Federal Megalopolis

EDF Cliffside Space Naval Base

BOQ Billet 2216

November 16, 2201

1314 Hours-Spacetime

Derek Wildstar had become quite accustomed to moving, because, after all, he had been on the move in one form or another since shortly after the death of his parents. His lifestyle in the space service had only served to crystallize his on-the-go tendencies.

So, he found it natural to be moving into a new set of assigned quarters on this late autumn afternoon after having run a few errands. One of them, namely, the requisitioning of a fresh standard blue duty uniform and the recovery of his blue peacoat, had made him feel much better. As much as he liked his Star Force whites, the uniform he had been in for about two days had become more than a little rumpled.

After inserting his card-key into the card-reader slot near a door just two doors down from Nova's billet, he stepped into a small apartment not at all unlike hers.

The usual, he thought with a sigh of familiarity as he strode into the apartment. I've been in and out of quarters like these in the underground cities after I graduated, as well as just before I left for my second cruise on the Argo and shortly afterward. Feels just like the old place in the Eight-Thousand Block, he thought as he set down the suitcase he had collected from the Argo earlier in the morning as well as a seabag full of personal possessions and gear that he had stored in a facility on the base before he had departed on his "leave", as he had told the enlisted man in charge of the facility, as a cover for his unauthorized departure with the Argo in September.

In the living room, Wildstar threw his suitcase on the couch and opened it.

The first thing he pulled out was a clear techtite-covered picture in a black frame. It was a portrait of Nova in a pink blouse, smiling cheerfully into the camera.

You sent me this when I was on my one-year tour on the Argo when she was the flagship of the Third Squadron, when we left under Commodore Jose' Managua's command, thought Wildstar with a pleasant smile. Boy, did Homer razz me when he saw me looking at it! You don't want to know what I told him to do with his razzing. Then, of course, it became a little more serious after Commodore Managua became ill, and had to be medevaced off the ship in mid-August for surgery. They left the squadron under my temporary command to bring her home, expecting, of course, that nothing would happen. Boy, were they wrong....

Next, there's the model of my Super Starfighter, the one I call my "Cosmo Zero" thought Wildstar as he withdrew a wrapped metal-and-plastic model of his favored Type 52 Super Starfighter Interceptor astrofighter, complete with the "01" nose ID number that as he observed, had been painted on all of his planes he had used as the Argo's Fighter Captain. That "01" was on all of them, he thought, even though I crashed one on the Argo's aft deck in the Octopus Star Storm on the way to Iscandar, then had the second one destroyed in one of the Argo's upper fighter bays in the Battle of Gamilon not long after the Argo arose from the acid seas, and then...I left my third one a battered wreck in the bottom of the Comet Empire City after Sandor and I left it behind as a target for the Comet Imperial gunners while we were going after the energy center. For all I know, it's probably still lying up there in orbit in what's left of the lower half of the Comet Empire City.

Hmmm... mused Wildstar as he put his model on a shelf. I wonder what Zordar's race named that thing? Maybe they'll find out if they ever send intelligence and demolitions crews into that mess to see if there's anything we can salvage out of that wreck. I can guess one thing, though...I'll probably have a fourth plane like this soon, especially if I can help it.

And, finally, thought Derek as he withdrew another object with a graduation present from

At that, Derek's reverie was interrupted by a few quick taps at the door.

"Coming!" he yelled as he ran across the room to the door. Upon opening the door, he saw Nova standing there holding up a small bike with a cargo carrier over the back wheel that had a pizza box attached to it with a clip and bungee cord. She, too, had changed, having exchanged her gold Star Force uniform for a black leatherette flight jacket, white sweatshirt, jeans, and boots.

"Hi...where'd you get that?" he asked gesturing to the white bicycle.

"Mine. I had it in storage with my other things. I didn't feel like going through the red tape of requisitioning another staff aircar to go out for pizza," she said as she began to free the pizza box from the rear of the bicycle.

"How's about buying an aircar?" he joked.

"Buying one?" said Nova with a note in her voice that indicated some concern for her fiancée's sanity.

" should have more than enough in your credit account to do that, what with the hazard pay they've probably given us..."

"Uhh...Derek...I believe I can think of other things to do with my money...especially as we have to plan a few things."

"Such as?" he asked teasingly as Nova locked the bike up to the railing outside on the balcony and then danced into the apartment carrying the pizza box.

"Hmmm...," said Nova as she looked in his bag for a moment. "Does this give you a hint?" she said as she pulled out another picture; an instant stereo-portrait now encased in plastic. It was a picture of Derek about a second or so after Nova had slapped his hand on their first date on the Argo's aft observation deck in April of 2200.

"Yes. You're going to slap me again if I keep on talking about you going out to buy an aircar today."

"No," said Nova brightly.

"Hmmm..," said Derek as he began to open the pizza box that he and Nova had pooled their available credits for Nova to purchase. "You want me to take a picture of you in your new civvies."

"Might not be a bad idea, but you're still wrong..."

"You're in the mood to slap me again."

"Keep this up and I will be," sang Nova.

"Hmmm...I'm not sure I want to hazard another guess," said Derek.

" know, Derek...I can picture, some day, a little boy or girl looking at that picture, and saying, "Gee, weren't my parents silly once upon a time when they were young?" said Nova in a soft voice as she picked up a piece of pizza.

"Uh-huh...I think I can, too," said Derek after a long pause with a little smile.

"But, let's run this back a little," said Nova. "What do the parents have to do, first?"

"Well...the mother has to have the kid..."

"Yes," said Nova with a sour look on her face. "But what happens before that?"

"Papa and Mama have to go off somewhere to a nice, quiet place and make the kid," said Derek with a roguish grin.

"! You would say that," said Nova with a blush...and a caress of Derek's hand. " you know, what customarily happens in these times before prospective Papas and Mamas run off to make babies...preferably...long before?"

"They get married," said Wildstar with a soft smile.

"Right," said Nova with closed eyes and a big smile. "By George, I think the skipper's finally figured out what I want to talk about."

"Uh-huh," said Wildstar. "Of course, you know, we can't exactly run off and get married today any more than you can run off to Friendly Sam's and buy an aircar. Friendly Sam's is probably bombed out and, since the EDF Personnel office that grants permission for service members to marry is also probably damaged along with the rest of Headquarters. I don't think there's a single place in town where you can get a white gown today, and...well...," sighed Wildstar, looking out at the plumes of smoke in the city, "...all of the available padres are most likely, unfortunately, out praying for the sick and wounded..."

"...and planning funeral services," said Nova softly and sadly.

"Yeah. I wonder...we'll probably be busy with the rebuilding soon, too. But, I promised you that as soon as this was through, we'd spend the rest of our lives together...and we will. but...I wonder if this is the right day to be discussing our wedding date?" said Wildstar sadly.

"I'd be wondering the same thing...," said Nova. "...if I didn't love you as much as I do. I feel this is important."

"I know," he said, taking her hands as her eyes went wide and began to water. "There's a lot we'll have to do, and soon. You know...we'll have to seek and get official permission..."

"Which I'm sure we'll get after all we did for Earth, Derek."

"And...there's our careers...we don't know if we'll be stationed near each other...and what about if the Argo gets called back into action, soon?"

"..did that ever stop us?"

"No," said Wildstar thoughtfully. "It didn't. And, it shouldn't. We'll need to get the appropriate paperwork done...plan so'll be hard...but...well...," said Derek.

"Maybe we should save this for another time," said Nova quietly. "After is a lot to think about..."

No, thought Wildstar as he sat back and shut his eyes. I can't let this slip away, now. I can't! I promised her when this was through, we'd be together, and I can't let anything get in the way of my promise. It's been too long already...

"Nova...," said Derek after he opened his eyes.

"Yes, Derek?"

"Something just occurred to me. What would you like for Christmas?"

"Christmas? I don't's a little far off...but it is almost that time of year, isn't it?" mused Nova.

"May I make a suggestion?"

"Make a suggestion?" said a puzzled Nova. "Okay. You want to...suggest to me...what you should buy me for it won't be a surprise, anymore? Okay. I'll bite. What do you suggest for my Christmas present, Mister?"

" about a gold ring..?"

"Sounds nice."

"And a white wedding dress to go with it?" suggested Derek as suddenly Nova's eyes lit up and her mouth fell open. "I should be able to get you one by then."

"You can get me the ring...Mom'll have to get me the gown and keep it a secret for good luck, of course," added Nova. "When do I...uh...put them both on at once for the first time?"

"How about the next day? Unless you mind going to church again the day after Christmas, that is..."

"I think that'd be wonderful!" cried Nova.

"Great," said Derek. "Of course...we'll have to seek your father's blessing, first..."

"That won't be a problem at all, I'm sure," said Nova. "We might be able to see them at their temporary apartment in the underground city tonight."

"Why not? Uh...I just met your parents for the first time yesterday. Won't it seem a bit sudden?" laughed Wildstar.

"You don't know my mother very well..," said Nova through a giggle. "Mom's been trying to marry me off since the day I graduated from the University of Colorado. She really hit me with it when we were on our way to Iscandar, and we had time know...say goodbye to our families? She was showing me pictures of potential suitors over the videophone, would you believe?"

"So, when should we call your father?"

"Let's try to call him today...when we head into town, and..."

Wildstar sat bolt upright when his newly-installed videophone rang. He answered it with a quick, "Yes?"

"Captain..,. said an anonymous-looking officer on the other end of the line. "You and Miss Forrester are wanted at Defense Headquarters today at 1600 for a press conference. Please make certain you're both in appropriate uniform."

"Of course," said Wildstar. "Nova?"

She just nodded once as the conversation between Wildstar and the staff officer ended. Then, she said, "I'll have to go soon. I'll have to change into a set of blues. Where do you want to meet?"

"Here. By the way, I was able to requisition a car this morning."

"Oh! You didn't tell me that!" said Nova.

"Well....we were talking about other things."

"That's right," said Nova with a smile. "We'll call my father after this is done...okay?"

"All right."

"See you later," said Nova as she gave Derek a kiss before she went back out to get her bike.

"Bye, now," said Wildstar as she stepped out the door. goes on... thought Wildstar with a tight smile.

The press conference was held in a briefing room in one of the few undamaged portions of the Defense Headquarters building. The Commander, Wildstar, Nova, and Eager were present. The three Star Force veterans were all in regular duty blues with blue peacoats. Singleton wore his usual uniform. The assembled members of the press corps went right at it after the introductions.

A reporter began with: "London Times: the question is: how do we know that Zordar is actually dead?"

"Very well, sir," said Wildstar. "As you know, we succeeded in destroying Zordar's Empire City. However, a giant black space dreadnought rose up from the ruins and attacked the Argo before we could react. We were severely damaged, and, even though I didn't want to admit it, a decision was made to abandon ship."

"So, you abandoned the ship?" asked a reporter from the Asia-Net satellite network. "What about the rest of your crew?"

