ALTERNATE TALES OF THE STAR FORCE

STAR BLAZERS

Tomorrow Never Knows

By Frederick P. Kopetz


A Novelette in Four Acts with Note to the Following:

STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright © 1998 by Voyager Entertainment, Inc and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: This story and its successors represent an Alternate Reality that may or may not coincide with the events portrayed in the STAR BLAZERS and SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO series and movies.

Special Thanks to Derek C. Wakefield and the rest of THE ISCANDAR PROJECT for ideas and concepts of theirs I have been permitted to use herein. These ideas are copyright © 1998 by Derek C. Wakefield and THE ISCANDAR PROJECT. Otherwise, all original concepts contained herein are copyright © 1998 by Frederick P. Kopetz.

Special Thanks to Gail R. Kopetz for her aid and assistance


ACT ONE—HOMECOMING---


I. FAREWELLS

Space Battleship Argo

The Vicinity of Earth

November 15, 2201

1010 Hours-Spacetime


"Come ON, this is the last rescue ship!" snapped Doctor Sakezo Sane as Lieutenant Commander Derek Wildstar, who was the Deputy Captain of the Star Force and the Acting Commander of the Earth space battleship Argo came slowly down an access gangway towards one of the Argo's Type Two "Astro Nightingale" SMB Medevac boats with Lieutenant Commander Stephen Sandor, the ship's Mechanical Group Leader. Sandor was tired, injured, and all too obviously missing a bionic leg, all courtesy of the Comet Empire.

Around and above Wildstar, the Argo was a smoking mess, also courtesy of the Comet Empire. The most recent damage had been delivered by a mad Prince Zordar, who had virtually declared his own self-proclaimed divinity after crippling the Argo before heading off to begin devastating Earth with his siege cannon.

Wildstar shivered with rage for a second as he glanced down towards Earth. Their Earth, now about to be enslaved by Zordar and his Black Dreadnaught...

Zordar, you think we're helpless, don't you? thought Wildstar. You don't think I can do anything, do you? Well...I can...and I will.

Sandor noticed Wildstar glancing around as they approached the litter that Doctor Sane was pushing up out of the medical boat. "Where's Nova?" he asked in a breathless tone over the helmet comlink, referring, of course, to Lieutenant Nova Forrester, who was the ship's Living Group Leader as well as his girlfriend.

"Uhh...," said Sane, looking around, "She was here just a minute ago... I don't...," he muttered, looking inside the SMB only to see IQ-9 and the litters carrying Lieutenant Chris Eager, Ensign Neville Royster, and some of the other crew members being evacuated off the ship.

"She must have left on the other ship with Homer!" piped up IQ in response to Doctor Sane's question.

"I guess so...," said Sane, wondering where Nova could've disappeared to so quickly.

In his litter, Sandor gave a quick nod. "That's everybody, then," said Wildstar while he and Dr. Sane pushed Sandor into the shuttle.

A moment later, Dr. Sane wondered what Wildstar was doing as he stepped back out onto the gangway, and stood there stiffly for a moment.

"...Coming?" he asked as he looked back at Wildstar. He was standing there with a very serious look on his face, framed by a plume of reddish smoke that was bleeding from the battered Argo, now a few seconds short of being abandoned.

"...I want to thank you...for everything you've done, Doc," said Wildstar in a very low and rather formal voice. A voice that, to Doctor Sane, sounded rather morose.

"C'mon...Wildstar," said Doctor Sane, trying to be reassuring. "You've done everything you can here. Now, Earth needs us."

Wildstar took a deep breath. "You're so right, Doc. You'd better hurry!" he said in a more animated voice. "We've got to take off right away!" he said as he gently pushed Dr. Sane into the SMB.

Wildstar stepped towards the pilot's console towards IQ-9, who was already in the co-pilot's seat. Doctor Sane thought little of it. He wasn't a pilot. To keep his mind occupied, the elderly little man looked back at his patients as he headed back into the body of the boat. They looked fine. Glancing through a viewport, he vaguely wondered who was flying the other boat, which he glimpsed heading down, down towards Earth. Doctor Sane then noticed Wildstar pushing a button on the console. He wondered for a moment why Derek had not yet strapped himself in, but again, he thought little of it.

Probably in another one of his bad moods, thought Sane as he bent down to check on Royster, who was unconscious with quite a few bloody bandages around his head. After what's happened today, who can blame him?

Doctor Sane went back to working on Royster as Wildstar continued to stand there looking at the console for a second.

"NO!" chirped IQ-9 as Wildstar quickly pulled back a switch. "Wildstar, you've locked the controls!" cried the robot as an indicator light marked AUTO glared ominously on the boat's console.

The shuttle began to launch as Wildstar drifted back out into space. "Stop him, Doctor!" cried IQ-9. Sane's attention was finally diverted away from his patient, just in time to see the hatch closing. It clicked shut as Doctor Sane cried, "WILDSTAR!!!" and simultaneously realized he was outside.

"IQ-9, you tinwitted bucket of bolts!" yelled Sane as he looked through the viewport, noticing Wildstar drifting back down towards the burning wreck of the Argo. "Can't you STOP this thing so we can go back there and get him? He's gone mad!"

IQ looked at the console. A yellow arrow blinked on a gauge. "The steering gear is set on automatic pilot, and he locked it in! We can't stop!" said IQ-9.

"WILDSTAR!!!" screamed Doctor Sane as the shuttle blasted further and further away from the Argo, and the little figure, whom he noticed standing at attention on the gangplank.

"You young fool!" cried Doctor Sane as the shuttle accelerated away. "STOP BEING HONORABLE! Don't you know the Argo's about to blow herself to bits??"

On the gangway, Wildstar heard nothing. Doctor Sane was now just a little face yelling words that could not be heard now because the boat had already put Wildstar beyond the transmitter range of Doctor Sane's older, low-gain spacesuit radio set.

As the shuttle receded into the blackness of space, Wildstar slowly and ceremonially saluted, aware that Doctor Sane was safe, aware that Sandor and his crewmen were safe, and aware that the other Medevac boat was probably home, as well, which meant that Nova was also safe, along with the others.

Good. I did well. he thought to the silence.

His chest swelled with pride as he thought of the Argo.

We can do it, he thought. We're going to WIN...you and I..., he added in silence. He held the salute, and after a moment, slowly lowered his hand.

Then, he looked up at the twisted metal, smoke, and above that, the damaged, but still-majestic bulk of the Argo's bridge tower.

With a resolute glance upwards, he nodded, as if the ship had answered him. She was battered, smoking, burning, even quivering a little every now and then. But, she was still there.

Still ready...for this one task...this final task.

Inside the Argo, Wildstar actuated a button, praying that the airlock would work. It did, with the hatch rolling shut behind him as he turned to open an access panel.

He pulled down the panel. "There's no escape capsule here." he muttered quietly in his helmet as the lights above the sealed outer hatch went green. "I'll have to look for another one. At least the gravity's light...."

Gritting his teeth, Wildstar went on, hoping to accomplish his task before he ran out of time.


Wildstar stood on the Argo's ruined bridge, at long last, after a very long walk and many preparations..

And now, thought Derek. ...All I have to do is say goodbye to what has been my home for so long...

Them, Wildstar turned towards the aft bulkhead, looking at the silent bronze portrait of Captain Avatar, the Argo's first Captain. ...And to you, who have been like a father to me...

Derek stood before the empty Command console for a long, long time, listening to the explosions deep within the once-mighty ship as the Argo slowly continued to die around him.

"Oh...this is hard...," he said out loud again, looking up at Captain Avatar's portrait. "Captain, I know what the Argo meant to you...it was your home, and it was home to the Star Force." At that, Wildstar bowed his head. "The Argo's a proud ship, and I'm sending her on her last mission, from which she'll never return," said Wildstar in a very choked-up voice as he knelt in respect and homage to both Captain Avatar and the ship. "It's the only thing I can do to save planet Earth!" he said, almost in a sob.

He knelt on the deck, catching his breath, stifling his tears, collecting himself. Finally, Derek stood, continuing to speak to Avatar while walking slowly towards the memorial plaque which hung behind the command station. "I know to some, the Argo is just a ship. She's MORE than that to us. She's the spirit of the Star Force, and she will do what must be done. It's a hard duty, Captain Avatar, but if Earth is to survive, it must be done."

"She'll go with honor, I promise you," said Wildstar, looking about the bridge as his voice hitched again. ".....a great ship."

Wildstar continued to glance around, looking one last time at the Argo's smashed bridge...before a movement to his left caught his attention.

Who...who is it? , he thought as he noticed that someone was approaching from the lift doors behind the command station. But then, his eyes went wide when he noticed not only that he wasn't alone...but that, in addition, the second presence on the Argo's bridge was very familiar to him.

"NOVA!" he cried in a half-choked voice as his beloved approached with a quiet but determined look on her face.

"Did you think I would let you do it alone, Derek?" she challenged. "I saw you put the escape capsule in the airlock...what's your plan?"

"I'm going to ram Zordar's ship with the Argo," replied Wildstar with determination in his voice.

"And then escape?" asked Forrester.

"When we're close enough, I'll set the automatic pilot, and we'll escape...TOGETHER," he said with soft emphasis in his voice.

"You were going to do all that ALONE with no one to help you?" asked Nova gently.

Wildstar's eyes went wide with shock as he realized : Not only did you decide to follow me...but you've decided to help me, too, when I could've done this myself. Or...could I? Would there have been enough time to set everything myself? Maybe not. But, ...Nova....Why do you have to keep on risking your life for my sake? Why? he demanded to himself with shock on his face. WHY??

"The Star Force is a group..." continued Nova with a shake of her head. "...you know that! And I knew what you were planning to do was dangerous, or you wouldn't have had everyone evacuated. I'm right, aren't I?" she said with a little tilt of her head. "And I wanted to help you, but mostly...I wanted to be with you."

Wildstar's eyes stayed wide for a moment, until the thought I can't get ever rid of you...can I? We must be fated to be together...always... ran through his head, and he smiled and said, "I'm...glad, Nova..."

"I couldn't go...," she continued. "...not without you! And I wanted to help you...," she said with a faltering voice as her eyes went misty with tears. "I...love you!" she cried as she ran to his arms with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Wildstar couldn't keep his arms closed and stay duty-bound, not after a declaration of devotion like that. "Nova..." he said in a soft, low, voice as she fell crying into his arms...and he felt terrible for not having thought enough about her in all of his plans for this moment. "Nova...," he said while thinking out loud. "...we haven't had much time together. It doesn't mean I don't love you. But soon, " he promised. "...when this is done...we'll spend the rest of our lives together."

Then, while snuggling against her, he realized what he was thinking...and what he was saying. He was thinking about something that he wished he could have said a long, long time ago...before everything about the Comet Empire had taken place... of something that needed to be said and gotten out in the open before he kept on blathering away like this.

With a lump in his throat, he held Nova close and said, "Nova...you are going to marry me...?"

"Oh, Derek!" replied Nova in a soft, beautiful, choked-up voice. She looked into his eyes, and, too shocked and filled with joy to speak, indicated her assent by grasping his hands and squeezing hard, adding what she thought was a nod of her head almost as an afterthought while Derek put his hand around her shoulders.

