, they mainly carry fighters and bombers.”

“How many fighters do they carry?”

“Usually two fighter wings and two bomber wings; a wing makes up twelve craft. So they can carry 48 craft in all.”

The shuttle cut through the cloud cover. And the various towns and villages of Orion IV could be seen dotted around far below.

Ahead they could just make out the imposing form of the Orion Plaza. It consists of kilometers upon kilometers of shops, bars, restaurants, and a huge cinema complex, it was a giant mecca of capitalism and indulgence.

A short time later the shuttle touched down on landing pad B. And the pilot spoke into the internal comm. again. “Welcome to the Orion plaza, we have successfully touched down on landing pad B, please wait for the airlock to open sufficiently to allow exit.”

Michael and Jana released their safety harnesses, and helped Theo out of his. Together they headed through the airlock and out onto the landing pad itself, a gentle breeze buffeted them and there was a bright blue sky; with only a small smattering of white clouds.

Directly ahead of the landing pad there was a set of automatic doors with a large sign that read ‘entrance’. Michael, Jana, and Theo, as well as the other occupants of the shuttle made their way towards these doors.

The glass doors slid open and allowed them access to the complex. Once inside they immediately stepped through a security scanner; and then continued through to a small desk directly ahead of them which was manned by another woman.

“May I see your identification cards?” she asked again.

Michael handed her the cards once again, and she punched their details up on her terminal.

“Everything seems to be okay, the fare is 35 credits please.”

Michael handed the woman his payment card.

“Thank you,” the woman said, and slid it into the receiver.

The three of them then proceeded through a gate in the large open arrivals lounge, and entered another elevator directly ahead; this one was heavily crowded. Still the three of them managed to huddle together in the tight confines.

Michael asked an elderly looking man that was stood next to him. “Does this elevator go to the shopping complex?”

“It sure does,” the man replied in an odd old Texan voice.


The elevator began to speed them to their destination. It soon stopped and the large grey doors slid open, everyone hurried at once to get out. Jana almost lost Theo in the press of people.

The three of them continued to follow the crowd; Jana was all the while trying desperately to keep tight hold of Theo’s hand, for fear of losing him in the crowds that swarmed about this place.

Theo looked up at his mother, his little legs almost struggling to keep up.

“It is busy, isn’t it mummy?”

Jana looked down at him and smiled, “it’s always busy here.”

They had entered a wide hall, with tall grey coloured walls, there were four elevator stops all in a row. On a far corner of the hall there was a lit up map of the complex.

Straight ahead, a giant set of automatic glass doors opened out into the main shopping complex.

They continued to walk towards the main doors. Slowly and silently, the frosted glass doors opened out revealing the interior of the main complex.

When they stepped inside; it made the three of them gasp in awe of the magnitude of the structure.

The complex was completely enclosed by a magnificent arched glass roof; which was suspended from some three hundred feet above them. The two sides of the hall were made up of huge department stores of every type of brand conceivable, and towards the center of the complex smaller niche stores existed selling more specialized types of goods.

Further up the main complex, there were giant escalators that took hundreds of shoppers up to a second level; where more stores were located. The center of the ground floor was dominated by a massive indoor fountain that sprinkled water into a larger circular pool. In the pool smaller jets of water shot up into the air, the water jets were lit up by lights from within the pool. Due to refraction, they looked like giant arcs of coloured water until they themselves splashed back down into the pool.

Michael and Theo were stood, dazzled by the beauty of the fountain. Circling it were many restaurants, snack bars and bistro’s where people sat and ate while watching the fountain itself.

For the rest of that day they all went into and out of shops of all kinds. Clothes shops mainly for Jana and Theo; Michael looked in a few of the hardware stores that were dotted around, but never really noticed anything particularly interesting. Still; he was glad that Jana and Theo were enjoying themselves. Theo had never seen so many toyshops in one place before.

Jana laughed, “he’s like a kid in a sweetshop.”

“Yeah,” Michael laughed as much at the pun than at Theo.

They stopped at midday; at a small restaurant with a deep red sign above the door, reading “the Ballisaire.” They all ate well, and Michael had his favorite grilled steak.

Later that day they did some more shopping, before they began to think of heading back home. Michael was tired and weighed down with the shopping that Jana had bought. Secretly; he was wondering if it was particularly wise to bring Jana to the biggest shopping facility in the Orion system.

Theo was also beginning to get tired, but Michael suspected that it was more to start playing with his new toys than of anything else.

Later that evening they re-boarded the shuttle and it lifted off and took them all on the short journey back to Delta base; where they headed back to their apartment.

Theo immediately went to play with his new toys, but stopped short; as if wondering about something, turning back to Michael with a puzzled expression he asked. “What do they eat in the E.D. F daddy?”

Smiling; Michael said, “Depends on the length of the mission son; if it’s just a short mission it will be similar to what we have eaten today. If it’s a long mission; say four months or longer then ration packs would normally be used.”

Michael watched as Theo went to play with his new toys, he picked up the model of the star liner, and pretended to fly the ship, doing his best to mimic engine sounds, he emitted a whooshing sound as he glided the model through the air with his hand.

“You know, one day he’s going to be exactly like you,” Jana said.

“I suppose, he is so intent on following in my footsteps, that he doesn’t realize that space can be a very dangerous place.”

“He’s young, give him time.”

“You know Jana, I see a lot of myself in him when I was his age. Curious, full of questions, I thought space was just one big adventure. Surprising what you learn when you get older isn’t it.”

Michael turned towards the viewer, the news was on again. “I am Annika Raumov and welcome to the outer colony news service. The headlines today, the hull of one of the damaged mining vessels has been recovered, and a full investigation has begun into the damage the vessel sustained.”

The image showed the smashed hull of the mining ship, berthed in a small private dockyard in orbit of the Agemman colony. The hull of the small vessel was shredded in several places, a huge hole was blasted into its front, making the fore of the vessel virtually unrecognizable. Its engines were just blackened craters, silenced long ago.

Michael wondered about the images, they are no pirate attacks. Not unless they had a new super powerful weapon the E.D. F didn’t know about, and even if they did, they don’t have the resources anymore to launch that kind of an attack.

The image of the smashed front of the ship worried Michael the most, mining ships had armoured frontal sections to guard against debris hits when extracting raw materials from asteroids. In some of the bigger ships this guarding can be metres thick. And whatever had hit it had gone through that armour as though it was butter.

Did the E.D. F or E.O.C. A know something that they couldn’t share, maybe they were worried about panicking the population, the last thing they wanted was mass hysteria to break out among the colonies. In the end he put the thoughts to the back of his mind, he simply didn’t know one way or the other. Besides he was on leave.

Chapter 3

The start of things to come

For the remainder of that week domestic bliss continued unabated. Theo continued with his usual bouts of relentless questioning; while Jana continued to try her best to give Michael the rest that he needed after his long mission.

Late one evening Theo was asleep in his room, Michael and Jana had settled down to relax for the evening together in front of the viewer.

“I am Annika Raumov; this is the outer colony news service, the headlines today. The Montgomery class carrier Montfort has now arrived in the Agemman system and fighter patrols have already begun in the area. We now go live to the governor of the Agemman system, Mrs. Sylvia Cross.”

The picture on the viewer turned to a middle aged woman, with deep set eyes and a somewhat stern looking face; curled silvery hair flowed down to her shoulders.

“Governor Cross; what are your thoughts on the situation near your colony, now that the carrier Montfort has arrived.”

“Well, the arrival of the carrier will obviously boost morale for the mining operations that operate within the nearby asteroid fields now that they have fighter escorts. However I do hope that this is not just a short term solution, and also that the E.D. F doesn’t pull its forces from the area in a few weeks time, just for the attacks to grow again.”

“Thank you Governor Cross, we now go live to the commander of E.D. F forces in the area; Admiral J.G. Kenelly.”

The picture turned to a proud, tall man in full Naval dress. He looked to be in his early 50’s and bore a short silver beard. He had dark, ashen, albeit sharp intelligent eyes, the lines on his face gave a sense of a seasoned officer with years of duty under his belt.

“Admiral Kenelly, what are your thoughts on the Agemman situation.”

“We had a successful deployment, as of 13.00 hours Earth time, the Montfort is on an extended mission in the area, and it also gives us the chance to use certain classified equipment on board the Montfort. If there is anything out there; I am confident the Montfort and its fighter crews will find it,” the Admiral said.

“Thank you Admiral Kenelly.”

Jana turned off the viewer, “you know I still think something isn’t quite right over there.”

“And I still think it’s a waste of time,” Michael replied flatly. “Just some colonists wanting some air-time, besides that new system the Montfort has got should sniff them out.”

“Maybe,” Jana confessed, “what is that new system the Montfort has got anyway?”

Michael looked at Jana suspiciously, “you know I’m not really supposed to tell you.”

“Go on,” Jana pleaded. “I’m your wife; it’s not as if I’m going to tell anyone,” she retorted.

“Ok,” Michael conceded. “It’s called L.R.D.A.T.”

“What on Earth is L.R.D.A. T?”

“It stands for Long Range Detection And Tracking, the engineering services only installed it about a month ago. It hasn’t even been operationally tested yet, that’s why they sent the Montfort.”

“What does it do?” Jana asked.

“It’s a two way thing, its primary use is to track our fighters over a greater area, but its secondary use is to detect and track any hostile craft within a three light year radius.”

Michael paused to allow Jana time to take this all in.

“Sort of an early warning system for carriers, it’s a pretty good piece of kit. If it’s successful it will be fitted to all carriers in the fleet.”

Jana thought about this for a moment. “Perhaps your right,” she finally conceded. “Maybe it is nothing, let’s go to bed honey.”

“Sure; I’m getting a little tired anyway.” Michael said as he stretched and let out a long yawn.

That night they made love, slowly and passionately. And as Michaels’ body glided against hers in ecstasy, she had the strangest thought that she might not see him again.

Once they had finished, Jana lay face up on the bed, all kinds of thoughts running through her mind; she was staring up at the dark ceiling. “You know, I still have a bad feeling about what’s happening in the Agemman system.”

“Go to sleep,” Michael said exhausted.

The next morning they had breakfast as usual. Theo was making a mess, playing with his cornflakes and spilling milk everywhere. Jana did her best to stop him; however she was fighting a losing battle.

Once they had finished breakfast. A faint ‘chirp’ could be heard from Michaels and Jana’s bedroom.

“What the hell is that?” Michael said turning in his seat to where the sound was coming from.

Before Michael could even react, Theo dashed into their bedroom, and brought out a small white computerized object, with two wristbands connected to it.

“It’s my wrist comm. But I’m on leave, it shouldn’t be going off,” Michael said in exasperation as he took it off his son and quickly pressed a button on the communicator.

“Good morning Lieutenant, I was beginning to think you weren’t answering,” Michael immediately recognized the voice of Commander Juan Angel, second in command of the Ulysses, and knew it had to be important for the Commander to contact him personally.

“Sorry sir,” Michael replied.

“Well, now that you are answering Lieutenant, we have a situation; there has been an incident involving the Montfort, the entire E.D. F is on alert level two. All leave has been cancelled, and you are ordered to return to the Ulysses at eleven hundred hours. There you will be briefed in the primary cargo hold; deck 14.”

“I understand sir,” Michael replied.

And with that the communication ceased. Leaving Michael trying to fathom the enormity of what had just transpired. His face grew ashen, and his brows furrowed with worry. There hasn’t been a level 2 alert for nearly fifteen years, ever since the pirate attacks finally stopped.

“What is it?” Jana asked, eyeing Michael carefully, trying her best to read him.

The question snapped Michael out of his deep thoughts. “I’m Sorry, what were you saying?” Michael asked in return, still visibly shocked.

“What’s wrong?” Jana re-iterated.

There was a moment of silence before he managed to gather himself together again.

“I…Have…To…Go…Back to…the…Ulysses,” he stuttered, struggling for words in his reverie.

“But, your on leave, you’ve another four weeks yet!” Jana replied in desperation, both worried about Michael who was not even rested properly from his last outing with the Navy; and also because she felt almost cheated out of spending some quality time with the man she loved. Together with the very real possibility that he might miss Theo’s birthday.

“Not anymore, leave is cancelled,” Michael replied.

“No, they can’t do this… Bastards!” Yelled Jana, her voice was cracked and tears slowly began to form in her eyes, the news had hit her as hard as her husband.

“The whole E.D. F is on alert, I’ve got to go,” Michael said exasperatedly, he hated having to go through this with Jana. Didn’t she realize that this was as hard on him as it was on her?

He rushed into his and Jana’s room, and began to pack his things mindful that he didn’t have much time. Jana quickly followed after him.

“What about Theo?” She asked. “It’s his birthday; he was looking forward to spending some time with his dad?” Tears continued to roll down Jana’s cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” was all that Michael could muster, under Jana’s emotional assault his inner strength was weakening rapidly.

He quickly donned his royal blue naval uniform, black trousers and shoes. Fixed his Lieutenant rank slides onto his epaulettes; and made for the door, however he stopped short in mid stride. Turning around, he looked down at little Theo, kneeled in front of him, and gave him a hug. “If I don’t see you before your birthday, look after your mum for me; you’re the man of the house now,” he ruffled up Theo’s hair with his hand.

“I will, please don’t go daddy,” Theo said, beginning to sob.

“I’ve got to son, I will be back soon; I promise,” Michael replied, not really believing his own words.

“I hope so daddy,” Theo said looking up at him with tear filled eyes.

“Please don’t go,” Jana pleaded, tears also streaming down her cheeks.

Michael held her one last time “I’ll be back soon, I promise,” he said softly, then he gently kissed her, picked up his belongings; and left. Leaving Jana and Theo; his wife and son, huddled together; crying; and desperate for his return.

After closing the apartment door behind him, Michael stopped and looked at the ceiling. He let out a long sigh; his heart was pounding with emotion. And he was wondering if he was doing the right thing leaving Jana and Theo so soon, especially with Theo’s birthday coming up; he felt like a monster.

Suddenly Dylan Marcos came down the corridor suitably laden with gear; Michael and Dylan were friends right through their academy days. They even got posted to the same ship; Marcos was weapons officer, where Michael was a deck officer.

“Wondering if this was what you signed up for?” he said as Michael joined him.

“Something like that,” Michael replied with another sigh, “We haven’t had a level 2 alert for fifteen years Dylan, what the hell has happened?”

“Beats me, for a level 2 alert they would have had to have blasted the Montfort or something.”

“Jana had mentioned that something wasn’t right out there, and she was right.”

The alert states as they are known in the E.D. F are a system not dissimilar to the Def-con system that America once used on Earth. Alert level 5 is the standard level during peacetime operations. Alert level 4 is increased security. Level 3 is security status high, imminent attack. Level 2 is unprovoked attack threat of invasion. And finally level 1 means all out war.

Both Michael and Dylan strode into an awaiting elevator. “Docking port twelve,” they both said in unison.

The elevator began to gently glide to their destination.

“If they have blasted the Montfort, why didn’t their fighters pick anything up?” Michael asked.

“ Maybe they couldn’t detect whatever it was, or couldn’t react in time.”

“Even with L.R.D.A. T?”

Dylan simply shrugged, he had no idea either.

“Either way, we’ll find out more at the briefing,” Michael continued.

They arrived at docking port twelve, and the doors opened into utter pandemonium, hundreds of officers and crewmen were running to and fro, supply crates were hurriedly being loaded onboard the Ulysses, just as they were with other ships docked at the station.

Walking towards the airlock, a stern looking Lieutenant Commander Dyson greeted them, he was head of security and barred their way “I.D. cards please, Lieutenants?”

Dylan and Michael saluted the Lieutenant Commander, as two crewmen hurriedly pushed their way past them carrying a heavy looking grey case.

“Careful with that! They’re ammunition crates.” Dyson shouted at them.

“Yes sir,” the two crewmen replied as they hurried onto the ship clutching the crate.

Michael and Dylan duly presented their I.D. cards and the Lieutenant Commander placed them into a small card reader he was carrying, pausing a moment while studying the display.

“Yep, your clear; welcome back Lieutenants.”

“It’s the busiest I’ve seen Delta base in a long time, sir,” Dylan said to the Lieutenant Commander.

“Whole goddamn galaxy’s gone barking mad if you ask me Lieutenant.”

Dyson handed the two Lieutenants back their I.D. cards. The three officers saluted once more, and Dylan and Michael made their way back on board the E.D.F. S Ulysses once again.

As the two Lieutenants rounded a long corridor, within the labyrinthine vessel, Michael said to Dylan. “I’ll meet you at the briefing, I’m just going to stow my gear and freshen up first.”

“Okay, I’ll catch you there.”

Their paths separated and each continued on towards their quarters, both were located on separate sections of the Ulysses. Michael’s Quarters were located within the Officers quarters on B block, forward section, on deck 4.

Dylan’s however was located near the munitions storage areas; on deck 12.

Michael proceeded to a set of steps and then at the end of the corridor he entered an elevator.

Soon he arrived at his Officers quarters on deck 4 and began to stow his gear in the lockers provided. Casting a glance over his cramped quarters he sighed, it was like he had never been away. Like he had never seen Theo’s smiling face, or Jana’s loving stare.

He stowed his spare clothing in a large overhead locker, and the empty bag under his bunk. Making his way over to the adjacent bathroom, he splashed his face with cold water in an attempt to wash away the cobwebs, and the emotion left over from Jana’s onslaught on his heartstrings.

Drawing a deep breath he checked his watch, it was 10:40, he let out another sigh and headed out of his quarters to the briefing on deck 14.

He met up with Dylan again just as he was heading down another corridor, and asked, “Have you heard anything yet?”

Dylan shook his head, “No, not a thing. Whatever has happened, they are keeping very tight lipped about it.”

Soon they entered deck 14, and walked past a small metal sign that read ‘cargo hold’. The two of them walked through a large open set of heavy looking steel doors, and into a vast hall.

Inside, a small platform had been prepared, with a large portable viewer behind it. There were rows upon rows of seats, all neatly arranged in front of this platform, the spot lights in the ceiling were angled toward the platform bathing it in a soft glow, as well as the rows of seats, and cast the large storage racks looming on the periphery of the room into darkness. Some crewmembers had already filtered in, and several of the front rows were already full. Michael and Dylan walked somewhere in the middle, sat down and waited for the briefing to begin.

Another officer, whom the two of them didn’t know, walked onto the stage, carrying a polished wooden lectern, and placed it in the middle of the platform. He then proceeded to attach a small microphone onto the lectern. The shriek of the feedback as the officer turned the microphone on made everyone in the hall cringe.

On the stand of this lectern, there was a plaque, which bore the seal of the E.D. F Navy; an eagle, inside a planet, and surrounded by a wreath.

Slowly the room began to fill up. When everyone was finally inside, another officer at the rear of the hall pressed a button and the giant steel doors slowly closed with a customary gentle metallic grinding noise.

There was a small pause, and hushed whispering voices could be heard, as the crew tried in vain to deduce what the briefing was about. A Naval whistle cut through the air, and, as one, the entire crew stood to attention.

“Captain on deck!” An officer shouted to the side of the main body of men.

Captain Wainwright, the grizzled, experienced commanding officer of the E.D.F. S Ulysses, strode confidently onto the platform, carrying a black leather bound book. It was again depicting the symbol of the E.D. F Navy.

“Gentlemen, please be seated.” The softly spoken Captain announced.

The men all sat down at once.

Although Michael had never actually spoken to Wainwright himself, he knew from what others had said that the good Captain was one of the best in the fleet, and that this was his second command. Rumours had been also circulating recently among the lower ranks that he was also considering his retirement after commanding the Ulysses for nearly nine years.

“What you are about to hear is highly classified information, it does not leave this ship. Exactly the same briefings are being held throughout the fleet. Do you understand?”

The crowd shouted in unison, “yes sir!”

“Good, then the briefing can begin,” the Captain replied. “As of 09:00 hours the carrier E.D.F. S Montfort, which you may know if you read the news was stationed near the Agemman system. The ship was attacked by an unknown alien force and destroyed with all hands, resulting in the deaths of 740 men and women.”

The crowd let out an involuntary gasp at the seriousness of the information.

“I knew it,” Dylan whispered to himself triumphantly.

“All the information we have is contained in this communication, sent by the Commanding Officer of the Montfort; Captain Reynolds before he died.”

The Captain motioned to another officer at the rear of the room, and a projection was played. It contained sensor data from the Montfort, as well as an onboard video of the bridge crew.

Three small almost wedge shaped black and silver coloured vessels were slowly advancing toward the huge elongated triangular shaped carrier. The first communication came from the Montfort.

“Unknown vessels, this is Captain Reynolds of the E.D.F. S Montfort; you are in violation of E.O.C. A territory. Please identify yourselves, we mean you no harm, repeat, we mean you no harm.”

Next there came a communication from the alien vessels, “on mulv varash a’lahun, al orash vak kroluth.”

Another bridge officer, this time a female said, “our translators are completely baffled sir.”

“Try your best, Lieutenant,” Captain Reynolds replied, as he quickly turned in his seat and said to another officer. “Send out the universal greeting, all frequencies.”

“Yes sir,” a young officer replied.

Then there came another communication, over the speakers, “On vak drovath lok al Krenarii aden!”

A man turned bearing a Commander’s rank insignia. “I don’t like the sound of that, Captain; recommend we go to general quarters; sir.”

“Do it, but don’t power any weapons, we don’t want to appear threatening,” Reynolds replied.

There was a small, tense pause on the bridge of the carrier, as the alien vessels continued to close with the E.D. F carrier. Reynolds focused intently upon the viewer, as though trying to fathom just what these aliens’ motives were?

“Back us off, ensign, put some distance between us and them, reverse thrust, 20 % power,” Reynolds ordered stroking his chin thoughtfully.

The twin forward thrusters blew, the super heated gases slowly began to overcome the weight of the vessel, and it gingerly began to reverse.

A third communication came over the speakers. “Al Krenarii mulv brolis, al orash vak kroluth!” The voice screamed in pure anger.

“Holy; wait a minute, Captain, I’m reading massive power spikes coming from those ships sir!” A panicked voice announced.

Reynolds turned toward the officer, “What? What kind of power spikes?”

“Unknown, Captain, but they’re off the scale,” the officer replied.

Reynolds shouted, “full alert status, get those fighters back here right now!”

The Commander announced in sheer terror. “Too late Captain, look!”

Reynolds spun back toward the viewer, just in time to see a bright green glow steadily increasing in its brightness, at the lower bow of each of the alien vessels.

“Oh my god, lord save us!” Reynolds said as he realized his fate.

The three alien vessels then unleashed the built up power into three bright green energy beams, which hurtled towards the Montfort with incredible speed.

The beams smashed into the forward section of the ship, almost tearing a hole right through the sloping forward section of the carrier, sending debris and flames blossoming out into space.

The bridge was a scene of utter desolation; bodies, horribly mutilated lay fallen, mixed with the broken remains of consoles and shattered support girders. Acrid smoke filled the air, and flames licked out of half a dozen smashed consoles.

Reynolds quickly came to, after he was almost launched from his chair. Blood trickled down the side of his face from a gash caused by a piece of flying debris. The broken body of his navigation officer lay motionless at the base of his chair.

Over the roar of the flames, and the crackling of broken power conduits Reynolds shouted. “Full reverse, get us the hell out of here!”

Another officer groggily tried to pick his way through the debris littering the bridge floor, and sat at the former navigation officer’s console.

One of the still functioning thrusters fired for all it was worth as the interim navigation officer shunted every last ounce of power remaining. The Montfort desperately tried to turn away from the small nimble alien craft that it dwarfed. However the alien ships possessed a speed and agility that the huge lumbering carrier could not hope to match.

As the E.D. F ship gradually began to turn, the ruined frontal section was clear to see. Flames continued to burst out into space, as the fires onboard fed off the oxygen venting out. And the twisted wreckage of half a dozen decks could be seen jutting out of the carriers’ external armour like shattered bones poking through flesh.

However, the carrier did manage to turn slightly, and its primary inter-system boosters began to glow as they slowly began to power up. Just as two of the alien craft swung around and together launched multiple bolts of bright white light at the carrier.

The bolts hurtled toward the carrier at a horrific speed, and smashed into the partly powered up boosters, tearing through armour and shredding the main engines entirely. The massive impacts rocked the entire E.D. F ship. All along the rear of the carrier pieces of twisted, blasted, hull plating were simply torn off the ship by the force of those energy bolts. Replaced by more fires and twisted wreckage.

The stricken carrier was still making a brave effort to escape its assailants. However, in the end, the carrier was simply too large and too slow, and eventually, like a pack of rabid wolves, the alien ships began tearing apart the E.D. F vessel.

Their powerful green energy beams sliced the carrier to pieces, until ultimately its inter-system fuel supplies detonated, and the carrier blew itself apart with an almighty explosion. And then the video went blank.

All this footage happened within the space of a few minutes. The hall was totally silent. The crew of the Ulysses were stunned by what they had just witnessed.

Michael was equally stunned, especially since his cousin had served aboard that ship. A pang of grief welled up inside him. Captain Wainright looked over the assembled crew, seeing the shocked faces, and gave them a few seconds to let what they had witnessed sink in.

Slowly, almost whispering; he spoke. “Make no mistake gentlemen; we have hereby made contact with our first alien species. E.D. F intelligence services are trying to translate the alien messages as we speak. However, judging by what we’ve all just witnessed, we can assume they are a hostile species, and represent an immediate threat to E.O.C. A citizens. I will now hand you over to Lieutenant Commander Hudson.”

The Captain stepped to one side and motioned for the Ulysses chief engineering officer to take to the stand. He was an older looking man than Wainwright, jovial, balding, but also possessing of a keen intelligence. “Although the information we have managed to gather at the present time is somewhat thin. From the sensor data, and video we have received so far, we can be certain of the following facts.”

The projection showed a rotating three dimensional representation of one of the alien ships. It had intermingled black and silver panels on its hull, just like in the video. The vessel seemed to be shaped like a triangular wedge, with a large cannon like protrusion at the lower bow of the strange ship. It had another thin; yet broad protrusion, towards the widest part of its hull at the top of this wedge.

Michael studied the image. It had very few windows or running lights, suggesting that it had a limited crew, he thought.

As the representation panned around to the rear of the alien ship, it revealed a large, thin, bright blue strip that ran almost across the entire width of the vessel.

Lieutenant Commander Hudson continued. “They must be using some sort of stealth technology, which would explain why our fighter patrols, or the Montfort, couldn’t pick them up until the alien ships were almost on top of them,” Hudson paused to allow the assembled masses time to let this sink in.

“The protrusion at the lower, forward end of the ship, must be a weapons system of some kind, since that’s where the ‘green energy beams’, for wont of a better word; come from. The smaller triangular protrusion near the top of the vessel, must be another weapons system, since the white energy ‘bolts’ originate from there.”

The projection panned over to the rear of the ship once again, showing the bright blue strip.

“We think that this could be some sort of unknown propulsion system, similar to our own inter-system boosters and turning thrusters,” he took a short breath.

“However, whenever the vessel performs a maneuver, the engine seems to glow brighter. We have no ideas of the numbers of crew aboard, or even if it is unmanned. We do know however, from measurements taken of the vessel, that it is 140 meters long, by 60 meters high, at its widest point,” he said, pointing at the projection.

“The vessels maneuverability; as shown from the video; is astonishing, comparable to our own God-hammer bombers.”

Captain Wainwright replaced the engineer once again. “Our orders are to rendezvous with task force six, at 22:00 hundred hours, comprising of the Gandhi class destroyers Alberta and Yukon, the Mandela class light cruiser Endurance, and the Alexander class medium cruisers Invincible, and Europa. Fighter support will be supplied by the Montgomery class carrier; Furious,” Wainwright explained.

“The Ulysses will be acting as flagship for the task force. However the Furious will be delayed, as it is in the process of replacing one of its Peregrine fighter wings, with a bomber wing. So for around 12 hours we will be operating without fighter support; so everyone needs to be extra vigilant,” he allowed the crew time to reflect before making his next point.

“We all know the threat this new species represents, and I can vouch for everyone here that we will all perform our duties to the best of our abilities, and we will not rest until the safety of our territory is restored. We depart in one hour, Thank you gentlemen.”

And with that Captain Wainwright retrieved his book, and left the hall.

A young female Lieutenant quickly mounted the stage. “Lunch is available from the ships galley, which is open now.”

Finally a whistle blew, and again as one, the crowd stood to attention. The whistle blew a second time, and the men fell out.

“Well, what do you think of that?” Dylan asked turning to Michael.

“I think we are in deep shit,” Michael replied, “if those ships can slip in and do that to a carrier; then they can do it to any ship in the fleet.”

“And running without fighter cover makes me nervous. I suppose we are just going to have to blow them out of the sky before they get a shot off,” Dylan added.

“What makes you think we can?” Michael replied.

Chapter 4

The rendezvous

On board the huge station known as Delta base, a throng of people had begun to crowd the viewports. Family members of crewmen; as well as their children were all gathered together, Jana and Theo were also there, and had managed to get a good spot; as they watched the Ulysses make ready to depart.

Lights gradually twinkled along the hull of the massive vessel, as its main power systems came online. Running lights began to flash along the sides of its sloping forward section, as well as on its navigation towers; located in the center of the ship. Its docking arm was still connected to the station like a giant metal proboscis.

Onboard the Ulysses it was a hive of activity, as hundreds of officers and crewmen hurried about their duties making final systems and pre-flight checks, and generally preparing the ship for departure.

With a slow metallic creak, the securing latches of the main docking arm slowly began to detach from the station, and then re-attach themselves to the docking arm itself. With a blast of pressurized air the main docking arm jettisoned from the airlock, and with a groan of metal on metal slowly retracted in upon itself. Finally with a metallic ‘thud’ the magnetic interlocks held the docking arm firm for travel.

Jana and Theo watched intently as the huge vessel slowly began to drift away from the station.

An announcement came over the stations internal communications system. “E.D.F. S Ulysses, has successfully un-docked from the station.”

A huge cheer went up around docking port twelve as the crowd watched; however Jana didn’t feel like cheering, she just wanted her husband to return safe.

When the Ulysses reached a safe distance, four bright white streams of super heated gas flared into life out of the frontal section of the ship. They counter-acted the ships vast weight and slowly the ship began to reverse.

Theo watched as the battleship grew steadily smaller, the front port side thrusters blinked out, and the rear ones fired instead. With the starboard forward and port rear thrusters firing simultaneously, the ship slowly began to turn.

“What is it doing mummy?” Theo asked.

“It’s turning,” Jana answered, with a smile.

As the ship slowly, gradually turned on what seemed like a huge arc, Jana and Theo truly experienced the sheer size of this behemoth of a ship. Michael had once told her just prior to him becoming a Lieutenant, that it was fully 3,810 meters long from the forward docking arm, to the rear boosters, and it bristled with some of the biggest weapons in the Navy.

The Danitza class battleships were truly a foe to be reckoned with.

On board that battleship, Michael paced, when he was made a deck officer he became responsible for the smooth running of his deck. And right now, he was nervous.

He was in charge of deck 18; which fate would have it, contained the targeting arrays for the primary port rail-cannons.

An Ensign walked up to him, “Here are the results on the targeting arrays sir; as requested.” The short stocky Ensign handed him a small device. It consisted of a large screen and three buttons; an on/off button, an escape button, and an access button. At the rear of the unit, a stylus was stored.

It was a touch screen system, similar in function to the older pocket P. C’s of the late twentieth and early 21 ^ st centuries, some of which still remain in circulation in the less developed, backwater areas of E.O.C. A today.

Michael scrolled down the information on the ‘data navigator’ as they were called, and studied it. It read a 98 % efficiency rating on the targeting arrays and a point 27 second lock on time.

I hope that 2 % efficiency doesn’t cost us in battle with those things, whatever they are, he thought. But he also knew that there was no way he could get the targeting systems any more efficient than that, so he approved the results anyway, signing the bottom of the screen that read deck officers’ signature with his stylus.

He handed back the data navigator to the Ensign, and said smiling. “That’s good work, maybe you’ll make Lieutenant some day too.” They both saluted, and the ensign replied. “Thank you sir, we’ll show these clowns, you’ll see.” And with that the Ensign turned on his heel and left whistling.

Smartass, Michael thought.

A huge roar began to reverberate throughout the ship, as the inter-system boosters fired up, which are designed to take the ship out of the system, before the plasma drive system hurtled them to their destination.

On board Delta base, Jana and Theo could see three bright yellow dots in the distance, which were the sight of the Ulysses’ inter-system boosters firing up.

Gradually they got more distant, until they became barely visible. And Jana came to the realization, with a mournful sigh, that she might not see her husband again.

“Bye my love, please come back safe,” she whispered to herself.

Finally the yellow dots disappeared altogether, as the Ulysses went out of sight.

Later that day, Michael was beginning to get bored, his deck was running smoothly and everything seemed fine, there was a slight short in one of the power couplings that was located in the forward docking arm. Probably happened after we left Delta base, he thought. The engineers fixed it relatively quickly, and he had signed the repair orders himself.

He had his usual end of shift meeting with the Chief operations officer, but that wasn’t until nineteen hundred hours.

He decided he would pay Dylan a visit and headed over to deck 11, the munitions storage area. He thought Dylan would probably be loading the massive magazines in the rail-cannon turrets, and when he arrived he found he was right.

The munitions storage area was huge, it was two decks deep, and was racked from floor to ceiling with shells for the rail-cannons, together with energy pods for the smaller point defence lasers that were dotted around the ship.

“Hiya mike, what’s up?” Dylan shouted to him from across the room.

Michael walked over, “slow day. Now that all the rush is over with, and my deck is all sorted, I’ve not got a lot left.”

“Good for you,” Dylan harrumphed. “It’s mad as hell here.”

Within the Munitions area there were dozens of crewmen heading back and to from the racks; many of them had a specially modified motorized autoloader, which they used to retrieve the heavy shells from the racking.

Since each shell the rail-cannons fired, can be anywhere up to 4 meters long and weigh 2 tons, the autoloaders were the only means to transport them when onboard. Each turret magazine could carry ten rounds, however the magazines had to be filled by hand using the autoloaders.

This could be a long process, especially since each autoloader could only carry one shell at a time. And in total there were seven rail-cannon batteries on board the Ulysses.

“How far have you got?” Michael asked.

“Why, you wanna give us a hand?” Dylan asked playfully.

“Sorry, I’m not authorized,” Michael responded in kind.

“Well, the two main forward batteries are done, as is the rear, we have just the two port, and the two starboard batteries to do, they should be finished in about an hour. Then there are the lasers to do; but they are much easier.”

Dylan spotted something out of the corner of his eye; he turned to see a crewman with an autoloader carrying a rail-cannon shell, veering wildly.

“Whoa you there, stop! What are you trying to do, kill us all!?” Dylan shouted at the young crewman.

Both Michael and Dylan came running to the crewman’s position.

Dylan noticed that the shell wasn’t sitting centrally on the autoloader. “You’ve got to get the shell in the middle of the autoloader, or it will tip; like this.”

Dylan showed the crewman, and the three of them. Together with half a dozen others who had come over to help; barely managed to heave the heavy shell centrally on the long ‘v’ shaped platform at the rear of the autoloader.

“Sorry sir, I’ll get it right it right next time,” the crewman replied.

“You had best do; if you drop one of these, it’s more than all our lives are worth. You understand.”

“Yes sir,” the young crewman responded. As he started up his autoloader, and headed out of the room. Dylan and Michael watched the young crewman go.

“Damn kid,” Dylan said. “The academy seems to be pushing them out even younger these days.”