"Many of us were injured in the attack," said Eager. "I...well...ah had the wind knocked outta me. I was one of those evacuated."

"Sheri Reynolds, CanAm Net," said another reporter. "Captain Wildstar, what did you do afterwards?"

"I had a plan in mind," said Wildstar. "I had planned to send the Argo on a final dive against the enemy ship, ejecting at the last possible moment. I evacuated the entire crew, but, when commencing my mission, I found that Miss Forrester here had stayed behind, against my orders, to help me."

"Miss Forrester, why did you disobey his orders and stay on the ship?" demanded a middle-aged male reporter with an angry glance towards Nova.

The Commander knew what would be coming up, of course. Wildstar and Nova had both discussed the subject at length in their debriefing before the Defense Council.

"Because I am also a member of the Star Force," replied Nova. "I guessed what the Captain would do and I couldn't idly go home in a medevac boat while he needed my help. Also... I happen to love the Captain very much, and I didn't want anything to happen to him," said Nova, knowing that with the Commander listening, the action might draw her a reprimand, but she knew it would have to come out anyway. Better to let it out now and not hide anything.

"Captain, Daisuke Kuriyama, Yoimuri Shimbun," said another reporter. "When you learned of Miss Forrester's actions, what did you do?"

"Well...since, by now, I am very familiar that others might, at times, disregard orders, but only if for a good reason...I accepted her services as a co-pilot, and..well...decided to propose to her in the bargain."

"Did you accept his proposal?" yelled a young female reporter in Nova's direction as some of the press laughed.

Nova just smiled and said, "Yes. But, then, I had to put my feelings aside, because I knew we'd have a job ahead of us."

At that, Singleton smiled.

"Together, we worked to ready the Argo for a final attack on Zordar's ship," continued Nova..."Until Trelaina of Telezart appeared again with Venture's body."

"Boris Gorsakov, MoskvaNet," barked another reporter. "What I need to know about Lieutenant Commander Venture is this: was he dead or alive?"

"Missing, presumed dead," said Wildstar. "He was tossed away in our last battle with Desslok."

"How did that particular battle end?" asked another reporter.

"It ended when Desslok broke off the attack and left voluntarily," said Wildstar over a hubbub of incredulous voices. "He decided to help us...partially because the Lieutenant here, well ...decided to fulfill her military duty to her commanding officer by attempting a rescue, when he was wounded by wreckage in Desslok's flagship."

"By 'Commanding Officer', you mean yourself, right?" yelled another reporter.

"I think that's who he's talkin' about," said Eager to a great deal of laughter.

Wildstar cleared his throat and continued with, "I was about to confront Desslok, when I blacked out due to a loss of blood. When I came to, I found Miss Forrester guarding me like a watchdog. Desslok...I guess...was impressed, and he told us how to attack the Comet Empire...and left."

"Captain, Maren Moshulu, Afro States Regional Media," began a rather tall reporter. "We heard that you sent a message stating you no longer consider Desslok of Gamilon an enemy. Is that true?"

"Yes...because he did, after all, help us, and left in peace," said Nova.

"And you let him go?" demanded another reporter. "Captain, with all respect, are you an idiot?"

"The Argo was damaged because we had rammed Desslok's flagship, and we considered it our prime duty to attack the Comet Empire City!" snapped Wildstar.

"Thank you," said the previous reporter.

"My name is Ki Xaopeng, China State News. We've heard much of Trelaina today. Precisely how did she rescue the Argo?"

"She appeared on the bridge with Venture's body, and said she would fight Zordar for us; to her it was more important that Venture be returned to Earth," said Wildstar. "Then, she left, and shortly afterwards, sacrificed her life to defeat Zordar. That's it."

"Raymond Jameson, Chicago Times," barked another reporter as he came to his feet. "Captain Wildstar!" he shouted. "Did you receive crucial information from Desslok?"

" Admiral Gideon's last message to us, he told us to attack the city at the bottom," said Wildstar. "I forgot about it until Nova reminded me that Desslok had said the same thing."

"Lieutenant!" Jameson bellowed at Nova. "When did you happen to remember this, and why didn't the Captain remember something this important when you met with Desslok?"

"When we met with Desslok, the Captain was wounded," said Nova. "He was, at best, semi-conscious. When Desslok told us how he truly felt about the Comet Empire, he was talking to both of us, but I remembered what he said because I was the only one there out of the two of us who was able to remember anything. In short, I remembered what Desslok said, and brought it up at the briefing a few hours later."

"And, Captain Wildstar," continued Jameson, "at that time, you thought that Desslok's advice was reliable? After all, he was recently trying to commit genocide against the human race!"

"Yes, sir, I did," said Wildstar. "Lieutenant Forrester mentioned that he said when we defeated him on Gamilon, we aimed our attack at the weakest spot; the bottom of Gamilon's volcanic system. He then said that we should attack the Comet Empire the same way. Based on the knowledge that he had been serving the Comet Empire and probably knew the city's weak spots, and based upon the fact that Admiral Gideon advised us to attack the lower half of the city at Saturn-Titan; which we couldn't follow through on at that time because the Argo was too badly damaged to launch an effective attack, I decided to attack, and I think we owe Admiral Gideon and... Desslok...our gratitude for their perceptiveness in this matter."

"Thanks," said Jameson, finally placated.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Jamelkal Shankar, New Delhi InfoNet.," said yet another reporter. "Mister Kendall, would you consider this evidence presented by both the Lieutenant and the Lieutenant Commander to be reliable?"

"I certainly would," said Eager. "Both of them are among the best officers I know. I was through a lot with them, and I risked my career to go back out into space with Captain Wildstar because I believed that he felt somethin' had to be investigated so strongly that he'd violate orders to take out the Argo, he had to be doin' so for a good reason. That's why I left to rejoin the Star Force, and that's why all of us left. We felt it was just...the right thing to do."

"And...I felt the same way," said Nova.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm afraid our time is about up," said the Commander. "On behalf of the United Earth Government, I'd like to thank you for coming."

On that note, the press conference ended.

As the reporters began to leave, General Singleton said, "Commander Wildstar, Miss Forrester...I'd like to see both of you in private for a moment. Follow me, please."

Derek and Nova looked at each other with a little bit of shock. A moment later, Wildstar said, "Of course...sir."


Derek and Nova found themselves standing before a desk in Singleton's temporary office a few minutes later.

"Commander...Lieutenant Forrester," said Singleton as he sat down. "You two will be rather busy over the next few days. Because of that, I've decided that you won't be reassigned for the next four days. Even though you'll have a lot to do, you can at least consider this a leave from your duties."

"Sir, what about the work on the Argo?" asked Wildstar.

"As you know, the ship sustained heavy damage. The staff at the drydock, led by Lieutenant Commander Joseph Yamazaki, your chief engineer's old second-in-command, has the ship well in hand for the moment until Lieutenant Commander Sandor recovers and is released from Central Hospital. I've been led to understand that the Argo will require a great deal of work before she'll be fully space worthy again, Wildstar."

"She has to be rebuilt, sir. She's the only space battleship we have left after the disaster at Saturn-Titan. What was that the Defense Council was saying about "deciding the manner of her refit?""

"Wildstar, what they meant was deciding how much money and time to put into refit."

"Commander...that can't be a serious question, now...can it?" asked Nova.

"It is," said the Commander. "We're already debating how we'll go about reconstructing the Defense Fleet. At the current time, there's a debate in progress about the fate of the Argo. Some parties simply want her rebuilt back to the condition she was in when you commandeered her in September. Others...would like her rebuilt in a more comprehensive fashion."

"They're not still thinking of rebuilding her into a machine, are they, sir?" asked Wildstar.

"There are several alternative refit proposals being considered," said the Commander. "However, be advised that none of them include rebuilding the Argo along the lines of the Andromeda class."

"That's a relief, sir. I wonder what else they're waiting for?" asked Wildstar.

"For one thing, Lieutenant Commander Sandor's input...and they won't have that until he gets out of the hospital some time next month," said Singleton. "At any rate, I called you here to advise you of this…delay in your reassignment...and, also, to let you know that both of you will be expected to appear together at many more debriefings, as well as at some official ceremonies; at which time, you'll receive the thanks of the well as the thanks of all of Earth, for your heroism during this crisis. Which reminds me. I understand that you're planning to marry soon?"

"Uhh…yes," said Wildstar. "We have a tentative date set...but it could be...set back...if needed," said Wildstar after a pause.

"About when were you planning the event?"

"Sometime around the holidays," said Nova a moment later.

"Good. That shouldn't present a problem," said Singleton.

"Sir...don't we have to apply for official permission, first?" said Wildstar.

"After what you've done for Earth...that'll be no problem. I'll see to it. However, please keep me appraised of the date? If it wouldn't be an imposition, I'd like to attend."

"Sir...thank you..," said Wildstar, who glanced at Nova with an expression of utter surprise on his face. "What made you...?"

"Nothing much...except that I noted your devotion towards each other and your duties...and...I think that it might be good for the planet's morale to see a relatively pleasant event in the news after what we've been through. As for your joint service in the Star Force, which will, of course, be continued, I'll see to the appropriate waivers from some of the Protocol regulations, as well."

"Waivers?" asked Wildstar with an expression of surprise that was echoed on his fiancée's face.

"Waivers that would allow you both to serve on the ship as a married couple. Such things aren't unheard of under special circumstances. I'd like to make sure that both of you serve on the Argo ...when she's ready and when she's needed again."

"Sir, does our next assignment involve space duty?" asked Nova.

"No. We were contemplating assigning you both to TDY assignments at training commands for about a month. You wouldn't be in the same units, of course, but you'd be in enough proximity to each other as to enable you to make your personal plans without any major problems. Any objections?"

"No, sir," said Wildstar.

"Good. We'll speak about the specifics later. Commander...Miss're dismissed for the moment." said Singleton with a nod as he stood up.

Both Derek and Nova took the cue, and said, "Thank you, sir," as they saluted. Singleton returned the salute, and they left him alone.

That was easy, he thought as he put away some papers. Now, all I have to think about is the rest of the Fleet...and the work we'll have ahead as we rebuild it....



Federal Megalopolis

Underground City

Karl Forrester's Apartment

November 16, 2201

1914 Hours-Spacetime

The Forrester family home was located in the Boulder Section of the Denver Megalopolis. However, Karl and Teri had been staying in the Capital because some of Karl's business on behalf of his law firm had required him to stay in the Federal Megalopolis for a period of time. As a result, Karl had been renting an apartment in the city for those occasions. Because Karl and Teri had been staying in their Megalopolis apartment when the great panic had hit, they were able to acquire a temporary apartment in the underground city. Because both the condition of their home in Boulder was unknown, as was the condition of the building in the Megalopolis where their current apartment was located, they were still staying here in their temporary underground quarters in the Capital.