I guess he knows I said 'yes'.. thought Nova giddily as Wildstar tenderly took her hand. Filled with joy, Nova placed her hand over that of her...fiancée...of all of ten seconds, and smiled softly as she walked with him to the command console to begin preparing for what they would have to do.


It did not take long.

They had to get an extra chair from one of the other stations, and, together, they carried it over the debris to the command console, which they knew was the only working station left on the Argo's torn bridge, and even that was barely working, as many of the screens had been broken or short-circuited. What had been Captain Avatar's chair had to be moved a short distance to starboard, to what passed for the helm controls on the Command console. The second chair was crammed in between the port side edge of the console, and the pilot's chair.

Finally, Wildstar and Forrester crammed into the chairs, and locked them into position. Then, Wildstar began to make preparations for what they both knew would be the Argo's final takeoff.

Nova looked at Derek, and then looked out at the stars, and asked, "What do we do?"

"Well...to ram Zordar's ship...as soon as both of us can get everything we need up and running, I'll set the autopilot when we're at fifteen megameters' distance, and we should be getting out soon afterwards. She should be at about ten or eight megameters' distance when we cycle the airlock at forty-five seconds' interval, get in the capsule, and then try to bail out... for home. And as to...what we'll be doing afterwards, after we finally get back to the Megalopolis," he said with a slight smile. "It'll be...ASAP under the circumstances, I guess, since we could land almost anywhere on the planet. But first, we have a lot to do. Especially today."

"I know," said Nova as she began to see what sort of navigational control they'd have as they took the Argo on her last journey...a thought that was also making her quite choked-up inside. She flicked a few switches, and a few rudimentary controls came on her side.

"Nova?" he asked.

"I'm trying to see how we can get her on course," said Nova softly as she pushed a few buttons, transferring what radar data was left on their target to the helm. "Ready," she said.

At that, they sat in silence, Wildstar with his hands near the controls as the proper headings came up on one of the small screens, Nova with her hands folded in her lap, almost in an attitude of prayer, as they again realized what they were about to do. There was no hesitation. They could not allow themselves that luxury...

...but...they could catch their breaths.

"I'm your co-pilot, Derek," said Nova in a soft but surprisingly strong voice.

Wildstar turned his head to look at her, smiling as she met his gaze. "I'm glad you stayed, " he said. "It'll bring us luck.".

Then, both of them set their faces towards the stars, with stern, serious expressions of determination.

Wildstar nudged a small joystick over a little, and felt relieved as the course heading precisely matched the Argo's current heading.

"Target," he intoned. "Zordar's spaceship!"

Derek's hand went around the throttle control, tightened around it, and stopped. He was ready.

"Argo...make us proud!" he cried in defiance of Zordar as he pulled the throttle back.

The Argo's engines ignited, and the battered, smoking ship, pathetic and yet defiant with her crew of two, began to roar towards Earth...and the Comet Empire's black dreadnaught.

Aboard the Argo, Wildstar and Nova sat in silence, watching as the seconds ticked away on a chronograph Nova had set. One of the controls they had gotten running showed the proximity between the dreadnaught and Zordar's space battleship.

The distance began to shrink...eighteen megameters...then seventeen point five...then, seventeen....

At sixteen megameters' distance, the ugly space battleship began to appear before them at far visual range, clearly visible as the light of the gruesome siege cannon flashed before them.

Soon ..thought Wildstar grimly; Soon...we'll be putting a stop to THAT...

He looked at the readout again. Sixteen point five, he thought over the surge of the Argo's engines. Soon...

Earth began to loom large in the bridge windows. Both Derek Wildstar and Nova Forrester shivered inside as they realized that their blue Earth was a world that the Argo herself would never, ever return to, and, if something went wrong, perhaps they would never return there either. But, the die was cast...and there was no other alternative.

Wildstar looked at a large, white cloud on the Earth's orb for a moment, and wondered if the ocean it was over was the Atlantic or the Pacific.

Well, no time to wonder, now, he thought as he tightened one hand around the arm of his chair, and placed his other hand near the autopilot. He was about to turn towards Nova when he noticed that the cloud seemed to be glowing.

No...it wasn't the cloud. It was a strange, beautiful golden glow appearing right before the Argo.

"...what?" whispered Wildstar as the light filled the bridge.

"...Trelaina!" said Nova as she thought she recognized a human shape appearing in the light.

Then, something incredible happened. The Argo's main screen, which they both thought was dead, suddenly came back to life again. On it appeared the form of Trelaina, holding a limp Mark Venture in her arms.

"Trelaina!" cried Nova in recognition as the image cleared.

"VENTURE!" yelled Wildstar in shock as he quickly cut all power to the engines, leaving the Argo drifting slowly at exactly sixteen megameters' distance from Zordar's dreadnaught.

"Wildstar," said Trelaina over the Argo's bridge speakers, which also resumed operation with a crackle, "..I have come to return Mark to you."

"How is he? Venture!" cried Wildstar towards the limp form.

"I have brought Mark back to life," replied Trelaina. "But, he needs more care. You must take him back to Earth for that. I've done all I can."

"But...Trelaina..." fumbled Wildstar.

"Trelaina.." asked Nova. "Can you take Mark back to Earth?"

"I can't," said Trelaina sadly. "It's not possible, Nova. Even with the power I have, I cannot go to your Earth. You must take him! He needs you! He is of the Earth...and I am not."

"No, Trelaina!" cried Wildstar. "Now that you've saved his life, you can't leave him!"

"Trelaina...you must know how much Mark loves you!" cried Nova.

"I know that...but I must give him back to you...."

Trelaina disappeared from the Argo's screen, only to reappear in a great blaze of light right in the middle of the bridge, still bearing Venture in her arms.

Wildstar and Nova left their posts and ran up towards both of them while Trelaina was lying Venture on the deck. "Please...take care of him," she intoned sadly.

Wildstar and Nova knelt before Venture and Trelaina, noticing that Mark was again breathing, but weakly.

"But...Trelaina," said Wildstar. "The ship isn't going back to Earth!"

"I know what you plan to do," replied Trelaina. "You need not sacrifice the Argo. I will fight Zordar."

"Trelaina!" protested Wildstar. "You've already done so much for us! You sacrificed your planet Telezart in order to stop Prince Zordar!"

"My work is not done. I must change the evil power of Prince Zordar," said Trelaina. "My love for Mark makes it more important than ever to save Earth. I wish I could explain more to you. There are great powers in the Universe, unknown and unseen. I am just one small part of that great life force, with my own destiny to fulfill. Earth can be the embodiment of good...but it must live on to fulfill that destiny."

"...Trelaina" said Wildstar in a choked-up voice.

"Derek," said Trelaina. "It is time for me to go. A part of me stays with Mark, and with you, and with Nova. And...with your dear Earth; the place where all that is good can live, and grow, and reach out to the Universe."

Trelaina raised her hands, and glowed brighter than ever with liberated energy as she began to fade from this plane of existence. "Goodbye...goodbye, Derek and Nova and please tell Mark how much I LOVE HIM...,how much I love him...how much I..." with her last words echoing with longing, love, and power as her form turned into an astral shape, and drifted out into space, surrounded by a globe of psi-energy, as it drifted away from the Argo, into the depths of space.

A stunned Wildstar looked on as he picked up Venture from the deck. He and Nova looked on in wonder, staring out into space towards Zordar's dreadnaught, and wondering how, indeed, Trelaina would accomplish this final task.


II. THE CHANGE

Space.

The Vicinity of Earth

November 15, 2201.

1053 Hours-Spacetime


"Prince Zordar," said an officer on the bridge of his dreadnaught. "Should we continue the bombardment?"

"Yes, by all means," intoned the evil potentate as he looked on with a smile. "Are you targeting their accursed Megalopolis again?"

"Your highness," said another officer, "We were directing our fire towards the oceans, hoping that they might soon be convulsed with fear and send another surrender. Should we slacken our fire?"

"NOOO!" bellowed Zordar. "I have a plan in mind. Let them tremble at my power!"

An intercom speaker came on near Zordar's station. "Yes?" he hissed as he thumbed the control on.

"Prince Zordar," said a heavily accented...and hated voice from one of the dreadnaught's navigation bridges.

"What do YOU want, Dyre?" murmured Zordar dangerously. "Didn't I tell you that you and your Princess have been relegated to minor tasks?"

"Prince Zordar...we have managed to scan the area to our stern."

"And?"

"We have spotted the Argo-at a far distance."

"What is the brave Star Force doing now?" mocked Zordar. "Aren't you aware that their ship was blasted into wreckage upon my personal orders?"

"Yes, and we are ready to turn our guns on her...but we are awaiting your orders. What should we do?" asked Dyre.

"Nothing!" bellowed Zordar with a mad smile as he began to laugh. "Controller, intensify the siege cannon's barrage!"

"Yessir," said a voice on the bridge as Dyre asked, "Sir, but why...?"

"Don't you know most of the crew abandoned ship? Whoever is left on board now must indeed be a group of insignificant and sentimental fools! They mean nothing to me now, Dyre; they're just as idiotic as you and Invidia!" roared Zordar through a mad laugh as the fire intensified, as per his orders. He continued laughing as he marched up to a viewport to enjoy the view. "Fools!" he yelled, while thumbing off the intercom switch. "All of you!"

Zordar was incredibly happy as he watched flower after flower of fire blossom on Earth. Why am I giving you a brief reprieve, Star Force? he thought. WHY? It is because I want you and the others to SEE my power unveiled...before you're dealt with...forever!

Some time passed. An officer then said, “Sir, I’m detecting an object leaving the ship.”

“What sort of object?” boomed Zordar.

“Uncertain, sire. I think it’s a destroyer. Deserters?”

“Perhaps,” said Zordar, who guessed what was going on; and didn’t care. “Fools,” he said in a low voice. “Trying to run, hmh? I think not. I’ll control this system shortly, and I can easily find you and have you brought back to face what you deserve, Dyre…Invidia…all of you…”

“Request permission to fire,” said the officer.

“Denied. Leave them.”

“Sir?”

“They’re best left for another time. This is too important to miss,” he said as the siege cannon fired, smashing into Earth yet again.

Zordar continued to laugh maniacally again as he watched the show. "FOOLS! You idiot Earthlings! NOW you'll know what FEAR is! HA ha, ha, ha, ha, ha HAAA!"

Zordar caught his breath and prepared to laugh again, but the laugh died in his throat as he looked back in the direction of space in which the Argo lay...and noticed a bright point of light appearing from nowhere.

The light intensified as Zordar looked on in utter horror. What? HOW? he thought. We all but finished them off...how can they...have activated any of their weapons...how...?

Then, the light faded. For a split-second Zordar thought that the Argo's wave gun wasn't firing, after all, but, his momentarily relief turned to a worse, colder sort of fear as the light resolved into a form which Zordar dreaded far more than any mere space battleship or its worst attack.

"TRELAINA!" roared Zordar in a fearful voice as he looked at the massive, looming phantom of the mysterious woman of Telezart that he thought was dead.

"Zordar," said Trelaina's voice on the bridge. "I have come because you need me."