“Yeah; we were like that once,” Michael said. Thinking of what Theo would be like if he ever decided to join the Navy, like he was talking about.

“True; do you remember that time, when we were studying for our class two pilot certificate, and we were servicing that fighter. I think they were called the Cirrus fighter back then. And you accidentally broke an elevator linkage, and didn’t say anything in case it would harm your chances of passing the course,” Dylan said laughing.

“Yeah,” Michael replied breaking into hilarity, “the next pilot went to take it out, and wondered why it wouldn’t get off the ground.”

“You were grounded for about three months,” Dylan replied hysterically.

Michael finished laughing and said, “I’ve gotta get back to my deck, I’ll catch you later, okay.”

“Sure, I’ll be in the bar after my shift anyway.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”

And with that Michael left to get back to his deck, a little while later the Ulysses had reached the edge of the Orion system, and was preparing to enter plasma drive.

The plasma drive was one of the biggest breakthroughs of the twenty first century. When positively charged plasma particles collide with negatively charged plasma particles, the result is known as the plasma wake, a type of tunnel through space-time, were standard restrictions on the speed of light, no longer apply. It is travel through these tunnels, which allows vessels to travel between the stars at a fraction of the time it would take a ship traveling at sub-light speeds.

Both of these positively and negatively charged particles are fired into a predetermined point directly in front of the ship, using the ships plasma emitters, two long cannon like protrusions at the front of the ship, with a coil at the end of each.

A loud klaxon sounded on board, and a green warning light lit up on selected panels throughout the entire ship; a young crewman hurried over to Michael, “What is that noise, are we under attack?”

“Relax,” Michael replied, marveling at the inexperience of the man. “It’s just the ship preparing to make the jump into plasma drive; you might want to sit down, gets a little bumpy when the ship begins to make its jump.”

The young man hurriedly rushed out of sight. Michael calmly sat down in a chair in his office.

Outside the Ulysses, the forward plasma emitters began to glow an intense bright blue light; which slowly increased in its intensity until two massive bright blue beams of pure plasma energy lanced out from the emitter coils.

Ahead of the battleship the beams converged upon one another, until they collided, releasing a terrific burst of plasma energy; and in the space of a split second the huge plasma wake opened.

It looked like an enormous mass of swirling blue, purple, and red colours; it was almost liquid like in its consistency. The blue would swirl and collide with the red and purple in a vivid splash of colour. At the edge of the anomaly, there was a thin halo of bright white light.

The Ulysses slowly accelerated into the wake, and as the ship passed through it; the anomaly disappeared upon itself as the ship passed into plasma drive proper, it entered an infinite tunnel of flashing blue, red, and purple colours. Through this transparent tunnel normal starlight could be seen, although the Ulysses couldn’t be seen, as it had left normal space-time completely while it was within plasma drive.

Onboard the battleship, the shuddering ceased, and the green warning lights stopped. The klaxon had also stopped its wailing; everything returned to normal and the crew carried on with their duties.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, the only difference to normality came when you looked out of the view ports and into the swirling translucent mass, which was the tunnel through space-time that the ship was travelling.

Michael checked his watch, it was 18:40, and his relief would be coming in soon, then he could knock off.

Sure enough his relief walked into his office, Lieutenant Junior grade Curtis was the relief deck officer on deck 18. Michael informed the Lieutenant of the events of the day, including the problem with the docking arm.

He gathered together his things; including his own data navigator, and bidded Lieutenant Curtis good day, before heading toward the elevator.

Then he remembered about the meeting, damn, he thought, as he headed toward the meeting room located on deck 4. A few minutes later he had arrived, luckily he was early, and most of the other deck officers had filed in, however not all.

Michael sat down; they were all waiting for Lieutenant Commander Rennick, the chief operations officer on board, and third in command, after Commander Angel.

The meeting room was a long rectangular shaped room, dominated by a long boardroom table located in the centre. There was a small table bearing a coffee dispenser in one corner, and there were large view ports at one end of the room.

The remainder of the other deck officers filed in, soon followed by Rennick, who sat down immediately. Together there were a total of 32 deck officers, one for each deck of the ship.

“I will now call this meeting to order,” Rennick began.

Michael thumbed through his data navigator at the events that took place during the day.

Rennick then proceeded to ask each officer in turn if there were any problems during the shift. Many of the officers simply didn’t have any. One had a power cut to the forward section of deck 8; another had a coolant leak in the engineering section of deck 16. The toilets weren’t working properly on deck 19, minor things really.

Finally Rennick came to Michael, “Lieutenant Alexander, what about your deck?”

“We had a minor short in one of the power couplings in the docking arm, I had some engineers take a look at it, and it was fixed within half an hour. It probably happened after we left Delta base.”

“Good,” Rennick replied. “And what about the tests on the targeting arrays on the port rail-cannons?”

Michael picked up his data navigator. “They show a 98 % efficiency rating; and a point 27 second lock on time sir, I have the results here.” He passed his navigator over to Rennick.

“Good, no excellent Lieutenant, we haven’t had the rail-cannons that precise for a long time, see that they stay that way Lieutenant.”

“Judging by the nature of our enemy sir, I made it a priority,” Michael replied.

“Good thinking Lieutenant, when we do finally find those bastards, we don’t want to miss,” he said laughing.

The rest of the room laughed with him; however Michael felt that they were being a little overconfident, given what happened to the Montfort.

Soon after that they were all dismissed. As the officers left the room; Lieutenant Young, the deck officer for deck 12 approached Michael. “Hey you got Rennick laughing; he’s a tough nut to crack.”

“Must be my style,” Michael said with a smile as he left for the bar to join up with Dylan.

Soon enough he arrived at the Eagle bar, the meeting place, and general rest area onboard the Ulysses. Several tables were laid out, some were already occupied. A soft Jazz music played in the background.

There was a snooker table where a couple of officers were playing, as well as a large screen viewer mounted on a wall, and a row of large view ports directly ahead that looked out to the mass of colours that was plasma drive.

Dylan was sat at the large bar area with a beer, watching the viewer, Michael pulled up a chair next to him.

The bartender came over to him and asked “What are you having son?” George was the cheerful civilian bartender onboard. Although not strictly part of the E.D. F Navy, he was paid by the E.D. F like everyone else. Most people affectionately called him Georgie.

“I’ll have a beer, and some roasted peanuts please Georgie,” Michael replied.

Georgie proceeded to pull the pint with typical practised skill. Dylan was sat quiet.

“Hard day?” Michael asked, trying to read him.

“First one on a new mission always is, especially when you’re going to use live ammo,” Dylan replied.

Suddenly, the news flashed up on the viewer. “Hello, my name is Annika Raumov, this is the outer colony news service. The top stories tonight; the entire E.O.C. A is in mourning after the carrier E.D.F. S Montfort was destroyed this morning. It is the biggest disaster to hit E.D. F forces since the pirate attacks some fifteen years ago, no survivors are known to have escaped. Also in the Agemman system, mass panic has begun to take hold as the people are increasingly worried of an attack on the colony itself.”

Georgie passed Michael his beer and peanuts, “four credits please.”

Michael passed him his payment card.

Shortly after Georgie gave Michael his card back, “damn thing’s been on all day,” the barman said looking at the viewer.

Michael and Dylan both shushed him; Georgie silently put his hands up in mock surrender, and busied himself cleaning some glasses.

They both turned back to watching the news.

“Several civilian transports have been spotted leaving the colony, reputedly carrying refugees, while trade to the colony has all but ceased. E.D. F troops from the 22 ^ nd ‘Black Panthers’ company have been drafted in to help the local police force quell several riots that have broken out in areas of the colony. And in some areas looting has already begun.”

Footage of troops and police in full riot gear could be seen trying to contain the hundreds of rioters, as various pieces of detritus was hurled at them by the desperate populace.

“Breaking news has just come in, we have lost contact with the Agemman system, and I repeat all contact has been severed with the colony.”

The entire bar area became deathly quiet, as everyone’s eyes were fixed on the viewer.

“You know what this means,” Dylan whispered. “Alert level one.”

“All out war,” Michael finished for him; “the first alert level one, in our history.”

Later that evening, the green warning lights flashed on again, and the warning klaxon sounded.

“We are dropping out of plasma drive,” Michael said, stating the obvious.

In front of the Ulysses fringed in bright white light, was an opening into ‘normal space’, the ship headed toward it, and in a blinding flash the huge battleship returned to ‘normal space’ once again.

Ahead of it could just be seen the forms of the E.D. F task force, which the Ulysses was to rendezvous with.

Michael could feel the ship slowing, we must be at the rendezvous point, he thought.

He had arrived back in his quarters now, after having the single pint with Dylan, he didn’t want to drink too much in these uncertain times. He needed to keep his head clear and focused.

Looking over to the small viewport built into the wall of his cramped quarters. He could see the shapes of two other vessels floating past, one was a small sturdy looking Gandhi class destroyer, distinguished by its sloping forward section, and its raised rear crew quarters.

The second was a larger, sleeker, Alexander class medium cruiser, sporting a wider hull which tapers into a thinner forward section and then tapers again, where the forward docking arm is located. He could see the running lights of both ships blinking, their forms slightly silhouetted by the light of a far away star.

He noticed the Ulysses was moving slightly faster than the other ships in the task force, so it could manoeuvre into its lead position within the fleet.

Michael retired to his bunk for the night, it had been a long day, and no doubt it would be the same tomorrow he thought.

He peered out the viewport for the last time, and felt somewhat re-assured by the shapes of the other vessels gliding alongside. Slowly tiredness overcame him and he relaxed into a fitful sleep.

He awoke next morning to find his comm. Chip chirping incessantly again, he groggily pressed the acknowledge button on it; it was Rennick.

“Lieutenant, there is a ship wide briefing at 08.30 hours, in the cargo hold. Make sure your there.”

“Yes sir,” Michael replied.

He ended the communication, got up, washed, and got dressed. Soon after he headed down to the galley and grabbed a quick breakfast, before hurrying to the cargo hold.

Dylan was already there, and Michael walked over and sat next to him. “Three guesses what this is about,” he whispered.

Michael smiled. The rest of the crew filed in. Followed by Captain Wainwright, who once again took the stage. A Naval whistle blew, and the whole crew once again stood to attention.

“Please be seated,” he said. “I’ll not take much of your time; I know we are all anxious to get on with our duties.”

The assembled mass, sat down as one.

“We have some very important news, which is again highly classified. At 21.10 hours yesterday evening, we lost contact with the Agemman colony. Since we cannot determine the exact cause of how we lost contact, E.D. F command has ordered us to maintain a level two alert; we have however begun to translate some of the communiques sent by the alien force before the Montfort was destroyed.”

Captain Wainwright was replaced by a slightly younger looking officer, whom Michael didn’t recognise.

The man began, “the original messages have been put through our linguistics programs, and we have also run it through several probability matrices. Here is the original recording again.”

The deep harsh Krenaran voice was played over the speakers. “On mulv varash a’lahun, al orash vak kroluth.”

“That was the first communication received by the Montfort. Here it is now that it has been partly translated.”

“On Mulv varash a’lahun, the Terrans will die.”

“And here is the second message,” the man said as he played another recording.

The screaming alien voice was heard again. “On vak drovath lok al Krenarii aden!”

“And here is the translation,” the man went on.

“On vak surrender lok al Krenarans immediately.”

“We think that the word Krenarii is the plural for the name of their race,” he continued. “And finally here is the third recording.”

The man played the final recording, followed by the translation.

“Krenarii mulv brolis, al orash vak kroluth!”

“Krenarans mulv stronger, the Terrans will die!”

“We can now surmise with reasonable accuracy that the last message is saying that the Krenarans are stronger and all Terrans will be killed,” the man said rather gloomily.

Captain Wainwright walked back onto the stage and replaced the man. “As of 07.30 hours this morning, we have new orders. The task force is to continue towards the Agemman system, investigate why contact has been lost, and report back to E.D. F headquarters. Furious will still be joining the fleet to give fighter support, are there any questions?”

A man towards the rear of the room raised his hand.

“Yes, what is your question?” asked Wainwright.

“If the translations are correct; then why are we still at alert level two? Clearly the aliens are a hostile force and destroyed the Montfort. They have most probably attacked the colony as well; they are behaving extremely aggressively; surely we should be at alert level one?”

“The answer to your question is that E.O.C. A is still holding out for a diplomatic solution. Also we don’t know if the Krenarans have actually attacked the colony. Until we find out what has happened, E.D. F command cannot authorize alert level one. Does that answer your question?” Wainwright responded.

“Yes sir, thank you sir,” the man sat down.

“If there are no further questions; then this briefing is over,” Captain Wainwright said.

Commander Angel dismissed them, and the officers began to fall out, talking amongst themselves.

Dylan turned to face Michael, “What do you think of that?”

“I agree with part of it, we should investigate what has happened at Agemman, but I also think we should be responding in force, they just killed 740 people Dylan, people with wives and families,” Michael replied.

“Yeah; if they show up, we should blast them out the stars, besides its obvious what’s happened at Agemman, the Krenarans blasted it; you heard the translations. The Terrans will die, the Krenarans are stronger.”

“Perhaps,” Michael replied thoughtfully. “For once I hope you’re wrong,” however in his heart Michael didn’t think Dylan was.

Later that day, another blinding flash of light near to the fleet announced the arrival of the Furious. The large carrier slowly maneuvered into position between the Yukon and the Europa, in order to give the carrier some protection in case it was attacked itself.

The Furious launched a small squadron of fighters that swung around and performed a routine sweep of the area, before heading back into the carriers fighter bays, once they were secured back onboard. The entire fleet of seven vessels shifted into plasma drive and was gone.

Michael had an uneasy feeling all day, he thought if the Krenarans didn’t attack the colony, and contact was lost due to the riots and the mass panic. He could be traveling to his death, because those ships were still out there, and would doubtless attack the fleet anyway. And if the colony had been attacked he could be traveling to his death anyway, because of those darned ships again. He thought of Jana and Theo; and wondered how they were coping back at Delta base.

Never had he missed them more than he did at this moment, however he was an E.D. F Naval officer, and he had a job to do, so with a supreme effort he pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind.

Chapter 5

Destination oblivion

And so it carried on for the next three days. Rumours about the fate of the Agemman colony, was it the Krenarans? Or was it the panicking population? Was there another cause? Or was the planet even there anymore? No one could tell for sure.

Later that evening Michael was relaxing in the Eagle bar again after his shift had ended. He was watching the viewer again, waiting for any news on the Krenaran activities.

Finally the news flashed up on the screen again, and in an instant the entire Eagle bar fell silent.

“Hello, I am Annika Raumov, this is the outer colony news, the top stories today. There is still no contact with the Agemman colony, there is also a huge refugee crisis at the Aurelias colony. We now go live to our correspondent at the Aurelias colony.”

“Thank you Annika.” The young correspondent replied. “I am here at Bravo Gamma base, a small training facility for the E.D. F troop division; within the past few hours the facility and the landing facilities on the planet below have been simply swamped by dozens of transports fleeing the disaster at the Agemman colony,” the correspondent took a short pause for breath.

“The Aurelias colony has granted landing privileges to some of the transports, however there are simply too many refugees for the colony to cope with; and emergency refugee centers are hastily being erected as we speak.”

The image on the screen changed to the small spherical orbital facility above the planet, the lights from its viewports twinkling in the darkness of space. In front of the facility were dozens of transports of various shapes and sizes, some were in a dilapidated state; decades old and only poorly maintained. Some were new; boasting the latest technology and looked ultra modern. However all were queued up past the facility awaiting landing privileges for the planet below.

The face of the reporter flashed up on the screen again. “Most of the refugees aboard these transports have been traveling without food or water for days. Many are showing the signs of starvation, while some of the elderly have already perished en-route.”

Suddenly there was turmoil amongst the queued up transports, the reporter was buffeted as troops sprinted through the corridor he was standing in, making the image shake. He quickly turned to someone off camera.

“Quick, get some footage of that; move!”

The camera quickly jerked around to see explosions and bright flashes of white and green light, thunderous explosions lit up the rear of the line of transports in bright plumes of flame.

The camera zoomed in to see a fleet of six ships of exactly the same configuration as the ones that attacked the Montfort, as well as a far larger vessel a similar size to the Ulysses and of the same colouring as the smaller attacking vessels.

The six smaller ships tore into the defenceless transports with sickening ease, as they darted through the line of vessels, tearing huge gouges into their hulls as they went. The larger vessel hung back and began disgorging waves of smaller vessels that looked like fighter craft.

The training facility only had minimal defences, since it was not an E.D. F Naval station. Its small point defence lasers were repeatedly firing at the Krenaran fighters, who were now performing strafing runs across the bases hull as the alien craft came in fast and low their energy weapons constantly firing causing huge explosions to blossom across the hull of the station. Shaking the terrified cameraman; two of the alien fighters were clipped by the fusillade of bright blue laser fire coming from the station. And span out of control before exploding in small bright fireballs that lit up part of the stations’ now fractured hull.

The transports were faring much worse, so tightly packed it was near impossible to maneuver. Several rammed into one another in their desperation to escape the slaughter, causing massive damage.

The scream of rending metal sounding eerily like the death screams of mighty beasts; two transports exploded, lighting up part of the convoy and the space around them as they smashed into one another.

Another transport was caught by the green energy beams from the alien vessels; the beams slammed home with a huge explosion which tore the transport clean in half. The two ruined halves slowly floated away from each other trailing fire and torn metal debris. The ruined forward half collided into the frontal section of another transport, the force of the impact sending it smashing through the other transports hull, completely destroying its frontal section, and killing its crew instantly.

Inertia still carried it forward; however its frontal section looked like a massive ragged wound, bleeding fire, and flaming gases into space before it too succumbed in another massive explosion that lit up the convoy once again.

The small base had taken horrific damage; huge gaping holes could be seen through its blasted hull. Fire had spread through several decks.

Only one laser was firing now; but still it continued to blaze away at its attackers. All the other lasers simply reduced to charred smoking craters in the bases hull. The last remaining laser was quickly silenced by a flurry of white energy bolts from one of the ‘stealth’ ships.

Two rectangular pods began to slowly and ominously rise from the huge flat-topped alien carrier, which had maintained its distance from the main battle. The pods stopped rising and with the sound of a muted metallic ‘thud’, locked into place.

Then it ferociously launched a salvo of half a dozen torpedoes from these pods. The torpedoes hurtled their way into the packed transports, each one smashed home with deadly accuracy. Detonating upon impact and with each impact a transport was utterly decimated, leaving but a wide field of debris and flame.

The base itself finally succumbed to the catastrophic damage it had taken and tore itself apart in an almighty explosion. A huge shockwave swept through the flaming smashed convoy; and at that moment the recording ceased.

The Krenarans had culled thousands of lives in the space of a few minutes. Michael turned away from the viewer, sick to his stomach.

“Murdering bastards,” he whispered vehemently under gritted teeth.

The entire Eagle bar sat stunned, not a word was whispered. Everyone just stared blankly at the viewer, displaying the E.O.C. A crest. Both men and women sat pale faced; shocked at the brutality of what they had just witnessed. There was a long silence before the news channel came back on the air again.

In a hushed voiced Annika Raumov spoke again. “The sheer scale of this atrocity almost defies belief. There can be no words to describe the level of slaughter we have just witnessed. All our thoughts go out to those and their families who have perished in this senseless act on this tragic day.”

Dylan leaned over to Michael and whispered with a hint of anger, “I wonder if the E.D. F will do something now.”

Next morning there was another briefing, a tired looking Captain Wainwright was presiding. “The E.O.C. A council has unanimously voted to give the E.D. F full emergency powers. E.D. F command has therefore immediately sanctioned alert level one; and has begun mobilizing the entire E.D. F troop division as well as the Navy. As at 23.40 hours last night, we are officially at war with the Krenaran race.”

The Captain proceeded to play a video from the president of E.O.C. A, James Rushfeldt.

“My fellow citizens of Earth and the outer colonies; we have entered a dangerous new phase in the future of humanity; we have encountered our first alien civilization. However they are committed to the destruction and extermination of the human way of life. In response to this, the E.O.C. A council has passed full emergency power to the commander of E.D. F forces, Star Marshall Dornat,” the president gave a short pause.

“We have no choice but to declare war on these Krenarans, as we cannot stand by while they attack our military; our people; our homes, and our very way of life. They seek to eradicate us, until the last vestige of humanity is wiped from the stars,” pausing to take a breath, he continued.

“To this we say that the human race will not lie down and be destroyed, we will not go quietly into extinction! We will win this war, and we will win it for peace; for liberty; and for the human way of life!”

As one the cargo hold of the Ulysses erupted into cheers of, “for the human way of life!”

The Captain allowed the crew this minor infraction before quieting them down again with a wave of the hand.

“However our orders have not changed, we are still to go to the Agemman colony and find out what has happened there. As we speak the E.D. F Navy is being formed into battle groups to take the fight to the enemy, dismissed.”

And with that the officers left the briefing.

“About goddamn time,” Michael and Dylan both said to one another.

A day later the fleet arrived in the Agemman system. With multiple blinding flashes of light the vessels dropped out of plasma drive, and quickly fired up their inter-system boosters.

Michaels’ wrist-comm. chirped, and he pressed it.

“Lieutenant, anything on the targeting arrays,” the voice of Commander Angel cut in.

“Nothing yet, sir,” Michael replied.

“Okay; stay sharp, we don’t know where or when they are going to show up.”

“Yes sir,” Michael replied into his wrist-comm.

Outside; fighter patrols from the Furious were constantly sweeping the area. The sensor suites located within the main command super structure of the Ulysses were constantly scanning the surrounding area, trying to pick up any hint of the Krenarans’ presence, they still could find nothing.

Several hours later, when Captain Wainwright was happy that it was safe a landing team was organized.

To his surprise Michael was selected to be on the team. I must have really impressed Rennick, he thought.

He was due to form up on the shuttle deck in thirty minutes, however before then he had to go to the ships armoury and sign himself out an Armschlager MK35 pulse rifle.

The pulse rifle was a fairly recent addition to the E.D. F arsenal, only released five years ago. It fired bolts of highly charged laser energy at a target. Similar in function to the ubiquitous point defence lasers used aboard the larger ships and stations, however the pulse rifle was a lot less powerful. It still used a small laser pod which clipped into a receiver where the magazine would be on a standard rifle.

He also signed himself out a type 3 combat armour vest, and headed to his quarters where he quickly changed into his ‘landfall’ uniform; comprising of standard combat fatigues, boots, and a royal blue belt which signified that he was Naval personnel and not part of the E.D. F troop division.

When he had done this, he headed to an elevator and rushed to meet the other members of the landing team. It was made up of Commander Angel with his Mexican countenance, who was considerably younger than Wainwright headed up the team. Lieutenant Commander Janos, the ships medical officer. Rennick, Hudson, and Michael, as well as four members of the E.D. F troop division led by Sergeant Clayton.

The soldiers all had a badge of a Hammer wreathed in flame on their arms, with a number underneath it. This signaled they were part of the 254 ^ th hell hammers infantry division, the number below the image was their squad number; it was the same number 4 on all uniforms.

Before they boarded the shuttle, Commander Angel spoke to them. “Our communications team and the Furious have tried to contact the colony. But we have still had no response. So we don’t know what is down there until we land, I need everyone to be extra vigilant, understood?”

Everyone nodded, “yes sir.”

Together they boarded the shuttle. Rennick sat in the pilot’s seat, with Angel opposite him. Michael and the rest of the team were sat on seats that ran the length of the interior of the shuttle.

One of the small shuttle bay doors opened, revealing the ruddy coloured planet below, flecks of white cloud dotted the atmosphere below them.

The tiny shuttle slowly lifted up off the bay floor and accelerated out of the shuttle bay, and out into space.

Out of the small view port in the rear access hatch the awesome shape of the Ulysses could be seen gradually getting smaller, together with its escorting cruisers.

In the cockpit, there was a large window that ran its length where the atmosphere of the planet below could be seen rapidly becoming larger, as the shuttle closed in on its destination.

The windows on all the shuttles were made of a thick, toughened, heat resistant polycarbonate, and it had a small Gatling laser which provided it with limited defence in case of attack.

The shuttle began to shudder violently as it entered the atmosphere of the planet, flames played across the cockpit window as the heat of the atmospheric entry continued to increase.

The shuddering continued unabated, and the occupants were constantly jostled in their seats. Michael silently prayed they would make it through entry. He never did know why, but it always seemed to unnerve him. Rennick and Angel looked as calm as if they were walking the park however, they had done this a thousand times, where Michael had not.

Deep down he knew the shuttles’ 5cm thick bonded titanium hull would protect him.

Within minutes the shuttle had cut through the atmosphere of Agemman. Two small wings folded out from the underside of the shuttle for atmospheric flight.

As they headed towards the surface, they could see the blasted, smoking, charred remains of the colony pockmarked by craters all around it. From this altitude they couldn’t make out any signs of movement on the ground.

“Jesus; must have been one hell of a fight here too,” Rennick said, remembering the slaughter at Bravo Gamma base. Angel touched a control and the shuttles’ hydraulic landing legs began to lower. Shortly thereafter the shuttle gently touched down on the surface.

The rear access hatch of the shuttle blew, releasing the pressurised air within with a hiss, and slowly lowered. The nine people onboard exited the shuttle and the troop division members quickly fanned out to form a defensive perimeter.

Now that they were on the surface, what they witnessed shocked them all to the core. It was like witnessing the aftermath of an atomic blast.

Buildings everywhere were razed to the ground, rubble lay strewn across cracked, blasted streets. In the distance some of the buildings were still smouldering, which Micheal realised, they must have seen in flight.

The stench of smoke, death, and rotting meat lay everywhere, as bodies of men, women, and children were intermingled with the debris.

Michael let out an involuntary gasp and gripped his pulse rifle; sure the E.D. F had endured its fair share of pirate attacks. But nothing like this; this was wholesale slaughter.

Michael again felt sick to his stomach, especially looking at the maggot infested human wreckage laid all about the once busy streets; he tried not to think about it.

The landing party forced themselves to press on.

“We need to get to the colony hub,” Commander Angel said to the rest of the group. “Maybe there we will be able to find out who did this; follow me.”

They pressed on up what appeared to be a dusty major road, strewn with impact craters, rubble, and debris. On either side of this road, blackened, bombed out shops and buildings stood as testament to the destruction.

Michael noticed how quiet it was, not a moan or cry could be heard, not even an animal call or birdsong. It was deathly silent. It unnerved him.

Sergeant Clayton walked over to a large metallic looking object that glinted in the sun, catching his eye. The closer he got, the stranger it appeared. He tried to roll it over with his boot; it was far too heavy. Slinging his weapon over his shoulder he bent down, and with an effort managed to push it over.

What greeted him was the horrendous face of one of the aliens.

“Holy shit!” he shouted in panic, as he fell scrabbling on his backside. “You guys had better come over here,” he said as he tried to regain his composure.

The rest of the landing party hurried across the road to his position and when they arrived they saw a large being, clad in a kind of silvery body armour from its hip to its neck. Its face was reptilian; almost draconic in nature, and was a deep green colour. Its eyes had a rusty red hue to them.

The teeth looked sharp and pointed; and its legs and thighs were also armoured, however all of this armour appeared to be grafted directly onto the alien’s skin. There were three large tears in its armour at waist height, and a thick milky white ooze seeped out from its wounds.

“What the hell is it?” Angel said.

“Well it definitely isn’t human,” Michael replied.

“No shit, Sherlock!” Rennick said with a shake of his head.

One of its hands passed a close resemblance to a human hand; however it was larger and ended in small sharp claws. The other arm disappeared into a large complex cannon like weapon, with several wires and gauges built onto it. This also appeared to be grafted into the alien’s skin in places.

Lieutenant Commander Janos looked closer at the alien, and pulled out a medical scanner from a pouch on his belt. He passed the scanner over the alien.

“I’m not picking up any life signs, its definitely biotechnological anyway; similar to the Cerberus project the Americans tried before the formation of E.O.C.A.”

“What was the Cerberus project?” Michael asked.

“Project Cerberus was a top secret military project ran by the American government around 2025; it was an attempt to create biotechnological soldiers that could withstand far greater damage than conventional troops. With the hope of reducing casualties in a land war; however the project was cancelled,” Commander Angel replied.

“Why was the project cancelled Commander?”

Janos cut in, “ethical reasons mainly, human rights activists got wind of it; also the biological parts of the test subjects kept rejecting the technology, causing mortality rates to be too high.”

He turned and looked at the body in appreciation. “But this is far more advanced; I’d like to return it to the ship for further study Commander.”

“Sorry I can’t do that Lieutenant, we need to find out what’s behind the attacks, and how they did it. Besides we don’t know if there are any more of these things around, our best bet is still the colony hub,” Angel replied emphatically.

They left the body and continued up the road, although with a heightened degree of caution now.

Onboard the Ulysses, orbiting high above the planet surface; the bridge crew were busily monitoring the landing party, gathering pictures and evidence of the destroyed colony; as well as pictures of the dead alien.

Captain Wainwright watched the communications monitor intently, the glow of which lit up his lined features. A crewman passed him a mug of coffee.

“Thanks,” he said, quickly turning back to the monitor.

The display went completely blank.

“What the hell! Is there a problem with this monitor Ensign?”

“Negative Captain, the monitor is working fine, I’ve lost contact with the landing party, trying to re-establish now.”

“Try to send a message to the rest of the fleet,” Wainwright said as he made his way to the command chair.

“Channel clear sir,” the Ensign said.

“E.D.F. S Ulysses to task force six, communication check; repeat; communication check,” Wainwright spoke aloud.

“No response sir,” the Ensign replied.

“Did they receive the message?” Wainwright asked.

“Negative sir; I think we are being jammed!” The Ensign replied in alarm.

Wainwright raced over to the internal comm. and pressed a button. “All hands battle stations, repeat battle stations, this is not a drill.”

He looked over at Lieutenant Iuliov, the chief tactical officer onboard, “Lieutenant are all main guns fully loaded?”

“Yes sir; however our targeting arrays are having a hard time tracking them.”

“Anything on size or composition of enemy forces?”

“Negative as yet Captain.”

“Damn it, okay keep trying.”

Unbeknownst to the fleet, five ‘stealth’ ships and two large carriers were rapidly bearing down on their position.

Two of the stealth ships broke formation, and quickly veered off to attack the destroyers. While the other three bore down on the massive form of the Ulysses itself.

Back on the bridge of the battleship, Lieutenant Iuliov exclaimed aloud. “I’ve got two; no three possibles inbound, moving extremely fast.”

Wainwright raced over and took a look at the tactical display for himself. “That’s them; it’s got to be, port rail-cannons fire!”

With the sound of an immense thunderclap the rail-cannons hurtled their huge shells at near the speed of light. The entire Ulysses shook as the recoil from the salvo took its effect.

The shells slammed into the enemy ships almost instantaneously, and subsequently detonated with a deafening roar, completely enveloping the small ships in flame.

“We have direct hits on all three ships sir!” Iuliov exclaimed triumphantly, the entire bridge crew cheered their triumph.

The flames from the impacts of the rail-cannons died down slowly, revealing the hulls of the three enemy ships.

“Wait. That’s a negative Captain; targets remain, we barely slowed them down!” A worried Iuliov shouted over the din.

The three Krenaran ships continued to close on the Ulysses at a terrific pace.

The other two stealth ships began their onslaught against the destroyers. The Alberta was torn completely in two, as it was hit directly amidships. The force of the Krenaran energy weapons shearing the two halves of its hull apart, flames roared from the destroyed decks, and the screech of torn and buckled metal sounded its death scream.

The Yukon took a direct hit on its bow; the shot instantly decimating its sloping frontal section, flames wreathed the front of the vessel.

The remainder of the fleet tried to break orbit, but it was painfully slow, the medium cruisers began to turn to get a better shot at their foes.

The fighter bay doors on the upper deck of the furious slowly opened. Its entire fighter wing took flight.

The Ulysses opened fire once again with its rail-cannons, the thunderous boom again ringing out into space; two of its attackers were hit, while the third shot went astray.

The stealth ships returned fire on the mighty battleship. One shot slammed into the portside crew quarters block, causing carnage within as fire swept through multiple decks, dozens of officers and crewmen were swept out into the cold vacuum of space through the huge rents in the side of the ship.

A second shot smashed into one of the port rail-cannon emplacements, turning the huge weapon into a mass of flaming wreckage. The third shot tore into one of its turning thrusters, disintegrating it in a huge ball of flame and debris, which lit up the forward sections of the ship.

On the bridge of the Ulysses it was a scene of similar destruction; flames, collapsed girders, and the smashed remains of consoles littered the area. Several bodies of horribly mutilated crewmen lay motionless on the deck.

“Report!” a sweating, grimy Wainwright screamed over the din of the roaring flames and cries of the injured.

A battered Ensign replied, “We’ve lost port rail-cannon ‘B’. The port forward turning thrusters are also destroyed. Crew Quarters block A has taken a direct hit, heavy casualties reported.”

“Damnit!” Wainwright shouted. “Navigation; have we broken orbit yet.”

“Negative Captain, another thirty seconds at least.”

“Once we are clear, I want all power diverted to the main boosters, and then engage plasma drive; get us the hell out of here.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“What about the crew on the surface?” Iuliov asked.

“We can’t wait for them; we’ll have to leave them behind,” Wainwright responded.

He hated doing it, but it was the only choice. If the Ulysses hung around, the entire ship could be lost.

Slowly but inevitably, the two enemy carriers bore down on the battered, embattled E.D. F fleet. With a certain grim finality those deadly twin rectangular pods once again arose from the decks of the two huge alien ships. At the same time from underneath the carriers, waves of fighter craft advanced on the E.D. F force.

The remaining fighters of the Furious changed course to intercept this new threat, the E.D. F carrier also launched its own bomber wing. The mighty God-hammer bombers closed on the mysterious alien carriers.

Two stealth ships converged upon the Europa, the distinctive green energy beams ripped into its boosters, and the bright white torpedoes smashed into its hull. The flames lit up the impact sites of the torpedoes in a fiery orange glow, which gradually spread throughout the ship as internal fires took hold; before the cruiser finally blew itself apart in a huge fireball sending out a massive shockwave and spraying out debris in all directions.

The Endurance powered up its own boosters and started to chase down a stealth ship, both ships jinked this way and that to avert the mass of flaming wreckage and debris of the other ships.

The small; fast light cruiser managed to stay on the tail of the Krenaran vessel. The Endurance’s forward torpedo launchers lit up as three torpedoes streaked towards the Krenaran ship.

The enemy ship rapidly zigzagged to avoid two of the incoming torpedoes; however the third hit home, slamming into the Krenaran ships rear engines, and in a small explosion the brightly glowing blue strip blinked, and then finally faded out as the Krenaran ship slowed to a halt.

Aboard the battered, smoke filled bridge of the Ulysses, Lieutenant Iuliov shouted aloud in jubilation. “We got one, damnit we got one!”

“Who?” Wainwright shouted.

“The Endurance just took out one of the enemy ships’ engines with a torpedo shot, they must be vulnerable to our torpedoes.”

“Not necessarily, the Endurance may have just got lucky, but concentrate your shots on their engines anyway. Right now, we’ll take anything we can get.”

In retaliation, two of the stealth ships opened fire on the Endurance, twin beams of bright green energy hit the small cruiser directly amidships; blasting a massive ragged hole straight through the vessel; and sending it drifting through space, on fire and powerless. Multiple fires on board overwhelmed the small ship. Before it too exploded in a bright fireball, as its plasma tanks ruptured.