It was there that Derek and Nova arrived for Derek's first formal meeting with Nova's parents. Wildstar still wore his uniform and blue peacoat, but Nova had changed into a pink dress and black pumps for the occasion. She was also wearing a brand-new white gold ring set with a single beautiful purple amethyst that Derek had purchased for her as an engagement ring in one of the few open jewelry shops. Nova had guessed something was up when he had asked her what her birthstone was earlier that day.

"Derek..," said Nova in a soothing voice when the tube-lift took them down to the proper level. " don't need to worry about this. I told you that my mother can't wait for me to get married. Don't worry about this."

"I'm not worried about your mother," said Wildstar. "I'm a little worried about your father."

"Why? He likes you."

"True...but, you know, this is the first time I've requested someone's hand in marriage, Nova," he said as they walked along, holding hands.

"I see. It makes a little sense that you'd be nervous," said Nova. "Derek...what are you looking at?"

Wildstar released a deep sigh. "I don't like being down here...seeing those windows lit up again...knowing that people had to flee down here because of the White Comet...because the Fleet failed them at Saturn-Titan...and maybe...because we failed them by not knowing that Zordar had that dreadnought hidden in his city. If only we could've stopped the Comet Empire sooner, maybe this wouldn't have happened."

"Derek...we did all that we could. You know that. And we were able to succeed in the end...with Trelaina's help."

"Yes...her love saved all of us. Without that love...who knows where we'd be now? We owe Venture a great debt, too...for earning that love from Trelaina. Nova...if you feel up to it, do you want to go and visit him tonight...see how he is?"

"Maybe that should wait until tomorrow night, Derek. We don't know when we'll be out of here, but it'll probably be after visiting hours are over at the hospital."

At that, they stopped talking for a little while as they drew closer to the apartment building where Karl and Teri were staying. In the lobby, they quickly found the elevator that would take them to the proper floor, and they ascended up to the thirty-first floor of the underground tower, just one of many like it in the underground city under the Federal Megalopolis.

Soon, they found the appropriate apartment, and Wildstar rang the bell.

Teri opened the door. "Hello, Nova...hello, Captain," she said with a smile. "Would you both come in?"

"Sure," said Nova, who came in, Teri noticed, on Wildstar's arm.

As soon as they came in, Wildstar looked around. The apartment was typical of many such apartments in the underground Megalopolis. However, Wildstar noticed, as Nova went into the kitchen with her mother, that it was decorated in a manner somewhat less contemporary than that of other such apartments. The living room walls were covered with wallpaper in a pale gold pattern, and the curtains on the windows were pink, with a light floral pattern.

Karl guided him to a couch covered in dark brown leatherette that was before a simulated walnut coffee table. "I see you have some books," said Wildstar.

"Yes, Teri's quite the reader," chuckled Karl.

"Mind if I take a look?" asked Derek tentatively.

"Not at all. Like a drink?"

"Well," began Wildstar. "I have to get your daughter home safely..."

"Come now, one won't hurt," laughed Karl.

"All right," said Derek.

"Scotch is okay?"

"Scotch?" asked Wildstar with some surprise.

"One of the few things in here that's not government-issue. It's from my old stock before this trouble started," said Karl. "I wouldn't ever think of giving you that rapidly synthesized stuff the government's been putting out lately and calling 'gin'." Karl walked over to a cabinet and opened it. "They synthesized this stuff around the beginning of the year but at least had the decency to let it age for a few months. We bought it in the summer," said Karl as he carried over a decanter of golden liquid. "However, I still think it's kind of sharp. That's all right?"

"Of course," said Wildstar, who wasn't particularly a great drinker or connoisseur of liquor, even though he enjoyed sake, beer, or wine on special occasions

"I'll be right back. Let me get a glass."

As Karl took the decanter into the kitchen, Derek began to page through the book. It was a large, illustrated book on music, specifically music of the 20th through 22nd centuries.

Wildstar paged through it for a while, glancing at entries on Cole Porter, Ryu Sakamoto, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, The Backstreet Boys, Puff Daddy, NeoTrash, Sean Lennon III, Unity and Vanity, Isaac O'Rourke, and Mio Tucker, and then noticed a second book sitting on the other side of the table. It concerned the history of the Denver and Rio Grande Western, one of the North American continent's old wheeled stream railroads of the 20th century.

Derek found this book a little more interesting; so much so that he was surprised by Karl's arrival back in the living room with two glasses of Scotch-and-water.

"Interesting?" chuckled Karl.

"Why, yes," said Wildstar. "When I was young, on Great Island, my parents once took me to a museum around Yokohama where they had a large display of the old steam engines and cars, along with a few examples of the old fossil-fueled warplanes that survived the Unification Wars."

"Sounds interesting," said Karl as Derek sampled some of the Scotch. "How is it?"

"Not bad," said Wildstar, smacking his lips with satisfaction. "What's Nova up to?"

"Catching up on things with her mother, and helping to slice up the pot roast. Soya protein, of course. What I wouldn't give right now to be back in Boulder getting ready to enjoy some real beef. So much was better before all these wars. I'm sorry if the Scotch is a little sharp...but...even I don't know of too many people who have the real pre-war stuff, that is, the stuff they made and set aside before the Gamilons ruined everything. One of the few exceptions happens to be my brother-in-law Hiram...but his wife Yvona would kill him if he let any of it out of the house...not that she approves of drinking to begin with."

"What's she like?"

"She's a religious fanatic," said Karl. "Started out decent and church-going like the rest of the family... but she got hooked up with some very strange fundamentalists a few years back, and ever since then, she's been excoriating her husband, her son, and us for keeping sinful life-styles. I take it you're a Buddhist?"

"I was born into that faith but came to my own convictions when I was about fourteen," said Wildstar. "It happened after my parents died...when I was in a church-run orphanage on Great Island for a while."

"Shame about your parents," sighed Karl with a shake of his head. "I would've liked to have met them. Any other relatives?"

"Just my brother, Alex...but, as you know, he's on Iscandar with Queen Starsha. I don't ever expect to see him again," said Wildstar sadly.

"You never know where the Argo might take you. Maybe you and Nova will meet him again. You know...I'm glad we were able to get together tonight," said Karl. "It's not often we have an authentic hero coming over to visit us."

"Thanks..," said Wildstar with a flush on his cheeks as Nova quietly came in.

"Oh! I have to amend that," said Karl. "Let's make that...hero and heroine."

"Papa...I was only doing what I get paid to do," said Nova with a blush on her face as she sat down beside her fiancée'."

Karl chuckled. "You know...both of you are far too modest? You've both done a great deal for Earth. I had your press conference on while I was in the office sounded great."

"Thanks," said Wildstar, as it suddenly occurred to him that he and Nova had mentioned their engagement during the conference! Immediately, he began to feel jittery, hoping that Nova's parents hadn't seen that part of the talk, especially since he felt that such things had asked of fathers in person.

"I didn't get to see it all, I'm afraid," said Karl. "A client called up just as you were talking to the reporter from Yomiuri Shimbun and I had to turn the report off."

Thank God, thought Wildstar, as he realized that Karl hadn't heard the incriminating part of the speech.

Both of them heard a telephone going off. "Excuse me a moment," said Karl as he went over and picked it up.

"Hello, Orin?" he said as the face of his law partner and old friend, Orin Fisher, the father of Nova's friend Natalie, appeared on the screen.

"Hi, Karl."

"Where are you?"

"The Boulder office."

"Oh! Is it okay over there?"

"We took an indirect hit a few kilometers south of the Denver Megalopolis itself, but it seems that Zordar's aim wasn't too good. Denver's okay," said Orin in his rather genial usual manner.

"How's the house?"

"Drove past it before. My place is fine, the church is fine, and it doesn't look like your house took any damage, either. When are you coming back out?"

"I'll see about it on Sunday if I can get a flight in time."

"Great," said Orin. "Jury selection for Hartnell v. Mazur is still on for Monday, and we'd like you out here if you have no big business in the Capital. I don't want to put that new associate in Colorado Superior Court on for that kind of case."

"Orin, can I ring off for now? I've got company."


"My daughter and her boyfriend. I'm really talking to him for the first time tonight."

"Okay. I'll letcha go, Karl. Try to get out here Sunday."

"Will do if I can. Take care, Orin."

"Bye, Karl."

The conversation ended. "Sorry about the delay, you two," said Karl. "Nova...are you drinking anything?"

"No, dad...I'm not in the mood," said Nova softly.

"What's wrong?"

"Mother. She asked me when I was going to 'settle down and get out of the military'."

Karl took a deep breath and said, "Nova, you know your mother. She wants you to settle down with someone and be a good mother and wife."

"Nova?" asked Derek with concern in his voice.

"Derek...nothing's changing my mind about what we've discussed," she said firmly. "I don't care what she says or does."

"I know," he said.

Karl immediately guessed that a major argument had gone on between Nova and Teri about her future, and cleared his throat in order to change the subject. "About your mission...Captain...when did you guess that the White Comet was a threat to Earth?"

"It all started out when I was heading home from a years' patrol with the Third Interplanetary Patrol Squadron of the Defense Forces, and we were attacked by an unidentified enemy squadron. At about the same time, we intercepted a powerful message, which turned out to be from Trelaina of Telezart, which damaged the Argo's communications systems. Not long after we landed, the great blackout took place, and the day afterwards, Nova, Commander Venture, and I met with Stephen Sandor, our old Mechanical Group Leader. He had just discovered a strange energy beam emanating from a strange white comet that had just been discovered on our scanners. From all of those clues, we guessed that there was a threat to Earth, so Sandor and I took our case to the Earth Defense Council, which refused us permission to leave and investigate the threat. So, after a lot of which Nova helped...we decided we had to commandeer the Argo and leave Earth, with or without permission, to investigate the threat of the White Comet."

"That's very brave...risking your career like that. Nova, how did you get involved in this?"

"Everyone who left on this mission volunteered to go," said Nova firmly. "I was one of those volunteers...and I left because I wanted to help in the mission...and be at Derek's side."

"I see. And, on the mission...?"

"We followed the source of the transmissions to Telezart, where we found that Trelaina wished to meet with us and talk to us about the Comet Empire. On the way, as you probably know, we were opposed by the forces of the Comet Empire, as well as by Desslok of Gamilon."

"How did he survive your last battle?" asked Karl. "Nova, you told us that he died then, didn't you?"

"We don't know," said Nova. "As a matter of fact, that's still a mystery to us. Even though a lot of us didn't believe it was was really him. But, we fought our way past him to Telezart. There...Trelaina told us about the true nature of the White Comet...and we also observed that she had fallen in love with Commander Venture, who was very much taken with her; and it's no wonder. She was... very beautiful. Mark tried to convince her to come with us...but she wouldn't," said Nova softly. "Instead...she had decided to remain behind to make her stand and face down Zordar and his Comet Empire. She sacrificed her whole help us...and help Mark."

"It sounds like you both were part of a very stirring story," said Karl.