Zordar looked on in horror. "Cease Firing!" he screamed. "Reverse course IMMEDIATELY!"

The dreadnaught, which had been facing towards Earth, turned hard about and began to roar away. Zordar was hoping to escape the dreaded ball of light that was Trelaina of Telezart.

But, Trelaina continued, relentlessly, to pursue Zordar.

"You need to learn, Zordar," she said. "A new way, another way!"

"Let me at the controls!" he screamed, shoving a hapless helmeted junior officer aside, with no trace of repentance in his heart...nothing but cold, unreasoning fear.

"You have misused your power!" intoned Trelaina. "I am here to return you to the Cosmos!"

Zordar looked up, noting that even at full speed, his ship could not escape from Trelaina and her cursed energy field, which swallowed up the ship like some terrible, living thing.

Prince Zordar had no time to reflect upon much of anything in his last moments. All that he could do was scream like an enraged animal.

Soon, Zordar's screams faded into nothingness as a mighty roar filled the ship. In a mere two seconds, Trelaina's mind-energy turned her semi-astral form and Zordar's dreadnaught and crew into nothing. The ship dissolved like dust, and a mighty, pure-white explosion dispersed what was left into nothingness as, for a moment, a virtual new star erupted into being in Earth orbit...

...and then faded.

Zordar, at least in his physical essence, had indeed been changed...changed into impotent, harmless subatomic dust.

In his spiritual essence, too, Zordar had been changed, and immediately consigned to a fate far different than his self-proclaimed role as Lord of the Universe. The revelations that would await Zordar when he met Destiny face-to-face were to be more stunning than the manner of his physical end. However, as such matters are not within the province of this tale, they shall not be discussed here, except to state this:

Trelaina was correct. There were, indeed, great powers in the Universe, both unknown and unseen.

Let it simply be said that the demise of Zordar was noticed in many places, and at many times.

One of these places, of course, was on the bridge of the nearest ship; the space battleship Argo.

Derek and Nova shielded their eyes with their arms as Trelaina accomplished her final task in this plane. Watching the holocaust, they trembled at the mighty forces Trelaina unleashed.

When it faded, tears filled both of their eyes.

"Goodbye, Trelaina," said Derek. "And, thank you. For everything. For saving Venture. For loving Earth so much! It's true we can't understand, " he said, bowing his head, "...but it's not important. Your love has saved Earth!"

Wildstar saluted Trelaina in honor while a trembling Nova held both hands over her heart. For a long time, both of them stood in silence.

But, finally, they knew there was more to be done.

"Nova," said Wildstar. "Secure Venture in his place with the warp restraints while I see if I can transmit from the command station."

"Roger," she said, in a shaky but controlled voice. "You're calling Earth, I presume?"

"Yes...we'll need landing clearance. But, I'm going to see if I can set the transmitter to a wide dispersion radius."

"Why?" asked Forrester as she began to lock Venture into place, checking his pulse for a moment. It was a little weak, but it was still there.

"I think we should let anyone who might be left alive on the outer bases...or in any patrol ships...know about the end of Zordar...and...maybe...if the message can be picked up...I think we deserve to let someone else know of the victory, as well...provided he's still in the solar system."

"Desslok?" asked Nova as she came up.

"Uh-huh," said Wildstar. "He did, after all, help us."

Nova nodded in assent. Together, both of them worked on the controls for the radio transmitter.


Below, on Earth, Earth Defense Headquarters was in chaos.

"This is Sydney Command," said a voice from one of the damaged communications consoles in the Operations room. "We've taken heavy damage. Can you respond? Over."

"Sydney, this is Defense Headquarters, Great Island, Federal Megalopolis, Capital District, Palisades Circle. Lieutenant Pierson speaking. Can you change to visual?"

"Negative. We're too badly damaged."

"Just like us."

"How come you didn't come in?"

"Many people are dead, here, Sydney," said another voice behind Pierson.

"Sir!" said the speaker from Australia as soon as he recognized the voice of General Singleton, the dignified 52-year old Commanding General of the Earth Defense Forces. "They'd like to know what's happened."

"It's bad everywhere. Two hours ago, one of Zordar's bursts hit us point-blank. The burst ruined a large part of the Capital District, and we have taken some collateral damage."

"Our building's barely standing, sir. A lot of people here are dead," crackled the voice from Sydney.

"It's just as bad here," sighed the Commander. "A burst blew straight in through the outer wall of Operations, killing much of the ready crew at their consoles. I only have a skeleton crew working here, and we're patching a lot of our communications through the underground headquarters."

"We're on battery power, sir," said the Lieutenant. "Can you send aid?"

"We'll do what we can. I'm having a hard time establishing communications with the rest of Jamaica, Lieutenant."

"Yessir, we understand. I..."

"Lieutenant?" snapped Singleton.

"Sorry, sir...this wound in my side...it's bleeding pretty good," said the crackling voice as, in the background behind Singleton, a soot-covered nurse bleeding from a head wound took a deep breath to choke back her own sickness as she and a medic suddenly found the remains of an officer under a crushed console. "Getting kind of dizzy, sir...that's all. Should be on duty soon. Battery power's getting low. Sydney, signing off."

The signal faded with a blast of static as the Commander snapped, "Mister Pierson, try to raise them again. We need casualty figures."

"Yessir."

As the Commander through the debris, he noticed the nurse and medic moving the litter.

"How is that man?" he asked.

"Dead, sir," said the nurse with a shake of her head. Singleton noticed that her blackened tunic was torn in several places, and that her bloody right ankle was showing through the torn remnants of her boot, but she didn't seem to be aware of her own injuries. "Sir...I've never seen anything like this before...not here..."

"Neither have I..," replied the Commander softly. "Where did you come from?"

"Eighteenth floor infirmary. It was on fire a while ago. We put it out. Half the ready crew's dead."

"Do you know where General Stone is?"

"Negative, sir. We haven't seen him. Sir...permission to speak?"

"For a moment. What is it?"

"Have you heard from the Star Force? Surely Captain Wildstar must have something..."

"The Argo was attacked a few hours ago by Zordar's ship. Since then, we've lost contact."

"I see, sir," said the nurse, fighting back tears. "Any orders?"

"Carry on. For as long as we can, until..."

"Until what, sir?"

"Until they send their fleet back," said Singleton softly.

"I see, sir," said the nurse as she heard someone else screaming in pain. "Private, get some help," she snapped. "Sir...as you tell...I'm needed elsewhere."

"Carry on, Lieutenant..."

"Lieutenant Howe, sir. I went to Iscandar with the Star Force in 2199."

"I see," said Singleton. "Carry on, Lieutenant Howe."

Lieutenant Tricia Howe nodded as she ran over to help the man who had cried out.

The Commander walked over to his post with a heavy heart as more reports of damage came in from other parts of the globe. At his post, Singleton shook his head in despair. The Star Force hadn't been heard from for hours, and, indeed, Earth hadn't been able to establish communications with anything beyond low orbit due to the intense atmospheric ionization caused by Zordar's repeated siege cannon barrages.

His efforts, his hopes that the Star Force would fight on were finally dashed when Zordar had left the Argo a burning wreck, and when the last communication from the Star Force indicated that the Argo was being abandoned.

Star Force, you did all you could he thought. If you had prevailed, I would have seen to it that you were decorated many times over. But now...what will become of you? You'll eventually be captured...I guess...or fight on as partisans...but I'll never reveal your whereabouts to them. I...

At Singleton's desk, a comm signal went off.

"Yes?" he said. "Is that YOU, Stone?" said Singleton in disbelief.

"It is. Commander," said Brigadier General Stone from what seemed like a great distance, "I've assumed command of the second ready crew in the underground city. We've noticed something."

"Yes?"

"Your scanners probably aren't working, and ours are working rather poorly, but we've just pieced together that four scanners detected a sudden surge of energy going entirely off the scale, near the last known location of the Comet Empire's battleship."

"...And?"

"After the surge faded, we noticed that the random fire from the ship came to a complete stop. What they've been telling us is hard to make out, but there was something about a woman's voice coming through somewhere under all of the interference."

"A woman's voice," said Singleton. "Trelaina? That's how all of this started."

"There's something else. After the energy surge faded, the Comet Empire battleship faded off every one of our sensors. We haven't been able to pick up any trace of it."

"None? It's gone?"

"Gone?" yelled a lieutenant below them.

"They're finished?" cried another officer. "YEAH! That means..."

"HOLD IT!" barked Singleton. "We don't know all the details, yet!" he said. "Then?" demanded the Commander, as he wiped some fresh sweat off his brow.

"We do have one object on our scanners," said Stone. "But...it's much smaller than Zordar's ship."

"Can you get a visual fix?"

"No. We have it on radar, and...sir...we're picking up a signal; voice-only, but a little fuzzy. We can make out words, and..."

"Stone?" asked the Commander as he fell silent.

"I'm patching this right through to you over the link," said Stone in an excited voice. "Sir, I think you will find this to be good news..."

The Commander listened as two circuits came up, with a loud hum, and then, through a lot of crackling interference, a familiar voice said, "This is a report to the Commander, the rest of the Earth Defense Command, should it be functioning, and any other Earth Defense units active outside of Area One, as well as to any other friendly forces who can receive this communication..."

"WILDSTAR!" yelled an officer at a console.

"He made it!" cried Howe, smiling for the first time in hours as her dirty, pony-tailed head came up.

"He was on the Argo all along!" someone else yelled. "He must have been planning some kind of last stand! Can we ask him what happened?"

"No, we only have one-way orbital communications at present," said the Commander.

"Gentlemen..." said Wildstar, "At approximately 1557 hours, Prince Zordar and his dreadnaught were both neutralized and destroyed by a final, gallant sacrifice by Trelaina of Telezart, who has also, somehow, returned Lieutenant Commander Mark Venture to life and has returned him to us. I was about to send the Argo on a collision course with Zordar's ship when I learned that Lieutenant Nova Forrester had remained aboard to assist me. It is my request that she should be commended for her bravery in volunteering to assist me in this final run upon the dreadnaught, which was to have ended, hopefully, with our escape. However, this course of action became unnecessary when Trelaina appeared on the Argo, returned Venture to us, and then left to fight Zordar herself. She won, at the cost of her life. All of Earth should join in thanking her for her great love."

"Further, others aided us in our effort to stop Zordar. Many members of the Star Force were either killed or injured in our defeat and destruction of the Comet Empire City before the emergence of the dreadnaught from its ruins. Further, we owe our thanks to Admiral Gideon, Captain of the Andromeda, who advised us to attack the Empire City at the bottom before he died bravely in action. We also owe many words of thanks to Leader Desslok of the Gamilons, who unexpectedly decided to cease his war of vengeance against the Star Force and Earth at the last possible moment, and, instead, also advised us to attack the Comet Empire City at its weak point at the bottom. He has left in peace, and, we wish to inform him that there is no further quarrel between us."

Wildstar paused before continuing. "Lieutenant Forrester has informed me that the Argo's flight recorder, which was still functioning, picked up a full record of Zordar's demise in spite of heavy damage to the ship. We wish to request landing clearance at any working base within the vicinity of the Megalopolis, and we also request medical assistance for Lieutenant Commander Venture, who is alive but comatose. Argo, signing off..."