Elsewhere the E.D. F fighters and their Krenaran counterparts were locked in a bitter battle, both sides were taking casualties, as the mass of fighters jinked and danced around one another in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

God-hammer bombers managed to skirt around the worst of the fighting. And closed with one of the alien carriers; their deadly payload ready.

Two other stealth ships flew close to the Ulysses preparing for another run on the damaged battleship, its smaller point defence lasers blasting away in a desperate attempt to keep the Krenaran vultures from picking apart the ship.

The alien ships jinked left, right and quickly barrel rolled to avoid the incoming fusillade from the battleship. Before both unleashed their primary weapons; one shot tore into one of the primary dorsal rail-cannons, detonating it in a huge explosion that lit up the entire upper section of the ship. Flames and debris streamed out from the smashed emplacement.

The second shot sheared the command section clean off the ship, leaving a ragged hole in the hull of the battleship. The drifting; flaming wreckage of the command section became caught in the gravity well of the planet as it slowly began to burn up in orbit trailing smoke and flame.

This final punishment was ultimately too much for the Ulysses, and it listed. The beleaguered vessel caught within the gravity well of Agemman; it began to heat up, as it continued its uncontrolled descent into the atmosphere. The remains of the once proud battleship burst apart in the upper atmosphere trailing fire, debris and smoke.

The Furious, the only surviving E.D. F vessel remaining in the conflict tried to make a break for it. The huge boosters firing for all they were worth as the huge carrier desperately tried to get up some speed. It did manage to get some distance between it and the battle, under the cover of its few remaining fighters and bombers.

Its forward plasma emitters continued to power up, finally, twin streams of bright blue plasma arced out from the vessel and shot straight ahead of the ship; however as it accelerated toward the plasma wake multiple torpedoes from the approaching enemy carriers detonated the Furious’s engines and blew the carrier apart in a massive fireball, sending out a huge, bright shockwave.

Without a stable stream of energised plasma, the plasma wake disintegrated as quickly as it was formed.

The E.D. F fleet had been completely and utterly decimated.

Far below on Agemman itself, the landing party continued to carefully make their way towards the colony hub, completely unaware of the huge battle that had just taken place far above them.

Rennick held out his hand in a motion to stop. The party stopped dead. The Lieutenant Commander whispered, “can’t you hear that.”

“Hear what?” Juan Angel replied looking at Rennick.

The thud, thud, of heavy footsteps was barely audible, but was getting louder, and closer.

“Everyone into the ruins,” Clayton said quickly.

The rest of the landing party complied; and they quickly dove into the ruins. The party readied their weapons as they took up positions amongst the rubble. They were just in time as seven of the alien warriors strode into view.

The entire landing party stayed absolutely still, barely daring to breathe; Sergeant Clayton and the rest of the troops slowly trained their weapons on the aliens who thudded past them; also headed toward the colony hub.

One of the landing party troopers slowly eased into a better position to track the small alien group with his weapon, when a piece of unstable masonry gave way under his boot. The soldier fell, and tumbled down the rest of the broken pile of debris; causing a huge amount of noise and a plume of dust as he fell flat on his back onto the road just behind the alien patrol.

The Krenarans quickly spun around and let loose a guttural roar; levelling their large arm mounted weapons at the lone trooper.

The rest of the landing party hunkered down amongst the ruins and opened fire with their pulse rifles, with a fizz multiple blue flashes slammed home on the aliens.

The laser energy fired from the pulse rifles simply dissipated on the metallic armour of the alien warriors; one of the hulking brutes did go down though, as a shot slammed into its unprotected head; the ruin of its face spraying white ichor onto the cracked tarmac below.

One of the aliens returned fire, targeting the exposed trooper; a loud ‘wuu-doom’ noise came from the alien weapons as the trooper was blasted backwards into the air, completely off his feet and landing with a sickeningly wet thud on the road. His head snapped backwards with the force of the impact and smashed into the tarmac with a crack. A foot wide hole blasted through his mid-riff.

The rest of the alien force followed suit and opened fire into the ruins, their monstrously powerful cannons blasting away large chunks of masonry, and sending plumes of dust and debris high into the air.

Commander Angel took a lucky hit in the arm. The shot blasting his left arm clean off at the elbow spraying out blood from the wound. The force of the shot spun him almost completely around; he screamed in pain before a second shot blasted a hole through his back, pieces of torn intestine and gore splattered onto the rocks in front of him, as he was simultaneously catapulted face first into the debris.

Sergeant Clayton had managed to down another of the burly aliens. His pulse rifle blasting half of the aliens’ skull away; chunks of brain matter and white ichor flowed out of the half destroyed alien head. The warrior collapsed with a thud as its knees buckled.

Rennick poked his head up from his position to line up a shot; and was greeted with a cannon shot slamming into his face, exploding it like a crushed melon; spraying blood, bone, and brain matter onto the walls nearby.

Michael had seen enough of this wanton slaughter and his nerve gave out. He sprinted as fast as he could away from the slaughter; cannon shots fizzed past him as he ran, exploding into the rubble and tarmac all around him.

He never stopped running and never looked back.

Adrenaline kept him going; he ran past numerous ruined buildings, past abandoned shops with dusty smashed windows; empty of all stock.

Then as he carried on running he was rugby tackled to the ground; the bone crunching impact forcing the breath from his lungs.

Mad with panic and desperation, Michael lashed out blindly with his boot at his unseen assailant, catching nothing but fresh air. He felt the cold steel of a combat knife pressed to his throat.

“Who the hell are you!” shouted the man; holding Michael’s head so that he couldn’t make out his features.

“Lieutenant Michael Alexander. E.D. F Navy,” Michael said gasping for air; “who the hell are you!”

The man showed his face, he was a somewhat grizzled man, in his mid-thirties, with a slightly lined face and a dark brown moustache.

“My name is Major Nikolai Vargev; 1 ^ st E.D. F commandoes, troop division. Well now that the formalities are over with, get over there,” he said in a forceful Russian twang as he pointed to a small metal manhole cover; forcibly pushing Michael towards it.

Chapter 6


Inside the manhole they crawled into a large sewerage tunnel, which was tall enough for the both of them to stand up in.

It was gloomy, however some light was provided by the bulkhead lights fitted to the walls at regular intervals. The air absolutely stank. Michael had to seriously restrain himself from retching, however Vargev was barely fazed by it.

The two of them continued walking up the tunnel for what seemed about a mile. The tunnel slowly opened out into a larger, wider chamber, and on one side of it, there was a slightly raised platform. There three other soldiers were sat on upturned crates playing a game of poker.

They stopped their game as the two of them walked in, and in his customary Russian twang the commando announced, “Welcome to my new home Lieutenant,” Vargev and the rest of the soldiers laughed. Then the big Russian turned to Michael, an intense look in his eye.

“Do you know you could have killed out there, you stupid Navy bastard! Do you know what those aliens are capable of, they will blow your head clean off.”

“I know, I saw them attack the landing party I was with, we should go back for them,” Michael replied.

“Forget it, there all dead,” Vargev replied dismissively.

“You don’t know that Major!” Michael retorted.

“I know enough not to go looking for them and wind up dead too Lieutenant. We are holed up down here for a reason, the aliens haven’t come searching down here yet, they don’t think there is anything down here,” Vargev replied.

This got Michael thinking. “They mustn’t have the same drainage systems that we have wherever they come from. By the way the aliens are called Krenarans.”

“Whoop de doo, now that the pleasantries are over with, I say the only good lizard head, is a dead lizard head!” a soldier shouted, as he high fived another.

“Quiet!” Vargev shouted sternly.

“You’re all commandoes, right?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, so,” Vargev replied.

“You’re a long way from home; you’re based at bravo base, Alpha Centauri.”

“Yeah, we were sent on a training mission here a week before the attack on the Montfort. The whole colony went crazy, riots all over, people fighting and dying just to try and get off the damn planet, and then amongst the craziness those Krenarans attacked.” He bit into his lip as he remembered the carnage, before speaking again. “They seemed to have attacked at just the right moment to cause maximum casualties, with the troop division and the colony police trying desperately to keep a hysterical population in check, they were easy pickings,” he sighed. “To them we are only two things; slaves and food, it’s that simple. If the slaves co-operate they live; if not, they are fed amongst the others.” Vargev said with a genuine hint of sadness.

“How do you know this?”

“I’ve seen them in action, the population gets rounded up into slave chains, hundreds of meters long, then those ships come down and cart them off to god knows where. If any resist they are simply shot and left to rot,” Vargev replied shaking his head sadly.

“Not an end I would like,” another of the soldiers replied.

“How come you guys survived?” Michael asked.

“My detachment was 27 men strong when we arrived. We accounted for 44 of those lizard headed fuckers, then we were overpowered, started dropping like flies; constantly pushed back, until we arrived here, only ten of us made it, those Krenarans you call them don’t come down here, the other six died conducting lightning raids, so that’s it; just the four of us, nice and cosy.”

“How did you manage to kill so many of them?” Michael asked again.

“Got a lot of questions haven’t you navy boy, because we are tough sons of bitches! And because of our weaponry; we all carry the Armschlager. 44 calibre heavy machine gun. For some reason their armour seems to be vulnerable to solid ammunition; what have you got?”

Vargev walked over to Michael and checked out his weapon. “It’s one of those new fangled pulse rifles, which is absolutely useless; unless you hit them in the head.”

The Russian walked over to the rear of the platform and picked up another Armschlager that was leant against the wall; handing it over to Michael.

“Take this, it was Karllsons he was a good man; so take good care of it.”

Michael silently took the weapon, “so how long have you been down here?”

“Eight days,” Vargev replied nonchalantly.

“Eight days!” Michael repeated amazed, “how have you survived? What about food and water?”

“For food, we take what we can while out on raids, as for water there is plenty down here, Jackson has a purification kit in his pack.”

Michael tried to contact the Ulysses from his wrist-comm. blissfully unaware of the events in orbit. There was no reply.

“No ones answering”

“Forget it; they’re all dead, I saw the wreckage burning up in orbit just before I found you. Looked like a bunch of smoking meteors,” Vargev said without emotion.

“So I’m the only one left; Dylan, Captain Wainwright, all the other crew and the friends I served with all dead; damn this stupid fucking war!”

Vargev stomped over to him, “snap out of it soldier, its war, people die! Do you think I like being in this hell hole, drinking water that tastes like piss, day after goddamn day! I’d rather be sipping vodka in the motherland, but I’m not; the reality is we are here, and unless we are very careful, we might all fucking die; am I clear!”

“Yes Major”

“Am I fucking clear!” the Russian snapped.

Michael stood rigid, “yes sir.”


Later that day Vargev showed Michael how to operate the Armschlager, and not to waste his shots as ammunition was very limited.

He also explained that the average Krenaran was nearly 8 feet tall, and weighed approximately 400 pounds. “I’ve seen one of their punches snap a mans neck; so going in hand to hand is a no-go, instead we’ve got to pick our targets and out shoot them. We need to stay in cover. Our Armschlagers have a far greater rate of fire and are more accurate than their weapons, so we have the advantage, however theirs are much harder hitting.”

“I’ve seen what their weapons can do to a person.”

Later that night; Michael ate a ration pack, drank some of the purified water, and slowly drifted off into an uneasy sleep wondering how the hell did it all come to this?

Next morning he awoke to the sound of a shouting Vargev, “get up Lieutenant, we have work to do.”

“wha…What time is it,” a groggy Michael replied rubbing his eyes.

“Its 6.15 in the morning, scope has just located another slave chain, and we are going to free them.”

“Who’s scope?”

“That’s Jackson’s call name,” Vargev said pointing to the dark skinned man covered in camouflage drapes.

“The other two are hunter and piranha, I’m simply Vargev, and you shall be called.” Vargev stopped short thinking for a brief moment; “fodder,” he said with a mischievous smile.

He turned towards the other soldiers and said. “Now, let’s move out!”

In an instant the other soldiers were awake, had their weapons and were ready for action. Vargev handed Michael two magazines for his weapon.

“These are 30 shot magazines; so you have 60 shots in all, remember what I told you and make them count.”

“I will.”

“Oh, and one last thing; don’t try and be a hero out there, I know you’ve lost people you care about and your angry, but now is not the time to be like the Terminator; we don’t want to have to carry your sorry ass back as well.”

Michael wondered how the Major knew, but simply replied “yes, sir.”

The four of them headed out at a steady pace. Within minutes they were at the manhole cover.

Hunter slowly and silently lifted the cover; just enough to slip a mirror through the gap, turning this mirror he checked for any signs of lurking Krenarans.

After a few seconds he whispered, “clear.”

Quietly he crept out of the manhole, and allowed Vargev, Michael, and Piranha to do the same; before slowly and quietly closing it again.

Silently they made their way through the dusty desolation that had once been the Agemman colony. Far off in the distance Michael could hear weapons fire and small explosions; must be some other resistance cell, he thought.

As they carried on their seemingly endless journey, Michael grew more and more amazed at the skill the other commandoes were showing. Barely a sound was made as they moved through rubble and dust; always taking care of their footing and always keeping off the roads; silently but quickly moving from one building to the next.

Hunter held out his palm to the other commandoes, and then waved to the ground. The other commandoes flattened to the ground and stopped still, Michael followed suit.

One of the dark, evil looking stealth ships gently glided overhead, its wedge shaped black and silver form casting a deep shadow over the ground where they lay. Its engines resonated with a distinctive low pitched ‘thoom’ noise. Within a minute it was gone; lost over the horizon.

The soldiers slowly got back to their feet and pressed on with their journey. Michael was sweating under the hot, dusty conditions and took a drink of water from a flask he was carrying. They kept on moving for what seemed like an hour before Hunter stopped them again.

A Krenaran patrol was passing in front of them; the commandoes quietly crept into cover and trained their heavy armschlagers on them. Michael counted eight in total. The patrol was 200 yards off and getting closer. The commandoes quietly readied their weapons; the aliens continued to close, and were now just 70 yards off.

Michael could pick out their bright red eyes and black pupils; a bead of cold sweat slowly ran its way down Michael’s face, he dared not even breathe. One of the Krenarans seemed to look straight at him; and he thought they had been spotted; he almost brought his weapon up to fire, until at last the Krenarans carried on their way.

“Kuray al Vorkrosht,” one of the aliens said.

Once they were sure the Krenarans were out of sight, they pressed on. Half an hour later they met up with scope, who had travelled on ahead.

Carefully they crept up to his position. He pointed at his eyes, and then pointed directly ahead of him, signalling the Krenaran position. Vargev propped himself up just above a mound of rubble, catching a glimpse of the slowly moving slave chain in the distance.

The Russian dropped back down again and held out eight fingers to Hunter; the commando nodded signalling his understanding. Vargev then stuck his fingers into the dust and made eight depressions. Two at the front, two in the middle and two at the rear, silently they all nodded again.

The Russian then pointed at Michael and then pointed towards one of the depressions at the rear, Michael nodded; I’ve got the guy at the rear. He pointed at Piranha and pointed to the front depression, then pointed to himself and pointed to the other first depression. Finally he pointed at scope and gave a signal resembling a sniper.

Scope nodded, hefting his exotic looking sniper rifle; and fixed an infrared scope to the sight. He stayed where he was and covered himself and the rest of the weapon in desert drapes, making him virtually invisible within the surrounding dust and debris.

The rest of the unit split up; Michael mimicked the movements the other commandoes were making as they gradually crawled their way closer to the rear of the slave chain. While Vargev and Piranha moved ahead of the formation; Hunter crawled over to Michaels’ position.

Scope silently rested his weapon onto a small mound of rubble; switched on the infrared sight, and flicked the shot selector switch on the side of the rifle to single shot. Breathing lightly he peered into the scope, and adjusted the focus.

Vargev was now in position; the rest of the squad were just finishing getting into position also. A Russian voice came over the helmet radios, “now!” it said.

First into action was Scope. He squeezed the trigger, a muted crack, and the middle Krenaran fell, a gaping hole punched into the side of the aliens head spewing white ichor onto the ground.

In an instant he had sighted the other middle Krenaran, another dull crack; and the alien joined his friend; the force of the impact snapping its head back and exploding its skull like a melon.

The rear Krenarans spun towards scopes’ position, and were mercilessly chopped down by the rapid gunfire of Michael’s and Hunters Armschlagers; three high powered rounds slammed into each of the Krenarans chests ripping their mid sections apart, both were thrown backwards in a spray of white ooze. Simultaneously, Vargev and Piranha popped up from their positions in front of the chain, their weapons bucking as multiple rounds smashed their way into the final two Krenarans, who also fell backwards; white ooze flowing out from huge holes ripped through their armour.

The slave chain was in a state of total panic, with no idea who their attackers were, and driven half mad by their experiences; men and women desperately tried pulling on the chains to get away from the sounds of the weapons fire. They quickly calmed when they realised they were E.D. F troops.

Hunter searched out a pair of bolt cutters from his pack; one by one, he cut the manacles shackling the slaves and set them free. One of them was desperately begging Vargev to take them with him; the Russian repeatedly refused, finally with a stern “no.”

The man dressed barely in rags ran away and rejoined the other fleeing slaves.

Michael walked up to Vargev and asked, “why couldn’t we have taken them with us?”

“Because we don’t have the resources to take proper care of them; plus they are a liability, they would slow down our operation too much.”

“Major, they are human beings!”

“We’ve done what we can; now it’s up to them.”

“But Major…”

Vargev cut him off, “that’s my final word on the subj…”

Suddenly an energy blast smashed apart a piece of rock very near where they were stood.

“Take cover!” Vargev screamed at the top of his voice.

Both Michael and Vargev sprinted for all they were worth towards the ruins; more energy blasts thumped into the ground as they ran, throwing up great plumes of dust.

Piranha spun round to bring his weapon to bear, however he was hit directly in the chest; the force of the blast throwing him through the air, before slamming him into the dust convulsing; then he was still, a gaping crimson hole blasted into his chest.

Hunter was also caught out in the open; desperately he ran for cover, blast after blast ripping into the dust around him as he ran for safety; before finally a shot slammed into his leg blowing it completely off at the knee. The force of the impact sent him sprawling into the air; he landed flat on his back with an almighty thud, crying out in absolute agony and clutching at his ruined, bloody stump of a leg.

With adrenaline pumping he managed to pick up his weapon and kept the trigger pressed; the heavy machine gun bucked and swayed as a hail of heavy calibre slugs tore into two of the on-rushing Krenarans. One was almost sawn in half by the hail of hot lead. It collapsed into a bloody mess; entrails unfurling into the dust.

A second aliens head completely disappeared in a white froth; the headless body slumped forward onto the ground next to its comrade. The rest of the commandoes were all giving covering fire, and were shouting desperately for hunter to get into some sort of cover.

Michael was almost deafened by the fierce fusillade of gun fire; Scope switched his weapon onto full auto and began pumping shots into the advancing Krenarans, three more of the armoured reptilian brutes fell; one clutching its ruined face, yet still more came on, their shadows appearing over a mound of rubble some twenty feet high.

Hunter was still desperately crawling for cover; his stump of a leg leaving behind a crimson smear across the ground as he heaved himself closer. He was barely three feet away from a small patch of rubble when a shot slammed into his back; the impact smashing him face down into the dirt and forcing him to spit out a great gobbet of blood.

More shots slammed into scopes position throwing up plumes of dust and masonry; one of which sliced across his right eye, several other razor sharp pieces of debris cut into his face and upper body. Blood spurted out from the ruined eye and ran down his face; trying his hardest to ignore the searing pain, he levelled his weapon and opened fire again; spraying the oncoming Krenarans in yet more lead. Two more of the vicious aliens fell; one was hit half a dozen times in the chest, tearing it apart in a spray of white blood and heavy bone matter. The second one’s head was torn open as two slugs ripped into its forehead, spraying more blood and shredded brain matter into the dust. Both fell simultaneously.

However the wounded sniper was greeted by a returned shot; the force of which smashed him into a ruined wall behind him, his bleeding ruin of a face lolled on his back, his neck snapped in two, he finally collapsed into the dirt with a sickeningly wet thud.

Now only Vargev and Michael remained, and the Krenarans were right on top of them, they both tried to bring their weapons to bear again; but the towering warriors simply swatted them aside, both heavy machine guns landed with a loud clatter on the ground.

They went to punch their Krenaran adversaries; the aliens caught their fists in a vice like grip, and hurled them both to the ground, letting out a dull roar as the humans fell; Michael gasped in pain as he felt a rib crack.

“That’s enough!” Roared another Krenaran approaching from a little way off, this one was visibly larger than the others; Michael thought he must be approaching ten feet tall. He was broader and more muscular than any of his comrades, and gave off an air of smug supremacy over the surrounding Krenarans.

Both Michael and Vargev were dumbfounded that the Krenaran spoke English; even more than they were in awe of his sheer size and power.

“Did you not think we had deciphered your language?” This huge Krenaran looked down on them with a sadistic grin.

Michael and Vargev simply nodded a no.

“Of course we did; we simply choose not to use it. Since the Krenaran language is naturally superior,” the Krenaran said laughing sarcastically.

The two men just stared; amazed that this huge being was even speaking English, especially since the translators were having such a hard time deciphering their language.

The Krenaran pointed a green reptilian finger at Michael. “You are a pilot, part of a landing team that touched down yesterday are you not?”

“Errr… yes,” Michael stammered.

“And you are Major Vargev; yes?”

Vargev simply nodded.

“Your reputation proceeds you Major; your raids have grown quite famous on this worthless lump of rock you call a planet,” the Krenaran hissed.

Vargev simply raised an eyebrow and smiled menacingly, “glad to be of service.”

After a brief pause, the huge Krenaran spoke again, “Where are my manners; my name is Axus, second in command of the Krenaran military. My orders are not to harm you but to present you as trophies for my master.”

“And who is your master?”

“Oh, you will find out soon enough,” Axus replied with a wicked smile.

The Krenaran waved to his closest comrades, “bring them.”

Axus strode out in front, while the other guards took up positions behind them, their weapons constantly trained on the two small human captives.

They all started walking; neither Michael nor Vargev had any clue as to where. Michael began favouring his rib as he walked, the pain built up until it was almost unbearable.

Eventually he let out a loud gasp of pain. Axus immediately spun on the spot; looking the little human up and down.

“What is wrong with you?”

“It’s my rib, I think it’s broken.”

“When did this happen?”

“When your guards threw us to the floor!” Vargev shouted.

Axus turned and viciously cuffed one of his guards sending the burly 8 foot tall warrior sprawling to the ground; a thin smear of white blood trickled from just above the warriors’ brow.

“Al orash mulv krel lok ev kriladeth!”

The injured Krenaran simply bowed his head, saying nothing. Axus pressed a small catch on his shining wrist armour and a small cover slid open, inside there was a small black box. The Krenaran opened it, and within was what resembled a small scanner, and some tiny medical instruments.

Michael was still favouring his ribs.

“Remove your hand,” Axus said as he passed the scanner over Michaels’ mid-riff. The Krenaran studied the results; before taking out another rather scary looking implement; Michael backed off slowly.

“It’s okay,” Axus said as softly as his booming voice would allow.

Nikolai nodded approvingly at Michael; however the Lieutenant was not so sure.

“This may hurt a little,” Axus said as he plunged the device deep into Michael’s ribs. He screamed aloud in absolute agony as his ribs were consumed in a searing pain; like fire coursing through each bone. Then suddenly there was nothing; no pain, no aches, nothing. Michael gingerly felt his ribs, none were broken.

Axus removed the bloodied implement from his body without any pain whatsoever; a very small laser at the end of one of the tips of the instrument cauterised the wound. The huge Krenaran wiped the blood soaked device down and placed it back into the small kit, before returning it to its previous hidey hole inside his wrist armour.

Michael stood dumbfounded, before managing “wha…what the hell was that thing?”

“It is a gulthrops, roughly translated it means, bone fixer.”

“I wish we had one of those, the closest thing we have is the laser scalpel.”

“You pitiful humans; you fly around with your huge, cumbersome, slow ships. You have your observatories and deep space telescopes probing the stars; yet you are still blind, and you still have much to learn about the universe. It is a shame that your people will never get the chance to learn it,” Axus replied laughing sarcastically once more.

“I will remind you of that, when your head is at the foot of my boot; comrade,” Vargev hissed back at Axus.

“I doubt it.”

The big Russian looked across at Michael shaking his head in dismay at his apparent girly screams, but said nothing.

They carried on walking for what seemed like twenty minutes; and then suddenly the party stopped in a wide open clearing.

Another Krenaran passed Axus a small black device, and he spoke into it. “Selden al ariath kan ularieth,” he said, then passed it back to the other Krenaran.

They waited for what seemed like another twenty minutes before a familiar black shape appeared on the horizon and quickly glided towards them.

The shape of one of the monstrous black and silver stealth ships slowly glided into view overhead, then hovered in mid-air, barely 100 feet directly above them.

Michael saw that up close the enemy ships seemed to be made of a non reflective alloy; underneath the vessel was a dizzying array of conduits which trailed out from a small half orb which was again made of the same alloy, this orb-like structure was located in the centre of the craft. Michael assumed that it must be the vessels main plasma drive system.

Slowly the vessel began to descend, throwing up huge clouds of dust into the air; both Michael and Vargev had to shield their eyes from the deluge. They coughed and spluttered, as they could hear the whirring of powerful hydraulic landing legs lowering into position, and then a deep thump as the vessel set down. There was a final dull drone as the vessel powered down its systems.

An almost invisible black hatch began to open, and a lit up boarding ramp extended to the ground in front of the party.

The other Krenarans gently pushed their human prey in the direction of the ramp; this time taking care not to damage their apparently precious human prisoners.

“You should feel lucky,” Axus exclaimed. “Not many Terrans get to see the inside of a Krenaran cruiser.”

“We call them stealth ships,” Michael corrected; almost stumbling as the other Krenarans pushed him on.

“Aptly named,” Axus replied with a smirk.

“Where are you taking us?” Vargev asked suspiciously, breaking his silence for the first time.

“To the holding area,” Axus answered matter of factly.

“So we are prisoners then?”

“Of course,” Axus laughed. “You don’t think we would give you free reign of the ship do you?”

“Of course?” Vargev smiled wanly. That’s all I need to know, he thought.

“What is to become of us, once we are delivered to your master?” Michael asked, suddenly with a bit more confidence in his voice.

“That is for my master to decide, he may use you as his personal playthings, slaves, or he might use you as sport. He might just chew on your frail little bodies though I can’t think why, there’s not much meat on you,” Axus said, looking them both up and down.

“Great,” Michael replied, feeling suddenly sick.

They rounded a gloomy corridor which entered out into a row of crowded cells. They contained humans and aliens of all shapes and sizes; the whole area stank.

Both Michael and Vargev noticed that two Krenarans were guarding the area. They were escorted to a cell containing only one other alien crouched in a corner; they had absolutely no idea who he was.

The blue-white haze of a force field appeared before them; one of the guards reached out and pressed a button and the force field disappeared. They were both shoved forcefully inside, the guard pressed the same button; and the haze of the force field re-appeared. Within a split second it had become transparent and invisible once more.

Michael ran to try and put his arm through the opening of the field. The haze appeared directly in front of him again; and with a crack a bolt of electricity shot into his fingers. Michael shuddered and was thrown backwards a pace or two, gripping his fingers in pain.

On the other side of the field Axus said laughing, “I would be careful if I was you, that is a pressure sensitive electric field. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.” And with that; he and the rest of the Krenarans, except for the two guards, left the area.

“We’re trapped like fucking rats,” Vargev said.

Michael turned to face the other alien in the cell, “so, how long have you been here?”

The alien spoke; it was an unnerving sound, a little disconcerting. It was very soft, and had a slight echo to it, as if many voices were speaking all at the same time.

“Nearly a month,” it said.

“A month!” Michael gasped; shocked.

He noticed that the alien looked almost human, although with a slightly blue-ish tinge to its skin. It was bald and thinner than most humans; yet taller when it stood on its slender, thin legs, which almost looked like they couldn’t support the alien’s weight, yet strangely they did.

Vargev was watching the guards intently, while Michael continued to speak to this new alien.

Chapter 7

The great escape

“Tell me about yourself; do you have a name, how did you get here?”

“My name is Kerulithar; I am from a race called the Solarians.” He took a slight breath. “We come from Solaris IV, and are a peaceful race. I am an ambassador for my people, and was on my way to peace talks on a far off world; when my ship was attacked and boarded.” His head bowed sadly as he remembered the incident. “The Krenarans killed those of us who resisted, and took the rest of us prisoner here. I managed to self destruct my ship just before I was captured; lest our technology fall into Krenaran hands.”

“Are you an advanced species then?”

“Yes; our people possess some of the most advanced technology in the known galaxy; however much of it is geared towards peaceful uses, exploration, and the sciences for example,” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. “We avoid conflict wherever we can, however in the very rare occasion when we are roused to war our military is extremely powerful and highly effective. That’s why the Krenarans try to pick off lone ships in our case; like mine.” Kerulithar said betraying just a hint of enmity.

“What do you think of the Krenarans?”

“We have a word for them; it is Kaeladron. It means wolves of the galaxy, they are the galaxies scavengers, and they prey on weaker races in their expansionist regime, putting the captured people to work in giant slave factories hidden deep within Krenaran space; where they build more ships and weapons so they can do the same all over again. They won’t rest until all the galaxy is theirs,” the Solarian said with a palpable disdain in his voice.

“How do we fight them?”

The Solarian laughed, a strange echoic sound. “The human spirit is a remarkable thing; even in this impossible situation, you still try to gain some sort of advantage.” A smile began to form across his previously sad lips.

“We know terra exists; we have been there. More than once in fact; watching from the shadows as it were, your race shows great promise. Tell me, do you think Roswell and Tunguska was a hoax?”

Michael thought back to his history classes as a child; eventually remembering the Roswell and Tunguska incidents, suddenly it dawned on him. “That was you?” Michael asked aloud, drawing looks from some of the myriad of other captured aliens; and an angry look from Vargev.

“Yes; in both situations unfortunate accidents, in the Tunguska incident one of our vessels developed a problem with its gravitic engines while surveying your planet and went into freefall,” Kerulithars blue tinged hairless brow furrowed as he remembered the story. “Fortunately the pilot managed to get the engines working again just before the ship was about to crash. However the sheer force of gravity emitted by the engines so close to a forest; flattened it,” he shifted in his seat as he spoke. “As for Roswell, one of your primitive jet fighters managed to hit one of our craft. The craft was not damaged; but the impact of the explosion forced us to crash,” he paused for a short breath. “Both pilots were injured and could not be saved by your limited medical facilities, we deemed at the time that you were not yet ready to be exposed to us. And we sent another ship on a rescue mission to retrieve the captured vessel and the dead pilots. A week later they were back in Solarian space.”

“How do you know this?” Michael asked; forehead furrowed in thought.

“Both incidents were common knowledge on Solaria. That is what we call our Homeworld; it was debated for weeks. What do you call your homeworld?”


“Earth; interesting, on the galactic map it is called Terra III.”

The Krenaran guards started to relax, Vargev eyed them intently. The three of them could almost feel the vessel they were aboard start to accelerate rapidly.

“We are entering plasma drive,” the Solarian pointed out.

“You never answered my question, how do we fight the Krenarans?”

“We have been watching your war since it started, but we have a strict non-interference policy,” he said brows once again furrowed in thought. “Estimating your current technology level; and the weapons you have at your disposal, you will be destroyed within one year,” he betrayed a hint of sadness.

“The only advantage you have is your laser weaponry. Your ships are overlarge, slow, and cumbersome. Your main weapons lack power; but if your ships can get close enough your laser weapons may well do some damage, though I fear it may not be enough,” Kerulithar replied grimly.

“Then how can we win?”

“Put simply; you can’t, not without help. Humanity is a small emerging nation on the galactic scene, and you are not yet strong enough to oppose any of the major galactic powers, this is exactly why they chose to attack you.” He said, speaking slowly to allow Michael the chance to take this in. “The Krenarans are becoming more daring in their attacks; they have even begun attacking some of our own ships, testing our resolve, even though Krenaran ships cannot match our own in battle.”

“And you can’t interfere,” Michael said with a sigh. “So the human race is effectively doomed.”

“There is one way you may be able to turn the course of your war,” the Solarian said; his blue eyes looking down upon the dejected Michael. “You can formally ask our people for aid; an alliance would be beneficial to both our peoples.”

“What do we have that could possibly interest you?”

“Several of your planets have in abundance, one of the rarest natural resources in the known galaxy. You just don’t know it yet.”

“Which is what?”

“Water; why do you think that there are so few inhabited planets in the universe; they all lack water, you ferry it between colonies in vast freighters. We have to terraform our planets and install vast climate processors to maintain our water levels; but to have a supply to trade with other races, now that is worth something,” the Solarian said with awe.

The two Krenaran guards appeared to be summoned elsewhere, and left the room. Instantly Vargev sprang into action. He took off his combat boots and pulled at their heels; with a faint click they separated, revealing a small compartment, within each compartment there were some small mechanical parts.

“What are you doing?” Michael said.

“While you have been chatting away like an old woman, I’ve been thinking of a way out.”

“What are those?” Michael asked looking at the parts.

“Parts for a stripped down hand laser; we don’t have much time, the guards will be back soon,” Vargev replied.

He rammed his fingers down his throat; and was promptly sick on the floor of the cell. Michael gave the Russian a look of disgust; feeling queasy himself, he held his nose and turned away.

Vargev fished around within his own puke, and found another small part.

“You’re disgusting,” Michael said with derision.

“It’s going to get us out of here, isn’t it?”

“What is that you just puked up then?”

“Pre-fire chamber, I swallowed it this morning.”

“You knew we were going to be captured!” Michael shouted; desperately trying to quell a rising temper.

“Be quiet; no I didn’t, but I prepared for it anyway, first rule of battle kid, nothing is quite what it seems.”

He connected the pre-fire chamber to the other parts that were hidden within his boots; together they formed the barrel of the weapon.

“Very inventive your friend is,” Kerulithar pointed out to Michael.

Next Vargev fumbled around inside his underwear, and fished out three more small parts, Michael recognised these. It was a small pistol grip; a press button for a trigger, and a small laser ammunition pod.

“I bet that must have been uncomfortable.”

“You learn to live with it,” Vargev replied as he slotted the press button into place on the grip; then attached he grip to the barrel, and with a faint click it too was secured. Finally he plugged in the laser pod and the weapon was ready.

“When you see the guards coming, pretend you’re really ill, so that the guards will come closer; got it.” Vargev said to Michael.

Michael shook his head, “as if they are going to fall for that old chestnut?”

“They might; they don’t know anything about us really either,” Vargev reminded Michael.

“Okay; but it’s only our grave if it fails.”

“Will you stop with the negative; it will work,” Vargev reiterated. “Listen this hand laser is only good for ten close range shots before it runs out; so when I kill the guards. You grab the weapons understood.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, their weapons are grafted onto their arms,” Michael protested.

“Then un-graft them!” Vargev replied growing more heated.

“A simple, but effective plan,” the Solarian replied.

“Be quiet!”

They waited for at least ten minutes; the guards didn’t re-appear. Michael turned and looked at the Solarian’s clothes and wondered why he didn’t notice how strange they were before.

Kerulithar also looked down at what he wore; following Michaels gaze. Finally he said, “it’s a Gudakra, a Solarian ambassadorial robe; my badge of office.” The robe was a golden colour, with deep red bands that ran its length; strange golden symbols adorned each band.

“What do the symbols mean?”

“They are mediations that I have taken part in. All Solarian ambassadors wear these robes.”

Vargev heard movement, and turned just in time to see the Krenaran guards re-enter the room.