"You could say we were. When we arrived back in the solar system, Admiral Gideon had us launch a surprise attack on the Comet Empire's carrier task forces, since we knew that in a battle, their carrier planes could hurt us a great deal with their speed and range. We defeated the carrier fleet, and then assisted in the tail end of the engagement with the rest of the Comet Empire's fleet. We had them our surprise, the Comet itself warped into the middle of our fleet and destroyed the bulk of it."

"I know that part of the story, too...especially since my brother-in-law was on one of those ships."

"Your brother-in-law?" murmured Wildstar, as Nova went silent and suddenly cried out, "Uncle Hiram?" as tears began to form in her eyes.

"They told us that he was commanding the patrol cruiser Danube near the edge of the battle area when the comet warped in. At about that time, they lost contact with his ship, and it's been logged as "missing-presumed lost in action," said Karl. "They notified your mother because she was next-of-kin, after Yvona, her crazy sister, of course. However, your mother said Yvona's nowhere to be found."

"As usual," sniffed Nova. "She doesn't even have the decency to be around when her husband...makes a sacrifice on behalf of Earth! How's Samuel taking it?"

"I haven't heard from him...I don't know."

"He's probably not doing that well," said Nova as she wiped tears from her eyes. "He and his dad were much closer than he and his mother."

"Nova, here," said Wildstar as he withdrew a hanky from the inner pocket of his peacoat.

"Thanks, Derek," replied Nova with a wan smile.

Teri ran in her apron, crying, "Nova, you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Nova said quickly as she handed Derek his hanky. "I just heard about...Uncle Hiram, that's all."

"I hope that you're not the next one that we end up crying over," said Teri. "You know what I was talking about before! Could you come into the bedroom with me for a second, please? I'd still like to show you those pictures."

"No," said Nova firmly. "Especially not tonight!"

"Why not?"

"Derek...please excuse me for a moment," whispered Nova softly, "but I have to talk to my mother in private before dinner. All right?"

"Okay," said Wildstar as she left. By the look on his face, he was clearly mystified as to what was going on.


Nova and her mother stepped into the bedroom, and Nova quietly but firmly closed the door.

"Nova, why are you doing that?"

"Because, Mother, I don't care to have my fiancée', who is sitting outside, hearing this!"

"Fiancée'?" said Teri with a shocked look on her face.

"Yes, my fiancée.' I'm sorry I have to say this, but it has to be said sometime. Mother, I'm not interested in the pictures of eligible young men that you've been collecting in that photo album, and I thought that those moments I spent with that stupid professional tennis player you seated me with at my cousin Nicole's wedding were among the most nauseating moments of my life!"

"Why? I thought he was wonderful for you then..."

"Mama, I appreciate the effort you made for me...but sitting there with a boring person who is just talking about settling down in the suburbs with a wife and three children when the man you love is off in space is not my idea of a good time...especially not when he has a little too much gin and begins putting his hand on your leg under the table."

"Robert did that?"

Nova nodded. "And he ever tries that around my fiancée', well..."

"Fiancée'!" cried Teri. "When did... you... and... and...he...get...?"

"Not at all long ago," said Nova with a smile on her face.

"Then you're leaving the military?" cried Teri with a smile on her face.



"Mother, you'll hear all about it over dinner," laughed Nova. "But, take that book and put it away. Or, give it to Cousin Jane's mother? We don't ever need to go over this again, all right?" smiled Nova, but in a tone of voice that brooked no opposition.

"Okay," said Teri, who was both elated and a bit taken aback at all this.

"Let's go out and have dinner now," said Nova. "I think the roast is ready, and our men out there are probably going to start demanding to be fed any minute."

"Okay, Nova."

Both women left the bedroom a moment later. Soon, dinner was started in the kitchen. The Forresters had been allotted an early-design underground apartment that included a kitchen; most of the later-design apartments did not include one. Karl was at the head of the square table, with Teri at his left hand, and Derek, the guest of honor, at his right hand. Nova sat at the foot of the table, with Derek and her mother at each side.

After Teri said grace, slices of the pot roast were served, along with gravy, potatoes au gratin, and some broccoli and peas in their pods, along with apple sauce. Apple juice was served by Nova, who was told in a whispered conversation with her father near the counter to "save the best for last." Nova, who was a little unsure what he meant, nodded compliance while returning the bottle of juice to the refrigerator.

As they ate, Karl continued to regale Derek and Nova with questions about the Argo's latest mission. They both retold the story, with Nova noticing that Derek was pointedly refraining from telling Karl and Teri all that had happened on the first bridge during the last part of the mission. Guessing that Derek wanted to keep the cat in the bag, Nova also refrained from speaking to her father about their engagement.

"So, that's what happened to Desslok?" asked Teri, who, to Nova's surprise, had been taking an interest in what they had been doing.

"Yes, Mother. He just left after he told us to attack the Comet City at the bottom."

"You thought his advice was trustworthy?"

"Yes, Mother. I did."


"His mannerisms. He refrained from shooting Derek...he refrained from shooting me...and he honestly seemed to be feeling regret for the path he had taken. He said, 'Maybe I would do it again...but I don't think so....there has to be a better way of life.'"


"Then...he said he saw that Derek and I...and the way we felt about each other...and Earth."

" wanted to protect Derek that badly?"

"Yes, my last breath, if need be."

Teri sat in surprise and amazement. "Nova...if you had told me you had felt that deeply for him..."

"I do. I'm surprised you never noticed before," laughed Nova.

"I noticed," chimed in Karl as everyone's eyes went wide.

"Teri, I know you," said Karl. "I know the look that you get in your eyes whenever you talk about me at a party or at one of your recitals with your string quintet back in Boulder. In case you haven't noticed, I happened to notice the same faraway, longing, admiring look in your daughter's eyes about six months ago whenever she came home and talked about a certain young man sitting at this table. I guessed that she had fallen for him, and had fallen quite hard. I guessed she'd fall for someone like that while serving with the Star Force, even though I remember, Nova, that you laughed at the idea when we discussed it when you called home that time. I wondered why she'd fallen so hard for him, but now, having met the young man, I can see why. Nova, I admire your taste."

"Thank you," said Nova softly. Nova and Derek exchanged a quick glance, and Derek cleared his throat. Nova noticed his hand was trembling as he put down his fork and took her hand.

"Mr. Forrester?" he said in a determined voice.


"May I take the liberty of standing up for a moment? There's something I'd like to ask you."

"Of course," said Karl as Teri's heart began to beat very hard.

Derek, stood up, his hand never leaving Nova's. "There happens to be a detail that I purposely left out before when I described what transpired between your daughter and I on the Argo's first bridge. That detail is that I felt guilty that our respective duties have kept Nova and I apart, but, that when we finished what we had to do to defeat Prince Zordar, we would spend the rest of our lives together. Hence, I proposed marriage to your daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Forrester, a proposal which she eagerly accepted. We have been able to secure the proper permission from our commanding officer, and the proper papers are being filed at Earth Defense Headquarters. Mister Forrester, I would like to take your daughter's hand in marriage on the twenty-sixth of December, and we would like to have your blessing."

Karl and Teri looked at each other in surprise, impressed by the young Deputy Captain's poise, courtesy, and formality. Then, they looked at Derek and Nova, and nodded to each other.

A moment later, Karl walked over to Derek and warmly took his hand as tears began to run from Teri's eyes. In a calm, but somewhat husky voice he said, "You have our blessing. Welcome to the family, Deputy Captain! Teri, why are you crying?"

"No reason! I'm just so happy...that's all!" sniffed Teri.

"That's good," said Karl as he walked over and put his arm around his wife. After he was done comforting her, he asked, "Well, you two...have you given any thought as to where you're going to go to get married?"

"No...we haven't," said Nova. "We've...been sort of busy."

"Yeah...doing things like...dodging the media."

"Dodging the media...hmmm. Well, has he ever seen what the Greater Denver Megalopolis looks like?"

"No...I don't think so," said Nova. "Derek. Have you ever seen Denver, or its suburb, Boulder?"

"No, I can't say I have," said Derek.

"Well, that's where I grew up," said Nova.

"Well, why don't we hold the wedding at Rockies Outlook Church, where you were raised? You know it was rebuilt after the Gamilon War, and, as my associate said before in his phone call, it's all right. Also, incidentally...I think your wedding can more or less be hidden from the usual paparazzi if we hold it out in Boulder in the States."

"Great!" said Nova.

"Who called?" asked Teri.

"Orin called up," he replied. "The house in Boulder is fine. He wants me out there Sunday night for that trial on Monday."

"Well, I guess I can take care of getting everything up into the apartment here...if it's okay," said Teri.

"We'll do it together," said Karl.

"But I'm coming to Denver with you," insisted Teri in a tone and manner that Wildstar had seen a thousand times before in his fiancée'. "We have to start planning our daughter's wedding! You know reception hall reservations don't grow on trees, Karl Forrester!"

"Yes, I know that," laughed Karl.

Wildstar sighed. "Well, we have at least one thing in common," he said.

"And that is?" asked Karl.

Derek put an arm around Nova. "Sir, the women that we happen to love are both very, very strong-willed."

"Is that a compliment?" huffed Nova.

"Karl, what is that supposed to mean?" blurted out Teri a second later.

Then, both Derek and Karl looked at each other and began to laugh as both Nova and Teri gave them withering looks.

Later that evening (after, of course, having reconciled from their little tiff at her parents' apartment), Derek and Nova were walking through the corridors of Central Hospital towards Mark Venture's room in the Intensive Care section.

"It's too quiet up here," said Wildstar. "No talking or joking around or anything like that."

"It's supposed to be quiet," said Nova softly. "You know that the people up here aren't in the best of shape."

"That's what I mean," said Derek. "It's not like in Hardy's room...or in Sandor's, where you expect to interact know...guys…with your friends. Up here..."

"I know," said Nova. "And I don't want to think about it! Poor Mark. I hope he'll be all right," said Nova as they came up to Venture's room where, Wildstar noticed a familiar figure, namely Natalie Fisher, the same nurse who had been on duty last night.

"Hi," said Wildstar.

"Hi," she said softly. "Hi, Nova," she whispered. "I met your fiancée last night. Congratulations."

"Thank you," said Nova. "How's Commander Venture?" she asked, as they entered the room and looked on sadly at Mark, who was lying still in his bed. There was no sound save for the soft, steady beeps of the instruments that monitored the still, comatose form of Lieutenant Commander Mark Venture.

"The family just left a while ago. His younger brother was holding his hand and trying to get him to wake up. It was heartbreaking. As you can didn't work."

"How is he medically?" whispered Nova. "Doctor Sane and I had a hard time getting any brain readings from him at all last night."

Natalie paused to examine a display at close range, her light complexion highlighted in the green glow of the monitor for a moment as she sighed, "His alpha and theta wave readings are still below all optimal levels..."

"Don't talk so loud," said Nova.

"What do you mean? He can't hear us?"