The remaining officers in Operations began to applaud. The Commander stifled their applause with a wave of his hand, and said, "General Stone, is there some way you can transmit a reply to the Argo?"

"One of our fighter bases is semi-intact, and can transmit a reply if I relay it by telephone."

"Very good. Find a working landing pad near the city, and direct the Argo to it. Was Central Hospital damaged?"

"It was near one of the undamaged areas, sir," said Stone. "I've received reports that surviving members of the Star Force are already at the hospital being treated."

"Send a medical team to the landing pad."

"Yessir," said Stone. "Sir. I've just been informed that there's one working landing pad at the Cliffside Space Naval Yard. It's just big enough to accommodate the Argo."

"Pad Number?"

"Twelve, sir."

"Stone, assume command. Make certain the Argo is directed to Pad Twelve at Cliffside. I'm going to be there. In the meantime, contact all surviving members of the Defense Council whose whereabouts are known. We'll need to meet tonight but the damage is too severe to hold the conference here. Is the Presidential residence undamaged?"

"Yessir...it is."

"General, inform the Defense Council that a briefing will be held tonight at 2100 Hours at the Presidential residence. I'm going to make certain that Wildstar, Forrester, and that flight recorder tape are present."

"Yessir. And you?"

"As I said, I'll be there when the Argo lands...to extend my thanks to Wildstar. That will be all."

"Yessir," said Stone.


"Do you think they received the message?" asked Nova. "No one's replied yet."

"I hope so," said Derek, looking down at the fading fires and plumes of smoke from Zordar's bombardment, which were still visible, even from this distance. "Look at what Zordar did to the planet," he whispered in awe and anger.

Suddenly, the speaker squawked. "Star Force, please acknowledge."

"This is the Argo," said Wildstar. "Go ahead."

"Star Force," said the anonymous voice. "The Defense Command has received your message, and wishes to extend its congratulations to you for the news you have brought and your role in the apparent victory. However, we have a request. Have you spotted any remnants of Cometine forces from the city or the fleet that flew over the Megalopolis on 6 November? Over."

Wildstar glanced at Nova, who shook her head.

"No, I'm afraid we haven't," said Wildstar.

"Then, proceed with all due caution. You are granted landing clearance; on course vector PXT-122-A. You are directed to proceed directly to Landing Pad Number Twelve at the Cliffside Space Naval Yard. Be advised that visibility is poor due to continued fires in the capital. Again, our thanks. Please acknowledge."

"This is the Argo," said Wildstar. "Acknowledged. Expect our arrival. Regards, Wildstar, Acting Captain of the Argo and Deputy Captain of the Star Force."

At that, the transmission faded.

"Nova," said Derek. "Let's go home."

Nova  Forrester nodded.

The battered Argo turned, and began to head down on its given course towards Earth.

********

The Gamilon Fleet was now well outside the solar system. From Carrier Number Two, also known as the Eliasite, after one of the Gamilon Empire's major battles, Leader Desslok was exerting his command presence until he could transfer to another ship. He didn't find the mundane tri-deck carrier to his liking, but he lived with it.

He was sitting in his stateroom in silence, pondering quietly over his next course of action when his intercom beeped.

"Yes?" he said in his mellifluous voice.

"Leader Desslok, this is Talan. I have two messages to report."

"Enter," said Desslok as he poured a glass of wine in order to collect his thoughts.

"Yes?" he said.

"There are two reports," said Talan. "The first comes from the crew of the battleship Paravenia. She returned with the picket vessels you recalled from the battle area near Earth. As you know, before the battle, you had placed picket ships at strategic points to report on the Argo's presence should she try to make a break for it. The pickets are just making their rendezvous with us now. "

"And?"

"To begin with, Captain Vorkil is pleased to report that he was able to send a damage control crew aboard your former flagship, the Gamilstadt, which, as you know, we abandoned after our battle with the Star Force. Most of the fires had died out of their own accord; their men were able to deal with the rest. Although it was hazardous, they were able to take your  former flagship in tow, where they now have it. They think salvage efforts may be workable, although they note that parts of the Gamilstadt's plating seem to have been stripped near the area where the Argo collided with her."

Desslok simply chuckled ironically. "I don't begrudge them that."

"Sir?" said Talan with wide eyes.

"I don't begrudge some surplus materiel to the Star Force. They needed that to repair their ship, no doubt. I wonder how they fared against Zordar?"

"That was the second subject of my message, sir," said Talan. "A short while ago, the commander of destroyer Z-128 reported seeing a bright flare of light at extreme range on his sensors. When magnified, it appeared to be, per his report, the Comet Empire City aflame."

Desslok smiled at this news. "And?"

"He reported seeing another blast shortly afterwards. Then, they picked up a bit of the following message, apparently from Captain Wildstar to the Earth Defense Command. Permit me to read it. It reads:

"... we owe our thanks to Admiral Gideon, Captain of the Andromeda, who advised us to attack the Empire City at the bottom before he died bravely in action. We also owe many words of thanks to Leader Desslok of the Gamilons, who unexpectedly decided to cease his war of vengeance against the Star Force and Earth at the last possible moment, and, instead, also advised us to attack the Comet Empire City at its weak point at the bottom. He has left in peace, and, we wish to inform him that there is no further quarrel between us..."

"Was there any more?" asked Desslok.

"No, but they did report that many messages were intercepted from Earth regarding Trelaina...before, of course, they were recalled."

"I wonder what Trelaina had to do with this?" mused Desslok. "At any rate, Talan, our fleet is accounted for?"

Talan nodded.

"Talan, take some wine. I need to drink a toast with you."

"Sir?"

"My orders, Talan."

Mystified, Talan found a spare glass and poured himself some. Then, he stood holding the goblet, wondering what Desslok would propose next.

At that, Desslok raised his glass in salute. "Talan, I would like to drink, now, to the Star Force. They won, with the aid of my advice...as I expected they would," he said with an ironic smile.

"We are drinking...to the Star Force, sir?"

"To their health...and the hope we may meet again, some day, as I told the young woman."

"Of course, sir," said Talan.

Desslok and Talan drank. Then, Talan said, "Sir, your orders?"

"Is my flagship securely in tow?"

"It is."

"Very well. It is my understanding that we re-established contact with a dockyard near our old Fifth Defense Line beyond this galaxy?"

"We did, sir, shortly after we parted ways with Zordar and the Comet Empire. They promised to send reinforcements..."

"Which have not arrived. Where was the dockyard located?"

"At Garalenda, sir. It's a small, desolate planet, rather like Pluto. The other dockyard we contacted was at Miralden, sir, near the Third Line, past Balan."

"We will make our way to Garalenda," said Desslok. "Given that my flagship is being towed, I expect it will take a while. At Garalenda, we will complete the repairs to my flagship, which shall commence now, as we are underway. Then, we will head for Miralden, and gather up any other useful units and personnel available at either of those facilities. And them..."

"Sir?"

"Then, I will decide our new course of action."

"Yessir," said Talan. He raised his hand in salute. Desslok returned the salute and said, "Talan, we will speak further at a later time. In a few days..."

"Yessir?"

"...I will speak to the troops. Then, I expect that my course of action will be clearer."

"Of course, sir."

At that, Talan left.


III. HOME

Earth

The Federal Megalopolis

Cliffside Space Naval Station

November 15, 2201

1632 Hours--Spacetime


Dusk was falling over the Megalopolis, which was still burning, as General Singleton arrived at the area around Landing Pad Number 12, only to find that it was sheer pandemonium.

Apparently, some leak had taken place. Crowds of reporters had formed a gauntlet around the pad, just barely kept back by a cordon of Space Marines, some of whom were working to keep back the crowds of civilians behind the reporters.

"Sir," said an aide to Singleton. "This is utter chaos."

"Nonetheless, I still must get in there," said the Commander as he stepped from his staff aircar.

"How did this damn circus happen?" asked another aide. "What right do they have to harangue you like that?" he asked as several aides surrounded the Commander to keep the press back.

"Listen, don't you see they need hope?" roared Singleton. "To them, the Star Force symbolizes hope. Thanks to them, and thanks to Trelaina, we have that hope again. Can you blame them for wanting to know, even if I can't answer for security reasons...?"

At that, a few reporters got free and ran up to Singleton with their microphones.

"Sir, is the Star Force's arrival truly imminent?"

"Commander, are there any truths to the rumor that the Government has just stepped down?"

"What is being done to avert panic in the city and surrounding counties?"

"Is Captain Wildstar being presented the Sunburst of Honor at this time?"

"Sir, is it true you're here to arrest Wildstar for his disobedience of orders this morning near sunrise when he attacked the Empire City?"

"No comment at this time," said one of the Commander's aides. "The Commanding General is only present to greet the..."

"There she is!" yelled a civilian.

"What?" cried a reporter.

"I see the Argo...look!" yelled another member of the press.

At that, all eyes turned upwards, along with the reporters' video cameras. A mighty roar was coming up in the dusk as a dot far off in the sky began to appear through a pall of smoke from part of the city. Slowly, the dot took shape, just as it was noticed that it had wings.

The crowd hushed as the roar grew louder. Slowly, the shape of a battered space battleship with a blue topside and bright red underbelly appeared in the darkening sky, with a few, only a few of her running lights working.

The crowd began to cheer as the ship slowed, and began to drop down towards the pad on her thrusters. Then, some of the cheering stopped when the full extent of the Argo's damage became visible. The cheers turned to sighs of awe, and quite a few of the EDF officers and men present stopped at their tasks to look up at the battered old warrior. One saluted, followed by another, and followed by others.

Finally, even the Commander stopped what he was doing. In a brisk, ceremonial fashion, he raised his hand in salute, and many of the people nearby applauded again as he went up inside the landing terminal under the pad.

In the terminal, hordes of reporters had set up their ambushes near the end of the egress tunnel near the counter. The counter area, normally staffed with spaceport officials and security personnel, was vacant except for a few Space Marines standing near the egress hatch.

The wait seemed to be quite long, until someone noticed the egress hatch sliding open. It opened, and, a moment later, a team of medics raced up from nowhere, one of them pushing a litter.

A moment later, many video camera lights went on, and flash after flash went off as Wildstar and Forrester appeared in the egress hatch. Derek was carrying Venture, and Nova was carrying a small bag by a drawstring over her shoulder; both of them looked a little stunned at the crowd and all of the questions being shouted at them.

Unexpectedly, a short little Asian man in a white Medical uniform ran up and screamed in a high voice, "Hold the questions, damnit! Hold all the questions until they at least put Venture down on something!"

"Who are YOU?" yelled a reporter.

"Sakezo Sane, Chief Medical Officer of the Star Force!" he yelled. "Can't you see that we have a sick man here in need of medical care?"

Still, the cameras went off as Wildstar, helped by Nova and a medic, lowered Venture down onto the waiting litter. After the silence, a few more reporters shouted questions, until they were stilled by another raised hand as the Commander of the Earth Defense Forces appeared.

Wildstar, Nova, Dr. Sane, and all of the other EDF personnel present saluted the Commander as he walked up. Singleton returned the salutes as he walked up towards Wildstar.