Michael pretended to cry out in agony; dropping to the floor screaming and writhing for all he was worth in mock pain. For once Vargev was impressed with his acting.

The guards hurried over. “What is wrong with this Terran!” they said in their deep gruff voice. All the while Michael was screaming and writhing in pseudo agony.

“His appendix is rupturing, he needs help; he can’t survive without it!” Vargev lied as convincingly as he could muster. They shut off the field and bent down to lift Michael up.

“Axus will be angry if his prized possessions are damaged; however you will not die,” one of them said.

“But you will!” Vargev shouted as he instantly brought the small weapon up and opened fire at point blank range, blasting a small, neat hole through the first Krenarans skull; white ichor spewed out from the wound, and the Krenaran fell backwards with a thud. Narrowly missing landing on Michael.

The other Krenaran tried to bring his weapon into play but two shots, one through the chest which staggered the brute; and the second slammed through his eye socket, silencing him forever. The remainder of the captured aliens were screaming and yelling to be set free; both Michael and Vargev could barely think under the din.

Michael quickly grabbed the arm of the closest Krenaran, and tried to blow off the arm of the other. However he couldn’t find the trigger to the strange weapon. His heart was pounding; they would both be discovered soon for sure, Vargev was covering the doorway.

He tried pulling and pushing but couldn’t get the weapon to fire; the shouts and screams from the prisoners were almost deafening. Finally he twisted the long shiny metallic barrel; and with a click, the weapon came away from the arm.

“They’ll be here any minute!” Vargev shouted back desperately to Michael, who had found that the weapon was connected via a thick cable; to a power supply embedded in the Krenarans’ shoulder.

“I’ve got to be real careful with this!” Michael shouted over the din.

“Just do it damn quickly!”

He found that the trigger was a red coloured button, actually within the barrel of the giant weapon. Carefully he aimed the cannon; and blasted the other dead Krenarans’ arm off just above the shoulder. A spray of white ooze splattered over the nearby surfaces; Michael raced over to the amputated arm and disconnected the fist from the weapon.

Using all his strength he gradually tore the power unit out of the dead Krenarans’ shoulder, slinging it over his own; it was still wet and dripping with white ooze. He hefted the heavy barrel of the weapon with both hands; now he was ready.

“You finally ready now? Never ask a fucking Navy boy, to do a soldiers job,” Vargev muttered as he slowly poked his head around the entrance; it was clear.

“Move!” He shouted as the Russian ran down a straight corridor; Michael in hot pursuit.

“What about the Solarian?”

“We’ll come back for him once we’ve secured the ship,”

Vargev replied, eyeing up the next corridor.

Two Krenarans emerged out of a set of automatic metal doors. Surprised at seeing the two humans loose on the ship they hesitated for a split second; Vargev dispatched one with ruthless efficiency. Two laser shots slammed into its head; the Krenaran fell against the corridor wall, pumping white ichor onto the wall and floor.

The second managed to fire a shot off, Vargev could feel the heat from the shot as it fizzed past him and blew a hole through a bulkhead behind him. That was damn close.

Michael fired his new makeshift weapon; the recoil of the thing nearly knocking him backwards, the shot hit home; blasting a deep ragged white hole in the Krenarans’ chest. The force of the impact knocked the Krenaran campletely off its feet; it slammed into the end of the corridor with a dull crack as its head the wall.

“Five shots left!” Vargev shouted as they sprinted past the dead Krenarans.

“We need to get to the bridge; or whatever this ship uses as a command centre.”

“Good plan. Do you see a map anywhere? Neither do I; so let’s move!”

Together they sprinted along the corridor those two Krenarans came from; as he was running, Michael spotted something just out of the corner of his eye.

“Wait!” He shouted to Vargev as he slowed to investigate, “there’s a map right here.” Running up to it, he quickly began studying it just as another Krenaran entered the corridor from a door further ahead.

Vargev quickly dispatched it with a shot from his laser, “four shots.”

Michael looked at the display; it showed several red decks, with a flashing middle deck. And a thick black line that led up to a small blue deck, there were several symbols that Michael didn’t understand.

“This deck is going to be crawling with Krenarans, can we fucking go now!” Vargev shouted across to him.

Michael ran over to where Vargev was stood, “at the end of this corridor there’s an elevator; we need to take it; it runs directly to the bridge I think.” He said as he stopped for a breath.

“You think; that’s the best you can do?”

“Hey, I’ve never been on an alien ship before either, remember!”

Vargev kept quiet; he couldn’t argue the point, neither of them had been on an alien ship before.

They ran past what appeared to be an intersection of two corridors, there were two Krenarans on either side running towards their position.

One of the aliens loosed off a shot as the two humans sprinted past. The shot fizzed past Vargev’s right leg, blowing a fist size hole into the deck plating next to him. Vargev could feel the heat from the shot scorch his fatigues and winced slightly.

They sprinted as fast as they could towards the elevator at the end of the corridor; the four Krenarans in hot pursuit.

Together they both vaulted into the elevator just as the Krenarans let loose with their weapons. One shot scorched the edge of Vargevs’ boot, melting away some of the sole, and another narrowly missing Michaels’ left arm. As he jumped, Vargev twisted his body rapidly in mid air; his back slammed into the elevator wall, the laser instantly trained on the rapidly approaching Krenarans.

Michael quickly got to his knees and opened fire; one of the Krenaran’s heads instantly disappeared into a mist of white froth and brain matter.

The other Krenarans flung the headless warrior aside and hurtled towards the two humans. However they were too far away; the elevator doors slowly closed shut.

A deep, gruff sounding voice said, “Gorush’te,” from inside the elevator.

“Does that mean destination?”

“Probably? What’s the Krenaran word for bridge?”

“I’ve no idea,” Michael replied panicking.

“Shit!” They both said in unison.

Two head size holes suddenly blasted through the elevator doors.

“Holy shit!” Vargev shouted.

Michael hefted his weapon so that it was pointed straight upwards and fired two shots, blasting open a large hole in the roof of the elevator.

“Up there!”

“Now you’re thinking like a commando.”

Michael put his palms together and gave Vargev a boost; the Major hauled himself onto the roof of the elevator and grabbed Michaels arm. The big Russian heaved with all his might. Michael just about managed to scrabble up onto the elevator roof as well; just as the Krenarans succeeded in blowing open the elevator doors entirely.

The aliens quickly checked the interior; there was no sign of the humans. One of them looked up and saw the hole that Michael had made in the roof.

“Kunesh Gorald Desh!” One of the Krenarans shouted as the alien disconnected his weapon from his hand; and reached up, putting both huge hands through the makeshift escape hatch. He heaved his head through, however in the dark gloom of the lift shaft he could see nothing.

The alien dropped back down inside the elevator with a thud.

There was a flight of steel rungs that led up to the top of the elevator shaft. Michael and Vargev were perched on a narrow access hatch barely two rungs up from the elevator roof. The only light in the shaft came from a small white light affixed to the top of the shaft far above which cast their position into a deep shadow.

Vargev pointed to four strange contraptions; two on each side of the elevator roof.

“Do they look like brakes to you?”

Michael risked a quick glance at the damaged roof and nodded an affirmative.

An evil smile crossed Vargev’s lips. “Shall we give them something to remember us by?”

Michael nodded again. Understanding what the major meant. He aimed his weapon; and let loose four shots, one at each brake. The elevator swung wildly; then finally the last shot sent it plummeting at a horrific speed straight to the bottom of the lift shaft; where it smashed into the floor. The force of the impact crushed the elevator and the occupants inside. Finally it exploded in a huge fireball that swept up the entire lift shaft; bathing it in a bright yellow-orange glow and rocked the entire ship.

Michael and Vargev stood as far back on the narrow hatch as they could manage, as the fireball just about bypassed them and continued to rise up the shaft, finally dissipating on the ceiling.

The two men started climbing the rungs up the dark, high lift shaft. Michael hoisted the heavy Krenaran weapon over his shoulder. The weight of the thing made his shoulder ache constantly as he climbed.

The small white light at the top of the lift shaft suddenly changed colour into a red one bathing the shaft in a deep ruddy glow. A barely audible siren began to wail in the distance.

“Looks like they’re on to us,” Vargev said.

“They must have found the dead Krenarans.”

They re-doubled their efforts to get to the top of the shaft; rung by rung they pressed on. By now Michael’s shoulder felt like it was on fire, but he knew he simply couldn’t stop; he just had to keep on going.

Eventually they neared the top of the shaft. The entrance to the command centre was on the far side, how were they going to get from the rungs to the entrance?

Vargev thought for a moment; it was risky, but there was a small overhang just below the entrance. He would have to jump for it; checking that his hand laser was safely stored and wasn’t going to fall out, the big Russian bent his legs; and with a huge effort leapt across the lift shaft. His hands managed to gain a slight purchase on the ledge. For a moment which almost seemed like an eternity he just dangled there; 40 meters above the fiery remains of the destroyed elevator desperately trying for more grip.

Slowly and with a tremendous effort he managed to gingerly haul himself up onto the ledge. “You have to jump as well!” Vargev shouted over the noise of the wailing siren.

“What If I don’t make it?”

“What’s this, a Navy boy who’s afraid of heights?” Vargev tutted, “what would your Captain say.”

“I’m not afraid. I was just pointing out a fact.”

A door quickly slid open on the deck below where Vargev was standing; a Krenaran emerged, spotted Michael and quickly opened fire.

The shot blew off one of the rungs just above Michaels’ head, one of his hands lost its grip, flailing, he dangled there one handed. The rung flew past his head with a whoosh as gravity took it; before it hit the remains of the elevator below with a loud clang.

Michael was temporarily blinded by the shot, his pulse began to race; frantically he reached for the rung his other arm was clung to, barely managing to find it.

“Jump!” Vargev shouted in desperation.

Michael braced himself and leapt across the elevator shaft, just as a second shot blasted a hole into the wall where Michael had previously dangled. He almost didn’t make it across; at the last second Vargev reached out and grabbed his forearm, hauling him up onto the ledge.

The Krenaran below fired again; blasting a large chunk out of the ledge they were standing on; rocking it and nearly throwing both men off.

Quickly they walked to the doors that signified the entrance to the command centre; they didn’t open.

“Must have sealed off the bridge,” Vargev said.

“Move out the way,” Michael sighed as his sight slowly returned.

Levelling the Krenaran weapon he fired three quick blasts straight at the door; the first two buckled it, the third shot blasted a hole big enough to step through.

Vargev retrieved his laser and sprinted headlong towards the opening; he dove through it and executed a neat forward roll upon landing; coming up firing. One of the Krenarans turned in his elaborate white seat to face him and was greeted by two laser shots dead in the chest, the alien collapsed back down onto the seat and then fell limp; face first onto the floor. A split second later Vargev had trained his improvised weapon on a second Krenaran; the alien fell forward with two laser shots in the back, its body smashed into the console he was using sending a shower of sparks and glass across the command centre.

“I’m out!”

Michael burst into the room, and hefting his weapon he quickly blew a hole in the midsection of a third Krenaran preparing to rush Vargev.

The huge form of Axus came barrelling towards them; with a deep roar he shouted, “I will gut you Terran!”

He shoulder barged Michael; smashing him to the floor. Pain lanced across Michael’s back as he slammed hard onto the deck; his weapon clattered along the floor to the side of him.

The massive Krenaran commander smashed a chair out of the way and sprinted full pelt towards Vargev. The Russian desperately tried to dodge the onrushing behemoth; however Axus was simply too fast.

Vargev swung a right hook managing to connect; the Krenaran wasn’t even fazed by the puny blow. The monstrous alien simply unleashed a guttural roar and gripped the Majors throat; with a show of supreme strength he lifted Vargev clean into the air, holding him there, the aliens’ massive vice like grip clamped around the Russians throat.

Vargev coughed and spluttered; twisting this way and that looking like a tiny worm in the grip of a monster; desperately trying to break free from the huge aliens’ deadly grip; however Axus was simply too strong. The alien brought his other fist back; lining up a blow that if it hit, would surely snap Vargev’s neck. The desperate Russian was weakening rapidly as he struggled.

“I was under orders not to harm you, but I’m going to enjoy this!” Axus said mockingly.

On the far side of the command centre, Michael gradually came to. Slowly shaking his head, his vision cleared slightly; enough to see the Major locked in the huge Krenarans’ deadly grip.

Quickly picking up his weapon as he got back to his feet; he opened fire. The shot fizzed across the command centre and blasted off Axus’s arm, the force of the impact spinning the giant Krenaran warrior completely around and forcing him to drop Vargev. The aliens white blood spurted out from the damaged limb; as the Russian flopped onto the floor unconscious.

Axus screamed in pain and raw anger, the Krenaran rose and charged headlong towards Michael; who was still a little unsteady on his feet.

He desperately tried to bring his weapon up again; however it was too late, the one armed monstrosity simply swatted him away; sending Michael careering through the air and smashing into another console. The force of the impact smashed the glass on the screen; however Michael just about managed to keep hold of his weapon.

Weak; and with his back in agony from the impacts of the floor and the glass, he looked up to see the onrushing form of Axus racing towards him like a charging bull.

With all the strength he could muster he levelled the weapon and pressed the trigger; keeping it pressed, two, three, four shots slammed into Axus; on the fourth shot the mighty Krenaran staggered, his white lifeblood spraying out all over the damaged console and spluttered across Michaels’ face.

Finally the giant Krenaran fell backwards onto the floor with a wet thud; and moved no more.

Chapter 8

Rise of the Liberty

Gradually Vargev regained consciousness, and groggily got back to his feet. Michael was still lying atop the smashed console; barely conscious himself.

Vargev strode over to him seeing the bloodied lifeless form of Axus lying face up on the deck, and helped him back up onto his feet. In his usual Russian twang he said, “Now you have gained my respect comrade; you should be proud. It is not easy to gain the respect of a commando; harder still for a Major of them.”

Michael stood up groggily and tried to straighten himself with an agonising ‘click’. He looked down at the ruined body of Axus, “filthy Krenaran bastard.”

He turned his attention to the bridge; it was a long oval shaped room with several status consoles and chairs lining the perimeter. It was completely empty now, only Michael and Vargev still stood. Krenaran bodies were strewn across the floor; thick white blood stained the deck plates, and coated some of the smashed consoles.

“Think you can fly this thing, Navy boy?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never piloted an alien ship before.”

“Well; now’s your chance.”

“We need to secure the rest of the ship, see if you can find an environmental systems console around here.”

“Why environmental systems?”

“Listen, you may be in charge on the ground, but I am up here; besides I have a plan.”

Vargev sighed; and began looking for a console resembling something like an environmental systems monitor. Finally he came to a console in a far corner of the command centre. “Is this it?” he asked; pressing a button with a strange symbol imprinted upon it. Suddenly the command centre was plunged into darkness; only the console lights showed up, casting an eerie glow across the darkened bridge.

“You idiot, you’ve shut off main power!”

“Oops sorry,” he pressed the button again.

The lights quickly came back on, Michael walked over to where Vargev was stood. A loud banging noise could be heard from a second door over at the other side of the command centre.

“They are trying to break through!” An increasingly desperate Vargev shouted.

Michael studied the console in front of him, and found that on the display there were pictures of a deck plan. The banging sound continued to increase, and small dents could now be seen through the door. He studied the console some more. There were strange symbols next to each deck; one looked like the detention area.

The hammering on the door increased in its intensity; as more dents began to appear.

Michael pressed the corresponding symbol for each deck, except the command centre and detention facility. As he pressed each symbol one by one; the decks faded to a mid-grey colour. All except the command centre itself which glowed bright blue; and the detention area which glowed a bright red colour.

He left it like that for several minutes while he walked over to the elaborate looking chair, studying it closely. There was a small console in the middle of this chair; Michael had no idea why the chair was more elaborate than the others dotted around the command centre, but he was determined to find out.

The banging noises were slowly lessening in their intensity; fewer dents were appearing in the door, which by now was looking decidedly battered.

Vargev walked over to him, “what do you think it is?”

“I’ve no idea,” Michael replied looking puzzled, “only one way to find out.” He lowered himself down into the chair, its white leather felt soft and padded.

“It is comfortable though.”

Vargev shot him a look, “I don’t think it’s a sofa, comrade.”

Suddenly two metallic arms on the chair moved up from its sides almost silently and with mechanical precision, they clicked into place. The small console moved forward into position between his legs; and stopped within easy reach. At the ends of these two arms there were hand holes; and through these holes were grips containing a variety of red buttons. More strange symbols were imprinted upon them.

The banging on the door gradually ceased.

Michael put his hands gingerly inside the holes.

“Are you sure you should be doing that. What if it’s some kind of torture device?” Vargev asked, eyeing the chair suspiciously.

The holes were a little big, but not too much of a problem, usually designed for Krenaran arms and hands; Michael thought.

The arms of the chair began to take on the movements of his own arms, augmenting his movements with the mechanics contained within the chair itself. Michael lowered his right arm; and the chair arm did the same. Simultaneously the entire ship quickly pitched to port; throwing Vargev completely off balance, and landing with a thud on the deck plating.

“It’s a pilot’s chair!” Michael said elated.

“Good, now that you’ve thrown me on my ass.”

“Sorry about that. The controls take a bit of getting used to; the console display must be for speed, distance and heading.”

Vargev got to his feet; and brushed himself off, “what do you think the buttons on the grips are for?”

“Probably weapons controls, and thrusters.”

Michael returned his arms to level and took them out of the hand holes. The chair arms gradually returned to their original positions.

“This is supremely advanced; we don’t have anything like it in the E.D.F.”

He got out of the chair and walked with Vargev over to the environmental console. Reversing what he did previously; all the decks on the deck plan gradually lit up in their respective colours again; some red, some green, and some blue.

“What did you do?”

“I simply shut off the air supply to all decks except the command centre and detention area. The ship is now ours,” Michael replied smiling.

Vargev smiled back, “You suffocated them? I like it. What are we going to call our new ship anyway?”

Michael thought for a moment. “I haven’t thought about it much really; tell you what, we’ll call it the Liberty.”

“Why the Liberty?”

“Because I like the statue of liberty; and besides it sounds good,” Michael replied smiling.

“The E.D. F could do with a bit of luck at the moment; the Liberty it is then.”

“We have to get back down to the detention facility.”

Together they studied the deck plan on the monitor.

“If we go through that door the Krenarans were banging on, and head down the corridor; we should come to a second elevator. We can get to the detention facility from there,” Michael said, tracing his finger along the plan.

“Then let’s go then.”

They walked towards the battered doors; and with a heave. The two men managed to force a way through. The doors creaked with the groan of twisted metal. Four Krenarans lay dead on the floor on the other side; as Michael and Vargev stepped through, they could see another five lay further down the corridor. All of them suffocated; pushing their way past the bodies they eventually reached the end of the corridor and entered the elevator.

It said, “Gorush’te.”

“Shit, not this again.”

They walked back out of the elevator; across the command centre, and climbed down the elevator shaft again; it was easier going this time. Shortly thereafter they had made it back to the detention area.

Kerulithar said, “I am glad you remembered about us.”

Michael glanced over the small console where the Krenarans once stood, he saw a symbol that looked like a sheet of glass and pressed it.

All the Electrical fields in the detention centre shut down at once. The various species of aliens held captive all piled out of their cells. Michael and Nikolai were stood in front of them. “Can we have your attention please!” Michael shouted.

The aliens continued to mill about amongst themselves.

“It is no good, they can’t understand you,” Kerulithar said as he walked towards the two of them. “There are twenty or so different species here. Let me try; it’s always best when speaking to many different species like this to speak galactic common.”

Kerulithar turned towards the rabble and shouted, “Galtray! Galtray!”

The crowd stopped and quietened noticeably.

“What did you say to them,” Michael asked.


“Tell them we have captured the ship; all the Krenarans are dead. But we need a crew for the time being.”

“Alvash kal untra krenar udlish, kormei alvat assak, dadloo antima galutha.”

“What was that again?”

“The rough translation is; Krenarans all dead; ship is captured; crew needed.”

“What was your name again?” Vargev asked.


“Remind me to take language lessons from you,” Vargev replied smiling.

A Large green spider like alien stepped forward; it had a huge bulbous body, and was stood on two legs, yet it had six. And two bright yellow eyes. It looked rather intimidating; both Michael and Vargev backed off slightly, as it loomed over them.

“Kallash a ganrush kaneil,” it said.

“Wha…What did that thing say?” Michael said to Kerulithar.

“He’s a Faccadian, they are a rare species in the galaxy now. Their world was destroyed by tectonic pressure several centuries ago.”

“But what did he say?”

“He says he is one of the best engineers of his species.”

“Gannat kamadi kellen Facad,” the spidery alien said.

“He also says that there are not many left of his species.”

“Does he know his way around an engine room?”

“Gallutat fallash angin forlam?”

“Vorkresh,” the alien replied.

“He said definitely.”

“Good, in that case he’s hired.”

“Kerulithar, I’ll leave the crew handling up to you since you know what you’re doing. But I’ll need you up on the command centre soon.”

“An excellent idea,” the tall Solarian replied.

“Oh and one last thing; what the hell is the Krenaran word for the damn command centre?”



They walked out of the detention facility; taking a different route towards the second still functioning elevator.

“You plan on using that thing?” Vargev inquired.

“Hell yeah, I’m not climbing up that damn lift shaft again, besides I’m going to get some use out of it, while we still have a ship.”

They both laughed; a short while later they reached the elevator and stepped inside.

“Gorush’te,” it said.

Michael thought he detected a slight tone to the voice; almost as if the elevator computer was teasing him.

Smugly he replied, “Sal’krasht.”

The elevator beeped its response, and headed to the command centre.

Once it arrived at its destination, Michael and Vargev stepped out onto the command centre once again.

“Okay Navy boy, so now what do we do?”

“We get this bucket of bolts moving. Right now we are a sitting duck; we need to make sure which is which, weapons, defensive systems, propulsion, and sensors.” Michael walked over to the pilot’s chair, and sat down in it once again; the metallic arms arose, and he slid his arms through the hand holes. As a test he pressed one of the red buttons located on the hand grip, on his screen a huge energy spike erupted.

A bright green energy beam shot out from the front of the ship.

“Well, at least we know how to fire the weapons.”

Vargev was beginning to get bored; he was a soldier and a damned good one, his place was on a battlefield and not sat at a chair onboard a ship. He browsed over a few consoles lining the walls of the command centre. Nothing he could do there. Then he came across a console that he thought contained sensory data. The chair was still intact, and he sat at the station.

“Now, here’s a job I can do,” Vargev said to himself.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’ve just found a job I can do, sensory officer. I spent some time as one when I was a sergeant; guarding some members of the intelligence services based at Foxtrot Charlie base.”

“Okay then, what have you got for me?”

“I think we have company if I’m reading this right.”

Michael leapt out of his pilots’ chair, and dashed across the command centre to join Vargev.

Looking over the screen he could see two flashing white symbols headed straight for their position.

Damn, Michael thought; why now, we can’t even get this damn crate moving yet.

Just then Kerulithar stepped onto the command centre.

“I think we have company; two hostiles inbound,” the two men repeated in unison.

Kerulithar calmly walked towards the centre of the bridge and said, “Gublash.”

A hologram depicting the outside of the ship shimmered into existence in front of a bulkhead on the middle wall of the command centre.

The Solarian ambassador strode nearer to the monitor as if to get a closer look. “Krenaran ships; we need to get out of here fast, as soon as they realise we are not Krenaran; they will destroy us for sure.”

Michael and Vargev both looked at the display, saying in unison, “stealth ships.”

Michael raced over to the pilots’ seat and hopped in; quickly placing his hands through the holes.

“Push forward on the grips to accelerate and backwards to decelerate,” Kerulithar said.

“Thanks,” Michael replied as he pushed forward on both grips, the ship started to pick up speed.

“How do you know this?”

“This technology used to be used on our own ships; the Krenarans stole it from us when they attacked one of our research laboratories.”

“Kerulithar; send a message down to the engine room; tell the Faccadian we are going to need every drop of power he can give us.”

The Solarian moved as fast as his spindly legs could carry him, which was surprisingly fast. He moved to another console at the rear of the command centre and began keying in several controls.

“Kallat maihargieth kolei, sandropoth gosienus, voltargroth,” the Solarian spoke into the console.

After a short interlude a response came, and Kerulithar nodded his head; turning to the two humans. “He says, he will do all he can.”

“Good, now let’s see what this baby can really do,” Michael replied.

“Bring the ship slowly to port; bearing 147 degrees,” Kerulithar said.

“Why 147 degrees?” Vargev asked.

“Because that’s the direction to Solarian space; you agreed that you could not win the war without our aid.”

“No he did,” Vargev said pointing over to Michael, “I’m simply here for the ride.”

There was a slight tense silence on the command centre. Vargev and Kerulithar eyed each other intently.

“We did agree,” Michael said aloud from his chair.

An irritated Vargev replied, “like I said, you’re running this show now. It’s your call.”

“In that case, we need to plead your case to the Solarian Government. As a peaceful people we do not enter into war lightly and proof will be needed, you and the logs contained within this ship are that proof.”

“So we are going to see your people?” Vargev asked.


“Oh joy! And what may I ask about all the humans that are out there fighting and dying right now. We have a duty to protect them as well,” Vargev retorted, folding his arms and growing more irritated by the second.

“Unfortunately, that is unavoidable.”

“The hell it is!” Vargev shouted; finally blowing his top, “we should use this ship, and fight back against those bastard Krenarans!”

“Their numbers are too great; if we do that we will be destroyed as well. And we would have lost our chance,” Kerulithar calmly argued.

“You said it yourself Major, it’s a war, people die; remember,” Michael interjected.

“But not this many; especially when we have a chance to fight back damn it, whole colonies are being wiped out!”

“Your argument is sound; however with your plan even more lives will be lost and we would have lost the unique chance this ship gives us,” Kerulithar countered calmly.

“And if we remain here arguing we will be lost as well. For better or worse, somehow we’ve got to get through this,” Michael interjected.

“Okay then, let’s go on our little day trip up the yellow brick road to see the Solarians then. I just hope it doesn’t cost us too dearly in blood,” Vargev pointed out dejectedly.

“Yellow brick road?” Kerulithar asked.

Michael sighed, “never mind.”

Kerulithar walked over to where Michael was sat; the Solarian leaned over the back of the chair. “Push the grips all the way forward to increase our velocity to maximum.”

Michael did so; and the ship increased its speed significantly. There was a slight low-pitched thrumming noise as more power was drawn from the main engine.

Vargev muttered to himself, “damn Solarians, I’ve only known them for five minutes and they are already pissing me off.”

“Did you say something Major?” Kerulithar asked.

“What me? Nothing,” Vargev replied feigning innocence.

The Solarian turned back to Michael’s position, “now change our elevation to 12 degrees. Do this by moving both arms slightly upwards.”

Michael did as he was shown; the chair arms imitated his own movements. And a small blue display on the screen in front of him read 147.12. Michael looked at it, “is that the heading for Solarian space?”

“It is.”

“There is a small button at the bottom of each of your grips; press it to hold the grips in that position, allowing you to free your hands. There is also a purple button on your console; Press this five times,” Kerulithar said.

Michael pressed the button on each grip, gingerly he let his hands free of the grips themselves; they did indeed stay in position. Then he slowly freed his arms from the hand holds. The chair arms stayed in position as well.

“Don’t worry; the chair arms will only return to their standby mode once you’ve actually got out of the chair itself.”

Michael pressed the purple button on his console the requested number of times.

“That button activates the ships plasma drive systems; and the number of times you press it dictates the plasma factor you want to travel at.”

“So we are jumping to plasma factor 5?”


A single bright beam of incandescent blue energy shot forth from underneath the captured Krenaran stealth ship and formed the swirling multi hewed plasma wake; it blotted out some of the stars directly ahead. The Liberty leapt into plasma drive and was gone, the wake dissipating behind it.

“Can you believe this?” Michael said in amazement, “our ships are only capable of Plasma factor 3 tops. It’s no wonder the Krenarans are running rings round us!”

“Those Krenaran ships are still following us,” Vargev pointed out.

Kerulithar switched the viewer to the rear view, the Krenaran ships were indeed visible, and had joined the same plasma drive tunnel as theirs.

“Well they are definitely following us now,” Vargev pointed out.

“They must have matched our course; probably wondering why we are headed towards Solarian space,” Kerulithar said. “If they get close enough they’ll open fire, try to knock us out of plasma drive, where they can re-capture us. Increase speed to plasma factor 6.”

Michael quickly jabbed the purple button again, “what is this ships maximum speed anyway?” He asked, turning to Kerulithar.

The low pitched thrum grew louder; and the deck plates began to vibrate.

“We are at it,” Kerulithar replied. “They can still overcharge their engines to close with us but it’s risky. They could end up damaging their own plasma drive systems, and then be hurled out of plasma drive altogether.”

The Liberty raced through the plasma drive tunnel like a lightning bolt; stars were merely long streaks of light flashing past the ship; in front of which the colours of the plasma tunnel were transposed, swirling, and melding, before separating and clashing once again. The two other identical Krenaran ships shot through the tunnel in hot pursuit; not far behind their quarry.

“Wait a minute, look!” Vargev pointed to one of the chasing Krenaran ships.

There was a surge of energy building up from underneath the vessel; the surge continued its uncontrolled increase in size. The energy had nowhere else to go, and instead burst out of the ships exterior causing a small ripple of explosions which smashed through its plasma drive, lighting up the underside of the ship in a series of bright flashes.

The entire ship was flung almost ninety degrees; before being hurled out of plasma drive altogether in a blinding flash of light. The stricken vessel disappeared from view; the second ship maintained its dogged pursuit however.

“I think the other ship is beginning to close with us,” Vargev pointed out.

Kerulithar tiptoed past the dead Krenarans that were laid all around the floor to see for himself, “it is,” the alien agreed. “At a rate of four thousand meters per second; it will be in weapons range in thirty seconds.

On the holoviewer, the Krenaran ship could be seen slowly but steadily closing on them. Bit by bit that ship was approaching weapons range.

Michael began to sweat as he looked at the viewer; his heart rate began to increase, and his lips pursed. He had seen in the news reports what these ships were capable of, but never had to face one of them, until now. There were trained Krenaran warriors over on that ship; who knew about the technology they were dealing with and knew how to use it. He had a rag tag crew; from god knows how many different planets and most of them didn’t have a clue about Krenaran technology. “It looks like we are going to have to fight our way out of this one,” he said with a hint of dread in his voice.

“We’ll need to drop out of plasma drive; press the black button right next to the purple one,” Kerulithar said.

“It’s like a goddamn kaleidoscope on this console; I don’t know what the hell I’m pressing.”

A plasma gateway opened up into normal space and the Liberty shot through it at full speed. Almost immediately after the ship re-entered normal space a second gateway opened up with a bright flash; heralding the arrival of their pursuers.

Kerulithar quickly rushed over, and punched in several buttons on Vargevs console.

“What did you just do comrade?”

“I’ve charged your torpedo launcher; this ship fires torpedoes based on particle concussion instead of your conventional explosive warheads. It is also armed with a front mounted particle cannon, I’ve diverted emergency power to the reactive hull armour also.” Kerulithar turned towards Michael again. “The Particle cannon is fired by the top button on your right grip; and the torpedo launcher from the top button on your left grip.”

“He’s coming in from behind; Jesus Christ he’s coming in for a pass!” Vargev shouted.

Suddenly an angry voice came over the speakers, “Galasht Vakra solarii gulesht can cadrat.”

“He wants to know why we are heading for Solarian space,” Kerulithar translated.

“Cordrun nu almasht gadrin ca,” the angry voice said. “He wants us to power down our weapons.”

“Hey, do you think he’s pissed comrade,” Vargev said to Michael with a slight chuckle.

“No shit Sherlock; we just stole his best friend’s wheels,” Michael replied laughing. “Tell him we are on an urgent mission from the Krenaran government, or something; just to throw him off our tail.”

“Sofrak Aluminish allvash congosht Krenarii gavrant,” Kerulithar spoke aloud into a nearby communications console.

A few tense seconds passed as the Krenaran crew mulled this over before giving a response, which finally came, “Falosht na gru.”

“He says you’re lying.”

“Korgasht av ku Krenarii sanas a Solaria belasht ku!” the increasingly irate voice said.

“He says there hasn’t been a Krenaran mission to Solarian territory for a hundred years.”

“I don’t know what he’s doing, but he’s doing something. He’s definitely doing something; I’ve got symbols flashing all over my screen,” Vargev said with a definite hint of urgency.

A massive beam of bright green energy shot past the Liberty bathing the ship in a bright emerald light, and carried on through space ahead of the captured ship.

“We’ve got incoming!” Vargev shouted as the shot rifled past the ship.

“ Jesus Christ!” Michael gasped aloud throwing his left arm down; the ship lurched to starboard, nearly throwing Kerulithar off his feet.

The enemy Krenaran ship was fast on their tail. A second beam of bright green light shot past the Liberty barely missing the underside of the vessel.

Michael weaved the ship from port to starboard and back again in a zigzag pattern, desperately attempting to throw off their pursuers.

Twice more the deadly green energy beam flashed out from the enemy vessel; Michael barely managed to dodge the first blast, throwing the ship into a fast barrel roll. The second just clipped the top of the Liberty. The entire ship shuddered violently under the force of the impact.

Vargev was almost thrown clean off his seat; muttering a Russian curse under his breath as he steadied himself.

Kerulithar raced over to the engineering systems console and performed a full diagnostic of the ship, “I’m not detecting any serious damage; but the hull plating has been weakened in that area.”

Michael desperately flung his arms up and down in the pilots’ chair. Giving everything to try and evade the enemy ship; and for a few minutes at least the two ships dodged and weaved each other, both flying at incredible speeds; and looking for all the world like angry wasps trying to sting one another.

He was sweating profusely as he strained at the controls, “come on you bucket of scrap!” He shouted as he sent the ship into an incredibly steep dive; the Liberty shuddered and threatened to break apart, conduits exploded as inertia began to take its effect.

Michael prayed for the ship to hold together, for now the Liberty complied. Then he followed up the dive by sending the ship into an equally steep climb; the scream of tortured, twisting metal rang out, as the hull of the ship was tested beyond breaking point.

The pursuing Krenaran ship was puzzled by this new maneuver and was slow to react; the Liberty quickly disappeared from view. The enemy stealth ship banked from port to starboard, pitching up and down, in a desperate bid to relocate its lost prey.

Michael managed to quickly counter each move the enemy ship made; keeping the Liberty out of the viewpoint of their attackers in a galactic game of hide and seek.

Beads of sweat continued to run down the sides of Michael’s face as he strained against the controls and concentrated hard on the manoeuvres he was making.

Finally the Liberty managed to come up behind the enemy vessel, it realised its mistake and tried a desperate attempt to evade them.

“Too late bitch!” Michael said as he pressed the control on the right hand grip of his chair.

The Liberties own particle cannon lashed out; the shot slammed into the enemy ships rear engines dead centre. The illuminated blue strip which was its main engines shattered and exploded under the force of the impact; the enemy ship slowed dramatically; without propulsion it was reduced to simply coasting on inertia. The Liberty looped around to perform an assault run on the stricken enemy ship; unleashing three torpedoes in quick succession.

As the Liberty shot past the rear of the stricken enemy ship the torpedoes struck home, three mighty explosions lit up the top of the enemy ship one after another as the torpedoes detonated; tearing apart the vessel, before the whole ship exploded in a gigantic fireball.

Michael watched the fiery remains of the ship gradually die down. “That’s for the Ulysses, you murdering bastards.”