"I think he can," said Nova. "I'm sure he can respond to something, even if only to the voices of his friends talking to him. Derek, come over and say hello to Mark."

"Mark," said Wildstar as he picked up one of Venture's limp hands. "Hey. This is Wildstar. You'd better wake up and get better now! We need you. Trelaina brought you back to us for a reason. You've got work to do, as soon as you come out of this. We're all pushing for you...Hardy, Conroy, and Sandor just told me to say hi to you, and Nova's here. Nova?"

"Mark?" said Nova softly as she took his hand. "This is Nova. Trelaina would want you to get better. You've got to come out of this. Okay?"

There was no response, save for the beeping of the instruments.

"See what I mean?" sighed Natalie.

"Natalie," said Nova. " careful when you talk about his condition. He CAN hear us in this state, you know."

"Okay," nodded Fisher as she made a few entries in Venture's chart. "You two can try a little longer, Nova. But, you've got to clear out in half an hour, before Doctor Sane notices we're bending the rules by letting you visit too long, okay?"

"Okay," said Wildstar.

Suddenly, all three of them started as a piercing cry came from the bed.

"VENTURE!" cried Nova as she and Derek leaped up to the edge of the bed, followed by Fisher.

"Derek...Nova...get back...his vital signs are going crazy!"

"Uh..." groaned Venture in a husky voice. "Trelaina! Trelaina! Don't..."

"Venture...what?" asked Wildstar.

"Wildstar...he's only dreaming," said Natalie. "He's..."

"No, he's not!" said Nova firmly as she clasped Venture's hand, while looking at his readouts with a note of alarm. His pulse rate had gone up tremendously.

" me talk to him...I think he's coming around, but he has to be kept calm."

"Okay!" Derek's joined hers as she said, "Mark..?"

"Don't go!" he cried in a loud voice as his eyes fluttered open and he stared at a point up towards the ceiling, looking at something only he could see. "Please...don't.." he said in a bereaved, small voice as tears ran down his cheeks.

An eternity passed, and Venture shut his eyes. Then, he lay there sobbing for a long while, just moaning, "Don't go...don’t leave me!" in the most pain-filled voice any of them had ever heard from him. Finally, Mark stopped, and went quiet again.

The sensors slowed down as Doctor Sane ran in with another nurse. "What happened?" he demanded.

"Nova and Deputy Captain Wildstar were talking to him," said Natalie, "and he sort of awoke and began screaming about Trelaina of Telezart. He seemed to be responsive for a moment, and then he..."

"In case you didn't notice, your patient's heart rate went up so much that he almost had a coronary!" snapped Dr. Sane. "Nova! Didn't you notice?"

"I did...and we took his hand and began to talk to him. His vitals stabilized after that..."

"And, then, I guess, he went back to sleep," said Doctor Sane. "I don't understand this. It's the strangest thing I've ever seen in my life. Hmmmm....His coma doesn't seem to be as deep...but I think he should be kept quiet. We don't want that happening again. Natalie, no visitors until we know what's behind this."

"Doctor Sane, I think he needs visitors," said Nova. "Otherwise, he might never quite come around," she whispered.

"Otherwise, Nova, we could lose him. It's only a temporary measure until I figure out what's going on here. Still....I'm glad you and Wildstar came. He just doesn't need any more excitement right now. I think he's been through quite enough excitement for a while," said Sane, looking back at the still form on the bed.

"So do I," said Nova. "Rest well, Mark."

"Mark, take it easy," said Wildstar softly. At that, both of them left.



Federal Megalopolis

Shinjuku Peninsula

November 17, 2201

0938 Hours--Spacetime

Autumn weather could be a peculiar thing on Great Island. It was possible to have a string of mild days, followed by a string of blustery, raw days.

It was a somewhat mild day as Nova Forrester emerged from a crowded Tube train in what was still referred to as Shinjuku, even though the topographical changes wrought by the Gamilon planet bombings had long ago led to the disappearance of most of the ancient topography of old Tokyo.

As Nova came out of the maglev train's station around Miyama Avenue and Fiftieth Street, she walked briskly through the early-morning crowd in what was still a bustling commercial district, even though the central part of the Federal Megalopolis had actually shifted to another part of the huge international city.

Nova looked around for a moment, glancing up and down Miyama through the slightly tinted sunglasses she was wearing as a quick, improvised disguise with a favorite pink and maroon dress and maroon calf-length boots .It was the same outfit she had worn on the Argo at one point on the mission to Iscandar...before IQ-9 had made her look foolish before many of the male members of the Star Force with his "Hiya, CUTIE!" comment, that is. The comment he made before he lifted my dress, she thought with a blush. And I was trying to model it!

She was surprised to notice that this part of Shinjuku looked fairly undamaged, save for the few omnipresent roadblocks blocking off the occasional hole in the street or pool of subsiding water on Miyama Avenue. Glancing up at the buildings for a second (knowing that it made her look a little like a tourist), she noticed that only a few of the windows looked boarded up.

What happened? she thought. It looks a lot worse in the Capitol District, across the river. There, windows no...buildings, were ruined by the blasts and so many of the things down by the docks were flooded...

Nova turned to a young woman in a cloth cap and pantsuit who was walking a dog, and said, "Excuse me...I just got into town. Why doesn't this look as bad as it does across the river?"

"Zordar just kind of missed the peninsula, I guess," laughed the young woman. "Well...except for some burning shrapnel that flew right across the river and hit the West Side. You add that to the fog that was created thanks to those floods that came up to Ninth Avenue and Second Avenue on both sides because of that tsunami that was created when the Comet Empire landed off in the ocean, and you'll have some minor chaos. The news about this was everywhere!" cried the young woman. "Surprised you didn't hear about it. Where'd **you** get in here from?"

"Denver, in North America," said Nova, lying conveniently to disguise her identity, as well as the fact that she'd spent the past few weeks of her life in a place that most definitely was NOT the area of her childhood home town.

"Figures," said the young lady, rolling her eyes. "You sound like someone from someplace out in the sticks."

"You have a beautiful dog," said Nova, looking down at her companion's Dalmatian. "Mind if I pet him?"

"Her," laughed the young New Yorker. "And...well...Lady doesn't exactly like to be petted by strangers...she's deaf, you see, like a lot of her breed. But, she is beautiful, isn't she?"

"Aren't Dalmatians one of the few pure breeds that survived the bombings?"

"Yeah, they are," said the young woman. "You seem to know quite a bit about dogs; wish my boyfriend knew that much..."

Both of them laughed, until the young woman eyed Nova and said, " look kinda familiar..."

"Do I?" asked Nova.

"Yeah...coulda sworn I..."

"You'll pardon me," giggled Nova, "But...I've got an appointment I have to make, okay? I have to go...nice talking with you..."

"Yeah, you too," said the young lady as Nova disappeared into a group of people. The young woman stood there, stroked Lady, and asked, "Now, I wonder who that...?"

"NO!" she cried out to herself as she glanced down at a corner vending machine that held a few newspapers. "It couldn't be...could it?"

I hope the press isn't following me around, thought Nova as she glanced up and down the street again. After guessing she was safe, Nova walked north to fifty-second. There, she pushed her way through a revolving door into Pushkin's, the flagship of a great worldwide department store chain that had been in existence since about the middle of the twenty-second century.

Pushkin's was a mildly pricey but somewhat trendy chain, newer, and without the reputation of the even more expensive and traditional planet wide chain known as Conklin's. Nova was there today to pick up two new dresses, because something told her that sooner or later, she'd have to go out in something other than her uniform; and she didn't feel that her current wardrobe was quite enough for one of the upcoming parties she'd inevitably end up at.

Also, she thought as she walked towards a bank of elevators, Maybe, I can stick my head in the bridal department and see what they have; although I know Mother swears by Conklin's for that sort of thing...

Nova went up to the seventh floor, and emerged in the Misses' section. While walking towards the dress section, she was greeted by a salesperson who asked what she was looking for.

"Oh...something for a party...cut sort of like this," said Nova, signifying what she had on, "But... maybe showing a little more around the neck..."

"In what size?"

Nova gave her size, and the clerk said, "I believe I have just the right thing for you...over here...let's have a look..," said the clerk while guiding Nova towards a rack.


Outside, on Miyama Avenue, Lady's owner had deposited some change into a pay videophone. "Jack?" she called out when the image came up.

"Sheri? Where are you?"


"Why are you calling? Editor's got me on a deadline. There's supposed to be some kind of big ceremony going on today at the Presidential Palace for some of the Star Force."

"Listen. Interested in a human interest story?"

"Sheri. Listen up. I am about to go and photograph some hard news in about three hours. I have just enough time to shower, eat, and load my camera. Do you get what I'm saying? I've been run ragged the past few days, what with all this stuff about the Star Force, the reconstruction of the Fleet, and that tour they gave of the new space battleship Kirishima, when we met that Vice Admiral Eckart guy. After having just talked with the second-in-command of the Combined Fleet, and going to see some of the Star Force in a few hours, can't you GUESS that I'm not interested in a darn human interest story?"

"This human interest story, Jack, has a LOT to do with the Star Force. Guess who I think I just spotted going up into Pushkin's..."

A few minutes later, Nova emerged from a dressing room in the clerk's choice. "How do you like it?" asked the clerk as Nova stood on a carpeted surface in the dress and her boots before three large mirrors.

"Nice," said Nova as she looked at herself. The knee-length dress was a pale pink, with a black stripe around the waist. It fit her specifications nicely. "Do the sleeves look okay to you?" asked Nova while holding up an arm, and looking one of the puff sleeves.

"They look great," said the salesgirl. "Although I'd wear a choker with that..."

"I've got one," commented Nova whiling smiling at herself in the mirror. All around, the dress seemed to fit very well. After a moment, she said, "I'll take it. Can you wrap it up for me?"


After Nova changed back into her old dress and brought out the one she had tried on, she paid for the new one with a fair amount of credits (and silently thanked herself for having stopped by the bank that morning) and then went over to the bridal department for a few minutes.

As soon as she went in, she knew that they were putting pressure on her to emerge from the department with a bridal gown.

One or two of the styles looked halfway nice, but the rest didn't suit her. She made a note that she might come back (with her mother, of course), and thanked the clerks for their attention, not even having tried anything on.

Glancing at her watch, Nova realized she had wasted a good thirty-five minutes looking at bridal gowns she wasn't intending to buy. Remembering that she had a lot to do, she ran down to the shoe department, deciding to grab a pair of shoes to go with her new dress and then leave.

Sheri, who was still hanging around outside Pushkin's, met Jack and a carload of his colleagues at about the time Nova was trying on her first pair of shoes.

"Hi, Sheri," said Jack as he gave her a smooch.

"Hi. Who are these guys?"

"Well, you know I'm a photographer. These guys are all from the network."

"Yeah," said one of them as he got out a portable video camera. "And if we can spot Forrester on her own, like you said, we can pin her down with a ton of questions."