"Commander," he said to Wildstar as he extended his hand in greeting. "You, Lieutenant Forrester, and Lieutenant Commander Venture have the thanks of all of Earth tonight. Without your bravery this morning, all of us might now be on our way to concentration camps established by Prince Zordar and his generals. All of us owe you a great debt."

"Thank you, sir," said Wildstar and Nova in unison.

"What were you planning to do, Wildstar?" asked Dr. Sane.

"Yes, what WERE you planning?" yelled a reporter who shoved a microphone into Wildstar's face.

"I'm not sure this is the time or place to comment on their mission objectives," said Singleton. "Isn't it enough to know that the Comet Empire's space warship was defeated?"

In defiance of the Commander, the press shouted more questions in their direction, until Singleton snapped, "Enough for now! These two have to get their comrade to the hospital, and then they are to appear before the Council for a debriefing at 2100 tonight at the Presidential residence."

"Will it be carried live?" demanded a reporter.

"Good God, NO!" snapped Singleton. "They should be ready to meet the press tomorrow," said the Commander.

Outside, an ambulance backed up to the courtyard before the landing gate for Venture. Again, Wildstar and Nova worked to help the medics get Venture on board. Looking to the Commander for permission to leave, he nodded, and they followed Venture and Dr. Sane into the ambulance.

"He's going to need a stimulant!" yelled Dr. Sane inside the ambulance as the doors shut out the noise and applause from the crowd. "Nova, help this man get it running!"

"Yes, doctor," said Nova, who, for the first time, was betraying a hint of tiredness in the stoop of her shoulders. She set the IV, and then looked at Wildstar and yawned.

"How long have you been up?" whispered Derek.

"Since 0100 yesterday morning...," said Nova. "I was able to get some rest before we took off to attack the Comet Empire City. I've had enough sleep."

"You don't look like it," he said as the ambulance took off. "Nova, how much sleep did you get when I was out in Sickbay after you took me off Desslok's ship?"

"She only slept for about an hour or two that night, right near your bedside in a chair." sniffed Doctor Sane. "That was almost two days ago, young lady," snorted Sane. "No one can go without sleep that long."

"We had jobs to do," said Nova. "You know that."

"When did you two sleep before that?" challenged Sane.

"The night of November 12th, when we were trying to catch up with the Comet Empire," said Nova. "At least that's how much I got. I don't know about Derek." Forrester paused for a moment to connect a sensor array to Venture. "The unit's working, Doctor. Venture's heart rate has stabilized a bit, and I have more to do. Derek, do you see that hatch to your left?"

Wildstar nodded.

"Open it. You'll find a blue bag in there. It's an airway kit," yawned Nova. "We're going to need it in case Mark's respiratory rate or oxygen-blood gas level goes down too much."

Wildstar nodded as he got the kit. Doctor Sane said, "You two are incredible, with your lack of sleep and rest," as he prepared a syringe.

"Why does this matter now, Doctor?" demanded Wildstar as the ambulance leaned into a turn.

"It's important. It's a matter of your health!" barked Doctor Sane. "How much sleep did YOU get over the past few days?" demanded Dr. Sane as he prepped his syringe as the ambulance sped through town.

"A bit more," said Wildstar.

"Not enough!" he said. "I prescribe sleep for both of you after the Defense Council gets through with you, and some rest when we get to the Hospital."

"Don't we have to help you with Mark?" asked Nova.

"I have enough nurses and medics there to assist me, Nova," snapped Doctor Sane. "With all respect, you've done more than enough nursing in the past couple of days! If they give out medals for young nurses who keep on working with drooping eyelids, you'd be the first one in line," said Sane.

"I'm sure there's people awake who have been doing more than me, especially in Headquarters and the city, and I'm sure they've been doing it while injured," said Nova. "We'd better keep our minds on our work. God knows Mark's going to need a lot of care to be stabilized, let alone brought around again."

"Hold on!" yelled a medic. "The ambulance is coming to a stop now!"

"You two are ridiculous," said Dr. Sane. "Both of you need REST!"

They braced themselves as the vehicle stopped. "Doctor," said Nova. "Please! Let me get a cup of coffee, and then I'll help you with Mark until it's time for the Defense Council to debrief us."

"Why don't you want to find a couch and get some sleep?"

"Because I'm a working girl, Doctor!" snapped Nova. "I don't need beauty naps."

"Doctor, I think she should do anything that'll keep her busy for a bit if she wants to," said Wildstar. "We'll both have to be awake to talk to the Defense Council, you know. Where are you putting Venture?"

"Intensive Care, I'd guess," said Nova.

Doctor Sane nodded at that. "That's right...intensive care for this patient."

"Okay. I'll be waiting in the lounge," said Wildstar as they came out of the ambulance, to a few more reporters. They waved them off, and went inside the hospital, guarded by a cordon of Space Marines.

Wildstar took his place inside the visitors' waiting area for the Intensive Care Unit. A few others were sitting in the area, reading magazines, talking, and that sort of thing. Derek guessed that they were so involved with their loved ones that they didn't recognize him. Of course, he thought, maybe the green fatigue jacket that a friendly Marine had thrown to him in order to help disguise the upper half of his Star Force uniform from the reporters didn't hurt, either.

Wildstar's hair was hanging in his face, and he was beginning to look tired as he paged through an aerospace magazine that someone had left on a side table near a couch. He jumped a little as someone tapped his arm.

"Excuse me," said a soft voice, "Mind if I get you some coffee?"

Wildstar looked down at the figure's feet, clad in white boots, and when looking up, realized he was looking at a young woman in a nurse's tunic. He almost muttered, "Hi, Nova," until he caught a glimpse of the girl's hair and realized she had dark brown hair.

"How are you?" she asked.

"Tired."

"You look it, sir," said the girl. "Duty in the city?"

"You could say that," said Wildstar, relieved that his cover wasn't about to be blown.

"C'mon," she said, taking his hand unexpectedly. "You're tired...you want someone to buy you some coffee...well...I'm on break...at least until they need someone in Suite Five...I'll take you to the snack bar, and..."

"Not a good idea," muttered Wildstar.

"Why?"

"Uhh...my fiancé' would mind, I think," said Wildstar, still trying to get used to the idea that he wasn't officially alone in the world any longer.

"Is she a patient?"

"No...she's a nurse here...part of the time, although..."

The girl looked down at Wildstar's pants cuffs in their red and white glory and suddenly said, "Ohhhh! I see! Fiancé', huh?" she said. "Good for you. Okay, I'll buy you some coffee from that vending machine. Got any change?"

"Well...," said Wildstar as he patted at the pockets of the borrowed fatigue jacket. "Actually...uhh...I'm broke."

"No sweat...I'll buy it," said the persistent nurse. "Oh, my name's Natalie. Natalie Fisher, sir. Nursing officer, Junior Lieutenant. Let me get you that coffee, okay?"

"Right."

Natalie went over to the machine and got some coffee. "By the way," she whispered conspiratorially as she came back. "Is your fiancée' blonde?"

"Yeah..."

"Does she have an accent sort of like mine?"

"Western or Midwestern U.S.? I guess."

"Think I know her, then," said Natalie as she handed him the paper cup of coffee. "See you later, sir," she said. "Oh. One last thing. You ARE engaged?"

"Yeah..." said Wildstar, who was getting a little annoyed at this Lieutenant's nosiness.

"If we're thinking of the same person, she'll be really happy...and so will I."

"Why?"

"It'll FINALLY shut her up! She's been hoping you'd pop the question for over a year now! See you later, sir."

"Where do they get these junior officers FROM?" muttered Wildstar as Natalie left.

Wildstar sat waiting for quite a while. He lost all track of time as he lost himself in yet another magazine, this one having an article about the upgrade program for the Type 100 Astro Fox recon plane. The article ended with the notion that the Type 100's future was both unknown and uncertain.

Like that of the Argo? thought Wildstar to himself. I hope they repair her again, and don't go back to the notion of turning her into a machine...not after all we've been through...

At that, the lights flickered once in the hospital...once...twice...and then, they came back on again.

Wildstar looked up, wondering what was going on, when he noticed a middle-aged man in a dark brown jacket and turtleneck approaching, followed closely by a rather thin middle-aged woman in a green turtleneck, blue miniskirt, and black boots. They were followed by a young eleven-year old boy in a green and yellow top and green slacks.

"Excuse me," asked the woman, as she looked at Wildstar, who had his head turned into the magazine. "You're with the Star Force; aren't you?"

"Yes, I am," said Wildstar, who turned his head from the magazine to face the woman. Guessing she wasn't a reporter, he said, "I'm Derek Wildstar; the Acting Captain of the Argo and Deputy Captain of the Star Force..."

"You're Wildstar?" asked the man.

"Yes..."

"Well...would you know anything about the condition of Mark Venture?" asked the woman. "You see...I'm his mother...and...."

"Mrs. Venture?" said Wildstar. "I take it," he said, looking at the older man, "that...you're his father."

"Yes, Captain," said the man, who came forward. "My name's David Venture...this is my wife, Carol...and our younger son, Jordy. How's our son?"

"He was brought here in critical condition." said Wildstar as a few of the others in the room happened to notice him at last, and quite a few faces turned towards him. "Right now, a number of our best surgeons and nurses are in there working on your son."

"How was he injured?" asked Carol shakily.

"He was injured in one of the battles we had a few days ago while attempting to protect another member of my crew," said Wildstar. "It was a very brave deed, and I've recommended him for a number of decorations because of it. Your son is a very highly valued member of the Star Force...and one of my closest friends. I'm sure he'll be fine..."

Carol Venture nodded once, with tears in her eyes, while Jordy said, "You're sure my big brother will be all right?"

"He's in very good hands," said Wildstar, not sure what else to say, as he didn't know what was going on in the operating room. "I'm sure they'll do all they can for him.."

"Thank you, Captain," said David Venture with a visibly choked-up voice. "I guess all we can do is..."

"Where IS she?!?" demanded a hysterical woman's voice from outside in what was almost a scream.

"Teri...I'm sure she's okay..."

"But where IS she?" demanded the voice again as its owner came into view before Wildstar and the Venture family. It belonged to a woman who seemed to be a little more expensively dressed than Carol Venture. She was in a pale pink pantsuit, with black boots and a string of pearls around her neck. She wore her hair in a bun similar to Mrs. Venture's, but it was a lighter shade of brown, and her eyes were quite a bit darker. They were also streaked with quite a bit of mascara, as she was crying.

"I've been trying to tell you...Teri," said the man in a dark blue suit and white turtleneck who was following her, "...our neighbor said that she was just fine. He saw her for a moment on the video report."

"But I've got to see her myself! What if she was hurt in this terrible war?" cried the woman.

"Ma'am," said Wildstar as he got up. "If I'm not intruding, can I possibly help you?"

"Who is he?" demanded the woman in a distraught manner as she turned towards Carol Venture.

"Well...he's...," began Carol, but she was cut off by another voice.

"He's just the man I care for, Mother," said Nova as she entered the room herself, gently pushing her way past her mother. Wildstar noticed that she looked somewhat mussed up and was still in her black -on- gold Star Force uniform, and not in a nurses' tunic.