“We should get back into plasma drive before any more Krenaran ships catch up with us,” Kerulithar suggested.

Soon the swirling plasma wake opened up again, and the Liberty leapt into plasma drive once more, leaving the debris of the destroyed Krenaran ship floating in space.

“How long is it before we reach Solarian space?” Vargev asked.

“It is a four day journey at our current speed,” Kerulithar replied.

“Let’s just pray to god, we don’t run into any more Krenarans on the way,” Michael said.

The Liberty carried on its journey through the swirling tunnel of colour that was plasma drive.

During this eerily quiet spell Michael realised he was extremely tired and very hungry after expending so much energy in that last battle.

“Hey Kerulithar, do you know where there is any food onboard?”

“There is a mess area on all Krenaran ships; however the food synthesisers only produce Krenaran food which may not be to your liking.”

“Is it okay to leave the pilot’s chair while in plasma drive?”

“Yes; we don’t have any course changes to make from here on in, it’s a straight journey.”

Michael set the grips in place and climbed out of the pilots’ chair.

Kerulithar arranged for a few crewmembers to keep watch on the command centre while they were away, just in case anything did happen; soon enough three other aliens arrived to replace them.

Together Michael, Vargev and Kerulithar left the command centre and headed toward the elevator. Kerulithar spoke the Krenaran word for mess area “Beliarath”, and soon they were whisked on their way.

When they arrived at the mess area they found a small rectangular room with a bare steel table in the centre, a couple of dead Krenarans were slumped face down upon it. There were several rather basic, black coloured chairs, arrayed rather haphazardly around this table, all in the typical rugged, yet spartan Krenaran style. In addition, a large and complex looking machine dominated one of the smaller walls.

Vargev and Michael heaved the bodies over to a corner in the room, they were extremely heavy and it took the two of them to move just one, Kerulithar’s tall, but fragile frame simply lacked the physical strength to help much. Finally, the three of them made their way to the machine.

“This is a food synthesiser,” Kerulithar said almost with a hint of condescension in his voice.

“Yes I know that, what’s on the menu?” Michael retorted.

“Well,” Kerulithar said furrowing his alien brow and looking up at the synthesiser. “There is Shash’lak brains, lung of Korvrat, Ralkos eggs, and Vormek stomach.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Michael replied; suddenly feeling a bout of nausea coming on.

“I’ll have the Ralkos eggs,” Vargev said. “They’re only eggs, how bad could they be?”

“Ralkos eggs come from the ferocious Ralkos bird. They are native to several planets throughout Krenaran territory, and are considered quite a delicacy,” Kerulithar pointed out.

“Toresh al Ralko,” The Solarian spoke into the food synthesiser. There was a muted mechanical whirring noise, and then a hatch opened. Two huge black eggs the size of watermelons, perched precariously on top of a steel bowl, was presented to Kerulithar.

“Ralkos eggs,” Kerulithar announced as he handed the bowl to Vargev; who wished he hadn’t asked, he nevertheless dutifully took the bowl over to the table and sat down.

Michael almost gagged when he looked at those horrific black eggs, but hunger drove him on. “I’ll have the lung of Korvrat?” He asked, “what do they have for drinks?”

“Galgrosh blood, and Neidrat bile.”

“Great,” Michael sighed nonchalantly. “Don’t they just have water?”

“You forget how expensive water is,” Kerulithar replied. “However they do have reconstituted water.” He said as he studied the panel on the food synthesiser once more, “it is not as good quality as the real thing but it will not make you ill.”

“What was the water reconstituted from?” Michael asked suspiciously; and then suddenly halted almost in mid sentence. “In fact; tell you what, I don’t want to know,” he said shaking his head.

And with that, they all sat down to eat possibly the worst meal in the history of the human race. Both Vargev and Michael gingerly tried their food, the big Russian Commando tried to break one of the eggs, he found it particularly resilient. Muttering a few Russian curses, he smashed it on the tabletop with a loud bang that shook everyone else’s dishes; nearly knocking Michael’s water off the table. Finally, the giant egg cracked and a thick, odd smelling purple ooze came seeping out of it. He felt quite nauseous at the thought of having to eat it.

Michael perceived that the Commando turned a shade of green. “What’s the matter; big tough Commando can’t eat rotten egg,” he said laughing.

“Yeah watch me,” Vargev retorted. And with an effort of will he pushed the thought to the back of his mind; and scooping up some of the foul smelling purple ooze onto his spoon he put it into his mouth, it was very bitter and had the consistency of thick condensed milk.

“Now it’s your turn,” Vargev replied almost retching; his stomach desperately trying to hold down some of that horrific egg he just ate. I’m going to feel that later, he thought.

Michael stared at the slimy lungs adorning his plate and with a little effort he managed to cut one with his knife. A cloudy colourless fluid spurted out across his plate; he backed off turning a sickly shade of green.

“Go on,” Vargev said encouraging him mischievously.

“I’m getting to it,” heaven help me, Michael thought as he picked up a piece of lung with his fork and slowly put it into his mouth.

There was an immediate salty taste to it, and it was very chewy; much like chewing on soft rubber. He quickly swallowed it down before it had a chance to come back up.

“What does it taste like?”

“Damn salty.”

“We could do with reprogramming the food synthesisers to something a little more palatable to humans,” Vargev said.

“I don’t even know if there is anyone aboard with the skills to do that; at the moment just keeping the ship running and making basic repairs are about the maximum the crew can handle. I could try but I’m only an ambassador, not a systems engineer. I wouldn’t know the first thing about what goes on inside there,” Kerulithar said.

“In that case, we could do with trying to find our equipment,” Vargev said; because I’m damn well not eating that shite again, he thought.

“Right,” Michael replied thinking the same. “Where is it located?”

“The Krenarans store all the equipment in the forward hold; deck four,” Kerulithar replied.

As he looked over at the slumped forms of the Krenaran bodies in the corner, a question flashed across Michael’s mind. “These Krenarans, why do they have white blood?”

“Their blood is based on calcium, which is also why they have a much thicker, heavier bone structure than ours. This is also why they have evolved to become a lot broader and taller than most other races in the galaxy. Ours is based on cobalt, which gives us our blue-ish pigmentation.”

“So why do they have huge variations in size?”

“They are known as the Krenaran overclass, scientists from many races have debated this, as far as I know there are three main theories. Some believe it is simple natural variation at work, others believe it could be variations in the calcium levels in their bloodstream, therefore creating larger specimens. The third theory is that the Krenarans could be purposely in-breeding to create genetic deviations for a kind of ruling elite.”

“So just how many of this overclass are there?” Vargev asked.

“Nobody knows, the Krenarans jealously guard their numbers, however Axus was definitely one of this overclass.”

“He mentioned a master?” Michael asked.

“Then it would be safe to say that this master could well be a member of the overclass as well.”

Michael and Vargev exchanged worried glances, judging by how hard Axus was to defeat, if there are more of these overclass then the E.D. F could be in for even more trouble.

Once they had finished eating their horrendous meal, they headed towards the hold.

“So what did you think of dinner then, my dear fellow?” Michael asked in a mocking upper class accent.

“There were indeed generous portions, were they not? although a trifle under amusing I do believe,” Vargev replied in kind. The two men laughed in unison as they headed toward the forward hold. A bout of nausea caused them both to hold their stomachs.

The forward hold itself was a tightly cramped maze containing everything from spare parts to captured weapons. It was dimly lit and gloomy; the only sources of illumination came from a strip of white lights positioned within a curve where the wall met the low sloping ceiling. Some of the equipment had a fine layer of dust on them; indicating that they hadn’t been used for quite some time.

Vargev managed to locate his pack; and his assault rifle, “ah, my baby I thought I had lost you.” He said, stroking it in jocular admiration. Michael had managed to find his own borrowed Armschlager too. Together they picked up their packs and headed toward the command centre.

For the next few days of the journey the crew busied themselves making basic repairs to parts of the ship that were damaged in the fighting. As well as disposing of the multitude of Krenaran bodies which were slumped all over the ship. Both Vargev and Michael ate from their ration packs; rather than dare risk the food synthesisers again.

Chapter 9

The Solarian council

“What’s our E.T. A to the Solarian border?” Michael asked for the umpteenth time.

“One hour,” Vargev sighed. It’s only been twenty minutes since you last asked, he thought. “Hold on a minute,” he said eyeing the sensor readouts. “I think I’ve got something.”

“What is it?” Kerulithar asked as he approached where Vargev was sat.

“It looks like we’ve got six bogeys inbound and closing fast.”

“They’re definitely Krenaran,” Kerulithar pointed out; peering over Vargevs shoulder.

Well no shit Sherlock, take first prize. Vargev thought, however he kept it to himself.

“We need maximum power to the engines, tell the Faccadian we are going to need everything he can give us.” This is going to be damn tight, Michael thought.

Kerulithar spoke into a console he was sat at. Before saying, “the Faccadian says, he only just managed to fix the damage that happened the last time you tried that.”

“Well, tell him he’ll just have to fix it again won’t he. Either that or we won’t have a ship left to save.”

Kerulithar spoke into his console again, “he says, point taken.”

“Damn straight,” Vargev piped up.

“We have to hold them off until we are over the border,” Michael pointed out. Whether there is much of a ship to cross the border with is another matter entirely, he thought.

The Liberty rapidly increased its speed through plasma drive, a flotilla of six Krenaran stealth ships in hot pursuit.

“Where the hell did they come from anyway?” Michael asked.

“No idea, they must have been shadowing us, that single surviving Krenaran ship must have brought his buddies,” Vargev suggested.

“I’ll try and scan for any nearby Solarian ships; they regularly patrol this area of space,” Kerulithar said as he keyed in the controls for the external sensors; sharing the data with Vargevs’ console, and began scanning.

“They’ll be in weapons range in one minute; they’re still god-damn closing!” Vargev shouted.

“I’m trying my fucking best!” Michael retorted.

“You’re best is going to get us all fucking killed!” Vargev shouted angrily back.

“Do you want to pilot this thing is that it? because you aren’t qualified, so sit down you big Russian fuck.” Michael shouted back.

“I’m picking up a patrol of three Solarian vessels,” Kerulithar announced.

The other two men were far too busy shouting and swearing at each other to hear him. Instead he silently keyed in the controls for long range communications.

“Solarian vessels, this is ambassador Kerulithar of the Solarian confederacy, we are being pursued by six enemy Krenaran vessels and require urgent assistance.”

The other two men stopped their bickering and suddenly turned to Kerulithar, “What did you just do?” they both asked in unison.

“I took the liberty of scanning for a patrol of Solarian ships and contacted them asking for assistance,” Kerulithar stated calmly.

“Well at least one of us is trying to get us out of this shit hole,” Vargev said.

The command centre speakers suddenly blazed into life, “unknown Krenaran vessel, you will surrender and prepare to be boarded. Any hostile action will be met with all due force.”

“They don’t believe us; they must think we are part of the same fleet,” Kerulithar said exasperatedly.

He hurriedly keyed in the controls again, “Solarian vessels, I am commanding a captured Krenaran vessel, we are headed for Solarian space, my personal identification is 904157 dash 3412 Keru 118. Please respond, repeat we are in need of urgent assistance.”

Just as Kerulithar had stopped speaking; twin bright green flashes of energy shot past the ship, coating the upper dorsal section of the Liberty in a bright green glow, and lighting up the command centre in a vivid emerald hue.

“They’re firing!” Vargev shouted, stating the obvious.

Michael wrestled against the controls on the pilot’s chair, sending the ship into a rapid barrel roll in the hopes of evading the worst of the Krenarans’ attacks.

Multiple particle cannon shots flashed past the ship as the Krenaran attackers tried to get a bead on the Liberty.

“Bring us out of plasma drive,” Michael said rather dejectedly.

“That will kill us for sure!” Vargev retorted.

“I can’t evade all six of them.”

Kerulithar reluctantly did so. The ship dropped back into normal space again closely followed by the Krenaran fleet rapidly in pursuit.

Michael bravely wrenched against the controls; sweating profusely, his arms ached heavily, and his teeth bit into his bottom lip, drawing a small amount of blood. Such was the level of determination to survive; to get his ship to safety.

However the weight of fire was simply too great, multiple particle cannon shots criss-crossed the area of space the Liberty flew through, and several torpedoes flashed across the stern, port and starboard side of the ship.

Michael Alexander, and Nikolai Vargev; the two survivors, the two people who had made it all this way against all the odds silently prayed for a miracle.

Several more particle cannon shots slammed into the rear of the Liberty, rocking the ship from stem to stern; throwing Vargev completely out of his seat. Sparks exploded out from smashed consoles, support beams crashed down. The smell of sizzled circuitry assaulted the nose, and the thick smoke billowing from the smashed consoles and several small fires caused everyone to choke.

“Rear hull plating is down!” Kerulithar cried out over the din of explosions and battle.

Yet more shots flashed past the damaged Liberty.

“Not now. Not when we’ve come this close!” Michael shouted in sheer frustration.

Two torpedoes roared their way toward the Liberty. Slamming into the hull and instantly detonating, blasting apart the main sub-light drive with a huge explosion; causing carnage onboard as fire swept through the main engine room. Emergency bulkheads dropped into place to contain the fires.

Bodies were burnt beyond all recognition, charred corpses lay everywhere as flames engulfed large areas of decks four, five and six. Smashed support girders and bulkheads littered the area.

Michael, Vargev, and Kerulithar were flung to the floor by the sheer force of the huge explosion; Michael was thrown clear of his seat, and lay motionless on the deck.

Vargev slowly managed to get back to his feet, a deep ragged gash bleeding profusely down the right side of his face. Kerulithar slowly stood also, his blue-ish hued skin, had turned black in places from burns and debris that had melted into his skin, his dark blue blood seeping from several cuts.

The Krenaran ships moved into position to surround the stricken Liberty; looking like vultures about to sound the death knell to the disabled ship. And for all the world the ship seemed doomed.

Three more plasma wakes rapidly opened up in space close by. With horrific speed, three Solarian ships emerged out of plasma drive; silver in colour and resembling a large metallic crescent with a ferocious looking raised metallic beaklike structure at the centre.

Bright blue incandescent beams shot forth from their beak like protrusions; instantly two Krenaran ships were totally decimated by the sheer force of the weapons. What remained of their hulls trailed fire and debris out into open space.

The remaining Krenaran ships ignored the Liberty, and moved to intercept this deadly new threat.

Several high energy torpedoes smashed into another Krenaran ship; devastating the upper dorsal area of the vessel, its particle cannon totally torn away, and its torpedo launcher left a flaming ruin. On fire, it limped away.

The remaining two Krenaran ships returned fire on their Solarian attackers; particle cannon shots slammed into one of the Solarian ships. However a crackling blue energy field shimmered into existence and shielded the ship from the impacts.

The remaining Krenaran ships dispersed before the speed and ferocity of the Solarian attack.

“Ambassador Kerulithar, please respond,” A voice spoke over the crackling speakers.

Groggily Kerulithar limped his way over to the communications console; fortunately it had managed to survive the attack somewhat intact. “This is ambassador Kerulithar; I am unharmed, however the ship has suffered severe damage. We have casualties on board, main sub-light drive is down.”

The Solarian ships performed a thorough scan of the Liberty. After a short bout of silence, a response came through the speakers. “We are detecting several different species on board, however no Krenarans,” the Solarians asked quizzically.

“It is a long story; I will fill you in along the way,” the ambassador said smiling.

“We will tow you to the nearest Solarian repair facility, we have medical teams standing by to treat your injured,” the response came.

“Thank you,” Kerulithar replied with genuine relief.

Slowly Michael regained consciousness, and picked himself back up; rubbing his throbbing head his vision gradually cleared just in time to see the comparatively huge silvery crescent shape of a Solarian battle cruiser maneuver into position just ahead of the crippled Liberty, and fire a red beam at the ship. Not knowing what these strange new ships were, he panicked.

“Jesus, we’re still under attack!” He leapt back into his seat and tried to use the controls again, they were useless.

“Relax; their friendlies. It’s just a tractor beam; they are giving us a tow,” Kerulithar pointed out. “Don’t you have a similar device?”

“No; we haven’t developed that technology yet. We use magnetised tow cables,” Michael replied, a little sheepish at having panicked at the shape of that massive Solarian vessel looming just in front of the Liberty.

“I…See,” Kerulithar said, marvelling at how humanity even managed to get beyond their solar system with such limited technology; however he said nothing.

Within hours, they had reached the repair facility; Solarian medical teams had treated the worst of their injuries.

Michael marvelled at how grand the station looked. It was bright silver and shone brightly set against the backdrop of deep space. Its super structures shone as the light from a nearby yellow sun reflected off its numerous surfaces.

A multitude of smaller vessels flitted to and fro from the massive installation. Some looked like transports, others like warships; there were many different shapes and sizes of vessel. All manner of configurations were present, they couldn’t all belong to the same species, Michael thought.

He also thought the Solarian ships were equally grand, with their majestic silvery crescent shapes, extended wings and metallic beak; they resembled an old earth catamaran, and had an almost regal look about them.

This station was however an altogether different beast. Numerous docking arms jutted out from it, some were already occupied by other vessels. The station had thousands of small ‘port hole’ shaped windows dotted liberally about its surface. At the top of the station, multiple communications aerials rose like fragile silver strands reaching up into space.

“Welcome to the Omicron repair facility and shipyard, one of the largest of all our repair facilities,” Kerulithar announced with pride.

Michael and Vargev said nothing, they were simply awestruck by the sheer size and magnificence of this massive structure.

Another beam shot out from another smaller rectangular shaped vessel which aligned itself in front of the battered Liberty; taking the place of the warship which now returned back to its formation.

Navigation lights from the station shone down upon the severely damaged Krenaran ship, showing up its scorched, fractured hull as it closed with the station. The awful shredded exterior where the main sub-light drive once was could clearly be seen.

The other three warships now made a graceful turn in perfect arrow formation, before they shot back off into plasma drive, and back out to the border.

“Where did they go?” Vargev asked.

“Back on patrol,” Kerulithar answered.

“What is that ship in front of us?” Michael asked. It looked kind of ugly, not at all like the other Solarian ships.

“It is a small tug; used for towing damaged vessels,” Kerulithar replied.

The ship was getting very close to the station, suddenly alarm bells began to ring in Michael’s mind.

“err…how do we dock this thing?”

Kerulithar calmly walked over to the console in front of Michael’s chair. It was partly damaged in the attack and the glass was cracked, but was still operable enough that he was able to use it. He pressed a green button, then a white one.

“The green symbol decompresses the air, and the white one opens the hatch.”

The tug slowly decelerated to a stop; then released the Liberty and moved away. Almost simultaneously a cylindrical hatch extended out from the station and connected to the open docking hatch of the ship, with a slight shudder the docking hatch was sealed and re-pressurised.

“Would you like to take a look inside the station?” Kerulithar asked.

“Hell yeah.”

The three of them made their way through the smoky, dark, debris strewn corridors of the Liberty to the hatch five decks below them. From there they simply walked onto the station.

What greeted them was truly astounding. Huge metallic archways graced the ceiling high above the repair area; massive floor-to-ceiling windows looked out at the vessels that glided by the station, as well as those already berthed. Everything was clean and shiny.

Machines the size of houses with highly complex displays dotted vast walkways at various intervals; several Solarian workers could be seen manning the machinery. Michael hadn’t the faintest idea what they were used for. Along certain areas yet more displays showed a wealth of complicated information.

Michael stopped at one; studying it, trying to figure out what exactly it all meant.

Kerulithar caught up to him, “It’s in Solarian script, you won’t be able to understand it.”

Another Solarian approached them, “I am Solistis, Rulvaa third class, welcome to the Omicron shipyard. The Commander of this facility is most eager to meet you; if you will follow me I will show you the way to his office.”

Michael and Vargev fell in behind the Solarian stranger. Michael thought he seemed a little stiff compared to Kerulithar, he whispered to Vargev, “what the hell is a Rulvaa third class anyway?”

“Beats the hell out of me.”

“I shall check and see if I can get us a shuttle to Solaria,” Kerulithar said as he slipped off down another corridor; his tattered and burnt ambassadorial robe flowing as he walked. While Vargev; Michael and the Solarian officer continued toward the Commanders office.

Soon enough the three of them had arrived, large ornate windowed doors automatically slid open, and the two humans stepped inside, Solistis did not follow them in however and remained outside.

It was a wide spacious office with a row of large windows which looked out at the stars, and the hive of activity buzzing outside the station. A large oval desk with several chairs arrayed around it pervaded the room; a host of status reports cluttered the desk, sat at it was another Solarian, dressed in a finer uniform than what Solistis wore, it was predominantly light grey, with deep red embellishments on it; several of what appeared to be medals hung from the aliens chest.

“Welcome Terrans, I am Commander Ralavas; Commander of this facility. It is an enormous honour to have you here; you are the first Terrans to have actively sought out Solarian space. We have prepared quarters for your stay; however I would like to know just how you did it?” The Solarian officer asked.

“Did what?”

“Managed to capture a Krenaran ship, and then make it all the way to Solarian space.”

“It is a long story,” Michael replied, trying to gauge whether Ralavas was really interested or just attempting to interrogate them.

“Enlighten me,” The Commander said; his long blue fingers forming a pyramid as he leaned forward in his chair.

There was a tense pause, both Michael and Vargev studied the Commander intently before asking, “why do you want to know, this is not an interrogation is it?”

The Solarian laughed. “No, no, such practices were banned decades ago.”

Michael and Vargev both felt a little easier at hearing this.

“One of our colonies was attacked by the Krenarans, I was stationed on a ship sent to investigate; Major Vargev here was already on the planet when the attack came.”

Michael paused, taking a breath.

“I was part of a landing party sent from my ship, however the ship was destroyed in orbit not long after we arrived on the surface, and I was stranded on the planet. The Krenarans also attacked the landing party I was with, and I was the only survivor.”

He allowed Commander Ralavas a moment, as the Solarian listened intently.

“Major Vargev here took me in; however we were captured trying to rescue some human slaves and brought aboard a Krenaran ship, we were placed in detention cells where we met your ambassador, Kerulithar.”

He gave another pause for emphasis.

“Major Vargev managed to make a crude weapon and we escaped, we managed to make it to the command centre, where we shut off the oxygen supply to all other decks except the command centre and the detention facility. We rescued Kerulithar and with his help and knowledge, we managed to make it here.”

The Solarian commander turned to Major Vargev, “and how was it you were not captured on the planet, Major?”

“I am a member of a specialist unit called the E.D. F commandoes; we carry a different weapon called an Armschlager heavy machine gun. It’s old fashioned; but it does a heck of a lot of damage, and they seem to be vulnerable to it,” he began.

“My unit managed to fight their way out of the main attack and then went underground. We began launching guerrilla attacks against them; freeing slaves, destroying communications centres, and generally making life as difficult as possible for the Krenarans until help arrived. And that’s when we found Michael Alexander here.”

“An incredible story!” The Commander exclaimed aloud, “normally I wouldn’t have believed it, except here you are; a living testament; with a captured Krenaran ship in your possession as well. Somehow the two of you have fought a far superior enemy, were captured, escaped, and took control of one of their ships, and made it all the way here, to Solarian space; alive!” Ralavas said with genuine wonder.

It made both Michael and Vargev feel uncomfortable, “it was just what needed to be done.”

The Solarian commander walked toward the door and motioned for Solistis to re-enter the room. “Solistis here will show you to your quarters, I am sure you are very tired and hungry, so we have also prepared some terran food for you, though our database is somewhat limited on terran foods, however I think you’ll find what we have satisfactory.”

“Thank you Commander,” Michael and Vargev said in unison.

Solistis escorted them to their quarters; when they entered, they found they were pleasantly surprised. There were soft comfortable looking beds; a large seating area overlooked a window looking out into space, where the occasional transport drifted past.

There was a large rectangular table which contained a buffet of human foods. Some of which was Chinese, there were sandwiches, drinks, and cakes. All were arrayed in a mish mash fashion, but Michael and Vargev forgave the disorganisation and ate as though their lives depended upon it. After four days of ration packs and horrific Krenaran food; they were simply glad for some food that tasted good for a change.

Finally both Michael and Vargev chose what beds they were sleeping on; and exhausted from their ordeal they slowly settled down to the best night’s sleep they had had in a long time.

Next morning they awoke to the sound of a door chime ringing. Groggily Michael opened his eyes; rubbing them he quickly donned some clothing and headed for the door, slowly it opened and Kerulithar entered.

“I have managed to procure us a shuttle to Solaria,” he said excitedly.

“How long a trip is it?”

“It is two days travel from here.”

“When do we leave?” Vargev asked as he awoke.

“Within the hour.”

“What about food?” Michael asked.

“There is a small food synthesiser aboard the shuttle, and you have time for what do you call it…” Kerulithar said, desperately trying to think of the word.

“erm…breakfast!” Michael corrected for him.

“Yes, breakfast.”

“I hope your breakfasts are more like the food we had last night and not like that crap we ate on the Liberty,” Vargev said as he got dressed.

“No! Solarian food is much more palatable,” Kerulithar laughed.

The two men finished getting dressed, washed, and headed out to a large wide, canteen area. There, tables and chairs were arrayed; along one wall, several food synthesisers stood in a row. Near to the exits there were recyclers, where the finished food remains and the crockery themselves were converted back into their constituent molecules and fed back to the food synthesisers for the next user.

Many Solarians were there ordering food and generally milling around; chatting to one another and giving curious looks to these strange, small humans.

Michael and Vargev felt like they were in a hall of giants amongst the lanky near seven feet tall blue-skinned aliens.

Kerulithar once again explained what was on the menu of the food synthesisers, and both Michael and Vargev ordered a bread like breakfast very similar to large fruit flavoured croissants.

The Solarian food was indeed good to eat; Vargev even had seconds before they finished their meals and headed to the shuttle hangar a short while later.

The hangar was huge, and illuminated along both walls, there were dozens of other shuttles and sleek advanced looking fighter craft arrayed across the hangar floor.

Kerulithar had gone on ahead. “Over here,” He beckoned as he stood near one of the shuttles about thirty yards from them.

The shuttles were also sleek, silver coloured, and bullet shaped. Two almost mandible like protrusions on either side of the small craft, looked like small wings angled downwards.

“How will the shuttle get there if its two days journey to Solaria,” Michael asked, as he inspected the shuttle.

“Our shuttles are equipped with a small plasma drive unit. However they are nowhere near as fast as our battle cruisers or escorts of the fleet,” Kerulithar replied.

The Solarian pressed a recessed control on the rear of the shuttle and a small boarding ramp extended, simultaneously a rear hatch opened and the three of them went aboard. Inside it was cramped yet surprisingly comfortable.

There was a large single display with complicated Solarian controls and three large windows to the front, a second small display hung from the ceiling just above the central window.

Fortunately there were three chairs, one for the pilot, another for a co-pilot and a third for a passenger situated behind them and off to the port side of the ship. To the starboard side of the shuttle there was a very small room, with just a single bed which took up half the available space; an overhead storage locker, and a small food synthesiser.

Kerulithar touched a few controls on the main display, the hatch closed, and the shuttle began to power up.

Gradually it began to levitate as the gravitic engines kicked in with a gentle whine; he spoke into the display in his native Solarian language, and the hangar doors began to slowly open.

The shuttle accelerated, and the small bullet-like craft glided gently out into the star lit blackness of space. Smoothly it glided past the various docking arms that jutted out of this side of the station, and past the myriad of ships that frequented the facility.

Once clear of the station and all the surrounding traffic. Kerulithar powered up the plasma drive, and the tiny craft jumped into its own tiny plasma wake and was gone.

Over the course of the journey, Kerulithar taught Michael and Vargev the basics of how to control the shuttle; allowing all three to take turns between piloting, and resting.

The journey passed relatively uneventfully; there was a small Ion storm which they managed to skirt around. And exactly two days later the shuttle arrived in orbit of the Solarian homeworld, Solaris IV, and the capital of the Solarian Confederacy.

The glow emanating from the massive red giant sun of the Solaris system bathed the planet in a red-orange glow. At the same time Michael and Vargev noticed the sheer number of ships going to and fro, there were dozens of them, from smaller inter-system freighters to the battle cruisers and smaller escort craft of the Solarian fleet, to huge star liners carrying thousands of tourists. Not to mention the multiple orbital facilities, stations and satellites that en-circled the planet.

“Are all your planets this busy?” Michael asked.

“No, Solaria is one of the most important planets for trade and tourism in the known galaxy, it is actually rather quiet at the moment.”

Michael laughed incredulously, I’d hate to see it busy then, he thought.

“How do you keep track of all the visitors?” Vargev asked.

“Why would we wish to? All species in-bound to the planet go through a series of highly sensitive scanners, any weapons or items that may pose a threat to the populace are confiscated and destroyed. The person is escorted to a holding facility in orbit until a vessel from his race arrives, then he is instantly deported off the planet,” Kerulithar said as he pressed a control on the panel in front of him, again, he spoke into this panel in his native language. “Aliaris foreth ganost alothios.”

After a slight delay, there came a reply, and the shuttle began to descend into the atmosphere.

“What did you say?” Michael asked.

“I was asking for landing clearance, we have been cleared at pad B on the Allathas spaceport.”

“Can anyone live on your planet?” Vargev asked.

“Of course, but only a very rare few of the other races actually do; mainly wealthy businessmen who trade with Solarian colonies, a few rich celebrities have property here also.”

“Why so few?” Vargev asked interested.

“Mainly cost. Interstellar travel can be an expensive business, especially when used for private use; also the property prices on Solaria are extremely high.”

“Why?” Vargev probed.

“You’ll found out very soon.”

The shuttle cut through the cloud cover, and the surface was at last revealed to them, far off in the distance mountain peaks could be seen; flocks of birds flew far below them. It looked like someone had thrown a smattering of large rubies on the surface of the planet, with one particularly large group; they glittered as the light reflected off of them.

“Are they communities?” Michael asked peering through the shuttle windows.

“Yes, the largest one is Solaria city.”

“What are those buildings made of?” Michael whispered aloud.

“I’ve no idea,” Vargev replied, equally fascinated.

Gradually the shuttle slowed as it began its approach to the small speck that was the Allathas spaceport; its gravitic engines began to whine as they continued to slow the shuttles descent. Gradually the spaceport grew larger as they neared it, individual landing pads could begin to be seen, and some were already occupied by other ships.

Kerulithar pressed a control on the panel above the front window, and the landing legs on the shuttle slowly lowered. The whining of the gravitic engines increased as they killed the last of the shuttles forward momentum, and then stopped as the shuttle rested gently on its landing legs.

Kerulithar pressed another button and the hatch slowly opened.

All three of them disembarked from the shuttle and stepped out onto the landing pad. There was a gentle warm breeze, and clear skies.

Vargev almost immediately stopped in his tracks awestruck, “Mother Russia, have you seen this place!”

Michael stopped and looked at Vargev, “what are you talking about?”


Michael looked around and immediately understood what Vargev was trying to tell him.

“My god!” Michael gasped aloud absolutely amazed.

And there they were, stood on the landing pad gazing out at the magnificent beauty of Solaria city. As far as the eye could see there were crystalline structures, all of which were polished to an almost mirror like finish, large birds flew to and fro high above, and perched on the apexes of the crystals, some of which were hundreds of feet high. Strips of chrome were added to the structures here and there; giving an indication of floors.

The entire city glittered like a collection of bright rubies as the light from the Solaris sun reflected off the sides of the buildings, each of these ‘buildings’ if you could call them that, were connected to one another via massive archways of the grandest baroque design, the occasional Shuttle flew high above the city.

“This cannot be; do my eyes deceive me,” Vargev exclaimed.

“No, they do not deceive you. It’s the reason why I couldn’t tell you on the shuttle, you had to see for yourself,” Kerulithar replied with a smile. “This is Solaria city, the capital of the entire Solarian confederacy, and one of our greatest achievements.”

“An entire city, built from crystal,” Michael said shaking his head almost in disbelief.

“The crystal was already here, as a people we crafted it into this.”

“People on Earth would pay a million credits to see a sight like this; I wish I had a camera,” Michael said.

“How did the crystal get here?” Vargev asked.

“Millions of years ago Solaria had two moons, Kyo and Ora’is, Ora’is exploded however. This caused huge tectonic upheavals on Solaria itself; earthquakes and volcanoes threw tonnes of ash and molten rock into the atmosphere; coming within a whisker of making all life extinct.” Kerulithar bowed his head low.

“With the ash clouding the atmosphere Solaria cooled as did the Volcanoes and the Lava flows. The bubbling chemicals on the surface went through a crystallization process, and produced the crystal structures you see today, crystal structures like these can be seen all over the planet; however this is the most dense cluster.”

“What is the chrome used for?” Michael asked.

“That’s the other great resource this planet has blessed us with; the core of Solaria is 60 % nickel and 40 % chromium, molten chromium was thrown up during the upheavals. It’s primarily used to strengthen the crystal, as well as aesthetic reasons.”

Kerulithar turned and made for the exit from the landing pad; Michael and Vargev followed him. The space port was full of hundreds of different types of aliens and other Solarians, talking, conducting business, and stopping by to have a drink in one of the many restaurants and bars that adorn the complex.

Soon the three of them exited the spaceport, and carried on their journey down one of the many arched walkways of the city. Resembling a wide roadway, anti gravity vehicles buzzed along the bustling street.

Along the paved sides of the archway thousands of Solarians and other races walked. To the right of them across the road, there was a massive structure almost a thousand meters high; it dominated the skyline in this part of Solaria city.

“What building is that?” Michael asked as he looked at it.

“That’s the Solarian central commerce building,” Kerulithar replied. “Most of the trade on Solaria is done there, in one form or another.”

They carried on past several other archways, some went under the one they were on, some loomed above casting great shadows, others connected directly to it.

At last after they had seemed to have walked for over an hour they came to a particularly wide crystal formation, with a large domed roof at its centre.

Continuing up a flight of marble steps, they entered through automatic glass doors. Inside there was a hushed atmosphere, the people inside all had an air of seriousness about them and were all dressed formally, the decoration was very formal also.

All this made Vargev and Michael in their torn, battered, and dirty landfall uniforms stand out like a sore thumb.

“Where are we?” Michael whispered.

“The Solarian council building,” Kerulithar whispered back, “It’s the seat of government for the entire Solarian Confederacy, and every planet has an elected member here, led by Solarian president Karalis.”

Kerulithar approached the nearest official, and began speaking. “I would hereby like to convene a meeting with the Solarian council as soon as is practicably possible; my name is ambassador Kerulithar.”

“The council is in deliberations at the moment, it’s unlikely that you will be able to convene a meeting for several days. They have an extremely busy schedule at this time,” the official replied.

“Please; it is a matter of great urgency,” Kerulithar replied, almost pleading with the official.

“One does not interrupt the council when in session,” the official replied sternly.

“It is these two Terrans who seek the council; their case is desperate and could have an impact on the galaxy at large, and I am acting on their behalf.”

“These are Terrans you say?” The official asked in amazement. He looked over at the humans again and then stammered. “I’ll notify the council.”

The official pushed open a pair of ornate looking chrome doors and disappeared inside.

“I hate politicians,” Vargev whispered.

“What’s to hate about politicians?” Michael laughed.

At length the official returned. “The council will grant your request; you may enter.”

Kerulithar raised an eyebrow at the relative ease of getting a hearing. It was hard enough even for Solarians let alone other races, yet he deigned to say nothing.

The three of them walked through the grand doors and into the council chambers itself.

Inside; the room was shaped like a vast oval, although only dimly lit; hundreds of delegates were all seated around its perimeter.