"What are you going to do?" asked Sheri, who suddenly felt really uncomfortable about this."

"Ask her why she REALLY participated in the mutiny a few weeks ago...and ask her what she REALLY thinks of Wildstar," barked a reporter.


"Haven't you heard the rumor?" said another reporter. "Rumor has it she's jumping to get married because she's pregnant but hasn't told anyone yet."

"Pregnant? I haven't heard..."

"Relax, Sheri," laughed Jack. "If we pin her down, you'll get a hundred credits out of the deal."

"Pin her down?"

"Yeah. We're staking out all the exits," laughed another guy as he came out with a camera.

Sheri began to feel just a bit sick. What did I do? she thought. I thought it was just going to be Jack!

"How do those feel?" asked the clerk in the shoe department as Nova walked around in a pair of dark purple pumps.

"Okay," said Nova as she walked around. "But...they ARE sticking to my feet a little bit."

"You should've worn stockings under those boots rather than those knee socks you had to take off," laughed the sales clerk.

"Thanks to this shortage that began to crop up in September, I've been trying to preserve my stockings; I really only wear what I have to work in Defense Headquarters...or at least I will when I come off my leave," said Nova as she thought of one of the many wartime shortages that had cropped up in the aftermath of the Gamilon War, even as Earth was being rebuilt. "I checked three departments before. You still can't get stockings in a lot of places?"

"The shortage has only gotten worse since the war with the Cometines," said the clerk. "Like the shoes?"

"Yes...I think I'll take them, as a matter of fact," said Nova. "But, I think I'd also like something dressier...and slightly more pink...."

"I think I've got something that'll fill the bill for you. I'll be right back," said the clerk as she took off Nova's pumps and put them in a box.

The clerk came out a minute later with another box. Nova smiled as soon as the box was opened, even though she hoped that it wouldn't get too cold too soon.

What the clerk pulled out of the box was a conservative but nice pink pair of open sandals. Nova buckled them on and began walking around, observing that while they pinched (like all new shoes) they didn't stick to her feet quite as much.

"I think," said Nova as she sat down, "that this solves the stocking problem...if it doesn't suddenly drop below freezing and stay there."

"Why do these solve your problem?"

"I usually never wear stockings with sandals if I can help it," said Nova. "I think it defeats the whole purpose of letting your toes come out and say 'hi' to the world, so to speak. I'll take these, but I've GOT to get another pair of stockings for those pumps."

"Good luck," laughed the salesgirl. "I'm just praying that what I've got on doesn't get a run."

"Get a long skirt and boots, and a nice, comfy pair of socks," said Nova as she pulled her pink socks back on and reached for her boots, "and that'll solve your problem."

"Thanks," laughed the clerk as Nova stood a moment later and she took her purchases to the counter.

Nova was whistling a romantic song under her breath and thinking of Derek as she walked towards the exit in her boots and nice conservative dress, merrily carrying her two shopping bags...and wondering if she'd have to visit the bank again early next week.

She emerged into the lobby, and began to turn the revolving door.

It went for about a meter or two, and then stopped.

"What...what's wrong with this thing?" she cried.

Then, Jack and his friends burst out, seemingly from nowhere.

Nova's eyes went wide with shock and surprise as she was caught in a hail of electronic flashes, video camera lights, and shouted questions.

"Why did you participate in the mutiny, Miss Forrester?"

"Were you scared when you confronted Desslok?"

"How do you really feel about Derek Wildstar?"

"Is it true you're getting married?"

"Are you expecting a baby?"

"When's the baby on the way?"

"Excuse me...I'm not prepared to answer all these questions at once," said Nova, who was trying to keep some poise in this encounter.

"ARE you getting married?"

"Yes, I am...although the wedding's not going to take place for a few weeks..."

"What about Zordar? Do you think he's really dead?"

"He seemed to be when Trelaina finished him off...."

"What about the Earth government? How do you feel about Commanding General Charles Singleton?"

"I can't say much about the government right now...and I have a lot of respect for the Commander..."

"Is it true you're expecting a baby?"

"NO!" cried Nova. "I'm not!"

"She is!" yelled another reporter. "When's the baby on the way?" yelled someone else.

"It's not going to be," said Nova firmly.

"Why not?" yelled someone else.

"Because I'm not about to have a baby!" replied Nova in a strong voice. "If you'll excuse me...please..."

Two of the reporters blocked the door while others shouted more questions about the rumored "baby".

Where are some of these reporters FROM? thought Nova in panic. The scandal sheets?

"What about you and the Captain?" yelled another reporter.

"We're getting married in December!" cried Nova. "Because I have a career, there's not going to be a baby until after we're married for several years, at least, all right? Is that enough?"

"We hear there's one on the way!" yelled someone else.

"What about these denials of yours?" barked someone who was shoving a microphone in her face.

"Please!" cried Nova. "I've TOLD you what you want to know!"

"Did you participate in the mutiny because of your personal life?" yelled another reporter.

"I went with the Star Force because I believed in their cause!" said Nova. "Now, will you let me go, damnit? I have places to go today!"

The crowd of reporters descended in even tighter, and Nova just turned her face to one side as the cameras kept on going off. She pushed the revolving door, hard, but two reporters were still holding it. Finally, Nova gasped, "Will you leave me alone? PLEASE? I've told you everything!" she snapped, with a trembling lip.

Finally, she kicked at the techtite door, and it flew out of the reporters' grasp. Over a babble of questions, she managed to squeeze her way through the crowd, not caring that one of her bags was getting ripped.

Forcing her way out onto the curbside, she noticed a red EDF staff aircar pulling up. Slightly panicked, she waved for help, and was greeted by one of the nicest sights of her life when the canopy opened.

"Derek!" she cried.

"Nova! What are you doing here?" he asked as she ran towards the car. She jumped in, pulling her bags in after her in a disorderly mess as the canopy whirred closed, while saying, "I was TRYING to shop...until those reporters descended on me! Get us out of here, quick!"

"She's in the car!" someone yelled.


The reporters began to surge towards the aircar, but Wildstar was too quick for them, rocketing away from the curb into traffic before they could react with anything except a number of camera flashes.

"That was close..." said Derek, "Are you all right now?"

"Yes...and no..." said Nova, betraying tearfulness for the first time. "They...they were asking me all sorts of crazy what did I think of this policy or that policy, and why did I go on the mutiny...and they were also asking personal things about us...I told them when the wedding would be...but they kept on going and going! They seem to have this idea I'm pregnant or something..."

"What?" said Derek. "That's CRAZY!"

"Derek, when we get married, can we find a place away from these reporters? Please?"

"I'm sure we can, Nova...they've been giving me a bit of a hard time, too."

"Please, Derek?" cried Nova. "LOOK at this!" she sobbed, holding up one of her ripped bags as one of the shoeboxes tumbled out, spilling her new shoes on the floorboard of the car. "I can't even go shopping in peace! I want to be with you...I..I..."

Finally, while stopped at a light, Nova just began to sob her heart out. Derek noticed, and held her hand for a moment, until the light changed. When it did, he went through and then pulled over onto a side street, where he parked, stopped the engine, and just began to comfort Nova by hugging her and whispering her name over and over again.

She's right, he thought. When WILL we have a moment's worth of peace together? WHEN?



Federal Megalopolis

Presidential Palace

November 17, 2201

1345 Hours--Spacetime

Later that day, Wildstar, Forrester, Eager, Dash (who had just been released from the hospital) Doctor Sane, Paul Rosstowski, Blake Stemmerman (who was one of the Black Tigers who had survived the assault on the Comet Empire City), Neville Royster, and Thomas "Buzz" Rutherford were in attendance at ceremonies in the President Mendellsohn's office in the Presidential Palace, along with Commanding General Singleton and General Stone.

To everyone's applause, the President placed an ornate gold medal around Wildstar's neck on a blue and red ribbon. This medal was the planet's highest award; the Sunburst of Honor, awarded for Wildstar's role in the Argo's final attack upon Zordar, commencing with the Argo's attack upon the Comet Empire city and concluding with the attack upon the dreadnought. This was his second such award of this decoration; he had first been awarded this particular medal for his role in the Battle of Gamilon during the Star Force's journey to Iscandar. This medal had been placed over his first, even though in normal ceremonial wear involving his medals, he would wear his first Sunburst with a bronze palm.

Wildstar stood proudly at attention as the citation was finished. Then, the President continued. "You are also being awarded the Purple Heart twice. The first award is for your wounds, which were earned with utter disregard to your own personal safety in remaining aboard the Argo to oversee repairs in the ship's engine room under conditions of great danger." At that, the medal was pinned onto Wildstar's peacoat.

"The Purple Heart is being awarded again for your extraordinary heroism in the operations against the Gamilon Fleet in the final confrontation with Desslok of Gamilon, ending with the personal confrontation with the Gamilon leader in which you were wounded, again with utter disregard for your own safety. By your willingness to make sacrifices on behalf of the people of Earth, your valor will always be remembered."

Wildstar stood proudly as this medal was pinned to his peacoat next to his first Purple Heart. Then, the President also awarded Wildstar two more medals, a Medallion of Merit, which was a unit citation awarded to the entire Star Force, and one last medal; the second award of the Cometine Campaign Medal, released, without precedent, several weeks early. The first had been made, posthumously, to Admiral Gideon.

"Deputy Captain," said the President after pinning on the last medal. "At a total of nine earned decorations, two of which are awards of the Sunburst of Honor, you stand as one of the most highly-decorated living members of the Defense Forces. But, more than that, you have the thanks of all of Earth for your heroism, as well as my thanks. Congratulations."

Wildstar and the President exchanged salutes under the glare of the video network lamps and the flashes of many news cameras.

Next, Venture's father David was present to receive the Sunburst of Honor, Purple Heart, Medallion of Merit, and Cometine Campaign Medal that his son had been awarded for his service in the conflict. He wept with pride when informed that his wounded son was also now one of the highly decorated living members of the Defense Forces.

Then the President moved on down to Nova. After reading a citation for her bravery in aiding Wildstar during the final phase of the attack upon Zordar's ship, the President awarded her a second Sunburst of Honor. Her first such receipt of that medal had been for the emergency activation of the Cosmo-DNA during the Argo's return to Earth from Iscandar; an act that had almost cost Nova her life but had saved the entire Iscandar mission. She had also earned a Medallion of Merit and a Gamilon Campaign Medal at that time, as well as a Purple Heart for having been wounded when she fell from the Cosmo DNA. Then, the President pinned a Medallion of Merit to Nova's blue peacoat along with a Cometine Campaign Medal. She now had eight medals, and four of them were shining on her breast right here. She looked down at the medals and blushed slightly, thinking, I was just doing my job. I don't need all this gold, but thank you...I'll receive these honors graciously

A cousin of Sandor's was present to receive his Sunburst of Honor, Medallion of Merit, and Cometine Campaign Medal.