"Nova...you're ALL RIGHT!" cried Teri Forrester very loudly as she threw her arms around her daughter and began to weep hysterically.

"Yes...I'm fine."

"I was worried SICK!" wept Teri. "You wouldn't know how much I was worrying about you...I was afraid that you'd be thrown in jail when you got back...all because of that awful mutiny you were involved in, and..."

"Mother, I went with them of my own free will," said Nova proudly. "As a matter of fact, Derek opposed my being on the ship at first!" said Lieutenant Forrester as she looked at Wildstar.

"How's Mark doing?" he asked. "His family's here."

"Mother...Father...we'll talk in a moment," said Nova softly but firmly. "Derek...Mark's still unconscious, but he's stable. You're his parents?" asked Nova.

"Yes," said Carol Venture with tears in her eyes.

"The doctor will be out soon to talk with you. Mark's going to be here for a while; and maybe the doctor'll let you see him later tonight, if it helps. He's very brave..," said Nova softly. "Especially because he was trying to save me from enemy fire. Your son's a dear friend to both Captain Wildstar and myself, and a very good officer." .

"Whose decision was it to fight on for Earth like that?" asked David Venture in a husky voice.

"Mine," said Wildstar softly.

"Well...," said Karl Forrester as he gently took his wife's hands and motioned her aside slightly, "...you have the thanks of everyone on Earth, myself included. I take it you're Captain Wildstar?"

"Yes, sir...I am...I'm only the Acting Captain of the Argo. I haven't officially been promoted yet."

"Well, my daughter Nova's had nothing but good to say about you for the past year," said Mr. Forrester. "She's a very lucky young woman, Captain. We're staying in temporary quarters in the underground city right now, since we don't know what sort of condition our house is in, but you can reach me at my office. I work at a law firm in the city, and the office wasn't hit." Karl took a business card out of his jacket and hastily scribbled a number on the back. "That's our current home number. I'd like to have you and Nova come over for some Thanksgiving dinner on the twenty-sixth for the local holiday, if they give you leave."

"Of course. They give us leave for local holidays like that," said Wildstar. "We'll be honored."

"Derek...they'll want us at the Presidential Residence for the briefing by 2100," said Nova. "Even though I'm not sure how we're going to get there, of course..."

"How are the others doing?" he asked as they left.

"Fine. Are YOU okay?" asked Nova.

"Yeah...tired," said Wildstar. "Why do you ask?"

"I sent my friend Natalie out to check on you before. I was relieved when she said you seemed all right."

"Is her last name Fisher?" asked Wildstar as they entered an elevator.

"Yes, it is."

"She's a friend of yours?" asked Derek, who suddenly wasn't surprised.

"Yes, Derek. I've known her since my childhood in Boulder, Colorado."

"That would explain a lot," chuckled Wildstar.

"What do you mean?"

"Well...she was asking a lot of questions...that's all. By the way...between us, how IS Mark?"

"It was touch and go for a while," sighed Nova. "But...we do have him stabilized...for now."

"For now?"

"Well...we're not sure when he's going to come out of the coma..," said Nova. "Our scans showed a lot of neurological damage," she said quietly.

"I see," sighed Wildstar. "Well...let's get ready to go to Headquarters," he said as the doors of the elevator opened.

They emerged into the hospital lobby...into a snake pit of reporters. Questions were shouted at them left and right, but Wildstar's response was, remembering the Commander's implicit request that he not speak to the press before the briefing, simply variations on "no comment," repeated over and over again. It went on like that until they were met at the door by four Space Marines, who walked the somewhat dazed couple to a staff car that was waiting for them outside in the plaza in front of Central Hospital.

They were in the car and on their way before they could react. "Sir," said an enlisted orderly, sitting next to Wildstar. "They told me to issue both of you new peacoats...I hope they fit."

"Thanks, Corporal," said Wildstar as he shrugged out of his borrowed Marine coat and shrugged into the pro-offered blue, red, and gold peacoat, which, he noticed, had the number "3" sewn on one sleeve. The jacket that Nova was struggling into had the same marking on her sleeve.

"I see that you guys didn't miss a trick," said Wildstar with a slight grin.

"No, sir," said the Corporal. "The paperwork we were given indicated that you two were to be issued these coats due to the Argo's prior posting as flagship of the Third Interplanetary Patrol Squadron of the Earth Defense Forces. That was still your official unit designation at the time of your departure, even though the Commander detached the Argo and the Star Force from your normal assignments to operate under his command. Is it correct, sir?" asked the Corporal.

"Yes, it is. When we left, I still had the number "15" on my coat, but we changed it right before arriving on Saturn-Titan due to information we received in a text-only dispatch from Admiral Gideon before I met with him in the command briefing on the eighteenth. It's nice to see that someone's keeping tab of these things, even in all this confusion," he said as he looked through the smoked car windows at the fires still burning in the city.

"Thank you, sir," said the Corporal as the car sped on towards its destination.


IV. BRIEFING & AFTERMATH

Earth

Federal Megalopolis

Presidential Residence

November 16, 2201

0238 Hours--Eastern Standard Time


"So THAT'S how you justify your actions?" barked Dr. Piper Sandberg, who was the disdainful head of the Defense Council's Xeno-Cultural Bureau, well-remembered by Derek Wildstar as the man who had mockingly called the Star Force "a chivalrous outfit" a few weeks ago during the Defense Council meeting where he had been denied permission to take the Argo out again to investigate the mystery of Trelaina and the White Comet. "You're like others who have acted dubiously as of late."

"Sir, we've discussed the justification of our actions with you and the rest of the Council for the past four hours, with all due respect," said Wildstar as he and Nova sat at the Defense Council's meeting table in a secure lower level of the vast Presidential Residence in the same place where the Cabinet usually met, and had last met on the evening before the beginning of the battle of Saturn-Titan just a few days ago. The Council was meeting there because its usual meeting room in Defense Headquarters was unavailable due to damage to the building. "We were out of touch with the Defense Command due to damage we sustained at Saturn-Titan. We were one of the few remaining Defense Force vessels. When we heard that Earth had surrendered, we determined that we had to do everything we could to stop Zordar, or die trying."

"But we understand you disobeyed orders," said Lt. General Dean H. Weller, the EDF's Chief of Staff. "For that insubordination, you'd be court-martialed if it was my decision. Orders must be obeyed, boy!"

"Orders that I advised against sending because I knew of their determination to defend Earth," said Singleton.

"Orders you knew they wouldn't obey, sir?" asked Lt. General Hidalgo Camacho, the Chief of Logistics.

"Orders, thank God, that they wouldn't have obeyed," said Singleton, after which the Council fell silent for a moment, with some uncomfortably taking puffs from their cigarettes. An orderly brought Wildstar a cup of water during the uncomfortable pause.

"Orders," said Brigadier General Franz Kohler, the Chief of Intelligence, in a rhetorical tone. "When is it best not to obey orders? When Earth is threatened? When these orders seem mindless, even heartless?"

"Sir, our orders have NOT been heartless," said Lt. General William F. Weiner, the Military Attaché to the Senate Armed Services Committee. "They've been well-reasoned. The unavoidable fact that one can't escape is that there has been a pattern of breaches of regulation and custom all around in this crisis, straight back to General Charles Singleton's dubious reactivation of your outfit under his command authority in the first place without our input."

"My actions, General, were justified under the emergency circumstances, You know that" said Singleton in a low voice.

"As were Admiral Gideon's actions in assembling the Fleet at Titan like lambs for Zordar's slaughter?" asked Weiner. "Actions you failed to reprimand by relieving him?"

"I ask again;" said Kohler slowly and with emphasis. "Are not some orders worth disobeying in some circumstances? Especially when they seem ill-reasoned and heartless?"

At the head of the smoke-filled room, President James R. Mendellsohn listened to the long presentation and argument in silence, save for a few occasional questions. He was still silent as Sandberg answered Kohler by saying, "Our orders haven't been heartless! They've been in the best interests of Earth; and not the decisions of some chivalrous space cowboy or group of cowboys acting on the spur of the moment," snapped Sandberg.

"Then, sir, why did we LOSE at Saturn-Titan?" demanded Michael Dentmann, the Undersecretary to the Defense Minister. "Maybe it's because no one planned for the possibility that something much larger than a fleet would come in and rip your computerized flying wonders to shreds!"

"There was nothing wrong with the automated systems....at least, not so far as I know!" protested Brian Paulson, the Minister of Science.

"That's irrelevant to this discussion," snapped Dentmann. "Deputy Captain Wildstar, you were there...not Dr. Paulson! In your opinion, and in brief, why did we lose the Fleet at Saturn-Titan?"

"Sir," said Wildstar, "Perhaps it was because Admiral Gideon didn't or couldn't take into account the entire strategic situation. In his last moments, he called us and informed us to attack the Empire City at the bottom; that was a piece of strategic information he hadn't been aware of until near the end of the battle."

"Why, in your opinion, didn't he act upon it beforehand?" questioned Stone.

"He probably hadn't noticed it until after the Andromeda was already damaged. We could hear that in his transmission. He passed on this knowledge to us in the hope that we could continue fighting on after his death."

"You took this as a mandate from Gideon, I presume?" asked Singleton.

"Yessir. Or, at least, as good advice."

"Commendable," said Singleton to black looks from a few other members of the Council.

"So, as to your decision?" asked Sandberg.

"Sir, all in all, we feel we were justified in our actions," said Wildstar.

"If we hadn't stopped the Comet Empire, today, would you be sitting here with the freedom to conduct any briefings, gentlemen?" asked Forrester respectfully.

"Don't you take that tone with me, girl," hissed Sandberg. "After all..."

"As you were about to say...She's only a woman?" barked General Staci Willis. "Does it insult you that much to know she's RIGHT?"

"That's enough, BOTH of you!" snapped Mendellsohn. "It's been a long meeting, ladies and gentlemen, but you must remember who's at the head of the table."

"Yes, of course," said both Sandberg and Willis with nods of apology to the President.

"Sir," said Singleton as he stood, turning to the President. "Is there anything you'd like to add to this?"

"Commander," said Mendellsohn calmly. "After we disband, I intend to sign an Executive Order granting the Star Force a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions against the Comet Empire, dating from September, up until this afternoon. I will also sign a second Executive Order authorizing the award of the Sunburst of Honor to Lieutenant Commander Wildstar, and Lieutenant Commanders Venture and Sandor, as well as to Lieutenant Forrester, for their roles in this action. I will also recommend the posthumous award of a Sunburst of Honor to Sergeant Major Webb Knox of the Brumus Marine Detachment for his role in this operation, particularly in light of Lieutenant Forrester's story of his return to the Argo, even though mortally wounded, and his determination to keep on fighting to his last breath. I intend to take other actions, as appropriate, but, ladies and gentlemen, I would advise you never to forget the valor of these young men and women. I wish we had MORE in the Defense Forces like them."