Several administrators worked in the centre; they were separated from the delegates by a handrail that ran almost the length of the entire room.

Kerulithar, Michael, and Vargev were ushered to a raised stand in the middle of the room; administrators were faced just in front of them.

The lights in the room swung around and shone down directly on Kerulithar, casting him in a bright white light. The only other light in the room was from a row of lighting embedded in the handrail which showed up the faces of the delegates and the head of the council.

Suddenly a deep, powerful voice came over the speakers in the room. “What do you seek from this council?” It asked.

Kerulithar spoke into a microphone fixed to the stand. “We seek for our case to be heard, Mr. President.”

Then the deep booming voice said again, “and what is your case?”

“I am acting on behalf of these two Terrans stood next to me; they have come to ask this council for aid for their people,” Kerulithar replied.

There was a brief hushed silence; a wave of excited whispering voices washed across the room. This was unheard of in Solarian politics, two Terrans stood in their own council; and issuing a declaration for aid, this was big news indeed.

Lights suddenly shone on Michael and Vargev as well; as if scrutinising them.

“And these are the Terrans?” The voice boomed again.

“They are, Mr. President,” Kerulithar replied.

“The Terrans may explain their case themselves,” the voice announced.

Michael and Vargev suddenly felt distinctly nervous, they were standing in possibly one of the most powerful ruling councils in the known galaxy. It was a place for senior diplomats and heads of state, and who were they? Just two humans, nobodies really, not even high ranking diplomats, just two ordinary humans trying to survive.

“You may speak before this council,” the voice came.

Michael tentatively began by telling them the same story he had told to Commander Ralavas at the Omicron repair facility, after Michael had finished, Vargev dutifully took his turn.

Then after several minutes; once the council had heard their stories, and the whispering of deliberations taking place, the voice boomed again. “This is a profound case with severe consequences and must be reviewed with a full panel, we will reconvene tomorrow at 2 o’clock local time, this session is now adjourned.”

They emerged out of the council; both Michael and Vargev felt somewhat disappointed and looked downcast, Kerulithar however looked jubilant.

“Why are you so happy?” Michael asked nonchalantly.

“That was incredible! They are going to give our case a full hearing. That has never been granted to an outside race in the history of the Solarian Confederacy, this is going to be talked about for weeks now,” Kerulithar replied triumphantly.

“But are they actually going to do anything, apart from just sit down and twiddle their political thumbs,” Vargev said.

“It is the best we could have hoped for.”

“I don’t know about you Kerulithar, but I didn’t come nearly half way across the galaxy, just to be told they might think about it,” Michael said.

“What more would you have me do? I’m just a simple ambassador!” Kerulithar retorted growing somewhat angry at the two human’s attitudes.

“To help us; give us a fighting chance against these Krenaran murderers,” Michael responded.

Vargev stood aside; quietly watching Michael and the Solarian argue. I should take bets on who’s going to come out on top, he thought with a mischievous smile forming across his face.

“That is for the council to decide,” Kerulithar pointed out.

“Well they had best decide quickly.”

At last Vargev stepped in, “look, this is getting us nowhere comrades. Let’s just get our heads down; get some sleep, and see what the council has to say tomorrow.”

Kerulithar and Michael both looked at the Major quizzically.

“What?” Vargev asked innocently.

“It’s kind of ironic,” Michael said smiling.

“What is?”

“A hard bitten, E.D. F commando veteran like you playing peacemaker,” Michael replied.

“Now don’t you lay any of that bullshit on me!” Vargev replied in mock anger.

They both laughed.

After a brisk walk along another archway they arrived at Kerulithars apartment. It was getting dark now; Kyo had reached its zenith high in the Solarian sky, stars were beginning to twinkle, and shuttle landing lights chased across the night sky which had turned a very deep crimson as the sun was almost set.

Kerulithars’ apartment was six floors up inside one of the myriad crystalline towers, and it was located close to the centre of the city. The Solarian opened a door and beckoned the two men inside. “Come in, this is my place, you are most welcome to spend the night here.”

“Nice place,” Michael said as he looked around.

“I like it; it was passed to me when my father died ten years ago,” Kerulithar replied.

The Solarian was busy making them both a drink when Vargev beckoned to Michael. “Over here; come and have a look at this.”

He was stood at the edge of the room, looking out over the city, Michael walked over to join him.

The streetlights on all of the archways had lit up gradually; bathing the archways in a soft light, as well as the parts of the buildings that they interconnected with. Occasionally the lights of an anti gravity vehicle could be seen as it traversed one of the archways. It was a calming yet beautiful sight.

“You are so lucky to live here Kerulithar,” Michael said. “After what I’ve seen of this city, I understand why the property prices are so high.”

“Thank you; here try this,” Kerulithar said walking over to them and handing them each a glass of a bright blue looking liquid. “It’s called Solarian Atollos.”

Both Michael and Vargev held the glass, eyeing it ever so suspiciously, Vargev sniffed it. It gave off a strong alcoholic smell.

In the end, both men gave in to politeness and drank from their glasses.

“Tastes a little like gin, or perhaps whisky,” Michael said.

“It reminds me of drinking the finest of vodka’s back in the motherland,” Vargev replied.

Kerulithar took their glasses from them, and after barely a single glass the humans began to stumble across the room as if barely able to stand, before finally collapsing onto their beds.

I must remember not to give the humans Atollos in the future, Kerulithar thought.

“Good night,” The Solarian said to the two inebriated humans as he pressed a control that made the crystal walls go dark. Vargev and Michael simply grunted their responses.

Next morning they awoke, Kerulithar was already awake and had been for some time, he was looking his typical cheerful self, both Michael and Vargev hurriedly got dressed and staggered out of the room groggily.

“What was that stuff you gave us last night?” Michael asked.

“It’s called Solarian Atollos.”

“Goddamn it, that stuff is lethal.”

“It is 98.2 % pure alcohol; however it also has a herbal extract, which only grows on Solaria. It is that extract which interacts with the taste buds and the areas of the brain that determine taste; fooling them into thinking that it’s the subject’s favourite drink.”

“Is that stuff legal?” Vargev asked.

“Yes. But only in Solarian territory, it seems we are the only species that can handle it, anywhere else and possession of it carries a heavy penalty. It has also been used by unsavoury characters to mask the taste of certain poisons.”

“Then why try it on us?” Michael asked.

“It has never been tried on humans before, I was curious to see if you could handle it; it looks like you’re intolerant to it also,” Kerulithar answered. “I thought you might like breakfast, we have a big day ahead of us today.”

“What is it?”

“It is a Solarian breakfast called Sorgrest, it is very sweet and full of energy.” The Solarian replied.

It looked like mashed up fern leaves, both Vargev and Michael eyed their bowls suspiciously. Not quite believing what Kerulithar was telling them, gingerly they tried some. And to their surprise they found that they liked it.

It tasted sugary and seemed to give the body an injection of energy which human breakfasts could only dream of; they quickly finished the bowl off and felt highly invigorated.

“This stuff is great how do you make it?” Michael asked.

“We found it purely by accident; a Solarian transport ship was damaged and crash landed on the moon Saris III; a planet within Solarian space. The moon did have an atmosphere but only small amounts of oxygen; enough to breathe but only barely,” Kerulithar paused for a moment. “The rescue vessel was weeks away and with little food the choice was either to eat the native Sorgrest plants or starve to death; and that is how we came upon it. In time we set up production facilities on that moon, and began to cultivate crops of it on other planets. It has been a staple breakfast food of our people ever since.”

They finished eating and found that they had some time to kill, so Kerulithar offered to show them some of the sights of the city.

The Solarian also pointed out that Michael and Vargev could do with some new clothes to wear; since the filthy and battered landfall uniforms looked horrendous.

He showed them to an advanced looking machine within his apartment. It had a display written in Solarian script, and what appeared to be a scanner.

Kerulithar told the two humans to remove their clothes so that the synthesiser could scan them into its central database, since there were no records of human military uniforms Kerulithar would have to create a new file based on the design of their clothes.

Michael and Vargev managed to grab a towel each to cover their modesty as they stripped and handed their clothes over to Kerulithar. Who touched a few controls on the panel and held each item of clothing up to the scanner in turn; within seconds of the synthesiser scanning a dirty item of clothing. An exact clean copy was created, which Kerulithar handed over to them before placing the old battered items into the synthesiser; which rapidly broke them down into their constituent molecules and reabsorbed them to be used again later.

Both of the men were overjoyed at having brand new clean uniforms instead of the dirty ones they had been tramping around in, in recent weeks. Once the humans had dressed again, they headed out of Kerulithars apartment.

They looked upon the huge Grand Sargrond theatre house, where an open air play was being performed; and the Elgrath stadium where Stallos is played.

“What is Stallos?” Michael asked.

“It is a popular sport here on Solaria, there are nine players to each team; they have to hit the ball with the forearm. If the ball drops to the ground the opposing team scores a point; there is a net in between the two teams, and they move around the field of play on small anti gravity boards,” Kerulithar pointed out to them.

“Kind of like volleyball, but with hoverboards,” Vargev filled in.

They continued walking along another of the giant archways, “do you show lots of plays on Solaria?” Michael asked.

“Oh yes; it is one of our primary forms of entertainment. We once had television like you do, however it fell out of favour on our world. Now we go to the theatre instead. There are still some small T.V. networks that do exist, but as a rule most Solarians don’t watch them,” Kerulithar checked a small pocket watch that he pulled out of a pocket in his robes. “It’s getting close to the time we must be getting back to the council building now.”

As they began to make their way back to the council building, Vargev pointed out the large black birds flitting from tower to tower.

“What kind of birds are those?” he asked watching them.

Kerulithar looked up and said, “they are the Logethi birds; they represent freedom and peace amongst my people, it is an offence on my planet to kill one.”

“They look really nice,” Vargev said.

After a short walk they made it to the entrance of the Solarian council building once again; walking up the marble steps for a second time. A large crowd had gathered for this momentous day.

“Obviously our story had generated some interest,” Michael whispered to the others.

Hundreds of Solarians had gathered on either side of the steps leading up to the building. They were being held back by barriers and the local Solarian planetary police, the crowd looked eager to catch a glimpse of the first two terrans to set foot on Solaria.

The mass of people cheered when they caught sight of Michael and Vargev, which made them both proud and uncomfortable in equal measure.

This time the same official stood and greeted them formally, “the council is expecting you, and is arrayed to review your case, you may go straight through.”

“Thank you,” Kerulithar said.

They walked through the ornate council doors and into the huge oval council chambers once again. This time the entire council was arrayed; fully 125 delegates from planets across Solarian space.

There was a hand picked public adjudication panel made up of some of the most noted theologians, scientists, philosophers, and lesser dignitaries on Solaria.

Kerulithar also noted that Saltovos; the head of Solarian military forces was also present. This is huge, he thought, the biggest case of my ambassadorial career.

The three of them once again stood on the raised stand in the centre of the room; lights gradually dimmed, and the handrail circling the room lit up once more. The lights in the ceiling suddenly turned on and once again bathed the ambassador in a bright white light.

The powerful and deep council voice boomed over the speakers once again. “Ambassador Kerulithar of Kendris III, do you still represent the Terrans presented before this council.”

“I do.”

“Thank you ambassador, you may now step down,” the voice boomed again. “This council is now in session.”

Kerulithar bowed respectfully and stepped down, taking his place behind the two humans.

“Terrans!” the voice spoke again, “please explain to this council how you got here; one more time.”

Vargev and Michael took to the stand and told their stories once again. The council sat quiet listening to the details intently.

After a short pause to take in these details, a delegate finally arose, “Ambassador Kerulithar.” The aged delegate said, “do you seriously think that this council would go to war with another alien race on the request of two low ranking Terran officers; without a single shred of evidence?”

Kerulithar took to the stand again. “There is significant evidence; I have it in my possession. And I would wish the council to look upon it.”

“Present your evidence,” the voice replied.

Kerulithar reached into his pocket and retrieved a small disc, passed it to the nearest administrator who took it and inserted the disc into a small reader; automatically a holographic screen shimmered into life above the centre of the council, casting the dark oval room in an emerald glow.

“It contains Commander Ralavas of the Omicron repair facilities’ testimony; the damage sustained by our captured Krenaran vessel. As well as sensor data from every action the ship has taken part in since its construction. It has also been translated for our benefit,” Kerulithar announced.

The delegates watched the footage aghast; a wave of whispers floated around the room, some of the delegates were clearly outraged by what they were seeing.

“How did you get that disc?” Michael whispered to the ambassador.

“I had Ralavas prepare it for me before we left Omicron. It arrived this morning while you were sleeping,” Kerulithar answered.

“I think I owe him a drink,” Michael said.

The disc was played in chronological order. It showed the vessel going on reconnaissance sorties deep into E.O.C. A territory long before the war actually started.

Data was displayed containing the relative strengths and weaknesses of E.D. F ships and facilities; it showed footage of the first attacks upon the civilian mining vessels. The disc was then paused.

“Terrans, can you identify for the benefit of this council the vessels that are under attack in this picture?” The council voice asked.

Michael spoke up, “yes; they are civilian mining vessels.”

There were some serious hushed whispers around the chamber at hearing this news, civilian targets were being attacked.

“Please continue,” the voice spoke aloud once again.

The disc continued playing; showing more attacks upon the mining vessels, and then the attack upon the Montfort; the disc was paused for a second time as the attack began.

“Terrans, can you identify the large vessel shown in the picture?” The voice asked again.

“It is an E.D. F Naval carrier, called the E.D.F. S Montfort, it was sent to investigate the attacks,” Michael answered.

The disc was played again; depicting the fiery destruction of the Montfort. Then the attacks upon the Agemman colony itself, plumes of thick black smoke rose high into the night sky, as torpedoes blasted apart building upon building.

Tracer fire from hastily erected artillery and anti-aircraft pieces from the 22 ^ nd E.D. F artillery company, the black panthers, could be seen lighting up the night sky as they desperately searched the sky for the attacking Krenaran vessels. Flames and explosions lit up the colony in bright flashes as torpedoes found their targets. Smoke filled the night sky; everywhere buildings were burning and bloodied bodies lay strewn across cratered streets.

Kerulithar said, “please pause the disc.”

The administrator did so.

“Notice how the Krenaran ships are leaving all the water sources untouched, we will come back to that later, please resume.”

The disc was played once again; the council studied Vargev as the disc showed more scenes of the wholesale slaughter at the Agemman colony.

At length one of the delegates stood and said, “you look like you recognise this atrocity.”

“I am one of the survivors from the attack on that colony; I was there the night it happened.” Vargev said, even his trained emotions seemed heavy with grief as he remembered the utter desolation of that small outlying colony.

Everywhere voices erupted across the chambers; here was an actual survivor; an eye witness to the events.

The disc continued playing. Now it portrayed the Krenaran ship in orbit, veering toward the E.D. F fleet, as the Krenaran ships silently massed for the attack on the battle group led by the Ulysses. Suddenly and almost simultaneously the Krenaran ships opened fire; huge explosions lit up the space immediately surrounding the battle. Rail-cannons thundered in response, and the lethal bright green particle beams of the Krenaran attackers tore open the hulls of the E.D. F ships, opening great rents of fire and twisted blackened metal.

Michael bowed his head low, this was the first time he had seen what transpired in the battle itself. He thought of Dylan and all the other 1640 souls on the Ulysses, whose lives ended that day, incinerated by five minutes of brutal fire fight.

“You seem in shock,” the speakers boomed again.

“Wouldn’t you be? I served aboard the flagship of that fleet; it’s called the E.D.F. S Ulysses,” Michael responded grief stricken.

They continued watching but it was a slaughter, finally Michael turned away; he could watch no more.

“The largest ship in that fleet; is that the flagship?” The council voice boomed.

“Yes, it’s called a Danitza class battleship, one of the largest and most advanced ships we produce, 1640 men died on that ship alone,” Michael announced.

“If you will, how many died in the battle in total,” the council asked.

Michael had to think hard, there were 7 ships involved in total. Two Ghandhi class destroyers, one Mandela class light cruiser, two Alexander class medium cruisers, the carrier Furious, and the Ulysses. That makes 3,290 men dead; the realisation of the scale of the slaughter struck him like a thunderbolt. That many dead, he could scarcely believe it. What with the attacks on the Agemman and Aurelias colonies, never in the history of the E.D. F or E.O.C. A have there been such losses.

“In total 3,290 Naval personnel died in that battle,” Michael replied trying to keep composed and to keep some form of professional detachment. The sheer scale of the slaughter made him waver though. Voices around the chambers also began to denounce the level of bloodshed.

The disc shown that once the battle was over; the ship landed on the planet.

Human slave trains could be seen shambling towards it. Beaten, bruised, and dressed barely in rags, every single one of them looked totally crushed; like their morale and spirit had been cruelly stripped away. The sheer amount of damage the devastated colony had taken was evident to all. It resembled a dusty, windswept, smoking ruin, almost devoid of life.

“They are using slaves; it’s a blatant violation of galactic laws!” One delegate shouted.

“We cannot get involved, it’s not our war!” Another exclaimed aloud.

Then suddenly like a tinderbox, the whole chamber was engulfed in furious debate, both for and against aiding the Terrans. The arguments were fierce; should the Solarians actually aid these Terrans? Or should they stay out of their war, it simply did not involve them?

After numerous shouts for order, the arguing gradually died down.

“We have definitely started something now,” Kerulithar said as he smiled at Vargev and Michael.

“This council will come to order!” The voice boomed even louder over the speakers.

There was a barely contained hush, one delegate stood up and asked, “is the disk genuine?”

Kerulithar passed the disc to an administrator who took it and handed it to a scientist on the adjudication panel who passed a small scanning device over the disc, scrutinising it carefully for several minutes.

“In my opinion, the disc is indeed genuine. I can find no evidence of tampering.”

Once again fierce debate erupted in the council chambers.

“This council will come to order!” The voice boomed again.

At length another delegate arose from across the room and said, “I know very well the history of the Terrans, you are an aggressive warmongering people, you have had two massive world wars, and very nearly a third. You kill your own people as easily as anyone else, and now you wish to bring your warmongering ways to the stars. I say we should not help these Terrans, they have brought this upon themselves, and they should deal with the consequences of it.”

Angry debate once again arose throughout the chambers, the voice boomed repeatedly calling for order, finally the delegates quietened down.

“And now I come to my final point,” Kerulithar said.

His hands were clasped together giving a sense of calm contemplation, he waited a few seconds; Michael suspected it was partly a diplomatic trick to get everyone’s attention on him, and partly to gauge the reaction of the council, which fell suddenly silent. He put a finger into the air as if pointing out something.

“Why do you think the Krenarans have left all the water sources undamaged?”

He gave another little pause as if to emphasize the point. “We all know that Terra has abundant amounts of water in its oceans, lakes and rivers, as does the other Terran colonies, Sicarius IV, Gamma Aurigulon, and Brianus.”

Again Kerulithar gave a little pause to let the council take this in. “They are leaving the water sources undamaged because there are untold billions of credits worth to trade. The Krenarans will undoubtedly use some of it for themselves; the vast majority however will be sold on to the highest bidder. With the massive influx of revenue gained from the water, their military will go into overdrive.”

He looked over the council members, noting several of them nodding in agreement.

“Advanced technology will be developed at a far faster rate than previously thought; as they will now have the capital to fund it, and new, even more powerful ships will be built much more quickly. For water remains one of the most expensive natural resources anywhere in the known galaxy. We all know that the Krenaran race is an aggressive, hostile, and expansionistic race.”

Once again he paused for emphasis.

“Do you really think they will stop with the Terrans when they have access to that kind of power? The Krenarans could pose a threat to every major race in the known galaxy.”

He paused to let the seriousness of the situation sink in. “Can we really afford not to get involved?” He said finally.

The chambers were deathly silent, as the realisation of the seriousness of the situation had finally hit home.

The Krenarans were not invading to eradicate the human race, far from it, but to enslave them, and to strip them of a resource that until now was regarded as plentiful and rather inexpensive by human standards.

Michael and Vargev also realised this and were stunned by the news. The reason why so many people were dying was water, just plain old H2O.

Every delegate in the council mulled over the prospect that in the years to come the so called mighty Solarian Confederacy, could indeed feel the impact of this war themselves; and very possibly be defeated by it. In the years to come it could be Solarians in those slave chains.

Finally after a long pause; Karalis, the Solarian President stood and addressed the council.

“All those in favour of aiding the Terrans in their war with the Krenarans, please vote on your terminals; all against the motion please also register your vote.”

Each delegate pressed a button on a keypad mounted on their desks. Very quickly a set of numbers flashed up on a computer screen at the administrators’ position.

“All votes are in,” she said.

“What say you?” Karalis replied.

“122 votes for; and 3 against,” the administrator replied.

“Confirmed the count is accurate,” spoke another.

“We have done it!” Kerulithar punched the air in jubilation.

“Adjudication panel, what say you?” Karalis addressed the panel.

“In light of all the evidence presented here, we unanimously vote to aid the Terrans in their war with the Krenaran Empire.”

“Let the Solarian warhost be gathered; I want all ships prepared and battle worthy. When is the minimum amount of time this can be achieved, Primar Saltovos.”

“Six weeks to gather the warhost, Mr President.”

“Six weeks it is then; I want a full battle plan formed and presented to me before then.”

“It will be done,” Saltovos replied.

Karalis turned his attention to the two Terrans, “what would you want us to do with the ship which you arrived in; the captured Krenaran vessel.”

“The Liberty,” Michael corrected. “I would like to keep her under our command if I may Mr. President.”

“As you wish; however we would advise some Solarian upgrades to the vessel. It is currently docked at the Omicron shipyard; which is one of the best equipped for this type of work in Solarian space,” Karalis pointed out.

“Excellent; I have seen how powerful your ships are first hand, you would get no argument from me Mr President,” Michael replied.

“Call me Karalis,” The president smiled and nodded respectfully at the two Terrans.

“We are in agreement then; the Liberty will be ready in six weeks time before the warhost sets off into Terran space. This is the first agreement between our two peoples, and I hope the first of many. The small Terran empire may yet rule the fates of all; for what its worth you have made a friend in the Solarian people today Michael Alexander.”

“As have you in the Earth and Outer Colonies Alliance, Mr…erm…Karalis, sir,” Michael stammered.

Karalis laughed, “in six weeks.”

They exited the council jubilant, and to a cheering crowd who had just heard the news. This was a historic day and news of this would spread right across Solarian space.

Both Michael and Vargev were greatly heartened by what they had just accomplished, it was by no means easy but now they had a chance to fight back; finally someone was on their side. But they were also worried at the same time.

“Six weeks,” Michael said to Vargev. “That’s a hell of a long time; I hope there is an E.D. F left to save.”

“So do I comrade, so do I,” Vargev replied.

Michael, Vargev and Kerulithar continued their stroll back towards Kerulithars apartment.

“Well that’s it; the Solarians are coming to…what do you call it…kick the Krenarans ass,” the ambassador pointed out.

Michael and Vargev laughed. “Something like that.”

Six weeks, Michael thought, I hope there will be an E.D. F left by the time we get there.

“When we get there, the war will be waiting for us comrade,” Vargev said, as if reading Michaels’ thoughts.

“That’s a bit of a turn around, you were all for taking the Liberty and using it against the Krenarans as soon as we captured her.”

“Let’s just say we have a bit better chance now. When the Liberty and the rest of the Solarian fleet start smashing into the Krenarans they’re not going to know what hit them.”

“And the Solarian government shouldn’t have too much trouble in maintaining popular support for our involvement. Krenaran attacks on our borders have been growing for some time and the government just needed an excuse, conveniently, you gave them one,” Kerulithar added.

Chapter 10

Liberty Resurgent

They arrived back at the apartment; Kerulithar ushered the two men inside.

“This calls for a celebratory drink,” the Solarian reached toward a cupboard which opened automatically and took out a bottle of a yellowish coloured liquid. He handed each of the two men a glass, and poured them each a drink, which the two men eyed with even more suspicion.

“Don’t worry; it’s not Atollos. This is Gimva whisky from Celius II; I was given it from the Governor there for helping to mediate a dispute between two rival terrorist factions.”

Michael and Vargev gingerly sipped from the glass. It was not like an ordinary whisky, this was smooth and slightly fruity, but it still had the warmth that traditional whiskies had.

They spent the night in Kerulithars apartment once again, Michael asked the ambassador the question he had been pondering all day, “why six weeks?”

“Solarian space is vast, there are 125 planets spread out across nearly 400 light years, six weeks is the minimum that the warhost could be mustered.”

“Now I understand,” Michael said feeling a little stupid.

Next morning they awoke and had breakfast, “I’m going to take some of this with me.” Vargev said as he ate the sorgrest mash with gusto.

“Unfortunately it only keeps fresh for a week.”


“You might be able to find dried sorgrest on Omicron though. But the drying process takes some of the taste out.”

After they had breakfast they were making ready to depart back to Omicron.

“I wonder what gadgets they are going to put on the Liberty,” Michael thought aloud.

“The likelihood is they will explain what the technology does, and how it operates, then they will give you the choice of whether you want it or not,” Kerulithar said.

“The first thing I’ll want is all the controls in plain English,” Michael smiled. They arrived back at the Allathas spaceport again and despite the bustling crowds, managed to make it to pad ‘B’ where the shuttle was located.

Kerulithar opened the hatch once again, and all three of them went inside, the Solarian pressed a control and the hatch gently closed behind them, once Kerulithar had took up his position on the pilots’ seat he keyed in a few more controls and the shuttle began to gradually power up.

He contacted the Spaceport and requested clearance to depart. After a short pause while launch control checked that it was clear an affirmative came. The Solarian keyed in a few more controls and the gravitic engines slowly powered up with their customary whine; the shuttle began to lift off, quickly gathering speed.

Michael peered out the side window next to him and looked down at the shrinking form of Solaria city below. Feeling a slight sadness at leaving, at the possibility of not getting to experience the beauty and majesty of Solaria again, and he wished Jana and Theo were there and could see what he had seen. He also wondered if one day humanity could build something anywhere near as beautiful.

The shuttle punched through the cloud cover; soon enough they had achieved orbit of Solaris IV, the familiar multitude of vessels and facilities that crowded the orbit of the planet greeted them once again, and Kerulithar had to manoeuvre the shuttle around several large bulk transports and freighters, before they put enough distance between them and the planet to clear the throng of vessels.

The journey back to Omicron was once again an uneventful one; with the three of them swapping places again to take turns between resting and piloting. Two days journey later and they had arrived back at the Omicron repair facility.

It was slightly busier than usual. Already a dozen sleek Solarian battle cruisers had formed up in close formation near to the facility.

“It looks like they are also using Omicron as a staging point; more ships will be arriving soon,” Kerulithar pointed out.

He contacted the station requesting docking clearance, and it was heartily granted.

“Apparently the news of our deliberations with the council has reached here already.”

Michael and Vargev simply smiled, hey at least the good guys are finally beginning to get some support in this goddamn war, Michael thought.

The shuttle slowly glided into a hangar bay almost full of other shuttles and fighters all lined up; and it gradually touched down in an empty space near to the other shuttles. The hangar bay doors slowly closed behind the small craft.

Once the doors had closed, and the bay was re-pressurised, Solistis made his way across the hangar bay as they disembarked the shuttle to greet them, “Welcome back,” he said warmly. “Commander Ralavas has been expecting you.”

“No doubt he has,” Michael said with a smile as they walked with the Solarian officer once again.

“We heard what happened on Solaria; news is spreading fast throughout the Confederacy. An alliance with the Terrans and war with the Krenarans; repairs are also going well with the captured Krenaran vessel.” He said as he walked.

“The Liberty,” Michael corrected him once again; he wondered how many times he would have to do this. “As for an alliance; that is for our governments to decide between themselves, all we asked for was aid.”

“Of course, my mistake.”

“It does feel good to finally be able to take the fight to the Krenarans though,” Vargev interjected.

Eventually they arrived at Commander Ralavas’ Office once again.

“Ah, Michael Alexander and Nikolai Vargev if I remember correctly; welcome back to Omicron, I trust your stay on Solaria wasn’t too hectic?”

“Well apart from the council,” Michael replied. “You have one hell of a city over there.”

“Thank you. It’s one of our proudest achievements, though personally I have never been there.”

Michael was genuinely surprised at this news, a high-ranking Solarian Commander that has never been to his homeworld before, but then again being the Commander of a repair facility the size of Omicron; Ralavas mustn’t get out much.

“I have just received the repair report on your ship the Liberty.” The Commander continued, picking up a small display device. “Exterior hull damage is eighty percent complete; the primary sub-light drive however was damaged beyond repair so with your permission I would like to replace it with a Solarian negative Ion propulsion system.”

“What benefits would it give us, and how long would it take to fit?” Michael asked.

“Solarian propulsion units have been found to be thirty percent faster than typical Krenaran units, as well as being more reliable. However they do use more power, so we would have to upgrade the primary power source on-board,” Ralavas said.

“May we see the Liberty?” Vargev asked.

“Of course.”

They made their way down to the lower repair docks, and stood by a large viewing platform. There in all its dark brooding glory, rested the Liberty.

Unmanned repair drones controlled by Solarians on board the station crawled over parts of its hull that were damaged in the fighting. Flashes from the drones’ welding arcs could be seen reflecting off the Liberty’s dark hull.

“Soon we will strike back against those Krenaran scum,” Michael whispered with malice, almost as if he was talking to the ship.

“We have drawn up a list of upgrades as advised by the Solarian council that we would like to carry out to the ship,” the Commander said as he passed the data pad over to Michael after re-configuring it so that he could read it.

Michael took the list and began reading through it; a new negative Ion propulsion system, and replacement of the Krenaran thruster system with Solarian Ionic ones. Replacement of standard Krenaran torpedoes with new Solarian high energy launchers, and finally replacement of the standard Krenaran particle cannon with a Solarian fusion cannon.

Ralavas ran through the relative advantages of each. “The Solarian Ionic thruster system, especially when linked with the negative Ion propulsion system, allows the vessel to turn within approximately half its current turning circle.”

There was a slight pause as he fumbled for words, “what is that saying you Terrans have? Turn on a sixpence.”

Michael and Vargev both smiled.

Ralavas continued, “Solarian high energy torpedoes have a forty percent higher yield than Krenaran ones, and an eighty percent higher explosive force. We would like to replace both launchers and install automatic feeds, with 30 warheads per launcher,” he said watching the two humans nodding in agreement.

“And the Solarian fusion cannon has been constantly developed, researched, and re-developed to become the most powerful anti-ship weapon anywhere in the known galaxy. However with that we have a slight problem.”

“What’s that?” Michael asked.

“To fit the fusion cannon would require the stripping of the old detention facility on deck five to allow the fitting of the power couplings, fusion coils, and targeting matrices essential to the operation of the cannon.”

“It’s not like we need the detention centre anymore anyway,” Michael replied as he looked at Vargev.

There was still one burning question on Michael’s mind however; how the hell were they going to operate all this stuff.

The Solarians were turning the Liberty into a veritable ship of death. Filling it full of new advanced technology that was light years ahead of what the E.D. F could produce; even now as he looked upon it he swore that the ship took on a more menacing air.

Were they becoming as bad as the Krenarans? He hoped not, he swallowed his pride and said. “Carry out your modifications Commander.”

Ralavas was making his way to the door when Michael turned toward him; remembering another important question. “All the ships functions will be in English, right?”

“Our translation processors are already working on it,” the Solarian Commander gave them a respectful nod, turned and left the booth.

“I am not sure this is right Nikolai, the Solarians don’t just want to go to war with the Krenarans, they want to decimate them. They’re turning the Liberty into a virtual ship of death.”

“It is what must be done comrade,” Nikolai replied. “You saw how they attacked Agemman, and tore apart the fleet in orbit.”

“But in defeating the Krenarans, will we become like them?”

“That; no man can guess, but I honestly believe the E.D. F and E.O.C. A will grow stronger and more powerful from this.”

Michael considered this for a moment, “I hope you’re right Nikolai.”

“So do I.”

Kerulithar returned to the booth bearing drinks for everyone. Michael and Vargev both took one; long minutes were spent watching the repair work being done, the small unmanned vessels continued to constantly repair the damaged parts of the Liberty’s hull.

Michael and Vargev slept in quarters that had been prepared for them during their stay. Michael slept rather uneasily; haunted by the magnitude of the storm they had just unleashed. Would anyone survive it? He simply didn’t know.

Next morning he awoke feeling no better; the three of them had breakfast together in the canteen area of the station, and they spent some more time in the booth watching the repairs and upgrades progress.

Later in the day Kerulithar spoke to the both of them.

“Gentlemen, my work here is now done, the Solarians are going to aid you in your war, however I am an ambassador and not a soldier.” He took a slight breath before continuing, “my place is at the negotiating table. I hope to count you among my friends and I look forward to visiting your planet in the future, as you have mine. I really hope that this trial leads to true friendship between our peoples. I will bid you a good day and good luck in your war.” Finally he said with a nod, “may your people prosper.”

“And yours,” Michael and Vargev replied together; they were sad that Kerulithar was leaving. However they understood his motives; he had no reason to be here. They both hoped they would see him in the future if they survived this war.

“Thank you for all that you have done for us,” Michael said.

“As you Terrans say, it was nothing,” and with that Kerulithar, the Solarian ambassador, left the two humans.

Over the next few days Michael watched as the repair drones and small one man vessels carried equipment over to the Liberty; and as the days and weeks rolled on he watched his pride and joy metamorphose into the lethal killing machine it now was, and he didn’t like it.

He felt like he was slowly selling his soul to the devil, the smaller torpedo launchers at the top of the ship were gradually replaced by two huge launchers. The wrecked primary sub light drive was replaced with the brand new Solarian unit. Great indents were cut into the port and starboard sides of the ship. There the new Solarian Ionic thruster systems sat glowing a bright electric blue as it powered up.

Michael watched as his favourite Roy Orbison song, ‘only the lonely’ he had requested was playing in the background of the viewing platform.

Every spare man was busy on the Liberty; desperately trying to have it ready for the approaching deadline which was just two weeks away.

A few more days passed, and finally they began the first manned test of the vessel. Michael and Vargev both watched on a nearby monitor, as the wreckage of a previously decommissioned, and very old Solarian merchant vessel was towed out into space a safe distance away from the station.

All was quiet; the wreckage of the aged ship simply floated there silently.

Then like a bullet, the Liberty swooped down upon the drifting vessel. Its fusion cannon shot out an incandescent bright blue beam of death, which slammed into the wreckage with tremendous force; the wreckage was smashed to pieces with a huge explosion, the pieces of debris scattered in all directions. The flames slowly dispersed as the Liberty shot past where the wreck once floated.

It was at that moment when Michaels’ will wavered, as he watched the sheer speed and lethal efficiency that it dispatched the abandoned vessel.

Nikolai also watched, smiling, his head nodding in appreciation.

“I’m not sure I want to do this Nikolai.”

The major was beginning to tire of Michael’s despondent mood, “listen to me, you little prick!” The Russian roared. “I have not travelled half way across the galaxy, watched thousands of innocent people be slaughtered and be damned near strangled to death, just for you to quit now.” Fuming, he took a short breath. “Those fucking Krenarans have killed thousands of people; ripped apart my entire unit, many of which were my friends. And you want to go easy on them!”

He paused slightly as he collected his thoughts. “We’re going to take the Liberty, and, with the help of the Solarians we are going to tear apart every goddamn Krenaran we see, no warnings, no prisoners; nothing, period. So you better toughen up real quick.” The Russian said as he stormed out of the room in disgust.