Eager was awarded a Pour'L'Merite, and a Purple Heart in addition to his Medallion of Merit, and his campaign medal. Dash was given the same awards, and Doctor Sane was awarded a Legion of Honor (for his role in evacuating the wounded during the evacuation of the Argo after Zordar had attacked it), a Medallion of Merit, and a campaign medal.

Ensign Paul Rosstowski was awarded a Gold Cross for his service in the Argo's gun turret under heavy fire during the conflict, during which he had received a battlefield commission, as well as a Medallion of Merit and a campaign medal. He smiled a little; thinking back to the time his now ex-wife had said his service in the EDF would get him nowhere. I certainly proved you wrong, Clarissa, didn't I? he thought for a moment as he looked at his award with awe. It would look very nice on a shelf next to the Bronze Cross he had earned during his little visit to Desslok's capital city on Gamilon with the Star Force in 2200.

His friend, the rather solemn, crew-cut Black Tiger known as Blake Stemmerman, stood in silence as the President pinned a Blue Max to his peacoat, followed by two Purple Hearts, a Medallion of Merit, and a Cometine Campaign Medal.

Neville Royster stood shaking as he received a Legion of Honor, Purple Heart, Medallion of Merit, and Cometine Campaign Medal.

Not bad for someone who's scared of a meteor shower! he thought after he saluted. I'll bet the girls will just ADORE me when I go out dancing with these on!

Buzz, the last of the group, received a Blue Max, Purple Heart, Medallion of Merit, and Cometine Campaign medal.

Finally, last of all, Allen Knox, a young nephew of Sergeant Knox, stood trembling with excitement and tears with his parents as he was awarded his late uncle's framed Sunburst of Honor, Purple Heart, Medallion of Merit, and Cometine Campaign Medal, as per the request in his uncle's will.

At the end of the ceremony, all of the military personnel present again saluted the President, who returned the salute as he left.

Outside, on the steps of the Presidential Palace, Wildstar, Nova, Eager, Dash, Dr. Sane, and Buzz were met by the press even before most of them managed to get their white service caps back on. This time, Wildstar noticed that a lot of the questions seemed to concern the reconstruction of the Fleet; they all assumed they had some special knowledge of such things (which they didn't). Feeling unqualified to answer these rather technical questions, Wildstar looked to his comrades, who indicated, as usual, with glances that he should answer for all of them.

"I have no comment on what transpired inside; other than that all of us are very grateful for the honors we received today," said Wildstar. "The President didn't brief us on anything else, I'm afraid. Thank you."

The questions continued nonetheless as security forces held the press back while Wildstar and his comrades got into two large staff cars for the drive back to Headquarters.

Wildstar, Nova, and Dash got into the same staff car, while Eager, Dr. Sane, and Buzz got into the car behind it. Wildstar wasn't sure why, but he noticed that Venture's father and Sandor's cousin got into a third car behind that.

When they arrived at Headquarters, all of the service personnel present were asked to assemble in a briefing room.

Then, the Commander entered, and said, "Again, I must tell you that all of you have the thanks...of the entire world."

"As some of you have been informed," said Singleton, looking at Wildstar and Nova, " three days, you will meet here again to receive your new duty assignments after your current leaves come to an end. What I can tell you is that these assignments will be of a TDY nature, and they'll last for about a month, as I've told some of you already, once again."

"Sir, if I can ask..." said Eager. "Why will we be goin' TDY?"

"Because, we anticipate upcoming reassignment of a more permanent nature for you soon," said Singleton. "The Argo is now in a repair dock, and she will soon enter refit to repair the damage she endured in her last battles. Early in the new year, we anticipate that the Star Force will be reunited for a patrol cruise."

Then, Buzz asked, "I take it the Black Tigers will be reformed, sir?"

"Yes, they will, although, as you know, they suffered a lot of casualties. We will be training new pilots to fill many of the slots vacated by losses in battle. Wildstar, that's where you'll come in, for now."


"We may be filling some of the slots in the rotation order of the Black Tigers and many other Air Groups with Super Starfighters until enough Cosmo Tiger II's are again made available to fill up all of the available slots in the Black Tigers. Since you are known to be an expert Super Starfighter pilot, we've decided that you would make an ideal training officer for these new pilots. I anticipate that the fulfillment of that mission will be your TDY assignment, Wildstar."


"As for the rest of you, you'll be notified of your TDY assignments in three days. In the meantime, there are other things that must be tended to. All of you have been invited to a reception on the evening of Thursday, the 19th, at the Presidential Palace. It is our request that all of you attend."

Everyone replied in the affirmative.

"Finally, for the senior officers present," he said, motioning to Wildstar, Nova, and Dr. Sane, "You have been asked by the Earth Government to attend another special meeting. Please follow me. The rest of you, for the moment, are dismissed. Enjoy your leaves."

After some hearty farewells, Wildstar, Nova, and Dr. Sane followed Singleton, wondering again what was up.

A few minutes later, Wildstar and Nova found themselves in a room with Mark Venture's father David and a young woman they didn't recognize. Before them were two long tables covered with papers and what seemed to be a number of government officials in dark suits, along with two EDF staff officers.

"Would you sit down, please?" said one of the officials. Glancing at everything, Derek and Nova wondered what was going on. It seemed evident that David Venture wasn't sure what was up, either; and none of them knew the young brown-haired woman who sat next to David.

"Mister Matsuhira," said Singleton. "Would you stand to explain the nature of these proceedings?"

"Yessir," said Matsuhira, whom, they noticed, was in the brown variant of the EDF Headquarters uniform, meaning that he served in Logistics. "I am not certain if any of you are aware of the precedent, but it is something of a tradition to grant important military heroes a bounty for their services after a major victory. Certainly, the two of you who are present are major heroes, and the two of you here who represent others stand, for today, legally in their shoes for the purposes of this transaction."

Matsuhira cleared his throat and continued. "Before we proceed any further, permit me to introduce the interested parties to each other. As most of you know," he said, gesturing to Wildstar and Nova, "These two are Deputy Captain Derek Wildstar, commander of the Star Force and the space battleship Argo, and Lieutenant Nova Forrester, the Living Group Leader of the Star Force and the space battleship Argo, which, I am also pleased to say, has just entered into a repair bay for a major overhaul and refit. Fortunately, they can represent themselves here today for the purpose of this transaction. Over here, we have David Venture, who is present to represent Lieutenant Commander Mark Venture, the Navigation Group Leader of the Argo and of the Star Force, and, finally, we have Janice Sandor, the cousin of Lieutenant Commander Stephen Sandor, the Mechanical Group Leader of the Argo and of the Star Force. Unfortunately, neither Mister Venture nor Mister Sandor can personally be present today, so both Mister Venture's father and Mister Sandor's cousin are present to act legally in their stead."

Derek and Nova glanced again at each other, wondering what form the bounty would take. However, a moment later, a picture began to form in Nova's mind as another one of the parties stood up.

"Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Harrison Kueller. I'm from the General Counsel's Office of the Parliament. It is my duty and my pleasure to inform you that Parliament has just voted each of you a bounty in the amount of one hundred and thirty thousand credits each."

At that, everyone sat in shock. It was a large figure; Wildstar was aware that the figure was somewhere around eight times his annual salary, and Nova was aware that the figure was somewhere around ten to eleven times her annual salary. David Venture and Jan Sandor were equally stunned.

"Now that you've had time to catch your breaths...bear in mind that these figures, after a great deal of debate in Parliament, have been granted across the board to all fifty-two surviving members of the Argo's crew who departed Earth in the mutiny and then survived the engagements with Zordar's forces," said Kueller.

"What was the debate for?" asked Wildstar quietly.

"There was debate over...whether or not everyone should receive the same amount or not, sir," stammered Kueller.

"That wasn't fair!" snapped Wildstar. "Everyone on the Argo made great sacrifices to be there. Everyone took the same risks; officer or enlisted man. Due to this, I don't think anyone should receive anything less because of their rank. Privates can die just as bravely as Captains, sir!"

"I know...but, after they debated the issue, they decided it precisely in the manner you've just suggested, Captain," said the chubby lawyer, stammering a bit. "They decided that everyone, regardless of rank, would receive the same amount, to be received as a land grant or in cash to purchase a suitable home or other property. All men and women from your crew shared alike."

"Of course," said Derek, taking a breath as Nova looked on in concern. "Shall we go on?" he said a moment later.

"Of course," said Kueller. "Now, I'd like each of you to consider these books, first of all," he said, handing a leatherette binder to David Venture, a similar binder to Jan Sandor, and, finally, a large binder to Wildstar. "I hope you won't object to the liberty, but be advised, Captain, that your fiancée's award has been combined with yours. That's why you're sharing a binder. I'd also request...that none of you open these, yet."

Kueller cleared his throat and continued as his younger colleagues looked on. "It was suggested, in the resolutions, that these bounties be paid to each of you, and those you represent, in the form of private homes and the sites they will stand on. These real estate offerings are in prime, desirable sites at the edge of the Federal Megalopolis, in scenic locations, each with their own unique beauty, and each, also, somewhat isolated and somewhat guarded from the prying eyes and ears of both the paparazzi and the curious. None of you will exactly have many neighbors, but they will be individuals who will have a decided interest in their privacy, just as all of you have an interest in your own privacy and the privacy of your loved ones."

"Are there any questions so far?"

Nova shyly raised a hand. "Sir, if I understood you correctly, does this mean that Derek and I will be sharing a home and property worth...two hundred and sixty thousand credits?"

"That's correct...unless the two of you part ways...or elect to take your bounty as cash...or elect to split your bounty between cash and a smaller property. Bear in mind, though...none of you will exactly have a small property. The proposed homes are at least three bedrooms each in size...all planned so that...when you choose to have families....if you choose to have can live in comfort."

Jan bowed her head and thought, Steve...I don't know if that'll ever apply to you or not...but, still...the thought IS nice.

"Very may now open your presentation books...they contain architects' drawings of what the homes and sites will look like when they're completed, as well as floorplans, and topographical and location maps of the sites. We will endeavor to keep the locations of the sites as secret and secure as possible."

Wildstar and Nova opened their book and found themselves looking, stunned, at an architect's rendering of a large two-story modern home covered with what appeared to be beige brick (although they knew it had to be a synthetic compound.) The plans for the house indicated that it was a three-bedroom home. They read the following description of the house, which was surrounded by trees:

Abundant Livability: Surrounded by Woods... Open living is the key to the abundant livability of this design. Straight back from the two-story foyer, the gigantic gathering room/dining room area shares a through-fireplace with a unique sunken conversation area. An L-shaped kitchen has a pass-through snack bar to the breakfast room which has access to a quiet side terrace. The first-floor master suite offers pampering with its deluxe master bath. His and Hers walk-in closets, a double-bowl lavatory and a whirlpool tub all combine to create a relaxing atmosphere. On the second floor, two family bedrooms are separated by a lounge with a balcony overlook and share a full hall bath.