Mendellsohn paused. "For my part, it is my wish that you will take formal action to do all you can to make certain that this battered, but brave group of Star Blazers and others with their sprit are never again placed in a position where they must risk their careers in order to defend the peace of Earth. I would advise you to cast any petty thoughts in regard to this matter out of your minds. We must move on. We must rebuild and begin to order the new peace that Wildstar and his comrades have granted us. It is my request that you do all you can to ensure that there will always be a Star Force for us to count on. The sacrifice and honor we have heard about tonight should remind us that we must not only think of the children of Earth; we must also think of their freedom. The Star Force has taught me that hope should not be based only on life alone, but life as free men and women."

"Had I known," said the President with a bowed head, "when I spoke to Parliament on the ninth, after Zordar melted the surface of the moon, that the Star Force still existed and was willing to fight, I never would have advised Parliament to vote in favor of surrender. In light of these events, I must ask your forgiveness...and then, in the next few weeks, I would ask you to forgive yourselves, and then ask for forgiveness from the people of Earth...and from the survivors of the Argo; the only surviving persons in our military establishment that I feel have no need of asking anyone's forgiveness. Only they can leave this room with their heads held high and proud. We...cannot."

The President went on. "Before you send this young Captain and his beloved on their way, I think it would be wise to take some concrete action to vindicate their bravery and sacrifice."

Commander Singleton turned to the Council. "Ladies and gentlemen, I would move that we now vote on a subject we had tabled during the crisis because the approach of the Comet forced us to act under emergency conditions to obtain intelligence in the matter; namely, your formal ratification of my emergency reactivation of the Star Force. I would also ask you to make it permanent by keeping the Star Force organized as the First Interstellar Special Missions Task Force under my command, just as I designated it in my emergency reactivation order in September. As such, even though there might be times where the Star Force will not be needed because Earth will be at peace, it will always be available to be reunited at a moment's notice on my authority, or upon the request of the President. I am asking this so that the Star Force will be ready to serve us again at a moment's notice, if needed. I am asking this for no other reason than to ensure our security."

"What effect would this have on our readiness?" asked General Stone.

"As you know, General, the effect would be minimal," said Singleton. "Thanks to the emergency construction program we began a few weeks ago, we have the good fortune of still having five almost-completed space battleships of the Andromeda class in the building docks across the planet, along with ten more space battleships of the Jamaica class that are almost completed."

"Sir, I'm afraid you're incorrect," said General Camacho as Wildstar and Forrester sat there in surprise, completely unaware that the Defense Fleet had been building more new space warships. However, Wildstar guessed that it would only stand to reason. "For your information," continued Camacho, "the Andromeda-class space battleships Scorpio and Sagittarius have just completed their fitting-out stages. You may inform Admiral Lee this evening that the new Combined Fleet flagship Scorpio will be ready to commence space trials late next week after she's provisioned, and you may also inform Vice-Admiral Carpenter that the Sagittarius will likewise be ready for trials in ten days. Furthermore, the new Jamaica-class space battleships Italia, Deutschland, and Britannia should be ready for trials within seven to ten days, and should be ready to go on-line by early December. We anticipate that the other new battleships should be on-line by mid-December, along with the two surviving Yorktown-class spacecraft carriers Hermes and Akagi, which were unable to take off during the engagement at Saturn-Titan."

"That's news to me," said Mendellsohn. "How did that come to be?"

"I just received the report a while ago, Mister President," said Singleton. "It appears that the Hermes and Akagi developed problems with their automated engine systems before the battle of Saturn-Titan and were unable to join the Combined Fleet during the engagement. Hence, they were never caught in the White Comet's vortex, and after the battle, although they were both bombed in their docks by Cometine forces, they were largely ignored. Their captains guessed that since the ships were left burning after the bombing raids, they were of no further use to our defense efforts. Of course, they, like the Argo, were out of touch with Earth and assumed lost. Luckily, like the Argo, they were not lost. Their captains anticipate having the two carriers underway for dockyards on Earth within a week or two, Mr. President."

"So, it's better than we thought it would be," mused Mendellsohn. "The Argo, then, could be spared for a time? It's true? We have a fleet in being, then?"

"Yessir. And more than in being. Some of our patrol cruisers also survived the battle of Saturn-Titan, since they were on patrol elsewhere at the time of the engagement. Those ships, and your fifteen new space battleships, along with two carriers that survived by the skin of their teeth," said Camacho, "could easily, thus, serve as the nucleus of a new Defense Fleet. Including the Argo, that gives us eighteen large capital ships that we should have on line, soon. As for General Singleton's motion, then, concerning the Star Force..."

"I would second this motion," said Weller, surprising Derek and Nova. "Based on what we have just learned, I think it's both workable...and logical. What if another threat has to be investigated? Need we risk a new, inexperienced fleet?"

"It is thus before you. In favor?" said Singleton.

"Sir, I'd respectfully propose an amendment to this motion," said Stone.

"General...we're ready to vote!" snapped Singleton. "All right...what is your proposed amendment?"

"Sir, I would simply like to propose, as a rider to this motion, the simple notion, for the sake of DISCIPLINE, that the manner of the implementation of this decision, especially with respect to the Argo's refit and the exact manner of the young Acting Captain's permanent promotion to the command of this unit be tabled until such time as we have before us full reports as to the Argo's current battle damage and what it would take to repair such damage, and until we have before us the young Captain's full service record so that we can carefully consider which grade would be appropriate for him as commander of this new unit. With all respect to you, Lieutenant Commander Wildstar, we can't formulate answers to these questions at near 0300 in the morning less than a day after your return. We just need more data to decide...as to how to best fit you and your ship to your new roles."

"Second the rider to the motion," said Sandberg with an acid little grin.

"They can't do that...," hissed Derek under his breath.

"Derek...don't," whispered Nova as she put a gentle but firm hand on her fiancée's shoulder. "It won't look good...not with all they're about to pass."

Wildstar slowly nodded. "Guess you're right."

"Gentlemen," snapped the President, who abruptly stood up, silencing any further dissent.

"Sir?" asked the Commander.

Mendellsohn momentarily looked up and down the Council chamber. His first impulse had been to state that he would see to it that the Argo would be refitted as the Star Force best saw fit and that Wildstar be promoted at once to Captain on his own authority...and that anyone who disagreed would be free to register their dissent by resigning within the next twenty-four hours; until he reflected that the nature of the Argo's damage should at least be studied before a refit began...and that perhaps, the Commander should see to it that Wildstar eventually received a crash course at the Space Naval War College before being promoted to Captain or shortly afterwards...and, for those reasons, these little last-gasp provisos by the Defense Council should be allowed to stand. "It's nothing," he finally said. "Just an idea I had. Take your vote."

"It has been proposed, and seconded," said the Commander, "...that the prior designation of the Star Force as the First Interstellar Special Missions Task Force, a Special Forces unit under my command, or the command of the President, should, at this time, be made permanent. It has been further proposed that Lieutenant Commander Wildstar should be designated as commander of this unit under my exclusive command, to be held in reserve pending an appropriate call for action for the investigation of any threat to Earth caused by natural or alien intervention, or for special exploratory, diplomatic, or humanitarian duties as needed. Finally, it has been proposed that the exact time and manner of both the Argo's refit so that she can fulfill the conditions set forth under this mandate and of Lieutenant Commander Wildstar's future promotions to a rank consistent with this mandate should be determined at an appropriate time when all salient facts have been studied. All in favor..."

At that, Singleton's hand went up, followed, quickly, by Weller's, Willis', Stone's, Dentmann's, Paulson's, Kohler's, followed a moment later by that of General Hanif Muhammed, the head of the Spaceship Design Bureau, followed, a moment later, by that of Chinmaya Rajiv, the Minister of Commerce, and then, by the hand of Lt. General Hidalgo Camacho, the Chief of Logistics, and then by that of Daniel Margolis, the Member of Parliament present who was the Assembly Attached to the Armed Services Committee.

Finally, just as Singleton was about to say, "Opposed?...", the hand of Minister Ultrecht, of Emergency Preparations, went up, followed by the hand of General Weiner, and, finally, with a scowl, the hands of Durrell Bentley, the Minister of Communications, and, with an even bigger scowl, the hand of Dr. Sandberg, who decided to give up when he saw that even his two closest friends on the Council, namely, Weiner and Margolis, wouldn't stand with him to say "NO" to this motion of granting this wild-haired young punk, his anemic-looking girlfriend and their crazy, undisciplined confederates their own battlewagon to go out in and use to get Earth involved in expensive wars and stupid causes it didn't need to bother with.

It didn't change the result. "Motion passed, 15-0," said Singleton after a long moment. "Passage unanimous."

"Sir, I'd like us to pass one other short motion," said Weller as the previous motion was recorded.

"Yes?" asked Singleton, a little skeptically.

"First, I should like to ask. Has the Scorpio yet been formally christened, sir?"

"Not to my knowledge," said Singleton.

"Sir, Scorpio was the project name for that particular hull," said General Camacho. "It's the name that we expect to give to the new..."

"Well, with all respect, I think we should belay that notion. We've just talked about reviving the spirit of Earth with our new Fleet and our new Star Force. In world history, during one of Earth's last wars between nations, a famous aircraft carrier known as Lexington was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The "Lady Lex", as she was known, was a proud ship, one of the most famous aircraft carriers of her nation. Soon after she was sunk, her nation, in a desire to avenge her, took a larger and better aircraft carrier, waiting on the ways, and decided that she should carry on the Lexington's name and legacy. As a matter of fact, some of Lexington's old crew was assigned to the new carrier that bore her name. Now, we have just lost our own flagship, a great and proud vessel in her own right. We also had officers and men who were slated to join her crew upon her first rotation home, correct?"

"Yes, you're right," said Stone.

"It's clear, then," said Weller. "Ladies and gentlemen, in memory of Admiral Draco Gideon, and our desire to rebuild, I'd like to move that the new Andromeda-class space battleship known as Scorpio should be renamed Andromeda."

"Motion seconded," said Stone a moment later.

Wildstar bowed his head as General Singleton said, "All in favor?"...and every hand on the Council went up.

"Opposed?" asked Singleton. No one's hand went up.

"Mister President," said Singleton. "We've moved to rename our new flagship Andromeda. Any objections, sir?"

"None whatsoever," said Mendellsohn. "As a matter of fact, I have a certain wish of my own as to what we should name another space battleship."

"Yes?" asked Camacho.

"But...it is not yet the time to consider such questions," said Mendellsohn thoughtfully. "However, General," said the President, gazing right at Singleton with his dark eyes for a moment, "...you may be assured that one of your proposals has not fallen on deaf ears. When the time comes to consider the naming of such a special ship, such as what you and I spoke of, I will speak out. I will not speak again of this subject before that time," said Mendellsohn in a quiet voice. Captain Wildstar," said the President to a rather mystified Derek Wildstar. "You, Lieutenant Forrester, and any other survivors from the Argo fit to attend are to attend a reception here on Friday the twentieth in order to be publicly granted your awards. Minister Bentley, you and my information officer shall arrange to have this announcement released by morning, along with the announcement of your decision regarding the Star Force."

"Yessir," said Bentley.

"I would also like to see General Stone and Doctor Sandberg in my office after this meeting ends," said the President in a slow, quiet pronouncement. "Gentlemen...we have much to discuss."