Michael was left alone, his thoughts went to the video of the Agemman attack; of the mutilated bodies lying upon broken streets, just left there to rot, attracting flies and maggots and smelling of charred meat.

What of the attack on Bravo Gamma base at the Aurelias colony, and the destruction of unarmed civilian transports simply trying to find a place to land and a new home, since the one they had; had been reduced to rubble.

His thoughts turned to Jana and Theo, what of them? Would they be ripped apart from the Krenaran weaponry or led away in chains to god knows where.

An angry fire was beginning to rise in him now; he could not, would not, let that happen. The Krenarans were doing terrible atrocities to humanity and they had not deserved it. They had not even known the Krenarans, or the Solarians for that matter even existed two months ago. Humanity was quite happily going along completely oblivious to the races that surrounded them. Settling new worlds and developing new technologies, and just generally getting on with things.

And then this war had to happen, didn’t it; and now because of the Krenarans the whole galaxy is going to hell and a hand basket. Michael wanted to take the Liberty right now and ram its Fusion cannon down the throat of every last Krenaran that dared to stand in his way, and press the trigger. He strode out the viewing platform and said to Nikolai, “let’s show these Krenaran bastards who they’re really messing with.”

An evil smile rose across Nikolai’s mouth, curling his moustache slightly, “that’s better.”

Over the next week and a half they were involved in every major test the Solarians performed on the Liberty; until with just 24 hours to go until the deadline. The work was finally finished.

And there it was; the E.D.F. S Liberty, a mix of Krenaran and Solarian technology. Owned and controlled by the E.D.F. And with it, they would strike the hammer blow that would end this Krenaran war once and for all.

Vargev, Michael and over a hundred Solarian workers stood in the canteen area and had a celebratory drink. Commander Ralavas had come down and led the celebrations personally.

“In 24 hours we will receive the signal to get underway; sixty eight Solarian Battle cruisers have already arrived, and are lined up in formation outside the station.”

He paused for a moment as he regarded the arrayed Solarians, as well as Micheal and Vargev. “Shortly the Liberty will join the formation at its head since the Terrans know their territory much better than we do. Then with a single command the entire formation; together with fleets stationed at other facilities from across the Solarian border, shall fall upon the Krenaran enemies like a great hurricane; blasting everything in its path.”

He paused for a breath as the arrayed crowd nodded in approval. “The Liberty will be at its head, like the dagger that will pierce the heart of the Krenaran battle lines, and we will go on to victory; and to the defeat of the Krenarans!”

The whole galley rose as one, “to the defeat of the Krenarans!”

Michael thought to himself; yes the ship is small, it only had a standing crew of 41 people and it is only 140 meters long, but like a 140 meter long rapier it shall be, slicing through the Krenarans with a speed and ferocity that is unmatched.

That night when the celebrations were all over they slept for the final time before setting off once again; to war.

Commander Ralavas met them the next morning and asked, “how are you feeling.”

“Excited, nervous, and even a tiny bit hopeful, it’s a feeling we have not felt in a long time. At last our people may have a chance,” Michael said solemnly.

“I took the liberty of revamping the stealth abilities on board; you will be detectable to all ships except the Krenarans. We don’t want to shoot you by mistake,” a wry smile fell across the Solarian Commanders features.

Michael smiled, the irony of what Ralavas had said was not lost on him, the very ability that had plagued the E.D. F was now being used against the Krenarans.

“Will you be coming with us?” Vargev asked.

“Unfortunately, I will be staying here; I think this place is going to get very busy in the months to come. You had best go, the signal to get underway will be coming soon, and the Liberty should be with the fleet.”

“Goodbye Commander; and thank you for all that you have done. You’re people have given a ray of hope to humanity,” Michael said with sincerity.

“No, thank you,” Ralavas replied nodding graciously. “And I hope one day we will meet again.”

And with that Michael and Vargev made the long journey through the Omicron repair facility; passing repair bays where other ships were birthed and docking ports where the endless stream of transports picked up and offloaded supplies to the station.

Finally they made it to the lower repair bay and strode onboard the Liberty. As soon as they stepped onboard they immediately noticed the difference. Clunky Krenaran control panels blackened with ruptures caused by the Krenarans’ onslaught were instead replaced by sleek new customisable touch screen systems.

Making their way to the elevator; the Automatic doors slowly opened, and as they stepped inside a welcoming sounding female voice greeted them, “destination please.”

“It’s in English!” They both shouted with relief, laughing.

“Unknown command, please repeat your request.”

“Command centre,” Michael replied with a smile.

The elevator silently whisked them to their destination; presently they arrived and stepped out onto the new command centre; both gasped in shock, oh how it had changed.

The pilot’s seat remained largely as it had been before, except there were not so many exposed wires; instead they were hidden. New comfortable chairs were arrayed along the perimeter of the oval shaped command centre. And new touch screen displays lined the walls, each with sophisticated lit up keypads. And in the centre of the command area there was a lone chair, the famous command chair.

A Solarian got up out of the chair and addressed them. “I hereby relinquish command of the Liberty to you; Michael Alexander.”

Michael nodded, “Thank you, err…”

“Televis sir,” The Solarian nodded.

Michael stifled a chuckle, “Televis, I gratefully receive command.”

Vargev took up a position at the weapons console; now that they were in plain English he was confident he could use them; while Michael took up the command chair, “Okay; let’s get this show on the road.” He said clicking his fingers.

The Solarians, who were unfamiliar with the gesture, looked at one another quizzically.

“Bring main power online,” Michael commanded.

The highly trained Solarian crew quickly responded and with a deep thrumming noise the new Solarian power core blazed into life; lights began to flicker into action all over the ship.

“Contact Omicron station, and request permission to depart.”

Suddenly a new holographic viewscreen shimmered into life at the front of the command centre; Michael almost fell off his seat as the face of Ralavas appeared.

“Sorry did I startle you,” the Commander said with a smile. “You have clearance to depart, Liberty.”

The holographic viewscreen shimmered back out of existence, just the wall of the command centre remained.

Now that is seriously cool, Michael thought. He recovered his thoughts and said, “blow docking hatch.”

The docking hatch on the starboard side of the Liberty blew with a hiss of released air, the short interconnecting walkway slowly retracted inside the Liberty and locked into place. Finally a panel slid over the hatch simultaneously hiding the hatch from view, restoring the outer hull, and keeping the stealth capabilities intact.

“Main engines at docking speed, port and starboard thrusters at navigator’s discretion,” Michael said.

The Liberty slowly glided close to the station; navigation lights from the outstretched docking ports and towers illuminated its black and silver hull as it gently drifted past them, the starboard Ionic thrusters lit up in a dazzling electric blue, increasing their brightness temporarily; as the small ship gradually banked away from the station.

“Rendezvous with the fleet and match formation; bearing 127 elevation 14.”

With a bright blue blaze of light the Ionic thrusters spun the ship around; its main engines also glowed as they propelled the little ship forward to join the huge Solarian armada now parked outside the station. There it spun around again and took up its position at the head of the fleet, where it silently waited.

“Jesus; I thought the thrusters would be good but not this good,” Michael said trying to hold onto his seat.

A tense quiet came over the ship as they awaited the signal to depart. Crewmembers busied themselves performing final systems checks; Michael and Vargev both grew pensive.

“It is the calm before the storm,” the Russian said almost whispering. He muttered a silent prayer to the motherland.

They continued silently waiting as if for the starting lights of a race. All 69 ships in perfect wedge formation; there was no movement and barely a sound.

The holographic viewscreen finally shimmered into life once again showing Ralavas’ features. “Clearance to commence operations has been given; good journey, and good luck.” The viewscreen shimmered out of existence once again.

In perfect unison the entire formation advanced. Indeed nearly seven hundred battle cruisers, escorts, and frigates, from two dozen facilities across the Solarian border slowly advanced as one into E.O.C. A territory that day.

On board the Liberty Michael commanded, “green light has been given; increase speed to full sub-light. Signal the fleet to engage plasma drive bearing 120 elevation 9 once we are clear of the station.”

“That would take us to Delta base,” Vargev said.

“Exactly; we will rendezvous with the remainder of the fleet there. And then organise the counter offensive.”

“Okay, you’re the boss.”

As the fleet accelerated away from the imposing silvery silhouette of the Omicron repair facility; a mass of swirling plasma wakes opened, and the fleet entered plasma drive together in a series of blinding flashes that lit up the entire station.

They had begun their race to save what was left of humanity.

Several hours into their trip Michael decided that the excitement he felt about rushing to the aid of his fellow men had given way to hunger. He decided to once again brave the food synthesiser; maybe it now had something reasonably edible to eat.

He headed to the elevator suddenly stopping short, and half-turned. “Televis, you are in command until I get back.”

The Solarian officer nodded in return, and with that Michael stepped onto the elevator and waited for the doors to close.

“Mess area,” he said as the elevator complied and whisked him off to his destination.

Televis; who the hell came up with a name like that, he had a little chuckle to himself as he thought about it.

At length when Michael arrived at the mess area he could not believe the change the small room had gone through.

The bare metal table was no more; instead a grand marble one had replaced it. However, it was the food synthesiser that Michael marvelled at the most; now there was a touch screen panel, in both English, and Solarian script, highlighting the different meals on offer. Michael perused the menu; he found there were hundreds of pre-programmed human and Solarian dishes on offer.

How did they do it? He thought. How did the Solarians get to know so much about us without being detected in the process? I mean they don’t look like us that’s for sure. They were 7 feet tall for heaven’s sake, completely bald, with thin, gangly arms and legs and a Blue-ish tinged skin; moreover, they definitely don’t talk like us either. They spoke with almost an echo of multiple voices all speaking as one.

Michael wondered if indeed they were telepathic. At once he dismissed the thought and keyed in his choice on the panel; good old steak pie with mashed potato and gravy, one of his old favourites; he was going to enjoy this; sitting down he began to eat.

The food was very appetising, but somehow it still had a very slight dryness to it, that home cooked meals didn’t. Still, he had to doff his cap to the Solarians for the effort they had put in. After finishing his meal, he surveyed the empty plate.

“Close but no cigar,” he said to himself, with a slight smile.

Once he had finished, he returned the crockery to the synthesiser to be reabsorbed. And decided to head back to the command centre; the elevator took him to his destination and he stepped out onto his new nerve centre once again.

“Any news?” He asked, settling back down into the centre seat once Televis had given way to him.

“Nothing of note,” the Solarian said. “It’s been rather quiet since you have been gone. Captain Sallus aboard the Faeriath has requested an approximate E.T. A; and the Loganith has developed a problem with its port thrusters. They have decided to drop back to make repairs, however they are confident that it will be fixed and allow them to rejoin the fleet before we arrive at Delta base.”

“Do they need an escort?”

“Negative; they are saying it’s only a minor problem, and should be resuming presently.”

“Good. Once the fighting begins we are going to need all the ships we can lay our hands on.”


“Captain?” Another Solarian spoke up.

Michael smiled at this since he only held the rank of Lieutenant; however he recognised the Naval custom of calling whoever was in command ‘Captain’, the Solarians must have a similar custom.

“A small fleet of six enemy Krenaran vessels have just shown up on our long range scanners; should we advise the fleet to change course and intercept?”

“Are they Stealth ships or Carriers?” Michael asked rather nervously as he mentioned the latter.

“Unknown at this range sir; however their mass seems to imply they are Stealth ships.”

“Have they detected us?”

“Not yet sir; they seem to be heading towards the Malthus system,” the Solarian replied.

Michael considered this for a moment; that’s a significant detour from our course to Delta base, especially for just six Krenaran ships. Ultimately he conceded they had bigger duties to attend to.

“Our first priority is that we need to get to Delta base to rendezvous with whatever’s left of the E.D. F fleet; contact the nearest Solarian task force, and transmit their co-ordinates; ask them to head them off before they reach Malthus.”

“Very good Captain.”

Michael relaxed in his chair a little, I could get used to this, “how long until we reach Delta base?”

“Five hours at present speed,” Televis replied.

The time passed slowly; Michael paced the command centre impatiently; looking over the monitors that lined the perimeter of the bridge. Something’s wrong; it’s too quiet, he thought.

Finally a Solarian officer broke the silence, “Sir, i’m definitely picking up something. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s definitely not moving. And it’s big; I think it maybe a collection of ships all tightly packed together.”

Michael looked at the officer, puzzled; then said, “bring it up on the viewer.”

The holographic viewscreen shimmered into existence once again. It showed what appeared to be a faint collection of metallic objects far in the distance.


There as plain as day drifted the blasted and blackened wreckage of dozens of E.D. F Naval vessels. They could make out the shapes of two Danitza class battleships; their once proud primary rail-cannon turrets smashed to pieces.

There was a Jupiter class assault carrier, the biggest ship in the E.D. F fleet, only four of them existed, and even losing one was a devastating blow for the Navy.

Two Jefferson class heavy destroyers also drifted, once thought of as a sturdy and capable warship. As well as the remains of a few Washington class heavy cruisers, which were identified by their raised rear sections and angled rail-cannons along their flanks. Dotted about the remains of the larger ships were several Ghandhi class destroyers and Mandela class light cruisers, obviously they were the escort force.

“How many are there?” Michael whispered.

“I count 27 vessels in all; of various sizes.”

Michael simply stared at the holoviewer; the scale of the devastation was hard to comprehend. Once proud vessels now reduced to smashed wrecks, the thought saddened and depressed him in equal measure.

After a few moments of silent contemplation Vargev suddenly spoke up, “any signs of life; at all?”

“None,” the Solarian replied solemnly.

Not a soul had survived it, Michael thought. He silently offered a prayer to all the brave people now lost in that horrendous graveyard. Even Vargev was moved as the holoviewer displayed the broken, blackened, smashed hulls of the various ships, silently drifting. Not a light twinkled, a power conduit crackled, nor even the fiery glow of an intact booster, it was like they were ghosts of what they once were.

Michael could just make out a single very small shape moving amongst the wreckage; it was barely visible amongst the comparatively enormous hulls of the wrecks.

“What is that?” He pointed out squinting at the screen.

The holoviewer zoomed in again.

There it showed the frozen remains of a mutilated E.D. F Naval officer, obviously he had been blasted out into space during the battle.

The frozen, yet perfectly preserved body slowly and silently drifted past the hull of a heavy destroyer; it was missing a leg, just reduced to a frozen crimson stump.

The body slowly rotated to face them; it began to reveal its features to the holoviewer. It’s left cheek; it’s bloodied, cracked, and frozen lips. It’s left eye, frozen open, unblinking.

It continued to rotate; as it did it revealed its horrific visage. Half of the man’s face had been torn away; showing the inside of his skull, bloodied, crimson and perfectly preserved, mashed pieces of bloodied brain matter and tissue remained inside the corpses frozen head.

It continued its slow rotation.

Michael turned away wanting to be sick, “murdering Krenaran bastards.” He muttered over pressed, angry lips.

Chapter 11

Ghost station

“Continue on course,” Michael said, wanting to put the awful grisly scene behind him.

The fleet accelerated again; jumped back into plasma drive and resumed their journey towards Delta base. Two hours later something began to show up on the ships sensors.

“We’ve just picked up something large and unmoving,” the Solarian sensor operator said.

Michael turned toward the officer; please don’t let it be another one of those ship graveyards he thought. His mind was still reeling from the sight of the dead Naval officer; it haunted him, and would for many days yet.

There was a tense silence amongst the staff on the command centre, as the Solarian officer studied his readings. “It has what appears to be some kind of defensive ring around it,” the officer said.

The news immediately made Michael feel better, as he realised what the officer may have found. He made his way over to the monitor, and decided to see for himself.

“It’s Delta base,” he almost cried out in jubilation. “We’ve arrived.”

He quickly walked back over to his chair, and seated himself again. “Signal the fleet to drop out of plasma drive on my order,” he said with authority driven by enthusiasm.

Immediately the Solarian command staff got to work, hands flew over consoles as crewmen contacted other ships notifying them of the situation; all this within minutes and with consummate skill, the entire command centre buzzed into life.

“The fleet confirms it is standing by,” Televis said.

“Major, order alert status, we don’t want any surprises. And Televis signal the fleet to do the same,” Michael shouted out his orders as though he was already a seasoned Captain; despite he had only been in command of the Liberty for a few days. Technically Nikolai out ranked him, however since Michael was much more highly trained in ship based operations the Russian allowed the Naval officer the infraction.

The command centre darkened noticeably, light from the myriad displays shone out; casting shadows across the oval room. Above every console a red light shone unblinking; bathing the command centre in a dark ruddy glow. The entire room took on a menacing air showing what the Liberty was really designed to do; and that was to remorselessly, and uncaringly destroy absolutely everything in its path.

Michael gave the nod, “drop out of plasma drive.”

Together; the Liberty and the entire fleet dropped out of plasma drive in a huge flash, lighting up the surrounding space.

“Bring up the viewer.”

The holographic viewscreen shimmered into life once again. Clearly depicting the enormous form of Delta base; it had changed much from when Michael had last seen it, it looked broken, badly damaged. The outer defence perimeter was still standing, although barely, huge breaches were clearly evident; rents were torn across its surface, blackened craters smashed into its hull. Its once proud rail-cannons that had kept the station and its occupants safe for so long were now merely ruins, the turrets blasted apart with horrifying power. Some gave off a fiery glow, still ablaze; indicating a recent attack. Here and there explosions sent out great plumes of flame, which lit up parts of its blasted surface as the munitions within succumbed to the heat.

Some of the inner laser towers were still operable on the base itself, though many looked like blasted blackened craters torn deep through the hull, where Krenaran weapons had silenced them in strafing runs.

Great tears and rents ripped across the surface, where particle cannons had done their work. They looked like great open wounds, and in some, flames continued to lick out into the blackness of space as uncontrolled fires continued to rage.

Michael gazed at the devastation before him, not really believing his own eyes. “Who could do this to Delta base?” His voice cracked with emotion. “It’s one of the most heavily defended facilities in E.O.C. A territory.”

Vargev shook his head, not really believing the scene either.

“Life signs, tell me there are some life signs,” Michael needed some sort of confirmation, a hint of anger welled up at what he was watching.

His mind was running through a myriad of thoughts all at once; he hoped and prayed Jana and Theo were still alive, however looking at the scale of the devastation in front of him, his heart sank.

“Some, isolated pockets, but faint,” a Solarian said.

This news made Michael feel slightly better, but not much, they could still be alive over there, “any power on board, environmental systems?” he asked, the urgency growing in his voice.

“Only on some decks.”

“What about docking facilities, are we able to dock with it?”

“Negative, the docking ports are all damaged beyond repair.”

Figures; Michael thought. The Krenarans didn’t want anyone escaping; wanted them all on-board like a tin of sardines to take pot shots at. He grew angrier, studying the shimmering image on the viewer intently; suddenly he spotted something that gave him a glimmer of hope.

“Magnify that spot,” he said pointing towards the display.

It was a wrecked fighter bay, probably taken a direct hit from one of their torpedoes Michael wondered; it left a huge blackened breach in the station’s surface.

“Any chance we can land in there?”

“Possibly, however there will be very little room for error,” Televis replied.

Michael looked at the Solarian navigator, who in turn looked back towards him with a slightly nervous look on his face.

“Don’t worry, I trust you.”

“Contact the fleet, tell them to form defensive formation, and that we are going to attempt to land on the facility.”

Again hands flew across control panels. “Fleet confirms,” Televis said.

The other Solarian Vessels spread out and began taking up strategic positions around Delta base; covering each others fire arcs.

Michael leaned forward in his seat pensively. “Okay take us in, engines at ten percent sub-light, thrusters at users discretion,” he said almost whispering.

The Liberty slowly and silently glided toward the pock marked and pitted surface of the station until it was directly adjacent to the breach. With barely enough room for the small ship to enter, it slowly advanced.

The shredded outer hull of the station cast a steadily increasing shadow over the matt black and silver hull of the Liberty as it slowly made its way further inside. The viewer fell completely into darkness.

“Forward landing lights.”

The landing lights came on; brightly illuminating the bay, broken girders partially concealed the frozen bodies of Naval personnel trapped underneath, they looked for all the world like tiny frozen mannequins looking up at the comparatively huge ship approaching them. Debris littered the bay floor casting shadows as the landing lights from the Liberty played along the detritus as it advanced.

Half smashed gantries hung limply from the walls, casting further shadows onto the scorched walls themselves. Slowly the Liberty drifted further inside the bay.

“Cut all power to the engines, let her drift in.”

The Solarian pilot cut the power to the engines. Ever so slowly the Liberty crept further and further inside the bay. Its lights continued to play across the scorched, debris ridden interior.

“Lower landing legs.”

Three large hydraulic landing legs slowly lowered from the underside of the ship. Shoots of gas escaped from the struts as they vented excess gas used as a shock absorber to cushion the vast weight of the Liberty.

“Gravitic engines at five percent, reverse thrust.”

The engines whined into life almost imperceptibly as they killed the small amount of forward momentum of the ship.

“And, set us down,” Michael whispered with finality.

The gravitic engines gave a slight whine and the ship gradually came to a rest upon its landing legs. Which only gave a small jet of gas, as the remaining excess was vented off again to equalise the weight of the ship.

“Okay, cut all power to the engines,” Michael said.

He nodded his appreciation at the pilot’s ability, and smiled. Turning to the form of Vargev sitting in his chair at his console, he said. “You fancy a space walk Nikolai.”

“I’m game.”

“Televis you’re with us,” Michael said to the Solarian.

All three of them headed to the lower airlock on deck 9 of the Liberty. Once they were there Televis pressed a button on a metal floor length cabinet just near to the airlock and a rack of environment suits slowly slid out. They each donned one; surprisingly they were an exceptional fit. Together they donned their helmets and clicked them into position, the hermetic seals locked into place keeping the suit air tight.

“Everyone give me a seal check,” Michael announced.

They all pressed a control on the environment suits’ cuff, a small light shone green on each suit.

“Seals are okay,” the other two said in response.

“Okay I want constant radio contact; we don’t know what we are going to face in there.” They each pressed a small black button on the sides of their helmets, and inside a small microphone extended.

Michael and Vargev hefted their huge Armschlagers, which they had retrieved earlier. “Okay, depressurize the airlock,” Michael said into his mic.

Televis touched a small control panel on the wall, and a huge whoosh could be heard, as the air vented out into the vacuum that was the fighter bay.

“Release the hatch.”

A second control was pressed, and with a deep metallic sound the hatch slowly opened in the side of the Liberty.

The three of them gradually drifted out from the hatch and into the frozen, barren fighter bay, pushing off from the Liberty’s hull. Gradually they drifted across the tight confines of the bay, as though a flock of gulls gliding through a thermal.

Looking below them, they could all too clearly see the wreckage of twisted girders and smashed gantries littering the floor, intermingled with the frozen bodies of the fallen. There was what looked like the frozen body of a pilot, he was just ten feet from his peregrine fighter when he was decapitated; his head could just be seen a few feet ahead of him.

Gradually they made it over to the wall of the fighter bay. And scrabbled down it, careful to avoid the razor sharp edges of twisted metal that jutted out from the broken gantries still affixed to the wall; any one of which could tear a hole through their suits, and they would be done for; finally they made it down to a door.

Shouldering their weapons; and with a huge strain, both Michael and Vargev managed to force open the door enough to venture inside.

The long corridor was dark, dank and eerily quiet, some emergency lights blinked, but most barely worked; giving a strange almost strobe light effect to the place.

Several bodies lay still on the floor, also frozen due to their exposure to the vacuum of space.

As they proceeded down this dark oppressive corridor, they felt slightly nauseous as they could feel the slight crunch of them walking on small frozen pools of crimson human blood.

Michael could feel his heartbeat slowly quicken in his chest as the menacing atmosphere began to take hold. All three of them continued to take slow, deliberate, almost nervous steps.

Their breathing became shallower as they continued, straining to hear every sound, no matter how small. In case something should creep up on them.

In a flash Vargev spun around, levelling his weapon. There was a dull, metallic crash behind them. As they looked they could find nothing.

“Probably just a bulkhead,” Michael said nervously. “Let’s keep our eyes open anyway.”

Slowly they carried on through the gloom. Under the pressure of the oppressive atmosphere Vargevs commando training began to kick in; constantly looking all around the corridor for signs of danger.

“I don’t like this comrade.”

“Neither do I, but we still need to know what happened.”

They pressed on; albeit slowly, the whole place was deathly quiet. The faint ghostly scream of twisted metal in the background set their nerves jangling again.

Televis pulled out a scanner as they approached a bulkhead door, he passed his scanner over it; the lights twinkled in the gloom. “There is power in the next corridor.”

They approached the door tentatively. There was a faintly red glowing panel next to it. Michael pressed it and it changed to green; the door rapidly slid open, something flailed against his helmet, Michael involuntarily gasped and fell backwards he levelled his weapon; his heart pounding madly, what the hell was it?

Looking up he saw that it was the form of an E.D. F crewman; slowly swaying, suspended by a bunch of cabling.

“Hung himself, rather than be captured,” Vargev said studying the body.

They shuffled past the rapidly freezing corpse, still gently swaying, and closed the bulkhead behind them.

Here there was light, and they could see much better. Vargev keyed in a control to re-pressurize this part of the corridor. And slowly the corridor re-filled with air.

“Environmental facilities must be working in this part of the station.”

The lights continued to flicker though, casting shadows across the debris strewn floor. Eventually the trio came to a door on the left hand side of the corridor.

Televis pulled out his scanner again. “There is a life-form on the other side.”

“Is it human?”

After a short tense pause the answer came, “yes.”

The three of them breathed a sigh of relief.

They tried the door control but it was locked, “Damn,” Michael cursed.

“I’ll try my override code,” Vargev replied. Punching in a set of numbers, the result came up green, and the door quickly opened.

A hysterical woman charged headlong screaming at them, she had long dark straggly hair and dirty skin. There was evidence of a tattered medical officers uniform underneath all the dirt and dried on blood stains. She hurtled headlong towards them brandishing a long metal knife.

“Get away from me you murdering Krenaran bastards!” She screamed madly with fury and terror combined.

“We’re Human!” Michael shouted back.

It was no use, the mad screaming woman continued to rush towards them. Vargev reacted instantly and grabbed the knife arm; using his immense strength he pushed her backwards against a wall and held her there, by her arms.

“We’re Human!” He repeated.

The woman, unable to move in Vargevs vice like grip eyed him for a second as if silently weighing him up. She seemed to calm a little.

“Not Krenaran?” she said simply.

“No,” Michael Replied.

“I am going to release you now,” the Russian released his grip, and backed off a little from the young woman.

“Who are you?” Michael asked.

“My name is Katherine Jacobs, Ensign, medical officer here,” she replied, her speech slightly broken.

She must be out of her mind with fear; she could still be useful though, Michael thought.

“Okay Katherine.” Michael began as soothingly and calmly as he could muster. “What happened here?”

“What does it look like!” She shouted, breathing hoarsely. “We were attacked; it’s been the fourth goddamn time!” Tears began to roll down her filthy cheeks. “It’s like they’re toying with us, why won’t they just leave us alone?”

“They won’t. Because we have something they want,” Vargev said.

“Like what?”

“Never mind about that there’s no time to explain, let’s just say you shouldn’t be attacked again for a while anyway. Tell me about the attacks,” Michael began questioning her.

“Each time our laser turrets have managed to drive them off; but only just, the station has taken so much damage that it might not survive another attack.”

“Who is in command now?”

“Most of the command staff were killed when a salvo of torpedoes blew apart the command centre,” she replied sadly, as though reliving those events. “Lieutenant Commander Dickinson is in charge now, well on the last check anyway.”

“Where can we find him?” Vargev asked.

“Deck 49, inner section, it’s been rigged up as a temporary command centre. If we keep to the inner sections there is still air and power; follow me.” She said enthusiastically, her tears had gone, for now.

They all unclipped their helmets and followed her.

“Who is he?” Katherine asked in wonder, looking up at the tall form of Televis.

“He’s a good guy, here to help us,” Michael said.

“I’ve never seen anyone like him before.”

“Don’t worry; you’ll be seeing a lot more.”

At that they left what appeared to be a small, dirty, unkempt medical bay and they followed the young ensign through the darkened corridors and partially collapsed decks.

They came upon a giant hole in the floor, where what appeared to be a huge piece of machinery had smashed its way though it. Michael looked down as he passed, and could just about see where the huge lump of machinery finally came to rest several decks below. Slowly and carefully they picked their way around it with barely enough room for their feet.

Eventually they passed through some doors, and the room opened out into what resembled a rudimentary command centre. Albeit half the stations were non-functional; the four of them walked over to the centre of the room.

Katherine Jacobs led them to a man on the floor; a bloodied steel pole poked through this chest. His royal blue E.D. F Naval uniform soaking wet with blood. And she held out a hand is if gesturing to the other three men.

“Lieutenant Commander Dickinson.”

Michael had barely known him; he was the assistant chief communications officer on board Delta base, however Michael had only met the man twice throughout his whole career. He was a by the book officer, although a capable one nevertheless.

Coughing a mouthful of blood he managed to turn his head towards them.

“Is there nothing you can do for him?” Michael asked Katherine.

“We have given him morphine; if we remove the pole, we might risk killing him.”

“Who…who are you,” Dickinson said looking up at the three new men in front of him.

“I’m Lieutenant Michael Alexander, This is Major Nikolai Vargev 1 ^ st E.D. F commandos, and this is Televis.”

“Televis…what the?”

“No time to explain, but he’s on our side. We’re here to help.”

At this Dickinson laughed a throaty laugh, coughing up a small amount of blood in the process. “No one can help us now,” he spluttered. “The E.D. F is finished.”

“Well; I’ve got 69 Solarian battle cruisers outside, that says it’s not.” Michael smiled.

At this news Dickinson was genuinely surprised, “Solarians, who the hell are they.”

“They have come to help us, but we need to know where fleet command is, and what has happened?”

“Fleet command has been transferred to Alpha base,” Dickinson coughed. “The first attacks happened on the Agemman and Aurelias colonies.”

“I already know about those, I was on the Ulysses before she went down.”

“Right; well the fleet was formed into its constituent battlegroups as per the orders given when alert level one was introduced.” A small breath escaped Dickinson lips as he spoke. “With their damned stealth abilities, the fleet was doing nothing but chasing shadows.” He coughed up another small amount of blood.

“First Foxtrot base fell, knocking out the majority of our intelligence, the 19 ^ th Airborne company stationed there managed to put up some resistance, but they were heavily outgunned and soon were either destroyed or captured.” He said as he wheezed slightly, Kathryn tried to wipe up some of the blood with a dirty cloth. “With the fall of Foxtrot base; the entire Connaught sector fell, shortly after that the colony at Eidolon fell also.” He coughed again. “Then there were the attacks on the Perseus and Malthus colonies; there have been sightings of Krenaran ships around Gamma IV and Gamma Aurigulon. Hell, half of the entire E.O.C. A territory is crawling with Krenaran ships.” He sighed a hoarse sigh. “If the Molrav and Bryant sectors fall, the gate will be open to attack Earth itself,” Dickinson said coughing again.

“It won’t come to that,” Michael replied solemnly.

“What about the Commandoes?” Vargev asked.

Dickinson coughed up another mouthful of blood. “They are the only ones who seem to be holding their own in this damn war, the Krenarans always attack in greater numbers when they are around.” He gasped as a surge of pain racked his body. “The commandoes have been responsible for allowing hundreds of thousands of civilians to escape the fighting; and are currently holding some of the most important colonies. They are damned heroes, every last one of them.”

Vargev felt a surge of pride; he smiled and nodded his head approvingly. His men, his division are fighting so bravely, and so heroically. So that others may live.

Dickinson spluttered and said. “Listen, the Krenarans are still around, the last attack was only around half an hour or so ago. That’s what did this to me.” He said looking at the length of steel sticking through his blood soaked chest.

“What about my wife, and son?”

“Where are their quarters?” Katherine asked.

“Deck 19, forward section.”

“I am so sorry,” Katherine replied solemnly.

A tense silence ensued as the news hit Michael hard, he had been expecting it when he first saw the devastation of the base itself, but it was as nothing compared to the hammer blow of actually hearing those fateful words first hand.

“That section had taken a direct torpedo hit; there were no survivors.”

Michael said nothing, just stared at Katherine blankly; a tear began to trickle down his cheek as the awful finality of the news hit him like a speeding train; his wife and son, the two most important things in his entire life, were dead. He felt at that point like his heart had just been torn out, chewed up, and spat out. Walking over to a small corner of the gloomy command centre, he leant on a wall, needing a moment to himself.

Vargev nodded knowingly.

He promised Theo that he would keep the nightmares away, and he had failed, failed in the one thing in all the universe that really mattered.

His life had just become meaningless, and he was ashamed to admit that right now he wished the Krenarans would come and kill him too; right then and there.

His wrist-com. quietly beeped breaking him out of his despair; it was the Liberty. “I believe we have detected 14 Krenaran vessels; closing rapidly,” a Solarian voice said.

“How long until they get here?”

“Five minutes.”

The transmission ended.

Michael desperately tried to recover his thoughts, this was not what Theo and Jana would have wanted, him despairing like this. Walking back over towards the group he said, “get as many people as you can together, you’ve got five minutes; move!”

“Will do,” Katherine said as she sprinted off down the corridor.

Michael turned back to Dickinson; who was laid perfectly still, no movement whatsoever. Vargev solemnly closed the officers’ eyes.

Outside the station, the black and silver shapes of the Krenaran stealth ships could be seen advancing towards the larger Solarian ones, and like a pack of rabid wolves the Krenaran vessels set upon the Solarian force.

Multiple green particle cannon shots flashed out across the blackness of space and were traded with flashes of bright blue fusion cannon beams. Gradually the Krenaran ships closed in on Delta base; ready to deliver the death knell to the already beleaguered installation.

Katherine and three other crewmen managed to race back to Michaels’ position in the command centre, they had all donned their environment suits, even Katherine and the crewmen had them on. They must have grabbed them on the way back, Michael thought managing a wan smile at their industriousness.

“We’ve got to get to the Liberty fast,” Michael said as he secured his own helmet once again.

The others nodded; and they started their sprint back through the dark, dank, ruined corridors of the massive installation.

Outside, five Solarian ships turned in perfect vee formation; their fusion cannons spraying out beams of bright blue death. Three Krenaran vessels were caught in the conflagration and torn asunder with horrifying speed and power.

Four torpedoes smashed their way into the hull of the station one after another, the impacts ripping away great chunks of fiery debris.

Michael and the rest of the survivors raced headlong for the Liberty, there was no sense of the claustrophobic tension like before; instead they just raced for the ship, for their salvation.

Sparks flashed out along the dark corridors and the explosions of battle could be heard from outside, occasionally the station would rock violently; shaking them all as it took yet another hit.

Fire spurted out from newly ruptured conduits, coating the corridor in a fiery glow as the flames licked out occasionally. They continued running further through the maze of corridors and junctions; half a dozen collapsed girders and support beams fell smashing through the deck plating a few meters ahead with a deafening clang.

“We’ll have to jump!” Michael shouted. The heat from the sparks and flaming conduits was slowly baking him inside his suit.

He was the first to jump the gap; after what seemed like an eternity. His feet landed on the deck plating with a thump; he had made it across.

With no small amount of luck all six of the others managed to make it also. Televis with his long legs almost jumped too far, and nearly went sprawling into the corridor wall.

Vargev jumped last; as he sailed over the gap he realised his mistake. He had jumped a fraction too short.