That described the house. As they gazed at the floorplans, Nova was smiling at the vaulted living room with its fireplace and the plans for the whirlpool bath in the bedroom suite. She also admired the outdoor pool and hot tub/onsen surrounded by trees (she liked water), and Derek smiled at the plans and drawings of the finished basement. I could put a nice workshop in there, he thought.

David Venture was similarly impressed with the house that was being built for his son, even though he prayed silently that Mark would recover to a degree as to enjoy the brick and siding-covered house, also with three bedrooms. Jan looked at the plans for Steve's house and said, "I see there's a lot of workshop space for him. He's always liked to keep occupied. What a shame...", she sighed.

"What?" asked David.

"It's a shame that his sister isn't here to see this now," said Jan with a shake of her head.

"What happened?" asked David.

"It was part of a terrible accident Steve and...his sister...had when they were children. It took her life....and it's always had a terrible effect on him."

"I know...," said Wildstar solemnly. Nova extended a hand, and then Jan stood up to give Nova a hug as tears came to the brown-haired woman's eyes. "I'm sorry…" Jan stammered after a moment. "His sister and I were very close as children. Please forgive me."

"It's okay," said Nova softly.

"With all respect," said Kueller quietly, ".We have to get back to the business at hand. There are papers that will need to be signed to indicate your acceptance of these offers, and to authorize us to begin construction."

"When do you expect to have the houses finished?" asked Wildstar.

"It'll take a little while, since we have to make certain the interiors are finished and the necessary basic furnishings are moved, we can expect to have the houses ready for occupancy by a few days before Christmas. Is that acceptable?"

Everyone agreed to the planned completion dates. "God, what a Christmas gift it'll make for Mark," said David with some excitement as he picked up a pen.

After asking a few more questions, such as details about utilities, which would be paid for at the normal rates by the occupants, and in regard to taxes (which were remitted in perpetuity for the lifetime of the owners), Wildstar and Nova picked up their pens and began to sign the transfer documents in the presence of some of the paralegals and lawyers at the table, who notarized the documents as they signed them. Funny, thought Nova. Looks like we just acquired a house and I haven't bought a wedding dress yet!

After paging through her contract and a copy of the power of attorney she had previously signed with Sandor, Jan began to sign on his behalf.

About forty-five minutes later, the documents were completed, and each new homeowner was handed a title deed in an envelope as each deed (generated online with the County Clerk's Office) came off the printer on a nearby table. They were then handed the key-cards to what would be their new homes, and sent on their way with a more than fair amount of surprise.

What a day this is turning out to be, thought Wildstar as he and Nova left together, with a smiling Nova occasionally pointing out new features on their property that she had just noticed, such as a swimming pool, large semi-wooded yard, and, last of all, a little secluded beachfront of their own on one of the bays of the Pacific.

"What a place…" said Derek as they stood in the elevator.

"Derek...on a nice day...can we go up there and take a look? Based on the pictures...the site looks beautiful."

"Sure...if you don't mind seeing construction crews and robots ripping up the ground for our new house."

"I don't mind at all," smiled Nova. "I think I'd even like you to take some pictures of our house as it goes up, Derek."

She's in love, thought Derek to himself with a bemused grin as she smiled at him.'s not only with the house.

And, at that, Derek Wildstar smiled back.

Three days later, on the twentieth, Derek Wildstar stood at attention in General Singleton's office as he was handed a set of orders. The Commander said, "This is your new assignment, Wildstar."

Derek opened the envelope to discover that he had been posted to a Super Starfighter training squadron at Idlewild Field Fighter Base as its instructor. "I'm to report next week, sir?" he asked.

"Yes, that is, after you complete the ground combat refresher training course that you've been ordered to attend during the weekend. Do you have any further questions?"

"No, sir. I'm honored to have the duty of training our newest fighter pilots on the Super Starfighter. It's my favorite type of astrofighter, sir."

"Always the traditionalist, I see," chuckled Singleton. "I'm glad to hear you're pleased with your new assignment, Commander."

"Thank you, sir."

Singleton and Wildstar exchanged salutes and left. On his way out, Wildstar, in his blues and blue peacoat, ran into Nova, who was coming down the passage in her white Administration uniform with its red ascot and short skirt.

"Funny meeting you here, Miss Forrester," joked Wildstar.

"Derek, will you STOP it?" whispered Nova with a soft giggle. "You know all too well where I'm going and why. Forty to one I'll be assigned back here again. I'll see you later in the commissary, okay?"

"Okay. Great. What should I get you?"

"I can handle it myself; I have more than enough. All right?"

"See you later."

"Bye, now," said Nova as she entered the outer office of General Singleton.

Wildstar found himself in the commissary a few minutes later. There, he was surprised to see old Patrick Orion sitting at a table with his second-in-command from the Argo's Engine Group, Joe Yamazaki.

"How are you doing?" asked Wildstar as he sat down with his lunch.

"I've been better," said Orion. "That shock I took on the Argo during Zordar's last attack gave my old ticker a little bit of a time, but I pulled through all right. I hear that you and Nova are about to get married."

"You heard correctly," said Wildstar.

"Congratulations, sir," said Yamazaki.

"How's Venture?" asked Orion.

Wildstar sighed. "He's still in the hospital. Everyone's still worried about him."

"He'll be all know that," said Orion in a soft voice. "Where's Nova?"

"Up in the Commander's office, receiving her new assignment," said Wildstar. "It's going to be a TDY one, just like mine. Have you been able to get to the Argo yet?"

"As a matter of fact, we were there this morning," said Yamazaki.

"How is she?" asked Wildstar.

"She's going to need a LOT of work," said Orion as Yamazaki shook his head. "Especially on the engine section. It was pretty badly damaged."

"So what are you planning to do?"

"We're considering something, Wildstar," said Orion. "It's going to be a change we thought the ship's needed for a while, but we have to see if it'll be practical or not. We think it'll work fine, though."

"You mind telling me what it is?" chuckled Wildstar nervously.

"I'd....rather not," said Orion. "Not until Sandor gets out of the hospital and we have a good idea whether or not all of this is going to work. All right?"

"Yeah...sure," sighed Wildstar.

"But...there's NO need to worry," said Orion. "If this works, it'll make the Argo better, without, I stress, makin' her into a machine like those new Andromedas...okay?"

"All right," sighed Wildstar. "In other words...I'll just have to wait and take your word for it...right?"

"That's the best I can tell ye right now," said Orion. "But, it'll be great," he chuckled in his Irish brogue. "And, what's more..."

"ORION!" cried a young female voice behind the old engineer. "When did you get out of the hospital?"

"Last night," he said happily as he turned around to greet Nova. "How're you doing?"

"Great, Orion," said Nova with a smile as the old man stood and the two of them exchanged a friendly hug. Afterwards, Orion stepped back, albeit a little unsteadily.

"Pat...are you all right?" cried Nova.

"I'm fine," he said. "Just a little tired, that's all. Ye can't help it when you get a bit old, that's all. I don't quite have the strength of you young ones anymore...but someone like me's GOT to come along on your next cruise on the'll need the experience. Although, after our last mission, I daresay that our young Deputy Captain here did a cracker-jack job keeping all of ye in line."

"Thanks," said Wildstar.

"Uhmm, sir," said Yamazaki as Nova sat down with her light lunch. "Shouldn't we be going, now?"

"Oh, of course," said Orion. "See you later...both of ye...okay?" he said as he looked at Wildstar and Nova.

"Later, Orion," said Wildstar with a smile.

"Take care now," added Nova as they left.

"Well, Derek, I've got some news for you," said Nova in a happy voice.

"Yeah?" said Wildstar.

"They told me what my new assignment's going to be."

"Where is it going to be?"

"Around the Megalopolis," said Nova. "Even though we won't be in the same precise squadron, we'll both be at..."

"Wait a minute," said Wildstar. "Squadron?"

"Yes, squadron," said Nova. "I'm a qualified pilot, the same as you, even though I've only flown recon planes," said Nova brightly. "I'll still be doing that, but in a different plane."

"What kind of bird?" asked Wildstar.

"A Cosmo Tiger II...the new Astrofighter."

Wildstar sat in silence for a moment, until he said, "Well...that stands to reason. They're standardizing a lot of the squadrons now. What will they be training you for?"

"Recon and survey flights, of course," said Nova. "Of course, you know, since they're putting me in a Tiger, they'll have to train me in aerial combat and attack. You remember when Sandor flew that recon for us at Phoebes before Saturn-Titan? That was in a Tiger, as was Conroy's recon of the tunnel satellite before Desslok attacked us."

"So, I take it that they're replacing the Type 100-B's with Tigers?"

"Uh-huh, Derek," said Nova. "And they'll be training me how to fly one, and how to defend myself in one if I have to. And, they'll be doing it at Idlewild. What do you think?"

"That's great...but you'd better be careful."


" know that the Tiger's a hotter bird than the old Type 100's," said Wildstar. "And, you know that aerial combat is pretty dangerous...even in practice."

"Does that stop you?" asked Nova.

" doesn't," said Wildstar.

"Then, why should it stop me?" asked Nova. "You know that we all take the same risks. I took a risk every day I was on the Argo during our mission to Telezart."

"But, well...there's different kinds of risks," said Wildstar.

"Derek, what would you think is safer? Going up against an enemy during a recon in a fast, but unarmed, Type 100, or going up against an enemy in a Cosmo Tiger, when you can fight back if they attack you?"

"Well...if you have guns, won't you want to take risks that you normally wouldn't?"

"That's not the way we'll be trained," said Nova, "and you know that. Besides, what situation would make you worry less about me? Going out on a recon in an unarmed plane...or going out on a recon in something I could use to fire a few shots while I'm running?"

"You have a point," said Wildstar after a long silence. "But, either way, I'd worry about you, all right?"

"Don't I think I don't worry about YOU every time you fly?" asked Nova as she grabbed Derek's hands. "We both have careers, and to advance my career, and keep my rating on the Argo, I'll have to keep up with all of the latest trends and changes. If they tell me I'll have to fly a Tiger, believe me, I'm going to learn how to fly a Tiger, and fly it well. Okay?"

"Okay," said Wildstar. "But, be careful?"

"Derek, don't you think I will be? Especially since they said I'm going to have a really good training officer?"


"A member of the Black Tigers," said Nova. "But they didn't tell me who, yet, of course."

"The usual. I don't think they told any of MY students I'll be training them. When do you start?"

"Next week," said Nova. "That is...after a weekend training exercise they're sending me on."

"What kind?"

"Ground combat," said Nova. "It's a refresher course."

"Funny...they told me I'm going off on such a course this weekend, too," said Derek.

At that, both of them chuckled. "I wonder if I'll see you there?" said Nova.

"I don't know...don't count on it."

"But...if you'll be interesting...especially because we'll have jobs to do."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Wildstar.

"Well...we'll see," said Nova in a soft little voice. "We'll see."


Click here to return to the Introduction to Visions