"Yessir," said Stone, with a solemn nod of his head.

"Do you have any more to discuss at this time?" asked Mendellsohn.

"We have much more to discuss," said Weller. "Such as, of course, the question of the deployment our new Fleet."

"I have some input to propose on that matter, sir," said Singleton.

Mendellsohn nodded. "Commander, are the young Captain and the Lieutenant required for the rest of this meeting?"

"I would think not," said Singleton.

"Very well...you're both dismissed. Ensign, show them out."

"Yessir," said one of the young staff orderlies as he stood up, waiting for Wildstar and Nova to rise from their seats.


"I can't believe it," said a drowsy Derek Wildstar, whom, granted, was being awakened by a cup of coffee being served to him by an orderly in the dark blue staff car on the way back to the BOQ complex at the edge of the vast Cliffside shipyard. "Nova, they saw that we did the right thing."

"Could reasonable men have seen any less?" she asked.

"You know that we weren't always sure the Defense Council was reasonable."

"All right...half-reasonable," yawned Nova.

"First time I ever met your parents," he said as the car stopped at the gates of the complex to be checked in. "They seem nice, Nova. Is all of your family like that?"

"Yes...except for an exception or two I don't care to talk about," said Nova. "It IS almost 0400. I don't want to have bad dreams tonight. I might, though...the face of that Zordar...full of hatred...rage...I'll never forget it. He seemed like the essence of evil itself."

"He certainly did," said Wildstar as he looked up in the sky. There, in the distance, two fading but faint glows were still visible far up in the night. One was coming from the moon, which was still cooling.

The other, they noticed, was further out, out towards sea. It was the sort of glow caused by burning gas. Somewhere, far up in the depths of space, a few of the gaseous remains of Zordar's dreadnaught burned on, forming an imposing but beautiful tombstone in the stars for Trelaina of Telezart.

"That glow..," said Wildstar softly. "It's still burning."

"Just like...Telezart," said Nova with a hitch in her voice. "Trelaina...I hope that you're at peace," said Nova through something like a sob.

Wildstar looked up, and noticed a shooting star zooming down, followed by another. "Pieces of the Comet Empire City, I guess," he said in awe.

"Sir, a Marine pilot I spoke to was just up flying a patrol a few hours ago," said the enlisted driver, sitting in the front seat next to the orderly. "He said that junk like that was all over the place in orbit."

"Space junk," said Wildstar.

"Who knows?" said Nova. "Maybe Trelaina sent some of it down to Earth to bid us a last farewell."

"Maybe..." said Derek. "Like I said...we can't understand...but it's not important. She's done so much for us."

The car began to stop before a building...a building which, to their distress, they noticed was smoking.

"That was my old unit; the Eight-Thousand Block," said Wildstar. "I don't believe it...did they hit it?"

The aircar stopped, and the driver actuated his window, just in time to see a guard waving them away.

The guard wondered who was IN the staff car, but he had no further time for his thoughts. He had his orders not to let anyone towards the Eight-Thousand Block, and he meant to enforce them, albeit tactfully.

"Corporal," said the Marine guard with his hand up, "The North wing on this building took some collateral damage today when Zordar's dreadnaught attacked the city. Until further notice, all billets here have been evacuated and are closed until they can make repairs."

"Private, this vehicle is carrying an important officer who resides in the south wing of this block. Can't you let him in?"

"I'm sorry, Corporal. I have my orders from Ensign Radcliffe herself. The whole building's unsafe and could collapse if inhabited."

"What about the units in the Two-Thousand Block, Private?" called out Forrester from her window after opening it.

"Oh, those are all right, ma'am," he said with some awe when he saw who was sticking her head out the window. "Why do you ask?"

"That's where I was billeted before all of this began," said Nova. "Corporal, take us there. The Deputy Captain's staying with me for a time."

"Yes, ma'am," he said dutifully after a moment's hesitation. They drove off to the Two-Hundred Block.

The Two-Thousand Block BOQ was just one of many four-story buildings that held efficiency apartments for young unmarried officers. The stairs for such buildings were on the outside; leading up, in order, to verandahs that went around the spartan but modern buildings.

Nova's billet was, of course, one that Derek was familiar with, having visited her here in September before the news about the White Comet had led to his decision to steal the Argo. The building looked deceptively peaceful sitting here like this in the chilly night. Only a few lights were on, accompanied by the small lights before the door of each unit.

Derek and Nova didn't have far to go before they got up to the second floor level. Then, they took a left turn on the verandah, until they got to Unit # 2214, which had been Nova's billet. The doorway light was on, but there were no other lights on in the apartment.

"I hope they were right, Derek," whispered Nova.

"Right about what?"

"Having the place empty. The last thing we need is to barge in on someone if they've reassigned the place."

Nova dug around inside the small canvas bag she had taken off the Argo until she found her old passkey. Pulling out the plastic card, she inserted it in the lock, and was gratified to find that it still worked.

They entered what was revealed to be an empty efficiency apartment when they turned the lights on. The furniture in the main area consisted of a sofa flanked on one side by a small end-table with a modernistic lamps on a thin stalk, with a small white carpet between it and the desk-shelf unit nearby. The desk unit was bare, save for a vid-phone that was still connected. To Wildstar's right, there was a small galley area. Nova knelt beside him to look in the fridge after turning up the heat in the chilly, vacant unit.

"Nova...it'll be empty."

"I know. I'd like to turn it on so it'll be cold when morning comes. We will have to go out and make a supply run."

"What do you want tomorrow?"

"Pizza," yawned Nova. "Not for breakfast, of course. But for lunch, maybe dinner. It's fattening, but who cares, for the moment? I haven't HAD any in almost three months."

" We'll have to visit supply tomorrow to draw some uniforms, I guess," said Wildstar as he stepped into the bedroom and slid open the door to the closet.

"Why?" asked Nova as, nonetheless, she hung up his peacoat beside her own after he shrugged it off. Silence reigned for a moment as he went into the head; the door to which was near an empty chest.

"Silly question," he said through the door. "I can't get to the storeroom in my building. You stored your things, I gather?"

"Yes, at my parents' place. They were shocked when I came by in the middle of the night in September to drop it off with Mark & Dr. Sane," said Nova as he came out. "All I told Mother is that I was heading off to a new assignment," she said as she rooted through her bag for a moment. "There it is..." she said softly. "Safe and sound. It's going right up to make this billet look a little more pleasant."

"What is it?" asked Wildstar, who was curious as she placed it against the metallic wall; it stuck there with a magnetic strip attached to its back.

"Just a picture of a butterfly I painted in high school from a book," said Nova offhandedly. "I was sixteen when I painted that."

"It's beautiful.." said Derek. "Wish I could put my finger on the species...I used to collect those."

"When?"

"When I was a boy. I wanted to preserve them...right before the bombings intensified...I was afraid we'd lose them forever."

"That's why I painted this," said Nova. "For all I know," she sighed, "we have lost this species of butterfly forever. I thought its beauty needed to be memorialized somewhere. This picture's sort of like a good luck charm to me. It went with me to Iscandar, and it survived Zordar. I'm surprised you never noticed it in my cabin, Derek."

"When I was there...I was too busy...after a while...looking at you..."

"How sweet," she said softly as she opened a drawer under the bunk and found, to her surprise, a brown standard-issue blanket still folded up in the bottom of the drawer.

"Uh...there are two there?" asked Derek.

"Why do you need to know?" yawned Nova as she spread out the blanket.

"Well...if you're putting me on the couch..."

"We'll see," yawned Nova. "For the moment, you're getting in here beside me! I don't care how narrow this bunk is."

"I thought we...uhh... agreed..."

"Not explicitly," said Nova, catching on what he was talking about. "But...you've always been honorable," she yawned. "You don't mind snuggling your fiancée, I hope?'"

"Sure don't," replied Derek, who almost felt like winking until a deep wave of sleepiness passed over him and he was forced to sit on the bunk. "Have any tea?"

"No, Deputy Captain, you need sleep. And don't say a darn thing about my babying you, either...especially since you're under MY roof until you're given a new billet! Got that?" said Nova in an irritable yet tender tone as she pulled her boots off, revealing her standard-issue white socks. "Careful with your shirt," she said with some concern as he began to open it. "I DON'T want you pulling that dressing off your arm. What was wrong with me before in the hospital? I should've made you come in to get it changed!"

"Could it wait 'til morning?" yawned Wildstar.

"Hold it, Derek," Nova said forcefully as she carefully pulled his shirt off over his bandaged arm. She took the arm and examined the bandage. "It looks okay for now...I guess. You're only taking sponge baths until I can get you a new dressing, though. Okay. Boots off...into bed."

"My uniform'll get wrinkled," said Wildstar as he undid his boots and, as an afterthought, unsnapped the holster holding his Astro-Automatic, putting the holstered sidearm on a shelf over the head of the bed.

"I can wash it in the morning," said Nova sleepily. "Besides, it's chilly in here, and you need something on you. I take it you don't have pajamas in your back pocket."

"No...I don't," he yawned.

"That settles it," yawned Nova. She got up, turned off the light, and reached over Derek to open the blind a little before beginning to crawl into bed in her uniform and socks. Then, she stopped, and said, "oops...excuse me! Got to get rid of MY sidearm..," she muttered, realizing she had almost gone to bed with her gunbelt on. "Be out in a minute," she said as she stepped into the head herself.

Wildstar, who was beginning to fall asleep, lay back and looked out the window at the glow of the fires that were still burning in parts of the vast Federal Megalopolis. Things here on Great Island (or Honshu, Japan) were really bad tonight.

About forty-eight hours ago... he thought, looking up at a digital-display chronometer set into the wall next to the sliding closet door which read 0422, we were just getting ready to attack the Comet Empire City. I can't believe that in about two days, we won...with Trelaina's help...and I'm here, at peace, in Nova's apartment, about to just go to sleep...as if the past three months of my life have been some kind of a dream. Funny...I was going to stay here with her the night I came home...but it never came off because of the world-wide blackout...it's so strange...

"What are you thinking about?" asked Nova as she climbed into bed beside him, still fully dressed except for her boots.

"Oh...how the past three months have flashed by like some kind of dream...everything's changed...all in such a short, short time. I wonder what the next three months of our life will be like?"

"Well...we'll have to set the date for a certain blessed event soon," yawned Nova. "You know what I mean..."

"Yes...I do," said Wildstar with a significant pause and a smile. "What date were you thinking of?"

"You said, as soon as all this is through..."

"...we'll spend the rest of our lives together...," said Derek softly...

"So, I think it should be soon," said Nova sleepily. "No waiting forever. Agreed?"

"Agreed. Uhmm...how soon? We have a lot to plan."

"We'll do it in the morning...we need to get some rest. You need it."

Nova then turned over and kissed Derek softly on the lips. The kiss was returned. "Good night," she whispered.

"Good night, Nova."

"Sweet dreams..." sighed Nova as she sort of turned over, half cuddling into the built-in bolster in the bunk, but also, half-cuddling to face the window and Derek.

"I hope so," he whispered sleepily. "I...hope..."

And, at that, he fell asleep.

END OF ACT ONE.


Click here to return to the Introduction to Visions