Desperation grabbed him and he reached out frantically with his hands trying to gain any type of purchase; there was none, and Vargev held his breath as he slowly, clumsily fell. The deck plating whooshed by on the other side; he just could not reach it; down he went.

With a painful yank something grabbed his arm; Vargev looked up, Michael had hold of him, stopping his fall into the black pit below. There he dangled, until Televis managed to help Michael haul the Russian back onto the deck plating of the corridor.

“That’s one you owe me this time,” Michael said into his mic.

Vargev smiled and they hurriedly resumed their race towards the Liberty.

Outside, the buckled silvery crescent shaped form of a Solarian battlecruiser listed heavily as it slewed toward the wrecked outer defence perimeter; its hull ablaze from the impacts of multiple particle cannon hits; The 410 metre long hull came tearing through a section of the already damaged perimeter like a giant battering ram.

The hull was ripped asunder as multiple explosions flashed out; metal shredded like tin foil under the colossal impact of the two hulls, flames, and twisted debris engulfed the whole area. That entire section of the perimeter was completely torn apart in the huge impact; leaving a great fiery breach, briefly it illuminated the whole station and the multitude of nearby vessels in a fiery glow.

Still inside the station, Michael, Televis, Vargev and the rest of the survivors were hurled against the wall of the dark corridor, as the entire station reeled against the colossal impact of the crash.

“Oh no!” Michael shouted panicking as he checked his suit, “I’m leaking air.”

“It’s not much further,” Vargev replied, “hurry!”

They raced even harder towards the fighter bay which housed the Liberty, Michael’s lungs burned. It began to come into view at the end of the corridor; the ship was constantly being lit up by the criss-cross of blue and green flashes and the explosions outside. It looked for all the world like a giant light show was happening in the bay, with the Liberty in the centre like a giant black shadow.

They reached the end of the corridor, “jump!” Vargev shouted.

All seven of them jumped, and gently glided across the vacuum of the fighter bay, the blue-green flashes of weapons fire lighting up the bay all around them.

Michael was struggling for breath as he touched his wrist-comm. “Liberty; ready the engines and activate all weapon systems as soon as we are aboard!”

The seven of them floated across the bay; to Michael it seemed like an eternity, he tried desperately to keep his breath shallow to conserve what little air remained in his suit. He was beginning to feel light headed as the oxygen starvation began to kick in.

They hit the smooth hull of the Liberty with a jarring ‘thunk’ as they quickly managed to gain a purchase and scrabbled their way inside the lower hatch. Vargev helped the weakened form of Michael inside as they did so.

The gravitic engines immediately powered up once they were aboard with a dull whine; and the small lower hatch closed behind them. After a few seconds the hatch re-pressurised again. With practically his last breath Michael managed to tear off his helmet; gasping frantically for air.

“Are you okay comrade?”

“I’ll be fine, just give me a second,” Michael said wheezing.

The others quickly removed their environment suits as well; flinging them into a corner. Once his breathing returned to normal Michael, Televis and Vargev all raced for the command centre. Katherine and the remaining three survivors simply followed them, bewildered at their strange new environment.

The Liberty gradually lifted up from the fighter bay floor as its gravitic engines took over, it’s landing legs retracted and disappeared inside the hull as hatches covered them.

It slowly began to reverse its way out of the fighter bay. A green particle cannon shot, fired close to the hull of the station missed the rear of the Liberties main engines by just metres.

“We’re clear,” a Solarian said just as Michael and the six others rushed onto the command centre.

“Bring us about, ninety degrees; full thrusters,” Michael said as he re-took his place back in the centre chair.

The electric blue Ionic thrusters of the Liberty glowed as it spun around in its impossibly small arc, painting the hull of the station a bright blue light as the light reflected from the thrusters. At exactly the same time, a Krenaran stealth ship hurtled straight for them.

“Fire!” Michael shouted urgently.

The Fusion cannon of the Liberty roared its anger, slamming into the Krenaran ship and hitting it just above centre. The massive impact of the shot forced the enemy vessel down towards the hull of the station, where it hurtled straight past the Liberty and collided with the installation in a massive impact, the speed of the Krenaran ship tore a great fiery gouge along the hull of Delta base.

“Tell me that was a fluke,” Michael said.

The Solarian pilot simply smiled.

“How many enemy ships are out there?”

“I’ve got three remaining on sensors, they are retreating,” Vargev replied.

“Let them go. What are our losses?”

“Two ships destroyed, and one heavily damaged,” Televis replied.

“What’s the status of the damaged ship?” Michael asked wiping the sweat and grime from his brow.

The Solarians blue tinged brow furrowed as he performed a full scan of the damaged vessel with his typical practiced ease.

After a brief pause studying the data he responded, “main power is failing, engines have been destroyed, plasma drive systems are not responding. There is fire on multiple decks.”

Michael rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a second, damn it, if they can’t get into plasma drive, they are as good as dead. And we can’t wait for them to make repairs, those Krenaran ships will be back; with friends. And we can’t tractor it all the way to Alpha base above Mars either.

“What is the name of that ship?”

“The Loriath,” Televis replied.

Michael drummed his fingers on the arms of his chair for a moment, “contact the fleet; tell them to evacuate the Loriath and to distribute survivors accordingly.”

Michael didn’t like doing this, but he had no choice. Just losing one Solarian ship was a significant blow. And in just one battle his fleet was now four ships down. Yes they had rescued some of the survivors aboard that devastated station, and yes they had found out that fleet command had been transferred to Alpha base, but they had paid a high enough price for the information.

“The fleet confirms sir,” Televis replied

Michael nodded and watched the display. Gradually the other Solarian ships closed on the stricken Loriath like giant metallic bees tending to a wounded drone. There was a quiet silence as the fleet did its work with the crew of the disabled ship.

“All remaining crew have been distributed amongst the fleet,” Vargev said.

Michael hated what he was going to have to do next, but with a grim finality he said. “Bring us about, and ready the torpedoes, target the Loriath.”

There was a slight almost painful look on the Solarian crew members faces as they realised what Michael was about to do, but just as much as he did, they knew it had to be done they could not risk the Krenarans capturing her hull.

The shattered; ruined shape of the once proud Loriath could be seen listing slightly in the viewer. Televis also looked over at the image of the Solarian ship. “I once served aboard her, she was a fine ship.”

“I am really sorry,” Michael said with genuine heart ache; “fire.”

Two high energy torpedoes shot forth from the Liberties twin launchers and raced towards the stricken Loriath, detonating on impact. Its broken crescent shaped hull slowly burst apart in a bright fireball, the shockwave from which expanded outwards for several seconds before it; and the fires dissipated forever, leaving just shattered debris.

Televis bowed his head, saddened as though he had just lost an old friend.

Michael looked over towards him, “I’m sorry.” He said again, “But it was all that could be done.”

“I know.”

After a long pause, Michael said at last with renewed vigour. “Re-form the fleet, and plot a new course, bearing 196 elevation 4.”

The fleet slowly reformed again and together leapt into plasma drive in a bright mass of swirling plasma wakes. After a short period the wakes closed in on themselves with a blinding flash, leaving the ruined remains of Delta base in the distance, and the hull fragments of the Loriath slowly floating in space behind them.

Chapter 12

Race to Alpha base.

Katherine Jacobs was stood silently watching at the rear of the command centre all this time, hardly believing what she had just witnessed.

Michael silently walked into his quarters; Televis took his place in the centre chair.

He walked over to the small beverage synthesiser located on the wall of his quarters and keyed in a command for a cup of English tea; slumping into a small chair next to a shiny silver desk he took a sip. He needed some time to himself, to sit and to think; to mourn.

The news of Jana and Theo’s death had hit him hard; he held his head in his hands and sighed heavily as he thought about them and all the times they had spent together. He berated himself for not being there at the end, and for his failure in not keeping the nightmares at bay. If only he was there; he could have done something, if only the damned E.D. F hadn’t cancelled his shore leave and forced him back into service. If only.

Tears of anger and pain began to form in his eyes, and gently rolled down his cheeks. With a scream of anger he flung the cup; it smashed on the side of the wall, splashing the tea across it.

After a few seconds the doors slowly opened, and in stepped Katherine. The smashed cup caught her eye, as did the tearful form of Michael sat in the chair.

“Is this a bad time?”

Michael blinked back his tears and rubbed at his red, tear swollen eyes; “not at all,” he lied.

“I was wondering, just what kind of a ship is this, and just who are those guys on the bridge?”

He laughed a slightly hoarse throaty laugh. In his haste on-board Delta base he had forgotten to explain about the Solarians, and the story of the Liberty; the question helped turn his mind away from the emotions roiling within him.

“Those tall blue-ish skinned aliens all over the ship are known as the Solarians. They have promised us aid in our war with the Krenarans, and are here to help us; they are actually quite a peaceful people and don’t normally like fighting. But this situation has forced their hand, kind of like us,” he explained. “And as for the Liberty, you probably won’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try me.”

“Well, the Liberty is actually a captured Krenaran stealth ship, which Major Vargev and I, erm… liberated.”

“The Russian guy?”

“The Russian guy,” Michael repeated. “Anyway, we rescued a Solarian ambassador who was being imprisoned onboard at the time; he took us into their space.”

He rubbed a tear stained eye.

“Where they upgraded the Liberty with Solarian technology and re-crewed her, however it still remains owned and commanded by us.”

“So you, and the Solarians have come back to kick the Krenarans ass right?”

“That’s the plan; hopefully,” Michael replied with a slight smile.

Katherine studied him; the small smile was as nothing compared to the grief etched upon his face.

“What’s wrong?”

“I had a wife and a son on that base damnit!” Michael cursed; the tears began to form again.

“I am so sorry,” Katherine repeated. “What were their names?” There wasn’t a lot of time to go into this while they were aboard Delta base earlier, but since Michael and his crew had rescued them; Katherine at least felt obligated to hear Michael’s story.

“Jana and Theo, Theo was nearing his 5th birthday.”

The tears began streaming down his cheeks as he thought of them, and he slammed his fist into the table next to him.

“It’s all my fault,” Michael whispered as to himself.

“It’s not your fault, there was nothing you could do, you couldn’t have prevented their deaths.” Katherine chose her words as calmly as she could manage; however inside she could almost feel the pain that Michael was going though. It must be unbearable for him, she thought.

“Couldn’t I! They pleaded for me not to go when this whole thing started, but I went anyway Katherine, I failed to keep the nightmares away; and keep my family safe!”

Katherine held him in her arms and consoled him. She was genuinely worried for him; such a noble, yet tortured soul. His tears flowed onto her grimy medical officer’s uniform, until finally she released him.

“It was an alert level 2, you’re a Naval officer, you didn’t have any choice, you had to go,” Katherine said softly.

Michael turned away from her and stared out of the view port, gazing out into the colours of the plasma wake swirling all around them as though contemplating the cruel universe itself.

“Maybe,” he said bitterly. “But tell me this, where does the Navy end and family begin; because I don’t know anymore.”

And at that Katherine slowly and quietly left Michael to his own thoughts.

“I just don’t know anymore.” Michael said as though he was addressing the whole of space.

The Liberty and the remaining Solarian ships continued their journey through plasma drive.

After the long spell in which Michael needed to recollect his thoughts once again, he strode back onto the command centre. Katherine was not present; she must have gone below decks, Michael thought.

“How long until we reach the Sol system?”

“At current speed, eighteen hours,” Televis replied.

Outwardly Michael tried his best; inwardly however he felt drained. The events of the past couple of months had taken their toll on him, shadows hung around his eyes from his often sleepless tortured nights.

“Why not get some rest? There will be plenty of time for action later comrade,” Vargev said.

“I’ll rest when we rid ourselves of these Krenaran murderers; every stinking last one of them.”

Vargev said nothing, but he had to admire the man’s persistence.

For a few hours it was quiet; almost deathly so. Nobody dared to argue with Michael for the time being, save for the notable exception of Vargev. The Solarian crewmembers busied themselves at their stations with their usual professionalism.

Vargev’s voice broke the silence. “Whoa! Hang on a moment. I think we have weapons fire up ahead.”

“Looks like two Krenaran stealth ships attacking a Terran vessel,” Televis cut in.

Vargev studied his display. “Confirmed, it’s a Lincoln class supply ship. It must be a straggler to be without some form of an escort out here. What do you want to do?”

Michael had been itching for a true test of the Liberties systems as well as get his own little bit of payback on the Krenarans.

“Have the rest of the fleet remain in plasma drive; we’ll catch them up. I want to see what this little baby can really do,” Michael smiled as he walked over to the Solarian pilot. “I’ll take this one.”

“Are you sure sir?”

“Positive,” Michael replied. This was personal; and he wanted to teach the Krenarans a small lesson which he was going to deliver personally.

The pilot relinquished the chair; Michael sat down and slid his hands through the grooves on each side of it. Metallic cover plates slowly lowered and locked into place over his arms. Preventing him from being thrown out of the chair, they were cushioned on the inside and felt comfortable; unlike the previous heavy gadgetry of the older chair he had to put up with when he first piloted the Liberty.

Small touch screen controls rose up at an angle just near to his finger ends; allowing for easier activation. It was a nice touch, he thought.

“This chair is much better than the old model.”

The other Solarian pilot smiled, nodded, and then took up a position at an auxiliary console for the time being.

“Order battlestations; activate all weapons, and reactive hull armour.”

The command centre darkened to its menacing ruddy glow once again, the red lights illuminated the tops of the displays. And a flurry of activity began across the ship once again, as all systems went to maximum alert.

“Okay, drop us out of plasma drive.”

The Liberty burst back into normal space, after leaving plasma drive. Due to it’s newly reconfigured stealth systems, the Krenaran ships couldn’t detect the ship dropping out of plasma drive behind them.

The Krenaran ships appeared to be toying with the defenceless E.D. F transport, and had already badly damaged the supply vessel; they were now beginning to close for the killing blow.

Michael touched a few controls on his right finger pad, increasing power to the negative Ion propulsion system, and the Ionic thrusters systems together.

The Liberty rapidly accelerated to a break neck speed as it bore down on the hapless Krenaran vessels.

This is going to be fun, Michael thought as he allowed himself the briefest of evil grins. He punched in a control on the left finger pad, and the Liberty unleashed the fury of its Fusion cannon straight at the nearest Krenaran ship. The bright blue beam smashed into the enemy ship just left of its main engine. The colossal impact spun the enemy ship almost completely around.

The other ship broke off its attack on the supply ship and began to head for this new assailant.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!” Michael shouted his anger at the holographic viewer in front of him.

The damaged Krenaran ship managed to regain some of its momentum and also began to head toward the Liberty, the damage it had taken was plain to see from the scorch marks and twisted hull plating at the rear of the ship.

However the sheer speed of the Liberty meant it shot past the enemy vessel before the Krenaran ship even had a chance to fire. The damaged enemy ship managed to come about, and increased speed, chasing down the Liberty.

Both ships shot through space at a horrendous speed, the Krenaran ship fired its particle cannon; narrowly missing the top of one of the Liberties high energy torpedo launchers.

In his chair Michael banked the ship left and right, and then threw the ship into a tight barrel roll. As more particle cannon beams hurtled toward it. Crewmembers on board were almost thrown from their seats as the artificial gravity systems strained to keep up with the frenetic manoeuvring.

“Oh no, you didn’t just shoot that green shit at me!” Michael shouted again as he jinked the ship from port to starboard.

“He’s gonna fire again!” A worried Vargev shouted checking his screen.

“Oh, hell no!” Michael replied as he threw the Liberty into a steep climb. The shot went wide, and the Krenaran vessel carried straight ahead, unable to turn anywhere near as fast.

Michael threw the Liberty back down into a steep dive; then quickly levelled her out, coming up behind the attacking Krenaran ship. Michael fired the Fusion cannon again; this time it was a direct hit. The bright blue beam slammed into the Krenaran ships engines like a missile slams into a tank. The engines were instantly torn apart in a blaze of fire. The enemy ship continued to drift through its inertia, but its primary sub-light drives were now ruined, effectively leaving it dead in space.

“How do ya like them apples!” Michael shouted triumphantly.

“Incoming torpedo!” Vargev shouted.

“Oh shit!” Michael shouted, as he remembered the second Krenaran ship. He mashed the accelerate control as hard as he could; and the Liberty hurtled forward, the torpedo in hot pursuit and gaining rapidly.

He jinked the Liberty from side to side, trying to throw off the deadly missiles guidance systems, however the torpedo continued to close.

“Damn it, lose the goddamn torpedo!” Vargev shouted, panic in his voice.

Michael continued to hurl the Liberty from side to side, then as he jinked to starboard, he simultaneously applied the reverse thrust, rapidly decelerating the ship.

With the torpedo’s guidance systems unable to process the speed at which the Liberty decelerated, it shot in front of the ship. And straight into the Liberties own fire arc.

Michael launched one of the Liberties own torpedoes, and the two warheads collided in a huge, blinding explosion, that rocked the entire ship, sending a shower of sparks across the command centre.

The lone remaining damaged Krenaran ship closed fast and bore down upon them. Several Particle cannon shots shot past the Liberties hull; illuminating the ship in a green glow as the beams passed. One however did manage to hit home, the ship shuddered violently, and most of the command crew were thrown to the floor.

“Direct hit, upper port side, reactive hull armour is weakened; but holding.” Televis announced as the data, flooded through his screen.

“God-dammit! Okay so you wanna play!” Michael shouted at the viewer.

The two ships dodged, weaved and jinked with one another at an incredible speed.

“Y’all have to come here, running your mouths, and now you want to get rough!” Michael shouted again.

A green flash shot past very close to the Liberty, lighting up the holographic viewer in a bright green light.

“Oh, we don’t want none o’ that shit!” Michael shouted.

He’s god-damn enjoying this, Vargev thought as he looked at the form of Michael in the pilot’s chair, crazy son of a bitch.

The Liberty continued to bank and weave. Then Michael threw the ship into an almost impossibly tight arc. The ship shuddered as the effects of inertia tested the Liberties sturdy hull to the limit.

The Krenaran ship tried to attempt the same manoeuvre, in a desperate bid to keep on the Liberties tail. However the Liberty was far more manoeuvrable; and invariably ended up behind the Krenaran ship.

“Gotcha!” Michael shouted as his thumb mashed the button on his left finger pad again.

Two high energy torpedoes shot out of the Liberties launchers and rocketed their way towards the Krenaran ship. Unable to evade the torpedoes they struck dead centre, slamming through the Krenaran ship’s hull, which buckled and then blew itself apart completely in a massive fireball.

“That’s for Jana and Theo,” Michael whispered at the viewer as the flames of the wreckage died down. He slowed the Liberty almost to a dead stop, and motioned for the Solarian pilot. “You can have your chair back now.”

“Thank you sir,” The Solarian said with a proud nod.

The command centre was deathly quiet; Michael could feel the eyes were on him as he walked towards the command chair and sat down, “What?” he asked innocently.

The command staff stopped regarding him as though he was totally insane and switched their attention back to their consoles.

“We’ve got a communication coming through. It’s from the transport, audio only,” Televis announced.

“Patch it through.”

The raspy voice of a highly relieved, elderly man filled the speakers. “Thanks a lot whoever you are, that was some of the best flying that I’ve ever seen.”

“Not a problem; do you require assistance,” Michael replied.

“That’s a negatory, we should be okay now, thanks to you guys,” the communication ended.

Some of the eldest commanders in the E.D. F Navy can be found commanding transport vessels; usually when a Naval officer retires, yet still yearns for that thrill of being out in space. He will enlist as a commander of one of the myriad transport vessels serving stations and the larger battleships and front line vessels of the fleet.

“All part of the service,” Michael whispered to the departing view of the battered transport. “Let’s catch up to the rest of the fleet shall we.”

The Liberty shot back into plasma drive. And after about half an hour, it had reformed with the rest of the fleet.

Vargev said out loud, “I wonder what the E.D. F will make of sixty five unknown vessels suddenly dropping out of plasma drive right outside Mars.”

“Well, they’ll either welcome us with open arms or the three dozen or so rail-cannons dotted around Alpha base will blast us out of the stars.”

“So it’s fifty-fifty then, hell, I’ll take those odds, that’s better odds than I’ve had since this whole damn war began.”

The fleet continued on its journey. After another six hours, it had finally passed into the solar system.

“Signal the fleet; tell them to drop out of plasma drive on my order.”

After a slight pause Televis said, “fleet confirms.”

“Well it’s now or never.”

On board the enormous installation known as Alpha base, the biggest installation in all of E.O.C. A territory; a silvery grey haired, grey moustached Admiral Mason looked on despondently.

Another eighteen severely damaged E.D. F Naval vessels had just returned from yet another failed fleet action near Barnards star. The fleet was twice that size originally; and their flagship. The Montgomery class carrier Yellowstone was lost. The casualty rate in this war was fast approaching a million lives; the biggest single loss was at Foxtrot base, the intelligence hub of the E.D. F, there, one hundred and forty thousand people had died.

Admiral Mason was one of the few senior Admirals in the E.D. F left alive, now in his late fifties. Before this war broke out he was getting around to planning his retirement after an

illustrious career commanding three different ships, most notably the battleship Rushmore, before being posted to Alpha base as one of the Admiralty in 2069.

He looked out over the massive operations deck of the gargantuan station, towards the observation ports; he thought for a moment that he could see a very faint white light forming. It was far in the distance, and he had almost dismissed it as starlight. That is, until it began to grow.

“What the hell is that?” He said pointing a finger out towards the expanding halo of white light.

A young officer stood next to him and asked, “what’s what…sir?” Baffled by the Admirals outburst.

He showed the young officer. “That.”

The white light gradually grew brighter, and then blinked out of existence, leaving empty space once again.

Another officer at one of the myriad stations lining the operations deck announced, “scanners are reading sixty five ships approaching, all unidentified, sir.”

“Jesus…go to general quarters; ready all weapons systems. Contact the fleet and tell them to form defensive formation. Put all fighter wings on hot standby and ready to launch on my command.” There was a genuine urgency in his voice. If this is some kind of Krenaran trick, then by Christ they will pay heavily for it.

“Done sir, the fleet has begun to form defensive formation, all fighter wings have been scrambled and are on emergency standby,” the young officer replied confidently.

A little too confidently Mason thought, as thousands of officers and crewmen scrambled to prepare the station for battle.

On board the Liberty Michael grew tense, he could see the faint form of Alpha base in the distance. He was looking for any hint of a clue as to what was happening over there.

Finally it came, “Alpha base has powered its weapons, and so has the E.D. F fleet. They are advancing in a defensive formation,” Vargev said.

In a defensive formation; that must mean they are going to place themselves between us and the station. Prevent any possible attack on the station itself, Michael pondered.

The Liberty and the rest of the Solarian fleet continued to cautiously advance.

“I suggest we power up our weapons and defences too,” Televis said.

“Negative,” Michael replied with a wave of the hand, still fixated on the viewer. “We don’t want to appear threatening.”

The enormous tower block sized rail-cannons adorning the outer hull of Alpha base slowly whirled into position and locked onto the slowly approaching Solarian fleet, as did the multitude of weapon systems within the E.D. F battlefleet arrayed between them.

“We have an incoming transmission, it’s from the station,” Televis said.

“Patch it through.”

Admiral Mason’s face appeared on the holographic viewer, together with the vast operations deck behind him. “Unidentified fleet, you have hereby violated E.O.C. A Territory, you are therefore ordered to stand down immediately, and prepare to be escorted out of E.O.C. A territory.” He took a short breath. “Any alteration in course, or attack upon E.O.C. A property will result in all necessary force,” the communication abruptly ended.

“Well, there’s your answer comrade, it was nice knowing you.”

And as the communication ended, the huge forms of three hulking Danitza class Battleships slowly turned their massive hulls toward the Solarian fleet, bringing their powerful primary rail-cannon turrets into play, as if to emphasize the point.

“We’re not done yet; contact the fleet, order all stop.”

“Fleet confirms,” Televis replied.

Right across the Solarian fleet, blue Ionic thruster systems glowed brightly; bringing the vessels to a dead stop.

The E.D. F fleet was now plainly visible. As was the massive form of Alpha base, fully one quarter the size of the moon, and the headquarters of the E.D. F for the past two decades. In galactic terms the two fleets and the station were nose to nose.

“Contact the station.”

“Channel open,” a nervous Televis replied.

“Alpha base command; this is Lieutenant Michael Alexander, we mean you no harm, we are here as your allies, repeat we mean you no harm.”

Admiral Mason studied the image of Michael Alexander on the stations own viewer. “He’s a human; this must be some kind of Krenaran trick. Try to get us to lower our defences while they attack. Prepare to open fire on my command.”

The massive gun turrets continued to track the Solarian fleet.

“They have weapons lock on us,” Vargev said with a worried tone in his voice.

Tense, silent seconds passed as Michael Alexander, and the Admiral studied each other over the viewer; finally Michael broke the silence between them.

“Contact the station again.”

The face of Mason re-appeared. “Admiral this is madness, we are not your enemy. We are not Krenaran, and this is not a trick, if we were Krenaran we would have attacked already. Please consider what you are about to do very carefully.” He paused to allow the admiral time to let what he said sink in. “Do you really want the lives of 65 allied ships, and a potential alliance that could change the whole face of this war to fall apart because of one mistake.”

Mason studied him for what seemed like an eternity; deep down he had to admit that this supposed Michael Alexander had a point. He looked over to the arrayed ranks of communications and operations personnel, the stakes were massive Mason already knew that. He prayed he was about to make the right decision, if not he had just handed E.O.C. A over to the Krenarans.

Anxious seconds passed as he went over and over his decision in his mind. “Cancel general quarters, and order the fleet to stand down. Allow the other fleet to dock.” Mason finally said with a sigh, as if the massive weight of that decision was suddenly lifted.

“What? Admiral; are you sure,” the young officer questioned.

“You heard me!” the admiral bellowed, he wasn’t about to be questioned by a junior officer. “Besides, someone has to take his finger off the trigger. There has been enough unnecessary bloodshed in this war already, without any more.”

“Err…yes Admiral,” the young officer complied.

Mason once again looked up at the image of Michael Alexander on the viewer, “Doors open, come on home.”

On board the Liberty, both Michael and Vargev breathed a huge sigh of relief, “thank you, Admiral.”

“Ahead one third sub-light until we are within docking range, then slow to docking speed.” He turned towards the Solarian crewmembers, “welcome to Alpha base.”

Within a few minutes the Liberty had docked with the station, while the Solarian fleet had formed up with the E.D. F one. The highly advanced crescent shaped Solarian battlecruisers were dwarfed by the massive, lumbering battleships of the E.D. F fleet.

Chapter 13

Dead mans return

Escorted by a squad of E.D. F soldiers, Michael Alexander and Nikolai Vargev were marched across the vast operations deck towards the Admirals office, which occupied a small room off to the side of the huge main hall.

Once inside the Admiral nodded, and the troops left the three men alone. He rose from his black desk which was covered in a plethora of fleet reports, strategic information, casualty reports and a thousand other pieces of information, all no doubt vital to the war effort; and regarded the two men in front of him.

“Well, I hope you have a damned good explanation to account for all of this.”

“Actually Admiral we do,” both of them replied.

They told the Admiral the full story. Of how Major Vargev was on a training mission with his unit of commandoes when the Agemman colony was attacked. Of how the landing party sent by the Ulysses was massacred, leaving Michael as the only survivor. And of how they were both captured and brought on board a Krenaran ship, which they later succeeded in capturing; killing the second in command of the entire Krenaran military in the process.

And of how they met with the Solarian ambassador Kerulithar, and of the meeting with the Solarian council and of the subsequent alliance; bringing the Solarians into the war, and upgrading their captured Krenaran ship, renaming it the Liberty; and of the long journey back to Delta base and then finally here.

Then finally they told the Admiral what the Solarian council had said; the real reason why the Krenarans had invaded in the first place. Not for territory, or to destroy humanity, but for plain old water, and with it; wealth.

After hearing all of this, the Admiral rested back down in his seat, taking some time to think about the men’s story.

“My god, you guys are genuine war heroes. Somehow between the two of you, you have almost single handedly changed the course of the war. They will be handing out medals for a week for this!” the admiral eventually shouted in jubilation. “You shouldn’t be saluting me, I should be saluting you. And I am going to see to it that you get everything you deserve.”

“Well right now admiral; a rest would be well in order,” Michael suggested.

“Of course, of course; duly granted, take all the time you need.

“Oh and by the way; our fleet is only a small fraction of the total fleet that has come to help us, there are over seven hundred Solarian ships in total. They should be nearing bases right across our territory very soon; you might want to forewarn them. Just to make them aware they are on our side.”

“I’ll have my communications staff send out advance messages to the other bases and stations; it looks like they are going to be busy,” the admiral said with a smile.

Two days later Lieutenant Michael Alexander and Major Nikolai Vargev were invited to attend their medal giving ceremony, which was being held at none other than the E.O.C. A Presidential building in Geneva. A forty four storey glass building that rose high into the Swiss skyline.

A large crowd of E.D. F personnel and members of the general public alike were in attendance of the event; especially since both Michael and Nikolai had become famous almost overnight; which unnerved Vargev a little, to him he was just a commando doing his duty, all this pomp and ceremony was unbecoming of him.

As the crowds awaited the official beginning of the ceremony, the two men were stood in a small quiet side room, and were informed to wait there until called out. Both Michael and Nikolai were dressed in their ceremonial outfits. Which for Michael was the standard white uniform, with gold braiding, black trousers. In addition to the symbolic naval sword in its scabbard attached to his belt on his right side.

And for Vargev it was the traditional red overcoat, black waistcoat and black trousers, with a red stripe running down the length of the leg. His Majors rank slides were inlaid in gold on his epaulettes and on his upper arms.

“It’s been a long time since I last wore this,” Vargev said with a smile.

“Don’t worry I had to borrow my uniform from another Lieutenant. My own was in my quarters on Delta base,” Michael replied. “It’s a shade small,” he said as he adjusted it for the umpteenth time.

The main hall grew very quiet, and the two men strained to hear anything at all.

Suddenly over a microphone a voice called out, “may we present to you; Major Nikolai Vargev, first battalion E.D. F commandoes, and Lieutenant Michael Alexander formerly of the E.D.F. S Ulysses.”

Both of them began their march, and as they entered into view, the crowd gave out a great cheer. Before they stopped and stood at attention before the president of E.O.C. A, James Rushfeldt no less.

“Lieutenant Michael Alexander, for your bravery, courage, and selfless determination; I hereby award you with the Navy star for valor and gallantry beyond the call of duty.” The president pinned the medal to Michaels’ uniform, together with a whisper of, “you deserve it son.”

“Thank you Mr. President,” Michael said smiling before taking a pace backward and saluting, pride surged within him.

“For you Major Nikolai Vargev; for your determination, courage, and valor despite overwhelming adversity, I hereby award you with the Military Cross.” The president also pinned the medal to his waistcoat, before he in turn took a pace backwards and saluted.

“These two men are shining examples for us all to follow, their deeds are a ray of light in the dark times we find ourselves in, and should inspire courage in every last one of us.” Rushfeldt said to the crowd who gave a huge cheer as the two men marched across the hall and sat down in a row of seating just in front of the throng of people.

In the evening there was a small ball, where the high ranking Admiralty of the Navy and the select generals of the Military gave their appreciation for what the two men had accomplished.

Admiral Mason managed to get Michael’s attention to have a small chat. “There are a couple of things I just wanted to speak to you about Lieutenant,” the Admiral said informally.

“What’s that sir?” Michael replied; a little puzzled.

“Well, I applied for special dispensation from E.D. F command for the Liberty to have a proper commission, and be officially applied to the fleet register; which was approved this morning,” he said before pausing for a short breath.

“She can now be officially called the E.D.F. S Liberty, however we have a problem.”

“Which is Admiral?” Michael asked again, not really understanding the Admiral’s point.

“Well, with the Liberties systems and design so vastly different from any other ship in the Navy, we don’t have crew trained highly enough to crew her, and with you ranked as a Lieutenant, you cannot officially command a ship, unless it’s an emergency,” he paused to allow time for Michael to mull this over. “However you are the only officer in the fleet with any command experience of the Liberty. I have reported the situation to E.D. F command, and they have also granted me special dispensation to give you a field promotion to Captain, and place you in full, permanent command of the Liberty. Congratulations Captain.”

Michael felt another surge of pride; he was finally going to command a ship. He had waited so long and tried so hard for this moment; there was also a deep feeling of regret that Jana and Theo weren’t there to share this.

“Thank you Admiral,” he beamed.

And with that they returned to the ball.

A couple of days later Michael was sat outside a coffee shop near to the presidential building; it was a sunny day with an ever so slightly cool breeze which felt refreshing against the heat of the sun.

He was poring over his selections for the new crew roster for the Liberty, and wasn’t really paying much attention to what was happening around him.

“May I sit here comrade?” A familiar Russian voice said.

Michael looked up and it was indeed Vargev, “of course.” Motioning for him to take a seat, as well as catching the eye of a passing waiter, “another coffee here for my friend please.”

The waiter nodded and disappeared towards the counter.

“So what brings you here?” Michael asked with a smile putting down the data navigator.

He pulled out a cigar from his shirt pocket, lit it, and began puffing, “nothing really, I just saw you out here and thought I would chat to you.”

Strange, Vargev is not normally this nice to anyone, Michael thought.

“Besides I heard you had been promoted to Captain and placed in full command of the Liberty.”

“That’s right yeah; I’m just going over the crew roster now.”

“I got a promotion through too, I got promoted to Colonel. I am now second in command of the E.D. F commandoes, under comrade General Mc’Cree.”

“Excellent news; I heard Mc’Cree is tough, they don’t call him the bull for nothing,” Michael replied as the waiter handed Vargev the coffee.

“Kind of, but he’s okay, I’ve worked with him once or twice in the past. He’s tough but a good General, besides you have to be tough to be a commando, it’s kind of in the job description,” he said with a laugh, almost choking on his cigar in the process. “So where is the Liberty heading off to next then?”

“Well, our first mission is to form up with a Solarian fleet to take back Delta base, and to destroy any Krenaran ships in the vicinity. Beyond that who knows, this war is changing day by day. What about the commandoes?”

“My platoons have been ordered to reinforce the colony at Barnards star, in case it comes under Krenaran attack again. The Troop division thinks that since Barnards star is so close to earth, the Krenarans will throw the book at it; try to win the war quickly before the new Solarian Alliance can really start ripping into them.”

“And what do you think?” Michael asked, listening intently.

“That if they did the Krenarans would be foolish,” he paused, thinking. “The Solarians pouring over the border has put them on the back foot, if I was them I would be consolidating what I’ve already got instead of pushing further forward, especially as they are now fighting a war on two fronts,” he said as he took a puff from his cigar. “But I’m just a commando, what do I know eh, comrade,” he said with a rueful smile.

“Yeah I suppose, you think this war will be over soon?”

“I doubt it; the Krenarans are going to fight like dogs to keep hold of those water sources, so I can see it running for a while yet at least.”

Vargev checked his watch, “Anyway comrade; I shall have to bid you farewell for now, I hope to call you amongst my friends. And it would be an honour to fight alongside you on the battlefield once again in the future, should we meet again.”

He stubbed out the cigar.

“Das vidanya,” he said shaking Michaels hand firmly.

With that, the hulking Colonel Vargev left Michael to his work in the coffee shop, and framed by the bright Swiss sunlight continued walking up the street.

Michael stared after him; through all the pain, struggle, strife and torment, they had got through it somehow. And Michael felt a bond there, as though brothers in arms, and he didn’t think it would be the last time that he would see the enigmatic Colonel Vargev.

“Das vidanya, old friend.” Michael whispered quietly.